Battle of Lorraine-Possibly the most decisive day of the war in hindsight. The German armies were advancing against the French. Progress was costly, but successful enough that the Bavarian Crown Prince, envisioning a true double envelopment of the French armies instead of the single envelopment envisioned by the Schlieffen plan, asked for permission to launch an all out attack against the French frontier, rather than just regaining the ground lost in the previous days. The German high command (OHL) under Moltke the younger, who already had doubts about the single envelopment, agreed, and the Germans committed themselves to throwing vital reserves into an assault on the fortified French fortress line, rather than putting the maximum amount of men possible into the right wing.
Battle of the Ardennes- The first days battles, though characteristically bloody (as every battle in the war was), was merely a series of meetings between disorganized masses of men. By the second day, organization and plans had been made, and all hell broke loose in the still misty and dark woods. Villages such as Vitron, Tintigny, Rossignol, and Neufchateau were the focus points of the battle, with both sides attacking each other rather than digging in.
It was this day that the infamous “Slaughter of the Colonial Corps”, part of the 4th Army, took place. The bravest and best trained men in the French army hurled themselves into the woods, only to be slaughtered by Germans machine gun positions. The 3rd Colonial Division in particular found itself surrounded by an entire corps of the Crown Price’s army, and fought for 6 hours to the death, their divisional and brigade generals dying with the privates and corporals of the army.
At Virton, the French Vi Corps hit the a defending German corps in the flank, it’s 75mm unleashing a storm of fire. A French officer that managed to survive the battle recalled the site; “The battlefield afterwards was an unbelievable spectacle. Thousands of dead were still standing, supported as if by a flying buttress made of bodies lying in rows on top of each other in an ascending arc from the horizontal to an angle of 60 degrees.”
A French sergeant wrote in his diary of the battle that day; “Night is falling and (the artillery) look like old men sticking out their tongues and spitting fire. Heaps of corpses, French and German, are lying every which way, rifles in hand. Rain is falling, shells are screaming and bursting - shells all the time. Artillery fire is the worst. I lay all night listening to the wounded groaning-some were German. The cannonading goes on. Whenever it stops we hear the wounded crying from all over the woods. Two or three men go mad every day.”
A German officer wrote of his units attack at Tintigny; “Nothing more terrible could be imagined. We advanced much to fast-a civilian fired at us-he was immediately shot-we were ordered to attack the enemy flank in a forest of beeches-we lost our direction-the men were done for-the enemy opened fire-shells came down on us like hail(!)”
By night fall the reports reached the Crown Prince that the French were breaking. The reports were true. Early that day French Generalissimo Joffre had taken 3 divisions of reserve infantry from Russey’s 3rd Army to form a new army to protect the flank the embattled French 5th army. Though this decision was necessary and a brilliant show of adaptability by Joffre, he forgot to mention it to Russey, who found his whole army committed in intense fighting and his reserves shipping off on trains in the opposite direction! Russey latter claimed that if he had those 3 divisions, victory would have been his, and it may very well have been, so close was the fighting that day.
Battle of Charleroi-The Germans swarmed forth from their bridgeheads. The French Commander Boe, of the X Corps, was driven past Lanrezac dying of a mortal wound, pleading for someone to tell the General that his corps had held on as long as it could. The III corps was pushed relentlessly back by the forces of two full German armies. On this crucial front, the French 75’ss only had enough ammo for 2 shots a minute, and so were useless.
The Algerian “Turco’s,” all volunteers, fought viciously as their fathers had at the fateful battle of Sedan half a century earlier. One battalion of 1,030 men charged a German artillery battery with the bayonet. Their attack was successful and gained the French vital time, but only 2 men remained unwounded afterwards.
It was clear by evening that the battle was being lost, with only one French Corps still holding it’s ground. It’s this day that Lanrezac asked the BEF, now only a few dozen miles on his flank, to attack and help him. The BEF Commadner John French replied that he would hold the Mons canal (where earlier that day the British had made first contact with the enemy, running through some scouting Hussars with their cavalry sabers in glorious fashion) for 24 hours.
The Balkans Front-The Serbs launch a massive counterattack through eh Drina valley, driving the Hapsburg forces back to the river line in the battle of Cer.