On February 1, 1917, in the midst of World War I, the German navy resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. The German navy would no longer only target military vessels of combatant countries, but would take action against any vessel it perceived as aiding enemies. This even included passenger vessels of neutral countries that could possibly be carrying military aid. The German navy originally began unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1915, and would go on to sink the HMS Lusitania in May of the same year. The Lusitania was a British ship that was carrying weapons, but it was primarily being used as a cruise liner. Of the more than 1,200 passengers that died in the attack, 128 were Americans. The attack forced the United States and other neutral countries to pressure the German government into restraining the use of submarines. By 1917 the war had lasted much longer than Germany had expected, and it was looking to end the war as quickly as possible before its forces were overwhelmed. (Photo: The New York Times Archives)
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Research Question 9th-12th Grades:
Germany knew it was likely for the United States to get involved in WWI if they resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. Why do you think they would risk involving another major world power to attempt a quicker end to the war?
The Battle of Verdun Begins
On February 21, 1916, the German army launched a major offensive against the French forces at the fortress of Verdun. Verdun was a major fortification system set on the Meuse River. The German army felt they needed to conquer Verdun to continue their advance into France. They also knew that taking Verdun would be a huge blow to French morale and would further the protection of the main lines of communication of the German army. To begin their assault, the German army opened with a massive artillery barrage along a 25 mile section of front line surrounding Verdun. They then sent in teams of infantry and combat engineers to observe the artillery damage, and to redirect additional shelling into areas that weren’t completely destroyed. This would turn out to be the main battle tactic of the German Verdun offensive: short, rapid advances reinforced with heavy artillery support. All through the spring and early summer, the German army was able to quickly advance into the area around Verdun taking many of the strongpoints, such as Fort Vaux and Fort Douaumont, in the process.
As the Germans continued their attack into July of 1916, the French forces began to regain a foothold and push back. On July 18, 1916, the German army called off their offensive against Verdun due to their considerable losses. At this point, the French forces began a counter-offensive to retake the ground they had lost in the early part of the year. After taking back Fort Vaux and Fort Douaumont in the fall, the French counter-offensive came to a halt in December. On December 18, 1916, after 10 months of constant fighting, the battle for Verdun was finally over. There was approximately 700,000 casualties on both sides, with the numbers being generally equal for both the French and German armies. The Battle of Verdun would become the longest and bloodiest battle of the Great War.
Learn more about one of the most iconic battles of the First World War at:
Why would the Battle of Verdun prove to be a decisive battle in WWI even though there was little to no territory gained or lost by December 1916?
Research Question 9th-12th Grades:
Some historic military tacticians, such as Sun Tsu, believe it is best to attack where your enemy isn’t. What aspect of German military mentality during WWI would lead them to choose the fortress of Verdun as a good choice for a major offensive movement?