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Title: The Battle of the Marne
Author: Perris, George Herbert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  N. F. P. + E. L. P.

[Illustration: General Map showing


on the Eve of the Battle, and the central German lines of approach.

  German Armies.
  I–Von Kluck. II–Von Bülow.
  III–Von Hausen. IV–Duke of Würtemberg.
  V–Imperial Crown Prince.
  VI–C. Prince of Bavaria (& troops from Metz).
  VII–Von Heeringen.

  French & British Armies:
  6–Marmoury. B.E.F. British.
  5–F. d’Espérey. 9–Foch.
  4–DeLangle de Cary. 3–Sarrail.
  2–DeCastelnau. 1–Dubail.








The great war has entered into history. The restraints, direct and
indirect, which it imposed being gone with it, we return to sounder
tests of what should be public knowledge——uncomfortable truths may
be told, secret places explored. At the same time, the first squall
of controversy in France over the opening of the land campaign in
the West has subsided; this lull is the student’s opportunity. No
complete history of the events culminating in the victory of the Marne
is yet possible, or soon to be expected. On the German side, evidence
is scanty and of low value; on that of the Allies, there is yet a
preliminary work of sifting and measuring to undertake ere definitive
judgments can be set down. Any narrative conceived in a scientific, not
an apologetic or romantic, spirit may claim to further this end.

The difficulty lies less in following the actual movements of that
great encounter——the most important of which, and their part in the
result, can now be traced pretty accurately——than in estimating the
factors that produced and moulded it. Yet, if we are right in holding
the battle of the Marne to be essentially the completion of a chapter,
the resultant of certain designs and certain misadventures, a vast
strategical reversal and correction, such an estimate is necessary to
the subject. How did the two chief antagonists envisage the process of
modern warfare? Why was the action which was to close the first phase
of the war, and largely to shape its after-course, fought not near the
northern or eastern frontiers, but between Paris and Verdun? Why and
how were the original plans of campaign modified to reach this result?
What conditions of victory existed on the Marne that had been lacking
on the Sambre? In a word, the key to the meaning of the battle must
be sought in the character of the forces in play, their comparative
numbers, organisation, and training, armament and equipment, leadership
and inspiration.

No sooner is such an inquiry opened than a number of derivative
problems appear. Where exactly lay the German superiority of force
at the outset, and why was it not maintained? Was the first French
concentration justifiable? If not, was it promptly and soundly
changed? Could the northern frontier have been defended? Was Lanrezac
responsible for Charleroi, and, if so, why not Castelnau for Morhange?
Was the German plan of envelopment exaggerated? Could the British
have done more at Mons, and were they slow and timorous when the hour
arrived to turn about? Was Paris ever in danger? And, coming to the
battle itself, how was it decided? What parts did Gallieni, Von Kluck,
Sir John French, and Foch play? Was Joffre really master of the field?
It may be too soon to answer fully such questions as these; it is too
late to evade them.

Outside the mass of official and semi-official bulletins, dispatches,
and explanations, much of it now best left to oblivion, a considerable
literature has accumulated in France, including personal narratives
by combatants of all arms, and critical essays from points of view
the most diverse. With the rather cruel sincerity of the French
intelligence, the whole military preparation of the Republic has been
challenged; and, in the consequent discussion, many important facts
have come to light. Thus, we have the texts of the most decisive
orders, and many details of the dispositions of troops. We have Marshal
Von Bülow’s valuable diary of field movements, and the critical
reflections of distinguished officers like Lt.-Col. de Thomasson,
Generals Malleterre, Berthaut, Verraux, Percin, Canonge, Bonnal, Palat,
Cherfils, and Col. Feyler. Fragmentary statements by General Joffre
himself, by Generals Foch, Lanrezac, and Maunoury, the Ministers of
War, MM. Messimy and Millerand, by Generals von Freytag-Loringhoven,
Von Kluck, and other German officers and men, give useful indications.
We are also indebted to the more systematic works of MM. Hanotaux,
Reinach, Engerand, and Babin; and, with regard to the British
Force, the volumes of Marshal French and Major-General Maurice are
important. These and other sources are cited in the pages of “Notes
and References” at the end of the volume, in which some questions of
detail, especially relating to the preparation of the battle, are

Having been privileged to watch the war in France from beginning to
end, and to live with the French armies (as Correspondent attached to
General Headquarters) for more than two years, the writer has also had
exceptional opportunities of studying the terrain, and of discussing
the drama as a whole and in detail with officers and men from the
highest to the most humble. To name all those from whom he has received
aid would be impossible; to name any might seem to associate them with
conclusions for which he is solely responsible; but he may record his
deep gratitude to the French Government, the Headquarters Staff, and
the various Army Staffs, for the rare experience of which this volume
is unworthy fruit.

  _February 1920._

_German units are throughout numbered in Roman capitals_ (“the XX
Corps”), _Allied in ordinary figures_ (“the 20th Corps”).

_The small figures in the text refer to “Notes and References” at the
end of the volume._


  PREFACE                                                          v

     I. THE DELUGE                                                 1

           i. The German Plan of Campaign                         10
          ii. The Forces in Play                                  14
         iii. The French War Doctrine                             20
          iv. The Three French Offensives                         28
           v. The Battle of Charleroi-Mons                        34

           i. Ecce Homo!                                          46
          ii. The Second New Plan                                 54
         iii. Battle of the Gap of Charmes                        61
          iv. Battles of Le Cateau, Guise, and Launois            64
           v. End of the Long Retreat                             71

           i. The Government leaves the Capital                   76
          ii. Kluck plunges South-Eastward                        79
         iii. Joffre’s Opportunity                                84

           i. Gallieni’s Initiative                               92
          ii. General Offensive of the Allies                     95
              _Strength and Position of the Armies_               97
         iii. Features of the Battlefield                        106
          iv. The Last Summons                                   110

           i. A Premature Engagement                             113
          ii. The British Manœuvre                               118
         iii. A Race of Reinforcements                           126
          iv. The Paris Taxi-Cabs                                129

           i. French and d’Espérey strike North                  135
          ii. Battle of the Marshes of St. Gond                  142
         iii. Defence and Recapture of Mondemont                 148
          iv. Foch’s Centre broken                               155
           v. Fable and Fact of a Bold Manœuvre                  160

           i. The Battle of Vitry-le-François                    169
          ii. Sarrail holds the Meuse Salient                    175

    IX. VICTORY                                                  184

     X. THE DEFENCE OF THE EAST                                  197

    XI. SUMMING-UP                                               214

        INDEX                                                    271


The German Objective (p. 239); The Opposed Forces (p. 240); De Bloch’s
Prophecy and French’s Confession (p. 242); Criticisms and Defence of
the French Staff (p. 244); The Surprise in the North (p. 247); The
Abandonment of Lille (p. 252); M. Hanotaux and the B.E.F. (p. 252); The
Fall of Maubeuge (p. 256); Paris and the German Plan (p. 259); Some
Books on the Battle (p. 263); General Bonnal and the British Army (p.
265); Scenes at Farthest South (p. 266); The Myth of the 42nd Division
(p. 268).



                                                         FACING PAGE
   2. BATTLE OF CHARLEROI–MONS                                    38

   3. THE OURCQ FRONT, AFTERNOON, SEPT. 6                        118

   4. THE BRITISH TURN-ABOUT                                     122

   5. OPENING OF ALLIED OFFENSIVE, SEPT. 6                       136

   6. THE MARNE RE-CROSSED, SEPT. 9, A.M.                        142

   7. FOCH’S FRONT, SEPT. 6 AND 7                                146

   8. FOCH’S FRONT, SEPT. 8 AND 9                                156

   9. FRONT OF FRENCH 4TH ARMY                                   172

  10. THE VERDUN SALIENT                                         180

  11. BATTLE OF THE GRAND COURONNÉ                               206

  12. CRISIS OF THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE                          224




August 25, 1914: three weeks after Von Emmich opened the war before
Liège; five days after the French Army of Lorraine was trapped at
Sarrebourg and Morhange; two days after Namur fell, and Charleroi and
Mons were abandoned.

On this black day, the 25th, while Louvain was burning, the 80,000 men
of the old British regular Army made an average of 20 miles under a
brazen sun, pursued by the enormous mass of Von Kluck’s marching wing.
The 1st Corps under Haig came into Landrecies at 10 p.m., and, after a
stiff fight and two or three hours’ sleep, trudged on to Guise; while
the 2nd, Smith-Dorrien’s, at Le Cateau and towards Cambrai, spent most
of a showery night in preparing for the battle of the morrow, which
was to save the western flank of the Allies. On the British right, the
French 5th Army, Lanrezac’s, surprised in the Charleroi–Namur–Dinant
triangle by the onset of Von Bülow and the cleverly secreted approach
of Von Hausen, had struck a wild blow, and then reeled back; the
two German commanders were now driving it over the Belgian frontier
from Avesnes to Rocroi. The 4th Army, under de Langle de Cary, no
less heavily punished between Paliseul and Neufchateau in the Belgian
Ardennes, was just reaching the French Meuse between Sedan and Stenay,
there to dispute the passages against the Duke of Würtemberg. Eastward
again, Ruffey, beaten back on a wide crescent from Virton to Briey in
the Woevre by the Imperial Crown Prince, was standing better against a
relaxed pressure, from toward Montmédy, through Spincourt, to Etain.
Thus, Sarrail, in taking over the command of the 3rd Army, was able to
make ready, though with inadequate means, for the three-sided defence
of Verdun. On the eastern border, Castelnau and Dubail, withdrawing
hardly from ill-starred adventures in Lorraine and Alsace, were
rallying the 2nd and 1st Armies around the Nancy hills and on both
sides of the Gap of Charmes. Mulhouse, twice captured, was finally
abandoned by General Pau, with all save a corner of Alsace and the
southern passes of the Vosges. “It is a cruel necessity,” said the
official communiqué of August 26, “which the Army of Alsace and its
chief have submitted to with pain, and only at the last extremity.”
They had discovered that “the decisive attack” had to be met “in the
north.” At that moment, in fact, a hardly less “decisive” attack was
being met in the heart of Lorraine.

It was everywhere the same bitter story of defeat——defeat by surprise,
by locally superior numbers, by superior armament, sometimes by
superior generalship; and everywhere the retreat was accompanied and
hampered by the flight of masses of peasantry and townsfolk whose
flaming homes lit upon the horizon behind a warning to hasten their
feeble steps.

Before we seek the Staffs in their shifting quarters, to explain this
extraordinary situation, let us see what it meant for the commonalty of
the armies, without whose strength and confidence the best plans must
be as chaff in the wind. Over a million strong, they had left their
homes, and gathered at their depots during these three weeks, to be
whirled off to the frontiers and the first scarcely imaginable trial of
modern conscript systems. It was a new thing in the world’s history,
this sudden tremendous clash of the whole manhood of highly developed
nations, armed with the most murderous machinery science could devise,
and supported by vast reserves of wealth. It had fallen swiftly upon
them, the doom that many learned men had declared to be impossible in
the twentieth century; yet its essential nature was crude enough to be
immediately understood, and the intelligence of France, though shocked,
was not stunned. This million of peasants and workmen, merchants,
manufacturers, priests, artists, idlers, and the nation behind them,
were unanimous as never before. They knew the issue was not of their
making; they knew equally that it could not be refused, but must be
fought out, and that it would be a hard fight. The Napoleonic wars
were to be eclipsed; and there was now no Little Corporal to flash
his genius like a searchlight across Europe. The enemy had no less
advantage in prestige than in effectives, preparation, initiative.

Few of the million guessed, as yet, that most of them were marked
down for sacrifice. The general opinion was that it would be all over
by Christmas, at latest. A four months’ war seemed tragic enough in
those first days. With the unwonted agreement, an unwonted gravity
spread across the sunny lands from the Channel to the Alps where the
crops were ripening. If international idealism lay shattered, national
democracy rose well to the trial——never better. No recrimination (even
the murderer of Jaurès was set aside), no conspiracy, no guillotine,
marked the great revival of the republican spirit. England would at
least guard the coasts, and keep the seaways open. France went into the
struggle without wavering or doubt.

And so, “Aux armes, Citoyens!”——for these, mark you, are, in very fact,
citizen armies, independent, free-thinking, high-spirited fellows, no
Emperor’s “cannon-food.” From the smallest hamlet to the boulevards of
the great city, every pulse of life is feverishly concentrated upon
their gathering and departure. At the barracks the reservists, clad,
armed, equipped, are ready to entrain. Crowds of women, whose red
eyes belie their brave words, children at their skirts, surround the
gates, and run forward with bunches of flowers and tricolor rosettes.
The officers carry bouquets at their saddle-bows, the men cap their
rifles with roses and ribbons. At the railway station, long lines of
goods-vans, with a few passenger carriages; more flowers and little
flags; allied colours in front of the engine; a wag chalks up the
direction: “_Berlin, aller et retour._” The horses and guns are aboard;
the men jostle in the open doorways, and exchange cries with the crowd.
A stanza of the “Marseillaise” is broken by last adieux, shouts of
“Vive la France!” and the curtain falls upon the first memorable act.

Interminable journeys follow, by road and rail, toward the frontiers,
then from town to village, and from farm to farm of countrysides more
and more deserted and desolate. In the passes of the Vosges, the hills
and flats of Lorraine, the woods of the French Ardennes, the men
accustom themselves uneasily to the oppressive heat of day and the
chill and damp of night; to sore feet and chafed shoulders; to spells
of hunger due to late or lost convoys; to the deprivation of accustomed
comfort, and the thousand minor ills which in all times have been the
ground-stuff of the showy tapestries of war. Superfluous graces of
civilised life vanish before the irreconcilable need of economy in
every effort. Officers begin to be honoured not for rank or show, but
for the solid talents of leadership; pals are chosen, not from effusion
of heart, but for assurance of help in emergency.

The mantles of the chasseurs are still blue, the breeches of the
infantry red, the uniforms of the artillery and engineers nearly
black; but already bright colours tend to disappear, and every other
tone to assimilate with the dust of the high roads. By day and night
there is but one traffic throughout these northern and eastern
departments——files of cavalry, batteries of field-guns, columns of
heavy-laden men, convoys of Parisian autobuses and hooded carts, pass
incessantly through the silent forests out into the open plains. The
civilian population steadily diminishes, even in the larger towns; the
gendarmerie keep those who remain under suspicion of espionage. The
frontier villagers welcome the marching troops hospitably, until local
food supplies are exhausted, and until news comes in from the front of
reverses and of foul cruelty to the peasants on the part of the enemy.
Only a fortnight has gone by when the national confidence in a speedy
victory receives this heavy blow. Bad news gathers and reverberates. It
is a little difficult, after years of bloodshed, to recover the fresh
sense of these first calamities. Men were then not yet broken to the
pains, the abominable spectacles, of war. That their self-offering to
the fatherland should win them an honoured grave might well be. But
defeat at the outset, the shame of retreat almost before a blow could
be struck, this was an incredible, monstrous, intolerable thing.

The incredible, however, generalised itself over all the highways of
Lorraine and Belgium. Take any typical scene on the march-routes of
August 22 or the following days.[1] The roads are black with columns of
troops retreating west- and south-ward, more or less broken, linesmen,
chasseurs, artillerymen, supply and special services, with their guns,
munition wagons, Red Cross detachments, convoys of heavy-laden carts
with wounded men sitting on top or clinging behind; and, in the breaks,
crowds of panic-stricken peasants, in farm wagons or on foot, old men,
women, and children, with bedding, boxes, bird-cages, and other strange
belongings. Dismay broods like a palpable cloud over these pitiful
processions. There is an incessant jostling. Drivers flog their horses
cruelly. Wounded men drop by the wayside and lie there untended, their
haggard faces stained with mire and powder, blood oozing through their
coats, trickling out into the litter of torn knapsacks and broken arms.
The sun blazes inexorably, the air is poisoned with clouds of dust, or
drenching showers of rain produce another sort of misery; and ever the
long stream of failure and fear flows on, eddying here and there into
acute confusion as some half-mad woman sets up a cry: “The Prussians!”

Night follows day: soldiers and country-folk, hungry and exhausted,
fall into the corners of any sheltered place they can find——an empty
barn, the nave of a village church——for an unsatisfying sleep, or, too
sick to sleep, watch the fantastic shadows and fugitive lights dancing
upon the walls, mocking their anguished thoughts of the morrow. The
batteries and convoys have gone on through the darkness, men rolling
from side to side with fatigue on their horses or gun-carriages, as
though drunk. With daybreak the greater trek recommences. The enemy
has not been idle: in the distance behind rolls the thunder of heavy
guns; pillars of smoke and flame rise from burning villages. And as,
day after day, a new stage of retirement——increasingly controlled, it
is true——is ordered, the question pierces deeper: What is to become of

Those who have lived at the centre as well as on the skirts of armed
hosts become habituated to one enveloping condition: the rank and
file, and even most of the officers, know little or nothing of what is
passing outside their own particular spheres. It is in the nature and
necessity of military operations, especially at the beginning and in
a phase of rapid movement, that it should be so. Perhaps it is also a
necessity of the psychology of endurance. Of these republican armies,
only a small minority of the men were old soldiers; most of them had
all they could do to adapt themselves, day by day and hour by hour,
to the new world of violence, squalor, and general unreason in which
they were now prisoned. They had to learn to bear fatigue and pain
such as they had never known; to overcome the spasm of fear that grips
the stoutest heart in unaccustomed emergencies; to thrust the bayonet
not into a sandbag, but into soft, quivering flesh, and draw it forth
again; to obey men who were incompetent and stupid, as well as born
leaders. The German heavy shells, aeroplanes, motor transport, the
formidable entrenchments and fields of wire——gradually they recognised
these and other elements of the invader’s superiority. Weaklings cried:
“We are betrayed. It is 1870 over again.” What could the bravest reply?
Letters were few and far between. Newspapers were never so barren. What
was Paris doing? What were Russia and England doing? The retreating
columns marched with downcast eyes, wrapped in a moody silence.

By what revolt of the spirit did these apparently broken men become, a
fortnight later, the heroes of the Marne? The answer must be that they
were not broken, but were passing through the sort of experience which,
in a virile race, wakens the dull-minded to their utmost effort, blows
away the last traces of laxity and false idealism, and, by setting
above every other fear the fear of a ruined Fatherland, rallies the
whole mass on the elementary ground of defence to the death. Voices,
lying voices, had whispered that France was diseased, body and soul,
that the Republic would surely die of its corruptions. We have since
discovered the immeasurable strength of democratic communities. Then
it was questioned by the few, unsuspected by the many. England and
America, even more than France, had outgrown any sort of liking for
war. To be driven back to that gross test was a profound surprise.
For the quick, proud French mind to find itself suddenly in face of
defeat and the threat of conquest was a second and severer shock. The
long retreat gave it time to perceive that this calamity arose largely
from its own errors, and to re-group its forces in a truer conception
of the character of modern warfare. Even Joffre may not have clearly
realised this need; great instincts count in the crisis of leadership
equally with powerful reasoning. Amid the tramp-tramp of the weary,
dust-blinded columns, by the night bivouacs, under the rain of shrapnel
and the crash of high explosive, men of the most diverse condition and
character, shedding old vanities and new alarms, came down step by
cruel step to the fundamental honesty, unity, and resolution of our
nature. The mirage of an easy victory vanished; in its place a finer
idea rose and rose till the armies saw nothing else: France must live!
I may die, or be doomed to a travesty of life; at any price, France
must be saved.

So the steel was tempered for the supreme trial.




“Errors,” “vanities”? These words must be justified, however gently,
however briefly. To regard the battle of the Marne without reference to
the grievous beginnings that led to and shaped it would be to belittle
and falsify a subject peculiarly demanding care for true perspective.
The battle may be classed as negatively decisive in that it arrested
the invasion long enough to enable the Allies to gain an equality
of forces, and so to prevent a final German victory; it was only
positively decisive in the larger sense that it re-created on a sounder
base the military spirit and power of France, which alone among the
Western Allies seriously counted in that emergency, and, by giving the
army a new direction, the nation a new inspiration, made it possible
for them to sustain the long struggle that was to follow. Perilous
illusions, military as well as pacifist, were buried beside the Marne.
A fashion of thought, a whole school of teaching was quietly sunk in
its waters. The French mind rose to its full stature as the nature of
the surprise into which it had fallen broke upon it.

This surprise was threefold. In the first place, the German plan of
campaign was misconceived. That plan was grandiose in its simplicity.
It rested upon a sound sense of the separation of the Allies: their
geographical dispersion, which gave the aggressor the advantages
famous in the career of Frederick the Great, as in that of Napoleon;
the diversity of character, power, and interest within the Entente,
which was, indeed, hardly more than an improvisation, without any
sort of common organ, so far; its lack of unity not only in command
but in military theory and practice generally. The first of these
data indicated to the German Command the Frederician succession of
swift offensives; the second narrowed the choice for the first effort,
and suggested an after-work of political intrigue; the third had
fortified Prussian pride and discipline with a daring strategy and
an armament superior, in most respects, to anything the rest of the
world had conceived to be possible. Which of the three great States,
then, should be first struck down? The wildest Pan-Germanist could
not reply “England,” in face of her overwhelming sea-power. So the
British Empire, with the North Sea and Channel coasts, were, for the
moment, ignored. Its internal problems, its peaceful, almost neutral,
temper, its slow-mindedness in European affairs, were more regarded
than the trivial military force which alone England could at once offer
its friends. For speed was to be of the essence of the plan. Remained
France and Russia; and here political as well as military calculations
entered. The inchoate Empire of the East would, it was thought, be the
slower in getting to its feet. Would a new Moscow expedition break its
will for self-defence? The author of the “Willy-Nicky” letters imagined
a better way. France would stand by her ally. The “Republic of the
Rochettes and Steinheils,” however, was not naturally impregnable;
when it was finished, would not “dear Nicky” be glad to return to the
Drei-Kaiserbund, the old Bismarckian order, and to join in a friendly
rearrangement of the world? So the conclusion, with all the neatness
of a professorial thesis: Russia was to be held up——actively, on the
south, by the Austro-Hungarian armies, passively on the north, by a
screen of German troops——while France, as the principal enemy, was
swiftly crushed. Thus far, there should have been no surprise.

It was otherwise with the plan of campaign itself, and there are
details that will remain in question till all the archives are opened.
Yet this now appears the only plan on which Germany could hope to bring
an aggressive war to a successful issue. A repetition of the triumph of
1870 would not be enough, for, if France resisted as long this time,
everything would be put in doubt. The blow must be still more swift and
overwhelming. To be overwhelming, it must at once reach not portions,
but the chief mass, of the French armies. But nowhere in the world had
military art, working upon a favourable terrain, set up so formidable
a series of obstacles to grand-scale manœuvre as along the line of the
Meuse and Moselle Heights and the Vosges. A piercing of this line at
the centre, between the fortified systems of Verdun–Toul on the north
and Epinal–Belfort on the south, might be an important contributory
operation; in itself it could not give a speedy decision. A mere
diversion by Belgium, in aid of a main attack in Lorraine, would not
materially alter this calculation. The full effects of surprise, most
important of all factors in a short struggle, could only be expected
where the adversary was least prepared, which was certainly across the
north. These offensive considerations would be confirmed by a defensive
consideration: German Lorraine, also, was so fortified and garrisoned
as to be beyond serious fear of invasion. In neither direction could
Alsace provide favourable conditions for a great offensive.

The political objects of the war being granted, these arguments would
lead to the strategical conclusion: the strongest possible force will
be so deployed, on a vast arc stretching from southern Lorraine to
Flanders, that its superiority may at once be brought fully into play.
The method was a variant drawn from the teaching of Clausewitz and
Schlieffen. The “march on Paris” occupied in the plan no such place
as it long held in the popular imagination. The analogy of closing
pincers has been used to describe the simultaneous onset of seven
German armies ranged in a crescent from the Vosges to Brussels; but
it is uncertain whether the southern wing was originally intended to
participate immediately in the destructive stroke, or whether this
purpose followed upon the collapse of the first French offensives. The
latter supposition is the more probable; and we may, therefore, rather
picture a titanic bolas ending in five loaded cords, of which the
two outer ones are the most heavily weighted. These two outer masses
were (_a_) Kluck’s and Bülow’s Armies on the west; (_b_) the Crown
Prince of Bavaria’s and Heeringen’s on the east. Approximately equal,
they had very different functions, the road of the one being open, of
the other closed; the one, therefore, being essentially offensive,
the other provisionally defensive. Between these two masses, there
were three lesser forces under Hausen, the Duke of Würtemberg, and
the Imperial Crown Prince. While the eastern armies held the French
forces as originally concentrated, the western mass, by an immense
envelopment, was to converge, and the three inner bodies were to
strike direct, toward the north-centre of France——perhaps toward the
upper Seine, but there could hardly be a precise objective till the
invasion developed[2]——destroying any resistance in their path. The
eastern thrust which actually followed appears, on this hypothesis, as
an auxiliary operation rather than part of a double envelopment: we
shall see that, delivered at the moment when the Allies in the west
were being driven in between Le Cateau and Givet, it failed against a
successful defence of the only open road of the eastern frontier, the
Gap of Charmes, and that it again failed a fortnight later. The other
German armies went triumphantly forward. In every part of the field is
evident the intention to conceal, even to hold back, the movements of
approach, and so to articulate and synchronise them that, when the hour
of the decisive general action had arrived, there should be delivered a
single, sudden, knock-out blow.


In every part the German war-machine was designed and fitted to deliver
such a blow. Its effective force was the second great element of
surprise for the Entente.

It is now clear that, taking the field as a whole, France was not
overwhelmed by superior numbers. True, as a French official report
says, “the military effort of Germany at the outset of the war
surpassed all anticipations”; but the element of surprise lay not
in numbers, but in fighting quality and organisation. Of the whole
mass mobilised in August 1914, one quarter was sent to the East.
The remainder provided, in the last week of August, for employment
against Belgium and France, an effective force of about 80 infantry
divisions——45 active, 27 reserve, mixed Ersatz brigades presently
grouped in 6 divisions, and 4 Landwehr divisions in course of
formation,[3] with about 8 divisions of cavalry,——about a million and a
half of men, for the most part young, highly trained and disciplined,
including 115,000 re-engaged non-commissioned officers (double the
strength of the French company cadres). Of the prodigious mass of
this west-European force, about a half was directed through Belgium,
and——essential fact——nearly a third passed to the west of the Meuse.

The French, on the other hand, admirably served by their railways,[4]
put at once into the field 86 divisions (47 active, 25 reserve, 12
Territorial, and 2 Moroccan), of which 66 were at the front, with 7
divisions of cavalry, on the eve of the critical battles of the Sambre
and the Gap of Charmes, in the third week of August. Before the battle
of the Marne, all French active troops had been withdrawn from the
Italian frontier, only a few Territorials being left there. An exact
numerical comparison cannot yet be made. It seems certain, however,
that, including five British and six Belgian divisions, in the whole
field the Allies were not outnumbered. There was no great difference in

But there was a vital difference in the infantry organisation, as to
which the French Command had been completely deceived. Not only had it
failed to foresee the creation of brigades of Ersatz troops (to say
nothing of the Landwehr divisions which appeared in September): it had
never contemplated the use of reserve formations as troops of shock. In
the French Army, the reserve battalions, regiments, and divisions were
so many poor relations——inadequate in younger officers and non-coms,
insufficiently armed (especially in artillery), insufficiently trained
and disciplined, and, accordingly, destined only for lesser tasks.
When, as occurred almost at once under pressure of the successful
example of the enemy, reserve divisions and groups of divisions had
to be thrown into the front line, the homogeneity of the armies and
the confidence of their chiefs suffered. Meanwhile, realising a plan
initiated in 1913, the German Staff had created 16 army corps of
reserves, of which 13 were used on the Western front, where they proved
as solid as the regulars, and were given tasks as responsible in all
parts of the field. The main mass of attack, therefore, consisted not
of 22, but 34, army corps——a difference larger than the strength of the
two armies of Kluck and Bülow to which the great enveloping movement
was entrusted.[5] Without this supplementary force——the result not
of numbers available, but of superior training and organisation——the
invasion could hardly have been attempted, or would assuredly have
failed. On the other hand, as we shall see, had it been anticipated,
the French plan of campaign must have been profoundly modified.

The balance in armament was not less uneven. The French 3-inch
field-gun from the first justified the highest expectations of its
rapidity and accuracy of fire. But in pieces of heavier weight and
longer range the inferiority was flagrant. While Frenchmen had been
counting their “75” against heavier but less handy German guns, while
they were throwing all the gravamen of the problem of national defence
on three-years’ service, the enemy was developing a set of instruments
which immensely reinforced his man-power. Instead of resting content
with light guns, he set himself to make heavier types more mobile. The
peace establishment of a German active corps included 160, a French
only 120, guns. It was, however, in weight, rather than numbers, that
the difference lay. Every German corps had 16 heavy 5·9-inch mortars.
The French had no heavy artillery save a few batteries of Rimailho
6·1-inch rapid-fire pieces, and a few fortress cannon. In addition
to 642 six-piece batteries of horse and field artillery (3·1-inch
field-gun and 4·1-inch light howitzer), the German armies had, in all,
before the mobilisation, 400 four-piece batteries of 5·9-inch howitzers
and 8·2-inch mortars. The German artillery alone at the outset had
aviators to correct their fire. “Thus,” says General Malleterre,
speaking from experience in the long retreat[6]——“thus is explained the
terrible surprise that our troops suffered when they found themselves
overwhelmed at the first contact by avalanches of projectiles, fired
from invisible positions that our artillery could not reach. For there
was this of unexpected in the German attack, that, before the infantry
assault, the deployment of units was preceded by showers of shells
of all calibres, storms of iron and fire arresting and upsetting our
shaken lines.”

In air services, in petrol transport, and in the art of field defences,
also, the French were outmatched. Aviation was essentially their sport
and science; but the army had shown little interest in it, and had made
only a beginning in its two main functions——general reconnaissance
and the ranging of artillery fire.[7] Thus ill-prepared for a modern
large-scale offensive, France had not acquired the material or the
tactic of a strategical defence. The light and rapid “75” had been
thought of almost exclusively as an arm of attack, in which weight and
range were now become the master properties. Its remarkable qualities
for defence began to appear in the unfortunate actions presently to
be traced, and were only fully understood many months later, when
“barrage” fire had been elaborated. The mitrailleuse was essentially
a French invention; but its greatest value——in defence——was not yet
appreciated. The numerical provision of machine-guns was the same as
that of the German Army (though differently organised). It was owing
to a more considerable difference of tactical ideas that a legend grew
up of an actual German superiority in this arm. In the French Army,
all defensive methods were prejudiced; in the German, they were not.
The deep trenches that might have saved much of Belgium and northern
France were scouted, until it was too late, as incompatible with the
energy and pride of a great army. The lessons from recent wars drawn,
among others, by the Russian State Councillor, Jean de Bloch, fifteen
years before,[8] went for nothing. “It is easy to be ‘wise after the
event,’” writes Field-Marshal French; “but I cannot help wondering why
none of us realised what the most modern rifle, the machine-gun, motor
traction, the aeroplane, and wireless telegraphy would bring about. It
seems so simple when judged by actual results.... I feel sure that, had
we realised the true effect of modern appliances of war in August 1914,
_there would have been no retreat from Mons_.”[9]

While the German armies were born and bred in the old offensive spirit,
their masters had seen the difficulties created by the development of
modern gunfire. With a tireless and pitiless concentration of will, the
men had been organised, trained, and in every essential way provided,
to carry out an aggressive plan of campaign. Yet their generals did
not despise scientific field-works, even in the days of their first
intoxication, as witness any French story of the battle of Morhange, or
this characteristic note on the fighting in the region of Neufchateau
and Palliseul: “The enemy, whom our aeroplanes and cavalry had not been
able to discover, had a powerful defensive organisation: fields of wire
entanglement on the ground; wide, deep holes concealing pikes and sword
blades; lines of wire 2 yards high, barbed with nails and hooks. There
were also, unfortunately, in certain of our corps, insufficiencies of
instruction and execution, imprudences committed under fire, over-bold
deployments leading to precipitate retreats, a lack of co-ordination
between the infantry and the artillery. The enemy profited by our
inexperience of the sort of defence he had organised.”[10] For the
German soldiers at the outset of the war, this was only a passing
necessity. The principle of the instant strategical offensive well
expressed the spirit of an authoritarian Government bent on aggression,
of its constituency, at once jealous and servile, and its war-machine,
sustained by a feverishly developed industrialism. None of these
conditions obtained under the Third Republic. Of the weaknesses of the
French Army in tactical science, one result is sufficiently tragic
proof; in the first month of the war, 33 army corps and divisional
generals were removed from their commands.[11]


It was not the fault, but the glory, of France that she lived upon a
higher level, to worthier ends, than her old enemy. But if we find
reason to suspect that, the nation having accepted the burden of
taxation and armed service, its arms and preparation were not the
best of their kind, that a superstitious fidelity to conservative
sentiments and ideas was allowed to obscure the hard facts of the
European situation and the changing nature of modern warfare, the fact
that certain critics have plunged rashly into the intricacies of a most
difficult problem, or the risk of being corrected when more abundant
information appears, must not prevent us from facing a conclusion that
is important for our subject. We do not espouse any partisan thesis,
or question any individual reputation; we can do no more here than
open a line of inquiry, and no less than recall that the men whose
responsibility is in cause had suddenly to challenge fate on evidence
at many points slighter than now lies before any studious layman.

In every detail, Germany had the benefit of the initiative. The French
Staff could not be sure in advance of British and Belgian aid or of
Italian neutrality, and it was bound to envisage the possibility of
attack by the Jura, as well as by Belgium. It could not be sure that
any smaller strength would secure the Lorraine frontier; and it was
possibly right in regarding a defeat on the east as more dangerous
than a defeat in the north. The distrust of fortification, whether of
masonry and steel, or of field-works, may have become exaggerated by
a too lively sense of the power of the newer artillery; but it had a
certain basis in the fear of immobilising and paralysing the armies.
To discover a happy mean between a dangerous obstinacy in defending
a frontier, and a dangerous readiness to abandon precious territory
and its people in order to preserve freedom of movement, was perhaps
beyond any brain of that time. Nevertheless, when all allowances have
been made, it must be said (1) that the importance of gaining time
by defensive action was never realised, and this chiefly because of
dogmatic prepossessions; (2) that the actual concentration expressed
a complete misjudgment of the line of greatest danger; and (3) that
these two faults were aggravated by the kind of offensive upon which
all hopes were placed. The misapprehension of the German system of
reserves, referred to above, and therefore of the total effective
strength of the enemy, had led the French Staff to conclude that
there was nothing to fear west of the Meuse, and at the same time had
confirmed a temperamental belief in the possibility of crippling the
attack by a rapid and unrestrained offensive. The whole conception was

For Belgium, there was no other hope than a provisional defensive. In
any war with Germany, the principal object for France, it now seems
evident, must be to stave off the _coup brusqué_ till Russia was fully
ready, and England could bring more aid. But the traditional dogma
was in possession; any doubt was damned as a dangerous heresy. The
chief lesson of 1870 was now thought to be the folly of passivity.
Looking back upon events, many French soldiers recognise, with General
Malleterre, that the French strategy should have been “a waiting
disposition behind a powerfully-organised Meuse front, with a mass of
manœuvre ready to be directed against the principal attack.” “But,”
adds this writer, “our minds had been trained in these latter years to
the offensive _à outrance_.”[12] They had been trained in part upon
German discussions, the deceptive character of which, and the very
different facts behind, were not realised. At its best, for instance in
Foch’s lectures at the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre (1895–1901), there
was in this teaching somewhat too much of emotion, too little of cold
analysis. The faith in sheer energy and will is placed too high, the
calculation of means to ends too slightly insisted upon. It is true, it
is, indeed, a truism, that “the battle must not be purely defensive,”
that “every defensive battle must be terminated by an offensive action,
or it will lead to no result.” Foch himself, before he had risen to the
supreme direction of the Allied armies, had learned to recognise that,
with millions of men in play, no effort of will can suddenly give a
decision, that the defensive may have to continue for months, even for
years, a new war-machine may have to be built up, ere a victorious
reaction becomes possible.

In the General Staff instructions of October 28, 1913, the doctrine
had received its extremest expression. The milder instructions of
1895 were condemned as based upon the “most dangerous” idea that
a commander might prefer defence on a favourable, to attack on an
unfavourable, ground. “In order to avoid all misunderstanding on so
important a point of doctrine, the new instructions admit only a single
justification for the defensive in combat, that is, the necessity of
economising troops on certain points in order to devote more forces
to attacks; so understood, the defensive is, properly speaking, no
more than an auxiliary of the offensive.” “The offensive alone leads
to positive results”; this is the sole permissible rule governing the
conduct of operations. Attacks must be pressed to the extremity without
_arrière-pensée_ or fear of heavy losses: “every other conception
must be rejected as contrary to the very nature of war” (art. 5). “A
Commander-in-Chief will never leave to his adversary the priority of
action on the pretext of waiting for more precise information; he
will, from the beginning of the war, stamp it with such a character of
violence and determination that the enemy, struck in his morale and
paralysed in action, will perhaps find himself compelled to remain on
the defensive” (art. 6). “All the decisions of the command must be
inspired by the will to seize and keep the initiative”; and they must
be pursued “even if the information collected up to then on the forces
and dispositions of the enemy be obscure and incomplete.” The plan
should, indeed, be supple, so that changes can be made according to
new information; but “success in war depends more on perseverance and
tenacity than on ability in the conception of the manœuvre” (art. 15).
“The French Army,” added the Commission which elaborated these rules,
“returning to its traditions, now admits in the conduct of operations
no law other than that of the offensive.”

Fortunately, no code can do more than hamper the natural elasticity of
the French mind. But the direction of the armies from top to bottom,
and even the traditional aim of keeping in hand a mass of manœuvre,
which had figured strongly in the teaching of Foch and other military
writers of ten or fifteen years before, were affected by the current
prescriptions of the Staff. We cannot here attempt to trace the growth
of the perversion. The spirit of the French command on the eve of the
war is, however, sufficiently evidenced in its actual dispositions; and
we know that it threw its only mass of manœuvre (the 4th Army) into
the Belgian Ardennes in the third week of August, and had to fight
the battle of the Marne without any general reserve. In brief, along
with every arm and method of defence, the service of information, the
preparation of battle, and the art of manœuvre——which is irreconcilable
with a dogma of universal and unconditional attack——were depreciated
and prejudiced.[13] In the strength and weakness of this creed, France
entered the war.

The results in the lesser commands were serious enough. Speaking of the
advance into the Ardennes, M. Hanotaux, in general an apologist of the
old school, says that it was conducted “in an extremely optimistic
mood,” that “mad bayonet charges were launched at a mile distance
from the enemy without artillery preparation,” and that, “doubtless,
the spirit of the offensive, ill-regulated and ill-restrained, among
officers as well as men, was one of the causes of our reverse.”
Officers and men took only too literally the rules on which they had
been trained. Strengthened by the general belief in a short war, and
by an exaggerated idea of the importance of first results, a like
infatuation governed the strategy and the tactics of the French armies.
A succession of surprises marks the light regard for information of the
enemy’s means and movements, as a series of instant reverses measures
the scorn for well-pondered manœuvre. Was France required by her
Eastern ally to attack at once? The attack need not have surpassed the
proportions of holding actions punctuating a stout defence. Was Belgium
closed to the French armies by the old treaty of neutrality? That did
not justify a plan of campaign which left the north uncovered to a
German aggression. For all that followed from disunity of the Allied
commands, England and Belgium share the responsibility. Had they, as
well as Russia, been long in alliance, and Italy’s neutrality assured
in advance, all might have gone otherwise; probably, indeed, there
would have been no war. These circumstances do not afford excuse for a
radically unsound conception of the danger and the reply.

A German attack through Belgium had been much and long discussed.
If few would have said before the event, as the German Chancellor
and Foreign Secretary pleaded immediately afterward, that it was
“a question of life and death for the Empire,” “a step absolutely
required,” it was at least more than probable; and we have Marshal
Joffre’s word for it that the contingency was contemplated by the
French Staff.[14] But two doubts remained, even in vigilant minds.
Would the invasion by the north be large or small, and would it be more
or less extensive, proceeding only by Belgian Luxembourg and the Meuse
valley, or also by a more daring sweep across the Flanders plain into
the valley of the Oise? Moltke had advocated a march to the North Sea
coast, and a descent by the Channel ports, through the _trouée_ of the
Oise, upon Paris, turning not merely the principal line, but the whole
system, of the French fortresses. Bernhardi had toyed with the idea of
an even more extensive movement, violating Dutch territory, but seemed
at last to favour the more limited project, “the army of the right wing
marching by the line Trêves–Stenay, crossing Luxembourg and southern
Belgium.” In fact, neither of these ways was taken. The invasion
pursued a middle route, Holland being avoided, the descent upon the
coast deferred, and armies thrown across both the Flanders plain and
the difficult country of the Belgian Ardennes.

Notwithstanding the advertisement of the Kaiser’s chief Ministers in
their famous pleas in justification, on the first day of the war, the
French Staff do not seem to have anticipated anything more in the north
than an attack by Luxembourg and the Ardennes, or to have altered their
dispositions to meet it until the middle of August. We do not yet fully
know what are the reasons for the arrest of the German offensive after
the effective reduction of Liège, until August 19. Instead of six
days, with, perhaps, three more for re-concentration, the German right
wing took sixteen days in crossing Belgium. As this week of Belgium’s
vicarious sacrifice saved France, it cannot be supposed to have been a
voluntary delay made simply for the purpose of deceiving the Allies.
It had that effect, however. Thwarted at Liège, the German command did
everything it could to conceal the true nature of the blow it was about
to deliver——by terrorising the population and occupying the mind of the
world with its atrocities, by the ubiquitous activity of its cavalry
screen, by avoiding Western Flanders and the coast, and by holding up
the advance of its first three armies behind the line of the Gette and
the Meuse till everything was ready. The Allies altogether failed to
pierce the veil of mystery covering the final concentration. They were
deceived (1) as to the main direction of the coming onslaught, (2) as
to its speed, (3) as to its power in men and armament. General Sordet’s
cavalry got little information during their Belgian wanderings; the
few French aviators still less. No doubt, the Allies hoped for a
longer Belgian resistance, especially at Liège and Namur, as the enemy
expected a shorter. The French Staff clung blindly to its belief that
it need expect, at most, only an attack by the Meuse valley and the

The first French plan of campaign, then, envisaged solely the eastern
and north-eastern frontier. The original concentration placed the
two strongest armies, the 1st and 2nd (Dubail and Castelnau——each
five corps) between Belfort and Toul; the 3rd and 5th (Ruffey and
Lanrezac——three and five corps respectively) from Verdun to Givet,
where the Meuse enters Belgium; the 4th (de Langle de Cary——three
corps) supporting the right, at its rear, between the Argonne and the
Meuse. Of 25 reserve divisions, three were kept in the Alps till Italy
declared her neutrality, three garrisoned Verdun, and one Epinal. The
remainder were grouped, one group being sent to the region of Hirson,
one to the Woevre, and one before Nancy. There was also a Territorial
group (d’Amade) about Lille. These dispositions are defended as being
supple and lending themselves to a redirection when the enemy’s
intentions were revealed.[16] We shall see that, within a fortnight,
they had to be fundamentally changed, Lanrezac being sent into the
angle of the Sambre and Meuse, de Langle bringing the sole reserve
army in on his right, and Ruffey marching north into the Ardennes——a
north-westerly movement involving awkward lateral displacements, the
crossing of columns, and oblique marches. Some of the following failure
and confusion resulted from the dislocating effect of a conversion so


Instead of an initial defensive over most of the front, with or without
some carefully chosen and strongly provided manœuvre of offence——as
the major conditions of the problem would seem to suggest——the French
campaign opened with a general offensive, which for convenience we must
divide into three parts, three adventures, all abortive, into Southern
Alsace, German Lorraine, and the Belgian Ardennes. The first two of
these were predetermined, even before General Joffre was designed for
the chief command; the second and third were deliberately launched
after the invasion of Belgium was, or should have been, understood.
A fourth attack, across the Sambre, was designed, but could not be

The first movement into Alsace was hardly more than a raid, politically
inspired, and its success might have excited suspicions. Advancing
from Belfort, the 1st Army under Dubail took Altkirch on August 7,
and Mulhouse the following day. Paris rejoiced; General Joffre hailed
Dubail’s men as “first labourers in the great work of _la revanche_.”
It was the last flicker of the old Gallic cocksureness. On August 9,
the Germans recovered Mulhouse. Next day, an Army of Alsace, consisting
of the 7th Corps, the 44th Division, four reserve divisions, five
Alpine battalions, and a cavalry division, was organised under General
Pau. It gained most of the Vosges passes and the northern buttress of
the range, the Donon (August 14). On the 19th, the enemy was defeated
at Dornach, losing 3000 prisoners and 24 cannon; and on the following
morning Mulhouse was retaken——only to be abandoned a second time on the
25th, with all but the southern passes. The Army of Alsace was then
dissolved to free Pau’s troops for more urgent service, the defence of
Nancy and of Paris.

The Lorraine offensive was a more serious affair, and it was embarked
upon after the gravity of the northern menace had been recognised.[17]
The main body of the Eastern forces was engaged——nine active corps
of the 2nd and 1st Armies, with nine reserve and three cavalry
divisions——considerably more than 400,000 men, under some of the most
distinguished French generals, including de Castlenau, unsurpassed
in repute and experience even by the Generalissimo himself; Dubail,
a younger man, full of energy and quick intelligence; Foch, under
whose iron will the famous 20th Corps of Nancy did much to limit the
general misfortune; Pau, who had just missed the chief command; and de
Maud’huy, a sturdy leader of men. As soon as the Vosges passes were
secured, after ten days’ hard fighting, on August 14, a concerted
advance began, Castelnau moving eastward over the frontier into the
valley of the Seille and the Gap of Morhange, a narrow corridor flanked
by marshes and forests, rising to formidable cliffs; while Dubail,
on his right, turned north-eastward into the hardly less difficult
country of the Sarre valley. The French appear to have had a marked
superiority of numbers, perhaps as large as 100,000 men; but they were
drawn on till they fell into a powerful system, established since the
mobilisation, of shrewdly hidden defences, with a large provision
of heavy artillery, from Morville, through Morhange, Bensdorf, and
Fenetrange, to Phalsburg——the Bavarian Army at the centre, a detachment
from the Metz garrison against the French left, the army of Von
Heeringen against the right. The French command can hardly have been
ignorant of these defences, but must have supposed they would fall
to an impetuous assault. Dubail held his own successfully throughout
August 19 and 20 at Sarrebourg and along the Marne-Rhine Canal, though
his men were much exhausted. Castelnau was immediately checked, before
the natural fortress of Morhange, on August 20. His centre——the famous
20th Corps and a southern corps, the 15th——attacked at 5 a.m.; at 6.30
the latter was in flight, and the former, its impetuosity crushed
by numbers and artillery fire, was ordered to desist. The German
commanders had concentrated their forces under cover of field-works and
heavy batteries. Under the shock of this surprise, at 4 p.m., Castelnau
ordered the general retreat. Dubail had to follow suit.

Happily, the German infantry were in no condition for an effective
pursuit, and the French retirement was not seriously impeded. The
following German advance being directed southward, with the evident
intention of forcing the Gap of Charmes, and so taking all the French
northern armies in reverse, the defence of Nancy was left to Foch,
Castelnau’s centre and right were swung round south-westward behind
the Meurthe, while Dubail abandoned the Donon, and withdrew to a line
which, from near Rozelieures to Badonviller and the northern Vosges,
made a right-angle with the line of the 2nd Army, the junction covering
the mouth of the threatened _trouée_. In turn, as we shall see (Chap.
III. sec. iii.), the German armies here suffered defeat, only five days
after their victory. But such failures and losses do not “cancel out,”
for France had begun at a disadvantage. Ground was lost that might have
been held with smaller forces; forces were wasted that were urgently
needed in the chief field of battle. Evidently it was hoped to draw
back parts of the northern armies of invasion, to interfere with their
communications, and to set up an alarm for Metz and Strasbourg. These
aims were not to any sensible extent accomplished.

Despite the improbability of gaining a rapid success in a wild forest
region, the French Staff seems to have long cherished the idea of
an offensive into the Belgian Ardennes in case of a German invasion
of Belgium, the intention being to break the turning movement by
a surprise blow at its flank. By August 19, the French were in a
measure prepared for action between Verdun and the Belgian Meuse.
Ruffey’s 3rd Army (including a shortlived “Army of Lorraine” of six
reserve divisions under Maunoury), and Langle de Cary’s 4th Army,
brought northwards into line after three or four days’ delay, counted
together six active corps and reserve groups making them nearly
equal in numbers to the eleven corps of the Imperial Crown Prince
and the Duke of Würtemberg. But, behind the latter, all unknown till
it debouched on the Meuse, lay hidden adroitly in Belgian Luxembourg
another army, the three corps of the Saxon War Minister, Von Hausen.
Farther west, the disparity of force was greater, Lanrezac and Sir John
French having only about seven corps (with some help from the Belgians
and a few Territorial units) against eleven corps left to Bülow and
Kluck after two corps had been detailed to mask the Belgian Army in
Antwerp. Neither the Ardennes nor the Sambre armies could be further
strengthened because of the engagements in Lorraine and Alsace.

A tactical offensive into the Ardennes, a glorified reconnaissance and
raid, strictly limited and controlled, might perhaps be justified.
The advance ordered on the evening of the defeat of Morhange, and
executed on the two following days, engaging the only general reserve
at the outset in a thickly-wooded and most difficult country, was too
large for a diversion, and not large enough for the end declared: it
failed completely and immediately——in a single day, August 22——with
heavy losses, especially in officers.[18] Here, again, there was an
approximate equality of numbers; again, the French were lured on to
unfavourable ground, and, before strong entrenchments, crushed with
a superiority of fire. Separated and surprised——the left south-west
of Palliseul, the centre in the forests of Herbeumont and Luchy, the
Colonial Corps before Neufchateau and Rossignol, where it fought
literally to the death against two German corps strongly entrenched,
the 2nd Corps near Virton——the body of the 4th Army was saved only by a
prompt retreat; and the 3rd Army had to follow this movement. True, the
German IV Army also was much exhausted; and an important part of the
enemy’s plan missed fire. It had been soon discovered that the Meuse
from Givet to Namur was but lightly held; and the dispatch thither of
the Saxon Army, to cut in between the French 4th and 5th Armies, was a
shrewd stroke. Hausen was late in reaching the critical point, about
Dinant, and, by slowness and timidity, missed the chance of doing
serious mischief.

Meanwhile, between the fields of the two French adventures into German
Lorraine and Belgian Luxembourg, the enemy had been allowed without
serious resistance to occupy the Briey region, and so to carry over
from France to Germany an iron- and coal-field of the utmost value.
“Briey has saved our life,” the ironmasters of the Rhineland declared
later on, with some exaggeration. Had it been modernised, the small
fortress of Longwy, situated above the River Chiers three miles from
the Luxembourg frontier, might have been an important element in a
defence of this region. In fact, its works were out of date, and were
held at the mobilisation by only two battalions of infantry and a
battery and a half of light guns. The Germans summoned Colonel Darche
and his handful of men to surrender on August 10; but the place was
not invested till the 20th, the day on which the 3rd Army was ordered
to advance toward Virton and Arlon, and to disengage Longwy. Next day,
Ruffey was north and east of the place, apparently without suspecting
that he had the Crown Prince’s force besieging it at his mercy. On the
22nd, it was too late; the 3rd and 4th Armies were in retreat; Longwy
was left to its fate.[19]


The completest surprise naturally fell on the west wing of the Allies;
and, had not the small British force been of the hardiest stuff, an
irreparable disaster might have occurred. Here, with the heaviest
preponderance of the enemy, there had been least preparation for any
hostilities before the crisis was reached. On or about August 10, we
war correspondents received an official map of the “Present Zone of
the Armies,” which was shown to end, on the north, at Orchies——16
miles S.E. of Lille, and 56 miles inland from Dunkirk. The western
half of the northern frontier was practically uncovered. Lille had
ceased to be a fortress in 1913, though continuing to be a garrison
town; from Maubeuge to the sea, there was no artificial obstacle, and
no considerable body of troops.[20] The position to be taken by the
British Expeditionary Force——on the French left near Maubeuge——was only
decided, at a Franco-British Conference in London, on August 10.[21]
On August 12, the British Press Bureau announced it as “evident” that
“the mass of German troops lie between Liège and Luxembourg.” Three
days later, a Saxon advance guard tried, without success, to force the
Meuse at Dinant. Thus warned, the French command began to make the new
disposition of its forces which has been alluded to.

