The Battle of the Rivers
A Table of Contents has been added.
The Daily Telegraph
THE BATTLE OF THE RIVERS
THE BATTLE OF
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
On a scale before unknown in Western Europe, and save for the coincidentoperations in the Eastern theatre of war, unexampled in history, thesuccession of events named the "Battle of the Rivers" presentsillustrations of strategy and tactics of absorbing interest. Apart evenfrom the spectacular aspects of this lurid and grandiose drama, full asit is of strange and daring episodes, the problems it affords in thescience of war must appeal to every intelligent mind.
An endeavour is here made to state these problems in outline. In thelight they throw, events and episodes, which might otherwise appearconfused, will be found to fit into a clear sequence of causes andconsequences. The events and episodes themselves gain in grandeur astheir import and relationship are unfolded.
Since the story of the retreat from Mons has been told in another volumeof this series, it is only in the following pages dealt with so far asits military bearings elucidate succeeding phases of the campaign.
|I||THE GERMAN PLANS||7|
|II||WHY THE PLANS WERE CHANGED||25|
|III||GENERAL JOFFRE AS A STRATEGIST||42|
|IV||THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE||54|
|V||THE GERMAN OVERTHROW||69|
|VI||HOW GENERAL VON KLUCK AVERTED RUIN||91|
|VII||THE OPERATIONS ON THE AISNE||108|
|VIII||WARFARE BY DAY AND BY NIGHT||128|
|IX||THE STRUGGLE ROUND RHEIMS||146|
|X||REVIEW OF RESULTS||172|
The Battle of the Rivers
CHAPTER I THE GERMAN PLANS
"About September 3," wrote Field Marshal Sir John French in his despatchdated a fortnight later, "the enemy appears to have changed hisplans, and to have determined to stop his advance south direct uponParis, for on September 4 air reconnaissances showed that his maincolumns were moving in a south-easterly direction generally, east of aline drawn through Nanteuil and Lizy on the Ourcq."
In that passage the British commander summarises an event which changedthe whole military aspect of the Great War and changed it not only inthe Western, but in the Eastern theatre of hostilities.
What were the German plans and why were they changed?
In part the plans were military, and in part political. These twoaspects, however, are so[Pg 8] interwoven that it is necessary, in the firstplace, briefly to sketch the political aspect in order that the militaryaspect, which depended on the political, may be the better understood.
The political object was to reduce France to such powerlessness that shemust not only agree to any terms imposed, but remain for the future in astate of vassalage to Germany. Further, the object was to extract fromFrance a war fine so colossal that, if paid, it would furnish Germanywith the means of carrying on the war against Great Britain and Russia,and, if not paid, or paid only in part, would offer a pretext for anoccupation of a large part of France by German troops, indefinite inpoint of time, and, formalities apart, indistinguishable fromannexation. By means of that occupation great resources for carrying onthe war might, in any event, be drawn in kind from the French populationand from their territory, or drawn in cash in the form of local warlevies.
In a passage quoted by M. Edouard Simon, the late Prince von Bismarckonce spoke of the difficulty he met with at the end of the war withFrance in 1871, in restraining the cupidity of the then King of Prussiaand in "mixing the water of reflection with the wine of victory."[Pg 9] Therewas at the time, in Germany, much discussion as to the amount of the WarFine. The staggering total of 15,000 millions of francs (600 millionpounds sterling) was freely asserted to be none too high. Fear ofpossible war with Great Britain mainly kept within bounds this desire ofplunder, and led the Emperor William to accept, reluctantly, the 5,000million francs afterwards paid.
There can be no doubt, however, that it became a settled opinion withthe Government, and also, even if to a less extent, a conviction withthe public of Germany that, enormous as it was, the levy upon France in1871 was insufficient. That opinion was sharpened by the promptitude,almost contemptuous, with which the French people discharged the demand,and brought the German military occupation to an end.
The opinion that the War Fine of 1871 had been too small inspired thepolitical crisis of 1875, caused by a threatened renewal of the Germanattack. The pretext then was that France was forming, with Austria andItaly, a league designed to destroy the new German Empire. The truecause of hostility was that France had begun to reorganise her army.Intervention by the Cabinets of London and St. Petersburg averted theperil. The German Government found itself obliged to put off a furtherdraft upon "opulent France" until a more convenient season.
This discovery that neither Great Britain nor[Pg 10] Russia was willing to seeFrance become the milch cow of Germany dictated the policy which ledlater to the Triple Alliance. Consistently from this time to the end ofhis life the Emperor William I. assumed the part of guardian of thepeace of Europe. The Triple Alliance was outwardly promoted by Germanywith that object.
