The Battle of Gravelotte – St. Privat, fought on August 18th – came early in the Franco-Prussian War and, although a Pyrrhic victory for the Prussians (their casualties were more than twice those of the French) – proved a strategic victory from which the French never recovered. Fought just west of the fortress city of Metz in Lorraine it followed a defeat inflicted on France the previous day at Mars-le-Tour, and was the final vindication of the tactics used by the brilliantly ruthless German C-in-C Field Marshal Hellmuth Von Moltke whose battle strategy if the subject of this absorbing book. The Prussian First and Second Armies, numbering 188,332 and equipped with 732 heavy cannon, outnumbered and outgunned their opponents in the French Army of the Rhine commanded by the brave but inept and unlucky Marshal Achille Bazaine. The French numbered some 112,800 and had the advantage of a strong defensive position above a ravine which they had spent the night entrenching and strengthening. Despite this, the Prussians launched repeated attacks across the ravine. Pinned down by merciless fire from the superior French Chassepot rifles, the Prussians responded with their Krupp heavy guns. Although the armies finished the battle exhausted and in stalemate, with the Prussians having casualties of 20,000 against French losses of less than half that number, the strategic victory was Moltke’s since he had blocked the French retreat to the fortress town of Verdun and the next day Bazaine fell back to Metz, where he remained bottled up and unable to take further part in the war: a dereliction of duty for which he was later court-martialled and imprisoned – finally escaping to die in impoverished exile in Spain.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS OF MOLTKE’S STRATEGY Displayed and Explained from the Battles of Gravelotte and St. Privat 18th August 1870
Examination of the strategy used by Von Moltke, the ruthlessly brilliant Prussian C-in-C in the battle of Gravelotte-St Privat, biggest and bloodiest clash in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1. It was a Pyrrhic victory for Prussia, who suffered 20,000 casualties against the French 8,000 – but a strategic triumph for Moltke, resulting in the French army being bottled up in the fortress of Metz for the rest of the war.