German Cavalry cross the Meuse, 1914

German Cavalry cross the Meuse, 1914

German Cavalry cross the Meuse, 1914

German cavalry crosses the Meuse in canvas boats early in their advance in 1914. The horses are swimming across out of shot.


Battle of the Frontiers

The Battle of the Frontiers (Dutch: Slag der Grenzen French: Bataille des Frontières German: Grenzschlachten) was a series of battles fought along the eastern frontier of France and in southern Belgium, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. The battles resolved the military strategies of the French Chief of Staff General Joseph Joffre with Plan XVII and an offensive interpretation of the German Aufmarsch II deployment plan by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger: the German concentration on the right (northern) flank, to wheel through Belgium and attack the French in the rear.

The German advance was delayed by the movement of French Fifth Army (General Charles Lanrezac) towards the north-west to intercept them, and the presence of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on left flank of the French. The Franco-British troops were driven back by the Germans, who were able to invade northern France. French and British rearguard actions delayed the German advance, allowing the French time to transfer forces on the eastern frontier to the west to defend Paris, resulting in the First Battle of the Marne.


How Nazi Germany Invented the Blitzkrieg (And Conquered Europe)

The lightning war changed how future conflicts were waged.

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The attack was beginning despite the widespread lack of artillery support, engineers, or armor. Normally this would be a recipe for disaster. Clusters of gray-clad German infantrymen braved the torrent of enemy fire, carrying assault boats right up to edge of the Meuse River. On the opposite bank, French soldiers crouched in their bunkers and trenches as German aircraft roared overhead, bombing and strafing, paying particular attention to the French artillery positions within range of the river. The Luftwaffe pilots were determined to keep French heads down with a storm of bombs and bullets. Men on both sides braved fire to accomplish their respective missions on the afternoon of May 13, 1940.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

On the German side of the river, Lt. Col. Hermann Balck urged his men forward. His command, Panzergrenadier Regiment 1 of the 1st Panzer Division, was tasked to get across the river and establish a bridgehead. The situation was already unfolding against his unit. Earlier in the day, the least German movement drew artillery fire, keeping the German troops pinned in their hastily dug foxholes and entrenchments. Their own artillery was hopelessly mired in a traffic jam rearward and could not get there in time. The boats for the crossing had arrived, but the operators had not. The only thing that had gone right was the Luftwaffe’s air attack. The aviators’ efforts had been so successful the French gunners had reportedly abandoned their guns and refused to return to them.

It was here that Balck’s meticulous training and leadership came into play. He had trained his men to operate the boats themselves, planning against just such an occurrence. Now he did not have to wait. The French artillery’s cessation had an immediate effect on his men. Just minutes earlier they were lying in slit trenches, trying to avoid the maelstrom of steel flying mere inches above them. Now they leaped from cover and got the boats into the water. Ordering his regiment to cross the Meuse, Balck climbed into a boat, set on accompanying the first wave.

The German troops huddled in the fragile inflatable boats they were at their most vulnerable point with nothing to protect them from enemy fire. Bullets fell like hail. Balck, always one to lead from the front, impressed his men by his willingness to share the risks of combat. It would enable him to get the most out of them now and in the future. Today, however, the crossing was quick as the Meuse is only a few hundred feet wide.

It took only minutes for Balck and his men to scramble ashore while the boats returned for the second wave. The Panzergrenadiers hurriedly attacked the first line of bunkers nearest the riverbank. Within a short time they carved out a small perimeter and steadily began to expand it. The battle for Sedan was well underway its outcome would soon decide the fate of France itself.

The blitzkrieg legend has stayed with the German Wehrmacht to this day. The term itself was made famous by the Western press the Germans referred to the concept as bewegungskrieg, or war of movement, only rarely using the term blitzkrieg at the time. Nevertheless, the word has gained common usage since and there is no better example of it than the Battle of Sedan in 1940. It was a critical point in the Nazi invasion of Western Europe if the Germans were held up here it could have fatally doomed the entire effort into stalemate. Success would mean victory and revenge over hated France, which imposed harsh terms at the end of World War I.

Both France and Britain entered the war just days after the Third Reich attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. The war since then had been marked by a lack of combat in the West. British pundits labeled it the “Sitzkrieg” due to the inactivity. An American senator called it the “Phony War.” This low tempo was just what the Nazis needed they were unprepared to fight a two-front war, and their western defenses were manned by underequipped second-rate troops. They did not waste this precious time but instead began planning their campaign to knock France out of the war. With luck, this would cause Britain to negotiate, leaving Germany in control of mainland Europe.

The German plan was the brainchild of General Erich von Manstein. He was unhappy with the existing plan, which he feared would not achieve the fast, decisive victory Germany needed. It called for one army group to demonstrate in front of the Maginot Line to keep the force occupying it in place. A second group would advance through the Ardennes region and southern Belgium, acting as a pivot point for the main effort, an attack by a third group that would sweep through the Netherlands and northern Belgium to drive the Allies back until the Channel ports were captured. To Manstein, this was an unimaginative repetition of the World War I Schlieffen Plan, which ultimately ended in four years of stalemated trench warfare.

Instead, Manstein devised a plan that could trap the Allies away from their lines of communication and end the war quickly. His plan also involved three army groups. Army Group C would still attack the Maginot Line to keep the troops manning it focused away from the real action. Army Group B would invade Belgium and the Netherlands using a large number of airborne troops and just enough armored divisions to make it look like the main thrust was occurring there. This would hopefully draw the Allies’ main armies north into Belgium. In actuality, this was just what the French expected to happen. Army Group A, with the bulk of the tank and mechanized units, would be the primary force. It would attack through the Ardennes Forest, which was thought impassable to heavy forces. Once through, it would quickly cross the Meuse River and strike for the English Channel coast. This would cut off the Allied armies in Belgium and place them in a position to be annihilated if they would not surrender.

Army Group A would send its best units through the Ardennes first in the hopes they would quickly get to the Meuse River, crossing it between Sedan and Namur. This included the panzer divisions supported by motorized infantry units of both the Heer (Army) and Waffen SS. If they could get across the river quickly, it would allow the Germans to get behind the French lines and make their break for the coast. It was difficult but not impossible. The roads through the Ardennes were narrow, and only a few of them ran east to west. Moving so many divisions through the area quickly would require using both lanes of each road for westbound traffic. Even worse, the units would have to abandon the usual rules for spacing they would be packed together almost bumper to bumper, making them vulnerable to air attack. To offset this risk the Luftwaffe would deploy much of its fighter strength over the area to beat back any Allied air attacks. Likewise, large numbers of antiaircraft guns would accompany the advancing German columns.

Among the subunits of Army Group A was the XIX Panzer Corps, commanded by General Heinz Guderian, Germany’s premier bewegungskrieg theorist. Aggressive and confident, he was a good choice for such a daring operation. Under his command were the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Panzer Divisions along with the attached Grossdeutschland Infantry Regiment, an elite Army unit that would later be expanded to divisional strength. Photographic evidence of the campaign shows the armored divisions were well equipped with PzKpfw. III and IV tanks, the best the Wehrmacht possessed at the time, though not available in great numbers. Each division also contained motorized infantry and artillery.

On the Allied side, French planners were convinced the main German thrust would come through the Netherlands and Belgium, believing a large army could not quickly move through the Ardennes. The Allies’ Plan D was created for this eventuality. This plan would send three French armies and the entire British Expeditionary Force northward into Belgium to meet the German attack along the Dyle River. The Royal Air Force and French Air Force would prioritize their effort in this sector, leaving the Ardennes and Sedan defended by second-rate French units and some Belgian cavalry. To the south, the Maginot Line would stop any attacks from Germany itself.

Though the Germans have since become known for their tanks, during the Battle of France they actually had fewer tanks than the Allies. Moreover, French tanks were more heavily armed and armored than their Wehrmacht counterparts. Several factors served to negate this advantage, however. French tactics dispersed most of their tanks among their divisions in an infantry support role. The Germans concentrated their panzers to strike decisive blows where needed and exploit breakthroughs. German tank crews were usually better trained, and their vehicles were all equipped with two-way radios, allowing them to communicate and coordinate during battle. Only a few French tanks had radios at all, reducing many of them to using signal flags and other methods, which distracted tank commanders from controlling their crews. The French were also quite deficient in antiaircraft guns most of those they had were obsolete. In terms of aircraft the Germans were dominant in numbers and overall quality. The German Junkers Ju-87 Stuka could act in the role of artillery with its accurate dive-bombing capability.