Lanrezac had always anticipated the northern attack, and had made
representations on the subject without effect.[22] At last, on August
16, General Joffre, from his headquarters at Vitry-le-François, in
southern Champagne, agreed to his request that he should move the 5th
Army north-westward into the angle of the Sambre and Meuse. At the same
time, however, its composition was radically upset, the 11th Corps and
two reserve divisions being sent to the 4th Army, while the 18th Corps
and the Algerian divisions were received in compensation. On August
16, the British Commander-in-Chief, after seeing President Poincaré
and the Ministers in Paris, visited the Generalissimo at Vitry; and it
was arranged that the Expeditionary Force, which was then gathering
south of Maubeuge, should move north to the Sambre, and thence to the
region of Mons. On the same day, General d’Amade was instructed to
proceed from Lyons to Arras, there to gather together three Territorial
divisions of the north which, reinforced by another on the 21st and
by two reserve divisions on the 25th, ultimately became part of the
Army of the Somme. Had there been, on the French side, any proper
appreciation of the value of field-works, it might, perhaps, not have
been too late to defend the line of the Sambre and Meuse. It was four
or five days too late to attempt a Franco-British offensive beyond the

To do justice to the Allied commanders, it must be kept clearly in
mind that they had (albeit largely by their own fault) but the vaguest
notion of what was impending. Would the mass of the enemy come by the
east or the west of the Meuse, by the Ardennes or by Flanders, and in
what strength? Still sceptical as to a wide enveloping movement, Joffre
was reluctant to adventure too far north with his unready left wing;
but it seemed to him that, in either case, the intended offensive of
the French central armies (the 3rd and 4th) across the Ardennes and
Luxembourg frontier might be supported by an attack by Lanrezac and the
British upon the flank of the German western armies——the right flank,
if they passed by the Ardennes only; the left, if they attempted to
cross the Flanders plain toward the Channel. Thus, it was provisionally
arranged with the British Commander that, when the concentration of the
Expeditionary Force was complete, which would not be before the evening
of August 21, it should advance north of the Sambre in the general
direction of Nivelles (20 miles north-east of Mons, and half-way
between Charleroi and Brussels). If the common movement were directed
due north, the British would advance on the left of the 5th Army; if
to the north-east or east, they would be in echelon on its left-rear.
General Joffre recognised that the plan was only provisional, it being
impossible to define the projected manœuvre more precisely till all was
ready on August 21, or till the enemy revealed his intentions.

It was only on the 20th that two corps of the French 5th Army reached
the south bank of the Sambre——one day before Bülow came up on the
north, with his VII Corps on his right (west), the X Reserve and X
Active Corps as centre, the Guard Active Corps on his left, and the
VII Reserve (before Namur) and Guard Reserve Corps in support. In
this posture, on the evening of August 20, Lanrezac received General
Joffre’s order to strike across the Sambre. Namur was then garrisoned
by the Belgian 4th Division, to which was added, on the 22nd, part of
the French 8th Brigade under General Mangin. Lanrezac had not even
been able to get all his strength aligned on the Sambre when the shock
came.[23] On the 21st, his five corps were grouped as follows: The
1st Corps (Franchet d’Espérey) was facing east toward the Meuse north
of Dinant, pending the arrival, on the evening of the 22nd, of the
Bouttegourd Reserve Division; the 10th Corps (Defforges), with the 37th
(African) Division, on the heights of Fosse and Arsimont, faced the
Sambre crossings at Tamines and Auvelais; the 3rd Corps (Sauret) stood
before Charleroi, with the 38th (African) Division in reserve; the 18th
Corps (de Mas-Latrie) was behind the left, south of Thuin. Of General
Valabrègue’s group of reserve divisions, one was yet to come into line
on the right and one on the left.

Could Lanrezac have accomplished anything by pressing forward into the
unknown with tired troops? The question might be debatable had the
Allies had only Bülow to deal with; but, as we shall see, this was by
no means the case. Meanwhile, the British made a day’s march beyond the
Sambre. On the 22nd they continued the French line west-north-westward,
still without an enemy before them, and entrenched themselves, the
5th Cavalry Brigade occupying the right, the 1st Corps (Haig) from
Binche to Mons, and the 2nd Corps (Smith-Dorrien) along the canal to
Condé-on-Scheldt. West and south-west of this point, there was nothing
but the aforesaid groups of French Territorials. The I German Army not
yet having revealed itself, the general idea of the French command,
to attack across the Sambre with its centre, and then, if successful,
to swing round the Allied left in a north-easterly direction against
what was supposed to be the German right flank, still seemed feasible.
But, in fact, Kluck’s Army lay beyond Bülow’s to the north-west, on the
line Brussels–Valenciennes; it is quite possible, therefore, that a
preliminary success by Lanrezac would have aggravated the later defeat.

[Illustration: Battle of Charleroi–Mons]

However that may be, the programme was at once stultified by the
unexpected speed and force of the German approach. The bombardment
of the nine forts of Namur had begun on August 20. Bülow’s Army
reached the Sambre on the following day, and held the passages at
night. Lanrezac’s orders had become plainly impossible, and he did
not attempt to fulfil them. Early on the afternoon of the 21st, while
Kluck approached on one hand and Hausen on the other, Bülow’s X Corps
and Guard Corps attacked the 3rd and 10th Corps forming the apex of
the French triangle. These, not having entrenched themselves, and
having, against Lanrezac’s express orders, advanced to the crossings
between Charleroi and Namur, there fell upon strong defences flanked
by machine-guns, and were driven back and separated. Despite repeated
counter-attacks, the town of Chatelet was lost. On the 22nd, these
two French corps, with a little help from the 18th, had again to
bear the full weight of the enemy. Their artillery preparation was
inadequate, and charges of a reckless bravery did not improve
their situation.[24] Most desperate fighting took place in and around
Charleroi. The town was repeatedly lost and won back by the French
during the day and the following morning; in course of these assaults,
the Turcos inflicted heavy losses on the Prussian Guard. While the 10th
Corps, cruelly punished at Tamines and Arsimont, fell back on Mettet,
the 3rd found itself threatened with envelopment on the west by Bülow’s
X Reserve and VII Corps, debouching from Chatelet and Charleroi.

That evening, the 22nd, Lanrezac thought there was still a chance of
recovery. “The enemy does not yet show any numerical superiority,” he
wrote, “and the 5th Army, though shaken, is intact.” The 1st Corps
was at length free, having been relieved in the river angle south
of Namur by the 51st Reserve Division; the 18th Corps had arrived
and was in full action on the left about Thuin; farther west, other
reserves were coming up, and the British Army had not been seriously
engaged. The French commander therefore asked his British confrère to
strike north-eastward at Bülow’s flank. The Field-Marshal found this
request “quite impracticable” and scarcely comprehensible. He had
conceived, rightly or wrongly, a very unfavourable idea of Lanrezac’s
qualities; and the sight of infantry and artillery columns of the
5th Army in retreat southward that morning, before the two British
corps had reached their positions on either side of Mons, had been
a painful surprise. He was already in advance of the shaken line of
the 5th Army; and news was arriving which indicated a grave threat of
envelopment by the north-west. French had come out from England with
clear warning that, owing to the impossibility of rapid or considerable
reinforcement, he must husband his forces, and that he would “in no
case come in any sense under the orders of any Allied General.” He now,
therefore, replied to Lanrezac that all he could promise was to hold
the Condé Canal position for twenty-four hours; thereafter, retreat
might be necessary.

On the morning of the 23rd, Bouttegourd and D’Espérey opened an attack
on the left flank of the Prussian Guard, while the British were
receiving the first serious shock of the enemy. The French centre,
however, was in a very bad way. During the afternoon the 3rd Corps gave
ground, retreating in some disorder to Walcourt; the 18th was also
driven back. About the same time, four surprises fell crushingly upon
the French command. The first was the fall of Namur, which had been
looked to as pivot of the French right. Although the VII Reserve Corps
did not enter the town till 8 p.m., its resistance was virtually broken
in the morning. Most of the forts had been crushed by the German 11-
and 16-inch howitzers; it was with great difficulty that 12,000 men, a
half of the garrison, escaped, ultimately to join the Belgian Army at
Antwerp, Secondly, the Saxon Army, hitherto hidden in the Ardennes and
practically unknown to the French Command, suddenly made an appearance
on Lanrezac’s right flank. On the 23rd, the XII Corps captured Dinant,
forced the passages of the Meuse there and at Hastière, drove in the
Bouttegourd Division (51st Reserve), and reached Onhaye. The 1st Corps,
thus threatened in its rear, had to break its well-designed attack on
the Prussian Guard, and face about eastward. It successfully attacked
the Saxons at Onhaye, and prevented them from getting more than one
division across the river that night, so that the retreat of the French
Army from the Sambre toward Beaumont and Philippeville, ordered by
Lanrezac on his own responsibility at 9 p.m., was not impeded. Thirdly,
news arrived of the failure of the French offensive in the Ardennes.

The fourth surprise lay in the discovery that the British Army had
before it not one or two corps, as was supposed until the afternoon of
August 23, but three or four active corps and two cavalry divisions
of Kluck’s force, a part of which was already engaged in an attempt
to envelop the extreme left of the Allies. Only at 5 p.m.——both the
intelligence and the liaison services seem to have failed——did the
British commander, who had been holding pretty well since noon against
attacks that did not yet reveal the enemy’s full strength, learn from
Joffre that this force was twice as large as had been reported in the
morning, that his west flank was in danger, and that “the two French
reserve divisions and the 5th French Army on my right were retiring.”
About midnight the fall of Namur and the defeat of the French 3rd and
4th Armies were also known. In face of this “most unexpected” news,
a 15-miles withdrawal to the line Maubeuge–Jenlain was planned; and
it began at dawn on the 24th, fighting having continued through the
previous night.

Some French writers have audaciously sought to throw a part, at least,
of the responsibility for the French defeat on the Sambre upon the
small British Expeditionary Force. An historian so authorised as M.
Gabriel Hanotaux, in particular, has stated that it was in line,
instead of the 20th, as had been arranged, only on the 23rd, when
the battle on the Sambre was compromised and the turning movement
north-eastward from Mons which had been projected could no longer save
the situation; and that Sir John French, instead of destroying Kluck’s
corps one by one as they arrived, “retreated after three hours’ contact
with the enemy,” hours before Lanrezac ordered the general retreat
of the 5th Army.[25] It is the barest justice to the first British
continental Army, its commander, officers, and men, professional
soldiers of the highest quality few of whom now survive, to say that
these statements, made, no doubt, in good faith, are inaccurate, and
the deductions from them untenable. It was not, and could not have
been, arranged between the Allied commands that French’s two corps
should be in line west and east of Mons, ready for offensive action,
on August 20, when Lanrezac’s fore-guards were only just reaching the
Sambre. General Joffre knew from Sir John, at their meeting on August
16, that the British force could not be ready till the 21st; and it
was then arranged that it should advance that day from the Sambre to
the Mons Canal (13 miles farther north). This was done. Bülow had
then already seized the initiative. If the British could have arrived
sooner, and the projected north-easterly advance had been attempted,
Bülow’s right flank might have been troubled; but the way would have
been left clear for Kluck’s enveloping movement, with disastrous
consequences for the whole left of the Allies. It is not true that the
British retreat preceded the French, or that it occurred after “three
hours’ contact with the enemy.” Lanrezac’s order for the general
retreat was given only at 9 p.m.; but his corps had been falling back
all afternoon. Kluck’s attack began at 11 a.m. on the 23rd, and became
severe about 3 p.m. An hour later, Bülow’s right struck in between
Lanrezac’s 3rd and 18th Corps, compelling them to a retreat that left a
dangerous gap between the British and French Armies. From this time the
British were isolated and continuously engaged. “When the news of the
retirement of the French and the heavy German threatening on my front
reached me,” says the British commander (in his dispatch of September
7, 1914), “I endeavoured to confirm it by aeroplane reconnaissance;
and, as a result of this, I determined to effect a retirement to the
Maubeuge position at daybreak on the 24th. A certain amount of fighting
continued along the whole line throughout the night; and, at daybreak
on the 24th, the 2nd Division made a powerful demonstration as if to
retake Binche,” to enable the 2nd Corps to withdraw. The disengagement
was only procured with difficulty and considerable loss. Had it been
further delayed, the two corps would have been surrounded and wiped
out. They were saved by courage and skill, and by the mistakes of
Kluck, who failed to get some of his forces up in time, and spent
others in an enveloping movement when a direct attack was called for.

Such, in brief, is the deplorable story of the breakdown of the
first French plan of campaign. By August 25, the local panics of the
preceding days were arrested; but from the North Sea to the Swiss Alps
the Allied armies were beaten back, and their chief mass was in full
retreat. King Albert had shepherded his sorely stricken regiments
into the entrenched camp of Antwerp, where, and in West Flanders,
they were to drag upon the invader for nearly two months to come. For
the rest, Belgium was conquered, much of it ravaged. The forces to
which it had looked for aid were disappearing southward, outnumbered,
outweighed in material of war, and severely shaken. But the heroic
Belgians never thought of yielding. On August 25, they made a valuable
diversion, striking out from Antwerp, and forcing the small German
watching force to retire to near Brussels. This and the landing of 2000
British Marines at Ostend sobered the enemy, and caused the detention
of two corps (the III and IX Reserve) before the Scheldt fortress.
The shortlived victories of Rennenkampf and Samsonov at Gumbinnen and
in the Masurian Lake region, threatening a greater invasion of East
Prussia, also affected slightly the distribution of German troops,
though it probably stimulated the urgency of the Western invasion. The
French eastern armies were to keep inviolate the pivot of Verdun, the
crescent of the Nancy hills, and the line of Epinal–Belfort. The tiny
garrison of Longwy resisted till August 26, that of Montmédy till the
30th. Maubeuge held out from August 25 to September 7,[26] and might
be expected to hold longer. The front of the retreating armies was
never broken; but at what a price was their cohesion purchased——the
abandonment of a wide, rich tract of the national territory, with much
of its hapless population.

Enough has been said to show that the reverses of the beginning
of the war which led to the long retreat were due not only to the
brutal strength of the German invasion, but to bad information, bad
judgment, bad organisation, an ill-conceived strategy and reckless
tactics, on the side of the Allies. The impact on the north and
north-west (including now the Crown Prince’s Army) of some 28 army
corps——considerably over a million men——provided with heavy artillery,
machine-guns, transport, and material on a prodigious scale, had never
been dreamed of, and proved irresistible.

We shall now have the happier task of following the marvellous rally of
will and genius by which these errors were redeemed.




France, land of swift action and swifter wit, was the last one would
expect to take kindly to the new warfare. She looked then, as her
elders had always looked, for a Man. And she found one; but he was far
from being of the traditional type.

Joseph Cesaire Joffre was at this time sixty-two years old, a
burly figure, with large head upheld, grey hair, thick moustache
and brows, clear blue eyes, and a kindly, reflective manner. His
great-grandfather, a political refugee from Spain, named Gouffre, had
settled in Rivesaltes, on the French side of the eastern Pyrenees,
where his grandfather remained as a trader, and his father lived as
a simple workman till his marriage, which brought him into easier
circumstances. One of eleven children, Joffre proved an industrious
pupil at Perpignon, entered the Ecole Polytechnique in 1869, advanced
slowly, by general intelligence rather than any special capacity,
entered the Engineers after the War of 1870, and during the ’eighties
commenced a long colonial career. His report on the Timbuctoo
Expedition of 1893–4, where he first won distinction, is the longest
of his very few printed writings. It shows a prudent, methodical,
lucid, and energetic mind, with particular aptitude for engineering
and administration. After an interval in Paris as secretary of the
Inventions Commission, the then Colonel Joffre went out to direct
the establishment of defence works in Madagascar. In 1900, promoted
general, he commanded an artillery brigade, in 1905 an infantry
division. After other experience at the Ministry of War and in local
commands, he became a member of the Higher War Council in 1910, and
in July 1911 Vice-President of that body, and thus Commander-in-Chief

This heavy responsibility fell to him almost by accident. It was the
time of the Agadir crisis; France and Germany were upon the verge
of war. M. Caillaux was Prime Minister, M. Messimy Minister of War,
General Michel Vice-President of the Council, a position, at the end
of a long period of peace, of little power, especially as the Council
had only a formal existence. The Government recognised its weakness,
but feared to establish a Grand Staff which might obtain a dangerous
authority. Moreover, General Michel was not “well seen” by the
majority of his colleagues. Messimy thought him lacking in spirit and
ability.[27] There were also differences of opinion; Michel thought
the reserves should be organised to be thrown into line directly upon
the outbreak of hostilities, and he believed in the probability of an
invasion by way of Belgium. Generals Pau and Gallieni were the first
favourites for the succession. Both, however, would attain the age
limit at the end of 1912. Gallieni declined on the further ground that
his experience had been almost wholly colonial, and that he would not
be welcomed by the metropolitan army. Michel’s ideas having been
formally rejected at a meeting of the Higher War Council on July 19,
1911, the post was offered to Pau, a universally esteemed officer.
The Ministry had decided to strengthen the post of Vice-President of
the Council by adding to it the functions of Chief-of-Staff; but when
Pau demanded the right to nominate all superior officers, Messimy
hesitated, and turned to Joffre, the member of the Council having the
longest period——over five years——of service before him.

Joffre was little known outside army circles; and he had none of
the qualities that most easily bring popularity. Southerners would
recognise his rich accent, but little else in this silent, though
genial, figure. His profound steadiness, a balance of mind that was
to carry him through the worst of storms, a cool reflectiveness
almost suggesting insensibility, were qualities strange in a French
military leader. He was understood to be a faithful Republican; but,
unlike some high officers, he had never trafficked with party, sect,
or clique, and he showed his impartiality in retiring the freethinker
Sarrail and the Catholic de Langle de Cary, as in supporting Sir John
French and in advancing Foch. When I looked at him, I was reminded of
Campbell-Bannerman; there was the same pawkiness, the same unspoiled
simplicity, the same courage and bonhomie. Before the phrase was coined
or the fact accomplished, he prefigured to his countrymen the “union
sacrée” which was the first condition of success; and to the end his
solid character was an important factor in the larger concert of the

While there appears in Joffre a magnanimity above the average of great
commanders, it is, perhaps, not yet possible to say that, through
this crisis, his sense of justice was equal to every strain. There are
friends of General Gallieni who would question it. The case of General
Lanrezac is less personal, and more to our purpose. An officer of
decided views and temper, who had been professor at St. Cyr in 1880,
and had risen to be director of studies in the Staff College, he became
a member of the War Council only six months before the outbreak of war,
when the opinions formerly represented by General Michel, and partially
and more softly by Castlenau, were definitely discredited.[28] Always
sceptical of the orthodox doctrine of the general offensive, Lanrezac
was convinced by information obtained at the beginning of the campaign
that the great danger had to be met in the north, and that the armies
should be shifted immediately to meet it. We have seen that Joffre
would not accept this view till the third week in August, and still
pursued an offensive plan which now appears to have been foredoomed
to failure. Nevertheless, Lanrezac was punished for the defeat on the
Sambre, by being removed from the command of the 5th Army; and, to the
end of the war, the Generalissimo persisted in attributing the frontier
repulses to subordinate blundering. Joffre’s action in the height of
the crisis, his wholesale purge of the army commands, may be justified;
it is too late to shelter the Staff of those days from their major
share in the responsibility.

It must remain to his biographers to explain more precisely the
extraordinary contrast between the errors we have indicated and the
recovery we have now to trace. This much may here be said: Joffre
was hardly the man, in days of peace, to grapple with a difficult
parliament, or to conceive a new military doctrine. He was not, like
his neighbour of the South, Foch, an intellectual, a bold speculator, a
specialist in strategy, but an organiser, a general manager. The first
French plan of campaign, for which he had such share of responsibility
as attaches to three years in charge of the military machine, was the
expression of a firmly established teaching, which only a few pioneers
in his own world had consciously outgrown. It did not reflect his own
temperament; but he could not have successfully challenged it, in
the time at his disposal, against prejudices so inveterate, even if
he had had the mind to do so. It was the first time all the services
concerned in war preparations, including the War Council, the General
Staff, the Staff Committee, the Higher War School, had come under a
single control; and, even had there been no arrears, no financial
difficulties, a greater permanence of Ministries, the task would
have called for all one man’s powers of labour and judgment. Joffre
was surrounded during that period by men more positive, in certain
directions, than himself, more ambitious, men whose abilities could
no more be defied than their influence. “He had more character than
personality,” says one of his eulogists, who compares him with Turenne,
citing Bossuet on that great soldier: “He was used to fighting without
anger, winning without ambition, and triumphing without vanity.”[29] It
was as though Nature, seeing the approach of a supreme calamity, had
prepared against it, out of the spirit of the age——an age by no means
Napoleonic——an adequate counter-surprise.

The slow growth and cumulation of his career are characteristic. It is
all steady, scrupulous industry. It smacks of an increasingly civilian
world. There is no exterior romance in the figure of Joffre, nothing
mediæval, nothing meretricious. He is a glorified _bourgeois_, with
the sane vigour and solidity of his race, and none of its more showy
qualities. There is extant a lecture which he delivered in 1913 to
the old scholars of the Ecole Polytechnique. He presented the Balkan
wars for consideration as a case in which two factors were sharply
opposed——numbers, and preparation. Setting aside high strategy and
abstract teaching, he preached the virtue of all-round preparation——in
the moral and intellectual factors, first of which a sane patriotism
and a worthy command, as well as in the material factors of numbers,
armament, supplies, and so on. “_To be ready_ in our days,” he says,
“carries a meaning it would have been difficult for those who formerly
prepared and conducted war to grasp.... To be ready to-day, all the
resources of the country, all the intelligence of its children, all
their moral energy, must be directed in advance toward a single
aim——victory. Everything must have been organised, everything foreseen.
Once hostilities are commenced, no improvisation will be of any use.
What lacks then will lack definitively. And the least omission may
cause a disaster.”

That he and his Staff were caught both unprepared and ill-prepared
gives an impish touch of satire to this passage. That it is,
nevertheless, the authentic voice of Joffre is confirmed by one of his
rare personal declarations in the course of the war. This statement
was made in February 1915——when many of the commanders referred to
had been removed, and the officership of the French Army considerably
rejuvenated——to an old friend[30] who asked him whether Charleroi
was lost under pressure of overwhelming numbers. “That is absolutely
wrong,” replied Joffre. “We ought to have won the battle of Charleroi;
we ought to have won ten times out of eleven. We lost it through our
own faults. Faults of command. Before the war broke out, I had already
noted that, among our generals, many were worn out. Some had appeared
to me to be incapable, not good enough for their work. Some inspired
me with doubt, others with disquietude. I had made up my mind to
rejuvenate our chief commands; and I should have done so in spite of
all the commentaries and against any malevolence. But the war came too
soon. And, besides, there were other generals in whom I had faith, and
who have not responded to my hopes. The man of war reveals himself more
in war than in studies, and the quickest intelligence and the most
complete knowledge are of little avail if they are unaccompanied by
qualities of action. The responsibilities of war are such that, even in
the men of merit, their best faculties may be paralysed. That is what
happened to some of my chiefs. Their worth turned out to be below the
mark. I had to remedy these defects. Some of these generals were my
best comrades. But, if I love my friends much, I love France more. I
relieved them of their posts. I did this in the same way as I ought to
be treated myself, if it be thought I am not good enough. I did not do
this to punish them, but simply as a measure of public safety. I did it
with a heavy heart.”

Such were the character and record of the man upon whom, at the darkest
moment in modern history, fell the burden of the destinies of liberal
Europe; who was called upon to prove, against his own words, that a
great leader must and can improvise something essential of what has
not been prepared; who, between August 23 and 25, 1914, in a maze of
preoccupations, had to provide the Western Allies with a second new
plan of campaign. Some day his officers will tell the story of how he
did it, of the outer scene at his shifting headquarters during those
alarming hours, as the Emperor’s Marshals portrayed their chief pacing
like a caged tiger by candlelight in a Polish hut, or gazing gloomily
from the Kremlin battlements upon the flames that were turning his
ambition to ashes. Joffre will not help us to such pictures; and in
this, too, he shows himself to be representative of the modern process,
which is anything but picturesque. If he had none of the romance of the
stark adventurer about him, he had a cool head and a stout heart; and
we may imagine that, out of the depths of a secretive nature, there
surged up spontaneously in this crisis all that was worthiest in it,
the stored strength of a Spartan life, the will of a deep patriotism,
the lessons of a long, varied, pondered experience. So far from dire
peril paralysing his faculties, it was now that they first shone to the
full. Calm, confident, clear, prompt, he set himself to correct the
most glaring errors, and to create the conditions of an equal struggle.
We know from his published Army Orders what resulted. Castlenau, Pau,
Foch were far away on the east, or at the centre. There were other
advisers; but, in the main, this was Joffre’s own plan.

Before we state it, and trace its later modification, it will be well
to recall the main features of the problem to be solved.


The first fact which had to be reckoned with was that the main weight
of the enemy was bearing down across the north and north-east, and was,
for the moment, irresistible. Retreat, at the outset, was not, then,
within the plan, but a condition of it. There was no choice; contact
with the invader must be broken if any liberty of action was to be
won back. Defeat and confusion had been suffered at so many points,
the force of the German offensive was so markedly superior, that an
unprepared arrest on the Belgian frontier would have risked the armies
being divided, enveloped, and destroyed piecemeal.

If the first stage of the retreat was enforced, its extension was
in some measure willed and constantly controlled. For all the
decisions taken, Joffre must have the chief credit, as he had the
whole responsibility. The abandonment of large tracts of national
territory to a ruthless enemy cannot be an easy choice, especially when
the inhabitants are unwarned, and the mind of the nation is wholly
unprepared (the defeats on the Sambre and the Meuse were not known
for several days to the civil public, and then only very vaguely). A
less cool mind might have fallen into temporising expedients. Maubeuge
was to hold out for a fortnight more; the 4th Army had checked the
enemy, and Ruffey had repulsed several attacks; Longwy had not yet
capitulated. But the Commander-in-Chief was not deceived. He had no
sooner learned the weight of Kluck’s flying wing than he realised that
the only hope now lay in a rapid retirement. The fact that the British
force, holding the west flank, depended upon coast communications
for its munitions, supplies, and reinforcements, was an element to
be counted. In every respect, unreadiness in the north dominated the

Evidently the retreat must be stayed, and the reaction begun, at
the earliest possible moment. Not only were large communities
and territories being abandoned: the chief German line of attack
seemed to be aimed direct at the capital, which was in a peculiar
degree the centre of the national life. This consideration, which
no Commander-in-Chief could have forgotten, was emphasised in a
letter addressed at 5 a.m. on August 25 by the Minister of War, M.
Messimy, to General Joffre. It contained a specific order from the
Government——probably the only ministerial interference with the
operations in this period——thus phrased: “If victory does not crown a
success of our armies, and if the armies are compelled to retreat, an
army of at least three active corps must be directed to the entrenched
camp of Paris to assure its protection.” In an accompanying letter, the
Minister added: “It goes without saying that the line of retreat should
be quite other, and should cover the centre and the south of France. We
are resolved to struggle to the last and without mercy.”[31] No doubt,
these measures would, to Joffre, seem to “go without saying.” The
retreat, so long as necessary, must be directed toward the centre of
the country, and at the same time the capital must be protected.

There was another necessity of no less importance. The retreat must be
covered on the east. After the reverse of Morhange–Sarrebourg, this
was a continual source of anxiety. On August 25, the German Armies
of Lorraine, now reinforced, were hammering at the circle of hills
called the Grand Couronné of Nancy, and were upon the Moselle before
the Gap of Charmes. Belfort and Epinal were safe, and Verdun was not
yet directly threatened. Very little consideration of the rectangular
battle front——the main masses ranged along the north, while a line of
positions naturally and artificially strong favoured the French on
the east——would lead to the further conclusion: to stand fast along
the east, as cover for the retreat from the north. Castelnau and
Dubail, therefore, were asked to hold their critical positions at any
cost. At the same time, Mulhouse and the northern Vosges passes were
abandoned; Belfort, Epinal, and even Verdun were deprived of every
superfluous man, in order to meet the main flood of invasion. The
evacuation of Verdun and Nancy was envisaged as a possibility. The line
Toul–Epinal–Belfort could not be lost without disaster.

Such were the three chief conditions affecting the extent of the
strategic retreat. Conditions are, however, to be made, not only
suffered; and General Joffre had no sooner got the retreat in hand
than he set himself to the constitution of a new mass of manœuvre
by means of which, when a favourable conjuncture of circumstances
should be obtained, the movement could be reversed. The simultaneous
disengagement and parallel withdrawal of four armies, with various
minor forces, over a field 120 miles wide and of a like depth, was
an operation unprecedented in the history of war. The pains and
difficulties of such a retreat, the danger of dislocation and
demoralisation, are evident. Its great compensation was to bring the
defence nearer to its reserves and bases of supply, while constantly
stretching the enemy’s line, and so weakening his striking force. This
could not, of course, be pure gain: the French and British Armies lost
heavily on the road south by the capture of laggards, sick, wounded,
and groups gone astray, as well as in killed and men taken in action.
The Germans lost more heavily in several, perhaps in most, of the
important engagements, and they were much exhausted when the crucial
moment came. On the other hand, the Allies were constantly picking
up reinforcements; while the enemy had to leave behind an army of
occupation in Belgium, and large numbers of men to reduce Maubeuge,
to garrison towns like Lille, Valenciennes, Amiens, St. Quentin,
Cambrai, Laon, Rethel, Rheims, to terrorise scores of smaller places,
and to provide guards and transport for ever-lengthening lines of

Upon these chief elements Joffre constructed his new plan of campaign.
It was first mooted, a few hours after the issue of the order for
the general retreat, in the tactical “Note for All the Armies” of
August 24, and in the strategical “General Instruction” of August
25. General Headquarters were then housed in the old College, in the
small country town of Vitry-le-François. Here, far behind the French
centre, undisturbed by the turmoil of the front and the capital,
the Commander-in-Chief, aided by such men as General Belin (a great
organiser particularly of railway services), General Berthelot and
Colonel Pont, grappled with the dire problem and, in the shadow of
defeat, imperturbably drafted the design of the ultimate victory.

The tactical note gathered such of the more urgent lessons of the
preceding actions as were capable of immediate application: the
importance of close co-operation of infantry and artillery in attack;
of artillery preparation of the assault, destruction of enemy
machine-guns, immediate entrenchment of a position won, organisation
for prolonged resistance, as contrasted with “the enthusiastic
offensive”; extended formation in assault; the German method of cavalry
patrols immediately supported by infantry, and the need of care not to
exhaust the horses. “When a position has been won, the troops should
organise it immediately, entrench themselves, and bring up artillery to
prevent any new attack by the enemy. The infantry seem to ignore the
necessity of organising for a prolonged combat. Throwing forthwith into
line numerous and dense units, they expose them immediately to the fire
of the enemy, which decimates them, stops short their offensive, and
often leaves them at the mercy of a counter-attack.” The Generalissimo
offered his lieutenants no rhetorical comfort, but the purge of simple
truth. He knew, and insisted on their understanding, that the shrewdest
of strategy was useless if faults such as these were to remain

The “General Instruction No. 2,” issued to the Army Commanders at 10
p.m. on August 25, consisted of twelve articles, which——omitting for
the moment the detailed dispositions——contain the following orders:

    “1. _The projected offensive manœuvre being impossible of
    execution, the ulterior operations will be regulated with a view
    to the reconstitution on our left, by the junction of the 4th
    and 5th Armies, the British Army, and new forces drawn from the
    region of the east, of a mass capable of resuming the offensive,
    while the other armies contain for the necessary time the efforts
    of the enemy._

    “2. _In its retirement, each of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Armies will
    take account of the movements of the neighbouring armies, with
    which it must keep in touch. The movement will be covered by
    rearguards left in favourable irregularities of the ground, so
    as to utilise all the obstacles to stop, or at least delay, the
    march of the enemy by short and violent counter-attacks, of which
    the artillery will contribute the chief element._

    “6. _In advance of Amiens, a new group of forces, constituted
    by elements brought up by railway (7th Corps, four divisions
    of reserve, and perhaps another active army corps), will be
    gathered from August 27 to September 2. It will be ready to pass
    to the offensive in the general direction St. Pol–Arras, or

    “8. _The 5th Army will have the main body of its forces in the
    region of Vermand–St. Quentin–Moy, in order to debouch in the
    general direction of Bohain, its right holding the line La
    Fère–Laon–Craonne–St. Erme._

    “11. _All the positions indicated must be organised with the
    greatest care, so as to make it possible to offer the maximum of
    resistance to the enemy._

    “12. _The 1st and 2nd Armies will continue to hold the enemy
    forces which are opposed to them._”

Articles 3, 4, and 5 specified the lines of retreat and zones of action
of each of the Western forces. Articles 7, 9, and 10, like articles 6
and 8 quoted above, indicate the positions from which the projected
offensive movement was to be made. The whole disposition may be
summarised as follows:——On the extreme left, from the coast to near
Amiens, the northern Territorial Divisions were to hold the line of
the Somme, with the Cavalry Corps in advance, and the 61st and 62nd
Reserve Divisions in support. Next eastward, either north or south
of the Somme, was to come the new, or 6th Army, which was to strike
north or north-east, on one side or the other of Arras, according to
circumstances. Beside it, the British Army, from behind the Somme
between Bray and Ham, would advance to the north or north-east. The 5th
Army (article 8 above) had an exceedingly strong position and rôle.
With the Oise valley before it, and the St. Gobain and Laon hills
behind, it was to attack due northward between St. Quentin and Guise.
The 4th Army was to reach across Champagne from Craonne to the Argonne
either by the Aisne valley or by Rheims; while the 3rd hung around
Verdun, touching the Argonne either at Grandpré or Ste. Menehould.

The great military interest of these arrangements must not detain us.
Their publication reveals the fact, long unknown save to a few, that
Joffre not merely hoped for, but definitely planned, a resumption
of the offensive from a line midway between the Sambre and the
Marne, that is, from the natural barrier of the Somme and the St.
Gobain–Laon hills. We shall see that an effort was made to carry out
these dispositions, and that it failed. The failure was lamentable,
inasmuch as it doomed another large tract of country to the penalties
of invasion. But, because the dispositions ordered on August 25
were only provisional details, not essentials, of the new plan, the
military result was in no way compromised. While dealing with local
emergencies or opportunities, Joffre envisaged steadily the whole
national situation. The essentials of the “General Instruction” of
August 25 were four in number: (_a_) a defensive stand by the armies of
Alsace and Lorraine, and a provisional defensive by the two armies next
westward, the 3rd and 4th; (_b_) a strictly controlled continuation
of the northern retreat while reorganisation took place and forces
were transferred from the east to the north-west; (_c_) an ultimate
offensive initiated by the western and central armies, of which one
additional, to be called the 9th, under General Foch, about to be
interjected between the 4th and 5th, is not yet mentioned; (_d_) the
constitution of a new left wing, to meet the extraordinary strength of
the German right, and to attempt a counter-envelopment. The Amiens–Laon
line fell out of the plan; the plan itself remained, and it is fully
true to say that in it lies the germ of the battle of the Marne.


Everything was conditional upon the defence of the eastern frontier,
now at its most critical phase.[32]

On the morning of August 24, Lunéville having been occupied on the
previous day, the hosts of Prince Ruprecht and General Heeringen were
reported to be advancing rapidly toward the entry of the Gap of Charmes
by converging roads——the former, on the north, passing before the Nancy
hills, southward; the latter, coming westward from around the Donon,
by Baccarat. We have seen (p. 31) that, on the other hand, the 2nd and
1st French armies, in preparation for a decisive action, were ranged
in the shape of a right-angle——that of Castelnau (based on Toul)
from the foothills north-eastward of Nancy, southward, to Rozelieures
and Borville; that of Dubail (based on Epinal) from the northern end
of the Vosges, westward, to the same point. How far these positions,
with the prospect of being able to close in upon the flanks of the
enemy, arose from necessary directions of the retreat, and how far from
strategical design, whether of one or both of the army commanders,
or of the Commander-in-Chief, does not here concern us; suffice it
to say that the two generals won equal honour, and that the Grand
Quartier effectively supervised this and subsequent developments of the
situation. The opposed forces were now about equal in strength——nine
corps on either side.

A space had been left at the point of the angle, north of the Forest
of Charmes, west of Rozelieures; and this may have tempted the Germans
forward. The 16th Corps of the French 2nd Army, the 8th and 13th of
the 1st, with three divisions of cavalry under General Conneau masking
them, were ready to fill this space, and, as soon as Lunéville had
been lost, proceeded to do so, artillery being massed particularly on
Borville plateau. On the afternoon of August 24, the pincers began to
close, Dubail holding the imperilled angle and Heeringen’s left, while
Castelnau beat upon the enemy’s northern flank. On the morning of the
25th, the Germans took Rozelieures; at 2 p.m. they abandoned it; at
3 p.m., Castelnau issued the order: “_En avant, partout, à fond!_”
Foch’s 20th Corps, aiming at the main line of enemy communications,
the Arracourt–Lunéville road, took Réméréville and Erbéviller, east of
Nancy, and struck hard, farther south, at Maixe, Crevic, Flainval, and
Hudviller, toward Lunéville, which was at the same time threatened on
the south-west by the 15th Corps, reaching the Meurthe and Mortagne at
Lamath and Blainville. By night, the enemy was conscious of his danger,
and escaped constriction by a general withdrawal. On the 26th, further
hard fighting confirmed the French victory. Positions were occupied at
the foot of the Grand Couronné, on the north, and near St. Dié on the
south, which were to save the situation a fortnight later. The Gap of
Charmes was definitely closed. The German armies had suffered their
first great defeat in the war; and, although little known to the outer
world, it did much for the moral of the French ranks. On August 27,
General Joffre issued an order praising this “example of tenacity and
courage,” and expressing his confidence that the other armies would
“have it at heart to follow it.”

Towards the north end of the Franco-German frontier, another check was
administered at the same time to the Crown Prince’s Army, near Etain,
half-way between Verdun and Metz. General Maunoury, with an ephemeral
“Army of Lorraine,” consisting of three reserve divisions, formed part
of the 3rd Army of General Ruffey, but was given by the G.Q.G. the
special task of watching for any threat on the side of Metz. He could
do little, therefore, to help Ruffey in the battle of Virton.[33]
On August 24, however, a German postal van was captured with orders
showing that the Crown Prince intended to attack in the belief that
the French had engaged all their troops. Generals Ruffey, Paul Durand,
Grossetti, and Maunoury held a hurried conference; and, the G.Q.G.
having given permission, on the following day Maunoury struck out
suddenly at the Crown Prince’s left, which was thrown back in disorder.

This victory might have been followed up. But General Joffre did not
mistake the real centre of gravity of the situation, and would not
change the basis of his new plan. He now considered the eastern front
sufficiently secure to justify a transfer of certain units to meet the
emergency in the western field. Thither, our attention may return.


During the night of August 25——while Smith-Dorrien’s men were defending
themselves at Solesmes and Haig’s at Landrecies——General Maunoury
received the order to disengage his divisions, and to hurry across
country to Montdidier with his Staff, there to complete the formation
and undertake the command of the new 6th Army. This distinguished
soldier was sixty-seven years of age. Wounded in the war of 1870, he
had taken a leading part in the development of the French artillery,
directed the Ecole de Guerre, and restored a strict discipline in the
garrison of the capital as Governor of Paris. Two of his phrases will
help to characterise this gallant officer. The first was that in which,
in the moment of victory, he spoke of himself as having for forty-four
years directed all his energies toward “la revanche de 1870.” The other
was addressed to a group of fellow-officers who were discussing certain
German brutalities. He could not understand such things, he said, and
added: “When we are in their country, we will give them a terrible
lesson in humaneness.”[34]

The Army of the Somme consisted at the outset of the 7th Corps, taken
from Alsace (_minus_ its 13th Division, left in Lorraine; _plus_ the
63rd Reserve Division and a Moroccan Brigade from the Châlons camp);
the 55th and 56th Divisions of Reserve, taken from the Verdun–Toul
region; the 61st and 62nd Divisions of Reserve, detached from the Paris
garrison to Arras, under General d’Amade, and brought back from Arras
to Amiens. It was constituted in the most unfavourable circumstances;
and the idea of a flank attack from the Arras–Amiens region, in
support of an offensive from the old line of secondary fortresses La
Fère–Laon–Rheims, was no sooner conceived than it had to be abandoned.
Maunoury was compelled to send his divisions off piecemeal from
railhead to the battlefield. The chief body of them had had such rest
as a long journey in goods-vans permits; d’Amade’s reservists had
been routed in the north, and had lost heavily. If Kluck had not been
absorbed in the effort to destroy Sir John French’s little band of
heroes, Maunoury’s task could never have been fulfilled.

The debt was quickly repaid. The moment had come when the British must
be relieved, or exterminated. Between Le Cateau and Cambrai, on August
26, the three infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades of the 2nd
Corps, although worn by long marches, checked the onrush of seven
German divisions and three mounted divisions, including some of the
best Prussian troops, supported by at least a hundred batteries. Again
trusting to his guns while he planned a double envelopment, Kluck
allowed his enemy to escape. While this first experience of massed
artillery fire revealed the fine quality of our “Old Contemptibles,”
it is a debated question whether General Smith-Dorrien’s temerity was
justified. He had been expressly ordered to continue the retreat,
and General Allenby had warned him of the risk he ran. A sharp blow
upon the German right flank by Sordet’s cavalry and some of d’Amade’s
battalions relieved the perilous situation. But the British losses
were heavy after as well as during the battle. At night, during the
disengagement, the 1st Gordons marched into the camp of a German
division, and were taken prisoner almost to a man. The following is
the judgment of the British Commander-in-Chief upon this affair: “The
magnificent fight put up by these glorious troops saved disaster, but
the actual result was a total loss of at least 14,000 officers and
men, about 80 guns, numbers of machine-guns as well as quantities of
ammunition, war material and baggage, whilst the enemy gained time to
close up his infantry columns marching down from the north-east....
The hope of making a stand behind the Somme or the Oise, or any other
favourable position north of the Marne, had now to be abandoned, owing
to the shattered condition of the army, and the far-reaching effect
of our losses at the battle of Le Cateau was felt seriously even
throughout the subsequent battle of the Marne, and during the early
operations on the Aisne. It was not possible to replace our lost guns
and machine-guns until nearly the end of September.”[35]

At this time Bülow was pursuing Sir Douglas Haig along the Guise road.
On the 27th, the 2nd Munster Fusiliers were cut off, and killed or
captured, except a handful saved by the 15th Hussars. On the 28th,
the weary remnant of an army which had marched 90 miles in four days,
fighting continually, tramped down the Oise valley, from La Fère to
Noyon. That evening, Gough’s cavalry, at the south of the Somme near
Ham, and Chetwode’s a little farther east, in covering the retreat, had
to bear two severe attacks, which they effectually broke. On August 26,
Sir John French had met Generals Joffre and Lanrezac at St. Quentin,
and had again found the attitude of the latter officer unsatisfactory.
On August 29, at 1 p.m., General Joffre visited the British Commander
at the latter’s headquarters in the Château of Compiègne. “I strongly
represented my position,” Sir John reported to Lord Kitchener, “to the
French Commander-in-Chief, who was most kind, cordial, and sympathetic,
as he has always been.” The Field-Marshal was persuaded from this time
on that “our stand should be made on some line between the Marne and
the Seine.”

The needed relief had already been arranged when the conference took
place, by a movement which we may summarise as an inclination of the
6th and 5th French Armies toward each other across the British rear.
Sordet’s three cavalry divisions had already passed from the right to
the left of the British Army. D’Amade’s Divisions had done something
to check Von Kluck’s advance by the Bapaume–Amiens and Peronne–Roye
highroads. Nevertheless, Von der Marwitz’s cavalry was on the Somme
on August 28. That day Lanrezac’s Army, which had retired from the
line Avesnes–Chimay west-south-westward, took positions south of the
Oise between La Fère and Guise. On the following day, August 29, while
Joffre had gone from Lanrezac’s headquarters at Laon to consult Sir
John French at Compiègne, Maunoury and Lanrezac struck two hard blows,
the one eastward from the Santerre plateau toward Peronne, the other
north-west from the Oise toward St. Quentin, against the two flanks of

In the former action, between the villages of Villers Bretonneaux and
Proyart, 15,000 French chasseurs and troops of the line arrested a
larger German force for a day and a night, then falling back toward
Roye. Lanrezac was more successful in the simultaneous battle of Guise
(extending to Ribémont on the west, and eastward to Vervins), although
its original aim was not carried out. This was to wheel about, and to
strike westward. The delicate manœuvre might have ended disastrously,
for Bülow was closer than was thought, but for a rapid return to the
old front. The left of the 5th Army (18th and 3rd Corps) crossed the
Oise toward St. Quentin in the morning of the 29th, but was stopped in
view of the arrest of the right (1st and 10th Corps) by heavy German
attacks. The 3rd Corps was then transferred to the right; and, to the
east of Guise, a serious repulse was inflicted on the German X Corps
and the Guard.

This seems to have been the strongest of several factors which now
produced a deep disturbance of the German plans. On August 28,
according to Bülow’s war-diary,[36] the High Command, probably under
the impression of Le Cateau, had ordered the I Army to continue
south-westward to the Seine below Paris, and the II Army to make
straight for the capital. Guise altered the whole prospect. Bülow had
had to ask aid from Kluck (who, till August 27 subject to Bülow, was
then given an independence of command which continued till September
10). Kluck, evidently the more forceful personality, and opposed to
an immediate descent on Paris, then proceeded south-east to the Oise
about Compiègne. The new direction was at once accepted by General
Headquarters——a momentous change which will be discussed presently.
Other important results were attained by these actions. The British
Force was freed, and retired to the north bank of the Aisne, between
Compiègne and Soissons, there to reorganise. At the same time, the
neighbouring French armies, albeit outnumbered, were so ranged as to
close the breach thus left against Kluck and Bülow, Field-Marshal
French, not having received reinforcements, had rejected Joffre’s
request to “stand and fight,” and refused to budge when it was repeated
by President Poincaré and Lord Kitchener.[37]

Dislocation became apparent on both sides at this juncture. Kluck’s
liaison with Bülow was not very good, or the movements just described
would not have been possible. A considerable gap had also developed
between Hausen and Bülow. True, there was a corresponding void between
the French 5th and 4th Armies, a distance of 25 miles held only by a
few flying columns. But behind this breach, a few miles to the south
(between Soissons and Château Porcien), the new so-called 9th Army had
begun to form on August 27, under General Foch, fresh from his failure
and success in Lorraine.

It is difficult now not to regard this appointment in the light
of later fame.[38] But the commander of the 20th Corps was already
distinguished. It is noteworthy that Ferdinand Foch was born within
4 miles and four months of Joffre——at Tarbes in the Upper Pyrenees,
on October 2, 1851. Of a solid and comfortable middle-class family,
he is said to have called the Generalissimo’s attention, when he was
offered the army command, to the fact that he had a brother who was a
Jesuit priest. Joffre swept the hinted objection aside. Foch, who had
served as subaltern in the 1870 war, had risen to be brigadier-general
when he was made director of the Ecole de Guerre. Later, he commanded
successively the 13th Division, the 8th Corps, and the 20th, of Nancy.

The new force he was now called upon to lead——consisting of the 42nd
Division of the 6th Corps, taken from the 3rd Army, the 9th and 11th
Corps, taken from the 4th Army, the 1st Moroccan Division, and two
reserve divisions from the 4th Army——was not yet ready to enter into
action. Joffre’s purpose in creating and placing it was not only to
strengthen his centre, but to preserve the offensive force of the
5th Army. The German Staff probably did not know of the existence
of Foch’s “detachment.” It did know that, farther east, its central
armies, those of Duke Albrecht of Würtemberg and the Prussian Crown
Prince, were not doing as well as had been expected. On August 28,
de Langle, having obtained the Generalissimo’s leave to suspend the
retreat of the 4th Army for a day, and a day only,[39] drove the German
IV Army back across the Meuse between Sedan and Stenay with his right,
while, with his left, he struck at the Saxons between Signy-l’Abbaye
and Novion-Porcien (sometimes called the battle of Launois), where,
in particular, the 1st Moroccan Division dealt faithfully with the I
Saxon (XII German) Corps. The 3rd French Army was also deliberate in
its retirement toward and around the northern limits of the entrenched
camp of Verdun, and, on the 29th, near Dun-sur-Meuse, almost completely
destroyed one of the Crown Prince’s regiments which tried to cross the


The position along the French front on this day was, therefore, more
favourable than it had been. In Lorraine, there was a slackening of the
German attacks, pending the arrival of fresh forces; and Castelnau,
his weakened army fully rallied, was more confident of the issue. In
the west, one new army had come, and another was coming, into line.
At the right-centre and left-centre, the enemy had suffered checks
which must have disturbed his arrogance, and caused hesitation and
divided counsels that were presently to contribute to his undoing.
They were checks only, however. A superiority of power remained; and
Kluck’s right wing, doing forced marches of 25 to 30 miles a day,
although the Allies broke most of the bridges behind them, was a very
serious menace. Foch was not ready for a decisive engagement; and the
Commander-in-Chief never wavered in his view that the general reaction
must commence from the left.

So the offensive must be postponed, the subsidiary scheme of August 25
cancelled, the retreat prolonged. General Joffre had left Lanrezac,
at noon on the 29th, with the knowledge that an offensive toward
St. Quentin was impossible, and during the afternoon had listened to
the representations of the British commander, who was accompanied by
his three corps commanders and General Allenby. In his report of the
interview, French says: “A general retirement on the line of the Marne
was ordered, to which the French forces in the more eastern theatre
of war were directed to conform,” adding: “Whilst closely adhering to
his strategic conception, to draw the enemy on at all points until a
favourable situation was created from which to assume the offensive,
General Joffre found it necessary to modify from day to day the methods
by which he sought to attain this object, owing to the development
of the enemy’s plans and changes of the general situation.” It was a
hard decision to retreat to the Marne, so abandoning the second great
defence line established after the war of 1870, including the forts of
La Fère, Laon, and Rheims. This new objective emphasised the dangerous
unevenness of the front, for, on the 29th, de Langle’s Army was 40
miles north of the Marne (beyond Rethel), Lanrezac was 50 miles to the
north (near Guise), Maunoury and the British were about 30 miles to the
north (between Clermont and Compiègne). It was a bold decision. But
there was something still more heroic to follow.

