"It would have only taken a slightly harder blow for everything to collapse" - Anonymous

Verdun

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One of the most costly, bloody, and pointless battles in the war, the battle of Verdun was an attempt by Erich von Falkenhayn to draw the French and British into a battle where they would lose more troops than he would. He decided to attack Verdun, a small, moderately well-defended city that jutted into the German lines. He thought that he could attack, the French and British would defend, and then he could surround the troops that came with artillery and blast them all to death. Flakenhayn thought that If his plan succeeded, then the French and British would lose masses of troops while he could keep his at minimal losses. Not a bad plan!

The Beginning

Verdun was actually badly defended some time before the attack, but a guy called Driant called for more defenses for Verdun, so it was much better defended when the Germans attacked it. Also, Falkenhayn didn't want to take Verdun, he wanted to "bleed the French white." In the first two days of attack, artillery fire destroyed most of the French defenses, and when the infantry came, the French attacked, falling into Falkenhayn's trap. Many French were slaughtered, and German casualties were light. The Germans made modest gains and attacked again. This time they also made modest gains, despite further reinforcements and further artillery support for the French. Finally, the next attack broke the line. A whole arsenal of mistakes brought chaos to the French lines. The French accidentally shelled their own forces, retreated when they had sufficent troops, and the Germans broke through their lines pretty easily. The French line reformed, but not without casualties. The Germans could have broken through, but Falkenhayn missed his chance. Then, finally, Joffre handed the defense of Verdun to one of France's only extremely good generals: Petain. Petain knew how to play defensive without losing lives. After many adjustments to artillery and defensive lines, Petain turned the tables. He also made sure Verdun was well-supplied and had no shortage of troops. His immediate actions, coupled with the Germans lack of reserves, held back the Germans. The Germans had one more chance to strike a killing blow at Verdun. They could have bombed and shelled the only supply road to Verdun, causing all supplies and reinforcements to be in danger. Oddly, the Germans failed to make use of this advantage. Finally Falkenhayn abandoned his original strategy and committed everything to Verdun. The Germans lost their only chance to get out cheaply.
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The Middle

Falkenhayn's great plan worked both ways: the French were bleeding Germany to death too. Germany was losing troops just as much as France was, so, in essence, Falkenhayn failed. However, this time the Germans were the ones making mistakes. The Germans launched three assaults: one succeeded, and two failed. The one that succeeded had no importance. Then French incompetence kicked in with the arrival of French generals Nivelle and "Butcher" Mangin, both crazy for attack. Both ignored one costly failure after another and sent their troops against the Germans no matter what. The Germans made another attempt to drive Petain's troops out of their lines, but failed due to rain. Then Petain was recalled, and one of the most brilliant generals left a battlefield that was desperately in need of him.

The End

The Germans were still fighting with artillery hitting them from the west bank of the Meuse river. German troops set out to conquer a hill that would then, in turn, allow them to silence the artillery. The battle cost both sides quite a lot, but the hill was taken in the end. However, Murphy's law is the law of war, and after the hill was taken, the German's Fort Douaumont exploded for reasons that still aren't completely explained. The survivors were shot at by their allies because at that point people believed the fort had been blown up by the French, and whoever came out was probably one of the ones who did it. Then it was the French's turn. "Butcher" Mangin set out for glory and attacked the enemy, only to be repelled and have one out of every two soldiers who went into battle die. Mangin was relieved of command. Soon after, the Germans finally succeded in silencing the guns on the west side of the Meuse, and blow after shocking blow fell upon the French defenses of Verdun. The Russians saved Verdun then by destroying four armies in Austria and threatening to put Austria out of the war. Germany had to pull out troops from Verdun and send them to help the Austrians. In the end, Falkenhayn simply didn't have enough manpower to take Verdun, as close to victory as he was. The fight for Verdun, which had no real value to either side, killed about 700,000 soldiers. It was one of the most pointless battles in the entire war.