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Title: The Battle of the Rivers
Author: Dane, Edmund (Military historian)
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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+IN THE FIRING LINE.+ Battle Stories told by British Soldiers at the

of Courage."

+BRITISH REGIMENTS AT THE FRONT.+ The glorious story of their Battle


+FORTY YEARS AFTER.+ The Story of the Franco-German War. By H. C. BAILEY.
With an introduction by W. L. COURTNEY, LL.D.

+A SCRAP OF PAPER.+ The Inner History of German Diplomacy. By E. J.

+HOW THE NATIONS WAGED WAR.+ A companion volume to "How the War Began,"
telling how the world faced Armageddon and how the British Army answered
the call to arms. By J. M. KENNEDY.




















On a scale before unknown in Western Europe, and save for the coincident
operations in the Eastern theatre of war, unexampled in history, the
succession of events named the "Battle of the Rivers" presents
illustrations of strategy and tactics of absorbing interest. Apart even
from the spectacular aspects of this lurid and grandiose drama, full as
it is of strange and daring episodes, the problems it affords in the
science of war must appeal to every intelligent mind.

An endeavour is here made to state these problems in outline. In the
light they throw, events and episodes, which might otherwise appear
confused, will be found to fit into a clear sequence of causes and
consequences. The events and episodes themselves gain in grandeur as
their import and relationship are unfolded.

Since the story of the retreat from Mons has been told in another volume
of this series, it is only in the following pages dealt with so far as
its military bearings elucidate succeeding phases of the campaign.

The Battle of the Rivers



"About September 3," wrote Field Marshal Sir John French in his despatch
dated a fortnight later,[1] "the enemy appears to have changed his
plans, and to have determined to stop his advance south direct upon
Paris, for on September 4 air reconnaissances showed that his main
columns were moving in a south-easterly direction generally, east of a
line drawn through Nanteuil and Lizy on the Ourcq."

In that passage the British commander summarises an event which changed
the whole military aspect of the Great War and changed it not only in
the Western, but in the Eastern theatre of hostilities.

What were the German plans and why were they changed?

In part the plans were military, and in part political. These two
aspects, however, are so interwoven that it is necessary, in the first
place, briefly to sketch the political aspect in order that the military
aspect, which depended on the political, may be the better understood.

The political object was to reduce France to such powerlessness that she
must not only agree to any terms imposed, but remain for the future in a
state of vassalage to Germany. Further, the object was to extract from
France a war fine so colossal[2] that, if paid, it would furnish Germany
with the means of carrying on the war against Great Britain and Russia,
and, if not paid, or paid only in part, would offer a pretext for an
occupation of a large part of France by German troops, indefinite in
point of time, and, formalities apart, indistinguishable from
annexation. By means of that occupation great resources for carrying on
the war might, in any event, be drawn in kind from the French population
and from their territory, or drawn in cash in the form of local war

In a passage quoted by M. Edouard Simon,[3] the late Prince von Bismarck
once spoke of the difficulty he met with at the end of the war with
France in 1871, in restraining the cupidity of the then King of Prussia
and in "mixing the water of reflection with the wine of victory." There
was at the time, in Germany, much discussion as to the amount of the War
Fine. The staggering total of 15,000 millions of francs (600 million
pounds sterling) was freely asserted to be none too high. Fear of
possible war with Great Britain mainly kept within bounds this desire of
plunder, and led the Emperor William to accept, reluctantly, the 5,000
million francs afterwards paid.

There can be no doubt, however, that it became a settled opinion with
the Government, and also, even if to a less extent, a conviction with
the public of Germany that, enormous as it was, the levy upon France in
1871 was insufficient. That opinion was sharpened by the promptitude,
almost contemptuous, with which the French people discharged the demand,
and brought the German military occupation to an end.

The opinion that the War Fine of 1871 had been too small inspired the
political crisis of 1875, caused by a threatened renewal of the German
attack. The pretext then was that France was forming, with Austria and
Italy, a league designed to destroy the new German Empire. The true
cause of hostility was that France had begun to reorganise her army.
Intervention by the Cabinets of London and St. Petersburg averted the
peril. The German Government found itself obliged to put off a further
draft upon "opulent France"[4] until a more convenient season.

This discovery that neither Great Britain nor Russia was willing to see
France become the milch cow of Germany dictated the policy which led
later to the Triple Alliance. Consistently from this time to the end of
his life the Emperor William I. assumed the part of guardian of the
peace of Europe. The Triple Alliance was _outwardly_ promoted by Germany
with that object.[5]

Meanwhile, every opportunity was taken to strengthen the German military
organisation. Only by possession of an invincible army could the German
Empire, it was contended, fulfil its peace-keeping mission.

This growth of military armaments imposed on Germany a heavy burden. Was
the burden borne merely for the sake of peace, or for the sake of the
original inspiration and policy?

Few acquainted with the character of the Germans will credit them with a
tendency to spend money out of sentiment. The answer, besides, has been
given by General von Bernhardi.[6] He has not hesitated to declare that
the object of these preparations was to ensure victory in the offensive
war made necessary by the growth of the German population, a growth
calling for a proportionate "political expansion."

Outside Germany the so-called revelations of General von Bernhardi took
many by surprise. That, however, was because, outside Germany, not many
know much of German history, and fewer still the history of modern

It was realised, when General von Bernhardi published his book, that the
original inspiration and policy had never been changed. On the contrary,
all the efforts and organisation of Prussia had been directed to the
realisation of that policy, and the only alteration was that, as
confidence in Prussia's offensive organisation grew, the policy had been
enlarged by sundry added ambitions until at length it became that
grotesque and Gothic political fabric known as Pan-Germanism.

"The military origin of the new German Empire," says M. Simon, "is of
vast importance; it gives that Empire its fundamental character; it
establishes its basis and its principle of existence. Empires derive
their vitality from the principle to which they owe their birth."

The fact is of vast importance because, just as the British Empire had
its origin in, and owes its character to, the embodiment of moral force
in self-government, so the German Empire had its origin in, and owes its
character to, the embodiment of material forces in armies, and existed,
as General von Bernhardi says, for the employment of that force as and
whenever favourable opportunity should present itself.

The political inspiration and purpose being clear, how was that purpose,
as regards France, most readily and with fewest risks to be realised?

It was most readily to be realised by seizing Paris. As everybody is
aware, the Government of France is more centralised than that of any
other great State. Paris is the hub of the French roads and railways;
Paris is also the hub of French finance; Paris is at once the brain and
the heart of the country; the place to which all national taxes flow;
the seat from which all national direction and control proceed. It was
believed, therefore, that, Paris occupied, France would be stricken with
political paralysis. Resistance might be offered by the provinces, for
the area of France is roughly equal to the area of Germany, but the
resistance could never be more than ineffectual.

Such was the plan on its political side. What were its military

A political plan of that character plainly called for a swift and, if
possible, crushing military offensive. Rapidity was one of the first
essentials. That affected materially the whole military side of the
scheme. It meant that to facilitate mobility and transport, the
equipment of the troops must be made as light as possible. Hence all the
usual apparatus of field hospitals and impedimenta for encampment must
be dispensed with. It meant that the force to be dispatched must be
powerful enough to bear down the _maximum_ of estimated opposition, and
ensure the seizure of Paris, without delay. It meant again that the
force must move by the shortest and most direct route.

If we bear in mind these three features--equipment cut down to give
mobility, strength to ensure an uninterrupted sweep, shortest route--we
shall find it the easier to grasp the nature of the operations which
have since taken place. The point to be kept in mind is that what the
military expedition contemplated was not only on an unusual scale, but
was of an altogether unusual, and in many respects novel, character.

The most serious military problem in front of the German Government was
the problem of route. The forces supposed to be strong enough Germany
had at her disposal. Within her power, too, was it to make them, so far
as meticulous preparation could do it, mobile. But command of the
shortest and most direct route she did not possess.

That route we know passes in part through the plain of northern Belgium,
and in part through the parallel valley of the Meuse to the points
where, on the Belgium frontier, there begin the great international
roads converging on Paris. All the way from Liége to Paris there are not
only these great paved highways, but lines of main trans-continental
railroads. The route, in short, presented every natural and artificial
facility needed to keep a vast army fully supplied.

Here it should be recalled that two things govern the movements of
armies. Hostile opposition is one; supplies are the other. In this
instance, the possible hostile opposition was estimated for. It remained
to ensure that neither the march of the great host, as a whole, nor the
advance of any part of it should at any time be held up by waiting for
the arrival of either foodstuffs, munitions, or reinforcements, but that
the thousand and one necessaries for such an army, still a complex list
even when everything omissible had been weeded out, should arrive, as,
when, and where wanted.

Little imagination need be exercised to perceive that to work out a
scheme like that on such a scale involves enormous labour. On the one
side were the arrangements for gathering these necessaries and placing
them in depots; on the other were the arrangements for issuing them,
sending them forward, and distributing them. Nothing short of years of
effort could connect such a mass of detail. If hopeless confusion was
not almost from the outset to ensue, the greatest care was called for to
make it certain that the mighty machination would move successfully.

A scheme of that kind suited the methodical genius of Germany, and there
can be no doubt that the years spent upon it had brought it to
perfection. It had been worked out to time table. Concurrently,
arrangements for the mobilisation of reserve troops had become almost
automatic. Every reservist in the German Army held instructions setting
out minutely what to do and where and when to report himself as soon as
the call came.

Now this elaborate plan had been drawn up on the assumption of an
invasion of France by the route through Belgium. That assumption formed
its basis. Not only so, but the extent to which the resources of Belgium
and North-east France might, by requisitioning, be drawn upon to relieve
transport and so promote rapidity, had been exactly estimated.

It is evident, therefore, that the adoption of any other route must have
upset the whole proposal. In any other country the fact of the
Government devoting its energies over a long period of time to such a
scheme on such a footing would appear extraordinary, and the more
extraordinary since this, after all, was only part of a still larger
plan, worked out with the same minuteness, for waging a war on both

The fact, however, ceases to be extraordinary if we bear in mind that
the modern German Empire is essentially military and aggressive.

Obviously, the weak point of plans so elaborate is that they cannot
readily be changed. Neither even can they, save with difficulty, be
modified. Even in face, therefore, of a declaration of war by Great
Britain, the plan had to be adhered to. Unless it could be adhered to,
the invasion of France must be given up.

Bearing in mind the labour and cost of preparation, the hopes built upon
the success of the invasion, and the firm belief that the opposition to
be expected by Belgium could at most be but trifling, it ceases to be
surprising that, though there was every desire to put off that
complication, a war with Great Britain proved no deterrent.

Further, the construction by the French just within their Eastern
frontier of a chain of fortifications extremely difficult to force by
means of a frontal attack, and quite impossible to break if defended by
efficient field forces, manifestly suggested the plea of adopting the
shorter and more advantageous route on the ground of necessity. In
dealing with that plea it should not be forgotten that the State which
elects to take the offensive in war needs resources superior to those of
the State which elects to stand, to begin with, upon a policy of
defence. Those superior resources, save in total population, Germany, as
compared with France, did not possess. In adopting the offensive,
therefore, on account of its initial military advantages, Germany was
risking in this attack means needed for a prolonged struggle. It was
necessary in consequence for the attack to be so designed that it could
not only not fail, but should succeed rapidly enough to enable the
attacking State to recoup itself--and, possibly, with a profit.

The conditions of first rapidity, and second certainty, formed the
_political_ aspects of the plan, and they affected its military aspects
in regard to first numbers, secondly equipment, thirdly route.

But there were, if success was to be assured, still other conditions to
be fulfilled, and these conditions were _purely_ military. They were:--

     (1) That in advancing the line of the invading armies must not
     expose a flank, and by so doing risk delay through local or partial

     (2) That the invading armies must not lay bare their
     communications. Risk to their communications would also involve

     (3) That they must at no point incur the hazard of attacking a
     defended position save in superior force. To do so would again risk
     repulse and delay.

Did the plan drawn up by the German General Staff fulfil apparently all
the conditions, both political and military, and did it promise swift
success? It did.

The plan, in the first instance, covered the operations of eight
armies, acting in combination. These were the armies of General von
Emmich; General von Kluck; General von Bülow; General von Hausen;
Albert, Duke of Wurtemberg; the Crown Prince of Germany; the Crown
Prince of Bavaria; and General von Heeringen. Embodying first reserves,
they comprised twenty-eight army corps out of the forty-six which
Germany, on a war footing, could put immediately into the field.[7]

Having reached the French frontier from near the Belgian coast to
Belfort, the eight armies were to have advanced across France in
echelon. If you take a row of squares running across a chessboard from
corner to corner you have such squares for what is known in military
phraseology as echelon formation.

Almost invariably in a military scheme of that character the first body,
or "formation" as it is called, of the echelon is reinforced and made
stronger than the others, because, while such a line of formations is
both supple and strong, it becomes liable to be badly disorganised if
the leading body be broken. On the leading body is thrown the main work
of initiating the thrust. That leading body, too, must be powerful
enough to resist an attack in flank as well as in front.[8]

Advancing on this plan, these armies would present a line exposing, save
as regarded the first of them, no flank open to attack. Indeed, the
first object of the echelon is to render both a frontal and a flank
attack upon it difficult.

Had the plan succeeded as designed, we should have had this position of
affairs: the eight armies would have extended across France from Paris
to Verdun by the valley of the Marne, the great natural highway running
across France due east to the German frontier, and one having both
first-rate road and railway facilities. It was hoped that by the time
the first and strongest formation of this chain of armies had reached
Paris and had fastened round it, the sixth, seventh, and eighth armies
would, partly by attacking the fortified French frontier on the east,
but chiefly by enveloping it on the west, have gained possession of the
frontier defence works.

The main French army must then have been driven westward from the valley
of the Marne, across the Aube, brought to a decisive battle in the
valley of the Seine, defeated, and, enclosed in a great arc by the
German armies extending round from the north and by the east to the
south of Paris, have been forced into surrender.

There is a common assumption that the German plan was designed to repeat
the manoeuvres which in the preceding war led to Sedan, and almost with
the same detail. That is rating the intelligence of the German General
Staff far too low. They could not but know that the details of one
campaign cannot be repeated in another against an opponent, who, aware
of the repetition, would be ready in advance against every move.

Naturally, they fostered the notion of an intended repetition. That
promoted their real design. The design itself, however, was based not
merely on the war of 1870-1, but on the invasion of 1814, which led to
the abdication of Napoleon, and the primary idea of it was to have _only
one main line of advance_.

The reason was that if an assailant takes two main lines of advance
simultaneously and has to advance along the valleys of rivers
converging to a point, as the Oise, the Marne, and the Seine converge
towards Paris, his advance may be effectively disputed by a much smaller
defending force than if he adopts only one line of advance, provided
always, of course, that he can safeguard his flanks and his

Bear in mind the calculation that the main French army would never in
any event be strong enough successfully to resist an invasion so
planned. Bear in mind, too, that an echelon formation is not only supple
and difficult to attack along its length on either side, but that it can
be stretched out or closed up like a concertina. To maintain a formation
of that kind with smaller bodies of troops is fairly easy. To maintain
it with the enormous masses forming the German armies would be
difficult. But the Germans were so confident of being able to compel the
French to conform to all the German movements, to stand, that is to say,
as the weaker side, always on the defensive, leaving the invaders a
practically unchallenged initiative, that they believed they could
co-ordinate all their movements with exactitude. This was taking a risk,
but they took it.

It is a mistake to suppose that they entered on the campaign with every
movement mapped out from start to finish. No plan of any campaign was
ever laid down on such lines, and none ever will be. The plan of a
campaign has to be built on broad ideas. Those ideas, by taking all the
essentials into consideration, the strategist seeks to convert into
realised events. In this instance, there can be very little doubt that
certain assumptions were treated as so probable as almost to be
certainties. The first was that such forces as France could mobilise in
the time would be mainly drafted to defend the fortified frontier. The
next was that such forces as could be massed in time along the boundary
of Belgium would be too weak seriously to impede the invasion. The third
was that in any subsequent attempt to transfer forces from the fortified
frontier to the Belgian boundary the French would be met and defeated by
the advancing echelon of German masses. The fourth was that such an
attempted transfer, followed by its defeat, would leave the fortified
frontier so readily seizable, that German armies advancing swiftly into
the valley of the Marne would fall upon these defeated French forces on
the flank and rear. Besides, that attempted transfer would be the very
thing that would promote the German design of envelopment.

If Paris could be reached by the strongest of the chain of armies in
eight days, then the mobilisation of the French reserves would still be
incomplete. Under the most favourable conditions, and even without the
disturbance of invasion, that mobilisation takes a fortnight. Given a
sudden and successful invasion with the resultant upset of
communications and the mobilisation could never be completed. All,
therefore, that the 1,680,000 men forming the invading hosts[9] would
have to encounter would be the effectives of the French regular forces,
less than half the number of the invaders.

When we speak of twenty-eight army corps moving in echelon,
approximately like so many squares placed diagonally corner to corner,
it is as well not to forget that such a chain of masses may assume quite
sinuous and snake-like variations and yet remain perfectly intact and
strong. For example, the head of the chain might be wound round and
pivot upon Paris, and the rest of the chain extended across France in
curves. This gigantic military boa-constrictor might therefore crush the
heart out of France, while the defenders of the country remained
helpless in its toils.

Such in brief was the daring and ambitious scheme conceived and worked
out by the German General Headquarters Staff, and worked out in the most
minute detail.

It will be seen from this summary that so far as its broad military
features are concerned, the plan promised an almost certainly successful
enterprise. There were concealed in its calculations, nevertheless,
fatal flaws. What they were will appear in the course of the present
narrative. Meanwhile it is necessary to add that possible opposition
from Belgium had not been overlooked; nor the possibility, consequent
upon that opposition, of intervention by Great Britain. From the
military standpoint, however, it was never calculated that any British
military force would be able to land either in France or in Belgium
promptly enough to save the French army from disaster. In any event,
such a force would be, from its limited numbers, comparatively


[1] Despatch from Sir John French to Earl Kitchener of September 17th,
1914. For the text of this see Appendix.

[2] The contemplated fine has been alleged to be 4,000 millions
sterling, coupled with the formal cession of all North Eastern France.
This statement was circulated by Reuter's correspondent at Paris on what
was asserted to be high diplomatic authority. Such a sum sounds
incredible, though as a _pretext_ it might possibly have been put

[3] Simon: _The Emperor William and his Reign._

[4] This phrase is that of General F. von Bernhardi.

[5] After the Berlin Congress in 1878, Prince Gortschakov mooted the
idea of an alliance between Russia and France. In 1879 Bismarck, in view
of such a development, concluded the alliance between Germany and
Austria. Italy joined this alliance in 1883, but on a purely defensive
footing. The account given of the Triple Alliance by Prince Bernhard von
Bülow, ex-Imperial Chancellor, is that it was designed to safeguard the
Continental interests of the three Powers, leaving each free to pursue
its extra-Continental interests. From 1815 to 1878 the three absolutist
Powers, Russia, Prussia, and Austria, had aimed at dominating the
politics of the Continent by their entente. For many years, however,
German influence in Russia has been giving way before French influence.
This is one of the most important facts of modern European history. The
Triple Alliance was undoubtedly designed to counteract its effect.
Germany, with ambitions in Asia Minor, backed up Austria, with ambitions
in the Balkans. Both sets of ambitions were opposed to the interests of
Russia. Russia's desertion of the absolutist entente for the existing
entente with the liberal Powers of the West has been due nevertheless as
much to the growth of constitutionalism as to diplomacy. The entente
with Great Britain and France is popular. On the other hand, the entente
with Germany and Austria was unpopular. The view here taken that one of
the real aims of the Triple Alliance was the furtherance of Prussia's
designs against France is the view consistent with the course of
Prussian policy. For Prince von Bülow's explanations, see his _Imperial

[6] F. von Bernhardi: _The Next War:_ see Introduction.

[7] Of the remaining corps, five were posted along the frontier of East
Prussia to watch the Russians. The rest were held chiefly at Mainz,
Coblentz, and Breslau as an initial reserve.

The now definitely ascertained facts regarding the military strength of
Germany appear to be these:--

     25 corps and one division of the
       active army mustering           1,530,000 men
     21 corps of Landwehr mustering    1,260,000 men
     Total                             2,790,000 men

In addition, there were raised 12 corps of Ersatz Reserve, and there
were also the Landsturm and the Volunteers, whose numerical strength is
uncertain. These troops, however, were not embodied until later in the

[8] The leading army, that of General von Kluck, consisted of 6 corps;
and the second army, that of General von Bülow, of 4 corps. The others
were formed each of 3 corps, making an original total of 28 corps.

Following the disaster at Liége, however, the army of General von Emmich
was divided up, and the view here taken, which appears to be most
consistent with the known facts, is that it was, after being re-formed,
employed to reinforce the armies of Generals von Kluck and von Bülow.
That would make the strength of the German force, which marched through
northern Belgium, 780,000 men.

[9] A German army corps is made up, with first reserves, embodied on
mobilisation, to 60,000 men. Twenty-eight army corps, therefore,
represent a total of 1,680,000 of all arms.



Let us now pass from designs to events, and, reviewing in their military
bearing the operations between August 3, when the German troops crossed
the Belgian frontier, to the day, exactly one month later, when the
German plans were apparently changed, deal with the question: Why were
the plans changed?

The Germans entered Liége on August 10. They had hoped by that time to
be, if not at, at any rate close to, Paris. In part they were unable to
begin their advance through Belgium until August 17 or August 18,
because they had not, until that date, destroyed all the forts at Liége,
but in part, also, these delays had played havoc with the details of
their scheme.

Consider how the shock of such a delay would make itself felt. The
mighty movement by this time going on throughout the length and breadth
of Germany found itself suddenly jerked into stoppage. All its couplings
clashed. Excellently designed as are the strategic railways of Germany
they are no more than sufficient for the transport of troops, guns,
munitions, foodstuffs, and other things necessary in such a case. If,
owing to delays, troop trains got into the way of food trains, and _vice
versa_, the resultant difficulties are readily conceivable. All this war
transport is run on a military time table. The time table was there, and
it was complete in every particular. But it had become unworkable.
Gradually the tangle was straightened out, but the muddle, while it
lasted, was gigantic, and we can well believe that masses of men,
arriving from all parts of Germany at Aix-la-Chapelle, found no
sufficient supplies awaiting them, and that sheer desperation drove the
German Government to collect supplies by plundering all the districts of
Belgium within reach. As the Belgians were held to be wilfully
responsible for the mess, the cruelty and ferocity shown in these raids
ceases to be in any sense unbelievable.

Dislocation of the plan, however, was not all. In the attempts to carry
the fortress of Liége by storm the Germans lost, out of the three corps
forming the army of General von Emmich, 48,700 men killed and
wounded.[10] These corps, troops from Hanover, Pomerania, and
Brandenburg, formed the flower of the army. The work had to be carried
out of burying the dead and evacuating the wounded. The shattered corps
had to be reformed from reserves. All this of necessity meant additional

Then there was the further fighting with the Belgians. What were the
losses sustained by the Germans between the assaults on Liége and the
occupation of Brussels is, outside of Germany, not known, nor is it
known in Germany save to the Government. To put that loss as at least
equal to the losses at Liége is, however, a very conservative estimate.

Meanwhile, the French had advanced into Belgium along both banks of the
Meuse and that further contributed to upset the great preparation.

We have, therefore, down to August 21, losses, including those in the
fighting on the Meuse and in Belgian Luxemburg, probably equal to the
destruction of two reinforced army corps.

Now we come to the Battle of Mons and Charleroi, when to the surprise of
all non-German tacticians, the attacks in mass formation witnessed at
Liége were repeated.

To describe that battle is beyond the scope of this narrative. But it is
certain that the estimates so far formed of German losses are below, if
not a long way below, the truth.

There is, however, a reliable comparative basis on which to arrive at a
computation, and this has a most essential bearing on later events.

At Liége there were three heavy mass attacks against trenches defended
by a total force of 20,000 Belgian riflemen with machine guns.[11] We
have seen what the losses were. At Mons, against the British forces,
there were mass attacks against lines held by five divisions of British
infantry, a total roughly of 65,000 riflemen, with machine guns, and
backed by over sixty batteries of artillery.

Now, taking them altogether, the British infantry reach, as marksmen, a
level quite unknown in the armies of the Continent. Further, these mass
attacks were made by the Germans with far greater numbers than at Liége,
and there were far more of them. Indeed, they were pressed at frequent
intervals during two days and part of the intervening night. The
evidence as to the dense formations adopted in these attacks is

What, from facts such as these, is the inference to be drawn as to
losses incurred? The inference, and it is supported by the failure of
any of these attacks to get home, is, and can only be, that the losses
must have been proportionally on the same scale as those at Liége, for
the attacks were, for the most part, as at Liége, launched frontally
against entrenched positions. Though at first sight such figures may
appear fantastic, to put the losses at three times the total of the
losses at Liége is probably but a very slight exaggeration, even if it
be any exaggeration at all.

There is, however, still another ground for such a conclusion. While
the British front from Condé past and behind Mons to Binche allowed of
the full and effective employment of the whole British force, even when
holding in hand necessary reserves, it was obviously not a front wide
enough to allow of the full and effective employment on the German side
of a force four times as numerous. It must not be forgotten that troops
cannot fight at their best without sufficient space to fight in.

But to employ in the same space a force no greater than the British,
considering the advantage of position given with modern arms to an army
acting on the defensive on well-chosen ground, would have meant the
annihilation of the German army section by section.

That in effect, apart from the turning movement undertaken through
Tournai, and the attempt at Binche to enfilade the British position by
an oblique line of attack, was the problem which General von Kluck had
to face. His solution of it, in the belief that his artillery must have
completely shaken the British resistance, was to follow up the
bombardment by a succession of infantry attacks in close formation, one
following immediately the other, so that each attack would, it was
thought, start from a point nearer to the British trenches than that
preceding it, until finally the rush could not possibly be stopped. In
that way the whole weight of the German infantry might, despite the
narrow front, be thrown against the British positions, and though the
losses incurred must of necessity be severe, nevertheless, the British
line would be entirely swept away, and the losses more than amply
revenged in the rout that must ensue. Not only so, but the outcome
should be the destruction of the British force.

That this is as near the truth as any explanation which can be offered
is hardly doubtful. The conclusion is consonant, besides, with what have
been considered the newest German views on offensive tactics. To suppose
that General von Kluck, or any other commander, would throw away the
lives of his officers and men without some seemingly sufficient object
is not reasonable.

Here we touch one of the hidden but fatal flaws in the German plan--the
assumption that German troops, if not superior, must at any rate be
equal in skill to any others. The German troops at Mons, admittedly,
fought with great daring, but that they fought or were led with skill is
disproved by all the testimony available. It is as clear as anything can
be that not merely the coolness and the marksmanship of the British
force was a surprise to the enemy, but the uniformity of its quality. Of
the elements that go to make up military strength, uniformity of quality
is among the most important. The cohesion of an army with no weak links
is unbreakable. It is not only more supple than an army made up of
troops of varying quality and skill, but it is more tenacious. Like a
well-tempered sword, it is at once more flexible yet more unbreakable
than an inferior weapon.

Against an inferior army the tactics of General von Kluck must
infallibly have succeeded. Against such a military weapon as the British
force at Mons they were foredoomed to failure. Assuming the British army
to be inferior, General von Kluck threw the full weight of his troops
upon it before he had tried its temper.

Studying their bearing, the importance of these considerations becomes
plain. Powerful as it was, the driving head of the great German chain
had yet not proved powerful enough inevitably to sweep away resistance.
That again disclosed a miscalculation. It is true that the British force
had to retire, and it is equally true that that retirement exposed them
to great danger, for the enemy, inflamed by his losses, was still in
numbers far superior, and what, for troops obliged to adopt marching
formations, was even more serious, he was times over superior in guns.
Few armies in face of such superiority could have escaped annihilation;
fewer still would not have fallen into complete demoralisation.

The British force, however, not only escaped annihilation, but came out
both with losses _relatively_ light, and wholly undemoralised. This was
no mere accident. Why, can be briefly told. Remember that quality of
uniformity, remember the value of it in giving cohesion to the organic
masses of the army. Remember further the hitting power of an army in
which both gunners and riflemen are on the whole first-rate shots, and
with a cavalry which the hostile horse had shown itself unable to
contend against. On the other hand, bear in mind that the greater
masses of the enemy were of necessity slower in movement, and that the
larger an army is, the slower it _must_ move.

Naturally the enemy used every effort to throw as large forces as he
could upon the flanks of the retiring British divisions. He especially
employed his weight of guns for that purpose. On the other hand, the
British obviously and purposely occupied all the roads over as broad an
extent of country as was advisable. They did so in order to impose wide
detours on outflanking movements. While those forces were going round,
the British were moving forward and so escaping them.

The difficulties the Germans had to contend against were first the
difficulty of getting close in enough with bodies of troops large
enough, and secondly that, in flowing up, their mass, while greater in
depth from van to rear than the British, could not be much, if anything,
greater in breadth. The numerical superiority, therefore, could not be
made fully available.

Broadly, those were the conditions of this retirement; and when we come
to examine them, comparing the effective force of the opponents, the
_relatively_ light losses of the British cease to be surprising. The
retirement, of course, was full of exciting episodes. Sir John French
began his movement with a vigorous counter-attack.[12] This wise tactic
both misled the enemy and taught him caution.

It was by such tactics that the British General so far outpaced the
enemy as to be able to form front for battle at Cambrai. Here again some
brief notes are necessary in order to estimate the effect on later

On the right of the British position from Cambrai to Le Cateau, and
somewhat in advance of it, the village of Landrecies was held by the 4th
Brigade of Guards. Just to the north of Landrecies is the forest of
Mormal. The forest is shaped like a triangle. Landrecies stands at the
apex pointing south. Round the skirts of the forest both to the east and
to the west are roads meeting at Landrecies. Along these roads the
Germans were obliged to advance, although to obtain cover from the
British guns enfilading these roads large bodies of them came through
the forest.

The British right, the corps of General Sir Douglas Haig, held
Marailles, and commanded the road to the west of the forest.

