First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne (French: Première bataille de la Marne) (also known as the Miracle of the Marne) was a First World War battle fought from 5–12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle was the culmination of the German advance into France and pursuit of the Allied armies which followed the Battle of the Frontiers in August, which had reached the eastern outskirts of Paris. The counterattack of six French field armies and the British Expeditionary Force ("BEF") along the Marne River forced the German Imperial Army to abandon its push on Paris and retreat north-east, leading to the "Race to the Sea". The Battle of the Marne was a victory for the Allies and set the stage for four years of trench warfare on the Western Front.
- 1 Background
- 2 Prelude
- 3 Battle
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 See also
- 6 Footnotes
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Battle of the Frontiers
The Battle of the Frontiers is a general name for all of the operations of the French armies from 7 August – 13 September. A series of encounter battles began between the German, French and Belgian armies, on the German-French frontier and in southern Belgium on 4 August 1914. Liège was occupied by the Germans on 7 August, the first units of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) landed in France and French troops crossed the German frontier. The Battle of Mulhouse (Battle of Alsace 7–10 August) was the first French offensive of World War I. The French captured Mulhouse until forced out by a German counter-attack on 11 August and fell back toward Belfort. On 12 August, the Battle of Haelen was fought by German and Belgian cavalry and infantry and was a Belgian defensive success. The BEF completed its move of four divisions and a cavalry division to France on 16 August, as the last Belgian fort of the Position fortifiée de Liège surrendered. The Belgian government withdrew from Brussels on 18 August and the German army attacked the Belgian field army at the Battle of the Gete. Next day the Belgian army began to retire towards Antwerp, which left the route to Namur (city) open.
The main French offensive, the Battle of Lorraine (14–25 August), began with the Battles of Morhange and Sarrebourg (14–20 August) advances by the First Army on Sarrebourg and the Second Army towards Morhange. Château Salins near Morhange was captured on 17 August and Sarrebourg the next day. The German 6th and 7th armies counter-attacked on 20 August and the Second Army was forced back from Morhange and the First Army was repulsed at Sarrebourg. The German armies crossed the border and advanced on Nancy but were stopped to the east of the city. The Belgian 4th Division, the solitary part of the Belgian army not to retreat to the defensive lines around Antwerp, dug in to defend Namur, which was besieged on 20 August. Further west the French Fifth Army had concentrated on the Sambre by 20 August, facing north either side of Charleroi and east towards Namur and Dinant. Additional support was given to the Belgians at Namur by the French 45th Infantry Brigade. On the left, the Cavalry Corps of General Sordet linked with the BEF at Mons.
To the south the French retook Mulhouse on 19 August and then withdrew. By 20 August, a German counter-offensive in Lorraine had begun and the German 4th and 5th Armies advanced through the Ardennes on 19 August, towards Neufchâteau. An offensive by French Third and Fourth armies through the Ardennes began on 20 August, in support of the French invasion of Lorraine. The opposing armies met in thick fog and the French mistook the German troops for screening forces. On 22 August the Battle of the Ardennes (21–28 August) began with French attacks, which were costly to both sides and forced the French into a disorderly retreat late on 23 August. The Third Army recoiled towards Verdun, pursued by the 5th Army and the Fourth Army retreated to Sedan and Stenay. Mulhouse was recaptured again by German forces and the Battle of the Meuse (26–28 August), caused a temporary halt of the German advance. On 24 August, during the Battle of the Mortagne (14–25 August), a limited German offensive in the Vosges, the Germans managed a small advance, before a French counter-attack retook the ground.
The Great Retreat took place from 24 August – 5 September; the French Fifth Army fell back about 10 miles (16 km) from the Sambre during the Battle of Charleroi (22 August) and began a greater withdrawal from the area south of the Sambre on 23 August. That evening, the 12,000 Belgian troops at Namur withdrew into French-held territory and at Dinant, 674 men, woman and children were summarily executed by Saxon troops of the German Third Army; the first of several civilian massacres committed by the Germans in 1914. At the Battle of Mons (23 August), the British army attempted to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German 1st Army. The British were eventually forced to withdraw due to being outnumbered by the Germans and the sudden retreat of the French Fifth Army, which exposed the British right flank. (Though planned as a simple tactical withdrawal and executed in good order, the British retreat from Mons lasted for two weeks and took the BEF to the outskirts of Paris, before it counter-attacked in concert with the French, at the Battle of the Marne.)
