First World War : The Schlieffen Plan

First World War : The Schlieffen Plan

First World War : The Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen Plan was part of Germany's plan for a two front war with France and Russia. France was to be knocked out of the war quickly by an attack through neutral Belgium. The main French armies were on the Franco-German border, where they would be allowed to advance into Germany, preventing them from interfering in the German attack, which would sweep to the west of Paris, cutting off the French capital.

The plan came close to success in 1914, but it had been diluted before the outbreak of war. The German armys on the French border had been strengthened, reducing the strength of the army involved in the attack through Belgium. The German plan had also failed to account for any British intervention, but the small but professional British army landed in the exact area that the Germans needed to attack through.

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At the start of the 20 th century, Germany had a strategy for fighting a war in Europe. It was called the Schlieffen Plan.

The strategy had originally been developed in the 1890s by Count Alfred von Schlieffen. After Schlieffen’s retirement as Chief of Staff in 1906, it was updated by his successor, Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. The Schlieffen plan was produced to get around the problem of international diplomacy. German politicians expected that, in the event of war, France and Russia would support each other against Germany. That would lead to a war on two fronts, dividing Germany’s military resources.

To avoid that situation, Schlieffen planned to attack France first, while Russia was still mobilizing. Through swift action, the Germans would outflank their enemies through the Low Countries, force France to surrender, and then turn to fight Russia.

Moltke watered down the plan. Since its inception, the Russians had improved militarily, and he did not want to have them invade Germany while he fought France. His adjustment left more German forces in the east.

He also decided to avoid invading the Netherlands, hoping to keep the British out of the war. It meant sending the entire flanking force through Belgium, a greater logistical challenge.

Count Alfred von Schlieffen in 1906.


Primary Sources

(1) Manchester Guardian (22nd October, 1914)

Victory on the Allied left in Northern France and West Flanders is confidently expected by the troops. From many quarters come reports of the high hopes entertained by the armies. Apparently the fighting is going well and the German position becoming increasingly unfavourable. Throughout yesterday the enemy vigorously attacked the Allied front, only to be beaten back after suffering heavy losses. These tactics are one more proof of the pressure under which the Kaiser's armies are giving way.

The generals are evidently doing their utmost to check the Allies, but of a genuine offensive there is no sign. About Nieuport, on the Belgian coast, where the Allied front reaches the sea, the British navy has lent the armies valuable aid. Three heavily armed monitors, bought by the Admiralty from Brazil, for whom they were completing in England when war broke out, steamed in close to the shore, and by shelling the German flank powerfully assisted the Belgian troops.

Machine guns were landed at Nieuport, and by that means also the navy reinforced the defence. The seaward flank is attracting much of the enemy's attention. Yesterday, says the Paris official statement, the battle was violent between La Bassee and the coast, but nowhere did the Germans obtain any success.

Russia is more than holding her own. Petrograd, which has been studiously moderate in its reports about the fighting in Poland, now announces a German retreat from before Warsaw. The enemy are falling back utterly routed. It has been obvious for several days that Germany's first effort to force a way over the Vistula had failed the failure now appears to have been costly.

Russia's claims find unwilling support in the Berlin wireless circular, which has taken to announcing "no result" and "no change" on the Polish front. Germany will find herself faced with disaster if Russia is able to continue her good work and beat General von Hindenburg's main army as she has beaten his advanced troops.

(2) Manchester Guardian (28th October, 1914)

On the sea flank of the Franco-Belgian front Germany strives desperately to break her way through to the cost. Report says the Kaiser has ordered his generals to take Calais no matter what the cost.

Already the cost of the effort has been terrible, and the taking promises to be long deferred. A Paris official statement issued yesterday afternoon said the enemy were held everywhere, while between Ypres and Roulers the Allied troops had made progress. The British are fighting in front of Ypres.

Berlin puts the best possible construction on events but cannot pretend to a victory, and has to content itself with announcing minor advances. Germany's dash for the coast has suffered many delays, and now seems to have failed. How heavy the enemy's losses have been is illustrated by an incident mentioned in a despatch from an "Eye-witness present with General Headquarters."

On Tuesday, October 20, a determined but unsuccessful attack was made on virtually the whole British line, and at one point where one of our brigades made a counter-attack 1,100 Germans were found dead in a trench and 40 prisoners were taken. Everywhere the British troops have fought with the most splendid courage. For five days at Ypres they held in check, although overwhelmingly outnumbered, 250,000 Germans who fought recklessly to break a way through.

Russia expects great things from her campaign in Western Poland, so well begun with the repulse of the Germans from before Warsaw. The enemy's left flank has been pushed back far towards the frontier while their right remains near the Middle Vistula. This position would be difficult for the Army holding it in the best circumstances. It has been made dangerous by Russian enterprise.

A strong cavalry force has pushed rapidly westwards to Lodz, and from there threatens the German rear. About Radom, on their advanced right, the enemy have prepared a defensive line, but they can hardly remain in possession while danger draws near from Lodz. On the Vistula, east of Radom, the Russians have taken 3,000 prisoners, cannon, and machine guns.


Schlieffen Plan

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Schlieffen Plan, battle plan first proposed in 1905 by Alfred, Graf (count) von Schlieffen, chief of the German general staff, that was designed to allow Germany to wage a successful two-front war. The plan was heavily modified by Schlieffen’s successor, Helmuth von Moltke, prior to and during its implementation in World War I. Moltke’s changes, which included a reduction in the size of the attacking army, were blamed for Germany’s failure to win a quick victory.

Schlieffen was an ardent student of military history, and his strategic plan was inspired by the Battle of Cannae (216 bce ), a pivotal engagement during the Second Punic War. At Cannae the Carthaginian general Hannibal defeated a much larger Roman force with a successful double envelopment, turning the Roman army’s flanks and destroying it. Schlieffen was convinced that a modern enemy force could be defeated in the same way, and the execution of a massive flank attack became the main focus of his plan. He proposed in 1905 that Germany’s advantage over France and Russia—its likely opponents in a continental war—was that the two were separated. Germany, therefore, could eliminate one while the other was kept in check. Once one ally was defeated, Germany would be able to combine its forces to defeat the other through massive troop concentration and rapid deployment.

Schlieffen wished to emulate Hannibal by provoking an Entscheidungsschlacht (“decisive battle”), using a massive force, in a single act, to bring a swift and conclusive victory. He decided that France was the enemy to be defeated first, with Russia held off until the French were annihilated. His plan called for four army groups, called the Bataillon Carré, to mass on the extreme German right. That northernmost force would consist of 5 cavalry divisions, 17 infantry corps, 6 Ersatzkorps (replacement corps), and a number of Landwehr (reserve) and Landsturm (men over the age of 45) brigades. Those forces were to wheel south and east after passing through neutral Belgium, turning into the flanks and rear of the hardened French defenses along the German border. After crossing the Somme west of Paris at Abbeville and Chaulnes, the main body of the Bataillon Carré would turn to engage the defenders of the French capital, with the Ersatzkorps lending support. The central group—consisting of six infantry corps, Landwehr brigades, and a cavalry division—was to attack the French at La Feré and Paris, eventually encircling the capital on the north and east. The third group would concentrate on the most-southern right wing, with eight corps, five reserve corps, and Landwehr brigades, with the help of two mobile cavalry divisions. The last group consisted of three cavalry divisions, three infantry corps, two Ersatzkorps, and a reserve corps on the left wing. That last group was to block any French attempt to counterattack, and it could be detached and transported to the extreme right if necessary. The Upper Rhine to the Swiss border and the Lower Alsace were to be defended by Landwehr brigades.

The manpower ratio was 7:1 from right wing to left.That massive force was to break through at the Metz-Diedenhofen area and sweep all French forces before it, swinging like a door that had its hinge in the Alsace region. Schlieffen worked out a detailed timetable that took into account possible French responses to German actions, with particular attention paid to the lightly defended Franco-German border. With that plan, Schlieffen believed, Gemany could defeat France within six weeks, the campaign concluding with a decisive “super Cannae” in the south.

The uniqueness of the Schlieffen Plan was that it ran counter to prevailing German military wisdom, which was principally derived from Carl von Clausewitz’s seminal work On War (1832) and the strategic thought of the elder Helmuth von Moltke. Schlieffen replaced the Clausewitzian concept of Schwerpunkt (“centre of gravity”) in operational command with the idea of continuous forward movement designed to annihilate the enemy. In pursuing that goal of total annihilation, Schlieffen also broke with Moltke, whose strategy sought to neutralize one’s opponent. Schlieffen thus turned a doctrinal debate (as chronicled by military historian Hans Delbruck) toward the strategies of annihilation (Vernichtungsstrategie) and attrition (Ermattungsstrategie).

Strategist and German corps commander Gen. Friedrich Adolf von Bernhardi was strongly critical of Schlieffen, arguing that the need for manpower and the creation of new units would weaken the regular army. He opposed the concept of Volk in Waffen (“a nation in arms”) but was overruled by Prussian Minister of War Julius Verdy du Vernois, who increased the size of the army with universal conscription. That began a political firestorm within the German Confederation, causing later ministers of war to be more cautious about manpower proposals. For its part, the German navy was against the Schlieffen Plan because the bulk of military resources would be directed toward massive land engagements and not the development of more powerful battleships.

Schlieffen insisted on an immediate attack on France in 1905 as a “preventive war,” arguing that Russia had just been defeated by the Japanese and France was involved in a crisis in Morocco. German Emperor William II and his chancellor, Bernhard von Bülow, believed that Great Britain’s alliance with Japan would lead to an encirclement of Germany and were cautious of such an attack. Rebuffed, Schlieffen responded with belligerence, and he was dismissed. Schlieffen later rewrote his plan, including an offensive against the neutral Dutch and restructuring the ratio of artillery and infantry. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Schlieffen’s plan would be altered by Moltke, but it would never be fully implemented as he envisioned.