Retreat and pursuit now attained their maximum speed, the greatest
pressure being always on the west. The city and important railway
centre of Amiens was evacuated by d’Amade, and occupied by Kluck’s
extreme right, on August 30 (the British base had already been moved
to St. Nazaire). On that memorable Sunday, all the roads converging
towards Paris were crowded with fugitives, whose panic-haste was
only too well justified by the barbarities that marked the progress
of the invasion. On the 31st, while the 5th Army was still north of
Laon, Kluck was driving across the rearguards of Maunoury and of the
British (restored to the general line, after a day’s rest) in the
Clermont–Compiègne region. The curvature of the Allied line, and the
threat of envelopment on the left, or division of the left from the
centre, were acute. As we shall see, however, the enemy had fallen
into a more perilous predicament. Paris had begun to be a major factor
in the situation. The railways running southward from the capital
were overwhelmed with multitudes of flying civilians; so that the
detrainment of some of the reinforcements from the east had to be made
at a point more distant than had been intended.[40]

The British Commander-in-Chief, conscious of the weakness of his
means, but sensible also of what might happen to the great city, now
expressed his readiness to take part in a general battle before Paris,
provided that his flanks could be covered.[41] But neither of Joffre’s
two new armies, the 6th and 9th, was ready for a decisive test. Kluck
was hard upon the heels of d’Amade, Maunoury, and the British; and
even on the Marne they might not be able to make a stand. Weighing up
the possibilities from hour to hour, the Generalissimo concluded that
he was not yet justified in risking everything. On September 1, from
his headquarters, which were moved on that day from Vitry to a quiet
château at Bar-sur-Aube, orders were issued to extend the retreat
by another 30 miles to the south banks of the Aube and the Seine.
“Despite the tactical successes obtained by the 3rd, 4th, and 5th
Armies on the Meuse and at Guise,” he wrote, “the enveloping movement
of the left of the 5th Army, insufficiently arrested by the British
troops and the 6th Army, obliges the whole of our formation to pivot
upon its right. As soon as the 5th Army has escaped the enveloping
manœuvre against its left, the mass of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Armies
will resume the offensive.” This order marks the moment at which Verdun
became a pivot for the remaining portion of the western retreat. “We
shall reach this line,” the Generalissimo added (September 2), “only
if we are constrained. We shall attack, before reaching it, if we can
realise a disposition permitting the co-operation of the whole of the

The “General Instruction No. 4” of September
1 indicated, as the turning-point, the line
By the supplementary note of the following day, this line of arrest was
pushed back a little farther still, from Pont-sur-Yonne (south-east
of Fontainebleau), through Brienne-le-Château, to Joinville, 25 miles
south of Bar-le-Duc. These positions were never reached; but the orders
are of great interest, anticipating, as they did, the possibility of a
movement that might well have involved the abandonment of Verdun and
the creation of a new pivot at Toul–Nancy. Joffre’s public words are
so few and sententious that the “General Order No. 11” may be given in

“Part of our armies are falling back to re-establish their front,
recomplete their effectives, and prepare, with every chance of
success, for the general offensive that I shall order to be resumed in
a few days. The safety of the country depends upon the success of this
offensive, which, in accord with the pressure of our Russian Allies,
must break the German armies, that we have already seriously damaged at
several points.

“Every man must be made aware of this situation, and strain all his
energies for the final victory. The most minute precautions, as well
as the most draconian measures, will be taken that the retirement be
effected in complete order, so as to avoid useless fatigue. Fugitives,
if found, will be pursued and executed. Army commanders will give
orders to the depots so that these shall send promptly to the corps the
full number of men necessary to compensate for losses sustained and to
be foreseen in the next few days.

“The effectives must be as complete as possible, the cadres
reconstituted by promotion, and the moral of all up to the level of the
new tasks for the coming resumption of the forward movement which will
give us the definitive success.

  “At General Headquarters, September 2, 1914.
      The General Commanding-in-Chief,




Retreat to the Somme was much, to the Marne so much more as was to be
appreciated only in the after-years of the war. Retreat to the Seine,
besides endangering the venerable fortress and pivotal place of Verdun,
left in peril of capture, perhaps of destruction, Paris, the richest
and most beautiful city of Continental Europe, the seat of a strongly
centralised system of government and many industries, the home of two
millions of people, the converging point of the chief national roads
and railways. That Government and people accepted such a risk speaks
eloquently for the mind that imposed it upon them.

The passionate strain of those few days will ever rest in the memories
of those who experienced it. News, vague and unexplained, of the
northern invasion had fallen upon us with avalanche swiftness. Paris
was almost universally regarded as its immediate objective. On August
27, the Viviani Ministry was reconstructed as an enlarged Government
of National Defence, with M. Millerand in M. Messimy’s place at the
Ministry of War, M. Delcassé at the Quai d’Orsay, M. Briand at the
Ministry of Justice, and the Socialist M. Sembat at the Public Works.
The same evening M. Millerand visited the Grand Quartier General
at Vitry-le-François. “On the staircase,” he afterwards wrote, “I
shook hands with General Maunoury, who was leaving for the north to
take command of his new army. The Staff officers were working in
tranquillity, silence, and order. The brains of the army functioned
freely. General Joffre kept me long in conference. I never found him
more calm, more master of himself, more sure of the future. I left him
full of respect, admiration, and confidence.”[42] On the same day,
General Gallieni was appointed military governor of Paris. Amongst the
people of the capital, at least, this step excited keener interest,
since it bore directly upon the question that was beginning to be asked
on all hands——must we leave, or stay? Gallieni, who, long years before,
had been Joffre’s chief in the military organisation of the colony of
Madagascar, was, like him, of the type of soldier-administrator. But
his temperament spoke of his Corsican origin; and he had asked for, and
Joffre had refused him, an army command——circumstances to be remembered
when we see him in action. A man of impeccable honesty, emphatic
will, and few words, he immediately won the confidence of his men and
the population at large, and in the height of the crisis presented a
worthy, if somewhat stiff, personification of the new spirit which
France began to exhibit before her armies had scored any victory.

On August 29, the French official bulletin (communicated to an
anxiously waiting crowd of journalists in a stable-like building beside
the Ministry of War, thereafter to be scanned greedily as the _pièce
de résistance_ of the world’s press) contained a partial revelation of
the whereabouts of the enemy: “The situation _from the Somme to the
Vosges_ remains as yesterday.” At the same time, the new Government,
in a manifesto to the nation, declared that “our duty is tragic,
but simple: to repel the invader, to hold out to the end, to remain
masters of our destinies.” This phrase “_jusqu’au bout_,” repeated by
Gallieni a few days later——with its homologues, “_jusqu’auboutist_,”
“_jusqu’auboutisme_”——was to become for years afterwards a catchword of
the general resolve to fight to a victorious finish.

Refugees and wounded soldiers were now streaming into the city from the
north, and families from the holiday resorts of the west and south.
More than 30,000 fugitives from Belgium and the north of France reached
the Nord Station on the 29th. A considerable current had begun to flow
outwards, and during the next few days the railways were overwhelmed;
but there was at no time real panic among the people of the great city.
On Sunday the 30th, the first of a series of aeroplane raids provided
a novel boulevard entertainment; the president of the City Council, M.
Mithouard, advised residents to send their women and children into the
country; and an edict was issued forbidding the papers to publish more
than one edition daily. Railways, posts, and telegraphs were working
subject to many hours’ delay. The city hospitals were being cleared.
Thousands of civilians were helping the garrison to dig trenches, and
clear fields of fire. The Bois and neighbouring lands were turned into
a vast cattle and sheep farm; and large quantities of wheat were stored
against the possibility of a siege.

On the night of the 31st, I received privately the alarming news——only
made public on September 3——that the Government had that afternoon
decided to abandon the capital. The staffs and papers of the Ministries
were already being removed; Ministers themselves, with the President of
the Republic, and the Ambassadors, except those of Spain and the United
States, started for Bordeaux during the night of September 2. Many
of the treasures of the Louvre and other museums and galleries were
carried away at the same time. M. Poincaré and all the Ministers signed
a lengthy manifesto declaring that they were departing “on the demand
of the military authority,” in order to keep in touch with the whole
country, after assuring the defence of the city “by all means in their
power.” A quarter of the inhabitants of Paris had by now left, or were
endeavouring to leave, the city. The remainder, very anxious——for the
red-handed enemy was only a day’s march away——but still outwardly calm,
preferred to any eloquence of political personages the terse promise of
General Gallieni: “I have received the mandate to defend Paris against
the invader. This mandate I shall fulfil to the end.” Certainly, the
Government was in duty bound to see that it did not fall into the hands
of Von Kluck. The utmost that can be said for the popular sentiment of
the day is that, having prepared for departure, the chief magistrates
of the Republic might perhaps have remained a few hours longer, when
they would have discovered that there was no need to move after all.


The German Staff had, in fact, no immediate intention of attacking
Paris; and Kluck, passing beyond gunrange of the outer forts of the
entrenched camp, was racing south-east toward Meaux and Château-Thierry
after the British and the French 5th Armies. This unexpected change
of direction was only discovered on the afternoon of September 2, and
confirmed during the next twenty-four hours by successive cavalry and
aviation reports brought in to the headquarters of the British Army,
Maunoury’s Army, and the Paris garrison. It had, in fact, begun two
days before, though it could not then be considered decisive. No sooner
had he occupied Amiens, and crossed the Somme and Avre, than Kluck
began to alter his course from south-west to south-east, while Maunoury
and the British continued due south (the former two days behind the
latter). Thus, while conducting foreguard actions with the British,
Kluck increasingly left aside Maunoury, and came into contact with the
5th Army. Under Joffre’s orders, Maunoury continued his direct march on
Paris, his last units not leaving Clermont till early on the morning of
September 2, whereas the Expeditionary Force had crossed the Aisne on
August 30, and traversed Senlis, Crépy, and Villers-Cotterets on the
following day, to pass the Marne at and near Meaux. It is true that
detachments of the German extreme right got as far afield as Creil, on
the evening of September 2, and Chantilly on the following morning, but
they were no more than a flank guard. Senlis, on September 2, was the
last place occupied in any force, the last scene of fighting, and of
assassination, pillage, and incendiarism, on the main road to Paris, 23
miles away. Immediately in front lay the forests of Ermenonville and
Chantilly, an uncomfortable country for what had become a mere wing-tip
of the invasion.

While Maunoury’s exhausted troops were thus left liberty, behind
these woods, to re-form and rest across the north-eastern suburbs of
Paris (from Dammartin to the Marne), Kluck’s main body was making
south-eastward after the British at a hot pace, at the same time
closing up on its left with other forces coming due south from
Soissons through Villers-Cotterets. Crépy-en-Valois was occupied by
the Germans on September 1, 120,000 troops passing through toward
Nanteuil-le-Haudouin and Betz, which were reached on September 3. By
the time Gallieni got wind of the new direction, in fact, nearly the
whole of Kluck’s Army and Bülow’s right wing were nearing Meaux and
Château-Thierry (27 and 54 miles east of Paris). On September 3, the
British blew up the Marne bridges behind them, and altered their line
of retreat to south-west, reaching quietude and reinforcements on the
Seine on September 4. Kluck pursued his south-eastward course, and,
having crossed the Marne, Petit Morin, and Grand Morin, established
himself, on September 5, with his Staff, in the house of a Dr. Alleaume
in the little country town of Coulommiers. “This is the last stage,”
he is reported as saying; “the day after to-morrow, we shall leave
Coulommiers to enter Paris.”[43] That programme could not be carried
out. Three days later, the boaster had fled, and Sir John French was
ensconced in Coulommiers Town Hall.

Before we go on to trace the advantage the Allied commanders took of
this situation, we may pause to consider two questions which have been,
and may yet be, keenly discussed: (1) How came Kluck, reputedly one of
the best of living German officers, to perform this evolution across
Maunoury’s front, and so to reach a position that was to prove fatal
to the whole enterprise? (2) Was the German Staff right in deciding to
postpone the attack upon Paris?

It was natural that the problem should at first be posed in this double
form, because, when information is scanty, it is easier to criticise
an individual commander than a Grand Staff, and because the fate of a
capital is more generally interesting than a strategical hypothesis.
The most usual reply to the two questions was that, while the commander
had made an evident blunder, the Command had only followed the orthodox
military rule that no lesser objective should be allowed to interfere
with that of breaking the enemy’s main armies, and, the French and
British armies being unbroken, it was right not to adventure upon
another task, the reduction of a great city which might be obstinately
defended, till this was accomplished. That Berlin understood the
importance of taking the French capital, and hoped to take it quickly,
may be assumed.[44] Among other detailed evidence, the tardiness of a
message from Berlin to the Ambassador of the United States (then still
neutral) in Paris warning him to prepare for this event,[45] and the
fact that the German armies were not at first provided with maps of
the region of the capital (see note 2), reinforce the probability that
this aim was originally, as after August 29, subordinated to that of a
decisive battle.

But the wisdom of the decision has been strongly questioned. “First to
beat the enemy army,” says General Cherfils, “is a means to an end, and
generally the best. But this means is only a rule generally justified,
not at all a principle. The principle of war is higher, and, like other
principles, immutable——it is that the aim of war is to impose peace,
and to this end to produce on the enemy government or command an effect
of decisive demoralisation. We all know that Paris was not defended,
and that, if the Germans had pushed right on to the capital with their
I Army, nothing would have prevented them from destroying two of the
forts, bombarding Paris, and entering the city. I ask if, at that hour,
such a disaster would, not have produced an effect of demoralisation
equal to the finest victory. The Germans neglected to put in play the
terrifying surprise of such a catastrophe. I am sure the Grand Staff
must have regretted it.”[46]

More convincing reasons than this may be found for the fact that
Kluck was afterwards relegated, first to a lesser command, in which
he was wounded, and then to the retired list. It is an exaggeration
to speak of the city as “not defended.” The garrison consisted of
four Territorial divisions, to which Maunoury could have added on
September 5 the nine divisions of his new army. The ring of outer
forts, with a circumference of nearly a hundred miles, was too long
to be held by such a force; but it was also too long for investment
or general attack by the ten or eleven divisions Kluck might have
brought up. The German commander would, doubtless, have struck at a
short sector; and the question, probably unanswerable, is whether the
defenders, in their inadequate trenches connecting the old-fashioned
forts, could have prevented him from breaking through, at least until
the general battle on the Marne was won. It is highly probable they
could have done so. It is certain that Gallieni would have made a
spirited and obstinate defence; he had received specific permission
to blow up the Seine bridges within the city, if he found it necessary
to retire to the south bank. We know, also, that Kluck would have had
to wait several days before his heavy artillery could be brought into
position. Although the shortest distance between the outer forts and
the boundaries of the city is about eight miles, much of Paris might
then have been destroyed. But, the Government having gone south, would
there have been any “decisive demoralisation”? And what, meanwhile,
would have happened to the remaining armies? Assuming that the 6th
French Army would have been wholly occupied with Kluck in the Paris
area, instead of on the Ourcq, could Bülow, the Saxons, and the Duke of
Würtemberg have fulfilled their task on the Marne? Would there not have
been a dangerous gap on their right? Kluck would then have found it
much more difficult to disentangle himself, and perhaps impossible, in
case of a general retreat, to keep touch with his colleagues.

It has been stated, not very convincingly, that, in daring to pronounce
against such an adventure, Kluck encountered the opposition of the
Emperor and part of the Imperial Staff.[47] Von Bülow testifies that
the Staff abandoned the advance on Paris directly after the order was
given (p. 69). The problem which had arisen was of a larger and graver
character than that which has excited so much ingenious speculation.


For it was no exaggeration to say that a rapid victory was an
_essential_ condition of the German plan. The envelopment of the west
wing of the Allies might succeed if it were effected by the time
they reached the Somme, or a little beyond, but not later, and that
for three main reasons. In the first place, there was, south of the
Somme, Maunoury’s force, not large at first, but constantly growing,
a grave threat to Kluck’s west flank, whether realised or not. In the
second place, there was Foch’s new army forming at the centre; and,
between Lanrezac and Foch, Bülow’s advance was so compromised that it
had become necessary for Kluck to move eastward in order to relieve
his comrade. Thirdly, Paris stood across the path of a more directly
southward movement, with the certainty of delaying, and the probability
of dislocating, an immediate attack. The design of envelopment by
the west was, therefore, necessarily abandoned. Between August 29
and September 1, when he had passed the Somme, Kluck ceased his
south-westerly course, which no longer had any important purpose, and
came in touch with Bülow, to support his blow at the strongest of the
French Armies, the 5th. It was probably thought, on the following days,
that Maunoury would be locked up in Paris by a distraught Government,
and that the British Army, virtually disabled, would not require very
serious attention. Personal ambition, fear of being late for the action
that was to give a dramatic victory, may have spurred on the commander
of the I Army.[48]

So Kluck continued his course till his advance guards had reached a
point on the Brie plateau 50 miles south-east of Paris. His first
purpose was fulfilled. The space between the central lines of the
German I and II Armies on September 4 may be roughly measured by the
distance between Crépy-en-Valois and Fismes——no less than 50 miles.
Next day, this space was bridged. It could not have been otherwise
closed, except by arresting one or both forces, that is to say by
suspending the whole enterprise. Paris had been covered as well as
was possible with the forces in hand, the IV Reserve Corps, with a
cavalry division, being left north of the Marne, while the II Corps
was to turn from Coulommiers facing the south-east of the capital. It
is uncertain how far Kluck knew of the strength or position of the
French 6th Army.[49] As it afterwards came into action on the Ourcq, he
could not know of it, for it was not yet fully constituted; but he had
been repeatedly in conflict with some of its elements, from Baupaume
to Senlis. The German Command can hardly have supposed that Paris
would be left without a respectable garrison, especially as they were
certainly cognisant of Gallieni’s proclamation. Whether they under-
or over-estimated the strength Gallieni and Maunoury could put forth,
the result would be much the same. In any case, Kluck must close up
toward Bülow and cover his flank; new lines of communication must be
organised; if the French should attempt a serious flank attack, it
could be delayed till the main battle had been won.

It was, doubtless, a risky disposition, made more than risky by Kluck’s
headstrong determination to have his full share in the decisive shock.
British critics, with his failings in the north in mind, have dealt
very severely with this commander; French writers, better acquainted
with the fighting on the Ourcq, are more respectful. Kluck’s movement,
like the advance of Prince Ruprecht and Heeringen across the face of
Castelnau’s Army toward the Gap of Charmes, may have contained a large
element of recklessness, born of foolish contempt for the retiring
forces. But he was not responsible for the dilemma in which he was
involved. The error was that of the German Grand Staff rather than of
any particular commander. We shall see that, if Kluck was gambling, he
had not lost his head. Had the Allied retreat been less prolonged, had
he been able to come up with the French 5th and British Armies sooner,
he might have won, or at least have stopped on the Marne, instead of
the Aisne. He had no longer a free choice of his movements. To have
stayed between Aisne and Marne would not have solved the problem; it
would have eased the British advance. Every man was needed on the
extreme front, if the whole aim of the invasion was not to be missed.
Bülow had had to leave one corps behind at Maubeuge, and was just
losing the support, on his left, of one of Hausen’s Saxon corps (the
XI), ordered off to the Russian front. Foch’s new army of the centre
had, doubtless, been discovered before this time, though its numbers
would not yet be known. Kluck had to throw forward every regiment not
demonstrably needed elsewhere. All the German commands were now engaged
in a reckless gamble; but, where his masters lost their nerve, Kluck
did not. To this complexion had the great enveloping movement come
under pressure of the Joffrean dilemma. With all his anxieties, the
French Generalissimo may well have smiled blandly as he saw the enemy
enter between the horns of Paris and Verdun.

It is important to realise that the consequences we have to trace
arose, not chiefly from individual blundering, but from the nature
of the invasion, from a plan of campaign resting upon the need and
expectation of a rapid victory, and the French manner of meeting it.
To this need every lesser aim, however promising in itself, had been
sacrificed. King Albert was allowed to carry his army into the shelter
of Antwerp, there to prepare for the battle of the Yser. Ostend,
Dunkirk, Calais, Boulogne, all the coast of Flanders and the Channel,
with its hinterland, and with them the sea communications of England,
were ignored in obedience to the strategical doctrine of the major
objective, and in the sure belief that if this were attained, the rest
would follow easily. The watching world was staggered by the immense
boldness of these criminals. Joffre was in no wise intimidated, never
thought of temporising, immediately saw that a most daring crime can
only be overcome by a still more daring virtue, and set all his mind
to the task of gathering the utmost force in the best position for the
decisive test. That meant abandoning the north; so be it——he, too, must
stake all on a blow.

After rescuing the armies from a deadly constraint on the frontier,
after preparing a mass of manœuvre which would restore to him the
initiative, after so lengthening the retreat that a virtual equality of
forces was obtained, Joffre’s aim was to reach a level front whence,
his flanks being safe, he could swing round the whole line in a sudden
riposte. His wings were now, in a measure, protected; and the same
process which had brought the Allied forces near their reserves,
their supplies and their most favourable battleground had attenuated
the enemy’s columns, dislocated their line, and prejudiced their power
of manœuvre. The dilemma which Paris presented in the west, Verdun
repeated at the other end of the line, 170 miles away. There, too,
the beginnings of a modern defensive system were being extemporised.
Sarrail had just succeeded Ruffey in command of the 4th Army; he would
have defended, did, indeed, afterwards defend, his circle of forts and
hill-trenches as Gallieni would have defended the capital. The Imperial
Crown Prince was faced by a replica of Kluck’s problem——to attack the
fortress of the Meuse Heights, and to that extent to neglect the French
field armies; or to neglect the fortress, and risk all that might, and
did, happen. Either the invaders must entangle themselves upon these
protruding points, and so weaken the intermediate forces, or they
must go forward to the crucial encounter leaving a peril unreduced
upon either flank. That the Crown Prince’s answer was the same as
Kluck’s indicates that it was not their individual answer only, but the
decision of the Grand Staff.

On the west, there are, before the battle of the Marne, three main
stages in the development of this result: the loss of a week at the
outset in Belgium, which enabled the French command to shift its
forces north-westward, and the British Army to assemble; the failure
of the surprise on the Sambre and Meuse to produce a decision; and the
failure, on or south of the Somme, either to envelop or to break the
retreating masses. On the east, where there was less possibility of
surprise or manœuvre, a like inability to pierce or envelop appeared
in five successive failures: that of the Gap of Charmes on August 25;
the battle of the Mortagne, at the beginning of September; the battle
of the Grand Couronné of Nancy on September 4–11; that of Fort Troyon
on September 8–13; and that of the Crown Prince’s Army in course of
the main battle of the Marne. To the German marching wing the most
important mission had been entrusted; and its failure must be adjudged
the most grave.

Its greatest exponents have admitted that the danger of dislocation
is inherent in the tactic of envelopment; Clausewitz himself laid
it down that the manœuvre should only be attempted when the force
attacked is wholly engaged with the assailant’s centre.[50] After the
Sambre, the German armies never had this opportunity; and ere they
could change a plan that had governed all their dispositions, it had
aggravated the disorder natural in so violent a pursuit. What at first
sight looks like a sudden change of fickle fortune is, in fact, the
logical end of an immense strategical deception, of weaknesses in an
imposing organism discovered by a higher intelligence, and exploited
by a higher prudence and courage. However the lesser questions we have
touched be answered in the light of fuller knowledge, it seems sure
that history will pronounce Joffre’s master idea one of the boldest and
soundest conceptions to be found in military annals. It dominated the
ensuing battle, which thus yielded an essentially strategic victory.
Gallieni has been justly praised for the promptitude with which he took
advantage of Kluck’s “adventurous situation.” The only alternative for
the latter, however, was another situation hardly, if at all, less
adventurous; and the choice was imposed upon him——as, at the other end
of the line, upon the Crown Prince——by the French Commander-in-Chief.
The manœuvrer had become the manœuvred before the battle began.




It was in the early hours of September 3 that the first definite
evidence of Kluck’s divergence south-eastward was reported to the
Military Government of Paris; but the officers in charge did not
venture to disturb their weary chief, who received the news only
when he rose in the morning.[51] At noon, he issued to the garrison
the following note: “A German army corps, probably the Second, has
passed from Senlis southward, but has not pursued its movement toward
Paris, and seems to have diverged to the south-east. In a general
way, the German forces which were in face of the 6th Army appear
to be oriented toward the south-east. On our side, the 6th Army is
established to the north-east of the entrenched camp on the front
Mareil-en-France–Dammartin–Montgé. The British Army is in the region
south of the Marne and the Petit Morin, from Courtevroult (west) to
beyond La Ferté-sous–Jouarre (east).”

During the day, the news, the importance of which Gallieni immediately
realised, was confirmed; the evening bulletin issued in Bordeaux
announced that “the enveloping march of the enemy seems definitely
conjured.” Perceiving the opportunity of striking a hard, perhaps
a decisive, blow at the enemy’s flank, the Governor appears to have
resolved at once to set Maunoury’s Army in movement,[52] and then
to have proceeded to urge the Commander-in-Chief to make this the
commencement of the general offensive which was to have taken place
some days later, when the armies had re-formed behind the Seine. “If
they do not come to us, we will go to them,” said Gallieni to his Chief
of Staff, General Clergerie;[53] and at about 9 a.m. on September 4,
he issued to the 6th Army the following order: “In consequence of the
movement of the German armies, which appear to be slipping across our
front in a south-easterly direction, I intend to send your army forward
against their flank, that is to say in an eastward direction, in touch
with the British troops. I will indicate your direction of march when
I know that of the British Army; but take forthwith your dispositions
so that your troops may be ready to march this afternoon, and to
launch to-morrow (September 5) a general movement to the east of the
entrenched camp.”

In course of the morning and forenoon of the same day (September 4),
Gallieni had three telephonic conversations with the Generalissimo.
Before the last of these communications, between noon and 1 p.m.,
the Governor, with General Maunoury, went by automobile to British
headquarters at Melun. Sir John French was not there; but, during the
evening, probably after hearing from General Joffre, he replied to
Gallieni that the British Army would turn about on the morrow, with
a view to the resumption of the offensive on September 6.[54] After
reflection, in fact, the Generalissimo had accepted Gallieni’s view of
the opportunity, and had issued during the evening orders to the three
armies of the left to get into positions of attack on the 5th, and to
commence the battle on the morning of the 6th. On the 5th, Sir John
French visited General Joffre, who had now come over to Claye, on the
road from Paris to Meaux, Maunoury’s headquarters. After the interview,
there should have been no misunderstandings.

At the end of August, the French General Staff had moved from
Vitry-le-François 40 miles farther south to Bar-sur-Aube, where, on the
outskirts of the quiet little town, at the large country house called
“Le Jard” (29 Faubourg de Paris), which had sheltered a century before
the Tsar Alexander I and King Frederick William II of Prussia, the
Commander-in-Chief was the guest of M. Tassin, a member of the Paris
bar. Refusing all ceremony, General Joffre occupied a large first-floor
room looking by two windows upon the gateway and the Paris highroad.
But it was in a neighbouring schoolroom where the Staff bureaux
were established, and to which the telegraph wires——nerves of the
battle——were attached, that the historic orders for the great encounter
were composed. On the evening of September 5, another southward move
was made to Chatillon-sur-Seine, where, for three weeks, the Staff
occupied the château of Colonel Maître, once belonging to Marshal
Marmont. It was from the “Chambre de l’Empereur” in this old house, so
called after a visit of Napoleon in 1814, that General Joffre issued
his final summons to the troops on the morning of the battle.

The text of the General Instructions of September 4 and 5 is of great
importance, for they determined at least the first shape of the
ensuing struggle, and we will have to recall them in dealing with one
of its most critical phases. For the moment, it will suffice to point
out this apparent ambiguity, that, while the general offensive was to
commence only on September 6, Maunoury’s Army was to discover itself
on September 5, in a movement that would necessarily provoke strong


General Joffre’s programme was embodied in the following series of army

            GENERAL HEADQUARTERS, _September 4_

 “1. Advantage must be taken of the adventurous situation of the I
        German Army (right wing) to concentrate upon it the efforts of
        the Allied armies of the extreme left. All dispositions will be
        taken during the 5th of September with a view to commencing the
        attack on the 6th.

  2. The dispositions to be realised by the evening of September 5
        will be:

        (_a_) All the available forces of the 6th Army, to the
        north-east, ready to cross the Ourcq between Lizy-sur-Ourcq and
        May-en-Multien, in the general direction of Château-Thierry
        [the last phrase was telephonically corrected at 10 p.m. to the
        following: “in a manner to attain the meridian of Meaux”]. The
        available elements of the 1st Cavalry Corps that are in the
        vicinity will be put under the orders of General Maunoury for
        this operation.

        (_b_) The British Army, established on the front
        Changis–Coulommiers, facing east, ready to attack in the
        general direction of Montmirail.

        (_c_) The 5th Army, closing up slightly to the
        left, will establish itself on the general front
        Courtacon–Esternay–Sezanne, ready to attack in the general
        direction south to north, the 2nd Cavalry Corps assuring
        connection between the British and 5th Armies.

        (_d_) The 9th Army will cover the right of the 5th Army,
        holding the southern end of the Marshes of St. Gond, and
        carrying a part of its forces on to the plateau to the north
        of Sezanne.

  3. The offensive will be begun by these different armies in the
        morning of September 6.”

                                  _September 5_

        (_e_) To the 4th Army: To-morrow, September 6, our armies of
        the left will attack in front and flank the I and II German
        armies. The 4th Army, stopping its southward movement, will
        oppose the enemy, combining its movement with that of the 3rd
        Army, which, debouching to the north of Revigny, will assume
        the offensive, moving westward.

        (_f_) To the 3rd Army: The 3rd Army, covering itself on the
        north-east, will debouch westward to attack the left flank of
        the enemy forces, which are marching west of the Argonne. It
        will combine its action with that of the 4th Army, which has
        orders to attack the enemy.”

We are now in a position, before entering upon the particulars of
the battle, to measure in its chief elements the very marked change
in the balance and relation of forces which the French High Command
had obtained by and in course of the retreat from Belgium. The most
important of these elements are numbers and positions. Both are shown
in detail in the following tabular pages, setting forth in parallel
columns the dispositions of the opposed armies immediately before the
action commenced.


(On September 5–6, except where otherwise indicated, in order from West
to East)

                ALLIED                                 GERMAN

 6th ARMY (General MAUNOURY), (H.Q.,        I ARMY (General von KLUCK),
   Claye). Under the direction of             (H.Q., Coulommiers).
   General Gallieni till September 10.

 _7th Corps_ (General Vautier).

   Brought from Lorraine to the Amiens
   region, thence to east of Paris.
   Consisting of 14th Division              _IV Cavalry Division._
   Active (General Villaret) and
   63rd Division of Reserve (General
   Lombard)—— the latter in lieu of
   the 13th Division, left in the
   Vosges.                                  _IV Corps of Reserve_
                                              (General von Schwerin).
   Came into action on September 6, and
   then formed the left.                      Consisting of the VII and
                                              XXII Reserve Divisions.
 _5th Group of Reserve Divisions_
   (General Lamaze).                          At the commencement of
                                              the battle, stood, as
   Also from Lorraine and Amiens,             rearguard on the west of
   after hard fighting and heavy              the Ourcq, about Marcilly,
   losses. Consisting of 55th                 Barcy, and Penchard, in
   Division Reserve (General Leguay),         face of the French 6th
   56th Division Reserve (General             Army. It had nothing
   de Dartein), and a brigade of              behind to call upon, save
   Moroccan Infantry (General Ditte).

 This group came into action on the
   afternoon of September 5, and
   afterwards formed the centre.

 _45th Division_ (General Drude).

   From Algeria.

 _A Cavalry Brigade_ (General
   Gillet), much fatigued in the
   retreat from Belgium.

   The above units were wholly north
   of the Marne, save for a thin            _A Brigade of Landwehr_,
   connection with the British Army.
                                              which was brought to the
   They were reinforced during the            north of the battlefield
   battle by the following:                   from the Oise on September
 _4th Corps_ (General Boëlle).

 7th and 8th Divisions, brought
   from the 3rd Army (embarked at
   Ste. Menehould, September 2).
   Some regiments had lost heavily
   on the Meuse. The 8th Division
   (de Lartigues) was sent across
   the Marne on September 6 to                The following units were at
   link Maunoury’s and the British            first all south of the
   Armies; the 7th Division (General          Marne, facing the British
   de Trentinian), on September 8,            Expeditionary Force and
   to Maunoury’s left, where it was           the French 5th Army:
   afterwards joined by the 8th

 _6th Group of Reserve Divisions_           _II Corps_ (General von
   (General Ebener).                          Linsingen).

   Much reduced by fighting near              Of Stettin. III and IV
   Cambrai, and exhausted in the              Divisions, one north
   retreat. Consisting of 61st                and one south of the
   Reserve Division (General Deprez)          Grand Morin, between
   and 62nd Reserve Division (General         Crécy-en-Brie and
   Ganeval). Engaged September 7 and          Coulommiers, facing the
   9.                                         British. Withdrawn to the
                                              Ourcq on September 6.
 _1st Cavalry Corps_ (General Sordet.
   Succeeded at 9 a.m. on September 8
   by General Bridoux).

   1st, 3rd, and 5th Divisions: much
   fatigued in the retreat. Ordered
   from south of the Seine to
   Nanteuil-le-Haudouin, September 7.

   2½ Battalions of Zouaves were sent
   on September 9 to the aid of the
   left wing. A brigade of Spahis,
   detrained on September 10, took          _IV Corps_ (General von
   part in the pursuit to the                 Armin).
   Aisne. Three groups of garrison
   batteries were sent, on September          Of Magdeburg. VII and
   6, to support Lamaze, who had no           VIII Divisions; south
   corps artillery. 4 divisions of            of the Grand Morin from
   Territorials (83, 85, 89, and 92)          Coulommiers to Chevru,
   of the Paris garrison did rear             facing the British.
   duty, but were not engaged in the          Withdrawn to the Ourcq on
   battle. Admiral Ronar’ch’s Brigade         September 7.
   of Marines, afterwards famous at
   Dixmude, was not engaged, being
   insufficiently trained.

   Sir John FRENCH), (H.Q., Melun).

 _3rd Corps_ (General Pulteney).            _III Corps_ (General von
   Consisting of the 4th Division
   (Major-General Snow, 10th, 11th,           Of Berlin. V and VI
   12th Brigades, and 5th Cavalry             Divisions, across the
   Brigade), and the 19th Brigade.            highroad from Montmirail
   The 4th Division joined before             to Provins, midway between
   the battle of Le Cateau. This              these towns.
   formed the British left, south of

 _2nd Corps_ (General Sir H.

   Comprising the 3rd Division
   (Hamilton——7th, 8th, and 9th
   Brigades, and 2nd Cavalry
   Brigade); and 5th Division
   (Ferguson——13th, 14th, and
   15th Brigades, and 3rd Cavalry           _IX Corps_ (General von
   Brigade). This corps had borne             Quast).
   the heaviest fighting in the 150
   miles’ retreat from Mons, its              Of Altona. Two divisions,
   casualties numbering 350 officers          one north of Esternay, and
   and 9200 men. These losses had             one at the right of this,
   been partly made good.                     near Morsains.

 _1st Corps_ (General Sir D. Haig).           (The III Reserve and IX
                                              Reserve Corps of Von
   1st Division (Lomax——1st,                  Kluck’s Army had been left
   2nd, 3rd Brigades, and 1st                 behind——partly before
   Cavalry Brigade); 2nd Division             Antwerp, partly before
   (Murray——4th, 5th, 6th Brigades,           Maubeuge.)
   and 4th Cavalry Brigade). This
   made the British right, east of

   All these troops consisted of home
   regiments of the old regular army.

 5th ARMY (General Franchet
   D’ESPÉREY), (H.Q.,

 _2nd Cavalry Corps_ (General               _Cavalry Corps._
                                              Consisting of the II and IX
   Brought from the Lorraine front.           Cavalry Divisions (General
                                              von der Marwitz) facing
   Comprising the 4th, 8th, and 10th          the left and centre of
   Divisions (Generals Abonneau,              the British Army, and
   Baratier, and Gendron). Arriving           the V Division and Guard
   from the 2nd Army at the beginning         Cavalry Division (General
   of September, it kept contact with         von Richthofen) placed
   the British Army on the left,              between and before the
   north-west of Provins.                     German IV and III Corps,
                                              south of the Grand Morin,
 _18th Corps_ (General de Maud’huy).          at La Ferté-Gaucher,
                                              facing the junction of the
   35th, 36th, and 38th Divisions             French 5th and British
   (Generals Marjoulat, Jouannic,             Armies. The Guard C.D.
   and Muteau). Before and behind             was particularly strong,
   Provins. There was thus fully 10           having 3 Jäger battalions
   miles between it and Sir Douglas           and 6 machine-gun
   Haig’s Corps.                              companies attached.

 _3rd Corps_ (General Hache).

   5th, 6th, and 37th Divisions
   (Generals Mangin, Petain, and
   Comby), south-west of Esternay.

 _1st Corps_ (General Deligny,
   succeeding General Franchet

   1st and 2nd Divisions (Generals
   Gallet and Duplessis). Across the
   Grand Morin at Esternay.

   The above three corps faced the left
   of the German I Army.

 _10th Corps_ (General Defforges).          II ARMY (General von BÜLOW),
                                              (H.Q., Montmirail).
   19th and 20th Divisions (Generals
   Bonnier and Rogerie) east of             _VII Corps Active_ (General
   Esternay. Sent to aid of 9th Army          von Einem), (XIII and XIV
   from September 9 to 11.                    Divisions).

   The above four corps extended              This had come on tardily,
   over the plateaux from the                 and was in the rear,
   British right to the Paris–Nancy           between Château-Thierry
   highroad, midway between Esternay          and Montmirail, when the
   and Sézanne, their right being             battle opened. Being
   advanced.                                  behind Kluck’s left, it
                                              has sometimes been counted
 _4th Group of Reserve Divisions_             as part of the I Army and
   (General Valabrègue).                      the IX as part of Bülow’s.
                                              The VII Reserve Corps was
   Consisting of the 51st, 53rd,              detained before Maubeuge,
   and 69th Divisions of Reserve              and only reached the Aisne
   (Generals Bouttegourd, Perruchon,          on September 13.
   and Legros). In support and
   reserve: much fatigued after the         _X Corps Reserve_ (General
   battle of Guise and the retreat.           von Hülsen).

 _Light Brigade of 2nd Division               Consisting of the XIX
   Infantry._ In reserve.                     Reserve Division and
                                              the II Guard Division.
                                              South-east of Montmirail.
 9th ARMY (General FOCH), (H.Q.,              It was engaged on the 5th
   Pleurs).                                   in collecting its wounded
                                              and burying its dead.
 _42nd Division_ (General Grossetti).
                                            _X Corps Active_ (General
   From the 6th Corps of the Army of          von Eben).
   Verdun. North of Sézanne across
   the Epernay road, in touch with            Of Hanover. Facing
   d’Espérey’s right.                         Foch’s left, about
 _9th Corps_ (General Dubois).                and St. Prix, at the west
                                              end of the Marshes of St.
   From Nancy; afterwards part of             Gond.
   the 4th Army. Consisting of the
   1st Moroccan Division (General           _Guard Corps_ (General von
   Humbert), replacing all but one            Plattenberg).
   battalion of the 18th Division
   (see below) and the 17th Division          North and north-east of St.
   (General Moussy). On both sides            Gond Marshes, from Etoges
   of Fère Champènoise, with advance          to Morains, facing Foch’s
   guards north of the St. Gond               right-centre. Placed here,
   Marshes.                                   without doubt, for the
                                              honour of breaking the
 _11th Corps_ (General Eydoux).               French centre.

   From the 4th Army. The 18th Division     _IV Cavalry Corps_ (General
   (General Lefebvre), from Lorraine,         von Falkenhayn).
   came into line on the evening of
   September 7 between Connantre              After the battle of Guise,
   and Normée. The 21st Division              Bülow’s Army had come
   (General Radiguet) and the 22nd            south through Laon,
   Division (General Pembet) were,            crossing the Marne between
   at the beginning of the battle,            Dormans and Epernay.
   about Lenharrée and the important
   cross-roads of Sommesous, facing
   the junction of Von Bülow’s and          III ARMY (General von
   the Saxon Armies, with reserves            HAÜSEN).
   north of the River Aube.
                                            _XII Corps Active_ (I
 _52nd and 60th Reserve Divisions_            Saxon), (General von Elsa).
   (Generals Battesti and Joppé).
                                              North of Normée and
   From the 4th Army. The former was          Lenharrée. It came abreast
   affected to the 9th and the latter         of the Guard only on the
   to the 11th Corps.                         morning of the 7th.

 _9th Cavalry Division_ (General de         _XII Corps Reserve_ (General
   l’Espée).                                  von Kirchbach).

   In the rear at the Camp de Mailly,         The XXIV and XXIII
   keeping connection with the 4th            Divisions; across the
   Army across a gap of about 12              Châlons highroad north of
   miles.                                     Sommesous. The former,
                                              which had been besieging
                                              Givet, could only join
 4th ARMY (General de LANGLE DE               on September 7. It was
   CARY), (H.Q., Brienne).                    turned south-west against
                                              Foch, the XXIII south-east
 _21st Corps_ (General Legrand).              against de Langle.

   13th and 43rd Divisions (Generals        _XIX Corps_ (General von
   Baquet and Lanquetot). From the            Laffert).
   Vosges. Detrained on the evening
   of September 8, and engaged                On September 6, was south
   September 9 on the left, east of           of Châlons, west and
   the Camp de Mailly.                        north-west of Vitry,
                                              facing de Langle’s left.
 _17th Corps_ (General J. B. Dumas).

   33rd and 34th Divisions (Generals        IV ARMY (DUKE Albrecht
   Guillaumat and Alby). From                 of WÜRTEMBERG), (H.Q.,
   Courdemanges to Sompuis.                   Triaucourt).

 _12th Corps_ (General Roques).             _VIII Corps Active_ (General
                                              Tulffe v. Tscheppe u.
   23rd and 24th Divisions (Generals          Weidenbach).
   Masnon and Descoings), reduced by
   previous casualties to about 6             Of Coblenz. North-east of
   effective battalions. At Vitry and         Vitry.
   Courdemange. The 23rd Division was
   lent to the 17th Corps till after        _VIII Corps Reserve_
   the passage of the Marne.                  (General von Egloffstein).

 _Colonial Corps_ (General Lefebvre).         About Ponthion.

   2nd and 3rd Colonial Divisions           _XVIII Corps Active_
   (Generals Leblois and Leblond).            (General von Tchenk).
   Experienced troops, largely
   re-enlisted from the general army.         Having lost heavily, was
   They had suffered heavily in the           replaced during the battle
   Belgian Ardennes, losing many              by the
   officers. At Blesmes and Dompremy.
                                            _XVIII Corps Reserve._
 _2nd Corps_ (General Gerard).
                                              Both had come down the
   3rd and 4th Divisions, less a              west side of the
   brigade (Generals Cordonnier and           Argonne and the Ste.
   Rabier). At Maurupt and Sermaize.          Menehould highroad. About
                                              Somme–Yevre and Possesse.
   A division of each of the last two
   corps was shifted from de Langle’s       _A Cavalry Division._
   right to his left on September 8.
   De Langle’s Army extended along
   the railway from Sompius, by             V ARMY (The Imperial CROWN
   Blesmes Junction, to Sermaize.             PRINCE).

                                            _VI Corps_ (General von
 3rd ARMY (General SARRAIL), (H.Q.,           Pricttwitz).
                                              Of Breslau. Had come south
 _15th Corps_ (General Espinasse).            by Les Islettes, and was
                                              now south of the Argonne,
   29th and 30th Divisions (Generals          striking toward Revigny.
   Carbillet and Colle). From the 2nd
   Army; detrained, September 7. A          _VI Corps Reserve._
   brigade was diverted, September 8,
   to the aid of the 4th Army. Near           A brigade only on the
   Revigny. Part of the corps was             front, at Passavant and
   afterwards sent east to defend the         Charmontois. The rest
   passages of the Meuse.                     west of the Meuse, near
                                              Montfaucon, facing Verdun.
 _5th Corps_ (General Micheler).
                                            _Landwehr Division_ of the
   9th and 10th Divisions (Generals           same, before Verdun.
   Martin and Gossart). North of
   Revigny, about Laimont and               _XIII Corps_ (General von
   Villotte. General Gossart replaced         Dürach).
   General Roques, killed on
   September 6.                               Of Stuttgart. Coming by Ste.
                                              Menehould, it had reached
 _7th Cavalry Division_ (General              Triaucourt.
                                            _XVI Corps_ (General von
   About Isle-en-Barrois. Sent on             Mudra).
   September 11 to the Heights of the
   Meuse.                                     Of Metz. Coming down
                                              the east side of the
 _6th Corps_ (General Verraux).               Argonne, it had reached
                                              Froidos-sur-Aire, aiming
   12th and 40th Divisions (General           at Bar-le-Duc.
   Souchier, succeeded by General
   Herr, and General Leconte) and           _V Corps Reserve_ (General
   107th Brigade of the 54th D.R.             Count Solms).
   (General Estève). South of the
   Argonne, about Beauzée-sur-Aire.           Was still on the east
                                              bank of the Meuse about
 _3rd Group of Reserve Divisions_             Consenvoye, north of
   (General Paul Durand).                     Verdun.

   65th (General Bigot); 67th (General      _A Division of the IV
   Marabail); 75th (General Vimard).          Cavalry Corps._
   Behind and extending the 6th Corps
   on the Aire.

 _72nd Division of Reserve_ (General                     * * *
                                            _V Active Corps._
   Sent from the garrison of Verdun by
   the Governor, General Coutanceau,          Sent from Metz on
   to Souhesme-la-Grande, in support.         September 6 to the Meuse
                                              Heights the force which
   When the battle was engaged there          attacked Fort Troyon and
   remained only a few battalions             neighbouring points.
   in and before Verdun and on the
   Heights of the Meuse.

   Sarrail’s Army was deployed
   south-westward from near Souilly
   to Revigny.

The composition of the 1st and 2nd Armies of Generals Dubail and de
Castelnau, and of the German armies facing them, is given in the
chapter dealing with the defence of the eastern frontier (pp. 198–200).

With so much accuracy as is yet possible, the relative strength of the
opposed forces at the maximum was as follows:

                          SUMMARY OF STRENGTH

               ALLIES              |             GERMANS
                    DIVISIONS.     |                    DIVISIONS.
               Infantry.  Cavalry. |               Infantry.  Cavalry.
  French 6th Army    9½      3½    | German  I Army    11        5
  British Army       5½            |    ”   II  ”       8        2
  French 5th Army   13½      3     |    ”  III  ”       6
    ”    9th  ”      8       1     |    ”   IV  ”       8        1
    ”    4th  ”     10             |    ”    V  ”      11        1
    ”    3rd  ”     10½      1     | From Metz          1
                    ---     --     |                --------    --
                    57       9     |                45 (?48)     9
         (of which 41 Active)      |      (of which 31 Active)
  (The B.E.F. included 5 Cavalry   |
    Brigades)                      |

  French 2nd and 1st               | German VI and VII Armies
  Armies (approx.)    22 Divs      |  (approx.)               24 Divs.
          (of which 11 Active)     |  (till Sept. 7, of which 12 Active)

This comparison of totals is of only limited value, for two main
reasons: (1) As has been explained, the German reserve divisions were
markedly stronger than the French, and the German corps generally were
more homogeneous. (2) The table shows only the maximum development of
each army. Light artillery was probably in about the same proportion
as the infantry, with a marked advantage of quality on the side
of the Allies; it had not been possible to bring the full German
superiority in heavy guns to bear on the new front. It will be safe
to say that between the regions of Paris and Verdun the Allies had
obtained a distinct superiority in active formations, and one more
marked at the height of the battle in the area of decision. Antwerp
and Maubeuge held before them bodies of German troops that might have
turned the balance in the south; the occupation of towns and the
guarding of communications retained others; whether from nervousness or
over-confidence, Berlin had called two corps (11th and Guard R.C.) from
France for the Russian frontier——a “fateful” step for which Ludendorff
disclaims responsibility. On the other hand, two new French armies had
been created, chiefly at the cost of the eastern border; many units
had been re-formed; the upper commands had been strengthened; and the
whole line had been brought near to its bases. “The farther the Germans
advanced, the French and British adroitly evading a decisive action,
the more the initial advantage passed from the former to the latter,”
says a German writer already cited.[55] “The Germans left their bases
farther and farther behind, and exhausted themselves by fatiguing
marches. They consumed munitions and food with a fearful rapidity, and
the least trouble in the supply services might become fatal to masses
so large. Meanwhile, the French were daily receiving fresh troops,
daily approaching their stores of munitions and food.”

This great overturn of material strength was the first advantage the
French Command had worked for and obtained. It is to be noted that on
neither side was any mass held as a general reserve. Joffre had hoped
to keep back the 21st Corps, but even this proved impossible. “The
strategic situation,” he telegraphed to M. Millerand on September
5, “is excellent, and we cannot count on better conditions for our
offensive. The struggle about to begin may have decisive results,
but may also have for the country, in case of check, the gravest
consequences. I have decided to engage our troops to the utmost and
without reserve to obtain a victory.”


The second advantage gained has already been indicated; it consisted
in the attainment of a concave front resting upon the entrenched camps
of Paris and Verdun, and by them guarded against any sudden manœuvre
of envelopment. Intermediately, this front lay across the heights
between the Marne and the Seine, along the chief system of main lines
and highroads running eastward from the capital, those of Paris–Nancy.
This 200-miles stretch of country, so typically French in character and
history, loosely united by the Marne and the tributaries it carries
into the Seine on the threshold of the capital——an agricultural country
whose only large cities, Rheims and Châlons, were in the enemy’s
hands——falls into four natural divisions, corresponding with the Allied
left (west), left-centre, right-centre, and right (east).

The western region, between the suburbs of Paris and the gully holding
the little river Ourcq and its canal, is the Ile-de-France and the
Valois, rolling farmlands of beet and corn, with some parks, bordered
on the north by the forests of Chantilly and Villers-Cotterets, and
on the south by the broad valley of the Marne. A landscape most
intimately French in its rich, spacious quietude, in the old-time
solidity of its villages and their people, in the gracious dignity of
its châteaux and ruined abbeys, with Meaux bells pealing across the
brown slopes to the sister cathedral of Senlis, and both looking east
to the giant donjon of La Ferté-Milon. This is the battlefield of the
Ourcq, where Kluck was rounded up by Maunoury and the British. The
ancient cathedral and market-town of Meaux marks its limit near the
junction of the lesser and greater rivers.

East of the Ourcq this district becomes more crumpled in its rise
towards the Montagne de Rheims; while, south of the Marne, extends
the larger and richer country of Brie, famous for its cheeses, its
_fertés_, erstwhile baronial strongholds, and for the scenes of some
of Napoleon’s greatest victories. In structure, this is a broken
triangular plateau, cut by westward-flowing streams (the Marne, Petit
Morin, and Grand Morin), bounded on the south by the Seine and Aube,
and rising eastward to the Montagne de Reims and the Falaises de
Champagne, where it falls abruptly. Coulommiers, Château-Thierry,
and Provins are substantial market-towns, and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre,
Montmirail, and Sézanne smaller centres of rural life. This wide
plateau of Brie, the Allied left-centre, was the starting-point of the
British recoil, and the field contested by d’Espérey’s Army against Von

Beyond the Rheims–Epernay wine district and the St. Gond Marshes
(source of the Petit Morin), we pass into the great expanse of the
Champagne moorlands, poor and thinly populated, where large tracts of
chalk soil carry nothing but plantations of stunted pines and firs.
Châlons-sur-Marne, its capital, has a large permanent garrison, with
fixed camps and manœuvre grounds hard by. Vitry-le-François, at the
junction of the Saulx and Ornain with the Marne, and of the Paris–Nancy
and Châlons–Rheims railways, is the only other considerable town. On
the west of this region, Foch held against Bülow and the Saxons; on the
east occurred the shock of de Langle’s army with that of the Duke of

Finally, beyond Revigny, the forces of General Sarrail and the Imperial
Crown Prince fought across a more composite region, consisting, in the
south, of the Barrois——the district of Bar-le-Duc——and, to the north
of this, the near part of the thickly-wooded Argonne hills, the Verdun
Heights, and the plain between. Verdun was and remained a defensive
position worthy of its ancient renown; and the Argonne, with Valmy on
one flank and Varennes on the other (to cite only two historic names),
has always been a barrier against invasion secondary to the Heights of
the Meuse. These latter are continued with only small breaks by the
Heights of the Moselle, where, especially on the hills near Nancy, took
place the coincident struggle by which the eastern defence line was
preserved. While this must be borne in mind, as an essential part of
the general French victory, it seems legitimate and convenient to treat
it separately; a brief recital of what there occurred is, accordingly,
postponed to the end of our narrative.

