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First World War : the Marne

A hundred years ago from the 5th September to the 12th September 1914, the first battle of the Marne happened between Germany and Franco-British troops.

The first battle of the Marne is the result of the first month of the Great War and the Grand Retreat ordered by the French and British commands. After the severe defeats suffered in Alsace-Lorraine, Northern France and Belgium, the troops of the Entente started falling back. The German advance seemed unstoppable.

The battle of the Marne is in fact the name given to an group of smaller battles ( like for the battle of the Frontiers ) that occurred in the regions of Champagne or the Argonnes. A front-line more than 200 kilometres large where almost 2,000,000 men fought. Almost 900,000 German soldiers are engaged in the Marne and the Franco-British troops are more than 1,000,000 men strong.

The moral in the Entente side is far from great. Their plans for the beginning of the war have been crushed by Germany which forced the allies in a retreat. The German armies are closer and closer to Paris and in the continuity of the Schlieffen plan. French commander-in-chief General Joffre has blamed the leading officers for the French defeats and decided to sack many of them.

On the beginning of September, Joffre ordered his troops to stop retreating and start consolidating their positions in the Marne. The purpose was to surprise the Germans pursuing the French and British with several counter-attacks. But the moral in the French and British sides are low, the retreats were tiresome and demoralizing thus Joffre hoped for victories in the Marne otherwise the troops would lose their will to fight. Between the 5th and 12th September, Joffre managed to obtain his victories, at a costly expensive in human lives.

The French obtained a crucial victory in the swamps of Saint-Gond between the 5th and 9th September where General Foch pushed back the German armies in the Aisne but he lost 5,000 of his soldiers. The same days, at the battle of the Two Morins, General French of the British Expeditionary Force and French General Franchet d’Espèrey drove back their German enemies. The battles of Ourck and Revigny are also decisive victories for the allies.

On the 12th of September, the Schlieffen Plan is definitely countered and the fights are heading towards the Aisne region which will mark the beginning of the deadly doctrine of trench warfare.

The victories in the Marne lightened the moral of the French and British sides. However, the victories saw the loss around 227,000 French soldiers ( 21,000 of them killed ) and 37,000 British soldiers ( 3,000 of them killed ). The German suffered 43,000 deaths, 173,000 wounded soldiers and 40,000 soldiers were accounted as missing.

By Alister

Studying at the University of Besaçon, Burgundy Franche-Comté, France