The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I - 01

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Archbishop Mitty,

San Jose,


riiph School


RULES pupils in the school are entitled to use the library and to borrow books. zed for 2. F ARCHBISHOP MITTY LIBRARY j\ and one p< 1.



ass the

should followi 3.












losses shall be paid for.

5. No books may be taken from the library without being charged.







WORLD Editor-in-Chief Brigadier Peter


Board Barker; Dr. John Bradley


Lt.-Col. A. J.

Professor John Erickson; Lt.-Cdr. Peter


John Keegan; Kenneth Macksey; S. L. Mayer Lt.-Col. Alan Sheppard; Norman Stone Revision Editor

Mark Dartford Archbishop Mitty High School Media Center




San Jose, CA 95129


Editorial Staff Young


Brigadier Peter

Deputy Editor

Kenneth Macksey

Co-ordinating Panel

Lt.-Col. A. J. Barker Dr. John Bradley Prof. John Erickson Lt.-Cdr. Peter Kemp

Reference Edition Published 1984 Published by Marshall Cavendish Corporation 147 West Merrick Road



John Keegan S. L. Mayer Lt.-Col. Alan Sheppard

Norman Stone Military Consultants

Printed and


in Italy

by L.E.G.O. S.p.a. Vicenza.

No part of this book may be reproduced or any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the copyright holders. All rights reserved. utilized in

© ©

Capt. Sir Basil Liddell-Hart


N.Y. 11520

Marshall Cavendish Limited 1984 B.P.C. Publishing 1970 now a Division of Macdonald and


(Publishers) Limited/B.P.C.C.

Barrie Pitt

Executive Editor

Patrick Scrivenor

Assistant Editors

Chris Chant

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Main entry under

Carolyn Rutherford Bruce French Rose Thomson Margaret Burnley

The Marshall Cavendish encyclopedia of World War One. Bibliography: Includes index. 1.

Design Consultants


Dunbar Associates

World War, 1914-1918— Chronology. 1984

ISBN 0-86307-181-3

Art Director



Art Editor





Dunbar, Harison Alan Robertson

86307 182 British Library



John Batchelor

Picture Director

Robert Hunt

Revision Editor

Mark Dartford

Editorial Consultants

Randal Gray David Rosser-Owen

Project Executive

Robert Paulley


Trevor Vertigan



Production Manager

Dennis Hovell

Production Assistant

Richard Churchill

& K Gill







Dart ford,






Publication Data

The Marshall Cavendish illustrated encyclopedia of World War One. 1. World War, 1914-1918 II. Pitt, Barrie I. Young, Peter, 1915III.

Technical Artist


Cavendish Corporation.


New Edition



D521 0-86307-181-3

86307 182





Foreword World War I began with a minor assassination in the remote corner of a now forgotten European empire. Yet it was to become the first truly global war, embroiling nearly 30 countries across 5 continents. As the tide swelled and nation upon nation rallied its forces,

much of

the world still belonged in the nineteenth century: cavalry officers rode to war on horseback, wearing gaudy uniforms and carrying flashing sabres at their sides. Some even took their servants and households. Military convention had changed little since the days of Wellington and Napoleon. World War 1 changed all that.

The 'Balkan squabble' soon engulfed Europe as the surface tensions broke and the armies marched. Four weary years later, when in 1918 the exhausted combatants from around the world


arms, an estimated 13 million soldiers were dead or missing: with them vanished almost an entire generation. Uncounted civilians were dead or homeless. The map of Europe was redrawn as disappeared countries were replaced by new ones that rose from the ashes of the old. Almost overnight, several empires that had taken centuries to build either disintegrated or were shaken to their foundations. An obscure workers movement bubbled up in the cauldron of war as revolution swept through Russia, abruptly ending 300 years of Tsarist rule and bringing Communism in its wake. In Germany, an undefeated army and a starving population seethed with bitterness and resentment. In the chaos that resulted, the evil spark of National Socialism flickered and grew brighter. For the United States, involvement in the conflict had profound consequences. Hitherto an emerging industrial nation with a tradition of isolationism and abstention from foreign entanglements, the U.S. was transformed by the experience into a dominant world power. At the peace negotiations in Paris, many of the people looked to President Woodrow Wilson as the "maker of peace", the embodiment of a democratic idealism they would have as their own. The very face of war itself was changed, in many ways beyond recognition. The airplane, for instance, was no longer an airborne miracle of wood, wire and cloth, but a technically sophisticated instrument of terror and death: by the end of the war, a four-engine bomber was capable of carrying 1000 pounds of high explosive from England to Germany's capital, Berlin. The supremely destructive machinegun held the footsoldier to ransom and spelt extinction for the cavalry. Other machines of war appeared for the first time; the tank and the submarine brought new perils to land and sea. And the horror of gas unfolded a new dimension the age of chemical warfare had begun. The home fronts saw changes, too. By 1918, women from many different social backgrounds were holding jobs in factories, the public services and on the land. Many were also in uniform: activities that would have been condemned as most improper before the war. Thousands of Americans, many of whom had never even ventured beyond their state lines or seen the sea, encountered new countries and cultures for the first time. But the cost had been high, and as the world settled down to an uneasy peace, many felt that an era had irretrievably ended in 1914. When the death toll was finally weighed against Allied 'victory', many also came to believe with a sincerity that must seem naive today that no more could wars be fought and won. Thus the conflict became known as 'The War to end War'. Yet it was in the chaotic aftermath of World War I that the seeds were being sown for a second, even wider-reaching global conflagration. finally laid


In the Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I, I have found a remarkably thorough and detailed account of this earth-shattering conflict. A well-researched, painstakingly documented reference work of this kind will be an invaluable source for students and researchers of this period. Yet this is not just a record of facts or an academic work without significance beyond its subject matter; it is also the story of what happened to ordinary men and women in extraordinary times. Tales of courage, endurance and suffering, many recounted at first hand, enrich the pages of this set, bringing back to life those momentous events that helped to shape our century. This, coupled with the many superb illustrations throughout, will ensure that this unique and authoritative Encyclopedia will be welcomed by teachers, scholars


librarians at

all levels.

CoxC**- 1


Professor Arthur S. Link is George H. Davis Professor of American History at Princeton and Director and Editor of the Papers of Woodrow Wilson. He was educated at the University of North Carolina and has taught History at Princeton, Northwestern University and Oxford. He has written acclaimed books on the Wilson era and has twice won the Bancroft Prize for American History.


Reader's Introduction This Introduction to The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I is intended as a guide to enable the World War I specialist student or interested reader to make fullest use of the broad range of information contained within the work, and so enhance its value as a learning tool, especially for newcomers to this complex and detailed area ofpopular study.

Purpose The primary motivation behind the



collation of a

work of


nature and extent on World

has been threefold:


offer a complete, comprehensive and objective reference source on a war which, seen with the benefit of hindsight, has very probably had a more profound effect on the course of twentieth-century history than any other single event of modern times, for if the events of 1914-1918 had been different, so almost certainly would those of 1939-1945.

To provide

the student with a research facility of depth, authority and historical integrity providing ample scope for deeper analysis and study than a simple narrative of facts.


help the general reader to understand something of the experience of these momentous years by way of a lively and compelling text, coupled with stimulating illustrative material.


Made up

of 12 volumes total, the Encyclopedia is arranged as follows: Volume 1 has the Foreword by Professor Link of Princeton and the Editor's Reader's Introduction, a list of major editorial creators and a table of the Contents of the Set. There follows an outline of the war written by the renowned British military specialist Captain Sir Basil Liddell-Hart, introducing the origins, major events and overall concept of the war in a concise and clearly written section invaluable to readers unfamiliar with the subject. brief diary of the war's major events is included for quick date reference, with an additional specially edited chronological table appearing in the contents list of each volume, to give an at-a-glance picture of the sequence of events in each volume in relation to the time span covered. The narrative then begins with an article on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in Bosnia in June of 1914.


Volumes 2-11. Throughout the set, text entries (numbering over 540, average length 3000-5000 words) conclude with a brief biography of the author and, in most cases, a shortlist of suggested further readings on the specific subject-matter of the entry compiled by the author to complement it. In some cases, articles are reprinted from personal accounts and diaries often written during, or shortly after, the actual events (adding a sense of immediacy to the narrative as a whole) and the sources are fully credited as appropriate at the end of each piece. Also within the narrative framework of the Encyclopedia there are special feature articles which focus on specialist topics: medals and decorations, songs and slang of the day, artists and poets of World War I to name just some. These non-chronological subjects can be located either from the Contents of the Set in Volume 1 or via the General Index in Volume 12.

Volume 12 (Index) contains a resume of the war by noted historian A. J. P. Taylor, which reviews the consequences and outcome of the war to match the outline of the war in Volume 1 series of 'profit and loss' charts details overall cost of the war to opposing nations and is a useful guide to the basic economics of World War I. There is also a subject chronology of the war, tabulating events Front by Front. major part of this volume is given over to an extensive and up-to-date World War I Bibliography, which fully lists by subject all primary source and recently published or currently available English language titles in this field. The index itself comprises a fully comprehensive and amalgamated General Index, followed by a separate Classified Index which breaks down into sub-headings for easy reference. The index lists not only all major entries in the text but also lists illustrations under a separate category. Additionally included is a list of major battles, along with their starting dates, and a Glossary of some of the terms which have become unfamiliar today.



A complete VI


of contributors concludes the volume, and the


Text Controlled and edited by a selected panel, the text is written by a variety of distinguished academics and military advisers all having experience in the creation of accessible material for both in-depth study and general enjoyment. Contributors total over 200, and represent every area of international specialty required to compile the Encyclopedia.

writers, historians,


The illustrations form a significant contribution to this work, totalling over 5000 pictures. Most are black and white or sepia tinted contemporary photos many previously unpublished of the statesmen, generals, machinery, scenery and, above all, men, of World War I,

bringing vividly to life the story of this devastating confrontation. In addition there are a number of color photos of posters, paintings and objects dating from the period. To help students and analysts, there are copious specially commissioned charts, diagrams and maps appearing throughout the set to facilitate graphic perception of the strategy and tactics of armies and the wealth of statistical data accumulated in war. Of especial interest to students of camouflage, heraldry, uniforms and machines of war are the many color drawings of the soldiers and equipment of rival nations, with their weapons, tanks, ships, aircraft and guns. These can all be specifically located using either the General or Classified Indexes in Volume 12.

Conclusion By providing a variety of sources of information about the subjects contained within the Encyclopedia, coupled with a Reader's Introduction to explain their function and location, it is contemplated that the student should, as well as enjoy reading a lively and well-illustrated account of World War I, develop skills of observation and inquiry, of information retrieval and project research essential not only to the study of World War I but to the fullest exploitation and enjoyment of learning itself inherent in all disciplines.

Brigadier Peter Young, D.S.O., M.C., M.A., F.S.A.





Brigadier Peter Young DSO, MC, MA, history at Oxford before joining the British


studied 1938.

Army in

During World War II he served throughout the Dunkirk campaign; in the commando raids on Guernsey, the Lofoten Islands, Vaagso and Dieppe; the landings in Sicily and Italy; the Normandy campaign and the last Arakan campaign, commanding No 3 Commando and the 1st Commando Brigade. After the war he commanded the 9th Regiment of the Arab Legion before becoming head of the Military History Department at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He has written over 30 books on various aspects of Military History and is a frequent broadcaster both in Britain and the United States.

Mark Dartford

is a graduate in American Studies from the University of East Anglia. He has worked in various fields of editorial publishing and research, including Britain's Central Office of Information, specializing in military and aviation subjects, with a particular interest in military history photographs. He is also an active member of various military historical societies.

Lt.-Col. A. J. Barker is graduate of the Staff College at Camberley and the Royal Military College of Science in


in Africa and Burma during and subsequently served in the Far East.

He campaigned

World War


After leaving the Army, Col. Barker joined the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. He was awarded a Research Fellowship in 1968, and has since retired to write full time. He is the author of several authoritative


works on military history and weapons. Dr. John Bradley lectures in International Politics and General Studies at the University of Manchester. He has written books and articles in several languages, including a history of the Russian Civil War.

John Keegan

senior lecturer in military history at the Military Academy in Britain. He specialized in modern and military history at Oxford, and has written many articles and publications on military subjects.




Capt. Sir Basil Liddell-Hart was educated at Cambridge and served with the British Army in World War I, during which he evolved the 'lightning war' concept later adopted

by the Germans as the basis for their Blitzkrieg system. Between the wars he wrote military training manuals before joining the Daily Telegraph and Times newspapers, besides being military editor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. During World War II he became personal adviser to Britain's War Minister, Hore-Belisha. He wrote over 30 books, and his work has been translated and published worldwide. He received honours from both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and was knighted in 1966. He died in 1970, on the eve of a visit to the U.S.

Kenneth Macksey took part in the 1944-45 Northwestern Europe campaign during World War II, and remained in the army until 1968 serving in Germany, India, and the Far East. The author of several books on military history, Kenneth Macksey retired from the Royal Tank Regiment to join Purnell's History of the Second World War.

Mayer was History Lecturer at the University College, University of Maryland, and Executive Editor of Purnell's History of the Second World War. He has produced articles on political and economic subjects and researched at the London School of Economics. S. L.

Barrie Pitt served in the British Army during World War II, joining the 21st SAS Regiment after demobilization. He subsequently joined Britain's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and then became chief Historical Consultant

BBC on

The Great War. His first book, on the Zeebrugge raid, was published in 1958 since when he has written many books, articles and reviews


Professor of International Politics at Edinburgh University, and served with the British Army's Intelligence Corps during World War II. He studied history and Slavonic languages at Cambridge and won a Research Fellowship to Oxford. He has lectured extensively in the United States and Great Britain, and has published definitive works on the Soviet Union and Soviet

to the


before and during World

Professor John Erickson


Lt.-Cdr. Peter Kemp trained at Osborne and Dartmouth Naval Colleges before joining the Royal Navy to specialize in submarine warfare. After a submarine accident, he was invalided from the Navy and joined the editorial staff of the London Times where he stayed until taking up an appointment at the War Office (now the Ministry of Defence) in 1950. During World War II he served in Naval Intelligence. His many publications specialize in military and naval history.




for a variety of publications, including the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Lt.-Col. Alan Sheppard,

MBE, War

served in the British


and was wounded in the Normandy Invasion. On retiring, he became Chief Librarian at Britain's Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, an has written a standard work on the Italian campaign in

World War



Norman Stone took a First at Cambridge in History, and subsequently received research Fellowships from Christs, Gonville and Caius colleges there. He is a lecturer at Cambridge, specializing in Russian history and is the author of several publications.


notable contributors PhD

and has since held the post of and Central European Division of the Library of Congress in Washington. In addition to reviews and articles on history, he has assisted in the preparation of bibliographies on various subjects of Russian and Soviet affairs. Dr. R. V. Allen took his



at Yale,

Specialist in the Slavic

Professor Wesley M. Bagby is Professor of History at West Virginia University where he specializes in the diplomatic history of twentieth century America. He graduated from North Carolina University and took his PhD at Columbia. He is active in U.S. national politics and has written several books on diplomatic and political subjects. Lt.-Col. Martin Blumenson, a former Visiting Professor of Military and Strategic Studies at Arcadia University, served with the U.S. Army in World War II and Korea, and subsequently joined the Reserve. He was educated at Bicknell and Harvard Universities and his since written widely on military topics.

Lord Briggs (formerly Professor Asa Briggs MA, BSc, FBA) is Provost of Worcester College Oxford and Chancellor of Britain's Open University. He was previously Professor of History and Vice Chancellor of Sussex University. He became a Life Peer in 1976 and Fellow of the British Academy in 1980. He has combined a varied and acclaimed academic career with frequent contributions to the Press and media on a range of historical subjects. He has written and edited many books and articles including studies on Victorian England and the history of Broadcasting. Pamela Bright served with the British Territorial Army Nursing Service during World War II. Educated at various schools in Europe, she trained as a nurse at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and made her career in medicine. She worked at an Israeli hospital during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and is the author of several books on nursing and refugees.

John Glubb Pasha served on the Western Front in World War I, from the Royal Military Academy. Between the wars he was posted to Iraq and subsequently accepted a senior civilian position with the Iraqi government. In 1930 he was given the rank of colonel in the Arab Legion by King Abdullah of Transjordan, becoming its Chief of Staff in 1939. Since retiring he has written numerous books on Arab affairs, and has lectured widely in the U.S. and Europ Gen.


after graduating

Air Vice Marshal Arthur Gould Lee flew fighter planes in World War 1 and held a number of senior posts in World War II, including Senior Air Officer, British Air Forces, Crete; Deputy Chief, British Armistice Control Commission, Rumania; and chief of the British Mission to Marshal Tito, Yugoslavia 1945. He retired from the RAF after the war and turned to full-time writing. His many books mostly biographies include two autobiographical accounts of flying in World War I.

Professor Norman Itzkowitz was educated in New York and graduated from Princeton, where he is now Professor of Near Eastern Studies. He has taught history at various academic institutions, and went to Jerusalem as Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University in 1970. He has contributed to a wide selection of publications, concentrating on Turkish and Near Eastern history.

Professor Charles E. Neu is Professor of History at Brown University. He took his PhD at Harvard, and became Associate Professor of History at Rice University. He is a specialist in American Foreign Policy and American-East Asian relations, and has written several works in this field. He also compiled the first full study of Colonel House, Wilson's closest adviser during World War I.



Newcombe served


some time

in the

Women's Royal Army

in Britain, qualifying as a military interpreter in Russian.


studied Slav languages at Oxford, and lectures in Russian Language and Literature at Bristol University.


Field-Marshal Lord Carver GCB, CBE, DSO, (formerly Gen. Sir Michael Carver) served with distinction in World War II, commanding the 1st Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa, Italy and France. Among senior British Army posts held, he has been Commander-in-Chief Far East and was Chief of Imperial General Staff from 1971 to 1973. His publications include books on World War II and the post-war balance of power.

St Julien attended St Cyr military college and served returning to St Cyr after 5 years to join the staff. He attended the British Army Staff College at Camberley, before returning to France to join her Ministry of Defence's Press Bureau. He has served as a Military Attache in the French Diplomatic Corps.

Col. Clenenden graduated from West Point in 1920 and served as an Instructor and Staff Officer in the U.S. Army until his retirement in 1954. He gained his and PhD before becoming an Instructor at Stanford University. He subsequently worked at the Hoover Institution and has written numerous articles and books on military history, in particular on the American Civil War.

Vice-Adm. (aD). Friedrich Oskar Ruge served in the German Imperial Navy in World War I, was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and took part in the final scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919. He served in the North Sea, France and the Mediterranean during World War II, finally becoming Director of Warship Construction in Berlin. After the war he served briefly in the German Navy before taking up a Professorship at Tubingen University, and becoming President of the Marineakademie in 1979.


Cmdt. Christian de in Algeria,

Edward M. Coffman

received bachelor's, master's and Doctor's degrees from the University of Kentucky, and served for two years in the U.S. Army. He taught at Memphis State University before becoming

Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin. articles

and books on military

Professor Dziewanowski



has written


Professor of History at the University of

Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an Associate of the Russian Research Center at Harvard. Prof. Dziewanowski was born in the Ukraine, but is of Polish extraction. He studied at Warsaw University, fought with the Polish Army during World War II and became an American in 1948. He received his and PhD from Harvard, and then became Professor of History at Boston. He is the author of many noted works on East






Gen. Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley GBE, KCB, DSO, MC, ADC Gen., B LiU (Oxon), Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces, North Europe and Col. Commandant the Parachute Regiment. He was ADC General to H.M. the Queen 1981-1983. He served both in the ranks and as an officer with the British airborne forces during World War II. He was captured and held for over two years during the Korean War and has taken part in many campaigns since the war. He has a Defence Fellowship from Oxford and has published numerous books, including several on World War I and related subjects.

Professor Richard Pipes was Professor of History at Harvard from 1963 when he became Frank B. Baird Jr Professor there. Born in Poland, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1940. He served with the U.S. Army in World War II and then studied at Cornell University. He joined the faculty at Harvard in 1950, and in 1968 became Director of its Russian Research Center. He is author of various publications in European and

to 1974,



Professor Don Schurman served with the RCAF during World War II, and subsequently attended Universities both in Canada and England, gaining his PhD at Cambridge. He is Professor of History at Queens University, and Director of the Institute of Commonwealth and Comparative Studies. Professor Marion C. Siney was educated at the University of Michigan. She joined the Case Western Reserve University 1941, and became Professor of History there. He has written widely on twentieth century history, particularly in the American Historical Review. British historian and is a well-known Magdalen College, Oxford and Fellow of the British Academy. He has lectured in International and Modern History at several Universities, mainly on the World War I period. His many works

Professor A. J.

P. Taylor

journalist, Fellow of

include a much-praised illustrated history of the war.

Constantine Fitzgibbon is a well-known writer and historian. He served in both British and American Armies during World War II, becoming a Major in Military Intelligence and a specialist on the German General Staff. Since the war he has been a full-time writer living in the U.S., Britain and Italy. His books include novels, history and biography.

Professor R. C. Walton is Professor of History at Wayne State. He studied at Yale and Harvard and is an enthusiastic military historian. His published works include a detailed study of the American experience in

World War




1 Contents


226 2

The Assassination of



European Alliances 1871-1914


Causes of the war Nationalism

Tannenberg Kenneth Macksey



47 1


John Keegan and Peter Vigor Lemberg Kenneth Macksey



The Code Breakers


H. W. Koch 40 47






The Naval Race Lieutenant-Commander Peter Kemp The Balkan Wars

260 266

The July

(3 78





in Crisis


Converging of the Fleets




Russia F.


Barrie Pitt

First Battle of


Kenneth Macksey

— the brink of war


Germany Berlin

— the brink of war

— patriotism and war fever


— the brink of war

— the brink of war

— the brink of war Masson

VOLUME 2 Contents War


Japan Declares Ian Nish


Tsingtao Terence Wise




Clearing the Pacific Christopher Dowling


Goeben and Breslau got away

Bernard Thorold

Richard Wright 348

Christopher Duffy Serbia Fights Back Major-General Mirkovich Battle of the Frontiers: Lorraine


The Ardennes 366

Battle of the Frontiers:

The Sambre

John Keegan




Mons Lionel Fanthorpe



— seizing the German


609 612

Hogue and

638 646

T. Plivier

Siege of Antwerp Christopher Duffy



Anthony Farrar-Hockley


Le Cateau Philip Warner



Landrecies N. G. Alvey



Guise Brian Jones


Gas Attack

The Capture of Memel


Bombs on Southend

German war aims Imanuel Geiss

The Great Retreat Peter Young

the First


The Bombardment of the East Coast David Chandler The Battle of the Dogger Bank Paul Kennedy The Dogger Bank: A German View Paul Kennedy and Oskar Eckert The First Zeppelin Raids John Edgcumbe

and French war aims D. R. Shermer


Bolimow and




Battle in Masuria

Przemysl: Siege and Surrender Christopher Duffy

Turkey enters the war John Stephenson


The Winter



A German

The Winter Carpathian Campaign

Winter Fighting O. C. Taslauanu

Clearing the High Seas






Preconceptions of F. Clarke


Balance of Naval Power August 1914 Lieutenant-Commander Peter Kemp

The Admirals Lieutenant-Commander Peter Kemp

Trench Warfare John Keegan

Norman Stone


First Battle of


Norman Stone




Peter Fiala

David Chandler The Role of the Neutrals Rodney de Bruin Sinking of the Aboukir, Cressy

The War


Mons: a German View Walter Bloem

David Woodward


War Plans for 1915 Brigadier C. N. Barclay


Richard Milton



— the ones that


Peter Young



— fiasco at Tanga

East Africa

John Keegan Battle of the Frontiers:

The Christmas Truce Henry Williamson

Major R. J. West Africa


Arthur Marwick

South" Africa rebellion and invasion Patrick Scrivenor


Battle of


C. T. Atkinson



Norman Stone



The Liege Forts


British at Tsingtao

Prowess of the Armies Sir Basil Liddell Hart


The Air War D. B. Tubbs

N. Bradley



The Campaign in Armenia Eugene Hinterhoff Economic Rivalries A. S. Milward The Battle of Coronel

David Mason The Battle of the Falkland Islands David Mason






Asa Briggs


in Galicia

Race to the Sea Arthur Swinson

Great Britain





Plans and Personalities





Austria-Hungary Z. A. B. Zeman







Germany: A New Strategy Leo Kahn Serbia: The September Campaign Leo Kahn Serbia: The Second Onslaught

The Aisne David Mason

H. W. Nevinson


Poles and Czechs





Aircraft: a new factor in war Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby

John Keegan 97


Norman Stone War in the Mediterranean

Norman Stone

The Marne Manoeuvre


Barrie Pitt


The Great Retreat: A German view Walter Bloem The Great Retreat: An airman's view

Sir Basil Liddell

Imanuel Geiss


Otto Pick

L. A. Strange

Alan Palmer 61


in the

Battle of



Kurt Peball

Germany's bid for Sea Power Sir



Barrie Pitt 33

Moltke's and Joffre's Headquarters



S. L.

The Second

Norman Stone



Antony Brett-James


Franz Ferdinand Vladimir Dedijer


Nery Professor C.

The Emden's J.


last cruise

Lionel Fanthorpe

Turkey: The unknown quantity J. Barker


Joffre's Winter Plans


The Vosges Offensive


Industry at War:


Britain, India J.

and the Middle East

Christian de St Julien


Mesopotamia: the advance Gregory Blaxland


Christian de St Julien to Basra

Alan Milward



674 677

Industry at War: The Central Powers Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann


U-Boats: Germany's Stranglehold on




Bryan McLean Ranft 688


Blockade on Germany Bryan McLean Ranft Lusitania:

U-Boats: American Reaction Gaddis Smith


American Neutrality Marvin Swartz


Easterners versus Westerners

Don Schurman

744 752

The Dardanelles: Turkish Reaction J.



Neuve Chapelle Lieutenant-Colonel John Baynes


Winter Warfare Kenneth Macksey








The Capture of Qurna W. F. Woodhouse


Shaiba Major-General H. H. Rich

Gallipoli: The Second Stage Richard Wright


Turkish View

Submarines in the Marmara Lieutenant-Commander Peter

947 952





Gregory Blaxland


Gunboats on the Danube


The Secret War: Intelligence Donald McLachlan


Russia: Exhaustion and Decline


Commanders on F.

the Eastern Front


N. Bradley



1113 1121



Canadians at War G. W. L. Nicholson


The Singapore Mutiny The Second Battle of Ypres


1130 1138

Argonne 1


Germany's War Aims Imanuel Geiss

The Second Battle of Artois John Keegan

The Long Retreat Peball






War in Kemp

the Adriatic


Alan Palmer


in the



Ian Nish



Pamela Bright

Norman Stone The Fall of Warsaw Leo Kahn V.

Mackensen's Balkan Victory

Dr Kurt

Austria-Hungary: Exhaustion and



Norman Stone

in the Baltic




Bulgaria's Forces Jan Berdnek

Escape German Style Giint her Pliischow

Arthur Swinson

The Senussi War


Japan and the 21 Demands


W. K. Bingham


Front Dr Kurt Peball


C. Harrison

Desert Rescue


Gorlice: Turning Point on the Eastern

The Eastward Exodus



Bulgaria Joins the D. R. Shermer



Don Schurman


The Campaign of Hate Christopher Dowling

Escape English Style H. A. Cartwright and

John Vader

David Woodward

Pamela Bright 806

Suvla Bay



Nurse Cavell



in the



Second Givenchy and Bellewaarde



Artois and

The Chinese Situation Ronald Heiferman The ANZACs


The Generals


at Gallipoli


John Keegan Loos Alistair


Kenneth Macksey 929


The Italian Front: The Opening Ludwig Jedlicka


French Offensives


Lieutenant-Commander Peter

The Indian Army Brigadier John Stephenson

First Landings Alan Wykes



Mountain Warfare


Kitchener's First 100,000

Peter Simkins



America: The Benevolent Neutral Marion C. Siney The First Flame Attack

Michael Dewar 1013

Lieutenant-Colonel Shepperd





Naval Assault


John Selby A.


Italian Forces



The Dardanelles:




Enters the William Renzi

Air War: The First Fighter Planes

D. B. Tubbs

E. D. Smith

Defence of the Suez Canal John Vader











Hunting the Atlantic Raiders David Woodward



ubert and Aubers Ridge


Warning and Disaster

Charles Lauriot



C >rge Ronald Lewin The End of the konigsberg


Gallipoli: Evacuation and Withdrawal Alan Wykes Gallipoli Judgement The late Sir Basil Liddell Hart

The Mesopotamia


Lieutenant -Colonel A.





Lieutenant-Colonel A. 1149



Zeppelins: The Growing Threat Douglas Robinson Zeppelins:









The Capture of Kut Lieutenant-Colonel A.



Townshend's Regatta

Persia: Stepping Stone to India

Eugene Hinterhoff


Lake Narotch Ward Rutherford



The Easter Rising


James Lunt

Constantine Fitzgibbon 1306


Genesis of the Arab Revolt

Trabzond: Russian Success Robert C. Walton




The Somme: The Second Stage Brigadier Anthony Farrar-Hockley Verdun: The Surrender of Fort Vaux Christian de St Julien

The End in the Cameroons David Chandler


The Threat to India Brigadier John Stephenson


French North Africa: Unrest and Revolt



VOLUME 5 1321


Genocide in Turkey A. O. Sarkissian

Kut— The

Relief of F.




Last Chance

Lieutenant-Colonel A. 1340







British at

The Brusilov Offensive: From Victory





Strategy and Supply in the Desert Lieutenant-Colonel A. J. Barker


Ctesiphon: Townshend's Pyrrhic Victory Major-General H. H. Rich


Geoffrey Jukes 1582

Balkan Politics Alan Palmer


Rumania Declares War



Vimy Ridge






The Ammunition Scandal Major Henry Harris The Belligerents


Jutland. Night Action: Confusion and

Escape Captain Donald Macintyre 1414




Farrar- Hockley

Fall of Sir John French Patrick Scrivenor


Haig and Robertson John Keegan


The Tunnel War


Peace Moves

T. T.

Charles 1228






The Air War: Stepping up


Prince 1452


Austria on the Defensive

Verdun— The


Smallest Ally




John Keegan The Fall of Erzerum Robert C. Walton Fort

Portugal at



Arthur Marwick


Dr Douglas Robinson


The Air War: Tactics and Technology D. B. Tubbs The Trentino Offensive


The Italian Front— Few Gains and Mounting Losses Mario Torsiello


Front: Italy

Franco Valsecchi

Peball 1675

The Death of Kitchener


Home Z.

Russia at the end of her tether


Front: Austria

A. B. Zeman




John Keegan

The Somme


Norman Stone Lambs for the Slaughter — Training the New Armies


The 'Quiet' Sector Lieutenant -Colonel Jean Delmas

John Keegan



The Somme Barrage Brigadier Anthony Farrar-Hockley






Was There The Somme — Counting


The Sykes-Picot Agreement John Stephenson




The Collapse of Rumania


Operation Arson Terence Wise


The Channel War Paul Kennedy and Oskar Eckert Verdun: The End John Keegan

John Baynes 1517


Norman Stone


the Cost

The Last Phase Lieutenant-Colonel John Baynes


— A Generation Sacrificed

Leo Kahn 1511

Hernani A. Cidade 1276




Kenneth Macksey 1274


The Brusilov Offensive

Prince Wilhelm and Petain








The Salonika Offensive


Geoffrey Jukes

Verdun— The Storm Breaks Alistair


Constantine and Venizelos


Sir Philip

Christopher Duffy 1248


The Tank Story Kenneth Macksey

Alan Palmer

Victory? Lieutenant-Commander Peter

Dr Kurt

Montenegro— The


Zeppelin Raids

Alan Palmer 1242

Leo Kahn The Somme: Debut of the Tank Major-General Anthony Farrar-


German View


Friedrich Wiener



Alan Palmer




Falkenhayn Ousted

Donald McLachlan

Plans for 1916

Was There




Jutland. Intelligence: Britain's Lost





Neutral Attitudes

D. R. Shermer 1209

The Fleets Collide Vice- Admiral Friedrich Ruge


Major-General Sixsmith 1200




The New Warfare


Deon Fourie

Peter Padfield J.

Major-General H. Essame 1


Lieutenant-Commander Peter

Retreat to Kut

Lieutenant-Colonel A.

— Bloody and Futile

Ward Rutherford

Prelude to Jutland


The Somme Attrition

East Africa Sibley




Nikolaus Krivinyi

Major R.



to Failure

Kenneth Macksey 1


Glenn Torrey

Verdun: Nivelle takes over


Black Sea



Donald Clark The Kazak Tribes


in the

Q-Ships: Killers in Disguise Rear-Admiral Gordon Campbell,

A. O. Sarkissian 1356



Townshend: Surrender, Capture and Disgrace



Lieutenant-Commander Peter First

Kut— The

The Underwater War: Techniques and Developments Bryan McClean Ranft


W. Woodhouse

Relief of






The Bombing War Douglas Robinson




1764 1769 1780


Western Front Winter 1916/1917 John Keegan


America's Armed Forces Martin Blumenson


Winter on the Eastern Front Eugene Hinterhoff


America's Choice: Guns Edward M. Coffman

Revolution in Russia Lionel Kochan


America Goes to Arthur S. Link


The Nivelle Plan John Keegan


Lloyd George takes over



The Fighter





Asa Briggs

East Africa: Smuts versus Vorbeck Major R. Sibley Gunboats on Lake Tanganyika Lieutenant-Commander Peter Kemp




The Kut Garrison: Hardship and 1965






Air Propaganda R. G. Auckland


Towards Baghdad


Breakthrough at Arras Kenneth Macksey


Canadian Onslaught Richard Holmes




Gus Sivertz The Submarine Germany


Fall of


Charles Messenger



Into Palestine:


First Battle


Brigadier John Stephenson 1991

The U-Boat War

Kressenstein and

Murray 2092


Mexico: The Comic Opera War Colonel Clarence C. Clendenen



The Death of Franz Josef—The End of an Empire


America Votes for Peace



Neu Thomas Woodrow Wilson


Dr J. F. N. Bradley Poland— A Foot in Both Camps Kamil Dziewanowski

The Rendezvous with Death Ronald Lewin


Trench Raiding Charles Messenger



War— First Round





The Submarine War— A U-Boat Commander's View Vize-admiral Friedrich Ruge Jellicoe and the Convoy Controversy Lieutenant-Commander Peter Kemp Naval


in the Baltic

David Woodward l:i

Across the Sinai

Major W. 1860


Charles E.







Vize-admiral Friedrich

Gaddis Smith


Retreat to the Siegfriedstellung

Leo Kahn The Fall of Bethmann-Hollweg H. W. Koch Trench Communications





Three Revolutionaries: Kerensky, Trotsky, Lenin Dr J. F. N. Bradley

Leslie Missen

Marvin Swartz 1802

The New Russia's

Lieutenant-Colonel A.

Turkey in Decline David Walder


or Peace:



Colonel W. C. Spackman


War S. L.

Blockade Runners Christopher Dowling


Geoffrey Jukes



Decline of the Tsarist

or Butter?



Aircraft: Higher, Faster, Lighter

D. B. Tubbs 1871


A New Year— New


Major-General Anthony FarrarHockley 1877

Belgium: Life under



Occupation Jacques Willequet 1881

Mesopotamia: Maude Takes Over Lieutenant-Colonel A. J. Barker


Maude's Offensive Major W. F. Woodhouse


Sixtus, Prince of


Marvin Swartz 1906

1909 1914

Events in North- West Persia Major D. G. Clark The Dismissal of Joffre Major C. A. Kinvig Rasputin:


or Miracle

Worker? Colin Wilson




Nivelle Offensive


Jean Delmas 2115


The French Tank Force Richard M. Orgorkiewicz


Bloody April 2282

The Parachute Story The French Mutinies J.



'Revolution' on the Western Front




any Price: the



Zionism and the Balfour Declaration


Cambrai: The British Onslaught David Chandler

Major-General Anthony FarrarHockley


Cambrai: The German Counterattack David Chandler




Prelude to Passchendaele

Dawn: Tanks



General Sir Michael Carver

The Dover Patrol Paul Kennedy The Eclipse of the Q-Ships



Prophet of Armoured


John Keegan 2438

Naval Aviation Captain Donald Macintyre



East Africa 1917



Major R. Sibley L 59 The First Inter-Continental


Hight Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Skrine



Czechoslovakia Otto Pick


Lionel Kochan

Bryan McLean Ranft

Michael Dewar 2154


John Keegan

B. Duroselle

Count Nikolai Tolstoy 2146


Arab Nationalism Suleiman

Trentino Offensive Kurt Peball

Air Vice-Marshal Arthur Gould Lee 2133



Lieutenant -Commander Peter

D. B. Tubbs


The Otranto Barrage

Tank Developments Kenneth Macksey Kerensky's Government Lionel Kochan The Kerensky Offensive

Norman Stone

The Riga Offensive Eugene Hinterhoff The Russian Revolution Through Foreign Eyes

Harry Hanak

VOLUME 8 2329


Contents 2469

Passchendaele: The Second Phase

J. F.

John Keegan 2472


Plumer John Keegan


Blockade of the Neutrals D. R. Shermer


The French Armies: Recuperation and


Strategic Bombing Dr Douglas Robinson


The Aces Thomas G. Miller Jr


Meeting the Bombing Threat


The Making of a C. M. Chant




Battle of the Scarpe





— Conscience on Trial


Lord Fenner Brockway The Trial of Sir Roger Casement


Trotsky and the Red John Erickson


The Bolshevik Revolution



Naval Ensigns


Medals of the


Individual Aircraft Markings


Army, Corps and


National Aircraft Markings

After Caporetto


The Lansing-Ishii Agreement Ronald Heiferman


China: the Unlikely Ally


Ronald Seth 2380

Rommel in Italy Rommel


The Third


Gaza Young

Battle of

Brigadier Peter

Divisional Flashes

Ronald Heiferman


Lawrence and the Arabs Major-General James Lunt


U-Boats: the Tide Turns Bryan McLean Ranft


The Convoy Controversy Lieutenant-Commander Peter Kemp


Wilson's 14 Points

Arthur 2553 ^




Lloyd George and the Generals A. J. P. Taylor

The Scandinavian Convoy Paul Kennedy

Aras from the Air William Bishop



Death of an Ace Rothesay Stuart- Wortley


Camel Scrap




Bombs by Night



P'» ir

The Calculating Ace Rene Fonck



Greece Joins the Allies Michael Llewellyn Smith


Salonika: Sarrail's Spring Offensive

Alan Palmer





The Language of the Trenches John Brophy and Eric Partridge


1918 Germany's Home Front Andreas Hillgruber

j£^*^s& 2615

Germany: 1918 New Tactics


Beloved Land. He

S. L.


Until 1890, Bismarck was able to create a series of alliances designed to protect the German state from hostile encirclement. But on his accession, Wilhelm II forced Bismarck's resignation, and with the departure of the Iron Chancellor, the system of alliances broke down or was allowed to crumble away by the new regime. This development caused new tensions and alignments in Europe, and brought closer Germany's greatest fear — war on



Prussian tion of

of France in the Francoof 1870-71 and the unifica-


Germany which accompanied


marked a turning point in European politics and diplomacy. Central Europe, for centuries a battleground for the expansionist nation-states and atavistic




German and

Italian petty states and principalities, was now effectively closed to any aggressive

designs which France, Austria-Hungary or Russia might have had. Under the astute leadership of their Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and with the most modern and best-equipped army in Europe under the leadership of von Moltke the elder, Germany had established herself as the foremost power on the Euro-






cherishing claims to the Italian-speaking districts of Austria-Hungary (such as the Trentino district and arias along the Dalmatian coasts), was anxious to consolidate her newly-won gains in Venetia and the

Papal States. Thus, although Gernfeny and Italy had further ambitions, bcfth nations were anxious to preserve the tenuous status quo which their armies land diplomats had so recently established. JFurthermore, Ger-

two fronts

many, being by far the more powerful nation of the two newcomers, was in a position to dominate European diplomacy, and her aims were to preserve her gains and to consolidate her economic and political structure. Bismarck, who had the complete confidence of Wilhelm I, the Kaiser of Germany and King of Prussia, had been able to create a situation in which he could dominate German politics as the Chancellor and was responsible to Wilhelm, and not to the Reichstag, the popularlyelected Lower House of the German Parliament. After nearly a decade of brief and successful wars against Denmark, AustriaHungary and France, Bismarck was content to follow a peaceful policy toward Germany's European neighbours, and was in a position virtually to dictate his nation's foreign policy. Germany needed time to consolidate, and Bismarck now sought to create an atmosphere of stability in Europe. First on his list was a detente with Austria-Hungary, which Prussia had so decisively defeated in 1866. Austria's Foreign Minister, Beust, was notoriously anti-Prussian, and since

Austria needed stability abroad for internal reasons as much as Germany did, Emperor Franz Josef saw fit, in September

1872, to part with Beust and appoint a proPrussian Hungarian, Count Julius Andrassy, in his place. After a series of private

meetings between Wilhelm and Franz Bismarck and Wilhelm were prepared to receive Andrassy and Franz Josef at Berlin on a state visit in order to Josef,

seal their entente.

Tsar Alexander II of Russia and his Foreign Minister, Prince Gorchakov, came to meet the Kaiser and the Emperor at Berlin at the same time, and although no formal arrangements were made, the way was prepared for a triple entente among the three northern courts. Bismarck recognised that Russia and Austria-Hungary held the keys to German security, as either power, in conjunction with France, could create what Bismarck called 'a nightmare of coalitions' around Germany, by which Germany would be faced with a possible two-front war which could destroy not only German security, but the recentlyconstructed German state. Throughout Bismarck's tenure of office he sought to prevent such a contingency by making a series of agreements with his two eastern neighbours. In 1873 Bis-

marck's diplomacy with Russia and Austria-Hungary bore fruit in a political

and military convention known as the Three Emperors' League (the Dreikaiserbund), and in May 1873 a military convention was signed at St Petersburg in which Germany and Russia agreed that if either were attacked by another European power the other would come to the aid of its ally with 200,000 men. In June a more general agreement was reached in Vienna when Russia and Austria promised, with Germany's approval, to confer if they were threatened by aggression from another

less than honest broker, resulted in the reduction of Bulgarian territory, the independence of Serbia and Montenegro being recognised by Turkey, with Rumania getting the Dobruja and Russia getting Bessarabia.


to the chagrin of Serbia

The significance of the Dreikaiserbund was far-reaching. It made Germany the

French pride was assuaged by France being given a 'free hand' in Tunisia, and Britain was given the right to 'occupy and administer' Cyprus. Germany and Italy took nothing. Bismarck was satisfied that his

leader of the triple entente, but at the

same time it committed Germany to go to war for Russia against a third party, which

Bismarck acting as a something

Austria-Hungary was compensated by receiving the right to 'occupy and administer' Bosnia-Herzegovina under Turkish suzerainty, a formula designed to save face for Turkey and to give Austria-Hungary control

over these southern Slav areas,


and Montenegro.

not only could have been, but most probably would have been, Austria-Hungary. Both Austria and Russia had been contending for some years over the disposition of the Balkan territories of the Ottoman Empire. Russia was especially interested in securing Constantinople and the Straits in order to have a 'window' on the Mediterranean. Austria-Hungary, for her part, being blocked by Germany in her desire to expand her influence and territory westward, could only expand at the expense of Turkey in the Balkans.


was attempting


anxious to conclude an arrangement with that he did not object too strongly to the inclusion of Austria in such a treaty; Austria, however, was not very enthusiastic, as a renewal of the Dreikaiserbund might negate the advantages she had gained by the German alliance.

However, at this point a change in government in Britain helped to convince Austria. The Conservatives under Disraeli had tended to be pro-Austrian, but when Gladstone denounced Austria-Hungary as — 'the unflinching foe of the freedom of

of additions to the

French army and the war scare of 1875, considered a pre-emptive was not the .only

strike against France,

manoeuvre which shook Bismarck's system of ententes.


revolt of Serbs in Bosnia-

Herzegovina in 1875 became the spark of a general uprising throughout the Balkans against Turkish misrule, and despite German attempts to cool nationalist fervour in the Balkans and to prevent a possible Austro-Russian conflict there, Russia decided to strike against the Ottoman Empire alone in 1877— championing the nationalist cause of her fellow Slavs. The result of the Russo-Turkish War was cataclysmic. The Treaty of San Stefano (January 1878), which ended the conflict, gave Russia predominant influence in a


which emerged or excrisis. Rumania, stripped of Bessarabia by Russia, took comof states

panded during the

pensation in the Dobrudja, while Serbia, Montenegro and a 'Big Bulgaria' were formed by the treaty. Austria-Hungary, which was not compensated at all, protested violently and threatened to go to war with Russia if the Treaty of San Stefano stood as written. At this point Bismarck intervened and called an international conference to be held at Berlin to settle the issue and to prevent war

between Germany's allies. The Congress of Berlin of 1878, with 10

Russia, the other would come to its assistance, and that neither would sign a separate peace; and if either party were attacked by another power (presumably France) its ally would at least assume a benevolent neutrality. If Russia joined that power, then both allies were pledged to fight. The alliance was to run for five years, but Russia was informed of its contents, despite the fact that the alliance


during the next two decades was plagued by the conflicting Balkan aims of allies both of whom were essential to his policy of isolating France. Italy, also searching for security, associated herself with the Three Emperors' League in 1873, gravitating toward the centre of power. Even Britain did not look unfavourably upon Dreikaiserbund. German security the seemed temporarily assured when German troops left French soil in 1873 after the Franco-Prussian war indemnity was paid.

when Germany

alliance proved to be the longest lasting in Bismarck's system. This treaty stated that if either signatory were attacked by

of a Franco-Russian agreement. Russia, however, had no desire at this time to ally herself with France. She therefore turned to Germany in 1880 to ask for an alliance of her own. Gorchakov's power was transferred to an admirer of Germany, Nicholas de Giers, who was of German extraction. Bismarck wanted to assure the Russians that any treaty which he concluded with them would be supplementary to, and not a substitute for, |the Austro-German alliance. Giers was so

ally in the Dreikaiserbund two powers with irreconcilable aims. Bismarck's diplomacy

The authorisation

and Alexander II were closely reBismarck realised^ that Russia's foreign minister, Gorchakov, would not welcome German overtures so soon after the Congress where Bismarck had helped Austria gain territory in the Balkans. The Austro-German alliance was signed in Vienna in September 1879, and this I


was supposed to have been secret. Germany was therefore secure from isolation in case

Irreconcilable allies



Wilhelm first Kaiser of the unified Germany aimed at dynastic solidarity in Europe I,

allies had not gone to war, but Italy was upset at not having received anything in the way of territorial compensation, an oversight which was soon to play into Germany's hands. Bismarck sought to mend his eastern fences almost as soon as the Congress of Berlin was over. First he turned to AustriaHungary, which was already favourably disposed toward Germany, partly as a result of the efforts of Andrassy. Bismarck felt that to have Austria as an ally rather than Russia would be somewhat more profitable, as her army was more efficient and better equipped, although numerically smaller than Russia's. Despite Kaiser Wilhelm's desire to keep dynastic solidarity between Russia and Germany (Wil-

every country of Europe', Austria decided to follow Bismarck's advice. Despite the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in March 1881, the negotiations continued under his somewhat anti-German successor, Alexander III, and a triple alliance was signed at Berlin in June 1881. Germany, AustriaHungary and Russia pledged benevolent neutrality if any of the others were involved in war with a fourth country, unless that country were Turkey. If any of the three were to go to war against Turkey, the othei s would have to be consulted, and no alt ;ration of the status quo in the Balkans could be made without general agreement among the three. This revival of the Thre,3 Emperors' League was to run for three years, although it was renewed for another three in 1884. Thus Germany's eastern frontiers were now secured and France was isolated diplomatically.

In 1873 Italy jravitated toward this combination of pc 3rs, but she was reluctant to ally hei Ai with her potential enemy, Austria-I- ungary, whose Italianspeaking posses ons she coveted. But when France caf.ied the promise made to her at the Conf ress of Berlin by seizing Tunisia in 1881, Italy protested vehemently, not o lly because of Tunisia's proximity, but ecause the largest section of the foreign community in Tunis was Italian, not Fn nch. Italy received no sup-









agreements a> the Central Powers


• ICELAND Reykjavik

Allied to Central


hut declared neutrality

on outbreak of War

Neutral Countries


Countries later aligned





aL BKI,AIN o!!, t 05









• Warsaw






^IYanc \




Bern w










$g Naples*





^oJ^Bucnarest -Sofia

'BULGARIA ^Constantinople





Cyprus {Bm CreteiCieece)

The time bomb of prewar Europe

A Europe on the eve of The two Central Powers are surrounded by what were to


become known as the But was this


encirclement deliberate, or the result of

Germany's own



her diplomatic affairs?

The Bismarckian system of European alliances:

Germany and kingdom of

the double

Austria-Hungary form the centre of an interlocking series of protective treaties,

designed principally to isolate France

JW# ,it^


port for her cause, and she realised that without international support her dreams of a colony on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa would never become reality. Reluctantly, and at Bismarck's insistence, Italy entered negotiations with Austria and Germany for an alliance. The Triple Alliance, signed at Vienna in May 1882, stipulated that if Italy were attacked by

France, Germany and Austria would come her aid with all their strength. If Germany were attacked by France, however, Italy would have to come to the aid of Germany. If one or two of the allies were attacked by more than one power, the others would have to come to the defence of the attacked power. On the other hand, if one of the powers should wage an aggressive war, the others would have to maintain a benevolent neutrality. The treaty was to have been secret and was to to

last five years, but, in fact,


was renewed

at various occasions and with minor alterations up to the outbreak of the First World War. Thus by 1882 four of the six great powers in Europe were allied, and France and Great Britain were isolated, the former uncomfortably, the latter 'splendidly', as British statesmen liked to put it.

The Bismarckian system of alliances has been charged with creating tensions in Europe, not alleviating them, but it prevented France from waging a revanchist

he could deliver in consonance with other agreements which he had already made. But the tensions which existed in AustroRussian and Austro-Italian relations con-


tinued to threaten the complicated frame-

to regain the 'lost provinces' of AlsaceLorraine, taken from her in 1870-71 by Germany. In fact, none of the alliances and agreements reached were offensive or aggressive in character. They were primarily defensive alliances, whose chief aim was to preserve the territorial status quo and peace in Europe. When Serbia and Rumania joined these combinations (in 1881 and 1883, respectively), the alliances concluded were again defensive in character, and it should be remembered that no general European wars were fought while Bismarck was Chancellor of Germany. But, being at the centre of these alliances, Bismarck was able to be the arbiter of European disputes, and since Germany had no aggressive designs anywhere in Europe, peace was assured. Although minor wars were fought during the Bismarckian period (1871-1890), such as the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885, they were quickly concluded and caused no major European upheavals. Bismarck's alliances were technically not


He never promised more than

work which Bismarck had



the Triple Alliance of 1882 came up for renewal in 1887 Austria was forced to promise compensation to Italy if the status quo in the Balkans were altered. At the same time Russia decided not to renew the

Three Emperors' League with Germany and Austria, and Germany was forced to conclude a bilateral arrangement with Russia. The three-year Reinsurance Treaty, con-

Germany and Russia in June 1887, was a secret arrangement in which each party agreed to maintain a benevolent neutrality if either were attacked by a third power. In exchange for cluded between

a continuation of a Russian guarantee of the German frontier in case of a possible

French attack, Bismarck was forced to support Russian influence in Bulgaria and to pledge a friendly neutrality in case Russia seized Constantinople and the Straits. In order to prevent Russia from acting on this promise, Bismarck arranged yet

Kaiser Wilhelm with Bismarck,


the 'pilot' whose expert

guidance he rejected 12

agreement among tripartite another Austria-Hungary, Britain and Italy to uphold the status quo in the Balkans in case it were threatened by Russia. Since Germany did not sign this agreement of December 1887 she had not overcommitted herself. Despite the complexity of these arrangements, it can be seen that although Germany violated the spirit of her agreements with Austria and all Russia, she was never put into a position where she would be forced by any circumstance to violate the letter of the agreements she signed. By pitting her treaty partners against each other, furthermore, Bismarck was able to control both their passions and ambitions, so that an actual outbreak of hostilities among them would be unlikely. Paramount among his considerations, however, was that France be cut off from any possibility of alliance with any power in Europe, thereby ensuring that France would be unable to consider seriously a war against Germany to regain Alsace-Lorraine.

A new

volatile personality Bismarck had hoped to bring Britain closer to his alliance system, and eventually to

reach a specific agreement with her, but his basis of support had always been the free hand he had received from Kaiser Wilhelm I. When the old Emperor died in March 1888, Bismarck was left to deal with his son, the already ailing Friedrich Wilhelm HI. Only 99 days after his succession to the throne, Friedrich Wilhelm died, which left Germany in the hands of a young and volatile personality, the new Kaiser, Wilhelm H. Jealous of the prestige and expertise of the Iron Chancellor, the new Kaiser schemed to get rid of Bismarck. Eventually he succeeded and in March 1890, even while negotiations for a renewal of the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia were in progress, and a colonial detente was being arranged with Great Britain, Bismarck was dismissed. An era had ended, and thenceforth — and certainly from 1897 onwards— Wilhelm himself was to take most of the crucial foreign policy

Germany was to make. Almost as soon as the pilot' had been dropped, the Bismarckian system of alliances began to crumble. The new Chancellor, Caprivi, and the new Foreign Secretary, Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, lacked the experience and ability to


maintain the complicated system which Bismarck had constructed. The grey eminence of the German Foreign Office, Holstein, who had always been envious of Bismarck and now hoped to seize control of Germany's foreign policy, had little trouble in convincing Marschall and Caprivi, and, through them, the Kaiser, of


incompatibility of the Austroalliance and a connection with Russia. Certainly these arrangements were incompatible in spirit, if not in the letter of the agreements made, and Holstein and Wilhelm felt that the double-dealing of Bismarck must come to an end. Germany had to choose between Russia and AustriaHungary, and it was felt that the Austrian link was far more important to Germany's national interest. The Russian Ambassador to Germany, Count Shuvalov, arrived at Berlin on March 17 — the very day that Wilhelm asked for Bismarck's resignation — with the purpose of asking Germany for a renewal of the treaty for six years, but he was eventually to leave Berlin emptyhanded. The German connection with


Russia had finished, and Russia was free to look for security elsewhere. She did not waste much time.


Wilhelm attempted

and to

Caprivi, the



negotiations that Bismarck had begun for a detente with Britain. Although a colonial arrangement

was made by which Germany gave up Zanzibar and her claims in Uganda to Britain,







Heligoland and a strip connecting German South- West Africa with the Zambesi River tCaprivi's Finger, as it was called), nothing much was to come of it. Despite a number of attempts during the next few years on the part of both Germany and AustriaHungary, Britain maintained her 'splendid isolation' from specific alliances with con tinental powers. Wilhelm had given up Russia; he had failed to get Great Britain. Russia, however, was anxious to end her newly-found isolation, and France lost no time in taking advantage of the new situation. Both the French and the British had already made extensive loans to the Russian government, and by 1891 France had made it clear that no further loans would be forthcoming unless certain political strings were attached. Consequently the Russians welcomed the French fleet in the summer of 1891 at Kronstadt, the big Russian naval base in the Baltic, and even Tsar Alexander III had to bare his head as the once-hated Marseillaise was played. By August an entente was reached between the two governments, in which each country pledged to 'consult' the other in case of any threat to peace, but the French were not merely content with this vague promise; they wanted a military convention to give teeth to the entente. In October 1893 the Russian navy returned the vis t of the French navy by sending a fleet >{ their own to Toulon, France's biggi st Mediterranean base, and by the end )f the year Giers authorised a secret military convention. If France were attacked by Germany, or Italy supported by Germany, Russia would come to the aid of France with all her forces. If Russia were attacked by Germany, however, or Austria-Hungary supported by Germany, France would go to war against Germany. Within three years the Bismarckian system had crumbled, and Germany was now faced with the possibility of a war

on two fronts. There were a number of attempts by Germany to break the ring which was closing around her. The Triple Alliance be sure, but Germany bring Russia back into her camp. In 1895 Germany combined with France and Russia to force Japan to give back the Liaotung Peninsula, which she had taken from China during the SinoJapanese War of 1894-95, including the ports of Dairen and Port Arthur, but Germany negated the advantages gained by this manoeuvre by seizing Kaiochow in the Shantung Peninsula, which endeared her

was renewed,


in vain



no one, least of all Japan and Great Britain. When Germany tried to prevent


an agreement between the Congo Free State and Britain in 1894, and later, in


of the

Japanese troops that shattered the myth

of Russia's

prowess on the

field of battle

1896, when the Kaiser praised the Transvaal Republic for aborting the ill-fated Jameson Raid, Germany further impaired her chances of an entente with Britain. Her support of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal during the Boer War did not improve matters. Even then, however, the Germans thought it was feasible to counteract the Franco-Russian alliance by


The time bomb primed diplomatic line-up in 1914

The changed web

of alliances on the eve of war: no longer are Germany and AustroHungary at the centre of a series of protective alliances. For after the removal of the guiding hand of Bismarck, they find themselves hedged in by treaties made between their former allies and previously isolated countries. Of the two non-European Great Powers, Japan has been drawn to the side of Great Britain, leaving unaligned only the United States, secure in their isolationist foreign policy





bringing Britain, who distrusted France and Russia, into the Triple Alliance. During 1900 and 1901 the German Embassy in London tried to convince the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, of Germany's desire to reach an understanding. It was felt that the AngloGerman arrangement concerning China was a possible prelude to alliance negotiations, and although negotiations did take place, the bitter feelings created by Germany's attitude toward the Boer War hindered their progress. Britain, for her part, felt the need for allies more than ever; the wave of international disapproval about Britain's actions in South Africa, combined with the rising strength of the German navy and German ambitions in the Near East (with the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway scheme), persuaded some members of the British government to feel that the time had come to abandon the traditional policy of isolation from the Continent. Britain's isolation


Britain's first major peacetime alliance


however, not with a continental power, but with Japan. Japan had been drawn into the Anglo-German entente negotiations at a fairly early stage, but Japan, unlike Germany, could not delay or postpone talks. The humiliation which to


Japan suffered at the hands of Germany, France and Russia in 1895 could never again be tolerated, and when the same powers, who had prevented her from gaining supremacy in Korea and Manchuria, in the name of the territorial integrity of China, violated that integrity themselves on repeated occasions, Japan

determined to seek European support to maintain and increase her influence in Korea and, ultimately, Manchuria. While the Anglo-German negotiations were foundering, Britain encouraged Japan to conclude an alliance, perhaps fearing that Japan might come to an agreement with Russia instead. On January 30, 1902, the Anglo- Japanese alliance was signed. If either party went to war in the ..Far East, the other would remain neutral, but if two or more nations attacked one of the signatories, the other would come to her defence. This gave Japan

the opportunity to wage war against Russia without the risk of French or German naval intervention. Since Japan was offered British support in Korea, the Japanese awaited their opportunity to strike against Russia and to avenge the humiliation of 1895. They did so in 1904. The British gained by having their interests in the Far East looked after by the Japanese fleet, so that they could concentrate more naval power in the North Sea and the Mediterranean in case of a European conflict. Britain was mending her diplomatic fences elsewhere as she negotiated with Japan. An agreement with the United States relinquished Britain's right to help in the building of an interoceanic canal in Central America, giving the United States the opportunity of doing so alone. Although it would be inaccurate to say that Britain was in the process of negotiating an entente with the United States, it is reasonable to state that Britain was going out of her way to avoid any possible conflict with the US and to minimise differences between the two nations. American public opinion would never have considered an alliance with any European nation in 1900, but it

Otto vcfi Bismarck, the Irofi Chancellor' and dofhinant figure in


European to





mutual interest

to avoid conflicts

with Britain, such as the one over Vene-

where the Anglo-German debtzuela, collecting expedition of 1902 fell foul of American public opinion.

Russia was encumbered with a disastrous war against Japan as well as with a major revolution: she could therefore lend France little or no effective support in case of such a strike.

France was another country wooed by Britain in her search for allies. Although Britain and France almost went to war over the control of the Upper Nile in the Fashoda Incident of 1898, it became increasingly clear to both parties that they had more to fear by opposing each other than by working together, at least on a limited basis. Through the efforts of Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador to the Court of St James, tension between the two colonial rivals subsided, and after the death of

Then, in July 1905, just before peace negotiations began between Japan and Russia in the United States through the good offices of President Theodore Roose-


gested that all three countries could eventually make an alliance directed against Britain; all this occurred while Germany was trying to prevent France from cashing her Moroccan claim. Both Holstein and Biilow, the German Chancellor, opposed the Treaty of Bjorko when they heard about it, Russian diplomats were appalled, and the French would never have accepted it. Thus the Kaiser's private treaty died an abortive death, and Germany's hope of a Continental alliance directed against Britain came to naught. At the same time, the Moroccan Crisis deepened, and it was generally feared that France and Germany were on the brink of war, for Germany felt that if war did in fact break out, Britain would not support France over the Moroccan question. In fact, none of the great powers wanted to go to war over Morocco, and by the end of the year it was agreed that an international conference be held at Algeciras, a Spanish town near Gibraltar, at the beginning of 1906. So far, Germany's attempt to break the Anglo-French entente was having the opposite effect. The British elections at the end of the year had brought the Liberals to power with a huge majority, and the Liberal Party tended to be more francophile than the Conservative Party. The new British Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey, secretly approved of the opening of Anglo-French military con-

Victoria in 1901, the francophile tendencies of King Edward VII made some impact upon the Foreign Office. The visit of Edward to Paris in 1903 was an unqualified success.

Meanwhile, France sought allies even enemy camp. She made an agreement with Italy in 1900, giving her a free hand in Tripoli in exchange for reciprocal courtesy in Morocco. This detente in North in the

Africa led to Italy's assurance, given to France in 1902, that she was in no way committed to go to war against France. The agreement was made almost on the very day that the Triple Alliance with Germany

and Austria was renewed, and

in direct

never France and the Triple Alliance at the same time. Unlike Bismarckian Germany, Italy had by 1902





honour her commitments

made incompatible




and agree-

ments, so that she could support either bloc in case of war. But France was reasonably assured that she would not be stabbed in the back by the Italians in case of war with Germany. As the Franco-British negotiations continued, it became clear that the stumbling block was Morocco. After having made an agreement with the Spanish for a possible partition of Morocco — with Spain gaining most of the Mediterranean coast and France the longer Atlantic coast — the French asked Britain for a free hand in Morocco. This free hand was granted by the agreements of April 8, 1904, in exchange for a British free hand in Egypt, which Britain already had controlled in virtually all but name since 1882. The British recognised the position of Spain in Morocco based on the Franco-Spanish agreement. Both parties were given spheres of influence in Siam, and the rest of the agreement dealt with relatively minor affairs, such as fishing rights off the coast of Newfoundland, small territorial adjustments in West Africa, and the like. The

main point was that an Anglo-French colonial entente had been signed, thereby linking Britain with the Franco-Russian group to a certain degree. But a colonial entente was not an alliance, and the French knew it. The Germans, anxious to break this arrangement as soon as possible, picked a fight with the French about the Moroccan question, partly, at least, to test the strength of the Entente Cordiale almost as soon as it was formed. Holstein and the Kaiser felt that if the entente were to be broken, 1905 was the year to break it; General von Schlieffen was urging a preemptive strike against France before the entente was given military teeth and while


Kaiser Wilhelm met Tsar Nicholas

at Bjorko in the Baltic Sea. The German and Russian heads of state agreed privately to a defensive alliance against any EuroII

pean power, the suggestion that such an agreement would render the FrancoRussian alliance meaningless being brushed aside by the Kaiser, who sug-

versations, which began in December 1905. These talks were to continue up to the start of the First World War, and were to commit Britain far more deeply to the

French cause than even Grey himself Far from splitting the Entente Cordiale, the Germans had succeeded in

negotiate an entente, which was concluded the following year, Russia renouncing her claims to Afghanistan, thereby removing any possible Russian threat to India; Tibet being made into a neutral buffer state; and Persia being divided into spheres of influence between the two powers, with a neutral area in the middle. The ring was closed and Germany was left to face a loosely-formed, but nonetheless solid diplomatic isolation every bit as formidable as that which Bismarck had made for France before 1890. By 1907 the parts of the puzzle had been put in place, Britain, France and Russia (with Italy still something of a question mark, as the Triple Alliance was renewed right up to the outbreak of war in 1914) facing the Austro-German combination. Even the United States, though still clearly a neutral, was more or less ranged on the side of the entente allies. There were a number of further attempts on the part of Germany to break the encirclement she found herself in, but to no avail. When war came the combinations which had grouped in 1907 were to face the Central Powers. It has often been stated that these alliances and ententes triggered a chain reaction in 1914, so that when one of the great powers went to war, all the others would be forced to follow. This was certainly not the case. The alliances which were made throughout the 1871-1914 period were basically defensive in character, and in every case one nation had to commit an aggressive act against another in •rder to force the various treaty members to honour their agreements. The alliances, such as they were, could never have triggered a war without a direct attack by another of the great powers. And it is to be remembered that Britain had made no specific treaty commitments to any power, save Japan, despite the Anglo-French military conversations and the Franco-Belgian military talks which followed the Moroccan Crisis of 1905. When Germany attacked France in' 1914, only Russia was pledged to come to France's aid,

and Austria-Hungary was ngt committed to support Germany in an aggressive war. The alliance systems during the 18711914 period did not help to cause the world war; instead, they succeeded in preventing one from taking place for almost 50 years.


strengthening it. When the Algeciras Conference met in

January 1906, Germany became painfully aware of her diplomatic isolation. When the final roll-calls were taken of the participating countries in the conference, which included every major power except Japan, and many of the lesser European states, only Austria-Hungary and Morocco voted on the German side. Holstein and Schlieffen were forced to step down in Germany, and the conference ended with an enormous diplomatic defeat for Germany. Not only Britain support the Franco-Spanish claims in Morocco; the United States and did

Italy did so as well.




Further Reading

The Origins of the War of 1914 (Volume 1) (OUP 1967) Brandenburg, Erich, From Bismarck to the World War Fay, Sidney B., The Origins of the World War (2 volumes) (Collier-Macmillan) Gooch, G. P., Before the War (2 volumes) Albertini, Luigi,

Hayes, Carleton, J. H., A Generation of Materialism, 1871-1900 (Harper & Row) Langer, William L, European Alliances and

Alignments Langer, William L, The Diplomacy of Imperialism Lee, D. E., Europe's Crucial Years: the diplomatic background of World War One (Hanover, NH: New England University Press 1974) Taylor, A. J. P., The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1914 (OUP 1954)

that she could no longer count on the Triple Alliance, and would be forced to

depend on her


and weakening


Austria. The Algeciras Conference dealt a further and greater blow to Germany. The British plenipotentiary at the conference, Sir Arthur Nicolson, was sent to Russia to




History of the

Executive Editor of Purnell's

Second World War and

has lectured research


Political History

World War. He Maryland, and done the London School of Economics. He

Consultant to the History of the


at the University of

runs a London publishing house specialising


military subjects.





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The discontent and corruption of Russia, the discord and decadence of Austrian-Hungary, the Expanionist vigour of Germany, the wish for revenge of France, and the isolationist tendencies of Great Britain— all these factors contributed to the situations which brought about the First World War. Barrie Pitt shows how the factors and factions were interwoven to produce the explosive situation of 1914

Examining the events which

led up to the outbreak of war in 1914 rather like studying the pattern of a Persian carpet. There are hundreds of minor, separate and apparently unconnected flurries of colour and event, and only from a distance can it be seen that they all contribute to larger patterns which in turn interweave with others to form the whole. In the years preceding the First World War there developed three main patterns of circumstances, each main pattern interwoven with the others until, to labour the analogy a little, the resultant hue became so bright as to be positively incandescent. These three main patterns were: • The political and economic tensions of the countries of Europe, plus Russia and Turkey. • The tensions and antagonisms which existed between the crowned heads of those countries (of which an astonishingly high proportion were direct descendants of Queen Victoria). • The military plans and intentions of the main European powers and their state of readiness for war. Let us examine the countries of Europe amongst whom the tensions, both political and economic, grew until they reached such a pitch that war became inevitable. First let us consider the position of Russia. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the myth of the Russian colossus exercised a spell upon Europe. If one thought in terms of warfare — which has always been, inevitably, the final arbiter of power and influence — then its armed forces were the largest and apparently the most formidable in Europe. Despite their poor performance in the Russo-Japanese war, the very numbers of Russia's armies inspired awe in the minds of European nations whose military thinking had been for years based on the concepts of Clausewitz and the doctrine of 'mass'. Russia could boast 1,423,000 men in the army in peacetime, 3,115,000 to be called up on mobilisation, with a further reserve of 2,000,000, to make available a total force of 6,500,000 hardy, uncomplaining soldiers. The astonishing thing to the historian is not that this myth collapsed in the face of actuality, but that it possessed as great a degree of truth as it proved to do. Russia at the turn of this century was ruled by one man, the Tsar, the majority of whose subjects were almost totally uneducated — but patient, faithful and deeply religious, and, as a result of their religion, deeply patriotic. This situation gave to Russia an immense strength which might have given her prestige in peace, or made her invincible in war. Russia's weakness, however, lay in the calibre of the man who occupied the position of supreme autocrat, and of the influence on him of the corrupt aristocracy which flourished at his court. The result of this decadence was a state of affairs which bred resentment, disgust and discontent throughout Russia, especially among the minority of the country's population who were neither aristocrats nor peasants, but comprised the Russian upper middle is


This upper middle class administered Russia. It ran the country's businesses, trade, civil service, and it provided officers for the armed services (but not those who held high command; such positions were reserved for the aristocracy). It provided the intellectuals who were to plant the seeds of revolution. Ironically, it also provided the all-pervading secret police whose job it was to root out the intellectuals and destroy those same seeds. So this upper middle class directed the vast sprawling mass of Russia, abstracted from it the profits of its labour and its earth — and saw those profits vanish into the pockets of a decadent aristocracy. It is quite astonishing how inefficient the aristocracy was. typical example was afforded by the Russian Minister for War between 1908 and 1914, Sukhomlinov. He had been originally appointed in order to reorganise Russia's forces after the disasters of the Russo-Japanese War, and his first few months in office were undoubtedly productive. Then, however, perhaps astonished by his own industry, or exhausted by it, he relaxed into a life of indolence and luxury in which he was abetted by a retinue anxious, for a variety of reasons, to encourage him in it. Whether by accident or design, he was introduced to the young and pretty wife of a local governor who so entranced him that nothing would satisfy him but her speedy transformation into the fourth Madame Sukhomlinov; a change in status made possible by the provision by one of his retinue of what seems to have been framed evidence. Needless to say, the attendant responsible, Altshiller, an Austrian, became the confidant of the Minister for War, and as the latter was now faced with such problems as inevitably face an elderly man with a young wife, more and more responsibility was accorded to him. Altshiller accepted all additional tasks with alacrity, but also so reduced the amount of work for Sukhomlinov to tackle that much of the financial allocation for the armed forces remained unspent, despite the fact that considerable sums were


channelled into Sukhomlinov's private purse in order to meet the demands of his extravagant wife. It was not until Altshiller's abrupt departure, in January 1914, that it was realised that he was Austria's chief agent in Russia. Another of Sukhomlinov's intimates was Colonel Myasodev, who was chief of the railway police in charge of Russia's strategic railways along the Russo-German and Russo-Austrian frontiers. Nobody seemed to think it odd that in 1910 he was the proud possessor of five German decorations, nor that he lunched with the Kaiser on occasion at the Imperial hunting lodge just over the border in East Prussia. During 1915 he was to come under heavy suspicion of being a spy, and was in due course hanged for it, though this occurred a little late in the day.

Uprisings and armed rebellion It was therefore no wonder that the minority of Russia's population who administered the country and could see these things going on seethed with discontent. The reign of Nicholas II was harassed by disaster, massacres, uprisings and sporadic outbreaks of armed rebellion, led for the most part by men from the middle class (although the manpower for these revolts came from peasantry), and usually triggered by some piece of crass stupidity or blatant corruption by members of the aristocracy. The aristocracy, in their turn, grew frightened, and frightened rulers, when they cannot control the forces inside their countries, sometimes try to find a cure for them outside, in foreign adventures.

Between 1910 and 1914, a number of powerful and wealthy men were beginning to believe that perhaps their best chance of retaining their positions and power would be to direct the growing anger of the mass of the population against foreign enemies. A war, in fact, might solve a lot of their problems, a proposition which achieved specific terms when the conclusion reached at a Tsar's Crown Council on February 21, 1914, was that 'only a general European War would enable Russia to realise her historic aims'. These 'historic aims' had, in fact, but little relation to the needs of the overwhelming proportion of Russia's population. It is doubtful, despite his presence at the Council, whether or in Russia

not Tsar Nicholas II mainly because it is or not. Moreover, in suffered the effects

fully subscribed to the Council's conclusion, open to question whether he understood it

addition to his natural lack of intellect, he of the educational theories of his father, Alexander III, who, for reasons which he never explained, announced that he would deliberately refrain from instructing Nicholas in any of the technicalities of empire or statesmanship until the young man had reached the mature age of 30. This may well have been a basically sound idea, but for one fatal flaw — the father miscalculated and died when the son was 26. Nicholas thus assumed the Romanov throne with none of the innocent purity of his mind sullied by knowledge or training. In addition to his lack of training, Nicholas lacked political imagination and sensitivity. When, in 1905, the news arrived of the annihilation of the Russian fleet by the Japanese in the Straits of Tsushima, he was playing tennis. He read the telegram, stuffed it into his pocket, went on playing, and never referred to the matter again. He seems to have been not only incapable of seeing an historical fact in terms of national or even human disaster, but also to have been incapable even of realising that it constituted a looming danger to himself and his position. But nature abhors a vacuum, and if the mind of the Tsar was empty of intelligence or imagination, he managed to fill it with sentiment. He was known throughout his domains as 'Little Father', and this title appealed to hint. Moreover, he was 'Little Father' not only to the Russians, but also, he considered, to the entire Slav people, and there were large Slav populations outside the boundaries of Russia itself, for Czech, Slovak and Galician, and the inhabitants of five Balkan states, could all claim, or be claimed as possessing, membership of the Slav family. These related peoples lived in the Empire, or within the sphere of influence of the Empire, of Austria-Hungary. During certain periods when there was friendship and understanding between the 'Three Emperors', and the oft-suggested renewal of the kaiserbund (League of Three Emperors) uniting Germany, Austria


likely to become more than a passing fancy in the Kaiser's fertile imagination, Slav irredentism could not receive official support from St Petersburg. But when the fundamental disagreements between Russia and Austria-Hungary became obvious again, then St Petersburg could support openly the

and Russia seemed

pan-Slav movement. At the head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was the Emperor Franz Josef— the last but one of the House of Habsburg, the royal family which had ruled parts of Europe since the 1 2th Century. One 21

gains the impression that the Habsburgs did not mind what countries or peoples they ruled— they seem to have regarded themselves as hereditary but professional monarchs. In this way, the Habsburgs had accumulated a large, but by this time tottering Empire, which lay across the centre of Europe like an untidily composed patchwork quilt. It contained portions of what had once been nine separate countries, and populations which consisted of 11 different nationalities.

The Empire

also exercised control over the foreign policies of at

two of its neighbours, Serbia and Montenegro, and also what might be known as heavy parental control over Rumania and Bulgaria through the fact that there were large Rumanian and Bulgarian populations inside the borders of the Empire. These served as hostages for the good behaviour of their parent countries. Inside the recognised boundaries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire there were three dominant nationalities — the Germans in the western part, the Poles in Galicia and the Magyars in Hungary. Yet in none of these regions did these nationalities form the majority of the population. They owned the land and they controlled the various provinces, simply as a result of an uneasy combination which they had formed between themselves under the symbol of the Habsburg dynasty. The Magyars in Hungary detested both the Poles and the Germans in the Empire, and had little but contempt for the Emperor and all his House, but they knew that unless they co-operated and allowed Vienna to control the Balkan states of Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania, then these small Slav states would appeal for protection tc their 'Little Father' in St Petersburg. With Russia bordering on Transylvania and Croatia-Slavonia, it would not be long before the Slav populations inside Hungary would be inviting the Tsar to improve their lot — at the expense of the Magyars. The position of the Poles in Galicia on the north-eastern boundary of the Empire was different in theory but similar in practice. Galicia had a large Slav population and was bordered by Russia; but immediately across the border in Russia was a large Polish least

In these circumstances the Poles within Austriatheir own position as well as they could and clung steadfastly to the safety which the Austro-Hungarian Em-


Hungary maintained

seemed to offer. The German population of the Empire had a Czech, a Slovak and an Italian minority to keep in administrative subjection. Although some Germans may have been tempted to throw in their lot with


the newly-formed in




Reich, as the majority were genuinely


in this western part of Austro-Hungary, they had if anything, to gain. Here they were German overlords, but

Germany they would have been merely other Germans. Thus the three strongest factions in Austria-Hungary, despite

the fact that they disliked one another intensely, contrived to keep the Empire in being, and the eight other nationalities in subjection.

There was one very important factor which did contribute some stability to the delicately poised balance of the Empire. This was the length of Franz Josef's reign. By 1914 he had occupied the Habsburg throne for 66 years. The grandfathers of most of the men serving in his armies had grown up under his rule, and there was a feeling throughout Austria-Hungary that, though the separate peoples of the Empire might squabble bitterly among themselves, they were all subjects of the Emperor. It was difficult for them to imagine life without the patriarchal figure of Franz Josef as the monarch. The figure of the Emperor, then, was a lynch pin of the Empire — but it was not a pin which could stand any great strain.

Germany, the young giant one partner of what were to become known as the Central Powers — Austria-Hungary — was weak and internally disturbed, one of the other partners, Germany, was powerful, stable and outIf

ward-looking. It had not always been so; Germany's emergence as a world power had taken place almost entirely within the second half of the 19th Century — in fact, during the reigns of Queen Victoria and

Franz Josef. Before that, Germany had been divided into 38 separate states. Though the people of these states all spoke the same language, each state had its own ruler, its own administration, its own internal economic problems, its own customs barrier against the others, and sometimes even its own armed forces. Provinces and Principalities, Duchies and Grand Duchies, Kingdoms, Electorates and Free Towns, all had bickered interminably among themselves for centuries, each jealous of its own diminutive status. Until industrialisation placed too great a strain upon its complex structure, this situation was tolerated — though probably only because of usage and tradition.

Supreme autocrats-the rulers The Romanov family pictured at Tsarskoye Selo, the palace The Tsarina is on the left, and the Tsar is fourth from left

of Russia


just outside St Petersburg.




Tsar Alexander


the Russian partner of the Dreikaiserbund of 1873

The forces of nationalism released by the Napoleonic wars, coupled with the great 19th-century revolution in communications and industry, provided Germany with the motive and the opportunity for unification. The Germans accepted the lead offered to them by Prussia, and the course of union was made easier for them by the diplomatic skill of Bismarck. In the 20 years between 1850 and 1870, Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, had welded Germany into a nation, and in the heat of three wars had tempered the metal and brought out its strength. It did not take long for the Germans to reap the full benefit of their unification. By the end of the 19th Century their industry, their ability, their financial acumen and, perhaps above all, their enthusiasm for their new nationhood had taken them to the peak of Continental power and prestige. And like any young, emergent nation Germany looked for new fields to conquer. But there were almost none left. Britain had got there first. The few remaining areas of colonial value which had escaped Britain had been snapped up by France in an attempt to console herself for the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans themselves, in the last and most spectacular of the wars which had forged Germany into a world power. There were a few crumbs left for Germany— various territories in Africa, a few islands in the northern Pacific, a piece of a Chinese peninsula; but nothing compared with British India, or French Indo-China. Unable to find an outlet from Europe, the Germans turned inwards, formed an alliance naturally and understandably with Austria-Hungary and uncertainly and rather hesitantly with Italy in 1882, and in so doing frightened their two most powerful continental neighbours into a most unnatural alliance: republican France with autocratic Russia in 1892. Moreover, there was only one genuine outlet into the wide world for Germany's energies, and that was into the field of colonisation where Britain had firmly established herself. It was inevitable therefore that at some time British and German interests should clash. Britain, France and Russia: hardly had Germany begun to feel her strength than — to her eyes at least — she had cause to begin crying 'Encirclement!' Britain, however, was traditionally reluctant to ally herself on a permanent basis with any European power, and during the closing years of the 19th Century she remained diplomatically isolated 24

Sukhomlinov (foreground), corrupt Russian bureaucrat par excellence it was France that constituted Germany's security — a France burning to

from Europe. During these years the

main threat


avenge the defeat of 1870. France had never forgiven Germany for inflicting that defeat nor for the humiliation of crowning the German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. More important than all other factors, she had never forgiven Germany for robbing France of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. True, France's colonial ambitions, shrewdly encouraged by Bismarck after 1872, had given her some outlet for her martial energies in such places as Algeria, Indo-China, Madagascar and, more dangerously, in Egypt and on the Upper Nile; but these adventures offered no real solace for the loss of the provinces amputated from the body of France. Military appetite, moreover, grows by what it feeds on, and many of the operations mounted against such rebels as Abd el Kader in North Africa were regarded by the French command as little more than training exercises for 'la Revanche' the recapture of Alsace and Lorraine. So far as Britain was concerned, she would have liked to continue as she had been for 100 years, splendid in her own isolation from the squabbles of Europe — powerful, highly industrialised, immensely rich, and with a growing population constantly increasing her strength in her far-flung Empire. The only essential to her continued prosperity — and it was an essential — was command of the seas. With it, she appeared to be the most powerful nation the world had ever known. Without it, the island population could be starved within two months, and the whole vast Empire disintegrate through lack of central control. Since Napoleonic times Britain had always possessed a fleet larger than the combined fleets of all possible aggressors — and as she gave complete freedom of the seas to all other nations, they in turn had been content to leave it that way. Under Bismarck, even Germany had deemed it wiser not to attempt to challenge Britain's supremacy at sea, but Bismarck left the political scene soon after the coronation of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and in the late 1890's the new Kaiser began to build a fleet of his own. From that moment, Britain's existence could only be secure if he stopped ,

building, either of his


free will or, if necessary, as a result of

There were many attempts by British statesmen to reach agreement with the German rulers on a 'Naval Holiday', and at one time they were even willing to contemplate an Anglo-German force.

Franz Josef



the service dress of an Hungarian general

alliance which would link the world's greatest world's greatest navy.

army with the

It would, however, have needed more perceptive statesmen than Britain possessed at that time to avert the threat of German naval expansion, and indeed it is open to doubt whether any measures would have sufficed. Fundamentally, Germany did not want peace

and equality. She seems almost to have wanted war for itself, and was mystically certain that it would bring her supremacy. There was the pattern of the nations. Britain, her security seriously jeopardised for the first time since the end of the Napoleonic wars; France, thirsting for her past glories and the return of Alsace-Lorraine; Germany bursting with new-found strength, feeling herself hemmed in by history, proud of her abilities and

The All-Highest


Germany and

the bane of Europe': Kaiser Wilhelm


over-anxious to prove them to the rest of the world; AustriaHungary, tottering and in reality only safe so long as nothing threatened the equipoise of the forces within her frontiers; Russia potentially immensely strong but seething with discontent, her supreme ruler a man of mediocre abilities, and her ruling class willing to direct the forces of discontent within her towards external adventures, in order to stave off internal revolution. This, then, is the first pattern, but there is a second pattern to be superimposed upon the first. At the present time we are inclined to forget the influence and power wielded by the crowned heads of the European continent up to the second decade of the 20th Century. As an example, let us consider for a moment what we mean by the adjective 'Victorian'. The adjective on the whole indicates to us a prim, strait-laced, thoroughly worthy way of life. The way of life, in fact, of the old queen herself, a habit of thought and action which echoed the sentiments and ideals of her most influential subjects, the moneyed middle classes. She thought and lived in such a way. So did the most important of her subjects. She remained in tune with popular opinion on almost every subject in an almost intuitive way. England, even then, had a longer tradition of democratic government than the other European powers. The power and influence of the ruling families in other countries was far greater — in Germany, for instance, the Kaiser was addressed and referred to as the All-Highest' — and the majority of those who so addressed him meant it. It. was like this in Russia, in Greece, in the Balkan states, and to an only slightly lesser extent in Austria-Hungary.




Victoria's grandchildren-

rulers of Europe The numbers

in square brackets alter the name ot each person on the genealogical table refer to the


on the opposite page.


(1819-1901) 1840 Albert

m of

Saxe Coburg Goth (1819-1861)

Victoria [1]



Alice (51

Princess Royal (1840-1901) 1856 Frederick III (1831-1888)


(1843-1878) 1862 Ludwig IV

Grand Duke



Arthur 1131


(1846-1923) 1866 Christian 1101 of Schleswig Holstein (1831-1917)








Beatrice [171


(1857-1944) m. 1885 Henry of Battenberg 1181 (1858-1896)

(1850-1942) m. 1879 Louise Margaret |14| (1860-1917) daughter of Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia

German Emperor

fc^l^ Edward

?3 Alfred (71

VII (31

(1841-1910) m. 1863 Alexandra [4 (1844-1925)

daughter of Christian King of Denmark


m IX

(1844-1900) 1874 Marie 18 (1853-1920)







(1853-1884) 1882 Helen 1161 (1861-1922)


daughter of Alexander Tsar of Russia


Louise 1121 (1848-1939) m. 1871 John Douglas Sutherland






1111 of Argyll


daughter of George Victor of

Waldeck and Pyrmont


Marie [20] (1875-1938) 1893 Ferdinand (19) King of Rumania (1865-1927) I

S2IIS Margaret (211 (1882-1920)


1905 Gustavus

Adolphus of



Arthur [231 (1883-1938) m. 1913 Alexandra



of Fife [241



Patricia [25I

(1886-1974) m 1919

Alexander Robert Maule Ramsay [26]




Victoria (281

(1863-1950) 1884 Louis of Battenberg [271 (1854-1921)


Ernest Ludwig

Alice I30]

Grand Duke Hesse [29]

(1872-1918) m. 1894 Nicholas Tsar of Russia [31] (1868-1918)



^VZ^\Va George V

Albert Victor (34)



(1865-1936) m. 1892 Mary [33] (1867-1953) daughter of Francis







Louise [36] Princess Royal (1867-1931) 1889 Alexander Duff 1st



of Fife(35]


^|» Maude


(1869-1938) m 1896 Haakon VII King of Norway I38| (1872-1957)


(1870-1932) m. 1889 Constanline [43] King of the Hellenes (1868-1923)



Albert [45]

German Emperor

Marquess of

Leopold 46 Lord Leopold Mountbatten

abdicated 1918






Alice 40! (1883-1981) 1

m. 1904 Alexander of


1st Earl of





^l£3 Sophie


Edward 139) Duke of Saxe Coburg Gotha




Maurice (47I (1891 1914)




(1887-1969) m. 1906 Alfonso XIII |48l King of Spain (1886-1941)


The passing of Queen Victoria marks the end ofTax Britannica'

Certainly none of the rulers possessed the absolute power which Hitler and Stalin later did, but this to & great extent was only because none of them possessed individually quite the degree of megalomania exhibited by these dictators; neither did they possess the modern techniques of communication and transport which are essential for despotic control over large areas. But they nevertheless wielded considerable direct power, and exercised an even greater indirect influence. An examination of the antecedents of the men and women who held the positions of influence throughout Europe reveals that the majority of them belonged to the same family. Astonishing though it may seem, they were to a very large extent the children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Victoria had nine children, 34 grandchildren, and 37 greatgrandchildren alive when she herself died, and this enormous family had been branched off and married into the most influential families of Europe. Let us see where they all went.

Undisputed German blood might be as well, in fact, to start by taking a look at Queen VicShe had been born in 1819 the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III, and Victoria Mary of It

toria herself.

Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Victoria herself was therefore of undisputed German blood, though her ancestors on the male side had occupied the British throne for over 100 years. Victoria's father died when she was only eight months old. Thereafter she was brought up by her mother and her mother's favourite brother, Leopold of SaxeCoburg (later of Belgium), her governess (afterwards Baroness Lehzen of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) and in due course she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. She cordially detested her Hanover uncles and made no complaint when the crowns of Britain and Hanover separated on her accession. She regarded herself to the end of her days as a Coburg, and not as a Hanover. When her first child proved to be a girl (the beloved of Albert and, indeed, his moral and mental reflection) there was no other future for the child but marriage to an actual or potential German Emperor. 'Vicky' therefore in due course became the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the bane of his uncle, Edward VII, and of most of the civilised world. Victoria's second child was the future Edward VII, and her sixth (who was also her fourth daughter) remained stalwartly patriotic by marrying the Duke of Argyll. But all the others (Alice, Alfred, Helen, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice) married into continental families, all except one of them into the German influence. The exception was Albert, who married Marie-Alexandrovna, daughter of Tsar Alexander II, but he made up for this by himself combining the titles of Duke of Edinburgh and Duke of

Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Victoria's grandchildren and great-grandchildren scattered over Europe with awe-inspiring prodigality. They became Kings of the Hellenes, of Norway; Queens of Spain, of Rumania, of Sweden; one was allied to the House of Orleans, two became Grand Duchesses of Russia. But the solid core became Princes, Princesses, Dukes or Duchesses of the German states — Prussia, Schleswig-Holstein, Bavaria, Hesse and of Saxe-Coburg or of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. One of Victoria's granddaughters was Alix, Tsarina of Russia, while her husband Nicholas was himself the son of a princess of Denmark whose favourite sister had married Edward VII. Edward was therefore uncle to both the Kaiser and Tsar; and to so many other princelings that his sobriquet 'The Uncle of Europe' was not bestowed solely on account of his avuncular manner. One would think that the concentration of so much influence and power into the hands of the members of one family, would form a most valuable stabilising effect throughout Europe. And indeed, while Victoria was still alive, this had a certain degree of truth. She treated her vast family very much as a stern but loving Victorian parent and had a habit of expressing herself in a way which makes one believe that she looked upon the various countries of Europe as estates owned by members of her family — estates for which those members had considerable responsibility, but not so much as to outweigh their own filial duty to herself as head of the family. The result while Victoria lived was beneficial to the world and extremely advantageous to Britain, and it was when she died that the trouble started, or rather that it came to the surface. The relationships inside Victoria's family developed in exactly the same way as they do in any other large family. There was the same proportions of unloved uncles, delightful nieces, interfering aunts, upstart nephews and odious relations by marriage that occurs in all families. Within the royal families of Europe, during the closing years of last century and the opening of this, these relationships developed: cousins of the same sex bickered and of

opposite sex hated uncles

in love, sons quarrelled with fathers, nephews their sisters adored, aunts tried to calm the fractious youngsters and were ticked off by their own sisters for interfering.




basic trouble

and were striving

was that they all wished to impress Victoria her favour and commendation. This competi-


tion bred bitter jealousies.


perhaps the most bitter of all these by the favourite grandson, Wilhelm II, Germany and King of Prussia, for his uncle, King Edward VII of England, and it counted for nothing except personal instability and international havoc that in the Kaiser's breast the jealousy was mixed with feelings of regard and admiration. Ambivalence in rulers leads almost inevitably to catastrophe. King Edward VII has sometimes been roughly treated by historians. Undoubtedly, his social behaviour was at times extremely tactless, but it gave him, nonetheless, a knowledge of the world which was to stand him in good stead. He was unfortunate in that he did not succeed to the throne until he was over 60, and that his mother, because he did not conform to the pattern set by her own beloved husband the Prince Consort, deliberately excluded him from the business of government until her death. By 1901, Wilhelm II had been Kaiser of Germany since 1888 and the effect of 13 years of being addressed as 'All Highest' upon an essentially volatile personality was not conducive to a becoming modesty. Kaiser Wilhelm endeavoured to patronise his far more mature uncle, by offering advice. Edward countered this at first with courtesy, but as the advice was poor anyway, he did not follow it — and the Kaiser thus received a double humiliation, for not only had his advice been rejected, but he was quite perceptive enough to see that Edward was right and was, in many ways, a wiser man than he. Moreover, as the years went by, Edward's sophistication and charm of manner made him extremely popular all over Europe, while the Kaiser's popularity — and also indeed that of Germany — was rather on the decline; and despite the aggressiveness which characterised their attitude to the world, all Gerjealousies Kaiser of

for the world,

was that


many was exquisitely sensitive to snubs. There was yet another


which contributed

to the Kaiser's

Owing to an accident at birth he had been left with a withered arm which never grew to a size beyond that of a child's. His own force of will had to a very great extent overcome inferiority complex.

handicap and his uniforms could be tailored to conceal it almost entirely. But he was always conscious of his disability. In the course of time, as a result both of the position he occupied at the head of a powerful, emergent but frustrated nation, and of these personal developments of his character, he began to show signs of a temperament which can well be summed up by the modern jibe 'Anything you can do, I can do better!' One of the results of this, on a national basis, was the fact that, whatever this

Fiance's military pride, Germany did possess a larger and betterorganised army. Another, and fatal, result was that the Kaiser remained personally determined to command a larger and more efficient navy than his uncle's. Despite the suggestions for the 'Naval Holidays', despite Germany's repeated protestations of admiration, regard and understanding of Britain's position, the building of the German High Seas Fleet continued — and to ensure that no portion of it could ever be trapped in the confines of the Baltic, work commenced on the enlarging of the vital Kiel Canal so that it would permit passage of the largest warships.

The military machines third pattern is the pattern — and calendar — of military planning. We can to some extent ignore naval planning, as, despite the Kaiser's fleet, his commanders had not had time to develop a maritime philosophy. We can also largely ignore the planning of the Russian military machine, for this was rudimentary and obvious. Russia would mobilise her army with what speed her administration and inadequate railway system would allow, and steamroller it all westward. So too with the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The internal conditions of the Empire were not such as to allow useful planning of any event farther in the future than a few months; for who could tell what percentage of soldiers would be needed, in any emergency, to keep order within the Empire? But with Germany and France matters were very different. Germany had been planning for another invasion of France ever since it became evident that the country was recovering too quickly from the sharp lesson which had been administered to her in 1870. Indeed, France had been planning 'la Revanche' ever since the first numbing shock of the 1870 defeat had worn off. France's plan was simple — which is usually a great advantage,



but it was also obvious and surprisingly naive, factors which are not good qualities in a military plan. She built a system of huge fortresses at intervals along her common frontier with Germany, leaving just north of the centre a gap leading into a huge natuTal cul-de-sac, in which, if the German armies cared to penetrate, they could be systematically anrvmilated. But the French geneivsds were not really interested in so passive a wartime role. Blandly ignoring even; piece of military evidence which had accumulated since the American Civil War, they persuaded themselves that all that was needed for certain victory was valour, a thirst for glory and revenge, and the offensive spirit. Armed with this and his Lebel rifle, and dressed in his bright red pantaloons, the French poilu would sweep forward into the lost and beloved provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, apparently invincibly shielded by hope and faith against such mundane factors as machine gun bullets or steel shells. The generals were quite confident that the whole French army, deployed along a front of nearly 200 miles, would press the enemy back to the Rhine in a matter of days, and banish him for ever from their own and their neighbours' countryside. They did wonder whether Germany would violate Belgium's neutrality, but they cannot be said to have devoted a great deal of thought to any complications which this might cause in their own plans. In fact, when they examined the prospect of such an attempted outflanking move by the enemy, they professed themselves delighted. 'Let them try it,' Foch proclaimed, 'it will make our task easier. As the Boche advance, we will strike up through

Belgium and cut him in half!' As strategic matters could be so easily dismissed, they concentrated all their endeavours on stimulating the Spirit of the Offensive' in their troops, and laying plans for their mobilisation

and deployment. This was indeed an intricate and impressive piece of planning, for it entailed bringing colonial troops across from North Africa, as well as the calling up, equipping, feeding and transport to the deployment areas of the hundreds of thousands of reservists in metropolitan France.

But eventually it was all done, and Plan 17, as it came to be was complete. In the early spring of 1914, army commanders received their own personal copies and the majority pro-


fessed themselves delighted with it. Germany, of course, with her magnificent General Staff and her obedient population quite willing to organise their lives and their businesses on lines which would allow the quickest possible change to wartime conditions, produced a more integrated plan, one on a larger scale which, needless to say, ignored the French invitation to commit suicide in the gap between the fortresses. The German plan was basically the famous Schlieffen Plan. This originally envisaged the deployment of a vast army — including reserves, a factor which the French completely omitted in their calculations of German strength — along the border from Switzerland to a point just east of Liege, with the main weight of the attack in the north. They fully anticipated that the French would rush headlong into Alsace and Lorraine, and German generals were quite happy that they should do so. The more French troops down there, the deeper they penetrated into that area, the less would be French strength in the north, to oppose the main strength of the German army as it crashed like a hammerhead through Belgium, across into northern France, over the Seine and around to the west of Paris in a gigantic arc, and then back eastward again. There it would rip through all the lines of supply and communication of the French armies in front, scoop up all their reinforcements, and finally crush the enemy against their

French cavalry-

embodiment of the 'offensive


but tactically still in the age of Waterloo



fortresses, or expel them from their own country into neutral Switzerland. This was indeed a gigantic plan, needing enormous forethought and planning. Moreover, after the death of Graf von Schlieffen, it received some modification at the hands of his successor, Moltke 'the younger', which entailed even more planning. But eventually the time came when the German plans were completed in such detail that even the number of railway trucks which would pass over the main Rhine bridges during the first vital days was known to those German officers concerned with such figures. It was a magnificent plan, complete in every detail, and, as had happened in France, the time came when a German general finished reading it and said: Good, now we are ready. The sooner it starts, the better for us!' This was in May 1914, and some four weeks later the Kiel Canal was officially reopened by the Kaiser after it had been widened so that the High Seas Fleet would be able to move through it. Two months before, the French Plan 17 had been completed; three months before, the Tsar had presided at the Crown Council. The stage was set. On June 28 (while the celebrations at the Kiel Canal were still progressing^ a 19 year-old Serbo-Croat named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne — Archduke Franz Ferdinand. In any other set of conditions, this could have been nothing but a squalid political murder, with no more effect than that of personal tragedy in one of the more important families of Europe. But it was what Europe was waiting. for — and it is probably true to say that had the assassination never taken place, then Europe would only have waited until another such event gave the signal. As it was, however, the shots fired by Princip not only killed the


Archduke and his wife: they sparked off the explosion which plunged the world into war, and indeed ended the era of European world leadership.

Further Reading Albertmi, L The Origins of the War ol1914 (OUP 19b/) Balfour, M The Kaiser and his Times (Cresset Press 1964) Fay. S The Origins of the World War (Macmillan 1967) Geiss. i.July 1914 (Batsford 1967) Gregory, J On the Edge of Diplomacy (Hutchinson) ,




King, J

C The


World War (New York Harper 1974) King Edward the Seventh (Murray 1964) Bernard, A History of Russia (Cape 1955) First


Sir Philip,

Pares, Sir

Bismarck and the Development of Germany (Princeton University Press) Taylor. A J P The Struggle tor Mastery in Europe (OUP 1957)




BARRIE PITT, Editor of History of the First World War, was born In 1 91 8, the son of a naval officer He joined the army in 1939 and served in France and the Middle East He continued his military associations after demobilisation by joining the 21st Special Air Service Regiment (Artist Rifles). In 1953 he left London and took an appointment with the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, He began writing on military matters in 1954, in 1958 his first book, on the Zeebrugge Raid, was published. In 1960 his third book, Coronel and Falkland, appeared, and two 'years later the much acclaimed 1918 — The Last Act In June 1963 he was invited to become Chief Historical Consultant to the producer of the BBC series The Great War, and resigned from the Atomic Energy Authority to do so He also acts as military and historical consultant to a wide variety of publications and bodies, including Encyclopaedia Bntanmca.





but future opponents The Emperors' clothes. The Kaiser and his cousin George V, soon to be at war, wear the



uniforms of each


other's armies at a family wedding

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H. W. Koch Colonialism, and to some extent nationalism, have acquired a stigma today. Yet they were fashionable ideals at the beginning of the 20th Century — and it could be argued that they created an atmosphere in which a world war became a possibility.

'A patriot is one who loves his country. A nationalist is one who hates everyone else's country.' There was much in the political atmosphere of Europe in 1914 that bore out this definition. In each nation there was a large section of popular opinion that actually welcomed war, seeing in it a chance to advance the cause of their particular nationality or race. This enthusiasm played a large part in stampeding the statesmen into war, and for this reason needs examination. If today the idea of nationalism has acquired a stigma, basically it means only those elements which make up a nation. These elements were first set out by Johann Gottfried Herder who defined a nation as the Volk, a people of common language, cultural heritage and body of laws. Its sovereignty was unquestionable and it had a distinct 'personality'. Herder's view contained no qualitative notions, as no Volk was innately superior to another, although one may have been more favoured by factors such as geography and climate. This concept was a reaction against 18th Century politics when people and territories were treated like any other disposable commodity. This view made a profound impact in Germany, especially as it became the counter-ideology to the principles of the French revolution, when these were militantly applied beyond the frontiers of France merely in French national interest. Herder's impact was no less in other regions, since he did not spare his compatriots in his indictment of their own conduct in his famous 'Slav chapter'. In this he condemned German treatment of the Slavs outright, prophesying that ultimately the Slav tide would turn against the Germans. Bismarck's unification of Germany was considered by many Germans as only a half-way house towards 'real unification', and that meant different things to different people. Some Germans simply desired the inclusion of the Germans of Austria-Hungary. To others as we shall see, it meant much more. Bismarck himself was suspicious of militant German nationalism or indeed of any other 'ism'. He drew little distinction between the nationalism of the liberals and that of more reactionary groups. To him nationalism, like liberalism, implied an appeal to the 'masses', which could be mobilised by anyone who could touch their emotions. Bismarck, impressed by accounts of the French Revolution, feared nothing more than the intrusion of emotion into politics.

That his fears were


was amply demonstrated

after his

death, when the spread of a type of nationalism which one of its exponents, Charles Maurras, called 'integral nationalism', took place. The nation became the absolute value, occupying the apex of the pyramid of human values. Whatever transcended it was rejected. Precisely this brand of nationalism and the aberrations to which it gave birth gave nationalism the stigma it carries today. The first large-scale manifestation of 'integral nationalism' was in France. The defeat of 1871 was simply not accepted. It could not have happened if France had remained true to her traditions, argued Taine, traditions buried under the sediment of revolutions. 'Abandon reckless individualism, democracy and the principles of the French revolution; return to the source of Frankish, chivalrous and royal France!' This appeal to irrational traditionalism fundamentally challenged, and in part succeeded in changing, the liberal nationalism of Herder. Maurice Barres added the idea, almost a substitute for religion, of la terre et les morts (the soil and the dead). The soil and the dead of the battlefield carry their own innate obligation for posterity: recovery and revenge. Britain was neither a recently unified empire like Germany, nor was she a recently defeated nation like France. Hence in her nationalism there was an attitude of paternal superiority, reaching the point of hysteria only at times of crisis such as the Boer War, or in moments of acute naval rivalry with Germany. Russia, on the other hand, was too "vast, too under-developed and consisted of too many illiterate language groups for a specifically 'Russian nationalism' to develop, other than among politically articulate circles in St Petersburg and Moscow. The forces at work were not nearly as strong as those in operation in the Ottoman Empire, but strong enough to prevent the creation of national unity of a type found in central or western Europe. Yet Russia, too, became the exponent and defender of the idea of Pan-Slavism — a racial ideal rather than national ideal. For the two great multilingual empires nationalism was a liability rather than an asset, because as a disruptive force nationalism could serve Serbs, Bulgarians, Czechs, Slovaks and Poles alike. However, to turn 19th Century nationalism into the generally destructive force which it became, another factor was needed — 'Social Darwinism' — the application of the theory of evolution to a social and political environment. Misinterpreted and widely misunderstood, Darwinism was taken to mean progress through competition in its crudest form. Its emphasis on race and breeding



>v /




H! •






H^ F*v





American infantryman

British artilleryman

Russian sailor

coincided with the popularisation of the racial theories which Gobineau and Vacher de Lapuge had already formulated. Together with Social Darwinism they represented the very antithesis of the views held by Herder.

Vulgar brute strength Social Darwinists envisaged


as a struggle of



all in

which only the fittest would survive. The nation was alone and surrounded by a world of enemies, in the fight against which all means were justified. Nietzsche denounced religion, drawing the logical conclusion that the existing basic moral values were not those that made for survival. His alternative was the creation of a race of supermen as a result of the survival of the fittest. At a broader level throughout Europe this theorising aroused a general interest in the theory of evolution which rapidly deteriorated into a vulgar advocacy of brute strength; into an admiration of war and warriorlike qualities. Journalists and popular writers were not alone. Darwinian concepts found expression through the mouths of respectable statesmen and generals, such as Lord Salisbury, Joseph Chamberlain, Biilow, Delcasse, Theodore Roosevelt, Bethmann-Hollweg, Field-Marshal Robertson and Lord Fisher. 'Lasting good is evolved in this world only through strife and bloodshed. While injustice and unrighteousness exist in the world, the sword, the rifled breech loader and the torpedo boat become part of the world's evolutionary machinery, consecrated like any other part of it' wrote a leading British naval officer. It is not unjustified to assert that this sort of statement represented the consensus of a good cross section of


European public opinion.

British Indian


Naturally, in an age in which the masses were gradually emancipated and the franchise was widening, the doctrine of the survival of the fittest was unlikely to pacify the unruly spirits of the working classes. Consequently racial theories represented a welcome element to supplement social Darwinism since they transcended the strictly segregated class structure of a nation. If the masses could be induced to forget or temporarily ignore the injustices of the society in which they were living, the less chance there would be for dangerous stresses arising within the nation. Nationalism perverted into race hatred, thrust class hatred into the background. Any form of nationalism goes hand in hand with a good deal of spurious historical learning. Unbalanced or downright untrue history was written by historians, each seeking to 'make a case' for his own national group. The results of such dubious scholarship were then adapted and diluted by popular writers and the press, and injected into the mental fabric of the nations. To the British 'the burden of Empire' presupposed the existence of a force which had selected them, through the evolutionary process, for this mission, or as Cecil Rhodes put it: 'I contend that we are the first race in the world and the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for human race.' Genuine humanitarianism, political, economic and military competition were inextricably intermingled, resulting in blind chauvinism and the kind of xenophobia best expressed by Kipling. Germany countered Britain's mission of 'civilisation' — one incidentally shared by Europe's other major colonial power, France — with the specifically German mission of spreading 'Kultur', the spirit of Kant and Goethe, across the globe. That in

A rare instancy]


The powers

crush the Boxer rebellion








German infantryman

French infantryman

Austrian sailor

agents of the German mission were hordes of salesmen upon the world with their samples, that Kant's postulates and Beethoven's Ninth were drowned by a cacophony of steel rolling mills did not do much to endear Germany to her competitors, nor did her strident assertiveness, characterised by Kaiser Wilhelm II's dictum that 'we are the salt of the earth'. In Europe national exuberance already on the verge of excess, gathered further momentum. With each nation or race discoverfact the

let loose

ing its own mission, its own racial superiority, hatred or at least dislike and suspicion of the foreigner and his evil designs began to prevail over more serious domestic issues. In an age of growing de-personalisation, as the result of the rapid growth of an urban industrial society, the idea of 'race' seemed to be the bulwark of the one and last indestructible individuality.

Nor did it lack political organisation and expression. The PanGermans, for instance, represented a wide spectrum of desires and ambitions, ranging from the old-fashioned nationalists, who saw their future aim in the incorporation of the Austro-Germans into the German Empire, to Utopians who wished to re-create European universalism under German dominion, and to extreme racialists. The membership of the Pan-Germans never exceeded 18,000 members while their monthly journal, at its peak, had a circulation of only 5,000 copies. The true significance lay in their composition, largely middle and upper-middle class whose most prominent representatives were economists and geographers advocating the quest for Lebensraum. German industry's representative was Dr Alfred Hugenberg, at the time a director of Krupps. As a result the vociferousness of the Pan-Germans made an impact on the world outside which was quite in inverse propor-



Japanese infantryman

tion to their actual political strength and influence. Precisely because of the nebulous nature of their programme their utterances received special attention abroad and were frequently considered to have been inspired by the German government. The

German government used the Pan-Germans once, for rabble rousing purposes during the second Moroccan crisis. Moreover, many of their sentiments were shared by sections of the German public of all classes, and by sections of the press which in other respects were liberal.

The Pan-Germans also had their allies in the Flottenverein (Navy League), and the Kolonialgesellschaft (Colonial Association). Unanimity among the Pan-Germans existed only on one point, that of the forcible Germanisation of the Polish and Danish minorities. Even that aim was nothing new. On the express orders of Emperor Frederick III his eldest son, the future Wilhelm II, was not allowed to learn Polish, a language compulsory for every Prussian monarch since the successor of Frederick the Great. In their support for the Germanisation of the Empire's Polish minority, the Pan-Germans collided head-on with a force older, stronger and infinitely more numerous, that of Pan-Slavism. In the final analysis, however, the Pan-Germans could do little more than support policies already pursued or advocated, such as German colonial and naval expansion, and by their activity add further explosive substance to the keg of dynamite called Europe. The Pan-German movement was little different from similar bodies in Britain and France, and its influence upon the shaping of German policy only became marked after the outbreak of war, when they played an important role in the formulation of German war aims. 35


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Pan-Slavism, like German nationalism, was a progeny of Herder and the Romantic movement. By 1900 Pan-Slavism was no longer essentially religiously inspired, but was an activist racism which soared over artificial frontiers to embrace a wider communion of racial members. While Nicholas Danilevsky still argued that all Slavs were brothers, he nevertheless insisted that Russia was the great centre of the Slav people and would lead them on the road to emancipation. It was Russian imperialism in disguise. Dostoevsky's Introduction to Pushkin, a speech delivered on June 8, 1880 at the Society of Lovers of Russian Literature, discarded this disguise and asserted his belief in the unique soul and mission of Russia as leader of all Slavs. The Slavs were to be liberated from the infidel Muslims and from contamination from the west. Their capital was Moscow rather than St Petersburg. As amorphous and nebulous as Pan-Germanism, Pan-Slavism could be politically utilised by those who called upon Russia to act and display her power and self-confidence in shaping the destiny of the world while at the same time rejecting Western European 'materialist' civilisation, putting in its place an indigenous Slav culture. Russian expansion into the Near and Far East temporarily distracted attention from fellow Slavs but the outcome of the Russo-Japanese war and the Revolution of 1905 brought forth a resurgence of the Pan-Slav movement, especially as the other major propagators of the Pan-Slav idea, the Serbs, had in 1903 overthrown the pro-Austrian Obrenovice dynasty and replaced it by the militantly Russophil Karageorgevich dynasty. One of the by-products of the 1905 revolution in Russia was a constitution and the Duma as a representative assembly where the spokesmen of the Pan-Slav idea were mainly found among the parties of the right and centre. The revolution also produced a certain improvement of the condition of non-Russian Slavs under Russian rule such as the Poles. This revived connexion among Slavs, by now also called Neo-Slavism, found its public expression in a series of annual conferences between 1908 and 1912 in St Petersburg, Prague, Belgrade and Sofia. Cultural and economic links between the Slavs of the Balkans and Russia were established, underpinned by the fervent belief in the ultimate disintegration of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires by a war in which Russia's aid would be indispensable. The major enemy of the Pan-Slavs was not in Constantinople, Budapest or Vienna but in Berlin, because it was thought, with some justification, that only the strength of the German Empire supplied the energy which kept the other empires in being. In spite of the fratricidal feud of the second Balkan War, by 1914 Pan-Slavism had succeeded in creating more numerous and stronger ties between Slavs than had ever existed before. Other nations did not remain unaffected. Italy, smarting under the defeat inflicted by the Abyssinians at Adua in 1895 rallied its imperialist nationalists under Corradini, as did Charles Maurras in France with his L'Action Frangaise. Within this general climate of opinion the colonial rivalries of the European powers developed and expanded, but it is difficult to disentangle the problem of colonial rivalry from the more general rivalries in economic, military and political areas. Bismarck's decision to embark upon a policy of colonial expansion because of his fear of economic consequences for Germany if she remained passive, was in the main enthusiastically supported by the German middle classes. By the turn of the century, much to the disgust of their comrades, some highly articulate prominent German socialists also supported it. During the early period, between 1884 and 1894, one can hardly speak of an Anglo-German colonial rivalry, although the fact that Bismarck exploited Britain's vulnerability in Egypt in her relations with France did not endear him to Gladstone. Feelings between the two men were reciprocal. To Bismarck, Gladstone embodied the intrusion of the emotional forces of popular democracy into international relations. He may have had his differences with Disraeli or Salisbury, but at least with


Bismarck felt that he stood on common ground. Also by 1885, with some minor changes in the future, Germany's colonies in Africa had been established, the major ones of which were Togoland, the German Cameroons, German South West Africa and Ger-

man East Africa. The latter could be considered as a potential threat to Britain's line of communication with India, but that threat was neutralised by Britain's acquisition from Germany of Zanzibar in exchange for Heligoland. The possibility of war Possibly the abortive Anglo-Congolese treaty of 1894 can be interpreted as the beginning of the Anglo-German colonial rivalry, with its provision for a British corridor, separating and isolating German East Africa from the Congolese hinterland and

giving Britain the potential opportunity for establishing the Cape-to-Cairo railroad. When Bismarck went, German diplomacy took on a new tone, the sound of which could all too easily be taken as aggressive. Relations between the two countries by 1895 had deteriorated to the extent that Britain envisaged the possibility of war. Nor was the situation ameliorated by the Kruger telegram which in turn inspired British fears of German intentions to create a German-dominated belt across Africa, cutting off South Africa. Though never put down with any degree of precision, plans for a Zentralafrika were entertained not only in the Kolonialgeselhchaft but also in the German Colonial Office. Two years later the Anglo-German agreement over the Portuguese colonies was not so much stimulated by a sense of rivalry as by Germany's fear that a British loan to Portugal would be the first step to Britain's acquisition of these colonies. In case this was so, since these territories bordered on to German South West and German East Africa respectively, Germany, in order to maintain some 'balance of power' in the areas had to demand compensation through division. In the end the agreement did not bring any benefits to the Germans. It merely created a precedent, in so far as Portugal's African colonies became temporary lubricants of Anglo-German relations to be used again in 1912. Agitation for a greater share in Africa persisted to some degree in Germany, but colonial rivalry as such cannot by any standards be considered as influencing policy making in both Britain and Germany: indeed, on the eve of war co-operation between the British and German Colonial offices was greater than it had ever been before. However, its importance should not be underestimated.

A Franco-British bargain The Moroccan problem played

a far more serious part in pre-war diplomacy, but it cannot be considered simply as one of colonial rivalry. Its complexity was due to several factors. The Madrid Convention of 1880 had guaranteed the territorial integrity of Morocco and equal commercial rights there to the signatory powers which included France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Russia and the USA. By 1900 it represented the only enclave in north-west Africa not occupied by France or Spain. It was foreseeable that sooner or later France would use Morocco's chaotic internal con-


gave way



narrower creeds during the 19th Century to

Darwin's theories were widely misinterpreted by political thinkers all

over Europe

ditions as a pretext to absorb the territory in her colonial empire, especially after Fashoda, which marked the end of any possibility of France ever recovering her former position and influence in Egypt. Equally, as France's position was eroded in Egypt so was Britain's in Morocco where she had important trading interests. These were of secondary importance when compared with the possibility of France controlling the western entrance to the Mediterranean. Consequently, the basis for a Franco-British bargain existed. France and Britain were not alone in Morocco, there was also Germany (after Spain had been promised a share, and Italy had been bought off by promises of compensation in Libya in 1902). According to one of the chief architects of the Anglo-French Entente, Sir Thomas Barclay, Germany's economic interests in Morocco were equal and at many points superior to those of France, and what became of equal commercial rights in territories occupied by France had frequently been demonstrated: they were fenced off by high protective tariffs. For Britain the problem was two-fold: firstly she had to secure the neutralization of the Morocco coastline in the Straits of Gibraltar, and secondly, gain the support of France, which implicitly meant also that of Russia, to reorganise the financial


structure of Egypt which so far was under international supervision and which the veto of any power could effectively block. Delcasse looked at the potential arrangement from a different perspective. Britain's acquiescence in Morocco would give France a free hand there but, in the long run an Anglo-French rapprochement would effectively eliminate a potential Anglo-German alliance, the spectre of which had loomed on the diplomatic horizon between 1898 and 1901. When concluded in April 1904, the Anglo-French Entente achieved all British objectives. Not so in the case of France. Britain had been wise enough before reorganising Egypt's finances, to secure the consent of the other powers concerned, while France failed to make any official communication to Germany regarding her intentions in Morocco. When late in 1904 France despatched a mission to Fez, Germany thought the time had come to kill two birds with one stone: to show France that she could not act without German co-operation and by implication demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the entente, and secondly, to defend her commercial position in Morocco. Legally Germany had a good case. She lost it diplomatically because Britain was not prepared to put her Egyptian policy in jeopardy, and because Theodore Roosevelt, already in trouble at home over his 'open door' policy in China, was not prepared to add to his troubles by supporting the same policy in Morocco. Germany, once she had stated publicly, through the Kaiser's Tangier visit, her intention of supporting Morocco's territorial integrity, could not afford a secret bargain with France without the risk of putting her reputation at the mercy of France's discretion. Hence she had to continue to insist on an international conference based on the provisions of the Madrid convention. Since all the signatory powers with the exception of Austria-Hungary were ranged against Germany before the conference started, Germany's diplomatic defeat was inevitable. It was the fear of a repetition of Algeciras that lay at the bottom of BethmannHollweg's refusal of Sir Edward Grey's proposal of an international conference after the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. Though Germany and France did come to an agreement over Morocco in 1909, French infringements of this agreement two years later were used by Germany as a pretext to obtain compenpensation in the form of the French Congo. Britain intervened

A courtesy visit by high German officials to Tientsin in 1898. The Germans were very keen to expand their trade with China


Agadir crisis), though Lloyd George's Mansion House speech was directed at France as much as it was directed against Germany, because Britain feared that the secret Francoin this crisis (the


negotiations could possibly yield results at her expense. Nevertheless, Agadir, seemed to mark a turning point in AngloGerman relations which until the eve of the war continued to improve, so much so that Sir Edward Grey had to veto a visit of the Guard's Band to Germany lest France should take offence.

Emotion and suspicion However, the important point to bear in mind is that these differences and crises took place to the accompaniment of the full blast of publicity in the countries concerned, in which emotion and suspicion rather than reason prevailed. Another major area of colonial rivalry was China, particularly since Germany's seizure of Tsingtao in 1898. In spite of German commercial interests there, it was an area used by the Germans to divert the interest of France and Russia away from Europe, and as a major issue in European diplomacy it declined after Japan's victory over Russia in 1905. There remained Russia's threat to India via Tibet, Afghanistan and Persia, three vital areas which formed the basis of the AngloRussian entente of 1907. In contrast to the entente with France, Anglo-Russian relations, particularly over Persia, were never really free from friction, mainly because of Russia's continued infringements of existing agreements. Both partners remained suspicious of each other, a factor which a skilfully conducted German foreign policy could well have exploited. It is also open to doubt whether Russia would ever have concluded the entente had not Sir Arthur Nicolson, Britain's ambassador at St Petersburg, and Sir Edward Grey used Russia's desire to dominate the Black Sea Straits as a bait to keep the long drawn out negotiations going. Britain refrained from making firm promises but rather held out future possibilities which the Russians interpreted as definite commitments. As it happened, when Russia's Foreign Secretary Isvolski tried to take a firm grip of the straits, by assuring himself of Austria's support in return for the latter's annexation of BosniaHerzegovina (which Austria actually had occupied since 1878) he found himself, as he thought, cheated. Neither France nor

between national

states. Loans to China, mining concessions in Morocco, railways in the Ottoman Empire, such as the Bagdad railway, became objects of political rather than mere economic controversy. Though banking groups found peace more profitable than war, in the unsettled atmosphere of pre-1914 Europe they inclined to co-operate or compromise as the situation and public opinion demanded. That is not tantamount to saying that commercial competition caused the war. Nor did nationalism, racialism, or colonial rivalries. However, the last three especially were responsible for the climate of opinion in which every issue was magnified out of all proportion to its real importance. In an atmosphere loaded with suspicion of 'infamous schemes to encircle the fatherland' or 'Germany's grasp for world power', the outbreak of war was received with a sigh of relief as a liberation from a nightmare.

Charles Maurras, extreme right-wing French nationalist, editor of L' Action Francaise

Karl Peters, founder of the Society for German Colonisation in 1884, advocate of German expansion

Britain were at the time prepared to back his claim, while Austria cashed her part of the bargain, vociferously backed by Germany.

Humiliated, Russia had to withdraw. But Germany failed to achieve her actual objective, namely to break up the AngloRussian Entente. Pan-Slav and Pan-German agitation reached new heights during the Balkan Wars of 1912/13. The signal for the first Balkan War was not given in the Balkans but in North Africa. With France gradually absorbing Morocco, rabid nationalism in Italy cried for the conquest of Libya. While Italy engaged Turkish forces there, the Serbs and their allies thought the moment propitious to expel Turkey from Europe. Within the context of these rivalries the movements on Europe's capital market are also of some importance. France, industrially stagnant, found it easier to have hard cash at hand than German industry which continuously re-invested its profits to facilitate further industrial expansion. France thus financed Russia's industrialisation while Germany struggled to raise enough money to finance potential Balkan allies and the Ottoman Empire. Capital thus became an important instrument in the struggle

Further Reading Barzun, J., Darwin, Marx, Wagner and Race: a Study (Harper & Row, 1962) Erickson, J., Panslavism (Historical Assn., 1964)



Gifford & Louis, Britain and Germany in Africa (Yale University Press, 1968) Hayes, C. J. H., The Historical Evolution of Modern Nationalism (Collier-Mac, 1948) Henderson, W. O., Studies in German Colonial History (F. Cass, 1962) Kohn, Hans, Nationalism: Its Meaning and History (Van Nostrand, 1965) Lee, D. E., Europe's Crucial Years: the diplomatic background of World War One (Hanover, NH: New England University Press 1974) Petrovich, M. B., The Emergence of Russian Panslavism (Columbia, 1956) Rich, N. R., Friedrich von Holstein, vol. 2 (Cambridge University Press, 1965) Roberts, S. H., French Colonial Policy 1870-1925 (F. Cass, 1963)

Wertheimer, M.


The Pan-German League 1890-1914

H. W. KOCH is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York. He reviews and has contributed to New Society and Die Zeit. He has also contributed to BBC productions, Purnell's History of the Second World War, the Historical Journal and History. He has published a book entitled Stare and Volk: Institutions and Ideology in the Making of Modern Germany as well as editing a volume on the origins of the First World War and German war aims.


Mutual suspicion and the


Kaiser's pursuit of German prestige were obvious obstacles to

an Anglo-German naval agreement before 1914. Politicians did try to bargain but as


Germany would set no limit on her ambitions, this costly race continued Sir Llewelyn Woodward

The German High Seas Fleet exercises in the Baltic before the war



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_— same loyalty and affection toward their navy Germans did toward their army. These postcards reflect the public interest in the names and types of ships


British public felt the

as the _A*l9iafi*l_

year of Queen Victoria's the German government announced plans for building a fleet of battleships. This plan was set out in a Naval Law which the Reichstag approved in March, 1898, but which was clearly no more than a first stage. In 1900 a second Naval Law provided for a fleet of 38 battleships, with cruisers and auxiliary craft, to be completed by 1920. The cost of this construction and of the necessary dockyards would be over £90,000,000 (in modern terms, about £540,000,000). The chief advocates of this scheme of expansion were the Kaiser Wilhelm II and Admiral von Tirpitz, Secretary of the German Admiralty. Germany had not hitherto attempted competition with the strongest naval powers, Great Britain, France, and Russia, and, in order to persuade the GerIn






people that a large navy was essential and the extension of their national power, the Kaiser and Tirpitz had to organise a propaganda campaign of unparalleled intensity. Such a campaign had inevitably to represent Great Britain, the leading naval power, as a threat to Germany, and as an obstacle to her overseas trade and colonial expansion. Neither the Kaiser nor Tirpitz hid their intention of using the German navy as an instrument of political pressure to compel British acceptance of German demands. The Kaiser, in 1900, not long after the outbreak of the Boer War, told the Queen of the Netherlands, in the inflated style for which he was already notorious, that preparation at sea was essential in case the Lord should decide to use Germany as the instrument of His vengeance. Wilhelm used plainer language to his Chancellor, Biilow: 'I am not in the position to go beyond the strictest neutrality, and I must first get myself a fleet. In 20 years' time, when the fleet is ready, I can use another language.' In the world of sovereign states before 1914, with few limitations on the exercise of national sovereignty, Germany was free to build as large a navy as she might choose. She had not bound herself by treaty not to do so, and Great Britain had no claim as of right to the naval predominance which she had exercised for nearly a century. The question, for Germany, was one of practical calculation. She was already the strongest military power in Europe. Had she also sufficient resources to challenge British naval supremacy? How would other naval powers react to such a challenge? The British reaction was likely to be that, as an island state dependent to their security

Tirpitz— 'Father of the German Navy' — resplendent with his famous 'two-pronged' beard sible act of policy for


to start it?

Furthermore the matter could not be considered apart from German and British relations





Admiral Tirpitz gave this matter much thought, but drew the wrong conclusions from it. In 1898 the British government maintained a 'two-power standard', that iB to say, they kept the British navy at a strength sufficient to meet a combination of the next two strongest naval powers, France and Russia. Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian relations were unfriendly and this 'two-power standard' seemed a necessary means of protection. Tirpitz came to the over-ingenious conclusion that Germany would not have to build up to the strength of the British navy if she wanted to use the German fleet as a means of extorting concessions from Great Britain. All Germany needed was a fleet strong enough to damage the British fleet to such an

extent that the latter, even if victorious over Germany, would be temporarily inferior to the Franco-Russian combination. This conclusion of Tirpitz is generally known as the 'risk theory'. The theory that Great Britain dared not face a temporary weakening had one great flaw. It regarded as permanent the hostility of France and Russia to Great Britain. A more careful analysis might have suggested that Great Britain would find it in her interest to come to an agreement .with France and Russia over outstanding differences, and as these differences were about non-European questions, they were all capable of settlement. In this event Great Britain would no longer be afraid of a hostile combination. Tirpitz might also have considered the problem the other way round. He might have asked himself whether France and Russia had motives for settling their differences with Great Britain. The answer to this question was so obvious that the German failure to anticipate it is hardly comprehensible. The Franco-Russian military alliance had been made largely because the two powers were afraid of Germany. German policy towards France, with and after the annexation of AlsaceLorraine in 1871, had rendered Franco-





Time was making the French more accustomed to the loss of these territories. They were unlikely, and indeed not strong enough, to start a war to win them back, would hope them. They gave up their attempt in 1898 to assert themselves against Great Britain at Fashoda on the Upper Nile because their enmity to Germany was greater than their enmity to Britain in but, if the occasion arose, they to recover

spite of their dislike of the 'Anglo-Saxons'.

Blustering diplomacy Russia, in spite of a

common monarchical

Germany, had to reckon that Germany was a firm ally of Austria, Rusinterest with

predominance in the Balwhen Japan had halted Russian expansion in the Far East, the question of Balkan influence once more became of prime importance to Russia, sia's

rival for

kans. After 1905,

while the increasing German interest in Turkey, and a scheme for a Germansponsored railway from the Bosphorus to the Persian Gulf (the Baghdad railway) threatened Russian expansion southwards more seriously than Great Britain. Finally, apart from particular clashes of interest, German methods of diplomacy, especially the Kaiser's incessant bluster about German strength, irritated and alarmed every


imported foodstuffs and seaborne and with only a small army, naval predominance was vital to national safety. If Great Britain defeated Germany at sea, she would still be unable to defeat the German army or invade German terri-

other great power.


The Anglo-French Entente of 1904, followed by an Anglo-Russian Entente thus

Germany defeated Britain at sea, she could starve her into submission. No British government, therefore, could allow the navy to fall below the standard necessary to maintain superiority against any likely threat to it. An attempt by Germany to outbuild Great Britain would fail because British shipbuilding resources were greater than German. Great Britain was also a richer country and, unlike Germany, did not spend enormous sums on her army. Hence, if Great Britain could not risk losing, and had the means to win a competition in shipbuilding, was it a sen-

Morocco where the Anglo-French agreement had recognised French predominance. This maladroit German effort failed. The very fact that Germany was trying to destroy the entente meant that Great Britain and France were drawn together to meet

nullified the risk theory. The Germans tried to break the Anglo-French Entente by asserting a particular interest in

tory. If





In any case the British government and people were in no doubt by 1904 that the German naval programme was directed against Great Britain, and that this programme would be carried out. German Fisher,

who remodelled the Royal Navy to of German competition

meet the challenge


propaganda was now even more

strident, and, as before, inevitably anti-

British. It

many was

was bound in


assume that Ger-

danger of attack by Great

Britain owing to the British desire to crush a trade competitor, and once again such propaganda recoiled upon the Germans themselves. As the German ambassador in London reported to the Kaiser, the idea of a mercantilist war against Germany never had the slightest support from the British government, from British commercial interests, or from any responsible quarter. During the last two decades of the 19th Century there had been a good deal of British misgiving and irritation over the sudden invasion by Germany of markets which British enterprise had opened up and had come to regard almost as a monopoly. This irritation over German competition, especially in the Far East, was due largely to German methods which British merchants often regarded as unscrupulous. American competition was in fact more severe but less resented, and Anglo-American political relations had never been more friendly. The trade figures, however, showed that by about 1900 the growth of German trade at British expense had become less rapid. It is doubtful whether at any time German commercial development was really harmful to Great Britain. In the ten years before 1914 British trade was expanding almost as quickly as German, and in 1913 one half of British exports to Germany were of manufactured goods. Great Britain had learned a good deal from German competition, while the Germans, like the British at an earlier stage, were suffering from some of the consequences of getting rich too easily. The best evidence, however, of the groundlessness of German fears of a mercantilist war was the thorough-going defeat of the Protectionists in the British general election of 1906. The British thus looked at the increasingly strong German navy not as a necessary instrument of commercial defence, but as a means of increasing German political power. The question for the Germans to decide was whether their plans appeared likely to succeed. With the collapse of the risk theory they had either to give up the idea of exercising political pressure on Great Britain by means of a weaker fleet, or to go ahead with their building in the hope of making their fleet equal or even superior in strength to that of Great Britain. For the next few years they attempted the latter policy. Two factors seemed favourable to Germany. One was the Liberal government which came to power in Britain at the end of 1905

and was anxious

to save

money on

HMS Vengeance before the war. Even in peace she has out her protective anti-torpedo booms


'risk theory'

a German gamble that did not pay off armaments and spend it on much needed Germany persisted in her naval programme, while British shipbuilding was cut down, she might gain social reform. If

equality or even numerical superiority in home waters. The Liberal government announced, at the Hague Conference of 1907, that they would cut down their building programme from four to three capital ships, and would delay laying down one of the three, in the hope that the Conference would adopt a general scheme of limiting armaments. The other factor favourable in the long run to Germany was the introduction of what was a revolutionary type of capital ship.

This change, initiated by Great Bri-


tain with Dreadnought in 1906, was under consideration in other countries, and the British Admiralty would have lost the advantage of technical leadership if they had not acted before their rivals. Inventions such as smokeless powder and rangefinders had made long-range firing more feasible. Fire-control was easier at long ranges if a ship's great guns were of uniform calibre. The number and position of these guns (the Dreadnought had ten 12inch guns) thus determined the size and general design of the ship. The Dread-

nought was turbine-driven, and faster as well as larger and more heavily gunned than her predecessors. An increase in the size of battleships set Germany the problem of widening the Kiel Canal, an undertaking which by British estimates could not be completed before 1914. Great Britain would have several dreadnoughts before any other power could complete one. On the other hand the introduction of this new type greatly lessened the value of the existing British superiority in capital ships, and in a competition in which only dreadnoughts would count, Germany might hope to catch up with Great Britain in a few years.



margin of superiority

Once again the Germans miscalculated. The Liberal government might go a long way to show that they wanted to stop the shipbuilding race, but they realised the importance to Great Britain of a safe margin of superiority and were unlikely to allow this margin to be lost. The Conservatives were even more conscious of the danger and took care that the electorate was aware of it. In the spring of 1909 there was acute public anxiety in Great Britain when it was thought that by accelerating their rate of construction, the Germans might complete, in advance of their published timetable, as many dreadnoughts as would give them numerical superiority in 1912 or 1913.

The German Admiralty was under no obligation to keep to the three years which they normally took to build a capital ship. If they gave out a contract well in advance of the date of laying down the keel, the shipbuilding firm might collect in its yard

the required armour, guns and machinery, and thus"be able to complete the ship more quickly. During the winter of 1908/9 the British government had disquieting information that Germany was taking steps of this kind. According to the published programme Germany would have nine dreadnoughts by February 1911, while Great Britain would have 12. If they completed their ships sooner, and if they also accelerated work on their 1909/10 programme, then Germany might have 13 dreadnoughts in November 1911. If they repeated the acceleration in the 1910/11 programme they might have 17 dreadnoughts by the spring of 1912. Some estimates even suggested a figure of 21. The British government tried to get information from the Germans about this acceleration, but received incomplete and unsatisfactory answers. Count Metternich,

German Ambassador







Franco-Russian plans of aggression, if such had existed. Great Britain and France had no interest in bringing about Russian control of the Balkans and Constantinople, and Great Britain and Russia had no interest in a war for the French recovery of


material but he denied any intention to accelerate the programme. The denial of facts definitely known to the Admiralty (the keel and ribs of one ship had been seen on the stocks at Danzig) added to British suspicions. The Prime Minister, Asquith, told Metternich that the British government, while not questioning the German right to build as they thought fit, had to take account in their own programme of all possibilities. They therefore intended to lay down four ships at once and and to get parliamentary approval for laying down another four if necessary for maintaining an adequate lead in capital ships. This programme, and the reasons for it, were announced in the naval estimates and discussed in Parliament in March 1909. The Germans now admitted, in addition to the facts stated by Metternich, that two ships had been allotted to yards before the usual time although they denied that the ships would be ready before the published date. The effect of these admissions on British public opinion was an immediate outcry and the slogan 'we want eight, and we won't wait'. The government decided to lay down all eight ships and thereby to give Great Britain a safe lead. Asquith and Grey said in Parliament that, although we accepted their denial of an intention to accelerate, the German government was not bound by it and could change their decision without previous notice. The Admiralty remained sure that Tirpitz (who seems to have concealed part of what he was doing from the Kaiser) had hoped to present Britain with a fait accompli and only gave up when his

Alsace-Lorraine. In July 1909, just after the British decision to build the four contingent dreadnoughts, Bethmann-Hollweg succeeded Biilow as German Chancellor. The change was unlikely to affect German naval policy which the Kaiser and Tirpitz kept away from civilian control. Nevertheless, Bethmann-Hollweg raised the question of an Anglo-German naval and political agreement. On the naval side Great Britain would abandon the four contingent ships, while Germany would maintain in full her 1909/10 programme. In the political agree-

ment each power would promise benevolent neutrality if the other were attacked by one or more powers. Such terms went beyond the obligations of the Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian agreements and were open to the usual difficulties of defining aggression. The Germans realised the high price they were asking and they thought it prudent to make their suggestions 'drop by drop' (tropfenweise), but they insisted that if Great Britain wanted a naval agreement, she must pay for it.

A regular annual statement The British government continued

manoeuvre was found out. The events of 1909, and the immense

over the facts of German shipbuilding. He proposed an exchange of information, a regular annual statement by each country of the dates of laying down ships, and certain other particulars such as dimensions. The German reply, given after some delay, was to suggest statements simultaneous with or immediately before the publication by each country of its annual estimates. On this plan the British government, whose building now depended upon that of Germany, would have had to decide their programme, and remain bound to it for 12 months without knowledge of German intentions. Further discussion was interrupted when the Germans reopened the Moroccan question by sending a warship to Agadir on July 1, 1911, and by making peremptory demands on France for colonial concessions. An even greater obstacle to an controversy

dreadnoughts made the Liberal government more anxious than ever to come to an agreement with Germany. The Germans maintained, however, that they could not cut down their programme as set out under the Naval Law. They had, in fact, enlarged it in 1905. They enlarged it again in 1908 by shortening the cost of building


of their

older battleships.

difficulty of discussing limitation


The in-

creased by the neurotic outbursts of the Kaiser. He upbraided Metternich for listening even unofficially to the 'shameless suggestion that English friendship depended upon the curtailment of German seapower'. When Metternich reported a proposal by Lloyd George for a permanent ratio of three to two between the British and German fleets, the Kaiser broke out into violent abuse. Biilow was less extravagant, but thought that Germany, in return merely for slowing down her building programme, might secure an unconditional promise of British neutrality in the event of a Franco-German war. Such an unconditional promise would have destroyed the Anglo-French Entente, as Biilow realised, since it would have bound Great Britain not to intervene even if Germany seized some pretext to attack France. In any case Great Britain intended to keep her naval superiority just as Germany intended to keep her military superiority. An agreed limitation of shipbuilding programmes would save both countries much useless expenditure. Such an agreement would have had political as well as financial advantages for Germany if her

aims had been wholly defensive, since British influence could have opposed 44

to see

no reason to pay for a saving in expenditure which would benefit both parties, and obviously would not accept the political terms. Grey was, however, anxious to do something which would avoid the acrimony and public excitement of another

naval agreement came the year when, under pressure from Tirpitz and against the advice of Bethmann-Hollweg, the Kaiser decided upon yet another supplementary Naval Law providing for three additional capital ships in the next six years. Before the details of this supplementary

Anglo-German later


programme were made public Herr a shipping magnate well known

Top: Theobald Bethmann-Hollweg, Imperial Chancellor (left), talks with the Foreign Secretary and Vice Chancellor. Centre: Herbert Asquith, British Liberal Prime Minister, unable to withstand the demand for more dreadnoughts. Bottom: Lord Haldane, British War Minister in 1912, visits Berlin to discuss the differences between Britain and



to the Kaiser, and his friend Sir Ernest Cassel, a British financier of German origin and a friend of the late King Edward VII, suggested a visit to Berlin by a British minister for a discussion of Anglo-German naval relations. Ballin and Cassel seem to have got their project off the ground by telling each government that the initiative came from the other. Haldane, who could speak



was chosen

for this visit.

JA* pre dreadnoughts •

Ten years


of naval competition:




and German Battle Fleets

government was informed

in confidence before the conversations that

programme under the supplementary law would not be cut down but

the building that the


did not rule out the

possibility of spreading it over a longer time. On the British side, in view of Ger-


complaints that Great Britain opposed all their attempts at colonial expansion, the British government said that they had no wish to prevent such expansion,

and would discuss any practical proposals on the subject. They would also be glad to consider proposals which would debar either power from joining in aggressive designs on the other. The Kaiser now characteristically jumped that, in return for

to the conclusion concessions which would not involve a real reduction in the German shipbuilding programme, he could get the long-wished-for promise of British neutrality as well as colonial territory.

February 1912 came to nothing, or rather, worse than nothing, because afterwards Haldane and his German hosts disagreed about what he had said. Haldane alleged that he had menHaldane's

visit in

tioned only the possibility of ceding to Germany the British protectorate over the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba as part of a general bargain (which would also include British participation in the German-controlled Baghdad railway and a naval agreement). The Germans alleged that he had made a firm offer of Zanzibar and Pemba. Anyhow the negotiations would have broken down over the question of neutrality. The Germans asked, unconditionally, for benevolent neutrality.



JJu dreadnoughts

1899 and 1910. The gap has shortened

British government could not promise that they would not in any circumstances come to the help of France and Russia against Germany.

The German 'concessions', which were merely a slowing down of the construction of new capital ships under the supplementary law, were seen to be very little when the details were published after Haldane's return. They included far more than the increase in capital ships. There were 50-60 submarines, and a larger number of battleships would be manned at full strength throughout the year. Lord Morley, a leading Cabinet minister, who had always wanted an understanding with Germany, said that his colleagues would be idiots if they agreed to a cession of colonial territory and at the same time found themselves forced to increase their naval expenditure to meet the new German pro-

gramme. Hence, after more discussion, exacerbated by the comments of the Kaiser, the negotiations ended with a final German insistence on an unconditional promise of neutrality, and a British refusal to go beyond a promise not to support France and Russia unless they were victims of



failure of the Haldane mission and the publication of the German supplementary law gave the British naval estimates for 1912 a special importance. Churchill, who had now succeeded McKenna as First


Lord of the Admiralty, announced that the two-power standard no longer applied. The Admiralty now required a superiority of 60% in dreadnoughts over Germany. In any case Great Britain would build

two capital ships


every one added to

German programme, though any year Germany dropped one or

the existing if


two ships from her annual quota, Great Britain would cut twice the number from her programme. This proposal for a 'naval holiday' was badly received in Germany. The Kaiser let it be known through Cassel that such an arrangement would be possible

only between

Two new


now affected the balance of naval power. One was an Austrian decision to lay down three more dreadnoughts before the end of 1912 (four factors

Austrian dreadnoughts had already been laid down). The other was a statement by the French government of their intention to concentrate the greater part of their fleet in the Mediterranean. The French took this decision on their own initiative. Churchill had already announced a regrouping of the British fleet to increase the number of ships in home waters. The British government could not give, and were not asked to give, a guarantee to defend the northern and western coasts of France in the event of a German attack. They would not go beyond an exchange of letters that, while the disposition of the two fleets was not based on an engagement to co-operate in war, the British and French governments would discuss together, if either expected an attack, what they would do. So far had matters changed since Tirpitz brought forward his risk theory.

The Balkan trouble spot In October 1912, war broke out in the Balkans. One result by the autumn of

Winston Churchill,


Lord of the Admiralty,


1913 was the aggrandisement of Serbia. In view of the strength of southern Slav nationalism Austria could not but regard this development as a threat to the cohesion and indeed the survival of the multinational Habsburg Empire. On the other hand, if Austria took forcible action against Serbia, Russia might well come to the defence of the southern Slavs and of her own influence in the Balkans, and a European war might break out. In this event Germany would go to the help of Austria and Russia would call on her French ally for support. War did not break out because Germany restrained Austria, and Great Britain and France did the same to Russia. Serbia was compelled to accept the limits set to her ambition by the combined action of the Great Powers. The centre of this collaboration was London, where the ambassadors of the Great Powers held meetings under the chairmanship of Grey. Grey hoped that this common action would lead to a detente between the two rival groups of powers and especially to an improvement in Anglo-German relations.

Bethmann-Hollweg was much


hopeful of a peaceful solution of Austrian differences with the southern Slavs. He wanted only to postpone an inevitable war until Germany had been able to detach Great Britain from her entente with France and Russia. The Kaiser agreed with Bethmann-Hollweg: 'the struggle between Slavs and Germans is bound to come. When?' Wilhelm believed that Great Britain would support France and Russia. Hence he refused all naval concessions and his only hope of deterring Great Britain was the strength of the German fleet. He wanted to introduce another supplementary naval law, and gave way reluctantly to Bethmann-Hollweg's advice to do nothing while the Balkan question was being discussed by the Great Powers. Before the publication of the British naval estimates for 1913 Tirpitz said that Germany might accept a ratio of 16 to 10






ensure that Britain was not overtaken by Germany


between the two

fleets in



superiority. British Tirpitz's offer was a clever one; it ignored Churchill's qualifications that a 60% figure could cover only the period in which the British pre-dreadnoughts retained their value, and that it did not apply to ships built under the new supplementary law. It was clearly useless for Great Britain



controversy with the Germans, when announcing the British estimates for 1913, Churchill repeated his suggestion for a 'naval holiday'. The Kaiser was afraid that the Reichstag might find the proposal attractive, so he gave instructions that Grey should be told that the German government did not want it to be brought forward. On the British side the idea was also seen to have difficulties as the Germans, without breaking any engagement might accumulate material for building in the year after the 'holiday', and thus bring about another acceleration to



the naval race

ing in modern equivalent to £300,000,000 non-recurrent military expenditure. So ended the last phase of Anglo-German naval competition before the outbreak of war. Great Britain had maintained the naval superiority vital to her. She entered the war with 20 dreadnought or superdreadnought battleships in home waters. for

Germany had




In his speech on the estimates for 1914, Churchill did not refer directly to a naval holiday. He repeated his previous statement about the 60% superiority which he accepted for the time being in home waters, but could not regard as permanently binding. The Kaiser again wanted to introduce another supplementary law, but even Tirpitz was now on the side of Bethmann-Hollweg. He told the Kaiser that Churchill would use the opportunity to start a scare in Great Britain in order to increase the British programme. He also wrote significantly to the German naval attache in London that 'the bow is overstrung here as in England', and that, apart from the needs of the army, large sums were necessary for naval construction other than the building of capital ships. The race was proving expensive. The German bow was indeed overstrung. A new factor had appeared with the development of airships, and in the spring of 1913 the German government had announced a special capital levy amount-

Further Reading Bulow, Prince B. von, Memoirs (1931/2) Fischer, F., World Power or Decline: the controversy over Germany's aims in World War One (New York: Norton 1974) Grey, Viscount, Twenty-Five Years, 1892-1916 (1925)

Gooch, G.


and Temperley,

H. (ed.), British

Documents on

the Origins of the War, 1898-1914, vols. 6, 8 and 9 Marder, A. J., The Anatomy of British Sea Power 1880-1905 (1940)

Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk, (Munich, 1960)

Ritter, G., vol. 2

Steinberg, J., Yesterday's Deterrent: Tirpitz and the Birth of the German Battle Fleet (Macdonald, 1965) Tirpitz, A. von, Politische Dokumente, vol. 1 (1925)

LLEWELLYN WOODWARD was born in London 1890 and was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. During the First World War he was with the BEF in France and Salonika. Between 1919 and 1939 he was a Fellow of All Souls and a History Tutor at New College, Oxford. In the Second World War he was attached to the Foreign Office. After the war he was for some years Professor of Modern History at Oxford, and from 1951 to 1962 Research Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, USA. He wrote a number of books, including a short History of England, The Age of Reform, 1815-1870, SIR in

the Oxford History of England, Great Britain and War of 1914-18, Great Britain and the German Navy and an official History of British Foreign Policy in the Second World War. He was a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. He died in in



Lieutenant-Commander Peter


During the first decade of this century, Britain's traditional naval supremacy was maintained against the German challenge by two factors. Admiral Fisher's vigorous reorganisation and reform of the navy, culminating in the introduction of the dreadnought in 1906, and new diplomatic alliances, with Japan in 1902 in 1904. These factors made possible a greater concentration of British sea power in the North Sea to

and France

meet the German menace. Below: The greatest naval force ever assembled— George V inspects his fleet at the Spithead Review in July, 1914









Montenegrins Serbs

wo sides of the kan issue

r? \


• /4






* •'



*'* 1


recruited in Westphalia. Its headquarters were at Munster, as were those of one of its divisions, the 13th Division. Its other infantry division, the 14th, had its headquarters at Diisseldorf and the eight infantry regiments were stationed respectively, two

Cologne and one each at Paderborn, Detmold, Munster, Minden, Wesel and Kleve. These, of course, were peace stations. On at

the units of the corps concentrated at a given assembly point. These, however, were merely the active troops of the corps' district, though the battalions and batteries would have been brought up to new strength on mobilisation by the addition of about 25% more soldiers, drawn from the classes of the reserve aged 23-24. mobilisation,


the rest of the reserve, a parallel but quite separate corps, the VII Reserve, would be formed on mobilisation. Its men would be slightly older and its artillery rather weaker than those of its active counterpart, but it would nevertheless constitute a formidable force, led as it would be by professional, full-time officers. The VII Reserve was in fact a particularly strong corps, since one of its brigades, the 28th, belonged to the active army, to whose

war requirements it was surplus. Mobilisation would still not have exhausted the trained military manpower of VII Corps district. The proclamation would also have brought into the depots two other large groups of reservists; those men of the Reserve, aged 23-26, surplus to the requirements of VII Reserve Corps, and the classes belonging to the Landwehr. From the first group could be raised so-called Ersatz battalions, on the scale of one for each active brigade, from the second group one Landwehr regiment for each active regiment. Thus VII Corps district could also put into the field: the 25th Ersatz Brigade, comprising the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th and 79th Ersatz Battalions; the 25th Landwehr Brigade, comprising the 13th and 15th Landwehr Regiments; and the 27th Landwehr Brigade, comprising the 53rd and 55th Landwehr Regiments besides the unbrigaded 16th, 56th and 57th Landwehr Regiments. In all, therefore, the district provided 74 infantry battalions of varying quality, six artillery and three cavalry regiments and auxiliary troops in proportion. In addition to these units, the district still disposed of sizeable numbers of men of military age, if of less immediate military value; in particular those of the Landsturm whose units when activated would release field formations from guard and administrative duties, and the so-called Ersatz reserve, which included the large proportion of each annual class originally excused active service. Their role would be to provide replacements, once they were trained, for soldiers killed or wounded at the front. The VII Corps' establishment was of course a particularly complete one. Not all could field two reserve divisions, indeed the most recently established corps fielded none. Nevertheless the Empire could, within three weeks of mobilisation, almost double the number of major units in its field army, and multiply its total numbers six times. In peace its strength stood at 25 active corps of 51 infantry divisions, in round numbers some 800,000 men. In war, it could add 14 reserve corps of 31 divisions, some 20 Ersatz and 30 Landwehr brigades, and several hundred thousand auxiliary troops, raising its strength in all to about 5,000,000. These figures were, of course, a closely guarded military secret; closest of all was the order of battle of the reserve formations. Germany's decision to form reserve corps, regarded at the time as a warwinning coup in itself, was carefully shielded from foreign intelligence.

The French system The French military system mirrored the German; and for good reason. Many reservists had spent the first — decisive — weeks of war in 1870 travelling from their homes to their regimental depots, located sometimes as far distant as Algiers, and then in search of their units somewhere in Alsace-Lorraine. That experience had taught the French army the value of 'localisation'. In 1914 the country was divided into 21 corps districts, including the


in North Africa, each fielding, like the German ones, two active divisions: white and coloured colonial divisions brought the total to 47. Mobilisation produced, however, comparatively fewer Reserve divisions, for both the population and birth rate were lower in France than in Germany. Indeed it had only been by extending the length of active service from two to three years in 1913, and by always exempting a far smaller proportion of the annual class, that she managed to match her neighbour in peacetime strength. In war strength she failed to do so, fielding less than 350 Reserve battalions against Germany's 380, and those raised from men as old as 33, as against an upper age limit of 26 in Germany. She possessed moreover no equivalent of the Ersatz divisions. Behind her 25 reserve divisions stood only the terri-

men aged from 34 to 47, of whom the youngest were to form 12 territorial divisions. Their operational value was doubtful. Little wonder that the French general staff was committed to the doctrine of a short war, to be won by elan rather than numbers. The Russian army's problems were precisely the reverse of the French. It suffered from an embarrassment of numbers and a paucity of means to train, equip and officer them. In consequence, while France conscripted over 80% of each annual class and Germany less than 60%, Russia conscripted only 30%. And though even that proportion provided her with an Active army of 1 ,400,000, organised into 79 infantry and 24 cavalry divisions, that order of battle was really a skeleton of the wartime one. For rather than overstrain the already creaking machinery by the creation of numerous new divisions on the outbreak of war, Russia preferred to run a larger number of divisions in peace, but only at halfstrength, to be filled out with reservists on mobilisation. She planned therefore to raise only 35 reserve divisions; and since the army was not 'localised' and the Russian reservist had to travel on average 700 miles to join his unit, none was likely to take the field before the first month was out. Surplus reservists were to be formed into depot battalions, rather than into the equivalent of Ersatz divisions, and the enormous militia of older and untrained men, the Opolchenie, some 6,500,000 strong, was wisely not to be called out at all. Unlike France, Russia could stand casualties and wait out a decision but initially her strength would lie chiefly in those full-strength Active divisions which were stationed on the frontiers. The Austrian military system, though conforming in principle to the universal pattern, was complicated by the 'dual' organisation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Thus there was a 'Joint Army', in which the bulk of the annual class spent its two years service, with a strength of 32 infantry and nine cavalry divisions; and in addition there were the Landwehr and the Honved, run respectively by the Austrian and Hungarian halves of the Empire. Their conscripts, unlike those of the Joint Army, served only 20 weeks, spread out over two years, so that their 16 infantry and two cavalry divisions were more akin to reserve than active divisions. All three armies nevertheless possessed reserves of their own, in which liability to recall extended to the age of 32. Thereafter all reservists passed into the Landsturm, which was based on a 'Dual' rather than a 'Joint' organisation, until the age of 42. And because a true Reserve element was lacking in the Austrian army, all could expect to be called out on mobilisation. Since units were 'localised', the system worked more simply in practice than might appear on paper. Each of the 16 corps' districts administered two Joint divisions and normally one Honved or Landwehr division, and Landsturm — Hungarian or Austrian — in proportion. Thus the VIII Corps district (Prague) raised the 9th and 19th Divisions of the Joint Army and the 21st Schiitzen Division (Infantry Division) of the Landwehr. (Joint Landwehr and Honved divisions were numbered from 1 to 48.) The IV Corps' district (Buda-Pest), a well populated region with many natural horsemen, raised the 31st and 32nd Divisions and 10th Cavalry Division of the Joint Army and the 40th and 41 st Divisions and 5th Cavalry Division of the Honved. On mobilisation, reservists would be called out from each locality to complete the joint units stationed there; the Honved and Landwehr reservists in each half of the Empire would receive the same summons to their local regiments; and the Landsturm would be embodied in these units. Surplus reservists would be formed into so-called Marsch battalions which, in brigades, formed the nearest equivalent to Reserve divisions elsewhere. Once complete, all units of whatever status came under command of the Joint General Staff and would be deployed as the war plan demanded. The armies of the minor military powers, among whom must be included Britain, were organised neither as logically nor as efficiently as those of the major powers. Serbia, though operating a 'localised' system, had a top-heavy reserve structure and no effectorials,

Her Active army was of five divisions and her mobilised strength totalled about 190,000. The army of the tiny mountain kingdom of Montenegro, where military obligation ceasA only at the age of 63, was reckoned even by sympathetic observers little better than 'an old-world peasant militia'. The Belgian army, in process of transition from partial to general conscription, could field 117,000 men, organised into six divisions of infantry and one of cavalry, but only by using the Civic Guard, a volunteer force, to help garrison the great national fortresses on which her security chiefly depended Great Britain's military system was wholly individual. Adequate to her needs as an imperial power in peace, its chief defect was that it provided paltry reserves for war, since the volunteers tive third-line troops.


of her active (or Regular) army were long-service men, enlisted for Beven years with the colours and only five on the Reserve. Half the army, moreover, was always abroad and the battalions at homo were on establishments so low that the majority of reservists would be absorbed on mobilisation by their parent units, leaving few to form cadres for new units. Indeed, insofar as expansion was planned, this was to take place not within the Regular Army but within the volunteer Territorial Army, which provided Britain's nearest equivalent to the continental second-line troops. It and when the Expeditionary Force went overseas, the defence of the kingdom would devolve upon its 14 infantry divisions and 14 cavalry brigades, whose regiments and battalions, by a process of splitting in half and then building up again by the halves, were to multiply and re-multiply. Thus Britain's assured contribution to a continental war amounted to only six Regular divisions of

infantry and one of cavalry. The mobilisation scheme, however, was frequently practised and very efficient, for reservists were few enough to be called up by individual telegram. Britain's real power lay in her navy, which had an equally well drilled mobilisation system. By understandings with the French,

she planned not to reinforce the Mediterranean in the event of but to concentrate all capital units in home waters into a Grand Fleet, based on the north-eastern ports. The regular and civilian reservists needed to complete ship and shore crews were to be summoned simultaneously by telegram from their homes throughout the kingdom. The Austrian, German and Russian navies had their reservists closer to hand, since each was allotted the hinterland behind its main bases as a conscription area: in practice France followed that system also, most of her sailors being Bretons. All five navies, in total contrast to the armies, planned to confine their fleets, initially at least, to the safety of harbour.

common danger

Numbers and speed number

was the means in which the armies of speed was the method. And the transportation of numbers at speed in 1914 turned upon the efficiency of the national railway system. No army was prepared to leave that issue to the railway companies. Each general staff maintained its own railway section which drew up and constantly revised rail movement tables, advised — in Germany dictated — where new lines should be laid, supervised with particular care If


of troops

Europe believed victory


the layout of frontier terminals (some village platforms on the German frontier with Belgium were half a mile long) and stood ready to take over the direction of the network on the threat of war. That threat was generally thought likely to develop in three stages: a period of political tension, followed by days of increasing strain in which a hostile power might be expected to take secret

military measures, culminating in the public proclamation of mobilisation. Each general staff had accordingly devised procedures (dangerously open to mis-interpretation as it turned out), designed to forestall surprise attack before its own mobilisation was proclaimed. The first of these was the general practice of stationing in frontier districts rather more divisions than were raised there and of keeping them near war establishment. Next was a programme of preparatory measures, to be implemented in case of political tension, which would put all divisions of the active army on a mobile footing, measures such as stopping of leave and the requisition of horses. Finally, in case of tension persisting, came a scheme of 'covering operations' by the frontier divisions, intended to protect the railheads at which the rest of the army, active and reserve, would detrain in the event of general mobilisation. In that event, neither the French nor German armies were expected to give their respective countries any great lead over the other. Their field armies were expected to complete to war establishment and concentrate on the frontiers between the third and 13th days from proclamation. In France, the cavalry divisions would complete concentration on the fourth day, those infantry divisions assigned to reinforce the covering troops on the fifth day, the rest of the active divisions on the ninth and tenth days, the reserve divisions from the 11th to 13th days, the territorial divisions from the tenth to the 15th days and the divisions coming from Africa on the 16th and 17th days. Each corps was allotted a main railway line, from which all other traffic would be cleared, leading directly from its home district to its designated detraining area. The IV Corps, for example, which would assemble its regiments in Normandy between the first and fourth days, would begin to move on the fifth day from Le Mans via Chartres

and Rheims to Verdun, where on the 11th day it would concentrate under the command of Third Army. The German timetable for its different categories of troops was closely similar and for both armies the quantity of transport to be despatched was enormous — the German plan demanded the movement of 20,000 trains in 17 days. The Austrian concentration would take a little longer, the Russian a good deal longer. Only eight of Russia's corps would be ready to deploy by the 15th day and some would not arrive in the concentration area until the 30th.

Irreversible, cumulative and fatal possible that no passage of history has been as closely studied as the month of July 1914, and it is clear that the process of mobilisation was irreversible, cumulative, and once started, led directly to war. That it did so is unarguable, and for a simple reason. Diplomatic telegrams offered at worst verbal menaces which could always be taken back; but measures of military preparation posed It is




JLi rtff'





o 1



J *






outmoded uniforms and

h cuirassiers ride out


from Paris

for 20th-century warfare,

Austro-Hungarian dragoons move up toward the border with Russia; French cavalry, they had no protection against modern firepower


The nuts and bolts of mobilisation — the infantry division

18.073 MEN 5.592 HORSES












**!** ** ** MACHINE GUNS






















































1914 was a division, and the infantry division was the standard component compared with its German counterpart, both in strength and organisation





































and had


—r-r^i^—I— ••




NORWAY The line-up for war Right:


efficient internal rail-

way network gave her an immense advantage over her neighbours


mobilisation. In addition, her initial deployment of most of her force in the west gave her numerical superiority over France. The map shows the First


and Second Line mobilised strengths of the combatant powers. Below: A German regiment (top) marches through Berlin to entrain for the front. A French cavalry picquet (centre) guards a railway line near the Franco-German Russian troops (bottom) mobilised more quickly than anyone


had expected



VZ J^TJ *>






From St Petersburg

deadly dangers which unless matched would eat irretrievably into what strategists now call 'reaction time'. That effect is best illuminated by General Joffre's solemn warning to the French cabinet on Jui\ 31 that: 'any delay of 24 hours in calling up our reservists will have as a result the withdrawal of our concentration points from 10 to 12 miles for each day of delay; in other words the initial abandonment of just that much of our territory'. Within 36 hours of this warning France had mobilised, and a da\ later was at war. Joffre's warning added little, however, to the dangers which threatened the peace. The fatal measures of military advice had already been given to other politicians elsewhere, some as much as a week before. What were these measures? Three in particular stand out: The Russian general staff's concurrence in the implementation of the 'Period Preparatory to War' on July 24. Moltke's part in the decision to proclaim the German 'State of Imminent Danger of War' on July 31. The Russian general staff's insistence on the immediate proclamation of general mobilisation, on July 30. In none of these cases were the implications fully grasped by the statesmen


responsible. Austria, of course, was the first country actually to mobilise, but only partially (in accordance with Plan B), as she made clear. She followed that with an outright declaration of war on Serbia on July 28, issued in the knowledge that Germany would support her in that extreme measure. Dangerous though her actions were, far more so were those initiated by Russia on July 24, the day before Austria's proclamation of partial mobilisation. The Tsar's government, alarmed at the growing threat to Serbia, decided then on five preparatory measures, of which the most important were: the recall of the troops from camp to garrison; the institution of a 'state of war' in the fortresses and the frontier districts; the preparation 'in principle' of 'plans to mobilise partially against Austria'; and the issue of secret orders, to take effect on July 26, for the 'Period Preparatory to War', which entailed the 'trial mobilisation' of some reservists, the recall of serving soldiers from leave, the mobilisation of the Black Sea and Baltic fleets and the mining of harbours. Moves of this sort could not be disguised; indeed it was known in Germany by July 27 that the 'state of war' had been declared in the fortresses, while 28 reports of warlike preparations on the frontiers reached the German foreign office between July 26 and 30. The agreement within the Tsarist government to these measures was based on no clear understanding of their effects. The generals appear to have accepted the inevitability of general war from the outset and with equanimity. Sazonov, the foreign minister, did not accept it and seems at first to have thought that the Austrians would view the mobilisation of 13 Russian corps on their Carpathian frontier as a chess-board counter to their mobilisation against Serbia and, accepting it as such, demand no further escalation. It was swiftly pointed out to him, however, by the

'not a threat but a friendly warning', Sazonov took fright and affront simultaneously, and summoned the Chief-of-Staff and the War Minister. Both had for some days regarded war as unavoidable and now stated 'that the risk could not be accepted of delay-

ing a general mobilisation later by effecting a partial mobilisation now'. At the prompting of all three, the Tsar accordingly gave assent for the general mobilisation decree to be telegraphed to the armed forces. But in the last minutes remaining before its despatch, the Tsar changed his mind, and the second decree, for partial mobilisation, was sent in its stead, reaching the four military districts involved by midnight. As perhaps no one in Russia but the generals realised, however, the effect of either decree, at least on Germany's calculations, was bound to be identical. Indeed Moltke, the Chief of the German General Staff (alarmed by the inroads he suspected Russia was making into his precious 'reaction time', and by reports that Conrad von Hotzendorf, his Austrian opposite number, was planning to stand defensively instead of attack in the Carpathians) was already using his own channels of communication to urge Vienna to proclaim general mobilisation. That move, he pointed out, would invoke the treaty and bring Germany to Austria's side. The Russian generals now came to Moltke's assistance, persuading the Tsar to change his mind again and substitute the general for the partial decree before the latter had taken effect. Intended for proclamation on July 31, the measure was made public accidentally in St Petersburg on the evening of July 30. But in any case Moltke had that afternoon persuaded the Kaiser of the reality of his own fears, which had been heightened further by reports, undoubtedly exaggerated, of the advanced state of French and Belgian preparations for war. At the Crown Council meeting it was therefore decided to proclaim the 'State of Imminent Danger of War' on July 31, the following day. Its proclamation coincided with the Austrian announcement of general mobilisation, and was intended by the German government to lead directly to its


bellicose role.

generally agreed that beyond this point a European war could not have been prevented: such was certainly the German generals' belief at the time. Their principal concern henceforth was to ensure that it should come about in a manner that would allow the Schlieffen plan to follow its prescribed course; in short, that France be brought in at the same moment as Russia. Two ultimata were accordingly drafted and despatched, the first demanding of Russia a cessation of mobilisation within 24 hours, the second demanding of France a declaration of neutrality, within 36 hours, to be guaranteed by unacceptable concessions on the part of France. France responded as Germany hoped. Her covering troops had been deployed since July 30, though on a line 10 kilometres (6i miles) short of the frontier so as to avoid provocative encounters, and a mobilisation warning order had been issued on July 31. On the morning of August 1, Joffre advised the Cabinet that mobilisation could be postponed no longer. It was proclaimed that afternoon at 3.55 pm. At 4.0 pm the same posters went up in the streets of Germany. Britain alone was as yet untouched by the continental emergencies. On July 29, however, the Admiralty had decided to notify units of the 'Precautionary Period'. The fleet, which fortuitously was practising mobilisation, was accordingly ordered to remain at readiness. On August 1, in reply to frantic French requests to safeguard the Channel crossings, the Admiralty ordered full mobilisation. And on August 3, after reports of German violations of Belgian neutrality had been authenticated, the War Office also ordered full mobilisation. It is perhaps the greatest irony of 1914 that the sole ingredient of each army's long-laid plans which worked to perfection was mobilisation. For if the statesmen underestimated its effect on diplomacy, the generals failed altogether to calculate its influences on operations. Since all armies, including even the Russian when the pinch came, met their timetables to the minute, any advantage of the sort the Germans had enjoyed in 1870 was quite cancelled out. All that the generals ensured, in their obsession with numbers and timing, was that the opening battles would be fought on the largest possible scale and with therefore the least possible chance of decision. Fearing defeat even more than their governments feared war, they had unknowingly combined to cheat each other of victory.

Despite these representations, and the even more urgent insistences of his own generals, Sazonov was not, by July 29, yet convinced of the need for general mobilisation. But his mind was made up that morning by a telegram from the German Chancellor that: 'further progress of Russian mobil; measures would compel us to mobilise, and then European could scarcely be prevented'. Though the German ambassador «d that it \ as

JOHN KEEGAN was born in 1934 and educated at King's College, Taunton, Wimbledon College and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Modern History and specialised in Military History. He is Senior Lecturer in Military History at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and is the author of many articles on strategy and nV4ary and international history, and author of the book World Armies.


commanding the mobilisation


that the Austrians

would certainly feel obliged to mobilise against Russia 'as a necessary measure of self-defence', and that their full mobilisation would compel Germany, under the guessed-at terms of the Dual Alliance, to mobilise in East Prussia. If she did so, Russia would be caught on the wrong foot since she herself had no means to switch suddenly from partial to full mobilisation. Sazonov and the general staff accordingly decided to prepare two imperial decrees, one for partial, one for general mobilisation, to lay both before the Tsar for signature and subsequently to implement one or the other as the situation seemed to require.


bellicose role

France had meanwhile reacted to this crisis by ordering the recall of troops from leave on July 26 and, next day, of the North African garrisons, 100,000 strong. But the government's, and in particular the generals', chief concern was with the reports they had heard of Russia's plan for partial mobilisation which, as Joffre saw at once, threatened to dislocate that immediate offensive into East Prussia upon which France counted to distract Germany if general war broke out. This view was made clear to St Petersburg on July 28, and it was undoubtedly reinforced by the efforts of Paleologue,


French ambassador, who throughout the



played a

It is

The news

of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was received initially with shock and horror by the rulers of Russia. But the full impact of the news coujd not be gauged accurately, for the majority of officials and the politically minded were away from the cities on their annual holidays, and those left in the cities were too busy to consider the matter, as they had their hands full coping with explosive internal social problems. Throughout the month of July 1914 Russia felt the waves of considerable social unrest. It originated at Baku (on the Caspian Sea), whose oilfields employed a large labour force which broke into open revolt when, as a result of bad housing conditions, an outbreak of plague occurred in the region. Bolshevik agitators were quick to exploit the situation and armed clashes took place between the police, aided by Cossack troops, and the strikers. This struggle in the Caucasus sparked off a

whole series of strikes whose aims were improve wages and living conditions. On July 16, 1914 a strike broke out at the Putilov works in St Petersburg and, in the violent clashes that followed, two workers were killed, some 50 wounded, and 100 to

the brink of war J. F.

N. Bradley

After the assassination at Sarajevo, Russia proclaimed herself protectress of the Slav populations everywhere and made it clear that she would resist any aggression against them. Russia and Austria, egged on by Germany and France, moved inevitably, though hesitantly, towards war. Below: Summoned from their fields as the harvest approaches, the peasants provided the weight in the 'Russian steamroller'

arrested. difficulties at home few people belligerent enough even to entertain the idea of an immediate war. On July 18, 1914 the foreign minister, Sazonov, met the German ambassador, Count Pourtales, and declared that Russia had only one desire and that was to be left in peace. She had so much to reform and improve that peace was of vital necessity to her. It is clear that this declaration was designed to try to keep the Germans out of the crisis which was thought to concern only Austria-

With such


But two days later Russia's with France caught up with

cussion with the German ambassador but nothing was achieved. It was clear that

Saaonov and invalidated this particular

Germany would stand behind her Austrian

limit the Sarajevo crisis, for at

any conflict involving Russia and her allies. During the day the Russians decided to withdraw some 80,000,000 roubles (about £8,000,000) deposited in German banks and the government discussed the possibility of partial mobilisation. In this way Russia, challenged by the Austrians and egged on by the French, began to consider war as a solution to the Serbian crisis. Next day, July 25, at 10 am the Tsar reviewed his Guards at Tsarskoye Selo and then went into conference with his most important ministers. It was decided in principle to mobilise 13 army corps for eventual use against Austria-Hungary. Sazonov had another meeting with Paleologue and Sir George Buchanan, but the latter again refused to be drawn into the Balkan problem. Seeing the reluctance of

Hungary. alliance effort


Poincare and Viviani, the French President and Prime Minister, arrived in St Petersburg on an official visit. Conversations between the French and Russian rulers made it clear that France, as much as Germany, was involved in the crisis caused by the Sarajevo assassination. During one of the long ceremonies and banquets for the French guests, the Tsarina suffered a mild heart attack which prevented her from taking any part in politics for some time. This simple heart attack undoubtedly had some effect on subsequent developments in Russia, for it removed a strong anti-war influence from the presence of the Tsar. At the same time rumours began to circulate blaming the Germans for the organisation of social unrest and strikes in Russia. On July 21, 1914, while President Poincare was laying wreaths and then receiving the representatives of the French immigrants to Russia, the police clashed again with the strikers and violent fights developed in the industrial suburbs of St Petersburg. At the same time the police succeeded in organising an enthusiastic reception for President Poincare by the crowds as he paid an official visit to the Winter Palace in the heart of the capital. In the evening it was announced that among the many arrested during the day's disturbances, the police had discovered several notorious this juncture

ally in

the British to take a more active role, Sazonov hoped that a war could be averted if Serbia would accept Britain as mediator. But his subsequent note claiming that 'the Imperial government is closely following developments of the Austro-Serbian conflict which cannot leave Russia indifferent', dashed the slender hope of successful British mediation. Pourtales, the German ambassador, felt it necessary to restate that his country Austria.

would stand behind her

Nationalistic fervour



same day remarkable changes

occurred in the Russian situation. At first 16 squadrons of Cossacks were ordered to St Petersburg from Tsarskoye Selo to patrol the city in which martial law was proclaimed. But with the prospect of war so near the strikers unexpectedly began to give up and even Baku calmed down. Then suddenly the strikes almost everywhere


agents. the following day the Bolshevik organisers of the St Petersburg strikes, conscious of the danger to the strike movement of the label 'German inspired', called off the strike. But by then the situation was outside their control and sporadic clashes continued throughout the day. The French visitors continued their visit by calling on the Tsar at Tsarskoye Selo just outside St Petersburg. With the full concurrence of the French leaders Sazonov instructed his embassy in Vienna to 'point out the dangerous consequences of any action on the part of Austria of an unacceptable character with regard to the dignity of Serbia'. This was the first public warning from Russia that she would not tolerate direct action against Serbia. On July 23, 1914 Franco-Russian conversations continued in St Petersburg. President Poincare expressed openly his fears of Austrian-German machinations against Serbia and urged the Tsar to stand firm in the Balkans although he did not encourage the Tsar to start a war. In the afternoon Poincare was allowed to review some 60,000 of the Tsar's best troops. At the farewell dinner he again urged the Tsar to be firm and promised faithful support by France. A few hours later the


visitors were on their way home. Early on July 24, 1914 the news of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia reached St Petersburg. At 12.30 pm Sazonov met the French ambassador, Paleologue, and the British ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, to discuss with them the implications of the ultimatum. While the French ambassador repeated Poincare's insistence that Russia stand firm on the Balkan problem, Sir George Buchanan


reaffirmed his country's policy of neutrality so far as the Balkans were concerned. In the evening Sazonov had an animated dis-



The Russian military colossus, whose existence haunted the rulers of Europe

turned into demonstrations of loyalty, and Russia's rulers seem to have found the long-awaited confirmation of the view that a just war would unite the nation. The Tsar issued orders for partial mobilisation in the militarv regions facing Austria-Hungary. On Sunday July 26, 1914, the Duma, the Russian equivalent of Parliament, set up in 1905, entered the war agitation. It adopted almost unanimously a resolution which spoke of 'its (the Duma's) readiness at the summons of the sovereign to stand up in the defence of the country, its honour and its possessions.' Predictably only 13 left-wing deputies did not vote for the motion. But it was clear that most of Russia was aligning herself behind the Tsar and the war policy. On July 27, 1914, Sazonov still entertained some hopes for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis, but found it difficult because of the immense pressure that public opinion was putting on him. He

found it almost impossible to restrain various conservative papers, such as the Novoye vremya, St Petersburg Courier, or Rech (which openly clamoured for war), from accusing Austria of wanting to crush the little Slav state of Serbia. Crowds were swamping newspaper offices with

areas other



for the latest

news and there was

enthusiastic cheering outside the Serbian legation. In this atmosphere of increasing nationalist fervour Pourtales still thought that Russia would back out of the crisis and not resort to war. But the following day even Pourtales had to revise his opinion. Though Sir George Buchanan warned Sazonov against any aggressive moves which, he thought, would alienate British public opinion, Sazonov had now reached the stage at which it was impossible for him to turn back. At 6 pm he obtained from the Tsar signatures on two ukases (edicts), one confirming the partial mobilisation in the military

facing Austria-Hungary, and the starting the process of general mobilisation, one or other to be used if and when necessary.

'Mere precautions'






hectic. Pourtales called

several times


on Sazonov


a stop to mobiliacted cautiously, explaining to Pourtales and Count Szapary, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador, that the measures taken were mere precautions. Paleologue, however, was informed that partial mobilisation against AustriaHungary was now proceeding and general mobilisation would proceed secretly. It was clear that war was inevitable. Nevertheless a direct appeal from Wilhelm II to his cousin, Nicholas II, was made, but to no avail, though the Tsar did change his mind temporarily and changed his order for general mobilisation to one for partial mobilisation. On July 30 came the final measures for war when news of the Austrian bombardment of Belgrade proved to be the final straw in the war issue. Paleologue informed Paris of partial mobilisation in Russia and received orders to reiterate France's determination to stand by her Russian ally, whatever the consequences. The streets in the cities were filled with agitated crowds discussing the situation and ready to lynch any Germans. Pourtales saw Sazonov, and delivered an ultimatum which ordered Russia to stop mobilisation. But after the bloody events in Belgrade, and with mobilisation slowly but successfully proceeding, the ultimatum obviously could not be accepted. Even the Tsar came to the conclusion that nothing else could now be done, and at 4 pm he signed the final order for general mobilisation. On July 31 the mobilisation order was decreed officially at dawn (it had been made public by accident the night before). Pourtales could still not believe this and had an audience with the Tsar in which he asked him to stop the decree. But by then no one could stop the military machine. The general mobilisation was received enthusiastically and contrary to all expectation proceeded very smoothly. The solitary, solemn Tsar and his enthusiastic people had only a few hours of peace left. On August 1, 1914 at 7 pm Pourtales arrived with a document declaring war on Russia. Paradoxically it took the Austrians, who were the real cause of the armed consation.





more days


Further Reading Buchanan, Sir George,

do likewise.


Mission to Russia

(Cassell) Letters of the Tsahtsa to the Tsar 1914-1916











A contemporary view of the Russian army. Despite its cumbrousness and lack of industrial backing for a large-scale war, the Tsar's

army commanded great respect in the minds Russia's enemies by virtue of its enormous size — even in time of peace. This, combined with the threat of the countless millions

8 iS





(Duckworth) Nicholas II, Journal Intime (Payot) Paleologue, M., An Ambassador's Memoirs (Hutchinson) The Secret Letters of the Last Tsar (Longman) Wilford, W. T., Rebuilding the Russian Army 1905-1914: the question of a comprehensive plan for national defense (University Microfilms International 1980)


who could be

mobilised in time of war, enabled Russia to play a more aggressive role in European affairs than her military power properly warranted. Even so, Germany and Austria-Hungary finally came to the conclusion

that their combined strength to hold Russia's hordes



N. BRADLEY is Lecturer in International Politics the University of Manchester. He is author of Russia and La Legion Allied Intervention in J. F.


