Thomas Herbert Russell.

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line of the canal from Condé on the west, through Mons and Binche on the

"During August 22 and 23 the advance squadrons did some excellent work,
some of them penetrating as far as Soignies (a town of Belgium ten miles
northeast of Mons) and several encounters took place in which our troops
showed to great advantage.

"On Sunday, the 23d, reports began to come in to the effect that the
enemy was commencing an attack on the Mons line, apparently in some
strength, but that the right of the position from Mons was being
particularly threatened.

"The commander of the First Corps had pushed his flank back to some high
ground south of Bray and the Fifth Cavalry evacuated Binche, moving
slightly south. The enemy thereupon occupied Binche. "The right of
the third division under General Hamilton was at Mons, which formed a
somewhat dangerous salient and I directed the commander of the Second
Corps if threatened seriously to draw back the center behind Mons.

"In the meantime, about five in the afternoon, I received a most
unexpected message from General Joffre by telegraph, telling me that at
least three German corps were moving on my position in front and that
a second corps was engaged in a turning movement from the direction of
Tournai. He also informed me that the two reserve French divisions and
the Fifth French Army Corps on my right were retiring.


"In view of the possibility of my being driven from the Mons position, I
had previously ordered a position in the rear to be reconnoitered.

"This position rested on the fortress of Maubeuge on the right and
extended west to Jenlain, southeast of Valenciennes on the left. The
position was reported difficult to hold because standing crops and
buildings limited the fire in many important localities.

"When the news of the retirement of the French and the heavy German
threatening on my front reached me, I endeavored to confirm it by
aeroplane reconnaissance, and as a result of this I determined to effect
a retirement to the Maubeuge position at daybreak on the 24th.

"A certain amount of fighting continued along the whole line throughout
the night and at daybreak on the 24th the second division from the
neighborhood of Harmignies made a powerful demonstration as if to retake
Binche. This was supported by the artillery of both the first and the
second divisions while the first division took up a supporting position
in the neighborhood of Peissant. Under cover of this demonstration The
Second Corps retired on the line of Dour, Quarouble and Frameries. The
third division on the right of the corps suffered considerable loss in
this operation from the enemy, who had retaken Mons.

"The Second Corps halted on this line, where they intrenched themselves,
enabling Sir Douglas Haig, with the First Corps, to withdraw to the new


"Toward midnight the enemy appeared to be directing his principal effort
against our left. I had previously ordered General Allenby with the
cavalry to act vigorously in advance of my left front and endeavor to
take the pressure off.

"About 7:30 in the morning General Allenby received a message from Sir
Charles Fergusson, commanding the fifth division, saying he was very
hard pressed and in urgent need of support. On receipt of this message
General Allenby drew in his cavalry and endeavored to bring direct
support to the fifth division.

"During the course of this operation General DeLisle of the Second
Cavalry Brigade thought he saw a good opportunity to paralyze the
further advance of the enemy's infantry by making a mounted attack on
his flank. He formed up and advanced for this purpose, but was held up
by wire about 500 yards from his objective.


"The Nineteenth Infantry Brigade was brought by rail to Valenciennes on
the 22d and 23d. On the morning of the 24th, they were moved out to a
position south of Quarouble to support the left flank of the Second
Corps. With the assistance of cavalry Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was
enabled to effect his retreat to a new position.

"At nightfall a position was occupied by the Second Corps to the west
of Bavay, the First Corps to the right. The right was protected by the
fortress of Maubeuge, the left by the Nineteenth Brigade in position
between Jenlain and Bavay and cavalry on the outer flank. The French
were still retiring and I had no support except such as was afforded by
the fortress of Maubeuge.


"I felt that not a moment must be lost in retiring to another position.
I had every reason to believe that the enemy's forces were somewhat
exhausted and I knew that they had suffered heavy losses. The operation,
however, was full of danger and difficulty, not only owing to the very
superior forces in my front, but also to the exhaustion of the troops.
"The retirement was recommenced in the early morning of the 25th to
a position in the neighborhood of Le Catean and the rear guard were
ordered to be clear of Maubeuge and Bavay by 5:30 a. m.

