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breaching the walls of the churchyard, the Würtembergers, in the face
of a hot fire, made their way into the place. The French still offered a
stout resistance in its interior, but finally retired on Troyes, leaving
600 dead and wounded. The small flying column rejoined its Division,
having traversed over 126 miles in six days.




SORTIE AGAINST MALMAISON.

(October 21st.)


The French capital had now been invested for more than four weeks, and
it seemed not impossible, because of the long continuance of inactivity,
that it might be brought to surrender by famine. All the sorties
hitherto attempted had only had for their object to drive the enemy from
the closest vicinity; a new effort was to aim at greater results. The
project was to cross the Seine below Paris at Bezons and Carrières, and
to make a simultaneous attack on the positions of the IVth Prussian
Corps on the heights of Argenteuil from the south, and from St.-Denis
from the east. A march on Rouen by Pontoise was to follow, into a
district not yet altogether exhausted of resources. The Army of the
Loire was also to proceed thither by railway by way of Le Mans, and so
there would be massed in that region an army of 250,000 men.

The Prussian Vth Corps, it was true, stood right on the flank of such an
advance across the Seine; its outposts had several times been seen in
Rueil. As a preliminary step, General Ducrot undertook to force back
this body with 10,000 men and 120 field-guns. Then an intrenched line
from Valérien to Carrières would close the peninsula against
interference from the southward.

Perhaps, in the face of much-dreaded "public opinion" and the growing
restlessness of political parties in Paris, it was more the urgency to
be doing something than any serious hope of success which gave rise to
such far-reaching schemes. Considerable difficulties had to be met in
attacking the enemy's lines, and greater must inevitably arise if the
attack should succeed. It was vain to think of bringing through the
miles-long trains which are indispensable for victualling an army.
Serious embarrassment would ensue when the troops had consumed the three
days' rations they would carry with them. To live on the country the
army must disperse itself; but with the enemy at its heels close
concentration was indispensable. And, in any case, it is hard to see
what would have been gained by withdrawing from Paris the forces which
had been assembled for the defence of the capital. Success could only
have been hoped for if an army from without had been so near as to be
able immediately to give the hand to the troops marching out.

However, on the 21st of October, after Mont Valérien had all the morning
kept up a seemingly ineffective fire, General Ducrot advanced at about
one o'clock to attack the position of the Prussian 19th Brigade whose
supports held the line Bougival - Jonchère - Fohlenkoppel. Fourteen French
field-batteries deployed on either side of Rueil and about the southern
base of Valérien; the infantry advanced in five columns behind this
artillery front.

On the German side only two batteries could at first engage in the
unequal duel, and one of these near the Villa Metternich had very soon
to retire. The French guns advanced rightward to within 1400 paces of
Bougival, and at three o'clock four companies of Zouaves rushed out of
Rueil. Being received with a hot fire, they wheeled into the park of
Malmaison, and without opposition seized the Château of Buzanval and the
eastern slope of the deep-cut ravine of Cucufa. And here one of their
batteries was brought up into the fighting-line to support them.

While the main body of the 9th Division advanced from Versailles on
Vaucresson, the 10th deployed against the ravine and at Villa
Metternich. The infantry fire lasted for a full hour, and wrought the
French much loss. When at about four o'clock they seemed sufficiently
shaken, and a reinforcement of the Guard Landwehr had come up from St.
Germain on the left, the German left wing advanced from Bougival and
over the height of Jonchère, forced its way into Malmaison in spite of
violent opposition, and followed the retreating Zouaves as far as Rueil.
The right wing at the same time having turned the head of the Cucufa
ravine, charged against its eastern slope, drove out the enemy, seized
the battery of two guns, and occupied the Château of Buzanval.

The French now retired on all sides, firing ceased by six o'clock, and
the 10th Division, which had repulsed the enemy's assaults
single-handed, re-established its previous fore-post line.

The struggle had cost the Germans 400 men. The French, on the other
hand, had in this luckless enterprise left 500 dead and wounded, and 120
prisoners.

Soon after this affair the French began to throw up entrenchments within
800 paces of the line of the Guard Corps; and in the early morning of
the 28th, General Bellemare, under cover of the darkness, advanced on Le
Bourget with a force of several battalions.

