There are a number of ways to analyze a battle, especially if it is the most written about engagement of World War I. There are three current books on the subject, and the approach of each is strikingly different. One is McNab’s VERDUN 1916, BATTLE STORY, smaller and more economically priced than its competition, it is rather direct in giving the reader coverage of the battle and recommended. Then there is the most popular of the new books, Mosier’s THE LOST HISTORY OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BATTLE OF WORLD WAR I: VERDUN. The author has lost sight of his claim the “most important” while going off on tangents and producing a “Gee Wiz” type of book in which he points some interesting items (some incorrect) with which the average history buff may impress his friends. Then there is Jankowski’s VERDUN: The Longest Battle of the Great War. Unlike Mosier, he does not claim the battle lasted from 1914 to 1918, but actually covered the actual battle of 1916. Both Mosier and Jankowski include a long detail bibliography, but it is clear that only the latter actually read all those books and documents. Both have a good writing style, but that does not necessarily make a good history books. Jankowski does not provide the detail of the battle found in McNab’s book (Verdun, a Battle History), but if that is what you want Alstair Horne’s book (The Price of Glory) from the 1960s still provides a decent history.
Jankowski does an excellent job in assimilating all his sources to give the reader who already knows something about the battle a better picture of the various aspects of battle including tactics, leaders, and events. The various chapters attempt to tackle such things as the French and German point of view, how the battle affected the public, moral, medical services, desertion, losses and so on. For those who have read Joffre’s and Petain’s accounts, you may have noticed something is missing. These, and other generals, as the author points out, came from the rear depending on reports, and messages, while sending out their life and death orders without actually knowing or even caring what the soldiers at the front experienced. Their front line inspections amounted to little, although Petain seemed to have a much better understanding of what was happening to his men. Meanwhile, generals like Mangin led suicidal charges from behind a desk including a desperate attempt to retake Fort Douaumont. Other officers would refuse to carry some of the directives and on the German side things were no better. The troops in Feldgrau had also become distraught by being slaughtered by French 75s and machine-guns not destroyed in the massive bombardments. Even the German Crown Prince commanding the German 5th Army questioned the leadership and strategy of his commander, General Falkenhayn. Falkenhayn only tried to explain the battle after the war when he decided to claim it was to “bleed the French white.” Unlike the other two books mentioned, this one provides some interesting evidence of how morale rose and fell on both sides, the contribution of the battle to larger mutinies the following year, and even how both sides tried to turn the results of the battle into a victory. This book is for those who already know a little about the battle of Verdun and have sufficient grey matter to want to know how this battle played out and was not a battle of attrition, but one that defined the war.
Verdun by McNab - Recommend for description of the actual battle *****
Verdun by Mosier - Only recommend if your just wanting some facts to impress your friends, but not improve your understanding
of the battle. Better selection of maps than the other two books, but rather simple. Remember it includes a
number of errors and the author thinks the battle lasted 4 years. **
Verdun by Janowski - Recommend for an understanding of the various aspects of the battle and its significance. Maps not
much better than Mosier book and more needed. *****