Tchecoslovaque en Russie and co-author of Czechoslovakia, Past and Present He has written many articles in several languages and has written a history of the Russian Civil War.

Later in July Bethmann-Hollweg drew a Socialist leader into his confidence about the international situation. He assured him that no action would be taken against the Social Democrats and the Socialist guaranteed that there would be no strikes. Thus Bethmann-Hollweg advised the Kaiser that 'in all events Russia must ruthlessly be put into the wrong.' This was necessary, because it was not against socialist tradition to fight autocratic Russia. The more tensions rose before the delivery of the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, the more Bethmann-Hollweg hoped that

France would ask Russia to remain at peace and the more he hoped that Russian mobilisation would be avoided. Neverthe-


backed Austria's ultiprepared to bear the military consequences. Meanwhile discussions went on with the various ministries and the military to prepare economic and administrative measures in the event of war. In relation to these preparations diplomatic actions looked more like an attempt to prevent a serious intervention by France and Britain than to reduce the accepted less,

the brink of war

matum and was

situation in which Germany found herself in June 1914, surrounded by the Entente powers, seemed solvable only in military terms, and thus Germany supported Austria-Hungary in her demands on Serbia. Realising that this would probably lead to a European war, the German authorities used the remaining month of peace to put their own house in order so that the war could be prosecuted with the support of the whole German people


escalation of risks. When the state of mobilisation was finally declared and Germany prepared to fight a war against France and Russia, it was the outcome of a long political development in Germany. In this respect the years preceding the decision to risk war on July 5/6 were more important than the period between July 6 and the outbreak of


The assassination of Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, unleashed pressures, considerations and hopes which were too difficult to control. Whereas the public remained undisturbed, leading circles in the government were preparing for war. Already on July 2, the Saxon Ambassador to Berlin reported back to his ministry that 'the military side now again urges the government to risk a war at a moment when Russia is not ready'. A day later the Saxon military attache had gained the impression that 'one would consider it favourably if a war were to break out now. Relations and prospects could not get better for us.'

When the Austrian appeal for help was sent to Berlin on July 5/6, the Kaiser and the Chancellor reacted favourably to a suggested military solution to the Serbian problem. The Kaiser assured Austria of Germany's full support even in the event of 'grave European complications'. The Austrian ambassador was then able to pass on to Vienna what amounted to a 'blank cheque' from the Germans and reported that the Kaiser 'would regret it if we let this present chance, which was so favourable to us, go by without utilising it'. When the Kaiser arrived on July 6 in Kiel to start his usual North Sea cruise, 'in order not to alarm world opinion', as he said himself, he informed Krupp, the steel and armaments magnate, at dinner that he would declare war at once if Russia mobilised. This time people would see that he was not 'dropping out'. The Kaiser's repeated protestations that in this case no one would ever again be able to reproach him with indecision were almost comic to hear. This remark is understandable if the Pan-German threats against imperial weakness are borne in mind. (After the outbreak of war thi Pan-Germans made peace with the Kaiser. They thought that 100

their national opposition to the Kaiser had been wrong and that their campaign for war in the previous years had been premature. To their mind the Kaiser had been right to wait so long because he had to

ensure that the people were with him.) After the fateful decision in Berlin during these two days, policy had to be ordered in such a way that the outcome was advantageous to Germany. The minimum programme seemed to be a localised war against Serbia and the preservation of Austrian unity. If that entailed humiliation for Russia on the Balkan issue, it would be welcomed. If Russia went to war that would cause Germany to help Austria and to launch attacks on France and Russia This situation was called by the Germans a 'European conflagration', and was ac-

would solve a number of if the war were successBritain intervened it would lead to a

ceptable since


German problems ful. If

'world war'. This

was equally


Such a policy amounted to an escalating series of risks. If, however, 'war does not break out', the Chancellor told his assistant Riezler, 'if the Tsar is unwilling or France, alarmed, counsels peace, we have the prospect of splitting the Entente. But this was wishful thinking on Bethmann-Hollweg's part. The generals and the right wing would not have been satisfied with a local action against Serbia alone. All diplomacy besides military preparations seemed to be unreal after the basic decision for war had been reached in Berlin. The aim could not have been to reduce the danger of war; if that had been so, the crisis of July would have been managed in a different way.

The goal was

either to gain a series of diplomatic successes cheaply or to launch a war in which Germany appeared as a defensive power rather than the aggressor. This was particularly important to placate the German Social Democrats.

Thus at the end of July Moltke repeated his earlier arguments in favour of war. He told the Bavarian ambassador that this moment, which would not be repeated in the foreseeable future, was most suitable for war. The reasons were: the superiority of German artillery and the German rifle, the insufficient training of the French soldiers because of the change from a twoyear to a three-year period of service, the good harvest in Germany and the state of readiness of the German army. After the government had accepted the what happened among the people? Except for the Social Democrats, who demonstrated against war from July 25 to July 30, the atmosphere was full of expectant anxiety. After mobilisation had been declared, enthusiasm began to sweep over the country, but this emerged fully only after the war had started. The socalled 'August enthusiasm' was so strong that a well-known sociologist commented: 'The whole German society had been changed into a community, and the nation was inspired by and for war.' In 1917 Bethmann-Hollweg looked back upon August 1914 as a period in which the longing and striving for a new state and a new people, which found its expression in this mass enthusiasm, moved him tremendously. risk of war,

Further Reading L, The Origins of the War of 1914




Dedijer, V., Fischer, F.,

The Road to Sarajevo (OUP 1966) Germany's Aims in the First World

War (Chatto & Windus

1967) July 1914, The Outbreak of the First World War (Batsford 1967) Journal of Contemporary History 1914 Vol 1 No 3 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1966) Krieger, L. and Stern, F. (eds.), The Responsibility of Power (Macmillan 1968) Tuchman, B., August 1914 (Constable 1962) Geiss,


« \

h>*q Many


were glad

to find



uniform again -not


for the reasons

suggested by


German cartoon






•;-^ rt








>. x



ML I jjrf The first intimation of the now inevitable war — a German officer reads out the Kaiser's order for mobilisation on August 1

Decked out as if for a wedding, farm boys gleefully set out for their mustering place afterthe declaration of mobilisation

H.W. Nevinson was a famous prewar journalist and was sent by his newspaper, the Daily News, to cover the last days of


and war fever

German troops, agents of an aggressive nation's ambitions

peace in Berlin. He describes the almost hysterical war fever which gripped the city at the beginning of August 1914, his experiences in the capital of a country at war with his own, and his departure from the city with the British Ambassador


the evening of July 31 I started for Down the midnight Channel the searchlights were turning and streaming in Berlin.

long, white wedges. Passing into Germany, at once met trains full of working men in horse-trucks decked with flowers, and




Nach Paris



(To Paris),




but none so far Nach London. They were cheering and singing, as people always cheer and sing when war is coming. We were only six hours later in Berlin, but my luggage was lost in the chaos of crowds rushing home from their summer holidays, and I never recovered it, though

among the know many of

in the middle of the war I received a postcard that had somehow arrived through Holland, telling me that the porter with whom I had left the Schein, or registration ticket, had found the luggage, and what should I like done with it? A fine example of international honesty. For two days I waited and watched. Up and down the wide road of Unter den Linden crowds paced incessantly by day and night, singing the German war songs: Was blasen die Trompeten? which is the finest; Deutsch-

Lieb Vaterland kann ruhig sein! Fest steht und treu die Wacht, Die Wacht am Rhein.

Deutschland iiber Alles, which land, comes next, and Die Wacht am Rhein, which was the most popular. As I walked

a-tiptoe for war, because they

A German


man. Well trained and enthusiastic, the infantry formed the backbone of the

German army






patriot crowd, I the circling and

returning faces by sight, and I still have in mind the face of one young working woman who, with mouth that opened like a cavern, and with the rapt devotion of an ecstatic saint, was continuously chanting:



Sometimes a company of insometimes a squadron of horse went down the road westward, wearing the new grey uniforms in place of the familiar it.


Prussian blue. They passed to probable death amid cheering, hand-shaking, gifts

and of food. Sometimes the Kaiser

of flowers

swept along in his

So the interminable crowds went past, had never

in full


fine motor, the chauffeur

clearing the way by perpetually sounding the four notes which wicked Socialists interpreted as saying Das Volk bezahlt! ('The People pays!'). Cheered he was certainly, but everyone believed or knew that the Kaiser himself had never wished for

A Jager, or rifleman. More lightly equipped than the standard infantry of the line, the Jager regiments were used for skirmishing and scouting


intervals when we had to pass through the cordons of cavalry drawn up for defence of our Embassy. On my return the director of the hotel was much moved, and wrung my hand with protestations of sorrow and regard, declaring that only by allowing his patriotism to supersede his reason had he charged me with instigating the war, which was absurd. The chambermaid was also much moved, refusing to be comforted, because her three brothers and her lover were already on the march. So, imitating to myself the saying of the herald who proclaimed the beginning of the long war between Athens and Sparta — 'This day sees the beginning of many sorrows for the most civilised peoples of the world' — I slept as best I could, and next morning I went about the city purchasing a few necessary things. All was quiet, and life seemed going on much as usual but for the excited crowds gathered round the newspaper offices, and the removal of all English and French names from the shops and banks. Even the sacred name of Cook was gone. In the evening, however, I received a kindly invitation from Sir Edward Goschen to come into the

Embassy, which had been barricaded. As the Adlon was getting cleared for German officers, I gladly went, and was welcomed A young German

soldier bids farewell to his civilian

Military discipline


war. He claimed the title of FriedensKaiser (The Kaiser of Peace') just as many have chosen to call our Edward VII 'The Peace-Maker'. The most mighty storm of cheering was reserved for the Crown Prince, known to be at variance with his father in longing to test his imagined genius on the field. Him the people cheered, for they had never known war. Every moment a new rumour whirled through the maddened city. Every hour a new edition of the papers appeared. All day long, and far through the night into the next day, I went backward and forward to the telegraph office, trying to send home all the descriptive news I could. How much of it went I never knew, but when at last I succeeded in reaching the head censor himself, he received me politely and said that in future I might telegraph in English instead of my German, if I came direct to him. I think he was too serious and too courteous to be mocking me, but telegrams had already ceased to run, and no more went. On the morning of the fatal 4th, I drove to the Schloss, where the Deputies of the Reichstag were gathered to hear the Kaiser's address. Refused permission to enter, I waited outside, and gathered only rumours of the speech that declared the unity of all Germany and all German parties in face of the common peril. A few hours later, in the Reichstag, the Chancellor,



that under the plea of necessity the neutrality of Belgium had almost certainly already been violated. Then I knew that the

long-dreaded moment had come. In the afternoon I heard that our Ambassador, Sir Edward Goschen, had de-

manded his papers, and war was declared. was at the Adlon, having been turned out


dangerous foreigner. While I was dining I heard the yells of a crowd shouting outside our Embassy in the neighbouring street, and breaking the windows with loud crashes. Soon the noise of the Bristol as a



through the iron bars of his call-up centre.

already apparent


nearer, and in front of the hotel entrance I could distinguish shouts for the English correspondents to be brought out.

Savagely set upon The wild outcries were chiefly directed against a prominent American correspondent who, in support of his London paper's policy, had been sending messages far from conciliatory. He and my colleague, who was acting with me for the Daily News, were given up to the police by the hotel director, and as I was passing into the front hall to see what was happening, he pointed me out as well. Two of the armed police seized me at once and dragged me out, holding an enormous revolver at each you try to run away,' they kept shouting, 'we will shoot you like a dog!' To which I kept repeating in answer that, under such circumstances, I was not such a pure fool as to try to run away. During this conversation they flung me out into the ear. 'If

mob, who savagely set upon me with sticks, fists and umbrellas. But I did not pay much attention to their onslaughts, for I had suffered worse at Suffrage demonstrations. Seated beside me, and holding the revolvers still in uncomfortable proximity to my skull, the police then took me, with a Dutch correspondent, by taxi to the Praesidium, or central police court (a kind of Scotland Yard). There our treatment became more courteous, and after we had made our statements and shown our passports we were dismissed, with a note guaranteeing protection. But as a scrap of paper seemed insufficient insurance against the fury of a mob inflamed (as German, British, French, and all mobs then were) by the raging patriotism of war, I demanded to be sent back protected as I had come. So back in a taxi I was sent, though protected by only one policeman, who kept his revolver in a more respectful position, and convoyed me to the back door of the hotel, uttering mystic words at

with amazing courtesy. Before dawn on August 6 a string of motors was waiting outside the Embassy, sent by the Kaiser's orders to convey the

Ambassador and his staff to a local station, a few miles away from Berlin. Again by the courtesy of Sir Edward Goschen, a few of us correspondents were invited to join the staff, and I hardly realised at the time from what a hideous destiny that invitation

preserved me. I suppose I should have been kept shut up in Ruhleben or some similar camp for four and a half years, and been unable to play any part in the historic events to come. But from such loss our Ambassador saved me, and for twenty-four hours his train carried us all slowly lumbering through North Germany to the Dutch frontier. On our way we passed or were impeded by uncounted vans decorated with boughs of trees and crammed with reservists going to the Belgian front. The men had now chalked Nach Bruxelles or Nach London as well as Nach Paris on the vans, and at every station they were met by bands of Red Cross girls bringing coffee, wine,

and food. At all the larger

stations, too, the news of our train's approach had been signalled, and to cheer us on our way all the old men, boys and women of the place had flocked

down with any musical instruments they could collect, and, standing thick on the platform, they played for us the German national tunes, 'Deutschland, Deutschland' predominating. They played with the persistence of the German bands known to me in childhood. Sometimes, to impress their patriotism more distinctly upon us,

they brought their instruments close up to the carriage windows, and the shifting tubes of the trombones came right into the carriage. Silent and unmoved, as an Englishman should, sat Sir Edward Goschen, looking steadily in front of him, with hands on his knees, making as though no sight or sound had reached his senses. [From a contemporary report by H. W. Nevinson, war correspondent of the Daily News.]


to the Triple Alliance

by the Russian

policy of alliances on the Balkans. As far as our relations with Serbia are concerned,


HUNGARY the brink of war The news of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was at first received calmly in Vienna, but as war fever mounted, the war party saw their chance and pressed again for a war with Serbia. In Austria-Hungary the various nationalist elements either rallied behind the war effort or prepared themselves to take advantage of the dislocation which the war would bring Z. AS. Zeman On

the evening of June 28, 1914, a friend asked Count Paar, the Emperor's aide-decamp, how the ruler had taken the news of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Paar replied: The Emperor did not say very much about today's frightful stroke of fate. He was deeply in the first moment and seemed to be moved by the blow; he closed his eyes for several minutes and seemed wholly lost in thought. Then, however, he spoke — not really to me, but to himself— the words seemed to burst from his breast— 'Horrible! The Almighty permits no challenge! ... higher Power has restored the order that I was unhappily unable to maintain.' Finally, with every sign of profound emo-



he turned to me and commanded our return to Vienna for the morrow. Otherwise, not a word more. Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, had broken the Habsburg tion,

'order of legitimacy' by his morganatic marriage to Sophie Countess Chotek. The Emperor had never forgiven him and now, at last, an act of God restored the order. Josef Redlich, the historian and politician, recorded in his diary on the day of the Sarajevo assassinations: It is a day of historical significance. It is impossible to tell whether it bodes well or much worse for Austria. The fateful hour approaches for the Habsburgs: for the first time, a Habsburg has been killed by the son of a Balkan people who are deadly enemies oftheAustroHungarian Empire, of the Germans and of Catholicism. The impossibility of a peaceful coexistence between the half-German monarchy, allied with Germany, and the nationalism of the Balkan peoples, whipped up to the lust to kill, should now be clear to everyone. I doubt whether the 84-year-old

man has the strength to draw the necessary conclusions from this event. As far as I can see Vienna is taking the news quietly: because it is a Sunday afternoon the news is spreading slowly. There exist deep antipathies against the Archduke, reaching down among the wide masses of the people. A day later, the Russian ambassador to Vienna reported to St Petersburg that: 'The tragic end of Archduke Franz Ferdinand found little response in financial circles here and on the stock exchange — that index of the mood in business circles. The value of government stocks did not change, which is explained here by confidence in the continuation of peace.' On several occasions in the past, the Emperor had resisted pressure from Conrad von Hbtzendorf, the Chief-of-Staff, for a preventive war on Serbia. We have no evidence that he immediately gave way to that pressure after June 28, 1914, but we know that he made no determined effort to stop the diplomatic and military moves that led to the declaration of war on Serbia a month later. At lunch on July 5, the Austrian ambassador to Berlin handed over a letter from his Emperor to the Kaiser, together with a detailed memorandum on the situation in the Balkans. Wilhelm II read the documents at once and carefully, and then said that he expected Austria-Hungary to act against Serbia. He added however that, since the conflict might have severe European repercussions, he had to consult his Chancellor. On the following day, the ambassador reported to Vienna that the German government 'recognized the danger presented to Austria-Hungary

the German government's standpoint is that we should judge ourselves what is to be done to clear up the relationship; in this respect, we can rely on Germany as an ally and friend, whatever course we take.' Later in the conversation with BethmannHollweg, the German Chancellor, the ambassador was able to ascertain that 'the Chancellor, like his Imperial master, regards our immediate intervention against Serbia as the most radical and best solution of our difficulties on the Balkans.' Berchtold, the Austrian Foreign Minister, made certain of Germany's support; he did not, however, make equally careful enquiries as to the course of action Russia proposed to take. In that he abandoned the cautious diplomatic practice of his predecessor, Baron Aehrenthal. Anyway, the Imperial Crown Council decided on war against Serbia as early as July 7, 1914. It did so against the advice of Count Tisza, the Prime Minister of Hungary. On the following day, Tisza sent a closely argued memorandum to the Emperor in which he stated: 'an attack of this kind on Serbia would be bound, in all human probability, to involve Russian intervention and thus lead to world war.' There was no doubt that the decision taken by the Crown Council would set in motion the whole European system of alliances. The rest of the events that led to the declaration of war on Serbia have the air about them of a mere formality. At 6 pm on July 23 the Austrian Minister to Bel-

grade handed over an ultimatum to the Serbian government. Its conditions were stiff, and the time it gave the Serbs to fulfil them was ominously brief. A few minutes before the 48 hours' moratorium ran out, Pasic, the Serbian prime minister, arrived at the Austro-Hungarian legation. His reply was officially described by the Austrians as 'unsatisfactory'. Half an hour later, the Minister and other members of the Austrian mission to Belgrade left the town. On July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

War fever builds up In the meanwhile, the mood in Vienna began slowly to change. At first, the events in Sarajevo, which had been extensively

reported in the press, found no reflection in the popular mood. On Sunday and Mon-

day no one seemed to be mourning Franz Ferdinand, and people pursued their usual mid-summer amusements. By July 15 it was an open secret on the margins of political life in Vienna and Budapest that inevitable. Even formerly sensible, intelligent and moderate politicians consoled themselves with the thought that the

war was

war, and the sacrifices it would entail, would bring the Germans and the Slavs together. On Sunday, July 26, there were demonstrations in Vienna urging war and further demonstrations broke on subsequent days. They were largely organised by the Christian Socialists. The Social

Democrats remained


of the latter party were still highly critical of the policies of the Austro-

The leaders

Hungarian government. On July 24 the Democrat newspaper, the ArbeiterZeitung, accused the government of trying to provoke a war with Serbia by making demands which were meant to give 'the Social


utmost offence to the self-respect of the Serbian state, so as to ensure that they would not be accepted'. The editorial asked the European Great Powers to restrain Austria and offer arbitration. On the following day the German-Austrian Social Democrat deputies issued a proclamation saying: 'everything desired by AustriaHungary for the protection of its national interest may be obtained by peaceful means', and they put responsibility for the imminent war squarely on the shoulders of their government. But the party was not united in its condemnation of the war. The news, on August 4, that the German Social Democrats had swung behind their government and voted for war removed the doubts that existed among the Austrian socialist leaders. Like many other socialists on the Continent, they looked up to the German organisation which had done so much to advance the cause of socialism. The Reichsrat in Vienna was not meeting, however, and the Austrians were at least spared the ignominy of having to vote for the war and the ways of financing it. The party rank-and-file were now free to go out into the streets and take part in the demonstrations.

'A historic is




.' .


Russia had joined the hosalso contributed to easing what remained of the pacific consciences of the socialists of the Central Powers. They had always considered the Empire of the Tsars to be the 'fortress of European reaction' and there existed perhaps the chance that fact that



would be swept away by the war. Their anti-Russian feelings made it easy Austria to accept the war.

for the Poles in

Polish Socialists had advanced, from the time of the Balkan crisis in 1912, the idea of fighting for the unity and liberation of Poland on the side of Austria and Germany in a war on Russia. The Polish Social Democrat party in Galicia and Silesia (PPS) called on the workers on August 1 (before the issue of war and peace had been definitely settled) to take an active part in any such war. Their manifesto proclaimed: 'a historic moment is approaching for our land and our Pilsudski's

people, a

moment when we




struggle against the centuries-old enemy of Poland, the moment of our struggle against Tsarism.' The support of the socialists for the war was in step with the other Polish parties and politicians in Austria. No other nationality in the Habsburg Empire, neither the Czechs, nor the South Slavs, gave the war such an undivided support. No scenes of wild popular enthusiasm after the declaration of war were recorded in Zagreb or Prague. This did not mean that their politicians were disloyal to the

monarchy and bent on rebellion. Only a few of them revised their policies about the Habsburg state after the declaration of war on Serbia. But the war itself was a dramatic change in the political life of the monarchy:


consequences played them-

selves out later.

The Re'chsrat


Vienna was not


called during the crisis or even after its


usual summer recess (the parliament in Buda-Pest, on the other hand, went on meeting), and the deputies in Austria were confined to the rumour-ridden, stifling atmosphere of their provincial towns. At the same time, the war gave the military extensive powers over the civilian population, and the soldiers did not always use them wisely, especially when dealing with the Slavs. Finally, the war promised to undo the political developments, at any rate those in the Austrian part of the monarchy of the four decades or so before 1914. We have seen that the Germans had been made

withdraw from their more advanced positions of political power: immediately after July 28 there appeared signs that


they were resolved to use the war for getting them back. There was the alliance with Germany to give them added courage



Slavs in exile

Among the

Serbs, Croats

and Slovenes, the

politicians in Dalmatia were the most articulate advocates of South Slav unity. Many of them were bilingual, Italian being their second language; they were of the generation that had witnessed the last stages of the unification of Italy. They now looked towards Belgrade to give a lead in the work for the unity of the South Slavs. Serbia was to be their Piedmont. As early as 1913, soon after the partial mobilisation

by Austria-Hungary, Ivan Mestrovic, the well-known Dalmatian sculptor and > amateur politician, went to see the Serbian § premier in Belgrade. Pasic, who had just returned from St Petersburg, told him that war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was only a question of time. On his return to Dalmatia, Mestrovic informed Frano Supilo, a journalist from Fiume, and Ante Trumbic, the Croat Reichsrat deputy from Spalato, of his conversation with Pasic. The three men then discussed the possibility of a war transcending the Balkan context. When, a year later, Austria declared war on Serbia, Mestrovic, Trumbic and Supilo were in Rome, by no means surprised by the new turn of events. They provided the nucleus of the leadership of the South Slav committee in exile. Pan-Slav and pro-Russian sympathies that had existed among the Czechs before the war provided the basis for dissent after its outbreak. Karel Kramer, the leader of the chauvinist, middle class Young Czech party, had been in touch with the Russian Foreign Ministry about the creation of a Slav Empire in central Europe. (The Russian diplomats, it should be said, were highly sceptical of Kramer's plans.) In spite of censorship,



ceeded in making his point in the party newspaper on August 4, the day of German invasion of Belgium: The historical moment which so many have feared and so many have expected, has arrived. The words of the German Chancellor about the fight between the Slavs and the Teutons have become a reality. The policy of the European Powers will be brought to judgement — now all the mistakes of internal policy will have to be accounted for. We shall go as far as to say that at the end of this war we shall hardly recognise the map ofEurope. Top left: Enthusiastic Vienna crowds display placards of the Kaiser and Franz Josef. Top right: Austro-Hungarian troops are given a send off from Vienna, and (below) from Prague

In a conflict between the Teutons and the Slavs Kramer knew that every member of his party would support the right side: later during the same month, and in September, Pan-Slav sympathies occasioned disturbances as the Czech troops were leaving for the front. Thomas Masaryk, professor of philosophy at the Czech university in Prague and a deputy in the Reichsrat for a small political party, also turned against the Habsburg monarchy on the outbreak of the war. He did so for reasons different from Kramaf's. Masaryk was not convinced of the strength and stability of the Tsarist state: when Britain and her Empire came into the war he realised that the Central Powers could not win, and that the Czechs would form an independent state at the conclusion of the war. In any case, Kramaf was soon arrested

i?> ^^^V^' ^\ lit

»' -\4k




and Masaryk went into Ilk

^ _



J— nflb.






itttt AUGUST









graciously pleased to direct bj Proclamation that the Arniv Reserve be called out on permanent service.


are required

to report


themselves at once at their place of joining in accordance with the instructions cm their identity certificates for the purpose of joining the Army.



themselves on such date and

are required to report at such places as they


he directed to attend for the purpose of joining If they have not received any such directions, or if they have changed their address since last attendance at drill or training, they will report themselves at once, by letter, to the Adjutant of their Unit or Depot.



The will then



necessary instructions as to their joining lie given.



Australia, The outbreak


Zealand, Canada, South Africa — the distant allies

of war in Europe affected the

who had never seen Europe and knew little of its affairs. The Enghshlives of many people

speaking Dominions of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and the Union of South Africa were all automatically involved in the war on Britain's side. Vital to Britain's survival as producers of food, these countries also

provided soldiers for the Allied cause. Brought up to attitudes of rugged independence, and to open-air, active lives, the soldiers of these nations were to acquire a reputation out of all proportion to their comparatively small numbers. They went to war in a spirit of adventure, combined with a boisterous zest for life

but she also possessed valuable mineral deposits, and occupied acomm anding strategic position in the Pacific and Indian Oceans

A cargo of frozen lamb is embarked at Wellington, New Zealand. Since the development of refrigeration, the export of meat to Europe, primarily Britain, had become of great importance to New Zealand

Canada's small regular army was equipped and organized on the same lines as the British Army Here artillerymen, garrisoned in Nova Scotia, receive instruction in the use of their guns

In spite of the bitter memories of the Boer War (1899-1902) South Africa entered the war in 1914 on the side of Britain. The defeated remnants of a Boer Commando (above) surrender to the British in 1902

A sheep auction cultura

in Australia.


economy was

primarily agri-






f i

f r*


^ •#* .





the brink of war A proud and


French soldier


escorted to the station by his family


The election results of 1914 had shown that pacifist feelings were strong, and that the left wing parties had gained considerable strength. It took only one month of international crisis, however, to sweep away socialist ideals and raise a wave of patriotic fervour which unified the country and carried it into war. At the end of June 1914, France was preoccupied with the summer holidays, the 'Season' was in full swing and the Tour de France had just begun. Naturally the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was headline news on June 29. Few, however, were of the opinion that the incident could lead to war, and interest in the event soon died away. Despite the assassination, the political life of France carried on as usual. 'During the meeting of the Council of Ministers on June 30 we touched on Austria and discussed Religious Orders at great length,' noted Poincare, President of the Republic. Parliament was still engrossed with the question of income tax. Nevertheless, on July 13, Senator Charles Humbert, representing the region of La Meuse, addressed the Senate and attacked the country's military organisation, denouncing the inadequacy of munitions and the lack of heavy artillery. Clemenceau, always sarcastic, affirmed that 'we are neither governed nor defended', and believed it would be more economic to arm soldiers with crossbows, 'seeing as the Ministry of War attached importance only to the morale of the troops!' Even though the parliamentary debates were prolonged on July 14, Bastille Day, nobody seriously believed that war

would break


The general

public was absorbed in the trial of Madame Caillaux. Joseph Caillaux, an eminent bourgeois, had been detested by the centre and right-wing factions ever since he had put forward the idea of income tax. Gaston Calmette, editor of the newspaper Le Figaro, led a violent press campaign against him, laying great stress on the contacts he was supposed to have had with Germany, without the knowledge of the Minister of the Interior, and the protection he had afforded a suspect business man. Finally, he made public some inti-

mate letters exchanged between Caillaux and his wife before their marriage. At the end of her tether, Madame Caillaux killed Gaston Calmette in his office on March 16, 1914. The press and anti-parliamentary circles revelled in the affair and at the opening of the trial, the courtroom was crammed. However, the news of the ultimatum which Austria had issued to Serbia reached Paris on June 24 and pushed all internal problems into the background. On July 29 Madame Caillaux's acquittal caused some interest, whereas a week earlier it would have caused a riot. On the 25th the government recalled soldiers on leave and suspended all manoeuvres. Withdrawals of money from the banks and savings banks increased rapidly. The national press was unanimous: 'However attached one may be to the idea of peace, there comes a time when it is necessary to resort to violence in response


to violence

War then becomes

one's sacred

With Europe on the verge of war, France was deprived effectively of government, for on July 15, the President of the Republic, Poincare, and duty.' (La Lanterne.)

the President of the Council of Ministers, Viviani, embarked on the battleship France for Russia, on an official visit which

had been planned some During the course of the



Poincare reaffirmed France's intention of standing by Russia in the present crisis. Unfortunately, neither Poincare nor Viviani knew of the Austrian ultimatum until June 24 after they had left St Petersburg and were on board ship returning to Paris. The absence of both Presidents at such a crucial moment naturally gave rise to sarcastic comment from Clemenceau. 'At the Elysee Palace and the Quai d'Orsay, Ambassadors jostle around the notice "all enauiries to the hall porter".' visit,

Patriotic ovation On the request of Abel Ferry, UnderSecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Poincare and Viviani cancelled their plan-

ned stops at Copenhagen and Oslo, and arrived at last at La gare du Nord on the morning of July 29 where they were greeted by an ovation from crowds snouting patriotic slogans. T have never found it so difficult,' wrote Poincare, 'both morally and physically, to remain unmoved.' As international relations grew worse hour by hour, and it became known that Russia had started to mobilise, the situation in France was confused. A clash between the extreme left and the extreme right seemed inevitable. Since July 24 young nationalists had marched along the streets of Paris crying 'Long live the army, long live Alsace-Lorraine, down with Germany.' But in the outskirts of Paris the workers replied with the cry 'Long live Peace' and sang 'L'Inter nationale'. On July 27 the trade union publication


Bataille Syndicaliste called for a

mass demonstration in the main streets of Paris which would involve tens of thousands. The police reacted with great force. Street battles raged during the evening and 600 demonstrators were arrested. Police caps, hats, walking sticks and umbrellas littered the pavements. Le Temps protested against 'an impious demonstration'. In fact, politicians were curious what the reaction of the socialist party and the trade unions would be in case events necessitated general mobilisation. On July 29, the committee of the International Workers Association (LTnternationale) convened in Brussels. In spite of entreaties on the part of Jaures, the Social Democrats in Germany hesitated in putting pressure on their government. T who have never hesitated to incur the hate of our patriots by my obstinacy and strength of mind and will never weaken in attempting to create closer ties between France and Germany, have the right to state that at this very


caught up in the of national excitement, would no longer follow the advice of political leaders or trade unionists. Besides, Jouhaux, Secretary General of the CGT, received no reply on behalf of the Secretary of the Central Trade Union Organisation in Germany. On July 31 the papers announced that general mobilisation in Russia had been decided upon. Patriotic demonstrations multiplied and emotions ran high. Clemenceau entitled a leading article he wrote, On the edge of the precipice. Jaures, fearful and distressed, still called on the common sense of the general public 'so that by means of self control it can overcome panic and nervous tension, and survey the progress of men and things.' of the




Obsessed with the Russian problem, he

was one of the few statesmen who was fully aware of the drama which faced Europe^ 'No, no,' he repeated, 'revolutionary France cannot march behind peasant Russia against reformationist Germany.'

Violent death In the evening as he finished dining at the cafe Le Croissant Jaures was killed by two shots fired by a young fanatic named Raoul Villain. It was obvious that the assassin was intoxicated by the demonstrations calling for war and the frenzied press campaign which had been attacking Jaures for several weeks. L 'Action Frangaise had denounced him as 'a traitor' and 'a scoundrel'. Gohier wanted him to be stuck to

the wall


the posters an-

nouncing mobilisation'. According to L'Echc de Paris, Jaures was 'in the service of Germany'. Peguy saw in him 'the Germanophile, the drum-major of capitulation, the man who has always capitulated when confronted by demagogues, the man who has capitulated time and again to the point of insanity'. Jaures' sudden and brutal death posed the question: 'what would his attitude have been during the days which followed?' According to Abel Ferry, Jaures was determined to denounce the instability and levity of the French government, which had fallen victim to the intrigues of the Russian ambassador, Isvolski, and the trap




g^ssa.—.! mm huhk ^--^rz.^z



the French govermnent wants peace and is working to maintain peace.' But in Germany, the fear of attack by Russia, which had just mobilised 13 army corps, increased rapidly. In fact the work of Internationale was grinding to a halt. It was no longer a case of resorting to an international general strike 'to take place simultaneously' as Jaures had envisaged only two weeks earlier. It was already obvious that some


The death of the great French socialist, Jaures, announced by his own newspaper

laid by his autocratic government. 'If Jaures had been able to develop this thesis in his newspaper, it would have had such repercussions in England, that to begin with at least, England would not have backed France, and in France itself, the national unity which followed his death would have been shattered.' Romain Rolland wrote: 'There is no doubt that after having fought until all hope of preventing [war] had been lost, he would have yielded loyally to the common duty of national defence, a cause into which he would have thrown himself heart and soul. But it is also certain that while he was stoutly accomplishing his patriotic duty he would always have been on the look out for an opportunity of re-establish-



— la Revanche

Below: Marching through streets lined with cheerful civilians, enthusiastic troops of a Paris regiment take leave of their home city en route to the front.

Bottom: Civil servants in Paris show their support for war against Germany, secure in the knowledge that their category would be one of the last to be called up

ing the shattered unity of Europe.' In the Council of Ministers, the death of Jaures provoked 'after a few exclamations, prodigious silence'. The news arrived a few minutes after a threatening note had been delivered by the German ambassador laying down the attitude France should adopt in the case of a war between Germany and Russia. One could well believe that the situation as a whole would result in public unrest. 'So what,' someone said, 'war abroad, and civil war. So we'll have everything.'

The government took prudent measures and decided to keep two regiments in Paris. Viviani issued a pathetic proclamation — 'A dreadful assassination has just taken place. On behalf of my colleagues I myself stand in front of the early grave of this republican-socialist who fought for such noble causes. During the troubled times to which our country is subjected the government is counting upon the patriotism of the working class and the whole population. The assassin has been arrested. He will be punished.' In fact, the danger of civil war had been avoided. The influence of L' Internationale was on the wane. The working classes were overcome with patriotic fervour and were intoxicated with the idea of nationalism. On the very day Jaures died, G. Herve stated: 'it's a dream. Our wings have been broken with the shock of hard reality and we have fallen to the ground, each one of us on to our native ground and for the moment our sole preoccupation is to defend it as did our ancestors.' The response of the socialists to the assassination left no doubt as to what they felt. 'They have assassinated Jaures, we will not assassinate France.'

On Saturday August 1, at 3.55 pm, on the insistence of the Chief of the General Staff, General Joffre, the Council of Ministers proclaimed general mobilisation. The decision was accompanied by a declaration on the part of the President of the Republic: 'Mobilisation does not mean war — in the present circumstances, it seems the best way of maintaining peace.' All over the country, down to the smallest village, church bells were rung and the first yellow mobilisation posters were stuck on post office walls. All the reservists of the years between 1887 and 1910 were recalled. A few young people demonstrated noisily, singing and brandishing flags. On the whole, however, people were calm and accepted the inevitable ordeal without a murmur. On Sunday, August 2, ordinary day to day life ceased. Mobilisation was carried out promptly, even enthusiastically. Out115



side barracks and in front of railway stations thronged crowds of men who had been mobilised, carrying suitcases and women and parcels, surrounded by children, many of whom were weeping. There were shouts and cries as the men clambered into the goods wagons which had inscriptions scrawled on their sides: To Berlin. We'll get them.' In Paris, at La Gare de L'Est, a convoy got under way every quarter of an hour. 'The first day of mobilisation was gay and splendid like a public holiday,' said Le Figaro. 'If you did not see Paris on August 2 you have never seen anything,' Peguy was forced to say. Processions made their way along the boulevards. People jostled round the news-

paper kiosks waiting for newspapers. Demonstrators smashed shop windows belonging to Germans and Austrians, or those they believed to be either German or Austrian, like shop branches of Maggi or Singer. At 5.0 pm on August 3 the German ambassador announced that his country 'considered itself to be at war with France'.

Almost 3,000,000 men responded

to the

arms' without a murmur. All fears aside. The Minister of the Interior considered it useless to carry on arresting the anarchist or trade union militants (listed in the famous 'B' book) to ensure public order. The General Staff expected at least 139L of those called up to default, but in fact, not even 1.59? did so. On that August 3 the socialists in Paris swore to carry out to the full in the face of all aggression 'their duty to the Republic 'call to

were swept

and L 'Internationale' How can one explain such ardent and unanimous enthusiasm which would have been unthinkable a few weeks, even a few days before? The spiritual and nationalist revival which had taken place since 1905 was an important factor. At first this revival had been limited to the young intellectual bourgeoisie and the middle classes, but it had finally become a catalyst and the movement soon involved the whole of the work'.

ing class. The enthusiastic patriotic demonstrations were contagious, especially as a large part of the national press ran wild and time and time again reported and carried articles on the theme of nationalism, whether it was of importance or not.

Victims of aggression The element of duty and the feeling that it was France's right to go to war was also 116

If one is to believe him, 'The widespread frenzy whipped up by nationalism and militarism' now also affected the working class. 'Although they are fighting militarism and its accompanying evils, the French socialists,' stated Ferrero, 'are far from bringing to their campaign the eagerness, violence and hate to be found among the socialists of other countries.' Even

French gastronomic delights safeguarded civilian guards Paris food lorries

— an


an important factor. The French were convinced that their government had worked to maintain peace and that they were the victims of aggression. The whole of France with one accord felt it was duty bound to take part in a war which had been thrust upon it. Anti-German feeling had not been unknown among the masses. One would have thought that the recollection of defeat in 1871 and the loss of AlsaceLorraine was kept alive only by young nationalists. In fact, the idea of 'la Revanche' was just under the surface and needed only Germany's political bungling and Wilhelm IPs blustering to revive it. After ten years of frequent 'alarms', the French

felt 'it

must come


an end'.

This patriotic feeling had flourished completely independently of the discipline instilled by two or three years of military service, and remained deeply rooted in the majority of the population. Since the time of Jules Ferry and Paul Bert, primary education had helped to spread a simple kind of patriotic exhibitionist tendencies. Anti-militarism among teachers did not appear until 1905 and hardly affected those called up in 1914 as it still involved only a minority of the teaching profession. In 1899 the French language version of a study by the Italian sociologist Guglielmo Ferrero on Militarism and Modern Society appeared in France. According to him the driving force behind French society was a 'radical and warlike patriotism'. The aim of education was to 'inflame' the hearts of young people with the idea of 'the Mother Country' and 'her political and military greatness'. 'It is perhaps the only stimulating idea which penetrates their rrfinds during the whole of their school career, and the impression it makes on them is all the more great.'

though this statement may be slightly exaggerated, the fact cannot be denied that at each socialist congress any motion towards pacifism met with strong minority opposition. In 1914, the working class areas of Belleville and Menilmontant doubled their requests for the troops to march through their streets. To understand the great wave of patriotic fervour which swept through every class of French society, one must finally examine the concept of war itself. For the French in 1914, as for all Europeans, the word 'war' conjured up the Napoleonic campaigns or the Franco-German conflict of 1870/1871. They believed the war effort would be violent


short-lived, that the fight to a few large battles. All the experts agreed that a war, even if only because of the fire power available, could not last more than three months. No one imagined that this conflict could in fact compromise the whole of European civili-

would amount

it was not merely 'a civil between Europeans' as General Lyautey called it. Be that as it may, on August 3, 1914, as at its great moments through history, the entire French nation, faced with the

sation and that


prospect of war, recaptured a feeling of vigour, energy and unity which people believed they had lost forever.

Further Reading Chastenet, J., Jours inquiets et jours sanglants Ducasse, A., Mayer, A., and Perreux, G., Vie et mort des Francais 1914-1918 Hausser, E., Paris au jour le jour Pomcare, R L'lnvasion ,

PHILIPPE MASSON was born in 1928 and was educated at Stanislas College and at the Sorbonne, where he obtained a degree in History in 1 959. He is a member of the Comite d'Histoire de la Deuxieme Guerre Mondiale and is a lecturer at the Naval War College of France, where he became official historian of the French Navy. He is a specialist in contemporary history and has published several articles on the Second World War

Prowess of the Armies How well matched were the armies about to fall at each others' throats in August 1914? Some had serious faults in their command systems,

some in their training, and some in the qualities of their and weaknesses of all the European armies are investigated, throwing troops. Here the strengths much light on their subsequent performance in the field Sir* Basil Liddell Hart



A picture depicts

garianj^piry: Picturesque and superbly horsed, Austrian cavalry were an extravagant echo of the past


The nations entered upon the

conflict in

1914 with the conventional outlook and system of the 18th Century modified by the events of the 19th Century. Politically, they conceived it to be a struggle between rival coalitions based on the traditional system of diplomatic alliances, and militarily a contest between professional armies — swollen, it is true, by the continental system of conscription, yet essentially fought out by soldiers while the mass of the people watched, from seats in the amphitheatre, the efforts of their champions. The Germans had a glimpse of the truth, but — one or two prophetic minds apart — the 'Nation in Arms' theory, evolved by them during the 19th Century, visualised the nation as a reservoir to pour its reinforcements into the army, rather than as a mighty river in


which are merged many tributary forces which the army is but one. Their con-

ception was the 'Nation in Arms', hardly the 'Nation at War'. Progressively throughout the years 19141918 the warring nations enlisted the research of the scientists, the inventive power and technical skill of the engineer, the manual labour of industry, and the pen of the propagandist. For long this fusion of many forces created a chaotic maelstrom; the old order had broken down, the new had not yet evolved. Only gradually did a working co-operation between all the new factors in warfare emerge. The German army of 1914 was born in the Napoleonic wars, nursed in infancy by Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, and guided in adolescence by the elder Moltke and Roon. It reached maturity in the war of 1870,


it emerged triumphantly from a trial against the ill-equipped and badly led longservice army of France. Every physically able citizen was liable to service; the state took the number it desired, trained them to arms for a short period of full-time service, and then returned them to civilian


system was to produce a huge reserve by which to expand life.


of this

the active army in war. In this organisation and in the thoroughness of the training lay the secret of the first great surprise of the war, one which almost proved decisive. For instead of regarding their reservists as troops of doubtful quality, fit only for an auxiliary

Russia's only asset —


role or garrison duty, the Germans during mobilisation were able to duplicate almost every first line army corps with a reserve corps— and had the courage, justified by events, to use them in the opening clash.

opponents went forth to battle in 1914 with as intense a belief in their country's cause, this flaming patriotism had not the time to consolidate such a disciplined combination as years of steady heat had produced in Germany. The German people had an intimacy with and a pride in their army, notwithstanding the severity of its

This surprise upset the French calculations and thereby dislocated their entire plan of campaign. The Germans have been reproached for many miscalculations but less than justice has been done to the correctness of many of their intuitions. They alone realised what is today an axiom— that, given a highly trained cadre of leaders, a military machine can be rapidly manufactured from shorttime levies, like molten liquid poured into a mould. The German mould was a longservice body of officers and NCO's, who in their standard of technical knowledge and skill had no equal on the continent. But while the machine was manufactured by training it gained solidity from another process. The leaders of Germany had worked for generations to inspire their people with a patriotic conviction of the grandeur of their country's destiny.





discipline, that

was unknown elsewhere.

This unique instrument was handled by a general staff which, by rigour of selection

and training, was unmatched in professional knowledge and skill, if subject to the mental 'grooves' which characterize all professions. Executive skill is the fruit of practice, and constant practice, or repetition, tends inevitably to deaden originality and elasticity of mind. In a professional body, also, promotion by seniority is a rule difficult to avoid. The Germans, it is true, tended towards a system of staff control, which in practice usually left the real power in the hands of youthful general

As war memoirs and documents reveal, the chiefs-of-staff of the various armies and corps often took momenstaff officers.



'/*• -




tm Hfflgfm



m '-^mumm



tous decisions with hardly a pretence of consulting their commanders. But such a

system had grave objections, and from it came the grit in the wheels which not infrequently marred the otherwise welloiled working of the German war-machine. Tactically the Germans began with two

important material advantages. They alone had gauged the potentialities of the heavy howitzer, and had provided adequate numbers of this weapon. And if no army had fully realised that machine guns were 'concentrated essence of infantry', nor fully developed this preponderant source of firepower, the Germans had studied it more than other armies, and were able to exploit its inherent power of dominating a battlefield sooner than other armies. Strategically, also, the Germans had brought the study and development of railway communications to a higher pitch than any of their rivals.

An inferior instrument The Austro-Hungarian army, though patterned on the German model, was a much inferior instrument. Not only had it a tradition of defeat rather than of victory, but its racial mixture prevented the moral homogeneity that distinguished its ally. This being so, the replacement of the old professional army by one based on universal service lowered rather than raised its standard of effectiveness. The troops within the borders of the empire were often racially akin to those beyond, and this compelled Austria to a politically instead of a military based distribution of forces, so that kinsmen should not fight each other. Her human handicap was increased by a geographical one, namely, the vast extent of frontier to be defended. Nor were her leaders, with rare exceptions, the professional equals of the Germans. Moreover, if common action was better understood than among the Entente Powers, Austria did not accept German direction gladly. Yet despite all its evident weaknesses the loosely knit conglomeration of races withstood the shock and strain of war for four years in a way that surprised and dismayed her opponents. The explanation is that the complex racial fabric was woven on a stout Germanic and Magyar framework. From the Central Powers we turn to the Entente Powers. France possessed but 60% of the potential man-power of Ger-


(5,940,000 against 9,750,000), and this debit balance had forced her to call on

the services of practically every ablebodied male. A man was called up at 20, did three years' full-time service, then 11 in the reserve and finally two periods of seven years each in the Territorial Army and Territorial Reserve. This system gave France an initial war strength of nearly 4,000,000 trained men, compared with Germany's 5,000,000, but she placed little reliance on the fighting value of reservists. The French command counted only on the semi-professional troops of the first line, about 1,000,000 men, for the short and decisive campaign which they expected and prepared for. Moreover, they assumed a similar attitude on the part of their enemy — with dire result. This initial surprise apart, a more profound handicap was the lesser capacity of France for expansion, in case of a long war, due to her population — under smaller 40,000,000 compared with Germany's 65,000,000. A Colonel Mangin had advocated tapping the resources in Africa, the raising of a huge native army, but the government had considered the dangers to outweigh the advantages of such a policy, and war experience was to show that it had military as well as political risks.

The French General

Staff, if less technic-

than the German, had produced some of the most renowned military thinkers in Europe, and its level of intelligence could well bear comparison. But the French military mind tended to lose in originality and elasticity what it gained ally


in logic. In the years preceding the war, a sharp division of thought had arisen which did not make for combined action. Worse still, the new French philosophy of too,

war, by its preoccupation with the morale element, had become more and more separ* ated from material factors. Abundance of will cannot compensate for a definite inferiority of weapons, and the second factor, once realised, inevitably reacts on the first. In material, the French had one great asset in their quick-firing 75-mm field gun, the best in the world, but its very value had led them to undue confidence in a war of movement and a consequent neglect of equipment and training for the type of warfare which came to pass. Russia's assets were in the physical sphere, her defects in the mental and moral. If her initial strength was no greater than that of Germany, her manpower resources were immense. Moreover, the courage and endurance of her troops were famous. But corruption and incompetence



permeated her leadership, her rank and file lacked the intelligence and initiative for scientific warfare — they formed an instrument of great solidity but little flexibility—while her manufacturing resources for equipment and munitions were far below those of the great industrial powers. This handicap was made worse by her geographical situation, for she was cut off from her allies by ice or enemy-bound seas, and she had to cover immense land frontiers. Another radical defect was the poverty of her rail communications, which were the more essential as she relied on bringing into play the weight of her numbers. Between the military systems of Germany, Austria, France and Russia there was a close relation, the differences were of detail rather than fundamental, and this similarity threw into greater contrast the system of the other great European Power — Britain. Throughout modern times she had been essentially a sea-power, intervening on land through a traditional policy of diplomatic and financial support to allies, whose military efforts she reinforced with a leaven from her own professional army. This regular army was primarily maintained for the protection and control overseas dependencies — India in particular— and had always been kept down to the minimum strength necessary for this purpose. The reason for the curious contrast between Britain's determination to maintain a supreme navy and her consistent neglect, indeed starvation, of the army lay partly in her insular position, which caused her to regard the sea as her of the

essential life-line and main defence, and partly in a constitutional distrust of the army, an illogical prejudice, which had its almost forgotten source in the military government of Cromwell. Small as to size, it enjoyed a practical and varied experience of war without parallel among the

Continental armies. Compared with them, obvious professional handicap was that the leaders, however apt in handling small columns in colonial expeditions, had never been prepared to direct large formations its

in la

grande guerre.

Experience has tended to show that the larger the force, the smaller the scope for generalship, and the less the call upon it. Compared with the manifold personal initiative of a Marlborough or a Napoleon before and during battle, the decisions of

an army commander in 1914-1918 were necessarily few and broad— his role was >. more akin to that of managing director of o

a vast department store. In a war where all the leaders were soon out of their depth, and slow to recover, practical acu-

than as Commanders'. Because of his unrivalled knowledge of the German Army and cordial relations with the French, as well as

wheels' to enable them to cross no-man's land and make a lodgement in the enemy's

men counted

more than the-theoretical

his gift for "putting juniors at their ease,

technique acquired in peacetime exercises. These, especially in the French army, too often bred the delusion that the issue of an order at a distance was equivalent to its fulfilment on the spot.

Grierson would have been a peculiarly good Chief-of-Staff for French. Yet 'when Grierson— his Chief Staff Officer at manoeuvres -had pointed out to French the impractic-

Mr Amery, author of The Times History of the War, -probed a weak spot in the prevailing European theory by arguing that superior skill now counted more than superior numbers, and that its proportionate value would increase with material progress. The same note was struck by General Baden-Powell, who urged that the way to develop it was to give officers responsibility when young. Two generals, Paget and Hunter, had a vision of the value and future use of motor vehicles in war, while Haig said that, rather than mounted infantry, he would prefer infantry 'on motors'. In view of the development of the motor between 1903 and 1914 it is strange how little use of it was made at the outset of the next war— or even at the end! The most remarkable feature of the Royal Commission on the South African War was the way that French and Haig discoursed on the paramount value of the arme blanche, implying that so long as the cavalry charge was maintained all would be well with the conduct of war. An equally striking underestimate of fire-power was contained in Haig's forecast that: 'Artillery seems only to be really effective against raw troops.' His confident opening declaration was that 'cavalry will have a larger sphere of action in future wars'. And he went on to say: 'besides being used before, during, and after a battle as hitherto, we must expect to see it employed strateg-


Errors in selection

ability of some of his proposals, he had at once been replaced by Sir Archibald Murray'. Grierson, instead, went to France


of an army corps. A man of and sedentary habits, 55 years old, the combination of good living and hard work had undermined his constitution. He collapsed and died on his way to the front. This was but one of the most prominent instances of the trouble caused by a system which brought officers to high position at an age when their energy was declining, and their susceptibility to the strain of war increasing. As a fortunate

Chief, Sir

offset the

In the little British army which originally took the field, personality had for a time more scope, and much was to depend upon it. Unfortunately, the issue was to suggest that the process of selection had not succeeded in bringing to the fore the officers best fitted for leadership. It is significant that,

on the way out to France, Haig spoke

to Charteris



military secretary and Intelligence officer) of his


concerning the Commander-inJohn French, whose right hand he had been in South Africa: D.H. unburdened himself today. He is greatly concerned about the composition of British GHQ. He thinks French quite unfit for high command in



full figure

enemy suffered at

least as heavily

from this handicap. Indeed, the directing head of the German armies, Moltke, who had recently been undergoing treatment, caused alarm among his entourage in the

French infantry — undue confidence in morale


on mueh larger scale than formerly.' a contrast there was to be between this expectation and the event! French, Germans, Russians, and Austrians certainly had unexampled masses of cavalry ready at the outbreak of war. But in the opening phase they caused more trouble to their own sides than to the enemy. From 1915 on, ically


their effect was trivial, except as a strain to their own country's supplies. Despite the relatively small number of British cavalry, forage was the largest item of supplies sent overseas, exceeding eVen ammunition, and thus the most dangerous factor in

time of crisis. He says French's military ideas are not sound; that he has never studied war; that he is obstinate, and will not keep with him men who point out even obvious errors. He gives him credit for good tactical powers, great courage and determination. He does not think Murray will dare to do anything but agree with everything French suggests. In any case he thinks French would not listen to Murray but rely on Wilson, which is far worse. D.H. thinks Wilson is a politician, and not a soldier, and 'politician' with Douglas Haig is synonymous with crooked dealing and wrong sense of values. This judgment is similar to that of another general, eminent as a military historian: 'There could hardly have been worse selected GHQ's than those with which we began the South African War and 1914.' Apart from errors in selection, there is the question of whether or not officers were miscast for their actual roles. In 1912 French himself had expressed the opinion that certainly Haig and perhaps Grierson would 'always shine more and show to greater advantage as superior Staff Officers



days of war by his state of semi-


Errors of conception were to cost more than any errors of execution. Lessons of the Boer War that went wider than the selection of leaders had been overlooked. Read in the light of 1914-1918, the 'Evidence

taken before the Royal Commission on the War in South Africa' offers astonishing proof of how professional vision may miss the wood for the trees. There is little hint, among those who were to be the leaders in the next war, that they had recognised the root problem of the future — the dominating

power of


defence and the supreme

difficulty of crossing the bullet-swept zone.

Sir Ian Hamilton alone gave it due emphasis, and even he was too sanguine as to the possibility of overcoming it. His proposed solution, however, was in the right direction. For he urged not only the value of exploiting surprise and infiltration tactics to nullify the advantages of the defence, but the need of heavy field artillery to support the infantry. Still more prophetically, he suggested that the infantry might be provided with 'steel shields on

aggravating the submarine menace. While, by authoritative verdict, the transport trouble caused in feeding the immense number of cavalry horses was an important factor in producing Russia's collapse. In the British army, also, one unfortunate result of this delusion was that when the cavalry school came to the top in the years just before the war, there was the usual human tendency to penalise the careers of officers who propounded more realistic ideas, while a still larger circle were thereby induced to maintain silence.



In other


ways the

War brought

scythes bitter lessons of the


exerting an influence which to some extent counteracted that inelasticity of mind and ritualism of method which have increased with the increasing professionalisation of armies. For the progress in organisation in the years before 1914, the British army owed much to Lord Haldane, and the creation of a second line of partially trained citizens — the Territorial Force — was also due to him. Lord Roberts had pleaded for compulsory military training, but the voluntary principle was too deeply embedded in the national mind for this course to be adopted, and profit,

The British Army — highly trained but small

Germany, and Germany's deficit of homegrown supplies could only be serious in the event of a struggle of years. Britain would starve in three months if her outside supplies were cut off. In munitions and other war material Britain's industrial power was greatest of all, though conversion to war production was a necessary preliminary, and again all depended on the security of her sea

communications. France was weak, and Russia weaker still, but the former unlike the latter could count on outside supplies so long as Britain held the seas. As Britain industrial pivot of the one alliance, so was Germany of the other. A great manufacturing nation, she had also a wealth of raw material, especially since the annexation of the Lorraine iron-fields after the 1870 war. The stoppage of outside supplies must be a handicap in a long war, increasing with its duration, and serious from the outset in such tropical products as rubber. Moreover, Germany's main coal and iron fields lay dangerously close to her frontier, in Silesia on the east and in Westphalia and Lorraine on the west. Thus for the Central Alliance a quick decision and an offensive war were more essential than for the Entente. Similarly, financial resources had been calculated on a short war basis, and all the Continental Powers relied mainly on large gold reserves accumulated specially

was the

Haldane wisely sought to develop Britain's military effectiveness within the bounds set by traditional policy. As a result, 1914 found England with an expeditionary force of some 160,000 men, the most highly trained striking force of any country — rapier among scythes. To maintain this at strength the old militia had been turned into a special reserve for drafting. Behind this first line stood the Territorial Force, which even if enlisted only for home defence had a permanent fighting organisation, unlike the amorphous volunteer force which it superseded. The British army had no outstanding asset in war armament but as a result of the Boer War it had developed a standard of rifle-shooting unique among the world's armies. The reforms by which the army had been brought into line with continental models had one defect, accentuated by the close relations established between the British and French general staffs since the Entente. It induced a 'continental' habit of thought among the General Staff, and predisposed them to the role, for which their slender strength was unsuited, of fighting alongside an allied army. This obscured the British army's traditional employment in amphibious operations through which the mobility given by command of the sea could be exploited. A small but highly trained force striking 'out of the blue' at a vital spot can produce a strategic effect out of all proportion to its slight numbers. The last argument brings us to a comparison of the naval situation, which turned on the balance between the fleets of Britain and Germany. Britain's sea supremacy, for long unquestioned, had in recent years been challenged by a Germany which had deduced that a powerful fleet was the key to that colonial empire which she desired as an outlet for her commerce and increasing population. This ambition was fostered, as its instrument was created, by the dangerous genius of Admiral von Tirpitz. To the spur of naval competition the British people eventually responded, determined at any cost to maintain their 'two-power' standard. If this reaction was instinctive rather than reasoned, its subconscious wisdom had a better foundation than the catch-words with which it was justified, or even than the

need of defence against invasion. The industrial development of the British Isles had left them dependent on overseas supplies for food, and on the secure flow of seaborne imports and exports for industrial existence. For the navy itself this competition was a refining agency, leading to a concentration on essentials. Gunnery was developed and less value attached to polished brasswork. Warship design and armament were transformed. The Dreadnought ushered in the new era of the all big-gun battleship. By 1914 Britain had 29 such capital ships and 13 building, to the 18 built and nine building of Germany. Further, Britain's naval strength had been soundly distributed, the main concentration being in the North Sea. More open to criticism, in view of the forecasts of several naval authorities, was Britain's comparative neglect of the potential menace of the submarine. Here German opinion was shown rather by the number building than those already in commission.

Germany's credit that though lacking a sea tradition, her fleet an artificial rather than a natural product, the technical skill of the German navy made it a formidable rival to the British ship for ship, and perhaps its superior in gunnery. In the first stage of the struggle, the balance of the naval forces was to affect the issue far less than the balance on land. For a fleet suffers one inherent limitation — it is tied to the sea, and hence cannot strike direct at the hostile nation. The fundamental purpose of a navy is therefore to protect a nation's sea communications and sever those of the enemy. Although victory in battle may be a necessary prelude, blockade is its ultimate purpose, and as blockade is a weapon slow to take effect, its influence could only be decisive if the armies failed to secure the speedy decision on land, upon which all counted. In this idea of a short war lay also the reason for the comparative disregard of economic forces. Few believed that a modern nation could endure for many months the strain of a large-scale conflict. The supply of food and of funds, the supply and manufacture of munitions, these were problems that had been only studied on brief estimates. Of the belligerents, all could feed themselves save Britain and It is to

war purposes. Britain alone had no such war chest, but she was to prove that the strength of her banking system and the wealth distributed among a great commercial people furnished the 'sinews of war' in a way that few pre-war economists had realised. The war for which the armies had prepared bore little relation to the war in which they found themselves engaged. for

CAPTAIN SIR BASIL LIDDELL HART was born 1895 and was educated at St Paul's School and Corpus

College, Cambridge.


became an

officer in the King's

Infantry, with


he saw




1914 he


Yorkshire Light service on the Western

where he was gassed and wounded. was during the First World War that he evolved what he termed 'the expanding torrent' method of attack, and proposed the technique of a short 'lightning war', which the Germans adopted as the basis for Front,


their Blitzkrieg


1920 he wrote the first post-war final manual on Infantry Training, and subsequently edited the manual Small Arms Training. After being put on the Retired List in 1927 he became Military Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, Ten years later In

he moved to The Times as its adviser on defence. Meanwhile, he had also been Military Editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In 1937 he became personal adviser to the War

Mr Hore-Belisha. He 938 so that he might press army publicly, but once the began he felt necessary to Minister,







gave up this position the needs of Britain's Second World War remain


country. After the war he spent

German generals and

silent lest his


many months




analysing their campaigns

with them. Sir Basil Liddell

Hart wrote

some 30 books and


more than 30 languages. He was awarded the Chesney Gold Medal of the Royal United Service Institution in 1 964 and became an Hon D Lift of Oxford University the writings


have been translated



He was

to the

also an honorary Fellow of

Christi College,

He was knighted He died in 1970,



1966. shortly before a scheduled in


United States.



Belgium and Luxembourg were the first countries to feel the weight of the German onslaught in the west. Germany's best and largest armies smashed through these two small countries, waging a campaign of destruction and terror calculated to dissuade the civilian population from hindering the fulfilment of the Schlieffen Plan.

Bernard Thorold


•*. j-





il >

w5^ ^> 'V..



The Belgian army was little match for the Germans. Here exhausted Belgian troops pause in their retreat to Antwerp

the 6th at Wavre. The 4th Division moved to support the garrison of Namur. These movements were complete by the morning of the 6th. The Germans had arrived at Tongres by the morning of the 5th. Emmich sent Captain Brinckman, German Military Attache at Brussels, to Leman's Headquarters with a message demanding free passage for the German troops through Liege and the rest of Belgium. Leman, who had been ordered the previous day, by King Albert, to hold his position at all costs, replied with a sharp 'no' and so the siege of Liege began. While Liege was being besieged, the German advance into northern Belgium had continued. On August 10 German cavalry and infantry took up positions opposite the Belgian main defensive line, on the Gete. The German line was gradually extended northwards to Hasselt and Diest. These troops were from Kluck's First Army. By August 13 it had become apparent that Liege would soon fall, and the way would be clear for the German advance. On the frontier the Germans were formed up and ready to begin the long march to France. The armies were numbered from right to left, the northernmost being the First Army under Kluck, next the Second Army under Biilow, stretching to the Luxembourg border was the Third Army under

Hausen, and forming up in Luxembourg the Fourth Army under the command of

Grand Duke Albrecht of Wiirttemberg. The First, Second and Third Armies were the pick of the German army, under the of the best generals. This force, poised to strike through Belgium and into France, the heavy punch of the Schlieffen Plan, consisted of 16 German army corps and two corps of cavalry. By the 15th the main body of the advance corps of the First Army was across the Meuse, north of Liege. It was obvious the 100,000 Belgians in position on the Gete could not hold the might of this German advance. The government called on its allies, France and Britain, for support, but to no avail. Joffre was convinced the Germans would not continue to cross the Meuse, but strike directly south against France. The only support the Belgians received was Franchet d'Esperey's I Corps, to hold the Meuse bridges between Namur and Givet, on the French border. Sordet's


Cavalry Corps also moved into southern Belgium, but their task was to reconnoitre the German advance from the east and also to spread the false rumour that the whole French army was following, to give support to the Belgians. None of this did much to reassure the Belgians holding the Gete line.

Vigorous resistance The first German assault on the Gete line was made at the extreme north on a small village called Haelen, which was held by the Belgian Cavalry Division. At dawn on August 12, six German cavalry regiments, three horse-batteries and two Jdger battalions attacked the Belgian position. Initially the Germans drove the Belgians back and took possession of the village and, their target, its bridge. The Belgian commander, General de Wn'.e, decided to use his cavalry as dismounted riflemen. Each charge, with sabre and lance, bj the Uhlans was met by accurate rifle fire. During the afternoon the Belgian cavalry



reinforced by an infantry brigade. At 1800 hours, after the destruction of some

The five Belgian divisions were skilfully withdrawn, with little loss, apart from that

of their best squadrons, the Germans halted their attack. As de Witte prepared to counterattack on the morning of the 13th, the Germans, who had been much surprised by the vigorous Belgian resistance, withdrew leaving the village and bridge in Belgian hands. The Belgian flank was, for the

of the 1st Division at Tirlemont.

present, secured.

The steady German advance continued and, by August 17, the triangle between the Meuse, the Gete and the Demer was occupied by the German advance corps. The Belgian right flank was threatened as Germans advanced through Huy, some 15 miles from Namur, which the Belgian 8th Brigade was forced to abandon, falling back on Namur, in the face of some 10,000 Germans.

On the 17th, once the Liege position was secured, the main manoeuvre of the Schlieffen Plan could at last get under way. Moltke gave the go-ahead that day. The armies would march on the 18th, with the First and Second Armies cutting off the Belgian army from its fortress retreat of Antwerp, and then pivoting south-west and south respectively, while the Third Army would march on Namur. To

ensure a unified advance, Biilow (Second Army) was given overall command of the two northern armies. The morning of August 18 saw 77 Corps (First Army), under Linsingen, moving to attack the Belgian left flank, while three corps from the First and three corps from the Second Army advanced on the Gete. Early the same morning, King Albert, realising no help was coming from his allies, decided, in view of the overwhelming odds against him, to withdraw his army to Antwerp. The Germans obviously intended to attack and destroy the whole Belgian army in one battle, which was exactly what the King was determined to avoid. This decision was made none too early. The 18th saw Haelen again attacked, and this time taken. The German IX Corps (First Army), under General von Quast, attacked Tirlemont. The Belgian 1st Division put up a strong resistance and caused the Germans considerable trouble, but the town was over-run that day with the Belgians losing 1,630 officers and


now faced the GerCorps, supported by the 2nd and 4th Cavalry Divisions advancing between Diest and Tirlemont. On the Belgian right, between Jodoigne and Namur, the Guard, and VII Corps advanced. Both columns had strong reserves, the The Gete


man II, IV and IX


Army's being 777, TV and IX Reserve Corps and the Second Army's, the Guard, VII and IX Reserve Corps. The Belgian left flank was in grave peril as a result of the capture of Haelen and Tirlemont. King Albert now gave the order for his army to break contact and retire to the defences of Antwerp. His order was unpopular amongst many Belgian officials who realised that it would leave the road to Brussels open. The Belgian capital was of no strategic importance and the King wisely saw that saving his army was of greater practical use than a sentimental defence of Brussels. Colonel Aldebert of the French Military Mission also objected, claiming the Germans would not continue to cross the Meuse in force, but swing south. He, too, was ignored by the King.


By August from the 4th Division and the 8th Brigade, which had been cut off at Huy, the whole Belgian army was safely en20, apart

trenched in the Antwerp defensive position.

In their position at Antwerp the Belgians still posed a threat to the German army, on their flank if the Germans continued westward and in their rear should they turn south. This caused the HI and IX Reserve Corps, whose task had originally been to push to the coast, towards Calais, to switch direction and instead watch Antwerp. The First Army followed the Belgians' retreat to Antwerp, while the Second Army pivoted round Namur and swung to the south, where the French army was massing along the Sambre.

Poor cavalry reconnaissance The first German troops to reach Namur had been the forward cavalry patrols who met the Belgian cavalry screen, to the north of the fortress, on August 5 and again to the south-east on August 7. Not only Belgian and German cavalry had been active in this area. On the 4th King Albert had given permission for the French to send General Sordet's Cavalry Corps on a sortie to establish the Germans' strength and direction of advances. The corps crossed into Belgium on the 6th, and moved towards Neufchateau. They then struck north and came within nine miles Finding that the Belgian 1st Division had withdrawn and the town was under siege, Sordet now moved eastwards towards the Meuse. Due to the Germans being delayed at Liege, Sordet saw few of them and no doubt his reports did much to strengthen the French High Command's view that the Germans would not cross the Meuse, but would strike directly south to the French frontier. Still convinced the Germans would not cross the Meuse in force, Joffre decided to stick to Plan 17 and meet the Germans with his armies extended across to the Rhine, holding back the French left wing until the whole line was ready. On August 8 a French infantry regiment was despatched to hold the Meuse bridges north of Dinant and link with the Belgians at Namur, thus filling the gap between the fortress and the French Fifth Army. Simultaneously the French I Corps moved into line along the Meuse, between Mezieres and Givet. On the 13th I Corps was moved northwards to ensure no crossing could take place between Givet and Namur. On the 15th, the 8th Infantry Brigade (General Mangin) had been given the task of supporting the cavalry corps, then moving westwards. Just south of Dinant, I Corps stopped a German attempt by Richthofen's cavalry corps (Guard and 5th Cavalry Division), supported by five Jdger battalions and three groups of field artillery, to cross the river near Dinant. Repelling this German attack cost the French nearly 1,100 casualties. By the 13th Joffre decided the Germans were wheeling towards his Third, Fourth and Fifth Armies and decided to counterattack with the left wing on this assumption. He totally ignored the reports of the Fifth Army commander, General Lanrezac, that the Germans were deployed on a much broader wheel and were advancing of Liege.





After the


of Brussels,

German soldiers go sightseeing fall to German forces

inthefirst national capital to

on the west of the Meuse. On August 15 the French received reports from the Belgians that 200,000 Germans had crossed the Meuse and also received the news of I Corps' action at Dinant. The fact that the Germans were indeed performing a wide sweep on the west side of the Meuse then dawned on the French headquarters. The French Fifth Army was ordered to put its right hand corps (II Corps) and its reserve under command of the Fourth Army and move into the Marienbourg area, where the Meuse and Sambre meet. The Fifth Army was reinforced with Sordet's cavalry and Valabregue's Reserve Division and, in addition, XVIII Corps (from the Second Army Reserve) and the 37th and 38th Divisions, who had recently arrived from Africa. The Fifth Army would hold the line, behind Namur, up to the Sambre, where it would

link up with the British Expeditionary Force, moving to the north of the Sambre, by Mons; the BEF, in turn, would link up

Also on the 20th, the German IV Corps, commanded by General von Armin, entered Brussels. The government had left

with the Belgian army. Moltke had by now received news of the situation to the south, which he passed on to Bulow. In view of the concentration at the Sambre, where the forward troops of the Second Army made contact on August 21, Bulow realised he was going to meet stronger resistance than anticipated and so decided to leave the original plan and order Kluck's First Army directly south, rather than south-west, thus bringing it in line with the Second Army, on the Sambre. Although Kluck was opposed to this and wished to carry out SchliefFen's tactics, he had no option but to yield to his superior. Bulow turned his attention to Namur where his advance guard met the Belgian outposts on the 20th.

Antwerp on the 18th. The streets were rapidly occupied by Uhlans, clearing the way for a spectacle of German military might calculated to impress the inhabitants. At 1300 hours the men of the IV for

Corps began to march with grand precision past their commander. Rank by rank streamed through the capital, in what appeared an unending



after three days and nights, the 320,000 men of the German First Army had passed through the city, leaving it in the hands

of a


military governor.

nor men of the Gerexpected much resistance from the Belgians, in fact they had been assured there would be none. They were consequently somewhat surprised and

Neither the


man army had


angered when, from the moment they crossed the frontier, they found themselves fired on. Their immediate reaction, haunted by memories of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, was that civilian snipers were responsible. A view confirmed when they found bridges, telegraph lines and tunnels blown — obviously the work of civilian

The situation was not improved when German troops fired on each other, in some cases by mistake and in others, the saboteurs!

result thirst

of looting alcohol to

quench their

during the long marches in that hot

summer. The cry of 'francs-tireurs' went up, and the invading troops from private soldier to army commander were determined to take their revenge. In some cases civilians definitely did block roads and fire on the Germans, but to nothing like the extent the Germans claimed. The Belgian government had issued posters before the invaders arrived, warning civilians to stay indoors and on no account to be actively hostile to the occupying forces. These posters were declared by German commanders to be an incitement to the civilians to rebel.


of terror

The shooting

of civilians as a reprisal for

imagined resistance began on the first day of the invasion. At this early stage this

the Germans became convinced that Belgian Roman Catholic priests were organising and encouraging the francs-tireurs in their guerrilla warfare. Working on the principle that the easiest and best solution to the problem was to fill the Belgian population with fear, the Germans began systematically to execute civilians and priests and to burn their villages. Some of the first to suffer were six hostages shot at Warsage and the village of Battice, which was burned out, as an example to others. Moltke was aware reprisals were

taking place as early as August 5, but shrugged them off as a brutal necessity. The executions continued with the German advance, but far worse was to follow. The reprisals were not actions which occurred on the spur of the moment, once the invasion was under way. It had already been decided that, as speed was the essential factor of their march on France, examples must be made to discourage any form of resistance. The Germans had even taken the precaution of having posters printed before the invasion, listing offences which were punishable by death and closing with a warning that, not just individuals, but the whole area, where a hostile act took place, would be considered responsible. Hostages would be taken at

random and



sheltering a Bel-

gian soldier in uniform was to be punished by transportation to hard labour camps in

Germany. The advance wake, a


of the armies left, in their of death and burning. "In-

dividual executions were soon replaced by a further deterrent — mass executions. The first place to suffer this was a town named Aerschot, where elements of the First Army arrived on August 19, after crossing the Gete. Working on the simple process of rounding up the population in the town square, men on one side and women on the other, individuals were picked out at

random. At Aerschot 150 civilians were executed. Bulow's cess at Andenne

army repeated the


and Tamines, while Hausen's Third Army, not to be outdone,






The heel

of the

conqueror Top


A French poster awards

fortress of Liege the Legion

the Belgian



resistance to the Germans. /Above. All too late, a Belgian poster attempts to rally the people to the defence of the homeland. Top right: A cartoon by the famous Dutch cartoonist, Raemaeker, depicts France exposing the ogre of German barbarism. Below left: Louvain, symbol of German frightfulness' At the orders of General von Luttwitz, German troops rampaged through the city in an outburst of burning and killing, destroying the priceless library and shooting many civilians, including women and children. Below right: The victors parade in Brussels. The Germans celebrated the capture of the Belgian capital with an impressive display of military strength






A i







;;:" w "!,*Mt A



'Inconvenient though

it is,

we must advance through Belgium' Height

over 1 500 600-1500

in feet



Germans French

-*« '/////,



BEF Forts



AUG. 22-23

Canal Conde* II




AUG22 -2 3T


Maubeuge a

FRANC Le Cateau

The advance single act did

of the



Second and Germany than


to discredit

Third Armies was channelled through the gap between the Ardennes and the Dutch border. did this violation of an internationally guaranteed independence

shot no less than 612 at Dinant, one of whom was a three-week old baby. Kluck was upset to discover these reprisals did not bring about the rapid results expected of them. Determined to suppress the populace the Germans continued the massacres. Vise had been occupied on the first day of the invasion. On August 23 there was a report of sniping there. The German answer was to dispatch a regiment of infantry from Liege to Vise and there, in cold blood, long after the fighting had passed, to execute a selection of the population and then render the town uninhabitable by gutting it with fire. Similar occurrences were happening all over Belgium, but one name stands out far above the others — that of Louvain. Louvain, which had been the Belgian Army Tactical Headquarters until August 18, was a medieval city, known all over the world for its library which had been founded in 1426. It housed some 230,000 volumes, including a unique collection of medieval manuscripts. The town boasted many fine examples of Gothic architecture and a collection of Flemish masters. At first the occupation of Louvain was quiet and uneventful. On the second day a German soldier was shot in the leg by a sniper, the occupation forces claimed. The situation became tense. The Burgomaster was arrested, with two of his officials, in spite of his plea to civilians to hand over all arms. The Germans were sure the government and local officials were encouraging the resistance. Executions bega to take place and hostages were selectt


from the inhabitants. Then on August 25 the Belgian army on the outskirts of Antwerp carried out a raid on the First Army's rearguard, throwing it back on Louvain in confusion. Some shots were exchanged in the town, which, the Germans claimed, were the work of civilian snipers. Who was responsible for this shooting has never been established. The Germans' reaction was swift and horrific. They went through the ancient city on a rampage of burning, shooting, destroying and looting, at the orders of General von Luttwitz, the Military Governor in Brussels. Luttwitz calmly announced to the horrified American and Spanish Ambassadors the next morning (the 26th) thaL the Germans would destroy the city as a reprisal, which they systematically proceeded to do. The library was destroyed with its valuable contents, the Town Hall and church of St Pierre were damaged. Whole streets were set on fire, women and children shot, together with priests and male civilians. Reports of this wanton barbarism were released in the world press on August 29. The next day the pillage abruptly ended — but it will never be forgotten. Over those terrible five days, the Germans seemed d termined to live up to the reputation of their ancestors, the Huns, and no-one was slow to dri " this comparison. King Albert, in a conversation with the French Ambassador, remarked of the Germans: 'These people are envious, unbalanced and ill-tempered. They burned the library f Louvain simply because it was unique

No other

and universally admired.' As the German First, Second and Third Armies faced the French Fifth Army and the BEF across the Sambre at the start of the third week of August, the occupation of Belgium was complete. The three weeks the Germans had taken to reach the south of Belgium had given the Allies time to deploy. But, most important, the small and weak army of Belgium, together with the whole population of the country, had set an example of heroism and determination that fired the rest of the world. The

Germans had also been forced to abandon part of the SchliefFen Plan and had not been able to extend the wheeling blow as far west as they had hoped.

Further Reading Edmonds, Brigadier-General Sir James, France and Belgium, 1914 (Macmillan 1933) Keegan, J., Opening moves (New York: Ballantine 1971)

Tuchman, Barbara W., August 1914 (Constable 1962)

Tyng, Sewell, The Campaign of the Marne 1914 (Oxford University Press 1935) The Official History of the Great War, vol. Military Operations.



born in 1942, and Edward's School, Oxford and the RMA Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the Scots Guards, with whom his service included a tour in East Africa. At present he works for a Public Relations Consultancy. He has written various articles and book reviews for historical and military


at St


THE LIEGE FORTS In the 1880s Belgium had built a series of forts around Liege and along the Meuse to deter the Germans from marching through Belgium on their way to attack France. Faced with these forts in 1914, Ludendorff found his troops nervous at the prospect of having to storm the mighty bastions— but the German siege guns soon proved their worth Christopher Duffy


victors stand


on one

knocked-out cupolas of Liege. In spite of the open able to approach the forts under cover of their siege guns

of the

German troops were

'Oh these stupid Belgians! Why won't they give us a clear passage? I know the German army. It \\ ill be like putting a baby in the path of a steam-engine.' The exasperated comment of Sturm, Secretary of the German Legation at Brussels, summed up the feelings of his masters towards Belgium, that annoying little obstacle which geography and history had interposed between the German First and Second Armies and the northern border of France. Among the many changes wrought by Colonel-General von Moltke in the Schlieffen Plan had been the decision to preserve Holland as a neutral 'windpipe' for German commerce in the event of war. The


men of Kluck's First Army were therefore to be funnelled through Belgian territory, namely the 15-mile gap between the southern border of Holland and the foothills of the Ardennes. The area was transversed from south to north by the 320,000

River Meuse, which was nearly 200 yards wide and a considerable obstacle in its own right. The most important crossings lay within the town of Liege or under the guns of

its forts.

Long before the war Moltke, and his right-hand man Ludendorff, had concerned themselves with the problem of feeding their armies through this heavily-defended passage. Espionage and impudent recon-

naissances revealed to them the weaknesses of the position, and in a famous memorandum of 1911 Moltke as good as pronounced Liege's doom: 'Inconvenient though it is, the advance must proceed through Belgium without violating Dutch territory. A prerequisite is the possession of Liege. This fortress must therefore be taken at the outset. I believe that it is quite possible to reduce it by a coup de main. The advanced forts are sited so badly that they cannot see or command the intervals. I have sounded all the routes of advance which lead between the works to the interior to the town. It is perfectly feasible to execute a push in several columns with-

A baby in the path

of a steam-engine'



the important



ings, lay directly in the path of the German steam-engine'. Despite their state of disrepair, the Liege forts constituted a serious obstacle, and the Germans added punch to their 'steam-engine' with a formidable siege train.

The Austrian-made Skoda 30.5-cm howitzer played a vital role in crushing the Liege forts. Weight: 28 tons. Crew: variable, but usually 12. Rate of fire: ten rounds-per-hour. Range: 13,124 yards. Projectile weight: 846 lbs

2«r//cW :>..! si.



«^aamra>**pao«H«g>»M«i«ttwwB » wan wi***xa«x>v»>Hst«w



1880s by the Belgian engineer Brialmont, the twelve forts of Liege represented the best work of the most outstanding military engineer of his day. Brialmont's plans, however, were never entirely put into effect, and the system of fortification remained incomplete. Over the course of the years the condition of the forts had been Built in the

allowed to deteriorate, and by 1914 they were in a sorry state. Here we show the plan view and side elevation of a typical Brialmont fort

A Outer gate

with drawbridge

B Inner gate with drawbridge C Ditch covered with wire entanglements D Cupola for howitzer

E Cupolas for quick firing guns F Cupola for observation and searchlight G Central gallery from the gate H Barracks and magazines underground Stone reinforcement of the concrete walls J Infantry positions around the ramparts Counterscarp galleries with machine guns I

covering the ditch

Big Bertha The German-made 42-cm howitzer, popularly known as Big Bertha, or more accurately Fat Bertha, was the largest gun yet to be seen in war. Weight: 75 tons. Crew: a two gun battery had a complement of 280 men. flare of fire: ten rounds-per-hour. Range: 15,530 yards. Weight of projectile: 2,052 lbs














The defences of Liege had serious gaps in them. There were no intervals between the forts -not even earthwork trenches -and there was much dead ound not covered by the forts' guns. The Germans were able to infiltrate the system anddestroy the forts piecemeal r


out being seen from the forts.' As the First Army was far too unwieldy for the purpose, General von Emmich was given command of a force of 25,000 infantry (six reinforced brigades), 8,000 cavalry and 124 guns, and instructed to carry out a surprise assault before the main mobilisation was complete. Bearing in mind that Emmich might fail, the heaviest possible artillery was to be held in readiness for an attempt to bludgeon the forts into submission. No such firmness of purpose was evident on the Belgian side. Once a model of professionalism, the Belgian army had dein spirit and numbers during decades of politically-inspired reductions. In the years immediately before the war King Albert I inspired a tardy military renaissance, but he would have needed two decades more of uninterrupted peace to bring his programme to completion. As things were, in August 1914 he could mobilise just 130,000 men, and support them with only 102 machine guns and 312


Between 1888 and 1891 Brialmont applied these principles to the construction of a girdle of 12 detached forts around Liege. The works were built on a triangular or trapezoidal trace [ground plan], and consisted of an inner redoubt and a surrounding outer rampart. The redoubt was a lowlying monolith of concrete which was more than 7 feet thick and was studded with laminated iron domes housing the longrange armament of between five and eight artillery pieces of 12-cm, 15-cm and 21 -cm calibre. The outer rampart conformed approximately with the trace of the redoubt, and consisted on the forward sides of

an earthen bank surmounted with an

infantry parapet; a 5-foot-thick wall formed the rearward, or gorge front, and was pierced with armoured windows which admitted air to the accommodation, magazines and other facilities of the fort. Guns of 5.7-cm calibre saw to the defence of the ditch from cupolas and counterscarp case-



light field pieces.

Defects in design

was the collapse of operational planning. As early as 1882 the leading strategist and engineer Henri Brialmont (1821-1903) had called for the fortification of the Meuse to deter the Germans from marching through Belgium to get at

A number of defects in the siting and design of the forts were all too apparent by 1914. The forts were disposed at a radius of three or four miles from the centre of Liege, and at average intervals of two and a half miles. That arrangement seemed on the map to command all the approaches to the fortress area. Among the more important forts Pontisse and Barchon defended the Meuse valley below Liege, and Flemalle and Boncelles performed the same service above the town. Fleron and Chaudfontaine formed the outposts towards Germany and could sweep the rail-

Worst of


the northern flank of France. In keeping with this realistic view of affairs, Albert had envisaged a fighting retreat to Antwerp, beginning with a determined stand on the eminently defensible line of the Meuse. A matter of days before the outbreak of hostilities, the Chief of the newly-created General Staff, de Selliers de Moranville, had thrown everything into disorder by demanding an adhesion to the most unreal kind of neutrality: since a concentration on the Meuse signified an unfriendly distrust of Germany, he insisted that the army must take up a position in the heart of Belgium as if to face all comers. The movement to the Meuse was thus fatally arrested at the beginning, and the most Albert could do in the time remaining was to order the 3rd Division and the 15th Brigade to Liege, and the 4th Division to the sister fortress of Namur. Thus on the very eve of war the 4,500 fortress troops at Liege were joined by some 30,000 men who were already exhausted by marching in near-tropical heat. The main army was stationed behind the River Gete, too far back to lend any help to the defenders of Liege and Namur. The advent of rifled artillery in the 1860's had broken the rule of the 24pounder siege cannon, which had lasted 250 years, and hastened a fundamental re-shaping of permanent fortification. Small, pacific Belgium produced in Brialmont the universally acknowledged expert in this rapidly changing branch of warfare. The essential features of his works may be summarised as follows: • The continuous town ramparts were replaced by a ring of detached forts. • The scarp wall [inner wall of the ditch] gave way to an earthen bank, and the work of holding back the enemy fell to the counterscarp wall (on the outer side of the ditch and railings and other obstacles in the ditch. • Guns were emplaced in revolving cupolas

batteries in order to eliminate all the dead ground. More serious still was the lapse of more than 25 years between the designing of the forts in the 1880s and their test in an unaltered and badly-maintained state in 1914. Brialmont had calculated the dimensions on the assumption that the 21 -cm mortar was the heaviest weapon which the

would have to face, and he failed to to terms with the troglodyte life which a prolonged siege would impose on the garrison. One unfortunate mistake was the position of the latrines in most of the forts on the far side of the rearward ditch. Lieutenant-General Leman allowed himforts


expense of his old master: 'Brialmont's military genius had an academic bent, and he forgot that his self a little joke at the

works were made


human beings. He


out of account a natural function of mankind which does not cease during a bombardment: quite the reverse.' The advent of a new generation of siege guns in the 1900s was the worst possible news for the Liege forts. In 1909 the Krupp works at Essen perfected the 'Big Bertha' (more properly translated 'Fat Bertha'), a rail-transportable howitzer of 42-cm calibre. Nothing quite so awe-inspiring had been seen since the great days of monster artillery in the 15th Century. The gun w£ s

broken down into five sections, and tran: ported by rail to the chosen site. The v eassembly of the bits took a good six hou*s, at the end of which the 200-man crew would feed the shell and charge into the breach. The gunners touched off the charge and sent the 2,200-pound shell rolling and roaring through the air for up to 9 miles. A

14, 1914 he was summoned to take command of the fortress of Liege and the 3rd Divisioni On February 3, Leman arrived to tnke up duties at Liege, and was immediately put in a bad temper by the sight of his reception committee: a single officer, dressed in civilian clothes. Still fuming, he was taken down the dingy Rue


of iron.

given concrete protection.


delayed-action fuse made sure that the missile penetrated deep within the target before exploding. It was not until shortly before the war that the Germans appreciated that they could not guarantee themselves the use of intact railway lines leading directly up to the enemy fortresses. Work was therefore pushed ahead at frantic pace on two roadtransportable versions of 'Big Bertha', and the Germans gratefully accepted the loan of a number of the excellent Skoda 30-5-cm howitzers which the Austrians had developed at Pilsen in 1910. The Skoda howitzer had been designed to be roadtransportable from the beginning, and the assembly of the weapon required a mere 40 minutes. King Albert entrusted Liege to the charge of Lieutenant-General Gerard Leman (1851-1920), 'a grave, silent man' who had spent almost his entire career at the Military School, first as cadet, then as officer instructor and commandant. As a severe and exacting disciplinarian he stood Out among the generally easy-going Belgian officers of his generation, and on


• Accommodation and magazines were

way from Aachen with their guns; Loncin on the western side dominated the corresponding line to Brussels. Such neat dispositions ignored the heavily broken and wooded nature of the terrain on the east bank of the Meuse which called for a considerably larger number of forts and per-

King Albert (left) in German uniform before the war, with his future opponent, Emmich (right)


Sainte-Foi, shown through a door, and told that the room within was his office. Such soldiers as he could see were solitary,

on the thundery night of August 5/6. 'The harsh flash of the lightning and the bril-

morose and shabby, and used every shifty

liant glare of Fort Fleron's artillery fire joined to form a picture at once horrible

expedient to avoid saluting their



that one






could to restore some discipline and spirit to the garrison. He was given no help at all by the General Staff, which refused to let him know the number of troops he would have under his command in the event of war, and forbade him to build any field works for fear of offending the Germans. On July 29, the day of mobilisation, Leman was at last allowed to Degin work on his three lines of trenches. The time was too short, the days were too hot, and the newly-arrived 3rd Division too exhausted to prepare more than scratch defences before the Germans appeared on August 4. The plan of the coup de main on Liege was the brainchild of Major-General Erich von Ludendorff, who was Chief of the Operational Section of the General Staff from 1908 to 1913. Observers have wrestled with adjectives to describe the peculiarly imposing and formidable appearance of the man; 'fat' is a feeble word to apply to a soldier who seemed to be all bone and did

from his bullet head down

to his

jack-booted feet. At least historians agree in seeing him as one of the most clearheaded and indefatigable commanders 'of that war. By 1914 he had every right to regard his work concerning Liege as already over. It was as a well-informed spectator that he accompanied the 14th Brigade of Emmich's force as it advanced on Liege

The fortress of Liege — pounded to rubble

The coup de main Contact with the realities of war soon depressed the high spirits with which the Germans had first crossed the Belgian frontier. It was planned to invest Liege by cutting it off with a grand cavalry sweep on August 4, but the operation petered out in exchanges of fire across the Meuse. The bridges outside Liege had been demolished by the Belgians, and the 34th Infantry Brigade had to be ferried on pontoons from Vise to its appointed place on the western bank. Ludendorff found the troops nervous at the prospect of storming the mighty fortress.

