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Zuber and Mons


phil andrade
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Robert, Salesie, please go out back to settle your quarrel and let the rest of us discuss the book. Joe, I am not sure I would wish to recommend a book simply because it caused heated discussion. Every book on Haig does that and they are not all to be recommended.

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True. I am just excited about the way he does it. He always seems to have a significantly different approach. It very much works for me but I can see your point.

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No, it is not about making, or agreeing with, 'populist' ideas. It is about discussing things in a more respectful way, without suggesting that people are trying to 'fob' you off, or using what some people perceive as derogatory terms, or without seeming to dictate how people should respond to your posts, or adopting a seeming superior air and then stating you won't continue to participate if someone doesn't seem to play to your 'rules'.

Robert

I think we've been here before, Robert - you do realise that you're wasting your time following this line?

Here's a poem of mine addressed those who would seek to advise others about their "style":

Cheers-salesie.

Vive La Difference!

Where comes my need to alter wrong,

If all would sing the same old song?

A fool’s ideal to have us cloned,

All alike, manners honed.

Where comes my spur to pass the test,

If no conflict how do we progress?

Made the same our stride stands still,

For that destroys freedom of will.

Where comes my will to stand and fight,

Opposing those who know only might?

No moans from me about human strife,

All in all it’s a part of life.

So when shaping words into sense,

Remember without La Difference,

Every chapter becomes the same

And every story just as lame.

Where comes my desire to think and be,

If all who live are just like me?

© John Sales 2003.

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I think perhaps we all better read the new book before we analyse any more fully !!!

The previous Zuber book has been well discussed on earlier threads but that is what we seem to have come back to. [i've been away for all of a day and as Tom noted a personal war seems to have broken out !!]. I will certainly buy his new book (and Herwig's) to help me understand further those opening encounters. As a non-military person I found the depth of "dry" information extremely useful (basic stuff like road kilometres taken up by a divisional column etc). As Robert suggests it also highlighted the reaasons for the French defeats on 22 August; not just the "offensive a outrance", German training/tactics; empowerment of German lower ranks to take decisions, impact of the terrain.

I am relatively new to studying these battles but am fortunate to spend some of the year where the Ardennes encounters of the Battle of the Frontiers took place. I think it is fair to say that the terrain of the Ardennes emphasised the German advantages whilst at the same time reducing the effectiveness of the French. The "offensive a outrance" requires the divisional commanding officer to ride with the avant-garde, for the avant-garde to attack and fix the enemy, whilst the main body of the division maneouvres to engage and deliver the decisive blow. IMHO this tactic was beyond the battlefield communications of the time, particularly exascerbated by the narrow valleys that ran North/South in the approach to the Semois. They met the Germans in greater force than anticipated, couldn't communicate quick enough to enable effective manouevring to take place (also restricted by the terrain). Subordinate French officers awaited orders that didn't come, weren't empowered to use their initiative like their German counterparts and slaughter resulted. On at least two occasions a large proportion of the divisional artillery was caught in column and destroyed.

Having spent many hours last summer walking and cycling the various local "battlefields" it is easy to see with the steep hills that the limitations of the French 75, in those circumstances, were exposed.

These were the opening encounters; the French (and Joffre in particular) learnt quickly, many commanders were changed, either due to death or dismissal, the terrain changed and they were fighting a rearguard action not an offensive one.

An interesting debate.

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I think we've been here before, Robert - you do realise that you're wasting your time following this line?

Salesie - Robert has gracefully withdrawn. Might I ask you to do the same and not goad a fellow member?

The pair of you disagree, which is of course great for the rest of us as we learn much from the eloquence and knowledge of the both of you. So, perhaps when you've both had the opportunity to read the book in question on this thread I can ring the bell for Round 2? :P

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I think perhaps we all better read the new book before we analyse any more fully !!!

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

These were the opening encounters; the French (and Joffre in particular) learnt quickly, many commanders were changed, either due to death or dismissal, the terrain changed and they were fighting a rearguard action not an offensive one.

An interesting debate.

