E-text prepared by Robert J. Hall
THE STORY OF THE GREAT WAR
The War Begins Invasion of Belgium Battle of the Marne
PART I.—GREAT BATTLES OF THE WESTERN ARMIES
I. ATTACK ON BELGIUM II. SIEGE AND CAPTURE OF LIEGE III. BELGIUM'S DEFIANCE IV. CAPTURE OF LOUVAIN—SURRENDER OF BRUSSELS V. COMING OF THE BRITISH VI. CAMPAIGNS IN ALSACE AND LORRAINE VII. SIEGE AND FALL OF NAMUR VIII. BATTLE OF CHARLEROI IX. BATTLE OF MONS X. THE GREAT RETREAT BEGINS XI. FIGHTING AT BAY XII. THE MARNE—GENERAL PLAN OF BATTLE FIELD XIII. ALLIED AND GERMAN BATTLE PLANS XIV. FIRST MOVES IN THE BATTLE XV. GERMAN RETREAT XVI. CONTINUATION OF THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE XVII. CONTINUATION OF THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE XVIII. OTHER ASPECTS OF THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE XIX. "CROSSING THE AISNE" XX. FIRST DAY'S BATTLES XXI. THE BRITISH AT THE AISNE XXII. BOMBARDMENT OF RHEIMS AND SOISSONS XXIII. SECOND PHASE OF BATTLE OF THE AISNE XXIV. END OF THE BATTLE XXV. "THE RACE TO THE SEA" XXVI. SIEGE AND FALL OF ANTWERP XXVII. YSER BATTLES—ATTACK ON YPRES XXVIII. ATTACKS ON LA BASSEE AND ARRAS XXIX. GENERAL MOVEMENTS ON THE FRENCH AND FLANDERS FRONTS XXX. OPERATIONS AROUND LA BASSEE AND GIVENCHY XXXI. END OF SIX MONTHS' FIGHTING IN THE WEST
PART II.—NAVAL OPERATIONS
XXXII. STRENGTH OF THE RIVAL NAVIES XXXIII. FIRST BLOOD—BATTLE OF THE BIGHT XXXIV. BATTLES ON THREE SEAS XXXV. THE GERMAN SEA RAIDERS XXXVI. BATTLE OFF THE FALKLANDS XXXVII. SEA FIGHTS OF THE OCEAN PATROL XXXVIII. WAR ON GERMAN TRADE AND POSSESSIONS XXXIX. RAIDS ON THE ENGLISH COAST XL. RESULTS OF SIX MONTHS' NAVAL OPERATIONS
PART III.—THE WAR ON THE EASTERN FRONT
XLI. GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE THEATRE OF WAR XLII. THE STRATEGIC VALUE OF RUSSIAN POLAND XLIII. AUSTRIAN POLAND, GALICIA, AND BUKOWINA XLIV. THE BALKANS—COUNTRIES AND PEOPLES XLV. THE CAUCASUS—THE BARRED DOOR
PART IV.—THE AUSTRO-SERBIAN CAMPAIGN
XLVI. SERBIA'S SITUATION AND RESOURCES XLVII. AUSTRIA'S STRENGTH AND STRATEGY XLVIII. AUSTRIAN SUCCESSES XLIX. THE GREAT BATTLES BEGIN L. FIRST VICTORY OF THE SERBIANS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
KING GEORGE V REVIEWING THE ARMIES IN FRANCE
GREAT SIEGE GUN IN ACTION BRIDGE DESTROYED BY THE BELGIANS AT LIEGE BELGIAN FIELD GUN IN ACTION FORTRESS TOWN OF NAMUR CITY OF MALINES, BELGIUM MACHINE GUN CREW IN A WHEAT FIELD HEAVY BELGIAN ARTILLERY IN ACTION BELGIANS INTRENCHED ALONG A RAILWAY
OBSERVER IN A RUINED CHATEAU BAYONET CHARGE OF FRENCH INFANTRY BRITISH NAVAL BRIGADE AT LIERRE CITY OF LILLE UNDER FIRE WALL FALLING UNDER SHELL FIRE HOUSE-TO-HOUSE FIGHT AT YPRES FIGHT IN AN ARGONNE VILLAGE RALLY OF THE LONDON SCOTTISH
GERMAN LOOKOUTS IN A TREETOP GERMAN PRISONERS IN CHAMPAGNE LOUVAIN LANCERS ON THE FRENCH COAST COMRADES AIDING A WOUNDED CUIRASSIER RED CROSS DOCTOR DRESSING AVIATOR'S WOUNDS NAVE AND CHOIR OF NOTRE DAME, RHEIMS RUINS OF NOTRE DAME FRENCH MARINES DINING ASHORE
SEARCHLIGHTS ON A BATTLESHIP WALKUeRE, WRECKED AT PAPEETE SYDNEY, AUSTRALIAN CRUISER EMDEN AGROUND AFTER THE SYDNEY'S VICTORY RESCUING SAILORS AFTER THE FIGHT NEAR THE FALKLAND ISLANDS CANADIANS SHIPPING FIELD ARTILLERY INTERIOR OF A SUBMARINE WRECK OF THE BLUeCHER IN THE NORTH SEA BATTLE
LIST OF MAPS
BELGIUM-FRANCO-GERMAN FRONTIER FRANCE, PICTORIAL MAP OF BELGIUM, BEGINNING OF GERMAN INVASION OF ALSACE-LORRAINE, FRENCH INVASION OF BATTLE OF MONS AND RETREAT OF ALLIED ARMIES BATTLE OF THE MARNE—BEGINNING ON SEPTEMBER 5, 1914 BATTLE OF THE MARNE—SITUATION ON SEPTEMBER 9, 1914 BATTLE OF THE MARNE—END OF GERMAN RETREAT AND THE INTRENCHED LINE ON THE AISNE RIVER LIEGE FORT, GERMAN ATTACK OF ANTWERP, SIEGE AND FALL OF FLANDERS, BATTLE FRONT IN GERMAN AND ENGLISH NAVAL POSITIONS WAR IN THE EAST—RELATION OF THE EASTERN COUNTRIES TO GERMANY THE BALKANS, PICTORIAL MAP OF SERBIAN AND AUSTRIAN INVASIONS
PART I—GREAT BATTLES OF THE WESTERN ARMIES
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ATTACK ON BELGIUM
The first great campaign on the western battle grounds in the European War began on August 4, 1914. On this epoch-making day the German army began its invasion of Belgium—with the conquest of France as its ultimate goal. Six mighty armies stood ready for the great invasion. Their estimated total was 1,200,000 men. Supreme over all was the Emperor as War Lord, but Lieutenant General Helmuth van Moltke, chief of the General Staff, was the practical director of military operations. General van Moltke was a nephew of the great strategist of 1870, and his name possibly appealed as of happy augury for repeating the former capture of Paris.
The First Army was assembled at Aix-la-Chapelle in the north of Belgium, within a few miles of the Dutch frontier. It was under the command of General van Kluck. He was a veteran of both the Austrian and Franco-Prussian Wars, and was regarded as an able infantry leader. His part was to enter Belgium at its northern triangle, which projects between Holland and Germany, occupy Liege, deploy on the great central plains of Belgium, then sweep toward the French northwestern frontier in the German dash for Paris and the English Channel. His army thus formed the right wing of the whole German offensive. It was composed of picked corps, including cavalry of the Prussian Guard.
The Second Army had gathered in the neighborhood of Limbourg under the command of General von Buelow. Its advance was planned down the valleys of the Ourthe and Vesdre to a junction with Von Kluck at Liege, then a march by the Meuse Valley upon Namur and Charleroi. In crossing the Sambre it was to fall into place on the left of Von Kluck's army.
The German center was composed of the Third Army under Duke Albrecht of Wuerttemberg, the Fourth Army led by the crown prince, and the Fifth Army commanded by the Crown Prince of Bavaria. It was assembled on the line Neufchateau-Treves-Metz. Its first offensive was the occupation of Luxemburg. This was performed, after a somewhat dramatic protest by the youthful Grand Duchess, who placed her motor car across the bridge by which the Germans entered her internationally guaranteed independent state. The German pretext was that since Luxemburg railways were German controlled, they were required for the transport of troops. Preparations were then made for a rapid advance through the Ardennes upon the Central Meuse, to form in order upon the left of Von Buelow's army. A part of the Fifth Army was to be detached for operations against the French fortress of Verdun.
The Sixth Army was concentrated at Strassburg in Alsace, under General von Heeringen. As inspector of the Prussian Guards he bore a very high military reputation. For the time being General von Heeringen's part was to remain in Alsace, to deal with a possibly looked for strong French offensive by way of the Vosges or Belfort.
