Lets build the Battle of the Frontiers

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Gwynn Compton
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Lets build the Battle of the Frontiers

Post by Gwynn Compton » 05 Jan 2003 10:32

Well here you go. I'll leave this thread open for a week or so while we compile information, then I'll go and write an article on it.

Please remember to include a full bibliographical reference at the end of each source you quote.

The Battle we're building is the Battle of the Frontiers, which incompass the Battle's of the Sambre and Mons, and end at the Battle of the Marne, which marked the end of the war of movement, and the beginning of Trench Warfare.

The Battle of the Frontiers
A curious interval of calm had followed the upheavel of mobilisation and the subsequent mass migration to the areas of conventration. Both the French and German divisional histories record an interlude of a week or even ten days between detraining behind the frontier and the onset of action. It was spent distributing stores, hurried exercises and deployment on foot towards the front. There was, for some very senior officers on both sides and for others who had read their history, a certain familiarity about the preliminary events. They resembled those of the first days of the Franco-Prussian War forty-four years earlier, with the difference that everything was working with greater efficiency. Otherwise, the troop trains looked the same, the long columns of horse, foot and guns looked the same, on the French side the uniform looked the same, on both sides even the weapons looked the same; the revolutionary power of quick-firing artillery and magazine-rifles had yet to reveal itself.

The battlefront chosen by the French high command was, for much of its length, almost exactly the same also. True, in 1870, there had been no operations north of the point where the French met the Luxembourg frontier, while in 1914 the deployment areas of the French Third, Fourth and Fifth Armies reached from there towards Belgium. In Lorraine, however, the soldiers of the First Army found themselves treading the same roads as their grandfathers had done under the command of Napoleon III. The lines of departure were further to the west, transposed thence by the German seizure of territory that had been the price of defeat in 1871, but the avenues of advance were the same and so were the objectives: the line of the River Saar, Saarbrücken and the country beyond on the way to the Rhine. These had been given in Joffre's General Instruction No. 1 of 8 August.

The Lorraine offensive opened on 14 August, when Dubail's First Army, with de Castelnau's Second echeloned to its left, crossed the frontier and advanced towards Sarrebourg. Bonneau's setback at Mulhouse seemed forgotten. The French advanced as liberators and conquerors, bands playing, colours unfurled. The thought that the Germans might have plans of their own for victory in the lost provinces - to them "Reich territory" - appears to have crossed no mind in the French high command. Its intelligence underestimated the Germans' strength and its judgement was that they would stand on the defensive. In fact the German Sixth and Seventh Armies, commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria and General Josias von Heeringen, a Prussian ex-War Minister, comprised eight, not six, corps and were preparing to strike the French a weighty counterblow as soon as they overreached themselves.

They were shortly to do so. For four days the Germans fell back, contesting but not firmly opposing the French advance, which in places reached twenty-five miles into Reich territory. A German regimental colour was captured and sent for presentation to Joffre at Vitry-le-François, where he had established General Headquarters (GQG). Château-Salins was taken, the Dieuze, finally on 18 August, Sarrebourg, all places that had been French since Louis XIV's wars against the Habsburgs in the seventeenth century. Then the front lost its sponginess. The French infantry found German resistance stiffening. The small Army of Alsace, advancing continuously on the First's right, recaptured Mulhouse the next day, but its success lent no support, for a wide gap yawned between it and Dubail's positions. It was not the only gap. First Army was not firmly in contact with Second; west of the Saar Valley, Dubail and Castelnau were not in operational touch at all. Dubail was conscious of the weakness and intended on 20 August to mend it by launching an attack that would both restore contact and open a way through for Conneau's Cavalry Corps (2nd, 6th and 10th Divisions) to debouch into the enemy's rear and roll up his flank; but even as he set the attack in motion on the night of 19/20 August, the Germans were preparing to unleash their planned counter-offensive.

Rupprecht's and Heeringen's Armies had been temporarily subordinated to a single staff, headed by General Krafft von Delmensingen. Thus, while the French Second and First Armies co-ordinated their actions only as well as sporadic telephoning could arrange, the German Sixth and Seventh fought as a single entity. Here was the anticipation of a new trend in command, which would bring into being formations as large as existing communication systems could control. On 20 August its worth was swiftly demonstrated. Dubail's night attack was checked as soon as begun. The setback was followed by a simultaneous offensive along the whole line of battle by the eight German corps against the French six. The French VIII Corps, which had reached the Saar at Sarrebourg, was overwhelmed; its artillery was outmetalled by the heavier German guns, under the fire of which the German infantry drove the French from one position after another.

