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Last year around this time I won the scheduling lottery and ended up with two weeks of hotel standby in Paris. Even better, there was a 3-day weekend where I wouldn't even have to be on standby. 3 days to myself, in France. I decided to rent a car and do a little sightseeing.

Now most people I work with would ask me "Did you go to Normandy?" It's almost expected that as an American I should make that pilgrimage.

But no, I did not. Someday I will, but not this time.

I've been studying WWI in recent years and I really wanted to see a WWI battlefield.

Americans don't study WWI all that much. Even though we were involved, it wasn't really our war. WWII tends to overshadow it in American history. The Second World War is more recent in our memory, our involvement was much greater and it was much more clear-cut from a moral standpoint. It's tough to pick a "good guy" out of a bunch of European colonial powers circa 1914.

Still, I think there are lessons to be learned from WWI. As I like to say: WWII happened because nobody was ready for a war. WWI happened because everybody was ready for a war. Munich 1938 is not the only lesson to be learned from history.

So which battlefield? The really big ones are the Somme and Verdun. Being a bit of a Francophile, I wanted to see things from the French viewpoint, so I chose Verdun.

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.

Having rented a car, I drove 2 hours or so east of Paris. Through beautiful countryside, tranquil farmland, calm rivers, peaceful forests - to a place that was once Hell on Earth.

The town of Verdun
A quick bit of history. In February 1916, the Germans attempted a major offensive against the Verdun salient. They hoped to take the French fortifications at Verdun, but mainly they wanted to “bleed France white”.

And bleed they did.

It was the largest battle in history, lasting almost a full year. Two massive armies with no real objective but to kill as many of the other side as possible. Millions of shell were fired. Attack and counterattack and attack again. When it was over, the battle lines were pretty much where they started. The French had taken roughly 400,000 casualties and the Germans about the same. Oh they bled all right.

A little something to think about. Total French casualties (military and civilian) for the war were 1.7 million dead out of 4.2 million total. This was from a population of only 39 million (less than half the US population at the time). I'm willing to cut them some slack for not wanting a do-over in 1940.

Driving on to the battlefield, one of the first things you see is the "Wounded Lion" monument to the French 130th Division. Having seen quite a few, I have an appreciation for French war memorials. They tend to be sober and thoughtful looking - not "Hoorah! Go get 'em!" like some others can be.

The wounded lion is a memorial to the French 130th Division.
Touring the battlefield, I first went into Fort Douaumont. To picture a WWI "fort", it was kind of like a medieval castle buried underground. These things were obsolete even at the start of the war because newer artillery was able to breach the roof of the fort.

"Fixed defenses are monuments to the stupidity of man." - George S. Patton

Retractable gun turret of Fort  Douaumont
The fort changed hands twice during the battle. The French weren't really using it so they'd left only a skeleton crew to man it. The Germans captured it in a daring commando-style raid.
Inside the fort
Once occupied by the Germans, the French were compelled to retake it, which they did after a lengthy bombardment with heavy artillery.

Over 600 Germans were killed when a single shell ignited stored ammunition. Their bodies were entombed in the fort.

Behind this wall 679 Germans are entombed. The inscription on the cross reads "The Dead Comerades"
After touring the fort, I wandered the battlefield, not venturing too far from the road (it was pretty muddy). The battlefield has been left mostly how it was in 1918. The trenches you see are left over from the battle.
Part of the trench network
More of the trenches
One thing I noticed is that the trees are all uniformly the same size. I suspect they've all grown back since the battle. The massive artillery bombardments would have destroyed the original trees.
You can see where the ground was torn up by shelling
Remains of fortifications
I short drive from Fort  Douaumont the famous "Trench of Bayonets". The legend has it that a trench full of French infantry was buried by an artillery bombardment. Only the bayonets of their rifles were left sticking above ground.

The trench has been enclosed by concrete and wire to keep souvenir hunters away.

The "Trench of Bayonets"
Finally it was on to the cemetery. Now there are many cemetaries around Verdun, but this is the main one. There are 15,000 French graves. Inside the Ossuary (the large white building) are the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers. Yes, you read that number correctly. It's not a typo.
The main cemetery and the Ossuary
I found it surprisingly tranquil. It was a cool December day, off season, so hardly anyone was there. Just me and the dead.
So many crosses
It wasn't spooky. The hair on the back of my neck didn't stand up. I've had that feeling in other places, like the Arizona Memorial. I once got rather creeped out when touring a WWII destroyer that had been hit by a Kamikaze. Just couldn't shake the feeling "A lot of guys died in here".

I didn't get that feeling at Verdun. If there were any ghosts they were resting peacefully that day.

I picked one cross at random for a picture. The inscription read "Terasier Pierre Caporal 3ME TIR Mort Pour la France 23-9-1917". Perhaps someone can explain the French unit designation to me.

I snapped him a salute. Thanks for letting me use your picture Corporal Terasier. Rest well.

Died for France
Rest well all of you.
This needs no caption
I will always count myself fortunate to have been able so see this. If you're ever in France it's worth a look.

I found a 1919 Michelin guide to the battlefield at a used book store in Paris. Someday I hope to know enough French to actually read it.

I'll finish with a quote from an earlier, but just as bloody war:

"There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to
prevent the drawing of the sword."
- General Ulysses S. Grant

Originally posted to Major Kong on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:12 PM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Headwaters, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (163+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    swampyankee, pimutant, blueyedace2, Margouillat, dizzydean, craiger, Al Fondy, hazey, Gooserock, Azazello, high uintas, WI Deadhead, profewalt, bastrop, BachFan, exlrrp, Otteray Scribe, Joy of Fishes, BeninSC, maryb2004, eataTREE, a gilas girl, chrississippi, Mnemosyne, PeteZerria, prfb, itzadryheat, KenBee, Massconfusion, BlackSheep1, PinHole, subtropolis, Fishgrease, Steveningen, jgnyc, statsone, Larsstephens, northsylvania, IM, eztempo, DeadHead, fluffy, BOHICA, daveygodigaditch, sidnora, JVolvo, rivamer, TomFromNJ, mofembot, stlsophos, PrahaPartizan, Denver11, daninoah, JDRhoades, jwinIL14, jo fish, concernedamerican, Melanie in IA, gchaucer2, stretchslr53, citizen dan, Sarbec, seabos84, MPociask, marathon, Brian1066, zeke7237, Rashaverak, DoggiesWatches, Bill in Portland Maine, Cat Servant, profundo, Kvetchnrelease, pateTX, Dem Beans, NearlyNormal, anodnhajo, Radiowalla, rmonroe, glorificus, vmibran, Thinking Fella, pat bunny, enufisenuf, bronte17, wheeldog, jadt65, sawgrass727, HeyMikey, Marek, Clive all hat no horse Rodeo, pixxer, LeislerNYC, GainesT1958, davis90, jakedog42, jhop7, Sun Tzu, efrenzy, fgentile, Mentatmark, semiot, mali muso, markdd, Niels, Pandora, bartcopfan, MoDem, murrayewv, dotsright, ThankGodforAtheists, IndyinDelaware, nomandates, Sandy on Signal, camlbacker, Ed in Montana, Involuntary Exile, PeterHug, Matt Esler, xaxnar, sagesource, JayBat, Jay C, old wobbly, dansk47, Scioto, Wee Mama, northerntier, gloriana, jasan, Calamity Jean, Brahman Colorado, demjim, KathleenM1, NYFM, Simplify, Wheever, JekyllnHyde, Ohiodem1, Danno11, Rhysling, missquested, magnetics, dewtx, Wreck Smurfy, devtob, northcountry21st, robertlewiws, Buckeye54, mythatsme, Joe Bob, BlueStateRedhead, JimWilson, deeproots, CA ridebalanced, Trotskyrepublican, terabytes, commonscribe, TKO333, justme, annetteboardman, Alfred E Newman, ConfusedChemist

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:12:18 PM PST

  •  3ème Tirailleur... (56+ / 0-)

    Thats the meaning of the unit ! A regiment from Algeria, the motto was "to death"(Jusqu'à la mort). It was in Verdun in 1916 and 1917. In 1916 they took back the forts of Douaumont and Vaux. That corporal must have died at the Côte 304 in 1917.

    Thank you for the visit.

    "What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night" A.E. Housman

    by Margouillat on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:25:40 PM PST

  •  Outstanding diary! Thanks for this! (29+ / 0-)

    If you are interested, take a look at The Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins that will help put the battle into perspective.  Also, the UK Channel 4's "The First World War" series does a fantastic job of showing the history of the war with vintage footage and photos.

    Again, thanks for this...

    Buck up--Never say die. We'll get along! Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times (1936).

    by dizzydean on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:35:53 PM PST

    •  The most interesting feature of the (12+ / 0-)

      was was that it was the first war in all of history that mechanization gave the supreme advantage to the defense.  Always before if you could amass enough men you could overrun the enemy position.  Machine guns and modern (semi) artillery changed that.  A fixed defensive position adequately supplied and dug in could withstand massive assaults.  So you had railroads being built to the battlefield so that they could feed the carnage by the boxcar of young men, and another and another and another...........
      The most interesting book of WWi I've read is that done by Winston Churchill, I highly commend it as a study of the horror and brutality of this conflict.

      "I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man.'" J. R. Robertson.

      by NearlyNormal on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:50:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I thought previous wars also had some of that ... (11+ / 0-)

        the US civil war featured an 8-month trench warfare period at Petersburg. That followed a pointless Union charge at Confederated defenders at Cold Harbor.

        My understanding is the soldiers realized they had to dig in, on account of the longer range of fire ... even though their commanders didn't always.