With Germany’s defeat in 1918, the German military blamed the Schlieffen Plan as flawed and the cause of their defeat. The victorious Allies looked upon the Schlieffen Plan as the source of German aggression against neutral countries, and it became the basis of war guilt and reparations. Both the original Schlieffen Plan and Moltke’s rewrite were locked at the Reichsarchiv at Potsdam, and access to the documents was strictly limited. They were destroyed on April 14, 1945, during a British bomber attack, and only studies of the two plans survived. Gerhard Ritter, a prominent German historian, published those studies in 1956 and concluded that the Schlieffen Plan was German doctrine prior to World War I. Further summaries have been discovered over subsequent decades, opening new debates about Schlieffen’s true intentions and the implementation of his plan.


Who's Who - Alfred von Schlieffen

Alfred von Schlieffen (1833-1913) was the German Field Marshal who, as chief of the general staff from 1891-1905, was responsible for devising the Schlieffen Plan, upon which German strategy at the outbreak of the war was unsuccessfully based. Debate continues today as to whether the plan itself was flawed, or whether its execution was flawed.

Schlieffen, born on 28 February 1833, was the son of a Prussian general, and entered the army himself in 1854. Quickly moving to the general staff he participated in the Seven Weeks War against Austria in 1866 and in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

In 1884 Schlieffen became head of the military history section of the general staff, replacing Alfred, Graf von Waldersee as chief of the Great General Staff in 1891.

The Schlieffen Plan provided for a war on two front, West and East, by first quickly defeating France through a concentration of troops on the Western Front, which by moving rapidly through Belgium and Holland would defeat France in a flanking movement (overwhelmingly so on its right). Meanwhile a smaller army would hold off Russia in the east.

The plan disregarded Belgian and Dutch neutrality and required boldness in its execution. Once war actually broke out the plan was initiated in a modified form, but a number of factors led to its failure, including German lack of mobility, increased Russian numbers, effective French resistance - and the reluctance of Schlieffen's successor, Helmuth von Moltke, to weaken his Eastern Front.

During World War Two a variation of the Schlieffen Plan was again employed by Germany which, in the absence of Russian opposition, proved successful.

Alfred von Schlieffen died on 4 January 1913 in Berlin.

"When you march into France, let the last man on the right brush the Channel with his sleeve"

- Referring to the Schlieffen Plan

Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy

A "blimp" was a word applied to an observation balloon.

- Did you know?


Revolutionsarethelocomotivesofhistory

Every country will have plans of how to conduct a future war. One of the most infamous was Germany’s Schlieffen Plan. This was developed by Count von Schlieffen in 1905. It took account of its rivals and possible enemies in Europe. Germany did not want to fight a future war on two fronts. Therefore it attempted to defeat France, which it considered its bigger rival, before it took on Russia. It believed that it would take six weeks to get the Russian army ready, owing to the huge size of the country and the poor railway network. The main points of the plan were:

– To destroy the French Army in six weeks.

– To surround Paris within this time period so that the French government surrenders.

– To attack through Belgium so that the German Army achieved surprise, (the French Army gave lesser importance to defending its border with Belgium).

It is important to note that the plan required both speed and surprise. Any delays may lead to the failure of the plan.

Why did the Schlieffen Plan fail?

– The Russian railways had improved because of their failure in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. The Tsar decided that Russian ambitions in Asia should be halted and he should focus on the west. As a result, the Russian armies were ready for war in under four weeks rather than six.

– Von Schlieffen was not in charge when the war began. His successor, von Moltke, altered the plans.

– The plan expected Germany to fight Belgium and France in the west. It did not expect to take on Britain too. This involvement slowed down the German advance.

– The Belgian Army fought harder than expected. The Schlieffen Plan had expected a quick surrender by France.

One of the key British historians, Max Hastings, argues that the Schlieffen Plan was never going to work. He argues that the weapons had improved but not the infrastructure to move them long distances. He also criticised the plan because it did not take into account the size of the armies. The French Army was much larger in 1914 than 1905 so could afford to take more casualties before surrendering. This would delay the Schlieffen Plan and lead to its failure.

So the plan failed and Europe now faced stalemate no side knew how to defeat the other quickly. One can argue that once the Schlieffen Plan failed, Germany was likely to lose. However, this is too simple. The war continued for four years and Germany nearly won on several occasions. The plan was ambitious, perhaps too much. However, Germany had defeated France in 1871 in only five weeks so why should 1914 be any different.

How did the railway timetable affect the start of the war?


Contents

Kabinettskrieg Edit

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, European aggression had turned outwards and the fewer wars fought within the continent had been Kabinettskriege, local conflicts decided by professional armies loyal to dynastic rulers. Military strategists had adapted by creating plans to suit the characteristics of the post-Napoleonic scene. In the late nineteenth century, military thinking remained dominated by the German Wars of Unification (1864–1871), which had been short and decided by great battles of annihilation. In Vom Kriege (On War, 1832) Carl von Clausewitz (1 June 1780 – 16 November 1831) had defined decisive battle as a victory which had political results

. the object is to overthrow the enemy, to render him politically helpless or militarily impotent, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we please.

Niederwerfungsstrategie, (prostration strategy, later termed Vernichtungsstrategie (destruction strategy) a policy of seeking decisive victory) replaced the slow, cautious approach to war that had been overturned by Napoleon. German strategists judged the defeat of the Austrians in the Austro-Prussian War (14 June – 23 August 1866) and the French imperial armies in 1870, as evidence that a strategy of decisive victory could still succeed. [1]

Franco-Prussian War Edit

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (26 October 1800 – 24 April 1891), led the armies of the North German Confederation that achieved a speedy and decisive victory against the armies of the Second French Empire (1852–1870) of Napoleon III (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873). On 4 September, after the Battle of Sedan (1 September 1870), there had been a republican coup d'état and the installation of a Government of National Defence (4 September 1870 – 13 February 1871), that declared guerre à outrance (war to the uttermost). [2] From September 1870 – May 1871, the French confronted Moltke (the Elder) with new, improvised armies and destroyed bridges, railways, telegraphs and other infrastructure food, livestock and other material was evacuated to prevent it falling into German hands. A levée en masse was promulgated on 2 November and by February 1871, the republican army had increased to 950,200 men. Despite inexperience, lack of training and a shortage of officers and artillery, the size of the new armies forced Moltke (the Elder) to divert large forces to confront them, while still besieging Paris, isolating French garrisons in the rear and guarding lines of communication from francs-tireurs (irregular military forces). [2]

Volkskrieg Edit

The Germans had defeated the forces of the Second Empire by superior numbers and then found the tables turned only their superior training and organisation had enabled them to capture Paris and dictate peace terms. [2] Attacks by francs-tireurs forced the diversion of 110,000 men to guard railways and bridges, which put great strain on Prussian manpower resources. Moltke (the Elder) wrote later,

The days are gone by when, for dynastical ends, small armies of professional soldiers went to war to conquer a city, or a province, and then sought winter quarters or made peace. The wars of the present day call whole nations to arms. The entire financial resources of the State are appropriated to military purposes.

He had already written, in 1867, that French patriotism would lead them to make a supreme effort and use all the national resources. The quick victories of 1870 led Moltke (the Elder) to hope that he had been mistaken but by December, he planned an Exterminationskrieg against the French population, by taking the war into the south, once the size of the Prussian army had been increased by another 100 battalions of reservists. Moltke intended to destroy or capture the remaining resources which the French possessed, against the protests of the German civilian authorities, who after the fall of Paris, negotiated a quick end to the war. [4]

Colmar von der Goltz (12 August 1843 – 19 April 1916) and other military thinkers, like Fritz Hoenig in Der Volkskrieg an der Loire im Herbst 1870 (The People's War in the Loire Valley in Autumn 1870, 1893–1899) and Georg von Widdern in Der Kleine Krieg und der Etappendienst (Petty Warfare and the Supply Service, 1892–1907), called the short-war belief of mainstream writers like Friedrich von Bernhardi (22 November 1849 – 11 December 1930) and Hugo von Freytag-Loringhoven (20 May 1855 – 19 October 1924) an illusion. They saw the longer war against the improvised armies of the French republic, the indecisive battles of the winter of 1870–1871 and the Kleinkrieg against francs-tireurs on the lines of communication, as better examples of the nature of modern war. Hoenig and Widdern conflated the old sense of Volkskrieg as a partisan war, with a newer sense of a war between industrialised states, fought by nations-in-arms and tended to explain French success by reference to German failings, implying that fundamental reforms were unnecessary. [5]

In Léon Gambetta und die Loirearmee (Leon Gambetta and the Army of the Loire, 1874) and Leon Gambetta und seine Armeen (Leon Gambetta and his Armies, 1877), Goltz wrote that Germany must adopt ideas used by Gambetta, by improving the training of Reserve and Landwehr officers, to increase the effectiveness of the Etappendienst (supply service troops). Goltz advocated the conscription of every able-bodied man and a reduction of the period of service to two years (a proposal that got him sacked from the Great General Staff but was then introduced in 1893) in a nation-in-arms. The mass army would be able to compete with armies raised on the model of the improvised French armies and be controlled from above, to avoid the emergence of a radical and democratic people's army. Goltz maintained the theme in other publications up to 1914, notably in Das Volk in Waffen (The People in Arms, 1883) and used his position as a corps commander from 1902 to 1907 to implement his ideas, particularly in improving the training of Reserve officers and creating a unified youth organisation, the Jungdeutschlandbund (Young German League) to prepare teenagers for military service. [6]

Ermattungsstrategie Edit

The Strategiestreit (strategy debate) was a public and sometimes acrimonious argument after Hans Delbrück (11 November 1848 – 14 July 1929), challenged the orthodox army view and its critics. Delbrück was editor of the Preußische Jahrbücher (Prussian Annals), author of Die Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte (The History of the Art of War within the Framework of Political History four volumes 1900–1920) and professor of modern history at the Humboldt University of Berlin from 1895. General Staff historians and commentators like Friedrich von Bernhardi, Rudolph von Caemmerer, Max Jähns and Reinhold Koser, believed that Delbrück was challenging the strategic wisdom of the army. [7] Delbrück had introduced Quellenkritik/Sachkritik (source criticism) developed by Leopold von Ranke, into the study of military history and attempted a reinterpretation of Vom Kriege (On War). Delbrück wrote that Clausewitz had intended to divide strategy into Vernichtungsstrategie (strategy of destruction) or Ermattungsstrategie (strategy of exhaustion) but had died in 1830 before he could revise the book. [8]

