Ch 3: The Allies Strike Back

We must not forget that all the armies engaged in France were playing their part in one stupendous battle. This is generally overlooked. The action of all the forces involved in the first and second phases of the German offensives was coordinate. Glancing along the line from Switzerland north, around Verdun, and west to Paris, the first week of September found the stage set for what seemed to promise a triumph for the German armies as they were readjusted for a general attack. In Alsace, though the French had again occupied Mulhausen where the son of Dreyfus was promoted for gallantry, the special field army was recalled on August 28th, and sent to strengthen the French centre, leaving the Belfort command to hold its defensive lines from the Swiss frontier over the Thann district, through the Vosges, across the approaches to Colmar. General Dubail and the First Army fought stubborn battles with the Seventh Germany Army, now occupying the ruins of St. Die and other frontier towns along the Meurthe, and aiming at Toul through Charmes, where the French could not be shaken.
   On Dubail's left, De Castelnau was holding the Second French Army firmly around Nancy from Rosieres west of Luneville north toward Verdun, assailed first from the south, east and northeast, and then from the north, where the garrison army from Metz had driven the wedge from Pont a Mousson across the Moselle toward the Meuse between Verdun and Nancy. Flushed by early successes, eager to play his part in the brilliant work of the armies sweeping across France, the Crown Prince of Bavaria had attempted to force the famous Trouee of Mirecourt, south of Nancy, feinting also along the front, and moving strong columns well north of the city along the roads running from Metz to Toul. Covering a rough semicircle, these forces invited reprisal against their right centre. De Castelnau led his regiments from the heights into the valley, struck hard before Amance and drove the Bavarians back to the frontier. But the importance of holding the defensive barrier intact, the menace to his flank from Luneville, and the presence of many heavy batteries which were pushed out from Metz toward Pont a Mousson, demanded caution. De Castelnau, therefore, recalled his forces when they had practically broken through the Bavarian front, and not without mutterings from men high in command, placed his splendid corps back on the strong position extending from Pont a Mousson across the plateau of Amance, along the Grand Couronne, curving before the city and circling south over the lower wooded hills of Ore vie and Vitrimont, to join the left of the First Army, a front of twenty-five miles.
   With effective preparation, the Bavarians now brought up 380 siege guns, and, while the Marne fighting developed, they opened September with a terrific bombardment of the main position before Nancy, which was continued for eight nights and days. The French improvised carriages for a few position-guns from Toul, but they could do little to meet this concentrated fire. They held their ground, however, and cleverly screened their outclassed "75’s" to check massed attacks, which were soon aimed at various points of the position.
   Heavy shelling finally blew the outer French positions to pieces. Outlying defensive villages were stormed and heavy forces pushed down the main Nancy road to Champenoux, and deployed in the woods close to the foot of the plateau of Amance, the main defence northeast of the city. Then Pont a Mousson fell, and the heavy artillery from Metz closed in on the north. De Castelnau had also been obliged to lose Foch and some of his finest troops to strengthen the French centre below Rheims, just as the Germans pushed in round Amance. On September 7th, coincident with the combined assault on the other fronts, the final attack on Nancy was started.
   Attacking at every point, the strongest section of the assault was delivered against the heights of Amance, and the French were driven from their trenches along the foot of the plateau. All night the guns thundered while the French reserved their ammunition, enduring heavy losses from the concentrated artillery. On September 8th successive masses of twelve picked battalions formed in the woods before Amance, to storm the shaken final lines on the hill. Not a shot was fired as they advanced with bands playing. "Fire when the first line is at two hundred yards," was the order in the silent French trenches where every gun and rifle was ready, and glasses showed crack cavalry waiting on the main road from Chateau Salins, a mass of white and silver. The "Guard Cuirassiers" were in full dress; the Kaiser was waiting for the signal for a state entry to Nancy.
   The Emperor had planned to lead his victorious troops, by the triumphal arch of Stanislas, to the Place Carriere, to impress the captured populace by a review down Le Pepiniere, with headquarters at the Governor's palace. But with their batteries pushed well over the Moselle on the north, and an incredible burst of heavy shells along the east front to pave the way, mass after mass of devoted German infantry were going to their death in a futile effort to wrest the final victory under the eyes of their Emperor. Line after line was shot to pieces when the trenches on the Amance slopes broke their silence. Masses of Bavarians went boldly over the Bois de Crevic, entire regiments of Saxons disappeared down the wooded slopes of the Moselle Valley, and only wounded men that were humanely dragged from the barbed wire by the French could tell the story. The defenders stood like a rock on their main position.

