Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 31st, 1914

- French cavalry this morning observe German infantry and cavalry of 1st Army advancing towards Compiègne, which is not in the direct line towards Paris.  It is the first indication of the 'inward turn' of Kluck's 1st Army.  Of greater concern to Joffre in the moment are reports this evening that German cavalry have crossed the Oise River south of Noyon, moving into the precise gap in the French line between 5th and 6th armies opened by the retreat of the BEF.  At Joffre's headquarters, he and his staff weigh their options.  Vanished are the grand offensive undertakings of Plan XVII - instead, the emphasis is on mere survival.  The question now is how much territory must be given up before the French armies are able to stand and fight the Germans.

- In London Lord Kitchener, British Secretary of State for War, receives an alarming report from Field Marshal French today.  In it the commander of the BEF states his intention to take his force out of the front line, retiring behind the Seine River and maintaining a considerable distance from German forces.  He states bluntly that he no longer believes the French army can triumph, and the preservation of the BEF as Britain's only field army is behind his decision to retreat out of harm's way.

Kitchener reads the report with astonishment and dismay.  French's proposed course of action would amount to desertion of their ally, and render null the entire basis for Britain's entry into the war in the first place.  Moreover, it would leave an immense gap between the French 5th and 6th armies, giving the Germans the chance to envelop and crush them.  A Cabinet meeting is summoned at which Kitchener bluntly states that the retirement of the BEF will lose the war.  He is authorized to inform Sir John French that he should conform to the plans of Joffre, and raised questions regarding the impact of the retreat of the BEF on the French line.

Late tonight, Kitchener is at the War Office, awaiting French's reply.  So anxious is the Secretary of State for War that he has the decoders pass the message word by word as it comes through.  French's telegram reiterates his previously-stated plans, and makes clear his disdain for his allies.  He understood that the retreat of the BEF would open a gap in the French line, but 'if the French go on with their present tactics which are practically to fall back right and left of me, usually without notice, and to abandon all idea of offensive operations . . . the consequences should be borne by them , , , I do not see why I should be called upon to run the risk of absolute disaster in order a second time to save them.'  Beyond the bald-faced lie regarding offensive operations, given that French had forbidden Haig from aiding Lanrezac's 5th Army at the Battle of Guise, it is clear that the BEF commander remains determined to retire from the battlefield.

- The last Russian units of 2nd Army surrender today, bringing the battle to a close.  Hindenburg decides to call the victory the Battle of Tannenberg, after a nearby village where Teutonic Knights had been defeated by Slavs in 1410.  Tannenberg is not only seen as redemption, but deliverance.  The spectre of Russian hordes sweeping over East Prussia has hung over Germany for a month, and now the threat has been annihilated.  It is the most lopsided victory either side will achieve in the war - the Germans capture 92 000 prisoners and 400 artillery pieces, while approximately 30 000 Russians are killed.  Two entire Russian corps, and most of a third, simply cease to exist.  The triumph make Hindenburg and Ludendorff overnight heroes in Germany, and the decisive victory on the Eastern Front stands in contrast to the continuing campaign in the West.

After its crushing victory at Tannenberg, OHL issues new orders for 8th Army - it is to concentrate on clearing East Prussia of the enemy; operations in Russian Poland will wait until this is completed.  As such, the new priority of 8th Army is to attack the Russian 1st Army, still in East Prussia.

- Along the Galician frontier the Russian 5th Army is able to escape its potential encirclement today.  The Austro-Hungarians do not prove as resolute as the German 8th Army in Poland - false reports of Russian reinforcements paralyze the two arms of the pincers, leaving a 32-kilometre gap through which the 5th Army retreats.  The Battle of Zamość-Komarów is undoubtedly an Austro-Hungarian victory, as the Russian 5th Army has suffered 40% losses and been forced back.  However, it is not a decisive victory in the style of Tannenberg - 5th Army remains in the field.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

August 30th, 1914

- The German 2nd Army counterattacks this morning, but is unable to prevent the French 5th Army from disengaging and retreating south.  General Bülow of 2nd Army believes he has won a tremendous victory, that the French 5th Army is shattered.  He orders his army to rest for thirty-six hours, while he remains concerned with his flanks - the German 3rd Army to the east had been too far away to assist yesterday.  He thus requests 1st Army to the west to turn southeastward to close the gap between the two.

This is one of the crucial moments of the campaign.  Turning southeastward, or the 'inward turn' as it comes to be known, will result in 1st Army passing east, not west, of Paris, abandoning a crucial component of the Schlieffen Plan.  General Kluck, however, has already been thinking of such a redirection of his army.  His army has been growing smaller during the advance, not only due to battle losses but the reassignment of some of his units to other duties - a corps to mask Antwerp and other units to occupation duties and cover his lines of communication.  He thus has a greater and greater amount of front to cover with fewer and fewer forces.  By passing east of Paris, he will be able to concentrate his army again.  He knows that this move will expose his western flank to a French counterattack originating from Paris, but he does not feel this is a significant threat - skirmishes with the French 6th Army convince him it contains only rag-tag forces.  One of his corps - IV Reserve - should be sufficient to cover his flank while the rest of his army heads southeast.  Moreover, he feels the BEF has been completely knocked out of the fight.  Kluck thus agrees to Bülow's request, and orders his 1st Army to shift direction starting tomorrow.

Moltke receives a report of Kluck's decision at Luxembourg City, where OHL has relocated today from Coblenz.  Despite the glowing reports from his commanders on the Western Front, he remains gloomy.  Unlike Joffre, he does not visit his commanders in the field, relying only on their oft-contradictory reports to inform him of developments, giving him a sense of disconnect which gives free reign to his fears.  For example, if the French armies are shattered, why are there so few prisoners being taken?  While beaten and retreating, the French are still in the field.  Moreover, he is also concerned about the distances between the armies of the right wing - there simply are not enough units at the front to cover all of the line.  Finally, Kluck's inward turn promises to catch 5th Army in its western flank, at last allowing it to be enveloped and destroyed.  This is the type of decisive victory, Moltke believes, that can win the war in the West.  Further deviating from the Schlieffen Plan, he signals his acquiescence to Kluck.

- As the results of the Battle of Guise become known, Joffre informs the government that he is no longer certain he can keep the German army out of Paris, and advises them to leave the capital, rather than risk capture.  He also orders 6th Army to withdraw toward Paris, in line with his agreement with War Minister Millerand of the 27th, and instructs 4th Army to fall back on Rheims.

- One of the casualties today of Joffre's ruthless efforts to root out commanders he feels has failed the test of combat is General Pierre Ruffey, commander of 3rd Army.  He is replaced by General Maurice Sarrail, one of 3rd Army's corps commanders.

- Sir John French sends Joffre a note today informing him that the BEF would not be in condition to take its place in the fighting line for another ten days.  The British Field Marshal prefers to decline participating in the struggle for survival of his French allies.

The situation on the Western Front, Aug. 30th, 1914.  Note the change of direction of Kluck's 1st Army.

- An area around Paris within a radius of twenty miles is placed under the command of General Gallieni as Military Governor, and he prepares the region for battle - entrances to the capital are barricaded, bridges prepared to be dynamited, etc.  Also, for the first time a German airplane drops bombs on Paris - two are killed by three bombs on the Quai de Valmy.  The aircraft also drops leaflets, reminding them of the Prussian investment of the city in 1870, and stating: 'There is nothing you can do but surrender.'

- In East Prussia, the Russian 2nd Army falls apart.  Stumbling around in unfamiliar terrain, Russians are slaughtered in the thousands, while others surrender to the first Germans they find.  Among those inside the pocket is General Samsonov and his staff.  They have no idea where they are, and walk hand-in-hand trying to walk south.  Samsonov keeps repeating to his Chief of Staff: 'The Tsar trusted me.  How can I face him after such a disaster?'  When the group stopped at 1am to try to get its bearings, Samsonov wanders off into a group of pines, where he shoots himself.

- On the Galician frontier, the Russian 5th Army is in increasing trouble.  On its western flank, the advance of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army has separated it from the Russian 4th Army to the west, while the Austro-Hungarian XIV Corps has turned its eastern flank.  The three centre corps of Russian 5th Army are now in danger of encirclement, similar to the fate of 2nd Army in Eastern Prussia.  General P. A, Plehve of the Russian 5th Army, however, does not repeat the mistake of Samsonov - he orders today his corps in the centre to fall back on Krasnostav.

To the south, though units of 2nd Army are finally arriving in Galicia from the Serbian front to reinforce 3rd Army, the attack of the two armies in second phase of the Battle of Gnipa Lipa is an even worse catastrophe for the Austro-Hungarians than the first.  They advance without adequate artillery support against an enemy that outnumbers them almost two to one, and suffer twenty thousand casualties while being thrown back in disarray.

Conrad finally comes to understand the desperate situation on the southern portion of the Galician frontier, but still believes he is on the cusp of a crushing victory to the north.  As such, he orders the northern armies to continue to advance, while allowing the Russians to move westward towards Lemberg, in the belief that after crushing the Russians in the north, 4th Army can turn back south and drive into the flank of the advancing Russians.

- A force of 1383 New Zealanders, escorted by the Australia Squadron, land on the German colony of Samoa and occupy it without a fight.

