Primary Documents - Paul von Hindenburg on the End of the Battle of Verdun, September 1916

Paul von Hindenburg Reproduced below is Paul von Hindenburg's account of the end of the German offensive launched against French-held Verdun on 21 February 1916 (abridged from his post-war memoirs).

Often described as the greatest battle of the war, casualties on both sides were immense.  Germany's stated intention - articulated by Army Chief of Staff von Falkenhayn - was to "bleed France white" in the latter's defence of Verdun.

Such virtually proved to be the case - although the scale of German losses brought Falkenhayn much criticism.  Indeed the failure to capture Verdun ultimately resulted in Falkenhayn's removal as Chief of Staff and von Hindenburg's installation (along with Erich Ludendorff).  The Crown Prince was himself subsequently described as "the butcher of Verdun" for his role in the battle.

Click here to read Falkenhayn's justification for the offensive.  Click here to read Crown Prince Wilhelm's summary of the battle.  Click here to read Wilhelm's summary of its abandonment.  Click here to read Erich Ludendorff's dismissive view of the battle.  Click here to read Joseph Joffre's August 1916 summary of the battle.  Click here to read British newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe's despatch during the early days of the battle.  Click here to read a French memoir of the German attack on Le Mort Homme in May 1916.  Click here for a memoir of the struggle for Fort Douaumont the same month.  Click here for a memoir of the German assault upon Fort Vaux in June 1916.  Click here to read General Millerand's official account of the see-saw fighting at Thiaumont in July and August 1916.  Click here to read a semi-official German historian's account of the end of the battle.  Click here to read General von Zwehl's memorandum issued immediately before the French recapture of Forts Vaux and Douaumont.  Click here to read Ludendorff's statement regarding the loss of Forts Vaux and Douaumont.  Click here to read French General Pierre Dubois's view of the German approach at Verdun.  Click here to read a French staff officer's account of the recapture of Fort Douaumont in October 1916.

Paul von Hindenburg on the End of the Battle of Verdun

Our role as supreme directors of these battles was simple.

For lack of men we could not contemplate the idea of a relief attack either at Verdun or the Somme, however strong were my own inclinations for such a measure.

Very soon after I took over my new post I found myself compelled by the general situation to ask His Majesty the Emperor to order the offensive at Verdun to be broken off.  The battles there exhausted our forces like an open wound.  Moreover, it was obvious that in any case the enterprise had become hopeless, and that for us to persevere with it would cost us greater losses than those we were able to inflict on the enemy.

Our forward zone was at all points exposed to the flanking fire of superior hostile artillery.  Our communications with the battle-line were extremely difficult.  The battlefield was a regular hell and regarded as such by the troops.

When I look back now, I do not hesitate to say that on purely military grounds it would have been far better for us to have improved our situation at Verdun by the voluntary evacuation of the ground we had captured.

In August, 1916, however, I considered I could not adopt that course.  To a large extent the flower of our best fighting troops had been sacrificed in the enterprise.  The public at home still anticipated a glorious issue to the offensive.

It would be only too easy to produce the impression that all these sacrifices had been incurred in vain.  Such an impression I was anxious to avoid in the existing state of public opinion, nervous enough as it already was.

We were disappointed in our hopes that with the breaking-off of our offensive at Verdun the enemy would more or less confine himself to purely trench warfare there.  At the end of October the French opened a largely-conceived and boldly-executed counter-attack on the eastern bank of the Meuse, and overran our lines.  We lost Douaumont, and had no longer the strength to recover that field of honour of German heroism.

For this attack the French commander had abandoned the former practice of an artillery preparation extending over days or even weeks.  By increasing the rate of fire of the artillery and trench-mortars to the extreme limit of capacity of material and men, only a short period of preparation had preceded the attack, which had then been launched immediately against the physically exhausted and morally shaken defenders.

We had already had experience of this enemy method of preparation for the attack in the course of the long atrition battles, but as the herald to a great infantry attack it was a novelty to us, and it was perhaps just this feature which doubtless produced so important a success.

Taking it all round, on this occasion the enemy hoisted us with our own petard.  We could only hope that in the coming year he would not repeat the experiment on a greater scale and with equal success.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

A 'Baby's Head' was a meat pudding which comprised part of the British Army field ration.

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