Hi Steve. I envy you the chance to walk and cycle the battlefields. One morning strolling is worth a book at least. I have returned to Zuber a couple of times to harvest the fruits of his research. My preference is for factual reporting and I could not fault him there if it were not for the Initials which tend to proliferate. I am getting too old to remember the differences between AK, KR, DC et al. I am still struggling with GAN and OHL.

I think Zuber likes to explode myths. He rejects a Schlieffen Plan and his newest book is going to expose the truth about Mons. Ordered today and due next week. I'll add my review in time. In his Ardennes book he set out to explode the myth of offense a l'outrance being the reason for the disastrous French defeats in the Battles of the Frontiers. He certainly raised very serious questions and demonstrated fairly convincingly that it was not a sufficient reason for the results, a lot was due to superior performance by German forces. I think however, he overegged the pudding. He ascribed the French defeats to one and only one reason, German superiority. We ought not to throw the baby out with the bath water though. He did a lot of work and the results are in the book. We should simply filter his conclusions and add the possibility that there were other reasons in addition to his, including over reliance on the teachings of St. Cyr and the blind application of doctrine in all cases. The final book on the Battles of the Frontiers waits to be written but I am quite sure it will incorporate a lot of Zuber's research.

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Good evening Tom,

I agree, Zuber (or his publishers) needs to sell his books, hence the provocative advance publicity, hence the previous title "Battle of the Ardennes" (search Amazon for WW2 Ardennes books ?!).

I agree with Robert when he says there were other reasons other than "offensive a outrance" (better German training and tactics, limitations of French artillery, ineffective French cavalry reconnaisance etc.) but it was still a major factor: not the simplistic "attack the enemy where he is found" mantra that is associated with it but the inherent organisation of the French forces, the command structure and the divisional communications that the tactic espoused. These weren't adequate, particularly in the terrain of that part of the Ardennes that the French army found itself.

I restrict my observations to the battles fought that August weekend in the sector from the north of Neufchateau to the south of Virton but from them I think that some of the important factors in the change in French fortunes in the following weeks are down to the change in terrain and perhaps more importantly that they were fighting a rear-guard action then a counter-attack, not an "offensive a outrance".

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Salesie - Robert has gracefully withdrawn. Might I ask you to do the same and not goad a fellow member?

The pair of you disagree, which is of course great for the rest of us as we learn much from the eloquence and knowledge of the both of you. So, perhaps when you've both had the opportunity to read the book in question on this thread I can ring the bell for Round 2? :P

Consider it already done, my last post crossed with Robert's apology to Tom and I realised then it was time to quit - here's to round two or three or four or....

Cheers-salesie.

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What's distressing about it, Phil?

Cheers-salesie.

It upset me. I love the stories that I grew up with....Mons had a special magic : I could reconcile myself to the need to change our perceptions of the Battle of Britain - maybe the "few" were not quite so superior to their German counterparts after all; I could even cope with suggestions that Agincourt might not have been quite the David v Goliath affair that we had always imagined. But Mons....that was a reassuring and steadfast demonstration of a special British achievement. Now it's been ruined !

Phil

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If I may, I'd like to point out that there was quite a bit of variation in the application of tactics in the German army, especially in 1914. Corps commanders had an amazing amount of freedom to when it came to training their units, and at the lower level company commanders the same. This decentralization makes it difficult to make blanket statements about one side being "more tactically adept" than the other. Units in the same division and brigade could employ different tactical techniques.

The Germans themselves lamented that many of the lessons learned from the wars leading up to 1914 were communicated in official and unofficial publications, but were often not translated into practice in peacetime training, or wartime.

German Army tactics were in flux before and during the war, but the flux was itself not uniform across the organization.

