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i_m_bob

The "machine guns" of Mons ?

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i_m_bob

I'm looking for the original source(s) of a common legend of the battle at Mons in August 1914: that the British troops fired their rifles so rapidly that the Germans thought that they were being fired upon with many machine guns.

I encountered this in Tuchman's The Guns of August. Her source appears to have been Smith-Dorrien's account of the battle in his Memories of Forty-Eight Years Service.

He writes in Chapter 24: "The rapid and accurate rifle-fire to which our men had been trained was an eye-opener to the enemy, and they believed at the time that they were opposed by an enormous number of machine-guns."

My question is how did Smith-Dorrien know what the Germans believed. Is there a known German source for his statement?

Many thanks for considering my question.

--Bob

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Pete1052

If I recall correctly it had to do with the British use of the volley sights on their SMLE rifles. Those sights allowed the rifles to be used for a type of plunging fire on area targets at long ranges.

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jay dubaya

Walter Bloem springs to mind, he was an officer with the Brandenburg Grenadiers,

Jon

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Jack Sheldon

This is not a definitive reply, merely a few remarks for your consideration. One of the most detailed German regimental histories is that of IR 84, the regiment which stormed the bridge at Nimy. As far as Mons is concerned, it contains eleven detailed and mostly lengthy descriptions of the battle. None of the eyewitnesses confused rifle fire with machine gun fire. There are descriptions of 'heavy/very heavy fire', 'well-aimed fire', 'skills of concealment, camouflage and good shooting acquired in colonial wars' etc etc. Two witnesses, specifically describe 'rifle and machine gun fire'; two more 'very heavy Infanteriefeuer '[i.e. rifle fire]. One witness, Theodor Schroeder, decribes the locations of Dease's machine guns up on the railway bridge abutments precisely correctly. So I think we can take it that at least one of the regiments pricipally involved was under no false impression about the type of fire with which it had been engaged.

I shall check a few other sources, but I have to say I bracket this idea with other self-congratulatory assertions such as, 'as everyone knows, the such-and-such division was the one most feared by the Germans.'

One final point, which I raise not to knock the Holts, many of whose books I own, but to make the point about how myth and legend grows with the re-telling. This is their description of events at Nimy (Battlefields of the First World War p 10) :'A solid mass of soldiers in columns of fours came on towards the canal from the north. The Tommies were astounded. Their opponents moved as if on parade, as if taking part in some Napoleonic war game. They were ducks in a shooting gallery to the riflemen of the BEF who were trained to fire fifteen rounds a minute and capable of almost double that with such a target...The two machine guns commanded by Lieutenant Dease, sited on top of the embankment where you are standing at the southern end of the bridge, wreaked terrible havoc among the grey horde...'

Here are the casualty figures of IR 84, aka 'the grey horde', as supplied by the regimental adjutant. Note that these are the totals for the entire two day battle.

Killed: 1 officer, 3 NCOs, 20 OR

Wounded: 6 officers, 10 NCOs, 45 OR

Given that the strength of a regiment in 1914 was (give or take a few) 70 officers and 3,200 OR, losses of 7 officers and 78 OR, mean that most of the 'ducks in [the] shooting gallery' got away with it and, as for the machine guns, I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'terrible havoc.' It is instructive to walk St Symphorien cemetery, laid out by the Germans originally and count the German graves by regiments. There are not many.

Jack

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centurion

Major Pridham in "The superiority of fire" quotes from German Official Statements as saying. " over every bush, hedge and fragment of wall floated a thin film of smoke betraying a machine gun rattling out bullets" ...... "The enemy's superiority in machine guns was two fold, three fold, even four fold"

On Aug 24th 1914 the 2nd Batt Duke of Wellingtons Regiment stopped (at 800 yards) and drove back six German battalions on the Boussu Quevrain Rd. On the 11th Nov 1914 on the Menin Rd the same battalion stopped the advance of the 2nd Guard Grenadier Regiment of the Prussian Army killing or seriously wounding 15 officers and 500 men .

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Jack Sheldon

I wonder where Pridham got his information? One of the earliest published official versions of First Ypres is the monograph Die Schlacht an der Yser und bei Ypern im Herbst 1914, published on behalf of the General Staff in 1918. Of the British tactics, this states (pp 21-22), 'The British, following years of colonial campaigning against wily opponents in close country, would let the attacker move to within close range, then from hedges, houses and trees would open a hail of rifle and machine gun fire at point blank range...' The search goes on.

