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In concluding this dispatch I must call your Lordship’s special attention to the fact that from Sunday, August 23, up to the present date, (September 17,) from Mons back almost to the Seine, and from the Seine to the Aisne, the army under my command has been ceaselessly engaged without one single day’s halt or rest of any kind.
[Sidenote: Continuous fighting of British from Sunday, August 23, to September 17, from Mons to Seine and from Seine to the Aisne.]
[Sidenote: Amiens and Rheims captured.]
In the narratives preceding we have seen how the English forces conducted themselves during the Great Retreat and at the Marne. It must be remembered, however, that they comprised but a small proportion of the armies opposing the Germans. The French bore the brunt of the attack, and a French army turned the tide of battle. Beginning with the first days of September all other military events were overshadowed by the Great Retreat. On September 1 the Germans, in spite of French and British resistance, had reached Senlis. On September 4th Amiens was captured, and two days later the German army entered Rheims. In the following narrative is shown, through the official records, how the French armies bore themselves during the Great Retreat, the First Battle of the Marne, and in the fighting which marked the hurried return of the German armies to the banks of the Aisne which they had, with true foresight, fortified with such a possible situation in mind.
HOW THE FRENCH FOUGHT
THE FRENCH OFFICIAL ACCOUNT
The first month of the campaign began with successes and finished with defeats for the French troops. Under what circ.u.mstances did these come about?
[Sidenote: Two princ.i.p.al actions.]
Our plan of concentration had foreseen the possibility of two princ.i.p.al actions, one on the right between the Vosges and the Moselle, the other on the left to the north of Verdun-Toul line, this double possibility involving the eventual variation of our transport. On August 2, owing to the Germans pa.s.sing through Belgium, our concentration was substantially modified by General Joffre in order that our princ.i.p.al effort might be directed to the north.
From the first week in August it was apparent that the length of time required for the British Army to begin to move would delay our action in connection with it. This delay is one of the reasons which explain our failures at the end of August.
[Sidenote: Mulhouse occupied.]
Awaiting the moment when the operations in the north could begin, and to prepare for it by retaining in Alsace the greatest possible number of German forces, the General in Chief ordered our troops to occupy Mulhouse, (Mulhousen,) to cut the bridges of the Rhine at Huningue and below, and then to flank the attack of our troops, operating in Lorraine.
This operation was badly carried out by a leader who was at once relieved of his command. Our troops, after having carried Mulhouse, lost it and were thrown back on Belfort. The work had, therefore, to be recommenced afresh, and this was done from August 14 under a new command.
[Sidenote: Enemy losses.]
Mulhouse was taken on the 19th, after a brilliant fight at Dornach.
Twenty-four guns were captured from the enemy. On the 20th we held the approaches to Colmar, both by the plain and by the Vosges. The enemy had undergone enormous losses and abandoned great stores of sh.e.l.ls and forage, but from this moment what was happening in Lorraine and on our left prevented us from carrying our successes further, for our troops in Alsace were needed elsewhere.
On August 28 the Alsace army was broken up, only a small part remaining to hold the region of Thann and the Vosges.
The purpose of the operations in Alsace was, namely, to retain a large part of the enemy’s forces far from the northern theatre of operations.
It was for our offensive in Lorraine to pursue still more directly by holding before it the German army corps operating to the south of Metz.
This offensive began brilliantly on August 14. On the 19th we had reached the region of Saarburg and that of the Etangs, (lakes,) and we held Dieuze, Morhange, Delme, and Chateau Salins.
[Sidenote: French offensive stopped.]
On the 20th our success was stopped. The cause is to be found in the strong organization of the region, in the power of the enemy’s artillery, operating over ground which had been minutely surveyed, and, finally, in the default of certain units.
[Sidenote: German reinforcements.]
On the 22d, in spite of the splendid behavior of several of our army corps, notably that of Nancy, our troops were brought back on to the Grand Couronne, while on the 23d and 24th the Germans concentrated reinforcements–three army corps, at least–in the region of Luneville and forced us to retire to the south.