Paul

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In the decade(s) before the war, there was ongoing discussion( to put it mildly) in both Germany and France as to the make up of the army in time of war and how best to employ the reserves. There was genuine difference of opinion and a true dilemma. Germany decided to put her reserves into the front line and give them the same tasks as her active units. This helped to baffle the French intelligence for some time but it would have thrown up one of the genuine reasons for misgiving on this practice. Reserves are simply not as fit or as well trained as the serving soldiers and their officers may well not be aware of the current ideas and best practices. Our old favourite Walter Bloem was a successful author and playwright in real life. We might well question how he and the hundreds of other reserve officers would measure up to a full time regular straight from the exercise grounds. The idea that there was a German Army consisting of well drilled, superbly led troops needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Another myth may have to bite the dust. Britain did not have a monopoly on inefficient officers. In fact, in 1914, there may have been a shortage of them as with all other supplies.

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It upset me. I love the stories that I grew up with....Mons had a special magic : I could reconcile myself to the need to change our perceptions of the Battle of Britain - maybe the "few" were not quite so superior to their German counterparts after all; I could even cope with suggestions that Agincourt might not have been quite the David v Goliath affair that we had always imagined. But Mons....that was a reassuring and steadfast demonstration of a special British achievement. Now it's been ruined !

Phil

I'm not sure I understand, Phil - Zuber's book has ruined what you always perceived as a British achievement before you've even read it?

Perhaps the words of von Kluck himself may convince you to read it with a more open mind, "...I always had the greatest admiration for the British Expeditionary Force. It was the wonderful kernel of a great Army. I have already said it in my book. The way the retreat was carried out was remarkable. I tried very hard to outflank them, but I could not do so. If I had succeeded the war would have been won."

Zuber, and others, could possibly say that this was post-war excuse making on von Kluck's part, but never forget that they were not there, they never had to lead Germany's 1st Army in that campaign against the BEF. And although this wouldn't invalidate their opinions per se, I think that our knowledge of subsequent events to Mons tell us that there is more than a sprinkling of truth in von Kluck's words.

Cheers-salesie.

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The idea that there was a German Army consisting of well drilled, superbly led troops needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Another myth may have to bite the dust. Britain did not have a monopoly on inefficient officers. In fact, in 1914, there may have been a shortage of them as with all other supplies.

A good, hard hitting point, Tom.

There is an inferrence in some accounts of Mons that the British, taking the lessons of Colenso and Magerfonstein to heart, had learnt better than their Franco-German counterparts how to deploy prudently on the battlefield and make the most effective use of musketry. If this were so, then how much more salutary must have been the example of Gravelotte-St Privat for German military doctrine ?

A lot earlier, I know, but a very sanguinary lesson indeed about the effect of firepower on advancing infantry formations. I have to ask : doesn't the story of dense masses of German infantry advancing shoulder to shoulder at Mons begin to lose credence in this light ?

Phil

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I'm not sure I understand, Phil - Zuber's book has ruined what you always perceived as a British achievement before you've even read it?

Cheers-salesie.

Browsing through it was enough - especially after my encounter with his Ardennes book. A quick referrence to conclusions made it abundantly clear that my cherished view of Mons was under threat. But, of course, you're right...I must read it properly and keep an open mind.

Phil

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A good, hard hitting point, Tom.

There is an inferrence in some accounts of Mons that the British, taking the lessons of Colenso and Magerfonstein to heart, had learnt better than their Franco-German counterparts how to deploy prudently on the battlefield and make the most effective use of musketry. If this were so, then how much more salutary must have been the example of Gravelotte-St Privat for German military doctrine ?

A lot earlier, I know, but a very sanguinary lesson indeed about the effect of firepower on advancing infantry formations. I have to ask : doesn't the story of dense masses of German infantry advancing shoulder to shoulder at Mons begin to lose credence in this light ?

Phil

Phil, the German infantry was still forming up in column and large formations within sight and range of field artillery at Le Cateau. They may well have suffered a large proportion of their casualties to this. This is possibly an instance of the lack of training and experience in the Reserves to which I referred previously. Both German and British sources refer to it happening again at 1st Ypres. The ' Kindermord' is referred to in the Schlachten series based on the Reichsarchiv histories. So, the practice is attested at 2 subsequent battles at least. Inexperienced troops instinctively bunch together when attacked, inexperienced officers may well underestimate the range and effect of enemy artillery and leave it too late to disperse from column.

