Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pg. 99: Holger H. Herwig's "The Marne, 1914"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World by Holger H. Herwig.

About the book, from the publisher:
It is one of the essential events of military history, a cataclysmic encounter that prevented a quick German victory in World War I and changed the course of two wars and the world. Now, for the first time in a generation, here is a bold new account of the Battle of the Marne. A landmark work by a distinguished scholar, The Marne, 1914 gives, for the first time, all sides of the story. In remarkable detail, and with exclusive information based on newly unearthed documents, Holger H. Herwig superbly re-creates the dramatic battle, revealing how the German force was foiled and years of brutal trench warfare were made inevitable.

Herwig brilliantly reinterprets Germany’s aggressive “Schlieffen Plan”–commonly considered militarism run amok–as a carefully crafted, years-in-the-making design to avoid a protracted war against superior coalitions. He also paints a new portrait of the run-up to the Marne: the Battle of the Frontiers, long thought a coherent assault but really a series of haphazard engagements that left “heaps of corpses,” France demoralized, Belgium in ruins, and Germany emboldened to take Paris.

Finally, Herwig puts in dazzling relief the Battle of the Marne itself: the French resolve to win, which included the exodus of 100,000 people from Paris (where even pigeons were placed under state control in case radio communications broke down), the crucial lack of coordination between Germany’s First and Second Armies, and the fateful “day of rest” taken by the Third Army. He provides revelatory new facts about the all-important order of retreat by Germany’s Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch, previously an event hardly documented and here freshly reconstructed from diary excerpts.

Herwig also provides stunning cameos of all the important players: Germany’s Chief of General Staff Helmuth von Moltke, progressively despairing and self-pitying as his plans go awry; his rival, France’s Joseph Joffre, seemingly weak but secretly unflappable and steely; and Commander of the British Expeditionary Force John French, arrogant, combative, and mercurial.

The Marne, 1914 puts into context the battle’s rich historical significance: how it turned the war into a four-year-long fiasco that taught Europe to accept a new form of barbarism and stoked the furnace for the fires of World War II. Revelatory and riveting, this will be the new source on this seminal event.
Read an excerpt from The Marne, 1914, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Marne, 1914.

--Marshal Zeringue