First Battle of the Marne
Dafato Team | May 25, 2022
Table of Content
- German army's march southward
- Errors of the German command
- Organization of the French counteroffensive
- The German Army
- The French Army
- The British Army
- The fighting on the Ourcq
- The fighting on the Petit and Grand Morin.
- The fighting in the marshes of Saint-Gond
- German general retreat
The First Battle of the Marne was a decisive clash that occurred in the region between the Marne and Ourcq rivers, east of Paris, in the early stages of World War I on the Western Front. The German army, engaged in the major general offensive envisaged by the Schlieffen plan and coming within a few kilometers of the French capital, was unexpectedly counterattacked by the French army, which despite its long retreat had maintained its cohesion and offensive spirit; soldiers of the small British Expeditionary Corps also participated in the clashes.
The battle took place between September 5 and 12, 1914, and ended in Anglo-French victory thanks in part to a series of strategic errors by the Germanic high command; the Germans had to fall back behind the Marne and then onto the Aisne. The First Battle of the Marne marked a decisive moment in World War I, decreed the failure of the ambitious German plans and their hopes for victory within six weeks, strengthened the Allies' resistance and fighting will, and turned the war into a long struggle of attrition in the trenches that would continue for another four years until the final defeat of Imperial Germany.
After the complicated phase of diplomatic confrontation in the July crisis, Germany's leadership, urged on by the General Staff concerned about the Russian general mobilization decreed on the afternoon of July 30, 1914, had made the irreversible decision to declare war on Russia and France after proceeding to proclaim Kriegsgefahrzustand ("State of War Danger") on the afternoon of July 31 and general mobilization on the afternoon of August 1. Imperial Germany's complex war mechanism, carefully planned by the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, German high command), stipulated that the start of the general mobilization procedures of the army would be immediately followed by the start of military operations on the ground. Indeed, the German General Staff considered it decisive to take advantage of the excellent organization and speed of its mobilization to anticipate the concentration of enemy armies, especially the Russian, and launch a massive general offensive. The German vanguards entered Luxembourg as early as August 2 without encountering resistance, while Belgium on August 4 rejected Germany's brutal ultimatum demanding that the Germanic army be allowed to pass freely and decided to mobilize its forces, try to resist and request the help of France and the United Kingdom.
The German General Staff had been planning since 1905, under the decisive impetus of General Alfred von Schlieffen, an ambitious and daring operational plan to concentrate the main mass of the army in the west and launch a major decisive offensive against France that was to be concluded within six weeks, while the Russian army would be contained in the east by a small part of the German troops and the bulk of the Imperial Royal Austro-Hungarian Army. The so-called "Schlieffen plan" envisioned deploying most of the German forces in the west on the right wing that would march rapidly into Belgium north and south of the Meuse and then invade northern France aiming directly at Paris, surprising the French army that would be bypassed from behind and pushed back against the Vosges or Swiss border. This grandiose plan was partly modified in 1912-1913 by the new chief of staff, General Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke, who retained overall the objectives and strategic directions of the plan but, fearing a French offensive in Lorraine and Alsace and a possible Russian attack in East Prussia, reduced the power of the right wing, reinforced the deployment of the left wing, and also strengthened the German defenses in the east.
By 1911 the new chief of staff of the French army, the energetic and determined General Joseph Joffre, had adopted a new and aggressive strategic plan; the so-called "Plan XVII." It differed substantially from the plan drawn up by his predecessor General Victor Constant Michel, who, fearing a large-scale enemy invasion through Belgium, planned to extend the defensive deployment as far as the Channel coast, also employing reserve troops on the front lines. General Joffre, on the other hand, planned for the French army to move resolutely to the attack and for troops to operate aggressively according to the theories of offensive à outrance. The general envisioned that four armies would launch a double attack north and south of the Moselle in the direction of the Ardennes and Lorraine. The commander-in-chief did not rule out the possibility, suspected for many years after the sensational revelations of the famous German spy Le vengeur, that the Germans would enter Belgium by violating that nation's neutrality, but he believed that they would limit themselves to advancing with limited forces in the southern part of the country; in this case another army, the 5th held in reserve on the Oise, could intervene across the border as soon as it was confirmed that the German violation of Belgian neutrality had taken place.
In addition, General Joffre had been informed that according to pre-war agreements between the general staff, developed since 1906 especially by Generals Ferdinand Foch and Henry Hughes Wilson, a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) would land in France to take part in the fight against the Germans. After the British declaration of war on Germany on August 4, the first troops embarked as early as August 10, and within a few days the first two corps of the BEF were scheduled to deploy, under the command of General John French, between Maubeuge and Hirson to support the French left flank in the ports of Boulogne, Le Havre and Dunkirk.
As the German army quickly and efficiently completed the mobilization and concentration operations envisaged in the revised Schlieffen plan in its final version of 1913
From August 13, the German army's general offensive in the west began; the powerful right wing, which was to make the decisive advance north and south of the Meuse, consisted of more than 700. 000 soldiers divided into three armies; towards Brussels and Namur advanced General Alexander von Kluck's 1st Army with six army corps and General Karl von Bülow's 2nd Army with another six army corps; on August 17 General Max von Hausen's 3rd Army with four Saxon army corps advanced towards Namur and Dinant. The German infantry march was preceded by the two cavalry corps of General Georg von der Marwitz and Colonel Manfred von Richthofen. The advance of the German right wing into Belgium was unimpeded by the Belgian army, which was retreating toward the Gette River, and was marked by repression, reprisals, and violence against the population. General von Kluck's German 1st Army entered Brussels on August 20 while the Belgians abandoned the Gette River line and fell back to Antwerp.
In the center of the German deployment marched Duke Albrecht's 4th Army with five army corps and Kronprinz Wilhelm's 5th Army with five other army corps that had the task of crossing the Ardennes protecting the left flank of the marching wing, while in Lorraine and Alsace were the 6th Army consisting mainly of Bavarian troops under the command of Prince Rupprecht and General Josias von Heeringen's 7th Army. These forces were to perform essentially a covering task and keep the French forces in front of them engaged.
In the meantime, General Joffre had begun the movements under Plan XVII, organizing the concentration of his armies along the border with Germany and on the bank of the Meuse, south of the Belgian border. After receiving a distress call from Belgium on August 5, the French commander-in-chief then had the units of General Charles Lanrezac's 5th Army, initially positioned in Champagne on the left flank of the deployment, cross the border. From Aug. 8, General Joffre simultaneously began his main offensive with General Auguste Dubail's 1st Army and General Édouard de Castelnau's 2nd Army in Alsace and Lorraine; he also put General Pierre Ruffey's 3rd Army and General Fernand de Langle de Cary's 4th Army on the move, which were to launch a decisive attack in the Ardennes.
After an unsuccessful initial French attack in Alsace at Mulhouse, the opposing armies faced each other across the front in the so-called Battle of the Frontiers between August 20 and 24. In the south, in Lorraine, the French initially advanced as far as Morhange and Sarrebourg where, however, they were counterattacked on August 20 by Prince Rupprecht's Bavarians who, after some hesitation, took the initiative contrary to initial plans and achieved some important successes. In reality, the Germans lacked numerical superiority, so the attack did not achieve decisive results and drove the French back to a fortified barrier in front of Nancy that increased their ability to resist.
In the Ardennes the French armies, which according to General Joffre's optimistic plan should have faced only "weak forces" from Germany, ran instead into the two armies of Kronprinz and Duke Albrecht, which in turn were advancing in the direction of the Meuse. In the difficult wooded terrain of the Ardennes, bitter encounter battles were fought during which the French launched a series of costly and fruitless frontal attacks under German machine-gun fire. The French armies of Generals Ruffey and de Langle de Cary were beaten at Virton and Neufchâteau and on August 24 had to fall back toward Sedan and Verdun. Finally on the Allied left flank, General Lanrezac's 5th Army failed during the Battle of Charleroi (Aug. 21-23) to defend the Sambre and Meuse lines against the converging attack of the German 2nd and 3rd Armies. French attempts to counterattack were again repulsed with heavy losses, and General Lanrezac, fearing being cut off, independently decided to retreat southward. On August 23, the British Expeditionary Corps, which had marched from Maubeuge to Mons to protect General Lanrezac's left flank, had also gone into action. Attacked by General von Kluck's 1st Army, it at first resisted tenaciously but eventually had to fall back in turn to maintain contact with the French deployment, which was in full retreat.
German army's march southward
General Joffre was disappointed to realize the failure of Plan XVII; he felt that the defeat was mainly due to the insufficient energy shown by his generals and felt that his strategies had been correct. His general retreat order of August 25 conformed to the field decisions of the army commanders, but the general was determined to gain time by organizing a hard-fought retreat and simultaneously carry out a large transfer of troops from the right wing to the left wing, while maintaining possession of the Verdun position in the center. Meanwhile, the British Expeditionary Corps, after abandoning Mons, was making a difficult retreat under pressure from General von Kluck's 1st Army: on August 25 at Landrecies the British I Corps was put in serious difficulty, while on August 26 at the Battle of Le Cateau General Horace Smith-Dorrien's II Corps risked destruction and escaped southward only after suffering heavy losses.