Contents

Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 and on 9 August, the BEF began embarking for France. [1] Unlike Continental European armies, the BEF in 1914 was exceedingly small. At the beginning of the war, the German and French armies numbered well over a million men each, divided into eight and five field armies respectively the BEF had c. 80,000 soldiers in two corps of entirely professional soldiers made up of long-service volunteer soldiers and reservists. The BEF was probably the best trained and most experienced of the European armies of 1914. [2] British training emphasised rapid-fire marksmanship and the average British soldier was able to hit a man-sized target fifteen times a minute, at a range of 300 yards (270 m) with his Lee–Enfield rifle. [3] This ability to generate a high volume of accurate rifle-fire played an important role in the BEF's battles of 1914. [4]

The Battle of Mons took place as part of the Battle of the Frontiers, in which the advancing German armies clashed with the advancing Allied armies along the Franco-Belgian and Franco-German borders. The BEF was stationed on the left of the Allied line, which stretched from Alsace-Lorraine in the east to Mons and Charleroi in southern Belgium. [5] [6] The British position on the French flank meant that it stood in the path of the German 1st Army, the outermost wing of the massive "right hook" intended by the Schlieffen Plan (a combination of the Aufmarsch I West and Aufmarsch II West deployment plans), to pursue the Allied armies after defeating them on the frontier and force them to abandon northern France and Belgium or risk destruction. [7]

The British reached Mons on 22 August. [8] On that day, the French Fifth Army, located on the right of the BEF, was heavily engaged with the German 2nd and 3rd armies at the Battle of Charleroi. At the request of the Fifth Army commander, General Charles Lanrezac, the BEF commander, Field Marshal Sir John French, agreed to hold the line of the Condé–Mons–Charleroi Canal for twenty-four hours, to prevent the advancing German 1st Army from threatening the French left flank. The British thus spent the day digging in along the canal. [9]

British defensive preparations Edit

At the Battle of Mons the BEF had some 80,000 men, comprising the Cavalry Division, an independent cavalry brigade and two corps, each with two infantry divisions. [10] I Corps was commanded by Sir Douglas Haig and was composed of the 1st and 2nd Divisions. II Corps was commanded by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and consisted of the 3rd and 5th Divisions. [8] Each division had 18,073 men and 5,592 horses, in three brigades of four battalions. Each division had twenty-four Vickers machine guns – two per battalion – and three field artillery brigades with fifty-four 18-pounder guns, one field howitzer brigade of eighteen 4.5-inch howitzers and a heavy artillery battery of four 60-pounder guns. [11]

The II Corps, on the left of the British line, occupied defensive positions along the Mons–Condé Canal, while I Corps was positioned almost at a right angle away from the canal, along the Mons–Beaumont road (see map). [12] I Corps was deployed in this manner to protect the right flank of the BEF in case the French were forced to retreat from their position at Charleroi. [8] I Corps did not line the canal, which meant that it was little involved in the battle and the German attack was faced mostly by II Corps. [13] The dominant geographical feature of the battlefield, was a loop in the canal, jutting outwards from Mons towards the village of Nimy. This loop formed a small salient which was difficult to defend and formed the focus of the battle. [14]

The first contact between the two armies occurred on 21 August, when a British bicycle reconnaissance team encountered a German unit near Obourg and Private John Parr became the first British soldier to be killed in the war. [15] The first substantial action occurred on the morning of 22 August. At 6:30 a.m., the 4th Royal Irish Dragoons [16] laid an ambush for a patrol of German lancers outside the village of Casteau, to the north-east of Mons. When the Germans spotted the trap and fell back, a troop of the dragoons, led by Captain Hornby gave chase, followed by the rest of his squadron, all with drawn sabres. The retreating Germans led the British to a larger force of lancers, whom they promptly charged and Captain Hornby became the first British soldier to kill an enemy in the Great War, fighting on horseback with sword against lance. After a further pursuit of a few miles, the Germans turned and fired upon the Irish cavalry, at which point the dragoons dismounted and opened fire. Drummer E. Edward Thomas is reputed to have fired the first shot of the war for the British Army, hitting a German trooper. [17] [a]

German offensive preparations Edit

Advancing towards the British was the German 1st Army, commanded by Alexander von Kluck. [6] The 1st Army was composed of four active corps (II, III, IV, and IX Corps) and three reserve corps (III, IV and IX Reserve corps), although only the active corps took part in the fighting at Mons. German corps had two divisions each, with attendant cavalry and artillery. [19] The 1st Army had the greatest offensive power of the German armies, with a density of c. 18,000 men per 1-mile (1.6 km) of front, or about ten per 1 metre (1.1 yd). [20]

Late on 20 August General Karl von Bülow, the 2nd Army commander, who had tactical control over the 1st Army while north of the Sambre, held the view that an encounter with the British was unlikely and wished to concentrate on the French units reported between Charleroi and Namur, on the south bank of the Sambre reconnaissance in the afternoon failed to reveal the strength or intentions of the French. The 2nd Army was ordered to reach a line from Binche, Fontaine-l'Eveque and the Sambre next day to assist the 3rd Army across the Meuse by advancing south of the Sambre on 23 August. The 1st Army was instructed to be ready to cover Brussels and Antwerp to the north and Maubeuge to the south-west. Kluck and the 1st Army staff expected to meet British troops, probably through Lille, which made a wheel to the south premature. Kluck wanted to advance to the south-west to maintain freedom of manuoeuvre and on 21 August, attempted to persuade Bülow to allow the 1st Army to continue its manoeuvre. Bülow refused and ordered the 1st Army to isolate Maubeuge and support the right flank of the 2nd Army, by advancing to a line from Lessines to Soignies, while the III and IV Reserve corps remained in the north, to protect the rear of the army from Belgian operations southwards from Antwerp. [21]

On 22 August, the 13th Division of the VII Corps, on the right flank of the 2nd Army, encountered British cavalry north of Binche, as the rest of the army to the east began an attack over the Sambre river, against the French Fifth Army. By the evening the bulk of the 1st Army had reached a line from Silly to Thoricourt, Louvignies and Mignault the III and IV Reserve corps had occupied Brussels and screened Antwerp. Reconnaissance by cavalry and aircraft indicated that the area to the west of the army was free of troops and that British troops were not concentrating around Kortrijk (Courtrai), Lille and Tournai but were thought to be on the left flank of the Fifth Army, from Mons to Maubeuge. Earlier in the day, British cavalry had been reported at Casteau, to the north-east of Mons. A British aeroplane had been seen at Louvain (Leuven) on 20 August and on the afternoon of 22 August, a British aircraft en route from Maubeuge, was shot down by the 5th Division. More reports had reached the IX Corps, that columns were moving from Valenciennes to Mons, which made clear the British deployment but were not passed on to the 1st Army headquarters. Kluck assumed that the subordination of the 1st Army to the 2nd Army had ended, since the passage of the Sambre had been forced. Kluck wished to be certain to envelop the left (west) flank of the opposing forces to the south but was again over-ruled and ordered to advance south, rather than south-west, on 23 August. [22]

Late on 22 August, reports arrived that the British had occupied the Canal du Centre crossings from Nimy to Ville-sur-Haine, which revealed the location of British positions, except for their left flank. On 23 August, the 1st Army began to advance north-west of Maubeuge, to a line from Basècles to St. Ghislain and Jemappes. The weather had turned cloudy and rainy, which grounded the 1st Army Flieger-Abteilung all day, despite an improvement in the weather around noon. News that large numbers of troops had been arriving at Tournai by train were received and the advance was suspended, until the reports from Tournai could be checked. The IX Corps divisions advanced in four columns against the Canal du Centre, from the north of Mons to Roeulx and on the left (eastern) flank, met French troops at the canal, which was thought to be the junction of the British and French forces. The corps commander, General von Quast, had ordered an attack for 9:55 a.m. to seize the crossings, before the halt order was received. The two III Corps divisions were close to St. Ghislain and General Ewald von Lochow ordered them to prepare an attack from Tertre to Ghlin. In the IV Corps area, General Sixt von Armin ordered an attack on the canal crossings of Péruwelz and Blaton and ordered the 8th Division to reconnoitre from Tournai to Condé and to keep contact with Höhere Kavallerie-Kommando 2 (HKK 2, II Cavalry Corps). [23]

Morning Edit

At dawn on 23 August, a German artillery bombardment began on the British lines throughout the day the Germans concentrated on the British at the salient formed by the loop in the canal. [24] At 9:00 a.m., the first German infantry assault began, with the Germans attempting to force their way across four bridges that crossed the canal at the salient. [25] Four German battalions attacked the Nimy bridge, which was defended by a company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and a machine-gun section led by Lieutenant Maurice Dease. Advancing at first in close column, "parade ground formation", the Germans made easy targets for the riflemen, who hit German soldiers at over 1,000 yards (910 m), mowing them down by rifle, machine-gun and artillery fire. [26] [27] So heavy was the British rifle fire throughout the battle that some Germans thought they were facing batteries of machine-guns. [28]

The German attack was a costly failure and the Germans switched to an open formation and attacked again. This attack was more successful, as the looser formation made it harder for the Irish to inflict casualties rapidly. The outnumbered defenders were soon hard-pressed to defend the canal crossings and the Royal Irish Fusiliers at the Nimy and Ghlin bridges only held on with piecemeal reinforcement and the exceptional bravery of two of the battalion machine-gunners. [30] At the Nimy bridge, Dease took control of his machine gun after the rest of the section had been killed or wounded and fired the weapon, despite being shot several times. After a fifth wound he was evacuated to the battalion aid station, where he died. [31] Private Sidney Godley took over and covered the Fusilier retreat at the end of the battle but when it was his time to retreat he disabled the gun by throwing parts into the canal then surrendered. [32] Dease and Godley were awarded the Victoria Cross, the first awards of the First World War. [33]

To the right of the Royal Fusiliers, the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, were equally hard-pressed by the German assault on the salient. Greatly outnumbered, both battalions suffered many casualties but with reinforcements from the Royal Irish Regiment, from the divisional reserve and support from the divisional artillery, they managed to hold the bridges. [34] The Germans expanded their attack, assaulting the British defences along the straight reach of the canal to the west of the salient. The Germans used the cover of fir plantations that lined the northern side of the canal and advanced to within a few hundred yards of the canal, to rake the British with machine-gun and rifle fire. The German attack fell particularly heavily on the 1st Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers, which despite many casualties, repulsed the Germans throughout the day. [35]

Retreat Edit

By the afternoon, the British position in the salient had become untenable the 4th Middlesex had suffered casualties of 15 officers and 353 other ranks killed or wounded. [36] To the east of the British position, units of the German IX Corps had begun to cross the canal in force, threatening the British right flank. At Nimy, Private Oskar Niemeyer had swum across the canal under British fire to operate machinery closing a swing bridge. Although he was killed, his actions re-opened the bridge and allowed the Germans to increase pressure against the 4th Royal Fusiliers. [37] [38]