Delbrück wrote that Frederick the Great had used Ermattungsstrategie during the Seven Years' War (1754/56–1763) because eighteenth century armies were small and made up of professionals and pressed men. The professionals were hard to replace and the conscripts would run away if the army tried to live off the land, operate in close country or pursue a defeated enemy, in the manner of the later armies of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Dynastic armies were tied to magazines for supply, which made them incapable of fulfilling a strategy of annihilation. [7] Delbrück analysed the European alliance system that had developed since the 1890s, the Boer War (11 October 1899 – 31 May 1902) and the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904 – 5 September 1905) and concluded that the rival forces were too well-balanced for a quick war. The growth in the size of armies made a swift victory unlikely and British intervention would add a naval blockade to the rigours of an indecisive land war. Germany would face a war of attrition, similar to the view Delbrück had formed of the Seven Years' War. By the 1890s, the Strategiestreit had entered public discourse, when soldiers like the two Moltkes, also doubted the possibility of a quick victory in a European war. The German army was forced to examine its assumptions about war because of this dissenting view and some writers moved closer to Delbrück's position. The debate provided the German army with a fairly familiar alternative to Vernichtungsstrategie, after the opening campaigns of 1914. [9]

Moltke (the Elder) Edit

Deployment plans, 1871–1872 to 1890–1891 Edit

Assuming French hostility and a desire to recover Alsace-Lorraine, Moltke (the Elder) drew up a deployment plan for 1871–1872, expecting that another rapid victory could be achieved but the French introduced conscription in 1872. By 1873, Moltke thought that the French army was too powerful to be defeated quickly and in 1875, Moltke considered a preventive war but did not expect an easy victory. The course of the second period of the Franco-Prussian War and the example of the Wars of Unification had prompted Austria to begin conscription in 1868 and Russia in 1874. Moltke assumed that in another war, Germany would have to fight a coalition of France and Austria or France and Russia. Even if one opponent was quickly defeated, the victory could not be exploited before the Germans would have to redeploy their armies against the second enemy. By 1877, Moltke was writing war plans with provision for an incomplete victory, in which diplomats negotiated a peace, even if it meant a return to the Status quo ante bellum and in 1879, the deployment plan reflected pessimism over the possibility of a Franco-Russian alliance and progress made by the French fortification programme. [10]

Despite international developments and his doubts about Vernichtungsstrategie, Moltke retained the traditional commitment to Bewegungskrieg (war of manoeuvre) and an army trained to fight ever bigger battles. A decisive victory might no longer be possible but success would make a diplomatic settlement easier. Growth in the size and power of rival European armies increased the pessimism with which Moltke contemplated another war and on 14 May 1890 he gave a speech to the Reichstag, saying that the age of Volkskrieg had returned. According to Ritter (1969) the contingency plans from 1872 to 1890 were his attempts to resolve the problems caused by international developments, by adopting a strategy of the defensive, after an opening tactical offensive, to weaken the opponent, a change from Vernichtungsstrategie to Ermatttungsstrategie. Förster (1987) wrote that Moltke wanted to deter war altogether and that his calls for a preventive war diminished, peace would be preserved by the maintenance of a powerful German army instead. In 2005, Foley wrote that Förster had exaggerated and that Moltke still believed that success in war was possible, even if incomplete and that it would make peace easier to negotiate. The possibility that a defeated enemy would not negotiate, was something that Moltke (the Elder) did not address. [11]

Schlieffen Edit

In February 1891, Schlieffen was appointed to the post of Chief of the Großer Generalstab (Great General Staff), the professional head of the Kaiserheer (Deutsches Heer [German Army]). The post had lost influence to rival institutions in the German state because of the machinations of Alfred von Waldersee (8 April 1832 – 5 March 1904), who had held the post from 1888 to 1891 and had tried to use his position as a political stepping stone. [12] [a] Schlieffen was seen as a safe choice, being junior, anonymous outside the General Staff and with few interests outside the army. Other governing institutions gained power at the expense of the General Staff and Schlieffen had no following in the army or state. The fragmented and antagonistic character of German state institutions made the development of a grand strategy most difficult, because no institutional body co-ordinated foreign, domestic and war policies. The General Staff planned in a political vacuum and Schlieffen's weak position was exacerbated by his narrow military view. [13]

In the army, organisation and theory had no obvious link with war planning and institutional responsibilities overlapped. The General Staff devised deployment plans and its chief became de facto Commander-in-Chief in war but in peace, command was vested in the commanders of the twenty army corps districts. The corps district commanders were independent of the General Staff Chief and trained soldiers according to their own devices. The federal system of government in the German empire included ministries of war in the constituent states, which controlled the forming and equipping of units, command and promotions. The system was inherently competitive and became more so after the Waldersee period, with the likelihood of another Volkskrieg, a war of the nation in arms, rather than the few European wars fought by small professional armies after 1815. [14] Schlieffen concentrated on matters he could influence and pressed for increases in the size of the army and the adoption of new weapons. A big army would create more choices about how to fight a war and better weapons would make the army more formidable. Mobile heavy artillery could offset numerical inferiority against a Franco–Russian coalition and smash quickly fortified places. Schlieffen tried to make the army more operationally capable so that it was better than its potential enemies and could achieve a decisive victory. [15]

Schlieffen continued the practice of staff rides (Stabs-Reise) tours of territory where military operations might take place and war games, to teach techniques to command a mass conscript army. The new national armies were so huge that battles would be spread over a much greater space than in the past and Schlieffen expected that army corps would fight Teilschlachten (battle segments) equivalent to the tactical engagements of smaller dynastic armies. Teilschlachten could occur anywhere, as corps and armies closed with the opposing army and became a Gesamtschlacht (complete battle), in which the significance of the battle segments would be determined by the plan of the commander in chief, who would give operational orders to the corps,

The success of battle today depends more on conceptual coherence than on territorial proximity. Thus, one battle might be fought in order to secure victory on another battlefield.

in the former manner to battalions and regiments. War against France (1905), the memorandum later known as the "Schlieffen Plan", was a strategy for a war of extraordinarily big battles, in which corps commanders would be independent in how they fought, provided that it was according to the intent of the commander in chief. The commander led the complete battle, like commanders in the Napoleonic Wars. The war plans of the commander in chief were intended to organise haphazard encounter battles to make "the sum of these battles was more than the sum of the parts". [16]

Deployment plans, 1892–1893 to 1905–1906 Edit

In his war contingency plans from 1892 to 1906, Schlieffen faced the difficulty that the French could not be forced to fight a decisive battle quickly enough for German forces to be transferred to the east against the Russians to fight a war on two fronts, one-front-at-a-time. Driving out the French from their frontier fortifications would be a slow and costly process that Schlieffen preferred to avoid by a flanking movement through Luxembourg and Belgium. In 1893, this was judged impractical because of a lack of manpower and mobile heavy artillery. In 1899, Schlieffen added the manoeuvre to German war plans, as a possibility, if the French pursued a defensive strategy. The German army was more powerful and by 1905, after the Russian defeat in Manchuria, Schlieffen judged the army to be formidable enough to make the northern flanking manoeuvre the basis of a war plan against France alone. [17]

In 1905, Schlieffen wrote that the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904 – 5 September 1905), had shown that the power of Russian army had been overestimated and that it would not recover quickly from the defeat. Schlieffen could contemplate leaving only a small force in the east and in 1905, wrote War against France which was taken up by his successor, Moltke (the Younger) and became the concept of the main German war plan from 1906–1914. The most of the German army would assemble in the west and the main force would be on the right (northern) wing. An offensive in the north through Belgium and the Netherlands would lead to an invasion of France and a decisive victory. Even with the windfall of the Russian defeat in the Far East in 1905 and belief in the superiority of German military thinking, Schlieffen had reservations about the strategy. Research published by Gerhard Ritter (1956, English edition in 1958) showed that the memorandum went through six drafts. Schlieffen considered other possibilities in 1905, using war games to model a Russian invasion of eastern Germany against a smaller German army. [18]

In a staff ride during the summer, Schlieffen tested a hypothetical invasion of France by most of the German army and three possible French responses the French were defeated in each but then Schlieffen proposed a French counter-envelopment of the German right wing by a new army. At the end of the year, Schlieffen played a war game of a two-front war, in which the German army was evenly divided and defended against invasions by the French and Russians, where victory first occurred in the east. Schlieffen was open-minded about a defensive strategy and the political advantages of the Entente being the aggressor, not just the "military technician" portrayed by Ritter. The variety of the 1905 war games show that Schlieffen took account of circumstances if the French attacked Metz and Strasbourg, the decisive battle would be fought in Lorraine. Ritter wrote that invasion was a means to an end not an end in itself, as did Terence Zuber in 1999 and the early 2000s. In the strategic circumstances of 1905, with the Russian army and the Tsarist state in turmoil after the defeat in Manchuria, the French would not risk open warfare the Germans would have to force them out of the border fortress zone. The studies in 1905 demonstrated that this was best achieved by a big flanking manoeuvre through the Netherlands and Belgium. [19]

Schlieffen's thinking was adopted as Aufmarsch I (Deployment [Plan] I) in 1905 (later called Aufmarsch I West) of a Franco-German war, in which Russia was assumed to be neutral and Italy and Austria-Hungary were German allies. "[Schlieffen] did not think that the French would necessarily adopt a defensive strategy" in such a war, even though their troops would be outnumbered but this was their best option and the assumption became the theme of his analysis. In Aufmarsch I, Germany would have to attack to win such a war, which entailed all of the German army being deployed on the German–Belgian border to invade France through the southern Netherlands province of Limburg, Belgium and Luxembourg. The deployment plan assumed that Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops would defend Alsace-Lorraine (Elsaß-Lothringen). [20]

