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The "machine guns" of Mons ?


i_m_bob
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If that refers to the entire front, it is entirely probable. I suspect it could even be more. 22 August, for example, was a day of immensely heavy fighting between the French and the German armies. In overall terms Mons was but one battle of many at that time.

Jack

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A fascinating thread and whilst not seeking to be controversialI would add; the figures are extremely interesting and the question as to the the Germans mistaking rifle fire for that of machine gun fire as yet inconclusive, and fascinatingly illusive. However the effects of British fire seem very clear on the assaulting Germans. It certainly severely disrupted attacks and German freedom of movement. (And from the reports quoted had an effect on moral (morale) as the British put it, not least Thompson Capper (CO 7th Infantry Division and Inspector of Infantry until Sept 1914) preached loudly the objective of creating/and need for troops having higher moral than the enemy before the war)

Has disruption, denial of freedom of movement and morale sapping not always been an acceptable, and recocgnised, objective of smallarms fire? As an aside, I do not see that the fact that the German casualty figures may - well - be lower than popularly accepted in any way traduces the BEF or questions its effectiveness with the SMLE and all the primary evidence that I have seen for the early stages of the war (particularly at 1st Ypres) indicates the reputation that the BEF earned from the Germans. (Perhaps the boys just hadn't got their eyes in yet!)

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Private in the West Kents "They made a nice target, even if you were a third class shot you were bound to hit something"

Another RWK private on reaching a dressing station was asked by Major H S Thurston (RAMC) "How are things up at the front" and replied

"Grand Sir, I was a first class shot when I left the army. Since then I have been employed as a game keeper to an estate in Kent. I have just been recalled to the colours. Both our machine guns got overheated through continuous firring and jammed. With my rifle, before I was wounded, I fired 130 rounds at from 200 to 300 yards range. If I haven't killed and wounded 80 of them I ought to be reduced to a third class shot tomorrow. To tell you the truth Sir, rabbit shooting aint in it."

The Germans initially attacked in close order, making themselves particularly good targets, and persisted in their assaults.

Getting back to the original subject it should be considered that most of the German troops of all ranks probably had relatively little experience of being under fire (training involving live rounds being fired just over head being a thing of the future) and especially not machine gun fire. Telling rifle from machine gun fire in what must have been a very noisy and very stressful environment would have been difficult. If you have been pasted by a force of inferior numbers and one which you underrated its natural to look for a reason for this - such as overestimating how many machine guns they had.

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I am trying to retain a narrow focus as much as possible and produce the best casualty figures that I can - for the sake of interest as much as anything. A couple of supplementary remarks are probably in order. Virtually all the German sources express respect for the British following the first of their clashes with them. This applies equally well to Le Cateau as Mons. The only real exception is a derogatory remark about the Highlanders captured at Mons, where one of the histories remarks that they all had a good laugh at the Scots in their 'little coloured skirts.' I suspect that they changed their tune on closer acquaintance. I cannot find a shred of evidence in support of the original contention that the Germans thought that they were being machine gunned, when rifles were involved. This does not mean that it does not appear somewhere; merely that I have not found a sound reference yet. It would certainly help this discussion if somebody could produce one of the references or 'official sources' that appear in British assertions on the subject. I have nowhere near finished looking for figures from Mons, but even now I simply do not buy into the British causing 70,000 wounded in the early clashes; Le Cateau notwithstanding. Nigel Cave and I did a lot of work on the casualties for that battle and decided that the British figure ascribed to the battle was grossly exaggerated, whilst that for the Germans - even using the most pessimistic figures and adding some on for luck - could not be made to exceed 2,000. I do not want to start an argument over this point either but, regardless of all the factors involved, the side in possession of a battlefield at the end of a battle has won it, especially when meeting engagements are involved. The BEF fought well it both Mons and Le Cateau, where the German army blew a great opportunity to surround at least II Corps, but in both cases the BEF retreated from the field leaving it to the Germans, who were in no doubt that they had won victories.

Jack

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Thank you again, Jack. Why, I wonder, with these definitve German casualty figures being available, have no historians hitherto come forward with them? They certainly make my perception of the battle change.

Might we extrapolate from the figures you've cited and draw a tentative conclusion about the order of magnitude of German casualties against the British in those two days? The range of loss is very different, from trivial to serious, and if we average them out and apply them to a notional total of all the German regiments engaged, we might be able to take a reasonable guess. This is how Martin Middlebrooke arrived at his estimate for German losses on March 21st 1918.

If the German casualties at Le Cateau did not exceed two thousand, then the Ascoli estimate of 6,000 for August 23rd at Mons is totally discredited. I find it confusing, especially after reading the accounts of Bloem, Binding etc.

Sorry to press you on this one, Jack, I know you find statistical analysis of casualties unpalatable, but I really want to get some kind of assesment as to how effective that British firepower was at Mons.

