Belgian Infantry marching to Haelen, 1914

Belgian Infantry marching to Haelen, 1914

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Belgian Infantry marching to Haelen, 1914

Here we see a column of Belgian infantry marching towards Haelen, where they played a part in delaying the German advance.

Feature Articles - Brave Little Belgium - Retreat To The Gete

The fall of the Liege forts opened the way for the German 1 st and 2 nd Armies to swing through Belgium towards the French border, with the von Schlieffen intention to encircle Paris to the North. The 3 rd Army would march on Dinant, the 4 th on Sedan and the 6 th on Verdun.

The right wing of the Belgian army stood fast at Namur, where the 4 th Division reinforced the fortress. On the 5 th August, the French had given assurances that necessary military support would be given whenever it was requested. The rest of the Belgian army was repositioned to defend the north of the country, to stem the German advance. The River Gete (Gette in French) was chosen as the first natural defence line behind Liege.

On the morning of the 7 th , the Belgian military deputy in France reported to GHQ in Leuven with a message from Joffre. It said that the full French deployment would be complete by the 11 th .

At this time, Joffre was still under the impression that Liege was securely in Belgian hands he wanted it held until he could send four Corps to the Meuse valley from the direction of Namur. He insisted that if a retreat became necessary, it must be in a south-westerly direction (that is, towards France). But of course, as this message was received, the Germans were on both banks of the Meuse and the Belgian 3 rd Division were beginning to withdraw to the Gete.

The French cavalry corps under General Sordet crossed into Belgium on the 6 th . Their orders were not to give direct assistance to the Belgians at Liege, but to hold the Germans along the right bank.

The Belgian cavalry, which since the 4 th had been stationed at Wavre, were ordered to cover troop movements to the north of Liege, and if necessary move towards Maastricht and Maaseik to hold the Germans from cutting the line of retreat. When the battle started at Liege, they moved to Hannuit, a central position from which to fire a barrage.

On the 6 th , General de Witte moved them to Hallogne, where contact was made with the infantry of the 3 rd Division. When, on the 7 th , GHQ signalled that the direction of Huy was under attack and was becoming dangerous, the cavalry moved to Warnaut. Further order, however, indicated that in fact the more critical fighting was taking place to the north and north-west. Many German troops had been reported in Limburg and to the west of Tongeren.

De Witte therefore turned around and hastened to Sint-Truiden, and by the morning of the 8 th , his troops lay to the south of the town. However, the strength of the German advance was palpably growing, and he was ordered on the 9 th to take no risks and to fall back to the Gete line.

To the south of the cavalry, the Belgian army now held a more or less continuous line from Tienen to Jodoigne. In front, the 1 st , 3 rd and 5 th Divisions. Behind them, the 2 nd were at Leuven, the 6 th at Hamme-Mille. The defence of Namur was left to the 4 th Division, of which the 8 th Mixed Brigade held the Meuse bridges at Huy and Andenne. When the last Liege forts fell, this Brigade withdrew, and the Germans crossed at these places on the 19 th . The Armies of Von Kluck and Von Bulow had gained completely free passage at all the important Meuse bridges.

In fact, as early as the 8 th , the 2 nd and 4 th German cavalry divisions under Von Marwitz had crossed by a temporary bridge at Lixhe, advancing to a position south of Tongeren which menaced the Liege troops from the rear. They moved on the old Roman town the next day, but a company of cyclists, with help from the burgerwacht (militia), drove off a complete Brigade of Liebeshuzaren, and they withdrew to Gothem. The German cavalry were never as bold after this shock, which had an important effect in slowing the general advance.

However, a stronger German force of cavalry did take Tongeren the next day. Von Marwitz, however, realised that he was in danger of being cut off, as the Belgian defence line solidified behind him, and between him and the rest of the German armies. He moved to escape by taking a northerly rout towards Diest. His troops came into regular contact with Belgian patrols and supply columns. A serious clash took place on the 10 th near Orsmal, where the 3 rd Belgian Lansiers attacked. Although the fire fight was only short, 28 Belgians died, as did an uncounted number of Germans. After a days rest, Von Marwitz moved towards Haelen.

The Battle Of The Silver Helmets

A serious clash occurred at Haelen, on the 12 th August. Units of the Belgian cavalry (the 4 th and 5 th Lansiers, plus a company of cyclists and another of pioneer engineers) under General de Witte ambushed the advanced squadrons of the German cavalry, in what was almost certainly the last fight between mounted cavalrymen, wearing the breastplates and helmets of a different era.

The battle lasted for most a the day, and drew in reinforcements from both sides. The Germans suffered a serious defeat in the village and in the surrounding farms, losing some 150 dead, 600 wounded and 200-300 prisoners. The number of dead horses was put at over 400. The Belgian losses totalled around 500. Von Marwitz withdrew, advancing days later with great caution. This battle grew in Belgian folklore as the 'Battle of the Silver Helmets'.

A large gap existed between the Belgians and the French 5 th Army, that was only ordered to be closed on the 12 th August when General Lanrezac, as a result of events at Liege, took up a defensive position on the Meuse between Namur and Givet. He used the 1 st Corps under Franchet D'Esprey, who took an entire week to take up their position.

After the Belgian victory at Haelen, there followed several days of relative calm. The Belgian army, already shattered from the loss of Liege and much of the 3 rd Division, had time to catch its breath.

Irregular machine gun fire from Diest broke De Witte's illusions of the chances of a further breakthrough, for Von Kluck had ordered the three Korps of his 1 st Army to advance through central Belgium towards Diest and Tienen. A Reserve Korps followed each assault Korps, and thus an impenetrable and advancing curtain formed in front of the Belgians. The latter still faced this completely alone, for a connection with Lanrezac's Frenchmen had not yet been made, and the small British force (of which the Belgians knew very little) was still on its way to France. Steadily, the field grey occupied Sint-Truiden, Tongeren, the gin town of Hasselt, Genk and Mol, while masses continued to stream across the Meuse bridges. Belgium had already lost much of its industrial capacity, for the Limburg area was one where much of its coal and iron working took place.

On the morning of the 18 th of August, German artillery fire opened on Haelen, and the nearby villages. The German infantry moved forward, and despite resistance from two sections of cyclists and a dismounted squadron of the 5 th Lansiers, they took it quite quickly. This allowed the German cavalry to cross the Gete. The entire Belgian army in front of Leuven was now threatened by encirclement.

The Belgians had no choice but to slip quietly away to the north, while they still had the chance. The next natural defensive position was to occupy the banks of the River Dijle (Dyle).

In retreat, they put up stiff resistance, and units of the 3 rd Division fought large scale defensive actions at Sint-Margriethe-Houthem (on the 18 th ) and Aarschot (19 th ). The action at Aarschot was notable for the violent reaction of the Germans. A single brigade of Belgian infantry, with one artillery battery, held up the German advance for several hours, but after suffering heavy losses and being attacked from three sides, they withdrew.

Inevitably the Germans took prisoners, mostly wounded men. A large number were marched to the banks of the River Demer, where they were shot. Those that escaped were thrown in the river to drown. The Germans then turned on the citizens of the Aarschot. 400 houses were plundered and set on fire, and 150 people executed. During the next few days, the fury continued, and the towns of Diest, Schaffen, and Tremelo were razed.

The loss of Aarschot endangered the Dijle position. Albert decided with reluctance to move GHQ from Leuven to Mechelen. He ordered the whole army to retire to within the fortress ring of Antwerp.

