HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Sir…
Loading...

The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 (original 1962; edition 1979)

by Sir Alistair Horne

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5321118,946 (4.22)17
Member:PCorrigan
Title:The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916
Authors:Sir Alistair Horne
Info:Penguin Books (1979), Edition: Abridged, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 by Sir Alistair Horne (1962)

Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 17 mentions

English (9)  Italian (2)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I have a Sick Child right now, which means I'm currently running on less than three hours' sleep. This feels to me like total exhaustion. Still, things could be a lot worse. It's been instructive to remind myself that French soldiers in the line at Verdun not uncommonly went eleven days without any rest at all. Although when I cheerfully reminded my wife of this fact at 4 a.m. she didn't seem to find it very reassuring.

Eleven days though! Imagine trying to confront an armed Brandenburger with that level of sleep-deprivation. Luckily, such an eventuality rarely came up: one of the most striking things about Verdun was the fact that you were unlikely ever to face up to the enemy, or even see him. All you had to do was wait until your turn in the front-line trenches, and then endure as much shelling as you could before you were eviscerated.

This perhaps sounds like some grimly comic exaggeration, but in fact the French commanders were quite explicit about the pointless deaths they expected from their men. General Nivelle's orders were to ‘Ne pas se rendre, ne pas reculer d'un pouce, se faire tuer sur place’, while one colonel told his troops: ‘On the day they want to, they will massacre you to the last man, and it is your duty to fall.’

As pep-talks go, that's not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V. In fact it's only a couple of rungs up from ‘Men, why don't all of you fuck off and die.’

What was it all about? Well, the Germans guessed rightly that France would never surrender Verdun, which was a key fortress-town near the front lines. They therefore reckoned that by attacking it continually, they would force the French to sacrifice themselves in order to prevent its loss: ‘the forces of France will bleed to death,’ in the words of the famous German memo, ‘whether we reach our goal or not.’

This subtle plan had, as Captain E. Blackadder would later put it, just one tiny flaw: it was bollocks. The problem was that the Germans attacking Verdun were compelled to haemorrhage troops almost as fast as the French. So you had both armies hurling great bodies of men at each other, both sides constantly decimated by extremely heavy artillery fire, all over an objective that the Germans never even seriously expected to win.

It was very quickly obvious that the whole affair was pointless; but, because of astonishingly limp leadership on both sides, it went on for fully ten months. At the end of which, the front line was in roughly the same place it had been at the beginning and three hundred thousand boys were dead.

As Paul Fussell has pointed out elsewhere, to call Verdun a ‘battle’ – as though this relentless endurance of shelling were remotely similar to Blenheim or Waterloo – is to give entirely the wrong impression. Men did not fight men at Verdun, or very rarely; instead, men were pitted against heavy artillery. They heard little but screaming shells and lived – if they were lucky – half-underground in trenches where the water was often waist-high. The ground had been churned up so many times that corpses were (to borrow a cooking term) folded in throughout, and body-parts protruded from the trench walls or confounded your spade when you tried to dig in.

The psychological effect of this on the soldiers is…well, it can hardly be imagined. One priest, Sergeant Dubrelle, wrote home with some decidedly un-Catholic feelings:

Having despaired of living amid such horror, we begged God not to have us killed – the transition is too atrocious – but just to let us be dead. We had but one desire; the end!

Alistair Horne – rising to the peaks of desperate irony that Verdun demands – comments: ‘At least this part of Dubrelle's prayers was answered the following year.’ Horne's tone and command of his material really is excellent throughout; he is very good on the political side, he offers outstanding character sketches of the major players, but he is also determined to make clear the experience of the regular soldiers who, amidst the horror, enacted ‘countless, unrecorded Thermopylaes’.

Many of the peripheral details here are fascinating. I knew of course that cavalry was still considered a strong tactic at the start of the war, but I had not previously appreciated how proportionally undeveloped was the use of motor-cars. In 1914, there were only 170 vehicles in the entire French army, and the Senegalese troops brought in to the service depots at first ate the grease.

One of the most riveting aspects of learning about the First World War, for me, has been the extent to which it is inseparable from the Second, so that whole period of 1914-1945 can be understood (as one historian said) almost as another Thirty Years War. This element comes across strongly in Horne as well, in unexpectedly tragic ways. It was Verdun that convinced French commanders of the vital necessity of strong forts, leading to their later over-dependence on the Maginot Line; indeed, ‘more than any isolated event of the First War, Verdun led to France's defeat in 1940’. While on the other side of the lines, it created ‘a vacuum of leadership in Germany into which rushed the riff-raff of the Himmlers and Goebbels’.

