On 4 August 1914, Germany initiated World War I by moving its forces through Belgium to implement a large, planned offensive against France. Seven of the eight German Armies were concentrated toward this end; the Eighth German Army was directed against the Russians in the Eastern Front. The German plan, which embodied many of the ideas and characteristics of the Von Schlieffen Plan, was a gigantic double envelopment. Von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff, hoped to conquer France within six weeks, after which he would throw a strong portion of the forces against the Russians. The plan called for the German Fifth Army to serve as the hub at the Metz-Thionville area with the First to the Fourth Armies to the north moving west and south, in a gigantic pincers movement. The Sixth and Seventh Armies, located between Belfort and Toul would, if possible, move forward to form the second arm of the pincers, in which the French Armies would be caught. If not possible to accomplish this envelopment, the German armies would fall back to the Sarrebourg-Strasbourg area.
To oppose the Germans, the French had five armies deployed from Belfort through Epinal, Toul, Verdun and Maubeuge, with the British and the Belgians completing the line to the sea and guarding the French left flank. General Joffre, Chief of the French General Staff had indications that the Germans would violate Belgian territory, but he, not wishing to do the same, and not having a visible German commitment, organized the French Armies along the French-German and French-Belgian borders.
The German plan did not progress as scheduled. The initial movement through Belgium was slowed down. First, the German First Army had to defile through Aachen to get into position in Belgium without violating Dutch territory. Second, the Germans met with stiff opposition at Liege and were delayed here capturing the city. Third, General Von Kluck, the First German Army Commander changed course to the south and southeast too soon, a move which exposed the German right flank to the British and Belgian forces. A later drive to the sea was unsuccessful; the damage had been done.
After the first few months of battle, the war developed into trench warfare with small gains or losses along the entire front. December 1915, just prior to the Battle of Verdun found the front line extending from Belfort, Epinal, St-Mihiel, Verdun, Reims, Soissons, Tassigny, Perrones, Arras and Ypres.
----- FOOTNOTE by Al
Nieder - 1963-1965 student at Verdun & Toul American HS:
One of every four deaths and injuries in World War I were at Verdun: over 600,000 died and over two million more were wounded, injured, or poison-gassed on the Verdun battlefields. Years later, thousands still were dying slow, agonizing years later from the poison gas. Even in the mid-1960's, one could see green chlorine gas gather in the bottom of shell craters after a rain.
The hopes, ambitions, and dreams of an entire generation of the human race died at Verdun. The bones of some 300,000 Unknowns, Allies and Axis alike, now reside under the Ossuary overlooking the Verdun cemetery. Among those survivors inured to poison gas and deadly hand-to-hand combat in trenches were many of the future leaders of World War Two.
----- FOOTNOTE by VAHS
WebMaster Bill Harmon
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