In consequence of these lapses the enemy, turning to account the difficult terrain, was able to secure the maximum of profit from the advantages which the superiority of his subaltern complements gave him.
In spite of this defeat our manoeuvre had still a chance of success, if our left and the British Army obtained a decisive result. This was unfortunately not the case. On Aug. 22, at the cost of great losses, the enemy succeeded in crossing the Sambre and our left army fell back on the 24th upon Beaumont-Givet, being perturbed by the belief that the enemy was threatening its right.
On the same day, (the 24th,) the British Army fell back after a German attack upon the Maubeuge-Valenciennes line. On the 25th and 26th its retreat became more hurried. After Landrecies and Le Cateau it fell back southward by forced marches. It could not from this time keep its hold until after crossing the Marne.
The rapid retreat of the English, coinciding with the defeat sustained in Belgian Luxembourg, allowed the enemy to cross the Meuse and to accelerate, by fortifying it, the action of his right.
The situation at this moment may be thus summed up: Either our frontier had to be defended on the spot under conditions which the British retreat rendered extremely perilous, or we had to execute a strategic retirement which, while delivering up to the enemy a part of the national soil, would permit us, on the other hand, to resume the offensive at our own time with a favorable disposition of troops, still intact, which we had at our command. The General in Chief determined on the second alternative.
Henceforward the French command devoted its efforts to preparing the offensive. To this end three conditions had to be fulfilled:
1. The retreat had to be carried out in order under a succession of counter-attacks which would keep the enemy busy.
2. The extreme point of this retreat must be fixed in such a way that the different armies should reach it simultaneously, ready at the moment of occupying it to resume the offensive all together.
3. Every circumstance permitting of a resumption of the offensive before this point should be reached must be utilized by the whole of our forces and the British forces.
The counter-attacks, executed during the retreat, were brilliant and often fruitful. On Aug. 20 we successfully attacked St. Quentin to disengage the British Army. Two other corps and a reserve division engaged the Prussian Guard and the Tenth German Army Corps, which was debouching from Guise. By the end of the day, after various fluctuations, the enemy was thrown back on the Oise and the British front was freed.