The enterprise could

certainly not have

been bolder, for the Germans hoped to penetrate between the forts in darkness during the night of August 5/6, and emerge unopposed on the next day at the town of Liege. The arrangement of the attack in five main columns was characteristic of the complicated plans with which armies embark on wars, and the risk of'a repulse was all the greater as the Germans had counted on meeting with a mere 6,000 troops, instead of the 35,000 or so which Leman actually had in the position. Halting, stumbling and colliding, the German columns wormed their way forward from their start-lines on the dark and rainy night. The hedges and straggling

any attempt at deployment, and casualties began to mount as the Germans came under fire from road blocks, from the forts and from each other. On the west bank of the Meuse the isolated 34th Brigade sought to break into Liege from the north, but stuck fast between the erupting guns of forts Liers and Pontisse. An NCO of the 7th Jager Battalion records: 'The man next to me received a shot in the body. I grasped him and was in the process of heaving him onto a passing

villages hindered

ammunition waggon when a shell splinter removed his head. We rushed on, without any hope of emerging from this murderous fire alive A knot of troops under Major von der Oelsnitz penetrated to the door of Leman's headquarters, but every man was '

taken or cut down in the hand-to-hand fighting.

On the east bank the advance of the united 38th and 43rd Brigades, forming the southernmost of the columns, came to a stop in confused fighting in the dripping woods around Fort Boncelles. Determined attacks could not be pressed further than the glacis of the fort. One of the defenders scribbled in his diary: 'Our cartridges are giving out and our rifles are burning our hands; our men are like madmen. Eighty yards away we see the flash of German rifles. Our forts are firing with wonderful precision. The searchlight sweeps along and the shell bursts where the ray has passed, right in the middle of the Germans.' Elsewhere on the east bank the 27th and 11th Brigades made still more modest penetrations.

German troops cautiously approach the wreckage of oneof


by the biggest guns yet used in war

4 s

"*** *-

& I


Liege's forts

The one hope of retrieving something from the wreck lay with the 14th Brigade, which was to advance due west between the forts of Evegnee and Fleuron. The start was exceptionally unpromising. At Retinne an outburst of Belgian artillery and machine gun fire reduced the commanding officers to a heap of corpses, and from being mere onlookers Ludendorff and Emmich had to step in and take charge of the troops in person. After losing time in taking a wrong turning, Ludendorff fought his way through the long village of Queuedu-Bois and finally emerged with a bare 1,500 troops on the heights overlooking Liege. The Belgian resistance on this sector had collapsed, but Ludendorff's communications to the rear were broken, and there was no news to be had of the other columns. The whole of August 6 passed without the situation becoming any clearer, but early on the 7th Ludendorff and Emmich took the bold decision to send the 34th Regiment under Colonel von Oven into the town and across the intact bridges. Ludendorff gave Oven ample time to carry out his task, and then drove in a car over the Meuse and up the slope on the far bank to the old but strong citadel, which he assumed must now be in German hands. He hammered at the gate to attract Oven's attention. The doors duly opened: revealing a frightened Belgian garrison whose only wish was to surrender. It is not enough to say that Ludendorff had been very lucky. Fortunate misunderstandings of this kind rarely befall people who have not done something to deserve them.

Not even these massive structures could withstand the

was taken on a troublesome 11 -mile journey to its emplacement near Mortier, where it was ready for action on the late afternoon of August 12. General von Einem assumed command

of this second, or siege

phase of the operation against Liege. The first breach in the fortified perimeter was opened as early as August 8. On its way to the town of Liege the German 27th Brigade loosed off some rounds from its two light howitzer batteries against Fort Barchon, on the right bank of the Meuse below the town. The parapet was crowded with troops, for another force was advancing on the fort from the rear, and the sudden loss of more than 30 men so demoralised the garrison that the


German guns

surrendered at 1630 hours. (This account follows Belgian time: German time was an hour later.) The ensuing gap on the northeastern side of Liege was widened still further by the pounding of Fort Evegnee into submission on August 11. Major Wesener tells of the next act in the siege, the beginning of the bombardment by the first of the 'Big Berthas': It was a memorable moment as the howitzer discharged the first shell on enemy soil at 1740 hours on August 12 against Fort Pontisse, on the south-eastern side of Liege. A hundred-fold cheer accompanied the shell as it howled and snorted along the high .


its target. I was gratified had turned out well, and

trajectory to



that that

The events of the night of August 5/6 had meanwhile forced Leman to a painful decision. The shock of the encounter of the raw armies had filled Liege and the countryside with disorientated troops of both sides. Leman feared that a fresh collision would break the 3rd Division, especially as he had learnt that elements of five separate corps were present in Emmich's mixed force,

and drawn the conclusion that all were before Liege. On August 6

five corps


accordingly disengaged the 3rd Division and the 15th Brigade and sent them to safety in the interior of Belgium. The defence of Liege now rested upon the garrisons of the individual forts, with which Leman maintained a tenuous communication by means of runrters sent out from his new headquarters at Fort Loncin. However mistaken Leman's appreciation of his intelligence may have been, his extrication of the 3rd Division undoubtedly saved this force for the field army.

Only partial success The disappearance of the Belgian troops gave the Germans a badly needed opportunity to put themselves in order. The first measures were to feed more troops into the centre of Liege and establish communi-

A A German officer inspects the damage done by Big Bertha' and her smaller sisters before the forts V Landwehr troops in Liege. The town itself fell

cation between the brigades scattered around the 30-mile perimeter of forts. Since the coup de main had met with only partial success, the IX, VII and X Corps were brought up from the rear for the serious business of a formal, siege and closed in respectively from. the north, south-east and south. The two road-transportable 'Big Berthas' were ordered up from the Krupp works, and after a final burst of activity the first of the pieces moved out of Essen railway station early on August 10. From the unloading point outside the blocked railway tunnel at Herbesthal the howitzer


the eagerly-awaited opening of fire could be undertaken on this very evening. Sixty seconds ticked by -the time needed for the shell to traverse its 4,340-yard-high trajectory—and everyone listened in to the telephone report of our battery commander, Who had his observation post 1,625 yards from the bombarded fort, and could watch at close range the column of smoke, earth and fire that climbed to the heavens. The violence of the first explosion convinced the Belgians that the magazine at

Pontisse had blown up. It took further detonations as the successive bursts strode nearer the fort, to persuade them that they were dealing with some unheard-of form of artillery. 'Big Bertha' hit Pontisse squarely at the eighth round, then fell mercifully silent for the night. Her sister joined in the argument when the artillery re-opened fire at 0800 hours on August 13, stripping away armour plate and blocks of concrete, cracking arches and poisoning the air with heavy brown fumes. An official report sums up the conditions inside Pontisse: 'Ventilation: very bad; the men were seized with stomach pains, diarrhoea, nausea and an inability to hold

back their urine. The fort was reeking with explosive fumes from the outside. They tried to stop up the windows with mattresses, but it was no use. Latrines: the garrison used stinking boxes which were emptied into the channel; it became blocked, and the men were greatly inconvenienced.' Fort Pontisse surrendered at 1230 hours when it was at the limit of its resistance. It was the same story at the forts of Embourg (surrendered 1730 hours on August 13), Liers (0940 hours on August 14), Fleron (0945 hours on August 14), Boncelles (0730 hours on August 15) and Lantin (1230 hours on August 15), all of which were rendered untenable by the stench of explosives and excrement a few hours or minutes short of complete physical destruction by the Krupp and Skoda howitzers. Fort Chaudfontaine was an exception. It held out with its works largely intact until, at 0900 hours on the 13th, the explosion of a magazine sent a searing flame through the casemates. The Germans could not call themselves masters of Liege until they had reduced the three surviving forts of Loncin, Hollogne and Flemalle. These works formed a chain to the west of the town, and their fire would have thwarted any attempt by the First Army to cross the open, rolling country on the left bank of the Meuse. Fort Loncin, the soul of the defence, was the first to attract the besiegers' attention. It had been under intermittent fire from August 10, but these early cannonades were as nothing compared with a heavy and accurate fire of 21-cm guns which several times rocked the fort to its foundations on the morning of the 15th. Fragments of concrete jammed the steam engine powering the electric light and ventilation, and the inside of the fort rapidly filled with suffocating dust and fumes. General Leman was in one of the gorge casemates when, at 1500 hours, the enemy opened fire with their 'Big Berthas'. 'We could hear the shells coming,' he later wrote, 'we heard a rushing of air which increased in intensity until it became a furious hurricane roar and ended in a dreadful crash of thunder; fountains of earth and smoke were thrown into the air, md the whole earth shook.'


After two hours and 20 minutes of torment a single, mighty explosion of the magazine wrecked the concrete redoubt and brought the resistance to an end. The Germans sent their pioneers forward to lend what help they could to any survivors. 'We could hardly make out the trace of the fort. The ruins formed a miniature Alpine landscape, with debris strewn about like pebbles in a mountain stream. With some difficulty the pioneers drove a narrow path across this chaos of concrete, armoured cupolas and fragments of walls; their track resembled some mountain climb, with its ascents and

been an obstinate and doctrinaire opponent of prepared entrenchments and intermediate batteries. The emplacement of the Ger-

and ammunition had been thrown everywhere; a cupola had been blown from its place at the salient front, and had fallen on its dome; it now looked like a monstrous tortoise, lying on

Secondly, it was obvious that the Belgians had paid too little attention to the likely conditions of life in a fort under




its shell.'


few blackened and dazed Belgians stumbling about the wreckage. Among them was General Leman. He had been knocked flat by the explosion, but was saved from suffocation by one of his companions, who pushed him through an armoured window into the gorge ditch.


No thought

of surrender The terrible end of Fort Loncin shocked the companion forts of Hollogne and Flemalle into surrender on the 16th. The way for the German advance into Belgium


Leman, now restored to his was brought before Lieutenant-



General Kolewe, the military governor of Liege, and handed a sword as a token of the Germans' esteem. He had never harboured any thought of surrender. It is easier to praise the endurance of Leman, the boldness of Ludendorff and the skill of the Essen and Pilsen arms manufacturers than to estimate just how far their efforts influenced the course of the

Germans had allowed themselves ample time to reduce Liege, and the move of the main armies into Belgium was not delayed by the full term of 14 days' resistance by the forts. Since the mobilisation of the Germans was completed on August 13, and they crossed the Belgian borders in force on the 14th, it is reasonable to calculate the penalty in time at one or two days — the period they had to wait before moving through the Liege gap. In the circumstances of 1914 these dearly-bought hours were probably ample justification for the fortification and defence of the war. The

Liege position. As a technical exercise, the attack on Liege attracted the most lively interest. Two lessons seemed to emerge. First of all the events of August 7 and 8 demonstrated that there was no means of preventing an enemy from penetrating between detached forts in the absence of field troops, or intermediate works. The blame could not be laid at the door of Leman, who surely had a well-ordered sense of priorities in deciding that the 3rd Division should not be thrown away in the defence of a fortress; forts were supposed to guard an army, not the other way around. The responsibility was largely that of the Brussels government and the Belgian General Staff, which allowed the fort installations to decay, and refused to undertake field works before the actual invasion. Fortifications and moral rectitude are no substitute for firm alliances and a strong field army. Nor can the long-dead engineer Brialmont escape all censure, for he had

man guns

behind the forts was all the more dangerous as Brialmont's cleared and fire-swept 'zones of servitude' did not extend to the rear, and he believed that a well-defiladed mask wall was good protection for the gorge front of a fort. At Liege the mortars taught the defenders of Fort Fleron otherwise. One of the 'Big Berthas' which dealt the fatal blows at Fort Loncin was actually sited in a square in the centre of Liege.

siege. Water cisterns and reservoirs were easily cracked; commandants found that observation posts were too few and too exposed to give useful information on outside events once the telegraph lines were broken; the feeble means of ventilation were unable to clear the fumes given off by explosives and latrines, and compelled the surrender of several forts which could have held out a little longer. It was tempting to conclude that the peculiar fixedness of permanent fortification—static in space, almost unalterable in dimension and properties — rendered it vulnerable to the slightest advance in the techniques of the attack. A cavalry regiment could at least trot to safety over the horizon, but it seemed that the fortress had to await the shock of whatever weapons the enemy held in store for it. That view was over-simplified, for very few armies have ever been so well equipped for siege warfare as the German forces in 1914. The Second World War was to show again and again the great powers of resistance of permanent works against careless besiegers. Fortification was one among the many useful weapons of war. It was just as wrong to dismiss permanent defences as a useless expense as to trust oneself to them completely and abdicate military sense.

Further Reading Brialmont, H. A., La Defense des Etats (Brussels, 1895), reprinted with introduction by C. Duffy (Osnabruck, 1967) by C. Duffy (Osnabruck, 1967) Essen, L van der, The Invasion and the War in Belgium from Liege to the Yser (London, 1917) Galet, General S. M., Le Roi Albert Com-

mandant en Chef devant


I'lnvasion Alle-

(Paris, 1931)

Hautecler, G.,

Leman sur

La Rapport du General Defence de Liege en Aout

(ed.), la

1914 (Brussels, 1960) Keegan, J., Opening moves (New York: Ballantine 1971) Ludendorff, General, My War Memories, 2 vols. (London) Reichsarchiv, Der Weltkheg 1914 bis 1918, vol.


(Berlin, 1925)

The Schlieffen Plan (Wolff, 1958) Schryver, A. de, La Bataille de Liege (Aout 1914) (Liege, 1922) Tuchman, B., August 1914 (Constable, 1962) Ritter, G.,


born in 1936, went to College, Oxford, and took a First in Modern History in 1 958. He is at present a Senior Lecturer in Military History at the RMA Sandhurst. Mr Duffy has published a life of Maximilian Browne (the Irish fieldmarshal of Maria Theresa), and a study of the War of the Second Coalition. He has edited reprints of the works of the military engineers Brialmont and Balliol


SERBIA FIGHTS BACK When Austria attacked Serbia in August

1914, her military leaders expected a walk-over. The Serbs, however, although outnumbered and lacking in arms and equipment, had much valuable experience of war, and a skilful high command. The result was not the walk- over that the

Austrians had expected Major-GeneralB Mirkovich .

The small kingdom

of Serbia,

which by


geographical position presented an obstacle to the Austro-Hungarian foreign policy of Drang nach Osten (expansion eastwards) looked to Russia for protection against Austrian aggression. The Serbs believed that Austria wished to swallow up their country as soon as possible, and that while the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef, was reluctant to go to war, Kaiser Wilhelm II's influence might well persuade him to do so. At that time the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary had over 50,000,000 subjects and was able to mobilise over 4,000,000 men in the event of war, although in peacetime the army consisted of 478,000 men. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces was Archduke Friedrich and the Chief of General Staff was General Conrad von Hotzendorf. For the war against Serbia three armies made up the 'Balkan Army' (the Second, Fifth and Sixth), totalling about 308,000 men. In fact, in the first offensive against Serbia, the Second Army could not be used in its entirety, as on August 18 some of its units had to be

rushed to the Russian front in Galicia. It is generally estimated that about 200,000 men and some 700 guns of the 'Balkan Army' took part in this campaign. When mobilisation was complete Serbia would have a total of 450,000 men, including 50,000 for whom there were insufficient arms. Even some of the units for which arms were available did not have uniforms,

and only caps and greatcoats could be supThe first-line army comprised the First, Second and Third Armies and the Uzice Army, a total of about 180,000 men. Although short of rifles and ammunition, the Serbian army was well trained and had recently experienced two wars. Its equipment was good, and its artillery perhaps better than the Austrian. The Serbian High Command was skilled, and the rank and file knew they were fighting for life or death in defence of their homeland, and that there cause was a just one. Their morale was high, but the Austro-Hungarian armies were better disciplined and plied.


The kingdom of Montenegro did not have a regular army. Their armed forces were

a kind of militia organised on a tribal with the chiefs of the tribes as their


The Montenegrin forces amounted between 40,000 and 45,000 riflemen. The Montenegrin soldier was a keen warrior, proud, patriotic, and unable to accept defeat. He had the advantage of experience in two Balkan Wars and it was felt that these qualities compensated for his lack of modern arms and equipment. Serbia had two frontiers with AustriaHungary; the northern one formed by the Rivers Danube and Sava; and the western one by the River Drina. The Serbian capital Belgrade lay between the southern banks of the Rivers Danube and Sava, and the Austrians could easily shell it from their territory. Both frontiers formed officers.


natural barriers. In the north — near the

Sava — the roads became muddy and even

swampy during

rainy periods, but as there are no very high mountains in that region, the area could be described as suitable for military operations. In late summer the temperature is high but the country is covered with rich vegetation which — together with fruit gardens and maize fields


-provides good natural camouflage for troop movements. On the western frontier the country near the River Drina is more mountainous. The river itself is not wide like the Danube and Sava, but swift and dangerous to cross. Its banks are covered with willow bushes which offer good camouflage for defence. Communications there are poor and the only two good roads are in the valleys of the Jadar and Lesnica rivers. These valleys are dominated by the mountains of Cer and Iverak, and control of their crests is vital for use of the roads. The crest of the Cer is about 12 miles long; its southern slopes are rather steep and descend to the valley of Lesnica. Immediately after the reply to the ultimatum was given to the Austrian Ambassador in Belgrade on July 25, 1914, the Serbian Prime Minister, Nikola Pasic, ordered the government to retire to Nis and the Headquarters of the General Staff

On July 28 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and on the same day Serbia ordered general mobilisation. The Serbian Supreme Command mobilised in six days and concentrated in 11. The successful execution of these two important and delicate operations was due to the great physical endurance of the Serbian soldiers and the almost superhuman efforts of the Serbian railways. Serbian units, often equipped with oxen teams, marched considerably longer distances than their forced marches required in those hot August days. The AustroHungarian 'Balkan Army' did not complete its mobilisation or its concentration on time. Certain units of the Sixth Army (XVI Corps) were delayed for five days. The Serbian war plan was drawn up in 1908 by the Chief of the General Staff, Voivode (Field-Marshal) Radomir Putnik. The plan was based on the assumption that in the event of war against Serbia, AustriaHungary would direct her main forces southwards, crossing the Rivers Danube and Sava, while her auxiliary forces would come from Bosnia, crossing the River Drina and penetrating eastwards. The task of the main forces would be to advance through the valley of the Morava which leads directly to central Serbia. Consequently the Serbian Supreme Command planned to locate their main forces on an to Kragujevac.

east/west line across the central part of the country, and place the weaker forces to defend the frontiers on the Danube, Sava and Drina. In this initial position the Serbian army would have to act defensively, permitting the Austrians to penetrate their territory until the plan of the invader was observed.




defence plan

such a defensive plan enabled the Serbian High Command to direct its main strategical force quickly by using interior operational lines. It also offered the opportunity of initiating a counteroffensive in favourable conditions with superior forces. Putnik made the basic details of this plan known to the Montenegrin Supreme Command and to the Serbian army commanders, together with an explanation of the political and military situation in Serbia and Montenegro. The original Austro-Hungarian war plan was to invade Serbia by an advance from both the north and west frontiers, but Russia's entry into the war caused this to


flexibility of

be revised. The new plan aimed at crushing the forces in western Serbia quickly by encircling them from the south. By taking Valjevo, the Austrians would threaten the left flank of the main forces concentrated in central Serbia, and their rear would be endangered if the Austrian Sixth Army penetrated via Pozega towards the valley of the Western Morava. Austrian foreign policy aimed at a swift victory in Serbia in the hope that their success would incite Bul-

Rumania and Turkey

Krupanj, which two Serbian companies successfully defended until the evening. So the heroic fighting of one and a half battalions of Serbian veterans prevented two Austrian corps from achieving their objectives. Only 42nd Honved Infantry Division had successfully crossed and bridged the river on that day. The slow advance of VIII and XIII Corps can be explained by the fact that the Serbs had some of the Comitadji units available,

to join

which had been attacking and confusing

the war on the side of the Central Powers. In the early morning of August 12, General Potiorek (commander of the Austrian Sixth Army) launched his offensive against Serbia from both northern and western frontiers. On the Danube sector

Austrians in a variety of places throughout the day. The Austrian Sixth Army acted defensively all day, with the primary task of protecting the right wing

VII Corps opened with heavy artillery fire on Serbian positions, with intensive shelling points at Belgrade and Obrenovac. A small detachment tried unsuccessfully to take the Isle of Ada Ciganlija, near Belgrade. On the Sava sector, after heavy

tions functioned perfectly in Serbia, thus enabling, the Serbian Supreme Command to keep a minute-by-minute watch on the battle situation. From 0400 hours onwards, Putnik, his deputy (General Zivojin Misic) and the Chief of the Operational Department (Colonel Zivko Pavlovic) were able to follow and discuss the developments on all fronts. They noticed at once that the

garia, Italy,


of the Fifth


Telephone and telegraphic communica-

Austrian Second Army was mostly engaged in demonstrative action, while the Sixth Army did not move forward anywhere. They concluded that the decisive battle would be fought in the north-west of Serbia. Two points on the northern front caused the Serbian Supreme Command some concern; Sabac, where the Austrians had driven back the Serbian defence and Obrenovac, which was shelled continuously. Consequently, in the afternoon of August 12 Putnik ordered the commanders of the First and Second Armies to move their units nearer the north-west front. The commander of the Third Army was ordered to use his Reserve where necessary as reinforcements to stop the advance of the Austrian Fifth Army. The commander of the Uzice Army was ordered to launch an offensive toward Visegrad immediately,

and the commander of the Montenegrin army was to secure the flank of the Uzice

Army in the course of its offensive. This directive was executed during the night of August 12/13 and on the 13th itself. While the Austrian Fifth Army had lost one whole day at the beginning of the offensive, the Serbian Supreme Command had Field-Marshal Putnik, Serbian Chief-of-Staff

shelling at Sabac, at 0315 hours the 44th Infantry Regiment crossed the river and captured the town. The soldiers of this regiment immediately started to kill all the male population and rape the women, while the children were massacred with bayonets. At noon, two Serbian battalions of the 6th Infantry Regiment and two cavalry squadrons launched a vain counterattack. The Austrians could not advance further on the same day as they had to wait for reinforcements. They had made another crossing of the Sava in the region of Mitrovica, easily capturing three villages as the Serbs had only one infantry company stationed there. The Fifth Army, after systematic artillery preparation, launched its own offensive at dawn on the lower Drina. VIII Corps attacked the Isle of Samurovica Ada, north of Janja, taking it by noon. This isle was defended by only one Serbian battalion. Simultaneously XIII Corps attacked the Isle of Ada Kurjacica, to the west of

made good use

of their time. Since Potiorek feared that a Serbian advance toward Sarajevo could incite insurrection among the Serb population in Bosnia, the whole of the Sixth Army was pinned down in a defensive position opposite the Serbian Uzice Army. In the course of August 13 the elements of the Austrian Second Army at Sabac and Mitrovica did not advance but waited for the Fifth Army to take up position as scheduled. VIII Corps had not yet taken position north of Lesnica and XIII Corps had to wait. Its orders were not to take up position at Loznica until VIII Corps had


its first success.

So another day

was wasted by the Austrians. This stagnation

of the Austrian offensive gave one

more precious day

to the Serbs for the execution of their movement order of the previous day by their Supreme Command. The cavalry squadron of the 1st Drina Division arrived at Misar (south-east of Sabac) in the early morning and at noon took part in the attack on the town with the Sabac Detachment. The advance guard of the 1st Sumadija Division arrived as

Top Serbian officers rest during their onslaught on Serbia. The Austrian rank and file lacked the physical fitness and patriotic motivation of their Serbian enemies Bottom: Montenegrin troops await battle. Although ill equipped they were formidable soldiers


scheduled on the holding position south of Sabac, as a reinforcement for the troops who were slowly retiring from Sabac. Their task was to secure the necessary time for the principal force of 1st Sumadija Division to arrive, since the latter had been en route from Lazarevac from August 12. The 1st Drina Division was completing its movements, and its 5th Infantry Regiment, with half of the divisional artillery, arrived at the appropriate position near Loznica (12 miles south of Lesnica). The second half of the divisional artillery took up position near Zavlaka. The main force of this division gathered in the evening near Kamenica for the defence of Valjevo. Thus all the Serbian manoeuvres were completed in time. In the course of the 14th, the Sabac Detachment, reinforced by the complete 1st Sumadija Division, attacked the Austrian position from early morning and throughout the day, but could not regain the town. Fifth Army made a modest advance resulting in heavy 1 )sses on both sides. VIII Corps (25,000 men and 96 guns) succeeded in driving back the Serbian Lesnica Detachment (1,500 men, 500 Comitadji and two guns). They also took the ridge of the Cer with infantry but the artillery was left in the valley as it was impossible to get the guns through the mud. XIII Corps, with 36th Infantry Division, drove back the Loznica Detachment and took the position of Loznica after very fierce fighting. Its better equipped 42nd Honved Division, which specialised in mountain-warfare, advanced to Ljubovija during the day.


Serbia takes the initiative During the night of August 14/15, Putnik judged the situation on the battlefield along the following lines: 'The Austro-Hungarian main attacking force is the Fifth Army on a front along the lower Drina; the direction of its principal attack is the line LoznicaValjevo. Elements of their Second Army at

Sabac are simultaneously attacking from the south as an auxiliary force. The main force of the Second Army is still concentrating on demonstrative actions on the rest of the front. According to information received by Serbian Military Intelligence, the Second Army is soon to be sent to the Russian Front. Potiorek's Sixth Army is on the defensive.' Thanks to the slow advance of the Austrians, the Serbs had managed to move their Second Army north-westward to reinforce the Third Army, and overcame a temporary crisis. After a review of the strategic situation, the Serbian Chief of General Staff came to the conclusion that the time had now come for the Serbs to relieve the Austrians of the initiative. This could only be accomplished if the Serbs succeeded in preventing the Austrian Fifth Army from linking up with their forces in Sabac; it was necessary for the Serbs to counter-attack with their main forces, striking at the unprepared and isolated Fifth


Carefully studying the best possible topographical position for such a battle, the Serbian Chief of General Staff chose that of Cer, just south-east of Lesnica. On the same night the following directive was issued by him: The Third Army of General Paul Yourishich-Sturm will stubbornly hold the enemy which is advancing through the Valley of Jadar; General Stepa Stepano-


vich will attack the enemy's


flank with



securing himself with the 1st Sumadija Division from the direction of Sabac' On the night of August 14/15, General Stepanovich received the Directive and immediately issued his orders: • The Cavalry Division urgently to execute a forced march on the line Sabac-Lesnica, with the task of clarifying the situation at Macva (northern region between the Sava and the Drina); to operate on the flank and in the rear of the enemy; to secure the right flank of the Serbian Second Army; • The 1st Sumadija Division to postpone further attacks on Sabac; to settle its. troops on the right bank of the River Dobrava; to keep the road leading to Tekerish; • The 1st Combined Division immediately to execute a forced march via Miletic in the direction Bosnjak-Mihajlov Grob-Rakita, where one infantry regiment was to be left, with artillery; one column to advance along the crest of the Cer, while the main force is to advance through the valley of Lesnica into the enemy's flank; • The 1st Morava Division to advance through the valley of Taninava, then by the Sabac road to join the 1st Combined Division at Tekerish to continue the advance via the Iverak Mountain toward Obrez, attacking the enemy in the Valley of Jadar, cooperating with the Third Army. During the day of August 15, the Austrian Second Army continued its demondivisions,

activities. The Fifth Army had made a small advance with its left wing and was pushing forwards with its right. VIII Corps was advancing with its 21st


Infantry Division along the crest of the Cer, and its 9th Infantry Division appeared on the position of Rashuliacha, toward Tekerish. XIII Corps, with 36th Infantry Division, arrived at the Loznica position and the 42nd Honved Division advanced as far as Krupanj. The Fifth Army was threatening to encircle the Serbian Third Army. The Sixth Army had reinforced Corps. opposite Cajnice, with its The Serbian First Army remained grouped round Lazarevac as a strategic Reserve; the Second Army was executing its forced march, to position for the Battle of Cer. The Third Army was occupied all day in defending its wide front. The Uzice Army was preparing its offensive against Visegrad. The Lim Detachment appeared at the mouth of the Lim; the Comitadji groups had crossed the frontier, near Srebrnica, and were active in Bosnia, in the rear of the Sixth Army. While the Austro-Hungarian Fifth Army was arranging its troops to spend the night on the Cer, its commander, General Frank, was unaware that the Serbian Second Army was approaching from the opposite side. Nor, of course, did General Stepanovich know that his army would find the Austrians on the Cer. So, both armies were


brought into an unexpected and unprepared bataille en rencontre.

The 1st Combined Division to penetrate the crest of the

had orders Cer during

the night, to take up positions at Trojan and Kosanin Grad. While advancing on the slopes of Cer at about 2300 hours, it came across the first of the Austrian outposts, drove them back, and began to settle into its fighting position. Before midnight, on the left wing, the whole of the Serbian 6th (Supernumerary) Infantry Regiment was engaged in the fight.


battalion of the Austrian 21 st Infanby its divisional commander, General Pschiborsky, himself armed with a rifle in his hand, fearlessly launched an assault on two Serbian battalions. After a short and brisk struggle, the Serbian try Division, led



with hand-grenades)

forced the Austrians into chaotic flight, in which Colonel Friedel, commander of the Austrian 27th Infantry Regiment, was killed. About 0130 hours, fighting develop-

ed on the Serbian right, where the Serbs captured the range of Divaca. At dawn, the Serbian 6th (Supernumerary) Infantry Regiment captured the Austrian position on the Borino Brdo; the defeated Austrians retreated in disorder; the Austrian 21st Infantry Division suffered heavy losses, and was demoralised.

A crisis overcome During






had succeeded in driving back the column of the 21st Infantry Division,

division left

on the northern slopes of the Cer, thus preventing it from meeting with the elements of the Austrian Second Army at Sabac. One squadron of the Serbian cavalry division successfully secured the flank of the 1st Combined Division near Osojee. The task of the principal forces of the cavalry division was to proceed on the line Petlovaca-Prnjavor during the day. The

Combined Division was tired, having spent the previous day on a long forced march and having fought all night long, without any rest. Confronting it was the Austrian 9th Infantry Division, which immediately attacked the left of the 1st Combined Division. After heavy losses in the first two hours, the Serbian 6th Infantry Regiment retreated in disorder; soon afterwards the Serbian 1st Infantry Regiment was driven back to the holding position of Radovica Brdo. For the moment it looked as though the whole front of the Combined Division was lost. Then the army commander, General Stepanovich, intervened. He made a personal appearance in the front line, urging the troops to make a last effort to hold on, as reinforcements were soon due. At 1600 hours, the 1st Morava Division arrived, and the crisis was overcome. On August 17 the 1st Sumadija Division made an effort to capture Sabac by assault, but failed. The Serbian Second Army was engaged


day in


General Rashich

attacked the Cer with the 1st Combined Division, captured Trojan and Parlog, and then began preparations for attacking Kosanin Grad. General Gojkovich, with the 1st Morava Division, operated on the Iverak Mountain, but was unable to advance as this would expose its left flank. The Serbian Third Army had been driven back. The Austrian 42nd Mountain Division was threatening to penetrate along the road, thus endangering Valjevo. Seeing this danger, the Serbian Supreme Command ordered the commander of the Third Army to despatch the 1st Timok Division to the threatened sector of the front. The operations on this day show the Serbian intention to advance with its right wing on the northern part of the Cer battleed to do the field, while the Austria: same with their right on ine southern pa-* of the battlefield. Early in the morning on August 18, Austrian IV Corps (31st and 32nd Infantry Divisions), commanded by General Tersztyansky, strengthened with the 29th Infantry Division of IX Corps,

In its

spite of a superiority in numbers, the Austrian offensive against Serbia was turned back at every point. The Austrian Second Army best troops to the Russian front, and difficult terrain and excellent Serbian staff work turned the scales against Austria

launched the attack on the 1st Sumadija Division from the Sabac bridgehead, with orders to take Tekerish, thus facilitating the offensive of the Fifth Army.



however, defended their position, massacring the Austrians at the River Dobrava, and drawing them back. General Terszty-

ansky lost the day, and withdrew to Metkovic Mehana. The Serbian Cavalry Division had orders to pursue the Austrians toward Lesnica,

but had to remain along the line Metkovic — Brestovac because of the activity of the Austrian TV Corps. Meanwhile, the Serbian Second Army continued its counter-offensive along the

Cer and Iverak. The 1st Combined Division was attacking nearly all day at Rashuliacha, but failed to take it. Then the commander ordered preparations be made for attacking Kosanin Grad. The first assault was repulsed, but the Serbs did not give



many of

up. They attacked continuously during the night and finally captured the Kosanin Grad at 0500 hours on the following morning. On the Serbian left the 1st Morava Division, operating in the direction of the Iverak mountain, thrust back elements of the Austrian 9th Infantry Division from their positions on Begluk and Spasovina, later on taking the Cote. About midnight the Austrians attempted to recapture these positions, but failed with heavy losses.


Adversaries in the Balkans


An infantryman

of the

Austro-Hungarian and on this

forces. Facing difficult terrain,

occasion badly led, the Austrian soldier was unable to make much use of the fact that he was better equipped than his Serbian counterpart. Nor did his relatively greater formal military training compensate for the Serbian soldier's more recent experience of battle. Right: A Serbian infantryman. In fact, a Serbian soldier would have been fortunate to find himself as fully equipped as this. Some of those called upon to defend their country could not even be supplied with rifles. They might, however, be veterans of the two Balkan wars and many other less official skirmishes with the Turks


also attacked all day along the front held by the Serbian Third Army, as well as attacking the position whicb was defended by the Ljubovija Detachment. There, the whole day was spent under attack from the 42nd Division, but with little success for the Austrians. Early in the morning of August 19, the Austrian TV Corps renewed the attack on the 1st Sumadija Division, with additional strength, driving the Serbs back. However, as General Tersztyansky could not advance in the direction of the Cer, leaving the 1st Sumadija Division in his rear, he fought this division all day, thus preventing the TV Corps from joining the Cer battlefield, where the decisive battle was then in its final stage. At the same time, the Serbian cavalry division could not join the battle, as it was now forced to remain in its position because of the presence of the TV Corps in that area. On that day, the Serbian Second Army continued its victorious advance. General Rashich captured the position at Rashuliacha at mid-day, and in the early evening the advance guard of his 1st Combined Division appeared along the front at Le§mca. General Gojkovich, with his 1st


Morava Division, moved the attack on the Iverak early in the morning, driving back the Austrians after brief but severe fighting. The 1st Morava Division took the Velika Glava at 1100 hours, at which time an artillery duel began, and the fighting spread all along the front. The attack on the Iverak proved successful, and at 1620 hours the important ridge of Rajin Grob was taken. After that the 1st Morava Division speedily advanced. In the course of the Austrian retreat, their rear-guard made little attempt to resist. The Austrians were completely beaten. The elements of the Serbian Third Army on the Cer front had been engaged in heavy fighting with the strong Austrian forces. The Austrian 36th Infantry Division was forced to withdraw from its position only after the Serbs had reinforced their right wing. This forced the Austrians to retreat in disorder, leaving much material and about 500 pnsoners-of-war. The Serbian Second Army, with its successive victories, had won the Battle of Cer on August 19, 1914, and the rest of the day was used to pursue the Austrians over the Drina. In the course of August 20 and 21, the whole of the Fifth Army was driven

into Bosnia.


victory of the Battle of

Cer was followed by fighting at Sabac, which was liberated on August 24, 1914. In the First Serbian Campaign, AustriaHungary lost about 7,000 dead and 30,000 wounded; Serbia, 3,000 dead and about 15,000 wounded. The Serbs took 4,000 prisoners-of-war, 46 cannons, 30 machine guns, 140 ammunition wagons, and a mass of rifles, field hospitals, transport, engineers' trains, stores and other impedimenta. This victory in the Battle of Cer

caused General Stepa Stepanovich to be promoted to the rank of Field-Marshal and this was the first victory for the Allies over the Central Powers in the First World War.



Valijevo, Serbia, then at Military College in Belgrade,

where 'Apis' was commissioned in

his lecturer in strategy. artillery,

and fought


He was



(1912, 1913, 1914-1918, 1941-1945). He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Yugoslav Air Force in 1941. When the Yugoslav government signed the Tripartite Pact with Hitler (March 25, 1941), General Mirkovich organised the overthrow of the 'pro-Pact' government. He died in London on August 21, 1969.



Rather than meet the probable German invasion at the beginning of the war, Joffre decided instead to persevere with his plans for two French invasions of Germany in areas where it was expected that German troops would be

When the French invasion actually started all

went well

at first in the Lorraine region, but

gradually the Germans held the French, and when the Germans counterattacked, the French were driven back with heavy losses



numerous than the French invading forces.

art of

concealment: a






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Frenchmen, whether soldiers, strategists or merely patriots, had held Alsace and Lorraine in their unwavering gaze for more than 40 years. The patriot mourned a captive province of France, ravaged in hat tie by the Germans in 1870 and then half dismembered in an imposed peace. The soldier looked beyond the artificial frontier Germany had dictated to the valley of the

by Joffre on August 3 to set out immediately for Mulhouse, a town only a little short of the Rhine and deep in German-held territory, with the object at once of securing First Army's projected axis of advance and of raising the countryside against the enemy. Its commander, General Bonneau, expressed doubts both tailed


usefulness and feasibility of his mission from the start and his subordinates



concentration area for any new invasion, but also the ultimate objective of an army of liberation. The strategist saw the obstacles which nature imposed between that army and its prize; to the south the peaks of the Swiss Jura; in the centre the wooded crests of the Vosges; to the north the uplands of the Moselle. The gaps between, leading towards the Rhine at Strasbourg and Mulhouse respectively, he would call the Lorraine and Bel fort gateways. The Belfort gateway, defended by one of the oldest and strongest of French fortresses, was too narrow to afford passage in either direction to a major force. The Lorraine gateway, on the other hand, remained 'the most dangerous opening on the French frontier', that through which the Germans had come in 1870 and a French army must go if la revanche were to be consummated. In the decades following the FrancoPrussian war it was less upon revanche than a second German incursion — and how it might best be repelled — that the French high command brooded. Prevailing military wisdom counselled fortification as the answer, and great sums were accordingly spent in the 1880s in extending and improving the fortresses along the Meuse and Moselle, particularly in the areas Belfort — Epinal and Toul — Verdun. The system so created was not meant however to commit the French army to a wholly passive defence. It incorporated a central gap, coinciding exactly with the mouth of the Lorraine gateway and known as the Trouee de Charmes, into which the French intended to entice the head of an invading

German column, which would then be amputated by mobile forces braced against the bastions to the north and south. Two developments served to rob this scenario of probability as 1914 drew near. The first was growing evidence that the Germans would refuse to play; the second was the French army's rejection of the defensive mood, a mood which just lingered on into the 20th Century. Plan 17 laid even its ghost. It categorically forbade any reliance upon fortified systems, committing the French army, immediately on completion of its mobilisation, to 'two major (offensive) operations, one on the right, in the country between the wooded district of the Vosges and the Moselle below Toul; the other, on the left, north of the line Verdun-Metz'. It is the first of these that has come to be known as the Lorraine offensive, the earliest phase of the Battle of the Frontiers. In Alsace, that battle was to have its beginning before even the preliminary stage of concentration was complete, as a result of the particularly intrusive 'covering' mission assigned to VII Corps. For while the other local frontier formations,

XX Corps based at Nancy and XXI Corps at Epinal, had orders merely to take up positions from which they could protect

detraining areaj of First and VII Corps, based at on in the extreme south, was de-




of the

have caught his lack of enthusiasm. Certainly the corps conducted itself with none of that elan which ten years' into

doctrination in the spirit of the offensive was supposed to have infused into the French army. Bonneau took two days to reach Mulhouse, a mere 15 miles from his base, quite neglected to reconnoitre his front once he arrived and lost the town within 24 hours of its capture to troops secretly, though not indetectably, assembled in the adjacent forests. By August 11, although reinforced, he had beaten a retreat as far as Belfort, where he and the commander of his attached cavalry division instantly received news of their dismissal.

Threat of dismissal Joffre had already had occasion



one obviously incompetent general, but Bonneau's dismissal was to inaugurate a positive reign of terror over the French high command. 'My mind was fully made up on this subject,' Joffre wrote later. 'I would get rid of incapable generals and replace them with those who were younger and more energetic' By the end of August he was to have removed from command one of the five army commanders, three of the 21 corps and 36 of the 83 divisional commanders. Messimy, the Minister of War, would have gone further, threatening death to any officer found wanting in courage or capacity. Joffre, who ruled absolute in the 'Zone of the Armies', suppressed that despatch, knowing that the scent of promotion was sufficient to encourage the others and that dismissal was death enough. Rightly his concern was with efficiency, which he did not think served by dramatic decrees, and it was for the same reason that he now began that refashioning of command structures which was to make his control of the fighting formations so much more direct than Moltke's throughout the campaign of 1914. He judged that much of Bonneau's vaccilation was a result of the distance from higher supervision at which he had operated. He accordingly separated VII Corps from First Army on August 10 and, by the addition of the 8th Cavalry Division, the 1st Group of (three) Reserve Divisions, several Alpine battalions and the 44th Division (the latter released by the dissolution of the Army of the Alps on Italy's declaration of neutrality) established the Army of Alsace, under General Pau, a onearmed and hard-headed veteran of 1870. These changes completed the order of battle which the southern wing would deploy in the Battle of the Frontiers. North of the Army of Alsace and aligned along the crest of the Vosges stood the First





Dubail, a man esteemed by Joffre for precisely the qualities his subordinates feared in him; a cold heart, a sharp eye and a biting tongue. His command, whose headquarters were located at the fortress town of Epinal, comprised XXI Corps, native to the region, and VIII, XIII and XIV Corps,

from the Alps and the Massif Central. The Second Army, commanded from Nancy by General deCastelnau (whose uncompromising Catholicism had won for him from colleagues,

who were more

sensitive to the

temper of the Third Republic, the nickname of 'Monk in Boots'), disposed anti-clerical

of a rather stronger force, as befitted its position astride the Trouee de Charmes. It consisted of the local Corps, commanded by another devout Catholic, Ferdinand Foch (better known for his fervent advocacy of the offensive), and



XVI Corps from

the Riviera and the IX and XVIII from Bordeaux and Touraine. Also subordinate were five reserve divisions and three of cavalry, shortly to be organised into a corps under General Conneau. The two armies, totalling 23 divisions, were deployed on a comparatively narrow front of 65 miles between Pont-aMousson on the Moselle, and St Marie-auxMines on the Vosges crest, although the bulk of the forces were in the Trouee de Charmes itself, only 25 miles wide. Joffre issued his orders to the two armies on August 8, in amplification of the very vague statement of intent contained in Plan 17. That had merely laid down that the southern wing had to mount an attack below Metz. His General Instruction No 1 directed First Army 'to take as its objective the German army at Sarrebourg, and seek to put it out of action by driving it back on Strasbourg' assisted by the Army of Alsace which, advancing through Belfort Gap via Mulhouse, was to wheel north-west along the Vosges and seize Colmar, destroying the Rhine bridges and securing the whole right wing from attack across the Rhine. Second Army, leaving its two left hand corps (IX and XVIII) to cover the approaches southwards from Metz, where the main body of the German army was supposed to lie, was to advance on Saarbriicken, on the front Dieuze — ChateauSalins — Delme. These operations were to start as soon as the commanders were ready. Joffre issued his final instructions on August 13, under a covering note to Dubail, in which he told him, 'I count on you absolutely for the success of this operation. It must succeed and you must devote all your energy to it.'

Giant misapprehension insistence on the importance of these southern operations stemmed, of Joffre's

course, from a giant misapprehension of German intentions and capabilities. Despite the appearance of enemy troops on the

Belgian Meuse, he was still convinced that their strength lay in the centre. He was further convinced that their frontline strength consisted exclusively of Active corps, and his overriding conviction was that Moltke would use this strength to strike southwards from Metz, to make the rest of Alsace and Lorraine his own. Joffre intended to forestall him by directing his first thrust to the Rhine. All of Joffre's presuppositions were unfounded, and though his misreading of Moltke's strategy was in the long term the most serious of his faults, his failure to detect that the Ger-

mans had formed

their Reserve divisions into first-line corps and were committing them to a front-line role was of more immediately grave significance to First and Second Armies. As late as August 16 they

were assured by GQG's (Grand Quartier General, French HQ) Intelligence branch

that they faced no more than six corps along their whole front. Despite these assurances of their own First neither superiority, numerical nor Second Army displayed much of that reckless offensive dash which legend associates with the Battle of the Frontiers. The pace of their advances was, on the contrary, rather hesitant. Topography does much to explain this. For though the Lorraine gateway provides easier going than the regions of the Vosges on its south and the Moselle plateau on its north, it is by no means the open plain that a hasty glance at the map suggests. It rolling rather than flat, distinctly is broken in places and plentifully patterned with thick woodland. Militarily the most important features are the waterways, the Seille and Petite Seille rivers on the left, the belt of marshy lakes joined by the Sarre Canal in the centre and the River Sarre on the right, all lying generally parallel to the line of advance and dominated by low ridges, almost everywhere covered by dense forest. Caution demanded that the French should secure the cornerstones of the gateway strongly before entering, by sending troops to seize the crests of the Vosges on the right and masking the commanding Delme ridge on the left. Once inside, march security demanded that they should advance on a continuous front, beating the woodlands and the high ground between the waterways clear of lurking Germans. But, as always, speed and security militated against each other. For though it proved easy enough to position the flank guards (though not without a fight for the Vosges crests, abandoned on July 30 in accordance with the '10-kilometre rule'), it was found much more difficult to deploy marching columns off the roads (which naturally clung to the river valleys), without the advance dropping to a snail's pace. Consequently neither army made more than a few miles in the first day of the offensive, August 14, and it was not until the next that either crossed the line of the frontier, abandoned for diplomatic reasons a fortnight before. Neither had encountered concerted resistance, for though some Germans stood and fought for isolated positions, they seemed content for the most part to be off as soon as the French appeared, using their plentiful artillery to cover their retreat and harass the attackers. Progress on August 1 6 was a little quicker, bringing the advance guards of both armies to positions some eight miles northeast of their line of departure. Already, however, the topography had begun to impose its own pattern on the course of Operations, causing the axes of the two armies to diverge and their subordinate corps to choose separate fronts of attack. Foch's XX Corps, on the left of Second Army, itself protected on the left by IX and XVIII Corps in covering positions east of Nancy, found itself attracted into the valley of the Petite Seille, which leads via

Moyenvic and Chateau-Salins to Morhange; XV Corps in the centre was drawn into the valley of the Seille and on towards Dieuze; while XVI Corps on the right, marching as flank guards, struggled to keep pace over virtually roadless terrain. At the same time it was supposed to maintain contact with First Army. First Army, however, was making its way nearer east than north-east and, con-

fined to a fairly narrow corridor between the belt of lakes and the shoulders of the Vosges, was having difficulty in assuring the protection of its flanks. The three cavalry divisions, now formed into a corps under Conneau, the senior divisional commander, had been allotted the vital role of liaison between the two armies but could not operate freely in the lake region. At no stage were they in close touch with either army, nor apparently, with the

in the Vosges and march to his right flank. At the same time he pressed Castelnau to extend towards him across the lake region. This Castelnau was unwilling to do, since his own left wing was about to be weakened

enemy. The right wing of First Army, consisting of XIV and XXI Corps, were fighting battles of their own, the latter seeking to secure the commanding peak of the

Unco-ordinated advance The advance of the spearhead continued


to the main body's right rear, the former to debouch eastward over the Vosges crests. Pau's Army of Alsace, taking the same route as the unhappy Bonneau had taken a week earlier, was making independently for Mulhouse, and at a

scarcely faster pace.

This divergent pattern of advance in by lateral roads

territory poorly served and in an age of still

primitive signal

communications carried with it of course the danger of surprise attack and defeat in detail, a danger heightened by the failure of either commander to keep a tactical reserve under his hand and by the inability of the cavalry to scout effectively


the lakes and woods. Dubail was danger and on August 16 he ordered the bulk of XXI Corps to disengage alert to this

The generalissimo of the French armies, Joff re, centre, with two of his commanders in the south — de Castelnau, left, of Second Army and Pau of the Army of Alsace

by the transfer, on Joffre's direction, of XVIII Corps to the Belgian frontier, and the troops that he was to receive in replacement were of considerably lower fighting worth.

therefore to diverge, but in the puzzling absence of concerted enemy resistance — made all the more puzzling by his occasional stubborn defence of a ridge or village and by his continuous drenching of the zone of advance with heavy calibre shellfire from battery positions beyond the range of the French 75s — the temptation to make ground rather than consolidate a continuous front grew stronger. This trend became evident on August 17 and even more so the next day when XV Corps of Second Army pushed quickly into Dieuze in the valley of the Seille and VIII Corps of First Army raced a regiment into Sarrebourg, as soon as it was discovered to be empty. On August 19 Foch's corps, which hitherto had lagged rather behind the rest of the Second Army, came within sight of Morhange, after an advance of over eight miles in difficult terrain.

ing two of Heeringen's three corps up from their original positions opposite the Belfort gap and inserting them on Sixth


left between the lake region and the shoulders of the Vosges. Dubail and Castelnau therefore deployed seven corps and three reserve divisions against eight corps and five Ersatz divisions. Moreover, one of the French corps was isolated in the Vosges (though so too was one of the German); the reserve divisions were committed to cover Nancy rather than manoeuvre

where they were needed on left wing; and Pau's Army of Alsace, though opposed only by Landwehr units, was too deeply engaged before Mul-



house to lend assistance. In the Lorraine gateway itself, therefore, the French de-

Such successes made an encouraging show on Joffre's situation map. Nevertheless a cautious observer might have found grounds


unease in the existence of un-

secured pockets of territory interrupting the indicated line of furthest advance, particularly that on the left where the Forest of Koecking covers the high ground between the Petite Seille, occupied by XX Corps, and the Seille, on which XV and XVI Corps were operating, and that in the centre where the boundary between First and Second Armies bordered the Forest of Fenetrange. Both salients provided covered assembly areas for an enemy counterattack, perhaps by those 'three corps' of Seventh Army which GQG's Intelligence section had marked as 'unlocated' for the last six days. Suspicion on the same score might well have been sharpened by the suddenly increased resistance Dubail's soldiers had met throughout August 19 to their efforts to press on up the Sarrebourg-Phalsbourg road which, leading as it does to the narrow saddle of the Vosges at Saverne, is the natural exit from the Lorraine gateway to the Rhine Valley. Dubail's senses had been attuned for warning signals of a counteroffensive throughout the last two days. Few enough had come his way but his suspicions were rightly founded for the German Sixth and Seventh Armies (known to GQG only as the Armies of Lorraine and Alsace, so defective was its grasp of the German order of battle) were indeed preparing a counterstroke. It was very grudgingly that their commanders had surrendered as much ground as they had, and from the first moments of the French advance they had petitioned Moltke for permission to play a more aggressive role. Moltke had hitherto refused for the good reason that his plan of campaign demanded inactivity on the German left, an inactivity which it was hoped would tempt the French into committing their armies of the right so deeply that by the time Germany's object




invading it

Belgium had become

would be too

late to extricate

for transfer to the north.


in the

event of French disengagement were Sixth and Seventh Armies to advance. Since their combined strength fell only a little short of their opponents, Sixth Army controlling five corps






_^ _-H*i"3b^,*!^K





*~ jn ~






the two day battles of the Ardennes, August 22-23. 1914, two French armies, the Thud under Ruffey and the Fourth under de Langle de Cary, met two German, the Fourth under the Duke of Wurttemberg and the Fifth under Crown Prince Wilhelm. It was, however, far from being an equal encounter. The Germans, whose strength between Bastogne* and Thionville Joffre's Intelligence Section had estimated on August 16 at only six or seven corps with two or three cavalry divisions, actually had ten corps and two cavalry divisions. The In



flattered themselves that they

were advancing with a numerical advantage, had ten corps, with two reserve divisions and three cavalry divisions. The Germans thus had a numerical superiority over the French of 380,000 to 361,000 (200,000 in the Fifth Army and 180,000 in the Fourth to 168,000 in the Third Army and 193,000 in the Fourth). By August 16 it was clear to the French that the main German advance was swinging round through Belgium, while to the south of Metz the Germans seemed to be on the defensive. Joffre came to the conclusion that he had the opportunity to break his enemy's centre, and then fall upon the German right. It was his intention, therefore, to use the Third and Fourth Armies for a great thrust through Luxembourg and Belgian Luxembourg. This, his principal attack, would strike at the southern flank and the communications of the Germans who had crossed the River Meuse between Namur and the Dutch frontier. He hoped that he would be able to attack them before they could swing south and deploy for battle. The offensive of the First and Second Armies further to the south was of secondary importance, its aim being to hold the German forces, who seemed to be shifting westwards and so posing a threat to the right flank of the Third Army. Further north, the Fifth Army, the BEF and the Belgian army, by checking the German advance from the Meuse, were to give the Third and Fourth Armies time to develop their offensive. Joffre sent out his orders on August 20. The Third Army was to begin its offensive movement next day in the general direction of Arlon — 'The mission of the Third Army is to counterattack any enemy force which may try to gain the right flank of the

Fourth Army.' The Fourth

Army was to move in the general direction of Neufchateau. Joffre telegraphed to its commander, de Langle de Cary: 'I authorise you to send strong advanced guards of all arms tonight to the general line Bertrix-Tintigny to secure the debouchment of your army beyond the River) Semois.' The eve of the great French offensive in the Ardennes found the BEF concentrated south of Maubeuge, the French Fifth Army with its forward elements on the River Sambre and on the Meuse near Dinant, the Third and Fourth close up to the Belgian frontier, astride the river Chiers, from the vicinity of Longwy to Sedan, and ready to cross the Semois river. To the south the newly-formed Sixth Army under Maunoury was keeping Metz under observation, while the First and Second Armies (Dubail and de Castelnau) mauled at Sarrebourg and Morhange had been compelled to retire. The repulse of de Castelnau and Dubail was a poor omen, but on the 21st the French re crossed the Belgian frontier and •


advanced some 10 Ardennes — no mean

to 15 miles into the feat for the country is

very difficult: rough, tree-clad hills, broken up by deep river valleys with occasional narrow belts of pasture. The French groped forward, their aeroplanes able to see nothing, their cavalry proving ineffective for reconnaissance in the forest defiles and villages. Thus on the 22nd the French columns literally ran into the Germans, who were crossing their front, and a number of separate actions developed, which are known to the French as the battles of Virton and of the Semois, and to the Germans as Longwy and Neufchateau. The nature of the country made liaison between the various columns practically impossible, and rendered it extremely difficult for corps (still less army) headquarters to exercise any effective control over operations. Under the circumstances the Germans, who were more realistically trained than their adversaries, enjoyed a tactical advantage, which was far more important than their slight numerical advantage. Moreover, while the French were not expecting serious opposition, the Germans had no such illusions. They expected to meet an aggressive foe of a strength equal to their own, and in consequence had explored the Ardennes with Hollens' cavalry (IV Cavalry Corps) who were ready to guide and support their advancing infantry. The French, not knowing that the Germans had Reserve corps in the line, underestimated their enemy. Heavy rain fell during the afternoon and evening of August 21, and during the night that followed there was a heavy mist. In the early hours of the 22nd the Crown




thus exposed,


advance when

made no

real effort in the direction of Tintigny, but, halting on the outskirts of Bellefontaine, launched an

attack eastwards bringing timely assistance to the hard-pressed IV Corps of Ruffey's army. This altruistic action had an unhappy effect on the Colonial Corps on Gerard's left. This was the formation to which de Langle de Cary had given the task of taking his main objective, Neufchateau. Its selection was not surprising, for not only had it three divisions, as opposed to the normal two, but it was composed largely of professional soldiers, veteran campaigners of Indo-China and North Africa. This corps d'elite pushed forward in two columns. On the right the 3rd Colonial Division advanced through the Forest of Neufchateau by way of Rossignol and on the left a mixed brigade, advancing through the Forest of Chiny by way of Suxy. The columns, separated by a broad and well-nigh impassable stretch of woods, were expected to converge for the final assault on Neufchateau. Expecting little opposition except perhaps from patrols or advanced guards, the 3rd Colonial Division ran into Pritzelwitz's VI Corps in the woods north of Rossignol and launched a series of furious bayonet charges. Five French battalions were taking on nine German battalions, with three

squadrons of dismounted cavalry. The French column tried in vain to break through, while the Germans deployed and worked round both their flanks. It was as if the French had learned nothing since the days of Waterloo, when their columns had withered before the musketry of British

and German infantry fighting in line. The very courage and zeal of the French was their undoing. The loss of officers was par-

Prince's advanced guards located French troops at Virton, Ethe and Signeul. It was still dark and the Germans halted under cover in the forward edge of the woods

ticularly heavy. Early in the action three

and dug

of the


battalion commanders were by a burst of machine gun fire as they conferred at the roadside. Confive

mown down


outnumbered — but



The French got on the move some hours and it was already daylight when


they stumbled into the German lines. In the fog V Corps under Brochin wandered into the German XIII Corps (Fabeck), which was preparing to attack. There ensued a disorganised battle, which ebbed and flowed for two hours until the fog lifted to reveal the French artillery in close support of their infantry. The Germans lost no time in bringing a heavy fire on the hapless 75s. Simultaneously the German infantry got in their attack. Panic seized the French and it was not long before V Corps, Ruffey's centre, was beating a hasty retreat for Tellancourt, leaving each of the neighbouring corps with a flank in the air. On Ruffey's right Sarrail's VI Corps did well, but during the afternoon it was compelled to retire in the face of superior numbers. On the left of the Third Army the IV Corps (Boelle) became engaged at Virton and Ethe with Strantz (V Corps) and part of Fabeck's XIII Corps. Boelle's two divisions, fighting separate battles, though less than three miles apart, held their own, but were unable to make progress, and so left de Langle's right flank unprotected. Gerard

fusion reigned.

The leading brigade


await — in vain — the support of the second brigade of the division. The failure of Gerard's II Corps to advance had left the right flank of the Colonial Corps in the air. The German 22nd Brigade, belonging to Pritzelwitz' VI Corps, striking in from the east towards St Vincent now compelled the second brigade of the French corps to turn 90 degrees instead of continuing the march on Rossignol. Hard pressed though it was this formation might have rendered some assistance to its fellows had it not been that the narrow River Semois divided them. Though not more than 15 or 20 yards wide, its banks

back on Rossignol


were marshy and vehicles could only cross by the stone bridge at Breuvanne, one and a quarter miles south of Rossignol. By keeping this under a heavy artillery fire the Germans effectively cut the Colonial Division in two, depriving the defenders of Rossignol of all relief. Surrounded and outnumbered, the survivors fought on with admirable devotion. In the dusk the regimental colours were buried among the burning houses of the shell torn villages. When the last wave of German infantrymen broke over Rossignol the division had suffered 11,000 casualties. The divisional commander and one of the brigade commanders were dead and the other brigade commander was a wounded prisoner. Most of the divisional artillery was in German hands.

It was Gerard's failure to advance that had permitted the German 22 nd Brigade to intervene with such effect, but it was by no

means the sole reason for the catastrophe that overwhelmed the 3rd Colonial DiviThroughout the day the 2nd Colonial Division remained at Jamoigne, barely three miles distant, in Army Reserve. Early in the afternoon General Lefevre, the corps

12, with one German regiment and squadron of cavalry against one troop, one German battalion of engineers against one company and nine German batteries (54 77-mm field guns) against three batteries




commander, ventured

Another German brigade remained in reserve. Given a fair chance the hardened French colonial troops were more than a match for the ardent but inexperienced

to ask de Langle de Cary's permission to send the division into action, but permission did not come through until night had fallen. Leblois, the divisional commander, sent forward a battalion to create a diversion, but that was all. It cannot be said that either Lefevre or Leblois displayed much initiative, and the latter was removed from his command a few months later for his incapacity. The left-hand column of the Colonial Corps, some 6,000 strong, advanced harassed by Uhlans, and under the surveillance of German aircraft. Nevertheless, the brigade under Gaullet reached the neighbourhood of Neufchateau without undue difficulty. Here they met the Hessians and Rhinelanders of the XVIII Reserve Corps under Steuben, and gave a good account of themselves against odds of two to one. Gaullet held on until nightfall without word of the other column. Neither corps nor army headquarters enlightened him as to events at Rossignol and, threatened with encirclement, he fell back during the night. The 5th Colonial Brigade regained its start line, south of the Semois, unmolested. Gaullet had done rather well as the breakdown of the opposing forces at Neufchateau reveals. For in opposition to the six French battalions the Germans had

Bayonets fixed and rifles at the ready, French infantry move forward to begin their attack


field guns).


Captured without a shot Roques' XII Corps scored an initial success at St Medard against one of Steuben's brigades, but perceiving that Neufchateau remained in German hands, it halted though there was nothing much between it and Recogne, about seven miles north of St Medard. Poline's XVII Corps got through the forests during the morning, to find open country between it and its objective, Ochamps, where the Germans were firmly ensconced. A typical French attempt to storm the place by a brusque attack broke down. A German counterattack came in from the east, and fell on the French communications. Wagons and guns, nose to tail, blocked the road through the Forest of Lunchy, where the corps train was awaiting the fall of Ochamps. Surprised by part of XVIII Corps under Schenck, the French broke and fled in confusion after the briefest resistance. One group of artillery broke out, but for the most part the guns, unable to deploy, were captured without a shot fired. Soon the whole corps was in panic-struck flight. It was not rallied until it was far beyond its original start line. De Langle de Cary's

army, like Ruffey's, had a breach the width of the front of a whole corps in its centre. After heavy fighting Eydoux' XI Corps had driven part of Schenck's corps from Maissiu, but hearing of the departure of Poline's

men, Eydoux prudently evacuated the place and took up a defensive position on the heights to the south. He at last had carried out his mission. For the French it had been a day of disaster. For two corps (I Colonial and XVII) had been severely mauled, and if those of Gerard and Roques

and XII) were more largely because they had made no serious effort to carry out their missions. Two corps of the German Fourth Army had not been engaged at all. Pritzelwitz's victory at Rossignol had cost him dear, and Stuben had paid an even heavier price, without enjoying the same measure of success, at Neufchateau. From the German point of view the honours of or less intact




the day had gone to Schenck's XVIII Corps, which had routed the French XVII Corps and also fought the XI Corps to a standstill.

The reports that reached the army commanders and seeped through to Joffre were both sparse and garbled. At the end of the day Ruffey still thought he had not three corps to deal with. De Cary, still unaware of the presence of VIII Corps and VIII Reserve Corps, nevertheless gave the Commanderin-Chief a fairly realistic account of the day's work: 'All corps engaged today. On the whole results hardly satisfactory. Serious reverses in the region of Tintigny [Rossignol and Ochamps. Successes before St Medard and Maissiu cannot be mainfive





; :«>cWi







— it




'Without good tactics, the best strategy must be ineffective'

artillerymen take a brief rest

on the side

of the

road during



through the Argonne

Have given orders to hold the front Hondvemont/Bievre/Paliseul/Bertrix/

German numbers. He attributed the failure

Straiment/Jamoigne/Meix-devant-Virton.' To this Joffre, not the man to abandon his offensive lightly, replied: 'Information collected, taken as a whole, shows only approximately three army corps before your front. Consequently you must resume your offensive as soon as possible.' De Langle received this order early on August 23, and made a real effort to carry it out, but the task allotted to him was hopeless, and when night fell his army, thoroughly shaken by the events of the last three days, so far from having made progress, was actually further to the rear. Joffre now realised that the Fourth Army had shot its bolt, and with his approval shortly after midnight on the 24th de Langle de Cary gave orders for 'a withdrawal beyond the River Meuse'. Thus ended the second great French

Army having

offensive — in utter failure. The German army commanders for their part were not slow to trumpet their success. The Crown Prince received a telegram from his father, the Kaiser, reading: 'Congratulations in the first victory which, with God's help, you have won so splendidly. I award you the Iron Cross, Classes I and II. Con-



vey to your brave troops my thanks, and those of the Fatherland. Well done! I am proud of you. Your affectionate father, Wilhelm.' But, in fact, things were not quite so rosy as the German commanders painted them, for, though mauled, neither the French Third nor Fourth Army was broken. The battle left Joffre still labouring der his early delusions with regard to

of the offensive to

two divisions of the Third

allowed themselves to be

surprised, and to a division of the Fourth Army falling back and dislocating the whole line. This had led to the Colonial Corps being violently attacked and having to give way. He attributed the German advances in the north to their having drawn troops from their centre. On August

25 he telegraphed to Monsieur Messimy, the Minister for War: 'I am studying the means of stopping this [rearward] movement by abandoning as much ground as is necessary and preparing a new manoeuvre, the object of which will be to oppose the march of the enemy on Paris.' One can only admire Joffre's dogged resolution, but the disaster must be attributed at least in part to his miscalculation of the German strength and intentions. In the Ardennes his troops, handicapped by a false tactical



chance in an offensive

against the better trained Germans, who also enjoyed a considerable numerical advantage. To his credit it must be said that Joffre was quick to discern the weakness of that fatal French tactical idea that infantry should attack head down, regardless of the enemy's fire and without artillery support. As early as August 24 he issued an instruction to all the French armies: Each time that it is necessary to capture a point d'appui (strongpoint) the attack must be prepared with artillery, the infantry must be held back and not launched to the assault until the distance to be covered is so short that it is certain the objectives will be reached. Every time that the infantry has

been launched to the attack from too great a distance before the artillery has made its effect felt, the infantry has fallen under the fire of machine guns and suffered losses which might have been avoided. When a point d'appui has been captured, it must be organised immediately, the troops must entrench, and artillery must be brought up. The French, in their blue coats and red trousers, paid a heavy price to learn lessons which were taken for granted by their British allies. Without good tactics the best strategy must be ineffective. If the company commanders fail how shall the generals succeed? The unfortunate infantry were horribly mangled in the



A company commander,

Grasset, describes his ordeal near Virton

on August 22: The sun was scorching, yet my watch showed only nine in the morning. The hours were passing but slowly. It seemed to me

we had been there for a long, long time. was sustaining heavy losses. Evidently its action was hampering the enemy, who concentrated the combined fire of his infantry, artillery, and machine guns on us. We were surrounded by a heavy that

My company

cloud which at times completely veiled the battlefield from our eyes Little Bergeyre sprang up, shouted: 'Vive la France!' at the top of his voice, and fell dead. Among the men lying on the ground, one could no longer distinguish the living from the dead. The first were entirely absorbed by their grim duty, the others lay motionless, having entered eternal rest in the very attitude in which death surprised them. .


Not for the first time invasion from the east

Mi **«


The changing fortunes of war. Left: a quiet


French square witnesses


departing for war.

Below left: the same square witnesses a church service held by the invading Germans. Below. German infantry wait on a wooded hilltop for the signal for their next advance into France

\ The wounded offered a truly impressive Sometimes they would stand up bloody and horrible-looking, amidst bursts of gun-fire. They ran aimlessly around, arms stretched out before them, eyes staring at the ground, turning round and round until, hit by fresh bullets, they would stop and fall heavily. sight.

Heart-rending cries, agonising appeals horrible groans were intermingled with the sinister howling of projectiles. Furious contortions told of strong and youthful


bodies refusing to give up life. One man was trying to replace his bloody, dangling hand to his shattered wrist. Another ran from the line holding the bowels falling out of his belly and through his tattered clothes. Before long a bullet struck

him down. We had no support from our artillery! And yet, there were guns in our division and in the army corps, besides those destroyed on the road. Where were they? Why didn't they arrive? We were alone. I was wondering, in my anxiety, whether we were going to lose all our men on the spot. Another young officer who had his baptism of fire in the Ardennes was Lieutenant Erwin Rommel of the 124th (Wurttemberg) Infantry, belonging to the Crown Prince's Fifth Army. In the attack on Bleid near Longwy, he was scouting forward of the line with three other men when he saw 15 or 20 Frenchmen twenty paces away, 'in the middle of the highway drinking chatting, their rifles lying idly in their arms. They did not see me'. The 5th Company of the French 101st Infantry Regiment did not believe, it seems, in takcoffee,

11 ing such elementary precautions as posting sentries! Rommel continues: / withdrew quickly behind the building. Was I to bring up the platoon? No! Four of us would be able to handle this situation. I quickly informed my men of my intention to open fire. We quietly released the safety catches; jumped out from behind the building; and standing erect, opened fire on the enemy nearby. Some were killed or wounded on the spot; but the majority took cover behind

garden walls, and wood piles and fire. Rommel's platoon then came up and assaulted a building which was the main French position. On signal the 2nd Section opened fire. I dashed forward to the right with the 1st Section — over the same route I had passed over a few minutes before with the platoon — across the street. The enemy in the house opened with heavy rifle fire mainly directed at the section behind the hedge. The assault detachment was now sheltered by the building and safe from the hostile fire. The doors gave way with a crash under heavy blows of the battering ram. Burning bunches of straw were thrown onto the threshing floor, which was covered with grain and fodder. The building had been surrounded. Anyone who had taken a notion to leap out would have landed on our bayonets. Soon bright flames leapt from the roof. Those of the enemy who were still alive laid down their arms. Our casualties consisted of a few slightly wounded. The point of this passage is that while the French were still employing the tactics of the middle, if not the beginning of the 19th Century, the Germans were already

much more modern

versed in







and this

tactical dissertation is simply to suggest that the battles of the Ardennes were lost as decisively at pre-1914 manoeuvres as in the offices where Plan 17 was concocted. One thing was certain: with the Fourth Army back across the Meuse, Plan 17 was dead.


returned our

Further Reading King, J. C, The hrst World War (New York: Harper 1972) Rommel, F-M. Erwin, Infantry Attacks (Quantico, Virginia 1956)

Spears. Maj-Gen. Sir Edward, Liaison 1914

(London 1968) Thoumin, R., The


World War (London




The Campaign of the Marne. 1914

(London 1935)







two bars, FSA, RFHistS, was born in 1915 and educated at Monmouth School and at Trinity College, Oxford. Commissioned in 1937, he served with distinction throughout the Second World War. He was wounded during the Dunkirk campaign, special service and sent more than taking part in such important raids as those against the Lofotens and Dieppe. When the war ended he was commanding the 1 st Commando Brigade. He was a student at the Staff College, Camberley, in 1946, and from 1953 to 1956 commanded the 9th Regiment of the Arab Legion. He is ex-Head of the Military History Department at the RMA Sandhurst, and has written



four years with

No 3 Commando,

numerous books and


Baltle oi the Frontiers At the beginning of the war, Joffre, instead of keeping one of his armies in reserve as had been planned originally, decided to deploy all his troops along the frontiers. It was the commander of the Fifth Army, Lanrezac, whose army was to have been the reserve and was now the most northerly of the French armies, who realised the full import of the German advance in the north and obtained permission from Joffre to try to stop it. Lanrezac's tactical ability did not match his strategic insight, however, and his troops were pushed back with heavy losses Ready, even over-eager, to fight, French cavalry failed to form the essential links between the armies, or even to act as effective screens in front of them


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It had become a point of dogma in French war planning before 1914 that troops deployed on the Sambre and Meuse were troops wasted. In making that judgement, the French army closed its ears to history,


sense and a good tune. For Sambre-et-Meuse, that jaunty little march to which 200,000 conscripts annually learnt their paces, recalls one of the most illustrious and instructive episodes of its past — Jourdan's victory over the Austrians at Fleurus in 1794, which ended at a blow the danger of a march on Paris from northern Belgium. Common sense might have warned that the passage of a century since the signing of a treaty had not diminished that danger, for it is only a short across central Belgium to France from the German frontier where, as Joffre's Chief of Intelligence unguardedly admitted, 'the rail resources were inscribed on the terrain'. But those who, glancing northward to the open plains, argued that the Sambre and Meuse could not safely be left in the sole care of the Belgians and their forts, were held to be fainthearted; and those who, like General Michel, stuck to this argument, found their careers cut short and their plans shelved. Michel's Plan 16 would have deployed over a third of the French army behind the Sambre and northern Meuse. It would also have amalgamated the Reserve and the Active corps and although it was his colleagues' disagreement with that rather than the deployment issue which brought


Michel's resignation, his successor, Joffre, discarded both elements of the plan on his assumption of office. Joffre's Plan 17 provided for no major concentration north of Mezieres and allowed for only two eventualities: German invasions either via southern Belgium or via Switzerland. He planned to deal with both by a forestalling attack, north or south of Metz as the case demanded, reinforcing whichever of his two pairs of armies was involved with a fifth, which he would hold initially in central reserve. In the event, Joffre decided to deploy all five of his armies on the frontier from the outset, and to launch both his projected offensives almost simultaneously, with the results we have seen. In so far as he preserved any masse de manoeuvre by the beginning of the third week of the campaign, it was the Fifth Army, concentrated opposite southern Belgium. As yet he had no firm plans for its employment, the reality of German intentions and capabilities having not upset his picture of the future by this date. Lanrezac, the Fifth Army commander, believed however that he had caught a glimpse of the truth and found it deeply disturbing. As early as July 31 he had feared for his left flank should the Germans move onto the lower Meuse and on August 5, by which date his Intelligence section had collected indications that the force attacking Liege amounted to as many as six corps, he requested permission at least to extend his left wing as far as Givet, where the Meuse enters Belgian territory. Thanks in part to a Belgian threat to withdraw on Antwerp if not speedily supported, Joffre granted leave for Lanrezac's I Corps to move to Dinant, just north of Givet, but having it in mind as he did to use the rest of Lanrezac's army in his projected attack into the Ardenne" he was unwilling to allow the rest of it to fo.iow.


Meanwhile he kept his plans dark. suspicion, however, of the trend both of Joffre's offensive intentions and of German operations in Belgium was growing upon Lanrezac, a suspicion which, if accurate, he recognised as holding the gravest consequences not only for his own army, most exposed of the five though it was, but for the whole of the French forces. It was a suspicion, however, to which it was difficult to give substance, since GQG's Intelligence section consistently minimised the number of German corps in Belgium in its estimates, ignored its prewar judgement

The raw material of Plan 17 -French troops in fighting order

that the enemy would employ Reserve corps in the first-line, treated all Belgian Intelligence as rumour and accepted Sordet's failure to make contact with the Germans between Liege and the Ardennes as evidence of their absence.


unfruitful interview

By August 14 Lanrezac had concluded that he could convey the extent of his fears, and the reality which underlay them, only by exposing them in person and trusting to the favour in which he knew his normally unapproachable chief held him, and set

GQG. It was an amiable but unfruitinterview which ensued. Lanrezac's manner has been described as professional (the unintellectual Sir John French found it downright offensive) and Joffre did not like to be lectured. He dismissed all Lanrezac's arguments against continuing with preparations for the offensive into the Ardennes and, as to the danger from beyond the Sambre and Meuse, he felt, he said, that 'the Germans have nothing ready there'. Lanrezac pointed out to Joffre's assistants when the interview was over that their own Intelligence estimates put the German strength in Belgium at six corps which, since it equalled that of his own army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) — now marching towards Maubeuge — combined, was a factor which no plan for an offensive into the Ardennes could leave out of account. But they too proferred him only reassurances. On his return to Fifth Army headquarters, however, Lanrezac found awaiting him a new GQG Intelligence estimate which admitted the presence of eight German corps in Belgium — evidence that light had at last began to penetrate to GQG, if not all the way to Joffre himself. The events of the following day, August 15, brought news which even Joffre could not ignore: news that the Germans had seized the bridges at Huy, midway along the Meuse between Namur and Liege, and that Franchet d'Esperey's I Corps had been assailed at Dinant, suffering 1,000 casualties before driving the Germans off. Joffre did not ignore the news. At 1530 hours he issued an amendment to his plan of campaign which for the first time conceded that the Sambre and Meuse line was under threat. Special Directive No 10 instructed Lanrezac's army to quit its concentration area and move northwards with the angle formed by the confluence of the two rivers at Namur. It was to leave behind his XI Corps, allotted to Fourth Army, which Joffre still intended should advance into the Ardennes (as indeed it was to do on August 20) but receive in exchange XVIII Corps, at that moment in training in Lorraine. The 2nd Group of (three) Reserve divisions concentrated around Vervins, and Sordet's cavalry corps, still vainly off for ful

searching empty countryside beyond the

Meuse, were also to come under his command. As two of his three original corps (III and X — though not I) had recently received a third division (those mobilised from the French population of Algeria) it was with a substantially strengthened command — ten Active, three Reserve and three cavalry divisions — that he undertook his independent mission. It was for the moment, however, merely a precautionary one, on Joffre's stipulation. The task he had allotted Lanrezac was to act in concert with the British army and Belgian forces against the opposing forces in the north and he offered no estimate of how strong those forces might be. Not until August 18 did he reveal his mind



A French dragoon, equipped with a Lebel wooden lance. His brass helmet

carbine and a

was covered

with felt to prevent it reflecting the sun and giving away his position. It had a horse-hair plume at the


A groundsheet and blanket were



Right: A typical French infantryman equipped with a Lebel rifle. His bayonet handle is visible



haversack and his coat,

buttoned back to

facilitate movement, hides the rest of the bayonet. The French infantry carried two leather ammunition pouches at the front, and a leather pack with a rigid frame at the back. A blanket, waterproof cape, a spare pair of boots and a mess tin were also carried in the pack. The pack was fastened at the top and the ends neatly rolled up.





in Special Directive

Fourth and Third Armies, he wrote of two strategic possibilities and of the measures to be taken, depending on which of the two materialised. His supposition was that German strength in Belgium had increased to between 13 and 15 corps, of which eight seemed to be operating above the Sambre and Meuse, the rest in the Ardennes. The latter in any case were to be engaged by Fourth and Third Armies, whose departure was imminent, and it was possible that those armies would find that a portion of the German force presently above the Sambre and Meuse would by then have joined those in the Ardennes, leaving only a fraction in northern Belgium. If so, the 13, issued to Fifth,

Fifth Army could safely commit the Sambre lines to the care of the Belgians or the BEF, itself turning east to support Fourth Army's drive into the Ardennes. His second hypothesis was that the eight German corps of the northern group might 'seek to

pass between Givet and Brussels and even to accentuate its movement further to the north': in which case the BEF, the Belgians and the Fifth Army should march to outflank them from further north still. The issue was still unsettled when the advance guards of III and X Corps reached the banks of the Sambre between Charleroi and Namur, after five days and 60 miles of marching, on the afternoon of August 20. Lieutenant Spears, the British liaison officer at Lanrezac's headquarters,

had passed and repassed the long columns on his busy journeys during those days in search of the as yet elusive BEF. 'The men were cheerful and gay,' he wrote later, 'in spite of the fatigues imposed on them by the constant marching in torrid weather. The reservists were obviously getting fit, and indeed, under the gruelling they were being submitted to, it was a question of getting


or dying of exhaustion.' Their

commander was


from cheerful— he

feared for the security of his left flank, which would hang in the air until the BEF came up, and those fears had not been subdued at that now notorious interview with Sir John French on August 17. He feared also for the security of his right flank, as long as the postponement of Fourth Army's



battle of the

Sambre -

foreseen but not forestalled




left the enemy deeply frustrated by his failure to awaken Joffre to the real danger which threatened on the Sambre; and, having reached the river, he found himself in two minds as to how to hold it.

advance into the Ardennes to operate there.

He was

The Meuse between Namur and Givet, on which Franchet d'Esperey's I Corps was deployed, makes an easily defensible line for it flows through a deep, sometimes precipitous trench with open country on both banks which provides room for manoeuvre and easy observation. The Sambre between Namur and Charleroi, though also a natural if less topographically dramatic obstacle, is much less readily tenable. It flows through a

were very much larger than anyone at


or indeed at Lanrezac's headquarters had guessed, amounting in all to 11 infantry and two cavalry corps divided between Kluck's First Army (from east to west //, IV, IV Reserve, III, IX and // Cavalry Corps) and Billow's Second Army (from east to west VII, VII Reserve, Reserve, X, Guard, Guard Reserve, and / Cavalry Corps), to which First Army was


temporarily subordinated. On August 20, Biilow had received orders from Moltke to invest Namur forthwith and engage whatever French and Belgian forces were to be found on the Sambre. In concert with those operations, Hausen's Third Army (from north to south, XI, XII Reserve, XII and XIX Corps) was to press forward through the Ardennes to the Meuse between Namur and Givet and attack eastward across it into the flank of the same

not arrive in the Namur-Givet reach of the until the next day. The French pickets, belonging to X Corps, had an even dimmer notion of their army commander's intentions, for he had still not made it known on which side of the river he would give battle. Suspecting, however, that after their long march they would eventually be directed onto the far bank, the local commanders were privately determined to hold onto the bridges from the outset rather than perhaps have to recapture



was an area wholly unsuited for manoeuvr-

(Kluck was

under his command) he

But their numbers were few, a brief reconnaissance the commander of the German 2nd Guard Division convinced himself that he could carry the bridges at Auvelais quickly and without loss. His corps commander, who had only shortly before received Billow's instructions not to advance, would have forbidden the attempt had not Ludendorff, who was paying him a casual visit, not overheard the exchange. Taking on himself the responsibility, as he had done at Liege a fortnight before with such dramatic results, the Quartermaster-General directed the Guard to carry the bridges if they could. They were favoured by the terrain in their attempt, having behind them the heights of La Sarte, from which their field artillery could dominate the French bridgeheads. Of those there were eight, or rather seven, since the French advance guards,

and one to be avoided in a general engagement intended to produce decisive

decided that in view of probable French strength on the river, he must curtail Kluck's great flank march and bring his army down directly southwards onto his own right between Charleroi and Maubeuge, the French fortress on the upper Sambre. Both Kluck and Kuhl, his chiefof-staff, disputed Billow's decision at length arid with vigour, but Biilow refused to

who were few in number, had overlooked a railway viaduct, believed to be in III Corps area, when taking up their positions the night before. The more numerous Germans soon found it, pressed across and followed by more of the division, mounted an attack into the French flank which drove them out of Auvelais and into the village of Arsimont two miles beyond. This pene-

them to conform to his of advance, however, Biilow, though he did not know it and perhaps could not have guessed, extinguished the remaining chance of a true strategic envelopment of the Allied armies, and ensured that Kluck would run headlong into the BEF at Mons.

tration of their line forced the rest of the X Corps pickets, although successfully defending their bridgeheads, also to disengage and seek positions behind the river. On III Corps' front, a precisely similar chain of events had developed at the same time. One of its detachments had also missed a bridge, over which the German

But Mons, though in every sense an integral and indeed crucial part of the Battle of the Frontiers, was to be a quite separate affair from that which began to unfold between Charlerio and Namur, and Namur and Givet on the afternoon of August 21. Namur itself, garrisoned by fortress troops and the 4th Belgian (Mobile) Division, was swiftly invested by two corps (Guard Reserve and XI) supported by the train of super-heavy artillery which had broken open the very similar forts at Liege a

Corps soon found its way, drove off the French guard and consolidated its hold on the south bank. Six miles of the Sambre, more if it is measured along its loops, had thus fallen almost by default within enemy hands. Since the numbers engaged had been small, and the French losses consequently light, the situation was nevertheless one which Lanrezac might well have accepted without regret, for it had, of course, never been his intention to make his principal stand in the region of the Borinage at all. Neither his soldiers nor his officers were to know, however, that they had not suffered a serious reverse, for he withdrew during

thickly populated section — a succession of small industrial towns in which factories, warehouses and dwellings stand in close juxtaposition along both banks of the river, intersected by narrow cobbled streets. This region, known as the Borinage. which extends for several hundred yards back from the stream, both to the north and south, offers obvious difficulties from a military point of view. Though readily adaptable to defence by small groups of infantry and machinegunners, its numerous walls and houses render it particularly unfavourable for the effective use of light artillery (the principal French supporting arm). It ing,

results. Lanrezac both recognised this unsuitability and intended to force a decision it. He seemed unable to choose between the two alternative solutions: to cross the river and fight with it at his back, or to let the Germans cross and fight them In the open country on his side. Throughout the day the commanders of III and X Corps were without word from him and were left to make their own decisions on which tactical dispositions to adopt. That this was so, Lanrezac must have guessed, just as he must have realised that these decisions would commit him to a course of action bearing perhaps no relation to the situation of the British on his left or the Belgians on his right, with whom he should have been formulating a common plan. Nevertheless, he kept silent, reveal-


ing his indecision so far as to telegraph Joffre on the morning of August 21 asking subordinate for advice. That was unwise.


who teaches

his superior strategy (how-

ever well) but asks for tactical guidance risks a dusty answer. At 2000 hours he received his answer. Joffre, who had just sent him instructions to open the attack, telegraphed 'I leave it entirely to you, to judge the opportune

moment ment.'

for starting

your offensive move-

By then Lanrezac had made up

mind at manders



having told his corps com-

in conference that afternoon that

he intended

to hold on the high ground south of the river. But he was too late, for at the moment his orders were going out, reports of heavy fighting in the Borinage started to come in. The enemy had crossed the river and the battle, known as that of Charleroi to the French, Namur to the Germans and the Sambre to the British, had begun. On the German side it had been preceded by a debate between the commanders of the forces advancing to the Sambre and Meuse as important in its outcome as that between Joffre and Lanrezac. Those forces


concentration. The detailed planas was normal in German staff practice, was left entirely to the army commanders, but with these orders 6ame OHL's (Oberste Heeresleitung, the German GHQ) latest estimate of the forces likely to be encountered, which put French strength at between seven and eight corps and the BEF as not yet in the battle area. Since the handling of operations on the Sambre was to be in Billow's province ning,





In forcing


Lanrezac could send little he possessed no calibre of gun powerful enough to answer the giant before.

to its aid, for

howitzers and could spare only a brigade of infantry. Namur's fate therefore success or failure of Fifth



hung on Army's

on the Sambre.



broke out in a haphazard fashion in the afternoon of August 21 when the advance guards of X and Guard Corps, marching south between Charleroi and Namur, made contact with the French pickets at the bridges between Mornimont and Roselies. Neither party was clear about its course of action. The Germans had



orders not to attack that day, Biilow wishing to co-ordinate his attack with that from the east of Hausen, whom he knew would





the night of August 21 into that Olympian silence which in his own dealings with the oracle at GQG he had found so deeply frustrating. The conclusion which his subordinates, reduced accordingly to making guesses drawn from the day's events, was that they must be reversed and the commanders of III and X Corps therefore communicated their intention to counterattack next day, August 22. By morning they had heard no more either of encouragement or disapproval and so launched their men through the morning mist into close and bloody conflict with the Prussians. What ensued is the sort of engagement usually known as a soldier's battle, in


which the two sides blunder unawares into each other and the decision goes to which ever sticks it the longest. Spears, busy again on a mission of liaison, has left us his impressions of the mood in which it

was fought: Louder and louder grew the sound of guns, until it become obvious that a great bottle teas raging close at hand. It was strangely exciting, and an intense feeling of curiosity, a longing to know what was going on, a desire to be in it. seized us. The country we were now in was characteristic of the back area of a battlefield in a war of movement. Empty spaces with not a soul to be seen, under a sky of brass, shaking with


a single heavy discharge, then a pulsation of the whole atmosphere, as if all the Gods in heaven were beating on drums the size of lakes. A little further on one might come upon a man working in a field, apparently quite unperturbed; then two or three country folk dressed in their best, black suits and white shirts grey with dust, carrying odd packages, would hurry by. A farm lately occupied by troops, gates torn off or swinging wide open on one hinge, fences broken, signs of cooking, oddments lying about, the buildings looking strangely empty, forlorn and shrunken, after having evidently been filled to bursting point by men now perhaps in the centre of that hell over there. Then convoys hopelessly blocking the road, themselves stuck, not knowing where to go, awaiting orders. Further on troops not yet engaged, the men eagerly watching anyone coming by, scanning the faces of passing officers to discover whether things were going well or ill, the officers serious, anxious, in little groups, talking in low the concussion



tones. it became all too obvious that French line must have fallen back since the morning, for we were now almost in the firing line, whereas, according to the morning's information, we should have been far behind it. We began to encounter long



processions of wounded men hobbling along alone or helping each other,


their clothing torn, their faces black with

grime or grey with dust, white bandages with an occasional bloody patch, masks of pain through which stared living and

advance guards of VII Corps, driving ahead of them Sordet's exhausted cavalry. Lanrezac's report of the day's actions to

us. These were an even more poignant sight than the wounded. Hardly any officers, the

two respects: firstly, he and slanderously misrepresented the whereabouts of the BEF, locating it to his left rear when in fact it was already holding the line of the Conde canal to his left front; secondly, he communicated his intention to move I Corps to the support of the much battered X Corps, replacing it on



Then came country carts on which lay on straw some seriously wounded men. We had got even closer to the fighting line than we had intended, for a few minutes



later a couple of battalions in retreat crossed

worn expressions exhaustion dragging at their

in disorder, terrible

on their


heels and weighing down their tired feet so that they caught on every stone in the roadway, but something driving them on. Was it fear? I do not think so— just the desire to find a place to rest, away from those infernal shells. These men were not beaten, they were

worn out. It had been for the French a particularly unhappy affair, for so little did the higher


intervene that the attacking inCorps were left quite without artillery support and were cut down in hundreds by the riflemen of the Prussian Guard, firing from covered positions. But they too fought without benefit of informed supervision, being ordered to quit a position at the very moment that they had driven the Frencb from it. Later this order was rescinded but for several hours that much contested spot lay quite unoccupied by troops of either side. On III Corps front, the French met a full-scale counterattack (organised in flat disobedience of Billow's Corps commander) which, orders by the like the battle around Arsimont, first blunted and then routed the French advance. By evening the whole French line had been driven back over five miles from the Sambre and by a force half their strength (three divisions to six). Only around Thuin, on the extreme left where their flank should have touched the BEF's (though it did not) had the French kept a foothold on the river. That was due to the arrival of XVIII Corps, a reinforcement nullified by the appearance of the German X Reserve Corps west of Charleroi, and of fantry of



Joffre is notable in


Meuse with the 51st Reserve Division. Thus it was that the eastern front of the Fifth Army, so sedulously guarded while the enemy was still remote, was entrusted Reserve division at the very of gravest danger, when Hausen's

to a single


attack from the east, which Lanrezac had long foreseen and feared, was about to materialise. The morning of August 23 opened less eventfully than the French had expected, the Germans being themselves in need of a pause to regroup their units before pressing the attack. When, however, towards midmorning the assault fell on the western end of the line, it again unhinged the defence, causing both XVIII and III Corps to give ground, in places as much as three miles. But on the other wing, the fighting swung markedly in the French favour, the Guard and Corps being apparently uncertain of I Corps' change of front and exposing themselves in the early afternoon to a potentially deadly thrust in the flank by that supremely self-confident formation. At the time that Franchet d'Esperey was ready to unleash it, news came from 51st Reserve Division, which had been left 12 miles of river front to hold, that it had lost a bridgehead to Hausen's Saxons and that there was a risk of the front collapsing. Handling his corps brilliantly, d'Esperey reversed its lines of advance and regained


his old positions, from which he launched a furious and successful counterattack. The episode could not however restore the situation on the Meuse, many of whose crossing places fell into German hands that afternoon. Elsewhere too the circumstances of Fifth Army had deteriorated and that evening at 2300 hours Lanrezac signalled his intention, both to Joffre and his corps commanders, of breaking off the action next day. 'Givet is threatened. Namur taken. In view of this situation and the delay of the

Fourth Army, I have decided to withdraw army tomorrow on the front BeaumontGivet.' The great retreat had begun. Thus Lanrezac, who might have played the role of Hector in the Battle of the Frontiers, turned out to be only a Cassandra. Insight, as Joffre knew, though he had the

himself, is not enough to make a strategist a general. Lanrezac had foreseen the Battle of the Sambre and Lanrezac had little



Further Reading Der Weltkrieg Volume (Reichsarchiv) Kluck, General von, The March on Paris I

(Arnold 1920)

Les Armees Francaises dans


Grande Guerre

(Etat-major de I'Armee)

France and Belgium 1914 (Macmillanl Stevenson, D., French war aims against Germany 1914-1919 (Clarendon Press 1982) Tyng, S., The Campaign of the Marne Military Operations:


(OUP A street

in Lille

shows the marks of heavy

•mg within tnetown


3n cavalry patrols.


