The Meat Grinder at Verdun – Brusilov’s New Plan I THE GREAT WAR Week 90


What do you do if you launch an attack and
lose over 100,000 men while the enemy loses fewer than 20,000? Well, if you’re Russia
and it’s 1916, you plan an even bigger attack. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week saw zeppelins bombing England all
week long, airplanes dropping bombs at Salonika, further Russian advances in Anatolia, small
German gains at the seemingly endless battle of Verdun, and a British failure to advance
far enough in Mesopotamia. But they hadn’t stopped trying. “They” were the British and Indian troops
under General George Gorringe who were trying to rescue their comrades under General Charles
Townshend who had been under siege at Kut-al-Amara on the Tigris River since early December,
and it wasn’t going well. On the morning of April 9th, the British tried
a dawn attack on Sanniyat, but it failed. On the 12th, though, the Turkish right was
forced back 2 kilometers, and Gorringe’s men made advances on the other side of the
river two days later. Thing is, no matter how successful or unsuccessful they were,
the British inevitably took casualties, and unlike the Ottomans- close to Baghdad- they
could not replace their losses. In addition, the floodwaters that appear in the Tigris
every spring meant that the fighting forces were hemmed in to narrow strips of land where
frontal assaults were the only possible tactic, and since there was pretty much no cover of
any kind, such assaults were suicide. Second Lieutenant Cuthbert Aston had this
to say, “We have superiority of guns and numbers, and it’s just these infernal machine
guns that make one man as good as a battalion on this level coverless country. If it weren’t
for those damn machine guns we’d be in Kut now!” But they weren’t, and the men trapped in
Kut were at the point of starvation. How much longer could they hold out? Frontal assaults against machine guns weren’t
working anywhere else either, certainly not on the northeastern front, where the Battle
of Lake Naroch finally came to an end this week. This battle was a huge disaster for the Russians,
with their losses- as I said- reported at over 110,000 compared to just 20,000 for the
Germans- and 12,000 of the Russian losses had been to frostbite- and all the ground
that the Russians had initially taken had been re-taken by the Germans. Clearly something had to be done because the
Russian advantage in men would not last forever at that rate of attrition, and it was General
Aleksei Brusilov who figured he was the man to do it. On the 14th, he put forward his
plan to the Stavka for a massive summer offensive. This Offensive would take place in Galicia
primarily against the Austro-Hungarian forces. The goal would be to take some pressure off
of Britain and France on the Western Front, take a lot of pressure off of Italy, and hopefully
knock Austria-Hungary out of the war. And perhaps that would be the future mother
of all offensives, but the current mother of all offensives was in full swing on the
Western Front at Verdun. By the beginning of this month, German Army
Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn had realized that fighting a war of attrition at Verdun
was going to expose his own forces to comparable losses to those of the French and his optimism
was fading. First, he’d tried a narrow offensive east of the Meuse, but it was stopped at the
outer line of fortifications, then he’d tried an offensive on the west bank, but it
had come under fire from the heights of Mort-Homme and Cote 304 and failed as well. So the strategy
now was to attack on the entire front, some 30 kilometers wide and even hit Cote 304 and
Mort Homme simultaneously. This kicked off April 9th and lasted for four
days. Torrential rains then came and pretty much halted all activity for the rest of April.
At first, it seemed like a German success; they reached what they thought was the top
of the Mort Homme, only to find that it was just the north crest, and that the real summit
was hundreds of meters away out of reach. The fight for Mort Homme then became an artillery
battle. I read in John Keegan’s “The First World
War” of an officer in the French 146th Regiment named Augustin Cochin who spent five days,
April 9-14, in the Mort Homme trenches without seeing a single German. “The last two days
soaked in icy mud, under terrible bombardment, without any shelter other than the narrowness
of the trench… the Boche did not attack, naturally, it would have been too stupid…
