The Battle of Gravelotte - St. Privat fought on August 18th - came early in the Franco-Prussian War and although a Pyrrhic victory for the Prussians (their casualties were more than twice those of the French) - proved a strategic victory from which the French never recovered. Fought just west of the fortress city of Metz in Lorraine it followed a defeat inflicted on France the previous day at Mars-le-Tour and was the final vindication of the tactics used by the brilliantly ruthless German C-in-C Field Marshal Hellmuth Von Moltke whose battle strategy if the subject of this absorbing book. The Prussian First and Second Armies numbering 188332 and equipped with 732 heavy cannon outnumbered and outgunned their opponents in the French Army of the Rhine commanded by the brave but inept and unlucky Marshal Achille Bazaine. The French numbered some 112800 and had the advantage of a strong defensive position above a ravine which they had spent the night entrenching and strengthening. Despite this the Prussians launched repeated attacks across the ravine. Pinned down by merciless fire from the superior French Chassepot rifles the Prussians responded with their Krupp heavy guns. Although the armies finished the battle exhausted and in stalemate with the Prussians having casualties of 20000 against French losses of less than half that number the strategic victory was Moltke's since he had blocked the French retreat to the fortress town of Verdun and the next day Bazaine fell back to Metz where he remained bottled up and unable to take further part in the war: a dereliction of duty for which he was later court-martialled and imprisoned - finally escaping to die in impoverished exile in Spain.
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