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  • Winston Churchill: The Battle of the Marne

    Judging from the Gallipoli campaign (or the later WW2 Norwegian campaign), Winston Churchill cannot be considered a great military tactician. Nevertheless he weighed in on the fateful 1914 Battle of the Marne in his masterful The World Crisis, Vol. Five.

    "So we come to the Marne. This will ever remain the Mystery Battle of all time. We can see more clearly across the mists of time how Hannibal conquered at Cannea, than why Joffre won at the Marne. No great acquisition of strength to either side - except that usually invaders outrun their supplies and defenders fall back upon their reserves - important, but not decisive. Not much real fighting, comparatively few casualties, no decisive episode in any part of the immense field; fifty explanations, all well documented, five hundred volumes of narrative and comment - but the mystery remains.
    What was the cause which turned retreat into victory and gave the world time to come to the succor of France? Where vast issues are so nicely balanced, every single fact or factor may be called decisive. Some say it was the generous onslaught of Russia and the withdrawal by an inadequate German Staff decision of two Army Corps from their wheeling flank; some say Gallieni and his leopard-spring from Paris, or Joffre and his phlegm and steadfast spirit. We British naturally dwell on the part played by Sir John French and his five divisions; and there are several other important claims.

    But if under all reserves I am to choose the agate point on which the balance turned, I select the visits of Colonel Hentsch of the German General Staff on the night of the 8th and the morning of the 9th of September to the Army Headquarters of von Bulow and Kluck, either ordering by an excess of authority, or lending the sanction of supreme authority to, the retirement of these armies. There was no need of such a retreat. (my italics) Speaking broadly, the Germans could have dug themselves in where they stood, or even in places continued to advance. It was only a continued effort of will that was needed then and a readiness to risk all, where all had already been risked."

    The visit of Colonel Hentsch continues to be shrouded in mystery. It is known that a number of German field commanders vehemently disputed Hentsch's pessimistic assessment and believed the encircling right wing to be on the verge of victory. There are unsubstantiated stories of plots to shoot Colonel Hentsch, attribute his death to French snipers, and continue the advance with all possible speed. In this case Churchill was right. Moltke's nerve failed him just when he needed it most. The Battle of the Marne truly was the "mystery Battle of all time."
    "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

  • #2
    Some mysteries, "Never interrupt an enemy when he makes a mistake" Napoleon
    Why is it more mysterious AZINCOURT example?

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    • #3
      A quick check of the wiki article indicates a nice, simple explanation: the French had more divisions there than the Germans and were probably fresher. There is also the disposition of the attackers and defenders. A serious gap had occurred between the German 1st and 2nd armies that would have resulted in either one or both being devastated if a retreat had not been effected. The fact that the German heavy artillery had yet to arrive made this even more imperative.

      Winnie, the eternal Englishman, failed to mention that the victory was an almost exclusively French affair. The BEF was too far from the front to have any significant impact throughout most of the battle.

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      • #4
        Winnie was an ideas man not a planning and applications man. He left that to the Generals.

        In WWII he realised from problems in WWI that better political logistical and pure military co-ordination was needed. Hence the Chiefs of Staff committee

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        • #5
          The reason why the Battle of the Marne was won by the Allies is because at a crucial moment, Alexander von Kluck's 1st Army was deprived of two Army Corps, which were sent to Ost Preussen, to help General von Prittwitz 8th Army fight off the Russians. This was an insane abandonment of the Schlieffen plan . If you make a plan, don't switch while it is being conducted.

          By the time the two Army Corps had arrived Max von Hoffman and Ludendorff had defeated Sergei Samsonov at Tannenberg. They also arrived too late for the Battle of the Masurian Lakes when Pavel Rennenkampf's 2nd army was defeated. They only did cleanup work. von Moltke the Younger had panicked.

