Pen & Sword Digital and BHTV, 2014
‘Battles of the Marne and the Aisne’ continues the story of the early part of the 1914 campaign, following on from ‘Nery and the Retreat from Mons.’ It examines the ultimate failure of the German Schlieffen Plan, and how the German Army then retreated to the Marne.
The film does a good job of setting out the strategic context as well as the day-by-day events of this period. It examines the difficulties faced by the BEF in crossing a landscape characterised by wide flat plateaus pitted with steep wooded valleys down to the rivers – terrain that lent itself perfectly to German delaying tactics. The Germans deployed well thought out defensive positions, including use of deceptive to make the British think there were more troops than there actually were.
The BEF at this point was essentially plugging the gap between the French armies, but the film highlights the professional tactics used by the Regular army in response to the German defence.
The role of the RFC is again examined; their reconnaissance showed the Germans were not intending to dig in on banks of Marne, and I and II Corps were quickly able to cross in pursuit over intact bridges. However, on 9th September the RFC also identified a large German formation – this was misinterpreted as threat and I Corps were ordered to dig in, so failed to exploit their advantage. The role of the Royal Engineers in constructing pontoon bridges and facilitating the supply of ammunition is also covered.
At the Aisne there was a lack of RFC observation due to bad weather. There was also difficulties finding suitable crossing points, and the well-sited and more numerous German artillery posed a threat to the troops trying to cross and secure bridgeheads.
The Chemin des Dames proved to be difficult terrain for the British artillery to provide support. The troops began to dig in to lines that would not change much over the course of the war.
Ultimately the film concludes that the battle of the Marne was the turning point of 1914; the Germans were overstretched, plagued by problems of ineffective command (Von Moltke was overcome – isolated and finding it difficult to command as he was so far away), an exhausted army, logistical problems, and low morale.
Talking about the action from where it took place enables the viewer to understand some of the geographical and logistical challenges the BEF faced in 1914. This series of DVDs provides a useful and interesting introduction to the early battles and manoeuvres of the war, which ultimately set the scene for how the remainder of the war was played out on the western front.
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The Battles Of The Marne, The Aisne And The Race To The Sea [DVD] [NTSC]