Battle of the Ourcq River, 5-9 September 1914

Battle of the Ourcq River, 5-9 September 1914


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Battle of the Ourcq River, 5-9 September 1914

The battle of the Ourcq River, 5-9 September 1914 (First World War) was part of the wider First Battle of the Marne. The German 1st Army, under von Kluck, made up the right wing of the great German advance into France. By the start of September it was moving south, just to the east of Paris, as part of the German advance that threatened to envelope the French armies to the east. However, a gap was beginning to develop between the 1st and 2nd Armies. This gap would be the target of the great Allied counterattack on the Marne and the threat it posed to the German 2nd Army would play a major part in the German decision to retreat.

The extreme right flank of the German advance was protected by the German IV Reserve Corps under General von Gronau. The French command-in-chief, General Joffre, planned to concentrate against the 1st army. Part of that plan would involve an attack by the French 6th Army under General Maunoury, with support from General Gallieni, the military governor of Paris, against the exposed flank of von Kluck’s 1st army.

The battle of the Ourcq did not go entirely to plan. Von Gronau detected the French advance on 5 September, and launched a counterattack that delayed the French attack and allowed von Kluck to move his II Corps north west, from its position south of the Marne to one west of the Ourcq. Over the next three days the rest of the 1st Army would follow. The French were now attacked a major German formation and not the reserve corps they had expected to be facing. Maunoury’s Sixth Army found itself outnumbered and in danger of being enveloped. It was this battle that saw the famous incident in which reinforcements were rushed to the front from Paris in taxi cabs.

By the end of 8 September, von Kluck was ready to launch his own counterattack on his right flank. An initial attack by the IX Corps under General von Quast achieved some local success and even appeared to threaten Paris. However, the situation further along the German line was not so promising. As von Kluck had moved west onto the Ourcq, the gap between the 1st and 2nd armies was forty miles wide. Allied troops, amongst the BEF, were advancing into the gap.

The commander of the 2nd army, General von Bülow, felt that his position was dangerously exposed. On 8 September Moltke dispatched a staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Hentsch, to investigate the real situation at the front. He had agreed with von Bülow’s views, and recommended a withdrawal back behind the Marne. On 9 September, von Bülow learnt that four enemy columns were marching through the gap toward the Marne and decided to order a retreat. Once the 2nd army was on the move, von Kluck had no choice but to follow. Over the next five days the Germans pulled back from the Marne to the Aisne.

The fighting on the Ourcq had failed to achieve its initial objective, to outflank the German 1st Army, but by drawing von Kluck north west when he should have been moving south it helped to create the fatal gap in the German line that helped create the miracle of the Marne.

Books on the First World War |Subject Index: First World War


Primary Documents - The Battle of Ourcq River - President Poincare on the First Battle of the Marne, 11 September 1914

Reproduced below is the text of the official letter despatched by the French President, Raymond Poincare, to the Minister of War on 11 September 1914.

Written in the immediate aftermath of an Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne - which finally halted and then threw back the German advance upon Paris - Poincare's letter was clear in its elation, giving thanks to each of the Commander-in-Chief (Joseph Joffre), France's British allies (led by Sir John French), and to the officers and men of the French Army.

Click here to read Joffre's report on the battle click here to read French's report.

Letter from President Poincare to the Minister of War

Our valiant armies have, during the last four days' fighting, again given striking proofs of their bravery and high spirit.

The strategic idea, conceived with so much clear-sightedness by the Commander-in-Chief and realized with so much coolness, method, and resolution, has been carried out in recent operations by faultless tactics.

Far from being fatigued by long weeks of marching and unceasing battle, our troops have shown more endurance and keenness than ever. With the vigorous assistance of our English Allies they have forced back the enemy to the east of Paris, and the brilliant successes they have gained and the magnificent qualities they have shown are sure guarantees of decisive victories.

I beg you, my dear Minister, to be good enough to transmit to the General Commanding-in-Chief, to the officers and the rank and file, the congratulations and good wishes of the Government of the Republic, and with them the personal expression of my own deep admiration.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy

The Russian war ace Alexander Kozakov claimed 20 victories during the war his nearest compatriot, Vasili Yanchenko, claimed 16.

- Did you know?


First Battle of the Marne begins

On September 6, 1914, some 30 miles northeast of Paris, the French 6th Army under the command of General Michel-Joseph Manoury attacks the right flank of the German 1st Army, beginning the decisive First Battle of the Marne at the end of the first month of World War I.

After invading neutral Belgium and advancing into northeastern France by the end of August 1914, German forces were nearing Paris, spurred on by punishing victories that forced five French armies into retreat after the Battles of the Frontiers at Lorraine, Ardennes, Charleroi and Mons. In anticipation of the German attack, the anxious French government appointed the 65-year-old General Joseph-Simon Gallieni as the military governor of Paris. Gallieni, predicting that the Germans would reach Paris by September 5, did not wish to sit idly back and wait for invasion. In the first days of September, he managed to convince the French commander in chief, Joseph Joffre, to spare him an army—Manoury’s 6th Army𠅏rom the front in order to aggressively defend the capital.

At the same time, General Alexander von Kluck, at the head of the German 1st Army, was disobeying orders from its own headquarters to double back and support General Karl von Bulow’s 2nd Army, thus protecting itself from possible attacks from the French on its right flank, from the direction of Paris. Not wanting to subordinate himself to Bulow’s command, Kluck ordered his forces to proceed in their pursuit of the retreating French 5th Army, under General Charles Lanrezac, across the Marne River, which they crossed on September 3. When Gallieni learned of Kluck’s move that morning, he knew the French 6th Army—the new army of Paris—had been given its opportunity to attack the German flank. Without hesitation, he began to coordinate the attack, urging Joffre to support it by resuming the general French offensive earlier than army headquarters had planned.

On September 4, Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the German general staff, learned that Kluck had disobeyed orders, and that his troops𠅎xhausted and depleted of resources, having outrun their lines of supply over the course of their rapid advance—had crossed the Marne. Fearing the attack from Paris on the 1st Army’s exposed flank, Moltke ordered that the march of the 1st and 2nd Armies towards Paris be halted in order to face any threat from that direction. The order came too late, however, as Gallieni had already readied his army for an attack, and Joffre—with help from the British minister of war, Lord H. H. Kitchener—had obtained the promised support of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), commanded by Sir John French, for the French 5th and 6th Armies in their renewed offensive against German forces at the Marne.

On the morning of September 6, the 150,000 soldiers of Manoury’s 6th Army attacked the right flank of the German 1st Army, whose turn to meet the attack opened a 30-mile-gap between Kluck’s forces and Bulow’s 2nd Army. Acting quickly, the French 5th Army—under a new leader, General Louis Franchet d𠆞sperey, appointed by Joffre to replace Lanrezac𠅊nd divisions of the BEF poured into the gap and simultaneously attacked the German 2nd Army. Fierce fighting continued over the next several days, with Manoury’s exhausted army managing to hold its ground only after being reinforced on September 7 by a corps of 6,000 rushed from Paris in taxi cabs. After Franchet d𠆞sperey’s 5th Army launched a successful surprise attack on the German 2nd Army, Moltke ordered a general German retreat on September 9. Over the next few days, Allies slowly pushed the Germans back towards the Aisne River, where the 1st and 2nd Armies dug in, beginning the entrenchment of positions that would last well into 1918.

The Allied check of the German advance during the Battle of the Marne made the struggle one of the most decisive battles in history. Events at the Marne signaled the demise of Germany’s aggressive two-front war strategy, known as the Schlieffen Plan they also marked the end of the general belief, held on both sides of the line, that the conflict that broke out in the summer of 1914 would be a short one. As the historian Barbara Tuchman wrote as a conclusion to her book The Guns of August (1962): “The Battle of the Marne was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would eventually lose or the Allies ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back, Joffre told the soldiers on the eve. Afterward there was no turning back. The nations were caught in a trap, a trap made during the first thirty days out of battles that failed to be decisive, a trap from which there was, and has been, no exit.”


First Battle of Marne, Sept 5-9, 1914

Note that the Germans started digging trenches on the ground after their defeat at the Battle of Marne on 12th Sept, 1914 when they were forced back from Marne to river Aisne.

The next phase starts with the German army digging trenches. Read Trench construction in World War I by Diana

Three bitter battles of World War I were fought into the Aisne valley. The Battle of the Aisne is the name of three battles fought along the Aisne River in northern France during the First World War.

    • , Anglo-French counter-offensive following the First Battle of the Marne
  • Second Battle of the Aisne (16 April–9 May 1917), main component of the Nivelle Offensive
  • Third Battle of the Aisne (27 May–6 June 1918), third phase (Operation Blücher) of the German Spring Offensive
  • Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff since 14 September, concluded that a decisive victory could not be achieved on the Western Front and that it was equally unlikely in the east. Falkenhayn abandoned Vernichtunsstrategie (strategy of annihilation) and attempted to create the conditions for peace with one of Germany’s enemies, by Ermattungsstrategie (strategy of exhaustion), to enable Germany to concentrate its resources decisively to defeat the remaining opponents.


    CLIMAX: THE OURCQ

    War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.

    IN 1914, ROUGHLY ONE IN TEN FRENCHMEN LIVED IN PARIS. THE CITY proper covered 80 square kilometers with the surrounding Department of the Seine, it extended to 480. Paris was one of the few major fortified capitals in Europe. 1 One ring of fourteen inner forts had withstood the German siege of 1870&ndash71, and it had been augmented with an outer ring of twenty-five forts by 1890. Both were designed to protect Paris in case of an attack&mdashor of a domestic uprising. As the distant roar of Alexander von Kluck&rsquos heavy artillery became ever more audible, the government of Premier René Viviani fell. President Raymond Poincaré was able to secure the newfound &ldquosacred union&rdquo by way of a cabinet reshuffle that left Viviani as premier but brought Alexandre Millerand in as the new minister of war, replacing Adolphe Messimy. To Joffre&rsquos great delight, Millerand, the former moderate Socialist who had helped him pass the Three-Year Law in 1913, quickly rallied to defend the generalissimo&rsquos autocratic style of command in the face of the Chamber of Deputies&rsquo attempts to gain insight into military operations.

    On 30 August, a German Taube aircraft dropped three bombs and some leaflets on the Quai de Valmy. By next day, a state of panic existed in the capital. The staff of the Ministry of War was instructed to send families to the countryside and then to depart for Tours. 2 The mail was already three days late, when it arrived at all. The Central Telegraph Office had been cut off from London. Most newspapers had stopped publishing. Grand hotels were being turned into hospitals. An exodus of perhaps a hundred thousand people was in full swing. Automobiles and cabs could be seen rushing people and their most precious belongings to the southern and western railway stations. There, they jostled for space with incoming French wounded and German prisoners of war. By noon, the Montparnasse Station was packed with ten thousand Parisians seeking to board trains for Rennes, Saint-Malo, and Brest. At the Invalides Station, usually reserved for the military, enough people had booked for Brittany to fill the trains for a week.

    On 2 September, the forty-fourth anniversary of the Battle of Sedan (1870), the government left Paris for Bordeaux. In its absence, Parisians turned to a sixty-five-year-old former colonial soldier for succor. As the newly appointed military governor of Paris, General Joseph-Simon Galliéni commanded four territorial divisions and the 185th Territorial Brigade. Over the coming days, he received reinforcements in the form of a marine artillery brigade and 84th Territorial Division as well as 61st and 62d reserve infantry divisions (RID). 3 Chief of the General Staff Joseph Joffre, conceding the imminent danger to the capital, dispatched Michel-Joseph Maunoury&rsquos newly formed Sixth Army, soon to be augmented by IV Corps from Third Army, to Paris and placed it at the disposal of the military governor. 4

    Galliéni did not disappoint. In his first public proclamation, on 3 September, he promised to defend Paris &ldquoto the last extremity.&rdquo 5 That morning, he called out military engineers and civilian laborers armed with axes and saws to cut down the undergrowth of brush and hedges that obscured the line of fire of the capital&rsquos 2,924 guns&mdashranging from massive 155mm siege guns to rapid-fire 75s. 6 They likewise demolished houses and sheds that Galliéni deemed to obstruct his artillery. Munitions depots were stocked with a thousand shells per heavy gun. Hospitals and penitentiaries were evacuated and readied for the anticipated flood of wounded men. Fire departments were put on alert. Grocery stores were filled for the expected siege with bread wheat for forty-three days, salt for twenty, and meat for twelve. Gas to produce electricity for three months was requisitioned from the countryside. 7 Pigeons were placed under state control in case telegraph and radio communications broke down. For three days, thousands of tons of concrete were poured and millions of meters of barbed wire strung for new defensive lines. Galliéni, who had fought at Sedan in 1870 and thereafter been interned in Germany, was determined that the enemy, should it take Paris, would find little of value: The bridges over the Seine River were to be blown up, and even the Eiffel Tower was to be reduced to scrap metal. Former Captain (now Lieutenant Colonel) Alfred Dreyfus joined the artillery.

    All the while, cavalry scouts and pilots from both the French Armée de l&rsquoair and the British Royal Flying Corps kept Galliéni abreast of the German advance on Paris from Creil, Senlis, Clermont-sur-Oise, the Forest of Compiègne, and Soissons. Just after 8 AMon 3 September, British aviators spied &ldquoa great column&rdquo of German artillery and infantry advancing from Verberie to Senlis. 8 Later that afternoon, the news took a dramatic turn: Fliers reported massive columns of gray-clad enemy infantry&mdashfour corps in strength&mdashthat had suddenly shifted onto a southeasterly course toward Château-Thierry, Mareuil-sur-Ourcq, and Lizy-sur-Ourcq. 9 A single German corps stood between Kluck and Paris in echelon formation south of Chantilly. This could mean only one thing: Kluck was advancing into the gap between French Fifth Army and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) around Montmirail, screened just by Louis Conneau&rsquos newly created cavalry corps. Joffre, apprised of this by Galliéni as he was moving his headquarters to Bar-sur-Aube, remained imperturbable: The French army would continue to follow his General Instruction No. 4 of 1 September, as amended the following day. 10

    Late in the night of 3 September, Galliéni, as commandant des armées de Paris, made a key decision: If Kluck continued on a southeasterly trajectory, he would rally all available troops in the Paris Entrenched Camp and strike First Army&rsquos exposed right flank. 11 The following morning, French aviators confirmed that Kluck continued to head southeast. Without awaiting formal orders from Joffre, Galliéni sent word to Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army to be ready to march east by afternoon. He placed Antoine Drude&rsquos newly arrived Algerian 45th Infantry Division (ID) at Maunoury&rsquos disposal, raising Sixth Army (reinforced by 7 September with IV Army Corps from Maurice Sarrail&rsquos Third Army) to about 150,000 soldiers. Galliéni planned to assault the western flank of the German army that &ldquoseemed to be gliding past Paris behind the front.&rdquo 12

    At Bar-sur-Aube, Joffre had independently arrived at the same operational concept. The Germans, in the words of historian Robert Doughty, occupied a &ldquodeep concave line between Paris, the Seine, the Aube, and Verdun.&rdquo If Joffre could draw them farther into the salient between Paris and Verdun, perhaps he could cut them off with an attack on the &ldquoneck&rdquo of that salient in the direction of Meaux by Galliéni&rsquos garrison forces and Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army. 13 Since Meaux lay thirty kilometers east of Paris on the Marne River, Joffre&rsquos concept closely paralleled Galliéni&rsquos. Rivers of ink would later be spilled as to which man first arrived at the operational concept that would unleash the Battle of the Marne. In the end, the decision was Joffre&rsquos to make. 14

    All that remained was for Sir John French to join the attack. The BEF, about to be augmented by 6th ID from Ireland and 4th ID from Britain, had crossed the Marne on 3 September and had finally stopped just east of Paris and south of Meaux. As ever, Joffre was concerned over what he politely termed the &ldquofragility&rdquo of his left wing. Others were more direct in their dealings with the British. Galliéni, with Maunoury in tow, tried personal diplomacy. The field marshal was not at British headquarters at Melun, but off with his corps commanders at the Marne. Nor was General Henry Wilson at Melun. All Galliéni could get was what has been described as a &ldquotedious&rdquo three hours of &ldquotalk and argument&rdquo with Archibald Murray. 15 Referred to even by his friends as &ldquosuper-disciplined and super-obedient,&rdquo the BEF&rsquos chief of staff refused to undertake anything until his boss was back. Galliéni returned to Paris dejected&mdashand convinced that Murray was incapable of seeing the great strategic opportunity at hand. &ldquoOld Archie&rdquo Murray, revealing &ldquoune grande répugnance&rdquo toward Galliéni, 16 continued the British retreat southwest behind the Grand Morin River. The BEF constituted just 3 percent of Allied forces and had lost twenty thousand men along with half of its artillery.

