On the one-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Verdun

29A2C24800000578-3125088-image-a-44_1435048816158Paul de Quenoy at The New Criterion:

Verdun thus came into the war on the Western Front almost by accident. Frustrated by their inability to break through the German lines, the Allied military leaders agreed to launch coordinated attacks on all fronts—Western, Eastern, and, since May 1915, Italian—in the summer of 1916. On the Western Front this coalesced into the other massive bloodletting of 1916, the Battle of the Somme. But the Germans had looked for their own opportunities after the dismal disappointments of 1915. By the turn of 1916, the fortified area around Verdun sat like an uncomfortable elbow right where the fixed positions bent in a near 90-degree angle from the relatively ignored frontier zone into the German trenches deep inside northern France. Erich von Falkenhayn, the chief of the German general staff, wrote in his memoirs that his idea was to launch a massive assault that would force the French to defend the area and bleed their army to death in the process. In a “Christmas memorandum” he purportedly sent Kaiser Wilhelm in late 1915, the operation’s bleak goal was to start a duel of attrition. Since no copy of this “Christmas memorandum” has ever been found and no other evidence of it exists, historians have surmised that this was not Falkenhayn’s actual plan. Operational orders to the local commanders and preparations for an artillery bombardment of unprecedented power instead suggest that his real intention was to break through at Verdun and then roll up the French positions to the north and west. When this failed in a bloody stalemate, Falkenhayn likely invented the attrition plan after the fact to disguise the magnitude of his failure and justify his tremendous losses.

more here.