The most impressive fighting withdrawal in history


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
you me and a few others have voted for Xenophon , what a great bunch of guys !

on Joffre imperturbability
it seems to be an essential quality in a commander
- Grant whittling a stick during Shiloh
- Joffre rock solid in having his diner on time no matter what
- A bitchy staff officer showing the Prussian headquarters after Tannenberg
"this is where Hindenburg slept before the battle , there is where he slept after the battle
and here is where he slept during the battle "


Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
Didn't Hindenburg always have plenty of time for sleep because Ludendorff did the real work? Good story though.
The bitchy officer was Max Hoffman of the famous German General Staff. The probability is rather high that Hoffman was the principal architect behind the Battle of Tannenberg.

The way it seems Hindenburg and Ludendorff arrived rather late in the proceedings, and effectively they got the plans already drawn up by the Staff to review and OK. Which they did. But the pieces had already been distributed and the script agreed by the Staff officers.

As it happened the General Staff was this closely knit corps of officers recruited by merit, and sticking to a collectivist formula according to which everything was by default a group effort, and no single individual ever took personal credit. Hoffman sticks out for registering publicly actually chafing at these portly senior general figures turning up and subsequently taking credit, waving their Heroic White Hats about for the world to see. To the extent he was chafing for personal reasons or for the General Staff as a group is harder to tell. Though considering his colleagues refrained from voicing any kind of complaint, one can probably assume Hoffman might have had more of an ego to control.


Ad Honoris
May 2011
Navan, Ireland
A nice story from the Retreat at Mons

The 1st Bt Royal Warwickshire Regiment arrived in France in August 1914 under the command Lt Col John Elkington, it was a very experienced battalion of Imperial Policemen having seen service in the Sudan, South Africa and India, subaltern Montgomery was the most senior of the junior officers. (who was to succumb ,not fatally, to a sniper bullet late in the year)

They were pitched into the Battle and the next three days saw constant action and heavy casualties. By late afternoon on the 26th the remains of the battalion along with the Dublin Fusiliers and many stragglers found themselves in the Grande Place of St Quentin. They had marched and fought under the hot August sun with little or no food, the grateful locals pressed wine onto them, and many literally had bellies full of wine and boots full of blood. The troops collapsed almost anywhere, drunk, exhausted, wounded many all three. The surviving soldiers flatly refused to march another step.

Elkington and the Co of the Dubs Lt Col Mainwaring asked the local mayor to organize food, medical supplies and transport. The mayor had heard the stories from Belgium and was terrified that not only would the town be destroyed but the inhabitants slaughtered. He begged the British officers to show mercy, see sense and surrender the town.
The men seemed to be in no condition to fight or move, the exhausted officers both in their 50’s and deeply shocked by the intensity of the last three days of action, signed the surrender document.

At this point a troop of the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards came on the scene. One of them, Major Tom Bridges.
Bridges recalled later: 'The men in the square were so jaded it was pathetic to see them. If one only had a band, I thought! Why not? 'There was a toy shop handy, which provided my trumpeter and myself with a tin whistle and a drum, and we marched round the fountain, where the men were lying like the dead, playing the British Grenadiers and Tipperary, and beating the drum like mad.
They sat up and began to laugh and cheer. Like the Pied Piper Bridges marched around the square with his little orchestra gathering up a column of marching men. Placing the wounded on commandeered wagons Bridges little band marched over 500 men towards the British lines.

Lt Col Elkington and Lt Col Mainwaring were cashiered and dismissed in disgrace, Mainwaring returned to England an ill and exhausted man, Elkington disappeared.

On the 28th of September 1st Btn 2nd Infantry regiment French Foreign Legion were to attack, the position of honour went to company B3 to attack Navarin Farm. As the legionnaires rushed out of their trenches a silver haired corporal led the attack as he had done with great bravery at Hill 119 in the last attack.
The legionnaires fell like flies but the corporal, twice the age of most of the men still charged, directing men to weak points, shouting encouragement and bombing to good effect, he was a model of determination and bravery.
The company or what was left of it made the wood, the corporal rallied the survivors and using bombs bravely attacked the notorious strong point, as he charged he was caught by machine gun fire, his leg shattered he fell to the bottom of a trench.

He lay there for 13 hours without a sound, waiting for death? Eventually stretcher bearers from his regiment found him and he was evacuated to Paris. For over a year he was in hospital, while he kept the leg he would never be able to walk far without a stick.

In the summer of 1916 a visiting General stood next to his bed and read out a citation;-

[The Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre avec Palme are conferred upon No. 29274 Legionaire John Ford Elkington of the First Foreign Regiment. Although being Fifty years old, he has given proof during the campaign of remarkable courage and ardour, setting everyone the best possible example. He was gravely wounded on the 28th September 1915 rushing forward to assault enemy trenches. He has lost the use of his right leg.

The French citation was brought to the notice of King George V who who echoed The Duke of Wellingtons remark that bravery in battle can redeem mis deeds insisted that he should reinstated him in his old rank , seniorities and a DSO. Elkington retired to a small village in Berkshire and but never wore his medals.
Jun 2019
Battle of Mu’tah, executed by Khalid Ibn Walid against the Byzantines. He was initially a foot soldier in this battle but after all 3 Muslim commanders had been killed, he took command of the army and saved his troops from what seemed to be an impending slaughter. What should of been a crushing defeat at the hands of the Byzantines turned into a tactical retreat with the vast majority of the Muslim army still alive. For him to rally his troops after morale was shattered speaks volumes on his charisma and leadership skills.


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
the numbers are all over the place , beside the military losses , transfer and reinforcement
there were a lot of civilians following the army both on the way in and during the retreat
of the 400.000 who walked to Moscow 4.000 walked out as a command
or losses of 99%
the few survivors were joined by 6.000 who had been detached to Riga

a few squadrons of cavalry escorted Napoleon when he made a run for it leaving his Army behind
That was an old trick of his , he did the same in Egypt

There were some thousands who either deserted or melted in the very hostile countryside to forage

among the civilians it seems to have been worst
the most tragic episode was the crossing of the Berezina river ,
while a good part of the troops still obeying orders could cross
the stragglers and the civilians were left in the lurch ,mostly drowning in the freezing waters
a small island made of the bodies and debris is supposed to have existed for a few years

the ocre color is the Army size on their way to Moscow , the black lines are the same army in retreat

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Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
San Antonio, Tx
The British truly are the masters of 'losing with style'.
Given enough time and the English Channel, the equipment left behind was much less important than the men who were rescued. Equipment can be replaced; men cannot. How many successful evacuations have taken place throughout history at this scale, especially supported by large numbers of civilian watercraft?

It was not a victory; it was a defeat and a big one, but the British pulled their irons out of the fire just in time. I hail the French & British rearguard who covered this retreat.
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