Thursday 14 June 2018

Battle of the Marne - Marchais-en-Brie 8th September 1914

The Battle of the Marne is sometimes described as the Miracle on the Marne and marks the failure of the German Schlieffen Plan and the beginnings of positional or trench warfare. With German forces sweeping towards Paris and the french army in full retreat Allied prospects looked bleak. With their backs to the wall, a counter-attack by six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) along the Marne River stopped the advance of the Imperial German Army and forced it to retreat north-west, leading to the First Battle of the Aisne and the Race to the Sea. The battle was a victory for the Allied Powers but led to four years of trench warfare stalemate on the Western Front. The German commander Moltke is said to have reported to the Kaiser: "Your Majesty, we have lost the war."

Our game takes place on the 8th September and marked the final blow against the Germans that forced them back and to dig in. Believing that Burlow, commander of the German 2 Armee, would hold the line at Petit Moren (a slow moving stream 20 ft wide) the French 5e Armee commander, Franchet d Esperey, urged his commanders to press the retreating Germans closely and give them no time to form a defensive line. The BEF and French forces deemed the town of Montmirail a key position as it overlooked the Pettit Moren valley from an elevated position. There were only six places to cross the river and most attempts failed but finally crossings were forced. Burlow had the 13 Infantry division with help from part of the 14th Infantry Division. The German right flank was refused forming an elbow at Marchais-en-Brie, the town of Montmirail on the left and the village of Fontenelle-en-Brie on the right. 

It was left to the French 18th Corp d’armee to strike the decisive blow, with the 35th and 36th Divisions. At 10:30hrs they crossed the Petit Moren and with the help of nine batteries of 75’s attacked the German elbow at Marchais-en-Brie. The French attack was finally won after heavy casualties on both side ending in a night attack which finally drove the Germans out of the village. With Montmirail untenable and with the German First and Second Armies about to be encircled the Germans were forced into  general retreat to the Aisne River in order to regroup. When they reached the Aisne River the Germans dug in again, preparing trenches that were to last for several years.

Order of Battle

French - 5th Armee -Gen Franchet D'Esperey
18e Corps d'Armee - Gen de Maud'huy
26e Division d'infanterie - Gen Javannue
      71e Brigage - Gen Simon Bertin
            34e RI - 3 Battalions + MG Section
            49e RI - 3 Battalions + MG Section
      72e Brigade - Gen de Seze
            12e RI - 3 Battalions + MG Section
            18e RI - 3 Battalions + MG Section
      14e Regimen d'artillerie - 9x 75mm Batteries in 3 groups of 3 batteries each
      249e RI - 2 Battaions - RESERVE

German - 2 Armee - Gen Obst Von Bulow
VII Armeekorps - Gen der Kav Von Einem
13 Infanterie Division - Gen Lt Von dem Borne
       25 Infanterie Brigade - Gen Maj Von Unruh
             IR 13 - 2 Battalions + MG Section
             IR 158 - 2 Battalions + MG Section
             ULR 16 - 2 Squadrons
       Field Artillerie - Regiment 22 - 6x7.7cm Batteries
       Field Artillerie - Regiment 58 - 4x10.5cm Bateries (Howitzers)
14 Infanterie Division - Gen Lt Fleck
       79 Infanterie Brigade - Gen Maj Schuarte
             IR 57 - 2 Battalions + MG Section

The Action

The initial Layout. Marchais-en-Brie is in the upper centre of the table, in front of which are a line of slit trenches. The Germans are thinly spread ut do have some reserves further back. In front of them, the other side of a line of woods the French Infantry prepare to advance. 

Marchais-en-Brie looks thinly held but it will be tough nut to crack. The buildings and slit trenches provide excellent cover from artillery while to their front is wide open field of fire. 

The French Infantry looks strong but they will be under fire the whole time. The Germans have a captured French observation Balloon looking over the whole battlefield so their artillery can target any spot on the table.

Looking downhill from the German positions. There is a lot of open ground in front of them.

The Germans have also put one company of infantry inside this farmhouse. Something of a suicide mission but the French players soon learn the cost of assaulting enemy infantry in prepared positions. The German company is eventually destroyed but at a cost of 4 to 1 to the French. Crucially it slows down the french advance meaning they remain under artillery fire for longer. 

Looking up the slope towards the German positions. The French have started to reach the edge of the wood and prepare to enter rifle range of the enemy troops around the town.

A decisive moment. One German front line regiment is virtually destroyed and falls back. I'm able to shift troops around to plug the gap but they get hit by artillery and rifle fire and have to make courage tests. Both units fail and fall back, leaving the safety of their trenches! The French have a real opportunity now. 

The first French infantry reach the German trenches and find them empty! The Germans are not out of the fight but they would have had a major advantage in melee if they had been able to receive the french in those defences. Now it seems likely that French elan and sheer weight of numbers will win the day, 

The French cross the trenches in force and despite taking heavy fire from the Germans they are now unstoppable. German reserves have reached the front in time for their own destruction and the game is called as a French victory. 

Posties rules "Home for Christmas" worked very well  and I think we would all like to try them out again in the near future. Both in this test game and in the demo run at Broadside last weekend (see here) the battle always felt 'in the balance' and in each game we produced a different outcome. The Courage test in particular worked very well and really replicated the impact of incoming fire on a unit. 


  1. Nice one Lee. We certainly learned a lot about the rules in this first game. If only the lads at the show heeding our warnings, we may have had a similar outcome?

  2. Great battle report. I think the First Marne has a lot to offer the WWI gamer.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always try to reply as soon as I can, so why not pop back later and continue the conversation. In the meantime, check out my YouTube channel Miniature Adventures TV