        An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

        by mightymouse on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:05:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I was thinking tanks broke the stalemate. (4+ / 0-)

          The development of the tank late in the war gave the advantage back to offense, I thought. The Allies had tanks at the Germans didn't, so the Allies won.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:09:26 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  not a military historian here (6+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            HeyMikey, ybruti, NearlyNormal, Jay C, NYFM, devtob

            my layman's understanding is that learning how to use tanks was part of it ( I think that by the end some decent commanders finally emerged, maybe an Australian? [WWI is the poster child of bad generalship]).

            Also the Germans had come to the conclusion that THEY had to end the war soon, so earlier in 1918 they left their trenches and launched an initially successful offensive that took them close to Paris, using the famous "stormtrooper" tactics ... however they ran ahead of their supply train, and the offensive put greater toll on their forces. That combined with other factors (like the arrival of US troops) enabled the allies to push them back, and basically they never got back to their defensive positions. It was a more mobile war from there on out.

            In other words, it was the Germans that abandoned the stationary war.

            An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

            by mightymouse on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:21:52 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Their attack on Paris (12+ / 0-)

              originally designed as a feint, which is what lead to the lack of supplies, was blunted by the arrival of Pershing and the Marine's.  The bitter battle of Belleau Woods/ Chateau Thierry blunted the German drive and their bayonet drive took the German positions finally, and the outstanding marksmanship of the Marines shredded the German counter-attack.  It was this battle that earned the Marines the German sobriquet of, Teuflehunden, or Devil-Dogs.  This was the first battle that a numerically inferior force won a victory against the Germans, and the initial advance across the open wheat field was the most deadly day for the Marines in their history until the capture of Tawara in WWII.

              "I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man.'" J. R. Robertson.

              by NearlyNormal on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:04:05 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  The initial development of the Tank (6+ / 0-)

              was pushed by Winston Churchill.  He wanted to amass a large number of them and push through the German lines.  He was over-ruled and they tried a small scale experiment which was a great, but localized success, and which taught the Germans a lesson they quickly learned.

              "I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man.'" J. R. Robertson.

              by NearlyNormal on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:05:50 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  The Germans did have tanks. The allies had more. (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            murrayewv, eztempo, NYFM, devtob, HeyMikey

            While not all republicans are bigots, all bigots are republicans.

            by Maximilien Robespierre on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:10:15 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  WWI tanks were too slow and unreliable (8+ / 0-)

            to be a major operational factor, since they couldn't really keep up with a sustained infantry advance.

            What led to the German defeat in the end was starvation and attrition.

            The Germans never could break the British sea blockade, which led to the German population being pushed to the brink of starvation by the the winter of 1917-1918.

            The Germans temporarily got a respite when Russia collapsed in 1917 and they were able to shift troops from the East Front to the Western Front, but given that they were trying to win a war of attrition against countries with superior populations, that strategy was doomed.

            Sure, Germany bled France white, but they weren't able to bleed the UK, the British Commonwealth, the French colonies, and the U.S. without being bled out themselves.

            By Fall of 1918, Germany was facing revolution and starvation at home and they had to sue for peace.

            •  The tank didn't need to keep up with the advance, (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              mightymouse, NYFM, magnetics, devtob, HeyMikey

              what they needed to do was to blast a hole in the lines big enough for the infantry to pour through.  In later conflicts there was a need to have them with greater range, but at this stage a rupture in the lines that allowed penetration and disruption of the communications would have been sufficient.  This point was not understood by the leaders of the armies since it was new and armies are not good at doing new things.

              The larger communications problem caused by the blockade did take its eventual toll.

              "I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man.'" J. R. Robertson.

              by NearlyNormal on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 10:12:32 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Civil War was a rehearsal in some respects for WW1 (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mightymouse, magnetics, devtob

          Troops moved by rail, armies having to deal with supply lines instead of living off the land, developments in ordnance, even aerial recon by balloons. A lot of European generals studied the Civil War. Pity they didn't learn enough from it.

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 10:09:43 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Petersburg, etc. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jay C, PrahaPartizan, devtob, mightymouse

          This is true. I live in Richmond, VA, and Petersburg (about 25 miles south of Richmond), was besieged for six months or so in a successful move to cut the Confederate capital's supply lines and end the war.

          As the campaign drew on, trenches extended on both sides west from Petersburg.  Some are still visible today, especially at a location called Pamplin crossroads.  Covered with grass and amongst trees now, those trenches look a lot like those at Verdun.  When I saw the photos in this post, Petersburg was the first thing I thought of.

          Cold Harbor looks almost sinister by comparison.  It was, as M'mouse said, a massacre of Union troops charging Confederates protected not by trenches, but low berm-like mounds.  The trees are the same size there, too, (it was farmland for some time after the battle). The land is flat.   Through the woods to this day run those low  earthworks, in straight lines.  So easy to imagine soldiers running across the field into the fire of Confederates safe behind their earthen barrier.  No Union artillery, apparently.

          The biggest difference at Petersburg over CH, other than trenches on both sides, was that the South had run out of troops, so the Union had only to lengthen its trenches until the Southern lines were thinly manned enough to punch through.  Having already bled the South white, Grant just stretched the line till it broke.

      •  Actually almost every technology (10+ / 0-)

        used in WWI had an analogue in the American Civil war.  Iron clads -- battleships, from at least Atlanta on, the South used trenches,  rifling extended the effective range of muskets from 100 to 600 yards, the CSS Hunley was the first submarine to sink a capital ship, Gatling guns - machine guns.  One Ohio (?) cavalry unit had repeating rifles.  Aerial observation, via balloon vs. aircraft.  Sized mass produced clothing, left and right boots were also artifacts of Industrialized War.

        Bismark's "Iron Rule of Warfare" was proven in the ACW, as the Union had over 20,000 miles of interconnected railroads in 1861, the South only had 9,000 miles and most if it wasn't interconnected.  Guns made in Springfield, Massachusetts could be put in one boxcar and shipped directly to the Army of the Potomac, or even the Army of the Mississippi.  Guns made in Richmond or Atlanta had to be shipped from one rail head to the next, unloaded, carted across town and loaded on another train several times on their way to Vicksburg.  

        “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

        by markdd on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:22:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It did have analogues (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          markdd, Jay C, mightymouse, devtob

          but it didn't have the scope and refinement that finally put it over the edge.  The US war was much more fluid and still controlled by the old methodologies, though the day they became obsolete could be discerned-especially in hindsight.

          "I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man.'" J. R. Robertson.

          by NearlyNormal on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:48:54 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  What about the graves? (20+ / 0-)

    You show one picture with flowers.  Did this look unique, or were all graves given standard flowers?  Did you see any graves decorated by family members?  By that I mean you can tell if they are regularly visited and maintained by people who knew them.

    At least that was true in 1978.  There may be none now with surviving relatives.

  •  Growing Up in the 60's I Had Many Adult (36+ / 0-)

    acquaintances and activity leaders who'd been in WW2 combat. But as a young adult when I briefly played in a community band, one of the musicians was an elderly Scots immigrant who'd fought in WW1. He told us of seeing green American troops getting gassed, and he later in America worked for a gas victim who suffered till the end of his life.

    There was another people that, like the French, didn't want a do-over in the 1940's.

    The Americans.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:50:54 PM PST

  •  World Wars I & II ... (28+ / 0-)

    I told my son that it was really just one war, a 10-year war with a 20-year halftime to re-arm and grow some new cannon fodder. He tried this theory out on his history teacher who said that that's probably how they'll teach it in future.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 05:57:50 PM PST

  •  Patton ate his words at Metz. (37+ / 0-)

    In the battles on the French-German frontier in the autumn of 1944, U.S. forces under Patton chased the shattered remnants of the Wehrmacht east into the Metz fortified region. The grossly outnumbered German forces managed to reoccupy some of the fortresses they had built in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war, most notably Fort Driant. The disastrous results are chronicled here. The anemic and under-equipped German forces stopped Patton's over-confident forces cold in their tracks due to the huge 'force multiplier' effect of strong fortifications. Compounded by growing supply shortages and a very rainy autumn, this led to a bloody stalemate and halted U.S. forces from any further significant advance, and paved the way for the subsequent massive German counter-offensive through the Ardennes, popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge. One can argue persuasively that effective use of these fortifications by the Germans in late 1944 pushed the eventual border between U.S./Western and Soviet occupation zones about 100 miles further west than it would otherwise have been, with immense ramifications up to the fall of the Berlin wall.

    George S. Patton is known by contemporary folks mostly via George C. Scott's vivid but substantially inaccurate movie portrayal. The impression the movie gives is of a brilliant but mercurial commander champing at the bit, being unfairly held back by less capable superiors.

    The reality was a lot less sanguine. Patton was very fortunate in several of his campaigns. His greatest victory, at Falaise, was largely achieved through the brutal sacrifice of thousands of British & American tank and infantry soldiers who bled the German forces in Normandy white, until the front collapsed at the first push of Operation Cobra, making Patton look a lot better than he was. And more thoroughly professional American combat generals like Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgeway had a justifiably skeptical view of Patton's combat skills. Patton had an unprofessional disdain for the tedious but critical details of logistics and disposition that were less glamorous than swashbuckling maneuvers, but more decisive at the end of the day.

    •  Interesting (18+ / 0-)

      I never knew that.

      My dad had Patton Jr. for an instructor at armor school, but he refused to talk about his father. He would just say "The museum's over there...."

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 07:01:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  My father was involved in a battle in the Voges (20+ / 0-)

      foa a town and fortress called Bitche. It was the first time in history, I believe, the place had actually been captured by an opposing force (in this case the Germans were defending). His division had cards made up calling them all Honorary Sons of Bitche....I always found that funny as a kid!

