A History of the Great War, 1914-1918

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

XXXIII FOCH'S COUNTER-STROKE AND THE GREAT REVERSAL OF FORTUNE

I

THE blow delivered against the German front between Soissons and Château-Thierry on July 18th deserves a special mention because, in the words of Talleyrand's hackneyed epigram, it was the beginning of the end. It ruined all the enemy's plans for further offence. It was the forerunner of the greatest and most decisive series of uninterrupted attacks in the history of warfare. It was not, judged by the standards of this bloody year, a very great affair. It was started with no more than twenty divisions. The losses which it inflicted, though serious, were not phenomenal.1 But it was conclusive.

It was, moreover, the first visible triumph for the Generalissimo, whose tenure of command till then had appeared, to the uninstructed eye of the average citizen, as hardly distinguishable from uniform failure. Hence it was appropriate that the battle should itself exhibit to the world the real military unity of the Alliance, for French, British, Americans, and Italians all performed in it together as members of Foch's great military orchestra.2

No historian has failed to point out the extraordinary fact that twice in the war the Germans allowed their open right flank to be exposed to a disastrous surprise on almost the same ground. History has consecrated the Marne as the name given to both these Allied victories, but it is really round its less-known tributary, the Ourcq, that on both occasions the real decision lay. Twice, and twice on this same terrain, the miscalculation of the German Staff was the same: they under-estimated the strategic resources of their opponent.

____________________
1
The German casualties, were about 100,000, including 35,000 prisoners. They also lost 650 guns.
2
The metaphor is Foch's own.

-543-

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