AUGUST 7 1914 – LIÈGE, ALSACE, AND HERE COME THE BRITISH!

German General Erich Ludendorff became one of the most important Germans in WWI, and he made a name for himself repeatedly and very quickly. On August 7, he rode to the front at Liège to observe the situation:

“Coming upon a brigade whose commander had been killed in one of the early attacks, he put himself in charge. Bringing howitzers forward and directing their fire on the Belgian defenses, he led an assault that gave him possession of an expanse of high ground from which the city and its central citadel were clearly visible.

“When he could see no sign of activity around the citadel ([Belgian commander] Leman had moved to one of the outlying forts), Ludendorff drove to it. He shouted a demand for surrender while pounding on the gate with the pommel of his sword. Astoundingly, he was obeyed in spite of being greatly outnumbered. Thus the centerpiece of the Liège defenses fell into German hands almost without effort. Though the circle of forts was still intact, all were now isolated and without support except what they could give one another.”

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 109-110.

Meanwhile, the French finally began to put their own war plans into action: an invasion of Germany which began on August 7. This was basically a direct drive straight across the Franco-German border into the Alsace region. The Germans, however, had planned to have their two most defensively oriented armies, the Sixth and Seventh, advance through this area, and so the French commander, Joseph Joffre, could not successfully execute his plan.

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Ironically, the French failure to plunge deep into Germany may have worked to their benefit: the Germans being so successful with their own war plan would have found it proportionately easier to finally flank and surround the French army. As it turned out, however, the inability to strike into Germany put the French in a better position to transfer troops from this southern part of their line to the north, where the Germans needed most desperately to be stopped.

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Finally, August 7 was also the day when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) arrived in France at Le Havre (a port city northwest of Paris). Veterans of Britain’s colonial wars found crowds of Frenchmen cheering their arrival, signing “La Marseillaise” (the national anthem of France). The British troops responded by singing not “God Save the King,” but an indecent bar-hall song. The French listened reverently to what they believed was the British national anthem . . . some with their hand on their heart.

The commander of the BEF, Sir John French, carried a curious set of orders from Field Marshal Early Kitchener: “It will be obvious that the greatest care must be exercised towards a minimum of loss and wastage. I wish you to distinctly understand that your force is an entirely independent one and you will in no case come under the order of any Allied general.” Though the British had come to help, its leader had orders not only to act independently of the French, but to limit his losses. This seemed sure to create problems.

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