Sunday, September 07, 2014

September 7th, 1914

- Shortly after midnight, General Bülow orders X Reserve Corps on the western flank of his 2nd Army to retreat fifteen to twenty kilometres to take position behind the Petit Morin River.  He also gives the same orders to III and IX corps, located to the west of X Reserve Corps.  Though part of 1st Army, these two corps have been temporarily placed under his authority (as Kluck's attention is on the Ourcq and the French 6th Army).  This maneouvre is designed to protect the flank of 2nd Army after the heavy attack by the French 5th Army yesterday - Bülow's focus is on a pending offensive by his eastern corps, and wants to avoid a disruptive attack on his right.  In doing so, however, he has opened up a gap of thirty kilometres between the western flank of 2nd Army and the eastern flank of 1st Army.  Crucially, he does not bother to inform Kluck at 1st Army of his redeployment.

- The gap that Bülow has created between his 2nd Army and 1st Army to the west is now the vital pivot of the battle.  If Entente forces can occupy the gap, they can at minimum force the two German armies to retreat by threatening them with encirclement.  By another of war's coincidences, just as in late August the initial deployment of the BEF happened to place them directly in the line of advance of the strongest German army, now the advance of the BEF that began yesterday just so happens to be aimed directly at this gap.  The British march northeastwards thus is crucial to the entire success of the Entente forces in the Battle of the Marne.  As Joffre realizes the importance of the BEF advance, his focal point for the battle becomes ensuring the French armies hold off the Germans until the British can penetrate the gap.  This reliance on the speed of the British advance, of course, places Joffre in an awkward position.  He cannot issue orders to the BEF, and so can only encourage them to move faster.  On the other hand, given Sir John French's repeated pessimism, he is concerned that too strong words might cause him to overreact and try to take the BEF out of the battle entirely.  Today Joffre attempts positive encouragement - in a note to Kitchener his offers, with tongue undoubtedly in cheek, his 'warmest thanks' for French's 'energetic' advance, while he chides Gallieni to not badger the British commander too often with requests to move faster.  After another slow march today, advance guards of the BEF have crossed the Grand Morin.

- At 10am, 1st Army headquarters receives a reconnaissance report from an aviator that two columns of British soldiers have been spotted moving north from the Forest of Crécy towards the joint between 1st and 2nd armies.  Kluck understands that this has the potential for disaster, and makes a crucial decision - he will concentrate his entire army on defeating the attack of the French 6th Army before the British are in position to turn his flank.  He believes that 6th Army is the key piece of the French counteroffensive, while the BEF has been battered and is barely capable of effective action - better to destroy 6th Army first, in his mind, as the BEF is in no shape to do any immediate damage anyway.  Further, there are two German cavalry corps watching the line east of his battle with 6th Army.  To this end, he orders III and IX Corps to march immediately to the Ourcq to engage the French to join his other three corps.  Kluck's orders, meanwhile, widen the gap between 1st and 2nd armies to fifty kilometres - the two cavalry corps are weakened by constant movement and battle losses, and utterly lack the ability to stop any serious enemy advance.  The absence of communication between 1st and 2nd armies, and the inability of Moltke at OHL to co-ordinate their actions, has opened a major hole in the German line.

- Units continue to arrive in Paris from Lorraine, and General Gallieni moves them as quickly as possible to 6th Army fighting to the east.  Early this morning, soldiers of the 103rd and 104th regiments arrive at the front having taken a unique means of transportation: taxis.  Using his powers as Military Governor of Paris, Gallieni requisitioned 1200 taxis yesterday evening, and ordered them to take French soldiers to 6th Army.  Each taxi could carry five soldiers, including one in the trunk, and enter history as one of the most famous aspects of the Battle of the Marne.  Notwithstanding their patriotism, the taxi drivers still calculate the fare for each passenger, and send the bill to the French army, which will pay out 70 102 francs to the drivers.

The taxis of Paris conveying troops to the front, Sept. 7th, 1914.