Moltke (the Younger) Edit

Helmuth von Moltke the Younger took over from Schlieffen as Chief of the German General Staff on 1 January 1906, beset with doubts about the possibility of a German victory in a great European war. French knowledge about German intentions might prompt them to retreat to evade an envelopment that could lead to Ermattungskrieg, a war of exhaustion and leave Germany exhausted, even if it did eventually win. A report on hypothetical French ripostes against an invasion, concluded that since the French army was six times larger than in 1870, the survivors from a defeat on the frontier could make counter-outflanking moves from Paris and Lyon, against a pursuit by the German armies. Despite his doubts, Moltke (the Younger) retained the concept of a big enveloping manoeuvre, because of changes in the international balance of power. The Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) weakened the Russian army and the Tsarist state and made an offensive strategy against France more realistic for a time. By 1910, Russian rearmament, army reforms and reorganisation, including the creation of a strategic reserve, made the army more formidable than before 1905. Railway building reduced the time needed for mobilisation and a "war preparation period" was introduced by the Russians, to provide for mobilisation to begin with a secret order, reducing mobilisation time further. [21]

The Russian reforms cut mobilisation time by half compared with 1906 and French loans were spent on railway building German military intelligence thought that a programme due to begin in 1912 would lead to 10,000 km (6,200 mi) of new track by 1922. Modern, mobile artillery, a purge of older, inefficient officers and a revision of the army regulations, had improved the tactical capability of the Russian army and railway building would make it more strategically flexible, by keeping back troops from border districts, to make the army less vulnerable to a surprise-attack, moving men faster and with reinforcements available from the strategic reserve. The new possibilities enabled the Russians to increase the number of deployment plans, further adding to the difficulty of Germany achieving a swift victory in an eastern campaign. The likelihood of a long and indecisive war against Russia, made a quick success against France more important, so as to have the troops available for an eastern deployment. [21]

Moltke (the Younger) made substantial changes to the offensive concept sketched by Schlieffen in the memorandum War against France of 1905–06. The 6th and 7th armies with eight corps were to assemble along the common border, to defend against a French invasion of Alsace-Lorraine. Moltke also altered the course of an advance by the armies on the right (northern) wing, to avoid the Netherlands, retaining the country as a useful route for imports and exports and denying it to the British as a base of operations. Advancing only through Belgium, meant that the German armies would lose the railway lines around Maastricht and have to squeeze the 600,000 men of the 1st and 2nd armies through a gap 19 km (12 mi) wide, which made it vital that the Belgian railways were captured quickly and intact. In 1908, the General Staff devised a plan to take the Fortified Position of Liège and its railway junction by coup de main on the 11th day of mobilisation. Later changes reduced the time allowed to the 5th day, which meant that the attacking forces would need to get moving only hours after the mobilisation order had been given. [22]

Deployment plans, 1906–1907 to 1914–1915 Edit

Extant records of Moltke's thinking up to 1911–1912 are fragmentary and almost wholly lacking to the outbreak of war. In a 1906 staff ride Moltke sent an army through Belgium but concluded that the French would attack through Lorraine, where the decisive battle would be fought before an enveloping move from the north took effect. The right wing armies would counter-attack through Metz, to exploit the opportunity created by the French advancing beyond their frontier fortifications. In 1908, Moltke expected the British to join the French but that neither would violate Belgian neutrality, leading the French to attack towards the Ardennes. Moltke continued to plan to envelop the French near Verdun and the Meuse, rather than an advance towards Paris. In 1909, a new 7th Army with eight divisions was prepared to defend upper Alsace and to co-operate with the 6th Army in Lorraine. A transfer of the 7th Army to the right flank was studied but the prospect of a decisive battle in Lorraine became more attractive. In 1912, Moltke planned for a contingency where the French attacked from Metz to the Vosges and the Germans defended on the left (southern) wing, until all troops not needed on the right (northern) flank could move south-west through Metz against the French flank. German offensive thinking had evolved into a possible attack from the north, one through the centre or an envelopment by both wings. [23]

Aufmarsch I West Edit

Aufmarsch I West anticipated an isolated Franco-German war, in which Germany might be assisted by an Italian attack on the Franco-Italian border and by Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces in Germany. It was assumed that France would be on the defensive because their troops would be (greatly) outnumbered. To win the war, Germany and its allies would have to attack France. After the deployment of the entire German army in the west, they would attack through Belgium and Luxembourg, with virtually all the German force. The Germans would rely on an Austro-Hungarian and Italian contingents, formed around a cadre of German troops, to hold the fortresses along the Franco-German border. Aufmarsch I West became less feasible, as the military power of the Franco-Russian alliance increased and Britain aligned with France, making Italy unwilling to support Germany. Aufmarsch I West was dropped when it became clear that an isolated Franco-German war was impossible and that German allies would not intervene. [24]

Aufmarsch II West Edit

Aufmarsch II West anticipated a war between the Franco-Russian Entente and Germany, with Austria-Hungary supporting Germany and Britain perhaps joining the Entente. Italy was only expected to join Germany if Britain remained neutral. 80 per cent of the German army would operate in the west and 20 per cent in the east. France and Russia were expected to attack simultaneously, because they had the larger force. Germany would execute an "active defence", in at least the first operation/campaign of the war. German forces would mass against the French invasion force and defeat it in a counter-offensive, while conducting a conventional defence against the Russians. Rather than pursue the retreating French armies over the border, 25 per cent of the German force in the west ( 20 per cent of the German army) would be transferred to the east, for a counter-offensive against the Russian army. Aufmarsch II West became the main German deployment plan, as the French and Russians expanded their armies and the German strategic situation deteriorated, Germany and Austria-Hungary being unable to increase their military spending to match their rivals. [25]

Aufmarsch I Ost Edit

Aufmarsch I Ost was for a war between the Franco-Russian Entente and Germany, with Austria-Hungary supporting Germany and Britain perhaps joining the Entente. Italy was only expected to join Germany if Britain remained neutral 60 per cent of the German army would deploy in the west and 40 per cent in the east. France and Russia would attack simultaneously, because they had the larger force and Germany would execute an "active defence", in at least the first operation/campaign of the war. German forces would mass against the Russian invasion force and defeat it in a counter-offensive, while conducting a conventional defence against the French. Rather than pursue the Russians over the border, 50 per cent of the German force in the east (about 20 per cent of the German army) would be transferred to the west, for a counter-offensive against the French. Aufmarsch I Ost became a secondary deployment plan, as it was feared a French invasion force could be too well established to be driven from Germany or at least inflict greater losses on the Germans, if not defeated sooner. The counter-offensive against France was also seen as the more important operation, since the French were less able to replace losses than Russia and it would result in a greater number of prisoners being taken. [24]

Aufmarsch II Ost Edit

Aufmarsch II Ost was for the contingency of an isolated Russo-German war, in which Austria-Hungary might support Germany. The plan assumed that France would be neutral at first and possibly attack Germany later. If France helped Russia then Britain might join in and if it did, Italy was expected to remain neutral. About 60 per cent of the German army would operate in the west and 40 per cent in the east. Russia would begin an offensive because of its larger army and in anticipation of French involvement but if not, the German army would attack. After the Russian army had been defeated, the German army in the east would pursue the remnants. The German army in the west would stay on the defensive, perhaps conducting a counter-offensive but without reinforcements from the east. [26] Aufmarsch II Ost became a secondary deployment plan when the international situation made an isolated Russo-German war impossible. Aufmarsch II Ost had the same flaw as Aufmarsch I Ost, in that it was feared that a French offensive would be harder to defeat, if not countered with greater force, either slower as in Aufmarsch I Ost or with greater force and quicker, as in Aufmarsch II West. [27]

Plan XVII Edit

After amending Plan XVI in September 1911, Joffre and the staff took eighteen months to revise the French concentration plan, the concept of which was accepted on 18 April 1913. Copies of Plan XVII were issued to army commanders on 7 February 1914 and the final draft was ready on 1 May. The document was not a campaign plan but it contained a statement that the Germans were expected to concentrate the bulk of their army on the Franco-German border and might cross before French operations could begin. The instruction of the Commander in Chief was that

Whatever the circumstances, it is the Commander in Chief's intention to advance with all forces united to the attack of the German armies. The action of the French armies will be developed in two main operations: one, on the right in the country between the wooded district of the Vosges and the Moselle below Toul the other, on the left, north of a line Verdun–Metz. The two operations will be closely connected by forces operating on the Hauts de Meuse and in the Woëvre.

and that to achieve this, the French armies were to concentrate, ready to attack either side of Metz–Thionville or north into Belgium, in the direction of Arlon and Neufchâteau. [29] An alternative concentration area for the Fourth and Fifth armies was specified, in case the Germans advanced through Luxembourg and Belgium but an enveloping attack west of the Meuse was not anticipated. The gap between the Fifth Army and the North Sea was covered by Territorial units and obsolete fortresses. [30]

Battle of the Frontiers Edit

Battle of the Frontiers,
August 1914
[31]
Battle Date
Battle of Mulhouse 7–10 August
Battle of Lorraine 14–25 August
Battle of the Ardennes 21–23 August
Battle of Charleroi 21–23 August
Battle of Mons 23–24 August

When Germany declared war, France implemented Plan XVII with five attacks, later named the Battle of the Frontiers. The German deployment plan, Aufmarsch II, concentrated German forces (less 20 per cent to defend Prussia and the German coast) on the German–Belgian border. The German force was to advance into Belgium, to force a decisive battle with the French army, north of the fortifications on the Franco-German border. [32] Plan XVII was an offensive into Alsace-Lorraine and southern Belgium. The French attack into Alsace-Lorraine resulted in worse losses than anticipated, because artillery–infantry co-operation that French military theory required, despite its embrace of the "spirit of the offensive", proved to be inadequate. The attacks of the French forces in southern Belgium and Luxembourg were conducted with negligible reconnaissance or artillery support and were bloodily repulsed, without preventing the westward manoeuvre of the northern German armies. [33]

