World War I and the Battle of the Marne
About the Battle of Marne in World War I between the Germans and the French in 1914.
THE MARNE, 1914
The Schlieffen Plan, devised by General von Moltke's predecessor as Germany's chief of staff, called for France's conquest by a quick "Blitzkrieg" thrust through neutral Belgium, outflanking the strong French border fortifications. The westward strike was then, after capturing Paris, to swing south and east like a giant scythe to crush the main French forces from the rear in Alsace-Lorraine.
Von Moltke modified the plan, with disastrous results. He sharply limited the attack potential of his 1st and 2nd Armies--the "Blitzkrieg" spearhead--by reassigning 5 corps for new drives on the Alsace-Lorraine and Russian fronts. His decision violated Von Schlieffen's basic strategy, which strongly advised against pursuing a simultaneous 2-front war.
In initial action, Von Kluck, the aggressive but brash 1st Army commander, had already moved his entire force north of the Marne to the Ourcq River, attacking Maunoury's 6th French Army. He continued to advance after receiving Von Moltke's orders to hold his attack on Paris in abeyance, believing that the supreme commander did not understand the real situation. But Von Kluck's extended assault opened a 25-mi. gap with Von Bulow's 2nd Army, on his left flank. When Von Moltke intercepted a radio message giving news of the separation, he sent his intelligence chief, Lieut. Col. Richard Hentsch, forward on September 8 to review the situation. Hentsch possessed oral authority to act in Von Moltke's name if necessary, since Von Moltke's headquarters were located in Luxembourg, more than 100 mi. from the front.
As Hentsch reached the 2nd Army's command post, he was informed of a night assault by D'Esperey's 5th French Army which had turned back Von Bulow's right flank. Fearing an immediate envelopment, Hentsch ordered a withdrawal, to which a weary Von Bulow readily agreed. The retreat left Von Kluck's flank highly vulnerable, although the 1st Army was itself in good position and attacking well. Hentsch arrived at 1st Army headquarters while Von Kluck was at the front, conferred with the general's chief of staff, and strongly advised a similar withdrawal. Upon Hentsch's return to Luxembourg with his full report, Von Moltke ordered a general retreat of not only the 1st and 2nd Armies, but the 3rd as well, pulling back to the Aisne.
For the French, a "miracle" at the Marne had taken place: The German threat to Paris was over. But Marshal Joffre's forces were too exhausted to follow up their great moral victory, and the German armies gained valuable time to dig in. Their primary tactics subsequently changed from rapid mobility to static entrenchment, initiating the bloody months of the next 3 years. The "fixed position" of trench warfare, protected by machine gun, barbed wire, and a new invention called the "tank," became the accepted plan for battle.
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