Friday, August 29, 2014

August 29th, 1914

- Today Sir John French orders the main British supply base to relocate from Le Havre to St. Nazaire in Normandy, and also instructs his Inspector of Communications to plan for a prolonged retreat taking the BEF south past Paris.  It reflects the one urgent desire at the forefront of his mind - escape from France.  French does not intend the BEF to make any further contribution to a campaign he already feels has been lost.

As such, when the BEF commander hears of Haig's offer to aid the French 5th Army at 2am, he immediately countermands Haig, stating that I Corps needs a day's rest.  Lanrezac is understandably furious - one listener describes him as saying 'terrible, unpardonable things about Sir John French and the British Army.'

- The Battle of Guise begins at 6am this morning when Lanrezac's 5th Army, in compliance with Joffre's orders, attacks the German 6th Army which has been pursuing them.  Advancing in a morning mist, the French catch the Germans off-guard.  The fortunes of the battle vary.  The advance of III and XVIII Corps on 5th Army's left advance four miles before being halted by a rain of artillery fire at noon.  On the right, X Corps had been halted by 11am.  By the afternoon Lanrezac orders forward his reserve, I Corps under General Louis Franchet d'Esperey, to rally the line.  At 530pm,, Franchet d'Esperey leads I Corps, accompanied by III Corps on his left and X Corps on his right, launches a strong counterattack that forces the German Guards Corps to retreat.  This gives 5th Army a tactical victory, but its position is increasingly exposed by the continued retreat of the BEF on its left.  To avoid isolation, at 10pm Joffre agrees to Lanrezac's request for his army to retire.

The Battle of Guise, Aug. 29th to 30th, 1914.

- To the east the retreat of 4th and 3rd Armies continue, the former falling behind the Meuse River below Verdun.

- The first reports of the sack of Louvain appear in the foreign press today.  Global reaction to the news is almost universal outrage, convincing some neutrals that Germany was a force of destruction, and in the Entente countries is seen as demonstrating that there can be no compromise with German barbarians, or 'Huns' as they came to be referred to.  Efforts by the German army and government to assign blame for the episode on the Belgians themselves are entirely unconvincing.

- This morning, the 151st Ermland Infantry, belonging to I Corps, and the 5th Blücher Hussars of XVII Corps, meet at the village of Willenberg, closing the noose around the Russian 2nd Army.  Three Russian corps thrash around in the pocket, but without any central co-ordination their efforts accomplish nothing.  The Russians are already exhausted after several days of fighting, and some have not ate in four days.  They also lacked reliable maps, and thus had no concrete idea of either where they were or how they could break out.  Finally, the terrain in this part of East Prussia is forested and marshy, making any kind of movement difficult at best, while on each of the causeways that criss-cross the swamps the Germans place machine-guns detachments.  The Russian 2nd Army begins to disintegrate.

- In Galicia, General Brudermann of the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army has reported to Conrad that he is facing at least 400 000 Russians before him.  Due to the slow pace of the Russian advance, however, Conrad does not believe him, and orders Brudermann to attack again.  3rd Army thus attacks the Russians to the east again, in the second phase of the Battle of Gnipa Lipa.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 28th, 1914

- Joffre visits Lanrezac at the latter's headquarters at 8am, where they argue over the former's order to launch a counterattack.  When Lanrezac again insists that such a maneouvre is impossible under present circumstances, Joffre loses his temper for one of the few times in the campaign, informing the General that he must obey orders or be dismissed.  Lanrezac refuses to move without a written order, which Joffre then provides.  Later today 5th Army begins to realign itself for a westward counterattack, in preparation for the attack tomorrow morning.

- General Haig of I Corps, on his own initiative, offers to aid the French 5th Army in its coming counterattack.  Lanrezac is pleased at what he sees as an all-too-rare instance of British co-operation.

- Meanwhile the despondency of Sir John French continues to grow apace.  Fearing imminent destruction of the BEF, he orders transport wagons to discard all ammunition and carry men instead.  It is a tacit admission that French wants the BEF to flee as fast as possible, not fight.  Both Haig and Smith-Dorrien ignore the order, fearing its defeatism would crush morale, but the newly-arrived 4th Division implements it, much to the dismay of its soldiers.

- For three days the battle has raged between the French 1st and 2nd armies and the German 6th and 7th armies in Lorraine.  The French fought with a desperation born from the knowledge that defeat here would be catastrophic, and doom any effort to send additional forces to stop the German swing through Belgium.  Though the Germans are able to make minor gains, a breakthrough eludes them.  Today Rupprecht calls off the attack, in order to reconstitute his forces and rebuild his forces for a further attack.  The French victory here is a crucial moment in the Battle of the Frontiers, as it was the necessary prerequisite for Joffre to redeploy forces from Lorraine to oppose the Germans descending from the north.

- The murder, arson, and looting in Louvain comes to an end today, after three nightmarish days.  Of the population of 42 000, 209 have been executed and the rest deported.  Over a thousand buildings have been burnt to the ground, German soldiers often going door-to-door systematically to destroy entire neighbourhoods.  The university has also been destroyed, most notoriously the library, which contained 230 000 books, including priceless and irreplaceable medieval manuscripts, all lost, a tragedy to Western civilization.

Part of the ruins of Louvain.

- The first major naval battle occurs today in the Heligoland Bight, off the North Sea coast of Germany.  After patrolling for several weeks, British submarines, under the command of Commodore Roger Keyes, noticed that the Germans regularly patrolled the Bight with destroyers, supported by a couple of light cruisers.  Keyes, and Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, the latter commanding the Harwich Force of destroyers, were both aggressive commanders who wanted to take the naval war to the Germans.  They proposed a surprise attack on the German destroyers in the Bight, and retreating before the German High Seas Fleet could sortie in response.  The operation is scheduled for today, and will be supported by two forces - Commodore William Goodenough's 1st Light Cruiser Squadron and Vice-Admiral David Beatty, commanding the Battle Cruiser Squadron.  Goodenough and Beatty, who would be standing off the Bight prepared to enter the battle if requested, were part of Jellicoe's Grand Fleet, which was also at sea, though too far to support the operation.  Beatty was in many ways the opposite of Jellicoe - whereas the former was acutely aware of his burden of responsibility and was reluctant to fight the Germans unless necessary, the latter was aggressive and longed to come to grips with the foe.  Beatty's temperament matched his command - the battlecruisers were faster than Jellicoe's dreadnoughts, and seen as more glamourous by the British public.

The Battle of Heligoland Bight, Aug. 28th, 1914

The operation begins at daybreak, when three of Keyes' submarines surfaced to lure the German destroyers to Tyrwhitt's force.  There is a haze on the water today, which makes visibility inconsistent.  What follows is an often-confused running battle between British and German destroyers.  Several German light cruisers rush to the scene to save their destroyers, which leads Tyrwhitt to call in Goodenough's light cruisers.  When they appear, there is an almost disastrous miscommunication.  Keyes' submarines had never been informed that the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron would be part of the operation, so when one of his submarines sees two of Goodenough's light cruisers, they believe them to be German.  Keyes signals Beatty that his submarines are under attack by German light cruisers - Beatty's response is to signal Goodenough that Keyes is under attack.  Goodenough then orders the remaining four of his light cruisers into the Bight - in other words, Keyes has indirectly called in Goodenough's light cruisers to chase themselves.  When Keyes sights Goodenough's four remaining light cruisers, he now signals he is under attack by six German light cruisers.  The farcical episode ends at the last moment when Keyes' submarines realizes they are aiming at British light cruisers.

By 11am, British light forces have been in the Bight for several hours, and there are now more than a half dozen light cruisers milling about, appearing and disappearing in the haze.  Tyrwhitt, believing he is confronted by a superior force, calls Beatty for aid.  Beatty, for his part, knows that that the dreadnoughts of the German High Seas Fleet are not an immediate danger - remarkably, at the exit from the main German naval base is the Jade bar, which at low tide the German dreadnoughts cannot cross without getting grounded on the sand.  Low tide was at 933am, and it would be several hours before the dreadnoughts can get out into the Bight.  Beatty thus brings his battlecruisers into the Bight at full speed.  They emerge from the haze like stampeding elephants, and blow away two German light cruisers before covering the retreat of the British light forces.  By the time the Germans can get their own battlecruisers in the Bight, the British have long since disappeared.

The German light cruiser Mainz sinking during the Battle of Heligoland
Bight, Aug. 28th, 1914.

Though several British ships suffered heavy damage, they were the the clear victors - three German light cruisers and a destroyer had been sunk.  The battle made Beatty, Tyrwhitt, and Keyes into public heroes in Britain, and provided a much-needed counter to the depressing news from the Continent.  The most important consequence of the battle comes in Germany - the Kaiser, who loves the navy he has spent so much money and political capital upon, is terrified of them getting sunk.  Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, commander of the German High Seas Fleet, is informed that he cannot take his dreadnoughts to see without the prior permission of the Kaiser himself.  This completely hamstrings the High Seas Fleet, and effectively concedes to Britain control of the North Sea without a fight.

- This morning Ludendorff orders I Corps to advance to the northwest, to aid XX Corps, under heavy attack by three corps of the Russian 2nd Army.  General François, true to his manner, ignores the orders - Ludendorff is reduced to begging François to obey his order, to no effect.  General François can see the golden opportunity before 8th Army today, and drives straight east to cut behind the Russian 2nd Army.

