Kaiser Bill is feeling ill,
The Crown Prince, he’s gone barmy.
We don’t give a f*ck for old von Kluck,
And all his bleedin’ army.
Thus sang the men of the BEF in 1914 at the time of it’s epic retreat from Mons and the Battle at Le Cateau and on to the counterstroke at the Marne. General Alexander von Kluck commanded the German 1st Army in 1914 and his progress through ‘Little’ Belgium is the manoeuvre widely understood to have brought Britain into the war. He held the British soldier in high esteem and marvelled at his endurance and performance against such incredible odds when Germany poured millions of men west to carry out what we know as the Schlieffen Plan. The General was badly wounded in the legs in 1915 and held no further senior command position. He died in 1934.
This account was first published in 1918, but didn’t reach a British audience until two years later when interest in the war was intense. The work itself is based chiefly on a memorandum prepared for the German high command by von Kluck’s Chief of Staff, Hermann von Kuhl. At the war’s end, von Kluck decided to flesh it out and this is the work we have today. More often than not the production of a book is as interesting as the actual subject and it is important to note how this work came to be an essential read for many a post war officer cadet in the UK and elsewhere.
As for the book itself, it is a matter of fact, immensely dry account of events in 1914 and offers us little of the man himself. Opinions on von Kluck seem to vary from admiration to a lot, lot worse. His actions moving east of Paris effectively snuffed out the whole point of the Schlieffen Plan and set Germany on the disastrous course of a war on two fronts. When you take this all in, and as an aside; it really makes you wonder what the hell the Germans were thinking of decades on in 1941.
It is, however, fair to point out that von Kluck was acting in concert with his superior von Bulow, and he was a very competent and effective general who spent his career with troops and never in a staff capacity.
These old books are essential to historians. They often lack the modern flowing style of writing we have got used to today and come with barely any deep insight into the personalities of the writer or any real personal touch. There are no snaps and just a few maps; but it does offer a straightforward account of the dispositions and actions of the magnificent German army which invaded Belgium and France nearly a century ago.
THE MARCH ON PARIS
The Memoirs of Alexander von Kluck, 1914
Published in hardback by Frontline £19.99
ISBN: 978 1 84832 639 2