Towards the British centre a second slightly advanced position like that
of Landrecies was held to the south of Solesmes by the 4th Division,
commanded by General Snow.

The British left, formed of the corps of General Sir Horace
Smith-Dorrien, was "refused" or drawn back, because in this quarter an
attempted turning movement on the part of the enemy was looked for. In
the position taken up, the front here was covered by a small river
continued by a canal.

On the British left also, to the south of Cambrai, were posted the
cavalry under General Allenby.

These dispositions commanded the roads and approaches along which the
enemy must advance in order to obtain touch with the main body, and they
were calculated both to break up the unity of his onset and to lay him
open to effective attack while deploying for battle. They were, in fact,
the same tactics which, in resisting the onset of a superior force,
Wellington employed at Waterloo by holding in advance of his main line
Hugomont and La Haye Sainte for a like purpose.

Sir John French had foreseen that, taught at Mons the cost of a frontal
assault against British troops, General von Kluck would now seek to
employ his greater numerical strength and weight of guns by throwing
that strength as far as he could against the flanks of the British,
hoping to crush the British line together and so destroy it.

That, in fact, was what General von Kluck did try to do. In this attack
five German army corps were engaged. The German General concentrated the
main weight of his artillery, comprising some 112 batteries of field
guns and howitzers, against the British left. The terrific bombardment
was followed up by infantry attacks, in which mass formations were once
more resorted to. Evidently it was thought that against such a strength
in guns the British could not possibly hold their lines, and that the
infantry, completely demoralised, must be so shaken as to fire wildly,
rendering an onslaught by superior forces of the German infantry an
assured and sweeping victory.

For a second time these calculations miscarried. As they rushed forward,
expecting but feeble opposition, the hostile infantry masses were shot
down by thousands. The spectacle of such masses was certainly designed
to terrify. It failed to terrify. In this connection it is apposite to
recall that the destruction of Baker Pasha's army at Suakim by a massed
rush of Arab spearmen long formed with the newer school of German
tacticians a classic example of the effect of such charges on _British_
troops. No distinction seems to have been made between the half-trained
Egyptian levies led by Baker Pasha and fully trained British infantry.
The two are, in a military sense, worlds apart. Yet German theorists,
their judgment influenced by natural bias, ignored the difference.

Nor was the fortune of the attacks upon the British right any better.
The defence of Landrecies by the Guards Brigade forms one of the most
heroic episodes of the war. Before it was evacuated the village had
become a German charnel-house. Hard pressed as they were at both
extremities of their line, the British during these two days fought to
a standstill an army still nearly three times as large as their own.

That simply upset all accepted computations. As Sir John French stated
in his despatch of September 7, the fighting from the beginning of the
action at Mons to the further British retirement from Cambrai formed in
effect one continuous battle. The British withdrawal was materially
helped by a timely attack upon the right flank of the German forces
delivered by two French divisions which had advanced from Arras under
the command of General d'Amade, and by the French cavalry under General

Now consider the effect upon the German plans. There is, to begin with,
the losses. That those at Cambrai must have been extremely heavy is
certain. The failure of such an attack pushed with such determination
proves it.[13] We are fully justified in concluding that the attack did
not cease until the power to continue it had come to an end. Losses on
that scale meant, first, the collection of the wounded and the burial of
the dead; and, secondly, the reforming of broken battalions from
reserves. The latter had to be brought from the rear, and that, as well
as their incorporation in the various corps, involved delay. Again, the
vast expenditure of artillery munitions meant waiting for
replenishment; and though we may assume that arrangements for
replenishment were as complete as possible, yet it would take time. For
all these reasons the inability of General von Kluck to follow up
becomes readily explicable.

Bear in mind that the whole German scheme of invasion hung for its
success on his ability to follow up and on the continued power and
solidity of his forces. It must not be supposed that that had not been
fully foreseen and, as far as was thought necessary, provided for. There
is ample evidence that, in view alike of the fighting in Belgium and of
the landing of the British Expeditionary Force on August 17, this
leading and largest formation of the German chain of armies had been
made still larger than the original scheme had designed. Apparently at
Mons it comprised eight instead of the originally proposed six army
corps. After Cambrai, as later events will show, the force of General
von Kluck included only five army corps of first line troops.

To account for that decrease, the suggestion has been made that at this
time, consequent upon the defeat met with by the Germans at Gunbinnen in
East Prussia and the advance of the Russians towards Königsberg, there
was a heavy transfer of troops from the west front to the east. Not only
would such a transfer have been in the circumstances the most manifest
of military blunders, but no one acquainted with the methods of the
German Government and of the German General Staff can accept the
explanation. Whatever may be the shortcomings of the German Government,
vacillation is not one of them. What evidently did take place was the
transfer of the _débris_ of army corps preparatory to their re-formation
for service on the east front and their replacement by fresh reserves.

But though the mass was thus made up again, there is a wide difference
between a great army consisting wholly of first line troops and an army,
even of equal numbers, formed of troops of varying values. The driving
head was no longer solid.

In the battle on the Somme when the British occupied positions from Ham
to Peronne, and the French army delivered a flank attack on the Germans
along the line from St. Quentin to Guise, the invaders were again

From St. Quentin to Peronne the course of the Somme, a deep and
dangerous river, describes an irregular half-circle, sweeping first to
the west, and then round to the north. General von Kluck had here to
face the far from easy tactical problem of fighting on the inner line of
that half-circle. He addressed himself to it with vigour. One part of
his plan was a wide outflanking movement through Amiens; another was to
throw a heavy force against St. Quentin; a third was to force the
passage of the Somme both east and west of Ham.

These operations were undertaken, of course, in conjunction with the
army of General von Bülow. Part of the troops of von Bülow, the 10th,
and the Reserve Corps of the Prussian Guard were heavily defeated by the
French at Guise. But while it was the object of the French and British
to make the German operations as costly as possible, it formed, for
reasons which will presently appear, no part of their strategy to follow
up local advantages.

Why it formed no part of their strategy will become evident if at this
point a glance is cast over the fortunes of the other German armies.

The army of General von Bülow had been engaged against the French in the
battle at Charleroi and along the Sambre, and again in the battle at St.
Quentin and Guise, and admittedly had in both encounters lost heavily.

The army of General von Hausen had been compelled to fight its way
across the Meuse in the face of fierce opposition. At Charleville, the
centre of this great combat, its losses, too, were severe. Again, at
Rethel, on the line of the Aisne, there was a furious six days' battle.

The army of Duke Albert of Wurtemberg had twice been driven back over
the Meuse into Belgian Luxemburg.

The army of the Crown Prince of Germany, notwithstanding its initial
success at Château Malins, had been defeated at Spincourt.

The army of the Crown Prince of Bavaria had been defeated with heavy
loss at Luneville.

Divisions of the German army operating in Alsace had been worsted, first
at Altkirch, and again at Mulhausen.

Taking these events together, the fact stands out that the first aim in
the strategy of General Joffre was, as far as possible, to defeat the
German armies in detail, and thus to hinder and delay their
co-operation. He was enabled to carry out that object because the French
mobilisation had been completed without disturbance.

These two facts--completion of the French mobilisation and the throwing
back of the German plan by the defeat of the several armies in
detail--are facts of the first importance.

The aggregate losses sustained by the Germans were already huge. If, up
to September 3, we put the total wastage of war from the outset at
500,000, remembering that the fatigues of a campaign conducted in a
hurry mean a wastage from exhaustion equal at least to the losses in
action, we shall, great as such a total may appear, still be within the

But more serious even than the losses was the dislocation of the plan.
The army of the Crown Prince of Germany, which was to have advanced by
rapid marches through the defiles of the Argonne, to have invested
Verdun, and to have taken the fortified frontier in the rear, found
itself unable to effect that object. It was held up in the hills. That
meant that the armies of the Crown Prince of Bavaria and the army of
General von Heeringen were kept out of the main scheme of operations.

Consider what this meant. It meant that the freedom of movement of the
whole chain of armies was for the time being gone. It meant further
that, so long as that state of things continued, the primary condition
on which the whole German scheme depended--a superiority of military
strength--could not be realised. Not only were the German armies no
longer, in a military sense, homogeneous, but a considerable part of the
force, being on the wrong side of the fortified frontier, could not be
brought to bear, and another considerable part of the force, the army of
the Crown Prince of Germany, had fallen into an entanglement. Were the
armies of von Kluck, von Bülow, von Hausen, and Duke Albert, the latter
already badly mauled, sufficient to carry out the scheme laid down?
Quite obviously not.

Obviously not, because on the one hand there was the completion of the
French mobilisation, and the presence of a British army; and on the
other hand there were the losses met with, and the reductions in the
_applicable_ force.

Something must be done to pull affairs round. The something was to begin
with the extraction of the Crown Prince of Germany from his predicament.
If that could be effected and the fortified frontier turned, then the
armies of the Crown Prince of Bavaria and of General von Heeringen could
make their entry into the main arena; and the primary condition of
superiority in strength restored.

Thus it is evident that the events preceding September 3, dictated the
movement which, on September 3, changed for good the aspect of the


[10] These figures are given on the authority of M. de Broqueville,
Belgian Prime Minister and Minister of War, who has stated that the
total here quoted was officially admitted by the German Government.

[11] There are usually two machine guns to each section of infantry.

[12] "At daybreak on the 24th (Aug.) the Second Division from the
neighbourhood of Harmignies made a powerful demonstration as if to
retake Binche. This was supported by the artillery of the first and
second divisions, while the First Division took up a supporting position
in the neighbourhood of Peissant. Under cover of this demonstration the
Second (Army) Corps retired on the line
Dour--Quarouble--Frameries."--_Despatch of Sir John French of September

[13] The reported extraordinary Army Order issued by the German Emperor
commanding "extermination" of the British force has since been
officially disavowed as a fiction.



From the strategy on the German side let us now turn to that on the side
of the French. Between them a fundamental distinction at once appears.

Of both the aim was similar--to compel the other side to fight under a
disadvantage. In that way strategy helps to ensure victory, or to lessen
the consequences of defeat.

The strategy of the German General Staff, however, was from the outset
obvious. The strategy of General Joffre was at the outset a mystery.
Only as the campaign went on did the French scheme of operations become
apparent. Even then the part of the scheme still to come remained

It has been assumed that with the employment of armies formed of
millions of men the element of surprise must be banished. That was a
German theory. The theory is unsound. Now, as ever, intellect is the
ultimate commanding quality in war.

In truth, the factor of intellect was never more commanding than under
conditions of war carried on with mass armies.

Reflect upon the difference between an opponent who, under such
conditions, is able to fathom and to provide against hostile moves, and
the opponent who has to take his measures in the dark as to hostile

The former can issue his orders with the reasonable certainty that they
are what the situation will call for. Never were orders and instructions
more complex than with modern armies numbering millions; never were
there more contingencies to provide against and to foresee. To move and
to manipulate these vast masses with effect, accurate _anticipation_ is
essential. Such complicated machines cannot be pushed about on the spur
of the moment when a general suddenly wakes up to a discovery.

It follows that to conduct a campaign with mass armies there must either
be a plan which you judge yourself strong enough in any event to realise
or a plan which, because your opponent cannot fathom it, must throw him
into complete confusion. The former was the German way; the latter the

That General Joffre would _try_ in the first place to defeat the German
armies in detail was not, of course, one of the surprises, because it is
elementary, but that he should have so largely _succeeded_ in defeating
them was a surprise.

In these encounters, as during later battles of the campaign, the French
troops discovered a cohesion and steadiness and a military habit of
discipline assumed to be foreign to their temperament. But their units
had been trained to act together in masses on practical lines. Of the
value of that training General Joffre was well aware.

He knew also that success in the earlier encounters, which that training
would go far to ensure, must give his troops an invaluable confidence in
their own quality.

There were, however, two surprises even more marked. One of these was
the quite unexpected use made of the fortified frontier; the other,
associated with it, was that of allowing the Germans to advance upon
Paris with an insufficient force, in the belief that French movements
were being conformed to their own.

Undoubtedly as regards the fortified frontier the belief prevailed that
the chief difficulty would be that of destroying its works with heavy
guns. It had never been anticipated that the Germans might be prevented
from getting near enough for the purpose. But in the French strategy
Verdun, Toul, and Belfort were not employed as obstacles. They were
employed as the fortified bases of armies. Being fortified, these bases
were safe even if close to the scene of operations. Consequently the
lines of communication could be correspondingly shortened, and the power
and activity of the armies dependent on them correspondingly increased.
So long as these armies remained afoot, the fortresses were
unattackable. Used in that way, a fortress reaches its highest military

The strategy adopted by General Joffre in association with the German
advance upon Paris is one of the most interesting phases of the war. His
_tactics_ were to delay and weaken the first and driving formation of
the German chain of armies; his _strategy_ was, while holding the tail
of that chain of armies fast upon the fortified frontier, to attract the
head of it south-west. In that way he at once weakened the chain and
lengthened out the German communications. Not merely was the position of
the first German army the worse, and its effective strength the less,
the further it advanced, thus ensuring its eventual defeat, but in the
event of defeat retirement became proportionally more difficult. The
means employed were the illusion that this army was driving before it,
not a wing of the Allied forces engaged merely in operations of delay,
but forces which, through defeat, were unable to withstand its march

It cannot now be doubted that the Germans had believed themselves strong
enough to undertake the investment of Paris concurrently with successful
hostilities against the French forces in the field. But by the time
General von Kluck's army arrived at Creil, the fact had become manifest
that those two objectives could not be attempted concurrently. The
necessity had therefore arisen of attempting them _successively_.

In face of that necessity the choice as to which of the two should be
attempted first was not a choice which admitted of debate. Defeat of
the French forces in the field must be first. Without it, the
investment of Paris had clearly become an impossibility. How far it had
become an impossibility will be realised by looking at the position of
the German armies.

Five of them were echeloned across France from Creil, north-east of
Paris, to near the southern point of the Argonne.

The army of von Kluck was between Creil and Soissons, with advanced
posts extended to Meaux on the Marne.

The army of von Bülow was between Soissons and Rheims, with advanced
posts pushed to Château-Thierry, also on the Marne.

The army of von Hausen held Rheims and the country between Rheims and
Chalons, with advanced posts at Epernay.

The army of Duke Albert, with headquarters at Chalons, occupied the
valley of the Marne as far as the Argonne.

The army of the Crown Prince of Prussia, with headquarters at St.
Menehould, held the Argonne north of that place, with communications
passing round Verdun to Metz.

If the line formed by these armies be traced on the map, it will be
found to present from Creil to the southern part of the Argonne a great
but somewhat flattened arc, its curvature northwards. Then from the
southern part of the Argonne the line will present a sharp bend to the

Now these five armies, refortified by reserves, comprised nineteen army
corps, plus divisions of cavalry--a vast force aggregating well over
one million men, with more than 3,000 guns. Powerful as it appeared,
however, this chain of armies was hampered by that capital disadvantage
of being held fast by the tail. Held as it was, the chain could not be
stretched to attempt an investment of Paris without peril of being
broken, and the great project of defeating and enveloping the Allied
forces was impossible.

No question was during the first weeks of the war more repeatedly asked
than why, instead of drafting larger forces to the frontier of Belgium,
General Joffre should have made what seemed to be a purposeless
diversion into Upper Alsace, the Vosges, and Lorraine.

The operations of the French in those parts of the theatre of war were
neither purposeless nor a diversion.

On the contrary, those operations formed the crux of the French
General's counter-scheme.

Their object was, as shown, to prevent the Germans from making an
effective attack on the fortified frontier. General Joffre well knew
that in the absence of that effective attack, and so long as the German
echelon of armies was pinned upon the frontier, Paris could not be
invested. In short, the effect of General Joffre's strategy was to _rob
the Germans of the advantages arising from their main body having taken
the Belgian route_.

On September 3, then, the scale of advantage had begun to dip on the
side of the defence. It remained to make that advantage decisive. The
opportunity speedily offered. Since the opportunity had been looked for,
General Joffre had made his dispositions accordingly, and was ready to
seize it.

Let it be recalled that the most vulnerable and at the same time the
most vital point of the German echelon was the outside or right flank of
the leading formation, the force led by General von Kluck. Obviously
that was the point against which the weight of the French and British
attack was primarily directed.

To grasp clearly the operations which followed, it is necessary here to
outline the natural features of the terrain and its roads and railways.
For that purpose it will probably be best to start from the Vosges and
take the country westward as far as Paris.

On their western side the Vosges are buttressed by a succession of
wooded spurs divided by upland valleys, often narrowing into mere clefts
called "rupts." These valleys, as we move away from the Vosges, widen
out and fall in level until they merge with the upper valley of the
Moselle. If we think of this part of the valley of the Moselle as a main
street, and these side valleys and "rupts" as _culs-de-sac_ opening off
it, we form a fairly accurate notion of the region.

From the valley of the upper Moselle the valley of the upper Meuse,
roughly parallel to it farther west, is divided by a ridge of wooded
country. Though not high, this ridge is continuous.

On the points of greatest natural strength commanding the roads and
railways running across the ridge, and mostly on the east side of the
valley of the Meuse, had been built the defence works of the fortified

Crossing the valley of the Meuse we come into a similar region of hills
and woods, but this region is, on the whole, much wilder, the hills
higher, and the forests more extensive and dense. The hills here, too,
form a nearly continuous ridge, running north-north-west. The highlands
east of the Meuse sink, as we go north, into the undulating country of
Lorraine, but the ridge on the west side of the Meuse extends a good
many miles farther. This ridge, with the Meuse flowing along the east
side of it and the river Aire flowing along its west side, is the
Argonne. It is divided by two main clefts. Through the more northerly
runs the main road from Verdun to Chalons; through the more southerly
the main road from St. Mihiel on the Meuse to Bar-le-Duc, on the Marne.

Thus from the Vosges to the Aire we have three nearly parallel rivers
divided by two hilly ridges.

North of Verdun the undulating Lorraine country east of the Meuse again
rises into a stretch of upland forest. This is the Woevre.

Now, westward of the Argonne and across the Aire there is a region in
character very like the South Downs in England. It extends all the way
from the upper reaches of the Marne north-west beyond the Aisne and the
Oise to St. Quentin. In this open country, where the principal
occupation is sheep grazing, the lonely main roads run across the downs
for mile after mile straight as an arrow. Villages are far between. The
few towns lie along the intersecting valleys.

But descending from the downs into the wide valley of the Marne we come
into the region which has been not unaptly called the orchard of France,
the land of vineyards and plantations, and flourishing, picturesque
towns; in short, one of the most beautiful spots in Europe. The change
from the wide horizons of the solitary downs to the populous and
highly-cultivated lowlands is like coming into another world.

From the military point of view, however, the important features of all
this part of France are its roads and rivers, and most of all its

The three main waterways, the Oise, the Marne, and the Seine, converge
as they approach Paris. Between the Oise and the Marne flows the main
tributary of the Oise, the Aisne. Also north of the Marne is its
tributary, the Ourcq; south of the Marne flows its tributaries, the
Petit Morin and the Grand Morin. All join the Marne in the lower part of
the valley not far from Paris. Between the Marne and the Seine flows the
Aube, a tributary of the Seine. The country between the Marne and the
Seine forms a wide swell of land. It was along the plateaux forming the
backbone of this broad ridge that the Battle of the Marne was, for the
most part, fought.

That brings us to the question of the roads.

Eastward from Paris, along the valley of the Marne, run three great
highways. The most northerly, passing through Meaux, La
Ferté-sous-Jouarre, Château Thierry, and Epernay to Chalons, follows
nearly the same course as the river, crossing it at several points to
avoid bends. The next branches off at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, and also
runs to Chalons by way of Montmirail. The third, passing through La
Ferté-Gaucher, Sezanne, Fère Champenoise, and Sommesons to
Vitry-le-François, follows the backbone of country already alluded to.
All these great roads lead farther east into Germany, the northerly and
the middle roads to Metz and the valley of the Moselle, the third road
to Nancy and Strasburg.

Now, it must be manifest to anybody that command of these routes, with
command of the railways corresponding with them, meant mastery of the
communications between Paris and the French forces holding the fortified
frontier all the way from Toul to Verdun.

If, consequently, the invading forces could seize and hold these routes
and railways, and, as a result, which would to all intents follow, could
seize and hold the great main routes and the railways running eastward
through the valley of the Seine from Paris to Belfort, the fortified
frontier--the key to the whole situation--would in military phrase, be
completely "turned." Its defence consequently would have to be

Not only must its defence have been abandoned, with the effect of
giving freedom of movement to the German echelon, but, that barrier
removed, the German armies would no longer be dependent for munitions
and supplies on the route through Belgium. They could receive them just
as conveniently by the route through Metz. Their facilities of supply
would be doubled.

It will be seen, therefore, to what an extent the whole course of the
war hung upon this great clash of arms on the Marne. German success must
have affected the future of operations alike in the western theatre and
in the eastern.

But there is another feature of the roads in the valley of the Marne
which is of consequence. Great roads converge into it from the north.
Sezanne has already been mentioned. It is half-way along the broad
backbone dividing the valley of the Marne from the valley of the Seine.
Five great roads meet there from La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, Soissons,
Rheims, Chalons, Verdun, and Nancy. Hence the facility for massing at
that place a huge body of troops.

It will be seen, therefore, that in making Sezanne the point at which
they aimed their main blow at the whole French scheme of defence, the
Germans had selected the spot where the blow would, in all probability,
be at once decisive and possibly fatal. Clearly they had now grasped, at
all events in its main intention, the strategy of the French general.
_They saw that he was using the fortified frontier to checkmate their
Belgian plan._

Summing up the consequences, had success attended the stroke we find
that it would have:

Opened to the invaders the valley of the Seine.

Turned the defence of the fortified frontier.

Released the whole of the German armies.

Given them additional, as well as safer, lines of supply from Germany.

Enabled the German armies to sweep westward along the valley of the
Seine, enveloping or threatening to envelop the greater part of the
French forces in the field.



Why, then, if it was so necessary and the object of it so important, was
the move begun by General von Kluck on September 3 a false move?

It was a false move because he ought to have stood against the forces
opposed to him. The defeat of those forces was necessary before the
attack against Sezanne could be successful. Conversely, his own defeat
involved failure of the great enterprise.

Instead, however, of facing and continuing his offensive against the
forces opposed to him, he turned towards Sezanne. By doing that he
exposed his flank to the Allied counter-stroke.

This blunder can only be attributed to the combined influences of,
firstly, hurry; secondly, bad information as to the strength and
positions of the Allied forces; thirdly, the false impression formed
from reports of victories unaccompanied by exact statements as to
losses; and fourthly, and perhaps of most consequence, the failure of
the Crown Prince of Germany in the Argonne.

General von Kluck doubtless acted upon imperative orders. His
incomplete information and the false impression his advance had created
probably also led him to accept those orders without protest. But it
should not be forgotten that the Commander primarily responsible for the
blunder, and for the disasters it involved, was the Crown Prince of

Primarily the Crown Prince of Germany was responsible, but not wholly.
In the responsibility General von Kluck had no small share. He was
misled. When the British force arrived at Creil General Joffre resolved
upon and carried out a masterly and remarkable piece of strategy. The
British army was withdrawn from the extreme left of the Allied line on
the north-east of Paris, and transferred to the south-east, and its
former place taken by the 6th French army. This move, carried out with
both secrecy and rapidity, was designed to give General von Kluck the
impression that the British troops had been withdrawn from the front.
That the ruse succeeded is now clear. So far from being withdrawn, the
British army was brought up by reinforcements to the strength of three
army corps. Leaving out of account a force of that strength, the
calculations of the German Commander were fatally wrong.

Let us now see what generally were the movements of the German and of
the Allied forces between September 3 and September 6 when the Battle of
the Marne began.

Leaving two army corps, the 2nd and the 4th Reserve corps, on the Ourcq
to cover his flank and rear, General von Kluck struck south-east across
the Marne with the 3rd, 4th, and 7th corps. The main body crossed the
river at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, and took the main route to Sezanne.
Others crossed higher up between La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and
Château-Thierry. For this purpose they threw bridges across the river.
The Marne is deep and for 120 miles of its course navigable.

These movements were covered and screened by the 2nd division of
cavalry, which advanced towards Coulommiers, and the 9th division, which
pushed on to the west of Crecy. Both places are south of the Marne and
east of Paris.

Writing of these events at the time, Mr. W. T. Massey, special
correspondent of the _Daily Telegraph_, observed that:--

     The beginning of the alteration of German plans was noticeable at
     Creil. Hidden by a thick screen of troops from the army in the
     field, but observed by aerial squadrons, the enemy were seen to be
     on the move. Ground won at Senlis was given up, and the German
     troops, which at that point were nearer Paris than any other men of
     the Kaiser's army, were marched to the rear. Only the commandants
     in the field can say whether the movement was expected, but it is
     the fact that immediately the enemy began their strategic movement
     British and French dispositions were changed.

The movement _was_ expected. Indeed, as we have seen, the whole strategy
of the campaign on the French side had been designed to bring it about.

     The Germans must have observed that their new intentions had been
     noticed, but they steadily pursued their policy. Their right was
     withdrawn from before Beauvais, and that pretty cathedral town has
     now been relieved of the danger of Teuton invasion. The shuttered
     houses are safe, temporarily at any rate.

     The ponderous machine did not turn at right angles with any
     rapidity. Its movements were slow, but they were not uncertain, and
     the change was made just where it was anticipated the driving wedge
     would meet with least resistance.

     In the main the German right is a tired army. It is a great
     fighting force still. The advance has been rapid, and some big
     tasks have been accomplished. But the men have learnt many things
     which have surprised them. They thought they were invincible, that
     they could sweep away opposition like a tidal wave. Instead of a
     progress as easy as modern warfare would allow, their way has had
     to be fought step by step at a staggering sacrifice, and in place
     of an army which took the field full of confidence in the speedy
     ending of the war and taught that nothing could prevent a triumph
     for German arms, you have an army thoroughly disillusioned.

In this connection the service of the British Flying Corps proved
invaluable. Covering though they did a vast area, and carefully as they
were screened by ordinary military precautions, the movements of the
Germans were watched and notified in detail. Upon this, as far as the
dispositions of the Allied forces were concerned, everything depended,
and no one knew that better than General Joffre. On September 9 he
acknowledged it in a message to the British headquarters:--

     Please express most particularly to Marshal French my thanks for
     services rendered on every day by the English Flying Corps. The
     precision, exactitude, and regularity of the news brought in by its
     members are evidence of their perfect organisation, and also of the
     perfect training of pilots and observers.

Farther east the army of General von Bülow (the 9th, 10th, 10th Reserve
corps, and the Army corps of the Prussian Guard), advancing from
Soissons through Château-Thierry, and crossing the Marne at that place
as well as at points higher up towards Epernay, was following the main
road to Montmirail on the Petit Morin.

The army of General von Hausen (the 11th, 12th, and 19th corps),
advancing from Rheims, had crossed the Marne at Epernay and at other
points towards Chalons, and was following the road towards Sezanne by
way of Champaubert.

The army of Duke Albert, having passed the Marne above Chalons, was
moving along the roads to Sommesous.

The army of the Crown Prince of Germany was endeavouring to move from
St. Menehould to Vitry-le-François, also on the Marne.

On the side of the Allies,

General Maunoury, with the 6th French army, advanced from Paris upon the
Ourcq. The right of this army rested on Meaux on the Marne.

General French with the British army, pivoting on its left, formed a
new front extending south-east to north-west from Jouey, through Le
Chatel and Faremoutiers, to Villeneuve-le-Comte.

General Conneau with the French cavalry was on the British right,
between Coulommiers and La Ferté Gaucher.

General Desperey with the 5th French army held the line from Courtagon
to Esternay, barring the roads from La Ferté-sous-Jouarre and Montmirail
to Sezanne.

General Foch, with headquarters at La Fère Champenoise, barred with his
army the roads from Epernay and Chalons.

General de Langle, holding Vitry-le-François, barred the approaches to
that place and to Sommesous.

General Serrail, with the French army operating in the Argonne, held
Revigny. His line extended north-east across the Argonne to Verdun, and
was linked up with the positions held by the French army base on that

General Pau held the line on the east of the fortified frontier.

Some observations on these dispositions of the Allies will elucidate
their tactical intention.

The position of the Allied armies formed a great bow, with the western
end of it bent sharply inwards.

The _weight_ of the Allied forces was massed round that western bend
against the now exposed flank of von Kluck's army. Here lay the most
vulnerable point of the German line.

The tactical scheme of the Allied Commander-in-Chief was simple--a great
military merit. He aimed first at defeating the German right led by
Generals von Kluck and von Bülow. Having by that uncovered the flank of
General von Hausen's army, his intention was to attack it also in both
front and flank and defeat it. The same tactic was to be repeated with
each of the other German armies in succession.

For that purpose the allied armies were not posted directly on the front
of the German armies, but between them. Consequently the left of one
German army and the right of another was attacked by the same French
army. In that way two German Generals would have to resist an attack
directed by one French General, and every German General would have to
resist two independent French attacks. Hence, too, if a German army was
forced back the French could at once double round the flank of the
German army next in the line if that army was still standing its ground.

Choice of the battle ground and command of the roads leading to it
ensured that this would happen. As a fact, it did.

Finally, all the way behind the French line ran the great road leading
across the plateaux from Paris to the fortified frontier. This, with
railway communication, gave the needed facilities for the movement of
reserves and the transport of munitions and food supplies.

Now let us glance at the tactical scheme on the German side.

The fact that General von Kluck had left two out of the five corps
forming his army on the Ourcq, and was covering his movement to the
south of the Marne with his cavalry, proves that he did not, as was
supposed, intend to lose contact with Paris. His scheme was to establish
an echelon of troops from the Ourcq to La Ferté Gaucher on the great
eastern road, believing that to be meanwhile a quite sufficient defence.

With the rest of his force he was to join with von Bülow and von Hausen
in smashing through the French position at Sezanne. Against that
position there was to be the overwhelming concentration of ten army

To assist the stroke against Sezanne there was a concurrent intention to
break the French line at Vitry-le-François. The French line between
Sezanne and Vitry-le-François would then be swept away.