On August 24 the French an open stores,


city, having withdrawn equipment and troops





[For John


biography, see page 96.]

The crew of an 18-pounder in action at Mons. The sheer professionalism of the tiny BEF came as a surprise to the advancing Germans

J. Lionel


As the French forces fell back from the frontiers, the British Expeditionary Force found itself defending the canal between Mons and Conde. The resulting battle against the numerically superior German forces was the first fought in western Europe by the British since the battle of Waterloo. Although vastly outnumbered, the speed and accuracy of the British marksmen forced the Germans to abandon their unsupported massed infantry attacks





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1 .






'Before the week is over, the greatest action the world has ever hoard of will have been fought,' wrote Major-General Henry Hughes Wilson in his diary on August 21, 1914. These four battles which formed the 'greatest action' were known as The Battle of the Frontiers'. They were linked to each other like a party of roped mountaineers. The first, Lorraine, affected Ardennes, which influenced the outcome of Charleroi, which in turn had a serious impact on Mons. This was to be the setting of the first battle since the Crimean War that British troops had fought on European soil. As a result of Germany's violation of Belgium's neutrality the BEF, commanded by General Sir John French, began its channel crossing on August 12. It consisted of two Army Corps, I and II, commanded by Generals Sir Douglas Haig and Sir Horace SmithDorrien (who hurried out to France to replace General Grierson, who died on August 17). The supporting cavalry division consisted of four brigades and was led by Major-General Sir Edmund Allenby (known as 'the Bull'). The four brigades of this division included dragoons, hussars, lancers and the composite Household Cavalry. The first British troops to disembark at Boulogne were the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Kilts swinging and bagpipes playing, they received an ecstatic welcome before setting off for the Belgian frontier. The first British troops in action were the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Mullen. Captain Hornby led 'C squadron into the village of Soignies on a skirmishing reconnaissance, killing an enemy cycle patrol and eight Uhlans (German heavy cavalry) of the 9th Cavalry Division. It was already August 21 when the BEF began advancing into the actual line of battle. Allenby's cavalry were in the lead, followed by Smith-Dorrien's II Corps with Haig's I Corps at the rear. Reconnaissance aircraft and cavalry reconnaissance units discovered strong enemy forces between Enghien and Charleroi, and German cavalry in the area around Nivelles. The French armies on the British right had run into large German formations and had suffered heavily, and this, plus the reported strength of the opposing German forces, made it abundantly clear that the BEF's first action would be defensive. The French staff had once hoped optimistically to break the German attack along the Charleroi-Mons line and then counterattack,

assume the offensive, pivot around Namur, raise the siege, liberate Brussels and link the British left wing with the Belgian army which they expected would be advancing from Antwerp. The BEF infantry marched through the sweltering heat of August 22 and spent most of the night digging in. Originally The BFF arrives

at Le Havre on August 14, 1914. The troop convoys used the western channel ports, ratherthantheshorterstraits

they had hoped to defend the high road from Charleroi through Binche to Mons, but this was obviously impracticable after the German success and the French withdrawal on the British right. Sir John French, therefore, positioned his men along the line of the Mons Canal with II Corps on the left behind the canal and I Corps extending as far as Villers St Ghislain on the right — a total of 27 miles.


dangerous salient

Curving up

in a distorted semi-circular bulge to the north and east of Mons lay the area known as 'the Salient' — as welcome strategically to the defenders as a malignant wart, which it resembled on the map. If the Germans were to be kept out of Mons for the maximum possible time, the Salient had to be defended; and this defence was allocated to II Corps. Before moving out to protect the flanks, the cavalry was ordered to act as a screen for the salient's defenders, to provide reconnaissance patrols and to fill the gap between the two corps. Lanrezac, commanding the French Fifth Army, had quarrelled with Sir John French at their first meeting on Monday August 17. Subsequently, when Lanrezac asked for a British attack to ease German pressure on his army, he received only a promise that the BEF would hold its line for at least 24 hours. In round figures, the BEF would have to hold its line with 75,000 men and 300 guns. The British army, in defiance of the decimal system, maintained that a corps was the sum of two divisions, and that a division contained 18,073 men, 5,592 horses, 76 guns and 24 machine guns. A British cavalry division, however, consisted of 9,269 men with 9,815 horses. The BEF were

opposed by at least 200,000 men and 600 guns belonging to Kluck's First Army and elements of the right wing of Billow's Second Army. A German army corps was made up of two infantry divisions each containing 17,500 men, 4,000 horses, 72 guns and 24 machine guns, in addition to heavy artillery, bridging trains, supply columns, field hospitals and bakeries. The French Fifth Army consisted of approximately 300,000 men: the I, III, X and XI Corps, the 37th and 38th Divisions, two reserve Divisions — the 52nd and 60, and cavalry. It was French practice to organise their divisions as units of 15,000 men, 36 guns and 24 machine guns, with either two or three divisions making

up a


Lanrezac's men had been attacked not only by Biilow but by Hausen's formidable Saxons of the Third Army who had driven a wedge into the extended French line and struck alternately at Lanrezac's right and the left of de Langle de Cary's Fourth French crossing, for fear of German naval intervention. In fact the Germans, unimpressed by the BEF's size, made no attempt to interfere

hand for support. Kluck's two central corps, /// and IV, suffered drastically from this head on meeting. One German reserve captain of /// Corps discovered he was the only officer left alive in his 8U'-!'!hl~KAM PALACE f*


^, 4 *£ vA^yC, -^ ^Jty /'d V /j/<

.« e,





Too arc leaving hone to fight fop the safety and honour of »y toplre. Belgium, whose oountry we are pledged to defend, has been attacked and France le about to be

Invaded by the same powerful foe. I have Implicit oonfldonee in you my soldiers.

Duty le toot vetohvord, and I know your duty Till be

nobly done. I shall follow your every movement with deepest

interest and nark with eager satisfaction your dally

progress, indeed your welfare will never be absent f rots

ay thoughts. I pray Sod to bleee you and guard you and bring

you back victorious.

The King's message to guarantee Belgian plans previously

Although Britain went to war to n accordance with concert with the French

his troops.

neutrality, her

made in

army moved


Army. The ghost of the humiliating defeat at Sedan in the FrancoPrussian War of 1870 haunted French military thinking in 1914. Lanrezac later wrote of it as 'that abominable disaster'. Anything, even the retreat of the Fifth Army, was preferable to another Sedan. He is also reported to have said: 'We have been beaten, but the evil is reparable. As long as the Fifth Army lives, France is



Mons was by no means an easy

place to defend. The main features of the district were small hamlets to the north, rows of cramped houses, factories and sprawling slag heaps. It was a drab area of bogs and mists, coalmines and railway embankments. The canal was 7 feet deep, 60 feet wide and crossed by 18 bridges in 16 miles. It represented practically no obstacle to the German advance. General Sir Hubert Hamilton, a veteran of the South African War, knew that his 3rd Division was mainly responsible for the defence of the salient. Because of the serious disadvantages of the position, a second line of defence was prepared behind Mons. If it became necessary to occupy these second positions the line would straighten out automatically, disposing of the awkwardly

company and the only surviving company commander in his battalion. It appeared to the defenders that a solid mass of field grey was advancing in columns of four. They moved unhurriedly, like a football crowd or a civic parade. This formation was apparently based on the idea that losses were compensated for by having every available rifle in the firing line at the earliest pos-

moment. Watching the


slowly-rolling, grey ocean of men, Captain Ashburner of the 4th Battalion's 'C' Company asked Captain Forster to pinch him in case he was dreaming. The Germans were 600 yards off when Ashburner gave his fire order. It would have been difficult to miss the enemy infantry and few did. The Lee Enfield rifle fired a flat trajectory up to 600 yards and machine gunners added substantially to the heavy German casualties. Subsequent German attacks, however, were preceded by long,

accurate artillery bombardments, machine gun and small arms fire. The 4th Battalion offered stiff resistance, but an eventual withdrawal was unavoidable. Lieutenant Dease and Fusilier Godley both earned a VC for their machine gun work — the former posthumously, the latter in a prisoner-of-war camp. Also predominantly of London origin was the 4th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hull. They were positioned to the right of the Fusiliers and shared with them the brunt of Kluck's attack on the salient. Their war diary for August 23 read simply: 'Battle commenced 10.15 am, retirement started 3 pm.' Like the Royal Fusiliers, the Middlesex soon found that the Germans abandoned their suicidal close order advance and began to move carefully, supported by heavy artillery, machine gun and rifle fire which gouged into the hastily dug British trenches with deadly results. The Middlesex also had to withdraw. Their machine gun section, which was in action for the first time, distinguished itself under Lieutenant Lawrence Sloane-Stanley, who refused to be evacuated, despite severe wounds, until the final withdrawal. The Royal Fusiliers lost 200 men, the Middlesex 700. Further east, the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders defended the right flank of the salient, and the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots extended the line towards Haig's I Corps. In response to a request for reinforcements, Lieutenant-Colonel John Cox, commanding the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment (which was in reserve), sent forward two companies to assist the Gordons. Not many days earlier Scots and Irish had gone for each other vehemently in a brawl in Devonport which had put nearly a dozen of them in hospital. Now, however, with the defenders in serious difficulties,





patrick, a Dubliner, organised a mixed group of Royal Irish batmen, cooks, drivers and latrine orderlies into a useful fighting

reinforcement. to the west of the salient, was held by the 1st BattaRoyal Scots Fusiliers. With only one machine gun to supplement their rifle fire, and with only ruined buildings and slag heaps for cover, these 210 Royal Scots held back over 2,000 German troops and prevented the encirclement of the


lion of the


Horace Smith-Dorrien, Corps which took the left wing at Mons Sir

commander of



Douglas Haig,

commander of Corps of the BEF on the right at Mons I

exposed salient.



Brigadier-General F. C. Shaw was in command of the 9th Infantry Brigade, containing the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, which was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Norman McMahon and it was against his sector of the salient that the brunt of Kluck's first attack fell. Dawn and the first shell greeted the fusiliers more or less simultaneously on the morning of August 23. After a short sharp bombardment had killed and wounded 20 men, there was a pause followed by the appearance of a German cavalry patrol.

The fusiliers' first volley unseated most of them, and Lieutenant von Arnim of the Death's Head Hussars was brought in swearing profusely with a bullet in the knee. The Germans next attacked the salient frontally with four infantry regiments. This was largely because Kluck had not been able to make the best use of his superior numbers by going round the British left flank, as Bulow had ordered him to remain on 165


British infantry in a skirmishing line. British had learnt much from the Boer War

of the power and accuracy of modern rifles, and their standard of marksmanship was very high.

Almost alone among European armies they understood the need for camouflage

and concealment


The region in which the battle of Mons was fought is one of the dreariest in Belgium. An almost continuous industrial area stretched from Mons to Conde along the south side of the canal. It was in this area among the slag heaps andthehousesthattheBEFestablished itself to face the onslaught of the German IV, III and IX Corps. The right wing of the British position formed an awkward salient around the town of Mons itself, and this weak point was to come under heavy attack from IX Corps. Howeverthe canal formed a natural barrier between the British and the Germans, and the flat country to the north of the canal


Mons — the battle where khaki-clad marksmen of the BEF came into their own

afforded the British excellent fields of fire


The BEF - a drop in the ocean in terms of fighting strength to the French, but concrete proof of Britain's resolve to support her ally

Above: A British cavalryman was equipped with a Lee Enfield rifle, shown here in a leather gun bucket. But his primary weapon was still the long bamboo lance with a metal tip.

which was both strong and



also had a groundsheet, a horse blanket under the saddle and a water bottle on his back.




British infantryman,


here on the march and not as he would appear on parade. The scale of infantry equipment in included the Lee Enfield SMLE No 1 Mk III per?onal ammunition and an entrenching tool. The infantry had almost completed the change from leather to webbing and the belt, ammunition pouches, and water bottle the









Adjacent to Jemappes. near the Mariette bridge, the line was held by the 1st Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Captain Brian St John of 'B' Company ordered his men to hold their fire when a dozen Belgian schoolgirls emerged from a house and raced for shelter. The Germans, who had driven the girls forward as cover, were close behind. When withdrawal from Jemappes and Mariette became due it was found that the bridges could not be destroyed. Captain Wright of the Royal Engineers made a daring but unsuccessful attempt at Mariette which won him the VC, while Lance-Corporal Jarvis and Private John Heron were respectively for their successful attempt awarded the VC and

line on either side of Bavai. Kluck did not press on immediately, because he believed that the British would stand and fight again as they had done at Mons, and by the time he realised they were continuing the retreat it was too late for the German forces to carry out an effective encirclement. In retrospect the Battle of Mons developed a peculiar mystique. Legends of supernatural intervention on the allied side- 'The Angels of Mons' — gained currency. In some romantic British minds it began to rank with Hastings and Agincourt. It cannot be denied that the British at Mons fought with great courage, skill,

Jemappes. So far neither of Kluck's flanking Corps. IX on his left and // on his right, had been used. At 1700 hours French received a telegram from General Joffre, Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies, renowned for his imperturbability and known to French soldiers as 'Papa' or 'LeGrandpere'. Three German army corps, a reserve corps plus the IX and TV Corps, and two cavalry divisions were moving against the British front. The German // Corps was turning on the left from Tournai. This meant that the BEF was outnumbered six to one, and Lanrezac's Fifth Army was dropping back. Sir John French ordered the BEF to retreat before dawn on the 24th to a new line stretching from Jerlain, south-east of Valenciennes, to the Maubeuge fortress which covered its right flank. Bavai was the dividing point between I and II Corps. Smith-Dorrien's corps' headquarters was situated in the Chateau de la Roche at Sars-la-Bruyere and had neither telegraph nor telephone. The chateau was difficult to find in the dark and Smith-Dorrien did not receive the retreat orders until 0300 hours. Haig, on the other hand, received his by telegraph an hour earlier and his I Corps was able to start pulling out well before dawn.

Grenadiers wrote: 'curse them, they seem to understand war, these English.' But these qualities were also demonstrated by the Belgians at Haelen. and the French brigade under General Mangin




defiant last stand

II Corps began its retreat under fire and as part of the fighting retreat along the Elouges-Audregnies road, Lieutenant-Colonel Dudley Boger's 1st Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment was to all intents and purposes wiped out after a defiant last stand during a rearguard action against vastly superior numbers. Despite the hard German pressure on the centre and left of II Corps and the cavalry divisions, by the morning of the 24th most of the BEF, weary but more or less intact, stood along their


German machine gunners. Because of its size and weight the machine gun was still almost entirely a defensive weapon. Consequently the attacking Germans were unable to match the fire power of the British





A German



the Brandenburg



Battle of Mons lasted nine hours prior to the retreat and engaged 35,000 British soldiers of whom 1,000 became casualties. The advance of Kluck's army was held up for one day. During the four days from August 20 to 24 the French had lost 140,000 men. For the Germans, Mons was both a victory and a lost opportunity: for the allies it represented a fortunate escape from really grave

military disaster.

Further Reading Barnett, O, The Sword Bearers (Eyre & Spottiswoode 1963)



Collier, B.,

The Vanished Army (William Kimber 1964) Brasshat (Seeker & Warburg 1961)

Corbett-Smith, Retreat From Mons (Cassell 1917) French, F-M. Sir John, 1914 (Houghton Mifflin 1919) Green, H„ The British Army in the First World War (Treherne 1968) Keegan. J Opening moves (New York Ballantme 1971) Ritter, G., The Schlieffen Plan (Oswald Wolff 1958) Ropp.T., War in the Western World (CUP 1960) Spears, Maj-Gen. Sir Edward, Liaison 1914 (Eyre & Spottiswoode 1930) Tuchman, B August 1914 (Constable 1962) .


LIONEL FANTHORPE is married and has two young daughters, and is the Further Education Tutor at Gamlmgay Village College where he also teaches History. His novels and short stories are concerned mainly with science fiction and the supernatural and include The Watching World and The Unconfmed. He is J.

rock-climbing instruction officer to the 4th Cambridgeshire (C) Battalion and has other interests.


Of all the personal accounts of the Battles of the Frontiers and the Allied retreat which followed them, the most remarkable is by a German, Walter Bloem. A novelist by profession, he was recalled from the reserve at the age of 46 in August 1914 to command a company of his old regiment, the 12th Brandenburg Grenadiers. The regiment belonged to the 5th Division, III Corps of First Army, and was therefore on the extreme right wing of the great German wheel toward Paris. It left Frankfurt on August 8, entered Belgium six days later and ran into the BEF at Mons on August 23 Walter Bloem

German troops prepare The scale is



for battle.

equipment carried

in their battle




%. *S.



s%^ •-







Sunday: the second since we crossed the Rhine. Reports coming back along the column seemed to confirm the fact that the English were in front of us. English soldiers? We knew what they looked like by the comic papers; short scarlet tunics with small caps set at an angle on their heads, or bearskins with the chin-strap under the lip instead of under the chin. There was much joking about this, and also about Bismarck's remark of sending the police to arrest the English army. The regiment was advanced guard, and after a march of some 12 miles halted in the village of Baudour. Hussar patrols, trotting past, reported the country free of the enemy for 50 miles ahead. The cooks were brought up and we settled down to a comfortable midday rest. Scarcely had we finished our meal, when two Hussars, covered in blood, galloped up to us stating that the enemy was holding the line of the canal in front. A third Hussar limped along behind them carrying a blood-stained saddle; his horse had been shot under him: 'They are in the village just ahead.' Almost at once despatch-riders, adjutants, motor-cyclists rushed past. Somehow we all felt in our bones that this time there was going to be real business. A signal from the adjutant; the Major wished to see the company commanders. 'Mussigbrodt, bring my horse." In a moment we were gathered round our battalion com-

there must be riders.' I had scarcely spoken when a man appeared not five paces away from behind the horses — a man in a grey-brown uniform, no, in a grey-brown golfing suit with a flattopped cloth cap. Could this be a soldier? Certainly not a French soldier, nor a Belgian, then he must be an English one. So that's how they dress now! All this flashed through my mind in the fraction of a second, and in the meantime the fellow had raised his arm, a sharp report, a wisp of smoke, and the whisk of a bullet passed my head. In the same second had pulled out my loaded revolver and fired -peng!- missed too. He dodged behind the horses and I behind the buttress of a wall — my blasted revolver had jammed! I pulled the empty case out of the chamber: it ran free again. Then I peered round the side of the wall aiming, ready to fire. Yes, there he was, his long, thin face just behind a horse's tail looking at me, also along the sights of his revolver. We fired simultaneously, again missed by a hair's breadth, and then suddenly he rushed away with long strides into the meadow. Ten, twelve shots rang out and he fell dead on the grass. My staff had run round to the other side of the building to tackle him from behind: he had seen them and then took to his heels, but too late. [This British soldier was from a patrol of A Squadron. 19th Hussars, the 5th Division's attached cavalry regiment. As we left the buildings and were extending out again, another shower of bullets came across the meadow and rattled against the walls and all about us. More cries, more men fell. In front a farm track on a slightly raised embankment crossed our direction. 'Line the bank in front,' I ordered, and in a few short rushes I


mander. 'Maps out, gentlemen! The village of Tertre in front of us is held by the enemy: strength not yet known. The regiment will attack. The Fusilier battalion, supported by two batteries in position south of Baudour. will occupy Tertre railway station. We, the 1st Battalion, have orders to take the strip of wood west and south-west of Baudour — you will see it on the map, gentlemen — and clear any enemy out of it. We shall be supported by Wiskott's Battery.



orders, therefore, are as follows. The battalion will at once on the strip of wood, companies in the following

order: B, A, C, D. B Company will send out half a section both to its right and left as flank-guards to the battalion. Any questions,

gentlemen? No. Then please move off immediately.' German Grenadier regiment the third battalion was known

[In a

as the Fusilier Battalion. Bloem belonged to the first.] I galloped back to my company. 'Fall in!' I sent Sergeant Schuler with half his section to the right and the other half under Corporal Tettenborn to the left. Tettenborn, a gallant and splendid soldier, I never saw again; he lies buried at the southern edge of Tertre village, one of the first of the regiment to be killed. We marched off. The Fusilier battalion was extending out, its front line of skirmishers already under enemy fire from the direction of Tertre station, a few bullets whistling over us too. Wiskott's Battery galloped past, and a few minutes later, as we turned off to the right towards the wood, the guns were already unlimbered alongside a factory-wall, their muzzles pointing at the wood. The battery commander was on the observation ladder looking through his glasses, and we had scarcely got past before they opened fire, the first shells whizzing just over our heads. We struggled through a mass of dense undergrowth, and reached the farther edge with our faces and hands scratched all over, but otherwise met no opposition. Looking from here Tertre village was on our left, and from the noise of rifle-fire and bursting shells it was clear that heavy fighting had begun with an enemy not to be so easily brushed aside. In front lay an extremely long,

marshy-looking meadow. Its left side was broken into by scattered buildings and sheds, and on the right a narrow strip of wood jutted out into it. At the far end, about 1,500 yards straight ahead, were more scattered groups of buildings. Between the near and the far buildings a number of cows were peacefully grazing. We had no sooner left the edge of the wood than a volley of bullets whistled past our noses and cracked into the trees behind. Five or six cries near me, five or six of my grey lads collapsed on the grass. Damn it! this was serious. The firing seemed at long flat,

range and


'Forward!' I shouted, taking my place with three of my 'staff" ten paces in front of the section leader, Holder-Egger, and the section in well-extended formation ten paces behind him again. Here we were, advancing as if on a parade ground. The crack of bullets about our ears, and away in front a sharp, rapid hammering sound, then a pause, then more rapid hammering — machine guns. Over to our left, about Tertre, the rifle and machine gun fire was even more intense, the roar of guns and bursting shells increasing. A real battle this time!

meeting were approaching one of the scattered farm buildings in the meadow, and being the first I went in, and noticed at once a group of fine-looking horses, all saddled up. I turned to my 'staff': Get hold of the horses; but look out! Where there are horses First face-to-face


we were

there, lying flat against the grass bank and looking cautiously over the top. Where was the enemy? Not the faintest sign of him anywhere, nothing except the cows that had become restless and were gadding about. One, as I watched, rose on its hind legs, and then collapsed in a heap on the ground. And still the bullets kept coming, over our heads and all about us. [The British infantry opposite Bloem' s battalion have been identified as the 2nd King's Own Scottish Borderers. I searched through my glasses. Yes, there among the buildings away at the far end of the meadow was a faint haze of smoke. Then in God's name let us get closer. 'Forward again — at the double!' We crossed the track, jumped the broad dyke full of stagnant water on the far side, and then on across the squelching meadow. More firing, closer now and tearing into our ranks; cries, more lads falling. 'Down! Open fire — far end of meadow — range 1,000 yards!' And so we went on, gradually working forward by rushes of 100, later 50, and then about 30 yards towards the invisible enemy. At every rush a few more fell, but one could do nothing for them. On, on, that was the only solution. Easier said than done, however, for not only was the meadow horribly swampy, filling our boots with water, but it was intersected by broad, water-logged drains and barbed-wire fences that had to be cut through. I shouted down the line: 'Advance by groups from the right, in short rushes.' And then I heard Holder-Egger 's voice as he led on forward. From our new line I again searched the front through my glasses. Still no sign of the enemy. Only the unfortunate cows, now just ahead of us, and being between the two firing lines they were in a bad way, bellowing desperately, one after the other collapsing. To right and left, a cry here, a cry there: 'I'm hit, sir! O God! Oh, mother! I'm done for!' 'I'm dying, sir!' said another near me. 'I can't help you, my young man, we must go on — come, give me your hand.' Graser's clear voice again: 'On again — double!' On we went. Behind us the whole meadow was dotted with little grey heaps. The 160 men that left the wood with me had shrunk to less than 100. But Grabert's section at my signal had now worked forward and prolonged our line to the right. He, too, had lost heavily, nevertheless there was still quite a respectable crowd of us gradually moving on, wave by wave, closer and closer to the invisible enemy. We officers had some time previously taken a rifle from a dead or wounded man, filled our pockets with cartridges, and were firing away into the haze of smoke at the far end of the meadow. I felt, however, that these continuous rushes were telling on the men, and that they must have a breathing space. 'Stop for a bit!' I shouted down the line. 'No further advance \




noticed that at this period of the advance if one lay quite flat, the enemy's fire always passed over one, that it was, in fact, slightly high all the time we were lying down. It appeared very strange at the time, and it was not until several months later when a wounded friend was showing me photographs he had taken afterwards of the English position, that I saw the reason. At the end of this meadow was a canal with an embankment on I


We had been badly beaten —

and by the English we had so laughed at!'



flat meadow below the canal embankment made a lot of dead ground for

and as we were crossing a

level, this near-side

which naturally became more pronounced the nearer we got to the canal. The machine gun fire from the houses on this side of the canal seemed to have been silenced — they were hammering no more at us anyhow. From now on the English fire gradually weakened, almost ceased. No hail of bullets greeted each rush forward, and we were us, the shelter of

able to get within 150 yards of the canal bank. I said to Graser: 'Now we'll do one more 30-yard rush, all together, then fix bayonets and charge the houses and the canal banks.'

'Hounds of


for this moment to get us all together at close ra age, for immediately the line rose it was as if the hounds of hell had been loosed at us, yelling, barking, hammering as a mass of lead swept in among us. 'Down!' I shouted, and on my left I heard through the din Graser's voice repeating it. Voluntarily, and in many cases involuntarily, we all collapsed flat on the grass as if swept by a

The enemy must have been waiting


From now on matters went from bad

to worse.



looked, right or left, were dead or wounded, quivering in convulsions, groaning terrible, blood oozing from fresh wounds. The

worse was that the heaviest firing now began


come on us from

the strip of wood that jutted out into the meadow to our right rear. It must be our own men, I thought, who could not imagine we had got on so far and now evidently took us for the enemy. Luckily we had a way of stopping that: 'Who has the red flag?' Grenadier Just produced it, and lying on his back waved it wildly. No result; in fact the fire from the right rear became even heavier. The brave Just stood up and with complete unconcern continued to wave the red flag more frantically than ever. But still no effect. 'Lie down, Just, good fellow, you've done well but it's no use; they must see but they won't believe.' I blew my whistle full blast and any of the NCO's with whistles did the same. Still no good. The firing continued, more and more

my men were being hit. [The fire was coming in fact from a machine gun section of the 1st East Surreys.] I discovered too at this time that we had scarcely any ammunition left; and here we were, isolated and 120 yards from the English position. Next to me was a grenadier hit through both cheeks and tongue, his face a mass of blood; and beyond him Pohlenz, my bugler, a bullet hole through the bugle slung on his back, the home-made cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and himself firing shot after shot, as calmly as an old philosopher, at the garden of the white house in front. He declared he'd seen of

someone moving in

maybe altogether, I never knew. As the darkness deepened the din of battle all along the line quietened down, and then quite distinctly from behind came a bugle-call, the 1st Battalion 'assembly'. Surely we had not to go back, to give up what we had gained? But the call was repeated again and again. We had to obey; it was impossible for us to judge the general situation, and, no doubt, it was for the best. It was now too dark for the enemy to see. I got up on my legs, my limbs all stiff and hurting as if they'd been drawn from their sockets. The dampness of the meadow and the soaking in the dykes had wetted my clothes through to the skin. Nevertheless I was up, actually while,


standing up. 'Did you hear that, lads? We have to go back. But we must take the wounded with us.' The pieces of tent-cloth carried by each man were tied to rifles and on these extemporised stretchers all the wounded were gradually collected. It meant hard work for the others and took time, but it had to be done in spite of protests from some of the wounded themselves, though others were only too willing to be moved, and in any case they couldn't be left where they were. 'Me too, sir, me too!' 'Of course, lad, only be patient, and wait your turn.' Knopfe did not leave my side, and Pohlenz, Niestrawski, Sauermann all joined us. Marvellous, my three trusty staff, not a hair of any of them touched. Thanks to the darkness all went well. No more bullets came from the canal bank, only in the distance an occasional crackle of musketry. So conscientious were we in those early days of the war that we collected all the rifles we could find and many of the packs to take back with us. I had five rifles slung over my shoulder as we slowly processed stage by stage back with our groaning burdens to the battalion, back across the same waterlogged dykes we had jumped a few hours before. Now and again one's foot hit against something soft — a corpse. Our bones were so weary we could hardly carry on, but it had to be done. Some of the dykes were so broad that armfuls of sticks and faggots had to be fetched from the wood and thrown in to make a way across. At times, hearing the movement of the procession, a voice would call through the darkness: 'Friends, help me. Come and take me back.' 'We're coming; we'll take you with us.' And any who had no burden went out in search of the despairing cry to bring him in.

Bayonets fixed ready All at once I heard a familiar voice in front: Major von Kleist, a head taller than me, stood facing me in the darkness, so dark that I couldn't see his features, and laying his two hands on my shoulders said in a heart-broken voice: 'My dear Bloem, you are now my only support.' 'How do you mean, major? You surely don't say 'The battalion is all to pieces — my splendid battalion,' and the voice of this kindly, big-hearted man trembled as he spoke. 'I've given orders to entrench 200 yards in front of the road leading to the wood. Will you see to that while the rest of the companies get reorganised? Watch the front very carefully, and send patrols at once up to the line of the canal. If the English have the slightest suspicion of the condition we are in they will counterattack tonight, and that would be the last straw. They would send us all to glory. Have bayonets fixed ready, and every section digging or resting must have a sentry on watch. Will you go and see to that

'Pohlenz, my lad, stop firing. We must keep every round we've got in case those fellows across the canal make a counterattack on us. Instead, you must make your way back as quick as you can to the battalion, find the major and tell him that B Company is here, has no more ammunition, and has had heavy losses and wants



reinforcements and ammunition.' [Bloem's losses were so heavy that he could do no more while waiting for reinforcements than tend the wounded and pray for darkness to fall. It was a wait of several hours. Gradually the dusk came.] In the half-light there was suddenly a stir behind us. Reinforcements; actually reinforcements. It was von der Osten and his group. He had followed the embankment to the wood, and after that had not been able to find us again. He had asked everywhere for B Company but none knew where it had gone. Finally by following up the trail of dead and wounded, recognizing them by the company tassel on the shoulder, he had arrived, each of his nine men with 250 rounds apiece. This ammunition was quickly distributed along the line and another effort made to silence the machine gun in the upper room of the white house. 'Two rounds each at the white house. Aim just below the eaves of the roof!' Through my glasses I could see in the failing light that at least no window pane was left. The gun was silent for a

what was the meaning

relying on you.' inky dark was this night; not a glimmer of light. So that was our first battle, and this was the result. Our grand regiment, with all its pride and splendid discipline, its attack full of dash and courage, and now only a few fragments left. In God's name, I



it all?

my way

back behind the line of black, ghostly figures still shovelling away, but the trench was a failure. Two spadedepths down into the meadow and the water level was reached; after that the water oozed up at once and filled it. I searched for the new company commanders and gave them the major's instructions, and together we tried to get the companies formed I


up again.

And now for the outposts. Ahlert helped me get the patrols together. It was no easy matter in this pitch darkness, in the indescribable confusion, and the men all chilled to the bone, almost too exhausted to move and with the depressing consciousness of defeat weighing upon them. A bad defeat, there could be no gainsaying it; in our first battle we had been badly beaten, and by the English — by the English we had so laughed at a few hours before. [From The Advance from Mons by Walter Bloem (English translation by G. C.

Wynne). ]


British, with very few exceptions, believed they had the best navy in the world in 1914. Their superiority over Germany in numbers and tradition was obvious, but their inferiority in certain technical fields, especially mines and torpedoes, was not generally realised. Below: Tegetthof, one of

Austria-Hungary's four dreadnought-class ships

Lieutenant-Commander P.


Britain, in August 1914, had retained her immense lead in battleships and battlecruisers over all other European nations. In spite of the periodical scares over the rate of German building during the immediate pre-war years, her own building rate had been just more than enough to

the declared 60% numerical superiority over Germany. These were her own ships, built for her own navy, but an immediate bonus was available on the outbreak of war in the shape of three dreadnought battleships being built (and virtually completed) in Britain for foreign navies. The Almirante Latorre, ordered by Chile, was taken over in September 1914 and commissioned as HMS Canada, and two battleships built for Turkey, the


and Rashadieh, were requiAugust and added to the Grand Fleet as HMS Agincourt and HMS Erin. The two Turkish ships raised the British total of dreadnoughts at the outbreak of war to 24, to which Germany could reply with only 13. And looking ahead, the comparison was brighter still, with 13 British dreadnoughts on the stocks in various stages of construction (with two due to join the fleet later in 1914) and only ten laid down by Germany (of which two were also due later in 1914). Among the 13 British ships were five of the new Queen Elizabeth class, faster and more powerfully armed than any others in the world. The battle-cruiser comparison was almost equally favourable in numbers. Counting HMS Tiger, to which only the finishing touches in the dockyard were required, there were ten British battlecruisers, although one of these, HMS Australia, was in the service of the Australian government. And on the German side, counting SMS Derfflinger which was in the Osrnan

I sitioned in

of completion as the Tiger, there were six such ships in commission. But they included the Bliicher, a 15,800ton armoured cruiser which carried only



8.2-inch guns compared with the 11-inch and 12-inch of the later German battlecruisers and the 12-inch and 13.5-inch of the British battle-cruisers.

Of the other nations concerned, France and Russia were slightly ahead of Austriaand Italy. France had four


battleships of the Courbet class, all launched in 1913 and 1914, of 23,500 tons and armed with twelve 12-inch guns,

A German

naval squadron steaming in line Heligoland in ships designed primarily for operations in the North Sea



whilst almost complete at the outbreak of larger battleships of the Bretagne class, carrying ten 13.4-inch guns. And in addition she had six Danton class battleships, technically pre-dreadnoughts because of their mixed armament of 12inch and 9.4-inch guns but, like the two British Lord Nelsons, being counted as dreadnoughts because of their recent construction and ability to maintain the speed of the dreadnought fleet. The Russian fleet was divided into two, one part in the Baltic and the other in the Black Sea. There were four dreadnought battleships of the Gangoot class in the Baltic— each carrying twelve 12-inch guns in four triple turrets— and four more on the stocks, big ships of the Borodino class, 28,000 tons with nine 14-inch guns in triple turrets and a designed speed of 261 knots. Also in the Baltic was the armoured

exit into the Mediterranean was through the Straits of Otranto, a comparatively narrow stretch of sea which the navies of

A huge

under-armoured. A crude addition of dreadnought-type ships on both sides gave a superiority to the Entente Powers over those of the Alliance of 49 to 33. Such a comparison was virtually meaningless, if only because Britain's naval commitments were worldwide while those of Germany, apart from a tiny sprinkling of colonial possessions which were indefensible in war, were confined only to the North Sea and the Baltic. There were many other considerations which went a long way further to reduce the apparent disparity in overall dreadnought strength, but these will be

war were three

disparity in overall




which compared roughly with the German Bliicher. There were no dreadnoughts in the Black Sea though there were three in process of completion which were just about equal in displacement and gunpower to those owned by Austria-Hungary. But as far as the Entente Powers were concerned, the Russian Black Sea fleet could count for little unless Turkey could be brought into the war on the side of Britain, France and Russia, and any prospect of this, remote at the best of times, was made even more unlikely in August 1914 by the British requisitioning of two Turkish battleships which had just been completed in Britain. Austria-Hungary, whose only access to the sea was in the northern Adriatic, had three new dreadnoughts launched in 1914, with a fourth due to be launched in 1915. These were the Viribus Unitis class, ships of 22,000 tons with twelve 12-inch guns. She also had three Franz Ferdinands, small pre-dreadnoughts of 14,500 tons with cruiser Rurik,

a mixed armament of 12-inch and 9.4-inch guns, and thus ships of little value in terms of naval warfare in 1914. Like Russia in the Black Sea, the fleet's only




would have


difficulty in blocking.

An uneasy partner The third member of the Triple Alliance was Italy, and it was no secret in London or Paris that she was an uneasy partner in the arms of Germany and AustriaHungary. It was not expected that she would follow them into a European war, but in terms of the European political grouping her navy had to be counted. She had one dreadnought, the Alighieri, completed in 1912, and three more on the verge of completion. These, on paper, were powerful ships, carrying thirteen 12-inch guns in three triple and two twin turrets, but their displacement of 22,000 tons argued that they were either over-gunned or

discussed later in this article. In smaller ships, the overall ratios were much the same as with the capital ships. Neither Britain nor Germany had built heavy cruisers after the step-up to battle-cruisers, but in what were known as light cruisers, Britain had 18, with eight being built, and Germany eight, and eight more projected. Only France, and to a lesser extent Russia, had continued to build heavy cruisers. France had four, headed by the Quinet and Rousseau of 14,000 tons and carrying fourteen 7.6-inch

guns, while the Russian Baltic fleet had two class cruisers of 7,750 tons with a mixed armament of 8-inch and 6-inch guns. In Britain's Royal Navy were 225 des-


troyers, of which 127 were fast, modern boats and the remainder, though mostly more than ten years old, still valuable in

terms of the fell


naval duties which

to the lot of destroyers in war.


comparable German figures were 152 overall, 108 fast and modern, and 44 more elderly though still useful. British submarines outnumbered German U-boats by 75 to 30, but most of the British boats were small and of use only in coastal operations. Germany, at the outbreak of war, had more submarines capable of overseas operations than Britain, and also more being built and projected. Of the other nations concerned in the European line-up in 1914, France could muster 81 destroyers and 67 submarines, Russia, in the Baltic and Black Sea combined, 106 destroyers and 36 submarines, Austria-Hungary, 18 destroyers and 11 submarines, while Italy had 33 destroyers

and 14 submarines. Outside Europe there was one other navy to be

into its home waters and unable to intervene in operations in other parts of the world. This geographical advantage had been rammed home in the naval staff talks between Britain and France in 1912 in which the French had agreed to withdraw their Atlantic and Channel squadrons, together with their Far East and Pacific squadrons, and concentrate them all in the Mediterranean, accepting naval responsibility for the whole of that sea. This decision, it is true, owed something to the effect of the Balkan War of 1912/13, as well as to the naval staff talks in London and Paris, but it effectively

was pinned




of the


Mediterranean Fleet to swell the number of those in

home waters.

Numbers, however, counted for little. It was quality which mattered more than quantity when it came to the actual test

taken into account, that of Japan.

Under the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 there was no obligation for Japan to enter the war, since the actual declaration on August 4, was a British initiative, but it was very obvious that, in her expansionist mood, she would do so. Her acquisitive eyes had long been focused on the well-equipped German base at Tsingtao in China, and there were German colonial

islands in the Pacific which might come her at the final peace discussions were she involved in a successful war. From the British point of view, the Japanese fleet had a potential value in war to cover and track down the powerful German East Asiatic Squadron and thereby release British ships for other operations nearer home. Japan had a useful fleet of four dreadnought-type capital ships, of which her two Kongo class battle-cruisers were as large, as powerfully armed (eight 14-inch, sixteen 6-inch), and as fast (27 knots) as any others


in the world.

The battleship Asi was a mixed

armament ship which, however, ranked


a dreadnought, and her capital ship fleet was supported by two first-class Nisshin cruisers and three second-class type Hirato type, together with the older Tone. Of her 54 destroyers, all were of British design and most of them built in Britain. Counting up their ships, the three Entente powers appeared overwhelmingly strong. Moreover, with Britain lying across the German exits from the North Sea into the world's oceans, the High Seas Fleet

but quality not quantity when .




came to the test of battle. In pure design, there was little to choose between the British and German dreadnoughts, and although there were some naval experts, even in 1914 and before the results in action had pointed to deficiencies in the British ships, who thought the German design superior. They were eventually proved wrong when the battleship Bayern was raised after the holocaust in Scapa Flow at the end of the war. A minute examination of her construction proved that British naval architects in 1914 had nothing to learn from their German counterparts. One of the considerable disabilities from which the British capital ships suffered in comparison with the German was their lack of beam. Successive Liberal governments in Britain, voted into power on promises of social benefits to all, had refused to spend money on new docks so that all British ships had to be built to fit the existing docks instead of the other way round. This meant that no British dreadnought could be built with a beam of more than 90 feet. At Wilhelmshaven there were two docks to take ships up to a beam of 102 feet; at Kiel there was a floating


dock with an available beam of 131 feet: while between the two new locks on the Kiel Canal at Holtenau was a huge space large enough to accommodate anything. In Germany had a great advan-

this respect tage.

Ship for ship, all the Gorman battleships and battle-cruisers had about 1 feet more on the beam than the British. This gave them an immediate advantage in that they were less susceptible to damage by mine or torpedo. It also enabled them to carry thicker armour on sides and gun turrets, a possibility which was enhanced by a considerable saving in weight which arose from the different functions of British and German ships. British ships were designed for a world-wide role. Their crews lived permanently on board, and they carried enough coal to give them a steaming radius of 4,000-5,000 miles. German capital ships were designed purely for North Sea or Baltic operations. Their crews lived ashore in barracks when the ships were in harbour, and the fuel they carried gave them a steaming radius of under 2,000 miles.

Their great beam, allied to the saving in weight in fuel alone, and combined with the fact that crew habitability was not of primary importance in view of their short endurance and the living accommodation ashore, enabled a much more complete watertight subdivision below decks to be built into their hulls. As a result, the German capital ships were more nearly unsinkable than any of the British. It all came down to the size of the available docks. When Admiral Jellicoe visited Kiel in 1910, the Kaiser told him that in Germany they built docks to take the ships, and not ships to fit the docks. Writing after the war, Sir Eustace Tennyson-d'Eyncourt, the Director of Naval Construction, had this to say: 'Had wider docks been available, and had it been possible to go to a

greater beam, the designs on the same length and draught could have embodied more fighting qualities, such as armour, armament, greater stability in case of

damage, and improved underwater protection.' With their greater beam, ar therefore greater displacement, thj man ships could have a consic thicker armour belt built into fchei the Bi first dreadnoughts, belt was 10 to 11 inches uf deck only, while the compa











dreadnoughts carried 12 Orion to Iron Duke classes, was 12 inches thick, but in Kaiser and Konig class,

inches. In the British armour

the comparable



armour was 13J inches thick. There was something of the same story in a comparison of the big guns of the two fleets. A considerable amount of capital had been invested by the main British gun manufacturers in wire-woupd guns, and therefore all British big naval guns were wire-wound. The German navy had gone for the built-up gun, which had proved itself not only more robust but with a longer life. There was a tendency for the muzzles of big wire-wound guns to droop fractionally after firing a few rounds, with consequent inaccuracy in range keeping, while their life was estimated (by the Germans, it is true) as 80-100 rounds. The life of the built-up gun was estimated (again by the Germans) at 220 rounds. They fired their shells with a considerably

endorsed by Admiral Jellicoe, also a gunnery expert, ran into opposition from the Navy's Inspector of Target Practice, who argued strongly for the retention of individual gunlaying. This battle of opinions continued until the end of 1912 when a test between HMS Thunderer, fitted with Scott's director system, and her sister ship HMS Orion, using individual gunlayers, clinched the argument. In three minutes of firing at a range of 9,000 yards, with the ships steaming at 12 knots, the Thunderer scored six times as many hits as the Orion. But by now time was running short, and with opposition still being expressed by the diehards, only eight battleships in the Grand Fleet had been fitted with director

by August 1914. The Germans had a system of director firing, known as Richtungsweiser, which had much in common with Scott's director except that it was mounted in the ship's conningtower and not in the foretop. If firing

indeed throughout


British naval history

up to that year, the gun was always the dominant weapon. Officers who had specialised in gunnery had always enjoyed a better record for promotion to the higher ranks than officers of other specialities, and in this veneration of the gun as the queen of the naval battlefield, other weapons had had less drive put behind them in the race towards perfection. British torpedoes were unreliable in their running, and not infrequently ran deep or sank to the bottom after being fired; a somewhat strange state of affairs when it is remembered that the

Royal Navy had pioneered the torpedo from its very birth. By 1914 the 21-inch torpedo had largely replaced the earlier 18inch, and all the dreadnought battleships all modern destroyers carried the larger version. The German navy had also two sizes of torpedo, 450-mm (17.7-inch) and 500-mm (19.7-inch), with a larger 600-mm (23.6- inch) torpedo under develop-


Although in 1914 Italy had only one dreadnought her commanding position in the Mediterranean made her navy a factor to be reckoned with greater muzzle velocity, and the muzzles ment. The four earliest German dreadthere were any diehards in the German noughts (Nassau class) had the 450-mm, did not droop. navy they were never permitted to interGun for gun, the German was smaller fere with technological development, and as also did the Bliicher and Von der Tann among the battle-cruisers. All other dreadthe Richtungsweiser system had been than the British. Taking ships comparable noughts and all destroyers and U-boats introduced throughout the High Seas Fleet in size and date of completion, where the from G.174 and U.19 onwards had the by 1914. German gunnery was always British fitted 12-inch guns, the Germans 500-mm torpedo. Any older boats which excellent, their salvoes compact with very fitted 11-inch; when the British went up to little spread, and always remarkably were still operational had the old 17.713.5 inches, the Germans replied with 12inch. Allowing for the higher muzzle veloaccurate for range. inch torpedo. But although slightly smaller, This accuracy was based on the stereosize for size, the German torpedo was a city of the German guns, there was nothing more reliable weapon in range, running, scopic rangefinder, which had a telling in the disparity of size so far as range was and depth-keeping than the British. advantage over the British type in that it concerned, though the British ships held a absorbed very little light. This was parsubstantial advantage in weight of broadticularly valuable in the North Sea, where Negligence and inefficiency side. Given equal accuracy in ranging and If the performance of British torpedoes in the frequent mist and bad light, little in shell and fuse design, this advantage could be seen through the British type could have been considerable since heavier left much to be desired, that of British shells are more accurate at long ranges because of the high absorption of light mines was shocking. No one at the Adthan lighter ones. through the lenses and prisms. miralty had been given responsibility to think out the use or value of mines in In the ten years ending in 1914, the Royal It was a similar story in shells, mines Navy had made a striking advance in the and torpedoes. When Jellicoe had been terms of naval strategy or tactics; no one range and accuracy of its gunnery. WhereThird Sea Lord and Controller in 1910 he had been charged with the technical as in 1904, battle practice ranges had been development of mines. Those with which had sent a memorandum to the Ordnance 3,000-4,000 yards and often with a stationBritain went to war in 1914 were thorBoaid asking them to produce an armourary target, by 1914 the range had grown oughly inefficient, either breaking away piercing shell that would penetrate armour to 16,000 yards at towed targets. Accuracy at oblique impact and burst inside. At the from their moorings when laid or else was very good, but the individual gunend of the year Jellicoe went to sea, and frequently failing to explode when hit by layers in the turrets were always handithe responsibility to see this development an enemy ship. In the German navy as capped by the smoke of burnt cordite, through to its conclusion fell to his succesmuch attention was paid to the developfunnel smoke, shell splashes, and the sor, Admiral Sir John Briggs, who was anyment of the mine as to every other weapon, difficulty of identification of the target. In thing but energetic. Nothing had been done and the sinking of the new dreadnought 1911 Admiral Sir Percy Scott, who had by 1914 on this requirement, and this battleship Audacious by a single mine been recognised as the greatest expert in sorry tale of incompetence had its result within a very few weeks of the declaration gunnery in the Royal Navy, brought out in the war when the British armourof war told the story. his director system, by which all guns piercing shell broke up on oblique impact In smaller ships of war, the Germans were trained, laid, and fired by a master against the German armour instead of were in every way as good as the British. sight in the foretop, well above the smoke. penetrating and bursting inside. All their destroyers, to which they still In addition to obtaining a clear view, the gave the older name of torpedoboats, were director sight made certain that all turrets German superiority excellent seaboats and very strongly conwere trained onto the same enemy ship, for The German superiority in torpedoes and structed. Unlike British practice, they were the individual gunlayers in the turrets had mines lay as much in better and more in every case tested by running their merely to follow the electrically repeated sophisticated workmanship as in a fatal acceptance trials in really bad weather to elevation and bearing of the master sight. British tendency to regard these as the guarantee against leaking and straining. Scott's director system, enthusiastically weapons of a weaker power. In 1914, and Their U-boats, too, were as well con-

Above: An artist's impression of signalling in the German fleet. Below: The map shows the naval bases of the North Sea, and the blockade alternatives open to the Royal Navy. It was the policy of distant blockade that was finally decided upon.

Immense propaganda campaigns encouraged the public to take an interest in their navies. Top: An Aryan goddess spurs on the German fleet with the cry Death to the Enemy'. Above: A painting of the launching of Austria's


dreadnought, the Viribus




250 Miles

400 Kms.


Sea pa Flow














Hambu '9

Bremen Harwich



Devon port

|B FalmWh

















Allied Countries








Neutral Countriesin 1914(August)

.Brest Allied Fleet


R The


armoured cruiser Carnarvon.




• ^=:

Anchorages & Naval Bases


Anchorages & Naval Bases

Allied Ports

Close Blockade


Distant Blockade

Observational Blockade









Britain .



1l u.












1230 HRS

He was

THE ADMIRALS In 1914 many of these men were over 50 years old and several had joined the navy while still in their teens. Almost all of them had seen colonial service and some had been involved in local fighting there — but none had any experience of a major naval conflict. Peter Kemp JELLICOE, John Rushworth (1859-1935), entered the Royal Navy in 1872. As a lieutenant he showed great courage during the Arabi Pasha rebellion of 1882 in Egypt when he adopted native disguise to carry secret despatches to Sir Garnet Wolseley through a hostile horde. He specialised in gunnery, and the brilliance with which he passed all examinations was a measure of his excep-

much so that as a young officer he was brought Admiralty to assist the director of naval ordnance, then Captain J. A. Fisher, with the implementation of the Naval Defence Act of 1889. He was promoted commander in 1891 and appointed as executive officer of HMS Victoria, flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet, being on board at the time of the accident during manoeuvres when she was rammed and sunk by HMS Camperdown. Though ill with Malta Fever, he survived the disaster and was picked up clinging to a sea chest. In 1897 he was promoted captain and narrowly escaped death in the Boxer rebellion in China in 1900 after a bullet passed through his lung during the abortive attempt by Admiral Seymour to lead an international naval brigade to tional intellect, so


rewarded by promotion to captain at the age of at which commanders were promoted to cap-

The average age tain was 43. 29.

Beatty's marriage to a wealthy American lady and his passion fox-hunting made it seem for a time as though a career in the navy had no great attraction for him, for his length of service in command of cruisers and the battleship Queen was insufficient to qualify him for promotion to flag rank. His outstanding record however, could not be overlooked, and in 1910 the Admiralty promoted him to rear-admiral by a special Order in Council. He was 38 at the time, an unprecedently early age at which to reach flag rank. He was offered the appointment of second-in-command of the Atlantic Fleet, but once again jeopardised his career by refusing it. He was offered no other appointment until 1912, after a chance meeting, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, asked him to come as his Naval Secretary. Beatty agreed, and his wide understanding of the art and technique of naval warfare so impressed Churchill that in 1914 he chose him to command the battle-cruiser force with the rank of vice-admiral. At the outbreak of war the battle-cruisers, with Beatty in command, were concentrated at Rosyth. for


to the

the relief of the legations in Pekin. When Sir John Fisher became First Sea Lord in 1904, he brought Jellicoe with him to the Admiralty to be his director of naval ordnance. Promoted to rear-admiral in 1907, Jellicoe served a year as second-in-command of the Atlantic Fleet and then returned to the Admiralty as Third Sea Lord and Controller, where his exceptional talent proved of immense value in helping to maintain Britain's lead in dreadnought design and construction over Germany. During this period he was selected by Fisher as the eventual commander-in-chief of the British fleet in the event of a future war with Germany. All his future appointments were chosen with a view to giving him experience for this task, and as, successively, commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet, the Second Division of the Home Fleet, and Second Sea Lord, his tactical skill and undoubted talent for leadership were developed to the full. His appointment as Second Sea Lord was cut short by the murder at Sarajevo of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and at the end of July 1914 he was ordered north to Scapa Flow to hoist his flag as commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet in the superdreadnought Iron Duke.


Jellicoe — tactical skill

and an undoubted talent for leadership

Beatty — his outstanding record could not be overlooked


Prince Louis Alexander


(1854-1921) was the

eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and the Rhine. He came to England as a boy, was naturalised, and joined the Royal Navy in 1868. His early career was one of distinction and his promotion was rapid. As a captain in 1894 he became secretary of the naval and military committee on defence, which developed later into the Committee of Imperial Defence. He was assistant director of naval intelligence in 1900, and after a year's service in the Mediterranean, returned to the Admiralty in 1902 as director. On promotion to flag rank he was appointed to the command of a cruiser squadron and in 1907 became second-in-command of the Mediterranean Fleet. year later he was selected as commander-inchief of the Atlantic Fleet and in 1911 joined the Board of Admiralty as Second Sea Lord. On the retirement of Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman, Battenberg stepped up to the post of First Sea Lord, and it was in this appointment that, in July 1914, he was faced with the decision whether or not to keep the reserve fleet in being on completion of a test mobilisation in view of the threatening European situation. It was due to his initiative and understanding that when the declaration of war came on August 4, the reserve ships and their crews were not dispersed. Shortly after the outbreak of war a scurrilous press campaign was started, concentrating on Battenberg's German origin. His great patriotism and love for England led him to resign his position as First Sea Lord. It was the final great act of a most distinguished naval career.


Battenberg — BEATTY, David, (1871-1936) joined the Royal Navy at the normal age of 13. His first opportunity to distinguish himself came during Kitchener's reconquest of the Sudan in 1896-8 after the murder of General Gordon, when he was given command of a gunboat on the Nile. His dash and courage, coupled with a strong personality, gained him the DSO and promotion to commander at the early age of 27. Two years later, when he was executive officer of the battleship HMS Barfleur on the China Station, he led a naval detachment to Hsiku to free Admiral Seymour who was held there by the Boxer rebels although at the time he was suffering from a wound received while serving with the besieged Tientsin garrison.

forced to resign by a scurrilous press campaign

TIRPITZ, Alfred von (1849-1930), entered the Prussian navy in 1865, and after specialising in torpedoes, commanded the Far Eastern Cruiser Division, setting up Tsingtao, in China, as a future German naval base. In 1897 he was selected as secretary of state for the navy, and as such was responsible for the drafting and passing of the two Navy Laws of 1898 and 1900, setting out a programme of naval building which was designed to lift Germany to the position of a great naval power. In this task he was able to interest the German Emperor and to foster his naval mania to an extent where the two in alliance were strong enough to override all political opposition to rapid naval growth. The great achievement for which Tirpitz will always be remembered is his transformation, within the space of 20 years, of a naval coastal defence force into a high seas battle fleet. Although he realised that Germany could never match the naval strength of Britain, and that German rearmament on such a scale was certain to sour relations between the two countries, he took comfort in the belief that Britain, faced with the reality of a



navy, could not contemplate war against



of the risk of losing her superiority at sea. It was this aspect of German naval rearmament which was in large degree responsible for the British entente with France in 1904 and with Russia in 1907, which effectively countered Tirpitz's Riskflotte theory. Tirpitz was promoted to admiral in 1903, and Grossadmiral in 1911. On the outbreak of war he attempted to obtain effective command of the High Seas Fleet either by himself becoming its commander-in-chief or through the creation of a supreme navy command structure which he would dominate. Both these moves were rejected, and he remained as secretary of state for the navy unable to exercise any strategic or operational control over the navy which he had so largely brought into being himself.

Tirpitz —

HIPPER, Franz von (1863-1932), 1881 and as a midshipman in the L< •

he 9

German navy



in colonial

adventures which added Togoland to -nan empire. He specialised in torpedoes and in 1895 was ted to the Second Torpedo Division at Wilhelmshaven as an ir. This was followed by three years as navigation oftu iperial yacht Hohenzollern, from which he was appointed to command the Second Destroyer Division. He was selected for a stuff course in 1905, and on promotion to commander took charge of the trials of the new cruiser Leipzig in 1906. On promotion to captain in 1907, he commanded the armoured cruiser Gneisenau. After another short spell as captain of a destroyer flotilla, Hipper was promoted commodore in 1911 and appointed Chief-of-Staff to the second-in-command of the cruiser force of the High Seas Fleet. He reached flag rank in 1912, and with a change in the organisation of the cruiser force, was placed in command of the High Seas Fleet destroyer forces. On October 1, 1913, he became Flag Officer Commanding Scouting Force, High Seas Fleet. He was still holding this appointment at the outbreak of the First World War, flying his flag in the battle-cruiser Seydlitz.

Hipper — a torpedo specialist, a field in which



navy excelled

transformed a coastal

defence force into a high seas battle fleet in 20 years SCHEER,

Reinhart (1863-1928) was born at Obernkirchen, HesseNassau, and his early service in the German navy was connected with the colonial expansion of Germany in the Cameroons and East Africa. In 1903 he commanded the First Torpedo Division, and seven years later was appointed Chief-of-Staff to Admiral Henning von Holtzendorf, Commander-in-Chief of the High Seas Fleet. On promotion to flag rank he was given command of a battle squadron of the fleet, and was stationed at Kiel at the outbreak of the First World War. He had been, throughout his naval career, interested in the development of submarines, and with the early operational use of these craft in the war he was able to develop and introduce new ideas for their tactical use in action. Many of his ideas in this field proved of extreme value, and with the startling successes of the U-boats in the early months of the war, he was marked out for rapid promotion, particularly as he had shown a distinct tactical flair in the handling of his battle squadron and in the use of smaller craft in action. In 1916 he was Commander-in-Chief of the High Seas Fleet.

HENRY, Prince Albert William of Prussia (1862-1929) was the younger brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. His father decided that he should be trained as a naval officer and his first experience of the sea was in the sail-training ship Niobe in 1877. Prince Henry's promotion, due to his royal connections, was rapid and in 1890 he was made captain of the cruiser Irene. As a commanding officer he was always imperious, but in spite of his strictness he was never less than just. On one occasion, having ordered his ship's company to bathe on an icy day and on receiving his first lieutenant's protests, he went below to his cabin, came up on deck naked, and dived over the side into the sea. He was promoted rear-admiral in 1895 and in 1897 commanded the Second Cruiser Squadron in the Far East, bearing with him his brother's famous directive 'If anyone dare to interfere with our good right, ride in with the mailed fist'. It was under Prince Henry that much of the German colonisation in this area was carried out. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Fleet in 1903, and almost immediately on completion of this appointment was made Commander-in-Chief of the High Seas Fleet, holding this appointment until 1909. On the outbreak of* the First World War he was made Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Station, flying his flag in Kiel. The active operations in this area, however, were carried out by other officers, and Prince Henry was little more than a figurehead. He had by this time been promoted to the rank of Grossadmiral, senior to all other German naval officers, and it is recorded that his conservatism and lack of drive did much to hamper German naval operations during the early years of the First World War, for he still wielded considerable influence with the Kaiser.

Scheer — valuable work

Prince Henry —

in the


development of U-boats and

and lack of drive did

their tactical





hamper the German navy 197

* The German

light cruiser Ariadne, scouting for her battle-cruisers which she thought were close at hand, was attacked by the 13.5-inch guns of Beatty's battle-cruisers. The German battlecruisers, imprisoned behind a sand bar, were unable to come to the Ariadne's aid. T. Plivier

HMS Lion, Beatty's flagship, one of the battle-cruisers which made such a devastating attack upon small German ships like Ariadne

After her spell on patrol duty the Ariadne did not make for Kiel, nor did she go into dock for repairs. The cleaning of her boilers was put off to some future time. After four days in harbour she was cruising once more in the outer estuary of the Jade. In the crow's-nest Karl Kleesattel was perched up among the clouds, above the bridge and the two funnels, in a half light that belonged to neither night nor day; he was soaked to the skin by the damp in the air. The sea was smooth, but above it volumes of dark fog towered and billowed. He thrust his hands into his pockets. He could only bury his face in his collar up to the mouth. He had to scan the horizon ceaselessly, and the floating, eternally shifting layers of fog. He could see three or four miles, no farther. A man's heart beat more slowly in that grey chaos. Suddenly he started up. On the port bow a booming issued from the fog. There was nothing to be seen, only the seething outlines of great masses of fog. There it was again, a dull, thunderous roar. And again, and yet again! In the intervals of volleys fired by heavy guns! The Ariadne altered course. The gun-pointers adjusted their instruments. The ammunitionconveyors clattered and raised shells and charges on deck from the magazines below the water-line. The stretcherbearers lined up in front of the dressing-station. Down below in the stoke-hold the firemen bent in front of the furnace doors and emptied their wellfilled shovels with the wide sweep of their strong arms down the craters — several yards in depth— or stirred the red-hot glow with heavy pokers. Their bodies gleamed red in the fire-light. The sweat made white channels in the coal-dust that powdered their skin. In the engine-room flashing metal, piston-rods, all in furious motion. And between them the oilers with oil-smeared arms and balls of cotton waste in their hands. The steam pressure from ten boilers that was here transformed into power set gleaming, blue steel rods in motion and sent the propeller-blades pounding furiously through the water. On the bridge, in the captain's hands, all the threads were gathered: guns, engines, navigation, wireless telegraphy. And the link of wireless made him and his ship just an outstretched feeler of the heavily equipped battle-cruisers steaming up astern. The light cruiser's task is to make contact with the enemy and to keep in touch with the flagship of the reconnaissance forces, and report on the position. For three hours the Ariadne had been steaming at a high speed. The look-out had been reinforced by one man. Harry Mathieson stood shoulder to shoulder with the 'Admiral' in the crow's-nest. Neither of them took the glasses from his eyes. Mathieson searched the horizon astern. 'Still no sign of our battle-cruisers.' — 'That's only because it's so hazy. They're following close in our wake. Just like in the manoeuvres. When we knock up against the English and report, they'll appear.' It grew rather brighter. There was a break in the foggy atmosphere of the gigantic 'wash-house', but out beyond, the damp mists continued to rise. 'Admiral, do you see?' 'Yes, right ahead!' 'Ship right ahead!' the look-out reported to the bridge. 'She's bearing straight down on us!' "Three funnels. That's the Koln.' 'She's under fire.' 'She's in flight!' Another vessel issued from the wall of fog, a gigantic grey colossus. The Ariadne called the ship with her searchlight. The ship did not reply. 'A battle-cruiser!'

'A British ship!' the bridge they recognized the ship's silhouette. The bridge sentry, messengers, guns' crews — each man passed on to the next what he had heard. The Ariadne was one single bundle of strained nerves. Rigid faces below the ventilation shafts and pump shafts leading to the magazines and engine rooms. 'A big British ship.' 'Four turrets: 13.5!' 'Flagship Lion.'


'And what about our ships?' 'Not in sight yet.' second battle-cruiser of the


same class hove in sight, the Tiger. (In fact Plivier is mistaken as Tiger did not join Beatty's flag until November 1914.) Sixteen heavy turret guns


trained upon the little Ariadne. 'Hard a-starbord!' ordered the commander. 'Hard a-starboard, sir!' replied the helmsman. The Ariadne reversed her course and tried to retreat into the

fog at full speed. The Lion fired from her foremost turret. Smoke rose from the muzzles. 'Like an express train clattering n iron bridge,' ob-

served Harry Mathieson. A second and a half! Two fountains rose out of the sea a few huii rda ahead of the ship. 'Fifty-five hundred!' announced the fire-control for the information of their own gunners. 'Fifty-five hundred!' the voicetube men repeated to the gunners. 'Salvo- fire!' The gun-pointers -for the foremost starboard gun it was Petty Officer Paul Weiss —jerked the trigger-lanyard. A deafening roar.

The gun sprang back on its mounting. Each shell 32 pounds Mere peas, which ricocheted ineffectually against the

of iron.

heavy armour-plating of the battle-cruiser. The Ariadne was 2,600 tons. Each one of the battle-cruisers was 30,000 tons. The five men serving each of the Ariadne's guns stood unsheltered on deck. The 80 serving each British turret gun stood behind thick protecting walls of plate armour. The next salvoes fell astern. The enemy had zigzagged towards them and got their range. And now the gun-flashes were directed on the Ariadne from two points. The brown cordite smoke rose like a wall.

The Koln had vanished

in the fog.

Thousands of tons of water The Ariadne had turned her

stern-post to the battle-cruisers

j?*J8 t:«*~Vc$

A stylised German postcard coming under fire from the

of the time depicts the Ariadne

and V187

British battle-cruisers at Heligoland

offered only a narrow target. The shells crashed beside the Columns of water, green and resplendent, rose like crystal arches and then fell on her deck. Five hundred, or perhaps a thousand, tons of water falling from cloudy heights — and the force there is in water! The ship's whole frame creaked and shivered and then suddenly dropped down like an overburdened mule sink-



ing on



Below decks all was confusion. Glasses, instruments, and controls were smashed. The lamp filaments were shivered to dust.

On the quarter-deck blood-stained, battered faces rose from out of the ebbing water. The tall Lieutenant Alvens was carried away with broken arms. 'More revolutions!' the captain insisted. The wireless telegraphic apparatus tapped out an SOS. 'Fire!' came the order from the gunnery-officer. The stokers worked like devils under the lash. Coal-barrows, pokers, clattering furnace doors! The sweat-soaked rags stuck to their thighs. The lungs and chests worked like bellows — steam! steam! On deck, by the guns: charges rammed home, breech closed! See through the telescopes the grey phantoms approaching. When the gun lies true on its mark, fire! Suffocating fumes from the powder. Smarting eyes. Throats burning and parched. When the smoke disperses, on again without a pause. Each shell 32 pounds of iron, and 160 pounds each broadside. The Lion and Tiger fired at long intervals, but with every salvo they hurled over six tons of steel and dynamite into the air. Turuslavsky gripped his coal-shovel and resumed his place in the row. The pressure in the boilers was near bursting-point. But the engine had reached the limit of its powers. 'She's too old, the damned hulk.' 'Too slow to get away.'


No help, no hope Ammunition-porters and look-out-men and the blackened faces of those in the guns' crews, all kept turning their eyes eastwards whence heavy reinforcements might come. And again and again all living flesh stooped and crouched when the air reverberated with the onrush of the shells. An earthquake must be like that. Just the same upward thrust in your guts. But floating vessels have more spring and soften the shock. All the same, your whole body is shaken to the very bones.

Your nerves are a-tremble.

And it wasn't the end yet, what was going on on deck — that gurgling downward plunge and the blaze that shot up as high as the crow's-nest and blinded their eyes. Kleesattel recovered his sight — he could still hear, he reflected. The shell had smashed through the deck and exploded in the bows. A rush of air at high pressure whistled through the hole it had pierced. Coal-dust! Smoke! The dust settled in a dark cloud,

HMS New Zealand,


of Beatty's battle-cruiser squadron,



And now the shells were coming in a long, level flight and tore the sides of the ship. Seething steam and black, curling smoke poured out of every crack and crevice. The lights went out in the stoke-hold aft. The compartments were full of smoke, and it swept across the decks. Those who could still use their legs cleared the stern and dragged the wounded along with them. Midships from the navigator's bridge telephone wires and voicetubes, riddled with shot, came tumbling down like mutilated iron intestines. There was nothing to be seen of the bridge, funnels, masts; they were lost in a thick veil of smoke which the battered

into action at Heligoland

emitting sparks. The ascending smoke was of a dark ochre-brown. exits and man-holes, and finally even through the hole pierced by the shell, a flood of half-naked, blackened bodies emerged. The stokers! They were leaving their posts. The bunker coal had caught fire. The stokeholds were full of smoke. Five boilers were put of action. The Ariadne was now only making headway at half speed. The machinery attached to the forward gun was out of action; the sights and telephone had been swept away. Petty Officer Weiss took his bearings over the barrel and chimed in only a little behind the other guns.


'Salvo -fire!'

They crouched behind the smoke of their guns, five men at each gun. A handful on the bridge and at the searchlight and signal stations. At the foot of the bridge and round the sockets of the funnels stood the fugitive firemen. Everywhere clutching hands, and jaws so tightly set that the bones showed white through the cheeks!

There was no ~aore ammunition for the after guns. The ammunition-conveyor had been blown in. The magazine was plunged in darkness. The men were groping past chests of charges and piles of shells, up to their waists in water, till they reached the iron ladder.

On armoured decks I and II also, the watertight hatch stuck fast and couldn't be moved a fraction of an inch. A blow had bent it. Something between fifteen and twenty men were huddled together, clinging in the darkness. Their pulsing blood counted the hammerstrokes as they listened to the pattering of tools against the hatch

from outside.

The commander with artificers was trying to liberate the imprisoned men. Several firemen, Stanislaus Turuslavsky carrying a big hammer in his hand, came to the deck. The fire burst forth. Boots and fragments of all sorts were transformed into flying z

ammunition. Men's bodies were swept across the empty space like dry leaves and hurled against the iron bulkhead. Turuslavsky and the other firemen on their way to the hatch lay on the ground like fish cast up on dry land, gasping for breath. The artificers had disappeared and so had the wounded men who had been laid on deck on stretchers, and the sick-bay attendants, the doctor, and the

ship trailed after her in a broad path. For the past half-hour the sky had arched above the ship and crew like an immense, booming metal bowl; now it was suddenly still and stopped its swinging motion. The Lion and Tiger had ceased fire. They could no longer see anything in the smoke. Two boats were still seaworthy, being only knocked about by splinters above their water-line. They were launched. Then the wounded were let down with ropes. The rest of the crew crouched in the bow. Their eyes were inflamed and their voices hoarse. 'There are still some under armoured decks I and II.' 'And some in the magazine aft.' 'All the watertight compartments are flooded.' 'Petty Officer Weiss is aft with one or two men.' A hundred pairs of eyes stared fixedly astern into the raging witches' cauldron, seething with steam and smoke. The charges and shells lying beside the guns exploded. The hull was one burning, red-hot mass. The flimsy armoured deck beneath their feet grew hotter and hotter, so that it was unbearable in the forecastle. An 'officer's uniform, four gold stripes on the sleeve — the captain. He spoke just a few words. Why did the German High Sea Fleet not arrive? Why was the Ariadne forced to submit to being shot at till she caught fire? He did not answer these questions. He ended with 'Three cheers for His Majesty the Emperor!' A shadow fell upon the glassy red chaos, a group of human forms supporting one another and helping one another along. Paul Weiss and his men. Scorched and exhausted, they came towards the bows. The men from the armoured deck were not

with them. The captain gave the order: 'On life-belts! Abandon ship!'


1914, 1,000,000 Germans invaded France. For the French and their British allies, the great retreat had begun. It lasted for 13 days, blazing summer days in which the Germans made their bid for the swift decisive victory which Schlieffen had designed. They were desperate days for the Allies whose only offensive plan had not survived the opening battles of the war. Brigadier Peter Young


long, hot

and dusty road back from Mons — British cavalry fall back, unable to hamper seriously the German advance

During the 13 days of the retreat, five of the seven German armies scythed down towards Paris on a 75-mile front. For the troops on both sides they were days of endless marching under a scorching sun; marching until nearly every man seemed to have nails sticking through the soles of his boots into his blistered ^ feet, and the horses had worn their shoes wafer thin. Every movement was hampered by refugees. Order and counter-order plagued both sides, communication by wireless and telephone was often desperately slow, so that one liaison officer described an army as: 'A giant with a quick and brilliant brain, but whose nervous system .is slow, lethargic, and inadequate. Something goes wrong with one of his distant limbs. Hours pass before he registers it. Once he has done so acounter-move is rapidly devised, but transmission is again slow, and before his arm or leg can receive and obey it, it may have been gnawed to the bone.' Each side had its special troubles. The French were subject to

unaccountable panics, and inclined to see spies everywhere. The back areas of formations which had suffered severely were infested with pillaging deserters. The Germans, especially in Belgium, saw franc-tireurs (snipers) behind every bush. So rapid was their march that their supplies could not keep up, and in consequence there was a good deal of marauding and drunkenness, with the usual deterioration of discipline. Both these factors led to the heavy-handed treatment of the civilian population, which did so much to foster the 'Campaign of Hate'. When the retreat began Joffre's situation was far from en- e viable. The Belgians, except for the garrison of Namur, had § retired into Antwerp. Joffre had six armies, five French and one I British, with which to face the seven German armies. The four| armies of his right and centre had all been severely mauled. The „ BEF and the French Fifth Army were about to receive the full jc onslaught of the three most powerful German armies. The im- E



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The pattern of 1914

German firepower and Allied retreat

of the German advance temporarily broken, German infantry halt on the exhausting advance into France only long enough to push Allied screening units back to the main body of retreating troops. Right: The price of defeat for France -walking wounded limp back toward the rear in an effort to escape capture by the onrushing German armies

The momentum

4*± +


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4* « 'The first German effort has succeeded' The Allied retreat, although precipitate, was ordered and controlled. Day by day the rearward movement was controlled and never got out of hand. With only minor holding movements at Landrecies, Le Cateau and Guise on August 25, 26 and 29 respectively, the French Sixth Army, the BEF, and the French Fifth and Fourth Armies were pushed back by the onrushing Germans determined to reach Paris and fulfil all the objectives of the Schlieffen Plan, and knock France out of the war


the attitude of the general to whom 250,000 them to safety and ultimately to victory.

men looked



cavalry corps formed. By evening the


At 1700 hours Fifth Army HQ leaves for Orbais l'Abbaye. Lieutenant Spears writes: 'I well remember the poignant sadness of abandoning the beautiful rich valley of the Marne, so typical of France, to the enemy, and the shame of seeing more girls by the bridge over the river shaking their fists at us.' At Senlis, Kluck's men shoot the mayor and six other civilian hostages. From the diary of an officer of Kluck's army: 'Our men are done up. They stagger forward, their faces coated with dust, their uniforms in rags. They look like living scarecrows.' After four days of marching an average of 24 miles a day over roads pitted with shell-holes and barred by felled trees: They march with eyes closed, singing in chorus so as not to fall asleep. Only the certainty of early victory and a triumphal entry into Paris keeps them going. Without this they would fall exhausted and go to sleep where they fell. They drink to excess but this drunkenness keeps them going. Today after inspection the General was furious. He wanted to stop







has retired across the In a telephone con-


Mas Army

versation, General de

Latrie (XVIII Corps), asserts to the that his troops are too exhausted to carry out their orders for the next day. Told by d'Esperey to 'march or croak'. chief-of-staff of Fifth


limit of endurance September 4: Broiling weather. Joffre orders the Allies to turn and attack on the 5th. The BEF (September 4 and 5) receives its first line reinforcements, 10% of the establishment of each unit. The Detachment Foch is reconstituted as the Ninth Army in between the Fourth and Fifth Armies. General Wilson visits Fifth Army. Visit of Gallieni and Maunoury to Melun. 'General Kluck fears nothing from the direction of Paris. After we have destroyed the remains of the Franco-British army he will return to Paris and give the IV Reserve the honour of leading the entry into the French capital.' (A German officer.) In the morning Kluck sends a wireless message to the Supreme Command: The First Army requests to be informed of the situation of the other armies, whose reports of decisive victories have so far been frequently followed by appeals for support. The First Army, which has been fighting and marching incessantly, has reached the limits of its endurance. It is through its efforts alone that the crossings of the Marne have been opened for the other armies and that the enemy has been compelled to continue his retreat. The IX Corps has won the greatest merit by its bold action in this respect. It is now hoped that every advantage will be taken of this success. The message of the Supreme Command in accordance with which the First Army was to follow in echelon behind the Second, could not be carried out under the circumstances. The intention to force the enemy away from Paris in a south-easterly direction was only practicable by advancing the First Army. The necessary flank protection weakens the offensive strength of the army, and immediate reinforcements are therefore urgently needed. Owing to the ever-changing situation, it will not be possible for the commander of the First Army to make any further important decisions unless he is kept continuously informed of the situation of the other armies who are apparently not so far advanced. Communication with the Second Army is constantly maintained. This is not the place to discuss the deliberations and negotiations that went on during these days, and which led up to the battle of the Marne. Our purpose has been to give an impression of the events of those days, not only of the way they unfolded from day to day, but of the atmosphere, the doubts and fears, which enveloped all those millions of men, each of them nearly strained to the limits of human endurance by the burden of responsibility,

Brief respite in a foreign land

- British

cavalry rest on a roadside

this general drunkenness, but we managed to dissuade him from giving severe orders. If we used too much severity the Army would not march. Abnormal stimulants are necessary to combat abnormal



(Fifth Army) ambushes a German cavalry a motor-car, and takes a bloodstained map giving the lines of advance of each of Kluck's corps. It is clear that he is bypassing Paris and making for the gap between the Sixth and Fifth Armies.

French patrol

officer in

September 3: Allied airmen detect Kluck's wheel to the south-east. At Gallieni's headquarters General Clergerie and Colonel Girodon, following the track of Kluck's corps by the coloured pins on the wall map, cry out simultaneously, 'They offer us their flank! They offer us their flank!' Reims abandoned to Biilow's army. D'Esperey replaces Lanrezac in command of the Fifth Army. (Joffre: 'Do you feel yourself capable of commanding an -army? D'Esperey: 'As well as anyone else. The higher one gets the easier :

is. One gets a bigger staff; there are more people to help.') Biilow reports the French Fifth Army 'decisively beaten' and fleeing 'utterly disorganised to south of the Marne'. Conneau's


or by sheer hard marching. In detail the fighting techniques of 1914 are a thing of the past, but even so one may learn much from those hectic days: the value of good communications, and good liaison; the harm that can be done by mutual suspicion, such as existed between French and Lanrezac; the value of men like Foch and d'Esperey, determined not to be beaten. The interest of the campaign lies above all in the reactions of the men involved. The Kaiser was living in an atmosphere of euphoria, which poor 'Gloomy Julius' could no more control than he could control Kluck, whose army rushed down upon Paris and then suddenly swerved away, like a runaway steamroller with a drunken driver at the wheel. Maunoury, who unlike many generals never considered that his own was the only army in the field, de Langle de Cary in perfect control of himself despite his awful repulse in the opening battles, and the old Gallieni taking a firm grip on the capital, all deserve their measure of praise for staunch work in those days when everything seemed to be going wrong. But one figure stands out above all, the massive unshakeable Joffre, playing the part of Atlas and ready to take all the burdens of the Allied cause on his broad shoulders. It says much for French resilience and the flexibility of their staff that they could recover so quickly from the Battle of the Frontiers, fall back under heavy pressure, and devise a counterstroke even during the confusion of a withdrawal. In war, things are seldom as bad as they seem.

Further Reading Keegan, J., Opening Moves: August 1914 (New York: Ballantine 1971) Kluck, General Alexander, The March on Paris (Longmans 1920) Spears, Sir Edward, Liaison 1914 (Heinemann 1930) Tuchman, B., August 1914 (Constable 1962)

\For Peter Young's biography, see page 155.}

France's colonial troops




The French Spahi. The Spahis were recruited

The French Zouave. The Zouaves were

from the native population of the French North African colony of Algeria, and were mostly born horsemen. As they were light cavalry, the Spahis carried little in the way of equipment, but what they did have was the standard French cavalry issue, worn with their colourful native dress. Apart from their sabres, they were armed with carbines, either the8-mm 1886 Lebel.orthe 1890/92 Berthier



mostly from the white population of the French colonies of North Africa, and wore the traditional uniform shown here in the opening stages of the war. Their equipment and small arms were identical with those of ordinary infantry regiments of the line, and comprised a metal-framed pack (containing spare boots, great coat, blankets and mess tin), and the standard 8-mm 1886 Lebel rifle



=^ 207


Outflanked, outgunned and outnumbered, the British II Corps fought an important holding action at Le Cateau during the retreat from Mons. This check was a rude shock to the German command and led several commanders to come to the erroneous conclusion that the BEF was more numerous than had previously been thought. Philip Warner


many other famous battles, Le Cateau its name from a nearby town which

outflanked British have expected it.


little of the actual fighting. The main actions took place along the line of the Le

could possibly


Not unfittingly, August 26 was the anniversary of the Battle of Crecy which had taken place over 500 years before, in 1346. On the former occasion a heavily outnumbered English force had also been surrounded, but on that day the magnificent longbow with its volleys of arrows at 12 to the minute had reduced the opposition to helpless fragments. In 1914 the longbow had been replaced by the rifle which pumped out bullets at 16 rounds


Cateau-Cambrai road and they were not, for the most part, in positions which those holding them would have chosen to defend. But this was a retreat and an emergency. The Battle of Le Cateau earned its place in history for the desperate and dogged resistance that took place when no one, neither in the triumphant German army, nor in the outnumbered, outgunned and




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to the minute.

The combination

of rapid

and high quality marksmanship would not win the day at Le Cateau, but it would give the advancing enemy a check which was vital if the retreat was ultimately to be turned into a counterattack. At this stage the Germans might reasonably have assumed that the superior fire-power of their artillery would sweep away the opposition and allow their infantry to swarm over the ground thus cleared. Against massive superiority in men and materials the small English force had little but courage and tenacity to withstand the onfire


The general situation was complicated but not confused. The higher command was well aware that the retreating troops were too weary to march further but not too exhausted to lie down and fire their rifles. A complication was the fact that I Corps under Lieutenant-General Haig, and II Corps under General Smith-Dorrien (who had taken over the command only five days previously), had become separated. The previous night had brought them to the Forest of Mormal, a compact wooded area of beech and oak measuring some nine miles by four. It was clearly unwise to try to march through this obstacle, crossed as it was by unmarked and confusing paths. They therefore separated, II Corps taking the west side and I Corps the east. During the night I Corps was involved in the fighting at Landrecies. When morning came therefore I Corps was in no state to move west over the eight miles which separated it from II Corps. The latter would have to go it alone, or almost alone. In retrospect it is easy to see how II Corps found itself in such an exposed posi-

the higher command had decided that holding the Le Cateau position would be less exhausting than another day's march in stifling heat over sun-baked roads and it was therefore decided to make a stand at this position. Subsequently it was found that the French on the right flank of I Corps were already retiring and the Germans were in greater strength than had previously been realised, so the decision was taken to continue the retreat to a more tenable position. Then came the separation around the Forest of Mormal, and I Corps' engagement at Landrecies. There was now a gap between the two corps, but the II Corps' troops, now arriving in the Le Cateau area, looked less exhausted than had been feared. It was therefore decided to make a stand, give the German army a sharp punch on the nose, and then regroup further back. By this last decision it was hoped that the danger of German troops pouring through the gap between the two British corps would be averted. tion. Originally

Darkness and heavy rain In the circumstances, the troops in the field — always liable to be cynical about the intellectual powers of the higher command — might well have thought their worst fears were justified. Many units were ordered to take up positions in the dark, sometimes to the accompaniment of heavy rain. Some had difficulty in locating the areas they had been allotted, for they were

using unfamiliar French maps which had neither contours nor hachuring (shading) Once daylight arrived, and the morning mist cleared, they could see they were in

Brought to a standstill by hastily improvised positions Right:

Checked again by the



Below: Waiting for the onslaught, the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers dig in by a road infantry wait to attack.

open countryside, with very few fences and very little woodland and that there were not many opportunities for the enemy to approach unseen. However, the British were too busy trying to cope with their disadvantages to count their blessings. 4th Division was far from complete, lacking signals, artillery, ammunition and ambulances, and already it had some of its forward troops tangled up with the enemy. 5th Division never received the general order to stand at all and was therefore brought into the fight in positions which they had not anticipated holding. The Suffolk Regiment was particularly badly placed, and when the men were told to dig in they had to scrape out makeshift trenches with their mess tins. 3rd Division, in the middle sector, was better prepared than the others, having had earlier warning, but nevertheless faced overwhelming odds.

