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Battle of Le Cateau
Part of the Great Retreat on the Western Front (First World War)
File:British casualties at Le Cateaua.jpg
British dead at the Battle of Le Cateau.
Date26 August 1914
LocationLe Cateau-Cambrésis, France
Result Successful retreat by the Allies
 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
France France
 German Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien
France Michel-Joseph Maunoury
German Empire Alexander von Kluck
German Empire Karl von Bülow
40,000 Unknown
Casualties and losses
7,812 men (including about 2,600 prisoners)
38 guns
Around 5,000

The Battle of Le Cateau was fought on 26 August 1914, after the British and French retreated from the Battle of Mons and had set up defensive positions in a fighting withdrawal against the German advance at Le Cateau-Cambrésis.

On the morning of 26 August, the Germans arrived and heavily attacked the British forces commanded by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien. Unlike the Battle of Mons, where the majority of casualties inflicted by the British were from rifle fire, Le Cateau was an artilleryman's battle, demonstrating the devastating results which modern quick-firing artillery using airbursting shrapnel shells could have on infantry advancing in the open.

The British deployed their artillery in the open, about 50–200 meters behind their infantry, while the German artillery used indirect fire from concealed positions.[1]

Holding their ground tenaciously against superior odds despite taking heavy casualties, by mid-afternoon, the right, then left flanks of the British, began to break under unrelenting pressure from the Germans. The arrival of Sordet's French cavalry acted as a shield for the British left flank, and supported a highly co-ordinated tactical withdrawal despite continued attempts by the Germans to infiltrate and outflank the retreating British forces.

That night, the Allies withdrew to Saint-Quentin. Of the 40,000 Allied men fighting at Le Cateau, 7,812 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Several British regiments had even disappeared from the rolls altogether.[citation needed] Thirty-eight artillery pieces (guns) were abandoned to the advancing Germans, the majority having their breech blocks removed and sights disabled by the gunners before retirement.

For these losses, however, the engagement at Le Cateau had achieved its objective, and enabled the British Expeditionary Force to retreat unmolested by the Germans for a further five days. Despite being later criticised for his decision to "stand and fight" at Le Cateau by his superior Field Marshal Sir John French, Smith-Dorrien was lionised by both the army and the public at home for his actions. The consensus amongst military historians considers Le Cateau as amongst the most successful holding actions in British military history,[citation needed] ranking alongside the Battle of the Imjin River during the Korean War in terms of its strategic effect.

See also


  1. Jonathan B. A. Bailey (2004). Field Artillery and Firepower. Naval Institute Press. pp. 212–213. ISBN 978-1-59114-029-0. 

Further reading

  • Becke, Major A. F. The Royal Regiment of Artillery at Le Cateau. (Reprinted D P & G Military Publishers, 2002, ISBN 978-1-903972-16-8. Reprinted Naval & Military Press Ltd (July 2003, paperback) ISBN 978-1-84342-545-8; (June 2006, hardcover) ISBN 978-1-84734-275-1)
  • Bird, Antony Gentlemen, We Will Stand and Fight: Le Cateau 1914 The Crowood Press Ltd, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84797-062-6
  • Brown, Malcolm, The Western Front, (1993), Sidgwick and Jackson.
  • Cave, Nigel and Sheddon, Jack. Le Cateau. Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2008, ISBN 978-0-85052-842-8.
  • Evans, M. M. (2004). Battles of World War I. Select Editions. ISBN 1-84193-226-4.
  • Gavaghan, Michael. Illustrated Pocket Guide to Mons, Le Cateau 1914. (Forgotten Battles Series, Book 3) M&L Publications ISBN 0-9524464-5-6.
  • HMSO. Battle of Le Cateau 26th August, 1914. Tour of the Battlefield. HMSO (By Command of the Army Council), 1934, reprinted Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2005, ISBN 978-1-84574-033-7.
  • Jones, Nigel H. The War Walk, (1983), Robert Hale Ltd.
  • Lomas, David. Mons - 1914, (1997), Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84176-142-7.

External links

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