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Forty Days In 1914 [Illustrated Edition]

Forty Days In 1914 [Illustrated Edition]

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Forty Days In 1914 [Illustrated Edition]

274 pages
3 hours
Nov 6, 2015


Includes The First World War On The Western Front 1914-1915 Illustrations Pack with 101 maps, plans, and photos.

In 1919 renowned military writer Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice set out to piece together how the German Schlieffen plan fell apart in the opening phases of the First World War. Using his extensive military background he deduced how the German High Command reacted to the opening clashes in 1914 and eventually recoiled after the Battle of the Marne. Still a fascinating read even after so many years, the details of the British and French commanders remain filled with the tension and drama as they sought to stem the seemingly unstoppable German juggernaut.
Nov 6, 2015

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Forty Days In 1914 [Illustrated Edition] - Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice

This edition is published by PICKLE PARTNERS PUBLISHING—www.picklepartnerspublishing.com

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Text originally published in 1919 under the same title.

© Pickle Partners Publishing 2015, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Publisher’s Note

Although in most cases we have retained the Author’s original spelling and grammar to authentically reproduce the work of the Author and the original intent of such material, some additional notes and clarifications have been added for the modern reader’s benefit.

We have also made every effort to include all maps and illustrations of the original edition the limitations of formatting do not allow of including larger maps, we will upload as many of these maps as possible.



















THIS little book owes its origin to curiosity. I wanted to see if it was possible to discover what the Germans were planning and doing during the retreat from Mons. I found that by piecing together evidence obtainable from the accounts of the early parts of the war published in Germany, in neutral countries, in France, and by Belgian authorities, as well as from the reports of the very full investigations which have been conducted into the German atrocities, in Northern France and in Belgium, it was possible to work out the movements of the German armies, and from these to deduce the German plans. The information obtained in this way threw what has been to me an entirely new light upon the campaign, and made clear what had previously been dark.

Much of what I have written about the Germans is necessarily conjectural, and therefore I make no claim to be writing history. But I believe that the positions I have ascribed to the German forces at various dates are in the main accurate, and I must leave my readers to judge of the deductions which I have drawn from those movements.

I have found that the accounts published in Allied and neutral countries, owing to lack of information, do but scant justice to the part played by our original Expeditionary Force. Even such an authority as M. Hanotaux, in his excellent little book, L’Énigme de Charleroi, makes the fighting at Mons begin only at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on August 23, and says that such fighting as did take place was done by our First Corps, which was hardly engaged at all. I hope that what I have written here may at least have the effect of making clearer the influence which our operations had on the campaign as a whole.

For my account of the operations of the French Armies I am indebted chiefly to Quatre Mois de Guerre, published in the official French Bulletin des armées for December 1914, to M. Hanotaux’s histoire illustrée de la guerre, and to his L’Énigme de Charleroi. My account of the operations of the Belgian Army is drawn from L’Action de l’armée belge, the official report of the Belgian General Staff, and from The Invasion and the War in Belgium, by Professor Leon van der Essen. To all of these I owe much valuable information as to the movements of the German armies. I have also to express my indebtedness to my brother-in-law, Captain C. T. Atkinson, who has kindly read the proofs and made many valuable suggestions.

I have in my last chapter endeavoured to explain the strong and weak points in the German system of conducting war, and what we may learn from it to our advantage.

I must apologise for the fact that it has been necessary to limit the number of maps, and therefore I have to ask my readers in following the operations occasionally to refer both to the general map and to the maps of the battlefields.


November 1918.


IN the opening days of the war the opinion was general, both in Great Britain and in France, that Germany, having invaded Belgium and thereby compelled us, in defence of our honour, to take the field, had tilted against herself the balance of military power. The Dual Entente had never been considered to be conspicuously weaker in military power than the Triple Alliance, and when Italy refused to follow Germany and Austria into the field, and the clumsy diplomatists of Berlin had added the forces of Great Britain and Belgium to those of France and Russia, it was commonly held that Germany had overreached herself. When I landed at Havre on August 11, 1914, a French colonel who had come down to meet our party said to me, Now that the British Army is coming the result is certain. This time the Germans have bitten off more than they can chew; and this represented the common opinion of both armies at the time. The news of the French invasion of Lorraine and of the stout resistance of Liège confirmed this view, and until the actual tidings of disaster arrived all seemed going well. It was then with amazement that the peoples of the Entente nations learned that the fortress of Namur had fallen in forty-eight hours and that the German armies were sweeping through Belgium and Northern France, everywhere in overwhelming numbers. It was with consternation that Great Britain heard the news, for which she was completely unprepared, that her little army, all but surrounded, was as good as lost and that Paris lay at the mercy of the enemy. Then, still more amazing, came the later news that the Germans were in full retreat, that Paris was saved, and that our men were advancing victoriously, taking prisoners and guns. How did our army escape? Why did not the Germans enter Paris? and why did they retreat? The answer has generally been -the miracle of the Marne. We owe much to Foch and the French soldiers of the Marne, but the Marne does not account for all, and to get as complete a reply to these questions as in the present state of our knowledge it is possible to give, to find out why the Germans failed of complete victory, and why they achieved as much as they did, we must look at events, as far as may be, from the German side, see how their plans were laid and how they were carried through.

The basis of Germany’s scheme of conquest, formed long before the war and put into execution in the autumn of 1914, was that she, holding a central position, would be opposed on the Western front by an enemy who could bring his forces quickly into the field and most quickly on the stretch of common frontier lying between Luxemburg and Switzerland, while on the Eastern front she would meet an enemy formidable in point of numbers, but slow and ponderous in his methods, and lacking means to develop rapidly his numerical strength.

