Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Day One: 4 August 1914 in Detail

 (Translated from French Sources.)

Brussels Headline, 4 August 1914

Preparatory actions for the implementation of the Schlieffen Plan are undertaken by the German Army: it enters Belgian territory to seize the bridges over the Meuse. England issues an ultimatum to Germany and then decides to mobilize on the night of 4–5 August.


-  At 8.45 a.m., the Minister of War  telegraphs to the general-in-chief, to the generals commanding the covering corps, and to General Sordet, stipulating the prohibition of entering Belgian territory.

-  Joffre ordered the 7th CA to occupy the Alsace balloon, without going down into the plain.

-  The Chamber of Deputies meets. Viviani denies that any French aviator has committed an act of hostility. The laws necessary for national defense are passed unanimously.

-  A detachment of German cavalry enters Blâmont and Frémonville, a company of infantry crosses the French border at Homécourt.

-  As the intervention of the English is probable, Messimy sends instructions to the commanders of Boulogne, Rouen and Le Havre, in anticipation of landings in these ports.

-  Dubail, commander of the 1st Army, receives the order to prepare an offensive in Haute-Alsace, to be executed by the 7th CA and the 8th DC, on the Thann-Mulhouse front.

Kaiser Wilhelm II Addresses the Reichstag, 4 August 1914


Sir Edward Goschen, Ambassador of England, gives von Jagow the text of the ultimatum, which is rejected.

An exceptional Reichstag session is held in the White Room of the Berlin Palace. Kaiser Wilhelm II reads a speech that all deputies listen to while respectfully standing silent. Its most famous part is:

You have read what I said to my people the other day from the balcony of my castle. I repeat now that I no longer know any parties. I know only Germans. And in order to testify that you are firmly resolved without distinction of party to stand by my side through danger and death, I call upon the leaders of the different parties in this House to come forward and lay their hands in mine as a pledge


England sends a formal notice to Germany regarding Belgian neutrality. State Secretary for Foreign Affairs von Jagow replies that the violation of Belgian territory is a fait accompli.

As a result, the mobilization of the metropolitan forces was ordered on the night of 4 to 5 August  (two days after France).


The supreme command of the Russian armies is entrusted to the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich.


The French colony of Algeria is bombarded: at 4 a.m., at Bône by SMS Breslau, as is Philippeville at 5 a.m. by SMS Goeben.


From 4–20 August, the Belgian Army was isolated against the 1st and 2nd German armies. Too weak to fight them, she tries to delay them as long as possible by avoiding being run over.

-  At around 8 a.m., two German DCs (2nd and 4th divisions) and the 34th Infantry Brigade crossed the Belgian border. They avoid the fortified position of Liège, pushing toward. the Meuse at Visé. They find the bridge destroyed and the crossings  of the Meuse guarded by the 2nd battalion of the 12th line regiment, which stands up to the attacks. These divisions are the vanguard of an army drawn from the CAs of Aix-la-Chapelle and the Eupen camp, under the command of General von Emmich.

-  At 9 a.m., the House of Representatives acclaims King Albert.

-  Around 10:30 a.m., the first Belgian soldier is killed, in Thimister, on the road from Liège to Aix-la-Chapelle: it is the cavalryman Antoine Adolphe Fonck.

-  The Belgian minister of war asks the French military attaché to immediately prepare the collaboration and contact of the French troops with the Belgian army.

-  The 3rd and 4th Divisions are ordered to destroy all bridges, tunnels, and structures in the Meuse and beyond.

Bridge at Huy Demolished

-  The 9th battalion of German infantry threatens to cross the Meuse at the ford of Lixhe, located 600 m south of the Dutch border, and guarded by companies of the 25th RI.

-  In Visé, the German infantrymen equipped with machine guns opened an intense fire on the defenders of the western outlet of the bridge. The fort of Pontisse pulls to the east side of the Visé bridge and farther north toward Navagne where large gatherings are reported. The Belgian forces were threatened with being turned to their left at Lixhe and had to fall back around 5 p.m. on Milmort, behind the line of forts at Liège. The Germans, annoyed by the fire from Fort Pontisse, stayed the night on the right bank, the two DCs near Mouland and the 34th brigade at Berneau.

-  The other German brigades reached farther south the front of Berneau - Herve - Louveigné - Stoumont. The 9th DC stops at Poulseur.

At 6 p.m., the 12th of the line withdrew from the Visé bridge and two regiments of Uhlans crossed the Meuse, followed by two regiments of hussars. A German column enters through Gemmenich into Belgian territory.

First German Troops to Enter Belgium

Following these violations of the territory, King Albert I launched an appeal to the powers guaranteeing the treaty of 1839, France, England, and Russia:

The Belgian government regrets having to announce to Your Excellency that this morning the armed forces of Germany have entered Belgian territory in violation of the commitments which have been made by treaty. . . The King's Government is firmly resolved to resist by all means in its power.. . . Belgium calls on England, France and Russia to cooperate, as guarantors, in the defense of its territory. . . There would be concerted and joint action aimed at resisting the forceful measures employed by Germany against Belgium and, at the same time, guaranteeing the maintenance of the independence and integrity of Belgium in the country. 'to come up. . . Belgium is happy to be able to declare that it will ensure the defense of its strongholds.

The same day, England let it be known that she would help Belgium with all her might.

France and Russia in turn make known their willingness to respond to the call and to cooperate with England in the defense of Belgian territory.

Source: Sambre-Marne-Yser Website

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