To the east of the Russian 8th Army, XVII and I Reserve Corps advance, despite confusing orders.  I Reserve Corps captures Allenstein, and confronts the 8th Army units in the trap, while XVII Corps marches west towards I Corps.

By late today, Samsonov is becoming aware of the scope of the disaster his army is facing - he can hear I Corps' artillery fire from his headquarters.  His response is entirely in keeping with his background in the Russian cavalry - he telegraphs Zhilinskii at North-West Front and informs him that he is leaving his headquarters to go forward to the battlefront.  With seven staff officers, he gallops north into the battle.  The already-poor communications within 8th Army collapse completely - there is no contact between the corps of the army, and crucially there is no attempt to co-ordinate attacks between the corps inside the trap and the remnants outside to keep an avenue of retreat open.

- In Galicia, Conrad authorizes the temporary transfer of XIV Corps from 3rd Army to 4th Army in the north.  While he understands that 3rd Army, facing two Russian armies to the east, needs all the help it can get, he sees an opportunity to turn the left flank of the Russian 5th Army, whose western flank is already being pushed back by 4th Army.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 27th, 1914

- Moltke issues a new General Directive to his army commanders in France.  It assumes that the Belgian Army was disintegrating, that no British reinforcements can arrive before the new year, and that the French armies are in full retreat towards Paris.  Of the German right, 1st Army is to advance on the lower Seine River, west of Paris, 2nd Army will advance on Paris itself, and 3rd Army will advance on Château-Thierry.  In the middle, 4th Army is to seize Rheims and 5th Army is to move on Vitry-le-François, while 6th and 7th Armies on the German left arre to continue their advance in Lorraine.  Its broad strokes reflect the Schlieffen Plan, in that the furthest part of the right is to envelop Paris.  However, Moltke also stated that if the French army made a stand on the Marne or Seine, the right wing might need to shift to the south instead of the southwest - Moltke is willing to compromise the Schlieffen Plan to surround and destroy the retreating northern French armies.  Unspoken was whether the three armies of the German right would have sufficient forces to execute such maneouvres - the Directive is ordering them to fan out, creating the potential for gaps between the armies to grow.

- Moltke also orders the redeployment of six Ersatz divisions from Belgium to Lorraine to support the operations of 6th and 7th armies.  These divisions had originally been tasked with relieving the different Reserve corps that were masking Antwerp and Maubeuge, and garrisoning Brussels.  Instead, Moltke hopes these divisions will provide the vital margin of strength to allow a breakthrough south of Nancy and the envelopment of the French army.  However, the Ersatz divisions are 'ersatz' for a reason - poorly-equipped and with little training, these reserve forces were only suited for garrison duties, not for offensive operations.  Their redeployment is symbolic of Moltke's improvisional approach to the campaign, and his willingness to deviate from the Schlieffen Plan.

- The German VII Reserve Corps today surrounds the French fortress at Maubeuge.  Its seizure is essential, as it stands astride the main railway between Cologne and Paris.  For as long as the fortress holds out, however, this corps is unavailable to assist the further advance of German forces to the southwest.

- Since yesterday, the French 4th Army has been locked in battle with the German 4th Army south of Sedan.  While the stand has held off the Germans so far, it has opened up a gap between 4th and 5th Army to the west.  To cover this gap, Joffre orders the formation of a special army detachment.  Assigned to it are two corps from 4th Army and two divisions from 5th Army, and is to be commanded by Ferdinand Foch, whose leadership of XX Corps in Lorraine has been one of the few bright spots in the opening week of the campaign.  As he takes up his new post, Foch learns that his only son was killed in action on August 22nd.

- The new War Minister visits Joffre today at the latter's headquarters to be briefed on the military situation, and remind Joffre of his predecessor's order to dispatch several corps to defend Paris.  While Joffre warns that German cavalry may be at the gates of Paris in four or five days, he argues that he needs every available soldier for his planned counterattack with 6th Army forming near Amiens, and cannot spare anything for Paris.  Joffre does agree, however, that if his counterattack does not succeed, he will send three corps to Paris.

- Joffre also issues orders at 6am to General Lanrezac that 5th Army turn and counterattack, in order to buy sufficient time for 6th Army to assemble near Amiens.  Lanrezac, for his part, views the order as insane - as his semi-disorganized army currently faces north, to attempt a turn to the west and then an attack would invite destruction by its exposed flank.  He argues that he needs to withdraw further and establish a firm line of defense before a counterattack can be attempted.

- The mood at OHL, meanwhile, is exultant, believing that the key battles have been fought and the war nearly won.  The official communique of OHL states today: 'The German Armies have entered France from Cambrai to the Vosges after a series of continually victorious combats.  The enemy, beaten all along the line, is in full retreat . . . and is not capable of offering serious resistance to the German advance.'

- At 4am, the long-delayed attack by General François' I Corps finally begins with an overwhelming artillery barrage against the Russian I Corps on the left of the Russian 2nd Army.  François's two days of disobedience, based on the need to bring up his artillery, now appears justified - the artillery bombardment by itself causes the Russian I Corps to break and flee the battlefield, allowing François' corps to advance eastward.  By the end of the day, the German I Corps has entered Soldau, cutting one of the lines of communication of the Russian 2nd Army.

On the eastern flank of the Russian 2nd Army, confusion reigns.  Having pushed back the Russian 6th Corps, the commanders of the two German corps - Mackensen and Below - argue over which corps should have priority on the road to Allenstein, and neither moves.  Even this quarrel, however, ends up working to the Germans' advantage, as General Samsonov of the Russian 2nd Army concludes that 6th Corps is not faced with overwhelming numbers, and that the defeat suffered by 6th Corps yesterday was the fault of its commander.  Thus Samsonov continues to push the centre of his army forward against the German XX Corps, making progress, but also marching further into the trap.  Indeed, while Samsonov is growing aware of the threat on his flanks, he decides that the best response is to attack in the centre and so fix the German 8th Army in its position while 1st Army comes to Samsonov's aid.  In the circumstances, this is the absolute worst thing Samsonov could have attempted to do.

As for 1st Army, it is only today that General Zhilinskii at North-West Front headquarters finally comprehends that the German 8th Army is standing and fighting, not retreating behind the Vistula River.  He telegraphs General Rennenkampf for his 1st Army to advance to 2nd Army's aid.  The objectives his gives Rennenkampf, however, are too westerly, and he does not insist on 1st Army undertaking a forced march.  Though 1st Army does begin to redirect itself in the direction of 2nd Army, they are still too far away to make any difference.

The Battle of Tannenberg, Aug. 27th to 30th, 1914.
- In Galicia, the left wing of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army advances to Zamość, as the western flank of the Russian 5th Army retreats.  Meanwhile, on the right wing it is the Russians who have the advantage - an Austro-Hungarian cavalry division is broken and retreats south.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 26th, 1914

- In line with his General Instruction No. 2, Joffre establishes the new 6th Army, to be formed at Amiens and commanded by General Michel-Joseph Maunoury.  It will initially consist of VII Corps, drawn from Alsace, and two reserve divisions currently fighting in Lorraine.  As lead elements of these units detrain at Amiens, the Army of Lorraine, briefly established to cover the offensive into the Ardennes, and the Army of Alsace, are stood down, their remaining units assigned to neighbouring armies.

The situation on the Western Front, Aug. 26th, 1914

- Joffre travels to BEF headquarters today, summoning Generals Lanrezac and d'Amade to meet them as well.  Joffre needs the BEF to remain in the Entente line, retreating on level with 5th Army, but Joffre is hamstrung by the fact that he cannot give orders to Sir John French - indeed, as a Field Marshal the latter technically outranks the former.  Thus Joffre must try to use persuasion.

The meeting, however, is a complete disaster.  French begins by listing all of the ways in which the armies of France have let himself and the British down, ending with Lanrezac's retreat of 5th Army on the 23rd.  Lanrezac, for his part, has had enough of British equivocations, and contributes little beyond shrugs of contempt and icy stares; the commanders of the two adjacent armies refuse to directly speak to one another.  Joffre discovers that the British commander has not even read his General Instruction No. 2 yet - though his staff had received it, they had not yet translated it to him.  Joffre attempts to patiently outline his requirements of the BEF, but is unable to extract any promise from Sir John French.  The meeting breaks up without result.

- The gloom at BEF headquarters is matched by the events on the battlefield today.  Early this morning, elements of Haig's I Corps skirmishes with parts of the German 1st Army, both attempting to bed down in the same small French village.  The fighting breaks off quickly, but the normally cool Haig temporarily loses his nerve, informing Sir John French that I Corps is under major attack..  The news rattles BEF headquarters - French's chief of staff faints, and he himself orders I Corps to undertake a precipitate retreat.  Crucially, the direction of I Corps' retreat will cause it to be separated from II Corps by the Oise River.

More serious is the plight of II Corps to the left at Le Cateau.  Reconnaissance by the BEF's lone cavalry division under General Edmund Allenby discovers just after midnight that units of the German 1st Army are close enough to attack II Corps first thing in the morning.  When informed at 2am, General Smith-Dorrien consults his divisional commanders, who declare that their forces are too tired and disorganized to undertake a nighttime retreat.  Smith-Dorrien thus decides that II Corps will remain and fight the Germans until they can withdraw.

