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Zuber and Mons


phil andrade
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I totally endorse Jack's comment about the German sources referred to in the BOH. I have acquired as many as possible, and the references to Mons are very sparse, by-and-large. What is even more interesting is that the BOH often does not match what was mentioned in British War Diaries. Furthermore, what is NOT mentioned is the most interesting feature of the BOH. The disaster that nearly befell the British centre is clearly evident in the WDs, but is barely detectable in the BOH.

Robert

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Regimental histories, unfortunately, vary somewhat in content...
Absolutely! What I find interesting, however, is that British accounts of something like Mons, which are based on variable quality content (including British regimental histories) are considered believable/reliable (or similar). The suggestion is that work based on German accounts is unreliable (or similar) because of regimental histories and other German primary sources.

We need both - British and German views (and French, and other....). Neither can be deemed 'the whole truth' when considered in isolation from the other. Taken together, both views will give a closer approximation that we currently have.

The whole landscape of WW1 historical analysis, particularly of battles, has changed fundamentally IMHO. The full tactical and strategic significance of battles and campaigns cannot be ascertained from a single perspective.

I don't give a toss for any of Zuber's summations or other views. And I cross-check as many of his references as I can, partly to check on the accuracy of his translations but also to check on what he has left out as well. So far (and it is early days), his references appear to be accurate representations. And they hold up when cross-checked against the extensive range of British accounts that I have. But I emphasize that it is too early to be sure.

Robert

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One problem I have with the book is the way he contradicts himself. Read a classic example in bed before 'lights out'.

In his evaluation of the Mons encounter (pg 167 in my copy) describing the British: "The defensive position was poorly chosen and the allocation of forces downright incompetent". OK (he then criticises the cavalry, artillery and engineers). Next para: "At a tactical level the German army showed what forty years of hard and serious work could accomplish. The mission was the most difficult imaginable: hasty attack on a very strong defensive position."

Perhaps he meant something like "The Mons position was one that offered outstanding defensive possibilities, but through sheer incompetence the British managed to position themselves so as to cancel out these advantages" In which case it would hardly take forty years of hard and serious work by the Germans to have overwhelmed them.

Having said that I am sure that no future work on August 1914 will be able to ignore the book!

Edwin

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Zuber alludes to an estimated figure of 13,715 military fatalities sustained by Belgium for the entire war

Does he give a source for these numbers ?

Zuber used a secondary source for this figure : Dupuy's Encyclopedia of Military History. The provenance for the statistic is the earliest official communique of Belgian casualties that was available in 1921/22, before the fate of thousands of the missing could be ascertained. The later, revised compilation gives military war dead as 26,338 killled, died of wounds or accident and an additional 14,029 died from disease or missing presumed dead : a total of 40,367....and this is for the Western Front only. Apparently, it is estimated that actual combat fatalities - killed or died from wounds - were about 35,000.

Phil

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Still reading through the book and this phrase has puzzled me twice - what is a "Cookie cutter solution" please? Does he mean template?

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Yes. It implies something repeatable, a template, used over and over again. Sounds like he should go into the Pseud's Corner or the feature on the weird and wonderful uses of the word "solution" in Private Eye.

In passing, although I have not studied the documentary sources covering Mons, I recently spent six months doing that for a battle in 1918. My conclusion is that regimental histories are a most doubtful source and official histories useful as a framework but open to much interpretation. I was struck by how much of the British OH was taken almost verbatim from responses gleaned from officers who were sent drafts. These responses are all public, National Archives CAB45. In other words, an individual's testimony, 20 years after the event, was either force-fitted into the official historian's existing framework, or that framework was manipulated to incorporate the individual's story. I am willing to bet that the 1914 volumes are just as much based on the CAB45 responses.

I do not blame the regimental historian: they did not have the benefit of access to many of the primary documents that we enjoy, although of course they did have access to (and often were themselves) the men who were there. But when failure is always the fault of another unit on the flank, and the regiment never let itself down, you have to question. From what I have seen of German (and indeed French and Portuguese) histories they suffer from the same, completely understandable, traits.

War diaries, marked up maps, operation orders and after-action narratives are all so much more believable and reliable - but those of August 1914 seem to me in most cases to be so scanty or written up after the event that their utility is also questionable. To draw definite conclusions from them might lead to a best-seller but is weak history.

By the way, someone commented above that Zuber had been selective in his use of sources. Nothing wrong with that approach, as long as the reader is wise enough to see through it and question why certain other sources were omitted.