At 3:00 p.m., the 3rd Division was ordered to retire from the salient, to positions a short distance to the south of Mons and a similar retreat towards evening by the 5th Division to conform. By nightfall, II Corps had established a new defensive line running through the villages of Montrœul, Boussu, Wasmes, Paturages and Frameries. The Germans had built pontoon bridges over the canal and were approaching the British positions in great strength. News had arrived that the French Fifth Army was retreating, dangerously exposing the British right flank and at 2:00 a.m. on 24 August, II Corps was ordered to retreat south-west into France to reach defensible positions along the Valenciennes–Maubeuge road. [39]

The unexpected order to retreat from prepared defensive lines in the face of the enemy, meant that II Corps was required to fight a number of sharp rearguard actions against the Germans. For the first stage of the withdrawal, Smith-Dorrien detailed the 15th Brigade of the 5th Division, which had not been involved in heavy fighting on 23 August, to act as rearguard. On 24 August they fought various holding actions at Paturages, Frameries and Audregnies. During the engagement at Audregnies the 1st Battalions of the Cheshire and Norfolk Regiments halted the German advance from Quiévrain and Baisieux until the morning of 25 August despite being outnumbered and suffering ruinous losses, and with the support of the 5th Brigade artillery, they also inflicted many casualties on the advancing German regiments. An evening roll call of the Cheshires 1st Battalion, who had not received a withdrawal order, indicated that their establishment had been reduced by almost 80 per cent. Their refusal to fall back without orders led Smith-Dorrien to later state that the on reflection the 1st Battalion, Cheshires together with the Duke of Wellington's regiment had "saved the BEF". [40]

At Wasmes, elements of the 5th Division faced a big attack German artillery began bombarding the village at daybreak, and at 10:00 a.m. infantry of the German III Corps attacked. Advancing in columns, the Germans were immediately met with massed rifle and machine-gun fire and were "mown down like grass". [41] For a further two hours, soldiers of the Northumberland Fusiliers, 1st West Kents, 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, held off German attacks on the village, despite many casualties and then retreated in good order to St. Vaast. [42]

On the extreme left of the British line, the 14th and 15th Brigades of the 5th Division were threatened by a German outflanking move and were forced to call for help from the cavalry. [43] The 2nd Cavalry Brigade, along with the 119th Battery Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and L Battery RHA, were sent to their aid. Dismounting, the cavalry and the two artillery batteries screened the withdrawal of the 14th and 15th Brigades in four hours of intense fighting. [44]

German 1st Army Edit

On 23 August, the 18th Division of IX Corps advanced and began to bombard the British defences near Maisières and St. Denis. Part of the 35th Brigade, which contained large numbers of Danes from Northern Schleswig, got across the canal east of Nimy with few casualties and reached the railway beyond in the early afternoon but the attack on Nimy was repulsed. The 36th Brigade captured bridges at Obourg against determined resistance, after which the defenders of Nimy gradually withdrew the bridges to the north were captured at 4:00 p.m. and the town stormed. Quast ordered the 18th Division to take Mons and push south to Cuesmes and Mesvin. Mons was captured unopposed, except for a skirmish on the southern fringe and by dark, the 35th Brigade was in the vicinity of Cuesmes and Hyon. On higher ground to the east of Mons, the defence continued. On the front of the 17th Division, British cavalry withdrew from the canal crossings at Ville-sur-Haine and Thieu and the division advanced to the St. Symphorien–St. Ghislain road. At 5:00 p.m., the divisional commander ordered an enveloping attack on the British east of Mons, who were pushed back after a stand on the Mons–Givry road. [45]

By 11:00 a.m., reports from the IV, III and IX corps revealed that the British were in St. Ghislain and at the canal crossings to the west, as far as the bridge at Pommeroeuil, with no troops east of Condé. Intelligence reports from 22 August, had noted 30,000 troops heading through Dour towards Mons and on 23 August, 40,000 men had been seen on the road to Genlis south of Mons, with more troops arriving at Jemappes. To the north of Binche, the right flank division of the 2nd Army had been forced back to the south-west by British cavalry. In the early afternoon, the II Cavalry Corps reported that it had occupied the area of Thielt–Kortryk–Tournai during the night and forced back a French brigade to the south-east of Roubaix. With this report indicating that the right flank was clear of Allied troops, Kluck ordered the III Corps to advance through St. Ghislain and Jemappes on the right of IX Corps and for IV Corps to continue towards Hensis and Thulies IV Corps was already attacking at the Canal du Centre, the II Corps and the IV Reserve Corps were following on behind the main part of the army. [46]

III Corps had to advance across meadows to an obstacle with few crossings, all of which had been destroyed. The 5th Division advanced towards Tertre on the right, which was captured but then the advance on the railway bridge was stopped by small-arms fire from across the canal. On the left flank, the division advanced towards a bridge north-east of Wasmuel and eventually managed to get across the canal against determined resistance, before turning towards St. Ghislain and Hornu. As dark fell, Wasmuel was occupied and attacks on St. Ghislain were repulsed by machine-gun fire, which prevented troops crossing the canal except at Tertre, where the advance was stopped for the night. The 6th Division was counter-attacked at Ghlin, before advancing towards higher ground south of Jemappes. The British in the village stopped the division with small-arms fire, except for small parties, who found cover west of a path from Ghlin to Jemappes. These isolated parties managed to surprise the defenders at the crossing north of the village, with the support of a few field guns around 5:00 p.m., after which the village was captured. The rest of the division crossed the canal and began a pursuit towards Frameries and Ciply but stopped as dark fell. [46]

The IV Corps arrived in the afternoon, as the 8th Division closed on Hensies and Thulin and the 7th Division advanced towards Ville-Pommeroeuil, where there were two canals blocking the route. The 8th Division encountered the British at the northernmost canal, west of Pommeroeuil and forced back the defenders but then bogged down in front of the second canal, under machine-gun fire from the south bank. The attack was suspended after night fell and the British blew the bridge. The 7th Division forced the British back from a railway embankment and over the canal, to the east of Pommeroeuil but was pushed back from the crossing. Small parties managed to cross by a footbridge built in the dark and protected repair parties at the blown bridge, which allowed troops to get across and dig in 400 metres (440 yd) south of the canal, on either side of the road to Thulin. [47]

Late in the day, the II Corps and the IV Reserve Corps rested on their march routes at La Hamaide and Bierghes, after marching 32 and 20 kilometres (20 and 12 mi) respectively, 30 and 45 kilometres (19 and 28 mi) behind the front, too far behind to take part in the battle on 24 August. In the mid-afternoon of 23 August, IV Corps was ordered to rest, as reports from the front suggested that the British defence had been overcome and the 1st Army headquarters wanted to avoid the army converging on Maubeuge, leaving the right (western) flank vulnerable. In the evening, Kluck cancelled the instruction, after reports from IX Corps reporting that its observation aircraft had flown over a column 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) long, moving towards Mons along the Malplaquet road. Two more columns were seen on the Malplaquet–Genly and the Quevy–Genly roads, a large force was seen near Asquillies and cavalry was found further east, which showed that most of the BEF was opposite the 1st Army. It was considered vital that the second canal crossings were captured along the line, as had been achieved by the IX and part of III corps. IV Corps was ordered to resume its march and move the left wing towards Thulin but it was already engaged at the canal crossings. The III and IX corps attack during the day, had succeeded against "a tough, nearly invisible enemy" but the offensive had to continue, because it appeared that only the right flank of the army could get behind the BEF. [48]

The situation remained unclear at the 1st Army headquarters in the evening, because communication with the other right flank armies had been lost and only fighting near Thuin by VII Corps, the right-flank unit of the 2nd Army had been reported. Kluck ordered that the attack was to continue on 24 August, past the west of Maubeuge and that II Corps would catch up behind the right flank of the army. IX Corps was to advance to the east of Bavay, III Corps was to advance to the west of the village, IV Corps was to advance towards Warnies-le-Grand 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) further to the west and the II Cavalry Corps was to head towards Denain, to cut off the British retreat. During the night there were several British counter-attacks but none of the German divisions was forced back over the canal. At dawn the IX Corps resumed its advance and pushed forwards against rearguards until the afternoon, when the corps stopped the advance due to uncertainty about the situation on its left flank and the proximity of Maubeuge. At 4:00 p.m. cavalry reports led Quast to resume the advance, which was slowed by the obstacles of Maubeuge and III Corps congesting the roads. [49]

On the III Corps front to the west, the 6th Division attacked Frameries at dawn, which held out until 10:30 a.m. and then took La Bouverie and Pâturages, after which the British began to retreat the division turned west towards Warquignies and the 5th Division. St. Ghislain had been attacked by the 5th Division behind an artillery barrage, where the 10th Brigade had crossed the canal and taken the village in house-to-house fighting, then reached the south end of Hornu. A defensive line had been established by the British along the Dour–Wasmes railway, which stopped the German advance and diverted the 9th Brigade until 5:00 p.m., when the British withdrew. The German infantry were exhausted and stopped the pursuit at Dour and Warquignies. During the day Kluck sent liaison officers to the corps headquarters, stressing that the army should not converge on Maubeuge but pass to the west, ready to envelop the British left (west) flank. [50]

