Verdun




 
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September 14th, 2016  
I3BrigPvSk
 
 

Topic: Verdun


After being thinking about a topic to discuss, I remembered reading about Verdun during the First World War. The Germans were claiming they attacked at Verdun with the objective "to bleed the French army white" That seems to a weird way of using military resources. The risk of bleeding their own army white is increasing without achieving anything. One explanation why the Germans attacked at Verdun can be to fix the French army at Verdun so it cannot regroup to other parts of the front.
What do you think about the battle of Verdun?
September 15th, 2016  
MontyB
 
 
I think the German view of this battle goes much deeper than an immediate goal of fixing the French army at Verdun, there is a point of view that says the Prussian mindset saw the French political system as weak and that weakness could be exposed through massive casualties.

German intelligence had long seen French manpower as being a strategic weakness. Unlike Imperial Germany after unification in 1871, the size of the population of France stagnated. While the German population increased by some 25 million between 1871 and 1914, the French population only grew by several million. As a consequence, in the years before 1914, France struggled to match the size of the German army.

In order to have an army roughly the size of the German army, France needed to conscript nearly 85 percent of its eligible manpower; Germany conscripted less than 50 percent of eligible young men.

A German intelligence report in late 1915 concluded:
Quote:
France’s victims in this war are so many that the government can bear the responsibility for them neither before the people of France nor someday before history. Soon [the French government] will be faced with the question of whether, despite all outside help, the ending of resistance is a more fitting path for the future of the nation than the continuation of this hopeless war.
With this perception in mind, it is easy to see how Falkenhayn’s goal in 1916 was to pressure the French government into this decision for a separate peace which led to the resulting battle of Verdun.
I think that Falkenhayn hoped high casualties amongst France’s citizen army would spur French elected officials to bring the war to an end for fear of the political and social consequences of not doing so.
September 15th, 2016  
I3BrigPvSk
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
I think the German view of this battle goes much deeper than an immediate goal of fixing the French army at Verdun, there is a point of view that says the Prussian mindset saw the French political system as weak and that weakness could be exposed through massive casualties.

German intelligence had long seen French manpower as being a strategic weakness. Unlike Imperial Germany after unification in 1871, the size of the population of France stagnated. While the German population increased by some 25 million between 1871 and 1914, the French population only grew by several million. As a consequence, in the years before 1914, France struggled to match the size of the German army.

In order to have an army roughly the size of the German army, France needed to conscript nearly 85 percent of its eligible manpower; Germany conscripted less than 50 percent of eligible young men.

A German intelligence report in late 1915 concluded:


With this perception in mind, it is easy to see how Falkenhayn’s goal in 1916 was to pressure the French government into this decision for a separate peace which led to the resulting battle of Verdun.
I think that Falkenhayn hoped high casualties amongst France’s citizen army would spur French elected officials to bring the war to an end for fear of the political and social consequences of not doing so.
I haven't read much about the First World War, so I am on thin ice here. Nonetheless, the French army was very close to mutiny, or they crossed that line and some units did that. From what I read, the Germans were never aware of it.
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September 15th, 2016  
MontyB
 
 
In many respects, though the French mutiny was only half a mutiny, it was more a "go slow" than an attempt to overthrow their leaders.

As such French troops still manned their positions and fought off attacks they were just refusing to carry out offensives.

I also suspect that by 1917 the Germans were aware of the French actions however themselves were not in a position to exploit the information and may not have been far from mutiny themselves.
September 24th, 2016  
JOC
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MontyB
German intelligence had long seen French manpower as being a strategic weakness. Unlike Imperial Germany after unification in 1871, the size of the population of France stagnated. While the German population increased by some 25 million between 1871 and 1914, the French population only grew by several million. As a consequence, in the years before 1914, France struggled to match the size of the German army.

