The Battle of the Marne Begins
The 5th of September 1914 AD
After a month of relentless German advances along a front from Alsace-Lorraine to within a few miles of Paris, the outcome of the war , and its nature for the next four years, were determined at the battle of the Marne.
The Schlieffen Plan by which the Germans conducted the early stages of the war dictated a massive push in France to defeat the enemy there, before shifting men and material to Russia. Had the plan gone as at one stage seemed likely then the war in France would have probably ended before Christmas 1918 – it is hard to envisage France continuing had Paris fallen – and that in turn Russia would have succumbed. The Marne changed that.
On small errors history turns: within a few miles of Paris the German 1st and 2nd armies lost coordination, partly because of friction between their commanders. A 30 mile gap between them opened up. After some inconclusive skirmishes and exchanges of fire the battle proper began on September 6 1914.
Field Marshal French, head of the British Expeditionary Force, had been planning a further withdrawal to recover after damage inflicted partly by the poor support of his French allies. Against his better judgement French, pushed by Lord Kitchener , Secretary of War, acceded to Joffre’s wishes, turned his forces to face the Germans again. With the French 6th army they drove through the gap in the German line. The Germans were forced to halt, then retreat, eventually digging in to defend their line. Trench warfare tactics would dominate the war thenceforth.
The Battle of the Marne lasted until September 12 1914, by which time half a million men had died, almost one in four of the combatants.
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