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
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;