Sunday, August 17, 2014

August 17th, 1914

- Today the advance of the 1st and 2nd German Armies through Belgium is in full motion - 1st Army is attacking the lines of the main Belgian army along the Gette River, fifteen miles east of Brussels, while elements of 2nd Army are crossing the Meuse River at Huy in the direction of Namur and 3rd Army is moving west towards Dinant and Givet.  King Albert and Premier de Brouqueville in Brussels discuss the plight of the Belgian army.  Both believe that the main German advance is coming through Belgium, and to date no significant military assistance has been forthcoming from their allies, Joffre still insisting that the German effort in Belgium was a 'screen' for operations elsewhere.  The Belgian army alone can hardly withstand the Germans; remaining at their current positions would only ensure their ultimate destruction.  This evening the Belgian king takes the decision to abandon the capital.

Operations in Northern France and Belgium, Aug. 17th to Aug. 26th, 1914.

- The commander of II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force, Lieutenant General James Grierson, drops dead this morning on a train near Amiens of heart failure.  Field Marshal French is shocked by the sudden death of his good friend, compounded by Kitchener's refusal to agree to French's preferred replacement.  Instead, Kitchener sends out General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, whom French dislikes.  Both corps of the BEF are now under opinionated generals (I Corps being led by General Sir Douglas Haig) disinclined to defer to the wishes of their commanding officer.

- Field Marshal Sir John French meets with General Charles Lanrezac of the French 5th Army at the latter's headquarters today.  As the BEF is to slid into the Entente line to the left of 5th Army, a good working relationship between the two commanders is essential.  Instead, the meeting reflects the suspicion both hold for the other; in particular, Lanrezac places no faith in the BEF.  He feels that the main German force is about to descend on his position, and 5th Army is all that stands between France and annihilation.  Instead of receiving support from Joffre, however, the only aid he is to receive is the tiny British force.  He feels French does not understand the gravity of the situation, an impression confirmed when the British commander states, as he did to the French President, that his force will not be ready for action until the 24th.  When French asks if the Germans are crossing the Meuse, Lanrezac's peevish response is that the Germans have come to the Meuse to fish.  Neither general is willing to place their cavalry under the direction of the other.  In a report later submitted by Lanrezac to Joffre, the former reported that the British cavalry cannot be counted upon for anything, and that British unfamiliarity with French roads could cause widespread confusion in the case of a retreat.  It is the first time that Lanrezac has mentioned the possibility of retreat, and reflects his anxiety that his army will be insufficient to stop the German steamroller.  Joffre, for his part, is unimpressed.

- The French advance into Lorraine continues.  In the face of heavy casualties, XX Corps, commanded by General Ferdinand Foch and part of 2nd Army, seizes a portion of the heights near Morhange.  The success of XX Corps, though, disrupts the plans of General Édouard de Curières Castelnau, 2nd Army commander.  Castelnau had wanted XX Corps, on the left flank of his army, to act as a pivot, around which the other corps to the south would turn.  With XX Corps now the furthest into German territory, the left flank of Castelnau's two centre corps is now uncovered.

- The embarkation of the British Expeditionary Force is completed in the Channel ports today.

- As the Russian 1st Army has been the first to cross into East Prussia, General Prittwitz, commander of the German 8th Army, has decided that it will need to be defeated first, before redeployment southwest to meet the impending invasion of the Russian 2nd Army.  Prittwitz leaves one corps in the south to screen the Russian 2nd Army, and moves his other three and a half corps against the Russian 1st Army.  The plan is to fight the Russians along the Angerapp River, well behind the border, on the belief that the longer the Russians have to march, the more exhausted and out of supply they will become.

Prittwitz's plan, however, does not account for the insubordination of one of his corps commanders, General Hermann von François, whose I Corps was drawn from East Prussia.  François and his soldiers did not want to yield an inch of their 'home' territory to the Russians, and I Corps had consequently deployed farther east than the rest of 8th Army, and had begin skirmishing with the Russian 1st Army as soon as it crossed the border on the 15th.  Today I Corps engaged the Russians at Stallupönnen, twenty miles to the east of Gumbinnen and the Angerapp, despite a direct order from Prittwitz to François.  I Corps' attack disrupted the advance of the Russian 1st Army and forced the Russian 27th Division to retire in disarray.  Having achieved a tactical success, François shadows the Russians as they lumber westward, continuing to skirmish.

Operations in East Prussia, Aug. 17th to 23rd, 1914.

- Britain and France establish the Commission Internationale de Revitaillement to co-ordinate Entente purchase of munitions and other supplies from neutral countries, and thereby keep down prices.

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