Thursday, August 14, 2014

Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War

--The Kansas City Public Library and the National World War I Museum are sponsoring a series of events entitled, Great War Great Read.

--Last night I attended the one where author Paul Jankowski talked about his book, Verdun.  Below is the description of the event:
At 7 in the morning on February 21, 1916, the ground in northern France began to shake. For the next 10 hours, some 1,200 German guns showered shells on a salient in French lines. The onslaught collapsed dugouts, obliterated trenches, severed communication wires, and drove men mad. The Battle of Verdun had begun.

Drawing from his book, Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War, Brandeis University historian Paul Jankowski looks back on what became one of history’s greatest and most demanding battlefield encounters – a 302-day nightmare that left an estimated 303,000 French and German soldiers dead and more than 400,000 wounded.

--I was surprised to see how many people attended the event. The room was packed and the estimate was that there were around 160 people in attendance.

--I enjoyed hearing Jankowski share his wealth of knowledge about World War I.

--So much of World War I seems to have resulted in a tremendous loss of life, with little being accomplished.  Verdun was a perfect example of that.  It was a battle that lasted 10 months, yet, no significant gains were made by the time it was over, and over 300,000 men were dead.

--Jankowski talked about how Verdun didn't have much significance to either the Germans or the French, but it became significant because of the battle that was fought there.  He said the war ended up running the leaders on both sides, instead of them running it.

--He discussed why the carnage couldn't be stopped and why it took so long for the French to ultimately defeat the Germans.  The longer a battle goes on, the harder it is to stop.  He also gave the keys to making an offensive work:
--Knowledge of the terrain
--Superior number of men and materials
--The enemy has a deficiency
--If you don't have the above factors on your side, then the battle stays at a stalemate/impasse, which is exactly what happened.

--The horrors of Verdun were great, soldiers described it with such words as gates of hell and inferno, and that it was the worst place on earth.  Yet, there were no significant mutinies by the troops during Verdun on either side.  Jankowski thinks that can be attributed in part to the men of that time that did what was their duty/honor no matter what.

--After Jankowski was done speaking there was a short question and answer time.  A man mentioned a book entitled, The Road to Verdun.  He talked about how the premise of that book was that nationalism was bad.  He asked what Jankowski thought of that.  Jankowski said that it would be hard to disagree with that premise.  I'm not sure if that was Jankowski being an elite liberal against any type of nationalism or patriotism, or if he just thought that it was bad for Germany to be so nationalistic.

--I thoroughly enjoyed the event, and definitely look forward to attending the next one, Intelligence and Espionage during World War I.

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