On Aug. 28 and 29, as the French 3rd and 4th Armies severely opposed the pass to the German 4th and 5th Armies, General Joffre ordered General Lanrezac, commander of the 5th Army, to halt his retreat and counterattack. At the Battle of Guise-Saint Quentin, the French inflicted heavy losses on General von Bülow's German 2nd Army and scored some local successes, halting the German advance for thirty-six hours. Fearing being outflanked, General Lanrezac eventually resumed his retreat on August 31. By the end of August the French had lost about 260,000 men dead, wounded and missing and were retreating across the entire front. The general advance of the German army, which appeared unstoppable, was also encountering considerable logistical problems: the railroads serving the conquered territories were not up to the task of transporting the vast quantities of supplies essential to the advance of the German armies; soldiers had to march 50 or 60 kilometers a day with all their equipment; supplies reaching the railroad marshalling yards tended to get stuck there; and, despite the opening of new roads, the vehicles available could not meet the needs of five armies moving simultaneously. Operationally, each passing day brought the front closer and closer to Paris: instead, this area was home to a dense network of railways that gave the French the ability to move their troops much more easily.
Errors of the German command
At the end of August, after the battles of Le Cateau and St. Quentin, General von Moltke and the other German generals believed at first that they had now achieved victory; both General von Kluck and General von Bülow sent reports in which they wrote of a "decisive defeat inflicted on the enemy" and "total victory"; the enemy was in "full retreat." General von Kluck, commander of the 1st Army considered, after overrunning the enemy defenses at Le Cateau and after signs of disintegration of the retreating enemy forces, that he had now definitely destroyed the British Expeditionary Corps' ability to resist. The march of the German right wing was proceeding from August 29 no longer southwestward in the direction of the lower Seine, as envisaged in the original Schlieffen plan, but southward in a general direction east of Paris. General von Moltke was aware as early as August 30 of this direction of the advance; in fact, while some historians have considered this march east of Paris an erroneous personal initiative of the field commanders (especially the ambitious General von Kluck), this variant of the original Schlieffen plan, which envisioned a broader march southwest, had been considered in the various operational options studied by the German General Staff before the war and was shared by the OHL. It appears that the German high command was convinced that, in the face of the Allied defeat, a vast maneuver west of Paris had become futile; moreover, it is likely that the OHL was concerned about the continued weakening of the right wing and the considerable logistical difficulties that had arisen in securing its supply. The German right wing had suffered considerable losses and had marched hundreds of kilometers; it was also weakened because of the need to leave some reserve corps behind to check enemy strongholds, while two corps, the 11th and the Guard reserve corps, were being transferred to the eastern front where a Russian invasion of East Prussia was feared. There were also very disturbing rumors that Russian troops were arriving in Britain by sea from the port of Archangel and would soon land in France.
Favorable news, however, came from the left wing armies: the 4th Army had crossed the Meuse and Duke Albrecht spoke of a "great victory"; meanwhile, General von Kluck continued to advance and, disregarding General von Bülow's urging to converge eastward at Laon, marched south toward Compiègne and Soissons. In early September new doubts and uncertainties arose at OHL headquarters in Luxembourg; General von Kluck's optimism was not fully shared, and War Minister Erich von Falkenhayn himself had pointed out that there were no signs of having achieved a decisive victory; the enemy was retreating in good order while maintaining cohesion, and German troops had captured few prisoners and abandoned weapons.
General von Moltke issued new general orders on September 2. They stipulated that General von Kluck's army should halt its march southward and instead assume a barrage position to the west to protect the right flank of General von Bülow's army against possible French attacks from the Paris region. At first General von Kluck did not carry out these arrangements and continued to advance southward; General von Moltke then made new arrangements on September 4 and sent Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch to 1st Army headquarters. The commander-in-chief's new plan still called for General von Kluck and General von Bülow to halt their advance and deploy west and southwest to cover the right flank of the other armies. On the left wing, the 6th and 7th Armies were to engage the French forces in Lorraine, while the main attack would be launched by the 4th and 5th Armies toward the Argonne, in the direction of Verdun and Nancy; finally, General von Hausen's 3rd Army was to possibly lend support on its right or left in case the armies deployed on the wings ran into difficulties. This new directive, therefore, definitely abandoned the original Schlieffen plan of general outflanking of the Anglo-French army by means of a decisive maneuver of the right wing and contributed to further confusing the commanders in the field.
General Alexander von Kluck, who was extremely assertive and aggressive, was not impressed by these directives; he and his chief of staff, General Hermann von Kuhl, remained confident even after receiving news that the vanguards had reported that they had identified new French formations and after reports confirmed that extensive troop movements westward were under way on the enemy side. The 1st Army troops continued to advance successfully southward: on September 3, General Ewald von Lochow's III Army Corps and General Ferdinand von Quast's IX Army Corps reached the Marne and began crossing it between Nanteuil-sur-Marne and Château-Thierry; meanwhile, General Friedrich Bertram Sixt von Armin's IV Army Corps had arrived on the Aisne and General Alexander von Linsingen's II Army Corps was south of the Oise at Chantilly. In fact, the 1st Army, which had marched and fought continuously for two weeks, crossing Belgium north of the Meuse and repeatedly defeating British troops, was showing signs of weakening and exhaustion; by the end of August it counted 2,863 dead, 7,869 wounded and 9,248 sick. The troops were tired and in no good condition due to equipment and supply shortages caused by logistical difficulties. Although his army had lost some of its offensive power, General von Kluck considered it essential not to stop the march and give the enemy no breathing room by continuing southward; Paris was sixty kilometers away.
At 07:00 on September 5, Generals von Kluck and von Kuhl received the new orders from the OHL and in the afternoon Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch arrived at army headquarters; the two commanders admitted that their troops were tired and "at the limit of their capabilities," lamented the lack of coordination between the armies and requested that the reserve III and VII Corps, which were engaged at that time in Antwerp and Maubeuge, be sent in reinforcement. Eventually they agreed to follow General von Moltke's new dispositions even though they reiterated that the British were now, after "repeated defeats," unable to go on the attack. Generals von Kluck and von Kuhl had already decided in the preceding days to keep General Hans von Gronau's IV Reserve Corps north of the Marne, which was weak and lacked adequate communications facilities, to protect the right flank against threats from Paris that were, moreover, considered unlikely, but they continued to pay attention especially to the south where they directed most of their air reconnaissance. In fact, even at the OHL a certain optimism prevailed; little importance was given to reports of French troop movements westward, interpreted only as rear-guard actions.
Organization of the French counteroffensive
General Joffre had decided on a general retreat after the unfavorable outcome of the border battles but was not resigned to defeat; in his "General Instruction No. 2" of August 25, in addition to indicating new tactics to improve cooperation between infantry and artillery and to avoid imprudent frontal attacks, the commander-in-chief already envisaged the establishment of "a new group of forces" with some army corps and divisions transferred from Alsace and Paris that would be deployed in the Amiens region or on the Somme to outflank the German right wing. At first General Joffre had hoped to stop the German armies on the line of the Somme and the Oise but the British defeat at Le Cateau and the subsequent retreat of the BEF forced him to abandon this optimistic plan and order the continuation of the general retreat to the Seine. During the days of the retreat, General Joffre deployed great energy, going to the command posts of the armies to check the situation, regrouping reinforcements for the front, and also proceeding to replace many generals with new senior officers, whom he considered to be more optimistic and determined to fight with the utmost determination.
The French high command soon learned in early September that the German right wing armies appeared to have changed their line of advance and were no longer marching southwest but directly south; intercepts of messages sent by various German units and aerial reconnaissance came to this conclusion. The reports were confirmed by new reports from French and British reconnaissance planes on September 3; the German right wing had indeed diverted toward the Ourcq and Marne.
The British expeditionary force reached the Marne on September 2 and crossed it the following day, blowing up bridges; in thirteen days the British had fallen back almost 250 kilometers while fighting tenaciously and carrying out many rear-guard actions. The British troops were tired, and General French himself seemed discouraged, believing that his forces needed, above all, a few days' rest; after the defeat at Le Cateau there had at first even been talk of withdrawing the troops to the Channel ports for re-embarkation. The British expeditionary force stopped momentarily east of Paris in the Meaux region before resuming its retreat. On September 2, the French government abandoned the capital and moved to Bordeaux while General Joseph Simon Gallieni was appointed military governor of the city; experienced and resolute, the general immediately showed great energy and a strong will to defend the capital
General Gallieni immediately understood the favorable opportunity that lay ahead for the French army thanks to the surprising detour of the German advance. The grouping under the command of General Michel Joseph Maunoury, the new 6th Army organized as a "mass of maneuver" by General Joffre that was being established east of Paris, now amounted to over 150. 000 men, and General Gallieni independently decided on September 3 that if the German troops continued to march southeast of the capital as reports and information from aerial reconnaissance indicated, it was time to attack them on the flank; he did not wait for specific orders from General Joffre but immediately issued offensive dispositions to General Maunoury, then went together with the 6th Army commander to Melun to explain the situation to General French and convince him to cooperate.
The British commander-in-chief was not present at headquarters, and Gallieni was only able to explain his plans to the chief of staff, General Archibald Murray, who, however, did not appear very interested and did not take up the French general's suggestions at all; the British troops continued to fall back and on the day of September 3 passed south of the Grand Morin River. On the same day, more comforting results were instead obtained by General Louis Franchet d'Esperey, the new commander of the 5th Army in place of General Lanrezac, who discussed the situation with General Henry Hughes Wilson, the BEF's sub-chief of staff; the latter was more positive and quickly adhered to the general counteroffensive program, promising the participation of the British Expeditionary Force. General Franchet d'Esperey was then able to reassure General Joffre on September 4 and assure him of the "absolute cooperation of the British."