An Occupied Village shelled by French Guns, which have spared the Church

   More than 4,000 dead lay before the Amance section alone, when the Kaiser drove sadly and silently away just as news of checks to five other armies reached him. The French had lost heavily also, but they had saved the gate to France, and a week later the Germans retired to their own frontier. Success would have entailed the loss of Toul and Verdun, breached the frontier barrier, and opened a direct road from Germany to take in rear the French armies along the Marne line facing north.
   On the east front, though part of the First and Second French Armies had sacrificed fifty per cent of their strength in the terrific fighting of French Lorraine, few details beyond terse official dispatches have appeared in the American press, and from German sources there has been an ominous silence. Yet here were fought the greatest battles of the first campaign, and the heavy forests of French Lorraine cover the horrors of its first stages of primeval ferocity.
   With the army from Metz checked along the lines north of Nancy, and held off by forces on the sector southeast of Verdun, the Germans maintained a strip between the two which entered France like a wedge along the Valley of the Rupt de Mad across the Moselle toward the Meuse at St. Milhiel, aiming at Fort Troyon, which endured a terrific bombardment for weeks, though the garrison clung to the outworks and refused eight offers for capitulation.
   With the Bavarians continuing the line above this wedge, along the east front to Verdun, with outposts circling ineffectively round the north of the fortress, facing the big loop of defences manned by the garrison, the parallel fronts of the rival armies were continued southwest of the fortress, where Sarrail with the Third Army was opposing the forces of the German Crown Prince. The defence of Longwy, lasting a week after Namur's fall, had released the other German armies, had led to some reckless infantry assaults, and much criticism of the royal general's tactics. Moving picture cameras have faithfully recorded every branch of this spectacular soldier’s direction of battles. For the film he regulated the fire of field batteries, and led a stirring advance of Hussars, considerately pulling in his charger if its impatience led it out of focus, forgetting that even an actor-general would sometimes look toward the enemy instead of posing. I saw this official film recently with privileged neutrals in Holland, who inconsiderately roared with laughter at the postures of this vulpine-faced prince, who seems to have inherited little of the ability of the Kaiser. The brain of his army has been Count von Haeseler, the famous cavalry leader of 1870.
   The German Embassy in Washington issued a despatch on August 25th announcing that the Crown Prince had "decisively defeated" five French Army Corps, and that he now definitely stated that the "French were unable to face the terrific fire of German infantry." As the defeat at Neufchateau was inflicted by the help of the troops of Albrecht of Wurttemberg, it is evident that Sarrail's masterly change of front at Verdun had completely misled the Crown Prince to the claim of a decisive victory. When the army of His Imperial Highness had obliterated Longwy, with its single battalion and obsolete forts, and had looted the frontier district, shooting the insolent civilians who objected, it crossed the Meuse, eager and anxious to earn more tangible laurels.
   After the failure of the offensive toward Luxemburg, Sarrail had taken command of the Third French Army. Without heavy artillery, the field guns of the Thirtieth Artillery regiment had coolly faced the superior batteries of the Crown Prince as the French forces withdrew and moved west of the Meuse, to form line with the other Field Armies. On the Chiers, then crossing the river at Dun, dealing swift blows and retiring rapidly, by August 28th the Third Army was able to regain touch with the Fourth Army on its left, which was reforming on the line Buzancy-Bouvellemont after dealing two blows which checked the Wurttemberg forces. These armies now had to conform with the Allied left in the general retirement already described, and Sarrail soon had to face the difficult task of keeping his right firmly on the Verdun field works, while his left retained touch with the other armies as the line pivoted back to Paris. He formed the hinge and, as the extreme left was forced back rapidly, he was obliged to retire at an acute angle through Varennes, Clermont and Vaubecourt before the Crown Prince.
   Sarrail could not risk a decision, so he engaged the Crown Prince chiefly with field artillery, and sidestepped before the efforts to turn his left, which lured the main columns through the Argonne forest too quickly for the heavier German guns to keep up. The situation was dangerous, however, for while it relieved direct pressure on the Verdun garrison, and brought the whole Fifth Army too far south to retain touch with the Bavarians on the semicircle of defences above the fortress, Sarrail’s line was pivoting back ominously near the Meuse, and he had only two corps to deploy on his widening front, against any point of which the Crown Prince could deliver strong blows from his army, the Sixteenth, Eighteenth and Twenty-first Corps and special units.
