Siege of Maubeuge
The Siege of Maubeuge took place from 24 August – 7 September 1914, at the start of World War I on the Western Front. The garrison of the fortress surrendered to the Germans after bombardment by heavy and super-heavy artillery, attacks by aircraft and ground troops.
After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 the French built more fortresses on the German border and extended the frontier fortifications northwards by building new ones at Hirson, Maubeuge, Lille and Dunkirk.
French defensive preparations
On 7 August General Fournier, commander of the fortified region of Maubeuge, warned that a German offensive over the Meuse River by six corps was likely. General Joseph Joffre sacked Fournier for defeatism and replaced him with General Desaleux but changed his mind, after sending General Paul Pau to review the situation at Maubeuge, who recommended that Fournier be reinstated. At a British Council of War on 12 August, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener predicted a German offensive through Belgium but sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to Maubeuge as planned, instead of concentrating further back at Amiens. Kitchener ordered General John French not to consider himself under the command of the French Army but subordinated British strategy to the French for the sake of the alliance. The BEF landed in France from 14–17 August and took post on the left flank of the French Fifth Army from Maubeuge to Le Cateau by 20 August. Next day dawn broke misty and no air reconnaissance was possible until the afternoon. The BEF began to advance northwards from Maubeuge towards Mons, despite aircraft reconnaissance reports that a column of German troops "stretched through Louvain as far as the eye could see".
German offensive preparations
The possibility of the BEF assembling at Maubeuge was known to the Germans but a concentration at the Channel ports was also considered possible. On 21 August, General Karl von Bülow ordered the 1st Army (General Alexander von Kluck) to veer southwards towards Maubeuge. On 24 August, the VII Corps, on the right flank of the 2nd Army, advanced until the 13th Division was forced to halt by French fire from Maubeuge. The corps was ordered to isolate the south-eastern fringe of the town, with the 13th Division and advance against the right flank of the BEF, south of Maubeuge towards Aulnoye with the rest of the corps units on 25 August. News arrived of the fall of most of the Namur forts and air reconnaissance revealed the beginning of a French general retreat, to a line from Verdun to Mézières and Maubeuge. The 14th Division of the VII Reserve Corps, was ordered south to Binche to join the IX and VII corps to isolate Maubeuge on both sides of the Sambre. The Germans were under the impression that the BEF was about to be surrounded but late in the afternoon, it was discovered that the BEF had escaped. Bulow made General von Einem responsible for the isolation of Maubeuge, with the VII Corps (less the 14th Division), VII Reserve Corps (less the 13th Reserve Division), IX Corps and the artillery and siege units released by the fall of Namur.
The envelopment began on 26 August and next day, Zwehl was ordered to conduct the attack on Maubeuge, with the VII Reserve Corps and the 17th Division of the IX Corps; the rest of the troops at Maubeuge were sent south in pursuit of the Franco-British. On 27 August, the 13th Reserve Division was sent to Maubeuge and the VII Corps was ordered to leave one brigade behind and march southwards. Zwehl planned to attack the fortress from the north-east, with a secondary attack from south of the Sambre. Three sectors were established, one from the Trouille stream to the Sambre below Maubeuge, the second from the Sambre to the Solre brook and the third sector from the Solre to the Sambre north of the fortifications. A regiment of cavalry was to cover the gap to the west and north. The 21 heavy and super-heavy batteries from Namur were to be deployed between Givry and Solre. By 2 September, the 27th Reserve Infantry Brigade had taken over the 1st sector, the 26th Infantry Brigade held the southern sector and elements of the 13th Reserve Division held a new 4th sector to the west around Bavay.
On the morning of 24 August, French briefly threatened to retreat away from the French Fifth Army towards Amiens, until he was dissuaded by Joffre and also considered withdrawing the BEF into the fortress of Maubeuge. Later that day the German 2nd Army opened its attack on Maubeuge and next day the 2nd Army bypassed Maubeuge and left behind a corps to cover the fortress. The French Grand Quartier Général (GQG) ordered the fortress commander to hold on as German forces beyond, completed the investment of the fortified area. From 29 August – 5 September, the Maubeuge fortresses were bombarded by German heavy and super-heavy artillery. German infantry attacked the fortress on 5 September and on the next day stormed four of the bypassed forts. On the evening of 6 September, the fortified area of Maubeuge was surrendered to the Germans.
In Principal Events, 1914–1918 (1922), the British official historians recorded that 40,000 French soldiers were taken prisoner. In 2009, Herwig recorded that the Germans took 32,692 prisoners and 450 guns, when Maubeuge was surrendered on 6 September. The Germans suffered 1,100 casualties.
- Humphries & Maker 2013, p. 61.
- Cassou 1919, pp. 3–4.
- Strachan 2001, p. 205.
- Humphries & Maker 2013, p. 139.
- Edmonds 1926, pp. 48, 452–456.
- Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 204–205, 243–245, 247.
- Zuber 2014, p. 256.
- Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 253–254, 263, 269, 447.
- Skinner & Stacke 1922, pp. 8–10.
- Herwig 2009, p. 255.
- Wyrall 1928, pp. 143–149.
- Cassou, P. (1919). La vérité sur le siège de Maubeuge [The Truth about the Siege Maubeuge] (PDF) (in French). Paris: Berger Levrault. OCLC 23420729. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
- 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. I (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962523.
- Herwig, H. (2009). The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle that Changed the World. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6671-1.
- 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 (1st ed.). Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 978-1-55458-373-7.
- Skinner, H. T.; Stacke, H. Fitz M. (1922). Principal Events 1914–1918 (PDF). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. London: HMSO. OCLC 17673086. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
- Strachan, H. (2001). The First World War: To Arms. I. Oxford: OUP. ISBN 0-19-926191-1.
- Wyrall, E. (2003) . The Story of the 62nd (West Riding) Division, 1914–1919. II (Naval & Military Press ed.). London: The Bodley Head. ISBN 1-84342-582-3.
- Zuber, T. (2014). Ten Days in August: The Siege of Liège 1914. Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7509-5761-8.
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