Jack

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centurion

Pridham was originally in the Duke of Wellingtons and then an Officer Instructor at Hythe. Given that he had retired by the end of WW2 I would guess that he had WW1 experience and may even have taken part in the action quoted. I would suspect that Hythe had access to German official reports when these became available in order to access the effectiveness of particular tactics.

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centurion

Barnes "The British Army of 1914" quotes an officer of the 24th (Brandenberg) Rgt "If we thought that the English had been shelled enough to be storm ripe we were fairly mistaken. They met us with well aimed fire ..... Suddenly when we were well in the open they turned their machine guns on" [barnes comments that there were no machine guns]. The officer goes on to say that his battalion "lost three company commanders, every second officer and every third man"

Barnes also quotes an official German report

"Well entrenched and completely hidden the enemy opened a murderous fire ... the casualties increased ... the rushes became shorter, and finally the whole advance stopped .... with bloody losses the attack gradually came to an end"

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i_m_bob
Walter Bloem springs to mind, he was an officer with the Brandenburg Grenadiers,

Jon

Jon-

Thank you for the reference to Bloem; his The Advance from Mons is available online. Bloem's account of the Mons canal battle does distinguish between rifle and machine gun fire, but also reports fairly heavy casulties in his unit.

--Bob

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phil andrade

Jack, your revelations shatter our cherished myths. I am disillusioned. Didn't German accounts testify to the Old Contemptibles giving a good account of themselves at Mons?

Were there any missing in addition to those casualties you cited?

As for the local cemetery, might the Germans have been moving on so quickly that they didn't stop long for recovery of their dead? Maybe many were taken to bigger cemeteries elsewhere. I have even read that the Germans cremated some of their dead: an intriguing picture in your book on the Somme comes to mind.

Or are we to accept the prospect that German casualties at Mons were relativley trivial? The figures you provide certainly suggest that they were.

Phil.

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jay dubaya

After the battle the battalion commander of the 12th Brandenburg Genadiers is reported to have said 'my proud, beautiflul battalion...shot to peices by the English, the English we laughed at'

Jon

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IanA

Henry Williamson took part in the Christmas truce of 1914 and claims to have spoken to a young German in no man's land who referred to the British 'machine pistols'.

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centurion

There are just too many specific references to high casualty rates amongst individual German units engaged to ignore. For example the German 64th Regiment lost "the adjutant, every fourth man and of three companies, every lieutenant"

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Jack Sheldon

Casualties are tricky - especially in the German army where exact information depends on how assiduous the authors of the regimental histories were and, as far as the Forum is concerned, if I happen to have a copy. In view of the fact that IR 64 has been raised, here are the figures for the two engagements at Mons (Jemappes and Frameries)

Jemappes: 2 OR of 9th Coy KIA, 1 Officer (Lt Morgenbesser of 11th Coy - wounded near Nimy) and 10 OR wounded

Frameries: Lt and Adjt Harald Vierow 1st Bn, Res Lt Wenzel 12th Coy and Offizierstellvertreter Liebenow 9th Coy plus 50 OR KIA; 8 Officers and 207 OR wounded; 14 men missing. Most of the casualties were from 1st Bn.

So between 55 and 69 were KIA and 217 wounded. Serious enough, but not enough to fill up the cemeteries and, incidentally, they inflicted at least the same number of casualties on the South Lancashires at Frameries, their machine guns up on a slag heap taking a particualrly heavy toll. One of the issues is the fact that when troops come under effective enemy fire (i.e. begin to take casualties), everyone hits the ground and takes cover. If they remain pinned down for some time, and there is ample evidence that this was so at both Mons and Le Cateau, there is a natural tendency to assume that huge numbers have been hit. Every fourth man? I do not think so. It was more like every eleventh man, though the percentage would have been higher in 1st Bn and lower in the other two.

Jack

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centurion

This proves little either way. Casualties do not appear to have been evenly distributed across the battle area so for example on the British side the 8th Brigade suffered over 50% of the casualties - the 1st corps only suffered 2.5% of the total. If we just look at one or the other we get two very different pictures. What we do know is that some German units received a severe mauling. If we take the casualties of the IR 64 and the 12 Brandenberg these two alone between them amount to half those of the British army.