    That same day, Sir John French was supposed to discuss the situation with the new commander of Fifth Army, Louis Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey, at Bray-sur-Seine. But the field marshal was still with his corps commanders. In his stead, he sent Wilson, who was always willing to accommodate the French. Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey and Wilson quickly found common ground. There should be a joint attack in the direction of Montmirail: Below the Marne, French Fifth Army would approach Kluck&rsquos First Army from the south and the BEF from the west north of the river, French Sixth Army would march eastward toward Château-Thierry. 17 Wilson set two conditions: that Sixth Army cover the BEF&rsquos flank and that it mount an &ldquoenergetic attack&rdquo north of Meaux. Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey concurred&mdasha bold act for a man in charge of Fifth Army for barely twenty-four hours.

    In the meantime, Joffre, having spent hours in solitude under a tall weeping ash in the courtyard of the school that served as his headquarters, penned his Instruction général No. 5. He ordered Maurice Sarrail&rsquos Third Army, Fernand de Langle de Cary&rsquos Fourth Army, and Ferdinand Foch&rsquos Special Army Detachment (now formally designated Ninth Army) to halt their retreat, stand their ground, and, if possible, be ready to join in a full Allied counterattack on 6 September. 18 On 4 September, over his favorite dinner of Brittany leg of lamb at the Château Le Jard, Joffre received the news for which he had been desperately waiting: a note from Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey promising &ldquoclose and absolute co-operation&rdquo between Fifth Army and the BEF, and assurance that Fifth Army, although &ldquonot in brilliant condition&rdquo after its recent encounters with German Second Army, would reach the Ourcq River the next day. &ldquoIf not, the British will not march.&rdquo 19 Joffre after the war gave full credit to Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey: &ldquoIt is he who made the Battle of the Marne possible.&rdquo 20

    With that welcome news in hand, Joffre delighted his staff: &ldquoThen we can march!&rdquo 21 At ten o&rsquoclock that night, he put the finishing touches to Instruction général No. 6. It set out the basic operations plan for the Battle of the Marne, to begin on the morning of 7 September. Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army was to cross the Ourcq &ldquoin the general direction of Château-Thierry&rdquo the BEF was to &ldquoattack in the general direction of Montmirail&rdquo Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey&rsquos Fifth Army was to advance &ldquoalong the line Courtacon-Esternay-Sézanne&rdquo and Foch&rsquos Ninth Army was to cover Fifth Army&rsquos right flank around the Saint-Gond Marshes. 22 At Galliéni&rsquos urging, Joffre moved the date for the attack up to 6 September&mdashsomething that he would later regret. 23 In London, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Russia signed a declaration that none of their governments would conclude a separate peace with either Germany or Austria-Hungary.

    The next morning, 5 September, Joffre apprised War Minister Millerand of the seriousness of the hour. The &ldquostrategic situation,&rdquo he began, was &ldquoexcellent.&rdquo He could not &ldquohope for better conditions&rdquo for the offensive. He was determined &ldquoto engage all our forces without stint and without reservation to achieve victory.&rdquo But he also reminded the newly appointed minister that nothing was ever certain in war. &ldquoThe struggle in which we are about to engage may have decisive results, but it may also have very serious consequences for the country in case of a reverse.&rdquo 24

    Joffre&rsquos final thoughts, as always, were with the British. Would they, as Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey had assured him, actually &ldquomarch&rdquo? Or would French and Murray yet again find a reason to continue the BEF&rsquos retreat? Joffre moved on two fronts. First, he appealed to the government for a second time to use diplomatic channels to get London to stiffen Sir John&rsquos resolve. Next, he raced off to British headquarters at the Château Vaux-le-Pénil, nearly two hundred kilometers away at Melun, to meet with French. It was a dangerous journey through country infested with enemy cavalry patrols. Arriving at Melun around 2 PM, Joffre made one last appeal for cooperation. It was high drama. He informed Sir John that the French army, down to the &ldquolast company,&rdquo stood ready to attack the invader to save France. &ldquoIt is in her name that I come to you to ask for British aid, and I urge it with all the power that is in me.&rdquo Growing more agitated with every sentence, Joffre reminded the field marshal that now was the time to move that the next twenty-four hours would be decisive that the time for retreating was over that no man was to yield even a foot of French soil and that those who could (or would) not advance &ldquowere to die where they stood.&rdquo He then moved from appeal to taunt. &ldquoI cannot believe that the British Army, in this supreme crisis, will refuse to do its part&mdashhistory would judge its absence severely.&rdquo Finally, banging his fist on the table in the little Louis XV salon, Joffre moved from taunt to challenge: &ldquoMonsieur, le Maréchal, the honour of England is at stake!&rdquo 25 His face flushed with emotion and tears welling in his eyes, Sir John stumbled in vain over a few phrases in French. He then turned to one of his officers and inelegantly blurted out, &ldquoDamn it, I can&rsquot explain. Tell him that all that men can do our fellows will do.&rdquo 26 History records that Joffre, upon reaching his new headquarters at Châtillon-sur-Seine, hailed his staff with the words &ldquoGentlemen, we will fight on the Marne.&rdquo That is pure legend.

    THREE GERMAN ARMIES ADVANCED into the 250-kilometer salient between &ldquothe horns of Paris and Verdun.&rdquo By 5 September, the critical sector bristled with seven opposing armies. From east to west, Foch&rsquos Ninth Army (IX and XI corps) at Mailly-Sézanne fronted Max von Hausen&rsquos Third Army (XII and XIX corps, XII Reserve Corps) and the left wing of German Second Army Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey&rsquos Fifth Army (XVIII, III, I, X corps), north of Provins, was up against the bulk of Karl von Bülow&rsquos Second Army (VII and X corps, Guard Corps, X Reserve Corps, Guard Reserve Corps) and the left flank of German First Army French&rsquos BEF (I, II, III corps), well behind Joffre&rsquos line south of Coulommiers, fronted the center of Kluck&rsquos First Army (II, III, IX, IX corps, IV Reserve Corps) and Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army (VII Corps, Brigade Lamaze, Brigade Chasseurs, 45th Division) as well as units of Sarrail&rsquos IV Corps were poised to advance out of Paris toward Meaux against Kluck&rsquos right flank&mdashspecifically, Hans von Gronau&rsquos IV Reserve Corps at Saint-Soupplets&ndashMonthyon&ndashPenchard.

    Numerically, the Germans were inferior to the Allies at the critical point, the right wing. Kluck&rsquos First Army of 128 battalions of infantry and 748 guns was ranged against 191 battalions and 942 guns of French Sixth Army and the BEF Bülow&rsquos Second Army and half of Hausen&rsquos Third Army with 134 battalions and 844 guns faced 268 battalions and 1,084 guns of French Fifth and Ninth armies. 27 It was a stark reversal from August 1914.

    While Kluck&rsquos First Army moved toward the Ourcq River northeast of Paris, German Second and Third armies advanced on the Aisne and Vesle rivers. As he approached Fismes on the Vesle, Bülow found the countryside littered with abandoned artillery caissons, rifles, ammunition, and uniforms. Hausen reported that he was heading toward Suippes &ldquoafter fleeing enemy.&rdquo Bülow ordered &ldquoruthless pursuit&rdquo of the &ldquoshaken adversary&rdquo to the Marne. The French were to be &ldquoattacked without delay wherever [they] stood.&rdquo 28 En route, Reims would be asked to surrender if it refused, it was to be reduced &ldquowhile sparing its cathedral.&rdquo 29

    The German attack on Reims laid bare in microcosm Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke&rsquos failure to coordinate his armies. On the afternoon of 3 September, Hausen ordered Hans von Kirchbach&rsquos Saxon XII Reserve Corps to execute a bold strike (Handstreich) on Reims. Kirchbach decided on a nighttime attack by Alexander von Larisch&rsquos 23d RID. It totally surprised the city&rsquos garrison: 45th Reserve Brigade seized Fort Witry and 46th Brigade, Forts Nogent l&rsquoAbbesse and La Pompelle, without firing a shot. A cavalry patrol penetrated into the heart of Reims. At midnight, Kirchbach informed Hausen, &ldquoReims in the hands of XII Reserve Corps.&rdquo 30

    THE ALLIED RETREAT, 30 AUGUST-5 SEPTEMBER 1914

    Then, the totally unexpected: At 6:30 AM * the next day, Kirchbach&rsquos units came under heavy artillery fire&mdashfrom Karl von Plettenberg&rsquos 2d Guard Division (GD) of Bülow&rsquos Second Army! Once again, communications had broken down. In the ensuing chaos, in which the Guard over forty-five minutes fired some 170 shells into the city, forty civilians were killed and the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, in which French kings since Clovis had been crowned, was slightly damaged. Hausen at once informed Second Army: &ldquoReims occupied by us. Cease fire.&rdquo 31 Bülow stopped the shelling&mdashand then imposed an &ldquoindemnity&rdquo of fifty million francs on Reims, to be doubled if his terms were not accepted within forty-eight hours. Hausen was incensed. In his unpublished memoirs, he tried to imagine the &ldquobrouhaha&rdquo that would have resulted had their roles been reversed and Saxon artillery fired on the Prussian Guard. He found it &ldquopainful&rdquo that Bülow had not offered &ldquoa word of apology,&rdquo not even an &ldquoexplanation.&rdquo 32 Interestingly, the minute German troops crossed into France, the reported incidents of francs-tireurs fire and German &ldquoreprisals&rdquo 33 abated. Still, Allied propaganda seized on the shelling of Reims to depict the enemy as &ldquoHuns&rdquo and &ldquoVandals.&rdquo

    The debacle at Reims paled in comparison with Bülow&rsquos main concern: Kluck and First Army. For almost two weeks, Second Army had tenaciously hounded Charles Lanrezac&rsquos Fifth Army in brutal frontal attacks along the Sambre and Oise rivers. Moltke&rsquos General Directive of 2 September had left the final defeat of the French to Second Army. There would be no more bloody frontal assaults. Bülow looked forward to finally enveloping Fifth Army&rsquos left flank. He became angry on 3 September when he learned that Ferdinand von Quast&rsquos IX Corps of First Army had, in fact, crossed the Marne on his right wing directly in front of Karl von Einem&rsquos VII Corps. He grew downright livid when Kluck, pointedly &ldquodisobeying&rdquo Moltke&rsquos General Directive of 2 September, late that night announced his intention to continue on a southeasterly course toward Montmirail. 34 This would force Second Army to halt its advance so as not to collide with Kluck&rsquos First Army. And it would be at least 7 September before First Army&rsquos advance units could withdraw from the line Montmirail-Esternay. Kluck, Bülow moaned, had become &ldquoa thorn in his side.&rdquo

    The crisis on the Marne at last spurred Luxembourg into action. Late in the evening of 4 September, Moltke and his chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel Gerhard Tappen, drafted a new General Directive for their field armies. To make certain that it reached the intended recipients, they had it delivered by automobile the next morning as well. The new orders began with a few general observations. The OHL conceded that Joffre had taken numerous formations out of his right wing at Toul-Belfort and shifted them to his left wing around Paris that he had simultaneously removed units from in front of German Third, Fourth, and Fifth armies with similar intent and that he most likely was standing up new formations on his left wing. The original design to &ldquopush the entire French army against the Swiss frontier,&rdquo Moltke laconically wrote, &ldquowas no longer possible.&rdquo The German right wing was now threatened as it hung in the air at Meaux. Worse still, there were agent reports of major French troop concentrations at Lille, of British landings at Ostend and Antwerp, and of eighty thousand Russians having been brought from Archangel to Britain for future deployment in France.

    Of course, it was disinformation, all of it. But to Moltke, these &ldquoshadow&rdquo forces seemed all too real. He had committed all his active and reserve forces at the start of the war, and they now stood deep in France and East Prussia. The entire Kaiser Wilhelm Canal linking the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, the northwest German coast, and the border with Denmark were open to British invasion since he had moved IX Reserve Corps out of Schleswig-Holstein and attached it to Kluck&rsquos First Army. His prewar fears of a &ldquothree-front war&rdquo might yet be realized.

    The new General Directive ordered Sixth and Seventh armies to tie down as many French forces as possible in Lorraine Fourth and Fifth armies to continue to &ldquodrive&rdquo enemy forces facing them in the Argonne Forest &ldquooff in a southeasterly direction&rdquo and First and Second armies to hold their positions east of Paris, to &ldquoparry offensively any enemy operations emanating from the region around Paris,&rdquo and &ldquoto lend each other mutual support.&rdquo Most opaquely, Third Army was to advance on Troyes&mdashVendeuvre-sur-Barse and, &ldquoas circumstances dictated,&rdquo either support First and Second armies &ldquoacross the Seine in a westerly direction,&rdquo or turn south-southeast to buttress the German left wing in Lorraine. 35 There is no evidence to suggest that Moltke or Tappen seriously contemplated moving up to the front to direct the final phase of the campaign, or even to dispatch a senior officer from the General Staff for that purpose. One may remember that during the Battle of Guise/Saint-Quentin, Joffre had spent the entire morning at Fifth Army headquarters at Marle overseeing the main French attack.

    In fact, Moltke&rsquos General Directive, when compared with Joffre&rsquos General Instruction No. 5 or No. 6, seems more like a theoretical staff exercise than a formal operations plan. It consisted of general observations on the campaign in the west and of vague suggestions for First and Second armies to hold their present positions and simply ward off enemy attacks for Seventh and Sixth armies to &ldquohold&rdquo on the left wing and for Fifth, Fourth, and Third armies in the center of the line to operate in concentric sweeps south and southwest. It was an admission that the Schlieffen-Moltke operational concept of the Schwenkungsflügel (pivot wing) enveloping the entire left wing and center of the French army had been abandoned. There were no provisions for coordinating the actions of First and Second armies on the Marne, only obvious and nonspecific suggestions for Kluck and Bülow to &ldquolend each other mutual support.&rdquo Nor were there provisions to close the gap between Second and Third armies southeast of Reims. Hausen&rsquos instruction to deploy Third Army as he saw fit to support one of two German flanks some three hundred kilometers apart defied logic. Finally, the mere hint of rumors concerning British and Russian troop disembarkations in France stampeded Moltke into creating a new Seventh Army in Belgium under General Josias von Heeringen, hastily brought up from commanding the old Seventh Army in Lorraine. Once formed, it was to become the extreme right wing of the German line.

    Within hours, the lack of command and control from Luxembourg became manifestly evident. At the very moment that Moltke and Tap-pen were drafting their General Directive calling on Third Army to drive on Troyes-Vendeuvre, Hausen at 5 PM on 4 September informed the OHL that he had ordered a day of rest for his forces. He repeated the message an hour later. &ldquoTroops desperately need a day of rest.&rdquo He did not budge from his decision when the two flanking armies, Second and Fourth, informed him that they were resuming the offensive early the next morning. He stood firm even after he belatedly received Moltke&rsquos instruction to advance on Troyes-Vendeuvre at eight o&rsquoclock that night. Just before midnight, he informed the OHL for a third time in less than seven hours that Third Army would rest on 5 September. 36 Moltke raised no objections.

    Hausen took pains, both at the time and in his memoirs, to justify his decision. 37 The men had reached the limits of their &ldquopsychological elasticity&rdquo as well as their &ldquophysical capability.&rdquo Between 18 and 23 August, they had marched 190 kilometers to the Meuse, and thereafter 140 kilometers to the Aisne&mdashmuch of it under a broiling sun and the last thirteen days during constant combat. Ammunition, food, and uniforms desperately needed to be hauled up to the front. The horses were short on oats and needed to be reshod. Hausen chose not to inform Moltke that there was also a personal reason: He had come down with what was diagnosed as a severe case of &ldquobloody dysentery.&rdquo

    The German official history of the war later took Hausen to task. 38 By his action, he had exposed the flanks of his two neighboring armies&mdashmost precipitously, his halt had created a thirty-kilometer gap between his Third Army and Bülow&rsquos Second Army&mdashand he had disrupted the planned seamless German advance on 5 September. But it failed to mention that with his action, Hausen had lost a splendid opportunity to exploit a twenty-five-kilometer gap that had developed between Foch&rsquos Ninth Army and Langle de Cary&rsquos Fourth Army. Especially Foch&rsquos Army Detachment had taken a terrible pounding from Hausen&rsquos two corps over the last two days: There had been heavy losses among infantry officers, the men were in a state of &ldquoserious fatigue&rdquo after &ldquoexhausting marches&rdquo and &ldquothe severity of the fighting,&rdquo and many of the reserve formations were in what Foch termed &ldquoan extremely pitiable state.&rdquo The entire region of Sommesous&ndashSompuis&ndashVitry-le-François was devoid of major French formations. From his headquarters at Sillery, Foch had informed Joffre that the Army Detachment, about to be reconstituted as Ninth Army, could at best survive two or three days of further attacks by German Third Army. It now gained twenty-four valuable hours in which to prepare its defensive line at the Saint-Gond Marshes and the heights south of Sézanne. 39

    It is difficult to disagree with the critique of Hausen. Every other German army had marched relentlessly under a searing sun during the last month. Every other army had suffered heavy casualties. Every other army needed rest and resupply. Some had in fact marched much greater distances than Third Army: First Army 500 kilometers and Second Army 440. Some, such as Second Army, had fought numerous more brutal engagements. It is hard to escape the verdict that Hausen simply was not made of the right stuff. For a second time since his failure to strike the flank of French Fifth Army south of Dinant, he failed to press a golden opportunity to break through the French line.

