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- A Short History of the Great War - 6/63 -

because, the armies being once driven off, no forts could stand prolonged bombardment by the artillery which followed in the victor's train. The cities that suffered were not isolated units, they were merely knotty points in the lines of battle, and there could be no siege of Paris so long as Joffre's armies kept in line along the Marne or anywhere in contact with the capital. There was therefore no change of plan and no mystery when Von Kluck's right veered in the direction of its advance from south-west to south and then south-east. It was both avoiding an obstacle and pursuing its original design of outflanking the Entente's left. Not that Paris was without its strategic value. It and the line of the Seine impeded the encirclement, offered a nucleus of resistance, and provided a screen behind which could be organized a blow against the right flank of the deflected German march. Still, there was no certainty that Joffre could hold the Marne, and the French Government took the somewhat alarming precaution of removing to Bordeaux.

The presence of the British on the French left, the spectacular threat to Paris, and the comparative proximity of these operations to our own shores have possibly led to too great an emphasis being placed upon Von Kluck's attempt to outflank the left, or at least to too little weight being attached to the German effort to turn the right in Lorraine. The Crown Prince was in front of Verdun and the Kaiser himself went to stimulate the Bavarians at Lunéville and Nancy, and it was not the imperial habit to bestow the light of the imperial countenance upon scenes of secondary importance. Lunéville had been occupied on the 22nd after the French failure on the Saar, and on the 23rd fighting began for the Grand Couronné de Nancy defended by Castelnau. The line of battle stretched from St. Dié to Pont-á-Mousson; but although the fiercest attack was still to come, the German thrust had been decisively checked at Mirecourt before Joffre determined to stand on the Marne. At last the French seemed to have a security on their right flank, the lack of which had proved fatal at Charleroi and on the Meuse. Paris on the one wing and Nancy on the other forbade the threat of encirclement which had hitherto compelled retreat; and the French armies were also at last in touch with their reserves.

There were other elements in the situation to encourage resistance The momentum of the German rush was somewhat spent in its rapidity, and the Germans were to illustrate the defect in their own maxim that the essence of war is violence; for violence is not the same as force and often wastes it. Moreover, the Russian invasion of East Prussia, if it did not actually compel the transference of divisions from France to the Eastern front, diverted thither reserves which might otherwise have appeared on the Marne or released the troops detained until 7 September by the siege of Maubeuge. Assuredly Joffre seized the right moment when on the 4th he decided to strike his blow. Two new armies of reserves had come into line, Foch's Ninth and Maunoury's Sixth; and two old armies had new commanders, the Third with Sarrail instead of Ruffey and the Fifth with Franchet d'Esperey instead of Lanrezac. In the east Castelnau and Sarrail stood almost back to back along the eastern and western heights of the Meuse above Verdun. On Sarrail's left was Langle's Fourth army behind Vitry, and the line was continued westwards by Foch behind Sezanne and the marshes of St. Gond. Next came D'Esperey's Fifth at La Ferté-Gaucher, and cavalry linked his left with the British guarded by the Crecy forest. Thence north-westward stretched across the Paris front the new Sixth army of Maunoury.

As early as 31 August Von Kluck had turned south-east at a right angle to his south-western march from Brussels to Amiens; but he had not thereby replaced his enveloping design by a stroke at Joffre's centre. For he thought he had disposed of the British at Le Cateau and of Maunoury on the Somme, and that D'Esperey's Fifth had thus become the flank of Joffre's forces. He was merely curving his claws to grip, and by the night of the 5th he had crossed the Marne, the Petit Morin, and the Grand Morin, and his patrols had reached the Seine. It was a brief and solitary glimpse of the river on which stood the capital of France. The battle began, like that of Mons, on a Sunday, the 6th of September reached its climax on the 9th, and was over by the 12th, The fighting extended in a curved line from Meaux, which is almost a suburb of Paris, to Lunéville, which is almost on the German frontier; and Joffre hoped that this line was too strong to be broken, and could be gradually drawn tighter until the head of the German invasion was squeezed out of the cul-de-sac into which, in the German anxiety for a prompt decision, it had been thrust. The German object, of course, was, as soon as Von Kluck discovered that Maunoury's new and the British returning armies forbade the enveloping plan, to break the line where it bent the most, that is, towards the south-east, and the weight of attack was thrown against Foch and Langle in Champagne. The business of those two generals was to stand fast while the right flank of the Germans was exposed to the counter-offensive of Maunoury and the British.

Von Kluck had committed the error of underrating his foes, and assuming that they had been broken beyond the chance of reaction; for to march across the front of an army that is still able to strike is inviting disaster, and Joffre had at last been able to shift his weight from east to west to cope with Von Kluck's unexpected attack through Belgium. Maunoury's army debouched from Meaux and began fighting its way to the Ourcq, a little river which runs southwards into the Marne at Lizy, while the British emerged from the Crecy forest and drove the Germans back to the Grand Morin. D'Esperey made headway against the bulk of Von Kluck's army between La Ferté-Gaucher and Esternay, while Foch held his own against Von Buelow and Von Hausen's right, and Langle against the Duke of Württemberg. Sarrail's Third army had, however, to give a little ground along the Meuse. The morrow's tale was similar: most progress was made by the British, who drove the Germans across the Grand Morin at Coulommiers, and thus enabled D'Esperey to do the like with Von Kluck's centre. On the 8th, however, Maunoury was hard pressed by Von Kluck's desperate efforts to deal with this sudden danger; but reinforcements poured out from Paris, the British gained the Petit Morin from Trilport to La Trétoire, while D'Esperey carried victory farther east and captured Montmirail. By 11 a.m. on the 9th Von Kluck's army was ordered to retreat, thus exposing Von Buelow's right, and giving Foch his opportunity for the decisive stroke of the battle.