"The fourth division commenced its detrainment at Le Cateau on Sunday,
August 23, and by the morning of the 25th eleven battalions and a
brigade of artillery with the divisional staff were available for
service. I ordered General Snow to move out to take up a position with
his right south of Solesmes, his left resting on the Cambrai-Le Cateau
road south of La Chapriz. In this position the division rendered great

"Although the troops had been ordered to occupy Cam-brai-Le
Cateau-Landrecies position and ground had, during the 25th, been
partially prepared and entrenched, I had grave doubts as to the wisdom
of standing there to fight.

"Having regard to the continued retirement of the French right, my
exposed left flank, the tendency of the enemy's western corps to envelop
me, and, more than all, the exhausted condition of the troops, I
determined to make a great effort to continue the retreat till I could
put some substantial obstacle, such as the Somme or the Oise between my
troops and the enemy.


"Orders were therefore sent to the corps commanders to continue their
retreat as soon as they possibly could toward the general line of
Vermand, St. Quentin and Ribemont, and the cavalry under General Allenby
were ordered to cover the retirement. Throughout the 25th and far into
the evening the First Corps continued to march on Landrecies, following
the road along the eastern border of the forest of Mormal, and arrived
at Landrecies about 10 o'clock. I had intended that the corps should
come further west so as to fill up the gap between Le Cateau and
Landrecies, but the men were exhausted and could not get further in
without a rest.

"The enemy, however, would not allow them this rest and about 9:
that evening the report was received that the Fourth Guards brigade
in Landrecies was heavily attacked by troops of the Ninth German army
corps, who were coming through the forest to the north of the town.


"At the same time information reached me from Sir Douglas Haig that his
first division was also heavily engaged south and east of Marilles. I
sent urgent messages to the commander of two French reserve divisions
on my right to come up to the assistance of the First Corps, which they
eventually did.

"By about 6 in the afternoon the Second Corps had got Into position,
with their right on Le Cateau, their left in the neighborhood of Caudry,
and the line of defense was continued thence by the fourth division
toward Seranvillers.

"During the fighting on the 24th and 25th the cavalry became a good
deal scattered, but by early morning of the 26th General Allenby had
succeeded in concentrating two brigades to the south of Cambrai.

"On the 24th the French cavalry corps, consisting of three divisions
under General Sordet, had been in billets, north of Avesnes. On my
way back from Vavay, which was my _paste de commandemente_ during the
fighting of the 23d and the 24th, I visited General Sordet and earnestly
requested his cooperation and support. He promised to obtain sanction
from his army commander to act on my left flank, but said that his
horses were too tired to move before the next day.

"Although he rendered me valuable assistance later on in the course of
the retirement, he was unable for the reasons given to afford me any
support on the most critical day of all - namely, the 26th.


"At daybreak it became apparent that the enemy was throwing the bulk of
his strength against the left of the position occupied by the Second
Corps and the fourth division. At this time the guns of four German
army corps were in position against them, and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien
reported to me that he judged it impossible to continue his retirement
at daybreak.

"I sent him orders to use his utmost endeavors to break off the action
and retire at the earliest possible moment, as it was impossible for me
to send him support.

"The French cavalry corps under General Sordet was coming up on our left
rear early in the morning, and I sent him an urgent message to do his
utmost to come up and support the retirement of my left flank, but owing
to the fatigue of his horses he found himself unable to intervene in any

"There had been no time to intrench the position properly, but the
troops showed a magnificent front to the terrible fire which confronted


"At length it became apparent that if complete annihilation was to
be avoided retirement must be attempted, and the order was given to
commence it about 3:30 in the afternoon. The movement was covered with
most devoted intrepidity and determination by the artillery, which had
itself suffered heavily, and the fine work done by the cavalry in
the further retreat from the position assisted materially the final
completion of this most difficult and dangerous operation.

