In The Battle of the Marne, the distinguished WWI scholar Holger Herwig argues that the opening battle of the war was perhaps the most significant land battle of the 20th century. At the very least, the Marne was the most decisive land battle since Waterloo (1815).
First, the scale of the struggle was unheard of before 1914: France and Germany mobilized roughly 2 million men each, Britain some 130,000. During the momentous days between 5 and 11 September 1914, the two sides committed nearly 2 million men with 6,000 guns to a desperate campaign along the Marne River on a front of just 200 kilometers between the "horns of Verdun and Paris."
Second, the technology of killing was unprecedented. Rapid small-arms fire, machine guns, hand grenades, 75mm and 77mm flat-trajectory guns, 150mm and 60-pounder heavy artillery, mammoth 305mm and 420mm howitzers, and even aircraft made the killing ground lethal.
Third, the casualties ("wastage") suffered by both sides were unimaginable to prewar planners and civilian leaders alike: 200,000 men per side in the Battle of the Frontiers around the hills of Alsace-Lorraine and the Ardennes in August, followed by 300,000 along the chalky banks of the Marne in early September. No other year of the war compared to its first five months in terms of death.
Fourth, the immediate impact of the draw on the Marne was spectacular: the great assault on Paris had been halted and the enemy driven behind the Aisne River. France was spared defeat and occupation. Germany was denied victory and hegemony over the Continent. Britain maintained its foothold on the Continent.
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It is a strong entry on an operational level of World War I history. There are many excellent books on the First World War, but many of them deal with cause and effect - what started the war and how it ended. Books such as The Guns of August and Paris 1919 are superb in this respect. But there care few books that deal with World War I at the operational level of a specific battle or battles and this one covers the Battle of the Marne quite well.
I especially liked author Holger H. Herwig's descriptions of color. World War I is known as mainly a black and white war. There are very few color photos available and Herwig does a fine job in describing the colors of the war, for example, the uniforms. It gives you a unique visual sense of the war that other books do not.
One reviewer noted the unwelcome reading all the footnotes. While I agree that it can be a bit distracting at times, I do not feel it is enough to detract from the strong narrative.
The Marne, 1914 is a welcome addition to the field of World War I histories.
- Dale H. Reeck
Great content, poor narration
- Cris Radu