You see I am always looking for consolations in the disaster. One must, you know.
March 2, 1916
We are living these days in the atmosphere of the great battle of Verdun. We talk Verdun all day, dream Verdun all night—in fact, the thought of that great attack in the east absorbs every other idea. Not in the days of the Marne, nor in the trying days of Ypres or the Aisne was the tension so terrible as it is now. No one believes that Verdun can be taken, but the anxiety is dreadful, and the idea of what the defence is costing is never absent from the minds even of those who are firmly convinced of what the end must be.
I am sending you a Forain cartoon from the Figaro, which exactly expresses the feeling of the army and the nation.
You have only to look on a map to know how important the position is at Verdun, the supposed-to-be-strongest of the four great fortresses— Verdun, Toul, Epinay, and Belfort—which protect the only frontier by which the Kaiser has a military right to try to enter France, and which he avoided on account of its strength.
Verdun itself is only one day’s march from Metz. If you study it up on a map you will learn that, within a circuit of thirty miles, Verdun is protected by thirty-six redoubts. But what you will not learn is that this great fortification is not yet connected with its outer redoubts by the subterranean passages which were a part of the original scheme. It is that fact which is disturbing. Every engineer in the French army knows that the citadel at Metz has underground communications with all its circle of outer ramparts. Probably every German engineer knows that Verdun’s communication passages were never made. Isn’t it strange (when we remember that, even in the days of walled cities, there were always subterraneans leading out of the fortified towns beyond the walls—wonderful works of masonry, intact today, like those of Provins, and even here on this hill) that a nation which did not want war should have left unfinished the protection of such a costly fortress?
You probably knew, as usual, before we did, that the battle had begun. We knew nothing of it here until February 23, three days after the bombardment began, with the French outer lines nine miles outside the city, although only twenty-four hours after was the full force of the German artillery let loose, with fourteen German divisions waiting to march against the three French divisions holding the position. Can you wonder we are anxious?