The battle may be said to have begun at approximately 0600 hours, being opened by a brisk artillery bombardment which landed on the troops hastily trying to dig in. It is difficult enough to dig a trench with a mess tin at the best of times but particularly so when lying flat on the ground under shellfire. The German force, which included IV Corps, IV Reserve Corps, and II Cavalry Corps, was overwhelmingly superior, both in men and guns. Nevertheless their first effort to drive a wedge between the two British corps was swiftly foiled by a brisk counterattack from half a battalion of the East Surreys. The Surreys were soon joined by the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (DCLI), and German attempts to create a gap and pour through it were immediately abandoned. By 0800 hours the whole British line was under heavy artillery fire, to which the outnumbered British gunners replied with considerable vigour and success. At the time it was thought that the accuracy of the German fire was due to information sent back by spies but in fact it was mainly from the use of spotter aircraft. Most of the British infantry had to suffer this bombardment without being able to make a reply; the exceptions were the East Surreys and DCLI, mentioned above, who were still ploughing steadily ahead at midday. By 1000 hours the situation of the British infantry had become extremely trying. The Germans had mounted guns on the heights east of Le Cateau, and the 5th Division was raked with fire from both sides. In the forefront of this holocaust were the Suffolks and King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), soon to be joined by two companies of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who also had to dig themselves in as best they could with their mess tins. Shortly after 1000 hours the German infantry began to advance. 11th Battery and 108th Heavy Battery poured shells into this new target. Casualties on both sides

were shattering, but neither side stopped attack; the 11th Battery continued to function after every officer had been killed its

and there were only enough men to fire one gun; the Germans, although cut and torn by the intense bombardment, rallied their ranks and pressed forward. An extraordinary scene took place in front of 122nd Battery where a platoon of Germans came over a ridge in close formation. The battery fired a salvo and every German fell. It might have been thought that the Ger-

mans would have

resorted to

more open

formation or some other tactics, but it was not to be. They continued to advance and continued to be slaughtered. Up in front the Suffolks, helped enormously by the machine guns of the KOYLI, were still holding the attack. Needless to say this heroic stand was not without fearful cost and the Manchesters, Argylls and Middlesex moved up to help. The Manchesters seem to have had the worst of it for they were caught in a fearsome mixture artillery and machine gun fire. this point the Suffolks began to run out of ammunition for their own machine




The commanding officer, Major Doughty, managed to bring some up himself but was badly wounded in the process. guns.

Then the Argylls arrived. But the last remaining gun of 11th Battery was now put out of action by the German 'heavies' mounted on the Montay spur, the German infantry battalions were gradually inching forward, and flanking fire was raking both sides.



had now been under

devastating and incessant bombardment for six hours; their position



Nevertheless they stood their ground and continued to return shot for shot.

Heavy machine gun fire The troops in the centre

of the line had seen little action so far, but their turn was coming. Away on the left it was a different story. Soon after 0600 hours the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment was caught in an unexpectedly heavy attack by machine gun fire. As they were in close formation at the time the destruction was very considerable. The battalion was ordered to lie down but in that formation only the front rank of each platoon could return the fire. However, so good was their marksmanship that they had an immediate effect on the German machine guns at a distance of 800 yards. Unfortunately the influence of this was somewhat diminished by the fact that

several German batteries now ranged on the regiment, inflicting further heavy casualties. Two companies of the Warwickshires, guided by a staff officer, forced their way up the hill to help, but their own losses were so great that they were forced to fall back. After a time the King's Own, now reduced to about half its original strength, managed to move away to the right during a temporary lull in the fire. There they managed to shelter in a country lane, and from that point managed to extract a suitable revenge on the machine gunners who had accounted for so many of their comrades.

The preponderance guns (the


German machine

those in this quarter was 21) gave them a decided advantage which they did not neglect to use. First they enfiladed the Lancashire Fusiliers. Then, encouraged by this success, the 7th Jdger (a rifle regiment) advanced over a cornfield unaware that the official figure for

Inniskillings were positioned ready to meet them. By the time they realised their mistake they had left 47 dead on the field. The left






rounded by a circle of German dead without having one of its own members wounded.





Fusiliers were able to regroup and inflict their own share of casualties on the ad-

vancing Germans. Other units involved at this stage in this area were the East Lancashires, Rifle Brigade, Somerset Light Infantry and Hampshires. These held their ground well and even made counterattacks. The problem for General Smith-Dorrien was to decide how long it was feasible to hold the position, faced as they were with over-



and machine gun


without risking being surrounded. At times elements of the 11th Infantry Brigade were pushed out of position by the intensity of the shrapnel but always reoccupied the original ground. By midday the Germans were using the greater part of the artillery of three divisions against the sector of the British line held by the Suffolks. Unfortunately there were few reserves to reinforce the Suffolks, for many of the Argylls had already been committed to the fight, but the remainder, with the 1st Middlesex, were now brought up. This was clearly a situation which could not last and it was decided that the gun's of the 5th Division should be brought back (by this time they were virtually in the front line). The removal of these guns is one of the more epic stories of gunner history. By sheer heroism, but at fearful cost in the lives of men and horses, a substantial portion of these guns was saved and withdrawn; the last team was only 400 yards ahead of the advancing Germans and the gap would have been closer still had not a section of the Manchesters held them back with intense fire. At this moment three Victoria Crosses were won. A party of volunteers under Captain Reynolds of the 37th Battery galloped (field artillery were not normally allowed to gallop owing to the danger of shaking off men riding on the limbers) to within 200 yards of the advancing Germans and calmly proceeded to limber up two howitzers which had been left behind. One team was shot to pieces before it could move off but the other triumphantly bore away its valuable howitzer. Captain Reynolds, Driver Luke, and Driver Drain all received the VC for the part they played in this action. By 1445 hours the Germans were upon the Suffolks with overwhelming force and attacked them from front, right and rear. But not without cost. The Suffolk line, now reinforced with Argylls, poured out a pitiless fire into the advancing enemy. Ultimately completely surrounded, they were overwhelmed from the rear; the ground over which they had fought for the last nine hours had scarcely a square yard which did not bear the marks of bombardment. In a battle where courage and endurance were almost universal it may seem unfair to single out individuals, but two perhaps typify the spirit of the day. One

was Major-General

Sir Charles Fergusson

who commanded the 5th Division. He galloped about among the bursting shells everyone to stay in their positions and give as good as they got. How he managed to survive this constant exposure to such a hail of fire was never encouraging


understood, and seemed something of a miracle. Another extraordinary survival was that of Captain Jack of the Cameronians, a staff officer, who walked up and down the front line all day supervising operations but was never once hit. When the decision was taken for the 5th Division to retire it was soon apparent that drafting an order was one thing but

Taking up a natural

this time the

KOYLI were

firing position in a ditch, riflemen wait for the attack

delivering it another. In the front line the fighting was often literally hand-to-hand, and immediately behind it the area was so swept with shell-fire that passage was almost impossible. The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had their first knowledge of the passage of events by seeing German infantry advancing on it in dense masses down the ridge in front. Very coolly the Yorkshiremen allowed the enemy to proceed well down the slopes then proceeded to drive them back over the ridge behind with intense and accurate fire. At this point the regiment might have had a breathing space but as the flanking units were now under orders to withdraw the KOYLI now found themselves outflanked and almost

holding up the

German advance

at what the latter had thought was an open gap. In such circumstances men do incredible things. Corporal Holmes picked up a wounded fellow soldier and carried him a mile through heavy fire. For this he was awarded a Victoria Cross. Major Yate's 'B' Company held their section of the line until only 19


men were

left in



any condition

to fight.



Among the regiments actually destroyed on this day was the 1st Battalion of the It

was part of the

Not least of their satisfactions was the deadly sniping which eliminated every attempt of the Germans to set up machine

8th Infantry Brigade in the 3rd Division and had been employed in holding a position north of the village of Audencourt. In theory this brigade had received orders to retire at 1530 hours but in practice some of the units never received these orders at all. This was hardly surprising in view of the general situation. Since 1430 hours the whole area had been under furious bom-


bardment and large numbers of

surrounded by enemy. Their immediate reaction was not of dismay but of satisfaction, for with the enemy now at 500 yards range their unperturbed marksmen took fearful toll of the advancing infantry.

posts in




gentle incline through knee-high beetroots; they were met with a storm of bullets, rapid

and accurate, which cut them

to pieces at

follow the one they have already repulsed

they would be overwhelmed at any moment, and were not prepared to surrender, the gallant 19 fired to the last moment then leapt out of their trenches and charged. Major Yate, who led the charge, was badly wounded and fell into German hands. He was killed somewhat mysteriously less than a month later when trying to escape from a prison camp in Germany. For his conduct on that great day of August 26 he was awarded a posthumous Victoria

Gordon Highlanders.

horses, and machine guns had been lost. At 1700 hours the advancing German infantry clashed with the Gordon Highlanders and a small detachment of the Royal Scots. It was a dramatic moment. The German infantry were advancing up a


a range of 500 yards. The irresistible force met the immovable obstacle — and stopped. For the next hour the German infantry tried to break through this deadly barrier and then, when frontal attack, failed, to outflank it. Meanwhile German casualties were mounting so sharply that the whole German attack was halted. At about 2000 hours the firing died down and, after dark, ceased altogether; it was now obvious that the rest of the British line had fallen back and the Gordons were in urgent need of further orders. However, the orders never came as the party sent to establish fell into contact with 3rd Division enemy hands. In consequence, at 1230 hours, Colonel W. G. Gordon VC, of the Gordons, decided it was time to take the necessary move to link up with the remainder of the British force, and marched off. Moving in the dark through enemyheld territory to an unknown objective is generally a hazardous occupation, and proved to be so in this case. Not knowing the strength of the opposition they ran into from time to time, the Gordons had to dis-



engage rather than destroy; after several heavy exchanges of fire they found themselves completely surrounded. Few were able to escape and half of the battalion was captured — a sad end for a unit which had not only protected the division but played a not inconsiderable part in saving the corps from the encircling movement of the

German forces.


Battle of Le Cateau: caught in an


were pressed to the point of annihilation and accomplished more than might have been thought humanly possible. Others,


less heavily involved, carried out their tasks methodically and competently. Their chance for distinction — and destruction — would not be long in coming, but it was not at Le Cateau. The French part in the battle is often

tance caused the German commander to overestimate the number of British troops involved, and to formulate future plans based on a miscalculation. The battle also provided the Allies with a welcome breathing space in their hasty retreat.


Depleted, battered and lost fact that by this time everyone was


desperately tired and in many cases men fell asleep as they touched the ground on a halt, does not mean that they had lost spirit and the will to fight. The worse the situation the better became the resistance. A typical example was the two companies of


Fusiliers under Major Shewan. depleted, much battered, and often lost, 78 of them found their way through the German lines to Boulogne. The presence of these small but still dangerous detachments on the battlefield long after the main forces had been withdrawn was a circumstance of no small discomfiture to the Germans. In consequence they wasted valuable time and effort in guarding


against counterattacks which never came, and in shelling positions which had long been empty of British troops. From a brief and inevitably selective account such as this it might perhaps be assumed that Le Cateau was an important occasion for a few units only. This would be far from the truth. Some units indeed



of the

BEF was

able to maul


The Le Cateau battle may therefore be said to have had a much more than local influence, for the quality of the resis-

pursuers badly and then rejoin the retreat

overlooked because it was unobtrusive. However, the measure of their contribution is the absence of the German 77 Corps from the fight. This should have made a wide sweeping movement to take in the British left flank but it was opposed by three of General d'Amade's divisions and never reached the Le Cateau position at all.

Cavalry units have also received little mention in this account, which was, as we have seen, mainly an artillery duel. But cavalry, as always, did vital work in unglamorous activities such as protecting

and screening various units. The best tribute to any army is that

Further Reading Battine,

C, A

Military History of the


(London) Caffrey, K., Farewell. Leicester Square: the

Contemptibles, 12 August- 19 (Andre Deutsch 1980)


November 1914

Coleman, F., From Mons to Ypres with French (London 1916) Hamilton, E. W., The First Seven Divisions (London 1916) Military Operations: France and Belgium 1914 (Macmillan 1933)

Spencer Watkins, 0., With French and Flanders (London 1915)




which comes from the opposition. General von Kluck, commanding the German First Army (which was composed of seven corps) informed his Commander-in-Chief, General von Moltke, that he had beaten no less than nine divisions at Le Cateau. The resistance he encountered led him to believe that I Corps was in the Le Cateau fighting and that the 6th Division had also taken part (it was still in England at the time). Moltke was suitably impressed, and

PHILIP WARNER was born in 1914 and had just taken his degree at Cambridge when the Second World War broke out. He joined the army and went to Malaya at the beginning of 1 94 1 After the surrender of Singapore in February 1942 he was a Japanese prisoner of war for three and a half years, working on the Bangkok-Moulmein 'railway of death' and then in a copper mine in Japan. On demobilisation he became an Assistant-Principal in HM Treasury, and a year late, transferred to the British Council as a lecturer in Spain. In 1 948 he became Senior Lecturer at the RMA Sandhurst. He is the author of several .

books and*a number

of articles.


The guns Light and


of the 'Great Retreat'


pieces of both sides

British 18-pounder Mark I. Calibre: 3-3-inches. Barrel length: 28 calibres. Weight of shell: 18 pounds. Maximum range: 7,000 yards. Elevation: —5 degrees to + 16 degrees. Weight of gun and carriage: 3,800 pounds


French 75-mm field gun. Calibre: 75-mm. Weight of shell: 16 pounds (shrapnel).



range: 7,440 yards. Elevation:


degrees to + 19 degrees. Weight: 2,657 pounds. Rate of fire: 6 rounds-per-minute normally, but up to 20 rounds-per-minute when necessary


N.G.Alvey While II Corps was fighting the Battle of Le I Corps was retreating round the Forest of Mormal, and here German troops moving from the edge of the fighting at Le Cateau bumped into it near Landrecies. There ensued a confused and violent battle at the end of which the British were able to extricate themselves better than the Germans, and thus further Cateau,

hampered the progress of the German armies Above: Highland machine gunners prepare the evening of August 23, 1914 the BEF still fighting hard near the Mons canal. On their right the brilliant but irresolute General Lanrezac started to withdraw the French Fifth Army. Although this exposed the British to a flank attack Lanrezac neg-



lected to inform Field-Marshal Sir John French of his intention, and it was only through the initiative of Lieutenant Spears, the British liaison officer, that French learned of Lanrezac's decision. Piqued by the arbitrary conduct of this 'Staff* College pedant', and mindful of the British government's insistence on minimising losses, French decided to sever contact with the French and retreat south-westwards to the Channel ports. French's command was an Joffre, whose were to be rigorously tested in the next few days, could only suggest that the BEF retreat towards Cambrai rather than Amiens and thus reduce the gap that otherwise would develop between the French and British armies. Also, General von Kluck, commanding the German First Army, had moved troops west to press on the British left wing and head the BEF eastwards to Mauberge, where he hoped to encircle them. French realised Kluck's intention to tempt him into the wellfortified and provisional fortress of Mauberge, and ordered the BEF to retreat southwards towards his own HQ at Le

independent one and General tact

and iron


Cateau. But about

15 miles north-east of Le Cateau their retreat was blocked by the Forest of Mormal. French now faced an




to south


for action

munications through the forest were inadequate. To have passed the whole army down the west or the east side of the forest would have swamped the roads already cluttered with army transports and refugees, and would have involved flank marching under the very noses of the Germans. With great misgivings French decided to split the army and ordered I and II Corps to march down the east and west sides of the forest respectively. I Corps, under Lieutenant-General Sir Douglas Haig, was to cross east over the River Sambre and recross it south of the forest to rejoin II Corps.

Early on August 25 I Corps crossed the just below Mauberge. This may have misled Kluck into thinking his plan had succeeded, but later, when he learned from aerial reconnaissance that British forces (II Corps) were marching towards Le Cateau, he inclined his right wing forward to turn the left flank of the BEF. By a skilful fighting withdrawal II Corps foiled


manoeuvre and units of the German and TV Corps passed north of them into the forest of Mormal. West to east communications through the forest were good and it was not long before the Germans this


About 5.30 pm refugees rushed into the north-west outskirts of Landrecies shouting that the Uhlans (German lancers) were on their heels and flourishing captured lances and accoutrements to prove it. Haig sent Brigadier Charteris to investigate this but Charteris could find no trace of the

Germans who may have been an advanced patrol which fled when, unexpectedly, they found the British in Landrecies. About 1800 hours German patrols of the 48th Infantry Brigade of /// Corps engaged the two troops of the 15th Hussars, who held them at bay for an hour near Maroilles, until the Germans brought up a field gun and compelled the hussars to fall back. The arrival of a company of the 1st Battalion

of the Royal Berkshire Regiment coming to relieve the hussars decided the Germans to retire to the bridge. There was such a congestion of supply lorries and refugees in Maroilles that the other three companies of the 1st Royal Berkshires were delayed in coming up. When they did arrive the Germans had barricaded the bridge and got their field gun into position. The only approach to the bridge was by a long cause-


over marshy ground and the British, losing over 60 men, temporarily abandoned their attempts to dislodge the after

encountered the blind flank of the British I Corps. This corps had been delayed by having to share roads with French reserve

Germans. Meanwhile,

and Haig had set up his HQ at Landrecies where the 4th (Guards) Brigade was billeted. Landrecies guarded a bridge over the Sambre, and two troops of the 15th Hussars guarded another at Maroilles where the 6th Brigade was billeted.

was guarding the road to Le Quesnoy. The company commander, Captain Monck, expected some French troops along this road and so was not surprised when men arrived singing French songs and answering his


at Landrecies No 3 Company of the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards


French. It was dark but while investigating the intruders someone flashed a light and it was seen that, although the soldiers in front were dressed in French and Belgian uniforms, those in the rear were Germans. Monck immediately gave the order to fire but the Germans had crept close enough to lower bayonets and charge, knocking down Monck and killing Private Robson and seizing his machine gun. The steady fire of the unit soon drove the Germans back, however, and the machine gun was recovered.



Monck was

Panic reaction Haig, hearing the noise of battle, quickly prepared the defence of the town. The 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards was to defend the west entrances and the 2nd Battalion

Coldstream Guards to check any encirclement from the south and east. The 1st Battalion Irish Guards was ordered to prepare the town for defence and, to the consternation of those townsfolk who had not fled, mattresses and furniture were thrown out into the streets to build barricades. •Judging by some of his orders, such as that to destroy all papers, Haig had overestimated the gravity of the situation, but he was not his normally imperturbable

he was suffering from diarrhoea. About two hours later Charteris, who had been supervising the fortifying of a school, found Haig preparing to motor west to Le Grand Fayt where his new HQ was being set up. Haig told Charteris to sit with the driver and plan the route. There was a good deal of firing and their chances of getting through were rated low. It was an eerie ride in darkness with the headself as

lights off but they encountered no German patrols and, after one or two lucky guesses, Charteris guided them to an outpost of the 1st Division. Haig went immediately to and ordered 1st Division to his new attack next morning to extricate the 4th Brigade from Landrecies. He also sent Charteris to ask the French for help. Meanwhile at Landrecies the 3rd Coldstreams were still engaging the enemy. At


first alarm Major Matheson and No 1 Company under Captain Longueville had


hurried up to reinforce the picket guard on the Le Quesnot road, and to line the northern outskirts of the town. The Germans attacked them persistently throughout the night using hand grenades and firing high explosive and shrapnel shells into Landrecies. Every rush they made was repulsed by the cool, regular and accurate fire of the


Coldstreams. By working up behind the hedges the Germans were able to enfilade part of the British line which then had to withdraw to the cover of some cottages. Then a small haystack was set on fire,

up the British position. The field gun and shelled the British at point blank range. Although the Germans were only 25 yards away Private West dashed out twice under heavy fire and managed to extinguish the flames. But the British had only infantry and machine guns to meet any attack, so about 0100 hours Colonel Feilding, the battalion commander, had a howitzer brought up by hand. He pointed out places where the flashes of other German guns had been seen and after three rounds from the howitzer the German guns were silenced. By now the Grenadier Guards had reand



Germans brought up a

pulsed several attacks on the western outskirts of the town, and at 0300 hours the Guards mounted a diversionary Irish counterattack to help the withdrawal of; the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, who had borne the brunt of the fighting. They had lost 12 killed, 105 wounded and seven missing. Captain Monck, who had been involved in the fighting from the outset, had had bullets through his cap and coat :






but was unwounded. The Germans (14th Infantry Brigade of IV Corps) had lost about 130 men. It was decided to evacuate Landrecies before dawn with the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards under Colonel Pereira covering the retreat. The brigade arrived at Etreux in the afternoon tired, but wellsatisfied with their performance. I Corps HQ staff, including Haig himself, and also one French and two British divisional commanders might have been captured if the German attack bad been successful. The subsequent retreat to the Maine would have been seriously hampered but for the steadfastness of Colonel Feilding and his


their retreat, such was the urgency be gone, that they did not recross the Sambre. This precipitate retreat on a new line of march left a gap between themselves and II Corps which exposed their right flank when they fought at Le Cateau, ami was later exploited by the German cavalry during the subsequent retreat to the to

cling movement through Belgium, had unwittingly placed the BFF in the most

dangerous battle area and had provided French with disastrous underestimates of the strength of the German forces opposing him. Losing faith in lus French allies,

French desired only organise his army.


withdraw and


Maine. French, hearing of a critical situation from the normally unruffled Haig. was profoundly disturbed. The British GHQ sucto a pessimism as exaggerated as


Further Reading Callwell,


their optimism before and during the battle of Mons. This so affected Colonel Huguet, the head of the French mission to the BFF, that when asking Lanrezac for help he

The action was not a major one but Haig, unnaturally apprehensive, imagined bis corps was pursued by the bulk of the enemy forces. Certainly the delay due to the confusion on the roads during August 25 had left I Corps north of II Corps and the French Fifth Army, but Kluck, obsessed with envelopment from the west, had been pressing hardest on II Corps. So little was this appreciated by Haig that at 0350 hours on August 26 he suggested that troops of II Corps should march from Le Cateau to assist at Landrecies. When I Corps re-

wrote: 'The I Corps has been violently attacked in the night and is falling back, if it can, on Guise to the south.' French became convinced that the unannounced withdrawal of the French at Mons had placed his army in desperate peril, a conviction that was reinforced by the battle of Le Cateau fought on August 26. Not without justification, he felt that Lanrezac had been solely concerned with saving the French Fifth Army, and had not considered the plight of his ally. The French, unaware of the extent of the German encir-

Ma|-Gen C E Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. His Life and Diaries (Cassell .


Chartens, Brig-Gen J., At GHQ (Cassell 1931) Edmonds. Brig-Gen J.. History of the Great War. Volume (Macmillan 1933) French. F-M. Viscount, 7974 (Constable 1919) Memoirs of Marshal Joffre (Paris: Plon 1932) Ross. Sir John. The Coldstream Guards 1914-1918 (OUP 1928) Smith-Dorrien, Gen. Sir Horace, Memories ol 48 Years of Service (Murray 1925) Spears, Sir Edward. Liaison 1914 (Hememann I


N G. ALVEY was a Arm from 1942 to







the Fleet Air Britain,


and the Arctic He is now a statistician and works at an agricultural research station. Atlantic


up ammuniThe discomfort of travelling on these unsprung vehicles was acute in the extreme Inset: Kluck (with coat) and his staff. British artillery carriage brings



Professionals in every other way, senior German commanders sometimes lacked the ability to see beyond their own horizons and consider the operational needs of neighbouring armies




Like the British actions at Le Cateau and Landrecies, the French battle at Guise was important in slowing up the German advance and thus facilitated a more orderly retreat by the Allies. Much larger in scope than the British holding actions, the Battle of Guise demonstrated the ability of the French, in particular the Fifth Army, to hold together as a fighting unit despite the adverse conditions under which they were operating. Brian Jones

Below left: Unkempt and dishevelled after the retreat, French troops turn and wait for the Germans. Below nghf Fired but victoriously aggressive. German troops wait for the next attack





4fe» •**









%m r



The Battle of Guise,


which the French

Army struck back at the advancing German Second Army on August 29, 1914, Fifth



overshadowed by the staggering

German movement which swept down through Belgium to the gates of Paris and by the fateful and much vaster Battle of the Marne, to which it was an important prelude, that to many it remains little more than a name. It might even unkindly be suggested that British, French and Germans alike had good cause to leave it a decent obscurity. The British could vital part and yet deliberately chose not to participate in the battle; the Germans (who because of the dual nature of the engagement called it the Battle of St Quentin) considered themin

have played a




~* »





Jg-**^ NN


provoked controversy and recrimination and the French army was afflicted with yet another cause celebre. The general commanding the French Fifth Army, Lanrezac, was an unfortunate man whose tendency to expect the worst had aroused grave misgivings in the French high command. Lanrezac was not happy about the army to which he had been appointed in May 1914. He was totally unfamiliar with the area of northern France where it had to operate, as he had





mistakes through misappreciating

significance; the French achieved a striking tactical victory, but the general responsible was dismissed within a few days of his triumph. On all sides the battle and its




selves to be the victors, but were led into


spent five years as chief-of-staff to the First Army in the east of France. Now he was leading an army of some 250,000 men, about whose capabilities he entertained strong doubts. With the BEF on his left and the Fourth Army under Langle de Cary on his right, he was in the path of the German First, Second and Third Armies as they moved southwards and westwards in conformity with the spirit, if not the exact letter, of the Schlieffen Plan. Despite the fact that the French high command had envisaged that Belgium's neutrality would not be violated by the Germans, and that the Fifth Army would not be engaged from the outset, the choice of an army commander of Lanrezac's views and ability was nevertheless exHeadlong attacks fortunate. ceedingly against the massive German forces which poured into Belgium would have resulted in a catastrophe from which there would have been no recovery. In the event, Lanrezac had successful y removed his troops

from their exposed position and although forced to give up ground after hard-fought engagements such as at Charleroi, he had



of the




on the other hand became convinced that the British army was of no account and could quickly be despatched. Having been released from Billow's overall command, he accordingly hastened in pursuit of the British and pushed south-west past the left wing of Lanrezac's army which was thus left "with both flanks exposed and facing the

German Second Army.

This army numbered over 250,000 men, but its commander, Generaloberst von Biilow, at the age of 68 lacked the dash of his former subordinate and was prudent to the point of over-cautiousness. He nevertheless strove to maintain the impetus of the German advance in spite of the difficulties engendered by a week of continuous marching in the exceptionally hot weather of that August and the loss of a corps, which had been sent to the Eastern Front on the 26th. The morale of the

Second in the

Army was

high, and any weakness French front would be exploited

with ruthless


A change of front This weakness developed as a result of

fire their 75-mm gun on its improvised high elevation mounting against the new ground forces, the almost unassailable reconnaissance aircraft

moved south and then

faced west at the Oise while XVIII Corps, reinforced by the 38th African Division, was brought across to form up on the river above the Reserve divisions so as to spearhead the attack on St Quentin. Ill Corps, reinforced by the 37th African Division, similarly moved west and took up its position to the north of XVIII Corps. Since I Corps was placed in reserve, ready to move northwards or westwards as required, this new arrangement left only X Corps to defend what was now the northern flank and what had formerly been a front defended by the whole army. The gap between the Fifth and Fourth Armies became the responsibility of Abonneau's 4th Cavalry Division and Boutegourd's Reserve Division, though fortunately for this small force no German push seemed to be developing in this area. This redeployment of the Fifth Army occupied the whole of August 28 and Lanrezac's burdens were made no lighter by the presence of Joffre, who urged that every possible man and gun should be thrown into the attack, and expressed the opinion that a single corps should be adequate to cover the right flank. The one item of good

A French crew


threat to

— carrier pigeons provided one of the answers

not suffered irreparable losses. But the French armies and the British army had been obliged to pull back without reference to each other. Thus the British had been left exposed at Mons when the Fifth

Army had withdrawn, and



in its

turn was threatened on its right when the Fourth Army pulled back. In such an uncoordinated withdrawal it was inevitable that the Germans should catch up with some part of the Allied armies in a position unfavourable to the latter, and it was the British army's misfortune that this should happen to its II Corps at Le Cateau. After a vicious action against overwhelming forces from the German First Army, SmithDorrien's corps successfully disengaged, but its losses were considerable and the consequences important. Sir John French became convinced that an immediate withdrawal to some depth was imperative for the British army to rest and reorganise sufficiently to remain a fighting force; he also felt complete justification for his suspicions that the Fifth Army and its commander were not to be relied upon. Kluck,

the orders which Lanrezac received at his


Marie on August 28. Joffre was anxious to take some of the pressure off the British and to shield the newly created Sixth Army which was still grouping near Amiers. From the position which the Fifth Army had reached the previous day on the at


of the Oise in the area of Guise, was to strike out westwards across the Oise towards St Quentin, regardless of what the British might do. This sudden decision to attack entailed enormous problems for Lanrezac and his staff, who in the middle of a hasty yet orderly retreat towards Laon were required to halt the movement and change the face of the front from north to north-west. Very much against his inclination and judgeleft


ment, Lanrezac complied. Just downstream of the town of Guise the Oise turns sharply southwards, and within the right angle formed by the river to his north and to his west Lanrezac deployed his forces for the attack on St Quentin. The 53rd and 69th Reserve Divisions under General Valabregue were


presented communication problems

news for Lanrezac was that Sir Douglas Haig was eager to help with his I Corps by harassing the Germans from the south of St Quentin, but nothing was to come of Haig's gesture as Sir John French, considering that all British troops were in urgent need of rest, forbade him to participate in the attack on St Quentin. Undismayed by this further complica-

Lanrezac attempted to compensate absence of the British by using his Reserve Divisions to the south of XVIII Corps, but these divisions were badly tired


for the

and could contribute little positive help to the attack. An ominous indication of the course the battle would take came when units of X Corps, charged with the protection of the heights south of the town of Guise, were hotly engaged by a force of Germans who came through the town on the 28th, and it was only when Exelman's Division from the XVIII Corps halted its

march westwards and came to their assistance that the Germans were driven back. In fact, by now the German Second Army had arrived in strength at the Oise between

Guise and Etreaupont and already constituted the threat to his right flank which Lanrezac had foreseen. He still thought he had a fair chance of delivering a powerful blow against St Quentin, which had been overrun by the German right wing, consisting of X Reserve Corps and VII Corps, but he also realised that his own X Corps would not be able to contain an all-out assault by the crack Guard and X Corps. Initially, the attack against St Quentin, which started in the thick morning mists of August 29, achieved some success, for the Germans in that area had thought that the camp-fires they had seen the previous night were those of their own army now level with them on the opposite bank of the Oise. But as pressure across the river to the north built up, Lanrezac was forced to modify his plans so as to avert the collapse of his right wing, for already by 1000 hours the Germans had seized the bridges at Guise. Following his orders, XVIII Corps continued its thrust westwards, but III Corps, which was established on both banks of the river, turned northwards away from its original objective to meet the German advance past Guise. By noon the im-

petus had gone out of the attack on St Quentin. Although the Reserve divisions succeeded in taking Urvillers and XVIII Corps reached the outskirts of St Quentin, they were driven back to the river in growing disorder as the day wore on. Joffre's plan for a smashing blow westwards had been thwarted, but the ubiquitous Commander-in-Chief refrained from comment as he stood behind Lanrezac at the Fifth Army HQ which was now at Laon. On his own initiative Lanrezac ordered the bulk of his army to counter the determined German drive coming from the north and brought into action his I Corps which had been held in reserve. It had been planned that part of this corps should be moved from its position on the right to fulfil the role of the British on the left, but lack of transport had prevented the move. It was consequently at full strength and had been able to take some of the rest it needed, but perhaps its greatest asset was its commander, Franchet d'Esperey, who by his personal bravery and iron discipline had maintained a high level of morale within the corps. When at 1300 hours I Corps received the order to go to the aid of the

hard-pressed X Corps which had been driven back some three miles from its original line on the Oise, Franohet d'Esperey had anticipated it, having witnessed the serious plight of X Corps. Yet only at 1530 hours when he was completely satisfied with his preparations did he commit the major part of his corps. With standards flying and bands playing, the fresh troops of I Corps advanced with tremendous fervour and rushed into the gap between X Corps and III Corps, which had fought its way up the Oise, and also alongside the right flank of X Corps. Mounted on his charger, Franchet d'Esperey spurred on his confident infantrymen whose task had been

made easier by careful



This sudden and powerful intervention drove in at the German flanks and carried forward with it the battle-weary troops of the adjoining corps. 'As the equally weary Germans were forced back they became herded together with their backs to the river and the French 75s inflicted heavy casualties upon them. Farther upstream General Abonneau left only a small screen to guard the gap between the Fifth and Fourth Armies and took the bulk of his

German Attacks French Attacks



Principal roads

5 Mile s

"lOKms. The

Battle of Guise: in contrast with


British actions, the

French were able



a limited counteroffensive


The price of glory cavalry division to Vervins to strike against the enemy left flank. All along the line the Germans were forced back and the spirits of the French troops soared as they realised they had inflicted an impressive reverse on German units which included a much vaunted Guards Corps.

Exposed flanks Even so, the Germans were far from defeated and at nightfall, when any further advance by the French became impossible, they were still present in strength on the south bank of the Oise. It was obvious that the Fifth Army could not continue for long to contain them along the line VervinsGuise-Ribemont, for Lanrezac knew that the British were two days' march behind him on the left and that the Fourth Army was pulling back to Rethel. The Fifth Army"s victory at Guise had placed it in an even more perilous position for both its flanks were exposed over a considerable depth and if it persisted in" its defiant posture facing the German Second Army, concerted action by Kluck's First Army and Hausen's Third Army would soon shatter its thinly defended flanks and encircle it. It was a matter of the utmost urgency that Lanrezac, like Smith-Dorrien at Le Cateau, should disengage and extricate his force. Yet his army was where it was as a result of Joffre's express orders, and only Joffre could authorise its withdrawal. Attempts by Lanrezac to obtain this authorisation were in vain because Joffre could not be


contacted, and the staff at seemed little disposed to help Lanrezac in his predicament. In fact, the order for the retreat to be resumed was given at 2300 hours, but it failed to reach Lanrezac. The signals staff at had taken the coded order to be merely a confirmation of a message telephoned already by the operations staff. This failure was remedied only when a



telephoned confirmation of the original order was given to the Fifth Army at 0800 hours on the next morning. Once in possession of Joffre's permission to


Lanrezac wasted no time in

pulling back his army in the face of mounting attacks from the east of Guise where the Germans had recrossed the Oise. Again the Fifth Army was retiring, but this time it was with the satisfaction of knowing it had administered a sharp rebuff to an enemy who had fast been acquiring a reputation of invincibility. The Fifth Army was exhausted, but it had given an encouraging example to the other Allied armies, and its success went beyond a general raising of morale on the Allied side and the inflicting of over 6,000 casualties upon the Germans. By its vigorous riposte at Guise, the French Fifth Army caused a serious dislocation of the German plans, for Billow, stunned at being stopped in his tracks, called for help from his right-hand neighbour, Kluck, and this movement towards Biilow changed the advance of Kluck s First Army to a south-easterly direction

and thus away from Manoury's hastilyassembling Sixth Army. Furthermore, so exhausted did Biilow consider his army to be, that he allowed it to rest for 36 hours. As a result, not only the Fifth Army, but all the Allied armies in the west were able to continue their retreat unimpeded. Without the aggressive stand and counterattack by the Fifth Army on the left bank of the Oise near Guise on August 29, the subsequent fortunes of the Allies must have been even more precarious than they turned out to be. For the qualities shown by him in the battle, Franchet d'Esperey was well rewarded. On September 3 he replaced Lanrezac as commander of the Fifth Army. Holding the views that he did

and expressing them provocatively,


Lanrezac inevitably


foul of his


and his fate was sealed by his inability to work harmoniously with the British. Nevertheless, in fighting a battle which was not of his own choosing he handled his forces with great skill and showed greater perception than his Commander-in-Chief.

was the misfortune of this enigmatic man, whom Joffre had once seen as a future It

generalissime (commander-in-chief), that he should be remembered as an army commander who was relieved of his post rather than as the man who by his coolness and timing snatched a precious victory at Guise.

Further Reading Asprey, R. B., The First Battle of the Marne (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1962) Blond, G., The Marne (Macdonald 1965) Christian-Froge, R. (ed.), La Grande Guerre, Vecus, Racontee, lllustree, Par les Combattants (Paris: Quillet 1922) Cole, R. H., Forward with the bayonet: the French Army prepares for offensive warfare 1911-1914 (Michigan: University Microfilms International)

Edmonds, Brig-Gen.


James, Military

Operations: France and Belgium 1914 (Macmillan 1933) Isaac, J., Joffre et Lanrezac (Paris: Chiron, 1922)

Lanrezac, General C, Le Plan de Campagne Francais (Paris: Payot, 1929) Spears, Brig-Gen. E. L, Liaison 1914 (Heine-

mann Tyng,




The Campaign of the Marne 1914


BRIAN JONES is a lecturer in the Department of Languages at the RMA Sandhurst. He did National Service in the Royal Navy before going up to Oriel College, Oxford, where he read French and Russian. After he came down he taught English for a year at Chaumont in France. Before joining the academic staff at Sandhurst he taught in grammar schools for several years. He has translated and edited the memoirs of Charles Parquin, a cavalry officer in

Napoleon's Guard.

One of the most heroic

actions fought by the

BEF during

the retreat from Mons to the Marne was that at Nery, a village near Compiegne, where on September 1 a single battery of the Royal Horse Artillery which, with the 1st Cavalry Brigade, was covering the withdrawal of III Corps, held off for several hours the whole of the German 4th Cavalry Division. The battery, which in 1914 was equipped with six 13-pounders, is now known as 'L' (Nery) Battery, RHA

'L' Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, following in the wake of its Cavalry Brigade to Nery, reached it after the other units had begun to shake down into their quarters. The allotment of the village was as follows: at the northern end were the 5th Dragoon Guards with their horses in the open; the 11th Hussars were billeted on the eastern face and up the east side of the village street, the men and horses being under cover — in houses, yards, barns, sheds, or lean-to's. On the west side of the village street, and in the fields behind the village on this side, were the Queen's Bays, one squadron being in a field further to the south; all their horses were in the open. 'L' Battery on arrival was given a field to the south to bivouac in, and the sugar factory was allotted to it as its headquarters. In the north-west corner of the field were some haystacks. While the battery was completing its arrangements for the night the Battery

Commander proceeded


Cavalry Brigade

Headquarters, situated in the main street, to ascertain

what protective arrangements

had been made

to cover the bivouac of his


He received orders that 'L' was merely required to block the two roads which led east and south from the sugar factory. He A


crew poses beside

gun — a 13-pounder, the standard equipment their

of the



also told that the force would continue at 0430 hours on September 1. Major Sclater-Booth returned to his battery, and the necessary posts were found by 'L' to cover the southern end of the billeting area. Gradually the work was finished and,



wearied with the day's march under the hot August sun, men and horses settled down to rest. Silence brooded over the little village and the surrounding bivouacs that nestled around it on the western slope and at the bottom of the narrow valley, which was shut in to east and west by its guardian heights. Day broke cool and very misty, and when the march should have been resumed it was quite impossible to see objects more than 150 to 200 yards away. Orders were, therefore, issued that units should stand fast until 0500 hours. The battery, which was standing halted in mass with the teams hooked in, took advantage of this delay to let down the poles and water the horses by sections at the sugar factory. Generally, it may be said, 'the only desire of our force in Nery at this moment was to get outside an excellent breakfast'. This very natural desire was to be roughly frustrated. The mist was nearly as thick as ever when, just before 0500 hours Major Sclater-Booth, withJiis

walked down from the sugar factory to the north-west corner of the battery field, where the haystacks stood. Leaving the others here, the Battery Commander walked on up the main street of the little village to Brigade Headquarters in order to get the latest instructions as to the resumption of the march. Going into the house he found the Brigadier and his Brigade Major. Hardly had he entered when a high-explosive shell burst over the village, and a roar of gun and rifle fire broke out from the heights overlooking the eastern side of Nery. At the same moment Lieutenant Tailby, who had been sent with a patrol to reconnoitre the high ground north of Nery, reached headquarters and reported that he had ridden into a body of German cavalry in the mist and had been chased back. It officers,

was now about 0505 hours and the 1st Cavalry Brigade had been taken completely

by surprise.

Despite the disadvantage at which the British Cavalry and Horse Artillery were taken, and despite the heavy artillery, | machine gun and rifle fire pouring into the 3 open bivouacs around the village, steps s were taken by all units to offer an effective 5 resistance and hold on till assistance •§ arrived from neighbouring troops.

As soon as

a shell burst immediately in front of him, knocked him down, and put him out of action for the rest of the fight.

broke out the Brigadenecessary action was being taken. Major SclaterBooth also went out into the street with the Brigadier, and then left at once to return to his battery. Suddenly a mob of maddened horses came galloping wildly down the firing

Major went out

to see that the

An inferno

street. They were the horses of the Bays, stampeded by the enemy's fire. At the same moment a high-explosive shell burst among the surging mass of animals and rendered the road impassable. Crossing over to the western side of the street the Battery Commander ran behind the houses and so came to the field where 'C Squadron of the Bays had bivouacked during the night. From here the battery field was open to view, and Major Sclater-Booth saw that three guns had been unlimbered and brought into action to answer the fire of the German battery, the flashes of which could be seen stabbing through the slightly thinning mist. Apparently the German guns were in action on the heights to the eastward a short half-mile away. The din was terrific. There was one incessant roar of gun and rifle fire, punctuated by the violent detonations of 'Universal' shells bursting over the battery. As he ran forward to reach his battery



of shells

At the moment the surprise was effected, Captain Bradbury and the other officers of the battery were standing near the haystacks. Suddenly, with no previous warning, a shell burst over the battery, and

immediately afterwards the bivouac came under very heavy rifle fire from the ridge. Captain Bradbury shouted out 'Come on! Who's for the guns?' and running out from behind the haystacks, made for them, followed by all the other officers. Meanwhile, in the exposed battery, horses and men were falling fast. Joined by those men who were engaged in steadying the horses in the inferno of bursting shells, the officers got three guns unlimbered and swung round to face the German battery. Captain Bradbury, Sergeant Nelson, and others took one gun; Lieutenant Giffard took another; while Lieutenants Campbell and Mundy were at a third. The ammunition wagons were 20 yards away, and over that death-swept open space the ammunition had to be brought up. Hardly were the three guns in action when one of them,

Flyweight guns at Nery The heroic action of 'L' Battery at Neryj which resulted in the award of three VCs. Inset: Superior in numbers and calibre, the German guns nevertheless suffered heavy casualties

under Lieutenants Campbell and Mundy, was knocked out by a direct hit; the other two guns opened fire on the enemy. These two guns of 'L' carried on an unequal struggle. A few rounds only had been fired when Lieutenant Giffard, in charge of one of the guns, was severely wounded and all the detachment either killed or wounded. This left only one gun — under Captain Bradbury — still in action. Lieutenants Campbell and Mundy, when their gun was knocked out, at once ran to the gun where Captain Bradbury and Sergeant Nelson were working, while Gunner Darbyshire and Driver Osborn crossed and recrossed the shell-swept zone behind the gun to bring up the necessary ammunition from the wagons. Almost immediately after the two subalterns joined Captain Bradbury's detachment Lieutenant Campbell was killed, and the distribution of the duties at the gun became as follows: Lieutenant Mundy in position close to the gun, acted as Section Commander, while Captain Bradbury carried out the duties of layer, and Sergeant Nelson those of range-setter. The gun appeared to bear a charmed life and remained untouched. Also it was clear that its fire was not without result, for the Ger-

man guns were being badly mauled. When the action began the German guns seem to have been in two groups — one battery in action on the heights, and now busily engaged with 'L' Battery, and two more batteries, unlimbered farther to the north almost opposite the centre of the village





Drawn by the fire kept up by mans now apparently decided


the Ger-




their guns, and the two batteries in action abreast of the centre of the village moved round to join that engaged with 'L'. The solitary gun of the latter was now opposed to heavy odds; for the hostile guns were under 800 yards away and in a commanding position. The action broke out

with renewed fury and the massed German batteries made a determined effort to crush the single undaunted gun. Lieutenant Mundy was now seriously wounded, and the tale of casualties began to mount up, until at last at 0715 hours there remained only Captain Bradbury, still unhit, and Sergeant Nelson, who had been severely wounded. They kept up the best rate of fire they could, but naturally it became very desultory. A reinforcement now reached the little detachment, in the person of Battery-Sergeant-Major Dorrell, and on

Captain Bradbury, knowing up with the gun was running low, went back to fetch up more from the wagons. As he left the gun he was hit by a shell and mortally wounded. There now remained only the BatterySergeant-Major and the wounded Sergeant Nelson. With these two to serve it, the gun fired its last remaining rounds and was silent. The end had come. But it had not been fought in vain, for, his


that the ammunition

as its last discharge boomed and echoed, reinforcements of all arms reached the field and the result it had fought so hard to attain was achieved. 'L' Battery's casualties amounted to 45 officers and men killed and wounded out of a strength of 170. Among the killed was

Captain Bradbury, who was awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross: it was also awarded to Sergeant Nelson and BatterySergeant-Major




cavalry division lost more heavily, was driven into the surrounding forests, did not emerge from hiding until late next day and was still unfit to,move on September 4.

[From the Royal Artillery War Commemoration Book 1914-1918, reprinted by permission of thef \ ^ Royal Artillery Institution.] '

MOLTKE'S & JOFFRE'S HEADQUARTERS The headquarters of the commanders of the French and German armies presented a remarkable contrast: the one calm and stolid, unbedevilled by political interference and dominated by the placid bulk of Joffre; the other frenetic, overshadowed by the frequent presence of the Kaiser and his entourage and in no way dominated by its titular head, Moltke. Antony Brett-James From his office in Berlin General Helmuth von Moltke could see the equestrian statue of his famous uncle and namesake, the architect of victory over France in 1870. Thus overshadowed, and aware of the inadequate experience he had gained during a comfortable, but not active, career, Moltke felt little self-confidence in the post of Chief of the German General Staff, to which the Emperor had appointed him, his former aide, in 1906. In that year he had confessed: 'I do not know how I shall manage in the event of a campaign. I am very self-critical.' Besides this innate lack of confidence, Moltke was alienated temperamentally by the atmosphere prevailing in staff circles, and found it hard to identify himself with the military hierarchy, for he preferred to read philosophy, to play the 'cello and to translate Maeterlinck's Pelleas et Melisande than to indulge in the more active pursuits of his fellow officers. Moltke was further handicapped by poor health. He was aged 66 in 1914 and was not a fit man — in the previous year his doctor had warned him about a heart condition. What is more, he so lacked toughness of nerve and mind that sheer anxiety would prostrate him before long. Under real stress as Commander-inChief he lost control of himself to the point of tears, and felt overcome by a sense of terror. Such was the man in charge of Oberste Heeresleitung (the Army High Command, or OHL). He had not recovered from the shock of hearing his Emperor say, on August 1: 'Now we can go to war with Russia only.' To do this would, at that late hour, have entailed reversing the highly complex machinery of mobilisation against the Western Powers, with consequent confusion to the deployment of 11,000 troop and supply trains. As we know, a telegram from Germany's ambassador in London had caused the Kaiser to change his mind once again, but the shaken, despairing Moltke wrote afterwards: 'Something in me broke, and I was never the same thereafter.' Joseph Joffre, who was 62 in 1914, was the complete antithesis of Moltke. He not only believed in maintaining an appearance of calm, but was able to do so. His white hair, big moustache and corpulence enhanced the placid, phlegmatic impression he gave people. Undoubtedly he inspired confidence, he looked so imperturbable, so full of bonhomie. Sometimes, it is true, he flashed with anger or shouted with rage, but such outbursts were rare; and his plain, sometimes blunt language expressed in a toneless voice, his lack of fluency, which derived in part from slowness of thought, and his sartorial inelegance — witness the worn kepi pulled well down, the baggy red breeches, the sack-like greatcoat, the undistinguished gaiters he often wore — all contributed to a sense of limitless sang froid. When he visited the headquarters of his subordinate commanders he sat there and said very little, but his calm fostered the impression that events must be going reasonably well elsewhere, however grave the local situation. Joffre, at least, did not have the President of the Republic breathing down his neck at Grand Quartier General (GQG, the French GHQ). As Commander-in-Chief he had complete authority within the 'Zone of the Armies', as it was called, and even Monsieur Poincare, the President, needed Joffre's permission to enter. Joffre was deeply suspicious of, and determined to resist, the threat of government interference in the conduct of operations. Believing as he did that civilians should be told next to nothing, he not only kept the President in ignorance of military reverses and bypassed the Minister of War, but also warned his generals not to discuss strategy or explain operations with Poincare or any members of the government who came to the forward zone. Moltke, by contrast, when OHL moved by special train from Berlin to Coblenz on August 16, had the Kaiser and a small retinue lodged with the Lord Lieutenant of the Rhineland. He had to make decisions about the war against Russia as well as deal with the operations in the West. Politicians came and went. There were conferences with the Chancellor and with Admiral Tirpitz, the Naval Minister. Moltke wrote to his wife that he became ill every time he listened to the conversations at the noisy, intrigue-ridden Imperial

Headquarters, especially the Emperor's blood-thirsty, even gloating references to enemy corpses. He also fretted at the tiresome, time-wasting protocol and red tape. No wonder he was heard to mutter with a sign of envy: 'Joffre is a lucky man. In France a prince counts for nothing.' When, on August 5, GQG moved to the small town of Vitry-leFrancois, a hundred miles to the east of Paris, Joffre and two aides-de-camp accepted lodgings in the house of a retired engineer officer named Capron. The branches of the staff were installed in the hall and classrooms of a school in the Place Royer-Collard. Fortunately the holidays were on, so dislocation was reduced, and the immediate availability of accommodation in unused schools proved a boon to many other headquarters that month.

Lack of collaboration Three main staff departments served Joffre and the field armies of France. The premier bureau kept day-to-day records of all available troops and material. The deuxieme bureau (Intelligence), which established itself at Vitry in the school gymnasium, was responsible for collecting and analysing every scrap of information about the enemy: his strength, locations, movements and intentions. In some ways the most important were the members of the troisieme bureau or Operations Branch, who, besides knowing the position of all French units, had to transform Joffre's decisions into operational and movement orders. It was a regrettable handicap that the Operations and Intelligence Branches worked in sealed compartments at the expense of collaboration. GQG also had specialist branches to deal with services such as aviation, ciphers, railways, medicine, motor cars, supplies, and telephones and telegraphs. OHL was likewise divided into branches, but these did not correspond exactly with those at GQG. For instance, No I dealt with strategy and tactics, No II was concerned with heavy artillery, fortresses, et cetera, while No III handled aviation and vehicles. A sub-section, Illb, covered propaganda, the press, communiques and espionage. Another section had responsibility for field railways. There was, of course, an important branch devoted to Intelligence about foreign armies: their organisation, mobilisation, new formations, strategic and tactical measures, and so on. Moltke's principal staff officers were not outstanding. General Hermann von Stein, the Quartermaster-General to the Forces in the Field, was 60, and during the second half of the war served as Prussia's Minister of War. Despite a rough exterior, Stein was basically a man of goodwill and sympathy, who had great energy and thought clearly despite a tendency to be dogmatic. The head of the Operations Branch was Lieutenant-Colonel Gerhardt Tappen from Hanover. Blessed with good nerves, a strong will, and the power of quick decision, he was optimistic, industrious and precise; but he often showed himself to be contemptuous of war techniques and reluctant to consider new ideas. Moreover, his chilling manner and sarcastic tongue earned him the hatred of subordinates. If Tappen was an optimist, LieutenantColonel Richard Hentsch, Director of the Intelligence Branch, tended to err on the gloomy side. He was a clever, active Saxon of 44, whose handling of a special mission during the Battle of the Marne will be discussed in a later issue. Joffre's daily routine at Vitry-le-Francois followed a punctual pattern because he insisted on a regular way of life. He rose at 5 am every morning from his brass bedstead, and after breakfasting he would walk the hundred yards or so to his headquarters where the Grand Rapport, or 'morning prayers', took place. This was attended by Joffre's lively Chief-of-Staff, General Belin, and his assistant, General Henri-Mathias Berthelot. This brilliant and industrious man, who weighed nearly 17 stone, was bulkier than Joffre, and, suffering from the August heat, wore a white 'smock', and slippers instead of boots. He was Joffre's strategic adviser and normally passed on the Commander-in-Chiefs decisions to the head of the troisieme bureau, Colonel Pont, a conartillery officer. Also present were Major Maurice Gamelin, of the troisieme bureau, a short, pink-cheeked, well-


Moltke: a mighty army — groomed

figure, and the heads of the specialist departments already mentioned. Joffre would be informed of all messages received during the night; and problems of manpower, transport, rations and anything else that had cropped up were discussed



Punctually at 11 am, Joffre would be back at Capron's house for lunch. This meal he usually shared with Belin, Berthelot, Gamelin, and his two aides-de-camp, and if anyone arrived late, the Commander-in-Chief showed his displeasure. After lunch he looked in at the school to hear the latest situation reports before taking a slow stroll with his ADCs, followed discreetly by the police, and replying to the people of Vitry who bowed whenever they met Joffre on his walk. He liked in particular to walk to the level crossing and observe the regular passage of the trains, for this appealed to his sense of order. Next came the afternoon session of desk work. Joffre's own office was in a first floor classroom. Some visitors thought his office just as expressionless as his face, for it seldom had a map on the walls and, because Joffre hated papers piling up, the desk was bare of dossiers and documents. Joffre would listen patiently to visitors, or to commanders from subordinate headquarters, but he said little and did not interrupt. He disliked officers who talked loudly or too dogmatically; he appreciated modesty while deploring nervous hesitation. Dinner was served at 6.30 pm, and as at lunch the Commanderin-Chief, gourmet that he was, relished the food more obviously than the wide-ranging talk, in which 'shop' was forbidden. After the meal Joffre returned to his office to read the latest despatches from the armies in the field, and to attend the second conference of the day, known as the Petit Rapport. Though Joffre met few of his staff beyond those who attended the daily rapports, he also relied on liaison officers who, belonging to the troisieme bureau, were sent forward to deliver and explain orders to army commanders and to report back personally to the Commander-in-Chief on what they had observed and learned. Precisely at 9 pm Joffre retired for the night, double-locked his door and fell quickly asleep. The only known occasion when he was sufficiently disturbed to spend two sleepless nights was when he was debating whether or not to remove General Lanrezac from command of the Fifth Army in the middle of its August retreat. Only an event of real urgency justified anyone in waking the Commander-in-Chief. When Adolphe Messimy, the Minister of War, anxiously telephoned one night and asked to speak to Joffre, he was informed that the General was sleeping. The Minister stood in such awe that he agreed with the Chief-of-Staff that Joffre should not be woken. At OHL the usual daytime work started-and finished later than

an indecisive commander with


until 1 pm, then lunch and a siesta until worked through until dinner at 8 pm: Moltke allowed his officers a glass of wine at meals, but forbade champagne because it was inappropriately luxurious when the forward troops were risking their lives in battle. After dinner the staff returned to their desks till around midnight. The atmosphere at OHL was normally more austere, more agitated and far noisier than at French GQG. The cause of this agitation and noise was simply the deplorable state of communications with which the staff had to cope. For one thing, the Germans were marching and fighting in hostile territory. Whereas their telephone and telegraph wires were cut by saboteurs or became especially vulnerable to accidental damage, the French commanders could rely most of the time on the prewar, permanent civilian telephone network, which was supplemented by Joffre: 8.30

2.30 pm.



field cables.

At Coblenz, OHL was too far behind the armies, given the shortage of telephone circuits and modern equipment, plus a lack of amplifiers to boost speech over long distances. Bellowing matches over bad lines were no substitute for a calm exchange of views. Nor was the wireless any better. For one thing, every message had to go in cipher, a lengthy process at the best of times, so staff officers had to restrict their orders and reports to the most vital and urgent. Even so, OHL's one and only receiving set became so overloaded with signals that the backlog often took half a day to clear. What is more, the very powerful French transmitter on the Eiffel Tower caused so much jamming that messages became garbled and had to be repeated two or three times before the harassed operators could be certain that they had the correct version. Later still, the cipher staff might well find discrepancies which had then to be disentangled over the air. When, because of shortrange or weak sets, such as the rear link from Kluck's First Army headquarters, a message had to be retransmitted, the delays were even more serious. The head of the telegraph services at OHL, Ohnesorge, was anything but 'carefree', as his name might suggest, but he did effect a gradual improvement. Meanwhile delays, frustration and frayed tempers increased the already severe strains imposed by military operations, however great their initial success. It was particularly exasperating when overcrowded telegraph circuits were burdened with unimportant private telegrams from senior officials and the Kaiser himself. Besides impatience, hoarse voices and edgy tempers, another consequence of poor communications was a heavy volume of motor traffic between OHL and the front. This service was largely provided by the Imperial Volunteer Automobile Corps. The drivers 227

were experienced and reliable, and needed to be, for they covered great distances for the cars of that period. The German General Staff seem to have succumbed to the belief that communications

which were smooth and efficient in peacetime war games would be no less so when everything was 'for real'. On August 16, when Prince Rupprecht, commander of the Sixth Army, required an urgent decision, difficulties arose not so much on account of the poor telephone lines, which ran through German territory, but because during three days of long-range discussion OHL simply could not reach a decision. One staff officer was sent to Sixth Army headquarters, then another, each returning to OHL for fresh instructions, and each visit being followed by renewed telephone conversations. In the end it was Sixth Army headquarters who made the decision, and General Stein acquiesced. An earlier move forward of OHL might have removed many of these troubles. Eventually on Sunday, August 30, the German Headquarters moved forward by car from Coblenz to Luxembourg. While the Kaiser took up residence in the German Embassy, Moltke and two aides-de-camp lived in the Hotel de Cologne, and the rest of OHL were lodged in the Hotel Staar near the railway station. Besides offering poor accommodation, this hotel was noisy, hot, and none too clean, so the staff were glad to take their principal meals in part of the local officers' club which had been set aside for their use. The senior officers usually dined at the imperial table in the Embassy. On orders from Moltke, requisitioning of property was kept to a minimum so as to avoid inconveniencing the local inhabitants. As a result, the OHL found itself working in the classrooms of a small girls' school. The conditions were not unlike those experienced by Joffre's staff in Vitry-le-Francois, but in the Grand Duchy's capital the desks had been pushed into corners and replaced by planks laid on trestles. The classroom floors were as bare as the improvised table-tops. Since the school had no gas or electricity, Moltke's st iff had to make do with oil lamps and candles. Worse off were thf Operations Branch, who worked as best they could in a very narrow passage which had formerly served as the girls' cloakroom. Many of Moltke's staff considered that OHL should have gone much further forward than Luxembourg in order to control more closely the German advance on Paris, which had been ordered on August 27. They may well have been correct. But another possible remedy for their difficulties was never used. At no time until the end of the Battle of the Marne did Moltke himself, or Stein or Tappen, leave headquarters and visit the separate army com-

manders. One reason is that apparently nobody had foreseen the need for providing someone who could act for the Chief of General Staff in his absence. This might have mattered less had Moltke been

Commander-in-Chief, with his own Chief-of-Staff. In the event, the Quartermaster-General, the next senior officer, already carried an immense burden of work, so he could stand in for Moltke for only very brief periods. This fact partially explains, though does not excuse, Moltke's failure to go forward to see and hear for himself. One German general, writing afterwards about the Marne campaign, contrasted this stay-at-headquarters attitude of the German High Command with Joffre's tireless energy. 'Wherever there was an important decision to be made, wherever it was necessary to establish friendly relations between the armies, Joffre was on the spot, now advocating action, now exercising restraint, always explaining.'

Sometimes the staff at GQG fussed and badgered to excess, as they did with Lanrezac's Fifth Army when it was conducting a complex transfer of corps — Lanrezac was so angry that he ordered his staff to ignore the telephone calls. But by going to confer on the spot with his army commanders and with Sir John French, Joffre

was able to make up his own mind and keep control far better than was Moltke, waiting too far away for second-hand, often garbled and out-of-date reports and all the time a prey to corroding anxiety. If Joffre's personality seemed passive, the same adjective could well

have been applied

to Moltke's control.

Further Reading Bauer, Colonel Max, Der grosse Krieg im Feld

und Heimat (Tubingen: Osiandersche Buchhandlung) Baumgarten-Crusius, Maj-Gen. Artur, Le Haut Commandement allemand pendant la Campagne de la Marne en 1914 (Paris: CharlesLavauzelle, 1924)

Blond, Georges, La Marne (Paris: Presses de la Cite, 1962) Gamelin, General Maurice, Manoeuvre et Victolre de la Marne (Paris:

Bernard Grasset, 1954) La Bataille de la Marne (Paris: B. Arthaud, 1964) Memoires du Marechal Joffre (Paris: Plon, 1932) Kuhl, General von, La Campagne de la Marne en 1914 (Paris 1927) Muller, Admiral Georg von, The Kaiser and his Court (Macdonald 1961)

Isselin, Henri,


Jean de, G.Q.G. Secteur 1 (Paris: I'Edition francaise illustree, 1920) Spears, Brig-Gen. E. L, Liaison, 1914 (Heinemann 1930) Stevenson, D., French war aims against Germany, 1914-1919 (Clarendon Press 1982) Pierrefeu,


educated at Mill Hill School and Cambridge. During the war he served with the Royal Corps of Signals, and from his experiences in the South-East Asia campaigns he wrote Report My Signals and, in collaboration with Lieutenant-General Sir Geoffrey Evans, Imphal, the account of one of the decisive battles of the Burma campaign. Since 1961 he has been Senior Lecturer in Military History at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and he has written widely on the Napoleonic Wars. Among his books on this period are Wellington at War, 1812, and The Hundred Days.


the evening of -July 30, 1914. Tsar Nicholas signed the declaration for the mobilisation of the Russian Armed Forces and set in train the processes which, within the next 40 days, would call over

uniform and align the armed strength of Russia along the German and Austro-Hungarian frontiers. On August 1, having received no reply to a 24-hour ultimatum demanding that Russia should cease movements on the common frontier. Germany also began mobilisation But. though they started almost level. there was a great difference between the Russian and German timetables, since in theory Russia needed 40 days for the completion of call-up and concentration in war locations (30 days to be ready for offensive operations while Germany needed only .'5.000.000 citizens into

Kenneth Macksey describes the clash of two Russian armies with one German army in East Prussia. Below: A German print of the time shows a howitzer in action






al if

to attack


five army corps, plus the usual satellite cavalry and reserve formations, and each, on paper, looked a match lor the German Eighth Army on its own. But Russian infantry formations were smaller than their German counterparts, while their artillery, particularly of the heavier type, was far exceeded by the Germans in power, and was not well supplied with ammunition: Russian artillery went to war hacked by only 850 rounds per gun. Individually the

The Russians intended to spread their army fairly evenly along the frontier: the Germans intended to hold only the nor-


as possible, but

Fast Germany were Armies — the Fust, under (leneral Rennenkampf, was concent rated in the area Knvno-Bruskoniki. and the Second, under (leneral Samsonov. was con centrated to the south and south-west of First Army between Grodno and Lomsha. Both were originally intended to comprise



Litovsk. In the development of her grand strategy Russia was not in complete command of her own destiny. Her war plan included alternatives designed to take advantage of whatever courses of action the Central Powers might adopt. Above all, the Russian plan made provision for offensive operations against the Germans in order to relieve pressure upon the French, for in fidelity to their French allies they were consistent and generous to the point of foolhardiness. Fearful of having the full might of Germany concentrated against them at the outset, the French had prevailed upon the Russians at various conferences between 1911 and 1913 to open simultaneous joint offensives beginning on the 15th day after mobilisation (Ml 5), and the Russians had concurred though aware that premature aggression might be dangerous to their army. In 1912, General Joffre had reached agreement with General Jilinsky. who was to command the Russian north-west group of armies (posted opposite East Prussiai. to strike a blow either from the Narew to Allenstein if the Germans concentrated in East Prussia or directly against Berlin should the Germans concentrate their main forces in the area Thorn-Poznan. The effect of this agreement upon the Russian armies was profound since, by M15, only one third of the Russian force would have arrived in their wartime location and the next third would not arrive for a further eight days, while the remainder would take a further 17 davs


lowed for a withdrawal to the Vistula circumstances made it necessary,

10 days.

thern sector with the minimum forces necessary to protect Hast Prussia, while Austro-Hungarian army, already the deeply involved against Serbia, completed mobilisation a little faster than the Russians and posted their main striking forces in Galicia with the intention, subsequently, between of advancing north-eastwards Lublin and Cholm and cutting the railways leading from Warsaw to Brest

back upon in the rear, its forts well pre pared to hold oil' the Russian armies whose siege train was practically nun existent. Schliellen's plan in the east was primarilj aimed at preserving intact as much Ger-

in an appearance. However, those Russian forces which assembled by Ml 5

to put

would be of first-line quality, better prepared than those which would follow and. in fact, the Russian Chief of the Mobilisation Department calculated that the Army would be ready for the offensive on August 20 (M21), although there would be others who would complain that this did not allow newly formed units sufficient time in which to settle down. But though the Russians accepted



offensive against did not attack her



Germany first


possible (if



and positioned two

strong armies in the north ready to invade East Prussia, the remainder of her deployment in the north-west was defensive and not geared for a direct attack against Berlin such as France desired. German planning did not suffer from the same external pressures as Russian planning did. Autocratically expecting their allies to comply with their own long conceived master plan, they elected to defend East Prussia with their Eighth Army, under General von Prittwitz, comprising three army corps '/, XVII and XX) the / Reserve Army Corps, a cavalry division, Landwehr brigades and fortress troops stationed in Konigsberg, Thorn and other lesser fortified places. This was a strong force whose task of holding the 'Russian Steamroller' would be made easier among the miriad forests and lakes of Masuria (should the Russians come from due east),

Russian First and Second Armies were hardly worth To'r of the combat value of the German Eighth Army and even that figure did not take into account the superior German preparations and infinitely better training. Furthermore by making an army commander deal with the commanders of no less than five different army corps, in addition to the leaders of attached formations, induced almost as much weakness as strength, since command and control with the inadequate communications available was ill-co-ordinated, slow anil inaccurate. The reason for the strengthening First and Second Armies was fundamental, however, to the Russian plan — this was the force which was intended to play the major part within the meaning of the Russian Instructions t (IOCs Military District* in the case of war with the Triple Alliance of: 'Defeating the German troops left in Eastern Prussia which was to he occupied with the object of creating a favourable situation for the development of further operations.'


A tremendous German advantage Nevertheless, for all their physical and weaknesses, the Russian psychological north-west group of two armies, acting in concert, would probably outmatch the

German Eighth Army. The Eighth Army.

since even a minor frontier fortress covering a narrow corridor between woods and water could have a defensive effect out of all proportion to its size. In any case, if things went badly, there was always the

its turn, could outmatch each of the Russian Armies if only it could take them on separated in time and space. The possibility of its being able to do this was enhanced by superior organisation, technology and internal communications which gave the Germans a tremendous advantage in mobility over the somewhat immobile and roadhound Russian armies. German mobilisation went without a

heavilv fortified River Vistula line to









ously to their units, drawing their equipment and moving with smooth precision to their concentration areas in endless processions of railway trams marshalled with a thoroughness that bore testimony to years of preparation for that one fundamental manoeuvre. As the first line formations began to arrive, the cavalry and the local Landsturm closed up to the frontier in readiness to meet the first Russian incursions should they come. The rapid movement of hundreds of thousands of men and horses with millions of tons of stores went ahead smoothly, and a glance at the map shows why this was feasible and why the German mobilisation was so much swifter and more efficient than that of the Russians. For to the west of the frontier an intricate cobweb of main lines fed by subsidiaries crowded upon route centres while to the east single threads linked only the principal cities served by inadequate engines and rolling stock. First to be mobilised were the cavalry,

though in fact the German Landsturm were ready for call out by a tocsin, sounded from local belfries, even before mobilisation had been declared. Cavalry were therefore first into action along the length of the frontier, both sides throwing out a screen to shield the mobilisation of their

main forces assembling in rear, but also darting into each other's territory on raids to discover the opposing dispositions and, of secondary importance, to create alarm and confusion among populations already distraught by the thought of what war — a great unknown — might bring. From out of the fortress of Thorn German cavalry probed into Poland and on the first day of the war crossed the frontier on a wide front with a view to establishing bridgeheads over the River Warta between Kalisch and Bendzin. Russian cavalry was busy in East Prussia penetrating 40 miles beyond Augustov to establish the presence of German / Corps mobilising east of Gumbinnen while other strong patrols roamed the land between Soldau and Neidenburg, cutting the railway line, blowing up viaducts, pillaging and burning the villages, putting the populace into a state of terror, and causing a stream of pitiful refugees streaming westward to greater safety under the wing of the main German forces. Yet already the cavalry of both sides was learning the lessons which all cavalry had to learn at the start of this war — the lesson

Russian cavalry passing through





that small parties of armed infantry — even if they should only be aged Landsturm —


fighting from prepared positions could be deadly. Moreover cavalry formations were not fit for sustained action. A cavalry division at full strength was only just equal, in men, to two infantry battalions. Thus, in manpower, the five Russian cavalry divisions with Rennenkampf were equal to one German infantry division Soon the sight of refugees and the glow of burning villages began to prey upon the conscience of the German command. Politically the unopposed movement of Russian bands deep in Prussia could not be conceded; militarily there was bound to be pressure put upon Prittwitz to stop it, if only to sustain the Army's morale and

appease his fellow countrymen — above all those of the aristocracy of which he was a member. Prittwitz hardly needed his cavalry to search for the main body of the Russian army since for years his government had been well supplied with information concerning Russian mobilisation and operational plans by a Russian staff officer, Colonel Myasoyadov. Moreover, Prittwitz himself was being kept well aware of current developments by the Russians themselves, whose use of radio paid no attention to the needs of security. For much of the time messages were tapped out unciphered due in part to Russian ineptitude in the handling of the cipher system — and even when the cipher was

to the front In East Prussia

employed, after August 26, it was soon to be cracked by Austrian cryptographers. Though information of German movements to the Russians was far less profuse and never concise, it was, nevertheless, conclusive. Russian cavalry quickly found out not only that the German troops on the frontier had no reinforcements but they also came to believe that the Austrian front extended north up to the Vistula, thus reducing the likelihood of a strong German presence, but the news from Belgium and France could leave no doubt that the preponderance of German effort had been sent to the west. Hence, if the Russians were to keep faith with the French, they were bound to embark upon an invasion of Germany in the north while attacking the Austrians in the south in order to take pressure off the Serbs. To enable this, the process of mobilisation had to be changed and accelerated with more troops brought prematurely down the creaking lines of communication to the front; a decision which, in peacetime, would have taken many months to crystallise but which in August 1914 had to be taken in a matter of hours — hours made more dramatic by a heart-rending plea from the French Ambassador, Paleologue, to the Tsar on August 5: 'I entreat your Majesty to order your armies to take immediate offensive. Otherwise there is a risk of the French Army being overwhelmed.' But French interference with Russian


4 rwt'im





planning had already gone even further than that when, on August 1, their War Minister, reflecting Joffre's original conhad given it as his opinion that a direct Russian attack along the shortest route to Berlin -from Warsaw to Poznan — would be best, a contingency upon which the Russians had never wasted much thought since it would have led into the heart of the strongest German defences. On August 8 the Russians fell in with their cept,

scheme. The Commander-in-Chief, Grand Duke Nicholas, ordered a re-allocation of army corps to create a new offensive mass for an improvised army to be formed in the area of Warsaw. Two of the corps concerned were taken away from Rennenkampf's First Army. But at the same time First and Second Armies were told to go onto the offensive on August 13 allies'

(M14) before one third of their strength was mobilised yet after the amputation of one fifth of their infantry strength. For the Allies this was a council of unnecessary despair, taken six days before the Battle of the Frontiers had begun in the west and long before any suggestion of defeat for the French had arisen. It was a classic example of the consequences of improved communications allowing central commanders too much opportunity to assert remote control

without having sufficient information at their disposal to calculate the effects of their decisions.


'determined offensive' to First and Second Armies were given by Grand Duke Nicholas and they read: 'The offensive would be commenced by the First Army which must engage the largest possible German

The orders

forces: the offensive to

be carried out to the north of the Masurian Lakes, turning the enemy left flank. The Second Army to attack turning the Masurian Lakes from the west, with the object of defeating the German corps deploying between the Vistula and the Masurian Lakes, and thereby preventing the Germans from retreating across the Vistula.' The order then went on to mention the need for close touch to be established between the two armies, but Jilinsky, a fussy

man who owed

his position more to Court influence than to ability, confirmed these orders to Rennenkampf and told him. to make a determined offensive 'with the object of defeating the enemy, cutting him

A Russian reconnaissance

from Konigsberg and seizing his lines upon the Vistula'. Since the Russians had clearly guessed that the main German strength was opposite Rennen-

of retreat

kampf task

this set that general a pretty stiff while, at the same time, actually

encouraging him to diverge from Samsonov's Second Army which, from the south, was being ordered to wheel towards Lotzen. Jilinsky's orders to Samsonov were much more precise than those to Rennenkampf who had been addressed in general terms. Corps tasks were specified to Second Army (perhaps because Samsonov had not yet returned from leave in the Caucasus when the orders arrived, and did not put in an until August 16) appearance at his with a route which was to take it in a north-westerly direction just behind the Masurian Lakes. But Jilinsky's detailed reservations imposed dispersion on Second Army from the start, an injunction to guard the line Grodno-Augustov, with one corps, being matched by a warning to keep a watchful eye in the direction of Allenstein from whence, 'the enemy may attack the left flank of the Second Army'. Both armies were told to start operations on the 17th and issued their first orders, respectively, on the 15th and 14th. Looming large in their considerations were matters of administration. With a shorter distance to cover, Rennenkampf had less reason for concern that his supply trains were in-


4* Jt


down by


Russia's peasant army — a vital factor in Allied strategy


aircraft shot


n ~-







the ruins of Neidenburg

complete, the stocking of stores inadequate and that the men had no field-kitchens. In


case, discipline in his tight and the

army was com-

men could be expected to stay under control. With the paratively

prospect of moving into much less well developed terrain which had already been despoiled to a certain extent by cavalry, Samsonov, whose administrative services were in chaos, had to give freer local administrative rein to his men, who were eventually forced into 'living off the land'. It was Wellington who once said, with the candour of bitter experience, 'No reliance can be placed on the conduct of troops, in action with the enemy, who have been accustomed to plunder'.

The Russian First Army moved off even weaker in numbers than its first line strength gave reason to expect. Because second line troops had not yet appeared down the over-loaded railway lines, infantry companies had to be detached to guard vital points in the rear (against the Poles) and because the cavalry, reconnoitring ahead, made no effort to cooperate with the infantry who followed,

had further to disperse their mass by arranging their own local reconnaissance as they advanced into an unknown and intricate country. Meanwhile the German I, XVII and I infantry


Reserve Corps shifted from their concen- J tration areas to shield Gumbinnen from i the east, while XX Corps spread out along o

A German infantry, part of Eighth Army, advances through thickly wooded country near Tannenberg to attack the Russian Second Army V A defensive position on the Masurian Lakes. Having defeated the Russian Second Army, the Germans redeployed to meet the First Army

The advance

of the Russian forces resulted in the preliminary battles of

the southern frontier in preparation for the invasion they knew must come along that axis. The German orders showed a full and confident awareness of all that Jilinsky intended.

The Russian Second Army also moved off, but much more hesitantly due to its state of chronic unpreparedness, and Jilinsky, detecting this even from the remoteness of a headquarters well in rear, began at once to badger Samsonov to greater

speed at a time when speed was the last thing his unfit men were capable of achieving without bringing on exhaustion in the humid summer heat. The Russian First Army, as befitted their orders, were first into action, but to the north and not the south of the Forest of Rominte as their opponent, Prittwitz, had been led to expect. Nevertheless Prittwitz had already concentrated an overall superiority of numbers against Rennenkampf, and the German divisional cavalry — working far more closely with the infantry than did the Russian Cavalry Corps under General Nahichevansky — were soon able to supply Prittwitz with any information he lacked of the true schwerpunkt of Russian First Army. Action was joined on the morning of August 17, the uncoordinated advance of the Russian Corps bumping into the backing elements of the German / Corps which, under General von Francois, had moved to Stalluponen contrary to Prittwitz's orders since Francois fervently desired to keep Prussian soil inviolate. Short of firm directions from Corps HQ, and devoid of direction from

Gumbinnen and Stalluponen, and caused

army level, the Russian divisional commanders attacked the Germans where they found them and were themselves attacked in turn, each side trying to outflank the other in a wild encounter in which mutual aggression was the keynote. At once, on this the day when the last forts at Liege fell and when the Battles of the Frontiers in the west were rising to their climax, the soldiers in the east learned the same

hard lessons as their comrades were learning in the west. Where an attack was made against an unshaken enemy who had not been broken up by artillery fire the attackers suffered terrible losses — and at Stalluponen the losses on both sides were particularly heavy since there were no trenches in which to shelter and both sides fought, more often than not, from exposed positions in the open. Caught on the march in rear, and by surprise, the 105th Russian Infantry Regiment was mown down and lost over 3,000 men. To this the surviving Russians reacted like nearly all men when first exposed to a hail of seemingly impeneti able


instead of trying

to counter the enemy they fell back in disorder.

gave way and

Prittwitz, whose orders had been flouted, demanded that / Corps should withdraw on Gumbinnen but Francois was made of

sterner stuff and responded in the Nelsonian manner, 'Report to General Prittwitz that General Francois will break off the engagement when he has defeated the Russians' — despite the fact that his own left flank was already suffering the same kind of treatment as had been handed out



to retire in panic


Russian 105th Regiment. His men, had been caught and blasted in the open along with some field artillery which, in accordance with pre-war doctrine and to the


the desire to engage targets at close range, was standing at the front adjacent to the infantry it was supporting. Throughout the day Francois fed in more troops and, at a price in lives and endurance put a stop to the Russian advance, but in the evening his pride had to go by the board and he did at last pull back as ordered.

The chance of fame It may seem strange in

so professional and disciplined a body as the German army that orders from above should be disobeyed,

even though Francois was acting with the independent judgement to be expected of a good corps commander. It was true that the German corps commanders had no more respect for Prittwitz than their Russian opposite numbers had for Jilinsky, but the cause of their disobedience goes deeper than that. The generals were the most ambitious members of their profession and had risen to high commands either by nepotism or favour. At any event the winning of fame, if not always the spur, was now uppermost in their minds and, since all expected the war to be a short one, and to be decided by the initial battles, the chances of gaining that fame might only be fleeting. Hence every opportunity to engage the enemy was seized and exthe limit — and sometimes, ploited to beyond. Corps commanders could take risks and hope to get away with it against





Konitjsberg, (Kaliningrad)




28th Div




/ .Allenburg


CORPS 27th 3rd Div



1st Guard


J3erdauen 5th Div





# Dersunischki








Tannenberg its withdrawal from Gumbinnen and Stalluponen, the German Eighth Army was forced back on a line Bartenstein-Rastenburg. Here, however, a priceless advantage came to their aid. Due to the folly of the Russian commanders in sending their wireless messages in clear, the staff of Eighth Army were able to anticipate the movements of the Russian armies and knew well in advance of the Russian Second Army's attack from the south. Leaving one corps to hold the line Bartenstein-Rastenburg the rest of Eighth Army executed a pincer movement to trap Second Army in the forests and lakes of


the Tannenberg/Bischofsburg area. This tactic succeeded brilliantly, and the Russian forces were routed and almost completely annihilated. The whole weight of the Eighth Army could now be switched back to the east, again with foreknowledge of the Russian dispositions, and the Germans were able to force the Russian First and Tenth Armies out of East Prussia and back over the Niemen. The credit for this deft switching of fronts has normally been given to Ludendorff, but in fairness it must be given to Colonel Hoffmann, an officer on the staff of Eighth Army, who had prepared the plans for this battle before Hindenburg and Ludendorff took over

over 60 feet


30-60 feet under


30 feet




Russian Armies

~ -




Withdrawals of Russian Second Army


—~— ^— ^ » -


10 10







30 Miles


^=^= »•»«

Front line

between Germans and Russian Second Army August 22

Front line

between Germans and Russian Second Army August

Front line

between Gentians and Russian


Army September 6

Germans and Russian


Army September

between Germans and Russian


Army September 12

Front line between

Front line




C ommand boundary between Russian


and Tenth Armies


the enemy and with their superiors: army commanders, mindful of their national usibi lity, became hedged in by caution.

And shock




of sweeping

moment losses

the awful caused by a

moment's concentrated enemy fire, demolished all the prewar theories of fire and movement as if they had never existed. Hence, with the props knocked away from the archway of their confidence, the tendency among less hardy generals was likely to be regressive — the very opposite of what the manuals demanded. Prittwitz was already infected with the regressive spirit. Rennenkampf, on the aftermath of Stalluponen, was still ready to comply with his instructions and ordered the advance to continue on Gumbinnen on the 19th following which a 24 hour halt would be called in order to 'bring up the lines of communication organisations and the units

remaining in


Correctly, Rennenkampf (of German extraction himself) perceived that the Germans, holding the line of the River Angerapp, to the west of Gumbinnen, would advance to meet him to the east of that town — so he sought to establish himself obliquely to the line of the German advance in the hope of catching it in flank. Undesirable attention was drawn to the vulnerability of his own right flank, however, where the Cavalry Corps had become

engaged with a few German Landwehr troops sent down from Tilsit by rail, and on the 19th there had been fierce engagements in which the Russian Cavalry, profusely and well supported by their own artillery, dismounted and charged on foot, with singular success, while those of their comrades who stayed mounted also executed a charge and captured two enemy guns. But this caused Russian losses amounting to nearly 400 and, in addition, temporarily exhausted men and horses as well as their supply of ammunition. Of

A German

trench position


more fundamental importance, the absence

soon this

of the cavalry from the vicinity of the main battle had left a gap in the right flank of Corps, which was itself right flank of the First Army — and this gap became deadly when, on the 20th, instead of clearing up the position on that flank as ordered,

engaged with both the German 1st and 2nd Divisions debouching out of the forest round their flank. A great artillery duel, so like the one expected by the pundits, broke out. To quote a contemporary record

the Cavalry Corps commander withdrew his troops on the feeble pretext that shells to replenish his artillery had not arrived. (At least he had grasped the significance of

as though a gigantic kettle was boiling'. Quickly the superior German guns gained ascendancy and then the infantry came to grips, guns were being ridden into the open


artillery, if



but he had

Rennenkampf in direct peril.) Rennenkamp's Army, for all




was nevertheless settling down, though in doing so was falling behind the rate of advance set by its commander. Then, on the 20th, in sweltering weather after days of rain (Colonel Knox, the British Attache watched Russian infantry marching up on the 19th with expressions of 'dull unreasoning misery'), which tried the tired men even further, the Russians met the Germans in force for the first time. The ever increasing threat to the German northern flank as Russian cavalry and infantry advanced after Stalluponen, convinced Prittwitz that this was the time to mount a counter blow before the Russians could secure their front on the line of the River Rominte and their flank on the Forest of Zulkiner. An attack by Francois's / Corps (re-inforced by 1st Cavalry Division) was ordered for the 20th and executed with all the drive that corps commander could muster. Second Infantry Division was the forest while the filtered through cavalry rode cross-country towards Pillkallen — the whole manoeuvre bringing the Germans clear of the Russian flank and squarely into the gap left open by the

Russian cavalry. At 0300 hours on August 20 heavy German artillery fire smothered the gun positions of the Russian 28th Division on the extreme right flank of XX Corps and





'No individual firing could be heard;



open sights, German aircraft were soaring overhead to report progress and the ground began to be covered by the

to fire over



'lay in lines

with their


and with their battalion commanders, as it were frozen in the very attitudes in which death had overtaken them'. By midmorning the Russian 28th Division was disorganised and in flight leaving exposed the


of the

29th Division, but the

Commander, General Rozenshield-Paulin, kept his head and adjusted his front most skilfully to absorb the German onrush. Francois, temporarily checked, paused to reorganise for a final telling blow from his strongly threatening position. Meanwhile there had been stirring events in the centre of the line immediately south of Gumbinnen where the advancing German XVII Corps (General von Mackensen had collided with the Russian III Corps as it came up, piecemeal, from the east. Typically of III Corps, it had been slow starting for the corps

commander's orders to his divisions had been delayed by inefficient communication channels. At first the Germans made good progress in their centre, forcing the Russians back upon their reserves, but the Russian flanks held out until it was the Germans who drove themselves into a salient, pummelled from all sides by closerange artillery fire. The Germans were mown down; the survivors hugged the ground among the dead and then, as

a peasant's house ddring the battle. Civilians fled the area as their homes, crops and cattle were seized

Russian pressure asserted itself, they lost and rushed off westward. As an eyewitness later wrote: 'even the River Rominte could not stem the tide of fugitives and late in the evening of August 20 a considerable number of men belonging to one of these regiments were discovered on the banks of the River Angerapp'. their nerve

It was much the same when the German 36th Division tried to advance by rushes. At 1,000 yards the Russian rifles and machine-guns opened up: within the next 200-300 yards all further forward movement had stopped. 'It was like hell opening before us. No enemy was to be seen; nothing but the fire of thousands of rifles, of

machine-guns and of late,





as, too

artillery galloped



saw shells bursting between the guns, the ammunition wagons disappearing in all direccome

to the aid of their infantry, 'we

tions, and loose horses galloping riderless over the battlefield. The infantry lay with their faces to the ground, no one daring so much as to raise his head, not to speak of firing a shot himself.' Throughout the day, in this sector, the German officers repeatedly renewed the attack until the men would have no more of it. At length, 'panic gained the victory over the strongest discipline — Prussian discipline — the discipline of the East Prussian Regiments'. The German XVII Corps withdrew, leaving a mass of material and thousands of dead behind, and as it went back those on its flanks — even some of the victorious infantry of / Corps on the left — had also to give way. But the reason for their retreat was not physical since their position was strong and, indeed, promised much if exploited. The failure lay with the army commander

— von


From Francois,

as evening wore on, Prittwitz had received good news, but from elsewhere it seemed bad. To Francois on the telephone Prittwitz said 'The XVII Corps is heavily engaged and cannot advance, nor is there any good news from Corps. I may be obliged to retreat behind the Vistula.' The shock of defeat was upon Prittwitz, but added to it was a mounting series of reports of a vast movement of Russian columns breaking in a wide swathe across the southern frontier not only in a close envelopment towards Lotzen as expected, but as far west as the axis Mlava-Soldau-Deutsch Eylau. The Russian Second Army was indeed on the move, but this westerly column was something unexpected — I Corps, which had been detached from Rennenkampf to form the new army near Warsaw for the advance on Berlin, and was now brought back by Jilinski to widen the frontage of Second Army's manoeuvre. To Prittwitz it seemed that not only had he been defeated by a numerically superior foe at Gumbinnen, but he was about to be enveloped by a great host which was bound to overwhelm Corps, strung out as it was along the southern frontier. Had he realised how



weak Rennenkampf s army was and how it had lost 16,000 men on the 20th, and had he known the deplorable state of Samsonov's army he might have kept his head. As it was both he and his Chief-of-Staff, Count Waldersee, suffered ordered a withdrawal.



