Battle of Le Cateau
|Battle of Le Cateau|
|Part of the Great Retreat on the Western Front (First World War)|
British dead at the Battle of Le Cateau.
| United Kingdom
|Commanders and leaders|
| Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien
| Alexander von Kluck
Karl von Bülow
|Casualties and losses|
|7,812 men (including about 2,600 prisoners)
The Battle of Le Cateau was fought on 26 August 1914, after the British and French retreated from the Battle of Mons and had set up defensive positions in a fighting withdrawal against the German advance at Le Cateau-Cambrésis.
On the morning of 26 August, the Germans arrived and heavily attacked the British forces commanded by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien. Unlike the Battle of Mons, where the majority of casualties inflicted by the British were from rifle fire, Le Cateau was an artilleryman's battle, demonstrating the devastating results which modern quick-firing artillery using airbursting shrapnel shells could have on infantry advancing in the open.
Holding their ground tenaciously against superior odds despite taking heavy casualties, by mid-afternoon, the right, then left flanks of the British, began to break under unrelenting pressure from the Germans. The arrival of Sordet's French cavalry acted as a shield for the British left flank, and supported a highly co-ordinated tactical withdrawal despite continued attempts by the Germans to infiltrate and outflank the retreating British forces.
That night, the Allies withdrew to Saint-Quentin. Of the 40,000 Allied men fighting at Le Cateau, 7,812 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Several British regiments had even disappeared from the rolls altogether. Thirty-eight artillery pieces (guns) were abandoned to the advancing Germans, the majority having their breech blocks removed and sights disabled by the gunners before retirement.
For these losses, however, the engagement at Le Cateau had achieved its objective, and enabled the British Expeditionary Force to retreat unmolested by the Germans for a further five days. Despite being later criticised for his decision to "stand and fight" at Le Cateau by his superior Field Marshal Sir John French, Smith-Dorrien was lionised by both the army and the public at home for his actions. The consensus amongst military historians considers Le Cateau as amongst the most successful holding actions in British military history, ranking alongside the Battle of the Imjin River during the Korean War in terms of its strategic effect.
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- Jones, Nigel H. The War Walk, (1983), Robert Hale Ltd.
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- The Battle of Le Cateau, 1914
- The Battle of Le Cateau, 26 August 1914
- Battle of Le Cateau, 26 August 1914