Through an analysis of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain how the First Battle of the Marne saved France, forced the German army to abandon the Schlieffen Plan and ultimately led to a four year stalemate on the Western Front.
"Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"
French Soldier’s diary from the Battle of Verdun, 23 May 1916
People of France, let us all be worthy of these tragic circumstances. We shall gain the final victory; we shall gain it by unflagging will, endurance, and tenacity.
A nation which refuses to perish, and which, in order to live, does not flinch either from suffering or sacrifice, is sure of victory.
French government’s proclamation to the People of Paris, 03 Sep 1914
The hour has come to advance at all costs and do die where you stand rather than give way.
General Joseph Joffre, French High Command, message to the French Army, 05 Sep 1914
Hard pressed on my right. My center is giving way. My right is retreating. Situation Excellent. I am attacking.
General Ferdinand Foch, French 9th Army, to Marshal Joffre, 08 Sep 1914
By 06 Sep 2014, the French were on the ropes. The government had abandoned Paris, leaving the city for Bordeaux in advance of what governmental officials expected was an imminent takeover of the capital by German forces. The French army, pride of the nation since the days of Napoleon, had fought valiantly over the preceding five weeks, but was now close to defeat. Morale was low. The French plan for winning against Germany, known as “Plan 17”, was an abysmal failure. The Germans seemed poised to complete the “Schlieffen Plan” in time to turn their attention to Russia. As the German army neared Paris, however, General Joseph Joffre, commander of the French High Command, rallied the French armies and ordered a counterattack along the Marne River. The resulting battle (known later as the “First Battle of the Marne” saved France, forced the Germans to retreat and set the stage for over four years of trench warfare and stalemate on the Western Front.
Through an analysis of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain how the First Battle of the Marne saved France, forced the German army to abandon the Schlieffen Plan and ultimately led to a four-year stalemate on the Western Front.
To view resource web pages, download the lesson plan PDF above.
While on tour, students should find time to visit the École de Guerre (French military staff college) on the Champ de Mars opposite from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. In the front courtyard, there’s a statue of Marshall Joffre mounted on a horse. The plinth has an inscription about the First Battle of the Marne. Students can see firsthand where Joffre and many others trained for the French officer corps, including Charles De Galle (of WWII fame – ironically, he was a student in 1914 when one his instructors was Petain).
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