Battle of Mons
First major British engagement of the war
23 August 1914
author Paul Boșcu, November 2015
At Mons the British Expeditionary Force tried to hold their ground against the German onslaught into Belgium. Although the British inflicted more casualties on the Germans than they suffered themselves, they were eventually forced to retreat due to the numerical and tactical superiority of the Germans and the retreat of the French Fifth Army.
The Battle of Mons was the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force during World War One. It was an auxiliary battle of the Battle of the Frontiers in which the British and French Entente forces clashed with the German forces. At Mons, the British attempted to hold the line against the advancing 1st German Army. Although the British inflicted substantial casualties on the Germans, they were forced to retreat due to German superiority and the retreat of the French 5th Army. The British retreat from Mons, also known as the Great Retreat, took the BEF to the outskirts of Paris.

Although many German accounts mention the admirable skill of the British musketry, it was probably the least important aspect of a battle resolved by tactical maneuvers and the efficient utilization of infantry, artillery and machine guns to attain specific tactical objectives. In particular, the British defence was static, with no use of reserves and a severe lack of coordination between neighboring units.

The BEF spent the night of 23/24 August in positions 5 kilometres south of Mons, preparing to renew the battle the following day. Not until 1 a.m. were their chiefs of staff told that their orders now were to retreat.

Ordered to hold the Mons-Conde Canal, the British were firmly entrenched along its length. At the heart of a mining area, the canal offered excellent defensive positions, with mine buildings and cottages providing strong points and the spoil heaps furnishing observation posts from which the supporting artillery could be directed onto the advancing enemy masses.

On the right of the British position, a bend in the canal created a salient which became exposed to German artillery as the German attack developed purpose and effort. The Germans broke into smaller groups and advanced by rushes. The salient was abandoned in mid-afternoon.

Both sides fought as well as marched, the French and British to delay the German advance or to escape from danger, the Germans to force a way through any resistance they met.

Amidst all the mayhem of the Battle of the Frontiers, the BEF had been making its way to the front. The BEF was ridiculously small for a country with the imperial pretensions of Great Britain. Just four divisions and the equivalent of a cavalry division were sent to France under the command of General Sir John French.

The BEF I Corps (1st and 2nd Divisions) was commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Douglas Haig. He too was a cavalry officer with a distinguished record of service in both the Sudan and Boer Wars. He had excelled in a series of pre-war staff appointments and indeed, while Director of Military Training at the War Office, had been partially responsible for the creation of Britain’s Territorial Army. Haig had already been marked down as a future Commander in Chief, but the war had come too early for him to ascend to that post.

The II Corps was commanded by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, who had taken over at short notice following the untimely death of its original commander, Lieutenant General Sir James Grierson. Smith-Dorrien was a career infantry officer who had managed to survive the massacre at the Battle of Isandlwana during the Zulu War. He then had considerable success during widespread active service during the Egypt, Tirah, Sudan and Boer War campaigns, followed by stints at the Aldershot and Southern Command.

General French had enjoyed a glittering career culminating in considerable success as a cavalry leader in the Boer War. This had been followed by further rapid promotion and he was Chief of Imperial General Staff from 1912 to 1914. His task was complicated by the necessity of falling in with the plans of French General Joseph Joffre, clearly the man in charge of the overall campaign. Meanwhile Charles Lanrezac, as the commander of the neighbouring French Fifth Army, disposed a force that dwarfed the BEF.

Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener – who had been appointed Secretary of State for War – feared that the BEF’s forward concentration might lead to the BEF being overwhelmed by the German forces massing north of the Meuse. He could not change the assembly area, but the perceived threat of a German invasion caused him to delay the embarkation of two Regular divisions.

The BEF was a highly trained force made up entirely of volunteer soldiers. Men served seven years with the colours and were then liable to a further five years in the reserves. The British Army had learned a great deal in the Boer War, but lacked any experience of modern warfare against a comparable European opponent. The defining characteristic of the BEF as a military force was its size: it was, as Kaiser Wilhelm II memorably put it, ‘a contemptible little army’, although this reflects German frustration more than any considered indictment.

The individual soldiers were armed with the bolt-action Short Magazine Lee Enfield Mark III rifle. It had been introduced in 1907 and was very accurate at a range of up to 600 yards. The ten-round magazine allowed a trained rifleman to fire around fifteen aimed rounds a minute.