The main plan of the German General Staff, therefore was a wide enveloping movement by the First and Second Armies to sweep the shore of the English Channel in their march on Paris, a vigorous advance of the center through the Ardennes for the same destination, and readiness for battle by the Sixth Army for any French force which might be tempted into Alsace. That this plan was not developed in its entirety, was due to circumstances which fall into another place.
The long anticipated Day dawned. Their vast military machine moved with precision and unity. But there was a surprise awaiting them. The Belgians were to offer a serious resistance to passage through their territory—a firm refusal had been delivered at the eleventh hour. The vanguard was thrown forward from Von Kluck's army at Aix, to break through the defenses of Liege and seize the western railways. This force of three divisions was commanded by General von Emmich, one of them joining him at Verviers.
On the evening of August 3, 1914, Von Emmich's force had crossed into Belgium. Early on the morning of August 4, 1914, Von Kluck's second advance line reached Vise, situated on the Meuse north of Liege and close to the Dutch frontier. Here an engagement took place with a Belgian guard, which terminated with the Germans bombarding Vise. The Belgians had destroyed the river bridge, but the Germans succeeded in seizing the crossing.
This was the first actual hostility of the war on the western battle grounds. With the capture of Vise, the way was clear for Von Kluck's main army to concentrate on Belgian territory. By nightfall, Liege was invested on three sides. Only the railway lines and roads running westward remained open.
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SIEGE AND CAPTURE OF LIEGE
A view of Liege will assist in revealing its three days' siege, with the resulting effect upon the western theatre of war. Liege is the capital of the Walloons, a sturdy race that in times past has at many a crisis proved unyielding determination and courage. At the outbreak of war it was the center of great coal mining and industrial activity. In the commercial world it is known everywhere for the manufacture of firearms. The smoke from hundreds of factories spreads over the city, often hanging in dense clouds. It might aptly be termed the Pittsburg of Belgium. The city lies in a deep, broad cut of the River Meuse, at its junction with the combined channels of the Ourthe and Vesdre. It stretches across both sides, being connected by numerous bridges, while parallel lines of railway follow the course of the main stream. The trunk line from Germany into Belgium crosses the Meuse at Liege. For the most part the old city of lofty houses clings to a cliffside on the left bank, crowned by an ancient citadel of no modern defensive value. Whatever picturesqueness Liege may have possessed is effaced by the squalid and dilapidated condition of its poorer quarters. To the north broad fertile plains extend into central Belgium, southward on the opposite bank of the Meuse, the Ardennes present a hilly forest, stream-watered region. In its downward course the Meuse flows out of the Liege trench to expand through what is termed the Dutch Flats.
Liege, at the outbreak of the war, was a place of great wealth and extreme poverty—a Liege artisan considered himself in prosperity on $5 a week. It was of the first strategic importance to Belgium. Its situation was that of a natural fortress, barring the advance of a German army.
The defenses of Liege were hardly worth an enemy's gunfire before 1890. They had consisted of a single fort on the Meuse right bank, and the citadel crowning the heights of the old town. But subsequently the Belgian Chamber voted the necessary sums for fortifying Liege and Namur on the latest principles. From the plans submitted, the one finally decided upon was that of the famous Belgian military engineer Henri Alexis Brialmont. His design was a circle of detached forts, already approved by German engineers as best securing a city within from bombardment. With regard to Liege and Namur particularly, Brialmont held that his plan would make passages of the Meuse at those places impregnable to an enemy.
When the German army stood before Liege on this fourth day of August, in 1914, the circumference of the detached forts was thirty-one miles with about two or three miles between them, and at an average of five miles from the city. Each fort was constructed on a new model to withstand the highest range and power of offensive artillery forecast in the last decade of the nineteenth century. When completed they presented the form of an armored mushroom, thrust upward from a mound by subterranean machinery. The elevation of the cupola in action disclosed no more of its surface than was necessary for the firing of the guns. The mounds were turfed and so inconspicuous that in times of peace sheep grazed over them. In Brialmont's original plan each fort was to be connected by infantry trenches with sunken emplacements for light artillery, but this important part of his design was relegated to the dangerous hour of a threatening enemy. This work was undertaken too late before the onsweep of the Germans. Instead, Brialmont's single weak detail in surrounding each fort with an infantry platform was tenaciously preserved long after its uselessness must have been apparent. Thus Liege was made a ring fortress to distinguish it from the former latest pattern of earth ramparts and outworks.
Six major and six minor of these forts encircled Liege. From north to south, beginning with those facing the German frontier, their names ran as follows: Barchon, Evegnee, Fleron, Chaud-fontaine, Embourg, Boncelles, Flemalle, Hollogne, Loncin, Lantin, Liers, and Pontisse. The armaments of the forts consisted of 6-inch and 4.7-inch guns, with 8-inch mortars and quick firers. They were in the relative number of two, four, two and four for the major forts, and two, two, one and three for the minor fortins, as such were termed. The grand total was estimated at 400 pieces. In their confined underground quarters the garrisons, even of the major forts, did not exceed eighty men from the engineer, artillery and infantry branches of the service. Between Fort Pontisse and the Dutch frontier was less than six miles.
It was through this otherwise undefended gap that Von Kluck purposed to advance his German army after the presumed immediate fall of Liege, to that end having seized the Meuse crossing at Vise. The railway line to Aix-la-Chapelle was dominated by Fort Fleron, while the minor Forts Chaudfontaine and Embourg, to the south, commanded the trunk line by way of Liege into Belgium. On the plateau, above Liege, Fort Loncin held the railway junction of Ans and the lines running from Liege north and west. Finally, the forts were not constructed on a geometric circle, but in such manner that the fire of any two was calculated to hold an enemy at bay should a third between them fall. This was probably an accurate theory before German guns of an unimagined caliber and range were brought into action.
In command of the Belgian forts at Liege was General Leman. He had served under Brialmont, and was pronounced a serious and efficient officer. He was a zealous military student, physically extremely active, and constantly on the watch for any relaxation of discipline. These qualities enabled him to grasp at the outset the weakness of his position.
If the Germans believed the refusal to grant a free passage for their armies through Belgium to be little more than a diplomatic protest, it would seem the Belgian Government was equally mistaken in doubting the Germans would force a way through an international treaty of Belgian neutrality. Consequently, the German crossing of the frontier discovered Belgium with her mobilization but half complete, mainly on a line for the defense of Brussels and Antwerp. It had been estimated by Brialmont that 75,000 men of all arms were necessary for the defense of Liege on a war footing, probably 35,000 was the total force hastily gathered in the emergency to withstand the German assault on the fortifications. It included the Civic Guard.
General Leman realized, therefore, that, without a supporting field army, it would be impossible for him to hold the German hosts before Liege for more than a few days—a week at most.
But he hoped within such time the French or British would march to his relief. Thus his chief concern was for the forts protecting the railway leading from Namur down the Meuse Valley into Liege—the line of a French or British advance.
On the afternoon of August 4, 1914, German patrols appeared on the left bank of the Meuse, approaching from Vise. They were also observed by the sentries on Forts Barchon, Evegnee and Fleron. German infantry and artillery presently came into view with the unmistakable object of beginning the attack on those forts. The forts fired a few shots by way of a challenge. As evening fell, the woods began to echo with the roar of artillery. Later, Forts Fleron, Chaudfontaine and Embourg were added to the German bombardment. The Germans used long range field pieces with powerful explosive shells. The fire proved to be remarkably accurate. As their shells exploded on the cupolas and platforms of the forts, the garrisons in their confined citadels began to experience that inferno of vibrations which subsequently deprived them of the incentive to eat or sleep. The Belgians replied vigorously, but owing to the broken nature of the country, and the forethought with which the Germans took advantage of every form of gun cover, apparently little execution was dealt upon the enemy. However, the Belgians claimed to have silenced two of the German pieces.
In the darkness of this historic night of August 4, 1914, the flames of the fortress guns pierced the immediate night with vivid streaks. Their searchlights swept in broad streams the wooded slopes opposite. The cannonade resounded over Liege, as if with constant peals of thunder. In the city civilians sought the shelter of their cellars, but few of the German shells escaped their range upon the forts to disturb them.
This exchange of artillery went on until near daybreak of August 5, 1914, when infantry fire from the woods to the right of Fort Embourg apprised the defenders that the Germans were advancing to the attack. The Germans came on in their customary massed formation. The prevalent opinion that in German tactics such action was employed to hearten the individual soldier, was denied by their General Staff. In their opinion an advantage was thus gained by the concentration of rifle fire. Belgian infantry withstood the assault, and counter-attacked. When dawn broke, a general engagement was in progress. About eight o'clock the Germans were compelled to withdraw.