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Robert/Jack,

Although it may not seem like it on occasion, I do have the utmost respect for both of you, but I do find your stance on the particular subject matter of this thread (and others) to be somewhat confusing:

1) Is it good enough for Robert to say that "Neither can be deemed 'the whole truth' when considered in isolation from the other. Taken together, both views will give a closer approximation that we currently have", without examining in detail whether or not any micro-view fits the wider context? To look at as many sources as possible from all sides is desirable, but surely the cross-checking of alternate microscopic views is no guarantee of the reliability of any one side's version? That will only confirm that where they agree they agree - but, as often happens, what if they don't agree? When they don't agree, if we are to avoid personal and subjective opinion, the acid test then has to be one of logic i.e. which microscopic view fits snugly with the wider context?

Surely, if any one view does not fit the wider context then it creates a paradox, and that will create fundamental questions, questions such as I demonstrated earlier in the thread, that will challenge the validity of said view? And, more importantly from a reliability point of view, as long as those questions remain unanswered then is it not the case that said paradox cannot be resolved and thus the source that created it must be viewed with the utmost suspicion?

2) Consequently, is it fair of Robert to say, "What I find interesting, however, is that British accounts of something like Mons, which are based on variable quality content (including British regimental histories) are considered believable/reliable (or similar). The suggestion is that work based on German accounts is unreliable (or similar) because of regimental histories and other German primary sources." - is this fair comment?

I would say that it isn't fair, I would say that the unreliability of German sources is not because they are German per-se, but that many of them, such as Zuber's latest book with its micro-context focus, do not fit the wider context. That they create a paradox with the end-result, and I don't mean the end-result in 1918, but the fact that the German Army never achieved any of its objectives in the West in 1914 - and that this failure leaves many fundamental questions unanswered and the paradox unresolved when looking at Zuber’s reported German versions of events.

Both British and German commentators eulogise about the prowess and performance of their forces in 1914 - sometimes their accounts agree but many don't - but no matter how variable, no matter how over-the-top some British one's are, they show a remarkable consistency in passing the acid test i.e. they don't create a paradox with the end-result.

For example, Robert tells us that, "I totally endorse Jack's comment about the German sources referred to in the BOH. I have acquired as many as possible, and the references to Mons are very sparse, by-and-large. What is even more interesting is that the BOH often does not match what was mentioned in British War Diaries. Furthermore, what is NOT mentioned is the most interesting feature of the BOH. The disaster that nearly befell the British centre is clearly evident in the WDs, but is barely detectable in the BOH."

It seems to me, this sums up the problem with microscopic investigations of events – and the phrase, “The disaster that nearly befell the British centre is clearly evident in the WDs” highlights this problem admirably. The BOH was not a microscopic investigation of every single action, and the war diaries invariably have a narrow focus – so is it fair to imply that the BOH is guilty of neglect by omission?

And, is it not the case that “nearly” is a word that adequately sums up German performance in the field in 1914 i.e. they nearly broke through the British centre at Mons (but they didn’t) – a disaster nearly befell the British centre at Mons (but it didn’t) - the Germans nearly succeeded in their campaign in 1914 and won the war there and then (but they didn’t) etc. etc. etc… Surely, the “nearly factor” is an appraisal of failure not success?

To that end, lets have look at Smith-Dorrien’s view of the “near disaster” that befell his II Corps at Mons – from his memoirs:

“I shall not attempt a full description of the fighting, but shall confine myself largely to my personal experiences...

...It was a day of desperate and heavy fighting, especially on our right about Mons. In that salient and on the hill to the south-east of it, " Bois la Haut," the 8th and 9th Brigades were tried to the utmost, the 4th Middlesex losing half their strength; but they more than held their own and eventually fell back, evacuating the salient with the greatest skill, and at nightfall, although somewhat retired, our line was still unpenetrated. There was, however, a moment when the danger of penetration was very serious.

At about 7 p.m. a report came in saying that the enemy had penetrated the line near Frameries and were swarming through that village. I had no troops left, and all I could do was to request the 5th Division to push out to their right, which they did by sending the 1st Bedfords to Paturages. Knowing the gap was appreciable owing to the left flank of the 3rd Division in retiring having failed to join up with the right flank of the 5th Division, and that if the Germans' realised it there was nothing to prevent their pushing through in large numbers and rendering our position untenable, I sent the following message to G.H.Q.