result: I arrived there with 175 men, I returned with 34, several half mad… not replying
any more when I spoke to them.” A little note here- Eugen von Falkenhayn was
chosen to lead the German attack on Mort Homme; he was the elder brother of the German army
chief of staff Erich von Falkenhayn, and childhood tutor to the German Crown prince. True story.
And you may remember that little brother Erich was often criticized for his caution? Well,
that caution seemed to run in the family. General Max von Gallwitz spoke of Eugene’s
slowness like this; “We shall be in Verdun at the earliest by 1920.” The rains would last for 12 days, and during
this time Von Gallwitz was thinking about the next attempt on Cote 304. It would be
purely artillery and would blast the French from the hill, and never before in history
would such a concentration of firepower have been witnessed. Ideally that would save some German lives,
because this week, on the 11th, German losses since the beginning of the war are counted
at 2,730,917. (Chronology of the Great War) But how did the Allies look in general? As you no doubt have guessed, they had grown
considerably since 1914 (this is all from Keegan). Italy, the weakest industrially,
had by now raised the number of infantry battalions from 590 to 693, it’s field artillery now
numbered over 2,000 pieces, the army in the actual combat zone had grown since 1915 from
a million to a million and a half. Russia, in spite of suffering losses in almost
unimaginable numbers in 1915, was back up to strength. By now, Russia had nearly two
million men in the field, and they were also now properly equipped, which was not at all
the case last year. Russian industry had expanded big time. Engineering output had increased
by a factor of four since 1913, chemical output had doubled. There had been a 2,000 percent
increase in shell production, and over 1,000 percent increase in rifle production. Actually,
standard shells had been produced at a rate of 358,000 per month at the beginning of 1915.
By the end of the year it was nearly five times that, one and a half million shells
a month. This year, Russian heavy guns would be as well stocked as those of the Germans
and French. And speaking of the French, 25 new infantry
divisions had been added to the French army in the past year. The French army was now
more than 25% stronger than it had been in 1914. That was nothing compared to the British,
who had fielded only a small army back when the war broke out. By now, Britain had 70
divisions in service, ten times as many as before the war. And here’s one little completely unrelated
side note to end the week: Orthodox Easter was April 10th, and there were mini truces
on the Austrian front with soldiers from four Russian regiments crossing to the Austrian
lines to fraternize. The Austrians took them prisoner. Things like the Christmas Truce
16 months ago were things of the past. And that was the week, the Germans raining
fire at Verdun, the Russians losing over 100,000 men in the north for no gains at all, but
making plans to drastically alter the game, and the British desperate but still unable
to break through on the Tigris. On this day 100 years ago, April 14th, 1916,
Winston Churchill wrote from the trenches of the western front to his wife, “I greatly
fear the general result. More than I have ever done before, I realize the stupendous
nature of the task; and the unwisdom of which our affairs are conducted makes me almost
despair at times of a victorious issue… Do you think WE should succeed in an offensive,
if the Germans cannot do it at Verdun with all their skill and science? Our army is not
the same as theirs; and of course their staff is quite intact and taught by successful experiment.
Our staff only represents the brainpower of our poor little peacetime army- with which
hardly any really able men would go. We are children at the game compared to them. And
in this day-to-day trench warfare- they lose half what we do…” This may have been true, but those children
were now better armed and more numerous than ever, and growing every day, and how long
could the Germans keep up with that? In case you were wondering why Winston Churchill
was sitting in the trenches and not doing his Lord of the Admiralty thing anymore, click
here to find out how his disaster at Gallipoli unfolded 101 years ago. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Panot
– help us reach our next milestone on Patreon so you can meet us on original locations of
World War 1. Follow us on Twitter and on Instagram for
more stories from the great war. See you next time.

