The Battle of Verdun During World War I

Erich von Falkenhayn planned the battle to be one of attrition to cripple the French Army. Wikimedia

2. The German battle plan was intended to kill the enemy, rather than gain territory

In December, 1915, the Chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Kalkenhayn, wrote a document known to history as the Christmas Memo. In it he documented his plan to launch an assault, based on massive artillery bombardment followed by infantry attacks, on the French. His goal was for the French to be forced to commit so many troops defending their positions at Verdun as to tap their few remaining reserves. Once the French army had lost enough men their British allies would be forced to either come to their aid, weakening their positions on the front, or launch attacks to divert German resources. Falkenhayn’s plan was to conserve German infantry, and pound the French with artillery.

Through such an attack, the German commander believed his troops would destroy the fighting ability and the morale of the French, and force them to sue for a separate peace, with German armies on French soil. In January, 1916, the German 5th Army began moving over 1200 pieces of artillery into positions on a line which surrounded the RFV on three sides in a line roughly eighteen miles long. They erected railways to move artillery ammunition to the guns, and infantry were placed into positions from which they could mop up the French troops who survived the planned bombardment, which was to include the use of poison gas shells.