After a long and tense night march, the first units of the exhausted field army entered the fortress on the 20 th August. Discouraged now by the fast retreat after the hopeful results of Haelen and Aarschot, they trekked through a growing stream of refugees to the harbour meadows.

The Germans capitalised quickly on the retreat. On the 19 th , they took Leuven, and the German flag flew on the Stadhuis, which until just a few hours previously had housed King Albert and the General Staff of the Belgian army. On the 20 th , they triumphantly entered Brussels, and watered their horses in the Grote Markt, and along the elegant boulevards of the capital.

From the 21 st , the Germans began to renew their swing towards the south. They left only the 3 rd Reserve Korps as a screen facing Antwerp, and they were positioned in the Vilvoorde - Haacht area to the north-east of the capital.

The German high command were now of the opinion that the Belgian army was a spent force, incapable of offensive action.

It became clear soon enough, however, that the Belgians posed a constant threat to the northern German flank as its advance units headed for Paris. The lateral communication lines and railways running across Belgium were an artery supplying the fighting front with materials and men from Germany. They were all too vulnerable to a sudden attack from Antwerp, and Von Kluck was eventually forced to strengthen the screen standing fast in front of the six Belgian divisions.

Namur, Dinant And The German Swing To The South

On the 20 th August, the German high command ordered the 3 rd Army, in contact with the 2 nd Army under Von Bulow, to march on French troops between the Sambre and Meuse. While they advanced, the Belgian 4 th Division, the solitary part of the Belgian army in the area, dug in to defend Namur. In the wide gap between the French 5 th and 3 rd Armies, under Lanrezac and Ruffey respectively, there was only one brigade, the 45 th , of French infantry, who were ordered to support the Belgian defence. They would face German opposition of at least four times their combined strength.

The first probing attacks were made on the 20 th , towards Fort de Marchovelette. The next morning, the German field guns opened up on many of the forts. The super-heavy mortars were in position, and made their first registering shots, on the 21 st . By dusk, all telephone lines to the eastern forts were down. Marchovelette was constantly hit, and knocked out of action. The rest would gradually follow.

The bulk of the Germans reached the area of Namur on the 23 rd , the same day that they clashed for the first time with the BEF, at Mons. The day before, they had clashed with the French near Charleroi and had taken Dinant. In the latter place, German kultur executed 85 citizens on the market square after dragging the congregation of a church from Mass. Women, children and the aged were assaulted by German troops, who also razed three quarters of the houses of the town.

Namur had fortifications similar to those at Liege. The city stands on a gentle bend of the River Meuse, at its confluence with the Sambre. It was surrounded by nine forts, at approximately five miles from the centre. The forts were linked, as at Liege, by trenches and barbed wire, although the condition of these was far from perfect. The German bombardment of the forts followed the pattern established at Liege.

The eastern facing forts were systematically destroyed by the 305mm and 420mm mortars. The German 38 th , 3 rd Guard, and 1 st Guard Reserve Divisions moved in on the town during the afternoon of the 23 rd . The Belgian 4 th Division was ordered to try to slip away from the holocaust during the night, and although the rearguard was finally trapped at Ermeton-sur-Biert and taken prisoner, the order was - miraculously - carried out.

After their withdrawal from Namur, the 12,000 men of the 4 th Division withdrew and crossed into French-held territory. They were collected and sent to Le Havre, where they sailed up the English Channel to disembark again at Oostende in time to join up - on the 5 th September - with the other 5 Divisions moving backwards into West Flanders.

History & Lore of the Old World War

In an earlier entry I posted excerpts from Frances Wilson Huard’s My Home in the Field of Honour in which she described the opening days of the war in August 1914 and the devastating effect it had on the countryside around Chateau Thierry.

Here I offer another witness from those opening days of the war, a young enlisted man, Gefreiter Karl Schoning from Hoxter, serving in the 10th Company, Landwehr Infantry Regiment 13 of the 25th Mixed Landwehr Brigade (Second Army), who is keeping a diary of his experiences as he undergoes a mere two weeks training immediately after the outbreak of war and is then sent marching with his regiment through the smoking ruins of the Belgian countryside. My accompanying commentary to the diary entries appears in italics.

[August 2: German ultimatum to Belgium, demanding passage through her territory]

Monday, August 3, 1914

Were mustered out at a Riding School, and were greeted by Herman Mueller and Engleschen.

Slept in the Riding School Arena.

[August 3: Belgium rejects German ultimatum. Britain promises support of Belgium & orders general mobilization. Germany declares war on France].

Tuesday, August 4

Up at 5:30 and to the Railroad Station to receive our guns and to sharpen our sabres and swords.

10:00: coffee. Then we received the rest of our equipment.

Noon: Lentil soup with beef — excellent!

Afternoon: Went with Stahle and Rohrberg to Edward Ewers (a former instructor) to lengthen our sword straps. On our return we stole apples.

Slept again in the Riding School Arena, but before retiring had fun sliding around in the Arena with about 100 young fellows (17 yr. olds) from Dortmund. took rohrberg’s boots off him and ran around and around with them (acting goofy).

[August 4: Britain declares war on Germany. Germany declares war on Belgium, and invades along a 15-mile front & attacks Liege. German cavalry capture Vise and cross Meuse].

Wednesday, August 5

Roll call, then marched to Bahnhof (Railroad station). Left about 8 o’clock for Steinheim, and there found Quarters at Karl Duwel’s, Rohnstr. 10.

Washed, ate, and then visited Henning’s.

At 4 o’clock we reported back to the Railroad station.

That evening the same routine ’till 8 o’clock.

That night we slept on straw with blankets.

[August 5: German siege against Liege and its surrounding forts continues. German cavalry patrols reach Namur].

Thursday, August 6

Up at 2:30 because of sore throat, walked the streets until 4:00, laid down again, and up at 6:00 to get to the Doctor’s.

At 6:45 went to the Apotheke. The druggist was a shabby fellow who wanted extra money for opening at night and did not want to give me the medicine without the money.

Reported on duty at 8 o’clock and was sent to quarters to rest for the day. Slept all day.

[August 6: Battles of the French Frontiers begin. MajGen Ludendorff personally leads 1500 men between forts and into the city of Liege].

Friday, August 7

Went back the Doctor and had to seem again at noon. There were rumors that afternoon that a trainload of French soldiers would arrive. Naturally, everyone went to the Station. there arrived Lunghardts Johannes’s father (a fellow painter from Hoxter) and [his] son, and more people from Firma Rux, Hoxter. When they left after a drink and visit I sent greetings to my wife and all my friends. One minute later, as I was coming out of my quarters, I saw a wagon and guessed right away that my wife had also come for a visit. Frau, sister Anna, and brother-in-law August were already looking for me. A happy Wiedersehen and much to talk about. They had to leave for home at 9 o’clock, and after a heartfelt “goodbye”, to bed and to sleep once again.

[August 7: Liege city occupied. Advance party of British Expeditionary Force lands in France].

Saturday, August 8

All day, nothing in particular.

[August 8: Liege fort at Barchon surrenders. Belgian Army retreats towards River Dyle].

Sunday, August 9

Nothing new. All men from Hoxter had pictures taken. Saw several wives of men from Hoxter.

[August 9: French cavalry enters Belgium. BEF lands at Le Havre & Boulogne.].

Monday, August 10

Tuesday, August 11

In the afternoon, practice at the shooting grounds, but otherwise nothing in particular.