The German company in occupation there, taken completely by surprise,
could only retire before such overwhelming numbers, to Pont Iblon and
Blanc Mesnil. The French promptly barricaded themselves in the place and
prepared it for an obstinate defence. A German battalion made a vain
attempt that evening to drive them out; it was repulsed with heavy loss.
Equally unsuccessful next day was the fire of thirty field-guns
directed against the place from Pont Iblon. Then, however, the Crown
Prince of Saxony issued imperative orders to the Guard Corps to
recapture Le Bourget without delay.




STORMING OF LE BOURGET.

(October 30th.)


Accordingly on October 30th, nine battalions of the 2nd Guard-Division
and five batteries, under the command of Lieutenant-General von
Budritzki,[33] were assembled at Dugny, Pont Iblon and Blanc Mesnil for
a concentric attack on Le Bourget. The artillery in action along the
bank of the Morée inundation opened the attack at about eight in the
morning, and then the infantry went forward. The terrain was perfectly
open, and the advance was under fire, not merely from Le Bourget, but
also from the heavy guns of the forts. Nevertheless the Grenadier
Battalion of the Queen Elizabeth Regiment, at the head of the central
column, at nine o'clock made a successful assault, charging over the
barricade at the northern end of the village, and entering it through a
breach in the wall promptly made by the pioneers. The Emperor Francis
Grenadier Regiment advanced against its western face and took possession
of the park. A fierce street-fight ensued on a further advance into the
village, in the course of which there fell the commanders of both
regiments, Colonels von Zaluskowski and Count Waldersee. The walled
farmsteads left of the main street, were stormed one after another in
spite of a determined defence; the windows of the church, high up in the
walls as they were, were broken in and scaled, and a hand-to-hand fight
raged furiously inside the sacred building. The Guard Rifle-Battalion
forced its way into the glass-works.

At half-past nine the French attempted to bring up into Le Bourget
reinforcements from Aubervillers and Drancy; but the left German column
had meanwhile seized the railway-embankment, placed a detachment of the
Emperor Alexander Regiment to hold it, and was forcing its way into the
southern quarter of the village. Two batteries had taken up position on
the Mollette brook, and their fire drove back the enemy and even
compelled him to evacuate Drancy.

At ten o'clock the French still held the buildings on the north side of
the Mollette. These were now assailed from the south. The 4th Company of
the Emperor Alexander Regiment crossed the stream and forced its way
through a breach made by the sappers into the farmstead in which the
enemy's main force was gathered. The defenders had to be quelled with
the bayonet and with clubbed arms, and here the French Colonel de
Baroche met his death.

Although by this time - eleven o'clock - all the three attacking columns
had struck hands in the heart of Le Bourget, the enemy continued the
struggle in detached houses and gardens with embittered desperation till
the afternoon, while all the forts on the north front of Paris
overwhelmed the place with shell-fire. It was not till half-past one
that the troops of the attack could withdraw by companies to their
respective quarters. Two battalions remained to garrison Le Bourget.

The desperate resistance of the French showed how important they
considered their retention of this post. Its success had cost the 2nd
(Guard) Division 500 men. The enemy's loss is not known, but 1200
prisoners were taken. This new disaster added to the dissatisfaction of
the inhabitants of Paris. The revolutionary factions, which at all times
lurk in the French capital, came ominously to the front.

Highly-coloured reports could no longer conceal utter lack of results;
the authority of the Government was steadily on the wane. It was accused
of incapacity, nay, of treason. Noisy mobs clamoured for arms, and even
a part of the National Guard took part in the tumult. The Hôtel de Ville
was surrounded by a throng shouting "Vive la Commune!" and though other
troops dispersed these gatherings, the ringleaders, though well known,
went unpunished.

On the 31st of October uproarious masses again paraded the streets. As
General Trochu had forbidden the sentries at the Hôtel de Ville to use
their arms, the rebels forced their way in. The Ministers were their
prisoners till the evening, when some battalions which remained staunch
liberated them.

