The opening campaign of the Great War as seen by the German Army
History, it is said, is written by the victors and that is generally true. It is therefore often difficult for the military historian of later times to achieve a complete understanding of the position on both sides of an engagement. Sources from the losing side tend to be in shorter supply than those on the winning side. There is now much interest in the opening campaign of the First World War, not least because the outstanding defensive performance of the hugely outnumbered ‘Contemptible Little Army’ is particularly appealing to the sentiments of English speaking people and has entered the annals of great military achievements. Also all students of the period know that the war shortly became a stalemate, a war of attrition with barbed-wire, trenches, mud and blood that abided until the last phase of the war. This was the fluid stage of the war, when experienced county infantry regiments and cavalry fought in the way that colonial experiences had trained them to fight. So this book, written by a member of the German staff is especially interesting and vital for all students of the period. It is, as one would expect, partisan in its perspective, and reveals how the campaign of 1914 was perceived by the advancing German force. It provides much detail of how the Germans saw the actions of the B. E. F and this will be a revelation to many readers. The English editor has included very useful passages of explanation and verification which compare the German view with what history has shown were the actual facts. Numerous footnotes correct the German view of the size and disposition of enemy units, the numbers of troops engaged and the ordnance the British and their French allies had at their disposal. Verification of actual Allied positions held, resources in reserve etc. are also given to counterbalance the German view. A very welcome addition to the library of anyone interested in this campaign.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The fighting on 18th October resulted in bringing us a thousand or two thousand yards nearer the Yser, but it had shown that the fight for the river line was to be a severe one. The Belgians seemed determined to sell the last acres of their kingdom only at the highest possible price. Four lines of trenches had been dug, and it could be seen that every modern scientific resource had been employed in putting the villages on the eastern bank of the river into a state of defence. A great number of guns, very skilfully placed and concealed, shelled the ground for a considerable distance east of the river, and in addition to this our right flank was enfiladed by the heavy naval guns from the sea. Battleships, cruisers and torpedo-boats worried the rear and flank of the 4th Ersatz Division with their fire, and the British had even brought heavy artillery on flat-bottomed boats close inshore. They used a great quantity of ammunition, but the effect of it all was only slight, for the fire of the naval guns was much dispersed and indicated bad observation.<br>
It became still more erratic when our long-range guns were brought into action against the British Fleet. Detachments of the 4th Ersatz Division had to be echeloned back as far as Ostend, in order to defend the coast against hostile landings. During the day the General Commanding the III Reserve Corps decided not to allow the 4th Ersatz Division to cross the Yser at Nieuport, on account of the heavy fire from the British naval guns, but to make it pass with the main body of the corps behind the 5th Reserve Division in whose area the fight appeared to be progressing favourably. The Ersatz Division was informed accordingly.<br>
On the 19th another effort would have to be made to force the crossings of the river by frontal attack, for everywhere to the south strong opposition had been encountered. From near Dixmude French troops carried on the line of the compact Belgian Army. It was against these that the new Reserve Corps were now advancing.<br>
On the night of the 18th and morning of the 19th October a strong attack was delivered from the west by the 4th Belgian Division, and from the south-west by a brigade of the 5th Belgian Division and a brigade of French Marine Fusiliers under Admiral Ronarch, against Keyem, held by part of the 6th Reserve Division. They were driven back after heavy fighting. During the 19th the southern wing of the Brandenburg (III) Reserve Corps succeeded in advancing nearer the river and, on its left, part of the artillery of the XXII Reserve Corps came into action in support of it, thereby partly relieving the III Reserve Corps, which until that day had been fighting unassisted.<br>
On the 19th more or less heavy fighting developed on the whole front of the Fourth Army. The XXII Reserve Corps advanced on Beerst and Dixmude and fought its way up into line with the III Reserve Corps. In front of it lay the strong bridge-head of Dixmude, well provided with heavy guns. The whole XXIII Reserve Corps had to be deployed into battle-formation, as every locality was obstinately defended by the enemy. In the advance of the 45th Reserve Division the 209th Reserve Regiment late in the evening took Handzaeme after severe street fighting, and the 212th Reserve Regiment took the village of Gits, whilst Cortemarck was evacuated by the enemy during the attack. The 46th Reserve Division in a running fight crossed the main road to Thourout, north of Roulers, and by the evening had arrived close to Staden. Heavy street fighting in the latter place continued during the night: the enemy, supported by the population, offered strong resistance in every house, so that isolated actions continued behind our front lines, endangering the cohesion of the attacking troops, but never to a serious extent.
The XXVI Reserve Corps encountered strong opposition at Rumbeke, south-east of Roulers; but all the enemy’s efforts were in vain, and the 233rd Reserve Infantry Regiment, under the eyes of its corps commander, General von Hügel, forced its way through the rows of houses, many of which were defended with light artillery and machine-guns. A very heavy fight took place for the possession of Roulers, which was stubbornly defended by the French; barricades were put up across the streets, machine-guns fired from holes in the roofs and windows, and concealed mines exploded among the advancing troops.<br>
In spite of all this, by 5 p.m. Roulers was taken by the 233rd, 234th and 235th Reserve Infantry Regiments, attacking from north, east and south respectively. Further to the south, after a small skirmish with British cavalry, the 52nd Reserve Division reached Morslede, its objective for the day. On its left again, the XXVII Reserve Corps had come into contact with the 3rd British Cavalry Division which tried to hold up the Corps in an advanced position at Rolleghem-Cappelle. After a lively encounter the British cavalry was thrown back on to the 7th British Division, which held a strong position about Dadizeele.