100 thoughts on “The Meat Grinder at Verdun – Brusilov’s New Plan I THE GREAT WAR Week 90

  1. Indy, could you add total casualty numbers for all sides every so often.  2.7 million German losses since the beginning of the war is just mind boggling.  I know we all want to avoid putting the death of even one person into a throw-away statistical item, but these numbers are just insane.  I love your channel, "The Great War", but I am beginning to fear The Great War.

  2. In this video, WC was a Lt. Col. Wasn't that a big demotion from First Lord of the Admiralty? What was his final rank at the end of the war?

  3. Could you please make a Video about People who benefit from the war, I mean people like owners of arm factories. Thank you and love your show.

  4. Today, our "wonderful"leaders tell us that we must reduce the numbers of our armed forces because of their cost. When the numbers during the Great War were in their millions, where was the money coming from?

  5. Great video as always. Could you make a brief general summary regarding the armed forces of the Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires, just like you did with France, Russia, Germany, Italy and the UK?

  6. Can you do a video about the groups of the army such as special units and the numbers of the corps of the armies.

  7. The numbers of casualties are incredible. It's week 90 of the war and German losses are nearly the complete population of today's Berlin.

    There is a little experience with numbers of soldiers I want to share (like I did on the German channel a while ago).
    I used to paint model soldiers as a hobby, especially soldiers of the American Civil War.
    And when I put them up for a battle diorama, maybe about 100 – 150 soldiers on each side, I realized the tremendous level of violence of this combat after a while. And there were just about one or two companies of each side. Battles of the Civil War and the Great War were fought by divisions and corps, though. All 300 soldiers of my diorama would have been wounded or killed within minutes or even seconds.
    Big numbers are hard to imagine. But when you depict them with a simple thing like toy soldiers, you maybe get an idea of the heavy losses of each war.

  8. It's not that the initial camaraderie during celebrations of Chrismass and Easter is over, there never was any between us Orthodox and our Central Powers opponents. The truces like the one during Chrismass on the western front only happened because both sides considered the others civilized Christians. We on the other hand were barbarous easterners that even celebrated Chrismass and Easter wrongly. Case in point, Mojkovac battle during the fall of Montenegro happened on Orthodox Chrismass eve and morning.

  9. "My heart leapt as I saw our youths of twenty going into the furnace of Verdun. But how depressing it was when they returned…their expressions…seemed frozen by a vision of terror, their gait and postures betrayed a total dejection, they sagged beneath the weight of horrifying memories." – Gen. Henri Phillipe Pétain

  10. sometimes you use the term "casualties" as synonymous with "fatalities," & sometimes you use it in the more traditional sense that includes fatalities, wounded, and POWs. A more consistent usage would be appreciated.

  11. I've been thinking. Maybe when they're done with this series they could do one about world war 2. I know that the average person knows much more about world war 2 than world war 1, but how many know what happened from week to week?
    Also the first world war ended on November 11 1918, and the second world war started on September 1 1939. If they start the series in 2019 they will have about 10 months to prepare for the 80 years anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war.

  12. Instead of turning on the tv in the morn, I watch this brilliantly presented, small budget propaganda instead. They (mainstream media) all talk about how the news of national regime change was right and just even moral, I look back to history and gasp in horror as fools believe. I've got a rifle and pull it close to me heart. The fuckin butt not the barrel.

  13. Dear Indy ! Congratulations for your amazing analysis. I am afraid that you wont be able to finish your task before the WW3. There are so many common elements in Syrian crisis . The idea of European Union is dying and Visegrad countries are gaining ground. The only variations are with Russia who now is the invader in global economy. Please say something about the causes of German support to Ottomans . Once again i believe that history will give the answer to today 's Turkish aggressivness. Thanks again for your time

  14. Hello Indy, wonderful and entertaining show you and your team are doing. I am not sure if this is the place for questions, but I would like to ask a question for "Out of the Trenches". What was the state of the Greek Army during World War I and what was their strategic value, given that both the Germans and British/French tried to get Greece onto their side. Also, why didn't Greece join the war earlier (1915 ish.), given its huge territorial ambitions.