Opposite II Corps are two corps of the German 1st Army.  Two further German corps attempted to turn II Corps left flank, but were blocked by the actions of General d'Amade's forces and the redeployed French cavalry under General Sordet.  The battle thus consists largely of frontal German assaults on the British positions, coupled with heavy artillery fire.  Though the Germans suffer significant casualties, superior numbers and artillery take their toll - II Corps loses eight thousand men and thirty-eight guns.  However, from 5pm onwards II Corps is able to successfully disengage from the battle and resume the retreat.  The Battle of Le Cateau is a tactical German victory, but once again the British have managed to retire before being enveloped.  The Entente forces are being defeated and pushed back, but not destroyed.

The top part of the map gives the Battle of Le Cateau, Aug. 26th, 1914, and the bottom half gives the Battle of Guise
(also known as the Battle of St. Quentin), Aug. 29th, 1914.

- For several weeks discussion has occurred among Government ministers in France regarding bringing in leading figures from opposition parties to sit on the Council of Ministers, in order to give the Government a broader base of support and make real Poincarè's commitment to a Sacred Union.  A reconstruction also gives an opportunity to assign blame for the initial defeats on a retiring minister.  In this case, War Minister Adolphe Messimy is the natural culprit, seen as responsible for the conduct of the war, and criticized for excessively optimistic communiques.  When asked to Messimy, though, Messimy refuses, resulting in Premier Viviani having to tender the resignation of the entire Council of Ministers, to allow for the creation of a new Council without Messimy.  Infuriated at his treatment, Messimy leaves for the front as a Major of Reserves, and is replaced as War Minister by Alexandre Millerand.

- In East Prussia Ludendorff has a momentarily attack of nerves when reports reach him that elements of the Russian 1st Army are moving southwest.  He fears being attacked in the flank by the Russian 1st Army while the operation against 2nd Army is still underway, and wonders if it should be cancelled.  It is in this type of situation that Hindenburg shines.  Nothing can shake his confidence and self-belief - he had agreed to Ludendorff's plan, so it would be seen through, and that was that.  He reassures Ludendorff that the reported movement is merely a few cavalry units, and the latter's equilibrium is restored.

XVII and I Reserve Corps arrive on the battlefield today, to the east of XX Corps.  Before them is the Russian VI Corps, guarding the right flank of the Russian 2nd Army.  When the two German corps attack, the Russians are caught completely by surprise - earlier reconnaissance reports of troop movements to the north had been explained as Russian, not German, units.  The Russian corps commander suffers a nervous breakdown, five thousand casualties were suffered, and by nightfall VI Corps was retreating in utter disarray.  2nd Army's right flank was no longer protected.

On the other side of the battlefieldGeneral François again delays attacking the Russian I Corps before him.  Ludendorff personally visits the headquarters of I Corps, insisting that General François carry out his orders.  As his artillery arrives this evening, François agrees to attack tomorrow morning.

- Ludendorff is informed by a staff officer at OHL that two corps are being transferred from the Western to the Eastern Front.  Ludendorff is astonished - he is well aware of the intricate and detailing planning that has gone into the German invasion of France through Belgium, and can barely comprehend how these plans could be disrupted by a subtraction of forces before France has been decisively defeated.  He informs OHL that the reinforcements are not needed and in any case would not arrive before the decisive battle already underway.  Ludendorff's objections are brushed aside, and the redeployment continues.

- In the Baltic Sea, the German light cruiser Magdeburg runs aground just off the entrance to the Gulf of Finland.  Though the ship was destroyed by the Germans, the Russians manage to recover a copy of the German naval codebook, a vital seizure that will in time allow the British to begin to break German codes regarding naval operations.

- The Russian 5th Army, marching southwest towards Austro-Hungarian Galicia in aid of the Russian 4th Army, begins to collide with elements of the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army, advancing northwards, opening the Battle of Zamość-Komarów.  One corps on the Russian right brushes past an enemy corps, suffers heavy artillery fire, and retreats northwards in disarray, Austro-Hungarians in pursuit.

To the south, however, the campaign is going against Austria-Hungary.  General Rudolf von Brudermann, commanding 3rd Army east of Lemberg, believes there is only a small Russian force before him, and advances.  He collides into the Russian 3rd and 8th Armies on the Zlota Lipa River and, significantly outnumbered, suffers a sharp defeat, some of the Austro-Hungarian divisions suffering up to two-thirds casualties.  Brudermann's army is able to withdraw to the Gnipa Lipa River.

- A congress of the Nationalist Party, the chief opposition party in South Africa, is held in Pretoria.  The Nationalists reflect the position of the more anti-British portion of the Boer population, and some of its leaders have considered rebellion.  However, the congress endorses a position of neutrality, being pro-South African instead of either pro-British or pro-German - its leader J. B. M. Hertzog believes that remaining out of the war will allow South Africa to benefit from whomever wins in Europe, while choosing sides runs the risk of defeat.

- The German foreign office has assembled a mission of fifteen people to send to Afghanistan, to encourage the Emir to invade British India.  The mission includes Wilhelm Wassmuss, a Persian-speaker experienced with the tribes of the region.  The mission arrives at Constantinople disguised as a travelling circus - the Ottomans are not impressed.

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 25th, 1914

- Joffre issues General Instruction No. 2 today, which outlines the French strategy in light of the defeat in the Battle of the Frontiers.  The forces on the French left, including the BEF, are to retreat to the line Amiens-Rheims-Verdun, a retreat of over one hundred kilometres.  The massive fortress complex around Verdun is to serve as a hinge, anchoring the centre of the French line, while the left moves counterclockwise like a door.  This means the BEF and the French 5th Army, as the units furthest on the French left, will have the farthest to retreat.  During the retreat, French forces are to fight a delaying action, using quick counterattacks with artillery to keep the Germans off-balance.  As this retreat is underway, additional French forces will be concentrated at Amiens, drawn from the existing French armies between Verdun and the Swiss border.  Once this force is assembled, it would attack the exposed German flank as it passes south and, in conjunction with the BEF and other French armies on the left, envelop and destroy the invading German armies.

- The German 4th Army penetrates Sedan today, and is counterattacked by the French 4th Army to prevent the Germans from crossing the Meuse Rivier.  After bitter fighting and bayonet assaults, the French withdraw at nightfall, and blow the bridges over the river.

- The French launch a major counterattack in Lorraine today, directed towards the German forces advancing between Toul and Epinal.  From the north, 2nd Army's attack is led by Foch's XX Corps, which has already covered itself in glory in earlier fighting, and today retakes three towns and advances ten miles.  From the south, 1st Army achieves similar gains.  Despite earlier victories, the German 6th and 7th armies have sustained heavy losses, and they are thrown back across the Mortagne River and away from the gap at Charmes.  The Germans have no intention of giving up the fight - a breakthrough here might allow the envelopment and destruction of the entire French army - but the wooded and hilly terrain is ideal for the defensive, and the French also benefit from extensive pre-war fortifications.  In essence, the advantages that lay with the Germans when the French invaded Lorraine are reversed now that it is the Germans invading French Lorraine.

- General Joseph-Simon Gallieni is appointed today Military Governor of Paris.  The French government has become suddenly aware that the German advance may threaten the capital itself, and discover that its defenses have been woefully neglected.  Gallieni promises to bring energy and action to the fortification of Paris, and also insists that Joffre assigned several corps to ensure the city can be held.  Joffre demures; he needs all the corps he can to execute his retreat and counter-attack operation, and can hardly afford to have any tied down defending the capital.

- The Belgian army makes a sudden sortie today, fighting the German corps detached from the German 1st Army to cover the city.  Elements of the German corps are thrown back in confusion to Louvain before the sortie is contained and the Belgians retreat to Antwerp.  The sortie, however, would indirectly have an even larger impact on Louvain itself.  This small university town, known as the 'Oxford of Belgium,' had been occupied peacefully by the Germans for almost a week, but in the confusion tonight after the Belgian sortie German soldiers moving through the city believe they have been fired upon by Belgian civilians.  More plausible is that panicked Germans fired on each other in the darkness.  Regardless, German soldiers begin the destruction of Louvain, burning buildings and shooting civilians, which continue for several days.

- General Samsonov of the Russian 2nd Army is informed today that two corps of the German 8th Army have retreated to the fortress of Königsberg, far to the north, convincing him that the only substantial enemy forces before him is the German corps since yesterday.  Samsonov is thus encouraged to continue to advance with his centre, and when the German XX Corps comes under pressure on its flank, withdraws to the north.  Samsonov interprets this as part of an ongoing German general retreat, and continues to orders his forces to pursue.

Unintentionally, Samsonov's advance exposes the flanks of 2nd Army to the Germans.  Most of the German I Corps arrive today on the western flank of XX Corps, though General François ignores an order by Ludendorff to attack, arguing that his artillery has not arrived and an advance would be suicidal.  Meanwhile, XVII and I Reserve Corps continue to march towards their position on the eastern flank of XX Corps.

