Primary Documents - Erich Ludendorff on the Battle of Verdun, 21 February 1916
Reproduced below is Erich Ludendorff's somewhat dismissive summary of the German offensive launched against French-held Verdun on 21 February 1916.
Often described as the greatest battle of the war, casualties on both sides were immense. German Army Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn's stated intention 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 Paul von Hindenburg's installation (together with Ludendorff).
Ludendorff's dim view of the battle was perhaps inevitably coloured by the fact that its failure brought Hindenburg and Ludendorff to power in Berlin. However both had earlier argued bitterly with Falkenhayn for additional manpower and resources to assist the effort on the Eastern Front; but the latter's resolve to launch a concerted offensive at Verdun precluded the possibility of additional resources in the east.
Click here to read Falkenhayn's justification for the offensive. Click here to read Crown Prince Wilhelm's summary; he was given the task by Falkenhayn of overseeing the battle. Click here to read Wilhelm's summary of its abandonment. Click here to read von Hindenburg's decision to call off the offensive. 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.
Erich Ludendorff on the Battle of Verdun
Verdun from the viewpoint of general strategy was well chosen as the place for our attack; for Verdun was a particularly threatening starting-point for a French counterassault. It very seriously threatened our main line of railroad communication with Germany.
This was disastrously proved by the attack launched from there in the fall of 1918. Had we been able to drive the French wholly from the east bank of the Meuse, our victory would have been complete, as this would have materially strengthened our position along the whole western front.
The first days of the Verdun assault were very successful, made so by the brilliant qualities of our men. The advantage, however, was insufficiently exploited and our advance soon came to a standstill.
At the beginning of March the world was still under the impression that the Germans had won a victory at Verdun...
Verdun had exacted a very great price in blood.
The position of our attacking troops grew more and more unfavourable. The more ground they gained, the deeper they plunged into the wilderness of shell-holes, and apart from actual losses in action, they suffered heavy wastage merely through having to stay in such a spot, not to mention the difficulty of getting up supplies over a wide, desolate area.
The French enjoyed a great advantage here, as the proximity of the fortress gave them a certain amount of support.
Our attacks dragged on, sapping our strength. The very men who had first fought so heroically at Verdun were now terrified of this shell-ravaged region.
The command had not their hearts in their work. The Crown Prince had very early declared himself in favour of breaking off the attack. That offensive should have been broken off immediately it assumed the character of a battle of attrition.
The gain no longer justified the losses.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
'White Star' was a German mixture of chlorine and phosgene gas, so-named on account of the identification marking painted on the delivery shell casing.
- Did you know?