While some historians have mainly emphasized General Gallieni's alleged decisive role in the decision to attack on the German right flank, other authors have shown instead that it was General Joffre throughout the retreat who planned and organized the deployment to make such a counteroffensive possible; the commander-in-chief's plans in fact envisaged precisely to transfer forces from east to west to constitute a new mass of maneuver with which to protect Paris and counterattack the German right wing. In fact, planning and organization of the counteroffensive had been going on for days at French headquarters; in practice, the discussion centered mainly on the timing of carrying out the attack: while General Joffre's main collaborator, Major Maurice Gamelin, believed that the time had come to attack, on the other hand, General Henri Berthelot (deputy chief of staff) advised waiting longer and launching the counteroffensive only after the French armies had reached the Seine and the Aube. Apparently, upon learning this news, General Gallieni protested, fearing that a further retreat would jeopardize the outcome of the battle. General Joffre accepted Major Gamelin's and General Gallieni's views and decided to attack on September 6; General Berthelot also eventually agreed.
General Joffre carried out a great deal of organizational work in the hours leading up to the attack, and on September 5 he communicated his plans to the government, described the strategic situation as "excellent" and said that "no better condition could be hoped for"; he declared himself determined to fight "with all our might" to "achieve victory." On the same day he issued his "General Instructions" No. 5 and No. 6. With the former he ordered the 3rd Army of General Maurice Paul Emmanuel Sarrail, who had replaced General Ruffey, the 4th Army of General de Langle de Cary, and the new 9th Army, of which General Ferdinand Foch had assumed command, to halt their retreat and counterattack from September 6. In "General Instruction No. 6," issued at 10 p.m. on Sept. 5, he indicated the main details of the offensive on the left wing in which General Maunoury's 6th Army would take part, attacking from the Paris region in the direction of Ourcq, while the British Expeditionary Corps and General Franchet d'Esperey's 5th Army would march from the south in the direction of Montmirail; General Foch's army would protect the 5th Army's right flank in the area of the Saint-Gond marshes.
The French commander-in-chief maintained doubts to the last about the British's real willingness to halt the retreat and take part in the counteroffensive despite assurances from General Franchet d'Esperey and General Wilson; Joffre decided to meet General French personally at the BEF headquarters at Château Vaux-le Penil. It was a dramatic interview made even more uncertain by the difficulty of linguistic understanding between the two senior officers; in the end, in the face of Joffre's vigorous exhortations, French assured that the British would participate in the general counteroffensive on September 6.
The German Army
In General von Schlieffen's original plans, the German right wing was to consist of 69 infantry and 8 cavalry divisions, while on the left wing in Lorraine and Alsace only 10 infantry and three cavalry divisions would remain, ensuring a 7:1 ratio for the armies charged with carrying out the decisive enveloping maneuver through Belgium and northern France. However, General von Moltke, who succeeded General von Schlieffen in 1906, felt that it was essential to send larger forces to the east against the Russians and into Alsace and Lorraine to protect those regions against a French offensive; therefore, the right wing lost 96 battalions and the left wing was reinforced with 85 battalions, adding up in the new deployment plan to 24 1/2 divisions. Thus the strength ratio between the two wings of the German army in the west dropped to 3:1 in favor of the marching right wing. In addition, in the course of the battle due to losses, attrition, and the need to leave behind substantial occupation forces and some army corps to blockade the fortresses of Maubeuge and Antwerp, the German army gradually weakened. After the first reports of defeats in East Prussia, General von Moltke transferred two army corps of the 2nd Army to the east at the end of August. At the decisive moment of the Battle of the Marne therefore the German army found itself outnumbered by the enemy, being able to field only 44 infantry and 7 cavalry divisions with 750,000 soldiers.
Technically and tactically, the German high command seemed to have understood the importance of firepower and the revolution taking place in the art of warfare; the German soldier, equipped with the new, inconspicuous feldgrau uniform and the Pickelhaube, the Prussian army's studded leather helmet, was armed with the 7.92 mm Mauser 98 five-shot breech-loading rifle. Each infantry regiment had a machine gun company equipped with the reliable and powerful MG 08. Divisional and corps field artillery regiments were equipped with 7.7-cm cannons and 10.5-cm and 15-cm heavy howitzers capable of providing powerful fire support; troops were trained to advance with rapid maneuvers with the support of machine guns, which were considered essential not only in defense but also in attack. In addition, according to the doctrine of Auftragstaktik, German theory envisioned the decentralization of tactical direction on the battlefield and thus the enhancement of the initiative capability of junior officers and non-commissioned officers. During the western campaign and the Battle of the Marne, German troops generally applied these tactics and were mainly able to employ the machine gun company as infantry support. However, in some phases of the fighting in Belgium and on the Marne, the German army launched massed attacks with dense columns in close ranks without considering the firepower of modern weapons.
Operationally, the German army had considerable difficulties in the area of communications and failed to ensure adequate liaison between the moving armies; as a result, the OHL, which had fallen far behind first in Koblenz and then in Luxembourg, was often not promptly informed of developments and had late knowledge of essential information. General Helmuth von Moltke, in poor health, not very optimistic, and severely strained by the strain of the campaign, was unable to strictly control his key subordinates, who on some occasions made key decisions on their own initiative.
The French Army
General Joseph Joffre had been the designated commander-in-chief of the French army in the event of war since 1911; coming from the Army Corps of Engineers, he had served in the colonies and was considered an expert in transportation and logistics rather than a strategist. During the campaign he showed determination and confidence in victory despite early defeats and a seemingly compromised situation; war plan XVII quickly proved inadequate but the general was able to reorganize his deployment by moving troops to decisive points and succeeding in achieving numerical superiority at the most important time and in the most important sectors. During the Battle of the Marne, the Allies fielded 56 infantry divisions, of which five were British, and ten cavalry divisions, of which one was British; a total of about one million soldiers.
The French army had entered the war employing the tactical-operational theories of the all-out offensive; these tactical conceptions, shared by most French generals, involved the so-called attaque brusquée ("swift and impetuous attack") and were based on the idealistic theories of élan ("vital momentum") and "French fury," which held the French soldier to be inherently superior as a fighter to the opponent. The soldier, still equipped in the nineteenth-century uniform with the long blue jacket and blazing pantalons rouge, was armed with the modern 8 mm Lebel rifle with eight-round tubular magazine and the Saint-Étienne machine gun, but the commands showed doubts about the real importance of this weapon considered too heavy and, above all, too ammunition-consuming. From the point of view of armament, the French army's strong point was its excellent field artillery, which was equipped with the deadly 75-mm cannon assigned to divisional batteries and the army corps reserve, which was considered far superior to the German field guns and capable, thanks to its accuracy, its tense firing, its range, its mobility and above all its impressive firing rate of up to 20-30 rounds per minute, of supporting infantry attacks and dominating the battlefield. The French army, on the other hand, had only 300 pieces of 105-, 120- and 155-mm heavy artillery, which were deemed to be of limited use in the rapid movement warfare envisioned by the general staff theorists.
In fact, during the early battles the French suffered from the superiority of German heavy artillery and had very high losses due to excessive offensive momentum and the infantry's continued pursuit of the decisive frontal bayonet attack. The French generals understood that the ill-considered adoption of the all-out offensive would be ruinous in the face of German machine guns, and while during the Battle of the Marne the French army essentially continued to employ massed attack tactics it also sought to make the best use of field artillery; 75-mm batteries were on some occasions concentrated to provide constant and effective fire support both to support the assaulting infantry and to repel enemy attacks.
The British Army
The British Expeditionary Force that landed in France by August 20 consisted of three army corps with five infantry divisions and one cavalry division; these were experienced and well-trained professional regular troops with adequate logistical supports. After the modest performance during the Great Boer War of 1899-1902, the British Army had promoted an extensive reform program by establishing the Imperial General Staff in 1906 and especially developing the armament and logistical organization of its forces. The British infantry, outfitted in the modern khaki uniform, entered the field armed with the excellent ten-shot Lee-Enfield rifle and the sturdy Vickers machine gun, while the artillery had the excellent 18-pound rapid-fire field gun and was also well supplied with 4.5-inch howitzers and 60-pound heavy guns.
From the point of view of tactics, British theory emphasized the importance of firepower but still continued to prefer close-range attack preceded by the use of guns and machine guns; Victorian traditions persisted especially in the cavalry units. In the general staff alongside generals with good organizational skills, there was no shortage of officers of poor quality and overly attached to old tactics. Field Marshal John French, who arrived in France on August 14, 1914, would show modest leadership qualities by cooperating with the French generals with difficulty; General Henry Wilson, deputy imperial chief of staff, soon became the main liaison officer between the two allies. In the early battles the British showed tenacity and good marksmanship training, well impressing the German troops; they managed to maintain cohesion despite an interminable and exhausting retreat. During the Battle of the Marne they took part in the counteroffensive by advancing into the wide gap opened in the German front, but they showed excessive caution, progressing very slowly despite little opposition and modest losses.
The fighting on the Ourcq
General Maunoury was supposed, according to General Joffre's plans, to launch the main attack by striking the exposed right flank of the German army, whose main mass seemed to be advancing south of the Marne, unaware of the French concentration east of Paris. The 6th Army, however, had just been formed by grouping together General Frédéric Vautier's 7th Army Corps from Alsace, Generals Henri de Lamaze's and Charles Ebener's 5th and 6th Reserve Divisions, General André Sordet's exhausted cavalry and troops just transferred from North Africa; General Victor René Boëlle's 4th Army Corps, which had previously been part of the 3rd Army in the Ardennes, was also scheduled to arrive. These units were in part already weakened after the forced marches and fighting in August and had had very little time to organize deployment, conduct reconnaissance, and study tactical details. General Maunoury had decided to put his forces on the move as early as the morning of September 5; orders reached the leading units at 06:00, just an hour before the appointed time to begin the march; the French did not expect strong resistance and believed that the bulk of the German troops were still in the southwest.
