on 11 January 2009
The Battle of Le Cateau, fought on 26 August 1914, was an outstanding feat of arms by the BEF, specifically Gen. Smith-Dorrien's Regulars of Second Corps - some 60, 000 men - facing the entire German First Army of Gen. von Kluck. Despite British C-in-C Sir John French's order to continue the Retreat from Mons, Smith-Dorrien chose to fight along the Roman Cambrai-Le Cateau road. He was outnumbered three to one.
It was a defensive battle akin to Waterloo, also lasting one day, on a compact battlefield (still very much as it is today), with infantry and gunners - firing over open sights - exposed to enemy rifles, machine guns and batteries. With 1200 dead they inflicted perhaps three times that on the enemy and left the field in good order. Smith-Dorrien had won a tactical battle, but was later sacked while Haig, First Corps Commander, who had marched away from the sound of gunfire, was promoted C-in-C in 1915.
Antony Bird, the co-author of an excellent military anthology [Voices from the Front Line, Summersdale] has written an elegant, penetrative study of the men, weapons and tactics that decided the battle. But unlike another recent battlefield guide to the battle, Bird looks behind the heroism and sacrifice to examine the motives, shortcomings and strengths of warring generals. He is particularly good on weaponry, on the aftermath of the battle and its implications, and has done some useful work on calculating casualties. Maps are clear, integrated photos are helpful, there is a good index and there are pithily and amusingly written pen portraits of the protagonists.
But on another level this is a damn good read. One cannot fail to be moved, thrilled even, by the Boys Own stuff - how three VCs were won rescuing the guns for example. The BEF were all but wiped out after First Ypres but feats described here bear witness to the skill, marksmanship and bravery of a vanished breed.
Jacqueline Buchanan, Guild of Battlefield Guides
on 30 September 2012
This is a battle that should to be better known, as important as Mons. Von Kluck was dealt a blow and the BEF largely got away to fight another day. Gen Smith-Dorrien deserves to be reassessed as a general with a rare feel for the battlefield, a general who was badly treated by French and whose loss was a blow to the command of the Western Front. This book tells of the heroism on the field of battle aa well as the context.
on 14 April 2015
General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien was the commander of II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force in France. His decision to ignore Field Marshall Sir John French's orders during the Retreat from Mons and to make a fighting stand at Le Cateau, was arguably one of the finest fighting actions of the British Army which certainly saved the BEF, and probably France.
One of the few survivors of Isandlwana, Smith-Dorrien was a rare field officer and commander of genuine ability who had an almost unique view of the battlefield, and with that vision he was able to transmit though his men as to what was required of them and expected. He was without doubt the hero of the Mons retreat, lambasted and removed from his position at the time, his ability and worthiness has now been rightly recognised. This book goes along way to cement the legend of the man and of the "contemptible little army" who fought so magnificently during the Retreat from Mons.
Good book detailing a remarkable battle.