      •  44th Infantry Division? (7+ / 0-)

        All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

        by subtropolis on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 11:30:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  French Built the World's Greatest Forts (14+ / 0-)

          Too few Americans appreciate the high art French miitary planners have always taken fortress design to.  One has only to think of the lines of forts which defended the French northeastern frontier as far back as the Thirty Years War during the times of the musketeers to Vauban under Louis XIV to the Rivieres Line of which the Verdun fortress was one site to the Maginot Line.  They expend money for blood and buy time in war.  Worse investments have been made.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:58:52 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Don't forget Carillon. (8+ / 0-)

            although you may know it better as Ticonderoga.

            :)

            •  World's Most Heavily Fortified Region (8+ / 0-)

              Ask anyone what the world's most heavily fortified region (or at least the most expensively fortified) was - in the mid-18th century.  I suspect almost no one would say the borders between New France and the British colonies on the eastern American seaboard, but it was.  Carillon was merely one of the more notable examples.  Of course, the world's first real world war (known in the US as the French & Indian War and elsewhere as the Seven Year's War) started because George Washington blundered into the French and opened fire, acting as the spark to light the powder keg of long simmering disputes between the British and the French to turn into a globe-spanning conflagration.  

              "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

              by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 02:30:40 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  The whole "French are lousy fighters" ignores (8+ / 0-)

            the amazing military establishment the French had in the 17th and 18th centuries. French military engineers basically invented modern siege warfare.

            Every 17th century to early 19th century fort you see crumbling on the shores of the U.S. or some Caribbean island, from Jamestown to Jamaica,  was based on French designs.

          •  Maginot line is routinely derided now, but... (5+ / 0-)

            the French really had little choice. WWI inflicted horrific casualties, which greatly depressed France's birth rate in the following decades. Add Germany's much larger population, and the French were looking at a severe manpower disadvantage. The apparent lesson of WWI was that attrition and weight of numbers tell in the end. It's easy to criticize the Maginot defense line in hindsight, asserting that the French should have spent the money on more tanks, but the same imbalance in troop strength would still apply.

            The French regarded the Maginot fortifications as a way to limit their casualties, with French troops protected under meters of concrete while German forces broke their strength against the line, redressing the imbalance in numbers. The failure of the French in 1940 resulted from a rashly conceived defensive plan that pushed their best mobile units far into Belgium, incompetence on the part of several divisional commanders in the Ardennes region, and some very bad luck, more than failure of the Maginot defenses per se. A more dynamic commander than the lethargic Gamelin would also have helped a lot.

            •  The Hollow Years (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Massconfusion, Jay C, devtob

              Indeed the depleted classes of men available to the French in the period just before the start of WW2 always lay heavy on French planners.  One does need to recognize that they realized in the mid-1920s that they would face that challenge and begin the process 15 years before the crisis period to try to solve it successfully.  Except for command mistakes, they actually achieved those aims.

              One could argue that, rather than a more dynamic commander than Gamelin, the French would have benefited from a less dynamic commander.  Gamelin bet France's future on that very risky rush into Belgium, mostly be choosing to use the one reserve army available to form part of the active defensive line.  That left the French with no strategic reserve in case the German offensive plan for the campaign differed from what the French though they were facing.  That is precisely what happened when the Germans came through the Ardennes and surprised the French totally.

              Corap did not lead the 9th Army very well, and Huntzinger, despite his reputed brilliance, did not do a very good job with the 2nd Army either.  The Germans hitting the seam between those two French armies at Sedan was good luck, as was the fact that the absolute best German units (1st and 2nd Panzer) struck some of the worst French Class B divisions made up of out-of-shape reservists armed with obsolescent weapons (lighter artillery than current) or lacking anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery altogether.  Once the panzer tore a twenty-mile wide hole in French line, no reserve existed to put it back together.

              Interestingly, in my reading on this campaign, I've seen where the French planners who had examined a potential advance through the Ardennes predicted almost to the hour just how long it would take the Germans to be on the Meuse.  Unfortunately, the stove pipes were strong in the French army during that period.  

              "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

              by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:06:12 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  French troops in Belgium fought quite well; (0+ / 0-)

                the French cavalry commander Rene Prioulx was very competent, and in fact stopped the German armored advance cold with heavy losses. This despite commanding a force with very little experience in large scale mobile operations compared to the highly trained German units.

                The tragedy is that by sheer luck the very best German commanders (Guderian, Rommel) faced the very worst French commanders in the Ardennes, and the French response to the German breakthrough at Sedan fatally sluggish. Almost everything went right for the Germans, and everything wrong for the French. It easily could have gone the other way. Only in retrospect does it seem inevitable.

        •  100th...the Century (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          subtropolis
    •  And don't forget Patton's secret weapon (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MPociask, ybruti, devtob

      General Patton profited well from the Allies breaking the German code.  As he broke out of Falaise and across France, he used the detailed information of German troop concentrations and tactics to foil the enemy time again.

    •  I Once Read Some of Patton's Writing (8+ / 0-)

      On the subject of infantry combat. He argued that "crawling on their bellies" was not how American soldiers should advance under fire. They should be standing, moving forward steadily, firing all the while. I came away thinking "this guy was batshit insane."

      It was a long time ago, but ISTR it was in one of the appendixes to an edition of his book War As I Knew It.

      My books, both e- and tree: http://tinyurl.com/7duag4c

      by JDRhoades on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:17:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Patton: The Updated Cavalry General (5+ / 0-)

      Eisenhower kept Patton around because he knew that the Allies would need a cavalry general able to exploit a breakthrough in the German lines and chivvy them to their defeat.  Patton's clear specialty was exploitation.  His success in an assault battle was the standard for the American commanders of the time.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:05:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Patton is never liked (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay C, PinHole, mightymouse, devtob

      either hated or loved.  My uncle served with 3rd Army in the 50's.  The old timers there still swore up and down that he'd been killed by the OSS to keep him from cleaning up the Soviets.

      Probably it was his talent for pushing green soldiers to unbelievable limits that was his legacy.

      It's said that military schools are the places where we teach the officers of tomorrow how to win the battles of yesterday.  Patton and many other US generals had been schooled deeply in the American Civil War.  That may well be why he used his cavalry (armor) so well.

      “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

      by markdd on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:34:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  There were approximately (difficult to be.. (7+ / 0-)

      ..accurate due to attrition) 11 German armoured formations facing the British and Canadian armies on the Caen Front, versus 2 opposite the American forces.......at this stage there were no more reserves available to Britain, and understrength armoured regiments were being broken up and the survivors distributed to the rest (see, 'Mailed Fist', John Foley)

      This lack of manpower can, in part be attributed to 'Bomber' Harris's insane attempt to win the war by area bombing Germany, and 'consuming' (either dead or PoW) enormous numbers of military-age youth. The only fighting force which had a higher casualty rate than RAF Bomber Command was the German U-Boat force!

      Precision NIGHT attacks, as practised by No 5 Group Lancasters, and marked at low-level by the Mosquitoes of No 627 Sqn and others, finally showed the way it should have been done, but by the time this technique was perfected, the war was virtually over.

      Harris refused to go for choke-point industries, or do more than give some of his effort to bombing oil targets.

      As you can gather I am NOT a supporter of Harris!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:24:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Harris regarded civilian mass murder as... (6+ / 0-)

        a feature, not a bug. He was delighted by the firestorm that destroyed Hamburg, and tried without success to repeat the effect over and over, until Dresden late in the war.

        The allied air war on Germany basically achieved two things: it diverted a massive amount of German war production & manpower into otherwise useless anti-aircraft guns, and it ground the lethally skillful Luftwaffe into mincemeat, leaving the German army defenseless against air attack.

        This limited accomplishment was at enormous financial and manpower cost, and it had almost no effect on German industrial production until the end of 1944, partly due to the mind-bogging failure to specifically target Germany's very vulnerable oil production. As it was, the tiny fraction of the bombing effort aimed at oil production virtually paralyzed the Wehrmacht by late 1944.

        •  The Soviets capturing the Romanian oil fields (4+ / 0-)

          in August 1944 did far more to paralyze the German Armed Forces than the bombing, in my view.

          -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

          by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:05:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's tragic, really. (6+ / 0-)

            At the end of WWII, the U.S. armed forces analyzed their performance and that of their opponents in the just concluded conflict. It's fascinating reading. The U.S. Army ground forces were brutally candid and forthright in their analysis, accurately noting that German ground forces were roughly twice as effective per man, with the exception of highly trained airborne divisions and a handful of extremely well led armored units. Part of the immense combat effectiveness of current U.S. ground forces is a result of absorbing some of the German lessons about unit cohesion and training.

            The U.S. Army Air Force, by contrast, analyzed its own performance through rose-colored glasses, grossy exaggerating the effectiveness of aerial bombing in general and strategic bombing in particular. This was intentional, part of a successful campaign to become a separate branch of the armed forces. They were aided by the scary new reality of nuclear weapons. The truth was that the U.S. strategic bombing campaign was relatively ineffectual in hampering German war production. This was partly due to poor bombing accuracy, partly due to German success at dispersing and concealing factories, and partly due to grossly incompetent target selection. (Example: huge losses were sustained in futile attacks on ball-bearing factories, when Germany could easily buy ball bearings from Sweden & Switzerland to replace any lost production). The air campaign did succeed in destroying the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe through grinding attrition, easily its greatest accomplishment. And bombing greatly reduced German oil production in the last 6 months of the war, but this could actually have been decisive if a concerted attempt to destroy
            Germany's extremely vulnerable petroleum industry had been undertaken. Giant, fragile, impossible-to-conceal oil refineries would have been quite easy to destroy compared to ball bearing factories. Yet no concentrated effort to do so was undertaken until very near the end of the war, by which time it was increasingly irrelevant.