Within a few days, the French had suffered costly defeats and the survivors were back where they began. [34] The Germans advanced through Belgium and northern France, pursuing the Belgian, British and French armies. The German armies attacking in the north reached an area 30 km (19 mi) north-east of Paris but failed to trap the Allied armies and force on them a decisive battle. The German advance outran its supplies Joffre used French railways to move the retreating armies, re-group behind the river Marne and the Paris fortified zone, faster than the Germans could pursue. The French defeated the faltering German advance with a counter-offensive at the First Battle of the Marne, assisted by the British. [35] Moltke (the Younger) had tried to apply the offensive strategy of Aufmarsch I (a plan for an isolated Franco-German war, with all German forces deployed against France) to the inadequate western deployment of Aufmarsch II (only 80 per cent of the army assembled in the west) to counter Plan XVII. In 2014, Terence Holmes wrote,

Moltke followed the trajectory of the Schlieffen plan, but only up to the point where it was painfully obvious that he would have needed the army of the Schlieffen plan to proceed any further along these lines. Lacking the strength and support to advance across the lower Seine, his right wing became a positive liability, caught in an exposed position to the east of fortress Paris. [36]

Interwar Edit

Der Weltkrieg Edit

Work began on Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918: Militärischen Operationen zu Lande (The World War [from] 1914 to 1918: Military Operations on Land) in 1919 in the Kriegsgeschichte der Großen Generalstabes (War History Section) of the Great General Staff. When the Staff was abolished by the Treaty of Versailles, about eighty historians were transferred to the new Reichsarchiv in Potsdam. As President of the Reichsarchiv, General Hans von Haeften led the project and it overseen from 1920 by a civilian historical commission. Theodor Jochim, the first head of the Reichsarchiv section for collecting documents, wrote that

. the events of the war, strategy and tactics can only be considered from a neutral, purely objective perspective which weighs things dispassionately and is independent of any ideology.

The Reichsarchiv historians produced Der Weltkrieg, a narrative history (also known as the Weltkriegwerk) in fourteen volumes published from 1925 to 1944, which became the only source written with free access to the German documentary records of the war. [38]

From 1920, semi-official histories had been written by Hermann von Kuhl, the 1st Army Chief of Staff in 1914, Der Deutsche Generalstab in Vorbereitung und Durchführung des Weltkrieges (The German General Staff in the Preparation and Conduct of the World War, 1920) and Der Marnefeldzug (The Marne Campaign) in 1921, by Lieutenant-Colonel Wolfgang Förster, the author of Graf Schlieffen und der Weltkrieg (Count Schlieffen and the World War, 1925), Wilhelm Groener, head of Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, the wartime German General Staff) railway section in 1914, published Das Testament des Grafen Schlieffen: Operativ Studien über den Weltkrieg (The Testament of Count Schlieffen: Operational Studies of the World War) in 1929 and Gerhard Tappen, head of the OHL operations section in 1914, published Bis zur Marne 1914: Beiträge zur Beurteilung der Kriegführen bis zum Abschluss der Marne-Schlacht (Until the Marne 1914: Contributions to the Assessment of the Conduct of the War up to the Conclusion of the Battle of the Marne) in 1920. [39] The writers called the Schlieffen Memorandum of 1905–06 an infallible blueprint and that all Moltke (the Younger) had to do to almost guarantee that the war in the west would be won in August 1914, was implement it. The writers blamed Moltke for altering the plan to increase the force of the left wing at the expense of the right, which caused the failure to defeat decisively the French armies. [40] By 1945, the official historians had also published two series of popular histories but in April, the Reichskriegsschule building in Potsdam was bombed and nearly all of the war diaries, orders, plans, maps, situation reports and telegrams usually available to historians studying the wars of bureaucratic states, were destroyed. [41]

Hans Delbrück Edit

In his post-war writing, Delbrück held that the German General Staff had used the wrong war plan, rather than failed adequately to follow the right one. The Germans should have defended in the west and attacked in the east, following the plans drawn up by Moltke (the Elder) in the 1870s and 1880s. Belgian neutrality need not have been breached and a negotiated peace could have been achieved, since a decisive victory in the west was impossible and not worth the attempt. Like the Strategiestreit before the war, this led to a long exchange between Delbrück and the official and semi-official historians of the former Great General Staff, who held that an offensive strategy in the east would have resulted in another 1812. The war could only have been won against Germany's most powerful enemies, France and Britain. The debate between the Delbrück and Schlieffen "schools" rumbled on through the 1920s and 1930s. [42]

1940s – 1990s Edit

Gerhard Ritter Edit

In Sword and the Sceptre The Problem of Militarism in Germany (1969), Gerhard Ritter wrote that Moltke (the Elder) changed his thinking, to accommodate the change in warfare evident since 1871, by fighting the next war on the defensive in general,

All that was left to Germany was the strategic defensive, a defensive, however, that would resemble that of Frederick the Great in the Seven Years' War. It would have to be coupled with a tactical offensive of the greatest possible impact until the enemy was paralysed and exhausted to the point where diplomacy would have a chance to bring about a satisfactory settlement.

Moltke tried to resolve the strategic conundrum of a need for quick victory and pessimism about a German victory in a Volkskrieg by resorting to Ermatttungsstrategie, beginning with an offensive intended to weaken the opponent, eventually to bring an exhausted enemy to diplomacy, to end the war on terms with some advantage for Germany, rather than to achieve a decisive victory by an offensive strategy. [44] In The Schlieffen Plan (1956, trans. 1958), Ritter published the Schlieffen Memorandum and described the six drafts that were necessary before Schlieffen was satisfied with it, demonstrating his difficulty of finding a way to win the anticipated war on two fronts and that until late in the process, Schlieffen had doubts about how to deploy the armies. The enveloping move of the armies was a means to an end, the destruction of the French armies and that the plan should be seen in the context of the military realities of the time. [45]

Martin van Creveld Edit

In 1980, Martin van Creveld concluded that a study of the practical aspects of the Schlieffen Plan was difficult, because of a lack of information. The consumption of food and ammunition at times and places are unknown, as are the quantity and loading of trains moving through Belgium, the state of repair of railway stations and data about the supplies which reached the front-line troops. Creveld thought that Schlieffen had paid little attention to supply matters, understanding the difficulties but trusting to luck, rather than concluding that such an operation was impractical. Schlieffen was able to predict the railway demolitions carried out in Belgium, naming some of the ones that caused the worst delays in 1914. The assumption made by Schlieffen that the armies could live off the land was vindicated. Under Moltke (the Younger) much was done to remedy the supply deficiencies in German war planning, studies being written and training being conducted in the unfashionable "technics" of warfare. Moltke (the Younger) introduced motorised transport companies, which were invaluable in the 1914 campaign in supply matters, the changes made by Moltke to the concepts established by Schlieffen were for the better. [46]

Creveld wrote that the German invasion in 1914 succeeded beyond the inherent difficulties of an invasion attempt from the north peacetime assumptions about the distance infantry armies could march were confounded. The land was fertile, there was much food to be harvested and though the destruction of railways was worse than expected, this was far less marked in the areas of the 1st and 2nd armies. Although the amount of supplies carried forward by rail cannot be quantified, enough got to the front line to feed the armies. Even when three armies had to share one line, the six trains a day each needed to meet their minimum requirements arrived. The most difficult problem was to advance railheads quickly enough to stay close enough to the armies. By the time of the Battle of the Marne, all but one German army had advanced too far from its railheads. Had the battle been won, only in the 1st Army area could the railways have been swiftly repaired the armies further east could not have been supplied. [47]

German army transport was reorganised in 1908 but in 1914, the transport units operating in the areas behind the front line supply columns failed, having been disorganised from the start by Moltke crowding more than one corps per road, a problem that was never remedied but Creveld wrote that even so, the speed of the marching infantry would still have outstripped horse-drawn supply vehicles, if there had been more road-space only motor transport units kept the advance going. Creveld concluded that despite shortages and "hungry days", the supply failures did not cause the German defeat on the Marne, Food was requisitioned, horses worked to death and sufficient ammunition was brought forward in sufficient quantities so that no unit lost an engagement through lack of supplies. Creveld also wrote that had the French been defeated on the Marne, the lagging behind of railheads, lack of fodder and sheer exhaustion, would have prevented much of a pursuit. Schlieffen had behaved "like an ostrich" on supply matters which were obvious problems and although Moltke remedied many deficiencies of the Etappendienst (the German army supply system), only improvisation got the Germans as far as the Marne Creveld wrote that it was a considerable achievement in itself. [48]

John Keegan Edit

In 1998, John Keegan wrote that Schlieffen had desired to repeat the frontier victories of the Franco-Prussian War in the interior of France but that fortress-building since that war had made France harder to attack a diversion through Belgium remained feasible but this "lengthened and narrowed the front of advance". A corps took up 29 km (18 mi) of road and 32 km (20 mi) was the limit of a day's march the end of a column would still be near the beginning of the march, when the head of the column arrived at the destination. More roads meant smaller columns but parallel roads were only about 1–2 km (0.62–1.24 mi) apart and with thirty corps advancing on a 300 km (190 mi) front, each corps would have about 10 km (6.2 mi) width, which might contain seven roads. This number of roads was not enough for the ends of marching columns to reach the heads by the end of the day this physical limit meant that it would be pointless to add troops to the right wing. [49]

Schlieffen was realistic and the plan reflected mathematical and geographical reality expecting the French to refrain from advancing from the frontier and the German armies to fight great battles in the hinterland was found to be wishful thinking. Schlieffen pored over maps of Flanders and northern France, to find a route by which the right wing of the German armies could move swiftly enough to arrive within six weeks, after which the Russians would have overrun the small force guarding the eastern approaches of Berlin. [49] Schlieffen wrote that commanders must hurry on their men, allowing nothing to stop the advance and not detach forces to guard by-passed fortresses or the lines of communication, yet they were to guard railways, occupy cities and prepare for contingencies, like British involvement or French counter-attacks. If the French retreated into the "great fortress" into which France had been made, back to the Oise, Aisne, Marne or Seine, the war could be endless. [50]

