Military Review

"The French Armed Forces will bleed to death in any case - will she keep Verdun or not"

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The views of the High Command of the German Army on the 1916 campaign plan were set out in a report by General Falkengain (Falkenhayn) given to Emperor Wilhelm in December 1915. Assessing the potential of the opponents of the German Empire, the Chief of General Staff noted that France was weakened to the limits. But Russia, although it possesses enormous military power, is hardly capable of offensive actions after the defeats suffered during the 1915 campaign in Serbia, can be disregarded, its army was considered destroyed. Italy was not afraid, it was exhausted by several unsuccessful offensive operations. The Germans considered only Britain a dangerous adversary, which had a great influence on its allies, inspiring them with confidence in the ultimate victory.


At the same time, the head of the General Staff recognized that the Entente powers had superiority in means and people and the situation was dangerous. “The enemies flow, because of their superiority in people and means, more strength than us,” the report of the German General noted. - Under such circumstances, a moment must come when a hard balance of forces will no longer leave Germany in high hopes. The ability to withstand our allies is limited, but ours, in any case, is not unlimited. ” Falkengine noted that if the war drags on for another year, difficulties will increase in supplying the population with food, which will cause discontent and may turn into riots. Thus, the diet of the Germans was reduced by about two times. “By the end of 1916, life for the majority of citizens was a time when food intake was no longer saturated, life went on in unheated houses, clothes were hard to find, and shoes flowed. The day began and ended with an ersatz "

The balance of power between the parties in both major theaters was not in favor of the Central Powers. On the whole, the Entente had superiority both on the Western and on the Eastern fronts, about half a million people on each. At the same time, the Anglo-French army was almost equal to the German one, and subsequently surpassed the latter in equipping equipment and heavy artillery. On the Russian front, the crisis with the Russian army regarding ammunition began to pass, but it was still inferior to the German army in heavy artillery and aviation.

"The French Armed Forces will bleed to death in any case - will she keep Verdun or not"

Chief of the General Staff of Germany (1914 — 1916) Erich von Falkenhain

Falkengine, on the basis of such an assessment of the situation, believed that the German Empire should not waste time and let the strategic initiative out of its hands. The best scenario, in his opinion, would be the landing on the British Isles, which led to the collapse of England (the metropolis of the British Empire). However, in practice, Germany had neither the strength nor the means to execute such a plan. But Britain had the most powerful fleet, the main forces of which were constantly on duty at the British Isles, since they also feared the German landing force in London. There were no hopes that the British Empire could be broken if operations were undertaken against it outside the metropolis (India, Egypt, the Balkans). In the pre-war decades, Germany was focused on domestic development, besides it was a young empire that had few strategic strongholds outside Central Europe. Therefore, Germany had few opportunities for action outside of Europe. In the Mediterranean Sea dominated the British fleet, which was supported by the French and Italian Navy. The Austro-Hungarian fleet was blocked in its ports. The Turkish fleet, although reinforced by German cruisers and submarines, also could not openly operate in the Mediterranean. The German army was connected by the Western, Eastern, Italian and Balkan fronts in Europe, the need to support Austria-Hungary against Russia and Italy, as well as Bulgaria. This ruled out the possibility of sending large contingents of German troops to Turkey to organize possible attacks on Egypt, Persia, India and the Russian Caucasus. In addition, Turkey did not have transport capabilities and supply bases to quickly deploy German troops.

There was only one thing left - to weaken Britain through the withdrawal of its allies from the war and the naval blockade. The question remained - in which direction to concentrate the main efforts? During the 1914-1915 campaigns. The German army tried to defeat the main allies of England - France and Russia. Despite the victories of the German army, success was not achieved. The chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army, Konrad von Höttsendorf, proposed to transfer the main center of gravity of the struggle to the Italian front. On the one hand, this decision seemed right. Italy was the “weak link” of the Entente, its army could not withstand the blows of a large part of the Austro-Hungarian army (the troops were liberated after the defeat of Serbia and Montenegro in 1915), which was supported by the German corps. Italian troops had lower morale, worse armament than the Germans or the French. France and England did not have time to help Italy if Austria-Hungary and Germany could carry out a quick strategic offensive operation with large forces. The victory over Italy allowed the Italian front to be liquidated, freeing up additional forces and resources, to gain additional opportunities in the Mediterranean.

On the other hand, the Italian theater was difficult (mountains, rivers) and narrow, which could disrupt the blitzkrieg, the Italians had the opportunity to create a tight defense on the previously prepared and well-protected boundaries. As a result, the Italian army could hold out until the approach of the Anglo-French reinforcements. As a result, Austria-Hungary and Germany would have exhausted the resources and forces in such an operation, weakening the main directions. In addition, Italy was not the main force of the Entente, its fall could not lead to a radical weakening of the enemy coalition.

