Franco-Prussian War 1870 & Sedan 1940
16 to 19 October 2020
Price to be advised
Friday 16th October 2020
Depart at 10.14 on the Euro star service from St. Pancras. Arriving at Lille we will be met by our coach.
During the journey the background to the Franco-Prussian War, the technological changes since the American Civil War, the considerable military organisational differences between this conflict and the American Civil War, and the early course of the war, specifically the Frontier Battles, will all be explained.
Although only six years had elapsed since the end of the ACW, military technology and its application had been harnessed at a rapid pace so that this war is quite different from what went before. However, the influence and personality of commanders remained most significant.
Arriving in Metz our hotel for three nights is the Ibis Metz Centre Cathedrale.
Saturday 17th October 2020 The Battles of Vionville, Mars la Tour and Gravelotte/St Privat
Today we follow the path of the Prussian Army as it caught up with Bazaine’s retiring French Army around Metz. We drive south from Metz along the Moselle valley before we turn north and climb up to the plateau west of Metz, in the steps of the Prussian III Corps. We set the scene as they arrive on the plateau, surprise and drive off the breakfasting French cavalry, and establish a powerful gun line. We review the leisurely French reaction to this cheeky incursion, looking at it from the perspective of how much each side knew. The Prussians’ aggressive actions convince the French that they are facing a much larger force. Eventually the French build up a preponderance of force and switch to the attack. This is thwarted by the suicidal charge of Von Bredow, which goes down in history and is instrumental in convincing Europeans to persist with the doomed tactics of massed heavy cavalry for another 40 years. We then drive west to the scene of the larger, and broadly inconclusive, cavalry action at Mars la Tour, before driving east to Gravelotte.
Here we combine a picnic lunch with our visit to this modern and well stocked ‘Museum of the Occupation’ which chronicles the war and its aftermath under Prussian Occupation for the next 47 years. We then move onto the events of the next day’s battles, which are given a solid ACW connection by the presence of Phil Sheridan, engaged in what we now call ‘Senior Military Tourism’. By now the French were in a defensive ‘Position Magnifique’, facing west, with the Prussians astride their line of retreat. We examine the precipitous Mance Ravine, where von Steinmetz, the Prussian poster boy of the 1866 War, launched a rash attack, against orders, which foundered with heavy losses. We then drive north between the Prussian lines on our left and the French defences on our right. This takes us through the sector in which the Prussians’ Hessian Allies attacked, to the attack of the Prussian Guard on St Privat, straight up a mile-long bare slope, reminiscent of Pickett’s Charge. Here the Guard suffered devastating casualties which presaged the losses of 1916 and were brought to a bloody halt. They were saved by a flank attack by the Saxon Corps. We advance into St Privat and sum up our day at the poignant monument in the ruins of the Church, before returning to Metz.
Sunday 18th October 2020 The Battle of Sedan
We make an early start to drive 90 miles to Sedan. With Bazaine besieged in Metz with the bulk of the French regular army, a relief force is created. This is formed around the reconstituted Corps of MacMahon (which fought in the Frontier Battles and then did not link up with the main army, so was not present around Metz). Marching east, close to Belgium, the French bump into the advancing Prussians. The French step sideways to evade the Prussians and are pinned against the Belgian border in Sedan. The Prussians converge on the French, who miss their chance to demolish key bridges. This costs them the time needed to slip out of the trap. They are forced to go onto the defence around the ancient fortress of Sedan. There is then a series of pinning attacks by the Prussians which thwarts every attempt to break out. In Bazeilles the Bavarians, always the weakest link in the Prussian Alliance chain, have a tough fight with the French Blue (Marine) division, leading to civilians being summarily executed – a key factor in the propaganda war. If time allows we visit the Museum of the Last Cartridge. We pause for lunch in Bazeilles. To add to the troubles of the French, MacMahon is wounded and there is confusion over who should take over. The wrong choice emerges and the last opportunity to withdraw is lost when the Prussians seal off the retreat route. We drive north up the Givonne Ravine, where MacMahon’s reconstituted I Corps fought a stubborn fight against the Saxons. This takes us to Illy, where we have a panoramic view of the northern half of the battlefield. We study the ground over which the French cavalry, aptly described by the Prussian King as ‘Les Braves Gens’, charged against steady lines of needle gun armed infantry, with tragic but predictable results. We drive over the charge ground into Floing and to Margueritte’s statue. If time allows we will drive the difficult road to the Cavalry Memorial. From there we will drive west to the Surrender site, where we learn of Napoleon’s attempts to contact his Prussian royal counterpart to negotiate a private deal between the two sovereigns. But it didn’t happen, since the wily Bismarck intercepted it. We discuss the catastrophic consequences of the Annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, which was a large factor in the run up to the Outbreak the First World War.
Monday 19th October 2020 Sedan 1940
We check out and board our bus for Sedan. En route we fast forward from 1870 to 1940 and Guderian’s audacious thrust through the Ardennes which arrives at the Moselle at Sedan long before the French defenders were expecting it. We consider the state of the French defence, based on massive blockhouses and the bold but costly river crossings which disrupt the French defence. We then drive to the key ridge above Chehery, where nimble German advance elements pipped the ponderous French armoured counterattack to the post and managed to hold the vital ground, to buy time for the German armour to cross the Moselle and hold open the road into the undefended French rear.
We then return to Lille and depart on the 18.35 Eurostar to London, arriving at St Pancras at 19.15