Episode 23:

Into the German Liver

         So last week we ended on rather a bit of a cliffhanger, towards the end of the third day of the First Battle of the Marne, September 8, 1914, at a moment when it seemed like either side might just be able to secure a decisive victory. Before this battle even began on September 6, all armies on the Western Front (and, really, pretty much all of the armies on the Eastern Front as well, but we’ll return to them later) were utterly exhausted. Just taking a look at the German First Army as a representative example, between August 4 and September 6, 1914, so just about 32 days, they had marched from the German-Belgian border, all the way to Brussels, then down south all the way to just about 35 kilometers or 21 miles outside of Paris. That is a total distance of roughly 400 kilometers, or 250 miles, an average of about 12-13 kilometers or 8 miles a day, every day, for more than a month. Of course, that isn’t quite the whole story, because much of this time was spent not marching, but fighting. This is a very rough calculation, but of the 32 days between August 4 and September 6, I have estimated that the German First Army spent about 14 of those days in pitched battle, and only about 18 actually marching. So that brings the total average marching distance to about 22 kilometers or 14 miles a day, every day, wearing heavy packs, with the days not spent marching spent instead on ferocious, bloody combat. There were essentially no days of rest. Every day was spent either marching, or fighting.

Pretty much all the forces on the Western Front had endured similar conditions. Clothes were in tatters, boots were falling apart, weapons and gear of all kind were beaten to hell, the men were filthy, exhausted, and hungry. Hundreds of thousands of them were dead, even more were wounded. Everyone had lost friends. Everyone was in physical and psychological agony. And just when it seemed as though everyone had reached the end of their rope, Joffre launched his French Armies into a mass counter-attack along a front of more than 200 miles. Everyone understood that it was impossible for this level of ferocity to continue much longer. Eventually, someone would either have to pull back, or risk their entire army completely shattering apart.

         Now of course another point I raised at the end of last week’s episode was the matter of “where the hell are the British?” This was, indeed, a question I’m sure many French soldiers at the time had on their minds. If you’ll recall, the last thing Joffre did before he ordered his soldiers to turn around and attack the Germans chasing them was to secure the support of the British Expeditionary Force in the person of British Field Marshal Sir John French. However up until this point, September 8, the BEF had not participated in any significant fighting. Partly, this was the result of the fact that the British had fallen back significantly farther than their French neighbors, and so had a greater distance to cover in order to close with the Germans. However it was also partly due to the fact Sir John French, despite his emotional promise to Joffre on September 5 that “we will do all that we possibly can,” was advancing his troops somewhat slowly and cautiously towards the front lines. Because the BEF had fallen back farther than any of the various French Armies, they had lost contact with them, meaning that if a German unit pressed forward and attacked the British before they got into position, they would be all on their lonesome.

         Yet as so often happens in the history of warfare, this caution which greatly irritated many French commanders would turn out to be perhaps the decisive action which would lead this First Battle of the Marne to end in an Allied victory. In order to understand how that happened, we need to return to the fighting just north of Paris between von Kluck’s German First Army and Gallieni’s French Sixth Army.

When he was first attacked on September 6 by the French Sixth Army, von Kluck was frankly stunned that there were enough French forces stationed around Paris to launch such an attack, but he was assured that sending one of his Corps to the south facing Paris would be more than enough to block this move, and thus would continue advancing on the French Ninth and Fifth Armies to the East in order to flank and destroy them. But as the days went on, as September 6th turned to the 7th and the 7th into the 8th, Kluck was forced to send more and more of his forces towards Paris. It seemed as though each time he looked up from his dream of flanking and destroying the French Armies to the east of Paris, more and more French soldiers were emerging out of Paris itself in order to flank and destroy him. By the end of September 8th, von Kluck was forced to conclude to his utter astonishment that it seemed as though the French forces based out of Paris, rather than being a tiny garrison of old men, actually outnumbered him.

Mostly this was due to the fact that Joffre, for all his faults, had done a fantastic job of gathering as many units as possible from his various Armies, taking just enough away from them so that they could still hold their ground, stationing these squirreled away units in Paris at Gallieni’s disposal. However I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most famous ways in which these French soldiers were shuttled from Paris to the front lines. Though the vast majority of French troops were of course transported by rail lines before disembarking and marching to the front, just as the battle started Gallieni had requisitioned six hundred Parisian taxi cabs to drive troops directly to the front lines. Each cab would carry five soldiers, and would drive from Paris, to the front, and back to Paris again picking up a new load of soldiers each time. Though this was hardly a decisive factor in the battle of the Marne, historians estimate that at most about 6,000 soldiers arrived at the battle via taxi cab, this event did have enormous propaganda value for the French, who relished in the story of these new-fangled vehicles designed for taking wealthy couples to fancy restaurants now instead carrying dirty soldiers into battle.