Schlieffen also advocated an army (to advance with or behind the right wing), bigger by 25 per cent, using untrained and over-age reservists. The extra corps would move by rail to the right wing but this was limited by railway capacity and rail transport would only go as far the German frontiers with France and Belgium, after which the troops would have to advance on foot. The extra corps appeared at Paris, having moved further and faster than the existing corps, along roads already full of troops. Keegan wrote that this resembled a plan falling apart, having run into a logical dead end. Railways would bring the armies to the right flank, the Franco-Belgian road network would be sufficient for them to reach Paris in the sixth week but in too few numbers to defeat decisively the French. Another 200,000 men would be necessary for which there was no room Schlieffen's plan for a quick victory was fundamentally flawed. [50]

1990s–present Edit

German reunification Edit

In the 1990s, after the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic, it was discovered that some Great General Staff records had survived the Potsdam bombing in 1945 and been confiscated by the Soviet authorities. About 3,000 files and 50 boxes of documents were handed over to the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives) containing the working notes of Reichsarchiv historians, business documents, research notes, studies, field reports, draft manuscripts, galley proofs, copies of documents, newspaper clippings and other papers. The trove shows that Der Weltkrieg is a "generally accurate, academically rigorous and straightforward account of military operations", when compared to other contemporary official accounts. [41] Six volumes cover the first 151 days of the war in 3,255 pages (40 per cent of the series). The first volumes attempted to explain why the German war plans failed and who was to blame. [51]

In 2002, RH 61/v.96, a summary of German war planning from 1893 to 1914 was discovered in records written from the late 1930s to the early 1940s. The summary was for a revised edition of the volumes of Der Weltkrieg on the Marne campaign and was made available to the public. [52] Study of pre-war German General Staff war planning and the other records, made an outline of German war-planning possible for the first time, proving many guesses wrong. [53] An inference that all of Schlieffen's war-planning was offensive, came from the extrapolation of his writings and speeches on tactical matters to the realm of strategy. [54] In 2014, Terence Holmes wrote

There is no evidence here [in Schlieffen's thoughts on the 1901 Generalstabsreise Ost (eastern war game)]—or anywhere else, come to that—of a Schlieffen credo dictating a strategic attack through Belgium in the case of a two-front war. That may seem a rather bold statement, as Schlieffen is positively renowned for his will to take the offensive. The idea of attacking the enemy’s flank and rear is a constant refrain in his military writings. But we should be aware that he very often speaks of an attack when he means counter-attack. Discussing the proper German response to a French offensive between Metz and Strasbourg [as in the later 1913 French deployment-scheme Plan XVII and actual Battle of the Frontiers in 1914], he insists that the invading army must not be driven back to its border position, but annihilated on German territory, and "that is possible only by means of an attack on the enemy’s flank and rear". Whenever we come across that formula we have to take note of the context, which frequently reveals that Schlieffen is talking about a counter-attack in the framework of a defensive strategy. [55]

and the most significant of these errors was an assumption that a model of a two-front war against France and Russia, was the only German deployment plan. The thought-experiment and the later deployment plan modelled an isolated Franco-German war (albeit with aid from German allies), the 1905 plan was one of three and then four plans available to the Great General Staff. A lesser error was that the plan modelled the decisive defeat of France in one campaign of fewer than forty days and that Moltke (the Younger) foolishly weakened the attack, by being over-cautious and strengthening the defensive forces in Alsace-Lorraine. Aufmarsch I West had the more modest aim of forcing the French to choose between losing territory or committing the French army to a decisive battle, in which it could be terminally weakened and then finished off later

The plan was predicated on a situation when there would be no enemy in the east [. ] there was no six-week deadline for completing the western offensive: the speed of the Russian advance was irrelevant to a plan devised for a war scenario excluding Russia.

and Moltke (the Younger) made no more alterations to Aufmarsch I West but came to prefer Aufmarsch II West and tried to apply the offensive strategy of the former to the latter. [57]

Robert Foley Edit

In 2005, Robert Foley wrote that Schlieffen and Moltke (the Younger) had recently been severely criticised by Martin Kitchen, who had written that Schlieffen was a narrow-minded technocrat, obsessed with minutiae. Arden Bucholz had called Moltke too untrained and inexperienced to understand war planning, which prevented him from having a defence policy from 1906 to 1911 it was the failings of both men that caused them to keep a strategy that was doomed to fail. Foley wrote that Schlieffen and Moltke (the Younger) had good reason to retain Vernichtungsstrategie as the foundation of their planning, despite their doubts as to its validity. Schlieffen had been convinced that only in a short war was there the possibility of victory and that by making the army operationally superior to its potential enemies, Vernichtungsstrategie could be made to work. The unexpected weakening of the Russian army in 1904–1905 and the exposure of its incapacity to conduct a modern war was expected to continue for a long time and this made a short war possible again. Since the French had a defensive strategy, the Germans would have to take the initiative and invade France, which was shown to be feasible by war games in which French border fortifications were outflanked. [58]

Moltke continued with the offensive plan, after it was seen that the enfeeblement of Russian military power had been for a much shorter period than Schlieffen had expected. The substantial revival in Russian military power that began in 1910 would certainly have matured by 1922, making the Tsarist army unbeatable. The end of the possibility of a short eastern war and the certainty of increasing Russian military power meant that Moltke had to look to the west for a quick victory before Russian mobilisation was complete. Speed meant an offensive strategy and made doubts about the possibility of forcing defeat on the French army irrelevant. The only way to avoid becoming bogged down in the French fortress zones was by a flanking move into terrain where open warfare was possible, where the German army could continue to practice Bewegungskrieg (a war of manoeuvre). Moltke (the Younger) used the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914, as an excuse to attempt Vernichtungsstrategie against France, before Russian rearmament deprived Germany of any hope of victory. [59]

Terence Holmes Edit

In 2013, Holmes published a summary of his thinking about the Schlieffen Plan and the debates about it in Not the Schlieffen Plan. He wrote that people believed that the Schlieffen Plan was for a grand offensive against France to gain a decisive victory in six weeks. The Russians would be held back and then defeated with reinforcements rushed by rail from the west. Holmes wrote that no-one had produced a source showing that Schlieffen intended a huge right-wing flanking move into France, in a two-front war. The 1905 Memorandum was for War against France, in which Russia would be unable to participate. Schlieffen had thought about such an attack on two general staff rides (Generalstabsreisen) in 1904, on the staff ride of 1905 and in the deployment plan Aufmarsch West I, for 1905–06 and 1906–07, in which all of the German army fought the French. In none of these plans was a two-front war contemplated the common view that Schlieffen thought that such an offensive would guarantee victory in a two-front war was wrong. In his last exercise critique in December 1905, Schlieffen wrote that the Germans would be so outnumbered against France and Russia, that the Germans must rely on a counter-offensive strategy against both enemies, to eliminate one as quickly as possible. [60]

In 1914, Moltke (the Younger) attacked Belgium and France with 34 corps, rather than the 48 + 1 ⁄ 2 corps specified in the Schlieffen Memorandum, Moltke (the Younger) had insufficient troops to advance around the west side of Paris and six weeks later, the Germans were digging-in on the Aisne. The post-war idea of a six-week timetable, derived from discussions in May 1914, when Moltke had said that he wanted to defeat the French "in six weeks from the start of operations". The deadline did not appear in the Schlieffen Memorandum and Holmes wrote that Schlieffen would have considered six weeks to be far too long to wait in a war against France and Russia. Schlieffen wrote that the Germans must "wait for the enemy to emerge from behind his defensive ramparts" and intended to defeat the French army by a counter-offensive, tested in the general staff ride west of 1901. The Germans concentrated in the west and the main body of the French advanced through Belgium into Germany. The Germans then made a devastating counter-attack on the left bank of the Rhine near the Belgian border. The hypothetical victory was achieved by the 23rd day of mobilisation nine active corps had been rushed to the eastern front by the 33rd day for a counter-attack against the Russian armies. Even in 1905, Schlieffen thought the Russians capable of mobilising in 28 days and that the Germans had only three weeks to defeat the French, which could not be achieved by a promenade through France. [61]

The French were required by the treaty with Russia, to attack Germany as swiftly as possible but could advance into Belgium only after German troops had infringed Belgian sovereignty. Joffre had to devise a plan for an offensive that avoided Belgian territory, which would have been followed in 1914, had the Germans not invaded Belgium first. For this contingency, Joffre planned for three of the five French armies (about 60 per cent of the French first-line troops) to invade Lorraine on 14 August, to reach the river Saar from Sarrebourg to Saarbrücken, flanked by the German fortress zones around Metz and Strasbourg. The Germans would defend against the French, who would be enveloped on three sides then the Germans would attempt an encircling manoeuvre from the fortress zones to annihilate the French force. Joffre understood the risks but would have had no choice, had the Germans used a defensive strategy. Joffre would have had to run the risk of an encirclement battle against the French First, Second and Fourth armies. In 1904, Schlieffen had emphasised that the German fortress zones were not havens but jumping-off points for a surprise counter-offensive. In 1914, it was the French who made a surprise attack from the Région Fortifiée de Paris (Paris fortified zone) against a weakened German army. [62]

Holmes wrote that Schlieffen never intended to invade France through Belgium, in a war against France and Russia,

If we want to visualize Schlieffen's stated principles for the conduct of a two front war coming to fruition under the circumstances of 1914, what we get in the first place is the image of a gigantic Kesselschlacht to pulverise the French army on German soil, the very antithesis of Moltke's disastrous lunge deep into France. That radical break with Schlieffen's strategic thinking ruined the chance of an early victory in the west on which the Germans had pinned all their hopes of prevailing in a two-front war.


What Was the Schlieffen Plan?

The Schlieffen plan was a battle plan that was proposed by Alfred, graf (count) von Schlieffen in 1905, which suggested that Germany could win a quick Franco-German war while fending of Russia. Helmuth von Moltke, Schlieffen’s successor, decided to implement this plan during World War I, but heavily modified it, greatly reducing the size of the army, which finally lead to its ultimate failure. The implementation of the Schlieffen Plan also led Britain to declare war on Germany to help defend France.


