On September 6, 1914, the First Battle of the Marne Saved Paris


One hundred years ago today, the First Battle of the Marne began.

Germany had declared war on France back on August 3.  The very next day in response Great Britain did the same on Germany.

The Marne is a river that flows into the Seine just north of Paris.  On September 3 the Germans had advanced within 30 miles of the City of Light.  The Allies —the French and British—were poised for a last stand in its defense.

But in a tactical blunder, the German 1st and 2nd Armies– under General von Kluck and General von Bulow respectively—moved to the southeast  of Paris to cut off the Allied retreat.  The thinking was  that Allied forces would be overtaken and defeated quickly and Paris as a result would fall  without resistance.  Perhaps factored into the decision was a reluctance to subject the glorious city to rampant destruction.

The French Commander-in-Chief General Joseph Joffre recognized the shift in German strategy and together with the British Expeditionary Force under Sir John French launched an attack on the German Armies. Von Kluck reacted to the French offensive and reversed direction to protect his flank.  The German  maneuver was picked up by Allied aerial reconnaissance—the first important use of aircraft in warfare.

After a week of bloody fighting, the Allied forces turned back the German advance on Paris.

Winston Churchill called the battle “the greatest battle ever fought in the world. The elemental forces which there met in grapple and collision of course far exceeded anything that has ever happened. It is also true that the Marne decided the World War. Half a dozen other cardinal crises have left their gaunt monuments along the road of tribulation  which the nations trod…But never after the Marne had Germany a chance of absolute triumph.”

The Allies lost more than a quarter million men in the battle;  the Germans slightly fewer.

Afterwards, it would be trench warfare on the Western Front. Four years in duration.  The Germans managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The war would drag on and on.  And when its savage carnage finally ended in German defeat, the terms of peace would only sow the seeds of yet a greater conflagration.

Filed under: history, military, war


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  • I've been contemplating what to say in reply to this beautiful post. I must leave it to Rudyard Kipling, specifically in "Recessional" --
    "Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
    lest we forget, lest we forget."

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Thanks, Margaret. Very apropos. Funny you should quote Kipling. He was the Final Jeopardy question today.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Drat! Lost another opportunity to win it!

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    (Extract of Chapter IV: "France at war", from the book "Kipling's war", by Rudyard Kipling)

    A Nation’s Confidence

    The same logic saves them a vast amount of energy. They knew Germany in ’70, when the world would not believe in their knowledge; they knew the German mind before the war; they know what she has done (they have photographs) during this war. They do not fall into spasms of horror and indignation over atrocities “that cannot be mentioned,” as the English papers say. They mention them in full and book them to the account. They do not discuss, nor consider, nor waste an emotion over anything that Germany says or boasts or argues or implies or intrigues after. They have the heart’s ease that comes from all being at work for their country; the knowledge that the burden of work is equally distributed among all; the certainty that the women are working side by side with the men; the assurance that when one man’s task is at the moment ended, another takes his place.

    Out of these things is born their power of recuperation in their leisure; their reasoned calm while at work; and their superb confidence in their arms. Even if France of to-day stood alone against the world’s enemy, it would be almost inconceivable to imagine her defeat now; wholly so to imagine any surrender. The war will go on till the enemy is finished. The French do not know when that hour will come; they seldom speak of it; they do not amuse themselves with dreams of triumphs or terms. Their business is war, and they do their business.

  • In reply to Joyce GJ:

    In the same chapter, Kipling called the trenches "the rampart put up by Man against the Beast".

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