Battle of the Ardennes
The Battle of the Ardennes was one of the opening battles of World War I. It took place from August 21–23, 1914, part of the Battle of the Frontiers
Battle of the Frontiers
The Battle of the Frontiers was a series of battles fought along the eastern frontier of France and in southern Belgium shortly after the outbreak of World War I. The battles represented a collision between the military strategies of the French Plan XVII and the German Schlieffen Plan...



French commander-in-chief Joseph Joffre
Joseph Joffre
Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre OM was a French general during World War I. He is most known for regrouping the retreating allied armies to defeat the Germans at the strategically decisive First Battle of the Marne in 1914. His popularity led to his nickname Papa Joffre.-Biography:Joffre was born in...

 ordered an attack through the Ardennes
The Ardennes is a region of extensive forests, rolling hills and ridges formed within the Givetian Ardennes mountain range, primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg, but stretching into France , and geologically into the Eifel...

 forest in support of the French invasion of Lorraine
Lorraine (province)
The Duchy of Upper Lorraine was an historical duchy roughly corresponding with the present-day northeastern Lorraine region of France, including parts of modern Luxembourg and Germany. The main cities were Metz, Verdun, and the historic capital Nancy....

. According to the pre-war French war strategy document, Plan XVII
Plan XVII was the name of a "scheme of mobilization and concentration" that was adopted by the French General Staff in 1913, to be put into effect by the French Army in the event of war between France and Germany but was not ‘a prescribed narrative for the campaign’ or battle...

, German forces in the area were only expected to be light, with French light, rapid-firing artillery proving advantageous in a wooded terrain such as that found in the Ardennes.

By 20 August, however, it was becoming clear - first to General Charles Lanrezac
Charles Lanrezac
Charles Lanrezac was a distinguished general of the French army at the outbreak of World War I.-Early life:...

's French Fifth Army, and then to Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre - that a massive German presence was gathering in the area. That same day the Germans launched a counter-attack against the French advance into Lorraine. Even so, Joffre ordered an invasion of the Ardennes on 20 August for the following day.


Two sets of armies joined battle on both French and German sides. General Pierre Ruffey
Pierre Ruffey
Pierre Xavier Emmanuel Ruffey was a French Army general, that commanded the Third Army during the opening of World War I.-Biography:...

's Third Army and General Fernand de Langle de Cary
Fernand de Langle de Cary
Fernand Louis Armand Marie de Langle de Cary was a French general during World War I. He commanded Fourth Army when the war began.-Early life:...

's Fourth Army fought the German Fourth and Fifth Armies: the former led by Duke Albrecht
Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg
Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg or Albrecht Herzog von Württemberg was a German Generalfeldmarschall and head of the Royal House of Württemberg...

, the latter by Crown Prince Wilhelm
Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany
Frederick William Victor Augustus Ernest of the House of Hohenzollern was the last Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire. He was colloquially known as William or Wilhelm throughout Europe....

. The two German armies together formed the centre of the German Schlieffen Plan
Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan was the German General Staff's early 20th century overall strategic plan for victory in a possible future war in which the German Empire might find itself fighting on two fronts: France to the west and Russia to the east...

's advance into France.

The French Fifth Army, meanwhile, had been engaged northbound to Charleroi
Charleroi is a city and a municipality of Wallonia, located in the province of Hainaut, Belgium. , the total population of Charleroi was 201,593. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of and had a total population of 522,522 as of 1 January 2008, ranking it as...

 on the back of news of a German build-up of strength in Belgium.

German troops had begun to advance through the forest on 19 August, building defensive positions as they went. Crown Prince Wilhelm was positioned at Briey with Duke Albrecht en route to Neufchâteau
Neufchâteau is a Walloon municipality of Belgium located in the province of Luxembourg.On 1 January 2007 the municipality, which covers 113.79 km², had 6,652 inhabitants, giving a population density of 58.5 inhabitants per km².It includes the former municipalities of Grandvoir, Grapfontaine,...


The aim of the advancing French forces was straightforward: to attack the German centre in the flank as it passed through the forest of the Ardennes.

With the upcoming of thick fog, the opposing forces literally stumbled into each other in the forest on 20 August; in such fog, advanced recon was of little worth. At this early stage the French mistook the German presence for small screening forces; in reality the French were heavily outnumbered. The first day of the battle, 21 August, was marked by scattered fighting, mostly skirmishes. Widespread battle began the following day.

The advanced tactical positioning by the Germans more than offset the occasional French success, although casualties were heavy on both sides. French troops, dressed brightly, were notably conspicuous in the woods, no concession to camouflage having been considered.

The French, acting with 'offensive spirit', charged at German positions in the woods, only to be cut down by efficient machine gun fire, backed by heavy artillery.


In contrast to the Germans' willingness to settle and dig trenches, the French forces began a disorderly retreat on the late afternoon of 23 August, the Third Army withdrawing to Verdun
Verdun is a city in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Verdun is the biggest city in Meuse, although the capital of the department is the slightly smaller city of Bar-le-Duc.- History :...

 chased by the German Fifth Army (where Ruffey was subsequently removed by Joffre) and Fourth Army retreating near Sedan
Sedan, France
Sedan is a commune in France, a sub-prefecture of the Ardennes department in northern France.-Geography:The historic centre is built on a peninsula formed by an arc of the Meuse River. It is around from the Belgian border.-History:...

 and Stenay
Stenay is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.It was one of the last villages to experience fighting during World War I. Stenay was captured on 11 November 1918 by the American 89th Division under General William M. Wright only hours before the Armistice went into...

. The latter engaged their German pursuers whilst there on 26–28 August (the Battle of the Meuse ), temporarily halting the Germans' progress.

As a consequence of the poorly managed French retreat, the Germans were able to take possession of important iron resources and were able to continue their advance into France.

The scale of the French defeat was notable. For example, the French Colonial Corps, the only truly regular force in the French army, had one of its divisions almost entirely destroyed (11,000 dead out of a contingent of 15,000 men). The scale of the defeat only became clear to Joffre after a period of time had elapsed. Even then he was inclined to blame the poor performance of his forces rather than attribute it to strategy and circumstances. It did not, however, discourage him from planning further offensive attacks in future battles.
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