Each battalion was equipped with two of the excellent Maxim or Vickers machine guns. The British gunners were equipped with the 18-pounders or 4.5 inch howitzers, both fine quick-firing field artillery pieces with a range of up to 6,500 yards.

As with the French, there was little provision of heavy artillery. Furthermore, artillery tactics were primitive, and pre-war field exercises had done little to prepare them for their role in a modern battlefield. Concepts such as indirect firing or prolonged barrages were simply not understood.

The BEF had begun landing in France and then moved up to its designated concentration area at Maubeuge. The deployment had been somewhat delayed and it took 9 days for the BEF to edge into Belgium. The BEF reached the town of Mons. Despite reports of attacks on the neighboring French Army, coupled with cavalry and aerial reconnaissances, there was still a great deal of confusion as to the exact nature of the threat facing the BEF.

The battle would find the II Corps in a defensive line stretching along the Mons-Condé Canal, while the I Corps was echeloned back towards the left of the French Fifth Army. This position had several weaknesses: in particular around Mons itself there was an extremely awkward salient, but elsewhere there were inadequate fields of fire, poor artillery positions and a lack of effective protection from shell fire.

General Smith-Dorrien had this to say about the events leading up to the battle: ‘That night I was happy in my mind, for official news of the enemy given me indicated no great strength, and I fully expected that the Chief’s expressed intention of moving forward again next day would be carried out. I had been given no information of the somewhat serious happenings in the French army on our right, which I learned years later, namely, that it had been forced back, and was already some 9 miles south of Mons with a gap of at least 9 miles between the right of our II Corps and the left of the XVIII French Corps, thus leaving us in a very vulnerable, indefensible and salient position. Had I known of this serious situation I doubt much if my night’s rest would have been as enjoyable as it proved to be – for I should have been racking my brain as to what the object of our remaining so isolated was and why we did not retire. Mercifully, I was in blissful ignorance – nor was I disillusioned next morning when at about 6 am the Chief appeared at my headquarters, and, addressing his Corps and Cavalry Division commanders assembled there, told us that little more than one, or at most two, enemy Corps, with perhaps a Cavalry Division, were facing the BEF. So it was evident that he, too, was in blissful ignorance of the real situation. Sir John was in excellent form, and told us to be prepared to move forward, or to fight where we were, but to get ready for the latter by strengthening our outposts and preparing the bridges over the canal for demolition.’

The BEF moved up into the industrial region near Mons, expecting to participate in an Entente offensive into Belgium. Instead it speedily became evident that the BEF was directly in the path of the German First Army, Lanrezac having failed to stop the Germans on the Sambre. Despite his exposed position, Sir John promised to cover Lanrezac's left by standing at Mons for 24 hours.

The potentially dangerous position in which the BEF found itself — forward of its allies and directly in the path of the main weight of the German army — was rendered null by the Germans' own ignorance of the BEF's whereabouts. The German naval staff had expected the shipment of the BEF to begin on the 16th of August, a full week later than was the case. Alexander von Kluck, commanding the German 1st Army, believed that the British had landed, not at Le Havre and Boulogne but at Ostend, Dunkirk, and Calais.

When Alexander von Kluck’s First Army crashed into Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps, the battle that ensued was to enter British military folklore. The myth is one of a heroic successful defence, with well-trained British ‘Tommies’ mowing down hordes of Germans repeatedly attacking in mass formations. In the end, the British would be forced to retreat only because the fickle French had given way on their right flank. The reality was very different. For one thing, the ‘battle-hardened’ British soldiers of legend were anything but. Some had gained experience more than a decade before in the Boer War, but they were in the minority.

Most British soldiers had never seen action, and their training exercises bore little resemblance to the reality of war. In particular they had no concept of battle inoculation. Tucked away in many of the accounts of the battles are clues that even the much-vaunted British musketry could waver under the supreme stress and excitement of battle: ‘We got into a position on the embankment and as the enemy came through the wood about 200 yards in front, they presented a magnificent target, and we opened rapid fire. The men were very excited as this was their first ‘shot in anger’. Despite the short range a number of them were firing high but I found it hard to control the fire as there was so much noise. Eventually I drew my sword and walked along the line beating the men on the backside and, as I got their attention, telling them to fire low. So much for all our beautiful fire orders taught in peacetime!’ (Lieutenant George Roupell, 1st East Surrey Regiment)

The British were convinced that they were massively outnumbered and there are many accounts telling of massed formations coming against them. One such is that of Private Tom Bradley, who was occupying a shallow scraped rifle pit close to the canal bridge at Obourg to the west of Mons. As he recalled, the Germans attacked in great close-order columns: ‘They went down like ninepins until all we could see in front of us was a regular wall of dead and wounded. Above the noise of rifle fire, you could hear a strange wailing sound and they turned and ran for the cover of the fir trees.’ There is little evidence to substantiate this version of events. It certainly bears no resemblance to most German accounts, which seem to indicate that their infantry advanced in open order, but only after having attempted to win the firefight by bringing up both machine guns and artillery.

