Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Eastern Front Part 5 - next steps


By mid September, the biggest actions of the war had been completed – Battles of the Frontiers and the Marne in the west, and Lemberg and Tannenberg in the east - and a stalemate was developing on both main fronts. All sides paused before the next phases of major actions (See posts on Race to the Sea and Ypres 1 in the west).
The neutrals were influenced by the Central Powers’ reverses at the Marne and Lemberg – Roumania stayed neutral, and Italy kept out. Falkenhayn was determined to continue his modification of the Schlieffen plan to take control of Belgium and the Channel coast, but faced a major problem in the East, where Germany feared the crushed Austrians might have been about to make a separate peace. He ordered Hindenberg and Ludendorff to reinforce Austria on its northern front, and they sent 250,000 men from East Prussia as a new German 9th Army, which effectively became Austria's central army of three. They faced Russian armies across a 100 mile front that would see complex actions through the winter. 
Grand Duke Nicholas
1856-1929

The Russians were keen to invade southern Poland, and were urged to do so by the French. The Russian Grand Duke regrouped into a strong N-S line on the line of the Vistula. This involved moving a lot of his forces to the north, and he was unaware of the southern movement of the German 9th. However, he was confident that he well placed whether needing to attack or defend from his new line. At the same time, the German success in the north had the Russians on the back foot, and enabled them to move into Russian territory near the Baltic, and to consider moving south to take Warsaw.


Falkenhayn knew he could only re-deploy sufficient  numbers for a strategic defence on the Eastern front because of his need to strike decisively in Belgium. From the outset Russia held an essentially attacking strategy towards Germany, and despite its heavy defeat in Prussia at Tannenberg, still intended to push through Galicia and into Silesia. Their commander-in-chief, the Grand Duke Nicholas, was keen to make this break before winter conditions set in. If he could break through to the line of the Oder, he would threaten both Berlin and Vienna; and would also take control the oil wells of Galicia. 

On their extreme left, this wing of the Russian armies could pushing through the eastern Carpathian passes to enter into north Hungarian plains, and further threaten the Austrian armies. Hungarian defences were weak, since they had suffered terribly at Lemberg, and most of their remaining forces were under siege in Przemysl, or in full retreat towards Cracow. The Russians wanted to control the two main Galician fortresses at Jaroslav amd Przemysl, and the Austrian were desperate to hold on to them, since they guarded the main railways and transport links west to Cracow, and south into Hungary. Jaroslav fell by 23rd September, and by the same date Przemysl was surrounded, although it held out under siege. Dmitrieff, the Russian general, preferred to starve them rather than lose men in storming the garrison. Meanwhile Ivanov had stormed ahead to the west and on 29th his cavalry reached Dembica, around 100 miles east of Cracow, having crossed the River San in large numbers and in numerous places. It was at this time they learned of the German moves southwards between Lowicz and Lodz, and Ivanov withdrew to the east of the San to conform with the Russian lines in the centre.

Russian Artillery action in Galicia 1914



The Russian centre was aligned north and south covering Warsaw and the Polish salient, but the wings were quite disconnected. In the north, Rennenkampf’s army of the right wing was some hundreds of miles to the north east behind the line of the Niemen (today River Nemunas).  Knowing that Germany would send reinforcements to rescue the Austrians in the south, the Russians were keen to lure Hindenberg into pursuit of Rennenkampf into Vilna province (today Lithuania), since it was strategically unimportant to them, and was very difficult terrain. Hindenberg’s pursuit had commenced on 7th September, advancing on a wide front towards the main Petrograd railway. Large parts of his force reached the Niemen by 21st September, but Rennenkampf had stationed all of his army in good defences on the Niemen's east bank. The river itself posed a formidable barrier in several battles that followed as Hindenberg attempted to cross in strength. The Russians lay in trenches on the low eastern shore, and waited until the Germans had built their pontoon bridges before blowing them to pieces. Hindenberg made a final great effort on 27th, following a full day of artillery bombardment, but with the same result, and a huge loss of troops. On 28th, he gave the order to retreat, realising that that this operation risked high loss for little strategic benefit. Retreat was difficult for the Germans, and they were severely harried, losing large numbers of troops in the Battle of the forest of Augustovo, but at least they avoided being encircled and made their escape. The Germans now realised they would have to move reinforcements to the south to prevent the other wing of the Russian armies breaking through to Cracow and beyond, since it had become clear they were going nowhere in the north.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Eastern Front Part 4 -The Battle of Tannenberg


