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Battle of Grand Couronné

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Battle of Grand Couronné
Part of the Battle of the Frontiers on the Western Front of the First World War
Verdun-St. Mihiel area, 9 September 1914.jpg

Grand Couronné, September 1914
Date4–13 September 1914
Location
48°40′N 06°10′E / 48.667°N 6.167°E / 48.667; 6.167
Result French victory
Belligerents
 French Republic

 German Empire

Commanders and leaders
French Third Republic Noël de Castelnau German Empire Kingdom of Bavaria Crown Prince Rupprecht
Strength
Second Army 6th Army
Casualties and losses
c. 30,000
Grand Couronné de Nancy is located in France
Grand Couronné de Nancy
Grand Couronné de Nancy
Grand Couronné de Nancy, north and east of Nancy comprising inliers 30 km (19 mi) long, 2–8 km (1.2–5.0 mi) wide; up to 400 m (1,300 ft) high

The Battle of Grand Couronné (French: Bataille du Grand Couronné) took place in France after the Battle of the Frontiers, at the beginning of the First World War. After the German victories of Sarrebourg and Morhange; pursuit by the German 6th Army (Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria) and the 7th Army took four days to regain contact with the French. The Germans attacked to break through French defences on the Moselle, from 24 August – 13 September in three phases, the Battle of the Trouée de Charmes (24–28 August) when the German offensive was met by a French counter-offensive, a period of preparation from 28 August – 3 September, when part of the French eastern armies was moved westwards towards Paris, then a final German attack against the Grand Couronné de Nancy. The battle was fought day and night from 4–13 September 1914 by the 6th Army and the French Second Army (Noël de Castelnau).

