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First Battle Of The Aisne

Thanks to the Great War channel on youtube, I discovered that I missed a battle in my attempt to chronologically cover WWI. Apparently, WWI timelines and don’t cover every single battle. Too bad. And on that note, don’t be surprised if I find others that I missed, I still have a month to go before I’m caught up.

Anyways, better late than never.

The first battle of Aisne took place from September 13 to September 28. It was a follow up offensive after the first battle of the Marne. It was also the beginning of trench warfare.

After being defeated at the first battle of the Marne on September 11th, German Chief of General Staff, Hermuth von Moltke, “issued orders to retreat to the line of the Aisne and to fortify the high ground north of the river” (Source). The battle of the Aisne began the next evening.

The two battles came so close together because the Allies did not properly exploit their win at the Marne by continuing to attack the German First and Second armies as they retreated. Additionally, the Allied retreat was extremely slow due mostly to fatigue and caution.

At this stage, the British were still heavily dependent on the Royal Flying Corps for reconnaissance. However, throughout September 10 & 11, the low clouds and mist “severely hindered aerial reconnaissance” (Source). This made it extraordinarily difficult for the Allies to know exactly where the Germans were or what they were up to.

[Below: British BE2 Biplane]

The Germans, for their own part, intended “to halt their retreat at the Aisne” (Source). Thus, the 1st and 2nd German armies, joined by the 7th army, entrenched themselves along the north bank of the Aisne. This bank, known as the Chemin des Dames Ridge, provided them with the perfect defensive position. Reconnaissance also showed German troops moving east from Soissons. It was apparent that these troops were intending to join the German troops currently opposing BEF crossing of the Aisne.

By the evening of the 12th, the 1st and 2nd German armies and completely finished their retreat and were now getting into formation to defend the Aisne against the Allies. The Germans, fully practiced at “entrenching maneuvers,” were quick at digging themselves in – Alexander von Kluck’s 1st Army to the west and Karl von Bülow’s second to the east (Source).

With help from the French Fifth and Sixth Armies (under General d’Esperey and General Maunoury, respectively), the British launched a frontal infanty attack on September 13th. Their assault continued on into the 14th, after establishing a bridgehead to the north of the river. This point allowed them to shoot the Germans from above.

Until, that is, the German counter-attacked forced them back. Well, initially, “General Allenby’s Cavalry Division began an attack on the BEF’s right against the German positions along the Aisne in the area of Villers and Bourg, but found that all the bridges across the Aisne, as opposed to the canal, were destroyed” (Source).

The Germans accomplished this through the use of machine gun fire, just one of the many areas of warfare that Germany could claim superiority. “Small advances were achieved by the Allies, but these could not be consolidated” (Source). Their positions were held . . . until help came to the Allies in the from of the 1st Division of the BEF’s I Corps. They assisted in the crossing of the Aisne at Bourg, where the Allies took up positions along the north edge of the river.

What resulted was, essentially, each side trying to outflank the other, while making sure that their opponents stayed in place. Of course, it probably helped that, thanks to the battle, any number of the bridges were destroyed. Remember, that both sides were already partaking in the Race for the Sea and the longer the armies stayed put, well, the longer it would take them to bring help to those further along.  However, this would not be the last battle at the Aisne.

[Below: Demolished bridge at Bourg]

The demolished bridge at Bourg (photo by Captain Harry Baird, ADC to General Haig): Battle of the Aisne, 10th to 13th September 1914 in the First World War

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