   Recall also that the Metz forces from the east front were driving in a wedge westward between Verdun and Toul, toward the Meuse, its apex pointing toward Sarrail's rear across the river. If the Crown Prince could break through the line, he could join hands across the Meuse with the Metz forces and isolate Verdun and all the French forces above the junction. For a short time he had three 280 guns firing over Sarrail at Troyon, when it was crumbling from the artillery of the Metz forces on the other side. This was the basis for the claim that Verdun was surrounded and the Verdun-Toul barrier breached. But overconfidence led the Crown Prince to develop his attack as far south as Revigny, where the French left suddenly stood firm. Sarrail was now facing west, his right wing resting along the Meuse heights, fighting back to back with De Castelnau's left on the east front. Linked by the Verdun garrison these forces formed the lower sides of a huge inverted "U" round the fortress, De Castelnau fighting the Bavarians who faced west, while Sarrail was engaging the Fifth Army which faced east, the Verdun position extending like a huge peninsula of tangled field works and defences between them. Sarrail's elastic left was now resting near Bar le Due, thirty miles below Verdun, where the Allied line curved and continued directly west, with Du Gary and the Fourth Army stretched below the Marne Valley opposing the Duke of Wurttemberg's forces, which passing through Vouziers had pushed it through Suippes and west of Chalons and then to Vitry, twenty miles farther south. Continuing west the Fifth French Army was also well over the Marne, retiring far below Epernay, facing north, but too widely deployed to more than check von Buelow, and uncertain of von Hausen, who had swept below Rheims and Epernay and was consolidating, ready to smash through the line east of von Buelow and roll up the flanks when the final attack was delivered. The British were facing von Kluck, well on the left of the Fifth Army.
   Extending along the rear of these forces, via the south fork, the main road from Paris across Seine et Marne to Nancy, gave Joffre splendid communications to rearrange his field forces on a more solid front, while the second great German attack was preparing. He closed up Langle de Gary and the Fourth Army eastward through Vitry toward Bar le Due, to strengthen the curving junction with the Third Army at which the Crown Prince was aiming. This made room for General Foch and the newly created Ninth Army to form on the left, from Mailly to near Sezanne, west of which D'Esperey's Fifth Army consolidated before Esternay to Courtagon. The British army, its Third Corps now completed, closed in and carried the compact line west to the Forest of Crecy, south of Meaux, and a few miles from Paris. Conneau's famous cavalry was on the Provins road where the French joined the British. This front between Verdun and Paris covered practically 150 miles. The General Staff made the initial error of under-valuation. Berlin jubilantly announced that the Marne was "forced" and that the "fleeing and shattered field armies" of the Allies had been overtaken and would be forced to fight. The entire German line prepared to deliver a crushing blow, every army co-operating, entirely ignorant of the rapid consolidation effected after their air reconnaissance.
   A terrific bombardment along the line on September 5th evoked a mild response from the Allies. On September 7th the general assault started. Along the eastern front, notably at Nancy as shown, the French stood fast. On the north front the Crown Prince, losing touch on both flanks in the Argonne, drove in force at Sarrail's line, to break through well below Verdun, and isolate the fortress, by making a junction with the point of the wedge driven in from the eastern front. This attack failed. Everywhere the Allies now held their ground. Attempting to co-operate with the Crown Prince, the Duke of Wurttemberg attacked westward from the curve where Sarrail's left joined De Gary's Fourth Army, and was definitely checked at Vitry.
   The Ninth Army, and the right and centre of the Fifth Army also stood firmly, on September 7th, as the Saxons and von Buelow started their crushing attack from a line from Chalons westward through Vertus, Etages and Champaubert, the moment that von Kluck's advance guard clashed with the left of the French above Esternay, where his forces were to smash through to cut off the armies from Paris, and crumple up the flank of the heavily engaged line eastward, while his Reserves watched the capital and the British. It was an arrogant plan in which the tables were completely turned on the First German Army.
   The nucleus of the Sixth Army under D'Amade, its chief units still uncompleted or in Paris, had retired through Amiens to the railroad from Rouen. As von Kluck wheeled his army northeast above Paris, advancing down roads which led to what reconnaissance had reported as a vulnerable gap but across which the British were now closing up solidly to the left of the Fifth Army, 5,000 taxicabs rushed regiments from the capital northward. With its original components, which marched nearly forty miles to a battle of six days and nights, the Sixth Army was completed by magic, September 5th, on a front from near Meaux up the main road to Ermenonville, through St. Soupplets, at right angles to the main line. Composed of two corps supplemented by five Reserve divisions, a Moorish brigade and a division of cavalry, this army under Maunoury moved eastward against the German flank on September 6th. The first shot was fired as it struck twelve noon.
   Next day von Kluck discovered that he was marching into a trap. His Second Cavalry Division was in column on the Coulommiers Road, his Ninth Mounted Division skirting the Crecy forest due south of Meaux. His infantry were pushing south, well east of these flank screens; the Ninth Corps at Rebais, the Third and Seventh on the Petit Morin at Montmirail, and his wagon trains pouring across the Marne near Meaux. He first detached heavy reinforcements to his Reserve Corps on the Ourcq to hold off Maunoury's threat of envelopment from the west. Suddenly he found that the British and the left of the Fifth Army, were marching north, and forcing him to battle far from the ground he had chosen. His forces were in the wide-opened jaw of the Allies, between the Sixth Army and the British, with some French units. Opened at right angles the jaws were starting to close on a hinge near Meaux. Hesitation would have meant envelopment and defeat. His pontoon bridges gave him a clear path back northward. The Reserves, who had behaved shamefully to women during their halt while Maunoury's surprise developed unheeded on the Ourcq, received reinforcements and fought strenuously to keep the upper jaw from closing. But the Allied forces, which were moving north, flung von Kluck's main army back over the Morin, and he wheeled his columns in precipitate retreat to the Marne.
   At Meaux, the angle of the Allied forces, a strong rear guard of all arms entrenched, to enable von Kluck to get his impedimenta clear of the river. French batteries covered charge after charge of Zouaves and Turcos, and the German artillery retired at a gallop. At bay, the infantry resisted with desperation, and the French Colonials fought also almost to extermination to clear the road for pursuit. Farther west, the Germans stood along the Marne, but were driven back across the river with heavy loss by the British. They destroyed their bridges but General French's army made light pontoons, crossed under fire, and again drove the enemy north.
   The corps of the Fifth Army had now wheeled to attack von Buelow's uncovered flank, but the jaws, still wide open, were following von Kluck relentlessly, as on the Ourcq Maunoury was facing east and maintaining the pace north. Once clear of the Marne the British advanced rapidly, smashing rear guards at every vantage point. Their left was soon on the flank of the forces facing Maunoury, and von Kluck’s entire army broke north on the 10th, leaving valuable transport, 2,192 prisoners, and thirteen guns to the British credit during the day.
   The French cavalry made daring raids along the western line of retreat, harrying transport and capturing much ammunition. On the night of the 9th, after the German aeroplanes had flown north to park, a squadron of Dragoons decided to put out the "eyes of the army." They located the park in a field off the main road beyond Viviers, and two platoons dismounted and crept up, but met a withering machine-gun fire. The two remaining platoons charged the guns, losing only eight horses and three men. Led by the Sergeant Quartermaster, the troopers with axes smashed nine Taube transport aeroplanes, broke the valves of five armoured cars, and lit the petrol. As the fire stampeded their horses and brought hostile cavalry up, only ten of the French troopers survived, hiding in the forest while von Kluck's forces retreated and Maunoury's army swept across the Villiers Cotterets.
   This raid blinded the tired German columns as they retreated. Overtaxed when the running battle started, the troops made forced marches of forty kilometres. Men died of exhaustion and laggards were shot as examples. Many regiments had only one hour’s sleep for three consecutive nights. In a dozen towns and villages I heard the same story; of horses lashed to top speed, of delaying actions overwhelmed by the relentless pursuit, and prisoners too exhausted to be moved. The trails were blazed by abandoned wagons, stalled motor transport and field bakeries with the bread in cinders.
   But Nature first, and then Fate, was kind. The Marne gave von Kluck time to organise his retreat. The Ourcq paralleled and protected the most dangerous line of his withdrawal up the Meaux-Soissons roads. Then the Aisne ran right across the line of retreat, with serried plateaux on the north bank, Nature's gift of fortresses and moat well re-bridged on the roads down which the German legions had swept southward.