The French First and Second armies had been pushed back, by attacks of the German 7th and 6th armies between St. Dié and Nancy. The Third Army held positions east of Verdun against attacks by the 5th Army; the Fourth Army held positions from the junction with the Third Army south of Montmédy, westwards to Sedan, Mezières and Fumay, facing the 4th Army; the Fifth Army was between Fumay and Maubeuge; the 3rd Army was advancing up the Meuse valley from Dinant and Givet, into a gap between the Fourth and Fifth armies and the 2nd Army pressed forward into the angle between the Meuse and Sambre, directly against the Fifth Army. On the far west flank of the French, the BEF prolonged the line from Maubeuge to Valenciennes against the 1st Army and Army Detachment von Beseler masked the Belgian army at Antwerp.
On 26 August, German forces captured Valenciennes and began the Siege of Maubeuge (24 August – 7 September). Leuven (Louvain) was sacked by German troops and the Battle of Le Cateau was fought by the BEF and the 1st Army. Longwy was surrendered by its garrison and next day, British marines and a party of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) landed at Ostend; Lille and Mezières were occupied by German troops. Arras was occupied on 27 August and a French counter-offensive began at the Battle of St. Quentin (Battle of Guise 29–30 August). On 29 August, the Fifth Army counter-attacked the 2nd Army south of the Oise, from Vervins to Mont Dorigny and west of the river from Mont Dorigny to Moy towards St. Quentin on the Somme, while the British held the line of the Oise west of La Fère. Laon, La Fère, and Roye were captured by German troops on 30 August and Amiens the next day. On 1 September, Craonne and Soissons were captured and on 5 September, the BEF ended its retreat from Mons, German troops reached Claye, 10 miles (16 km) from Paris, Rheims was captured, German forces withdrew from Lille and the First Battle of the Marne (Battle of the Ourcq 5–12 September) began, marking the end of the Great Retreat of the western flank of the Franco-British armies.
By 4 September, the First and Second armies had slowed the advance of the 7th and 6th armies west of St. Dié and east of Nancy, from where the Second Army had withdrawn its left flank, to face north between Nancy and Toul. A gap existed between the left of the Second Army and the right of the Third Army at Verdun, which faced north-west, on a line towards Revigny, against the 5th Army advance west of the Meuse between Varennes and St. Ménéhould. The Fourth Army had withdrawn to Sermaize, westwards to the Marne at Vitry le François and crossed the river to Sompons, against the 4th Army, which had advanced from Rethel to Suippes and the west of Chalons. The new Ninth Army held a line from Mailly against the 3rd Army, which had advanced from Mézières, over the Vesle and the Marne west of Chalons. The 2nd Army had advanced from Marle on the Serre, across the Aisne and the Vesle, between Reims and Fismes to Montmort, north of the junction of the Ninth and Fifth armies at Sezanne. The Fifth Army and the BEF had withdrawn south of the Oise, Serre, Aisne, and Ourq, pursued by the 2nd Army on a line from Guise to Laon, Vailly and Dormans and by the 1st Army from Montdidier, towards Compiègne and then south-east towards Montmirail. The new French Sixth Army, formed from divisions taken from Lorraine and of newly formed reserve divisions, linked with the left of the BEF, west of the Marne from Meaux to Pontoise north of Paris. French garrisons were besieged at Strasbourg, Metz, Thionville, Longwy, Montmédy, and Maubeuge. The Belgian army was invested at Antwerp in the National Redoubt and Belgian fortress troops continued the defence of the Liège forts.
