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World War I The war to end all wars.

View Poll Results: How do you consider the Battle of Mons?
Mons should be considered a British victory 9 42.86%
Mons was a German victory 6 28.57%
I don't know (yet) 2 9.52%
Other opinion, please expand 4 19.05%
Voters: 21. You may not vote on this poll

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  #46  
Old 07 Apr 12, 21:29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johan Banér View Post
Still, it doesn't really adress the complaint why the conscripts with the juinior leadership should come off as a faceless mass, does it? It's about the description of the action working out is if counsious volition only existed on the British side.
I have never described that von Kluck's First Army as a "Faceless Mass".

Of course they weren't.

It is the impression that you have gained after reading selected literature on the subject.
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  #47  
Old 08 Apr 12, 04:16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BELGRAVE View Post
I have never described that von Kluck's First Army as a "Faceless Mass".

Of course they weren't.

It is the impression that you have gained after reading selected literature on the subject.
English language literature on the subject, yes. Which is mostly what there is. That was where the initial question by Major Sennef came from, and so the subject under discussion, no? I haven't seen anyone trying to pin the opinion specifically on yourself.

Out of curiosity, after finding it, I did read the account in that link I posted.
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  #48  
Old 08 Apr 12, 11:41
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There is a simple reason why there is more written about Mons in English literature as opposed to German.

According to Holger Herwig in his The Marne 1914, Kluck felt cheated of the encirclement and destruction of the BEF by Bulow’s orders to maintain touch with Second Army. He was also annoyed that his infantry showed such contempt for the enemy’s firepower.

“Mons was thus best forgotten”.

Not the stuff of legend making as it was for the British.
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  #49  
Old 08 Apr 12, 11:41
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I’m not sure why the casualty figures of 1,600 for the British and an estimated 5,000 for the Germans are coming under question here.

There seems to be a number of eye witness accounts of wave after wave coming at the British, to be mown down and replaced by further waves. And these aren’t only British accounts either.

From The Marne 1914, Cpt. Waler Bloem of 12th Brandenburg Grenadiers described the area as being “dotted with little grey heaps” and “Wherever I looked were dead and wounded, quivering in convulsions, groaning terribly, blood oozing from fresh wounds”.

This is two years before Day 1 Somme. Nobody seems to question the casualties there that could be taken from such an assault.
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  #50  
Old 09 Apr 12, 11:00
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Canuckster View Post
I’m not sure why the casualty figures of 1,600 for the British and an estimated 5,000 for the Germans are coming under question here.

There seems to be a number of eye witness accounts of wave after wave coming at the British, to be mown down and replaced by further waves. And these aren’t only British accounts either.

From The Marne 1914, Cpt. Waler Bloem of 12th Brandenburg Grenadiers described the area as being “dotted with little grey heaps” and “Wherever I looked were dead and wounded, quivering in convulsions, groaning terribly, blood oozing from fresh wounds”.

This is two years before Day 1 Somme. Nobody seems to question the casualties there that could be taken from such an assault.
The discussion on the reliabiity of the British lopsided casualty figures was started on page two of this thread. IMO a good historian should question this sort of anomalies, rather than blindly accept them.

The sources that speak of waves of German infantry being mowed down are British. German sources (see e.g. Johan Baner's one but last post above) do not mention it.
Walter Bloem, the only German source that stresses the German casualties, seems to be the only one that was translated into English.
I spent this rainy Easter Monday afternoon doing some research on this issue
and I found Bloem to be the only German source quoted over and over again by English speaking historians such as Holger Herwig, Richard Holmes and John Keegan when describing Mons.
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  #51  
Old 09 Apr 12, 19:40
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Yeah it seems like you’re right MS, it looks like Bloem is the only written German account. Or at least what I can find on the web.

I thought the following post war memoirs from the man himself might shed some light on the matter but as Herwig states he must have felt the less said the better. Below is his description of the battle in its entirety.

The March on Paris: The Memoirs of Alexander Von Kluck, 1914-1918.

http://archive.org/stream/marchonpar...ge/n5/mode/2up

On page 48 he writes that both sides suffered heavy losses during the obstinate fighting for the crossings of the Mons-Conde Canal on Aug 23rd.

That is it!

Maybe the Germans are relying too much on Kluck's account which would seem to indicate casualties for both sides were about the same? If you read further passages from the book, Kluck refers to the period from Mons on the 23rd to Le Cateau on the 26th as one continuous engagement.
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  #52  
Old 10 Apr 12, 04:05
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Canuckster View Post
Maybe the Germans are relying too much on Kluck's account which would seem to indicate casualties for both sides were about the same? If you read further passages from the book, Kluck refers to the period from Mons on the 23rd to Le Cateau on the 26th as one continuous engagement.
And that might be a reasonable German view of things perhaps? They dislodged the British from a position along this canal, where the British had the advantage of a good defensive position, which should have hurt then Germans, and then hit them along with French troops out in the open at Le Cateau, where the German superiority in artillery did tell. (The traditional account of "Mons" (if we should actually doubt it as a separate action, not entirely sure myself here) does in fact hinge on something that has gone a bit out of fashion — blaming the French for not being able to just stop the Germans cold in their tracks like the plucky Brits did at Mons. If only the French hadn't been such useless rotters we would have won WWI at Mons...)

