Military history

CHAPTER FOUR

THE BLOODY ROAD WEST: LIÈGE TO LOUVAIN

No plan of operations survives with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s major forces.

—HELMUTH VON MOLTKE THE ELDER

THE CITY OF LIÈGE WAS NOT ONE OF EUROPE’S DESIRED TOURIST destinations before 1914. In fact, it was a grimy industrial city of about 168,000 inhabitants that straddled the Meuse (Maas) River in northeastern Belgium—thirty kilometers from the German border to the east and fifteen from the Dutch border to the north. But it did get the occasional visitor. Among these in 1911 was a foreboding German dressed in a nondescript business suit. He was conspicuous not so much by his large round head with its receding hairline, jowled red face, piercing blue eyes, drooping bushy mustache, or barrel chest, but rather by a face that never smiled and a demeanor that never showed a hint of kindness or compassion. Humor was beyond his range.

The German visitor parked his open-top automobile on a promontory southeast of what to him was Lüttich, above the Maas Valley.1 One hundred meters below him spread the sights of Liège: the curve of the river, the gleaming steel bands of the Belgian railway, and the spires of the Cathedral de Liège, the Église Saint-Barthélemy, and the Église Saint-Jacques. He neatly unfolded a map on the hood of the car. On his right, the river flowed through a deep ravine in the center of the city and then disappeared off to the north; on his left, wooded hills stretched to the Ardennes Plateau, off to the southeast. But mostly, the visitor took careful note of a sixteen-kilometer-wide passageway, the Liège Gap, which ran through the city and stretched between the Netherlands and the Ardennes; beyond lay the rolling plains of the Hesbaye region. As well, he studied the city’s outer belt of a dozen fortresses. For Colonel Erich Ludendorff, chief of the Mobilization and Deployment Section of the German General Staff, was in charge of drafting plans for the Handstreich (bold strike) against Liège that would kick off the Schlieffen-Moltke deployment plan in a future war.

LIÈGE, EVENING OF 6 AUGUST 1914

LIèGE WAS FOUNDED IN 558 when Saint Monulph, bishop of Tongres, built a chapel at the confluence of the Meuse and Legia rivers. It saw its share of Europe’s violent past. In 1467 and again in 1468, when the Liègois foolishly declared war on the Duchy of Burgundy, Charles the Bold razed the walls of the city. In 1703, the Duke of Marlborough stormed Liège’s two forts, the Citadel and La Chartreuse, preparatory to his invasion of the German states the next year. In 1794, French Revolutionary armies sacked the city and destroyed the great cathedral of Saint-Lambert. Napoleon I occupied Liège for the duration of his rule.

But Liège survived—and prospered. The high-grade coal of the Meuse Valley between Seraing and Herstal fueled Liège’s factories, and the city quickly developed into Belgium’s chief manufacturing center—the fabled “Birmingham of Belgium.” The faubourg of Herstal became world-renowned as a producer of fine arms—to the point that Ludwig Loewe of Berlin, manufacturer of the famous Mauser small arms, in 1896 seized a controlling interest in the giant Fabrique nationale d’armes de guerre. The railway brought further wealth and prominence, and Liège became a major hub on the main rail line leading from Berlin to Brussels—and on to Paris.

All this strategic wealth demanded protection. Beginning in 1888, Henri Alexis Brialmont, a military engineer who had built Bucharest’s belt of defenses, began work on what over time became a fifty-two-kilometer ring of twelve forts some six to seven kilometers from Liège’s center. From north to south, there were six on the right bank of the Meuse (Barchon, Evegnée, Fléron, Chaudfontaine, Embourg, and Boncelles), and another six on the river’s left bank (Pontisse, Liers, Lantin, Loncin, Hollogne, and Flémalle). The average distance between the forts was nineteen hundred meters, with the largest gap seven thousand meters. Friedrich Krupp of Essen had won the contract to modernize the forts’ four hundred guns, with the result that by 1914 a new mix of modern 120mm, 150mm, and 210mm heavy guns, mortars, and howitzers overlapped one another’s zones of fire.

Brialmont built well. All the forts were constructed with concrete casemates. The turtle-shaped steel cupolas that housed the heavy guns could be elevated automatically to fire and then to retract. A clear field of fire was assured by sloping the cleared terrain down and away from the guns. Brialmont studded this glacis with barbed-wire entanglements. Underground tunnels connected the forts, each of which was self-contained with its own ammunition chambers, storerooms, kitchens, water cisterns, power generators, latrines, and laundry facilities. A ventilation system assured fresh air for each fort’s peacetime complement of eighty defenders.

General Gérard Mathieu Leman, an officer of engineers and a longtime instructor at the Belgian War College, had been selected as governor of Liège only a few months before the outbreak of the war. He had under his command twenty-five thousand regular troops of 3d Infantry Division (ID) as well as 15th Infantry Brigade (IB) of the field army, forty-five hundred garrison troops, and about twelve thousand soldiers of the reserves and the Garde civique (militia). His handwritten orders from King Albert on 4 August 1914 were simple: “I charge you to hold to the end with your division the position which you have been entrusted to defend.”2

DURING THE NIGHT OF 1–2 August, advance elements of German 29th and 69th regiments, 16th ID, crossed into the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on bicycles, in armored cars and automobiles, and by train.3 They met no resistance and no sabotage. They secured the duchy’s bridges, railways, and roads, and occupied its capital on the morning of 2 August. The next day, Germany declared war on France and Belgium.

Horsemen from 2d, 4th, and 9th cavalry divisions (CD) smartly moved westward out of Aachen and into Belgium. Their mission was to scout the thirty kilometers of terrain that lay between Aachen and Liège. They encountered no resistance. Late in the morning of 3 August, they entered the small village of Battice, about ten kilometers east of Liège. They assumed that the “neutral” Belgians would put up only token resistance. Several shots rang out from one of the houses. Three or four riders tumbled out of their saddles onto the cobbled street. Francs-tireurs! For four decades, German soldiers had been fed stories of how French “irregulars” had ambushed, mutilated, and poisoned German forces during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). In short order, the cavalrymen executed three Belgian civilians, drove the rest out of their homes, and set Battice on fire.4

Still farther north, Georg von der Marwitz advanced with the remainder of II Cavalry Corps and 34th IB against Visé, on the Meuse River just south of the Dutch border. At Warsage, his uhlans took fire from several houses.5 Marwitz’s troopers seized and then executed six hostages. At Visé, Marwitz discovered that the Meuse bridges had been destroyed. For a third time that day, his horsemen came under fire from civilians. He ordered suspected houses burned to the ground and 627 hostages rounded up and eventually deported to Germany. Heavy fire from Liège’s northernmost fort (Pontisse) prevented the uhlans from crossing the river on 4 August. But at four o’clock* the next morning, units of Otto von Garnier’s 4th CD managed to ford the Meuse at Lixhe, hard against the Dutch frontier. They strapped together numerous steel boats, laid boards across them, and thus assisted 34th IB across the river.6 Marwitz’s riders then pushed on toward Tongeren, northwest of Liège.