August 30th 1914 saw France in crisis, with the Germans advancing on Paris and the Government feverishly debating abandonment of the city. In Britain it became known as "Amiens day" - the day the Times published the first honest account of how serious was the overall position and the extent of the British retreat. For the first time the British public were faced with the unpalatable truth, and the impossibility of a short sharp war. And yet, the day was an even bigger disaster for Russia. If Tannenberg was a triumph for Germany, it was a catastrophe for Russia, losing an entire army, and 30th August was the culmination. Ludendorff, ruthlessly ambitious, was quick to claim credit, despite his strong reputation for urging defensive measures only in East, and was widely regarded as the genius of Tannenberg. However, as we have seen, the die was cast for the battle before the new supremos Hindenburg and Ludendorff de-trained at Marienberg, following their breathless journeys from Germany and the Western Front respectively. 

The blue lines show the envelopment of
Samsonov's army

Francois’ quixotic move, against orders, to attack Rennenkampf at the northern end of the front had proved successful at Stalluponen, but not shortly afterwards at Gumbinnen, which had seen one of the few occasions where routed Germans fled in panic to the rear. The news of this had sent Prittwitz into the panic that led to his dismissal. Before he was replaced however, it was the strong views of the senior officers Hoffman, Francois, Below and Scholze that dissuaded him from retreat to the Vistula, and a concentration of the forces at the southern end of the front to await Samsonov’s army. The Germans were greatly aided by access to all the Russian orders, which were transmitted wirelessly and unencrypted because the Russians had no facilities for either.


Samsonov’s orders, repeatedly showered on him by Jilinski were to drive his 2nd army north west, and to the south of the Masurian lakes in order to intercept and cut off, around Alfenstels, the German forces moving on Rennenkampf to the north of the lakes. Nonetheless, Russian armies invaded in both directions during 21st and 22nd of August. Samsonov’s army had marched for days and was exhausted and hungry.
Rennenkampf, after his apparent victory at Gumbinnen, rested, and then moved on only slowly towards the Baltic. Maybe this was because Jilinski wanted the Germans to stay in East Prussia rather than retreat to the Vistula, so that he could cut them off by Samsonov’s advance. He detailed one third of Rennenkampf’s men to stay guarding Konigsberg, and the remainder to press on west to the Vistula. This was disastrous, as it left Samsonov to face the whole German strength, which had been moved south. His forces were markedly inferior and he was smashed. The Germans had sent more reinforcements south, judging that Rennenkampf would not follow to provide much needed relief for Samsonov. The Russians had disclosed their intentions by sending uncoded messages by radio. All this good fortune fell into Ludendorff’s lap as he arrived. Francois was the German general on the right flank charged with taking Usdau to gain complete control over the Russian left flank.
Hindenberg (L) and Ludendorff
leave for the Eastern Front and arrive
just in time for Tannenberg
Ordered by Ludendorff to attack on 26th, when he was not ready, he stalled until 27th. A great battle was fought all day, and won decisively by Francois, taking Usdau. Samsonov, his left and right flanks crushed in successive days, spent the night of the 27th in Neidenberg.  Retreat was his best option. At dawn on 28th the whole German force attacked and more carnage ensued. On 29th Samsonov rode out to the front line near Tannenberg and shot himself.
General disarray and surrender continued over the 30th and 31st – a massive defeat for Russia. Over 120,00 prisoners were taken – more than 60,000 of them by Francois’ corps.


Russian men and weapons captured at Tannenberg
                                  
The Masurian Lakes. After Tannenberg, Samsonov was dead and his army was routed. The Germans turned north to deal with Rennenkampf on the right hand flank towards the Baltic. Strengthened by the troops from France they had 17 Divisions to attack through the line of the lakes and take him head on. Rennenkampf still outnumbered the Germans by 2 to 1, but did not have the right dispositions or intelligence information. By weight of numbers and further reinforcements he built a defensive line against the Germans. They held firm until 9th September when Francois (again) broke through. He took Lotzen, which gave him a clear run to the north and the coast to cut off the remainder of Rennenkampf’s army. On learning this, Rennenkampf ordered a rapid retreat eastwards; with a counter attack by 2 corps to cover it. It worked – he got most of his army back to Russia. Jilinski was relieved of his command after all these reverses, on 17th September