    Above all, Moltke&rsquos General Directive was a rude shock for First Army, which received the relayed radiogram at 6 AM on 5 September. It entailed a painful retreat from advanced positions seized after long marches and heavy fighting between the Marne and Oise. Without direct radio communications either to the OHL or to Bülow&rsquos Second Army on his left flank, Kluck had advanced almost in a vacuum. He was thus without insight into the overall situation of the campaign in the west and about to collide with the left wing of Bülow&rsquos Second Army around Montmirail. He sent out no cavalry or aerial reconnaissance to the west, where French Sixth Army had been stood up, and was intent only on pursuing the British and French columns fleeing southward before him.

    In the late afternoon, Kluck at Rebais had a visitor from Luxembourg: Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, chief of the OHL&rsquos Intelligence Section. It was Hentsch&rsquos first visit to the front, designed to establish better lines of communication among the field armies. Hentsch was not a bearer of good news. He informed Chief of Staff Hermann von Kuhl that Crown Prince Rupprecht&rsquos armies were tied down at Nancy and Épinal, unable to break through the Charmes Gap and drive north, and that Crown Prince Wilhelm&rsquos Fifth Army and Duke Albrecht&rsquos Fourth Army had made little progress around Verdun. Most likely, Joffre had used this stagnation of the fronts on the left and in the center of the German line to shuttle troops to the area around Paris, on Kluck&rsquos right. 40 First Army could expect an attack from the west any day.

    Kuhl at once realized that he was &ldquoconfronted with an entirely new situation.&rdquo Without the &ldquobreakthrough on the upper Moselle,&rdquo the giant Cannae being planned for the French army could not take place. The enemy &ldquowas by no means being held [down] everywhere&rdquo by Moltke&rsquos other armies in fact, &ldquolarge displacements of troops were in progress.&rdquo The danger on First Army&rsquos right flank had come out of nowhere. It was real. It had to be addressed at once. &ldquoThe suggestion, which we had made that morning, of first throwing the French back across the Seine, was finished.&rdquo 41 Reluctantly, Kuhl agreed with Hentsch that First Army&rsquos four corps had to be withdrawn behind the Marne over the next two days &ldquocalmly and in orderly fashion&rdquo to a line Meaux&ndashLa Ferté-sous-Jouarre&ndashLa Ferté-Gaucher. This would then enable Second Army to swing around on its left and face Paris, its right wing on the Marne and its left wing on the Seine.

    THE EVE OF THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE, 2 SEPTEMBER 1914

    Having reached full agreement with First Army, Hentsch the next day traveled to Second Army headquarters at Champaubert. He repeated his (and Moltke&rsquos) bleak assessment of the German campaign in the west, and bemoaned the lack of four army corps &ldquowith which we could win the campaign.&rdquo 42 One can only wonder whether he regretted the General Staff&rsquos earlier dispatch of Guard Reserve Corps and XI Army Corps to the Eastern Front, as well as of II Corps to besiege Antwerp, and of VII Reserve Corps to invest Maubeuge. It was now the thirty-fifth day of mobilization. Schlieffen had prescribed victory on the thirty-ninth or fortieth day.

    THE BRUTAL HEAT FINALLY broke on 5 September. The first engagement in what came to be called the Battle of the Marne took place forty kilometers northeast of Paris. The future battlefield was bordered to the north by Villers-Cotterêts, the Bois du Roi, and Lévignen to the east by the Ourcq River, which meandered on a southwesterly course from La Ferté-Milon to Lizy-sur-Ourcq before flowing into the Marne between Congis and Varreddes and to the south by the Canal de l&rsquoOurcq and the Marne. The land bordered by these three obstacles consisted of a hilly plateau studded with numerous villages, orchards, and grain fields. It was cut by three small streams: from north to south, the Grivelle, Gergogne, and Thérouanne. Each was embedded between gently rising wooded slopes of 80 to 120 meters the chalky soil in places was dotted with bogs, 43 difficult terrain to do battle.

    What Kuhl had called the &ldquophantom Paris&rdquo became &ldquoflesh and blood&rdquo by 5 September. Early that warm and clear morning, General Maunoury, in accordance with Joffre&rsquos General Instruction No. 6, had advanced out of the Paris Entrenched Camp with Sixth Army. Once a ragtag collection of 80,000 reservists and second-line troops, Sixth Army now totaled 150,000 men: Victor Boëlle&rsquos IV Corps, Frédéric Vautier&rsquos VII Corps, Henri de Lamaze&rsquos Fifth Group of 55th RID and 56th RID, Antoine Drude&rsquos 45th ID, Charles Ebener &rsquos Sixth Group of 61st RID and 62nd RID, and Jean-François Sordet&rsquos cavalry corps. 44 Maunoury placed 55th RID and 56th RID as well as a Moroccan brigade north of Dammartin-en-Goële Étienne de Villaret&rsquos 14th ID of VII Corps and 63rd RID at Louvres a brigade from the cavalry corps north of Claye-Souilly and Raoul de Lartigue&rsquos 8th ID at the Marne on his right flank to maintain communications with Sir John French and the BEF. These were some of the units that German fliers had spotted on 3 and 4 September.

    A slender, almost delicate soldier of sixty-seven, Maunoury had been wounded in the Franco-Prussian War (1870&ndash71) and had served for a while as military governor of Paris. He was now all that stood between Kluck and the capital. He planned to march his ten infantry divisions to a position northeast of Meaux, and from there to strike Kluck&rsquos right flank the next day along the north bank of the Marne. Louis Gillet&rsquos reserve cavalry brigade had scouted Maunoury&rsquos route of advance toward Meaux and found no German forces. 45 It thus came as a total surprise when around noon a hail of 77mm artillery shells from the heights of Monthyon, northwest of Meaux, burst into the thick marching columns of 14th Infantry Division.

    The unsuspected adversary was Hans von Gronau. Detached to guard First Army&rsquos right flank, IV Reserve Corps stood to the north of, and at right angles to, Kluck&rsquos main force around Barcy and Chambry. Gronau, at age sixty-four, was a Prussian artillery specialist. After several rotations through the General Staff in the 1880s and 1890s, he had commanded artillery regiments and brigades. Retired in 1911 and ennobled two years later, he was reactivated at the outbreak of the war. 46 At the Ourcq, Gronau commanded a much-depleted force: 43d Infantry Brigade (IB) had been taken from him to invest Brussels, with the result that IV Reserve Corps consisted of a mere fifteen (rather than the normal twenty-five) battalions of infantry and twelve batteries of light artillery. 47 It had neither aircraft nor electronic communications. With just 22,800 men, it was 12,000 under full strength. Moreover, Otto von Garnier&rsquos 4th Cavalry Division (CD) had but twelve hundred sabers, having been battered by British 1st Cavalry Brigade and Royal Horse Artillery around Néry on 1 September. Still, the vigilant Garnier kept up his patrols and detected French cavalry, some scouts, and a strong column of infantry marching toward Montgé-en-Goële, halfway between Paris and Meaux. Were these merely French advance guards? Or units of the Paris Garrison out on patrol? Or had Joffre somehow managed to cobble together a new army north of the capital?

    Without aerial reconnaissance and with the western horizon blocked by a series of wooded hillocks between Saint-Soupplets and Penchard, the safe option was to stay put and await developments. But the wily Gronau threw out the textbook and made a quick decision that most likely would have resulted in failure at most staff colleges. &ldquoLieutenant-Colonel, there is no other way out,&rdquo he informed his chief of staff, Friedrich von der Heyde, &ldquowe must attack!&rdquo 48 Without delay, Gronau sent 7th RID and 22d RID to occupy the long, wooded ridge around Saint-Mard, Dammartin, and Monthyon. Their orders were simple: Attack any and all forces approaching out of the west. At 11:30 AM, Gronau&rsquos artillery spotted a mighty host of French infantry and artillery&mdashde Lamaze&rsquos 55th RID and 56th RID as well as Ernest Blondlat&rsquos 1st Moroccan Brigade. They advanced northwest of Iverny along cobblestone roads lined with shimmering poplars, past gray stone farmhouses with gray slate roofs, and through fields of beets, mustard, wheat, and clover. As soon as they were within range, Gronau opened fire.

    The battle raged fiercely throughout the day. A German artillerist (Hoyer) with 7th Reserve Field Artillery Regiment wrote home that the gun crews &ldquowere killed like flies.&rdquo Some nearby batteries lost all their officers his own unit, 70 percent. &ldquoAnd the horses!&rdquo In a nearby stable Hoyer found fifty dead in a single heap. 49 An anonymous noncommissioned officer with 26th Infantry Regiment (IR) remembered the horror of the battlefield. &ldquoThe cadavers of animals of all kind lie everywhere and spread a horrible smell.&rdquo After a brief rest and a two-hundred-liter barrel of red wine &ldquoliberated&rdquo at a &ldquoswampy farm,&rdquo the men of the 26th moved on through &ldquohigh grass, bushes and thickets.&rdquo They found a small wood. &ldquoSharp cracks beside us, ahead of us and above us. One shrapnel after another rains down on us. It covers the entire wood. We run from one large tree to another. &hellip Countless wounded and dead lie all around us.&rdquo 50 Darkness finally brought relief. German IV Reserve Corps held the ridge. Maunoury had not been able to cross the 120-meter-deep valley of the Ourcq River. Meaux remained well out of his reach.

    Gronau&rsquos swift action proved critical to the course of the Battle of the Marne. It denied Joffre the all-important element of surprise. 51 Instead of Maunoury striking Kluck&rsquos right flank unawares, it was now French Sixth Army that had been taken by surprise. Moreover, the action had taken place a full eighteen hours before Joffre originally had planned to mount his great offensive between Verdun and Paris, thus throwing his overarching concept into question. Gronau and his band of valiant reservists, in the words of the German official history, had &ldquowith one bold stroke&rdquo finally brought clarity: &ldquoThe German army&rsquos right flank was, in fact, seriously threatened.&rdquo 52 And &ldquowith a rare appreciation of the strategic realities,&rdquo 53 Gronau understood that he was vastly outnumbered (about six to one) and withdrew IV Reserve Corps to relative safety ten kilometers behind the small Thérouanne stream. He would receive the coveted Pour le Mérite two years after he had first earned it at Monthyon.

    Shortly before midnight on 5 September, the telephone rang at First Army headquarters at Rebais. It was Gronau with news of the encounter with Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army. Chief of Staff von Kuhl, who at 7 PM had only received spotty news from Aircraft B65 that a minor engagement had occurred near Meaux, 54 at once grasped the gravity of the situation. There were but two choices&mdashregroup and retreat to defensive positions to protect the German outer right flank, or blunt the French attack with a counteroffensive. Kuhl chose the latter. Kluck agreed: &ldquoWheel 1. Army to the right at once, quickly form up on the right, attack across the Ourcq.&rdquo 55 Just after midnight, Kluck and Kuhl ordered Alexander von Linsingen&rsquos II Corps to quick-march from south of the Marne to west of the Ourcq in the direction of Lizy-sur-Ourq and Germigny-l&rsquoÉvêque, there to buttress Gronau&rsquos position behind the Thérouanne. Later on the afternoon of 6 September, they also dispatched Friedrich Sixt von Arnim&rsquos IV Corps to west of the Ourcq. It was a hard undertaking, as both corps had to cross two, and in some places three, river barriers. Yet the two corps incredibly managed two days of forced marches that stood out in the annals of the Prussian army: sixty kilometers on 7 September and seventy the following day, over bloated corpses of men and beasts alike, past columns of wounded and prisoners of war, through poplar woods and pear orchards.

    It was a daring decision with potentially deadly ramifications. For, in the process, a fifty-kilometer-wide gap developed in First Army&rsquos line between Varreddes and Sancy-lès-Provins, at the southern limit of the German advance. Appreciating the danger, Kuhl rushed Manfred von Richthofen&rsquos I Cavalry Corps and Georg von der Marwitz&rsquos II Cavalry Corps into the breach. These rear guards were to defend first the trench of the Grand Morin River, then, if that fell, the trench of the Petit Morin, and finally the trench of the Marne. Gronau established a line of defense between Vincy-Manoeuvre and Varreddes. Knowing that major reinforcements were on the way, he sought out a comfortable ditch and took a nap.

    AT DAWN ON 6 September, 980,000 French and 100,000 British soldiers with 3,000 guns assaulted the German line of 750,000 men and 3,300 guns between Verdun and Paris. 56 Joffre, who had been able to reinforce his armies with a hundred thousand reservists, issued the troops a stirring appeal. &ldquoThe salvation of the country&rdquo was in their hands. There could be &ldquono looking back.&rdquo The sacred ground of France was to be held &ldquoat whatever cost&rdquo &ldquobe killed on the spot rather than retreat.&rdquo Anything even resembling weakness would not be &ldquotolerated.&rdquo 57 President Poincaré, at Bordeaux, had to get the text through unofficial channels. He understood the seriousness of the hour. &ldquoWe are going to play our part for all we are worth in what will be the greatest battle humanity has ever known.&rdquo 58 Charles Huguet, French military plenipotentiary to the BEF, for the first time in weeks detected cheer at GHQ now that the Great Retreat was finally over. &ldquoWhen day dawned on the ever-memorable morning of 6th September,&rdquo Field Marshal Sir John French wrote, he had regained some of his earlier &ldquogreat hopes&rdquo for victory. &ldquoThe promise of an immediate advance against the enemy&rdquo sent &ldquoa thrill of exultation and enthusiasm throughout the whole force.&rdquo 59 Deputy Chief of Staff Wilson giddily assured his French counterpart, Henri Berthelot, that the Allied armies would be in Germany &ldquoin 4 weeks.&rdquo 60

    The most critical sector of the front was between Paris and the Marne. There, the battle would rage for four days. Much of it would be fought in a maze of waterways that served as tributaries to the Marne: the Ourcq, which flowed north and south on both sides of Maunoury&rsquos advance the Petit Morin and the Grand Morin, which ran east and west across the line of advance of French Fifth Army and the BEF and finally the Saint-Gond Marshes, from which the Petit Morin arose and where Foch&rsquos Ninth Army stood.

    At first, both Kluck and Bülow took the forces attacking Gronau&rsquos corps to be nothing more than French rear guards covering Joffre&rsquos withdrawal on Paris&mdashat most a sortie designed to relieve pressure on the French armies south of the Seine. General von der Marwitz, in fact, asked the kaiser&rsquos court chaplain to prepare a suitable &ldquoentry text&rdquo for Paris, &ldquobut not too long!&rdquo 61 The Germans were disabused of the notion of encountering only French rear guards during the night of 6 September. Men from Duke Albrecht of Württemberg&rsquos 30th IB, Fourth Army, had found Joffre&rsquos stirring appeal to his troops near Frignicourt, south of Vitry-le-François. 62 Albrecht&rsquos headquarters, which had a telephone link to Luxembourg, immediately passed the document on to Moltke. Sometime around 8 PM, the chief of the General Staff sent it out to the other army commands. He did not counter it with a stirring appeal of his own. He was content simply to hand it over to the press with a quixotic message that the war needed to end with a peace that would &ldquofor all foreseeable future&rdquo see Germany &ldquoundisturbed by any foe.&rdquo 63 There was now no doubt that the Allies&rsquo retreat had ended and that they had gone on the attack. Specifically, Gronau&rsquos battle with vastly superior French forces the day before pointed to an attempt to envelop the German right wing.

    Chief of Operations Tappen, just promoted to the rank of colonel, was delighted. The &ldquoDay of Decision&rdquo was finally at hand. He burst into a meeting of his operations and intelligence officers: &ldquoWell, we finally get hold of them. Now it will be a fierce fight. Our brave troops will know how to do their job.&rdquo No more retreats, no more avoiding battle by the enemy. It was now just a matter of applying &ldquobrute force.&rdquo 64

    Kluck and Kuhl faced another major decision. Should they break off the battle and fall back from their advanced position in the acute angle of the Marne and the Ourcq? Should they, together with Bülow&rsquos Second Army, withdraw to defensive positions between the Marne and the Ourcq and there parry Joffre&rsquos flanking maneuver? Or should they continue the battle and seek a quick, decisive victory over Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army? Yet again, both opted to blunt the French thrust with a counteroffensive. Realizing that First Army&rsquos three (under strength) corps on the Ourcq were too weak to mount a counterattack against 150,000 French soldiers, they turned to Bülow. Shortly after 8 AM on 7 September, they telegraphed Second Army headquarters at Champaubert: &ldquoII, IV and IV Reserve Corps heavily engaged west of the lower Ourcq. Where III and IX Army Corps? What is your situation?&rdquo No reply. They repeated the message, adding &ldquoUrgently request answer.&rdquo It crossed paths with a radiogram from Second Army wishing to know, &ldquoWhat is your situation?&rdquo Finally, a third request from Kuhl, &ldquoEngagement III and IX Corps at the Ourcq urgently required.&rdquo 65 No reply.