It consisted of two blows, right and left, and both came off late on the 9th. Maunoury's counter-attack on the left had compelled the Germans to weaken their centre. Not only was Von Buelow's right exposed, but a gap had been left between his left and Von Hausen's right, possibly for troops which were detained at Maubeuge or had been diverted to East Prussia. Nor was this all, for his centre was bogged in the famous marshes of St. Gond. Foch struck hard at Von Buelow's centre, right, and left, and by the morning of the 10th he had smashed the keystone of the German arch. Meanwhile, on the 9th Maunoury had cleared the Germans from the Ourcq, the British had crossed the Marne at Chângis, and reached it at Château-Thierry, and D'Esperey farther east. Von Kluck now received considerable reinforcements which Von Buelow needed more, and the latter's rapid retreat made even reinforcements useless for holding the Ourcq. It was equally fatal to success against Langle and Sarrail, and on the 10th the German retreat became general. By the end of the week the Germans were back on a line running nearly due east from a point on the Oise behind Compiègne to the Aisne, along it to Berry-au-Bac, and thence across Champagne and the Argonne to Verdun. They had failed in Lorraine as well, where the climax of their attack was from the 6th to the 9th. Castelnau then took the offensive, and by the 12th had driven the Bavarians from before Nancy beyond the Meurthe, and out of Lunéville and St. Dié.

The German right had fallen back thirty-five miles and the centre nearly fifty; but the retreat was not a rout, and the losses in guns and prisoners were meagre. The first battle of the Marne was important by reason of what it prevented the Germans from doing, rather than by reason of what the Allies achieved, and they had to wait nearly four years for that precipitate evacuation of France which it was hoped would follow upon the German repulse from the Marne in September 1914. Nevertheless it was one of the decisive battles and turning-points of the war. The German surprise, so long and so carefully prepared, had failed, and the knockout blow had been parried. The Allied victory had not decided how the war would end, but it had decided that the war would be long--a test of endurance rather than of generalship, a struggle of peoples and a conflict of principles rather than duel between professional armies. There would be time for peaceful and even unarmed nations to gird themselves in defence; and the cause of democracy would not go down because military autocrats had thought to dispose of France before her allies could effectively intervene.



The first month of the war in the West had coincided more nearly with German plans than with Entente hopes, but both Germany and the Western Allies agreed in miscalculating Russia. The great Moltke had remarked early in his career that Russia had a habit of appearing too late on the field and then coming too strong. The war was to prove that to be a fault of democracy rather than of autocrats, and Russia intervened with an unexpected promptitude which was to be followed in time by an equally unexpected collapse. The forecasting of the course of wars is commonly left to military experts, and military experts commonly err through ignoring the moral and political factors which determine the weight and distribution of military forces. The soldier, so far as he looks behind armies at all, only looks to the numbers from which those armies may be recruited, and pays scant regard to the political, moral, social, and economic conditions which may make havoc of armies, evoke them where they do not exist, or transfer them to unforeseen scales in the military balance. Russia appeared to the strategist as a vast reservoir of food for powder which would take time to mobilize, but prove almost irresistible if it were given time. Both these calculations proved fallacious, and still less was it foreseen that the reservoir would revolt. The first misjudgment deranged the German plans, the second those of the Allies, while the third upset the minds of the world.

The outbreak of war found Russia with a peace-strength of over a million men, a war-strength of four millions, and reserves which were limited not by her population but by her capacity for transport, organization, and production of munitions. Her Prussian frontiers were guarded by no natural defences, but neither were Prussia's. Nature, it has been said, did not foresee Prussia; Prussia is the work of men's hands. Nor had Nature foreseen Russia, and men's hands had not made up the deficiency. Mechanical means had remedied the natural defects of Prussia's frontier, but not those of the Russian; and Russia's defence consisted mainly in distance, mud, and lack of communications. The value of these varied, of course, with the seasons, and the motor-transport, which atoned to some extent for the lack of railways, told in favour of German science and industry, and against the backward Russians. Apart from the absence of natural defences, the Russian frontier had been artificially drawn so as to make her Polish province an indefensible salient, though properly organized it would have been an almost intolerable threat alike to East Prussia and to Austrian Galicia. But for her preoccupation in the West, Germany could have conquered Poland in a fortnight, and Russian plans, indeed, contemplated a withdrawal as far as the line of Brest-Litovsk. As it was, the German offensive in Belgium and France left the defence of Prussia to the chances of an Austrian offensive against Lublin, a

A Short History of the Great War - 6/63

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