          Unlike Karl von Bulow, who commanded the 2nd Army on his left, von Kluck had to face the immensity of the entire west and southwest of France, as well as the garrison of Paris and the BEF which was in the area. People criticize this decision, but it was right, he only had 4 army corps, he could not open a gap between himself and his supply lines.

          References: Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August
          Last edited by Nickuru; 15 Oct 12, 05:19. Reason: syntax
          When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law Nº 8
          Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
          "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

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          • #6
            Winnie did win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He spins a good yarn. Trusting them at face value is done at one's own risk however.

            (As one of his friends apparently put it about his Big Book about WWII; it was "Winston's autobiography disguised as world history".)

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Nickuru View Post
              The reason why the Battle of the Marne was won by the Allies is because at a crucial moment, Alexander von Kluck's 1st Army was deprived of two Army Corps, which were sent to Ost Preussen, to help General von Prittwitz 8th Army fight off the Russians. This was an insane abandonment of the Schlieffen plan . If you make a plan, don't switch while it is being conducted.

              By the time the two Army Corps had arrived Max von Hoffman and Ludendorff had defeated Sergei Samsonov at Tannenberg. They also arrived too late for the Battle of the Masurian Lakes when Pavel Rennenkampf's 2nd army was defeated. They only did cleanup work. von Moltke the Younger had panicked.

              Unlike Karl von Bulow, who commanded the 2nd Army on his left, von Kluck had to face the immensity of the entire west and southwest of France, as well as the garrison of Paris and the BEF which was in the area. People criticize this decision, but it was right, he only had 4 army corps, he could not open a gap between himself and his supply lines.

              References: Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August
              Yes. Schlieffen had devoted much of his life to the perfection of his risky plan. Everything depended upon the success of the enveloping right wing. He repeatedly reminded his commanders that however they might be forced to improvise “when the grave hour comes,” they must under all circumstances “keep the right wing strong.” Schlieffen’s last words (January 4, 1913) were reputed to be: “It must come to a fight. Only, make the right wing strong!”


              Such a plan needed a bold and daring commander to carry it out. “A Commander-in-Chief must be inspired by something superhuman,” Schlieffen had once said, “something supernatural, call it genius or what you will.” His motto was “Be bold, be bold!”

              Unfortunately for Germany, her Commander-in-Chief in 1914 did not fit this description. Helmuth Johannes Ludwig von Moltke had the name but not the talent of his famous uncle. Speaking of the Schlieffen plan, Moltke had frankly admitted that “I lack the capacity for risking all on a single throw.” But as this was precisely the capacity now required, Moltke’s remarkable self-assessment would prove as prophetic as it was candid.

              Moltke, in the event, ignored Schlieffen’s urgent advice and hedged his bets. At the expense of the encircling right wing, he strengthened his left and shored up his eastern defenses. Even before the war, he had decided not to violate Dutch neutrality and go only through Belgium, thus forcing the all-important right wing through the heavily fortified bottleneck of Liége.

              Another mistake was to have the Kaiser's entourage headquartered with the left wing. This encouraged von Moltke to accede to Prince Rupprecht's wishes and shift the German focus from the encircling right wing to the left.

              There has been some considerable controversy in Germany on why the Schlieffen Plan failed. Generals Ludendorff and Groener have weighed in as has Terence Zuber in his book Inventing the Schlieffen Plan. I believe that the best evidence supports Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August) in that Moltke's detachment of two Corps fatally weakened the right wing and caused the widening gaps between the constituent armies. Her thesis moreover comports with Kluck's own memoirs - The March on Paris. These may be read at

              http://www.archive.org/stream/marcho...ge/n9/mode/2up
              Last edited by peterhof; 16 Oct 12, 17:58.
              "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

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              • #8
                Originally posted by peteratwar View Post
                Winnie was an ideas man not a planning and applications man. He left that to the Generals.

                In WWII he realised from problems in WWI that better political logistical and pure military co-ordination was needed. Hence the Chiefs of Staff committee
                You're being ironic, right ?
                "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                Samuel Johnson.

