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ON AUGUST 18, 1914, WHEN THE BELGIAN RETREAT TO ANTWERP BEGAN
Meantime the French had mobilized with expected speed and before mobilization was completed had pushed a raid into southern Alsace, wholly comparable to the German raid on Liege. (Vol. II, 38.) This advance had taken, lost and retaken Mülhausen by August 15, 1914. (Vol. II, 41-45.) At this time the French were approaching the Rhine, in this sector, and had crossed the Vosges and come down the Rhine affluents for some distance.
But this was a minor operation. The main thrust of the French General Staff, the answer to the German drive through Belgium, had long been prepared. It was to be a swift and heavy advance through Lorraine, between Metz and Strassburg, rolling up the German forces here, cutting communications between these fortresses, and moving down the Rhine Valley and menacing the rear of the German armies which had invaded Belgium. (Vol. II, 43.)
While the German armies were beginning their main advance upon Brussels and Namur, the French thrust was pushed out, was very successful for several days until the French had reached the main Metz-Strassburg railroad, and from Delme to Saarburg stood far within the German boundary. But at this point came the first real disaster. (Vol. II, 44.)
Resting on the hills of Delme and the marshes of the Seille, the Germans had constructed strong fortified lines and furnished them with heavy artillery. When the French reached these positions they were assailed by artillery which was beyond the reach of their own guns, they suffered heavy losses, were thrown into confusion, and presently were flowing back upon Nancy and Lunéville in something approximating a rout, having lost flags, cannon, and many thousand prisoners. This was the Battle of Morhange, or of Metz—as the Germans name it—and it was over by August 22, 1914. (Vol. II, 44, 45.)
At the same time another French army had pushed across the Meuse into Belgium from the district between Sedan and Montmédy, it had won minor initial successes, and about Neuf
TAUCOURT FONT Kouston
AUGUST 23, 1914, AFTER THE ALLIES HAD LOST ALL THE FIRST BATTLES
château it had suffered exactly the same sort of reverse that the French army to the south had met at Morhange, German heavy artillery had procured another French defeat, which again approximated a rout and this French army was also in rapid retreat, having lost flags and guns as well as many thousand prisoners.
Finally, still farther to the northeast, a French army had taken its stand in the angle between the Meuse and the Sambre, from Dinant, through Namur to Charleroi, and the British army prolonged the line to the east of Mons. Against this dike there now burst the full fury of the German advance made by the armies of Kluck and Bülow. (Vol. II, 46-49.) Again the French were defeated after a desperate battle about Charleroi (Vol. II, 54), this time without any rout and after having inflicted very heavy losses. But retreat was inevitable because the Germans succeeded in forcing the crossings of the Meuse at Dinant--that is, in the rear of the main army—while the fall of Namur (Vol. II, 55-59), another triumph for German heavy artillery and a complete surprise to the Allies, completed the ruin of their plans.
Meantime the British army about Mons, after a day of hard fighting which had compelled them to contract their lines somewhat, but left them unshaken, was thrown in the air by the French retreat from Charleroi (Vol. II, 60), tardily announced to it, and was compelled to begin its long and terrible retreat, which so nearly ended in destruction. (Vol. II, 66.)
By the middle of the third week in August, 1914, the Germans had then made good their way through Belgium, defeated the French counterthrust in Lorraine, routed two French armies and heavily defeated a third, together with its British supports. (Vol. II, 9-68.)
It was not yet clear whether the French armies could rally for another general battle, but it was clear that if this should happen, the Germans had still time, accepting their original time-table.
In the fourth week of August, 1914, Joffre, the French commander in chief, was compelled to make a momentous decision. All his first plans had failed, all his armies had been defeated. It very promptly turned out that none of the defeats had materially affected the fighting value of his armies. Thus the army defeated at Morhange was promptly reenforced by the troops drawn out of Mülhausen and in turn defeated and repulsed its conquerors before Nancy, in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The army defeated at Neufchâteau made good its position behind the Meuse from Verdun to Charleville and inflicted grave losses upon the Germans endeavoring to pass the river. Even the army defeated at Charleroi was able, a few days later at Guise, to pass to the offensive and throw back the Prussian Guard into the Oise. (Vol. II, 90-92.)
Meantime two new armies, one under Foch, the other under Manoury, were in the making and there was reason to believe that it would be possible to renew the battle on the line of the Aisne, the Oise, and the Somme. But there was one grave peril. German plans had not only taken the French by surprise in making the main thrust through Belgium, but had prepared to send this way a far greater number of men than France had expected and had sent them much farther to the west. The result was that the weight of the blow had fallen upon the British. The British army had been compelled to make a night and day retreat and had narrowly escaped destruction at Cambrai on August 26, 1914, "the most critical day." (Vol. II, 77.) The British army was too heavily outnumbered to meet the German attack, its retreat had been so rapid that the line of the Sommc was about to be lost before the British could be supported by Manoury's army, which came up on its western flank too late. There was, therefore, the real 'danger that Kluck might get between Paris and the main mass of the Allied armies, enveloping them and producing a Sedan ten times greater than that which had wrecked the Third Empire.
Joffre, accordingly, decided to continue the retreat and brought