As the German 1st and 2nd armies approached Paris, they began to swerve to the south-east away from Paris, to envelop the retreating French armies, exposing their right flank to the Allies. By 3 September, Joffre had become aware of the positions of the German armies. On 4 September, he made plans to halt the French and British withdrawal and attack the Germans all along the front with the French Sixth Army (150,000 men) and the BEF (70,000 men). The attack was set to begin on the morning of 6 September. General Alexander von Kluck, the commander of the 1st Army, detected the approach of the Allied forces on 5 September and began to wheel his army to face west. On the morning of 5 September, battle commenced when the advancing Sixth Army came into contact with cavalry patrols of the IV Reserve Corps of General H. H. K. Gronau, on the right flank of the 1st Army near the Ourcq River. Seizing the initiative in the early afternoon, the two divisions of IV Reserve Corps attacked with field artillery and infantry into the gathering Sixth Army and pushed it back, before the planned Allied assault for the following day, the Battle of the Ourcq (Bataille de l'Ourcq). In making this move against the French offensive, the 1st Army ignored the Franco-British forces advancing against its right flank. Taxicab reinforcements reached Sixth Army from Paris and Oberstleutnant Richard Hentsch delivered orders for Kluck to retreat to the Aisne River.
The Allied retreat ended at the River Marne, where they prepared to make a stand to defend Paris and this led to the start of the First Battle of the Marne, which was fought from 5–12 September 1914.
Field Marshal John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, began to make contingency plans for a full retreat to the ports on the English Channel followed by an immediate British evacuation. The French Military Governor of Paris, General Joseph Gallieni, was tasked with the defence of the city. He wanted to organise the French and British armies to counter the weight of the German advance. Lord Kitchener the British Secretary of State for War, met with Field Marshal French and ordered him not to withdraw to the channel.
Gallieni's plan was a very simple one: All allied units would counter-attack the Germans along the Marne, hopefully halting their advance. As this was going on, allied reserves would be thrown in to restore the ranks and attack the German flanks. At noon on 5 September, the battle commenced when the French 6th Army, led by General Michel-Joseph Maunoury, accidentally stumbled into the forward guard of the German 1st Army under General Alexander von Kluck.
Joffre used the railways which had transported French troops to the German frontier to move troops back from Lorraine and Alsace to form a new Sixth Army under General Michel-Joseph Maunoury with nine divisions and two cavalry divisions. By 10 September twenty divisions and three cavalry divisions had been moved west from the German border to the French centre and left and the balance of force between the German 1st–3rd armies and the Third, Fourth, Ninth, Fifth armies, the BEF and Sixth Army had changed to 44:56 divisions. On 3 September, Joffre replaced Fifth Army commander General Charles Lanrezac (deemed too cautious and lacking in "offensive spirit") with General Louis Franchet d'Espèrey. Late on 4 September Joffre ordered the Sixth Army to attack eastwards over the Ourcq towards Château Thierry as the BEF advanced towards Montmirail and the Fifth Army attacked northwards, with its right flank protected by the Ninth Army along the St. Gond marshes. The French First–Fourth armies to the east were to resist the attacks of the German 5th–7th armies between Verdun and Toul and repulse an enveloping attack on the defences south of Nancy from the north. The 6th and 7th armies were reinforced by heavy artillery from Metz and attacked again on 4 September along the Moselle.
Oh 5 September the Sixth Army advanced eastwards from Paris and met the German IV Reserve Corps, which had moved into the area that morning and was stopped short of high ground north of Meaux. Overnight the IV Reserve Corps withdrew to a better position 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east and French air reconnaissance observed German forces moving north to face the Sixth Army. Von Kluck, in turning to meet the threat to his right flank, opened a 30 mi (48 km) gap in the German lines between the 1st Army and the 2nd Army on its left (east). Allied reconnaissance aeroplanes discovered the gap and reported it to commanders on the ground. General Alexander von Kluck the 1st Army commander, ordered the II Corps to move back to the north bank of the Marne, which began a redeployment of all four 1st Army corps to the north bank by 8 September. The swift move to the north bank prevented the Sixth Army from crossing the Ourcq but created a gap between the 1st and 2nd Armies. The BEF advanced from 6–8 September and crossed the Petit Morin and captured bridges over the Marne and established a bridgehead 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) deep. The Fifth Army also advanced into the gap and by 8 September crossed the Petit Morin, which forced Bülow to withdraw the right flank of the 2nd Army. Next day the Fifth Army recrossed the Marne and the German 1st and 2nd armies began to retire as the French Ninth, Fourth and Third armies fought defensive battles against the 3rd Army which was forced to retreat with the 1st and 2nd armies on 9 September.
