Battle of Villiers
The Battle of Villiers (also called Battle of Villiers-Champigny , French Bataille de Champigny ) was the largest failure of the French army, reinforced by mobile guards , during the siege of Paris (1870–1871) . The failure led to battles on November 30th and December 2nd, 1870, which are summarized under this one term.
After the defeat in the Battle of Le Bourget (October 28-30) and the fall of the besieged Metz fortress on October 27, the mood in Paris deteriorated. In order to lift this again, General Louis Jules Trochu decided, in consultation with Léon Gambetta, to attempt an escape from besieged Paris. The plan was to use Ducrot's second Parisian army to break through the enemy ranks with the aim of uniting with the Loire Army .
The supply situation for the population of Paris had deteriorated further and further in November 1870. The prices for freely available food had risen to such an extent that large parts of the population could only live on bread. Bread remained affordable because there was a fixed price for it. Nevertheless, there was always panic among the population when individual bakers ran out of goods.
Ducrot concentrated on overcoming the siege ring in the southeast of the city so that the two armies could then join forces at Fontainebleau . In addition, if the advance had been successful, all German troops south and west of Paris would have been cut off from their only rail line for supplies via Lagny. Without this railway line the continuation of the siege would hardly have been possible. The scene of the fighting was the Marne Valley east of Paris. This section was held by the Württemberg Division of the 3rd Army . The preparations were completed on November 28th and the Parisian troops advanced to the Marne .
Course of the battle
November 28th and 29th: preliminary skirmish
Minor failures at various points along the defensive line were intended to mislead the German Army Command as to the true direction of attack. The French attempted a reconnaissance attack. At Joinville the river should be crossed on November 28th. But the Marne unexpectedly flooded, caused a flood and destroyed a bridge built by the French. The French casualties amounted to around 1,300 men on the first day. Due to the destroyed bridges, on November 29, 1870, three complete French corps stood on the wrong side of the Marne for them and could do nothing but wait in German artillery fire. The Germans posted on the hills at Chennevières-sur-Marne and Champigny-sur-Marne became aware of these hostile activities and troop movements. A Saxon division was marched to secure the terrain. In order to distract the Germans, General Ducrot ordered a sortie of Mobilgarden towards Malmaison . Although this attack was carried out in divisional strength, there was no change in the German troop transfers. The French soldiers of the line wore flashy red trousers, so that the Germans knew which attackers they would be dealing with before the start of a battle. The attack of a few thousand mobile guards was therefore undoubtedly to be recognized as a diversionary attack to which no special attention had to be paid. Ducrot announced on November 29th that he only wanted to return to Paris victorious or dead.
November 30th: First battle
In the morning the great attack took place against the plateau of Villiers, which was occupied by the Württemberg division. The day was sunny but cold. During this time, the 24th (Saxon) Division made preparations to cross the Marne. With 3 army corps (over 60,000 men), after previous artillery fire, Ducrot crossed the multi-curved Marne at Joinville, Nogent-sur-Marne and Bry-sur-Marne on eight pontoon bridges and attacked the villages of Bry and Champigny at the moment in the Saxony there Had moved to outposts. The villages were taken by the French 1st Corps under General Blanchard and the siege troops were pushed back onto the line Villiers - Coeiully . Behind Champigny, however, the attacking French got caught in the flank fire of the Saxons and Württembergers. Due to their formation in battalion columns, they offered perfect targets for the German artillery and were badly hit. The cannons of the forts Rosny and Nogent as well as the heavily armored Mont Avron , which was only occupied by the French on November 28th, supported the failure and also caused great losses to the Germans.
After the troops of the 2nd Corps under General Renault had moved in, Ducrot set up a bridgehead and wanted to advance on the plateau towards Villiers. However, the German positions were so well fortified that even with the artillery support there was no breakthrough and the attack stalled. An enclosure in the north by the French 3rd Corps under General de Exéa, which had crossed the Marne north of Bry, did not succeed. All further attacks by the French were repulsed by the Germans and the line of defection was maintained. The French held Créteil , Champigny and Bry in the evening and returned to the right bank of the Marne with most of the troops. Their attempt to break through had failed, and the slopes on the Marne remained firmly in German hands. It starts to snow at night.