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Good morning Tom and Phil,

One of the points that Zuber makes is the amount of time made available, and access to vast training grounds (such as Eisenborn), for the reserves and regulars to train and "wargame" together. In a more liberal France this was never going to be the case. Zuber then goes on to make the point that French historians have often erroneously put the initial German successes down to the German military "culture" (against French elan) rather than this superior training; I would suggest that it was that German military "culture" that facilitated this training.

The German soldiers advantage was more marked in the earlier encounters; I am told you learn quickly in combat and The French did just that over the following weeks. as I have said IMHO the terrain of the southern Ardennes played an important part in the initial disparity at arms, where the French deficiencies exascerbated the German superiorities.

I suppose in over-simplistic terms in those opening battles the French possessed quantity, the BEF quality but the Germans both. It was then perhaps easier for the French to learn more quickly, catch up more rapidly, than for the Germans to improve further (particularly as logistics and supply lines lengthened for them and shortened for the French)

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Tom's observations about the quality and experience of troops make me realise that we don't appear to have discussed the division of Germany's 'crack troops' and other highest quality resources (artillery, aircraft, etc) between the northern, central and southern fronts in 1914.

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Good afternoon Tom,

Taking your point about German reserves further, bearing in mind Mick's open question, it may have been that they were better/better led in the southern Ardennes but they seem to have been more effective there, or perhaps just not tested by the French in those circumstances, like they were further north by the French and BEF, or both ?

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I am looking forward to the day when we all have our copies of this book and can discuss the contents. :rolleyes: Mine is still on the way, I am afraid but, in the meantime, I should like to seize on the point which talks about reserve units and formations which deployed in August 1914 and those which took the field with Fourth Army at First Ypres in mid October of that year as though they were in any way equivalent. I am just putting the finishing touches to my next book which concerns this and I must register right away that there can be no comparison between the standards pertaining in the reserve units that first marched away, their ranks filled out by men who had completed either two or three years in the ranks reasonably recently and the men who went to their fate after a mere ten weeks of largely useless training, dressed and equipped in the dregs of what was lying about forgotten in Germany once everyone else had been mobilised.

Here are the words with which I conclude the chapter on the first battles for Langemark: 'The preliminary attempt to take Langemark by storm was a complete and utter failure. Unrealistic demands had been made of men badly commanded, ill-prepared and inadequately supported. It is, perhaps, wrong to talk of a cover up, but it is a constant in military history that the bigger the disaster, the more praise and rewards are heaped on the survivors, if only to deflect frequently justifiable criticism of those responsible. The wanton sacrifice, the callous exploitation of their idealism and courage and, quite frankly, their betrayal caused by the incompetence of their superiors, was and remains, a scandal. The soldiers who attacked Langemark effectively achieved nothing on the battlefield, but they were, nevertheless, awarded an enduring place in the history of the war as myth was laid over legend and the 'Spirit of Langemark' was exploited between the wars for unscrupulous ends.'

I defy anybody to provide a similarly justified criticism of any operation elsewhere by reserve troops, apart from the other poor unfortunates of Fourth Army.

Jack

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I am looking forward to the day when we all have our copies of this book and can discuss the contents. :rolleyes: Mine is still on the way, I am afraid but, in the meantime, I should like to seize on the point which talks about reserve units and formations which deployed in August 1914 and those which took the field with Fourth Army at First Ypres in mid October of that year as though they were in any way equivalent. I am just putting the finishing touches to my next book which concerns this and I must register right away that there can be no comparison between the standards pertaining in the reserve units that first marched away, their ranks filled out by men who had completed either two or three years in the ranks reasonably recently and the men who went to their fate after a mere ten weeks of largely useless training, dressed and equipped in the dregs of what was lying about forgotten in Germany once everyone else had been mobilised.

