Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Marne - Part 6.Impact of the battle.

While the Eastern front continued to experience considerable movements through the war, the Marne signalled the start of entrenchment and stalemate for the Western Front. It restored the pride and morale of the Allies, but did not prevent them from making dreadful errors in the coming months and years. It reinforced the authority of Joffre, and created new French military heroes in Foch, Maunoury and Franchet d'Esperey. The German decision to withdraw to the Aisne, effectively made by Hentsch, a junior officer, remains intensely controversial. Many still believe that Moltke’s collapse of nerve denied the Germans a victory that was within their reach. Some of their formations were performing much more effectively than their French opponents; both Foch and Maunoury stood perilously close to defeat. In the end, the French fought the Germans to a standstill. It finished Moltke and prompted a new strategic imperative for Germany.

On 10th September, Moltke informed the Kaiser that Germany had ‘lost the war’, so grievously did he view events at the Marne. Moltke was a broken man, and was relieved of his position by Wilhelm, to be replaced by Erich Falkenhayn. Falkenhayn, who now combined the role of War Minister with that of Commander in Chief, showed no mercy in apportioning blame to Moltke for the Marne, as described by Max Hastings:

He (Moltke) received little sympathy from his peers, and deserves none from history. No man had done more to precipitate the calamity of European war; yet, having got his way, Moltke proved incapable of effectively conducting his nation’s armies. He died in 1916, aged sixty-eight. Falkenhayn was his successor, and noted laconically on taking over command: ‘Schlieffen’s notes are at an end and therewith also Moltke’s wits.’ At this critical moment, it seemed to the leaders of Germany preferable to apportion to individuals responsibility for detailed failures, rather than to acknowledge that the nation’s entire programme for waging war, so confidently set in motion less than two months earlier, had proved a catastrophe for their country and for the world.

Erich von Falkenhayn

The term ‘the miracle of the Marne’ was first coined in December by Maurice Barrès. He described the battle as the ‘eternal French miracle, the miracle of Joan of Arc, the saint and patron of France’. It is hard to overstate the significance of Joffre’s triumph of the will over Moltke in determining the fate of Europe. Moreover, Joffre’s personal contribution was matched by that of the men of his armies, who revealed fortitude at a moment when they might have been forgiven for succumbing to despair. Churchill suggests reports were coming in to German HQ in Luxembourg, ‘as if by a Wall Street ticker during the crash of the Market. The booming hopes of the 3rd were followed by the paper collapse of the 8th'. Hentsch’s reports from every general on the whole 200 miles front, were as bad as feared, prompting orders for  a wholesale retreat to the line of the River Aisne.

Hence the Battle of the Marne finished with the German retreat to the line of the Aisne, where they dug in for the long term, but feared that they had lost the chance to win the war.

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