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                • #9
                  Nope, he didn't plan a single solitary campaign and took the advise from his military chiefs very seriously even though he tested them to extremes. See Alanbrooke's diaries inter alia

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                  • #10
                    if "famous plan" is realized that the letter might say if he could overcome the opposition person! No one knows what then? the fact is that the Germans were beaten and pushed the end of history

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by peteratwar View Post
                      Nope, he didn't plan a single solitary campaign and took the advise from his military chiefs very seriously even though he tested them to extremes. See Alanbrooke's diaries inter alia
                      Not invariably: to give just a single example, when Wavell was planning Operation COMPASS in North Africa, Churchill went to the trouble of studying the Commander's individual Battalion positions and suggesting adjustments.

                      And this while he was guiding the overall war effort.
                      "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                      Samuel Johnson.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Nickuru View Post
                        The reason why the Battle of the Marne was won by the Allies is because at a crucial moment, Alexander von Kluck's 1st Army was deprived of two Army Corps, which were sent to Ost Preussen, to help General von Prittwitz 8th Army fight off the Russians. This was an insane abandonment of the Schlieffen plan . If you make a plan, don't switch while it is being conducted.

                        By the time the two Army Corps had arrived Max von Hoffman and Ludendorff had defeated Sergei Samsonov at Tannenberg. They also arrived too late for the Battle of the Masurian Lakes when Pavel Rennenkampf's 2nd army was defeated. They only did cleanup work. von Moltke the Younger had panicked.

                        Unlike Karl von Bulow, who commanded the 2nd Army on his left, von Kluck had to face the immensity of the entire west and southwest of France, as well as the garrison of Paris and the BEF which was in the area. People criticize this decision, but it was right, he only had 4 army corps, he could not open a gap between himself and his supply lines.

                        References: Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August
                        A few things Nick.
                        First, the two corps that were sent east did not come from Kluck's First Army. Rather, the Guard Reserve Corps was transfered out of Bülow's Second Army and the XI Corps was transferred out of Hausen's Third Army.

                        Second, the transfer made sense for several reasons:

                        1) The Eastern Front appeared to be in real jeopardy. East Prussia had been invaded, the battle of Gumbinnen had been lost, Prittwitz's retreat ended after Hindenburg was appointed, but not before significant territory had been surrendered, and the Battle of Tannenburg was just starting (and there was obviously no guarantee of victory), plus, the tide was turning against the Austrians in Galicia, whereas

                        2) the Western Front was still moving forward and by August 27, high command was already contemplating shifting south and southeast thereby opting in favor of, in Herwig's words "Bülow's concet of a purely tactical victory over Kluck's design of a strategic envelopment of the enemy," which made the transfer of troops more palatable;

                        3) transferring corps from army to army to army is not always a simple task, and given the poor communications between Kluck and Bülow - to say nothing of the dreadful communications between Moltke and his field commanders, there is no certainty this comes off well (communications between Bülow and Hausen were better);

                        4) even assuming the two corps are in the line, there is little guarantee that they can make a big difference since Kluck would have wanted to use them to fight off Manoury, which makes sense, but wouldn't solve the problem of the gap between First and Second Army. On the other hand, Moltke presumably would have wanted to use the corps to fill the 50km gap between the two armies. However, both Bülow and Hausen were heavily engaged at the same time trying to push back Franchet D'Esperey and Foch, so both would likely have fought the transfer from an already active front;

                        5) because Bülow and Hausen were heavily engaged, even if the two corps were still in the West, they would have been depleted, meaning something less than 80,000 or 90,000 troops would have been available and the Entente would still have a numerical advantage; and

                        6) most importantly, transferring a corps from both Second and Third Armies eased the logistical burden given that by the end of August, both armies were using the rail line from Aix-la-Chapelle-Liege-Louvain, and even after the line was extended to Couvin on the eve of the battle, the Second Army's front line was 105 miles from the railhead while the Third Army's front was 85 miles from the railhead (although there was a narrow gauge line that reduced that distance by 15 miles). Oh, that same rail line also supported Kluck. And in van Creveld's words, that rail net was "in an almost permanent state of crisis." In short, adding two corps to the German front line, already in a desperate logistical situation, would have made the situation worse.