As to the II Corps being undefeated and forced to fall back only to conform with the French on their right flank, the reality is that on many occasions the Germans seemed to have been all too successful in forcing a retreat.

Kluck's initial attacks against the British were inevitably little more than part of his continued advance: they were not co-ordinated and were delivered in dense formations. The BEF's incomparable musketry exacted a toll from the dense German formations but the British quickly became acquainted with the power and accuracy of the German artillery. Although Haig's I Corps was not heavily engaged, Smith-Dorrien's troops largely held on until the late afternoon, when relentless German pressure and numerical superiority finally told.

The British liaison officer with the French Fifth Army, Lieutenant Edward Spears, arrived at General Sir John French's headquarters with alarming news. General Lanrezac had warned Joffre that, as a result of the German success on the Sambre, he was giving orders for the Fifth Army to retreat southwards the following day. French was forced to recognize that, as his allies intended to fall back, he must do likewise.

A German officer of the 12th Brandenburg Grenadiers was among the first to experience the effect of long-range, well-aimed rifle fire. ‘In front [of my company position] lay an extremely long, flat marshy-looking meadow. Its left side was broken into by scattered buildings and sheds, and on the right a narrow strip of wood jutted into it. At the far end, about 1,500 yards straight ahead, were more scattered groups of buildings. Between the near and far buildings a number of cows were peacefully grazing.’ The peace of the bucolic scene was illusory. On the following day, Captain Bloem would discover how the British ‘had converted every house, every wall into a little fortress; the experience, no doubt, of old soldiers gained in a dozen colonial wars.’ On the morning of Mons, as his company stepped out into the void, the danger the empty vista held suddenly became reality. ‘No sooner had we left the edge of the wood than a volley of bullets whistled past our noses and cracked into the trees behind. Five or six cries near me, five or six of my grey lads collapsed in the grass... The firing seemed at long range and half left... Here we were as if advancing on a parade ground... away in front a sharp, hammering sound, then a pause, then a more rapid hammering – machine guns!’

It is undeniable that several of the British battalions fought well, but the Germans maneuvered skillfully to secure a local superiority against the weak points in the British defences. Wherever possible they operated against the flanks, forcing the British to fall back or risk being cut off and totally destroyed. The British were turned out of their defensive positions in a matter of a few hours and even failed to destroy several of the canal bridges. Both the immediate flanks were threatened and the Germans had broken through to seize Mons itself.

Throughout, the Germans seem to have handled their artillery and machine guns with a great tactical dexterity borne of long practice, operating them in tandem to dominate the British in the firefight, effectively rendering rifle fire of secondary importance.

Joffre explained in a message to the Minister of War why the whole front must be withdrawn: ‘In the north, our Army operating between the Sambre, the Meuse and the British Army, appears to have suffered checks of which I still do not know the full extent, but which have forced it to retire… One must face facts... Our army corps... have not shown on the battlefield those offensive qualities for which we had hoped... We are therefore compelled to resort to the defensive, using our fortresses and great topographical obstacles to enable us to yield as little ground as possible. Our object must be to last out, trying to wear the enemy down, and to resume the offensive when the time comes.’

When the Great Retreat from Mons began, the BEF soon found that von Kluck’s First Army was in close pursuit. The I and II Corps were soon physically separated as they fell back on either side of the Forest of Mormal. The British tried to delay the German advance at Le Cateau. After the battle the French certainly thought the British had been beaten, and the Germans were convinced they had won. The German pursuit was complicated somewhat by von Kluck’s failure to correctly anticipate the direction of Smith-Dorrien’s retreat. Following Le Cateau, the whole of the BEF was in retreat.