In fact, while much of General von Kluck's 1st Army was on the march south and had already reached the Grand Morin River, General Hans von Gronau's German 4th Reserve Army Corps, consisting of two infantry divisions and one cavalry division, remained north of the Marne, around the town of Nanteuil-le-Haudouin. At 11:00 a.m. the German cavalry spotted the moving French vanguards, and General von Gronau, despite the lack of information and the weakness of his forces, decided to halt the march and attack the reported forces to the west. At 12:30 p.m. German artillery began to strike the French troops, belonging to General Lamaze's group, who, unaware of the enemy's proximity, had just stopped in the villages of Iverny, Villeroy and Monthyon.
The French at first were surprised by the German assault but were able to hold it off thanks to 75 mm cannon fire, and the 55th Reserve Division managed to organize a barrage line east of Iverny and Villenoy; instead, a Moroccan brigade suffered heavy losses as it tried to advance, and a French attempt to move from Villeroy was also repulsed by German artillery fire. Further north, bitter fighting developed in the forest of Tillières where the French 56th Reserve Division was attacked by a German division, while still further north the French 14th Division suddenly found itself in combat at Bouillancy. At the end of the day on September 5, which was marked by confused and bloody fighting, General von Gronau decided to suspend the attacks and prudently fall back to a more rearward line; his troops had suffered heavy losses mainly due to French artillery fire, and in addition it was clear that they were facing forces that were far superior in numbers. The general felt that the arrival of reinforcements to consolidate his lines was urgent.
General von Kluck and his chief of staff, General Hermann von Kuhl, finally became aware of the perilous situation on the right flank of the 1st Army, defended only by the weak 4th Reserve Army Corps and under increasing pressure from the new French grouping. The bad news was communicated by General von Gronau by telephone at midnight on September 5; however, Generals von Kluck and von Kuhl decided to accept the battle east of Paris, regroup most of the army, which was then south of the Marne, and attack westward on the Ourcq. In the early morning of September 6, General Alexander von Linsingen's II Pomeranian Army Corps was recalled north of the Marne and directed toward Lizy-sur-Ourcq and Germigny-l'Évêque, while in the early afternoon General Sixt von Arnim's IV Prussian Corps also received orders to suspend its advance south of the Marne and march in forced stages toward the northwest. In fact, it seems that Generals von Kluck and von Bülow initially believed that the French forces in action east of Paris were only rear-guards, and only the discovery on September 6 of copies of General Joffre's appeal to troops clarified the situation; at the OHL, informed of the latest developments, General von Moltke and Colonel Tappen understood that the enemy retreat was over and the decisive battle was beginning. Colonel Tappen spoke of "decision day" and said that "at last we have engaged them," that "it will be a very hard fight," and that "our valiant troops know their task well."
On the morning of September 6, the French vanguards occupied the ground abandoned by the IV Reserve Corps, which during the night had taken up a position on the eastern edge of the Multien plateau, west of the Ourcq; General Maunoury's orders were to resume the offensive and march toward the towns of Saint-Soupples and Marcilly with General Lamaze's reserve grouping; toward Penchard with the 45th Division; and toward the plateau with General Vautier's 7th Army Corps. The fighting began at 10:00 a.m., but at 12:00 p.m. the two divisions of General von Linsingen's II Army Corps arrived on the battlefield and, after a forced march of sixty kilometers, took up positions on the two wings of the German deployment. Despite the arrival of these reinforcements, General Maunoury stubbornly resumed his attacks after regrouping General Lamaze's forces; until 4:30 p.m. the French launched continuous frontal assaults but were unable to advance on the open ground beaten by German fire; at Barcy the 55th Division was repulsed with heavy losses, while at Chambry the 45th Division and General Ernest Joseph Blondlat's Moroccan Division were unsuccessful in the face of resistance from General Karl von Trossel's 3rd Infantry Division. At Etrépilly, the 56th Division, after a series of unsuccessful assaults, was counterattacked and managed to stabilize the situation thanks to fire from four 75-mm cannons employed at close range.
In the other sectors, too, the 6th Army's offensive did not achieve decisive results; while the 63rd Division was able to gain ground and take the Ferme de Champfleury and the town of Puisieux, further north the French 14th Division was counterattacked and regained some of the positions it had captured. The fighting had been very bitter and bloody, and the German troops had also suffered heavy losses; the IV Reserve Corps was now very weakened and morally strained, and the II Corps also needed reinforcements. General von Linsingen in the evening called for the urgent intervention of General von Arnim's IV Corps, which on the orders of General von Kluck was approaching from the southeast; the first units reached the area of the fighting at 02:00 on September 7.
General von Kluck had to face the situation on the Ourcq with insufficient forces to achieve success. He was aware that the displacement of II and IV Corps had left a dangerous area uncovered to the south between Varreddes and Sancy-lès-Provins, so to control the situation and gain time the command of the 1st Army decided to employ the I and II Cavalry Corps of Generals von Richthofen and von der Marwitz in this area. During the night of September 7, Generals von Kluck and von Kuhl decided that they needed all their forces on the Ourcq; messages were sent to the 2nd Army command to have at their disposal the III and IX Army Corps, which at that time were fighting further west on the Grand Morin between Esternay and Choisy.
During the day of September 6, the French 6th Army had received the 61st Reserve Division as reinforcement; General Maunoury needed as many forces as possible at his disposal, and the arrival of troops was of the utmost urgency. It was at this stage, on the day of September 7, that the famous "cabs of the Marne" episode occurred: in order to speed up as much as possible the transportation north of Ourcq of General Boëlle's 4th Army Corps, the governor of Paris, General Gallieni, resorted to the improvised expedient of transferring part of the 7th Division, which had just arrived exhausted after a series of forced marches, 50 kilometers north to the hastily requisitioned cabs of Paris. About 1,200 cabs (mainly Renault Type AG and Type AG-1) were assembled at the Hôtel des Invalides and loaded into the Paris suburb of Livry-sur-Seine each four or five soldiers of the 103rd and 104th Infantry Regiments. The troops, about 4,000 soldiers, arrived at their destination in the Nanteuil region at 2 a.m. on Sept. 8; during the transport the units became intermixed and reached the place of regrouping in a disorganized manner. This emergency transfer did not actually play a decisive role and had limited importance for the outcome of the fighting, but the episode and the patriotic efforts of the Parisian cab drivers became the most famous symbolic representation of the Battle of the Marne.
Meanwhile, on the morning of September 7, General Maunoury had resumed his attacks but the German IV Corps Reserve and II Corps had been reinforced by the arrival of General von Arnim's 7th and 8th Divisions of the IV Corps; the French assaults met with strong resistance. General Antoine Drude's 45th Division was halted by German artillery fire east of Chambry, and at Puiseux the 63rd Reserve Division gave signs of failure. The situation was restored for the French thanks to the decisive intervention of the 75-mm guns of Colonel Robert Nivelle's 5th Artillery Regiment; the pieces maintained rapid fire at the rate of twenty rounds per minute and shattered the German infantry assault, momentarily stabilizing the situation. To the north, the French 14th Division failed to advance while all attacks by the 61st Reserve Division against the village of Betz were repulsed by the German 7th Division, which had just arrived after a sixty-kilometer forced march. Violent fighting again took place at Étrépilly, which was defended by two regiments of the 4th Reserve Corps; the Germans attempted to advance westward but were blocked by French artillery fire and in the afternoon were counterattacked by the 2nd Zouave Regiment. The Germans fell back and the village temporarily fell into French hands, but in the night the Germans counterattacked and reentered Etrépilly, where very hard night fighting took place unsuccessfully around the cemetery. Further south, the German 3rd Division, attacked by the Moroccan Division, held its precarious positions at Varreddes with difficulty.
General von Kluck during the night of September 6-7 had taken the risky decision to withdraw also the 3rd and 9th Army Corps from the line of battle on the Grand Morin and move them immediately by forced march north to reinforce his deployment on the Ourcq. This initiative, taken without prior consultation with either General von Moltke or General von Bülow, created a dangerous gap in the German lines on the 2nd Army's right flank and risked jeopardizing the overall outcome of the battle by favoring the enemy advance, but von Kluck, an aggressive and determined commander, believed that his cavalry could gain time by delaying French progress through the gap; the general was confident, after concentrating his forces, that he could defeat the French grouping that had attacked him on the Ourcq and march on Paris, deciding the battle at once. General Ewald von Lochow's III Berlin Army Corps and General Ferdinand von Quast's IX Hanseatic Army Corps had set out on the morning of September 7 and were approaching in forced stages; meanwhile, the forces of the 1st Army continued to successfully repel new attacks by General Maunoury's 6th Army, which despite reinforcements was exhausted and weakened by heavy losses
On the day of September 8 in the central sector of the lines at Trocy-en-Multien the German artillery succeeded in blocking French attacks, while in the heights east of Etrépilly General von Gronau's IV Reserve Corps was tired and decimated after three days of battle. After being subjected to French artillery fire all day it was fortunately reinforced in the evening by the newly arrived 5th Division of III Corps and immediately sent into line. The German situation was more difficult to the south where the 3rd Division of II Corps was suffering heavy losses under 75-mm cannon fire and attacks by the Moroccan division; the division also began to be threatened on the left flank by the British advance into the gap. In the course of the day General von Kluck decided to withdraw the 3rd Division, which abandoned Varredes, destroyed the bridges over the Marne and took up positions further east on the heights of Congis-sur-Thérouanne. It ended in failure, on the other hand, the outflanking maneuver on the northern flank attempted by the French 7th and 61st Divisions, which, after initially gaining ground by capturing Étavigny, were blocked by General von Arnim's German 4th Army Corps, which had been reinforced by the first arriving units of the 6th Division of the 3rd Army Corps.
