Saturday, September 06, 2014

September 6th, 1914

- At dawn this morning, the Entente offensive begins, pitting 980 000 French and 100 000 British soldiers with 3000 guns against 750 000 Germans and 3300 guns between Verdun and Paris.  Along the front, French armies that have been in retreat for almost two weeks turn and fall on their German pursuers.  Joffre issues an appeal to the soldiers of the French army:

Now, as the battle is joined on which the safety of the country depends, everyone must be reminded that this is no longer the time for looking back.  Every effort must be made to attack and throw back the enemy.  A unit which finds it impossible to advance must, regardless of cost, hold its ground and be killed on the spot rather than fall back.  In the present circumstances no failure will be tolerated.

President Poincarè reads Joffre's appeal in Bordeaux, and well understands the stakes of the fight: 'We are going to play our part for all we are worth in what will be the greatest battle humanity has ever known.'  Almost as soon as the appeal is issued, German soldiers of 4th Army come across the statement on captured French soldiers.  It is immediately relayed to Moltke at OHL, which realizes that the fighting of yesterday by IV Reserve Corps is not a rearguard action, but is only one element of a major French counteroffensive all along the line.  The Germans, as much as the French and British, now understand that the climactic battle is at hand.

The Western portion of the Battle of the Marne, Sept. 5th to 9th, 1914.

- On the far west of the line, General Gronau's report of yesterday's fight against the French 6th Army prompts Kluck at 3am to order II Corps to march north to reinforce IV Reserve Corps along the Ourcq River.  During the day, 6th Army launches a major assault against the two German corps, experiencing heavy losses while making no headway.  The Germans suffer as well, however - after two days of combat IV Reserve Corps is on its last legs.  The commander of II Corps telegrams Kluck at nightfall that further reinforcements are needed by 5am or the French will break through.  In response, Kluck orders IV Corps to undertake a night march to the Ourcq.  He has now pulled two corps out of his front line facing south in order to redirect them west to face the French advancing from Paris.  For Joffre, his original plan - use 6th Army to turn the flank of the German 1st Army - has misfired.

- There are two remaining corps of the German 1st Army - III and IX - that are adjacent to 2nd Army and orientated south.  Early this morning they are subject to heavy artillery bombardments from the French 5th Army opposite.  Initially believed to be just another rearguard action, it quickly becomes apparent that the pursuer is now the pursued - 5th Army has turned and has gone over to the attack.  From noon until nightfall, the three corps of 5th Army's left wing - I, III, and XVIII - fight the German III and IX Corps.  Despite being outnumbered and completely surprised, the Germans counterattack to throw the French off-balance.  The counterattack temporarily succeeds, but cannot halt the French completely - by the end of the day the three French corps have advanced five kilometres.  Further, the two German corps suffer heavily in their effort to delay the French.

- In between the French 5th and 6th armies, the BEF this morning finally halts its retreat, and begins to advance.  While Sir John French has agreed to participate in the French offensive, the caution and hesitancy he has shown over the past two weeks has not completely abandoned him.  The movement of the BEF northward is extremely slow, worried about German ambushes.  Though encountering no resistance, by nightfall the slow pace of the BEF advance leaves them still ten kilometres behind where Joffre wanted the BEF to be this morning.

- Further east, Joffre needs the French armies between 5th Army and Verdun to hold the line long enough to allow the counteroffensive to the west to succeed.  On the eastern flank of 5th Army sits Foch's 9th Army, dug in on the southern side of the Marshes of St. Gond, which greatly restricted movement by large forces.  Joffre's instructions to Foch was to protect the right flank of 5th Army while it attacked the German 2nd Army.  Foch, as was his nature, believed the best way to do so was to attack.  While his right is locked in artillery duels with the Germans, he orders his left - 42nd Division and the Moroccan Division, supported by IX Corps - to attack.  They crash into the eastern flank of the German 2nd Army as they attempt to work their way around the western edges of the marsh.  Bülow of 2nd Army insists on reinforcements from 3rd Army to the east, and the battle devolves into a stalemate.

- Beyond the French 9th Army sits 4th Army, while opposite is the German 4th Army.  Duke Albrecht, commander of the German 4th Army, plans a major attack this morning to push back the French and relieve the pressure on the German 6th Army before Nancy.  At dawn, however, a preemptive artillery attack by the French disrupts the Germans, and the attack bogs down without making significant progress.  Duke Albrecht appeals to Hausen of 3rd Army to his west for support - thus 3rd Army today is pulled in opposite directions to support its neighbours, and combined with the day of rest Hausen gave his army yesterday it is unable to decisively influence the course of the battle today.

- In Lorraine the French 2nd Army continues to be battered by Rupprecht's offensive at Nancy.  In response to Castlenau's telegram of yesterday, Joffre informs him today that the main counteroffensive has begun, and that he hoped 2nd Army could hold its position.  However, he also states that a withdrawal would be acceptable to prevent a breakthrough.

- Even as the climactic battle rages, Joffre continues to purge the French army of officers he feels have failed to live up to his expectations.  As of today, he has fired three army commanders, seven corps commanders, and thirty-four divisional commanders.

- One good piece of news for the Germans today is the surrender of the French fortress of Maubeuge, taking almost 33 000 prisoners and seizing 450 artillery pieces.  The three brigades of VII Corps freed up by this surrender are now available to head south to the fighting along the Marne.

- In Galicia, the Russian 3rd and 8th armies attack the Austro-Hungarian 3rd and 2nd armies opposite.  While the Russians make no headway, they fix the enemy forces on this front, rendering them unable to come to the aid of Austro-Hungarian armies to the north.

- Responding to Russian demands for an attack, the four divisions of the Serbian 1st Army cross the Sava River near Belgrade today and move into southern Hungary.  The advance is primarily about making a political point - i.e. the weakness of Austria-Hungary - as opposed to any military objective, since the Serbs can hardly expect to occupy any significant amount of Austro-Hungarian territory for a prolonged period.  The sortie does push Conrad to approve a second offensive against Serbia, which Potiorek has been calling for since his first failure in August.

- Since late August five columns of British and Imperial soldiers had been advancing from Nigeria into the German colony of Kamerun to the southeast.  Each of these columns has been rebuffed, the last defeat coming today when the Cross River column is ambushed by the Germans, suffering 50% casualties, which include eight of eleven officers.  This halts the British attempt to invade Kamerun by land fails, and the focus will turn instead to a naval landing.  In Kamerun itself the British defeats have a decisive effect on morale.  The Germans in Kamerun, as in other colonies, make use of askaris, or African soldiers, and for the first time they experienced victory over Europeans.  Even if in service of another European colonial power, the legacy of Africans defeating Europeans is not to be underestimated.

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