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The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World

The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World [Kindle Edition]

Holger H. Herwig
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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"Makes vivid the full tragedy of what the Marne set in motion."--"The Wall Street Journal" "A thoroughly informed panorama of the immense and bloody campaign that kicked off World War I."--"The Washington Times""As fine an addition to scholarly World War I literature as has been seen in some time."--"Booklist ""[An] engrossing narrative . . . Herwig combines colorful evocations of the horrors of the fighting with a lucid operational history of the campaign."--"Publishers Weekly" "The commanders you'll encounter in "The Marne, 1914" aren't familiar names to most people today, but their mistakes, fears and courage make them excellent dramatic characters."--"The Oregonian" "Meticulous research and solid writing."--"North County Times"


"Makes vivid the full tragedy of what the Marne set in motion."--"The Wall Street Journal"

"A thoroughly informed panorama of the immense and bloody campaign that kicked off World War I."--"The Washington Times"

"As fine an addition to scholarly World War I literature as has been seen in some time."--"Booklist "

"[An] engrossing narrative . . . Herwig combines colorful evocations of the horrors of the fighting with a lucid operational history of the campaign."--"Publishers Weekly"

"The commanders you'll encounter in "The Marne, 1914" aren't familiar names to most people today, but their mistakes, fears and courage make them excellent dramatic characters."--"The Oregonian"

"Meticulous research and solid writing."--"North County Times"

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 6195 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (1 Dec 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002XYFUC4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #43,758 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but... 28 Jan 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
not always engaging. The research behind The Marne is impressive. This is probably the most detailed overarching account of the first month of the Great War that exists. The title is a tad misleading, for the book covers the bitter opening battles along the entire Western Front, encompassing the actions of all four armies fighting in August and September 1914. For a largely academic volume, the author does not ignore the human (and inhuman) element - the horrors of battle and the 'German atrocities'.

At times the narrative becomes bogged down with the movements and manoeuvres of armies, however. Corps X, division Y, gaps and flanks which may be good for serious military historians but rather confuse the more general reader. That's not helped by the maps, some of which have reproduced rather poorly. Also the photographic selection is very limited: the only images from the actual campaign show destruction of the Liège forts and devastated Louvain; not one photograph of the actual Marne campaign!

With these reservations in mind, this is an impressive addition to our understanding of the first weeks of the 1914 campaign, but for human drama, Barbara Tuchmann's August 1914 still stands supreme after five decades.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More maps 16 Dec 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not having read any other works on the subject makes it difficult to compare. So my impression is good, the work appears authorative and is in general an easy read given that there is laid out a lot of detail. The slight downside is to do with the detail, as this part of the war was all about manoeuvre and position, a lot of detail is given as to who moved what when and where. There are several maps showing this, but given the level of detail described, I think more accompanying maps would have helped.
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The book begins examining the reasons to go to war,above all for Germany and the Absburg Empire, then analyzing the war plans of all the powers involved in this world war, including even a lot of "what if"s.
The author, then, follows the development of this huge conflict , on the Western Front, until the end of the battle of the Marne, analyzing, even on this case, a lot of very interesting "what if"s .
I don't want that from these words you can think that this is just a cold detailed research book about a battle, because, instead this book is full of first hand accounts coming from a lot of war diaries written by soldiers belogning to all the possible ranks, from private to general.
Even if this book is based mainly on german sources, this book is not onesided, indeed it includes even a complete list and description of the german crimes committed in Belgium, in thev first months of war.
The author thinks that this battle is the most important of the century because if the Germans had won it, it would not have happened the birth of the Nazism (the treaty of Versailles would not have existed) and of the Comunism ( winning at the Marne, the Germans would have defeated France, and so consequently even Russia, being, on this case , a nonsense to help Lenin to reach Russia).
The maps are excellent and for sure much better than many others found in other book about WWI.
A great research book with a great soul.
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5 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A poor perfomance - shallow and subjective 9 May 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is quite a superficial book, marked by a 'snappy' prose style and amazingly dogmatic claims that are, to say the least, debatable (e.g. the author claims he can state categorically on the basis of his research, exactly what a German victory in the war would have meant). Wow.

He also litters his writing with deeply tendentious adjectives -and adverbs. People he doesn't like (usually British)are usually described as 'speaking hysterically' or 'prattling'. Wow. Was he there? seems not. Look elsewhere for good writing on this topic that is also grounded in actual historical ability.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
50 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A useful reference work 9 Dec 2009
By J. Scarborough - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is easy to write a positive review of a book, it is far more difficult to offer meaningful criticism. I had eagerly awaited Holger Herwig's new book, "The Marne, 1914," as there has been much recent research I hoped to see distilled in a comprehensive account of the campaign.