- Since the Battle of Gumbinnen on the 20th, Moltke has remained concerned about the Russian invasion of Prussia.  Despite the replacement of Prittwitz with Hindenburg and Ludendorrf, it is not yet clear if their plans for operations against the Russian 2nd Army will be successful.  Under pressure from Junkers whose East Prussian estates lay in the path of the Russians, Moltke decides that reinforcements must be sent.  His initial impulse is to take corps from 6th and 7th Armies, engaged in Lorraine.  However, the continued fighting between Toul and Epinal suggests that the armies cannot spare any corps, and moreover the Bavarian corps of 6th Army may not fight with sufficient ardour to save East Prussia.  Instead, Moltke looks to the right wing.  The fall of Namur has freed the two corps that had been beseiging the city.  Instead of rejoining the advance of the right wing, orders are issued for their redeployment to East Prussia.

- Fighting since the 23rd, the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army has turned both flanks of the Russian 4th Army, and the latter, having lost 6000 prisoners and twenty-eight guns, retreats northwards to the Kraśnik positions south of Lublin.  Victory in the Battle of Kraśnik encourages Conrad in his belief that a decisive victory can be won through his invasion of Russian Poland, and he urges the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army, to the east of 1st Army, onwards.  The Russian 4th Army, meanwhile, urges 5th Army on its east to attack southwest to disrupt the enemy 1st Army.

- In the early hours of this morning, the German commander at Kamina in Togoland destroys the nine masts and switchboard of the Kamina wireless station, and at daylight surrenders to the British and Imperial forces.  The Germans are hopelessly outnumbered, but nevertheless surrender before absolutely necessary - for example, they still have over 300 000 rifle rounds.  Moreover, German resistance has not been as stiff as it could have been - most of the colony had been abandoned without a fight, and much of the infrastructure had not been destroyed to impede the speed of the British advance.  The approach of the German commander, instead, had been to concentrate on Kamina, the only vital point in the colony, and otherwise preserve the rest of the colony.  There was only ever one possible outcome to the invasion of Togoland, and instead of destroying the colony in what would have been an obviously futile effort to hold it, a token resistance is instead offered, to preserve the 'benefits' (i.e. infrastructure, etc.) that have accrued to the African population of Togoland under German rule.

- Following its declaration of war on Germany, Japan today declares war on Austria-Hungary.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

August 24th, 1914

- As reports come in overnight of yesterday's fighting, the scope of the crisis becomes apparent to Joffre.  He realizes that his armies have not suffered a temporary check, but rather a comprehensive defeat.  While the armies in Lorraine remain gripped in combat with the Germans, to the northwest the French are in retreat - indeed, this phase of the fighting comes to be known as the 'Great Retreat'.  Most precipitous has been the retreat of 5th Army after the Battle of Charleroi, and Joffre belatedly comes to the realization that Lanrezac was right and that the major German push is coming through Belgium.  Plan XVII having failed, it is discarded, and Joffre must adapt to the changing strategic situation.  He recognizes that his armies in the north will have to withdraw for a period before the Germans can be halted again.  As he states in a message sent to the War Minister at 935am:
One must face facts . . . Our army corps . . . have not shown on the battlefield those offensive qualities for which we had hoped . . . We are therefore compelled to resort to the defensive, using our fortresses and great topographical obstacles to enable us to yield as little ground as possible.  Our object must be to last out, trying to wear the enemy down, and to resume the offensive when the time comes.
In addition to adapting to the changed circumstances, the reasons for the defeat must be understood.  For Joffre, unable to find fault in himself, believes that the blame must fall on others, who have failed to do their duty.  He begins a process of purging the French army of any officer deemed to have failed in some way or another.

There is also a growing realization that the tactics of the Battle of the Frontiers must be revised.  Reports from officers on the fighting emphasize the importance of preliminary artillery bombardment, and that infantry should never be sent forward on their own, as elan cannot survive concentrated rifle, machine-gun, and artillery bombardment.

The retreat of the French armies is no mere matter of walking - there are a constant series of rearguard actions, small sharp clashes that spring up as the French try to keep the pursuing Germans from overrunning them.  In particular, river crossings become vital - even a delay of a few hours forced on the Germans can be vital for the French to stay one step ahead.

Finally, In the space between the BEF and the sea, an ad-hoc force under General Albert d'Amade is formed, consisting of General André Sordet's Cavalry Corps, exhausted from its operations in Belgium, three territorial divisions, and the garrison of Lille, which was evacuated today and declared an open city.  This was little more than a token force, to watch over the far western flank and keep German cavalry away from the redeploying French armies.

- At midnight this morning, news reaches BEF headquarters that General Lanrezac has ordered the retreat of the French 5th Army.  This retreat necessitates the retreat of the BEF as well - to remain at Mons would guarantee its envelopment and destruction.  Thus, despite successfully holding off the Germans yesterday, orders go out in the first hours after midnight for both corps to retreat.  I Corps, which had not fought, receives its orders quickly and begins the march south.  There is a delay in getting the orders to II Corps, however, with the result that its retreat has not yet begun at daybreak.  They thus have to retreat under fire, and in the ensuing confusion one battalion never gets its orders, is surrounded, and almost entirely wiped out before a few hundred can escape southwards.  As they move south, II Corps is joined by 4th Division and 19th Brigade, newly-arrived from Britain.

The news also shatters what little remains of his confidence in his French allies generally, and Lanrezac personally.  He feels that the BEF was fighting, at Lanrezac's request, to defend his flank, and then Lanrezac never informed him of his intention to retreat, leaving the BEF in a dangerous, isolated position.  The last instructions from Kitchener, which he had interpreted as emphasizing the preservation of the BEF first and foremost, rise in his mind.  Believing that the French are both defeated and abandoning his own army, Field Marshal French begins to consider ways out of the fighting.

- Since the fall of Dinant yesterday to elements of the 3rd German Army, it has been the scene of violence and bloodshed, not of soldiers, but of the civilian population.  General Hausen, commander of 3rd Army, is convinced he has seen Belgian civilians firing on his soldiers, and his soldiers are eager to teach the Belgian population a lesson.  Most of those buildings remaining after the fighting in the town are torched, and between 640 and 676 civilians are executed, the youngest only three weeks of age.

- Prince Rupprecht's 6th Army, in concert with 7th Army, and reinforced with additional artillery, launches a major attack in Lorraine, the one portion of the front where the French armies are not in retreat.  Their objective is the Trouée de Charmes, a key valley between the French fortifications at Toul and Epinal.  Seizure of this objective will allow the Germans to envelop Toul and Nancy to the north.  In the course of the day's fighting German units cross the Mortagne, the last river barrier before the gap at Charmes.  Elsewhere, General Foch's XX Corps stands its ground before Nancy.  The result is that the German success towards Charmes has exposed their flank to a counterattack from the north.  Aerial reconnaissance undertaken today reveals the deployment of the German forces, allowing General Castlenau of the French 6th Army to prepare a counterattack.

- XX Corps, for the past several days the only corps of the German 8th Army facing the Russian 2nd Army, has been executing a fighting withdrawal in the face of superior forces.  Today, Hindenburg and Ludendorff order it to stand and fight, with the intention of fixing 2nd Army in place until the other corps of 8th Army can arrive to defeat it.  Notably, the orders demonstrate that Hindenburg and Ludendorff were not yet thinking of fighting an envelopment battle - if they had, their orders would have been for XX Corps to continue to withdraw, enticing the Russians to advance into a trap.

As such, a fierce fight develops between the German XX Corps and the Russian XV Corps.  The German corps is fighting on home ground - its peacetime headquarters is only a few miles away in the village of Allenstein, and at one point in the day's fighting the corps' chief of staff finds himself directing artillery fire onto his own house.  The Russian attack, meanwhile, suffers from a lack of co-ordination.  Despite outnumbering the Germans, the corps to either side of XV Corps do not attempt to turn the flanks of the German XX Corps, allowing it to fight a frontal battle today.

Meanwhile, the glacial advance of the Russian 1st Army towards Königsberg, combined with radio intercepts of Samsonov's orders for 2nd Army, confirm Ludendorff's belief that 8th Army can be sent in its 
entirety to fight the Russian 2nd Army.  Having rested on the 23rd, XVII and I Reserve Corps are ordered south, taking their place on the eastern flank of XX Corps.

- Finally yielding to the obvious, Potiorek admits defeat and orders the remaining Austro-Hungarian forces in Serbian territory to retreat behind the Drina and Sava rivers.  5th Army has suffered the most - of 80 000 who crossed the Drina, 600 officers and 23 000 men have been lost.  Potioriek's invasion of Serbia has been a complete debacle - delays allowed the Serbs to defeat 5th and 6th Armies separately, while 2nd Army was unable to make an impact prior to its departure for Galicia.  Thus Conrad's order at the end of July for 2nd Army to be deployed against Serbia has been a complete waste of time.  Moreover, because of its use at the now-abandoned Sabac bridgehead, IV Corps of 2nd Army only today begins its transfer to Galicia.  The limited use of 2nd Army by Potiorek has accomplished nothing other than a further delay in its redeployment to face the Russians.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

August 23rd, 1914

- The French 5th Army fights a desperate battle for survival, as crises mount by the hour.  The roads were choked with Belgian refugees, making rapid redeployment of units impossible.  At noon news arrived that the Belgians were evacuating Namur, which was to fall to the Germans later in the day.  The German 2nd Army launches a series of ferocious attacks which push elements of 5th Army southwards, while during the day the full force of the German 3rd Army is felt, as it seizes river crossings on the Meuse and directly threatens 5th Army's right flank.  Bits of news arriving by telegram of action elsewhere on the frontiers suggest the Germans are gaining all along the line, leaving him without any support.  He sees his worst nightmares coming true before his eyes - 5th Army trapped and annihilated between the two German armies, leaving France completely exposed to the German invasion of the north.  Lanrezac feels that the survival of 5th Army is essential to the survival of France itself.  At 930pm, Lanrezac informs Joffre that he has given the order to retreat.

