Ferocious German fire power. Enormous French losses.

Special to The Great War Project

(14 August) Germany is fighting on two fronts – in the west in Belgium with sights set on Paris and in the east in Poland with its sights set on Russian-occupied Warsaw.

On this day a century ago Germany is making progress on both fronts.

In the west, the Belgian defenses at the fortified town of Liege are collapsing. And the Germans, in an apparent retreat elsewhere on the Western front, are luring the French army into a trap at Alsace, where “they were exposed to concentrated artillery and machine-gun fire,” writes one historian.

“Astonishing changes in the practice of war,” says French General Ferdinand Foch. The French attackers there are “thoroughly shaken and bewildered by enormous losses.”

They are forced into a retreat that lasts for days.

2nd Cavalry Division in retreat, France, August 1914

2nd Cavalry Division in retreat, France, August 1914

The French are hoping for success from the Russian effort on the Eastern Front. But in the east, German attackers are within fifty miles of Warsaw, “driving the Russians before them,” writes one historian.

Writes another: the Russian effort is weakened by terrible communications. “…telegrams had to be brought up from Warsaw by motor-car.

“Russian orders were broadcast over the radio without even being encoded, since that took too long, and there were not the non-commissioned officers who could be trusted with the task…German Intelligence therefore knew everything that was going on.”

Against the Germans, the Russians are failing.

Elsewhere on the Eastern front, the forces of Austria-Hungary are having trouble with the Russians and at the same time making slow progress in their invasion of Serbia. The war between little Serbia and imperial Austria-Hungary is about to explode.

The Question of U.S. neutrality Meanwhile, in Washington, President Wilson continues to struggle with the US attitude to the war.

President Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson

Within days of its outbreak, the French government appoints J.P. Morgan and Company as its financial agent in the US. It asks Morgan for a loan of $100,000,000. Morgan asks the State Department if there are any objections from the US government. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan takes the position that the US government would oppose “any loan to a belligerent nation.”

Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan

Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan

Bryan and Wilson discuss the issue on the telephone, and on this day a century ago Wilson concludes “in the judgment of this Government loans by American bankers to any foreign nation which is at war is inconsistent with the true spirit of neutrality.”

But this is not the end of it.


  1. Christopher Daly
    August 14, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    Wow – William Jennings Bryan as Secretary of State… I had no idea. Wilson never had much of a foreign policy when he entered the White House, I don’t think Bryan was the man to consult with the President. Then again, I don’t think Wilson felt the need to consult.

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