    The German army&rsquos prewar neglect of communications and control was glaringly apparent. 66 During the Battle of the Marne, Luxembourg had direct telephone connections via Fourth Army with Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh armies on the relatively stagnant German left and center. But it could communicate with the fluid First and Second &ldquostrike&rdquo armies only by way of a single wireless set, which was prone to interruptions by weather and to jamming by French field stations and the Eiffel Tower. Messages often arrived so mutilated at Bülow&rsquos and Kluck&rsquos headquarters that they had to be re-sent three or four times. Field telegraph stations managed to get only twenty-nine of fifty-nine reports from First Army&rsquos fliers to Kluck and Kuhl between 1 and 5 September. There were no electronic ties between First and Second armies, or between them and their army corps and cavalry corps. A host of intelligence officers languished at the OHL and were not attached to the various corps commands where they might have done some good. No one thought of using airplanes to pass important orders along the line. The distance between Bülow&rsquos headquarters at Montmort and Kluck&rsquos at Vandrest (and later Mareuil), after all, was a mere fifty-five kilometers, or half an hour by air. The two commanders were thus effectively cut off from discussing the rapidly developing situation with each other&mdashand with Moltke, who was 435 kilometers by automobile * away from Second Army headquarters and 445 from First Army headquarters. 67

    Interestingly, Tappen rejected all suggestions that the OHL, or at least a small operations staff, move up to the front behind the German right wing on the grounds of &ldquotechnical difficulties as well as stodginess.&rdquo 68 One can only speculate whether Moltke, for his part, remembered that in 1866 his uncle had supervised the movements of his armies during the Battle of Königgrätz from the Roskosberg, above the Bistritz River, and that he had likewise led from the front in 1870 during the Battle of Sedan from a ridge high above the Meuse River near Frénois.

    ALL THE WHILE, the fighting west of the Ourcq raged on. Blondlat&rsquos Moroccan brigade and the right wing of Louis Leguay&rsquos 55th RID first went into action on the French right flank on 6 September. Linsingen&rsquos II Corps, just arrived, furiously counterattacked with heavy artillery. Soon the entire front from Barny to Trilport erupted with murderous artillery fire and spirited infantry charges. The French initially gained the upper hand, but by nightfall both sides fell exhausted into defensive positions. In the ensuing dark, the Germans could make out the glow of Paris&rsquos massive searchlights.

    Linsingen urged greater speed on Sixt von Arnim&rsquos IV Corps it arrived the next morning, 7 September. As senior corps commander, Linsingen took command and repositioned his forces: From right to left, Sixt von Arnim was to charge the front at Étavigny Gronau was to hold the middle at Trocy-en-Multien Kurt von Trossel with 3d ID and 22d RID was to cover Gronau&rsquos left near Germigny-l&rsquoÉvêque and Linsingen was to secure the left flank at Trilport. Maunoury in the meantime received reinforcements from Paris: Céleste Déprez&rsquos 61st RID, Drude&rsquos 45th ID, and the rest of Vautier&rsquos VII Corps, just up from Alsace. Unbeknown to the French commander, a German reserve infantry brigade under Rudolf von Lepel had been released by the surrender of Brussels and was marching south toward Nanteuil-le-Haudouin&mdashagainst Sixth Army&rsquos left flank. Still, Maunoury enjoyed a numerical advantage of thirty-two infantry battalions and two cavalry divisions.

    Maunoury vigorously resumed the offensive at 7 AM on 7 September. 69 In the middle of the front, Gronau&rsquos fatigued IV Reserve Corps, stiffened by the arrival of Sixt von Arnim&rsquos 15th Brigade, threw Léon Lombard&rsquos 63d RID into panic with a hurricane bombardment followed by massed infantry charges. Only a heroic counterattack by Colonel Robert Nivelle&rsquos 5th Artillery Regiment of 45th ID&mdashfiring shells from its 75s into the massed German infantry at the rate of twenty rounds per minute&mdashprevented a complete collapse. * French Fifth Group of Reserve Divisions likewise was driven back, and its commander, de Lamaze, seriously considered falling back on Paris. On the southern flank, the men of 8th RID were &ldquoin a state of extreme fatigue,&rdquo and Lartigue was forced to have the division stand down around noon. In the north, Sixt von Arnim&rsquos 16th Brigade shattered Déprez&rsquos 61st RID, but a combination of exhaustion after its nightlong forced march and a counterattack by Vautier&rsquos VII Corps prevented it from enveloping the French left flank. Still, 61st RID fell back as far as Nanteuil-le-Haudouin. Maunoury sent Louis de Trentinian&rsquos 7th ID from IV Corps to take its place in the left of his line. Galliéni rushed François Ganeval&rsquos 62d RID out to hold the line at the Ourcq.

    At 10 AM on 7 September, First Army headquarters received word that an aviator had spotted two columns of British soldiers slowly moving north out of the Forest of Crécy toward the joint of German First and Second armies. 70 Kluck and Kuhl could wait no longer. Still without a reply from Bülow to their request for reinforcements, they seized the initiative and ordered Ewald von Lochow&rsquos III Corps and Quast&rsquos IX Corps, both temporarily assigned to Bülow, to leave Second Army&rsquos right wing in broad daylight and quick-march to the Ourcq. 71 For Kuhl had decided to master what now threatened to be assaults on both his wings by way of an all-out offensive on the right, designed to crush Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army before the BEF could engage German First or Second army.

    Incredibly, neither Kluck nor Kuhl was aware that General von Bülow shortly after midnight on 7 September had already pulled back his right wing, fearing that his soldiers were too exhausted to ward off another French frontal attack. Bülow withdrew III and IX corps of First Army as well as his own X Reserve Corps fifteen to twenty kilometers behind the shelter, such as it was, of the Petit Morin River&mdashsome eight hours before First Army&rsquos duumvirate ordered them to march to the Ourcq. Bülow radioed Moltke of his action at 2 AM. He declined to inform Kluck via dispatch rider. By his action, Bülow created a gap of some thirty kilometers between the right wing of Second Army and the left wing of First Army. Kluck and Kuhl, by recalling III and IX corps, widened that gap to about fifty kilometers. Failure to communicate once again bedeviled the German army commanders on the right pivot wing.

    Having pulled back his right wing, Bülow next ordered an attack by his left wing. Realizing that Second Army was down to the strength of only three full corps, he once again enlisted the help of two Saxon infantry divisions from Hausen&rsquos Third Army. 72 General von Einem, commanding VII Corps on Second Army&rsquos right, thought the plan madness: At the very moment that the enemy might discover and then exploit the German gap astride the Petit Morin, &ldquoBülow shifts the center of gravity to his left wing!&rdquo What use would victory there be, he mused, &ldquoif we are enveloped on the right and separated from First Army?&rdquo 73

    In fact, the German position on the Marne and the Ourcq defies rational analysis. Without firm direction from the OHL, both commanders had developed their own operational concepts. Bülow insisted that First Army&rsquos primary function, as laid down in Moltke&rsquos General Directive of 5 September, was to protect his right flank against a possible French sortie out of le camp retranché de Paris. Thus, it was paramount that Kluck break off the battle with Maunoury and shift his army left to join up with Second Army&rsquos right wing. As well, it was critical that Hausen&rsquos Third Army defeat Foch&rsquos Ninth Army on Bülow&rsquos left flank before Fanchet d&rsquoEspèrey&rsquos Fifth Army could exploit Second Army&rsquos exposed right flank. Kluck, on the other hand, insisted that the only way to break the French offensive was to destroy Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army before the British, whose fighting capabilities he by and large denigrated, could take their place on the left flank of French Fifth Army south of the Grand Morin River. Bülow made no effort to coordinate the operations of the two &ldquostrike&rdquo armies or to bring Moltke fully into the calculus. 74 Just after 7 PM on 7 September, Richthofen&rsquos cavalry corps reported that British advance guards had crossed the Grand Morin at La Ferté-Gaucher. They were about to enter the gap in the German line.

    For the Germans, 7 September was the critical day in the Battle of the Marne. Kluck and Kuhl, as noted previously, had hastily taken II and IV corps out of the line on the Marne and rushed them north to aid Gronau&rsquos corps on the Ourcq. Bülow had then withdrawn III and IX corps as well as X Reserve Corps behind the Petit Morin&mdashonly to have had Kluck and Kuhl eight hours later order III and IX corps to leave Bülow&rsquos right wing and to march north in order to help defeat Maunoury&rsquos French Sixth Army. None of these orders was shared, much less discussed beforehand. In the process, as is well known, Bülow, Kluck, and Kuhl had created a fifty-kilometer-wide gap between First and Second armies&mdashone into which the BEF was slowly stumbling as it headed north between Changis, on the Marne, and Rebais, south of the Petit Morin. The eighth of September would thus see two distinct battles: Kluck versus Maunoury on the Ourcq, and Bülow versus Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey on the two Morins.

    Kluck&rsquos bold, aggressive decision remains highly controversial. He had already &ldquodisobeyed&rdquo Moltke&rsquos General Directive to remain &ldquoecheloned&rdquo to the right and behind Second Army. Now he literally snatched two corps from Bülow&rsquos right wing and rushed them to the Ourcq. To Kluck, time was the critical factor. Could he defeat Maunoury before the BEF drove through the gap in the German line and into the back of either First Army or Second Army? How long could Richthofen&rsquos and Marwitz&rsquos cavalry corps hold the line of the Grand Morin against the three advancing British corps? When would Lepel&rsquos brigade finally arrive on the left flank of French Sixth Army? Kluck answered those rhetorical musings by ordering &ldquoevery man and every horse&rdquo west of the Ourcq to deliver the final and fatal blow to Maunoury&rsquos Sixth Army. It was a last-minute, all-out gamble. The campaign in the west hung on it.

    At Luxembourg, General von Moltke yet again was on the verge of panic. &ldquoToday a great decision will come about,&rdquo he wrote his wife, Eliza, on 7 September, &ldquosince yesterday our entire army is fighting from Paris to Upper Alsace. Should I have to give my life today to bring about victory, I would do it gladly a thousand times.&rdquo He lamented the &ldquostreams of blood&rdquo that had already been shed and the &ldquocountless&rdquo homes and lives that had been destroyed. &ldquoI often shudder when I think of this and I feel as though I need to accept responsibility for this dreadfulness. &hellip&rdquo 75 These were not the words of a great captain.

    GERMAN SECOND ARMY on the Marne was a battered force. It had marched 440 kilometers under a broiling sun along dusty roads. Food and fodder had been irregular, and the half-ripe fruit and oats it found along the way only added to the misery of man and beast alike. It had fought most of the major engagements on the right wing&mdashLiège, Namur, Charleroi, and Guise/Saint-Quentin. From around 260,000 soldiers at the start of August, it was down to 154,000 by the end of the month. About 9,000 men had succumbed to heat sores, exhaustion, and hunger 12,151 were listed as wounded and 5,061 had been killed. 76 After three days on the Petit Morin, Bülow informed the OHL, his army had shrunk from its initial seven to less than four corps, many at least 20 percent understrength. 77 In the only change in a major command undertaken by the German army during the &ldquomarch to the Marne,&rdquo Bülow replaced Guenther von Kirchbach with Johannes von Eben as commander of X Reserve Corps.

    On 6 September, Eben&rsquos corps ran hard up against Gilbert Defforges&rsquos X Corps between Montmirail and Le Thoult as it came to the aid of Otto von Emmich&rsquos X Corps on his left. A violent battle ensued. Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey had admonished his troops not to surrender an inch of sacred soil. Fifth Army managed to advance five kilometers along its entire front, but at Le Thoult French X Corps was thrown five kilometers back across the Petit Morin. Both sides were at the limit of their physical capabilities. Richard von Süsskind, commanding 2d Reserve Guard Division with Eben&rsquos X Reserve Corps, reported, &ldquoThe division is very exhausted. Though still able to attack, it is no longer in condition to continue the offense.&rdquo 78 He spoke as well for many other division commanders.

    When Bülow ordered First Army&rsquos III and IX corps as well as his own X Reserve Corps fifteen kilometers behind the Petit Morin early in the morning of 7 September, one of Eben&rsquos battalions of 74th Reserve Infantry Regiment (RIR) did not receive the order to withdraw. Quickly surrounded on all sides and with its back against the Petit Morin, it was mercilessly gunned down in what is called &ldquothe massacre of Guebarré Farm&rdquo: 93 men surrendered and 450 lay dead. The French had ignored the white handkerchiefs that German soldiers had tied to their rifles and raised above the trenches as a sign of surrender. 79

    The situation on Bülow&rsquos left flank became critical. After an intensive night bombardment&mdashunusual at this stage in the war&mdasha brigade of Théophile Jouannic&rsquos 36th ID from Louis de Maud&rsquohuy&rsquos XVIII Corps around noon on 8 September surprised and threw terror into several companies of German VII Corps at Marchais-en-Brie, just northwest of Montmirail. 80 Although minor in itself, the brilliant French tactical action at Marchais-en-Brie constituted what historian Sewell Tyng has labeled one of those &ldquothere the battle was won&rdquo defining moments of the large Battle of the Marne. 81 For the French assault had tremendous operational and even strategic ramifications. With German X Reserve Corps completely flanked from the west, Montmirail was indefensible. Moreover, Eben&rsquos IX Reserve Corps was outflanked on both sides. Of much greater concern to Bülow and his chief of staff, Otto von Lauenstein, was that Second Army&rsquos right wing, recently denuded of two corps bound for the Ourcq, was further jeopardized. They ordered VII Corps and X Reserve Corps to fall back ten kilometers east to the line Margny&ndashLe Thoult. It was a major mistake. The two corps on Second Army&rsquos right flank now stood from north to south, facing west, and were thus utterly unable to shift right and close the gap with Kluck&rsquos First Army. In fact, that gap as a result had widened by fifteen kilometers. 82 Bülow&rsquos right wing &ldquowas no longer threatened, it was turned.&rdquo The &ldquopath to the Marne&rdquo lay open for the left-wing corps of French Fifth Army&mdashand the BEF.

    Ever so slowly, Sir John French&rsquos forces, enhanced by William Pulteney&rsquos III Corps, on the morning of 6 September had begun its march to the front. It was headed for the open spaces of the Brie Plateau, a rich agricultural area best known for its cheeses. The plateau was cut east to west by the ravines of the Grand Morin, Petit Morin, Marne, Upper Ourcq, Vesle, Aisne, and Ailette rivers, passable only on bridges. To the north lay the three great forests of Crécy, d&rsquoArmainvilliers, and Malvoisine. 83 The BEF deployed in an easterly direction from Tournan-en-Brie, Fontenay-Trésigny, and Rozay-en-Brie (which the British called Rozoy), almost twenty kilometers behind the line where Joffre had wanted it to start. &ldquoDesperate Frankie,&rdquo as the British jokingly called Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey, was furious and repeatedly demanded a more rapid advance. But at Rozoy, Sir Douglas Haig, feeling &ldquouneasy about his left,&rdquo where he suspected units of Marwitz&rsquos cavalry corps, halted the advance of I Corps, allowing Sixt von Arnim&rsquos IV Corps to make good its escape to the Ourcq. 84 Six pilots of the Royal Flying Corps found only open roads ahead of Haig. Thus, when Sir John French ordered Haig to resume his advance at 3:30 PM, I Corps unsurprisingly encountered only abandoned positions. This notwithstanding, by nightfall Haig was roughly twelve kilometers behind the day&rsquos objective. He had lost a mere seven men killed and forty-four wounded.

    The next day, 7 September, aerial reconnaissance, in the stilted language of the British official history, again &ldquoconfirmed the general impression that the enemy was withdrawing northward.&rdquo 85 The day brought little action, just a continued hesitant advance by the BEF into the gap between German First and Second armies. Sir John had long ceased to be the dashing cavalry officer who had ridden to glory fourteen years earlier during the relief of Kimberley in the Boer War. &ldquoOld Archie&rdquo Murray, his chief of staff, continued to urge caution. The men tramped happily north singing &ldquoIt&rsquos a Long Way to Tipperary&rdquo and certain of their guardian, the &ldquoAngel of Mons.&rdquo Marwitz&rsquos thin cavalry screen could undertake only brief sorties to block the BEF crossing the Grand Morin.