The IV Corps headquarters had ordered its divisions to attack over the canal at dawn but found that the British had blown the bridges and withdrawn. Repairs took until 9:00 a.m. and the 8th Division did not reach Quiévrain until noon the 7th Division reached the railway at Thuin during the morning and then took Élouges late in the afternoon. As the 8th Division moved on, the vanguard was ambushed by British cavalry before an advance to Valenciennes could begin and then attacked a British rearguard at Baisieux, which then slipped away to Audregnies. The rest of the division skirmished with French Territorials south-west of Baisieux. The IV Corps attack forced back rearguards but inflicted no serious damage, having been slowed by the bridge demolitions at the canals. The cavalry divisions had advanced towards Denain and the Jägerbattalions had defeated troops of the French 88th Territorial Division at Tournai and then reached Marchiennes, after a skirmish with the 83rd Territorial Division near Orchies. [50]

Air operations Edit

German air reconnaissance detected British troops on 21 August, advancing from Le Cateau to Maubeuge, and on 22 August from Maubeuge to Mons, as other sources identified halting places, but poor communication and lack of systematic direction of air operations led to the assembly of the BEF from Condé to Binche being unknown to the Germans on 22–23 August. [51] British reconnaissance flights had begun on 19 August with two sorties and two more on 20 August, which reported no sign of German troops. Fog delayed flights on 21 August but in the afternoon German troops were seen near Kortrijk and three villages were reported to be burning. Twelve reconnaissance sorties were flown on 22 August and reported many German troops closing in on the BEF, especially troops on the Brussels–Ninove road, which indicated an enveloping manoeuvre. One British aircraft was shot down and a British observer became the first British soldier to be wounded while flying. By the evening Sir John French was able to discuss with his commanders the German dispositions near the BEF which had been provided by aircraft observation, the strength of the German forces, that the Sambre had been crossed and that an encircling move by the Germans from Geraardsbergen was possible. During the battle on 23 August, the aircrews flew behind the battlefield looking for troop movements and German artillery batteries. [52]


Caesar’s elite Germanic Cavalry

During Gaius Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (58-51 BC) and during the civil war (50-45 BC) that followed, Caesar commanded over an army of Roman legions and tribal auxiliaries. Among the latter was a troop of German tribesmen, who, out of all proportion to their paltry numbers, would, time and again, lead Caesar to victory.

Gaius Julius Caesar ( By Euthman – commons-Wikimedia)

The Germanic tribesmen were tall men, with skin leathered by the elements and scarred from battle wounds. Their limbs were gnarled and muscular, their eyes wild and fierce. Men of war they were armed with spears and swords, shields and helmets. Some wore their long blond or red hair combed sideways and done up in a knot, after the fashion of their people, the feared Suebi. Others hailed from the Usipetes and from the Tencteri, a tribe renowned for its cavalry.

The Germans first joined Caesar after he had beaten back German tribal intrusions into Gaul in 58 and 55 BC. There were four hundred of them, hostages of tribal nobles and their retainers. They were there as a show of good will and trust, and for the loot and glory in battle.

Osterby Head, from remains preserved in a bog. Note the typical Suebi knot. (Bullenwächter – commons-Wikimedia).

That the Germans would fight for former foes was not at all unusual. The retainers of a German chief hailed not just from his own tribe, but from tribal hostages and from warriors who wandered the land in search of battle and plunder. What did it matter to them, if they fought for a German chief or a Roman consul? Germanic warriors even served as bodyguards for Cleopatra and for Herod the Great. The Germans were not the only tribal auxiliaries in Caesar’s army. For the vast bulk of his cavalry, Caesar depended on allied Gallic tribes and there was also a small detachment of Spanish cavalry.

Caesar was impressed by the martial spirit of the Germans. He wrote that, though in the past the Gauls had been more warlike than the Germans, the Gauls had come to “not even pretend to compete with the Germans in bravery” (Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul, IV. 24). Even the “fierce glance of their eyes was more than they (the Gauls) could endure” (Caesar, I. 39).

Caesar blamed the softening of the Gauls to their trade with Roman provinces, which provided them the luxuries of civilization. In comparison, the Germans maintained their hardiness through their harsher, more primitive lifestyle. In reality, the ethnicity of tribes facing each other across the Rhine was not as clear cut as Caesar maintained although the river did serve as a rough border between Celts and Germans.

In battle, a swift German light infantry soldier ran alongside each cavalryman, clinging to the horse’s mane to keep pace. He protected the cavalryman’s flanks and stabbed at the enemy horse. Caesar valued his German warriors so highly, that he replaced their pony-like horses with the larger steeds of his bodyguard, tribunes, and knights.

It was in 52 BC, during the final and most critical year of Caesar’s Gallic war, when Caesar’s fortunes would fall to an all time low, that his German cavalry would rise to the occasion.

Caesar was accepting the surrender of the town of Noviodunum Biturigum, when the cavalry of King Vercingetorix, the charismatic Gallic resistance leader, appeared on the horizon. Caesar ordered his several-thousand-strong allied Gallic cavalry to take the field. Caesar’s Gauls had the worst of the ensuing fight, prompting Caesar to sent in his 400 Germans. With a furious charge, the Germans scattered the enemy and inflicted heavy casualties.

Germanic tribal warriors-Courtesy of Heritage History, from Soldiers and Sailors, C.F. Horn.

Vercingetorix, however, re-gained the initiative with a defensive victory at Gergovia. With many of this Gallic allies having switched sides, Caesar recruited another 600 German tribal cavalry and light troops from across the Rhine.

Caesar tried to retreat back to the threatened province of Gallia Narbonensis when Vercingetorix again attacked with his cavalry. Vercingetorix’ sudden appearance caught Caesar unprepared. However, the Gallic cavalry failed to close in for combat with the Romans and skirmished about instead. Caesar’s auxiliary cavalry kept the enemy at bay, allowing the legionaries to form a defensive square. Caesar’s German cavalry meanwhile gained the summit of a nearby hill. Not content with being on the defensive, the Germans routed a body of Gallic horsemen and hurled them back upon their own infantry. The rout caused the entire Gallic cavalry to take to flight.

The Gauls placed the greatest reliance on their cavalry arm and with its defeat, their spirits sank. The initiative was back in Caesar’s hands. Vercingetorix retreated to the stronghold town of Alesia. Perched on a plateau and surrounded by hills and streams, Alesia seemed impervious to assault. Below the town’s ramparts, a hastily constructed six-foot wall and trench enclosed the camp of Vercingetorix’ army.

Caesar surrounded the Alesia with over 14-miles of two concentric rings of earthworks, ditches, ramparts, spikes, stakes, covered pits, forts, and camps. An inner ring of fortifications faced the defenders of Alesia while an outer ring protected the Romans from the anticipated Gallic relief army.

Reconstruction of the Roman siege fortifications at Alesia (commons-wikimedia)

Construction of the Roman fortifications was still going on when Vercingetorix’s cavalry sallied out of the Gallic camp. Possibly numbering over 10,000, the Gauls were met in battle by Caesar’s cavalry. The earth rumbled from galloping horses, with the fighting sweeping over a three-mile stretch of plains between the hills. The Gallic horsemen gained the upper hand over Caesar’s auxiliary Gallic and Spanish cavalry but once again, Caesar had kept his Germans in reserve. The Germans turned the tide and harried the Gauls back against their outer wall and trench.

Behind the attacking Germans, the legions drew themselves up for battle. A general panic now erupted among the Gauls as the looked like the legions were preparing for an assault. Masses of Gauls tried to flee into the town but Vercingetorix had the gates shut. Below them at the camp ramparts, frantic Gauls jammed up the narrow gates or abandoned their mounts to scramble through the trench and up the wall. The Germans were right behind them, swords slashing and spears thrusting, riding down their panicked foes and capturing a number of horses into the bargain. Vercingetorix was forced to change his strategy, remaining on the defensive and sending out cavalry to raise a relief army among the nearby rebellious tribes.

As the siege dragged on, the perhaps 25,000 defending Gauls and the tens of thousands of non-combatants of Alesia were reduced to near starvation. Their spirits rose with the sighting of the arrival of the Gallic relief army under Commius, King of the Atrebates. Commius’ army numbered an estimated 120,000 men, three times larger than Caesar’s worn down legions and remaining auxiliaries. Caesar was now in a real bind, as Vercingetorix’s men stormed the inner line of Roman fortifications while Commius sent forth his cavalry, archers and light armed troops to assault the outward facing Roman defenses.

With his legionaries defending against Vercingetorix’ men, Caesar sent his cavalry to engage Commius’ troops. The besieged Gauls in Alesia shouted to encourage their own, more numerous cavalry. The hard fought battle lasted until the sun neared the horizon. It was then that the Germans massed all their squadrons for a charge. The German cavalry struck Commius’ Gallic horsemen like a thunderbolt. Commius’ cavalry fled the field, exposing his archers who were easily cut down.

With Commius’ cavalry pushed back, Vercingetorix withdrew his demoralized men back into Alesia. A second Gallic assault at night died in the fire of Roman siege engines. A third attack saw Caesar’s cavalry strike at Commius’ infantry from the rear, utterly beating them. With no help left, Vercingetorix surrendered. Aside from relatively minor engagements, it was the end of the Gallic wars.

Vercingetorix surrenders his arms to Caesar (Lionel Royer – Musée CROZATIER du Puy-en-Velay, Public Domain, commons-Wikimedia

Caesar plunged the Roman Republic into civil war in 50 BC, when he marched his legions across the Rubicon and into Italy. For four years his Gallic and Germanic cavalry accompanied the legions through the civil war against the Pompeians and the interludes of the Egyptian and Pontic wars. After performing admirably in the Spanish campaign of 49, the auxiliary cavalry followed the legions to confront Pompey’s army in Greece.