Phil.

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Telling rifle from machine gun fire in what must have been a very noisy and very stressful environment would have been difficult. If you have been pasted by a force of inferior numbers and one which you underrated it's natural to look for a reason for this - such as overestimating how many machine guns they had.

There has been much recent discussion of this phenomenon in the "Turkish Machine Guns at Gallipoli" thread in Classic Threads. Some Australian reports on one of the landings there apparently overstated the amount of machine gun fire that was received.

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..................

Might we extrapolate from the figures you've cited and draw a tentative conclusion about the order of magnitude of German casualties against the British in those two days? The range of loss is very different, from trivial to serious, and if we average them out and apply them to a notional total of all the German regiments engaged, we might be able to take a reasonable guess. This is how Martin Middlebrooke arrived at his estimate for German losses on March 21st 1918.

............................

................ I really want to get some kind of assesment as to how effective that British firepower was at Mons.

Phil.

Sorry to be a fuddy duddy but any reasonable estimate must be based on accurate figures. We can play around with averages and means and so on until the cows come home but unless the figures are accurate, we are not making an estimate, we are making guesses. I think Centurion has touched on an important point. The Germans had started well and were flushed with success. When they were checked to some degree at Mons and Le Cateau, they naturally looked for a reason to explain why an army which had been and still was at that time, underestimated, had delivered that check. High numbers of machine guns would be one possible reason which might be seized upon. The actual number of casualties would be less important than the fact that they were considerably higher than expected and high enough to allow the BEF to make a fighting withdrawal and escape envelopment.

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I am currently homing in on III Corps casualties because that corps was rather more closely associated with the main fighting for Mons, than was IV Corps, which only seem to have come into the battle on 24 August and then their effort was aimed at Audregnies, a solid 20 km or more from Mons. I am not quite sure, truthergw, whence you have derived your thoughts about the Germans seeking an explanation for the checks they had received. As far as I can tell, they fought the British where they found them then pressed on, rather as they were doing all along the Western Front at that time. There does not seem to have been any pause for reflection at all, though their historians all made the point strongly after the war that the opposition offered by the BEF was way in excess of anything they had encountered from the Belgians. Although they suffered quite high casualties during this phase of operations, they were no worse than those they were experiencing elsewhere at the time and certainly no cause for particular alarm.

Jack

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If that refers to the entire front, it is entirely probable. I suspect it could even be more. 22 August, for example, was a day of immensely heavy fighting between the French and the German armies. In overall terms Mons was but one battle of many at that time.

Jack

For the whole month of August, the German casualties on the Western Front, according to their Medical History, amounted to 136,000 of whom 47,000 were killed or missing and 89,000 wounded. Bearing in mind the enormity of the battles between the French and the Germans, it's hard to imagine that the fighting against the BEF could have accounted for any more than ten per cent of that total. Indeed, ten per cent seems on the high side. And only a fraction of those would have occurred at Mons.

Phil.

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Jack,

I know you do not want to be drawn into an argument, and this is not for argument's sake. However, I still feel it needs to be pointed out (in the event of any interested parties) that there was no intention of 'defending Mons to the last' or hold ground indefinitely. It was a delaying operation (for 24 hours) to allow the French to sort out their issues. The plan was to fall back to positions a couple of miles back. As I am sure most people with an interest are aware, but apparently unbeknown to the British at the time, that the French 5th Army (Lanzerac) had pulled back and the BEF had to pull back in sympathy. I do believe, however, that the British pulling back was fortuitous (regardless of the grizzling of the British troops about retreating), as, with an exposed right flank, I am sure that this would have amounted to the separation of the BEF from the mainstay of its large coalition ally (the French Army) and would have most probably resulted in it being surrounded and defeated.

It is also worth pointing out that there are good first had accounts from both sides (I appreciate that this is a narrow sample - but it's all I have at hand):

John Lucy (2nd Royal Irish Rifles): There's a Devil in the Drum

Walter Bloem (12th Brandenburg Grenadiers): The Advance from Mons 1914: The Experiences of a German Infantry Officer

Regardless of ground taken, it is worth noting that John Lucy feels that the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles have issued a good hammering, and conversely, Walter Bloem feels that his unit has received a good hammering. He puts in an interesting account of the advance to the British (and how they were difficult to see) and as you have stated: the fast and deadly fire they were to come under - at close range.

I was wondering whether the Germans had an equivalent of Soldiers Died in the Great War, or listings of casualties by date, in sources such Appendices of their equivalent of Regimental Histories?

Anyway, food for thought.

Aye

Tom McC

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...............

