Battle of St. Quentin (1914)

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The Battle of St. Quentin (also called the First Battle of Guise (French: 1ere Bataille de Guise) was fought during World War I.


On the night of 26 August 1914, the Allies withdrew from Le Cateau to St. Quentin.[1]

With retreat all along the line, the commander-in-chief of the French forces, Joseph Joffre, needed the Fifth Army under Charles Lanrezac to hold off the German advance through counterattacking, despite a 4-mile (6.4 km) separation from the French Fourth Army on the right flank, and the continual retreat of the BEF on the left flank. The movement of the Fifth Army took most of 28 August, turning from facing north to facing west against St. Quentin.[2]

On 29 August the French Fifth Army attacked St. Quentin with their full force. Due to the capture of orders from a French officer, Bülow was already aware of the counter-offensive, and had time to prepare. The attacks against the town by the XVIII corps met with heavy casualties and little success, but X and III corps on the right were rallied by the commander of I corps, Louis Franchet d'Esperey. Advances on the right were made successfully against Guise, and forced the Germans, including Bülow's elite units of the Guards Corps, to fall back.[3]

That night, Joffre issued orders for Lanrezac to resume his retreat and destroy the bridges to the Oise as he fell back. The orders did not reach the Fifth Army until the morning of 30 August, and the retreat began several hours late. However, the move went unchallenged by the German Second Army, which neither attacked nor pursued.[4]

Bülow found that the 2nd Army was separated by the Oise, which offered the possibility of enveloping the French attack with counter-attacks from both flanks. The risk that the French could exploit the 15-kilometre (9.3 mi) gap between the inner flanks of the 2nd Army, led Bülow to choose a cautious policy of preventing the danger and ordered the corps on the inner flanks to close up and counter-attack the French X Corps. Later in the afternoon French attacks were repulsed and the 14th Division was ordered to advance from the Somme area to intervene in the battle but the commander ignored the order to let the division rest and prepare for an advance on La Fère to get behind the Fifth Army. Einem was then overruled and all corps of the 2nd Army were ordered to attack and obtain a decisive victory. Bülow reported the battle to OHL by wireless as a victory but during the night, captured documents revealed that thirteen French divisions had attacked against 6½ German divisions. Bülow sent a staff officer to the German First Army and Alexander von Kluck, to request support for the attack on 30 August. Doubts emerged that the Guard Corps could attack in the morning due to exhaustion and the commander was authorised to withdraw behind the Oise if necessary; the possibility of enveloping the French left flank had passed and operations for local advantage were ordered for the morning.[5]

The French resumed the offensive on the morning of 30 August but managed only disjointed attacks, which were repulsed and German counter-attacks began before noon. The terrain in the Oise valley was marshy, cut by deep streams and covered by underbrush, with rising ground beyond. German infantry made slow progress amidst extensive artillery bombardments by both sides. By early afternoon, aircraft reconnaissance reports showed that the French had begun to withdraw behind rearguards and Bülow ordered a pursuit by small infantry parties with field artillery, while the main force paused to rest, due to exhaustion and to concern that the fortress of La Fère obstructed a general advance and should be masked while the 1st Army enveloped the French from the west and then attacked on 1 September. The 2nd Army pursuit by small forces took only four guns, 16 machine-guns and c. 1,700 prisoners.[6]


  1. ^ Doughty 2005, p. 78.
  2. ^ Doughty 2005, pp. 78–79.
  3. ^ Doughty 2005, p. 80.
  4. ^ Doughty 2005, pp. 80–81.
  5. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 368–373.
  6. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 373–391.


  • Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. ISBN 0-67401-880-X. 
  • Evans, M. M. (2004). Battles of World War I. Select Editions. ISBN 1-84193-226-4. 
  • 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. 
  • Tuchman, Barbara W. (1962). The Guns of August. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38623-X. 

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