The book contains a more detailed overview of the German III Army operations on the Meuse and of the German VI Army operations in Lorraine and against Nancy than has been presented previously.

However, I found Herwig's writing style to be dense and his arguments hard to follow. In the prolog (on page xii), he argues the Marne Campaign to be the most decisive land battle since Waterloo. But in the epilogue (on page 319), he concludes, "the great tragedy of the Marne is that it was strategically indecisive." The thread connecting these two arguments is missing.

You don't always know what Herwig is arguing, but you do know what he argues against, but not always why.

Herwig dismisses recent controversy over the Schlieffen plan in one paragraph (on Page 40) that seems to boil down to, "everyone knows there was Schlieffen plan."

Herwig does not examine tactical actions or training for either side, nor does he look and low-level tactical action on the battlefield, but none-the-less dismisses assertions of the superiority of German tactical training and doctrine (on page 214). His dismissal is based on the failure of the German attacks around Nancy in Lorraine during September. Zuber had made the claim based on his evaluation of combat in the Ardennes in August.

Herwig presents casualty figures for the campaign (pages 315-316), but not in a format that allows an apples-to-apples comparison. Mosier, in the "Myth of the Great War," showed the Germans took two casualties for every five the Allies (Britain & France) took. Both argue that artillery ruled the Marne battlefields, but neither demonstrate how heavy artillery was effectively used during the maneuver battles of the Marne campaign. Remember, radios were not used tactically, and it is hard to string wire for communication during a meeting engagement.

I disliked Herwig's recycling of the US Army WW1 Atlas maps - mapping prepared especially to support Herwig's text could have been useful and enlightening.

This book will be a useful reference on the Marne campaign, but for a good summary I recommend readers' go with Tyng's venerable, "The Campaign of the Marne,1914" or Strachan's Volume I, "To Arms." Both are referenced extensively in Herwig's book.
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Battle of the Marne in great detail 5 Dec 2009
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
World War I began with both sides sensing great victory in a short period of time. Germany faced the more delicate strategic situation. Russia was mobilizing to the East and France and Germany to the West; Germany could not divide its forces and hope to triumph along both fronts. Germany made the following calculation: if it used the bulk of its forces against France, using the Schlieffen Plan (invading through Belgium) and achieved a quick victory, it could send spare forces to the East to defeat Russia. France's plan was massive attack against Germany and through boldness achieve a quick victory. Of course, as we know from history, World War I was a slow bloodletting lasting for years. No quick victory happened.

This book is enriched by many German records becoming available from what was once East Germany after reunification. These records add considerable new information to the telling of this story. Another useful feature of this book is the description of key figures, giving a human dimension to the massive battles, involving armies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers each. Generals such as French, Joffre, Moltke, Lanrezac, Bulow, Foch become human rather than just cardboard characters. Given that the human frailty of some of these generals was crucial (lack of nerve, too much aggressiveness, or just the right touch of aggressiveness and caution) was often a key variable in battle, this helps make sense of the action.

The book takes a largely chronological view. It begins by outlining strategic vision of the various actors. For France, the disastrous outcome of the Franco-Prussian War weighed heavily. Germany, aware of the forces that would be arrayed against its armies, developed a plan for rapid mobilization and rapid movement of troops to the offensive (the Schlieffen Plan). As war came closer--and actually began with the aftereffects of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand--the book outlines the moves as they occurred. In the process, some myths are rejected (such as the idea that the war was something of an accident, with people not realizing the consequences of their actions). The nature of the armies by all parties are described, from army to cavalry (I was surprised to see how effective cavalry were during the first part of World War I) to artillery to airplanes.

The development of actual movement of forces and battles quickly began to depart from the careful plans of both the French and the Germans. The book demonstrates that many fights were chance engagements. Others allowed parties to prepare, as airplanes could detect enemy movements (sometimes) far away and provide valuable intelligence. The movement of forces leading to the Battle of the Marne are described in much detail (sometimes I lost track of which army was where), including the massive casualty lists that developed. We see the sometimes testy relationships among generals on both sides.

One wish: better maps. There are maps provided, but many maps are not as clear as they could be; the font is awfully small in some maps (making it hard for someone like me to read). Nonetheless, these do help.