The first engagement of the war was won by the Belgians. It was reported that the Belgian fire had swept the Germans down in thousands, but this was denied by German authorities. Up to this time the German forces before Liege were chiefly Von Kluck's vanguard under Von Emmich, his second line of advance, and detachments of Von Buelow's army. On the Belgian side no attempt was made to follow up the advantage. The reason given is that the Germans were seen to be in strong cavalry force, an arm lost totally in the military complement of Liege. The German losses were undoubtedly severe, especially in front of Fort Barchon. This was one of the major forts, triangular in shape, and surrounded by a ditch and barbed wire entanglements. The armament of these major forts had recently been reenforced by night, secretly, with guns of heavier caliber from Antwerp. As they outmatched the German field pieces of the first attack, presumably the German Intelligence Department had failed in news of them. An armistice requested by the Germans to gather in the wounded and bury the dead was refused. Thereupon the artillery duel recommenced.
A hot and oppressive day disclosed woods rent and scarred, standing wheat fields shell-plowed and trampled, and farm houses set ablaze. The bringing of the Belgian wounded into Liege apprised the citizens that their side had also suffered considerably. Meanwhile, the Germans were reenforced by the Tenth Hanoverian Army Corps, from command of which General von Emmich had been detached to lead Von Kluck's vanguard, also artillery with 8.4-inch howitzers.
The bombardment on this 5th day of August, 1914, now stretched from Vise around the Meuse right bank half circle of forts to embrace Pontisse and Boncelles at its extremities. In a few hours infantry attack began again. The Germans advanced in masses by short rushes, dropping to fire rifle volleys, and then onward with unflinching determination. The forts, wreathed in smoke, blazed shells among them; their machine guns spraying streams of bullets. The Germans were repulsed and compelled to retire, but only to re-form for a fresh assault. Both Belgian and German aeroplanes flew overhead to signal their respective gunners. A Zeppelin was observed, but did not come within range of Belgian fire. The Belgians claim to have shot down one German aeroplane, and another is said to have been brought to earth by flying within range of its own artillery.
During the morning of August 5, Fort Fleron was put out of action by shell destruction of its cupola-hoisting machinery. This proved a weak point in Brialmont's fortress plan. It was presently discovered that the fire of the supporting forts Evegnee and Chaudfontaine could not command the lines forming the apex of their triangle. Further, since the Belgian infantry was not in sufficient force to hold the lines between the forts, a railway into Liege fell to the enemy. The fighting here was of such a desperate nature, that General Leman hastened to reenforce with all his reserve.
This battle went on during the afternoon and night of August 5, into the morning of August 6, 1914. But the fall of Fort Fleron began to tell in favor of the Germans. Belgian resistance perforce weakened. The ceaseless pounding of the German 8.4-inch howitzers smashed the inner concrete and stone protective armor of the forts, as if of little more avail than cardboard. At intervals on August 6, Forts Chaudfontaine, Evegnee and Barchon fell under the terrific hail of German shells. A way was now opened into the city, though, for the most part, still contested by Belgian infantry. A party of German hussars availed themselves of some unguarded path to make a daring but ineffectual dash to capture General Leman and his staff.
General Leman was consulting with his officers at military headquarters, on August 6, 1914, when they were startled by shouts outside. He rushed forth into a crowd of citizens to encounter eight men in German uniform. General Leman cried for a revolver to defend himself, but another officer, fearing the Germans had entered the city in force, lifted him up over a foundry wall. Both Leman and the officer made their escape by way of an adjacent house. Belgian Civic Guards hastening to the scene dispatched an officer and two men of the German raiders. The rest of the party are said to have been made prisoners.
The end being merely a question of hours, General Leman ordered the evacuation of the city by the infantry. He wisely decided it could be of more service to the Belgian army at Dyle, than held in a beleaguered and doomed city. Reports indicate that this retreat, though successfully performed, was precipitate. The passage of it was scattered with arms, equipment, and supplies of all kinds. An ambulance train was abandoned, twenty locomotives left in the railway station, and but one bridge destroyed in rear beyond immediate repair. After its accomplishment, General Leman took command of the northern forts, determined to hold them against Von Kluck until the last Belgian gun was silenced.
Early on August 7, 1914, Burgomaster Kleyer and the Bishop of Liege negotiated terms for the surrender of the city. It had suffered but slight damage from the bombardment. Few of the citizens were reported among the killed or injured. On behalf of the Germans it must be said their occupation of Liege was performed in good order, with military discipline excellently maintained. They behaved with consideration toward the inhabitants in establishing their rule in the city, and paid for all supplies requisitioned. They were quartered in various public buildings and institutions, probably to the number of 10,000. The German troops at first seemed to present an interesting spectacle. They were mostly young men, reported as footsore from their long march in new, imperfectly fitting boots, and hungry from the lack of accompanying commissariat. This is proof that the German's military machine did not work to perfection at the outset. Later, some hostile acts by Belgian individuals moved the German military authorities to seize a group of the principal citizens, and warn the inhabitants that the breaking of a peaceful attitude would be at the risk of swiftly serious punishment. Precautions to enforce order were such as is provided in martial law, and carried out with as little hardship as possible to the citizens. The Germans appeared anxious to restore confidence and win a feeling of good will.
For some days after the capitulation of the city the northern forts continued a heroic resistance. So long as these remained uncaptured, General Leman maintained that, strategically, Liege had not fallen. He thus held in check the armies of Von Kluck and Von Buelow, when every hour was of supreme urgency for their respective onsweep into central Belgium and up the Meuse Valley. The Germans presently brought into an overpowering bombardment their ll-inch siege guns.
On August 13, 1914, Embourg was stricken into ruin. On the same day the electric lighting apparatus of Fort Boncelles having been destroyed, the few living men of its garrison fought through the following night in darkness, and in momentary danger of suffocation from gases emitted by the exploding German shells.
Early in the morning of August 14, 1914, though its cupolas were battered in and shells rained upon the interior, the commander refused an offer of surrender. A little later the concrete inner chamber walls fell in. The commander of Boncelles, having exhausted his defensive, hoisted the white flag. He had held out for eleven days in a veritable death-swept inferno.
Fort Loncin disputed with Boncelles the honor of being the last to succumb. The experience of its garrison differed only in terrible details from Boncelles. Its final gun shot was fired by a man with his left hand, since the other had been severed. Apparently a shell exploded in its magazine, and blew up the whole fort. General Leman was discovered amid its debris, pinned beneath a huge beam. He was released by his own men. When taken to a trench, a German officer found that he was merely unconscious from shock.
When sufficiently recovered, General Leman was conducted to General von Emmich to tender his personal surrender. The two had previously been comrades at maneuvers. The report of their meeting is given by a German officer. The guard presented the customary salute due General Leman's rank. General von Emmich advanced a few steps to meet General Leman. Both generals saluted.
"General," said Von Emmich, "you have gallantly and nobly held your forts."
"I thank you," Leman replied. "Our troops have lived up to their reputation. War is not like maneuvers, mon General," he added with a pointed smile. "I ask you to bear witness that you found me unconscious."
General Leman unbuckled his sword to offer it to the victor. Von Emmich bowed.
"No, keep it," he gestured. "To have crossed swords with you has been an honor."
Subsequently the President of the French Republic bestowed on Liege the Cross of the Legion of Honor. To its motto in this instance might have been added appropriately: Liege, the Savior of Paris. The few days of its resistance to an overwhelming force enabled the Belgium army to improve its mobilization, the British to throw an expeditionary army into France, and the French to make a new offensive alignment. It will forever remain a brilliant page in war annals. In a military estimate it proved that forts constructed on the lastest scientific principles, but unsupported by an intrenched field army, crumple under the concentrated fire of long-range, high-power enemy guns.
The fall of the northern and eastern Liege forts released Von Kluck's army for its march into central Belgium. Meanwhile the Belgian army had been concentrated on a line of the River Dyle, with its left touching Malines and its right resting on Louvain. Its commander, General Selliers de Moranville, made his headquarters in the latter city. The Belgian force totaled 110,000 men of all complements. Whether this included the reinforcement by the Liege infantry is uncertain.
During August 10 and 11, 1914, General Moranville threw forward detachments to screen his main body in front of the German advance. On the 11th a rumor that the French had crossed the Sambre, moved General Moranville to extend his right wing to Eghezee, with the hope of getting in touch with the Allies. That the French and British were hastening to his support could not be doubted. They were already overdue, but assuredly would come soon. That was the Belgian reliance, passing from mouth to mouth among the Court, Cabinet Ministers, General Staff, down to the factory toilers, miners, and peasants on their farms. The Sambre report, like many others in various places, proved unfounded.
