First Battle of the Marne, 5-10 September 1914 (France)

One of the key battles of the First World War. The chance for an allied victory was set up by poor communications between the various German commanders, and poor scouting. General Kluck, in command of the German First Army, thought that he had knocked the BEF out of the war, and that the French troops he encountered on his right were merely scattered survivors. Neither was true - the French troops were the newly formed French Sixth Army under General Maunoury, being assembled in the fortifications of Paris, while the BEF under Sir John French was still intact and facing him to the south east of Paris. Moreover, the German Second Army under General Bulow was hard pressed, and requested assistance from Kluck. Moltke gave permission for Kluck to swing to the south east, swinging east of Paris, still unaware of the French armies forming in Paris, thinking that things were still going to plan, with the French about to be encircled.

This allowed Joffre to implement a new plan for a counterattack. This was to be carried out along a large section of the front, with the aim of cutting off the right wing of the German armies. The allied counterattack came as a total surprise to the Germans. On 5 September, the French sixth army started their attack, but Kluck still didn't realise what was happening, and kept moving south over the Marne against the BEF. Only on 7 September did he realise the danger his army was in from the French flank attack, and had to move his troops back across the Marne, where they launched a vicious counter attack against the French, who were in part saved by reinforcements famously ferried by taxi from Paris by General Gallieni. Meanwhile, the rest of the battle started to turn against the Germans. Kluck's movement north left him vulnerable to the BEF, and also created a gap between his and Bulow's army, still moving south. This allowed Franchet d'Esperey, commanding the French Fifth Army, to turn Bulow's right flank. On 9 September, both Bulow and Kluck decided to retreat, moving back to the line of the River Aisne. At the height of the battle, German troops had reached within 23 miles of Paris, although they never reached the formidable fortifications of the city. The Battle of the Marne ended any chance of a quick German victory; gained Joffre a reputation as the saviour of France, and saw Moltke replaced by Falkenhayn as chief of the German General Staff.

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

Challenge of Battle - The Real Story of the British Army in 1914, Adrian Gilbert . Looks at the early campaigns of the BEF, from its first battle at Mons to the costly fighting at Ypres, where the pre-war British army was almost destroyed. A good up-to-date campaign history covering this pivotal period of mobile warfare and the start of the stalemate of the Western Front. [read full review]
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coverThe First World War , John Keegan. An excellent narrative history of the First World War, especially strong on the buildup to war. Good on detail without losing the overall picture. Keegan keeps to a factual account of the war, leaving out the judgement calls that dominate some books. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (18 March 2001), First Battle of the Marne, 5-10 September 1914, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_marne1st.html

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