Assuming the success of these operations, the German forces would be
echeloned south-east from the Ourcq across the valley of the Marne and
the plateau south of it to Troyes on the Aube. The Germans would then be
in a position to attack in flank the French retreating from the
frontier, and ready, when these French troops fell back, pursued by the
armies of the Crown Princes of Germany and Bavaria and by von
Heeringen's army of the Vosges, to join in the great sweep along the
valley of the Seine and round to the south of Paris. By this time,
remember, the long lines of communication through Belgium would have
ceased to be vital.

It was a bold scheme.

There are, however, other factors to be taken into account besides
tactical plans.

Not less a surprise than the apparently sudden change in the German
movements had been, during the preceding week or more, the seemingly
hardly less precipitate falling back of the French upon the Marne. All
the world believed that the French were "on the run," and all the world
thought they would keep on running. Day by day during that exciting time
the inhabitants of the valley of the Marne witnessed column after column
of their defenders apparently in full retreat. The marching qualities of
the French are, as everybody knows, remarkable. They showed the enemy a
clean pair of heels. Few could understand it.

Then came the Germans, hot on the scent, confident that the French could
never withstand them. From over the highlands by every road they poured
into the peaceful Marne valley like a destroying flood. In front of them
swept a multitude of fugitives.

"Champagne," wrote a special correspondent of the _Daily Telegraph_, "is
now overrun with fugitive villagers from the neighbourhood of Rethel,
Laon, and Soissons. It is painful to see these unfortunate people
hurrying away with a few household goods on carts, or with bundles, and
walking along the country roads in regular ragged processions, not
knowing whither they are going. Château-Thierry and all the beautiful
country of the Marne is by this time in the hands of the Germans. When I
last drove through the place a few weeks ago, and lunched with a few
amiable French officers at the best hotel in the place, "L'Eléphant,"
Château-Thierry was teeming with cattle and army horses requisitioned
for the campaign. Four times I passed through it, and each time the
great assemblage of horses, trucks, and army material had increased,
although the horses and cattle were driven away each day, and fresh ones
were led in from the great pastoral country round about. Little did I
think then that the Germans would now be bivouacking on the great market
place and stacking their rifles on the banks of the Marne."

It was by just this over-confidence in themselves that General Joffre
had intended the enemy should be misled. He had foreseen that the
Germans would come on in a hurry. On the other hand, the French retreat
had apparently been precipitous because it was essential to make ready
for the rebound. The retreat had rendered the French troops, still
unbeaten, only the more dangerous. Describing the effect from his own
observation, Mr. Massey wrote:--

     The French eastern army has been on the move for days, and if the
     Germans were not in such strong force they would be in grave
     danger. The French have made such a strenuous effort to cope with
     the new condition of things that one of their infantry brigades
     marched continuously for three days, the men never resting for more
     than an hour at a time.

     One who has seen only the Allied armies may be a bad judge, and
     less able to form an opinion than an armchair critic, who sums up
     the possibilities with the aid of maps and the knowledge of past
     achievements of German forces. But there is one guide which the
     stay-at-home strategist cannot possibly have, and that is the
     spirit of the Allied soldiery. I have seen far more of the French
     than of the English troops in this campaign, but anyone who has
     talked to the soldier must be infected with his cheery optimism.

     His faith in his country and in the power of the army is
     stupendous, his patriotism is unquestionable, his confidence grows
     as the enemy approaches. With a smile he accepts the news of the
     German march southwards, and tells you nothing could be better; the
     further the line penetrates the more remote is the chance that it
     will continue unbroken. He will not believe that the German advance
     would have got so far if it had not been the plan of General Joffre
     to lure the enemy forwards, and so to weaken his line. The French
     soldier to-day is more confident of victory than ever.

     These things, which a soldier can appreciate at their proper value,
     explain why the dash of the French troops has rivalled their
     attitude in the previous part of the campaign. Reinforced by great
     battalions, stiffened by reserves composed mainly of men with a
     stake in the country, and fighting for all they hold most dear--for
     France, for hearth, and home--they have offered a magnificent,
     resolute front to the machine-like advance.

General Joffre, therefore, had handled his machine with skill. He had
used it for his design without impairing its spirit. On the contrary, he
had stiffened its "form." And on the eve of the great encounter on which
the fortunes of the campaign, and the future of France alike hung, he
issued to the troops his now famous Order:--

     At the moment, when a battle on which the welfare of the country
     depends is about to begin, I feel it incumbent upon me to remind
     you all that this is no longer the time to look behind. All our
     efforts must be directed towards attacking and driving back the
     enemy. An army which can no longer advance must at all costs keep
     the ground it has won and allow itself to be killed on the spot
     rather than give way. In the present circumstances no faltering can
     be tolerated.

That the Germans on their side equally realised how momentous was the
impending battle is shown by their Army Order. A copy of it was, after
the battle, found in a house at Vitry-le-François, which for a time had
been used as a headquarters of the 8th German army corps. In the haste
of flight the document was left behind. Signed by Lieut.-General Tulff
von Tscheppe und Wendenbach, commandant of the 8th corps, and dated
September 7, it ran:--

     The object of our long and arduous marches has been achieved. The
     principal French troops have been forced to accept battle after
     having been continually forced back. The great decision is
     undoubtedly at hand.

     To-morrow, therefore, the whole strength of the German army, as
     well as of all that of our army corps, is bound to be engaged all
     along the line from Paris to Verdun.

     To save the welfare and honour of Germany I expect every officer
     and man, notwithstanding the hard and heroic fights of the last few
     days, to do his duty unswervingly, and to the last breath.

     Everything depends on the result of to-morrow.

This, then, was the spirit in which, on both sides, the mightiest clash
of arms until then known to history was entered upon. Across France the
battle front stretched for 150 miles. The fight raged, too, for another
forty miles along the frontier, for coincidently with the main conflict
from Paris to Verdun, the Germans made yet another great effort to break
upon the frontier from the east. Fourteen great armies took part in the
battle. They numbered altogether more than two millions of men. Taking
the two great hosts each as a whole, the numbers were not very unequal.
True, the Germans had but six armies as against the eight on the side of
the Allies. The German armies, however, were larger. Their strength
ranged from 160,000 to 180,000 men as against, on the side of the
Allies, an average strength of 120,000.[14]

During nearly six days there was, along that far extended battle line,
the flash and thunder of more than 7,000 guns. Shells rose and burst
like flights of warring meteorites. Masses of infantry moved to the
attack. Incessant rifle fire accompanied the bolder bass of the
artillery. In and through woods, across fields, in and round blazing
villages and burning farms and chateaux they fought; an incessant
movement to and fro, amid an unceasing roar--the rage of nations locked
in deadly embrace. There were bayonet fights on a vast scale; there were
charges by clouds of horsemen; there were furious and murderous combats
for points of vantage; there was the capture and recapture of towns; the
rush of fire-spitting automobiles below, and the flight of bomb-dropping
aeroplanes above. There was the hurried movement of troops and the wild
gallop of batteries of guns along the roads. There was, too, the
ever-changing kaleidoscope of the masses of transport. Along the great
road from Paris to Germany a spectator might have travelled from sunrise
to sunset during the whole week of battle, and yet still have found
himself in the midst of this seemingly unbounded fury of a world at war.


[14] The following may be taken as the _approximate_ strength of the
armies engaged, allowing on the one hand for war wastage, and on the
other for a filling up from reserves, which on the part of the Allies
had been completed:--


     General von Kluck's Army (5 corps,
     Prussians)                              245,000

     2nd and 9th Cavalry Divisions            23,000

     General von Bülow's Army (4 corps,
     Prussians)                              180,000

     Cavalry of the Prussian Guard             6,000

     General von Hausen's Army (3 corps,
     Saxons)                                 165,000

     Duke Albert's Army (3 corps,
     Wurtembergers)                          150,000

     Crown Prince of Germany's Army (3
     corps, Prussians)                       175,000

     Crown Prince of Bavaria's Army (3
     corps, Bavarians)                       160,000
     Approximate total                     1,104,000


     General Maunoury's Army (3 corps
     and reserves)                           140,000

     General French's Army (3 corps)         110,000

     British Cavalry Divisions                 8,000

     General Conneau's Cavalry                23,000

     General Desperey's Army (3 corps
     and reserves)                           150,000

     General Foch's Army (3 corps)           120,000

     General de Langle's Army (3 corps
     and reserves)                           150,000

     General Serrail's Army (3 corps)        120,000

     General Pau's Army (3 corps and
     reserves)                               140,000
     Approximate total                       961,000

     Grand approximate total of combatants 2,065,000

     Approximate guns and mortars, Germans  3,610
     Approximate guns and mortars, Allies   3,680

     Total                                  7,290

The Allies were superior in field-guns, but had fewer howitzers,
especially of the heavy type, and the aggregate _weight_ of the German
artillery was on the whole greater. The estimate given of the number of
combatants is rather below than above the actual.



Such were the spectacular aspects of the battle. It remains to sketch
its phases as, first sullenly, then swiftly, the tide of conflict rolled
backward across the miles of country between Sezanne and Rheims.

These developments can best be followed day by day.

_September 5._--General movement of the German armies across the Marne.
The troops of von Kluck crossed at Trilport, Sommery, and La
Ferté-sous-Jouarre; those of von Bülow at Château-Thierry; those of von
Hausen at Epernay, and Duke Albert's at Chalons. Simultaneously columns
of von Kluck's 2nd and 4th Reserve corps began to cross the Ourcq.

From the Marne the Germans pushed on without delay to the south. The
3rd, 4th, and 7th corps of von Kluck's army were on the march diagonally
across the British near Coulommiers. They were making for La Ferté
Gaucher. In face of this advance the 5th French army fell back on the
latter place. This move lengthened the German flank and laid it more
completely open to a British attack.

_September 6._--General Joffre gave orders for a general advance. Before
daybreak the 6th French, British, and 5th French armies began a combined
offensive. While the 6th French army advanced eastward towards the line
of the Ourcq, the British advanced north-east to the line of the Grand
Morin, and the 5th French army north from east of La Ferté Gaucher upon

The 6th French army, driving in the German advance posts, reached

The British fell upon the flank of the divisions of von Kluck's army
still crossing the Grand Morin, and drove them back upon the Petit

By this unexpected and swiftly delivered blow von Kluck's army,
extending from the Marne to La Ferté Gaucher, was cut into two parts.

Coincidently with the British advance the 5th French army had, in a
night attack and at the point of the bayonet, driven the leading German
divisions out of three villages near La Ferté Gaucher, where they had

In view of these attacks General von Kluck had no alternative save to
retreat. To escape the British he fell back on the Petit Morin in the
direction of Montmirail.

His retreat was assisted by the right of von Bülow's army, and covered
by his divisions of cavalry, reinforced by von Bülow's cavalry of the
Prussian Guard. The German cavalry, attacked by the French and British,
was cut up with heavy loss. More than 60,000 horsemen were engaged in
this gigantic combat.

_September 7._--To assist the retreat, the centre divisions of von
Kluck's army opposing the British made a stand upon the Petit Morin, and
the army of von Bülow a stand from Montmirail to Le Petit Sompius. Along
that line the 5th French army was all day heavily engaged against the
left wing of von Kluck's army and the right of von Bülow's.

On the Ourcq the Germans launched a general assault against the 6th
French army.

On the Petit Morin they occupied a strong position on the high north
bank. This river flows during part of its course through marshes. A
frontal attack on the position was out of the question, but the 1st
British army corps and the British cavalry found "a way round" higher up
stream. Simultaneously the 3rd British corps crossed lower down.
Threatened on both flanks, the Germans fled precipitately towards the
Marne. Though they covered their retreat by a counter-attack, they lost
many prisoners and some guns.

The armies of von Hausen and Duke Albert and the Crown Prince of Germany
were now engaged against the armies of General Foch, General Langle, and
General Serrail from the north of Sezanne to Sermaise-les-Bains in the
south of the Argonne. The fighting north of Sezanne was obstinate, but
the Wurtembergers at Vitry-le-François met with a repulse.

On this day the battle extended for more than 120 miles, from the line
of the Ourcq across the country to Montmirail, from that place to
Sezanne, and then along the plateaux into the Argonne. There was also a
German attack upon Luneville designed to aid their operations west of
the fortified frontier.

_September 8._--Heavy fighting between the 6th French army and the
Germans on the Ourcq.

The British attacked the passages of the Marne. At La Ferté Gaucher,
where the bridge had been destroyed, the Germans, supported by machine
guns, obstinately disputed the passage against the British 3rd corps.
The 1st and 2nd corps, however, succeeded in bridging the river higher
up, and dislodged them. In their retreat the Germans again met with
heavy losses.

At Montmirail the battle was continued with great severity. The French
carried several of the German positions at the point of the bayonet. Von
Bülow's troops began a general retirement, and were driven over the

Taking the offensive, General Foch's army attacked the troops of von
Hausen in flank. The left of von Hausen's army north of Sezanne was
forced back, but his right at Le Fère Champenoise made an obstinate

To meet this, General Langle also began a general advance, and drove the
Germans from Vitry-le-François.

A heavy German attack was directed against Clermont-en-Argonne. Beyond
the fortified frontier there was a renewed effort to capture Nancy said
to have been watched by the Kaiser.

_September 9._--Reinforced, the Germans on the Ourcq made a great
effort to break through the 6th French army.

The British, having crossed the Marne, fell upon the Germans fighting on
the Ourcq, and drove them northwards. Many guns, caissons, and large
quantities of transport were captured.

The 5th French army pursued the defeated troops of von Bülow from
Montmirail to Château-Thierry. At that place the Germans are thrown
across the Marne in disorder and with huge losses.

The German line had now been completely broken. Between the wreck of von
Bülow's troops, north of the Marne, and von Hausen's positions, north of
Sezanne, there was a gap of some fifteen miles.

From Sezanne eastward the battle from this time continued with more
marked advantage to the Allies.

_September 10._--The 6th French army and the British continued the
pursuit. On this day the British captured, besides further quantities of
transport abandoned in the flight or surrounded, 13 guns, 19 machine
guns, and 2,000 prisoners. German infantry, left behind in the hurried
march of their army, were found hiding in the woods. There were
evidences of general looting by the enemy and of his demoralisation.

In the pursuit of von Bülow's troops by the 5th French army, the
Prussian Guard were driven into the marshes of St. Gond.

Covered with tall reeds and rank grass, these marshes, drained by the
Petit Morin, are a stretch of low-lying land lying between the Marne and
a range of hills. They are probably the bed of an ancient lake. Safe in
the dry season, they become in wet weather a dangerous swamp. They were
at this time saturated with heavy rains. The Prussian Guards, who had
borne the brunt of the recent fighting, had already suffered heavily.
They now lost the greater part of their artillery, and a heavy
proportion of the surviving force either perished in the quagmires or
were killed by the French shells.

An effort nevertheless was made to retrieve the general disaster by a
violent German attack from Sezanne to Vitry-le-François, accompanied by
an energetic offensive in the Argonne, and by a renewed attempt against

In the Argonne the Germans captured Revigny and Brabant-le-Roi, but west
of Vitry were forced into retreat. The attack on Nancy was again

_September 11._--The 5th and 6th French armies and the British pursued
the troops of von Kluck and von Bülow to the Aisne.

The armies of von Hausen and Duke Albert were now in full flight at
Epernay and Chalons. Both incurred very heavy losses. The French
captured 6,000 prisoners and 175 guns.

The Germans were driven by General Serrail's troops out of Revigny and
Brabant-le-Roi. East of the frontier there was also a general falling
back, notably from St. Die and round Luneville. The French seized
Pont-a-Mousson, commanding one of the main passes across the Vosges.

Of the decisive character of the overthrow there could now be no doubt.
On September 11, in an Order to the French armies, General Joffre,
summing up the situation with soldierly brevity, said:--

     The battle which has been taking place for five days is finishing
     in an incontestable victory.

     The retreat of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd German armies is being
     accentuated before our left and our centre.

     The enemy's 4th army, in its turn, is beginning to fall back to the
     north of Vitry and Sermaize.

     Everywhere the enemy is leaving on the field numbers of wounded and
     quantities of munitions. On all hands prisoners are being taken.

     Our troops, as they gain ground, are finding proofs of the
     intensity of the struggle and of the extent of the means employed
     by the Germans in attempting to resist our _élan_.

     The vigorous resumption of the offensive has brought about success.
     Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men! you have all of you
     responded to my appeal, and all of you have deserved well of your

It had been no easy victory. The huge forces of Generals von Kluck, von
Bülow, and von Hausen, comprising the flower of the German first line
army, fought with stubborn and even reckless courage. During the opening
days of the battle they contested the ground foot by foot. The character
of the fighting in which the British troops were engaged, gathered from
men who had taken part in it, was disclosed by the Paris correspondent
of the _Daily Telegraph_:--

     "The more we killed the more they seemed to become," said an
     officer who described to me some of the earlier phases. "They
     swarmed like ants, coming on in masses, though rarely seeking close
     contact, for they have learned to respect our rifles and our

     On this point there is unprejudiced testimony. A non-commissioned
     officer of Hussars asked me to translate a letter found on a German
     officer killed while defending his battery. In the letter are these

     "German infantry and cavalry will not attack English infantry and
     cavalry at close quarters. Their fire is murderous. The only way to
     attack them is with artillery."

     Upon this advice the enemy seem to act. They make the best use of
     their guns, and keep up an incessant fire, which is often well
     directed, though the effect is not nearly so deadly as they imagine.
     Their machine guns--of which they have great numbers--are also
     handled with skill, and make many gaps in our ranks. But the enemy
     rarely charge with the bayonet. Under cover of artillery they
     advance _en masse_, pour out volleys without taking aim, and retire
     when threatened. This is the general method of attack, and it is one
     in which numbers undoubtedly count. But numbers are not everything;
     spirit and dash count for more in the end, and these qualities our
     soldiers have beyond all others in this war. Every officer with whom
     I have spoken says the same thing. Nothing could be finer than the
     steadiness and the enterprise of our troops. They remember and obey
     the order given by Wellington at Waterloo--they stand fast--to the
     death. Before this insistent and vigorous offensive the enemy have
     fallen back every day, pressed hard on front and on flank.

Realising that the whole future of the campaign, if not of the war, hung
upon the issue, the army of General von Hausen stood to the last. There
was a hope that the German right might yet rally against the staggering
attack thrown upon it. Mr. Massey wrote:--

     The fighting on the line of the French centre has, from all
     accounts, been of a most terrific description. Neither side would
     give ground except under the heaviest pressure. Long-continued
     artillery duels paved the way for infantry attacks, and positions
     had to be carried at the point of the bayonet. Often when bayonet
     charges had cleared trenches the men driven out were rallied and
     reinforced, and retook the positions. Here was the most strenuous
     fighting of the campaign, and as the enemy's casualties are certain
     to have exceeded those of the French, the total of German killed,
     wounded, and prisoners must reach an enormous figure. The French
     losses were very heavy.

     An infantryman wounded within sight of Vitry-le-François told me
     that the French bayonet fighting was performed with an irresistible
     dash. The men were always eager--sometimes too eager--to get to
     close quarters. The weary waiting in trenches too hastily dug to
     give more than poor shelter from artillery fire caused many a
     murmur, and there was no attempt to move forward stealthily when
     the word to advance was given. Often a rushing line was severely
     torn by mitrailleuse fire, but the heart's desire to settle
     matters with cold steel could not be checked merely because
     comrades to the right and left were put out of action. The bayonet
     work of French infantry gave the enemy a terrible time.

Of the struggle on the left of von Hausen's army against the troops of
General Langle, a graphic picture is given in the diary of a Saxon
officer of infantry found later among the German dead. The army of von
Hausen had arrived by forced marches, the left from Rethel, the right
from Rheims:--

     _Sept. 1._--We marched to Rethel. Our battalion stayed there as
     escort to headquarters.

     _Sept. 2._--The French burnt half the town, probably to cut our
     lines of communications. It can't hurt us for long, of course, but
     it's a nuisance, as our field artillery is short of ammunition.

     However, our division advanced. The burning of Rethel was dreadful.
     All the little houses with wooden beams in their roofs, and their
     stacks of furniture, fed the flames to the full. The Aisne was only
     a feeble protection; the sparks were soon carried over to the other
     side. Next day the town was nothing but a heap of ashes.

     _Sept. 3._--Still at Rethel, on guard over prisoners. The houses
     are charming inside. The middle-class in France has magnificent
     furniture. We found stylish pieces everywhere, and beautiful silk,
     but in what a state!... Good God!... Every bit of furniture broken,
     mirrors smashed. The vandals themselves could not have done more

     This place is a disgrace to our army. The inhabitants who fled
     could not have expected, of course, that all their goods would have
     been left in full after so many troops had passed. But the column
     commanders are responsible for the greater part of the damage, as
     they could have prevented the looting and destruction. The damage
     amounts to millions of marks; even the safes have been attacked.

     In a solicitor's house, in which, as luck would have it, everything
     was in excellent taste, including a collection of old lace, and
     Eastern works of art, everything was smashed to bits.

     I couldn't resist taking a little memento myself here and there....
     One house was particularly elegant, everything in the best taste.
     The hall was of light oak; near the staircase I found a splendid
     aquascutum and a camera by Felix.

     The sappers have been ordered to march with the divisional bridging
     train. We shall start to-morrow. Yesterday at Chalons-sur-Marne a
     French aviator (officer) was taken prisoner. He imagined the
     village was held by French troops and so landed there. He was
     awfully disgusted at being taken prisoner.

     _Sept. 4._--To Tuniville, Pont-Fauerger, where we billeted.

     _Sept. 5._--Les Petites Loges, Tours-sur-Marne. I never want to
     make such marches again; simply tests of endurance. We crossed the
     Marne canal on Sept. 6. On our left the 19th corps marched straight
     on Chalons. On our right front the Guard corps was hotly engaged.
     When we reached Villeneuve we heard that the Guard corps had thrown
     the enemy back and that our division was to take up the pursuit. We
     were in a wood, which the enemy searched with shell fire.

     Left and right it simply rained bullets, but the one I'm fated to
     stop was not among them. We could not advance any further, the
     enemy was too strong for us. On our left the 19th corps came up in
     time to give us a little breathing space. An infernal shell fire.
     We had a dreadful thirst, a glass of Pilsener would have been a
     godsend.... A shell suddenly fell in the wood and killed six of my
     section; a second fell right in the middle of us; we couldn't hang
     on any longer, so we retired.

     We made several attempts to reach the village of Lenharree, but the
     enemy's artillery swept the whole wood, so that we could not make
     any headway. And we never got a sight of the enemy's guns. We soon
     had the answer to the riddle as to why the enemy's shooting was so
     wonderfully accurate. We were actually on the enemy's practice
     range. Lenharree was the chief point _d'appui_ on the right wing.

     The situation was as follows: The Guard corps was on a ground which
     the enemy knew like the back of his hand, and so was in an
     extremely critical position. It was just like St. Privat, except
     that we were all in woods under a terrible shell fire. Our
     artillery could do nothing, as there was nothing to be seen.

     We found an order from General Joffre to the commander of the 2nd
     French corps, telling him to hold the position at all costs, and
     saying that it was the last card. It was probably the best one,
     too. As we knew later, the artillery opposed to us had an immense
     reserve of ammunition.... Absolutely exhausted, we waited for the
     night. In front of us all was still.

     _Sept. 8._--We went forward again to the attack against an enemy
     perfectly entrenched. In spite of his artillery fire, which nothing
     could silence, we passed through the wood again. As soon as we
     reached the northern edge, a perfectly insane fire opened on us,
     infantry and shell fire with redoubled intensity.

     A magnificent spectacle lay before us; in the far background
     Lenharree was in flames, and we saw the enemy retreating, beaten at
     last. The enemy withdrew from one wood to another, but shelled us
     furiously and scattered us with his machine guns. We got to the
     village at last, but were driven out of it again with heavy loss.
     Our losses were enormous. The 178th Regiment alone had 1,700 men
     wounded, besides those killed. It was hell itself. There were
     practically no officers left.

     One word more about this artillery range; there were telephone
     wires everywhere. It is thought that French officers hidden in
     trees were telephoning our exact situation in the woods.

     _Sept. 9._--We marched to Oeuvry. The enemy was apparently two
     kilometres in front of us. Where was our intelligence branch? Our
     artillery arrived half an hour too late, unfortunately. The French
     are indefatigable in digging trenches. We passed through a wood and
     lost touch altogether. We saw companies retiring, and we ourselves
     received the order to withdraw.

     We passed through Lenharree once more, where we found piles of
     bodies, and we billeted at Germinon. There was a rumour that the
     1st army had had some disastrous fighting. Our sappers prepared the
     bridges for demolition. We passed through Chalons-sur-Marne. I am
     terribly depressed. Everybody thinks the situation is critical. The
     uncertainty is worst of all.

     I think we advanced too quickly and were worn out by marching too
     rapidly and fighting incessantly. So we must wait for the other
     armies. We went on to Mourmelon-le-Petit, where we dug ourselves in
     thoroughly. Four of our aviators are said to have been brought
     down by the enemy.

Finally, when forced back to the Marne, after three days of incessant
fighting--pounded by the French guns, broken by the fury of the French
infantry, ripped by slashing onslaughts of the French horse--the Germans
still made effort after effort to recover and to re-form. Of the
struggle on the Marne, Mr. William Maxwell says:--

     I was fortunate enough to meet a non-commissioned officer who
     watched from an eminence the critical phase of the battle which
     routed the German centre. This is the substance of his story, which
     has since been corroborated by officers of my acquaintance. The
     enemy had been driven back fighting for three days, until they came
     to the river. There they made a desperate stand. Masses of them
     appeared on the flat and in the undulations of the ground--they
     seemed like the sands on the sea shore for numbers. They came on in
     masses and kept up a terrible fire from rifle and machine-gun. But
     our infantry were not to be denied; they advanced in short rushes
     and in open order, while shells rained down upon the enemy, and
     rifles opened great gaps in their ranks.

     "I began," said the sergeant, "to count the dead, but I soon found
     that impossible. Suddenly I heard a great shout, and turning to my
     left I saw a sight that made my heart stand still. Our cavalry were
     charging down on the enemy's cavalry."

     In the bright sunshine their lances and sabres looked like a shower
     of falling stars. There was an avalanche of men and horses and
     cold steel. Huge gaps were torn in the enemy's ranks--and the whole
     thing was over in a few minutes. The German horsemen seemed to
     vanish into the earth.

Stubborn courage, however, was of no avail. In a brief six days that
mighty host had been reduced to a military ruin. They had advanced in
the confidence that they were irresistible. Down the valley of the Oise,
over the highlands of Champagne they had streamed, in endless columns of
men and guns. The earth had shaken beneath the rumble of their artillery
and trembled under the hoofs of their horsemen; every road had re-echoed
the united tread of their battalions; every horizon had bristled with
the flash of their bayonets and sabres; every town and village had felt
their arrogance as they "requisitioned" its foodstuffs, consumed its
wines, slept in its beds, laid hands on whatever they fancied, and
summoned mayors and officials before them to learn their will, and
collect their "fines." On the substance of this country of the Marne
they had revelled, imagining that the world was theirs.

And now they were a battered mass of fugitives, hiding in woods and
orchards; littering the roads with the wrecks of their equipment; fagged
and footsore; driven by hunger to tear up the crops from the fields, and
devour roots and vegetables raw; their discipline replaced by brutal
savagery. Not even the liveliest imagination can adequately picture the
state of an army in flight after a heavy defeat. The bigger the army
the worse that state becomes. The organisation of food supply is thrown
out of gear. No man knows where the supplies may be, or whether they may
not be lost. Guns become separated from their ammunition columns. Wagons
break down or are disabled and have to be left behind. The horses drop
from famine and overwork. Men grow sullen and intractable. The boom of
guns bespeaking the pursuit alone gives the stimulus to cover the
lengthening miles of weary road.

Without time to bury their dead, yet anxious to hide their losses from
the enemy, the Germans, where they could, formed large pyres of timber,
which they soaked with oil. On to these they threw the bodies of the
slain. Across the country the smoke from such pyramids by day and the
glare of flames by night added to the strangeness and tragedy of a scene
removed even from what had been thought civilised war.

The sufferings of the beaten host were severe. Starving and depressed,
or at the last point of exhaustion, men fell out or hid themselves in
the thick woods which clothe the long undulating slopes on the northern
side of the Marne valley.[15] Here they were found by the pursuing
French and British. Most, when discovered, had been without food for
two days. Partly to satisfy the pangs of hunger, partly out of mere
senseless revenge, general and indiscriminate pillage was resorted to.
Chateaux, country houses, and villages were ransacked, and pictures or
pieces of furniture which could not be carried off destroyed. Though
their military spirit had been broken, the ruthlessness of the invaders
remained. They traversed the country like a horde of bandits.

Loss of horses forced them to leave behind whole batteries of heavy
howitzers and trains of ammunition wagons, for these days of the retreat
were days of heavy rain. To shorten the length of their columns, as well
as to gain time, the hurrying troops plunged into by-roads. These, cut
up by the weight of the guns, speedily became impassable. How hasty was
the retreat is proved by the headquarters staff of the 2nd army leaving
behind them at Montmirail maps, documents, and personal papers, as well
as letters and parcels received by or waiting for the military post.

Following the track of General von Kluck's army, Mr. Gerald Morgan,
another special correspondent of the _Daily Telegraph_, wrote:--

     At Vareddes horses and men littered the ground. Semi-permanent
     entrenchments had been suddenly abandoned. Alongside the German
     artillery positions I saw piles of unexploded shells which the
     Germans had abandoned in their hurry. These shells were in wicker
     baskets, three to a basket. The Germans had had there many
     batteries of field guns, both three-inch and five-inch, and had
     meant evidently to make a determined resistance. But their
     artillery positions were plainly so badly placed that the French
     were able to blow them, literally to drench them, out. An avenue of
     large trees along the roadside, trees which the Germans hoped to
     use as a shelter, had been torn to pieces and flung to the ground
     by the French artillery as by strokes of lightning. The German dead
     had almost all been hit by shells or by shrapnel. A German
     aeroplane, brought down during the engagement, lay in the fields
     like a big dead bird.