I am not quite sure, truthergw, whence you have derived your thoughts about the Germans seeking an explanation for the checks they had received. As far as I can tell, they fought the British where they found them then pressed on, rather as they were doing all along the Western Front at that time. There does not seem to have been any pause for reflection at all, though their historians all made the point strongly after the war that the opposition offered by the BEF was way in excess of anything they had encountered from the Belgians. ...............

Jack

Since we were discussing casualty figures as quoted by various historians, I thought that a comment on why historians might exaggerate figures or not go out of their way to correct misapprehensions, might be apposite.

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Read Lyn MacDonalds 1914 recently,she mentions that" the germans believed,and long after the war they went on believing,that the british had beaten them back with machine guns" Am not sure if she names her source.

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I don't think it has been said yet, but, if found, a German account of being shot at by British machine guns may be because they were shot at by British machine guns. We did have a few.

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Have we just been kidding ourselves about this battle for generations, then?

If it transpires that the Germans succeeded in gaining the field at Mons without suffering casualties that were significantly heavier than those they inflicted, then all the impressions that British accounts ( and, indeed, several German accounts) convey about the events of the first major clash between the BEF and the German army are discredited.

Phil.

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Have we just been kidding ourselves about this battle for generations, then?

If it transpires that the Germans succeeded in gaining the field at Mons without suffering casualties that were significantly heavier than those they inflicted, then all the impressions that British accounts ( and, indeed, several German accounts) convey about the events of the first major clash between the BEF and the German army are discredited.

Phil.

Phil, you seem to be quickly jumping to conclusions. At the moment, the only evidence of "light" German casualties at Mons are a few figures quoted by Jack (which carry, as he says himself, a massive health warning) and a bit of statistical sleight-of-hand. I think a little more "evidence" is needed before readily jumping to such conclusions i.e. whether heavy casualties or not, the Germans only took the field at Mons after the BEF withdrew, they didn't take it by direct force of arms on the day (when in theory, given the size of the opposing forces, they should have done).

Cheers-salesie.

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centurion-

Would you be so kind as to furnish a source for the quotes from the Privates in the West Kents, which you gave above? I am regrettably ignorant of much of the literature pertinent to the battle at Mons.

Many thanks.

--Bob

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Mons by John Terraine contains a few references to confirm the German's thought they were facing MGs including ....

Hauptmann von Brandis 24th Brandenburg Regiment

'There were only dead and wounded to be seen. Tommy seems to have waited for the moment of the assualt.

He had carefully studied our training manuals, and suddenly, when we were well in the open, he turned his machine guns on.'

The 'machine guns' were of course the rapid rifle fire of the 1st Licolns assisted by the shrapnell of the 109th Battery.

Certainly a book to consider when studying Mons and le Cateau in any depth.

Regards Jarvis.

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Hi All,

Just out of interest, if you google: The Advance from Mons 1914,

the first hit is: books.google.co.uk/books?isbn=1874622574....

Click on this and you can read Walter Bloem's account. Pages 38-52 cover Mons. Page 45 covers a small excerpt of British MG fire. In the footnotes it covers the British units involved. 'Grey corpses lying all over the meadow' page 46. Officer casualties page 48.

Page 49 (Below), sums up Bloem's opinion of the action. The whole account (pages 38-52), describes the transformation from a confident battalion to one considerably depleted in Fighting Power - IMHO.

Aye

Tom McC

post-10175-1220980460.jpg

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centurion-

Would you be so kind as to furnish a source for the quotes from the Privates in the West Kents, which you gave above? I am regrettably ignorant of much of the literature pertinent to the battle at Mons.

Many thanks.

--Bob

Superiority of fire - the basic principles of Fire Tactics by Major C H B Pridham Duke of Wellingtons Regiment and later Officer Instructor at Hythe. In his forward to the book he acknowledges the regimental history of the Royal West Kent Regiment.

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Sorry I have been out of this for a bit, finishing off a chapter of my Cambrai book. Salesie, the few figures I have provided so far give you an overview of of the casualties suffered by one third of all the forces deployed against the BEF. You are right that they are few, but that is because this battle only involved a few German regiments and even fewer of these were heavily engaged. As far as ground being captured/or evacuated is concerned (not that it makes much difference in battle) I suggest you take a closer look at events by the bridges at Nimy and Obourg. They were pretty evidentally taken by storm. The key to Nimy, for example, was an action by Musketier Niemeyer of 8th Coy IR 84, who swam the canal under fire, got hold of a boat which enabled Sergeant Roewer's section to get across, again under heavy fire then, whilst Roewer's men kept up the firefight, managed to swing the bridge open, which enabled the men of IR 84 to swarm across. Niemeyer was killed moments after this, but his action would have earned him the VC if he had been British.

I hope to produce the III Corps figures later. These include heavy casualties suffered by Grenadier Regts 8 & 12.