    Not only the French had become exasperated at the slow pace of the British advance. Lord Ernest Hamilton of Eleventh Hussars noted, &ldquoIn the strict sense there was no battle during the British advance. The fighting &hellip was desultory. &hellip The advance at first was slow and cautious.&rdquo 86 John Charteris, Haig&rsquos chief of intelligence, observed that although &ldquokeen,&rdquo the men &ldquomoved absurdly slowly.&rdquo The cavalry, Haig&rsquos true love, &ldquowere the worst of all, for they were right behind [!] the infantry.&rdquo 87 Exasperated, Galliéni at Paris dispatched Lartigue&rsquos 8th ID south of Meaux to establish contact between the BEF and Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey&rsquos Fifth Army. 88 It was a murderous advance. The Germans held the seventy-to one-hundred-meter-high ridges above Meaux, their machine guns well concealed on the wooded crests of the Marne, and poured lethal fire into the French ranks crossing the valley floor below them.

    On the diplomatic front, Joffre moved quickly to intervene when it seemed to him that Galliéni was driving the British too hard and thereby arousing &ldquothe touchiness of Field Marshal French.&rdquo On 7 September, he cabled Horatio Herbert Lord Kitchener in London to extend his &ldquowarmest thanks&rdquo for Sir John&rsquos &ldquoconstant,&rdquo &ldquoprecious,&rdquo and &ldquoenergetic&rdquo support of the Allied attack. 89 Alliance cohesion was secured.

    At 10:10 AM on 8 September, German Aircraft B75 reported that the BEF was advancing &ldquomore rapidly&rdquo from La Ferté-Gaucher and Rebais in the general direction of Saint-Cyr-sur-Morin. Horace Smith-Dorrien&rsquos II Corps was in the center of the line, flanked by Haig&rsquos I Corps on its right and &ldquoPutty&rdquo Pulteney&rsquos III Corps on its left. 90 It was another sunny day. By noon, the BEF had reached the Petit Morin, a shallow stream barely six meters wide. The Royal Flying Corps reported only small enemy columns ahead. Marwitz&rsquos cavalry corps fought a brief but gallant rear action&mdashand headed north. Then a &ldquoviolent thunderstorm&rdquo with &ldquotorrents of rain&rdquo 91 slowed the BEF&rsquos further advance. An impatient Joffre at 8 PM dashed off a communiqué to Sir John French confirming the gap between the two enemy armies and deeming it &ldquoessential&rdquo that the BEF exploit this by marching northeast before the Germans reinforced their cavalry with infantry and artillery. The BEF, in his opinion, should cross the Marne between Nogent-l&rsquoArtaud and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, where the winding river was roughly sixty meters wide. 92 In three days and while outnumbering the enemy at least ten to one, &ldquoJohnnie&rdquo French&rsquos army had advanced just forty kilometers. The BEF&rsquos importance lay in its role as an &ldquoarmy in being,&rdquo to borrow a naval term.

    Joffre&rsquos problems were not, however, confined to the Germans. On 8 September, the generalissimo discovered to his chagrin that Galliéni, in his capacity as military governor of Paris, the previous day had cabled the government at Bordeaux for instructions on how to &ldquoevacuate the civilian population&rdquo of the capital&rsquos outlying suburbs and instructed prefects and the police to find &ldquoemergency locations&rdquo for the evacuees. 93 The usually aggressive governor, having pulled all units out of Paris to assist Maunoury on the Ourcq, for a brief moment was overcome by pessimism. If Maunoury were defeated, how could he hold the capital against Kluck&rsquos expected assault? Joffre, barely able to control his anger, cabled War Minister Millerand to &ldquorescind&rdquo Galliéni&rsquos &ldquodangerous&rdquo communication. &ldquoI remain the only judge of what is worth saying about the operations. &hellip The Military Governor of Paris is under my orders, and therefore does not have the right to correspond directly with the Government.&rdquo 94 It was vintage Joffre.

    The Allied advance into the fifty-kilometer-wide space between First and Second armies drove Moltke ever deeper into despair. He issued no orders to either Bülow or Kluck on 6 or 7 September. Instead, he withdrew into a world of self-pity and grief. The &ldquoburden of responsibility of the last several days,&rdquo he wrote his wife, was impossible even to name. &ldquoFor the great battle of our army along its entire front has not yet been decided.&rdquo The &ldquohorrible tension&rdquo of the last few days, the &ldquoabsence of news from the far distant armies,&rdquo and &ldquoknowing all that was at stake&rdquo was &ldquoalmost beyond human power&rdquo to comprehend. &ldquoThe terrible difficulty of our situation stands like an almost impenetrable black wall in front of me.&rdquo 95 The only bright spot on the horizon was that on 6 September Hans von Zwehl had forced Fortress Maubeuge to surrender: 412 officers and 32,280 ranks were taken prisoner and 450 guns added to the German arsenal. 96 Zwehl&rsquos three brigades of VII Corps were now freed up, perhaps to plug the gap between the Marne and the Ourcq. Wilhelm II, returning from a tour of the front near Châlons-sur-Marne, was delighted by the news but alarmed by Moltke&rsquos pessimism. &ldquoAttack, as long as we can&mdashnot a single step backwards under any circumstances. &hellip We will defend ourselves to the last breath of man and horse.&rdquo 97

    THROUGHOUT HIS STAND AT the Petit Morin, Bülow had urged Hausen&rsquos Third Army to advance against Foch&rsquos Ninth Army around the Marais de Saint-Gond, the pivot of Joffre&rsquos line. Sixteen kilometers long and on average three kilometers wide, the marshes were an east-west barrier that was practically impassable. Only four narrow and low causeways running north to south traversed the marshes. Their broad expanse of reeds and grass was crisscrossed by drainage dikes cut into the clay basin. To the east was the dry, chalky plain of Champagne, broken only by scattered stands of pine. 98 Since the eighteenth century, it had been commonly called la Champagne pouilleuse, literally, the &ldquolouse-ridden and flea-bitten region of Champagne.&rdquo Somewhere in the vicinity of the marshes, Salian Franks and Visigoths under the Roman general Flavius Aëtius and King Theodoric I had halted the advance of the Hunnic king Attila in ad 451.

    Joffre ordered Foch to defend the Saint-Gond Marshes and thereby cover Fifth Army&rsquos right flank at all cost with Pierre Dubois&rsquos IX Corps (three divisions) and Joseph Eydoux&rsquos XI Corps (four divisions). Joffre&rsquos major concern was the gap between Foch&rsquos Ninth Army and Langle de Cary&rsquos Fourth Army. It was held only by Jean-François de L&rsquoEspée&rsquos 9th Cavalry Division, pending the arrival of Émile-Edmond Legrand-Girarde&rsquos XXI Corps, which on 2 September had embarked at Épinal in seventy-four trains. 99 Bülow&rsquos X Corps had pounded Dubois&rsquos IX Corps at Saint-Prix and his Guard Corps had violently assaulted IX Corps at Bannes on 6 and 7 September he now urged Third Army to exploit the gap. It would require a major effort by an army down to 2,105 officers and 81,199 ranks. 100

    Yet again, Hausen prevaricated. It was the dilemma of Dinant all over again. On his right, Plettenberg&rsquos 2d Guard Division had stalled at Normée. Bülow again called for relief. &ldquoStrongest possible support 3 Army urgently desired. The day&rsquos decision depends [on this].&rdquo 101 On Hausen&rsquos left, Heinrich von Schenck&rsquos XVIII Corps of Fourth Army likewise had been stopped in its tracks around Vitry-le-François, and Duke Albrecht called for assistance. 102 Whom to obey? A royal prince? Prussia&rsquos senior army commander? Or Moltke, who had ordered Third Army to march on Troyes-Vendeuvre? As at Dinant, Hausen decided to please all suitors: He divided his army. He ordered Maximilian von Laffert&rsquos XIX Corps to support Schenck&rsquos VIII Corps at Glannes he approved Karl d&rsquoElsa&rsquos prior decision to rush 32d ID as well as the artillery of 23d ID to aid the Guard Corps at Clamanges-Lenharré and he instructed his remaining forces (mainly 23d ID and 24th RID released by the fall of Fortress Givet) to continue on to Troyes-Vendeuvre. He declined to use Fourth Army&rsquos direct telephone to Luxembourg to seek Moltke&rsquos input.

    Hausen justified his actions in his unpublished memoirs. Orders were orders. He could not disobey a direct command from Bülow, or from Duke Albrecht, or from Moltke, even if it meant splitting his army into three separate entities. 103 For a third time since Fumay and Sommesous&ndashSompuis&ndashVitry-le-François, Hausen lost a splendid opportunity to drive an attack through the French line. The day of rest he had generously given his troops on 5 September now came home to roost: He was too far behind Second and Fourth armies on his flanks to rush to the immediate aid of either, and he was too far from the fighting front to penetrate Foch&rsquos weak spot. By dividing his forces, he forwent any attempt to envelop French Ninth Army. By having halted on 5 September, he had given away the chance to break through the fifteen-kilometer-wide gap between Foch&rsquos Ninth Army and Langle de Cary&rsquos Fourth Army. 104 One can only imagine what Hans von Gronau would have done under the circumstances.

    None of Third Army&rsquos three groups made progress on 7 September, violently battered by Foch&rsquos 75s, the &ldquoblack butchers&rdquo that often fired a thousand rounds each per day. In many places, officers had to rush to the front to get the men moving again. 105 Bülow announced that Second Army was pulling III and IX corps as well as X Reserve Corps behind the Petit Morin. At five o&rsquoclock that night Hausen, out of character and perhaps recognizing the lost opportunity of the previous day, reached a bold decision: He would assume the role of army-group commander. Until now, he confessed, Third Army had been little more than a &ldquoquarry of reserves&rdquo for Second and Fourth armies. 106 He determined to correct that situation. *

    Knowing that the French had launched a major offensive between Verdun and Paris, Hausen reasoned that &ldquothe enemy cannot be strong and superior everywhere.&rdquo Hence, the trick was to find the place where it was weakest. With Bülow being driven behind the Petit Morin by French Fifth Army and with Kluck fully engaged along the Ourcq by French Sixth Army, Hausen deduced that the weak spot had to be along the front of his army. And since his troops were being hammered by the French les 75s, he decided to &ldquostorm the enemy&rsquos artillery positions at dawn with the bayonet.&rdquo 107 Such a ferocious charge would fortify the resolve of his Saxons for hand-to-hand combat. As well, he was concerned that inadvertent gunfire might alert the sleeping French soldiers. General d&rsquoElsa was given overall command with his own XII Corps, Laffert&rsquos XIX Corps, and 23d ID. Kirchbach&rsquos XII Reserve Corps was to advance with 32d ID and 23d RID. Duke Albrecht agreed to attach Schenk&rsquos VIII Corps to d&rsquoElsa&rsquos left wing Bülow promised 2d GD (later also 1st GD) for Kirchbach&rsquos right wing. Hausen now commanded six and one-half army corps. He enjoyed a one-third numerical superiority over Langle de Cary&rsquos Fourth Army. At 9:15 PM, he informed the OHL of his plans Moltke and Tappen radioed their approval shortly before midnight. 108

    At 2:45 AM on 8 September, Horst von der Planitz&rsquos 32d ID was ready. It was clear and dry. &ldquoSeitengewehr aufgepflanzt! Sprung auf, marsch, marsch!&rdquo &dagger Orders had arrived at unit levels only thirty minutes before jump-off. The men advanced against Joseph Pambet&rsquos 22d ID and parts of Maurice Joppé&rsquos 60th RID between Sompuis and Vitryle-François with bayonets fixed, rifles unloaded, and breechblocks secured in their bread pouches. At 3 AM Arnold von Winckler&rsquos 2d GD followed against René Radiguet&rsquos 21st ID, despite Winckler&rsquos initial grave concern that Hausen&rsquos gamble could cost him his division. Larisch&rsquos 23d RID followed at 3:30 AM. A pale moon shone as the men silently moved through &ldquoglorious vineyards&rdquo and marshes and over chalky plains. As soon as they collided with the enemy, bugles and drums called out the attaque brutale.

    The 2d Guard waded across the Somme at Normée, and then charged the French lines with &ldquoshouts of Hurrah, bugles blaring and drums beating.&rdquo 109 Concurrently, Planitz&rsquos Saxon 32d ID crossed the Somme at Lenharrée. Despite the staggered starts, surprise was with the Germans. Lenharrée fell by 4:45 AM, its defenders &ldquoexhausted, wounded, taken prisoner, or fleeing.&rdquo 110 The first light of dawn revealed the grisly sight of &ldquogreen hillsides dotted as if with red and blue flowers&rdquo&mdashthe tunics of dead French infantrymen. 111

    It was a &ldquodisastrous day&rdquo for Foch. 112 One French artillery battery after another fled the German cold steel. Radiguet&rsquos 21st ID and Pambet&rsquos 22d ID were driven back by the furious assault, crashing into Justinien Lefèvre&rsquos recently arrived 18th ID. Next, Jules Battesti&rsquos 52d RID had to fall back and d&rsquoEspée&rsquos 9th CD was forced to abandon Sommesous. The marshes were effectively outflanked, their southern exists uncovered. In short order, Mont Août, guarding the southern Saint-Gond Marshes, fell. Foch rushed Paul Grossetti&rsquos 42d ID from the left to the right flank to stanch the German advance. His entire right wing seemed to have collapsed, Eydoux&rsquos XI Corps routed. Already at 6:15 AM, Eydoux ordered the four divisions of XI Corps to fall back ten kilometers. Foch deemed its situation &ldquocritical.&rdquo But, as historian Hew Strachan has put it, he &ldquodoggedly refused to admit it.&rdquo 113 The front held, battered but unbroken as it withdrew.

    Around 9 PM, Foch and his chief of staff, Colonel Maxime Wey-gand, appealed to Fifth Army to send a division to replace Grossetti&rsquos shattered 42d ID on the right flank. Franchet d&rsquoEspèrey did better: He sent Foch two infantry divisions and the artillery of Defforges&rsquos X Corps. 114 As well, Joffre dispatched Antoine de Mitry&rsquos 6th CD to Ninth Army Legrand-Girarde&rsquos XXI Corps was expected any hour up from Épinal. Therewith, Ninth Army&rsquos &ldquobroken&rdquo right wing could be repaired and the gap between it and Fourth Army reduced to ten kilometers. 115 Interestingly, Foch&rsquos putative comment, &ldquoHard pressed on my right, my center is falling back, impossible to move, situation excellent. I attack,&rdquo is yet another legend of the Battle of the Marne. But as President Poincaré noted in a reply to Foch&rsquos address to the French Academy in February 1920, while some authorities treated the text as &ldquoauthentic, I have not the courage to disillusion them.&rdquo After all, &ldquoif you never actually wrote this optimistic message it was anyhow in your thoughts.&rdquo 116

    As dawn broke, Saxon 103d RIR entered Sommesous &ldquoat a magnificent run and with shouts of Hurrah.&rdquo 117 Then reality hit. The men were hungry, as they had left their knapsacks behind to lighten the load. A hot sun began to beat down on them, and there was little water on the chalky Catalaunic plain to sustain an army. Foch ordered Dubois&rsquos IX Corps and Eydoux&rsquos XI Corps furiously to counterattack, even as they retreated. 118 The Germans had no artillery with which to subdue the flanking fire. During the nighttime crossing of the Somme, units had lost their way and tumbled chaotically together. The regiment lost 104 dead or missing and 224 wounded at Sommesous. By nightfall, it had not reached any of its goals for the day.

    Hausen that night judged the attack to have gone &ldquogenerally satisfactorily.&rdquo Indeed, he had scored what seemed a stunning victory in one of the classic bayonet charges of the entire war. 119 Group Kirchbach&rsquos three divisions had pushed Foch&rsquos right wing back ten to thirteen kilometers along a twenty-kilometer front, and his center away from the southern exits of the Marais de Saint-Gond. Such a feat would not be repeated until the great German spring offensives of 1918. But privately, Hausen noted that the advance had been &ldquoa difficult and slow forward movement from one stand of woods to another, from farm to farm, from one hillock to another.&rdquo 120 It was the sort of &ldquosiege-style&rdquo warfare that Deputy Chief of Staff Martin Köpke had warned Alfred von Schlieffen about in 1895.

    Group d&rsquoElsa&rsquos left wing also had made little progress. Winckler reported his 2d GD utterly &ldquoexhausted&rdquo after the &ldquoenormous tension&rdquo of the bayonet attack. &ldquoOfficers and men fell asleep wherever they had stopped marching.&rdquo The terrain had been too rugged for a coordinated assault infantry units had lost their way in the dark and stumbled into other, unfamiliar units. The loss of officers had been &ldquoexceptionally high.&rdquo 121 Hausen&rsquos spirited attack ground to a halt on the outskirts of Montépreux. The men were physically drained. There were no reinforcements to exploit the initial advance. An evening rain turned the fields into gray ooze and flooded the marshes. By next morning, Hausen&rsquos forces had lost contact with the French.