In 48 BC, Caesar blocked Pompey from reaching his supply base at Dyrrachium. In turn, Caesar found his own supply route to Italy severed by Pompey’s naval dominance of the Adriatic. When Pompey tried to break through Caesar’s entrenchments, the Germans fought on foot beside the legions. Sallying forth over their own fortifications, the Germans slew several Pompeians before returning back to Caesar’s camp. Nevertheless, Pompey eventually managed to pierce the blockade. Forced to withdraw, Caesar’s army was demoralized and low on supplies.

Withdrawing into Thessaly, Caesar stormed the defiant town of Gomphi and gave it over to be ransacked by his half-starved soldiers. The whole army, especially the Germans, embarked on an orgy of gluttony and drinking. Pompey finally caught up with Caesar at Pharsalus. Caesar overthrew Pompey’s initially successful cavalry charge and inflicted a crushing defeat. Pompey fled to Egypt where the ministers of Ptolemy XII assassinated him.

Caesar became involved with Cleopatra and her dynastic struggles with her brother and co-regent Ptolemy. With the aid of Mithridates of Pergamum, Caesar cornered Ptolemy near the Nile. The Egyptian army sought protection on a hill flanked by a canal. The German cavalry swam the canal, striking the Egyptians in the flank and allowing the Romans to cross the canal unopposed and annihilate the Egyptians. After a lightning campaign against Pharnaces of Pontus, who had occupied Armenia and Cappadocia, Caesar returned to Italy.

In 46 BC Caesar continued the war against the followers of Pompey in North Africa . At fist Caesar was vastly outnumbered by the forces of Quintus Mettelus Scipio and King Juba but after but after being reinforced, brought the campaign to a victorious end at Thapsus. Caesar’s overeager veterans launched themselves into battle before the lines had been formed and without Caesar’s orders. Simultaneously his archers targeted the elephants which panicked and steam-rolled through their own lines, causing a general collapse among the opposing legions and the Numidians.

The civil war was brought to an end in 45 BC, when Caesar faced Gnaeus Pompeius’ legions at Munda. In addition to eight legions, Caesar possessed over 8000 cavalry, including his veteran Gauls and Germans and King Bogud of Maurentia, with his corps of Moorish horsemen. The 10th legion caved in the enemy’s left flank while the cavalry, with Bogud in the lead, vanquished the enemy horsemen and fell upon the enemy’s flank and rear.

Caesar returned to Rome and became dictator. He rewarded his veteran legionaries with a generous gift: gold coins equal to 27 years pay! Caesar disbanded his Praetorian bodyguard and his Spanish cohorts. Likely his Gallic and German cavalry disbanded as well, returning to their tribes with plunder and coin. Perhaps a few of their number were even granted the coveted Roman citizenship. No doubt, many stayed in some sort of military service for the Romans. There was certainly no lack of opportunity for a skilled sword for hire when, upon Caesar’s death in 44 BC, a new civil war erupted.

Caesar’s German cavalry had certainly proved their worth. In Gaul, they gave Caesar the advantage over hostile cavalry and returned the initiative to Caesar’s hands. Alongside the siege craft and tenacity of the legions, the German cavalry helped bring about Caesar’s victory at Alesia. In Greece, the German tribesmen proved that they could fight as well on foot as they could on horseback. In Egypt, they helped clinch the victory over Ptolemy. Few in number, Caesar treated his German cavalry as elite, often holding them in reserve until the situation became desperate. It was then, that this small but crack corps of warriors could decisively influence the course of a war.

Caesar’s Germanic cavalry is an edited and revised article based on L. Dyck’s original article published in Military History July 2005.


Why did Germany invade France via Belgium?

Post by Dave Bender » 26 May 2006, 15:55

Post by Peter H » 27 May 2006, 08:38

One of the legacies of the population growth of the late 19th Century was the disappearance of the open flank in warfare.Nations in arms, with the resulting conscription, meant a three fold increase in the number of rifles deployed per kilomete of battlefront between 1815 and 1914.Open manouver became a luxury rather than the norm.

My understanding is that the Germans war gamed a conflict confined to the Franco-German border.Even taking into account German assets like heavy artillery and the use of reserve corps the manpower margin wasn't there for a quick victory ala 1870.The killing ground outside of Nancy encountered by the Bavarians in late August 1914 suggest that French fortifications were adequate for the job of stopping the Germans.

Would Britain have sided with the French after 1914 anyway?The US entry in 1917 suggests anything is possible.

Post by Mad Zeppelin » 27 May 2006, 10:23

Disappearance of the open flank

Post by Dave Bender » 27 May 2006, 17:03

The Belgium forts were constructed to a similiar standard as the Verdun forts, with a central citadel of reinforced concrete 2.5 meters thick. There was no open flank, unless Belgium allows the German army to march through unopposed.

After the German army defeats the forts at Liege, Namur, Lille and Maubeuge they must still fight the French and British armies in a frontal clash north of Paris. You might as well go for the frontal clash early on, while your troops are fresh and ammo stockpiles are full.

Re: Why did Germany invade France via Belgium?

Post by monk2002uk » 28 May 2006, 23:02

But why march 30 km and then fight until exhausted and low on ammunition, only to remain at 30 km? Based on the Franco-Prussian War, victory would come if the enemy could be encircled and defeated en masse.

In 1914, there was no concept that there would be no flanks. Neither the Anglo-French nor the German armies brushed the sea on the open (non-Swiss) flank at the beginning of the war.

Post by joerookery » 30 May 2006, 05:19

Post by Dave Bender » 30 May 2006, 17:29

By 1914 conditions have changed since Schlieffen retired from the General Staff in 1905. This requires a reevaluation of German warplans.
1) The Belgium forts have been modernized with armored turrets and observation cupolas.
2) The French Forts around Verdun, Toul, Epinal and Belfort have been modernized.
3) With the exception of Fort Liouville, the French forts between Verdun and Toul have not been modernized. This area is now the weakest point in the fortress belt stretching from Liege to Belfort.

The Belgium forts prevented use of the rail lines. So did the French forts. During WWI no major army could sustain itself without rail transport. Sneaking an isolated cavalry division past the forts makes no difference.

Post by joerookery » 30 May 2006, 19:05

Zuber maintains that the concept of Schlieffen Plan was an invention of postwar blame mongers, who said "it wasn't our fault, but rather Moltke blew it." He says repeatedly that there is no mention of the Schlieffen plan in any text prior to 1920.

One of the leading blame mongers was a former German general named Hermann von Kuhl. He blamed Moltke profusely and didn't bring your attention directly to the fact that he was the Chief of Staff of the first army.

Zuber repeatedly, points out that Schlieffen's primary objective was to increase the size of the German army. The then Chief of Staff was very determined to increase the size of the army, because it was the only way that he saw a clear way to win the war. Hew Strachan, perhaps leading historian on World War I states. "The Schlieffen plan was therefore no more a definitive statement of thinking in the German General Staff in 1905 than it was in 1914, and what demonstrates this point most conclusively of all is its approach to manpower. The Schlieffen plan assumed that Germany had 94 divisions available in fact in 1905 it had barely 60."

Post by Gwynn Compton » 01 Jun 2006, 12:19

The Germans would have no doubt have still haboured memories of how the French fortresses, Metz for instance, held out in 1870, to ensure that significant forces had to be tied up in encircling and reducing them. The French forts also straddled key rail lines in more places, iirc, than the Belgian ones did, which was another issue in 1870, where the Germans had plenty of problems with getting clear raillines (ultimately I think they only had one functional one all the way to Paris until near the end of the war in 1871) due to forts controlling them.

It made much more sense to send the army through Belgium, relying on their own forts to hamper any French attack in the way that they had done to them in 1870. With few forts, and fewer forces on the ground overall, the General Staff could have easily argued that, even with the Belgians resisted, they would not be significant in number, nor their forts numerous enough, to seriously hamper German operations proceeding into the French flank.

The Germans knew that they had to get to Paris quickly, they couldn't afford another repeat of the frontier battles of 1870. Their awareness of how long Paris could hold out would have without a doubt, been a motivating factor for getting there as quickly as possible. For in laying siege to Paris as soon as possible, not only could they end the siege quicker, but as the main hub of the French logistics system, it would be a devastating blow to the French armies attempting to operate against any point in the German wheel.

In theory, the Schliffen plan was the best way for the Germans to wage a two front war given the knowledge they had of their enemies at the time.

French forts also straddled key rail lines in more places

Post by Dave Bender » 01 Jun 2006, 14:49

Opening up the rail line across Belgium requires the reduction of 21 modern forts.
- Liege complex (12 forts total)
- Namur complex (9 forts total)

Opening up the rail lines via Commercy requires the reduction of 6 forts, only 1 of which is modern.
- Troyons. Not modernized.
- Paroches. Not modernized.
- Romains. Not modernized.
- Liouville. Modernized with turret mounted weapons.
- Gironville. Not modernized.
- Jouy. Not modernized.

Post by Mad Zeppelin » 01 Jun 2006, 20:14

Post by monk2002uk » 01 Jun 2006, 23:02

It was not at all clear to the German strategists. They knew that the fortress complexes would be occupied. Plans had been made to assault the fortresses quickly in the hope that they would fall without a siege. As you know, the contingency was to bring up the heavy guns and monster them into submission, which is basically what happened. But well before the forts finally fell, they were being bypassed.

The Germans did not know precisely where the Belgian Army was. The strategy was to find it as quickly as possible and bring it to decisive battle, preferably by encirclement. Von Kluck was itching to get at the Belgian Army. The Belgian High Command had difficulty concentrating their forces, given there were only 6 infantry and one cavalry divisions: the 1e division was based at Bruges, Ostende and Ypres 2e division at Anvers, 3e division at Liège, 4e division at Namur 5e division at Mons 6e division at Bruxelles, along with la division de cavalerie ('L'action de l'armée Belge pour la défence du pays et le respect de sa neutralité'). The Belgians tried to get sufficient numbers in front of the Germans but only limited stands were possible. It was quickly recognised that the power of the invading forces was so great that the Belgian Army faced extinction. Hence the masterly retreat to Antwerp. Even so, large numbers of Belgian soldiers were lost, particularly those encircled in the forts.

While I agree that the Germans better appreciated the role of the heavy howitzer, I would be more cautious in ascribing too much to them. The British anecdotal accounts of the Battle of the Aisne frequently mention the plunging fire of the 5.9s but they had very little effect on the tactical situation.

With respect to the heights of the Meuse, the German deployments undid the French armies, not the artillery per se. Not only did Lanrezac face the prospect of far greater numbers of Germans to his north and west flank that had ever been conceived but the German Third Army was bearing down on his very exposed right flank. Joffre threw in the French reserve army in to sever the lines of supply to the German right wing, only to find that the German armies in the centre, which had been heavily and effectively screened by the German cavalry, were much stronger than realised. In anecdotal French accounts of these battles, such as 'My 75' by Paul Lintier, there is little mention of the heavy howitzers and they do not feature as a battle-winner.

Post by monk2002uk » 01 Jun 2006, 23:40

As I mentioned, the Germans knew that the French centre and right wings would be strong. Furthermore, the French forts were considered very problematic. Crown Prince Wilhelm, commander of the German Fifth Army wrote:

"Among other assumptions our plan of campaign was founded on the supposition that the enemy in the West would accept the decision offered him [early occupation of Alsace-Lorraine]. This assumption proved itself sound inasmuch as our opponent actually meant to take the opportunity of obtaining a great decision at an early stage. The great French fortified line, Verdun-Belfort, as to be turned on the north by the German armies in the West by executing a mighty left wheel through Belgium and Luxemburg in the heart of France with the 1st, 2nd, 3rd , 4th and 5th Armies. The function of the 5th Army on the left wing was to hold the pivot of the fortified Moselle line - Diedenhofen - and in close touch with the 4th Army project its right wing from Bettemburg through Mamer-Arlon on Florenville. Then, in left echelon, it was to keep step with the whole front as it swung round, and gradually turn into the general - due south - line of advance. The barrier forts Montmédy and Longwy were to be rushed in the process.

This task assigned to my army involved my Operations Section in difficult problems of march dispositions. Their object was to bring our fighting units with their innumerable ammunition and supply columns from their extensive assembly zone over the line of the Moselle east of Diedenhofen from north to west, and this though the roads were few and the army must be kept closely concentrated."

The Battle of Longwy (August 21-22) opened up the field of operations to the north of Verdun for 5th Army. The frontier fortress of Longwy was successfully bypassed, falling shortly thereafter to a brief siege. Meanwhile 5th Army headed east to the Meuse before then turning south via Varennes, the Argonne Forest, St Mènehould, etc, as far as Revigny. This movement completely outflanked the line of forts from St Mihiel to Verdun. As 5th Army began cutting across the salient, reaching as far as Souilly and Hieppes, they came under pressure from French counter-attacks. Then von Kluck's attack unravelled much further east, and 5th Army had to retreat to stabilise the line further north. The rest is history, as they say. So the key to unlocking the Verdun-St Mihiel line of forts lay with 5th Army, not the armies that swept through Belgium. Fifth Army used an outflanking manoeuvre rather than take the forts head on.

Why not hit the forts head on? Well, the problems were well illustrated by the entire outcome of the trench warfare phase of the Great War. Frontal assaults in WW1 were rarely successful at achieving any significant break-ins, let alone break-throughs. The German armies on their left wing found this to their cost when they tried to smash through the French flank for a double-envelopment. It was the French armies and the forts, not the latter alone, that stopped this pincer movement, and gave the French enough men to transfer to Maunoury's Sixth Army. Even bringing up super-heavy guns to take on these forts would not have taken care of the 'supporting' infantry/artillery to the extent that the Germans could have broken through. Even if they had, how would the Germans have destroyed their counterparts completely? It needed the hammer and anvil.


Reorganization of the German Army, 1914-1918

By the spring of 1915, heavy casualties made reinforcing regiments to their prewar levels difficult. With active fronts in France, Russia, Rumania, Serbia, Italy and Turkey, the Germans, as well as their allies, were having difficulties in fielding units in sufficient numbers to hold the line. The increased importance of artillery combined with the static nature of trench warfare allowed a reduction to the infantry strength in a division.

In March and April of 1915 the infantry divisions were reduced in size from 4 regiments to 3. In this reorganization, 19 new regiments were created, without increasing the number of men in uniform. The nature of the war also saw a change in the number and types of combat units needed for the war effort. See chart below for a comparison of the composition of the army at the beginning and end of the war:

Reorganization of 1917:

German troops in training for the Spring 1918 offensive, note the use of assault packs in place of the bulky cowhide back pack. The assault pack was made up of rolling the overcoat and shelter quarter around the messkit, and was much preferred to the heavy back pack.

By January 1917, the army was reorganized again. Reducing the number of men in a rifle platoon had reduced the number of men serving in a rifle regiment. In 1914, 81 men made up a typical rifle platoon, divided up into 9 squads. By 1918, a platoon was made up of 45 men, divided into 4 squads. This reduction allowed the formation of new regiments and divisions, again without increasing the number of men in uniform. See charts below for comparison of Combat units for a 1914 and 1917 infantry division:


To make up for the smaller number of riflemen in a rifle company, new weapons were incorporated into the makeup of the platoons in the rifle company. In 1914, each rifle company was supported by a heavy machine gun platoon. After 1915, light machine guns were also incorporated into rifle platoons, and several types of grenades were issued in large numbers. At the company level of command, hand grenade and rifle grenade sections were incorporated. At the Regimental level of command spigot grenade launchers, light trench mortars and flamethrower sections were added. Initially, pioneer specialists attached to rifle companies, at divisional and corps command manned these weapons. These new weapons and the change in tactics greatly increased the firepower available to a rifle company, offsetting the reduced number of men. See charts below for comparison of Combat units for a 1914 and 1918 infantry regiment:

Changes in Tactics and Organization:

German troops in training for the Spring 1918 offensive, note the number of hand grenades in use, and lack of rifles with fixed bayonets.

World War 1 is known for bloody battles where the attacker would make an initial advance, and then a counter attack would move the line back to where the attack started. It is also known for many missed opportunities to exploit a breakthrough or foil an attack due to lack of communication with divisional and corps commanders in the rear. Telephones were used, but artillery fire would quickly cut the phone lines. The radio was in its infancy, and not developed for practical front line use. To communicate with headquarters, commanders on the battlefield had to send runners or pigeons to the rear to transmit messages, such as success or failure in reaching objectives, calling in artillery support, or reinforcements. The runners or pigeons might or might not make it to the rear areas to deliver their messages. It could take hours for messages to reach their destination, and by then it was often too late. It could also take the same amount of time for a reply to get back to the front line commanders, or for action to be taken on the message.

Another aspect of advancing on the World War 1 battlefield had to do with supply. As the attacker moved forward into the defender's rear area, supplies and reinforcements were left further and further behind. In contrast, the defender was moving closer to their sources of supply and reinforcement. The attacker had to transport artillery, reinforcements, and supplies over ground made impassible from the long preliminary artillery barrage.

This lack of communication, lead to the development of the regiment as an independent attacking force. If an enemy pillbox was holding up an advance, light trench mortars or rifle grenades could be brought to bear to deal with the problem directly in place of having to wait several hours to communicate with headquarters to call in artillery support.

Along with the changes in the composition of the rifle company and rifle regiment, new tactics in using artillery, machine gun units, light infantry artillery units, assault troops, poison gas, tanks and ground attack aircraft were developed. A full description of these tactics and weapons is beyond the scope of this short article.

Starting with the Verdun campaign of 1916, the Germans began introducing new tactics to achieve a breakthrough. The long drawn out artillery barrages were replaced by short but very intense artillery barrage mixed with poison gas, followed by an immediate infantry attack. The artillery then fired on the enemy's artillery batteries, as well as the rear and flanks of the attack area to prevent the enemy from moving in reinforcements. Infantry no longer advanced in long waves of men, but moved forward in small groups, infiltrating into the enemy's rear areas. Flamethrowers, grenades, rifle grenades, and light trench mortars on mobile mounts that moved with the assault troops overpowered the defender's strong points. A well-entrenched strong point could also be by-passed and left for later when the field artillery could be brought forward.

In 1916, the Allied armies introduced tanks to the battlefield. The German Army was slow to develop tanks of their own. Only 20 of the bulky A7V's made it to front line service. The Germans relied mostly on British tanks captured during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. They were quick to introduce new anti-tank detachments using a combination of newly designed weapons, like the 11mm Mauser bolt-action rifle, a 37mm anti-tank gun, and existing 77mm field guns located in front line positions.

By the spring of 1918, the Germans were ready for one last major offensive to break the deadlock, and end the war in their favor. The army was reorganized and trained with new weapons and tactics. It was also reinforced with units freed from the Eastern Front. The German Spring Offensives of 1918 nearly broke the allied line. But in the end, they ran out of guns, supplies and men and failed to break the Allied line. The Allied armies recovered, and in the summer of 1918, began their own offensive. The Allies had also reorganized their armies and trained using similar tactics as the Germans were using, and steadily drove the Germans back, until the Armistice of November 11, 1918.


