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Many English-language histories of the First World War focus rather too much on the contribution of the BEF to the fighting early in the war. At this stage the BEF was a tiny force compared to the massive German and French armies - a force of just over 100,000 in a war that already involved millions. The BEF played a comparatively minor part in most of this campaign, joining the general retreat after holding up the Germans at Mons, and proving to be a source of some concern to the French high command right up until the battle of the Marne, where the BEF made an important contribution, advancing into the gap between the German 1st and 2nd Armies.
Senior's account of the fighting focuses on the main German and French armies, and in particular the activities of the German right wing and the French left, and the troops moved from the French right to form a new army before the battle of the Marne. We begin with an examination of the German and French plans - the famous Schlieffen Plan and its modifications by the younger Moltke on the German side and Plan XVII for the French. We then look at the opening moves of both plans, before focusing more closely on the events in the centre and on the northern end of the line - the key battles between the German right and the French left.
The reactions of the key commanders on both sides are examined - Moltke and his armies commanders for the Germans (and in particular Bülow and Kluck), largely Joffre for the French, with frequent visits to Lord French's BEF HQ. Senior also follows the course of the fighting at quite a low level - sometimes down to individual battalions at key moments. His text is supported by contemporary accounts of the action from both sides, and from all levels of rank and by extracts from key messages and orders.
This is a fascinating account of the first campaign of the First World War, a period of mobile warfare before the onset of static trench warfare. This period of the war resembled earlier conflicts, with large armies advancing across the countryside, open flanks and the potential for significant manoeuvring. Joffre turned out to be far more successful on this surprisingly flexible battlefield that Moltke, and Senior does a good job of examining why that was and how the French achieved success despite being almost completely surprised by the German plan, both in underestimating the size of the German army they would face and in failing to realise where the main German effort was being made for some time after the fighting began.
1 - The Schlieffen-Moltke Plan
2 - Plan XVII
3 - Opening Moves
4 - The Battle of Charleroi
5 - The Retreat Begins
6 - The Battle of Guise
7 - The Retreat Continues
8 - The Eve of Battle
9 - Taken by Surprise
10 - Bloody Days at Trocy
11 - The Barrier of the Marshes
12 - Struggle for the High Ground
13 - Night Attack
14 - Stalemate on the Ourcq
15 - The Beginning of the End
16 - The Last Retreat
17 - Analysis
1 - Composition and Order of Battle of the French and German Armies and British Expeditionary Force
2 - Table of Equivalent Ranks
3 - Directive of 27 August
4 - Joffre's Order for the Battle of the Marne
Author: Ian Senior
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