Sunday, 29 March 2015

”We will bleed France white” Von Falkenhayn's strategy for Verdun

Latest batch of Poilus for the front.
Minis are all from Forgotten & Glorious.

The past week saw me continuing the preparatory work for our Verdun 1916 project, as the Voie Sacrée of my painting table produced some fresh Poilus reinforcements, in the form of the wonderful WW1 French from Paris-based Forgotten & Glorious Miniatures. 

No Man's Land can be an unwelcoming business.
British infantry goes over the top - this time with air support.

Meanwhile, a club event also offered me a chance to arrange and photo the beautiful trench terrain we’ll be using for the project. All the terrain boards were scratch build by fellow club member, Nils. Pictures of these impressive boards can be found throughout this blog post.

Close Up of the Poilus.
The Forgotten & Glorious sculpts are really amazing to paint.

In my research on the battle of Verdun, I’ve found a new “friend” – Audible.com.
This Amazon service offers historic audiobooks in abundance, and many classics as well as new titles on the Great War. So far, I’ve been painting miniatures while listening to “The Guns of August” by Barbara W. Tuchman and “A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918” by G. J. Meyer. They both offered around 30 hrs of superb entertainment, consumed with the appropriate period miniatures and a brush in my hand. But let’s leave the cosy comfort of the hobby table and go back in time to the cold, muddy February of 1916 at Verdun.

Germans coming out of their underground "Stollen" shelters to receive the enemy.

Von Falkenhayn and the German plan of attack:

Born on 9/11 in 1861, Erich von Falkenhayn was a coolheaded and pragmatic man with more than 30 years experience in the officer ranks of the Imperial German army. He was favoured by the Kaiser, and thus became a natural rival to the Hindenburg-Ludendorff branch of the army. On the contrary to Hindenburg, von Falkenhayn believed that the war would be won on the Western Front, and thus in his role as Chief of General Staff, preferred a strategy of limited engagement on the Eastern Front, while pushing any reserves into the Western theatre.

Erich von Falkenhayn.
Chief of the General Staff until Verdun proved a failure.


Von Falkenhayn had replaced von Moltke in 1914, when the latter’s health failed him due to stress after the defeat at the Marne, and consequent failure of the Schlieffen Plan. When assuming office, von Falkenhayn had the fresh offensives of August 1914 as available data, on which to base his strategy. He would see Germany through the difficult transition of mentally and strategically converting the outlook from a quick summer war, to the long war perspective. His key to success: Attrition.

An aerial view of the German trench lines.

1915 had seen the Western Front settle into a static war, fought from trenches, and with artillery, machine guns being joined by new terrible weapons like gas and flamethrowers. Army Commanders on both sides struggled to adopt strategies that would be prove even limitedly fruitful in this new scenario of war. 

The Forgotten & Glorious minis come with a variety of heads and arms,
offering good animation in the ranks.

Von Falkenhayn had his own unique approach. His idea was to find a spot of great moral importance to the French, hit them there and thus goat the French into expensive counter attacks at well-prepared German positions, drawing the French into an downward spiral of manpower attrition – a sophisticated phrasing for what was in effect slaughter. In his own words he would “Bleed France white”.

The British trench left nearly empty as the Tommies go over the top.

In preparation for the attack, von Falkenhayn had massed around 1.200 guns at Verdun, while the busy German engineers had built 10 new rail lines into the back country, with 20 stations as drop of points for reinforcements. The improved rail-logistics would offer the German artillery an average of 33 munitions trains per day during the battle, equalling a constant flow of some 2.000.000 shells to the hungry guns. In addition several thousand km of telephone cables were laid in the Verdun area, to guarantee communications would flow uninterrupted as the fighting commenced. 

Caught in the wire.

For the 5th Army, who was to undertake the attack, huge catacomb-like “stollen” (underground shelters) were dug, some of them up to 14 meters deep and each accommodating 1.000+ men. Thus the scene was set to create Hell on Earth.

A forward German machine gun position greets the visitors.

The attack started on the morning of February 21st 1916 by a colossal 1.000.000 shell “trommelfeuer” – an artillery barrage of such intensity that the explosion of each individual shell just merged into the sound of the next, becoming an indistinguishable rumble. This apocalyptic phenomenon was heard some 160 km away. 

To be continued - Thank you very much for reading!

32 comments:

  1. Amazing pictures, terrain and figures, so atmospheric. And, of course, this plane is the star attraction, so many things to imagine in front of this realistic terrain, wires and trenches are just perfect...
    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Cheers Phil, if you ever decide to go for 28's do test out Franck's models for your Poilus. Thanks for the nice words about the terrain, Nils from the club has done an amazing job for sure. It's quite a luxury to be able to game on such terrain!