All in all, if one wants to get a detailed sense of this monster battle, this is a good book to look at.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Faulty Command & Control Doomed the Schlieffen Plan 9 April 2010
By R. A Forczyk - Published on
There have been a great many books written about the Battle of the Marne in September 1914, so why you ask do we need one more? Professor Holger H Herwig's narrative of the battle seeks to diverge from the standard Anglo-French historiography of the battle and look at it from the German perspective (i.e. more on how the battle was lost, rather than how it was won). His primary hypothesis about the root cause of the German defeat is that faulty command and control (C2) techniques - including poor leadership in key positions - doomed the so-called Schlieffen Plan. It is a good hypothesis which the professor does an effective job of supporting, although he does not mention that there are competing hypotheses, such as Martin van Creveld's well-argued Supplying War (1977), which shows that the Schlieffen Plan was logistically unsound. Other hypotheses argue that von Moltke, the Chief of the German General Staff, doomed the Schlieffen Plan by excessive operational changes. Herwig also provides value-added content by incorporating documents gleaned from recently-released archives in former East Germany, although this represents only a tiny portion of his supporting evidence. Overall, the strength of Herwig's The Marne 1914 is as a fine analysis of command and control failure at the operational-level.

Unfortunately, there are a number of irksome qualities about this book, beginning with the awful maps copied from the West Point Atlas of WW1. It is extremely difficult to follow unit movements or actions on these maps (e.g. von Gronau's impressive spoiling attack on the Ourq River that robbed Joffre's counterstroke of surprise and Third Army's night bayonet attack that threw Foch's Ninth Army back (the map shows only some arrows, but no indication where the corps and divisions the author mentions were located). While there are some first-person accounts incorporated, overall the author's battle narrative is rather sterile and difficult to follow. He also put me off at the beginning when he stated that the "Battle of the Marne" was not just about the actions fought on the outskirts of Paris, but about the entire campaign fought between 1 August and 10 September 1914. His early chapters on the frontier battles seem to distract from his main hypothesis and then once the action heats up around Paris he simply drops coverage of Alsace-Lorraine. Finally, the author never really gets into the nuts and bolts of military doctrine, tactics or organization. When he claims that each German corps had 144 135-mm guns (in fact, the German Army had a total of only 4 13.5cm K09 guns in 1914), which would translate into over 4,000 13.5cm guns, it's easy to see that he has skimmed over important details. Instead, the author spends a great deal of time discussing German atrocities committed against civilians in Belgium - which again is not very germane to his hypothesis.

Professor Herwig is on firmer ground with the faulty C2 hypothesis. He points out that unlike the elder von Moltke in the successful 1870-71 France-Prussian War, the younger Moltke made no effort to get out of his headquarters in Luxembourg and spent the entire campaign hundreds of miles from the front. This "chateau generalship" could have been mitigated if Moltke had used telephones and couriers to keep in touch with his advancing armies, but Herwig does a good job pointing out how little the German army made use of the latest means of communication in 1914. Not only did Moltke not have reliable communications with each army, but the armies could barely communicate with their neighbors on each flank or with their subordinate corps. Finally, once the Allies began their counterattack on the Marne, the weakness of key commanders such as von Bulow aggravated the inability of Moltke to orchestrate the campaign. Some of this more a question of leadership rather than C2 per se. Overall, this a very well-argued hypothesis, but whether or not it was THE key reason why the German invasion failed is less certain. Van Creveld's hypothesis also demonstrated that the Germans simply could not effectively supply their armies outside Paris, while the French were fighting right next to their main supply base. Herwig also comments that the French commander, Joffre, relied on interior lines and railroads to shift troops to the Paris area to gain a numerical superiority at the critical point, while Moltke was relying on exterior lines and infantry marching on foot; this seems like a no-brainer at any military staff college, but apparently it never occurred to von Schlieffen or Moltke. In short, why were the Germans surprised that the French could quickly transfer troops to defend their capital? Another related reason for the German defeat that the author brings up, is that the Germans were surprised that the French still had the spirit to launch furious counterattacks after weeks of retreating - this suggests that the General Staff based too much of their planning on the enemy they fought in 1870, not the one they would face in 1914.

In the end, the author essentially concludes that the great German General Staff and a few key commanders suffered a mental melt-down on 6 September 1914 and robbed Imperial Germany of possible victory. He does not claim that German victory was inevitable if they had not retreated from Paris, but he does suggest that they might have at least walked away with some tactical victories on the Ourq and against Foch's 9th Army that could have left them in a better position for the fall campaigns. Perhaps.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly the battle that changed the world 7 Dec 2009
By Theodore A. Rushton - Published on

It's the fairest way to describe this book; an awesome portrait of utter trust and complete stupidity on an industrial mass production scale. It succinctly explains the emotion behind Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's statement, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."

