Alexander von Kluck, Commander of the German First Army

4.  The Long Allied Retreat, Aug.25-Sep.04.1914

The Belgian Front.
==(to Aug.30) The city of Louvain is systematically sacked and burned by German troops, including its enormous library; many summary executions of civilians
==Aside from Antwerp and the Channel coast, virtually all of Belgium has been occupied by German forces

== ~Rumors of disaster begin to circulate in Paris
==French War Minister Messimy orders Joffre to relinquish three corps for the defense of Paris [morning]
==Messimy disrupts a Cabinet meeting by predicting that the German Army will reach Paris by Sep.05 [1000.AM]

The Far Northwestern Front.
==Joffre’s General Order No. 2: the French 6th Army is to be created on the far left of the Allied line [night; reaches the Armies on Aug 26]- ~French forces are being transferred northwards from Alsace and Lorraine
==Optimistic plans are made for a renewed French offensive by Sep.02, Sedan Day, from the area of the Somme

The BEF Front.
==British headquarters falls back to St. Quentin
==The retreating BEF is split by the forest of Mormal: the British left is nearly trapped at Solesmes [afternoon] - on the right, I Corps clashes with German forces at Landrecies, causing Haig to panic [evening]
== ~Sir John French is convinced that the French Army is already defeated

The Northwestern Front.
==Germany announces the capture of Namur - the first open revelation of the Anglo-French retreat, shocking international public opinion
==The advancing German 2nd Army leaves behind a corps to cover the French fortress of Maubeuge - the fortress commander is ordered to hold on

The Central Front.
==Heavy fighting at Sedan between the German 4th Army and French 4th Army - the French destroy all bridges in the area [night] and retreat

==The Germans reach the Meurthe River in Lorraine - the French 1st and 2nd Armies successfully counterattack Rupprecht’s 6th Army, to Aug.27
==Tough fighting for the crest of the Vosges to Sep, as French 1st Army holds off German 7th Army

==French forces again abandon Mulhouse in Alsace

German Headquarters (OHL).
==OHL begins to believe that it has already won a decisive victory in the west - Moltke plans the transfer of six corps to the Eastern Front; only two are actually sent  (see Aug.26)

==Clemenceau refuses to join the French government


==Michel is removed; Gallieni becomes Military Governor of Paris

The Far Northwestern Front.
==Elements of the newly forming French 6th Army begin to arrive in Amiens, on the far left of the Allied line

The BEF Front.
==Smith-Dorrien decides that he is compelled to make a stand against the advancing Germans [200.AM] - the Battle of Le Cateau: British II Corps briefly checks the advance of Kluck’s 1st Army in hard fighting, loosing 8,000 men but managing to safely withdraw [dawn-late afternoon] - scratch French forces block Kluck’s attempts to outflank the BEF to the west [late afternoon] - Kluck believes that the BEF has been shattered [evening]
==Stunned by Haig’s excited report from Landrecies, John French has I Corps retreat south, away from II Corps; Chief of Staff Murray suffers a mental collapse [early AM]
==Joffre, Sir John French and Lanrezac hold a confused meeting at St. Quentin [morning]
==Showing signs of panic, John French moves his headquarters to Noyon
==The French liaison officer reports to GQG that the BEF has been crushed [815.PM]

The Northwestern Front.
==German forces completely invest the bypassed fortress of Maubeuge

The Central Front.
==The Battle of the Meuse: de Langle’s French 4th Army holds off the German 4th Army along the Meuse south of Sedan
==A gap opens between the French 4th and 5th Armies

==Joffre disbands the Army of Alsace

German Headquarters (OHL).
==Two German corps are transferred from the Western to the Eastern Front

==Messimy refuses to resign as War Minister, forcing the government to fall


The Belgian Front.
==The Paris correspondent of The Times of London reports the notorious The Belgian Baby Without Hands atrocity story
==(to Aug.28)  Three battalions of British Royal Marines land at Ostend in an abortive attempt to draw off German forces

The Far Northwestern Front.
==Maunoury takes command of the newly created French 6th Army on the Allied far left - the first of his forces are moving into position in the Somme area, where they clash with the advancing German 1st Army around Péronne
==Freed from Bülow’s control, Kluck’s 1st Army advances west of the BEF

The BEF Front.
==Sir John French commits the BEF “to make a definite and prolonged retreat,” away from the fighting, neglecting to inform Kitchener
==John French and Henry Wilson order retreating British units to discard ammunition and supplies (to Aug.28): most of their subordinates ignore the orders
==Two utterly exhausted British battalions have to be talked out of staying in St. Quentin to surrender to the Germans
==British I Corps clashes with the German 2nd Army at Etreux

