I hate @papatulus I could be like “take me to mcdonalds” n hed take me to the actual city of hamburg in gernany o could have an #autentic hamburger experience n im just sitting there dreaming of mcnuggets
“No battle in history,” wrote British historian Alistair Horne, “was to be more of a ‘soldier’s battle’ than Verdun, and it was to be these humbler creations - more than the Joffres and Falkenhayns - that were to be its principal actors.” The clash between France and Germany was the war’s principal conflict, one that had already been horrendously bloody in 1914 and 1915. At Verdun in 1916, however, both armies were at their peak fighting strength. Here the final death struggle between them began. Here is the state of the German Army as it prepared its attack on Verdun.
In 1870, the victorious Prussian Army was a rapier, finely-tuned and capable of out-maneuvering its opponents. In 1914, the army that invaded France as by contrast a large and unwieldy bludgeon, a machine of brute force smashing its way to Paris. On the Marne, its advance had been halted, but two years of trench warfare and honed it into a excellent fighting machine, and supremely confident of victory. Though civilians in Berlin were starting to tighten their belts, shortages did not yet affect the army at the front. The German force amassing on the Meuse in February 1916 was an army at its peak.
The Kaiser’s army was not one but many, an amalgamation of royal armies that were retained after the unification of the German Empire in 1871. Prussians, Bavarians, Saxons, Württembergers, Hessians, Hanoverians, Brunswickers and the forces of many lesser regions marched under their own flags, though not all shared Prussia’s fighting spirit: the Saxons in particular detested their overlords and preferred not to fight when possible.
Even so, fighting spirit was high and martial abilities skilled. A German citizen began his military service at seventeen, and would not be done before he was forty-five, staying on as a reservist. The Army was the premier institution in Germany, beloved by the Kaiser over all else. Mirabeau’s quip that Prussia was an army that happened to possess a state still rang true. At its highest level, the General Staff commanded and plan with efficiency and speed, and was formed by a small and self-selecting elite of highly trained officers, knowledgeable in military and above all logistical matters, the “demi-gods of the army,“ as historian William Philpott writes.
Germany’s officers were equally skilled and prepared. Though the higher command remained the preserve of the nobility, except for in the more technical branches, the junior branches came mostly from the middle class, officer status both shortening regular service to three years and a good way to achieve higher social status in pre-war Germany. Below the officers, Germany’s Army relied heavily on its NCO’s. Since the officer corps was small, NCO’s could be found in command of platoons and companies in the army. A twelve-year stint doing this guaranteed a job in the imperial civil service after the tour of duty.
Germany preferred rural peasants for its conscripts, boys steeped in German tradition, unlike city mice who might be “infected” with socialist ideas. Even those rejected for service were put down in the Ersatz (supplementary) reserve, meaning that Gernany had over one million semi-trained extra men available for call-up at the beginning of the war.
The German Empire was a state molded by and geared for war. It was belligerent and aggressive, nationalistic, and supremely confident in victory, a victory that would assure Germany’s rightful place in the sun. The first step towards the final victory was to begin at Verdun.
On the banks of the Meuse, the Kaiser’s son had been given the honor of commanding the fateful attack. Crown Prince Wilhelm’s Fifth Army had twelve-hundred guns in position, prepared to bombard the French positions. The bombardment would be massive, designed to smash any semblance of French opposition, the infantry merely advancing to occupy ground before another barrage destroyed the next French lines, drawing in more enemy reinforcements that would then be chewed up in more bombardments. Unlike the French, the Germans had dug themselves deep concrete bunkers, or stollen, which could resist all but direct hits from howitzer shells. They had been built as temporary shelters, however, not comfortable bunkers, and so taut-nerved German shock troops spent an unhappy week waiting for the command to attack by bailing icy water out of their concrete homes.
The Fifth Army five corps were a microcosm of the German Empire at its supreme fighting strength. In 1916, a German corps contained only two divisions, each with two brigades, each brigade with two regiments; a regiment two or three battalions, the battalions containing ideally around 1,100 men.
On the Fifth Army’s extreme right flank lay VII Reserve Corps, made up of stolid enduring northern Westphalian German farmers from Munster, Dusseldorf, and the Ruhr. Their commander, General von Zwehl, had been given the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s top decoration, in 1914 for the capture of the French fortress of Maubeuge at the outbreak of the war.
Next in line was General von Schenk’s XVIII Corps, Hessians who could trace the founding of many of their regiments from Germany’s “War of Liberation” against Napoleon in 1813. Now they were following in their ancestors’ footsteps by taking part in the final defeat of France.
On XVIII Corp’s left, between the villages of Ville to Herbebois, was the vaunted III Brandenburger Corps, elite troops noted for dash and impetuosity, feats soon to be repeated at Verdun. The French would note that many of these Brandeburger stormtroopers wore a new steel helmet in place of the old leather pickelhaube.
Less involved in the coming strife was XV Corps, held outside the main range of the battle, and V Reserve Corps held in the second-line, of decidedly second-rate value, composed mostly of elderly Silesian Poles and unwilling Alsation conscripts with an annoying tendency of deserting to the French and revealing German plans.
Of the main striking force at Verdun, “it would be hard to find three harder-hitting corps in the whole German Army.” Before the battle began, these shock troops were not kept in the best conditions in their freezing stollen bunkers. Nerves were taut, with only occasional duties and perhaps some letter writing to take their thoughts off the coming battle. Most wanted the battle begin, if only to get the waiting over with. But even if regimental doctors were receiving a distressing amount of patients with upset stomachs, there is no doubt that this was a military force in peak fighting trim.