Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of Verdun- the bloodiest battle in the bloodiest year of the first world war.
There were several battles in that war that turned into battles of attrition- battles where was nothing was to be gained but the death of armies. But Verdun marked the first time someone intentionally started a battle of attrition. The Germans attacked Verdun knowing the French would defend it to the end. They believed the element of surprise would work in their favour and allow them an efficient kill ratio. That was the goal.
"For every German soldier that dies," said the German commander. "Three French soldiers will be killed. We shall bleed France white." And that was the plan: mere slaughter.
Somehow, inexplicably, the Germans didn't realize that surprise does not last forever. The French dug in, developed tactics, launched counter attacks, and soon both sides were locked in a struggle from which neither could extricate themselves. The precious German kill ratio fell to nearly 1:1. For three hundred days the slaughter continued, in a battle that couldn't be measured in gains, or victory, or lost ground. Only in body counts.
Over a million casualties. And the front lines did not change. It was slaughter for nothing.