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A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

II DEFEAT AND VICTORY IN THE WEST

I

THE wheels of mobilization ran smoothly, accompanied on the Continent by a greater or less degree of martial law. No such preliminary break-down was anywhere experienced as threw the French army into chaos in July 1870. The figures for France show that between August 2nd and 18th 3,781,000 men were transported in 7,000 trains, which at some periods succeeded each other day and night every eight minutes. It is probably a true generalization that throughout the war the problems of concentration and supply were everywhere, except in Russia, more efficiently tackled than that of strategic direction. The Germans brought about 1,500,000 men into line against France, divided into seven armies. The deployment of the three southern armies was simple; they covered very large fronts, and were for the present to stand defensively upon the line from Thionville to Switzerland. The remaining four were to take part in the great wheel through northern France and Belgium. A successful accomplishment of this task was difficult. The high, wooded country of the Ardennes and Eiffel does not favour rapid movement; though the violation of neutral Luxembourg (August 2) had provided an indispensable centre of roads and railways converging from the west. Moreover, the denser the formation, the narrower was the area allotted for concentration. Von Kluck's Ist army, 320,000 strong, on whose unimpeded march everything depended, had to pass first through the bottle-neck of Aix-la-Chapelle, then through a strip six miles wide between the Dutch frontier and Liége. The IInd army of von Bülow of 260,000 men had likewise to pass through, and immediately south of, Liége before extending its front more comfortably. It is therefore obvious that the possession of this city, with the adjacent crossings of the Meuse, was absolutely vital to

-13-

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