Heavy artillery did even worse damage to Second Army, which was struck by a concentrated bombardment along it's whole front as day broke on 20 August. The XV and XVI Corps abandoned thier positions under the infantry attacks that followed. Only the XX, on the extreme left, held firm. It was fighting on home ground and was commanded by General Ferdinand Foch, of exceptional talent and determination. While his soldiers clung on, the rest of the Army was ordered by Castelnau to break contact and retreat behind the River Meurthe, the line from which it had begun its advance six days earlier. It had very nearly been enveloped on both flanks, which would have resulted in irretrievable disaster to the whole French army, and had completely last touch with the First Army, which Dubail was therefore obliged to disengage from battle also. By 23 August it, too, had returned to the Meurthe and was preparing to defend the river, hinging its defence on strong positions which Foch had established on the high ground of the Grand Couronné de Nancy. There the two armies entrenched to await further German assaults. Schlieffen had warned such assaults must not be attempted if the victory he had rightly anticipated would follow a French offensive in Lorraine. The temptation to exploit the victory proved, however, too strong to resisit. Von Moltke yielded to the demands of Rupprecht and Delmensingen and sanctioned their renewal of the offensive which, between 25 August and 7 September, broke on the stout defences the French unexpectedly established along the Meurthe.

The significance of the French recovery on the right of their enormous front would take time to emerge. Elsewhere disaster persisited. Next above the First and Second Armies stood the Third and Fourth, given by Joffre the mission of penetrating the forest zone of the Ardennes and striking towards the towns of Arlon and Neufchâteau in Southern Belgium. Their front of attack was twenty-five miles, the depth of forest to be penetrated about eight. Two considerations argued against Joffre's offensive instructions. The first was that the terrain of the Ardennes - tangled woods, steep hillsides, wet valleys - impedes military movements, confining marching troops to the infrequent roads. The second was that the German armies, Fourth, commanded by the Duke of Württemberg, and Fifth, commanded by the German Crown Prince, were deployed to attack to the east on a collision course with the approaching French, and i exactly equal strength, eight corps against eight. Of this equality Joffre's headquarters were quite unaware. The main French reconnaissance force, Sordet's Cavalry Corps, had criss-crossed the Ardenees between 6 and 15 August without detecting the enemy's presence. The troopers had ridden bare their horses' backs - French cavalry had the bad habit of not dismounting on the march - but seen neither hide nor hair of the enemy. As a result, GQG had assured both de Langle, Fourth Army, and Ruffey, Third Army on 22 August that 'no serious opposition need be anticipated' Reports from French aviators had confirmed this wholly false judgement throughout the previous week.

The Germans were better informed than the French. Their aviators had reported significant enemy movements on the front of Fourth Army and, though what had been observed was the northward march of elements of Lanrezac's Fifth Army towards the Meuse, the mistaken interpretation alerted the Germans to Joffre's real intentions. On 20 August the Crown Prince's army had remained in its positions while its heavy artillery had brought the French frontier fortresses of Montmédy nad Longwy - both old and ill-defended - under bombardment, but on the morning of 22 August both it and Fourth Army were on the march. Fourth Army was particularly concerned with the danger of being outflanked and its headquarters issed orders for the corps on its left to take particular care to maintain contact with its neighbour.

-From John Keegan's The First World War Pimlico edition, 1998, England.

Thats all I can do for tonight, I'll continue tomorrow with some more from it.

Gwynn

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 14:12

Scene of the Chief operations near Mons and Charleroi
based on Sir John French's Report. Aug. 1914

Image

Grey - Allied Positions.
Light Grey - German Positions.
1 - Original Positions of the 1st British Army Corps.
2 - Original Positions of the 2nd British Army Corps.
3 - Position of British Cavalry.
4 - Line of the early British Cavalry Reconnaissance.
5 - Positions of the 5th French Army.
5a - French Army Reserves.
6 - German Forces.
7 - German turning movement from Tournay.
8 - Demonstration of 2nd British Division towards Binche.
8a - Supporting positions of 1st British Division.
9 - Line of retreat of 2nd British Corps.
10 - Covering line of 19th British Infantry Brigade from Valenciennes.
11 - Retreat of 1st British Corps.
12 - Position of 2nd Corps after First Retreat.
13 - Position of 1st Army Corps after First Retreat.
14- Subsequent British Retreat to the Cambrai - Le Cateau line.
15 - French Retreat.

http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/maps/mons1.htm

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 14:14

The 1st Phase of the Retreat from Mons
Plan showing the British Positions from August 23rd to August 28th.

