Let Them Pass

Chapter 17: The Marne Disaster (Part 6)


I have a question: Who would have been the most prominent socialist/communist leader in Paris at this time. I know one Jean Jouret was a prominent leader but was assassinated prior to the war beginning?

Chapter 17: The Marne Disaster (Part 6)

August 18, 1914; Paris: It is not until 1 A.M. that the messengers sent by Foch and Langle reach Joffre’s headquarters in Paris. They have had to make their way past looters and rioters that have run amok in the streets.

Joffre has been waiting anxiously for news of the offensive. With communications cut with the front he has been out of touch for most of the past day.

The report from Foch and Langle causes the General to slump into his chair in shock. After several minutes he drafts an order to be sent to the two generals.

Langle and Foch are to disengage and withdraw their troops into Paris proper. Joffre believes Paris is far more defensible then their present position. There is more cover for the troops and Joffre believes he can turn the maze of streets into defensive positions the Germans will have difficulty taking. Joffre believes by turning Paris into a fortress he can hold out until the BEF is ready to begin its offensive to relieve the city.

Joffre swiftly sends word to President Poincare’ of his intentions. He then sends word to the head of the Paris garrison and to the Commissioner of Public Safety. At dawn all prisoners in the jails are to be put to work preparing barbed wire emplacements at the major intersections of the city. Artillery will be positioned at key points to provide fire support.

Joffre also sends word to requisition every motor vehicle available to move the French troops back to Paris, this includes trucks, private cars, taxi cabs, whatever is available. The vehicles are to be requisitioned at gunpoint if necessary. But he wants them ready to move at first light.

The messengers whom Langle and Foch sent are told to report back with Joffre’s orders. But it will take them the rest of the night and most of the next morning to reach Langle and Foch’s positions.

In the meantime, the police force in Paris is hard pressed to deal with the various rioters and looters that have now taken over the streets.

Brussels: Early on the morning of the 18th the British ambassador to Belgium meets with King Albert. Although France has declared war on Belgium, her ally England has not yet done so, and Belgium has, surprisingly not declared war on England or France.

At the meeting the British ambassador once more appeals to King Albert to reconsider his decision to allow the Germans free access through Belgium. He offers British aid in “retaking” Belgium from the “German occupiers.” King Albert however is clear, he does not want his nation to become a battlefield. As long as the Germans continue their good behavior Albert sees no reason to change his decision.

The British ambassador expresses sympathy for Albert’s difficult decision. But he does warn that if the situation in France continues to deteriorate Britain may have to “reevaluate its present relationship with Belgium.”

The King fully understands the implications of this.
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So France makes it last stand in Paris that going to be one epic battle, has Napoleon's coffin been moved yet or will the Germans be snapping pictures at it.
Paris at the time was one of the most heavily fortified cities on Earth, with outlying forts up to 20 km away on the surrounding heights and the Thiers wall at about 5 km from the city center. It would make absolutely no sense to declare the city open and abandon those works and their armament to the Germans. The French would plan for a much more orderly battle based on the surrounding forts rather than fighting within the city itself.
Wait, so is Britain still not giving up on an amphibious operation against Belgium? Where is all the lead in their tea coming from? It cannot work, they don't have the manpower and equipment for it.
The Germans will do what they did last time. Encircle Paris and let it wither on the vine. The BEF is way too small to liberate Paris.
The Germans will do what they did last time. Encircle Paris and let it wither on the vine. The BEF is way too small to liberate Paris.
That would be the rational choice to make, the problem I see with it, is that the French Army is not yet beaten. So the Germans would have to find the troops to bind the other French armies and also suround Paris. And if the city is too large, or at least the defenses, then the amount of manpower needed is something the Germans do not have, I think.

On the other hand, the story so far has implied that Paris is in turmoil. So how is the situation on the ground. Should the city be to hot, then it could impact the preparations. And the whole military production and transportation also.
All those fortifications around Paris do not matter, if Paris is encircled and turned into a giant self administered POW camp.

Fortifications do not help if food runs out after all. And with the political leadership having fled Paris, and the communication channels cut, the situation for France as a whole might be a tad bleak.
Back to Belgian neutrality and how their compromising on it will be viewed, based on a past chapter, I suspect that the Dutch aren't alone in the position they hold with regard to King Albert's decision. Regrettable, but completely understandable and one they themselves might make in a similar position.


Wait, so is Britain still not giving up on an amphibious operation against Belgium? Where is all the lead in their tea coming from? It cannot work, they don't have the manpower and equipment for it.
At the moment @Jaenera Targaryen the British aren't mentioning any specific threats. They hope that a general insinuation or two may cause the Belgians to change their minds. Spoiler-They won't! As to having lead in their tea. Consider the Gallipolis landings. There the British also didn't have the manpower and equipment to do the job. If Gravelines had gone ahead it would have been the Galipolis of this version of WWI.
At the moment @Jaenera Targaryen the British aren't mentioning any specific threats. They hope that a general insinuation or two may cause the Belgians to change their minds. Spoiler-They won't!
Guess I jumped the gun there.

