General Joffre chose resolutely for the solution which disposed of these risks, that is to say, for postponing the offensive and the continuance of the retreat. In this way he remained on ground which he had chosen. He waited only until he could engage in better conditions.
In consequence, on Sept. 1, he fixed as an extreme limit for the movement of retreat, which was still going on, the line of Bray-sur-Seine, Nogent-sur-Seine, Arcis-sur-Aube, Vitry-le-Francois, and the region to the north of Bar-le-Duc. This line might be reached if the troops were compelled to go back so far. They would attack before reaching it, as soon as there was a possibility of bringing about an offensive disposition, permitting the co-operation of the whole of our forces.
On Sept. 5 it appeared that this desired situation existed.
The First Germany Army, carrying audacity to temerity, had continued its endeavor to envelop our left, had crossed the Grand Morin, and reached the region of Chauffry, to the south of Rebaix and of Esternay. It aimed then at cutting our armies off from Paris, in order to begin the investment of the capital.
The Second Army had its head on the line Champaubert, Etoges, Bergeres, and Vertus.
The Third and Fourth Armies reached to Chalons-sur-Marne and Bussy-le-Repos. The Fifth Army was advancing on one side and the other from the Argonne as far as Triacourt-les-Islettes and Juivecourt. The Sixth and Seventh Armies were attacking more to the east.
But—and here is a capital difference between the situation of Sept. 5 and that of Sept. 2—the envelopment of our left was no longer possible.
In the first place, our left army had been able to occupy the line of Sezanne, Villers-St. Georges and Courchamps. Furthermore, the British forces, gathered between the Seine and the Marne, flanked on their left by the newly created army, were closely connected with the rest of our forces.
This was precisely the disposition which the General in Chief had wished to see achieved. On the 4th he decided to take advantage of it, and ordered all the armies to hold themselves ready. He had taken from his right two new army corps, two divisions of infantry, and two divisions of cavalry, which were distributed between his left and his centre.
On the evening of the 5th he addressed to all the commanders of armies a message ordering them to attack.
“The hour has come,” he wrote, “to advance at all costs, and to die where you stand rather than give way.”
(To be continued in the next issue.)
By W.L. COURTNEY.
[From King Albert’s Book.]
Death and Sorrow and Sleep:
Here where the slow waves creep,
This is the chant I hear,
The chant of the measureless deep.