Contents

Kabinettskrieg

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, European aggression had turned outwards and the fewer wars fought within the continent had been Kabinettskriege, local conflicts decided by professional armies loyal to dynastic rulers. Military strategists had adapted by creating plans to suit the characteristics of the post-Napoleonic scene. In the late nineteenth century, military thinking remained dominated by the German Wars of Unification (1864–1871), which had been short and decided by great battles of annihilation. In Vom Kriege (On War, 1832) Carl von Clausewitz (1 June 1780 – 16 November 1831) had defined decisive battle as a victory which had political results,

. the object is to overthrow the enemy, to render him politically helpless or militarily impotent, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we please.

and Niederwerfungsstrategie (a strategy of decisive victory, later termed Vernichtungsstrategie) replaced the slow, cautious approach to war, that had been overturned by Napoleon. German strategists judged the defeat of the Austrians in the Austro-Prussian War (14 June – 23 August 1866) and the French imperial armies in 1870, as evidence that a strategy of decisive victory was still possible. [1]

Franco-Prussian War

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (26 October 1800 – 24 April 1891), led the armies of the North German Confederation that achieved the decisive and speedy victory against the armies of the Second French Empire (1852–1870) of Napoleon III (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873). On 4 September, after the Battle of Sedan (1 September 1870), there had been a republican coup d'état and the installation of a Government of National Defence (4 September 1870 – 13 February 1871), that declared guerre à outrance (war to the uttermost). [2] From September 1870 – May 1871, the French confronted Moltke (the Elder) with new, improvised armies, destroyed bridges, railways, telegraphs and other infrastructure food, livestock and other material was evacuated to prevent it falling into German hands. A levee en masse was promulgated on 2 November and by February 1871, the republican army had increased to 950,200 men. Despite inexperience, lack of training and a shortage of officers and artillery, the size of the new armies forced Moltke (the Elder) to divert large forces to confront them, while still besieging Paris, isolating French garrisons in the rear and guarding lines of communication from francs-tireurs (Irregular military forces). [2]

Volkskrieg

The Germans, who had defeated the imperialists by superior numbers, found the tables turned and only their better training and organisation enabled them to capture Paris and dictate peace terms. [2] Attacks by francs-tireurs, forced the diversion of 110,000 men to guard railways and bridges, which put great strain on Prussian manpower resources. Moltke (the Elder) wrote later

The days are gone by when, for dynastical ends, small armies of professional soldiers went to war to conquer a city, or a province, and then sought winter quarters or made peace. The wars of the present day call whole nations to arms. The entire financial resources of the State are appropriated to military purposes.

having already written in 1867, that French patriotism would lead them to make a supreme effort to use all the resources of France. The quick victories of 1870, led Moltke (the Elder) to hope that he had been mistaken but by December Moltke (the Elder) planned an Exterminationskrieg against the French population, by taking the war into the south, after increasing the size of the Prussian army by 100 battalions of reservists. Moltke (the Elder) intended to destroy or capture the remaining resources which the French possessed, against the protests of the German civilian authorities who after the fall of Paris, negotiated a quick end to the war. [4]

Colmar von der Goltz (12 August 1843 – 19 April 1916) and other military thinkers like Fritz Hoenig in Der Volkskrieg an der Loire im Herbst 1870 (1893–1899) and Georg von Widdern in Der Kleine Krieg und der Etappendienst (1892–1907) and reacted against the short-war belief of mainstream writers like Friedrich von Bernhardi (22 November 1849 – 11 December 1930) and Hugo von Freytag-Loringhoven (20 May 1855 – 19 October 1924) as an illusion. They saw the longer war against the improvised armies of the French republic the indecisive battles of the winter of 1870–1871 and the Kleinkrieg against Francs-tireurs on the lines of communication, as a better example of the nature of modern war. Hoenig and Widdern conflated the old sense of Volkskrieg as a partisan war with the newer sense of a war between industrialised states fought by nations-in-arms and tended to explain French success by reference to German failings, implying that fundamental reforms were unnecessary. [5]

In Léon Gambetta und die Loirearmee (1874) and Leon Gambetta und seine Armeen (1877), Goltz wrote that Germany must adopt ideas used by Gambetta, by improving the training of reserve and Landwehr officers to increase the effectiveness of the Etappendienst (supply service troops). He advocated the conscription of every able-bodied man and a reduction of the period of service to two years (a proposal that got him sacked from the Great General Staff and was introduced in 1893), in a nation-in-arms. The mass army would be able to compete with armies raised on the model of the improvised French armies and be controlled from above, so as to avoid the emergence of a radical and democratic people's army. Goltz maintained the theme in other publications up to 1914, notably in Das Volk in Waffen (The People in Arms, 1883) and used his position as a corps commander from 1902–1907 to implement his ideas, particularly in improving the training of reserve officers and creating a unified youth organisation, the Jungdeutschlandbund (Young German League) to prepare teenagers for military service. [6]

Ermattungsstrategie

The Strategiestreit (strategy debate), was a public and sometimes acrimonious debate that began when Hans Delbrück (11 November 1848 – 14 July 1929), editor of the Preußische Jahrbücher, author of Die Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte (The History of the Art of War within the Framework of Political History, four volumes 1900–1920) and professor of modern history in the Humboldt University of Berlin from 1895, challenged the orthodox army view and its critics. General Staff historians and other commentators, like Friedrich von Bernhardi, Rudolph von Caemmerer, Max Jähns and Reinhold Koser believed that Delbrück was challenging the army monopoly on strategic wisdom. [7] Delbrück had introduced Leopold von Ranke’s system of Quellenkritik/Sachkritik (source criticism) into the study of military history and attempted a reinterpretation of Vom Kriege (On War). Delbrück wrote that Clausewitz had intended to divide strategy into Vernichtungsstrategie (strategy of annihilation) or Ermattungsstrategie (strategy of exhaustion) but had died in 1830 before he could revise his book. [8]

Delbrück wrote that Frederick the Great had used Ermattungsstrategie during the Seven Years' War (1754/56–1763) because Eighteenth century armies were small, composed of professionals who were hard to replace and impressed men who would run away if the army tried to live off the land, operate in close country or pursue a defeated enemy, in the manner of the later armies of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Dynastic armies were tied to magazines for supply, which made them incapable of fulfilling a strategy of annihilation. [7] Delbrück's analysis of the alliance system that had developed since the 1890s led him to the believe that the forces were too well-balanced for a quick war and that the growth in the size of armies also made such a victory unlikely. The intervention of Britain would add a naval blockade to the rigours of an indecisive land war and his conclusions were influenced by the examples of the Boer War (11 October 1899 – 31 May 1902) and the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904 – 5 September 1905). Germany would be forced into a war of attrition similar to his view of the Seven Years' War. By the 1890s, the Strategiestreit had entered public discourse, at the time when strategists like the two Moltkes also doubted the possibility of another quick victory in a European war. The German army was forced to examine its assumptions about war, in the face of an opposing view and some writers moved closer to Delbrück's position. The debate provided the German army with a fairly well-understood alternative to Vernichtunsstrategie after the opening campaigns of 1914. [9]

Moltke (the Elder)

Deployment plans, 1871/72–1890/91

Assuming French hostility and a desire to recover Alsace-Lorraine, Moltke (the Elder) drew up a deployment plan for 1872/72 on the expectation that another rapid victory could be achieved but the French introduced conscription in 1872 and by 1873, Moltke thought that the French army was too powerful. In 1875, Moltke considered a preventive war but did not expect another easy victory. The course of the second period of the Franco-Prussian War and the example of the Wars of Unification in general had prompted Austria to begin conscription in 1868 and Russia in 1874 and Moltke assumed that in another war, Germany would have to fight a coalition of France and Austria or France and Russia. Even if one opponent was quickly defeated, it would not be exploited before the Germans had to redeploy their armies to face the second enemy. By 1877, Moltke was writing war plans with provision for an incomplete victory, in which diplomats negotiated a peace even if it meant a return to the Status quo ante bellum and in 1879 the deployment plan reflected pessimism at the possibility of a Franco-Russian alliance and progress made by the French fortification programme. [10]

Despite developments and his doubts about Vernichtunsstrategie, Moltke retained the traditional commitment to Bewegungskrieg (war of movement) and an army trained to fight ever bigger battles. A decisive victory might no longer be possible but success in battle would make a diplomatic settlement easier. Growth in the size and power of rival European armies increased the pessimism with which Moltke contemplated another war and on 14 May 1890 he gave a speech to the Reichstag, saying that the age of Volkskrieg had returned. According to Ritter (1969) the war plans from 1872–1890 were his attempts to resolve the problems caused by international developments by adopting a strategy of the defensive, after an opening tactical offensive to weaken the opponent, a change from Vernichtungsstrategie to Ermattungsstrategie. Förster (1987) wrote that Moltke wanted to deter war altogether and that his calls for a preventive war diminished. Peace would be preserved by the maintenance of a powerful German army instead. In 2005 Foley wrote that Förster had exaggerated and that Moltke still believed that success in war could be gained, even if incomplete and that it would make peace easier to negotiate. The possibility that a defeated enemy would not negotiate was something that Moltke (the Elder) did not address. [11]

Schlieffen

In February 1891, Schlieffen was appointed to the post of Chief of the Großer Generalstab (Great General Staff), the professional head of the Kaiserheer (German Army). The post had lost influence to rival institutions in the German state, because of the machinations of the previous incumbent Alfred von Waldersee (8 April 1832 – 5 March 1904), who had held the post from 1888–1891 and had tried to use his position as a political stepping stone. [12] [lower-alpha 1] Schlieffen was seen as a safe choice, being junior, anonymous outside the General Staff and with few interests outside the army. Other governing institutions gained power at the expense of the General Staff and Schlieffen had no following in the army or state. The fragmented and antagonistic character of German state institutions, made the development of a grand strategy most difficult, because there was no body to co-ordinate foreign, domestic and war policy. The General Staff planned in a political vacuum and Schlieffen's weak position was exacerbated by his narrow military view. [13]