General Maunoury was aware that his forces were unable to achieve decisive success and were weakening, and he feared a German counterattack in force; General Gallieni was concerned and urged Maunoury to hold his positions "with the utmost energy." General Joffre, too, recognized that the 6th Army could no longer attack but counted that it could continue to fight on defensive positions and hold back the German forces; the commander in chief decided to send the 37th Division and General Albert d'Amade's territorial troops as reinforcements to cover the left flank. The commander of the 6th Army described his troops as "decimated and exhausted" but assured that they were holding out "on all positions"; he speculated possibly gaining time by falling back slowly toward Paris.
General von Kluck was still confident: despite the increasing pressure he was under on his left flank because of the wide gap into which the British were advancing, he informed the high command on the night of September 8-9 that he believed he would achieve victory the following day by means of a decisive attack launched on the northern flank with General von Quast's two divisions of the 9th Army Corps that were arriving, reinforced with the 6th Division of III Corps and General Rudolf von Lepel's reserve brigade that was marching south after leaving Brussels. In fact, the isolated position of the 1st Army was becoming increasingly dangerous; by the morning of September 9, Generals von Kluck and von Kuhl learned accurate news from General von Bülow about the retreat to the Marne of the 2nd Army, while the German cavalry reported that the situation in the gap between the two armies was becoming increasingly critical.
The attack by General von Quast's IX Army Corps began on the morning of Sept. 9 on the northern wing; the French 61st and 7th Divisions were challenged and had to fall back to a more rearward defensive line. The French situation appeared even more difficult after the arrival from the north of General von Lepel's brigade, which overcame the resistance of two reserve regiments, reached the road south of Nanteuil-le-Haudouin and endangered the 61st Division's communications. The intervention of 75mm guns from the 44th Artillery Regiment and cavalry divisions succeeded in momentarily stabilizing the situation and stopping the Germans. In the meantime, however, the position of the German 1st Army's left flank had deteriorated, so that General von Kluck had to have the 2nd and 4th Army Corps fall back to Coulombs-en-Valois at 0930 hours to meet the British advance south of the Marne, while General von Bülow communicated that he had decided to retreat further to Dormans.
General von Kluck held a meeting with his generals to extol their resolve and accelerate the attack on the northern wing; he still appeared very resolute stating that "every soldier had to be convinced of victory" and that if the attack was successful "final victory would be achieved." General von Quast was also optimistic and believed that the remaining French forces would not be able to stop his attack toward Paris. Things changed completely after 11:30 a.m. when Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, sent by General von Moltke to assess the situation and make possible decisions, arrived at 1st Army headquarters in Mareuil-sur-Ourcq.
The fighting on the Petit and Grand Morin.
On September 6, General Franchet d'Esperey began the 5th Army counterattack; after replacing General Lanrezac on September 3, the tenacious and pugnacious new commander had decided to march in the direction of Montmirail from the south, hoping to coordinate his offensive with a British attack from the southwest. On September 4, General Franchet d'Esperey had met with General Henry Wilson, who appeared to agree with this plan and guaranteed the British contest.
The French troops, exhausted by the long retreat, were tired and weakened, and General Franchet d'Esperey himself was aware of the difficult situation; the commanders and soldiers nevertheless demonstrated élan and high morale. Before the offensive began, the movements of large German columns that were moving away from the front and marching northeast were detected; the German defenses in front of the 5th Army were actually weakening after the II and IV Corps of Generals von Linsingen and von Arnim were in the process of transferring, on orders from General von Kluck issued at midnight on Sept. 6, leaving the Grand Morin sector to join the rest of the German 1st Army and help repel attacks on General Maunoury's Ourcq. General Franchet d'Esperey attacked with three army corps in the front line: General Louis de Maud'huy's 18th Corps marched to Montceaux-lès-Provins; General Emile Hector Hache's 3rd Corps attacked Courgivaux, while General Henry Victor Deligny's 1st Corps assaulted Esternay. General Gilbert Defforges' 10th Corps was to remain in reserve, while the cavalry corps was to try to maintain links on the flanks of the army.
The 18th Army Corps concentrated a large mass of 75-mm field artillery; General Maud'huy intended to carry out a high-powered preliminary bombardment before attacking Montceaux-lès-Provins and regrouped more than 200 75-mm guns from his army corps, reinforced by the batteries of the 6th Division and the 53rd and 69th Divisions in reserve. The French guns destroyed the German artillery, which consisted of only four batteries, and then targeted the infantry positions; the town was occupied by elements of three German regiments of General Ewald von Lochow's III Army Corps, which, despite having suffered an artillery bombardment described as "monstrous," defended themselves in the farms that had to be systematically conquered by the French 35th and 6th Divisions; at 11 p.m: 00, Montceaux-lès-Provins fell to French troops.
At the same time, the 5th Army's other attacks developed slowly and with difficulty in the face of German resistance: the 1st Army Corps failed to capture Esternay, which was well defended by General Ferdinand von Quast's German IX Army Corps, while the Cavalry Corps held its ground without contributing to the offensive. More success was achieved by General Defforges' 10th Army Corps, which intervened on the far right, attacked General Johannes von Eben's German 10th Reserve Corps and successfully reached the town of Charleville in the hills overlooking the course of the Petit Morin River. Much smoother was the advance of the British troops; the BEF was marching over terrain defended only by German rearguard units and a few cavalry units, after the Germanic II and IV Corps had abandoned their positions since the morning of September 6 on the orders of General von Kluck and were moving in forced marches up the Ourcq. In the evening the British vanguards reached the banks of the Grand Morin River between Crécy-la-Chapelle and Choisy-en-Brie without great difficulty. The advance of the three British army corps, which began more than twenty kilometers behind the line of departure planned by General Joffre, proceeded with great slowness and caution despite limited enemy resistance; on the left, General Douglas Haig's I Corps, fearing that it would encounter divisions of the German I Cavalry Corps, halted the advance until 3:30 p.m., allowing the German IV Corps to disengage undisturbed toward the Ourcq. The British found positions abandoned and suffered modest losses; General Franchet d'Esperey was greatly annoyed by the British hesitation and urged a more rapid advance.
Despite the cautious British advance, General von Bülow was very worried; his forces were weakened and under increasing attack, plus the transfer of IV Corps to the Ourcq front had dangerously exposed his right flank. Around midnight on September 6, the commander of the 2nd Army decided to have the III and IX Corps fall back north of Petit Morin, west of Montmirail, in connection on their left with the reserve X Corps. This retreat movement for about 15-20 kilometers widened the gap of about thirty kilometers in the German lines between the right wing of the 2nd Army and the left wing of the 1st Army covered only by the two German cavalry corps. The retreat maneuver was carried out with difficulty under pressure from the French and cost hard losses: at the Guebarrè farm a battalion of General von Eben's 10th Reserve Corps was cut off and surrounded. The French refused to accept the surrender and destroyed the unit with a 75 mm artillery concentration; 93 men were captured and 450 were killed.
The situation of the German deployment became even more difficult when at 10:00 a.m. on September 7 General von Kluck made the risky decision to withdraw from the Petit Morin front and transfer General von Lochow's III Army Corps and General von Quast's IX Army Corps to the Ourcq as well. This risky maneuver, made difficult by the fact that the two corps were in combat against the French and thus had considerable trouble disengaging before marching north, further widened the gap on the right of General von Bülow's 2nd Army; this space almost devoid of German troops now measured over fifty kilometers through which the British Expeditionary Corps could advance almost undisturbed. General von Bülow learned with dismay that two more army corps had left his front and tried to cover his right flank by bringing in General Karl von Einem's 7th Army Corps alongside the 10th Reserve Corps.
On September 7, General Franchet d'Esperey resumed the offensive; the French corps advanced methodically, trying to maintain lateral contacts between divisions, and soon detected that the Germans were in full retreat. The army's main objective was the town of Montmirail. General Defforges' 10th Army Corps reached and overtook Grand Morin meeting only weak rearguard opposition; on the right General Deligny's 1st Army Corps finally occupied Esternay, which had already been evacuated by the Germans, while General Hache's 3rd Corps had to deal with some German IX Corps divisions that had failed to disengage in time. General Charles Mangin's 5th Division and General Philippe Pétain's 6th Division attacked, captured the towns of Escardes and Courgivaux, and reached the Grand Morin. During Sept. 7, the BEF resumed its slow and hesitant advance northward; despite obvious signs of retreat, the British units marched all day almost without a fight and faced only weak cavalry units; the Grand Morin was finally passed. An attempt promoted by General Gallieni to cooperate with the British by advancing General Lartigue's 8th Division south of Meaux was thwarted by German machine guns from General von Trossel's 3rd Division, which inflicted heavy losses from the northern bank of the Marne.
On September 8, the BEF finally made more progress and reached Petit Morin, which was passed after fighting at Sablonnières. After the cavalry had run into trouble, it was the infantry of the 4th and 5th Divisions that managed to cross the river. In the late afternoon the Germans fell back south of the Marne in the region of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre. Despite these achievements, General Joffre was exasperated by British slowness; in three days the BEF, despite having an overwhelming superiority of forces, had advanced in an almost free space of only 40 kilometers.