Anyway, the Germans breakdown of their casualties already referred to would seem to indicate viewing this as a continuum, not quite "noticing" that Mons was a separate engagement, and a British victory. However, that is not to say the Germans view of this is a priori the "correct" one. I must say it seems entirely possible to do like the Britsh have always done, and decide to make this kind of arbitrary division in a continuum of events. Because that's what people keep doing all the time, all over the place. It's just that in this instance there is a British interest in doing it. While otoh one might position a German interest in not doing so.

The division in Mons - Le Cateau allows the British one victory (or at least successful engagement) and one hammering from the Germans early in the war. If viewed as a continuuum, the success here was the fighting retreat, but if viewed like that the British just might blend in with what the surrounding French Fifth Army was doing and become a bit indistinguishable?

It's not the only WWI situation I've seen where what bit is supposed to belong to which "battle" has been tinkered with. You can chop it up fine, like if Mons and Le Cateau are really separate engagements, and then you can telescope things rather far apart in time to try to make a point as well.

There's been a French tradition of trying to make Nivelle's botched 1917 spring offensive out as a success, eventually. That piece of magic is supposed to happen by counting Nivelles Chemin-des-Dames offensive, starting 15 April, as a continuum all the way up to and including Pétain's successful reduction of the Malmaison salient in October — massive mutinies and halts to offensives in between notwithstanding. It was one battle/offensive, and it was successful, in the end... Again, one may doubt the Germans on the other side saw it like that.

French wikipedia puts it like that still. I've always found it less than convincing.
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataill...emin_des_Dames

Moral of the story:
Just maybe we can't trust the military types to write the history? — or at least, make sure to keep track of the kind of choices they've making, and distrust their accounts when those are not evident (lousy akribeia).

Last edited by Johan Banér; 10 Apr 12 at 04:52..
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  #53  
Old 10 Apr 12, 05:44
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I read this conversation but I cannot contribute because I have limited knowledge on the subject. I invite though people that are interested to read the comments on Zuber's "The Mons Myth: Reassesement of the Battle of Mons" that can be found on amazon (.com and co.uk) and in forums such as Axis History and Great War

From the Great War forum I copy part of post#71, from a person who has read Zuber's book:
Quote:
In so far as the Battle of Mons itself is concerned - the actual fighting of August 23 - Zuber's assessment of German casualties, based on careful analysis of Regimental histories, yields an estimate of roughly 2,000 German casualties as against 1,600 suffered by the British.
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  #54  
Old 10 Apr 12, 05:55
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There seems to be a number of eye witness accounts of wave after wave coming at the British, to be mown down and replaced by further waves. And these aren’t only British accounts either.
To be fair, the 'waves of men' statement is about as old as the history of military accounts; it is rarely used by participants in said wave (or their commanders), who are usually aware of the more nuanced tactical element in what they are doing. From a third party observer, it may very well look like an unsophisticated charge but from a more technical observation it may be a series of loose skirmishing chains trying to close on an enemy position.
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  #55  
Old 10 Apr 12, 08:36
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Originally Posted by Bluenose View Post
To be fair, the 'waves of men' statement is about as old as the history of military accounts; it is rarely used by participants in said wave (or their commanders), who are usually aware of the more nuanced tactical element in what they are doing. From a third party observer, it may very well look like an unsophisticated charge but from a more technical observation it may be a series of loose skirmishing chains trying to close on an enemy position.
Building on your statement...to a 'green' 18 year old on the receiving end of said 'wave' it may seem like the whole German nation is charging his position. When the heart rate goes up and fear kicks in, several handfuls can turn into waves.
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  #56  
Old 10 Apr 12, 08:46
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Quote:
Building on your statement...to a 'green' 18 year old on the receiving end of said 'wave' it may seem like the whole German nation is charging his position. When the heart rate goes up and fear kicks in, several handfuls can turn into waves.
That's also very true, though to be fair to the BEF many probably had seen some combat before and - whatever their actual casualties - there were a fair few Germans about
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  #57  
Old 10 Apr 12, 09:20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Canuckster View Post
I thought the following post war memoirs from the man himself might shed some light on the matter but as Herwig states he must have felt the less said the better. Below is his description of the battle in its entirety.

The March on Paris: The Memoirs of Alexander Von Kluck, 1914-1918.

http://archive.org/stream/marchonpar...ge/n5/mode/2up

On page 48 he writes that both sides suffered heavy losses during the obstinate fighting for the crossings of the Mons-Conde Canal on Aug 23rd.

That is it!

Maybe the Germans are relying too much on Kluck's account which would seem to indicate casualties for both sides were about the same? If you read further passages from the book, Kluck refers to the period from Mons on the 23rd to Le Cateau on the 26th as one continuous engagement.
Great find Canukster
I knew of the existence of the book, but was unable to find it.

Many gems inside, to name only a few:
  • the essence of speedy and violent execution and of reconnaissance (cavalry and air). This starts already in the first chapter and is repeated throughout the book
  • the division of the book in five chapters: one and a half on the campaign in Belgium and three and a half chapter on France. The Battle of Mons itself only warrants one page and is perceived as constituent part of a bigger battle but at the same time Mons and le Cateau both get a map in a book with only three maps. The third one is a general map of the campaign
  • the map of the Mons battlefield itself, with a couple of remarkable differences with British maps (opposite page 40)
  • the observation by von Kluck where in his opinion the Schlieffen Plan starts to go wrong (page 42)
  • the remark on the casualties at Mons on page 48 as you already highlighted but also interesting with regards to the theme of this thread von Kluck’s remark that “the BEF fought excellently while British prisoners extolled the Germans as attacking like devils”
  • the Order of Battle of First Army in the annex at the back.
Needless to say I bookmarked this find. Many thanks
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