Image

+ Chief Engagements during the Retreat.
------ Franco - Belgian Frontier.
A - British Postions at Mons August 23rd.
B - Retiring Line of 2nd Army Corps. August 24th.
C - British Lines, evening. August 24th.
D - British Lines, August 25th - 26th.
E - Position of General Sordet's Cavalry, August 23rd - 26th.
F - General direction of French Retreat.
G - General d'Amade's movement from Arras to assist the British.
H - British Lines. August 26th - 27th.
J - British Lines, August 28th.

http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/maps/mons2.htm

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 14:19

The 2nd Phase of the Retreat from Mons
Plan showing the British Positions from August 28th to September 6th

Image

+ Engagements on September 1st.
---->--- Approximate British Lines of British Retreat, August 28th to September 3rd.
A - British Lines, August 29th.
B - British Lines, September 3rd.
C - British Lines, September 6th.
D - Sixth French Army, September 6th.
E - Von Kluck's Army, September 6th
F - Fifth French Army, September 6th

http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/maps/mons3.htm

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 14:41

When the French offensive developed in August 1914, Moltke was tempted to accept the challenge in a direct manner, and to seek a decision in Lorraine, postponing the right wing's sweep. The impulse was only a momentary one, but in that brief lapse he had diverted to Lorraine the six newly formed Ersatz divisions which should have gone to increase the strength of the right wing. Moreover, the fresh accession of strength made the German commanders in Lorraine more loathe to fulfil their self-supressing role. Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, instead of continuing to fall back and lure the French, halted his army, ready to accept battle. Finding the French attack slow to develop, he arranged with his neighbor to forestall it by a German attack. The two armies had now 25 divisions against 19, but lacked superiority, as well as strategic position, to make the counterstroke decisive. The result was merely to throw back the French on to their fortified barrier-- and so not only restored and augmented their power of resistance but enabled them to dispatch troops westward for the battle of Marne.

The German action in Lorraine undermined Schieffen's plan even more gravely, if less obviously, than the progressive reduction of the weight and role of the right wing-- although it was here that the collapse came, after this wing had been seriously weakened in various ways.


B.H. Liddell Hart's Strategy second revised edition

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 14:47

The French invasion of Lorraine formed one of the major objectives of the French pre-war offensive strategy against Germany, Plan XVII. A consequence of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the loss of Alsace and Lorraine to Prussia festered in the minds of both French public and military alike, a national humiliation that needed to be addressed during the next war with the Prussians.

Plan XVII therefore made the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine a central plank of French strategy. This much was known to Germany before the First World War began, and was consequently factored into the German Schlieffen Plan.

One of the Battles of the Frontiers, the Invasion of Lorraine (also known as the Battle of Morhange-Sarrebourg) began with the French First and Second Armies entering the city on 14 August 1914, despite the failure of General Paul Pau’s 8 August offensive at the Battle of Mulhouse, another key target near the Swiss border, with his ‘Army of Alsace’.

The French First Army, under General Auguste Dubail, intended to take Sarrebourg, east of Nancy, a strongly defended town, with General Noel de Castlenau’s Second Army taking Morhange, similarly fortified. The task of defending these towns fell to German Crown Prince Rupprecht, who had overall command of the German Sixth and General Josias von Herringen’s Seventh Army.

Rupprecht implemented a strategy of apparently retreating under the force of the French attack, only to bounce back in a fierce, cleverly manoeuvred counter-attack, having lured the French armies into a strong attack upon a heavily defended position. As the French armies advanced they encountered increasingly stern German opposition, including treacherous machine gun fire and heavy artillery.

Rupprecht, however, pressed German Army Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke to authorise a more aggressive strategy, under which the Germans would mount a counter-attack, the aim being to drive the French back to Nancy.

With Moltke’s agreement the offensive was launched on 20 August, whilst de Castelnau’s Second Army battered Morhange. Caught by surprise and without the assistance of an entrenched position, Second Army was forced to fall back, eventually into France itself.

This in turn obliged General Dubail to retreat his First Army from Sarrebourg. Despite the German onslaught Ferdinand Foch’s XX Corps managed to defend Nancy itself.

Gaps began to appear between the French armies, prompting Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre to withdraw the Army of Alsace – a bitter blow given the latter’s recent success in retaking Mulhouse.

Eight days after the French offensive had begun, 22 August, both First and Second Armies were back to the fortress zones of Belfort, Epinal and Toul.

Diverting from the Schlieffen Plan, Rupprecht’s forces were reinforced preparatory to an attack against the two French armies through the Trouee des Charmes, a natural gap between Epinal and Toul. However the French, through the successful use of reconnaissance aircraft, were alerted to the German's build-up and so prepared an adequate defence. Attacked therefore on 24 August, German gains were minimal, limited to the acquisition of a small salient into French lines, itself reduced by heavy French counter-attacks on the morning of 25 August.

The French line held. Realistically the troops gathered for Rupprecht’s offensive – which comprised 26 divisions of men – would have been put to far greater use at the First Battle of the Marne; however Rupprecht continued fighting until the end of the month, without success. Stalemate and trench warfare ensued.


http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/lorraine.htm
Last edited by Mike K. on 05 Jan 2003 14:56, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 14:55

The Battle of Mulhouse, one of the August Battles of the Frontiers, comprised the opening French attack of the war, and began at 05:00 on 7 August 1914.