Meanwhile, every opportunity was taken to strengthen the German militaryorganisation.[Pg 11] Only by possession of an invincible army could the GermanEmpire, it was contended, fulfil its peace-keeping mission.
This growth of military armaments imposed on Germany a heavy burden. Wasthe burden borne merely for the sake of peace, or for the sake of theoriginal inspiration and policy?
Few acquainted with the character of the Germans will credit them with atendency to spend money out of sentiment. The answer, besides, has beengiven by General von Bernhardi. He has not hesitated to declare thatthe object of these preparations was to ensure victory in the offensivewar made necessary by the growth of the German population, a growthcalling for a proportionate "political expansion."
Outside Germany the so-called revelations of General von Bernhardi tookmany by surprise. That, however, was because, outside Germany, not manyknow much of German history, and fewer still the history of modernPrussia.
It was realised, when General von Bernhardi published his book, that theoriginal inspiration and policy had never been changed. On the contrary,all the efforts and organisation of Prussia had been directed to therealisation of that policy, and the only alteration was that, asconfidence in Prussia's offensive organisation grew, the policy had beenenlarged by sundry added ambitions until at length it became thatgrotesque and Gothic political fabric known as Pan-Germanism.
"The military origin of the new German Empire," says M. Simon, "is ofvast importance; it gives that Empire its fundamental character; itestablishes its basis and its principle of existence. Empires derivetheir vitality from the principle to which they owe their birth."
The fact is of vast importance because, just as the British Empire hadits origin in, and owes its character to, the embodiment of moral forcein self-government, so the German Empire had its origin in, and owes itscharacter to, the embodiment of material forces in armies, and existed,as General von Bernhardi says, for the employment of that force as andwhenever favourable opportunity should present itself.
The political inspiration and purpose being clear, how was that purpose,as regards France, most readily and with fewest risks to be realised?
It was most readily to be realised by seizing Paris. As everybody isaware, the Government of France is more centralised than that of anyother great State. Paris is the hub of the French roads and railways;Paris is also the hub of French finance; Paris is at once the brain andthe heart of the country; the place to which all national taxes flow;the seat from which all national direction and control proceed. It wasbelieved, therefore, that, Paris occupied, France would be stricken withpolitical paralysis. Resistance might be offered by the provinces, forthe area of France is roughly equal to the area of Germany, but theresistance could never be more than ineffectual.
Such was the plan on its political side. What were its militaryfeatures?
A political plan of that character plainly called for a swift and, ifpossible, crushing military offensive. Rapidity was one of the firstessentials. That affected materially the whole military side of thescheme. It meant that to facilitate mobility and transport, theequipment of the troops must be made as light as possible. Hence all theusual apparatus of field hospitals and impedimenta for encampment mustbe dispensed with. It meant that the force to be dispatched must bepowerful enough to bear down the maximum of estimated opposition, andensure the seizure of Paris, without delay. It meant again that theforce must move by the shortest and most direct route.
If we bear in mind these three features—equipment cut down to givemobility, strength to ensure an uninterrupted sweep, shortest route—weshall find it the easier to grasp the nature of the operations whichhave since taken place. The point to be kept in mind is that what themilitary expedition contemplated was not only on an unusual scale, butwas of an altogether unusual, and in many respects novel, character.
The most serious military problem in front of the German Government wasthe problem of route. The forces supposed to be strong enough Germanyhad at her disposal. Within her power, too, was it to make them, so faras meticulous preparation could do it, mobile. But[Pg 14] command of theshortest and most direct route she did not possess.
That route we know passes in part through the plain of northern Belgium,and in part through the parallel valley of the Meuse to the pointswhere, on the Belgium frontier, there begin the great internationalroads converging on Paris. All the way from Liége to Paris there are notonly these great paved highways, but lines of main trans-continentalrailroads. The route, in short, presented every natural and artificialfacility needed to keep a vast army fully supplied.
Here it should be recalled that two things govern the movements ofarmies. Hostile opposition is one; supplies are the other. In thisinstance, the possible hostile opposition was estimated for. It remainedto ensure that neither the march of the great host, as a whole, nor theadvance of any part of it should at any time be held up by waiting forthe arrival of either foodstuffs, munitions, or reinforcements, but thatthe thousand and one necessaries for such an army, still a complex listeven when everything omissible had been weeded out, should arrive, as,when, and where wanted.
Little imagination need be exercised to perceive that to work out ascheme like that on