" To G.H.Q., G 271, August 23rd. Third Division report at 6.47 p.m. the Germans are in front of his main position and are not attacking at present, they are, however, working round 3rd Division on left flank. If it should appear that there is a danger of my centre being pierced I can see no course but to order a general retirement on Bavai position. Have I your permission to adopt this course if it appears necessary? From II Corps, 7.15 p.m. (Signed Oxley, Colonel.) "

I then jumped into a motor and went to General Haig's head-quarters at Bonnet, some four miles away, and asked if he would allow Haking's 5th Infantry Brigade, which was on the road about two and 'a half miles from Frameries, to push on to cover the gap. I found Hubert Hamilton's G.S.O.2, Lieutenant-Colonel F. B. Maurice, there on the same quest. Haig readily gave his consent, and Maurice dashed off to tell Haking. The situation had, however, been almost restored by the 9th Brigade, and the Germans driven back before the 5th Brigade reached Frameries; but I would remark that although I had contracted my front to about twelve miles, it was still far too large for the troops I had and every man was practically in the front line, so that a break through, with no reserves to meet it, must have entailed retreat. Haking's borrowed Brigade remained to hold the gap.

The fighting was over for the time and our troops, though weary, and in spite of their heavy losses, were in tremendous heart and full of confidence in their superiority to the enemy...The II Corps then stood generally on the line from right to left Nouvelles-Ciply-Frameries-Paturages-Wasmes-Hornu-Boussu, confidently awaiting renewal of the battle at dawn; for the C.-in-C. had issued orders that this was to be done... “

This account does in fact agree with the assertion that the Germans “nearly” broke through the British centre at Mons, but it also confirms what we all already know, that they didn’t actually manage to do it. So how does the “nearly factor” help further this debate?

3) Further to the question of German source reliability, I’m going to cheat a little here, I’m going to quote a fellow member’s take on this subject. This comes from the “Machine Guns of Mons” thread (post #210), posted by George Armstrong Custer, who no longer frequents the forum (but I have informed him of my intention to use it in this debate). It was in answer to one of Jack’s post in that thread.

For me it sums up the problems with German sources in a most and eloquent and incisive way:

“…Jack has set the most store in these sources, but I think I am correct in suggesting that he has invested the Sanitaetsbericht as being the most accurate, least biased and therefore most reliable source for German losses. Alongside what Jack has said regarding German sources on this thread I have been reading Appendix III German Historical Sources, on p. 407 of his excellent The German Army on the Somme.

Here, Jack reiterates what both he and I and others have noted on this thread: "A major obstacle to the study of any aspect of the imperial German army is the fact that a bombing raid on Potsdam by the Royal Air Force, on 14 April 1945, completely destroyed the Prussian archives. Because Prussian formations and regiments accounted for almost 90 per cent of the army during the First World War, the seriousness of the loss of these documents cannot be overstated." This leaves three sources, the German Official Histories, the semi-official histories of the Reichsarchiv and the histories published privately by German regiments themselves. I need not expand upon the obvious caution which must be applied to the latter category - histories commissioned by the regiments of an army which has lost a war are unlikely to have had rubbing salt into the wounds as one of their purposes.

On the German official and semi-official histories, Jack himself poses the question we've all been asking in Appendix III of his book: "However, one obvious question arises: to what extent can the content of such books be trusted?" Before answering his own question, Jack candidly admits the purpose of such books and the political atmosphere in which they were produced under the auspices of the Reichswehr: "Quite apart from a natural human tendency to put the best gloss on past events, it is undeniably the case that what was produced was intended to chronicle a lost war in such a way that the reputation of the German military in general and the Reichswehr in particular, would be enhanced."

Pretty damning stuff, you might think, so far as how the credibility of these sources might be regarded so far as admitting to, for example, high casualties due to poor tactics and intelligence is concerned. Not a bit of it according to Jack, who tells us that, having found matches between what the official and semi-official German histories say and accounts in the privately produced German regimental histories (remember my caveat on those), as well as checking some content of Wurttemberg and Bavarian regiments (the Prussian archives - 90% of the German army - are gone, remember) with unspecified archival material held in Stuttgart and Munich, his conclusion is that this: "though not conclusive, certainly indicates that these secondary sources were produced with integrity and respect for the facts."

I'm sorry Jack, but it's my view that you cannot credibly admit in one breath that these sources were 'intended to chronicle a lost war in such a way that the reputation of the German military in general and the Reichswehr in particular, would be enhanced', whilst asserting in the next that 'these secondary sources were produced with integrity and respect for the facts.'”

