A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 225

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THE BATTLE OF VIRTON


organized as a 6th army under Manoury with instructions to defend the heights of the Meuse and strike against the fortresses of Thionville and Metz. Unknov/u to the French intelligence service the Germans had collected their 3rd and 4th armies in the Ardennes, and although strategically rather ill placed, they were still in a position to offer a most crushing reply to any French advance. A further mistake on the part of the French was soon revealed. The French cavalry had been disposed on either flank in such a way that there was a hopelessly inadequate screen in front of the French columns. In the result their flrst intimation of their approach to the enemy was more often than not the falling of shells on their line of march. Joffre had arranged the two armies in echelon with liis left in front so that he could attack either north or east, and on the 20th the whole body moved nortliwards Speed rather than caution appears to have been the order of the day, and by the e^'ening of the 21st the 3rd army had arrived on a line between Cons and Virton, the 4th army continuing the line through Florenville along the river Semoy. Contact between the hvo armies seems to have been broken, and the fact that they had encountered nothing but patrols had further encouraged the belief that the German centre was almost denuded of troops. But whatever the reason, the precautions against surprise taken when the march was resumed on the 22nd were negligible, and thetroopssetoutincolumnasforalongmarch. Thepresence of a thick fog scarcely improved matters, and the result was disastrous. Wholecorpsincolumnofmarchwereexposedtothe German fire, divisions were sent to the attack with no artillerj' support, and no real attempts to discover the strength or dis- position of the enemy were made. The carnage was frightful. In the confusion units lost touch with one another, and it sud dcnly became clear that the right wing of the army was quite unprotected. Fortunately,GeneralHacheandhisdivisionflung themselves into the gap and won time for the other divisions toretreat. SoendedthebattleofVirtonintheArdennes. The Germans, however, were far too uncertain of the real posi- tion to take advantage of their tactical success, and the French were allowed to retire unmolested, and on the 26th had taken up a position behind the Meuse, the crossing of which they prepared toresist. Thedaybolore,however,thelastfortdefendingNamur

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