This retreat, however, was only momentary. On the 25th, after two vigorous counter-attacks, one from south to north and the other from west to east, the enemy had to fall back. From that time a sort of balance was established on this terrain between the Germans and ourselves. Maintained for fifteen days, it was afterward, as will be seen, modified to our advantage.
[Sidenote: Battle of the north.]
There remained the princ.i.p.al business, the battle of the north–postponed owing to the necessity of waiting for the British Army.
On August 20 the concentration of our lines was finished and the General in Chief gave orders for our centre and our left to take the offensive.
Our centre comprised two armies. Our left consisted of a third army, reinforced to the extent of two army corps, a corps of cavalry, the reserve divisions, the British Army, and the Belgian Army, which had already been engaged for the previous three weeks at Liege, Namur, and Louvain.
The German plan on that date was as follows: From seven to eight army corps and four cavalry divisions were endeavoring to pa.s.s between Givet and Brussels, and even to prolong their movements more to the west. Our object was, therefore, in the first place, to hold and dispose of the enemy’s centre and afterward to throw ourselves with all available forces on the left flank of the German grouping of troops in the north.
[Sidenote: The offensive fails.]
On August 21 our offensive in the centre began with ten army corps. On August 22 it failed, and this reverse appeared serious.
The reasons for it are complex. There were in this affair individual and collective failures, imprudences committed under the fire of the enemy, divisions ill-engaged, rash deployments, precipitate retreats, a premature waste of men, and, finally, the inadequacy of certain of our troops and their leaders, both as regards the use of infantry and artillery.
In consequence of these lapses the enemy, turning to account the difficult terrain, was able to secure the maximum of profit from the advantages which the superiority of his subaltern complements gave him.
[Sidenote: Enemy crosses the Sambre.]
In spite of this defeat our manoeuvre had still a chance of success, if our left and the British Army obtained a decisive result. This was unfortunately not the case. On August 22, at the cost of great losses, the enemy succeeded in crossing the Sambre and our left army fell back on the 24th upon Beaumont-Givet, being perturbed by the belief that the enemy was threatening its right.
On the same day, (the 24th,) the British Army fell back after a German attack upon the Maubeuge-Valenciennes line. On the 25th and 26th its retreat became more hurried. After Landrecies and Le Cateau it fell back southward by forced marches. It could not from this time keep its hold until after crossing the Marne.
[Sidenote: The British retreat.]
The rapid retreat of the English, coinciding with the defeat sustained in Belgian Luxembourg, allowed the enemy to cross the Meuse and to accelerate, by fortifying it, the action of his right.
The situation at this moment may be thus summed up: Either our frontier had to be defended on the spot under conditions which the British retreat rendered extremely perilous, or we had to execute a strategic retirement which, while delivering up to the enemy a part of the national soil, would permit us, on the other hand, to resume the offensive at our own time with a favorable disposition of troops, still intact, which we had at our command. The General in Chief determined on the second alternative.
[Sidenote: New offensive planned.]
Henceforward the French command devoted its efforts to preparing the offensive. To this end three conditions had to be fulfilled:
1. The retreat had to be carried out in order under a succession of counter-attacks which would keep the enemy busy.
2. The extreme point of this retreat must be fixed in such a way that the different armies should reach it simultaneously, ready at the moment of occupying it to resume the offensive all together.
3. Every circ.u.mstance permitting of a resumption of the offensive before this point should be reached must be utilized by the whole of our forces and the British forces.
The counter-attacks, executed during the retreat, were brilliant and often fruitful. On August 20 we successfully attacked St. Quentin to disengage the British Army. Two other corps and a reserve division engaged the Prussian Guard and the Tenth German Army Corps, which was debouching from Guise. By the end of the day, after various fluctuations, the enemy was thrown back on the Oise and the British front was freed.
On August 27 we had also succeeded in throwing back upon the Meuse the enemy, who was endeavoring to gain a foothold on the left bank. Our successes continued on the 28th in the woods of Marfee and of Jaulnay.
Thanks to them we were able, in accordance with the orders of the General in Chief, to fall back on the Buzancy-Le Chesne-Bouvellemont line.
Further to the right another army took part in the same movement and carried out successful attacks on August 25 on the Othain and in the region of Spincourt.
[Sidenote: Recrossing the Meuse.]
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