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A view of the general situation in Belgium will assist in clearing the way for swiftly following events. Germany had invaded Belgium against the diplomatic and active protests of its Government. But the German Government still hoped that the heroic resistance of Liege would satisfy Belgian national spirit, and a free passage of German troops now be granted. The German Emperor made a direct appeal to the King of the Belgians through the medium of the Queen of Holland. From the German point of outlook their victory could best be attained by the march through Belgium upon Paris. The German Government asserted that the French and British contemplated a similar breach of Belgian neutrality. To their mind, it was a case of which should be on the ground first. On the other hand, the Allies pronounced the German invasion of Belgium an unprovoked assault, and produced countertestimony. The controversy has continued to this day. But the war as it progressed has seen many breaches of neutrality, and a certain resignation to the inevitable has succeeded the moral indignation so easily aroused in its early stages.
Let us now glance at the condition of Belgium when war was declared. The Belgians were an industrial and not a militant people. They had ample reason to yearn for a permanent peace. Their country had been the cockpit of Europe from the time of Caesar until Waterloo. The names of their cities, for the most part, represented great historic battle fields. Again and again had the ruin of conflict swept over their unfortunately situated land. At all periods the Belgians were brave fighters on one side or the other, for Belgium had been denied a national unity. Doubtless, therefore, they welcomed the establishment of their independent sovereignty and the era of peace which followed. Historically, they had suffered enough, with an abundance to spare, from perpetual warfare. Their minds turned hopefully toward industrial and commercial activity, stimulated by the natural mineral wealth of their soil. Thus the products of their factories reached all countries, South America, China, Manchuria, and Central Africa, especially of later years, where a great territory had been acquired in the Congo. The iron and steel work of Liege was famous, Antwerp had become one of the chief ports of Europe and growing into a financial power. But owing to the confined boundaries of Belgium, there grew to be a congestion of population. This produced a strong democratic and socialistic uplift which even threatened the existence of the monarchy. Also, all that monarchy seemed to imply.
The Belgians, doubtless with memories of the past, despised and hated the display of military. Consequently it was only with difficulty, and in the face of popular opposition, that the Belgium Government had succeeded with military plans for defense, but imperfectly carried out. Herein, perhaps, we have the keynote to Belgium's desperate resistance to the German invaders. In the light of the foregoing, it is easily conceivable that the Germans represented to the Belgians the military yoke. They were determined to have none of it, upon any overtures or terms. But they relied on France and England for protection, when common prudence should have made the mobilization of an up-to-date army of 500,000 men ready for the call to repel an invader on either of the frontiers, instead of the practically helpless force of 110,000.
The German General Staff did not believe the Belgians intended to raise a serious barrier in their path. But with the crisis, democratic Belgium united in a rush to arms, which recalls similar action by the American colonists at the Revolution. Every form of weapon was grasped, from old muskets to pitchforks and shearing knives. It was remarked by a foreign witness that in default of properly equipped armories, the Belgians emptied the museums to confront the Germans with the strangest assortment of antiquated military tools.
As testimony of Belgian feeling, the Labor party organ "Le Peuple" issued the following trumpet blast: "Why do we, as irreconcilable antimilitarists, cry 'Bravo!' from the bottom of our hearts to all those who offer themselves for the defense of the country? Because it is not only necessary to protect the hearths and homes, the women and the children, but it is also necessary to protect at the price of our blood the heritage of our ancient freedom. Go, then, sons of the workers, and register your names as recruits. We will rather die for the idea of progress and solidarity of humanity than live under a regime whose brutal force and savage violence have wiped outright."
The Belgian General Staff, foreseeing dire consequences from such inflaming press utterances, warned all those not regularly enlisted to maintain a peaceful attitude. Disregard of this admonition later met with heavy retribution.
On Wednesday, August 12, 1914, a German cavalry screen, thrown in advance of the main forces, came in touch with Belgian patrols. A series of engagements took place. The Germans tried to seize the bridges across the Dyle at Haelen, and at Cortenachen on the Velpe, a tributary of the former river, mainly with the object of outflanking the Belgian left wing. The Belgians are said to have numbered some 10,000 of all arms, and were successful in repulsing the Germans.
On August 13, 1914, similar actions were continued. At Tirlemont 2,000 German cavalry swept upon the town, but were beaten off. At Eghezee on the extreme Belgian right—close to Namur and the historic field of Ramillies—another brush with the Germans took place. Belgian cavalry caught a German cavalry detachment bivouacked in the village. Sharp fighting through the streets ensued before the Germans withdrew. In spite of the warning of the Belgian General Staff, and similar advance German notices, the citizens of some of these and other places began sniping German patrols.
Meantime, moving over the roads toward Namur, toiled the huge German 42-centimeter guns. The German General Staff had taken to mind the lesson of Liege. Each gun was transported in several parts, hauled by traction engines and forty horses. Of this, with the advance of Von Kluck and Von Buelow, the Belgian General Staff was kept in total ignorance by the German screen of cavalry. So ably was this screen work performed that the Belgians were led to believe the Germans had succeeded in placing no more than two divisions of cavalry, together with a few detachments of infantry and artillery, on Belgian soil. They, in fact, regarded the German cavalry skirmishing as a rather clumsy offensive.
As we have seen, the resistance of Forts Boncelles and Loncin at Liege held back the main German advance from seven to ten days. Their fall released into German control the railway junction at Ans. With that was included the line from Liege up the left bank of the Meuse to Namur. Also, another line direct to Brussels.
On August 15, 1914, the cavalry screen was withdrawn, and four German army corps were revealed to the surprised Belgian line. In this emergency, clearly their only hope lay with the French. In Louvain, Brussels, and Antwerp, anxious questions lay on all lips. "Why do not the French hasten to our aid? When will they come? Will the British fail us at the twelfth hour?"
Eager watchers at Ostend beheld no sign of the promised transports to disembark a British army of support in the day of overwhelming need. About this time some French cavalry crossed the Sambre to join hands with the Belgian right wing near Waterloo. But it was little more than a detachment. The French General Staff was occupied with a realignment, and had decided not to advance into Belgium until they could do so in force sufficient to cope with the Germans. The Belgian General Staff saw there was no other course but to fall back, fighting rear-guard actions until the longed-for French army was heralded by the thunder of friendly guns.
The Belgian army was thus withdrawn from the River Gethe to hold Aerschot on its left stubbornly through August 14, 1914. Diest, St. Trond, and Waremme fell before the German tidal wave without resistance. Von Kluck's main army endeavored to sweep around the Belgian right at Wavre, but was checked for a brief space.
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CAPTURE OF LOUVAIN—SURRENDER OF BRUSSELS
During August 17, 1914, the German center was hurled forward in irresistible strength. The citizens of the villages in its path fled precipitously along the roads to Brussels. At intersections all kinds of vehicles bearing household effects, together with live stock, blocked the way to safety. The uhlan had become a terror, but not without some provocation. Tirlemont was bombarded, reduced, and evacuated by the Belgian troops. The latter made a vigorous defensive immediately before Louvain, but their weakness in artillery and numbers could not withstand the overwhelming superiority of the Germans. They were thrust back from the valley of the Dyle to begin their retreat on Antwerp, chiefly by way of Malines. This was to elude a successful German envelopment on their Louvain right. They retired in good order, but their losses had been considerable.
This body was the Belgian right wing, which fell back to take up a position before Louvain. Here it fought a well-sustained action on August 19, 1914, the purpose of which was to cover the retreat of the main army by way of Malines on Antwerp. The Belgian right wing thus became a rear guard.
It withstood the German attack until the early morning of August 20, 1914, when, separated from the main body, the overpowering number of German guns and men drove it back to a final stand between Louvain and Brussels. If its losses had been heavy, the carrying away of the wounded proved that it still maintained a fighting front. The retreat of the main army on Antwerp was part of Brialmont's plan for the defense of Belgium, since the position of Brussels was not capable of a strong defense. By this time the main army was safely passing down the valley of the Dyle to the shelter of the Antwerp forts, leaving the right wing to its fate. Louvain thus fell to the Germans.
Toward noon of August 20, 1914, the burgomaster and four sheriffs awaited at one of the city gates, the first German appearance. This proved to be a party of hussars bearing a white flag. They conducted the burgomaster to the waiting generals at the head of the advance column. In token of surrender the burgomaster was requested to remove his scarf of office, displaying the Belgian national colors. The German terms were then pronounced. A free passage of troops through the city was to be granted, and 3,000 men garrisoned in its barracks. In return, cash was to be paid for all supplies requisitioned, and a guarantee given for the lives and property of the inhabitants. The Germans further agreed to maintain the established civil power, but warned that hostile acts by civilians would be severely punished. These terms were in general in conformity with the rules of war governing the military occupation of an enemy city. In this respect emphasis should be laid on the fact that under these rules the hostile act of any civilian places him in the same position as a spy. His recognized sentence is death by court-martial.