     I followed the line of the German retreat as far as a village
     called May. From the number of accoutrements thrown away along the
     road I judged the retreat was in bad order and greatly hurried.

     The scene on the battlefield was rather terrible. There was no one
     to bury the dead, for the French army had gone on in pursuit, and
     the villagers had almost all left the country some days before.

     The German infantry position was in a valley. The entrenchments had
     undoubtedly been dug with a view to maintaining them permanently,
     but the fault lay in the artillery position. The German
     guns--evidently a large number--had been placed on a ridge behind
     the infantry position. This ridge was exposed to a fire from the
     French artillery on a ridge opposite, a fire which completely
     silenced the German guns, and left the German infantry to its fate.
     Few of the infantry escaped.

On the day after the Germans had been driven across the Marne, Mr. Wm.
Maxwell, driving into the, at ordinary times, pleasant little town of
Meaux, found it deserted:--

     Its houses are standing; its churches and public buildings are
     untouched, yet its streets are silent, its windows shuttered, and
     its doors closed. It might be a plague-stricken city, forsaken by
     all except a few Red Cross nurses, who wait for the ambulances
     bringing the wounded from the battlefield.

     Leaving the town with a feeling akin to awe, I came upon a new
     surprise. Walking calmly along the public road in broad day were
     men in Prussian uniform, and--more amazing still--women in the dark
     _gellab_ or cloak of the Moors. This was certainly startling, but
     the explanation was waiting on the road to the east, and it was
     written in gruesome signs--dead men lying in the ditches--Zouaves
     in their Oriental dress, Moors in their cloaks, French soldiers in
     their long blue coats, and Germans in their grey. Every hundred
     yards or so lay a disembowelled horse with a bloody saddle. This
     was the ragged edge of the battlefield of the Marne, and the men
     and women in Prussian and Moorish dress were harmless civilians who
     had gone to bury the dead and to succour the wounded. It was
     raining torrents; the wind was bitterly cold, and they had covered
     themselves with the garments of the dead.

     Passing along this road I came to a wood, where one of these
     civilian burial parties had dug a pit in which they laid the friend
     and foe side by side. Fresh mounds of earth that told their own
     story guided me to a path, where the battle had blazed, a trail of
     splintered shells, broken rifles, bullet-riddled helmets,
     blood-stained rags, with which the dying had stopped their wounds,
     tiny bags in which the German soldier had hoarded his crumbs of
     biscuit, letters with the crimson imprint of fingers, showing how
     in the hour of agony and death men's thoughts turn to the beloved
     ones they are leaving for ever.

     Four miles east of Meaux the hills rise sharply to the north, and
     are covered with trees. Beyond this wood a broad undulating plain
     stretches northward over cultivated fields dotted with farmsteads.
     A hundred paces in front, on a gentle slope, the earth has been
     levelled in several places that are sown with brass cylinders,
     whose charge sent the shells on their deadly flight.

     In these emplacements lie some gunners; their heads have been
     shattered by shells. Under an apple-tree, laden with green fruit,
     two livid faces turn to the pitiless sky; one man grasps a letter
     in his hand--it is a woman's writing. Dark huddled patches among
     the cabbages and the trampled wheat, brown stains on the path,
     fragments of blood-stained lint, broken rifles and bayonets,
     bullet-pierced helmets and rent cloaks--all the _débris_ of battle
     show where the fight was fiercest.

     On the crest of the rise are the trenches; they extend for nearly a
     mile parallel with the edge of the wood, and are thrown back on the
     west. They are deep trenches, protected with mounds of earth, and
     were not made hurriedly. About them lie the dead.

     The position of the trenches and gun emplacements shows that here
     the enemy met a flanking attack from the west and north, and
     covered the retreat of their centre. It is not difficult to picture
     what happened.

Scenes like these, the aftermath of the storm of war, were repeated up
the valley of the Marne from Meaux to beyond Chalons. Terrific in its
intensity the whirlwind had passed as swiftly as it had come.

No estimate has been formed of the loss of life in this vast encounter.
It is certain, however, that all the suppositions hitherto advanced have
been far below reality. Equally is it certain that this was one of the
most destructive battles even in a war of destructive battles. Since the
losses on the side of the victorious troops in killed and wounded
exceeded 80,000 men, the losses on the side of the vanquished must have
been more than three times as great.

That at first sight may appear exaggerated. There exist, nevertheless,
good grounds for concluding that such a figure is within the truth. The
Germans made a series of grave tactical mistakes. When he discovered the
error into which he had fallen, General von Kluck properly decided to
withdraw. Had the rest of the German line in conformity with his
movement fallen back upon the north bank of the Marne, their repulse,
though serious, would not have been a disaster. But it is now manifest
that, from a quarter in which the situation was not understood,
imperative orders were received to press on.

These orders evidently led von Bülow to attempt a stand upon the Petit
Morin. General von Kluck, in face of the attack by the British and by
the 6th French army on the Ourcq, realised that retirement on his part
could not be delayed. But the retreat of his left from the Petit Morin
exposed the army of von Bülow to an attack in flank. By that attack in
flank, as well as in front, von Bülow's troops were forced at
Château-Thierry to cross the Marne in full flight. Passing a deep and
navigable river in such circumstances is, of all military operations,
perhaps, the most destructive and dangerous, and this, from the German
standpoint, formed one of the worst episodes of the battle.

Again, probably in obedience to the same imperative orders, the army of
von Hausen remained before Sezanne until its decisive defeat was
foregone, and its escape to the last degree jeopardised. In the retreat,
consequently, the losses were terribly heavy. But even these were less
than the losses which fell upon the army of Duke Albert. With almost
inconceivable obstinacy and ill-judgment that army clung to its
positions at Vitry until pressed by the French forces on both flanks.
All the way across the valley of the Marne and over the highlands it had
consequently to run a gauntlet of incessant attacks.

In the face of these facts, it is no exaggeration to say that the German
losses must have been at least 250,000. To that has to be added nearly
70,000 prisoners. They lost also by capture or by abandonment about a
tenth part of their artillery, besides masses of ammunition and


[15] From the Oise to the Seine the general aspect of this part of
France is a succession of broad ridges separated by valleys, some of
them narrow and deep. One-fifth of the whole surface is covered by woods
and forests of oak, beech and chestnut. Many of the forests are of great
extent. The main ridge was the site of the battle in its first phases.



The German defeat had indeed been decisive. On the other hand, the
defeat did not, in the immediate sequel, yield for the Allies all the
results which might have been looked for. There have been misimpressions
on both points.

Take the first misimpression. A victorious general, it has been well
said, rarely knows the full damage he inflicts. Over the wide area
covered by the Battle of the Marne and by the pursuit, it was not
humanely possible to collect and to collate precise information without
some delay. All the same, the French General Staff and the French War
Ministry had by September 12 gathered facts enough to form a fairly
accurate estimate of advantages won. Beyond vague indications of their
nature, however, these facts were not made public. There was at the time
a good reason. Situated as the German armies were, and with their
intercommunication disorganised, they would take two or three days
longer at least to discover on their part the full measure of their
losses, and to judge of the effect. To the Allies, that difference in
time was of the utmost moment. Certainly it would have been against
their interest by publication of details to tell the German General
Staff in effect what reinforcements they ought to send, and where they
ought to send them. Why the difference in time was of moment will
presently appear.

Again it has been repeatedly stated that the foremost effect of the
Battle of the Marne was to confirm to the Allies the initiative which
the strategy of General Joffre had so skilfully gained. That was one
effect assuredly, and a vitally important effect. Another effect,
however, hardly less important, was that, in point of military value and
for effective operations, the German force in France was no longer the
same. The blow had been too severe. Never again could that force be
levelled up to those armies which had crossed the Marne in the
confidence of prospective victory.

The effect was not moral merely, though _moral_ had not a little to do
with it. The effect was in the main material. War wastage arising from
fatigue and privation must have reduced the effective strength of the
German armies in nearly as great a degree as losses in killed and
wounded. If _on September 12_ we put the armies which turned to hold the
new line from Compiègne to Verdun at 600,000 men still fit for duty, we
shall be adopting probably an outside figure.

Had this force, so reduced, not been able to make a stand along that
new line, it must have been destroyed largely through exhaustion and
famine. It was saved not, as imagined, chiefly by the defence works
thrown up north of the Aisne and across the highlands to the Argonne. It
was saved mainly by the tactics and by the energy of General von Kluck.

Rightly described by the British Official Bureau, doubtless on the
authority of Sir John French himself, as "bold and skilful," those
tactics form one of the outstanding features of the campaign, and they
ought justly to be considered among the greatest feats in modern war.
They are on the same plane indeed as the strategy and tactics of General
Joffre, and these, beyond doubt, rank in point of mastery with the
campaign of Napoleon in 1814. In this very area of Champagne on the eve
of his fall the military genius of Napoleon was, like lightning in the
gloom of tempest, displayed in its greatest splendour. For a thousand
years this region of plateaux and rivers has been the arena of events
which have shaped the history of Europe.[16] The features it offers for
military defence are remarkable. Versed in the campaigns of Napoleon,
aware of what have proved to be his mistakes, knowing the country in its
every detail, knowing and judging rightly the qualities and
capabilities of his troops, General Joffre drew the Germans on step by
step to overthrow. The great feature of his plans was that this was
meant to be an overthrow which would govern the fortune of the war. In
great fact that aim was achieved, but in part also its fulfilment was

On the retreat of the German armies from the Marne there were, in order
to bring about the destruction of those armies as a fighting force,
three things which the Allies had to accomplish, and accomplish, if
possible, concurrently. The first was to cut the German communications
with Luxemburg and Metz by barring the roads and railways across the
eastern frontier; the second was to push forward and seize Rheims, and
the outlet through the hills north of the Aisne at Berry-au-Bac; the
third was to force the troops of von Kluck eastward off their lines of
communication along the valley of the Oise, and to do that, if it could
be done, south of the Aisne.

All three objectives were of great consequence. The third, however, was
the most important of the three.

Of the three, the first, the closing of the eastern frontier, was
accomplished in part; the second was so far successful that the French
were able to seize Rheims without opposition; the third was not
accomplished. Had it been the armies of von Kluck and von Bülow forming
the German right must both have been severed from the German line to the
east of Rheims, and, with their supplies of food and of munitions cut
off, must have been compelled to surrender.

Appreciating the peril, and fully aware that the fate of the _whole_
German force hung upon averting it, General von Kluck acted with
resource and energy. Probably no commander ever extricated himself out
of a more deadly predicament, and the achievement is all the more
notable since he was opposed to skilful generals in command of skilful
troops, directed by the greatest strategist of the age. The predicament
in which General von Kluck found himself was this. If he opposed a front
to the army of General Desperey, formed of the pick of the French
regulars, he had on his flank both the British and the troops of General
Maunoury. In that case, overwhelming defeat was certain. If on the other
hand he formed a front against the troops of General French and General
Maunoury, he presented a flank to the 5th French army. Not only in such
circumstances was a bad defeat almost equally foregone, but, forming
front to a flank and fighting along the lines of his communications, he
must, in the event of defeat, retire eastward, abandoning his lines of
communication and obstructing the retreat of von Bülow.

As events prove, the measures he adopted were these. He recalled from
Amiens the army corps sent to that place to undertake an outflanking
movement against the Allied left, and to cut off communication between
Paris and Boulogne and Calais. With all haste these troops fell back
upon the Oise to secure the German right rear. Coincidently, his two
army corps on the Ourcq were ordered to undertake against General
Maunoury a vigorous offensive to the west of that river. With the
remaining three army corps, which had crossed the Marne, General von
Kluck fell back, presenting to the British and to the 5th French army a
line protected first by the Grand Morin, and then by the Petit Morin and
the Marne. In order to carry out that movement he did not hesitate to
sacrifice a considerable part of his cavalry.

The danger-point of this disposition was La Ferté-sous-Jouarre. Into
that place, consequently, he threw a strong force with orders to hold it
to the last moment. With the rest of his three corps he formed front
partly against the British, partly against the left of the army of
General Desperey. In these actions, as Mr. Maxwell has pointed out, his
troops were swept by the flank attack of part of the 6th French army.
There is no doubt they fought, despite cruel losses, with the most
stubborn courage. As the 6th French army, who displayed equally
unshakable resolution, strove, following the course of the Ourcq, to
work round against the German line of retreat, and as their attacks had
to be met as well as the attacks of the British, the expedient which the
German general resorted to was, as he retired, to hurry divisions of
troops successively from the south to the north of his flank defence,
and, as the 6th French army moved, to move his flank defence with it.
Not only was the object to do that, but there was, at the same time, an
effort to press the 6th French army towards the north-west. This, in
fact, General von Kluck managed to do. He did it by extending his flank
beyond the left of the French army, and making a feint of envelopment.
Imagine a row of coins, each coin a division, and a movement of the row
by constantly shifting a coin from one end of the row to the other. That
will give roughly an idea of what, on the events, appears to have been
the expedient.

The success of such a series of movements depended, of course, on their
rapidity, and, considering the severe and insistent pressure from the
British on the rear of the line, forming an angle with the flank, the
movements were carried out with surprising rapidity. The Ourcq, though
not a long river, is, like the Marne, deep, and over more than half its
length navigable. It flows between plateaux through a narrow valley with
steep sides. The crossing of such a stream is no easy feat.

But General von Kluck did not mind the losses he incurred so long as he
achieved his purpose. This was clearly his best policy. In the intervals
of desperate fighting his men had to undertake long marches at a
breakneck pace. For several days together they were without rest or
sleep. To some extent they were aided by the entrenchments already dug
to guard against an attack from the west. These positions, prepared to
protect the head of the German chain of armies remaining in contact with
Paris, now proved useful in covering the retirement. Nevertheless, the
efforts of the Germans must have been exhausting to the last degree.[17]

Despite that, they were successful in reaching the Aisne in advance of
the 6th French army. The latter, it ought, however, to be said, had to
operate through a difficult area. From the Ourcq to the Aisne there is a
succession of forests. Of these the great forest of Villers-Cotterets
extends northwards from the Ourcq to within six miles of Soissons. East
of the stretch of forests the country is more open. Given these facts of
topography, it is evident that on following the line of the Ourcq, with
the object of barring its passage to the enemy, the French had in the
forest belt a formidable obstacle. Perceiving that in this lay his
chance, General von Kluck hurried as large a part of his force as
possible across the Ourcq in order to bar the advance of the French by
the forest roads through Villers, and by the comparatively narrow break
in the forest belt between Crepy and Pierrefond. He was thus able,
notwithstanding that the British were hanging on to and harrying his
rear, to hold the outlets against the troops of General Maunoury until
he slipped past them.[18]

And once on the Aisne and in touch with his Amiens rearguard, now on the
Oise above Compiègne, he was in a position to initiate a complete change
in tactics, and, his force being comparatively secure, the other German
armies could again fall into line.

Before dealing with those new German tactics, it is advisable briefly to
sketch the defence works thrown up by the Germans along their line,
because both these defence works and the character of the country are
intimately related to the tactics.

As already stated, the highlands of Champagne extend north-west nearly
as far as Peronne. They are chalk hills and uplands cut by deep valleys.
The most northerly of the valleys is that out of which flows the Somme.
Then comes the much wider valley of the Oise. Still farther south is the
valley of the Aisne. Between the Oise and the Aisne is a roughly
triangular tract of country, its apex at the point where the Oise and
the Aisne join. Across the broad end or base of this triangle run the
open downs. Towards the narrower end of the area the country becomes
broken and hilly, and is covered with great patches of wood and forest.

There is along the north of the Aisne a long wooded ridge, which on its
northern edge slopes steeply. But the top of the ridge forms a gentle
undulating slope to the south. It is not unlike the top of a rough,
slightly tilted table. To a bird's-eye view this top would appear shaped
rather like a very coarse-toothed comb, with the teeth jagged and
broken. The top, that is to say, runs out on its south side into a
succession of promontories, each ending in a round-ended bluff
overlooking the Aisne valley. Some of these bluffs jut out close above
the river. Others are much farther back. Between them are clefts and
side valleys, in which the land slopes up from the bottom of the main
valley to the top of the plateau. In the longer clefts, of course, the
general gradient is much less stiff than in the shorter ones. Both the
tops of the bluffs and most of the clefts are thickly wooded. The bluffs
are on an average above 400 feet in height, that in fact being the
general elevation of the plateau.

The aspect of the edge of the corresponding plateau on the south side of
the valley of the Aisne is exactly similar. Since the bluffs on the
opposite sides approach each other in some places and are farther apart
in others, the valley varies in breadth from half a mile to two miles.
The bottom of the valley is practically flat, and through this flat
tract of meadow land the river winds, now near one side of the valley,
now near the other. The stream is between fifty and sixty yards wide,
but, like all the rivers in this part of France, deep. Where the valley
opens out there are villages and small towns. The largest place is the
picturesque old city of Soissons.

Now the ridge north of the Aisne extends west to east for some
thirty-four miles. At Craonne, its eastern end, it rises to a summit
about 500 feet high, and then falls abruptly. There is here, going from
the Aisne northwards, a fairly level open gap some three miles wide.
South of the Aisne, the same gap extends for about ten miles to Rheims.
On each side of the gap rise hillsides clothed with woods. At the
crossing of the Aisne is situated the village of Berry-au-Bac. This gap,
it will be seen, forms an important feature in the Aisne battle.

Above and behind the hills to the east of the gap, and across the downs,
the German entrenchments extended eastward for mile after mile right
away to the Argonne. It is apposite here to note that near Rheims the
traverse gap widens out and passes right and left round an isolated,
hilly mass, lying like an island in a stream. Up the sides of this hilly
mass climb the villages of Berru and Nogent-l'Abbesse.

Undoubtedly, one of the surprises of the war was the discovery that the
Germans had prepared the positions just described. The preparation must
have involved great labour. But it should not be forgotten that from
time out of mind one of the chief industries in this part of France is
represented by the chalk quarries, out of which is dug the material,
known in its prepared state as plaster of Paris. All through Champagne
there was, before the war, a considerable German population. Not a few
of the plaster quarries had passed into the hands of Germans. The
principal quarries are on the steep north slope of the ridge along the
Aisne. Cut into the hillsides, these chalk pits present a labyrinth of
galleries and chambers, where the quarrymen were accustomed to take
their meals and even to sleep. These quarries, numbered by scores, might
well form the refuge and stronghold of an army. The region is
remarkable, also, for its many natural caves.

Even more important, however, from a military standpoint, is the
southern side of this plateau. The only means of approaching the plateau
from that side is either up the clefts or side valleys, or from the
western end where the level gradually falls. But an attack made up one
of the side valleys could be assailed from both sides. In possession of
the plateau above, the defence, while keeping its force undivided, could
move that force to any point where attack was threatened, having itself
no clefts or fissures to deal with. It will be seen, therefore, that the
ridge formed a sort of vast ready-made castle, big enough to stretch
from London to beyond Oxford, or from Liverpool to Manchester, and that
the quarries and galleries made it habitable, at all events on the
banditti level of existence.

As Sir John French has pointed out,[19] owing to the patches of wood on
the upper slopes and tops of the bluffs, only small areas of the plateau
were open to view from the tops of bluffs on the south side of the
river. Hence the movements of the defenders were, looked at from across
the river, to no small extent concealed.

Two further _military_ features of the ridge should be noted. One is the
fact that its steep northern slope forms one side of the valley of the
Lette, and that, therefore, it is bounded by a river on both sides; the
other is, that some eight miles from its eastern end at Craonne the
plateau narrows to a mere neck less than a mile wide, and that across
this neck is carried the Oise and Aisne canal.

Not relying, however, merely on the natural features of the place, the
Germans dug along the plateau lines of entrenchments connected by
galleries with other trenches in the rear where reserves, not in the
firing line, were held. These back trenches formed living places. The
mass of men was too large, for any save the smaller proportion, to find
shelter in the quarries.

It will be seen, therefore, that the business of turning the Germans out
of such a fastness could be no easy matter.

On the choice of this position two questions suggest themselves. How was
it that the Germans came to pitch upon this place--for there can be no
doubt the choice was deliberate[20]--and what operations did they intend
to undertake on the strength of its possession?

The answers to these questions are in no sense speculations in the
secrets of War Offices. Those secrets it would be idle to profess to
know. Like the observations made in preceding pages, the answers are
deductions from admitted facts and events, perfectly plain to anyone who
has knowledge enough of military operations to draw them. Only ignorance
can assume that no true commentary can be written concerning a campaign
save upon official confidences.

As to the German choice of this position, it should not be forgotten
that the present war represents the fourth campaign which the Prussians
have fought in this area of France. In forming their plans they had, we
ought to presume, considered--bearing in mind the difference in military
conditions--not only the war of 1870-1, but the campaign of Frederick
William II., and the campaign of Blucher in 1814. A little earlier it
was said that this arena offers great facilities for defence. The reason
is that, since there is here a system of rivers flowing to a conjunction
near Paris, it is always open to the defence to attack in superior force
between any two of the rivers, while the assailant must, in advancing
from east to west, have his forces divided by one or more of the
streams. The whole German plan was intended to obviate and to overcome
that difficulty, and yet the plan came to grief because, at the moment
when their forces were divided by the Marne and by the Grand Morin, the
defence were able to attack them in superior force on their extreme
right--the vital point--and when the crossing of the rivers made it
difficult to meet that attack.[21]

Foreseeing, however, the _possibility_, though not accepting the
probability, of having to stand for a time on the defensive, the German
General Staff, we cannot now doubt, had formed the subsidiary and
provisional plan of concentrating, as far as possible and in case of
necessity, between two of the rivers--the Oise and the Aisne--in
positions which could be held with a minimum of numbers.

But this concentration was only preliminary. It was intended to aid the
massing on their own right flank of an echelon of reserve formations to
be thrown against the left of the Allied forces.

Concentration between two of the rivers was, as a defensive, beyond
question the best measure in the situation. A mere defensive, however,
would be tantamount to a confession that the whole expedition against
France had proved a failure. Undoubtedly, therefore, as the later events
show, the design was, at the earliest moment, to resume the offensive by
means of masses of reserves. These, pivoting upon Noyon, at the western
end of the fortified line, might sweep round and, by threatening to
envelop the Allied armies compel their retirement.

Conversely, the Allied tactic was plainly to envelop the Germans and to
threaten their main communications through Belgium. The question now
was: Which side could carry out its manoeuvre first?


[16] The Italian historian, Signor Guglielmo Ferrero, has expressed the
opinion that the Battle of the Marne has altered the face of European
history. There is little doubt that time will prove this view to be
fully justified.

[17] An official British note on this retreat stated: "Many isolated
parties of Germans have been discovered hiding in the numerous woods a
long way behind our line. As a rule they seem glad to surrender.

"An officer, who was proceeding along the road in charge of a number of
led horses, received information that there were some of the enemy in
the neighbourhood. Upon seeing them he gave the order to charge,
whereupon three German officers and 106 men surrendered."

[18] An interesting sidelight on the German movements is afforded by
these particulars given on official authority:--

"At Villers-Cotterets, though supplies far in excess of the capabilities
of the place were demanded, the town was not seriously damaged. The
Germans evacuated the place on September 11th in such haste that they
left behind a large amount of the bread requisitioned. It was stated by
the inhabitants that the enemy destroyed and abandoned fifteen
motor-lorries, seven guns, and ammunition wagons.

"At Crepy, on Sept. 3, various articles were requisitioned under threat
of a fine of 100,000f. for every day's delay in the delivery of the
goods. The following list shows the amounts and natures of the supplies
demanded, and also the actual quantities furnished:

                          REQUISITIONED.          SUPPLIED.
     Flour               20,000 kilos.           20,000 kilos.
     Dried vegetables     5,000   "                 800   "
     Coffee               1,000   "                 809   "
     Salt                 1,000   "                2,000  "
     Oats               100,000   "               55,000  "
     Red wine             2,500 litres.            2,500 litres.

     All smoked meats, ham, cloth,    }
     new boots, tobacco, biscuits,    } 61 prs. of boots.
     handkerchiefs, shirts, braces,   } 91 bicycles.
     stockings, horse shoes, bicycles,} 15 motor tyres.
     motor-cars, petrol.              }  6 inner tubes.

[19] See Appendix, Despatch of Sir John French, Oct. 8, 1914.

[20] The opinion on this point of the officers who took part in the
Battle of the Aisne is embodied in the following official note published
by the British Press Bureau:--

"There is no doubt that the position on the Aisne was not hastily
selected by the German Staff after the retreat had begun. From the
choice of ground and the care with which the fields of fire have been
arranged to cover all possible avenues of approach, and from the amount
of work already carried out, it is clear that the contingency of having
to act on the defensive was not overlooked when the details of the
strategically offensive campaign were arranged."

[21] The late General Hamley, describing what he considered the most
effective lines for an invasion of France from Germany in opposition to
the defensive adopted by Napoleon, points out that if the left of the
defence threatens the invaders' communications, the invaders, leaving
their right on the Ourcq and Marne, march through Sezanne to fight on
the right bank of the Seine. Pushing the French right and centre to the
Yères with their own centre and left, they fight then the decisive
battle. It should be decisive, for the [Germans] on the two rivers,
approaching each other in the narrowing angle can combine in a movement
on Paris, holding the passages at Melun and Montereau on the one side,
and at Meaux on the other.

"In executing such a plan the weapons of the defender would be in some
measure turned against himself.... But the assailants in taking these
forward steps do so at the disadvantage of attacking a strongly posted
enemy and under penalty of exposing a flank to him. This course demands
a superiority in numbers of not less than 4 to 3, and probably greater
than that."

The Germans had adopted this very plan, but they had not the superiority
they imagined.



The battle of the Aisne, destined to develop into the longest conflict
on record--it extended over two whole months--began on the afternoon of
Sunday, September 13. To follow its complexities it is necessary clearly
to grasp, not only the military purposes or objectives the two sides had
immediately in view, but the respective situations of the opposing
masses as regards fighting efficiency. When operations are on this
gigantic scale a certain amount of imagination must be exercised to
realise even the barest facts.

From Compiègne eastward to Rheims the Allied line was formed by the 6th
French, the British, and the 5th French armies. To the first for the
moment was assigned the duty of forcing the passages of the Aisne from
below Soissons, clearing the enemy off the western end of the ridge, and
pushing him up to Noyon on the Oise.

The business which fell to the British army was that of delivering a
frontal attack on this natural hill fortress from Soissons as far as

The 6th French army, which by a vigorous forward thrust had driven the
enemy out of Rheims, was to push up through the transverse gap to
Berry-au-Bac, and assault the hostile positions on the hillsides along
the east side of the gap. Along these hills the Germans had settled
themselves in force. Here, too, there were many chalk quarries and
caves, which the Germans were using as shelters and stores.

At first sight it might well seem that the frontal attack undertaken by
the British was not strictly a necessary operation. Clearly, the
feasible way of driving the Germans out of their fastness was to turn
the flanks of the position on the west through Lassigny and Noyon, and
on the east through Berry-au-Bac. The main operation was, of course,
that of turning the position from the west, for the right of the German
position remained its vulnerable point. It was essential, however, to
the success of that operation that General von Kluck should not be able
to meet it in force until, at all events, the Allied troops had taken a
firm grip.

Now, if the British army had assumed a merely watching attitude on the
south side of the Aisne, and had in consequence been able to extend
their line from the south of Craonne down the river to, say, Attichy,
some ten miles below Soissons, that, while leaving nearly the whole
strength of the 6th French army free to undertake the turning movement,
would at the same time have left General von Kluck also free to throw
his main strength against it.

A vigorous and pressing attack along his front was consequently
essential, in order to keep his main force employed. Not only was the
attack essential, but it had to be launched against him without delay,
and before he could recover from the effects of his retreat.

Including the troops recalled from Amiens, Generals von Kluck and von
Bülow had under their command, nominally at any rate, ten army corps.
If, deducting losses and war wastages, we put their strength in
effectives at not more than the equivalent of six corps--it could have
been very little more--yet six corps was, _in the positions they held_,
a force fully able to cope with the nine corps making up the three
Allied armies pitted then against them. Bearing in mind, indeed, the
natural defensive advantages of the ridges on which the Germans had
established themselves, and their facility for moving troops either for
the purposes of defence or of counter-attack, their strongholds could
have been held by three corps, leaving the remainder to be used on the
flank for active operations.

Intended to frustrate that manoeuvre, the British attack compelled the
German commanders to await, before they could make any such attempt, the
arrival of reinforcements. On both sides there was now a race against
time. French reinforcements and reserves had to be brought up and massed
against the flank of the German position. Many of those troops had,
however, to cover long distances afoot. The movements of mass armies are
comparatively slow. After all, the roads and railways traversing a
country have a capacity which is limited. Some idea of what such
movement involves may be formed from the traffic on a popular bank
holiday. In the case of armies there is, in addition to human numbers,
the artillery, the munitions, the camp equipment, the foodstuffs, and
all the rest of the transport. No one, therefore, can be surprised that
by the time these masses could be concentrated on the German flank,
there were German masses who, under the same conditions, had been
hurried forward to meet them. From the very necessities of time and
space the race resulted to a great extent in a draw.

The Battle of the Aisne is in every respect unique. A battle in the
ordinary sense of field operations it was not. It was a siege. Nothing
at all like it had ever occurred before in war. There have been many
sieges of banditti in mountain retreats. There have been sieges in old
times of fortified camps. There had never been the siege under such
conditions of a great army.

The operations in this amazing and gigantic conflict, though
inter-related, must for the purposes of clear narration be dealt with in
sections. The story divides itself into:--

The attack upon the German positions north of the Aisne.

The struggle for and around Rheims.

The operations on and against the German right flank.

In this chapter it is proposed to deal with the attack upon the German
positions north of the Aisne. The manner in which the British troops
forced the passage of that river and secured a footing on the ridge, and
held on to it, forms a particularly brilliant feat of arms.