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Eastern Front Part 3 -The invasion of East Prussia and the battle at Gumbinnen


The Masurian Lakes forced
the Russian advance into a north
and south enveloping strategy
It may be a harsh judgement on a different era, but by today's standards, WW1 Generals come across as insufferably arrogant individuals. Of course there were exceptions, but here is another example of how jealousies between commanders on the same side, compounded by abysmal communications, shaped a terrible fate for one of the combatants - in this case Russia at Tannenberg.
Jilinsky, previously Russian Chief of Staff - very much a HQ man -  commanded the 1st and 2nd Russian armies facing Prussia at the NW end of Russia’s front. He had little time for the two Generals at the sharp end, and was much more concerned about his stock within the political mood music from the centre. In turn, Generals Rennenkampf (1st) and Samsonov (2nd), ranged against a small German 8th Army, had no time for each other (or for Jilinsky for that matter). They were both good generals, but fierce rivals from earlier battles in Manchuria, and neither was minded to put himself out for the sake of the other. Jilinsky's priority was to invade East Prussia with all possible speed. This was mandated by the Russo-French treaty of 1911, and by pressure from St Petersburg (urged on by the hysterical French Ambassador Paleologue), and remote from the realities of terrain, shortage of supplies and almost absent communications.  
Maximilian von Prittwitz

The German commander facing them was Maximilian von Prittwitz, another unpleasant and much disliked character. Prittwitz, nicknamed ‘the fat soldier’ was held in low regard by his younger and more vigorous senior officers. He was outnumbered by 3 to 1 in infantry, and thought to be in a very weak position. However, in addition to having excellent senior officers, including Francois, Mackensen and Below, he had the advantage of the Masurian lakes – a 50 mile stretch of impassable lakes and waterways – that would inevitably split the advancing forces. Using their efficient railway networks, superior equipment and communications, the Germans were able to switch rapidly their forces from one end of the lakes to the other.



Paul von Rennenkampf
The nature of the terrain - marshes and lakes, with few good routes passable for men and equipment - dictated a two pronged advance into Prussia. The plan was for Rennenkampf's army to pass by the north route, whereas Samsonov would pass to the south of the larger lakes. If things went well, this would deliver a classic pincer movement to trap and destroy the numerically inferior German army. This required decisiveness, good communications and co-operation between each claw of the pincer. None of these applied.

Prittwitz was cautious, however. Not unreasonably, he was strongly influenced by Moltke's stern warning that at the very worst he should not allow the Russians to reach the Vistula river, well to the West. He kept one corps in the South, and held the other two corps centrally to cover either move of the pincer.
                                                                                                                 
Alexander Samsonov 
He was persuaded by Francois to send the other forces north to meet head on the advance of Rennenkampf. On what is today's Russian Lithuanina border, they clashed with the Russians at Stalluponen (today Nesterov) and inflicted heavy losses on Rennenkampf. They engaged again, a few miles to the west at Gumbinnen on 20th August. 
Churchill writes “very few people have even heard of Gumbinnen, and scarcely anyone has appreciated the astonishing part it played (in the entire war)”. It was a tumultuous battle, with great German success on the flanks, but rout and panic in the centre as thousands of Germans fled in chaos to the west. News of this had a major effect on Prittwitz 75 miles away in his Marienberg (Malbork) quarters. Despite arguments from his Chief of Staff, Hoffmann, and his generals he resolved to withdraw all his forces to the line of the Vistula river, well to the west. In serious panic, Prittwitz then phoned Moltke, by then deeply involved in battles on the Western front, to beg for reinforcements. Moltke resolved to replace Prittwitz and his deputy WalderseeHe chose Ludendorff and Hindenberg.

(Hastings) “On the afternoon of 22nd August, Eighth Army’s headquarters at Marienburg on the western border of East Prussia received a terse message: Prittwitz was dismissed. The elderly General Paul von Hindenburg had been summoned out of retirement to relieve him; he would be accompanied into the field by a new army chief of staff, the bleak, moody Erich Ludendorff, fresh from his heroics at Li├Ęge.
Hindenburg was the man Berlin expected to transform the campaign, selected before Moltke gave a thought to identifying a figurehead commander-in-chief. Ludendorff was a commoner, forty-nine years old, who had risen by sheer ability through the ranks of an army dominated by aristocrats. A dour professional warrior to every extremity of his being, he considered war the natural business of mankind. He had served on the General Staff under Schlieffen, who remained his idol. For a decade he had enthusiastically endorsed the core principle of German planning – that East Prussia should be lightly held while France was disposed of.”  

