On 22 August 1914, the nineteenth day of what was to be a four year war, 27,000 French soldiers were killed - killed not ‘Killed, wounded, missing’ - on the Western Front in a series of encounter battles which were generically called ’The Battles of the Frontiers”. This level of casualties dwarfs the 16,000 British soldiers killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme two years later, yet very few British historians know anything about it. Most of the casualties were incurred in the Ardennes, where the French Fourth Army encountered the German Fourth Army in the dense forests and hills and gorges. In a bitter day’s fighting, one French division suffered 75% casualties; and everywhere the French were defeated and forced to retreat. And yet, in the midst of the chaos of battle there was one point, one place where the French had an opportunity to win a famous victory. One French regular army corps, fighting near Neufchateau against one German reserve brigade, had odds of more than 4:1 in their favour and yet failed to achieve a breakthrough or defeat its opponent. Victory near Neufchateau would have left the French with a chance of turning the tide; defeat for the Germans might have been catastrophic. There were no reinforcements or reserves to shore up the German line, merely a vast open space back to the Rhine. The Schlieffen Plan might have been stopped in its tracks, the outcome of the opening campaign significantly different.
In this presentation, Dr Simon House outlines the events of 22 August 1914 in the Ardennes, analyses the French failure and German success, and explains the ‘Lost Opportunity’. The presentation is based on a decade of painstaking research into the archives, both French and German, research which resulted in a thesis, the award of a PhD and a book
Hewitt Room, Whitton Community Centre, Percy Road, Whitton, TW2 6JL
04 May 2023 19:25