Charles Lanrezac, Commander of the French Fifth Army

3.  The Battle of the Frontiers, Aug.20-24.1914


The Belgian Front.
==The Belgian Army reaches its Antwerp lines; Kluck detaches two corps from the German 1st Army to cover it
==The German Army occupies Brussels: 320,000 troops of Kluck’s 1st Army march through the city by Aug.23; Germany demands a $10 million fine from Brussels, and $90 million from the province of Brabant
==German 1st Army’s supply systems are already running into trouble
==(to Aug.21)  The German 2nd Army executes 211 civilians at Andenne and 50 at Seilles, east of Namur; General Bülow later publicizes the massacres in an attempt to overawe the Belgians - ~increasingly, German forces are taking and executing hostages

The Western Front (general).
==(to Aug.24)  THE BATTLE OF THE FRONTIERS: Allied and German armies collide from Belgium to Lorraine

The BEF.
==The Germans first learn of the BEF’s arrival in France
==The BEF is fully assembled around Maubeuge

==Early British and French reconnaisance reports indicate that the forces on the German right are strong enough to seriously threaten the Allied left

The Northwestern Front.
==Approaching German infantry is reported to be within 20 kilometers of the Sambre [early]
==Most of Lanrezac’s 5th Army reaches the Sambre after tough marches [afternoon]
==Moltke orders the German 2nd Army to besiege Namur and, with 3rd Army, to attack the French forces on the Sambre [evening]
==GQG finally allows Lanrezac to align his 5th Army northwards, and orders him to launch an attack over the Sambre [night]

The Central Front.
==Joffre confidently orders de Langle’s 4th Army to open the Ardennes offensive against the German center [900.PM]

==Rupprecht’s 6th Army launches a powerful German counteroffensive in Lorraine [dawn], colliding with French attacks at Morhange and Sarrebourg - Castelnau’s French 2nd Army is forced to retreat with heavy losses [afternoon], pulling back Dubail’s hard-pressed 1st Army in turn
==GQG receives the first reports of the French defeats in Lorraine [400.PM], but Joffre remains optimistic

==French General Pau is ordered to retreat in Alsace
==Bavarian troops destroy Nomeny and kill fifty civilians

German Headquarters (OHL).
==The Master of the Horse shoots himself at OHL in Coblenz [700.AM] as tension mounts


The BEF Front.
==Bülow orders Kluck’s 1st Army to veer from moving west to south towards Maubeuge; Kluck angrily objects: the German 1st Army is prevented from outflanking the Allied left
==The BEF begins marching north from Maubeuge towards Mons - reconaissance reports that strong German forces are heading straight for it, but the reports are discounted by the confident Henry Wilson

The Northwestern Front.
==The wary Lanrezac ignores orders from Joffre and postpones 5th Army’s attack over the Sambre [morning]
==German super-heavy artillery begins shelling the Belgian forts at Namur, to the northeast of the 5th Army [1000.AM]
==Bülow’s 2nd Army establishes bridgeheads over the Sambre at two points between Namur and Charleroi [afternoon], repelling repeated French counterattacks: the Battle of Charleroi (or the Sambre) to Aug.23
==Sordet’s French Cavalry Corps is driven from the canal line northwest of Charleroi [afternoon]
==Belgian intelligence reports that the German right wing is beginning to wheel southwards [800.PM]

The Central Front.
==French forces advance into the Ardennes [morning] - confused clashes in heavy fog, as the German 4th and 5th Armies move forward in response

==While conferring with his staff, Castelnau learns that his son has been killed in action at Morhange: after a brief stunned silence, he quietly says “We will continue, gentlemen” and returns to the business at hand
==Castelnau reports 2nd Army’s condition as “very grave” - the French briefly consider abandoning Nancy
==The French Army of Lorraine begins assembling between Verdun and Nancy


The BEF Front.
==The first contact between the BEF and the Germans; at Soignies north of Mons, in a cavalry clash fought with swords and lances [morning]
==British GHQ still disregards reports that come in through the day of powerful German forces approaching from the north, including early reports from aerial reconnaissance 
==Sir John French aborts his plans for a British attack [evening], blaming the French 5th Army’s retreat, although 5th Army isn’t retreating yet
==The advancing BEF halts at the Mons-Condé Canal [night]
==OHL prevents Kluck from using the German 1st Army to outflank the BEF

==A nine-mile gap has opened between the BEF and the left flank of the French 5th Army

The Northwestern Front.
==French reinforcements belatedly arrive at Namur [morning], but the Belgians are soon beginning to evacuate the forts around the town
==Lanrezac’s French 5th Army is driven back from the Sambre in chaotic fighting with Bülow’s 2nd Army
==Hausen’s 3rd Army establishes a bridgehead over the Meuse near Dinant, threatening Lanrezac’s right flank [night]
==Bülow’s German 2nd Army massacres 384 civilians at Tamines on the Sambre after sacking the town

The Central Front.
==Fierce fighting erupts in the Ardennes [morning], halting the French offensive: the first-rate French 3rd Colonial Division is destroyed at Rossignol - bloody battles are fought at Virton, Tintigny, and Neufchâteau - Foch’s son is killed in action