The Germans entered Louvain with bands playing, and singing in a great swelling chorus: "Die Wacht am Rhein" and "Hail to the War Lord." They marched to quick time, but in passing through the great square of the Gare du Nord broke into the parade goose step. In the van were such famous regiments as the Death's Head and Zeiten Hussars. The infantry wore heavy boots, which, falling in unison, struck the earth with resounding blows, to echo back from the house walls. Thus cavalry, infantry, and artillery poured through Louvain in a gray-green surge of hitherto unimagined military might. This, for the latter part of the 20th and the day following.
At first the citizens looked on from the sidewalks in a spellbound silence. Scarcely one seemed to possess the incentive to breathe a whisper. Only the babies and very small children regarded the awe-inspiring spectacle as something provided by way of entertainment. For the rest of the citizens it was dumbfounding beyond human comprehension. Cavalry, infantry, and artillery rolled on unceasingly to the clatter of horses' hoofs, the tramp of feet, the rumble of guns, and that triumphant mighty chorus. There was nothing of aforetime plumed and gold-laced splendor of war about it, but the modern Teutonic arms on grim business bent. Except for a curious glance bestowed here and there, the German troops marched with eyes front, and a precision as if being reviewed by the emperor. A few shots were heard to stir instant terror among the citizen onlookers, but these were between the German advance guard and Belgian stragglers left behind in the city. Presently the side streets became dangerous to pedestrians from onrushing automobiles containing staff officers, and motor wagons of the military train. General von Arnim, in command, ordered the hauling down of all allied colors, but permitted the Belgian flag to remain flying above the Hotel de Ville. He promptly issued a proclamation warning all citizens to preserve the peace. It was both placarded and announced verbally. The latter was performed by a minor city official, ringing a bell as he passed through the streets accompanied by policemen.
Toward evening of August 20, 1914, the cafes and restaurants filled up with hungry German officers and men; every hotel room was occupied, and provision shops speedily sold out the stores on their shelves. The Germans paid in cash for everything ordered, and preserved a careful attitude of nonaggression toward the citizens. But subconsciously there ran an undercurrent of dread insecurity. At the outset a German officer was said to have been struck by a sniper's bullet. Somewhat conspicuously the wounded officer was borne on a litter through the streets, followed by the dead body of his assailant. Very promptly a news curtain was drawn down around the city, cutting it off from all information of the world without. Artillery fire was heard. Presumably this came from the last stand of the Belgian rear guard in a valley of the hilly country between Louvain and Brussels. With sustained optimism to the end, rumor had it that the artillery fire was that of French and British guns coming to the relief of Louvain. Toward nightfall one or two groups of snipers were brought in from the suburbs and marched to the place of execution.
The feeling of a threatened calamity deepened. Another warning proclamation was issued ordering all citizens to give up their arms. Further, everyone was ordered to bed at eight o'clock, all windows were to be closed and all doors unlocked. A burning lamp was to be placed in each window. On the claim that German soldiers had been killed by citizens, the burgomaster and several of the city officials were secured as hostages. A stern proclamation was issued threatening with immediate execution every citizen found with a weapon in his possession or house. Every house from which a shot was fired would be burned.
This was on August 22, 1914. By the evening of that day the German army had passed through Louvain, estimated to the number of 50,000 men. Only the 3,000 garrison remained in the city. Outwardly, the citizens resumed their usual daily affairs as if with a sense of relief, but whispers dropped now and then revealed an abiding terror beneath. Some time during the next day or two the anticipated calamity fell upon Louvain. The German officers insisted that sniping was steadily going on, and the military authorities put into force their threatened reprisal. The torch, or rather incendiary tablets were thrown into convicted houses. Larger groups of citizens were led to execution. Thereupon the "brute" passion dormant in soldiers broke the bonds of discipline. Flames burst forth everywhere. Beneath the lurid glow cast upon the sky above Louvain whole streets stood out in blackened ruin, and those architectural treasures of the Halles and the University, with its famous library, were destroyed beyond hope of repair. Only the walls of St. Peter's Church, containing many priceless paintings, remained.
Meanwhile, on the morning of August 20, 1914, the German army had swept away the comparatively small Belgian rearguard force before Brussels, and advanced upon the capital. On the previous 17th the King of the Belgians removed his Government to Antwerp. The diplomatic corps followed. Mr. Brand Whitlock, the American Minister, however, remained. In his capacity as a neutral he had assisted stranded Germans in Brussels from hasty official and mob peril. He stayed to perform a similar service for the Belgians and Allies. His success in these efforts won for him German respect and the gratitude of the whole Belgian nation.
A lingering plan for defending Brussels by throwing up barricades and constructing wire entanglements, to be manned by the Civic Guard, was abandoned in the face of wiser counsel. It would merely have resulted in a bombardment, with needless destruction of life and property. Brussels was defenseless.
In flight before the German host, refugees of all classes were streaming into Brussels—young and old, rich and poor, priest and layman. Nearly all bore some burden of household treasure, many some pathetically absurd family heirloom. Every kind of vehicle appeared to have been called into use, from smart carriages drawn by heavy Flemish horses to little carts harnessed to dogs. Over all reigned a stupefied silence, broken only by shuffling footfalls. Among them the absence of automobiles and light horses would indicate all such had been commandeered by the Belgian military authorities. Their cavalry was badly in need of good light-weight mounts. At crossroads passage to imagined safety was blocked by farm live stock driven by bewildered peasants.
On Thursday morning, August 20, 1914, the burgomaster motored forth to meet the Germans. His reception and the terms dictated by General von Arnim were almost identically the same as at Louvain. The burgomaster was perforce compelled to accept. The scene of the entry of the German troops into Louvain was repeated at Brussels. There was the same stolidly silent-packed gathering of onlookers on the sidewalks, the same thundering triumphant march of the German host. Corps after corps, probably of those who had fought at Liege, and subsequently passed around the city on the grand sweep toward the French frontier. Moreover, huge bodies of German troops were advancing up the valley of the Meuse and through the woods of the Ardennes. As in Louvain, that night the hotels, restaurants, cafes, and shops of Brussels were patronized by a rush of trade which never before totaled such extent in a single day. Bills of purchase were settled by the Germans in cash. The city was promptly assessed a war indemnity of $40,000,000.
With the fall of Brussels, the first objective of the Germans may be said to have been gained. But the right wing of Von Kluck's army was still operating northward upon Antwerp. The Belgian army had escaped him within the circle of Antwerp's forts, so that he detailed a force deemed to be sufficient to hold the enemy secure. Then he struck eastward between Antwerp and Brussels at Alost, Ghent, and Bruges. In his advance he swept several divisions of cavalry, also motor cars bearing machine guns. Beyond Bruges his patrol caught their first glimpse of the North Sea, drawing in toward another much-hoped-for goal on the English Channel.
But the Belgian army within security of Antwerp had not been routed. It had retreated in good order, thanks to the resistance of its right-wing rear guard. General de Moranville promptly reenforced it with new volunteers to the extent of some 125,000 men. In addition, he drew upon a fresh supply of ammunition, and new artillery well horsed. His cavalry, however, were certainly no better and probably worse than that with which his army had been complemented originally.
On August 23, 1914, obtaining information that the Germans were in considerably inferior force at Malines, the Belgians began a vigorous counteroffensive. General de Moranville drove the Germans out of Malines on the day following. That was in the nature of a master stroke, for it gave the Belgians control of the shortest railway from Germany into West Flanders. Further, since Von Kluck had reached Bruges, and reenforcements under General von Boehn had passed across the Belgian direct line on Brussels, the great German right wing was in danger of being caught in a trap. Von Boehn, therefore, was hurriedly detached rearward to deal with the Belgian counteroffensive. But this deprived Von Kluck of his needed reenforcements to overcome 2,000 British marines landed at Ostend, that, together with the Civic Guard, had beaten back German patrols from the place. Had the British now landed an army at Ostend, Von Kluck, between the Belgian and British forces, would have been in serious danger of annihilation. With the German right wing thus crumpled, the whole of their offensive would have broken down. But the British did not come, and so the Belgians were left to fight it out single handed. This fighting went on for three weeks, with accurate details lacking. Mainly it was upon the line Aershot-Dyle Valley-Termonde, with Antwerp for the Belgian base.
On August 24, 1914, a German Zeppelin sailed over Antwerp and dropped a number of bombs. The Belgians thrust their right wing forward and recaptured Alost. They advanced their center to a siege of Cortenburg. Malines seemed secure. To the Belgians this was a historic triumph. Famous for its manufacture of lace under the name of Mechlin, almost every street contained some relic of architectural interest. The Cathedral of St. Rombaut, the seat of a cardinal archbishop, held upon its walls some of Van Dyck's masterpieces. Margaret of Austria had held court in its Palais de Justice.