[August 11: Belgians & Germans clash at Tirlemont, St Trond & Diest].

Wednesday, August 12

Dug trenches. Nothing else in particular.

[August 12: Belgians & Germans clash at Haelen. Germans capture Huy, shell Liege forts].

Thursday, August 13

At 4 o’clock marched to Horn for battle practice and marched back to Vinsebeck. It was a very warm night. We all signed in and then went to bed to recuperate.

[August 13: Germans capture three Liege forts, blow one up].

Friday, August 14

Company practiced maneuvers.

In the afternoon some dear visitors arrived from Hoxter. Wife, with little son (Karl), mother and btother-in-law August. Very much happiness.

Afterwards had coffee at Frau Rabe and a bottle of wine at Fritz Kroneke.

At 8 o’clock at Steinheimer Gates another sad, heartfelt “good-bye”.

[August 14: French Fifth Army under Lanrezac ordered to Charleroi. Two more Liege forts captured. Belgium begins bread rationing].

Saturday, August 15

Company practiced maneuvers all day until 6 o’clock.

Then furloughs were given out, and immediately left with Alwin Stahl for Hoxter on bicycles. There was great happiness when I arrived home.

[August 15: Fall of Liege last two forts surrender. Germans crossing Meuse in force].

Sunday, August 16

8 o’clock to Church in Hoxter.

After Mass, many greetings from friends and relatives, etc.

At 7 o’clock in the evening another sad “Good-bye” from all my loved ones.

Returned to report in at 9:45, had a few beers, and turned in for the night.

[August 16: Fighting at Wavre].

Monday, August 17

Company practiced marching. Nothing else in particular.

[August 17: Belgian government moves from Brussels to Antwerp].

Tuesday, August 18

At 8 o’clock to Altenbeken by train. Saw neighbors Verwohlte.

In afternoon went thru Bruckwede, Hamm, Coln, Eschweiler, and Achen to Herbesthal (the border).

[August 18: Battle of Gettes. Germans capture Tirlemont. Belgian Army retreats to Antwerp].

Wednesday, August 19

Still the same. The travelling is very boring. We sleep on the train.

[August 19: Belgian Army in retreat from River Gette. Germans enter Louvain execute 150 civilians in Aerschot and destroy town. Siege of Namur begins].

German troops marching through Belgium

Thursday, August 20

We are now marching on Belgian ground, seeing on this first day many houses that were burned out and bombed. Whole villages in ruins.

In the afternoon we set up quarters in a school-house in Inslenville. Right after our arrival the care-taker, a priest, and a respected townsman came to watch us so that the townspeople wouldn’t get upset over our being there.

The next morning they were dismissed.

[August 20: Fall of Brussels. Belgian Army takes refuge in Antwerp Fortress. General Bulow sanctions execution of 311 civilians in Andenne on the Meuse, for alleged sniping].

Friday, August 21

At 5 o’clock in the morning we left to march again through villages in ruins. There were dead horses on the roads and in the fields, and many already so decomposed that the stench was terrible

That afternoon we set up quarters in an abandoned house. Living here was good, and we ate good food. In the evening we drank wine and champagne until we all had our fill.

That night we slept on the upholstered furniture.

[August 21: Battle of Charleroi on the River Sambre. Germans shell Namur. Battle of the Ardennes begins].

Saturday, August 22

7 am. Left to march off under hourly cannon booming, just like the day before, to Zernel Fraireu. Quarters in a stable.

Afternoon: we caught chickens to cook. The people cried, but they had to give them up. Later, cows and pigs were also killed, and people suspected of not co-operating were immediately arrested.

[August 22: Germans continue to shell Namur, destroying three major forts. Battle of the Ardennes continues].

Sunday, August 23

Roll call at 5:30 am, and then on the march to Heron under heavy cannon fire. In no way did the day seem at all like a Sunday. We again set up quarters in a school. A woman there was an old witch.

[August 23: Battle of Mons. Germans suffer 4000 casualties to British 1640. Germans enter Namur, shoot 25 civilians other German troops under Hausen enter Dinant and massacre 612 civilians. 4000 Belgian civilians flee from Vise into Holland 700 civilians deported into Germany for forced harvest labor — possibly the Belgian prisoners mentioned by Schoning in his entry of the 24th.].

Monday, August 24

At 5:30 am, we marched on to Perwez. On the way we ran into a transport of prisoners from Belgium.

In the afternoon around 2 pm, we set up quarters. Here I met a former colleague who took good care of me.

While marching a very tragic thing happened. There was a sudden explosion from the artillery that tore a young woman of 22 into pieces, tore the right arm off a man, and wounded many more. Three horses were also killed. It was a horrible sight.

We slept on hay in a stable that night.

[August 24: BEF begins retreat from Mons. Battles of Charleroi and Ardennes end French 4th Army retires behind River Meuse. Three forts at Namur fall to Germans.]

Tuesday, August 25

At 5:30 we marched to Gembloux. Here we had our first good quarters in some time. Before noon a transport of about 300 Frenchmen arrived, and that afternoon another transport of 3800 Belgians and a few more Frenchmen came. People here are kind, but very scared. There is very little food — even our quartermaster has little, but we let the piople eat with us, for which they are very thankful, and in return they gave us cigars and made us coffee. They also had some home-brewed beer in the cellar — it tasted little better than rainwater. Other than this, we are always on the alert for an alarm.

Wednesday, August 26

Up at 6 o’clock, after sleeping in a grand manner in a four poster bed with a canopy. Again a big transport of wounded Germans and prisoners arrived.

In the evening we were transported to Charleroy — slept in a cattle wagon

Thursday, August 27

Up at 5 o’clock. Marched through the town to the main Railroad Station. Many blocks of big business buildings were all bombed and burned out — it was a very sad sight. The Roadroad Station had wine, congac, canned fruit, butter, and even Sardines in cans. In the storerooms, the everything was in ruins, from the finest of linens and lace to the cheapest of things, all thrown around and stepped on. Thousands of Marks damage.

In the afternoon our Adjutant was shot in the leg by a civilian. I drew my first watch in front of the storage room at the station and slept in between in a second class compartment on a train. There was plenty of wine.

In afternoon met Frank (former Hunstiger), a rail employee.

Friday, August 28

Noon until Saturday noon– guard duty. In between, plenty wine and champaign.

Saturday, August 29

Went to the town — very clean streets and stores.

Sunday, August 30

In afternoon, many transports of wounded and prisoners.

Dillenberg, Ovenhausen — Adler, Hoxter — Diedrich, Hoxter.

That evening, Hauptman Simon, Hoxter.

Monday, August 31

Went to town (he is still in ‘Charleroy’) in the morning. When we returned at 8:30, the company was gone. At first we were plenty concerned, until we heard the voice of our strict fieldmarshal where the company was just boarding a train. Naturally we hurriedly joined them.

Arrived in the evening at Bersee. Alwin Stahl and I slept in a second class compartment. Emptied a few bottles champagne, smoked a few cigarettes, and then slept quite soundly.

Tuesday, September 1

Up at 6:30 to the sound of heavy cannon thunder.

At 9:30 we left for Baumon, where we had food and wine.

At 4: 30 we marched on, and at 6:50 we crossed the French border — a high point of our invasion.

Later we marched to our first French quarters in Sehe La Chateau. I was lucky to grab a bed in a villa. The villa was not inhabited and locked, but the key of the company general can open any door. Here again we found wine to our heart’s delight.