             But the exaggerated assessment of strategic bombing led directly to U.S. folly in Vietnam.

            •  Great reply. The thing is, though, that oil (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              PrahaPartizan, devtob

              refineries weren't actually all that vulnerable to bombing, for three reasons:
              1) The engineers that designed them recognized the day-to-day risk of fire, so built them out of non-flammable materials, mostly concrete and steel. Containment ponds and other features were standard due to ordinary risks, let alone bombing;
              2) Large and effective fire-fighting infrastructures were, again, SOP. This included weed and brush control, on-site fire-fighting equipment, and other measures both passive and aggressive;
              3) High explosive bombs rely on blast effect to do damage, and refineries offered few possibilities of blast containment. They were open to the sky, large networks of pipes and girders and such, where blast could dissipate easily. Much the same effect as when the Germans tried to bomb the radar towers in England in 1940.

              Nearly all the leaders in WWII just assumed that oil fields and oil refineries would be easy targets for bombers because they contained large amounts of volatile substances. This assumption led to some of the strategic directions the war took (like Hitler trying to hold on to the Crimea because the Soviets could use it to bomb the Romanian oil refineries.)

              But they were mistaken. Refineries were hardened targets, by their very nature. Oil fields, even more so.

              -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

              by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:23:41 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  Denied Post-War Peerage (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        devtob, Jay C

        I recall reading in a history of the RAF Bomber Command that Harris was the only high-ranking military commander who was denied a post-war peerage as an honor for having commanded in war.  The futility of how Bomber Command had been led apparently had seeped into the British leadership's understanding even by shortly after the fighting stopped.  One can understand just how the loss in available personnel was affecting even Bomber Command as the commanders kept trying to reduce the number of airmen aboard each aircraft by eliminating one position after another as the war progressed.  I suspect that if Harris could have figured out to reduce the necessary crew size for a Lancaster/Halifax down to two (pilot and bombardier/navigator/flight engineer) he would have done it.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 02:51:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If he had wanted to do that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          devtob

          he would have advocated for a vast fleet of Mosquito bombers. There was nothing that a Lanc could do that 3 Mosquitoes couldn't do, faster, safer, and with one less crewman overall.

          But no, Harris was wedded to the four-engine heavies. Bigger was better. I strongly suspect the man has penis issues.

          -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

          by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:53:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  When I saw that Patton quote (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      devtob, Ralphdog, commonscribe

      I immediately thought of Metz. Thanks for your detailed comment. The popular image of Patton is mostly false.

      -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

      by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:07:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  No words; I am humbled and honored you shared. (13+ / 0-)

    I will let Lt. Col. John McRae MD speak for me:

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 06:53:40 PM PST

  •  An interesting book... (22+ / 0-)

    ...  that talks some about Verdun is "Aftermath: The Remnants of War."  It's written by a guy who visited 20th century battlefields and wrote about how they are today.  He had a chapter on the French government agency that works to this day removing tons and tons of unexploded WW1 artillery shells that still scar the land.  Haunting book...

  •  Appreciated as always Major (24+ / 0-)

    World War I is treated as a big deal if you go to school in Canada, as I did. The Canadians gave their fair share of blood, not at Verdun but at many other places including Vimy Ridge.

    Visit Lacking All Conviction, your patch of grey on those too-sunny days.

    by eataTREE on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 07:20:02 PM PST

  •  I had the great honor of meeting the last pilot. (24+ / 0-)

    Otto Roosen was 99 years old when I met him in 1992.  He was the last surviving aviator from WW-I.  That was at Aerodrome '92, at Guntersville, Alabama.  Also at that air show was Manfred von Richthofen's niece, whose first name has slipped my mind.  Her father was his brother.  She was a little girl when the great ace would visit their home as he was on leave.  

    Otto said that he did not like modern rudder pedals, he preferred the rudder bar.  But they had a replica DH-4 there and I got to see him flying it with an instructor/safety pilot, holding tight formation with two DR-I triplanes and an Albatross.  The old boy had not lost his touch, even at that age.  

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 08:05:44 PM PST

  •  Amen to U.S. Grant quote (24+ / 0-)

    There is a very good WWI Museum in Kansas City. I knew little of WWI before visiting it. The museum is moving, and as you say of the french Memorials, thankfully lacking in bluster and bravado. Thank you for taking us along on your Verdun visit, 'appreciate it.

  •  When I was very small, (11+ / 0-)

    one of our neighbors was an elderly veteran of World War I who'd been in the Yankee Division.

    My father, a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge, always spoke to and of him with the greatest respect.

    The truth is rarely pure and never simple. -- Oscar Wilde

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 08:38:28 PM PST

  •  3ème Tirailleur (17+ / 0-)

    Is, more correctly, '3rd Regiment of Skirmishers' ...

    •  My maternal grandfather served in India, during .. (15+ / 0-)

      ...the first few years of the Twentieth century. His discharge papers were dated 1903. In 1914, he rejoined the Army, serving in the Durham Light Infantry, and eventually rising to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major. He was gassed in 1918, and died at home, in Derbyshire, 'of wounds' in 1919. He was buried with full military honours. (My cousin, Billy, has his medals and citations).

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 09:04:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Similar to German Jaeger (7+ / 0-)

      "Tirailleur" does tend to translate closer to the German expression "Jaeger" as used in a military context, doesn't it?  By WW1, it's meaning had been kind of lost compared to the term as used in Napoleonic times.  During Boney's times, the French did differentiate a lot between regiments de ligne and the tirailleurs. who were that cloud of shooters deployed in front of the main battle line trying to disrupt the enemy's lines and shield it from fire as the main battle line advanced.  By WW1, most of the world's armed forces with any long history used the terms to designate units with special histories and markings, because everybody fought in loose formations and was firing a rifle.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:27:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My Le Robert Micro dictionary (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jay C, PeterHug, PrahaPartizan, devtob

        Gives two definitions of the noun le tirailleur:

        1.  Soldat détaché pour tirer à  volonté sur l'ennemi. Soldats déployés en tirailleurs, en lignes espacées sans profondeur.

        2. Soldats de certaines troupes d'infanterie hors du territoir métropolitain (français) et qui étaient formés d'autochtones. Trirailleurs algeriéns, sénégalais.

        While my French is weaker than I wish it were, the first definition refers to detached soldiers who are to skirmish at will with the enemy. The second refers to French soldiers from outside metropolitan France, such as Algerian or Senegalese soldiers fighting under the French flag.
        •  A simple translation, Ernest: (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          devtob, Margouillat

          Tirailleur:

          1. Soldier detached to fire at will at the enemy. Soldiers deployed as tirailleurs: in lines spaced without depth.

          2. Soldiers of certain infantry troops from outside metropolitan (French) territory, and formed from indigenous peoples. (Algerian, Senegalese tirailleurs)

          I'm not sure of all the details of French military nomenclature, but (before, after and) in both World Wars, they deployed many formations of troops raised from their colonial dependencies (mainly in North and West Africa): their unit designations often differed from those of the main French Army.

          •  Tirailleurs... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jay C

            I didn't really try to translate that term, as in the French army of that time it was (and still is) perceived as colonial infantry troops (#2 definition) !
            A good movie in the WWII version would be "Days of Glory" in 2006 ("Indigènes" in french)!

            Still in WW1, most of them were used as cannon fodder even though they often were very good soldiers, even when decimated by the cold winters and the very scarce equipment they had (as the others anyhow)!

            Relating to other posts, I'm old enough to have had a grandfather at WW1's "Chemin des Dames", and a father in a "Infantrie coloniale de marine" corps "caught arms in hand" with the remnants of his unit in the black forest (Germany) in 1939...

            Sure for the next generation (my children) WW1 fades a bit, though it's still learned in class and there are many remembrance ceremonies. This year (2012) was the first time when the last "poilu" died of old age and none were left for the Parisian 14th of July...

            Times flow, and after three major wars with Germany the next generation works on Europe and behind the economics (good or bad), it's those wars and those useless deaths that bonds our countries...

            "What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night" A.E. Housman

            by Margouillat on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 04:39:32 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  A looser translation would be "light infantry" EOM (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PrahaPartizan, devtob
      •  Just What Is Light Infantry (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        devtob, Jay C

        You're right, but I don't know anybody who can define just what light infantry is in the post-19th century context.  Generally, it now applies to infantry formations which lack the heavy equipment required to engage in the principal battles between great powers, like tanks and armored fighting vehicles.  As a result , light infantry now means mostly airborne, or air assault, or special forces, or marine battalions.  None of that really conveys what the name really meant for that particular regiment.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 02:58:38 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  if you're inclined to read (13+ / 0-)

    mysteries, there's a well researched series by Charles Todd, American, on the post-war experiences of the English.

    The central character is a Scotland Yard detective with shell shock, and as cases take him all over the UK, you see the damage done to the civilian population as well as to the returned veterans.

    The truth is rarely pure and never simple. -- Oscar Wilde

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 09:54:06 PM PST

  •  Verdun was my very first war memorial (32+ / 0-)

    visit on my very first trip to Europe in 1967.  I was a callow youth of about 22, and I saw it, courtesy of a student organization that had arranged a summer job for me in Switzerland.  I was agog at everything I saw, of course, but I was stunned by Verdun. Two things still stand out in my mind. I took a (probably forbidden) walk around the outside of the building.  There were small, ground level windows all around the structure. I remember bending down and looking inside: one, vast pile of human bones, the bones of the 130,000 met my gaze...  I just about broke down at the sight.  The other thing that sticks in my mind was that, according to the guide, each marble or granite stone that made up the huge building had been bought and donated by people from the allied countries involved in the battle.  Each stone -- at least the visible ones inside -- bore the names of the donating towns or individuals.  That the structure had been a collective effort somehow personalized the experience in quite a remarkable way, I felt.