So, to summarise – I don’t feel that German sources are unreliable because they are German per se, nor do I feel the British sources are reliable simply because I am British. But I do regard German sources with strong suspicion, because of the paradox many of them create with the end-result, and, of course, because the concerns raised by Jack in his appendix to his Somme Book seem highly pertinent to me, they seem to cast serious doubt on the reliability of German sources, and could explain why said sources appear to create said paradox.

Cheers-salesie.

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Yes. It implies something repeatable, a template, used over and over again. Sounds like he should go into the Pseud's Corner or the feature on the weird and wonderful uses of the word "solution" in Private Eye.

Thanks Chris.

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I don't give a toss for any of Zuber's summations or other views.

Robert

Is there an infinite "pan-German agenda" implicit in Zuber's work ? By this, I mean to suggest that his "re-appraisal" of Mons goes far beyond an analysis of the events of the battlefield : he writes, I suspect, with profound admiration for German culture as exemplified by the prowess of its army. The training is right, the science is right, the tactics are right, the soldiers are fit, happy, well fed on the ubiquitous black bread : all in all, Germany exhibits a superiority apparent in the conduct of its soldiers, and, most tellingly, the actions of the nation should be seen in the context of a defensive war which compelled Germany to fight the way it did. There are anecdotes about the kindness of German soldiers towards their British prisoners. The flavour of the story is emphatically pro-German, and this is manifest in dimensions well beyond the tactics employed at Mons.

Zuber is by no means alone in this. I have encountered one or two Flemish Belgians - battlefield guides - who clearly express their view that the German army of 1914 was superior in its performance and composition to the Franco - British armies. The emphasis is on enlightened officer/ men relationships exemplified by strict discipline suffused with cordiality. There is also a view that Germany was a nation endowed with the advantage of a much stronger middle class which bestowed modernity on the material and moral aspects of the army. Note that I'm trying to depict the impression that was being conveyed to me by these guides - I do not seek to endorse their views, but I think that they should not be dismissed out of hand. When I read Zuber's books, the echoes of these comments are loud and clear.

Phil

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FWIIW, I can infer what Zuber's 'agenda' might be but his agenda is not what I am concerned about. He is entitled to his veiws. I have problems with many of his conclusions, military and otherwise. So I prefer to stick to the source material and draw my conclusions therefrom. As Edwin said, it is this material that is the most compelling.

Robert

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Team

It has been some considerable time since I have pitched in on the Forum, following an unsatisfactorily resolved "issue" with a mod.However, I have followed this thread with interest and many fascinating themes have cropped up. (Not least I noted the gentle way in which a number of the 'usual suspects' were gently and effectively brought back into line by sensible moderating).

I have now started the latest Zuber. I find his obvious partiallity to the German nation army and expertise clearly expressed. And some cheap shots at him are not fair. I knew from the box, and his previous writing, what I was going to get. He has clearly worked very hard and diligently at his sources and drawn his own, very own, conclusions. These are clearly contrary to the views of Mons which many have deep in their hearts.

A couple of points. Arguably since the Brits were forced to withdraw the field at Mons it can count as a German victory. But, not least, and uncommented upon as yet on the thread, was JF's concern that his flanks were in the air because of the French withdrawl and Kitchener's stricture not to risk his force. Had he held the ground longer, committed Haig's Corps fully, withdrawal would almost certainly have been inevitable, but with far worse consequences. Smith Dorrien's stand during an ongoing retreat was a draw away from home - a good and vital draw which ensured we could get into the finals in 18. By the same token Ypres was a British "victory" in as much as our clearly second rate force held the ground against Zuber'ss superb German army and prevented the war being lost by Christmas. And at huge cost to the 'old regular army'.

Regardless of the MG/LE debate these points seem uncontravertable. What therefore follows is a disagreement as to whether Zuber's later research on Mons trumps that which has gone before (Not least, John Terraines account was written without access to War Diaries and we have all for many years complained about the lack of German material available to us). Should we, say, in view of Zuber's opinions, totally dismiss the many frequently recorded German en-masse attacks at Ypres - reported by many witnesses and in War Diaries. Should we accept that the British were unable to undertake fire and movement manouevre - the quality of which the German Military to attache to Britain commented very favourably in pre war manoeuvres which he attended?

