Page:EB1922 - Volume 31.djvu/905

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857
MARNE, BATTLE OF THE


what disquieting feature of the day, too, was the apparent intention of the Germans to make another effort to turn the Paris- Verdun line at Nancy and at Troyon, where a successful thrust would very seriously discount the French efforts on the Ourcq. Worse still, Maubeuge fell on the yth, and the invaders not only gained another rail line of communication but had now another corps available for operations in the field. "Against these drawbacks, however, could be set the fact that the gap between the German I. and II. Armies had considerably widened, and into it the British army and the left of the French V. Army were now advancing with speed.

During the night of the 7th-8th Gen. Gallieni took steps to reinforce Gen. Maunoury's army for the struggle which was expected after daybreak. The IV. Corps had been put at Gen. Gallieni's disposal by Gen. Joffre. Of its two divisions one the 8th had been acting as the liaison between the French VI. and the British armies, and by the evening of the 7th was in billets S. of Meaux. Orders were issued during the same evening for the remainder of the corps to proceed from Gagny to Gen. Maunoury's left wing, and the artillery and corps cavalry marched by road while the 7th Div. was transported to the neighbourhood of Nanteuil-le-Haudouin, one brigade by rail and the other in taxicabs, of which Gen. Gallieni had collected over a thousand.

Sept. 8 was remarkable for the violence of the German attacks along the Ourcq. Gen. Maunoury's plan was to attack with his right centre and left, while the VII. Corps in the centre was ordered to hold its line at all costs. That corps was heavily attacked early in the afternoon, and such was the severity of the fighting that a week later the streets of Etrepilly and Trocy were still blocked with the bodies of the slain. To the N. the French outflanking movement was brought to a standstill, while even the superb gallantry of the Zouaves of the 45th Div. on the right centre failed to make any considerable impression on the enemy. During the afternoon Gen. Gallieni visited the commander of the VI. Army at his headquarters at St. Soupplets and found Gen. Maunoury a prey to a certain depression of spirit. The military governor of Paris reassured him some- what by pointing out that the greater the resistance offered by the Germans on the Ourcq the less opposition would the British meet with in their advance. Nevertheless, Gen. Maunoury considered it advisable to make arrangements for a possible withdrawal on the following day, indicating as the limit of re- tirement the line Le Plessis-Belleville-St. Soupplets-Monthyon.

Meanwhile, inexorably and methodically the British army was discounting the efforts which Gen. von Kluck was making W. of the Ourcq. After considering alternatives of action by which assistance could be rendered to the VI. Army, Sir John French decided that the best method implied the speedy passage of the Petit Morin and Marne rivers, for after passing the latter the British army would be facing N.W. and thus almost directly threatening the line of retreat of the German I. Army. Orders were accordingly issued for a general attack along the line of the Petit Morin, to begin early on the 8th. At first the march was undisturbed, but on reaching the Petit Morin it was soon realized that the German cavalry would not yield without a struggle, especially as the steep valley covered with small but thick woods distinctly favoured the defence. Some severe fighting ensued, but by evening the British had made good the Petit Morin and were on the line La Noue-Viels Maisons, where they joined up with the II. Cavalry Corps of the French V. Army, the left corps of which extended through Marchais-en- Brie to the southern outskirts of Montmirail.

Wednesday, Sept. 9 a day of high winds and drenching rains was to witness Gen. von Kluck's last effort on the Ourcq. His IX. Corps was now in position to initiate an enveloping movement against the left of the French VI. Army. Gen. Mau- noury's troops were at the end of their strength, and a determined attack delivered by the Germans from Betz and Anthilly bore down the French resistance. The 8th Div. of the IV. Corps had been summoned from the Marne to reinforce the French left, but it could not be brought effectively into action, and as the

6ist Res. and 7th Divs. and the VII. Corps failed to hold the Germans Nanteuil and Villers St. Genest were lost; but later, the 7th Div., in response to an urgent message from Gen. Maunoury about 6 P.M., faced about and struggled northwards towards Nanteuil, flanked by the I. Cavalry Corps. Gen. von Kluck, however, had shot his bolt. During the day the British army crossed the Marne, and on its right the XVIII. Corps of the French V. Army gained possession of Chateau-Thierry. Strangely enough the line of the Marne was not resolutely defended by the Germans, apparently through an error of judg- ment of the commander of a mixed detachment of the German IX. Corps, specially allotted to reinforce the cavalry already holding the crossings. Thus it came about that British columns advancing at dawn on the pth found that not only were the bridges to the W. of Chateau-Thierry intact but that the enemy had made no attempt to hold this part of the Marne, and reports brought in by airmen all through the afternoon made it clear that the retreat of the German I. Army had begun.

So far this narrative of the battle of the Marne has dealt exclusively with the western section of the struggle, which took place, generally speaking, in the area bounded E. and W. by meridians drawn through Chateau-Thierry and Paris respec- tively. The story of the fighting must now be transferred to the centre of the whole battle-front, to which N. and S. lines through Chateau-Thierry and Chalons-sur-Marne form boundaries suf- ficiently accurate for our purpose.

The German Supreme Headquarters had ordered the I. and II. Armies to form front facing Paris, the former between Oise and Marne and the latter between Marne and Seine, Chateau- Thierry to be the point of junction of the two. armies. This order had been disregarded by Gen. von Kluck, who had per- sisted in his passage over the Marne and in maintaining his position in front of the II. Army. Gen. von Billow, however, endeavoured to comply with the orders of his superiors, and did make are effort to wheel his army to the right with the object of taking up the line Chateau-Thierry (exclusive)- Marigny-le-Grand. The net result of compliance with orders by one army commander and disregard of them by the other was that the right corps of the II. Army was squeezed out of the line by the left corps of the I. In other words, the two armies were acting upon different plans; overlapping had arisen; and the confusion inevitable in such circumstances began to be revealed upon the evening of Sept. 5.

This factor alone was bound to hamper the II. Army, and Gen. von Billow's task was not lightened by the subsequent conduct of his neighbour. When Gen. von Kluck renounced his plunge S.E. he did it with such thoroughness as to lead to the transfer of practically his whole strength to the Ourcq. On Sept. 7 he demanded back the III. and IX. Corps which he had lent Gen. von Billow but the day before. The withdrawal of these units to the Ourcq exposed Gen. von Billow's right flank; a great gap was thus opened between the II. and I. Armies; and Gen. von Kluck, who had on the 5th inconvenienced Gen. von Billow by his undue proximity, was now seriously embarrassing that commander by his aloofness.

This is, however, to anticipate matters somewhat. It is nec- essary to go back to the initial stages of the battle in the centre of the field, on Sept. 6. The substantial theatre of the struggle to be described was the area between the marshes of St. Gond and the Sezanne-Sommesous high road. The marshes had been largely reclaimed and canalized since they figured in Napoleon's great campaign exactly 100 years earlier; but in rainy weather traffic is limited to the three or four good roads crossing them, the chief of these leading from Epernay to Sezanne and Fere Champenoise respectively. The former road is commanded by Mondement and the latter by the high ground of Mont Aout. Generally speaking, the task of the IX. Army of Gen. Foch for Sept. 6 was to support the advance of the V. Army with its left flank (which for this purpose had been pushed forward as far as Talus), while maintaining a watching attitude along the rest of its front. Gen. Foch, however, found himself quite unable to carry out even the moderate programme he had drawn up.