    Traugott Leuckart von Weißdort, the Saxon military plenipotentiary to the OHL, just happened to be with Third Army at Châlonssur-Marne during the bayonet attack. He reported to War Minister Adolph von Carlowitz at Dresden that Hausen &ldquoconsidered his situation to be very serious, since [Third] Army had been pulled apart by having to rush to the aid of both 2. and 4. Army.&rdquo The danger of French forces breaking through Third Army&rsquos thinly manned front was &ldquoserious.&rdquo Specifically, well-emplaced French artillery had mauled Planitz&rsquos 32d ID. Shaken by what he had witnessed, Leuckart von Weißdort conferred with Chief of Staff von Hoeppner and General von Kirchbach, commanding XII Reserve Corps. Both agreed with the Saxon military envoy. &ldquo[They] complain bitterly about heavy losses, exhaustion of the troops due to daily battles and long marches, and the fear that not enough artillery shells can be brought up to the front.&rdquo 122 It was a sobering document.

    While Third Army released no casualty figures for that night&rsquos assault, overall losses were roughly 20 percent. The 2d GD recorded 179 officers and 5,748 men killed or wounded. Each regiment of 1st GD lost about a thousand many companies were down to just fifty men. 123 For the period from 1 to 10 September, d&rsquoElsa&rsquos XII Corps reported 3,621 killed and 3,950 wounded Laffert&rsquos XIX Corps, 2,197 killed and 2,982 wounded and Kirchbach&rsquos XII Reserve Corps, 766 killed and 1,502 wounded. 124 The most recent research gives only broad figures: 4,500 casualties for Group Kirchbach and 6,500 for Group d&rsquoElsa. 125

    General von Hausen&rsquos supporters have depicted him as a &ldquogifted army commander&rdquo who sought to bring about a small Cannae at the eleventh hour, and they have seen in his night attack an example of operational art to be emulated by the rest of the German army. 126 Yet even at the tactical level, its wisdom remains questionable in light of the fact that it was carried out across a river at night, without reconnaissance of enemy positions, without prior shelling, without artillery support during the advance, and with unloaded rifles. At the operational level, it was even less spectacular. The staggered start had resulted in an uneven advance. By 10 AM, Planitz&rsquos 32d ID lagged four kilometers behind Plettenberg&rsquos Guard Corps, marching on Connantray-Vaurefroy. Hour after hour, Plettenberg waited for Planitz to close ranks&mdashin vain. When 2d GD took Fère-Champenoise at 4:30 PM, Saxon 32d ID was nowhere to be seen. Plettenberg was forced to halt his advance at Corroy for fear of exposing his left flank. 127 In fact, for reasons that neither Planitz, nor Kirchbach, nor Hausen explained after the war, * for eight hours Planitz had &ldquoregrouped&rdquo 32d Division, echeloned in depth! It was the second major mistake in two days, following closely on the heels of Hausen&rsquos earlier splitting of his army. And like that earlier decision, it denied the Saxons the chance to exploit the gap between French Third and Fourth armies still guarded by only d&rsquoEspée&rsquos 9th Cavalry Division. 128

    Nor had the advance of Larisch&rsquos 23d ID been a model of operational effectiveness. 129 After jumping off late at 6 AM, it had advanced on Sommesous. At 1:30 PM, Kirchbach ordered it to point southeastward toward Montépreux. Larisch did not execute this order until 2:45 PM, and then marched through woods northeast of Montépreux. Kirchbach re-sent his order. Larisch advanced at 4:45 PM, but again toward the northeast. When he finally arrived at his designated rendezvous with Planitz, 32d ID was nowhere in sight. As a result, the Saxons missed an opportunity to break through the gap between Pambet&rsquos 22d ID and 23d RID and turn Foch&rsquos right flank. Hausen and Third Army, to stay with Winston Churchill&rsquos term, thus missed their third &ldquoclimacteric.&rdquo

    ON THE OURCQ, two events straight from the pages of a Hollywood movie script took place during the night of 7&ndash8 September. First, the French retreat to Nanteuil-le-Haudouin created a fascinating &ldquowhat if?&rdquo scenario. Sordet&rsquos cavalry corps, battered and beaten, had joined Déprez&rsquos 61st RID in abandoning Sixth Army&rsquos left wing. Maunoury was furious. He ordered the cavalry corps back into line by way of a forced night march&mdashand then relieved Sordet of command. The latter had failed to carry out Maunoury&rsquos explicit order to mount a raid into Kluck&rsquos rear around La Ferté-Milon. Gustave de Cornulier-Lucinière&rsquos 5th CD, with sixteen hundred sabers, ten guns, and 357 troops riding bicycles, was then sent on that mission, the only one of its kind in the war. For two daring days, 5th Cavalry rode around the Forest of Viller-Cotterêts behind German lines. At 6 PMon 8 September, under &ldquoa dark red, cloudy sky,&rdquo it attacked a German airfield near Troësnes. At that very moment, a cavalcade of cars arrived with First Army&rsquos staff. Kluck, Kuhl, and their aides &ldquoseized rifles, carbines and revolvers,&rdquo flung themselves on the ground, and formed a broad firing line. The situation was cleared by the arrival of Arnold von Bauer&rsquos 17th ID, which &ldquoviolently&rdquo dispatched the French riders, reducing 5th CD to half its original strength. General de Cornulier-Lucinière&rsquos &ldquobrave riders,&rdquo in Kluck&rsquos words, had &ldquomissed a good prize!&rdquo 130

    Second, there took place that night what became the legend of the famous &ldquotaxis of the Marne,&rdquo which &ldquosaved&rdquo Paris from the Germans. In truth, much of the artillery, the infantry, and the staff of Trentinian&rsquos 7th ID departed Paris for the Ourcq front by train and truck during the night of 7&ndash8 September. But Governor Galliéni wanted to make sure that in case of a rail breakdown, not all reinforcements would be denied Maunoury hence, he decided to dispatch 103d IR and 104th IR by automobile. 131 Police confiscated twelve hundred of the capital&rsquos black Renault taxicabs and eventually shuttled five hundred from the Invalides across Paris and west to Gagny. There, each picked up four or five poilus and made the fifty-kilometer trip to Nanteuil-lès-Meaux overnight. Galliéni&rsquos &ldquoidée de civil&rdquo was brilliant its execution, dismal. Proceeding with dimmed lights and few maps, the taxis veered off the dark roads, ran into one another, missed road signs, and endured countless flat tires. After the lead cabs of the motorized exodus had unloaded their &ldquopassengers&rdquo at the front, they immediately turned back to Paris on the same roads to pick up more soldiers&mdashonly to run head-on into the slower taxi columns approaching Nanteuil. Roads became clogged, tempers flared, and many of the soldiers had to be discharged as far as two kilometers from their destination. It was great publicity for Galliéni militarily it was insignificant. To this day, it remains a central part of the public&rsquos remembrance of the Great War.

    For 8 September, Joffre ordered Sixth Army to &ldquogain ground towards the north on the right bank of the Ourcq.&rdquo 132 Instead, Maunoury decided to regain the terrain lost the previous night and to outflank German First Army from the north. It was a poor decision. After initially capturing some ground northeast of Nanteuil-le-Haudouin, the French advance was repulsed by Sixt von Arnim&rsquos IV Corps, reinforced by 6th ID from Lochow&rsquos III Corps. A second assault into the center of the enemy line at Trocy-en-Multien was shattered by German artillery. Gronau held the heights east of Étrépilly, but at great cost. &ldquoNearly everything in the front lines became unraveled,&rdquo he noted in the corps&rsquo war diary, &ldquowithout Reserves [and] waiting in vain for relief and reinforcement in searing heat and without water or food.&rdquo 133 And on the south of the line, Trossel&rsquos 3d ID, pressured both by Blondlat&rsquos Moroccan brigade and by other French forces moving up from the Marne, smartly withdrew to the heights of Congis above the Thérouanne, destroying the Marne bridges on its left. Another day ended in deadlock and extreme exhaustion for both sides.

    Kluck remained downright dogged. His favorite maxim came from Julius Caesar: &ldquoIn great and dangerous operations one must not think but rather act.&rdquo 134 He decided that 9 September would be his supreme act. &ldquoThe decision will be obtained tomorrow,&rdquo he informed Moltke on the night of 8 September, &ldquoby an enveloping attack on the north under the command of General von Quast starting from the region of Cuvergnon.&rdquo Lochow&rsquos III Corps and Quast&rsquos IX Corps had at last arrived on the Ourcq. To the north, Lepel&rsquos 43d Reserve Infantry Brigade had come down from Brussels. 135 At the eleventh hour, First Army would snatch victory from the jaws of stalemate.

    Galliéni sensed as much. Perhaps still remembering the brief bout of pessimism that he had experienced the day before, Galliéni admonished Maunoury late on 8 September that it was &ldquoessential&rdquo to maintain his position and hold ground &ldquowith all your energy.&rdquo 136 The commander of Sixth Army hardly needed the reminder. While conceding that his &ldquodecimated and exhausted&rdquo troops were no longer able to mount an offensive, he nevertheless assured Joffre, &ldquoI AM resisting in all my positions.&rdquo If the German pressure became too brutal, he would &ldquorefuse&rdquo his left flank &ldquolittle by little,&rdquo concentrate his force toward the north, and await &ldquothe offensive of the British and the Fifth Army&rdquo on Kluck&rsquos southern flank. 137 Joffre, fully appreciating Kluck&rsquos &ldquovery violent attacks,&rdquo concurred. &ldquoAvoid any decisive action by withdrawing your left, if necessary, in the general direction of the Entrenched Camp of Paris.&rdquo 138 More concretely, he dispatched Louis Comby&rsquos 37th ID from Fifth Army to buttress the Ourcq front, and he urged Albert d&rsquoAmade&rsquos group of territorial divisions standing east of Rouen to advance at great speed toward Beauvais and interdict Lepel&rsquos brigade.

    Quast&rsquos IX Corps spent much of the morning of 9 September undertaking a leisurely attack on Clément Buisson&rsquos 1st CD and Aymard Dor de Lastours&rsquos 3d CD, then shifted to a bombardment of Boëlle&rsquos IV Corps while the infantry prepared for the decisive assault. Kluck grew impatient. Time was running out. Near daybreak, he had finally received word that Bülow had withdrawn his right wing north of the Petit Morin, from Montmirail to Margny to Le Thoult&ndashTrosnay. 139 This further widened the gap between First and Second armies, guarded now as before only by 2d CD and 9th CD as well as by Richard von Kraewel&rsquos mixed brigade (units from Quast&rsquos IX Corps). Between 8:28 and 9:11 AM, Kluck and Kuhl had received several dire messages from Marwitz and Richthofen. &ldquoStrong infantry and artillery across the Marne bridge at Charly.&rdquo The second was equally distressing, &ldquoStrong enemy infantry advancing via Charly and Nanteuil 5th Cavalry Division and [2d Cavalry Division] have orders to attack.&rdquo A third message, repeating the second, broke off with an ominous, &ldquoI must leave immediately.&rdquo 140

    Kuhl called a staff meeting. It was agreed to press the attack on French Sixth Army. Kluck waited impatiently for Quast (and Sixt von Arnim) to mount the infantry assault that would decide the Battle of the Ourcq. To avoid immediate exploitation of his left flank by the BEF, the French cavalry corps, and de Maud&rsquohuy&rsquos XVIII Corps, now heading into the corridor between German First and Second armies, Kluck at 9:30 AM withdrew Linsingen&rsquos II Corps to the line May-en-Multien&ndashCoulombs-en-Valois and ordered it to front the danger emanating from the Marne. 141 Just in time. Around noon, Bülow sent Kluck a dire message: &ldquoAirmen report advance of four long enemy columns toward the Marne. &hellip Second Army initiates retreat, right flank on Damery [in fact, Dormans].&rdquo 142

    Still, Kluck, furor Teutonicus personified, pressed on with the attack. &ldquoEvery man,&rdquo he admonished one of Quast&rsquos staff officers, &ldquomust be convinced that the enveloping attack&rdquo on French Sixth Army &ldquomust bring the decision.&rdquo He urged Quast to drive for the line Lévignen-Betz without delay. If the right wing reached Dammartin-sur-Tigeaux by nightfall, &ldquoall will have been won.&rdquo 143 Once again, Quast ran up against Déprez&rsquos 61st RID, and once again he put it to flight. An aviator reported that Lepel&rsquos brigade had engaged Maunoury&rsquos left flank at Baron, northwest of Nanteuil-le-Haudouin. At that very moment, a visitor from the OHL arrived at First Army headquarters: Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, on what undoubtedly is the most famous staff tour in military history.

    * Greenwich Mean Time. German accounts give German General Time (one hour later).

    * In December 1916, Nivelle replaced Joffre as commander in chief of the French army.

    * Given the destruction by Allied air raids in 1945 of the records of Third Army&rsquos Strategic (Ia) and Tactical (Ib) sections, Hausen&rsquos unpublished memoirs are critical.

    * Unfortunately, the loss of the war diary of 32d ID during the Allied bombing of Potsdam in 1945 denies clarity as to the motive for the halt.


    Battle of the Ourcq

    The Battle of the Ourcq, which inaugurated and so largely determined the issue of the First Battle of the Marne, is properly viewed, not as a single isolated action, spending itself wholly) on the banks of a remote little stream, but rather as a sequence of widely separated battles, requiring for their vast theater the entire region lying between the Aisne and Aubertin Rivers, and involving four gigantic armies — a third of the whole embattled host of the Marne — throughout the period of the German repulse and retreat.

    Timed for the strategic moment of the Allied offensive, when General Joffre was preparing to launch his surprise attack on the German right flank, the Battle of the Ourcq River began just at dawn on September 5th with the movement Eastward from Dam- martin of four divisions of General Maunoury's Sixth French Army, then secretly concentrating in the fortified area north of Paris, to give battle to General Gronau's Fourth Reserve Corps and General von Marwitz's cavalry brigade, which were posted on the west bank of the Ourcq as the flank guard of General von Kluck's First German Army. It was the French intention, after disposing of this German rearguard, to cross the Ourcq above Lizy and then advance eastward in the general direction of Chateau Thierry, thus getting in rear of von Kluck's main army, which was then massed below the Marne. Neither von Kluck nor the German high command as yet suspected the existence of a new French Army north of Paris.

    The chosen battlefield west of the Ourcq presented the aspect of a broad level plateau, traversed by numerous small streams and dotted over with small villages, ending in an abrupt descent as it approached the river. The level monotony of the whole region is relieved by two forested heights, the Monthyon and Penchard hills, a mile or more in length, which rise near the confluence of the Ourcq and Marne Rivers, just north of Meaux. These heights, trenched throughout their length, and fairly bristling with machine guns, had been occupied in force by the German Reserve Corps. Von Marwitz's cavalry brigade was positioned further north. Strong German outposts held all the villages west of the Ourcq. The high east bank of the river, from Lizy to La Ferte Milon, was lined with German howitzers and fields guns of large caliber.

    Though much exhausted, after their forced march from the eastern frontier, and lacking in artillery support, the French troops advanced confidently against the German foe, liberating scores of villages before noon. Barcy and Etripilly were carried at the point of the bayonet by the French Reserves. Before evacuating, the Germans had deliberately set fire to all the villages and a heavy pall of smoke settled over the whole extent of the battlefield.

    Advancing toward the Monthyon and Penchard hills, the French Zouaves encountered a hail of machine gun bullets, which took a heavy toll. Nevertheless, before night set in, the Germans had been driven from those fortified hills, recoiling towards the Ourcq valley. Meantime, further north, General Sordet's French Cavalry brigade had begun a flanking movement around the German right wing, compelling the German Uhlans to retire northward across the little Thourianne River in the direction of Antilly. Though the west bank of the Ourcq, between Meaux and Crouoy, was now practically cleared of Germans, the French divisions could not yet cross the stream, since all the crossings were commanded by those ominous German howitzers emplaced on the Eastern bank.

    Dismayed by the danger which threatened his flank, but which he still wrongly attributed to a sortie out of Paris, General von Kluck on the 6th detached two full corps from his line below the Marne and sent them north to the relief of General Gronau. The Second German Corps, commanded by General von Linsingen, moved in two columns, one northwards across the Marne in the direction of Vareddes, the other eastwards across the Ourcq at Lizy in the direction of Trocy. These columns quickly established a liaison with Gronau's Reserve Corps holding the line from Vincy south to Vareddes. The Fourth Regular German Corps, commanded by General Sixt von Armin, went further north, crossing the Ourcq at Crouoy and establishing a line from Antilly south to May-en-Multien, which placed them in a position to counter-flank the French.