The French attack caused a stir in the Prussian high command. Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke was annoyed with Albert von Sachsen, who did not send reinforcements to the Württembergians. At Moltke's order, the attacked Wuerttembergians received reinforcements from General Fransecky with the II Army Corps , albeit late . Fransecky was given the command of all operations there, but had not been informed in time to be able to do anything decisive in the battle.
December 1: Truce
On December 1, both sides maintained a ceasefire, hid their wounded on the battlefields and buried their dead. From the German headquarters , large numbers of troops were concentrated in the section between Seine and Marne (the 2nd Corps, the 24th Division, the Württemberg Division and the 21st Brigade of the 6th Corps) and the commander of the 12th Corps , Prince Georg of Saxony , ordered the expulsion of the French across the Marne.
December 2nd: Second battle
The reinforcement by the II Corps only became active on December 2nd. The situation was similar to that at the Battle of Le Bourget . There were differences of opinion between the Saxon Crown Prince Albert and General Fransecky about the type of counterattack . He wanted to forego the counterattack, as the siege ring was not in danger of being broken open. But he was ordered to attack.
During the night the temperature had dropped to minus 10 ° C. At 7 o'clock in the morning the Wuerttembergians went against Champigny, the Saxons against Bry. The Wuerttembergians penetrated into the middle of the village with heavy fighting and maintained this position, supported by Prussian battalions . The Saxons conquered Bry, but were very exposed to the fire of the forts and in the evening had to evacuate the village, which was only made of ruins. At four o'clock in the afternoon, each army assumed the positions of the previous day. The French attacked the Villiers plateau again that day. The Württemberger had positioned several captured mitrailleuses in the park of Villiers , with which they allowed the French 136th Regiment to approach a distance of less than 300 m and then shot them together. Then the French were thrown back by a counterattack and many prisoners were taken. The fight here was fierce until after dark, which on the German side affected almost the entire 2nd Corps. Finally the Germans maintained the position Noisy-le-Grand- Villiers-Coeuilly. By nightfall the French had the shattered Bry and a half of Champigny in possession, but could not keep their advanced position permanently.
The French rallied and a stalemate set in. The situation worried Moltke enough to cause him to make plans in case the French repeated an attack the following day to break through the German ranks. However, Ducrot did not plan such a project. His soldiers were exhausted from the hard fighting of the two battles and demotivated by statements from Saxon prisoners that allegedly 150,000 Prussians were ready to intervene in the Coeuilly forest. The French were also frozen because they had not been given blankets; this under the aspect that they should move faster without such marching equipment.
December 3: Skirmishes
Gunfire and small skirmishes dominated the war that day. The French evacuated both villages during the night and morning of December 4th.
The French attack was canceled because of the losses suffered and also the severe cold. In the morning minus 14 ° C were measured. Ducrot decided to return his troops to the capital despite the news that the Loire Army was approaching. He refrained from voting with Trochu because he knew of Trochu's negative attitude.
December 4th: withdrawal
The French associations withdrew to Paris. The troops left the left bank of the Marne and broke the bridges behind them.
The battle had been costly for both sides. The French lost over 9,500 dead and wounded, the Germans over 3,500 soldiers and officers. The Loire Army was defeated at the Battle of Orléans and Ducrot urged Trochu and Foreign Minister Jules Favre to seek peace with Prussia .
- Villiers sur Marne . In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon . 4th edition. Volume 16, Verlag des Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1885–1892, p. 212.
- Villiers sur Marne . In: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon . 6th edition. Volume 20, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1909, p. 171 .
- The battle of Champigny
- Champigny Memorial
- Pictures of Champigny sur Marne (French)
- Official press of Prussia from December 7, 1870
- Adrien Mentienne Museum website in Bry-sur-Marne - highlighting the museum's collections, in particular the Villiers collection (French and English versions are available)
- Geoffrey Wawro: The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870–1871. Cambridge University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-61743-7 .
- The US embassy supported 4,200 destitute people to save them from starvation. Geoffrey Wawro: The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870–1871. Cambridge University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-61743-7 , p. 276.
- report by Lt. Over, cited in Geoffrey Wawro: The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870–1871. Cambridge University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-61743-7 , p. 277.
- Wawro puts the total losses of the French at 12,000 without a breakdown.