A German artillery regiment on the Marne 1914

Robert Dunlop kindly provided this translation from the regimental history for the German 60th Field Artillery Regiment. It gives a nice commentary on action within the regiment, and also on the turn of the battle itself.

Robert's own notes and commentary to the translation are in italics.

This is a translation from "Geschicte des Grosherzoglich Mecklenburgischen Feldartillerie-Regiments Nr. 60 im Weltkriege 1914-1918" - the regimental history for the German 60th Field Artillery Regiment. Any errors in translation are mine alone. Feldartillerie Regiment 60 (FAR 60) was located on the far left (inner and most eastern) flank of von Kluck's First Army by the time that the Battle of the Marnestarted. FAR 60's story encapsulates some key insights in the Marne battle. The story starts a few days before the Battle of the Marne, just to provide a little extra context:

"On 3 September the division reached the Marne, pushing on to Chezy in the evening to support the 18th Infantry Division that was fighting south of the Marne. It then went into cantonment in the late evening near Essomes, just west of Chateau Thierry.

On 4 September the beautiful Marne Valley was crossed at Chezy. The division continued to advance, covered by continuous protection from multiple artillery detachments (Detachment is hereafter used to translate Abteilung). FAR 60 supported the Fusiliers Regt. 90 push from Corrobert, just south Artonges, and shelled the retreating enemy everywhere. (According to the war diary, the fighting took place near Viels Maisons, Montmirail). FAR 60 encamped at Bailly between the latter two locations.

5 September. After a brief pause to provide artillery protection for the crossing of the Petit Morin river north of Montmirail, the regiment continued to move forward. An abandoned supply column, which provided useful supplements of oats and rations, was clear evidence of the hasty French retreat. The artillery detachments used frequent bounds to cover the vanguard's advance, which enabled weak enemy resistance from positions near Leuze that were behind the leading infantry line to be broken up quickly and to be pursued with fire.

His Highness the Grand Duke stopped by and spoke to the officers and men during a long halt for a brew-up near a farm not far from Leuze.

Leuze is 1 km north of Morsains, which is where the bulk of the division bivouacked. The advance guard infantry regiment (IR 76) and a detachment of FAR 24 occupied Esternay.

During these marches and battles, it was really annoying that the bread supplies weren't enough for all the men. Foraging in the countryside had been unfruitful because the land up to the Marne had been gone over by other troops (18th Infantry Division). Also the 1: 80 000 maps were now useless. They had covered northern France but not this far south. There was a 1: 300 000 map in the regimental staff wagon. Various provincial, district, and school maps were picked up from military barracks and police buildings, town halls, and schools. Signposts were helpful.

Enemy aircraft harassed the marching columns and camps. Just as in training, air defense was pretty ineffective. Pilots dropped flechettes as bombs."

Continuing with the translation:

"The Battle at Esternay - 6. 9. 14. [Esternay is almost due south of Chateau Thierry]

... IXth Corps had to hold on as the pivot for the rearward movement of the First Army on the 6th. The troops found out about this order on their day of rest. They were taking the opportunity to wash, as well as repair and maintain the equipment and harnesses. A huge quantity of mail had just arrived from home but had not been distributed to everyone. It was a Sunday. The order to hold, which was issued formerly by the division at 0300 hours, did not reach the men until much later. The repair work had just been arranged when fierce artillery fire rang out from the direction of the enemy. The alarm was raised at 0930 hours.

Oberstleutnant von Fumetti rode out to reconnoitre; the artillery detachments followed via Champguyon. Shortly after 1000 hours they formed up in front of Morsains and Leuze. It was terribly hot and dusty. Just like the preceding days, this dust prevented the guns from taking up hidden positions because it gave away their movements. Most of the losses that were caused by enemy artillery on the 6th were due to the dust enabling effective shelling.

It wasn't clear where the enemy was because the officer patrols that had been sent out were not back yet. The only things that were known were that the advance guard had been engaged by heavy enemy fire in the early morning hours in Esternay on the Montceaux - Sézanne main road, and that the advance guard artillery (F.A.R. I/24) was currently out of action because their horses had broken loose after coming under sudden fire. The heavy fire from the enemy lines, however, showed that this was a major attack.