    General Maunoury's new army, meanwhile, had been gradually taking shape north of Paris. Two reserve divisions from the East, under General Ebner, which had arrived at Pontoise on September 4th after an exhausting march, were ready to advance to Abblainville on the 6th. The 45th Algerian Division under General Drude, although reporting at Dammartin on the 5th, did not enter the battle till the next day. General Boelle's Fourth Corps was not fully detrained at Gagny until the 7th. Some eight or nine other battalions, chiefly Zouaves and Spahis, were expected at Paris on the 9th. So, as yet, Maunoury's available forces were outnumbered by the Germans.

    The battle of the Ourcq widened on the second day, but in despite of their superiority in numbers, the Germans were compelled to give ground everywhere. The French infantry fearlessly faced the terrific German artillery fire, winning village after village at the point of the bayonet. The slaughter on both sides was terrible. When night closed in on the scene, the whole landscape was lit with burning villages, farms and haystacks. By the light of these burning structures, the Germans built enormous pyres of wood and straw, saturated them with paraffin and cremated their dead on the battlefield. One of the special horrors of the battle was the burning alive of 1500 Germans who had been trapped in a sugar refinery which afterwards caught fire. Of the 1800 occupants, only 300 won their way to safety.

    General von Kluck, sensing his plight at last, tardily decided to carry out his orders from headquarters to protect the flank of the German line. On the evening of September 6th, he recalled from the Marne front the Third and Ninth Corps, which he had obligingly lent that very day to General von Buelow's hard-pressed Second German Army on his left, ordering them to wheel about and proceed northward on the morrow as far as Mareine and Crouoy, cross the Ourcq River at those points and come into action on the right flank of the German army group commanded by General von Armin north of Antilly. With these additions to his forces in the Ourcq area General von Kluck would have 250,000 German infantry and 10,000 German cavalry, together with a tremendous assemblage of artillery to oppose Maunoury's army of 175,000 men.

    The tide of battle turned with the arrival of the Third and Ninth German Corps in the Ourcq area. Maunoury's fatigued army, now hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, had lost its chance of outflanking von Kluck. Instead of turning the German west flank, Maunoury's own west wing was now being pressed back and in danger of envelopment. To avert this fate, Maunoury ordered all the troops of the French Fourth Corps still available to hasten to the support of his left flank at Nanteuil-le-Haudoin. Obedient to his wishes, the entire Paris garrison force, 50,000 men, was packed into 10,000 motorcars and dispatched to him post haste. But before the arrival of this "Taxicab Army," at its destination, the situation had changed for the worse. General von Quast, with two German infantry corps and a division of cavalry, already had bent back Maunoury's flank north of Antilly. An added misfortune was the arrival at Verberie that day of two fresh German divisions, one from Brussels, the other from the Maubeuge fortress which had just fallen. These new divisions cooperated with von Quast in a wide encircling movement against Maunoury's northern wing. Proceeding down the Nanteuil-Senlis road as far as Baron, it was their purpose to cut Maunoury's path of retreat towards Paris. With his flank thus threatened, Maunoury on the 8th began his retirement from Nanteuil to a line based on La Plessis- St. Soupplets-Monthyon, only a few miles above Paris. Nevertheless, on the same day, Maunoury's "Taxicab Army" made a desperate attempt to break through the German front at Trocy, but the attack was repulsed.

    On September 9, 1914 when Maunoury had all but lost hope and when the Paris garrison stood to arms expecting any moment to see the German foe, the situation underwent a sudden and startling change. General von Kluck had received peremptory orders from the Supreme Command to break off the battle at once and retire northward as far as Soissons, in conformity with the retreat of von Buelow's army on his left which had already begun. Before daybreak of the 10th von Kluck's forces had departed. Let us now review the events which were taking place below the Marne during the battle on the Ourcq and which brought about this sudden retreat of the entire German right wing.

    Von Kluck's plunge across the Marne in pursuit of D'Esperey's Fifth French army had carried five corps of his army as far south as the Grand Morin River. Below that stream, and concealed behind the Forest of Crecy on a line extending from Rozoy to Beton-Bazoches, lay the British Expeditionary Force, now increased to three full corps and well supported with cavalry and heavy artillery. Von Kluck seems to have been unaware of the close proximity of a reinforced British Army to his southern flank, but he was very soon to be enlightened. On the morning of the 6th, as already shown, von Kluck had withdrawn the Second and Fourth German Corps from the right of his line on the Grand Morin, sending them north to the relief of General Gronau on the Ourcq and filling the gap so created with General von Marwitz's Second Cavalry Corps. Apart from his cavalry, he now had but three corps at his disposal below the Marne. These troops were vainly endeavoring to turn the left flank of D'Esperey's line which extended from Courtacon east to Esternay.

    The long awaited moment had arrived when the British forces, hidden in the woods to the west, could retaliate upon the foe! Emerging suddenly from the Forest of Crecy, General Haig*s First British Corps surprised and annihilated several squadrons of von Marwitz's cavalry, driving back the rest of the Huns towards Coulommiers, where von Kluck had established his headquarters. Advancing on Coulommiers before dawn on the next day, the British brought their heavy guns into play, shelling the Huns out of their headquarters. So sudden and furious was the British assault, that von Kluck himself and Prince Eitel, second son of the Kaiser, were interrupted in the midst of their morning repast, barely escaping in their pajamas to their motor cars. An intense artillery duel ensued throughout that day. Whole batteries of German cannon were smashed to pieces and the path of retreat was littered with broken gun carriages. Ten thousand casualties, mostly German, resulted from this brief and bloody engagement.

    Continuing their pursuit of the Germans, the British on the 8th engaged the enemy at La Tretoire. The Germans struck back savagely at the British, but were swept by a hail of machine-gun bullets and forced to retreat across the Petit Morin, leaving behind them many dead and wounded, besides great stores of guns and ammunition.

    Meantime, the German line to the East of von Kluck had fallen into confusion for a variety of reasons. In their blind plunge across the Marne the Germans had failed to detect either the hidden British Army on the left of D'Esperey's line or General Foch's hidden French army on his right. Supposing D'Esperey's battered army to be wholly isolated, neither von Kluck nor von Buelow anticipated much difficulty in enveloping his flanks. Von Buelow experienced his first rude awakening when General Foch, bringing his army into action on the 5th, had struck hard at the left of his line. Though von Buelow had the assistance of von Hausen's Army further East, the two together were still unequal to the task of overcoming Foch. Moreover, a part of von Buelow's Army was yet engaged with D'Esperey. Von Buelow was in fact so hard pressed on the 6th that he induced von Kluck to lend him two of his three remaining infantry corps, the Third and the Ninth. This left von Kluck with only one infantry corps and one cavalry corps at his disposal, since his second and Fourth Corps had gone north to the Ourcq that morning. He was soon to repent his generosity, for on that very day the observant Britishers successfully attacked his western flank, which was guarded only by von Marwitz's Cavalry Corps, and an urgent appeal had come to him to send additional reinforcements to the relief of his hard pressed forces on the Ourcq. Von Kluck that evening beseeched von Buelow to release his Third and Ninth Corps in order that they might go north to the Ourcq. Von Buelow consenting, the two Corps early next morning began their backward wheel. Their departure left a gap some 30 to 40 miles wide between von Kluck's and von Buelow's Armies.

    Into this gap, on the heels of the retiring German corps, General D'Esperey sent two corps of his Fifth French Army. The French pursued von Kluck first across the Grand Morin River at LaFerte Gaucher and then across the Petit Morin at Montmirail. The battle at Montmirail was a desperate encounter m which the French proved their superiority over the Germans, man for man.

    The retirement of von Kluck from Mont- mirail had the effect of exposing the right wing of von Buelow's army. Both the French and the British pounded away at this flank, bending it back until envelopment seemed certain. A retreat was necessary if the whole army was to be saved. Von Buelow, accordingly, without permission from the high command, gave orders for a retreat across the Marne on 8th. This necessitated the withdrawal of von Kluck's corps also. By clever maneuvring the battered remnants of the two German armies succeeded in escaping from the trap laid for them. Crossing the Marne on pontoons at Chateau Thierry and LaFere-sous-Jouarre, the Germans for a time held the French and British at bay on the banks of the stream, and at the same time reinforced Von Kluck's flank guard on the bank of the Ourcq, enabling the army engaged with Maunoury to break off the battle in that sector and withdraw on the 10th to the Aisne River.

    Throughout September 6, 1914, Manoury had consistently driven back the one German reserve corps opposing him, had reached the Ourcq and was threatening to get behind the main Germain line. The outnumbered Germans resisted stubbornly, but were steadily compelled to withdraw from one position after another. On the next day, however, the advance guard of von Kluck's returning army began to reinforce the Reserve Corps and Manoury made all haste to achieve a crushing defeat before further reinforcements against him could arrive. At the same time, he himself was strengthened by the arrival of fresh troops from the Paris garrison, rushed to the scene of battle in every kind of vehicle Paris was able to provide. But throughout September 7, 1914, the German forces were being constantly strengthened by new detachments hastening up from the German First Army, and on the whole Manoury was unable to gain further headway. He could foresee nothing but defeat on the next day when the main body of the German First Army should arrive. Von Kluck was executing a difficult manoeuvre with extreme skill and rapidity. Indeed, on September 8, 1914, the German First Army arrived in force opposite Manoury, and not only launched tremendous frontal attacks against him, but also started extremely dangerous flanking movements and on September 9, 1914, Manoury's position was desperate. He was still taking the offensive at times, but his case was hopeless. His men were at the end of their resources, knew they were beaten, and could anticipate nothing better than a wild retreat back into Paris. His northern flank 'had been driven back until it bent far behind the remainder of his line, and even retreat might not save his outnumbered and overwhelmed troops. He could get no further help from the Paris garrison, which could now itself expect an attack by von Kluck, and only by a miraculous Allied victory on another portion of the line could the pressure exerted by von Kluck be lessened.

    And it was a miracle, the "Miracle of the Marne," which was occurring on the Allied centre. Events transpiring there were so disastrous to the German plans and so threatening to von Kluck's position that when day broke on September 10, 1914 and Manoury's men were wearily awaiting the final onslaught of von Kluck's troops, they found that the victor had become the vanquished overnight, and that, under the cover of darkness, von Kluck had withdrawn and was retreating to the north with all speed.


    The Miracle on the Marne

    The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 142nd installment in the series.

    September 5-12, 1914: The Miracle on the Marne

    The First Battle of the Marne was the first major turning point in the war on the Western Front—the moment at which the German tide, rising relentlessly in the first weeks of the war with the conquest of Belgium and northern France, finally crested and broke, with the Germans forced into hasty retreat. There’s no question the “Miracle on the Marne” saved France and the Allied cause — but neither it nor the dramatic battles which followed in the fall of 1914 were truly decisive, as they left the Germans in control of Belgium and most of France’s industrial resources, foreshadowing a long, drawn-out conflict.

    The End of the Great Retreat

    As French chief of the general staff Joseph Joffre’s Plan XVII met with resounding defeat at the hands of the German left wing and center in the Battle of the Frontiers, the German right wing, consisting of the First, Second, and Third Armies, surged through Belgium, occupying the capital Brussels on August 20 and the key fortress city of Namur on August 25. From August 21 to 23, the German right wing slammed into the French Fifth Army and British Expeditionary Force at Charleroi and Mons, sending the vastly outnumbered Allies reeling back into northern France (but paying a steep price for these gains).

    This was the beginning of the Great Retreat—two excruciating weeks from August 24 to September 5 when French and British troops fell back 150 miles in front of the onrushing Germans, through forced marches punctuated by desperate rearguard actions by the BEF at Le Cateau on August 26 and the French Fifth Army at St. Quentin-Guise on August 29. As the supply system broke down, the retreat became one unending nightmare of hunger, exhaustion, heat, and dust. Private Frank Richards of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers recalled: “Bread we never saw a man’s daily rations were four army biscuits, a pound tin of bully beef and a small portion of tea and sugar… We never knew what it was to have our equipment off and even at night when we sometimes got down in a field for an all-night’s rest were not allowed to take it off.” Christian de Mallet, a French cavalry trooper, described similar conditions: “The heat was suffocating. The exhausted men, covered with a layer of black dust adherent from sweat, looked like devils… The air was burning thirst was intolerable, and there was no possibility of procuring a drop of water.”

    With the retreating armies came hordes of terrified refugees seeking safety to the south, many heading for Paris. Charles Inman Barnard described the scene in the French capital: “I saw a train pull slowly into the Gare du Nord laden with about fifteen hundred peasants—old men, women, children—encumbered with bags, boxes, bundles, fowls, and provisions of various kinds. The station is strewn with straw, on which country folk fleeing from the Germans are soundly sleeping for the first time in many days.”

    While some refugees arrived, many more were leaving, as thousands of Parisians fled the French capital for the countryside. On September 1 an attaché with the American embassy in Paris, Eric Fisher Wood, wrote in his diary:

    Panic conditions of the most pronounced order exist today. Everyone seems possessed with the single idea of escaping from Paris. A million people must be madly trying to leave at the present moment. There are runs on all the banks. The streets are crowded with hurrying people whose faces wear expressions of nervous fright. The railroad stations are packed with tightly jammed mobs in which people and luggage form one inextricable, suffocating, hopeless jumble.

    The French government itself packed up and headed for Bordeaux on September 2, and that same day the Paris stock exchange closed and the Bank of France also moved all its key assets to Bordeaux, including gold reserves of around four billion francs, or $800 million in contemporary dollars. The new military governor of Paris, General Joseph Gallieni, ordered military engineers to work round the clock to complete entrenchments and other fortifications around the capital—but the city itself was eerily deserted. An American journalist, Frederick Palmer, described the strange sights of Paris dark and abandoned:

    You might walk the length of the Champs Elysees without meeting a vehicle or more than two or three pedestrians. The avenues were all your own… The moonlight threw the Arc de Triomphe in exaggerated spectral relief, sprinkled the leaves of the long rows of trees, glistened on the upsweep of the broad pavements, gleamed on the Seine. Paris was majestic…

    And still the retreat continued, amid bitter recriminations between French and British commanders over failures, both imagined and real, on both sides of the troubled alliance. Field Marshal Sir John French, the commander of the BEF, blamed the French for withdrawing without warning during the battles of Mons and Charleroi, and repeatedly (some might say petulantly) refused to slow the BEF’s withdrawal or coordinate its movements with the neighboring French Fifth and Sixth Armies—which in turn enraged French chief of staff Joseph Joffre, who also criticized French’s decision to evacuate the main British base at Le Havre as hasty and needlessly demoralizing. To be fair, by this point even one of French’s own commanders, Douglas Haig, thought he was “quite unfit for high command in time of crisis.”

    If there was a silver lining in all this, it was the fact that as the Allied armies retreated their pursuers were forced to make the same exhausting round-the-clock marches, and German troops were also on the point of collapse. On September 2, an officer in the German First Army confided in his diary that “Our men are done up,” and Julius Koettgen, a German infantryman, recalled growing discontent in the ranks:

    We had to march on and on. The captain told us we had been ordered to press the fleeing enemy as hard as possible. He was answered by a disapproving murmur from the whole section. For long days and nights we had been on our legs, had murdered like savages, had had neither opportunity nor possibility to eat or rest, and now they asked us worn-out men to conduct an obstinate pursuit.

    Meanwhile the German generals were just as fractious as the Allied commanders. Alexander von Kluck, the commander of the German First Army, disdained Karl von Bülow, commander of the Second Army, as a washed up old man and resented his repeated requests for protection against threats to Second Army’s right flank. For his part Bülow viewed Kluck as a selfish, overly ambitious, unreliable prima donna. Max von Hausen, commander of the Third Army, was a Saxon who disliked both Kluck and Bülow as stereotypical Prussian martinets. Furthermore none of them felt particularly obliged to heed instructions from chief of general staff Helmuth von Moltke, viewed as out of touch with the situation back at headquarters in Luxembourg. Poor communications between armies on the move only served to exacerbate their disagreements.

