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First Aisne


* Dates:  14 to 27 September 1914

* Background:  On 9 September 1914, the German First and Second Armies, following their triumphant march on Paris and unexpected rebuff during the First Battle of the Marne, were now in full retreat northwards. They quickly withdrew through the miserable rain and wind to a ridge just north of the River Aisne, a tributary of the Oise. Both armies had crossed the Aisne by 12 September, halting on the crest of high ground 480 ft above the river. This ridge is also where the Chemin des Dames is located, a scenic road which was later to feature prominently as an objective in the fighting. German Chief of General Staff von Moltke was now faced with two choices: continue the retreat and risk further demoralization of his troops - or he could make a stand in hopes of buying time for them to rest, reorganize and re-supply. Although he chose to stand and fight, on 14 September, Moltke was replaced as Chief of General Staff by Generalleutnant Erich von Falkenhayn.

* The Germans:  Generaloberst Karl von Buelow, commander of the Second Army, also had overall command of the other two armies at the Aisne: Generaloberst Alexander von Kluck's First Army and Generaloberst Josias von Heeringen's Seventh Army. The Seventh had been hastily reformed during the retreat from the Marne and then was defensively repositioned between the First and Second Armies.


First Army

  Generaloberst Alexander von Kluck
   II. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Alexander von Linsingen
   III. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Ewald von Lochow
   IV. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Friedrich Sixt von Armin
   IV. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Hans von Gronau
   IX. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Ferdinand von Quast
   IX. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Max von Boehn
   7th Cav. Div.   GenLt. Ernst von Heydebreck  (from 3rd Cav. Corps)


Second Army

  Generaloberst Karl von Buelow
   VII. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Eberhard von Claer
   X. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Otto von Emmich
   X. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Johannes von Eben
   XVIII. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Heinrich Dedo von Schenck


Seventh Army

  Generaloberst Josias von Heeringen
   VII. Reserves   Gen.d.Inf. Hans von Zwehl  (from Second Army)
   XII. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Karl d'Elsa  (from Third Army)
   XV. Corps   Gen.d.Inf. Berthold von Deimling 


* The Battle:  Following their headlong retreat from the Marne, the Germans stopped on the high ground north of the Aisne River and turned to face their pursuers from eminently defensible positions. There remained, however, the ever-present gap which had earlier formed between First and Second Army, and which was now 18 miles wide and covered only by three cavalry divisions. The Allies crossed the 50-yard wide Aisne under heavy fire, mainly using pontoon bridges since most of the permanent bridges had been destroyed. On 14 September, they were able to make small gains against the German line located on the plateau above them. German counterattacks pushed the French Sixth Army back to its starting point. The Allies were unable to progress further against Germany's well-prepared positions and, with the French also coming under attack at Rheims, this largely stationary battle was abandoned on 18 September.

It was thus becoming clear that frontal infantry assaults were likely to be unsuccessful without heavy artillery support. As the Aisne offensive drew to a close, the Allies attempted to outflank the German First Army at Noyon, with the Germans responding by moving reserves in to outflank the French. These northward moving flanking maneuvers were unsuccessful but led to further such flanking attacks which resulted in the so-called Race to the Sea which continued until both sides reached the coastal area near Nieuport, Belgium in early October. The Battle First Battle of the Aisne and its immediate aftermath marked the closing of a war of movement on the Western Front, ushering in a four-year period of entrenched stalemate.

* click on map to enlarge