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Zuber and Mons


phil andrade
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I have said enough to show what I think of the book but there is a little mystery which I hope someone will clear up for me. Early on in the book, Zuber says that the formation of the New Armies required regular troops to give up their 2nd pair of boots and they were sorely needed on the retreat. I was and am very sceptical of this. I believe the men of the 1st New Army were only enlisting when the BEF were embarking with full kit. However, the author quotes a regimental history of the Cheshires as his source. I believe, it is mentioned in several sources, that on the retreat, an instruction was given by the General Staff to dump supplies including ammunition and anything not absolutely essential and the space used to carry troops unable to march. The order was torn up by Haig's CoS and countermanded bt Smith-Dorrien. General Snow's command obeyed the order and some of his men certainly did suffer from losing their spare boots which were on the wagons. ( That is from Cassar ) The plot thickens. The only Cheshires I can find in the OOB for the BEF at this time were in the 5th Division. The part they played of course is very well known. They were in II Corps and so the order to dump their kit should have not been implemented. Questions, then. Was the kit, including boots dumped despite S-D countermanding the order? Some of you will certainly have read the Regimental history of the Cheshires. Can you expand on the statement and perhaps shed some light on the claim?

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Dear Joe,

I didn't include your original post for the sake of brevity. The 1913 manuever picture does not represent any attack formation included in the German infantry regulations of 1906. That looks more like a unit ambling over the hills. I really wish I had more time to do some translations and posts. As I mentioned before, there is a mass of German literature on exactly this subject. German military thinkers were almost obsessed by the problem of the infantry attack over open ground after the Russo-Japanese War.

A German 1908 article, entitled "The attack over open ground," uses the German infantry regulations of 1906 to generate a hypothetical situation of perfectly level ground and two evenly matched forces.

One of the most interesting issues discussed is the length of time it would take to perform the attack. From initial contact to the assault is a period of 7 hours! The article stresses how much time it takes to move the troops up into the firing line, and then gain fire superiority for the assault. I wonder how many German infantry attacks in 1914 evolved in the fashion of this model--I bet not many.

Paul

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To put it bluntly, who cares too much about the detail of Mons when the results are quite apparent?
I do, FWIIW. My first impression, gained from reading British analyses, was that the BEF put up a stubborn determined defence and then retreated in good order. The retreat was necessitated, according to accounts, by the withdrawal of Lanrezac's Fifth Army on the British right. In fact, the Germans carved deeply into the British centre (though not for the reasons that Zuber proposes, at least on the British side). They captured Mons and were threatening to roll up the British left. The BEF had to fall back, irrespective of what Lanrezac was up to and not because the BEF was about to outflanked.

The implications of this new information are very significant. Firstly, it is appropriate to update the historical view if that is no longer adequate. Second, and more importantly, it is vital to look at the reasons for the British failures in allowing the Germans to get the upperhand tactically, and for the British successes in managing to prevent a complete disaster. Both of these aspects are important in reviewing how and to what degree the BEF improved after these opening battles.

I respect that for some people the details are not important. To me, the details hold a key to understanding several important issues, and to placing later developments into better perspective.

Robert

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Paul,

As usual I probably wasn’t clear. The question I’m posing is does the author take into account the doctrinal methods of 1889 or is he entirely rooted in the 1906 doctrine as he was in his book on the Ardennes?

The 1913 manuever picture does not represent any attack formation included in the German infantry regulations of 1906. That looks more like a unit ambling over the hills.

I agree with your initial statement and I believe the picture clearly shows a sample not of a 1906 movement to contact but rather an 1889 movement to contact that was conducted in 1913. I disagree in general with the ambling over that hill thought in that I believe that every movement of troops is conducted in theoretical accordance with doctrine. “Ambling over the hill” I would expect to be conducted in March column.

I interpreted this picture as what is entitled “Vormarsch zum Gefecht” in the 1906 regulation but really is strung out like the 1889 model. This is very easily a formation that could have bumped into the BEF. My mind calls this “movement to contact”. As there was strong disagreement and incremental discussions between the 1889 model and the 1906 model it is not clear to me that either was entirely adhered to. Was it all firepower oriented or was there still a sense of shock action? However, the author in his last book I think really missed the mark on page 19 when he described the 1906 regulation. I tried to explain earlier that the doctrine had to be understood as a developmental process. Yet, I do not think he did that in his last book as he clearly states “the new regulations fostered a required individual initiative and thought. The skirmish line became standard in combat.” Both Auftragstaktik and the skirmish line were clearly major parts of the 1889 manual and the subject of much of the debate. Yet previously this was not covered. In a nutshell, the 1906 manual was an iteration of the 1889 manual rather than something entirely new. That is why I say that appendix D. of the Handbook does a better job explaining the development, of course I am biased. I found a disconnect with the author starting at 1906 and expecting that this was widely accepted and practiced. Maybe it should have been.

