Published: 26th March 2010
:: Mons ::
The Retreat To Victory
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From Pen & Sword Books
The Battle of Mons takes its place in the history of the British army beside Corunna and Dunkirk. Initially, all three were defeats, saved from disaster by the courage of the soldiers and the skill of some of the commanders, and paving the way to great feats of arms and final success. In the context of the whole of the WW1, Mons was a small scale affair; comparatively short in duration, and resulting in casualties that were light indeed by the standard of later battles. But, from the British viewpoint, its importance was crucial, partly because it was the first time for close on a hundred years that a British Army had been engaged in warfare on the continent of Europe, and partly because that army passed straight from the dejection of defeat to the exhilaration of the Battle of the Marne – one of the decisive battles of the War.
The monumental Battle of Mons was one of the five so-called Battles of the Frontier and takes place in the history of the British Army beside the retreats at Corunna and Dunkirk. Although all three battles were initial defeats, saved from disaster by the tremendous courage of the troops and the exemplary skill of some of the commanders in the field, they ultimately paved the way to final success.
After arriving in France on 14 August, the British Expeditionary Force, led by Sir John French, began their march from the Belgian coast in an attempt to rendezvous with the French Fifth Army near Charleroi. However, after six days of marching, the BEF encountered the German First Army at Soignies on 22 August and the Battle of Mons ensued.
The British, with a force of 70,000 men, founds themselves heavily outnumbered by a German force more than double their size. Despite such unfavourable odds, the British riflemen exacted heavy losses on the advancing Germans and, by the end of the first day, the enemy had little to show for their offensive. Despite this, after the first few days of fighting, the British had suffered 1,600 casualties and, with the retreat of General Lanrezac’s Fifth Army, the British were forced to make a strategic retreat to the British second line of defence. When the Germans attacked again at the Battle of Le Cateau, they inflicted a further 8,000 casualties to the British rear-guard.
Mons’ importance from a British viewpoint was crucial, partly because it was the first time for almost one hundred years that a British Army had been engaged in warfare on the continent of Europe, and partly because that army passed straight from the dejection of defeat to the exhilaration of the Battle of the Marne. This fascinating and highly detailed book explains the battle in its entirely, from the departure of the troops from Southampton to the battles at Mons and Le Cateau and the beginnings of the allied counterstroke against the Germans at Marne.
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