"I cannot close the brief account of this glorious stand of the British
troops without putting on record my deep appreciation of the valuable
services rendered by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien. I say without hesitation
that the saving of the left wing of the army under my command on
the morning of the 26th could never have been accomplished unless a
commander of rare and unusual coolness, intrepidity and determination
bad been present to personally conduct the operations.

"The retreat was continued far into the night of the 26th and through
the 27th and the 28th, on which date the troops halted on the line from
Noyon, Chauny and LeFere.


"On the 27th and 28th I was much indebted to General Sordet and the
French cavalry division which he commands for materially assisting my
retirement and successfully driving back some of the enemy on Cambrai.
General d'Amade also, with the Sixty-first and Sixty-second Reserve
divisions, moved down from the neighborhood of Arras on the enemy's
right flank and took much pressure off the rear of the British forces.

"This closed the period covering the heavy fighting which commenced at
Mons on Sunday afternoon, August 23, and which really constituted a four
days' battle.

"I deeply deplore the very serious losses which the British forces
suffered in this great battle, but they were inevitable, in view of
the fact that the British army - only a few days after concentration by
rail - was called upon to withstand the vigorous attack of five German
army corps.

"It is impossible for me to speak too highly of the skill evinced by the
two general officers commanding army corps, the self-sacrificing and
devoted exertions of their staffs, the direction of troops by the
divisional, brigade and regimental leaders, the command of small units
by their officers and the magnificent fighting spirit displayed by the
noncommissioned officers and men.

[Signed] "J. D. P. FRENCH, "Field Marshal."


A British soldier, who was wounded in the fight during the retreat from
Mons, told the following story of the battle there:

"It was Sunday, August 23, and the British regiments at Mons were
merry-making and enjoying themselves in leisure along the streets.
Belgian ladies, returning from church, handed the soldiers their prayer
books as souvenirs, while the Belgian men gave the men cigarettes and

"About noon, when the men were beginning to think about dinner, a German
aeroplane appeared overhead and began throwing out a cloud of black
powder, which is one of their favorite methods of assisting batteries to
get the range.

"No sooner had the powder cloud appeared than shrapnel began to burst
overhead and in a moment all was confusion and uproar. But it didn't
take the regiments long to get into fighting trim and race through the
city to the scene of operations, which was on the other side of the
small canal, in the suburbs. "Here our outposts were engaging the enemy
fiercely. The outposts lost very heavily, most of the damage being done
by shells. The rifle fire was ineffective, although at times the lines
of contenders were not more than 300 yards apart.

"The first reinforcements to arrive were posted in a glass factory, the
walls of which were loop-holed, and we doggedly held that position until
nightfall, when we fixed bayonets and lay in wait in case the enemy made
an attempt to rush the position in the darkness.


"About midnight orders came to retire over the canal and two companies
were left behind to keep the enemy in check temporarily. After the
main body had crossed the bridge was blown up, leaving the two outpost
companies to get across as best they could by boats or swimming. Most of
them managed to reach the main body again.

"The main body retired from the town and fell back through open country,
being kept moving all night. When daylight arrived it was apparent from
higher ground that Mons had been practically blown away by the German

"Throughout the morning we continued to fight a rearguard action, but
the steady march in retreat did not stop until 6 o'clock in the evening,
when the British found themselves well out of range of the German
artillery in a quiet valley.

"Here all the troops were ordered to rest and eat. As they had been
without food since the previous morning's breakfast it was rather
amusing to see the soldiers going into the turnip fields and eating
turnips as though they were apples.

"At 8 o'clock all lights were extinguished, the soldiers were ordered
to make no noise and the pickets pushed a long distance backward. Long
before dawn the troops were hastily started again and continued the

"By noon the enemy was again heard from and a large detachment was
assigned the task of fighting to protect our rear.


