Austria-Hungary declared war on Belgium on this day, and by this time, Supreme French commander Joseph Joffre had been pounding the Franco-German border with continuous attacks since the early days of the war. He had little to show for it except for massive casualties. Indeed, in some sectors his armies had actually lost ground. In point of fact, the Germans simply had a much better appreciation for defense than did the French at this time. As soon as the Germans made contact with the enemy, they dug in, and awaited their chance to break his advance with aimed rifle fire, machine guns, and artillery. Their favorite tactic was to withhold their attack until the French had begun to withdraw from an unsuccessful attack.

Joffre had to admit of the strength of the German left wing, so he next shifted his focus to the mid-section of the German armies, making their way through the Ardennes. Joffre hoped that if he could break through there, then he could split the collective German armies in two, perhaps even cut them off from their supplies. He order full force attacks into the Ardennes, deducing that if the Germans had strength in both their left and right wings, then the middle couldn’t possibly be strong as well.

“The fourteen French divisions sent into the Ardennes ran head-on into exactly fourteen German divisions that found strong defensive positions in the region’s rough wooded hills and were well equipped with machine guns and artillery. The French attacked and attacked again under increasingly hopeless conditions until finally, weakened by appalling casualties, they had no choice but to stop. The fight at the town of Rossignol was sadly typical: of the fourteen thousand crack colonial troops thrown at the Germans there, nearly a third were shot dead.”

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 122.


Joffre allowed the attacks to continue up through the 26th. By then, the total casualties on both sides was again skewed against the French, as the Germans lost approximately 40,000 men, the French around 55,000. On August 22 alone, the French lost over 27,000 men in their attacks.

The numbers were horrible. And the war was barely three weeks old.



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