Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September 10th, 1914

- At 1240pm, Lieutenant-Colonel Hentsch returns to OHL in Luxembourg, and presents his report of his journey to Moltke.  He assigns blame for the retreat to General Kluck, whose withdrawal of III and IX Corps to the Ourcq had created the gap through which the British had advanced.  Perhaps to preempt criticism of himself, he claimed that 1st Army had already issued orders to retreat, and Hentsch's role was limited to indicated the direction in which they should withdraw.  At present the retreat was limited to 1st and 2nd armies - 3rd Army was expected to be able to regroup south of Châlons-sur-Marne, while 4th and 5th armies could remain in place.

On hearing Hentsch's report, Moltke's mood temporarily revives - the withdrawal will close the gap between 1st and 2nd armies, after which they can go back over to the attack, and the rest of the armies will not have to yield their gains.  Hentsch suggests to Moltke that he visit 3rd through 5th armies (but not 1st or 2nd) to see for himself their situations, and the Chief of the General Staff agrees to set out tomorrow morning.  Moltke also places Kluck under Bülow orders for their withdrawal, implicitly assigning blame to Kluck for the gap that opened between the two.

If Moltke's mood has improved, his fellow officers at OHL are all too aware that a successful retreat is hardly something to be celebrated, given the objective of the German army in the West at the start of the campaign.  Nor do they hesitate to assign blame, as General Moritz von Lyncker, chief of the Military Cabinet, commented today: 'In sum, one must appreciate that the entire operation - that is, the encirclement [of French forces] from the north and northwest - has been utterly unsuccessful.  Moltke is totally crushed by events; his nerves are not up to the situation.'

- As the German right withdraws, Joffre understands that the rapid pursuit of the enemy is now essential.  As he states in his Particular Instruction No. 21 issued today, 'to affirm and exploit the success, it is necessary to pursue energetically and leave the enemy no respite: victory depends on the legs of our infantry.'  The French armies, however, are exhausted from weeks of constant marching followed by the intense fighting along the Marne.  Many simply lack the physical strength to pursue the retreating Germans as quickly as necessary to catch the retreating Germans.  Today the most rapid advance is undertaken by the BEF - not surprising, given that it was much less involved in the fighting of the Marne than the French armies on either flank.  I Corps engages in severe fighting with the German rear-guard near Château-Thierry, taking two thousand prisoners.  However, the rear-guard does its job, allowing the bulk of the retreating German forces to avoid battle.

- In German ranks, the bitter disappointment at the order to retreat has not led to despair or disorder.  As exhausted as the German soldiers are, units remain intact and responsive to instructions from their commanding officers.  Already thoughts are turning to the next phase of the campaign.  Understanding that the war will now be longer than expected, orders are issued for the retreating soldiers to bring with them all equipment that might be of military value - in what could be seen as stereotypical Prussian efficiency, the dead are to be stripped of their weapons, ammunition, and even uniforms so they can be reused in the battles to come.

The retreat of the German armies from the Marne, indicated by the empty blue arrows above, September 10th to 13th, 1914.

- West of Verdun, Crown Prince Wilhelm, commanding 5th Army, orders a final attack on the French 3rd Army opposite.  His objective is to silent the dreaded French 75s, and decides to emulate the attack of Hausen's 3rd Army and launch a nighttime bayonet attack.  At 2am, in a cold rain, a hundred thousand German soldiers with bayonets fixed rush towards the French positions.  The attack is a dismal failure.  From the start, the artillery of two French corps slaughter the advancing Germans with rapid and accurate artillery fire, and at 745am the French counterattack, driving back the panicked and disorganized Germans.  The defeat breaks the offensive potential of 5th Army - among junior officers, leading from the front, casualties today are as high as 40%.

- In Lorraine the French 2nd Army launches a counterattack against the German 6th Army opposite.  In bitter combat the Germans begin to be pushed back.  The mobility of the French 75mm artillery pieces is a vital advantage, allowing them to keep up with the advancing infantry.

- In East Prussia I Corps seizes the town of Lyck as it advances to the northeast.  However, supply problems are bedeviling François' corps, and he is having trouble getting reserve forces to the front line.  Moreover, Rennenkampt of the Russian 1st Army is conducting a skilled retreat, shifting forces along his front to keep the pursuing Germans off-balance, and the Russians are withdrawing out of the envelopment that was briefly threatened by the attack of I Corps.

The retreat of the Russian 1st Army from the Battle of the Masurian Lakes, September 10th to 13th, 1914.

- Conrad today makes his first visit to the frontline, visiting 3rd Army.  His brief exposure to the plight of that force does little to raise his awareness of the difficulties his armies are facing and the nature of modern warfare.

- The German light cruiser Emden, detached from the German East Asiatic Squadron to raid commerce in the Indian Ocean, captures its first ship, the Greek collier Pontoporos.

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