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Battle of Verdun (Loyal Italy)

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Battle of Verdun
Part of World War I (Loyal Italy)
Date 21 February- 8th July
Location Verdun
Status Decisive German Victory
Belligerents
German Empire Third French Republic
Commanders and leaders
Erich von Falkenhayn

German Empire Crown Prince Wilhelm

Joseph Joffre

Noël de Castelnau France Fernand de Langle de Cary France Frédéric-Georges Herr France Philippe Pétain France Robert Nivelle

Strength
1,250,000 men

50 divisions

1,000,000

70 French divions

Casualties and losses
180,000 dead 350,000 dead or wounded and 110,000 captured
In early 1916 the new focus for the year's campaign was to defeat France. It involved taking parts of Verdun and then waiting for an eventual counter attack which would be driven off followed by a German attack while in the midst of a French attack.

With divisions diverted to Italy the German advance against Verdun goes swiftly and they then have time to dig in and prepare and are in late march subject to a series of counter offensives.

It is finally on 27th of June the Germans counter attack as a large French attack not only fails to retake parts of Verdun but allows the Germans to move forward and attack the French front-line hard causing a collapse and end to the war.

Background

In 1914 the Great War had started with the Central Powers of Europe against the Entente. The war had raged back and forth across the continent for years with up and downs in the east and west. Mass casualties had been taken by all sides with every side wishing for an end.

Prelude

The Germans after victories in the east the year before turned their attention back to the west to defeat the French once and for all. By now Falkehayn had given up trying to achieve a break in the deadlock and came up with a new strategy "bleed France white". His plan was based on battles last year where the Germans had inflicted disproportionate casualties. He planned to draw the French into a battle they would have to fight and wipe them out.

After studying French history in detail he decided Verdun would be France's graveyard. His plan was simple to advance against the east bank of the Meuse wait for the reserves to arrive and then for the artillery to destroy them.

French preparations

The French had know roughly what Falkenhayn had been planning but Joffe struggled to understand what the Germans were planning and failed to believe it was anything more than a diversion. He also believed that large forts were now useless and he stripped countless guns and men from the Verdun forts. They planned to use conventional trench defences but with news of also a Italian offensive they moved troops and resources down to that front. They also would struggle to supply Verdun due to a lack of transport.

Battle

German advance

Though the Germans original plan had been to attack on the 12th February the attack had to be delayed due to bad weather until the 21st when they were finally ready for the war- winning offensive. The attack started on the 21st with major German numerical superiority. The first part of the attack was a ten-hour long 800 gun bombardment which stopped at around mid- day to allow an attack to occur. When they went forwards to storm the trenches storm troops were used for the first time to a great success. The Germans suffered only 400 casualties on the first day and the first offensive was a good success.

The next day the Germans push forwards hard to try and take the high ground. The advance went quite quickly with the Germans advancing deep into French territory moving 8km into Verdun.Fort Douamont was taken amazingly easy as only a small force was defending it. The advance continued to move forward steadily until the 27th February where they had reached the ground overlooking the Verdun city.

Stalemate

On the 27th February the snow thawed and the ground turned to a swamp stopping any chance of an advance. The artillery was taking a while to move forwards and the French were moving into their positions. High command decided to stop pushing forwards at this point since they had almost all objectives and to dig in and wait.French artillery battered the enemy positions as they tried to dig in causing casualties. The battle had gone well initially for the Germans and the French were surprised that they did not continue with their attack. Both sides dug into their new positions while German artillery after three days of slogging through the mud manages to take it positions on the Meuse heights. They start bombarding the French positions from an uphill position and hit French artillery on the opposing banks. A war of artillery starts between the two sides with the French performing better than expected but still outclassed by the Germans.

Counterattack

In late march the French had still been yet to move and the Germans were beginning to grow impatient and so had the French high command Petain was finally order to attack as he had now been given a large number of troops and artillery. On the 25 March the French finally launched their first counterattack. The Germans had seen the troops assembling from their high positions in Fort Douaumont.

The limited counter attack went poorly the Germans were dug in deep and as soon as the artillery assault started they retreated into their bunkers and after a three-day long French bombardment. The plan was to drive and retake Fort Douaumont. The Germans reemerged from their bunkers shook but not beaten. As soon as the French left their trenches almost every artillery gun in the German army opened fire and kept shooting as they advanced. German units scythed them down as they advanced. Two divisions of the first wave had almost been decimated but a small number reached the enemy trench and hand to hand fighting ensured. The first wave broke off their attack with almost no survivors.

There was a lot of anger in French high command about the failure of the offensive and Petain was sacked and replaced with the more politically savvy, Neville. His plan was to attack head on as well but just use more men artillery to break the defense. The attack on April the 5th was a minor success. While they advanced forwards and took a number of trenches, they had only advanced 200m for the sum total of 30,000 losses due to the taking and the counterattacks which had driven them out of some positions.

High command decided to ignore the losses and ordered another large grand scale attack. On the 18th April the french bombarded fort Douamont for days and launched another attack. While at first they took it since rarely their bombardment was effective and a German counter attack failed. They then tried to take the village itself but in heavy fighting they were driven off. Nevielle was given several awards although he had one issue that he struggled to keep his new possession supplies. The Germans realized this to and on the 26th April a major attack from both sides of the salient was launched and Fort Douamont found itself under siege.

Rather than try and take the fort by storm German commanders on the ground were aware that he had a lot of men and not enough supplies to hold out for long. Nevielllle launched a relief attempt two days later but it failed and they had to pull back. On the 2nd May the fort was entered by a single platoon. They found the men barely alive having had no water for ywo days.

One last push

The French kept pushing hard and harder against the Germans but only took a mile and many begged Falkenhayn to launch a counterattack and drive the French back as they were almost knocked out of Verdun. The opportunity eventually came on the 28th June when the French launched another major attack against the German lines. They were at the foot of Fort Douaumont.

The Germans amazed everyone by simply falling back, even out of the fort, the French advanced although were shocked by such madness. They occupied the German built trenches at around midday. They had now won the battle of Verdun and were very pleased.

Then at 23:00 the Germans sent a signal from their new trenches to the new French ones along a buried cable. A series of buried mines went off in the old German trenches. Followed by finally the commitment of all German reserves assigned to the area to a large counterattack.The artillery were mostly asleep and so their response was poor as the Germans piled forwards and the French were left stunned by the night attack and what they assumed was unbelievably accurate and penetrating artillery. The Germans smashed through them and then followed up their attack with for the first time since 1914 cavalry were used in the second wave.

The French were left stunned by the fury of the German assault. The German cavalry caught the French artillery behind the French lines while German units moved right into the French lines causing mass confusion. A massive breakdown in communications occurred and a retreat happened in some places and in others they fought on. The German advance units headed straight for the Meuse and set about destroying two of the built bridges and capturing the other.

By dawn of the 29th June the French army was in total shock. In one night they had lost 200,000 troops dead or captured and there was nothing blocking the way to Paris.

Aftermath

With the French army effectively wiped out and no sizable force blocking the route to Paris a German force started heading straight for it. There was a massive argument among the politicians in Paris and on the 8th July the French called for a ceasefire with the German advance guard outside Paris.

While the British would still launch the Somme offensive due to poor communication between the two allies.

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