Further east the Third Army was forced back to the west of Verdun as German attacks were made on the Meuse Heights to the south-east but managed to maintain contact with Verdun and the Fourth Army to the west. German attacks against the Second Army south of Verdun from 5 September almost forced the French to retreat but on 8 September the crisis eased. By 10 September the German armies west of Verdun were retreating towards the Aisne and the Franco-British were following-up, collecting stragglers and equipment. On 12 September Joffre ordered an outflanking move to the west and an attack northwards by the Third Army to cut off the German retreat. The pursuit was too slow and on 14 September the German armies had dug in north of the Aisne and the Allies met trench lines rather than rearguards. Frontal attacks by the Ninth, Fifth and Sixth armies were repulsed on 15–16 September, which led Joffre to begin the transfer of the Second Army west to the left flank of the Sixth Army, the first phase of the operations to outflank the German armies, which from 17 September to 17–19 October moved the opposing armies through Picardy and Flanders to the North Sea coast.
The Allies were prompt in exploiting the break in the German lines, sending the BEF and the Fifth Army through the gap between the two German armies. The right wing of the Fifth Army simultaneously attacked and thus pinned the 2nd Army in the Battle of the Two Morins (Bataille des Deux Morins), named for the two rivers in the area, the Grand Morin and Petit Morin.
The Germans still hoped to achieve a breakthrough against the Sixth Army between 6 and 8 September. The Sixth Army was reinforced on 7 September, by 10,000 French reserve infantry ferried from Paris, 6,000 of whom were transported in 600 Parisian taxi cabs sent by General Joseph Gallieni, military governor of Paris. This famous episode of the First Battle of the Marne was the commandeering of c. 600 Parisian taxicabs, mainly Renault AGs, by General Gallieni and French authorities in order to transport 6,000 French reserve infantry to the battle and is well documented by historians such as Barbara W. Tuchman in her Pulitzer Prize winning book The Guns of August. Their arrival has traditionally been described as critical in stopping a possible German breakthrough against the Sixth Army. Recently, some historians, such as Strachan in 2001, described the course of the battle without mentioning taxis and in 2009, Herwig called the matter a legend and wrote that many French soldiers travelled in lorries and all the artillery left Paris by train. Their impact on morale, however, is undeniable: the taxis de la Marne were perceived as a manifestation of the union sacrée of the French civilian population and its soldiers at the front, reminiscent of the people in arms who had saved the French Republic in 1794. The "taxis de la Marne" became in France a symbol of unity and national solidarity beyond their strategical role in the battle. The following night, on 8 September, the Fifth Army launched a surprise attack against the 2nd Army, further widening the gap between the 1st and 2nd armies.
By 9 September, the German 1st and 2nd armies were in danger of being encircled and destroyed. Moltke suffered a nervous breakdown upon hearing of the danger. His subordinates took over and ordered a general retreat to the Aisne, to regroup for another offensive. The Germans were pursued by the French and British, although the pace of the exhausted Allied forces was slow and averaged only 12 mi (19 km) per day. The Germans ceased their retreat after 40 mi (64 km), at a point north of the Aisne River, where they dug in, preparing trenches. The German retreat of 9–13 September, marked the abandonment of the Schlieffen Plan. Moltke is said to have reported to the Kaiser: "Your Majesty, we have lost the war."
By 6 September, in the vicinity of Verdun, attacks by the German 3rd, 4th and 5th armies against the defending French Third, Fourth and Ninth armies had begun. Fighting included the capture of the village of Revigny in the Battle of Revigny (Bataille de Revigny) and fighting from Vitry-le-François in the Battle of Vitry (Bataille de Vitry) to Sézanne in the Battle of the Marshes of Saint-Gond (Bataille des Marais de Saint-Gond). On 7 September German advances created a salient south of Verdun at St. Mihiel, which threatened to separate the Second and Third armies. French general Castelnau prepared to abandon the French position around Nancy, but his staff contacted Joffre who ordered Castelnau to hold for another for another 24 hours. German attacks continued through 8 September but soon began to taper off as Moltke began shifting troops to the west. By 10 September the Germans had received orders to stop attacking and withdrawal towards the frontier became general.
