Battles of Verdun, Somme and the Hindenburg Line
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Battles of Verdun, Somme and the Hindenburg Line

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At a very high level,
the period between 1915 and 1918
on the western front
is usually considered
to be a stalemate because
you did not have a major movement
on the front.
There were -some- movements
but the front pretty much looked the way
it looks in this diagram over here.
That's not to say
that it was not incredibly bloody;
in fact it was so bloody
that some of the most famous battles
not just in World War I history
but in -world- history
occurred during this period.
In particular they occurred in 1916.
The first of these happened in February
where you have the battle of Verdun.
You have the Germans
who want to do an offensive
on the French.
Most historians believe
it was not intended not necessarily
to gain this territory,
but to try to make the French
put so many troops here;
and they planned to inflict so many casualties
on the French that they might not be able
to overcome that
and that might throw the French out of the war.
They especially thought
this part of the front was vulnerable
because the French could be attacked
from multiple sides
at this little bulge over here.
And so in February 1916 they attacked,
primarily with artillery.
So they're shelling the French
in this whole area over here.
The French keep bringing troops into the mix
and to get a sense of how ugly
and how scary this whole scene was,
this is a quote from the journal
of a French soldier who's serving
in the battle of Verdun.
He was unfortunately later killed
due to artillery fire.
He wrote: "Humanity is mad."
"It must be mad to do what it is doing."
"What a massacre!"
"What scenes of horror and carnage!"
"I cannot find words..."
"... to translate my impressions."
"Hell can not be so terrible."
"Men are mad."
This battle would continue
through most of the year.
As you go into the summer,
that's the maximum of the German offensive.
This is some of the territory
that they are able to capture.
But as you get to the late summer,
in July of 1916,
the British and the French decide
to do an offensive on another part
of the front, near the Somme river.
So this right over here
is the Somme river.
And so you have --
This over here [Verdun] is a German offensive
and in July you have the battle of the Somme;
sometimes referred to as the Somme Offensive.
Named after the Somme river
as it occured where the Somme river
intersected with the front.
And this was a British and French
- Anglo-French -
offensive
And it's also famous --
Both of these were incredibly bloody,
that's what really made them noteworthy.
But this was also famous
for the first use of the tanks.
This is a picture of a British tank at the time.
But both of these were incredibly bloody.
It was lucky for the French at Verdun
that the offensive at the Somme happened
because this forced the Germans
to go off of the offensive
as we get into the late summer of 1916.
They had to bring troops back over here
to help support it.
But the end result of both of these
is that you do not have
a major movement of the front.
In fact, by the end of 1916,
because the Germans had to
go fight at the battle of the Somme,
the French were able to recapture
much of this territory.
So the real end result
of both of these offensives
- one on the German side
and one on the British side -
was just a massive, massive,
massive loss of human life.
Each of them it's estimated had
on the order of a million casualties,
roughly half on each side.
At Verdun it was slightly more
on the French side than the German
but it was roughly 55/45%.
So a million casualties in Verdun
a million casualties on both sides at the Somme.
I've seen estimates on the death toll
being 1/3 of a million, 1/2 of a million
for each of these battles.
So both of these were incredibly
ugly battles for both sides.
The end result for the Germans though
was even more interesting
because you have to remember
what was happening at the Eastern Front.
On the eastern front
1916 was the year that the Russians
finally were building up their war machine;
they were finally able to equip
the munitions necessary.
It was also the year
that the Romanians joined
on the side of the Entente
along with the Russians on the eastern front.
The Austro-Hungarian were suffering huge losses
So in 1916 the Germans
were a very tough situation:
huge losses at Verdun,
huge losses at the battle of the Somme,
the Russians are starting to get
more aggressive on the eastern front,
the Austro-Hungarian are starting to have trouble,
so they decide to essentially re-trench.
They're going to start bringing more troops
back to the eastern front
but in order to not lose too much ground
at the western front
they try to hold a smaller front.
So they back up to this line;
they start preparing --
This is the line at the end
of the battle of the Somme.
The Germans recognize that they can't
protect this entire front;
they want to protect a shorter front
so they began preparing to move back over here
- and this line is named after the field marshal
of the German army
it's called the Hindenburg line.
Hindenburg.
It's no coincidence it's the same name
of the Zeppelin that blew up in the late 30's;
it was actually named after
field marshal Hindenburg
for whom this line is named. -
The Germans do this so they can take
more troops to the eastern front
and hold a shorter line;
so by the end of 1916 they start
making preparations for the Hindenburg line
and in February of 1917
they actually move there.
So this is 1917,
February,
the Germans moved to the Hindenburg line.
So: 1916, incredibly incredibly ugly year,
2 million casualties,
not a lot of movement of the actual front.

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