   As he approached the Aisne, von Kluck turned some of his forces northwest through Betz toward Nanteuil, to spread above the French flank and recover the important roads down which his right had advanced. He gave the French a severe check. But he was unable to get west of the Noyon road, though his manoeuvre caused the rectangular formation of the Allies to open wider and they approached the Aisne almost in line, as he got his exhausted main forces over the river.
   Leaving rear guards on the south bank on Mont de Paris near Soissons, and on hills on all other roads, he deployed his army along the heights, his right near Compiegne, his left directly below Laon, and stood at bay. Now Fate was kind. With his western communications barely covered, and much artillery and material lost, diverted or tumbled into rivers to prevent capture, von Kluck at Laon could tap von Buelow's communications. As Maubeuge had fallen on the 7th, the siege guns, entrenching machines, pioneers and reserve ammunition for use against Paris, had reached the city a few hours before he crossed the Aisne. Thus he had important help to entrench and wire his new front, and he could use the reserve ammunition of the Second Army to hold the Aisne heights.
   The British smashed the rear guards on the south bank late on September 12th, to find their quarry at bay in a splendid position across the river, the tails of the columns toiling up the height as a target to the first batteries, which received the fire of siege guns in reply. While the right of the Sixth French Army captured Mont de Paris and regained Soissons, the British without a pause started to cross the river against heights in parts like the Palisades.
   Heavy German artillery and machine guns swept the approaches, smashing pontoons and destroying the engineer detachments. But the First Division on the right fought its way across the aqueduct at Bourg. Other forces crossed by rafts and pontoons under heavy fire during the night, and drove the machine guns back to the hills. By sunset on the 13th, after heavy loss, the British army had crossed the Aisne and, in a battle in which the lessons of South Africa bore splendid fruit, the men fought their way up the steep plateau and established themselves along the irregular crest, driving the Germans to the backbone of the position in the teeth of vigorous attempts made to hurl them from the edge to the river below. It was a stupendous feat of arms.
   The French army on the left after desperate fighting also forced a passage at Fontenoy and Vic, pushing the enemy's right wing back toward the Coucy-Noyon road. But above Soissons the Allied centre was checked by a maze of German owned quarries, constructed so that they could be made formidable fortresses in a few hours, with gun emplacements ready.
   With disaster on their right the other German armies all paid the penalty of over-confidence. We left von Buelow, von Hausen, the Duke of Wurttemberg and the Crown Prince striking together at the Fifth, Ninth, and Third, Fourth, French Armies. Rheims was a prize, and Epernay and Chalons were among their spoils for a week, when the citizens exercised restraint with ropes at the necks of the mayors, Mr. Pol Roger, whose brands we know, and Mr. Servas. Vast stores of luxuries and valuables rewarded the systematic looting of these rich departments, while the forces were consolidated below them for the decisive attack across the comparatively open country between Montmarail and the Argonne. The French everywhere were on positions vastly inferior to those evacuated during their strategic retreat.
   For three days the armies were locked in a stubborn battle on a line south of the main road from Paris via Sezanne and Vitry to Bar le Due. With the Eighteenth disengaged from chasing von Kluck, D'Esperey was able to turn it against von Buelow’s exposed flank and smash it over the Marne, garnering much spoil. But his right, and the left of the Ninth Army, had been forced to give ground before the left of the Second German Army consolidated to wedge at a weak spot detected east of Sezanne. On Foch's right and De Gary's left, the Saxon and Wurttemberg Corps also pushed back the French below Mailly where the ground was impassable, and only the arrival of reinforcements from both Alsace and Lorraine saved the bulges from breaking.
   Helped by the splendid Lorraine Corps that he had commanded and trained, Foch, who was fighting three distinct engagements near Sezanne, snatched a double victory by an operation which in detail will form an interesting chapter in new textbooks. Von Buelow's Guard Corps, unable to pierce Foch's centre on a ridge and protected by the St. Gond marshes, left a covering line there, and moved over to join the Saxons in smashing his right. With left and right wings both driven far back, Foch turned his well advanced centre westward, and fell on the flank of the enemy there, retaking the Chateau de Mondement. His left now rallied, a manoeuvre the enemy was forced to withdraw before. Then by night he faced his centre from west to east, attacked the flank of the eager Guards and Saxons pounding his right wing, and forced them to fall back. Victory was thus snatched from impending disaster at Fere Champeniose by Foch's superb genius, which here broke the persistent theory of envelopment by mass on both wings, which marked the strategy of the German generals.