From the days of Moltke onwards the German General Staff had studied deeply the problem of war on two fronts, and their studies had given them a very intimate knowledge of Russia’s military strength, of which, as events proved, they had taken a more exact measure even than had Russia’s own ally, France. Shortly after the South African War I paid a visit to Berlin, and there met the head of the Russian section of the German Great General Staff, an officer who, having been much in England, knew us well. He bemoaned the fact that he could never get his comrades on the General Staff either to understand or to take much interest in us. There is no future in the English section, he said, "but I am very lucky where I am, because it is quite different as regards Russia. We have got to know Russia, for our existence depends on it, and you may be sure that we do."

The solution of the two-front problem, in the earliest stages, turned upon an accurate estimate of the amount of force required to hold Russia in check, with the aid of Austria, while the greatest possible strength was concentrated on the Western front in order to beat France quickly to her knees. Time was of the essence of the contract drawn by the German General Staff. To be sure of victory they needed a prompt and decisive success in the West, so that they could turn Eastwards before Russia was ready to strike with her whole power. In deciding on the methods they would employ to get these results they were greatly influenced by the events of the Russo-Japanese War, in which they found confirmation of their own pet theory of war. They assumed that the long-drawn-out battles in Manchuria made it clearer than ever that a direct attack against a front, no matter in what superiority of force it was made, must, owing to the delaying power of modern quick-firing weapons, and particularly of machine-guns, be a slow and costly business, and that decisive success could only be obtained quickly by envelopment.

Now the founder and trainer of the modern German General Staff, the elder Moltke, had taught and practised the theory that the surest road to victory was that which led round the enemy’s flank, and the greatest victories of 1870 had been won by envelopment in one form or another. This theory of envelopment was studied and examined by von Schlieffen, the predecessor, as the Kaiser’s chief military adviser, of the younger Moltke, who was responsible for perfecting and carrying out the plan I am now describing. Von Schlieffen’s problem was how to apply envelopment to war between nations in arms, how to get round millions where before it had been a question of outflanking two or three hundred thousand. Naturally he did not disclose his plan, but he developed in at least one treatise, which created a deep impression in military Germany, the theory that the only way to obtain decisive results quickly in modern war was to seek the enemy’s flanks and roll them up, for quick results were Germany’s special aim, a long-drawn-out war of exhaustion being abhorrent to her military philosophy. Von Schlieffen, who was much interested at the time in the events of the South African War, sent for me while I was in Berlin, and after asking me a number of questions ended by saying: Well, you have found in your Roberts a general who understands envelopment, and that is why you succeeded. Von Schlieffen was a very able man and a profound thinker, but his successor was little more than a well-trained German General Staff officer, with the advantages of a great name, a tactful manner, and the faculty of getting on with the Emperor. I am convinced that the secret of much that happened in the early phases of the war lies in the fact that an inherited theory, which had been elevated into a gospel, was applied by an individual of but ordinary capacity.

Having received the endorsement of the Emperor, the theory of envelopment was preached in the military text-books of Germany and practised sedulously at the German manoeuvres, yet it was obviously out of the question to get round the large and highly trained armies which France could place quickly on the 150 miles of common frontier. If the armies of Germany were confined to such narrow limits, they would find that frontier manned by the French from end to end before they could reach it in sufficient strength to develop their attack. Therefore, if the theory of war in which the German General Staff had believed for years, the theory which they held to be confirmed by the lessons of recent wars and by the developments of modern armaments, if this theory was to be translated into practice, it was absolutely necessary that a way round should be found by violating the neutrality of Belgium and Luxemburg. No explanation of the invasion of Belgium which Germany has issued squares even superficially with the known facts, and on military grounds alone it is out of the question that what happened should have happened except as the result of deliberate, cold-blooded, and careful calculation. Honour and treaty obligations counted as nothing in the Prussian military mind where expediency appeared to point the way, and it does not appear to have taken the Prussian military mind long to convince the German political mind that its plan was the only safe one and that all questions of morality must go to the wall. No doubt Germany did not want to fight Belgium; fighting a secondary foe meant waste of time, men, and material, and delay in getting at the chief enemy; but she was quite determined to march through Belgium, and if Belgium refused to be terrorised into acquiescence, force would be necessary, so force was prepared.

The mobilisation of modern armies, even when their arrangements have been as perfected as were those of Germany, is a matter of time, and is a very intricate and complicated process, dependent upon the exact execution of a detailed programme which is easily deranged. Therefore, in order to be able to prepare their armies for war in security all the great Continental nations had for long been accustomed to keep on their frontiers considerable forces of covering troops, so nearly mobilised as to be ready to take the field at a few hours’ notice. There was not the least likelihood that Belgium would attempt to interfere with Germany’s mobilisation, but if Belgium were to be foolish enough to resist it was before all things necessary that the advance of the mobilised armies should not be delayed by such resistance. Therefore one of the first items in Germany’s programme was to arrange in peace time for a force of covering troops to be ready at very short notice to enter Belgium and clear the way for the armies that were to follow. The success of this plan depended on the rapid reduction of the Belgian fortresses on the Meuse, and in dealing with this problem the German General Staff showed that they were ahead of the rest of military Europe, in that they were the first to appreciate the possibilities of modern howitzer fire. Their early experiments in this direction did not aim at the rapid reduction of fortresses, but at the application of the howitzer and the high explosive shell to field warfare. For some time before the war they began to neglect their field guns, which in August 1914 were very inferior both to our own and to the French, and to develop the light and the medium howitzer. While they were doing this the advent of the aeroplane opened up to them new possibilities.

In the direction of artillery fire from the air they were again ahead of both the French and ourselves, and they were quick to grasp its effect, when applied to the use of heavy siege howitzers, upon

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