Monsieur Thiers, who had returned from his fruitless tour among the
European Courts, thought the time had come for re-opening negotiations
with Versailles. On the part of the Germans there was still the
readiness to grant an armistice, but it was naturally impossible to
accede to the condition demanded by the French, that the city should be
re-provisioned, and so hostilities had to take their course.

At this time, towards the end of October, the situation on the Moselle
had assumed an aspect which essentially modified that of the whole war.

* * * * *[34]

By the exchange of German prisoners for French who had fought at Sedan,
details of the disaster which had befallen France in that battle were
currently known in Metz. But Marshal Bazaine declared that the Army of
the Rhine would continue to defend the country against the invaders, and
maintain public order against the evil passions of disloyal men - a
resolution which certainly could be interpreted in more ways than one.
It would have been eminently satisfactory to the Germans, politically
speaking, if there had been in France an available power, apart from
the pretentious but feeble Government in Paris, with which to come to an
understanding as regarded the termination of the war. Permission was
therefore given for the admission to Metz of a person representing
himself to have a commission from the exiled Imperial family. As he was
unable to authenticate himself in this capacity to the satisfaction of
Marshal Bazaine, General Bourbaki was allowed to pass through the German
lines that he might betake himself to London, where, however, the
Empress Eugénie declined all intervention in the already so disastrous
affairs of France. The General then placed his services at the disposal
of the National Defence Government at Tours.

Meanwhile the army which had been beleaguered in Metz since the day of
Noisseville maintained a waiting attitude. The necessary supplies for
70,000 inhabitants, including the country-folk who had taken refuge in
the city, had originally been enough to last three months and a half,
those for the regular garrison were calculated for about five months;
but for the Army of the Rhine there was sustenance in store for only
forty-one days, and there was forage for only twenty-five.

Certainly it was possible to supplement the supplies for the troops by
purchase from the abundant stores of the citizens; but ere long smaller
rations of bread were served out and horses were being slaughtered to
furnish animal food, so that most of the cavalry regiments were reduced
to two squadrons.

On the German side, the service of supplying 197,326 men and 33,136
horses was one of great difficulty. The outbreak of cattle-plague in
Germany restricted the importation of live beasts to those purchased in
Holland and Belgium. The meat rations had to be supplemented by tinned
provisions; and increased rations of oats had to take the place of hay
and straw.

The losses of the army had hitherto been made good from the reserves,
but the transport of the prisoners from Sedan alone required the
services of fourteen battalions of the force blockading Metz. Thus it
had not yet been possible to provide sufficient shelter for the troops
near the wide extension of the entrenched line. Raw, rainy weather had
come on early in the season, and a fourth part of the men were still
roofless; so that by degrees the sick in hospital reached the alarming
number of 40,000.

Although fifty heavy guns had been brought up from Germany, they were
useless for the bombardment of Metz, since in consequence of the
superior calibre of the fortress artillery they could only be fired at
night, and with frequent change of position. There was nothing for it
but to hope for the best, and have patience.

For four weeks already had the besieged been consuming their stores. To
replenish those in some degree, and at the same time to revive the
spirit of the troops by active measures, the Marshal decided on fetching
in all the provisions to be found in the villages inside the line of the
German investment, under cover of a sortie.

At noon on September 22nd Fort St. Julien opened a heavy fire on the
outposts of the Ist Corps. Strong bodies of infantry then advanced on
the villages to the eastward, drove in the picquets of the enemy, and
returned to Metz with the stores which had been seized. But a similar
attempt made next afternoon on the villages to the north was less
successful. Most of the waggons had to return empty, under the fire of
the Prussian batteries quickly brought up into position. Finally, on the
27th, a sortie for the same purpose was made to the southward, which led
to a series of small conflicts and the capture in Peltre of a German
company, which was surrounded by a much stronger force. A simultaneous
sally on the left bank of the Moselle was baffled by the fire of the
alert artillery of the besieging force.

Thionville, on the north of Metz, had hitherto only been kept under
observation by a small force, which could not hinder the garrison from
scouring the country as far as the neighbouring frontier, taking many
prisoners, seizing fifty waggon-loads of supplies, and even diverting
into the fortress a whole train of provision-trucks while passing by the
now restored railway from Luxemburg.