   As the Guard fell back in confusion through the swamps of St. Gond, Foch's artillery in the centre smashed the retreat to a rout. Von Buelow, Guards and Saxons were now defeated, and by September 10th were retiring at full speed to the Marne, leaving General von Schack and many other wounded officers on the field. One Guard regiment had five officers left out of sixty.
   The discouraged citizens of Epernay, scraping their francs to pay their last crushing fine, heard a rumbling and rushed out to see the German forces pouring through the city in flight. Von Buelow and von Hausen marched rapidly north, with the French so closely at their heels that the rear guards left on the Marne were overwhelmed before they could prepare to stand. Closely pursued by the Fifth and Ninth Armies, these forces attempted to rally on the hills below Rheims, but the French troops had tasted victory and attacked so rapidly that the German batteries retired at a gallop. Rheims, the best prize of the war, was lost, and the Second and Third Armies in full retreat poured past the city and reached the fortified barrier line, five miles north, where they rallied and entrenched. With his centre on the hills above Rheims, von Buelow’s right was bent back northwest along the road to Laon, to the Aisne, resting on the Craonne plateau, leaving a wide vulnerable gap to von Kluck. His left, east of Rheims, was deployed on the fortified heights of Berru and Nogent, the Saxons continuing the line across the Moronvillers plateau, protecting the upper railroad across the Champagne.
   During these kaleidoscopic operations, the Fourth and Third French Armies had played their special part. The Duke of Wurttemberg had essayed the double role of joining the frontal attack, and watching the flank of the Crown Prince. During the operations already recorded, De Cary threw the reinforced Fourth Army vigorously at the forces of the Grand Duke at Sompuis. The fight raged fiercely until the collapse of von Hausen (who was unjustly made the scapegoat for the Guard defeat and summarily retired). This left Wurttemberg’s right flank in the air. This Fourth German Army was pressing De Cary hard. His line had been saved by the arrival of a corps sent from the Vosges on the 9th. But he now drove at the exposed right, retook Cermaize and broke the Nineteenth Corps. This wing was forced to retreat along the old Chalons road, and was heavily shelled. There was danger now that the Wurttemberg army might be pushed back northeast along the few main roads that led to the Argonne, already cluttered by the Crown Prince’s wagons, so the entire line had to disengage and retire north along poor roads, east of Chalons, which was so hurriedly abandoned that stores of French military equipment were left there untouched.
   The confusion of the Wurttembergers was increased when their right reached the great manoeuvre ground of the French army. Every range was known on terrain so familiar to all French troops, and despite its heavy losses the Fourth Army with its guns and cavalry kept the Germans at the double as they retreated across Champagne and conformed to the line of the Saxons and von Buelow.
   Having definitely cleared their front, the victorious French troops rapidly reformed for their independent role. Though quite out of touch with Foch and with his flank open, De Gary recalled the bulk of his forces, and in echelon pushed his army vigorously at the now exposed flank of the army of the Crown Prince. The entire German front had collapsed section by section, like a house of cards.
   Recall that the Fifth German Army, pushing south, had bent Sarrail back sharply from Verdun, until he was at right angles to the general French line and facing west. De Gary's rapid change of front eastward soon left the Crown Prince impotent in a "V," and with more cavalry the French could have surrounded him. He tried first to smash through so as to reach the apex of the wedge driven in from the east front, and cut his way out. Repulsed, he turned in precipitate retreat, losing heavily as he escaped from the cul-de-sac in which he was encased through his own blunders. Granting the difficulties of the region, the strategy and tactics of the army led by the Kaiser's son were pathetic, though German history will no doubt be charitable and partial. Rapid marching, and terrain difficult for French artillery, alone saved his army, which fell back to Varennes and Montfaucon though the pursuit ended near Clermont, the French being utterly exhausted. He had thus lost the railway and roads across the Argonne to Verdun and the Third and Fourth French Armies were consolidated on a shortened and straightened front north and west of the fortress.