German Cavalry cross the Meuse, 1914 - History

August 1914:
Scenario Preview, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
August 2020

The new Second Edition rules for Infantry Attacks introduce such widespread changes that they&rsquore not compatible with the scenarios from the first edition of August 1914. For the second edition of August 1914 the scenarios have been revisited and revised, to bring them in line with the new, far-easier-to-use rule with a few corrections as well. And they&rsquove been collected into chapters, with battle games to weave the scenarios together, just like recent Panzer Grenadier games.

August 1914, in its new edition, is an exceptional game. Let&rsquos take a look at those scenarios.

Chapter One
The Battle of Stalluponen
Pavel Rennenkampf&rsquos Russian First Army began mobilization on 31 July 1914, with the start of operations intended for three weeks later, 20 August. But his divisions made themselves ready for operation much faster than anticipated, and the first large-scale Russian probes across the border into East Prussia came on 6 August. Cavalry forces clashed as each side tested the other&rsquos resolve.

Rennenkampf ordered his main force to cross the border on 17 August, three days earlier than Russian war plans indicated, three days later than Russian diplomats had promised their French allies. Their first objective would be the rail-junction town of Stalluponen, five miles inside German territory. Three Russian corps advanced in line abreast, and by mid-day they had encountered the Germans.

Gen. Maximilian von Prittwitz und Gaffron, commander of the German Eighth Army charged with the defense of East Prussia, ordered the I Corps facing the advancing Russians to fall back without engaging them. Gen. Hermann von Francois simply ignored those orders and deployed his troops forward to meet the Russians. His I Corps was recruited in East Prussia and charged with the province&rsquos defense, and that was exactly what he intended to do. The Battle of Stalluponen was on.

Scenario One
The Harrowing of Prussia
15 August 1914
Russian cavalry led the advance into German territory, scrupulously avoiding incidents with the local population. That wouldn't stop propagandists from describing rape, robbery and arson on a wide scale, attributed to "the Cossacks." The Russian cavalry's probe came to a halt near the village of Lindental, where they ran head-on into the locally-raised German regular cavalry division.

Conclusion
Russian cavalry was probably better-trained than its German counterpart, but the Germans marched to war in a haze of mass hysteria. Sharp squadron-level actions all along the front checked the Russian advance, and neither side's cavalry would be able to outflank the infantry now engaged in bitter fighting to the south.

Notes
We start with a clash of cavalry the Germans have a little more force but they have to do a little more to win so that seems fair. Right away we run into a rule change leaders come in two flavors. Cavalry leaders command cavalry, infantry leaders command everyone else. That seemed simple enough, but what about field guns and machine guns that are part of a cavalry formation? They&rsquore now termed &ldquohorse artillery,&rdquo and they obey cavalry leaders.

Scenario Two
Deadly Playground
17 August 1914
German troops went to war with schoolboy enthusiasm, many of them eager for the adventure to come. I Corps commander Hermann von Francois informed his chief of staff that his troops were the best in the Imperial Army, and he saw no reason to obey pre-war plans or direct orders from Eighth Army headquarters. Instead of falling back to a shorter line, he pushed his divisions forward and deployed all of his infantry in the front line. When three Russian divisions advanced against Richard von Conta's 1st Infantry Division, Francois had no reserves left to bolster the line.

Conclusion
Russian infantry pressed their attacks and soon the German 43rd Infantry Regiment found itself in deep trouble, with enemy attacks coming from three sides. The arrival of the only remaining I Corps reserve, a regiment of heavy howitzers, helped stem the attack somewhat but by noon Francois and Conta agreed that 1st Division had to withdraw. But to make their escape, they somehow would have to break contact with the Russians.

Notes
Now we have a big infantry battle. It&rsquos the first one on the Eastern Front so no one&rsquos entrenched for dug in, they&rsquore just out for a stand-up fight. Both sides have a little off-board artillery, so there&rsquos some writing down involved, but nowhere near as much as in the First Edition.

Scenario Three
Sound of the Guns
17 August 1914
German I Corps commander Hermann von Francois not only had deployed all of his infantry in the front line: by staying out of his headquarters to avoid unwanted interference from his superiors, he also lost track of half of his forces. Fortunately for the Germans, Maj. Gen. Adalbert von Falk of 2nd Infantry Division, just starting his second week on the job, heard the crash of fighting around Gumbinnen and gathered one of his brigades to march to the sound of the guns.

Conclusion
Falk's attack took the Russians by surprise, finding their open left flank and proceeding to roll them up. Conta's 1st Division went over to the attack when they saw the Russians falter, and the 27th Infantry Division fell back in near-total panic. The Russian division's losses topped 3,000 prisoners and another 3,000 dead and wounded.

Notes
This is another big one, starting off with a Russian attack against outnumbered Germans, who then get massive reinforcements to turn the tide. At least that&rsquos the plan.

Scenario Four
Last Stand at Bilderweitschen
17 - 18 August 1914
Roughly handled in its first actions with the Russians, the German 1st Infantry Division pulled back as darkness fell on 17 August. Two companies of the 41st Infantry Regiment remained in place their commanders had received no orders to retreat and refused to pull back without them.

Conclusion
In these early days of the Great War, officers of all armies had some rather baseless romantic notions of how to wage war. The two German companies remained in place and even fixed bayonets for a dramatic fight to the last man with the Russians before sense prevailed and they pulled out of Bilderweitschen, dragging 30 Russian prisoners with them. They did manage to discourage Russian pursuit with their ill-advised resistance, allowing 1st Division to break contact and gain a desperately-needed rest.

Notes
This is just a small scenario, infantry against infantry, in the darkness with a zone of flickering firelight. The Germans are out to stop the Russian advance at any cost.

Scenario Five
Fatherland Security
18 August 1914

Germany mobilized about four million men in August 1914, but only about half of these were in formal regular and reserve formations. The rest served in hastily-formed Landwehr, Landsturm and Ersatz "brigades" - with no peacetime organization, no heavy weapons, and their men years removed from their military training. Nevertheless, when reports came of Russian cavalry crossing into East Prussia, a collection middle-aged cavalrymen and cyclists moved to stop them.

Conclusion
Detached from the Königsberg general reserve, the 9th Landwehr Brigade had no contact with the nearby I Corps or Eighth Army, and had no business wandering around the battlefield without artillery support. Huseyn Khan Nakhchivansky's cavalry division simply obliterated the small force, which fought to the last man.

Notes
At least the Landwehr have bicycles, which will keep the cavalry from riding them down right away. The Russian player is out to annihilate the Germans, who wish to avoid that. I altered the title slightly from the first edition.

Scenario Six
Charge of the Guards
19 August 1914

On the right flank of the Russian First Army, the army command had formed four cavalry divisions into an ad hoc corps under the command of Huseyn Khan Nakhchivansky. Learning from scouts that a newly-raised German Landwehr brigade had just de-trained and started for the front, the Khan decided to welcome them to the war and ordered his horsemen forward on his own initiative.

Conclusion
Most of the Guards dismounted to execute an infantry assault on the surprised Landwehr, but the 3rd Regiment of Lifeguards lined up for a classic cavalry charge, overrunning and capturing the brigade's attached artillery battery. The Khan had scored a victory, but at the cost of nearly 400 casualties - plus in riding rapidly to the west he had worn out his horses, and assured that his corps would play no role in the Battle of Gumbinnen that broke out the next day.

Notes
This is a big scenario, between a large force of high-morale Russian cavalry and a not-quite-as-large one of low-morale German infantry. The Russian objectives pretty much add up to wiping out the Germans, and they certainly have the force to do so.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published eleventy-million books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.


Battles - The Battle of Charleroi, 1914

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Germany's 1914 Eastern Plan?

The difficulty is 'incompetence' is likely measured by adherence to a disastrously flawed offensive doctrine devised by Joffre - from 2 August to 6 September 1914 alone Joffre relieved 2 army commanders, ten corps commanders and 38 divisional commanders. With Joffre at the helm, the absence of the Germans in Belgium would have resulted in the OTL French offensives continuing unabated. Joffre would have certainly been removed earlier without the Battle of Marne on his CV, but even if Joffre lasts only six months, the French army will be absolutely munted.

Any scenario with France attacking more in 1914 with Joffre's doctrines and insufficient heavy artillery, makes it very difficult for France.

LordKalvert

The Belgian fortresses are no more an obstacle to the French than they are to the Germans. The myth of the German monster guns is just that- a myth. The French had plenty of artillery that could smash a fortress if they had to do so. The established practice was the use of naval guns. They are a bit of a chore to set up but the process isn't unknown. The Germans monster guns are a bit more mobile but the Germans are far more pressed for speed than the French

But why do the French need to take the Belgian fortresses anyway? The route to Germany is below the Meuse and below Namur and Leige. Only if the Belgian army moves south does it even need to be dealt with. Simply mask the Fortresses with some territorials or fortress troops and move on

The fortress fall because they lack a field army in the area not because of the monster guns

LordKalvert

Unfortunately folks like you have no sense of the actual French order of Battle and how fast they will quickly add to their forces. This was one of the main reasons for their recovery at the Marne

active army. 994,000
25 reserve divisions. 450,000
12 Territorial divisons. 184,600
Cavalry. 52,500
Army troops. 187,500
Fortress garrisons. 821,400
GVC. 210,000
Depots. 680,000
Total. 3,580,000

Source- Edward Spears Liason

Now, combing through this mass we have a rather large force to deal with your tiny 40 divisions and for the French to make good their losses

The Territorials and troops brought up from the Fortresses (the Germans do this OTl so I'm sure the French won't think of it or can't do it in the minds of some in this thread) to mask the German and/or Belgian fortresses that they may need

The GVC were detachments to guard communications in the rear. In OTL they are disbanded even with the German thrust into France. With the Germans chasing after the Russians, they are getting disbanded and used to fill the ranks

The depot troops are specifically for building units back up to strength. They do include men called up for training and will start becoming available by the end of September

The Germans make a huge roll of the dice- they threw everything in to their offensive so it is the Germans who are going to have more trouble making good their losses. Especially given the need to make good the much higher losses they will be facing in the East

LordKalvert

It makes some sense if one assumes that all British statesmen lust for war with Germany, in order to stop the Evil Teutonic Empire and appease the Franco-Russians, but have so far been denied a self-righteous pretext by ungrateful little Belgium. I mean, once it's apparent that there will be no good excuse, you just chuck the whole pretense of justification and revert to naked national aggrandizement, right?