The noose around Liège was beginning to tighten. Allied fliers at dusk on 4 August had caught brief glimpses of an awe-inspiring sight: six gray-clad, reinforced infantry brigades and an entire cavalry corps—twenty-five thousand soldiers, eight thousand horsemen, and 124 guns—advancing in five mighty columns out of the east along a forty-kilometer front from Aachen to Malmédy. They were part of Otto von Emmich’s X Army Corps, Second Army. While the latter’s commander, Karl von Bülow, was leisurely making his way west from Hanover, his deputy chief of staff was already on the scene. Erich Ludendorff instantly became one of the few staff planners in history ever to draft and then take part in the execution of his own operations plan.

The Handstreich prepared for Liège by Ludendorff in 1911 was based on a garrison force of six thousand regulars, augmented by three thousand militiamen.7 This proved to be a gross miscalculation. As noted earlier, Leman in early August 1914 had under his command about thirty thousand soldiers of 3d ID, 15th IB, the garrison force, and the Garde civique. But it was a motley collection, as if imported directly from the stage of a Franz Lehár operetta: the regular infantry in blue-and-white uniforms, the chasseurs à pied in green and yellow with flowing capes and peaked caps, and the Civic Guard in high round hats and red facings. Flemish milk-cart dogs pulled the machine guns (mitrailleuses) only recently begged from France. How would this ragtag rabble, led by a quiet academic from the Belgian War College, stand up against the approaching furor teutonicus?

The answer was not long in coming. On the afternoon of 4 August, the defenders of Barchon bloodily repulsed an attack by units of 53d Infantry Regiment (IR) as it charged the glacis leading up to the fort’s walls. The next day, 34th IB lost 30 officers and 1,150 men at Visé. On 6 August, 14th IB, attacking the center line of Liège, sustained more than 50 percent casualties.* In the south, the Belgians warded off all attempts by 9th CD to cross the Meuse between Liège and Huy. Not even a spectacular night bombing attack on Liège by Zeppelin VI out of Cologne intimidated Leman; while its thirteen small bombs killed nine civilians and in the process launched a new form of warfare, the military effect was negligible. Moreover, the airship leaked gas on the way home and had to crash-land at Bonn.8 And when Emmich sent an emissary under a white flag to demand Leman’s surrender, the plucky professor, who had earlier barely escaped an attempt by the Germans to take him prisoner, replied, “Force your way through the gap.”9

Leman’s valiant defenders had caused five of the six German attacking brigades to beat a hasty retreat. Headlines in Brussels papers screamed out the news: “Grande Victoire Belge!” Those in London and Paris spoke of a major “rout” of no fewer than 125,000 German troops, and of at least 20,000 enemy casualties. The French republic bestowed the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor on Liège and the Military Medal on King Albert. However, Chief of the General Staff Joseph Joffre adamantly refused to divert French troops from his concentration plan to assist the beleaguered Belgians. Firmly convinced that the main German thrust would not come across the Meuse, he only reluctantly dispatched Louis Franchet d’Espèrey’s I Corps to secure the Meuse bridges between Givet and Namur and Jean-François Sordet’s I Cavalry Corps to scout southern Belgium.10 For almost ten days, Sordet managed mainly to exhaust both men and horses.

What had happened to the German assault? Carl von Clausewitz’s proverbial “fog of uncertainty” ruled the battlefield. Already during the advance, units lost their way in the dark. Officers were separated from their horses. Maps could not be located. Field kitchens were left behind. Soldiers panicked and shot at one another. Suspected fire from civilians added to the chaos. German units stopped to shoot and burn. Moreover, war in its primordial form, as Clausewitz stated, was “slaughter” (Schlacht). German infantry assaults in close formation were a target-rich environment even for Leman’s half-trained soldiers. The mitrailleuses spat out a steady stream of death at 150 rounds every sixty seconds. A withering artillery fire swept the massed German infantry columns before the forts’ walls.

Still, the Hanoverians and Westphalians of Emmich’s X Corps continued to advance. They made their way over a veritable wall of dead—only to be gunned down in turn. A letter by an anonymous Belgian officer told the story well:

As line after line of German infantry advanced, we simply mowed them down. … They made no attempt at deploying, but came on, line after line, almost shoulder to shoulder, until, as we shot them down, the fallen were heaped one on top of the other, in an awful barricade of dead and wounded men that threatened to mask our guns and cause us trouble.11

Perhaps some of the veterans on the German General Staff remembered that in 1895, Martin Köpke had warned Alfred von Schlieffen against expecting “quick, decisive victories,” as even “the most offensive spirit” could achieve little more than “a tough, patient and stouthearted crawling forward step-by-step.” Liège in 1914 confirmed Köpke’s dire prediction. The campaign in Belgium, to use the general’s words, had degenerated into “siege-style” warfare.12 Only the means had changed, with monstrous howitzers, still to be brought up, becoming the modern trebuchet.

Numerous German commanders lamented that there had not been sufficient prewar nighttime training, that neither war games nor staff rides had prepared the army for the lethality of the modern battlefield, and that commanders from the company level on up had sought to overcome firepower with dash and daring. The results had been staggering casualty rates, especially among infantry officers. With regard to nighttime fighting, many units adopted special white armbands as well as common passwords, and officers ordered the men to advance with unloaded rifles to cut down on the devastating occurrences of friendly fire.13

Not surprisingly, the Germans were furious that the Belgians had refused them free passage through what they considered a neutral country. They denied the legitimacy of Belgian military resistance. The result was predictable: a veritable orgy of shooting and burning. By 8 August, almost 850 civilians had been killed and thirteen hundred buildings burned down in such nondescript places as Micheroux, Retinne, Soumagne, and Melen, among others.14 Whereas Schlieffen had believed that Liège could be invested by a single division, and Ludendorff that it could be stormed by thirty-nine thousand men, the reality was that by 8 August, the Belgians had beaten back all attempts by X Corps to storm the forts—at the cost in blood of fifty-three hundred casualties. The corpses bloated in the broiling sun.

Still, the German attack threatened to cut Liège off from the rest of the country. Faced with this possibility, General Leman on 6 August released 3d ID and 15th IB to withdraw to the line of the Gette (Gete) River and fight another day. But he was determined to hold the twelve forts with their skeletal complements for as long as possible in accordance with the instructions he had received from King Albert.