Overall Zuber's expression of the German's own very high opinion of the expertise of its army can be set against that which considered the BEF "A perfect thing apart" (Liddel-Hart) and similar views expressed by Edmonds et al. To accept one view and dismiss the other seems a lttle perverse. Equally to accept the total veracity of German unit histories, while failing to accept their reasonable use in British works about the period is perverse. Jack Sheldon has, as usual, provided an interesting corrective reflection on casualty figures - but casualty figures are not in themselves the key factor in any battle. That remains taking, or loosing the ground and/or the initiative. (Equally in criticisng the OH one should remain aware that it was primarily prepared as an aid to fighting the next war, for training and teaching officers, not as popular history. So what and how we did was vital to Edmonds and his team working on an immense task which took far longer to complete than could have originally imagined.On a minor point I am not aware how any of the regimental histories - if any - quoted by Zuber were published after 1933. After that date, when Hitler came to power every book, author and publisher had to be approved. No approval no publication. Views which did not sit well with Nazi doctrine or views on the war - no publication. Every German book published on the Great War published between 1933 and 45 must be considered suspect.

In broad terms in 1914 Germany 1 (Mons) Britain 1 (Ypres) and two draws. But (cheap point) as a former bomber pilot said once when tasked about Dresden "They started the wear we won it ". And we won it despite Zuber's belief in the excellence of German doctrine, training and etc.

That said Zuber's first chapter is probably the best overview of of what he accepts as (generally?) followed German doctrine I have seen. Was it followed? Often I suspect not. It never works that way - the trained officers and splendid ncos get wounded killed. Then it starts to fall apart. (plans never survive contact with enemy). Overall the analysis of the German military formations is valuable too. But is the doctrine - if more detailed in Germany (and if it truly generally accepted and emplyed) actually very different from that of the British. We too stressed attack and defense as merely the prelude to an opportunity to attack. High morale, motivation, musketry, fire and movement we used them. Moral - as it was then spelt was a key factor in British military thinking (see works on Thompson Capper former instrucor at Staff College and Director of the Indian Staff College and Inspector General of Infantry in 1914 and not least FSPB) prior to 1914. It was capper felt essential to instill belief in man for man superiorty in the British army.

Indeed Zuber shows the similarities between military thinking in Germany and Great Britain weree much closer than I had thought. Even formation strengths, establishments etc parallel each other broadly. In many cases you could substitute Zuber's 'German' for 'British'in the text. Is he aware of that? I suspect not.

One key difference - which became very evident on the British right flank at Ypres was the success of British cavalry to operate (decisively) in the infantry role - an area in which the Germans singularly failed (by their own clear admission to do - see Ypern) and upon which Zuber fails to comment. Equally the Germans were not alone in dismissing the expectation of a cavalry charge. Haig never expected it and both armies anticipated reconaisance and etc. Use in a breakthrough - certainly if it occured.

Interestingly the Germans who Zuber characterisess as doctrinally unwilling in 1914 to fight in fixed positions a defensive battle did so at the Aisne against weaker British opposition. Its amazing what an army can do on when on the back foot from well prepared positions - which they were not at Mons.

As an aside one point made Zuber is the loss of psc officers by the British - as if it were a severe crime - in the early stages of the war - he quotes the loss of five or six from one British regiment and sees this a general figure. He rightly says that lack of trained staff officers was a major problem for the British until 1916. However the figure is atypical. Many regiments seriously discouraged its officers from attending staff College - foolish but true. In some battalions not a single officer was psc.

So what do I conclude. Zuber knows the German Army far better than the British. He is a diligent researcher - with blind spots (arn't we all). He has moved the goal posts. He will be used for reference. But in killing the myth of rifle-fire = machine guns as he inelegantly puts it, he will probably - in the public mind -be as deeply influential as all those who have sought to rebuild the reputation of Haig.

But above all, whatever his inclinations and interests, I feel Zuber's work would be far better received by a serious audience if he was as diligent in his research and in drawaing his conclusions from better, rather than emotional, knowledge of Germany's enemies as is is of the German Army. But he has made us all think a bit - no bad thing. Finally I suspect that he cannot be blamed for the title. Publishers publish to sell, Writers mostly write for the same reasons. Look how the title alone has got our knickers in a twist. A sharp book editor has been at work.

Regards

David

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Fair comments, David. One thing which perhaps I ought to have known, but didn't, was Zuber's statement, made several times, that British Officers were forbidden from studying German tactics. I thought Grierson was our main chap on German tactics.

Edwin

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Its cobblers, but only totally. Even if such an order existed, and I know of no evidence for the assertion, who would have paid attention anyway. Wynne clearly studieed them.