Forming a fundamental component of France war strategy, Plan XVII, the Battle of Mulhouse was intended to secure the recapture of Alsace (with Lorraine to follow separately), territories lost to Germany as a consequence of losing the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Aside from the matter of national pride inherent in the capture of Alsace, French troops there would be well placed to guard the flank of subsequent French invasions further north.

In command of the operation to take Mulhouse was General Bonneau, and he was assigned a detachment of the First Army, plus one cavalry and two infantry divisions. Ranged against him was the German Seventh Army under General von Heeringen.

Having crossed the frontier on the morning of 7 August, the French quickly seized the border town of Altkirch with a bayonet charge. However Bonneau, suspicious of the light state of the German defences, was wary of advancing much further for fear of stepping into a carefully lain German trap. However, under orders to move to the Rhine next day, Bonneau continued his advance, taking Mulhouse shortly after its German occupants had left the town.

The taking of Mulhouse, albeit without opposition, sparked wild celebrations in France. The French were regarded as liberators by the inhabitants of Mulhouse itself.

However, with the arrival of German reserves from Strasbourg, the Germans mounted a counter-attack on the morning of 9 August at nearby Cernay.

In the absence of reserves of his own, and unable to mount a concentrated defence, Bonneau began a slow withdrawal the same day.

Joseph Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief, hastily despatched a reserve division to assist in the defence, but they arrived too late to save the town from recapture, Bonneau withdrawing towards Belfort on 10 August in order to escape German encirclement.

Joffre's response was immediate. Charging Bonneau with a lack of aggression, he was promptly relieved of command. Recognising the high profile of the loss, Joffre added four more divisions to the so-called 'Army of Alsace' placed under the command of General Pau, which unsuccessfully advanced upon Lorraine later that month.


http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/mulhouse.htm

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 15:00

Fought between 21-23 August 1914, the Battle of the Ardennes comprised one of the Battles of the Frontiers conducted during the first month of the war, August 1914.

The battle was sparked somewhat unusually by the mutual confused collision of French and German invasion forces in the lower Ardennes forests.

According to the pre-war French war strategy document, Plan XVII, German forces in the area were only expected to be light, with French light, rapid-firing. artillery proving advantageous in a wooded terrain such as that found in the Ardennes.

By 20 August however it was becoming apparent - first to General Lanrezac's French Fifth Army, and then to Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre - that a massive German presence was gathering in the area. That same day the Germans launched a counter-offensive against the French advance into Lorraine. Even so, Joffre authorised an invasion of the Ardennes on 20 August for the following day.

Two sets of armies joined battle on both French and German sides. General Pierre Ruffey's Third Army and, further north, General Fernand de Langle de Cary's Fourth Army, fought the German Fourth and Fifth Armies: the former led by Duke Albrecht, the latter by Crown Prince Wilhelm. The two German armies together formed the centre of the German Schlieffen Plan's advance into France.

The French Fifth Army, meanwhile, had been despatched northwards to Charleroi on the back of news of a German build-up of strength in Belgium.

German troops had begun to advance through the woods on 19 August, constructing defensive positions as they went. Crown Prince Wilhelm was situated at Briey with Duke Albrecht en route to Neufchateau.

The aim of the advancing French forces was straightforward: to attack the German centre in the flank as it passed through the woods of the Ardennes.

With the descent of thick fog the opposing forces literally stumbled into each other in the woods on 21 August; in such fog, advance reconnaissance was of little worth. At this early stage the French mistook the German presence for small screening forces; in reality the French were heavily outnumbered. The first day of the battle, 21 August, was marked by scattered fighting, mostly skirmishes. Widespread battle only began the following day.

Superior tactical positioning by the Germans more than offset the occasional French success, e.g. at Virton, although casualties were heavy on both sides. French troops, dressed brightly, were notably conspicuous in the woods, no concession to camouflage having been considered.

The French, acting with 'offensive spirit', charged at German positions in the wood, only to be cut down by efficient machine gun fire, backed by heavy artillery.

In contrast to the Germans' willingness to settle and dig trenches, the French forces began a disorderly retreat on the late afternoon of 23 August, the Third Army withdrawing to Verdun chased by the German Fifth Army (where Ruffey was subsequently removed by Joffre), and Fourth Army retreating near Sedan and Stenay. The latter engaged their German pursuers whilst there on 26-28 August, temporarily halting the Germans' progress.

As a consequence of the poorly managed French retreat the Germans were able to take possession of important iron resources, and were able to continue their advance into France.

The scale of the French defeat was notable, only becoming clear to Joffre after a period of time had elapsed. Even then he was inclined to blame the poor performance of his forces rather than attribute it to strategy and circumstances. It did not dissuade him from planning further offensive attacks in the near future.


http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/ardennes.htm

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 15:02

The Battle of Charleroi, one of the Battles of the Frontiers, was one of the key battles on the Western Front in 1914, and one of the early major German victories.