The one bright note in the otherwise disastrous German assault was the plan’s architect, Ludendorff. As deputy chief of Second Army, he was not scheduled to play an active role in the campaign. But fate intervened. While waiting for Bülow to make his way to Belgium, Ludendorff found himself caught up in the maelstrom of the battle for Liège. He followed Emmich into the outskirts of the city. At Retinne, just north of Fort Fléron, he stumbled across 14th IB, whose commander, Friedrich von Wussow, had recently been killed. Ludendorff did not hesitate for even a moment. He took command of the brigade and in house-to-house fighting made his way through the Queuede-Bois, up out of the Meuse Valley, and onto the heights near the old Carthusian monastery of La Chartreuse. After overnighting there, Ludendorff at around noon on 7 August spied a white flag flying from the Citadel. Surrender? He sent an officer to investigate. No such luck. At 6 PM, the officer returned to report that General Leman had informed him that the white flag had been raised against his will.

By then, Ludendorff and 14th IB found themselves in a precarious position—short of ammunition and food, down to a strength of only fifteen hundred men, burdened with a thousand Belgian prisoners of war, isolated within the iron ring of Leman’s forts, and cut off from the rest of their forces. The men were nervous. “I shall never forget the night of August 6/7,” Ludendorff later wrote. “It was cold. … I listened feverishly for the sound of fighting. I still hoped that at least one brigade or another had broken through the line of forts.”15 None had.

Undaunted, Ludendorff pushed on into the city the next morning. He dispatched an advance guard under Colonel Burghardt von Oven to take the Citadel. Then he commandeered an automobile and with his adjutant drove up to the Citadel. There was not a German sentry to be seen, only Belgian soldiers. In a piece of audacious cheek, Ludendorff straightened himself up, dusted off his uniform, clenched the monocle into his right eye socket, strode up to the Citadel’s gates, and rapped on them with the pommel of his sword. The gates opened. The courtyard was filled with startled Belgian troops. One of the truly great “what if?” scenarios of modern history was at hand. What if a Belgian soldier had shot the general? What if he had been arrested and turned over to the French? Modern German history may well have taken a different course.* “The few hundred Belgians [inside the Citadel],” Ludendorff later triumphantly recorded, “surrendered at my summons.”16 For some reason, Colonel von Oven had opted to bypass the Citadel and to head for Fort Loncin.

A grateful Kaiser Wilhelm II “smothered” Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the General Staff, with kisses.17 Next, he awarded the war’s first prestigious Pour le Mérite medal to Ludendorff.* Then, remembering that Emmich was the field commander of X Corps, he bestowed the decoration on that officer as well.

News of the coup de main at the Citadel hit the newspapers in Germany immediately. Joyous celebrations erupted in many cities. Bülow’s staff—without a direct connection to the troops besieging Liège, since X Corps had not been provided with a communications detachment—had intercepted Emmich’s terse private telegram to his wife: “Hurrah, at Liège.” A more formal epistle informed Second Army that Emmich had entered the city at 7:45 AM on 7 August. “The Governor in Flight. The Bishop a prisoner. Liège evacuated by Belgian troops. Citadel of Liège occupied by our troops. As yet not known which forts have been taken.”18 The last sentence raised eyebrows at Bülow’s headquarters—as did the fact that thereafter a deafening silence ensued. For almost two days, no word came out of Liège. Wild rumors circulated at once: The entire 14th IB had been taken prisoner by the Belgians; Ludendorff had been killed in action; Bülow had been shot by his sentry; losses on both sides had been horrendous; and all the forts had surrendered.

The delay at Liège caused near panic on the morning of 8 August at Army Supreme Command (Oberste-Heeresleitung, or OHL) in Berlin as well as at Bülow’s temporary headquarters at Aachen. In Berlin, Wilhelm II maliciously accused Moltke of having “brought the English down about my ears for nothing” with his invasion of neutral Belgium. For a second time since 1 August, when the kaiser had brutally rebuked Moltke for his refusal to concentrate solely against Russia after Ambassador Karl von Lichnowsky had sent word that London would keep Paris out of the war if Germany did not attack France, the chief of the General Staff collapsed psychologically. His deputy, Hermann von Stein, witnessed “a most serious nervous breakdown,” a “cascade of tears,” and eventual “utter apathy” on the part of Moltke. The latter “never forgot those words;” they “weighed heavily on him” in subsequent days. Moltke eventually recovered and put on a brave front. “Gentlemen, you have seen me weak and agitated,” he informed his staff. “The struggles before mobilization and the Kaiser’s words had made me brittle. I have now overcome that and you shall witness a different me.”19

At Aachen, Bülow’s staff also became anxious. First and Second armies, roughly six hundred thousand soldiers and a quarter million horses, had to squeeze through the narrow corridors first of Aachen and then of Liège before they could debouch on the Hesbaye Plateau. Martial law had been declared at Aachen and the streets cleared for the troops; it would take five days to march them through its narrow medieval lanes. Their equipment had been routed through Düsseldorf to ease the congestion. Each army corps occupied thirty kilometers of road, each division fifteen, and each corps’ munitions trains twenty. If Liège held out much longer, First and Second armies would have to march through the Netherlands—and thus violate another neutral nation.

Bülow took charge. On 8 August, with Moltke’s consent, he augmented Emmich’s original force of thirty-three thousand infantry and cavalry with a new siege army of sixty thousand (IX and VII corps) commanded by Karl von Einem-Rothmaler. A former Prussian war minister, Einem had won the Iron Cross as a lieutenant in the Franco-Prussian War and in 1914 commanded VII Corps at Münster. He took his time. He put an end to the senseless slaughter of massed infantry charges at the Liège forts and waited for the heavy siege artillery—developed in peacetime by Ludendorff for just this purpose—to arrive on the scene.

As soon as he set foot on Belgian territory, Einem confessed to his wife that he deeply “regretted” the “brutal nature” of the conflict. “Unfortunately,” he wrote on 8 August, “the [Belgian] populace takes part in the war.” Men and women from concealed positions fired on the troops, especially under the cover of darkness. “I have ordered that the villages be burned down and everyone [seized] shot.” Two days later, he repeated his outrage at “the insidious, detestable blood thirstiness of the Belgians.” He maintained a hard stance. “Unfortunately, we had to singe and burn a lot and many inhabitants forfeited their lives.” The burned-out villages between Battice and Herve, he noted, “defy description. This is what the ruins of Pompey … must look like.” He lamented that many soldiers in their eagerness to get at the enemy had fired on their fellow warriors.20

While he waited for the heavy artillery to arrive, Einem took stock of the situation. Not a single fort had fallen. Their garrisons had held tough. General von Emmich was in the “remarkable position” of having forced his way into the city between Forts Fléron and Evegnée—only to “find himself in a mousetrap.” Military history, Einem wryly noted, had been “enriched by a new, paradoxical example” at this “damned fortress”: “Emmich inside and we outside.”21 The men were hungry, thirsty, and tired. What remained of Marwitz’s eight thousand cavalry mounts were dangerously short on oats. The heat continued unabated. The only good news was that on 8 August, 14th IB finally managed to break out of the Belgian steel ring that encircled them and to take Fort Barchon. Fort d’Evegnée fell on the night of 11 August.