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Such a statement is nonsense I'm afraid. Many British Officers spent a lot of time studying German tactics. Haig's dispositions of 1st Corps at Mons were the direct result of his understanding of how the German attack was likely to evolve, as but one example.

Robert

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Zuber used a secondary source for this figure : Dupuy's Encyclopedia of Military History. The provenance for the statistic is the earliest official communique of Belgian casualties that was available in 1921/22, before the fate of thousands of the missing could be ascertained. The later, revised compilation gives military war dead as 26,338 killled, died of wounds or accident and an additional 14,029 died from disease or missing presumed dead : a total of 40,367....and this is for the Western Front only. Apparently, it is estimated that actual combat fatalities - killed or died from wounds - were about 35,000.

Phil

Thank you for the info

It tallies with my info. I asked around at work (i'm currently working at the Belgian Instituut voor Veteranen :hypocrite: ) (Belgian veterans department) the war graves group has currently about 44.000 as combat fatalities.

Carl

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And did not Haig attend the German Army late summer manouvres on at least one occasion as well as spending some time in Germany with groups of German Officers?

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Here's something to throw into the pot.....

In 1911 the military correspondent of The Times, Colonel Repington, attended the German manoeuvres and reported :

" No other modern army displays such profound contempt for the effect of modern fire."

Phil

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Good evening All,

As a relative new member I don't recall having read any of David's previous posts on the Forum but I appreciate some of his observations made in his "long" post today (the football result analogy, for example).

Speaking about the Ardennes book (the title of the thread is "Zuber and ......") Zuber did undertake a great deal of local research, walking/driving the battlefields, meeting with local Belgian historians/authors etc. and, having spoken with many of the same people myself, I think he was quite thorough in his studies. There isn't a lot of French work on that battle(s) beyond the war diaries which vary greatly in content and in some cases are missing or have large gaps. I remember him making the point that when looking at those opening German victories perhaps we overlook the most obvious facet; the Germans were better at it than their opponents ! What is open to greater debate is the margin of superiority which (as I have posted before) I feel was widened by the initial French tactics, the poor cavalry (and other) reconnaisance, terrain (and weather).

Joffre and the French learnt quickly, fought an effective rearguard action (not hampered by the "offensive" doctrine) and narrowed the gap in efficacy. At Mons, and the BEF retreat from Mons, the German advance was hampered. I think the issue isn't that the German Army was superior on the Western Front, just that it wasn't superior enough to win the quick victory necessary, both before the Eastern Front became a focus and perhaps as important, before the French improved quality and the British increased quantity.

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Back to Tyng again - by the way, for those who do not know, recently republished after a gap, apparently, of over seventy years. One thing that strikes me about it is the sheer breadth of his bibliography from German, French and British sources; and, more importantly, with the evidence in the text that the works cited were actually used. Secondly, it puts the contribution of the British Army firmly in place - and, in the language of Clausewitz, that is of an army in being. Finally, Tyng publishes some forty pages of appendices of key documents.

The importance of the BEF contribution was not so much what it achieved but what it could potentially achieve, it seems to me. From a German point of view, the complete inability, time and again, of German intelligence to work out where it was and what its state was is pretty extraordinary.

Surely what has to be considered about Mons is that the BEF anticipated advancing (with the Fifth Army) the following day and instead had to fight a defensive battle; for perhaps understandable reasons there followed the deep distrust of the French by French. The BEF moved off from Mons and was, arguably, forced into the desperate battle at Le Cateau. German inter Army communications seemed to have been a mess. The BEF moved off, by the skin of its teeth and lived to fight another day, with Kluck quite convinced, even after the war, that he had hit, effectively, the whole of the BEF there and destroyed it as an effective force.

To put it bluntly, who cares too much about the detail of Mons when the results are quite apparent? Who cares (in the great scheme of things) about Le Cateau when the outcome was quite apparent - the Germans swept the battlefield and then loitered and then took off in the wrong direction. I feel that obsessive concern for detail creates the classic 'cannot see the wood for the trees' situation; such monographs, eg Mons, are most important - but I sometimes feel that they become ends in themselves rather than a means to an end.