Jack

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This is the information relating to casualties in III Corps. The organisation of this corps was: 5th Inf Div with 9 Bde (Gren Regt 8 & IR 48) & 10 Bde ( Gren Regt 12, IR 52 and Jaeger Bn 3 (with HKK 2)); 6th Div with 11 Bde (IR 20 & Fus Regt 35) & 12 Bde (IR 24 & IR 64)

Casualties were as follows:

Gren 8 KIA Lt Dennstedt (11th Coy), Lt Wieser (12th Coy)., Lt von Boretzky-Cornitz (1st Coy) and Offizierstellvertreter Zimpfer (10th Coy) plus 29 OR; wounded 62, of whom six were officers.

IR 48 was barely engaged. It suffered KIA 3 OR, Wounded, Hptm Gerlach plus 24 OR.

Gren 12 (hardest hit by far). KIA Maj Prager (CO 3rd Bn, OLt von Hangwitz, Adjt 2nd Bn; 3 Company Commanders: Hptm Spiegel (12th Coy, Olt Drees gen Goerdt (4th), Hptm von Stocki (9th); 6 platoon commanders: Lts Grapow, Thiele, Leo, Graeser, Faehnrich Tettenborn, Offizierstellvertreter Riese. Wounded Regtl Adjt von Hagen, 2 Coy Commanders and 13 platoon commanders.

KIA 62 OR wounded 401 OR, missing 137 (but some (fig unknown) turned up later)

IR 52 KIA Olt von Negelein, Lt Koopman, Lt Burgatzky plus 24 OR; wounded 3 officers and 125 OR; missing 11 OR.

IR 20 KIA 40; wounded 151 (including OLt Rank 7th Coy) 10 missing. Most casualties were from 2nd Bn.

Fus Regt 35 Corps reserve for Frameries. Not enaged. No cas

IRs 24 and 64 have already been covered. I could tackle IV Corps if anyone is interested, but none of its formations operated within twenty km of Mons.

Hope this helps.

Jack

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Jack,

Do you have any casualty figures for Infantry Regiments 75 and 76 on the British right flank (1st Gordons, 2nd Royal Irish [Regiment], & 2nd Royal Scots) please?

Aye

Tom McC

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This is the information relating to casualties in III Corps. The organisation of this corps was: 5th Inf Div with 9 Bde (Gren Regt 8 & IR 48) & 10 Bde ( Gren Regt 12, IR 52 and Jaeger Bn 3 (with HKK 2)); 6th Div with 11 Bde (IR 20 & Fus Regt 35) & 12 Bde (IR 24 & IR 64)

Casualties were as follows:

Gren 8 KIA Lt Dennstedt (11th Coy), Lt Wieser (12th Coy)., Lt von Boretzky-Cornitz (1st Coy) and Offizierstellvertreter Zimpfer (10th Coy) plus 29 OR; wounded 62, of whom six were officers.

IR 48 was barely engaged. It suffered KIA 3 OR, Wounded, Hptm Gerlach plus 24 OR.

Gren 12 (hardest hit by far). KIA Maj Prager (CO 3rd Bn, OLt von Hangwitz, Adjt 2nd Bn; 3 Company Commanders: Hptm Spiegel (12th Coy, Olt Drees gen Goerdt (4th), Hptm von Stocki (9th); 6 platoon commanders: Lts Grapow, Thiele, Leo, Graeser, Faehnrich Tettenborn, Offizierstellvertreter Riese. Wounded Regtl Adjt von Hagen, 2 Coy Commanders and 13 platoon commanders.

KIA 62 OR wounded 401 OR, missing 137 (but some (fig unknown) turned up later)

IR 52 KIA Olt von Negelein, Lt Koopman, Lt Burgatzky plus 24 OR; wounded 3 officers and 125 OR; missing 11 OR.

IR 20 KIA 40; wounded 151 (including OLt Rank 7th Coy) 10 missing. Most casualties were from 2nd Bn.

Fus Regt 35 Corps reserve for Frameries. Not enaged. No cas

IRs 24 and 64 have already been covered. I could tackle IV Corps if anyone is interested, but none of its formations operated within twenty km of Mons.

Hope this helps.

Jack

Jack, that does indeed help; thank you very much.

Taking a very quick stab at the arithmetic, and applying guesswork to where breakdowns into categories of killed, wounded and missing are not given separately, it looks as if the aggregate German casualty list for those two days would be in the order of 3,000, of whom roughly 500 were killed outright. The British are said to have suffered 1,600 casualties on the 23rd and 2,000 on the 24th. Allowing for the fact that the British figures include a substantial proportion of unwounded prisoners, the suggestion is that in terms of killed and wounded, the German loss might have exceeded that of the British, but only by a small margin. This repudiates the traditional image of the battle. From now on, I will have to view the British accounts of the slaughter meeted out by "fifteen rounds rapid" with more circumspection.

Phil.

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