The problem is that the Cabinet and Parliament war debates prove that not all British statesmen were pathologically anti-German and pro-Entente-appeasement.

But if you've made up your mind that Britain must always under all circumstances join the war against Germany, you must jump through these hoops.

Um, no you don't. You just look at more than the cabinet debates and quickly grasped what is really going on in the British government

First, the British are like everyone else and don't want war.

Second, the Liberal party is more interested in peace that the rest of the country but divided on the issue. Gray and Churchill definitely are in favor of intervention, Asquith less so. Morley strongly opposed

Third, the Liberals are trying to stick together and keep their government together. The non-interventionists do not resign when interventionist measures are taken because they know the truth which is: if they resign, the government will fall and be replaced by a coalition of Liberal Interventionists and Tories. Bonar Law and Lord Landsdowne make that point clear in their letter

The only reason for delay is to keep Party unity. If that's hopeless, Grey and Churchill join with the Tories and there is war

LordKalvert

There's a brief period when they would. Churchill gives the orders but later is forced to rescind them but, yes, its another possible flashpoint between Germany and Britain.

It doesn't necessarily mean war if the parties are inclined to peace- the Cabinet could disavow Churchill after the fact and the Germans ignoring it because, well peace with Britain right now would be worth it even if the British latter come in anyway

LordKalvert

Riain

Unfortunately folks like you have no sense of the actual French order of Battle and how fast they will quickly add to their forces. This was one of the main reasons for their recovery at the Marne

active army. 994,000
25 reserve divisions. 450,000
12 Territorial divisons. 184,600
Cavalry. 52,500
Army troops. 187,500
Fortress garrisons. 821,400
GVC. 210,000
Depots. 680,000
Total. 3,580,000

Source- Edward Spears Liason

Now, combing through this mass we have a rather large force to deal with your tiny 40 divisions and for the French to make good their losses

The Territorials and troops brought up from the Fortresses (the Germans do this OTl so I'm sure the French won't think of it or can't do it in the minds of some in this thread) to mask the German and/or Belgian fortresses that they may need

The GVC were detachments to guard communications in the rear. In OTL they are disbanded even with the German thrust into France. With the Germans chasing after the Russians, they are getting disbanded and used to fill the ranks

The depot troops are specifically for building units back up to strength. They do include men called up for training and will start becoming available by the end of September

The Germans make a huge roll of the dice- they threw everything in to their offensive so it is the Germans who are going to have more trouble making good their losses. Especially given the need to make good the much higher losses they will be facing in the East

LordKalvert

Give the German numbers- they are going to be hard pressed more so than the French as the Germans are dividing their forces between East and West

The German plan in 1914 was to concentrate everything and make a go for broke shot at taking down the French. It largely worked in crippling the French but then the Russians still had to be dealt with and then the British

Having put their reserves into the front from the onset and the French did not, the French do have more room to expand early before the Germans can bring their larger population to bear.

Does anyone have an actual German plan for dealing with this?

Glenn239

The French government's position was that the invasion of Belgium could be undertaken in case of positive menace, giving Joffre the green light for such planning. He just chose to keep a division between his formal and informal staff papers, perhaps in case of an embarrassing leak.

The Belgians asked for assistance historically, there is no reason to suppose otherwise in this case - any other reaction by Belgium would be a gross violation of its obligations under the 1839 Treaty and could be cited as evidence by Berlin that Belgium was a defacto Entente satellite, (this would come in handy when the Germans decided to cross the Meuse and push into France some years into the war).

The French army's cavalry had no trouble conducting a deep scouting mission to the German border around August 6th, (three divisions?) yet , oddly, you suggest the French could not do what they actually did?

You can't have it both ways - if the Germans are coordinating with the British on Belgium to the purpose of keeping Britain neutral then the Germans will coordinate with the British on Belgium, even if this costs a delay. They're not going to invade Belgium off the cuff - what if news of a French invasion was false? They could be at war with Britain.

Glenn239

It is clear there was no coherent French plans to invade Belgium, beyond Joffre's private musings.

BooNZ

Schlieffen himself revived the Eastern Plan (Grosser Ostaufmarsch) in 1900/01 and 1901/02. Molke (the Younger) again revived the Grosser Ostaufmarsch in 1909/10. In 1909 the Germans war gamed defending the West with only 23 Divisions. Further planning on the Grosser Ostaufmarsch may have been shelved in 1913, but I understand railroad deployment plans contemplated the Grosser Ostaufmarsch in 1914, be-it slower than a Western deployment schedules.

This can be contrasted with the French plans to invade Germany through Belgium, which simply did not exist OTL. No one here is saying the absence of such plans would preclude such an invasion, it is just noted that sending armies through the Ardennes to face the Germans with no formal plan or preparation will not end well.

BooNZ

LordKalvert

Schlieffen himself revived the Eastern Plan (Grosser Ostaufmarsch) in 1900/01 and 1901/02. Molke (the Younger) again revived the Grosser Ostaufmarsch in 1909/10. In 1909 the Germans war gamed defending the West with only 23 Divisions. Further planning on the Grosser Ostaufmarsch may have been shelved in 1913, but I understand railroad deployment plans contemplated the Grosser Ostaufmarsch in 1914, be-it slower than a Western deployment schedules.

This can be contrasted with the French plans to invade Germany through Belgium, which simply did not exist OTL. No one here is saying the absence of such plans would preclude such an invasion, it is just noted that sending armies through the Ardennes to face the Germans with no formal plan or preparation will not end well.

That's very nice but can we see the actual German plan for dealing with the French in this situation? Obviously if they are devising an attack East they are doing something in the West. They wouldn't just game out the East and say the West will take care of itself. Unless, this is just from an old exercise where they have the French being neutral

In any case, why did they hate it? Why was it so bad that they stopped work on it?

BooNZ

That's very nice but can we see the actual German plan for dealing with the French in this situation? Obviously if they are devising an attack East they are doing something in the West. They wouldn't just game out the East and say the West will take care of itself. Unless, this is just from an old exercise where they have the French being neutral

In any case, why did they hate it? Why was it so bad that they stopped work on it?

Reference please - who hated it?

Edit - and what further work was required beyond deployment?

LordKalvert

Reference please - who hated it?

Edit - and what further work was required beyond deployment?

Well the Germans hated the idea. They stopped work on it. They had to have a reason. What deployment did they make for the West. They would have decided where they were putting their troops.

They aren't thinking in a vacuum here. If they are going East with this 4 Army plan, then they would have developed a plan to deal with the West at the same time What is is it?

When we are coming up with the French response, we naturally take their Plan XVII and go with it. It calls for massing the French army along the Franco-Belgian border which makes a swing through Belgium likely

Dandan_noodles

Thing is, even if the French do maneuver the British into the war (by invading Belgium. ) Somehow, you are not going to see the same massive outpouring of emotion in the public, which led to Kitchner's army, by far the most powerful army ever raised in British history. Sending one field army of old pros who take one hundred percent casualties in two months is going to be of limited value to the Entente.

Second, Germany has the advantage of interior lines they can afford to take a risk deploying east, because they have plenty of railroads to throw half their Eastern command back west if the French decide to violate Belgian neutrality. They only actually need one-two of their initial armies in the east for the first months of the war having twice as many lets them crush the Polish salient immediately, while allowing for a redeployment west, or else for the forming of new armies to defend the west. By Spring 1915, they had two new armies in their order of battle, more than enough to cover a French attack through the terrible logistical network of the Ardennes. Furthermore, the correlation of forces in the West will not tip so heavily against the Germans, since they won't be taking the staggering losses they did on a massive strategic offensive through hostile territory under great strategic density of firepower (500,000 in six weeks!), while the French will still be taking casualties at their OTL rate for the first few months.

Furthermore, let's not place unlimited stock in the Germans' pre war plans, since they were based on assumptions (free transit through Belgium, Bewegungskrieg in France, slower Russian mobilization, Britain not caring about the treaty of London, the impossibility of victory in a long war on two fronts) that we know (with hindsight) are mostly false. The Germans could certainly defeat the Russians in a long war, because they did, and France's population was considerably smaller than Germany's once the Russians are defeated, the Germans could still easily man a defensive line including the Ardennes with plenty left over for an offensive, especially since they'll have added multiple armies to their order of battle since the beginning of the war, and will have captured frankly embarrassing numbers of fortress guns in Poland they can ship west to crank up their defensive firepower.

BooNZ

Well the Germans hated the idea. They stopped work on it. They had to have a reason. What deployment did they make for the West. They would have decided where they were putting their troops.

They aren't thinking in a vacuum here. If they are going East with this 4 Army plan, then they would have developed a plan to deal with the West at the same time What is is it?

When we are coming up with the French response, we naturally take their Plan XVII and go with it. It calls for massing the French army along the Franco-Belgian border which makes a swing through Belgium likely


Watch the video: Cavalry in WW1 - Between Tradition and Machine Gun Fire I THE GREAT WAR Special