The Battle of Mons – the official German account

The Battle of Mons – the official German account
translated by Robert Dunlop and Holger Puttkammer
with an introduction by Dr Jack Sheldon
published by Robert Dunlop, 2015
ISBN 978 0 9932046 0 9
cover price – not stated
Paperback, 81pp
reviewed by Chris Baker

I understand from Robert Dunlop that this privately-published work will in due course be available through Amazon and no doubt other booksellers.

This is a translated edition of a work published in September 1919 as volume 5 of “The Great War: a series of monographs using official sources, on behalf of the German Great General Staff” and written by Raimund Freiherr von Gleichen-Russwurm and Ernest Zurborn. The new introduction by historian Dr Jack Sheldon explains the historical significance of the work and places of into the German political context of late 1919.

“The Battle of Mons” is a fairly straightforward telling of the background to, and progress of, the fighting between the German First Army and the British Expeditionary Force in the vicinity of Mons between 22 and 25 August 1914. It is somewhat technical rather than human in its tone, although some individuals are named. The work describes the German advance across Belgium; the knowledge that the BEF had arrived in France but that intelligence suggested it was nearer to Lille than Mons; the early clashes of the two advancing cavalry screens and the much more serious fighting that took place from early on 23 August. We are reminded that while this was an important battle for the BEF, it was a relatively small affair compared the titanic clashes that had already taken place between the Germans and the French.

From the viewpoint of the facts of the matter, “The Battle of Mons” differs little from the official British account. It is in the interpretation of the fighting and its outcome that we find, perhaps unsurprisingly, a considerable difference. The British official history describes the fight as one of heroic resistance against overwhelming enemy force, with the BEF more or less being forced into withdrawal only because of the position of the French Fifth Army on its right. The German account sees Mons as a German victory “no matter how much they [the British] try to play down the German successes”, and talks of the British rear-guard having been destroyed by 25 August. It describes hot fire-fights for the canal crossing on 23 August and of the effects of fine British artillery fire over the next days, and essentially the work presents Mons as a hard-fought and genuine German achievement. It makes the point that “Field Marshal French was never again able to organise his forces to mount a vigorous resistance”: a statement about which no doubt many a long discussion could be had.

This translated edition is very welcome and makes for short but essential reading for those interested in this battle and the early exploits of the BEF.