Herman von Francois
defied Prittwitz and Moltke
to take the offensive
     During Gumbinnen, the Germans had intercepted Russian orders for the whole campaign, and knew of Samsonov's intentions in the south. So until Ludendorff and Hindenburg arrived, Hoffmann and other senior staff persuaded Prittwitz not to flee west to the Vistula, but to use the railway network to concentrate the German forces south of the lakes to face the oncoming Samsonov. This set up the historic battle of Tannenberg.

Most significantly, 25th August was the day Moltke, unnerved by Prittwitz’s panic, determined to send significant forces from the western front to the east. Moltke reasoned that the decisive battle in the west had already been fought and won, whereas two weeks later the forces he released would have provided vital back up at the Marne.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Eastern Front Part 2 - Lemberg

Austria began hostilities by attacking Serbia with two armies (5th and 6th) from the west, in Bosnia, and with the strong 2nd Army on the north bank of the Danube, ready to cross into Serbia. 


Oscar Potiorek had a bad war,
to put it mildly
The incompetent Potiorek, Governor of Sarajevo and bungler of the security for Franz Ferdinand's visit, managed to retain his position via patronage, and commanded the invasion from Bosnia. The Austrian 2nd Army was held north of the Danube initially, havering between invasion of Serbia or transfer north to the Russian front in Galicia. In short, Potiorek's invasion was as disastrous as his security arrangements. One important outcome of this was to keep much of the 2nd Army in Serbia until the 30th August, weakening the forces Austria could bring to bear at Lemberg - an even bigger disaster than their Serbian foray.




The Lemberg actions at the SW of the
Eastern Front

'Lemberg' itself was a composite battle of complex actions in several areas, fought by 3 Austrian and 4 Russian armies over 3 weeks (from 23 August to 13th September) along a 200 miles front. After some initial Austrian success, Russian reinforcements drove back the Austrians, still lacking their additional 2nd army, by nearly 150 miles. Each side lost some 500-600,000 men in several pitched battles.






In brief, the main areas were:

  • The battle of Krasnik 23-25th August was the first major pitched battle. It involved the Austrian 1st and Russian 4th armies. The Austrian success in pushing towards Krasnik on the first day only made them more vulnerable to an encircling move by the Russians, led by Colonel Plehve. Although things were looking good for Conrad to the west of Lemberg, where he reinforced his armies, it was to east of Lemberg where the Russian counter-attack was gathering. From the 26th two new battles thirty miles apart began and raged. The whole Austrian front was involved.
  •  In the second battle – of Komarov – the Austrians looked set to encircle the Russians, but they walked straight into a massacre, which killed great numbers of Austrians, and destroyed what little faith the army had in its own prowess.
  • The battles of Gnila-Lipa. Initially, on 26th August, three Austrian corps, XII, XI and IX, advanced against the Russian 8th army. Repulsed and destroyed by the Russians everywhere, they retreated to Lemberg. A second phase was fought on 30th Augustin front of Lemberg on a line of the Gnila Lipa river. The Austrians had re-grouped, and the Russians had been hesitant in following up their earlier success. However, overwhelming bombardment by the Russians broke through, and the Austrians retreated further in chaos towards Lemberg.
  • Although outweighed by its crushing defeats near Lemberg, where over two million men had fought, Austria nevertheless rallied strongly at the northern end of the front, moving back towards Komarov. Indeed, by August 31st, Auffenberg was  poised to take a great victory at Komarov against the Russian army, which was enclosed on three sides. Instead of closing the trap, the Austrian flanks (both controlled by Archdukes) reacted cautiously to (false) reports of Russian reinforcements, and pulled back. This left a 20 mile gap through which Plehve could retreat his army safely.
  • Then on 1st September, Conrad ordered Auffenberg to turn south, and join up with the remains of the 2nd Army to take on the Russians again at Lemberg. They might have been obliterated in such an action, but for the news reaching Russia of German advances from Eastern Prussia. The Russians responded by moving much of their strength to the west towards Prussia and away from Lemberg. This led to a re-aligned front running north to south, with the Austrians stronger than the Russians in the south.
  • A climax to the battles along this whole front occurred on 9th September. By the 11th, there had been huge losses, and the Russians had got in behind the northern end of the Austrian front. The risk was severe, so the Austrian 2nd 3rd and 4th armies retreated. Conrad’s order, accepting defeat, was issued at almost the same time as Moltke’s acknowledging defeat at the Marne. Demoralised after Lemberg, the Austrians fell back behind the River San, except for the fortress town of Przemysl, subject of a famous siege. They continued the retreat to the Carpathians and westwards towards Cracow and the Vistula. Conrad managed to form a defensive front before the Vistula, but it was a ragtag, polyglot army, more than 300,000 men fewer than when it had started. 
"Shackled to a corpse"
Two Kaisers, but a very unequal alliance.