Wednesday, September 2

6:30, Marched to Avesnes after a gun salute to our victory at Sedan.

Thursday, September 3

Friday, September 4

Guard duty at 10:00 at the railroad station.

Had lunch of beef and veal (three times as much meat as bread).

Four men were sent back for supplies and returned with 30 bottles, 12 chickens, and other miscellaneous items. We had 1/2 of a calf for 24 of the 150 men.

Pulled a car out of a ditch for which we were given 8 bottles and 1 of cognac and a few champagne.

In the evening we cooked bouillon.

Many fleeing people are constantly passing by with all their belongings (some in wagons, some walking, and some pushing baby buggies). These people are living in fear and terror, and we are happy to share with them. A little old lady 88 yrs old squeezed our hands on leaving and with deep emotion gave us a kiss.

We pass the time uneventfully talking and telling stories.

At about 8:15 in the evening several hundred men fell after about 8 gunshots were heard, and we immediately took shelter and guard at the railroad station, but from then on all was quiet.

Saturday, September 5

Whole day guard duty. Nothing else in particular.

Sunday, September 6

In the morning we went to Feron where we received wine. There was sufficient rum, cognac, gin and beer for all. Otherwise nothing in particular.

Monday, September 7

At 8:30 we were ordered to return to our company — we had to leave everything behind. Otherwise nothing in particular all day.

Tuesday, September 8

In the morning we had to report to cover the artillery that was to be used to fire on the town Lain. Here the ttown was to pay 1 million francs because the townspeople fired on our troops. for the first installment they brought money, gold and silver things, worth about 350,000 mark, which we took with us in a wagon. I was among those picked to escort the wagon. Six townspeople were also taken along as hostage for the remaining 650,000 mark due.

In the evening we arrived in Vervins at quarters where we slept on bare floors.

Wednesday, September 9

Up at 5 a.m. Marched to Laron, a town with an artillery barracks.

Thursday, September 10

At 7 o’clock in the morning we marched to Crepig, but first we had to give up our war treasures and hostages to the commander. We then proceeded in the wagon to our company quarters.

Lawn is a very beautiful, picturesque town. There is an old fort high up in the mountains, and an old church stands on the highest point of the town that you can see from at least 15 km. away. You can ride up to it on a rail train.

When we arrived in Crepig we had to go on guard duty and were informed that we were to advance in the morning and that 3 companies from our battalion would go into active combat.

We then stood guard until 3 o’clock.

Friday, September 11

Marched at 3 o’clock in the morning, after guard duty, into town.

At 5:30 marched thru Lawn to Chavonees. On the way I met Fieldmarshalls Frank and Doucsch from Hoxter, but I could not meet the troops. We went to our camp grounds and had to put up our tents in heavy rain. As soon as we were finished putting the tents up and were happy to have a roof over our heads, we were told that companies 10 and 12 had to dismantle and march on. By this time it was quite dark and we had to protect ourselves by shooting at several unknown patrols. At last in deepest darkness we arrived at Chavonnes, where we had to sleeop under the open heavens in heavy rain. We made fires in the early morning to try to get warm and to dry out a little. I had written several cards, but could not send them anymore.

Saturday, September 12

Early, about 6 o’clock, we marched the final dangerous march over hill and valley until we arrived at our battle station at about 10 o’clock. Two companies, approximately 15 infantry, lay not far from us in the village. They were under steady artillery and machine gun fire (English). After lying in the woods for about 1 1/2 hours, our company commander became anxious, and although we had orders only to occupy the station and not to advance, he pleaded with the major and received permission to do so. As soon as our company got into the open field we were under heavy artillery fire. The shots struck only a few meters in front, behind, or next to us. The second group met with the same fate, and out of three groups only half were left, as we stayed with the 12th Company in the woods. But before we could do anything, there was heavy, rapid firing in the woods, and we flew in all directions. Many fallen were left behind. Our leader didn’t know what to do next, and would have sent us out in another firing line but we had the good sense to stay still. As a result of our change in tactics, the English continued to fire above and around us. Such a horrible experience, and the noise of the gun-fire will never leave your memory. You can see the firing, see it fly, and then see the disaster as it strikes and explodes. Under such terror we wandered for hours in the woods, back and forth, hoping to find a way out. As soon as we were out of the woods and came to a village, our cavalry was to shoot down an English cavalry of 30 men, but to our surprise they hit us with instant machine gun fire just as we were on high ground. Luckily for us we were able to hide behind a dirt pile on the high road, and the moment the machine gun fire was silent, we climbed down in a ditch. Not all could do so, however, as many were left wounded or dead. Finally I had a chance to get near the village, where I met several comrades from Hoxter.

Our Commander had already been killed. He was shot directly in the forehead. Rumors were also that our first lieutenant was also dead — I didn’t see him again. A young sergeant lieutenant said, “Everybody save your own hides. I’m going to let them shoot me.” I never saw him again. The captain from Company 12 was shot in the lower abdomen and pelvis — also dead.

After we felt a little safer from the machine gun fire, we were attacked on two sides with heavy artillery first — a terrible advance. Suddenly a shell fell behind us, but luckily it did not explode, or we would all have been blown to pieces. The man next to me was shot, while running, with a machine gun bullet.

As nothing was left to be saved, and the English, with almost an entire division strong, marched toward us few remaining men, we fled to the village. After 1/2 hour of anguish and terror, we were taken prisoners. Only someone who has been in such a position can understand what goes through one’s head during these hours. On the other hand, it was a blessing that the English, and not the French, too us prisoners.

After we gave up our weapons, we were taken to Braine to the English quarters. Here we were still given something to eat. the English soldiers were, on the whole, quite companionable to us — you did not perceive any hate. On the other hand, what we at first took as kindness from the French, was only fear, as there was truly much hate. Now, when they saw us helpless, their true character came through. Nothing but contempt and scorn came from their mouths, such ‘cut their throats, shoot them, etc.’ Old women, with hardly a tooth in their mouths, spit at us, and ran their hands across their throats to indicate that our throats be cut, but the English knew how to protect us. You can tell that the English think differently than the French, and because they were so disgusted with them they treated us kindly. Whatever the English received as gifts, such as fruit, etc., they shared brotherly with us. They would share one cigarette between 4 or 5 men, and if someone else came along, they also got a puff.

We slept in a horse stable, and fared as well as was possible.

[September 12: In a bid to control a number of bridges on the Vesle, Schoning’s company, the 10th, along with other companies of the 25th Mixed Landwehr Brigade, were ordered to march south from Chavonne, through Brenelle, to the outskirts of Braine, on the Vesle, where, around midday to early afternoon, they ran into British cavalry and infantry: the 1st Cavalry Brigade of the 1st Division, the 5th Dragoon Guards, and the 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Division. Two other companies of Schoning’s brigade (the 25th Mixed Landwehr) were already pinned down in Braine, and in short order were driven out of it by British shellfire onto a hill just outside the village. This is probably where Schoning and his fellow soldiers were watching under cover. The hill came under heavy shellfire from two directions, killing many of Schoning’s fellow soldiers. At this point, according the British records, some 130 Germans, mostly from the 25th Mixed Landwehr Brigade, surrendered. From Schoning’s description, however, it appears he may have avoided being captured for the time being and, along with a number of his comrades, escaped into the woods where they wandered “for several hours”, and then into a village (probably Braine), where they continued to elude capture for several more hours. Meanwhile, additional companies of the 25th Mixed Landwehr Brigade were sent down from Brenelle, but were caught in a deadly crossfire from the 5th and 16th Lancers. Some 70 German soldiers from the 25th Mixed Landwehr were killed, and about a hundred more taken prisoner. From Schoning’s description, it is difficult to tell whether or not he may have been caught in this second major ambush of the day, but it seems probable. In any case, after surviving the first ambush and wandering for several hours in the woods, and in and out of Braine, Schoning and his comrades were at least twice again caught in deadly machinegun crossfire and heavy shellfire, until at last they were captured late in the day by a large British force near Braine.]