The military geographer will have much to add to this note of the lie
of the land. He will be able to show that all the natural features
of the country affected the result; the rivers of the western area
inconveniencing both sides, but especially the invader; the patches
of forest and the direction of highroads limiting their movements; the
French gaining from a virtual monopoly of railway services a power
of rapid transfer of troops that was one of the decisive factors of
the battle. Everywhere, hill positions proved to be of great tactical
value; and this is supremely true of the eastern ranges. The Argonne
block delayed and split the Crown Prince’s columns, and so greatly
helped Sarrail to maintain his line. The Upper Meuse and its earthy
rampart were a still more precious protection. Between Verdun and
Nancy, a distance of 60 miles, only one point was attacked, in the
crisis, and this was held by a single fort, that of Troyon. Yet another
hill range has signally aided the enemy in the end of the battle, when
the victorious Allies were brought up sharp against the Laon Mountains,
north of the Aisne. Throughout the field, superior knowledge of the
ground must be counted among the advantages of the French.

The most important of these natural features, however, is of less
consequence than the strategical gain of a front whereon the French
wings were both safe, while the German wings were both threatened.
Gallieni, in throwing the 6th Army upon Kluck’s flank, did but
anticipate the inevitable by one or two days. What happened arose
necessarily out of the strategy of the retreat, in the direction and
form of which Joffre never lost his initiative. It is possible that,
had he retired farther, the victory might have been more complete.
Actually, the five German armies were drawn within a hemicycle 200
miles wide and 30 miles deep. Their right could not help passing before
Maunoury, or their left before Sarrail, except by refusing battle.
They dare not turn aside; but the penalty of going on was to offer two
cheeks to the smiter. There is, however, no trace of hesitation. The
common soldiers still thought they were advancing “Nach Paris.” At
Headquarters, the tactic of envelopment having failed, everything was
risked on a converging attack upon the French centre.


We can now enter upon the details of the titanic encounter with a clear
impression of its general character. As soon as the relation of forces
was realised, the tactical purposes dictated by the circumstances to
either side were these, and could not be other: for the French, to
attack on the wings, especially the western, where there was a promise
of surprise, while holding firm at the centre till the pressure there
was relieved; for the Germans, to procure a swift decision at the
centre, while sufficiently guarding the threatened flanks. But their
initiative gave the Allies the benefit of the move: precious hours
elapsed ere Kluck could adequately reply. Thus, the disposition of
forces governs the whole story of the battle, and gives it a natural
unity. It began on the west and developed eastward, as it were, by a
series of reverberations, until the shock was returned by Sarrail. In
this direction, therefore, we must follow its successive phases. If we
speak of a battle of the Ourcq, a battle of St. Gond, and so on, it
is only to make what can but be a bird’s-eye view clearer by a just
emphasis. These are so many acts in the battle of the Marne, one and

We have referred above solely to the measurable factors; the moral
of the armies will best be seen in the process and the result. But
there is a prevision of it in the evenness of the alignment reached
on September 5th——much superior to that of the enemy, for some units
of the German centre were crowded together, while the Crown Prince’s
troops were scattered——and in the readiness of these defeated and weary
men for an instant recoil. On the morning of the 6th, the words of the
Generalissimo rang out like a bugle-call along the front:

“G.H.Q. (Chatillon-sur-Seine), September 6, 7.30 a.m. (telegram 3948).

    “_At the moment when a battle is engaged on which depends the
    salvation of the country, every one must be reminded that the
    time has gone for looking backward. All efforts must be employed
    to attack and repel the enemy. Any troop which can no longer
    advance must at any cost hold the ground won, and be slain rather
    than give way. In the present circumstances, no failure can be

Sir John French struck a more conventionally cheerful note: “I call
upon the British Army in France to show now to the enemy its power, and
to push on vigorously to the attack beside the 6th French Army. I am
sure I shall not call upon them in vain, but that, on the contrary, by
another manifestation of the magnificent spirit which they have shown
in the past fortnight, they will fall on the enemy’s flank with all
their strength, and in unison with their Allies drive them back.”

No such general orders on the German side have been made public; but
the following summons to the Coblentz Corps of the IV Army, signed by
General Tulffe von Tscheppe u. Weidenbach, was afterward found at

“The aim of our long and arduous marches has been achieved. The
principal French forces have been compelled to accept battle after
being continuously driven back. The great decision is now at hand. For
the welfare and honour of Germany, I expect every officer and man,
despite the hard and heroic fighting of the last few days, to do his
duty unfailingly and to his last breath. Everything depends upon the
result of to-morrow.”




Exactly at noon on Saturday, September 5, the divisions of General
Lamaze, constituting the right (save for elements connecting it with
the British) of the French 6th Army, came under fire from advanced
posts of General Schwerin’s IV Corps of Reserve, hidden on the wooded
hills just beyond the highroad from Dammartin to Meaux. A surprise for
both sides; and with this began the battle of the Ourcq.

The battlefield——a rough quadrilateral, extending from the Dammartin
road eastward to the deep ditch occupied by the Ourcq and its canal,
and bounded on the north by the Nanteuil–Betz highway, on the south
by the looping course of the Marne——consists of open, rolling beet-
and corn-fields where some part of the crops were still standing. A
soldier would call it an ideal battlefield, its many and good roads
helping the movement of troops, its wooded bottoms and the stone walls
of its farmsteads and hamlets giving sufficient cover, its hills good
artillery emplacements. The eastern and higher part of the plateau is
crossed from south-east to north-west by three ridges, against which
the French offensive beat in successive waves. The northernmost rises
to 300 feet above the Ourcq, from near May-en-Multien, along the little
river Gergoyne, by Etavigny and Acy, to Bouillancy; the central ridge,
that of the Therouanne, runs from opposite Lizy-sur-Ourcq, by Trocy
and Etrepilly, to Marcilly; the southernmost from Penchard, through
Monthyon and Montgé, to Dammartin. The combat, as we shall see, began
in the last-named area, its centre of gravity then moving northward.
The Germans had the better of the hill positions, with forward parties
well spread out; and, as in Lorraine and the Ardennes, directly they
were threatened they entrenched themselves, though not continuously or
deeply. Caught in full movement toward the Marne, Kluck’s rearguard
at once protected itself as it had been taught to do. The position
was an awkward one, in the angle of two river-courses. But the German
communications necessarily traversed the Ourcq, and hereabouts the west
bank rises high above the eastern, covering the passage and commanding
the country for miles around.

Starting out in the morning from the hamlet of Thieux, 3 miles south
of Dammartin, Lamaze’s columns were directed as follows: de Dartein’s
Division, the 56th Reserve, on the left, toward St. Soupplets, by way
of Juilly and Montgé; the 55th, under General Leguay, toward Monthyon,
by Nantouillet; the Moroccan Infantry Brigade of General Ditte, toward
Neufmontiers. After tramping nearly a hundred miles in three days and
nights, with scanty food and sleep, and frequent rear actions, Lamaze’s
Corps had spent a whole day at rest, and, though far from its full
strength, was a little recovered from the pains of the retreat. The
sight of Paris near at hand, and the feeling that the supreme crisis
was reached, set up a higher spirit, and prepared the men for the
stirring appeal of the Generalissimo. They were now to need all their
recovered confidence and courage.

The 5th battalion (276th regiment) of the 55th Division was settling
down to its midday meal in face of the hamlet of Villeroy, when it was
surprised by a storm of shells from three of Schwerin’s batteries,
masked by the trees on the heights of Monthyon and Penchard. A French
3-inch battery in front of the battalion, and another brought up toward
Plessy-l’Eveque, at once returned this fire, as it was afterward found,
with good effect. But the heavier German field-guns, stationed 8 or 9
miles away in the loop of the Marne, at Germigny and Gué-à-Tresmes,
and farther north behind Trocy, were far out of range of the French
pieces, and were worked with impunity until near the end of the
battle. Between Monthyon and Penchard, the enemy had three groups of
machine-guns, which kept up a deadly rain of bullets. In two and a half
hours, the 5th battalion, just referred to, lost 250 men out of a short
thousand; in course of the day, there fell of the 19th company all the
chief officers, including the brilliant young writer, Lieut. Charles
Peguy, and 100 men.[56] Nevertheless, the line jerked itself forward
by short bounds past Plessis and Iverny toward the Montgé–Penchard
ridge. Neufmontiers was the first village carried by assault; and,
generally, the Moroccan chasseurs made the most rapid progress——their
officers, with swords uplifted in gloved hands, leading them through
the cornfields and orchards——until they reached the stronghold of
Telegraph Hill, by Penchard, where they were thrice repulsed during
the afternoon. By 6 p.m., the enemy being reinforced, all the captured
ground was lost. The 55th Division, before Monthyon, and the 56th, on
its left, were also at once arrested; but, having administered this
check, Von Schwerin proceeded to abandon his advanced position, from
Neufmontiers northward. On the left, a patrol of the 56th Division
found St. Soupplets evacuated, at 9 p.m. In the evening, while the 7th
Corps was coming in on its left, from the highroad between Plessis
Belleville and Nanteuil-le-Haudouin, Lamaze’s front was drawn back
lightly to the line Montgé–Cuisy–Plessy-l’Eveque–Iverny–Charny. Night
brought a lull in the battle, a snatch of broken sleep for some of the
rank and file at least. A harvest moon shone red through the smoke of
flaming hayricks and farmhouses.

This was far from being what General Joffre had counted upon in
ordering the 6th Army to be in a position on the morning of the 6th,
as an essential part of the general offensive, to pass the Ourcq and
march upon Château-Thierry. Maunoury was still 9 miles from the Ourcq
at Lizy, with no prospect of an easy passage. “Some one had blundered.”
It is clear that Maunoury’s reconnaissance service was gravely at
fault. But there is more than that. In determining to precipitate the
intended movement of the 6th Army, the Generalissimo depended upon
the telephonic representations made to him by Gallieni. Knowing that,
from his starting points on the morning of the 5th, Maunoury had 12 or
14 miles to make to reach the Ourcq, the Governor of Paris must have
assumed that no opposition would be encountered——a rash conclusion in
face of a commander like Kluck.[57] Lamaze’s force was too small to
sweep aside any substantial rearguard, too large to come into action
without giving the alarm. Why was the 7th Corps not in line with it?
Everything must depend upon the efficacy of this flank blow. When the
enemy was discovered on the hills of Monthyon and Penchard, should
contact have been broken till the attack could be made in full force?
Suppose that it did not then succeed, after the loss of precious hours?
Cruel dilemma! The decision was to go ahead; and the result came near
being the abortion of the whole plan of battle.

The morning of September 6 gave Lamaze an easy success on his left,
offset by grievous difficulties on his right. The 56th Division, having
occupied St. Soupplets at daybreak, rapidly reached the Therouanne at
Gesvres, Forfry, and Oissery; and Marcilly was taken in the afternoon.
The 55th, checked for a time at the central height of Monthyon,
next met a more determined resistance before Barcy and Chambry. The
former village was lost twice, and taken a third time, at the cost of
many lives. Ditte’s brigade, strengthened by Zouaves from the 45th
Division, reoccupied Neufmontiers, and took Penchard and Chambry, but
failed before the Vareddes ridge. Everywhere it was the same tale;
though served with the utmost courage, the bayonet is no match for
the machine-gun. Before retreating toward the loop of the Marne,
the Germans burned down, by means of hand grenades, the village of
Chauconin, with its household goods and farm implements. It is curious
that the large town of Meaux altogether escaped damage during the

All possibility of surprise was now past; and an average gain of about
5 miles had been dearly bought. Kluck, just installed at Coulommiers,
14 miles away, had been instantly sobered by the news from his rear,
and with a speed and judgment worthy of his repute had taken measures
to meet the danger.[58] The French left, the 7th Corps, had no sooner
come into action on this morning of the 6th than two enemy columns
were signalled as having reached the Ourcq about Vareddes and Lizy. By
the middle of the afternoon, when Lamaze was facing the hills beside
Etrepilly, and General Vautier’s two divisions, which had easily
attained the line Villers St. Genest–Brégy, were striking out from the
first to the second line of heights, from Bouillancy to Puisieux, with
the prospect of turning the right of the German IV Reserve Corps, they
found this new adversary before them. It was a part of the II Corps,
withdrawn from the British front by a hard night march, and now thrown
adroitly against Maunoury’s left wing.


To understand how this withdrawal, so big with results, was possible,
and to do justice to Sir John French’s command in regard to it, we must
leave Lamaze and Vautier at grips with the two German corps on the
Ourcq, and turn for a moment to the situation south of the Marne.

[Illustration: The OURCQ Front.

Afternoon of Sept. 6.]

On September 3, the British Army lay just south of Meaux, from Lagny
to Signy Signets, having destroyed the Marne bridges behind it at
General Joffre’s request. Kluck, as we have seen, was then approaching
the river from the north-west, coming on at a great pace. Several
of his Staff officers, pelting eastward from Meaux in an armoured
automobile at nightfall, did not see that the last arch of the Trilport
bridge was broken, pitched over, and were drowned. A little study
of the map will show that Kluck’s rapid movement——his pontoon corps
established bridges of boats across the Marne on the night of the 3rd,
and the next day his patrols were beyond the Petit Morin and on the
Grand Morin——required not simply a farther retreat, but a different
direction of retreat, of the British force. To throw it up against
the neighbouring French columns, those of the 5th Army (commanded
by General Franchet d’Espérey since the evening of September 3) was
exactly what Kluck was aiming at. To avoid such a calamity, and perhaps
to tempt the rash commander farther south, Joffre asked Sir John French
to retire some 12 miles farther, drawing his right south-westward,
pivoting on his left. This manœuvre, which to the British commander
could only seem the natural pursuance of the French Army Orders of
September 2, by him received on the following day, was carried out
on September 4. The Expeditionary Force, as it was called, had been
on the Continent for hardly three weeks, had fought in that time two
great battles and many smaller engagements, and had retreated 160
miles in twelve days, losing much material and nearly a fifth of its
original strength, about 15,000 officers and men. Behind the Forest of
Crécy, close to the railway junctions south of Paris, it was able, on
the night of September 4 and during the 5th, to pick up much-needed
reinforcements, bringing its effective strength up to five divisions
and five cavalry brigades, with guns and supplies.

At midday on September 5, when the battle of the Ourcq was beginning,
the I German Army had reached the following positions:——Marwitz’s
IX Cavalry Division was north of Crécy, the II near Coulommiers.
Richthofen’s V Cavalry Division was at Choisy, south-west of La
Ferté-Gaucher, the Guard Cavalry a little farther east, near
Chartronges. The II Corps was extended from the Marne near Montceaux
to the Grand Morin west of Coulommiers. The IV Corps was on the
latter river about La Ferté-Gaucher. The III Corps was on the great
highroad about Sancy and Montceaux-les-Provins; and the IX north of
Esternay. The general strategical significance of these dispositions
will presently appear; for the moment, we are concerned with them
specially in relation to Maunoury’s and the British Armies. Twelve
hours later, Kluck’s front was advanced a little farther, extending
from near Crécy-en-Brie, along the Grand Morin, by Coulommiers and La
Ferté-Gaucher, to Esternay, with the cavalry of Marwitz before the
centre and left. The bulk of this force was aimed at the 5th French
Army; but the II and part of the IV Active Corps faced the British.
Such was the position at the moment when Kluck, informed of the danger
to his rearguard, decided to send back to the Ourcq his II Corps,
bringing the western wing of the invasion to a sudden and humiliating

Neither at French nor at British Headquarters were these dispositions
exactly known; still less could the German commander’s intentions
be known. The last stage of the British retirement, asked for by
General Joffre, had taken the body of Sir John French’s troops out
of direct contact with the enemy. They had to embody newly-arrived
men and guns, and then to return over this ground. Joffre’s order
of September 4 had named as the British line for the evening of the
following day “the front Changis–Coulommiers, _facing east_, ready to
attack in the general direction of Montmirail”——due east, that is to
say, not north-east. It is evident, from this instruction, that the
Generalissimo (1) did not anticipate any serious resistance west or
south of Coulommiers, for the British could not be fighting on their
north flank while marching due east, and they could not start from
Coulommiers when the enemy was 8 miles farther south; and (2) did not
anticipate a sudden withdrawal of Kluck northward, which would require
the British to turn thither in aid of Maunoury. When Joffre and French
met at Melun on September 5, the instruction was modified, but not
radically; it was now, in Sir John’s words, “to effect a change of
front to my right——my left resting on the Marne, and my right on the
5th Army, to fill the gap between that army and the 6th.” The right
of the 5th Army, however, was not at Coulommiers——both Changis and
Coulommiers were in the hands of the enemy——but Courtacon, 12 miles
farther to the south-east; and to join the 6th and 5th Armies implied
a north-easterly, not an easterly frontage. Joffre so far recognised
the difficulty of filling this wide space with five divisions as to
instruct Gallieni to send across the Marne the 8th Division of the
French 4th Corps; and this came in, with prompt effect, between Meaux
and Villiers-sur-Morin, 5 miles farther south, beside the British 3rd
Corps, at 9 a.m. on September 6. There then still remained a space of
over 20 miles between the 6th and 5th Armies, and it is, therefore,
idle to suggest, as some zealous partisans of Gallieni have done,[59]
that the British commander was needlessly nervous as to the continuity
of the line, when it became evident that considerable bodies of the
enemy were spread across his path.

[Illustration: The BRITISH Turn-About]

It was not till September 7 that any need appeared to help Maunoury.
But, as we now know, Kluck ordered the withdrawal of his II Corps to
the Ourcq at 3.30 a.m. on September 6——2½ hours before the beginning
of the Allied offensive. The withdrawal was well covered, and was not
observed for twenty-four hours. The change of direction of the British
advance toward the north could not be effected with the instancy that
paper strategists have imagined; and the necessity of keeping touch
with d’Espérey continued. The question whether the British advance was
timid and halting must be judged in the light of the facts not as we
now know them, but as they revealed themselves from day to day; and in
the light not of Gallieni’s desires or needs only, but of the whole
battle, and particularly of the instructions given to the British Army
by General Joffre, who alone was responsible for the whole battle.
That Maunoury would be seriously engaged with Kluck’s rearguard on the
afternoon of the 5th was not anticipated by the French; it could not,
then, be anticipated by the British. Since criticisms are raised as
to one side of a converging movement, it must be pointed out that, if
the French attack on the Ourcq had been delayed for twelve hours, and
had not anticipated the general offensive, all would have been well.
Kluck would have been unable to evade one assailant in order to throw
all his force upon the other; and the tasks of Maunoury and the British
would have been more advantageously divided. We are here, apparently,
in face of one of those failures of information and agreement which
are liable to occur, even under the best leadership, between armies of
different nationality when plans are suddenly changed. It may now be
recognised that the battle of the Marne would have yielded a completer,
cheaper, and speedier victory if the rectangular movement of the French
6th and British Armies had been more exactly designed and timed to a
strict simultaneity. There was a lack of assimilation. Perhaps the
British were slow in getting under weigh; it is much more certain that
Gallieni was precipitate.

The front of the British 3rd (incomplete), 2nd, and 1st Corps at the
opening of the offensive lay, then, from Villiers-sur-Morin, across the
edge of the Forest of Crécy, by Mortcerf, Lumigny, Rozoy, and Gastins,
to near the Forest of Jouy, where Conneau’s Cavalry Corps connected
with the infantry of the 5th Army. The battle here opened with an enemy
attack. To mask its withdrawal to the Ourcq, a part of the German II
Corps had delivered, early on the morning of September 6, a blow at
the British right, and fighting was sharp till noon over the farmlands
of the Brie plateau between Hautefeuille and Vaudoy——that is, 8 miles
south-west of Coulommiers. “At this time,” says Field-Marshal French,
“I did not know that a retreat had really set in, or how the various
German corps and divisions were placed.” Columns of the IV Active
Corps were still farther south, to the east of Vaudoy, on the Provins
road, with large forces of cavalry and the III Corps on their left.
It was a delicate part of the front, the space between the British
and 5th French Armies. During the afternoon, while the khaki line
slowly progressed over the stubble fields and broken forest around the
villages of Lumigny, Pezarches, and Touquin, unmistakable evidence
began to come in that the German foreguard had become a rearguard, and
that the body of the II Corps had been in retreat all day. The charred
walls of the hamlets of Courchamps and Courtacon, destroyed with
deliberate ferocity, marked the most southerly points of the invasion
in the western field.[60] To the Allied soldiers who knew not Maunoury,
it must have seemed that their offensive was commencing magically
well. About 10 a.m., the British left and centre——the 4th Division and
the 2nd Corps——had been surprised to find the pressure on their front
suddenly relieved. On their right, the 1st Corps soon saw its way
free, and strode northward. At 6.30 p.m., the IV Active Corps received
orders to follow the II Corps back to the Ourcq. Thus, by evening on
September 6, Sir John French was able to reach the Grand Morin, from
Crécy-en-Brie eastward, with scouts beyond the stream at Maisoncelles.
Coulommiers, where Kluck had had his headquarters, was occupied during
the night.

The Allied plan was now fully revealed. Instead of presenting on the
Grand Morin an ironclad face, safe in flank and rear, the I German Army
had been suddenly thrown on to a rectangular defensive on a front of
50 miles between Betz and Courtacon, against attacks converging from
the west, south-west, and south. That evening, at Joffre’s request,
the British line was directed more to the north, thus emphasising the
effect of Maunoury’s move. From this moment, the withdrawal of the
whole of Kluck’s forces over the Marne must have been envisaged. On
the following day, September 7, in fact, the III and IX Corps (west
of Montmirail), were preparing to follow the IV Active Corps across
the Marne; but the Allies were then aware of what was happening.
Marwitz’s Cavalry Corps covered the movement along the Grand Morin,
with one division to the west, one to the east, and one 4 miles north
of Coulommiers, while Richthofen’s Divisions operated farther east,
all available artillery supporting them. The task was fulfilled with
much resource and energy; but the position was not one that could be
long maintained, for the British 3rd Corps was at Maisoncelles, 4
miles beyond the Grand Morin, and the French 8th Division threatened
the German flank at double this distance northward by occupying St.
Fiacre and Villemareuil. At noon, Marwitz gave way, falling back to the
Petit Morin, from La Ferté-sous-Jouarre south-eastward. By evening,
the British 3rd and 2nd Corps were beyond the Grand Morin at La Haute
Maison and Aulnoy; the 1st was held back somewhat from Chailly to near
La Ferté-Gaucher, in touch with the French 5th Army. General de Lisle’s
Cavalry Brigade, with the 9th Lancers and the 18th Hussars, showed
especial vigour. The men were full of cheer, and ready for anything;
but Sir John French was a careful commander. The measure of the enemy’s
retreat could not be immediately taken through the curtain of cavalry
and artillery——aviation was in its infancy in those days. All the
strength available was in line; and it was so thin a line as to tempt
surprise. The Field-Marshal considered the alternative of sending
direct help round to Maunoury, but concluded that the best aid would be
to drive rapidly to and across the Marne.[61]


On the Ourcq, each adversary was bringing up reserves, and was trying
to turn the other by the north, with a slight advantage in time on
the French, but a superiority of speed on the German, side. We left
the centre of the 6th Army, on September 6, practically stationary
about Marcilly and Barcy; while, moving from Brégy and Bouillancy,
the 7th Corps gained Puisieux and Acy during the afternoon, and the
8th Division, thrown across the Marne, drove some enemy contingents
into the woods of the river loop east of Meaux. Maunoury decided to
attack frontally the three plateaux of Vareddes, Trocy-Vincy, and
Etavigny, throwing picked columns into the valleys between, that of the
Therouanne at Etrepilly and the Gergoyne ravine at Acy-en-Multien, in
the hope of turning the hill positions. His field batteries were now in
force at Bouillancy, Fosse-Martin, La Ramée, Marcilly, and Penchard;
but he had no heavy artillery. Worse, from September 5, when his only
aviator was brought down at Vareddes, to September 9, when Captain
Pellegrin found a machine and discovered the nest of German mortars in
the gullies by Trocy, he had no air scouts, so that, almost throughout
the battle, the German gunners dominated the field.

On September 7, Schwerin’s IV Reserve Corps, strengthened during the
day by a part of the IV Active Corps, rallied against Lamaze’s harassed
men, who, still untutored to spade work, suffered heavily, but did not
give way. Ditte’s Moroccan Brigade commenced at dawn a new move toward
Vareddes, was beaten off, spent the afternoon in a fearful hand to hand
struggle on Hill 107, won it, but was finally driven back to Chambry.
The Algerian troops of General Drude, the 45th Division, had come in
on the right-centre; and they were able, during the morning, to make
a long stride forward east of Marcilly. Beyond Barcy, however, they
were immediately stopped; repeated charges were broken, many officers
and men being left on the ground. During the night, under a brilliant
moon, the north wing of the division cut its way into the village of
Etrepilly, but could not carry the cemetery, 300 yards beyond, and had
to fall back.

The 7th Corps was no more fortunate. After taking Etavigny and the
hillsides above Acy with a rush, it was suddenly overwhelmed by a
massive counter-attack of the newly arrived II Corps, and had to
abandon both villages, re-forming before Bouillancy and Puisieux. Many
units had lost nearly all their officers. A panic was threatened.
At a moment when it seemed that the left of the army could not be
saved, Colonel Nivelle, with five field batteries of the 5th artillery
regiment, gave a first exhibition of the qualities which, two years
later, were to secure the defence of Verdun, and to bring him to the
chief command. Carrying forward through the wavering ranks of the
infantry a group of his field-guns, he set them firing at their
utmost speed upon the close-packed columns of the enemy. The “75” is
a murderous instrument in such circumstances; and those greycoats
who remained afoot broke in disorder. It was an hour’s relief; but
manifestly this wild situation could not long continue. The enfeebled
lines approached the extreme limit of endurance. And still the tide
of slaughter swayed to and fro. Nogeon, Poligny, and Champfleury
Farms——the first north, the others south, of Puisieux, large stone
buildings topping the plateaux——were the scenes of most bloody and
obstinate encounters. Nogeon, the largest of them, was stormed and lost
three times at intervals during the day. Under sustained fire from
Trocy, its massive walls were broken; the corn barns took fire and
blazed across the expanse of the battlefield.

In the evening, Von Schwerin drew back his lines a little from the
edge of the plateau, and the ruined farms and hamlets gave the French
a precarious shelter. At the same time, a reciprocal attempt at
envelopment by the north began to design itself. The 61st Reserve
Division had just been brought up from Pointose; and Maunoury decided
to throw it, with the 1st Cavalry Corps, out to his extreme left,
the former at Villers St. Genest, the latter beyond Betz. Almost
simultaneously, new German detachments reached the Ourcq, and were
set to prolong to the north the front of the II and IV Corps, while a
Landwehr Brigade acting as line of communication troops was summoned
urgently from Senlis. There was now no question of the 6th Army
fulfilling its original task; the utmost hope was that it might hold
till the British came up, across the enemy’s rear. Maunoury had to
cope with an equal mass in better positions——three strong corps, the
IV, the II, and the IV Reserve, with the IV Cavalry Division——against
Lamaze’s two Reserve Divisions, Drude’s Division, the 7th Corps,
the 61st R.D., and the Cavalry Corps. Only the III and IX Corps and
Marwitz’s Cavalry remained beyond the Marne; and, though the British
pressure was increasing, the enemy’s withdrawal had not been seriously
disturbed. Kluck’s boldness, skill, and decision were undeniable. It
was evident that he had recovered from the first shock, and meant, if
possible, to overwhelm its authors. Exhausted, and tormented by thirst,
it was with sinking hearts that the Army of Paris looked up to the
smoking hills.

Viewed from French General Headquarters, however, the prospect was more
favourable. The retreat of the I German Army was gravely compromising
the position of its neighbour, the II; and its effects were beginning
to show farther to the east. For three days, these two forces were
moving in opposite directions——Kluck to the north-west, Bülow to the
south-east. The task of exploiting the dislocation thus produced fell
to the British and d’Espérey’s Armies. The rôle of the 6th Army was
thus radically changed by the development of events; but it remained as
important as ever in the whole design. If Gallieni and Maunoury could
have reviewed the field from the Ourcq to Verdun, they would have been
well satisfied.


I spent September 7 among the rear columns of the 6th Army. In the
morning, the little town of Gagny, half-way between Paris and Claye
(Maunoury’s headquarters), and the last point one could reach by
rail from the city, was full of men of the 103rd and 104th regiments,
belonging to the 4th Corps (General Boëlle), just arrived from
Sarrail’s front. They sat in and before the cafés, lay on the grass
of the villa gardens, lounged in the school playground, where their
rifles were stacked and their knapsacks piled. Some had managed to get
their wives and children to them, and were telling great tales of the
first month of war. I went out into the deserted countryside toward the
front, passing marching columns, motor-wagons, dispatch-riders, here
a flock of sheep in charge of uniformed shepherds, there a woodland
bivouac, and in the evening returned to Gagny. More regiments had
arrived; the town was boiling from end to end. In the main street, a
battalion was already marching out to extend Vautier’s left, a thin
file of country folk watching them, waving handkerchiefs, the girls
running beside the ranks to give some handsome lad a flower. Up the
side roads, other columns waited their turn, standing at ease, or
sitting on the edge of the pavement; a few men lay asleep, curled up
against the houses. But the most curious thing was a long queue of
Parisian taxi-cabs, a thousand or more of them, stretching through
by-roads out of sight. The watchful and energetic Gallieni had
discovered, at the cost of us boulevardiers, a new means of rushing
reinforcements to the point where they were direly needed.

It was the idea of his chief of staff, General Clergerie. Joffre had
at this moment only one remaining unit of the Regulars to give to
Maunoury——a half of the 4th Corps, which had been brought round by rail
from the Verdun front, and of which we have seen the 8th Division in
action south of Meaux. The 7th Division had detrained in Paris during
the afternoon of September 7. It was to be sent to Maunoury’s extreme
left, near Betz, 40 miles away. Everything might now depend upon speed.
It was found that only about a half of the infantry could be carried
quickly by train. Clergerie[62] thought the remaining 6000 men might be
got out by means of taxi-cabs. The Military Government of Paris already
had 100 of the “red boxes” at its disposal; 500 more were requisitioned
within an hour, and at 6 p.m. they were lined up, to our astonishment,
beside the Gagny railhead. Each cab was to carry five men, and to do
the journey twice, by separate outward and return routes. Measures were
taken in case of accident, but none occurred. This first considerable
experiment in motor transport of men was a complete success; and at
dawn the 7th Division was in its place on the battlefield.

On September 8, the British Expeditionary Force, steadily gathering
momentum, reached, and in part crossed, the Petit Morin, taking their
first considerable number of prisoners, to the general exhilaration.
On the left, the 3rd Corps advanced rapidly to the junction of that
river with the Marne; but the enemy had broken the bridges at La
Ferté-sous-Jouarre, and held stubbornly to their barricades on the
north bank through this night and the following day. Farther up the
deep and thickly-wooded valley, the 2nd Corps had some trouble between
Jouarre and Orly; while, on the right, the 1st Corps, after routing the
German rearguards at La Trétoire and Sablonnières, made the passage
with the aid of a turning movement by some cavalry and two Guards
battalions of the 1st Division.

The orders of this day for the 6th Army were to attack on the two
wings——Drude’s Algerian Division (relieving the exhausted 56th Reserve
and the Moroccan Brigade), with the 55th Reserve, on the right, towards
Etrepilly and Vareddes; the 61st Reserve Division, General Boëlle’s
7th Division, and Sordêt’s cavalry, on the left——while the 7th Corps
stood firm at the centre, and, south of the Marne, the 8th Division
pressed on from Villemareuil toward Trilport, in touch with the
British. For neither side was the violence of the struggle rewarded
with any decisive success. On the French right, the Germans had more
seriously entrenched themselves, and had much strengthened their
artillery. Lombard’s Division of the 7th Corps was heavily engaged
all day at Acy; at night the enemy still held the hamlet, while the
chasseurs faced them in the small wood overlooking it. On the left,
the 7th Division of the 4th Corps had no sooner come into action than
it had to meet a formidable assault by the IV Active Corps. This was
repulsed; but the Cavalry Corps seems to have been unable to take an
effective share in the battle. During the afternoon, German troops
occupied Thury-en-Valois and Betz. Reinforcements were continually
reaching them. At nightfall, although Boëlle’s divisions were resisting
heroically, and even progressing, the outlook on the French extreme
left, bent back between Bouillancy and Nantheuil-le-Haudouin, had
become alarming. Maunoury, however, obtained from General Gallieni the
last substantial unit left in the entrenched camp of Paris, the 62nd
Division of Reserve, and gave it instructions to organise, between
Plessy-Belleville and Monthyon, a position to which the 6th Army could
fall back in case of necessity. In course of the night, Gallieni sent
out from Paris by motor-cars a detachment of Zouaves to make a raid
toward Creil and Senlis. It was a mere excursion; but the alarm caused
is very comprehensible when the extreme attenuation of the supply
lines of the German I Army is remembered. Marching 25 miles a day, and
sometimes more, it had far overrun the normal methods of provisioning.
During the advance, meat and wine had been found in plenty, vegetables
and fruit to some extent, bread seldom; here, in the Valois, the army
could not feed itself on the country, and convoys arrived slowly from
the north. Artillery ammunition was rapidly running out. Hunger quickly
deepens doubt to fear.

But Maunoury’s men were at the end of their strength. On the morning
of September 9, a determined attack by the IV Active Corps, supported
by the right of the II, was delivered from Betz and Anthilly. The
8th Division had been summoned back from the Marne, to be thrown to
the French left. Apparently it could not be brought effectively into
this action; and the 61st and 7th Divisions and the 7th Corps failing
to stand, Nanteuil and Villers St. Genest were lost, the front being
re-formed before Silly-le-Long. “A troop which can no longer advance
must at any cost hold the ground won, and be slain rather than give
way.” Such a summons can only be repeated by a much-trusted chief.
Maunoury repeated it in other words. Thousands of men, grimy, ragged,
with empty bellies and tongues parched by the torrid heat, had already
gone down, willingly accepting the dire sentence. Few of them could
hear or suppose that the enemy was in yet extremer plight. So it was.
Early in the morning, Vareddes and Etrepilly had been found abandoned;
greater news had been coming in for hours to Headquarters——some of it
from the enemy himself by way of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where the
French “wireless” operators were picking up the conversations of the
German commanders. Marwitz was particularly frank and insistent; his
men were asleep in their saddles, his horses broken with overwork. He
was apparently too much pressed to wait for his message to be properly
coded. By such and other means, it was known that Kluck and Bülow were
at loggerheads, that, even on the order of Berlin, the former would not
submit himself to his colleague, and that, in consequence, Bülow in
turn had begun to retreat before Franchet d’Espérey.




The unescapable dilemma of the Joffrean strategy had developed into
a second and peremptory phase. In deciding to withdraw from the Brie
plateau and the Marne, rather than risk his rear and communications
for the chance of a victory on the Seine, Kluck, or his superiors,
had, doubtless, chosen the lesser evil. The marching wing of the
invasion was crippled before the offensive of the Allies had begun; but
Gallieni’s precipitancy had brought a premature arrest upon the 6th
Army. Beside this double check, we have now to witness a race between
two offensive movements——Bülow and Hausen pouring south with the
impetuosity of desperation, while, along their right, the British Force
and the French 5th Army struck north between the two western masses of
the enemy with the fresh energy of an immense hope. Which will sooner
effect a rupture?

Logically, there should be no doubt of the answer. Kluck was mainly
occupied with Maunoury; Bülow, with Foch. Between them, there
was no new army to engage the eight corps of Sir John French and
Franchet d’Espérey. The cavalry and artillery force of Marwitz and
Richthofen, strong as it was, could do no more than postpone the
inevitable——always provided that Maunoury and Foch could hold out.
Every day, the pull of Kluck to the north-west and of Bülow to
the south-east must become more embarrassing. French writers have
applied an expressive phrase to the influence of this pull——“effet de
ventouse,” effect of suction——though hardly appreciating its double
direction. The maintenance of a continuous battle-line is axiomatic
in modern military science. It follows from the size of the masses
in action, the difficulty, even with steam and petrol transport, of
moving them rapidly, and their dependence upon long lines of supply.
The soldier bred upon Napoleonic annals may long for the opportunity
of free manœuvre; all the evolution of warfare is against his
dream. An army neither feeds nor directs itself; it is supplied and
directed as part of a larger machine executing a predetermined plan.
Superiority of force is increased by concentration, and achieves
victory by envelopment of the enemy as a whole, or his disintegration
by the piercing of gaps, a preliminary to retail envelopment or
dispersal. A course which loses the initial superiority and requires
a considerable change of plan is already a grave prejudice; when to
this is added a necessary expedient leading to an extensive disturbance
of the line, prudence dictates that the offensive should be suspended
until the whole mass of attack has been reorganised in view of the
new circumstances. The German Command dare not risk such a pause.
It persisted; and the penalty lengthened with every hour of its
persistence. The more Kluck stretched his right in order to cover his
communications by Compiègne and the Oise valley, the wider became
the void between his left and the II Army, constantly moving in the
opposite direction. When French and d’Espérey found this void, a like
difficulty was presented to Bülow——to be enveloped on the right, or to
close up thither, leaving a breach on his other flank, which the Saxon
Army would be unable to fill. Thus, Maunoury’s enterprise on the Ourcq,
though falling short of full success, produced a series of voids, and,
at length, a dislocation of the whole German line, which was only saved
from utter disaster by a general retreat.

[Illustration: Opening of the ALLIED OFFENSIVE

British Front & D’Espérey’s Left

Sept. 6, 6 a.m.]

General Franchet d’Espérey, who had been brigadier in 1908, divisional
commander in 1912, a gallant and energetic officer now fifty-eight
years of age, successful with the 1st Corps at Dinant and St. Gerard
in Belgium, and in the important battle of Guise, had, on September 3,
succeeded Lanrezac at the head of the largest of the French armies,
the 5th. Its task——in touch with Foch on the right, and with the
British, through Conneau’s cavalry corps, on the left——was to press
north toward Montmirail, against Kluck’s left (III and IX Corps, and
Richthofen’s cavalry divisions) and the right wing of Bülow (VII
Corps and X Reserve Corps). In later stages of the war, the junction
of two armies often showed itself to be a point of weakness to be
aimed at. With four active corps and three divisions of reserves
in hand, d’Espérey had, even before the German withdrawal began,
a considerable advantage——indicating Joffre’s intention that it
should be the second great arm of his offensive, that which should
make the chief frontal attack. On the other hand, the enemy held
strong positions along the Grand Morin, and, behind this, along the
Vauchamps–Montmirail ridge of the Petit Morin. During their retreat
the Allies had used the opportunity offered by the valleys of the
Marne and its tributaries for delaying actions; these streams were now
so many obstacles across their path. The first French movement, on
September 6, was powerfully resisted. On the left, the cavalry occupied
Courtacon.[63] At the centre, the 18th and 3rd Corps co-operating
(prophetic combination——Maud’huy, Mangin, and Petain!), the villages
of Montceaux-les-Provins and Courgivaux, on the highroad from Paris to
Nancy, which was, as it were, the base of the whole battlefield, were
taken by assault. On the right, the 1st Corps was stopped throughout
the forenoon before Chatillon-sur-Morin by the X Reserve Corps.
D’Espérey detached a division, with artillery, to make a wide detour
and to fall, through the Wood of La Noue, upon the German defences east
of Esternay. Thus threatened, the enemy gave way; and the market-town
of Esternay was occupied early on the following morning. The 10th Corps
continued the line toward the north-east, after suffering rather heavy
losses beyond Sezanne.

On the morning of September 7, the air services of the 5th Army
reported the commencement of Kluck’s retreat; and soon afterwards a
corresponding movement of Bülow’s right was discovered to be going on
behind a screen of cavalry and artillery, supported by some infantry
elements. D’Espérey had no sooner ordered the piercing of this screen
than news was brought in of the critical position of the neighbouring
wing of Foch’s Army, the 42nd Division and the 9th Corps, through
which Bülow’s X and Guard Corps were trying to break, from the St.
Gond Marshes toward Sezanne. He at once diverted his 20th Division to
threaten the western flank of this attack (which will be followed in
the next section) about Villeneuve-lès-Charleville. Meanwhile, rapid
progress was being made on the centre and left of the 5th Army. Between
Esternay and Montmirail extend the close-set parklands called the
Forest of Gault, with smaller woods outlying, a difficult country in
which many groups of hungry German stragglers were picked up during the
following days. Through this district, the 1st Corps and the left of
the 10th, with General Valabrègue’s three divisions of reserves behind,
beat their way; while, farther west, in the more open but broken fields
between the Grand and the Petit Morin, the 18th and the 3rd Corps made
six good miles, to the line Ferté Gaucher–Trefols. More than a thousand
prisoners were taken during the day, with a few machine-guns and some
abandoned stores.

We have seen (pp. 124–5, 131) the British Expeditionary Force at
the beginning of a like novel and exhilarating experience. Its five
divisions, having seized Coulommiers on the night of September 6, had
pressed on to the Petit Morin, and, from its junction with the Marne
eastward to La Trétoire, where obstinate opposition was offered, had
secured the crossings. D’Espérey’s left wing thus found its task
lightened; and the 18th and 3rd Corps were ordered to sweep aside the
remaining German rearguards, and to strike across the Petit Morin
on either side of Montmirail. September 8 was thus a day rather of
marching than fighting, except at Montmirail, on whose horse-shoe
ridge the enemy held out for some hours.[64] In the evening, General
Hache entered the picturesque town, and set up his quarters in the old
château where Bülow’s Staff had been housed on the previous day. On
the left, Maud’huy pushed the 18th Corps by Montolivet over the Petit
Morin, and after a sharp action took the village of Marchais-en-Brie.
On the right, the 1st Corps was checked at Courbetaux and Bergères,
the German VII Corps having come into line; so that the 10th Corps,
between Soigny and Corfelix, had to turn north-westward to its
assistance. This was scarcely more than an eddy in the general stream
of fortune. The moral effect of a happy manœuvre goes for much in the
result. The British and d’Espérey’s men forgot all their sufferings
and weariness in the spectacle of the enemy yielding. British aviators
reported Kluck’s columns as in general retreat, certain roads being
much encumbered. Bülow had necessarily withdrawn his right to maintain
contact; his centre and left must follow if the pressure were continued.

The hour of decision approached. During the morning of Wednesday,
September 9, Sir John French’s 2nd and 1st Corps crossed the Marne at
Luzancy, Sââcy, Nanteuil, Charly, and Nogent-l’Artaud. This part of
the valley was scarcely defended; and a brigade of the 3rd Division
had progressed 4 miles beyond it by 9 a.m. Anxious news for the German
Staff. Unfortunately, our right was arrested until afternoon by a
threat of attack from Château-Thierry; and, lower down the river about
La Ferté, the 3rd Corps, still represented only by the 4th Division and
the 19th Brigade, was stopped until evening before the broken bridges
and rifle-parapets on the northern bank. Some guns then carried over
near Changis bombarded the German artillery positions beyond the Ourcq,
a notice to quit that had prompt effect. Château-Thierry was left to
the French 18th Corps, which occupied the town that night. Meanwhile,
Smith-Dorrien and Haig entered the hilly country about Bezu, Coupru,
and Domptin, on the road from Château-Thierry to Lizy-sur-Ourcq.
Marwitz vainly essayed to obstruct the northward movement. Beaten in an
action near Montreuil-aux-Lions, he informed Kluck that he could do no
more, and hurried back to the line of the little river Clignon, about
Bussiares and Belleau, which were reached by 4 p.m. A little later,
British Aviators brought in word that the enemy had evacuated the whole
angle between the east bank of the Ourcq and the Marne, and that, on
the other hand, the withdrawal of the German I Army was creating a
void beyond Château-Thierry: the cavalry of Richthofen, sent thither
by Bülow, was in the same predicament as that of Marwitz farther west.
At daybreak on September 10, Pulteney’s Corps left the Marne behind.
Meeting no serious resistance, the British crossed the Clignon valley,
and by evening occupied La Ferté-Milon, Neuilly-St. Front, and Rocourt.

These were marching days for the 5th Army. Conneau’s cavalry,
reinforced by an infantry brigade and extra batteries, passed the
Marne at Azy on the 9th, and, harrying Bülow’s right flank, reached
Oulchy-le-Château next day. The 18th Corps, with the reserve divisions
in support, pushed on from Château-Thierry toward Fère-en-Tardenois;
and the 3rd Corps, which had occupied Montigny, half-way between
Montmirail and the Marne, on the 9th, forced the passage, under heavy
fire from the hills at Jaulgonne, on the 10th. The 1st Corps had a
heavier task. Having progressed as far as the Vauchamps plateau, it was
wheeled back to the south-east to help the 10th Corps, which d’Espérey
had transferred to Foch’s Army of the centre, now in the gravest peril.


While the 6th Army, within sight of the Ourcq, was suffering its
great agony, while the “effect of suction” was showing itself in the
Anglo-French pursuit of Kluck, very different were the first results at
the centre of the long crescent of the Allied front. Kluck was saved
by his quick resolution, together with Marwitz’s able work in covering
the rear. Bülow was in no such imminent danger. His communications with
the north were at first perfectly safe. The situation of his right
wing, which must either fall back or lose contact with the I Army, was
awkward; but, doubtless, Kluck’s success would soon re-establish it.
The circumstances indicated for the remainder of the II Army and the
neighbouring Saxon Corps an instant attempt to break through the French
centre, or at least to cripple it, and, with it, all Joffre’s offensive
plan. The very strategic influence which helped the British and
d’Espérey, therefore, at first threw a terrible burden upon Foch and
the “detachment” which on September 5 was renamed the “9th Army”; yet
it was by this same influence that, in the end, though by the narrowest
of margins, he also won through.

[Illustration: The MARNE RE-CROSSED.

Morning of Sept. 9.]

The theatre of this struggle is the south-western corner of the flat,
niggardly expanse of La Champagne Pouilleuse, lying between the
depression called the Marshes of St. Gond and the Sezanne–Sommesous
railway and highroad. It is very clearly bounded on the west by
the sharp edge of the Brie plateau; on the east it is bordered by
the Troyes–Châlons road and railway. Sezanne on the west, and Fère
Champènoise at the centre, are considerable country towns; the right is
marked by the permanent camp of Mailly. To the north of Sezanne, the
hill of Mondemont, immediately overlooking the marshes and the plain,
and the ravine of St. Prix, on the Epernay road, where the Petit Morin
issues from the marshes and breaks into the plateau, are key positions.
The Marshes of St. Gond (so called after a seventh-century priory,
of which some ruins remain) witnessed several of the most poignant
episodes of Napoleon’s 1814 campaign “from the Rhine to Fontainebleau.”
They were then much more extensive. Between the villages of
Fromentières and Champaubert, there survives the name, though little
else, of the “Bois du Desert,” where 3000 Russian grenadiers are said
to have been slain or captured by Marmont’s cuirassiers, while hundreds
of others were drowned. A month later, Blücher was back from Laon
attacking on the same ground; and Marmont and Mortier were in full
retreat along the road to Fère Champènoise. Pachod’s national guards,
the “Marie Louises,” turned north to the marches of St. Gond as to a
refuge. The Russians and Prussians surrounded them; and only a few of
the French lads escaped by the St. Prix road. To-day the marshes are
largely reclaimed and canalised; but this clay bed, extending a dozen
miles east and west, and averaging more than a mile in breadth, fills
easily under such a rainstorm as fell upon the region on the evening
of September 9, 1914, and at all times it limits traffic to the three
or four good roads crossing it. The chief of these, from Epernay to
Sezanne and Fère Champènoise respectively, pass the ends of the marshes
at St. Prix and Morains; the former is commanded by Mondemont; the
latter by Mont Août, near Broussy.

Was this “last barrier providentially set across the route of the
invasion”[65] forgotten? Joffre’s earlier plan did, indeed, involve
the abandonment of all the plain extending to the Aube; the decision
to stand on the line of the marshes was a consequence of Gallieni’s
initiative. Foch’s Army had been carried beyond them in its retreat,
but, fortunately, not far beyond. On the morning of September 5,
advance columns of Bülow’s left had entered Baye; patrols had reached
the Petit Morin bridge at St. Prix, and the north-centre of the marshes
at Vert-la-Gravelle. A little more dash, and the Germans would have
possessed themselves of all the commanding points. It was about 10 a.m.
that Foch received the Generalissimo’s order closing the retreat: “The
9th Army will cover the right of the 5th Army, holding the southern
passages of the Marshes of St. Gond, and placing a part of its forces
on the plateau north of Sezanne.” Foch at once directed the appropriate
movements; and, by the evening of September 5, the following positions
were reached:

_French Left._——Driven, back from St. Prix by forces belonging to
Bülow’s X Active and Reserve Corps, the 42nd Division (General
Grossetti) held the neighbouring hills from Villeneuve-lès-Charleville
and Soisy to Mondemont.

_Centre._——During the afternoon, Dubois advanced the 9th Corps
(Moroccan Division and 17th Division) from Fère Champènoise to
Broussy and Bannes, and thence pushed two battalions over the marshes
to Toulon-la-Montagne, Vert-la-Gravelle, and Aulnizeux in face of
the Prussian Guard Corps, the main body of which was at Vertus. The
Blondlat Brigade of the Moroccan Division attacked Congy, but failed,
and fell back on Mondemont. The 52nd Reserve Division was in support
about Connantre.

_French Right._——The 11th Corps (General Eydoux) rested on the east end
of the marshes at Morains-le-Petit, and from here stretched backward
along the course of the Champagne Somme to Sommesous, with the 60th
Reserve Division behind it. They had before them the Saxon XII Active
Corps and one of its reserve divisions. At Sommesous, General de
l’Espée’s Cavalry Division covered a gap of about 12 miles between
Foch’s right and de Langle de Cary’s left at Humbauville.

Thus, on the eve of the battle, the 9th Army, inferior to the enemy
in strength, especially in artillery, presented to it an irregular
convex front. Bülow was at Esternay on the west; Hausen was approaching
the gap on its right flank; the centre was protruded uneasily to and
beyond the St. Gond Marshes. The expectation of General Headquarters
had, apparently, been that the German onset would fall principally on
the right of the 5th Army. Foch was, therefore, instructed to give aid
in that direction by pushing his left to the north-north-west, while
the rest of his line stood firm until the pressure was relieved. In
the event, these rôles were reversed: it was d’Espérey who had to help
Foch. The original dispositions, however, had a certain effect upon the
course of the battle. They gave the 9th Army a pivot on the Sezanne
plateau; and the obstinacy with which this advantage was retained seems
to have diverted the German commanders, till it was too late, from
concentrating their force on the other wing, the line of attack from
which the French had most to fear.

[Illustration: FOCH’S FRONT

_Sept. 6, morning._

_Sept. 7, night._]

Foch was the offensive incarnate; but, on the morning of September
6th, he could do no more than meet, and that with indifferent success,
Bülow’s attack upon his left-centre. He was weakest where the enemy was
most strong: a large part of the French guns could not reach the field
for the beginning of the combat; the 9th Corps, in particular, felt the
lack of three groups of artillery it had left in Lorraine. Failing this
support, the two battalions holding Toulon-la-Montagne were quickly
shelled out of their positions. In vain Dubois, commanding the 9th
Corps, ordered the Moroccan Tirailleurs to march on Baye, and the 17th
Division to retake the two lost points. A crack regiment, the 77th,
crossed the marshes and entered Coizard village, Major de Beaufort,
cane in hand, on a big bay horse, at its head, crying to his men,
shaken by rifle fire from the houses: “Forward, boys! Courage! It is
for France. Jeanne d’Arc is with us.” The 2nd and 3rd battalions went
on, and tried to climb Mount Toulon. The fighting continued all day,
ending in a painful retreat to Mont Août through two miles of swampy
ground, in which the men plunged up to the waist rather than risk the
shell-ploughed causeway. The Guard followed as far as Bannes, and
the X Corps occupied Le Mesnil Broussy and Broussy-le-Petit, where
the French batteries arrested them. Small French detachments clung to
Morains and Aulnay through the day and night; otherwise, the north of
the marshes was lost. Against the left, Bülow was less successful. The
42nd Division and the Moroccan Division withstood repeated assaults of
the X Corps at Soisy-aux-Bois and on the edge of the St. Gond Wood. The
struggle, however, was most severe: Villeneuve, occupied on the evening
of September 5, was lost at 8 a.m. on the 6th, recaptured an hour
later, lost again at noon, and recovered at night. On the right, the
11th Corps had to evacuate Ecury and Normée under heavy fire; Lenharrée
and Sommesous were partially in flames, but still resisted.