Here are the words with which I conclude the chapter on the first battles for Langemark: 'The preliminary attempt to take Langemark by storm was a complete and utter failure. Unrealistic demands had been made of men badly commanded, ill-prepared and inadequately supported. It is, perhaps, wrong to talk of a cover up, but it is a constant in military history that the bigger the disaster, the more praise and rewards are heaped on the survivors, if only to deflect frequently justifiable criticism of those responsible. The wanton sacrifice, the callous exploitation of their idealism and courage and, quite frankly, their betrayal caused by the incompetence of their superiors, was and remains, a scandal. The soldiers who attacked Langemark effectively achieved nothing on the battlefield, but they were, nevertheless, awarded an enduring place in the history of the war as myth was laid over legend and the 'Spirit of Langemark' was exploited between the wars for unscrupulous ends.'

I defy anybody to provide a similarly justified criticism of any operation elsewhere by reserve troops, apart from the other poor unfortunates of Fourth Army.

Jack

Bloody hell, Jack, the power of that paragraph transcends any thoughts of partisanship and rational argument, and is nothing if not a potent indictment of war itself. As my kids would say - Respect!

Cheers-salesie.

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I am looking forward to the day when we all have our copies of this book and can discuss the contents. :rolleyes: Mine is still on the way, I am afraid but, in the meantime, I should like to seize on the point which talks about reserve units and formations which deployed in August 1914 and those which took the field with Fourth Army at First Ypres in mid October of that year as though they were in any way equivalent. I am just putting the finishing touches to my next book which concerns this and I must register right away that there can be no comparison between the standards pertaining in the reserve units that first marched away, their ranks filled out by men who had completed either two or three years in the ranks reasonably recently and the men who went to their fate after a mere ten weeks of largely useless training, dressed and equipped in the dregs of what was lying about forgotten in Germany once everyone else had been mobilised.

Here are the words with which I conclude the chapter on the first battles for Langemark: 'The preliminary attempt to take Langemark by storm was a complete and utter failure. Unrealistic demands had been made of men badly commanded, ill-prepared and inadequately supported. It is, perhaps, wrong to talk of a cover up, but it is a constant in military history that the bigger the disaster, the more praise and rewards are heaped on the survivors, if only to deflect frequently justifiable criticism of those responsible. The wanton sacrifice, the callous exploitation of their idealism and courage and, quite frankly, their betrayal caused by the incompetence of their superiors, was and remains, a scandal. The soldiers who attacked Langemark effectively achieved nothing on the battlefield, but they were, nevertheless, awarded an enduring place in the history of the war as myth was laid over legend and the 'Spirit of Langemark' was exploited between the wars for unscrupulous ends.'

I defy anybody to provide a similarly justified criticism of any operation elsewhere by reserve troops, apart from the other poor unfortunates of Fourth Army.

Jack

I look forward to your book, Jack. It will contain the first intimation I have seen that there was a large discrepancy in the training and equipment of the men at Le Cateau and the men of 1st Ypres. That will definitely require a thread of its own and I also look forward to that. In the meantime, as you say, a reasoned discussion of Zuber's book is best postponed until we have read it.

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I am so impressed by the quality of the argument in this thread that I have ordered Zuber's book on Mons - perhaps, having read Tyng's and Herwig's books on the Marne, I should order Zuber's on the Ardennes as well - and Jack's on 1914 when it is published!

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Paul,

I totally agree with you about homogeneity. It is amazing at times as you look down from the division level at how different similarly armed and equipped units are. There is a great deal of difference between two identical battalions. However, while the commanders of the army corps had a wide amount of training freedom there were doctrinal guidance that were supposed to put units on a relatively similar course. The original mobilization units were a completely different animal than the follow-on units as Jack has alluded to. But just their makeup made for some large differences between the soldiers that were in the training cycle and those that fleshed out the organizations. Then you came to the reserve organizations which were merely cadres that had a lot of flesh hung on them. By the time we got to Langemark the very nature of the units had changed and I would imagine that it would be extremely uncomfortable serving with ersatz reserve and war volunteers that had little or no training.

The mobilization percentages were:

Active Units :

54% active duty soldiers

46% Reserve soldiers.

Reserve Units:

1% active duty soldiers

44% Reserve soldiers.

55% Landwehr soldiers from the 1st Ban

Landwehr Units:

62% Landwehr soldiers from the 1st Ban

38% Landwehr soldiers from the 2nd Ban lxi

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