Mons: The Retreat to Victory, John Terraine

Mons: The Retreat to Victory, John Terraine

Despite its title this book isn't really about the Battle of Mons, which only occupies one of the book's ten chapters. The book actually looks at the entire first phase of fighting on the Western Front in 1914 as it affected the B.E.F., from the outbreak of war to the battle of the Marne, and gives the French experience as much coverage as the British.

Much of the emphasis is on the actions and attitudes of the senior commanders of the three armies involved - French, German and British - and how their pre-conceptions and misunderstandings influenced the campaign. The turning point in the war is thus seen as the moment at which Joffre began to realise what the real German plan was, while at the same time the Germans began to lose confidence.

Despite its comparatively tiny size the B.E.F. played a major part in these events because of its original position on the left of the Allied line. This brought it into contact with the right wing of the German army, the very forces that had the most important role to play in the German plan. The B.E.F.'s ability to hold off much larger German forces, and the miscalculations that this produced amongst the German high command, helped to force the Germans into a position that allowed Joffre to launch the counter-attack that resulted in the miracle on the Marne.

Terraine's detailed account of the entire campaign allows us to see this happening - to see key German armies losing time on the march as they marched in the wrong direction to catch the British or to see how commanders on all sides ignored evidence of what was really happening on the ground.

The book also serves to remind us that this first phase of the war was very different from the familiar picture of the static trench warfare that came to dominate, but was instead a much more traditional 'war of manoeuvre'.


Part One: Into Battle
1 - Departure and Arrival
2 - Meetings
3 - The Fog of War
4 - The Eve of Battle
5 - Mons

Part Two: Retreat
6 - The Retreat Begins
7 - Landrecies and Le Cateau
8 - Lanrezac Fights
9 - The Climax
10 - The Counterstroke

Author: John Terraine
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2010 edition of 1960 original

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