The battle comprised a major action fought between the French Fifth Army, advancing north to the River Sambre, and the German Second and Third Armies, moving southwest through Belgium.

Charleroi itself was a mid-size industrial town crossing the River Sambre, and was a battlefront stretching approximately 40 km west of Namur where the river joins with the Meuse.

France's pre-war strategy document, Plan XVII, determined that the French Fifth Army should join Third and Fourth Armies in an invasion of Germany through the Ardennes. This however assumed that Germany would not attempt an invasion of France further north, i.e. through Belgium. Whilst Lanrezac, Fifth Army commander, believed this a distinct possibility, particularly as he observed a massive build-up of German forces in Belgium, Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief, refused to consider the possibility.

Joffre did however allow Lanrezac to extend his lines northwest to the Sambre on 12 August; but at the same time Lanrezac lost some of his Fifth Army troops, transferred to the Ardennes offensive; they were replaced by a corps from the Second Army in Lorraine.

Following repeated warnings by Lanrezac, Joffre agreed that he could concentrate his forces further north on 20 August. By this time however units of von Bulow's German Second Army were nearing Namur. It was not a good time for the Allies: that same day the Germans marched into Brussels.

In authorising an attack across the river, Joffre expected the German forces to comprise of no more than 18 divisions, against which would be ranged Lanrezac's 15 divisions with reinforcements arriving from the BEF adding another three divisions. Lanrezac however believed the German strength to be much higher, nearer in fact to the real figure of 38 divisions. Consequently he asked for a postponement of the attack on 21 August, preferring to wait for the arrival of the British.

However, detachments from the German Second Army attacked across the Sambre that same morning, establishing and then successfully defending two bridgeheads against repeated French counter-attacks. Thousands of Belgians fled from Charleroi and nearby villages.

Von Bulow renewed his attacks the following day, pitching three corps across the entire French front. Fighting was heavy but confused, continuing throughout the day and well into the next. The centre of the French lines, at Charleroi, suffered heavy losses and retreated, whereas the French corps west of Charleroi held its position, as did General Franchet d'Esperey's corps in the far east. Unfortunately the retreat of General Sordet's cavalry in the far west exposed the right wing of the late-arriving British Expeditionary Force, at Mons.

Von Bulow's forces managed to cross the Meuse but he chose not to position them across the French Fifth Army's rear in the south, instead ordering a full frontal attack against the French right. General d'Esperey's corps took position in trenches and cleared the Fifth Army's lines of retreat on 23 August.

Lanrezac, having difficulty communicating with d'Esperey, expected the lines of retreat to be closed at any moment. Whilst aware that the German Third Army had established a bridgehead across the Meuse to his south, he did not know that General Mangin's brigade had successfully held them back and was on the verge of a successful counter-attack.

Once news of the Belgian pull-out from Namur reached him, along with the retreat of the French Fourth Army from the Ardennes, Lanrezac ordered a general withdrawal of his forces.

Lanrezac's decision to withdraw probably saved the French Army from destruction. By retreating the French were able to hold northern France, but the French public at large - and Joffre - saw Lanrezac's action as simply lacking 'offensive spirit'. Given that Joffre had permitted the withdrawal his subsequent condemnation of Lanrezac - he blamed him for the failure of Plan XVII - looks opportunistic.


http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/charleroi.htm

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Post by Mike K. » 05 Jan 2003 15:04

The Mons battle signified the first engagement between British and German forces on the Western Front, and began on 23 August 1914. The Battle of Mons comprises one of the so-called Battles of the Frontier that took place during August 1914, at Mulhouse, Lorraine, the Ardennes, Charleroi - and Mons.

Having arrived in France on 14 August, and well behind schedule in its advance, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) under its Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, was moving forward cautiously from the Belgian coast, in keeping with French's character, his plan being to meet up with French General Lanrezac's Fifth Army near Charleroi on the Sambre.

Before reaching Charleroi however, the BEF encountered cavalry patrols from the German First Army at Soignies on 22 August. French immediately made plans to attack the German forces, against intelligence advice and apparently unaware of its full strength and of its victories at Lorraine and the Ardennes.

Changing tack overnight, French ordered his five divisions to establish defensive positions at the nearby Mons Canal. French's surprise at meeting the German First Army was equalled by its commander, General von Kluck, who had just seen action at the Battle of the Sambre against General Lanrezac's and was intent on chasing Lanrezac to the south.

Distracted, von Kluck determined to launch a frontal attack against the BEF on 23 August, having been forbidden by the German High Command from outflanking the BEF and possibly losing contact with von Bulow's Second Army.

The British Commander-in-Chief ought not to have been too surprised at the sudden appearance and strength of the German army. As early as 7 August General Lanrezac, commanding the French Fifth Army, had warned Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief, of a sizeable build-up of German strength into Belgium.