   Eagerly fresh German forces advanced down the salient, the natural defensive line, from Metz, pointed east, south of Verdun. Beaumont was captured, and Troyon again was bombarded and tottering. But no effort now could reach the Crown Prince. On September 23rd the Germans did reach the Meuse from the east. St. Mihiel was captured, and a vigorous lunge was made at the rear of Sarrail's line. He coolly detached his cavalry corps held in reserve, and by a surprise drove back the invaders as they debouched. Forces from Nancy also came over and ended the danger. But the Germans maintained their grip on St. Mihiel, the point of a veritable thorn in the side of France, which enormous efforts have failed to expel. Yet below this wedge when the Germans rushed reinforcements to help hold the Aisne, the First and Second French Armies advanced on the front from Nancy to Belfort, and drove the enemy back to the frontier.
   On September 8th privileged neutrals had been taken to the Crown Prince’s headquarters to see his drive triumph. A visitor pointed, on the way, to Domremy, "Jeanne d’Arc's" birthplace, southwest of Toul. The German artillery was pouring shells on the patient French lines, and the Staff was in high spirits. "Our guns will soon be too noisy for angels’ whispers," jeered one. "There will be spirits enough there for all the Joans!" laughed another. The Crown Prince was silent. Nancy was to fall that day, and there was no news from his father. For days the girls in the famous school by Joan's cottage had prayed, "Save France!" And even the French censors did not suppress the news when four days after Nancy, the Crown Prince himself was in full flight.
   During the retreat superb discipline and superior strength of artillery and machine guns saved the German armies from complete disaster. With modern weapons rear-guard actions are full of possibilities. But they had played small part in German training, and of all their generals involved in the retreat, von Kluck alone had profited by the lessons taught by the Allies during their masterly withdrawal from Belgium. But once on the Aisne, they could not be dislodged.
   Entrenching machines and heavy artillery aided the German Army in its rapid efforts to dig in and consolidate on the new line west of Verdun and along the Aisne. Vast convoys of ammunition were pouring down their lines of communication, while the Allies' stores had been seriously depleted by the drain of the Marne battle. Lack of heavy guns also hampered the French and British Armies, which could make no adequate reply to the heavier calibres of the German artillery.
   Except for the artillery battle on the St. Mihiel salient, all operations below Verdun soon relapsed to siege warfare, with the Germans everywhere back on their own frontier. Westward from Verdun the tactics of the Crown Prince were simple. He had uncovered the road and railway through Clermont without an effort, but he dug in on a front from Etain well above the fortress, to Varennes, and at Vienne west of the Argonne forest, and endeavoured by siege artillery to break the vital French communications with Verdun which had slipped from his grasp. In the forest a series of picturesque and elemental battles raged for weeks, as the Germans attempted to link their divided front, and the French detachments stalked them in the gloomy tangle. Prodigal use of barbed wire and machine guns enabled a rough line gradually to be established while woodland paths were turned into roads. Verdun itself, like Nancy, could hardly hear a German gun, and the great efforts to open these direct gates between France and Germany had failed.
   The Wurttemberg army dug in on the right, across the ancient battle ground of Attila, on the providential chalk hills extending across the Champagne Pouilleuse and protecting the Bazancourt-Challerange railway. The line rested on the natural ramparts of Tahure, Massiges, Mesnil, and the butte above Souaine, to the five-mile ridge above Auberive and the Suippe which was held by the redistributed Saxons and von Buelow, across the Moronvilliers plateau and around the hills above Rheims to the Aisne heights.
   For several days von Buelow fought back vigorously and fruitlessly to recapture Rheims. Failing in this he made a desperate lunge eighteen miles east of the city, a surprise attack to break the French centre and regain Souaine. Burning to retrieve their defeat at St. Gond, the Guards led the attack against the right of their old adversary at daybreak. The French were reorganising their forces in open ground, with their reserves at Souaine. But their advanced posts, supported by heavy cavalry, fought back steadily and made a stand in the barricaded village of Auberive, holding out against overwhelming odds until help arrived. Dragoons with machine guns held one road against seven massed attacks.
