Skip to main content

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, Generalmajor von Unruh, had spread the units of his 25th Brigade (13th Division) out along the ridge line overlooking the river, and could not bring all their guns to bear against the French advance in and around the Bois de Courmont. By the time the defenders had changed front it was too late. If the division's flank was turned, then the corps' flank was turned. If the corps' flank was turned, the 2nd Army's flank was turned, and the only way out was retreat.

Walking out from Montmirail along the country road on the north bank towards the hamlet of Les Marais gives you a good idea of the dominating position of the ridge line, and turning up-slope on the D20 into Marchais, one can only admire the effort of the French infantry who performed the same feat under fire and carrying a full pack.

Montmirail was also the site of a battle in 1814, involving someone called Napoleon (whoever he was). There is a monument and several information boards concerning this battle along the main road.

The action at Marchais lasted most of the day, but, by the later standards of the war, was not very bloody. Perhaps that is why the regimental histories of the units involved do not devote a great deal of space to it. However, their war diaries survive, and their consultation is free of charge: 36th Division, its constituent brigades, 71st (34th and 49th Infantry) and 72nd (12th and 8th Infantry), as well divisional units such as 249th Infantry and 14th Artillery.

The photo-blog La défaite oubliée is a site largely concerned with the 1814 battlefield, but as there is a good overlap on the ground, many of the photos show the 1914 one as well. A site devoted to IR13, who bore the brunt of the French attack, is here.

We also spent some time at Chateau Thierry, staying at Le Jardin des Fables guesthouse. We walked out to the impressive US Memorial, connected, of course, with the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918, rather than the First. From here, it was possible to continue walking westwards, amongst the vineyards. It is easy to see how the Marne crossings are dominated by the hills to the north, and how difficult it was for the BEF to make the crossings when they were faced with a determined opponent.

We also took the opportunity when changing trains to visit La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, but there was little time to do other than climb the hill above the town, to appreciate the importance of the place as a crossing, and to see the memorial to the British dead, close by the bridge (left).

A Google map with the places listed is here.

Pictures: cover of the penny-dreadful from Gallica (I don't what effect she has on the enemy, but by God she frightens me!); the north side of Courton Wood from the German positions; an old postcard of the main square of Chateau-Thierry; the monument at La Ferté-sous-Jouarre from Wikipedia

Popular posts from this blog

Kings of the Air: A Matter of Reputation

When dealing with the history of the development of the French Air Force before and during the Great War, you cannot go far without coming across the name of Charles Tricornet de Rose. A dragoons officer, he was the first man to get his military wings. He was immediately snapped up to work at Estienne's research establishment at Vincennes, where he worked on aircraft armament (even though the Minister of War thought it a waste of time), coming to the conclusion that the gun had to placed in the nose, firing forwards. The problem was the firing through the arc of the propellor, and, with Roland Garros, he was working on a synchronizer system when war broke out. 
Garros went his own way, towards the dead end that were his deflector plates. Meanwhile, de Rose, the commander of Fifth Army's aviation, created the first all-fighter squadron, MS12, and filled it with the best pilots he could lay his hands on, including Jean Navarre. Until a viable synchronizer system was worked out,…

Sources for French military history

In something of a mood for reviews after last week's post, I dipped my pen (? or should that be keyboard?) in critic's vitriol once again, and took a look at Milindex, a searchable bibliography newly mounted on the website of the French Ministry of Defence's Centre de Doctrine d’Emploi des Forces (CDEF).
The bibliography is the work of the CDEF's Research Centre, the Ecole Militaire's Documentation Centre and an un-named university. The database includes the following older titles:
Journal des Sciences militaires (1825-1914) (available on Gallica), Revue d’artillerie (1872-1939) (available on Gallica), Revue de cavalerie (available on Gallica 1905-25),  Revue d’infanterie (1887-1939) (available on Gallica), Revue des Sciences Politiques (1911-1936) (available on Gallica),
Revue des troupes coloniales (1902-1939) Revue du géniemilitaire (1887-1959) (available on Gallica), Revue du service de l’intendance militaire(1888-1959)
Revue militaire générale (1907-1973) (available…

Ceux de 14 - the critics speak!

With the first episodes of Ceux de 14 having been broadcast on France 3 earlier this week, the critics have now had their say.
Télé-Loisirs: 'a good reconstruction of war', but overall the cast 'was rather wooden'; on the other hand Théo Frilet, as Genevoix was 'convincing'. Overall: Very Good
Télé 2 Semaines: 'convincing casting', but also thought they were 'rather wooden'. Overall: Quite Good
Télé Z: 'we lived, suffered and wept with these soldiers serving during the Great War'. Overall: Excellent
Télé Poche: 'faithful to the original book'. Overall: Good
TV Grandes Chaines: 'a bold production' with 'convincing actors'. Overall: Very Good.
Télé 7 Jours: 'the series is a noteworthy tribute to a generation that was sacrificed', played by 'outstanding actors'. Overall: Good
Télé Star: Overall: Good
So ... 'could be better' by the sound of things; but likewise, could be a lot worse (and we've s…