Battle of Le Cateau

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Battle of Le Cateau
Part of the Great Retreat on the Western Front of World War I
British casualties at Le Cateaua.jpg
British dead at the Battle of Le Cateau.
Date 26 August 1914
Location Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France
50°06′15″N 03°32′40″E / 50.10417°N 3.54444°E / 50.10417; 3.54444Coordinates: 50°06′15″N 03°32′40″E / 50.10417°N 3.54444°E / 50.10417; 3.54444
Result German victory
 United Kingdom
France France
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien
France Michel-Joseph Maunoury
German Empire Alexander von Kluck
German Empire Karl von Bülow
40,000 Unknown
Casualties and losses
7,812 (700 killed, 2,500–2,600 captured)
38 guns
c. 5,000

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.[1] The British deployed their artillery in the open, about 50–200 metres (55–219 yd) behind their infantry, while the German artillery used indirect fire from concealed positions.[2]

By mid-day, Sixt von Armin had realised that the British stand was more than a rearguard and imposed organisation on the German attack, which in the morning had occurred piecemeal.[3] 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.[4][5]

That night, the Allies withdrew to Saint-Quentin. Of the 40,000 British troops fighting at Le Cateau, 7,812 British casualties were incurred, including 2,600 taken prisoner.[6] 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.[7]


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. Smith-Dorrien was later criticised for his decision to stand at Le Cateau by his superior Field Marshal Sir John French.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edmonds 1926, pp. 141–160.
  2. ^ Bailey 2004, pp. 212–213.
  3. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 261.
  4. ^ Edmonds 1926, pp. 161–174.
  5. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 259–265.
  6. ^ Edmonds 1926, p. 182.
  7. ^ Edmonds 1926, pp. 176–187.
  8. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 260–261.


  • Bailey, J. B. A. (2004). Field Artillery and Firepower. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-029-0. 
  • Edmonds, J. E. (1926). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1914: Mons, the Retreat to the Seine, the Marne and the Aisne August–October 1914. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence II (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962523. 
  • Humphries, M. O.; Maker, J. (2013). Der Weltkrieg: 1914, The Battle of the Frontiers and Pursuit to the Marne. Germany's Western Front: Translations From the German Official History of the Great War I. Part 1. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 978-1-55458-373-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Becke, Major A. F. The Royal Regiment of Artillery at Le Cateau. (Reprinted D P & G Military Publishers, 2002, ISBN 978-1-903972-16-8. Reprinted Naval & Military Press Ltd (July 2003, paperback) ISBN 978-1-84342-545-8; (June 2006, hardcover) ISBN 978-1-84734-275-1)
  • Bird, Antony Gentlemen, We Will Stand and Fight: Le Cateau 1914 The Crowood Press Ltd, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84797-062-6
  • Brown, Malcolm, The Western Front, (1993), Sidgwick and Jackson.
  • Cave, Nigel and Sheddon, Jack. Le Cateau. Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2008, ISBN 978-0-85052-842-8.
  • Evans, M. M. (2004). Battles of World War I. Select Editions. ISBN 1-84193-226-4.
  • Gavaghan, Michael. Illustrated Pocket Guide to Mons, Le Cateau 1914. (Forgotten Battles Series, Book 3) M&L Publications ISBN 0-9524464-5-6.
  • HMSO. Battle of Le Cateau 26th August, 1914. Tour of the Battlefield. HMSO (By Command of the Army Council), 1934, reprinted Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2005, ISBN 978-1-84574-033-7.
  • Jones, Nigel H. The War Walk, (1983), Robert Hale Ltd.
  • Lomas, David. Mons - 1914, (1997), Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-142-7.

External links[edit]