A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

By C. R. M. F. Cruttwell | Go to book overview

VI THE FIRST BATTLE OF YPRES

I

NEITHER side in the west had yet cast away the hope of a speedy decision. There was yet time to improvise new plans; and room for fresh manœuvre-battles. The incompetent had been ruthlessly jettisoned. Joffre had offered up during the retreat an unexampled sacrifice of defeated generals. Moltke, whose nerves appear to have been completely shattered, was secretly replaced by Erich von Falkenhayn,1 the Minister for War. The new Chief of the General Staff was only fifty-three years of age and junior in rank to all the army commanders. But he possessed tact and attractiveness as well as confidence and firmness. His tall, handsome figure with his exceptionally clear eye and grey curly hair was in pleasant contrast with the lumbering awkwardness of his predecessor. His account of his stewardship, though incomplete and inaccurate, is a model of stately and tranquil dignity.2

Generally speaking, both the French and German Staffs during the next two months tried to regain the initiative in the same way, by repeated attempts to outflank one another in the open and mainly level country between the Oise and the sea. The Crown Prince, it is true, again assaulted that pivot and inexpugnable bastion of the whole French line, the fortress of Verdun. On the west he succeeded in pushing a little farther into the Argonne forest, and captured Varennes, where the flight of Louis XVI had been arrested in 1791. On the south a German detachment, meeting with singularly feeble resistance,3 broke through the fortified barrier on the Meuse and reached the western bank with a solitary

____________________
1
The greatest pains were taken to conceal this admission of defeat, which was not publicly notified for two months.
2
General Headquarters and its Critical Decisions 1914-1916.
3
Its total casualties amounted only to 100.

-93-

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