Finally, there seems to be an obsession with the allied left flank on the Marne and almost blissful ignorance of the extremely important engagements that were taking place over on the right flank. To get so worked up about a British army of four divisions (Mons) or of five (Le Cateau) - plus a super heavy Cavalry formation - seems pretty extraordinary to me, when so often the giant in the room - ie the French - is reduced to a footnote. Even in the BE that I and Jack wrote on Le Cateau Sordet's calvary gets only minor mention, as do the much sneered at Territorials. Their appearance on the flanks of the 4th Division at the crucial moment at Le Cateau were crucial, I suggest, in the BEF managing to break off the engagement; it was the apparent incompetence of the Greman army in failing to follow up immediately its success that left the BEF an Army (as opposed to a Corps) in being.

All of which, I agree, is moving me away from Mons and from a book that I have yet to read! But I do think we have to keep the bigger picture clearly in mind.

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I would like to return to Salesie's earlier and lengthy posting concerning, mainly, the reliability or otherwise of German regimental histories and his 'paradox' theory. It seems as though two different issues are being addressed here:

1. Zuber's claims about the quality of the German Army (at least in 1914) set against the outcome (Of the battle? The campaign? The War? Not having read the book I am not sure to what he is referring) which I presume is the 'paradox' to which he refers; and

2. Zuber's use of regimental histories to pick holes in the traditional British accounts of Mons.

What we end up with is a sweeping crticism of German regimental sources which suggests that, because of the political environment in which they were written and the perceived circumstances of the way the war ended, i.e. the stab in the back, etc., we should not regard these sources with anything other than the deepest suspicion. Whilst I am prepared to accept that explanations for the overall defeat in these and the official and semi-official accounts are so coloured, this does not, in my experience, invalidate the actual accounts of any battles that are described. Clearly, in order to thoroughly justify the suggestion that these accounts are in some way altered to fit a post-war agenda one needs to have read them. I will admit to not having read any German accounts of Mons. I have, however, read all of the existing regimental accounts of the action with which I am most familiar: Gommecourt. There is nothing in any of them that jibes with the facts as presented by British official and personal accounts. Casualty figures are meticulously set out and the immediate post-battle account, the Verlustlisten and the regimental histories agree on them. Their estimates of British casualties are not wild (unlike the British estimates of German casualties). I cannot pretend I like the tone of these accounts. There are too many 'huzzahs' as they leap to the attack (when I suspect 'scheisse' would have been a rather more often used exclamation) but this doesn't make me say 'rubbish, nobody acts like that, this is all nonsense'. Having said that, there is an awful lot of 'Vive la France!' and 'En avant!' in French accounts whereas I would rather have the Poilu muttering 'merde' under his breath for reality's sake.

I am really not sure what end is served by so easily and conveniently dismissing alternative sources to the accepted British ones. From what I have read here it seems Zuber has a clear agenda which is not to provide a balanced account of the battle but a German one (and a fairly uncritical one, at that) but this does not invalidate the usefulness of his sources, though it may reflect on his use of them.

Sadly, what we have not got, for any WW1 battle as far as I know, is one where a 100% objective historian (hah!) takes and weighs all accounts from all sides and produces a narrative and analysis where the discrepancies can be identified and hopefuly explained and, where accounts coincide, one can, as firmly as possible, produce a definitive account of the fighting. In the absence of that, all evidence, from whatever source, is welcome and it is up to us then to determine its accuracy, reliability and usefulness.

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To put it bluntly, who cares too much about the detail of Mons when the results are quite apparent? Who cares (in the great scheme of things) about Le Cateau when the outcome was quite apparent - the Germans swept the battlefield and then loitered and then took off in the wrong direction. I feel that obsessive concern for detail creates the classic 'cannot see the wood for the trees' situation; such monographs, eg Mons, are most important - but I sometimes feel that they become ends in themselves rather than a means to an end.

Pretty much sums up my own thoughts, Nigel.

Perhaps the words of Brutus to Cassius before entering into battle on the plains of Phillipi (in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar), will help elaborate on my belief that bringing forth the minutiae of the detail of individual battles can give a highly misleading impression if taken out of its wider context.

Why, then, lead on. O, that a man might know

The end of this day's business ere it come!

But it sufficeth that the day will end,

And then the end is known. Come, ho! away!

Brutus wishes that he could see the outcome before battle is joined, but knows that the end-result cannot possibly be known beforehand - but that won't stop him, because he's content in knowing that the day will inevitably end and then the end-result is known. In other words, win, lose, or draw, he's going to have a go because that's the only way he can influence the outcome.

But ninety-odd years on from 1914 we know the outcome, we know the end-result, everyone does, including authors like Zuber - so why the bottom-up approach, why does the end-result hardly seem to figure in their conclusions, why the paradox stemming from many German sources and then reflected in such work?