Despite facing heavy attack from a numerically superior force that had basically emerged out of nowhere, von Kluck’s First Army was by this point one of the most experienced and battle-hardened fighting forces in the whole world. True, they were very nearly exhausted, but they also boasted a force of highly well trained and experienced soldiers led by extremely competent junior and senior officers and backed up by fat loads of heavy artillery. And so while the attacks Gallieni launched from September 6-8 did catch Kluck off guard and force him to constantly redeploy his troops, these attacks cost the French far more casualties than the Germans. However, though von Kluck’s forces were now getting the upper hand on the French Sixth Army emerging from Paris, in order to face this unexpected attack von Kluck had essentially swung his entire Army around, now facing due south towards Paris. And in doing so, By September 8 he had left a gap of nearly 56 kilometers of 35 miles of open ground between his German First Army and von Bülow’s German Second Army. And that was when the British Expeditionary Force had finally arrived to participate in the battle.

On September 8 The BEF, now about 100,000 men strong thanks to reinforcements sent from Britain in the last week or so, advanced into the gap between the German First and Second Armies. The only German troops opposing them were a few battalions of light infantry and one division of cavalry, perhaps less than 30,000 men, with virtually no artillery support. This tiny German force only fought the British for a short time before retreating, as they realized that there was no way they could halt this British advance. By the end of the day, the BEF had crossed the River Marne itself, and were poised to strike the flanks of both the German First and Second Armies. As Winston Churchill so famously put it, the British Army had quote, “probed its way into the German liver.”

The two German commanders responded characteristically when they learned that the BEF had appeared, virtually out of nowhere, and were very nearly behind them. General von Kluck, commander of the German First Army fighting just outside of Paris and famously one of the most aggressive officers in the German Army, decided that he had to press forward as hard and fast as possible against the French forces outside of Paris. He needed to drive these forces away so he could then march on the French capital, and force the British to redirect themselves that way. General von Bülow, meanwhile, commander of the German Second Army and famously a quite cautious and conservative commander, immediately ordered his entire Army to fall back for more than ten miles, and advised his neighbor von Kluck to do the same.

Now in his book covering the First World War, Winston Churchill notes that this development, the entire British Expeditionary Force having completely penetrated the German lines, did not have to be quite as disastrous a situation as it appears. He points out that while the Germans were in serious danger of being flanked, the British were in nearly as much danger. Though when you look at a map of this stage of the battle (and I’ve attached several maps of the battle so you can see for yourself), the first thing you will notice is that the German First and Second Armies are incredibly vulnerable to being flanked by the British, as they were both already locked in vicious combat to French forces to their front. But if you keep looking, you will realize that the British are now sandwiched between two hostile armies, and could themselves be very easily hit on both flanks. British Field Marshal Sir John French was keenly aware of this danger, hence his initial hesitancy to get his army moving as the battle began. Yet ultimately, the British would not be hit on their flanks, and instead this maneuver proved to be the death nell not only to any German hopes of winning this single battle, but any hopes they might have of defeating France once and for all in the next few weeks or days.

Now let’s discuss in a bit more detail the contrasting reactions between the aggressive General von Kluck and the cautious General von Bülow. Had these two generals coordinated their actions, either both falling back to form a new defensive line or both hitting the British while they were still vulnerable being caught in between the two German Armies, the German situation might have been salvaged. But instead, von Kluck decided to press forward even further and even harder on the French Sixth Army defending Paris, while von Bülow cautiously pulled back. This meant that not only were the British in no immediate danger of being hit on either of their flanks, but the gap between the German First and Second Armies actually grew larger, which by the beginning of September 9 was more like 80 kilometers of 50 miles wide. So not only was there a huge gap in the German lines that Allied Armies could easily breach, as the British had already done, but von Kluck’s entire First Army, which held the far-right wing of the German advance, was completely isolated.

