Friday, September 12, 2014

September 12th, 1914

- The German 1st and 2nd armies today cross the Aisne River, which flows east to west before entering the Oise River and Compiègne.  To the north of the Aisne runs a long plateau several hundred feet above the river valley, and ending on average a mile north of the river.  The western portion of this ridge is known as the Chemin des Dames after an east-west road named for the daughters of Louis XV.  It is on the southern edge of this plateau that the Germans stop their retreat.  Four weeks of constant movement is now at an end - as an example, III Corps of 1st Army has marched 653 kilometres since August 17th.  Here the German soldiers begin to dig in, expecting the British and French armies following them will attack.  This is the first appearance of a phenomenon that will in time become synonymous with the Western Front.  At this time, the trenches are crude affairs - little more than glorified ditches.  It takes time to learn how to construct the most effective trenches, using shelters, support trenches, zig-zagging trenches, etc.  Of course, learning how to build trenches takes much less time than learning how to successfully attack them.

- As the Germans dig in north of the Aisne, the British and French are closing up to the river itself.  With most of the bridges blown, much of the day is spent in long-range artillery duels with German guns on the opposite banks.  With continuing rain and poor visibility, the Entente armies are not yet aware that the Germans have stopped their retreat and are digging in.  They are preparing to cross the Aisne tomorrow, and hope remains that the advance will continue - Joffre today dispatches two divisions to the French 6th Army on the far left of the line, hoping the additional strength will allow it to envelop the western flank of the German 1st Army.

- This afternoon retreating German units evacuate Rheims, withdrawing to higher ground just north of the city.

- The Belgian sortie from Antwerp, begun on the 9th, comes to an end today, as the Belgian army retreats back behind the city's fortifications.  Though they Belgians were unable to hold any ground, the sortie necessitated the redirection of several German divisions to contain it, a key aim of the move.

- Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Sazonov issues today to Britain and France his 'Thirteen Points', which embody the war aims of the Russian government.  According to Sazonov, 'the principle objective . . . should be to strike at German power and its pretensions to military and political domination.'  To this end, Sazonov called for the formation of a Polish state under Russian overlordship and which would included eastern Posen from Germany and western Galicia from Austria-Hungary.  Russia itself would take the portion of East Prussia around the Niemen River from Germany and eastern Galicia from Austria-Hungary.  Russia also supported the war aims of its allies - France was to receive Alsace-Lorraine and any neighbouring portions of Germany it desired, and Serbia was to acquire Bosnia-Herzegovina and most of the Dalmatian coast.

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