As to having lead in their tea. Consider the Gallipolis landings. There the British also didn't have the manpower and equipment to do the job. If Gravelines had gone ahead it would have been the Galipolis of this version of WWI.
Er, I'd say Gallipolli might as well have been a stunning success compared to what would have happened had Gravelines gone ahead. Ships would be running aground to the left and right at the very start of the operation, then they start blowing up as mines get floated out with the tide and keep floating out, and they haven't even reached the gunnery range of the Antwerp Forts. The British or rather Churchill being who they are, they press on, eventually succeeding in getting in range, but as they start opening fire, they realize low tide is approaching. They finally decide to leg it, but it's too late. They get stuck where they are, unable to get proper firing positions, and the Belgians are blasting away from their forts, the Dutch and the Germans are moving in their own artillery.

In the end, the British surrender, and thousands of men march into captivity as Dutch flags fly over an immobilized British fleet stuck in the Scheldt, all the while the ghost of Michiel de Ruyter laughs at their expense.
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Does anyone remember which side of Paris has the war industry? As it is if Paris is under siege that means Bethune coal fields have been overrun and France has had a major reduction in domestic coal production (I think between Bethune and the frontiers that was the majority) now which means all sorts of bad things. Though the Paris area also had a very large portion of their war industry so that may be less of an issue from lack of factories to use the coal for production.

As it is even if the Germans don't take Paris if they can damage the industry and establish a line in front of Bethune while not losing any armies or heavy equipment they come out a head by a large margin. France's availability to equip new soldiers and replace heavy equipment is going to be curtailed. If they though the OTL shell crisis was bad this is going to be worse.
Chapter 18: The Marne Disaster (Part 7)


Chapter 18: The Marne Disaster (Part 7)

August 18, 1914: The Line Between Pontoise and Montmirall: It will take the messengers until noon to get out of the chaos that Paris has become to reach the new defensive line. By then Germany has launched two fierce attacks against the line. Foch and Langle are able to repel the first two attacks with heavy losses on both sides. But a third attack is expected soon.

Thus, it is with great relief that the two generals receive Joffre’s orders to withdraw. They begin to order a phased withdrawal. The units that will remain on the line to the very end are told they must hold the line to the last. Meantime the two armies begin their withdrawal to Paris. A third attack by the Germans almost breaks through but is repulsed yet again. But the French battalions holding the line as the rest of the armies retreat know they don’t have the strength to survive another attack. After a hurried consultation the commanders of these rear battalions decide to launch one final counterattack which will hopefully keep the enemy off balance and allow the rest of the armies time to withdraw into Paris.

So, at 1:35 P.M. with shouts of “Viva la France” echoing down the line the remainder of the rear battalions launch a final desperate and doomed counterattack. Within 10 minutes the counterattack has been neutralized with the last of the defenders either killed, seriously wounded, or captured. But their actions have bought time by disrupting German plans for another attack. The rest of the French 4th and 9th armies can disengage and with the help of the transport vehicles sent from Paris are able to safely withdraw to the city. Of this last counterattack Foch will later write. “Desperate men are often the bravest.”

In the meantime, the “taxicab squadrons” made up of Parisian taxis and their drivers pick up and drive members of the 4th and 9th armies back to the city. Although the Parisian taxis only account for a fraction of the men evacuated, they will quickly become legendary.

Paris: Joffre finally decides it is time to deal with the unrest in Paris. He orders that a dusk to dawn curfew be imposed on the city. Those caught out after the curfew will be arrested and put on work gangs preparing city defenses. He authorizes garrison troops and the Parisian police force to “shoot on sight” any looters. And he directs plans to have observation posts and sniper nests established throughout the city including – over the strong protests of the Commissioner for Public Safety and Ambassador Herrick’s objections; at Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eifel Tower.

Lyons: President Poincare’ receives General Joffre’s communique and is horrified by the prospect of the administrative and cultural hub of France coming under siege. He sends an order to Joffre demanding he withdraw his troops from Paris and declare it an open city.

Brussels: The British ambassador informs King Albert that the port of Antwerp will not be blockaded by British forces as long as no military supplies are making their way into the port to the Germans. To ensure this he “requests” that British observers be allowed to enter Antwerp to ensure that only non-military items are being unloaded from ships docked there.