Therefore, the head of the German General Staff Falkengayn rejected the proposals of the Austrians. He was well aware that, although the offensive against Italy promised unquestionable benefits, it was risky and could not fundamentally change the course of the war in favor of the Central Powers. We had to return to previous plans and focus our main efforts on crushing France and Russia.

One of the leading German military leaders, General Ludendorff, advised to resume active offensive actions on the Eastern (Russian) front. He believed that the main task of the German army was the victory over the Russian Empire. However, Falkenhain, as before, believed that it was not worthwhile to concentrate the efforts of the German army in the East. In his opinion, this idea did not correspond to reality at all. The report said: “A blow to the million city of Petrograd, which, with a happier course of the operation, we would have to carry out from our weak resources, does not promise a decisive result. Movement to Moscow leads us into the vast region. We do not have sufficient strength for any of these enterprises. ” It was not possible to capture and Little Russia.

In addition, the offensive on the Eastern Front was inconvenient for the German army because of the fact that the further east, the worse the communication. In the course of their further offensive, German troops lost their main advantage in the form of a rich network of German railways. With the development of the offensive in Russia, the Germans no longer had time to transfer heavy artillery, ammunition and could not have time to quickly transfer troops to the French theater, if there begins a major offensive by the Anglo-French troops. The German army could get bogged down in Russia and could not parry the likely Anglo-French offensive in the West.

Also in Berlin, hopes were laid on the disintegration of Russia's rear, which would have led to the collapse of the strike power of the Russian army. Falkenghayn saw the beginning of disintegration in Russia: “Even if we cannot hope for a full-scale revolution, we can still expect that Russia's internal cataclysms will force it to fold in a relatively short time weapon».

The situation was complicated by the fact that in Germany they knew about the upcoming general offensive of the Entente powers. And Falkenghayn even seriously feared that with the new offensive of the Anglo-French troops, the Germans could not endure. Therefore, to hold the main shock forces on the Eastern Front was dangerous.

Thus, having considered all the possibilities, Falkengine returned to the plan of 1914. France was the only direction where success and change in the war could be achieved. The German commander wrote: “If it is possible to clearly prove it to the people that there is nothing more to expect militarily, then the limit will be crossed, and the best sword will be beaten out of the hands of England. To do this, you do not need to have large means and forces, but you need to choose the most vital goals for France, for which the French command will have to sacrifice the last man to protect. Such targets can be Belfort and Verdun.

The ideas of Falkenhain were the basis of the 1916 campaign of the year. It was planned to inflict the main blow in one direction, on the fortress of Verdun. This fortified area was of major operational importance. By itself, Verdun was a powerful stronghold. Verdun was a threat to the communications of the Germans, a support for the entire French front, an important springboard for the development of the offensive operations of the French army. A breakthrough in the Verdun direction suppressed the most important lines of the French rocade rail tracks, to supply the French army and opened up great opportunities for the German army, as it put the entire northern flank of the Allied army in a difficult position. The possibility of hitting Paris again appeared. And if it does not work out, then they planned to grind the living force of the French army. The Germans believed that the French would defend Verdun to the last. Falkenhayn told the Kaiser that "the French armed forces will bleed to death in any case - will she keep Verdun or not." They say that big losses will undermine the spirit of the nation, the population will be worried, the French government will start looking for a path to peace.

At the same time, Austria-Hungary was to conduct active offensive operations on the Italian front. On the Eastern Front decided to limit the strategic defense. They planned to remove from it a part of the troops, for action in other directions. The remaining troops were supposed to repel the blows of the Russian army.

To weaken England, they planned to provoke an uprising in Ireland and to start an unlimited underwater war. In 1915, the German fleet lost 15 submarines, but 68 still remained, and their production was brought to 10 per month, planning to create a submarine fleet of 205 submarines. The main purpose of Germany was the violation of the Atlantic communications of Great Britain and the installation of its naval blockade. The Germans decided to start an unlimited submarine warfare on 1 in February, that is, submarines could sink civilian merchant ships without observing the Rules of Naval Warfare.

In addition, the German command was developing another strategic move, which was to prevent the expected transition of Romania to the side of the Entente and to preventively defeat the Romanians with the participation of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and Turkish troops. But partly because of the economic factor (it was necessary to take food and oil supplies sold by the Romanians to the Germans), as well as fear of the possibility of the German front breaking through by the Anglo-French, in the case of sending German reserves to Romania, the German command was forced to abandon this plan.

Austria-Hungary

The Austrian command, completing active offensive operations on the Eastern and Serbian fronts, clearly realized that it was completely impossible to conduct an offensive operation against Russia only with its own forces, and therefore transferred the liberated divisions to the Italian front, increasing the number of troops and artillery. However, in winter, active hostilities ceased on the whole sector of the front. Only sluggish artillery skirmishes and actions of small divisions were carried out. Vienna planned to launch a “punitive expedition” in the spring of 1916, with the aim of “punishing” Italy for treason (Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance, but ultimately acted on the side of the Entente). The Austrians began to organize a decisive outbreak of attacks from Tyrol to the rear of the Italian front on the Isonzo. The Austrian General Staff hoped to inflict a heavy defeat on the Italian army and capture Lombardy.