"During the afternoon both the German and British armies watched a duel
in the air between French and German aeroplanes. The Frenchman was
wonderfully clever, and succeeded in maneuvering himself to the upper
position, which he gained after fifteen minutes of reckless effort. Then
the Frenchman began blazing away at the German with a revolver.

"Finally he hit him, and the wounded German attempted to glide down into
his own lines. The glide, however, ended in the British lines near my
detachment, the West Kent Infantry. We found the aviator dead when we
reached the machine. We buried him and burned the aeroplane.

"At dusk a halt was made for food, and as the Germans had fallen behind
the English spent a quiet night. At dawn, however, we found the Germans
close to our heels, and several regiments were ordered to prepare
intrenchments. This is tedious and tiresome work, especially in the heat
and without proper food, but we quickly put up fortifications which were
sufficient to protect us somewhat from the artillery fire.

"It was not long before the German gunners found the range and began
tearing up those rough fortifications, concentrating their fire on the
British batteries, one of which was completely demolished. Another found
itself with only six men. Both these disasters bore testimony to the
excellent markmanship of the German gunners.


"As it became evident that we must leave these guns behind and continue
the retreat, an officer was seen going around putting the guns out of
action, so that they would be of no use to the Germans. His action
required cool bravery, because the Germans, having found the range,
continued firing directly at these batteries.

"Things rapidly got hotter, and the commanding officer ordered a
double-quick retreat. We were not long in doing the retiring movement to
save our own skins.

"I was wounded at this time by a Maxim bullet. For a moment I thought
my head had been blown off, but I recovered and kept on running until
I reached a trench, where I had an opportunity to bandage the wound. I
rushed off to the ambulances, but found the doctors so busy with men
worse off than I that I went back to my place in the line."


The loss of life in the Franco-German battle near Charleroi was
admittedly the greatest of any engagement up to that time. It was at
Charleroi that the Germans struck their most terrific blow at the
allies' lines in their determination to gain the French frontier. Though
the tide of battle ebbed and flowed for awhile the French were finally
forced to give way and to retreat behind their own frontier, while the
British were being forced back from their position at Mons. The fighting
along the line was of the fiercest kind. It was a titanic clash of
armies in which the allies were compelled to yield ground before the
superior numbers of the German host.

One of the wounded, who was taken to hospital at Dieppe, said of the
fighting at Charleroi:

"Our army was engaging what we believed to be a section of the German
forces commanded by the crown prince when I was wounded. The Germans at
one stage of the battle seemed lost. They had been defending themselves
almost entirely with howitzers from strongly intrenched positions. The
Germans were seemingly surrounded and cut off and were summoned to
surrender. The reply came back that so long as they had ammunition they
would continue to fight.

"The howitzer shells of the Germans seemed enormous things and only
exploded when they struck the earth. When one would descend it would dig
a hole a yard deep and split into hundreds of pieces. Peculiarly enough
the howitzer shells did much more wounding than killing. The other
shells of the Germans, like cartridges, the supply of which they seemed
to be short of, did only little damage.


"The German aeroplane service was perfect. An aircraft was always
hovering over us out of range. We were certain within an hour after we
sighted an aeroplane to get the howitzers among us. Whenever we fired,
however, we did terrific execution with our seventy-five pieces of
artillery. I counted in one trench 185 dead. Many of them were killed as
they were in the act of firing or loading.

"The ground occupied by the Germans was so thick with dead that I
believe I saw one soldier to every two yards. You might have walked for
a mile on bodies without ever putting foot to the ground. They buried
their dead when they had time, piling fifteen or twenty in a shallow


On August 9 the advance guard brigade of the French right wing, under
General Pau, a veteran of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, invaded
Alsace, fought a victorious action with an intrenched German force of
equal numbers and occupied Muelhausen and Kolmar. The news of the French
entry into the province lost in 1871 was received all over France with
wild enthusiasm. The mourning emblems on the Strasburg monument in Paris
were removed by the excited populace and replaced by the tricolor flag
and flowers in token of their joy. Muelhausen was soon after retaken by
the German forces, only to be recaptured later by the French and then
evacuated once more.

