The purpose of the operations in Alsace was, namely, to retain a large part of the enemy’s forces far from the northern theatre of operations. It was for our offensive in Lorraine to pursue still more directly by holding before it the German army corps operating to the south of Metz.
This offensive began brilliantly on Aug. 14. On the 19th we had reached the region of Saarburg and that of the Etangs, (lakes,) and we held Dieuze, Morhange, Delme, and Chateau Salins.
On the 20th our success was stopped. The cause is to be found in the strong organization of the region, in the power of the enemy’s artillery, operating over ground which had been minutely surveyed, and, finally, in the default of certain units.
On the 22d, in spite of the splendid behavior of several of our army corps, notably that of Nancy, our troops were brought back on to the Grand Couronne, while on the 23d and 24th the Germans concentrated reinforcements—three army corps, at least—in the region of Luneville and forced us to retire to the south.
This retreat, however, was only momentary. On the 25th, after two vigorous counter-attacks, one from south to north and the other from west to east, the enemy had to fall back. From that time a sort of balance was established on this terrain between the Germans and ourselves. Maintained for fifteen days, it was afterward, as will be seen, modified to our advantage.
There remained the principal business, the battle of the north—postponed owing to the necessity of waiting for the British Army. On Aug. 20 the concentration of our lines was finished and the General in Chief gave orders for our centre and our left to take the offensive. Our centre comprised two armies. Our left consisted of a third army, reinforced to the extent of two army corps, a corps of cavalry, the reserve divisions, the British Army, and the Belgian Army, which had already been engaged for the previous three weeks at Liege, Namur, and Louvain.
The German plan on that date was as follows: From seven to eight army corps and four cavalry divisions were endeavoring to pass between Givet and Brussels, and even to prolong their movements more to the west. Our object was, therefore, in the first place, to hold and dispose of the enemy’s centre and afterward to throw ourselves with all available forces on the left flank of the German grouping of troops in the north.
On Aug. 21 our offensive in the centre began with ten army corps. On Aug. 22 it failed, and this reverse appeared serious.
The reasons for it are complex. There were in this affair individual and collective failures, imprudences committed under the fire of the enemy, divisions ill-engaged, rash deployments, precipitate retreats, a premature waste of men, and, finally, the inadequacy of certain of our troops and their leaders, both as regards the use of infantry and artillery.