In the afternoon of 12 August, Einem spied a welcome sight: the monstrous black heavy siege guns. First came the 305mm Austrian Škoda howitzers. Moved in three sections, they could be assembled in forty minutes. Instead of tires, they crept forward on what their crews called “iron feet”—that is, steel tracks. Next came the four 420mm Krupp monsters. Each had a crew of two hundred. Each took six hours to emplace. Each could fire a shell with 150 kilograms of explosives a distance of fourteen kilometers. Each was fired electrically from a distance of three hundred meters by a gun crew wearing protective head padding. Célestin Demblon, a deputy of Liège, marveled at the Krupp piece.

The monster advanced in two parts, pulled by 36 horses. The pavement trembled. … Hannibal’s elephants could not have astonished the Romans more! The soldiers who accompanied it marched stiffly with an almost religious solemnity. It was the Belial* of cannons!22

Both the škodas and the Krupp “Big Berthas” fired armor-piercing shells with delayed fuses that allowed them to penetrate their targets before exploding.

The issue was never in doubt. Within forty-eight hours, Leman’s forts were pulverized into submission: first Pontisse, then Chaudfontaine and Embourg, next Liers and Fléron and Evegnée east of the Meuse; thereafter, Boncelles, Lantin, and Loncin west of the river. The last two, Hollogne and Flémalle, lowered the Belgian tricolor on 16 August.23 Each fort took about thirty heavy shells. Ludendorff had arrived at Fort Loncin just in time to see a single shell from a Big Bertha rip through the concrete roof, blow up its magazine, and cause the entire structure to collapse.

Dazed and blackened Belgian soldiers, accompanied by some Germans who had been taken prisoner on the night of August 5/6, crawled out of the ruins. Bleeding, with their hands up, they came toward us. “Ne pas tuer, ne pas tuer.”* … We were no Huns. Our men brought water to refresh our enemies.24

Loncin held a surprise for the Germans: Under its broken concrete slabs and twisted girders they found General Leman, unconscious and nearly asphyxiated by poisonous fumes. Emmich was at the scene. He had met Leman at peacetime military maneuvers and congratulated the Belgian on the tenacity of his defense. Leman’s one concern was that it be recorded that he had carried out King Albert’s orders to the letter. “Put in your dispatches that I was unconscious.” He then offered Emmich his sword. In the war’s first (and perhaps last) act of true chivalry, the German declined to take it. “No, keep your sword. To have crossed swords with you has been an honor.”25 Leman had lost twenty thousand men at Liège.26

As soon as the debris could be cleared from the roads, German First and Second armies filed through and around the city and headed for the Liège Gap. Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm Groener’s Field Railway Service of twenty-six thousand men had restored the lines between Aachen and (now) Lüttich, and only the great tunnel at Nasproué remained blocked, for the Belgians had rammed seventeen locomotives at full speed into one another inside the tunnel.27 Leman’s gallant defense of Liège had cost the Germans perhaps two days on the Schlieffen-Moltke master timetable.28

MILITARY WISDOM NOW SUGGESTED that King Albert concentrate his remaining units at Namur, Belgium’s second great fortress on the Meuse, and there force the Germans into another bloody siege. But Albert was determined to maintain his army on Belgian soil—the only escape from Namur would have been south or west into France—and to keep open his line of retreat to Fortress Antwerp. Hence, he regrouped his formations along the line of the Gette River. At the little village of Haelen, Leon de Witte’s cavalry division, fighting as dismounted riflemen, on 12 August gallantly blunted the saber and lance charges of six regiments of Marwitz’s II Cavalry Corps as it attempted to storm the river crossings.29 Known as the Battle of the Silver Helmets in Belgian folklore, Haelen was the first cavalry battle (and the first Allied victory) of the war. Still, Namur, to the southwest of Liège, and Louvain (Leuven), to the northwest, lay squarely in the path of the German advance.

On 17 August, Moltke issued new orders for the main German thrust into Belgium by sixteen army corps and two cavalry corps, three-quarters of them the pride of the Prussian army. The three northernmost armies were to converge on the Sambre River; First and Second armies were to cut off any Belgian attempt to withdraw to Antwerp; and Third Army was to attack the line of the Meuse between Namur and Givet. Speed was of the essence. First and Second armies had to pass through a dangerous eighty-kilometer-wide corridor between the fortresses of Namur and Antwerp, all the while securing their left flanks against suspected French forces south of the Sambre.

Unlike the armies in the German center and south, these were commanded not by royal princes but rather by professional soldiers with the special rank of Generaloberst (literally, colonel general, or a “four-star”). At the extreme right wing, Alexander von Kluck’s First Army consisted of 120 battalions and 748 guns. Schlieffen had assigned this formation the role of “hammer” in his plan: First Army was to march some seven hundred kilometers through Belgium, across northern France, and along the English Channel before descending on Paris from the northwest and driving the French armies against the “anvil” of the German forces holding in Lorraine. Its commander in 1914 was a rarity in the highest echelons of Prussian field commanders: a self-made man, non-noble and non-Prussian. Kluck was born at Münster, in Westphalia, on 20 May 1846 and saw service with the Prussian army against both Austria (1866) and France (1870–71). Thereafter, he rose rapidly through the ranks on the basis of merit: command of a division by 1902, of V Corps in 1906, of I Corps one year later, and then of Eighth Army Inspectorate at Berlin in 1913. Kluck was rewarded for his military career with a patent of nobility in 1909. His service had been primarily commanding troops rather than staff work. He was fierce-looking and self-assured, almost to the point of arrogance.

