CHAPTER III 
BATTLE OF THE FLANKS

The German High Command realized the imminence of a British attack on the Somme. As a means of diverting troops and disorganizing the preparations being made by the Allies in Picardy, the German forces continued their attacks with furious tenacity. However, the scene of all ensuing large scale attacks shifted to the flanks of the Verdun front when the Crown Prince seemingly realized the serious errors in concentrating his initial frontal attack on such a small and difficult area. Verdun was still considered to be the objective, but he planned to attack the flanks of the defensive line in front of Verdun. He started his campaign, known as the Battle of the Flanks on 6 March.

From the French point of view, the French General Staff realized that the problem was to hold Verdun without ceasing to prepare for their big offensive along the Somme scheduled for July. With regards to the defense of Verdun, Joffre announced to the troops of Verdun: "For three weeks you have withstood the most formidable attack which the enemy has yet made. Germany counted on the success of this effort, which she believed to be irresistible and used for this purpose her best troops and heaviest artillery. With the capture of Verdun, she had hoped to strengthen the courage of her allies and convince neutrals of her superiority." Joffre then directed French defensive forces to make necessary preparations and cautioned them to be ready at all times for prompt action to repel the enemy.

On 6 March, two German Corps on the west flank attacked Hill de L'Oie and on 10 March, Bois de Cumieres, capturing them both. Slightly west of Cumieres is Mort Homme consisting of Hill 256 and Hill 295. Positions on these hills formed excellent observation posts on activities behind enemy lines. After capturing Bois de Cumieres, the German artillery opened fire and continued a five?hour bombardment using all types of shells, which included timefuse, percussion, poisonous gas, and tear gas. As the artillery lifted its fire, German infantry advanced on Mort Homme. Meanwhile, the French Command ordered its defenders to hold. In the defense, among those who fell, were four colonels and a brigadier commander, all with their weapons in hand. Later, the French counter?attacked to drive off the enemy and retook Hill 265. They were not so fortunate on Hill 295, where they were unable to dislodge the Germans. Nevertheless, Mort Homme did not benefit the Germans, since it became a veritable "no man's land" with attacks and counter?attacks continuing until 20 August 1917, when Mort Homme was finally recaptured by the French 31st Infantry Division.

The German 11th Bavarian Division then moved on the second strong point, Hill 304, west of Mort Homme, on 20 March. On this objective, the division was unable to make any headway, but going around it to the southwest, the Germans captured Malancourt and Bois d'Avocourt.

On 28 March, the Germans again attacked Hill 304 with fresh troops but without success. By 8 April, German attacks almost eliminated the French front line. A new French defensive line was then established along the Avocourt Redoubt, the slopes of Hill 304 on the north side, the southern approach of Mort Homme and just north of Cumieres.

The German forces west of Hill 304, then took the offensive and captured Bois de Camard on 8 May. From here the action shifted to Cumieres where, after three attempts with reinforcements of six divisions, German forces captured Cumieres on 18 May. In this effort the Germans were unable to exploit the fruit of their victory because they had expended all their reserves in the main effort. In fact, the Germans lost some of their gains because they lacked the reserves to hold what they had won.

On the eastern flank early in March, the Germans attacked Vaux and continued the attack until they captured it on 31 March. Two days later they captured the lake behind Vaux. Then the Crown Prince ordered an all out attack on the flanks on 9 April, hoping to breach the French defensive wall. Again, his gains were insignificant for the troops and efforts he put into the assault which was on a scale similar to that of the first day.

General Petain lauded the French soldier for his great effort. Nevertheless, he cautioned them to be watchful and courageous and not be complacent. His remarks of 10 April are significant: "9 April 1916, was a glorious day for our armies ... the furious attacks of the soldiers of the Crown Prince broke down everywhere. The artillery, infantry, engineers and aviators of the Second Army vied with one another in valor. Honor to all!! No doubt, the Germans will attack again. Let us all work and watch, that yesterday's success be continued. Courage! We shall take them".

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