At the same time, General Franchet d'Esperey's French 5th Army had resumed the offensive across the entire line achieving important successes; while General Defforges' 10th Army Corps diverted to the right to support General Foch's left flank in trouble in the Saint-Gond marshes, the 1st Army Corps marched from the south toward Montmirail; German artillery maintained intense fire slowing the advance. The French guns had difficulty locating the position of the German howitzer batteries and failed to suppress their fire; however, the French resumed their advance and crossed the Petit Morin east of Montmirail. The German artillery also hindered the advance in the center of General Deligny's 3rd Army Corps with its continuous and effective intervention; General Mangin's 5th Division constituted the leading element of the army corps but, due to enemy cannon fire, did not reach the southern bank of the Petit Morin until the evening, and its first attempt to cross it was repulsed at 8 p.m.
The situation of the German 2nd Army, on the other hand, became truly critical because of the successes achieved in the west by General Maud'hury's 18th Army Corps. In this very exposed sector after the departure of the corps recalled by General von Kluck, the German defenses were entrusted to General von Einem's VII Army Corps, which occupied Montmirail with the 14th Division and covered its right flank at Marchais-en-Brie with the 13th Division. The attack by the two divisions of French 18th Corps was preceded by a heavy night artillery bombardment; the French reached and overran Petit-Morin and at 12 noon with a violent assault routed the German defenses and attacked Marchais-en-Brie; the town fell in the evening after a final attack by General Jouannic's 36th Division. The French conquest of Marchais-en-Brie was very important because it had allowed them to outflank the 2nd Army's right flank, and Montmirail was now threatened from two directions. General von Bülow and his chief of staff, General Otto von Lauenstein, were very pessimistic and decided that a further retreat was inevitable. Montmirail was evacuated, and General von Einem's VII Corps and General von Eben's X Reserve Corps fell back eastward to the Margny-Le Thoult line, further widening the gap between the 2nd Army's right flank and the 1st Army's left flank.
At 7:45 p.m. on September 8, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, an officer sent to the front by General von Moltke with full authority, arrived at the 2nd Army headquarters at Montmort Castle where he immediately spoke with General von Lauenstein and the chief operations office, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Matthes. General von Lauenstein reported that the situation in the army was very serious; at his next meeting with General von Bülow, the latter spoke of a "serious and even dangerous" situation and recriminated harshly against the behavior of General von Kluck, whose lack of cooperation he said had caused the gap between the two German right wing formations to widen. During the meeting came the very bad news of the fall of Marchais-en-Brie and the outflanking of the right flank; this news shook everyone present; officers of the 2nd Army admitted that there were no reserves available, that the situation was "desperate," and that the army was "disintegrating." For the first time there was explicit talk of a general retreat. Lieutenant-Colonel Hentsch kept calm, generally shared the assessments of the other officers, and at 06:00 on September 9 left to join the headquarters of the 1st Army to persuade General von Kluck to stop the battle on Ourcq. After his departure General von Bülow, much demoralized and completely convinced after the latest reports that a real breakthrough was in progress in the gap where numerous advancing enemy columns were reported, at 09:02 on September 9 informed Generals von Kluck and von Hausen that the 2nd Army was "beginning its general retreat."
After the successes of September 8, General Franchet d'Esperey was very optimistic; he issued a proclamation to the troops in which he called the enemy "in full retreat" and urged "vigorous pursuit." The French general was aware of the need to continue the offensive without delay; new orders were therefore issued to the 5th Army formations to take advantage of the situation. While General Conneau's cavalry corps would maintain links with the British on the left flank, the 18th and 1st Corps would march northward in the direction of Château-Thierry and Condé-en-Brie, while the 10th Army Corps on the right flank would head eastward to support General Foch whose 9th Army was fighting hard in the Saint-Gond marshes. To cross the Marne quickly, General Franchet d'Esperey had bridge crews brought forward.
Despite General Franchet d'Esperey's intentions, the French advance on September 9 developed all along the front slowly and unsuccessfully to engage the Germans and block their retreat. On the right wing, French operations were hampered by the difficulties of General Foch whose troops had suffered a setback at Mondement; General Deligny's 1st Army Corps was then sent east toward Étoges hoping to strike the German 10th Army Corps from behind. The French advanced a few kilometers with little difficulty but failed to intercept the Germans. General Hache's 3rd Army Corps also met little resistance; only weak rearguards hampered the advance at Margny at 4 p.m. and the French, after bringing in artillery, managed to reach the Marne and cross it at Dormans. Meanwhile, at 12:00 noon on the left flank, General Maud'huy's 18th Army Corps had in turn taken a position on the northern bank of the river after liberating Château-Thierry. The French cavalry showed little momentum during this phase and failed to seriously hinder the German retreat.
The British Expeditionary Corps continued to advance cautiously and slowly on September 9; General French considered it dangerous to speed up the march and, lacking accurate information about the enemy forces present, preferred to proceed with great circumspection. Even the British cavalry in practice did not carry out its pursuit duties and merely maintained links with the French left flank. These hesitations favored the German retreat, which developed neatly. By 05:30 General Haig's I Corps British were north of the Marne after crossing the river without encountering resistance at Nogent-sur-Marne and Azy-sur-Marne but, despite clear signs of German retreat, aerial identification of enemy columns north of Château-Thierry prompted General French to temporarily halt the I Corps advance at 15:30. To the west General Smith-Dorrien's II Corps also crossed the Marne in the morning at Nanteuil-sur-Marne but was blocked until 6 p.m. by an improvised German formation under the command of General Kraewel. More difficulties were encountered further west by General William Pulteney's III Army Corps, which was thwarted by German machine-gun and artillery fire deployed on the north bank of the Marne around La Fertè-sous-Juarre. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the British crossed the river but failed to advance further and were unable to launch the attack against the left flank and rear of the German 1st Army, as General Maunoury insisted.
The fighting in the marshes of Saint-Gond
General Joffre had been concerned since late August, while organizing his forces to launch the counteroffensive on the left wing, to maintain the cohesion of his right wing, which was hard pressed by the German 4th and 5th Armies. General Sarrail's 3rd Army and General de Langle de Cary's 4th Army succeeded in defending their ground and protecting the Verdun stronghold, but the French commander-in-chief had been forced to form with improvised forces a new 9th Army, entrusted to General Ferdinand Foch to close the gap in the defenses that had been created between the 5th Army on the left and the 4th Army on the right. The 9th Army, formed mainly by General Pierre Dubois's 9th Corps and General Joseph Eydoux's 11th Corps, was to defend the area between the Brie plateau in the west, the impassable and almost impassable Saint-Gond marshes (Marais de Saint-Gond) in the center and the Champagne plain in the east.
On the left of the 9th Army was deployed General Franchet d'Esperey's 5th Army, which on the morning of Sept. 6 had begun its offensive in the direction of Montmirail; opposite General Foch, on the other hand, were deployed the left wing of General von Bülow's 2nd Army and General Max von Hausen's 3rd Army, which had been ordered on Sept. 5 by General von Moltke to continue advancing toward Troyes and Vendoeuvre. Fighting in this sector began in the west where a division under General Foch fought hard, along with General Defforges' 10th Corps, without yielding ground against General Albert Theodor Otto von Emmich's Hanoverian 10th Army Corps; in the east, along the course of the Somme-Soude River, the French 11th Corps, on the other hand, had difficulty organizing a solid defense, and troops from part of General Karl von Plettenberg's Prussian Guard Corps initially gained ground. In the center the 9th Army Corps had reached the northern edge of the Saint-Gond marshes where it clashed head-on with other Prussian Guard divisions; after bitter fighting the French fell back to the southern edge of the marshes in the afternoon. The French artillery intervened with great effectiveness and the Germans were stopped despite the intervention, in aid of the Guard, of the Saxons of General Karl Ludwig d'Elsa's XII Army Corps.
Despite the difficult fighting on Sept. 6, General Foch intended to resume the attacks with maximum energy to support, according to General Joffre's directives, the main offensive of the French left wing; his plans called for the 11th Army Corps to advance on the right flank of the army to the north and northwest, while in the center the 9th Corps would solidly barricade the Saint-Gond marshes before attacking in turn. The fighting, however, began on the left flank where it was the Germans of the 10th Army Corps who attacked toward Soizy-aux-Bois and Sézanne.
Violent fighting broke out in Soizy-aux-Bois and the surrounding woods during the morning; the Germans made some progress but the French 42nd Division, reinforced by artillery from the 51st Reserve Division, continuously counterattacked and managed to hold them back six kilometers north of Sézanne. On the right the German 19th Division attacked toward Mondemont and the Allemant ridge, but in this sector was deployed the solid Moroccan division of General Georges Louis Humbert, belonging to the 9th Army Corps, which held its positions in the western part of the Saint-Gond marshes. In the eastern part of the marshy terrain and along the Somme-Soude River, the Germans suffered a series of setbacks against General Eydoux's French 11th Army Corps and were continuously targeted by French field artillery; 75-mm cannon fire frustrated every attack by the Prussian Guard and the Saxons of General von Hausen's 3rd Army; the Germans, after a series of attacks and counterattacks, were pushed back to their starting positions and were unable to get around the marshes or cross the Somme-Soude.
The German situation was becoming difficult; in the western sector of the marshes, the troops of General von Bülow's 2nd Army, the 10th Army Corps and the Guard Corps, stretched out on a long front with little connection with the army units deployed further west, were greatly weakened after suffering deadly French artillery fire that hampered all movement; the soldiers were exhausted after the long marches and continuous battles. In the eastern sector of the marshes, the situation of General von Hausen's 3rd Army appeared even more critical. General von Hausen had had to disperse part of his forces to support the armies deployed on the flanks; he had therefore sent General Maximilian von Laffert's XIX Corps to the east in support of the 4th Army, while part of General d'Elsa's XII Army Corps had supported the attacks of the Prussian Guard to the west. The 3rd Army had thus fallen behind with reduced forces and during the day of September 7 had made no progress; the Saxons had been under fire from French 75-mm guns all day.
General von Hausen, commander of the 3rd Army, took a bold initiative at 5 p.m. on Sept. 7; deeming it essential to block the action of the French artillery batteries, he decided to regroup his forces and attack at dawn with a frontal bayonet assault on the center-eastern sector of the enemy's deployment, which was considered weaker, trying to catch the French by surprise and endanger the gun positions. The attack would be directed on the left by General Hans von Kirchbach with part of the XII Reserve Army Corps, XII and XIX Saxon Army Corps; on the right they would attack, with General von Bülow's authorization, the two divisions of General von Plettenberg's Prussian Guard Corps. After being informed at 9:15 p.m., late in the evening General von Moltke approved General von Hausen's plan.
The German attack was launched by surprise without artillery preparation at dawn on Sept. 8; the soldiers advanced with bayonets in their barrels and rifles discharged, trusting in the power of the massed impact. On the right, the main attack was launched by the 2nd Guard Division, supported on the flank of the 1st Guard Division, while on the left the 32nd Saxon Division and the 23rd Saxon Reserve Division went on the assault. The infantry advanced through the swampy terrain and achieved brilliant initial success.
While the right wing of the French 9th Army was in danger of collapsing, by the morning of Sept. 8 on the left flank instead the French had taken the initiative against the German troops of the VII Corps of the 2nd Army, which was already in great difficulty because of the gap opened on its right wing and was about to begin its retreat; the 42nd Division and General Georges Louis Humbert's combative Moroccan Division pushed back the enemy, recaptured Soizy-aux-Bois and Saint-Prix and reached at 09: 00 the Petit Morin in connection on the left with General Franchet d'Esperey's 5th Army. But the French success was short-lived; after learning of the Guard and Saxon assault, General von Emmich's 10th Army Corps also went on the attack, regained the lost ground and continued toward Mondement. At first the Moroccan division also had to retreat and surrender part of the Saint-Gond marshes. General Foch faced a very dangerous situation; on the right the 11th Corps was in full retreat, while the center of his lines was in a precarious position. In the course of the day he had unsuccessfully asked General de Langle de Cary for support from his troops; at 9:20 p.m., however, General Franchet d'Esperey promised to send General Defforges' 10th Corps to help. Thanks to these reinforcements, Foch was able to withdraw the 42nd Division from the front line and redistribute his reserves; the Frenchman was determined to counterattack as he told General Joffre in his famous communiqué of the night.
In fact, because of the overall situation along the entire front, General von Bülow on the morning of September 9, after a visit from Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch, made the decision to begin the general retreat of his army. At first, however, in order to deceive the French and slow their pursuit, the Germans resumed attacks that again seemed to endanger the 9th Army's position. The main fighting took place from dawn in the Mondement and Fère-Champenoise sectors: with a surprise attack, the Hanoverian soldiers of the 19th Division of the 10th Army Corps captured Mondement, but the French counterattacked and in the afternoon the important tactical position was retaken by General Humbert's Moroccan Division. On the left, the French 10th Army Corps, sent to help by General Franchet d'Esperey, gained ground, overran Petit Morin and closely pressed the retreating Germans.
In the eastern sector of the Saint-Gond marshes, General von Hausen also ordered new attacks with the help of troops from the XII Reserve Corps; the soldiers of the Prussian Guard Corps launched another assault with order and discipline, advancing south of Fère-Champenoise and succeeding in capturing the village of Connantre; the French fought fiercely to stop them, and in the afternoon the artillery intervened effectively: the Prussian Guard soldiers were exhausted and had again suffered heavy losses. On the left three Saxon divisions failed to make much progress. In the meantime General von Bülow had begun the retreat of his forces deployed on the Saxons' right, and at 5 p.m. the German infantry of the 2nd Army began to abandon the ground gained in the Saint-Gond marshes, leaving behind rearguards.
While he was busy repelling the new German attacks, General Foch was trying to organize the overall counteroffensive to regain the ground lost in the marshes; he finally completed the regrouping of his forces, concentrated seven divisions of the 9th and 11th Army Corps and also deployed his reserve consisting of the 42nd Division, which had just completed its transfer march from the left wing to the right wing of the deployment. Initially scheduled for 5:15 p.m. on September 9, the counteroffensive was finally postponed until the following day. On the morning of September 10, the French were engaged only by scattered rearguards since by then the Germans were in retreat across the entire line; in the late afternoon of September 9, General von Hausen had learned of General von Bülow's decisions and thus ordered the retreat of even a part of his army that was in danger of being isolated. General Foch's French soldiers were exhausted after days of continuous fighting, and on September 10, slowed by rearguards and swampy terrain, they slowly advanced northward, reoccupying positions but failing to engage the bulk of the retreating German troops.
German general retreat
During the battle, General von Moltke and the OHL, established far behind in Luxembourg, were unable to maintain control of the armies in the field due to severe communication difficulties; the general therefore was not promptly informed of the situation and received only incomplete and unclear news that accentuated his underlying pessimism. After learning of the gap opened between the 1st and 2nd Armies, General von Moltke showed signs of sagging morale; he himself spoke of "horrible tension" and "terrible difficulties." On September 8, when there had been a lack of accurate reports from the two right wing armies for two days, more confusing news came in and there was almost panic in the OHL. General von Moltke then decided to send Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, head of the OHL's information sector, to the headquarters of the various armies to clarify the situation and take necessary action. The lieutenant colonel received specific authorization to order a retreat "if deemed essential" and was given "full powers" to act at discretion with the authority of the chief of the general staff.
Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch left the OHL at 10:00 a.m. on September 8 and began, accompanied by Captains König and Koeppen, his mission by going initially to the headquarters of the 5th Army reached at 1:00 p.m. and the 4th Army, where he arrived at 3:15 p.m. The news he gathered about the situation of these two armies was reassuring: both were controlling the situation and planning new attacks. At 4:30 p.m. Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch moved to Châlons-sur-Marne where the headquarters of the 3rd Army was located; the officer spoke with the chief of staff, General Ernst von Hoeppner, who gave an optimistic picture of the situation. The lieutenant colonel was then able to radio the OHL that the situation found at the front in these three armies was "completely favorable."
Things changed in the evening when Hentsch reached the headquarters of the 2nd Army where he found a situation of discouragement and pessimism among the officers; the army was described as being in "disintegration," and it was then decided with the full consent of the officer to begin the general retreat. Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch went on the morning of September 9 to Mareuil-sur-Ourcq, the headquarters of the 1st Army command post, where he arrived at 11:30 a.m. and immediately met with the chief of staff, General von Kuhl, who seemed not overly concerned. General von Kuhl did not conceal the threat on the army's left flank, but stated that a decisive maneuver was underway to outflank the French left flank; he considered the advance of the British, who "always act very slowly," to be "not tragic."
Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch had very different information: he described the difficult situation of the other armies and said that the general retreat was already underway, so the 1st Army also had to suspend the battle and retreat in turn to Soissons and Fismes to link up with the 2nd Army. General von Kuhl initially protested but Hentsch said the 2nd Army was breaking up, and on the strength of the "full authority" granted to him by General von Moltke confirmed the order to retreat. In the face of this disastrous news, General von Kuhl conceded that even a victory over Ourcq would not be enough and agreed with the retreat order, which was communicated to General von Kluck, who, though displeased, accepted the decision. At 1:15 p.m. on September 9, General von Kluck gave orders to the 1st Army to halt its attacks and begin to fall back "in the direction of Soissons," thus ending with a final failure the great advance on Paris.
While he was busy controlling the decisive battles on the Ourcq and the Marne, General Joffre had also had to simultaneously deal with the situation on the right wing where General Fernand de Langle de Cary's 4th Army and General Maurice Sarrail's 3rd Army had been engaged since September 6 in fierce fighting between Vitry-le-François and the Argonne against the German 4th and 5th Armies. The commander-in-chief expected these two French armies to also take part in the general counteroffensive and was bringing in reinforcements from Lorraine, the 15th and XXI Corps.
By the morning of September 6, General de Langle de Cary had then moved to the attack after a violent general barrage of his artillery, but for three days bitter fighting ensued without decisive results for either side. Duke Albrecht, commander of the German 4th Army, had been surprised by the unexpected French attack and called for support from the left wing of the 3rd Army, which brought in General von Laffert's XIX Corps. On September 9, Duke Albrecht tried to take the initiative but his attack ended in failure and General de Langle de Cary, reinforced by the arrival of General Émile Edmond Legrand-Girarde's XXI Corps, was able to consolidate his positions and prepare new attacks in the direction of Vitry-le-François. The conduct of operations on the German side was also hampered by the poor cooperation between Duke Albrecht and Kronprinz Wilhelm commander of the 5th Army, deployed further east.
On Sept. 6, General Sarrail, commander of the French 3rd Army, also launched his offensive against the German 5th Army, which in turn was moving on the attack southeast in the direction of Bar-le-Duc. General Sarrail was holding positions southwest of the fortress of Verdun and intended to attack the German left flank, but in reality a frontal clash occurred that initially unfavored the French. A division of General Frédéric Henry Micheler's V Corps, deployed to bar the Revigny gap on the French left flank, was attacked and routed by General Kurt von Pritzelwitz's VI Army Corps; the intervention in aid of General Louis Espinasse's XV Corps succeeded in preventing defeat and blocking the enemy, but by Sept. 8 the Germans had gained considerable ground.