As bad as the days events have been for 5th Army, they could have gone much worse.  General Bülow of the German 2nd Army had instructed General Hausen of 3rd Army to attack directly westwards across the Meuse, in support of his own push from the north.  Hausen complied with Bülow's order, instead of with a directive from OHL to move southwest towards Givet.  Had 3rd Army attempted OHL's manoeuvre instead, they would have been able to advance into the French 5th Army's rear, cutting its line of retreat and forcing its destruction.  By attacking frontally, Lanrezac's army is able to escape.

- When the commanders of the 3rd and 4th Armies report this morning on the devastating results of the prior day's fighting, Joffre at first cannot believe it.  So much has been invested in Plan XVII, in the notion that French infantry with sufficient elan can sweep all before them, that he can hardly comprehend that the attacks have failed.  Joffre orders both armies to resume the offensive.  As both armies struggle to resume the attack, German counter-attacks worsen the situation.  Just after noon, V Corps of 3rd Army is driven back eight miles, and to avoid envelopment the rest of 3rd Army retires the same distance.  To the north, the battered Colonial Corps of 4th Army withdraws from Neufchâteau at 5am, uncovering the flank of XII Corps which is also forced to retreat.  By the end of the day, all but two corps of 3rd and 4th armies have been driven back to the line from which they had started their offensive.

- The only decent news for the French comes from Lorraine where, despite its mauling, the French 2nd Army has managed to extricate itself and form a strong defensive line west of the Meurthe River, its northern flank anchored at Nancy and its southern linked to 1st Army.

- This evening, as the terrible news from along the front accumulates, Joffre struggles to understand the magnitude of what has transpired.  In a telegram to the War Minister, he suggests that he has been only 'momentarily checked' and that the offensive will be resumed.  The reality is that the French army has been defeated.  All of its pre-war planning and training, its emphasis on morale and infantry assaults, its unyielding faith in elan and the offensive, has been for nought.  In four days fighting, from Rupprecht's counterattack on the 20th to Lanrezac's order to retreat this evening, Plan XVII has disastrously miscarried.  Over those four days, the French army has suffered more than 140 000 casualties, and is now in retreat.

- As the French army endures a series of defeats, the British Expeditionary Force sees its first fighting of the campaign.  Acceding to Lanrezac's request, the BEF holds the line of the Mons Canal.  They are significantly outnumbered - the German 1st Army bearing down on them has four corps and three cavalry divisions, to the BEF's two corps.  Further, Smith-Dorrien's II Corps, on the left of the line, bears the brunt of the fighting, while Haig's I Corps on the right is not attacked at all.  Balancing the numbers are the quality of the British soldiers.  While the BEF is pitifully small compared to the armies of the Continental powers, it is also the only army composed of long-service regulars, instead of conscripts.  These are men who have made soldiering their profession - they train constantly, with a particular emphasis on rapid and accurate rifle fire.  Further, experience in the Boer War taught the British army the crucial importance of entrenchment and rifle accuracy.  Together this means the BEF is able to punch above its weight despite being heavily outnumbered.

The battle opens at 9am when German artillery begin firing on the British entrenchments south of the canal, followed shortly by infantry attacks.  Kluck's orders to maintain contact with 2nd Army to the east means he is unable to stretch his army westward to find and turn the BEF's flank.  As a result, 1st Army spends the day throwing itself at the British in frontal attacks.  Further, the attacks come in piecemail - 1st Army is still in marching formation, strung out along the Belgian road network, and is unable to concentrate when they stumble across the British.  Two corps of 1st Army never even engage the enemy today.  The German infantry who do enter the battle find themselves under intense rifle fire of such accuracy and frequency that some regiments report being halted by machine-gun fire instead.  By afternoon sections of the British line are being painfully forced back from the canal line, but the BEF is able to execute an orderly withdrawal to a second line of prepared entrenchments.  The Germans, for their part, are too exhausted to give chase.

German infantry advance towards Mons in the dense formations that made
them such easy targets for the British regulars, Aug. 23rd, 1914.

As evening falls, the soldiers of the BEF take satisfaction in having blunted a major German attack.  Though the British have suffered 1600 casualties, German casualties have been approximately 5000.  Further, a day has been lost for 1st Army, which has the furthest to travel.  Sir John French and his staff plan for a second day of fighting at Mons, continuing to cover the left flank of the French army.

- At 4am, the train carrying Ludendorff stops at Hanover station, where Hindenburg boards.  It is the first time the two men have met.  On the train Ludendorff explains the orders he has already issued, and Hindenburg approves, setting the pattern of the relationship between the two men.  Later today they arrive at 8th Army headquarters in East Prussia.  Meanwhile, I Corps completes its entrainment, an operation that has required precise coordination between five different railway stations.  The corps now begins its movement to the south to face the Russian 2nd Army.

- Russian operations in East Prussia reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the strategic situation.  Zhilinskii at North-West Front, as well as both Rennenkampf (1st Army) and Samsonov (2nd Army) believe that the Germans have been beaten, and are withdrawing behind the Vistula River.  Thus Zhilinskii's top priority is to hurry the advance of 2nd Army, so it can cut off the German 8th Army before it can extract itself from East Prussia.  To achieve this, one corps of 2nd Army is left in Poland to cover the western flank, and a second corps is detailed to the Masurian Lakes to cover the eastern flank.  This reduces the strength of 2nd Army to three corps as its advance continues.

Meanwhile, Rennenkampf is in no hurry to advance westwards.  Indeed, he fears that a rapid advance to allow 1st Army to catch up to the Germans would result in another German defeat that hastens their withdrawal from East Prussia before 2nd Army can close the trap.  Thus, though 1st Army begins to move today, its progress is extremely slow, and its cavalry is completely unable to discern that the German 8th Army is no longer in front of them - indeed, there is only a single German cavalry division left.  Moreover, Rennenkampf directs 1st Army northwestward towards the major German fortress of Königsberg in order to lay siege and potentially trap a portion of the German 8th Army he believes may have retreated there.  This movement draws 1st Army even further away from 2nd Army, leaving the latter increasingly exposed.

- The first major encounter on the Galician frontier begins today when the Russian 4th Army, advancing south, runs into the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army, moving north, in the Battle of Kraśnik.  In the pitched battle near the San River just inside Russian territory, it is the Austro-Hungarians who draw first blood.  Russian cavalry had completely failed to find the approaching enemy, and the corps of 4th Army were strung out and unable to provide mutual assistance.  One Russian corps is badly mauled, one of its divisions losing half its strength.  The Russians, however, do not view the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army as part of an invasion of Russian Poland, but rather the northern flank of the expected Austro-Hungarian concentration around Lemberg.  Pre-war expectations thus sow confusion among the Russian command structure.  In particular, there is no awareness that a second Austro-Hungarian army - 4th - is also advancing north on 1st Army's eastern flank.

- Their ultimatum having expired, Japan declares war on Germany. Japan feels no special attachment to the cause of the Entente - their war aims are limited to the Pacific, and indeed would have been equally pleased if Germany had acceded to Japanese demands peacefully.  As it is, Japan begins preparations for a campaign against Tsingtao.

Friday, August 22, 2014

August 22nd, 1914

- Almost since the start of the war, General Charles Lanrezac has been warning Joffre that the Germans are making a major push through Belgium.  Other than minor adjustments, Joffre has dismissed Lanrezac's fears.  Today, Lanrezac and his 5th Army discover just how right he was.

Belatedly recognizing the importance of the German bridgeheads over the Sambre River, Lanrezac orders a major counterattack by two of his corps.  The attack is a dismal failure.  Advancing against German infantry that spent the night digging in, the French soldiers are mowed down by machine-gun and rifle fire.  By the afternoon, German counterattacks were forcing the two corps back, and by nightfall 5th Army has been completely driven from the Sambre.  To make matters worse, 5th Army had lost contact with 4th Army on its right, while three French cavalry divisions on his left had broken and retreated.  Lanrezac was now faced with the possibility of both his flanks being turned.  Finally, losses had been terrible - some French regiments had lost almost 50% of their strength, while the Germans had seized the initiative.  Lanrezac now found himself fighting precisely the desperate defensive battle that he had long feared he would have to.

The Battles of Charleroi and Mons, Aug. 21st to 24th, 1914

-  To the west of the French 5th Army, the British Expeditionary Force has continued to march northwards.  During the day, British cavalry ahead of the main columns encounter for the first time German cavalry, and the realization of imminent battle dawns.  Late in the evening, a request arrives from a beleaguered Lanranzac requesting the BEF to attack the flank of the German force attacking him from the north.  This is not practical, but Field Marshal Sir John French agrees to hold the line of the Mons Canal for twenty-four hours.  By midnight the BEF is entrenching on the south side of the canal, expecting battle in the morning.  Despite aerial reconnaissance indicating otherwise, the British believe that there are only one or two German corps before them, giving the BEF superiority and a sense of confidence.