  15. I love the reinforced point, "This, was modern war," and all its implications. But should we fear what we have already seen? Is the terrifying extent of mechanized warfare truly as far as we can go? I postulate this: we should fear not the last great war, but the next. Yes, I fear the humble shell, packed with cordite and manufactured by the million, but I also fear the anti-matter bomb we haven't yet tested. I fear the use of genetic warfare, in which I can tailor a virus to kill you because you're black, because you're Jewish, because your hair is blonde. I fear the use of kinetic bombardment to "sterilize" an area before landing ground troops. I fear the Battleship, clad in steel and girt by guns, but I fear more the interplanetary assault starships we're yet to produce, lashing surfaces with lasers or X-ray beams or peppering the surface with electromagnetically launched projectiles. To watch a hundred men die in a second to machine-gun fire? How about a billion wiped from existence with high-yield neutron bombs, their cities turned and their homes taken, in but the blink of eye.

    Modern War is something to fear. Postmodern war may well be the way leave this universe. I fear not the meat grinder, where at least I shall see the faces of the dead before joining them. I fear blinking, and never opening my eyes again…

    Alright, I'm done being a pretentious dick. But seriously, consider this food for thought- we're much more efficient at the art of extermination than we ever have been. For all the horror you show me, my twisted imagination shows me how much quicker we could do that, how much cheaper we could build the supplies, how many fewer men we need to agree with our cause before attack is viable.

  16. So a Russia solider just had to survive the first two years of the war without a weapon, before they were making enough to supply you with a rifle. Easy right? 😛 Honestly, if there is one thing that astounds me every week, it's the Russian casualty numbers. That many people lost week after week. It's kind of amazing there is even a Russia left. Let alone enough people to again withstand another great war 1 generation later.

  17. Although this channel was to go along with ww1 maybe you should make another one a sister channel all about ww2

  18. Another great video, this channel is amazing keep up with the good work, btw I hope u can make a video about Croats in Austria-Hungary.

  19. The Russian generals are really starting to resemble zapp brannigan.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eowPka21BNc

  20. British people's big conclusion about how to fight and win a full scale war is, better to be a civilian power to begin with, rather than a militaristic power to begin with. Civilian soldiers have more adaptable minds, and bring a wider array of ideas and skills into the armed forces than the armed forces themselves train, and the dead wood of career military officer incompetence will be overcome as the war progresses by men rising from the ranks from civilian backgrounds. You need nerds to break codes and invent the best weapons, and anarchists to foment revolution behind the enemy lines to win a great war, and that is what Britain had that Nazi Germany lacked. Dullard meathead nationalists always lose in the end, because they destroy the elements in their own population that are actually vital in the end.

  21. The rule of thumb for ww1 is about 1/3 of the total casualities ended up dying. Thats on the western front. It was significantly higher on the eastern front. Could you guys do a Who Did What special on Charles Mangin? His nicknames were "the butcher" and "eater of men". He was a divisional commander at verdun. He was famous for the statement "no matter what i do i lose men". Hitler had his statue destroyed during his quick visit to paris in 1940. Love the series. Thanks you guys.Had a little trouble with Patreon trying to donate but i think i got it straightened out.

  22. Good Christ what a terrible war. Both of my great grandfathers fought in WWI I just wish I was born earlier to be along side them and meet them.

  23. +The Great War Question here,

    We know a lot about guerilla in the ww2, but what about in the ww1? Wich was the most big and strong guerilla force?

  24. Why did the german want to take Verdun ? Couldn't they go around or besiege them ? Like keeping a minimum troop at verdun and sending the rest on the trenches around ?

  25. A million and a half shells a month… That's enough to kill the entire Italian army once every new moon… Sheesh

  26. I finally caught up. This is an excellent series. I have some minor criticisms about bias, however, all history is biased to a certain extent. Furthermore, these concerns are at times mitigated. Overall this is a well rounded and brilliantly researched series. I look forward to continue watching such high quality content.