As stated in the official account:--

     The country across which the army has had to force its way is
     undulating and covered with patches of thick wood.

     Within the area which faced the British before the advance
     commenced, right up to Laon, the chief feature of tactical
     importance is the fact that there are six rivers running right
     across the direction of advance, at all of which it was possible
     that the Germans might make a resistance.

     These are, in order from the south, the Marne, the Ourcq, the
     Vesle, the Aisne, the Lette, and the Oise.

The Lette, it may here be stated, is a tributary of the Oise. Rising
just to the north of Craonne and flowing westward through an upland
valley, it is used in the lower part of its course as a section of the
Oise and Aisne Canal.

     On Friday, the 11th, the official account goes on to say, but
     little opposition was met with by us along any part of our front,
     and the direction of advance was, for the purpose of co-operating
     with our Allies, turned slightly to the north-east. The day was
     spent in pushing forward and in gathering in various hostile
     detachments, and by nightfall our forces had reached a line to the
     north of the Ourcq, extending from Oulchy Le Château to Long Pont.

     On this day there was also a general advance on the part of the
     French along their whole line, which ended in substantial success,
     in one portion of the field Duke Albrecht of Würtemberg's fourth
     army being driven back across the Saulx; and elsewhere the whole of
     the corps artillery of a German corps being captured. Several
     German colours also were taken.

     It was only on this day that the full extent of the victory gained
     by the Allies was appreciated by them. The moral effect of this
     success has been enormous.

When the British pushed forward on September 12 to the Aisne, they found
that the Germans still held the heights to the south of the river above
Soissons. German outposts also held the strip of hilly country between
the Aisne and its tributary the Vesle.

The first step was to drive the Germans across the Aisne at Soissons.
This was undertaken by the 3rd army corps. Pushing forward to Buzancy,
south-east of Soissons, the troops won the heights overlooking the old
city and the Aisne valley, which here opens to its greatest width. It
was a stiff fight. Despite, however, a heavy bombardment from across the
valley, the British, side by side with troops of General Maunoury, swept
the Germans down into and through Soissons, and as the enemy crowded
over the two bridges the artillery of the 3rd corps poured upon them a
rain of shells. Immediately the Germans had crossed, the bridges, which
had been mined, went up in two terrific explosions.

While this action was in progress, Sir John French had thrown the 1st
army corps across the Vesle at Fismes. They advanced to Vaucere with but
little opposition.

At Braisne on the Vesle, however, the Germans for a time made a resolute
stand. They held the town in force, and covered the bridge with machine
guns. They were strongly supported by artillery. Notwithstanding this,
they were ousted out of the place by the 1st British Cavalry Division
under General Allenby. While a brigade of British infantry cleared the
enemy out of the town, which lies mainly on the south bank, the cavalry
rushed the passage of the river under a galling fire and turned the
hostile position. So rapidly did the Germans take to flight that they
had to throw a large amount of their artillery ammunition into the
river. There was no time to reload it into the caissons.[22] This feat
of the British horse ranks among the finest bits of "derring do" in the
campaign. The Queen's Bays have been mentioned in despatches as
rendering distinguished service. Conspicuous gallantry was shown by the
whole division. As a result of these operations from Braisne and
Fismes, the British secured the country up to the Aisne.

Left and right, therefore, the advance had been completely successful.
In the centre, however, the 2nd army corps had an exceptionally tough
piece to negotiate. They advanced up to the Aisne between Soissons and
Missy. The latter place lies on the north bank, just below the junction
of the Aisne and the Vesle. Here there is a broad stretch of meadow
flats, commanded north, east, and south by bluffs. On the south is the
Sermoise bluff or spur; across the flats, directly opposite to the
north, stands out the Chivre spur. The summit of the latter is crowned
by an old defence work, the Fort de Condé. This the Germans held, and
they made use of the spur, like a miniature Gibraltar, to sweep the
flats of the valley with their guns. On this 12th September the 5th
division found themselves unable to make headway. They advanced to the
Aisne, which just here sweeps close under the Chivres spur, leaving
between the cliff and the bank a narrow strip, occupied by the village
of Condé-sur-Aisne. Across the river at Condé there was a road bridge,
and the enemy had left the bridge intact, both because they held the
houses of the village, which they had loop-holed, and because their guns
above commanded the approach road. It may be stated that they held on to
the Chivre spur and on to Condé all through the battle.

On the night of September 12 the British had possession of all the south
bank of the Aisne from Soissons up to Maizy, immediately to the south
of Craonne.

At daybreak on Sunday, September 13, Sir John French ordered a general
advance across the river. Opposite the places where the waterway could
most readily be crossed, the enemy had posted strong bodies of infantry
with machine guns. Along the bluffs, and behind the side valleys above,
they had disposed their artillery in a range of batteries upwards of
fifteen miles in length.

The battle began with one of the most tremendous and concentrated
artillery duels that has ever taken place, for the line was prolonged
both east and west by the French artillery, until it stretched out to
more than twice the length of the British front.

Of the nine bridges over this section of the Aisne, all save that at
Condé had been blown up. Near a little place called Bourg on the north
bank, some three miles below Maizy, the valley is crossed by an aqueduct
carrying the Oise and Aisne canal. This canal passes in a series of
locks over the ridge north-west. The canal is much used in connection
with the chalk quarries.

Troops of the 1st British division, defying a fierce bombardment,
advanced in rushes along the towing path, or crept along the parapets of
the aqueduct. Every man deliberately took his life in his hands. Others
crept breast high in the water along the canal sides. The German guns
stormed at them, and many fell, but foot by foot and yard by yard they
crawled on, while supporting riflemen from the ridges behind them
picked off the Germans who strove to oppose their passage. The
resistance was furious. They won, however, a footing on the north bank.
Once there, no counter-assaults could dislodge them.

This bridgehead formed at the opposite end of the aqueduct, more troops
rushed across, covered by a concentration of the British artillery. In
this way, at length, the whole division got over, including the cavalry.
Forthwith they advanced up the road leading across the ridge from Bourg,
along the side valley, towards Chamouille.

While these events were taking place, troops of the 2nd division were,
five miles farther down the river, near Vailly, carrying out a feat of
equal daring. Just about Vailly, the Aisne is crossed obliquely by the
railway line from Soissons. The railway bridge, a structure of iron, now
lay in the stream. Most of the confusion of massive ribs and girders was
under water, and the deep and smoothly sweeping current, swollen by
recent rains, foamed and chafed against the obstacle. One of the long
girders, however, still showed an edge above the flood. It was possible
for men to cross upon this girder, but only in single file. Not more
than two feet in breadth at the outside, not less than 250 feet in
length, this path of iron resembled, if anything could, that bridge,
narrow as the edge of a scimitar, over which the faithful Mussulman is
fabled to pass into Paradise. It was swept by shot and shell. From the
heights across the valley belched without ceasing the hail of death.
Wounded or unnerved a man saw his end as surely in the grey-green swirl
of waters. But the soldiers who undertook this service did not hesitate.
It may be doubted if there has ever been anything in ancient or in
modern war more coolly heroic. Here was the spirit which has made
Britain the mother of mighty nations. Not a few of these heroes fell,
inevitably, but the spirit was in all, and if some fell, others won
their way over, and having won it kept their footing against heavy odds.

In sight of this struggle, amid the unceasing roar of the batteries on
either side, the 4th Guards Brigade were, a mile away at Chavonne,
ferrying themselves over in boats. Notwithstanding the furious efforts
to annihilate them, both as they crossed and as they sprang ashore, a
whole battalion in this way got across and made good their foothold.

Half-way between Condé and Soissons, at the village of Venizel, at the
same time, the 14th brigade were rafting themselves over on tree-trunks
crossed with planks, derelict doors, and stairways.

These footholds won, the troops, like the 1st division, lost no time in
pushing forward to seize points of vantage before the enemy could rally
from his astonishment. The 2nd division advanced along the road from
Vailly towards Courteçon; the 12th brigade made an attack in the
direction of Chivres, situated in a small side valley to the west of
the Chivres bluff. Slightly higher up this side valley, and on its
opposite slope, the Germans held the hillside village of Vregny in
force. The cleft at once became the scene of a furious combat.

Coincidently the work went on of throwing pontoon bridges across the
river. Under persistent bombardment the Royal Engineers stuck to this
business with grim resolve. The battle had gone on without a pause from
daybreak. At half-past five in the evening, opposite Bucy-le-Long, three
miles above Soissons, the first pontoon bridge had been completed, and
the 10th brigade crossing by it drove the enemy out of Bucy. Working
right through the night the Engineers completed eight pontoon bridges
and one footbridge. On the following day they temporarily repaired the
road bridges at Venizel, Missy, and Vailly, and the bridge at Villers.
The army had thus twelve bridges connecting with the south bank, and was
able to move across in force with a large part of his artillery.

Crossing the Aisne at Soissons, the main road running for about a mile
and a half north-east to the little village of Crouy, there divides. On
the right is a lower road eastward up the valley of the Aisne, past and
under the bluffs on the north side to Berry-au-Bac. On the left is a
road which climbs up hill, carried in some places through cuttings and
tunnels, at others over short viaducts, until it reaches the summit of
the ridge. There, parallel in direction with the lower road three miles
away, it continues for some twelve miles to Craonne. From this summit
road there is, between the patches of woods, a wide view of the
country--to the north the valley of the Lette, and beyond it the height
round which lies the town and fortress of Laon, to the south the rich
woodland glimpses of the Aisne valley. This panoramic highway is the
famous Chemins des Dames.

It is evident that command of the higher and of the lower roads meant
command of all the part of the ridge between Soissons and Berry, and the
operations were an effort on the one side to obtain, and on the other to
retain, that command.

Already, with the exception of the break at Condé, the lower road, and
the villages and the town of Vailly lying along its length, were, as the
result of the fighting on September 13, in the hands of the British. The
higher road remained in the possession of the Germans. Up the clefts and
side valleys are a number of small villages and hamlets, inhabited for
the most part by quarrymen and lime-burners, but with, here and there, a
small factory. A sprinkling of these civilians were Germans. Most were
known to the enemy, and were active spies, and one of the first measures
taken by the Germans was to establish at various points secret
telephones, forming an exchange of intercommunication with and along
their positions. Where telephones could not be employed they arranged a
system of ruses and signals. Among these devices was that of smoke from
cottage chimneys.

On the morning of September 14, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Brigades,
defeating a heavy counter-attack, seized the roads between Condé and
Soissons. The object was to cut into the centre of the German defence.

During this day further bodies of British troops crossed the river. The
forces already on the north side were heavily engaged. Towards nightfall
the Germans attempted a counter-attack. It was beaten off after severe
fighting. Three hours later, about ten o'clock at night, they again
descended in force against the positions and villages held by the
British troops. While the clefts and side valleys blazed with flashing
fire of infantry, the valley of the Aisne was lit up for miles with the
fluctuating and lurid flare from the heavy guns. Masses of German
infantry tried to drive the British troops out of the villages they had
seized. It was evidently hoped to prevail by weight of numbers. The
onset fell back crippled by the losses sustained.

By this time the fact was becoming plain that the battle was no mere
rearguard action. The enemy had manifestly resolved to make a stand. To
ascertain the character and strength of his disposition, Sir John French
ordered a general advance. It was timed to begin at daybreak.

The dawn broke amid rain and heavy mists, but this, if a disadvantage to
the attack, was equally a disadvantage to the defence. One of the
leading features of this offensive was what Sir John French has justly
called the bold and decisive action of the 1st army corps, commanded by
Sir Douglas Haig.

From Bourg, the scene of the crossing on the aqueduct, there runs
northward climbing to the summit of the ridge a road to the village of
Cerny, about half-way along the Chemin des Dames. The distance from
Bourg to Cerny is rather more than three miles. It is, however, a stiff
climb. Two-thirds of the way up, where the road bends sharply to the
left round a spur, is the village of Vendresse-et-Troyon. The capture of
this place was one of the immediate objectives, and the troops told off
to accomplish it were the 1st infantry brigade and the 25th artillery
brigade, under General Bulfin.[23] At Cerny there is a slight dip on the
level of the ridge.

Vendresse is on the west slope of this side valley, and Troyon on the
east slope just behind the spur. The Germans held in strong force both
the spur and the houses on each slope. At Troyon they had fortified
themselves in a factory.

Few operations could be more ticklish than the seizure of such a place.
From the spur the Germans came down in a counter-attack like a human
avalanche. After stemming this rush by a withering fire the Northamptons
were ordered to carry the spur at the point of the bayonet. They did it.
As they were chasing the survivors of the counter-attack up the slope
there suddenly appeared on the skyline a second mass of German infantry,
the reserves supporting the counter-attacking column. In a matter of
seconds, however, the fugitives and the Northamptons were on them.
Their ranks broken, they also turned and fled in rout across the

In the meantime the North Lancashires had stormed the factory and
cleared the enemy out of Vendresse at the point of the bayonet. Other
troops of the 1st army corps pushed on to Meulins, a mile to the
south-east, and seized positions along the east end of the ridge. During
the fighting the Germans lost 12 field guns and 600 prisoners. Many of
the latter were found to belong to the Landwehr, proving that the enemy
had already been compelled to fill up his formations from second

The fury of this fighting was intense. There could be no better evidence
of its character than an unposted letter found later on an officer of
the 7th German army reserve corps. The letter runs:--

     CERNY, S. OF LAON, _Sept. 17, 1914_.

     MY DEAR PARENTS,--Our corps has the task of holding the heights
     south of Cerny in all circumstances till the 15th corps on our left
     flank can grip the enemy's flank. On our right are other corps. We
     are fighting with the English Guards, Highlanders, and Zouaves.[24]
     The losses on both sides have been enormous. For the most part this
     is due to the too brilliant French artillery. The English are
     marvellously trained in making use of the ground. One never sees
     them, and one is constantly under fire.

     Three days ago our division took possession of these heights, dug
     itself in, &c. Two days ago, early in the morning, we were attacked
     by immensely superior English forces (one brigade and two
     battalions), and were turned out of our positions; the fellows took
     five guns from us. It was a tremendous hand-to-hand fight. How I
     escaped myself I am not clear. I then had to bring up supports on
     foot (my horse was wounded and the others were too far in rear).
     Then came up the Guard Jager Battalion, 4th Jager, 65th Regiment,
     Reserve Regiment 13, Landwehr Regiments 13 and 16, and with the
     help of the artillery drove back the fellows out of the position

     ... During the first two days of the battle[25] I had only one
     piece of bread and no water, spent the night in the rain without my
     great coat. The rest of my kit was on the horses which have been
     left miles behind with the baggage, which cannot come up into the
     battle because as soon as you put your nose out from behind cover
     the bullets whistle.

     Yesterday evening about six p.m., in the valley in which our
     reserves stood, there was such a terrible cannonade that we saw
     nothing of the sky but a cloud of smoke. We had few casualties.

Just to the west of Vendresse the 5th infantry brigade advanced against
the part of the ridge where is situated the village of Courteçon.
Simultaneously the 4th Guards Brigade, with the 36th brigade of
artillery, debouched from Bourg along the Aisne and Oise canal, with the
object of seizing Ostel. They had to fight their way, opposed foot by
foot, through dense woods. The 6th brigade pressed up farther along the
canal to Braye-en-Laonnois. It is immediately to the north of that
place that the plateau is at the narrowest. Evidently to obtain
possession of that neck would be a great advantage. The enemy held on to
Braye at all costs.

Further west, again, the British advanced from Vailly to Aizy along
another of the approaches to the plateau. The object was to hem in the
Germans holding the Chivres bluff and Condé. On the farther side of the
bluff from Aizy the division of Sir Charles Fergusson held on to Chivres
village in the face of a succession of determined onslaughts.

As the outcome of this day's fighting, which had been very severe, the
1st army corps had won close up to the ridge by Craonne, and held
positions extending along the plateau across the canal to Soupir, a
distance of nearly nine miles. Concurrently the 2nd and 3rd corps had
gained the plateau from Chavonne westward to Croucy, and with the
exception of the Chivres bluff all the outer or southern edge of the
plateau, as well as the intervening side valleys, were in the British
hands, from Soissons to Craonne.

As soon as they had gained these positions the British troops set about
digging themselves in, and although the rain fell all night in torrents,
and the men had been through a long and fierce struggle since daybreak,
they worked magnificently.

Next day (September 15) heavy rain blurred the view. Neither force could
see the movements of the other, but when the mists lifted somewhat the
Germans must have been surprised to discover that the foe were already
in their stronghold.

On their side they had not been idle. They had brought along from
Maubeuge the batteries of heavy howitzers used to destroy the forts at
that place, and were putting them into well-concealed positions. Besides
this they worked with energy to strengthen their entrenchments. These
lines of trenches among and along the edges of the woods crowning the
slopes of the ridge were elaborately made, and in general cleverly

They were so placed as to sweep with rifle and machine gun fire the
approaches to the plateau up the various clefts. Lengths of barbed-wire
entanglements and rabbit fencing further defended the approaches, both
in the woods and across open ground. Where behind or between the lines
of trenches the land rose--the top of the plateau had been worn by ages
of weather into sweeping undulations--there were batteries of field
guns, so arranged that they laid approaches under a cross fire. Round
and in front of these knobs of land the trenches swept like ditches
round bastions. Everything, in fact, that resource could suggest had
been done to make the positions impregnable.[26]

In addition to trenches, hamlets and villages were held by the two
armies as advanced posts, and had been turned roughly into groups of
block houses.


[22] A buried store of the enemy's munitions of war was also found not
far from the Aisne, ten wagon-loads of live shell and two wagons of
cable being dug up; and traces were discovered of large quantities of
stores having been burnt, all tending to show that so far back as the
Aisne the German retirement was hurried.

[23] This able and distinguished officer has since been promoted for his

[24] Part of the 5th French Army, which was operating on the right of
the British from Rheims and Berry-au-Bac.

[25] The reference is evidently to the fighting on Sept. 13 and 14.

[26] The following descriptive notes on the German positions were made
by the official "Eye-witness" with the British forces:--"Owing to the
concealment afforded to the Germans' fire trenches and gun emplacements
by the woods and to the fact that nearly all the bridges and roads
leading to them, as well as a great part of the southern slopes, are
open to their fire, the position held by them is a very strong one.
Except for these patches of wood, the terrain generally is not enclosed.
No boundaries between the fields exist as in England. There are ditches
here and there, but no hedges, wire fences, or walls, except round the
enclosures in the villages. A large proportion of the woods, however,
are enclosed by high rabbit netting, which is in some places supported
by iron stanchions. The top of the plateau on the south of the river to
some extent resembles Salisbury Plain, except that the latter is
downland while the former is cultivated, being sown with lucerne, wheat,
and beetroot.

"A feature of this part of the country, and one which is not confined to
the neighbourhood of the Aisne, is the large number of caves, both
natural and artificial, and of quarries. These are of great service to
the forces on both sides, since they can often be used as sheltered
accommodation for the troops in the second line. Other points worthy of
note are the excellence of the metalled roads, though the metalled
portion is very narrow, and the comparative ease with which one can find
one's way about, even without a map. This is due partly to the
prevailing straightness of the roads and partly to the absence of
hedges. There are signposts at all cross-roads, whilst the name of each
village is posted in a conspicuous place at the entry and exit of the
main highway passing through it.

"In addition to the absence of hedges, the tall, white ferro-concrete
telegraph posts lining many of the main roads give a somewhat strange
note to the landscape."



In three days the British had not only gained the passages over the
Aisne, but had won their way to the plateau. Both sides had fought with
determination. The German commander knew that if he could not hold this
position the whole contemplated strategy of throwing masses of
reinforcements against the left flank of the Allied forces must
collapse. He was well aware that if he failed, not only must his own
force in all probability be destroyed, but the whole German line as far
as Verdun must in all probability be crumpled up.

Not less was Sir John French aware that the future success of the Allied
campaign hung upon obtaining a purchase on the German position which
would force General von Kluck to employ his whole strength in holding
on. It is easy, therefore, to infer how fierce had been this three days'

The Germans had put forth the greatest effort of which they were
capable. But despite the natural advantage given them, first by the
river front, and next by the rugged and broken ground in the many side
valleys, they had been beaten. Henceforward the struggle was on less
uneven terms. The fact had become manifest that without a strenuous
counter-offensive the Germans could not hope to hold on.

This counter-offensive was attempted without delay.

Since the top of the plateau sloped from north to south, the positions
held by the British were in general on lower ground than the trenches
cut by the Germans, and it must have been something of a disagreeable
surprise to the latter when on the morning of September 15, the heavy
mists having lifted, they saw miles of earthworks, which had literally
sprung up in the night. The rain and mist during the hours of darkness
had made a night attack impossible, even if, after the eighteen hours'
furious battle in the mists on the preceding day, they had had the
stomach for it.

They had their surprise ready, however, as well. From well-hidden
positions behind the woods on the top of the plateau they opened a
violent bombardment of the British lines with their huge 8-inch and
11-inch howitzers, throwing the enormous shells, which fell with such
terrific force as to bury themselves in the ground. Giving off in
exploding dense clouds of black smoke, these shells blew away the earth
on all sides of them in a rain of fragments of rock, masses of soil and
stones, leaving the surface filled with holes wide and deep enough to be
the burial place of several horses. This heavy ordnance was kept well
beyond the range of the British guns, and employed for high-angle fire.
So far as life was concerned, the shells caused relatively little loss.
Their flight being visible--they looked not unlike tree-trunks hurled
from across the hills--they could be dodged. On realising how little
they were to be feared, the British troops nicknamed them "Black
Marias," "Coalboxes," and "Jack Johnsons," and shouted jocular warnings.
The idea of using these shells was to knock the British defence works to
pieces. Some of these works, hastily thrown up, proved to be too slight,
and had to be replaced by diggings, which became regular underground

At this time the British lines were in general more than a mile distant,
on the average, from those of the enemy. They followed no symmetrical
plan, but, adapted to the defensive features of the ground, were cut
where there were at once the best shelters from attack and the best
jumping-off places for offence. Describing them, the British military
correspondent wrote:--

     A striking feature of our line--to use the conventional term which
     so seldom expresses accurately the position taken up by an army--is
     that it consists really of a series of trenches not all placed
     alongside each other, but some more advanced than others, and many
     facing in different directions. At one place they run east and
     west, along one side of a valley; another, almost north and south,
     up some subsidiary valley; here they line the edge of wood, and
     there they are on the reverse slope of a hill, or possibly along a
     sunken road. And at different points both the German and British
     trenches jut out like promontories into what might be regarded as
     the opponent's territory.

While the British infantry had been entrenching, the artillery, with an
equal energy, had hauled their guns up the steep roads, and in many
cases up still steeper hillsides, and by the morning of September
15--another disagreeable surprise for the enemy--nearly 500 field pieces
bristled from positions of vantage along the front. The reply to the
German bombardment was a bombardment of the hostile trenches. The latter
were crowded with men. If the German shells did a lot of injury to the
landscape, the British shrapnel inflicted far heavier injury on the
enemy's force. It swept the German trenches and field batteries with a
regular hail of lead. Well-concealed though they to a great extent were,
the German positions were not so well-concealed as the British
positions. Both armies did their best to make themselves appear scarce,
and beyond the deafening uproar of the guns belching from behind woods
and undulations, there seemed at a distance few signs of life on either
side. But, looked at from behind and within, the lines were very
anthills of activity.

The bombardment went on until midnight. Then came a night battle of
almost unexampled fury.

From the outline already given of the fighting on September 14 it will
have been gathered that one of the most substantial advantages won had
been the position seized by the 4th Guards Brigade along the Aisne and
Oise Canal from Astel to Braye-en-Laonnois. At Braye and eastwards over
the intervening spur of plateau to Vendresse the British positions were
dangerously close to the narrow neck of the ridge. Across that neck,
too, following the canal to its juncture with the Lette, and then up the
short valley of the Ardon, was the easiest route to Laon, the main base
of the 1st German army. Obviously the British must, if possible, be
ousted out of these villages.

Bombardment had failed to do it. Soon after midnight, therefore, a huge
mass of German infantry moved down against the Guards' entrenchments by
Braye. It was a murderous combat. Six times in succession the Germans
were beaten off. But for every column of the enemy that went back,
broken, decimated, and exhausted, there was another ready instantly to
take its place. Advancing over the dying and the dead, the Germans faced
the appalling and rapid volleys of the Guards with unflinching courage.
They fell in hundreds, but still they rushed on. Machine guns on both
sides spat sheets of bullets. At close grips, finally, men stabbed like
demons. In and round houses, many set on fire, and throwing the scene of
slaughter into lurid and Dantesque relief, there were fights to the
death. No quarter was given or taken. The canal became choked with
corpses. On the roads and hillsides dead and wounded lay in every
posture of pain. Beyond the outer ring of the struggle, where shouts of
fury mingled with cries of agony, the roaring choruses of the guns bayed
across the valley with redoubled rage.

Great as it was, the effort proved vain. If the attack was heroic, the
defence was super-heroic. When, for the last time, the lines of the
Guards swept forward, withering the retreating and now disordered foe
with their volleys, charging into them in what seemed a lightning-like
energy, terrible alike in their forgetfulness of danger and in the
irresistible impetus of victory, the Germans must have realised that
their hopes of conquest were shattered.

This was but one out of similar scenes in that fierce night.[27] After
it the cold, grey morning broke in strange silence. For a space the
artillery had ceased to speak. Many and many a hero, unknown to fame,
but faithful unto death, lay with face upturned on those hillsides.
Never had duty been more valiantly done.

Sir John French realised the qualities of his soldiers. He had been
compelled to demand from them a herculean energy. They had not failed
him in any place nor in any particular. They had been in truth
magnificent, and he could not but embody his admiration in a Special
Order of the Day. That historic document ran:--

     Once more I have to express my deep appreciation of the splendid
     behaviour of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the
     army under my command throughout the great battle of the Aisne,
     which has been in progress since the evening of the 12th inst. The
     battle of the Marne, which lasted from the morning of the 6th to
     the evening of the 10th, had hardly ended in the precipitate flight
     of the enemy when we were brought face to face with a position of
     extraordinary strength, carefully entrenched and prepared for
     defence by an army and a staff which are thorough adepts in such

     Throughout the 13th and 14th that position was most gallantly
     attacked by the British forces, and the passage of the Aisne
     effected. This is the third day the troops have been gallantly
     holding the position they have gained against the most desperate
     counter-attacks and a hail of heavy artillery.

     I am unable to find adequate words in which to express the
     admiration I feel for their magnificent conduct.

     The self-sacrificing devotion and splendid spirit of the British
     Army in France will carry all before it.

     (Signed) J. D. P. FRENCH, Field Marshal,
     _Commanding-in-Chief the British Army
     in the Field_.

The enemy had been shaken. Of that there could be no doubt. Following
his experiences in the battle of the Marne this fighting was beginning
to prove too much for him.

A considerable amount of information about the, enemy has now been
gleaned from prisoners (says the official record). It has been gathered
that our bombardment on the 15th produced a great impression. The
opinion is also recorded that our infantry make such good use of the
ground that the German companies are decimated by our rifle fire before
a British soldier can be seen.

From an official diary captured by the First Army Corps it appears that
one of the German corps contains an extraordinary mixture of units. If
the composition of the other corps is at all similar, it may be assumed
that the present efficiency of the enemy's forces is in no way
comparable with what it was when war commenced. The losses in officers
are noted as having been especially severe. A brigade is stated to be
commanded by a major, and some companies of the Foot Guards to be
commanded by one-year volunteers, while after the battle of Montmirail
one regiment lost fifty-five out of sixty officers.

The prisoners recently captured appreciate the fact that the march on
Paris has failed, and that their forces are retreating, but state that
the object of this movement is explained by the officers as being to
withdraw into closer touch with supports which have stayed too far in
rear. The officers are also endeavouring to encourage the troops by
telling them that they will be at home by Christmas. A large number of
the men, however, believe that they are beaten. The following is an
extract from one document:--

     With the English troops we have great difficulties. They have a
     queer way of causing losses to the enemy. They make good trenches,
     in which they wait patiently. They carefully measure the ranges for
     their rifle fire, and they then open a truly hellish fire. This was
     the reason that we had such heavy losses....

From another source:--

     The English are very brave, and fight to the last man.... One of
     our companies has lost 130 men out of 240.

From this time the battle took on more and more the features of a
regular siege. On the side of the Germans the operations resolved
themselves into persistent bombardments by day alternated with infantry
attacks by night. Infantry attacks in daylight they now knew to be
foredoomed. It is questionable, indeed, if, with the lowered _moral_ of
their troops, such attacks were any longer possible. To assist their
night attacks they rigged up searchlights, and when their infantry
advanced played the beams upon the British lines in the hope of dazzling
the defence and spoiling the rifle-fire they had learned to dread. These
lights, however, served also as a warning. When that was found out the
enemy went back to attacks in the darkness, but with no better results.

Sunday, September 20, was the date of another general night onslaught.
Just before the attack developed military bands were heard playing in
the German lines. After the manner of the natives of West Africa they
were working themselves up to the fury pitch. It was to be a do-or-die
business evidently. The enterprise, however, again failed to prosper.
Against some of the British positions the attack was pushed with dogged
bravery; and the scenes of five nights before were enacted again and
again with the like results. Against one part of the line the onset
wound up with an extraordinary disaster. Two German columns mistook each
other in the darkness for British troops. They had apparently set out
from different points to converge upon the same British position. In
front of that position they fought a furious combat, and while no
bullets reached the British trenches the men in them were afforded the
unwonted spectacle of the enemy wiping themselves out.[28]

Between the two armies the country had now become a "no-man's land,"
deserted by both sides because, in the expressive phrase of the British
soldier, it had turned "unhealthy." Over this tract the still unburied
bodies of German infantry lay where they had fallen. Outside the village
of Paissy, held by the British and near a ridge where there had been
some of the severest fighting, the German dead lay in heaps. Lines of
German trenches held at the beginning of the battle were by this time

Reconnoitring parties, says the authorised story, sent out during the
night of the 21st-22nd, discovered some deserted trenches, and in them,
or near them in the woods, over a hundred dead and wounded were picked
up. A number of rifles, ammunition, and equipment were also found. There
were various other signs that portions of the enemy's forces had
withdrawn for some distance.