British soldiers of the 18th Hussars with Belgian civilians, Aug. 22nd, 1914

If they had known what was advancing towards them, the BEF might not have had such confidence.  The German 1st Army, the most powerful of the armies arrayed against France, and the one with the most vital role in the Schlieffen Plan, was bearing down upon them.  The one saving grace for the BEF was that the Germans had absolutely no idea where the British were.  German cavalry had utterly failed to find anything - one German regiment, when just three miles north of Mons and the BEF, was told by a cavalry commander there were no enemy forces within eighty miles.  OHL, for its part, was not even sure the BEF was on the Continent at all.  Rumours abounded of where the BEF might have landed, from Antwerp to Calais to ports further afield.  Thus the first encounters with British cavalry on the 22nd come as a complete surprise to General von Kluck of the German 1st Army.  His first instinct is to move southwestward, in an effort to move around the western flank of whatever force had appeared before him.  Bülow, who has been given a supervisory role over the two armies adjacent to his own, instead orders Kluck to cover his own westward flank as he continues the fight.  1st Army thus moves south on the 22nd, which will carry it directly to Mons.  The most important army in the Schlieffen Plan was about to fight its first major battle.

- After yesterday's scattered encounters, the French 3rd and 4th armies today find themselves in pitched battles with the German 4th and 5th armies in the Ardennes.  Along the entire front the French infantry throw themselves at the German defenders, with terrible results.  IV and V Corps of 3rd Army attack entrenched positions in a heavy fog that prevents artillery fire, and are repulsed, with one division in each corps fleeing under German artillery fire.  VI Corps, the last belonging to 3rd Army, does better, but by the end of the day is yielding ground to the enemy.  4th Army to the north is faring no better.  Its rightmost corps - II - encounters heavy German resistance and makes no forward progress.  On its left the Colonial Corps suffers the worst of any French unit involved in the day's battles.  Composed of long-service regulars who had served in colonial wars in Africa and Asia, the corps' experience proves its undoing.  Able to advance under heavy fire without breaking, as was frequently the case with conscripts, the Colonial Corps is able to advance farther than its adjacent units, and finds itself in a mass of Germans.  Battalion after battalion launch bayonet attacks, broken up by concentrated machine-gun fire.  By the end of the day, the Colonial Corps has lost 11 000 of its strength of 15 000, the highest casualties of any French unit fighting in the Battle of the Frontiers, and twelve kilometre gaps existed on either side.  To the north the remaining corps of 4th Army are suffering varying fates.  Of crucial importance was the plight of XVII Corps, whose 33rd Division had been attacked in its rear, lost all its artillery, and fled the battlefield, forcing the rest of the corps to pull back.

Though the Germans have suffered heavily as well, the fighting is disastrous for the French.  The main attack of Plan XVII had been launched, and failed to dislodge the German defenders.  Prospects for the next day's fighting were dim, but Joffre remained supremely confident.  He informs the War Minister this evening that the French armies are well-positioned to strike at the Germans, and all that remains is for the officers to execute their orders.  This foreshadows Joffre's future explanations for the failures of August 1914 - it was due to the weakness of subordinates, not any mistakes either on his part or in Plan XVII.

- The French disasters continue to the south in Lorraine.  After the crushing defeat inflicted on 2nd Army on the 20th, it again comes under devastating attack by the German 6th Army.  At midmorning, 2nd Army's right is crushed and forced into a precipitate retreat.  Again 2nd Army's link to 1st Army in the south is severed, and again 1st Army has to retire to reestablish the front line.  2nd Army is now pulling back to the fortifications around Nancy, hoping to use them to anchor a defensive line.

The attack by the German 6th Army of today is the product of another deviation from the Schlieffen Plan.  Under pressure from Prince Rupprecht, Moltke has agreed to expand 6th Army's counterattack into a full offensive.  After the relatively quick fall of Liège, it is hoped that the French forts around Nancy and Epinal will prove equally susceptible to attack.  Beyond that, the possibility of enveloping the entire French army via breakthroughs on the left as well as the right has proven too seductive to Moltke.  6th and 7th armies are thus committed to an invasion of France itself, instead of leaving their forces available for redeployment to the right.  One of the most important decisions Moltke would make, placing in a day of victories the seeds of defeat.

- The Russian 2nd Army under General Alexander Samsonov today completes its crossing of the Russo-German frontier, but it is already in trouble.  Its concentration zone during mobilization was fifty kilometres from the border, which means that the exhausted Russian columns have been marching ten to twelve hours each day for a week.  Further, the supply situation was collapsing - there were no railways reaching to the border along the route of 2nd Army, and it was already being forced to live off the land.  Finally, the communication situation is disastrous.  2nd Army's corps lacked sufficient telephone wire to connect themselves to their own divisions, while Samsonov was effectively disconnected from his superior, General I. G. Zhilinskii of North-West Front - telegrams from the latter could only reach the former by car from Warsaw, rendering null Zhilinskii's ability to co-ordinate the actions of the two armies invading East Prussia.

- The summons from OHL reaches Ludendorff at Namur at 9am, and within fifteen minutes he departs for Coblenz, where he arrives at 6pm.  He is briefed on the situation in East Prussia, and meets with Moltke and the Kaiser.  His first orders are to confirm Hoffman's plan of transferring I Corps by rail to face the Russian 2nd Army, while XVII and I Reserve Corps are to rest tomorrow, to allow them to be better capable of joining the rest of 8th Army in battle.  At 9pm, Ludendorff departs Colbenz on a special train for East Prussia.  Meanwhile, OHL has also decided on the new commander for 8th Army - General Paul von Hindenburg.  A veteran of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, he had retired in 1911, but on August 3rd had informed Moltke of his willingness to take a field command if one was available.  OHL decides that Hindenburg is the ideal man for the job - from a long line of Prussian Junkers, Hindenburg's career had demonstrated a solidity and imperturbability that would match perfectly with Ludendorff's imagination and excitedness.  It was Ludendorff who could develop brilliant operations, while Hindenburg would ensure their execution through moments of crisis that might rattle Ludondorff.  Moltke and the Kaiser approve of Hindenburg's appointment, and he receives a telegram at his home in Hanover at 3pm informing him of his appointment.  He is instructed to board Ludendorff's train as it passes through Hanover the next morning as it travels east.

- As the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Russian Poland begins, the Russian army is preparing its own invasion of Galicia.  Four armies are deployed against Austria-Hungary - 4th, 5th, 3rd, and 8th (the latter commanded by General Alexei Brusilov) - stretching from the northwest to the southeast.  The pre-war plans, assuming that the Austro-Hungarians deploy their forces close to the border, calls for 3rd and 8th armies to advance westward and engage the enemy in a defensive battle near Lemberg (modern Lvov).  Once the Austro-Hungarian army is fixed by this attack, 4th and 5th armies are to attack south behind the enemy forces and rout them.  The pre-war plans are nullified almost the instant war is declared.  Grand Duke Nicholas, appointed commander of the Russian army, responds to pleas from France by ordering the advance of 4th Army prematurely.  Conversely, the advance of 3rd Army westward is painstakingly slow - its commander believes that the Austro-Hungarians have deployed near the border, when in fact they have deployed far to the rear.  It is only on the 21st that 3rd Army has crossed the border, and progress remains glacial.  Thus the pre-war plan is being in practice reversed - it is the attack south of 4th and 5th armies that will hit the enemy first, a situation complicated by the Austro-Hungarian deployment in the rear and Conrad's decision to invade Russian Poland.  Thus the first Russian invasion of Galicia is heading directly towards the Austro-Hungarian invasion heading in the opposite direction.

Initial plans of Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies in Galicia, Aug. 1914.

- The advance of the Gold Coast Regiment northwards from Lome to Kamina in German Togoland encounters German resistance along the Chra River.  Entrenched on the northern bank, the Germans pour fire on the advancing Imperial troops, who suffer 17% casualties.  Despite the victory, the outnumbered Germans withdraw northwards this evening.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 21st, 1914

- The British Expeditionary Force is today marching northeast from Le Cateau and Maubeuge, with an objective of Soignes.  Field Marshall Sir John French does not expect serious fighting before the 24th, and believes the overall position of the BEF is favourable.  However, his force is about a days march behind the French 5th Army on his right, and is not yet in a position to support them.

- This morning Joffre orders 5th Army to cross the Sambre River and advance north and engage the German forces moving through Belgium, in concert with the British Expeditionary Force on his left.  His plan is to fix the German forces in Belgium so they cannot counter the French offensive in the Ardennes to the south.  When General Lanrezac of 5th Army informs Joffre that the BEF will not be in position to advance until the 23rd, Joffre orders 5th Army to attack by itself.