South of First Army ranged Karl von Bülow’s Second Army of 137 battalions and 820 guns. Its primary task, along with First Army, was to deliver the decisive blow against the French forces in and around Paris. Bülow was a striking contrast with Kluck: Born at Berlin on 24 March 1846 into an ancient Mecklenburg noble clan, he had a plethora of career paths open to him. He chose the military. His brother Bernhard opted instead for the diplomatic corps and then served as chancellor from 1900 to 1909. Like Kluck, Bülow had fought in the Austro-Prussian and the Franco-Prussian Wars. Thereafter, he had enjoyed a notable rise: commander of the prestigious 4th Foot Guards, department head at the Prussian War Ministry, and in 1902 deputy chief of the General Staff under Schlieffen. The following year, he received III Corps and in 1909 Third Army Inspectorate at Hanover. In 1914, Bülow was given Second Army and would soon be entrusted also with command over Kluck’s First Army. With white hair and mustache and a puffy face, he looked more the genial uncle than the fierce warrior. Much of the campaign in the fall of 1914 would depend on how closely these two vastly different personalities cooperated.

South of Second Army was Max von Hausen’s Third Army—the third formation of the pivot wing, the so-called Schwenkungsflügel. At 101 battalions and 596 guns, it was the smallest of the German armies. And it was Saxon. Hausen was born in Dresden on 17 December 1846. During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Saxony sided with the Austrian Empire, and as a result Hausen had fought against Berlin.30 After German unification, he taught at the Military Academy from 1871 to 1874, and then transferred to the General Staff (1875–87). He commanded XII Corps from 1900 to 1902, and then served as Saxon war minister until 1914. During his tenure, Hausen worked diligently to uphold and even to expand the Prusso-Saxon Military Convention of 1867.* He resisted all attempts from within the army to reassert Saxon particularism. In May 1914, Hausen retired after a brilliant career that had spanned half a century. But given that King Friedrich August III had no military interest and that Crown Prince Friedrich August Georg was but twenty-one years old, Wilhelm II on 1 August reactivated Hausen’s commission and entrusted him with Third Army. Hausen’s was a difficult role: to cross the Meuse River near Dinant and, as the situation demanded, offer assistance either to Bülow’s Second Army on his right flank or to Duke Albrecht of Württemberg’s Fourth Army on his left. His relationship with the senior Bülow would be critical to the execution of his mission.

THE ADVANCE ON PARIS by three German armies of 358 battalions of infantry and 2,164 guns required tight command and control. It received neither. Instead, Imperial Headquarters—the Großes Hauptquartier (GHQ), of which the OHL was but one, albeit major, part—consisted of what one scholar has called “a middle thing between a supreme military council and an imperial court.”31 It, in fact, was a mammoth, unwieldy conglomeration consisting of the kaiser, the chief of the General Staff and his deputy, the chief of the Admiralty Staff, the Prussian war minister, the chiefs of the Civil, Military, and Navy cabinets, the chancellor, the state secretary of the Foreign Office, the military plenipotentiaries of the German federal states, the military representative of the Austro-Hungarian ally, and the kaiser’s host of adjutants and personal staff. Master of ceremonies for this vast camp was an imperial favorite, General Hans von Plessen.

Imperial Headquarters remained in Berlin during the period of mobilization and concentration. Then, at 7:55 AM on Sunday, 16 August, it departed for the front—or at least Koblenz, eight hundred kilometers southwest at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers—in eleven trains. Karl von Wenninger, the Bavarian military plenipotentiary, captured the enormity of the operation in his war diary.32 “Wonderful express-train cars; a separate compartment for every 2 gentlemen. I even saw a dining car.” The sign on one compartment startled him: “‘Her Excellency v. Moltke with lady’s-maid.’ So, we are even being mothered.” The chief of the General Staff had insisted that his wife accompany him into battle. There were no cheering crowds to see them off in Berlin. Just out of the station, Wenninger stood in amazement as the “gigantic royal train of H[is] M[ajesty] glided by.” The chefs were already at their stations, perspiring profusely as they prepared the midday meal. The trains avoided major routes and slowly rolled toward Koblenz on stretches of rail well off the beaten track. Guards had been posted at every crossing. Before noon, a major from the General Staff distributed seating lists for the dining car: “12 o’clock breakfast, 7 o’clock dinner.” Within minutes, he returned with the list of sleeping car assignments. “Now, are we truly warriors,” General von Wenninger caustically wondered, “or sybarites?” Whatever the case, the minute his train entered the Kingdom of Bavaria near Ritschenhausen, he had a hundred-liter keg of beer meet it.

Precisely according to plan—this was, after all, the German General Staff—the trains pulled into Koblenz station at eight o’clock the next morning. “Patches of fog enveloped castles and vineyards,” Wenninger noted. Wilhelm II established his headquarters at Koblenz Castle; the General Staff, at the Hotel Union; the rest of the retinue, at the Parkhotel Koblenzer Hof. That afternoon, the kaiser took his military paladins on an automobile outing to Bad Ems, where on 13 July 1870 the fateful interview that helped launch the Franco-Prussian War had taken place,* and he planted a small oak beside the memorial stone. “I wonder,” Wenninger mused, “whether the little oak will become a mighty tree?”

It was pure theater. The kaiser’s place was in Berlin, supervising the war effort, directing the machinery of government, and offering encouragement to the home front. His pretense of conducting military operations from Koblenz, where he ostentatiously dined on the silver field service of Frederick the Great, fooled no one. An anecdote perhaps best caught the Supreme War Lord’s true role. During a walk in one of the local parks with Admiral Georg Alexander von Müller, chief of the Navy Cabinet, and General Moriz von Lyncker, chief of the Military Cabinet, Wilhelm II sat on a bench to rest. The two officers, not wishing to disturb the kaiser and concerned that the short bench might not hold three stout, middle-aged flag officers, pulled up a second bench. “Am I already such a figure of contempt,” Wilhelm II churlishly inquired, “that no one wants to sit next to me?”33

Moltke insisted on remaining at Koblenz partly to keep a close eye on the volatile kaiser, and partly to be equidistant from the Eastern Front. He resisted several pleas from Lieutenant Colonel Gerhard Tappen, his chief of operations, to move at least the OHL closer to the front in Belgium, perhaps somewhere north of Namur, with the argument that this “insurrectionist” land had not yet been pacified.34 Incredibly, Moltke directed General William Balcke, his chief of field telegraphy, to take up headquarters at Bad Ems, well hidden in a small valley east of the General Staff nerve center at Koblenz. And in sharp contrast with his French counterpart, Joffre—who used his private chauffeur, Georges Bouillot, winner of the French Grand Prix in 1912 and 1913, to rush him to the various army commands—Moltke left execution of his war plans to the individual army commanders. He remained firm in the belief that peacetime staff rides and war games had sufficiently honed their skills at interaction and cooperation, and that the “intentions” of the General Staff could best be relayed “orally through the sending of an officer of the High Command.” Most especially, he placed his trust in the sixty-eight-year-old Bülow, whom he considered to be Germany’s “most competent” army commander.35

BY 18 AUGUST, the second Battle of the Frontiers (also known as Sambre-et-Meuse, or Charleroi) was about to begin. The northern German armies were driving west across the undulating plains of Brabant into Hainaut Province—Kluck just south of Brussels, and Bülow along the Wavre-Namur axis. The right wing of Hausen’s Third Army as well as elements of the left wing of Bülow’s Second Army were closing on Namur, at the junction of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. At Andenne and Seilles, where Bülow’s men crossed the Meuse, and at Aarschot, where Kluck’s troops drove the Belgian army behind the Gette, the pattern established at Battice and Visé repeated itself. German soldiers were convinced that civilians had fired on them and, worse, mutilated the bodies of their fallen comrades. “Man hat geschossen!” (“We have been shot at!”) became the battle cry. Reprisals were swift and harsh: Suspected shooters were rounded up and executed, homes of suspected armed civilians burned to the ground, priests as well as burgomasters taken hostage, and hundreds of Belgians deported to Germany in cattle cars.36

General Ludwig von Sieger, chief of field munitions and recently returned from Liège, regaled Imperial Headquarters with gruesome stories of the “bestiality” of Belgian civilians in the path of war. Many had “clawed out the eyes and cut the throats” of wounded German soldiers. Despite the constant prewar reminders of francs-tireurs in 1870–71, Moltke’s warriors simply had been unprepared for this form of irregular warfare. “But now we are finally moving against [Belgian] residents with utmost severity,” Sieger was happy to report. “They have been executed en masse, their villages razed.” He concluded that such “ruthless severity” had not been “without effect.”37

At other places in Belgium, the German advance was more orderly and less brutal. After Liège, General von Einem’s VII Corps, part of Bülow’s Second Army, pointed west toward Wavre. The plains of Brabant were a welcome relief from the concrete forts of Liège. “The land has been cultivated just like it is at home,” Einem noted in his diary. “It is very pretty, stretching well off to the distance; a great region to do battle.” By 20–21 August, VII Corps had passed Wavre and approached Waterloo. “99 years ago all those people who today are our enemies defeated Napoleon and his Frenchmen there,” he ruefully noted. “We are now on historic ground and today will advance along the same roads that took [Field Marshal Gebhard von] Blücher and his victorious formations to Waterloo or Belle Alliance.”38 Einem, the graduate of the Prussian Military Academy, had fulfilled one of his youthful dreams. He could not repress his feelings. “On the basis of [my] studies, I knew the configurations of the land so well that nothing surprised me”—except the British Lion Mound of 1826, a conical heap with 226 steps leading up to a great stone lion. A century ago the battle had been fought in rain; in 1914, a blazing sun scorched the fields.

The Belgian army, its brief heroics at Haelen notwithstanding, was in danger of being cut off from Antwerp by German First and Second armies along the line of the Gette. King Albert appealed to Joffre for French forces to come north across the Sambre to strike the enemy armies driving toward Antwerp in the flank. Joffre coldly replied that German formations west of the Meuse were but a “screen” for the main German drive around Sedan.39 The truth of the matter is that Joffre continued to ignore warnings from both his intelligence staff and his field commanders that as many as eight German army corps and four cavalry divisions were already in Belgium, and instead clung to his firm belief that the Germans would not cross the Meuse in force but concentrate their efforts in the center, through the Ardennes. Obstinacy and stolidity, two of his main character traits, hampered early reassessment.

On 18 August, Moltke repeated his earlier placement of German Sixth and Seventh armies in Alsace-Lorraine under a single command—that of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria—and “subordinated” Kluck to Bülow in Belgium.40 It was an ill-advised move. Bülow at once used his new authority to order Kluck to release Alexander von Linsingen’s II Corps to execute a flank attack left from north of Diest against the retreating Belgian forces in hopes of encircling them before they reached Antwerp, while First and Second armies, each with three corps, advanced on the Gette from the east. Kluck was furious. He believed that his command authority had been infringed upon, that the new orders to II Corps only meant needless further marching and fatigue, and that Bülow’s action would force him to cover the advance of II Corps, thereby slowing his advance toward the west. His anger was at full tide when he discovered the same day that King Albert had refused to make a stand on the Gette and instead had ordered a withdrawal behind the Dijle River to Fortress Antwerp. He found little consolation in the fact that Ferdinand von Quast’s IX Corps had inflicted severe losses (1,639 officers and men) on the Belgians’ left at Tirlemont.41

King Albert reached Antwerp on 20 August, only to be met by a sharp protest concerning the “retreat before a mere cavalry screen” from Colonel Jacques Aldebert of the French Military Mission. Aldebert, obviously briefed by Joffre, still insisted that the Germans would not advance beyond the Meuse in force. Had King Albert done the right thing? Or should he have withdrawn to the southwest to link forces with the British?42 As King of the Belgians, he refused to abandon his country. By falling back on Antwerp—which Moltke had hoped to prevent—he forced Kluck to detach Hans von Beseler’s III Reserve Corps (and later also IX Reserve Corps) to cover Antwerp and its garrison of sixty thousand men, thereby substantially weakening First Army.

Albert’s decision to abandon his capital was militarily unimportant. Brussels was not a fortress. It had no strategic arteries. It had not figured in prewar military planning. When foreign diplomats discovered that the Garde civique was digging trenches and mustering companies in the city’s parks, they pleaded (successfully) with Burgomaster Adolphe Max to end the foolishness, to declare Brussels an “open city” and thus spare it the fate of Liège. At 3:30 PM on 20 August, Friedrich Sixt von Arnim’s IV Corps entered the city with divisional bands playing the patriotic march “Die Wacht AM Rhein;” the troops paraded for hours before their commander. American ambassador Brand Whitlock likened the German entry by a “mighty grey, grim horde” to a “thing of steel that came thundering on with shrill fifes and throbbing drums.”43 The Germans imposed an indemnity of 50 million francs on Brussels and 450 million on Brabant Province, to be paid within ten days. News of the fall of the Belgian capital evoked “fierce joy in Berlin.” Church bells rang well into the night and people embraced one another, “frantic with delight.”44 Brussels had been spared destruction.

THE ADVANCE TO LOUVAIN AND ANTWERP

Not so Louvain (Leuven). When troops of First Army approached the city on 19 August, its forty-two thousand inhabitants—mainly educated, genteel people such as priests, nuns, professors, and wealthy retirees—sensibly declared it to be an “open city.” Kluck thought it sufficiently secure to establish his headquarters there for the next four days. An uneasy truce held for almost a week under the cover of martial law in what the Germans called Löwen. Then, as First Army moved out toward the French border, fears mounted at the OHL that King Albert’s forces might see this as the moment to sally out from Antwerp and hit Kluck’s overextended supplies and communications network. Elements of Belgian 2d ID and its cavalry detachment in fact did so on 25–26 August, driving some German units back as far as Malines (Mechelen) and Louvain. By the afternoon of 25 August, about ten thousand German troops—many just arrived from the siege of Liège—bivouacked in Louvain.