If this interpretation ignores the 1889 model I am wondering if the new book does the same?

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Phil,

You should be able to do some relatively straightforward analysis using Geoff's 1914-21 Search Engine. For example, searching under 23/08/1914 returns 290 deaths; 26/08/1914 returns 886 deaths. Of course, not every single one will be Mons/Le Cateau related, but with a bit of work you should be able to get some reliable figures.

Best wishes,

Stuart

Thank you, Stuart. A survey of the dates of the Mons campaign indicates about 2,750 deaths...but, as you say, this includes deaths all over the world by land, sea, and, in on or two cases, the air. I reckon 2,500 killed or died from wounds is a conservative figure for the BEF at Mons and in The Retreat. Considering the terrible peril of its predicament, and especially in view of the formidable skills of the Germans as emphasised by Zuber, it is a small figure.... a single French division lost many more dead than that in just one day during the same series of battles. Incidentally, in a long morning walk today I discussed this Zuber book with a pal of mine - a well informed and accomplished man, with no particular interest in the Great War. He had heard of Mons, and commented on its reputation for "accurate and rapid British fusilade"....his choice of words was exquisite ! When I told him about the actual events according to Zuber, he remarked ".. that sounds plausible...perhaps one or two small scale and isolated incidents of German troops being mown down were blown up and applied to the whole story of the battle." He then went on to say "....but this begs the question of why the Germans didn't win, if they were so good..." This anecdote is worth relating, because I think it demonstrates the value of asking the opinion of someone who isn't particularly interested or knowledgeable about something, but who can be relied upon to apply a disciplined mind in response. He was right on the money, I reckon !

Phil

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Apart from the battles, there is no reason to expect heavy casualties on the retreat. Skirmishing by the rear guards was continuous but that would not cause heavy fatalities.

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He then went on to say "....but this begs the question of why the Germans didn't win, if they were so good..." This anecdote is worth relating, because I think it demonstrates the value of asking the opinion of someone who isn't particularly interested or knowledgeable about something, but who can be relied upon to apply a disciplined mind in response. He was right on the money, I reckon !
But was he aware that the accepted 'wisdom', until recently, was that the Germans were very poor? Regimented lines of Prussians advancing in a mindless fashion with no tactical finesse whatsoever. Indeed, there are many who still believe this to have been the case. Even the outcome has been misrepresented, IMHO. A steady rock-solid defence, which then withdrew out of choice, versus a severe failure in liaison at the vital junction of the two BEF Corps, followed by a rapid but effective patch-up job that then allowed the BEF to extricate itself from a very difficult situation. It is a reminder that the creation and effective use of reserves was a key factor in nullifying the German offensive threat, just as occurred throughout the rest of the war in so many battles until attrition had worn down the ability to maintain significant reserves.

Ever since I began studying German primary sources alongside the British and French equivalents for the same actions, it has been clear that the Germans were more effective than they have generally been given credit. So the key question has always been 'why didn't they win...', given that the outcome is known. This is why it is so important to study the details, in the context of the outcome. I have already mentioned the studies of the degradation in German performance in 1914, as well as ongoing work in analysing how and why the French 'improved' so quickly. FWIIW, I have also been looking in detail at how the lessons were processed and then communicated within the BEF too. A significant part of the answer, however, lies at what Zabecki would call the operational level. This is where Tyng's work is so helpful (Herwig's recent book doesn't really add a lot more to Tyng's original).

There is still so much to learn, which is why this is such a fascinating historical event to study.

Robert

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Paul,

As usual I probably wasn’t clear. The question I’m posing is does the author take into account the doctrinal methods of 1889 or is he entirely rooted in the 1906 doctrine as he was in his book on the Ardennes?

I agree with your initial statement and I believe the picture clearly shows a sample not of a 1906 movement to contact but rather an 1889 movement to contact that was conducted in 1913. I disagree in general with the ambling over that hill thought in that I believe that every movement of troops is conducted in theoretical accordance with doctrine. “Ambling over the hill” I would expect to be conducted in March column.