Hard-pressed as he was and with his troops showing signs of exhaustion, Smith-Dorrien decided that if the II Corps was to have any chance of properly disengaging from their pursuers then they must turn and fight to try to dissuade the Germans from following so closely. The British took up positions near Le Cateau stretching some ten miles through to Beauvois. But the defensive positions selected were often poorly sited; there was no time to dig proper trenches; and the artillery was once again placed too far forward, with many batteries consequently in plain view of the Germans.

While some individual British battalions or batteries resisted with great courage at Le Cateau, overall they did not fight well or cohesively. Communications, command and control were all poor or non-existent, and with good reason: the BEF was both new to the task at hand and had no practical experience of the sheer complexities of modern warfare.

There was only a feeble tactical reserve held in hand to allow Smith-Dorrien the chance to intervene in the battle. The Battle of Le Cateau bore many similarities to Mons. The overblown British accounts claiming miracles cannot mask the fact that the Germans had the better of the clash.

Kluck's mistaken conclusion that the BEF was falling back towards the south-west rather than to the south gave the British formations an unexpected breathing space, permitting them to retreat comparatively unmolested over the next few days.

The front ran along the ancient Roman road between Le Cateau and Cambrai. At Cambrai, three years and three months later, the British would launch the first massed attack with tanks, a weapon of war not yet invented or even envisaged in 1914.

At first the British infantry held the line by their usual outpouring of aimed and rapid rifle fire, supported by salvoes from the field artillery. Then, as enemy numbers mounted during the afternoon, the flanks began to crumble, units to break up and batteries to lose their gun crews under the weight of opposing bombardments. As evening approached, II Corps stared dismemberment in the face.

As dusk fell, II Corps, which had lost 8,000 killed, wounded and missing during the battle, summoned its reserves of strength to slip away and resume the retreat. Thirty-eight guns – half a divisional artillery – were lost nonetheless, despite desperate attempts to save them.

Most officers and men had little idea where they were, where they were going or what was happening around them. There was a constant underlying fear. The ordinary soldiers were at the end of their tethers. After all, many were reservists who had been out of the Army for several years and were not in peak physical condition. In total, the Great Retreat lasted a little over a month.

Often marching day and night, the troops paid scant attention to the needs of the swarms of Belgian refugees that clogged the roads: ‘One of the saddest sights of that day, was the huge columns of refugees on the main road to Guise. Carts heaped with household treasures led by crying women and frightened children. These carts were ruthlessly swept off the road to make a passage for the troops. This was absolutely necessary, of course, in spite of its cruelty. None of these poor people could have crossed the river at Guise, as we had to blow up the bridge after crossing – and held back the fugitives to do it.’ (Captain Herbert Rees, 2nd Welsh Regiment)

Officers like Captain Tudor St John tried their best to goad their men on while trying to keep order in the swaying, exhausted ranks: ‘I had already several times gone to sleep while marching and had found myself in the ditch. I gave up trying to drive men back to the ranks. When they fell they knew what was in store for them by now as well as I did! And I knew the agony they must be suffering from their feet, many having raw heels and toes from the hard marching we had done. Not many gave in absolutely. Some would fall out but at the next halt they would come limping in again. The pace to begin with had been killing. We came to paved roadway along which we painfully hobbled. I can’t call it anything else. I don’t suppose we were doing 2 miles an hour. I myself was suffering from an abscess on my toe which felt like hot knives at every step.’

The Entente armies were everywhere in retreat, though they retained enough resilience to organise determined rearguard operations. It was at this point, with Plan XVII in tatters and the truth about the German use of reservists becoming frighteningly apparent, that the impassive Joffre displayed his best qualities. Refusing to abandon all thoughts of an offensive, he created a new Sixth Army, commanded by General Michel-Joseph Maunoury, on the endangered allied left, having coolly taken troops from his own reserves and the French right for this purpose.

For the allied and German troops who had to march some 20 miles a day in the searing heat, the combination of thirst, fatigue, hunger and blistered feet constituted a much greater concern than the grand designs of their commanders. The British I Corps had to fight at Landrecies and Maroilles but, since it had suffered very little at Mons, it disengaged easily and resumed its retreat.

Moltke's decision to allow Karl von Bulow, of Second Army, to oversee the operations of First and Third – an understandable decision in the early stages of the campaign while the need to overwhelm Belgium was paramount – began to have unfortunate consequences. Bulow's anxiety to assure mutual support between the armies of the right wing deprived the Third Army of the chance to strike into Lanrezac's rear as he disengaged from the Sambre.