   While this hornets’ nest was checking the onslaught, the French infantry were marching rapidly from Souaine, and the batteries, desperately needed, were cantering up the macadam road in column, a mile beyond their supports, when an aeroplane swooped over and reported that the guns had outdistanced the infantry. A brigade of German light cavalry at once made a detour to intercept the venturesome artillery. The "Death's Head Hussars" led the attack. Four narrow, screened paths through an abandoned vineyard enabled the cavalry to trot smartly to the flank of the marching batteries, and debouch in squadron columns on the edge of an open field which the road traversed 800 yards away. The long column of guns and wagons moved in a cloud of dust, and the gunners saw their danger only when their mounted flank guards were sabred as the enemy squadrons galloped into line and swept forward. In appalling confusion the batteries halted, unlimbered, and the guns came into action from the road, with intervals choked with limbers, wagons and plunging horses. As the Hussars changed from a gallop to a charge less than 200 yards distant, the "75's" spoke thrice at point-blank range and the race with death was theirs by a margin of seconds. The charging line quivered, slowed, and collapsed in pitiful heaps. Victory had slipped from their grasp, as the impetuosity of many officers brought them headlong into the French line.
   The scene repeated Balaklava. The shattered squadrons wheeled in confusion and rode madly back to cover, the guns belching behind them across fields littered with dead and dying. The brigade was literally shot to pieces. No poet laureate will immortalise this fight; six lines in the official report covered the entire day's battle.
   The batteries were hurried on up the road, where they found their dismounted cavalry nearly enveloped. The Guard Corps made three desperate frontal attacks before Auberive and gained the village before the French infantry could all get up. But with cavalry too shattered to guard their flank, their position was soon enfiladed by Zouaves, who had advanced unseen along the Suippe, and a rapid retirement was necessary. Heavy guns soon battered Auberive to pieces, however, and the French abandoned the exposed position and consolidated their lines above Souaine.
   On von Buelow's left, along the Aisne, the army of von Kluck had made a determined fight. With the river directly below him, he never expected that the Allies could cross. When the British fought their way over and gained the edge of the ridge, he made desperate efforts to throw them back. But the thin line clung fast. Every man was needed on this precarious front and the British had no reserves. But a brigade of the First Division pushed up the valley of Vendresse through a tempest of fire, and after heavy losses companies of the Northamptons, supported by dismounted cavalry, reached the top of the ridge and clung to the ditch on the Chemin des Dames, the road which marked the main German front. They formed the tip of a wedge which aimed at von Kluck’s left, straight for the vulnerable gap which at first existed between the First and Second German Armies.
   Realising the danger, von Kluck directed fourteen counter attacks on the vastly outnumbered forces at the top of the valley, all of which failed; and in a drive aimed at the base of this wedge, maintained by Haig, who commanded the British right, the Germans lost a battery and 600 prisoners.
   General French sent to Joffre's headquarters for reinforcements to enlarge the wedge. At this juncture De Castelnau was rushing over from Nancy with some of his finest troops. If these corps could have been pushed up in the gap, the Germans admit that von Kluck would have been cut off from the other armies and again forced to retire. But General Joffre decided that De Castlenau's army could be detrained more rapidly farther west toward Noyon on von Kluck's exposed right and rear to definitely turn that flank.
   So the British held on grimly against repeated assaults, almost expelled by one desperate subterfuge. Stretcher bearers were allowed to approach the head of the valley under the Geneva emblem, to collect the German wounded between the lines; but machine guns were treacherously unloaded from the litters, and a murderous enfilade opened on the British, who had humanely ceased fire and were standing up in their trenches. An attack by masses at once supported this treacherous act; but it failed, and the machine guns were left in the open, with new heaps of German dead.
   The British maintained their menace to the gap while De Castelnau's attack was developing, but just as the Sixth Division and heavy howitzers arrived from England, and a Morocco brigade of the Fifth Army came up to support the British wedge, unexpected help reached von Kluck.
   Hearing of the Marne defeat, General von Zwehl, left with a Corps of Reservists to garrison Maubeuge and guard communications, made forced marches to Laon without orders. His forces were flung across the gap, linking von Buelow and von Kluck’s firmly. For his initiative he was decorated and promoted on the field. Had Maubeuge been able to hold out longer history might have been different. The German front was now solid. As the Sixth Army was pushing von Kluck's right wing well north of the Aisne, and De Castelnau was preparing his enveloping movement on the extreme right, reinforcements from every army were shifted over to von Kluck, who built up a rapid curve on his flank and soon masked De Castelnau’s advance. These manoeuvres definitely turned the lines northward to the vicinity of Noyon.
   The battle of the Aisne had now degenerated into a dead-locked front of definite siege warfare. Von Kluck had proved himself a brilliant and resourceful general, superior in strategy and tactics to his machine-made confreres. By a narrow margin he had saved his army from a second retreat, and had thus saved the German line.

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