Friday, August 29, 2014

The Battle of Mons

The Battle of Mons was the baptism of fire of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the First World War. The BEF had arrived in France barely two weeks before and had been rapidly deployed with the French to try and arrest the onward march of the German Army.

The BEF was a much smaller Army than either the German or French forces and numbered some 80,000 men compared to the German strength of nearly double this at around 160,000 soldiers.

But there was a plus for the BEF troops - they were probably the best-trained Army in the field up until this stage with a special emphasis on markmanship with their standard issue infantry rifle – the Lee Enfield .303 - a particularly good and robust military rifle. Many of the BEF troops were capable of hitting an enemy soldier at a range of 500 metres or more.

On the early morning of 23rd August the Germans attacked the recently established British lines to the southeast of the Belgian city of Mons, beginning the operation with an artillery bombardment, followed by an infantry attack consisting of four battalions.

This first attack was repulsed by heavy and accurate British rifle and machine gun fire that inflicted terrible casualties on the German formations. A second attack followed, and the heavily outnumbered British were under increasing pressure. Particularly heroic actions by the machine gunners Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley delayed the Germans and both soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross (Dease posthumously), the first recipients of the War.

A Vickers Machine gun crew in action  - First World War (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

However the inevitable happened and the British were forced to retreat, initially falling back to Landrecies on the 25th August, but then further retreating to the outskirts of Paris two weeks later.

Chaotic scenes in Landrecies extended to night-time battles as the British retreated.
(The Times History of the War Vol 1 p 466)

However the battle was seen in many ways as a victory for the BEF – although it was outnumbered by more than two one, it had inflicted far more casualties on the Germans than vise versa – and then conducted a tactical withdrawal in good order. This enabled the British forces to regroup and counter-attack at the Battle of the Marne in early September.

For further information on the First World War see


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    1. Thanks Gerald - agree 100% with your comments.