I interpreted this picture as what is entitled “Vormarsch zum Gefecht” in the 1906 regulation but really is strung out like the 1889 model. This is very easily a formation that could have bumped into the BEF. My mind calls this “movement to contact”. As there was strong disagreement and incremental discussions between the 1889 model and the 1906 model it is not clear to me that either was entirely adhered to. Was it all firepower oriented or was there still a sense of shock action? However, the author in his last book I think really missed the mark on page 19 when he described the 1906 regulation. I tried to explain earlier that the doctrine had to be understood as a developmental process. Yet, I do not think he did that in his last book as he clearly states “the new regulations fostered a required individual initiative and thought. The skirmish line became standard in combat.” Both Auftragstaktik and the skirmish line were clearly major parts of the 1889 manual and the subject of much of the debate. Yet previously this was not covered. In a nutshell, the 1906 manual was an iteration of the 1889 manual rather than something entirely new. That is why I say that appendix D. of the Handbook does a better job explaining the development, of course I am biased. I found a disconnect with the author starting at 1906 and expecting that this was widely accepted and practiced. Maybe it should have been.

If this interpretation ignores the 1889 model I am wondering if the new book does the same?

Hello Joe,

Ah, I see--we're on the same sheet of music now. I'd want to spend some more time analysing that picture--I think there is a lot to be learned from breaking it down. Just at quick glance the "blobs" seem to be about platoon strength (?).

I agree with you 100% on the developmental process of the regulations. The 1906 regulations would be in modern software parlance version 1.X of those from 1889.

This is an interesting and important topic, but it is complex as we're discussing something almost 100 years removed and from a completely different standpoint in that most of us are not career infantry officers.

My opinion is that there was a still a sense of shock action in the 1906 regulations. Units were slowly pushed forward to win fire superiority and when the line had approached to say between 250-400 meters (and won fire superiority-something in itself hard to judege) the reinforced line assaulted.

The point about debate is well made. These things were hotly debated, and the debate intensified after the Boer War and then again after The Russo-Japanese War. The article I mentioned in my last post gives a few examples from the Russo-Japanese war, and it makes it pretty clear that an attack not well executed could be a blood bath. The debate is important to remember--if German military experts were as divided as it appears from the debates, we have to be careful about thinking we are better positioned to represent any type of consensus.

Regulations were not always followed--sometimes they weren't followed at all. I'm writing up a section now for my research of the German fortress warfare regulations before and during the war. The local commanders completely threw what was written out and conducted the fortress attacks of 1914 in a manner that had been suggested and debated outside the regulations since the 1880's. The regulations were based on the Japanese experiences in attacking Port Arthur, but these were totally rejected by the troops in the field. This is interesting in that it shows the degree of innovation and flexibility that was possible.

"Attitudes are stronger than regulations." I love that quote.

Paul

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But was he aware that the accepted 'wisdom', until recently, was that the Germans were very poor? Regimented lines of Prussians advancing in a mindless fashion with no tactical finesse whatsoever. Indeed, there are many who still believe this to have been the case. Even the outcome has been misrepresented, IMHO. A steady rock-solid defence, which then withdrew out of choice, versus a severe failure in liaison at the vital junction of the two BEF Corps, followed by a rapid but effective patch-up job that then allowed the BEF to extricate itself from a very difficult situation. It is a reminder that the creation and effective use of reserves was a key factor in nullifying the German offensive threat, just as occurred throughout the rest of the war in so many battles until attrition had worn down the ability to maintain significant reserves.

Ever since I began studying German primary sources alongside the British and French equivalents for the same actions, it has been clear that the Germans were more effective than they have generally been given credit. So the key question has always been 'why didn't they win...', given that the outcome is known. This is why it is so important to study the details, in the context of the outcome. I have already mentioned the studies of the degradation in German performance in 1914, as well as ongoing work in analysing how and why the French 'improved' so quickly. FWIIW, I have also been looking in detail at how the lessons were processed and then communicated within the BEF too. A significant part of the answer, however, lies at what Zabecki would call the operational level. This is where Tyng's work is so helpful (Herwig's recent book doesn't really add a lot more to Tyng's original).

There is still so much to learn, which is why this is such a fascinating historical event to study.