Effectively, Austria was now finished as a major fighting force and completely reliant on Germany. It was round about this time that Falkenhayn made his famous comment about Germany’s alliance with Austria akin to being “shackled to a corpse”.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Eastern Front Part 1 -

Considering the scale of the battles and the resources committed to the Western Front during these first months, it is remarkable that Germany could be engaged in actions of a similar scale and significance on here eastern front. In the east support came from Austria-Hungary, numerically strong if not militarily. 
Hawk - the aristocrat Conrad repeatedly
called for war, but was unsuccessful in
waging it
The decaying Habsburg Empire was culpable, though not solely, in the escalating series of events leading to the outbreak of war. First to declare war, against Serbia on 28th July, but last to be drawn into the main conflict on August 12th, Austria had  become determined to crush Serbia long before the assassination on 28th June. Ironically, Franz Ferdinand had been the most likely person to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Balkan crisis, and was about to dismiss the Austrian C-in-C - the unpleasantly bellicose Conrad von Hotzendorf - for his constant war mongering.  
There were more 'fringe' players in the eastern theatre in 1915 than in the west. Italy stayed out initially - refusing to join the central alliance - partly because she did not want war with Britain or France and partly because of ongoing territorial disputes with Austria. Since Austria had triggered events by declaring war on Serbia, Italy did not feel bound by the Triple Alliance treaty with Germany and Austria. The Balkan states, plus Rumania, Turkey and Greece were all at differing stages of preparedness for the conflict.
The attack by Austria on Serbia was the prelude to major actions in two areas of the Eastern Theatre: running east to west in Galicia, north of the Carpathian mountains, Austria and Russia faced each other; and north to south in Russian Poland and East Prussia, Germany and Austria were opposed. 
Unlikely Dove? - the autocrat
Franz Ferdinand, heir to the
crumbling empire


Austria needed to finish off Serbia as fast as possible, in order to bring maximum resources to bear for the fight with Russia. Germany had initial expectations that Italy, as part of the triple alliance with Austria, Rumania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece would all line up with Austro-German central axis. 
As matters transpired, the neutrality of all of these was still in the balance by the year end. Italy declined, and Rumania followed suit, despite its King’s strong ties with Germany and his preference for declared alliance with them. Greece and Turkey were too intimidated by the British Fleet, which left only Bulgaria likely to declare for the central alliance. Portugal and Japan had declared alliance with Britain, though not as belligerents in the war.
All of this meant that it was essential for Austria to crush Serbia rapidly to win over the waverers. Conrad selected his Plan B (Balkan) for Serbia (3 of Austria’s 6 armies to invade Serbia, leaving 3 to guard v Russia in the North) rather than Plan R(ussia) (2 armies v Serbia, 4 v Russia). He justified this by arguing that Serbia had forced war forced on Austria, and he did not want to be seen as responsible for triggering a world war, only to pursue Serbia. 
On 28th July Austria declared v Serbia, and the 3 armies moved. Austria had 18 Divisions and geographical supremacy against Serbia’s 11 Divisions. Potiorek (of Sarajevo disrepute) was in charge of two armies, the 5th and 6th, due to invade from the west, and the 2nd approached from the north.

Kaiser Wilhelm was unhappy about Plan B, and contacted directly the Emperor Franz Joseph, urging that Austria should settle with Italy to bring her into the triple alliance, and put the great majority of her forces into the front developing in Galicia facing the Russians. This pressure effectively converted Conrad's Plan B to Plan R, but the Austrian 2nd army was already on trains to the Serbian border on the Danube, and could not be recalled.

