Joseph Joffre, Commander of the French Army


5.  The First Battle of the Marne and its Aftermath, Sep.05-15.1914
SEPTEMBER 5

Paris.
==When asked the line of retreat from in front of Paris, Gallieni replies “Nowhere;” he gives secret orders to destroy vital resources and bridges in Paris in the event of defeat

The First Battle of the Marne - The Far Northwestern Front.
==The German 1st Army reaches Claye, ten miles from Paris
==Kluck receives orders to halt and face toward Paris [715.AM], but most of 1st Army continues advancing south
==Advancing to its attack positions on the Ourcq, French 6th Army unexpectedly collides with Kluck’s right flank near St. Soupplet east of Paris [from midday]: THE FIRST BATTLE OF THE MARNE TO SEP.10: Kluck is alerted to the danger to his right wing
==Colonel Hentsch from OHL persuades Kluck to withdraw north of the Marne [evening]

The BEF Front.
==Joffre forcefully confronts the vacillating Sir John French, and exclaims “…the honor of England is at stake!”; with tears in his eyes, Sir John finally agrees to cooperate in a counteroffensive [200.PM]
==The final day of retreat by the BEF; British forces turn about and begin advancing eastwards [evening-morning of Sep.06]

The Northwestern Front.
==(to Sep.06)  After a prolonged bombardment, German forces storm four of the bypassed Maubeuge forts
==An advance party of Kluck’s 1st Army reaches the Villiers-St. Georges area, a few miles north of the Seine near Provins: the furthest-south German penetration into France of World War I    (or Sep.06)

The Central Front.
==Foch’s forces become fully independent of French 4th Army and are officially constituted the 9th Army

Lorraine.
==German 6th Army takes Pont-á-Mousson, north of Nancy

The First Battle of the Marne - French Headquarters (GQG).
==GQG pulls further back to Chatillon-sur-Seine - Joffre tells his staff “Gentlemen, we will fight on the Marne.” [evening], and issues a proclamation to his troops, concluding with “Under present conditions no weakness can be tolerated.”

German Headquarters (OHL).
==A General Directive from OHL details Moltke’s halt order of Sep.04 [received evening]
==Prussian War Minister Falkenhayn writes: “Only one thing is certain: our General Staff has completely lost its head.”

France.
==Noted French Catholic-socialist-patriot-poet Charles Péguy is killed in action by German rifle fire near Villeroy


SEPTEMBER 6

Paris.
== ~The American military attaché in Paris reports “mutterings against the leaders of the government and army”

The First Battle of the Marne.
==General fighting all along the line, from the vicinity of Paris to Lorraine

The First Battle of the Marne - The Far Northwestern Front.
==Northeast of Paris, after some initial gains by French 6th Army, Kluck’s right flank holds its ground [midmorning-afternoon]; heavy fighting at Etrépilly

The First Battle of the Marne - The BEF and Northwestern Fronts.
==The advancing I Corps on the right of the BEF begins to engage Kluck’s 1st Army [midmorning] - British II Corps begins to advance across the Grand Morin River [1100.PM]
==In response to pressure from the French 6th Army, Kluck skillfully transfers two of the four corps advancing southeast of Paris to his right flank; Bülow weakens his right [evening] - a dangerous gap is developing between the German 1st and 2nd Armies
==Along most of its front, the cautiously advancing French 5th Army easily pushes back the German 2nd Army’s right wing to Sep.07, taking Courgivaux - in 5th Army’s left wing, Petain takes Montceaux-les-Provins after hard fighting [evening]

The First Battle of the Marne - The Central Front.
==Foch’s 9th Army and Langle’s 4th Army are heavily engaged from Sézanne to Vitry le François: Foch is pushed south of the St. Gond Marshes
==A German attack briefly routes the left flank of Sarrail’s 3rd Army, stalling its planned offensive and taking Revigny
==The Germans are stalled at Beauzec near Verdun

The First Battle of the Marne - Lorraine.
==The Germans are checked at Jezanville near Pont-á-Mousson
==The German 7th Army is disbanded; part is sent to the right flank near Paris

The First Battle of the Marne - German Headquarters (OHL).
==A copy of Joffre’s order of Sep.04 falls into German hands [afternoon] - Moltke notifies his armies that they’re facing a general French counteroffensive