                        Third, the Guard Reserve Corps and the XI Corps arrived in time to fight in the First Battle of Masurian Lakes. Its hard to know how decisive they were. However, their presence gave Hindenburg numerical superiority and the flexibility to move his units around. Remove those two corps and its hard to imagine Hindenburg can use I Corps to support XVII Corps' attack on the southern flank - an attack that wasn't making much headway and was, in fact, in jeopardy of being chopped to bits with a resultant encirclement of the attacking units.
                        Last edited by The Ibis; 18 Oct 12, 10:35.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
                          A few things Nick.
                          First, the two corps that were sent east did not come from Kluck's First Army. Rather, the Guard Reserve Corps was transfered out of Bülow's Second Army and the XI Corps was transferred out of Hausen's Third Army.

                          Second, the transfer made sense for several reasons:

                          1) The Eastern Front appeared to be in real jeopardy. East Prussia had been invaded, the battle of Gumbinnen had been lost, Prittwitz's retreat ended after Hindenburg was appointed, but not before significant territory had been surrendered, and the Battle of Tannenburg was just starting (and there was obviously no guarantee of victory), plus, the tide was turning against the Austrians in Galicia, whereas

                          2) the Western Front was still moving forward and by August 27, high command was already contemplating shifting south and southeast thereby opting in favor of, in Herwig's words "Bülow's concet of a purely tactical victory over Kluck's design of a strategic envelopment of the enemy," which made the transfer of troops more palatable;

                          3) transferring corps from army to army to army is not always a simple task, and given the poor communications between Kluck and Bülow - to say nothing of the dreadful communications between Moltke and his field commanders, there is no certainty this comes off well (communications between Bülow and Hausen were better);

                          4) even assuming the two corps are in the line, there is little guarantee that they can make a big difference since Kluck would have wanted to use them to fight off Manoury, which makes sense, but wouldn't solve the problem of the gap between First and Second Army. On the other hand, Moltke presumably would have wanted to use the corps to fill the 50km gap between the two armies. However, both Bülow and Hausen were heavily engaged at the same time trying to push back Franchet D'Esperey and Foch, so both would likely have fought the transfer from an already active front;

                          5) because Bülow and Hausen were heavily engaged, even if the two corps were still in the West, they would have been depleted, meaning something less than 80,000 or 90,000 troops would have been available and the Entente would still have a numerical advantage; and

                          6) most importantly, transferring a corps from both Second and Third Armies eased the logistical burden given that by the end of August, both armies were using the rail line from Aix-la-Chapelle-Liege-Louvain, and even after the line was extended to Couvin on the eve of the battle, the Second Army's front line was 105 miles from the railhead while the Third Army's front was 85 miles from the railhead (although there was a narrow gauge line that reduced that distance by 15 miles). Oh, that same rail line also supported Kluck. And in van Creveld's words, that rail net was "in an almost permanent state of crisis." In short, adding two corps to the German front line, already in a desperate logistical situation, would have made the situation worse.

                          Third, the Guard Reserve Corps and the XI Corps arrived in time to fight in the First Battle of Masurian Lakes. Its hard to know how decisive they were. However, their presence gave Hindenburg numerical superiority and the flexibility to move his units around. Remove those two corps and its hard to imagine Hindenburg can use I Corps to support XVII Corps' attack on the southern flank - an attack that wasn't making much headway and was, in fact, in jeopardy of being chopped to bits with a resultant encirclement of the attacking units.
                          These are valid points, the way Moltke the younger had modified Alfred von Schlieffen's plan to point of where it was a gamble as time: shifted the balance of power, and the necesity of including the BEF in the equation. But according to Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August) and others, who might not have been such good researchers; the corps were shifted from the right wing and von Kluck's army. I may be mistaken here.

