Opening Clashes (12/07/2015)
1st August 1870: III Army crossed the border and attacked the French 2nd Division (of 1st Corps) stationed at Wissembourg. The lead divisions of Prussian V Korps and Bavarian II Korps pushed forward, the former taking much heavier casualties than the latter during the battle. The French were reinforced by 1st Division from the south and by a brigade from 5th Corps stationed to the west. These arrivals helped to stabilise the collapsing position of the beleaguered 2nd Division, but only long enough to allow the inevitable retreat to be conducted with some degree of order. The German artillery, massed in large batteries, dominated the battlefield and successive French formations were pulverized on coming into action. The French withdrew south to Soultz, retreating further when Prussian XI Korps followed up after the battle.
The Battle of Wissembourg:
The initial French positions, somewhat scattered and with the Bavarians already marching into Wissembourg:
Reinforcements arrive to prop up the French left flank:
On the opposite side of the field, Prussian dragoons form up in the woods to threaten the French right flank..
While massed Prussian battalions storm over the railway line:
French cavalry charge into the flank of the Bavarians as they debouch from Wissembourg, and in a relatively bloodless fight tumble them back again, relieving pressure on the defenders for a few precious minutes:
2nd August: V Korps remained at Wissembourg for two days to recover, while the much less molested Bavarian II Korps moved west to Lembach to protect the right flank of the advancing German army. The Baden Division followed XI Korps, although its Wurttemberg allies were slow in rousing themselves to cross the border, as was Bavarian I Korps which was held in reserve due to its relative lack of campaign readiness at the outset of the war. IV Cavalry Division moved up through Wissembourg and Soultz to be in place to support the rest of the army’s advance south.
3rd August: Other French formations were beginning to converge on the forces retreating from Wissembourg, the remaining 2 divisions of 1st Corps concentrating at Hagenau, and elements of 5th Corps coming down from the eastern slopes of the Vosges towards Sturzelbronn and Reichshoffen. 7th Corps was beginning to entrain further south nearer Belfort, ordered by Marshal MacMahon to come north to reinforce the worsening situation. The Baden Division probed as far as Walburg, with an unidentified French screen withdrawing in front of them.
4th August: Taking the lead towards the south west, XI Korps approached Worth, where to the north of the town they encountered a French force assembled from 1st Corps’ 3rd Division and, eventually, three brigades from 5th Corps that had moved forward overnight on orders from the Marshal. In a bend of the river Sauer the close terrain forced the two armies together into a hard-fought battle. Repeated French spoiling attacks and counter-attacks delayed and, in places, even pushed back the Prussians whose left flank could make little headway until events unfolded on the right. Here, the 4th Cavalry Division came up in the afternoon and pushed past the open French left, threatening the road west to Reichshoffen. In the centre a very powerful central artillery line was established, comprising no less than a dozen batteries which systematically destroyed the French centre and reserves. With their flank and rear threatened and the Prussians preparing to renew their assault along the line, the French used their remaining intact units to cover their retreat and break off the battle.
The Battle of Worth:
The Prussian XI Korps deployed aggressively and attacked in a well-organised manner. From the outset the French were hard put to protect their lines of communication.
Once again, French cavalry bravely deny the enemy space and time to deploy. Although this was an early sacrifice of much of the cavalry division, by the end of the battle it had brought dividends in terms of the delay it had caused the enemy's central attack:
The dastardly German commander plots his attack. I can apologise for the sunny, washed out appearance of the photos, but not for the sartorial elegance:
French infantry make a final counter-attack to hold back the enemy, it was just enough to buy time for the retreat:
The Prussian IV Cavalry Division pins down the French left wing and the defenders know it's time to fall back before they're cut off:
5th August: With their stout defence at Worth just sufficient to protect both of their possible lines of retreat, the French chose to fall back to the west, in the direction of the main army and to maintain communications with the rest of France. This had the potential of splitting the Army of Alsace, with the rest still to the south east and the Germans in a position to exploit their central position between them.
Positions as of the end of the 5th August, with the rotated counters donating the units which fought the battle near Worth: