Verdun gathers steam | 22 Feb 1916

Battle of Verdun

The MSPaint map at daybreak:

How it started
How it started

Today the Germans push hard. The artillery’s continued firing at new targets all through the night. The French have no chance to regroup. Communications are breaking down, but General de Langle knows enough of the situation to issue General Herr with a simple order. “Hold, hold, no matter what the cost.” To him at least, it’s obvious now that this is going to be a major battle. The Germans have gone over the top at daybreak, and this time the spearheading stormtroopers are being followed by wave after wave of grenade-spewing infantry.

The Bois de Caures lies broken in their wake. Lt-Col Driant commanded 1,200 men on the 20th. Today, 118 escape the place where once there was a wood. Emile Driant is not among them. Caught unaware, unable to retreat in time, entire battalions are disappearing from the French order of battle. By the end of the day, it’ll be regiments’ and brigades’ worth of men, killed, wounded, captured. By the end of tomorrow, it’ll be entire divisions’ worth. Regardless of what the Germans are trying to achieve here, it seems to be working. They’ve advanced now three miles; the casualty ratio is favourable. Any further and this will become the biggest advance since the front settled in 1914. The map at midnight.

They're moving forward...
They’re moving forward…

Meanwhile, back at GQG, General Joffre is writing to St Omer to let the BEF know what’s going on. According to Joffre, the goings-on at Verdun are clearly some kind of preliminary wearing-out exercise; the German main effort is yet to come, somewhere else. This accords with absolutely nothing except Joffre’s own conception of the best way to fight a battle in 1916. No reinforcements are to be committed, of course. Why would they need to be? That would be playing right into the enemy’s hands!

I deploy Blackadder quotations, particularly this one, with extreme care and caution; this time there is no alternative.

If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through!

Hopefully the French Chief will remove his finger quickly enough to prevent the French left flank being turned somewhere east of Maucourt. If their line of retreat could be cut off before they can withdraw towards Verdun and Haudiomont, the battle potentially takes on a whole new character. More tomorrow.

Mahmut Kamil

In the category “Least Surprising News of 1916” we find the hapless commander of the Ottoman Third Army, Mahmut Kamil, arriving at Erzincan and watching the remnants of the army trailing in. Were they wizards, he surely would have found a Howler waiting for him from Enver Pasha. As it is, Enver has to content himself only with sacking Mahmut, and it’s clear that there needs to be a major re-organisation done here to prevent any further unpleasantness.

In the meantime, the army’s strength has been absolutely wrecked; from 120,000 before the Battle of Sarikamis, they now have an effective strength of 25,000 men, 84 guns, and 76 machine guns. Among many other things, Erzurum had the only hospital worth the name in the entire region. Now the army has no easy way of treating any but the most minor of wounds, with the next hospital weeks away. The situation is on the brink of total collapse. The entire eastern half of Turkey is potentially under threat of falling into the Russian Empire.

Edward Mousley

At the Siege of Kut, Edward Mousley has receieved new orders. General Townshend, at least, appears to be confident that they’ll soon be relieved, and is putting in hand plans for a breakout.

The show is conditioned to take place if the Turkish forces retreat past Kut to their main camp on this bank—or if any reinforcements proceed on their way to the Turkish Es Sinn forces downstream. The latter condition makes it appear that something should happen soon.

Later in the day, there’s some rather less good news.

There has been another hitch downstream. The Turkish position blocking the relief advance is evidently much stronger than was anticipated. This we hear in the form of a rumour that there was insufficient artillery preparation of the position before the infantry got in. Also a lot of difficulty and uncertainty has arisen over some of the native troops.

This is all late-arriving rumour referring to the long-past attempt to attack Hanna.

Robert Pelissier

On the Hartmannswillerkopf, Robert Pelissier notices something odd.

Skyrockets were fired, but the Germans did not notice the disturbance and we received no shells. The troops in front of us must have been changed, for they fired few shots and no grenades. They popped their heads innocently over their loopholes and gave other signs of trust and joviality unknown to date.

Here’s hoping they can have some nice fraternisation without any idiots spoiling it for anybody!

Bernard Adams

There are plenty of personal accounts of going on raids, or of the enemy raiding someone’s own trench. However, Bernard Adams has a different, less-often told story; in which the next unit over gets raided, while his mob takes a shelling to stop them interfering with the raid.

The Manchesters were in the front line and Maple Redoubt. During the afternoon the Boche started putting heavies on to Maple Redoubt, and the corner of Canterbury Avenue. ‘Bad luck on the Manchesters again,’ we all agreed, and turned in for tea. There was a wonderful good fire going. “By Jove, they are going it,” I said, as we sat down and Gray brought in the teapot.

In came Richards (Dixon’s servant) with an excited air. “Gas,” he exclaimed. Instinctively I felt for my gas helmet. Meanwhile Dixon had gone outside. “Absurd,” he said in a quiet voice. “The wind’s wrong. Who brought that message?” Then up came a telephone orderly. I heard him running on the hard road. “Stand to,” he said breathlessly, and Dixon went off to the phone with him. Nicolson appeared in a gas helmet. I was looking for my pipe, but could not find it. Then at last I went out without it.

They stand to in the trench. For all they know, this is the start of the Germans’ big push, coming right at them.

Gas helmets were ordered back into their satchels. “No possibility of gas,” said Dixon. “Wind’s dead south.” I realised I had not thought out what I would do in case of attack. I did not know what was happening. I was glad Dixon was there. It was great, though, to hear the continuous roar of the cannonade, and the machine-guns rapping, not for five minutes, but all the time. That I think was the most novel sound of all.

No news. That was a new feature. A Manchester officer came up and said all their communications were cut with the left. Our servants were good friends to have behind us, and Dixon was a man in his element. The men were all cool. “Germans have broken through,” I heard one man say. “Where?! said someone rather excitedly. “In the North Sea,” was the stolid reply.

At last the cannonade developed into a roar on our left, and we realized that any show was there, and not on our sector. Then up came the quartermaster with some boots for Dixon and me, and we all went into the dug-out, where was a splendid fire. And we stayed there, and certain humorous remarks from the quartermaster suddenly turned my feelings, and I felt that the tension was gone, the thing was over; and that outside the bombardment was slackening.

I was immensely bucked. I knew I should be all right now in an attack.

Well, that was hairy for a moment; but in the end, nothing of importance has occurred. Just men, standing in holes in the ground, listening to the artillery firing, and waiting to die or to kill.

Actions in Progress

Armenian Genocide
Siege of Kut
Erzurum Offensive
Battle of Verdun

Further Reading

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