Sunday, September 13

In the morning we were permitted to move about a bit in the yard, and to dry our belongings. We then went closer in to town until evening, and were then taken back to our original quarters. By now we were well used to the French scorn.

Monday, September 14

Amidst the heavy thunder of cannons we marched to Station Montreal, Notre-Dame. We arrived there at about 10 o’clock in the evening.

On the way we went through many towns and villages, and were again subjected to many unwarranted insults and scorn.

Tuesday, September 15

At long last our journey to an uncertain destiny began and went through many stations. In the afternoon we arrived at a suburb of Paris. Again we were hooted, howled and spit at, etc, and it was difficult for the English to protect us. They made an example of us.

Friday, September 16

After Travelling all night, we finally reached Nazaire, and found shelter in a supply house. We slept all night on the damp floor.

Friday, September 17

After more men from the 16th, 17th, 56th, and 57th were added to our number, we at last boarded the steamship Cowder Castle London. To get to the shelter of the steamship we again had to run in the midst of much gunfire. As this was a freighter, we had to sleep on bare floors, but at least we were away from the disgusting French. After we were on board ship we all took a deep breath.

Friday, September 18

It was very boring on board. We were only permitted to go up on deck to use the “head” (toilet), as there was no such facility down below, so we naturally took our time when we went up so we could look around a bit. However, the English had to stand watch all over, or the French would shoot at us. In the morning we were allowed to wash for the first time. It was truly a great enjoyment.

Finally, at 11:30, we departed from horrible France. To our joy, we were then permitted to come up on deck. Here, after all our other problems, some of us also became sea-sick. The food was always field zwieback and canned meat, and occasionally we could have tea without sugar. The tea was as bitter as gall.

We slept, as always, without straw and blankets, on the boards that were as soft as iron flats.

Sunset at sea — We also passed about 80 to 100 French fishing boats with their many colored sails. A beautiful sight.

Friday, September 19

Continued our journey at sea. We saw several fish that the English called “poppes”. Otherwise everything was the same as before.

Friday, September 20

Journey into the harbor along the beautiful English shore. Fortifications for defence were all along the harbor. Landed at 10 o’clock and immediately were transferred to a train — upholstered seats. An English sentry gave us a cigarette, and we took off very quickly.

At 12:15 we arrived in Frimley. The civilians gave us chocolate and cigarettes in return for buttons and other keepsakes.

We then marched to Fritt Hill Camp, where they put us up in tents — 12 men to a tent. Time passed very slowly. Nights we slept with a blanket, but because of the frost, I got up and ran around outside for an hour.

German prisoners at Frimley en route for Frith Hill

German prisoners marching from Frimley Station to Frith Hill Compound

Friday, September 21

Mornings we cooked tea. here they have only white bread. This noon, for the first time since Thursday, Sept. 10, we had a little warm food. Our stomachs are for sure not being overindulged. The meat for twelve men is a bout 1 1/2 lbs, and 17 pieces of potatoes, but there is water enough. There is very little tobacco and such to be had.

Friday, September 22

The same. When darkness fell at night, songs were sung and speeches were made alternately with the Civil prisoners.

Friday, September 21

Friday, September 21, 1914

Tuesday, February 23, 1915

Have now sweated out almost a half year of hard time. finally, there came to us a surprise in the form of our dear Field-Marshall L. Krogar. To our great joy, he had with him a first rate grog (Bitters), and Bier (egg) Cognac. Unhappily, our friend Heyne had a little too much and wanted to “hit the sack”, but we were all certain that by morning he would be back to normal.

Note: I am indebted to Jamie Shrode, granddaughter of Karl Schoning, for generously allowing me to place his wartime diary on this site in order to make it available to historians and students of the First World War.

I would also like to thank Jim Broshot of the University of Kansas WWI discussion list for his detective work in solving the riddle of Gefr. Schoning’s unit, and also for directing me to Sir JE Edmonds’ Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1914, for information regarding the action in which Schoning was taken prisoner.

Product images of Belgian bicycle troops using Hotchkiss machine guns in Haelen, Belgium, August 1914

The Battle of Le Cateau: Britain’s Bloody Nose in WWI

The Battle of Le Cateau was one of the events that made up the Great Retreat of World War I which lasted from the 24 th of August to the 1 st of September 1914.

It all began with the Battle of Frontiers, a conflict that pitched France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom against the German Empire.

The German Empire had struck up a fracas along France’s eastern border and in Southern Belgium, effectively penetrating Belgium and sending the defending Allies all the way back to Mons.

British troops from the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) resting in the square at Mons August 22, 1914, the day before the Battle of Mons

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) set up resistance at Mons, Belgium, but the German advance was a solid one. At dawn on August 23, 1914, the first shot was fired and a reply followed. The battle had begun.

After hours of fighting that turned the sands of Mons into a bloodbath, the Battle of Mons would draw to a close, essentially leaving the BEF in bad shape.

In a bid to rein in the rising number of casualties and to be able to regroup for a counter-attack, the BEF began on August 24 to retreat south, heading into northern France.

With the Belgian and French troops also retreating, the I Corps of the BEF headed for Landrecies while the II Corps headed for Le Cateau-Cambresis.

Battery of British Royal Field Artillery 18-pounder field guns moving up: Battle of Le Cateau on 26th August 1914 in the First World War.

The Germans pursued closely, with both sides traveling at impressive speeds.

At the time, the I Corps of the BEF was led by General Sir Douglas Haig, while the II Corps was under the command of Horace Smith-Dorrien.

On August 25, the I Corps in Landrecies met a rather unprecedented German attack at the Sambre River crossings at Landrecies and Maroilles. This ultimately cut the I Corps completely away from the II Corps, opening an 8-mile gap that would eventually allow the German First Army to approach the right flanks of Smith-Dorrien’s formation.

By the time the II Corps came to Le-Cateau, most of them were exhausted, plagued by the reality of the highly motivated Germans blazing hot on their trail.

The leader of the BEF, Field Marshal Sir John French, had already given the order that the retreat should continue without a halt all the way to St. Quentin.

But seeing the worn out condition of his troops, it was easy for Smith-Dorrien to see that it was only a matter of time before the Germans caught up with them. He knew that if they did catch them at that time, his men would have no strength left to stand and fight.

British infantry marching through a French village in August 1914

In Smith-Dorrien’s own words, “The colours of dusk had begun to paint the skies above them, and the bodies of these men begged for a wink of sleep.”

Luckily, the Germans had also stopped to bivouac somewhere around Solesmes, giving the II Corps a little more time to recuperate.

With his mind made up, Smith-Dorrien pulled the plug on the retreat and ordered his men to have a brief rest then prepare for an assault against the approaching German troops. In his words, the objective was to deal a “stopping blow” to the advancing Germans.

He called in support from General Andre Sordet of the French Cavalry, who gave him the nod. He also sought assistance from General Allenby who agreed to aid with his cavalry division and 19 th Infantry Brigade.

