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Remembered Today:

GHQ August 1914


Mike Donoghue
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Hello, could someone confirm for me whether Le Cateau was the GHQ in those early days of the war? Was it established for very long?

I read Sir John's 1st Despatch on the Long Long Trail, and didn't see the location mentioned. I've tried a few other searches with no luck. Probably should have tried harder!

Also, was Mauberge a concentration point for the BEF?

I am researching my grandfather. He was a Munster Fusilier in the 1st Guards Brigade, 1st Division, taken prisoner August 27th, (familiar with that part of it).

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Mike

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Mike, there's an old thread Here but not sure about Le Cateau?

From Wiki " On the left flank of the Fifth Army, facing the Belgian frontier, was the BEF which concentrated near the fortress town of Maubeuge "

Mike

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Jerry Murland 'Retreat and Rearguard 1914' p.4 says;

'The BEF's assembly area was a narrow strip running from Maubeuge in the north-east to le Cateau in the south-west, where Sir John French had established his GHQ in a school house in the centre of town'.

Murland gives no footnote or source for this item of information.

But Don Farr in 'Mons 1914 - 1918' Ch1 records that Spears, upon discovering the retreat of Lanrezac's Fifth Army, hurried back to BEF GHQ at le Cateau and reported the French retreat to Macdonogh, the BEF intelligence head.

Simon.

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Thank you, Mike and Simon for your comments.

Is it possible read any kind of detailed account of what transpired at GHQ in Le Cateau?

French's first despatch indicates at that time they thought there was only one, at most two, enemy army corps, with one cavalry division in front of them. Within several days they ascertained the number was more like five enemy army corps.

As far as their understanding of how the Schleifen Plan would have unfolded, was the descrepancy in enemy numbers largely due to the realisation that German Reserves were being utilised alongside front line units?

Was Sir John relying too heavily on Joffre's scewed perception of the situation, re. Plan 17?

Thank you again,

Mike

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I dont know his source but FM French was persuaded by Gen Wilson that there was only one or at the most two German Corps about to face the BEF, although reports from the RFC seemed to show a larger force approaching. As I understand it the BEF planning for the 23rd was for an offensive which was only changed during the late evening/early morning of the 22nd/23rd when Lt Spears arrived with details of the French 5th army intention to withdraw.

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Good morning,

Sir John had little choice; the BEF made up a small part of the forces facing the Germans. The BEF were assigned their role pre-war. The BEF may have been defeated at Mons, they may have subsequently retreated further than any force on the western front but in not been outflanked and in not suffering large casualties theirs was a significant contribution to Joffre's subsequent plan for the Marne

As to Joffre's " scewed perception of the situation, re Plan 17?" Plan XVII evolved and was drawn up on the basis of whether the Germans would attack through Lorraine or Belgium. For political reasons Joffre could neither invade Belgium first or wait to fight the Germans on French soil. The plan then further evolved: originally Lanrezac's Fifth army was supposed to provide the hammer blow and was sized accordingly; based on his interpretation of what was happening Joffre then amended the plan strengthening (IIRC) Fourth Army which was increased in size by mid-August, to, along with Third Army, punch through the Ardennes, cutting off the bulk of German forces to their north-west. Lanrezac would then attack to complete the defeat of the Germans. Joffre may have misread the size of the German forces in front of him due to the German use of reserves but the two aforementioned political constraints severely restricted his options. The allied defeats were largely due to other factors, among which were: superior German training and too many inferior French commanders at Army level downwards.

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Thank you, Bill and Steve for your replies. You've added to my understanding of the situation.

I read that General Wilson had given briefings about the Schleifen Plan as early as 1911. Was the BEF's pre-war understanding of the Schleifen Plan that much different than our's is today? What I mean is, I'm wondering if they knew how the German armies would be lining up 1 through 7, for example? Or was their perception of it more general in nature, (ie strong flanking right wing.)

I guess what I'm asking is, if one of General French's staff were conducting briefings at the school house in Le Cateau, would the map on the wall, or on the table, show a reasonable depiction of where the armies of Kluck, Bulow and Hausen were? Was the lack of understanding related primarily to troop strengths or did it encompass the general where abouts of the armies of the right wing?

Sorry if that's too much for one post.

Thanks again,

Mike

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I dont think GHQ had a very good understanding of what German formations were facing them.

John Terraine, in Retreat to Victory, is quite critical of the role of GHQ and seems to sugest that it was the Corps Commanders and Staff who took most responsibility for decisions, especialy Smith Dorien in the early stages of the retreat.

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I dont know his source but FM French was persuaded by Gen Wilson that there was only one or at the most two German Corps about to face the BEF, although reports from the RFC seemed to show a larger force approaching. As I understand it the BEF planning for the 23rd was for an offensive which was only changed during the late evening/early morning of the 22nd/23rd when Lt Spears arrived with details of the French 5th army intention to withdraw.
There is another interesting source. In the series about the Great War, an interview was conducted with one of the pilots. He related a conversation with FM French in which French refused to believe the evidence of larger forces descending on the BEF. The converse is that the cavalry were ordered to stop on reaching the Mons area and begin preparing defenses, which were intended to be taken over and expanded by the infantry when they arrived. This order was issued before the 23rd.

Robert

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