The day has ended, and the end is known - but it seems to me that some can't accept that fact, that some have tried to influence the importance of the outcome in the minds of others ever since the end of WW1 right up until the present day. That's why I think it important to question the agenda of authors like Zuber, because other bits of history, and certain events of today, tell us that such techniques may well be innocent, may well be pure academic exercises, but it also warns us that it may well be the Devil in disguise!

Cheers-salesie.

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To put it bluntly, who cares too much about the detail of Mons

Point taken.

What bothers me is the historiographical implications of Zuber's account. It would appear that we have been hideously misled by Edmonds. I've always been all too aware of the rather abysmal manner in which he attempted to inflate the German casualties for the Somme and Passchendaele, but, with that caveat, I've felt that we've been well served by him.

Mons was just an episode in a gigantic series of encounters, and, compared with the catastrophes that engulfed the French armies, the fight of the BEF on August 23rd 1914 was a pretty small affair. But it was Britian's first high intensity engagement with a first class Continental army in Western Europe for a century, and as such it is worthy of an official appraisal that does full justice to the performance of the rival forces.

This is what I find "distressing" in the depiction given by Zuber.

As an additional comment, I'm intrigued by the diparities between the British and German accounts of a clash between cavalry on August 22. According to the British story, a melee occurred in which several Germans were run through or cut down by British swords...it really does present a flattering picture of British superiority in close quarters combat - and genuinely hand to hand at that. All Zuber says is that three German cavalrymen were captured. What are we to infer from this ?

Phil

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re Regimental Histories.

All the caveats are noted about their use. They - British and German - have clear limitions, colourations and purposes. But I do not quite remember so many knickers getting twisted about the use of British Regimental Histories, some of which are trully awful, in quite well considered works about our war.

There is a huge gap in the availability of German material. Jack Sheldon has used German material - if more analytically and with greater effect than the Zube But what else is their to use if you are writing a German account of the battle? The Zube references, does not seem to pretend that it is other than it is.

Now, the circumstances of the time certainly influenced their writing along with regimantal, national pride. But I remain confident that it is simply unfair to believe that the authors were more greatly biased in Germany (overall) than the often proffesional writers - some simple hacks - who did the same in Britain.

Having now read the book I feel that if a Yank wishes to a book about the German side of an action, and expresses his deep admiration for the German Army, and enjoyis a strong military background and considerable knowledge of the German Army there is little problem.

The 'Myth' angle is a publisher's smokescreen.

If I have a real complaint it is that I wish the Zube's research from British sources, and his knowledge of the British army of the time, matched that of the German. That would offered better balance. But there is no point in all of us whinging about the lack of material in English about "the other side of the hill" if we all crwal up our own fundaments when it challenges our view. Some of us really need to "get real". Its just a book which fails to match our Britocentric recieved and developed opinions.

Move on.

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re Regimental Histories.

All the caveats are noted about their use. They - British and German - have clear limitions, colourations and purposes. But I do not quite remember so many knickers getting twisted about the use of British Regimental Histories, some of which are trully awful, in quite well considered works about our war.

There is a huge gap in the availability of German material. Jack Sheldon has used German material - if more analytically and with greater effect than the Zube But what else is their to use if you are writing a German account of the battle? The Zube references, does not seem to pretend that it is other than it is.

Now, the circumstances of the time certainly influenced their writing along with regimantal, national pride. But I remain confident that it is simply unfair to believe that the authors were more greatly biased in Germany (overall) than the often proffesional writers - some simple hacks - who did the same in Britain.

Having now read the book I feel that if a Yank wishes to a book about the German side of an action, and expresses his deep admiration for the German Army, and enjoyis a strong military background and considerable knowledge of the German Army there is little problem.

The 'Myth' angle is a publisher's smokescreen.

If I have a real complaint it is that I wish the Zube's research from British sources, and his knowledge of the British army of the time, matched that of the German. That would offered better balance. But there is no point in all of us whinging about the lack of material in English about "the other side of the hill" if we all crwal up our own fundaments when it challenges our view. Some of us really need to "get real". Its just a book which fails to match our Britocentric recieved and developed opinions.

Move on.

Move On! Is that a request or an order? You make one or two good points, David, a couple of shallow ones, and one or two that have been countered earlier in the thread - but if you persist in patronising us then it is almost inevitable that this thread will once again digress into a melee which the mods will have to deal with, and the end-result of that may or may not be to your satisfaction.

Cheers-salesie.

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