The BEF was not disabled but had merely disappeared into the countryside, unhampered by the German cavalry as the advancing Germans had been by the French in Belgium in the opening weeks of the campaign. Meanwhile the growing assemblage of Joffre's new striking force in and around Paris remained undiscovered by the enemy altogether.

Joffre perceived that the British needed a breathing space. He sent orders to Lanrezac to check his retreat and counterattack the German Second Army, treading close on its heels in its path towards Paris. Lanrezac’s instructions were to align Fifth Army along the upper course of the River Oise, to attack to the west where the river turned south to join the Seine at Pontoise. The battle – known to the French as Guise, to the Germans as St. Quentin – opened in the morning in thick mist. The Germans managed to resist the French counterattack and, after two days of fighting, reinitiate the pursuit. The French had to withdraw.

The Germans stepped out with a will, their commanders believing that no serious French resistance was to be met before the River Aisne, thirty-five miles distant. They were surprised by the strength of the French opposition, against which they began to suffer heavy casualties.

During the course of the first day, the Germans advanced some three miles and, as evening approached, were preparing to consolidate the ground won. At that moment the character of the battle was transformed. French General Franchet d'Esperey had been ordered shortly after noon to engage in support and he did so in person. This galvanised the French troops and, as darkness fell, villages lost in the morning were retaken. The victorious French took up positions from which they intended to resume the counterattack the next day.

Franchet d'Esperey made his reputation at Guise. ‘Desperate Frankie,’ as his British admirers christened the fire-eater, would soon succeed Lanrezac at the head of the Fifth Army.

The marching armies tramped on, fifteen and twenty miles a day in the heat of a brilliant late summer. ‘Soon we were crossing the last ridge that separated us from the Marne valley,’ recorded Captain Walter Bloem. ‘It was another grilling, exhausting day. Twenty-five miles uphill and down dale under a blazing sun. To our left we could hear the guns of Bulow's army with which we seemed nearly in touch again.’

There were flashes of action, engagements between advance and rear guards, short, bitter little battles, such as that at Nery, where the British 1st Cavalry Brigade and L Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, held up the progress of the German 4th Cavalry Division for a morning. For the vast majority on both sides, however, the last week of August and the first of September were an ordeal of day-long marches, begun before the sun rose and concluded in the twilight.

A trooper of the 4th Dragoon Guards, Ben Clouting, recorded that his regiment was roused at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of the 1st of September, 2 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd, 4:20 a.m. on the 3rd and 5th and 5 a.m. on the 6th. He remembered that the horses, beside which they often walked to spare their backs, ‘soon began to drop their heads and wouldn't shake themselves like they normally did... they fell asleep standing up, their legs buckling. As they stumbled forward... they lost their balance completely, falling forward and taking the skin off their knees.’ For the men, ‘the greatest strain... worse than any physical discomfort or even hunger was... fatigue. Pain could be endured, food scrounged, but the desire for rest was never-ending... I fell off my horse more than once, and watched others do the same, slowly slumping forward, grabbing for their horse's neck, in a dazed, barely conscious way. At any halt men fell asleep instantaneously. The infantry, who got no chance to ride, dropped behind the column of route in scores and these stragglers, ‘in grim determination… hobbled along in ones or twos... as [they] sought desperately to stay in touch with their regiments... Food came up from Army Service Corps ration dumps, which were just boxes of biscuits [and] tins of bully beef... Very occasionally, a chalk notice marked the food up for a particular regiment, but more often than not we just helped ourselves, stuffing what we could into every pocket.’

L Battery's gunners won three Victoria Crosses in their contest with the enemy. At this stage, there was much bridge-blowing and re-bridging, as the armies negotiated the many-branched river system of the Paris basin. There were many contested delays at obstacles, artillery exchanges, and brief outbursts of rifle fire, as scouts ran into outposts or the tail of a retreating column was overtaken by pursuers.

Joffre, out on inspection of the French armies, passed ‘retreating columns... Red trousers had faded to the colour of pale brick, coats were ragged and torn, shoes caked with mud, eyes cavernous in faces dulled by exhaustion and dark with many days' growth of beard. Twenty days of campaigning seemed to have aged the soldiers as many years.’ The French and British, long though their daily marches, were at least falling back on their lines of supply. The Germans marched ahead of theirs and often went without food, though, like the British, their primary need was for rest rather than rations.

