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The current time is: 9/19/2018 11:23:41 PM
 (1914-1918) WWI Battles
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anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
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E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 6851
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Was Snith Dorriens decision to stand at Le Cateau--Right or Wrong???
Posted on: 4/26/2018 5:13:43 AM
Aware that his men were exhausted,General Smith-Dorrien decided to halt the retreat and confront the German advance. Despite orders to the contrary from General French, who wanted the retreat to continue southwards, on 26 August 1914 Smith-Dorrien gave battle to six divisions of Germany's 1st Army under the command of General Kluck along a line stretching from Esne through the town of Le Cateau to Caudry. The British guns were rapidly silenced and the Germans soon gained possession of Le Cateau after fierce street fighting. The breakthrough of the German 5th Infantry Division to the east of Le Cateau threatened the right flank of the British and this forced Smith-Dorrien to withdraw with support from French cavalry under the command of General Sordet.

The 2nd Corps of the BEF lost 7,800 men but did succeed in slowing down the progress of the German advance and this gave the other British and French forces the time they needed to execute their retreat.

Opinions are divided as to the success of the first British operation in France. In his autobiography entitled There's a devil in the drum, the soldier John Lucy wrote, "it is said by some that through the course of the entire war never were British troops as heavily outnumbered". General Kluck also mentioned the event in his memoirs, "In short, Smith-Dorrien suffered a heavy defeat".

Although initially opposed to General Smith-Dorrien's decision to turn and fight, General French later wrote, "In the report I drew up in September 1914, I spoke in glowing terms of the Battle of Le Cateau". For him the Battle of Le Cateau prevented the loss of three British divisions; however he also later admitted that "the consequences of our losses in the Battle of Le Cateau made themselves felt during the Battle of the Marne and the first operations on the Aisne."

I am of the opinion that he weas right edges this decision.The Germans were hot on his heels and he feared a breakthrough--so he made a costly stand and the BEF escaped


Regasds

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

Michigan Dave
Muskegon, Michigan, MI, USA
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E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 3898

Re: Was Snith Dorriens decision to stand at Le Cateau--Right or Wrong???
Posted on: 4/26/2018 9:11:01 AM
Hi Jim,

War fare is sometimes costly and command decisions tough, I think under the dire circumstances Gen. Smith-Dorrien made the right decision to make the stand! Not fighting could have actually been more damaging!?

[Read More]

Regards,
MD
---------------
"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Phil andrade
London, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major
Moderator
Posts: 3198

Re: Was Snith Dorriens decision to stand at Le Cateau--Right or Wrong???
Posted on: 4/26/2018 9:39:54 AM
Extraordinary affair, this Le Cateau battle....for one thing, John French and Horrace Smith Dorrien detested each other.

What possessed Kitchener to appoint SD to command 2nd Corps, when he must have known that the personality clash might imperil the conduct of operations ?

Kitchener himself was an odd fish, no doubt about that.

As for the battle itself, the British were caught at a disadvantage in terms of artillery deployment, and the Germans turned their advantage to good account. A lot of British guns were caught in the open , partly because they were moved up to support the infantry....rather like the guns at Gettysburg fifty odd years before. Indeed, you could compare SD’s decision to stand at Le Cateau with the move made by Sickles at Gettysburg : both men disobeyed orders, and in both cases controversy raged about whether their respective decisions were wise or foolish.

The numbers engaged were about equal; if anything, the British had more troops there , but they were deployed chaotically and destroyed battalion by battalion.

I think that SD was justified in the stand he made. He was also damned lucky that his corps escaped. He himself had been singularly lucky thirty five years earlier when he made his escape from the Zulu at Isandlwana .....virtually the only British officer to survive that encounter.

The Germans failed to use their cavalry properly and this facilitated the British escape. A French cavalry contingent under the command of General Sordet did a lot to keep German cavalry at bay.

The British figure of 7,800 casualties is very inflated by large numbers of stragglers who were rounded up and taken prisoner in the days immediately before and after the battle. It appears that the number of killed and wounded in the battle was approximately three thousand on each side ; the Germans claimed 2,600 British POWs.

SD took a huge risk, but I think he was right . Had he not made that stand, he faced the prospect of his force dissolving through straggling, exhaustion and profound demoralisation. He sent out a message : Gentlemen, we will stand and fight !

Which is the wiser choice : to risk a stand in which you might lose your army ; or to continue a demoralising, exhausting and damaging retreat in which you are certain to see your force fade away as large contingents surrender to the enemy ?

Regards, Phil
---------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!"

"That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

anemone
DONCASTER S. YORKS, UK
top 5
E-9 Cmd Sgt Major


Posts: 6851
http:// 82.44.47.99
Re: Was Snith Dorriens decision to stand at Le Cateau--Right or Wrong???
Posted on: 4/26/2018 10:43:37 AM
Excellent summary Phil which echoes my opinion of SD's decision. He suffered a fearful hiding but this allowed hum to escaped.Pity about his poor troop deployment which needlessly caused much bloodshed,SD was a marked man --his enemy being the ineffectual Sir John French--dacked at Ypres and replced by a general who did precisely what SD wanted to do.

Regards

Jim
---------------
Pro Patria Saepe Pro Rege Semper

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