Battle of the Marne
The Marne is such a stupendously huge battle that it has to be divided into constituent parts in order for anyone to have a hope of keeping track of it. There are five battles that together constitute the Marne. Two of them begin today; the Battle of the Ourcq and the Battle of the Two Morins.
The River Ourcq lies between General Manoury’s new 6th Army and the German flank. It marches forward, across the Ourcq, and piles straight into the German reserve corps sent there to act as a shielding force. It does what it can to delay the French advance, but soon is forced to retire. General von Kluck is now faced with a drastic problem. The corps has bought himself just enough thinking time to devise a drastic solution. The whole of First Army halts, and spends the entire day turning to its left, parallel to the line of the Ourcq. The next day, they will meet the 6th Army in strength and give battle aggressively. Intelligence still suggests that the BEF and the 5th Army are falling back in disarray, and that might just leave him enough time to inflict enough of a defeat on the 6th Army to force it back across the Ourcq towards Paris before the disorganised enemy can exploit his decision. He’s well aware that he’s opened a huge gap between his army and Second Army; it’s a calculated risk.
The Two Morins
The two southern tributaries of the Marne are known as the Grand Morin and the Petit Morin; von Bulow’s 2nd Army is now somewhere between them.
The German First Army’s wheel is soon obvious to the French. Every available man in the area is ordered forward. The 9th, 4th and 3rd Armies are to launch a vicious frontal counter-attack against the German Second and Third Armies further east (the new 9th Army playing a particularly vital role, stopping the Second Army from trying to slide westwards). Meanwhile, the 5th Army and the fighting remains of the BEF are sent towards the yawning 30-mile gap that’s appearing east of the Ourcq, to force themselves into it as soon as possible. If they can get there before First Army can turn and face south again, this is a chance to see the Germans on the run. The worst-case scenario would be the Germans retiring in haste to avoid being flanked themselves. But many of the men who need to exploit the gap are a full day’s march away from where they need to be to go into battle…
The French Army has achieved almost complete surprise with these two actions; the Germans resist them hard. There is no significant movement, but for the Allies this is a good thing. All they have to do is pin the Germans in place and then move up into the gap. “All they have to do”, I say. But, of course, they’ve just spent the last two weeks retreating as fast as possible…
These are huge actions; so again, we shall resort to the medium of awful MSPaint drawings to illustrate them.
The German assessment, on about the 3rd of September:
The German assessment today:
What was actually happening:
Again, these are not in any way to scale or geographically accurate, but they should give a good-enough rough sketch of the position.
But wait, there’s more! The attacks at Nancy are now joined by an indirect attack on Verdun. Again, the Germans will attack the ground around the fortress, seeking to isolate it and then grind it down. At Nancy, the French are being pushed further and further back. Appeals are made to General Joffre, questioning whether it might not be better to get out of it and save the men. Joffre orders General Castelnau to stand firm. All his eggs are in the basket at the Marne. If his eastern armies have to retire, that will put a brake on how far the western armies can advance. The French will then be left needing to recapture their strongest, most defensible ground before they can remove the Germans from their country. And, if the Marne fails, everyone’s screwed anyway. So the fighting in the east begins to become more bloody.
And more still! Quick reminder; the Austro-Hungarians had been summarily removed from Serbia during the Battle of Cer, last month. Since then, the Serbs had begun probing across the border at the River Drina, but now Austria-Hungary is back for the receipt. They’re massing for a counter-attack. It’s a major point of pride for Austria-Hungary. The trigger event for all these fun and games was of course the assassination of a certain Austro-Hungarian Archduke by a Serbia. The Austrian declaration of war with Serbia was the first one. Of course they’re going to pull themselves together and have another go.
And, finally, the German infantry assault on Maubeuge continues; by evening they are everywhere, and the fortress finally surrenders. If John French had ordered the BEF into Maubeuge, back on August 24th…