The every fourth man is it seems a German not a British estimate.

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phil andrade
Casualties are tricky - especially in the German army where exact information depends on how assiduous the authors of the regimental histories were and, as far as the Forum is concerned, if I happen to have a copy. In view of the fact that IR 64 has been raised, here are the figures for the two engagements at Mons (Jemappes and Frameries)

Jemappes: 2 OR of 9th Coy KIA, 1 Officer (Lt Morgenbesser of 11th Coy - wounded near Nimy) and 10 OR wounded

Frameries: Lt and Adjt Harald Vierow 1st Bn, Res Lt Wenzel 12th Coy and Offizierstellvertreter Liebenow 9th Coy plus 50 OR KIA; 8 Officers and 207 OR wounded; 14 men missing. Most of the casualties were from 1st Bn.

So between 55 and 69 were KIA and 217 wounded. Serious enough, but not enough to fill up the cemeteries and, incidentally, they inflicted at least the same number of casualties on the South Lancashires at Frameries, their machine guns up on a slag heap taking a particualrly heavy toll. One of the issues is the fact that when troops come under effective enemy fire (i.e. begin to take casualties), everyone hits the ground and takes cover. If they remain pinned down for some time, and there is ample evidence that this was so at both Mons and Le Cateau, there is a natural tendency to assume that huge numbers have been hit. Every fourth man? I do not think so. It was more like every eleventh man, though the percentage would have been higher in 1st Bn and lower in the other two.

Jack

David Ascoli wrote that the Germans suffered a minimum of 6,000 casualties in the battle. The figures that you supply, Jack, indicate that this is a preposterous exaggeration.

I'm beginning to wonder if the Germans suffered fewer casualties than the British, who lost 1,600 men, of whom several hundred were unwounded prisoners.

Phil.

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centurion

On the evidence that Jack supplied plus figures from several sources it would seem that two German Regiments alone suffered over 800 casualties. It would seem unlikely that the rest of the German forces involved suffered less than 800 casualties betwen them

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Jack Sheldon

I shall try to find some additional information about casualties, but I do not hold out much hope of getting close to an overall definitive figure for German losses. As I have already said, it is a fraught subject, but we should be able get closer to a reasonable general impression. Certainly as Centurion says, the losses for IR 24 were high. So far I note that its 3rd Bn alone had only nine officers and 560 men from 1065 present for duty at the post-Frameries roll call.

Jack

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punjab612
I'm looking for the original source(s) of a common legend of the battle at Mons in August 1914: that the British troops fired their rifles so rapidly that the Germans thought that they were being fired upon with many machine guns.

Bob

Some evidence from the IWM Oral History Collection. From his recollections of operations as an officer with 1st Bn Northumberland Fusiliers defending the Mariette canal bridge, Mons 22/8/14

"...... by that time the firing was general alllll down the canal and was a most remendous noise; a most magnificet noise of rifle fire it sounded like all the Bisleys in the world going on at the same time with of coursethe echoes off the walls."

Officer was thet hen 2nd Lt Eric Dorman-Smith, later to become major-general and Aucheleck's CoS in the Middle East in WW2

Peter

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phil andrade
I shall try to find some additional information about casualties, but I do not hold out much hope of getting close to an overall definitive figure for German losses. As I have already said, it is a fraught subject, but we should be able get closer to a reasonable general impression. Certainly as Centurion says, the losses for IR 24 were high. So far I note that its 3rd Bn alone had only nine officers and 560 men from 1065 present for duty at the post-Frameries roll call.

Jack

A reasonable general impression would be much appreciated, Jack. This bothers me, as we are touching a raw nerve with our cherished perceptions of The Great War. We've been weaned on the stories of The Old Contemtibles , Kipling's "barrack room sweats", the professional working class soldiers of the BEF, "shooting the German attacks flat" at Mons. If you don't have an inkling of what the real figures were, nobody does.

Phil.