The German commander-in-chief, General Helmuth von Moltke, was then based in the occupied country of Luxembourg which was, and still is, sandwiched on three sides by France, Belgium, and Germany. By September 8, von Moltke had not received any field reports from either von Kluck or von Bülow for several days, and was thus beginning to panic. Remember, von Moltke was already a pretty nervous and morose guy by nature, he could see that the advance of his armies had been halted by a totally surprising French counter-attack, and now he had no news whatsoever of the situation of two of his seven armies on the Western Front. Had they turned the French back and were poised to strike at Paris or surround the rest of the Allied Armies? Were they simply stuck in the same ferocious stalemate as the rest of the German Armies? Or had they been turned back, or perhaps even totally annihilated? Moltke had no idea, and his naturally pessimistic personality tended to make him see the worst of all possible outcomes as the most likely. Further adding to his headaches was the fact that Kaiser Wilhelm II had personally joined with von Moltke at his headquarters in Luxembourg. Wilhelm had a boisterous, almost child-like enthusiasm towards war, taking seriously his official role as supreme commander of the German military despite having virtually no actual military experience, and von Moltke had very real fears that the Kaiser might personally assume command of one of the Armies and lead it into utter disaster.

In an effort to at least learn something about what the hell was happening to his First and Second Armies, on September 8 von Moltke sent one of his staff officers, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, to personally meet with the various Army commanders and discuss with them what they felt would be the best move to undertake next. Hentsch met in turn the commanders of the Fifth, Fourth, and Third Armies, which held roughly the center of the German lines. Though all of these forces had sustained heavy losses in non-stop combat for nearly three straight days, the commanders of all three of these German Armies concluded that the French were at least as battered if not more so than they were, and Henstch concurred, radioing Moltke back in Luxembourg in the early evening of the 8th that, quote, “the situation and outlook [is] entirely favorable.” Later that night, Hentsch met with Second Army commander General von Bülow, from whom he received a much bleaker assessment. Bülow told Hentsch that his Second Army was in real, immediate danger of being devastated by a British flanking move, while von Kluck still clashing with the forces outside of Paris could be surrounded and completely destroyed. He thus advised that the First, Second, and Third Armies should all engage in a quote unquote “concentric retreat,” by which he meant that all three of these armies should retreat all at once, at the same time, and regroup at a more suitable defensive position. Hentsch immediately agreed, radioed von Moltke this assessment, and rushed off as fast as he could to confer with von Kluck to make sure that this retreat was conducted in as coordinated a way as possible. Bülow and Kluck’s Armies were just too far away from each other to offer assistance against the British who had by now maneuvered behind the German lines, and von Kluck in particular did not have enough forces to continue his attack against the French Sixth Army outside of Paris while also defending his exposed flank from a British attack.

And here we see the results of what turned out to be Moltke’s greatest mistake. This was awhile ago in the narrative, but as a quick refresher, on August 23 Moltke had elevated the dynamic duo of Hindenburg and Ludendorff to command the German Eighth Army in East Prussia tasked with holding off the Russian steamroller barreling towards Berlin. However Moltke was not satisfied that these two generals, on their own, would be able to beat back the Russians who had mobilized far quicker than expected, without reinforcements. So on August 26, he had ordered two of von Kluck’s Corps, something on the order of 100,000 soldiers, to head east and reinforce the army battling the Russians. Now at the time, Ludendorff had strenuously objected to this, saying in effect that any victories won against the Russians now would come to naught if the French and British were not defeated on the Western Front as quickly as possible. He told von Moltke that he had enough troops to hold back the Russians, and that was all he and Hindenburg needed to do, and that those 100,000 reinforcement should remain with von Kluck’s First Army to ensure the defeat of France. And as it turns out, he was right.

Not only did Hindenburg and Ludendorff achieve their smashing success against the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg before these two corps from the west arrived, but at this critical moment those two corps were desperately needed by von Kluck. If he had that strong of a force at his disposal, he almost certainly could have used them to hold off the British while he finished off the French Army in front of him and took Paris. Had that occurred, Kluck could have easily wheeled the rest of his forces around, smashed the left flank of the Allied Armies as had always been the plan, and hopes for a French victory in this war would be all but lost. In short, Moltke’s seemingly prudent move to send some reinforcements away from the Armies on the Western Front, which at the time seemed to be crushing all opposition in their path, to the understrength forces on the Eastern Front, all but cost the Germans their much needed victory at the First Battle of the Marne.