    On September 2, von Kluck disregarded an order from Moltke to fall back to protect Second Army’s flank, instead deciding to drop First Army’s pursuit of the fleeing BEF and head southeast in hopes of finishing off the French Fifth Army, which had barely escaped destruction by the German Second Army twice in recent weeks. By the evening of September 3 the First Army had arrived at the River Marne, and Captain Walter Bloem described the scene of incongruous beauty which greeted German troops: “The sun was beginning to set, when suddenly, spread out at our feet, was a picture of indescribable loveliness: the valley of the Marne… The sun had sunk into a misty haze of deepest gold. The whole valley, steeped in the perfect stillness of a summer evening, shimmered in the golden light. Could this be war?” But there was also a growing sense of unease in the exhausted German ranks:

    To any of us who had not yet noticed it, the events of the past days must have shown how increasingly unpleasant the situation was becoming. We had, indeed, achieved marvels, driving the enemy out of the whole of Belgium and a great part of Northern France, nevertheless we ourselves were getting farther and farther away from home with ever-lengthening communications, while more and more enemy were now appearing on our front…

    Indeed, following the defeats of August the unflappable Joffre made expert use of the French railways and dense road network around Paris to transfer thousands of troops from the eastern frontier with Germany to form the new Sixth Army under Michel-Joseph Maunoury north of Paris, while also cobbling together a new Ninth Army under the aggressive Ferdinand Foch with troops drawn from the retreating Third and Fourth Armies – in effect adding two new pieces to the chess board. Meanwhile Joffre, never shy about firing subordinates he considered ineffective, also replaced the pessimistic head of Fifth Army, Charles Lanrezac, with one of his own corps commanders, Franchet d’Esperey (the hero of Charleroi, called “Desperate Frankie” by British colleagues who had a nickname for everyone).

    Thanks to Joffre’s rapid redeployment of troops, by the time the Germans arrived at the Marne the combined strength of the Allied forces facing them—composed, from east to west, of the French Third, Fourth, Ninth, and Fifth Armies along the Marne, the British Expeditionary Force near Melun, and the French Sixth Army guarding Paris—numbered over one million men, including 980,000 French and 70,000 British troops. The depleted German forces, consisting of the First through Fifth Armies, numbered just 850,000.

    There was still one problem, as the BEF continued its headlong retreat and Sir John French bluntly informed Joffre on August 30 that the British wouldn’t be ready to fight for at least ten days, driving the French commander to despair. But the situation was finally remedied by some inter-Allied diplomacy: President Poincaré politely asked the British government to get their commander in line, and on September 1 Secretary of State for War Kitchener paid a personal visit to France, meeting French at the British Embassy in Paris, where he issued written orders to the stubborn Field Marshal. When the time came (and with a little more persuasion) the British would fight.

    The Allies were also aided by continuing dissension among the German commanders. On September 3 von Kluck again disregarded a directive from Moltke and ordered First Army to cross the Marne ahead of Bülow’s Second Army—quite literally “ahead,” as First Army’s advance would cut southeast across Second Army’s line of march, forcing Bülow to halt for several days. As he chased the elusive French Fifth Army Kluck left just one army corps, under Hans von Gronau, to screen Paris to the west, unaware of the new French Sixth Army forming there. Then, on September 4, von Hausen decided, inexplicably, to let Third Army rest the following day, leaving it a full day’s march behind its neighbors and missing a chance to drive between Foch’s Ninth Army and the French Fourth Army under Langle de Cary.

    Crucially, these decisions by von Kluck and Hausen both clashed with Moltke’s latest directive issued on the evening of September 4. German pilots flying reconnaissance missions had spotted columns of French troops heading north from Paris, reinforcing the new Sixth Army Moltke, finally seeing the danger to the German right flank, ordered First and Second Armies to halt and assume defensive positions, while Third, Fourth and Fifth Armies would drive forward against the French center, weakened by Joffre’s redeployments. But the order arrived too late.

    The Battle of the Marne

    In the first days of September Joffre and Gallieni received a series of reports confirming that the German First Army was proceeding southeast, past Paris, in pursuit of the French Fifth Army, leaving its right flank open to attack by the new French Sixth Army. On the evening of September 4, d’Esperey said that despite its recent defeats Fifth Army was ready to attack, and Joffre decided that the time had finally come to stop retreating and take the offensive. The next day, September 5, Joffre visited Sir John French and after a melodramatic speech—concluding “the honour of England is at stake!”—secured a promise that the BEF would join the French counterattack (below, British cavalry advance to the Marne). The attack, Joffre said, would begin September 6.

    In fact, it was already underway. On the morning of September 5, the French Sixth Army under Maunoury began marching east in preparation for the general attack planned for the following day—and shortly before noon ran smack into the German IV Reserve Corps under Hans von Gronau, left by von Kluck to guard his right flank along the River Ourcq, a northern tributary of the Marne. An incredibly violent but inconclusive clash ensued, as Gronau’s force of 22,800 men fought desperately to hold off Maunoury’s 150,000. German field artillery inflicted heavy losses, but the gun crews paid a heavy price as the deadly French 75-mm field pieces responded in kind.

    At the end of the day, Gronau held his ground on a ridge above the Ourcq—but more importantly, the battle alerted von Kluck to the danger on his right flank, giving him an opportunity to rush reinforcements to face the French Sixth Army (where Moltke and Bülow had wanted them all along). Around midnight of September 5 he ordered two army corps located along the Grand Morin, a southern tributary of the Marne, to march northwest to a position near the town of Meaux on the Marne—beginning to open a gap in the German lines.

    Beginning on the morning of September 6, the two army corps withdrawn by Kluck marched north all day to reinforce the single corps facing the French Sixth Army along the Ourcq, where they helped hold off the French for a second day amid fierce fighting that devastated the area around Meaux. According to Bloem, ordinary German soldiers understood that the change in direction was bad news:

    The sun blazed down on us, the heat intensely oppressive, and perhaps even more oppressive the thought of a terrible, hideous possibility. Forwards, forwards, was the order but weren’t we actually going just a little backwards. To the north… a battle was being fought. The realization of all that this meant was enough to stagger the most courageous heart.

    Meanwhile Mildred Aldrich, a retired American authoress living in a small village east of Paris, saw part of the Battle of the Ourcq on September 6, including the destruction of numerous small villages caught in the crossfire:

    The sun was setting. For two hours we saw [the shells] rise, descend, explode. Then a little smoke would rise from one hamlet, then from another then a tiny flame – hardly more than a spark – would be visible and by dark the whole plain was on fire… There were long lines of grain stacks and mills stretching along the plain. One by one they took fire, until, by ten o'clock, they stood like a procession of huge torches across my beloved panorama.

    Elsewhere on September 6, to the south the BEF and French Fifth Army under d’Esperey were advancing against the two remaining German corps holding the junction between First and Second Army along the Grand Morin and Petit Morin, two southern tributaries of the Marne, and to the east the French Ninth Army under Foch fell back before a fierce offensive by the German Second Army under Bülow across the headwaters of the Petit Morin in the Marshes of St. Gond (an unusual battlefield as the marshes, measuring about two miles wide by 12 miles long, could only be crossed via four relatively narrow causeways).

    In short the Battle of the Marne was actually three separate but interrelated battles—one on the Ourcq, one on the “Deux Morins,” and one on the Marshes of St. Gond. While a German breakthrough in any of these places could easily have spelled disaster for France, the strategic pivot of the battle was always the confrontation on the Ourcq, where the German First Army posed a direct threat to Paris and the French Sixth Army, conversely, threatened to roll up the German right wing.

    On September 7, von Kluck gambled everything on a decisive victory over French Sixth Army. After receiving reports that the BEF was advancing slowly toward the gap between First and Second Armies, shortly before noon he ordered two more corps to march north for an all-out attack on Sixth Army, in the hopes of crushing the French before the British were close enough to threaten the junction with Bülow’s Second Army.

    Unfortunately for the Germans, von Kluck didn’t realize that the previous night Bülow had already ordered these corps (which Second Army currently shared First Army) to fall back along with his own right wing, as part his own effort to crush Foch’s Ninth Army on the St. Gond Marshes with assistance from Hausen’s Third Army. In other words the generals were pursuing two separate, conflicting plans, and Kluck’s order now superseded Bülow’s, so the two corps continued to their new destination. The result of these near-simultaneous moves, which both generals failed to communicate to each other, was a 30-mile gap in the German lines. In the days to come this gap would be their undoing.

    In the near term, however, von Kluck’s gamble almost paid off: amid fierce fighting all along the Marne, on September 7 First Army sent Maunoury’s cavalry reeling back, and the situation looked grim for the Allies. Thus, Joffre and Gallieni focused all their efforts on strengthening Sixth Army on the Ourcq to defend against First Army’s attacks.

    This was the origin of the famous “taxis of the Marne” episode of September 7 and 8, when Gallieni commandeered around 600 Parisian taxis to rush reinforcements from Paris north to Sixth Army. This round-the-clock operation, carried out amid chaotic conditions over roads clogged with troops and supplies, managed to deliver perhaps 3000 troops to bolster Sixth Army’s northern flank. Recently some historians have questioned the true effectiveness and importance of the taxis to the outcome of the battle, as most of the reinforcements were actually delivered by train or truck, but the taxi-lift entered the mythology of the Marne as a symbol of civic participation and French fighting spirit.

    For ordinary soldiers, the situation on the ground remained confused, to say the least. Paul Tuffrau, a French junio officer, described the chaotic fighting near the village of Barcy, north of Meaux:

    I pick up a dead man’s weapon, slip on a cartridge belt and join the advancing troop – it is rather scattered and pushing forward in every direction, urged on by the bugles. What’s that I’m stepping on? The dead and wounded, friends and foes. Bullets fly past, then the brutal blast of artillery fire right in front of us. The charge tatters, stops… All around, behind piles of grain, men are lying down, shooting or just waiting. Through the haze, you can just make out the rise of a hillside. Is that the Marne?

    As September 7 drew to a close, the scene along the Marne was apocalyptic. Wilson McNair described the destruction near Meaux, which

    was lying almost in ruins, with the great shells lashing their hail of destruction upon its roofs and gardens. The green fields and the orchards near the river bank, where the fighting was fierce all day, are still at evening, but the orchards are strewn with dead, German dead and French dead lying side by side under the sky, their faces lit up by the far glow of the burning villages. What a scene truly of horror and wonder!

    The Turning Point: September 8-9

    After several days of fierce but inconclusive fighting from September 5 to 7, the turning point came on September 8-9 – but at first fortune seemed to favor the Germans.

    Along the Ourcq the French Sixth Army renewed its attack on the German First Army’s right wing on September 8, but failed to make progress, while the Germans pushed back in the center, forcing Maunoury to fall back to defensive positions. To the east Hausen’s German Third Army, finally in place after its delayed arrival the day before, launched a surprise attack on the French Ninth Army across the Marshes of St. Gond, forcing back Foch’s right wing and inflicting heavy losses.

    But the real action was taking place at the Deux Morins, where Franchet d’Esperey’s Fifth Army pushed back the right flank of Bülow’s Second Army, making it basically impossible for the Germans to close the 30-mile gap created the day before by Bülow and Kluck’s uncoordinated, conflicting moves. Even worse, after an embarrassing delay the BEF was finally on the scene, pushing ahead into the gap to the west of the French Fifth Army. Meeting no resistance, the British cautiously pushed forward over recently abandoned German positions along the two Morins, and reached the southern bank of the Marne by the evening of September 8.

    The French Fifth Army’s success and the arrival of the BEF at the Marne threatened to completely unravel the German line, opening von Kluck’s First Army to attack from the rear. Back at the German headquarters in Luxembourg, Helmuth von Moltke, panicked and apparently suffered a nervous breakdown, losing his grip on events. His subordinates, now in crisis management mode, began to take over, and in the early morning of September 9 they dispatched a general staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, to tour the front, make an appraisal of the situation, and order a retreat if necessary.

    The situation was dire: at Second Army headquarters, Bülow said his exhausted troops had been reduced to “cinders” by three days of hard fighting following weeks of forced marches, and laid the blame on Kluck for failing to protect his flank and generally keeping him in the dark about First Army’s movements. Although no records of the meeting were kept, it seems that Bülow and Hentsch together decided the time had come to make a strategic withdrawal (a move that was later harshly criticized by von Kluck, who at that point believed he was close to turning the flank of the French Sixth Army).

    Over the next few days, from September 9 to 12, the German armies retreated in a not-so-orderly to the Aisne River, about 30 miles north of the Marne. For the exhausted and demoralized troops, it was a pilgrimage to despair. Julius Koettgen described the events of these days:

    The roads became ever more densely crowded with retreating troops and trains from all sides they came and wanted to use the main road that was also being used by us… Munition wagons raced past us, singly, without any organization. Order was no longer observed. Canteen and baggage wagons went past, and already a wild confusion arose… Night came upon us and it poured again in torrents. We lay on the ground and felt very cold. Our tired bodies no longer gave out any heat.

    Meanwhile, the Allied troops who pursued them north encountered scenes of shocking carnage and devastation. Charles Inman Barnard recalled:

    We came near to the villages… along the road from Meaux to Soissons… and found that the trenches dug by the Germans were filled with human corpses in thick, serried masses. Quicklime and straw had been thrown over them by the ton. Piles of bodies of men and of horses had been partially cremated in the most rudimentary fashion. The country seemed to be one endless charnel-house. The stench of the dead was appalling.

    An anonymous British junior officer remembered “Whole trains of motor lorries that had been hastily burned and left by the roadside, and all sorts of vehicles with broken wheels,” and also noted that the Germans had looted all the wine and spirits they could lay their hands on, stealing from elegant chateaux and peasant dwellings alike: “The litter of bottles was appalling. There was a perfect wall of them for about a quarter of a mile.” Barnard echoed this description: “How thirsty the Germans were! The roads and fields and trenches were strewn with bottles, full or half-empty.”

    When the Germans reached the Aisne they established advantageous positions on hills overlooking the river, and dug in with machine guns and heavy artillery, and the French and British soon did the same. Koettgen remembered the scene at dawn on September 11:

    Slowly the mist began to disappear, and now we observed the French occupying positions some hundred yards in front of us. They had made themselves new positions during the night exactly as we had done. Immediately firing became lively on both sides. Our opponent left his trench and attempted an attack, but our great mass of machine guns literally mowed down his ranks… The French renewed their attack again and again, and when at noon we had beaten back eight assaults of that kind hundreds upon hundreds of dead Frenchmen were covering the ground between our trenches and theirs.


    Battle of the Marne: 6-10 September 1914

    The First Battle of the Marne marked the end of the German sweep into France and the beginning of the trench warfare that was to characterise World War One.

    Germany's grand Schlieffen Plan to conquer France entailed a wheeling movement of the northern wing of its armies through central Belgium to enter France near Lille. It would turn west near the English Channel and then south to cut off the French retreat. If the plan succeeded, Germany's armies would simultaneously encircle the French Army from the north and capture Paris.

    A French offensive in Lorraine prompted German counter-attacks that threw the French back onto a fortified barrier. Their defence strengthened, they could send troops to reinforce their left flank - a redistribution of strength that would prove vital in the Battle of the Marne. The German northern wing was weakened further by the removal of 11 divisions to fight in Belgium and East Prussia. The German 1st Army, under Kluck, then swung north of Paris, rather than south west, as intended. This required them to pass into the valley of the River Marne across the Paris defences, exposing them to a flank attack and a possible counter-envelopment.

    On 3 September, Joffre ordered a halt to the French retreat and three days later his reinforced left flank began a general offensive. Kluck was forced to halt his advance prematurely in order to support his flank: he was still no further up the Marne Valley than Meaux.

    On 9 September Bülow learned that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was advancing into the gap between his 2nd Army and Kluck. He ordered a retreat, obliging Kluck to do the same. The counterattack of the French 5th and 6th Armies and the BEF developed into the First Battle of the Marne, a general counter-attack by the French Army. By 11 September the Germans were in full retreat.

    This remarkable change in fortunes was caused partially by the exhaustion of many of the German forces: some had marched more than 240km (150 miles), fighting frequently. The German advance was also hampered by demolished bridges and railways, constricting their supply lines, and they had underestimated the resilience of the French.

    The Germans withdrew northward from the Marne and made a firm defensive stand along the Lower Aisne River. Here the benefits of defence over attack became clear as the Germans repelled successive Allied attacks from the shelter of trenches: the First Battle of the Aisne marked the real beginning of trench warfare on the Western Front.

    In saving Paris from capture by pushing the Germans back some 72km (45 miles), the First Battle of the Marne was a great strategic victory, as it enabled the French to continue the war. However, the Germans succeeded in capturing a large part of the industrial north east of France, a serious blow. Furthermore, the rest of 1914 bred the geographic and tactical deadlock that would take another three years and countless lives to break.


    No-Man's-Land

    In World War I the most haunted and dangerous piece of land was not a battlefield or bombed-out town, but a small strip of land that separated the trenches of the two warring armies—noman's-land.

    No-man's-land could be as narrow as a hundred yards or as wide as a couple of miles. On either side of this strip of land, soldiers had dug trenches and machine-gun nests, strung barbed wire, and stashed the guns and ammunition they would need to kill the enemy. No man dared enter this strip during daylight, for snipers from both sides turned it into a killing zone. During the night, brave soldiers sometimes tried to extend their defenses further into this zone, but they had to be careful to show no light or they too might be killed. Noman's-land was at its worst during and after a battle, for the men who crossed it were killed in vast numbers and their blood soaked the ground. For years after the war, farmers plowing the battlefields of France and Belgium churned up the bones and bullets of men killed in noman's-land.


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