- Just before the Ourcq River the French 6th Army and the German 1st Army continue to engage in a desperate struggle.  The arrival of the German IV Corps before dawn stabilizes the German line, and in fierce fighting several villages pass back and forth between the two sides.  One German attack at the village of Puisieux is repulsed only when Colonel Robert Nivelle, commander of the 5th Artillery Regiment, brings up five batteries and fires over open sights into the ranks of the advancing Germans from near-point blank range.  The episode wins Nivelle acclaim, which will be unfortunate for thousands of French soldiers later in the war.

- After yesterday's victory over the west flank of the German 2nd Army, the leftmost corps of the French 5th Army find the Germans have abandoned the field in front of them as they retreated to the Petit Morin.  Unlike yesterday, however, Franchet d'Espèrey does not drive his army forward, content instead with a methodical advance.

- On the east flank of the German 2nd Army, Bülow continues to push his corps against Foch's 9th Army, without success.  The German 3rd Army to the east also makes no progress - indeed, it spends most of the day being torn apart by fire from French 75 mm field guns, artillery pieces able to fire up to a thousand rounds a day.  Hausen is increasingly frustrated at his subordinate role to his neighbouring army commanders and inability to come to grips with the enemy.  Tonight, he decides to seize the initiative.  He believes the French cannot be strong everywhere, and given the pressure 1st and 2nd armies are under, concludes that the French opposite him must be weak.  In order to silence the dreaded French 75s, he orders a bayonet charge for the pre-dawn hours tomorrow.  No preliminary bombardment will be undertaken - the German soldiers are to approach the French lines in complete silence for maximum surprise.  He telegrams his plan to OHL, and receives Moltke's approval at midnight.

- The battle for Nancy reaches a climax today - three times the Bavarians of Rupprecht's 6th Army advance against the north front of the Grand Couronné, while murderous bayonet charges by the Germans continue into the night.  General Castlenau of the French 2nd Army is increasingly concerned at his position.  Furthermore, he is informed today that his son died in combat several days earlier.  In the shadow of personal loss Castlenau again telegrams Joffre that a withdrawal may be necessary.  This time, with the Battle of the Marne still in the balance, Joffre replies asking Castlenau to hang on for another twenty-four hours and suggesting that the Germans are likely no better off than his force.  2nd Army continues to cling to the Grand Couronné by its fingernails.

- At OHL Moltke has heard nothing from Kluck or Bülow since the French counteroffensive began early yesterday.  In the absence of information, Moltke's pessimism comes to the fore - has 1st Army already been encircled?  2nd Army forced back?  Writing to his wife today, he reflects on the death and destruction that has ensued from the invasion he is leading, and 'I often shudder when I think of this and feel as though I need to accept responsibility for this dreadfulness . . .'  Not exactly the desired mindset in the Chief of the General Staff at the supreme moment of crisis on the Western Front.

- In East Prussia, the first skirmishes occur in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes, as advance elements of the German 8th Army attack the defensive line of the Russian 1st Army.

The Battle of the Masurian Lakes, September 5th to 9th, 1914.

- On the home fronts of each of the major combatants, academics are among the most strident supporters of the war.  They take advantage of the public's belief in their intelligence and authority to defend the conduct of their own country and condemn that of their enemies.  In Germany today, a 'Declaration by German University Teachers' is published, in which hundreds of German academic renounce degrees they had received from British universities, on the basis that it was Britain that had started the war.

- In the Pacific, the German East Asiatic Squadron arrives today at Christmas Island.  Located on the equator, the island is a unoccupied British possession.  As Admiral Spee's ships arrive, they are rejoined by the light cruiser Nürnberg - as the squadron crossed the Pacific, Spee had ordered it to sail to Honolulu, in order to telegram Berlin as to his intentions to sail to the South American coast and learn the latest war news.  Nürnberg reports the capture of Samoa on August 30th by New Zealand troops, and Spee decides to launch a surprise attack on the island, hoping to catch British ships anchored in its port.

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