FAR I/60 was first to be brought into position at 1115 hours, east of the road near Esternay. From there, 3rd Battery engaged enemy artillery at Seu (3 ½ km. south of Esternay). II/60 was deployed in concealed positions southeast of Champguyon. The unit moved at 1200 hours: 6/60 (Hauptmann Dommes) supported the advance against Chateau Esternay; 4/60 and 5/60 under Major Von Aigner advanced via la Noue towards the enemy position. 6/60 was under enemy artillery fire but from 1300 hours brought fire to bear on infantry passing la Noue and then fired on artillery north of la Noue, around Chateau la Noue and thereabouts. 5/60 (Hauptmann von Kuhlmann) later moved towards Chateau Esternay, south of 4/60, to better support the attack. It participated in the artillery duel from this position. As the enemy's attack developed further around Chateau la Noue in the afternoon, the battery relocated to a third position. Facing east from there, it engaged artillery behind Hill 205. 6/60 also changed to face east in the afternoon, and attacked three enemy batteries between la Noue and Chateau la Noue. Two batteries, one in the open and the other half concealed, were quickly overpowered with shrapnel. The abandoned guns of the battery in the open were still there next morning."

A brief review of IXth Corp's situation will help to clarify what was happening. It should be noted, however, that the troops themselves were not fully aware of this situation. The enemy's major general offensive struck the IXth Corps when it was at the forefront of the German advance. The rear guard was in touch with IIIrd Corps, which was unprepared but quickly came to help IXth Corps. The left flank (17th Infantry Division), however, was completely unmasked because the Second Army's right flank was back at Montmirail. Any help from Second Army wouldn't be available until the evening. Nevertheless, General von Quast decided to order an attack. This explains why the enemy was able to advance unhindered at La Noue. The French Fifth Army, which had been so often defeated in the past, was now attacking although not very aggressively.

There is more information to follow. Note, however, that although the division had issued an order to hold, this order had not reached the front line units by the time the French attack struck. The division's order was not based upon a premonition of the French attack near Esternay but upon the need for the division to protect the First Army's 'rearward movement'. I translated "Rückwärtsbewegung" that way, rather than 'withdrawal' or 'retreat', because the alternatives do not capture the sense of the term in this context, IMHO. At this point in the battle, as shall become more clear, First Army was redirecting its troops against the threat of the French Sixth Army.

Note also that IXth Corps flank (i.e. the innermost flank of the whole First Army) was hanging in the air, unsupported by the outermost flank of Second Army.

"At 1230 hours, 1st Battery was told off to support 34th Brigade's attack at Chateau Esternay, followed shortly afterwards by 3rd Battery. Fusilier-Regiment 90 was echeloned on the left.

Despite every precaution, the dust from the limbered artillery was spotted, resulting in heavy fire from French artillery south of La Noue that was only partially suppressed by 6/60. Some of the limbers and caissons lost horses. But, as practiced in peace time, the teams were restored. Several brave men distinguished themselves on this occasion - Gunner Schmidt from Boiz near Hagenow to name but one.

The batteries passed through the hostile fire zone one gun at a time, accompanied by an ammunition wagon. At Vivier, a railway bridge that had come under fire was crossed in the same way.

While 2/60 engaged the enemy artillery south of La Noue, 1/60 and 3/60 went into position not far behind the general front line of infantry on the Esternay - Chateau Esternay road. Regts 76 and 75 were on the road south of Esternay; Regt 89 was at Chateau Esternay; and I/76 was in an advanced position with the machine gun companies from Regts 75 and 76. 1 and 3 Batteries fired at enemy infantry south of Chatillon. The huge forest that extended south of Chateau Esternay (Forêt de la loge à Gond) hindered all observation and provided protection from artillery fire. It presented a major and constant danger, particularly the threat of being encircled on the left flank. Intelligence about the movements of enemy infantry in the woods meant having to be aware that the enemy might emerge by the nearby Chateau. When heavy infantry fire was heard in the forest and individual stragglers started falling back, Major v. Graevenik ordered the left (3rd) battery to turn towards the chateau and he drove the stragglers back again, accompanied by his adjutant, Lt. v. Müller, who was lightly wounded in the hand but remained with the unit. Meanwhile the batteries remained under artillery and rifle fire. In 1st Battery, this led to Richtkries-Unteroffizier (range-finder) and Ziehlenweiser (gun-layer) Sergeant Mahler being severely wounded soon after Hauptmann v. Ludwiger. He was shot in the arm. He never complained; his one concern was that the battle continued to make progress. Mahler was an extraordinary and experienced NCO who was born in Elmshorn, Pinneberg District (in Schleswig-Holstein) and died that evening in a casualty station in Esternay. Lt. v. Glasenapp tried to evacuate Mahler using a limber but was unable to prevent his death. How fortunate it was that Mahler died because he escaped captivity with the French and never needed to experience the misfortunes of his country.