In this emergency, Von Boehn was heavily reenforced with the Third Army Corps, reserves from the south, and 15,000 sailors and marines. His army was now between 250,000 and 300,000 men. This placed overwhelming odds against the Belgians. But for four days they fought a stubborn battle at Weerde.
This was from September 13 to 16, 1914, and resulted in the capture of the Louvain-Malines railway by the Germans. The Belgians had now fought to the extremity of what could be expected without aid from the Allies. The sole action left for them was to fall back for a defense of Antwerp. Von Kluck's right wing of the whole German offensive had completed its task on Belgian soil.
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COMING OF THE BRITISH
We now come to the arrival of the British on the Continent. In using the term British, it, is expressly intended to comprise the united forces of the British Isles.
On August 3, 1914, the British Government practically gave up hope that war with Germany could be avoided, though it would appear to have lingered until the ultimatum to Germany to vacate Belgian soil remained unanswered. On that day the army was mobilized at Aldershot.
On August 5, 1914, Lord Kitchener was recalled at the outset from a journey to Egypt, and appointed Minister of War. No more fortunate selection than this could have been made. Above all else, Lord Kitchener's reputation had been won as an able transport officer. In the emergency, as Minister of War, the responsibility for the transport of a British army oversea rested in his hands. On August 5, 1914, the House of Commons voted a credit of $100,000,000, and an increase of 500,000 men to the regular forces. Upon the same day preparations went forward for the dispatch of an expeditionary army to France.
The decision to send the army to France, instead of direct to a landing in Belgium, would seem to have been in response to an urgent French entreaty that Great Britain mark visibly on French soil her unity with that nation at the supreme crisis. For some days previously British reluctance to enter the war while a gleam of hope remained to confine, if not prevent, the European conflagration, had created a feeling of disappointment in France.
The British expeditionary army consisted at first—that is previous to the Battle of the Marne—of two and a half army corps, or five divisions, thus distributed: First Corps, Sir Douglas Haig; Second Corps, General Smith-Dorien; Fourth Division of the Third Corps, General Pulteney. The Sixth Division of the Third Corps and the Fourth Corps under General Rawlinson were not sent to France till after the end of September, 1914. It contained besides about one division and a half of cavalry under General Allenby. A British division varies from 12,000 to 15,000 men (three infantry brigades of four regiments each; three groups of artillery, each having three batteries of six pieces; two companies of sappers, and one regiment of cavalry). The force totaled some 75,000 men, with 259 guns. The whole was placed under the command of Field Marshal Sir John French, with Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Murray, Chief of Staff.
Field Marshal French was sixty-two and was two years younger than Lord Kitchener. His responsibilities were great, how great no one at the beginning of the war realized his capabilities for the developing scope of the task untried, but as a serious and courageous officer he fully merited the honors he had already won.
By August 7, 1914, Admiral Jellicoe was able to guarantee a safe passage for the British army across the English Channel. A fortunate mobilization of the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea for maneuvers shut off the German Grand Fleet from raiding the Channel. There was nothing to criticize in the manner in which the Expeditionary Army was thrown into France. Its equipment was ready and in all details fully worthy of German military organization. From arms to boots—the latter not long since a scandal of shoddy workmanship—only the best material and skill had been accepted. Its transport proved the genius of Lord Kitchener in that brand of military service. The railways leading to the ports of embarkation, together with passenger steamships—some of them familiar in American ports—were commandeered as early as the 4th of August.
During the night of August 7, 1914, train after train filled with troops steamed toward Southampton, and some other south-coast ports. Complements were also embarked at Dublin, Avonmouth, and the Bristol Channel. In the middle of the night citizens of small towns along the route were awakened by the unceasing rumble of trains. They had no conception of its import. They did not even realize that war had actually burst upon the serenity of their peaceful lives. Each transport vessel was placed in command of a naval officer, and guarded in its passage across the channel by light cruisers and torpedo destroyers. The transport of the whole Expeditionary Army was completed within ten days, without the loss of a man and with a precision worthy of all military commendation. But such secrecy was maintained that the British public remained in ignorance of its passage until successfully accomplished. American correspondents, however, were not yet strictly censored, so that their papers published news of it on August 9.
On Sunday, August 9, 1914, two British transports were observed making for the harbor of Boulogne. The weather was all that could be wished, the crossing resembled a bank-holiday excursion. For some days previously the French had taken a gloomy view of British support. But French fishermen returning from Scotland and English ports maintained confidence, for had not British fishermen told them the French would never be abandoned to fall a prey to the enemy.
When the two advance British transports steamed into view, "Les Anglais," at last everyone cried. At once a hugely joyful reversion of feeling. The landing of the British soldiers was made a popular ovation. Their appearance, soldierly bearing, their gentleness toward women and children, their care of the horses were showered with heartfelt French compliments. Especially the Scotch Highlanders, after their cautious fashion, wondered at the exuberance of their welcome. For the brave Irish, was not Marshal MacMahon of near-Irish descent and the first president of the Third Republic? The Irish alone would save that republic. Women begged for the regimental badges to pin on their breasts. In turn they offered delicacies of all kinds to the soldiers. For the first time in a hundred years the British uniform was seen on French soil. Then it represented an enemy, now a comrade in arms. The bond of union was sealed at a midnight military mass, celebrated by English-speaking priests, for British and French Catholic soldiers at Camp Malbrouch round the Colonne de la Grande Armee. The two names recalled the greatest of British and French victories—Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde, Ulm, Austerlitz, and Jena.
Meanwhile, officers of the French General Staff had journeyed to London to confer with the British General Staff regarding the camping and alignment of the British troops. Meanwhile, also, the British reserves and territorials were called to the colors. The latter comprised the militia, infantry and artillery, and the volunteer yeomanry cavalry, infantry and artillery. The militia was the oldest British military force, officered to a great extent by retired regular army men, its permanent staffs of noncommissioned officers were from the regular army, and it was under the direct control of the Secretary of State for War. The volunteer infantry, artillery, and yeomanry cavalry were on a somewhat different basis, more nearly resembling the American militia, but the British militia were linked with regular-line battalions. The reserves, militia and volunteers, added approximately 350,000 well-trained men for immediate home defense.
On Sunday, August 17, 1914, it was officially announced that the whole of the British Expeditionary Army had landed in France. Conferences between the British and French General Staffs resulted in the British army being concentrated first at Amiens. From that point it was to advance into position as the left wing of the united French and British armies, though controlled by their separate commanders.
The French Fifth Army had already moved to hold the line of the River Sambre, with its right in touch with Namur. Cavalry patrols had been thrown forward to Ligny and Gembloux, where they skirmished with uhlans. Charleroi was made French headquarters. It was the center of extensive coal-mining and steel industry. Pit shafts and blast furnaces dominated the landscape. Historically it was the ground over which Bluecher's Fourth Army Corps marched to the support of the British at Waterloo. Now the British were supporting the French upon it against their former ally.
On Thursday, August 20, 1914, the British took up their position on the French left. Their line ran from Binche to Mons, then within the French frontier stretched westward to Conde. From Mons to Conde it followed the line of the canal, thus occupying an already constructed barrier. Formerly Conde was regarded as a fortress of formidable strength, but its position was not held to be of value in modern strategy. Its forts, therefore, had been dismantled of guns, and its works permitted to fall into disuse. But the fortress of Maubeuge lay immediately in rear of the British line. In rear again General Sordet held a French cavalry corps for flank actions. In front, across the Belgian frontier, General d'Amade lay with a French brigade at Tournai as an outpost.
Before proceeding to British headquarters, General French held a conference with General Joffre, Commander in Chief of all the French armies. Until the outbreak of the war, General Joffre was practically unknown to the French people. He was no popular military idol, no boulevard dashing figure. But he had seen active service with credit, and had climbed, step by step, with persevering study of military science into the council of the French General Staff. As a strategist his qualities came to be recognized as paramount in that body. A few years previously he had been intrusted with the reorganization of the French army, and his plans accepted. Therefore, when war with Germany became a certainty, it was natural the supreme command of the French army should fall to General Joffre.
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CAMPAIGNS IN ALSACE AND LORRAINE
The French staff apparently had designed a campaign in Upper Alsace and the Vosges, but the throwing of a brigade from Belfort across the frontier on the extreme right of their line on August 6 would seem to have been undertaken chiefly with a view of rousing patriotic enthusiasm. French aeroplane scouts had brought in the intelligence that only small bodies of German troops occupied the left bank of the Rhine. Therefore the opportunity was presented to invade the upper part of the lost province of Alsace—a dramatic blow calculated to arouse the French patriotic spirit. Since the Germans had expended hardly any effort in its defense, leaving, as it were an open door, it may have been part of the strategic idea of their General Staff to draw a French army into that region, with the design of inflicting a crushing defeat. Thus French resistance in the southern Vosges would have been weakened, the capture of Belfort, unsupported by its field army, a probability, and a drive beyond into France by the German forces concentrated at Neubreisach made triumphant. Doubtless the French General Staff fully grasped the German intention, but considered a nibble at the alluring German bait of some value for its sentimental effect upon the French and Alsatians. Otherwise the invasion of Upper Alsace with a brigade was doomed at the outset to win no military advantage.