Unable to prevail in open fight, the Germans resorted to almost every
variety of ruse. In the words of the official story:--

     The Germans, well trained, long-prepared, and brave, are carrying
     on the contest with skill and valour. Nevertheless, they are
     fighting to win anyhow, regardless of all the rules of fair play,
     and there is evidence that they do not hesitate at anything in
     order to gain victory.

     During a counter-attack by the German 53rd Regiment on portions of
     the Northampton and Queen's Regiments on Thursday, the 17th, a
     force of some 400 of the enemy were allowed to approach right up to
     the trench occupied by a platoon of the former regiment, owing to
     the fact that they had held up their hands and made gestures that
     were interpreted as signs that they wished to surrender. When they
     were actually on the parapet of the trench held by the Northamptons
     they opened fire on our men at point-blank range.

     Unluckily for the enemy, however, flanking them and only some 400
     yards away, there happened to be a machine gun manned by a
     detachment of the "Queen's." This at once opened fire, cutting a
     lane through their mass, and they fell back to their own trench
     with great loss. Shortly afterwards they were driven further back
     with additional loss by a battalion of the Guards, which came up in

     During the fighting, also, some German ambulance wagons advanced
     in order to collect the wounded. An order to cease fire was
     consequently given to our guns, which were firing on this
     particular section of ground. The German battery commanders at once
     took advantage of the lull in the action to climb up their
     observation ladders and on to haystacks to locate our guns, which
     soon afterwards came under a far more accurate fire than any to
     which they had been subjected up to that time.

     A British officer who was captured by the Germans, and has since
     escaped, reports that while a prisoner he saw men who had been
     fighting subsequently put on Red Cross brassards. That the
     irregular use of the protection afforded by the Geneva Convention
     is not uncommon is confirmed by the fact that on one occasion men
     in the uniform of combatant units have been captured wearing the
     Red Cross brassard hastily slipped over the arm. The excuse given
     has been that they had been detailed after a fight to look after
     the wounded.

     It is reported by a cavalry officer that the driver of a motor-car
     with a machine gun mounted on it, which he captured, was wearing
     the Red Cross.

A curious feature of this strange siege-battle was that villages and
hamlets between the fighting lines still continued, where not destroyed,
to be in part, at any rate, inhabited, and at intervals peasants worked
in the intervening fields. The Germans took advantage of this to push
their spy system.

The suspicions of some French troops (of the 5th army) were aroused by
coming across a farm from which the horses had not been removed. After
some search they discovered a telephone which was connected by an
underground cable with the German lines, and the owner of the farm paid
the penalty usual in war for his treachery.

Some of the methods being employed for the collection or conveyance of
intelligence were:--

     Men in plain clothes who signalled to the German lines from points
     in the hands of the enemy by means of coloured lights at night and
     puffs of smoke from chimneys by day.

     Pseudo-labourers working in the fields between the armies who
     conveyed information, and persons in plain clothes acting as
     advanced scouts.

     German officers and soldiers in plain clothes or in French or
     British uniforms remained in localities evacuated by the Germans in
     order to furnish them with intelligence.

One spy of this kind was found by the British troops hidden in a church
tower. His presence was only discovered through the erratic movements of
the hands of the church clock, which he was using to signal to his
friends by means of an improvised semaphore code.

Women spies were also caught, and secret agents found observing
entrainments and detrainments.

Amongst the precautions taken by the British to guard against spying was
the publication of the following notice:--

     (1) Motor cars and bicycles other than those carrying soldiers in
     uniform may not circulate on the roads.

     (2) Inhabitants may not leave the localities in which they reside
     between six p.m. and six a.m.

     (3) Inhabitants may not quit their homes after eight p.m.

     (4) No person may on any pretext pass through the British lines
     without an authorisation countersigned by a British officer.

On October 23rd six batteries of heavy howitzers asked for by Sir John
French reached the front, and were at once put into action. No effort
was spared by the Germans to drive the British army back across the
Aisne. The quantity of heavy shells they fired was enormous, and they
were probably under the impression that the effect was devastating.

The object of the great proportion of artillery the Germans employ
(observes the official record on this point) is to beat down the
resistance of their enemy by a concentrated and prolonged fire, and to
shatter their nerve with high explosives before the infantry attack is
launched. They seem to have relied on doing this with us; but they have
not done so, though it has taken them several costly experiments to
discover this fact. From the statements of prisoners, indeed, it appears
that they have been greatly disappointed by the moral effect produced by
their heavy guns, which, despite the actual losses inflicted, has not
been at all commensurate with the colossal expenditure of ammunition,
which has really been wasted.

By this it is not implied that their artillery fire is not good. It is
more than good; it is excellent. But the British soldier is a difficult
person to impress or depress, even by immense shells filled with high
explosive which detonate with terrific violence and form craters large
enough to act as graves for five horses.

How far the colossal expenditure of ammunition was thrown away is
illustrated by this description of the effect in a given instance:--

     At a certain point in our front our advanced trenches on the north
     of the Aisne are not far from a village on the hillside, and also
     within a short distance of the German works, being on the slope of
     a spur formed by a subsidiary valley running north and the main
     valley of the river. It was a calm, sunny afternoon, but hazy; and
     from a point of vantage south of the river it was difficult exactly
     to locate on the far bank the well-concealed trenches of either
     side. From far and near the sullen boom of guns echoed along the
     valley and at intervals, in different directions, the sky was
     flecked with the almost motionless smoke of anti-aircraft shrapnel.
     Suddenly, without any warning, for the reports of the distant
     howitzers from which they were fired could not be distinguished
     from other distant reports, three or four heavy shells fell into
     the village, sending up huge clouds of smoke and dust, which slowly
     ascended in a brownish-grey column. To this no reply was made by
     our side.

     Shortly afterwards there was a quick succession of reports from a
     point some distance up the subsidiary valley on the side opposite
     our trenches, and therefore rather on their flank. It was not
     possible either by ear or by eye to locate the guns from which
     these sounds proceeded. Almost simultaneously, as it seemed, there
     was a corresponding succession of flashes and sharp detonations in
     a line on the hill side, along what appeared to be our trenches.
     There was then a pause, and several clouds of smoke rose slowly
     and remained stationary, spaced as regularly as a line of poplars.
     Again there was a succession of reports from the German
     quick-firers on the far side of the misty valley and--like
     echoes--the detonations of high explosive; and the row of expanding
     smoke clouds was prolonged by several new ones.

     Another pause, and silence, except for the noise in the distance.
     After a few minutes there was a roar from our side of the main
     valley as our field guns opened one after another in a more
     deliberate fire upon the position of the German guns. After six
     reports there was again silence, save for the whirr of the shells
     as they sang up the small valley, and then followed the flashes and
     balls of smoke--one, two, three, four, five, six, as the shrapnel
     burst nicely over what in the haze looked like some ruined
     buildings at the edge of a wood.

     Again, after a short interval, the enemy's gunners reopened with a
     burst, still further prolonging the smoke, which was by now merged
     into one solid screen above a considerable length of trench, and
     again did our guns reply. And so the duel went on for some time.
     Ignoring our guns, the German artillerymen, probably relying on
     concealment for immunity, were concentrating all their efforts in a
     particularly forceful effort to enfilade our trenches. For them it
     must have appeared to be the chance of a lifetime, and with their
     customary prodigality of ammunition they continued to pour bouquet
     after bouquet of high-explosive _Einheitsgeschoss_, or combined
     shrapnel and common shell, on to our works. Occasionally, with a
     roar, a high-angle projectile would sail over the hill and blast a
     gap in the village.

     In the hazy valleys bathed in sunlight not a man, not a horse, not
     a gun, nor even a trench was to be seen. There were only flashes,
     smoke, and noise. Above, against the blue sky, were several round
     white clouds hanging in the track of the only two visible human
     souls--represented by a glistening speck in the air. On high also
     were to be heard the more or less gentle reports of the bursts of
     the anti-aircraft projectiles.

     Upon inquiry as to the losses sustained it was found that our men
     had dug themselves well in. In that collection of trenches were
     portions of four battalions of British soldiers--the Dorsets, the
     West Kents, the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and the King's
     Own Scottish Borderers. Over 300 projectiles were fired against
     them. The result was nine men wounded.

     On the following day 109 shells were fired at the trenches occupied
     by the West Kent Regiment alone. Four officers were buried, but dug
     out unhurt. One man was scratched.

All through the second week of the battle, from September 20 to
September 28, there was a succession of night attacks. Those delivered
on the nights of September 21 and September 23 were especially violent.
In the fierce bayonet fights--sometimes on the line of the trenches--the
British infantry never failed to prove their superiority. The losses of
the enemy were punishingly heavy, not merely in the fire-fights, but in
the pursuit when the survivors turned to fly. The object of these
tactics of bombardment throughout the day, and of infantry assaults at
night, kept up without intermission, was plainly so to wear the British
force down that in the end it must give way and be swept back to the
Aisne in rout.

For such a victory the Germans were ready to pay a very high price. They
paid it--but for defeat. What may be considered the culminating effort
was launched against the trenches held by the 1st division on the
extreme British right. The division's advanced position close under the
ridge near Craonne had all through been a thorn. On the night of
September 27 an apparently overwhelming force was flung upon it. Aided
by the play of searchlights the German masses strove with might and
main. The fight lasted for hours. To say that it was repulsed is
evidence enough. The next night the attack was repeated with, if
anything, greater violence. It was the fight of the Guards Brigade over
again, but on a greater scale. Imagine such a struggle with 50,000 men
involved; a fighting mass nearly three miles in extent; the fire of
rifles and machine guns and artillery; the gleam of clashing bayonets;
the searchlights throwing momentarily into view the fury of a _mêlée_
and then shutting it off to light up another scene of struggle.
Fortunately for the British, the columns of attack were ripped up before
the trenches could be reached. Men fell in rows, held up by the wire
entanglements and shot wholesale. This was the enemy's last great

From that time the British won forward until they gained the ridge,
seized Craonne and all the hostile positions along the Chemin des Dames.


[27] The troops of the 5th Division under Sir Charles Fergusson repulsed
with equal gallantry a furious attack against their position at Missy,
on the west side of the Chivres bluff.

[28] In the official account this singular episode is thus
recorded:--"Since the last letter left General Headquarters evidence has
been received which points to the fact that during the counter-attacks
on the night of Sunday, the 20th, the German infantry fired into each
other--the result of an attempt to carry out the dangerous expedient of
a converging advance in the dark. Opposite one portion of our position a
considerable massing of the hostile forces was observed before dark.
Some hours later a furious fusillade was heard in front of our line,
though no bullets came over our trenches."



It will have been gathered from the preceding pages that the tactics
adopted by the Germans north of the Aisne were tactics designed to wear
down the British force. No troops, it was supposed, could, even if they
survived, withstand such an experience as that of the eight days from
September 20 to September 28. Their lines pounded during all the hours
of daylight by heavy shells, and assaulted during the hours of darkness
by masses of infantry, the British force ought, upon every German
hypothesis of modern warfare, to have been either driven back, or broken
to pieces. The theory had proved unsound. To say nothing of the enormous
monetary cost of the ammunition used, the attacks had turned out
appallingly wasteful of life. The best troops of the Prussian army had
been engulfed. In this savage struggle, between 13,000 and 14,000
British soldiers had been killed or wounded. What the losses were on the
side of the Germans we do not know, for their casualties in any
particular operations have not been disclosed.

If, however, their losses were on anything like the same scale as those
at Mons and at Cambrai, the casualties must have been severe in the
extreme. That they were severe is certain. The tactics adopted on the
Aisne were not yet substantially different from the tactics followed in
the earlier battles. At this stage of the campaign, the Germans still
held to the principle that for victory hardly any price was too high.

Remembering at the same time that neither lives nor money are sacrificed
by Germany without what is considered good cause, it becomes necessary
when there are heavy sacrifices to search for the most adequate and
assignable reason. In this instance, the search need not go far. After
the first week of the battle, the enemy were not merely defending their
stronghold, they were attempting to carry out an offensive, and that
offensive had two objects. One was the scheme of operations against the
left of the Allied line. The other was the recapture of Rheims.

Consider how a defeat of the British force must have affected the
situation. On the one hand, it would have enabled the Germans to push
back the 6th French army upon Paris; on the other, it would have
compelled the French to evacuate Rheims.

Now Rheims was clearly at this time the key of the Allied position. The
roads and railways converging upon the city made it an advanced base of
the first importance. Driven out of Rheims, the Allies would have found
their communications between Noyon and Verdun hopelessly confused.
Neither reinforcements, nor munitions, nor supplies could have been
brought up save by difficult and circuitous routes. A general retreat
must have become imperative, and all the advantages arising from the
recent victory on the Marne have been lost.

Why, then, it may be asked, did the Germans not keep Rheims when they
had it? To that question there is but one answer. The Germans evacuated
Rheims because they had no choice. Possession of Rheims means command of
all the country between the Aisne and the Marne, because that possession
also means command of the communications. From Roman times the military
importance of the city has been recognised. Eight great roads converge
into it from as many points of the compass. These are military roads,
made originally by the Romans, and mostly straight as arrows. They are
now supplemented, but in time of war not superseded, by the railways.

The occupation of Rheims by the Germans, and their forced evacuation of
the place twelve days later, are two of the most notable episodes of the
campaign. If there was one position where it might have been expected
the French would make a stand between Belgium and Paris, it was
assuredly here. The Germans looked for that opposition. The city was
plainly too valuable a prize, and too important a military possession
to be yielded without a struggle. Yet when the invaders came within
sight of it, there were no signs of resistance. As they debouched from
the highlands the splendid picture which spread before their eyes to the
south-west was touched with a strange peace. Framed in its theatre of
wooded hills, and dominated by the twin towers of its peerless
cathedral, the lordly city, a seat of civilisation and the arts when
ancient Germany was still a wilderness, seemed far removed from the
scene of war. No cannon boomed from any of its surrounding forts; no
trenches were anywhere visible; no troops could be seen along the
distant roads. German officers swept the landscape with their field
glasses. They found a military blank. Naturally, they suspected a ruse.
Volunteers were called for, and a band of eighteen valiants enrolled
themselves. The eighteen rode into the city. They were not molested. At
the same time, another band crept cautiously up to the nearest of the
outlying forts. They entered it without challenge. It was empty. Both
bands came back to headquarters with the same surprising report. The
French troops had fled to the last man. What better proof could there be
of total demoralisation?

Now, there was a ruse, and if anything could illustrate the combined
boldness and depth of the French strategy it was this. Let us see what
the ruse was. To begin with, Rheims was supposed to be a fortress, but
the forts, situated on the surrounding hills, and constructed after the
war of 1870-71, were mere earthworks. They were not adapted to withstand
modern artillery. It was part of the French plan that they should not be
adapted. On the contrary, just before the German advance, the forts had
been dismantled and abandoned. That measure had been postponed to the
last moment, and though the invaders had their spies at Rheims, as
elsewhere, they remained unaware of it.

Clearly the effect of the abandonment was a belief that the French were
already, to all intents, beaten. In the Berlin papers there appeared
glowing accounts of the triumph. Conversely, at all events in England
among those who did not know, the French evacuation came as a shock.
This was all part of the foreseen result. It not only heightened the
confidence of the German armies, but it had no small influence on that
fatal change of plan on their part which we may now say was decided upon
at this very time. General Joffre purposely misled the enemy, both as to
the power at his command, and as to his disposition of that power.

Thus it was that the Germans, unopposed, made their triumphal entry.
They swept through the famous Gate of Mars, the triumphal arch built by
the then townsmen of Rheims in honour of Julius Cæsar and Augustus and
to mark the completion of the scheme of military roads by Agrippa. They
parked their cannon along the noble Public Promenade which stretches
beyond this great monument. In the square before the Cathedral, about
which at that time German war correspondents went into ecstasies of
admiration, the statue of Joan of Arc was ringed by stacks of German
lances. Ranks of men in _pickelhauben_, headed by bands playing
"Deutschland über Alles," were in movement along the great Boulevard
Victor Hugo. The very name now seemed a mockery. Rheims appeared
helpless. Taking possession of the town hall, the invaders seized the
Mayor, Dr. Langlet, and compelled him to remain up all through the
succeeding night issuing the orders which they dictated at the muzzle of
a revolver.[29] Nearly one hundred of the leading citizens found
themselves placed under arrest as hostages. This was alleged to be a
guarantee for the preservation of order. As a fact, it was intended to
assist collection, both of the heavy "fine" imposed on the city, and of
the extortionate requisitions demanded in kind. With the stocks of
champagne contained in the labyrinth of vast cellars hollowed out
beneath Rheims in the chalk rock, the German officers made themselves
unrestrainedly free. The occupation degenerated into an orgie. Much wine
that could not be consumed was, on the advance being resumed, taken to
the front, loaded on ambulance wagons.[30] It is alleged that nearly
2,000,000 bottles of wine were either consumed, plundered, or wasted.

Every house, too, had its complement of soldiers billeted on the
occupants. When they marched south to the Marne, the Germans had been
refreshed with unwonted good cheer and by rest in comfortable beds.

But three days later there began to come in, both by road and by
railway, convoys of wounded, and these swelled in number day by day,
until every hotel and many houses had been filled with human wrecks of
battle. The Cathedral, its floor strewn with straw, was turned into a
great hospital. All this, however, was but a presage. Rarely has there
been in so brief a time a contrast more startling than that between the
outward march of the German troops and their return.

Just ten days had gone by when Rheims witnessed the influx of haggard,
hungry, and dog-tired men; many bare-headed or bootless; not a few
wearing uniforms which were in rags; numbers injured. The bands had
ceased to play. Instead of the steady march and the imperious word of
command, there was the tramp of a sullen, beaten, and battered army; a
tramp mingled with shouts and curses of exasperation; and the rumble of
guns dragged by exhausted horses, mercilessly lashed in order to get the
last ounce of pace out of them. All day, on September 12, the tide of
defeat rolled into Rheims from the south, and surged out of it by the
north; but above the clash and confusion was borne the boom of cannon,
growing steadily louder and nearer.

Knowing that the population of Rheims had been driven to exasperation,
the Germans feared they might be entrapped in the city by street
fighting. An evidence of their panic is found in the proclamation which,
on the morning of September 12, they compelled the Mayor to issue. The
document speaks for itself. It ran:--

     In the event of an action being fought either to-day or in the
     immediate future in the neighbourhood of Rheims, or in the city
     itself, the inhabitants are warned that they must remain absolutely
     calm and must in no way try to take part in the fighting. They must
     not attempt to attack either isolated soldiers or detachments of
     the German army. The erection of barricades, the taking up of
     paving stones in the streets in a way to hinder the movements of
     troops, or, in a word, any action that may embarrass the German
     army, is formally forbidden.

     With a view to securing adequately the safety of the troops and to
     instil calm into the population of Rheims, the persons named below
     have been seized as hostages by the Commander-in-Chief of the
     German Army. These hostages will be hanged at the slightest attempt
     at disorder. Also, the city will be totally or partly burnt and
     the inhabitants will be hanged for any infraction of the above.

     By order of the German Authorities.

     THE MAYOR (Dr. Langlet).

     Rheims, Sept. 12, 1914.

Then followed the names of 81 of the principal inhabitants, with their
addresses, including four priests, the list ending with the words, "and
some others."

There was good reason for this German panic. These troops of the army of
von Bülow had been completely defeated. Of that no better evidence can
be offered than a letter found on a soldier of the 74th German Regiment
of infantry, part of the 10th army corps. The letter is of vivid human

     MY DEAR WIFE,--I have just been living through days that defy
     imagination. I should never have thought that men could stand it.
     Not a second has passed but my life has been in danger, and yet not
     a hair of my head has been hurt. It was horrible, it was ghastly.
     But I have been saved for you and for our happiness, and I take
     heart again, although I am still terribly unnerved. God grant that
     I may see you again soon, and that this horror may soon be over.
     None of us can do any more; human strength is at an end.

     I will try to tell you about it.

     On Sept. 5 the enemy were reported to be taking up a position near
     St. Prix (north-east of Paris). The 10th corps, which had made an
     astonishingly rapid advance, of course attacked on the Sunday.

     Steep slopes led up to heights which were held in considerable
     force. With our weak detachments of the 74th and 91st Regiments we
     reached the crest and came under a terrible artillery fire that
     mowed us down. However, we entered St. Prix. Hardly had we done so
     than we were met with shell fire and a violent fusillade from the
     enemy's infantry. Our colonel was badly wounded--he is the third we
     have had. Fourteen men were killed round me.... We got away in a
     lull without being hit.

     The 7th, 8th, and 9th of Sept, we were constantly under shell and
     shrapnel fire, and suffered terrible losses. I was in a house which
     was hit several times. The fear of a death of agony which is in
     every man's heart, and naturally so, is a terrible feeling.

     How often I thought of you, my darling, and what I suffered in that
     terrifying battle, which extended along a front of many miles near
     Montmirail, you cannot possibly imagine. Our heavy artillery was
     being used for the siege of Maubeuge; we wanted it badly, as the
     enemy had theirs in force, and kept up a furious bombardment. For
     four days I was under artillery fire; it is like hell, but a
     thousand times worse.

     On the night of the 9th the order was given to retreat, as it would
     have been madness to attempt to hold our position with our few men,
     and we should have risked a terrible defeat the next day. The first
     and third armies had not been able to attack with us, as we had
     advanced too rapidly. Our _moral_ was absolutely broken.

     In spite of unheard-of sacrifices we had achieved nothing. I cannot
     understand how our army, after fighting three great battles and
     being terribly weakened, was sent against a position which the
     enemy had prepared for three weeks, but naturally I know nothing
     of the intentions of our chiefs.... They say nothing has been lost.
     In a word, we retired towards Cormontreuil and Rheims by forced
     marches by day and night.

     We hear that three armies are going to get into line, entrench,
     rest, and then start afresh our victorious march on Paris. It was
     not a defeat, but only a strategic retreat. I have confidence in
     our chiefs that everything will be successful. Our first battalion,
     which has fought with unparalleled bravery, is reduced from 1,200
     to 194 men. These numbers speak for themselves....

If the defeat had been complete, the pursuit had been relentless. The
5th French army had excelled itself. It comprised the Algerian army
corps, and had been reinforced by the Moroccan and Senegalese regiments.
Not only along the main roads, but along all the by-roads, and in and
among the vineyards and woods, there had been ceaseless fighting. If one
side is reflected by the letter of the dead German soldier, that
revelation is completed by the Order issued to his troops by General
Desperey when they had broken the enemy at Montmirail on September 9.

     Soldiers,--Upon the memorable fields of Montmirail, of Vauchamps,
     and of Champaubert, which a century ago witnessed the victories of
     our ancestors over Blücher's Prussians, your vigorous offensive has
     triumphed over the resistance of the Germans.

     Held on his flanks, his centre broken, the enemy is now retreating
     towards east and north by forced marches. The most renowned army
     corps of Old Prussia, the contingents of Westphalia, of Hanover, of
     Brandenburg, have retired in haste before you.

     This first success is no more than a prelude. The enemy is shaken,
     but not yet decisively beaten.

     You have still to undergo severe hardships, to make long marches,
     to fight hard battles.

     May the image of our country, soiled by barbarians, always remain
     before your eyes. Never was it more necessary to sacrifice all for

     Saluting the heroes who have fallen in the fighting of the last few
     days, my thoughts turn towards you--the victors in the next battle.

     Forward, soldiers, for France!

Forward for France they had gone. Thus it was that, shut in their houses
throughout the night of September 12, the people of Rheims heard above
the uproar of the German retreat the always swelling thunder of the
French guns. When morning broke the only German military still left in
Rheims were the abandoned wounded, and the main streets echoed to the
welcome tread of the war-worn but triumphant defenders of the

Through the transverse gap from Rheims to Berry-au-Bac on the Aisne
there is one of those wonderful old Roman roads, now a great modern
highway. The road runs nearly straight as a ruler north-west to Laon.
The first step taken by General Desperey was to secure this road, as
well as the railway which on the western side of the gap winds curiously
in and out along the foot of the hills. From Berry-au-Bac north of the
Aisne the French lent most material aid to the British attack upon
Craonne. South-east of Rheims they were occupied in securing the railway
to Chalons, which for some twenty miles runs through the valley of the
Vesle. Above Rheims this valley, in character not unlike the valley of
the Aisne, but wilder, may be compared to a great crack in the plateau
of the highlands. On each side are chalk cliffs, and side valleys of
gravel soil covered with woods. Between the cliffs the river winds
through flat meadows. Towards Rheims the valley opens out into that
theatre of wooded hills in the midst of which the city is situated.

The operations of this part of the great battle resolved themselves
partly into a struggle for the transverse gap; next into a gigantic
combat waged from opposite sides of the theatre of hills; and lastly,
into a fight for command of the upper valley of the Vesle.

Sheltered among the caves and quarries on the north-east side of the gap
and of the theatre of hills, the Germans had contrived a scheme of
defence works not less elaborate than those along the ridge north of the
Aisne, and these defence works extended round the theatre of hills to
the outlet from the narrow part of the Vesle valley, blockading both the
main military road from Rheims to Chalons, and also the railway.

At the outset their reduced strength limited them to merely defensive
tactics, and, as on the north of the Aisne, they steadily, and day by
day, lost ground. But they then began steadily and day by day to receive
reinforcements, both of men and of heavy artillery. The reinforcements
of men included a reconstitution of the Prussian Guard drawn from its
reserves at Berlin.

Before the end of September an immense body of additional troops had
arrived at this part of the front. On the side of the French, also,
strong reserves were hurried forward.

It will assist to understand the description of the operations to state
first their plan and purpose both on the one side and the other, since
this formed strategically the critical section of the battle.

At Condé-sur-Aisne, it will be recalled, the Germans held a position
right on the river, and that position formed a wedge or salient jutting
into the British lines east and west of it.

The fact is recalled here because it illustrates what in this campaign
has proved a well-marked feature of German strategy. It has been proved,
that is to say, that whenever the Germans found it necessary to resist
very heavy pressure they seized some point capable of obstinate defence,
and, even if pushed back to right and left, kept their grip as long as
possible, using the position as a general hold-up along that section of
the front.

Thus their grip on Condé and the Chivres bluff was essential to their
retention of the Aisne ridge.

They had a similar position at Prunay on the railway between Rheims and
Chalons. The village of Prunay is at the point where the theatre of
hills narrows into the upper valley of the Vesle. The position jutted
out like an angle from the German line, and it commanded the valley.

Figuratively taking these positions of Condé-sur-Aisne on the one side
and Prunay on the other, we may imagine the German army like a man
clinging to a couple of posts or railings and so defying the effort to
move him.

That is the aspect of the matter so far as defensive tactics go. For
offensive tactics grip on such positions is obviously a great aid to
pressure on a hostile line lying between them. A military salient serves
exactly the same purpose as a wedge. It is a device for splitting the
opposition. Here, then, were two wedges in the Allied front, and the
object was manifestly to break off the part of the front intervening. On
that part of the front with Rheims as its main advanced base the Allied
line, all the way round from beyond Noyon to Verdun, structurally

Such was the German scheme. But the Allies on their part had a wedge or
salient driven into the German front at Craonne, and as they were there
two-thirds of the way along the road from Rheims to Laon, the main
advanced base and communication centre of the German line, that salient
was extremely awkward. They were intent, on their part, in hammering in
their wedge, because it meant a collapse of the whole German right
flank from the Aisne ridge to the Belgian frontier.

It is not difficult, therefore, to understand the fury of the resulting
struggle. The best troops on both sides were engaged. In point of
magnitude the fighting round Rheims was hardly less than the fighting
which occurred later round Ypres.

The struggle in its acute phase lasted for fifteen days and nights
without the slightest pause or intermission. In the tracks of the German
retreat from the Marne great gaps among the vineyards, where rose mounds
of earth, marked the common graves of the slain. Along the boundaries of
woods appeared the blackened sites of the hecatombs. Nevertheless, many
of the fallen still lay in the woods or among the vines, unburied and
infecting the air. Through this country and these scenes marched the
reinforcements of the 5th French army. In the opposite direction flowed
a ceaseless stream of civilian fugitives--poor people carrying their few
personal belongings strapped on their backs, or pushing them along in
wheelbarrows; women carrying children in their arms, and with other
children trailing at their skirts; a procession on foot and in vehicles
of every sort.

Against Rheims the Germans employed much of the artillery and material
and apparatus they had intended for the siege of Paris. On the eastern
side of the theatre of hills behind the advanced island mass where stand
the villages of Berru and Nogent l'Abbesse, they had mounted their huge
mortars. From these positions and from others to the north-east they
threw into Rheims an incessant crash of monster shells. Viewed from any
of the villages of its circumference, this theatre of hills ten miles
across presented during these days a spectacle at once grandiose and
awful. The battle spread out round and below like a panorama of fire.
Out of advanced positions among the woods on the south-west, across by
Rheims, and to the north, hundreds of the French field guns searched the
German positions with their terrible high explosive shells. At brief
regular intervals amid the angry roar arose a deep resounding boom--the
note of the enemy's great howitzers. The earth shook beneath the
salvoes, for the French had also massed here their heaviest artillery.
Amid the flash of bursting shells appeared here a village, there a mill
a mass of flames, with the smoke drifting above it in a dense cloud. The
roar was that of hurricane and earthquake rolled into one. And the
uproar went on without ceasing through all the hours of daylight, and
far into the night.

Furious and destructive as it was, however, the artillery duel was not
the deadliest part. The great slaughter occurred when the armies came to
grips. The Germans launched an attack upon Rheims from the north and an
attack at the same time from the south-east. Of the first attack the
immediate objective was the suburb of La Neuvillette. That place is on
the great road from Rheims to Berry-au-Bac, and if it could be seized
the French positions along the transverse gap would be endangered, and
their position at Craonne made untenable. The immediate objective of the
second attack was the fort of La Pompelle, commanding the great road to
Chalons. To the French both communications were vital.