As this conversation is ongoing, however, the Germans are beginning both to upset the French plans and realize Lanrezac's worst fears.  The French 5th Army finds itself in the path of the 2nd and 3rd German armies - the former moving south towards the Sambre and the latter moving southwest against the Meuse.  In addition to attacking the demoralized Belgian garrison at Namur, where the Sambre and Meuse meet, advance elements of the German 2nd Army seize several bridges over the Sambre, pushing back French forces at the river's edge in the first action of what will come to be known as the Battle of Charleroi.  The seizure of the river crossings is relatively uncontested by 5th Army, Lanrezac believing that only small outposts have fallen, with most of the defenders of the Sambre entrenched on high ground south of the river.

- Joffre's primary focus is not on 5th Army today - to the south, the offensive by the French 3rd and 4th Armies begins as they advance into the Ardennes.  Between them the French armies have nine infantry and one cavalry corps, and expect to outnumber the Germans, believing significant forces have been pinned to the south by 1st and 2nd Armies while the Germans also appear to have committed heavily to the Belgian invasion.  They are disastrously misinformed, however.  Opposing the French in the Ardennes are the German 4th and 5th Armies, who form the pivot of the Schlieffen Plan, and include ten infantry corps plus reserve forces.  Unlike the three armies to the north, 4th and 5th Armies had less distance to travel, were moving more slowly, and had been entrenching as they advanced.

The advance begins in a thick fog which prevents any accurate reconnaissance by French cavalry.  Further, the French advance was poorly coordinated in the rough terrain of the Ardennes, with corps losing contact with their neighbours and gaps opening in the French lines.  Blundering through the woods and hills, lead elements of the French armies encounter their German counterparts, fighting a series of short, sharp preliminary engagements.  In these small fights, French officers are reluctant to order their soldiers to entrench as the Germans have, fearing that doing so will make them reluctant to attack.  It is clear that tomorrow the major clash will occur.  To the Minister of War, Joffre telegrams that 'the moment of decisive action is near.'  Joffre is correct, but not in the way he imagines.

Operations in the Ardennes, Aug. 21st to 26th, 1914.

- The Russian 1st Army remains stationary today, recovering from its victory of the day before.  In this rest, Colonel Max Hoffman, Deputy Chief of Operations of the German 8th Army, senses opportunity.  He had argued the night before that if 1st Army did not move for several days, 8th Army could use interior lines to redeploy against the Russian 2nd Army, which today is crossing the German border southwest of the Masurian Lakes.  When aerial reconnaissance confirms the lack of activity by the Russians at Gumbinnen, Hoffman convinces his superior to execute his plan.  I Corps, with the longest to go to reach the Russian 2nd Army, is to move by train to the western flank of XX Corps, the only unit currently in the south.  8th Army's other two corps - XVII Corps and I Reserve Corps - are to disengage from the Russian 1st Army and march to the eastern flank of XX Corps.  In doing so, the units of 8th Army were aided by their familiarity with East Prussia - I and XVII Corps had previously executed these precise movements during manoeuvres in 1910.  Hoffman's plan leaves open the ability to face the Russian 1st Army again should it advance in the next couple of days - as I and XVII Corps are to march on foot, they can reverse course if necessary - but allows for a revival of the original war plan of 8th Army; namely, the defeat of invading Russian armies in detail.

Simultaneously, officers of Moltke's staff at Colblenz have been in touch with 8th Army's corps commanders, who have painted a more optimistic picture of the situation than Prittwitz's report of the previous day.  With Moltke once again paralyzed by indecision - it never occurred to him that when he received Prittwitz's report, he could simply overrule his subordinate and order 8th Army to stand its ground - it is the officers of the operations staff who conclude that Prittwitz and his chief of staff must go.  For the latter post, they desired someone who had already proven himself in action, and had the imagination and temperament essential to deal with the fluid situation in East Prussia.  They select General Erich Ludendorff, whose star is in the ascent after his success at Liège.  He is currently overseeing 2nd Army's attack on the Belgian forts at Namur, so an officer is dispatched by car to summon him to OHL headquarters.

- The offensive of the Austro-Hungarian 6th Army, which General Potiorek had intended to be the main axis of advance, has achieved local successes along the Drina.  However, the prior defeat of the 5th Army to the north allows General Putnik to concentrate most of the Serbian army against the Austro-Hungarian 6th Army, and under pressure 6th Army is forced to fall back.

- Minister of Defence Jan Christian Smuts finalizes today his plan for the South African campaign against German South-West Africa.  South African forces would be divided in three: Force A at Port Nolloth and Force B at Upington would advance north across the border, while Force C will land at Lüderitz on the coast and advance inland.  Total strength of the three forces will be five thousand men and fourteen guns.

German South-West Africa

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20th, 1914

- The German 1st Army occupies Brussels today, while the Belgian army completes its retirement into the fortified camp of Antwerp.

Belgian soldiers during the retreat to Antwerp, Aug. 20th, 1914.
And yes, those are dogs pulling machine guns.

- The concentration of the British Expeditionary Force at Maubeuge is completed today, and the two British corps begin to advance northeast.  Meanwhile, in London, the British Cabinet has authorized the deployment of the fifth British infantry division to the Continent.

- The French 5th Army completes its advance to the Sambre and Meuse Rivers.  Its defensive position resembles an inverted 'V', with the Belgian forts at Namur at the point.  Just to the north, cavalry units belonging to 5th Army engage in small skirmishes with German cavalry.

- At 830pm Joffre issues orders for 3rd and 4th Army to attack tomorrow.  The latter will advance northeast towards Neufchâteau while the former will move against Arlon.  To protect the advance against a German counterattack from Metz, Joffre has formed a portion of 3rd Army into a separate Army of Lorraine to cover the southern flank of the attack.  This is to be the main assault of Plan XVII - a strike north of Metz-Thionville which will crush the centre of the German line.  While Joffre is aware that the Germans are advancing through Belgium, he still does not see it as the focal point of the German campaign.  Indeed, he believes that the Germans have reduced their forces opposite 3rd and 4th Armies to strengthen the German right, which will increase the odds of French success tomorrow.  He has also instructed the commanders of 3rd and 4th Armies to make no preparatory movements, so as to not tip off the Germans to the advance and cause them to stop moving forces into Belgium.

- Even as Joffre is ordering the main French attack, the offensive in Lorraine is disintegrating.  There is a renewed attack today by the French 1st and 2nd Armies, the former in particular attempting to seize Morhange.  Advancing into prepared German defences, the French suffer horrendous losses.  Simultaneously, Prince Rupprecht's 6th Army launches the counterattack 'authorized' by OHL on the 18th.  This attack falls primarily against the two corps of 2nd Army to the south of XX Corps, whose successful advance had uncovered their flank.  Unlike the French attack, the German advance is successful - both French corps retire in disarray, and by nightfall 2nd Army is retreating back across the French border to the Meurhe River and the fortifications of Nancy.  2nd Army has also lost contact with 1st Army to the south, and in order to re-establish the line 1st Army, which has also suffered heavily, and the Army of Alsace are ordered to fall back.

- In the early morning hours, the German I Corps under General François attacks the northern flank of the Russian 1st Army, and is a shattering success - one Russian division suffers 60% casualties.  The rest of the attack by 8th Army, however, has a very different outcome.  XVII Corps, under General August von Mackensen, and I Reserve Corps, under General Otto von Below, arrive on the battlefield only in the late morning, and the Russians facing them have been forewarned by I Corps' attack.  Devastating artillery fire is poured onto XVII Corps, which suffers eight thousand casualties in two hours.  An entire division breaks and retreats in disarray.  I Reserve Corps, attacking to the south of XVII Corps, is similarly repulsed, and with XVII Corps in retreat, has no choice but to retreat as well.  At 6pm 8th Army commander General Prittwitz calls François and informs him that despite his local success, I Corps must retreat.  Though it is not an overwhelming one, the Russians have won the Battle of Gumbinnen.

The defeat provokes a crisis of confidence in Prittwitz.  He sees his strategy - attacking each Russian army separately - in tatters.  8th Army is already in retreat, and the Russian 2nd Army will be able to advance northwards unmolested.  Indeed, the Russian 2nd Army is already to the west of the German 8th Army, and Prittwitz concludes that a hasty withdrawal behind the Vistula River is required.  This would abandon the entirety of East Prussia to the Russians, and his subordinates, François included, are appalled.  When Prittwitz informs Moltke this evening of his decision, the latter is aghast - such a precipitate retreat might allow the Russians to threaten Berlin.  Moltke instructs his staff to contact 8th Army's corps commanders directly, to learn their impressions of the situation.

There is one saving grave to come out of the Battle of Gumbinnen for the Germans - General Rennenkampf does not order his 1st Army to pursue.  Though victorious, his army is exhausted and supplies are dangerously low.  Instead, 1st Army is to rest and recover from the battle.  In this are the seeds of the German revival.

- Conrad orders IV Corps to abandon the Sabac bridgehead as a preliminary to its transfer to Galicia.  The order is countermanded by Potiorek, who believes the bridgehead is necessary to the preservation of 5th Army.  Meanwhile, other elements of 2nd Army only today begin the transfer by rail to the Russian front, while 6th Army is finally in position to begin its offensive across the Drina River.

- Lord Kitchener persuades the British Cabinet to reject an alliance offer from Greek Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos, fearing that such a move would increase the probability of the Ottoman Empire joining the war on the side of Germany.  Kitchener views this issue primarily through the lens of the Empire - his concern is avoiding an Ottoman offensive against Egypt.