Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 33

MARNE Liege on 16 August, the German forces successfully began their sweeping advance through Belgium, aiming for the French left flank and the vicinity of Paris. In contrast, the French, led by Gen. Joseph Joffre, though they had brief initial offensive success in Lorraine on the common border with Germany, were soon repulsed by the extensive German border fortifications. Additionally, upon discovering the German sweeping maneuver on his left flank in mid-August, Joffre assumed the enemy center had to be weak, and he attacked there in the Ardennes forest with two field armies on 22 and 23 August, intending to outflank the German forces in central Belgium. However, it was a bad assumption. The Germans were not weak there; they had deployed more troops to the western front than Joffre estimated. As a result, the French forces were badly defeated and forced to retreat. At the same time, in central Belgium one French field army and more than four divisions of the recently arrived British Expeditionary Force (BEF) moved forward to strike at the advancing German main effort. However, simultaneously with the battles in the Ardennes, the Germans struck first at Mons and Charleroi along the Sambre River, forcing the Allied forces to retreat—a withdrawal that ultimately continued south of the Marne River over the next twenty days. The Germans also defeated both a British rear guard at Le Cateau on 26 August and a French counterattack at Guise on 29 and 30 August, and so the Germans continued to advance. Despite the successes, there were fissures in German operational-level planning and execution that quickly became debilitating cracks. In the spirit of independence fostered among units in the prewar Imperial German Army, the German field army commanders seemingly thought of themselves and their units as, essentially, fighting their own individual battles. As a result, they conducted operations without effective synchronization with the other army commanders to establish coherence of action relative to the larger strategic plan. This tendency was particularly pronounced with the two commanders on the German right wing (fighting the Allied left): Col. Gen. Alexander von Kluck (First Army) and Col. Gen. Karl von Bülow (Second Army). As a result, overall German commander Col. Gen. Helmut Count von Moltke (the Younger), with a weak communications system and a personal unwillingness to leave his headquarters that was located far MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 from the front, soon lost control of the right wing forces, effectively ceding to his subordinates authority to direct operations independently. Consequently, a perilous lack of synchronization and coherence between the armies soon emerged due largely to a significant difference in the personalities of the commanders involved. Kluck, on the extreme right, was very aggressive and read directives from Moltke in that light. However, Bülow, to Kluck’s left, was much more cautious—particularly after having to repulse an unexpectedly costly French counterattack at Guise. Therefore, in the absence of clear and timely revised instructions from Moltke, the German field commanders—particularly Kluck—began to adjust the pace of their operations according to their own individual temperaments, resulting in overall loss of unified action between their armies. In addition, German miscalculation and command impetuosity were fueled, in part, by overly optimistic estimates of the damage caused by the success of the early German attacks. The reality was that despite the rapid progress of the initial German advance and the heavy casualties they inflicted on the Allied forces, the Germans were not really destroying the Allies as much as they were pushing them away. This left Allied forces largely intact; though in disarray, they were fully capable of reorganizing for counterattack if given the time. Kluck saw this and tried to take advantage of it by independently changing his route of advance in order to envelop the French forces facing Bülow (see figure 2). His intent was to smash the French before they had a chance to reorganize. However, this maneuver turned his own right flank opposite Paris and created a gap between his troops and those of Bülow—while failing to catch the French. The gap handed the French an unexpected opportunity to split the German forces, which Joffre seized. On 8 September, when Moltke found out about the gap that had opened on his lines, he became very pessimistic about the situation. Kluck, however, remained very optimistic, even after he discovered several days earlier (5 September) that the French were massing forces on his right. Willing to take what he viewed as a calculated risk, over the next few days Kluck stripped forces from his front on the Marne in phases to reinforce his right flank across the Ourcq River. He did this in the belief that he could beat the French there and then turn 31