                          The battle of Tannenberg is well documented, but the battle of the Masurian Lakes is not in most history books. I research the Schlieffen plan since I played it against my brother on the wargame 1914. We expanded the game to include the Eastern front. I won as Central Powers when I refused the Schlieffen plan and used the von Waldersee plan to attack Russia first, the only time I won.

                          Pavel Rennenkampf was a very competent general, I need to do more research on him. Very well organized, but the impression is he was panic prone.

                          Some folks here have introduced great links to the memoirs of Alexander von Kluck

                          :http://www.archive.org/stream/marcho...ge/n9/mode/2up

                          And also those of Wilhelm II:

                          http://archive.org/stream/kaisersmemoirs001358mbp

                          Still getting halfway through Kaiser Bill's memoirs, but you will not lack for reading material with this stuff.
                          When looking for the reason why things go wrong, never rule out stupidity, Murphy's Law Nº 8
                          Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. George Santayana
                          "Ach du schwein" a German parrot captured at Bukoba GEA the only prisoner taken

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Nickuru View Post
                            These are valid points, the way Moltke the younger had modified Alfred von Schlieffen's plan to point of where it was a gamble as time: shifted the balance of power, and the necesity of including the BEF in the equation. But according to Barbara Tuchman (The Guns of August) and others, who might not have been such good researchers; the corps were shifted from the right wing and von Kluck's army. I may be mistaken here.
                            The Schlieffen plan, if it ever existed (see Terry Zuber for doubts), had several shortcomings, not least of which were the following: it violated not only Belgian but also Dutch neutrality, which would place the Germans on a precarious footing even sooner; had not provision for supplying the extreme right wing (the right-most grenadier's sleeve was supposed to brush the English Channel), and the only description of their movement before performing their wheel was "extreme exertions" which translates as "run not walk" so they'll be dropping from exhaustion by the time they get to Dunkirk; the initial plan made absolutely no attempt at supplying the advancing armies, the most critical factor of which would have been fodder (imagine going to war in mid-spring). The two(?) corps moved were from the reserve and 5th Army (I think). Von Kluck's forces were far too advanced and beyond the railheads to send troops back to be rapidly redeployed to East Prussia.
                            The battle of Tannenberg is well documented, but the battle of the Masurian Lakes is not in most history books. I research the Schlieffen plan since I played it against my brother on the wargame 1914. We expanded the game to include the Eastern front. I won as Central Powers when I refused the Schlieffen plan and used the von Waldersee plan to attack Russia first, the only time I won.
                            This is one time when the Germans actually managed to use railways effectively.
                            Pavel Rennenkampf was a very competent general, I need to do more research on him. Very well organized, but the impression is he was panic prone.

                            Some folks here have introduced great links to the memoirs of Alexander von Kluck

                            :http://www.archive.org/stream/marcho...ge/n9/mode/2up

                            And also those of Wilhelm II:

                            http://archive.org/stream/kaisersmemoirs001358mbp

                            Still getting halfway through Kaiser Bill's memoirs, but you will not lack for reading material with this stuff.
                            Nope - there is almost as much written about WW1 as WW2. In fact, some of the best stuff is by the French.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by arkai View Post
                              the fact is that the Germans were beaten and pushed the end of history
                              Of course the Germans were "beaten." What else did you expect from such a disparity of forces? As Montgelas described it:

                              “On the one side, three States, vastly superior in strength on land and on sea, having a total of over 700,000,000 inhabitants of all parts of the world at their disposal, including Japan and Italy, over 800,000,000. On the other, two States in the center of Europe, which would immediately be cut off from all overseas communications in a war in which England took part as an enemy, and which could barely reckon on a total of 120,000,000 subjects.”

                              When you add to this the almost unlimited power of the United States, the Germans must have been something akin to superhuman to have carried on for four years and to have come within a whisker of victory.
                              "We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo

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