The Battle of the Marne was the second great battle on the Western Front (after the Battle of the Frontiers) and one of the most important events of the war. While the Schlieffen Plan failed to decisively defeat the Allies in France it succeeded in the German army occupying a good portion of northern France as well as all of Belgium and it was the failure of Plan 17 that caused that situation.
After the battle of the Marne the German armies retreated for up to 90 kilometres (56 mi) and lost 11,717 prisoners, 30 guns and 100 machine-guns to the French and 3,500 prisoners to the British, before reaching the Aisne. The German retirement ended any hopes of Germany pushing the French back beyond the Verdun–Marne–Paris line. Following the battle of the Marne and subsequent failures to turn the French northern flank during the Race to the Sea, the war of movement ended and the Germans and the Allies now faced each other across a stationary front line. Germany would be forced to assault this line directly in their next campaign if they chose to continue focusing on France in the name of knocking them out of the war eventually - but assaulting such an excellent defensive position was sure to be costly. Ultimately the cost of breaching this line was greater than Germany was willing to pay for France's defeat, as shown in Germany's first and last concerted effort to breach this line in the 1916 Battle of Verdun. The Allies were faced with the same dilemma and a long, bloody stalemate on the Western Front began.
Tuchman and Doughty wrote that Joffre's victory at the Marne was far from decisive, Tuchman calling it an "... incomplete victory of the Marne ..." and Doughty wrote "... opportunity for a decisive victory had slipped from his hands." Tuchman wrote that Kluck explained the German failure at the Marne as: "... the reason that transcends all others was the extraordinary aptitude of the French soldier to recover quickly."
The Battle of the Marne was also one of the first battles in which reconnaissance aircraft played a decisive role by discovering weak points in the German lines, which the Allies were able to exploit. The mobility and destructive power of the numerous French 75 batteries engaged in the also played a key role in slowing down and then halting German progress everywhere. The transport of troops from Paris on taxis and omnibuses is notable as the first example of motorized troop transport.
Over two million men fought in the First Battle of the Marne and although there are no exact official casualty counts for the battle, estimates for the actions of September along the Marne front for all armies are often given as c. 500,000 killed or wounded. French casualties totalled 250,000 men, of whom 80,000 were killed. Some notable people died in the battle, such as Charles Péguy was killed while leading his platoon during an attack at the beginning of the battle. Tuchman gave French casualties for August as 206,515 from Armées Françaises and Herwig gave French casualties for September as 213,445, also from Armées Françaises for a total of just under 420,000 in the first two months of the war. According to Roger Chickering, German casualties for the 1914 campaigns on the Western Front were 500,000. British casualties were 13,000 men, with 1,700 killed. The Germans suffered c. 250,000 casualties. No future battle on the Western Front would average so many casualties per day.
In 2009, Herwig re-estimated the casualties for the battle. He wrote that the French Official History, Les armées françaises dans la grande guerre, gave 213,445 French casualties in September and assumed that c. 40% occurred during the Battle of the Marne. Using the German Sanitätsberichte, Herwig recorded that from 1–10 September, the 1st Army had 13,254 casualties, the 2nd Army had 10,607 casualties, the 3rd Army had 14,987 casualties, the 4th Army had 9,433 casualties, the 5th Army had 19,434 casualties, the 6th Army had 21,200 casualties and the 7th Army had 10,164 casualties. Herwig estimated that the five German armies from Verdun to Paris had 67,700 casualties during the battle and assumed 85,000 casualties for the French. Herwig wrote that there were 1,701 British casualties (the British Official History noted that these losses were incurred from 6–10 September). Herwig estimated 300,000 casualties for all sides at the Marne but questioned whether isolating the battle was justified.
In 2010, Ian Sumner wrote that there were 12,733 British casualties, including 1,700 dead. Sumner cites the same overall casualty figure for the French for September as Herwig from Armées Françaises, which includes the losses at the battle of the Aisne, as 213,445 but provides a further breakdown: 18,073 killed, 111,963 wounded and 83,409 missing.
