Page 3636

3636 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE MODERN WORLD.

a great concentration of artillery it would

be possible simply to blast the French

troops out of Verdun and to occupy it.

Probably the nearness of the great fortress

of Metz, whence the Germans could be

easily supplied with re-enforcements, guns,

and munitions, was one reason for the

decision. Furthermore, the German High

Command was undoubtedly aware that

the French would be hampered by lack

of railway connections, since the Verdun-Toul-Nancy Railway was cut by the German salient which reached the Meuse River,

southeast of Verdun, at St. Mihiel. During

the operations the French were, in fact,

obliged to make use, in large part, of motor

transport along the road which came to

be known as the "Sacred Way."

Whatever may have been their motives,

the Germans made vast preparations.

They brought up thousands of cannons,

including several hundred of 12-inch calibre

or upwards, and hundreds of thousands

of their best troops. The French were

not unaware of these preparations, but

they did not attempt to concentrate

against the assailants an equal number

of men and guns. Instead, they held

the Verdun defenses with relatively small

forces, and trusted to the strength of their

positions to assist them in repelling the

German attacks.

The attack began on the 21st of February, and at first, took the form of a

terrific bombardment, exceeding in intensity anything the war had yet produced.

The number of guns used was so large

that French aviators, flying over the German lines, reported that in some places

it was like a display of "fireworks." Says

a French officer:

"Such an incessant cannonade came'

from the little wood of Gremilly, north

of La Jumelle, that our observers: had to,

give up marking on their cards the different

batteries in action; they were everywhere;