Von Kluck's headquarters were installed in Louis XV's chateau at Compiègne. It was there that he received Moltke's wireless message directing his First Army to follow Bulow's Second ‘in echelon’ to the south-east, in order to cut the French off from Paris. Kluck decided to interpret the order literally, as giving him freedom to veer further eastward still in pursuit of Lanrezac's Fifth Army, to cross the River Marne and to initiate the decisive battle that Moltke actually intended to be delivered by the armies of the center, coming west from the Meuse. The German strategic effort, though neither Moltke nor Kluck perceived it, was beginning to fall apart.

Apologists argue that Kluck was doing the right thing by keeping on Lanrezac's heels. The truth is that every mile he marched in pursuit of the Fifth Army, once he had crossed the Oise and headed towards the Marne, served Joffre's purpose. For the further Kluck widened the gap between the army and Paris to his right, without achieving the crucial overlap which would allow him to begin an encirclement of Lanrezac from the west, the more space he created for Joffre to position his men against the German flank. That mass, with the existing garrison of Paris, menaced a fiercer strike against Kluck than he could now hope to deliver to the enemy.

The French created a new force, composed of a number of newly arrived and veteran divisions. The creation of this ‘mass of maneuver’ had been foreshadowed in Joffre's General Instruction No.2 of 25 August. Together they constituted the Armies of Paris, under the overall command of General Joseph Gallieni. Gallieni's demands provoked a government crisis. General Adolphe Messimy, finding himself blamed for the dangers of which Gallieni was now warning, insisted on being dismissed rather than accept a new appointment. By so doing, he brought about the resignation of the whole ministry. The political upheaval shook Joffre's imperturbability no more than the military setback.

Gallieni, a veteran of the French wars of empire, was sixty-five in 1914. Recalled from retirement to replace the ineffective General Michel as Military Governor of Paris, he had at once warned General Adolphe Messimy, Minister of War, that the enemy would be at the gates in twelve days to lay a siege the capital could not withstand. He demanded reinforcements, which could only be got from Joffre who was unwilling to release any and, as supreme commander with war powers, could not be overruled by ministers or even the President.

Messimy was replaced by the tough and taciturn Alexandre Millerand and departed to join the armies at the front as a major of reserve. At the same time, the British were causing anxiety. General French had been shaken by the intensity of the fighting. As the retreat lengthened, he and his staff officers began to consider the eventuality of retiring to base, leaving France altogether and returning only when the troops had rested and re-equipped in England. Herbert Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, summoned French to the British embassy in Paris and left him in no doubt that his task was to cooperate with Joffre even at extreme risk to his own army.

The government had, as in 1870, transferred its seat to Bordeaux. Joffre had incorporated the capital into the Zone of the Armies, where he ruled with total power. With constitutional authority, therefore, the Military Governor issued instructions to prepare the Eiffel Tower for destruction (it was the transmitting station for general staff radio communications), to lay demolition charges under the Seine bridges, to send all rolling stock useful to the enemy out of the Paris rail system, to provision the guns of the fortifications with ammunition, to clear trees and houses from artillery fields of fire and to conscript laborers to do the work.

Paris, in 1914, was still a fortified city, surrounded by walls and a girdle of forts. It also became, under Gallieni's command, an Entrenched Camp, with improvised defences stretching out into its surrounding countryside, further to enhance the ‘obstacle of Paris’ which had so troubled Schlieffen in the long years while he had been devising his plan.

Meanwhile the French railway system was hurrying to the front the forces with which Joffre planned to deliver his counterstroke. Since it centered on Paris, its network brought troops rapidly from the increasingly stabilised eastern sector to the critical points.

Joffre disposed, at the opening of the great battle named after the river Marne, of thirty-six divisions, including the BEF, strengthened by the arrival of four fresh brigades from England, while the German First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Armies opposing him consisted of just under thirty. The Germans were now outnumbered, as a result of Moltke's failure to control his subordinates and Joffre's refusal to be panicked by early defeat. It remained to be seen whether French generalship might yet pluck victory from the jaws of defeat.

Much else had contributed to the mismatch, notably the logistic difficulties imposed on the Germans as their lines of communication lengthened, and the consequent easing of the problems of reinforcement and supply enjoyed by the French as they fell back on the center. Nevertheless, the opening circumstances of the Battle of the Marne betrayed a failure of German generalship.