One thing France had that Germany didn't was a large and effective contingent of troops from colonial Africa. These men fought with great valor for France Their numbers made quite a contribution to the French forces in WW1. ~ 1/2 million were deployed in France during the course of the war.
September 24th, 2016  
I3BrigPvSk
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JOC
One thing France had that Germany didn't was a large and effective contingent of troops from colonial Africa. These men fought with great valor for France Their numbers made quite a contribution to the French forces in WW1. ~ 1/2 million were deployed in France during the course of the war.
Good to see you again, JOC. Any ideas about what we can discuss?

Germany had a few colonies back then, but they were unable to utilize the manpower of them when they had no means of deploying them to Europe. The German navy had a base in China which caused some problems to the allies. If my memory serves me right, there was a naval base in southern Asia as well. It was the base for German ships causing a lot of problems in the Indian Ocean.
September 24th, 2016  
MontyB
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JOC
One thing France had that Germany didn't was a large and effective contingent of troops from colonial Africa. These men fought with great valor for France Their numbers made quite a contribution to the French forces in WW1. ~ 1/2 million were deployed in France during the course of the war.
While I will not argue that these troops fought with great valour, in the scheme of things half a million poorly trained and equipped troops really did not make that much of a difference when you look at the disparity in German and French populations of the period.

In many respects they were simply used as cannon fodder.

Joe Harris Lunn in his book Memoirs of the Maelstrom. A Senegalese Oral History of the First World War, theorised the annual casualty rates of West Africans, concluded that the probability of a West African soldier being killed during his time at the front was two and a half times higher than that of a French infantryman.
Events in 1917 lend credence to the idea that the French army used its troops from the colonies as cannon fodder.

On 16 April, France launched an offensive in Champagne with participation of the Second Colonial Corps (including thirty-five West African battalions) under the command of General Mangin.

The German counteroffensive cost the French army dearly: almost half of all the deployed West African soldiers died. Because of this Mangin became known as the “butcher” and at the end of April he was relieved of his command. Already before this incident French soldiers interpreted the emergence of African troops as an unmistakable sign that an attack was imminent.

An officer responsible for West Africans’ training in the camp of Fréjus wrote in a letter in January 1918 that African soldiers were “cannon fodder, who should, in order to save whites’ lives, be made use of much more intensively.

Clemenceau, in a speech delivered to the French Senate on 20 February 1918, stated: “We are going to offer civilisation to the Blacks. They will have to pay for that, I would prefer that ten Blacks are killed rather than one Frenchman."

From a paper by Christian Koller School of History, Welsh History and Archaeology, Bangor University on The Recruitment of Colonial Troops in Africa and Asia and their Deployment in Europe during the First World War (2008).

Quote:
Whilst in 1915 only 2,500 out of a total of 14,500 new recruits in Algeria were conscripts, this ratio changed dramatically in the second half of the war.

In 1917, the army enlisted 6,261 volunteers and 25,925 conscripts, in the following year there were 13,942 volunteers and 34,173 conscripts.
During the 1915/16 recruiting campaign in West Africa, only 7,000 out of 53,000 recruits were volunteers.
The customary procedure was to ask local chiefs to provide potential recruits. Most often, young men from lower social strata,especially from the group of domestic slaves, were presented to French recruitment officers.

French recruitment in West Africa met all sorts of resistance, ranging from malingering and self-mutilation to flight into the bush or to Liberia, Gambia, Portuguese Guinea and the Gold Coast. In Senegal alone, some 15,000 men avoided conscription by hiding in the bush or flight. In some cases, as in Bélédougou in 1915, there was even armed resistance against French colonial administration and recruitment officers.
Other rebellions such as the big uprising in Western Volta in 1915/16 and several revolts in the north of Dahomey in 1916 and 1917 were at least partially caused by French recruitment policies.
In North Africa, there was resistance against forced recruitment as well.
As early as the autumn of 1914, young Arabs threatened by conscription and their relatives protested against French recruitment practices in several parts of Algeria.
In the winter of 1916/17, Algerian resistance against conscription climaxed in a big uprising in the southern parts of Constantinois.

In Tunisia, too, there were several smaller rebellions in the years 1915 and 1916.
Only Morocco, where there was no conscription, remained quiet.
 


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