Herwig explains why the five mellenia style of war in which commanders sent men into face-to-face combat while watching from positions where they could see the entire battlefield, ended on Nov. 11, 1918. By August 1914, war was industrialized; sadly, the intellect of commanders was far less than what Caesar or even Pharaoh Cheops would have recognized or accepted.

He has an eye for fine detail of the bloated or blasted corpses of horses and cows ... left in the sun as the German "gray machine of death" rolled forth. In a time without porta-potties, he quotes an American reporter for 'Colliers Weekly' magazine who wrote of "...a smell of which I have never heard mentioned in any book on war -- the smell of a half-million unbathed men, the stench of a menagerie raised to the nth power. That smell lay for days over every town through which the Germans passed."

These half-million men went into battle against like numbers of French soldiers, with senior commanders sometimes being out-of-touch with officers in the field for days at a time. Charles de Gaulle, a lieutenant when the war opened, later wrote, "Morally, the illusions behind which the soldiers had taken refuge were swept away in a trice."

It took years for this truth to sink into the outdated thinking of senior commanders; Herwig explains in chilling detail how vast masses of trusting soldiers eagerly went into the cauldron of death. In today's world, intelligence and communication are key elements; in World War I, courage and spirit of soldiers was considered all-important.

Herwig concludes "the great tragedy of the Marne is that it was strategically indecisive."

Perhaps. My view is the "great tragedy" is senior commanders who act without knowledge, which to me is the brilliant theme of this book. When faced with an obstacle, such bullet-headed commanders know of nothing better than to redouble their efforts to drive troops forward in a vain attempt to prove themselves right despite their complete ignorance of battlefield realities.

The industrial impact on war was obvious in the American Civil War of 1861-65; sadly, most military commanders never learned from this clear concise example. By outlining this battle and events leading up to it in careful detail, Herwign shows the folly of trusting faith, heritage and tradition to make up for the lack of intelligence, innovation and ingenuity.

This was truly the battle that changed the world, even though some military commanders still don't understand. Iraq, until the "surge" of 2007, is a recent example.

'The Marne, 1914' is an awesome collection of facts, some never before available. It explains the nature of the follies in which 10 million men died and 20 million were wounded, out of 60 million who served. That alone is an example of massive stupidity; Herwig concisely explains how such ignorance ruled the conduct of a war-to-end-all-wars.

In brief, "Awesome!"
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much Good, But Not Definitive 18 Dec 2009
By David M. Dougherty - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this work, mostly because it presented the German more fully than is generally encountered. Although there has been tons of volumes written on the opening battles of World War I, new material is still coming out of the various archives. This work benefits from such material, and 95 years after the battle manages to offer a fresh look and analysis. That in itself is an outstanding achievement. The book should have earned five stars, but unfortunately the defects were many.

The narrative meanders from side to side and often imparts a sense of impending doom that somehow vanishes a few pages later. Sometimes the Germans are reported to have achieved an important victory, but then there is no subsequent effect from that victory. It is even difficult to tell sometimes whether or not the author believed a certain engagement is a victory for one side or the other. The narrative simply doesn't tie the events together, and the maps provide little help in this regard. In addition, the reported casualties often do not seem to be consistent with what one would expect from the narrative. For me, at least, the book often raised questions that sent me to other references. That allowed me to really get into the subject matter, but when I was done, I questioned why I was forced to do all the extra work.

That being said, there were many good features in this work. The experience of the German Army in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 was told to good effect in explaining the 1914 actions against resistance from civilians. Von Buelow's lack of confidence and aggressiveness (as well as Moltke's), contrary to the tradition of the German Officer Corps, was fully developed and analyzed. On the French and British side, only Joffre's personality received treatment as good, and French actions in particular sometimes seemed stylized. Maybe it was the constant digressions detracting from the sweep of the battle that affected me adversely. At any rate, the book left me feeling unfulfilled when I should have been satisfied. Obviously I am conflicted in writing this review, and that reflects poorly on the book's organization and narrative.

All in all, I guess I expected more. The book is well worth reading, adds new material and perspectives, covers the German side rather well, but somehow does not rise to five stars.

Recommended to all those interested in World War One.
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