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Showing posts from May, 2013

Around the First Battle of the Marne: 3 victory

The third (and last) part of visiting the 1914 battlefields of the Marne in connection with my Osprey on the First Battle of the Marne.
Although the fighting had gone on for several days, the Germans had not succeeded in defeating the Allies, although they had been driven back in places with heavy casualties. But the front was too long for the number of men engaged, and gaps, small and large, began to appear. Both sides rushed to fill the gaps, but began to run out of men. The clash to the west of the town of Montmirail was the straw that broke the German camel's back.
We stayed at the Hotel Le Vert Galant in Montmirail.

More by chance than design, the French had found the open flank of the German 2nd Army. On 8th September, masking Montmirail itself, French infantry from 36th Division crossed the Petit Morin river and climbed the wooded slopes opposite, supported by artillery. The key combat was the struggle for the small village of Marchais-en-Brie. The German commander, Genera…

Around the First Battle of the Marne: 2 Mondement

Continuing our travels around northern France in search of the First Battle of the Marne for my Osprey Campaigns book. Moving on from Meaux, we headed east. These posts will be in the order of the battle, rather than the order we actually visited the sites to keep the account half-way coherent, because there was bit of ducking and diving on the way. 
The next phase of the battle involved assaults by the German 2nd Army, along the lines of the Petit and Grand Morins rivers, and by 3rd Army across the River Somme (a different River Somme, not the one of 1916). Restricted as we were by public transport, we were not able to visit sites like Charleville, where the French defenders hung on bravely in defiance of common sense. Nor could we reach the line of the Somme, and the villages of Normée, Lenharrée, Haussimont and Sommesous, the site of an equally desperate French defence, and where the surprise night attack of the Saxons of 3rd Army nearly succeeded in breaking through the French fro…

Around the First Battle of the Marne: 1 the battle of the Ourcq

In 2008, I was writing a book on the First Battle of the Marne for Osprey (here), so a visit to the battlefield was vital. The trouble is that the battle took place over a wide geographical area, and I don't drive, so arranging the visit was a major campaign in itself (for which my wife must take the sole credit).
Our first port of call was Meaux, to cover the battle of the Ourcq phase. We stayed at the Hotel Le Richemont, which is handily placed for both the centre of town and the rail / bus interchange.
The first day started with a bus trip to Trocy-en-Multien. The route goes past the American monument (a bit flamboyant for my taste, but still ... ); the new Museum of the Great War was still a gleam in the architect's eye at the time, but has since been completed on a neighbouring site. Alighting at Trocy, we walked the short distance to the village of Etrepilly. This marked the high-water mark of the French advance during the battle in this sector - a night-time attack led…

Kings of the Air: Clément Ader

This is the first of a series of biographical sketches based on the research I am doing for my new book Kings of the Air: French aces and airmen of the Great War, to be published by Pen & Sword.
Clément Ader (1841-1925) was a French inventor, whose attempt at heavier-than-air flight some years before the Wright brothers was so nearly successful.
Ader had a restless mind, and his inventions covered a wide range of fields. In 1868, he began as a velocipede manufacturer. Instead of conventional iron tyres, his machines used a rubber tubular tyre of his own invention, resulting in a much lighter frame, and a much more comfortable ride.
The war against German in 1870 brought an end to his work. He then began working for a railway company in the south-west of the country, the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi. In 1875, he designed an engine that laid rails, that saw service for several years.
He then turned to the new telephone, commercialising the inventions of Alexander Graham Bel…