  27. When English people pronounce lieutenant "leftenant" it is charming and sounds nice. When you do so it sounds weird. Please stop.

  28. A war of attrition was a logical strategy for Britain as Germany was also at war with Russia, France, etc

    The longer the war continued the more it fell into the Allies favour with their bigger industrial capabilities and better access to global supplies.

  29. +The Great War I just wanted to add something to this episode. The day after the unsuccessful German attacks at Verdun this week on the 9th, Pétain issued his orders for the day, which would later become very famous:

    "Le 9 Avril est une journée glorieuse pour nos armes. Les assauts furieux des soldats du Kronprinz ont été partout brisés; fantassins, artilleurs, sapeurs, aviateurs de la 2ème armée ont rivalisé d'héroisme. Honneur à tous! Les Allemands attaqueront sans doute encore. Que chacun travaille et veille pour obtenir le même succès qu'hier. Courage! On les aura."

    That translates as "The 9th of April is a glorious day for our armed forces. The furious assaults of the soldiers of the Crown Prince were broken everywhere; our infantrymen, artillerymen, sappers, aviators rivaled each other's heroism. Honor to all. The Germans will certainly attack again. May every man work and remain vigilant to achieve the same success as yesterday. Courage! We will have them."

    The expression "on les aura" became one of the watchword expressions of the French Army, repeated by soldiers who wanted to believe that their leaders were working on some great plan that would finally break the German lines, a beacon of hope. In 1917, before the Nivelle offensive, many soldiers, desperate for an end by then, bought into the hype that this would be the Big One and started saying "On les a," which means "we have them." Their bitter disappointment when Chemin des Dames was a bloody failure helped spark the mutinies.

    Thanks for the great work on this channel!

  30. More soldiers died. No one remembers any of them – not as men, fathers, sons, or brothers. The best any of them could achieve was to have their name scratched on some stone, photographed, digitized, and displayed on some descendant's facebook page. Some of their leaders have a page in wikipedia. Others don't.

  31. I saw the map at 2:50 and immediately thought "Holy fucking shit that's a large front with a fuck ton of men!"

  32. I saw the map at 2:50 and immediately thought "Holy fucking shit that's a large front with a fuck ton of men!"

  33. I wonder how the relief attempts for Kut compare to the Austrian attempts to relief Przemysl in terms of manpower lost compared to what they hoped to save.

  34. By April of 1916 hadn't Germany reduced divisional size from 4 to 3 regiments?…Didn't the British also reorganize their armies as well?

  35. Oh. I get it. World War One is like the second Punic war between Rome and Carthage.

    Save for that every general in this war has employed the same tactics used by Rome in that war. "If we push them hard enough, maybe they will break"

  36. What I don´t understand right now: Why did Falkenhayn order such massive infantry attacks? That was not his original plan… Was he forced by his superiors? Did he know about the sacred road?

  37. This Kut shite is sounding more and more like Przemysyl the more I watch this series, minus the 800,000 dead people in a mountain range.

  38. I feel bad for those Russians they walked uo to the austro hungarians for alittle peace and they were like "nah sucka raise your hands"

  39. If you're into death metal, there's a good song by a Swedish band called LIK called Le Morte Homme. I'm not sure where the sound bite from the beginning of it is from, but it rips anyhow. Seems a suitable style to describe such an event.

  40. The Germans have now given up and gone Hotzendörf as well. All Generals, on all sides, are in the League of Idiots.

  41. I keep hearing of incredible numbers of prisoners taken in almost every battle. I wonder how well or poorly these prisoners were treated, and what became of them??

  42. Russia lost so many men on a regular basis, that it even managed to lose them during Easter celebrations. Remarkable.

  43. "We shall be in Verdun at the earliest in 1920" If only something of the like was said instead of "by Christmas it would be over"

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