Friday, July 22, 2011

Visit to Mars-La-Tour & St Privat/Gravelotte

At Mars-la-Tour (also known as Rezonville), the main French army was moving west from Metz towards Verdun attempting to join up with Napoleon II's army when they ran into some Prussian opposition that had force marched around their southern flank.  The Prussians initially had only 2 Corps & were outnumbered about 5 to 1, but such was the stupidity of the Prussian command that they attacked immediately.  The French assumed that this meant that there had to be shirtloads more Prussians coming and fought a defensive action.  There were more Prussians coming, but only 1 Corps, not enough to redress the balance of numbers.   But by nightfall, the French command had convinced itself that their retreat was cut off and withdrew to a defensive position closer to Metz.

This brilliant manoeuvre gave the Prussians time to bring up the rest of their army to actually acheive the numerical superiority the French thought they had.

Two days later the Prussians attacked the French deployed between St Privat in the north and Gravelotte in the south.  The Prussians attacked relentlessly and unnecesarily at both ends of the line with horrendous casulties.   A counterattack by the French reserve could well have routed their depleted force, but alas, the French command exceeded the Prussian in stupidity and missed the opportunity.  The army which had held its ground while inflicting two times their own losses retreated into Metz to be bottled up and eventually surrended.

There can be few better examples of battles won & lost in the heads of the generals than these two.

It isn't easy to take informative photos of such battlefields.  The country is generally open and gently rolling, except for some very steep ravines in the rear of the French position at St Privat/Gravelotte.  There are clumps of woods all over.  Nowadays they are very dense though clear enough at ground level to walk through (with some difficulty), but it could have been different in 1870.  The battles were in August, it is now late July, so the state of the crops should be similar.   Now, the hay has been harvested leaving a lot of bare fields, but the corn is as high as an elephant's eye.

Pic 1:  The battlefields are dottted with monuments.  Every regiment seems to have installed one on the scene of their biggest pile of bodies.  There are also mass graves marked all over the place, often inscribed "Les soldats Francais et Allemande"...all thrown in together.

Pic 2:  Your intrepid correspondant with maps and scout car Citroen Mk CV3.  In the background the clear ground is the scene of the great Prussian cavalry charge of Mars-la-Tour that subsequently encouraged great waste of resources in maintaining cavalry regiments long after they were rendered useless by improved weaponry.

Pic 3: An example of the open ground the Prussians had to cross to get at the French positions at St Privat/Gravelotte.  This is in front of Moskow Farm.

No comments: