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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Contemplating defeat

Tuesday, August 25th., at Thorpe-le-Soken

Yesterday's rumours. Mathews (who came with wife and daughter to play tennis) said that a friend of his had a friend who with others had been sent out to Belgium, a fortnight before the declaration of war, with British guns for the Liege forts and to instruct the Belgians in the use of the said guns.
Map of the forts at Liege
This friend's friend had not returned. The theory held by the friend was that the Germans were taken by surprise by the range of the Liege guns. This reminds me that though we had constant news that the Liege forts were holding out, we have only had indirect news that they have fallen.

In the Battle of Liège the Liège fortifications fulfilled their role, stopping the German army long enough to allow the Belgian and French armies to mobilize. The battle revealed shortcomings in the performance of the forts and in the Belgian strategy. The forts themselves suffered from inherent weakness of construction through poor understanding of concrete technology, as well as overall inadequate protection for the garrison and ammunition stores from heavy-caliber artillery bombardment. Unbreathable air from bombardment, the fort's own gun gases and from human waste compelled the surrender of most of the positions. However, the days-long delay caused by the fortress ring allowed the Belgian, and more importantly, the French armies to complete their mobilizations. Had the Germans captured Liège as they had hoped, by a bold stroke, the German army could have been in Paris before France could organize its defence at the First Battle of the Marne.

Clemenceau is right in demanding full news of defeats.

Georges Clemenceau
Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) was French prime minister twice, in 1906-09 and from November 1917-20. Nicknamed "The Tiger", Clemenceau's staunch republicanism brought him into early conflict with Napoleon III's government.  Although trained as a doctor he travelled to the U.S. where he remained for several years as a teacher and journalist, returning to France in 1869.
In 1902 Clemenceau was elected senator, and in 1906 became minister of the interior and then premier.  During his first tenure as prime minister he forged closer ties with Britain and settled the Moroccan crisis.
In 1909 Clemenceau's government fell and in the following years Clemenceau vigorously attacked Germany and argued for greater military preparedness in the event of war.
Clemenceau became premier in November 1917, and remained in the post until 1920.  Having become prime minister for the second time he formed a coalition cabinet, serving as minister of war himself. Clemenceau worked to revive French morale in the country at large, and persuaded the Allies to agree to a unified military command; he energetically pursued the war until its conclusion in November 1918. At the Paris Peace Conference Clemenceau insisted upon the complete humiliation of Germany, requiring German disarmament and severe reparations; France also won back Alsace-Lorraine. In the presidential elections of January 1920 Clemenceau was defeated, ironically after facing charges that he was too lenient in his treatment of Germany at the Treaty.
Following his retirement from politics Clemenceau wrote his autobiography, In the Evening of my Thought (1929).  He predicted a renewed war with Germany by 1940.  He died on 24 November 1929 in Paris.

Psychological consequence of fall of Namur.

As at Liege, the city of Namur had been fortified between 1888 and 1892 under the direction of military engineer Brialmont with the construction of a ring of forts around the city It was believed that the forts, accompanied by the deployment of infantry, would protect the Sambre and Meuse Rivers against German invasion. In theory the capture of Namur ought to have been easier than at Liege: the garrison was low on morale, ammunition and, most critically, manpower. At its best Namur was garrisoned with approximately 37,000 men, against which was arrayed at least 107,000 German troops. The Germans decided to repeat their earlier success at Liege by bombarding the forts with heavy artillery, including the powerful Big Bertha gun (a 420mm siege howitzer) Two days after von Bulow had launched his assault, Namur was close to collapse on 23 August. The decision was taken to evacuate Namur that day, with German forces entering the city in the evening The last of the forts fell soon afterwards.

We were all discussing last night what we in this house ought to do if the Germans came. The general result was: nothing!

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