Robert

Robert,

I hear the sounds of a thesis being born! :thumbsup:

Paul

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Regulations were not always followed--sometimes they weren't followed at all. "Attitudes are stronger than regulations." I love that quote.
Paul, this is very true. And the points about the ongoing debates within the German Army are also very important. The regulations captured/perpetrated one view of the debate
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Apart from the battles, there is no reason to expect heavy casualties on the retreat. Skirmishing by the rear guards was continuous but that would not cause heavy fatalities.

Crucial point to be made here : the word "casualties" must not be confined to fatalities. The loss in killed, it would appear, was relatively light in the British ranks in this fighting - although some battalions were lethally punished. But the heavy loss in prisoners was accentuated by the retreat - men abandoned through exhaustion or despair; even one or two examples of wholesale surrender with hardly a shot being fired ....these were also casualties, and the very nature of the retreat was bound to increase the number of men posted as "missing" - in this case about 60% of the casualties recorded.

As an aside, I am dismayed at the number of times I hear or read the most distinguished historians claim that more Frenchmen were killed in 1914 than in any succeeding year of the Great War. They point out that 454,000 were counted as killed or missing in the period August-November 1914....what they fail to appreciate or acknowledge is that a large part of the missing were not dead, but PoWs. This is not to deny that the rate of fatalites in those opening months was indeed unique - phenomenal, I would say.

Three hundred thousand Frenchmen were killed in 1914 - more, in five months, than all the service personel that Britain was to lose in six years in the Second World War....and that is appalling enough. Even more were to be killed in 1915, though.

Phil

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But the heavy loss in prisoners was accentuated by the retreat - men abandoned through exhaustion or despair; even one or two examples of wholesale surrender with hardly a shot being fired ....
Phil, you are very right to point out the importance of loss in prisoners. It should be noted, however, that numbers of prisoners were actually relatively small. This prompted many German generals to reflect at the time that all was not well with the seeming victories. Many of them had fought in the Franco-Prussian War, and they could tell the significant difference between numbers captured after Sedan, for example, versus the collective actions in the Battle of the Frontiers.

Robert

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Phil, you are very right to point out the importance of loss in prisoners. It should be noted, however, that numbers of prisoners were actually relatively small. This prompted many German generals to reflect at the time that all was not well with the seeming victories. Many of them had fought in the Franco-Prussian War, and they could tell the significant difference between numbers captured after Sedan, for example, versus the collective actions in the Battle of the Frontiers.

Robert

This is indeed significant, and, I must say, rather bewildering. I remember reading about Moltke's lament "Where are the prisoners?"...as you point out, Robert, there was no Sedan.

OTOH, whatever the circumstances of their capture, it is certain that at least 150,000 Frenchmen went into the "bag" - maybe approaching 200,000 - in 1914, and the great majority of these were taken in August/ September. Nearly ten per cent of the entire BEF deployed was captured in August alone.

Edit : I would imagine, without recourse to a source, that the French loss in PoWs was pro rata .

Another edit : hazarding a guess, I reckon that the Germans captured more Allied prisoners in August 1914 than they were to yield to the Allies in August 1918. Bearing in mind Moltke's comment on the paucity of French prisoners in the opening weeks, this makes you wonder whether the Germans were guilty of assuming that the Entente edifice would fall apart easily in 1914, just as they were to expect that the Soviet Union was bound to collapse 27 years later.

Phil

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I have said enough to show what I think of the book but there is a little mystery which I hope someone will clear up for me. Early on in the book, Zuber says that the formation of the New Armies required regular troops to give up their 2nd pair of boots and they were sorely needed on the retreat. I was and am very sceptical of this. I believe the men of the 1st New Army were only enlisting when the BEF were embarking with full kit. However, the author quotes a regimental history of the Cheshires as his source. I believe, it is mentioned in several sources, that on the retreat, an instruction was given by the General Staff to dump supplies including ammunition and anything not absolutely essential and the space used to carry troops unable to march. The order was torn up by Haig's CoS and countermanded bt Smith-Dorrien. General Snow's command obeyed the order and some of his men certainly did suffer from losing their spare boots which were on the wagons. ( That is from Cassar ) The plot thickens. The only Cheshires I can find in the OOB for the BEF at this time were in the 5th Division. The part they played of course is very well known. They were in II Corps and so the order to dump their kit should have not been implemented. Questions, then. Was the kit, including boots dumped despite S-D countermanding the order? Some of you will certainly have read the Regimental history of the Cheshires. Can you expand on the statement and perhaps shed some light on the claim?

Kit Dumping.