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Jack Sheldon

OK, here is another contribution. I have searched the Roll of Honour of IR 24, the regiment referred to in my last post. Here are the officer and company breakdowns (fatal casualties only)

Lts Georg Schiffmann, Johannes Graebke and Walter Ernst were KIA at Jemappes. Hauptmanns Ernst von Lorentz, Hans Lange, and Max Seeman; Oberleutnants Paul Philippi and Erich Muck; Lts Oskar-Heinrich von Klass and Kurt von Koenig were KIA at Frameries.

Jemappes Frameries

1 3 2

2 2 6

3 1 0

4 3 4

5 4 2

6 2 0

7 0 0

8 0 3 (+'Mons' 2)

9 1 3

10 6 6

11 0 11

12 0 29

In addition it appears that 3 of 10th Coy and 7 of 11th Coy died of wounds a day or two later - probably associated with these battles, so we end up with. 10 officers KIA (high figures, which suggest a lot of leading from the front in difficult circumstances) and 90 OR - 100 if we add those DOW. I have not managed to come up with a better figures for wounded and missing, other than that already quoted, but it does appear from the IR 64 figures and those for 3rd Bn IR 24 that the ratio of wounded to killed was rather high. This may be because the lightly wounded, whom the German army did not strike off the strength of their units, were included. Evidence from other battles suggests that this percentage tended to be high amongst the overall wounded figures, but to say any more would be speculation.

Jack

I see that my table did not work well. The first figure is the company number; the second Jemappes and the third Frameries.

Jack

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phil andrade

Thank you, Jack.

And so we have for IR 84 - Killed: 24; Wounded:61. For IR 64 - 69 killed ( assuming MIA were dead); 217 wounded. The hardest hit unit of those you've cited is IR 24 which lost 100 killed in action and 10 died from wounds; no figure for wounded or missing. The high ratio of officers killed to OR is significant in this regiment. The ratio of killed to wounded is high for IRs 84 and 64.

Forgive my ignorance, but were Jemappes and Frameries fought on seperate days i.e. 23rd and 24th August, or were they both part of the fighting on 23rd?

Phil.

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Jack Sheldon

This is the first part of an attempt at a more considered reply regarding casualties. It comes with every imaginable health warning, but is likely to be reasonably accurate as far as it goes.

There were three German corps operating in or around Mons: IX Corps (Gen der Inf von Quast), IV Corps (Gen der Inf Sixt von Arnim) and III Corps (Gen der Inf von Lochow). They and their constituent formations played widely varying roles over the two day period and only some of them were heavily engaged.

The first formation, IX Corps, was organised as follows: 17th Inf Div, comprising 33 Inf Bde (IRs 75 & 76) and 34 Inf Bde (Gren R 89, Fus R 90 & Jaeger Bn 9) & 18th Div comprising 35 Inf Bde (IR 84, Fus R 86) and 36 Inf Bde (IR 31, IR 85)

Here are the figures I have gleaned:

33 Bde (St Symphorien)

IR 75 KIA 39 OR; Wounded 5 officers and 232 OR; Missing 'up to' 40

IR 76 KIA 11 Wounded 79

34 Bde (Not much involved)

Gren R 89 KIA Lt Georg Gade & 2 OR; Wounded OLt Stratmann, 3 NCO & 19 OR

Fues R 90 History exists, but I do not have one. Figures unlikely to be high.

Jaeg Bn 9 was already working with Higher Cavalry Commander 2 by this stage.

35 Bde (Storming of bridges at Nimy and Obourg, advance into Mons)

IR 84 (Nimy) KIA 1 officer, 3 NCOs & 20 OR, Wounded 6 officers, 10 NCOs & 45 OR

Fues R 86 (Obourg) KIA 30 OR, Wounded 6 officers & 90 OR

36 Bde

IR 31 KIA 2 OR, Wounded 13

IR 85 KIA Hauptmann Hermann Groepper, Lts Heinrich Driver, Freiherr von Schele & Ernst Trebitz, Wounded 2 officers. There were also 184 OR casualties (KIA and wounded not differentiated).

The only tentative conclusions we can, perhaps, draw from these figures is that the fight for the bridges does not seem to match the popularly reported German blood bath. Work continues.

Jack

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Jack Sheldon

Sorry

I failed to answer the question: Jemappes 23 Aug; Frameries the following day.

Jack

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centurion

I've seen a Red Cross reference to 70,000 German casualties having been evacuated by ambulance trains after the fighting

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