Now Smith-Dorrien was prepared for battle with three infantry divisions, one infantry brigade, and one cavalry division.

The infantry divisions comprised the 3 rd , 4 th , and 5 th Infantry Divisions who were positioned to the center-left and right of Smith-Dorrien’s formation.

Map of the British ‘Mons to Le Cateau’ march: Battle of Le Cateau on August 26, 1914, in the First World War: Map by John Fawkes

In the early hours of August 26, two infantry units along with three cavalry divisions of the German First Army led by General Alexander von Kluck poured into Le Cateau. Then, the battle began.

The British Army was known to be made up of men with combat experience, who had proven skills with rifles. In contrast, the Germans had not fought a single war since the Franco-Prussian Wars.

But unlike the Battle of Mons which saw the fall of several Germans to British rifle fire, the Battle of Chateau was a battle of artillery, with shells shattering the lines on both sides.

The British had their artillery in the open, between 55-220 yards behind their infantry whereas the Germans deployed their artillery from well-concealed positions, employing indirect fire.

Goodbye Old Man, a British gunner leaves his dying horse: Fortunino Matania

The British were facing severe risks owing to the proximity of their artillery to their infantry. The Germans could simply aim for the artillery and would end up hitting both artillery and infantry.

The Germans leveled a particular focus on the right flank of the British positions that morning, bombarding the 5 th Infantry Division and inflicting heavy casualties on them. As the battle progressed, the gap that was left between the I Corps and II Corps was exploited by the Germans, albeit insufficiently.

As the battle raged into mid-day, the left and right flanks of the British were beginning to shake, but the men held their positions with determination, withstanding the German onslaught.

Smith-Dorrien caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1901.

However, by 1:30 pm, Smith-Dorrien ordered a retreat to commence, having seen his troops pounded by the Germans whose numbers far exceeded theirs.

The Germans continued to attempt to outflank the British, but each attempt was unsuccessful.

General Sordet’s Cavalry Corps came to Smith-Dorrien’s aid, shielding his troops and facilitating a coordinated tactical retreat for the BEF.

This battle was an apparent victory for the Germans who had attacked the more formidable British foe.

Over 7000 British soldiers were killed, injured or captured. The estimated casualty rate was 7,812.

However, Smith-Dorrien’s rearguard engagement with the German forces had slowed down the German advance and allowed the majority of the BEF to withdraw to St. Quentin.

A second battle was fought in Le Cateau in October 1918, lasting from the 5 th to 11 th day of October.

The Allies would win this battle, capturing 12,000 prisoners and over 200 guns.

War Plans

It would take the French three weeks to fully mobilise her forces and up until the 15th August the two General Staffs followed their pre-war plans.

Advancing into Belgium the German 2nd Army arrived in front of Liège on the 6th August and having taken the town began its siege of the outlying forts.

Initially von Bülow had attempted to take these by frontal attacks, but he was beaten off with heavy losses and eventually settled on using the heavier calibre guns - which had to be brought up to the front.

This stand by the Belgian garrison cost the Germans four or five days on their timetable.

Despite the Germans evident strength in front of Liège Joffre maintained that their primary forces were concentrated around Metz (in German Lorraine it should be recalled). It was inconceivable that the Germans could be strong on both fronts.

Either they would continue westwards should Liège fall or they would pivot on Metz striking at the French left flank.

General Instruction No 1

On the 8th August 1914 Joffre issued his General Instruction No 1.

In front of the French 1st and 2nd Armies the Germans appeared to have mustered no more than perhaps 6 Corps of infantry. Their major strength was gathered around Metz whilst elements of 5 Corps had entered Belgium and were engaged with Belgian forces.

With all forces united the French would strike against the Rhine and the German right flank.

To facilitate this attack a detachment from the 1st Army - 7th Corps - crossed the frontier on the 6th August. They reached Mulhouse (Mulhäusen) but were forced to retire in the face of superior forces.

Thus on the 14th August an augmented strike force now called the Army of Alsace under Général Pau entered Alsace on the same day as the 1st and 2nd armies commenced their liberation of Lorraine.

On the 10th August the first combat of the war on French soil had taken place at the village of Mangiennes near the Belgian border and only 30 kilometres north of Verdun.

On the 15th August news was received that the French 1st Corps (5th Army) had encountered von Richthofen's cavalry corps at Dinant, and the Belgians reported 200,000 Germans crossing the Meuse near Liège.

Général Lanrezac commanding the French 5th Army finally managed to convince Joffre that the Belgian frontier needed protecting (An eventuality already covered by Plan XVII). The 5th Army duly moved westwards towards Philippeville and Chimay. Although they were reinforced by the 3rd and 10th Corps they lost the 2nd Corps to de Langle de Cary's 4th Army.

The left flank of the operation would be covered by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which had arrived in France and was marching towards its designated concentration area at Le Cateau.

To Joffre it seemed that the Germans were in the process of crossing Belgium with one force whilst concentrating another in the area of Thionville and the Belgian Ardennes. In front of Metz they appeared to be on the defensive.

Now was the moment to strike with the 3rd and 4th Armies up through Belgian Luxembourg and the Duchy itself to take the Germans in the flank. This was the centre of their forces but if the French moved with speed the German forces in Belgium would not have sufficient time to swing to the south to face the threat.

Once the Germans were broken, Joffre would have the choice of rolling them up from either flank.

On the 20th August the 3rd Army (Général Ruffey) was ordered towards Arlon and to counter attack any attempt made to gain the right flank of the 4th Army.

De Langle de Cary was ordered to send a strong advanced guard that night towards Tintigny to allow the crossing of the Semois River with his main force in the direction of Neufchâteau.

With Lanrezac's 5th Army already well advanced into the triangle between the rivers Sambre and Meuse any failure by this operation to bring the other armies into line, would make Lanrezac's position untenable.

By this time, apart from the delay at Liège, the Germans were reasonably on target. To avoid violating Dutch neutrality von Kluck's 1st Army had passed through a narrow corridor at Aachen and had formed up on von Bülow's right flank. Their job was to deal with the Belgian Army and force it away from Antwerp. In this they failed and were forced to detail troops to ensure that the Belgians remained there.

The 3rd Army under von Hausen was at Namur and the 4th and 5th Armies were completing their initial advance into the Belgian Ardennes.

Like an enormous barrier swinging down across Belgium the five German armies were pivoting on Thionville.

On the 19th August on their Lorraine front (Lothringen in German) Crown Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria had stopped the French advance in its tracks. and had swung his 8 corps against the French six.

The following day his heavy artillery wreaked havoc amongst de Castelnau's 2nd Army and it was fortunate that the French 20th Corps was not only fighting on home ground but was commanded by Général Ferdinand Foch.

As the British Expeditionary Force approached the Belgian town of Mons to form the left flank of the Allied forces, the campaign in Lorraine had been gutted and the campaign in the Ardennes was marching to disaster in the forests of Wallonia.

Belgian Infantry marching to Haelen, 1914 - History

German reconnaissance determined that Belgian field army were still at the Gette River position. The expansion of Namur’s fortifications with fieldworks and the occupation of the Meuse down to Givet had been identified. Advanced elements of the French Fifth Army and of the Cavalry Corps Sordet were also identified near Namur. The French cavalry corps was now moving in forced marches to cover the left wing of the French forces. The Germans view that formation was. “Though it was probably not half starved like our cavalry, it was nonetheless very exhausted and worn out by the extraordinary marches…” The German First Army continued its advance on the seventeenth, moving abreast of Second Army. Second Army halted in place as First Army pivoted around its right.

