Noyon Salient | 20 Nov 1914

So, a couple of days ago we looked at the current situation on the Western Front. The Germans are mostly (but not entirely) digging in to stand on the defensive, and the French are eager to take the initiative back. Let’s have a look at how they plan to do so.


British gunboats sail up to Basra and are met by some very interesting news. The Ottomans have retreated entirely from the city after the pasting they took yesterday. The city is completely undefended, and the authorities have sent a deputation on a motor-launch, inviting the British force in to maintain law and order. The Ottomans are heading back up the Shatt al-Arab to Qurna, astride the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers.

Noyon Salient

Right, let’s resort again to the medium of bad MSPaint drawings to illustrate the situation on the Western Front. Markings in green are not official; they roughly demarcate the various parts of France or Belgium that are often referred to in histories by the name of a region (and can be very hard to find on a map), such as Flanders or Picardy.

Regions of the Western Front, 1914
Regions of the Western Front, 1914

Click for big, and once again I’ll point out that these is more like a Tube map than an Ordnance Survey map; I often downplay or exaggerate various features to get a point across. Here I’m particularly trying to illustrate two things. First, why exactly it’s often called the “Noyon salient” when it’s several orders of magnitude bigger than other salients of the war like Ypres or St Mihiel. (The French Army’s been having another go at St Mihiel recently, by the way, and are measuring their gains mostly in centimetres. The supply-routes to Verdun remain cut.)

Noyon sits on the apex of the Western Front’s curve, where it leaves the east-west line of the Aisne and begins running north-south again towards Nieuport and the sea. The French are planning a grand struggle; not necessarily to win the war, but certainly aiming for a success and a reverse on the scale of the Battle of the Marne. Noyon is an obvious target for them. However, it’s not necessarily an easy place to directly assault. To the left of the city the Germans are sitting firmly atop the Chemin-des-Dames, and their trenches on the right are almost as old as those on the Aisne and so will be almost as strong.

So General Joffre is thinking big. He’s thinking of a grand pincer movement. The entire front from Verdun to the Belgian border is being considered one massive salient, and he now intends to cut its base out. Two simultaneous attacks in Artois and in Champagne will overwhelm the defenders. The attacks will be followed up with dash and elan. As the French Army advances, the worst possible result will be to oblige the German Army to retire from Noyon to avoid being surrounded.

It will take about a month to finalise the details, rearrange the men, bring up the ammunition, and see if the British can be convinced to help. “All quiet on the Western Front” will not remain so for long.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Basra
Battle of Lodz
Battle of Kolubara

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: They’re finally sticking Earl Roberts in the ground today, so of course the saturation coverage must continue. Remember this the next time some well-spoken wanker is bitching about how the media these days is obsessed with celebrities. ‘Twas ever thus!

Ahem. On Page 3 we have an inquest into the death of a woman on the London Underground. Gamages has a (more tasteful) advert on Page 5, mostly focused on military supplies for officers, including sporting goods such as boxing-gloves, indoor games, and footballs. Our Man in Petrograd (page 6) tells us not to worry that the Russians are apparently retreating, because “this step is being taken deliberately for strategic reasons”, so that’s all right then. Oh, and on Page 14 comes another report that the Germans have now run out of men to put in the army. I think I’m going to have to start tracking these reports and see how many times Germany runs out of men in the next four years. I make it three already.

On Tumblr, Today in World War I turns its attention to the Battle of Lodz

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