In the attack upon La Neuvillette the troops employed were the re-formed
Prussian Guard. Over 40,000 strong, men for the most part in the prime
of life, and men who, though reservists, had received the highest
military training, they formed probably as formidable a body of troops
as any in Europe. Against them were pitted the finest of French regular
infantry, including a division 20,000 strong of the Zouaves. Both sides
fought with the fury of mutual hate. It was a contest in which race
passion had been stirred to its depths. The Guard advanced south along
the great road from Neuchatel; descended into the transverse gap; and
crossed the Aisne and Marne canal at Loivre. They braved the deadly hail
of the French 75-millimetre guns, than which there is nothing more
deadly; they fought through the gap against charges of the Zouaves in
which there was no quarter; they reached St. Thierry; they reached,
after fourteen hours' continuous fighting, La Neuvillette itself--that
is to say, a remnant reached it. It was a splendid feat of courage; for
more than half the force had fallen. At Neuvillette, however, they were
overpowered. The French troops who held that place could not be
dislodged. The scenes in the streets were terrible. Meanwhile, the
French had shattered the succeeding and supporting German columns, and
had closed in on the rear. The Guards, finding themselves entrapped, had
to cut their way out. How many again reached the German lines we do not
know. It must have been very few.

At Fort La Pompelle the garrison heroically held out against a vastly
superior force. The fort was stormed. Then it was retaken by the French.
The order to the officer commanding was, "Fight to the last man." He
fought. When the position became desperate he appealed for
reinforcements. As he was sending off the message he was killed by a
shell. The command devolved upon a sergeant. Relief came while the
survivors of the garrison were still resisting.

To throw the relief into La Pompelle it was necessary to attack the
tiers of trenches cut by the Germans along the hills as far as Prunay.
The French had to cross the Aisne and Oise canal, which after passing
through Rheims is joined up with the Vesle. This, in face of the German
infantry fire and in face of well-concealed batteries of guns, was a
desperate business. It was done not only through the dauntless courage
of the French foot, but by the terrible effect of their artillery. The
Germans, notwithstanding, advanced from their trenches to dispute the
passage. There was a hand-to-hand battle in the canal itself--a battle
to the death. The French won over; they carried the first line of German
trenches; supports, regiment after regiment, were thrown across; they
carried the second line; then the third; at each it was bayonet work,
thrust and parry.

But the Germans still clung to Prunay. That place was the real centre of
this part of the struggle. The village lies between the Rheims-Chalons
railway line and the Vesle. Out of the place the enemy had to be
cleared, cost what it might. It was one of those episodes in which an
army puts forth its whole strength of nerve. From the wooded heights
above the valley a massing of German batteries sought to wither the
attack. A massing of French batteries on the nearer side strove to put
the German guns out of action. The duel was gigantic. Reports of the
guns became no longer distinguishable. They were merged into what seemed
one continued solid and unbroken explosion. The French infantry advanced
to the assault. Their losses were heavy. Prunay was set alight by
shells. Still the attack was pressed. Then the ring of fire round the
distant woods which marked the line of German batteries became ragged,
and died down. The French guns had proved their superiority. At the
point of the bayonet the Germans were driven out of Prunay and across
the railway. Here they made a last stand. It was in vain. French gunners
were now racing their pieces forward and opening in new positions;
German batteries, on the other hand, were seen limbering up and in
flight. At last, as night fell, the Germans broke in rout along the road
to Beine. Prunay they had lost for good.

These were leading but only typical episodes of those fifteen days. The
fighting went on, too, through the night. As daylight faded, masses of
Algerian and Moroccan troops, held in reserve, crept forward, and
gathered stealthily in chalk-pits or among the woods. They moved with an
almost catlike tread. In these secret rendezvous they waited until the
dead of night. Then in file after file, thousands of them, they stole
up, invisible, to the German trenches; and in the first faint shimmer of
dawn launched themselves with a savage yell upon the foe. There was
terrible work among those hills.

Do these episodes throw no light on the damage done to Rheims Cathedral?
Here round Rheims and north of the Aisne had been the mightiest effort
the German armies had yet made. Here was concentrated the full force of
their most disciplined and most valiant troops. Those troops had been
sacrificed and with no result. Many storms of war had passed by the
cathedral at Rheims since it was completed in 1231, and from the time
when nearly a hundred more years of patient labour had put the last
touches on its marvellous sculptures, and it had stood forth a thing of
wonder and of beauty, no hand of violence had been laid on its
consecrated stones. At the news that Prussian cannon had been turned
upon it to destroy it, and had reduced it to a burned-out skeleton, from
which Prussian wounded had to be carried out lest they should be roasted
alive, the whole civilised world gasped.

Mr. E. Ashmead-Bartlett, who visited the cathedral while the
bombardment was going on, sent to the _Daily Telegraph_ a remarkable
account of his experiences.

"Round the cathedral," he wrote, "hardly a house had escaped damage, and
even before we reached the open square in which it stands it became
evident that the Germans had concentrated their fire on the building.
The pavement of the square had been torn up by the bursting of these
6-in. shells and was covered with fragments of steel, cracked masonry,
glass, and loose stones. In front of the façade of the cathedral stands
the well-known statue of Jeanne d'Arc. Someone had placed a Tricolour in
her outstretched arm. The great shells had burst all round her, leaving
the Maid of Orleans and her flag unscathed, but her horse's belly and
legs were chipped and seared with fragments of flying steel.

"At the first view the exterior of the cathedral did not appear to have
suffered much damage, although the masonry was chipped and scarred white
by countless shrapnel bullets or pieces of steel, and many of the carved
figures and gargoyles on the western façade were broken and chipped.

"We found no one in the square; in fact, this part of the town appeared
to be deserted, but as we approached the main entrance to try to obtain
admittance a curious sight met our eyes. We saw the recumbent figure of
a man lying against the door. He had long since lost both his legs,
which had been replaced by wooden stumps. He lay covered with dust,
small stones, and broken glass, which had been thrown over him by
bursting shells, but by some chance his remaining limbs had escaped all
injury. This old veteran of the war of 1870, as he described himself,
has accosted all and sundry at the gate of the cathedral for generations
past, and even in the midst of the bombardment he had crawled once more
to his accustomed post. As we knocked on the great wooden door, from
this shapeless and filthy wreck of what had once been a man there came
the feeble cry: '_Monsieur, un petit sou. Monsieur, un petit sou._'

"Our knock was answered by a priest, who, on seeing that we were
English, at once allowed us to enter. The father then told us, in
language that was not altogether priestly, when speaking of the vandals
whose guns were still thundering outside, of how the Germans had
bombarded the cathedral for two hours that morning, landing over fifty
shells in its immediate neighbourhood, but, luckily, the range being
very great, over eight kilometres, the solid stonework of the building
had resisted the successive shocks of these six-inch howitzers, and how
it was that ancient and priceless glass which had suffered the most.[31]

"'Monsieur, they respect nothing. We placed 125 of them inside and
hoisted the red cross on the spire in order to protect the cathedral,
and yet they fire at it all the same, and have killed their own
soldiers. Pray, monsieur, make these facts known all over Europe and

"With these words he unlocked a wicket and conducted us toward the
altar, close to which stands a small painted statue of Jeanne d'Arc. The
east end of Notre Dame had up to this period suffered but little, and
although some of the windows were damaged they were not lost beyond
repair. The light still shone through in rays of dark blue and red,
broken here and there by streaks of pure light.

"Then our guide conducted us to the great cold stone body of the
cathedral, where the Gothic pillars rise in sombre majesty, relieved by
no ornamentation[32] until they hold aloft the blue masterpieces of the
unknown artist. Here one of the strangest of spectacles met the eye. The
whole of this vast vault was covered with dust half an inch thick, with
chipped-off masonry, pieces of lead piping from the shattered windows,
and with countless fragments of varied coloured glass. In the centre lay
an ancient candelabrum which had hung for centuries from the roof
suspended by a steel chain. That morning a fragment of shell had cut the
chain in half and dropped its ancient burden to the hard stone floor
beneath, where it lay bent and crumpled.

"A great wave of sunshine lit up a sombre picture of carnage and
suffering at the western end near the main entrance. Here on piles of
straw lay the wounded Germans in all stages of suffering--their round
shaven heads, thin cheeks, and bluish-grey uniforms contrasting
strangely with the sombre black of the silent priests attending them,
while in the background the red trousers of the French soldiers were
just visible on the steps outside. Most of the wounded had dragged their
straw behind the great Gothic pillars as if seeking shelter from their
own shells. The priest conducted us to one of the aisles beneath the
window where the shell had entered that morning. A great pool of blood
lay there, staining the column just as the blood of Thomas à Becket must
have stained the altar of Canterbury seven centuries before.

"'That, Monsieur, is the blood of the French gendarme who was killed at
eleven this morning, but he did not go alone.' The priest pointed to two
more recumbent figures clad in the bluish-grey of the Kaiser's legions.
There they lay stiff and cold as the effigies around them. All three had
perished by the same shell. Civilian doctors of Rheims moved amongst the
wounded, who for the most part maintained an attitude of stoical
indifference to everything around them. We moved around collecting
fragments of the precious glass which the Kaiser had so unexpectedly
thrown within our reach. We were brought back to realities by hearing
the unmistakable whistle of an approaching shell, followed by a
deafening explosion, and more fragments of glass came tumbling from
aloft. The weary war-worn Teutons instinctively huddled closer to the
Gothic arches. A dying officer, his eyes already fixed in a glassy stare
on the sunlight above, gave an involuntary groan. We heard outside the
crash of falling masonry. The shell was followed by another, and more
breaking glass. Our chauffeur came hastening in with the Virgin's broken
arm in his hands. A fragment of shell had broken it off outside. We
lingered long gazing at this strange scene.

"Outside the guns were thundering all round Rheims."

It was after this that the cathedral was set on fire by the shells.


[29] This incident was narrated by the special correspondent of the
_Berliner Tageblatt_.

[30] Letters from the front published in the Berlin newspapers leave no
doubt on this point. One such account described how a French shell in
the Battle of the Marne wrecked an ambulance wagon loaded with bottles
of wine--an instance of French contempt for civilised warfare!

In 1870-71 the Germans impoverished Rheims by heavy requisitions.

[31] The windows of Rheims Cathedral were filled with stained Venetian
glass dating from the 12th century and impossible to replace.

[32] The interior of Rheims Cathedral was furnished with sixty-six large
pieces of priceless old tapestry, representing scenes in the life of
Christ, the story of the Virgin, and scenes from the life of St. Paul,
the latter after designs by Raphael. These tapestries had been removed
to a place of safety.



Had the fighting round Rheims and the fighting north of the Aisne no
result? Were these combats, vast as they were, merely drawn combats? By
no means. North of the Aisne the British gained the eastern end of the
ridge; round Rheims the French won all the eastern side of the theatre
of hills, with the exception of Nogent l'Abbesse, and also the eastern
side of the transverse gap. Those results were both decisive and

They were decisive and important because they achieved strategical
purposes vital to the Allied campaign. Let us try to make that clear.

When after the defeat on the Marne the Germans took up their new line
from the north of the Aisne to the Argonne, their utmost energy and
resource were put forth to send into the fighting line from Germany
fresh reserve formations which would give their forces not only a
numerical but a military superiority.

But the effect and value of those fresh masses clearly depended on
their being employed at the decisive points. Where were those decisive

The decisive points were first the extreme left of the Allied line,
where it turned round from the north of the Aisne to the Oise, and
secondly Verdun and along the eastern frontier.

Consider the effect had the Germans been able promptly to throw
_decisively_ superior forces against the Allies at those points. They
would have turned both flanks of the Allied line, they would have forced
a general retreat, and they would have been able once more to resume the
offensive, but this time probably with the fortified frontier in their

There can be no doubt that, broadly, that was their intention; and it
was plainly seen by General Joffre to be their intention, because
eastward from Rheims to the Argonne in their fortified line across the
highlands _the Germans remained from first to last upon the defensive_.

This, however, was the situation the Germans had to meet: between the
Aisne and the Oise a new and powerful French army under the command of
General de Castlenau; on the Aisne and round Rheims, a tremendous and
sustained onset by the 6th French, the British, and the 5th French army;
between Rheims and the Argonne, an offensive which pushed them
successively out of Suippes, and Souain, and therefore off the great
cross-roads; in the Argonne, an offensive which forced them back from
St. Menehould and beyond Varennes, and closed the defiles; round
Verdun, and in the Woeuvre, an onset which threatened to cut
communications with Metz.

Now the effect of these operations was, among other things, to restrict
the German means of movement and supply; and it was a consequence of
that restriction that even though there might be two or more millions of
men then ready in Germany to be sent forward, there were neither roads
nor railways enough to send them forward save after delay, nor roads or
railways enough to keep them supplied when they had been sent.

With the means at their disposal--those means were still great, though
not great enough--the German Government had to choose between various
alternatives. As to the choice they made, later events leave no doubt.
They sent forward troops enough to _defend_ their flank between the
Aisne and the Oise--it was all at the moment they could do; and they
employed the best and heaviest of their masses of reserves partly to
resist the British attack, but mainly to resist the 5th French army. At
this time they had to let the position in the Argonne, round Verdun, and
on the eastern frontier go; that is to say, they had there to remain for
the time being on the defensive.

The fighting north of the Aisne and round Rheims therefore crippled
their operations at what were, in truth, the decisive points--the Allied
flanks; and that was unavoidable, because unless the centre of their
line remained secure, operations on the flanks would be impracticable.

But these operations in the centre _used up their best troops_.

Conversely, of course, the same operations left General Joffre the more
free both to pursue his envelopment of the Germans on their flank
northwards from the Aisne towards the Belgian frontier, and to go on
with his seizures of positions round Verdun and on the eastern frontier,
seizures which pressed upon and embarrassed the German communications,
and consequently limited the total strength they could put into the

It will be seen, therefore, that the fighting north of the Aisne and
round Rheims _was_ important and _was_ decisive.

The fact must not be lost sight of that the aim of the Germans was at
this time, if they could, to re-seize the initiative. Again the fact
ought to be kept in mind that the aim of the Allied strategy was not to
drive the German armies from France, but both to prevent them from
getting out of France and to destroy them as a military force. If we
know the governing motive on each side, we hold the key to the strategy
adopted. Here the governing motive of neither was a secret.

To show the effect of governing motive, let us in the first instance
follow the course of German strategy. We shall find that from the middle
of September, during the succeeding nine weeks--that is, until about
November 20--they made six great efforts, any one of which, had it
succeeded, would once more have given them the initiative in this
western campaign. The first was the effort to break the Allied line at

Foiled in their outflanking scheme by the inherent difficulties of the
situation, but not less by the powerful Allied attack north of the Aisne
and round Rheims, there can be no question that the German Headquarters
Staff decided that their best, most direct, and most decisive stroke
would be a counter-offensive made against Rheims with their utmost
force, and as the situation stood at the end of September, there can be
no question that they were right.

Had the effort succeeded both parts of the Allies' line must have been
forced into retreat and their communications severed. This success must
have changed the entire aspect of the western operations. For the Allies
it would have been a disaster of the first magnitude. If in this effort
the Germans sacrificed their best troops, it affords only another
illustration of the statement that they do not make such sacrifices
without what they consider good cause.

But the effort failed, and the German Headquarters Staff, at any rate,
must have realised that the failure and the cost of it had imperilled
the whole position of their armies in France. Matters of this kind have
not to be judged only by ground lost or won. The success or failure to
achieve objectives is the true test.

Meanwhile heavy forces of the Allies had been massed against the German
right flank. The next effort of the Germans consequently was to push
back those forces. They met the outflanking movement in the way such
movements can best be met--by trying to outflank the outflankers.

At this time the Allied forces on the flank extended from near Noyon on
the Oise northward to the Somme. The Germans promptly pushed westward in
force north of the Somme and across the outside edge of the Allied line
to the town of Albert and the heights commanding it.

With notable promptitude, however, the Allied line was extended across
the Somme to the north, and by the west of Arras, and the German
movement was held. Gradually, after days of obstinate fighting, the
enemy were battled out of Albert and then out of Arras; and the Allied
outflanking line was stretched up to Bethune and La Bassée.

Night and day, day and night, by railway, by motor-omnibus, on
motor-cars,[33] French troops during three whole weeks were rushed up
from the south and west of France. This movement towards the fighting
line had begun with the pursuit after the Battle of the Marne. It never
ceased. First the army of General de Castlenau appeared on the front.
Next came the army of General de Maudhuy. Territorials and marines from
the fleet were hurried into the service; divisions of cavalry spaced out
the line, and defended communications. In Germany as in France no
effort was spared. The issue was momentous. During these first weeks of
October the German Government put forth its supreme effort to stem and
to turn the adverse tide of war. Hitherto they had found their measures
baffled. Two new and powerful French armies had fastened on to the flank
of their position. Their own forces had come up just too late. The peril
was menacing and it was growing. They redoubled their energies.

Their decision was another supreme effort to outflank the outflankers.
With fresh masses of Reservists, sent westward at all possible speed,
they pushed behind a heavy screen of cavalry across the Aa and across
the Lys at Estaires and threatened the rear of the French troops holding

It is probably not realised that this was strategically the most
important offensive movement the Germans had made in the western theatre
of war since their advance upon Paris.

Yet that undoubtedly was the fact. Had the movement succeeded it must
not only have given them control of the north-east coast of France as
far probably as Havre, but it must have rolled up the Allied line as far
as Noyon. The whole original scheme of turning the Allies' left flank
would have been within realisation.

The movement did not succeed. It was met by a counter-move probably as
unexpected by the Germans as it was bold. The counter-move was the
transfer of the British army from the Aisne.

Recognising the decisive character of these operations, General Joffre
had entrusted the control of affairs on this part of the front to
General Foch, not only one of the ablest among the able soldiers whom
this war has shown the French Army to possess, but one of the most
brilliant authorities on the science of modern military tactics. As he
had met the situation magnificently at Sezanne, so now he met it with
equal resource under circumstances hardly less critical.

There were now three French armies on the German flank, and they fought
as they were led with a skill equal to their valour. Yet the necessity
remained for a great counter-stroke. In view of that necessity the idea
occurred to Sir John French to transfer the British army, a proposal to
which General Joffre at once agreed.

It is beyond the scope of this volume to enter into details of the new
great battle which, beginning with the arrival of the British troops,
culminated in the heroic defence of Ypres. Justice could not be done to
that great and memorable feat of arms in a brief summary.

Suffice it to say that here, on the great coalfield of northern France,
in a labyrinth of railway sidings and canals, villages and lanes, pit
heaps, and factories, the British troops, helped by the French cavalry,
after furious fighting, drove back the Germans from the Aa and the Lys
and took up a line continuing the outflanking positions from La Bassée
to Ypres in Belgium.

A third effort of the Germans to outflank the outflanking line was
directed across the Yser. This was the last attempt of the kind that
could be made. Its success was consequently vital, and its failure
equally disastrous. Again it illustrates the fact that the Germans
sacrifice neither money nor lives without good cause. The fighting on
the Yser was as deadly for the enemy as the fighting round Rheims.

Coincidently, however, with these movements were others of a different
kind. The official _communiqués_, covering the two kinds of movements as
the evidences of them appeared day by day, have naturally led to a
certain amount of mystification--not intentional, but inevitable from
the brevity and caution of these statements and the fact that they cover
separately only the operations of a few hours.

The movements of a different kind were those designed at one point or
another to drive a wedge or salient into the Allied front.

In the operations on the German flank between the Aisne and the Belgian
coast there have been two main efforts of that character. The first was
the attempt to split the Allied front at Roye and at Arras, and to break
up the line between those places; the second was the effort on an even
larger scale, and pursued with still greater determination, to split the
front at La Bassée and at Ypres, and to break up the line intervening.

It is no mere accident that this latter attempt followed immediately on
the failure to cross the Yser. _The attempt arose out of the necessity
of the situation._

On the Upper Meuse, by another great effort, the Germans had driven a
wedge into the French fortified frontier at St. Mihiel, and that wedge
appeared to some the prelude of a mysterious scheme. In fact, the
intention and the effect of it was to hold off the French advance along
the frontier of Lorraine and across the Vosges. Again it is the case of
a desperate man clinging to a railing.

We have, therefore, three great efforts to break the Allied front by
their wedge tactics, and three to outflank the Allied outflanking
development. None of these efforts succeeded.

What was the consequence? The consequence was that the German armies in
France and Belgium could neither advance nor retreat. They could not
advance because they are not strong enough. They could not retreat,
because retreat would mean their destruction.

The retreat of any army--and most of all the retreat of a huge mass
army--is not a simple matter. On the contrary, it is a most difficult
and complex operation in the most favourable circumstances. Here,
however, was not one mass army, but a line of mass armies, occupying a
front forming a right angle, and opposed on each arm of that right angle
by forces which had proved stronger than they. So situated, they could
only retreat with any chance of safety by falling directly back; but
either arm of the angle if it fell directly back must obstruct the
retreat of the other; and if they fell directly back each at the same
time, their movements must become exactly like those of the blades of a
pair of scissors as they are being closed. _A retreat under such
conditions is a military impossibility._

Not a few fantastic motives have been attributed to the Germans, more
particularly as regards the terrible struggle in West Flanders, but the
plain truth of the matter is that here stated.

Now if we turn to the strategy of the Allies, bearing their governing
motive in mind, we shall find that it rested primarily on the attack
launched against the German positions north of the Aisne and round

That attack wrecked the German scheme for resuming the offensive, and
was the most effective means of assuring that end. It is impossible
indeed not to recognise that the feat which reduced a force like the
German armies to immobility is a masterpiece of strategy wholly without
parallel in the annals of war. Whether we look at the breadth and
boldness of its conception, at the patience and command of organisation
with which it was carried out, at the grasp it displayed of the real
conditions governing the operations of modern mass armies, or at the
clear purpose and unswerving resolution with which it was followed, the
plan equally calls forth surprise and admiration.

From the military standpoint, victory or defeat is the answer to the
question: Which side has accomplished the purpose it had in view?

The German purpose of re-seizing the initiative was not accomplished.
The German scheme of turning either one or both flanks of the Allied
line was not accomplished. That is military failure.

From the beginning of October, when the struggle round Rheims was at its
height, the feature of the campaign broadly was that the weight of the
fighting passed progressively from the centre of the fighting front to
the wings--to West Flanders on the one side, and to the Argonne and the
Upper Meuse on the other. Progressively the Allied forces were placed
where it was intended they should be placed. They accomplished the
purpose which it was intended they should accomplish--that of keeping
the main military strength of Germany helpless while they wasted that
strength. That is military success.

To sum up. The Germans entered France with a force of more than a
million and a half of men. The like of such a military expedition the
world till then had never seen. The plan of it had been studied and
worked out in detail for years. On the preparations for it had been
bestowed a colossal labour. It appeared certain of success. It was
defeated by an exercise of military skill and resource which, however
regarded, must stand as one of the greatest records of mastery in the
art of war.


[33] Some 70,000 motor-cars and motor-omnibuses are said to have been


Despatches of Field-Marshal Sir John French on the Battles of the Marne
and the Aisne, addressed to Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War.


Sept. 17, 1914.


In continuation of my despatch of Sept. 7, I have the honour to report
the further progress of the operations of the forces under my command
from Aug. 28.

On that evening the retirement of the force was followed closely by two
of the enemy's cavalry columns, moving south-east from St. Quentin.

The retreat in this part of the field was being covered by the 3rd and
5th Cavalry Brigades. South of the Somme General Gough, with the 3rd
Cavalry Brigade, threw back the Uhlans of the Guard with considerable

General Chetwode, with the 5th Cavalry Brigade, encountered the eastern
column near Cérizy, moving south. The Brigade attacked and routed the
column, the leading German regiment suffering very severe casualties and
being almost broken up.

The 7th French Army Corps was now in course of being railed up from the
south to the east of Amiens. On the 29th it nearly completed its
detrainment, and the French 6th Army got into position on my left, its
right resting on Roye.

The 5th French Army was behind the line of the Oise between La Fère and

The pursuit of the enemy was very vigorous; some five or six German
corps were on the Somme, facing the 5th Army on the Oise. At least two
corps were advancing towards my front, and were crossing the Somme east
and west of Ham. Three or four more German corps were opposing the 6th
French Army on my left.

This was the situation at one o'clock on the 29th, when I received a
visit from General Joffre at my headquarters.

I strongly represented my position to the French Commander-in-Chief, who
was most kind, cordial, and sympathetic, as he has always been. He told
me that he had directed the 5th French Army on the Oise to move forward
and attack the Germans on the Somme, with a view to checking pursuit. He
also told me of the formation of the 6th French Army on my left flank,
composed of the 7th Army Corps, four reserve divisions, and Sordêt's
corps of cavalry.

I finally arranged with General Joffre to effect a further short
retirement towards the line Compiègne-Soissons, promising him, however,
to do my utmost to keep always within a day's march of him.

In pursuance of this arrangement the British forces retired to a
position a few miles north of the line Compiègne-Soissons on the 29th.

The right flank of the German army was now reaching a point which
appeared seriously to endanger my line of communications with Havre. I
had already evacuated Amiens, into which place a German reserve division
was reported to have moved.

Orders were given to change the base to St. Nazaire, and establish an
advance base at Le Mans. This operation was well carried out by the
Inspector-General of Communications.

In spite of a severe defeat inflicted upon the Guard 10th and Guard
Reserve Corps of the German army by the 1st and 3rd French Corps on the
right of the 5th Army, it was not part of General Joffre's plan to
pursue this advantage, and a general retirement on to the line of the
Marne was ordered, to which the French forces in the more eastern
theatre were directed to conform.

A new army (the 9th) has been formed from three corps in the south by
General Joffre, and moved into the space between the right of the 5th
and left of the 4th Armies.

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 in the general

In conformity with the movements of the French forces, my retirement
continued practically from day to day. Although we were not severely
pressed by the enemy, rearguard actions took place continually.

On Sept. 1, when retiring from the thickly-wooded country to the south
of Compiègne, the 1st Cavalry Brigade was overtaken by some German
cavalry. They momentarily lost a horse artillery battery, and several
officers and men were killed and wounded. With the help, however, of
some detachments from the 3rd Corps operating on their left, they not
only recovered their own guns, but succeeded in capturing twelve of the

Similarly, to the eastward, the 1st Corps, retiring south, also got into
some very difficult forest country, and a somewhat severe rearguard
action ensued at Villers-Cotterets, in which the 4th Guards Brigade
suffered considerably.

On Sept. 3 the British forces were in position south of the Marne
between Lagny and Signy-Signets. Up to this time I had been requested by
General Joffre to defend the passages of the river as long as possible,
and to blow up the bridges in my front. After I had made the necessary
dispositions, and the destruction of the bridges had been effected, I
was asked by the French Commander-in-Chief to continue my retirement to
a point some twelve miles in rear of the position I then occupied, with
a view to taking up a second position behind the Seine. This retirement
was duly carried out. In the meantime the enemy had thrown bridges and
crossed the Marne in considerable force, and was threatening the Allies
all along the line of the British forces and the 5th and 9th French
armies. Consequently several small outpost actions took place.

On Saturday, Sept. 5, I met the French Commander-in-Chief at his
request, and he informed me of his intention to take the offensive
forthwith, as he considered conditions were very favourable to success.

General Joffre announced to me his intention of wheeling up the left
flank of the 6th Army, pivoting on the Marne, and directing it to move
on the Ourcq; cross and attack the flank of the 1st German Army, which
was then moving in a south-easterly direction east of that river.

He requested me 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. I was then to advance against the enemy in my front
and join in the general offensive movement.

These combined movements practically commenced on Sunday, Sept. 6, at
sunrise; and on that day it may be said that a great battle opened on a
front extending from Ermenonville, which was just in front of the left
flank of the 6th French Army, through Lizy on the Marne, Mauperthuis,
which was about the British centre, Courteçon, which was the left of the
5th French Army, to Esternay and Charleville, the left of the 9th Army
under General Foch, and so along the front of the 9th, 4th, and 3rd
French Armies to a point north of the fortress of Verdun.

This battle, in so far as the 6th French Army, the British Army, the 5th
French Army, and the 9th French Army were concerned, may be said to have
concluded on the evening of Sept. 10, by which time the Germans had been
driven back to the line Soissons-Rheims, with a loss of thousands of
prisoners, many guns, and enormous masses of transport.

About Sept. 3 the enemy appears to have changed his plans and to have
determined to stop his advance south direct upon Paris, for on Sept. 4
air reconnaissances showed that his main columns were moving in a
south-easterly direction generally east of a line drawn through Nanteuil
and Lizy on the Ourcq.

On Sept. 5 several of these columns were observed to have crossed the
Marne; whilst German troops, which were observed moving south-east up
the left bank of the Ourcq on the 4th, were now reported to be halted
and facing that river. Heads of the enemy's columns were seen crossing
at Changis, La Ferté, Nogent, Château-Thierry, and Mezy.

Considerable German columns of all arms were seen to be converging on
Montmirail, whilst before sunset large bivouacs of the enemy were
located in the neighbourhood of Coulommiers, south of Rebais, La
Ferté-Gaucher and Dagny.

I should conceive it to have been about noon on Sept. 6, after the
British forces had changed their front to the right and occupied the
line Jouy-Le Chatel-Faremoutiers-Villeneuve Le Comte, and the advance of
the 6th French Army north of the Marne towards the Ourcq became
apparent, 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 above referred to.

On the evening of Sept. 6, therefore, the fronts and positions of the
opposing armies were, roughly, as follows:


6th French Army.--Right on the Marne at Meux, left towards Betz.

British Forces.--On the line Dagny-Coulommiers-Maison.

5th French Army.--At Courtagon, right on Esternay.

Conneau's Cavalry Corps.--Between the right of the British and the left
of the French 5th Army.


4th Reserve and 2nd Corps.--East of the Ourcq and facing that river.

9th Cavalry Division.--West of Crecy.

2nd Cavalry Division. North of Coulommiers.

4th Corps.--Rebais.

3rd and 7th Corps.--South-west of Montmirail.