    -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

    by GulfExpat on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 10:33:24 PM PST

  •  Thank you for this- (25+ / 0-)

    My father in law, lost his leg in those trenches in France.  He was drafted; his very unhappy face is still shown in a picture in a county courthouse in WVa, with about 24 others from the area.

    He was shot in one of those trenches and left for dead.  The Germans came through with their horse carts, throwing the bodies into them.  Somehow, he came too, and managed a groan.  The German's took him to a field hospital, and a German doctor cleaned up his damaged leg with an amputation.  He was traded in some sort of prisoner exchange and ended up at Walter Reed.  

    Then he was sent to Iowa, to learn a trade, but in WVa there were no jobs for the able bodied, let alone one with only one leg.  Plus his father kept badgering him to come home and help on the family farm, and so he left the college early.  His father was mad at the son for getting injured!  Can you imagine?

    We were in France last May (went to Monet's Garden & Mt Sant Michael), and we both are looking forward to returning.  I think it will be good for Mr PinHole to see these places, and see how the French have kept those who made the sacrifices in a place of honor.  Thank you for the diary and the pix.

    When I met this man in 1965, I remembered thinking back to the 'reasons' for WW I as presented in my high school history class, and thinking how idiotic so many had suffered for the egos of a few.  Of course this was the time that the Vietnam War was cranking up, and I found that just as pointless.  

  •  Stellar. (16+ / 0-)

    I've become a huge Major Kong fan. This is good writing.

    It rubs the loofah on its skin or else it gets the falafel again.

    by Fishgrease on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 11:35:05 PM PST

  •  I suggest a visit to Les Invalides (in Paris) (10+ / 0-)

    The map room is cool.  And they have Napoleon's dog.

    Design of Grant's tomb is an homage to Les Invalides.

  •  Thank you for this diary. (17+ / 0-)

    I've never been able to read much about WWI without recoiling in complete horror at the conditions on the battlefield.  The gas and the mud and the horses...all too much for me.

    My wife and I took the train from Paris to Caen and hired a taxi for the day to take us to the American Cemetery at Normandy and a few other places.  It was cool with mist in the air and as I stood on the beach looking up at the ground our men had to cover my hair stood on end.  The beach, btw, is not sand but millions and millions of flat smooth stones of all colors.  The cemetery is, well, awe inspiring.  Silent, manicured...and so terribly sad.  

    But then, all of these cemeteries are sad.  When will we learn?  

    Artillery...Vietnam...me.  

     

    The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

    by Persiflage on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 12:22:30 AM PST

  •  It's said the War of 1812 is t' "forgotten war"... (14+ / 0-)

    ...But the rapid dive into the memory hole of World War I, here in America, distresses me.

    It was our first Global War. Our first Industrialized Killing.  The first time we lost a whole generation across many nations, never to know those kids' music, art, medicine, scientific discoveries.

    Let me assure you, Europe (especially England and France) remembers WWI.

    My Granddad was in that War, and he was a damn significant guy.

    Thanks Major Kong for remembering, and making it personal again.

  •  Wisdom (11+ / 0-)
    "This war was a fearful lesson and should  teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future."
    Ulysses S. Grant

    WWI was another example of generals fighting the last war with new weapons without changing tactics. Human waves against machine guns, brilliant!

    See my sig

    Hobbs: "How come we play war and not peace?" Calvin: "Too few role models."

    by BOHICA on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:17:10 AM PST

  •  Verdun and Douaumont (10+ / 0-)

    Were among the most sobering sights I've ever seen. Everyone who's urging that a war be started, with anyone, anywhere, should visit there first. Thanks for the tour, MK.

    We also visited monument on a hill, whose name I cannot remember, where so much lead had been pumped into the ground that 70 years later, nothing grew there. And this was on some farmer's land, whom we greeted at his work as we went by. To see him, you'd have thought there'd never been an unpeaceful day there.

    "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

    by sidnora on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:43:12 AM PST

  •  ~1 Mil casualties in 4 Square Miles,HORRIFIC (7+ / 0-)

    it was a slaughter that went on for over a year.

    80 % of Success is Just Showing Up !

    by Churchill on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 04:28:20 AM PST

  •  What is striking to me, even after living here (22+ / 0-)

    for 11+ years, is how every village and hamlet, no matter how small, has a monument to its war dead. And every one of those monuments has on the side (or sides) dedicated to listing the dead from WWI… an impossibly long number of names.

    The lists on the sides for WWII (and French Indochina and Algeria) are much, much shorter.

    Whole generations were wiped out in this "war to end all wars." Properties passed into the hands of distant relatives. No family, and I mean literally NO family was left untouched. A full quarter of French men between the ages of 18 and 45 were killed or wounded in that ghastly conflict.

    I have a collection of antique photo postcards, and quite a number of the villages pictured in those cards didn't exist after WWI. They were totally obliterated, wiped off the map in every sense of the word.

    We Americans have very little idea what it is to live in blood-soaked land — our last such conflict having been our own Civil War.

    Thanks for posting this. I have also paid my respects to the dead at Verdun, and also at Vimy Ridge near Arras.

    •  Yes (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joy of Fishes, mofembot, devtob, terabytes

      I'm a sucker for monuments.  Whenever I came to a small French town I would stop at those monuments.

      The long list of names for the Great War is horrific.
       

      Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.

      by MoDem on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:31:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  There is a footnote in the Afterword to (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mofembot, Joy of Fishes, devtob, terabytes

      "The Guns of August" ...

      In the chapel of St Cyr (before it was destroyed during World War II) the memorial tablet to the dead of the Great War bore only a single entry for "the Class of 1914."  The mortality rate is further illustrated by the experience of Andre Varagnac, a nephew of the cabinet minister Marcel Sembat, who came of military age in 1914 but was not mobilized in August owing to illness, and found himself, out of the twenty-seven boys in his lycee class, tho only one alive by Christmas.
      I first read that about over 30 years ago, and it's stuck in my head ever since.
  •  My grandfather fought at Verdun (13+ / 0-)

    As a member of an French Algerian unit, he was on the front lines nearly the entire war.  He was injured a few times, but made it back in one piece.  He never talked about it much, but "Verdun" always had a revered meaning in our household.  It was a complete bloodbath for both sides.  Those who survived did so out of pure chance.  

    You state quite well the toll the "Great War" had on France.  The war took place on their land, and the killed and wounded made up a substantial percentage of the young men in that country.  Less than 20 years after the war, France was again facing a military threat from Germany, but, not surprisingly, had no appetite for war.  The wounds were still fresh from the near apocalyptic battles so recently fought.  But when war did come to France again when the Germans launched their offensive in May, 1940, the French were ready.  But their tactics and leaders were not.  They fought hard and bravely, but their best troops were outflanked, they divided their armor into too many units, and their air force was inadequate and caught napping.  

    I often ask myself how the U.S. would react to the prospect of war had our country been bloodied to the extent the French were in WW I.

    •  French High Command Thoroughly Outgeneraled (18+ / 0-)

      The French military had many weaknesses, but none so bad as the rot which existed at the very highest levels in the spring of 1940.  The officer corps thorougly distrusted and disdained the enlisted men under their command, and the sentiment was returned in full.  The French high command decided to go for broke with its last defensive plan in the spring of 1940, in large part because of all of the carnage one can see at Verdun.  They decided to try to move deep into Belgium in order to keep the Germans far from the French border, which required them to deploy on the line the one army they had held in reserve for counter-attack until late winter 1940.  Had they still had that unit, they likely would have been able to stop the German's thrust through the Ardennes, with much different outcomes for the world as a result.  

      Lastly, too many Americans forget how many French soldiers died in the 1940 campaign.  The French had combat deaths in the range of 85K-92K in just six weeks of fighting.  The French fought much harder and better than most Americans appreciate in that campaign.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:44:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for this insight (10+ / 0-)

        Many Americans have the sense the French just welcomed the Germans with open arms.  Of course that was never true.

        On the other hand, as a Polish-American, I have to say the real crime was the Sitzkrieg or Phoney War - if the French and Brits had advanced on Germany while Germany had the vast majority of its army invading Poland, we would be living in a far different world today.

        The fun thing about historical could-have-beens is you can keep going back forever in this way.  Right now someone's saying, "Poland, September '39, what!  The REAL problem was the failure of resolve of the West at Munich!  If they went to war over the Sudentenland in '38, game over Hitler!"  

        •  Great points (5+ / 0-)

          There were so many screwups before Germany took over Europe to count.  But the Sitzkrieg ranks right up there.  The Germans had very little to combat a strike had the French and British done so.   I even think the Allies would have been able to convince Holland and Belguim to join them.  A different world indeed would have resulted.

        •  The Bomber Will Always Get Through (6+ / 0-)

          Unfortunately, the bomber pioneers had thoroughly spooked the Allies leaders in the mid-1930s.  Everybody had images of cities in ruins after one strike with 1930s technologies.  It did lead the Allies to make some truly awful decisions.