Unawed, in his quarters at Pleurs, Foch wrote the following order for
the morrow:——“The General Commanding counts on all the troops of the
9th Army exerting the greatest activity and the utmost energy to extend
and maintain beyond dispute the results obtained over a hard-pressed
and venturesome enemy.” Many of the generals, lieutenants, and men may
have thought these last words too highly coloured. Foch himself knew
more of the real situation. He knew, as did Bülow, how gravely the
latter was prejudiced by Kluck’s predicament. Already, the prospect
had arisen of the I German Army being gripped by the closing vice of
Maunoury and the British. Already, d’Espérey’s great force was moving
north along Bülow’s flank toward Montmirail. Joffre’s masterstroke
was revealed. Was the victory that Berlin and the armies counted as
certain to slip away at the eleventh hour? For the first time in a
triumphant generation, a German Army was in danger of defeat; nay, all
the armies were in danger. Astounding change of fortune! The greycoat
soldiery, dulling their weariness in the loot of cottages and farms,
the subaltern officers, making free with the wine cellars of old manor
houses, did not know it; but such was the fact. Their commanders were
not the men easily to take alarm; yet, at this moment, alarm must have
struck them.


The grand manœuvre of envelopment had failed. The alternative plan
remained: to smash the French centre and roll up the lines on either
side. On the morning of September 7, this effort began with a fierce
onslaught across the ravine of the Petit Morin against the Sezanne
plateau from Mondemont to Villeneuve.

On Foch’s extreme left, nothing was gained. The 42nd Division was now
receiving perceptible support from the 10th Corps of the 5th Army,
which during the day, as we have seen, completed the clearance of the
Forest of Gault, to the west of Villeneuve. Toward Mondemont, however,
the X Active Corps made some progress, throwing the defenders back to
the western borders of Soisy, again taking Villeneuve, and reaching
through the St. Gond Wood nearly to the hamlet of Chapton. The bare
crest called the Signal du Poirier gave the German gunners an excellent
platform, with views over a large part of the French lines. One of
their chief targets was the château of Mondemont, a two-story mansion,
dating from the sixteenth century, with pepper-pot corner towers,
enclosing a large square courtyard. General Humbert had set up here his
Staff quarters; but by noon the bombardment had become so severe that
he had to leave it to advanced posts of the Moroccan Division, first,
however, insisting on taking a proper lunch in the salle-à-manger with
the trembling family. These were sent to the rear, and Humbert moved
to the neighbouring château of Broyes. In a later stage of the war,
Humbert struck me rather as the thinker, a quiet, keen intelligence,
and a fine gentleman. At this earlier time, one of the youngest
generals in the French Army, he appears rather as the man of spirited
action. Beaming with gay confidence, he abounded in the _gestes_ that
the French soldier so loves. Once several members of his escort were
killed by a shell exploding in their midst; like Grossetti, afterwards
to be known as “the Bull of the Yser,” danger only stimulated him. “The
Germans are bottled up,” he said; “Mondemont is the cork. It must be
held at any price.” At 5 p.m., a combined attack, by parts of the 42nd
and Moroccan Divisions, with the 77th regiment of the 9th Corps, was
made with the object of freeing the Mondemont position. Little ground
was gained, and the losses were very heavy; it was a momentary relief,
no more.

At length the German Command recognised that the French defence was
weakest toward and beyond Fère Champènoise, and that a simultaneous
attack by both their wings, with most strength on the east, might
shatter it. First, however, the flank of the Guard Corps along the
marshes must be cleared. This preliminary occupied the whole of
September 7. On the west, Oyes was taken during the morning in the
advance on Mondemont. On the east, the French companies outlying at
Morains and Aulnay had to abandon these villages at 8 a.m., under
threat of being taken in reverse along the railway. Morains is only
four miles by highroad from Fère Champènoise; and here the picked
infantry of the Guard were striking at the junction of the 9th and
11th Corps, with solid Saxon regiments closing in upon the latter to
the south-east. Seeing their danger, Radiguet and Moussy concerted a
movement by which, during the afternoon, Aulnizeux was taken and the
German advance checked. In the evening, at the third attempt, the enemy
recovered the village; and in the last hours of the night his general
offensive along the Sezanne and Fère roads began. It will be convenient
to follow first the western arm of the attack.

At 3 a.m. on September 8, after a sharp cannonade, the French
machine-gunners on Mondemont Hill observed spectral forms approaching
in open order——these were advanced parties belonging to the X Corps,
with some elements of the Guard. They were easily repulsed; and,
immediately afterwards, the much-thinned ranks of the 42nd and Moroccan
Divisions, with the 77th regiment of the 9th Corps, were launched anew
towards St. Prix. Although Bülow had received reinforcements, and had
placed more batteries between Congy and Baye, the Moroccans occupied
Oyes and its hill and the Signal du Poirier by 8 a.m., while the left
of the 42nd carried Soisy at the point of the bayonet. Unfortunately,
the debacle that was happening coincidentally on Foch’s right put any
exploitation of this success out of the question. A fresh defensive
front had to be created south of the marshes, facing east; the 77th
regiment was recalled to St. Loup in the middle of the afternoon for
this purpose. The 42nd Division seems to have been shaken by this
removal of a sorely-needed support; and Bülow, promptly advised of it,
ordered his columns forward once more.

On an islet in the west end of the marshes, between the villages of
Villevenard and Oyes, stand a Renaissance gateway and other remnants
of the ancient Priory of St. Gond, and in their midst the humble
dwelling of “the last hermit of St. Gond,” as M. le Goffic calls him,
the Abbé Millard, corresponding member of the French Antiquarian and
Archæological Societies. A victim of dropsy, the Abbé was laid up
when the approach of the Germans was announced. “So, then,” he calmly
remarked, “I shall renew my acquaintance with Attila.” His housekeeper,
a typically vigorous Frenchwoman, would have no such morbid curiosity.
“You have no parishioners but the frogs, Monsieur le Curé; and they
can take care of themselves against your Attila. Come along”——and,
bundling some valuables into a wheelbarrow, and giving Father Millard
a stick, she carried him off into safety. As they left, a body of
Senegalese sharpshooters came up, and began to build across the highway
an old-fashioned barricade of tree-trunks, carts, and blocks of
stone. “Some barbed wire and a continuous trench, such as the Germans
use, would have been better,” remarks M. le Goffic; “but we remained
faithful to our old errors, and, nearly everywhere, our men fought in
the open or behind sheaves and tree trunks.”

After hours of an ebb-and-flow of bayonet charges and hand to
hand combats, the French lost in succession Broussy-le-Petit,
Mesnil-Broussy, Reuves, and Oyes——all the morning’s gain had vanished
by nightfall. With the Germans entrenched a mile away, and only a
single Zouave battalion in reserve, Humbert insisted that Mondemont
must be held; and his corps commander, Dubois, desperately seeking to
cover the void on his right with the 77th Regiment, told the officers
that retreat was not to be thought of. Heavy rain fell during the
evening, obstructing the movements of all the armies. On both sides,
that night, the chiefs knew that the issue was a matter of hours, of
very few hours. We saw in the first section of this chapter that,
on the evening of September 8, the left of the 5th French Army had
passed, and its centre reached, the Petit Morin, while the 10th Corps
immediately threatened Bülow’s flank at Bannay, only 2 miles west of
Baye. The “effect of suction” was working wonderfully. An order found
during the day on a wounded officer, directing that the regimental
trains should be drawn up facing north, showed the preoccupations of
the German Staff. If the Guard and the Saxons could complete the rout
of Foch’s right-centre, they might yet win through; but there was
no longer a moment to spare, for Bülow had no force capable of long
withstanding d’Espérey’s north-eastward thrust.

Against Foch’s left, Bülow played his last stake at daybreak on
September 9. A whole brigade, marching from Oyes under cover of mist,
brushed aside the two battalions of sharpshooters, mounted Mondemont
hill, and seized the château and village, which were rapidly provided
with a garrison and machine-guns. The 42nd Division was in course of
withdrawal at this time, its place being taken by the 51st Division of
the neighbouring army. Humbert still would not take defeat: borrowing
two battalions of chasseurs from Grossetti, he sent them to the assault
of the promontory. They failed. At about 10.30 a.m., the 9th Corps
lost Mont Août, the stronghold of Foch’s centre, and fell back upon
the lower hills between Allemant and Linthes. If the whole left and
centre of the 9th Army were not to be swept, after its right, into the
plain, the last footing on the Sezanne plateau must be held at any
price. But how? Many companies of the Moroccan Division had lost all
their officers and most of their men. The breakdown of his right had
driven Foch to an extreme expedient which we will presently follow more
closely——the transfer thither of the 42nd Division; all Grossetti could
do for Humbert after his early morning failure, therefore, was to lend
him his artillery for a couple of hours. From Dubois and his own corps,
Humbert was able again to borrow the 77th Regiment. After a massed fire
of preparation on the woods and slopes around the château of Mondemont
by nine batteries, the hungry, haggard survivors of the 77th, divided
into two bodies under Colonels Lestoquoi and Eon, approached the hill
from the west and east, while four companies gathered to the south of
the château as a storming force under Major de Beaufort.

We have already seen this only too chivalric officer defying the prime
conditions of modern warfare in the capture of Coizard; here is a yet
more pathetic exhibition of the ancient style of heroism. It was 2.30
of a bright afternoon, the air oppressive with heat, smoke, and dust.
The commandant called a priest-soldier from the ranks, and asked him
to give supreme absolution to the men who wished to receive it. They
knelt, and rose. The major, putting on his white gloves, then gave
the order to charge. Bugles sounded; the men ran forward “in deep,
close masses,” shouting and singing. Many fell before reaching the
garden of the château. De Beaufort, standing for a moment under a
tree to consider the next step, was shot dead. A few men got through
a breach in the garden wall, only to meet a rain of bullets from
loopholes in the house. A score of officers (including Captain de
Secondat-Montesquieu, a descendant of the great French writer) were
lost, with a third of the effectives. At 3.30, Colonel Eon withdrew the
remainder of the storming party.

For a breathing space only. The château was, in fact, besieged. Three
field-guns were brought within 400 yards of it; and at 6 p.m. three
companies advanced upon the quadrangle of buildings, four others upon
the village, at the foot of the hill. Forty minutes later, Colonel
Lestoquoi led his last remaining company forward, crying: “Come on,
boys; another tussle, and we are there.” This time, château, park,
farm, and churchyard, and finally the village, were carried. “I hold
the village and the château of Mondemont,” Lestoquoi reported to
General Humbert; “I am installing myself for the night.”

The battle of Mondemont was over; one wild ebb-wave, and the peace of
nature’s fruitfulness fell for all our time upon the riven fields, the
multitude of graves, the desolate marshes.


Far other and graver was the course of the eastern arm of the German
attack, after the loss of the marsh villages by the French 9th Corps on
September 7.

Dubois’ shaky line, along the south of the marshes, was continued
eastward by the 11th Corps (including, now, the 18th Division) from
near Morains to Normée, and this by the 60th Reserve Division, thence
to Sommesous, and the 9th Cavalry Division, reaching out to the left
of de Langle’s Army (the 17th Corps). These faced, respectively,
the Prussian Guard Corps, the Saxon XII Active Corps, and part of
its reserve. No great inequality, so far; but Bülow and Hausen were
bringing up reinforcements, and preparing a terrible surprise.
Throughout September 7, the Saxons had been hammering at Eydoux’ front
along the Somme-Soude. Lenharrée, defended throughout the afternoon
and evening by only two companies, became untenable during the night.
All the officers had fallen, Captain Henri de Saint Bon last of them,
crying to his Breton reservists of the 60th Division: “Keep off! Do
not get killed to save me.” On entering the village, and seeing what
had happened, the Saxon commander ordered his men to march before the
French wounded, saying: “Salute! They are brave fellows.” So began
the darkest episode, the nearest approach to a German victory, in the
battle of the Marne.

An hour before——at 3 a.m. on September 8——their guns pushed forward
under cover of darkness, the general assault by Bülow’s and Hausen’s
armies had begun. It was well planned according to the information of
those commanders, and, considering how serious an obstacle the marshes
presented to their centre, remarkably conducted. On the west, the
resolution of the defenders of Mondemont would have gone for nothing
without the increasing support of d’Espérey’s 10th Corps. At the
left-centre, the marshes gave Dubois sufficient cover to enable him to
wheel half his force eastward. Beyond that, the conditions favoured
the enemy, for the only main roads converged upon Fère Champènoise;
and, if the French were driven back, a dangerous block would inevitably
be produced. Against the extreme right, the Saxons were not in great
force; and, on that flank also, the neighbouring French Army gave vital

[Illustration: FOCH’S FRONT

Sept. 8–9.]

So, in the misty dawn of September 8, the greycoats, picked Prussians
and burly Saxons, swarmed forward, seeming to renew themselves
irresistibly. Foch, talking to his Staff overnight, had exclaimed that
such desperation suggested the need of compensating for ill fortune
elsewhere; and now he opened a black day with a characteristic phrase
of stubborn cheer: “The situation is excellent; I order you again
vigorously to take the offensive.” The situation excellent! Foch would
not use words of meaningless bravado; he may have been thinking of
d’Espérey knocking at Bülow’s side door. At this hour (7 a.m.), he
could not yet know that the loss of Lenharrée had been followed by
the turning of two regiments of the 20th Division, and two others of
the 60th Reserve Division, defending the passages of the Somme-Soude,
and that the lines on either side were crumpling up. So it was. From
a number of personal narratives, often contradictory and exaggerated,
we can draw an outline of what occurred in the surprise of Fère
Champènoise, without pretending to determine exactly where, or by what
failing of exhausted men, the confusion originated.

Before Normée, outposts of the 11th Corps, scattered by the sudden
fierceness of the onslaught, left uncovered the 35th Brigade (of the
18th Division), which lay bivouacked in the woods. One regiment, the
32nd, was surrounded, and only a half of its effectives, with a few
junior officers, escaped. The 34th Brigade, behind it, had time to fall
back without loss, through Connantre to Oeuvy, along with the survivors
of the 35th. The remnants of the defenders of Lenharrée retreated
toward Connantre, firing steadily. As far as Fère Champènoise, the
chase ran fast along the four roads, from Bannes, Morains, Ecury,
and Normée. In the little country town, crouched in a depression of
the hills, and so indefensible, an army chaplain[66] was conducting
service in the parish church, at 9 a.m., when bullets began to spatter
on the walls, and the first cries of flying men were heard above
the noise of breaking windows. At 10.30, the Prussian Guard entered
the town, drums and fifes playing. Presently, with bodies of Saxons
from Normée, they continued the pursuit, which proceeded more slowly
toward Connantre and Oeuvy and the valley of the Maurienne. Here and
there, small French groups turned at bay, because they could go no
farther, or hoping to stem the retreat. Thus, 200 men of the 66th and
32nd Regiments came to a stand in one of the dwarf-pine woods south
of Fère. They had no officer among them; but a sergeant-major named
Guerre took them in hand, and disposed them in four sections, “like the
square at Waterloo,” he said. One German attack was beaten off; but
when a field-gun came up, Guerre decided that the only hope was to
make a sortie. It cost the brave man his life. About 30 of his fellows
got away, including two privates, Malveau and Bourgoin, who, after
wandering in the German lines, and being directed by a dying German
officer, brought the flag of the 32nd Regiment during the evening to
the commander of the 35th Brigade.

Perhaps it was because of the convergence of roads upon Fère, noted
above, that, whereas the original breakdown occurred on Foch’s right,
the pursuit became concentrated upon his centre. The most important
consequence of this fact was that the German Command never discovered
the weakest part of the French front, and the dislocated right was able
to escape from restraint and to re-form. The greater part of the 60th
Reserve Division, which had extended from Vassimont and Haussimont
to Sommesous, where two regiments arrested the Saxon advance for two
hours, rallied early in the afternoon between Semoine and Mailly.
General de l’Espée’s cavalry, with some infantry elements, held up a
brigade of the Saxon XII Corps south of Sompuis; and the neighbouring
army of de Langle effectively engaged the XIX Corps between Humbauville
and Courdemange.

Westward of the main stream of pursuit, the position of Foch’s left was
more delicate and critical. At the extreme left, we have seen that,
during the morning, the 42nd Division recaptured Villeneuve and Soisy,
while the Moroccan Division reached St. Prix and the Signal du Poirier.
The 42nd held its gains throughout the day; but the 9th Corps, shaken
by frontal attack across the marshes, and left with its flank in the
air by the breakdown of the 11th Corps, had no choice but to withdraw
its right, and suffered heavily ere it could take up new positions.
Coming on from Morains, the Prussian Guard took the homesteads called
Grosse and Petit Fermes, on the way to Bannes, in reverse by the
east. Three French regiments were here thrown into confusion, cavalry
plunging into the batteries, and fugitives obstructing the roads. The
panic, however, was soon over. At 7.30 a.m., the retreat sounded; at
9 a.m., Moussy was reorganising the 17th Division on the line Mont
Août–Puits, with the 52nd Reserve Division in support. Hither the
faithful 77th Regiment was called from Mondemont during the morning to
help form an angular front, across which the Germans passed south in
pursuit of the scattered elements of the 11th Corps. The headquarters
of the 9th Army were moved back from Pleurs to Plancy, on the Aube.

Thus, at noon on September 8, the shape of the vast battle was markedly
changed. D’Espérey was on the Petit Morin near Montmirail, and his
10th Corps near Corfelix. From the latter point, Foch’s left extended
south-east to Connantre. His centre, broken in to a depth of ten
miles, was floating indefinitely in the valley of the Maurienne. The
right, supported by de Langle, giving no immediate anxiety, his first
problem, therefore, was to save the centre without losing the solidity
of the left. It is in such emergencies, when a few hours even of loose
and unsuccessful resistance may turn the balance, that the virtues
of a race and the value of traditions and training in an army reveal
themselves. The breakdown before Fère Champènoise did not degenerate
into a rout. Eydoux pulled the fragments of the 11th Corps together on
the line Corroy–Gourgancon–Semoine, and in the evening delivered a
counter-attack which gave him momentary possession of the plateau of
Oeuvy. Dubois aided this reaction by striking at the west flank of the
German advance. Early in the afternoon, after a preparatory fire by 15
batteries near Linthes, the 52nd Reserve Division was thrown eastward
toward Fère Champènoise. This effort failed, as did another in the
evening; and Dubois had to withdraw slightly, first from Puits to Ste.
Sophie Farm, then to Chalmont, while the Prussians held Connantre and
Nozay Farm.


That evening, Foch conceived a manœuvre so characteristic of the man,
so evidently after his own heart, that the facts of its execution
have been hidden under a mass of sparkling fable. “If, by whatever
mental vision,” the master had said in one of his lectures, “we see a
fissure in a dam of the defence, or a point of insufficient resistance,
and if we are able to join to the regular and methodical action of
the flood the effect of a blow with a ram capable of breaking the
dam at a certain place, the equilibrium is destroyed, the mass hurls
itself through the breach, and overwhelms all obstacles. Let us seek
that place of weakness. That is the battle of manœuvre. The defence,
overthrown at one point, collapses everywhere. The barrier pierced,
everything crumbles.” That it was Foch, not Bülow, who had been on
the defensive makes no difference: Foch never thought of war in pure
defensive terms. Now he saw his opportunity.

There was no subtlety in the object. A rush which fails to produce a
complete breach opens a flank plainly inviting attack; and the Staff
at Plancy had had its eyes fixed all day upon the new German flank, 6
miles long, from Mont Août to Corroy. Twice the 9th Corps had struck
at it without success. The boldness of Foch’s design lay, not in
its objective, which was evident, but in the means proposed for its
execution. The right of the 9th Corps could do no more; its left, the
Moroccan Division, had lost the south bank of the marshes, and was hard
put to it to hold the hills around Mondemont. Nothing remained but the
42nd Division, which, though greatly fatigued, was in somewhat better
posture about Soisy. Two demands now competed in the mind of the French
commander. He regarded Mondemont as a key-position to be defended at
all costs; and the removal of Grossetti, without compensation, would
gravely endanger it. But more than in any position he believed in
forcing a result by a well-directed blow when the enemy offered the
chance. D’Espérey’s 10th Corps, it is true, had before it the chance
of breaking across Bülow’s communications at St. Prix and Baye; it had
otherwise no pressing call to make such a movement. Farther south,
there were both need and opportunity——the need of relieving the 9th
and 11th Corps, the opportunity of a decisive action. Grossetti, then,
must come to Linthes, and d’Espérey’s 51st Division, in reserve of
the 10th Corps, must take his place west of Mondemont. D’Espérey’s
loyalty in agreeing to this arrangement cannot be too warmly praised.
The comradeship of arms, so influential a factor in the victory of the
Marne, was nowhere more admirably illustrated.

But dawn on September 9 broke upon a situation aggravated to the
extreme, in which the projected manœuvre might well seem a blunder of
recklessness. Bülow and Hausen had summoned their exhausted men to
undertake a last essay. On the French left, Mondemont fell at 3 a.m.
Two hours later, the Guard and the two Saxon Corps burst upon the
centre and right with all their remaining force. Neither the 9th nor
the 11th Corps was in a condition to meet this trial; but, in general,
they faced it bravely. At 9 a.m., the 21st Division (11th Corps) could
resist no more, and fell back from Oeuvy to Hill 129, south of Corroy,
whence its commander, Radiguet, wrote to Foch: “My troops could not
hold out any longer under a bombardment such as we have suffered for
the last two hours. They are in retreat all along the line. It is the
same with the 22nd Division. I am going to try, with my artillery and
what I can gather of infantry, to rally on the plateau south of Corroy.
My regiments have fought admirably, but they have an average of only
four or five officers left.”

Foch replied from Plancy, at 10.15 a.m.: “The 42nd Division will arrive
on the front Linthes–Pleurs. Whatever be the position, more or less
in retreat, of the 11th Corps, we count on resuming the offensive
with the 42nd Division toward Connantre and Corroy, an offensive in
which the 9th Corps will have to take part against the (German) right
from Morains to Fère Champènoise. The 42nd Division has been on the
way since 8.30, and will be ready to go into action about midday.
The 10th Corps has liberated it. The 10th is at our disposition, and
has orders to support the Moroccan Division to prevent the enemy
penetrating to the west of the Marshes of St. Gond.” On receiving
similar instructions, Dubois sent two squadrons of hussars to make a
provisional link between the 9th and 11th Corps, and intimated to his
divisional commanders not only that they must stand firm, but that, in
the classic phrase of Joffre, “no failing will now be tolerated.”

Blind words, only to be justified on the lines of Nogi’s apophthegm:
“Victory is to him who can resist for another quarter of an hour.”
They were hardly uttered when Mont Août, the north-eastern bastion
of Dubois’ line, stubbornly defended for five days, was lost. Much
of the artillery of the Prussian Guard had been concentrated on this
outlying watch-tower of the Sezanne hills; and, in those early days of
the war, nerves were not so steeled that a position heavily bombarded
and definitely turned could be long held. Of the two brigades of the
52nd Reserve Division, the 104th had been detached to Moussy’s 17th
Division; the 103rd remained under the command of General Battesti.
Of the former, the 5th battalion, 320th Regiment, under Commandant
Meau (known as an author under the pseudonym “Jean Saint-Yves”) was
posted on the north slopes of Mont Août; two companies of the 51st
Chasseurs were on the east; and Lt.-Col. (afterwards General) Clandor,
with the 6th battalion, was in the wood at the foot of the hill. Meau,
with wounded head bound in bloody bandages, “like a Crimean veteran,”
as a combatant says, was keeping his men firm under a rain of light
and heavy shells commencing at about 9.30 a.m., and Clandor was also
determined to hold, when it suddenly became known that the 103rd
Brigade, on their right, had received an order to retreat, apparently
given by Battesi in alarm at the extent of the enemy’s advance.[67]
First in twos and threes, then in masses, the reservists left the woods
that cover the eastern slopes of the hill, and hurried westward, groups
of horsemen galloping past them, and gun-teams plunging through the
meadows. The whole line was thus shaken; and, shortly afterward, the
two batteries which had hitherto sustained the men on the crest were
silenced by German guns that had got round behind Ste. Sophie Farm.
At 11.45 a.m., Moussy gave Meau and Clandor orders to fall back; but
their obstinacy had its reward——Mont Août was never occupied by the
enemy. The debris of Battesti’s brigades were rallied during the early
afternoon on the hills of Allemant and Chalmont. A part of Moussy’s
Division was driven south, and, after a gallant recoil at Ste. Sophie
Farm, drew off to the west.

What had become of Grossetti and the 42nd, the last hope of the French
centre? From Soisy to Linthes is a march of only 12 miles, and they
were to have started at dawn——had started, Foch said, at 8.30 a.m.
Exhaustion, hitches in the replacement by the 51st, and the needs
of Mondemont may explain the harrowing delay. Messengers were sent
out, without result. Foch, fuming at Plancy, issued note upon note to
encourage his lieutenants. “Information shows,” he wrote at noon, “that
the German Army, after having marched without rest since the beginning
of the campaign, has reached the extreme limit of fatigue. Order no
longer exists in their units; regiments are mixed together; the Command
is confused. The vigorous offensive of our troops has thrown surprise
into the ranks of the enemy, who thought we should not offer any
further opposition. It is of the highest importance to profit by these
circumstances. In the decisive hour when the honour and safety of the
French Fatherland are at stake, officers and soldiers will draw from
the energy of our race the strength to stand firm till the moment when
the enemy will collapse, worn out. The disorder prevailing among the
German troops is a sign of our coming victory; by continuing with all
its force the effort begun, our army is certain to stop the march of
the enemy and to drive him from our soil. But every one must share the
conviction that success will fall to him who can endure longest.”

There were, in fact, disorders in the invading host. All morning,
Prussian and Saxon soldiery had been making public revel in Fère
Champènoise, breaking open and pillaging houses and shops, drinking,
dancing, and singing in the streets. Nevertheless, the fighting columns
advanced steadily. At 1 p.m. the Guard reached Nozay and Ste. Sophie
Farms and entered Connantre, and the Saxons Gourgancon. Radiguet’s
Division of the 11th Corps, after a brave stand at Oeuvy, drifted
before them, first to Fresnay, then to Faux and Salon. Foch did not
waver in his intentions. “The 42nd Division is marching from Broyes to
Pleurs,” he wrote at 1 p.m. “It should face east between Pleurs and
Linthes, so as to attack afterward in the direction of the _trouée_
between Oeuvy and Connantre. The attack will be supported on the
right by the 11th Corps, on the left by all available elements of the
9th Corps, which will take for their objective the road between Fère
Champènoise and Morains.” The meaning of the word _trouée_ as here
used must not be mistaken. It presumably meant the highroad to Fère
Champènoise. There was no such “gap” between the Prussian and Saxon
forces as some writers have imagined; and they were both, at the time
of this note, three miles or more south of the line Oeuvy–Connantre.

Though the situation was not so simple as the idea of a “gap” would
suggest, Foch had accurately gauged its character and the peculiar
weakness of the German advance. It has been noted that this was at
first inclined (partly by the lie of the roads) in a south-westerly
direction. One result was to relieve the pressure on the French extreme
right, where the 60th Reserve Division withdrew easily from Mailly to
Villiers-Herbisse, while de l’Espée’s cavalry received strong support
from the neighbouring army. On their east flank, therefore, the Saxons
had to move with care. On their right, the Prussian Guard had been
attracted westward, and there checked, at 4 p.m., by an attack of
portions of the 9th Corps. The Saxons had progressed more easily, and
had overrun the Prussians by several miles, thus prolonging the flank
at which Foch intended to strike. There was no “fissure” at this time,
but rather an overlapping; when, on the following day, a real gap
opened between Bülow’s and Hausen’s Armies (on the Epernay and Châlons
roads respectively), the retreat was too fast for the French to take
advantage of it.

Foch’s design was the classic combination of flank and frontal attack.
Grossetti was to drive east-north-east from Linthes–Pleurs, beside
the main road and railway, toward Fère Champènoise, while, on his
left, Dubois gave what aid he could in the same direction, and Eydoux
came up from the south. It was to be the same famous manœuvre that
Maunoury and the British had commenced three days before, without
immediate success, but from which the whole “effect of suction,” with
its momentous consequences, had arisen. Thanks to those three days of
heroic effort and sacrifice, Foch’s success was instant and complete,
though it was not such as the fables have it.[68] Indeed, the enemy
did not wait for the assault. He bolted. A doubtful story goes that a
German aviator observed the approach of Grossetti’s columns, and gave
Von Bülow’s Staff timely warning. The truth appears to be that the
German retreat had been ordered between 3 and 5 p.m. At 6, under a
red sunset, the 42nd Division arrived, and, supported by three, later
increased to five, groups of artillery, moved slowly forward from the
line Linthes–Linthelles, to bivouac near Pleurs.[69] The 9th Corps
alone came into touch with the enemy; and a rearguard resistance was
enough to impede its hastily re-formed ranks. At daybreak on the 10th,
the 34th Brigade entered Fère Champènoise, which had been evacuated the
previous evening, picking up 1500 stragglers; while the 42nd Division
was occupying Connantre, where 500 men of the Grenadier Guards were
made prisoner at the château. As Grossetti’s columns crossed the hills
in the dawn-light, the air was poisonous with rotting humanity, and
spectral forms arose begging for a cup of water. They were men wounded
in the surprise of the 8th who had lain in the open for nearly three

The front of the 9th Army was restored; and, weary but exultant, it
prepared to go forward to the general victory. Whether, in the end,
the movement of the 42nd Division counted for anything in this result,
we can know, if ever, only when the German archives are opened. The
chief factor lay not in the form of any particular manœuvre, but in the
sheer persistence of the French centre. Foch and his men won by Nogi’s
“quarter of an hour.”




In the original design of the whole battle, the action of the right or
eastern half of the Allied crescent was to be reciprocal to that of
the left——while the centre held, Sarrail was to strike out from the
region of Verdun westward against the flank of the Prince Imperial,
as Maunoury struck out eastward from the region of Paris against that
of Kluck. Something of this intention came into effect; but it was
much modified by two circumstances. In the first place, General Joffre
was driven both by major opportunity and by penury of means to make a
choice. He decided that Verdun rather than Paris must run the greater
risk, that Kluck’s headlong advance made the west the chief theatre for
his offensive; and, to make sure on the west, he further weakened the
eastern armies. It was, then, on terms of something less than equality
of numbers that Sarrail and de Langle had to meet the Crown Prince, the
IV Army, and the Saxon left, with their greatly superior equipment.
Secondly, the danger beyond the Meuse could not be ignored; and anxiety
on this score necessarily handicapped Joffre’s plan. The German idea
was to cut Verdun off on either side: no direct attack was made upon
the fortress, the Crown Prince proceeding around the entrenched camp
by the west, while the Lorraine armies approached on the east and the
IV Army swept over the empty flats of Champagne. On September 5, the
German V Army, coming down both sides of the Argonne, had reached the
open country south of the forest of Belnoue, that is, from 20 to 30
miles south-west of Verdun. It was, doubtless, expected that the Meuse
fortress would be abandoned, as, indeed, it must have been had the
French retreat continued longer. Stopped as it was, the Crown Prince
awoke from his dream of making a new and greater Sedan between Dijon
and Nancy to find himself under the necessity of forming a double
front, toward the east and the south, a very unfavourable position in
which to continue an offensive, to say nothing of the possibility of
defeat. So far, good; but the situation was anything but secure. The
French were perilously fixed on both sides of the Meuse in a long,
sharp salient which had to be defended on three sides. Maunoury and
the British, on the west, had escaped any danger of envelopment before
the battle began. Without a battalion to spare, Sarrail and Langle
stood throughout the struggle, the former with his back, the latter
with his flank, to a wall that might give way at any moment. Even a
small piercing of the French line between Verdun and Nancy would have
involved the fall of the whole salient; while a still more disastrous
realignment must have followed a failure of Castlenau and Dubail
between Nancy and the Vosges.

In these circumstances, Sarrail could not produce, Langle had not the
benefit of, such an “effect of suction” as governed the issue farther
west. If the struggle could not be harder, it was more protracted.
Partly because it became, when the French reinforcements arrived, a
death-grapple of nearly equal masses——more or less than 400,000 men
on either side——with little opportunity for manœuvre, partly because
it occurred over obscure countrysides, it has not been adequately
appreciated. It is, however, no less important than the battles of the
left and the centre; for, if there was involved in them the fate of
the capital, here not only Verdun, but Nancy and Toul, with the armies
of the eastern frontier, were in the scales. Langle and Sarrail share
equally with Gallieni and Maunoury, French, d’Espérey, and Foch the
honours of the total victory.

The theatre of this part of the conflict forms a triangle,
Vitry–Verdun–Bar-le-Duc, whose base is extended on the west to the Camp
de Mailly, on the east to the hills on the farther bank of the Meuse.
It is naturally divided into two sectors of very different character:
(1) the left, or western, stretching from Mailly to near Revigny, in
which the French 4th Army had to meet on a level front the Saxon left
and the IV Army of the Duke of Würtemberg; (2) the right, or eastern,
including the southern Argonne, the salient of Verdun, and the Heights
of the Meuse, held by Sarrail’s 3rd Army against the V Army of the
German Prince Imperial and a force from the Army of Metz. Both French
groups had been greatly weakened to help other commands, Langle giving
his 9th and 11th Corps to form Foch’s Army, while Sarrail surrendered
the 42nd Division to Foch, and the 4th Corps to Maunoury. These
transfers, necessary to provision the Generalissimo’s offensive, were
compensated just, and only just, in time; thanks to a better outlook
on the eastern frontier, Langle de Cary received the 21st Corps from
the Vosges on September 9, and on the 8th Sarrail received the 15th
Corps from Lorraine, closing with it an alarming gap between the 3rd
and 4th Armies. Sarrail then had about ten divisions to the Crown
Prince’s twelve; Langle’s force was also slightly outnumbered.

[Illustration: FRONT of the FRENCH 4TH ARMY, Evening Sept. 7]

On the evening of September 5, Langle’s front stood thus: On his
_left_, the 17th Corps faced the Saxon XIX Corps between the moorland
camp of Mailly and the Sommesous–Vitry railway. At his _centre_, across
what may be called the delta of Vitry-le-François, a wide alluvial
plain where the merged waters of the Ornain and the Saulx join the
Marne, some elements of the 12th Corps and the Colonial Corps stood
against the VIII Corps, active and reserve, of the IV Army. Vitry, an
important junction of railways, roads, and waterways, is completely
dominated by the hills to the north of the delta; and the 12th Corps,
to which its defence would have fallen, had been so punished during the
retreat that the greater part of it had to be withdrawn to the Aube for
reconstitution on the evening of September 5. The Germans, therefore,
occupied the town without much difficulty, and rapidly gathered behind
it a strong force of artillery. While the French thus lost the cover of
the Saulx and the Marne-Rhine Canal, they could still fall back upon
the St. Dizier Canal and the Marne. The centre front, at the beginning
of the battle, ran from the Mailly hills at Humbauville, through the
villages of Huiron, Frignicourt, Vauclerc, and Favresse, to Blesmes
railway junction. On Langle’s right, the 2nd Corps had passed the Saulx
and its tributary the Ornain, and the Marne-Rhine Canal, leaving only
advanced posts on the north of the valley, toward Revigny. To it were
opposed Duke Albrecht’s VIII Reserve and XVIII Active Corps. The German
programme was to break through by Vitry and Revigny into the upper
valleys of the Seine, Aube, Marne, and Ornain. Langle’s orders were to
try to make headway northward, in co-ordination with Sarrail’s attack
toward the west. In fact, he was barely able to hold his ground until
successes on either side relieved the pressure.

Happily, the German Command had not discovered the weakness of the
junction between Foch’s and Langle’s forces; and the Saxons did not
at first prove formidable. The 17th Corps was, therefore, able on
September 6 to make a short advance west of Courdemanges, nearly to the
railway. At the centre, the remaining battalions of the 12th Corps and
Lefebvre’s Colonials were attacked violently in the morning. Huiron
and Courdemanges, at the foot of the hills, were lost, but retaken
during the evening. The three delta hamlets of Frignicourt, Vauclerc,
and Ecriennes were also lost, the last two to IV Army regulars who had
crossed the St. Dizier road and canal. On the right, the enemy forced
the Marne-Rhine canal west of Le Buisson; and for a moment there was a
danger of the Colonials being cut off from the 2nd Corps. To fill the
breach, General Gerard transferred a brigade of the 4th Division from
Pargny to near Favresse. Perhaps because of the consequent weakness
of the right of the 2nd Corps, it could not hold the line of the
canal from Le Buisson to Etrepy; and Von Tchenk’s XVIII Corps entered
Alliancelles, 5 miles west of Revigny, and crossed the Ornain, in the
afternoon. Reinforced by his Reserve, Tchenk pushed his advance on the
following day, September 7, seizing Etrepy village, where the Saulx and
Ornain join across the Rhine canal, at dawn, and Sermaize a few hours

Langle was here faced with a grave danger. His centre was still holding
pretty well: Huiron was again lost, but the Colonials had recovered
Ecriennes. On his left, the 17th Corps slightly improved its position,
albeit the hazardous thinness of this part of the French front could
not be much longer concealed. It was for his wings, therefore, that he
was most anxious; and thither the two promised corps of reinforcements,
the 15th and 21st, were directed. The 15th reached the right, to
prolong Sarrail’s line, just in time. The enemy had, at a heavy cost,
passed the Saulx-Ornain valley, with its many lesser water-courses,
and had reached the edge of the wooded plateau of Trois-Fontaines,
beyond which, ten miles south of Sermaize, lay the important town of
St. Dizier. To break through thus far would be to cut off Sarrail at
Bar-le-Duc from Langle at Vitry-le-François; it would be the doom of
Verdun, and probably of the French centre. The greatness of the stake,
the bitterness of the disappointment, afford the only explanation of
the abnormal savagery shown by the Crown Prince’s troops in this region.

On September 8, the fighting reached its fiercest intensity. Tchenk
pressed furiously his attack against and around Pargny, which his men
entered at 5 p.m., after suffering heavy losses. Maurupt was also
taken, but Gerard quickly recaptured it. The crisis, though not the
struggle, was over with the arrival of the 15th Corps between Couvonges
and Mognéville, threatening Tchenk’s left flank if he should attempt
any farther advance. At the centre, a reconstituted half of the 12th
Corps and the Colonial Corps were engaged in desperate combats.
Courdemanges, Ecriennes, and Mont Moret fell in the morning; but the
hill was retaken at nightfall. Several times driven out of Favresse,
a brigade of the 2nd Corps finally held the village, and arrested the
progress of the VIII Reserve Corps towards Blesmes railway junction.
With constant violence of give and take, these positions were little
changed on the following day. On the left, two regiments of the
17th Corps, pending the arrival of the other half of the 12th (23rd
Division), bore throughout the 8th the onset of a fresh Saxon Division
(xxiii of the XII Reserve Corps) to the west of Humbauville; while the
remainder of the 17th Corps fell back a little before the XIX Corps,
but advanced anew in the afternoon. In the evening, the balance was
more than restored by the appearance of Baquet’s Division of the 21st
Corps at the extreme left of the army, which next day (September 9)
drove the Saxon right back in disorder toward Sommesous, liberating
Humbauville, and enabling the 17th Corps also to gain ground. The other
Division of the 21st Corps (43rd) had now reached the scene; and, on
the 10th, Langle was able to make a strong offensive on this side, in
association with Foch’s pursuit of the retreating Saxons.


The French 3rd Army, when Sarrail took over its command from Ruffey
on August 30, was a thing of shreds and patches. The 42nd Division
of Sarrail’s own 6th Corps was being sent to Foch, leaving behind two
other divisions, and a brigade of a third which had been broken up. The
4th Corps was about to leave for Paris, to take part in the battle of
the Ourcq. There remained the 5th and the diminished 6th Corps, General
Paul Durand’s Group of Divisions of Reserve (67, 75, and 65), formerly
under Maunoury, the 72nd Reserve Division, forming part of the garrison
of Verdun, and the 7th Cavalry Division. Verdun depending directly
upon General Headquarters, Coutanceau and Heymann, the governor and
the divisionaire, were not subject to Sarrail’s orders; but they
co-operated admirably. Yet another southron, Sarrail was fifty-eight
years old, a tall, slight figure, with (at that time) short white
beard and moustache, blue eyes, and a gentle manner bespeaking the
scholar and thinker rather than the man of action he proved himself to
be. After service in Tunis and with the Foreign Legion, he had been
advanced by Generals André and Picquart, and rose by steady stages from
colonel in 1905 to corps commander. Across the mists of more painful
days, I recall the strong impression he made upon me when I first met
him at Verdun in December 1914.

From near the frontier, the 3rd Army had fallen back, at the end of
August, westward to the Meuse between Stenay and Vilosnes, leaving
the reserve group and garrison troops to make a thin line of defence
on the east of the river, just beyond the radius of the entrenched
camp and the edge of the Meuse Heights from Ornes to Vigneulles.
“Entrenched camp” is the conventional name; but there were no serious
entrenchments in those days, and scarcely any, as I can testify, three
months later. The forts and thickly-wooded hills were sufficient, with
the field army free, to determine the German Grand Staff to leave
Verdun, as it was leaving Paris, aside. The French, however, could yet
have no certainty on this score. During the first days of September,
the 5th and 6th Corps pivoted around the west of Verdun; and, when they
had completed the semicircle, the problem had to be faced. The hazard
of the old fortress was no mere matter of sentiment. Its fall would
mean the loss of all it could contribute to the contemplated attack on
the enemy’s flank, and of a great strength of artillery and munitions
that could not be removed, as well as of a formidable position. On the
other hand, there lay Joffre’s plan, and the reasoning that had saved
the British Army from internment at Maubeuge. The Generalissimo’s
orders were express: the 3rd Army must keep its liberty, and must,
accordingly, retire to the north of Bar-le-Duc, and possibly as far
as Joinville. It was not only Verdun, but his power of threatening
the German flank, that Sarrail hoped to save. He resolved, therefore,
to give ground as slowly as possible, keeping his right in touch with
the fortress to the last moment, and to risk, up to a certain point, a
breach of contact with de Langle de Cary. At daybreak on September 6,
his forces were ranged over the broadly-rolling fields and moorlands,
facing westward, as follows:

_Right._——Several regiments of the Verdun garrison were coming into
line about Nixéville, and the three reserve divisions were spread
thence along the Verdun–Bar highroad (afterwards famous as the “Via
Sacra”) and narrow-gauge railway as far as Issoncourt, having before
them the German XVI Active Corps reinforced some hours later by the VI

_Centre._——The 6th Corps extended through Beauzée south-westward to
near Vaubécourt, with d’Urbal’s cavalry about Lisle-en-Barrois, facing
the German XIII Corps.

_Left._——The 5th Corps stood across the path of the German VI and part
of the Duke of Würtemberg’s XVIII Corps among the villages north of
Revigny, from Villotte to Nettancourt.

Although the dispositions of the German V Army——one corps of which
was detained 10 miles north, and another a like distance west, of
Verdun——at this juncture do not suggest over-confidence, an order found
on the field shows that the Crown Prince now believed himself sure
of a dramatic victory. At 8 p.m. on Saturday the 5th, instructions
had been issued for the XVI, XIII, and VI Corps (in this order from
east to west), with the XVIII Reserve on their right, to drive
resolutely south, and to seize Bar-le-Duc and the Marne crossings to
and beyond Revigny, while the IV Cavalry Corps exploited the breach
between Sarrail and Langle’s forces, and hurried on “on the line
Dijon–Besançon–Belfort.” As a whole, this design at once failed. The
German advance had hardly begun when Heymann’s and Durand’s reservists,
on the north, threatened its line of supply by an attack toward
Ville-sur-Cousance, St. André, and Ippecourt; while, at the centre,
the 6th Corps pushed toward Pretz, Evres, and Sommaisne. The small
advantages gained were soon negatived, and at night the line was back
at Rampont, Souhesmes, Souilly, Seraucourt, and Rembercourt; but a half
of the Crown Prince’s units were held, if not crippled. This must have
been all the more irritating to him because of the rapid success of
his VI Corps and the IV Army. During the morning, in fact, the French
left was driven out of Laheycourt, Sommeilles, and Nettancourt, then
from Brabant and Villers-aux-Vents, and before night from Laimont and
the market-town of Revigny. The Crown Prince had reached the Marne
just as Kluck was beginning to retire from it. General Micheler and
the 5th Corps, mourning many of their men and a divisional chief,
General Roques, but cheered to think that the first reinforcements
from Lorraine would arrive on the morrow, drew together their ranks at
Villotte, Louppy, and Vassincourt.

On September 7, the encounter became closer and more severe, without
any marked change of position, the 67th and 75th Divisions, on the
right, carrying Ippecourt by assault (to lose it next day), the 6th
Corps resisting obstinately on either side of Rembercourt, and, on the
left, the 5th Corps meeting furious attacks around Vassincourt. In the
evening, the 29th Division of Castelnau’s 15th Corps passed the Marne
to Combles and Fains, two battalions of chasseurs reaching Couvonges
and the neighbouring woods. On the morning of the 8th, Sarrail’s 5th
Corps was supported and extended by the full strength of the 15th. One
brigade of the latter was directed by Vassincourt toward Revigny, but
could make no headway. Other brigades came into action near Louppy and
Mognéville; nevertheless, Villotte and Louppy-le-Château were lost.
News arriving that de Langle’s right had been driven back from Sermaize
to Cheminon, and that Duke Albrecht’s forces were at the foot of the
Trois-Fontaines plateau, d’Urbal was ordered to take his cavalry corps
round, and to harry the east flank of Tchenk’s movement. No sooner had
it reached the upper Saulx valley for this purpose than Sarrail hurried
it back and away north-eastward to meet a yet extremer danger beyond
the Meuse.

[Illustration: The VERDUN SALIENT

Evening of Sept. 7.]

Below St. Mihiel, the river meanders beside a wall of steep hills,
on the crests of which were situated a number of forts, dependencies
of the Toul and Verdun systems, designed as observatories and points
of arrest against an enemy march toward the principal crossings. The
most important of these forts were Genicourt, Troyon, and the Roman
Camp along the east, and Paroches on the west, banks. Troyon was an
extensive square structure, sunk in a deep, wide moat, and garrisoned
by about 450 men. Commanding the gap of Spada, it enjoyed, in its
remote solitude, magnificent views over the plain of the Woevre as far
as Metz, and the hills and valleys between St. Mihiel and Verdun. It
has not been explained why the troops of Metz did not reach the Meuse
earlier; probably their heavy artillery delayed them. On the morning
of September 7, there was no sign of trouble on the Heights, and the
commander of Troyon, Captain Xavier Heym, went out partridge shooting.
At noon, forces of infantry and cavalry, with thirty cannon, were
reported on the roads from Hattonchatel and Heudicourt. The bombardment
began at 2 p.m.; and before another day had passed, 400 heavy shells,
some of them from 12-inch mortars, had been thrown upon the fort,
putting seven guns out of action, and demolishing large parts of the
casemates and galleries. This news was a crown to Sarrail’s anxieties.
He had no reserves left; the 3rd Army was wholly engaged. Its right
might at any time be crushed, its left enveloped: now it was menaced in
the rear. The dispatch thither of some tired cavalry was, of course,
the merest bluff. Whatever might have been the fate of Verdun, the
crossing of the Meuse at a higher point would have meant the withdrawal
of Sarrail’s right, and the opening for the Crown Prince of the shorter
route for reinforcements and supplies which he so much needed.

On the evening of September 8, Joffre authorised the commander of the
3rd Army to draw back from Verdun along the west bank of the Meuse.
Sarrail, who by this time knew of Kluck’s retreat and the magnificent
efforts of the French centre, was determined to hold on, at least till
Troyon should fall; but the river bridges were cut and the forts left
to their own resources. At 9 a.m. on the 9th, Verdun signalled that
Fort Genicourt was being bombarded by heavy guns. At 11 o’clock, Troyon
no longer had a piece in action. There were then in the neighbouring
hills enemy columns amounting to the greater part of an army corps,
with artillery, aviation parks, and convoys. Two infantry assaults were
repelled by rifle and machine-gun fire. Meantime, General Durand’s
Reserve Divisions maintained their ground near Verdun, the 75th
suffering severely in repeated attacks on the Crown Prince’s line of
communications; and, on the left, part of the 15th Corps having pushed
across the Saulx into the Trois-Fontaines Forest, and then struck
north, Mognéville was captured by assault from two sides.

The turning-point of the battle had been reached. During the night
of September 9, while his 6th Corps was repelling a furious attempt
of the XIII and XVI Corps to break through, Sarrail learned that the
British were well over the Marne, with d’Espérey nearly abreast of
them, that Bülow had succumbed to Foch’s will, and that the Saxons had
begun to yield before Langle. Many an exhausted trooper, in lonely
thickets, ditches, and broken farm buildings, only received the glad
tidings two days later; yet the magic spark of a definite hope was
lit. The 4th Army could now look after itself. The 3rd had failed to
make good its first threat against the German flank. Even at this
distance, however, the western “effect of suction” was at last faintly
felt. The XVIII Reserve Corps was perceptibly weakening. During the
10th, the 15th Corps pushed through to the edge of the Trois-Fontaines
Forest, approached Sermaize and Andernay, and sent some hundreds of
prisoners to the rear. If the right could only hold! In the afternoon
the XIII and XVI were reinforced by the VI Reserve Corps (replaced by
the V Reserve). Rembercourt, Courcelles, Seraucourt, and Souilly, were
lost in succession. The struggle continued unrelaxed along a line but
slightly withdrawn, from Condé-en-Barrois, through Erize-la-Petite and
Neuville, to Rambluzin; and on the extreme right, about Vaudelaincourt,
the 72nd Division performed prodigies. In the evening, the 67th and
75th Reserve Divisions were actually removed from the line, preparatory
to an abandonment of Verdun. The enemy did not perceive the movement
till too late.

And the gallant four hundred of Troyon continued to bar the way to the
Meuse. Under cover of a flag, two German officers and a trumpeter rode
up to the fort, and demanded its surrender. “Never!” replied Heym; “I
shall blow it up sooner.” And finally: “Get out, I’ve seen enough of
you. _A bientôt, à Metz._”[70] Who could imagine that “_bientôt_” was
four years away?



It is now apparent that a record of the battle covering the whole front
day by day would give no clear view of its development. The climax came
not everywhere at the same hour, or even on the same day, but in a
remarkable succession——beginning on the Ourcq about noon on September
9, and immediately afterward on Foch’s front (the two areas most
directly menaced by the advance of French and d’Espérey), reaching de
Langle de Cary the next morning, and Sarrail only on the night of the
10th. It remains to trace the completion of the victory.

Maunoury had failed of his objective: after four days of grinding
combat, he had advanced his centre some 10 miles eastward, but was,
at noon on September 9, still an average of 6 miles short of the
Ourcq, before Vareddes, Etrepilly, and Acy-en-Multien; while his
left was painfully bent back from the last-named point westward to
Silly-le-Long. Every effort to obtain an effective superiority of
strength, and to break through or around the enemy’s right, had been
thwarted by Kluck’s speed in supporting that flank. Looking at this
part of the field only, it might be supposed that a substantial
reinforcement of either side at this moment would have precipitated a
disaster on the other. A wider view shows a very different balance. If
Maunoury could have found one or two fresh divisions, the German I Army
might have been shattered; a further French withdrawal to and beyond
the Marne would not have entailed any such grave consequences. In fact,
both armies were exhausted; neither had any remaining reserve to call
in. The decision came from the next sector of the front.