==OHL suddenly approves a full-scale German offensive in Lorraine, tying up forces needed by its right wing; the Germans occupy Luneville to Sep.12
==The French left wing pulls back to the fortified zones of Belfort, Epinal, and Toul by Aug.23, with the 2nd Army on the Meurthe and along the Grand Couronné near Nancy

==French forces approach Colmar, but GQG begins transferring troops from the Army of Alsace to the threatened French left wing


The Belgian Front.
==German troops completely destroy the occupied town of Visé, near Liège, executing, deporting, or expelling the entire population - ~the Germans begin a policy of mass deportations

The BEF Front.
==The Battle of Mons: the outnumbered BEF temporarily checks the advance of Kluck’s 1st Army, inflicting heavy casualities [900.AM-500.PM] - the BEF starts to fall back [evening]; British GHQ learns of the French 5th Army’s retreat, which has left the BEF’s flank wide open [1100.PM] - the start of the long British retreat

The Northwestern Front.
==The German 3rd Army receives orders to drive westward over the Meuse south of Givet to cut off the French 5th Army [825.AM]; Hausen plans to attack Aug.24
==Belgian forces complete the evacuation of the Namur forts [noon]
==The French 5th Army is driven further south of the Sambre by the German 2nd Army [afternoon]; French III Corps is badly mauled
==The German 3rd Army begins breaking out from its bridgehead over the Meuse at Onhaye, threatening to cut off Lanrezac’s French 5th Army [late afternoon]
==The Germans occupy Namur [evening]
==Lanrezac orders 5th Army to retreat from the Sambre area [1100.PM]: the final collapse of the aggressive French Plan 17
==In reprisal for alleged civilian interference with bridge-building, the German 3rd Army executes 612 hostages in the central square of Dinant, including a three week old infant, before sacking the town; the “profoundly moved” General Hausen blames the Belgians for being massacred
==The Germans execute 25 Belgian civilians in Namur to Aug.25

The Central Front.
==Joffre sends an optimistic report to the War Minister on the Ardennes offensive [700.AM], but by evening the French 3rd and 4th Armies are retreating
==The German 5th Army bypasses the Longwy forts and advances on Verdun

==The French 1st Army counterattacks in Lorraine

==The French are retreating in northern Alsace

French Headquarters (GQG).
==GQG is still unaware of the strength of the German offensives, and is baffled by reports of French reverses


The Belgian Front.
==(to Aug.26) The Belgian Army sorties from its Antwerp lines, driving the Germans from Malines
==The advancing Germans take Tournai

The Western Front (general).
==THE ALLIED LEFT AND CENTER ARE IN FULL RETREAT, but in failing to decisively defeat the Allies at the frontiers the Germans have lost their best chance for a quick victory - French losses have been staggering - the Germans advance from Belgium into northeastern France - ~refugees clog the roads behind the Allied lines

==War Minister Messimy learns that the Paris defenses are totally inadequate, just as Joffre strips the city of much of its garrison [morning]
==Gallieni agrees to replace the ineffective Michel as Military Governor of Paris [night]

The Far Northwestern Front.
==Lille is declared an open city and evacuated by French forces

The BEF Front.
==John French briefly threatens to retreat away from the Lanrezc’s 5th Army towards Amiens [early AM] until he’s dissuaded by Joffre - John French also considers withdrawing the BEF into the fortress of Maubeuge
==Sharp clashes between the retreating BEF and Kluck’s 1st Army at Frameries [morning], Andrecies and Elouges [afternoon]

The Northwestern Front.
==German 2nd Army opens its attack on the French fortress of Maubeuge
==Hausen receives an urgent appeal from Bülow to aid the German 2nd Army [400.AM]; 3rd Army abandons its planned attack south of Givet and looses its chance to cut off the retreating French 5th Army

The Central Front.
==Joffre approves the withdrawal of French 4th Army across the Meuse [night]

==In intense fighting, a renewed offensive by Rupprecht’s 6th Army in Lorraine is blocked by Foch’s XXth Corps at Nancy, but the Germans force a bridgehead over the Mortagne

==Fighting peters out in Alsace

French Headquarters (GQG).
==Joffre reports to War Minister Messimy that he is compelled to go on the defensive, laying all blame on his generals and his troops [935.AM]
== ~Widespread sackings of French generals: Messimy urges Joffre to summarily execute any officers guilty of ‘weakness’
==The Deuxiéme Bureau (French intelligence) reports the use of German reserve units in combat, greatly increasing the estimate of German strength

==President Poincaré writes in his diary: “We must make up our minds both to retreat and to invasion.  So much for the illusions of the last fortnight.  Now the future of France depends on her powers of resistance.”


1st Marne Campaign: Introduction   //   (1) Background

(2) Opening Moves, Aug.03-19   //   (4) The Long Retreat, Aug.25-Sep.04

(5) 1st Marne & Aftermath, Sep.05-15   //   Biographies and Glossary