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Battle of Mars-La-Tour
Part of the Franco-Prussian War
Battle-Mars-Le-Tour-large.jpg
Von Bredow's Death Ride - the Prussian 7th Cuirassiers charge the French guns at the Battle of Mars-la-Tour
Date August 16, 1870
Location Mars-La-Tour, France
Result Prussian victory
Belligerents
Kingdom of Prussia Prussia France France
Commanders
Constantin von Alvensleben François Bazaine
Strength
30,000 troops, later reinforced to 80,000 127,000 troops
Casualties and losses
15,780 13,761

The Battle of Mars-La-Tour was fought on 16 August 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War near the town of Mars-La-Tour in north-east France. Two Prussian corps encountered the entire French Army of the Rhine, and successfully forced the Army of the Rhine to retreat into the fortresses of Metz.

A cavalry patrol, the 1st Squadron the 1st Hanoverian Dragoon Regiment No. 9, led by Rittmeister Oskar von Blumenthal, discovered that 130,000 French soldiers were attempting to escape from Metz in order to join up with French forces at Verdun, after suffering several defeats at the front. This intelligence prompted Prince Frederick Charles to send, on the 16th, a grossly outnumbered group of 30,000 men of the advanced III Corps (of the 2nd Army) under General Constantin von Alvensleben in order to cut them off. They found the French Army near Vionville, east of Mars-la-Tour. Despite being outnumbered more than four to one, III Corps routed the French and captured Vionville, blocking any further escape attempts to the West. Once prevented from retreat, the French inside Metz had no choice but to fight in a battle that would see the last major cavalry engagement in Western Europe. III corps was devastated by incessant cavalry charges, losing over half its soldiers, while the French suffered equivalent numerical loses of 16,000 soldiers, but still held on to overwhelming numerical superiority.

On August 16, 1870 the French could have swept away the key Prussian defence and escaped. Two Prussian corps attacked the French advanced guard thinking that it was the rearguard of the retreat of the French Army of the Meuse. Despite this misjudgement the two Prussian corps held the entire French army for the whole day. Outnumbered more than 4:1 the extraordinary self-belief and stubbornness of the Prussians prevailed over Bazaine's gross indecision.

Von Bredow's "Death Ride"

The Battle of Mars-La-Tour is also notable for one of the very few successful cavalry charges of modern warfare. Harassed by French artillery each time he redeployed his forces following a French attack, his infantry reserves exhausted and fearing that his shaky left flank was about to be charged by French cavalry, General von Alvensleben sent a message to the commander of the 12th Cavalry Brigade Major-General Friedrich Wilhelm Adalbert von Bredow demanding that he silence French General Canrobert's artillery and forestall a French cavalry charge with one of his own.

Noting that "it will cost what it will," von Bredow took his time to organize the brigade, consisting of the 7th Cuirassiers, 19th Dragoons and 16th Uhlans. In what would become known as "Von Bredow's Death Ride" the cavalrymen rode out from Prussian lines at 1400 hours, von Bredow using the terrain and gun smoke to mask movements from French observers until the very last moment. Bursting into view some 1000 meters from the French lines, the Prussian cavalry charged into and broke through the French gun lines causing widespread panic and scattering Canrobert's soldiers in all directions. The French cavalry attempted to counter-charge into von Bredow's flank and rear, but were dispersed by Canrobert's panicked infantry who gunned down any cavalrymen they could see without discrimination.

Having silenced the French artillery and neutralized the French cavalry, von Bredow's brigade managed to extricate itself and withdrew having lost half its numbers. Among the wounded from 12th Brigade was Herbert von Bismarck, son of the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Results

The battle had been a strategic victory for the Prussians. Bazaine had failed to make it to Verdun. In short time the Prussians trapped Bazaine in the city and the siege of Metz ensued.

Von Bredow's death ride had a significant effect on warfare. The success of the cavalry charge gave the impression that cavalry could still play a decisive role in battle, and cavalry units continued to be part of the armed forces of major European powers for the next 47 years.

Sources

Coordinates: 49°06′11″N 5°52′21″E / 49.103095°N 5.872536°E / 49.103095; 5.872536








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