Joffre initially appeared not to heed Lanrezac's warnings, perhaps because they conflicted with France's pre-war battle strategy, Plan XVII, which assumed that Germany would not attack France via Belgium.

Meanwhile French, who because the initial British-German contact had come via cavalry troops had effectively bought himself a day's respite before battle commenced, deployed his two infantry corps, commanded by Smith-Dorrien and Haig, respectively, east and west of Mons across a forty kilometre front.

The eastern wing almost reached the retreating French Fifth Army under General Lanrezac, some eight miles away. Edmund Allenby's cavalry division was held in reserve in case of need.

At the start of the battle the British found themselves heavily outnumbered by their German opposition: 70,000 troops as opposed to 160,000, and 300 guns against 600 German.

Despite such odds, von Kluck's offensive against General Smith-Dorrien following a preliminary artillery barrage, began disastrously, the British riflemen exacting heavy losses from the advancing German infantry.

Indeed, by mid-afternoon he had no progress to show for the offensive. The British had suffered some 1,600 casualties. The efficiency of the British riflemen was such that von Kluck assumed that the enemy were using machine-guns.

Whilst von Kluck paused the attack in order to draft in reserves, French, having heard news that General Lanrezac had retreated and could therefore offer the British no assistance, ordered a strategic retreat to the British second line of defence.

Von Kluck renewed the offensive in the evening, by which time French had realised quite how strong von Kluck's forces were. French therefore ordered Smith-Dorrien and Haig to further retreat; von Kluck did not at first give chase, choosing instead to address the heavy casualties inflicted earlier in the day. Ultimately however he inflicted almost 8,000 casualties upon the British rear-guard at the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August.

The British Commander-in-Chief then undertook an extended retreat. French himself recommended complete withdrawal to the coast, although Kitchener, the British war minister, rejected French's suggestion, requiring the BEF to remain in contact with the French forces retreating to the Marne.


http://www.firstworldwar.com/battles/mons.htm

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Post by Mike K. » 06 Jan 2003 00:18

Image

By early September, the French Commander-in-Chief Joffre had assembled a reserve army - a 'mass of maneouvre' - by withdrawing Divisions from the Eastern frontier in Alsace-Lorraine. He moved this reserve to his left flank, to the North-East of Paris. The great German advance had deviated from the Schlieffen Plan of moving around to the West of Paris and were now moving southwards, to the East of the city. Joffre saw his moment, and ordered the reserve to strike Eastwards into the flank of the German 1st Army. At the same time, his hard-pressed troops along the River Marne would attack frontally. He requested that the BEF, which after the long and wearisome retreat all the way from Mons was well behind the French lines and South of the Marne, to join the attack. 49 Allied Infantry Divisions faced 46 German. A similar imbalance had been achieved in cavalry: 8 Divisions to 7.

British and French morale immediately soared. After the weary weeks of retreat, there were about-turning to face the enemy.

The average advance of BEF units on 6th September was 11 miles; on the 7th, 8 miles, and on the 9th, they recrossed the Marne. Tactically the battle was not fought to a finish, as the German units recovered from the initial shock of the Allied attack to begin an orderly retreat.

The BEF played only a small part in the Battle of the Marne, when compared with the titanic struggle between the very much larger French and German Armies. It was nonetheless an important part, as it struck a blow at a sensitive place in the German front. In fact, it was the British advance that caused such consternation for the German position that the enemy decided to abandon the field of battle and withdraw to the North.

The Germans withdrew to the next great river valley of the Aisne, protected to its North by the steep slopes along the top of which is the road called the Chemin des Dames. The BEF and the French Armies pursued them. Helmuth von Moltke was replaced as Chief of Staff of the German Armies, by Falkenhayn. The BEF received its first reinforcements, replacing losses to date, and was also joined by the 6th Division.

Tactics

The advance of the BEF was cautious, with a cavalry screen deployed for mobile reconnaissance in front of the infantry, which adopted fire-and-movement small group tactics whenever challenged.

Casualties

The total British casualties amounted to 1,701 of all ranks, killed, wounded and missing between 6th and 10th September.


http://www.1914-1918.net/bat3.htm

Gwynn Compton
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Post by Gwynn Compton » 06 Jan 2003 02:45

Continued from John Keegan's book...

