Thursday, September 9, 2010

September 9, 1914 – Battle of Paris Begins

The opening battles of the World War had been sweeping victories for the German offensive. As they pressed past the Marne in early September, the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army fell back in covered retreats. Several of the German army commanders began to swerve to the southeast in pursuit of the Allies, but Chief of Staff Hulmuth von Moltke pushed them to aim directly for the war's goal: Paris.

Keeping lines tight, the Germans held the Eastern Flank and pressed west. The Allies launched a massive counter-attack on September 6 directly for General von Kluck's First Army. For two days, the Germans held and slaughtered oncoming Allied troops. On the 9th, the tide of battle turned, and von Kluck led fresh reinforcements in the press into Paris.

The week-long battle of Paris would cost hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides with bloody and unpredictable urban warfare. The French government would flee along with many of the civilians to Orléans, protected by French soldiers ferried by the famous Parisian taxicabs as they had been since the days of the Marne. Once Paris was taken on the 17th, the Germans assumed the French would call for armistice as they had in the Franco-Prussian War. However, seeing German troops in Paris only caused French nationalism to soar and thousands new soldiers to surge to the battlefield.

As the German advance ended, a Race to the Sea began with battles and trenches moving northward through France until reaching Amiens and then following the Somme to the English Channel. By winter, the Germans had secured Belgium and both sides sat down for a stalemate. While the Allies calculated their moves in the spring, the Kaiser pondered the fact that the French had not surrendered as he had anticipated. Battles had been extremely costly on both sides, and he did not want to see Germany weakened by years of fruitless warfare. When consulting Moltke, the Chief of Staff told Wilhelm, “Your Majesty, this war cannot be won.”

Wilhelm flew into a rage and fired Moltke for his lack of faith in Germany. He charged his replacement, von Falkenhayn, with determining a way to win the war. Falkenhayn battled with Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, eventually concocting a plan for a war of attrition. Recalling Moltke's warnings, Wilhelm rejected the plan.

The new German plan called for a defense in the West, using the new notions of trench warfare to keep the French and British at bay as well as combating numerous amphibious assaults on Belgian beaches. Falkenhayn conceded to the idea of pushing east, and the majority of the offense would be against Russia in 1915. Suffering terrible casualties, Russia would erupt into revolution and drop out of the war in 1916. Now turning back to focus on the Western Front, the Germans worked to break the British blockade, but their actions would only result in attacks upon American citizens, drawing the United States into the war.

In a massive Allied landing, Belgian liberation began and many of the German lines found themselves surrounded. The war turned against the Germans quickly, and American and British troops marched onto German soil while the French held much of their army in the trenches. Reeling, the German empire collapsed. At the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, the Allies would break up Germany into small states like they broke up the Austrian and Ottoman Empires.

In reality, the First and Second Armies of Germany did swing southeast, allowing the Allies to launch a successful push in the Battle of the Marne. Von Kluck moved the First army in a swinging defense, but the action formed a massive gap that the British Expeditionary Force and the French exploited. Moltke saw the disaster and broke down, retiring from the army and dying of ill health just two years later. Wilhelm believed the war was still winnable (even declaring victory in 1916), and his commander Falkenhayn began the battle plans for a war of attrition that would ultimately end with the surrender of Germany.

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