All these troops constituted the 1st German Army, which was directed
against the French 6th Army on the Ourcq, and the British forces, and
the left of the 5th French Army south of the Marne.

The 2nd German Army (IX., X., X.R. and Guard) was moving against the
centre and right of the 5th French Army and the 9th French Army.

On Sept. 7 both the 5th and 6th French Armies were heavily engaged on
our flank. The 2nd and 4th Reserve German Corps on the Ourcq vigorously
opposed the advance of the French towards that river, but did not
prevent the 6th Army from gaining some headway, the Germans themselves
suffering serious losses. The French 5th Army threw the enemy back to
the line of the Petit Morin River, after inflicting severe losses upon
them, especially about Montceaux, which was carried at the point of the

The enemy retreated before our advance, covered by his 2nd and 9th and
Guard Cavalry Divisions, which suffered severely.

Our cavalry acted with great vigour, especially General De Lisle's
Brigade, with the 9th Lancers and 18th Hussars.

On Sept. 8 the enemy continued his retreat northward, and our army was
successfully engaged during the day with strong rearguards of all arms
on the Petit Morin River, thereby materially assisting the progress of
the French armies on our right and left, against whom the enemy was
making his greatest efforts. On both sides the enemy was thrown back
with very heavy loss. The First Army Corps encountered stubborn
resistance at La Trétoire (north of Rebais). The enemy occupied a
strong position with infantry and guns on the northern bank of the Petit
Morin River; they were dislodged with considerable loss. Several machine
guns and many prisoners were captured, and upwards of 200 German dead
were left on the ground.

The forcing of the Petit Morin at this point was much assisted by the
cavalry and the 1st Division, which crossed higher up the stream.

Later in the day a counter attack by the enemy was well repulsed by the
First Army Corps, a great many prisoners and some guns again falling
into our hands.

On this day (Sept. 8) the Second Army Corps encountered considerable
opposition, but drove back the enemy at all points with great loss,
making considerable captures.

The Third Army Corps also drove back considerable bodies of the enemy's
infantry and made some captures.

On Sept. 9 the First and Second Army Corps forced the passage of the
Marne and advanced some miles to the north of it. The Third Corps
encountered considerable opposition, as the bridge at La Ferté was
destroyed and the enemy held the town on the opposite bank in some
strength, and thence persistently obstructed the construction of a
bridge; so the passage was not effected until after nightfall.

During the day's pursuit the enemy suffered heavy loss in killed and
wounded, some hundreds of prisoners fell into our hands, and a battery
of eight machine guns was captured by the 2nd Division.

On this day the 6th French Army was heavily engaged west of the River
Ourc. The enemy had largely increased his force opposing them, and very
heavy fighting ensued, in which the French were successful throughout.

The left of the 5th French Army reached the neighbourhood of
Château-Thierry after the most severe fighting, having driven the enemy
completely north of the river with great loss.

The fighting of this army in the neighbourhood of Montmirail was very

The advance was resumed at daybreak on the 10th up to the line of the
Ourcq, opposed by strong rearguards of all arms. The 1st and 2nd Corps,
assisted by the Cavalry Division on the right, the 3rd and 5th Cavalry
Brigades on the left, drove the enemy northwards. Thirteen guns, seven
machine guns, about 2,000 prisoners, and quantities of transport fell
into our hands. The enemy left many dead on the field. On this day the
French 5th and 6th Armies had little opposition.

As the 1st and 2nd German Armies were now in full retreat, this evening
marks the end of the battle which practically commenced on the morning
of the 6th instant, and it is at this point in the operations that I am
concluding the present despatch.

Although I deeply regret to have had to report heavy losses in killed
and wounded throughout these operations, I do not think they have been
excessive in view of the magnitude of the great fight, the outlines of
which I have only been able very briefly to describe, and the
demoralisation and loss in killed and wounded which are known to have
been caused to the enemy by the vigour and severity of the pursuit.

In concluding this despatch I must call your lordship's special
attention to the fact that from Sunday, Aug. 23, up to the present date
(Sept. 17), from Mons back almost to the Seine, and from the Seine to
the Aisne, the Army under my command has been ceaselessly engaged
without one single day's halt or rest of any kind.

Since the date to which in this dispatch I have limited my report of the
operations, a great battle on the Aisne has been proceeding. A full
report of this battle will be made in an early further despatch.

It will, however, be of interest to say here that, in spite of a very
determined resistance on the part of the enemy, who is holding in
strength and great tenacity a position peculiarly favourable to defence,
the battle which commenced on the evening of the 12th inst. has, so far,
forced the enemy back from his first position, secured the passage of
the river, and inflicted great loss upon him, including the capture of
over 2,000 prisoners and several guns.--I have the honour to be, your
lordship's most obedient servant,

(Signed) J. D. P. FRENCH, Field-Marshal,
Commanding-in-Chief, the
British Forces in the Field.


Oct. 8, 1914.


I have the honour to report the operations in which the British forces
in France have been engaged since the evening of Sept. 10.

1. In the early morning of the 11th the further pursuit of the enemy was
commenced, and the three corps crossed the Ourcq practically unopposed,
the cavalry reaching the line of the Aisne River; the 3rd and 5th
Brigades south of Soissons, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th on the high ground at
Couvrelles and Cerseuil.

On the afternoon of the 12th from the opposition encountered by the 6th
French Army to the west of Soissons, by the 3rd Corps south-east of that
place, by the 2nd Corps south of Missy and Vailly, and certain
indications all along the line, I formed the opinion that the enemy had,
for the moment at any rate, arrested his retreat, and was preparing to
dispute the passage of the Aisne with some vigour.

South of Soissons the Germans were holding Mont de Paris against the
attack of the right of the French 6th Army when the 3rd Corps reached
the neighbourhood of Buzancy, south-east of that place. With the
assistance of the artillery of the 3rd Corps the French drove them back
across the river at Soissons, where they destroyed the bridges.

The heavy artillery fire which was visible for several miles in a
westerly direction in the valley of the Aisne showed that the 6th French
Army was meeting with strong opposition all along the line.

On this day the cavalry under General Allenby reached the neighbourhood
of Braine, and did good work in clearing the town and the high ground
beyond it of strong hostile detachments. The Queen's Bays are
particularly mentioned by the General as having assisted greatly in the
success of this operation. They were well supported by the 3rd Division,
which on this night bivouacked at Brenelle, south of the river.

The 5th Division approached Missy, but were unable to make headway.

The 1st Army Corps reached the neighbourhood of Vauxcéré without much

In this manner the Battle of the Aisne commenced.

2. The Aisne Valley runs generally east and west, and consists of a
flat-bottomed depression of width varying from half a mile to two miles,
down which the river follows a winding course to the west at some points
near the southern slopes of the valley and at others near the northern.
The high ground both on the north and south of the river is
approximately 400 ft. above the bottom of the valley, and is very
similar in character, as are both slopes of the valley itself, which are
broken into numerous rounded spurs and re-entrants. The most prominent
of the former are the Chivre spur on the right bank and Sermoise spur on
the left. Near the latter place the general plateau on the south is
divided by a subsidiary valley of much the same character, down which
the small River Vesle flows to the main stream near Sermoise. The slopes
of the plateau overlooking the Aisne on the north and south are of
varying steepness, and are covered with numerous patches of wood, which
also stretch upwards and backwards over the edge on to the top of the
high ground. There are several villages and small towns dotted about in
the valley itself and along its sides, the chief of which is the town of

The Aisne is a sluggish stream of some 170 ft. in breadth, but, being 15
ft. deep in the centre, it is unfordable. Between Soissons on the west
and Villers on the east (the part of the river attacked and secured by
the British forces) there are eleven road bridges across it. On the
north bank a narrow-gauge railway runs from Soissons to Vailly, where it
crosses the river and continues eastward along the south bank. From
Soissons to Sermoise a double line of railway runs along the south bank,
turning at the latter place up the Vesle Valley towards Bazoches.

The position held by the enemy is a very strong one, either for a
delaying action or for a defensive battle. One of its chief military
characteristics is that from the high ground on neither side can the top
of the plateau on the other side be seen except for small stretches.
This is chiefly due to the woods on the edges of the slopes. Another
important point is that all the bridges are under either direct or
high-angle artillery fire.

The tract of country above described, which lies north of the Aisne, is
well adapted to concealment, and was so skilfully turned to account by
the enemy as to render it impossible to judge the real nature of his
opposition to our passage of the river, or to accurately gauge his
strength; but I have every reason to conclude that strong rearguards of
at least three army corps were holding the passages on the early morning
of the 13th.

3. On that morning I ordered the British Forces to advance and make good
the Aisne.

The 1st Corps and the cavalry advanced on the river. The First Division
was directed on Chanouille, viâ the canal bridge at Bourg, and the
Second Division on Courteçon and Presles, _viâ_ Pont-Arcy and on the
canal to the north of Braye, _viâ_ Chavonne. On the right the cavalry
and First Division met with slight opposition, and found a passage by
means of the canal which crosses the river by an aqueduct. The Division
was, therefore, able to press on, supported by the Cavalry Division on
its outer flank, driving back the enemy in front of it.

On the left the leading troops of the Second Division reached the river
by nine o'clock. The Fifth Infantry Brigade were only enabled to cross,
in single file and under considerable shell fire, by means of the broken
girder of the bridge which was not entirely submerged in the river. The
construction of a pontoon bridge was at once undertaken, and was
completed by five o'clock in the afternoon.

On the extreme left the 4th Guards Brigade met with severe opposition at
Chavonne, and it was only late in the afternoon that it was able to
establish a foothold on the northern bank of the river by ferrying one
battalion across in boats.

By nightfall the First Division occupied the area Moulins-Paissy-Geny,
with posts in the village of Vendresse.

The Second Division bivouacked as a whole on the southern bank of the
river, leaving only the Fifth Brigade on the north bank to establish a
bridge head.

The Second Corps found all the bridges in front of them destroyed,
except that of Condé, which was in possession of the enemy, and remained
so until the end of the battle.

In the approach to Missy, where the 5th Division eventually crossed,
there is some open ground which was swept by heavy fire from the
opposite bank. The 13th Brigade was, therefore, unable to advance; but
the 14th, which was directed to the east of Venizel at a less exposed
point, was rafted across, and by night established itself with its left
at St. Marguérite. They were followed by the 15th Brigade, and later on
both the 14th and 15th supported the 4th Division on their left in
repelling a heavy counter-attack on the Third Corps.

On the morning of the 13th the Third Corps found the enemy had
established himself in strength on the Vregny Plateau. The road bridge
at Venizel was repaired during the morning, and a reconnaissance was
made with a view to throwing a pontoon bridge at Soissons.

The 12th Infantry Brigade crossed at Venizel, and was assembled at Bucy
Le Long by one p.m., but the bridge was so far damaged that artillery
could only be manhandled across it. Meanwhile the construction of a
bridge was commenced close to the road bridge at Venizel.

At two p.m. the 12th Infantry Brigade attacked in the direction of
Chivres and Vregny with the object of securing the high ground east of
Chivres, as a necessary preliminary to a further advance northwards.
This attack made good progress, but at 5.30 p.m. the enemy's artillery
and machine-gun fire from the direction of Vregny became so severe that
no further advance could be made. The positions reached were held till

The pontoon bridge at Venizel was completed at 5.30 p.m., when the 10th
Infantry Brigade crossed the river and moved to Bucy Le Long.

The 19th Infantry Brigade moved to Billy-sur-Aisne, and before dark all
the artillery of the division had crossed the river, with the exception
of the heavy battery and one brigade of field artillery.

During the night the positions gained by the 12th Infantry Brigade to
the east of the stream running through Chivres were handed over to the
5th Division.

The section of the bridging train allotted to the Third Corps began to
arrive in the neighbourhood of Soissons late in the afternoon, when an
attempt to throw a heavy pontoon bridge at Soissons had to be abandoned,
owing to the fire of the enemy's heavy howitzers.

In the evening the enemy retired at all points and entrenched himself on
the high ground about two miles north of the river, along which runs the
Chemin-des-Dames. Detachments of infantry, however, strongly entrenched
in commanding points down slopes of the various spurs, were left in
front of all three corps, with powerful artillery in support of them.

During the night of the 13th and on the 14th and following days the
field companies were incessantly at work night and day. Eight pontoon
bridges and one foot bridge were thrown across the river under generally
very heavy artillery fire, which was incessantly kept up on to most of
the crossings after completion. Three of the road bridges, _i.e._,
Venizel, Missy, and Vailly, and the railway bridge east of Vailly were
temporarily repaired so as to take foot traffic, and the Villers Bridge
made fit to carry weights up to six tons.

Preparations were also made for the repair of the Missy, Vailly, and
Bourg Bridges, so as to take mechanical transport.

The weather was very wet and added to the difficulties by cutting up the
already indifferent approaches, entailing a large amount of work to
repair and improve.

The operations of the field companies during this most trying time are
worthy of the best traditions of the Royal Engineers.

4. On the evening of the 14th it was still impossible to decide whether
the enemy was only making a temporary halt, covered by rearguards, or
whether he intended to stand and defend the position.

With a view to clearing up the situation, I ordered a general advance.

The action of the 1st Corps on this day under the direction and command
of Sir Douglas Haig was of so skilful, bold, and decisive a character
that he gained positions which alone have enabled me to maintain my
position for more than three weeks of very severe fighting on the north
bank of the river.

The corps was directed to cross the line Moulins-Moussy by seven a.m.

On the right the General Officer Commanding the 1st Division directed
the 2nd Infantry Brigade (which was in billets and bivouacked about
Moulins), and the 25th Artillery Brigade (less one battery), under
General Bulfin, to move forward before daybreak, in order to protect the
advance of the division sent up the valley to Vendresse. An officers'
patrol sent out by this brigade reported a considerable force of the
enemy near the factory north of Troyon, and the Brigadier accordingly
directed two regiments (the King's Royal Rifles and the Royal Sussex
Regiment) to move at three a.m. The Northamptonshire Regiment was
ordered to move at four a.m. to occupy the spur east of Troyon. The
remaining regiment of the brigade (the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment)
moved at 5.30 a.m. to the village of Vendresse. The factory was found to
be held in considerable strength by the enemy, and the brigadier ordered
the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment to support the King's Royal Rifles
and the Sussex Regiment. Even with this support the force was unable to
make headway, and on the arrival of the 1st Brigade the Coldstream
Guards were moved up to support the right of the leading brigade (the
2nd), while the remainder of the 1st Brigade supported its left.

About noon the situation was, roughly, that the whole of these two
brigades were extended along a line running east and west, north of the
line Troyon and south of the Chemin-des-Dames. A party of the Loyal
North Lancashire Regiment had seized and were holding the factory. The
enemy held a line of entrenchments north and east of the factory in
considerable strength, and every effort to advance against this line was
driven back by heavy shell and machine-gun fire. The morning was wet,
and a heavy mist hung over the hills, so that the 25th Artillery Brigade
and the Divisional Artillery were unable to render effective support to
the advanced troops until about nine o'clock.

By ten o'clock the 3rd Infantry Brigade had reached a point one mile
south of Vendresse, and from there it was ordered to continue the line
of the 1st Brigade and to connect with and help the right of the 2nd
Division. A strong hostile column was found to be advancing, and by a
vigorous counter-stroke with two of his battalions the Brigadier checked
the advance of this column and relieved the pressure on the 2nd
Division. From this period until late in the afternoon the fighting
consisted of a series of attacks and counter-attacks. The
counter-strokes by the enemy were delivered at first with great vigour,
but later on they decreased in strength, and all were driven off with
heavy loss.

On the left the 6th Infantry Brigade had been ordered to cross the river
and to pass through the line held during the preceding night by the 5th
Infantry Brigade and occupy the Courteçon Ridge, whilst a detached
force, consisting of the 4th Guards Brigade and the 36th Brigade, Royal
Field Artillery, under Brigadier-General Perceval, were ordered to
proceed to a point east of the village of Ostel.

The 6th Infantry Brigade crossed the river at Pont-Arcy, moved up the
valley towards Braye, and at nine a.m. had reached the line Tilleul--La
Buvelle. On this line they came under heavy artillery and rifle fire,
and were unable to advance until supported by the 34th Brigade, Royal
Field Artillery, and the 44th Howitzer Brigade and the Heavy Artillery.

The 4th Guards Brigade crossed the river at ten a.m., and met with very
heavy opposition. It had to pass through dense woods; field artillery
support was difficult to obtain; but one section of the field battery
pushed up to and within the firing line. At one p.m. the left of the
brigade was south of the Ostel Ridge.

At this period of the action the enemy obtained a footing between the
First and Second Corps, and threatened to cut the communications of the

Sir Douglas Haig was very hardly pressed, and had no reserve in hand. I
placed the cavalry division at his disposal, part of which he skilfully
used to prolong and secure the left flank of the Guards Brigade. Some
heavy fighting ensued, which resulted in the enemy being driven back
with heavy loss.

About four o'clock the weakening of the counter-attacks by the enemy and
other indications tended to show that his resistance was decreasing, and
a general advance was ordered by the Army Corps Commander. Although
meeting with considerable opposition, and coming under very heavy
artillery and rifle fire, the position of the corps at the end of the
day's operations extended from the Chemin-des-Dames on the right,
through Chivy, to Le Cour de Soupir, with the 1st Cavalry Brigade
extending to the Chavonne--Soissons road.

On the right the corps was in close touch with the French Moroccan
troops of the 18th Corps, which were entrenched in echelon to its right
rear. During the night they entrenched this position.

Throughout the battle of the Aisne this advanced and commanding position
was maintained, and I cannot speak too highly of the valuable services
rendered by Sir Douglas Haig and the army corps under his command. Day
after day and night after night the enemy's infantry has been hurled
against him in violent counter-attack, which has never on any one
occasion succeeded, whilst the trenches all over his position have been
under continuous heavy artillery fire.

The operations of the First Corps on this day resulted in the capture of
several hundred prisoners, some field pieces, and machine guns.

The casualties were very severe, one brigade alone losing three of its
four colonels.

The 3rd Division commenced a further advance, and had nearly reached the
plateau of Aizy when they were driven back by a powerful counter-attack
supported by heavy artillery. The division, however, fell back in the
best order, and finally entrenched itself about a mile north of Vailly
Bridge, effectively covering the passage.

The 4th and 5th Divisions were unable to do more than maintain their

5. On the morning of the 15th, after close examination of the position,
it became clear to me that the enemy was making a determined stand, and
this view was confirmed by reports which reached me from the French
armies fighting on my right and left, which clearly showed that a
strongly entrenched line of defence was being taken up from the north of
Compiègne, eastward and south-eastward, along the whole valley of the
Aisne up to and beyond Rheims.

A few days previously the fortress of Maubeuge fell, and a considerable
quantity of siege artillery was brought down from that place to
strengthen the enemy's position in front of us.

During the 15th shells fell in our position which have been judged by
experts to be thrown by eight-inch siege guns with a range of 10,000
yards. Throughout the whole course of the battle our troops have
suffered very heavily from this fire, although its effect latterly was
largely mitigated by more efficient and thorough entrenching, the
necessity for which I impressed strongly upon army corps commanders. In
order to assist them in this work all villages within the area of our
occupation were searched for heavy entrenching tools, a large number of
which were collected.

In view of the peculiar formation of the ground on the north side of the
river between Missy and Soissons, and its extraordinary adaptability to
a force on the defensive, the 5th Division found it impossible to
maintain its position on the southern edge of the Chivres Plateau, as
the enemy in possession of the village of Vregny to the west was able to
bring a flank fire to bear upon it. The division had, therefore, to
retire to a line the left of which was at the village of Marguérite, and
thence ran by the north edge of Missy back to the river to the east of
that place.

With great skill and tenacity Sir Charles Fergusson maintained this
position throughout the whole battle, although his trenches were
necessarily on lower ground than that occupied by the enemy on the
southern edge of the plateau, which was only 400 yards away.

General Hamilton with the 3rd Division vigorously attacked to the north,
and regained all the ground he had lost on the 15th, which throughout
the battle had formed a most powerful and effective bridge head.

6. On the 16th the 6th Division came up into line.

It had been my intention to direct the First Corps to attack and seize
the enemy's position on the Chemin-des-Dames, supporting it with this
new reinforcement. I hoped from the position thus gained to bring
effective fire to bear across the front of the 3rd Division which, by
securing the advance of the latter, would also take the pressure off the
5th Division and the Third Corps.

But any further advance of the First Corps would have dangerously
exposed my right flank. And, further, I learned from the French
Commander-in-Chief that he was strongly reinforcing the 6th French Army
on my left, with the intention of bringing up the Allied left to attack
the enemy's flank, and thus compel his retirement. I therefore sent the
6th Division to join the Third Corps, with orders to keep it on the
south side of the river, as it might be available in general reserve.

On the 17th, 18th, and 19th the whole of our line was heavily
bombarded, and the First Corps was constantly and heavily engaged. On
the afternoon of the 17th the right flank of the 1st Division was
seriously threatened. A counter-attack was made by the Northamptonshire
Regiment in combination with the Queen's, and one battalion of the
Divisional Reserve was moved up in support. The Northamptonshire
Regiment, under cover of mist, crept up to within a hundred yards of the
enemy's trenches and charged with the bayonet, driving them out of the
trenches and up the hill. A very strong force of hostile infantry was
then disclosed on the crest line. This new line was enfiladed by part of
the Queen's and the King's Royal Rifles, which wheeled to their left on
the extreme right of our infantry line, and were supported by a squadron
of cavalry on their outer flank. The enemy's attack was ultimately
driven back with heavy loss.

On the 18th, during the night, the Gloucestershire Regiment advanced
from their position near Chivy, filled in the enemy's trenches and
captured two Maxim guns.

On the extreme right the Queen's were heavily attacked, but the enemy
was repulsed with great loss. About midnight the attack was renewed on
the 1st Division, supported by artillery fire, but was again repulsed.

Shortly after midnight an attack was made on the left of the 2nd
Division with considerable force, which was also thrown back.

At about one p.m. on the 19th the 2nd Division drove back a heavy
infantry attack strongly supported by artillery fire. At dusk the attack
was renewed and again repulsed.

On the 18th I discussed with the General Officer Commanding the 2nd Army
Corps and his Divisional Commanders the possibility of driving the enemy
out of Condé, which lay between his two divisions, and seizing the
bridge which has remained throughout in his possession.

As, however, I found that the bridge was closely commanded from all
points on the south side and that satisfactory arrangements were made
to prevent any issue from it by the enemy by day or night, I decided
that it was not necessary to incur the losses which an attack would
entail, as, in view of the position of the 2nd and 3rd Corps, the enemy
could make no use of Condé, and would be automatically forced out of it
by any advance which might become possible for us.

7. On this day information reached me from General Joffre that he had
found it necessary to make a new plan, and to attack and envelop the
German right flank.

It was now evident to me that the battle in which we had been engaged
since the 12th instant must last some days longer, until the effect of
this new flank movement could be felt, and a way opened to drive the
enemy from his positions.

It thus became essential to establish some system of regular relief in
the trenches, and I have used the infantry of the 6th Division for this
purpose with good results. The relieved brigades were brought back
alternately south of the river, and, with the artillery of the 6th
Division, formed a general reserve on which I could rely in case of

The cavalry has rendered most efficient and ready help in the trenches,
and have done all they possibly could to lighten the arduous and trying
task which has of necessity fallen to the lot of the infantry.

On the evening of the 19th, and throughout the 20th, the enemy again
commenced to show considerable activity. On the former night a severe
counter-attack on the 3rd Division was repulsed with considerable loss,
and from early on Sunday morning various hostile attempts were made on
the trenches of the 1st Division. During the day the enemy suffered
another severe repulse in front of the 2nd Division, losing heavily in
the attempt. In the course of the afternoon the enemy made desperate
attempts against the trenches all along the front of the First Corps,
but with similar results.

After dark the enemy again attacked the 2nd Division, only to be again
driven back.

Our losses on these two days were considerable, but the number, as
obtained, of the enemy's killed and wounded vastly exceeded them.

As the troops of the First Army Corps were much exhausted by this
continual fighting, I reinforced Sir Douglas Haig with a brigade from
the reserve, and called upon the 1st Cavalry Division to assist them.

On the night of the 21st another violent counter-attack was repulsed by
the 3rd Division, the enemy losing heavily.

On the 23rd the four six-inch howitzer batteries, which I had asked to
be sent from home, arrived. Two batteries were handed over to the Second
Corps and two to the First Corps. They were brought into action on the
24th with very good results.

Our experiences in this campaign seem to point to the employment of more
heavy guns of a larger calibre in great battles which last for several
days, during which time powerful entrenching work on both sides can be
carried out.

These batteries were used with considerable effect on the 24th and the
following days.

8. On the 23rd the action of General de Castelnau's army on the Allied
left developed considerably, and apparently withdrew considerable forces
of the enemy away from the centre and east. I am not aware whether it
was due to this cause or not, but until the 26th it appeared as though
the enemy's opposition in our front was weakening. On that day, however,
a very marked renewal of activity commenced. A constant and vigorous
artillery bombardment was maintained all day, and the Germans in front
of the 1st Division were observed to be "sapping" up to our lines and
trying to establish new trenches. Renewed counter-attacks were delivered
and beaten off during the course of the day, and in the afternoon a
well-timed attack by the 1st Division stopped the enemy's entrenching

During the night of 27th-28th the enemy again made the most determined
attempts to capture the trenches of the 1st Division, but without the
slightest success.

Similar attacks were reported during these three days all along the
line of the Allied front, and it is certain that the enemy then made one
last great effort to establish ascendancy. He was, however, unsuccessful
everywhere, and is reported to have suffered heavy losses. The same
futile attempts were made all along our front up to the evening of the
28th, when they died away, and have not since been renewed.

On former occasions I have brought to your lordship's notice the
valuable services performed during this campaign by the Royal Artillery.

Throughout the Battle of the Aisne they have displayed the same skill,
endurance, and tenacity, and I deeply appreciate the work they have

Sir David Henderson and the Royal Flying Corps under his command have
again proved their incalculable value. Great strides have been made in
the development of the use of aircraft in the tactical sphere by
establishing effective communication between aircraft and units in

It is difficult to describe adequately and accurately the great strain
to which officers and men were subjected almost every hour of the day
and night throughout this battle.

I have described above the severe character of the artillery fire which
was directed from morning till night, not only upon the trenches, but
over the whole surface of the ground occupied by our forces. It was not
until a few days before the position was evacuated that the heavy guns
were removed and the fire slackened. Attack and counter-attack occurred
at all hours of the night and day throughout the whole position,
demanding extreme vigilance, and permitting only a minimum of rest.

The fact that between Sept. 12 to the date of this despatch the total
numbers of killed, wounded, and missing reached the figures amounting to
561 officers, 12,980 men, proves the severity of the struggle.

The tax on the endurance of the troops was further increased by the
heavy rain and cold which prevailed for some ten or twelve days of this
trying time.

The battle of the Aisne has once more demonstrated the splendid spirit,
gallantry, and devotion which animates the officers and men of his
Majesty's Forces.

With reference to the last paragraph of my despatch of Sept. 7, I append
the names of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men brought
forward for special mention by Army Corps commanders and heads of
departments for services rendered from the commencement of the campaign
up to the present date.

I entirely agree with these recommendations and beg to submit them for
your lordship's consideration.

I further wish to bring forward the names of the following officers who
have rendered valuable service: General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and
Lieutenant-General Sir Douglas Haig (commanding First and Second Corps
respectively) I have already mentioned in the present and former
despatches for particularly marked and distinguished service in critical

Since the commencement of the campaign they have carried out all my
orders and instructions with the utmost ability.

Lieutenant-General W. P. Pulteney took over the command of the Third
Corps just before the commencement of the battle of the Marne.
Throughout the subsequent operations he showed himself to be a most
capable commander in the field, and has rendered very valuable services.

Major-General E. H. H. Allenby and Major-General H. de la P. Gough have
proved themselves to be cavalry leaders of a high order, and I am deeply
indebted to them. The undoubted moral superiority which our cavalry has
obtained over that of the enemy has been due to the skill with which
they have turned to the best account the qualities inherent in the
splendid troops they command.

In my despatch of Sept. 7 I mentioned the name of Brigadier-General Sir
David Henderson and his valuable work in command of the Royal Flying
Corps, and I have once more to express my deep appreciation of the help
he has since rendered me.

Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Murray has continued to render me
invaluable help as Chief of the Staff, and in his arduous and
responsible duties he has been ably assisted by Major-General Henry
Wilson, Sub-Chief.

Lieutenant-General Sir Nevil Macready and Lieutenant-General Sir William
Robertson have continued to perform excellent service as
Adjutant-General and Quartermaster-General respectively.

The Director of Army Signals, Lieutenant-Colonel J. S. Fowler, has
materially assisted the operations by the skill and energy which he has
displayed in the working of the important department over which he

My Military Secretary, Brigadier-General the Hon. W. Lambton, has
performed his arduous and difficult duties with much zeal and great

I am anxious also to bring to your lordship's notice the following names
of officers of my Personal Staff, who throughout these arduous
operations have shown untiring zeal and energy in the performance of
their duties:--


Lieut.-Colonel Stanley Barry.
Lieut.-Colonel Lord Brooke.
Major Fitzgerald Watt.


Captain the Hon. F. E. Guest.


Lieut.-Colonel Brindsley Fitzgerald.

Major his Royal Highness Prince Arthur of Connaught, K.G., joined my
staff as Aide-de-Camp on Sept. 14.

His Royal Highness's intimate knowledge of languages enabled me to
employ him with great advantage on confidential missions of some
importance, and his services have proved of considerable value.

I cannot close this despatch without informing your lordship of the
valuable services rendered by the chief of the French Military Mission
at my headquarters, Colonel Victor Huguet, of the French Artillery. He
has displayed tact and judgment of a high order in many difficult
situations, and has rendered conspicuous service to the Allied cause.--I
have the honour to be, your lordship's most obedient servant,

(Signed) J. D. P. FRENCH, Field-Marshal,
Commanding-in-Chief, the British
Army in the Field.


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