On August 7, 1914, the French dispersed a German outpost intrenched before Altkirch. Some cavalry skirmishing followed, which resulted in the French gaining possession of the city. As was to be expected, the citizens of Altkirch welcomed the French with enthusiasm. The following morning the French were permitted an uncontested advance to Muelhausen. That such an important manufacturing center as Muelhausen should have remained unfortified within striking distance of the French frontier, that the French entered it without being compelled to fire a shot, was a surprise to everyone with the probable exception of the German and French General Staffs.
The citizens of Muelhausen repeated the joyous ovation bestowed on the French troops in Altkirch. The French uniform was hailed as the visible sign of deliverance from German dominion, and the restoration of the lost province to their kindred of the neighboring republic. The climax of this ebullition was reached in a proclamation issued by direction of General Joffre. "People of Alsace," it ran, "after forty years of weary waiting, French soldiers again tread the soil of your native country. They are the pioneers in the great work of redemption. What emotion and what pride for them! To complete the work they are ready to sacrifice their lives. The French nation with one heart spurs them forward, and on the folds of their flag are inscribed the magical names Liberty and Right. Long live France! Long live Alsace!"
During August 8, 1914, some intermittent fighting went on in the vicinity of Muelhausen, which seems to have given the French general in command the impression that the Germans were not eager for a counterattack. In turn the Germans may well have been puzzled that a French brigade instead of an army was thrown into Upper Alsace for the bait of Muelhausen. Possibly they waited a little for the main body, which did not come.
Sunday, August 8, 1914, revealed the Germans in such overpowering strength, that the French were left no other choice than to beat a hasty retreat. They accordingly fell back upon Altkirch, to intrench a few miles beyond their own border. Thus ended the French initial offensive. In military reckoning it achieved little of value.
Meanwhile in the Ardennes on August 13, 1914, the German Crown Prince, commanding the Fourth Army, advanced from Luxemburg into the southern Ardennes and captured Neuf-chateau. His further objective was to break through the French line somewhere near the historic ground of Sedan. But at this point some change in the German plan seems to have taken place. From the maze still enveloping the opening events of the war, one can only conjecture a reason which would move such an irrevocable body as the German General Staff to alter a long-fixed plan. Probably, then, the unanticipated strength of Belgian resistance foreshadowed the summoning of reenforcements to Von Kluck's right wing of the whole German army. We have seen, in fact, how he came to be near a desperate need at Bruges, and only the heavy reenforcement of Von Boehn enabled that general to deliver a final defeat to the Belgian field army at Weerde. Whatever the cause of change of plan may have been, important forces attached to or intended for the armies of the Duke of Wuerttemberg and the crown prince were withdrawn to support the armies of Von Kluck and Von Buelow. These forces went to form a unit under General von Hausen, a veteran of Sadowa. This change left the Saxon army of the crown prince with hardly sufficient strength for a main attack on the French line at Sedan, but still formidable enough to feel its way cautiously through the Ardennes to test the French concentration on the central Meuse's west bank. When the German right had finally settled Liege, the Saxon army could then join in the united great movement on Paris.
Early on the morning of August 15, 1914, a French detachment of half an infantry regiment, thrown into Dinant, was surprised by a mobile Saxon advance force of cavalry, infantry and artillery. Dinant lies across the Meuse eighteen miles south of Namur. It is a picturesque ancient town, the haunt of artists and tourists. In the vicinity are the estates of several wealthy Belgian families, particularly the thirteenth-century chateau of Walzin, once the stronghold of the Comtes d'Ardennes. A bridge crosses the Meuse at Dinant, which sits mainly on the east bank within shadow of precipitous limestone cliffs. A stone fort more imposing in appearance than modern effectiveness crowns the highest cliff summit overlooking Dinant. The Germans came by way of the east bank to occupy the suburbs. They presently captured the fort and hoisted the German flag. Meanwhile the French took possession of the bridge, being at a considerable disadvantage from German rifle fire from the cliffs. The solid stone abutments of the bridge, however, enabled the French to hold that position until strong reenforcements arrived early in the afternoon. While French infantry cleared the environs of Germans, their artillery bombarded the fort from the west bank. Their shells played havoc with the old fort defenses, soon compelling its evacuation by the Germans. One of the first French artillery shells blew into shreds the German flag flying triumphantly over the fort, thus depriving the French of the satisfaction of hauling it down. Toward evening the Germans retreated toward the Lesse, followed by the French. In previous wars the forces engaged were of sufficient strength to designate Dinant a battle, but with the vast armies of the present conflict it sinks to the military grade of a mere affair. However, it is called by the French the Battle of Dinant.
The troops which entered Alsace on August 7, 1914, to the number of 18,000 to 20,000, belonged to the army of the frontier.
This first army, which was under the orders of General Dubail, was intrusted with the mission of making a vigorous attack and of holding in front of it the greatest possible number of German forces. The general in command of this army had under his orders, if the detachment from Alsace be included, five army corps and a division of cavalry. His orders were to seek battle along the line Saarburg-Donon, in the Bruche Valley, at the same time possessing himself of the crests of the Vosges as well as the mountain passes. These operations were to have as their theaters: (1) the Vosges Mountains, (2) the plateau of Lorraine to the northwest of Donon, and (3) the left bank of the Meurthe. This left bank of the Meurthe is separated from the valley of the Moselle by a bristling slope of firs, which is traversed by a series of passages, the defiles of Chipotte, of the Croix Idoux, of the Haut Jacques d'Anozel, of Vanemont, of Plafond. In these passes, when the French returned to the offensive in September, 1914, furious combats took place. The German forces opposed to this first army consisted of five active army corps and a reserve corps.
The first French army, after a violent struggle, conquered the passes of the Vosges, but the conquest was vigorously opposed and took more time than the French had reckoned on. As soon as it had become master of the Donon and the passes, the first French army pushed forward into the defile of Saarburg. At St. Blaise it won the first German colors, took Blamont and Cirey (August 15, 1914), seized the defiles north of the canal of the Marne and the Rhine, and reached Saarburg. Here a connection was established with the army of Lorraine, which had commenced its operations on the 14th. A violent battle ensued, known under the name of the Battle of Saarburg. The left wing of the French army attacked August 19, 1914; it hurled itself at the fortified positions, which were copiously fringed with heavy artillery. In spite of the opposition it made progress to the northwest of Saarburg.
On the 20th the attack was renewed, but from the beginning it was evident that it could not succeed and that the duty intrusted to the Eighth Army Corps of opening up the way for the cavalry corps could not be accomplished. This army corps had gone through a trying ordeal as a result of the bombardment by the heavy German artillery established in fortified positions, covering distances all measured in advance, with every group and French battery presenting a sure target and the action of the French cannon rendered useless.
If the left wing of the First Army found itself checked, the center and the right on the other hand were in an excellent position and were able to advance. But at this point (August 21, 1914) the Second French Army (the army of Lorraine) met a serious reverse in the region of Morhange and was compelled to retreat. This retreat left the flank of the First Army gravely unprotected, and as a consequence this army was also obliged to fall back. This rear-guard movement was accomplished over a very difficult piece of country down to the Baccarat-Ban de Sapt-Provenchere line, south of the Col du Bonhomme. It was found necessary to abandon the Donon and the Col de Sapt.
The task committed to the Second Army, that of Lorraine under De Castlenau, was to protect Nancy, then to transfer itself to the east, advancing later to the north and attacking in a line parallel to that taken by the First Army on the Dieuze-Chateau Salins front in the general direction of Saarbruecken. Its mission was therefore at once both offensive and defensive: to cover Nancy and continue toward the west the attack of the First Army.
After having repulsed, August 10 and 11, 1914, the strong German attacks in the region of Spincourt and of Chateau Salins the Second Army took the offensive and went forward almost without stopping during four days of uninterrupted fighting. Penetrating into Lorraine, which had been annexed, it reached the right bank of the Selle, cut off Marsal and Chateau Salins, and pushed forward in the direction of Morhange. The enemy fell back; at Marsal he even left behind enormous quantities of ammunition.
As a matter of fact, he fell back on positions that had been carefully fortified in advance and whence his artillery could bombard at an almost perfectly accurate range. August 20, 1914, made a violent counterattack on the canal of Salines and Morhange in the Lake district. The immediate vicinity of Metz furnished the German army with a vast quantity of heavy artillery, which played a decisive role in the Battle of Morhange. The French retreated, and during this rear-guard movement the frontier city of Luneville was for some days occupied by the Germans.