          Chamberlain's decision to negotiate with Hitler over the Sudetenland ranks right up there with the worst.  Hitler's generals were very chary about going to war in 1938.  They knew the Wehrmacht was unprepared, comparing very poorly with the army its own officers had known in 1914.  Worse, they had real concerns about the Czech fortifications they'd have to defeat, which they tested after the Czech capitulation and found to be as dfficult as they feared.  The Czechs didn't have a "blitzkrieg" operational doctrine the way the Wehrmact did, but Czech tanks were pretty damned good.  So good, in fact, that they made up three or four Panzer divisison which invaded France in 1940, equipped the Panzertruppen when they invaded Russia in 1941 and were adapted to become the best self-propelled anti-tank gun for the Wehrmacht, the Hetzer.  The Czech army had good rifles and good light machine guns and was about two-thirds the size of the Wehrmacht in 1938.  The Czech's problem was staying power because the German population was larger and economy was bigger.  Britain's decision to look the other way and the French decision to default on a treaty obligation (that pesky Little Entente) really sealed the deal.  Czechoslovakia likely would have fallen in 1938, certainly no faster than the Polish collapse in 1939, with the advantage that the Luftwaffe was not as well prepared as they were in 1939.  Had the British and French ultimately rallied to the Czech's side, even Uncle Joe would have gone along to help, but that was even more anathema for Chamberlain than allowing Hitler to run rampant for a while.  Only Hitler's lies finally persuaded Chamberlain that he couldn't be trusted, since it can't be forgotten that Britain and France did declare war on Germany, not the other way round.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:51:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The game of historians (5+ / 0-)

            Playing what-ifs with toy soldiers :)  I say that as a proud owner of my history degree, of course.  

            I think if the French had kept their treaty obligations in '38, and Hitler had forced a war against his generals advice, it would have been disastrous for the Germans.  Reducing the Czech fortifications would have taken precious time and lots of troops - meanwhile, the French, with a determined push, could have smashed through the German paper defenses in the west.  I wouldn't be surprised in that scenario to see an opportunistic Poland make a move on Germany's eastern front.  As you mentioned, the Luftwaffe was not as prepared in 38, and the German army was simply not mechanized or large enough to fight on two or even three fronts at once.  

            Of course, in that scenario, I don't think you'd see any appetite for a total war - France would probably be happy with retaking the Saar, Poland would gain some territory, and the German war machine would be defeated, but not dismantled.  It's a guessing game whether Hitler retains power, but who could have feasibly overthrown him, even in a defeated Germany?

          •  The Czechs (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jay C, PrahaPartizan, devtob

            The Czechs were put in an nearly hopeless position by Hitler's annexation of Austria. They were surrounded by Germany on three sides; Silesia and Saxony in the north, Bavaria in the west, and Austria in the south. And the Czech border regions, where the fortifications were, were in German-speaking Sudetenland.

            The Czech army was, as you say, capable, well-trained and modern, but its military position was untenable due to simple geography.

            The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

            by Korkenzieher on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:54:10 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  True, and yet (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Calamity Jean, IM, Jay C, PrahaPartizan, devtob

          My impression has always been that the French and British in the west weren't militarily ready for the war at all, and that an Allied offensive at any point in 1939 was unthinkable. As far as saving Poland, the Poles surrendered just two weeks after Britain and France declared war. British troops will have still been embarking on ships in Dover and Southampton at the time. There's no way they could have invaded Germany that fast; the logistics would have been impossible.

          Much time was wasted between Munich and Hitler's attack on Poland. Chamberlain thought he'd obtained peace, but he was naive. He'd only postponed the inevitable, and he and the French didn't prepare for the inevitable. That part of the west's folly is what led to the Sitzkrieg.

          The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

          by Korkenzieher on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:44:13 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  That timeline is a little misleading (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jay C, mightymouse, PrahaPartizan, devtob

            The French and Poles had war-gamed out the scenario of a German invasion.  Poland was supposed to hang on while the French army could mobilize - the French were supposed decisively strike 15 days after starting mobilization.  Shortly before the invasion, the British had also announced they would come to the military aid of Poland.  

            The French and British, however, without telling Poland, had already decided that they were not going to immediately attack, but would instead plan for a multi-year war to defeat Germany.  Poland could be helped after the war was over.

            Poland was then pressured to stop mobilization by France (in the hopes of a negotiated peace), even as the Germany army was massing on Poland's border.  Thus, Poland did not start full-scale mobilization until almost the day of invasion, September 1.  France started pre-mobilization on August 26, and full mobilization on September 1, the day of the German invasion of Poland.  

            The Polish army was beaten back much quicker than Poland had planned for, but was still an organized, effective fighting force on the 15th of September - the day the French were supposed to start the invasion of Germany (the French had overwhelming superiority along their border, in manpower and especially in equipment, as all of Germany's mechanized equipment was in Poland).  However, by then, the French had already decided they weren't going to invade after all.  

            2 days later, The Soviet Union invaded Poland, and that was that.  Warsaw fell at the end of September (almost 30 days after Germany invaded).  You can bet old Stalin would have thought twice about joining der Fuhrer if he knew it would mean war with the west.  Instead, he got to gobble up most of Poland and be on the side of the Allies later on.

        •  Easier said than done (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          IM, devtob

          Neither the British nor French were in a position to mobilize their forces to invade Germany in September, 1939.

          Also, there's no guarantee that had there been an Allied invasion of Germany in 1939 that it would have been successful.

          The Poles and French both had excellent armies and both were caught flat-footed by "Blitzkrieg" tactics while fighting on their own ground. A relatively green Anglo-French force attempting to cross the Rhine might have been decimated in the same way that the Anglo-French force to Norway was.

    •  Perhaps I'm too much of a Francophile (22+ / 0-)

      But I get offended at all the "cheese eating surrender monkey" and "For sale: French rifle, dropped once; never fired" jokes that -- primarily -- American right-wingers love to repeat.

      No matter what you may think of their politics or their military objectives, it is in no way justifiable, in my opinion, to characterize the French military as cowardly because of what happened to them in 1940. They had virtually no political or senior military leadership due to the infighting that led to the collapse of the French Third Republic; their most revered and experienced former military leader (Marshal Pétain) was elderly and was a strong advocate for negotiating an armistice with Germany in Spring 1940; and their primary defenses were essentially designed to withstand WWI-style tactics. Unfortunately for Europe and the world, Nazi Germany had completely rewritten the tactical manual for war during the 1930s.

      France suffered deaths in WWI of over 4 percent of its entire population in Metropolitan France (what most people think of as the nation of France), with more than an additional 10 percent wounded (source - Wikipedia).

      And they won. They pushed back against the German invasion and eventually prevailed.

      The U.S., by contrast, had deaths of a little over 0.1 percent of its population, with 0.2 percent wounded.

      To think that less than 22 years after such a national calamity as WWI, with weak and disintegrating leadership and outdated defenses, France could withstand the full might of Nazi Germany, is ridiculous.

      Keep in mind that no nation, by itself, successfully withstood the full power of an attack on its own soil by Nazi Germany when it was at the height of its strength. Even Britain, when Hitler turned his eye across the English Channel, had only to deal with his Luftwaffe (air force) and Kriegsmarine (navy) - no ground forces or Panzer divisions were landed on British soil (except for the Channel Islands, which were given up without resistance due to the hopelessness of defense).

      And the force that the Nazis threw against the USSR was diluted by occupation in western and central Europe as well as the fighting in North Africa.

      It's easy for we Americans to sit back on our haunches and joke about the cheese-eating surrender monkeys over in gay Paree.  But I would hope that anyone who has seen the skulls and bones stockpiled beneath the floor of the Douaument Ossuary, or the still-hummocky ground surrounding it for miles, showing the effect -- a century later -- of the millions of artillery shells France absorbed, or the countless memorials seemingly in every French town no matter what size listing the names of "ses enfants morts pour la France," that they, at least, could find it in themselves to understand why, a bare two decades later, France lacked the stomach for another spin of death's wheel.

      •  A good follow-up read (14+ / 0-)

        is William Shirer's The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940.  There was a lot of rot everywhere, not only in the political and military sphere.  During a time when France needed desperately to upgrade their military the wealthy there basically offshored every franc to avoid paying taxes.  

        It's a fascinating book, and in many ways superior to his The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  He lived in France during much of this period and loved it.  

        you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

        by Dem Beans on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:54:13 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Frighteningly reminiscent of 21st C. USA EOM (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jay C, Dem Beans, PrahaPartizan, devtob
        •  Shirer's book on the Third Republic (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dem Beans, PrahaPartizan, daninoah, devtob

          Isn't, IMO, just a "good read", it's a "must-read" for anyone trying to understand the history of WWII and the debacle of 1940. And no, "surrender monkeys" doesn't cut it, by a long shot, as an "explanation".

          One of Shirer's main points, though, has always stuck with me as one of the great "what-if" questions about the war. In his estimation, the evil fallout from Munich (and probably the War itself) might have been deflected or avoided way earlier: in March, 1936, when Hitler "re-militarized" the Rhineland: sending German troops in o the demilitarized zones in blatant violation of the Versailles Treaty.

          The German troops, btw, had paraded into the Rhineland behind marching bands: the Wehrmacht was woefully inferior in early 1936: it was few in numbers,,  they had few, if any tanks, inadequate artillery, etc.: a quick response by a couple of French divisions would have probably sent them running back in disorder (and Shirer thinks the German military would probably have deposed Hitler for embarrassing them).

          Unfortunately, "quick response" wasn't in the French military vocabulary at the time: the High Command (and the Government) dickered and dithered for a whole week before deciding on a response, and since the
          only option HQ came up with was a total-war total-mobilization, they decided on the easier way out: to do nothing. A first opportunity wasted....

