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First Marne


* Dates:  5 - 10 Sept 1914 

* Background:  During the war, there were two major conflicts on the Marne River, the First Marne (1914) and Second Marne (1918). Both battles derive their name from a major tributary which basically runs from east to west, dumping into the Seine at Paris. During the first month of the war, the German Army, in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan, swept through Belgium and northern France with the purpose of rapidly encircling Paris and the major part of the French Army. They were then to turn their attention to fending off a Russian attack on the Eastern Front. By September, Kluck's First Army on the German right wing had outmarched his supply lines (First Army had been covering 20-25 miles per day.)  The deeper his army drove, the more exposed its position. He pulled up about 25 miles north of Paris, forcing an momentous decision on French Commander in Chief Joffre: either continue retreating from the Germans or take the offensive to strike the Germans' exposed flank. Failure would mean losing Paris and possibly the war. Encouraged by General Gallieni, military governor of Paris, Joffre chose to go on the offensive.

* The Germans:  The main participants in the First Marne were Kluck's First Army, the Second Army under Karl von Buelow, and Max von Hausen's Third Army. First Army corps commanders were: Linsingen (II), Sixt von Arnim (IV), Quast (IX), Beseler (III. Reserves), and Gronau (IV. Reserves)...Lochow's III. Corps and Boehn's IX. Reserves had been detached to besiege Antwerp. Buelow's Second Army corps commanders were: Einem (VII), Emmich (X), Plettenberg (Guards), Zwehl (VII. Reserves), and Kirchbach (X. Reserves)...Gallwitz's Guard Reserves had been detached to besiege Namur and was transferred soon after to the Eighth Army. Hausen's Third Army corps commanders were: d'Elsa (XII), Laffert (XIX), Kirchbach (XII. Reserves), Richthofen (I. Cavalry), and Marwitz (II. Cavalry)...Plueskow's XI. Corps was detached to besiege Namur and was then transferred along with the Guard Reserves to the Eastern Front.


First Army

  Generaloberst Alexander von Kluck
   II. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Alexander von Linsingen
   IV. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Friedrich Sixt von Armin
   IX. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Ferdinand von Quast
   III. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Hans von Beseler
   IV. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Hans von Gronau


Second Army

  Generaloberst Karl von Buelow
   VII. Corps   Gen.d.Kav. Karl von Einem
   X. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Otto von Emmich
   Guard Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Karl von Plettenberg
   VII. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Hans von Zwehl
   X. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Guenther Graf von Kirchbach


Third Army

  Generaloberst Max von Hausen
   XII. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Karl Ludwig d'Elsa
   XIX. Corps   Gen.d.Kav. Maximilian von Laffert
   XII. Reserves   Gen.d.Art. Hans von Kirchbach
   H.K.K. 1   GenLt. Manfred von Richthofen
   H.K.K. 2   Gen.d.Kav. Georg von der Marwitz

* The Battle:  In early September, following major German victories in the Battles of the Frontiers (August 14-25), the four right-flank German armies consisting of the First, Second, Third and Fourth thrust deep into northeastern France, pushing before them the French Third, Fourth, and Fifth armies along with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). French commander in chief, General Joseph Joffre, assembled a newly created Sixth Army in Paris and planned a counterattack to be launched on 5 September. This engagement was fought along a 90-mile front and included two major encounters, the Battle of the Ourcq and the Battle at La Fere-Champenoise

von Kluck


General Alexander von Kluck's 300,000 strong army chased General Maunoury's forces over a four-day stretch. The aggressive Kluck, concerned that the French would escape him, pressed far ahead of Buelow's Second Army. He was completely unaware of a French Sixth Army buildup near Paris. Chief of General Staff von Moltke was aware of this, however, and ordered the First Army to protect Buelow's right flank, failing to mention the reason for the order. To Kluck, this order would mean sitting idle for a couple precious days, so he decided to disobey, believing he could continue driving the supposedly beaten and disorganized French well to the southeast of Paris. This blunder created a weighty gap between his army and Buelow's Second which had effectively pushed the front to about 30 miles south of the Marne. It also dangerously exposed Kluck's right flank to the Sixth Army and ultimately provided an opportunity for France, or at least Paris, to be saved. 
On 5 September, Gronau's IVth Reserves reacted quickly enough to keep the right wing from encirclement. For his part, Kluck believed the French engagement to be a feint, and so the Battle of the Ourcq raged for two days before he realized France was not quite as beaten as previously thought. He ordered his army to fall back across the Marne and then, in typical fashion, initiated a series of lethal counterattacks toward Paris. At a crucial moment on 7 September, the French general charged with protecting Paris, Joseph Gallieni, enlisted 600 Parisian taxicabs to rush reservists to Maunoury's aid. Two days later, Kluck withdrew his men, fearing another flanking movement. Meanwhile, energetic counterattacks by the French Fifth Army during the Battle of the Petit Morin also drove back von Buelow's right flank and further widened the gap. Into this 50-mile wide gap slowly moved the BEF, commanded by Field Marshal Sir John French.

von Gronau

The other major encounter occurred at La Fere-Champenoise, where the French Ninth Army broke through the German line fighting against Buelow's left flank and the right of von Hausen's Third Army (also known as Battle of the St. Gond Marshes). Still further east on the Allied right flank, in the Battle of Vitry le Francois, the French Fourth Army fought to a standstill against the German Fourth Army under Duke Albrecht von Wurttemberg. 

Unable to maintain adequate communications with his fast-moving right-flank armies, Moltke sent his trusted intelligence chief Lt. Colonel Richard Hentsch to assess the situation...and to issue orders for a retreat if necessary. When on September 9 Hentsch discovered that Buelow's Second Army had been pushed back by the French Fifth, and he realized that the BEF was moving into broad gap between the German First and Second Armies, he ordered both armies to retreat to the Aisne River, 40 miles north of the Marne. Kluck, realizing defeat and looking to shift the blame for his tactical error, was only happy to retreat in order to prevent his army from being encircled. The First Battle of the Marne was not a conclusive one but was strategically a great victory for France. The Germans, who had considered themselves invincible, slowly began to comprehend that they had suffered a great defeat to an enemy whose fighting abilities they despised. German casualties during the First Marne totaled nearly 300,000.

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