Primary Documents - General von Zwehl's Memorandum Regarding Forts Vaux and Douaumont, October 1916

Underground gallery at Verdun Reproduced below is a memorandum written by the German commander at Verdun, von Zwehl, immediately prior to the French attack which resulted in the significant recapture of Fort Douaumont towards the close of the Battle of Verdun.

With the appointment of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff to the military high command in Berlin - and Erich von Falkenhayn's dismissal - a decision was promptly taken to bring to an end the enormous German Verdun offensive.  While Falkenhayn saw it as a useful means of sapping French resources and morale, Ludendorff in particular regarded it as a largely pointless endeavour which had failed.

Click here to read Falkenhayn's justification for the offensive.  Click here to read Crown Prince Wilhelm's summary of the battle.  Click here to read Wilhelm's summary of its abandonment.  Click here to read von Hindenburg's decision to call off the offensive.  Click here to read Erich Ludendorff's dismissive view of the battle.  Click here to read Joseph Joffre's August 1916 summary of the battle.  Click here to read British newspaper baron Lord Northcliffe's despatch during the early days of the battle.

Click here to read a French memoir of the German attack on Le Mort Homme in May 1916.  Click here for a memoir of the struggle for Fort Douaumont the same month.  Click here for a memoir of the German assault upon Fort Vaux in June 1916.  Click here to read General Millerand's official account of the see-saw fighting at Thiaumont in July and August 1916.  Click here to read a semi-official German historian's account of the end of the battle.  Click here to read Ludendorff's statement regarding the loss of Forts Vaux and Douaumont.  Click here to read French General Pierre Dubois's view of the German approach at Verdun.  Click here to read a French staff officer's account of the recapture of Fort Douaumont in October 1916.

Memorandum by General von Zwehl, October 1916

The value of Fort Douaumont, leaving aside the great political importance of its possession by us, lies in the possibility of our artillery dominating the terrain in front of it, thanks to the excellent observation posts in its armoured turrets.

We can only prevent a surprise of our first line by its means.  Moreover, to a certain extent, the fort gives our reserves good shelter two kilometres from our first line.

According to information from agents a French attack on the Verdun front is to be expected.  Our battle position must be held at all costs.  Infantry and machine guns must be ready to repulse French attacks at any moment.

The greatest number of grenades must be carried to the front line, the reserves and machine gun reserves at Thiaumont-Hang and Ablain-Schlucht and Minzenschlucht must be prepared to go to the front line at any moment.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

'White Star' was a German mixture of chlorine and phosgene gas, so-named on account of the identification marking painted on the delivery shell casing.

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