The Battles of the Marne

There were two major battles fought by the Marne River near Paris, France. The first battle was fought in 1914 between September 5th and the 12th. The Second Battle of the Marne was fought four years later in 1918 between July 15th and August 6th. There were over 1,400,000 German soldiers under the leadership of General Helmuth von Moltke. The French and British had just over 1,000,000 soldiers including six French armies and one British army. The French were led by General Joseph Joffre and the British by General John French. As the Germans approached Paris, the Allies of Britain and France decided to give an all out effort to stop the advance of the Germany army. This fight became known as the First Battle of the Marne.

As the German armies advanced, they became strung out, and a large gap emerged between the First and Second battalions, the Allies taking advantage and charging between the armies thus splitting them apart. Then, attacks were made from all sides to confuse the enemy and after a few days, the Germans were forced to retreat back to the Aisne river in northern France. At this river they built long lines of trenches and would hold this position for the next four years. This first battle was considered a major victory by the Allies because they had forced the enemy to fight on two fronts. As Russia attacked from the east, German forces had to be sent east while still trying to hold off the Allies in the west. 263,000 Allies were wounded including 81,000 killed, around 220,000 Germans were injured or killed.

The second battle of the Marne 1918

This second battle would be the final German offensive push of the First World War. On the morning of July 15 1918, 23 divisions of the German 1st and 3rd armies attacked the French 4th army east of Reims while 17 divisions of the German 7th army, assisted by the 9th army, attacked the French 6th army to the west of Paris. This dual attack was the German attempt to divide and conquer the French who at this battle were joined by 85,000 US troops as well as a portion of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), most of them from Flanders. The German armies advanced and found they had been tricked. The French had set up a front line of false trenches and so had been untouched by the German bombardment, the real front line being further on.

“The French put up no resistance in front…they had neither infantry nor artillery in this forward battle-zone…Our guns bombarded empty trenches; our gas-shells gassed empty artillery positions….”
Rudolf Binding (German officer)

As the Germans approached the “real” Allied front lines, they were met with a fierce barrage of French and American fire. Trapped and surrounded, the Germans suffered heavy casualties, setting the Allies up for the major counter-attack they would launch on July 18. By July 20th the Germans started to withdraw and by August 3rd they were back where they started from in March. Allied casualties were heavy: French 95,000, British 13,000, US 12,000 – It is estimated 168,000 Germans suffered.

© IWM (Q 11113) Officers of the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 62nd Division, conferring with French and Italian officers in the Bois de Reims during the Battle of Tardenois, 24 July 1918.

© IWM (Q 11113) Officers of the 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 62nd Division, conferring with French and Italian officers in the Bois de Reims during the Battle of Tardenois, 24 July 1918.