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If in 1914 on the Western Front we can speak about a maneuvering war, in 1915 the situation has dramatically changed to trench war, a long and exhausting battle of attrition for both sides.
In 1915, Imperial Germany’s strategy was to concentrate its war efforts on the Eastern Front in the hopes of knocking Russia out of the war.
The military strategy of the Germans changed in 1916 under the leadership of General Falkenhayn.
Unlike other senior German commanders, he thought that the decisive battle which will change the course of the war in Germany’s favor would have to take place on the Western Front.
Falkenhayn considered that the French Army could be easily knocked out in one decisive battle, with the French out of the war then the English would be forced to sue for peace.
By focusing all the efforts on the Western Front against the French and British, Falkenhayn also hoped to break the stalemate and restart the maneuvering war, thus ending the long and costly trench warfare.
The result of this thinking would be the start of the Great Battle of Verdun, one of the bloodiest and longest battles of WWI. On February 21, 1916, the German attack commenced with the support of a massive artillery barrage offered by 1200 artillery pieces.
The location for the decisive battle against the French army was not chosen randomly. First of all, Verdun represented an important railway transport junction, secondly, the location had symbolic importance for both Germans and French, and last but not least, in Verdun there were many French forts of enormous strategic importance.
At the start of the battle, the French army was caught by surprise by the mighty German War machine and many of their vital Forts have fallen into the hands of the Germans.
Unfortunately for Falkenhayn the decisive battle he wanted, didn’t result in the surrender of the French army or a great loss of their combat spirit. Under the leadership of Philippe Petain, the French forces would regroup and heroically fight back.
For the French Army, Verdun will become a symbol of their endurance, pride, faith in their force, and their will to resist to the end, no matter how difficult it was.
The Germans greatly underestimated the French, because regardless of the losses suffered at Verdun — the French army was not on the brink of collapse, as Falkenhayn had hoped. In addition, the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, in which the British tried to release some of the pressure from Verdun, forced the Germans to divide their strength. Finally, in December 1916, after approximately nine months of fighting, the Germans had to give up, as Paul von Hindenburg, who meanwhile replaced Falkenhayn as Chief of Staff, realized that it makes no sense to follow the failed strategy of its predecessor.
In the end, the Battle of Verdun would prove to be both indecisive and costly for both sides involved.
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