Kitchener & French | Marne | 1 September 1914

The Great Retreat is coming to an end. Three important rearguard actions are fought today; meanwhile, Lord Kitchener makes an important intervention with Sir John French and General Joffre.

Kitchener & French

Lord Kitchener arrives on the Continent and confirms his view that I Corps at least is fully capable of participating in a major offensive. Strong words are had between Kitchener and Sir John French, who is eventually persuaded to adopt this way of thinking. The two men then meet with General Joffre, who is now in extremely good spirits. He’s done some very hard thinking, and now he has the outline of a great battle to save Paris, his Army, and keep France from defeat. Kitchener informs French that he will be participating in the battle, and departs. There’s been many words written by various historians about the relationship between Kitchener and French; however, that’s not something I’m interested in. What I am interested in, is the details of Joffre’s plan.

He’s sure that the Germans have no idea that he’s managed to scrape together a 6th Army. It would originally have been deployed west of Paris to resist the encirclement. With General Gallieni’s garrison troops in reserve, Joffre intends to entice the Germans’ right wing forward, across the River Marne. The 6th Army will then eastward to attack its undefended flank. The details of grand movements like this can be very hard to explain with text alone. Therefore, I have taken the liberty of illustrating them via the medium of crude MSPaint drawings. These aren’t to any kind of scale or accuracy when considering exact deployments, but it’s close enough for jazz.

Here’s what the Germans thought the situation was:
German assessment of the Marne, 1st September 1914

Here’s what the situation more closely resembled:
True situation at the Marne, 1st September 1914

And this was what the Germans hoped to achieve, flanking the French 5th Army:
German plan for the Marne, 1st September 1914

Even with the extra men that the Germans haven’t accounted for, they still might be able to make this work. Everything hinges on how effectively the Allies can defend the French left flank. As a later great Scottish tactician might say, it’s squeaky bum time. The war may yet be over by Christmas 1914.

Great Retreat

The final major rearguard actions of the Great Retreat, as the Germans unexpectedly encounter BEF elements at Villers-Cotterets, Crépy-en-Valois, and Nery. The first two are standard enough affairs, but Nery is particularly remembered. It’s a rare cavalry battle on the Western Front, as the British 1st Cavalry Brigade is unexpectedly attacked in their billets.

They’re unable to move out due to heavy fog, and when the German 4th Cavalry Division arrives, they’re rather surprised to find anyone there. The British cavalry fights all day under heavy fire. It inflicts serious casualties on the Germans and sustains relatively few itself. They also have invaluable support from six guns of the Royal Arse Hortillery. L Battery loses all its officers and more than half its men killed and wounded, and is no longer able to function as an operational unit. The guns, however, are saved. Three men are awarded the Victoria Cross, and more are decorated by France; a vast number of decorations for such a relatively small action.

After getting out ot the line, L Battery was sent back to Blighty to recover. They were back to strength and ready to fight just in time for Kitchener to send them to Gallipoli.


The Russians are still being pressed hard as they retreat from Komarow; the offensive at Rawa can’t come soon enough for them. Maubeuge continues to take an absolute pasting. It’s still holding out, but even if Joffre’s plan at the Marne works, they won’t have any hope of relief in time.

Actions in Progress

Great Retreat
Battle of Galicia
Siege of Maubege

Further Reading

Over on Tumblr, Today in World War I features the exploits of the Royal Arse Hortillery in more detail.

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