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Transcription

It's late spring of the year 1214. Due to his ever increasing power, French King Philip Augustus pushes his neighbours into forming an alliance against France, resulting in two formidable armies invading Philip's domain, on two separate fronts. English King John Lackland together with his nephew Emperor Otto march to reclaim the Angevin dominions in France and subdue the French King. The war that follows will irrevocably change the political landscape of Western Europe and alter the very course of history. It is the beginning of the XIII century. The Kingdom of France is ruled by the fair and capable Philip II, aptly nicknamed, Augustus, by his supporters. Twenty years had passed since his coronation, and Philip came a long way from emerging ruler of feudal France, becoming a major figure of the political stage that was medieval Europe. Throughout the years he waged internal wars to subdue some of his disobedient vassals, who were often stronger and more influential than their sovereign. Philip also tried to involve himself in English internal affairs, as one of his primary goals was to diminish the English presence on the continent of Europe. He acted against King Henry II and later his son, Richard the Lionheart, renowned crusader and cruel, yet very talented, soldier. The latter was an equal to Philip as an opponent, yet Richard's accidental death in 1199 temporarily halted the hostilities between the two kingdoms. As Richard didn't leave a legitimate heir, the English crown passed to his brother, John Lackland, whom Philip supported for many years, at first against his father, Henry, and later against his brother. John's ascension to the English throne was good news for Philip. He was aware that the new neighbouring monarch was quite unpopular among his people and couldn't really compare to the deceased Richard. Though initially friendly, Philip soon realized the inherent weaknesses of the new English ruler, and began using his political talents and superior military position to strip John of his dominions in northern France. As a result, by 1204, prominent Angevin duchies and counties including Normandy and Brittany fell within Philip's sphere of influence, and he soon made efforts to strengthen his control over these territories. Of course John didn't give up and after reforming his military in 1205, he invaded France a year later in order to reclaim at least some of the lost regions. Though his campaign started well, as he managed to capture the city of Angers, the brief conflict ended in a stalemate. Eventually, the French forced to sail back to England. A truce period followed, which John used to modernize the English navy and gather resources for another planned assault on Northern France. But let's stop here for a while and turn our focus to the East and the lands of the Holy Roman Empire. As early as the beginning of the XII century it was an arena of indirect rivalry between Kings of England and France, as the Germans were yet to become a major player in their on-going conflict. Long story short, following the death of the emperor, Henry VI, ten years earlier, two pretendents to the imperial throne emerged, Henry's brother Philip of Swabia of the Hohenstaufen dynasty supported by the French, and Otto of Brunswick of the Welf dynasty supported by the English. Both crowned themselves as King of the Romans, and fought each other for domination, until Philip was murdered while attending the wedding of his niece in Bamberg in 1208. Most likely Otto wasn't involved in Philip's death, yet he seized the advantage and soon ascended the imperial throne. This presented a whole new opportunity for John of England. Though Otto was still busy dealing with strong opposition in Germany, he eagerly allied himself with his uncle John against the rising power of Philip Augustus, as the King of France still supported Otto's enemies within the Empire. But while John forged alliances against Philip in the East, the French king was finishing fleet preparations for a planned invasion of England. Though John was being kept busy with internal problems, he swiftly thwarted the French invasion plans by suddenly assaulting Philip's ships harboured in Flemish ports using his reinforced navy. The English King hoped to keep the momentum going, yet impending baronial unrest forced him to postpone the planned war campaign in Northern France to the following year. John managed to temporarily appease the English nobility in late 1213 and landed with his troops in La Rochelle at the beginning of February, the next year. Philip assembled an army and marched south to repel the invasion. But soon he was informed about the unexpected second attack, led by Emperor Otto through Flanders. The situation looked grim for Philip. Moreover, the Count of Flanders together with other nobles of bordering counties sided with John's alliance and complemented the imperial army with their own forces. Fortunately, the invading armies failed to coordinate their attacks, which allowed the French King to divide his army, in an attempt to defend both fronts. While Philip's son Louis was given the uneasy task of stopping John's progress with troops his father had left him, Philip rushed back north to engage Otto's army. He reached Flanders in late July, just in time to find that his opponents had finished mustering their forces. Philip's advisors feared an open encounter with the stronger imperial army, and advised playing for time. Back in the Middle Ages, pitched battle between two large armies was regarded as a very risky solution, which could often result in a sudden and significant shift in power. King Philip heeded their council and initially hesitated, but eventually took up the gauntlet and moved his troops northward, seeking a suitable plain for cavalry manoeuvres. Otto was surprised when he learned of the French position, yet seeking battle, he marched to meet them. The opposing forces met on a plain east of Bouvines town and began deployment. We don't know exactly how many soldiers Philip fielded, but modern estimates give him around five to six thousand infantry and a little more than one thousand mounted knights. While the composition of the allied forces was roughly similar to the French, Emperor Otto had more men at his disposal, possibly just under ten thousand soldiers in total. The battle started with skirmishes on Philip's right flank, where French and Flemish knights charged at each other. Soon, Otto sent the centre of his main line forward and proper battle ensued. It was an even fight, as neither side was significantly stronger. While the Burgundy and Champagne contingents slowly pushed the Flemish flank back, English knights on the other side of the battlefield charged and gradually gained an upper hand fighting Philip's left. Otto sent some of his reserve units to aid the Flemish on his left, but it was his right flank where the first signs of trouble started to appear. Unexpectedly, despite pushing and winning his engagement, William, Earl of Salisbury charged too far into the enemy line and was surrounded and seized by the French. Upon realizing that their commander was captured, the bulk of the English cavalry fled the battlefield. In the meantime, the majority of Otto's left flank retreated due to losses, and while the battle still raged, the odds tipped towards the French side. Eventually, he saw that the enemy's advantage was becoming insurmountable and retreated as well, narrowly escaping the battlefield using the help of Saxon knights. Philip's troops prevailed and won the battle. While infantry casualties were more or less even on both sides, many of Otto's knights were killed or captured. The battle was a huge success for Philip Augustus, not only because he killed many enemies in the course of battle, as losses were roughly equal, but predominantly because he managed to capture many important nobles, including Earl of Salisbury and the disobedient Counts of Flanders, Boulogne and Lorraine. The far reaching consequences of the Battle of Bouvines soon took root. Hearing that Otto had lost, King John Lackland retreated back to England and was forced to face the unrests among the enraged English nobility, brought on by the King's failures. Soon the discontented barons revolted and England plunged into civil war, which eventually forced John to sign The Great Charter of the Liberties, limiting royal authority. But, well, that's another story. It was a tough time for Emperor Otto as well, who only held the imperial throne for one year after the battle. He became increasingly unpopular and eventually was compelled to abdicate. Philip on the other hand, used the Bouvines victory to boost his royal authority and vastly extended his sphere of influence. After his death, eight years after the battle, it was apparent that forty years of his efficacious and just rule virtually transformed a mediocre feudal state into a leading European Kingdom, which from that point on constantly played the first fiddle in European politics.

