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Monday, 13 April 2015

"German Strategy and the Path to Verdun" by Robert T. Foley

University of the Third Age, York Branch, Military History Group.

For the last two years I have written papers for the group. This year I have decided to talk about the Battle of Verdun as next year will be the centenary of the ten-month long conflict, a "war within a  war".

To start off my research, I have read "German Strategy and the Path to Verdun - Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition 1870 - 1916" by Robert T. Foley.

First published in 2005, the author was able to use archive material released in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

This is a fascinating book. I have owned it for a few years, I read it when purchased but it did not really sink in, I did not understand it fully, however, it starts with the Franco - Prussian War of 1870/71 which was the subject of my talk for 2014. The understanding I got from that talk made this second reading much more accessible. For example, there are two distinct phases of the FPW. First, the hammer blows of the Germans, the major battles that lead to the collapse and surrender of the French Army and with it the Second Empire. Second, with the establishment of the Third Republic, the declaration of  the People's War, the Volkskrieg, this dragged the war on for several months until the late Spring of 1871. After the war, two camps developed within the German Army. There were those that favoured the hammer blow strategy, they advocated strict adherence to the Schlieffen Plan. The minor camp were those that realised that Volkskrieg was the new way and that a strategy of attrition would be needed to win. Falkenhayn was appointed Chief of the General Staff in November 1914 as the two sides dug-in. He was in the second camp. The book details how he and his staff developed the theory of attrition, using it very successfully on the Eastern Front in 1915, then decided to use it on the French Army at Verdun.

As I say, a fascinating book and a great jumping-off point for my talk.

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