The Northwestern Front.
==Joffre orders 5th Army to counterattack [630.AM], annoying Lanrezac -  Joffre again orders 5th Army to attack westward toward St. Quentin [810.PM]; the enraged Lanrezac openly and violently expresses his contempt of Joffre

The Central Front.
==Heavy fighting in the Meuse Valley to Aug.28, as the French 3rd and 4th Armies delay the advance of the German center
==The French abandon Charleville-Mézières

==The Germans take St. Die in the Vosges

German Headquarters (OHL).
==An official OHL communique describes the Allied armies as “…in full retreat…not capable of offering serious resistance to the German advance…”
==Moltke transmits a General Order to advance on Paris and press forward along the entire line, pushing further than the Schlieffen Plan intended [sent late, received Aug.28]

==Bizarre rumors spread through Britain that hordes of Russian troops are being secretly transported through the British Isles to France

==The French government is reconstituted, with Millerand replacing Messimy as War Minister and Delcassé replacing Doumerge as Foreign Minister - Briand and Robot also join


==Refusing to divert troops for the defense of the capital, Joffre’s deputy Belin scoffs “What does Paris matter!”
==Gallieni is given direct authority over Paris and decrees a ‘state of defense,’ intensifying work on the fortifications

The Far Northwestern Front.
==Hard fighting north of Peronne, on the northernmost flank of the armies

The BEF Front.
==British II Corps reaches the Somme [early AM], having retreated 35 miles from Le Cateau in a day and a half
==In a rare old-fashioned cavalry charge, the British 12th Lancers ride down and spear German Uhlans at Cerizy
==Haig’s proposal to coordinate an attack between his I Corps and the French 5th Army is refused by Sir John French [700.PM], to the disgust of Lanrezac
==The BEF abandons its forward base at Amiens

The Northwestern Front.
==Violent meeting between Joffre and Lanrezac at Marle [830.AM]: Joffre gives direct orders for 5th Army to attack westward
==The retreating French 5th Army reaches the upper Oise
==Kluck begins to consider wheeling inward to catch 5th Army in the flank
==Hausen’s German 3rd Army is advancing toward Rethel on the Aisne to Aug.29 - intense fighting at Signy-l’Abbaye

The Central Front.
==Joffre orders the creation of a new force under Foch (which will later be designated the 9th Army) between the French 4th and 5th Armies [Aug.28-29]
==German forces take Montmédy, southwest of Sedan
==The French fortress of Longwy, near Luxembourg, surrenders

==German forces take Fort Manonvillier, at Avricourt east of Nancy
==The French 2nd Army renews its attacks in Lorraine

==(to Sep.10)  The French Belfort garrison advances slowly into southern Alsace


The Belgian Front.
==The German destruction of Louvain is reported in the world press, provoking international outrage

==Distant gunfire can be heard in Paris
==Gallieni’s authority is extended to a twenty mile radius around the capital

The Far Northwestern Front.
==Strong attacks by Kluck’s 1st Army against the French 6th Army at Proyart and Rosières, southwest of Péronne on the far left of the Allied line [morning]
==German forces occupy Amiens

The BEF Front.
==Joffre meets with Sir John French at Compiègne, but is unable to persuade him to halt the BEF’s retreat [afternoon]
==John French orders the main British base to be moved from Le Havre to St Nazaire
==The BEF retreats from Noyon and La Fère

The Northwestern Front.
==(to Sep.05)  The surrounded French fortress at Maubeuge is subjected to bombardment by German heavy artillery
==The Battle of Guise: Lanrezac attacks the German 2nd Army: a French assault northwest toward St. Quentin [morning] is blocked and driven back over the Oise - powerful German attacks near Guise [morning-afternoon] are effectively counterattacked by d’Esperey’s I Corps, which marches into action with flags flying and bands playing [530.PM] - German 2nd Army is badly mauled
==German 3rd Army occupies Rethel on the Aisne

The Central Front.
==Foch’s force (later designated French 9th Army) begins to form in the gap between the 4th and 5th Armies

French Headquarters (GQG).
==Unable to stabilize his front, Joffre is forced to order a renewed general retreat [1000.PM] - GQG is compelled to fall back from Vitry-le-François to Bar-sur-Aube

German Headquarters (OHL).
==OHL moves forward from Coblenz to Luxembourg City - on the train journey the Kaiser rhapsodizes about “piles of (French) corpses six feet high” to the disgust of Moltke


==Joffre and Gallieni advise the divided French government to leave the capital as soon as possible [morning]
==The first bombing of Paris by a German aircraft kills two civilians [afternoon] - the first black-out is enforced in the city [night]
==The French government suppresses German atrocity stories

The BEF Front.
==Sir John French informs Joffre that the BEF won’t be able to fight for another ten days [noon], although the British troops are in relatively good shape
==British III Corps is formed under Pulteney
==The Germans occupy Noyon and La Fère