First Battle of the Aisne, 13–28 September
On 10 September, Joffre ordered the French armies and the BEF to advance and for four days, the armies on the left flank moved forward and gathered up German stragglers, wounded and equipment, opposed only by rearguards. On 11 and 12 September, Joffre ordered outflanking manoeuvres by the armies on the left flank but the advance was too slow to catch the Germans, who ended their withdrawal on 14 September, on high ground on the north bank of the Aisne and began to dig in, which reduced the French advance on 15–16 September to a few local gains. French troops had begun to move westwards on 2 September, using the undamaged railways behind the French front, which were able to move a corps to the left flank in 5–6 days. On 17 September, the French Sixth Army attacked from Soissons to Noyon, at the westernmost point of the French flank, with the XIII and IV corps, which were supported by the 61st and 62nd divisions of the 6th Group of Reserve Divisions, after which the fighting moved north to Lassigny and the French dug in around Nampcel.
The French Second Army completed a move from Lorraine and took over command of the left-hand corps of the Sixth Army, as indications appeared that German troops were also being moved from the eastern flank. The German IX Reserve Corps arrived from Belgium by 15 September and next day joined the 1st Army for an attack to the south-west, with the IV Corps and the 4th and 7th Cavalry divisions, against the attempted French envelopment. The attack was cancelled and the IX Reserve Corps was ordered to withdraw behind the right flank of the 1st Army. The 2nd and 9th Cavalry divisions were dispatched as reinforcements next day but before the retirement began, the French attack reached Carlepont and Noyon, before being contained on 18 September. The German armies attacked from Verdun westwards to Rheims and the Aisne at the Battle of Flirey (19 September – 11 October), cut the main railway from Verdun to Paris and created the St. Mihiel salient, south of the Verdun fortress zone. The main German effort remained on the western flank, which was revealed to the French by intercepted wireless messages. By 28 September, the Aisne front had stabilised and the BEF began to withdraw on the night of 1/2 October, with the first troops arriving in the Abbeville area on 8/9 October. The BEF prepared to commence operations in Flanders and join with the British forces which had been in Belgium since August.
Race to the Sea
From 17 September–17 October the belligerents made reciprocal attempts to turn the northern flank of their opponent. Joffre ordered the French Second Army to move to the north of the French Sixth Army, by moving from eastern France from 2–9 September and Falkenhayn ordered the German 6th Army to move from the German-French border to the northern flank on 17 September. By the next day French attacks north of the Aisne led to Falkenhayn ordering the 6th Army to repulse French forces to secure the flank. When French advanced at the First Battle of Picardy (22–26 September) it met a German attack rather than an open flank and by the end of the Battle of Albert (25–29 September), the Second Army had been reinforced to eight corps but was still opposed by German forces at the Battle of Arras (1–4 October), rather than advancing around the German northern flank. The German 6th Army had also found that on arrival in the north, it was forced to oppose the French attack rather than advance around the flank and that the secondary objective of protecting the northern flank of the German armies in France had become the main task. By 6 October, the French needed British reinforcements to withstand German attacks around Lille. The BEF had begun to move from the Aisne to Flanders on 5 October and reinforcements from England assembled on the left flank of the Tenth Army, which had been formed from the left flank units of the Second Army on 4 October.
The Allies and the Germans attempted to take more ground after the "open" northern flank had disappeared. The Franco-British attacks towards Lille in October at the battles of La Bassée, Messines and Armentières (October–November) were followed up by attempts to advance between the BEF and the Belgian army by a new French Eighth Army. The moves of the 7th and then the 6th Army from Alsace and Lorraine had been intended to secure German lines of communication through Belgium, where the Belgian army had sortied several times, during the period between the Great Retreat and the Battle of the Marne. In August, British marines had landed at Dunkirk. In October a new 4th Army was assembled from the III Reserve Corps, the siege artillery used against Antwerp, and four of the new reserve corps training in Germany. A German offensive began by 21 October but the 4th and 6th armies were only able to take small amounts of ground, at great cost to both sides at the Battle of the Yser (16–31 October) and further south the First Battle of Ypres. Falkenhayn then attempted to achieve a limited goal of capturing Ypres and Mount Kemmel, in the First Battle of Ypres (19 October–22 November).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of the Marne (1914).|
- BBC Battle of the Marne: 6–10 September 1914
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