The courageous batteries helped stave off every enemy attack on the division's southern front. Ammunition resupply was difficult, as any movement threw up dust and drew enemy fire. I/60's ammunition column was hidden in the woods north of the detachment's position. Despite being hidden, I Detachment's ammunition column came under heavy artillery fire and it wasn't clear whether the location had been given over by spies or betrayed in some other way. The next day Hauptmann v. Uslar clearly saw Morse code being transmitted to the enemy by signalling lamp from a dense wood but he could not get hold of the transmitter. It was possible that a careless despatch rider revealed the location. Alternatively, it may have been due to the recurrent bombardment of isolated hollows and woods by the French, which had prevented Hauptmann v. Uslar from carrying out any reconnaissance by road. Whatever the cause, 15 men were wounded and 22 horses were lost. Through the constant example of Leutnant der Reserve Lindstaedt, NCOs and men calmly withdraw the harnessed teams in good order to a position further back (unfortunately, Lindstaedt was killed later).

Stangenreiter (driver) Klingenberg also stood out as a good role model. The column had to change position frequently that day due to heavy fire. The advanced batteries 1/60 and 3/60 received extra ammunition early on due to the aggressive handling of the ammunition column by Hauptmann Bockhorn (Reserve-Offizier der Regiment), who pushed through to the front line. These batteries were also able to get further supplies from one of I/24's ammunition wagons in Esternay.

When it was recognised that the enemy was advancing past Chateau la Noue, 1st Battery returned back into its old position in the evening. Füs. Regt. 90 occupied the Foret du Gault and l'Ermite; a battery from FAR 9 joined in the battle north of the 4/60, facing east. In the evening, 4/60 and 5/60 fired on artillery in a northeasterly direction, when the flashes were spotted in the woods north of Chateau la Noue.

The enemy attack was broken when artillery batteries from 13th Infantry Division (Second Army) came into action on both sides of the Champguyon - Esternay road and part of the 19th Reserve Division (also from Second Army) supported the left flank of the 17th Infantry Division.

3/60 Battery (Hauptmann v. Bonin) remained in a forward position during the night to support the infantry. The ground won by 33rd Brigade and Regt 89 was consolidated, with only the far-advanced units of I/76 and Machine Gun Companies 75 and 76 being brought back for the night.

Once again the division experienced the taste of victory over an enemy who, despite achieving superiority in numbers, had not improved their military prowess.

The battle was the fiercest that the regiment had experienced so far.

Losses: 3 men killed, 34 wounded; 38 horses wounded, 10 killed. Most of the casualties were from I Detachment's ammunition column. Unfortunately, several of the wounded who could not be moved during the withdrawal next day were captured by the French, including Wachtmeister Stolte from 4th Battery and Unteroffizier Neubeck from 3/60, along with 12 comrades who returned after 5 years. In addition to Mahler, Sergeants Schuhr, 6/60, and Kröpelin, 3/60, were killed and died in captivity respectively.

Ammunition consumption: I. Detachment 884; II. Detachment 1270. The night passed quietly and without any problems."

Brief overview of the overall situation:

First Army was engaged in a fierce defensive battle, with IVth Reserve Corps and parts of IInd and VIth Corps pitted against the French 6th Army west of the Ourcq. The other parts of IInd and IVth Corps were available to support the advance.

On 6th September, First Army's IIIrd and IXth Corps had victoriously repulsed the French. The right wing of the Second Army was at Montmirail but on the 6th there was a gap between there and First Army's left flank (17th Infantry Division). Second Army's left wing, supported by Third Army, had advanced victoriously to Morains-le-petit.

The initial intention for 7th September, as set out in army orders, was that IIIrd and IXth Corps would form a defensive flank with Second Army northwest of Montmirail. The gap between First and Second Armies was to be closed by the two corps of cavalry, with a view to resuming the offensive again after the successful attack by Third Army.

The events on the Ourcq forced a change in plan on the 7th, with IIIrd Corps moving to First Army's northern flank and IXth Corps was left between Chateau Thierry and Montmirail. IXth Corps then followed suit on the 8th, moving towards First Army's northern flank as well via La Ferté Milon.

This was the context for the order to form a rear guard, which was given on the morning of the 7th. Third Battery withdrew first and kept on the move without stopping at all. Sixth Battery temporarily positioned itself on the left of 4th Battery. Then the two detachments formed up, let the infantry through, and marched in echelon as part of the rear guard. They marched by separate routes: II Detachment via Champguyon; and I Detachment south of Morsains. There was no pursuit from the enemy, giving the impression that they had fallen back. The march via Montmirail to the new delaying position was boiling hot work. The regiment went into bivouac late in the evening at Gillauche, about a third of the way to Chateau Thierry. The men were told that they had been victorious on the 6th and that their attack had repelled an army advancing from Paris.

The 'brief summary' gives a very nice overview of what happened during the Battle of the Marne. The pressure from Maunoury's Sixth Army caused the German First Army to pull their forces round to face the threat. This opened up the gap between First and Second Armies more widely, allowing the BEF and French forces into that gap.