The Battle of Mulhouse (or Mülhausen) (also called the Battle of Alsace (French language: Bataille d'Alsace)), which began on August 9, 1914, was the opening attack of World War I by the French army against Germany. The battle was part of a French attempt to recover the province of Alsace, which the French had been forced to cede to the newly formed German Empire following France's defeat by Prussia and other independent German states in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It had been a goal of France to recover Alsace and Lorraine ever since. The assault ended in failure, with a full withdrawal on August 10 toward Belfort led by General Bonneau.
The French force under General Bonneau, detached from the 1st Army in Lorraine, consisted of the 7th Army Corps (14th and 41st infantry divisions reinforced by one brigade of the 57th reserve division from Belfort) and the 8th cavalry division. It was part of the larger French offensive into Alsace-Lorraine according to the Plan XVII of operations.
The Battle of Mulhouse, one of the August Battle of the Frontiers, comprised the opening French attack of the war, and began at 05:00 on 9 August 1914.
Forming a fundamental component of France war strategy, Plan XVII, the Battle of Mulhouse was intended to secure the recapture of Alsace (with Lorraine to follow separately), territories lost to Germany as a consequence of losing the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
Aside from the matter of national pride inherent in the capture of Alsace, French troops there would be well placed to guard the flank of subsequent French invasions further north.
In command of the operation to take Mulhouse was General Bonneau, and he was assigned a detachment of the First Army, plus one cavalry and two infantry divisions. Ranged against him was the German Seventh Army under General von Heeringen.
Having crossed the frontier on the morning of 7 August, the French quickly seized the border town of Altkirch with a bayonet charge. However Bonneau, suspicious of the light state of the German defences, was wary of advancing much further for fear of stepping into a carefully laid German trap. However, under orders to move to the Rhine next day, Bonneau continued his advance, taking Mulhouse shortly after its German occupants had left the town.
The taking of Mulhouse, albeit without opposition, sparked wild celebrations in France.
With the arrival of German reserves from Strasbourg, the Germans mounted a counter-attack on the morning of 9 August at nearby Cernay.
In the absence of reserves of his own, and unable to mount a concentrated defence, Bonneau began a slow withdrawal the same day.
Joseph Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief, hastily despatched a reserve division to assist in the defence, but they arrived too late to save the town from recapture, Bonneau withdrawing towards Belfort, the only fort to have held out during the Franco-Prussian War, on 10 August in order to escape German encirclement.
Bonneau's withdrawal to Belfort was seen as both an actual and symbolic humiliation by Joffre, and his response was immediate. Charging Bonneau with a lack of aggression, he was promptly relieved of command. Recognising the high profile of the loss, Joffre added four more divisions to the so-called 'Army of Alsace' placed under the command of General Pau, which unsuccessfully advanced upon Lorraine later that month.
Proclamation on Invasion of Alsace at Mulhouse
French Proclamation on Invasion of Alsace at Mulhouse
7 August 1914
CHILDREN of ALSACE!
After forty-four years of sorrowful waiting, French soldiers once more tread the soil of your noble country. They are the pioneers in the great work of revenge. For them what emotions it calls forth, and what pride!
To complete the work they have made the sacrifice of their lives. The French nation unanimously urges them on, and in the folds of their flag are inscribed the magic words, "Right and Liberty."
Long live Alsace.
Long live France.
General-in-Chief of the French Armies, JOFFRE
The Battle of Dornach
A French counter-attack in the wealthy Mulhouse suburb of Dornach began on the 19th of August and resulted in the retreat of the German troops to Ensisheim, 20 km to the north. In this engagement, future Generalissimo Colonel Robert Nivelle's artillery proved decisive. On the 24th August the French withdrew from Mulhouse to a line at Altkirch, to not return to Mulhouse itself until the Armistice.
Due to the failure of his attack, General Joffre replaced General Bonneau, in command of the VIIth Corps with the reactivated General Paul Pau, and dismissed General Aubier, commander of the accompanying 8th Cavalry Division.
- Tuchman, Barbara (1962). The Guns of August. Constable. ISBN 0-333-69880-0.
- MilitaryHistoryWiki.org. "The Battle of Mulhouse". MilitaryHistoryWiki.org. Archived from the original on 20 September 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20080920081955/http://militaryhistorywiki.org/world-war-one/the-battle-of-mulhouse/. Retrieved 2008-09-24.
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