On the morning of September 9, Kluck launched his final, desperate attack on the French Sixth Army defending Paris. Finally, after more than a month of marching and fighting, and now nearly four days of constant, awful fighting just outside of the French capital, the German First Army achieved the smashing victory they had been striving towards. The French Sixth Army under General Gallieni broke in panic. It was not an organized, tactical retreat, but a mass panicked rout. Paris now lay completely undefended. Von Kluck could hardly contain his excitement, he could nearly taste victory, and knew that he would be the one to go down in history as the man who took Paris. He left his headquarters behind the frontlines and rushed to personally oversee the action as his troops pressed across the River Ourcq. They were within one day’s march of the city.

When he returned to his headquarters however, he learned that von Moltke’s personal representative Lieutenant Colonel Hentsch had just brought instructions that the First Army must retreat, lest they get flanked and destroyed by the British Expeditionary Force that was nearly right on top of them. Kluck was flabbergasted, and insisted that he would press the attack regardless of orders, that Paris was right there, undefended! But just then a telegram came from General von Bülow: the general retreat of the Second Army had already begun. Von Kluck thus had to face facts. If he did not retreat as well, he would be completely surrounded not just by the British, but by the French forces who had until then been battling against von Bülow’s Second Army, but were now free to move on von Kluck’s First. That afternoon, September 9, von Kluck ordered a general retreat as well.

As has been the case with many of the battles we’ve discussed so far, the last few days of the First Battle of the Marne were far less bloody than the first few days. As the German right wing, in the form of the First, Second, and Third Armies, began their retreat, fresh French offensives to the east from Verdun and near Alsace-Lorraine were launched. Von Moltke quickly ordered his remaining Armies to fall back in conjunction with the right wing, designating the River Aisne in northern France as the end destination of this retreat. The German advance had been irrevocably halted, and while they still occupied most of Belgium and a large chunk of northern France, including its most important industrial zones, their dream of a six-week victory had been permanently dashed.

Enough ink has been spilled covering the reasons for and results of the German defeat at the First Battle of the Marne to fill multiple Olympic sized swimming pools. Now some historians have cautioned against ascribing too much importance to this battle, mostly because some people erroneously argue that from this point forward the defeat of the Germans and victory for the Allies in the First World War was a foregone conclusion, and the next four years were just one, long, downhill slog for Germany. That is not true at all. However it is certainly true that the First Battle of the Marne was one of the most important single battles of the First World War, as had the British and French not managed to gain a victory by the skin of their teeth, in all likelihood France would have been utterly defeated before the end of the month. Who knows what that would have meant for how the rest of the war played out, but it certainly would not have been good for the Allied cause. So let’s spend some time right now unpacking what the hell just happened.

The first thing we need to discuss is the human cost of this battle, which as I’m sure you can imagine, was absolutely staggering, and of course can only ever be estimated. The rough consensus among historians is that both the Allied Armies (French and British combined) and the German Army suffered about 250,000 total battle casualties from September 6 to September 12, 1914, for a total of 500,000. Approximately 30% of those casualties were deaths, for a total of about 150,000. 150,000 people killed in less than a week. To put that in perspective, that adds up to an average of nearly 20,000 people killed every day, 900 killed every hour, 15 killed every minute. 15 people being killed by gunfire or blasted into pieces by artillery every single minute for a week straight.

And we must also remember the plight of not just the wounded, but those people who had to care for the wounded. For this, and for much of the rest of the series, we are incredibly fortunate to have the war memoirs of British war correspondent Phillip Gibbs, titled simply “Now it Can Be Told.” We’ll discuss Gibbs in more detail later, but he was attached to the British Army for virtually the entire war, and his first experience was in the aftermath of the First Battle of the Marne, where he traveled with columns of refugees from hospital to hospital, recounting the anguish of civilian and soldier alike. As he wrote of the ordeal, quote:

“At Chartres they were swilling over the station hall with disinfecting fluid after getting through with one day’s wounded. The French doctor in charge had received a telegram from the director of the medical services: ‘Make ready for forty thousand wounded.’ It was during the First Battle of the Marne.

“‘It is impossible!’ said the French doctor…

‘Oh Jesus, Oh mother! Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus!’ From thousands of French soldiers lying wounded or parched in the burning sun before the Battle of the Marne these cries went up to the blue sky of France in August of ’14. They were the cries of youth’s agony in war. Afterward I went across the fields where they fought and saw their bodies and their graves, and the proof of the victory that saved France and us. The German dead had been gathered into heaps like autumn leaves. They were soaked in petrol and oily smoke was rising from them…

“And down all the roads from the front, on every day in every month of that first six months of war – as afterwards – came back the tide of wounded; wounded everywhere, maimed men at every junction; hospitals crowed with blind and dying and moaning men.

“’Had an interesting time?’ asked a man I wanted to kill because of his smug ignorance, his damnable indifference, his impregnable stupidity of cheerfulness in this world of agony. I had changed the clothes which were smeared with the blood of French and Belgian soldiers whom I had helped, in a week of strange adventure, to carry to the surgeons. As an onlooker of war I hated the people who had not seen, because they could not understand.”

As you can see, Gibbs was a man who did not pull punches, and was incredibly bitter about his experience, and the experience he would see in so many others, during the war. And while the Battle of the Marne was over, the war was just beginning. Those haggard and traumatized young men who somehow emerged from the battle not only alive but unscathed all must have had different reactions. Some perhaps believed themselves to be immortal, as young men often do anyway. Some perhaps looked to the heavens for their salvation, making that promise so many millions upon millions of people have made after a near death experience to never turn from god again. Some, perhaps, just took a grim satisfaction in the fact that they had come up lucky, and endeavored to do their best to make sure their luck was never so tested again. Some, doubtless, were so utterly shaken to their core by what they had just experienced, the first victims of what would later be called “shell shock,” that they became incapable of bearing arms, either simply sinking to the ground and refusing to go back to the front for any reason, or being consumed by tremors and epilepsy that would debilitate them for the rest of their lives. However I imagine there was probably a sense among many of these soldiers that, “well, at least it can’t get any worse than this.” But as British Lieutenant Edward Spears later reflected on his experience after the battle, quote, “I am deeply thankful that none of those who gazed across the Aisne in September of ‘14 had the faintest glimmer of what was awaiting them.”

Never again would so many soldiers be killed and wounded in such a short period of time. This battle had broken out before sophisticated, permanent trench lines had been built, and so there was almost nowhere for the infantry to hide from bullets and shells. However it did make it impossible for anyone to deny that war had irrevocably changed from the days where one could believe that glory and heroism were prizes to be won on the battlefield. Nobody could argue anymore that war was anything but mechanized slaughter on an unimaginably vast scale. And another unavoidable conclusion could be found in the aftermath of the First Battle of the Marne, though it was one that some people recognized sooner than others. This war was never going to be won in a lighting offensive or due to some strategic genius or tactical masterstroke that would end the war in a single hammer stroke. Both sides began to dig in, both figuratively and literally, for a knock-down, drag out slug fest, until one side or the other completely fell apart. It would take four years, and an entire generation of European men, for the issue to be decided. The French and British would soon dub their victory in September of 1914 as “The Miracle on the Marne.” But if this was a miracle, it was one that had only been summoned by a mass blood sacrifice.

Now, for the sake of ending things on a more personal touch, let’s conclude this week’s episode with a look at the man whose reputation was all but destroyed by the First Battle of the Marne: General Helmuth von Moltke the Younger.

The last few weeks had all but destroyed von Moltke’s mental health. Already prone to depression and gloom, it took all of his fortitude to handle the crushing responsibility bearing down upon him, and that was when things had been going relatively well for the Germans. The terrible uncertainty of the First Battle of the Marne, an uncertainty outweighed only by the absurd number of lives being lost, was unbearable. When the Germans were forced to admit defeat and retreat from the Marne, von Moltke broke.

“I cannot find words to describe the crushing responsibility that has weighed upon my shoulders during the last few days and still weighs on me today,” Moltke wrote to his wife as it became all too clear that the Germans had lost the battle. “The appalling difficulties of our present situation hang before my eyes like a dull curtain through which I can see nothing.” On September 12, 1914, Moltke ordered that the two German Armies based out of Alsace-Lorraine near the border with Switzerland should hold position, while the other five Armies on the Western Front should pull back to the river Aisne, and from there, quote, “the lines so reached will be fortified and defended.” This was the last order Moltke gave as commander-in-chief of the German Army. Two days later, on September 14, Moltke was formally relieved of command by the Kaiser, and in his place rose a man whom we will come to know and love (or hate, depending on your point of view) very shortly: General Erich von Falkenhayn. We will leave a discussion of Falkenhayn for later, but for now let’s finish up with poor General von Moltke.

