JF Ptak Science Books Post 2215
I was looking through a very heavy volume from 1924 of Military Engineer and came upon a very large folding map1. It was vanilla on the outside and stayed so, opening only the back of the map through one, two, three, four (!) unfoldings, not yet revealing itself, until it was at it full width, and then unfolded once down, which opened to the middle of the map, which was a mass of lines and shading of brown and gray. Another unfold up, and then another down, and more of the same, so much detail that the context still was hidden. I unfolded the bottom half of the map three more times and at the bottom was the town "Regret". My right hand obscured the name of the much larger and antique-fortified town, which turned out to be the military-sacred city of Verdun. When I unfolded the top of the map--making it about four feet long--I saw that it was for development of the battle and lines of communication and placement of troops and so on for part of the Autumn of 1918. And trenches.
(This was actually "Verdun B", the mate of "Verdun A", which together form a huge and wildly complex 4x4' map. )
This was a reprint six years later of the 34th edition of this particular map--that is a lot of editions. But this was a lot of place, Verdun. A fluid place of ordered killing chaos that was as dynamic as it was occasionally static, starting in a very contained space of massive fighting that took place from 21 February to 18 December, 1916. The map is of a place that was about the longest, costliest, and deadliest battles that humans have come to, so far. Casualties were about the same on each side (370,000 French and 340,000 German) and totaled about 710,000 people, though scholars argue the point, some coming to a figure much higher, approaching a million. That makes 70,000-100,000 per month for the battle, which was like a war in itself.
There were probably two million soldiers in motion here, at Verdun, in a relatively tiny area, with front lines extending about five miles or so, the battlefield being fairly narrow from point to point, perhaps totaling 20 square miles of heavily bombarded/shelled ground. It was a terrifying place to be, and I'm certain that it must have scarred forever hundreds of thousands who survived the ordeal.
Unfortunately Verdun 1916 was only about the half-way point of the war, with these maps generated to show artillery targets for the American entry in the war for action that would take place just before the end of the war on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. This was the French Fourth Army and the American First Army which attacked on a front from Moronvillers to the Meuse on 26 September 1918 through the end of September, and from which the German army began its gradual withdrawal from the area, continuing right up to Armistice Day.
Ultimately whenever I think of this war things usually boil down to Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got his Gun, which was required reading in my freshman year of high school in 1970.
1. Journal of the Society of Military Engineers, volume 16, 1924; the map titles are "Tranchee Francaise schematique a la date de 1er Sept 1918" and "Carte Generale des Objectifs d'Artillery".