Battle of the Marne (September 1914)

Battle of the Marne (September 1914)

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The first one battle of the Marne, delivered between September 5 and 12, 1914, halted German advance in north-eastern France and opened the era of "trench warfare." From the start of the First World War, the German army violated Belgian neutrality in application of the Schlieffen plan which consisted in overrunning the left of the French army to encircle it. On September 2, the German cavalry was 25 kilometers from Paris. Generals Joffre and Gallieni draw up a plan to rectify the situation and prevent the German army from reaching the capital ...

The German offensive (September 1914)

Without denying the importance of other theaters of operations, it was on the French front that, from 1914 to 1918, the fate of the First World War was played out. Following the famous plan conceived by Schlieffen in response to the Franco-Russian alliance, Moltke in 1914 based his maneuver on the speed and scale of the movement of his forces across Belgium. From Picardy to Champagne, Ludendorff launched, from March to July 1918, five "battering" on the French front, with the desire to force victory before the massive engagement of American troops. On July 18, the war finally changes sign, and, for the first time, the Allies, under the orders of Foch, in Villers-Cotterêts, take again the initiative of the operations.

While the Russians threatened the eastern front in August 1914, the German troops were ordered to end it as quickly as possible in the west so that they could devote themselves to annihilating the Tsar's troops. The situation in France is therefore bad, in this summer of 1914: after invading Belgium and taking the north of France, the Germans reached the Somme on August 29. Generalissimo Joffre was defeated in Alsace and Lorraine, and continues to be pushed back. Faced with the German advance, the Viviani government withdrew to Bordeaux on September 2, and the Parisian population, traumatized by the siege of 1870, fled the capital by hundreds of thousands. The commander of Paris and the entrenched camp, General Gallieni, promises that he will fulfill his functions to the end and prepare a counter-offensive. To defend Paris, 100,000 men forming the 6th Army of Maunoury were taken from the front of eastern France and took up position in the western region of Ourcq, north of the capital.

The French recovery on the Marne

On September 3, General von Kluck's 1st Army was 25 kilometers from Paris. The French staff learns that the Germans are no longer heading towards Paris, but towards the south-east, towards the Marne, thus hoping to lock up the French troops at the end of a vast turning movement, by enveloping the left wing of part of the Allied device. But in doing so, the Germans take the risk of weakening their right flank.

Two days later, General Maunoury's army advanced on Ourcq, while General Joffre, at the insistence of Gallieni, made the decision to attack and staggered six armies from the Oise to the Vosges, after to have obtained the help of the English. For a week, 2 million men clash on a front of nearly 300 kilometers, going from Meaux to Verdun. On September 5, the Franco-British troops launched the offensive: at the beginning of the afternoon, the soldiers of the 6th Army of Maunoury confronted the troops of General von Kluck north of Meaux, while they were heading towards South. The first days saw a war of movement unfold, on the eastern and western flanks of the front, during which the firepower of each camp was brought to the fore. Thus, during the battle, the guns of 75 fire 300 rounds per day!

Taxis, symbol of the Battle of the Marne

The Germans modify their device to be able to advance towards the west and thus not be taken from the rear. They counter-attacked on September 6 and 7 in an attempt to overwhelm the French troops from the north. The Allied army, for its part, asked for the reinforcement of troops based in Paris. To avoid the envelopment of the Maunoury army around Vitry-le-François, it is indeed essential to strengthen the left wing of the allies. To manage to transport in one night two regiments, that is to say 4,000 men, towards the front, a thousand Parisian taxis are requisitioned by Gallieni, as well as the railways. This intervention of " Marne taxis Has remained one of the symbols of French resistance ever since.

On September 8 and 9, General Foch's 9th Army succeeded in countering the assaults of General von Bülow's German 2nd Army. The troops of the British expeditionary force and part of the French 5th Army succeed in separating the German armies of Bûlow and Kluck, a breach to which the movement operated by von Kluck to the west previously contributed. The 5th Army of Franchet d'Esperey launched into this opening, followed by British troops, before crossing the Marne on September 9. On September 10, new fierce fighting drove back the Germans who, threatened with encirclement, retreated to the Aisne, along the Noyon-Verdun line where they took refuge. While they dig trenches, a war of positions is now being organized.

The first turning point of the Great War

The Franco-British allies were able to take advantage of a weakened army by sending troops to fight the Russians in East Prussia. They thus won the victory of the Marne, officially announced to the Minister of War by General Joffre on September 12. The toll of French losses is however heavy: 80,000 dead.

It was the combatants of Verdun who, two years later, took charge of dislodging the Germans ... After the victory of the Marne, the "race to the sea" took place from September to November 1914, during which the armies German and French are trying to outflank each other in the direction of the English Channel, in a sector going from Soissons to the coasts of the North Sea. But soon, it is the end of the war of movement and the beginning of the war of attrition, symbolized by Verdun.


- The battles of the Marne de l'Ourcq in Verdun (1914 and 1918): Proceedings of the conference by François Cochet. 14-18 Editions, 2004.

- The Battle of the Marne by Pierre Miquel. Tempus, 2004.

For further

- The government website Chemis de Mémoire.

Video: Battle of Empires: Battle of the Marne, 1914