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Battle of Charleroi

The Battle of Charleroi (French: Bataille de Charleroi), or the Battle of the Sambre, was fought on 21 August 1914, by the French Fifth Army and the German 2nd and 3rd armies, during the Battle of the Frontiers. The French were planning an attack across the Sambre River, when the Germans attacked first, forced back the French from the river and nearly cut off the French retreat by crossing the Meuse around Dinant and getting behind the French right flank. The French were saved by a counter-attack at Dinant and the re-direction of the 3rd Army to the north-west in support of the 2nd Army, rather than south-west.

Battle

By 20 August, the Fifth Army (General Charles Lanrezac) had begun to concentrate on a 40-kilometre (25 mi) front along the Sambre, centred on Charleroi and extending east to the Belgian fortress of Namur. On the left flank, the Cavalry Corps (General Sordet) linked the Fifth Army with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at Mons. The French had 15 divisions, after transfers of troops to Lorraine, facing 18 German divisions from the 2nd Army (General Karl von Bülow) and 3rd Army moving south-west from Luxembourg towards the Meuse.

Although Lanrezac knew retreat to be necessary from the beginning of the war and warned against the danger of the German sweep through Belgium, his superior, General Joseph Joffre, believed that France should follow the offensive Plan XVII, regardless of what happened in Belgium, discounted Lanrezac's warnings and ordered the Fifth Army to attack across the Sambre. Before Lanrezac could act on the morning of 21 August, the 2nd Army launched the Battle of Charleroi with assaults across the Sambre, establishing two bridgeheads which the French, lacking artillery, were unable to reduce. The Germans attacked again on 22 August, with three corps against the entire Fifth Army front. Fighting continued on 23 August when the French centre around Charleroi began to fall back.

The 3rd Army crossed the Meuse and attacked the French right flank, held by I Corps (General Louis Franchet d'Esperey). The attack threatened to cut the line of retreat of the Fifth Army but I Corps stopped the German advance with a counter-attack. With the evacuation of Namur and news of the Fourth Army retreat from the Ardennes, Lanrezac ordered the Fifth Army to withdraw, lest he be encircled and cut off from the rest of the French army. The German army was victorious.

Aftermath

Analysis

The Fifth Army retreat after the Battle of Charleroi, arguably saved the French army from decisive defeat, as it prevented the much sought envelopment of the Schlieffen plan. After fighting another defensive action in the Battle of St. Quentin, the French were pushed to within miles of Paris. Lanrezac was sacked by Joffre on 3 September (four days after General Pierre Ruffey,

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