Colonel Emile Driant, who saw the future of air power and knew it would work, died, still prophesying, but close to the earth. It was an end worthy of his own ad venture novels.
A former career army officer, Driant had called attention to the German threat as a writer and deputy. When the war began, he rejoined his old unit, the chasseurs. The year 1916 found him commanding two battalions near Verdun, at the Bois des Caures. New warnings, this time about a dangerous lack of men and equipment and the imminence of an enemy offensive, went unheeded.
The Bois des Caures sustained the brunt of the great German attack on February 21. As soon as the opening bombardment lifted that afternoon, Driant grabbed a rifle and ran out of his concrete command post to rally his shaken and much diminished force. In the devastated woods, fighting turned into numberless small hand-to-hand battles. The Germans brought up flamethrowers. But the Bois des Caures held through a snowy night, largely be cause of Driant’s foresight in organizing his defenses in an interlocking series of strongpoints.
By the following after noon, he was isolated in his command post (which can still be seen today). Two German fieldpieces were firing at it over open sights. Driant was leading a small group in a dash for safety when he stopped to comfort a wounded soldier. A moment later, a rifle bullet shattered his brain. But Driant and his chasseurs had held up the German advance in this sector for a crucial 24 hours, buying back the time the French high command had squandered by refusing to listen to the warnings of the men on the spot. MHQ
This article originally appeared in the Winter 1995 issue (Vol. 7, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: The Prophet Armed
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