In the morning hours of the 4. August 1914 the spearheads of the German armies crossed the Belgian border. Their aim was to capture the vital railpoint and fortress Liege. Their success secured the advance was only delayed for two days. Now after some short engagements the Belgian Army withdraw to Antwerpen, and Moltke’s troops headed for the French border. (4)
Soon problems arouse. The telephone and wireless, ment to enable the Oberste Heeresleitung (Supreme Army Command, hereafter referred to as OHL) to keep in permanent contact with its armies. But the Belgians cut the wires, allied jamming and disturbances by weather or the failures of the equipment made communications difficult. Although the French didn’t seem to realise the danger they were in from the German armies on their left, the main point of the allied attack was yet unknown to Moltke.
On the 17. August he assigned the Strategic reserve of 6 divisions to the Sixth and Seventh army under Prince Rupprecht von Bayer, partly to enable them to counterattack in order to pin down the French, partly to prevent a French breakthrough into southern Germany.(5)
Moltke thus throwed all available reserves into the battle without knowing the exact enemies location and intentions, and even before the battle had reached its peak. this was not only a severe military mistake, but also the first departure from the Schlieffen Plan, who’s latter stages always had stressed the fact that all reserves had to be assigned to the right wing.(6)
Otherwise the German advance continued unhindered. On the 20th Brussels was occupied, the government and King Albert I. had retired together with the army to Antwerpen. On the following days Foch was ready to realise his Plan XVII, which called for a strong offensive into Loraine.
Map of the Battle of the Frontiers taken from the Westpoint Atlas
In the “Battle of the Frontiers” from 20th to 24th August the French found themselves beaten on the Flanks and their attacks repulsed in Loraine and the Ardennes. On the 25th Moltke considered the battle in the west to be won.(7)
So the fatal weakening of the decisive right wing continued: the Guard Reserve Corps and XI Corps were detached from the Second and Third Army to besiege Namur and afterwards sent to Russia, the III. and IX. Reserve Corps were taken away from the First army to guard Antwerpen. Furthermore, Moltke tried to envelop the French positions from both wings by a attack in Lorainne. the heavy casualties there and the failure of the operation made him transferring even more troops from the right wing to Russia. (8)
4. Tuchman, Barbara, August 1914, London 1962, p.189pp.
5. Tuchman, op.cit., p. 239
6. Ritter, op.cit., p.89pp.
7. Neame, Philip, German Strategy in the Great War, London 1923, p. 21
8. Neame, op.cit., p. 23