In announcing this decision to two members of his staff, General Grunert and

Lieutenant-Colonel Hoffman, he met cooler arguments based on the belief that Sam-

sonov should not be given a free run without a fight and that, in any case, the strong position won by Francois and / Corps should be exploited instead of thrown away. For the moment Prittwitz stood firm against all their pleading— the decision was his, not theirs, though later that night he allowed himself to be persuaded and they heard no more talk of a withdrawal to the Vistula. Unfortunately Prittwitz had forgotten just one thing — the small matter of a number of telephone calls to Moltke in which not only had he talked of withdrawing to the Vistula but had added that he might not hold even there were he not strongly reinforced. It was easy to forget all that on the 21st, for by then his troops opposite Russian First Army had pulled back to safety and had not been followed up in any strength. Moreover by then the movements along the southern frontier looked less threatening. But on the 22nd came two telegrams separated in time by half an hour. The first announced that a special train was on its way bearing a new Commander-inChief and a new Chief-of-Staff; the second, inadvertently delayed, told Prittwitz and Waldersee they had been sacked and that Generals von Hindenburg and Ludendorff would replace them. Thus a weak man and his doubting assistant were replaced by two men whose individual strong characters were already proven but whose prowess as a team was yet to be tested since they had never met before that dramatic moment when they went on board the special train* at Hanover. Strong or weak, their destiny was already settled by Hoffmann whose unwilling acceptance of the withdrawal from Gumbinnen led him to propose a reshuffle of

Eighth Army's deployment by lifting / Corps from the northern wing to re-inforce XX Corps in the south. Therefore, when Ludendorff arrived on the 23rd, having also already perceived that this was the only be adopted, he found it already well in train. The damage to the German position in the East was almost mended but the repercussions went much further than the mere replacement of top individuals, for although Moltke had realised that Prittwitz had lost his nerve, he had also come to the false conclusion that the armies in East Prussia might actually be outnumbered by five to one — despite faultless information telling him this could not be the case. realistic course to

The brink And what

of defeat of the victor of

Gumbinnen —

of Rennenkampf? On the night of the 20th he and, more particularly, some of his staff were convinced that they stood on the brink of defeat (as indeed they did)


and there were members of his staff who urged a retreat out of danger just when Prittwitz was urging the same on his own staff. But Rennenkampf, though knowing he was out-numbered and out-flanked, kept his nerve and stood firm waiting for what the 21st would bring. It brought anticlimax; the Germans did not attack and only gradually did the Russian infantry creep forward to find out the reason while the Cavalry Corps remained out of action as it had done throughout the 20th. Not until the evening was it at last discovered that, not only had the Germans gone, but they had also made a clean break of several miles. Even then Rennenkampf was slow

in following up, no order for pursuit being issued until the morning of the 22nd and the general advance not beginning until the afternoon. This inactivity was neither

imposed for tactical expediency nor because bad communications: it was simply in line with Rennenkampf's original intention to pause on the 20th in order to reassemble his administrative resources. But, on the 20th, he had been forced into a pitched battle and so a pause was all the more necessary on the 21st to compensate for it. Moreover Rennenkampf was now handicapped by the multiple difficulties of








dependent upon an inadequate supply train which could not be supplemented from major local resources. Paradoxically he could not make use of his most important capture — the




system -since the Germans had removed all stock and Russian stock was of a different gauge. From now on the Germans, in a friendly hinterland out of contact with hostile elements, could move with absolute freedom and at the speed of peacetime manoeuvres, while their opponents would be hampered by poor rearward communications, advancing with the slower, instinctive caution of soldiers who had suffered the harrowing experience of close range fire in dense country. To all intents and purposes, they were in constant contact with their enemy at all points.


frightful risk to the direction that Russian First Army should now take, this had been laid down by Jilinsky in his first Operation Order in which he had demanded the turning of the German left flank developing into a movement to cut the enemy off from Kbnigsberg, and this order was reaffirmed on August 26 by a telegram saying that Kbnigsberg should be invested by 'say two corps, while the remainder (just one corps, in fact) should continue the pursuit to the Vistula'. Jilinsky had his eyes fixed on the Vistula and visualised First and Second Armies making their junction at the river, after a wide double envelopment regardless of what the undefeated Germane in the centre might do. Thus Rennenkampf was exposed to frightful risk — but a justifiable risk providing Samsonov could defeat the main German army gathering against him on the southern frontier. On August 20, as the Russian First Army grappled with the Germans at Gumbinnen, as the Austrians began their main advance in Galicia, and the German First Army entered Brussels, the Russian Second Army had yet to make a serious incursion into East Prussia. Up to then it had been marching westward from its concentration area in friendly territory to the south of the frontier, but under conditions which were most unfriendly, covering 15 miles a day


through deeply sanded country in which the transport floundered on roads that were, in places, very little different to the surrounding fields, from where the Polish peasantry looked on in sullen resentment. And from the rear Jilinsky harried Samsonov with repeated demands for greater speed, orders which were passed on (not without protest) by Samsonov to his already weary men. An eyewitness watched transport being left behind in order that the horses so released could be brought forward to double the teams and drag out the leading carts. 'The troops never saw



their supply trains. A day's halt was never •riven. The reservists, unused to marching,

wore worn out.' While Samsonov's subordinate commanders pleaded for time to organise their formations and settle down their units, Jilinsky pointed out the danger in which First Army stood as a compelling reason for applying pressure on the southern flank. But many orders never reached Samsonov in time because the telegraph system was completely clogged and piles of messages were stacking up without the remotest chance of their being sent. Upon an already overloaded army commander and his staff, Jilinsky now placed further burdens by adding I Corps (which had earlier been removed from Rennenkampf to the Warsaw area for the 'drive on Berlin') to Second Army in order to strengthen that army and widen its frontage further west into East Prussia than originally intended. Thus not only was the drive to Berlin curtailed, but Samsonov was given yet another corps lo manage on an ever-

widening front when his communications were already stretched and in chaos. From then on there would be a danger that his control would be tenuous and that each corps commander would fight very much in splendid independence of the others. It was the sight of Russian I Corps kicking up the dust in long menacing columns which, when reported by German airmen to Prittwitz, had led to the temporary panic at German Eighth Army HQ on the 20th, and which now attracted German I Corps away from the north to fill the gap lying open between the right of German XX Corps and the Vistula. A race to the Vistula was in progress, each side endeavouring to outflank the other, but whereas the Russian attempts were strictly

Germans were, for the moment, mainly defensive — with the intention of fighting from trenches and catching the Russians on the move. By this time it was well understood that entrenched men would prevail over men in the open and both infantry and artillery were learning that in matters of survival the spade was mightier than the bayonet. On August 20 the Russians turned north from Mlava and at once the cavalry, feeling its way through thick woods, lakes and swamps, found the villages, situated in defiles on the only firm ground in between, heavily entrenched and wired. Samsonov, sensitive to his corps commander's reports, called for caution, sending VI Corps to obtain possession of the Ortelsburg area, I and XV Corps to secure the line SoldauNeidenburg and keeping XIII and XXIII Corps in rear. This did not satisfy Jilinsky who accused Samsonov 'of a lack of resolution', though he steadfastly refused to be impressed by Samsonov's story of an army approaching exhaustion. Nevertheless, by the end of August 22, Soldau, Neidenburg and Ortelsburg were in Russian hands. Here the invaders were enmeshed in a complex country where the towns had been abandoned by the bulk of its inhabitants, here too they were harried by German rearguards and watched and occasionally bombed from the air by German aircraft and Zeppelins. 'Our aviators could not fight them,' wrote General Martes the commander of XV Corps, T forbade aimless infantry to fire at aeroplanes, as it only offensive, those of the

produced disorder.



which was

occasionally opened by field artillery


also unavailing, and so the enemy aviators observed us with impunity.' Looting was now rife, for the Russian soldiers were extremely hungry and the taking of food inevitably led to the removal of more durable valuables — so soon the tales of rape, arson and murder, which were the stock in trade of the propagandists of both

accumulated and received more sides, credence than they warranted. Clearly, however, Samsonov's hard-ridden army was getting out of hand. In the meantime the German redeployment went ahead with all the smoothness at their

command and quite unhindered forces. From a central con-

by external


centration at Hohenstein, Corps (General Scholtz) covered the gaps through the forests into which the Russians had already advanced: train load by train load / Corps began to arrive on its right in the area of Deutsch-Eylau/Gilgenburg. Gradually Samsonov's immediate superiority in numbers was being overtaken by a gathering of German forces which moved to its battle stations with absolute confidence under commanders supplied with positive information of every important Russian move — for in addition to all previous information, Jilinsky's original plan had been found on the body of a dead Russian. Nothing is likely to bolster a commander's prowess more than a complete knowledge of what is going on across the other side of the hill. Rarely have commanders been better supplied with information than were the Germans in East Prussia that August. Assuming that their men would fight well — and in defence of their homeland it was hardly likely that they would do otherwise

morning of the 25th the Russian First Army advanced only 20 miles, its progress regulated by Rennenkampf's keen appreciation that if the men went any faster such straggling might occur as to put his already inferior force in even greater danger. They followed in the wake of Eighth Army's retreat without realising that transfers were being made from oppotheir front; their cavalry reconnaisstill practically non-existent. At last Jilinsky came to understand the


sance was

danger in which Rennenkampf might stand and now he directed reinforcements, in the shape of II Corps, to come up from the south and help fill in the gap between First Army's left and Second Army's right. Even so it was not until August 27 that

Rennenkampf was an empty space and that the move on Konigsberg were the

Jilinsky realised that



orders to very opposite of co-operation with Second

Army. In comparative safety, on



when Rennenkampf was half-way between Gumbinnen and Konigsberg, the German Reserve Corps was told to turn its back on Rennenkampf and co-operate with XVII Corps in dealing with Russian VI Corps advancing on Bischofsburg, while XX Corps stopped the main Russian advance on Hohenstein, and / Corps prepared to strike in the direction of Usdau. On August 27, the 37th Division, having administered a smart repulse to the Russian XV Corps, was withdrawn at the suggestion of the XX Corps commander to a better position to the flank. This withdrawal merely encouraged Samsonov to advance straight ahead in the belief that


— they had nothing to fear.

the retreat apparently in progress opposite

They knew that the Second Russian Army was fanning out, VI Corps moving

his front.

north from Ortelsburg to Bischofsburg, I Corps from Soldau towards Gilgenburg while XXII followed by XXIII Corps came up from the south to fill the gap. With each hour's march the dividing segments of Samsonov's army were presenting themselves for piecemeal destruction. Several alternative solutions to the threat presented themselves to Ludendorff: 'The temptation was very strong to make a detour south of Soldau in order to turn the flank of the Russian I Corps. The shock of such a blow to the Narev [Second] Army, brought due south from watching the

Russian First Army in the north, combined with the advance of the XVII and I Reserve Corps might have led to the complete destruction of the enemy. But our strength was not sufficient for this. Therefore I proposed to General Hindenburg that I Corps should attack from Eylau and Montowo, together with the right flank of the reinforced


Corps from Gilgenburg, both towards Usdau, thereafter I Corps was to be sent to Neidenburg to surround, together with XVII and I Reserve Corps, at least the main body of the Army of the Narev.

Rennenkampf was now being extended to Thus he further exposed the flank

not only of XV but also of XIII Corps, which, also under the impression that it had little in the way of enemy ahead, shot off to Allenstein and opened a vast gap between its tail and the following XXIII Corps. Meanwhile, VI Corps was thought to be continuing its advance on Bischofsburg, though nobody could be sure since wireless contact was broken and, like all the corps in Samsonov's army as it fanned out into East Prussia, it was working on the intuition of its commander and not under positive central control. The tragedy from Samsonov's point of view was that he, personally, on the 27th was continuing with his offensive in blithe ignorance of the fact that a far more powerful and much more deadly German offensive had begun on both his flanks on the 26th.

The principal of course, from

German blow was to come, German / Corps and its

commander, the irrepressible Francois, had not taken too kindly to the firm orders from Ludendorff to advance without fail at dawn. He had learnt from the failures at Gumbinnen that to advance without artillery support


to court disaster and,

for all the excellence of the

'No immediate danger' Thus, on the 25th, the German

was taking First


a calculated risk in leaving


except by



almost unattended

Landwehr and

fortress troops.

But their calculations were based on sound reasoning, for being aware of the orders already given to Rennenkampf, the measure of the threat could be gauged and evaluated 'as of little immediate danger'. Between the morning of the 23rd and



his corps to its fresh station in such quick time, one quarter of his field guns, all his heavy guns and all of his artillery supply columns had still to arrive. He asked to be allowed to fix his own time of departure and was smartly told by to

Ludendorff: 'The Army Commander cannot delegate to the Commander of the / Corps the right to settle the time of attack, as the decision does not depend alone upon the operations of / Corps. It is proposed to


noon as the time




of the offensive. Then / Corps should report all arrivals of artillery units.' Later, at 1030 hours, this start time was confirmed. But Francois, handled with a firmness such as had been unknown from Prittwitz, was no more inclined to obey and took his time, occupying a limited objective by 1500

hours but going no further.

was a very different matter on the It Russian right Hank. There VI Corps suddenly found itself exposed to a thunderbolt delivered by Mackensen's XVII Corps, and Mackensen had also learnt much at Gumbinnen. His artillery preparation against the weak Russian artillery was such that he had gained complete mastery in tirepower from the outset and his infantry, advancing fast and by rushes, were soon at close quarters with the Russian 4th Division which began to give way all along the line. By nightfall the Russians had lost half their infantry, two batteries

guns and were reeling back to Ortelsburg. exposing both right and left flanks of the Russian XV and XIII Corps, and,


worse even than



VI Corps had

utterly failed to relay its bad news to Army or to its neighbours. Thus when, early a posion the 27th. Francois was at last tion to unleash a full and properly co-



ordinated blow the Russians were already half plunged in defeat-but still without realising


Colonel Knox, the British Military Attache, spent much of August 26 with Second Army and dined with Sanisonov that night in Neidenburg. Sanisonov, he his diary, 'is content and satisnoted fied' but. like many another soldier, "worried because he had not yet received a



from his



General Postovski, as being generally nervous and


the Chief-of-Staff is

was recorded

goes by the name of the "Mad Mullah". Rut on the morning of the 27th. signs of increasing nervousness were to be found further afield. Sanisonov was still relying on his plan and hoping he had not underestimated the German strength, but a





who was

with on inexhaustible energy reconnaissance flights for the Russians, had detected signs of the Germans advancing against the Russian left. As Knox was leaving Neidenburg. 'A man rushed up shouting that the German Cavalry was on flying

There are signs of nerves.' There were no nerves with Francois that morning, however, for this time his preparations were complete, he was attacking to a schedule he approved of and with all us.

the artillery support he could muster, against Russians who were hardly even dug in. Twenty-eight field and eight heavy batteries battered the Russian artillery to pieces Oil the Usdau front as dawn broke on the 27th. Soon the German infantry were following up as their guns turned upon the Russian infantry and though many Russians did stand and fight, if was the majority, worn and disheartened by many

days unrewarding marching, their spirits undermined by hunger, who turned and ran for Soldau as last as they could. Only at lleinnchsdorf was there a hitch to the German's plans a brisk Russian attack well backed by artillery stopped one brigade and threw it on the defensive while elements of the 2nd Infantry Division on its left took panic and fled westward. Artillery dominated the battlefield and infantry without it were helpless. Rut this local reverse — and it was no more than thai -had a worrying effect on Ludendorffwho sensed, in any case, that trouble might develop at any tune on the southern flank from the direction of Warsaw. Philosophically he wrote, 'The Commander is placed under a great strain. He must keep a tight hold on his nerves.' As the 27th passed and news of the reverse 5 to Russian VI Corps on the right flank be-

Decisively beaten and completely surrounded, the Russians surrendered in their thousands



















apparent while only dull mutterings came from I Corps on the left, Samsonov formulated his orders for the next day. the 28th, telling I Corps it must hold firm but ordering XIII and XV Corps: 'under the command of General Martos, at

of disasters


assume an energetic offensive in direction of Gilgenburg— Lautenburg with the object of attacking in flank and rear the enemy forces opposite XXIII and I Corps.' Demonstrating his the



ignorance of the position on his right flank he added, 'The VI Corps is being transferred to the

Passenheim area' (closing in it was

on the Second Army), when in fact

actually diverging in the direction of Ortelsburg. These orders did not reach I or VI Corps on the 27th so both, acting in isolation, continued to withdraw while VI Corps took no steps to say what it was doing. But the demand for an offensive by the two corps, which already had their heads half in the German noose, was much more serious, not only because it practicguaranteed their double envelopally ment if the twin horns of the German attacks made progress, but also because neither corps was really capable of sustained action — let alone a drive of some 30



the counter-stroke was to reach

The Russian ready outnumbered on



Corps was



its front and the addition of XIII Corps, from where it lay in exhaustion at Allenstein, was hazardous in the extreme. Already, the German / Reserve Corps was curling round its rear from the east, through Patricken and Klaukendorf and the gap left open by the precipitate withdrawal of VI Corps. No sooner had Martos made preparations for the attack against the German Corps and taken measures to bring XIII


The end for the

Corps as swiftly as possible from Allenthan he was joined by Samsonov who, just after dawn on the 28th, seems to have come to realise, at last, the true gravity of the situation on his left flank. Telegraphing this information to Jilinsky, he thereupon set out for the front to take control of the Martos offensive himself, and upon leaving took the telegraph apparatus with him, thus cutting himself off not only from Jilinsky (who was probably getting on his nerves) but from his other formations as well. Samsonov's arrival at HQ XV Corps was not without drama. XIII Corps was on its way but its tail was under fire

being quite hopelessly overtaxed. By midafternoon it was known that XIII Corps could advance no further. Then Martos turned to Samsonov with the words, 'Now we must expect a disaster.' It was agreed that both XIII and XV Corps should retreat. Martos was ordered to return to Neidenburg in order to organise a firm base to hold open an escape route for the retreat to move upon, but no sooner had this been arranged than firing broke out in the rear of XV Corps and several Russian units took flight. The front was breaking. Later Martos and his staff set off for

it left Allenstein: 'The troops became involved in street fighting, in which the inhabitants took an active part; even women fired at our soldiers from the win-





The advance guard of this Corps had then become heavily engaged at Grislienen and was soon to find itself barred from a junction with XV Corps. Thus XV Corps was forced to attack on its own, but before it could do so was attacked itself in the area of Waplitz — an attack which Martos had anticipated and which was met by a storm of Russian artillery fire. This attack had just been beaten back and the German prisoners were being marched away when Samsonov arrived, took in the situation and embraced Martos saying, sadly, 'You alone will save us'. The phrase, as Martos wrote, 'struck me unfavourably' — and the reason is plain; this was the first insight permitted to Martos as to how serious the Russian situation actually was. Watched

by Samsonov from high ground above Muhlen, Martos strove to beat back the Germans, but though a few local successes were recorded the strength of his men was

of d disastrous

(little realising that it was already in German hands, so swift had been Francois's advance after the collapse of the Russian I Corps). 'The night was dark and warm. After about an hour we perceived the staff of the Army resting around some buildings at the side of the road. I rode up to General Samsonov, who seemed to me to be calmer. He again spoke to me aside of the serious position we were in and said that it was still possible to get out of it if we held Neidenburg.' But soon Martos was ambushed and a vital link removed from the Russian chain of com-

mand. Although a German victory was assured on the 28th, Ludendorff had not passed the day without anxiety. The counter-stroke by Russian XV Corps had disturbed him and at mid-day he had sent an impulsive signal to Francois, who was making for Neidenburg (that vital route centre in the Russian








Corps and bend the purfrom Neidenburg to Lahna instead. Two hours later Ludendorff had regained his composure and rescinded the

right flank of suit northwards


Russians •





W% ^~"







order but it did not matter — Francois had once more disobeyed and persevered with his own aim, sending one division to Lahna but the rest of his Corps to Neidenburg. This time his reading of the battle was wholly correct, for by going to Neidenburg he completely stoppered up all that remained of the Russian Second Army less those elements of I Corps which had escaped to the south, and those of VI Corps to the east. But even now Ludendorff was not completely secure in his feelings, for his thoughts turned constantly to Rennenkampf and the Russian First Army in the north. 'I could not rejoice to the full at this great victory; the anxiety caused me by General Rennenkampf 's Army was so heavy a strain on my nerves.'

Indeed Rennenkampf was on the move but in nothing like the strength that Ludendorff believed. A mere six and a half divisions (not the 24 in Ludendorff's mind) were moving westward towards Konigsberg at just a little under 20 miles a day (no mean achievement), but it was not until the evening of the 27th that Jilinsky had woken up to the fact that this was of no assistance to the main battle which had already been lost in the south. His telegram, 'Co-operate with the Second Army by moving your left flank forward as far as possible towards Bartenstein, and by sending out your cavalry in the direction of Bischofsburg', was neither sufficiently urgent nor in time. If that telegram had been sent even as late as the 25th the unsettling effect upon Ludendorff might easily have persuaded him to relax pressure on Samsonov instead of delivering an uninterrupted offensive. As it was, Jilinsky had allowed Ludendorff to roll with his

left and then administer a hefty right which turned into a knockout blow. Among the confusing lakes, swamps and forests of the area Neidenburg — Muschaken — Allenstein — Hohenstein — a rectangle some 25 by 10 miles in size, the Russian Army writhed in the agony of death. It was now each Corps — XV, XIII and part of XXIII — for itself, as the best leaders were dead or captured and such orders as con-

tinued to be written only rarely reached their destination. Blocked at Hohenstein, XIII Corp's only way of escape was through a narrow defile at Shvedrich between two lakes, but from the moment it entered this defile on the night of August 29/30, it was successively harassed by the Germans who infested every village and wood. Desperate rearguard actions took place time and again to hold vital crossing places. Several Russians took panic and sank in the swamps but gradually the ever shrinking column struggled through to the south to Kurken and then into the Forest of Kommusin. Down to only four regiments, they were now directed upon Muschaken, becoming intermingled with elements of XV Corps as it groped its way back from Lahna with German / Corps hot on their heels. Soon, too, parts of XXIII Corps joined in and constantly there were outbursts of firing from different directions as a dozen fights broke out with the German columns scouring the forest for their prey. Efforts were made to form three corps columns in the forest by posting Staff Officers at a central crossroads and asking each man as he came by which Corps he belonged to and sending him down the correct route. But when, next morning, these columns started to break out from the southern fringe of the forest it was

only to find he German cordon waiting. To quote a Russian: 'Whenever our units took the offensive, the Germans, without meeting the charge, would roll their line back, and bring our attacking units under their machine-gunfire.' Here and there the sheer weight and desperation of the Russian charges to escape encirclement broke through, since the Germans could not hope to hold everywhere in sufficient strength and they themselves were already extremely weary after three days' continuous fighting. At one point a savage local Russian attack swept away a German brigade, capturing artillery and machineguns, but the overall situation could not be altered, and everywhere else, cut down by the thousand, utterly bewildered and exhausted, hungry and short of ammunition with hardly any artillery of their own to reply to the hammering German guns, the central corps of Second Army began to surrender in thousands. The end of the left-hand column was symbolic of the rest: 'Soon the forest ended and they debouched on to a large open space. From two directions searchlight beams shone forth sweeping the whole of the country in front of us. The beams shone on the leading units and immediately after there followed machine-gun fire and a few rounds of rapid shrapnel fire. Confusion seized the column, and this time the attempts to re-establish order failed. Five times the Germans repeated the same manoeuvre and each time the column melted and melted.' I

A shot in the forest Somebody

else had gone on the night of the 29th as well — Samsonov. Falling into c the deepest depression as he rode from one | distraught unit to another and saw the E







^4* «




Lemberg: the first clash in Galicia The fighting in Galicia in August 1914 was typified by much confusion and misunderstanding on both sides. Reconnaissance was poor, and commanders were rarely able to gauge exactly the strength of the enemy. This disadvantage told particularly against the Austrians, who were heavily outnumbered

The penalty which might have to be paid weakening of the Austrian centre

for this

could be better appreciated a few hours later, for while First and Fourth armies


Russian infantry crossing a ford


GHQ. Plehve

to strike only flank.



believed he

an area where roads were bad and bridges rare

was about

an isolated enemy

an impasse, but



they construed to be a thinly held area: the Russians moved west in what they took to be empty territory. Suddenly, on August 26, they met and the Battle of Komarow began, but still the two senior commanders refused to understand what had happened, each thrusting down his pre-ordained axis, and under the impression that the fighting was only local. Throughout the 27th they wheeled and fenced across ground of close configuration without ever getting into really close combat. Tactically there was

A Russian machine gun

the Aus-

hand as, true to theory, they groped for and found the Russian flanks. By now Auffenberg had sensed he was engaged with a major enemy force and was calling for reinforcements to fight a decisive battle. This call was raised to a

cry for help

The Austrians marched north


trians got the upper

force in





his 27th Division lost over 8,000

an ambush on the morning of the 28th. Conrad was impressed. He had now reached the much more important conclusion that the decisive battle was taking place earlier than he had expected in the area of Komarow, and so three divisions under the Archduke Josef, which had been peeled off from Third Army on August 24 to protect Fourth Army's flank were now thrown into this main battle. in

to assert their numerical superiority over the Russian Fourth and Fifth armies to the north-west of Lemberg, the awful presence of the Russian Third and Eighth armies had been felt at last as they approached the Zlota Lipa on the 25th. At that time the Austrian Third Army was on the Grula Lipa, only 12 miles off, and as usual the Austrians were unaware of their peril. General Brudermann, their commander, interpreted a report which spoke of five or six infantry divisions and four of cavalry advancing from Tarnopol, with several others to the south approaching from the River Seret, as representing an inferior force of which he was capable of attacking. Fully confident in the power of the offensive he advanced next day, the 26th, without regard to the co-ordination of one corps with another and with even less care over the integration of artillery preparation in support of infantry attacks. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. Not only were the Austrians mown down in heaps and stopped, but the far wider Russian advance now began to overlap the Austrian flanks until, as night was falling, panic set in and the Austrians started to run. Some did not stop running for 25 miles until they reached Lemberg where they started a panic among the civilian population. Others did not bother to run

position in

The Russians had few machine guns and were short of ammunition Galicia.





/ V









60 Miles




in feet



Austrian advance

Russian advance

Austrian withdrawal

Russian withdrawal

Brest Litovskji





4 to


^ Lublinll

t Thelm





ARMY (Dankl)







AUG 26

^fes / /

» •


Austro-Hungarian troops




V2> ^r










nrvfriM 1

/ /



A portable German radio








small by the standards of the day


sets transmitted




and here the Morse key




many Russian

place names and officers' names were transmitted in clear and the names of the German destination in code.

were sent

All enquiries

were marked

ing each of many minor breaks in the coded message, it was possible to reconstruct the entire rode system. It is not surprising that Russian radio messages transmitted before and during the Battle of Tannenberg made history, and two famous messages, both sent in clear, betrayed the exact intentions of the Russian armies to the German Eighth Army. The first was picked up during the night of August 24/25 by the radio station at the fortress of Konigsberg and at 0520 hours was forwarded to GHQ at Reisenburg. The text of this message ran as follows: — Receiver/Transmitter Konigsberg. Picked up at 0230 hours. To the head of communications at Reisenburg: General Aliew (commander of IV Corps of Russian First Army). The Army will begin its attack. On August 25 the line Wirbeln-Saalau-Norkitten-Kl. Potauren-Nordenburg, and on 26th the line Damerau-Petersdorf-WehlauAllenburg-Gerdaunen should be reached. The dividing line between XX and III Corps: Pregel. The dividing line between III and IV Corps, the road Schwirbelm-Kl Potauren-Allenburg. Khan Naktishevansky (commander of 2nd Cavalry Division of Russian First Army) moves in front of the army front between Pregel and the line Darkehmen-Gerdauen-Bartenstein in the direction of Allenburg. North of there, Rauch (commander of Russian 2nd Guards Cavalry Division) with his division. South of there, Gurko (commander of the Russian 1st Cavalry Division). The crossings over the River Pregel cut by XX Corps. Rennenkampf. The other radio message was picked up at 0600 hours on the same day by the transmitter/receiver at the German Eighth Army HQ itself and also by the permanent set at the fortress at Thorn. The text of it was somewhat distorted and incomplete owing to a bad translation. It read: — After the battle on XX Corps' front, the opposing corps went back in the direction ofOsterode on August 24. At Gilgenburg after the stated the army pursued its Territorial Reserve pponent further, who retreated to Konigsberg-Rastenburg. The Second Army advanced to the line Allenstein-Osterode on August 25. The positions held by the corps were: XIII Corps the line GimmendorfKurken. XV Corps Nadrau-Paulsgut. XIII Corps Michalken-Gr. Gardienen. The dividing line for the above mentioned corps: between XIII and XV, the line NeidenburgWittigwalde. The I Corps shall remain in District No. 5 while it protects the left flank the corps to turn in the area of the army Bischofsburg-Rothfliess in order to protect .

A German mobile wireless


later by



on the Eastern Front

12 field-radio station.

As the operational value of intercepted Russian radio messages became increasingly clear and was confirmed by other methods such as captured despatches, cavalry and air reconnaissance, other fieldradio stations were switched to eavesdropping. Field-radio station Number 12, under the command of Oberleutnant Alois Svec at 4th Army Detachment, was especially active,

and on August 20


broke down

part of the Russian army code. This code, which the Russian army used at the beginning of the war, was not known to the Germans and Austrians, and complete deciphering was not achieved until September 1914. However, organisational difficulties in the transmission o. )fders

within the Russian radio sections made it possible for the Germans and Austrians to deduce quickly Russian intentions without knowledge of the code. All Russian army groups down to the level of corps on the Russian north-west and south-west fronts were equipped with radio, and permanent radio receiver/ transmitters existed in most fortresses and several large towns in western Russia. Much Russian military radio traffic was blotted out by private radio traffic, while circulation and use of codes caused confusion because several codes had to be used at the same time. It frequently happened that the Russian receiver/transmitter had to ask the code of the receiving station or, on the pretext of speed and convenience

and stops and by study-

in clear,

for the decoder,






the right wing. On the side of Rastenburg 4th Cavalry Division shall remain under the command of VI Corps (Sensburg) reconnoitres the line Rastenburg-Bartenstein and Seeburg-Heilsburg. The 6th and 15th that Staff at OstroCavalry Divisions lenka (site of the for the Russian Second army). As the German Official History remarks, 'Eighth Army was informed of their opponents' intentions in a way which seldom happens in war.' Indeed they could not go wrong since so much could be reduced to a certainty when the other side of the hill lay revealed. .




THE GREAT RETREAT a German View During the days of the Allied retreat to the Marne, it was decide who was the harder pressed, the retreating Allies or the pursuing Germans. Here a German, Captain Walter Bloem, gives his account of the great Allied retreat, or from his point of view, the great advance. At the time he writes of, his company had been marching and fighting without respite for three whole weeks, and his men were near breaking point. Nor was the end in

difficult to

sight, for although at this point victory for the Germans close, it was clear that many days' fighting remained. On the German soldiers, many of them reservists, the pace was beginning to tell


listened speechless with amazement. Positions evacuated! Bridges blown up! Advance on the canal! Incredible. And so the explosions during the night were explained. 'Do I understand you rightly, Stumpff? Has the enemy actually retired?' I

'No doubt about it, sir.' 'Well, I'm damned! Then things aren't so bad after all.' 'It's too early to judge the situation for certain,' he said. 'Perhaps it's only a ruse to entice us over the canal.' 'In any case, we're going on forwards, Stumpff! That's good enough.' [Most of this day, August 26, was taken up, however, in driving off the British rearguards from the line of the Mons Canal. It was not until the next day that Bloem crossed the frontier and after a long march spent his first night in a




When the regiment assembled the next morning, the 27th, we heard that the corps on our right, IV, had won another battle against the English, who had made a stand at Le Cateau, and had captured 12,000 prisoners and two batteries of guns. More Our march was now in a southwesterly direction in pursuit of the defeated English army, which had left traces of its hasty departure on all sides. Car after car in the ditch with burst tyres or broken rejoicing!

axles, nearly all commercial vans with the names of private firms on them from apparently every big town in England, and

lected all the transport resources of her private industries accordingly. Large heaps of supplies lay burnt by the roadside; the flames had destroyed the bread and any cereal food, but their only effect on the thousands of tins of Fray-Bentos bullybeef had been to cook the contents. It was

khaki jacket, a dark blue schoolboy's cap with two long black silk bands hanging from it at the back, a short blue and black square-checked pleated skirt, between which and his stockings, which only reached to below the knee from a pair of brown shoes, was an expanse of muscular, hairy, naked leg. So he was a Scot, a Highlander. I offered the elderly gentleman my arm, for he had had a bullet through his right shoulder and a ricochet hit on the knee that made him limp, and led him back to the company, who gazed at us in blank



Our Rathenow Hussars were quick in discovering English stragglers. At a longish halt a couple of Hussars came up to me: 'Sir, we have taken prisoner a wounded English colonel and a major; they

Niestrawski came up alongside me almost bursting with indignation: 'Please, sir, that's a dirty trick to play on anyone; !' surely our Hussars didn't do that 'Didn't do what, lad?' He thought for a moment, puzzled. 'Or did those dirty swine actually take away

containing, tion.





England obviously regarded this war business undertaking and had col-

are in the waiting-room of the railway station over there; the major is unhurt.' I went across and found two somewhat dishevelled most gallant-looking but


own wounded

colonel's trousers?'

almost wept with laughter. [Another day's march brought Bloem to the banks of the Somme. It was about 9 pm when we reached the small hamlet, Le Mesnil-Breteuil, at the end of our tether. I had my billet in the house of an elderly woman who had remained to look after her home and her little garden, though her sons had fled. 'Why should I run away? I know you people I

gentlemen. Putting on my finest manners I greeted them in my best English and told them I had the honour to consider them as my prisoners — a turn in their career to which they appeared to resign themselves in a most cool and matter-of-fact manner. The major wore the ordinary infantry uniform with which I was now amply familiar, but the colonel had on a short


blew the main Here German pioneers erect a temporary bridge to speed the advance

As the

Allies retreated they

river crossings.


: -

AL V 1





from the days of the seventies. But now you look quite different — not nearly as handsome as then. You had blue coats with polished buttons in those days, and beautiful, shining helmets. Now you're grey all over, sad-looking — I don't like it.' She led me to a small room, my bedroom, and a strangely youthful smile lit up her wrinkled features as she spoke: 'Well, captain, in the year 1870, when I was quite a young widow, a German armydoctor was billeted here for 12 days, and, believe me, I looked after him properly. I did every mortal thing for him, tout, tout, all for love. He was 29 25; in the afternoon he always used to sleep on the bed in his boots and spurs. There! You can still see the scratches of his spurs on the wood at the end of the

monsieur! and





she giggled. 'Oh, fellow he was!'


what a handsome

[There followed two days on the road at a pace which had now begun to tell heavily.


Heat, blisters, and no rest For three whole weeks, ever since we detrained at Elsdorf on August 10, we had had not a single rest-day, nor even the suggestion of one. Day after day onwards without ceasing; every night in a fresh billet. The officers, it is true, had at least a bed and were able to take off their clothes at night; but the men throughout all this period of unspeakable trials and suffering had had only the straw they could pick up in the sheds and buildings to act both as mattress and blankets; they had had no time even to wash and dry their socks. Before the war I should have regarded such powers of endurance as beyond the capacity of the most robust peasant-lads. And how the men's feet suffered! From time to time we had to examine them; and it was no pleasure to look at the inflamed heels,

and toes of my wretched young lads, whole patches of skin rubbed off to the raw flesh. Many a morning we company commanders would ride up to the battalion commander: 'Major, could you explain to the higher command the need for a restday? The men literally can go on no farther, and if we are asked to stand and fight any day now we cannot be responsible for their The conduct under present conditions. major shrugged his shoulders uneasily: 'I assure you, gentlemen, I know all that as w ell as you do, and no day passes without myself and the other battalion commanders making this very same complaint to the colonel; but it seems quite useless. Apparently this frantic, everlasting onward rush is absolutely essential, and so you must keep on taking every care of your men on the march and use all your powers to keep up their spirits at any price. Make it clear to them that we must allow the enemy no rest until we have utterly defeated him on the whole front. Tell them that sweat is soles,





saving blood.' [The scent of victory also drew them forward. On September 1, Bloem crossed the Aisne.]

And now we were only 30 miles from the City of Light [Parish 30 miles, that meant two days' march at most at our present rate of progress: so that by to-morrow evening at latest we would be standing at its gates, and perhaps the following morning make our triumphal entry into the surrendered city. [That morning, however, Bloem detected that the line of march had shifted eastward, carrying the army away from

The heat and dust


August 1914. German

field artillery

Paris and, though he could not know it, towards battle on the Marne. Two days later the regiment was approaching the river and constantly hampered by refugees. It was pathetic to see the endless mass of refugees fleeing madly in continuous streams along all the roads leading south, trying to escape from us. And now the roads were blocked ahead they could get no farther. Always the same ever-recurring little family tragedy: a cart with railed sides packed high with furniture and belongings, and drawn by miserable, broken-down horses: lying somewhere among the belongings an old man, fainted with the heat or with sunstroke, or an elderly woman pining away with worry, and the family, men, women, and children, half-starved, exhausted, dirty and neglected, shambling along literally trembling at the sight of us and the fear of being killed. [Not all French people felt the same. That evening the regiment billeted on the farther bank.[ Once more a comfortable French farmhouse welcomed us as guests as hospitably as if we'd been on manoeuvres in our own country. The farmer's wife, a fine woman, brought us a meal of boiled eggs, baked potatoes, beautiful golden-yellow butter, and most delicious cider: she told me, with tears in her eyes, that her husband had joined the Territorials, and that her five sons and her son-in-law had joined the \

army. 'And yet, madame, you treat us as if we were your defenders and not your enemies?' 'Well sir, I think like this: what I am doing now for you, I hope, perhaps, some other mother will be doing for my poor young men.' [Next morning the regiment set off towards the Petit Morin. Hitherto it had scarcely encountered the enemy, except as stragglers, since the fight for the crossings at Mons. But this day, September 4, was spent in continuous skirmishing and that

evening for the first time they were ordered to dig in.] I had only been back a few minutes at the trench, broadening and deepening very, very slowly, when all at once a mad firing started on the left beyond C Company

during the advance into France

where the machine gun company was. 'Hullo, what's up!' It was a cavalry attack. We could see, coming out of a wood, two or three dozen riders in steel helmets and blue overcoats moving towards the front of the next company, followed by more and still more. Our machine guns swept them, and one after another they fell from their horses; here and there a horse would rear up on its hind legs and collapse, while others rushed on past us as if ridden by devils. It was soon over; surely the enemy had gone mad. Fifteen minutes later a cyclist brought a message for me to go to the market square in the village to see the major. I went back through the dark, narrow street. In the middle of the square was the church, and from an upper window a faint light showed up a red-cross flag flying from it. Wounded were being brought or dragging themselves to it from every direction, German and enemy all together. Near by, in an open space in the square, sat the major, a flickering candle at his side. Around him in a circle lay and stood a dozen or more French cuirassiers, most of them badly hit, and their wounds wretchedly bandaged with bloody pieces of rag. Major von Kleist was struggling to remember his French grammar, but in vain. 'Awful, Bloem, isn't it? Will you crossexamine these prisoners? They speak a language I simply can't understand.' In a few minutes I had unravelled the mys-

The cuirassiers had been with a baggage column which had lost its way and had suddenly come under fire from our machine guns. I asked whence they had come and where they were going, but could get little out of them; like good soldiers they held their peace. 'We were on the march westwards, captain, always westwards. What is happening elsewhere, how the battle is going, we have no idea, tery of the cavalry attack.

we know

nothing, absolutely nothing!' [Neither prisoners nor captors knew that the great retreat was over. Next dayBloem's regiment and Kluck's army were embroiled in the Battle of the Marne. \

[From The Advance from Mons by Walter Bloem (English translation by G. C. Wynne).[


THE GREAT RETREAT an Airman's View L. A. Strange

The airmen were probably the only fighting men in France who appreciated the weather of August 1914. Cloudless skies and no wind afforded matchless flying conditions, and visibility was superb. But the speed of the retreat was too great even for aircraft. Every day the RFC's bases would have to be moved back, and many an airman returning from a mission found the field from which he had taken off in enemy hands. Below: The first aircraft of the RFC to land in France, a BE 2, number 347. There were few national identification marks at this period, and airmen frequently found themselves


***"'rt *




on by their own side

On August 24 German shells fell quite close to our aerodrome. The battle of Mons was drawing to its close and the famous retreat had begun; but we were not the least downhearted. Our transport had to bustle off in a hurry before daybreak, but towards the middle of the it was well morning before we flew off to Le Cateau, where an emergency aerodrome had been prepared. I remember that one Henri

Farman developed engine trouble at the last moment and had to be left behind; the smoke arising when it was burnt to prevent


falling into the

enemy's hands

Maubeuge aerodrome. There were no quarters for us; we slept in our valises near the machines. The next day we soon realised that great events were was our

last sight of

taking place. We were under fire; shells were bursting in unexpected places and we constantly saw troops on the move. We

made when



of reconnaissances,


dropped low, it came as a shock to me to sight the grey-green uniforms of German forces in localities which had been held by our own men the day before. The Germans blazed away whenever they saw me, but my machine took no damage. Up I

in the air I constantly saw fierce fights going on in isolated places when I looked down on one side, while a mile away on the other were transport, troops, and guns, all mixed up in the commencement of the historic retreat.

When I returned from my dawn reconnaissance to the field that was our aerodrome at Le Cateau, I could see no signs of machines or transport. A great battle was in progress; the only thing to do was to fly on southward and look for signs of our Squadron. Our eyes searched the roads until at last Number 5 Squadron's dear old

- •-*




red Bovril lorry hove into sight; I then landed my Henri Farman by the roadside and waited until the transport came along. When it did, I received orders to do another reconnaissance and report to an aerodrome near St Quentin. This new job took me in the direction of

Valenciennes and Maubeuge. While flying over the latter place, I was surprised to find heavy firing going on round the old forts, as I had imagined them to be in German hands by then. When I finally returned to St Quentin, I discovered our new aerodrome to be a cornfield that had only just been cut. A big L, fashioned of wheat-sheaves, told us where to land. We were lucky enough to get a really good dinner in St Quentin that night, but beds were unattainable luxuries, and so we were once more compelled to sleep in our valises on the aerodrome. We stacked up sheaves round the machines and used others for bedding. I fell asleep to the sound of distant firing, and it turned my last conscious thoughts to those forts round Maubeuge, which I pictured as rocks surrounded by the incoming tide. Dimly wondering how long the French reservists who manned them would be able to hold out, I found it almost impossible to realise that only a few days previously we had basked peacefully in warm sunshine in that same Maubeuge. Our impromptu couches seemed comfortable enough, but we woke up with sore bodies and sighed regretfully for the cosy beds in Maubeuge Town Hall, where we had been billeted, and the glorious omelettes that Renee, our waitress, gave us for breakfast.

August 27 was a day of great anxiety for our forces as fresh masses of Germans were



reported to b in order to i


round flank.

cavaln rearguard action advancing foemei dashing way th rien's

westward Smith Dor-


tion in the '•

into the in



their leader, artillery gallop enough guns wer< i-





range. Meanwhile our planes did their best to k< informed of all that went on, now and then we found a chance to lend a hand to the ground forces in some hardfought skirmish or to harass the thickest hordes of the enemy by dropping petrol bombs, hand grenades and the steel arrows that were known as flechettes. After a hard and busy day's work, we settled down to another night on our cornfield. The fine weather had broken; thunderstorms were succeeded by a steady drizzle, which did not promise a comfortable night. But before we had time to think of supper, shells began to make our wheatsheaves fly about, and all machines beat a hasty retreat to La Fere. No aerodrome had been arranged there, with the result that our machines landed just where they could in fields on the outskirts of the town. As No 5 Squadron had no chance of reuniting, I spent the night helping a staff officer to direct stragglers to collecting stations. We stood at the junction of four crossroads, sending the men of various divisions to their proper rallying points. We heard many stories that night — grim tales of whole regiments wiped out, while it was a terrible sight to watch the return of those splendid troops who had marched





so recently.



Some were minus boots,

with their

The eyes of the German advance, and the Allied retreat

Sopwith Tabloid Engine: Gnome rotary, 80 hp. Armament: small arms chosen by the pilot or one .303-inch Lewis gun. Maximum speed: 92 mph at ground level. Initial climb rate: 1,200 feet-perminute. Endurance: 3V2 hours. Weights empty/ loaded: 730/1, 120 lbs. Span: 25 feet 6 inches. Length: 20 feet 4 inches

Hansa- Brandenburg D An orthodox two-seater, only about 12 examples were built for the German army. The fuselage was of steel tube construction covered with ply, and the rest of the structure was of the normal wooden construction with fabric covering. Engine: Benz Bz 1 10 hp. Span: II,

43 feet


inches. Length: 27 feet



Avro 504 Engine: Gnome rotary, 80 hp. Armament: small arms as chosen by the pilot, one .303-inch Lewis gun or a few small bombs. Maximum speed: 82 mph at ground level. Climb rate: 7 minutes to 3,500 feet. Endurance: 3Vi hours. Weights empty/loaded: 924/ 1,574 lbs. Span:



Length: 29 feet 5 inches

Aviatik Bl This aircraft first appeared in 19 14, and was derived from the prewar P 15A. As it appeared originally, it lacked the fixed fin shown here, and possessed struts bracing the ends of the upper mainplane from the outer pairs of interplane struts. Its power was provided by a 100 hp Mercedes D engine. The type was only I



very small



have another go at the same lot, we found them moving south, so we dropped down to a low height and flew along over the road, where we managed to plant our third bomb right on to a lorry, which took fire and ran into a ditch. The lorry behind it caught fire as well, and both were well ablaze when we left. It was not a serious loss to the German army, but it sent us home very well pleased with ourselves. That same evening a German machine dropped three bombs on our aerodrome, and one fell fairly close to our transport, but luckily it did not burst. We all made a rush to the spot to grab bits of the bombs as souvenirs and found that they were full of shrapnel bullets.



successful bluff cannot remember whether this machine was the Albatross [sic] that Spratt brought down. He flew a Sopwith Tabloid and forced the enemy to land by circling round above him and making pretence to attack him. As a matter of fact, he had run out of ammunition, but the bluff succeeded and the occupants of the German machine were taken prisoner. On August 30 we took another step backward, landing at Senlis. We did not stop long in Senlis, but moved on that same night to Juilly, where we had a most exciting time that all old members of the RFC will never forget, as they were kept up all night, making an improvised stockade around the field in which the machines were parked on account of the rumours of a large force of Uhlans in the neighbouring woods. It was even suggested that we should fly our machines away in the dark, which at that time would have been somewhat of a feat if we had managed it successfully, as night flying was still a great adventure. However, with the aid of a squadron of the Irish Light Horse we kept watch all night. There were a number of false alarms, but the only invaders of our I

Above: The early days of flight. The pilot lazes while young and old alike admire his machine Below: The ear trumpet gone mad — an early version of the early warning air-raid system puttees wrapped round their feet. All were utterly worn out with ceaseless marching and fighting, but if they were not exactly

what one might term orderly, at least they were obedient and glad to listen to the voice of authority. The memory of that


mind, as there were so many alarms and the situation still remained so uncertain; but I see from my diary that August 28 was more hopeful. The entry I have is as follows: August 28 — Messenger for the day. Flew all day from La Fere with messages. Weather thunderstorms, bad, heavy machine waterlogged, cannot climb at all well. Hasty but orderly retreat; many stragglers and some confusion along the line of retirement, but perfect discipline and order extending back to the fighting line, which is very difficult to define, as so many separate battles are going on in little night

is still

fresh in

isolated spots, some so forlorn that they are obviously only desperate last stands far out of reach and without any hope of retirement. Saw a British cavalry regiment ride

down two squadrons o/"Uhlans, whom they caught unawares and completely cut up. Meals anyhow and any time. No letters from home yet. That night I could only manage a meagre dinner of bread and chocolate, but I had a wonderful bed at the maire's house. No rest for the weary, however, as about 0200 hours rifle fire in the street outside woke me up. I got out by the back garden and went off to my machine, where I stood by till dawn, when Captain Bonham-Carter turned up and we went off for an earlymorning reconnaissance, feeling much safer as soon as we were in the air. That night we landed on the race-course at Compiegne, which was a treat after the fields which had been our aerodromes. I spent the morning of August 28 fixing up a new type of petrol bomb to my Henri Farman, and in the afternoon Penn Gaskell and I went to try it out. We dropped two bombs on either side of the road north of St Quentin, where we found a lot of German transport; returning ten minutes later

aerodrome were a number of refugees trekking back from the battle area. We left before dawn and flew to landing grounds farther south, some of our machines going to Serris, a little place not far from Paris, while others made for Pezarches. As a matter of fact, we departed none too soon; a Henri Farman of No 3 Squadron that had developed engine trouble had to be left behind and burnt, but the mechanics were told to salve the engine. They got it on to a tender and just got away in time, with the bullets of the Germans whizzing round their ears. As usual, the German airmen spotted our new aerodrome at Serris and paid us a visit. They had an uncanny knack of finding out where we were located almost as soon as we arrived, so that we were not at surprised to see them there. Norman Spratt went up to have a go at one of these disturbers of our peace and managed to fire 30 rounds at him from his revolver at close range, but the enemy remained apparently undamaged. Spratt landed in desperation and tied a hand grenade on to the end of a long piece of control cable; he had the bright idea of flying over the Hun and hitting his propeller with the grenade, but I felt very sceptical about his chances of bagging a victim that way, and I do not think he ever did. all

Gordon Bell, on his Bristol Scout, was another pilot who distinguished himself during the retreat. Like Spratt, he flew a

machine that was very light about the | undercarriage, and I always admired the S way these two pilots landed and took off s from small rough fields without damaging their machines. Bell was wounded soon afterwards and had to return to England. He got a shot in his engine which forced him to come down where he could, with the result that he landed in a tree but of the machine and escaped with a few bruises. When he picked himself up, however, he discovered that he had been wounded slightly in the knee, and from subsequent investigations it seems likely that he was fired on by our own or French troops. Some infantrymen could never resist the temptation to take a pot shot at an aeroplane without bothering to ascertain its nationality, and more

was thrown out

than one airman got his baptism of fire from his own side. It was a case of 'save me from my friends' with a vengeance. Gordon Bell had a great sense of humour and a bad stutter when angry. On this occasion a staff officer galloped up and asked if he had crashed. Bell explained, with much stuttering and profanity, that he always landed like that. The Germans pushed on towards Paris at a very fast rate. On September 4 we received orders to move to Melun, and beat a most undignified retreat, as we had to clear out in a great hurry. The Germans were at that time within 20 miles of the



day at Melun proved most exciting, however, as from the first reconnaissance we were able to see Kluck's



army streaming east instead of south, while the British troops were moving in a southerly direction instead of the northerly one in which we expected to find them. It took many confirmatory reports to convince the Higher Command that this was so, because the sudden break off of the German advance seemed almost a miracle, while I fear that there were still a number of old-fashioned officers who did not yet quite trust the efficiency of aeroplanes, and so credited us with no powers of observation. During the night we heard the guns booming away to the north of us, and wondered what was happening. As it was a very warm evening, and for once in a way the whole of our transport had turned up, we did not bother to go and look for billets, but just rolled into our valises. Later in the night we had cause to regret this, as a fierce thunderstorm burst upon us. Some of us decided to stick it out and remained in the open, hoping that the rain would not penetrate our valises; while others packed themselves into the overcrowded, Stirling transport lorries. The result was that we were all either drenched or suffocated. The next day, however, we quickly forgot these discomforts in our joy at learning the definite news that the British army was advancing for the first time since the battle of Mons. The retreat was over; our spirits rose again, and all traces of weariness disappeared in the excitement and anticipation of at last getting back a bit of our own. [From Recollections of an Airman by L. A. Strange. |


were in full retreat, but the not have everything their own way. as this wreck indicates — although it probably crashed as the result of an engine failure Right:


Germans did

MANOEUVRE Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart

The Marne Manoeuvre, so often referred to as the Battle of the Marne, was not in the strict sense of the word a battle at all. Responding to Billow's urgent appeals, Kluck had altered the course of the German First Army to swing to the east of Paris instead of west as originally planned. In doing this he exposed his right flank to attack by the fortress troops in Paris itself, and this deviation from the letter of the Schlieffen Plan proved to be the Germans' undoing. Seriously over-extended, exposed on the flanks and in the rear, their troops badly exhausted, the Germans ordered a general withdrawal. Their bid for swift victory had failed. Below: French infantry wait to recross the Marne and pursue the retreating Germans



General Gallieni, the military governor of Paris, struck at the exposed German flank and eventually persuaded Joffre to order the general turn-about to exploit the German retreat

Colonel Hentsch, liaison officer between OHL and the German field armies, sanctioned the German withdrawal and thus tacitly confirmed the failure of the Schlieffen Plan

On August

day, in a note to his army commanders, he indicated a line still further south — a line, moreover, where they would 'fortify themselves' and await 'drafts from the depots'. In Joffre's own words: 'The state of our men, as reported by the army commanders, gave additional reason for inclining to this solution.' Joffre's chief advisers were

30, 1914 Joffre was driven abandon the project of building up a new mass to envelop the Germans' flank, since on that day he had been forced to part with its nucleus, the Sixth Army,


as a reinforcement to the Paris garrison. Instead, he pinned his faith to a new design of breaking the German centre. But this idea in turn began to crumble, as the enemy pressure developed and his retreating forces threatened to get out of control. On September 1 he ordered the retreat to be continued to a line south of the Seine, saying that it was impossible to make a stand on the Marne. Although a captured map was brought to him that evening, which as he himself later admitted, 'made it perfectly clear' that Kluck was changing direction, it did not change his own intention to continue retreating. The next

in agreement on this. The most influential, General Berthelot, held that 'the troops were so worn out by the long retreat which had never ceased since the Sambre, that they were incapable of making any effort'.

Gallieni was left to discover for himself, on the 3rd, that the Germans were changing direction and moving across his front. But he was quick to see the chance that was offered, and early next morning ordered his forces to prepare for a stroke against them. Informing Joffre by telelate

4 *



General von Bulow, commander of the German Second Army, persuaded Kluck to swing southeast to help repel a threatened attack by the French Fifth Army

phone of what he had done, he urged him sanction a counteroffensive. Some of the younger men on Joffre's staff backed up the idea, but Berthelot was firm for continued retreat. Joffre hesitated to go against his judgment, although after Gallieni 's intervention he had been moved so far as to telegraph an enquiry to Franchet d'Esperey — whom he had put in Lanrezac's place as commander of the to

Fifth Army — whether 'your army is in a state to attack with any chance of success?' Just before it reached Franchet d'Esperey, the latter had issued orders for his army to retreat to the Seine 'as quickly as possible'.

Then in the afternoon ominous news from the flank of the Fifth Army reinforced Berthelot's arguments, and Joffre was inclined to feel that the counteroffensive must be 'delayed for five or six days' at



> I

Advancing again

at last.

Exhausted though they were, the French armies

'I decided that I would once more move my headquarters to the rear' — actually the order was given to move them over 80 miles back. This is a fact which makes it hard to believe subsequent


claims that Joffre had still any thought of taking the counteroffensive. At dinner he heard that important papers had arrived from the Fifth Army, and as soon as it was finished he started reading them. But he was still studying Franchet d'Esperey's messages when he heard that Gallieni was on the telephone and insisted on speaking to him personally. Joffre had such a dislike of the telephone that, according to his aide-de-camp, this was about the only occasion he ever consented to speak on it. Gallieni was, however, his old chief. What passed between them will never be known with certainty. Gallieni, according to his staff and secretaries, vehemently urged Joffre to take the counteroffensive and by the force of his arguments gained Joffre's assent. Joffre, according to his own account, told Gallieni that he had already made up his mind to take the counteroffensive, and that his plan was now in accord with Gallieni's proposals of the morning. Joffre's aide-decamp, however, has disclosed that there was an argument, and that Gallieni evidently used an emphatic tone. He admits, too, that it was only then that Joffre took the definite decision. Apart from this evidence, the run of the facts tends to confirm the view that Joffre was decisively influenced by 'his master's voice'. There was reason afterwards for denying the suggestion, since Joffre needed the laurels of the Marne to cover the ashes of his opening plans, while Gallieni had '68


immediately to follow up the German retreat

been nominated by the government as his prospective successor. And laurels are kept the harder

the it


longer to part

with them. In such circumstances human memory has convenient blanks. Indeed, when the controversy waxed fierce in later years, after Gallieni's death, Joffre went so far as to declare at one time that he had 'no recollection' of even having any conversation on the telephone! Although Gallieni's orders to the Sixth Army were issued at 0830 hours, Joffre's were not sent out until several hours later — another significant fact. They did not reach the armies until the early hours of the 5th: both Franchet d'Esperey and the British felt that it was too late to make a change, so their armies continued the retreat for another day — while the Sixth

Army was moving

against the enemy's

flank. Gallieni's stroke temporarily




unhinged wing — Kluck was taken

by surprise, having sent out no reconnaissance aeroplanes to watch his exposed flank. And now, when taken off his guard, the 'disappearance' of the British encouraged him in a freshly dangerous delusion. For having pulled back half his army to meet the flank threat, he was now emboldened to draw off the remainder in the hope of retrieving his initial setback by winning a local victory. Thereby he left a gap of 30 miles, covered only by a screen of cavalry, between himself and Biilow. The British columns had turned about on the 6th and were marching north, but not fast enough to warn Kluck until, on the morning of the 9th, they were suddenly reported to be moving into the gap. The news of their unexpected reappearance at this

came at a moment when the leaders were nerve-racked by rumours that many thousands of British and Russians were disembarking on the Belgian coast in their rear — in reality, a mere 3,000 ill-equipped marines sent by Mr Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, as a bluff. The fresh moral shock cracked the nerve of the German command. With its approval, the armies of Biilow and Kluck fell back in hasty crucial point



Controversy and legend No battle has caused more controversy or given rise to more popular interest and legend than that of the Marne. But then this crisis of September 1914 wrought the downfall of the German war plan and thereby changed the course of history. One school contended that Joffre had conceived the idea of the counteroffensive, and at most admitted under pressure of facts that Gallieni's initiative in seeing the opportunity had given an impulse to Joffre's decision to seize it. The other school argued that Joffre, after the failure of his first attempt to stage a counteroffensive on the line of the Somme, had given up all idea of a fresh attempt at an early date, and that but for Gallieni's fiery determination and persuasion the retreat would have continued. A dispassionate judgement is now possible, and even if we recognise that on Joffre fell the grave responsibility of taking the decision, the weight of evidence shows that Gallieni's inspiration dictated both the site and promptness of the thrust. Furthermore, dispassionate judgement rebuts the alternative case of Joffre's advocates—that Gallieni marred the prospect

The sudden appearance

of the

BEF between


by precipitating the blow, for we know that 24 hours' delay would have enabled the Germans to complete the protective redistribution which Gallieni interrupted.

On the German side a similar controversy has raged as to whether or not the order to retreat was a mistake, and whether Kluck of the First Army, Biilow of the Second, or the envoy of OHL, Colonel Hentsch, was responsible for the fatal decision.

The multiple controversy has at last served to show that the Marne was a psychological rather than a physical victory. So, also, have been most of the immortal victories of history, with the actual fighting of secondary importance. For the profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battles is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men. Before and during the crisis the German commanders were constantly looking backward apprehensively over their right shoulders, fearful of an Allied stroke against their ever lengthening communications in Belgium and Northern France. Unfortunately for the Allies, there was small warrant for this nervousness. The belated plea for landing the BEF on the Belgian coast had been overruled by the pledge to commit it as an appendix to the French left wing. Yet the Belgian field army, even if it was under German guard at Antwerp, had at least caused a serious detachment of German strength to perform this guard duty, and, moreover, it was a chronic irritation to German nerves. The fertile brain of Mr Churchill was also at work. Resources were scanty, but he despatched a brigade of marines under



and Second Armies threatened the most sensitive part

Brigadier-General George Aston to Ostend, with orders to give their presence the fullest publicity. They landed on August 27, and stayed ashore until the 31st. Now let us turn to the 'other side of the

On September 5, the day when the French troops were moving forward to


strike at Kluck, Colonel Hentsch, the representative of OHL, came to the threatened army with this ominous and despairing warning — 'The news is bad. The Seventh and Sixth Armies are blocked. The Fourth

and Fifth are meeting with strong resistance. The English are disembarking fresh troops continuously on the Belgian coast. There are reports of a Russian expeditionary force in the





drawal is becoming inevitable.' We know from other sources that the 3,000 marines in the German command's imagination to 40,000, and that the Russians were said to be 80,000 strong.

had grown

Thus the German flank army was


with the belief that its rear was seriously menaced, and that, in any case, OHL was contemplating a withdrawal. At the least such knowledge must have been insidiously enervating during a period of strain. And even if OHL came to have doubts of the Belgian news, it also became imbued with the idea of a retirement, and when Hentsch came again on September 9 with full powers to co-ordinate it, 'should rearward movements have begun', not only had these begun, but they also coincided with fresh disturbing news from Belgium. For if the Belgian sortie from Antwerp that day was short-lived, it to face its ordeal



incalculable psychological effect of menacing news at a moment of crisis. The German retreat gathered moall

of the

mentum and






turned the

tide of the war.

Mr Churchhappy inspiration and General Aston's handful of 'Marine promenaders'. But equally helpful was that amazing 'Russian' myth which originated and spread so mysteriously. Mr Churchill, we know, had History should do justice to


actually proposed to bring a Russian expeditionary force in such a way. Did the proposal perhaps leak out and become exaggerated into realisation in the process? General opinion, however, has long ascribed the legend to the heated imagination of a railway porter working on the simple fact of the night passage of troop trains with Gaelic-speaking occupants. Keeping this external factor on the circumference of our thought, let us turn to trace the sequence of events in the actual battle zone. The immediate chain of causation begins with the escape by retreat of the French and British armies from the frontier trap into which Joffre's plan had led them. The first, highly coloured, reports from the army commands in the battles of the frontiers had given the German supreme command the impression of a decisive victory. While Kluck's army, on the German extreme right or outer flank, was pressing on the heels of the British — so close that the 'outside' British corps (Smith-Dorrien) was forced to halt and give battle — Kluck's neighbour on the inside, Biilow, was following up Lanrezac's French Fifth Army. When on August 26, the British left wing

back southwards badly mauled from Le Cateau, Kluck had turned south-westwards again. If this direction was partly due to misconception of the line of retreat fell





• Rheims 0*'






« •Lagny

composition on Sept


•42nd Mew. 1I6OO





300 :

Approx Front Lines Sept. 5


Approx. Front Lines Sept. 9


German Movements



B E F (French)

German Retreat

















(Franchet d'Esperey)

15 Miles


taken by the British — the idea that they were retreating to the Channel ports — it was also in accordance with his original role of a wide circling sweep. And by

of the wheeling German line would pass the near side of Paris and across the face of the Paris defences. By this contraction of his frontage for the sake of security,

him into the Amiens-Peronne where the first parts of the newlyformed French Sixth Army were just de-

Moltke sacrificed the more comprehensive prospects inherent in the wide circling sweep of the original plan. And, as it proved, instead of gaining security, he exposed himself to a fatal counterstroke. On the night of September 2 Moltke sent a message to the right-wing commanders which confirmed the change of plan and foreshadowed a new one. 'The French are to be forced away from Paris in a southeasterly direction. The First Army will follow in echelon behind the Second Army, and will be responsible henceforward for the flank protection of the force.' But the First Army was a full day's march ahead of the Second: and if Kluck tried to carry out the second part of the message he would be neglecting the first part. Hence he decided to march on, while detailing an incomplete reserve corps and a depleted cavalry division to serve as a flank guard.

carrying area,

training after their 'switch' from Alsace, it had the effect of dislocating Joffre's design for an early return to the offensive by compelling the Sixth Army to fall back towards the shelter of the Paris defences.


fatal counterstroke But Kluck had hardly swung out to the south-west before he was induced to swing in towards the south again. For in order to ease the pressure on the British, Joffre had ordered Lanrezac to halt and strike

back against the pursuing Germans, and Biilow, shaken by the threat, called on Kluck for aid. Lanrezac's attack, on August 29, was stopped before Biilow needed this help, but he asked Kluck to wheel in nevertheless, in order to cut off Lanrezac's retreat. Before acceding, Kluck referred to Moltke. The request came at a moment when Moltke was becoming perturbed in

way the French were slipping away from his embrace and, in particular, over a gap which had opened between his Second and Third Armies, through the latter having already turned south, from south-west, to help the Fourth Army, its neighbour on the other flank. Hence Moltke approved Kluck's change of direction — which meant the inevitable abandonment of the original wide sweep round the far side of Paris. Now the flank

general over the


A 'The Miracle of the Marne' On September 5, 1914 the German armies were over the Marne and apparently in hot pursuit of the Allies. However, on the same day, Gallieni struck at the exposed flank of the German // Corps (part of First Army) with the eight divisions and one cavalry corps of the hastily composed French Sixth Army. This threat to the flank of the First Army was so serious that Kluck was forced to halt his advance and face west to meet it. Into the gap thus created between the German First and Second Armies drove the BEF as part of the turn-about of the whole Allied front. The German front was seriously ruptured and they were compelled to withdraw


lightly he regarded any danger from is also shown by the fact that no aircraft were allotted to the flank guard, and no air reconnaissance was ordered to the



Meantime Moltke was growing depressed and his decision to abandon the original plan was definitely taken on September 4. In place of it, Moltke substituted a narrower envelopment, of the French centre and right. His own centre (Fourth and Fifth Armies) was to press south-east while his left (Sixth and Seventh Armies), striking south-west, was to try to break through

General Berthelot, Joffre's chief adviser, in favour of sticking to the original plan and continuing the retreat

was vehemently

France's older guns, brought out once again in the hour of crisis

French Model 1878 120-mm gun Weight limbered up 8,250 pounds. Length of barrel: 27 calibres. Range: 8,975 yards. Muzzle velocity: 1,590 feet-per-second. Weight :

of shell: 40 1/4



General Maunoury, commander of the French Sixth Army, carried out air reconnaissance that confirmed the German swing to the east of

subsequent advance against Kluck's wing was the turning point of the Marne

Paris. His


V German soldiers manhandle afield gun into position.


was not

losses, or an actual

compelled the German withdrawal, but a general feeling of the insecurity of their position — almost a loss of nerve

tactical reverse that

"- ;

the fortified barrier between Toul and Epinal, the jaws thus closing inwards on either side of Verdun. Meanwhile his right (First and Second Armies) was to turn outwards and, facing west, hold off any counter move which the French might attempt from the neighbourhood of Paris. Moltke's order continued to ignore that Kluck was ahead of Biilow in the race southward and that he had already crossed the Marne, for it not only told Kluck to 'remain facing the east side of Paris', but to remain north of the Marne while Biilow wheeled into line, facing west, between the Marne and the Seine. Thus to fulfil the order Kluck had not merely to halt, while Biilow caught up and passed him, but to perform a sort of backward somersault. Such gymnastics are upsetting to the equilibrium of a large army. And in this case the French countermove which Moltke wished to guard against had already begun before his new plan could take effect. Moreover, Kluck, reluctant to be thus deprived of the chance of being the agent of decisive victory, continued his advance south towards' the Seine on the 5th, saying that 'the movement to face west might be made at leisure'. For the moment he still left the weak detachment of three brigades and a small amount of cavalry to guard his flank. Next morning

was struck by the French Sixth Army moving out from Paris. During these days the Franco-British retreat had continued. On August 30, it

Joffre —yielding to the pressure of a govern-

ment alarmed at seeing him abandon the capital by his direction of retreat— detached Maunoury's Sixth Army to reinforce the Paris garrison. Parting with it signified his abandonment of the flank counterstroke, for this was the force he had assembled for its. execution. Moreover, a

memorandum drawn up


same day

shows that he had transferred his

faith to a

counteroffensive against the German centre 'in the hope of accomplishing the

rupture which we formerly attempted facing north-east and debouching from the Meuse'. On September 1, Joffre issued orders for the retreat of the Allied armies to be continued to a line south of the Seine, Aube and Ornain rivers. Not only was the effect to take the armies away from and far to the south-east of Paris, but a commander who is contemplating an early counteroffensive does not place the obstacle of a river barrier between himself and the enemy. And a further note to the several army commanders next day added that

and ned



Joffre's intention to 'organise

from which he planan immediate but an

fortify' this line,

to deliver not





eventual counter-offensive. That same day he replied to a suggestion of a stand on the Marne, made by Sir John French and communicated through the Minister of War: 'I do not believe it possible to envisage a general action on the Marne with the whole of our forces. But I consider that the co-operation of the English army in the defence of Paris is the only course that can give an advantageous result.' To the Minister of War and to Gallieni he repeated the same verdict. When zealous

the evening

apologists say that the idea of a counteroffensive was at the back of Joffre's mind, the historian can agree. This array of evidence is more than sufficient to dispel the legend that Joffre had any intention of giving battle on the Marne or that he plan-

stant response. He ordered Maunoury to carry out further air and cavalry reconnaissances as soon as it was light on the 4th. Quickly convinced by these early reports that the Germans were moving obliquely past the front of the Paris defences, exposing their own flank, Gallieni was equally quick to act. At 0900 hours he ordered Maunoury's army to get ready for a move eastward to strike the Germans in flank. He then informed Joffre by telephone of his preparatory moves, and urged him to sanction a counteroffensive. (This consent was necessary not only to ensure a combined effort but because Joffre had persuaded the new Minister of War to subordinate Gallieni to himself.) Gallieni's fiery and inspired arguments made an impression, but no more, on the slow-thinking Commander-in-Chief of the

ned the counterstroke which tilted the balance so dramatically. The definite nature of his reply was the more significant because on September 1, a staff officer with Lanrezac's army had found the German order for a change of direction in the wallet of a dead officer, and this was sent to Joffre's headquarters early next day. And on the morning of the 3rd, the changed direction, to the southeast, of Kluck's marching columns had been noticed and reported by British aviators. In the afternoon they added that these

columns were crossing the Marne and



reported that there left in the area

were no German troops

west of the line Paris-Senlis. All this was reported to Joffre without making any impression on his plans- save that on the night of the 2nd he altered the limit of his retirement to a line still further south!

Air reconnaissance But from Gallieni, the new military governor of Paris, even a fragment of information gained on the 3rd had drawn an in-

armies To save time while Joffre was cogitating, Gallieni rushed off by motor to Melun to explain the new situation to the British, and if possible gain

field still

Un Fortunately, Sir John French was absent from his headquarters, and at first Gallieni could not even find Archibald Murray, French's chief of the their co-operation.



Gallieni pointed out to Murray that it was vital to seize the opportunity which the Germans had given by orTerinj> their right flank, told him that the 'Am Paris' was already in motion against the German flank, and begged that the British should cease to retreat and join with his forces in an offensive next day. After wait ing three hours in vain for Sir John French's return, Gallieni had to leave at 1700 hours with the mere promise of a

telephone message


This brought no

satisfaction, for its purport was that the British would continue their retreat' next

day. Their decision had been confirmed by receiving a letter, written that morning, from Joffre who said: 'My intention, in the present situation is to pursue the execution of the plan that I have had the honour to communicate to you — that of retiring behind the Seine — and only to engage on the selected line with all forces united.' The meagre influence which the

4 *%•

wi 1

f* .;




of Kluck's change of direction had achieved was shown by a subsequent paragraph which said: 'In the case of the German armies continuing their movement towards the SSE perhaps you will agree that your action can be most effectively applied on the right bank of this river, between the Marne and Seine.' This casual qualification to the definite opening statement gave the British little encouragement to fall in with Gallieni's suggestion. After Gallieni's morning message, Joffre had been moved so far as to send a telegram, timed 1245 hours, to Franchet d'Esperey (who had superseded Lanrezac in command of the Fifth Army), saying: 'Please inform me if you consider that your army is in a state to make it [an attack] with any chance of success'; an inquiry which hardly suggests a sense of vital opportunity or an urge to action. This reached Franchet d'Esperey while Henry Wilson, of French's staff, was with him, and, after discussion, a reply was drafted, saying 'the battle cannot take place before the day after tomorrow', and that the Fifth Army would continue its retreat on the morrow, attacking on the 6th. To this message he added, in his own hand, a qualifying note even less encouraging: 'In order that the operation may be successful the necessary conditions are: firstly, the close

Joffre — architect of the Marne victory or reluctant follower of Gallieni's insistent urgings? Controversy around this point has waxed hot, but it was Gallieni's prompt action that

gave the

Allies their


V German troops of Kluck's First Army on their


Marne. The chimera of early far to the south and extended lines of communication

to the

victory led First



Army too






and absolute co-operation of the Sixth Army debouching on the left bank of the Ourcq on the morning of the 6th. It must reach the Ourcq tomorrow ... or the British won't budge. Secondly, my army can fight on the 6th, but its situation is not brilliant. No reliance can be placed on the Reserve divisions.'

What was likely to be the effect on Joffre of such a discouraging reply to his tentative enquiry? To harden his hesitation can be the only answer. That hesitation was the more natural because Berthelot, his chief adviser, was vehemently in favour of continuing the retreat and maintaining the original plan. Then early in the afternoon, came an

ominous report of German progress across the Marne. As Joffre's own memoirs relate: 'This was all that was needed to cause Berthelot to return to the charge.' The memoirs, it is true, argue that Joffre merely continued to put off a decision, but they admit that he issued new instructions that were designed to accord with Berthelot's plan. More significantly still, the decision was taken to move the GQG over 80 miles further south. Then while Joffre was having an early dinner, Franchet d'Esperey's message arrived. If Gallieni's coup d'oeil gained the opportunity it was, as he himself said, a



»**«'*** --«



*r& ;-*.-•







V *?*» »'««•«*«» «.M.



coup de telephone which gained the Battle of the Marne. On returning to his headquarters in Paris he had found a belated message from Joffre which was favourable to his proposal for a counterstroke, but preferred


be delivered south of the would have lost the it given by a blow against the


Marne — where greater effect

enemy's flanks and


Gallieni seized the telephone, got through to Joffre, and by the fervour and force of his arguments at last won his sanction for the 'Army of Paris' to strike north of the

Marne as part of a general counteroffensive by the left wing armies. Joffre promised to obtain the co-operation of the British. Gallieni promptly issued orders (2030 hours) to Maunoury's army, which he reinforced. After several hours' delay were sent out for the offensive on September 6 — it was too late now for the 5th, and too late to be generally effective even for the 6th. The delay had Joffre's orders

far-reaching consequences — not all ill. On the 5th, while Maunoury's troops were moving east towards the enemy, both the British and Franchet d'Esperey's troops were marching south in accord with their original orders — away from the

enemy, and even away from each other. But for Gallieni, the gap they thus opened might have proved perilous. When they



turned about next day, they had much to recover, and were not as quick in

and past their amazed inhabitants, making two journeys, with 3,000 soldiers at a time.

retracing their steps as the situation demanded. This 'disappearance' of the British not only enabled but encouraged Kluck, who had been taken completely unawares, to pull back half his main body ill and IV Corps) from the sector where the British had been, to reinforce the hard-pressed flank guard which was trying to hold off Maunoury's menacing advance against the German rear. The arrival of these fresh forces began to check Maunoury's advance on the 7th, and Gallieni pushed forward every possible reserve he could scrape together in order to strengthen

The pressur the Germans gained extra force from it was ct that directed against their rear Hank. It Gallieni had received the two further army corps for which he had n. before and which were only jusl piecemeal, the German the Maine might have bee: cul the battle been as decisive tactically strategically. Even in the actual Bit nation, the menace was such that at 2200 hou the 6th, Kluck called back his two remaining army corps, so creating a 30 mile wide gap between himself and the neighbouring army of Billow. Only two weak cavalry corps, with a few Jiiger battalions, were


Maunoury. Here occurred the famous

if legendcrusted episode of the Paris taxicabs. A fresh division had just detrained near Paris, but it was 40 miles from the battle front. If it marched there it would be too late, and there was only sufficient rail transport to take half the division. That afternoon, the police held up taxicabs in the streets, bundling the passengers out





after collecting

600 cabs,

sent them to the suburb of Gagny where they filled up with soldiers. During the night this forerunner of the future motorised column swept, as only Paris taxicabs can sweep, through the outlying villages





left to



and Kluck

failed to


that this thin screen should be put under a single command. The consequences were fatal. Although he was able to hold and even press back Maunoury's troops, the gap he had left in the southern front uncovered Bulow's flank. Although still untouched by Franchet d'Esperey's slow advance on the 7th, Biilow, sensitive to his raw side, drew back his right to the north bank of the Petit Morin. And when news came that the British were advancing into the centre of the gap, it proved the signal for the German retreat, which began on




,y %c\ • N.



German dead on the field of the Marne. 'Every effort must be made to attack and throw back the enemy. A unit which can no longer advance must at *

all costs

retain the ground


has gained,


and rather than retire, be killed on the spot. In the present circumstances no weakness can be tolerated.' Joffres order of the day, September 6



Planned German Invasion



Actual Invasion



September 9. If the continuance of the British withdrawal on September 5 had marred the chance of a crushing victory, it was a pleasant irony of fate that their very withdrawal made possible the 'victory' as actually achieved.

An impossible task necessary, however, to take account on other parts of the battle front, for unless the German intentions

It is

of the situation

had been frustrated, Joffre's victory would have been impossible and defeat probable. To the frustration of their left wing attack in the Lorraine sector, the Germans themselves were the chief conelsewhere

For by pressing the French back on their own fortress line they had already made their task of breaking through it almost impossible. And yet another of the many 'accidents of the Marne' made their repulse certain. For when Dubail'"' and de tributors.

Castelnau's armies, after their defeat in the battle of Sarrebourg-Morhange, ended their hasty retreat, their line sagged inwards. And into this re-entrant, formed quite unintentionally, the main German attack was launched, pushing towards that very Trouee de Charmes which the French had prepared for their reception. ^8

Line to be reached by




Line 10 be reached by

Rupprecht had been urged into




^^ Army


Thus the French were given an opportunity to strike back effectively at the German flanks, and thereby they temporarily paralysed the original German advance, which came to a halt on August 27. This not only gave the French breathing space to strengthen their position, but enabled Joffre, with safety, to transfer part of the force from the right wing to the more critical left wing. News of this transfer inspired Moltke to frame his new plan of September 5, and lured him into another vain attack on the French fortified barrier, despite protest from Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, commanding the Sixth Army. The new attack was launched frontally against the Grand Couronne de Nancy, the ridge which formed a flank buttress for the Trouee de Charmes. But assaults, inadequately presuccessive pared, collapsed under the well-knit and superior fire of the French artillery, and on September 8, Moltke ordered Rupprecht to stop the offensive and the vain loss of life.



against his own judgement by the excessive confidence of the artillery expert, Major Bauer, that his super-heavy howitzers would have the same effect as on the obsolete Belgian fortresses. Yet, curiously,


AThe German onslaught in the west-as Schlieffen planned


and as



took place. Although the Germans initially kept up with the schedule planned by Schlieffen, the weather and the very speed of their advance forced the Germans to slow down in the last few days of August. Besides this, Kluck's change of direction put an end to any idea of encircling Paris

he now only gave up the attack under protest— so Micawberish was the judgement of the military leaders of 1914-1918. The German centre (Fifth and Fourth Armies), west of Verdun, was no better able to fulfil its role as the right arm of the pincer-like squeeze ordained in Moltke's modified plan. In the Verdun area Sarrail had replaced Ruffey as commander of the French Third Army, and the first instructions he received indicated not only a continued retreat but the abandonment of Verdun. Sarrail thought differently, however, and determined to cling on to the Verdun pivot as long as possible, without losing touch with the Fourth Army to the west. It was a happy piece of initiative, and the brake thus placed on the south-eastward advance of the enemy's Fifth Army was an essential factor in upsetting Moltke's plan. The stout resistance

A further paradox is that although Foch issued repeated orders for attacks, his troops in reality were on the defensive, a defence needlessly desperate owing to his own disobedience of orders. At 0130 hours on September

commander of the First Army. Unconnected by blood to any of the German royal houses, he was probably the most professional of any of the German army commanders. Nonetheless he was initially subordinated to Biilow Kluck,

of Sarrail's troops, and still more the deadly fire of their artillery, not only held up but paralysed the Crown Prince's advance. A belated attempt on the 9th to break the deadlock by a night attack, ended in a suicidal fiasco, with the Ger-


firing on each other. Sarrail, howasked in vain for reinforcements which might have enabled him to convert his resistance into a dangerous counterstroke from Verdun westwards against the German flank — for by holding on to Verdun he had formed one side of a sack into which the German armies between him and Maunoury, on the other side, had pushed. The German Third Army under Hausen formed a link between the German centre and right wing, and was assigned the indefinite role of being ready to support either. This role was perhaps in part the reflection of the fact that since it was composed of Saxons, the Prussians tended to discount its value. In the event it was virtually divided. Its left was used to help the Fourth Army in the abortive attack on the French Fourth Army under de Langle de Cary; an attack which, after perhaps the severest fighting of the whole battle, was driven to ground by the French artillery. Its right joined with Biilow's left in an attack on Foch, who had taken over command of a new army, the Ninth Army (formed by simple subtraction from de Langle de Cary's army) in the French




the legends of the Marne that which has grown up round Foch's part is the most comprehensive and has the least substance. The first claim, still widely believed, is that Foch decided the issue of the whole battle by a counterstroke which threw the Prussian Guard 'into the marshes of St Gond'. In fact, however, the Germans took their leave without interference—after the issue had been decided further west. The second, and more modest claim, is that Foch made the victory possible by preventing a German breakthrough in the French centre. Even this is inaccurate —because the Germans were not trying to break through here. Biilow was merely carrying out his new protective task all

of wheeling his line to face west. And, in the course of this wheel, his left wing



against Foch's front.


Foch had

received Joffre's famous order for the general 'about turn'. Unlike the other armies, he received it in time to act on his share of it, which was to cover the flank of Franchet d'Esperey's attack by holding the southern exits of the marshes of St Gond. Instead, he concentrated the bulk of his forces for an offensive north of the marshes, leaving the weak XI Corps to hold the wide and vulnerable sector east of the marshes. His troops were tired and much reduced by the hard retreat, and their offensive quickly died away; in their retreat they failed to hold firmly the southern exits of the marshes. Thus Foch continued to keep his main strength on that flank. But the Germans could only cross by the narrow causeways, and in consequence made a side-step — as they might have done earlier. On the 7th, their attack east of the marshes broke down under the fire of the French artillery. As the only way of evading it, a bayonet attack in the half-light before dawn was arranged. This caught Foch's right by surprise and it gave way rapidly. Fortunately the Germans did not follow up as rapidly and so captured few of the tormenting guns. Even so, the situation was serious and Foch called for help; Franchet d'Esperey lent a corps to support his left and Joffre sent another to fill the gap now yawning on his right. On the 9th the continued German attack against Foch's right made fresh progress and met little 1400 resistance — until, shortly before hours, it was stopped by receiving Biilow's now notorious order for a general retire-

on September 8, Lieutenant-Colonel Hentsch left, as his emissary, to visit in turn the five armies west of Verdun, he was given full powers to co-ordinate the retreat, 'should rearward movements have been initiated'. He found none had occurred when he visited the headquarters of the Fifth, Fourth and Third Armies. Passing on he spent the night of the 8th with Biilow, and there found such an intensification of gloom that when he left in the morning he could at least feel confident on one point — that orders for a retreat would soon be given. At about 0900 hours on the 9th, air reports told Biilow that six enemy columns (five British and one of French

cavalry) were approaching the Marne and so entering the mouth of the gap. By 1100 hours he had issued orders for the retreat of his army to begin at 1300 hours and sent word to Kluck of his action. Hentsch, delayed by blocks and panics on the road, did not reach Kluck's headquarters till almost noon. There, according to his evidence, he found that orders for a

retirement had already gone out, and in confronting them merely added the direction of the retreat— north-eastward.

ment. The Germans drew off undisturbed and even unobserved. To meet the earlier emergency Foch had taken the 42nd Division from his intact left wing and switched it across to his right; but it only arrived in time to fire its guns in the twilight after the vanished foe — contrary to the popular legend of its decisive counterstroke against the flank of the German break-through. And one has to add that although Biilow had exposed his flank in making the wheel, Foch thought only of making a frontal counterattack. On the battle as a whole his main, and most serious, effect was that he detracted from the main offensive instead of helping to cover it.

The order to retreat In our survey of the battle front we have travelled back to the decisive western


The German Supreme Command Luxembourg, to which it had moved from Koblenz on August 30, and depended for communication with the armies on wireless, supplemented by occasional visits by staff officers in motor cars. No regular motor or motorcycle despatch service had been organised, and wireless communiflank.



cation suffered not only from the time lost in enciphering and deciphering but from interference from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. As the army commanders, faithful to the tradition of 1870, were jealous of control, information was as sparse as it was slow except when they had successes to report— and exaggerate. Moreover, Moltke had already reconciled himself to defeat. For the gloom at Luxembourg is well shown by the fact that when,

Further Reading Cruttwell, C. R. M. F., A History of the Great War (Oxford 1934) Gilbert, M., First World War atlas (New York: Macmillan 1971) Joffre, Marshal J. J., Memoirs (Paris: Bles, 1932-33) Lanrezac, General C. '



Le plan de


francais et le premier mois de guerre (Paris: Payot, 1920) Liddell Hart, Sir Basil, Foch, the Man of Orleans (Eyre & Spottiswoode 1931) Liddell Hart, Sir Basil, The War in Outline


(Faber 1936)

The Schlieffen Plan (Woolf 1958) Spears, Maj-Gen. Sir Edward, Liaison 1914 Ritter, G.,

(Eyre & Spottiswoode 1968)

[For Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart's biography, see page 121. ]


rRANCE IN CRISIS Philippe Masson

As the German armies bore down, at first upon the French capital, and then past it, the elan and confidence with which France flung herself into war evaporated, and was replaced by a grim despair exacerbated by memories of 1870. The Allies won the so-called Battle of the Marne, but never again did French confidence rise to the febrile optimism of the early days



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and Second Armies, following their triumphant march towards Paris and their unexpected rebuff by British and French loops at the Marne, were in full retreat northwards. In the rain and wind which made life miserable for Germans and Allies alike, the German right wing was falling back. By September 11 the First Army, under General von Kluck, had crossed the Aisne, but though the Allies

from half a mile to two miles from those on the north. Most important, for the troops engaged in that battle, the tops of the bluffs were at that time covered in patches of woodland. Lastly, the river itself provided a formidable obstacle to troops attacking north, and an equally advantageous barrier for those defending the ground. Not only is it 50 to 60 yards wide, but it is too deep to be fordable, which naturally led to increased emphasis being placed on bridges.

as hard as they could, their fighting stamina had been drained away;

Commanding positions



1914, the




they had not the strength to turn Kluck's flank. During the late hours of September 12 Kluck withdrew his last troops to the north of the Aisne, and Biilow, on Kluck's left, pulled back the right of his Second Army to the north of the river. The extent of the Germans' demoralisation and disorganisation during the retreat can be judged from the extent of the gap which appeared between the First and Second Armies. Apart from three cavalry divisions, there was no defence along an 18-mile line between the left of the First Army, at Vailly, and the right of the Second Army, at Berry-au-Bac, and the

German High Command (OHL) was

From this description of the area, it will be seen that a defending force on the north of the valley held certain distinct advantages. Artillery positions on the bluffs — and the Germans were well equipped with heavy weapons — would have commanding fields of fire against an enemy


turn its attention immediately to this problem, for if the Allies could penetrate to

this gap, the total collapse of the


Armies on the Western Front might well Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff, faced two alternatives. Either he could allow the retreat to continue, and risk a further steady demoralisation of his troops, or he could make a stand, in the hope of buying time for his troops to follow.

reorganise and replenish supplies and A stand on the Aisne was the natural choice, but it was vital to close the gap. Moltke had already placed Kluck's


Army under

Billow's command, and also the Seventh Army, recently arrived from Alsace.

now he gave him

which had On September 12 Biilow ordered Kluck to close to the right of Second Army, an order which Kluck, by no means for the first

time, chose to ignore.

The area where Moltke had chosen


halt the retreat was ideally suited to a defensive battle. North of the Aisne, the terrain is in the form of a high plateau, a wide ridge, which rises out of the plain of

Champagne near Craonne, and extends


for about 25 miles as far as Juvigny, north of the picturesque old town of Soissons. The plateau is in fact an area of high ground between the Aisne and a second river valley, that of the River Ailette, which runs more or less parallel to the Aisne some six or eight miles to the north. Between the two, running approximately east-west along the top of the plateau, runs the road known as the Chemin des Dames, which was later to feature prominently as an objective in the fighting. At its highest point, the plateau is 600 feet above sea level, or some 480 feet above the level of the rivers. Just north of the Aisne, a series of sharp bluffs run out of the ridge, some of them reaching close to the river, others stopping a mile or two short of it, and between these bluffs, of course, a corresponding series of clefts runs into the ridge. A glance at the contour lines on a map will show that the bluffs generally come to an end in a sharp steep slope. On the opposite side of the Aisne, to the south, a similar series of bluffs runs out towards the river, at distances varying

Fourth Army, and Sarrail's Third Army further away to the east on their right.


receipt of these orders the various

army commanders in turn issued their own orders with, in the British case in and optiBEF's GHQ advance to a line

particular, considerable vigour


On September

12, the

ordered its three corps to about five miles north of the Aisne, taking in Lierval, Chavignon and Terny, a line which would take them, on their left, to the top of the plateau held by the Germans, and on their right, not only to the top of the plateau, but over it, over the River Ailette, and on to the next plateau further to the north. The first Allied troops to reach the Aisne were the British 11th Infantry Brigade of III Corps, who attacked towards the bridge at Venizel. The condition of this bridge and of others along the river, was indicative of the extent of the Germans' demoralisation at this stage in the battle, and of their lack of preparation and training for the defensive situation in which they found themselves. They had made a gesture of destroying the bridge, but had not stayed long enough to complete the job. One of the four main charges had failed to explode, and the reinforced concrete roadway was still strong enough to support infantry, even if

some risk. They had also recently dug trenches on both sides of the bridge. Those to the south, intended it seems to cover the retreat across the river, had now been evacuated. Others had been dug for defence just north of the river and were still occupied when a British reconnaissance party reached the bridge. The Germans opened fire from those trenches, and had they stayed in position they would have had an excellent chance to kill the British troops, hold up the advance, and possibly return to finish the task of destroying the bridge. In fact they immediately retired, and that night the British were able to start moving across the weakened bridge. at



Milon, Longpont and Soissons on the left. D'Esperey's Fifth Army was to press forward on the right of the British, as were Foch's Ninth Army, de Langle de Cary's

German infantry in Neufchatel, dour and grim after their retreat from the Marne attempting to cross the river, while the attacking force's own artillery would be unable to fire effectively against the guns at the top of the bluffs. Even if they succeeded in crossing the river, to continue the pursuit the attacking troops would have to dislodge the Germans from their positions, which would involve either storming up the steep slopes of the bluffs, into the teeth of

machine gun and other

small arms

or penetrating into the


between the promontories, where they could be picked off with fire from two sides. Moreover, during such attacks the defenders would be free, behind the ample cover of the woods, to move reinforcements to any region threatened. It was on the top of this ridge, understandably, that Moltke ordered his forces to entrench. But if he thought his armies entirely secure there, Moltke reckoned without the determination of the Allies. On September 10 General Joffre, commanding the Allied armies, issued orders to press forward and exploit the success with the utmost energy. The pursuit was to incline to the north-east, and the burden of the fighting was to fall on the infantry, 'in whose legs', according to Joffre, 'victory





were commanded

to pur-

sue 'their victorious career' between the road from Fere-en-Tardennois to Bazoches on the right, and that between La Ferte,

They emptied



carts to

reduce the weight, and crossed in single file, passing both carts and ammunition across the river by hand. By 0300 hours they were on the north bank, but were by no means finished yet. Although they had marched 30 miles in the rain, and had barely eaten in the previous 24 hours, they were immediately ordered to take the heights above the river, with the result that any Germans who felt themselves secure in their commanding positions were quickly disillusioned. The British charged up the hill and attacked with bayonets, and rather than continue the fight there, the Germans who survived left their outposts and retreated to the main line of defence on top of the plateau , To the left and right of this British spearhead, both French and British troops alike were busy on September 13 attempting the river crossing, with varying degrees of success.

Attempted outflanking movement the left, the French Sixth Army was ordered to cross to the west of the River Oise, in an attempt to outflank the German right wing, an early indication of the



manoeuvring which was



ate the battle at a later stage. Another

early indication of later tactics was the transfer of a division, the 37th from Fifth Army, from the eastern to the western flank where it came into the line north of Compiegne, and of the entire XIII Corps taken from the Fourth Army, which was assembling behind it. In response to the order. General Maunoury, the Sixth Army commander, tried to move 8th Division of IV Corps across the Aisne, but the Corps was almost wholly engaged in the frontal attack across the river, and IV corps commander could only detail a single brigade to reconnoitre the crossing over the Oise. This failure to pursue the outflanking

they could begin the crossing, by a variety of means. Some used a boat they discovered, others a raft improvised from railway sleepers, and still others, later, more elaborate rafts constructed by units oi the Royal Engineers. A more sophisticated raft still, big enough to carry 60 men. was constructed further east at Moulin les Roches, anil that evening and night most of the remaining part of 5th Division crossed on it despite heavy casualties from fire on the north bank,

movement with vigour was

prove an

The one

expensive mistake later in the battle, although at the time Maunoury was obviously



not in a position to appreciate the strength of the German positions at the Aisne. The IV Corps managed to construct floating bridges for the passage of the Aisne during the night of September 12, but their construction took so long that they were

There they were pinned down dark,




until after


bridge intact


appeared most feasible was Conde itself. But ironically it was not used. The bridge had been left undamaged, but it seemed so perfectly placed for


The Germans had



three perfectly placed batteries, mainly of 8-inch and 5.9-inch howitzers, on the promontory at Chivres, where one overlooked Conde and the other Venizel. These batteries were immune to British fire, and on 13th completely dominated this area of the battlefield. One battery came into action against II Corps, on the right of III Corps, which was ordered to cross between Vailly and Missy. The railway bridge at Vailly had been demolished, but there was still a plank spanning the road bridge, which the Germans had failed to destroy. Under a steady hail of shellfire, units of 3rd Division filed over this plank, while engineers began to construct a more stable and reliable pontoon bridge.

At Missy an advanced detachment of of 5th Division took possession of the bridge, but rifle and machine gun fire from hidden positions on the north bank forced them to withdraw, and they and other units which arrived to support them entrenched just south of the river.






Corps of General Conneau, and had they turned to the right ai Sissonne and moved eastwards, they might have penetrated behind the German Second and Third Armies, perhaps rolled up the flank of the Second Army, and created groat havoc in




the centre of the

Army's front the Reserve Divisions of General Valabregue also penetrated the gap between the two German armies and marched on virtually unopposed to some three miles north of Berrv-au-Bac, where Fifth

they bivouacked



the night.

day of Allied advances, of course, the Germans had not been entirely idle. Moltke was successful in bringing up reinforcements to fill the gap between the First and Second Armies. The most im-

To their right the reserve divisions suffered even more and were







portant unit in this reserve force was VII Reserve Corps, which became available after the fall of Maubeuge on September 7. The Corps received a variety of orders


unable to cross the river. At Soissons, on the flank of Sixth Army, the 45th Division had more success and during the hours of darkness on the night of the 12th got the greater part of two brigades across the River Aisne by means of two separate bridges which the Germans had failed completely to destroy. Later that night they also brought rafts into use, until finally, at dawn, German gunfire stopped further progress and destroyed the two bridges behind them. The 45th Division might well have been cut off without support, except for the British III Corps, with whom they were in contact on their right. It was 11th Infantry Brigade of this III Corps which had made the first crossing at Venizel that morning, and during the day other troops came forward to attempt the crossing, but found that they had to face an exceptionally strong onslaught from the


D'Esperey's men wen' facing almost due east, against Rnlow's Second Army. on a line running from the south of Rheims roughly along the easl bank oi the \isne canal to Berrv-au-Bac. There his 111, and \ Corps were held up by the enemy, with no immediate prospect of an advance. Better progress was made on the left, where XVIII Corps crossed tin- Aisne, moving northwards, at Pontavert, and advanced no less than seven miles unopposed to Sissonne, in the gap between the German Second and Seventh Armies. The leading roups were part oft hi' Cavalry t

place on the Corps front where a

unable even to reach Nampcel during September 13, still less proceed northwards as far as the Oise as ordered. On their right VII Corps also managed the river crossing, but they then met strong resistance from the heights of the Aisne plateau, where the German First Army had ample artillery positions which pinned down the French troops in the of


between September 7 and September 12, as priorities changed and new problems arose, until on the morning of 12th it was

Brief respite Men of the Royal Field Artillery take a rest before resuming the road north

attacks from

German machine gun and

artillery positions north of the river that the British suspected a trap, and prudently

avoided the temptation to use it. No-one appears to have ascertained whether the

Germans had

in fact laid

an ambush.


the right of the British sector, I Corps had orders to cross the river if the enemy continued his retirement, at Bourg, Pont Arcy, and Chavonne. The Pont Arcy bridge also had been only partially destroyed and was weakly defended, and there and at Bourg the 1st Division crossed the river and moved northwards to positions on the series of spurs running down from the plateau facing their sector. There was a fierce exchange of artillery fire at long range with the Germans in Troyon, but at dusk this had, in the main, failed to halt the British advance, and 1st Division, with 2nd Cavalry Brigade, had established positions as far north as Paissy and Moulins. The Germans successfully disputed I Corps' crossing only at Chavonne, where a temporary trestle bridge had been thrown across the river. Here German

heavy artillery batteries killed some 20 men from the leading units of 2nd Division and forced them to withdraw temporarily across the river. The last of the troops concerned in this battle were those of the French Fifth Army on the extreme right, who had orders to cross the Aisne and penetrate the

ordered to Laon, some ten miles north of the Aisne. Zwehl. the Corps commander, moved his men with commendable speed, and allowed them to halt for only two hours that evening before he pressed on in two columns again through the night. Almost a quarter of his men fell by the wayside during the march, but the remainder covered more than 40 miles in 24 hours, and were five miles south and south-east of Laon by 0600 hours on September 13. At 0930 hours he ordered his men to their feet yet again, and started them in a south-westerly direction towards Chavonne. An hour and a half later Biilow ordered the Corps to turn to the south-east towards Berry-au-Bac, where his own lines were threatened, but Zwehl claimed that his men were already committed in their original direction, and declined this order. Thus by 1400 hours on September 13 the Corps, tired from the march but fresh in terms of actual fighting, had its 13th on the Division established Reserve Chemin des Dames, and its 14th Reserve Division spread out to the east against the right wing of the British and the left wing of the French Fifth Army. The former division was- perfectly placed to hold off the advanced troops of the British I Corps in their push of September 13, but they had

the gap with only some two hours to Had they not marched so quickly, had they not been forced to ignore Billow's order, it is probable that the flank of all the filled


forces west of Chavonne would have been turned, and conceivable that the battle would have been decided there and then in favoui of the Allies. It is therefore a logical consequence that if the British had broken through, the entire war on the Western Front might have been brought to



usion in the succeeding weeks, and is then circulating among the troops that they would be home by Christ-

mas 1914 might even have come



stalemate situation As it was. the situation was stabilised; the Germans gained time to improve their defences, and the British and French, although they had, with considerable skill and courage, won positions on the north side of the river, were far from either outflanking the Germans, or from continuing their retreat by frontal pressure. From these positions, as they issued their respective orders for September 14, both sides were thinking in terms of attack. Biilow,

now commanding First, Second and




hoped by an offensive





General Joffre feeling that the enemy was retreating on the whole front without serious resistance on the Aisne and the Marne, ordered the pursuit to be continued energetically in a northerly direction, and as reconnaissance on the British front by airmen of the Royal Flying Corps appeared to indicate that the Gerline of his forces'.


retreat was continuing, Sir John French in his turn ordered the army to advance to the line Laon to Fresnes. It was the British I Corps which bore the brunt of this fighting. Their first objective was the Chemin des Dames ridge, and at 0300 hours the advanced guard of

moved out

in the mist and experience in the day's battle was a strange one and by no means the last example of its kind. Men of e 2nd Sussex came under fire from trenches 300 yards to their front, and promptly returned the fire. The Germans,

the 1st Division






German infantry annihilated by their

own guns X

troops of VII Reserve Corps and Corps, raised their hands to surrender, and the British units stood up to receive the prisoners. The temptation to fire was evidently too great for the Germans in the second line, and they immediately started shooting, not only on the British but on their own men as well. A short Lime later the same British regiment, having advanced beyond Troyon, came into contact with another group of Germans, who fired on them. The British returned the fire and these Germans likewise put up their hands. This time the action of their countrymen seemed quite deliberate, when batteries entrenched near a sugar factory started shelling their own men. Caught between German and British fire, the Germans were all killed, and the British then turned their attention to the batteries themselves. Within a short time the teams of horses and men manning the guns were cut down, and all twelve guns silenced. That particular fire fight ended at 0700 hours, but during the next two hours the combat grew steadily more fierce. One of the main objectives was another sugar factory, to the north west of Troyon, where the Germans were well established, and although the British succeeded in capturing the buildings, field guns and machine guns in the region prevented them further. As they dug ridge just beyond the factory, the Germans mounted a series of

moving on any trenches



A battery of German artillery in action. came as a rude shock to the Germans when It

their artillery failed to stop the Allies

crossing the river


counterattacks, but the British hung on. A further British advance took their forward posts on to Cerny, on the far side of the ridge and overlooking the River Ailette. But this success was attributable more to the fog than to the fighting, for they were as completely invisible to the Germans as the

Germans were

to them. They had actuallypenetrated far into the Germans lines without seeing the enemy or being seen by them, and when at last the swirling mists cleared sufficiently to provide views of the men around them, both sides mistook the enemy for their own. The British were the first to realise the error, and opened fire, at which the Germans took to their heels and left the British in command of the heights of the ridge at that point. Further to the east, a second battalion also crossed the Chemin des Dames, and cleared the opposition with machine gun fire, which meant that the German line was breached in two separate points, and from two commanding positions the 1st Corps were overlooking the Ailette valley. Early in the afternoon, the Germans mounted a counterattack in strength against the British 1st Division, drove them straight out of the sugar factory they had occupied, and machine gunned the British flanks from their newly won positions, inflicting severe damage. The British, mainly Scotsmen of the Black Watch, Cameron Highlanders, and Scots Guards, replied with a return counterattack, which took them back into the German positions, and through the trenches on the plateau. The Germans surged back yet again, and most of the Scotsmen were forced back into the valley. One party of 50 stuck it out, fought until their ammunition was almost gone, then

Haig's Corps had the best chance to break through between Kluck's and Bulow's armies I


back short of the crest of the ridge, overrun by finally

where they were waves of Germans.

upon tier of trenches German wisdom in selecting the north side of the Aisne to make their stand




apparent on September

14 in the sector occupied by 2nd Division, on the left of the 1st Division. After crossing the river over a floating bridge at Bourg, and pushing on northwestwards along the Oise and Aisne canal, they found themselves at the foot of a trio of clefts spreading out deep into the plateau, and of course overlooked by the four corresponding spurs. Wherever they advanced up the slopes, the British found themselves trapped by accurate fire coming from apparently right above them, not only on both flanks, but even on many occasions

General von Heeringen, whose Seventh Army to reinforce First and Second Armies

Brigadier-General Hunter-Weston, whose Brigade was the first to reach the Aisne

from behind, from Germans posted

Corps, and split the British armies in two. But during the afternoon the situation settled down as the British brought up reserves and managed to stabilise their position, although the day had cost 3rd Division some 700 or 800 killed or wounded. Further still to the left, 5th Division began the day with an attack on the Chivres spur, where it was essential that the German batteries should be cleared before significant progress could be contemplated. Almost as soon as they started out the leading brigade came under heavy shell fire near Missy, which slowed the operation almost to a halt, and by noon they had still not cleared Missy. Late in the afternoon, with light beginning to fail, the Division was ready to start up the spur to s assault the crest, but again the German §

was moved

in tier

of trenches where they were perfectly concealed from the British fire from down in the valleys. Nevertheless, after


after taking





similar punishment on the Germans, the 2nd Division had by mid-afternoon secured a line from Beaulne to Chavonne, including some parts of the extremities of the plateau. To the left of I Corps, II Corps started the morning of September 14 already in position on the north bank of the Aisne. The 3rd Division made some further slow progress, but at about 0900 hours the Germans started a heavy counterattack, and the Division was soon trying to escape, many of them by the narrow single-plank bridge over the river at Vailly. The Germans might well, had they followed up the attack with sufficient determination, have driven into the gap between the I and II

entrenchments proved too much




them. 5

Howitzers and mortars, vital for

dropping shells into entrenched positions t>

The German 21-cm Langer Morser (long mortar) known about this gun other than its

Little is

bore, equivalent to 8.3-inches, and its range, which varied from 10,280 yards with the 1914

short shell to long shell

1 1,

155 yards with the 1896

V The Battle_of,the Aisne marked the end of the headlong Gerrmarrretreat from the Marne. Substantially reinforced and well-positioned on the heights above the river, the First and Second Armies held on despite severe fighting as the Allies crossed the river and tried to storm the heights

Noyon •












Klurk jV



" "" "> VII

II |

^ Chavigr



Terny Sfc




A/s/? e 5thRes



•Coni iyiissy* j





Venizel •

Maunoury II





Feet Ill



German Army French


Positions of in front




line are


those of



10 Miles

^T-T^ 10




• Longpont




The British 1886 6-inch howitzer This howitzer weighed about 44 cwt and could fire a high explosive shell weighing between 100 and 122 pounds


Laon VI!








Cg? nne





Neufchatel #









Biilow III








V # la



•Betheny Neuvillette




RheJms X CORPS SEPT 12-1 291


The German

troops, mainly 5th Division of /// Corps, had been in position since

September 12, and had constructed an elaborate system of trenches protected by fencing and barbed wire. The result for the British was predictable. They failed to maintain order, became mingled, confused and demoralised, and had to withdraw.

White flags The 4th Division








westernmost British unit

in the line,






heavy guns, to aid the French advance on their left, and also to help 5th Division's advance. But here progress was slow. The

Germans enjoyed the

benefits of great natural cover, well constructed trenches, and a vast superiority of artillery, and the division spent most of the day trying to dig trenches, though accurate German shelling prevented even this work from being carried out without frequent breaks to race for shelter. This day, so far as the British were concerned, ended with more fighting on I Corps' front. The 2nd Division again suffered through accepting a German surrender. Irish and Coldstream Guards, fighting in the woods on the Soupir Spur, saw a large group of Germans they were threatening to encircle start waving white flags. They naturally came forward out of the woods to take their prisoners, and the response was a burst of fire from a second body of Germans on the sky-line behind the first. It seems that the novel experience of finding themselves in retreat had had a thoroughly demoralising effect on some German units, and they were surrender, halfforward to coming heartedly and in piecemeal fashion. In some cases, however, they appeared to change their minds about surrendering, and took up arms again, and in others they incurred such resentment on the part of neighbouring units that they were fired on by their own men. In either circumstance the British, in coming out into the open to accept the surrender, were putting themselves in an extremely vulnerable position. They would quickly have to adopt a more realistic and sceptical approach to offers of capitulation from isolated groups

of enemy troops. These casualties, and others incurred in the intermittent fighting that continued throughout September 14, brought the losses to I Corps to over 3,500, and made it clear that despite the gallantry of individuals and units, the general situation on the British front was far from satisfactory. Two gaps still yawned in the line, the first of one and a half miles between 2nd and 3rd Divisions, and the second, the width of the Chivres promontory, between the combined 4th and 5th Divisions and the remainder of the army. It was also obvious that the forces were far too thin in the front line for a strong attack, and there were now no reserves available. The problem of bridges still had not been solved, and although the engineers worked as bravely and efficiently as anybody could expect of them, they were subjected to constant shelling from the excellent German artillery





bridge was established that day, which meant that supplies had to be brought up in the dark and passed over the river by hand, and that the wounded were generally forced to lie in the open until stretcher

parties could get to them at night. Morale was not high. On September 14 the French were also experiencing the same problems as the British, and achieving tin- same inconclusive results. On the left, 45th Division. with a Moroccan Brigade attached, crossed

on the Aisne canal, and around Rheims. There, on September 12. after a German occupation lasting just two weeks, Corps

the Aisne between Compiegne and Soissons. and attacked from Vic towards the ridge and through the hamlets on the spur, but when they came up against the Germans' prepared positions they were halted and unable to resume the advance. The VII Corps and the reserve divisions of Generals


Lamaze and Ebeney on their left were incapable of even starting an advance on this day. Still further to the left, IV Corps attacked in an effort to help the outflanking movement which Joffre had ordered, but failed to get more than one brigade across the River Oise. Wav out in the flank two

Men The


had fought their way

in to

the city against

German rearguards of Second Army, On 13th, when D'Esperey himself entered the liberated city, his 111 Corps took Courcy the north, but failed to dislodge the Germans from the small town of Brimont. a short distance to the north of thai On this day Corps in the centre also drove forward again, crossed through Rheims and, despite coming under violent artillery fire from the retreating Germans, reached the villages of La Neuvilletteand Betheny. On the right of the army, X Corps crossed the River Vesle. The next day, September 14, as well as on 15th and 16th, the French 1

tried desperately to continue the offensive,

but there was part of



more progress. On 15th

Corps was driven back by a Ger-

Cameronians prepare a machine-gun post just to the south of the River Aisne. however, were unable to storm the fiercely-defended German positions on the heights

of the 1st Allies,

other cavalry divisions, the 1st and 5th, were pushing forward in the region of Montdidier, and behind them XIII Corps

was assembled and almost ready to come into the line. But Manoury had too many


counterattack, but this modest loss

was compensated by the advance of X Corps as far as the main road between Rheims and Suippes. On September 17 a

engaged against the Germans to the front, and with limited strength these flanking divisions were not enough to carry out the proposed turning

counterattack forced the French III Corps to withdraw to the west bank of the Aisne canal, and on September 18 X Corps, which had been withdrawn from the line, was put back to support III Corps. This


move helped

of his troops actively

in time. the British right, the Cavalry Corps of the Fifth Army was still, at dawn on 14th, occupying the undefended ground between the German Second and Seventh Armies, but either because they were unsupported, or simply because they lost heart, they failed to exploit the advantage of their position, and withdrew back across the river at Berry-au-Bac, where the front remained stable for some time. On the left of this army, and adjacent to the British, the Moroccan battalions of XVIII Corps came into line with the eastern outposts of the BEF, but the German Seventh Army counterattacked in force near Craonelle, and halted the French, forcing" them to entrench. The only encouraging news for the French on this day was further east,



to settle the position. From that point on, although the French and Germans fought several minor battles, there were no significant gains, and the

front in this sector


stabilised on

the line extending from the foot of the Berru and Nogent-L'Abesse Hills, out along the Suippes highway to the east, and along the west bank of the canal up to the

River Aisne


Military vandalism This left thecity of Rheims in French hands, but it was not sufficiently far from the front to escape the fighting. On September 18 the Germans began to shell the city with both explosives and incendiaries. The bombardment continued for ten days with no respite, and the city was widely dam-


rhe cathedra] itself was a major despite the fact thai it was in use as a hospital and had a red cross flying from its tower. The stained-glass windows were blown out. much of the stonework was destroyed, and the towers were extensively damaged. Hut the walls remained intact, as did, symbolically, the statue of Joan of Arc m front of the cathedral. The Germans won no great esteem outside their own country for this act of military vandalism, but perhaps the words of one of their generals, Ditfurth. in a news bulletin of November 1914, may be taken as typical of the German attitude: // is of no consequence if all the monuments ever created, all the pictures ever painted, and all the buildings ever erected by the great architects of the world were destroyed, if by their

was no longer

a question of pursuit but of methodical attack. Each position was to be consolidated as it was gained. Despite his preparations to retire, Bulow at this time appeared ready to take the


destruction we promote Germany's victory over her enemies. The commonest, ugliest stone placed to mark the burial-place of a German grenadier is a more glorious and perfect monument than all the cathedrals in Europe put together. Let neutral peoples and our enemies cease their empty chatter, which is no better than the twittering of birds. Let them cease their talk about the cathedral at Rheims and about all the

churches and castles in France which have shared its fate. These do not interest us.


of the bridges overthe Aisne at Soissons blown up by the Germans. Others were missed

The Allies also were making their plans, and since they could see that the Germans had halted their retreat on 14th and were apparently being re-equipped, rested and refreshed in their entrenched positions on the north of the river, a frontal attack was unlikely to bring about the speedy defeat of the German armies.

During this bombardment the Allies were firmly in possession of positions to the north of the River Aisne, which gave Billow great cause for alarm. Although these positions were held in no great strength, he was preparing to fall back even further, to La Fere, and on the night of 14th confirmation arrived from Supreme Command

'Entrench where you are!' Although he issued no formal order to the effect, the British Commander-in-Chief told his corps commanders, late at night on 14th, to entrench where they stood. In the early hours of the following morning French himself, along with the other army commanders, received a telegram from General Joffre confirming his decision, and

He was not to know yet that events would render further withdrawal unnecessary.

pointing out that since the enemy appeared to be on the point of accepting battle in prepared positions north of the Aisne, it

of the plan.

initiative as far as an offensive was concerned, and ordered the Seventh Army to throw the enemy in front of it (the British) back over the Aisne, and support the First Army. But this order held a greater element of optimism than of realism, and Kluck, still disinclined to obey Bulow's orders, responded to the situation by ordering his Army to carry on entrenching and hold their position at all costs. Both sides made gestures at attack, but no assaults carried any significant ground, and all were repulsed with heavy losses. The most energetic offensive was made by the British 5th Infantry Division of II Corps, which attempted again to win the

Chivres spur. When they attacked over ground they had covered on the previous day, they found that the Germans had been busy constructing new defences in the woods, including barbed wire barriers six feet high. Because of the density of the undergrowth on their front, they could not contemplate a flanking movement, and although they set to work with wire cutters, the barrier proved too secure and their assault came to a halt. One brigade (the 14th Infantry) moved up the valley on the western side of the spur, but German artillery rained down on them, and they too were stopped. This experience was in fact only one illustration of the growing

dominance of

artillery in the battle, and warfare both sides were

in this aspect of

helped by a comparative innovation — the aeroplane. For the British, the Royal Flying Corps, formed only two years

Right: Hard work for German troops helping to move a huge 21-cm gun Far right: As a result of their sites on lower ground, the British

60-pounders were unable to








evolved an eminently workable procedure. The first instance of co-operation between artillery and the Royal Flying Corps was on September 13, and from that day on an aeroplane normally took off' for each division each morning carrying an artillery officer. He made notes of the German concentrations on squared maps, and passed the details, either by wireless or by handing over the completed maps after landing, to ground artillery commanders. The aircraft also flew during a pre-arranged general bombardment, and after observing the accuracy of fire, sent corrections down to the ground units. September 15 itself saw a further incursion of modern scientific techniques on to the battlefield, when the British aerial observers took photographs of the enemy's positions, which resulted in greatly imearlier,

proved range finding. The Germans used aircraft even more intensively, and had them constantly flying over the entire front. They worked to such good effect that if Allied troops were so unwise as to move in their own lines while an aircraft was overhead, an accurate barrage of shellfire was almost certain to

One German

device consisted of observers aerial dropped when they flew over Allied positions. The range and direction of the aircraft, when the paper appeared glinting in the sky. gave gunners an accurate indication of the position of ground targets. German gunnery personnel also made use of observation balloons for target spotting, which they managed to keep well out of range of Allied guns. In addition, they so clearly appreciated the importance of artillery that they placed spotters even among the British follow.





T"^ "






on the easternmost spur of the plateau, and flung the French out of Craonne and Craonelle. At the western end of the line, further reinforcements arrived from Alsace and from Antwerp, in the form of 7th Cavalry Division and IX Reserve Corps, both of which came into the line on the 15th Their arrival strengthened the German defences, and their determined fighting put paid for the time being to any ideas the French nurtured of transferring troops to turn the flank of the German First Army.

Nevertheless it was this flank that offered the only possible prospect of break-

TheGigincourt bridge in their

rebuilt by


rush to cross the river

lines. One observer disguised himself as a farmer, and when his 'cover' was 'blown' he was found to be in direct telephone

communication with his own side. Another was discovered hiding in a haystack, with food to last him a week, and another up a tree: small wonder that the British found themselves continually under such accurate shellfire that at first they suspected the existence of spies among their own


On the flanks of the battle of the Aisne, the French Armies were having no greater success in gaining ground than had the British. On the right, the Germans were packing their lines with newly arriving reserves, including XVIII Corps from Fourth Army, which came into action on 15th and VII Reserve, XV, and XII Corps which had already moved into position. Troops from these units counterattacked

ing the developing stalemate. To the east, the lines of the German and French Armies ran down to the border with Switzerland Neither side could think of outflanking the other there, and as reinforcements were brought into the line, gaps filled in, trenches dug, and wire defences construct ed, the front became hourly more stable, the feasibility of a successful frontal attack more remote. In the west, on the other hand, the flanks were still open, and the inducements to continue the operations there were considerable. Strategically, a successful outflanking movement by the Germans would offer control of the Channel ports, indeed of the Channel itself. From the Allied point of view a successful outflanking movement would threaten the main communications of the German armies, whereas if the Allies allowed themselves to be outflanked, they would not only lose all hope of re-establishing contact with the Belgian armies, still holding out in Antwerp, but they would also sacrifice their chance of regaining the city of Lille and the valuable coalfields of Northern France.


was to this strategy, therefore, that It both sides increasingly turned their attention, thinking not only in terms of an offensive, but also in terms of preventing the enemy from carrying out the manoeuvre. On September 17 General JofTre emphasised the need to maintain the frontal effort 'in order to keep the enemy under threat of attack and thus prevent him from disengaging and transferring portions of his forces from one point to another'.

New plan from Falkenhayn The German command was coming to exactly the same conclusion. When on September 14 Lieutenant-General von Falkenhayn, until then Minister of War, took over the duties of Chief of the General Staff, he took immediate steps to prevent the French from moving any of their troops

rights of inviolability' for having taken advantage of their privileged position to commit an act of treachery. Whether he thought about his legal position at the time is not known, but a British officer who had a machine gun trained on the Germans opened fire and mowed most of

them down. Apart from this episode, the most severe was between the German and French armies on the flanks. On the right the French attempted to retake Craonne, only to be repulsed, and from that point control of the town changed hands several times, though it was the Germans who held it at the end of the day. fighting





mounted yet another strong attack in the region of Chavonne, again using machineguns to excellent effect, and they penetrated the British line and took several prisoners.

The two

forces then



ing hand to hand, until the British called up reserves and threw the Germans back to their original positions, but not before the British had lost 400 men killed and wounded. The German official report for the day, which stated that the VII Reserve Corps' attack had led to 'no success worth mention', said nothing to indicate the severity of the fighting, nor the enormous casualties incurred for such unremarkable rewards.

was anticipating the

attempted outflanking movement by forming a new army, the Second Army under General de Castelnau, with four Corps, XIII and IV Corps from Sixth Army, XIV

No success after repeated attacks The VII Reserve Corps was again ordered to carry out an attack along its whole front on the following day, but their commander

protested, pointing out that 'the daily repetition of attack orders could not obtain any success'. He at least had arrived at an accurate assessment of the situation, an

assessment which other generals might well have emulated. During the two following days there were in fact minor outbursts of fighting, but no results were achieved, and by September 27 the ground fighting died away altogether, although both sides continued to fire artillery shells into each

And it was that day, in that marked the end of the Battle of the Aisne. What had been achieved? For the Germans, they had at least halted the momentum of their retreat, and built up defensive positions which seemed capable of resisting indefinitely the most determined

other's territory. fact,

Casualties on both sides were severe on the Aisne. Here British stretcher bearers work to clear up a group of wounded and dead, both British and German

round the western flank by ordering counterattacks along the whole front. The scene was thus set for the final week of the battle of the Aisne, a week of desultory attacks, intermittent bombardment, and almost perpetual digging to strengthen the entrenched positions. And each side also managed to bring further reinforcements into their line to render the developing stalemate even more intractable. When the fighting did flare up it had lost nothing of its fierceness, and there occurred yet another of the many incidents which indicated the vast discrepancy in outlook between the German and Allied armies regarding the ethics of war. On September 17 about 400 men of the German 53rd Regiment indicated their intention to surrender by holding their hands high and advancing. The British, units of the Northampton and Queen's regiments, held their fire and allowed the German soldiers to advance right to the edge of their trenches. The Germans then opened fire, at point-blank range, and killed and wounded about 200 men. For this act, according to the Regulations annexed to the Hague Convention of 1907, the Germans appeared to 'lose their '96


Corps from First Army, and XX Corps from the old Second Army, which had recently been dispersed. The next battles of any consequence took place on September 20, when the German VII Reserve Corps fell upon Moroccan troops of the French Fifth Army, and in three separate advances drove them out of their positions. This action left the British right flank exposed, and the Germans turned and began working westwards. With machine gun and shrapnel fire they inflicted severe casualties before reinforcements could be brought up and the

British situation restored. On the centre of the British front, immediately east of the Oise and Aisne canal, the Germans mounted two exceptionally strong attacks, both of which the British repulsed. One exuberant counterattack, however, led the British into an ambush,

and the Germans opened up again with machine guns, putting their enemy into rout. Eventually the British rallied and two companies of the King's Regiment inflicted


70 casualties on the

Germans with

rifle fire.







British and French efforts. The Allies, through lack of fresh reserves, had failed to follow up their success at the Marne, and had allowed their effort to degenerate into the sterility which was to characterize the battlefield for most of the remainder of the war. In that sense, the encounter on the Aisne can be counted a German victory. In the meantime, attention was becoming increasingly concentrated on the open flank to the west. By the time the battle on the Aisne was dying down, activity at the western end of the line was developing fast, and it was obviously there that the next moves in the war would be played out.

Further Reading Buchan. John, History of the Great War (Nelson) Dane. Edmund. Battle of the Rivers (Hodder & Stoughton) Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The British Campaign in France and Flanders 1914 (Hodder &


Edmonds. Brigadier J E Military Operations. France and Belgium 1914 (Macmillan) Keegan, J Opening Moves (New York Ballantme ,





graduating from St John's

College, Cambridge, worked as a newspaper reporter in the provinces before moving to London to become first an advertising copywriter, then a publisher's editor, and finally gravitating towards Fleet Street, a feature writer with The Sun in its infancy and with The Sunday Times. He gave up journalism in 1965 to become a professional writer

The war-torn roads and villages of France French dead lie where the ebb and flow have left them



I .



ftf* ^



iM vl

..... -'..*


-rrf^* «•


i **?


When General Erich von Falkenhayn, the Prussian War Minister, took over from Moltke as Chief of General Staff in mid-September, he found the German situation in Northern France far from satisfactory. The German right wing, on the Oise, completely lacked reserves and, in his own words, 'was hanging in the air'. The diversion of three army corps to the Eastern Front gave the British and French forces, for the moment at least, numerical superiority, and the French railway network allowed them to move troops both forward and laterally faster than the Germans. Indeed the western formations of the German army were operating on a single supply line running from Belgium to St Quentin, and this could easily be cut by enemy cavalry, as Falkenhayn immediately realised. To make matters worse, estimates of ammunition requirements, drawn up some years previously, had proved woefully inadequate and the infantry generals were complaining that there was a shortage of artillery to support them. Some commanders, indeed, were so pessimistic as to argue that the wisest course would be to withdraw on the right flank, to prevent the Allies enveloping it. Falkenhayn, however, would tolerate no such suggestion. The original objective of the offensive must still be maintained, he ordered, and if the front further south could be held, it should still be possible 'to bring the northern coast of France, and therefore the control of the English Channel, into German hands'. To achieve this object he arranged that reinforcements on a large scale should be sent towards the northern flank with all speed. Meanwhile the Allied left hook he had anticipated did not take long to materialise. On September 17 General Maunoury's Sixth Army struck north on either side of the Oise, so threatening the German right flank. Maunoury was an excellent soldier,

courteous, and, as Sir Edward Spears has recorded, a man who was aware 'that others as well as himself had their troubles and difficulties'. His eager co-operation with Sir John French had been much appreciated by the British. However, on this occasion, Maunoury was out of luck, for the Germans had brought down IX Reserve Corps from Antwerp, supported by four cavalry divisions, and after advancing some four miles, Sixth Army was brought to a halt on the line Carlepont-Noyon. The first attempt at outflanking the enemy had failed, and the only result was that the line of battle — already stabilised east of the Oise and to the north of the Aisne — was now extended a short distance towards the sea. The gap between Noyon and the ports of Calais and Dunkirk was still 100 miles wide. The Germans settled their plans at a conference called by Falkenhayn on September 21. Firstly, Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria's Sixth Army would be concentrated west of Cambrai, with the task of pushing for the coast, then curving south to the Somme, thereby enveloping the French left wing. Meanwhile XXI Corps and / Bavarian Corps would come up on the left and fair,

Arthur Swinson

Unable to reach a conclusion on the Aisne, both the Germans and the Allies began to move forces first west and then north in an effort to outflank each other. As they moved to the north, the value


of possessing the Channel ports became more evident, and thus developed the Race to the Sea

threaten Peronne. Before these operations could get under way General Joffre made his next move, with General de Castelnau's Second Army, which on September 22 advanced across the River Avre (a tributary of the Somme) and headed west for Lassigny, Roye, and Chaulnes. De Castelnau was a man of strong religious faith and high ideals — the French called him 7e capucin botte, the monk in boots— and his attack went in with great force. By the 23rd he was threatening German communications around Ham and St Quentin and a breakthrough did not seem impossible. However, at this critical moment the German XVIII Corps arrived from Rheims and, supported by II Corps, drove back de Castelnau's right wing. His left wing, which had reached Peronne and formed a bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Somme, consolidated, but even this limited success could not be maintained. On the 26th XXI Corps arrived and with the help of / Bavarian Corps drove the French out of Peronne and pushed them back over the river. So this new sector of the line became stabilised, and the fighting again moved to the north.

Tremendous power and momentum A new formation had now come to the

This contemporary painting depicts fierce street fighting in Arras. French popular art still echoed the spirit of the offensive'



fore: II Cavalry Corps under Lieutenant-General von der Marwitz, which by the 27th was driving hard to the north, pushing back the French Territorial troops under General Brugere. The task of the cavalry was to clear the way for XIV Reserve Corps which had come up on the right of // Bavarian Corps and was now heading for Albert, 20 miles north-east of Amiens. Within two days Marwitz hoped to reach Amiens itself, and then the sea. The German flanking movement was developing tremendous power and momentum. To prevent the Allies drawing reinforcements from the Aisne, the Supreme Command had ordered First, Second, and Seventh Armies to take the offensive. Eight days previously the French

The end of the Battle of the Aisne brought about the final campaign of movement on the Western Front at the beginning of the war. Each side tried to outflank the other to the north, and as both sides raced

From the Aisne to the Channel ports: the Race to the Sea that neither side won i



600 300








5 Height


towards the north, the various units involved leap-frogged past each other and taxed their lateral lines of communication to the utmost in their efforts to move large bodies of troops to the north faster than the opposition could do. As the armies moved in this direction, the value of possession of the Channel ports became increasingly clear, and so the outflanking movement became the Race to the Sea Miles





Feet I

Germans British









ARMY (Maunoury) Soissons' .Braine



# Rheims

had been optimistic of enveloping the enemy, and now they were in danger of being enveloped themselves. The danger was greatest to XXI and X Corps, north of the Somme, which were covering de Maud'huy's Tenth Army, now coming off the trains near Arras. De Maud'huy, who has been vividly described by Sir Edward Spears, was small in stature but big in spirit, and he 'could not conceive of defeat so long as a single Frenchman remained alive'. Before reaching Arras, he had hoped to find himself in a position to go on the offensive once his forces were deployed. On the morning of the 28th things looked black indeed, for the weight of German artillery and infantry was pressing back XXI and X Corps, and it seemed impossible to stabilise the line. However, by the evening the French, after hours of dogged and costly fighting, succeeded in halting the enemy thrust on a line running through Maricourt, Fricourt, and Thiepval. Tenth Army was able to deploy without hindrance. However, yet another flanking move developed, for once he was held in front, Marwitz headed north with his cavalry corps to threaten Arras. Fortunately he was held by Conneau's cavalry corps which had hurried north-east to meet such an eventuality, and for a few hours the situation was saved. Moving a whole army by rail, even over an efficient network such as the French possessed, is a complex business, for not only men have to be accommodated, but guns, ammunition, animals, supplies and thousands of tons of equipment. Once the troops have left the trains, they have to be united with their equipment, which can take a week or more. It is to de Maud'huy's credit that instead of waiting on events, by October 1 he was actively preparing to launch an offensive. This would go in from the line Arras-Lens and strike south-east against the German flank. He thought that there would be only cavalry to deal with but he was mistaken. The Germans had succeeded in bringing up three more corps, and instead of striking, Tenth Army— now deployed over a wide front — was in danger of being struck itself. Even before de Maud'huy had reached Arras, the German Supreme Command had made new plans, which were, in Falkenhayn's words: 'To carry out with the greatest speed movements behind the German front corresponding to the enemy movements, with the object of not only meeting the enemy's efforts at envelopment, but of countering them also ... by means of an enveloping movement by the Germans.' At all costs he was determined that, firstly, the French would not form a line east of the great cotton town of Lille, and secondly that they would not link up with the Belgian army defending the fortress of Antwerp, close to the Dutch frontier. It was decided that three distinct operations should be launched, with all the troops which could possibly be concentrated on the northern flank. These operations were as follows: • There would be an attack against Arras on October 2, launched by three corps— TV, from First Army, the Guards Corps from German

infantry line the road as a

horse-drawn piece of


gallops by

Second Army, and I Bavarian Reserve Corps from Seventh Army. The attack would be co-ordinated with an attempt to break through at Roye, 45 miles to the south. • Three cavalry corps I and II under Marwitz, and TV under Lieutenant-General von Hollen, were to cover the right flank of the offensive, carrying out a wide sweep across Flanders towards the coast.

• Antwerp would

be captured before the Allies could reinforce


any further. So far as Antwerp was concerned, it may be mentioned here that on October 3 a brigade of the Royal Naval Division reached the fortress, followed on the 6th by two more brigades. These had been landed at Dunkirk. On the same day 7th Division landed at Zeebrugge, followed 24 hours later by 3rd Cavalry Division. Sustained, accurate


The three German corps detailed for the offensive moved forward on October 1 and the following day struck Tenth Army — still, it

own offensive— on a line to the east of Arras. Reeling before the blow, the French gave ground, but there was no panic or disintegration, units retired in order, covering each other, and under a sustained and accurate fire from the guns. By October 4, the Germans had slowed down considerably after heavy losses and by the 6th they had been halted altogether. The French dug in along a line running through the eastern outskirts of Arras, reaching Thiepval in the south and Vimy and Souchez in the north. The troops were desperately tired, but they knew if they weakened now their country would be overrun. On the night of the 6th Foch told de Maud'huy: 'Fight to the last man and hang on like lice. No retirement. Every man to the attack.' On the morning of the 7th the Germans came on again, but their attacks faltered beneath a steady fire and they did not gain a yard. Their attacks on the 8th failed likewise, and by the 9th Falkenhayn realised that the three corps could make no further progress. Another sector of the line was stabilised, and the gap between the northern flank and the sea had narrowed to 45 miles. To add to his discomfiture, the attempt to break through at Roye had proved a complete failure. The Germans found their inability to defeat the French in open battle hard to understand. The Supreme Command even described it as 'incomprehensible', but the field commanders spoke of the strength of French field fortifications, and the unappreciated power of defensive weapons. What they probably underestimated, however, was the courage and tenacity of the poilu who was disputing every yard of the sacred soil of France. Blocked in front, the Germans rested their hopes on yet another flanking move by the two cavalry groups under Marwitz and Hollen. While the battle before Arras was raging, they had carried out a wide sweep to the north, pushing back local Territorial troops, which were all the French could put in the field will be recalled, preparing for its

against them. Supporting the cavalry were a number of infantry and sapper units, which could deal with minor fortified positions, repair where necessary demolitions and bridge canals and rivers. On October 2, Marwitz gave orders for a general offensive, ordering / and // Cavalry Corps 'to break down the weakening resistance of the enemy by operating against his flank and rear; to block all the railways leading from Paris and the lower Seine; and to destroy completely the railways from the Lower Somme and the coastal railways near Abbeville'. The Kaiser wrote to him on the 3rd: 'His Majesty wishes to see the cavalry corps in the rear of the enemy tomorrow.' Once their railway network had been paralysed, Marwitz reasoned, the French could not continue reinforcing their left flank in such strength and with such speed. The argument was sound but Marwitz's troops put up a poor performance. The sweep degenerated into a crawl and then all

momentum was

lost. The French Territorials showed themselves means overawed by the reputation of their adversaries, and from prepared positions put down a steady and accurate fire. On October 6 the resistance was so successful along a line stretched from Lens to Lille that Marwitz was forced to withdraw his men to a position behind the Lorette heights. The following morning XXI Corps, led by General Legrand-Girarde, which had just detrained at Bethune, 20 miles north of Arras, moved against them. Marwitz now found himself in some difficulty, for in their

by no

dismounted role, his cavalry could not hope to hold out long against good infantry, and XXI Corps came from the French First Army. Somehow, with the aid of his attached infantry units, he managed to hang on throughout the 7th, though taking heavy casualties. On the 8th the French were in high hopes of breaking through, only to be frustrated, as the Germans had been a few days earlier. On October 4 the German XIV Corps had entrained at Metz and come by rail to Mons, 50 miles behind the battlefront. By forced marches it arrived just in time to extricate the cavalry and the French drive was brought to a standstill. Again Marwitz was sent north with orders to penetrate the line between La Bassee and Armentieres, and head for Abbeville. This lay some 45 miles beyond Arras and 30 to the north-east of Amiens and. if Marwitz could reach it, he would retrieve his somewhat tattered reputation. Both horses and men were tired, and after so many failures morale must have suffered considerably. While Marwitz was still advancing towards Lens, Hollen and IV Cavalry Corps had been operating some 15 miles further north, and on the extreme right flank of the German offensive. Advancing north-west from Menin they had reached the outskirts of Ypres by the evening of October 7, and the following morning passed through the town itself, expecting to reach the sea coast within the next 12 hours. Hollen's orders were as follows: 'You will ride round the flank and rear of the enemy, thoroughly destroy his communications, especially the railways which lead from the coast and the south to the area Amiens-Lille-Alost. At


the cost of the last horse and man you will ensure hat the enemy's operations against our right flank are hindered in every way.' In compliance with these orders, the grey columns struck south-west from Ypres. and using every available road and track streamed towards the little town of Hazebrouck which lay a mere 20 miles ahead. If they could reach this before nightfall and there seemed no reason why they should fail -they would find themselves at the farthest point the German army had yet penetrated From here a short journey would bring them to the rear of the French line, now stabilised as far north as La Bassee; and their ride south-west to Abbeville should produce panic among the French civilian population and dismay to the armies on the Somme t

Resolute defence But the moment had come for the pendulum to swing hack again. Before they were half-way to Hazebrouck, Hollen's leading units came under a sustained fire, and headed back for cover General de Mi try had been ordered north by Joffre to counter the threat with a hastily improvised cavalry corps, consisting of 4th Division from Fifth Army and 5th Division from I Cavalry Corps. Though outnumbered, de Mitry had the advantage of knowing the ground and had time to select his positions. The land around Hazebrouck is flat, dotted with small farms, and there are numerous hedges and ditches to provide defensive fire positions. Evidently de Mitry 's defence was resolute, for not only did Hollen abandon his advance but by evening his regiments were retiring on Bailleul. Next morning any further advance was out of the question, for a new factor presented itself. The BEF had been moved up from the Aisne to take its place on the left of the Allied line. The coastal gap was now under 30 miles. The idea of moving the BEF from the Aisne was put to Joffre by Sir John French on September 29, as the latter recorded in his diary:

Commander-in-Chief. I want him disengage us from our present positions as soon as possible and post us on the left flank of the Allied Forces. I feel sure the freedom of action which we shall thus gain will increase the value of our troops and enable the cavalry to assert their superiority by wide flanking movements on the flank. Apart from these tactical reasons, there were obvious administrative advantages in the move. The BEF was supplied from England via the Channel ports. All ammunition, guns, heavy equipment, clothing and quantities of food had to be brought over each day, amounting to some thousands of tons. The nearer the BEF was operating to the coast, the shorter its line of communications would be. The task of getting wounded back to the Channel would be enormously facilitated, and the treatment of c wounded plays a vital part in keeping up an army's morale. | Joffre would not agree to such an important move without 5 / sent definite proposals to the to

detailed consideration; and naturally, before he could release

the British divisions from the line he had to bring up French formations to replace them. However, matters were put in hand at once, and on October 1 Joffre wrote to French that he was happy to be able to comply with the wishes of the Field-Marshal'. French also learned that Joffre had appointed his assistant, Foch, to co-ordinate operations on the northern flank involving both the BEF and de Castelnau's Tenth Army. On October 8, while General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien's II Corps was detraining at Abbeville, French paid a visit to Foch's headquarters, and later recorded: 'He gave me a great reception with a guard of honour. He took a very optimistic view of the situation, said that the enemy was making no headway anywhere, and that he was gradually getting round the German flank on the north. It gave me a great hope for the future to find him so confident of success.' Foch was overoptimistic, and both he and French misjudged the German capacity to reinforce their armies. Smith-Dorrien, whose corps was the first BEF formation to arrive from the Aisne, was 56 years of age, but hard and fit. Temperamentally, he found it far from easy to get on with French but was in complete agreement with the plan now being implemented and anxious to attack without delay. On the morning of the 9th a fleet of motor buses arrived (on the initiative of Foch) and aboard these 10,000 men were carried 22 miles to the east. Smith-Dorrien's orders were to make contact with de Castelnau at Bethune, and resting his right flank there, to take up a position along the La Bassee-Aire canal. By the 11th his men were in position.

While these moves were taking place, III Corps was coming off the trains at St Omer and getting ready to move forward to Hazebrouck. The coastal gap had still not been filled, but at Gent Sir Henry Rawlinson had formed 7th Division and III Cavalry Division into IV Corps, which had now come under command of Sir John French. Rawlinson's orders were to move westwards until he reached the northern flank of III Corps. The Belgian army, which had managed to extricate itself from Antwerp, was moving behind him. Though the Allies had gained a slight advantage, the situation was very fluid and the next seven days would be critical. For the moment the brunt was borne by II Corps and their task was not easy. The ground ahead of them was little better than a morass, intersected by hedges, deep, muddy dykes and streams. It was hard to move the guns forward except along the pave of main

roads and the land was so low that even shallow trenches filled with water. The flat terrain made artillery observation difficult and forward observations officers were to be seen on church towers or scaling brewery chimneys.


set-piece attack Facing Smith-Dorrien's II Corps was Marwitz with / and // Cavalry Corps, supported as usual by infantry and cyclist battalions. On the 1 1th they had secured the town of La Bassee and were now preparing to advance. Also, to hinder the offensive of II Corps, they had fortified every building and were prepared to dispute every ditch and hedge. Fighting broke out on the 12th when Smith-Dorrien advanced on an eight-mile front with five brigades to the north of the canal and one to the south. During the morning actions were on a small scale and each unit dealt with local opposition as the situation demanded. At 1500 hours a set-piece attack went in, timed to synchronise with an attack by the French XXI Corps on the right. The latter failed to materialise, and the British went on alone. The troops moved in extended order from hedge to hedge and dyke to dyke. A counterattack by the Germans near Givenchy, five miles to the east of Bethune, was repulsed. By evening the leading troops had reached Givenchy itself, a straggling village on a slight rise with a tall church tower. By dark the Corps was digging in along a line which stretched from Noyelles in the south to Lacouture in the north, and the infantry slept on the ground by their weapon pits, denied even the comfort of blankets which would not arrive for three more days. That night Smith-Dorrien wrote in his diary: 'It was an obstinate day's fighting though nothing serious, and we lost about 300 killed and wounded.' Next day, October 13, the fighting became heavier, and he recorded: dull morning which in the afternoon turned to very heavy rain. We made very little advance throughout the day along the whole line. At one point 5th Division was in rather a dreadful position. At about 3 p.m. a general attack combined with the E French took place. It was not very successful. I fear our casualties 3 in the last two days have been something near a thousand. Many of these casualties were sustained by the Bedfords, who £ were driven out of Givenchy, and by the Dorsets whose flank was ^ thus exposed. Although II Corps was opposed only by cavalry, « the original intention of enveloping the German flank was far I


The road north: troopers of the 11th

Hussars on their way to Flanders

' :




m* *







-M |*4





\ .



• .


from being realised and French ordered General Pulteney, commander of III Corps, to advance eastwards from Ha/ebrouck to give Smith-Dornen any assistance he might need. At that moment Pulteney was advancing on Bailleul, his two divisions moving side by side, while Allenbv's cavalry headed for the high ground east of Mont des Cats. The Germans had entrenched themselves and Pulteney decided on a general attack along a five-mile front. The day was wet and misty, and it was not until 1400 hours that the infantry got moving. They enjoyed little artillery support because of the had visibility and found themselves among hoptields, grappling with German units well supplied with machine-guns However, by dark, the villages of Outtersteene and Meteren were captured and the cavalry occupied Mont Noir, three miles north of Bailleul. During the day intelligence reached Pulteney that Lille had been occupied by the German XIX Corps and that part of the town was in flames. In the light of this he decided to renew his offensive the following day before the German cavalry could be reinforced by XIX Corps. The 14th produced even worse weather than the day before, and again observation was difficult. Patrols eventually established that the Germans had abandoned Meteren and Bailleul and retired behind the River Lys. Also on the 14th Allenbv's cavalry corps reached Messines. about six miles to the north of Armentieres. Its operations so far had been carried out with great brilliance. II



the Indian

the two commanders deteriorated and the lend ended only with their deaths.


Corps on La Bassee canal things were going far from brilliantly. With the intention of wearing down the British infantry, Marwitz staged a series of night attacks and in the daytime his units put down a heavy fire to harass any forward movement. At 1000 hours on the 14th, a stray bullet killed MajorGenera] Hubert Hamilton. GOC 3rd Division. His death was to trigger off one of the most tragic feuds in British military history. Sir John French arrived at II Corps' headquarters soon after Smith-Dorrien had received the news and later French recorded: 'He was in one of those tits of deep depression which unfortunately visit him frequently. He complained that the II Corps had never got over what he described as the "shock" of Le Cateau, and there was no great fighting spirit throughout the troops he commanded. I told him that thought he greatly exaggerated these disabilities.' Smith-Dorrien later denied this allegation, explaining that his depression was momentary and due to the news of Hamilton's death. But from this day onwards relations between For

(left), commander of the Cavalry Corps, and Rawlinson (right), commander of IV Corps, two of the key figures in the Race to the Sea




October 1914. a group


was during

this visit that French decided II Corps operations astride the canal. He therefore arranged with Foch that Tenth Army should extend its line northwards to the canal so that Smith-Dorrien could bring his brigade on the south of it back into reserve. This was a wise decision, for Smith-Dorrien was now engaged in wheeling his formation, pivoting on the right flank at Givenchy, a most difficult operation it

could not continue


in this terrain.


running battle


the 15th, however, things seemed to go rather better and Smith-Dorrien wrote that night: Today the 3rd Division has done extraordinary well With their guns dispersed among the infantry right up in the firing line they have managed to drive the enemy from one loopholed village to another, crossing the dykes with planks which they had carried with them. The Hermans must have suffered very heavily, as in our advance large numbers of them were found dead.

French cuirassiers passes some men of the




resting by the roadside


Corps had also suffered heavily and its total casualties so reached 2,000. Smith-Dorrien, it is interesting to note, did not think this loss excessive, and wrote in his diary: 'I shall sleep feeling that our heavy losses have not been in vain.' During the evening of the 15th news reached headquarters II Corps that Marwitz's cavalry was withdrawing, and SmithDorrien expressed his intention to move north-east towards III Corps, so closing the gap between the two formations, still lightly guarded by French cavalry. This move was found impractical as the French lacked sufficient troops to man the trenches north of the canal. Smith-Dorrien therefore decided to continue the wheel to the south-east to realise his original plan of enveloping the enemy. Unknown to the British, Marwitz's cavalry had been relieved by two infantry divisions, 13th and 14th. So during the 16th Smith-Dorrien was to discover:

'Progress, though successful, was slow'

Although the enemy had fallen back, they had not gone far, and they were still disputing every hedge and village, so progress, though successful, was slow. Unfortunately the day was foggy, air observation was impossible, and the infantry had to feel their way forward, denied any closely co-ordinated artillery support. Nevertheless, 15th Brigade retook Givenchy, and the following morning the Norfolks reached Canteleu, half-way between Givenchy and La Bassee. On the 17th, also, 9th Brigade got a footing on Aubers ridge and, just before dark, took the villages of Aubers and Herlies at the point of the bayonet. Seventh Brigade was unable to secure lilies and so the troops on the right flank had to be brought back to avoid presenting an exposed flank to the enemy. On the left of the Corps, the French cavalry, assisted by the Royal Irish Regiment, captured




the village of Fromelles, taking 50 prisoners, but it failed to get up into the general line of the wheel and 3rd Division was slowed down. On the right of II Corps' position the Devonshires cooperated with a French unit, the 295th Infantry Regiment, to capture the canal bridge three-quarters of a mile to the east of Givenchy. This was the nearest point to La Bassee that any Allied troops were to reach for the next four years. SmithDorrien's offensive was spent. Further north the situation was more hopeful. From October 14 a continuous line was formed as far as the coast, for on this day Allenby's cavalry corps, moving north-eastwards, made contact with 3rd Cavalry Division (of Rawlinson's IV Corps) south of Ypres. Without any great opposition 1st Cavalry Division occupied Dranouter, two miles north-east of Bailleul, and 2nd Cavalry Division occupied Kemmel. Joining forces, these then advanced to a line from Neuve Eglise running down through Messines to Wytschaete. Hearing of their progress, French sent Allenby instructions to reconnoitre the River Lys from Estaires to Menin and report back at once. As he realised, in the Ypres gap lay the last chance of outflanking the Germans before they, too, formed an unbroken line from Switzerland to the sea. At first, on the 15th, things seemed to go well, for Conneau's cavalry corps secured Estaires and then headed for Sailly, two miles to the north-east. Their attack on the latter failed and when Allenby reconnoitred the river Lys he found that the bridges were already in German hands. Any advance beyond Comines, six miles from Menin, proved impossible for the Germans held the line of the canal running down from Ypres. Still, after heavy fighting, slightly to the north some precarious footholds were gained, and the Germans were driven from the villages of Houthem and Hollebeke on the far side of the canal. Towards mid-day Sir John French conferred with Foch and then met Pulteney and Allenby at Hazebrouck to discuss the next moves. Orders were issued that III Corps (with the help of de Mitry's cavalry) should secure bridges over the Lys at Sailly, Bac St Maur Erquinghem and Pont-de-Nieppe. Though the evening was foggy and the ground had not been reconnoitred the units detailed for the task went ahead and the first three bridges were secured. Next morning the leading units of III Corps went across


On October 16 Sir John French issued an operation order which included, for the first time. Sir Henry Rawlinson's IV Corps. In view of events a few days later the wording is of particular interest: 1. It is the intention of the C-in-C to the enemy wherever met.

advance eastwards, attacking

The Cavalry Corps will establish itself on the right bank of the river Lys between Armentieres and Menin and then move in an easterly direction, eventually covering the left flank of the advance.


Ill Corps will closely support the movement. II Corps will push forward drawing towards III Corps as opportunity offers. IV Corps, covered by its 3rd Cavalry Division on its left flank, will move between Courtrai (6 miles ENE of Menin) and Roulers it will .





also observe towards the for the advance of the enemy against the Belgian Army. In short, this was an offensive by the entire BEF. The opposition, according to Sir John French's best intelligence, consisted of cavalry plus three divisions of the Antwerp siege corps

which were moving against Ypres.


the 16th there



progress. Allenby's


failed to

Lys between Houplines and Comines, Corps, which had secured its passage across the river by

force the passage of the III

night operations, was occupied in consolidating its positions. Rawlinson's 7th Division moved to a covering position about five miles east of Ypres and began digging in. As French had anticipated, the Germans went back, in places as much as three miles, and his orders for the 17th were to continue the advance along the same axis. Allenby was ordered not to attempt the passage of the Lys until the advance of III Corps further south had made itself felt. Again things seemed to go well. The 6th Division advanced to a line running down from Rouge le Bout to Armentieres, and 4th Division entered Armentieres itself. This was a modern manufacturing town with wide streets crowded with refugees from Lille. Prisoners taken in and around the town proved to be from XIX and XIII Corps, confirming the presence of these formations — or elements of them in the area. During the 17th, 7th Division remained entrenched in its position along the line Zandvoorde-Gheluvelt-Zonnebeke, with 3rd Cavalry Division near Passchendaele, awaiting the advance of III Corps. Reconnaissance indicated that the main German position now lay about half a mile to the east, running through Koelberg. Ill Corps also discovered that the Germans were entrenching their line on a rise of ground called Perenchies Ridge about four miles east of Armentieres. During the day the Allied position at Ypres was strengthened by the arrival on the left flank of four cavalry divisions under General de Mitry, and Haig's I Corps had begun arriving at Hazebrouck. Despite evidence of German reinforcements, Sir John French was still determined to maintain the offensive and at 1915 hours issued orders to this effect. So on the 18th, Allenby's Cavalry Corps made attacks along the whole line from Deulemont to Tenbrielen (two miles north of Comines), in touch with III Corps on its right and 7th Division on its left. But it could make no progress. Rawlinson's IV Corps was ordered to move on Menin, but bearing in mind his instructions not to push too far ahead of III Corps, Rawlinson told 7th Division to merely move forward and gain ground from which to attack the following day. By midday Rawlinson's interpretation of his orders was discovered at


and he was told to push on Menin. These instructions he disregarded, probably saving his division. The truth was that French's offensive was based on inaccurate Intelligence. The Germans were not retiring through weakness, but according to a prepared plan. On October 14, probably as a result of the heavy losses sustained during Smith-Dorrien's advance north of the La Bassee canal, Falkenhayn, the Chief of the German Staff, issued orders that the partial offensive by Sixth Army should cease, and Fourth Army under Duke Albrecht of Wiirttemberg would be brought up between Menin and the sea. This would carry out the final and decisive enveloping movement, completely countering operations by Sir John French and the BEF. Duke Albrecht's orders, in fact, were no less than to win the war 'by successfully closing the enemy who is still engaged in the concentration and reorganization of his forces, and by gaining Calais, the aim and object of the 1914 campaign'. This new army contained no less than eight new divisions, formed mostly of volunteers, who (to quote Captain Cyril Falls) were 'the flower of the youth of Germany, middle and upper-class students, flaming with patriotism and enthusiasm, ready for sacrifice'. These divisions were joined by forces released by the fall of Antwerp, and a Marine Division. On October 16 the leading formations of this massive striking force were riding west on trains from Brussels; on the 17th they were on a line 20 miles from the Yser; and on the 18th the leading formation, III Reserve Corps, began attacking the Belgian outposts east of the river.

Naval support Below its junction with the Ypres canal, the Yser is nearly 20 yards wide, and five to ten feet deep. It is canalized and has

embankments on both sides, and at this time the west bank commanded the east by over six feet. The whole region between the Yser and the sea is low lying, and intersected by canals and ditches. Passage over the river was impossible except at the bridges which were spaced about three miles apart. Despite the difficulties, the German troops attacked with great elan; the immense importance of the operation had been impressed upon them and they pushed ahead regardless of heavy losses. By midday they had captured the advanced posts at Keyem and Schoore, but failed repeatedly to cross the river. The Belgian infantry in their stubborn defence were supported by fire from a Royal Navy flotilla under Admiral Hood. The shells were not, according to German reports, effective in inflicting casualties because they broke up into a few large fragments, but the morale impact of the Royal Navy's support was immense. The general commanding 77/ Reserve Corps decided not to allow his troops to cross the Yser at Nieuport on the coast, 'on account of the heavy fire from the British naval guns'. So the position remained in Belgian hands, and with it the locks which controlled the inlet of sea water. Later on the locks were opened and the sea flooded in to cover the Belgian front. Without too much exaggeration one could say that 'the race to the sea' was won neither by the BEF nor the Germans, but by the Royal Navy. But, whether one accepts this view or not. from October 18 onwards, the contending armies settled down to trench warfare, and the war of movement was at an end. Both sides were disappointed by their failure to envelop the other, but the Allies had the satisfaction of having secured the Channel ports. Within the next few days they had little opportunity to enjoy this success, for the Germans were about to launch a massive offensive designed to break through the BEF and destroy its formations piecemeal. The first battle of Ypres was now beginning. Could either side have seized a vital advantage by enveloping the other during this curious campaign? Falkenhayn was severely Germany for employing green troops in Fourth Army, for they lacked any ability to manoeuvre and suffered crippling casualties. To this Falkenhayn replied that it was a question of time since no other troops were available. If he had not rushed these young men to the Yser, the Allied offensive would have gained momentum. In short 'the prize to be won was worth the stake', for, 'if the German Army could succeed in throwing the Allies back across the Yser and following them up, there would criticised in

Wurttemberg, commander of the

German Fourth Army

A group

be a complete and favourable change in the situation on the Western Front .' French was criticised too. On his own admission, the Germans had outwitted him, and later he was to write: 'Although I looked for a great addition to the enemy's numbers the strength they actually reached astounded me. This, taken with the speed in which they appeared in the field, came like a veritable bolt from the blue.' The trouble was, according to Smith-Dorrien, that French relied too heavily on the unreliable Intelligence supplied by Foch. He indulged in easy optimism and ignored the inherent military probability that, having failed in their thrust on Paris, the Germans would make a supreme effort to seize the Channel ports and cripple the BEF. It is very easy to be wise after the battle. French could at least argue that if his offensive had proved abortive, his decision to bring the BEF north to Flanders had been completely vindicated. It was indeed one of the major decisions of the war. .


Further Reading Ballard, Brigadier-General C, Smith-Dorrien (Constable, 1931) Falkenhayn, General von, General Headquarters 1914-16 (Hutchinson, 1919) Falls, Cyril,


World War (Longmans, 1960)


French, Gerald, The Life of Field-Marshal Sir John French (Cassell, 1931) French, Field-Marshal Viscount of Ypres, 1914 (Constable, 1919) Sheppard, H. W., A Short History of the British Army (Constable, 1926) Shermer. D. R., World War I (Octopus 1973) Spears, Major-General Sir Edward, Liaison 1914 (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1930) Official History of the War, Military Operations France and Belgium 1914, Vols.


and 2 (Heinemann 1929)


has been interested in military history since his boyhood. He Army from September 1 939 to 1 946, first in the infantry and later on staff, attached to the Indian Army and seeing action in India, Assam, Burma, and Malaya. He joined the BBC in 1 949 and worked for 1 2 years as writer



the British

and producer,

in television, and has 300 credits for plays, stage plays include The Bridge of Estaban and Conflict at Kalanadi, and military works include Six Minutes to Sunset (about the Amritsar massacre), Kohima, and North-West Frontier. He has also travelled widely in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East and is a member of the Royal Central Asian Society. first in

documentaries, and


and then

films. His

of officers of the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division read their orders while resting on the grass at the edge of a road

Marwitz, commander of the and // Cavalry Corps




WARSAW Kenneth Macksey

Exhausted and demoralised by their various setbacks, on September 12, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian forces were in full retreat. In an effort to bolster the efforts of their nagging allies, the Germans, who had already defeated two Russian armies, sent Ludendorff with all the forces they could spare to the Austrians' aid. With these reinforcements it was hoped that the Central Powers could stem the ponderous advance of the Russian armies. Below: An extraordinary Austrian method of firing the rifle. Lying on his back behind a crescent-shaped parapet, the infantryman aims the rifle over his head and fires — the chances of hitting the target must have been small indeed

Once an army that has been

led to believe

on the brink of victory finds overnight that it has been defeated, the possibility of an ordered withdrawal in face of the enemy — the most difficult of all military operations—becomes remote. When that army is already split by racial tensions and has lost many of its best officers, and if the it is

torrential autumn rains are already falling on rutted and broken roads, then any attempt at retreat is likely to become a rout. That was the fate of the Austrofirst

Hungarian army as it turned its back on the Russians and made for the River San on September 12, 1914, but if Conrad really hoped they might stand and fight on the river he was hopelessly misled. His army, for the time being, was not capable of a fight and might have collapsed absolutely had the Russians been able to follow up with a little more vigour — but the Russians themselves had serious difficulties in maintaining a vast army at the end of tenuous communications. As it was Conrad could not avert yet another step back, and, on September 16, he had to give in to the pleading of his generals and go still further south-west towards the line of the River Dunajec, thus giving up most of Galicia, and penning his army in the angle between the Vistula and the Carpathian Range. He was fortunate only in one respect— the generosity with which Russian wireless messages told him of their every impending move in the pursuit: evasion could be calculated and not left to chance. As it was the fortified town of Jaroslaw was lost to the Russian Fifth Army and 150,000 troops were marooned in Przemysl, while a full 350,000 out of the original 1.000,000 who had set out in August were either dead, wounded or in Russian hands — some of them very willing prisoners among Russians who, as fellow Slavs, they welcomed as liberators. Conrad's strategy was bankrupt and the

army he had

was shown to have feet Germans could save them.


of clay. Only the

On September

14 General Ludendorff



at Insterburg, celebrating the conclusion of the Battle of the Masurian

when a message from Moltke informed him that a new Southern Army was to be formed and based on Breslau under General von Schubert and he, Ludendorff, was to be its Chief-of-Staff. The nucleus of this army was to be two corps withdrawn from Eighth Army in East Prussia, but Ludendorff made an immediate counter proposal to the effect that the whole of Eighth Army less one corps and other weak forces should be transferred and kept under the control of Hindenburg. Events now moved with the swiftness which epitomised the work of the German General Staff at its best. On September 14 FalkenLakes,

hayn was




place of

Moltke: on September 16 Ludendorff arrived in Breslau, to be told that his proposals had been accepted and that the best part of Eighth Army, redesignated

Ninth Army, was to move to Upper Silesia and come under Hindenburg while the truncated Eighth Army was to be taken over by Schubert (with operational control vested in Hindenburg) and to stand on the defensive to the east of the Prussian border. On September 18 Ludendorff met Conrad to formulate joint plans for the future. In fact the joint planning was anything but cordially shared, for while the Germans tried to give an impression that com-







First Battle of Warsaw. The Russians, finding their advance checked, withdraw and lure the Central Powers' forces into the trap of overextending their lines of communication. Taking advantage of the breathing space offered them, the Russians shift their main weight from their left flank to their right, blocking the German move against Warsaw


agreement had been reached on the


for a

general offensive against the Russians, Conrad wished only to stabilise the front prior to making a deferred step

by step offensive. Above all, Conrad had no intention of coming under German command. Ludendorff was more realistic, assessing the Austrians as being on the verge of collapse, and thus likely to open the way to a Russian invasion of Silesia via Krakow. If the Austrians would not attack in force then the Germans would have to do so themselves in order to divert the Russians. Willy nilly the orders to Ninth Army on September 17 were of a tentative nature, 'to advance against the flank and rear of the first group of armies pursuing the Austrians which could be reached' — anything for a spoiling battle, in fact. Such was the speed and efficiency of the German redeployment from the north that they were ready in ten days, and on September 29 had begun to advance, with

8th Cavalry Division as part of an improvised corps under General Frommel on the left directed to the east of Lodz. Then consecutively to Frommel 's right, on a XVII, XX, south-easterly alignment, Guard Reserve and XI Corps were set moving on the axis Czenstochau-Ivangorod, while the Austrian First Army (which already had part of Woyrsch's Landwehr Corps under command) was prevailed upon to cover the extreme right flank prior to the rest of the Austrian army resuming the offensive after the Russians had been attracted to the German front. The German advance entered a land in which railways were scarce and roads mediaeval. Without having the least notion of the location of the main Russian forces, Ludendorff had to build his own communications as he advanced (his transport supplemented by a swarm of light, onehorse-drawn carts). But while Ludendorff strove hard to build roads, almost from


nothing, he also demonstrated his apprehension of the future by laying elaborate plans to destroy the railways should he have need to withdraw. In essence his was only to be a diversionary raid on the grand scale without pretensions to any other important strategic objective.

to full capacity

In the Russian camp, by mid-September, a series of reports — mostly unfounded — began to suggest that a massive redeployment of German troops was taking place from the Western Front to the east, and when German troops came to be positively identified in southern Poland on September 23 there could be little remaining doubt of their intentions. Having it was the Austrians be destroyed and having almost achieved that aim, Grand Duke Nicholas now reversed his policy. It was the Germans who now had to be rebuffed before anything further could be done against the Austrians.

announced that

who had


However, he was far more subtle than Ludendorff, and had no intention of obliging his opponent by fighting at the fullest extent of poor communications. Instead he conceived an ambush by withdrawing the whole of his force, less Third and Eighth Armies, from opposite the Austrians on the Dunajec and placing it along the Vistula from north of Sandomierz to Warsaw, with the greater part, consisting of Second and Fifth Armies, backed by First Army withdrawn from the Neman, in the vicinity of Warsaw. His plan was simplicity itself. While Tenth Army made a diversionary advance into East Prussia from the Neman to pin down those Germans already there, the German advance on Ivangorod should be counterattacked across the Vistula by Fourth and Ninth Armies. Finally the uncommitted mass, gathered close about Warsaw, would


The direction of their movement altered once again, Austrian troops file eastward


quote Ludendorff, 'The Russians intended to cross the Vistula between the mouth of the San and Ivangorod and attack the Austro-Hungarian Armies north of the Vistula.' Three Russian brigades had certainly been discovered close by Opatow (part of the Russian rearguard whose withdrawal had hung fire for lack of timely orders), but their strength was grossly exaggerated in German eyes — as the dispatch of Guard Reserve, XI and Austrian Corps to envelop them illustrates. The German advance was as cautious as might be expected in view of the fact that they expected to meet a host and slow because the roads were knee-deep in mud. In the event most of the Russians slipped away on October 4 and the Germans netted only 8,000 with nine guns— most of whom were to

Massive redeployment


meant that they were

too slow (by German standards) in building up to full strength. The story from now on is one of unpleasant surprises for Ludendorff. Russian radio traffic indicated, on October 1, that,



army was short

on the move. The Russian



types of


swing down from the north, envelop Hindenburg's left flank and drive him amongst his Austrian allies to the south. As Colonel Hoffmann, Ludendorff 's principal Staff Officer, was to write, 'The idea was a good one.' Moreover, it was made much more effective by the comparatively high speed with which the Russians transferred their strength to the north and the unusual degree of secrecy with which they managed to cloak the move. Some columns travelled by rail and others — mostly the rearguard — marched. The conditions along the lines of communication to the west of the Vistula were atrocious. Ravaging of the countryside and of administrative facilities increased and for long periods the marching columns were without bread and the horses deprived of fodder, and even though the Russians managed to get back on time, the chronic inability of their railways to work

victims of artillery fire. In the meantime Hindenburg was casting anxious eyes towards the old battle-

Masuria where Russian Tenth to the frontier and become engaged with the German Eighth Army's forward defences between Suwalki and Augustow on September 29. Unforfield


Army had advanced

tunately the Germans omitted to prepare strong defences to the east of the frontier because / Corps commander, the redoubtable Francois, was dedicated to fighting only offensive battles. Pressure built up, but the Russian attacks were not pushed home with the same determination of August and the Germans were just able to hold their own, though Schubert followed Prittwitz into oblivion and was replaced in command of Eighth Army by Francois. For the time being the position was

Ludendorff could rightly claim that by October 5 this Russian diversion had no effect upon the main battle taking place in southern Poland, and later, could contemplate withdrawing a division for use in the south. The Austrians were also back in action, having realised on October 4 that the Russians who had advanced to the Carpathian foothills were but a screen and that, therefore, they might safely attempt the relief of Przemysl, and satisfy German demands for offensive action. For the next four days the Austrians enjoyed a free run right up to the San, relieving Przemysl on the 9th, but upon the river line the Russians stood firm and, as Nicholas planned, in great security. Moreover Conrad had become almost as disenchanted with offensive action as his troops. The advance was stabilised,

discontinued and stalemate settled upon Galicia. In Poland, however, all was in constant motion. Ludendorff felt (without being in possession of positive evidence) that on October 5 the Russian flank extended as far north as Ivangorod and that therefore he would have to incline the axis of his advance that

way — a complex and time-consuming


adjustment and a dangerous one too. for by turning north and extending along the Vistula the Germans incurred an everincreasing responsibility for clearing the western bank of the river in order to ensure the security of their rear: at the same time they further exposed their already vulnerable left flank, though this threat was mitigated by the thorough destruction of the railway between Warsaw and Lodz. Formations had to make sharp changes in direction and fresh arrangements had to be made for their supply and so it was not until October 8 that the advance could be resumed — thus giving the Russians all the more time to prepare

the bridges there and cross to the further bank'. Within 90 minutes of these orders being given, the picture at LudendorH's HQ changed lin. Now. the ai radio intercept said, uo less than seven Russian corps could be expected to concentrate on the vicinity of Warsaw by the llth. the very da) Mackensen hoped to be in a position to attack th< nthArmy was being asked to tackle the impossible and this was the time to admit n But Ludendorff could not bring himself to do so, for the Austrians were si ill advancing to the San and the Germans had yet to make a strong contact with the Russians. The reinforced XVII Corps was permitted seize


continue its advance on Warsaw, XX and Guard Reserve Corps were directed to clear the banks of the Vistula and XI ( 'or/is came under the command of the Austrian to

Army in order to stiffen the Austrians' resistance as they became strung out along the Vistula and to link Ninth Army's right with Conrad's left at the confluence with the San. At last, on the 10th, XV7/ Corps joined in action against a sizeable Russian force at Grojec and defeated it, but the richest prize yielded up by this battlefield came from the body of a dead Russian officer —


Lured on by the false Russian retreat, German forces stream on towards Warsaw reception. No sooner had the advance resumed, however, than an intercepted Russian radio message showed that Ivangorod was not, after all, the most northerly extent of the Russian flank; now it was shown to be a good 30 miles further north and so, after 14 hours further painful deliberation, there had to be yet another a

recasting of plans and groupings.

German ambitions were being deflected towards Warsaw, much further to their left than had ever been envisaged. For this reason Mackensen's XVII Corps took Frommel's corps under command in order, as writes, 'to find out what the at Warsaw was'. According to Ludendorff" s orders, however, there were 'no strong Russian forces, but many sick and wounded (rumour says 80,000)' at War-



so Mackensen was, 'by a rapid thrust, to gain possession of Warsaw, to

saw and

nothing less than an Army Order which revealed the entire Russian plan. It came too late to permit full remedial measures. Already the Germans realised that the Russian Ninth and Fourth Armies were aggressively forcing bridgeheads over the Vistula between Kazimierz and Kozienice in efforts to widen the flanks of their existing fortress bridgehead at Ivangorod, and as preliminaries to an offensive against the German Ninth Army's right. The most desperate fighting broke out in which some, but not all, of the Russian incursions were eliminated. To quote Hoffmann: 'We did not succeed in forcing the III Caucasian


/ -Jtl 1






A German

patrol encounters opposition. Despite fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the Germans and Austrians were driven back from Warsaw, and mutual recriminations for this

defeat brought relations between the two allies to a


low ebb

recross the river at Kozienice. horrible at that time. It without intermission; it was im-


The weather was rained

possible to entrench in the saturated and flooded ground of the lowlands of the Vistula. The trails of the Russian guncarriages were literally in the Vistula, but

the Caucasians had set foot on the

bank and clung





It could be added that the Russians suffered from as many disadvantages as the Germans, whom they out-fought. But the vital product of this Russian success was the establishment of a steadily widening lodgement on the German right flank at the very moment when the Germans were pressed in front and running short of reinforcements.

Schlieffen's ghost

At 1830 hours on October 11 Ludendorff conceded failure and ordered Mackensen to dig in and prepare to retreat. Yet Ludendorff had not yet given up, and throughout the 12th he searched hard for reinforcements to prolong the action. From the Western Front only one corps was available -the XXV Reserve -but that had to be sent to East Prussia where pressure 310

from the Russian Tenth Army was still intense. Falkenhayn's sole aim remained the defeat of the Allied armies, in the Race to the Sea and in the coming battles near Ypres: the ghost of the Schlieffen Plan lived on and gave priority to the west. So Ludendorff's hopes of relief turned on Conrad being able to cross the San and distract the Russians, but that day Conrad reported this to be impossible so long as the Russians had bridgeheads on the west bank (particularly the one at Ivangorodl. Each depended on the other and was ready to allot blame to the other for overall failure. In any case, snow had fallen in the Carpathian passes and Conrad's communications were almost washed out. He was prepared, however, to relieve those German troops south of the River Pilica thus releasing them for operations in the north, but this was not quick enough for Ludendorff who wanted to bring the Austrians north at once, under his command, for use near Warsaw. Since Ludendorff and Conrad could not reach agreement, the matter was raised to the highest level of all, but not even an appeal by Kaiser Wilhelm to the Emperor Franz Josef could change the Austrian determination to stay free of

German domination.

Despite the glaring evidence of his failure at Lemberg, Conrad remained in royal favour and his words carried weight when he stated: 'The flighty and rambling operations of the German Ninth Army have created the present difficult position.'

There had to be a compromise on Auswhereby the Germans at Ivangorod were relieved by the Austrians, after the Germans had left, on the theory that the Russians would then come out of Ivangorod and could be defeated in open comtrian terms

bat by the Austrians advancing, a little later, from the south. Hoffmann objected but in the end had to be satisfied with this naive arrangement. Slowly the Austrians advanced to take over at Ivangorod and slowly the Germans were released to shift northward to the Pilica in readiness for the oncoming Russian attack. Mackensen brooded over his left, perfectly aware from a stream of intercepted Russian messages that it was being threatened by a quite

overwhelming enemy force which was moving unchecked into an open space he could not


On October

19 he sent back

wounded and that night began to withdraw to the Pilica. The following night, as his








v^ >>

the Austrians at last appeared close to Ivangorod. Ludendorff began to remove the Guard Reserve Corps from Ivangorod and side-step it to the Austrian left. It was now the Austrian's turn to see if they could eject the Russians from Ivangorod where the Germans had failed so dismally, and on the 22nd they were to try — and this despite a mounting threat to their right when, on the 18th, the Russians recrossed the San close to its mouth and

began pushing towards Krakow. At last Russian strength was close to its zenith. Not only was Second Army moving

Warsaw while Fifth from the city itself, but Fourth and Ninth Armies were rapidly expanding the Ivangorod bridgehead, filling the extra space made free by the German and Austrian withdrawal. Thus the Austrians had set themselves a greater task than the one which had already defeated the Germans, but for four days they were to go on trying to break-in — four days of fierce hand-to-hand combat among the woods during which the line freely to the west of

Army debouched

moved wards



to the inevitable





exhaustion of the accounts tend to be-

the Austrian effort since they failed achieve their aim, but nothing can diminish the bravery of men who tried for so long to achieve the impossible in appalling conditions. In any case the relationship between the Germans and Austrians was now stretched to breaking point, both ready to blame the other for shortcomings, neither ready to give whole-hearted co-operation, the Austrians determined to resist German dictation, and the Germans desperate to assert operational control over the Austrians. On the 20th Ludendorff had refused to leave German troops on the Austrian front and had extracted XI Corps from the Austrian First Army and despatched it to extend little


this, of course, had left; further weakened First Army's attack against Ivangorod. Yet this redeployment was only a stop-gap and barely in time at that, for on the 24th Frommel's Cavalry Corps on Mackensen's left had been driven in with the loss of 11 guns and it was only the arrival of XI Corps on the 25th which prevented a debacle. On the 26th Mackensen was forced to bend back his left still further as the pressure built up, and at 0900 hours


Ludendorff was forced to tell him to come back a full 60 miles as quickly as he could. Then at 1300 hours the Germans monitored an Austrian order from Conrad, telling First Army to withdraw from Ivangorod, ending, 'but the German Reserve Corps is not to be informed of this until six o'clock this evening'. This caused great


indignation and a flurry of hot protests — but it also gave a convenient pretext for German accusations to the effect that the battle had been lost by a





clearly the Austrians had only followed the

Germans' example, for on the 25th Ludendorff had ordered the preparation of a layback position on the line Kielce-Radom and now he ordered Guard Reserve, XX and Woyrseh's Corps to withdraw to that line, and be ready to support Mackensen's withdrawal as he struggled to retire to safety out of contact with the Russians.

Threat of invasion The renewed threat of a Russian invasion of Upper Silesia loomed large above the Germans, and in these circumstances Ludendorff had no alternative but to put the survival of


troops before the



of his ally. 'The general lines of the

were already familiar to the German troops. The retirement was to be retirement

carried out in a westerly direction if possible thereby escaping the enemy's

enveloping movement.' The unfortunate Austrians were thus left more and more to their own devices, First Army beginning to crumble as, for the second time in two months, it executed a precipitate withdrawal, in appalling weather. Feeling he had been left in the lurch, Conrad protested at the German withdrawal, though this was hardly consistent with his earlier reservations about the wisdom of the advance. More realistically, however, he made the general Austrian retirement conform to the German axis, using the Vistula as its centre line and directing his major forces to cover Krakow and Przemysl while sending only light forces into the Carpathians, to hold the passes, as winter conditions supervened. Ludendorff was by no means in the clear as yet, for Mackensen had still to be brought back to safety behind the Prialac and a renewed attack by the Russian Tenth Army on Eighth Army in East Prussia was

down troops there which would have been invaluable in south Poland. Indeed, Eighth Army was already suffering from tying


earlier disinclination to dig a fortified

line covering the frontier,

with Francois

forced into an uneconomical use of troops in offensive/defensive operations when, if he had made ready a properly dug line, he might actually have been able to reduce numbers at the front and spare reinforcefor Ninth Army. As it was, the Germans were once more forced to pull back onto their own sacred territory and fight a


battle in the homeland between Lyck and Goldap. There was nothing but


good sense in these persistent Russian attacks on East Prussia, since they were bound to prevent reinforcements being

German armies: the Germans from now on were dedicated to keeping their own soil inviolate. These

diverted to help other

Russian attacks also played unknowingly on a fault in the German command system, for

Francois reported direct to Falkenhayn

and Berlin and not


Hindenburg and was

therefore able to circumvent the latter's attempts to deprive him of reinforcements. In any case, Hindenburg and Ludendorff

could expect very


help from Falken-

hayn whose offensive against Ypres was just getting into its stride. The fact of the matter was that Germany had committed her entire army in the belief that a decision had to be reached at the outset of war. She (and her opponents of course) had yet to be convinced of the inevitability of a long war. Unfortunately, however, the ingredients of a decisive manoeuvre were already lacking: Germany no longer had a strong central reserve to tip the balance, and all Falkenhayn could send to Ludendorff when he called for help on the 27th were '40,000 trained men without officers and with only a few non-commissioned officers'. The Russians now smelt victory. For once, accurate reports were arriving of the successive lines of defence the Germans were throwing up — one as far back as Czestochowa. Before their eyes they could see the debilitation of the Austrians. Colonel Knox the British Attache visited the church at Zvolen shortly after the Austrians had withdrawn and wrote: 'The place is infected with typhoid. The church is full of Austrian wounded — nearly all Magyars who cannot speak much German. These poor people have been without anything to eat for two to three days; the smell in the church is dreadful. These poor devils were no doubt quite healthy three months ago. Now they have been torn from their homes

and dragged to a foreign country, made to stand up before the enemy's bullets, and finally left by their own people, mutilated, to die of starvation. This is war.' On the German front the retreat was more methodical because the eventuality had always been in Ludendorff 's mind and his organisation was ready. Moreover his fertile mind was already thinking ahead to find a way to turn the tables on the Russians after they had been drawn into the communication desert he intended to create in southern Poland. If the Russians could be lured to the fullest extent of their communications in the south and the German army then transferred northward to Thorn it might be possible to attack those same Russian armies in flank and rear. But first the withdrawal from Poland had to be completed. Unlike Schlieffen, Ludendorff possessed a glimmer of political insight and so he was aware that, in the Poles, the Germans had

a potential ally — or at least a neighbouring people who hated the Russians even more than they disliked the Germans. Hence the German plan of destruction in Poland as they withdrew stopped short of absolute scorched earth. They merely concentrated upon rendering the railways and roads quite inoperative to a depth of 120 miles, calculating that no modern army could

advance more than 100 miles beyond base without such communications.


The Germans did their work with systematic thoroughness — so much so in fact that at times their own withdrawal became threatened as bridges in their rear were prematurely demolished. The German



at an end.


the end of October all the earlier gains had been given up — and more, for this time the Austrians had to withdraw almost as far as Krakow, once more leaving Przemysl completely isolated. But the Russians also had their difficulties. Colonel Knox saw for himself what prevented the Russians from overtaking their defeated enemy as he followed their advance into Poland in pursuit of foes who seemed to have vanished. 'Everything goes to show that the Russians marched beyond the effective range of their supply columns. The result was that horses died in harness, and only the extraordinary endurance of the men and the disorganisation of the Austrians and their consequent inability to counterattack saved the Russian army from disintegration. No less than 1,500 horses were sent to a single Corps. The men had to drag the guns for several days.' Nevertheless the Russians had reason to be pleased with themselves, while the leaders of the Central Powers were soured by a welladvertised set-back (even though they might try to disguise it under the title of 'a strategic withdrawal'). Hoffmann, who could not escape responsibility for much of what had transpired, might call the affair 'the finest operation of the whole war', but Conrad, who ought to have been first in a desire for success and was churlish in his criticism, was nevertheless closer to the truth when he commented that Hindenburg's operations were 'in the highest degree wild and ill-considered' and 'a gross misconception'. [For Kenneth Macksey's




Forced back

own fortified areas man a machine gun post

to their

again. Austrians







School Archbishop Mitty High Media Center


Way CA 95129


San Jose,
The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I - 01

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