Notes on the War. Engels 1870-71.
Source: The Pall Mall Gazette, November 23, 1870;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.
If ever there was a chance of relief for Paris that chance existed during the last eight days. A resolute advance of the Army of the Loire, reinforced by all troops that could be brought up from the East of France, against Mecklenburg’s army of observation, combined with a sortie en masse made by the whole of Trochu’s disciplined forces, both attacks carried out at the same time and before Prince Frederick Charles could come up with the Second Army — this was the only plan which promised success. And if we look at the counter-dispositions of the Germans we can hardly help concluding that it had more chances of success than could be expected at first sight.
Before Paris there were last week seventeen German infantry divisions, including the Württembergers. who had not left their post between the Seine arid the Marne, as has been erroneously reported at first. The army of observation, under Mecklenburg, counted two North German and two Bavarian divisions, besides cavalry. After the battle of Coulmiers, D'Aurelle, instead of following up the Bavarian rear, marched north and west in the direction of Chartres, where, for the present, he became lost to our eyes. The Germans followed this movement by a change of front towards the west, von der Tann’s Bavarians holding the country from Etampes to Ablis, while the 17th and 22nd divisions marched towards Chartres and Dreux. The latter town had, in the meantime, been reoccupied by French troops; it was supposed that D'Aurelle, reinforced by Kératry and other forces, was trying to turn the army of observation and to arrive suddenly upon the army blockading Paris. So serious did this attempt appear to Count Moltke that he despatched at once the nearest troops, portions of the 5th and 12th Corps, to the support of Mecklenburg, and ordered the 2nd Bavarian and 6th North German Corps, the 21st, and the Württemberg divisions to hold themselves in readiness to march south if required. The reinforcements already sent enabled Mecklenburg to retake Dreux on the 17th, and to follow the enemy up, on the 18th, beyond Châteauneuf. What French troops they were who were here defeated it is impossible to tell. They may have been portions of the Army of the Loire, but they certainly were not the Army of the Loire itself. Since then there is no news whatever of further French movements; while time runs on and Prince Frederick Charles draws nearer and nearer, and ought, by now, to be within supporting distance of Mecklenburg’s left wing.
There seems to be little doubt that a great opportunity has been missed by the French. The advance of the Army of the Loire made such a powerful impression upon Moltke that lie did not hesitate a moment to give orders which implied, if it became necessary to execute them, nothing less than the raising of the investment of Paris. The portions of the 5th and 12th Corps, which advanced towards Dreux, we will set down at not more than a brigade each, or a division in all; but besides them, two Bavarian, three North German and the Württemberg divisions were told off to hold themselves ready to march against D'Aurelle at the first notice. Thus, out of the seventeen divisions before Paris, seven at least were to march against the relieving army in case of need, and these seven just those which occupied the ground to the south of Paris. The Crown Prince would have retained but the 2nd and greater part of the 5th Corps, wherewith to guard the long extent of ground from the Seine at Choisy, by Versailles, to St. Germain; while the Guards, the 4th, and greater part of the 12th Corps would have had to hold the whole of the northern line from St. Germain round by Gonesse and St. Brice, across the Marne, again to the Seine above Paris. Thus ten divisions of infantry would have held a line of investment of forty miles, or four miles of front for each division. Such a scattering of forces would have reduced the investment to a mere line of observation; and Trochu, with eight divisions under Ducrot and seven more, in his Third Army, under his own immediate, command, could have outnumbered his opponents at least three to one on any point he might have chosen for an attack. With such odds victory ought to have been certain to him. He could have pierced the lines of the Germans, seized upon and destroyed their siege parks, ammunitions, and stores, and caused them such losses in men that a close investment, much less a siege, of Paris would have been rendered impossible for some time to come.
So far, we have merely considered Trochu’s chances, independent of those of the Army of the Loire. It is as good as certain that the latter would have been no match for the eleven German divisions told off against it, in case these eleven divisions were all concentrated. But the chances were much against that eventuality. It is likely enough that a bold and quick attack by D'Aurelle, combined with a large sortie made by Trochu at the same time, would have carried disorder into Moltke’s arrangements. None of the corps which Trochu happened to attack could have been spared to march off against D'Aurelle. Thus it might remain a matter of accident which of the two French chiefs might have to fight the bulk of the Germans; but the fact remained that their forces together were far superior in numbers to anything the Germans could bring against them. From Paris to Dreux the distance is less than fifty miles. A simultaneous attack upon the Germans from both ends, and with all available forces, would, in all probability, find some of their divisions on the march between the two end-points, and therefore not immediately available. If the attack were really simultaneous, an almost crushing numerical superiority on the French side, either at the Dreux end or at the Paris end, was a positive certainty; and therefore it was almost impossible to miss at least one victory. We know very well what great drawbacks and difficulties attach to combined movements, and how often they miscarry. But in this case it is to be observed that no other condition of success was necessary than that both attacks should be made at exactly the same time. And, further, it is clear that with a distance of forty miles from one army to the other, the Prussians had to combine their movements too.
It is impossible to explain why neither D'Aurelle nor Trochu has done anything to take advantage of the chance thus offered to them. The slight engagements near Dreux and Châteauneuf were certainly not of a nature to drive back the Army of the Loire; there were not more than three German divisions engaged in them, while the Army of the Loire counts at least eight. Whether D'Aurelle is awaiting further reinforcements; whether his pigeon-messages have miscarried; whether there are differences between him and Trochu, we cannot tell. Anyhow, this delay is fatal to
their cause. Prince Frederick Charles keeps marching on, and may be by this time so near to the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg’s army that he can co-operate, and the six divisions from before Paris can be spared. And from the day when that takes place, the two French generals will have lost another chance of victory — may be, their last one.