Moltke issued new orders for the main German thrust into Belgium. At 1630 hours, the following order arrived from Supreme Command:

First and Second Army and Second Cavalry Corps (HKK 2 Marwitz) will be under the orders of the commander of Second Army during the advance north of the Meuse. This advance will begin on August 18. It is most important that the enemy’s forces reported to be in position between Diest–Tirlemont–Wavre should be shouldered away from Antwerp.It is intended to initiate further operations of both [numbered] armies from the line Brussels–Namur, and measures must be taken to secure their flank against Antwerp.

Speed was of the essence. First and Second Army had to pass through a dangerous eighty-kilometer-wide corridor between the fortresses of Namur and Antwerp, all the while securing their left flanks against suspected French forces south of the Sambre. The HKK 2 was supposed to be under the control of the OHL once the advance began. . So who was now responsible for finding and tracking the BEF?The Germans were operating with the belief that the Belgian Army would delay in position until the French arrived on their right flank and the British on their left. The overarching thought in German higher HQwas that the Belgians could be dealt with first and then in turn the British. Dealing with the BEF would in turn provide the opportunity to turn the French left flank.

Kluck argued against being put under the command of Second Army, stating it would have been more suitable if HKK 2 was under command of First Army, and First Army remained independent of Second Army. In Kluck’s view, Second Army would then be free to pursue tactical objectives to its front, and First Army could follow the operational objective of falling on the French flank. Kluck must have then intervened at the OHL on August 17, The result was a compromise. The OHL removed Second Cavalry Division from HKK 2 and attached it directly to First Army.

A major disagreement increasingly developed between the chiefs of staff of First Army and Second Army. Kuhl from First Army wanted to launch an immediate attack on the Belgian Army. Gen. Otto von Lauenstein, Chief of Staff of the Second Army, agreed with the concept of attack, but wanted to begin with envelopment of the Belgian forces by way of Beeringen-Pael. Kuhl disagreed, saying that the Belgian Army would not wait, but would be able to evade the enveloping movement in plenty of time. He strenuously argued that the only way to keep the Belgians out of Antwerp was to attack them in force at once with First Army, which was ready to launch such an operation. This well-known battle maneuver is designed to deprive the objective army’s freedom of movement. Sometimes known in the American vernacular of “holding them by the nose and then kicking them in the . . . ”The decision was made by Second Army deciding—to use the envelopment. Classic military tactical and operational planning would tell the perpetrators to fix the enemy front with an attack and then envelop. Bülow and Lauenstein were, seen in retrospect, putting the cart before the horse. Maneuvering against the flank of the Belgians without fixing the front in place assumes they were static, not dynamic. Instead, this decision kept Belgian freedom of maneuver intact. There is always the argument that this decision reflects leadership style. One course of action was very aggressive and the other one very cautious. These were not experienced armies. It is up to readers and analysts to determine if this methodology was reflected in other decisions of timing during the Marne campaign.It reflected a significant, and as of yet unjustified, dismissal of the Belgian Army as an opponent.

Roads held the keys to operational maneuver. A soldier marching on a road could go much faster than marching across an open field. The way that roads were designated by the German military was by listing connecting cities. So, if you read what seems a laundry list of towns, it really is presenting the roads that connect them. Those roads are assigned to a unit, and that unit has priority of movement on the road. The more roads that are available, the easier it is to maneuver. Unit length and road space used is a well-known tool that can be calculated during peacetime. The staff officer would look that amount of space up in his handbook which listed the road space distances for every conceivable kind of unit. If an army corps was limited to marching on one road the combat units would occupy thirty-one kilometers of road space the logistics units, would occupy a further 21 kilometers of road space. If two roads were available and one division was able to have its own independent road, the division alone would take up fifteen kilometers of road space.

The First Army Order for August 18 was issued from its HQ at Glons at 2315 hours on August 17.

The movement would start with Second, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Corps marching abreast. Each of these had but one road. Two of these roads, those used by Second and Third Army Corps, were being used by two additional army corps, Third Reserve Corps following Second Army Corps and Fourth Reserve Corps, the Third Army Corps.

The First Battle of the Marne

Paris crackled with panic as September 1914 arrived. Just a month into the Great War, the Germans had the French capital within sight. Sporadic air raids hit the city at night, resulting in damage more psychological than physical, but on September 2 a German biplane carpet-bombed the city with propaganda leaflets that read, “There is nothing you can do but surrender.” As crowds called for their leaders to declare Paris an “open city” in order to spare it from enemy attack, tens of thousands of Parisians thronged rail stations to flee the city. The French government had already bolted earlier that day for Bordeaux, taking the gold from the central bank with it. Workers at the Louvre feverishly shuttled masterworks to Toulouse. The military governor of Paris, General Joseph-Simon Gallieni, predicted the Germans would arrive in the City of Lights by September 5 if no actions were taken.

From the day Germany declared war on France on August 3, the fight had been one-sided. German forces had advanced like lightning through neutral Belgium and the French countryside, and by September 2, German cavalrymen had crossed the Marne River and been spotted on the outskirts of Meaux, only 25 miles northeast of the French capital. It appeared that Germany’s “Schlieffen Plan,” which called for overwhelming the disorganized French army in six weeks before transferring forces to an eastern front against Russia, was working to perfection.

French troops at the First Battle of the Marne

With its army in retreat, the French needed a miracle to save Paris from enemy occupation. They received it on September 3 when French reconnaissance pilots spotted the forces of German General Alexander von Kluck’s First Army, which had been pointed at Paris like a spear tip, suddenly switch to the southeast. Although under orders to support the Second Army to guard against possible attacks from Paris, the aggressive von Kluck instead sought glory and a chance to drive a stake in the enemy by pursuing the retreating French Fifth Army across the Marne River east of Paris. By doing so, his troops, exhausted after weeks of marching and fighting, outran their supply lines, and he inadvertently exposed his right flank to French forces.

The French seized the opportunity, and on September 5 French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre ordered a counterattack between Senlis and Meaux. The following morning, French troops heard the following proclamation: 𠇊t the moment when the battle upon which hangs the fate of France is about to begin, all must remember that the time for looking back is past every effort must be concentrated on attacking and throwing the enemy back.”

General Michel-Joseph Maunoury’s Sixth Army surprised the Germans and struck the right flank of von Kluck’s forces near the Marne River. By turning his army to meet the French, von Kluck created a 30-mile breach between Germany’s First and Second Armies through which the French Fifth Army and British forces poured. The bloody fighting of raged for three days along a 100-mile front.

The first major battle of World War I delivered death on an industrial scale that had not been seen before in warfare. Machine guns and modern cannons mowed down enemy forces. While radio intercepts and aerial reconnaissance used in the battle presaged the future of warfare, echoes of the past remained in the cavalry troops charging on horseback, soldiers in red pantaloons charging behind commanders with swords drawn and drummers providing a musical soundtrack to the battle.

Fresh troops rushed from Paris to the front line thanks to an unlikely means of transport—taxi. Gallieni requisitioned a fleet of 600 Renault taxis to drive 6,000 soldiers from the capital to the battleground. From their wartime service, the vehicles gained the nickname “Taxi de la Marne.”