Suddenly, an alarm sounded.45 Eyewitnesses could not agree whether it was at 5:30, or 6:30 PM. Both sides did agree that sporadic shooting broke out by 8 PM. It soon spread through the city’s main streets and squares. The tac-tac of machine guns then joined in. The whistles of emergency workers pierced the dusk that by now had enveloped Louvain. The cry of “We have been shot at!” was taken up by countless German soldiers—fueled by fear, panic, hunger, exhaustion, and drink. The few Belgian civilians who dared venture out saw a heavy red glow and gray smoke swirl down the Boulevard de Tirlemont and across the Place de la Station and the Place du Peuple. The flames spread to the Palais de Justice, the Church of Saint-Pierre, the university, and the Clothworkers’ Hall with its library of 230,000 volumes, including more than 1,000 incunabula* and 750 medieval manuscripts. Dead horses littered the streets. Corpses were collected and piled up at the Place de la Station. Priests and members of the Garde civique were singled out for abuse.

For three days, Louvain lived in terror. On 27 August, the Germans announced that they were about to bombard the city and expelled 10,000 civilians. The bombardment was never carried out. When the fires finally died down, 248 citizens had been killed, perhaps as many as 40,000 deported to Germany, and twenty-one hundred buildings destroyed. Hugh Gibson, secretary of the American legation in Brussels, visited Louvain on 28 August.46 “The road was black with frightened civilians carrying away small bundles from the ruins of their homes. Ahead was a great column of dull gray smoke which completely hid the city. We could hear the muffled sound of firing ahead.” A small boy joyously cried out, “Les Américains sont arrivés! Les Américains sont arrivés!”After assuring the lad that the Americans had not arrived in Belgium, Gibson penetrated deeper into Louvain. He was confronted by burning houses and cinders so thick that he had to put on his motoring goggles. Many of the city’s former stately homes were little more than “blackened walls with smouldering timbers inside.” The streets were littered with wreckage: “hats and wooden shoes, German helmets, swords and saddles, bottles and all sorts of bundles which had been dropped and abandoned when the trouble began.” Telegraph and trolley wires were down. Dead men and horses littered every square. Countless houses were still burning. The Boulevard de Tirlemont “looked as though it had been swept by a cyclone.” Everywhere, the looting and shooting continued unabated. “It was all most businesslike.”

The story of what occurred at Louvain during those terrible three days in August quickly made its way around the world and has remained a topic of debate ever since. For the Germans, the looting, burning, and shooting were “justified reprisals” for armed civilians inserting themselves into a military battle. There is a great deal of comment in German unit histories about the soldiers being tired, hungry, thirsty, and drunk from “liberated” wine stocks. But there is equal insistence on having witnessed Belgian civilians firing from windows and rooftops. General von Kluck in his memoirs conceded that “tough and inexorable reprisals” including “summary shooting of individuals” and “punitive burning of houses” had been applied by “local commanders on the spot.”47The German official history of the war merely acknowledged that 27th Landwehr Brigade stood in and around Louvain on 27–28 August and that Belgian soldiers and Civic Guardsmen had discarded their uniforms and shot at German regulars “from behind bushes and houses.”48 Not a word more.

For the Allies, Louvain became synonymous with German “barbarism.” Hundreds of lurid posters showing the Germans as modern-day “Huns” and Wilhelm II as “the modern Attila” or as “King of the Vandals” circulated almost immediately. Undoubtedly, the most famous was produced in the United States. It showed a giant gorilla, wearing a German spiked helmet with the word militarism inscribed on it and sporting a Kaiser Wilhelm–like upturned mustache, emerging from the sea against the background of a burned-out European city. In his right hand he held a bloody club labeled KULTUR; in the other, a bare-bosomed damsel obviously in distress.49 American journalists from Collier’s Weekly, The Saturday Evening Post, and the Chicago Tribune, among others, fed their readers a steady diet of despondent Belgian refugees, burned-out cities, rotting animal and human corpses, and taunting “Huns.” In their exhaustive study, German Atrocities 1914, historians John Horne and Alan Kramer conclude that while there “is no serious evidence that the German actions in Louvain were premeditated,”50 the “reprisals” of arson, executions, expulsions, and deportations were part of a systematic policy of intimidation and terror. They record a total of 4,421 Belgian civilians killed.51

THERE REMAINED NAMUR, the last of the great eastern Belgian for tresses not yet taken. It not only was an important commercial center at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre rivers, but also a potential rallying and sallying point for Franco-Belgian formations.52By 18 August, the three infantry divisions of Max von Gallwitz’s Guard Reserve Corps were advancing on Namur. The next morning, Moltke’s staff sent Gallwitz a detailed siege plan prepared already in peacetime.53 It contained data on the size of the fortress, the number of defenders, the caliber and placement of guns, and even a step-by-step plan of attack. Gallwitz ignored it. The front was fluid, and he was not about to halt the advance to conduct a leisurely, medieval siege. Instead, he persuaded Bülow to send him XI Corps—of Hausen’s Saxon Third Army—as reinforcement. It was the first of many such encroachments to come. Hausen raised no objection, although he would have preferred to detach XII Reserve Corps instead in order to keep his regulars in the line of advance.54

The Romans had built a fortified outlook post on a rocky ledge overlooking Namur and the Meuse Valley in the third and fourth centuries; Emperor Charles V had constructed a citadel, La Médiane, on the very spot between 1542 and 1555; and Sebastien de Vauban had greatly expanded the citadel into a stone fortress for Louis XIV of France. Napoleon I had demolished large parts of the citadel since he saw no need for it as he had expanded his empire far to the east. But the new Kingdom of Belgium saw merit in the old ruins as part of its planned east-west line of defense, and thus hired Brialmont to fortify Namur between 1888 and 1892. He sited a ring of nine forts some eight kilometers from the center of the city and linked them (as at Liège) with an elaborate system of trenches and barbed-wire entanglements. In August 1914, la position fortifiée de Namurwas defended by thirty-five thousand soldiers, mostly of Augustin Michel’s Belgian 4th ID as well as four regiments of fortress infantry. At the last moment, the garrison had been augmented by Belgian 8th Infantry Brigade—which, finding itself isolated at Huy, had blown up the bridges over the Meuse there and fallen back on Namur. King Albert’s orders again were straightforward: “Resist to the last.”55 Carrier pigeons maintained contact between Namur and the Belgian field army.