The most prominent symbol of this trajectory is poor Pétain, who emerges here as one of the great tragic figures of the century. Deeply protective of his troops, by far the most humanitarian French general, he would almost certainly have evacuated the whole Verdun salient if he'd been allowed; instead, he was forced to preside over a protracted slaughter. His resulting defeatism and pessimism were the first steps on the road that led inexorably to Vichy France.

In terms of raw numbers, there were probably more outrageous encounters; 20,000 British alone were killed on just the first day of the Somme, for instance. But what made Verdun uniquely horrific was how long it went on for. Even academic, judicious Horne finds himself concluding that ‘It is probably no exaggeration to call Verdun the “worst” battle in history’, and a microcosm of the wider conflagration:

It was the indecisive battle in an indecisive war; the unnecessary battle in an unnecessary war; the battle that had no victors in a war that had no victors.

One feels deeply that what happened from February to December 1916 was a ghastly mistake for the species as a whole. Then again, perhaps the most appalling thing is the possibility that this is not so. ‘War is less costly than servitude,’ writes the French novelist Jean Dutourd, in a comment that Horne quotes twice and that I found utterly chilling: ‘the choice is always between Verdun and Dachau.’ Now there's a choice to keep you up at night. ( )
  Widsith | Mar 24, 2015 |
At the end of each year I select the best book I read in that yeaar. In 1964 I read 32 books. This was, without a doubt, the best book Iread in 1964. It overwhelmed me. ( )
  Schmerguls | May 14, 2013 |
Heartbreaking in its stupidity... ( )
  ScoutJ | Mar 31, 2013 |
"The Price of Glory" is a true masterpiece of First World War history with the author striking a perfect balance in recounting the events of the Battle of Verdun. He presents the all important historical background concerning the humiliating defeat of the French by the Prussians in 1870 and spends a good deal of time on the flawed generals of both sides who wasted hundreds of thousands of young lives over the space of 10 months.
Verdun became a totem to both the French and German nations leading to an overwhelming commitment by both sides that went far beyond military logic. Horne shows the astounding inability of the generals (particularly the French) to adapt to the reality of fixed position warfare using heavy artillery and machine guns. The ethos of the French GHQ typified by Joffre was the "L'Attaque à Outrance", a sort of wild romantic attack with light artillery along Napoleonic lines, to which end for example, he removed most of the guns and men from the vital strategic fort of Douaumont (too positional) allowing ten surprised German soldiers to walk in unchallenged. Its worth reading the book just for the story of sergeant Kunze and the progress of his nine men.
Eventually the French won a Pyrrhic victory as German reserves were exhausted, Falkenhayn vacillated and France finally found a capable general in Philippe Petain. He shunted out the romantics and adapted to the new environment, organising supply, rotating exhausted troops and carefully studying terrain and reserves in defence and attack. The victory was his and in the epilogue the author clearly sides with him in his post WW2 trial for collaborating with France's German occupiers. He was 90 years old at the time and said," My thought, my only thought, was to remain with them (the French) on the soil of France, according to my promise, so as to protect them and lessen their suffering". His ADC he knew him better than anyone and said quite correctly that, " You think too much about the French and not enough about France".

In stark contrast, the inflexible romantic Charles De Gaulle thought much about "La Gloire de La France" and hounded the saviour of Verdun to a death sentence which was eventually commuted to life imprisonment.

An extraordinarily good book in many ways. ( )
  Miro | Feb 5, 2011 |
A book that sat of my shelf far too long! This was absolutely outstanding. The subject matter is as grim as anything you've ever read, but Horne's telling of the story is superb. I've been reading military history all my life, and to have never known the story of Fort Vaux is a scandal. I myself am guilty of telling the "France can't fight" jokes, but I know better now.

Read this book. It will teach you more about what the human spirit can survive. It will also remind you that man's greatest enemy is, and will always be, himself. ( )
  sergerca | Jan 21, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Canonical title
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original title
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
This Western-front business couldn't be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it again but they couldn't. They could fight the first Marne again but not this, this took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren't any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancee, and little cafes in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the Mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather's whiskers....This was a love battle-there was a century of middle-class love spent here....All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high explosive love.... - F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
Dedication
To Francis and Jacqueline
First words
Three and a half years elapsed between the First Battle of the Marne, when the Kaiser's armies reached the gates of Paris, and Ludendorff's last-gasp offensive that so nearly succeeded in the Spring of 1918.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Original language
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

No library descriptions found.

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
2 avail.
24 wanted
4 pay

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4.22)
0.5
1
1.5
2 1
2.5
3 8
3.5 5
4 36
4.5 3
5 29

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 96,291,570 books! | Top bar: Always visible