The Northwestern Front.
==Lanrezac’s increasingly exposed French 5th Army belatedly receives orders to resume its retreat [700.AM]
==Bülow asks Kluck to wheel inward [630.PM] - Kluck decides to disregard the BEF and turn the German 1st Army southeast away from Paris in order to roll up and destroy the retreating 5th Army
==Charles Mangin is given command of a division in the French 5th Army

==Large gaps have opened between the German right and center

The Central Front.
==Foch formally takes command of the detachment (which later becomes the 9th Army) forming in the gap between the French 4th and 5th Armies - Foch’s force crosses the Aisne
==Joffre sacks Ruffey and installs Sarrail as commander of French 3rd Army

==Moltke fails to end the German Lorraine offensive, though he knows that it’s stalled and that the French are transferring troops north
==The French 2nd Army attacks around Luneville, to Aug.31

==Intended to encourage enlistment, the ‘Amiens dispatch’ appears in the London Times, describing the BEF as “grievously injured” and retreating - the first open intimation of the gravity of the situation, stunning the British public - ~a rebuttal, anonymously written by Churchill, is printed by the government


The Belgian Front.
==The British Marines evacuate Ostend

==A German aircraft drops leaflets on Paris announcing that the German Army will arrive in three days

The BEF Front.
==Kitchener receives a report from Sir John French that the BEF will retreat behind the Seine, effectively taking it out of the war [~early] - the “perturbed” Cabinet and Kitchener order him to cooperate with Joffre - John French angrily refuses [late]
==Kluck’s 1st Army begins to turn southeast, away from Paris, abandoning attempts to outflank the Allied left; the Schlieffen Plan is crumbling - the German turn is detected by British aerial reconnaissance; the first uncertain reports reach Joffre [evening]
==Kluck takes Compiègne and crosses the Oise River

The Northwestern Front.
==The bypassed French garrison of Givet surrenders after being bombarded by German heavy artillery
==French 5th Army learns that the gap between it and the BEF is being penetrated by a German Cavalry Corps that crossed the Oise at Bailly and is moving eastward to cut off the French retreat over the Aisne [915.AM] - Lanrezac orders 5th Army to retreat south over the Aisne in forced marches [500.PM] - after a rapid advance, the German cavalry halts just before severing the main French road to the south [evening]

The Central Front.
==Foch forms a defensive line on the Retourne, north of Rheims

 ==(to Sep.11)  Fighting on the Grande Couronne near Nancy

French Headquarters (GQG).
==Joffre’s deputies argue for continuing the retreat beyond the Seine before counterattacking

The Western Front (general).
==In August alone, the French Army has suffered over 200,000 casualities, including 10% of its officers


==Kluck’s German 1st Army is within thirty miles of Paris
==Joffre places the 6th Army under Gallieni’s command
==Paris is again bombed by a German aircraft
==The French government decides to leave for Bordeaux by the next day
==The frightened Paris Prefect of Police resigns “for reasons of health”

The BEF Front.
==The German 1st Army clashes with the French 6th Army and with the retreating BEF south of Compiègne at Néry [dawn] (where British Battery L fights to its last shell and its last two men), at Crépy-en-Valois, and at Villers-Cottérêts [midday]: large-scale cavalry losses cripple the Germans’ ability to scout on their right flank
==In a tense conference in Paris, Kitchener confronts the sullen Sir John French and orders him to cooperate with the French Army [day]
==The gap between the corps of the BEF is finally closed after a week [day’s end]
==The panicky British headquarters retreats rapidly from Dammartin: a shaken Henry Wilson orders his staff to “Drive like hell for Paris.” [night]

==Joffre receives more reports that the German 1st Army is shifting southeastwards [late night], including evidence from a bloodstained map that was retrieved from a dead German staff officer, but it is not until Sep.03 that this crucial change in direction is clearly confirmed by Allied intelligence

The Northwestern Front.
==French 5th Army crosses the Aisne despite the extreme fatigue of its troops [by evening]
==Pétain takes command of the 6th Division in the 5th Army
==The Germans take Soissons and Craonne

French Headquarters (GQG).
==GQG issues General Order No. 4, calling for a continued Allied retreat followed by a counterattack on the German center using troops from Paris [200.PM]


The Belgian Front.
==The Germans shell Malines, near Antwerp

==The French government leaves Paris for Bordeaux [night], as does over a third of the city’s population - American Ambassador Herrick remains and pledges to protect Paris’ monuments from German depredations by putting them under American protection “in the custody of humanity at large”
==Joffre is given direct command over the Paris garrison and over Gallieni
==Gallieni expects a German attack on Paris by the next day