The Austrian line for war with Russia put their armies in the plain of Galicia, north of the Carpathian mountains, and south of the two rivers San and Dniester. Their path of retreat if unsuccessful was to be through an eastern pass of the Carpathians, or to the west, through Cracow and Bohemia – "the Moravian gate". Conrad’s Plan R would give him a good numerical superiority over the Russians, but with Plan B already underway, he would have only parity of numbers. German support was promised, but Conrad would need to make good progress in order for his left flank to link up with the German right flank in East Prussia. He hoped the Germans would move much further south towards him, but was disappointed, as they decided to concentrate their actions in the north, towards Kovno. Not for the last time Conrad found himself in a sticky position, with his own 2nd army stuck in Serbia. An Austrian cavalry reconnaissance, attempting to discover Russian movements across a 300 miles front from Mohilev to Lublin was futile, and uncertainty abounded.

The Russian mobilisation began following the Czar’s order on 30th July. Five million men from all parts of Russia were converging on the Eastern front. Plan G ‘Germania’ was for a major, head on conflict with German forces. Plan A ‘Austria’ envisaged Germany pre-occupied in the west, and only defensive on her Eastern front. In both plans, the Polish salient would be evacuated at the outbreak of hostilities, to present a united front. If necessary, the strategic retreats of 1812 would be repeated to buy time, and to stretch the German lines. Grand Duke Nicholas, uncle of the Czar, assumed command of all Russian armies on the front. Initially he tended towards the more defensive formation, but the 1911 agreement between Russia and France mandated Russia to move into Germany if Germany invaded France. France invoked this agreement, and Duke Nicholas created two extra armies to strike towards the German border on a line between Thorn – Posen – Breslau.

Hence, the scene was set for the two major battles in the east to follow the Serbia curtain raiser - Lemberg and Tannenberg.

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Western Front at end of 1914

The final desperate efforts of the Germans to break through to the coast were unsuccessful, and as the winter weather worsened, the activity on the northern aspects of the front quietened down into a phase of winter consolidation. In the five months of the war massive actions had occurred - the battle of the frontiers; Mons and the great retreat; the Marne and the multiple actions arising from the race to the sea.
Lord Kitchener

Of the senior military and political figures in the UK, only the War Minister, Lord Kitchener, had demurred from the experts' view that it would necessarily be a short, decisive war, probably all over by Christmas. By now it was depressingly clear to everyone that this was going to be a long, hard and painful conflict.


The thin line that stretched across those vital areas from Niueport to Arras had held and by 20th November the assaults of the Germans had diminished, and it was possible to pull the front line British troops into reserve positions for a much needed rest. The French troops of d’Urbal and Maud’huy held the line from the coast as far down to Albert on the Somme for this phase of winter. Artillery fire did not cease completely, and there were sporadic actions. In mid December the  British attacked Wytschaete ridge and Givenchy without success. These were the main areas of the famous Christmas Truce. Deeper into France, the French poilus, defending their own soil, no doubt felt less festive.
Even Falkenhayn seemed to accept that a defensive strategy was necessary, at least for the coming winter months. He was further pressured by the need to reinforce the eastern front, where serious danger to German border integrity was posed by the Russian advances in the south. The front in most parts of Belgium was decribed as a “gigantic mud hole” with only a few drier areas around Zillebeke, the Messines Ridge and Wytschaete.
The Western Front at end December 1914


Of the 500 miles of the Western Front, only approximately fifty were held by the British, and the remainder by the French with some support from the Belgians in the north. The front ran from Nieuport on the Belgian coast, west of the Yser along the Ypres canal, in a salient in front of Ypres, behind Messines to just east of Armentieres; then west of Neuve Chapelle to Givenchy, across the La Bassee canal, east of Vermelles, west of Lens, to just east of Arras. From Arras it lay by Albert and Noyon to Soissons, east along the Aisne to to Rheims, to Varenne, thence making a wide curve around Verdun, to the west bank of the Meuse by St Mihiel, and then on the Pont-a-Mousson on the Moselle. From there it passed on to Luneville and St Die, ten miles inside the French border, and then onwards towards the Vosges mountains into German territory, Belfort and the Swiss border.