The scion of a great military family, heir to one of the most famous names in German military history, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger was by any definition a perfectly adequate general. In fact, that might be giving him far too little credit, as one of the key reasons Germany did so well in the opening month of the war was its unparalleled system of supplies and logistics, and Moltke deserves most of the credit for organizing and maintaining that system. In terms of his strategic generalship, while not exactly brimming with genius he was no slouch. Generals at the time and historians ever since have criticized his reforms made to the Schlieffen Plan, no longer sending the vast majority of German forces through Belgium to flank the French Armies, but rather keeping the forces along the Western Front far more balanced. In hindsight, we can see that this may have been the wrong call, and if Moltke was so concerned about leaving the other parts of the front too exposed, perhaps he should have abandoned the plan altogether and simply massed all German forces to attack France directly at their mutual border. Though virtually all German generals at the time considered the flanking move through Belgium to be the only way to defeat France in time to then send forces east to counter the Russians, the move through Belgium was not nearly as easy as had been originally supposed, and most importantly, had the Germans not violated Belgium’s neutrality Britain would have in all likelihood stayed out of the war, which would have made a German victory in the war far easier and more likely.

But in his unwillingness to either commit wholeheartedly to the Schlieffen Plan nor abandon it all together and devise a brand-new strategy, we can see Moltke’s fatal weakness.

Not only was he, in a pure military sense, perhaps too cautious and orthodox of a commander to come up with an inventive plan of attack that would have taken the Allies by surprise, but on a more personal level he was just too hesitant and pessimistic to commit himself fully to such a difficult job involving such incredible amounts of responsibility. Further, he lacked the self-confidence to push for his own ideas on how best to win the war. And far from being the kind of person like, say, his much more famous and successful uncle Helmuth von Molkte the Elder, who was obsessed with military theory and strategy, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger was actually something of a sensitive, introspective artist. He was an accomplished cellist and painter, had taken up the project of translating a French play he enjoyed into German, and carried around a copy of Goethe’s play “Faust” with him at all times, which he would frequently read during idle moments.

“Who was Moltke?” Winston Churchill rather theatrically wrote in the 1920s. “He was the shadow of a great name; he was the nephew of the old Field Marshal and had been his aide-de-camp. He was an ordinary man…a man about the Palace agreeable to the Emperor in the palmy days of peace…a good, harmless, respectable, ordinary man. And on to this ill-fated being crashes the brutal, remorseless, centripetal impingement of tides and impulsions under which the greatest captains of history might have blenched!”

In short, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, Gloomy Gus as the Kaiser liked to call him, probably should never have been made the commander-in-chief of the German Army. “Only one thing is certain,” Moltke’s replacement Falkenhayn had written back on September 5. “Our General Staff has completely lost its head. Schlieffen’s notes do not help any further, so Moltke’s wits come to an end.” This is harsh, but not entirely inaccurate. And I don’t even think Molkte would necessarily disagree. When Kaiser Wilhelm II first appointed him as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army in 1906, he had said, “I do not know how I shall get on in the event of a campaign. I am very critical of myself.” Not exactly a ringing self-endorsement. Now, in my opinion, had Moltke simply been made the chief logistical officer of the German Army, he would have performed brilliantly. But as the final decision maker for the entire Army, he was just not up to the job. 

After being sacked as the commander-in-chief of the Army, Moltke was given an administrative post in the army far below his experience and pay-grade. But he accepted the assignment without much complaint, and was for the most part simply relieved to no longer be forced to be responsible for Germany’s prospects of winning this incredibly brutal war. He served in this post for two years, mostly keeping to himself and his wife, and while he was able to recover enough from his near nervous breakdown in September 1914 to continue working, his depression only grew worse as the war continued to drag on. On June 18, 1916, while attending an official ceremony at the German Reichstag, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger suffered a sudden stroke, and died right there on the floor of the German Parliament. He was, perhaps, the last casualty of the First Battle of the Marne.

Now next week we will close this arc, but before we move on, and specifically move on to the Eastern Front to catch up with the Austro-Hungarians in order to push forward with them, the Russians, and the Germans, I’d like to spend the next episode doing something similar to our reflection after the July Crisis which ended with the war breaking out. Easily the most important questions and debates about the war itself involve how it started, could it have been avoided, and who was at fault for it coming about. However perhaps the second most important topic of debate among historians is whether the war could have gone in a different direction here in its first month, what changes would have made that possible, and what would the results have been. Next week we will take a look at some of those questions, and in so doing begin to grasp just how consequential the First Battle of the Marne truly was.








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  • Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

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  • Encyclopedia Britannica, 1922 Edition. Moltke, Helmuth von. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1922_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Moltke,_Helmuth_von