On the day of the first French occupation of Muelhausen France declared
war against Austria in consequence of the arrival of two Austrian army
corps on the Rhine to assist the main German army.

After the French occupation of Muelhausen a large German army was sent
to the front in Alsace-Lorraine and succeeded in dislodging the French
from that city, but not without severe fighting.

Two weeks after the war began the French defeated a Bavarian corps in
Alsace and for awhile General Pau more than held his own in that former
province of France. On August 21 the Germans drove back the French who
had invaded Lorraine, and occupied Lunéville, ten miles inside the
French border.

About the same time the French reoccupied Muelhausen, after three days'
fighting around the city. Another French army was reported to be within
nineteen miles of Metz, But before the end of the month the French had
been compelled to evacuate both their former provinces. They continued
during September, however, to make frequent assaults on the German
frontier positions, but without regaining a sure foothold on German
soil, the bulk of their efforts being devoted to the defense of their
own frontier strongholds.


An official dispatch from the foreign office in Paris, dated August 28,

"Yesterday the French troops took the offensive in the
Vosges mountains and in the region between the Vosges and
Nancy, and their offensive has been interrupted, but the German
loss has been considerable.

"Our forces found, near Nancy, on a front of three kilometers,
2,500 dead Germans, and near Vitrimont, on a front
of four kilometers, 4,500 dead. Longwy, where the garrison
consisted of only one battalion, has capitulated to the Crown
Prince of Germany after a siege of twenty-four days."


The German view of early operations in Alsace-Lorraine was given in the
following dispatch September 2 from the headquarters of the general
staff at Aix-la-Chapelle:

"The French forces were trapped in Alsace-Lorraine.
Realizing that the French temperament was more likely to be
swayed by sentiment than by stern adherence to the rules
of actual warfare, the German staff selected its own battle
line and waited. The French did not disappoint. They
rushed across the border. They took Altkirch with little opposition.
Then they rushed on to Muelhausen. Through the
passes in the Vosges mountains they poured, horse, artillery,
foot - all branches of the service. Strasburg was to fall and
so swift was the French movement that lines of communication
were not guarded.

"Then the German general staff struck. Their troops
from Saarburg, from Strasburg and from Metz, under the
command of General von Heeringen, attacked the French all
along the line. They were utterly crushed. The Germans
took 10,000 Frenchmen prisoners and more than one hundred
guns of every description. Alsace-Lorraine is now reported
absolutely cleared of French troops.

"The armies of Crown Prince Frederick Wilhelm and of
Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria are moving in an irresistible
manner into France. In a 3-day battle below Metz
the French were terribly cut up and forced to retreat in almost
a rout. It is declared that in this engagement the French
lost 151 guns and were unable to make a stand against the victorious
Germans until they had passed inside of their secondary
line of defense."


Just prior to the declaration of war, cable dispatches from Paris told
of a remarkable series of posters dotting the countryside of France.
These posters, innocently advertising "Bouillon Kub," a German soup
preparation, were so cleverly printed by the German concern advertising
the soup, that they would act as signals to German army officers leading
their troops through France.

In one of our photographic illustrations, one of these "spy posters" is
seen posted on the left of an archway past which the French soldiers are
marching en route to meet the Germans near the Alsace frontier.

The ingenuity of the signs was remarkable. Thus a square yellow poster
would carry the information, "Food in abundance found here," while a
round red sign would advertise, "This ground is mined." Many geometrical
figures and most of the colors were utilized, and animal forms, flowers
and even the American Stars and Stripes were employed to convey their
messages of information.

The French Minister of the Interior got wind of the system, and orders

Online LibraryThomas Herbert RussellAmerica's War for Humanity → online text (page 16 of 49)