The new troops further pushed the Germans back, and on September 9 they began a retreat north of the Aisne River, where the battle came to an eventual close after a week of fighting that claimed upwards of 100,000 lives on both sides. Dubbed the “Miracle of the Marne,” the strategic victory for the Allies proved to be a critical turning point in World War I. Paris had been saved from capture. Notions of a short war had been dashed. The Schlieffen Plan had been torn to tatters.

For the next two months, each side attempted to outflank each other on what became known as the “Race to the Sea.” Both sides literally dug in for a long fight as a network of trenches and barbed wire severed Europe from the North Sea to Switzerland by the end of 1914. Both sides bogged down in a slow, bloody grind of trench warfare that would last until the end of the war in 1918. As awful as the First Battle of the Marne was, it would get worse. Edward Spears, a British Expeditionary Force liaison officer, wrote years later in his memoirs, “I am deeply thankful that none of those who gazed across the Aisne of September 14 had the faintest glimmer of what was awaiting them.”


abbreviation text
BAOR British Army of the Rhine
BOC Battalion Operations Center
BSD Belgian Strijdkrachten in Duitsland
CMC Cantine Militaire Centrale
ComRecce Commando Reconnaissance
FAé Force Aérienne
FBA Forces Belges en Allemagne
HQ Headquarters
LuM Luminosity
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
RAF Royal Air Force
Sqn Squadron
RAFG Royal Air Force Germany
USAFE United States Air Force in Europe
USAREUR United States Army in Europe


  • 28. juni:Skota i Sarajevo drap Franz Ferdinand og kona hans.
  • 5./6. juli: Austerrike-Ungarn fekk full handlekraft og lovnad om støtte frå Tyskland
  • 20. til 23. juli: Den franske regjeringa vitja St. Petersburg
  • 23. juli:Austerrike-Ungarn la fram eit ultimatum til Serbia
  • 25. juli: Serbisk hadde vilkår til delar av ultimatumet
  • 25. juli: Delvis austerriksk mobilisering
  • 28. juli: Austerrike-Ungarn erklærte krig mot Serbia
  • 30. juli: Full russisk mobilisering
  • 31. juli: Full austerriksk mobilisering
  • 31. juli: Tysk ultimatum mot Russland om at landet måtte innstilla mobiliseringa
  • 31. juli: Tysk ultimatum mot Frankrike, om å erklære seg nøytral
  • 1. august: Full tysk mobilisering og krigserklæring mot Russland
  • 3. august: Tyskland erklærte krig mot Frankrike
  • 3. august: Tyske troppar marsjerte inn i Belgia
  • 4. august: Storbritannia erklærte krig mot Tyskland
  • 8. august: Storbritannia erklærte krig mot Austerrike-Ungarn

3. august nekta dei belgiske styresmaktene eit tysk ultimatum som kravde å bruka territoriet til det erklært nøytrale landet til troppetransport. Storbritannia hadde garantert militær støtte om Tyskland skulle invadera. Belgia braut dei diplomatiske banda med Tyskland etter at landet erklærte krig mot Frankrike. 5. august erklærte Tyskland krig også mot Belgia, og tyske styrkar kryssa grensa.

Ei veke etter invasjonen hadde tyskarane omleira Liège og det tyske kavaleriet nærma seg Hasselt og Diest. Belgiarane valde Haelen som staden der dei ville forsøka å forseinka framrykkinga slik at den belgiske hæren kunne trekka seg ordna tilbake mot vest. Den belgiske kavaleridivisjonen blei send frå Tienen til Budingen og Haelen for å utvida den belgiske venstre flanken. [1]

11. august såg belgiske speidarar store grupper tysk kavaleri, artilleri og infanteri i området mellom Tienen og Hasselt og Diest. For å stoppa frammarsjen blei den belgiske kavaleridivisjonen under løytant-general Léon de Witte send for å vakta brua over Gete ved Haelen. Hovudvegen frå Hasselt til Diest gjekk gjennom landsbyen. Kavaleristar til fots blei sette til å forsvara brua, i tillegg til ei linje bak landsbyen om Haelen skulle bli teken. [2]

Den 2. tyske kavalerikommandoen (tyske Höhere Kavallerie-Kommando 2/HKK 2) under leiing av Georg von der Marwitz byrja først ei forflytting 12. august ettersom hestane deira var utslitne av sommarvarmen og mangel på havre. 2. kavaleridivisjon under major-general von Krane forflytta seg gjennom Hasselt til Spalbeck og 4. kavaleridivisjon under løytnant-general von Garnier advanced via Alken til Stevort. Det belgiske hovudkvarteret hadde gjennom tyske radiomeldingar oppdaga at tyske troppar nærma seg stillinga til de Witte, og sendte 4. infanteribrigade for å styrka kavaleridivisjonen.

Marwitz gav orde til 4. kavaleridivisjon om å kryssa Gete, og 8:45 a.m. gjekk 7. og 9. Jäger-bataljon ram. [3] Ei tysk gruppe speidarar frå Herk-de-Stad kom under belgisk eld. Rundt 200 belgiske soldatar prøvde å setja opp ein befesta posisjon i det gamle bryggjeriet i Haelen, men blei drivne ut av tysk feltartilleri. [4]

Belgiske ingeniørar hadde sprengd brua av Gete, men strukturen var ikkje blitt fullstendig øydelag. Rundt 1000 tyske soldatar kom seg til sentrum av Haelen. [4] Den viktigaste belgiske forsvarslinja var vest for Haelen, i terreng som gav åtakarane dårleg sikt. Dei tyske 17. og 3. kavaleribrigadane hjelpte Jäger-styrkane slik at dei kunne frakta artilleri til sørenden av landsbyen, men åtak i åkrane utanfor blei slått tilbake med mange tap. [3] Mot slutten av dagen braut Marwitz av kampen. 2. kavaleridivisjon trekte seg tilbake mot Hasselt og 4. kavaleridivisjon til Alken. [5] [3] De Witte hadde klart å slå tilbake det tyske kavaleriet ved å få sine eigne kavaleristar til å kjempa til fots og møta åtaket med massiv geværeld.

Av dei tyske styrkane var rundt 150 døde, 600 såra og 200–300 tekne til fange. Rundt 400 hestar var gått tapt. [6] Den belgiske hæren hadde rundt 160 døde og 320 såra. [7]

Det tyske kavaleriet hadde klart å skjula operasjonane på tyske høgre flanke og danna ei frontlinje parallelt med Liège. Tyskarane hadde også oppdaga stillingane til den belgiske felthæren, men hadde ikkje klart bryta gjennom den belgiske frontlinja og oppdaga meir. [5] [8]

Sjølv om slaget enda med belgisk siger, hadde sigeren liten stratagisk verknad. Dei tyske styrkane omleira og erobra dei befesta områda Namur, Liège og Antwerpen, som den belgiske forsvarsstrategien kvilte på. Den tyske framrykkinga blei stoppa av slaget ved Yser i slutten av oktober 1914. Då hadde tyskarane drive belgiske og allierte styrkar ut av mesteparten av Belgia, og skipa ei militærregjering. [9]

2. kavaleridivisjon blei verande i rundt Hasselt for å vakta området ved Gete fram til invasjonen av Frnakrike. 4. kavaleridivisjon drog sørover en 13. august til området rundt Loon, og deretter søraust for Tirlemont til dei nådde 9. kavaleridivisjon.

Watch the video: Photos of German Troops During the Invasion of Belgium at the Start of World War 1 1914