In point of fact, the Army of the Rhine would have found in Thionville
an important rallying-point at the end of its first day's march, if the
blockade of Metz could have been broken through. Prince Frederick
Charles, realizing this, took care to strengthen the investing lines to
the north, on the right bank of the Moselle. On October 1st the Xth
Corps took up the position hitherto held by the Reserve Division Kummer,
which was transferred to the left bank of the river. The Ist, VIIth, and
VIIIth Corps closed up to the right, and the IInd occupied the space
between the Seille and the Moselle; the troops before Thionville were
also reinforced.

The Marshal had really once more determined to break out to the
northward, and that on both banks of the river. New bridges were
constructed behind St. Julien and from the island of Chambière, the
nearest German outposts on the north and west of Metz were pushed back
by a series of daily skirmishes. Under cover of the fire of the forts
the French established themselves firmly in Lessy and Ladonchamps. The
troops to be left in Metz were expressly selected; the others tested as
to their marching powers. Light-signals were arranged with Thionville,
and all preparations made for a sortie on the 7th.

Then the French commander suddenly changed his mind, and the proposed
enterprise collapsed into a foraging expedition.

For this, indeed, large forces were set in motion; the Guard Voltigeur
Division, the VIth Corps, and the IVth in the forest of Woippy. The
movement was also to be supported by the IIIrd Corps on the right bank
of the river.

Four hundred waggons were in readiness to carry off the stores from the
large farms lying north of Ladonchamps.

FOOTNOTES:

[33] Commanding 2nd Guard-Division.

[34] In text there is at this point no Section-Headline, although the
subject changes; but the succeeding pages till commencement of new
Section are headed: "Die Lage vor Metz im October." This heading is
followed in translation.




SORTIE FROM METZ AGAINST BELLEVUE.

(October 7th.)


Although the start from Woippy planned for eleven o'clock, was not
effected till one, the Landwehr companies on outpost duty were driven in
by superior numbers, and as they defended their positions till their
ammunition was exhausted, they also lost a considerable number of
prisoners. But the artillery of the Landwehr Division prevented the
removal of the stores; the 5th Division advancing from Norroy struck the
left flank of the French attack and drove the enemy back on Bellevue,
where a stationary fight developed itself.

The French IIIrd Corps advanced on the right bank of the Moselle against
Malroy and Noisseville. Here, too, the outpost line fell back; but
behind it stood the Xth and Ist Corps, ready for action. The respective
Corps commanders at once perceived that this attack was only a feint.
Although threatened himself, General von Voigts-Rhetz sent his 38th
Brigade across the Moselle at Argancy by half-past two to assist the
Landwehr Division, and when General von Manteuffel forwarded him
supports to Charly, the 37th Brigade followed.

No sooner had the first reinforcements arrived than General von Kummer
on his side took the offensive, recaptured the farmsteads from the
enemy after a sharp struggle just as the latter were about to retire,
and then, supported on the right by part of the 5th Division, moved on
Bellevue at about six in the evening. Ladonchamps, however, still
remained in the hands of the French. Late in the evening the 19th and
Reserve Divisions advanced on this place. The premises of the château,
which were surrounded by a moat, were carefully intrenched and strongly
defended by infantry and guns. The darkness precluded effective
artillery action, and the attack failed; but all the other points
previously held by the Germans were re-occupied.

The day had cost the Prussians 1700 killed and wounded, besides 500
reported missing. The French loss was given out to be no more than 1193.

This attempt on the part of the French might be regarded as tentative,
and preliminary only to a real effort to break through; perhaps it was
so intended. The German troops therefore remained in the positions they
had occupied at the close of the fighting, in expectation of renewed
hostilities on the morrow.

The forts in fact opened a heavy fire on the farm-buildings early on the
8th, while the German batteries directed their fire on Ladonchamps.
Strong columns also advanced along the right bank of the Moselle, but
nowhere attempted a serious attack. The Prussian troops therefore
presently retired to their quarters.

The artillery duel was carried on for the next few days, but with
diminished energy. Constant rain made all field operations very
difficult, and increased the sufferings of the men on both sides. In
Metz the lack of victuals was becoming very painfully felt. So early as
on the 8th the commandant had announced that his stores would not last
longer than for twelve days. A council of war, held on the 10th, was,
however, of opinion that the greatest service the Army of the Rhine
could do to France was to hold out as long as possible, since it thus
continued to detain a hostile army under the walls of Metz.