In fact, it was the French, not the Germans, who risked being unhinged. Their formations were disposed 'en echelon', like a flight of steps descending in a shallow easterly direction from north to south, so that the flank of each corps was exposed on its left. Were the Germans to push hard against the top of the Fench front, there was a danger that the steps of the French line would separate in sequence, leading to the wholesale collapse of Fourth and Third Armies. That, on 22 August, was exactly what happened. In practice, it was Third Army which collapsed first. Advancing at daybreak, its vanguard ran into unexpected German resistance and, when a sudden bombardment overwhelmed its supporting artillery, the infantry were panicked into flight. The rest of the Army, which a gap yawning in its centre, was stopped in its tracks, and had to fight hard to hold its position. Fourth Army, thus unsupported to its south, also failed to advance, except in the centre, a position held by the Colonial Corps. This, the only truly regular element of the French army, was composed of white regiments which in peacetime garrisoned the empire in North and West Africa and Indo-China. Its soldiers were hardened and experienced veterans. That was to be their undoing. Pressing forward with a determination the unblooded conscripts of the metropolitan army could not match, it rapidly became embedded in a far larger mass of Germans. Five of its battalions, advancing one behind the other on a front only 600 yards wide, launched repeated bayonet attacks through dense woodland, only to be thrown back by concentrated rifle and machinegun fire. The harder the Colonials pressed, the higher their casualties mounted. By the evening of 22 August, the 3rd Colonial Division had lost 11,000 men killed or wounded, out of a strength of 15,000, the worst casualties to be suffered by any French formation in the Battle of the Frontiers. Its effective destruction spelt an end to Fourth Army's efforts to take ground forward, just as V Corps' collapse had halted Third Army's offensive further to the south.

Plan XVII had thus been brought to a standstill along a crucial section of front, seventy-five miles wide, between Givet and Verdun. Joffre at first refused to credit the outcome. On the morning of 23 August he signalled de Langle de Cary to say that there were 'only... three [enemy] corps before [you]. Consequently you must resume your offensive as soon as possible.' De Langle de Cary obedientyly attempted to do as ordered, but his army was only driven further back that day. Unsuccessful, too, were the Third and the recently assemlbed Army of Lorraine. On 24 August, the Fourth Army retired behind the protection of the River Meuse and Third Army shortly followed. Much of Maunoury's Army of Lorraine was meanwhile withdrawn to Amiens, where a new Army, the Sixth, was to be created around its complement of reserve divisions.

The Battle of the Sambre

On two sectors of the French Frontier, Alsace-Lorraine and the Ardennes, the Germans had, by the end of the war's third week, achieved significant victories. The scene of action was now to shift to the only sector as yet untouched by major operations, the frontier with Belgium. It was there that Germany's offensive plan must succeed if Schlieffen's dream of a six-week war were to be realised. The seizure of Liège had laid the ground. The consequent retreat of the Belgian field army to the entrenched camp at Antwerp had opened the way. The fall of Namur, clearly imminent by 24 August, would complete the clearing of the theatre of major obstacles. Most important of all, the French high command, despite the weight of warning given by the German invasion of eastern Belgium, remained apparently and obstinately blind to the danger that threatened. Lanrezac, commander of Fifth Army deployed at the northern end of the line, had begun to warn GQG, even before war was declared, that he feared an envelopment of his left - northern - flank by a German march into Belgium. Joffre, whose thoughts were fixed on his own offensive into Germany, dismissed these anxieties. As late as 14 August, when Lanrezac brought his concerns to GQG at Vitry-le-François on the Marne, east of Paris, and soon to lie within earshot of the guns, the Commander-in-Chief continued to insist that the Germans would not deploy any major force inside Belgium north of the Meuse.

Over the next six days, Joffre began to reconsider, issuing orders that first directed Lanrezac's Fifth Army into the angle between the Meuse and the Sambre, as a precautionary measure, then that instructed Lanrezac to join with the British Expeditionary Force in operations against the left wing of the German battle line, whose appearance in great strength in Belgium could no longer be denied. By that late date, the battle with von Kluck's, von Bülow's and von Hausen's Armies, the battle of the Sambre to the French, Mons to the British - was already about to begin. It was in its opening stages what military theorists call a "battle of encounter', the nature of which is decided by the actions of the troops engaged rather than by orders received from the top. Orders, indeed, discouraged engagement. Lanrezac, in a conference held at Chimay on the afternoon of 21 August, told the Chiefs of Staff of his subordinate corps that the plan was for Fifth Army to hold the high ground on the south bank of the Sambre. He feared that if committed his soldiers to hold the dense belt of little industrial buildings and cottages - le Borinage - that line the bank between Carleroi and Namur, they would become involved in small-scale street fighting and be lost to his control. The Germans received similar orders from von Bülow, who was co-ordinating the movements of First and Third Armies as well as his own Second, though given for different reasons. On 20 August Moltke had warned Bülow that the French were present in strength in front of him and the British were to his right, but in unlocated positions, and that he should in consequence attack across the Sambre only when second and Third Armies could co-ordinate a pincer movement. On the morning of 21 August, Bülow accordingly wirelessed von Hausen that he was postponing Second Army's advanced, which meant that Third was to pause also.