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  2. Exellent blog post matey !

    Nice to see Nils ww1 terrain have come in use again !

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    1. Thanks Mike! These board will come out now for their Renaissance with the centennial of all the big trench battles. We're replaying the Somme tomorrow actually :0)

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  3. Beautiful miniatures, love that blue. And great terrain! Very visually pleasing (if a WW1 battlefield can be pleasing) and it looks very gaming friendly too - with its trenches and strongpoints and creative use of that airplane to block line of sight!
    Your text makes me remember my visit to the excellent In Flandern Fields museum in Ypres, Belgium. I don't know if you've had the opportunity to go there but it is the best museum that I've ever visited - and I've visited a few. Its combination of multimedia, interactive elements and at the same time access to lots of information had an almost physical impact and left us all quite emotional.
    /Mattias

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    1. Thank you very much for the kind words Mattias, and for the tip on the Belgian museum. Even their website looks cool, I think Ypres will have to go on the itinerary when I go down to northern France next year for a visit around Sedan.
      Remember, you guys a always very welcome to join us for a game in Solberga!

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    2. Thanks Sören, if we can find the time it would be great fun. /Mattias

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  4. Great looking table and I love the crashed plane!

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    2. Cheers Steve, I also love the planes Nils did for the terrain. They really add that extra spice to the table.

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  5. Nice Poilus, Soren. That table is quite spectacular - a great way to include aircraft to the scenario.

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    1. Thanks Dean, the F&G minis are a treat, so painting is easy when you're working with such nice sculpts. Yeah, Nils' table is amazing, can't wait to try my Poilus on this beautiful and realistic terrain. A nice hommage to the guys who really fought it out in 1916.

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  6. Outstanding brushwork on the F&G French. The WWI trench terrain is simply amazing.

    Great work!

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    1. Cheers Jonathan, if you ever decide to go for some WW1 French minis, you now know where to get the best :0) Seriously, they are masterful sculpts! More shots of the great table Nils did will follow as we progress. There are "unofficial" plans of making a Fort Douaumont terrain piece!

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  7. Arrgh! You are not nice to my painting plans! I've already got hold of my remaining French miniatures for my little platoon and set them up for painting... Stop painting so good, don't write these inspiring texts and take great pictures of everything!

    Or continue to do it and ruin my plans =)

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    1. Hehe, join the crusade my friend. You know you need to extend your little platoon, and paint some more WW1 ;0) How can you not want to game this period with such amazing terrain at the club, and the centennial of Europe's Great War at hand... enough said!

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  8. Those French infantrymen are really well painted! Good job!

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    1. Thanks a lot buddy, the horizon blue is a true challenge to really get right. Happy you liked the brush work.

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  9. Excellent work on the Frenchmen and terrain board looks wonderful!

    Christopher

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    1. Thank you very much Christopher - the terrain really sparked the painting project. I saw these boards at the club, and knew I had to go home and dig my WW1 French out of the lead pile. Looking forward to the gaming now!

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  10. Replies
    1. Thank you very much, happy you liked the outcome!

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  11. Lovely paint work on the French soldiers, the colours look perfect, and the trench systems on the terrain are marvellous, and as always some informative reading!

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    1. Chris, thanks a lot for taking out the time to chew through my scribble - and for the nice words on the minis. Terrain is done by skilled hobbyist, Nils, from our club here in Stockholm. Who doesn't want to try out a WW1 trench game with terrain like this at their hand?

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  12. Impressive painting on those Poilus. Very nice staged photos as well!

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    1. Thanks Jonas, and to Nils for making all the wonderful terrain available. Tomorrow we go "over the top" for a game of Somme.

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  13. Replies
    1. A big thank you Franck for making the best 28mm Poilus available on the miniatures market. I never tire of painting those wonderful sculpts. Take care down there in Paris, hope to visit your shop again during summer!

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    2. You are welcome my friend. I am very disappointed not to be able to go on working with this sculptor bu well that is life I guess :D

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  14. That's a pretty impressive looking set up :)

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    1. Thanks Mike, I can only agree - Nils did an amazing job with this board. We're currently planning to extend the board with a "Fort Douaumont" extension. That should be perfect for next year's centennial of the legendary battle of Verdun.

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  15. Fantastic work! Your horizon blue turned out fantastic. From all the (rather sparse) offerings of Poilus out there FoG definitely are THE top of the shelve. A shame the range doesn't seem to be expanded on anytime soon. You've certainly done the great figures justice and I'm (as always) eagerly awaiting your next post.

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