St Nazaire | Aisne | Sep 11 1914

A pause on the Western Front; a pause is all it will be, before the Allies reach the Aisne.

The Aisne

The Germans now running up the hills and furiously digging in at the Aisne; the Marne is over, and we can take a look at the casualties. As noted earlier, reports are disputed. They’re generally estimated these days to be in the region of 260-270,000 on both sides, depending on how you do the adding up. The BEF’s share is very slightly under 13,000 casualties with 1,700 dead; when added to the losses on the retreat, they have now lost about 27,000 men. This is almost a full third of their initial establishment. While reinforcements of some sort are now starting to arrive, the situation is greatly complicated by Sir John French’s early decision to move all supply lines away from the Channel ports. Everyone and everything that leaves Britain must now make the long journey to the front from the Atlantic port of St Nazaire. Five minutes with Google Maps should make clear how much more complicated it is to get to Paris from St Nazaire, rather than the likes of Calais, Le Havre, or even Cherbourg. The French railway system is at its very limit under the ferocious demand for trains, trains, and more trains to ferry soldiers and supplies about. Added to which, conditions at St Nazaire itself are far from ideal.

St Nazaire

Bandsman Shawyer of the 1st Rifle Brigade was stationed at St Nazaire. He tells a hellish story of daily life at the camp, one of nobody knowing who or what’s supposed to be sent where. A story of working all day at the docks with no support. Having to raid the stores for one’s own evening meal. Scrounging bits and pieces of broken wood for a tiny campfire. Trying to cook meat over it. Giving up and eating the meat barely cooked. Barely having any water to drink, never mind to wash in. And then the entire camp being turned into a hell of mud and slush when the rains came, a foot deep, two feet deep. Tents would collapse or be filled completely with mud during the night. It’s not just the front lines where the troops would be forced to suffer in this war. St Nazaire is about as far from any Germans as it’s possible to be and still be in France.

So, over two million men participated in the Marne, over half a million are now casualties, and it’s been open warfare all the way, with vast army-sized manouevres, no real time to prepare proper defensive positions. It’s been a war of hard-won advances and speedy retreats of many miles at a time.

This is about to change.


The Russian general commanding their 1st Army at the Masurian Lakes recognises in the nick of time (unlike Samsonov at Tannenberg) that he’s about to be screwed. He can’t get enough men to any one place to counter the overwhelming German numbers. He orders a general withdrawal from Prussia, and von Hindenburg’s victory is now complete. Again, the Germans have exchanged staggering casualties for minimal ones.

In the Pacific, Australian troops arrive at German New Guinea; its garrison will soon surrender despite the best efforts of the Australians to trip over their own bootlaces.

Actions in Progress

Battle of Drina
Battle of the Masurian Lakes

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Today’s paper publishes Sir John French’s official despatch from Mons, only slightly out of date. It also reports a skirmish in Nyasaland, a row about the use of dum-dum bullets, and various advertisers take pains to point out that none of their products are in any way German.

The excellent tumblr Today in World War I turns to the Eastern Front and the Russian withdrawal from Prussia.

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