Page:EB1922 - Volume 31.djvu/201

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171
FRONTIERS, BATTLES OF THE


Dame de Louvignies-Thoricourt (III. Corps), Silly-Ollignies (IV. Corps), Niove (II. Corps). The III. Reserve Corps had been detached towards Antwerp, while the IV. Reserve Corps had just arrived at Brussels. Army headquarters were at Hal. The II. Cav. Corps under Gen. von der Marwitz was W. of Ath. Gen. von Kluck's task for the 23rd was to continue the advance of his I. Army into the area N.W. of Maubeuge, and he issued orders in which the destination of his various corps were to be as follows: The II. Corps was to be at La Hemaide, the IV. Corps at Basecles and Strambuges, and the III. Corps at St. Ghislain and Jemappes. The high ground on the S. side of the canal to be occupied. The IX. Corps was to cover the move- ment on the Maubeuge side. The IV. Reserve Corps to follow in rear as second line. The heads of the IV., III. and IX. Corps were to cross the line Ath-Roeulx at 8:30 A.M.

The German I. Army was thus to march in a south-easterly direction. The British II. Corps on the Mons canal was facing north. Consequently the left of the army of Gen. von Kluck must collide with the II. Corps in the neighbourhood of Mons. As a matter of fact the German commander was in ignorance of the position of the British force; in the orders referred to above there is no mention of the fact that it was along the Mons canal, and, indeed, the German cavalry had reported the ground clear for 50 miles. The march of the I. Army, on the 23rd, was there- fore shrouded in the fog of war, and quite early in the day delay was caused by a report that Tournai was held by British troops. These were actually two French territorial battalions, but, under the impression that they were British, orders were sent to the IV., III. and IX. Corps to halt on the Leuze-Mons-Binche road in view of the possibility that it might be necessary to make a wheel to the right so as to envelop Tournai. Later reports showed that the British were in strength on the canal, and that the troops at Tournai, now known to be French, had retired towards Lille. The advance of the German I. Army was therefore re- sumed. But the orders for this resumption of the march were late in reaching the III. and IV. Corps, with results that reacted on the German chances in the battle.

The left column of Gen. von Kluck's army was the tyth Div. of the IX. Corps, and its march was directed towards St. Sym- phorien and Villers St. Ghislain. On the British side the I. Corps was on the line generally Harmignies-Peissant, and as it faced a gap between the German I. and II. Armies its share in the battle of Mons was destined to be very small. It was shelled by German artillery, covered in its advance by the i6th Dragoons, but the British casualties were slight, only about 100, and these were chiefly in two batteries upon which the German fire was concentrated. Of active fighting there was none save for some spirited minor actions between the British divisional cavalry and ' cyclists on the one hand and German patrols on the other. The bulk of the day's fighting fell upon the salient formed by the canal loop round Mons. So soon as Gen. von Kluck had grasped the real state of affairs namely, that the British were not at Tournai but along the Mons-Conde canal his plan appears to have been to envelop both the British flanks while bombarding the front heavily with his guns. The envelopment of the British left did not succeed, owing chiefly to the delay referred to above.

The battle opened in earnest about 10:30 A.M. with a bombard- ment by some batteries of the German IX. Corps which came into action on a ridge to the N. of Orbourg, and from that time onward the guns were gradually extended westwards as battery after battery, first of the IX. and then of the III. Corps, came into action. At i P.M. the Germans had established a great superiority of artillery against the front of the British II. Corps. The actual loop of the canal was held by the 4th Royal Fusiliers and the 4th Middlesex Regt., the former being responsible for the bridge at Nimy while the right of the latter regiment held the crossing at Orbourg. At both these places the fighting was very severe, but the British musketry proved a terrible surprise to the Germans, who came on in masses which it was impossible to miss, and the British guns, though outnumbered by the German artillery, gave most effective support. Finally, however, the Germans were able through their superiority in numbers to

make a converging attack against the salient from the N. and E., and the British were gradually forced back E. and S.E. of Mons. But the Germans were cautious about pushing into the town, and it was not until after 7 o'clock that the 84th Regt. of the 1 8th Div. of the IX. Corps entered Mons, where it was thrown for a time into confusion by heavy fire. The British 3rd Div. fell back to a line running E. and W. through Nouvelles.

West of Mons the left division of the German III. Corps attacked the left of the British 3rd Div.; and still farther W. along the canal the right division of the III. Corps, and later towards evening, the advanced guards of the IV. Corps, attacked the 5th Div. of the British. The retirement of the 3rd Div. from the salient round Mons inevitably led to a slight withdrawal of the sth Div., and by nightfall the II. Corps was on a line whirh showed an average retirement of some three miles from the canal.

During the late afternoon and evening Sir John French had been receiving disquieting news as to the situation of the French V. Army on his right. At 11:30 P.M. a telegram arrived con- firming the reports, to the following effect: Namur had fallen during the day; the French V. Army had been heavily attacked, and was falling back to the line Givet-Philippeville-Maubeuge; Hastiere had been captured by the Germans; the Meuse was falling rapidly and had added to the difficulty of defence. In these circumstances Sir John French decided to retreat to a previously reconnoitred line from Jerlain eastwards to Maubeuge, and orders .were issued accordingly in the small hours of the 24th. The withdrawal was effected without serious loss, and for a moment Sir John French thought of taking advantage of the fortifications of Maubeuge; but recollections of the fatal attrac- tion of Metz for Bazaine induced him to pass the fortress, and orders were issued at 3 P.M. on the 24th for the retreat to be continued to the line Le Cateau-Cambrai. After Bavai the retreat was handicapped by an incident of terrain , for the Foret de Mormal compelled the British army to march in two separated portions, the I. Corps E. of the forest and the II. on the west. In the latter corps a crossing of routes had taken place, with the result that the 3rd Div. had changed places with the 5th and was now on the outer flank. Towards nightfall on the 24th the pres- sure of the enemy became greater on the British left, but the British cavalry division performed excellent service in keeping the enemy at bay, and early on the 25th the retreat was continued, again covered skilfully by the mounted troops. During the night the detrainment of the 4th Div. from England was almost completed, and it moved to its position towards Cambra,i.

Meanwhile reports which had been coming in during the day (25lh) showed that the French were retiring all along the line, and Sir John French had now to come to a momentous decision. Was he to stand and fight on the line to which the British were now retiring (Le Cateau-Cambrai) , or ought he to continue the retreat at daybreak on the 26th? After long and anxious de- liberation the commander-in-chief came to the conclusion that the retreat should be continued, and orders to that effect were accordingly issued. The order was complied with by the I. Corps. That corps had been delayed in starting on the 25th, and had only been able to reach the neighbourhood of Landrecies. When darkness fell the Germans sent forward advanced troops in motors and lorries through the Foret de Mormal, and this culminated in a violent attack on Landrecies, which was, how- ever, beaten off, chiefly by the 4th Guards Brigade. Sir Douglas Haig then proceeded to carry out the orders of the commander- in-chief, and the retirement of the I. Corps was continued in the direction of Guise. In the II. Corps, however, shortly after mid- night Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien came to the conclusion that, in view of the fact that many of his troops had only just come in after over 20 hours of heavy and continuous work, and that the enemy were close along his front, it was out of the question to continue his retirement at dawn. He therefore issued orders to fight on the ridge just S. of the Le Cateau-Cambrai road.

When dawn broke on the 26th Smith-Dorrien's force was disposed as follows from right to left: The greater part of the cavalry was between Le Cateau and the Sambre; later it moved to the left flank to get in touch with the French I. Cav. Corps of