Battle of Charleroi

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The Battle of Charleroi (French: Bataille de Charleroi), or the Battle of the Sambre, was fought on 21 August 1914, by the French Fifth Army and the German 2nd and 3rd armies, during the Battle of the Frontiers. The French were planning an attack across the Sambre River, when the Germans attacked first, forced back the French from the river and nearly cut off the French retreat by crossing the Meuse around Dinant and getting behind the French right flank. The French were saved by a counter-attack at Dinant and the re-direction of the 3rd Army to the north-west in support of the 2nd Army, rather than south-west.


By 20 August, the Fifth Army (General Charles Lanrezac) had begun to concentrate on a 40-kilometre (25 mi) front along the Sambre, centred on Charleroi and extending east to the Belgian fortress of Namur. On the left flank, the Cavalry Corps (General André Sordet) linked the Fifth Army with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Mons. The French had 15 divisions, after transfers of troops to Lorraine, facing 18 German divisions from the 2nd Army (General Karl von Bülow) and 3rd Army moving south-west from Luxembourg towards the Meuse.

Although Lanrezac knew retreat to be necessary from the beginning of the war and warned against the danger of the German sweep through Belgium, his superior, General Joseph Joffre, believed that France should follow the offensive Plan XVII, regardless of what happened in Belgium, discounted Lanrezac's warnings and ordered the Fifth Army to attack across the Sambre. Before Lanrezac could act on the morning of 21 August, the 2nd Army launched the Battle of Charleroi with assaults across the Sambre, establishing two bridgeheads which the French, lacking artillery, were unable to reduce. The Germans attacked again on 22 August, with three corps against the entire Fifth Army front. Fighting continued on 23 August when the French centre around Charleroi began to fall back.

The 3rd Army crossed the Meuse and attacked the French right flank, held by I Corps (General Louis Franchet d'Esperey). The attack threatened to cut the line of retreat of the Fifth Army but I Corps stopped the German advance with a counter-attack. With the evacuation of Namur and news of the Fourth Army retreat from the Ardennes, Lanrezac ordered the Fifth Army to withdraw, lest he be encircled and cut off from the rest of the French army. The German army was victorious.



German advance through Belgium, August 1914

The Fifth Army retreat after the Battle of Charleroi, arguably saved the French army from decisive defeat, as it prevented the much sought envelopment of the Schlieffen plan. After fighting another defensive action in the Battle of St. Quentin, the French were pushed to within miles of Paris. Lanrezac was sacked by Joffre on 3 September (four days after General Pierre Ruffey, the Third Army commander) and replaced by Lieutenant-General Louis Franchet d'Espèrey.[1]

The 1934 work by the French Fascist and writer Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, The Comedy of Charleroi, explores the author's role in the battle.


In 2001 Brose recorded 10,000 Fifth Army losses and in 2009, Herwig recorded that the 3rd Army had 4,275 casualties at Dinant.[2][3] On the western flank of the French, the BEF lost 1,600 men.[4]

Order of battle


  1. ^ Details taken from Naërt et al. (1936) unless specified.[5]
  2. ^ Details from Edmonds (1922) and Cron (2002) where indicated.[6][7]


  1. ^ Herwig 2009, p. 195.
  2. ^ Brose 2001, p. 200.
  3. ^ Herwig 2009, p. 168.
  4. ^ Brose 2001, p. 201.
  5. ^ Naërt et al. 1936, pp. 535–586.
  6. ^ Edmonds 1922, p. 492.
  7. ^ Cron 2002, p. 299.


  • Brose, E. D. (2001). The Kaiser's Army: The Politics of Military Technology in Germany During the Machine Age, 1870–1918. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517945-5. 
  • Cron, Hermann (2002) [1937]. Imperial German Army 1914–18: Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle. Appendix 1: The Field Army, 17 August 1914. Solihull: Helion. ISBN 1-874622-70-1. 
  • Edmonds, J. E. (1922). Military Operations France and Belgium, 1914: Mons, the Retreat to the Seine, the Marne and the Aisne August–October 1914. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I. Appendix 6: Order of battle of the German Armies (1st ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962523. 
  • Herwig, H. (2009). The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle that Changed the World. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-1-4000-6671-1. 
  • Naërt, M. C.; Laxague, G. M. J. B.; Courbis, J. C. P.; Joubert, J.; Lefranc, eds. (1936). Les armées françaises dans la Grande guerre (in French). I. Paris: Imprimerie nationale. pp. 535–586. OCLC 461413445. Retrieved 15 March 2015. 
  • Tuchman, B. W. (1962). The Guns of August. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-38623-X. 

Further reading

  • Bloem, W. (2004) [1916]. "Vormarsch" [The Advance from Mons 1914: The Experiences of a German Infantry Officer] (Helion, Solihull ed.). Bremen: Grethlein. ISBN 1-874622-57-4. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  • Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. ISBN 0-67401-880-X. 
  • Edmonds, J. E. (1926). Military Operations France and Belgium 1914: Mons, the Retreat to the Seine, the Marne and the Aisne August–October 1914. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan. OCLC 58962523. 
  • Evans, M. M. (2004). Battles of World War I. Select Editions. ISBN 1-84193-226-4. 
  • Foley, R. T. (2007) [2005]. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916 (pbk. ed.). Cambridge: CUP. ISBN 978-0-521-04436-3. 
  • Humphries, M. O.; Maker, J. (2013). Der Weltkrieg: 1914 The Battle of the Frontiers and Pursuit to the Marne. Germany's Western Front: Translations from the German Official History of the Great War. I. part 1 (1st ed.). Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 978-1-55458-373-7. 
  • Porch, D. (2003) [1981]. The March to the Marne: The French Army, 1870–1914 (reprint ed.). Cambridge: CUP. ISBN 0-52154-592-7. 
  • Spears, E. (1999) [1968]. Liaison 1914 (2nd Cassell reprint ed.). London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. ISBN 0-304-35228-4. 
  • Strachan, H. (2001). The First World War: To Arms. I. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926191-1. 
  • Tyng, S. (2007) [1935]. The Campaign of the Marne 1914 (Westholme Publishing, NY ed.). New York: Longmans, Green. ISBN 1-59416-042-2. 

External links

  • First World
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