Since Le Cateau, the little British Army had played only a secondary
part; it was now to have the honour of saving the left wing of the
Allies for the third time. From the moment it began to recross the
Marne, solidly extended by d’Espérey, its intervention became a
conclusive factor. It must have been during the morning of the 9th
that the German Grand Staff reconciled itself to the necessity of a
general retreat, at least from Senlis as far east as Fère Champènoise.
In after years, when the simple art of entrenchment had been elaborated
and the men had become incredibly hardened to shell-fire, these same
wooded hillsides would be contested foot by foot. At this time, freer
and larger movements were required, especially when no considerable aid
could be expected, when supplies were short, and the danger appeared on
two sides. Kluck’s very persistence, not having attained any positive
result, told against him. His men might be persuaded that this was “not
a retreat, but only a regrouping of forces for strategic reasons”;[71]
all officers but the youngest knew that the “smashing blow” had been
broken, the famous enveloping movement had failed, a new plan of
campaign must be thought out. For that, rest must be found upon a
naturally strong defensive position such as the line of the Aisne and
the Laon mountains.

By noon on September 9——a gloomy, showery day——the call was urgent. The
I Army could do no more. Its ammunition was nearly exhausted. Its best
units were physically and morally broken. It had no longer the strength
to bury its dead——they were unclothed and cast upon great pyres of
straw and wood; and the odour of burning flesh added a new horror to
the eastern part of the battlefield. Kluck’s advance from Nanteuil and
Betz, during the morning, was only a diversion, a last blow to secure
liberty of movement. At 11 a.m., the French found Betz evacuated;
Nanteuil and Etavigny were still held. Whipped on by Headquarters,
General Boëlle’s two divisions of the 4th Corps crept forward again.
During the afternoon, aviators observed long enemy convoys, followed
by troop columns of all arms, crowding all the roads from the Ourcq to
the Aisne. For several critical hours they were screened by a vigorous
defence of the centre lines east of Etrepilly and Puisieux. This and a
slight reaction near Nanteuil were the final spasms of the battle of
the Ourcq. We have seen that Marwitz, beaten by the 1st British Corps
at Montreuil-aux-Lions, 13 miles due east of Etrepilly, in the early
afternoon, had gone back to the Clignon, and that the whole angle of
the Marne and Ourcq had been evacuated. Kluck could flatter himself
to have held out to the last possible moment. Gradually the remainder
of his artillery was removed from the Trocy plateau; and, under cover
of night, all but rearguards made off to the north-east. The 6th Army
seems to have been too weary to discover the flight of its redoubtable
foe until daybreak on the following morning. The pursuit began at
once, following both sides of the Ourcq. It was checked on the left by
small detachments under cover of the Forest of Villers-Cotterets, an
obstacle the importance of which was to be more fully proved in the
last year of the war; while Kluck established new lines along the hills
beyond the Aisne, from the Forest of Laigle to Soissons.

So the red tide of battle sank from the stubble-fields and coppices
above Meaux; but burning farmsteads and hayricks, broken bridges,
shattered churches and houses, many unburied dead, and piles of
abandoned ammunition and stores spoke of the frightful frenzy that
had passed over a scene marked a week before by quiet charm and happy
labour. In the orchards and folds of the open land, the bodies of
invader and defender lay over against each other, sometimes still
grappling. Every here and there horses rotted on the roads and fields,
presently to be burned on pyres of wood, for fear of pestilence
arising. Most of the human victims had been buried where they fell;
little wooden crosses sometimes marked their great common graves. On
September 10, General Maunoury addressed to his troops the following
message of congratulation and thanks:

“_The 6th Army has supported for five full days, without interruption
or slackening, the combat against a numerous enemy whose moral was
heightened by previous success. The struggle has been hard; the losses
under fire, from fatigue due to lack of sleep and sometimes of food,
have surpassed what was to be anticipated. You have borne it all with
a valour, firmness, and endurance that words are powerless to glorify
as they deserve. Comrades! the Commander-in-Chief asked you in the name
of the Fatherland to do more than your duty; you have responded to his
appeal even beyond what seemed possible. Thanks to you, victory crowns
our flags. Now that you know the glorious satisfaction of it, you will
not let it slip away. As for me, if I have done some good, I have
been repaid by the greatest honour that has been granted me in a long
career, that of commanding such men as you._”

       *       *       *       *       *

Fifteen miles of high, open farmlands, cut by deep valleys, divide the
Upper Ourcq from the Aisle. The British Army covered rather more than
this distance on September 11 and 12, meeting serious opposition only
at Braisne and on the high ground between the Vesle and the Aisne.
The cavalry on the left, indeed, reached the latter river at Soissons
on the evening of the 11th. Here the German retreat came to an abrupt
end. Sir John French speaks loosely of the German losses as “enormous”;
in fact, his 1st and 2nd Corps and cavalry took in one day 13 guns, 7
machine-guns, about 2000 prisoners, and many broken-down wagons. The
spectacle of booty, always fallacious, was in this case peculiarly so.
The main body of the enemy was defeated, but not routed; driven back,
but not dispersed. From Courchamp to Soissons, the fullest measure
of the retreat, is, by road, about 60 miles. Many stragglers gave
themselves up along this route in a starving condition; many others hid
for days in the woods of the Brie tableland and the Tardenois, where I
witnessed several man-hunts conducted by French and British rearguards.
In the final pursuit, Kluck may have lost 5000 or 6000 men——a small
number compared with the costs to either side of the previous fighting.

The best of battle-plans is the most adaptable. Perhaps Joffre had
not looked to the British Expeditionary Force for such a contribution
to the general end. Maunoury, by his original orders, was to cross the
Ourcq toward Château-Thierry, driving Kluck up against Bülow; d’Espérey
was to sweep up northward and meet him at right angles. The shifting of
the greater part of the German I Army to the west of the Ourcq, and the
consequent thinning of its connection with the II Army, displaced the
action without changing its essential character. In the event, it was
the British Army that led the northward movement[72]; d’Espérey, who,
at the outset, had four active corps and three divisions of reserve
for a front of only 25 miles (from Jouy-le-Chatel to Sezanne), while
quickly compelling the withdrawal of Bülow’s right, was able to give
his neighbour, Foch, aid without which the whole victory would have
been compromised.

On the evening of September 9, General Franchet d’Espérey issued from
his headquarters at Montmirail the following stirring message to his

    “_Soldiers! On the memorable fields of Montmirail, Vauchamps,
    and Champaubert, which a century ago witnessed our ancestors’
    victories over the Prussians of Blücher, our vigorous offensive
    has triumphed over the German resistance. Held on his flanks,
    his centre broken, the enemy is now retreating toward the
    east and north by forced marches. The most redoubtable Corps
    of old Prussia, the Westphalian, Hanoverian, and Brandenburg
    contingents, are falling back hurriedly before you._

    “_This first success is only a prelude. The enemy is shaken, but
    not definitely beaten. You will still have to undergo severe
    hardships, to make long marches, to fight hard battles. May the
    image of your country soiled by barbarians be ever before your
    eyes! Never has a complete sacrifice for it been more necessary._

    “_While saluting the heroes who have fallen in the last few days,
    my thoughts turn toward you, the victors in the next battle.
    Forward, soldiers, for France!_”

At the time when the commander of the 5th Army penned these words, the
situation was a singular one. The issue of the battle as a whole was,
in fact, decided: the retreat of the three western, if not also of the
next two, German armies had been ordered. Yet the only part of the
Allied line that had been materially advanced was that before French
and d’Espérey; and Foch, Langle, and Sarrail were still in a situation
apparently desperate. Instead of being on the Marne between Epernay and
Châlons, Foch’s centre was lying in fragments 30 miles to the south,
at Faux and Salon, after the debacle of Fère Champènoise. Why, then,
did Bülow beat a hasty retreat at about 5 p.m. on that critical day?
We have done justice to the manœuvre of Grossetti’s Division; even if
this had been executed six hours earlier, it could not have sufficed
to produce a transformation so sudden and complete. To understand the
German collapse, a wider stretch of the front at the hour named must be
scrutinised. Its chief feature will be found in the length of Bülow’s
right flank, extended no less than 40 miles from Château-Thierry to
Corroy. Over against this flank were gathered three corps of the 5th
and five divisions of the 9th Armies; while the German thrust was being
made by only four Prussian corps with a few Saxon detachments. The
disparity was greater in quality than in numbers. D’Espérey’s Corps
were relatively fresh, and in high spirits; Bülow’s were fagged and to
some extent disorganised. In these circumstances, the detachment of the
10th Corps to Foch, and the attack of the 1st Corps at Corfelix and Le
Thoult, would probably have an effect upon the German Command which the
transfer of the 42nd Division to Linthes would emphasise. Grossetti’s
movement might be risked; the possibility of a larger blow from the
west against a flank of 40 miles could not be faced. On a smaller
scale, the Saxons were in like danger from the east, where the 21st
Corps, just detrained from the Vosges, had made a disturbing appearance
during the day. The German centre had had too much and too little
success——too little to give an immediate decision, too much, and at too
heavy a price, for the security of its own formation.

That evening it blew a half-gale, and poured cats-and-dogs, along the
Marne valley and the Sezanne hills. The clay pocket of St. Gond became
a quagmire; the few roads crossing the west part of the marshes were
covered by the French “75’s,” and the slaughter they wrought gave rise
to legends recalling what happened a century before. The 10th Corps,
extended by the 51st Reserve Division, struck out eastward during the
night from Champaubert, Baye, and Soizy, and on September 10 cleared
the plain between the marshes and the Châlons highroad. At 5 a.m. on
the 10th, the Moroccan Division and the 9th Corps reached the east end
of the marshes, but were stopped before Pierre-Morains and Ecury, where
a sharp engagement took place. The 42nd Division was also checked on
the Somme before Normée and Lenharrée, as was the 11th Corps, which
had come up on its right, before Vassimont and Haussimont. On Friday,
September 11, the French entered Epernay, the champagne capital; and on
the following day the enemy evacuated the city of Rheims, continuing to
hold the neighbouring hill forts. Thousands of men and large quantities
of ammunition and material were abandoned; but it soon became evident
that the retreat was not an aimless flight. On September 11, 12, and
13, the German gunners on Mt. Berru and Nogent l’Abbesse bombarded
the ancient and beautiful city. The façade of the cathedral, with
its precious sculptures and windows, received irreparable damage;
the choir-stalls and other fine woodwork within were destroyed, the
Archiepiscopal Palace, the City Hall, and neighbouring buildings burned

The establishment of a solid German rampart extending from the Oise
across the Laon hills, dipping to the outlying forts of the old Rheims
defences, and then reaching across Champagne, through the Argonne, and
around Verdun, to Metz, was to prove one of the great achievements
of the war, a defiance through nearly four years of sacrifice. For a
moment, at the end of the battle of the Marne, it seemed that such a
possibility might be averted. Conneau’s 2nd Cavalry Corps, the 18th
Corps, and the 53rd and 69th Reserve Divisions had all passed the
Aisne, between Bourg and Berry-au-Bac, on September 14. Conneau now
found himself supporting a frontal attack of d’Espérey’s 18th Corps
and reserves upon the abrupt cliffs by which the Aisne hills fall to
the flats of Champagne, the Craonne plateau. A force from Lorraine
under General von Heeringen was to be brought into this vital sector,
between Kluck and Bülow; meanwhile, the connection was uncertain.
While, a little farther west, Sir Douglas Haig was boldly reaching
up to the Chemin des Dames, d’Espérey sent Conneau north-eastward as
far as Sissonne; and thence one of his divisions was ordered to take
in reverse the German troops posted above Craonne. Success seemed
assured, when the 18th Corps and the reserve divisions were beaten
back; and Conneau, fearing to be isolated on the north of the river,
recrossed it. All the energy of General Maud’huy was needed to preserve
a foothold on the right bank. Within a fortnight, the long deadlock of
trench warfare had begun, and a new phase of the war had opened in the

At 7 a.m. on September 12, a patrol of chasseurs of the 9th Army
entered Châlons, the Saxons hurrying off before them to the Suippes
valley; a few hours later, General Foch established his headquarters
in the old garrison town. The Saxon Army was now in a condition worse
than that of the British after Le Cateau; and it disappeared as an
independent command with the fixing of the lines in Champagne. Foch’s
rapid march to the north-east made the German positions south of the
Argonne impossible. From September 11, Langle was able to devote
himself wholly to the IV Army. By noon that day, they had evacuated
their defences in and around Vitry-le-François; and in the evening,
the left of the 4th Army (21st, 17th, and 12th Corps) reached the
Marne between Sogny and Couvrot, while the Colonial Corps passed the
Saulx near Heiltz-l’Evêque, and the 2nd held the Ornain from Etrepy
to Sermaize, in touch with the 15th Corps of Sarrail’s Army, which
was approaching Revigny. When, on September 12, General Espinasse’s
troops entered that town, it had been systematically destroyed. The
central streets presented an extraordinary scene of devastation.
Nothing remained except parts of the lower walls and, within, masses of
stone, brick, and mortar broken small, with scraps of iron and charred
wood. The town hall, a graceful building in French classic style, had
about a half of its outer fabric standing. The church, which was of
historic interest, was roofless and much damaged within. Houses and
shops had been first pillaged, and then fired. Most of the neighbouring
villages had been similarly treated. One scene stands out in my
memory. Sermaize-les-Bains was a pleasant town of 4000 inhabitants,
on the Saulx, with a mineral spring, a large sugar refinery, and a
handsome old church. It had been demolished from end to end by skilled
incendiarism. Of 500 houses, only half a dozen remained standing.
Except a few chimneys and pieces of wall, the rest was a rubbish heap,
recalling Pompeii before the antiquaries cleared it up. There had
been an ironmonger’s shop——you could trace it by the masses of molten
iron and clotted nails. There had been a glass and china shop——you
could trace it by the lumps of milky coagulate that stuck out among
the litter of brick. When I arrived, a few of the inhabitants were
returning, women, children, and old men, carrying with them large,
rough loaves of bread, or wheeling barrows of firewood. The church was
roofless and gutted, the nave piled with fragments of stone. The curé’s
house was also burned out. In the middle of a grass-plot behind it
stood a white statue of the Virgin, turning clasped hands toward the

How much these and other indulgences impeded the military effort of
the Crown Prince’s men, how much they strengthened the spirit of the
French soldiers, may be supposed, but not measured. They mark with an
odious emphasis for history the hour not only of a signal defeat, but
of a profound disillusionment, which was to deepen slowly to the utter
discredit of a system and an idea hitherto not seriously challenged.
The game was played; with rage, the Prince Imperial submitted. Having
held his left impassive for a day, while the right pivoted slowly
backward toward the Argonne, on the night of September 12 the order
was given for a general and rapid withdrawal; and on the following
days, the French 4th and 3rd Armies found themselves in face of new
enemy lines drawn iron the Moronvilliers hills near Rheims, by Souain,
Ville-sur-Tourbe, and Varennes, to the Meuse at Forges, 8 miles north
of Verdun. The Châlons–Verdun road and railway were disengaged, a
result of great importance, and the old fortress, with its outposts on
the Meuse Heights, was definitively relieved. The Crown Prince pitched
his tent on the feudal eyrie of Montfaucon. General Sarrail picked
up his direct communications with Paris, faced round to Metz and the
north, and prepared for the future.

And the master of the victorious host? On September 11, he had issued
the following “Ordre general No. 15”:

    “_The battle that has been proceeding for five days is ending
    in incontestable victory. The retreat of the German I, II,
    and III Armies is accentuated before our left and our centre.
    In its turn, the IV enemy Army has begun to fall back to the
    north of Vitry-le-François and Sermaize. Everywhere the enemy is
    leaving on the ground many wounded and quantities of munitions.
    Everywhere prisoners are being taken. While they advance our
    troops note the marks of the intensity of the struggle, and the
    importance of the means employed by the Germans to resist our
    onset. The vigorous renewal of the offensive determined our
    success. Officers and soldiers, you have all answered my appeal.
    You have deserved well of the Fatherland._”

In a telegram to the Minister of War, he added: “The Government of the
Republic may be proud of the armies it has organised.” Neither then nor
later did any phrase more worthy of the occasion than these fall from
the pen or the lips of the Generalissimo. In success as in failure, he
was the same silent, weighty, cheerful figure——Joffre the Taciturn, to
the end.



General Joffre’s Instruction of September 1 had prescribed that the
whole offensive should pivot upon the right. The defence of the eastern
front, as a wall protecting the western and central armies, and the
pivot of their recoil——essential condition of the general success——was
assigned to Generals de Castelnau and Dubail. The 2nd and 1st Armies
had been severely punished at the outset of the campaign; and,
evidently, a heavy task now lay before them. The second of the German
princes, Ruprecht of Bavaria, with the last corps of the Bavarian
Army, could not be given other than a principal rôle; and Heeringen,
chief of the 7th Army, Prussian War Minister during a critical part
of the period of preparation, was also a veteran of the Grand Staff,
with which he had worked for more than thirty years. On September 6,
the Grand Quartier General specified that Castlenau and Dubail should
remain on their positions defensively till the end of the battle of
the Marne. We have seen that, after the failure of the offensives of
Morhange–Sarrebourg and Mulhouse, the two armies retreated rapidly,
but in such a way that, taking up an angular formation from the Grand
Couronné of Nancy southward to the Gap of Charmes, and thence eastward
to the Donon, they were able, on August 25, to fall upon the two
flanks of the advancing enemy with instant effect. There was then a
pause, due in part to heavy fogs, for several days, in which either
side prepared for a new encounter.

The circumstances differed considerably from those in the west. For
their abortive offensives, the two armies had been given a distinct
superiority of force on the eastern frontier; but, after the successful
defence of the Gap of Charmes, this superiority had been drawn upon
repeatedly by the Generalissimo to feed his main design. Thus,
Castlenau had sent from the 2nd Army: on August 15, the 18th Corps, to
Lanrezac, for the advance to the Sambre; on August 18 and September 4,
the 9th Corps, to the 4th Army, from which it was detached to Foch’s
Army of the centre; on September 3, the 15th Corps, to Sarrail; and on
September 1, the greater part of the 2nd Cavalry Corps, to the space
between the British and French 5th Armies. At the same time, Dubail,
while absorbing gradually the body of Pau’s “Army of Alsace,” sent the
21st Corps, on September 4, to Langle’s left, and the 13th Corps, on
September 9, to the region of Compiègne for the battle of the Aisne;
after which, in the middle of September, when the great victory had
been won, the 1st Army took over the whole of the Nancy front from
the 2nd Army. These deplacements were necessary, and remarkably timed
and executed; but they represent a not inconsiderable diminution of
effective strength at a grave juncture. To compensate for their losses,
the High Command could only send to the Lorraine Armies divisions
of reserves. Their performance surpassed all French, and rather
justified German, anticipations. It is, however, to be remarked that
the opposed forces of the Bavarian Crown Prince and Heeringen underwent
a similar transformation. In addition to their reserve divisions,
they received between them, at the end of August and the beginning of
September, something like 100,000 men of the Ersatz and Landwehr. An
Ersatz Division of the Guard was engaged near Lunéville, and Bavarian
and Saxon Ersatz Divisions appeared on the Upper Meurthe. A large
part of the Bavarian and Rhenish Landwehr was also used in Lorraine.
Heeringen’s Army, itself constituted in Alsace, moved northward after
Dubail, and, when arrested on the Upper Mortagne and the Northern
Vosges, detached two of its corps to the Bavarian Army for the crucial
attack on the Grand Couronné. Metz, Strasbourg, and the garrison towns
of Alsace were used as reservoirs on the German side, just as were
Toul, Epinal, and Belfort on the French, until both antagonists had
drawn their last possible reinforcement, and the invasion failed by

For the actions now to be followed, the opposed forces, from north to
south, were as follows:

 2nd ARMY (General de CASTELNAU).           VI ARMY (CROWN PRINCE OF
 _73rd Division Reserve_ (General
   Chatelain).                              _33rd Division Reserve._

   From Toul. In the Moselle valley,          From Metz, for the
   south of Pont-à-Mousson.                   movement in the
                                              Woevre. South of
 _2nd Group of Divisions of Reserve_          Pont-à-Mousson.
   (General Leon Durand).
                                            _2 or 3 Landwehr
   59th, 68th (General Aubignose),            Divisions_, south of
   70th (General Fayolle). From Ste.          Nomeny.
   Geneviève to near Réméréville, the
   centre of the Nancy front.               _II Bavarian Corps_
                                              (General von Martini).
 _64th Division Reserve_ (General
   Compagnon). Supporting the 70th            Between the Sanon and
   before Nancy.                              the Vezouse.

 _20th Corps_ (General Balfourier,          _Guard Ersatz Division._
   succeeding General Foch).
                                            _III Bavarian Corps_
   39th and 11th Divisions, with a            (General von
   Colonial brigade attached. Across          Gebsattel).
   the Sanon, from Haraucourt to near
   Vitrimont.                                 Between the Seille and
                                              the Sanon.
 _74th Division Reserve_ (General
   Bigot).                                  _XXI Corps._

   Astride the Mortagne, from Mont to         Between the Meurthe and
   Xermamenil.                                the Mortagne.

 _16th Corps_ (General Taverna).            _I Bavarian Corps_
                                              (General von Xylander).
   32nd and 31st Divisions. On the
   Mortagne, between Einvaux and            _I Bavarian Corps
   Gerbéviller.                               Reserve_ (General von

 1st ARMY (General DUBAIL).                 VII ARMY (General von
                                              HEERINGEN, till the
 _8th Corps_ (General de Castelli),           night of September 6).
   with 8 groups of Alpinist reserves
   added. From Gerbéviller southward.       _XIV Corps_ (General von
 _6th Cavalry Division._
                                            West of Baccarat.
   Till September 8.
                                            _XIV Corps Reserve._
 _18th Corps_ (General Alix).
                                              Both the above were
   At the centre, till September 10.          transferred to the VI
                                              Army on September 6.
 _58th Division Reserve._
                                            _XV Corps_ (General von
 _57th Division Reserve_ (General             Deimling).
                                              Detached, September 7,
 _71st Division Reserve._                     with Heeringen, to the
   In support, south of Bruyères.
                                            _XV Corps Reserve._
 _14th Corps._
                                              At first only the 30th
   West of the St. Dié valley.                Division Reserve;
                                              later the 39th
 _44th Division_ (General Soyer).             Division Reserve
                                              arrived. In the St.
   From the Army of Alsace.                   Dié valley.

 _41st Division._                           _Ersatz and Landwehr
   South of St. Dié and east of the

Uncertainty as to some German units, and the continual transfer on
both sides, make an accurate comparison of strength impossible. M.
Hanotaux[73] estimates the French forces at their maximum at 532,000,
and the German at 530,000 men. This was during the battle of the Gap
of Charmes, and at the end of August. On September 4, Castlenau had
lost 70,000 men or more, and the 1st Army was similarly reduced in
the following days. On the other hand, Heeringen took the 15th Corps
with him to the Aisne on September 7. It is probable that, during the
crucial struggle before the Grand Couronné, Castlenau was considerably
outnumbered; and the French were markedly inferior in artillery, even
when the heavy fortress guns had been brought into the field.

So long as they stood on the defensive, however, the French had
the great advantage of a range of positions naturally formidable,
and improved by some passable field-works. General de Curières
de Castlenau, a particular star of the old aristocratic-military
school, was unorthodox in one vital matter. In a study written in the
spring of 1914,[74] he had concluded that the French concentration
would be completed as soon as, or a little sooner than, the German.
Nevertheless, he had declared for the strategical defensive; and,
foreseeing a decisive battle on the Grand Couronné, the heights
bordering the Gap of Charmes, and the west bank of the Mortagne, he
had planned, for when the German attack should be worn down, the
reaction north and south of the Forest of Vitremont which he was
actually to conduct some months later. In this, Castlenau was one
of the far-sighted few. The defensive idea favoured in the period
when the military inferiority of France was most acutely felt had
sunk into disrepute. “The system of offensive strategy, of ‘striking
out,’ gained adepts, especially among the young officers,” says M.
Hanotaux. “Certainly the system of a waiting strategy had not lost
all its partisans: General de Castlenau represented a strong and
reasoned doctrine when he advocated, for the east in particular, the
offensive-defensive, and the preparation of a stand on the Meurthe at
the outset, then on the Mortagne.” He was overborne in favour of the
daring and gifted lieutenant and teacher who, in 1900, had insisted
that “movement is the law of strategy,” that the shock must be sought,
not waited for, and that, “in a war with Germany, we must go to Berlin
by way of Mayence.”[75] Instead of leading to Mayence and Berlin, the
French march upon Morhange and Sarrebourg had led back to the Gap of
Charmes and the Grand Couronné. Tragically justified, Castlenau now had
his chance. For the first time, the invaders found themselves faced by
entrenchments, wire-fields, gun-pits, and observatories prepared as
well as the time available had allowed.

Such a line, extending 60 miles from near Pont-à-Mousson to the
north-western spurs of the Vosges, might well have followed straightly
the high western banks of the Moselle, Meurthe, and Mortagne, having
the fortresses of Toul and Epinal close behind. The abandonment of
the beautiful city of Nancy——a garrison town, but in no sense a
fortress——had usually been contemplated in the event of war: that is,
perhaps, why the Kaiser so ostentatiously prepared for his ceremonial
entry. Castelnau was resolved against this sacrifice. No positions,
he thought, could be better defended than the crescent of hills
called the Grand Couronné, of which the two horns point north-east
from Nancy and the Meurthe, as though in anticipation, the northern
horn ending in the twin mounts of Amance (410 and 370 metres), and
the southern in a ridge extending from the Rambétant (330 m.) to the
Bois de Crevic (251 m.); while the space between the tips is covered
by the forest-plateau of Champenoux. On the north, the Nancy crescent
is supported by the Moselle Heights, from La Rochette (406 m.), above
Bouxières, to Sainte Geneviève (382 m.); and the river is closed in by
sharp and thickly-wooded slopes on both banks. On the south, beyond
the River Sanon, the crescent is extended by the hills of Flainval and
Anthelupt, and, within a wide loop of the Meurthe, by the great bulk of
Vitrimont Forest, reaching near to the large town of Lunéville. Farther
south, Dubail’s divisions stretched along the high western bank of the
Mortagne, and then, at an obtuse angle from Rambervillers, into the
passes of the Vosges giving upon Raon-l’Etape and St. Dié.

We will follow the attack as it came up from this southern region,
beginning with what must be regarded as a heavy demonstration
preparatory and secondary to the chief affair, that of the Grand
Couronné. After the failure to penetrate the Gap of Charmes, Heeringen
had been charged to break through, or to make a feint of breaking
through, the French 1st Army toward Epinal. Reinforced by the 41st
and 44th Divisions and four divisions of reserves, Dubail was well
resisting this pressure when, on September 4, he was required to give
up his 21st Corps. At the same time, Heeringen’s XIV Corps and other
troops, from the valley of the Upper Meurthe, made a desperate effort
to force the two mountain ways by which alone large bodies of men could
reach the Moselle valley from the northern Vosges, namely, the road
from Raon-l’Etape across the Col de la Chipote to Rambervillers, and
thence to Charmes or Epinal by easy routes; and the road from St. Dié,
through the mountain Forest of the Mortagne, to Bruyères, and thence to
Epinal. Sharp fighting, in which the French lost heavily, especially
in officers, took place on September 4 and 5 at the Chipote——a bare
red hump barring the pass, surrounded by fir-clad cliffs——on the twin
hills by Nompatelize, and on the lesser passes south of St. Dié. The
real intention of the German Command was probably no more than to pin
down Dubail’s forces; it could hardly hope to pierce such a depth of
mountain fastnesses in time to affect the general issue.

On the left of the 1st Army, on September 5, the German XXI Corps
drove Castelnau’s 16th and Dubail’s 8th Corps out of Gerbéviller and
Moyen, and passed on to the west bank of the Mortagne; but the French
recovered most of this ground the same evening. On the right, the 14th
Corps had to abandon the Passé du Renard and several neighbouring hills
south of Nompatelize; and the 41st Division was driven up the St.
Dié valley to the crest above Mandray, and beyond. On the following
day, these positions also were won back in a reaction that began to
threaten the German line of communications in the St. Dié valley. From
this moment, the combats of the Upper Meurthe slackened and gradually
expired. The battle had been definitely deplaced to the north.
Heeringen, with one of his active corps, was ordered to the Chemin des
Dames, where he was to stop the threatening progress of the British
Army——a most significant move; two remaining corps were about to be
transferred to the Bavarian Command for the struggle before Nancy, the
last and greatest effort on the east. On the night of September 7, the
8th Corps repassed the poisoned waters of the Mortagne at Magnières
and St. Pierremont; and everything pointed to a sweeping advance, when
Dubail was summoned by the General Staff to surrender another of his
best units, the 13th Corps, to re-form his whole line, and to stand
still with what remained. The danger-point now lay elsewhere.

Castelnau had hardly filled the spaces left by the removal of his 15th
and 9th Corps when, in the early afternoon of September 4, a cannonade
of a violence hitherto unknown broke over the positions of the 2nd Army
before Mont Amance, across the eastern side of Champenoux Forest, by
Réméréville, Courbessaux, Drouville, and Maixe, to the east edge of
the Forest of Vitrimont. The first attack came upon the right of this
front, waves of Bavarian infantry flooding upon the barricaded farms
and hamlets and the trenched hillsides. Behind Serres and in advance of
Maixe, the 39th Division was pressed back; but, as a whole, the front
of the 20th Corps was little changed; and, on its right, the 16th Corps
was not yet disturbed. While this hell-fire was being lit, Kluck was
racing southward across the Marne and a regiment of Cuirassiers, in
full array, was marching through the streets of Metz, under the eyes of
the Emperor, who, after visiting the Verdun front, was waiting for the
hour of his triumphal entry into Nancy.

At nightfall the conflict waxed more furious. The German plan, as it
was presently revealed, was to burst through the opening of the Grand
Couronné, and, while maintaining a strong pressure upon the southern
horn of the crescent, to envelop the northern horn by a rapid push from
Pont-à-Mousson up the Moselle valley, this move by fresh troops from
Metz furnishing the precious element of surprise.[76]

Throughout the night of the 4th, the storm raged about the rampart
of Nancy. Doubtless the German Command had chosen the way between
the Champenoux Forest and the Rambétant as the least difficult for
the first phase of its last effort; and, although night attacks are
manifestly dangerous, the calculation in this case that the defenders
would suffer most from confusion appears to have been justified. Boldly
adventuring by dark forest paths and misty vales, the Bavarian Corps
of Martini ejected the fore-posts of the 20th Corps from the hills
near Lunéville, from Einville Wood, and the ridges between Serres and
Drouville. Maixe and Réméréville were lost, retaken, and lost again.
Erbéviller, Courbessaux, lesser hamlets, and farmsteads flamed across
the countryside, a fantastic spectacle that deepened the terror of the
remaining inhabitants, who had taken refuge in their cellars or the
fields. General Fayolle’s reservists of the 70th Division stood bravely
on the east edge of Saint Paul Forest and at Courbessaux. On their left
the 68th lost Champenoux village at dawn, but recaptured it a few hours
later; while, behind it, the 64th busied itself in completing another
line of resistance from the important point of the Amezule gorge (on
the highroad from Nancy to Château-Salins, midway between Laneuvelotte
and Champenoux), by Velaine and Cerceuil, to the Rambétant.

[Illustration: Battle of the Grand Couronné of NANCY

Positions on Sept. 6, night]

At midnight on the 4th, Prince Ruprecht endeavoured to broaden his
attack southward by striking from Lunéville across the loop of the
Meurthe. Here, the 74th Reserve Division was prepared, having dug
three successive lines of trenches between Blainville and Mont. At
Rehainviller and Xermamenil, the right bank of the Mortagne became
untenable by reason of enfilade fire. The 16th Corps, therefore,
withdrew to the west bank. Just before dawn on September 5, the XXI
Corps succeeded in getting a small body of men across the river below
Gerbéviller. During the afternoon, these were thrown back by a combined
push of the 16th Corps from the north and the Dubail’s 8th Corps from
the south. This success was confirmed and extended on September 6,
when the 16th Corps passed the Mortagne, and drove the enemy out of
Gerbéviller, and through the woods above the ruined town. Thus the line
of the Mortagne, so essential to the French defence, was restored, and
in such solid fashion that it might become the base of a thrust against
the German flank about Lunéville.

None so happy was the outlook at Castelnau’s centre. During the
morning of September 5, the Bavarians worked round the north
end of Champenoux Forest as far as the foot of Mount Amance,
where, after making five desperate assaults, they were stopped.
In the evening, the 20th Corps was driven back to the line
Vitrimont–Flainval–Crevic–Haraucourt–Buissoncourt: that is to say, half
of the south horn of the crescent was overrun. The morrow witnessed a
rally, the 70th Reserve Division touching Réméréville, the 39th Active
carrying the village of Crevic and progressing toward Drouville, and
the 11th reoccupying Vitrimont Forest. But the grey tide still beat
upon the foot of Amance.

At this juncture, when it seemed that the plateau of Champenoux must
be turned on both sides, and Castelnau’s centre pierced, a no less
alarming threat appeared in the attempt to turn the whole Nancy
system by the north. Two French reserve divisions had been set facing
Metz on either side of the Moselle——the 73rd on the west, between
Pont-à-Mousson and Dieulouard, the 59th before the Seille, from Loisy,
by the sharp rise of Ste. Geneviève, to Meivrons, where it joined the
68th. A single battalion (of the 314th Regiment, 59 D.R.), and a single
battery (of the 33rd, 9th Corps) were posted on the extremity, at Loisy
and Ste. Geneviève, of this outer buttress of the Grand Couronné, when,
at noon on September 5, amid a thunder of guns, columns of the German
XXXIII Reserve Division were observed traversing Pont-à-Mousson, and
marching south. The cannonade and the deployment occupied the rest of
the day; and next morning the invasion seemed to have passed westward.
In fact, it had made rapid way, although at material cost, on the left
bank of the Moselle, passing Dieulouard and reaching Marbache, which
is only 6 miles north of Nancy, and Saizerais, 8 miles from Toul. Few
as they numbered, the guns and well-entrenched riflemen on the Ste.
Geneviève spur, now an acute salient, were a thorn in the side of this
success——a very troublesome thorn. At 7 p.m. a German force of about
seven battalions debouched from the wooded lowland and began to mount
the hillside. Hundreds of them had been mown down ere Captain Langlade
and his eight remaining gunners would shift their hot pieces to a safer
place behind. Commandant de Montlebert’s battalion conducted throughout
the night a more than Spartan defence. Time after time, urged on by
fife and drum, the grey ranks rose, only to break like spume in the
moonlight before the trenches could be reached. It was one of the
occasions when the deadly power of the “75’s” was shown to the full.
At one o’clock in the morning the combat ceased: the assailants had
withdrawn in a state of panic. They are said to have left 1200 dead
behind them. The French battalion had lost 80 men.

A rare episode this: in general, the battle becomes more confused as
the culmination is reached. Indeed, it is difficult to find an exact
time or place of the climax. Each side saw its own trouble, but could
hardly guess at the condition of the other. The last reserves of
the 2nd Army were in play. Castelnau had warned the G.Q.G. that he
might have to abandon Nancy, in order to cover Toul. The reply was an
injunction to keep touch with Sarrail’s right in the direction of St.
Mihiel, whither——failing Epinal, failing Charmes, failing Nancy——the
enemy now seemed to be turning. On September 7, the German host
gathered itself together for its last and greatest effort. The Emperor,
escorted by his guard of Cuirassiers, left Metz by the Nancy highroad,
crossed the frontier, and took his stand on a sunny hill near Moncel
(probably by St. Jean Farm, at the corner of Morel Wood), to watch
the bombardment of Mount Amance, which was to prepare the way for the
breach of the French centre by way of the Amezule defile.[77] The gap
was duly rushed at the first attempt, made by about ten battalions of
infantry, in the morning. The left of the 68th Division fell back to
the foot of Mount Amance, the right to Velaine, and the 70th Division
to Cerceuil. The 20th Corps, ordered to move north and menace the
German flank, was pushed aside; and by noon, the Bavarians had full
possession of Champenoux Forest. This bulwark gone, everything depended
upon Amance. Most of the artillery on the Grand Couronné (which
included twenty 5-inch cannon, and eight 6-inch mortars) hashed upon
its approaches; and here the momentary triumph expired. The authority
of the Crown Prince, the presence of the Emperor, could effect no more.
Old Castelnau began to hope; hearing that the Metz troops had further
advanced toward Toul as far as Rozières, he unhesitatingly took the 2nd
Cavalry Division out of the line, and sent it off to the neighbourhood
of St. Mihiel, whither it was to be followed next day by the 73rd
Reserve Division.

The struggle dragged on with an increasing appearance of exhaustion and
deadlock. On September 8, the Bavarians tried twice to break through
the front of the 20th Corps, without success. Again they bent to the
slopes of Mount Amance; the poilus let them approach, then staggered
out of their holes, and, in a spasm of battle-madness, swept them back.
La Bouzule Farm, dominating the narrowest part of the Amezule defile,
and other strong points, changed hands repeatedly. On the right, in
face of Lunéville, the 74th Reserve Division carried Rehainviller by
assault, and the 32nd and 31st Divisions pressed from Gerbéviller
nearly to the Meurthe——a severe pin-prick in the German left flank.
On September 9 there were obscure fragmentary combats in the glades
of Champenoux and St. Paul which we cannot attempt to follow. It
will be safe to suppose that the German Command was now governed by
the news from the west. Whether the Nancy front could have held
without that aid, it is impossible to say. Though Castelnau ordered a
counter-offensive all along the line, his men could respond only feebly.

In the evening an armistice of four hours was arranged for the
collection of wounded and the burial of dead. The French claimed to
have found 40,000 German dead on the ground; the total losses will
probably never be known. The Kaiser had left his observatory; the rebel
heart of Metz leaped to see his disillusioned return. The defenders of
Nancy could not know this; but there was a visible sign of failure,
now easy to interpret: at midnight on September 8, amid a heavy
thunderstorm, a German battery, told off for the purpose, threw eighty
shells into Nancy——67 explosive shells and 14 shrapnel, to be precise,
according to the diary of the officer responsible[78]——a silly outrage
like the first bombardments of Rheims.

The “smashing blow” was failing at the same moment on the Ourcq, on the
Marne, at Fère Champènoise, and here before the hill-bastion of the
eastern marches. News ran slowly through the armies in those days; but
some invigorating breeze of victory must soon have reached the trenches
in Lorraine. For Prince Ruprecht it remained only to guard his main
lines of retreat, in particular the roads from Nancy, Dombasle, and
Lunéville to the frontier; and, as his troops had dug themselves well
in, this was not difficult. Three French columns of assault, composed
of relatively fresh troops, and supported by the 64th and 68th Reserve
Divisions, after a powerful artillery preparation, advanced on the
morning of September 10 against the Amezule and neighbouring positions;
but they could not make much headway. On the morrow the order was
repeated, to better effect, especially on the wings. That night the
German retreat in Lorraine began. Castelnau’s men gazed incredulous
into spaces suddenly calm and empty. “Our soldiers,” says one of them,
“hungry, harassed, haggard, could hardly stand upright. They marched
like spectres. Visibly, we were at our last breath. We could hold out
only a few hours more. And then, O prodigy, calm fell, on the 12th,
upon the whole of the stricken field. The enemy gave up, retreated
for good, abandoned everything, Champenoux, so frantically contested,
and the entire front he had occupied. He fell back in dense columns,
without even a pretence of further resistance.” The grand adventure was

Pont-à-Mousson, Nomeny, Réméréville, Lunéville, Baccarat, Raon-l’Etape,
and St. Dié were evacuated in rapid succession. Before the war fell
into the entrenched lines which were to hold with little change for
four years, most of Lorraine up to the old frontier and a long slice
of Alsace had been recovered. But with what wounds may be read, for
instance, in the report of the French Commission of Inquiry into the
devastation wrought by the enemy in the department of Meurthe and
Moselle. As though the destruction of farmsteads and villages in course
of the fighting were not sufficient, the Bavarian infantry had been
guilty at many places of almost incredible acts of ferocity. At Nomeny,
the 2nd and 3rd Bavarian regiments, after sacking the village, set
it on fire, and then, as the villagers fled from their cellars, shot
them down——old men, women, and children——50 being killed and many more
wounded. At Lunéville, during the three weeks’ occupation, the Hôtel
de Ville, the Synagogue, and about seventy houses were burned down with
torches, petrol, and other incendiary apparatus; and 17 men and women
were shot in cold blood in the streets. Under dire threats, signed
shamelessly by General Von Fosbender, a “contribution” of 650,000
francs was paid by the inhabitants. On August 24, practically the whole
of the small town of Gerbéviller was destroyed by fire (more than 400
houses), and at least 36 civilians, men and women, were slaughtered.
At Baccarat, 112 houses were burned down, after the whole place had
been pillaged under the supervision of General Fabricius, commanding
the artillery of the XIV Baden Corps, and other officers. This feature
of the campaign cannot be ignored in our chronicle. Good men had
supposed war itself to be the uttermost barbarism; it was left to the
disciplined armies of the Hohenzollern Empire to prove that educated
hands may lower it to depths of wickedness unimagined by the Apache and
the Bashi-Bazouk.

On September 18, General Curières de Castlenau was made Grand Officer
of the Legion of Honour on the ground that, “since the beginning of the
war, his army has fought without cessation, and he has obtained from
his troops sustained efforts and important results. General Castlenau
has had, since the beginning of the campaign, two sons killed and a
third wounded; nevertheless, he continued to exercise his command with



The battle of the Marne closed a definite phase of the Great War, and
perhaps——in so far as it was marked by open and rapid movement, and as
it finally exposed certain gross military errors——a phase of warfare in
general. A fresh examination of the plans of the preceding years and
the events of the preceding month immensely enhances the interest of
the whole development; for it shows the real “miracle of the Marne” to
have been an uprush of intelligence and patriotic will in which grave
faults of strategy and tactics were corrected, and the victory to be
the logical reward of a true conception, executed with unfailing skill
through a new instrument created while the conditions of the struggle
were being equalised. In whatever sense we may speak of a “greatest”
battle of history, this was assuredly, of all clashes of force, that in
which reason was most conspicuously vindicated.

Insanely presumptuous as was her ambition of reducing France, Russia,
and Britain, Germany had at the outset some remarkable advantages.
Chief among these must be counted the power of surprise, due to her
long secret preparation, and a complete unity of command in face of
dispersed Allies. The German forces concentrated on the west were not
numerically superior to those of France, Britain, and Belgium; their
effective superiority was considerable. Half of the active corps,
which alone the French expected as troops of shock, were doubled with
thoroughly trained reserve formations, giving a mass of attack of 34
corps, instead of 22, a difference larger than the two armies of the
enveloping movement. Their strength was also increased by a clear
superiority in several branches of armament and field service (the
French field-gun and the use by the Allies of the French railways
being notable exceptions), and in some particulars of tactical
practice, especially the prudent use of field defences. The basic
idea being to strike France down before Russia and Britain could
effectually interfere, speed was a principal condition of success; and
the plan of the Western campaign was probably the only one on which
it could be realised. One-third of the whole force was to hold the
old Franco-German frontier in a provisional defence, while one-third
attacked through Luxembourg and the Belgian Ardennes, and the remainder
was thrown across the Meuse and the open plain of Flanders, toward
the French capital. This unprecedented enlargement of the offensive
front, the outstanding feature of the plan, secured the most rapid
deployment of the maximum forces; it alone could yield the great
element of surprise; it alone provided the opportunity of envelopment
dear to the German military mind. Its boldness, aided by terrorism in
the invaded regions, astounded the world, and so seemed to favour the
scheme of conquest. It might ultimately provoke a full development of
British power; even in case of failure, it would cripple France and
Belgium for many years. Its immediate weakness arose from the wide
extension of forces not larger, except at certain points, allowing
no general reserve and no large reinforcement, and from the necessity
of great speed. The plan ignored many possibilities, from the Alps to
Lille; once in motion, however, it could not be considerably or rapidly
changed. Berlin, confident in the superiority of the war-machine to
which it had devoted its best resources and thought, believed there
would be no delay and no need of change.

France had been inevitably handicapped by the need of renouncing any
initiative that could throw doubt upon her moral position, by the
independence of her British and Belgian Allies, and by uncertainty as
to Italy. This last doubt was, however, quickly removed; the Belgian
Army delayed the invasion by a full week; and our “Old Contemptibles”
gave most precious aid. A united Command at that time might have done
little more than strengthen the instrument and confirm the doctrine
whose imperfections we have traced. The instrument was inferior not
only in effective strength, not only in some vital elements of arms
and organisation, but in the system and spirit of its direction. The
doctrine of the offensive, general, continuous, and unrestrained, had
become an established orthodoxy during the previous decade, when the
Russian alliance and the British Entente were fixed, when service was
extended to three years, the 75 mm. gun was perfected, and a new method
of railway mobilisation promised that the armies would be brought into
action at least as rapidly as those of the enemy. Before a shot was
fired, it had prejudiced the military information services——whence
the scepticism of the Staff as to a large German movement west of the
Meuse, and as to the German use of army corps of reserve in the first
line; whence the ignorance of the German use of aeroplanes and wired
entrenchment. No answer was prepared to the German heavy artillery.
While unable to create the means to a successful general offensive, the
French Command had discounted, if not positively discredited, modern
methods of defence and delaying manœuvre, methods peculiarly indicated
in this case, since France had the same reasons for postponing a
decision as Germany had for hastening it. The only hope of the Allies
at the outset lay in a combination of defence and manœuvre: there was
no adequate defence, and no considerable manœuvre, but only a general
headlong attack on a continuous line. Of the consequences of this
lamentable beginning, an accomplished and sober French officer says:
“It is just to speak of the Battle of the Frontiers as calamitous,
for this battle not only doomed to total or partial ruin nine of our
richest departments: insufficiently repaired by the fine recovery on
the Marne, it weighed heavily upon the whole course of the war. It
paralysed our strategy. From September 1914, our High Command was
necessarily absorbed in the task, first, of limiting, then of reducing,
the enormous pocket cut in our territory. Ever obsessed by the fear
of abandoning to devastation a new band of country, we were condemned
for nearly four years to a hideous trench warfare for which we were
infinitely less prepared and less apt than the invader, and that we
were able to sustain only by force of heroism.”[79] Any one of the
errors that have been indicated would have been grave; in combination,
they are accountable for the heavy losses of the three abortive inroads
into Alsace, Lorraine, and the Ardennes, and for the dispositions
which necessitated the long retreat from the north. That the German
armies suffered in these operations is, of course, to be remembered;
but for France it was more urgent to economise her strength. In
strategy infatuated, in tactics reckless, in preparation unequal to the
accomplishment of its own designs, the then French Command must be held
responsible in large measure for the collapse of the national forces in
the first actions of the campaign.

Joffre, who had been named Generalissimo designate three years before,
almost by accident, who was an organiser rather than a strategist,
had inherited, with the imperfect instrument, the imprudent doctrine
and plan. There was not the time, and he was hardly the man, to
attempt radically to change them; nor has he yet recognised in words
that there was any large strategical error to correct. But the facts
speak clearly enough: from the evening of August 23, when the general
retreat from the north was ordered, we enter upon a profoundly changed
situation, in which the native shrewdness and solid character of the
French Commander-in-Chief are the dominant factor. The defence that
should have been prepared could not be extemporised. The armies must be
disengaged and re-formed. A large sacrifice of territory was therefore
unavoidable. To delay the critical encounter till the balance of
forces should be rectified was the first requirement. On August 24,
Headquarters issued a series of tactical admonitions, prelude to a
clean sweep of no less than thirty-three generals and many subordinate
officers. Next day followed the “General Instruction” in which will be
found the germ of the ultimate victory. The rule of blind, universal,
unceasing offensive disappeared, without honour or ceremony; arose
that of manœuvre; informed, elastic, resourceful, prudent but energetic.

At once there was precipitated a conception which governed not only the
battle of the Marne, but the whole after-development of the war. There
must be no more rash adventures on the east; from Belfort to Verdun,
the front would be held defensively, with a minimum of strength, to
fulfil the purpose for which its fortifications were built, and to
protect the main forces, which would operate henceforth in the centre
and west. The importance of the north-west coast, and the fact that
Kluck was not approaching it, plainly suggested the creation of a
new mass of manœuvre on this side to menace the German flank: this
new body was Maunoury’s 6th Army. These two features of the Allied
riposte——defence on the east, offence from the west——were to be
permanent. The French centre must be strengthened to bear the impact of
Bülow, the Saxons, and the Duke of Würtemberg. Foch’s Army, created to
this end, to come in between those of d’Espérey (Lanrezac’s successor)
and de Langle, had the further effect of preserving the full offensive
strength of the 5th Army. For these purposes, large numbers of men
had to be transferred from the east to the west and centre. Joffre at
first hoped to stand on the Somme, and then on the Oise. But the new
forces were not ready; the defence of the east was not secured; the
British Army was momentarily out of action; Kluck threatened the Allied
communications; the line was a hazardous zigzag. The Generalissimo
would not again err on the side of premature attack.

The pursuit was not an unbroken course of victory for the invaders.
Before the Gap of Charmes, on August 24–26, Castlenau and Dubail
administered the first great German set-back of the war. At the same
time, the Prince Imperial received a severe check at Etain; and,
although Smith-Dorrien’s stand at Le Cateau on August 26 disabled
the British Force for some days, it did much to save the Allied
left wing. On August 28, the German IV Army was sharply arrested at
Novion Porcien; and next day took place the combats of Proyart and
Dun-sur-Meuse, and the battle of Guise. In these and many lesser
actions, the spirit of the armies was prepared for the hour when the
issue should be fairly joined.

The Fabian strategy was soon and progressively justified. Weaknesses
inherent in the German plan began to appear. Every day of their
unsuccessful chase aggravated the problem of supplying the armies,
removed them from their heavy artillery, stretched and thinned their
infantry lines, weakened their liaison, bred weariness and doubt
(which were too often drowned in drink), while the French, on the
contrary, were shortening their communications, and generally pulling
themselves together. “It is the old phenomenon of the wearing down
of forces in case of an offensive which we here encounter anew,”
says Freytag-Loringhoven. Two or three corps had to be left behind
to mask Antwerp and to besiege Maubeuge; the Grand Staff could not
altogether resist the Russian scare. There was increasing dislocation:
in particular, Kluck had got dangerously out of touch with Bülow.
And there was something worse than “wearing down” and dislocation.
“Perhaps our programme would not have collapsed,” the historian
Meinecke imagines,[80] “if we had carried through our original
strategical idea with perfect strictness, keeping our main forces
firmly together, and, for the time, abandoning East Prussia.” This
cannot be admitted. So far from being pursued more strictly, the
original German idea soon could not be pursued at all. Its boldest
feature had become inapplicable to circumstances more and more subject
to another will. On September 1, when the Somme had been passed, and
while Joffre was ordering the extension of the retreat to the Seine and
the Aube, Moltke was engaged in changing radically the direction of the
marching wing of the invasion, Kluck’s I Army. Failing successively on
the Sambre, the Somme, the Oise, and finally stultified by the superior
courage that staked the capital itself upon the chance of a victorious
recoil farther south, the greatest of all essays in envelopment ended
in a recognised fiasco.