SEPTEMBER 7

The First Battle of the Marne - The Far Northwestern Front.
==Renewed intense fighting on the Ourcq as the reinforced right flank of Kluck’s 1st Army stops the offensive by French 6th Army [morning]: Colonel Robert Nivelle singlehandedly prevents a French route near Etrépilly - 6th Army’s northern flank temporarily collapses, but Gallieni restores it by transporting troops from Paris in 600 commandeered taxi cabs [afternoon] - Joffre takes over direct command of 6th Army from Gallieni

==Kluck receives Moltke’s warning of a general French counteroffensive [morning]; he transfers two more corps northwards against the French 6th Army on the Ourcq [morning], opening the gap between the German 1st and 2nd Armies still wider
==Joffre’s General Instructions #7 are sent [afternoon]: French 6th Army is to redirect its attack against German 1st Army’s northern flank, while the BEF and the left wing of the French 5th Army are to push north

The First Battle of the Marne - The BEF and Northwestern Fronts.
==Far behind the lines, the fortress complex at Maubeuge falls to the Germans [evening], with 30,000 French prisoners
==The BEF and most of the French 5th Army advance “absurdly slowly” against almost no resistance - old-fashioned cavalry actions at Monsel and Faujus - the BEF reaches the Petit Morin River
==Fierce fighting between the right flanks of the French 5th Army and the German 2nd Army at Soizy-au-Bois; Bülow withdraws behind the Petit Morin [afternoon]

The First Battle of the Marne - The Central Front.
==Foch’s 9th Army and Langle’s 4th Army are again subjected to powerful attacks, as German 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Armies attempt to break the Allied center - German attacks threaten St. Mihiel

The First Battle of the Marne - Lorraine.
==The hard-pressed Castelnau nearly abandons Nancy, until Joffre explicitly orders him to hold the city at all costs [afternoon]

The First Battle of the Marne - German Headquarters (OHL).
==Communications between OHL and the German army commanders fighting on the Western Front have almost ceased
==Writing to his wife on the destruction caused by the war, Moltke laments “Terror often overcomes me when I think about this, and the feeling I have is as if I must answer for this horror, and yet I could not act otherwise than as I have.”


SEPTEMBER 8

The First Battle of the Marne - The Far Northwestern Front.
==Joffre orders Maunoury to send his exhausted cavalry to outflank the right wing of Kluck’s 1st Army [early] - an attempt by Maunoury’s 6th Army to turn the far right wing of the German 1st Army bogs down [by early afternoon] - Maunoury’s center takes Etrépilly only after heavy loss; the Moroccans on his right take Vareddes and drive the Germans across the Marne - Gallieni and Maunoury reluctantly agree that 6th Army has failed to break the German right and must go on the defensive [afternoon] - Maunoury informs Joffre that 6th Army’s counteroffensive has failed [evening] - Kluck and his staff are attacked by French dragoons, but drive them off with rifle fire [evening]

The First Battle of the Marne - The BEF and Northwestern Fronts.
==OHL finally becomes aware of the dangerous gap that’s developed between the German 1st and 2nd Armies [morning] and calls in troops from Antwerp and Maubeuge to fill it - the left flank of French 5th Army advances slowly toward Montmirail [afternoon] - after clashing with the German 1st Army at the Petit Morin, the BEF begins to cross the river [200.PM], reaching the south bank of the Marne after a cautious advance [evening] - OHL staff officer Hentsch reaches 2nd Army’s headquarters (see OHL below): Bülow warns that his right is about to give way and recommends that 1st and 2nd Armies retreat before it’s too late [evening] - French 5th Army’s left wing takes Marchais-en-Brie in hard fighting [late evening], turning the right flank of the German 2nd Army: the German right wing is temporarily in grave danger

The First Battle of the Marne - The Central Front.
==A powerful surprise attack by Hausen’s 3rd Army [300.AM] drives back the right wing of Foch’s 9th Army and takes Fère Champenoise - the French right wing steadies and holds off attacks by 3rd Army [midmorning]; fierce fighting at Fère Champenoise - Foch barely holds off strong attacks on his center [from noon]; French 9th Army is badly mauled
==French 4th and 3rd Armies hold off renewed German attacks - the German Crown Prince’s 5th Army attacks the small French fort at Troyon [morning] to Sep 12, attempting to cut off Verdun from the east

The First Battle of the Marne - Lorraine.
==Moltke finally calls off Rupprecht’s offensive in Lorraine
==The French retake Ste Genevieve north of Nancy, finding the village strewn with 2000 German corpses

The First Battle of the Marne - French Headquarters (GQG).
==Joffre issues Special Number Order 19 [700.PM], changing the his main effort from his far left to the Marne: 6th Army is ordered to hold, and the BEF and 5th Army are to advance north to split the German right