        •  Another great read (but in French only) (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dem Beans, Margouillat, Jay C

          is Le Desastre de 1940 by Claude Paillet.  I was in college and studying abroad when I picked this book up in 1986.  It is big book with great research.  It's been a while since I read it and my French was better then than it is now, but I'm going to pull it out and take a refresher course.  What I liked about the book was that it pulled no punches but certainly took the French perspective (and side) as to how they lost so quickly and comprehensively.  But what I learned for the first time when I read this book is how good the individual French soldier was, how savage the fighting was, and how the officers (and the central government) lost the war not just on the battlefield, but in the years before.  

          •  French Planning Misfortune (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            daninoah, Jay C

            The French high command believed that an armored force could not successfully be supported coming through the Ardennes.  Consequently, some of the less-than-adequate Class B divisions (equivalent to US National Guard units of the period) were deployed there and were assaulted by the cream of the German panzer troops.  Placing the best of the veterans against the worst of the untried produced the expected result.  Otherwise, the French armored forces fought the Germans to a standstill on the Belgian plains during the early phases of the campaign.  When the French infantry didn't need to worry about German panzer attacking from the rear, they badly mauled German attacks.  Most Americans don't know that the German campaign consisted of two phases (pre-Dunkirk and post-Dunkirk) and that the French, with about half the number of troops available as at the start of the campaign, ferociously defended northeast France against the Germans in that second phase with an adaptive hedgehog defense approach.  It was just unfortunate that the French defense plan was snake bit.

            "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

            by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:29:47 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  I especially hate the "How many Frenchmen does it (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dem Beans, PrahaPartizan, daninoah, devtob

        take to defend Paris" "joke."

        If you know anything about the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War or the First Battle of the Marne during WW1, you know just how offensive and inaccurate it is.

    •  That wasn't a reply to you, daninoah (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      daninoah, glorificus

      And the "you" in my comment should have been "one."

    •  The French malaise extended to preparations for (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      daninoah, devtob

      war.

      Prior to 1939, the French defense industry was hobbled by strikes. The workers were objecting both to exploitation in harsh economic times and to the prospect of rearming for another war.

      Sadly, it backfired for everyone. Many excellent French tanks and planes weren't available in sufficient quantities by 1940.

      •  French Preparations Accelerated Quickly (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        daninoah, devtob, Jay C

        Most of the problems which the French defense industry experienced with labor unrest happened at least two years prior to the war.  The biggest problem with the French rearmament effort was that French industrialists had take most of their money out of the country, relying on the strong franc policy the French central bank had maintained by adhering to the gold standard long after it was prudent.  Some of that money was flowing back int France by the time of the Munich agreements, but it was not soon enough to allow French defense industries to reequip adequately.

        French military planners also severely hampered French rearmament.  During the middle years of the 1930s decade, French air planners developed the concept of a multi-purpose battle plan which would be used as a bomber, fighter, attack aircraft, recon plane, etc.  As anyone might imagine, it left l'Armee de l'Air with many virtually unusable aircraft.  The French air doctrine was also badly fragmented, not being able to decide if it wanted to be a ground attack support force or a strategic command focused on bombing the enemy's heartland, or both.  The French ground doctrine suffered from similar defects, with the first armored and mechanized divisions not being organized until 1938.  In many cases, the French had the physical equipment available, but they lacked the doctrine to employ it adequately, a clear failure in leadership by the military high command.  The French generals have tried to sweep their failures in thinking in the late 1930s under the rug ever since.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:15:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Our Country was bloodied like the brave French.... (0+ / 0-)

      ....in the American Civil War.  Fought between Americans (north and south) on our own soil.  Sadly, trench warfare, machine guns, heavy mortars, repeating rifles, and many tactics from the American Civil War found their way into World War I.

      Fortunately, America didn't have another war 20 years later on her own soil like France.

      The first episode of the Award Winning "World At War" series produced in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum in Britan gives a chilling account of a town in France left in ruins, and not rebuilt, intentionally so that the unbelievable brutality the French suffered would be remembered.  This was for World War II, but the idea is the same.

  •  A very good and insightful diary, but the Patton (6+ / 0-)

    quote missed the point about fixed fortifications. I have to differ with Old Blood and Guts. The essential point of fixed fortifications (going back at least to Vauban) is not to absolutely stop the enemy, but rather to extract a price and delay advances. For example, under Louis XIV Vauban's defenses slowed down French opposition long enough to negotiate a tolerable peace for the French. Similarly, I'd say the Atlantic Wall was moderately successful for the Germans since it probably delayed the Normandy invasion since the Anglo-Americans had to build up sufficent forces, devise innovations (like the Mulberrys) and gain dominance in air and sea.

    "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere ". C. S. Lewis

    by TofG on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:39:31 AM PST

  •  Americans don't understand the French and WWI (17+ / 0-)

    Spent some time with a friend looking for her family village. In each town the list of those who died in WWI was greater than the current population. An entire generation died for the profit of the military-industrial complex, and the resultant economic collapse was enough to propel Hitler to power.

    When Americans jeer at the French who were reluctant to engage in another war 25 years later, they need to do a little studying.

  •  Thanks (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    glorificus, mightymouse, devtob

    I have always wanted to see Verdun and Stalingrad.  Thanks for posting this diary.

  •  Verdun (6+ / 0-)

    To get a really good sense of the battle's immensity, please read Sir Alistair Horne's "The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916" (1994). Trust me when I say that it'll stick with you for a long time.

    Peace
    Chris

  •  Another thanks for the diary (5+ / 0-)

    Whenever I have friends that have toured Europe, I almost always ask if they're going to see any World War I battlefields.  I usually get strange looks in return.  I'll continue my lonely quest to get Armistice Day re-instated.

  •  it's sad that Americans don't understand WW1 (15+ / 0-)

    It set the stage for the entire 20th century. It directly produced Hitler and World War Two. It made the US a world power and produced the Russian Revolution, leading to the Cold War.

    The war also destroyed an entire British generation.  When I was in England, every little town and hamlet had its centuries-old cemetery next to its centuries-old stone church in the center of town, with row upon row of gravestones dated "1916".  Battle of the Somme.

  •  Trench of the Bayonets was controversial almost (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mofembot, Azazello, devtob

    from the start.  The original idea was that the soldiers were buried alive by a trench collapse with just the bayonets on the rifles protruding above the ground.  It made of course a great patriotic image, but there appears to have been no basis to believe this ever happened.  The more logical explanation seems to have been that the trench was used as a grave, with the position of soldier's bodies marked with their rifles.

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:50:36 AM PST

  •  Wonderful diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    glorificus, Jay C, devtob

    Thank-you for sharing. And the pictures are gorgeous.

    "We must love one another or die." - W. H. Auden

    by marathon on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:50:45 AM PST

  •  Irony in this statement (5+ / 0-)
    "Fixed defenses are monuments to the stupidity of man." - George S. Patton
    Considering how he later bled his own army so badly battering them against Metz.  Second rate German troops were able to do a lot of damage to the attackers because they were dug into the old forts.

    I think the post war conventional wisdom about the folly of fortifications is debatable.  There was a reason Hitler went around the Maginot Line, for example.  He was steered on a more predictable course and could have been stopped had allied forces been deployed appropriately.  The fortifications essentially worked, the Allies failed to take advantage.  Blaming the British failure on the forts and the "surprise" end run may have had a lot more to do with pride and politics than any strategic or tactical realities.  

    Anyway, that's a whole other ball o wax.  Your diary was really great.  I'm envious of your travels and appreciate the way you share it here.  

    When truth is only a matter of opinion, advantage goes to the liars.

    by Sun dog on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:03:56 AM PST

  •  Very moving. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joy of Fishes, devtob

    Thank you.

  •  In the early 70s (4+ / 0-)

    when I was in college, I spent several weeks cycling through northern France and through Belgium into the Netherlands.  Never got to Verdun, but my route took me through the valley of the Somme.  It was then almost 60 years after the battles there, and it could have been my overactive 20 year-old imagination, but I had a distinct eerie feeling as I rode through.  There was an aura of death all around, as if the land, having been soaked with so much blood, wouldn't let go of its ghosts.  A few years later, I had a similar sensation on the hill at Little Bighorn, although it had obviously been much longer since that battle and the scale of destruction entirely different.  I do believe though that the land has memories.

  •  An Interesting movie about the early war period . (5+ / 0-)

    is Joyeux Noel. This dramatizes what happen during the unofficial 1914 Christmas Truce.

    Of course once the chain of command heard what happened.

    In the following years of the war, artillery bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve to try to ensure that there were no further lulls in the combat. Troops were also rotated through various sectors of the front to prevent them from becoming overly familiar with the enemy. Situations of deliberate dampening of hostilities still occurred. For example, artillery was fired at precise points, at precise times, to avoid enemy casualties by both sides.[18]
    another movie about this period to watch is Paths to Glory.

    A Stanley Kubrick anti-war film, about a court-martial of soldiers who refused to continue a suicidal attack who are defended by their CO.

  •  For an excellent book on the battle (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob, PrahaPartizan

    PRICE OF GLORY - Alistair Horne.
    Portrays the troops on both sides as loyal and courageous, but the French military commanders as delusional fools, narcissists and (sometimes) cowards.

        "The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
        And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
        Awaits alike th'inevitable hour.
        The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
    -Thomas Gray

  •  France's collaspe in 1940 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob

    Thanks for helping us remember

    Best thing I've read on what happened in 1940 can be found in
    Military Misfortunes The Anatomy of Failure in War
    by  Gooch, John,  Cohen, Eliot A.,  Cohen, Eliot
    ISBN:  0743280822

    Catastrophic collapse, everyone failed. No way the French could have won

  •  On my bucket list (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob
  •  Visit Kansas City (6+ / 0-)

    Perhaps the only real museum to WW I in the States is in KC.  It is surprisingly about the entire war and shows very clearly in a number of places how minimal the US involvement in the war actually was.