It was, of course, up to the most junior soldier to make a decision to dump kit, provided he was prepared to justify it ..... regardless of any orders received.

2nd RWF did a fair bit of dumping on the withdrawal, and some decisions in that unit to do so were made at Company level. Equally, their QM, to keep them combat-ready, was unscrupulous in restocking whenever he could.

To my mind, this demonstrates the flexibility and maturity of the Old Contemptibles.

'We'll do it!"

"What is it?"

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Interestingly, I saw this book in Waterstone's in Winchester this afternoon. (I didn't buy it). I was surprised: I'd assumed it would be a bit 'specialist' for a High Street (well, Shopping Centre) store.

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Good evening All,

Although the French "offensive" tactics may have been suspect in August 1914, their rearguard actions and response were far better and the Germans were unable to encircle them. The Crown Prince talks of his Army missing the opportunity cut off their retreat; further North the other French armies and the BEF were also able to largely "get away". As Robert has stated this contrasts vividly with Sedan in 1870, where the French Army was surrounded. As the German Army pursued the French across the Meuse in 1914, across those same (battle)fields of that late summer, 44 years previous, it is no wonder some reflected on the difference between a victory followed by pursuit and a victory followed by surrender of a major part of the French army. Particularly when those Generals knew a quick overall vistory in the West was required.....and the pursued French army could always turn, as it did at the Marne.

P.S. Robert - awaiting thesis with anticipation

.

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The historiographical element of this is what I find so intriguing. The pendulum swings, with the Germans being depicted as superb at one moment, and then deeply flawed at another. Likewise with the French. I feel very much in Zuber's debt, in so far as he has opened my eyes to the inordinate combat skills that were displayed by those German soldiers in the Battle of the Frontiers. But then, I suppose, how could it be otherwise in a nation that had its Genesis in a sequence of military successes ? This modern day Sparta was not only endowed with extreme martial attributes, but also enjoyed the benefits of exponential industrial growth and attendant social welfare. At first, I was dismayed to contemplate this reassessment of a battle which hitherto had lent credence to the myth of the unique prowess of Tommy Atkins. But now, in reflecting on the very formidable and effective power that Germany unleashed, I am more than ever impressed by the achievement of my Grandfather and his pals in their desperate struggle against this terrifying enemy.

Phil

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I`ve much enjoyed this thread (especially once the mods had tidied it up). Are there any other sacred cow battles which members feel would benefit from a similar reassessment?

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Mar 15 2010, 09:41 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I`ve much enjoyed this thread (especially once the mods had tidied it up). Are there any other sacred cow battles which members feel would benefit from a similar reassessment?

Agree Phil. This thread has been excellent. Regarding your second point.

Perhaps for another thread? But I've always wondered about Le cateau. Did the British Divisions involved really break off and dissappear in broad daylight, leaving the Germans attacking all over the place?

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And the points about the ongoing debates within the German Army are also very important. The regulations captured/perpetrated one view of the debate

I will probably do my normal crummy job in explaining my thought but Robert kind of sums up some of my frustration with the older book. Zuber only looks at things through the 1906 regulation and while he admits that it was not homogeneously applied he continues to judge against the 1906 standard which was only one side of the debate. It is not even clear to me that it was a very developed side of the debate and this is only at the tactical level. His premise eliminates any operational application and so I find myself constantly thinking that he is very narrow similar to a company commander who only looks at things one way --

I fear that we may have run out and congratulated the author on an analysis that does not cover the various views because he did it in English and he is sort of a pioneer. Is it unfair attention?

I was wondering if the new book changes this approach or is he still locked in one version of the analysis?

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Joe wrote:

"I fear that we may have run out and congratulated the author on an analysis that does not cover the various views because he did it in English and he is sort of a pioneer. Is it unfair attention?"

Joe, for some further background on the debates in German tactics before the war here are some recommendations (you may have already read them). Both are excellent:

"After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers Before the Great War," by Echevarria

"The Kaiser's Army, 1870-1918: Technological, Tactical, and Operational Dilemmas in Germany during the Machine Age," by Eric Dorn Brose

I don't think the attention is unfair--perhaps welcome, as it's sparked discussion? Almost anything new on the German Army is welcome, given the lack of coverage.

Intrigued by the remarks here, I ordered Zuber's book this morning. I'm curious about his use of sources, and his conclusions. I'll be very interested to see how much he utilised the inter-war analysis of German military writers.

ciao,

Paul

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