King Albert agrees to allow this. He hopes by doing this he can avoid causing the British to close the port of Antwerp and starve Belgium. He knows the Germans will not like this, but believes (rightly as it turns out) they will not risk their “free right of passage” through Belgium to hinder this.
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Placing Paris under siege is going to be a grand endeavor for the Germans -but for the French? It will be a disaster. The heart of the national economy, the main transportation nexus... losing that might just end up losing the war next.
And there we go. Belgian sovereignty is intact, so long as the requests made of them are reasonable and you don't go shooting up their land and people, like the French started doing before the newspapers tore them apart.
I still don't think that the story has properly contextualized the importance of Paris's defenses and the general expectation that the Germans would not commit to a Stalingrad-style assault on the city. The French objective is not to delay the Germans by fighting inside the city itself but to tie down a significant German force to lay siege and guard against a sortie.
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The Paris 1840s defensive Fort system

Forts outside the Thiers Wall

the 33 kilometres (21 mi) long main wall, colloquially referred to as "the fortress", consisted of 94 bastions. These were numbered counting anti-clockwise from Bastion No 1 on the right (northern) bank of the River Seine in the southeast of Paris, round to Bastion No 94 which completed the circuit on the opposite bank. For command purposes, the wall was divided into nine military sectors, each sector consisting of between eight and twelve bastions. The wall was pierced by 17 gates (French: portes) for routes nationale or major roads, 23 secondary road crossings (French: barrières) for routes departementale, and 12 posterns for local access. The gates were closeable by barriers and acted as toll booths the collection of taxes and tariffs; some of the main portes were fitted with drawbridges. The wall was also pierced in five places by rivers and canals and later, eight railway crossing points were constructed. All these access ways made the wall harder to defend, but in peacetime, there were insufficient crossings for a major commercial centre which resulted in congestion.[13]

Profile or cross-section of the Thiers wall. On the left is the earthen rampart with a masonry scarp wall. The ditch is in the centre and on the right is the angled counterscarp with the glacis sloping away to open ground.

The enceinte wall itself was constructed following the system devised by Louis de Cormontaigne nearly a century previously. The rampart was composed of packed earth and revetted by a vertical scarp (or front face) wall of stone, topped by a broad earthen parapet. In front of this was a 25 metres (82 ft) wide dry ditch, bounded on the far side by an earthen counterscarp which sloped at an angle of 45° and was not revetted. Extending out from the top of the counterscarp was the glacis, a ridge intended to defend the scarp wall from direct bombardment, but the slope away from the fortress was angled so as to allow the defenders to fire on any attacking troops. However, a United States Army commission who visited in 1856 noted that the glacis, which rose 6 metres (20 ft) above the floor of the ditch, only partially protected the vulnerable masonry of the scarp wall. Originally, there was a covered way which passed along the top of the counterscarp below the crest of the glacis, but by 1856 this had largely been eroded away.[14]

The enceinte wall was serviced and supplied by the Rue Militaire ("military road") which passed directly behind the works; different sections of which were named after various Marshals of France and are collectively called the Boulevards des Maréchaux,[15] and were completed in their present form in 1861.[16] In 1869, a supporting railway line was completed which also followed the course of the wall and could be requisitioned by the military in an emergency, the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture ("Little Belt Railway"), which in peacetime conveniently linked the various rail termini of the capital.

In 1871 the Prussian Army was able to lay siege with 240,000 men

After the outbreak of war, the French reverses in the Battle of the Frontiers and the subsequent Great Retreat at the end of August 1914 showed that Paris was once again threatened. On 3 September, the military governor, General Joseph Gallieni, ordered that the outlying forts be armed and the gates of the Thiers wall be made defensible by the addition of barbed wire[27] and barriers of oak beams pierced with embrasures. Roadside plane trees were cut down to create an abatis along the edge of the ditch.[28] An order to clear the shacks and huts built on the zone non aedificandi was enacted by the city council but was revoked shortly afterwards.[27] Following the First Battle of the Marne in early September and the removal of an imminent threat, there were popular demonstrations against the inconvenience caused by the barriers and they were dismantled by December of 1914.
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I'm guessing that by now the force-to-space ratio between the Germans and Allies would be approaching what it was at OTL's Battle of the Marne, where the Germans lacked the strength to cover all threats. ITTL they won't have to cover Antwerp, Royal Marines, Groupe deAmade as well as the multiple French Armies and the BEF, but they will have to cover 200km of coastline and a longer front.

At some point the French and BEF will locally outnumber the German forces, gaps in the lines will open and opportunities for significant and locally decisive counterattacks similar to OTL's Marne will occur.
Riain sorry the Germans had 2.1 mio men against France with France having 1.5 and 0.2 BEF. OTL Germany moved one army east, and needed one to deal with the Belgiums.

ITTL Joffre has moved two armies into Paris proper so the Germans still have 2.1 mio men and the French in armies that count 0.9. if you have something around 40% of the army strength of your enemy achieving local superiority is pretty hard.

And with Paris encircled it is a matter of weeks at best before the French armies run out of ammo.