    (I think it misses one point: WW I was not the first true "world war."  I think the Seven Years War, which in the States we call the French and Indian War, was also truly a world war.)

    Finally, I have written here several times that I think any newly installed major leader of the world MUST visit Verdun and think on what it means for the decisions they make in sending their soldies to war.

    Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.

    by MoDem on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:36:09 AM PST

  •  Thanks Kong (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bartcopfan, Joy of Fishes, Jay C, devtob

    Very moving and quite informative.  

    We. Just. Don't. Get. It.

    Our Civil War Battlefields are not seen as the place where 600,000 of our ancestors died, but as obstructions to retail development.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:47:51 AM PST

  •  The War to End All Wars (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joy of Fishes, PinHole, NYFM, devtob

    When we were shutting down my parents house in FL, I found a small red and gold hourglass shaped pin.  It had the lettering USA AEF on the back.  From what my dad said, this is the emblem of the US 7th Division.  It was my grandfathers pin -he had been an artilleryman Over There.  He came back intact  but lucky.  They had been under an artillery barrage/counter barrage, and they were running like mad for their trenches.  He made it, but the Doughboy 2 behind him didn't.

    Thanks again for the great diary.

  •  My Uncle (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joy of Fishes, NYFM, devtob

    was a doughboy and he had a picture of the "boys" in his unit before they left for France. He told me " Here's the boys...half of them where gassed the others like me shot..." and thats all he'd say.  As a little kid when he told me that I didn't quite get what he meant. Of all the books about WWI the most powerful is a work of "fiction" called "Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo. Its been years since I've read it but stays with me today.......

    Give peace a chance get up and dance... Alvin Lee/Ten Years After

    by Blue Collar on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:03:36 AM PST

  •  One the fascinating things about WWI (2+ / 0-)

    to give a horribly inappropriate sports analogy is that the game was basically tied halfway through the 4th quarter. The Germans almost knocked the Allies out 9 months before the armistice with their spring offensive. American numbers streaming into Europe made the difference and saved the allies.

     That war was much different from WWII where the war was basically over at halftime. German and Japanese fanaticism prolonged the war another 2 years.

    •  Or maybe not. Arguably, the Germans were (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      devtob

      attempting a negotiated truce in 1917, but the U.S. entering the war meant that the allies had no reason to continue talks, so the war continued for another 15 months.

      •  What German Peace Talks in 1917 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jay C

        I think you must be thinking of German ideas of negotiating a truce in 1918, not 1917.  In 1917, the Germans were pushing the Mexicans to attack the US, as exemplified in the infamous Zimmerman telegram, which is what finally triggered the US entry into the war.  Wilson might have been miffed by the German unrestricted submarine warfare, but the direct threat to the US shown by their duplicity in promoting another power to attack the US pushed him into asking for a war declaration.  The Germans also would have had no interest in asking for a truce in 1917 because they had just knocked Russia out of the war and were gobbling up huge chunks of Russian territory.  They were also advancing in the Po River Valley, almost taking Italy out of the war too.  The only time the Germans ever asked for discussions was when they were totally incapable of continuing and even then the military dictatorship which had ruled Germany for three years quit and left that task to the civilian government, thereby enabling the "stab in the back" canard to be employed later by the German fascists and revanchists.  German militarism ruled completely in 1917.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:19:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  So much of what happened... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PinHole, devtob

    ...seems like it could be laid at the feet of a military command on both sides that acted as though if they just kept repeating the same futile blunders over and over, eventually it would work. Kind of like conservatives everywhere.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 10:03:10 AM PST

  •  As others have said, thanks for the diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob

    I also recall that Newt Gingrich said it was his visit to the ossuary at Verdun in his youth that triggered his interest in public life.  Personally, I think his public service was a disaster for the US, but also that Lawrence O'Donnell makes a strong case that Newt is the largest single influence in American politics over the last 30 years.

    And it started at Verdun.

    "Push the button, Max!" Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, The Great Race

    by bartcopfan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 10:27:56 AM PST

    •  My guess is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bartcopfan, devtob

      He took one look at it and thought "I bet we could fill up a bigger one than that!"

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 11:42:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  As the website says... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        devtob

        Sadly, No!

        Actually, what I remember from the story on him in an old WaPo Weekly (back when I still believed the corporate, compliant, conservative media) as he was ascending to the Speakership, he saw it as the result of a massive failure of government and/or leadership.  

        You or I might have decided to improve government and/or leadership; I guess he decided to defund them instead.  Either that or your suggestion.

        And I still love yer sig from "Dr. Strangelove"!

        "Push the button, Max!" Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, The Great Race

        by bartcopfan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 12:05:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  WW1 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PrahaPartizan, devtob

    Before passing quick judgements, read Fischer's Germany's Aims In The First World War.  It may open some eyes.  For, it could be argued that Germany's goals in World War I were not very different than in World War II, in terms of territorial expansion.

  •  Several wealthy industrialists got... (4+ / 0-)

    ...very rich supplying arms, supplies, food, everything for the war.  So much so that it made WWII all but inevitable. And all the wars that came after.

    Smedley Butler was right.

  •  Beautiful, somber (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob, Jay C

    meditation on a world gone mad.
    Merci.

    What do we want? Universal health care! When do we want it? Now!

    by cagernant on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:58:32 PM PST

  •  I took my Mom to NE France in 1998, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jay C

    part of a 10-day loop included Rouen, Bayeux (for the tapestry), part of Brittany (Vannes, Quimper, Pointe du Raz, Celtic stones), Blois, Reims (and the Taittinger caves), and back to Paris.

    The highlight of all that was seeing where her father fought and was wounded in the Meuse-Argonne push.

    Spent a couple of hours at Verdun -- atop and inside Douaumont, drive by the ossuary, marvel at the fields still lumpy from long-ago shell holes.

    After lunch, we then followed her father's unit, the 2nd Marine Division, north of Verdun --  visiting the Montfaucon church ruined by WWI artillery, the US monument and the nearby US cemetery (the largest in Europe -- for an hour or so on Armistice Day, we were the only ones there) and ending at Somme-Py which still has a Marine dugout in town and a US Monument on nearby Blanc Mont Ridge.

    Took a photo of Mom next to the 2nd Division part of the monument, walked some of the German trenches, and headed back to the B&B.

    On the way, a sign for Attila's Camp beckoned, so we checked out the remains of what was Attila the Hun's headquarters -- an old Gallo-Roman oppidum with earthen walls -- for the decisive (per Deasy) battle of Chalons, where a Roman/Visigothic army kept the Huns out of Roman Gaul in 451.

    Lots of battlefield ghosts on that trip.

    Back at the B&B, we told the proprietor what we'd done that day, and he related that the photo of a uniformed guy on the mantel was his grandfather -- an artillery officer at Verdun.

    Eyes misted all around as we shared our families' WWI stories.

    Thanks for the diary -- rec'd, tipped and now commented.  

    A public option for health insurance is a national priority.

    by devtob on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:35:00 PM PST

  •  Visit any of the US cemeteries in vicinity? n.t. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob, Jay C

    "Are you bluish? You don't look bluish," attributed to poet Roger Joseph McGough, for the Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968).

    by BlueStateRedhead on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:56:14 PM PST

    •  Sadly I didn't have time (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay C, devtob, BlueStateRedhead

      I barely scratched the surface of the Verdun battlefield in the short time I had there.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:08:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Read: All Quiet On The Western Front (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob

    This great book gives you a very real flavor of the horrible conditions and brutality of World War I.

    •  Indeed (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      devtob, Otteray Scribe

      I've read the book and seen both the original movie and the 1979 remake.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:52:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Verdun and a GOP congressman. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Major Kong, Jay C, Otteray Scribe

    Let me add a little to this great diary.  My son and I visited the battlefield in April, 2000.  My son at the time was a soldier with the 1st Armored Division in Germany.  He was on leave for a week, and we did a battlefield tour of Belgium and France.
    As to the Trench of Bayonets, when we saw the trench, there was an eight or nine inch gap left below the concrete so that a tourist could see the tips of the bayonets.  There was a plaque near the zigzag trench that told how this was a memorial to the valor and bravery of the French Infantry of WWI.  The plaque was dated in 1920, if I remember correctly, and placed by the American units that later served in the area.
    Anyway, around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 we got to hear about how cowardly the French were and the French fries in the U.S. House cafeteria had been renamed freedom fries.  A congressman from Missouri named Roy Blunt was quoted telling jokes with the French being the butt of the jokes which highlighted French cowardice.  France clearly opposed the invasion and its government made that position very clear.
    I wrote the congressman a letter telling him about what I had seen at Verdun, and even enclosed an article about the famous trench and I cited the plaque placed by units of the American Expeditionary Force.  Of course I never got an answer. And by the way, Blunt is known as a chicken Hawk during the Vietnam era.  He was pro war but did not serve (college deferment from draft).

    "It ain't over till it's over."-Yogi Berra

    by mock38 on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:46:01 PM PST

  •  Unit designation: 3ME Tir (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Margouillat

    3me stands for "troisieme," same as the English 3rd for "third," so that's the regiment number. And "Tir" is an abbreviation for Tirailleur, which were light infantry skirmishers (see explanation here). So he was a corporal in the regiment of the 3rd Tirailleurs.

    I found this interesting unit history that I think was probably the one he belonged to. The Wikipedia article I linked above also has a brief section on WWI.

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