The Marshal now sent General Boyer to negotiate at Versailles, but his
instructions were to demand a free exit for the army and explicitly to
refuse the terms of the Sedan capitulation.

The state of affairs in Metz was perfectly well known to the Germans.
The number of men who were taken willing prisoners while digging
potatoes increased every day. They reported that disturbances had broken
out in the city, in which even part of the soldiers had taken part, and
that the commander-in-chief had been compelled to proclaim the Republic.
And since the Empress had declared that she would never give her consent
to any diminution of French territory, no further political negotiations
were possible with the chiefs of the Army of the Rhine.

On the 20th the distribution of stores came to an end within the
fortress, and the troops thenceforth for the most part subsisted on
horseflesh. The original stock of 20,000 horses was reduced by a
thousand a day. The want of bread and salt was severely felt, and the
soaked, deep ground made living in camp almost unendurable.

After the failure of the negotiations at Versailles, the imperative
necessity of entering into negotiations with the Headquarter of the
besieging army was recognized by a council of war held on the 24th.

The first interview had no result, as the Marshal still stipulated for
free egress on condition of withdrawing to Algiers, or the alternative
of an armistice with the reprovisioning of Metz. On the German side the
surrender of the fortress and the march out of the garrison as prisoners
of war were insisted on, and on these conditions the capitulation was
signed on the evening of the 27th of October.




CAPITULATION OF METZ.

(October 27th.)[35]


On the morning of the 29th[35] Prussian flags were hoisted on the great
outworks of Metz. At one o'clock the French garrison marched out by six
roads in perfect silence and correct military formation.[36] At each
specified position a Prussian Army Corps stood to receive the prisoners,
who were immediately placed in bivouacs previously prepared, and
supplied with food. The officers were allowed to keep their swords and
to return to Metz; provisions were immediately sent in.

Marshal Bazaine set out for Cassel.

In the course of the day the 26th Brigade occupied Metz. The city had
suffered no injury, but the state of the camps showed what the troops
had suffered during the siege of seventy-two days.

The Germans during that time had lost 240 officers and 5500 men in
killed and wounded.

Six thousand French officers and 167,000 men were taken prisoners,
beside 20,000 sick who could not be at once removed, about 200,000 in
all.[37] Fifty-six Imperial eagles, 622 field and 876 fortress guns, 72
mitrailleuses and 260,000 rifles fell into the hands of the Germans.

The prisoners were transported by way of Trèves and Saarbrücken,
escorted by Landwehr battalions, and as these would have also to guard
them when in Germany, their return to field service was not to be
reckoned on.

FOOTNOTES:

[35] The Protocol embodying the terms of capitulation was signed on the
evening of the 27th; its provisions came into effect at and after 10
a.m. of the 29th.

[36] On the contrary, there were much drunkenness and disorder.

[37] The 20,000 sick were included in the total of 173,000 officers and
men surrendered.




NEW DISTRIBUTION OF THE ARMY.


The capitulation of Metz, which Prince Frederick Charles had brought
about under such serious difficulties, materially improved the prospects
of the war for Germany.

At the Royal Headquarter at Versailles, even before the catastrophe but
in confident anticipation of it, decisions had been arrived at as to the
respective destinations of the forces it would release for service, and
communicated in advance to the superior Commanders.

The Ist, VIIth and VIIIth Corps, with the 3rd Cavalry Division, were
thenceforth to constitute the Ist Army, under the command of General von
Manteuffel. Its orders were to advance into the Compiègne region and
cover the investment of Paris on the north. But apart from these orders
it had various other duties to fulfil; it was to occupy Metz and lay
siege to Thionville and Montmédy.

The IInd, IIIrd, IXth and Xth Corps, with the 1st Cavalry Division, were
to constitute the IInd Army under the command of Prince Frederick
Charles, which was ordered to advance on the Middle Loire.



Online LibraryHelmuth MoltkeThe Franco-German war of 1870-71 → online text (page 13 of 35)