Thus the First and Second Armies failed in their offensive and saw themselves obliged to retreat, but their retreat was accomplished under excellent circumstances, and the troops, after a couple of days of rest, found themselves in a condition again to take the offensive. The First Army gave energetic support to the Second Army, which was violently attacked by the Germans in the second week of August. The German attack, which was first arrayed against Nancy, turned more and more to the east.
The battle, at first waged in the Mortagne basin, was gradually extended to the deep woods on the left bank of the Meurthe and on to Chipotte, Nompatelize, etc. The battles that have been named the Battle of Mortagne, the Battle of the Meurthe, the Battle of the Vosges, all waged by the First Army, were extremely violent in the last week of August and the first two weeks of September. These combats partly coincided with the Battle of the Marne; they resulted, at the end of that battle, in the German retreat. The Second Army renewed the offensive August 25, 1914; it decisively checked the march of the German army and commenced to force it back.
The instructions issued to General de Castelnau directed him everywhere to march forward and make direct attacks. The day of August 25, 1914, was a successful day for the French; everywhere the Germans were repulsed. From August 26 till September 2, 1914, the Second Army continued its attacks.
At this point the commander in chief having need of important forces at his center and at his right relieved the Second Army of much of its strength. This did not prevent it from engaging in the great Battle of Nancy and winning it. It was September 4, 1914, that this battle began and it continued till the 11th, the army sustaining the incessant assaults of the Germans on its entire front advanced from Grand Couronne. The German emperor was personally present at this battle. There was at Dieuze a regiment of white cuirassiers at whose head it was his intention to make a triumphal entry into Nancy. Heavy German artillery of every caliber made an enormous expenditure of ammunition; on the Grand Mont d'Amance alone, one of the most important positions of the Grand Couronne of Nancy, more than 30,000 howitzer shells were fired in two days. The fights among the infantry were characterized on the entire front by an alternation of failure and success, every point being taken, lost and retaken at intervals.
The struggle attained to especial violence in the Champenoux Forest. On September 5, 1914, the enemy won Maixe and Remereville, which they lost again in the evening, but they were unable to dislodge the French from the ridge east of the forest of Champenoux. The Mont d'Amance was violently bombarded; a German brigade marched on Pont-a-Mousson. The French retook Crevic and the Crevic Wood.
On the 7th the Germans directed on Ste. Genevieve, north of the Grand Couronne, a very violent attack, which miscarried. Ste. Genevieve was lost for a time, but it was retaken on the 8th; more than 2,000 Germans lay dead on the ground. The same day the enemy threw themselves furiously on the east front, the Mont d'Amance, and La Neuvelotte. South of the Champenoux Forest the French were compelled to retire; they were thrown back on the ridge west of the forest. On the 9th a new bombardment of Mont d'Amance, a struggle of extreme violence, took place on the ridge west of the forest of Champenoux, the French gaining ground. General Castelnau decided to take the direct offensive, the Germans giving signs of great fatigue. On the 12th they retired very rapidly. They evacuated Luneville, a frontier town, where they left a great quantity of arms and ammunition. The French began immediately to pursue them, the Germans withdrawing everywhere over the frontier.
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SIEGE AND FALL OF NAMUR
When the Germans occupied Brussels on August 20, 1914, we observed that corps after corps did not enter the city, but swept to the south. This was Von Kluck's left wing moving to attack the Allies on the Sambre-Mons front. The forces which passed through Brussels were Von Kluck's center, advancing south by east to fall in line beside the right wing, which had mainly passed between Brussels and Antwerp to the capture of Bruges and Ghent. The whole line when re-formed on the French frontier would stretch from Mons to the English Channel—the great right wing of the German armies.
Meanwhile, Von Buelow's second army had advanced up the valley of the Meuse, with its right sweeping the Hisbaye uplands. Some part of this army may have been transported by rail from Montmedy. Its general advance in columns was directed chiefly upon the Sambre crossings. As Von Kluck's wide swing through Belgium covered a greater distance, Von Buelow's army was expected to strike the Allies some twenty-four hours earlier. Its march, therefore, was in the nature of an onrush.
But Von Buelow was now in the full tide of fighting strength—an amazing spectacle to chance or enforced witnesses. Well may the terrified peasants have stood hat in hand in the midst of their ruined villages. Any door not left open was immediately broken down and the interior searched. Here and there a soldier could be seen carrying a souvenir from some wrecked chateau. But for the most part everyone fled from before its path, leaving it silent and abandoned. The field gray-green uniforms were almost invisible in cover, in a half light, or when advancing through mist. No conceivable detail seemed to have been overlooked. Each man carried a complete equipment down to handy trifles, the whole weighed to the fraction of an ounce, in carefully estimated proportions.
But this was not enough. Waiting for each column to pass were men with buckets of drinking water, into which the soldiers dipped their aluminum cups. Temporary field post offices were established in advance, so that messages could be gathered in as the columns passed. Here and there were men to offer biscuits and handfuls of prunes. In methodical, machine-like progress came the ammunition wagons, commissariat carts, field kitchens, teams of heavy horses attached to pontoons, traction engines hauling enormous siege guns, motor plows for excavating trenches, aeroplanes, carriages containing surgeons, automobiles for the commanders, and motor busses in which staff officers could be seen studying their maps. On some of these vehicles were chalked Berlin-Paris. No branch of the service was absent, no serviceable part if it overlooked—not even a complement of grave diggers. It moved forward always at an even pace, as if on parade, with prearranged signals passed down the line when there was any obstacle, a descent or bend in the road.
The tramp of many thousands cast into the atmosphere clouds of fine dust, but even those in rear marched through it as if their lungs were made of steel. No permission was granted to open out for the circulation of air, though it was the month of August. It is safe to assert there was not a single straggler in Von Buelow's army. At the first sign of it he was admonished with a vigor to deter his comrades. Discipline was severely maintained. At every halt the click of heels, and rattle of arms in salute went on down the line with the sharp delivery of orders.
On Wednesday, August 12, 1914, the town of Huy, situated midway between Liege and Namur, was seized. It possessed an old citadel, but it was disarmed, and used now only as a storehouse. Some Belgian detachments offered a slight resistance at the bridge, but were speedily driven off. The capture of Huy gave the Germans control of the railway from Aix-la-Chapelle to France, though broken at Liege by the still standing northern forts. But they secured a branch line of more immediate service, running from Huy into Central Belgium.
On August 15, 1914, Von Buelow's vanguard came within sight of Namur. Before evening German guns were hurling shells upon its forts. Began then the siege of Namur. Namur, being the second fortress hope of the Allies—the pivot upon which General Joffre had planned to swing his army into Belgium in a sweeping attack upon the advancing Germans—a brief survey of the city and fortifications will be necessary. The situation of the city is not as imposing as that of Liege. For the most part it sits on a hillside declivity, to rest in the angle formed by the junction of the Sambre and Meuse. It is a place of some historic and industrial importance, though in the latter respect not so well known as Liege. To the west, however, up the valley of the Sambre, the country presents the usual features of a mining region—pit shafts, tall chimneys issuing clouds of black smoke, and huge piles of unsightly debris. While away to the north stretches the great plain of Central Belgium, southward the Central Meuse offers a more picturesque prospect in wooded slopes rising to view-commanding hilltops. Directly east, the Meuse flows into the precipitous cut on its way to Liege.
But in Belgian eyes the fame of Namur lay to a great extent in its being the second of Brialmont's fortress masterpieces. Its plan was that of Liege—a ring of outer detached forts, constructed on the same armor-clad cupola principle. At Namur these were nine in number, four major forts and five fortins. The distance between each fort was on the average two and a half miles, with between two and a half to five miles from the city as the center of the circumference.
Facing Von Buelow's advance, fort Cognlee protected the Brussels railway, while the guns of Marchovelette swept the space between it and the left bank of the Meuse. In the southwest angle formed by the Meuse, forts Maizeret, Andoy and Dave continued the ring. Again in the angle of the Sambre and Meuse forts St. Heribert and Malonne protected the city. North of the Sambre, forts Suarlee and Emines completed the circle.
In the emergency Namur possessed one advantage over Liege. The resistance of Liege gave Namur due warning of the German invasion, and some days to prepare for attack. General Michel was in command or the garrison of Namur, which comprised from 25,000 to 30,000 men. Doubtless reports had come to him of the situation at Liege. He immediately set to work to overcome the cause of the failure of Brialmont's plan at Liege, by constructing trenches between the forts, protected by barbed wire entanglements, and mines in advance of the German approach. As his circumference of defense was less than that of Liege, his force promised to be capable of a more prolonged resistance.