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First Battle of the Marne in September 1914. Prelude.
During the month of August the French and British armies had achieved no tactical successes of importance against the surging sweep of the powerful German right wing through Belgium and northern France. However, at Mons on August 23d and again at Le Cateau on the 26th, courageous stands by the British had somewhat bewildered von Kluck, the commander of the German First Army. When the French Fifth Army stopped south of Guise to strike back at its pursuers. von Bulow was so upset that he began to close his German Second Army toward the German Third Army on his left and von Kluck's army was dragged so far to the southeast that Paris was no longer included in the envelopment.
On the night of September 4th-5th the German First Army was known by the Allies to have changed direction to the southeast and to have crossed its mass to the south of the Marne River, east of Meaux (See Sketch No.1), thus apparently exposing its right flank to an attack by the newly created French Sixth Army. The French commander in chief had decided to pass to the offensive. The French Sixth Army was to advance to the Ourcq River on September 5th and attack the exposed hostile flank on the 6th. The 5th Group of Reserve Divisions of the Sixth Army, disposed about Dammartin faced generally northeast, as shown on Sketch No. 2.
A brief survey of the terrain covered by Sketch No.1, shows that Dammartin is twenty miles northeast of Paris. To the north lie the Forests of Ermenonville and Chantilly and to the south the Marne River flows west to join the Seine. Nine miles east of Monthyon the Ourcq River empties into the Marne. The district is traversed in every direction by an adequate number of all-weather roads. The open, slightly rolling ground, on which the crops had been harvested, afforded extended fields of fire and easy routes of advance across country. Vision was obstructed only by the buildings and the rows of poplar trees which lined the roads. The hills of Penchard, Monthyon, and Tillieres provided excellent observation over the district all the way to Paris toward the west and as far as the Ourcq to the east.
The 55th Reserve Division with a Moroccan brigade and Gillet's Cavalry Brigade attached, was an element of the 5th Group of Reserve Divisions. The division was organized as follows:
109th Brigade-204th, 282d, and 289th Reserve Infantry Regiments.
110th Brigade-231s 246th, and 276th Reserve Infantry Regiments.
3 Battalions of 75 mm guns from the 13th, 30th and 45th Reserve Artillery Regiments.
2 Squadrons of the 3d Dragoons.
Each infantry regiment was organized with two battalions and included four machine guns. The artillery battalions had three batteries each.
On the night of September 4th-5th the division was disposed as shown on Sketch No 2. The 110th Brigade, with two battalions of artillery attached, occupied the division's defensive position. The 231st Reserve Infantry furnished the outpost. The 109th Brigade, the division cavalry and the remaining battalion of artillery were in division reserve.
General Operations Order No. 13, 5th Group of Reserve Divisions, was received without previous warning at the command post of the 55th Reserve Division at 4 :30 AM, September 5th. The pertinent contents of the order, as amended by subsequent fragmentary orders, were in substance as follows:
The main body of the German First Army had turned southeast and crossed the Marne. There are no enemy forces of importance in the forests north of the Sixth Army. Yesterday, columns which appear to constitute the German right flank were marching southeast from Nanteuil-Ie-Haudouin toward Meaux and Lizy-sur-Ourcq. (See Sketch No.1).
The Sixth Army wiII change direction toward the Ourcq, prepared to pass to the offensive. This group will deploy today in preparation for an offensive toward the east.
Main body: Echeloned between the lines: (see Sketch No 2) Villeroy-Iverny-Montge, and Compans-Villeneuve.
Advance guards: Penchard-Monthyon-St. Soupplets.
Outpost line: Cregy-Pringy-northeastern exits of St. Soupplets.
Gillet's Cavalry Brigade will cover the right of the group to the north bank of the Marne. The Moroccan brigade wiII advance via: Messy-Charny-Villeroy-Penchard. The 56th Reserve Division will march via: Dammartin-St. Mard-Montge-St Soupplets. The 55th Reserve Division, employing routes between those assigned to the Moroccan brigade and the 56th Reserve Division will advance its main body to the area: Iverny-Le Plessis-l'Eveque-Vinantes-Nantouillet-Thieux-Compans and its advance guard to Monthyon, with its outpost on the line: Automne-Pringy-Fescheux Farm.
All elements of the group will be south of the le Mesnil-Amelot-Dammartin road by 8:00 AM.
Source: A Meeting Engagement. Action of the French 55th Reserve Division at Monthyon, September 5, 1914. A Historical Illustration. Academic Notes. Military Review. Sep 1939.
Cheers. Raúl M
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