The First Battle of the Marne - German Headquarters (OHL).
==The bewildered Moltke sends staff officer Hentsch to visit the German Armies and ascertain the situation [1100.AM]   (see Northwestern Fronts above)


SEPTEMBER 9

The Belgian Front.
==The Belgians’ second sortie from Antwerp, to Sep.13 - the Kaiser orders German forces to take Antwerp

The First Battle of the Marne - The Far Northwestern, BEF and Northwestern Fronts.
==British cavalry begins to cross the Marne [530.AM] - most of the BEF is well over the river in force [800.AM] - French 5th Army shifts right to aid Foch’s hard-pressed 9th Army, loosing the opportunity to strengthen the BEF’s advance [morning] - without consulting OHL, Bülow announces that 2nd Army is retreating [morning]; his troops begin to withdraw by midday: the German right wing begins to fall back; THE GERMANS EFFECTIVELY LOOSE THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE AND LOOSE HOPE OF A QUICK VICTORY - Kluck orders 1st Army’s hard-pressed center and left to pull back till they’re facing south [morning] - OHL envoy Hentsch arrives at 1st Army headquarters [late morning]; 1st Army’s retreat is initiated - 1st Army’s retreat causes the counter-attack against the weakened French 6th Army near Paris to be broken off [200.PM] - the BEF and French 5th Army have come to a standstill [mid-afternoon], loosing their chance to break the German line

The First Battle of the Marne - The Central Front.
==Foch’s battered 9th Army is thrown back at Mondement and Mont Août [morning] - after learning that 2nd Army is retiring, Hausen reluctantly orders 3rd Army’s right wing to begin to retreat [~midday] - desperate French counterattacks at Mondement and Mont Août are repelled [afternoon] - the Germans abandon Mondement [evening] and begin to retreat from Foch’s 9th Army
==French 4th and 3rd Armies are again subjected to desperate German attacks

Alsace.
==The French occupy three villages west of Mulhouse

The First Battle of the Marne - German Headquarters (OHL).
==Moltke futilely orders that attacks by the German center and left continue, even as the German right is starting to fall back [night]
==The despairing Moltke writes his wife: “Things are going badly, the battles east of Paris will not be decided in our favor… The war which began with such good hopes will in the end go against us… We shall be crushed in the fight against East and West… Our campaign is a cruel disillusion.  And we shall have to pay for all the destruction which we have done.” [night]


SEPTEMBER 10

The First Battle of the Marne - The Far Northwestern, BEF and Northwestern Fronts.
==As per Joffre’s orders, the Allied left slowly ‘pursues’ the retreating Germans, advancing only a few miles against little or no resistance - Moltke subordinates the troublesome Kluck under Bülow

The First Battle of the Marne - The Central Front.
==Staff officer Hentsch quarrels with the Crown Prince [morning] - the German 5th Army’s attacks have stalled

The First Battle of the Marne - Lorraine.
==The Germans evacuate Pont-á-Mousson, north of Nancy

The First Battle of the Marne - French Headquarters (GQG).
==Joffre finally understands that the Germans are really retreating and orders a more vigorous pursuit [500.PM]

The First Battle of the Marne - German Headquarters (OHL).
==Staff officer Hentsch returns to OHL; Moltke approves his decisions calling for a German withdrawal [430.PM]


AFTERMATH

Sep.11 > The entire German right and center is falling back - despite virtually no German resistance, the exhausted troops of the Allied left and center are unable to advance more than a few miles through a countryside that is littered with corpses and abandoned equipment - Joffre formally announces the Allied victory

Sep.12 >
==German troops begin to occupy prepared positions behind the Aisne
==The gap between German 1st and 2nd Armies is finally closed

Sep.13-14 > The Germans repell Allied attacks on their new lines

Sep.14 > The Kaiser relieves Moltke as Chief of the General Staff in favor of Falkenhayn [afternoon]; the change isn’t publicized until early November

Sep.15 > Aware that the Germans are dug in behind the Aisne, Joffre orders the Allied armies to end their ‘pursuit’ and to prepare for methodical warfare - hopes of a swift Allied victory over Germany fade

mid.Nov > The entire western front has become entrenched

Picture of Joffre courtesy of
Photos of the Great War  (World War I Document Archive)
 

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

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

(4) The Long Retreat, Aug.25-Sep.04   //   Biographies and Glossary

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