Le Cateau, with Mons, was one of the two major engagements fought by the British Expeditionary Force in France in the opening weeks of the Great War. The battle, fought chiefly by the BEF’s II Corps under the command of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien on 26th August 1914, came about because of the confusion caused by the unexpected speed and weight of the German advance, which had routed General Lanrezac’s French Vth army. The BEF, endeavouring to cover for the French, found itself out oon a limb around the small town of Le Cateau. On the night of 25th August, the local commanders, – aware that to continue the retreat at daylight in conjunction with the fleeing French, as ordered by GHQ, would open them to the dangers of an attack by General von Kluck’s 1st Army in front of them while they were in the process of retiring – took the decision to stand and fight. GHQ, some 23 miles away at St Quentin, concurred. The discipline of the BEF”s musketry, including units of the Argyll and Suffolk regiments, held the advancing enemy at bay, although the German machine-gun fire inflicted heavy casualties. The action held up the German juggernaut for a vital day, but the retreat continued. This official combined tour guide and pack of battlefield maps, produced by the War Office in 1933 as another war with Germany loomed, gives a clear step by step unfolding of the battle with the aid of a series of topographical sketches and a main battle map showing the movements of the opposing armies. There are notes on the units involved, the mistakes made, and the lessons learned. An invaluable addition to the armoury of the growing number of Great War enthusiasts and visitors to the western front. Smith-Dorrien was made the scapegoat for the battle and lost his command.
BATTLE OF LE CATEAU 26TH AUGUST 1914, TOUR OF THE BATTLEFIELD
Combined War Office map package and tour guide to Le Cateau, where the BEF stood and halted the German juggernaut for a day on August 25th 1914.