On 20 August, Gallwitz, an artillery specialist, began to test Namur’s defenses by randomly shelling one of its forts, Marchovellette. But he was not about to repeat the senseless massed infantry assaults with which Emmich had shattered a good part of his X Corps at Liège. Instead, he methodically concentrated his forces—Guard Reserve Corps to the north and Saxon XI Corps to the southeast of Namur. Then he brought up the heavy siege guns released by the surrender of Liège: four batteries of Austrian Škoda howitzers and one battery of the Krupp Big Berthas. Finally, he convinced Bülow to attack the French at Charleroi to tie down Charles Lanrezac’s French Fifth Army and so prevent it from lifting the siege at Namur.

Gallwitz got serious on 21 August, pulverizing Namur’s forts relentlessly with his heavy siege guns.56 Two forts were reduced within forty-eight hours. Two counterattacks by Michel’s men were easily beaten back. By 23 August, the entire northern and eastern fronts of la position fortifiée de Namur had been reduced and five of its nine forts put out of commission. In all, the Germans fired 126 Krupp 420mm shells, 573 škoda 305mm shells, and 6,763 coastal artillery 210mm shells at Namur.57 Only 45th and 148th regiments, 45th IB, from Augustin Gérard’s II Corps of French Fifth Army managed to approach Namur. They arrived just in time for the vanguard to be swept up in the German assault. On the evening of 23 August, the Prussians and Saxons stormed Namur. Gallwitz took sixty-seven hundred Belgian and French prisoners of war, captured twelve field guns as well as the forts’ defensive artillery, and added vast stores of ammunition, food, and wagons to his corps. German losses were but nine hundred, of which one-third were fatal. Overall Belgian losses were set at fifteen thousand men, two-thirds of whom had belonged to 4th ID.58

The capture of Namur yet again was accompanied by acts of terror on the part of the occupiers. As before, the cry “We have been shot at!” sufficed to stampede German commanders into severe “retaliation.” Upon receiving reports that nineteen armed civilians had fired on his men, Hans von Kirchbach, commanding XII Reserve Corps, reacted swiftly. “We burned down the houses from which the shots had come.”59 Saxon soldiers sent countless letters home confirming the “reprisals.” Arthur Prausch, with 139th IR advancing on Namur, wrote his brother that civilians had fired on his unit and that he had seen comrades “with their throats slit” lying in the streets.60 Villages where such “despicable acts” purportedly occurred were immediately burned to the ground. “In one village we shot 35 men as well as several women, including two priests. … They all lie heaped in a pile.” Max Basta, 65th IR, Württemberg 16th Reserve Infantry Division (RID), likewise wrote home his impressions of the brutal nature of the war south of Namur. “All Belgian villages have been leveled to the ground; we marched through smoldering ruins.” He most remembered the smell of destruction. “The swirling smoke caused by burning human and animal corpses forced our eyes to tear.” It had become a harsh war. “Whoever fired on our troops or in any way appeared suspicious was gunned down.”61 Namur’s inhabitants were gathered up to witness the public executions, and then released.

Inside Namur, isolated shots fired by civilians during the night of 24 August also brought instant “reprisals”—thirty civilians were executed and 110 buildings (including the City Hall and much of the Grand’Place) torched. “Our soldiers have been fired on,” one German officer barked at a group of four hundred hostages. “We are going to act as we did at Andenne.* … More than 500 shot.” Charges that Belgian civilians “have also cut off our soldiers’ noses, ears, eyes and fingers” threatened to escalate the reprisals into an orgy of murder and burning.62 This was prevented at the last moment—and the hostages released—by the joint efforts of Bishop Thomas-Louis Heylen and the new city commandant, General Fritz von Below of XXI Corps.

General Michel had managed to march roughly fifty-six hundred soldiers of Belgian 4th ID out of the ruins just before Gallwitz’s forces stormed Namur in hopes of eventually joining King Albert at Antwerp. It was not to be. Near Bioul, 4th Infantry Division was intercepted by Saxon 23d RID and virtually its entire complement taken prisoner without a struggle.63 With the capture of Namur, the Germans had removed a vital corner post of the Allied front on the Meuse and the Sambre. Bülow’s Second Army was now free to march westward along the Sambre River.

* Belgian/French time (Greenwich Mean Time). German army records give German General Time (DGZ), one hour ahead.

* Casualty figures are notoriously inexact. Armies tend to understate their own and to overstate those of the enemy. Moreover, the records are incomplete: Many were not kept in the heat of battle and others were lost in subsequent actions. And there is little consistency in counting: The Germans only tallied wounded who were evacuated to field hospitals; the British included even those returned to duty after immediate, cursory treatment. I have used the term casualties to apply to men killed, wounded, captured, or missing in battle, but not to those affected by disease, mental trauma, psychiatric shock, neuralgia, or battle fatigue. See the entry “casualties” in Richard Holmes, ed., The Oxford Companion to Military History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 182–85.

* Ludendorff was assigned chief of staff of Eighth Army in East Prussia and, together with Paul von Hindenburg, defeated two Russian armies at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. From 1916 to 1918, the two men exercised a “silent dictatorship” over Germany. In 1918, they helped invent the infamous “stab-in-the-back” lie, according to which Germany had never been defeated militarily but rather “stabbed in the back” by its domestic enemies—Jews, Socialists, and Communists. In November 1923, Ludendorff took part in Adolf Hitler’s so-called Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, hoping to use Bavaria as a springboard to topple the democratic and republican government in Berlin.

* Ludendorff never received a patent of nobility for his services, mainly because Kaiser Wilhelm II disliked his gruff nature.

* Biblical name for the devil or one of his associates.

 The nickname referred to the somewhat corpulent F. A. Krupp heiress, Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach; she was not amused.

* “Don’t kill, don’t kill!”

* In 1866 the Saxon army had not invaded Prussia, but had stood alongside the Austrians in Bohemia; thus, it was spared the fate of the Kingdom of Hanover, annexation. Under the Military Convention of 7 February 1867, Saxony was allowed to maintain its own War Ministry, army corps (XII), and cadet corps, but it had to undergo “Prussianization” in terms of organization and weaponry.

* French foreign minister Antoine de Gramont had instructed his ambassador to Prussia, Vincent de Benedetti, to seek out King Wilhelm I, then taking the cure at Bad Ems, to gain assurances that no member of the Hohenzollern family would ever seek the throne of Spain. Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck fueled the flames of war by editing out all conciliatory phrases from Wilhelm’s report of this discussion and then publishing it in the newspapers.

* Books printed before 1501.

* On 20–21 August, units of the Guard Reserve Corps, believing that they had been fired upon by francstireurs at Andenne, Belgium, killed 130 civilians in the town and an equal number in the outlying areas.

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