Events at a lower level then took charge. Rivers, unless wide, are always difficult to defend. Meanders create pockets that soak up troops and cause misunderstandings between neighbouring units as to where responsibilities start and end. Bridges are a particular problem: does a bridge which marks a boundary between units lie in one sector or another? Buildings and vegetation compound the problems, breaking lines of sight and impeding easy lateral movement along the river when local crises, requiring rapid reinforcement, arise. Long experience has taught soldiers that it is easier to defend a river on the far, rather than the near, bank but, if the near bank is to be defended, then it is better done behind it than at the water's edge. All these truths were to be proved again in the battle that developed on the Sambre during 21 August.

Lanrezac, with perfect orthodoxy, had ordered the bridges to be held only by outposts, while the bulk of the Fifth Army waited on higher ground, whence it could advance to repel a German crossing or mount it's own offensive across the bridges into Belgium. The outposts at the bridges, however, found themselves in a dilemma. At Auvelais, halfway between Namur and Charleroi, for example, they were overlooked from the far back, and request permission either to cross or to fall back. Their regimental commander, bound by Lanrezac's instructions, refused but sent more troops to support them. The reinforcements discovered more bridges than their orders indicated had to be defended. While they were making their dispositions, German patrols of Second Army appeared opposite, sensed an opportunity and requested permission to chance a crossing from corps headquarters. It was that of the Imperial Guard, which, fortuitously, Ludendorff happened to be visiting when the message arrived. Showing the same initiative as he had done fifteen days earlier at Liège, he took personal responsibility for approving the venture. The 2nd Guard Division attacked, found an undefended bridge - there were eight in a sector where the French troops had thought there was but one - and established a foothold. To the west of Avelais, at Tergnè, a patrol of the German 19th Division found another unguarded bridge and crossed without asking for orders. Responding to opportunity, the divisional commander sent a whole regiment to follow and drove the French defenders away. By the afternoon of 21 August, therefore, two large meanders of the Sambre were in German hands and a gap four miles wide had been opened across the river front.

The results were characteristic of an encounter battle and greatly to the credit of the German front-line troops and their local commanders. Yet Lanrezac might still have retrieved the situation had he stuck to his original plan of holding the high ground south of the Sambre as his main position. Inexplicably, however, he now acquiesced in the decision of his two subordinates commanding III and X Corps to counter-attack, in an attempt to retake the meanders of the Sambre already lost. They tried and on the morning of 22 August their troops were repelled with heavy loss.

"The French infantry made a gallant show, advancing across the Belgian beet fields with colours unfurled and bugles sounding the shrill notes of the 'charge'. As the ranks drew near to the German lines... rifles and machine guns pounded forth a rapid fire of death from behind walls and hummocks and the windows of houses. Before it the attack wilted. Running, stumbling, crawling, the French sought cover as best they could, and the attack ended leaving the German Guard undisputed masters of the field."

That night both corps had taken positions on Lanrezac's original and preferred line on the high ground with nothing to show for the day's brave effort but yet more casualties. They were very heavy. Of the regiments engaged, each beginning with a strength of some 2,500 men, the 24th had lost 800, the 25th, a Cherbourg regiment, 1,200, and 25th (Caen) 1,000, the 49th (Bordeaux) 700, the 74th (Rouen) 800, the 129th (le Havre) 650. Strategically the result was even worse. Nine French divisions had been defeated by three German, and forced to retreat seven miles, contact with the Fourth Army, on the Meuse, had been broken, contact with the British Expeditionary Force at Mons had not been established and Sordet's Cavalry Corps, which had wholly failed in its mission of finding the Germans before they fell on the French along the Sambre, was drawing back through Fifth Army's positions, its men exhausted and it's horses worn out. The situation did not improve during 23 August. Though parts of the Fifth Army tried to resume the offensive, it was the Germans who made ground, particularly on the right, where they got across thewater obstacle of the Sambre-Meuse confluence in strength; that despite a counter-attack organised by General Mangin, thenceforth to be recognised as one of the French army's most ferocious warriors. An hour before midnight Lanrezac concluded he was beated and telegraphed Joffre that as the 'enemy is threatening my right on the Meuse... Givet is threatened, Namur taken... I have decided to withdraw the Army tomorrow.'.


I'll post the rest of it sometime later this week.

Gwynn

Gwynn Compton
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Post by Gwynn Compton » 13 Jan 2003 02:49

I'm leaving the thread open a while longer, so feel free to contribute more to it.

Clear and easy to read maps would be appreciated.

Gwynn

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Mike K.
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Post by Mike K. » 13 Jan 2003 03:54

Northwest Europe, August 2nd to 26th, 1914

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http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/dhisto ... /WWIs6.htm

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Mike K.
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Post by Mike K. » 13 Jan 2003 03:56

Northwest Europe, August 26th to 30th, 1914

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http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/dhisto ... /WWIL7.htm
Last edited by Mike K. on 13 Jan 2003 04:01, edited 1 time in total.

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