The head of the Austrian General Staff, Konrad von Götzöndorf, demanded that Germany send 8-9 divisions to the Italian theater, promising almost to withdraw Italy from the war. However, not too believing in the success of the planned plan, the German command did not send additional troops to the Italian front. Falkengine considered it essential for the success of the operation in Italy no less than 25 of good divisions and a lot of heavy artillery (that is, almost the entire strategic reserve that Germany had). The concentration of such forces on one available at the disposal of the Austrians railway required so much time that the operation could not be unexpected. Indeed, the Italians knew about the preparation of the offensive by the Austrians, although they did not take it seriously.

Turkey. Bulgaria

By the end of 1915, the Dardanelles operation was completed, after which the Turks liberated a significant military group. The defeat of Serbia and the performance of Bulgaria on the side of the Central Powers opened up a direct route to Germany, from which ammunition began to flow. The Turkish command decided again, as in 1914, to target the Caucasus in order to turn the tide of military operations on the Caucasian front in their favor. Success opened up tempting prospects for restoring Turkish rule in the Caucasus, spreading influence in Turkestan.

However, in the mountains there was a harsh winter, communications were bad. The troops in such conditions it was difficult to transfer to Erzurum, bring carts and supplies. As a result, the Ottomans decided to wait until spring. They say, anyway, the Russians will also have to wait out the winter. The first echelons of the Dardanelles were transferred to Iraq to overthrow the British, crush the Baratov corps and develop an additional offensive in Transcaucasia through Iran. It was planned that the Russians would transfer forces to the Persian direction, and then the reinforced Erzerum group would deliver a powerful blow, break through to Sarykamysh, Kars and Tiflis. This was understood by Russian commander Yudenich in the Caucasus, so he thwarted the plans of the enemy, starting the Erzerum operation in winter.

After the defeat of the Serbian army and the occupation of the territory of Serbia, the only Entente force in the Balkans remained the expeditionary force in Thessaloniki (Greece). At the insistence of the German command, the Bulgarian troops did not cross the Greek border in order to prevent Greece from acting on the side of the Entente. As a result, the 1 and 2 Bulgarian armies were tasked with keeping the Thessaloniki front. They were supported by the 11-I German Army. Both sides didn’t take any active actions, and there was a lull on the Front of Thessaloniki, the fighting became positional. Active hostilities began only in August 1916. In addition, part of the Bulgarian army was located in the Romanian direction.

To be continued ...
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Articles from this series:
1916 Campaign

The strategy of the Entente and the Central Powers on 1916 year
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  1. V.ic
    V.ic 14 January 2016 08: 22 New
    +1
    "I love our plans
    Swipe steps of soot.
    I rejoice in the march that we go
    To work and to battle. "
    V.V.Mayakovsky
    However, the Teutons realized that they could not pull a war on two fronts, as Otto von Bismarck warned. "Never do not fight with the Russians ... ". It would be a Bismarckian understanding to put in the skulls of Geyrope.
  2. nivander
    nivander 14 January 2016 09: 05 New
    +3
    An interesting article is a pity that the author did not mention the "Mackensen plan" - a breakthrough in a narrow section of the front on the Marne with the rapid entry of mobile cavalry groups in the direction of Paris - Moreover, as the main means of breakthrough, Mackensen proposed creating "..groups of young strong armed with grenades and flamethrowers of soldiers who are able to cut the wire and with the help of smoke screens seep into the enemy trenches and clean them ... "+ short (how many hours) but very intensive artillery preparation, but not in areas, but in explored purposes. postulates that the Germans plan into practice, but in the spring of 1918 (Operation "Michael")
  3. Aleksander
    Aleksander 14 January 2016 22: 29 New
    +2
    This was understood by the Russian commander in the Caucasus, Yudenich, so he thwarted the enemy’s plans by starting the Erzurum operation in winter.

    "Similar to Suvorov! "contemporaries called Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich for his ability to win not by number, but by skill. The Caucasian front was extended 1500 km, and the troops of Yudenich were inferior to the Ottomans by more than two times. Nevertheless, Yudenich defeated the Turkish troops and actually won the war in the South for Russia and the Entente. And this against the backdrop of the crushing defeat of the Entente in the Dardanelles operation
    1. Warrior2015
      Warrior2015 15 January 2016 22: 08 New
      0
      Thank you for mentioning such a rarely known moment! Indeed, the brilliant successes of the Russian soldiers on the Transcaucasian front, which eventually reached Iraq almost Baghdad - have been forgotten ...

      But by the way, the Germans also made a mistake at Kursk in 43, when they actually decided to arrange the Second Verdun for the Red Army (and not the operational environment, as is often considered), and they themselves were completely ...