Contents

Background

After the failure of the French offensives in the Battle of Lorraine on 20 August 1914, the French Second Army was ordered by Joffre on 22 August to retreat to the Grand Couronné de Nancy, heights near Nancy, on an arc from Pont-à-Mousson to Champenoux, Lunéville and Dombasle-sur-Meurthe, to defend the position at all costs.[1] On 24 August, Rupprecht and the 6th Army tried to break through the French lines on the Moselle from Toul to Épinal and encircle Nancy. After the Battle of the Mortagne, an attempt by the Germans to advance at the junction of the French First and Second armies. A lull followed from 28 August – 3 September, then the Germans simultaneously attacked Saint-Dié and Nancy in the Battle of Grand Couronné.[2] After the failure of the Battle of Mortagne, the capture of Nancy would have been an important German psychological victory and the German Emperor Wilhelm II came to supervise the offensive. The German attack was part of an offensive of all the German armies in France in early September and a German success would have outflanked the right of the French armies from the east. Castelnau had to send several divisions westwards to reinforce the Third Army.[3]

Prelude

German offensive preparations

6th Army, August 1914
6th Army, August 1914

From the end of the Battle of the Trouée de Charmes on 28 August, Rupprecht and his Chief of Staff Konrad Krafft von Dellmensingen obtained more heavy artillery and managed to prevent the removal of troops to the Eastern Front. Moltke wanted attacks by the German armies on the eastern flank to resume, to prevent the French from withdrawing troops to the western flank near Paris. German preparations were sufficiently advanced for the offensive to begin during the night of 3 September.[4]

French defensive preparations

Castelnau concluded that the losses of the Second Army and the withdrawal of forces to reinforce the Third Army, made it unlikely that the Second Army could withstand another German attack and submitted a memorandum to Joffre with the alternatives of fighting the battle without withdrawal, which would exhaust his forces or falling back to two successive defensive positions, which would cover the right flank of the French armies from Verdun to Paris and delay the German advance.[5]

Battle

The German offensive began during the night of 3 September, against the fortifications of the Grand Couronné, either side of Nancy, which pushed back the 2nd Group of Reserve Divisions with the 59th, 68th and 70th Reserve divisions (General Léon Durand) to the north and the XX Corps (General Maurice Balfourier) to the south, by the evening of 4 September. In the afternoon of 5 September, Castelnau telegraphed to Joffre that he proposed to evacuate Nancy rather than hold ground, to preserve the fighting power of the army. Next day Joffre replied that the Second Army was to hold the area east of Nancy if at all possible and only then retire to a line from the Forest of Haye to Saffais, Belchamp and Borville. The civilian authorities in the city had begun preparations for an evacuation but the troops on the Grand Couronné repulsed German attacks on the right flank during 5 September; the Reserve divisions were only pushed back a short distance, on the front to the east and north of Nancy. An attempt by Moltke to withdraw troops from the 6th Army, to join a new 7th Army being formed for operations on the Oise failed, when Rupprecht and Dellmensingen objected and were backed by the Emperor, who was at the 6th Army headquarters.[6][a] German attacks continued on 6 September and the XX Corps conducted a counter-attack, which gave the defenders a short period to recuperate but the troops of the 2nd Group of Reserve Divisions, east and north of Nancy began to give way.[7]

Map of the Battle of Grand Couronné
Battle Order

On 7 September, German attacks further north drove a salient into the French defences south of Verdun at St. Mihiel, which threatened to separate the Second and Third armies.[8] At Nancy, part of the 59th Reserve Division retreated from the height of St. Geneviève, which overlooked the Grand Couronné to the north-west of Nancy, exposing the left flank of the Second Army and Nancy to envelopment. Castelnau prepared to withdraw and abandon Nancy but was circumvented by the Second Army staff, who contacted Joffre and Castelnau was ordered to maintain the defence of the Grand Couronné for another 24 hours. (Castelnau had received news that one of his sons had been killed and gave the orders while shocked.)[7] The French abandonment of the height of St Geneviève went unnoticed by the Germans, who had retired during the afternoon and the height was reoccupied before they could react. German attacks continued until the morning of 8 September, then diminished as Moltke began to withdraw troops to the right (west) flank of the German armies. Moltke sent Major Roeder from his staff to the 6th Army, with orders to end the offensive and prepare to retire to the frontier; only at this point did Rupprecht find out that the armies near Paris were under severe pressure. On 10 September, the 6th Army began to withdraw to the east.[9] On 13 September, Pont-à-Mousson and Lunéville were reoccupied by the French unopposed and the French armies closed up to the Seille river, where the front stabilized until 1918.[10]

Aftermath

Analysis

The battles near Nancy contributed to the Allied success at the First Battle of the Marne, by fixing a large number of German troops in Lorraine. Attempts to break through between Toul and Épinal were costly to the Germans in manpower and supplies, which might have had more effect elsewhere. The German offensives failed and were not able to prevent Joffre from moving troops westwards to outnumber the German armies near Paris.[11]

Casualties

In 2009, Holger Herwig wrote that in September, the 6th Army had 28,957 casualties, with 6,687 men killed, despite half the army being en route to Belgium, most lost in the fighting at the Grand Couronné and the 7th Army had 31,887 casualties, with 10,384 men killed. The German army never calculated a definitive casualty list for the fighting in Alsace and Lorraine but the Bavarian official historian Karl Deuringer made a guess of 60 percent casualties, of which 15 percent were killed, in the fifty infantry brigades which fought in the region, which would amount to 66,000 casualties, 17,000 killed, which the Verlustliste (ten-day casualty reports) bore out.[12]

Notes

  1. ^ The German Emperor waited in the 6th Army headquarters at Dieuze to be present at a great victory but returned to Luxembourg in the evening.[7]

Footnotes

  1. ^ Spears 1999, p. 425.
  2. ^ Strachan 2001, pp. 215–216.
  3. ^ Strachan 2001, pp. 242–243.
  4. ^ Tyng 2007, pp. 314–315.
  5. ^ Tyng 2007, p. 315.
  6. ^ Tyng 2007, pp. 316–317.
  7. ^ a b c Tyng 2007, p. 317.
  8. ^ Spears 1999, pp. 551–552, 554.
  9. ^ Tyng 2007, pp. 318–319.
  10. ^ Strachan 2001, pp. 253, 257.
  11. ^ Tyng 2007, p. 319.
  12. ^ Herwig 2009, pp. 217–218.

References

  • Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01880-8.
  • Foley, R. T. (2007) [2005]. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich Von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916. Cambridge: CUP. ISBN 978-0-521-04436-3.
  • 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.
  • Spears, E. (1999) [1968]. Liaison 1914 (2nd, Cassell ed.). London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. ISBN 978-0-304-35228-9.
  • Strachan, H. (2001). The First World War: To Arms. I. Oxford: OUP. ISBN 978-0-19-926191-8.
  • Tyng, S. (2007) [1935]. The Campaign of the Marne 1914 (Westholme, Yardley, PA ed.). New York: Longmans, Green. ISBN 978-1-59416-042-4.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 12 October 2019, at 01:27
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