The Far Northwestern Front.
==(to Sep.06)  The first, brief German occupation of Lille
==The German 1st Army clashes with units of the French 6th Army near Senlis, twenty miles north of Paris
==The Mayor of Senlis and six hostages are executed by German troops

The BEF Front.
==The BEF reaches the Marne [dusk], evading Kluck’s attempts to trap them
==An OHL General Order ratifies Kluck’s turn away from Paris, but orders his 1st Army to cover the open German right flank, keeping in echelon to the rear of 2nd Army [night]: Kluck ignores the latter part of the order and continues his rapid advance

==The gap between the BEF and French 5th Army has widened to 25 miles

The Northwestern Front.
==The Germans occupy Laon

The Central Front.
== ~Fierce fighting in the Argonne Forest between German 5th Army and French 3rd Army

French Headquarters (GQG).
==Joffre issues secret instructions to French Army commanders, planning to fall back on the Seine and regroup


==The Paris Bourse closes
==Gallieni publicly proclaims that he will defend Paris “to the end.”
==Gallieni learns that the German Army is turning away from Paris [morning] and he makes plans to attack its exposed flank, conferring with his Chief of Staff [830.PM]

The Far Northwestern Front.
==At Senlis, near Paris, French composer Magnard is killed in his burning house after shooting two German cavalrymen
==German cavalry reaches Ecouen, only eight miles from Paris

The Northwestern Front.
==A French Cavalry Corps is organized to protect the left flank of the French 5th Army, exposed by the rapid retreat of the BEF
==The main bodies of the BEF and 5th Army retreat over the Marne [afternoon]
==Joffre sacks the overwhelmed Lanrezac [late afternoon], replacing him with the tough, energetic d’Esperey as 5th Army commander - d’Esperey tells a reluctant corps commander “There is to be no more discussion.  You will march; march or drop dead.”
==Kluck’s German 1st Army reaches the Marne [evening]
==Rheims is abandoned by the French as an open city and is occupied by Bülow’s 2nd Army

==Rupprecht’s German 6th Army launches a renewed offensive on the Moselle in Lorraine


The Belgian Front.
==The Belgians open the dikes to impede a German attack on Antwerp

== ~The troops of the German right, the French left and the BEF are in extreme stages of fatigue: ~a British officer writes “I would never have believed that men could be so tired and so hungry and yet live.” - Kluck reports to OHL that “the 1st Army… has reached the limit of its endurance.”

The BEF Front.
==Ignoring orders, Kluck pushes his 1st Army over the Marne [morning]
==The BEF receives 20,000 replacements

The Northwestern Front.
==The new 5th Army commander d’Esperey informs his staff that he will shoot any officer who fails in his duty [morning]
==German 2nd Army erroneously reports that the French are falling back in disorder

The First Battle of the Marne (prelude).
==French [dawn] and British aviators confirm that the German 1st Army’s right flank is exposed - without authorization, Gallieni begins preparations for an attack from Paris by the French 6th Army against Kluck’s 1st Army [900.AM] - GQG is informed of Gallieni’s proposed counterattack [945.AM] and debates the plan - d’Esperey meets with Henry Wilson at Bray and persuades him to support a counteroffensive [400.PM], although the BEF continues to retreat - Gallieni confers with indecisive British Chief of Staff Murray at Melun and draws up plans for a counterattack [440.PM] - d’Esperey dictates a concise, well-conceived plan for a counteroffensive [445.PM] - Joffre commits to a general counter-offensive [late afternoon] - Joffre receives d’Esperey’s plan [630.PM] and uses it as the basis for the Battle of the Marne - Joffre agrees to move the attack up to Sep.06 under pressure from Gallieni [830.PM] - Joffre signs General Order No. 6 for a counterstroke against the German right flank [1000.PM] - Joffre learns that Sir John French is waffling about the proposed counterattack [1100.PM]

==Rupprecht and the Kaiser refuse to allow Moltke to transfer troops from 6th Army to the threatened German right wing
==Massive German shellings on the Grande Couronne, near Nancy, are observed by the Kaiser - determined attacks by German 6th Army in Lorraine (to Sep 7) are repelled by Castelnau’s hard-pressed 2nd Army

German Headquarters (OHL).
==Still optimistic, an OHL intelligence officer tells German 5th Army “We are advancing triumphantly everywhere”
==Moltke fears a counterattack, and orders the German right to halt [745.PM] entirely abandoning the Schlieffen Plan

==In Berlin, Princess Blucher writes “Nothing is talked of but the expected entry into Paris.”

Photo of General Kluck courtesy of
Photos of the Great War  (World War I Docoument Archive)

1st Marne Campaign: Introduction   //   (1) Background

(2) Opening Moves, Aug.03-19   //   (3) Battles of the Frontiers, Aug.20-24

(5) 1st Marne & Aftermath, Sep.05-15   //   Biographies and Glossary