At this stage, General Sarrail came into conflict with General Joffre; the commander-in-chief criticized the direction of operations and the alleged failure of some units, demanding that "order be restored, taking all necessary measures"; furthermore, General Joffre, fearing a breakthrough through the Revigny gap ordered General Sarrail on the night of September 8 to fall back the troops deployed on his right in contact with Verdun. General Sarrail protested strongly against this order, and decided instead not to fall back and to defend the fortifications of Verdun at all costs; eventually the stronghold was fiercely defended and the French 3rd Army blocked the German offensive toward Revigny.
At 09:00 a.m. on September 10, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch arrived at the 5th Army headquarters in Varennes, coming from the command of the 1st Army where the general retreat of the German right wing had been finally established. The officer explained the critical situation and the decisions made, and then stated that the 5th Army also had to fall back; Kronprinz Wilhelm and his chief of staff, General Konstantin Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, protested these arrangements and requested written orders coming directly from General von Moltke.
General von Moltke received Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch's final report after the officer's return to headquarters in Luxembourg at 12:40 p.m. on September 10; the chief of staff approved all the established dispositions and the right wing's order to retreat; he had feared that the situation would be even more critical and was calmed by the news. It seemed that it was possible to organize an orderly retreat of the 1st and 2nd Armies that would allow the two formations to resume connections and close the gap. Despite this cautious optimism, General von Moltke, whose physical and mental endurance was being tested by the strain of the campaign, finally decided to go personally to the front to assess the situation.
General von Moltke, in company with Colonel Tappen and Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Dommes, reached the 5th Army headquarters where he had a lively discussion with Kronprinz Wilhelm who appeared confident and countered the pessimistic considerations of the chief of staff, then visited the 3rd Army where he conferred with General von Hausen. The chief of staff judged the situation of the army, which, scattered to the east and west, "was no longer able to fight," to be very precarious. At 1 p.m. the general arrived at the command post of the 4th Army, where he found instead a still optimistic environment; some officers advised against a general retreat that would depress the morale of the troops. At this point came a new pessimistic communication from General von Bülow from the 2nd Army headquarters: the French were about to break through on the right flank and center of the 3rd Army. This bad news shook General von Moltke, who, fearing a collapse not only of the right wing but also of the center of the deployment, made "the most difficult decision of my life" and at 1:30 p.m. on September 11 ordered a general retreat of the entire army.
The orders for general retreat stipulated that while the 1st Army would continue to fall back over the Aisne to Soissons and regain contact with the 2nd Army, which in turn was retreating over Reims and Thuizy, the other armies would fall back behind the Vesle: the 3rd Army to Suippes, the 4th Army to Sainte-Menehould and the 5th Army north of the Argonne and Verdun. General von Moltke, now completely demoralized, returned to OHL headquarters in Luxembourg at 2 p.m. on Sept. 12. On Sept. 14 Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, disappointed and angered by the defeat and alerted by his advisers to the chief of staff's nervous breakdown, decided to dismiss him, assigning supreme command to the Minister of War, General Erich von Falkenhayn.
On the night of September 9, General Joffre issued his "Particular Instruction No. 20"; the commander-in-chief was optimistic and, faced with signs of enemy retreat, envisaged a complex maneuver to turn the retreat into a rout and destroy the German right wing. According to this directive, the British Expeditionary Force was to accelerate its march and attack "with maximum energy" the flank and rear of the German 2nd Army, which would be engaged in front by General Franchet d'Esperey's 5th Army. At the same time, General Maunoury's 6th Army would remain north of the Ourcq and bypass, with the assistance of a cavalry corps, the German 1st Army. General Joffre informed the French government that he expected "decisive results." At 2 p.m. on Sept. 11, when it became apparent that the entire German army was retreating, the general told Minister of War Alexandre Millerand that "the Battle of the Marne has ended with an incontestable victory," but in his agenda to the troops he reiterated the importance of taking advantage of the favorable moment and pursuing the enemy "energetically" "without giving him a breather."
The Anglo-French armies were to advance on the entire front from Meaux to Châlons-sur-Marne; General Maunoury was to reach Soissons, General French's British were to head for Fismes, and the armies of Generals Franchet d'Esperey and Foch were to march on Rheims and Châlons. The last phase of the Battle of the Marne, characterized by the Anglo-French advance, continued for another four days: the effective action of German rear guards slowed the pursuit. The Allied march, led by exhausted troops unable to advance quickly, was also hampered by the rains that fell from Sept. 11 making the advance on the muddy terrain very tiring. Army commanders reported these difficulties to General Joffre and requested that operations be halted momentarily to rest the troops; General Franchet d'Esperey pointed out that further attacks were impossible and that the German defenses were being reinforced; General Foch also reported that the enemy was holding out with great tenacity. The retreating German forces had been reinforced with troops transferred from Alsace and in addition had taken up positions on the tactically favorable heights north of the Aisne River from where by September 12 they were able to block the advance of the Allied left wing.
In the central sector and on the right wing of the front, French progress was also limited: General Foch succeeded, despite the muddy terrain of Champagne, in liberating Fère-Champenoise and crossing the Marne at Châlons on September 11, but the armies of Generals de Langle de Cary and Sarrail failed to gain ground. General Joffre's attempt to break through on the Aisne ended in failure on September 18, and the commander-in-chief had to admit to his surprise that operations had stalled and that "there was no more hope of reaching open ground." In addition, the French army was experiencing a serious material crisis due to artillery shell shortages that forced General Joffre to order on Sept. 21 to postpone further attacks and limit ammunition consumption.
The Battle of the Marne decreed the failure of the Schlieffen plan and erased forever the possibility of a quick German victory on the Western Front. Much controversy arose almost immediately among military personnel, experts and historians about the causes and responsibilities for the negative outcome of the battle for the Germans. Some felt that the defeat was mainly due to General von Moltke's deficient leadership skills, his insecurity and pessimism; others-especially in German military circles-used Lieutenant-Colonel Hentsch as a scapegoat, blaming a mere lieutenant-colonel for playing a decisive role in influencing von Moltke's order to retreat.
According to many historians, the most important mistakes on the German side were made by General von Kluck, who on his own initiative diverted the march southeast of Paris, did not halt the advance on September 2, and finally made the risky decision to concentrate all his forces on Ourcq without bothering to maintain the cohesion of the front. This maneuver created a wide gap between the 1st and 2nd Armies through which the British could advance almost undisturbed, whose threatening penetration shook the morale of General von Bülow, who, already in dire straits under French attacks, decided on a general retreat. The direct protagonists of the events responded to these accusations: lieutenant colonel Hentsch claimed that he had faithfully carried out the orders of the OHL and believed that he had made the correct decisions, which won the complete approval of General von Moltke. General von Kluck until the end of his life maintained the opinion that, without the final retreat order, he would have been able to achieve victory in his sector and take Paris, although he admitted that even this success would not have been sufficient in the event of a collapse of the German front on the Marne.
Many discussions also arose in the French camp to establish the merits of the victory and to identify the key players responsible for the most important decisions for the favorable outcome of the battle. General Joffre is still considered the main architect of the success; despite serious initial strategic and tactical errors he managed, thanks to his resolve and constant optimism, to control a very serious situation and regain the initiative by turning the tide of the fighting. Other authors, however, have pointed out that it was actually General Gallieni who would have been the first to propose the counteroffensive and request that the time be accelerated in order to seize the opportune moment and save Paris. Moreover, other generals (Foch, Maunoury, Franchet d'Esperey) also made an important contribution to the victory with their determination and offensive spirit. In the British camp, General French did not show great leadership qualities and on the contrary showed little determination and pessimism; only at the last moment did he decide to join the counteroffensive. British troops contributed to the victory by advancing almost unopposed and suffering few casualties.
From a technical point of view, the French field artillery, equipped with the excellent 75 mm guns, played a decisive role in the battle, firing large numbers of shells both to support infantry attacks and to shatter German assaults. The 75-mm batteries demonstrated their great efficiency on the Marne: German troops described in their testimonies the accuracy and firepower of such pieces, and senior German officers stated that the French 75-mm batteries "were superior to ours...even in their tactics and firepower."
Strategically, on the other hand, the French, lacking fresh troops and trained cavalry, failed to take advantage of the favorable situation created by the German retreat. After the inconclusive outcome of the "sea race," the positional warfare that would last until November 1918 began. According to the British official historian, General Edmonds, moreover, the failure to exploit the Marne victory would also be attributable to the meager British troops landed on the continent: the intervention on the German rear of at least part of the territorial forces remaining in Britain could, in his opinion, have achieved decisive results and ended the war with the Allied victory.
The surprising conclusion of the battle and the seemingly inexplicable German retreat in front of Paris on the threshold of victory gave French propaganda an opportunity to speak of the "miracle of the Marne." It seems that it was Gallieni who first used this expression when in the early afternoon of September 9 Maunoury informed the general, who feared a final German attack against the Parisian fortified camp, that "the troops of Paris no longer have any enemy in front of them"; at which point the military governor of the capital is said to have said, "This is the miracle of the Marne!"
In remembrance of the fallen in the battle, the National Monument of the Victory of the Marne (Mondement-Montgivroux), the Memorial of the Battles of the Marne (Dormans, also dedicated to the victims of the Second Battle of the Marne) and the La Ferté-sous-Jouarre memorial were erected after the war. Participants in either battle of the Marne were given a specially created decoration, the Marne medal.