With the appearance on the southern horizon of the fortress of Verdun
and the city of Paris, and the entry of the Allied armies between them
as into a corridor, the whole problem, in fact, was transformed. The
German Command suddenly found itself in face of a fatal dilemma. As
Paris obstructed the way of Kluck, so Verdun challenged the Prussian
Crown Prince. To enter the corridor without first reducing these two
unknown quantities would be to risk serious trouble on both flanks; to
stay to reduce them would involve delay, or dispersal of force, either
of which would be disastrous. The course of argument by which the Grand
Staff decided this deadly question has not been revealed. They chose
the first alternative. Kluck was ordered to pass south-eastward of
the one “entrenched camp,” the Imperial Crown Prince south-westward of
the other, both, and the three armies between them, to overtake the
Allies and force them to a frontal encounter, while a fresh effort was
made to break through the eastern defences. A heavy price must be paid
for such large re-establishments and changes of plan in face of an
alert enemy. Kluck has been too much blamed for what followed. He may
have been guilty of recklessness, over-reaching ambition, and specific
disobedience. But here, as in the Battle of the Frontiers, it is the
authors, not the executants, of the offensive operation who must be
held chiefly responsible for consequences that are in the logic of the

Joffre’s hour had come. He had laboured to win three elements of an
equal struggle lacking in the north: (_a_) a more favourable balance
of numbers and armament——this was gained by the “wearing down” of the
enemy, and the reinforcement of the Allied line, in course of the
retreat, so that the battle of the Marne commenced with something more
than an equality, and ended with a distinct Allied superiority in the
area of decision; (_b_) a favourable terrain——this was reached on the
classic ground between the capital and the middle Meuse, under cover
of the eastern armies, and subject to the dilemma of Paris–Verdun;
(_c_) a sound strategic initiative. For this, the 6th Army had been
prepared, and the 5th kept at full strength. The failure of the
enveloping movement and the change of the German plan provided the
opportunity. To reduce the distended front of the invasion, at one
time no less than 140 miles (Amiens to Dun-sur-Meuse), to one of 100
miles (Crécy-en-Brie to Revigny), Kluck had boldly crossed the face
of the 6th Army, and on the evening of September 5 presented a moving
flank of more than 40 miles long to Maunoury, French, and d’Espérey’s
left. Joffre seems to have hesitated for a moment as to whether it were
best to continue the retreat, as arranged, to the Seine, and then to
have given way to Gallieni’s importunity. “We cannot count on better
conditions for our offensive,” he told the Government.

The order of battle was issued on the evening of September 4.
“Advantage must be taken of the adventurous situation of the I German
Army (right wing),” it started: this was to be the factor of surprise.
Positions would be taken on the 5th in order that the general movement
might begin at dawn on the following day. The 6th Army and the British
were to strike east on either side of the Marne, toward Château-Thierry
and Montmirail respectively, while the 5th Army attacked due northward:
thus, it was hoped, Kluck would be taken in flank and front, and
crushed by superior force. The central armies (9th and 4th) would
move north against Bülow, the Saxons, and the Duke of Würtemberg; and
Sarrail would break westward from Verdun against the exposed flank
of the Crown Prince. The function of Foch’s, the smallest of the
French armies concerned, and of de Langle’s, the next smallest, must
be regarded as primarily defensive, the chief offensive rôle being
entrusted to d’Espérey’s, by far the strongest, and Maunoury’s, with
the small British force linking them. Sarrail had not the means to
exploit his advantage of position. The essence of the plan lay in the
rectangular attack of the left.

[Illustration: The CRISIS of the BATTLE

Mid-day, Sept. 9.]

The design was perfect: Kluck’s columns, stretched out from the Ourcq
to near Esternay, should have been smashed in, the western part
of the German communications overwhelmed, the other armies put to
flight. These results were not obtained; the whole battle was, indeed,
compromised, before it was well begun, by the unreadiness of the
Allied left and the precipitancy of General Gallieni. When Lamaze’s
reservists stumbled upon Schwerin’s outposts north of Meaux, at midday
on September 5——eighteen hours before the offensive was timed to
open——Maunoury had only three divisions in line, and on the following
day he had only two more. Kluck had instantly taken alarm; his II
Corps was actually on its way back to the Ourcq while the main body of
the Allied armies was commencing their grand operation. The benefit
of surprise was thus sacrificed; and Kluck was able to move one after
another of his corps to meet Maunoury’s reinforcements as they arrived
upon the field. Certain French partizans of the then Governor of Paris
have attempted to shift the responsibility for this miscarriage to the
shoulders of the British Commander-in-Chief. The Expeditionary Force
deserves more scrupulous justice. It had retired and was re-forming
behind the Forest of Crécy, at the request of General Joffre, when the
order of September 4 arrived. The positions therein named to be reached
on the following day (Changis–Coulommiers) were unattainable, being too
far away, and solidly held by the enemy. The instructions for Marshal
French were to attack eastward toward Montmirail on the 6th; neither to
him nor to the French Staff was it known till the afternoon of that
day that Kluck was withdrawing across the Marne. No need appeared of
helping Maunoury until September 7. By that time the Field-Marshal had
again changed his direction at Joffre’s request, facing north beside
d’Espérey, instead of east beside Maunoury; and, from the moment when
Kluck’s withdrawal was discovered, rapid progress was made.

The German Staff now seems to have completely lost control of its two
chief Commanders. The fatal fault is plainly exhibited in Bülow’s
“Bericht zur Marneschlacht”——significantly, withheld from publication
for five years. Though weakened by a premature start, unreadiness, and
imperfect co-ordination, the French attack on the Ourcq necessarily
produced not merely a local shock, but a disturbance reverberating
eastward by what has been called its “effect of suction.” To double
this with the strain of Bülow’s continued offensive——disastrously
successful in the surprise of Fère Champènoise——was the most reckless
gambling. With the I Army pulling north-west, the II Army pulling
south-east, and 60 miles between the points where they were seeking a
decision, how could anything more than a pretence of liaison be kept
up? But it was precisely before this interval that Joffre had aligned a
full third of the strength of the French crescent——the 20 divisions of
the French 5th and British armies. In the separation of the two masses
of the German right, and the entry between them of this powerful body,
lies the governing cause of the victory.

All the rest is a prodigy of endurance. The battle of the Ourcq was no
sooner joined than it resolved itself into a race of reinforcements,
and a stubborn, swaying combat over a few miles of open farmland,
with little of manœuvre, save reciprocal attempts at envelopment by
the north. The story of the battle of the Marshes of St. Gond is the
epic of Foch’s obstinacy, of Humbert’s defence of the pivot on the
Sézanne plateau, the loss of the swampy barrier and Mont Août, the
agonising breakdown about Fère Champènoise on September 8, and the
devices of the following day to close the breach. Between these points
of strangulation, the real offensive arm of the Allies progressed
with comparative ease. On the night of September 8, when d’Espérey’s
3rd Corps entered Montmirail, it was exactly midway between them. On
the morning of the 9th, when the British 1st and 2nd Corps passed
the Marne, Kluck and Bülow were more definitely divided. At noon,
Smith-Dorrien and Haig were on the Lizy–Château-Thierry road; and in
the evening d’Espérey’s 18th Corps held Château-Thierry. No last-moment
success of the enemy on the Ourcq or in Champagne could have greatly
affected the course of this development. The necessity of a retreat
of the three Western armies was probably accepted by the German Grand
Staff in the morning of September 9; but it may be that a considerable
success by either or both of the Crown Princes on that day would have
modified the decision as regards the rest of the front. At 11 a.m.
Betz was evacuated; and during the afternoon great convoys were seen
hurrying from the Ourcq to the Aisne. Bülow’s orders, inspired by
fear of flank attack by d’Espérey’s 10th and 1st Corps, rather than
by the 42nd Division, seem to have been given about 3 p.m. Fère
Champènoise was abandoned in the evening, and Foch’s anxiously prepared
manœuvre could not be carried out. The 6th and 9th Armies were too
much exhausted to attempt a serious pursuit till next morning; and the
German right reached the Aisne without inordinate losses.

Every part of the French line had contributed to this result, every
other army had been cut or kept down to serve the major opportunity.
And, if it stood relatively immobile, no less heroism and resource were
shown on the eastern than on the western wing of the Allied crescent.
Sarrail and de Langle were able to keep a rectangular disposition
like that of Maunoury and the B.E.F., forcing the Crown Prince to
fight on a double front; but they had not even a numerical equality
of force with which to exploit it. The 4th Army, in holding foot by
foot the Ornain-Saulx valley from Vitry to Sermaize, and the 3rd in
its defence of the long salient of the Meuse, were also weighed upon
by this peculiar anxiety: a comparatively small force might pierce
their frail river guard, or the wall of the Lorraine armies might
collapse beside them. They were helped to success by three errors of
omission on the part of the German armies concerned: (1) Verdun was not
directly attacked, the Crown Prince being confident that it would fall
automatically while his cavalry were reaching Dijon; (2) the attempt to
force the Meuse at Troyon was feeble and tardy; (3) the thinly-covered
gap on Langle’s left was not discovered until the 21st Corps had
been brought up. All along the line, the fighting was of a sustained
violence. The 15th Corps arrived from Lorraine on September 8 just in
time to save the junction of the 3rd and 4th Armies. It was, however,
not till noon on the 11th that the Duke of Würtemberg abandoned Vitry;
and only on the night of the 12th did the Prince Imperial order a
retreat which definitely relieved Verdun, and reopened the Châlons road
and railway.

In resting his plan upon a defence of the eastern pivot of the retreat
and the recoil, Joffre was accepting an accomplished fact. The great
attack upon the Couronné of Nancy began on the evening of September
4, thirty-six hours before the Allied offensive. It may be supposed,
therefore, that the German Staff had decided to get the Bavarian Army
into a position in which it could co-operate effectively with the
Imperial Crown Prince when he came up level on the west. Heeringen’s
push from the St. Dié region toward Epinal, and the attack on the
Mortagne, were probably intended to hide this design, and to pin down
Dubail’s forces. The promptitude with which Heeringen was sent off
to the Aisne, on the night of September 6, that is, as soon as the
danger of Kluck’s position was realised, is significant. In itself,
the presence of the Kaiser during the Bavarian attack on the Grand
Couronné proves nothing. His ceremonial entry into Nancy would have
grievously hurt French pride; but the sacrifice of the city had always
been contemplated, Toul being the real redoubt of the Moselle defences.
The prize was to be larger; the prestige of three royal personages was
to be satisfied. The Crown Princes of Prussia and Bavaria, ingeniously
linked, had been so directed that in the crisis they had the whole
Verdun–Toul system between them, and apparently at their mercy. The
assault of the Amezule defile and Mount Amance was reciprocal to the
adventure which Sarrail arrested 50 miles farther west.

For five days and nights the battle raged about the entrenched crescent
of the Nancy hills, with fiery wings outspread to Gerbéviller on the
south-east, and Rozières on the north-west. No more dreadful struggle
can be recorded. The German effort ceased on the night of September 9;
and on the 11th the general withdrawal to the old frontier began. Like
Foch, Langle, and Sarrail, Castlenau had won through by the narrowest
of margins; but his, pre-eminently, was a victory of foresight and
preparation. With all their power of heavy artillery (and here the
resources of Metz and Strasbourg were at hand), it is remarkable that
the German Staff never attempted to repeat in Lorraine the _coup_ of
Liège. As the French respected Metz, they respected Verdun; and the
manœuvre of the double approach to Toul, from east and west, proves
their fears. These were, as we now know, well justified. “It is
certain,” says Freytag-Loringhoven, “that the old-fashioned fortresses
are worthless, and, moreover, that the earlier notion, handed down
from the Middle Ages, that positions have to be secured by means of
fortresses, must be discarded.... But it will not be possible to
dispense with certain previously prepared fortified points at places
where only defensive tactics can be employed. The fortifications of the
French eastern frontier, above all Verdun and the Moselle defences,
have demonstrated how valuable these may be.... It is a question
of constructing not a continuous system of fortifications, but a
succession of central points of defence, and this not in the shape
of fortified towns, but of entrenchment of important areas” (pp.
64–6). And again: “The intention was to effect an envelopment from two
sides. The envelopment by the left wing was, however, brought to a
standstill before the fortifications of the French eastern frontier,
which, in view of the prompt successes in Belgium, it had been hoped
to overcome.... The defensive tactics of the chiefs of the French Army
were rendered very much easier by the support these fortifications
gave to their wing, as well as by the possibility of effecting
rapid transfers of troops afforded by a very convenient network of
railways, and a very large number of motor-wagons upon good roads (pp.
79–80)..... The war has proved that the assertion often made in time of
peace, that the spade digs the grave of the offensive, is not correct”
(p. 97).

       *       *       *       *       *

One day, toward the end of the battle, I came upon a ring of peasants
digging a pit for the carcasses of two horses that lay near by. They
had already buried fourteen others, but seemed happy at their gruesome
task——just such sententious fellows as the master took for his models
in a famous scene. One of them guided me uphill to a small chalk-pit,
at the bottom of which a mound of fresh earth, surmounted by a couple
of sticks tied crosswise with string, marked the grave of two English
lads unnamed. A thicket shaded the hollow; but all around the sunshine
played over rolling stubble-fields. Ere the grave-diggers had finished,
a threshing-machine was working at the farm across the highway. Some
men were ploughing the upper ridge of the battlefield; and, as I
left, a procession of high-prowed carts, full of women and children
sitting atop their household goods, brought back home a first party
of refugees. The harvest of death seemed already to give way to the
harvest of life.

First of many still-born hopes. The Christmas that was to be the
festival of peace passed, and another, and another. Interminably,
the war prolonged itself through new scenes, more ingenious forms of
slaughter, new abysms of pain, till the armies had fallen into a temper
of iron endurance. But, even in such extremities, the heart will seek
its food. Month after month, by day and night, coming from beleaguered
Verdun or the gateways of Alsace to reach the Oise and Flanders, I
passed down the long sparkling valleys of the Marne; every turn grew
familiar, and their green folds whispered of the gain in loss and
the quiet within the storm. Like all religion, patriotism, for the
many, speaks in symbols; what symbol more eloquent than the strong
stream, endlessly renewed to cleanse, to nourish, and to heal? Through
those stony years, most of the convoys crossed the Marne at some
point——lumbering carts, succeeded by wagons white with a slime of dust
and petrol; fussy Staff cars and hurried ambulances; gun-trains, their
helmeted riders swaying spectrally in the misty air of dawn; columns
of heavy-packed infantry, dreaming of their loves left in trembling
cities far behind. In turn, all the armies of France, and some of those
of Britain, America, and Italy, came this way; and into their minds,
unconsciously, must have fallen something of the spirit of the Marne,
and of those frightened apprentices of the war who first saved France,
and dammed an infamous aggression.

So much the poilus knew; that comfort supported them. Most of the high
company of Joffre’s captains were still with them, winning fresh
laurels——Foch, Petain, and Haig, Castlenau, Humbert, Langle, Sarrail,
Franchet d’Espérey, Mangin, Guillaumat, Pulteney, Nivelle, Maud’huy,
Micheler, and many another. Soon the world at large understood that
this strange overturn of fortune was the base of all subsequent
victories in the same good cause. More than this——that a man had
conceived, designed, organised, and controlled it, and so earned
enduring fame——might be vaguely felt, but could not be certainly known
until the passage of time allowed it to be said that, as surely as
there were warts on Cromwell’s nose, there were shadows to the lights
of the record of victory. At length, a true picture is possible; and
instead of a play of blind forces, or a senseless “miracle,” we see a
supremely dramatic revolt of outraged reason, nobly led, and justly

The German conspiracy failed on the Marne not by any partial
fault or executive error, but by the logic of its most essential
characteristics. It was a masterpiece of diabolical preparation: it
failed, when the quickly-awakened French mind grappled with it, from
dependence upon a rigid mechanism, and the inability of its authors to
adjust it to unexpected circumstances. It was a wager on speed——for the
enveloping movement bore in it the germs of the ultimate disturbance;
that is to say, it presumed the stupidity or pusillanimity of the
Republican Command, and this presumption proved fatal. These faults
were aggravated by disunion among the army leaders and disillusion
among the men, while the Allies were inspired to an almost perfect
co-operation. Already delayed and weakened in Belgium, the invading
armies saw their surplus strength evaporating in the long pursuit,
their dislocated line caught in a sudden recoil, and to be saved from
being rent asunder only by closing the adventure. In the disastrous
moment when Kluck and Bülow turned in opposite directions, the proudest
war school in the world was beaten, and humiliated, by a stout burgess
of Rivesaltes. Long before the war itself became hateful, this thought
worked bitterly. Criminals do not make the best soldiers. Moltke was
cashiered, with him Kluck and Hausen, and we know not how many more. It
was the twilight of the heathen gods.

In the long run, mankind cherishes the reasonable, in faith or action;
and, of the barbarous trial of war, this is all that remains in the
memory of future ages. The Marne was a signal triumph for Right, won,
not by weight of force or by accident, but by superior intelligence
and will. That is its essential title to our attention, and its most
pregnant meaning for posterity. So immense a trial was it, and a
triumph so vitally necessary to civilisation, that all the heroic
episodes of our Western history pale before it, to serve henceforth for
little, faint, but comprehensible analogies; in the French mind even
the _epopée_ of the great Emperor is at last eclipsed. The combatants
themselves could not see it thus. Afterwards, the war and those doomed
to continue it became sophisticated——governments and the press told
them what to expect, and followed them with praise and some care.
In this first phase, there is a strange _naïveté_; it is nearly all
headlong extemporisation; masses of men constantly plunged from one
into another term of the unknown. The “front” was never fixed; there
were few of the features of combat later most characteristic——no
trenches or dugouts, no bombs or helmets, no poison-gas, no mines,
no Stokes guns, no swarm of buzzing ’planes across the sky, no field
railways, few hot meals, and fewer ambulance cars. The armies did not
come up to their tasks through zones devastated by the enemy, and then
reorganised by engineers into so many monstrous war-factories. The
forests they crossed were undisturbed, the orchards blossoming, the
towns intact. They knew nothing of “camouflage”: on the contrary, they
saw and sought the individual foe, and by him were seen individually.
Very often, and quickly, they came to bodily grips; commonly, the
conflict ceased, or slackened, at sunset. What would afterward have
seemed a moderate bombardment terrorised them, for it was worse than
anything they had heard of.

In sum, with less of horror and less of protection, they felt as
much as, and more freshly than, those who followed. War had not yet
become habitual——there was neither the half-sceptical stoicism nor
the profound comradeship of later days. Only a month had passed since
this first million lads had left home. Every hour had brought some new
shock. Resentment was fresh and fierce in them. No romantic illusion
fed it; but deep offence called to the depths of dignity of an aged
nation for answer, and the answer came. There stood the Boche, arrogant
and formidable, polluting the soil of Brie and Champagne, the heart of
France——what argument could there be? They did not think of one spot
as more sacred than another, as, afterwards, thousands fell to hold
Ypres and Arras, Soissons, Rheims, and Verdun. Like the process, the
inspiration was simpler. The fields of the Marne were France, the land
that had nurtured them, its freedom and grace of life and thought, the
long Latin heritage, the virtues that a new Barbarism had dared to
dispute and outrage. For this great all, they gave straightway their
little all.

Rivers of blood, the old, rich Gallic blood that mingled Roman
experience and Mediterranean fire with the peasant vigour of the North,
tempered through centuries of labour and exaltation. The best must
needs suffer most; and France, historic guardian of ancient treasuries,
standard-bearer of European civilisation, must suffer in chief for the
weaknesses of the Western world. To those who knew her, there was ever
something of worship in their love, as in our regard for the fullest
type of womanhood. The earth thrilled with anger to see her so foully
stricken, and breathed freely only when her sons had shown the pure
nobility of their response. No frenzies of meliorism, no Carmagnoles
of murderous ambition, no Danton or Robespierre, no La Vendée and no
Buonaparte have marred the story of the defence of the Third Republic.
Democracy, Reason, slow-growing Law, are justified of their children.

Men raised by such achievement into an immortality of human gratitude,
the young limbs and hearts so swiftly girded up, so soon loosed upon
eternity, should evoke no common mourning.

   “Knows he who tills this lonely field,
    To reap its scanty corn,
    What mystic fruit his acres yield?”

Not their own soil only, they enriched with their blood, but the
universal mind. In saving the best in dream and reality that France
means to the world, they saved the whole future, as short reflection
upon the alternative will show. The victory of the Marne sealed the
brotherhood of France and England, and did much toward bringing America
and the Dominions into the comity of nations. It was the basis of the
completer victory to follow, and of the only possibilities of future
peace and liberal progress. For ever, this example will call to youth
everywhere——“that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion,
that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have lived in
vain.” May there not again be need to pass through such a Gehenna; but
it is surer that the world will only be made “safe for democracy,”
or even for elementary order, by the vigilance and chivalry of each
oncoming generation. For these, for ever, ghostly bugles will blow
through the woods and hamlets of the Marne.

   “_Ames des chevaliers, revenez-vous encor?
    Est-ce vous qui parlez avec la voix du cor?
    Roncevaux! Roncevaux! dans ta sombre vallée
    L’ombre du grand Roland, n’est-elle pas consolée?_”


[1] Many volumes of soldiers’ notes and recollections have been
published, and some of them have high literary merit. One of these is
_Ma Pièce, Souvenirs d’un Canonnier_ (Paris: Plon-Nourrit), by Sergeant
Paul Lintier, of the 44th Artillery, who shared in the defeat of
Ruffey’s Army near Virton, in the south-eastern corner of Belgium, 35
miles north of Verdun. It was almost his first sight of bloodshed, and
with an artist’s truthfulness he records all the confusion of his mind.

“The battle is lost,” he writes on August 23, “I know not how or why. I
have seen nothing. It is a sheer nightmare. We shall be massacred....
Anguish chokes me.... This boiling mass of animality and thought that
is my life is about to cease. My bleeding body will be stretched upon
the field. I see it. Across the sunny perspective of the future a great
curtain falls. I am only twenty-one years old.... What are we waiting
for? Why do not our guns fire? I perspire, I am afraid ... afraid.”

This mood gradually passes away. A few days later he is trying to
explain the change: “One accustoms oneself to danger as to the
cruellest privations, or the uncertainty of the morrow. I used to
wonder, before the war, how the aged could live in quietude before
the immanence of death. Now I understand. For ourselves, the risk of
death has become an element of daily existence. One counts with it; it
no longer astonishes, and frightens us less. And, besides, every day
trains us to courage. The conscious and continuous effort to master
oneself succeeds at length. This is the whole of military bravery. One
is not born brave; one becomes so.” And this stoicism is softened and
spiritualised by a new sense of what the loss of France would mean.

Another notable narrative of this period of the war is _Ce qu’a vu
un Officier de Chasseurs-à-Pied_ (Paris: Plon-Nourrit), by Henri
Libermann, The writer was engaged on the Belgian frontier farther west,
near where the Semoy falls out of the Ardennes into the Meuse, the
region where the Saxons and the IV Army joined hands on the one side,
and, on the other, the 5th French Army, Lanrezac’s, touched all too
lightly the 4th, that of de Langle de Cary. Some French officers have
quartered themselves in an old convent, picturesquely set upon a wooded
hill. They do not know it, but, in fact, the cause is already lost
from Dinant to Neufchâteau. All they know is that a part of the 9th
Corps is in action a few miles to the north. The guns can be heard; the
villagers are flying in panic; the flames of burning buildings redden
the northern sky.

“In the convent parlour, the table is laid with a fine white cloth,
decorated with flowers, bottles covered with venerable dust,
cakes whose golden crust gladdens the eyes. A brilliant Staff,
the Commandant, a few chasseur officers. The Sisters hurry about,
carrying dishes. ‘A little more fowl, my dear Commandant,’ says the
Brigadier; ‘really, it is delicious. And this wine——Pontet-Canet of
’74, if you please!’ All of us are grateful to the good Sisters, who
are such delicate cooks. At dessert, as though embarrassed by an
unhappy impression shared by all the guests, the General speaks: ‘Rest
tranquil, gentlemen. Our attack to-morrow morning will be overwhelming.
Debouching between hills 832 and 725, it will take in flank the German
Corps which is stopping our brave 9th, and will determine the victory.”

Hardly has the toast of the morrow’s triumph been drunk than a heavy
step is heard outside, the click of spurs, and then a knock on the
door. A captain enters, in helmet and breastplate, a bloody bandage
across his forehead, dust thick upon his uniform, perspiration rolling
down his face. He has ridden from Dinant with news of the defeat, and
secret instructions. The Uhlans are near. Nevertheless, the officers
go to bed. During the night they are aroused by an increasing clamour
of flying peasants outside the convent. There are soldiers among
them, wildly crying: “The Prussians are coming, _sauve qui peut_!” An
infantry regiment had camped, the previous evening, in the village
of Willerzie. “They arrived late, tired out. No thought but of rest,
no scouts or outposts. On the verge of the neighbouring forest,
grey-coated horsemen appeared. The sentinels fired a few shots, and
they retired into the wood. The regiment then went to sleep in its
false security. About 11 p.m., however, three searchlights flashed
along the village streets. ‘_Schnell, schnell!_ _Vorwärts, vorwärts!_’
A terrible fusillade broke out around the houses; and, as our
infantrymen, hurriedly wakened, ran to arms, a thick rain of bullets
fell upon them. In a few instants, terror was transformed into panic,
panic into rout. At this moment the regiment was flying, dispersed in
all directions, pursued by the ‘hurrahs’ of the victorious Germans.”


[2] The question whether the Eastern thrust was integral in the
original plan cannot be absolutely determined on the present
information; but it is significant that at the outset the German forces
on the East were inferior to the French.

M. Gabriel Hanotaux (_Revue des Deux Mondes_, November 15, 1916) thinks
that the German right, centre, and left were aiming at the region of
Troyes, Kluck from the north-west, Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria from the
east, and the Imperial Crown Prince from the north. “The direction of
the Prince of Bavaria appears from an order seized on the enemy giving
as objective Rozelieures, that is to say, the Gap of Charmes; the
direction of the Crown Prince is revealed by an order of September 6
giving Dijon as objective for his cavalry.”

Lt.-General von Freytag-Loringhoven (_Deductions from the World
War_. London: Constable. 1918) says: “The intention was to effect
an envelopment from two sides. Envelopment by the left wing of the
[German] Army was, however, brought to a standstill before the
fortifications of the French eastern frontier.”

A German brochure on the battle of the Marne——_Die Schlachten an der
Marne_ (Berlin: Mittler & Sohn. 1916), by a “German Staff Officer”
who was evidently an eye-witness, and probably a member of the staff
either of General von Kluck, or of General von Moltke, chief of the
Grand Staff from the beginning of the war till after the battle, says
the plan was to rest on the defensive from the Swiss frontier to the
Donon, while the mass of the armies rolled the French up south of the
Seine, and Reserve and Landwehr Corps advanced to the coast to stop the
landing of British troops. “By all human provisions, this plan might
have been carried out by the end of September 1914.”

A French translation of this interesting booklet (_Une Version
Allemande de la Marne_. Brussels et Paris: G. Van Oest et Cie. 1917)
includes also a critical study by M. Joseph Reinach, a part of which
is given to the results of an examination of the maps taken on German
dead, wounded, and prisoners in the beginning of the war. These
Staff maps fall into four categories, of which three date from the
mobilisation or earlier, and so throw light on the original plan of
campaign, while one set was distributed at a later date. The former
are: (1) sets of maps of Belgium——the whole country——in seventy
sheets, reproducing the Belgian “60,000th” Staff map, and dated 1906,
another evidence of premeditation. (2) The north-east of France, from
the French “80,000” map, with names in French, but explanations in
Italian, dated 1910. These had evidently been printed for the use of
Italian troops, but, when Italy declared itself neutral, had been
distributed to German officers from motives of economy. (3) The north
and north-east of France in 87 sheets, _not including Paris_, dated
from 1905 to 1908, and distributed to German officers on the eve of
the mobilisation. These are based upon the French “80,000” map, with
some variations and special markings. They include the whole of the
eastern and northern frontiers from Belfort to Dunkirk; the significant
thing is their limits on the west and south. On the west they include
the regions of Dunkirk, St. Omer, Arras, Amiens, Montdidier and
Beauvais, but not those of Calais, Boulogne, Abbeville, and Rouen.
At 30 or 40 miles north of Paris, they turn eastward, including the
sectors of Soissons and Rheims, but excluding those of Paris and Meaux.
They then turn south again, including the Chalôns, Arcis, and Troyes
sheets; and the southern limit is the regions of Troyes, Chaumont,
and Mirécourt, (4) Finally, there is a set of 41 sheets supplementary
to the last named, printed in 1914, and either distributed at a later
date, or intended for armies other than those of the first invasion.
These included Calais and the Channel coast, Rouen, Paris, Meaux, to
the south thereof the regions of the Orleanais, Berry, the Nivernais,
including the great manufacturing centre of Le Creusot, the north of
Burgundy, Franche Comté, the Jura, and the Swiss frontier from Bâle to
near the Lake of Geneva.

In his _L’Enigme de Charleroi_ (Paris: L’Edition Française Illustrée,
20 Rue de Provence. 1917), M. Hanotaux expresses the belief that, at
the outset, the German Command, regarding England as the chief enemy,
intended its armies to cross northern Belgium, “straight to the west
and the sea, with Dunkirk and Calais as immediate objective,” and
that the French resistance diverted them from the coastal region. The
evidence of the maps appears to the present writer more convincing than
the reasoning of M. Hanotaux.


[3] It is not necessary here to state the evidence in detail; but these
figures may be accepted as substantially correct. I am indebted to a
British authority for criticism and information. Besides the 4 Landwehr
Divisions in course of formation during the last days of August, there
were a number of Landwehr Brigades, which, however, had no artillery
and were not organised for the field. By the first week of September,
the XI Corps and Guard Reserve Corps had gone to the Russian front;
but the 4 Landwehr Divisions named above had come in as effective. The
“Metz Army Detachment” may be counted as adding a division.

[4] The transport of “covering troops” began at 9 p.m. on July 31, and
ended at noon on August 3. On the Eastern Railway alone, 538 trains
were required. The “transports of concentration,” from August 5 to 18,
engaged 4300 trains, only a score of which were behind time. After
Charleroi, between August 26 and September 3, the removal of three
army corps, five infantry divisions, and three cavalry divisions from
Lorraine to the Central and Western fronts was effected by 740 trains,
while the railways were largely swamped by other military movements and
the civilian exodus.

[5] For fuller explanations on this point, see _Le Revers de 1914 et
ses Causes_, by Lt.-Col. de Thomasson (Paris: Berger-Levrault. 1919).
Of the volumes published in France up to this date on the first period
of the war, this moderate and closely-reasoned essay by an accomplished
officer is one of the most valuable.

General Verraux (_L’Oeuvre_, June 1, 1919) refers to this weakness and
confirms my general conclusion: “Despite the inferior organisation
of reserves, with our 25 Active Corps, the 80 corps battalions of
reserves, the Belgians and the British, we had, if not a numerical
superiority, almost an equality with the German forces, deducting those
on the Russian front.”

M. Victor Giraud, a competent historical writer, in his _Histoire de
la Grande Guerre_ (Part I. ch. iii. Paris: Hachette. 1919) gives other
details, leading to the same conclusion.

[6] _Etudes et Impressions de Guerre_, vol. i, (Paris: Tallandier.
1917). General Malleterre, commanding the 46th Regiment, 3rd Army, was
seriously wounded in the battle of the Marne. Taking up the pen on his
recovery, he became one of the ablest French commentators on the war.

[7] “No enterprise, perhaps,” says a French military publication, “is
as purely French as the conquest of the air. The first free balloon,
the first dirigible, the first aeroplane all rose from our soil.”
However, “the war surprised our aviation in an almost complete state
of destitution. Our 200 pilots, almost all sportsmen, possessed
between them a total of two machine-guns. A few squadrillas, without
clearly-defined functions, sought their places on the front.” Aerial
artillery ranging, photography, and observation had been envisaged,
and, more generally, chasing and bombardment; but there was hardly a
beginning of preparation.

France had at the beginning of the war 24 squadrillas, each of five or
six machines, all scouts, of a speed from 50 to 70 miles an hour. M.
Engerand says that “Germany entered the campaign with 1500 aeroplanes;
we had on the front only 129.” Captive balloons had been abandoned
as incapable of following the armies in the war of movement then
almost exclusively contemplated. “Events proved our mistake,” says the
official publication already quoted. “Enemy balloons followed the rapid
advance of the armies of invasion. Ascending immediately behind the
lines, they rendered the adversary indubitable services at the battle
of the Marne. Then we hurriedly constituted balloon companies; and in
1915 we followed the German model of ‘sausage’ balloons.”

_Mons and the Retreat_, by Captain G. S. Gordon, a British Staff
officer (London: Constable. 1918), contains some information of the
Royal Flying Corps in August and September 1914. The Corps was founded
in April 1912. At the beginning of the war, it included six squadrons,
only four of which could be immediately mobilised, with a complement
of 109 officers and 66 aeroplanes. These, however, did excellent work
from the beginning. The writer says: “If we were better scouts and
fighters, the Germans were better observers for the guns. The perfect
understanding between the Taubes and the German gunners was one of the
first surprises of the war.”


[8] De Bloch, who had been a large railway contractor in the
Russo-Turkish War, and a leading Polish banker, published the results
of his experiences and researches, in six volumes, under the general
title _La Guerre_, during the last years of the nineteenth century,
and afterwards established a “Museum of War and Peace” at Lucerne
to illustrate the subject. His chief thesis was that, owing to the
technical development of military instruments and other factors, an
aggressive war between States of nearly equal resources could not now
give the results aimed at; and there is no longer any doubt that he
foresaw the main track of military development as few soldiers did. The
following sentences from a sketch of the writings and conversations of
de Bloch, published by the present writer in 1902, will serve to show
that he anticipated some of the governing characteristics of the Great

“The resisting power of an army standing on the defensive, equipped
with long-range, quick-firing rifles and guns, from ten to twenty
times more powerful than those of 1870 and 1877, expert in entrenching
and the use of barbed wire and other obstacles, and highly mobile,
is something quite different from that which Napoleon, or even later
aggressors, had to face. Not only is it a much larger force, the
manhood of a nation; it is also a body highly educated, an army
of engineers. Its infantry lines and battery positions will be
invisible. Reconnaissances will be easily prevented by protecting
bands of sharpshooters; and no object of attack will offer itself to
the invader till he has come within a zone of deadly fire. The most
heavy and powerful shells, which are alone of use against entrenched
positions, cannot be used in great number, or brought easily into
action. Artillery shares the advantage of a defensive position. If the
attackers have a local superiority, the defenders can delay them long
enough to allow of an orderly retirement to other entrenched positions.
The attacker will be forced to entrench himself, and so the science
of the spade reduces battle to sieges. Battle in the open would mean
annihilation; yet it is only by assault that entrenched positions can
be carried.

“Warfare will drag on more slowly than ever. While an invading army
is being decimated by sickness and wounds, and demoralised by the
heavy loss of officers and the delay of any glorious victory, the home
population will be sunk in misery by the growth of economic burdens,
the stoppage of trade and industry. The small, elastic, and manageable
army of the past could make quick marches, turning movements,
strategical demonstrations in the widest sense. Massed armies of
millions, like those of to-day, leaning on long-prepared defences, must
renounce all the more delicate manifestations of the military art.
Armies as they now stand cannot manœuvre, and must fight in directions
indicated in advance. The losses of to-day would be proportionately
greater than in past wars, if it were not for the tactical means
adopted to avoid them. But the consequence of distance and dispersion
is that victorious war——the obtaining of results by destroying the
enemy’s principal forces, and thus making him submit to the conqueror’s
will——can exist no more.”

With all its errors of detail, de Bloch’s picture, drawn when
the aeroplane and the petrol motor-wagon, “wireless” and the
field-telephone, poison-gas and barrage fire were unknown, was a true
prophecy, and all the belligerents paid dearly for neglecting it.

For somewhat similar prognostications by a French officer, see _Comment
on pouvait prévoir l’immobilisation des fronts dans la guerre moderne_
(Paris: Berger-Levrault), being a summary of the writings of Captain
Emile Mayer, whose first studies date from 1888.

[9] He adds: “and that if, in September, the Germans had learned their
lesson, the Allies would never have driven them back to the Aisne.”
This is a more disputable proposition. On the Sambre, the French were
immediately driven back; on the Ourcq, the Germans held out for four
days, and retired partly because their supply services had given out.
To a very large extent they had certainly learned their lesson; and for
nearly four years thereafter they bettered it on the Aisne hills.

The quotations are from the volume _1914_, by Field-Marshal Viscount
French of Ypres (London: Constable. 1919), an important body of
evidence, passages of which, however, must be read critically. Lord
French in his narrative repeatedly insists upon the slowness with
which the need of a “transformation of military ideas,” owing to the
factors named, was recognised. “It required the successive attempts of
Maunoury, de Castelnau, Foch, and myself to turn the German flanks in
the North in the old approved style, and the practical failure of these
attempts, to bring home to our minds the true nature of war as it is

Of the end of the battle of the Marne, he writes (ch. vii.): “We had
not even then grasped the true effect and bearing of the many new
elements which had entered into the practice of modern war. We fully
believed we were driving the Germans back to the Meuse, if not to the
Rhine; and all my communications with Joffre and the French generals
most closely associated with me breathed the same spirit.... We were
destined to undergo another terrible disappointment. The lessons of
war, as it is to-day, had to be rubbed in by another dearly-bought
experience, and in a hard and bitter school.”

There is both courage and _naïveté_ in the following tardy profession
of the belief de Bloch had expounded fifteen years before: “Afterwards,
we witnessed the stupendous efforts of de Castelnau and Foch; but
all ended in the same trench! trench! trench! I finished my part in
the battle of the Aisne, however, unconverted, and it required the
further and more bitter lesson of my own failure in the North to pass
the Lys River, during the last days of October, to bring home to my
mind a principle in warfare of to-day which I have held ever since,
namely, that, given forces fairly equally matched, you can ‘bend,’ but
you cannot ‘break,’ your enemy’s trench line.... Everything which has
happened in the war has borne out the truth of this view; and, from
the moment I grasped this great truth, I never failed to proclaim it,
although eventually I suffered heavily for holding such opinions.”


[10] M. Victor Giraud, in his _Histoire_, writes: “The French troops
were neither armed nor equipped as they should have been.... Neither
in the liaison of arms, nor in the rôle of the artillery, nor in
the possibilities of aviation or trenches, had the army very clear
ideas; it believed only in the offensive, the war of movement, which
precisely, to-day more than ever, calls for a superiority of armament,
if not also of effectives.... France could and should have remembered
that it was the country of Vauban and de Sère de Rivière.... There
was no longer any faith in permanent fortification, but only in the
offensive, which was confused with the offensive spirit.”

Pierre Dauzet, _Guerre de 1914_. _De Liège à la Marne_, p. 29 (Paris:
Charles Lavauzelle. 1916). “I shall not exaggerate much in saying that
in many regiments the recruits incorporated in October 1913 commenced
the war next August without ever having shifted a spadeful of earth or
dug the most modest trench” (Thomasson, p. 19).

[11] Two commanders of armies, 7 of corps, 20 infantry divisionaires, 4
commanders of cavalry divisions. In some army corps, the commander and
his two divisional generals were removed (Thomasson, p. 12).

[12] _Etudes_, p. 66, note. And again (p. 88): “The offensive idea had
become very clear and very formal in our minds. It had the place, so
to say, of an official war doctrine. The lesson of the Russo-Japanese
war and the Balkan wars seemed to have disturbed the teaching of the
War School and the governing ideas of our Staff. At the moment when
the war opened, there was a sharp discussion between the partisans of
the offensive _à outrance_ and those who, foreseeing the formidable
manœuvre of Germany, leaned to a more prudent, more reasoned method,
which they described _as defensive strategy and offensive tactic_.”

[13] In _“L’Erreur” de 1914_. _Réponse aux Critiques_ (Paris and
Brussels: G. van Oest. 1919), General Berthaut is reduced to the
suggestion that some of these phrases were intended “to stimulate the
ardour of the young officers,” but that “the Command was not at all
bound to take them literally.”

General Berthaut was sub-chief of the French General Staff, and
director of the geographical service, from 1903 to 1912; and his
defence of the ideas prevailing up to the eve of the war deserves
careful reading, unsatisfying as it may be found on many points. It
is mainly intended to justify the Eastward concentration, and to
controvert those who think the business of an army is to defend the
national territory foot by foot. The general appeals to the weight
of military authority (which, as we shall see, is less one-sided
than he suggests): “From 1875 to 1914, we had 40 Ministers of War;
we changed the Chief of Staff sixteen times; changes were still more
numerous among sub-chiefs of Staff, heads of bureaux and services.
Several hundred officers of all arms, returning periodically to their
regiments, contributed to the Staff work of the army. Yet the directive
idea of our defence never varied. Such as it was in 1876, so it was
revealed in 1914.” Throughout this time, concentration was foreseen
and prepared behind the upper courses of the Meuse and Moselle with a
view to positions being held in the upper valleys of the Marne, Aube,
and Seine. The idea that the French eastern frontier was infrangible,
General Berthaut considers “extremely exaggerated.” If it had not been
adequately held, the Germans would have turned thither from the north.
The violation of the neutrality either of Switzerland or Belgium was,
however, beyond doubt. To cover the whole frontier was impossible;
and, “incontestably,” the armies had to be turned in one mass toward
the east. Trenches are “an effect, not a cause, of the stabilisation
of fronts.” The general has a very poor opinion of fortresses, the
only one to which he attributes great importance being Metz! Liège was
“a practically useless sacrifice”; Maubeuge “stopped nothing.” These
opinions seem to the present writer untenable; and General Berthaut
admits that the reaction against fortification “went too far” (p.
182). He may be said to damn the three French offensives with faint
praise. The move into Alsace “could not be of any military interest,”
and was “a political affair.” The Lorraine offensive was “necessarily
limited,” as a distant objective could not be pursued between Metz and
Strasbourg. As to Charleroi, France was bound to make a demonstration
on behalf of Belgium and “to satisfy public opinion.” Much of General
Berthaut’s apologia is vitiated by his assumption that France had
necessarily to face a superiority of force.

One of the critics General Berthaut started out to controvert is M.
Fernand Engerand, deputy for Calvados, whose articles (particularly
in _Le Correspondant_, December 10, 1917, and subsequent numbers)
have been reprinted in a volume of 600 pages: _Le Secret de la
Frontière, 1815–1871–1914_. _Charleroi_ (Paris: Editions Bossard, 43
Rue Madame. 1918). The French plan of campaign, says M. Engerand,
was “humanly impossible. Nothing happened as our High Command had
foreseen; there was surprise all along the line, and, what is gravest,
surprise not only strategic but intellectual, the reversal of a
doctrine of war. After the magnificent recovery of the Marne, we may
without inconvenience avow that never has there been so complete a
self-deception. The error was absolute and, worse, deliberate, for
never was an attack more foreseen, more announced, more prophesied
than that of August 1914. Strategists of the old school had not only
predicted it for forty years, but had given us the means of parrying
it; their ideas were scouted and their work was destroyed.”

M. Engerand quotes, in particular, Lt.-Colonel Grouard on the
impossibility of an immediate French offensive beyond the frontiers
(see Grouard, _La Guerre Eventuelle_, 1913; and _L’Art de la Guerre
et le Colonel Grouard_, by C. de Bourcet, 1915). Grouard foresaw,
among other things, that “the army of the German right, marching by
the left bank of the Meuse, would pass the Sambre in the neighbourhood
of Charleroi, and direct itself toward the sources of the Oise.” M.
Engerand’s chapters contain a summary of the three French offensives.
His general comment is: “No unity of command, separate and dislocated
battles, no notion of information and safeguards before and during the
combat, systematic misconception of the ground and defensive means,
defective liaison between the corps and between artillery and infantry,
no manœuvre, but only the offensive, blind, systematic, frantic. If we
were defeated, is it an exaggeration to say that it was less by the
enemy than by a false doctrine?”

Lt.-Col. de Thomasson, on these points, quotes warning notes from
General Collin’s _Transformation de la Guerre_, written in 1911, and
refers to the case of Lt.-Col. Berrot, who, in 1902, had exposed “the
dangerous theories that had been deduced from the Napoleonic wars,” and
who “was disgraced pitilessly, and died while yet young.”


[14] Early French writers on the war found it difficult to make up
their minds whether there had, or had not, been a surprise in the
North. See _Histoire de la Guerre de 1914_ (ch. “Septembre”), by
Gabriel Hanotaux. This work, the most ambitious of the kind yet
attempted, is being published in fortnightly sections and periodical
volumes, of which the first deals with the origins of the war, the
next three with the frontier battles, and the following ones with the
battles of the retreat and preliminaries of the battle of the Marne
(Paris: Gounouilhou, 30 Rue de Provence).

M. Hanotaux says: “The project prepared by the German Staff of an
offensive by Belgium was not a secret. All was public and confessed.
There was no surprise in the absolute sense of the word. But there
remained an unknown quantity: would the probable hypothesis be
realised?” Later, however, he says: “The long-prepared manœuvre
consisted in crushing us by the carefully veiled onslaught not of 12,
but of 25, army corps, so that the surprise was double for us: the
most eccentric movement and the most unexpected numbers.... It was
this combination of circumstances, foreseen and unforeseen, that the
French Command had to parry: political necessity, surprise, numbers,
preparation, munitions.” And, again: “The invasion of Belgium _by the
left bank of the Meuse_ certainly surprised the French High Command”
(“La Manœuvre de la Marne,” _Rev. des Deux Mondes_, March 15, 1919).

M. Reinach, usually so clear and positive, was also ambiguous on this
point (_La Guerre sur le Front Occidental_, vol. i.). It suffices he
says, to glance at the map: “Nature herself traced this path (Flanders
and the Oise). Innumerable armies have followed it, in both directions,
for centuries” (p. 30). Nevertheless, the French Staff, though it had
“followed for many years the German preparations for an offensive by
Belgium” (p. 57), remained in an “anguish of doubt.”

Much evidence with regard to the events of the first phase of the
war is contained in the reports of the French “Commission of Inquiry
on Metallurgy,” 1918–19, the special task of which was to consider
why the Briey coalfield was not defended. On May 14, 1919, General
Maunoury testified to disaccord existing between commanding officers
at the beginning of the campaign, failure to co-ordinate efforts, and
ignorance of some generals of the plan of concentration. On the same
day, General Michel said that, in 1911, when he was Vice-President
of the Superior War Council, that is, Generalissimo designate, he
submitted a plan of concentration based upon a certitude of the whole
German invasion passing by Belgium and of the need of the principal
French action being directed to the North. The plan was rejected, after
being examined by General Brun, M. Berteaux, and M. Messimy.

General Percin, at the same inquiry (May 24, 1919), spoke of
“intrigues” and a “real palace revolution” in 1911 to replace General
Michel, as future Commander-in-Chief, by General Pau, the offence of
the former being to have foretold that the Germans would advance by
the left bank of the Meuse, and that they would at once engage their
reserves. According to General Percin, in the spring of 1914 General de
Castelnau said: “If the Germans extend their fighting front as far as
Lille, they will thin it so much that we can cut it in two. We can wish
for nothing better.” There is other evidence of this idea prevailing
in the General Staff: apparently it arose from underestimates of the
effective strength of the invasion.

Marshal Joffre gave evidence before the Commission on July 5, 1919,
but his reported statements do not greatly help us. He defended the
concentration under “plan 17,” which, he said, was operated much more
to the north than in previous plans, nearly all of these foreseeing
concentration south of Verdun. The French Staff was chiefly concerned
to give battle only when it had its full forces in hand. The 3rd Army
had a quite particular function, that of investing Metz. The plan
made before the war was not absolute, but was a directive modifiable
according to events. Officially, it stopped short at Hirson; but the
Staff had foreseen variants to second the Belgian effort. In March
1914, the Staff had prepared a note in which it had foreseen the
invasion by Belgium——a plan providing for eventualities. It was,
therefore, absurd to pretend that it had never foreseen the invasion
by Belgium. The Briey district was under the cannon of Metz, and could
not be included in the region of concentration. The loss of the “battle
of the Frontiers” was due to the fact that the best units of the
German Army presented themselves on the feeble point of our front. On
the French side there were failings. Generals who had great qualities
in peace time failed under stress of war. He had had to take action
against some who were his best friends, but believed he had done his
duty. Asked by the chairman with how many rifles he commenced the war,
Marshal Joffre replied, “with 2,300,000.” Lille, he said, could not be

Field-Marshal French (_1914_, ch. i.) says: “Personally, I had always
thought that Germany would violate Belgian neutrality, and in no such
half-hearted measure as by a march through the Ardennes.”

[15] In an article on the second anniversary of the first battle of the
Yser, the _Temps_ (Oct. 30, 1916) said that, before the war, Belgium
was more suspicious of England and France than of Germany. “If our
Staffs had wished to prepare, for the defence of Belgium, a plan of
operations on her territory, these suspicions would have taken body
and open conflict occurred. Nothing was foreseen of what happened, and
nothing was prepared.”

Field-Marshal French says: “Belgium remained a ‘dark horse’ to the
last, and could never be persuaded to decide upon her attitude in
the event of a general war.... We were anxious she should assist and
co-operate in her own defence.” On August 21, he received a note from
the Belgian Government remarking that the Belgian field army had from
the commencement of hostilities “been standing by hoping for the active
co-operation of the Allied Army,” but was now retreating upon Antwerp.

M. Engerand (_Le Drame de Charleroi_) says that on July 29, General
Lanrezac had sent to General Joffre a report on the likelihood of an
enveloping movement by the left bank of the Meuse; that after the
German Chancellor’s defence, on August 4, of the violation of Belgian
neutrality, the Belgian Government asked France for aid; that the
French Minister of War had of his own initiative offered to send
five army corps, “but, on August 5, our Councillor of Embassy at
London, M. de Fleurian, informed the Belgian Minister that ‘the French
Generalissimo did not intend to change his strategic plan, and only the
non-co-operation of the British Army would oblige him to extend the
French left.’ The Sordêt Cavalry Corps, on and after August 6, reported
to the General Staff that 13 German Corps, in two armies, were intended
to operate west of the Meuse, and that ten others were ready to advance
on the east of the river. On August 7, Lanrezac addressed to the Grand
Quartier General another report on the danger to our left; and on the
14th he expressed his conviction that there would be a strong offensive
west of the Meuse directly to General Joffre, who did not credit it.”

Major Collon, French military attaché at Brussels, and afterwards
attached to French Headquarters, has published the following facts
in a letter to the Swiss Colonel Egli (_Temps_, September 19, 1918):
Although the Army of Hanover (Emmich’s Army of the Meuse) was mobilised
from July 21 and concentrated in Westphalia from July 26, it was not
till August 3, after the publication of the German ultimatum, that
France offered Belgium her eventual military aid. This was declined;
but on August 4, when the violation of the frontier occurred the offer
was accepted in principle. On August 5, General Joffre authorised the
Sordêt Cavalry Corps to move to the Semoy. It began its march on the
6th, and on that night Major Collon arrived at Belgian Headquarters
with a view to assuring the co-ordination of the French and Belgian

[16] “This plan was at once weak and supple. It was feeble because
General Joffre, who established it, ‘saw too many things,’ in the words
of the Napoleonic warning.... He knew as well as any one the feebleness
of his plan. It was imposed upon him. He sought at least to make it
supple” (Reinach, _op. cit._ pp. 58–9).

In an article reviewing this volume (_Petit Parisien_, June 16, 1916),
M. Millerand, who became Minister of War a few days after the events in
question, endorsed this opinion: The French Staff “had to foresee, did
foresee, the two hypotheses——that of Belgium, certainly, but also that
of Lorraine. Hence general dispositions whose suppleness did not escape
weakness, a concentration for two ends.” The word “Belgium” here
is ambiguous: it is clear that an attack by Western Belgium was not
foreseen. The vice of the concentration was not that it faced two ends,
“Belgium” and “Lorraine,” but that it essentially faced the end of a
Lorraine offensive, whereas what was essentially needed was a northern

General Bonnal remarks: “The project of offensive operations conceived
by Bernhardi in 1911 in case of a war with France deserved close study
by us, which would probably have led to modifications in our plan of
concentration while there was yet time” (_Les Conditions de la Guerre
Moderne_, p. 115. Paris: De Boccard. 1916).

General Palat writes: “The French concentration was vicious. Better
conceived, it would have saved hundreds of thousands of our compatriots
from the tortures of the invasion and occupation” (_La Revue_, Dec. 1,

“The unknown quantity on the side of Belgium,” says Lt.-Col. de
Thomasson, “condemned us at the outset to a waiting strategy. The
idea of at once taking the offensive madly overpassed the boldest
conceptions of Napoleon” (p. 54). “A well-advised command would have
understood that it was folly to launch at once all its army to attack
troops of the value of the Germans; that the offensive should have been
made only on certain points of the front, with a sufficient numerical
superiority, and for this purpose the forces must be economised;
that, in brief, the beginning of hostilities could only be favourable
to us on condition of a superior strategy such as was shown in the
preparation for the battle of the Marne, but not in the initial plan or
in the first three weeks of the war” (177–8).

[17] See Hanotaux, _Histoire Generale de la Guerre_; Engerand,
“Lorraine–Ardennes” (_Le Correspondant_, April 25, 1918); Paul H.
Courrière, “La Bataille de Sarre-et-Seille” (_La Revue_, Jan. 1, 1917);
Gerald Campbell, _Verdun to the Vosges_ (London: Arnold)——the author
was correspondent of _The Times_ on the Eastern frontier; Thomasson,
_loc. cit._

[18] See Hanotaux, “La Bataille des Ardennes, Etude Tactique et
Strategique” (_Revue des Deux Mondes_, Feb. 15, 1917); Engerand, as
above; Ernest Renauld, “Charleroi–Dinant–Neufchâteau–Virton” (_La
Revue_, Oct. 1916——inaccurate as regards the British Army); Malleterre,
_Un Peu de Lumière sur les Batailles d’Août—Septembre 1914_ (Paris:

[19] See _L’Illustration_, March 16, 1918: _La Défense de Longwy_, by
P. Nicou.


[20] The military history of Lille, is curious. See _Lille_, by
General Percin (Paris: Grasset). M. Engerand, in his chapter on “The
Abandonment of Lille,” says that a third of the cannon had been removed
earlier in the year, but that on August 21, when General Herment took
command, there remained 446 pieces with enough ammunition and 25,000
men, not counting the neighbouring Territorial divisions of General
d’Amade. Though Lille had been virtually declassed on the eve of the
war, General Percin, the Governor (afterwards cruelly traduced on the
subject) and General Herment were anxious, and had begun preparations,
to defend it. The municipal and other local authorities protested to
the Government against any such effort being made; and at the last
moment, on the afternoon of August 24, when the retreat from the Sambre
had begun, the Minister of War ordered the abandonment of the town and
the evacuation of the region. German patrols entered the city two days
later, but it was only occupied at the beginning of October. It has
been argued that, with Lille and Maubeuge held on their flanks, and the
Scarpe, Scheldt, and Rhonelle valleys flooded, the Allied forces might
have delayed the enemy long enough to permit of a definite stand on the
line Amiens——La Fère-–Laon-–Rheims. General Berthaut rejects any such
idea, and says that inundations would have required forty days.

[21] French’s _1914_.

[22] See _La Grande Guerre sur le Front Occidental_, especially vol.
iv., by General Palat (Paris: Chapelot, 1918–19).


[23] For details, see Hanotaux, _Histoire General_ and _L’Enigme de
Charleroi_ (Paris, 1917); Maurice, Thomasson, Engerand, _loc. cit._;
Sir John French’s _Dispatches_ and _1914_; Lord Ernest Hamilton,
_The First Seven Divisions_; _La Campagne de l’Armée Belge_, from
official documents (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1915); _L’Action de l’Armée
Belge_, also official; Van der Essen, _L’Invasion Allemande_. For some
information in this chapter and the subsequent note with regard to the
British Army, I am indebted to the military authorities.

[24] Speaking of the attack of the 20th Division (10th Corps) at
Tamines, M. Hanotaux (_Histoire_, vol. v. p. 278) says it advanced with
feverish ardour only to fall upon solidly held defences. “Our officers
had always been told that, on condition of attacking resolutely and
without hesitation, they would surprise the enemy and easily dispose of
them. But the Germans everywhere awaited them firmly on solid positions
flanked with innumerable machine-guns, before which most of our men
fell.” Of the “insensate immolation” of the 3rd Corps at Chatelet, M.
Engerand says: “Without artillery preparation, and knowing that they
were going to a certain death, these picked troops threw themselves on
the enemy infantry, solidly entrenched on the edge of the town; in a
quarter of an hour a half of their effectives had fallen.” He adds that
the upper command of the Corps was relieved the same evening.

[25] “It was expected that the British Army would take its place on
the 20th, but it arrived only on the 22nd. On the 20th, it was still
far behind in the region of Le Nouvion–Wassigny–Le Cateau. If it had
been in place on the 20th, the Allied Army would have found itself
constituted at the very moment when the Germans entered Brussels.”
This last phrase is at least singularly ambiguous: Von Bülow was not
in Brussels, but only a day’s march from the Sambre, on the 20th. But,
if the British had then been at Mons, the Allied Army would not have
been “constituted,” for Lanrezac’s forces were far from being all in
place on that day. “It is true,” said M. Hanotaux a little later,
“that the French Army was not all in place _on the 22nd_, and that the
Territorial divisions were in rather mediocre conditions as to armament
and _encadrement_” (_L’Enigme de Charleroi_, p. 52). It is Bülow’s
appearance on the Sambre a day before Lanrezac was ready that makes the
French historian credit the enemy with “the principal advantage, the

After the reference to Brussels, M. Hanotaux continues: “The rôle
reserved to the British Army was to execute a turning movement of the
left wing, advancing north of the Sambre toward Mons, in the direction
of Soignies–Nivelles; it was thought it would be there before Kluck,”
It was there a day before Kluck. “Unfortunately, as the _Exposé de
Six Mois de Guerre_ recognises, it did not arrive on the 20th, as the
French Command expected.... In fact, it was only in line on the 23rd”
(pp. 49–50). M. Hanotaux repeats himself with variations. The Allied
Armies suffered, he says, not only from lateness and fatigue, but from
lack of co-ordination in the High Command. “It is permissible to-day to
say that the Belgian Command, in deciding to withdraw its army into the
entrenched camp of Antwerp, obeyed a political and military conception
which no longer conformed to the necessities of the moment. Again,
the British Army appeared in the region only on the 23rd, although
the battle had been engaged for two days and was already compromised
between Namur and Charleroi. The rôle of turning wing which the British
Army was to fulfil thus failed at the decisive hour” (pp. 53–4). M.
Hanotaux mentions (p. 77) the receipt by Sir John French, at 5 p.m.
on August 23, of “a telegraphic message qualified as ‘unexpected,’”
announcing the weight of Kluck’s force and the French retirement, but
omits to say that this message came from the French Generalissimo. He
adds that the British commander gave the order to retreat at 5 p.m.,
Lanrezac only at 9 p.m., omitting to explain that the French retreat
was, in fact, in operation at the former hour, while the British
retreat only began at dawn on the 24th, after a night of fighting.
“By 5 p.m., on Sunday the 23rd, when Joffre’s message was received
at British Headquarters”——says Captain Gordon, on the authority of
the British War Office (_Mons and the Retreat_)——“the French had been
retiring for ten or twelve hours. The British Army was isolated.
Standing forward a day’s march from the French on its right, faced by
three German Corps with a fourth on its left, it seemed marked out for

In strong contrast with M. Hanotaux’s comments——repeated, despite
public correction, in his article of March 1919 cited above——are M.
Engerand’s references to the part played by the British Expeditionary
Force. First, to its “calm and tenacious defensive about Mons, a truly
admirable defence that has not been made known among us, and that
has perhaps not been understood as it should be. It was the first
manifestation of the form the war was to take; the English, having
nothing to unlearn, and instructed by their experiences in the South
African war, had from the outset seized its character.... It shows us
Frenchmen, to our grief, how we might have stopped the enemy if we had
practised, instead of the infatuated offensive, this British defensive
‘borrowed from Brother Boer.’” Then as to the retreat: “The retreat
of the British followed ours, and did not precede it. It is a duty of
loyalty to say so, as also to recognise that, in these battles beyond
the frontiers, the British Army, put by its chief on the defensive, was
the only one, with the 1st French Army, which could contain the enemy.”
M. Engerand, who is evidently well informed, and who strongly defends
General Lanrezac, says that Sir John French told this officer on August
17, at Rethel, that he could hardly be ready to take part in the battle
till August 24.

Lt.-Col. de Thomasson, while regretting that the British did not try
to help Lanrezac on the 23rd, admits that an offensive from Mons would
have been fruitless and might have been disastrous (pp. 216–8).

M. Hanotaux’ faulty account of the matter appears to be inspired by
a desire to redistribute responsibilities, and to prove that, if the
British had attacked Bülow’s right flank, the whole battle would have
been won. This idea will not bear serious examination. The French
Command cannot have entertained this design on August 20, for it must
have known that the British force was two days behind the necessary
positions. When it came into line before Mons, on the evening of the
22nd, it was certainly too late for so small a body of troops to make
an offensive movement north-eastward with any prospect of success. Had
it been possible at either date, the manœuvre which M. Hanotaux favours
might conceivably have helped Lanrezac against Bülow; but it would have
left Kluck free to encircle the Allies on the west, and so prejudiced,
at least, the withdrawal and the subsequent successful reaction. It
might well have created a second and greater Sedan.

In dealing with these events, M. Hanotaux, by adding the strength of
Lanrezac’s Army, d’Amade’s Territorial divisions, the British Army, and
the garrisons of Namur (General Michel, 25,000 men), Maubeuge (General
Fournier, 35,000 men), and Lille (General Herment, 18,000 men), arrives
at the remarkable conclusion that “the Allied armies, between August
22 and 25, opposed to the 545,000 men of the German armies a total
figure of 536,000 men.” This figure is deceptive, and useless except
to emphasise the elements of Allied weakness other than numbers. So
far as the later date is intended, it has no relation to the battle of
Charleroi–Mons. At both these dates, and later, when the Allies were
in full retreat, and both sides had suffered heavy losses, the Allied
units named were so widely scattered and so disparate in quality that
it is impossible to regard them as a single force “opposed” to the
three compact masses of Kluck, Bülow, and Hausen. The deduction that
General Joffre had on the Sambre “Allied forces sufficient to keep the
mastery of the operations” is, therefore, most questionable.

The actual opposition of forces on the morning of August 23 was as
follows: Lanrezac’s Army and the Namur garrison, amounting to an
equivalent of five army corps, or about 200,000 men, had upon their
front and flank six corps of Bülow and two corps of Hausen, about
320,000 men. The little British Army, of 2½ corps, had immediately
before it three of Kluck’s corps, with two more behind these.

General Lanrezac published in the _New York Herald_ (Paris edition)
of May 17 and 18, and in _L’Oeuvre_ of May 18 and 22, 1919, dignified
replies to certain statements of Field-Marshal French. To the latter’s
remark that the B.E.F. at Mons found itself in “an advanced position,”
he answers that the battle shifted from east to west, and “on the
evening of the 23rd, the 5th Army had been fighting for forty-eight
hours, while the British were scarcely engaged.” Doubtless owing to
Lord Kitchener’s original instruction that it would not be reinforced,
the B.E.F. kept, during the later part of the retreat, “two days’
march ahead of the 5th Army, and obstinately maintained this distance,
stopping only on the Seine.” “It was rather French who uncovered my
left than I who uncovered his right.” General Lanrezac disowns any
critical intent in saying this: “In my opinion, in the tragic period
from August 22 to September 4, 1914, the British did all they could,
and showed a magnificent heroism. It was not their fault if the
strategic situation forbade our doing more.”

In regard to the original French plan of campaign, General Lanrezac
refused to put himself in the position of being both judge and party,
but added: “The Commander-in-Chief had a plan; he had elaborated it
with the collaboration of officers of his Staff, men incontestibly
intelligent and instructed, General Berthelot among others.
Nevertheless, this plan, as I came to know it in course of events,
appeared to me to present a fundamental error. It counted too much on
the French centre, 3rd and 4th Armies, launched into Belgian Luxembourg
and Ardennes, scoring a prompt and decisive victory which would make
us masters of the situation on the rest of the front.” “So it was that
General Berthelot, on August 19, told M. Messimy that, if the Germans
went in large numbers west of the Meuse, it was so much the better, as
it would be easier to beat them on the east.”


[26] Four years passed ere a detailed account of the defence and fall
of Maubeuge was published (_La Verité sur le Siège de Maubeuge_, by
Commandant Paul Cassou, of the 4th Zouaves. Paris: Berger-Levrault).
There are, in the case of this fortress, points of likeness to and of
difference from that of Lille. In June 1910 the Ministry of War had
decided that Maubeuge should be regarded as only a position of arrest,
not capable of sustaining a long siege; and in 1913 the Superior War
Council decreed that it should be considered only as a support to
a neighbouring field army. It then consisted of an enceinte dating
from Vauban, dominated by an outer belt of six main forts and six
intermediate works about twenty years old, furnished with 335 cannon,
none of which carried more than 6 miles. The garrison consisted of an
infantry regiment, three reserve and six Territorial regiments. In the
three weeks before the siege began, 30,000 men were engaged in digging
trenches, laying down barbed wire, and making other defences.

The siege was begun by the VII Reserve Corps, a cavalry brigade, and
a division from another corps, about 60,000 men, on August 25. On
that and two following days effective sorties were made. On the 29th
the bombardment began. One by one the forts were smashed by heavy
guns and mortars, including 420 mm. pieces throwing shells of nearly
a ton weight, firing from the safe distance of 9 or 10 miles. On
September 1, all the troops available made a sortie, and a regular
battle was fought. Some detachments reached within 250 yards of the
German batteries, only to be mown down by machine-gun fire. After
this two German attacks were repulsed. On September 5, however, the
enemy got within the French lines, and on the 7th the place had
become indefensible. At 6 p.m. the capitulation was signified, and
on September 8, at noon, the garrison surrendered, General von Zwehl
saying to General Fournier: “You have defended the place with a rare
vigour and much resolution, but the war has turned against you.” The
German Command afterward claimed to have taken at Maubeuge 40,000
prisoners, 400 guns, and a large quantity of war material.

[27] Statement of M. Messimy before the Commission of Inquiry on
Metallurgy, May 30, 1919, reported in the Paris Press the following
day. In his evidence, M. Messimy blamed Joffre for not having been
willing, in August 1914, to recognise the danger on the side of
Belgium. Undoubtedly, he added, it was a fault of the French Command
in 1912 and 1913 not to contemplate the prompt use of reserves, and
to fall back on the Three Years’ Service law, “which no one would
defend to-day.” M. Messimy argued that the doctrine of the offensive _à
outrance_ was common to the French and German Armies, and was at that
time universal in military circles.

_Joffre, Première Crise du Commandement_, by Mermeix (Paris:
Ollendorff. 1919), is a careful and unprejudiced study of the changes,
ideas, and personal antagonisms in the French Army Commands during the
first period of the war. It concludes with a section in which “Attacks
upon Joffre” and “Explanations collected at the G.Q.G.,” are set forth
on opposite pages.

[28] See note at top of p. 249.

[29] G. Blanchon, _Le General Joffre_, Pages Actuelles, 1914–5, No. 11
(Paris: Bloud et Gay).

[30] M. Arthur Huc, editor of the _Dépêche de Toulouse_, in which
journal the interview was printed, March 1915.

[31] Statement by General Messimy at the Commission of Inquiry on
Metallurgy, April 28, 1919.

[32] For details, see Hanotaux, “La Bataille de la Trouée de Charmes,”
_Rev. des Deux Mondes_, November 15, 1916; Engerand, _loc. cit._; a
vindication of General Dubail, by “Cdt. G. V.”: “La 1re Armée et la
Bataille de la Trouée de Charmes,” _La Revue_, January 1, 1917; Barrés:
“Comment la Lorraine fut Sauvée,” _Echo de Paris_, September 1917.

[33] See p. 34. The mismanagement of this battle was the subject of
evidence at the Metallurgical Commission of Inquiry on May 15, 1919.

[34] Miles, _Le General Maunoury_, Pages Actuelles, No. 49.

[35] French, _1914_, ch. iv. The Hon. J. W. Fortescue (_Quarterly
Review_, Oct. 1919), defending Smith-Dorrien, charges Lord French with
“clumsy and ludicrous misstatements,” and questions the figures in the

[36] _Meine Bericht zur Marneschlacht_ (Berlin: Scherl), notes, written
in December 1914, on the operations of the II Army to the end of the
battle of the Aisne. Bülow charges Kluck with not having informed
German G.H.Q. of the gathering of Maunoury’s forces and the action of

For the battle of Guise, see Hanotaux, “La Bataille de Guise–St.
Quentin,” _Rev. des Deux Mondes_, September 1, 1918.

[37] For his report of a stormy interview with Lord Kitchener at the
Embassy in Paris on September 1, see _1914_, ch. v. This account has,
however, been strongly questioned by Mr. Asquith (speech at Newcastle,
May 16, 1919), who says that Lord Kitchener did but convey the
conclusions of the Cabinet, which had been “seriously disquieted” by
Sir John French’s communications.

[38] See _Foch_, by Réné Puaux, and, above all, Foch’s own works,
_De la Conduite de la Guerre_ (3rd ed., 1915), _Les Principes de la
Guerre_, 4th ed., 1917 (Paris: Berger-Levrault).

[39] “I see no inconvenience,” Joffre replied, “in your turning back
to-morrow, 28th, in order to affirm your success, and to show that
the retreat is purely strategic; but on the 29th every one must be in

[40] For details of the last stages of the retreat and pursuit, see
_La Marche sur Paris de l’Aile Droite Allemande_, by Count de Caix de
Saint Aymour (Paris: Charles Lavauzelle); Gordon and Hamilton, _op.
cit._; and _La Retraite de l’Armée Anglaise du 23 Août 1914_, by Ernest
Renauld, _Renaissance_, November 25, 1916.

On September 3, General Lanrezac was removed from the command of the
French 5th Army——“because his views were contrary to a complete liaison
with the British Army,” says M. Hanotaux (_Rev. des Deux Mondes_, March
1919); but this is a partial and inadequate statement. As we have
seen, Lanrezac had been at issue with G.Q.G. from the beginning of the

M. Hanotaux quotes a note sent to the Minister of War, M. Millerand,
on September 3, by General Joffre, who, “finding that the rapid recoil
of the British Army, effected too soon and too quickly, had prevented
Maunoury’s Army from coming into action in good conditions, and had
compromised Lanrezac’s left flank,” described his intention thus:
“To prepare a new offensive in liaison with the British and with
the garrison of Paris, and to choose the battlefield in such a way
that, by utilising on certain parts of the front prepared defensive
organisations, a numerical superiority could be assured in the zone
chosen for the principal effort.”

[41] An anonymous writer, “ZZZ,” in the _Revue de Paris_, September
15, 1917, says that Field-Marshal French’s communication was made on
September 1 to the French Government——probably it was a result of the
Kitchener interview——and was transmitted to Joffre by the Minister
of War, who, subject to the full liberty and responsibility of the
Generalissimo, favoured the idea of resistance on the north and
north-east of Paris.

[42] _Petit Parisien_, June 16, 1916.

[43] _Le Livre du Souvenir_, by Paul Ginisty and Arsène Alexandre, pp.


[44] Major-General Sir F. Maurice, in his brilliant study, _Forty
Days in 1914_ (London: Constable. 1919), speaks, however, of the
German Staff assuming “that Paris had only a moral and not a military
value.” General Maurice refers to the city as being “at the mercy of
the enemy,” and emphatically condemns Kluck for failing to occupy
it, and so “sacrificing substantial gains in favour of a grandiose
and ambitious scheme which, as events proved, could not be realised”
(p. 139). Despite General Maurice’s great authority, I see no reason
to change the conclusions in the text with regard to the points here
discussed. There are several important factors which he does not
mention, particularly the influence of the appearance of the new 9th
Army, under Foch, at the French centre, and the equalisation at this
time of the German and Allied forces. Kluck was the victim of necessity
rather than of any grandiose ambition; and as for the Staffs, it was
more Joffre’s strategy than “Prussian conceit and self-sufficiency”
that “marred the execution of a well-laid plan.”

Says Mr. Joseph Reinach (_La Guerre sur le Front Occidental, 1914–15_,
ch. v. sec. 7): “Bernhardi has classed the capitals of Europe in
two categories: those whose capture has a decisive importance from
the military point of view, like Paris and Vienna, and those whose
importance is much smaller. To take Paris, what glory! to enter Paris,
what a gage! But the same Bernhardi, the master of all the German
generals, and before him all the greatest captains, all the oracles
of the military art, Moltke, Jomini, insist that the aim of war must
be fixed as high as possible, and this aim is the complete ruin of
the enemy State by the destruction, the putting out of action, of its
armies. Only an enemy completely disarmed will bow to the will of the
conqueror.... The opinion that prevailed with the German Staff is that
to attack Paris before having finished with the Allied Armies would
be a fault entailing very serious consequences.... The event does not
prove that this opinion was mistaken.”

[45] This message, first published by _Le Matin_, February 27, 1918,
was dispatched by Mr. Gerard, United States Ambassador in Berlin,
on the morning of September 8, to his colleague in Paris, Mr. Myron
Herrick, who received it late on the same evening. It read as follows:
“Extremely urgent. September 8. The German General Staff recommends
that all Americans leave Paris via Rouen and Le Havre. They will have
to leave soon if they wish to go.——GERARD.” It is added that the
message was sent on the pressing wish of the German Staff, and that it
was doubled, one copy going via Switzerland, and the other via Rome.

When this document was penned, the struggle had been proceeding on
the Ourcq for two days and a half; Kluck had withdrawn nearly all
his forces from the Marne; and the British and d’Espérey’s Armies
were advancing rapidly northward. How, in these circumstances, could
the German General Staff imagine that they could arrange “soon” a
triumphant entry into Paris? There is one, and only one, fact in the
military situation that they could build upon. At 5 a.m. on September
8, the right wing of Foch’s Army had broken down, and was in full
retreat toward Fère Champènoise. If they really accepted this as such a
promise of victory as to justify the warning to the Americans of Paris,
the German Staff must have been in an infatuated state of mind.

It is possible, however, that the message was only a reckless piece of
propaganda on their part, intended, at a critical moment, to awe the
neutrals of America, Switzerland, and Italy, and to frighten some good
Americans out of Paris. In no case can a warning conveyed on September
8 countenance the idea that the entry into Paris was originally
intended to occur before a decisive victory had been won.

[46] In the _Gaulois_, “Une Cause de la Defaite Allemande sur la Marne.”

[47] M. Reinach states this, adding: “There was, it seems, an exchange
of messages between the Staff and Kluck. Finally, theory prevailed”
(_La Guerre_, p. 145; _Commentaires de Polybe_, vol. iv. p. 198).

According to an article in the _Renaissance_, September 2, 1916,
Kluck had previously favoured the advance on Paris, quoting a reply
of Blücher to Schwartzenberg in 1814: “It is better to go to Paris;
when one has Paris, one has France.” At a council held at German
Headquarters after the battle of Guise and St. Quentin, says the
writer, Kluck went over to the advice of Moltke.

[48] M. Hanotaux (_Histoire Illustrée_, especially ch. xxxvii., and in
the _Rev. des Deux Mondes_, March 1919) has his own picturesque theory
of these events, supported by rather frail evidence. It is, briefly,
that there was an antagonism between Kluck, who wished to complete
his enveloping movement, and Bülow, who after Guise had persuaded the
Grand Staff to renounce it in favour of a frontal action against the
French centre in which he would be the chief actor. After Charleroi and
after Guise, Bülow had had to call Kluck to his aid. They were natural
antagonists, the junker and the popular soldier. Moltke and the Staff
hesitated between them, and then decided for Bülow. Bülow was to lead
the attack; Kluck was ordered to remain between the Oise and the Marne
to watch the region of Paris. But he refused to be thus thwarted of his
victory, and rode impetuously on toward Provins, overrunning Bülow’s
slower approach. Maunoury’s attack caught him _in flagrante delicto_.
All this is plausible enough except the statement that Kluck was
ordered to remain north of the Marne. Had he done so, the same result
would have been produced two or three days sooner.

M. Hanotaux also states that Marwitz’s three cavalry divisions had
been ordered on September 1 to carry out a raid to the gates of Paris,
destroying railways as they went, but that “Kluck had other views” (_La
Manœuvre de la Marne_).

[49] The author of _Die Schlachten an der Marne_ says: “Kluck knew
there were troops to the left of the British, but did not know their
exact strength.”

In his book _Comment fut sauvé Paris_, M. P. H. Courrière cites the
following order issued by General von Schwerin at dawn on September
5, and afterwards found on the battlefield: “The IV Reserve Corps
continues to-day the forward march, and charges itself, north of the
Marne, with the covering of the north front of Paris; the IV Cavalry
Division will be added to it. The II Corps advances by the Grand Morin
valley below Coulommiers, and directs itself against the east front of

[50] General von Freytag-Loringhoven says: “It was proved on the Marne
that the age of armies numbering millions, with their improved armament
and widely extended fronts, engenders very special conditions.... The
envelopment of the whole host of the enemy is a very difficult matter”
(_Deductions_, pp. 79–80).

[51] M. Maurice Barrés, _Echo de Paris_, June 1, 1916. But General
Maunoury had telegraphed at midnight on August 31 to General Joffre
reporting that Kluck seemed to be leaving the direction of Paris.

[52] General Cherfils describes the extent of Gallieni’s authority
as being in a state; of “nebulous imprecision.” The position appears
to have been this: The entrenched camp of Paris, under the old
regulations, was under the control of the Minister of War, not the
Generalissimo, who could claim the services of a part of the garrison
if he left enough men to assure the safety of the city, subject to a
protest by the Governor, but could not touch its munitions or supplies.
On his appointment as Military Governor of Paris (August 26), Gallieni
had asked that the garrison, then consisting of four divisions of
Territorials, should be reinforced. The 6th Army was accordingly placed
under his orders. On the same day, the entrenched camp was placed,
by the Minister, M. Millerand, under the superior orders of General
Joffre. There was thus a threefold command, Maunoury being under
Gallieni, and Gallieni under Joffre.

General Bonnal (_Les Conditions de la Guerre Moderne_, p. 56) says
that it was “in virtue of his own initiative, based on the powers
of the Governor of a place left to its own forces,” that Gallieni
ordered Maunoury, on the morning of September 4, to prepare to take the

For particulars of Gallieni’s communications with General Joffre and
Sir John French, see the work named, the same author’s long article in
the _Renaissance_, September 4, 1915, and an article in that review on
September 2, 1916. According to the last named, it was at 2.50 p.m.
on September 4 that the Commander-in-Chief authorised the advance of
Maunoury’s Army; and Gallieni’s orders were that it was to bring its
front up to Meaux on the next day, and to “attack” on the morning of
the 6th.

Gallieni’s control over Maunoury’s Army ceased when, by the development
of the battle of the Ourcq, it passed out of the region of the
entrenched camp of Paris. In August 1915, the old rules on the
“Service de Place” were altered to give the French Commander-in-Chief
absolute authority over fortresses and their governors, and full power
to dispose of their resources.

[53] “La Bataille de l’Ourcq”; Paul H. Courrière, in the _Renaissance_,
September 1, 1917.

[54] In his dispatch of September 17, 1914, Sir John French does not
mention any visit or message from General Gallieni, and only speaks
of receiving General Joffre’s request to turn about, made during
their interview on Saturday, September 5. In his volume _1914_, he
does mention the visit, but attributes to Gallieni the statement that
Maunoury would move east toward the Ourcq “on Sunday the 6th.” This
suggests that the move actually made on the 5th was not at the time
known at British Headquarters.

[55] _Die Schlachten an der Marne_ (p. 107 of French edition).


Chaps. VI.-X. For further details of the actions traced in these
chapters, see the works of Marshal French, Von Bülow, M. Hanotaux,
Generals Mallaterre, Canonge, and Palat, M, Victor Giraud, Lord Ernest
Hamilton, Mr. G. Campbell, and others named above, and the following:

“Guides Michelin pour la visite des Champs de Bataille” (Paris:
Berger-Levrault. 1917–18).

   Vol.   I. _L’Ourcq_ (_Meaux–Senlis–Chantilly_).

   Vol.  II. _Les Marais de Saint Gond_ (_Coulommiers–Provins–Sézanne_).

   Vol. III. _La Trouée de Revigny_ (_Chalôns–Vitry-Bar-le-Duc_).

    Excellent guides, containing good chronological summaries of the
    fighting on the left, centre, and right, with maps and other

_La Bataille de la Marne._ By Gustave Babin (Paris: Plon. 1915). With 9
plans. One of the first day by day narratives of the battle, based on
Staff information.

_La Victoire de la Marne._ By Louis Madelin, with 2 plans. A
well-written sketch by a historian who was on the Staff at Verdun
(Paris: Plon. 1916).

_Avant-propos Stratégiques._ By Col. F. Feyler, the well-known Swiss
military writer (Paris: Payot. 1916).

_Les Campagnes de 1914._ By Champaubert (General Malleterre).

Collections of the French official bulletins published by Payot, and
reports of the French Devastation Commission by Hachette.

_Les Champs de l’Ourcq._ By José Roussel-Lepine (Paris: Plon. 1919).
Especially good in its descriptions of the Ourcq countryside.

_La Rôle de la Cavalerie Française_ à l’aile gauche de la première
bataille de la Marne. By J. Hethay (Paris. 1919). Includes an account
of the strange raid of the 5th Division, 1st Cavalry Corps, into
Villers-Cotterets Forest and region of La Fertê-Milon, ordered by
General Bridoux on the morning of September 8. It was driven hither and
thither for several days, at last escaping in fragments to the west;
but it created some little alarm and disturbance on Von Kluck’s lines
of communication.

_Les Marais de Saint Gond._ By Charles le Goffic (Paris: Plon. 1916). A
standard work on this part of the battle.

“Mondemont.” Article by “Asker,” in _L’Illustration_, July 3, 1915.
Many valuable articles will be found in the files of this weekly

_La Victoire de Lorraine._ By A. Bertrand (Paris: Berger-Levrault.

_Morhange et les Marsouins de Lorraine._ By R. Christian-Frogé
(Berger-Levrault. 1917).

_Sous Verdun._ By M. Genevois (R. Hachette. 1916).

_Die Schlacht an der Marne._ By Major E. Bircher, of the Swiss General
Staff. Contains a bibliography of 150 works and a number of useful maps
and plans (Berne: Paul Haupt).

[56] _Avec Charles Péguy de la Lorraine à la Marne_, by Victor Boudon
(Paris: Hachette). Péguy, a sort of mystical Tory-Socialist, or, as M.
Lavisse says, “Catholic-Anarchist,” was author-editor of _Les Cahiers
de la Quinzaine_.

[57] M. Hanotaux (p. 126) says that Gallieni’s order of September 4 was
“an order for deployment, not for the offensive,” and he adds that the
Governor intended that the cavalry should feel the way. There is no
evidence of cavalry activity on the 5th; and it is manifest that the
encounter before St. Soupplets was a complete surprise for the 6th Army.

[58] Sir John French, in his dispatch, says: “I should conceive it to
have been about noon on the 6th September, after the British Forces
had changed their front to the right, and occupied the line Jouy le
Chatel–Faremoutiers–Villeneuve le Comte, ... that the enemy realised
the powerful threat that was being made against the flank of his
columns moving south-east, and began the great retreat which opened the
battle.” This is a significant mistake. We now know that Bülow sent
a first warning of an Allied concentration towards the west on the
afternoon of September 5 to Kluck, who by then had his own information
from the IV Reserve Corps. A few hours later Kluck was fully aware of
his danger; and, as he has since stated to an interviewer, decided “in
five minutes” how to meet it.

Field-Marshal French (_1914_, ch. 5), wrongly, I think, considers that
Kluck “manifested considerable hesitation and want of energy.”


[59] Several French volumes hint the first criticism, and it is
expressed very definitely by General Bonnal in the article already
referred to on the battle of the Ourcq in _La Renaissance_ of September
4, 1915. The substance of General Bonnal’s charge is as follows:

“Unfortunately, the British Army, rather hesitant after its checks
at Le Cateau, Landrecies, and Compiègne, lost time in displacements
dictated by prudence, and did not give the 6th Army in time all the
help desirable.” Maunoury had asked for it at noon on Sept. 4; and
the Generalissimo’s directions of that night anticipated the British
being at Coulommiers and Changis on the evening of the 5th. But, on the
afternoon of the 4th, the head of Sir John French’s Staff had announced
to Gallieni for that night “an order of movement the result of which
was to distance the British Army at once from the 6th and the 5th
Armies.” (If this movement was not the further retirement asked for by
General Joffre, we do not know what is meant.) “Marshal French occupied
during the 5th positions north and south of Rozoy, facing east. But
this disposition placed the British Army much to the rear, to the west,
of the line first fixed, and permitted the German II Corps, reported
in the morning at Coulommiers, to repass the Marne and escape to the
north-west. Fearing its appearance on the Ourcq, General Gallieni
wrote on the 6th to Marshal French praying him at once to advance in
accordance with the orders of General Joffre. On his side, the latter
telegraphed to General Maunoury, on the 6th, asking him constantly to
support the British left. In consequence, the chief of the 6th Army
sent to Meaux the same evening the 8th Division (4th Corps), which
had just detrained at Paris.” (This division actually came in on the
morning of the 6th.) “If the presence of the 8th Division on his left
did not determine Marshal French immediately to take the offensive”
(what this means we do not know, for the British offensive had
commenced on the morning of the 6th), “it was because at this moment he
was much concerned as to the pretty considerable interval between his
right and the left of the 5th Army. Yet this interval was watched by
the Cavalry Corps of General Conneau.”

“On the evening of the 6th, the British Army reached the line of the
Grand Morin, in contact on its right with the 5th Army. Unfortunately
this contact was so close that the British Army thought it necessary
to march level with and on the same lines as the 5th, which had great
difficulty in assuring its route, having to drive before it four corps
of Von Bülow’s Army.”

General Bonnal concludes his criticism with a not very amiable
homily on the insufficient training of the old British Army, and the
inadequacy of its Staff work. Generals not trained as in France and
Germany had, he says, a tendency “to practise the linear order,” to
move their troops in deployed formation, supporting their flanks on
neighbouring bodies, and taking a thousand precautions that lead to
delay. That is why “the British Army, composed of officers and men full
of strength, vigour, and energy, took more than two days to cover the
20 kilometres between the Grand Morin and the Marne, when, on the 6th,
they ought to have marched on the nearest enemy.”

For similar comments, see “La Bataille de la Marne, Recit Succinct,”
by General Canonge (_Le Correspondant_, September 25 and October 10,
1917), with details of the battle.

One sentence of M. Hanotaux is more to the point than all these
criticisms and suppositions: “No doubt, if the encounter had not
been produced, a little prematurely perhaps, in the region of St.
Soupplets–Penchard, at noon on the 5th, the whole army of Von Kluck
would have been south of the Marne in the evening; while Maunoury would
have taken it in reverse on the north bank. Kluck would then have been
closed in” (_Histoire_, ch. 38, p. 184).

An interesting attempt to justify Gallieni against Joffre, and to
challenge the latter’s strategy at this time, will be found in _La
Genèse de la Bataille de la Marne_, by General H. Le Gros (Paris:
Payot). He quotes Joffre as complaining to the Government (on Sept. 4)
that Gallieni was seeking to “push him into a premature offensive.”


[60] Four days later, in the village inn at Pezarches, Madame, an
upstanding woman of about thirty, told me of the following incident:

“On Sunday morning my mother had gone to church, and I remained at
home with my father and my little boy. My father left us to get some
tobacco. Going out for a moment with the child, I saw a group of
horsemen in the street, and said to myself: ‘We are saved. It is the
Belgians!’ When I returned, to my surprise, they were in the house,
sitting in my room and in the café. An officer asked me to cook him a
couple of eggs. I noticed that one of the men was wounded, and asked
whether it was painful. He nodded, and I went to the kitchen. There I
saw, on the window-sill, a spiked helmet. I nearly fainted! So they
were Germans! I managed to take in the eggs. Then the officer asked
me, very politely, to show him my left hand, and, pointing to the
wedding-ring, said: ‘You are married?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, trembling.
‘Your husband is a soldier?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You have a child?’ ‘No, I have no
children,’ I said, ‘But I saw him. You are hiding him because you have
heard that the Germans cut off the hands of French children. That is
false. We never hurt women or children. Bring your little boy.’ But,
as I persisted that it was not my child, he said no more. He and the
others paid in German money for what they had, and left. A quarter of
an hour later the firing began.”

[61] _1914_, ch. 4.

[62] _Le Petit Journal_, September 9, 1917.

[63] In Courtacon, I found eighteen of the two dozen small brick houses
completely destroyed by fire, after having been sacked. The pretext
given was that villagers had betrayed the German troops——part of the
Guard Cavalry Division——to the Allies. The single room of the village
school presented an unforgettable exhibition of malice. Dirty straw,
remnants of meals, torn books, and broken cartridge cases littered the
floor. Piles of half-burnt straw showed that a hurried attempt had
been made to destroy the building; there were two such piles under
the bookcase and the tiny school museum, which consisted of a few
bottles of metal and chemical specimens. Amid this filthy chaos, the
low forms, the master’s desk, and wall-charts inculcating “temperance,
kindness, justice, and truth,” stood as they had done on the day before
the summer holidays. As I turned to leave, I saw, written across the
blackboard in bold, fine writing, evidently as the lesson of that day,
the words: “_À chaque jour suffit sa peine_”——“Sufficient unto the
day is the evil thereof,” as our English version has it. Under this
motto, all unconscious of it, these brutes had slept and wakened to
their incendiary work——men of a nation that boasted itself the pioneer
in Europe of elementary schooling. Could any recording angel have
conceived a more biting irony?

[64] M. Madelin says that 7000 German corpses were found. The figure
may be doubted.

[65] Le Goffic, _Les Marais de St. Gond_.

[66] _Au Centre de la Bataille de la Marne_, by the Abbé Neret, Curé of
Vertus, who gives the hours named.

[67] I rely upon the article by M. le Goffic, “La Defense du Mont
Août,” in _La Liberte_, September 7, 1918, embodying the narrative of
an eye-witness, who mentions the following curious details: “A black
cow, maddened by the bombardment, charged the trenches, leaped aside
when a shell burst, sniffed the smoke, and stamped in the shell-holes.
Slowly, a shepherd, a big, careless ruffian, climbed the slope with his
five white sheep. For a moment he stopped level with us, 500 yards to
the right. As though by accident, his five sheep were on his left, on
our side; and immediately shells began to arrive in fours, the range
lengthening each time by a hundred yards. But we were not in range.”
This perhaps rather imaginative correspondent thinks that the Germans
mistook dead for living Frenchmen on the slopes of Mont Août, and that
that is why they did not seek to occupy it.


[68] General Canonge, in his historical sketch, confirms my own
inquiries. The embryo of the myth is to be found in the “Official
Résumé,” published on June 8, 1915, in the _Bulletin des Armées_,
according to which, on the evening of September 9, Foch’s Army,
“moving from west to east toward Fère Champènoise, took in flank the
Prussian Guard and the Saxon Corps which were attacking south-east of
this locality. This audacious manœuvre decided the success.” This was
presently elaborated, with various romantic decorations.

[69] Canonge, after two inquiries on the spot, and with written
evidence in addition, says that the 42nd Division left Broyes between
2 and 3 pm., reached Linthelles about 5 p.m., stopped there, and then
bivouacked in the zone Linthes–Linthelles–Ognes–Pleurs, passing the
night there “in general reserve,” and moving away only about 5 a.m. on
September 10. Fère Champènoise, he adds, was evacuated by the Germans,
after an orgie of 24 hours, at about 5.30 p.m. on the 9th, but was
traversed during the greater part of the night by German troops coming
from Connantre and Gourgancon. Connage thinks that, “on sight of the
troops of the 42nd Division, those of General Dubois, certain now of
support, advanced, and the Division then stopped and turned back to
night-quarters.” Bülow, he believes, had ordered his retreat at 3.30
p.m. The first French detachment entered Fère Champènoise at 7 a.m.
next day.

[70] Giraud (_Histoire_, p. 166) gives a rather different report of
this dialogue. I rely upon an article in _L’Illustration_ of Jan. 9,
1915, containing a long passage from the diary of “an officer who was
the soul of the defence”——doubtless, Captain Heym himself.

[71] Colonel Feyler’s _Avant-Propos Stratégiques_ (Paris: Payot.
1915) are particularly valuable for a pitiless analysis of the “moral
manœuvre” represented in early German accounts of the first part of the

[72] Major-General Maurice says: “I am convinced that history will
decide that it was the crossing of the Marne in the early hours of
the 9th by the British Army which turned the scale against Kluck and
saved Maunoury at a time of crisis.... That an army which on August
23 had been all but surrounded by an enemy who outnumbered it by two
to one should have fought its way out, retreated 170 miles, and then
immediately turned about and taken a decisive part in the battle
which changed the course of the campaign of 1914, is as wonderful an
achievement as is to be found in the history of war” (_Forty Days_, pp.

[73] Hanotaux, _Histoire Illustrée_, vol. vii. pp. 132–8.

[74] _Idem_, pp. 172–5.

[75] Foch, _Des Principes de la Guerre_.

[76] M. Hanotaux (p. 76) regards this last part of the plan as “pure
folly,” as “a few thousand resolute men holding the defiles, crests,
and cliffs would break whole armies before Nancy was attained.”
This appears to be an exaggeration; but it is highly probable that
before Nancy, as before Mons and on other occasions at the beginning
of the war, the German Armies lost, through the traditional belief
in envelopment, what they might have gained by concentration on the
central attack.

[77] “Choses Vues à Metz,” _Revue Hebdomadaire_, December 18, 1915.
Colonel Feyler quotes from the _Lokal Anzeiger_ of Berlin the following
commentary on one of the Kaiser’s earlier appearances at the Front:
“The presence of the Emperor demonstrates clearly what a development
events have taken.... The Emperor would never have gone into France
if those responsible had envisaged the possibility of the German Army
being thrown back beyond the frontier. His presence among his troops in
enemy country will not fail to produce a deep impression in Germany as
well as abroad.”

[78] Quoted in _Un Village Lorrain en Août—Septembre 1914.
Réméréville_, by C. Berlet.

[79] Lt.-Col. Thomasson, _Le Revers_, introduction.

[80] Professor Friedrich Meinecke, of Freiburg University, in the
_Frankfürter Zeitung_, December 31, 1916.


  Air Forces, German and Allied, 18, 27, 126, 140, 141, 167, 241–2

  Aisne, German stand on the, 187–8, 192–3

  Alsace, French advance and withdrawal in, 2, 29, 56, 212

  Amade, General d’, 28, 35, 65, 66, 72

  Americans urged to leave Paris, 82, 260

  Amiens occupied by Von Kluck, 72, 80

  Antwerp, 40, 44, 88, 105

  Ardennes, Belgian, French offensive into, 24, 31–3, 36

  Armaments, German and Allied compared, 14, 215

  Artillery, German and French, 17, 18, 215;
    at Namur and Maubeuge, 40, 257;
    in the battle of the Marne, 104, 126, 128, 146, 180, 201, 210

  Battlefield described, 106–9, 113–4, 143–4, 170–1, 203–7

  Bavarian Corps, Prince Ruprecht and, 30, 56, 61–3, 87, 197–213

  Belgium, the surprise in, 12–13, 21, 26–7, 34, 36, 38, 41, 45, 49,
          54, 215, 247–51

  Belgium’s contribution, 15, 27, 32, 37–41, 43–4

  Berthaut, General, defends the French Staff, 245–6

  Bloch, Jean de, forecasts of, 19, 242–4

  Briey coalfield, 33, 248, 249

  British Expeditionary Force, 34–44, 65–9, 80–1, 99, 118–26;
    advance to the Marne begun, 123;
    the Marne crossed, 131, 140–1;
    a determining factor, 185, 188–9, 224–5;
    M. Hanotaux’ criticisms, 253–5, 259;
    General Bonnal’s criticism, 265–6

  Bülow, General von, 32, 36–43, 66, 68–9, 81, 85, 100;
    compromised by Von Kluck’s retreat, 129, 134, 135–7;
    attack upon the French centre, 135, 142, 146–64;
    disorder and retreat, 165–8, 190–3

  Castelnau, General de, 27, 29–31, 62–3, 71, 104, 197–213, 248

  Cateau, Le, battle of, 1, 65–6, 68

  Cavalry, rôle of the, 16, 27, 66, 67, 104, 125, 134, 192–3, 264

  Châlons reoccupied, 193

  Charleroi, battle of, 37–43

  Charmes, Gap of, defence of, 31, 56, 61–3

  Château-Thierry reoccupied, 141

  Command, unity of, 25, 40, 216

  Concentration, first French, and re-grouping, 27–8, 251

  Coulommiers occupied by the British, 124

  Couronné, Grand, of Nancy, defence of, 63, 199, 205–12, 228–9, 269

  Crown Prince, the Imperial, 32–3, 63–4, 70–1, 89, 103, 169–72,
          178–82, 195

  Dubail, General, 27, 29, 30–1, 62–3, 104, 197–8, 200, 203

  Eastern defences, French, 12, 31, 44, 56, 61–4, 89–90, 170, 197, 229

  Emperor, the German, 84, 205, 209, 269

  Espérey, General Franchet d’, 37, 40–1, 100, 122;
    advance to the Marne begun, 137;
    Marne crossed, 141–2;
    helps Foch, 139, 142, 156;
    a determining factor in the victory, 189–91;
    on the Aisne, 193

  Fère Champènoise lost, 157;
    reoccupied, 167

  Foch, General, his teaching, 22, 24, 50, 160, 202;
    at head of 20th Corps, 30, 62;
    of 9th Army, 61, 69–70, 101, 138;
    battle of St. Gond, 142–54;
    the centre broken, 155–64;
    projected manœuvre and German retreat, 161–2, 165–8, 190, 193, 268

  Forces, German and Allied, compared, 15–16, 30, 32–3, 41, 65;
    on eve of the battle of the Marne, 97–105, 137, 144–5, 169, 171–2,
          176, 177–8, 198–201, 215–6, 240–1, 255

  Fortifications, modern, function of, 21, 229, 245

  French, Sir John, 18, 32, 35, 36, 39–43, 66–7, 69, 72, 73;
    communications with Gallieni and Joffre, 93–4, 121–3;
    battle order, 111;
    farthest south, 119, 121;
    the pursuit, 188;
    criticisms of, 253–6, 258, 265–6

  Gallieni, General, 47, 49, 77–9, 81, 83, 90, 133;
    order to 6th Army on September 4, 92–3;
    communications with Joffre and French, 93–4;
    battle of the Ourcq;
    his precipitancy, 116–7, 121–3, 134, 224;
    Generals Cherfils and Bonnal on, 262

  Gaps in German and Allied lines, 69, 85, 111, 136–7, 145, 166, 189,
          192–3, 225–6

  Generals removed, French, 20, 49, 52, 245;
    German, 83, 233

  Gond, St., marshes of, 143 _et seq._, 191, 226

  Guise, battle of, 68–9

  Haig, General Sir D., 37, 64, 66, 99, 141, 193

  Hanotaux, M., controverted, 41–3, 252–5

  Hausen, General von, and the Saxon Corps, 32–3, 35, 38–41, 69, 71,
          101, 135, 145, 155–9, 165–6, 171, 172, 175, 191, 193

  Heeringen, General von, 30, 61–3, 192, 197, 199, 200, 203–4

  Humbert, General, at Mondemont, 149, 152–4

  Italian Frontier, 15, 25, 28

  Joffre, General, moves 5th Army and B.E.F. to Sambre (August 16),
          35–6, 42;
    “most unexpected” news, 41;
    career and character, 46–53;
    second new plan of campaign, 54–61;
    tactical lessons, 58;
    watches eastern frontier, 62, 64, 197;
    forms 6th Army, 65;
    helps the B.E.F., 65–8;
    forms 9th Army, 70;
    extends the retreat, 73–5;
    orders for general offensive, 74–5, 93–7, 111, 121;
    M. Millerand on, 77;
    gains and superiority of forces, 104–5;
    and Gallieni’s precipitancy, 116, 119, 121–3;
    and the decisive movement between Kluck and Bülow, 135, 189;
    on the victory, 195–6;
    the author of the victory, 218–29, 233;
    before Commission of Inquiry, 249;
    General Lanrezac on, 256;
    M. Messimy on, 257

  Kitchener, Lord, and Field-Marshal French, 69, 258, 259

  Kluck, General von, 32, 38–44, 66–9, 72–3, 79 _et seq._, 97;
    withdraws Corps across Marne against Maunoury, 118, 122–4;
    his farthest south positions, 119–120;
    results of retreat, 135–7, 141, 185;
    reaches the Aisne, 187;
    his two fatal movements, 220–2;
    Kluck and Bülow, 261

  Landwehr and Ersatz employed on front, 15–16, 128, 199

  Langle de Cary, General de, 28, 32–3, 48, 70, 102, 169–75, 193

  Lanrezac, General, 27, 32, 35–43, 49, 67–8, 250, 255–6, 258

  Launois, battle of, 70

  Lille, fortress of, 34, 249, 252

  Longwy, siege of, 33–4, 44

  Lorraine, first French offensive in, 29–31

  Machine guns, 18, 58, 115, 117, 253

  Maud’huy, General, 30, 100, 138, 140, 193

  Mangin, General, 37, 100, 138

  Maps, German, evidence of the, 240

  Maubeuge, 34, 44, 87, 105, 252, 256–7

  Maunoury, General, 32, 63–5, 72–3, 77, 80–1, 85, 93, 97, 116, 122,
          124, 126–30, 132–4, 184–8, 248

  Michel, General, and the French Staff, 47, 49, 248

  Mondemont, 143–4, 148–54

  Mons, battle of, 37–43, 253–6

  Montmirail reoccupied, 140

  Morhange–Sarrebourg, battle of, 30–1

  Namur, siege and fall of, 27, 38, 40

  Nancy bombarded, 211

  Nivelle, Colonel, 127

  Offences, German, against rules of war, 80, 117, 124, 192, 194–5,
          211, 212–3, 267

  Offensive, French doctrine of the, 21–24, 58, 201–2, 216, 218,
          245–7, 251

  —— from the Somme–Laon–Craonne, proposed, 58–60, 65, 71

  Ourcq, battle of the, 114–8, 126–35, 184–7

  Paris, the defence of, 55, 73, 76–9, 259–60;
    the German dilemma, 82–8, 109, 221

  Pau, General, 29, 47, 48, 198, 248

  Percin, General, 248, 252

  Petain, General, 100, 138

  Plans of campaign:
    the German, 10–14;
    disturbed after Guise, 68–9;
    the dilemma of Paris–Verdun, 84–91, 109–10, 214 _et seq._, 239–40;
    the French, 28–9, 31, 36, 49–50, 54–61, 73–5, 88–9, 105, 110,
          216 _et seq._

  Proyart, action at, 68

  Railways, efficiency of French, 15, 57, 241

  Reserves, German and Allied, 16, 21, 198–9, 245

  Retreat, the long, scenes on, 1–9, 72–3, 78, 237–8;
    necessity of, 54–5;
    advantages of, 57;
    prolonged, 72–4;
    end of, 81, 109, 119;
    general German, ordered September 9, 185

  Revigny lost, 179;
    recovered, 194

  Rheims reoccupied and bombarded, 192

  Russian victories, influence of, 44, 75, 87

  Sambre, German victory on the, 36–43

  Sarrail, General, 48, 89, 103, 169–72, 175–82, 195

  Sermaize, destruction of, 194

  Smith-Dorrien, General, 38, 64, 66, 99, 141

  Taxi-cabs and the battle of the Ourcq, 130–1

  Toul, German advance toward, 208

    German superiority, 18, 31, 33, 35, 58, 114, 217, 253;
    Field-Marshal French on, 18, 244;
    Castelnau’s defences, 201–2

  Troyon, Fort, defence of, 180–3

  Verdun, 32, 56, 71, 74, 89, 108, 169–71, 176–82, 195, 221

  Vosges, fighting in the, 203–4

  War Council, French Higher, 47–51

  “Wireless,” German, picked up, 134

  Würtemberg, Duke Albrecht of, 32, 70, 102, 169–75, 193


Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained; occurrences of
inconsistent hyphenation have not been changed.

In this version of this eBook, dashes between multiple locations and
within numeric ranges are shown as en-dashes (–), which are longer than
hyphens (-) but shorter than double-em-dashes (——), which are used
for visual clarity where the original book used single em-dashes as

Index not checked for proper alphabetization or correct page references.

Page 99: “Ronar’ch’s” is a misprint for “Ronarc’h’s”.

Page 272: The Index reference to General Gallieni and the battle of the
Ourcq did not include a page number.

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