Within the army, organisation and theory had no obvious link with war planning and responsibilities overlapped. The General Staff devised deployment plans and its chief became de facto Commander in Chief if war began but in peace, command was vested in the commanders of the twenty army corps districts. These commanders were independent of the General Staff Chief and trained soldiers according to their own devices. The German system of government was federal and the ministries of war of the constituent states controlled the forming and equipping of units, command and promotions. The system was inherently competitive and became more so after the Waldersee period, when the possibility increased of another Volkskrieg, a war of the nation in arms, rather than the few European wars fought by small professional armies, that had occurred after 1815. [14] Schlieffen concentrated on matters he could influence and pressed for increases in the size of the army and the adoption of new weapons. A big army would create more choices about how to fight a war and better weapons would make the army more formidable. Mobile heavy artillery could help make up for numerical inferiority against a Franco-Russian coalition and smash fortifications. Schlieffen tried to make the army more operationally capable so that it was better than its potential enemies and rapidly could win a decisive victory. [15]

Schlieffen continued the practice of Stabs-Reise (staff rides), tours of places where wars might be fought and war games, to teach the techniques of command of a mass conscript army. The huge size of such armies, spread battle over a much greater space than in the past and Schlieffen expected the army corps to fight Teilschlachten (battle segments), equivalent to the tactical engagements of smaller traditional armies. Such battles would occur distant from each other, as corps and armies closed with the opposing army and become a Gesamtschlacht (complete battle), in which the significance of the battle segments would be determined by the plan of the Commander in Chief. The commander would give operational orders to the corps, which would then play their part in his plan,

The success of battle today depends more on conceptual coherence than on territorial proximity. Thus, one battle might be fought in order to secure victory on another battlefield.

in a manner analogous to those of battalions and regiments of earlier times. War Against France (1905) the memorandum later known as the "Schlieffen Plan" was a strategy for a war of extraordinarily big battles, in which corps commanders would be independent in how they fought, provided that it was according to the intent of the commander in chief. The commander in chief led the complete battle, in the manner of commanders of the Napoleonic Wars. The war plans of the Commander in Chief, were intended to organise haphazard encounter battles, so that "the sum of these battles was more than the sum of the parts". [16]

Deployment plans, 1892/3–1905/6

In his war plans from 1892–1906, Schlieffen faced the difficulty that the French could not be forced to fight a decisive battle quickly enough to enable German forces to be transferred to the east against the Russians, so as to fight a war on two fronts one-front-at-a-time. Forcing the French from their frontier fortifications would be a slow and costly process and Schlieffen preferred to avoid this, by a flanking movement through Luxembourg and Belgium. In 1893, this was judged impractical because of a lack of manpower and mobile heavy artillery. In 1899, Schlieffen added the manoeuvre to German war plans as a possibility, if the French pursued a defensive strategy because the German army was more powerful and by 1905, Schlieffen judged the army to be formidable enough to make the northern flanking manoeuvre the basis of the war plan. [17]

In 1905, Schlieffen wrote that the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904 – 5 September 1905), had shown that the power of Russian army had been overestimated and that it would not recover quickly from the defeat. Schlieffen could contemplate leaving only a small force in the east and in 1905, wrote the memorandum War Against France which was taken up by his successor, Moltke (the Younger) and became the concept of the main German war plan from 1906–1914. The great mass of the German army would assemble in the west and the main force would be on the right wing. An offensive in the north through Belgium and the Netherlands would lead to an invasion of France and a decisive victory. Even with the windfall of the Russian defeat in the Far East and belief in the superiority of German military thinking, Schlieffen had reservations about the strategy and research published by Ritter (1956, English edition in 1958) showed that the memorandum went through six drafts. Schlieffen considered other possibilities in 1905, using war games to model a Russian invasion of east Germany, against a smaller German army. [18] [19]

In a staff ride during the summer, Schlieffen tested a hypothetical invasion of France, with most of the German army and three possible French responses, in which the French were defeated but then Schlieffen proposed a French counter-envelopment of the German right wing by a new army. At the end of the year, Schlieffen war gamed a two-front war, in which the German army was evenly divided and defended against invasions by the French and Russians and where victory first occurred in the east. Schlieffen was open-minded about a defensive strategy and the political advantages of the Entente being the aggressor, not just the "military technician" portrayed by Ritter. The variety of the 1905 war games demonstrate that Schlieffen took account of circumstances if the French attacked Metz and Strasbourg, the decisive battle would be fought in Lorraine. Ritter wrote that invasion was a means to an end not an end in itself, as did Zuber in 1999 and the early 2000s. In the strategic circumstances of 1905, with the Russian army defeated in Manchuria, the French would not risk open warfare and the Germans would have to to force them out of the border fortress zone. The studies in 1905 demonstrated that this was best achieved by a big flanking manoeuvre through the Netherlands and Belgium. [20]

Schlieffen's thinking was adopted as Aufmarsch I (Deployment [Plan] I) in 1905 (later called Aufmarsch I West ) that modelled a Franco-German war, in which Russia was assumed to remain neutral but was expected to include Italy and Austria-Hungary as German allies. "[Schlieffen] did not think that the French would necessarily adopt a defensive strategy" in such a war, even though their troops would be outnumbered but this was their best option and the assumption became the theme of his analysis. In Aufmarsch I , Germany would have to attack to win such a war, which entailed all of the German army being deployed on the German-Belgian border, to invade France through Limburg (the southern province of the Netherlands), Belgium and Luxembourg. The deployment plan assumed that Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops would defend Alsace-Lorraine. [21]


European Civilization, 1648-1945

Chapter 1. Origins of the First World War: The Tangled Web of Alliances and Rivalries [00:00:00]

Professor John Merriman: The second announcement is the movies, the films. I’ve done what I think is the way to do it. They will be available. I think the first one is available now. You can watch it in the privacy of your rooms in whatever college you are. You are to please see them. Paths of Glory goes with next week. That’s the first one. It’s very short and it’s very good. It’s one of the first Kubrick films. It’s about the mutinies. I will talk about the mutinies next week. Please have seen the film by Monday. Can you tell them in section how they do that? I did it, but I’m not sure how I did it. They should be set up. Another thing you can do is you can go down to Film Studies in the Whitney Humanities Center, and you can check out the film and watch it there, or I think you can take it back, also. But you can watch it on your computer screens. Those are the three.

The first one is the first one and then the second one is the second one. Boy, I’m really awake today. The second one isTriumph of the Will, which will go with the fascism lecture. Be sure to have seen it before. The last one is Au revoir les enfants, a Louis Malle film which will be subtitled in English, I think. Yes, it is. That goes with the second to the last lecture. Make sure you’ve seen these films. None of them are long and they’re all great, great, great films, if you can buy into Kirk Douglas as a French soldier. You have to suspend reality a little bit to do that. Any announcements? Things happening? All right.

Today, much of this lecture just parallels the chapter. The origins of World War I can be confusing and I just want to make those perfectly clear so that you know this stuff. So, I hope you read the chapter. Also, we used to have you readGoodbye to All That, which is very long, but very good, by Robert Graves. Then we used the inevitable All Quiet on the Western Front, but we suppressed those. So, it’s even more important that you read the chapter. Let me get into that. I’m not going to write all the terms on the board, because there’s so many. I sent them around, and it’s hard to see anyway. What I have up here is when I talk about birthrights is — between the drilling in the background, gosh darnit — anyway, live births in 1908 were thirteen per 1,000. I’ll go into that in a minute. Let me start now.

Because World War I — in 1914 so many people wanted war, and they ran to the Gare de l’Est and chanted, “à Berlin, à Berlin,” lots of champagne, and then in Hauptbahnhof in Berlin, they chanted, “nacht Paris, nacht Paris.” Nobody knew that the war was going to last over four years, and kill millions of people, and mark the end of four empires, and, arguably, help contribute to the end of the fifth, that is the British Empire and the impetus toward decolonization that comes out of World War I. Nobody knew that the war that was supposed to be over by December wasn’t going to be over by December. Outside of a couple of journalists, who had been following the Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria and had seen kind of the evolution of trenches, nobody predicted that kind of war.

I’ll talk about military strategy at the end today, or — in the plans for the war — or, depending on time, the timing, at the beginning of next hour. So, this makes the origins of the war so much more important. There’s certainly, in terms of diplomatic history, there’s no other event in the history of the world that has been so pored over than the diplomatic origins of World War I, the famous entangling alliances, the house of cards that collapses, all of those very familiar images. After the war, I had this great uncle who fought in the war, a great, great uncle. He was an old dude when I was a very little guy. He had been in France in 1917. At the end of the war, I remember when I was a little kid he gave me this sort of printed out book showing that the Germans had started the war. It was the official account of the origins of World War I.

Of course, the fact that at the end of the war, the war ends with German troops inside France. This has a huge, huge impact on what happens because of two things, looking ahead. One, it became very easy for the German right to say, “We weren’t defeated. We were stabbed in the back.” By whom? By the Jews. By the Communists. By the Socialists. Secondly, because Germany was defeated they had to sign on the bottom line saying, “We started the war alone, we alone.” The famous war guilt clause, war guilt clause. Now, the Germans didn’t start the war alone. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether their responsibility, the famous blank check given to Austria-Hungary, is more important than the roles of other states, Russia declaring mobilization which was tantamount to an act of war for reasons we’ll come to, or France, for that matter. But that’s why the origins of World War I are so important.

The other reason is that clearly World War I unleashes the demons of the twentieth century. The kind of racist stuff, the even somewhat genocidal stuff was out there in the public domain, but World War I turns it loose. We talk about, I hope convincingly, the Europe of extremes, which is the title of a wonderful book by Eric Hobsbawm, and one extreme being communism. But the other extreme, which was more prenant, more victorious, more overwhelming in Europe was the rise of fascism and particularly the rise of National Socialism. This stuff was out there, but National Socialism and the Nazis cannot be understood without World War I. That’s why this stuff on the origins, this diplomatic history is so important. That’s why I’m paralleling what you are reading.

If you asked people in the 1880s and 1890s, “Who will fight in the next war?” most people in Germany and many people in France would say that “it’ll be the Germans fighting the French, because of Alsace-Lorraine.” Other people, as we’ll see, particularly in the 1890s, will say, “No. It’s the British and the French who are going to be fighting, colonial rivalries, Fashoda and all that business.” But the one in what you’re reading, as I put it, the old hatred that cannot be put offstage during the entire period, even when French and British relations are at their nadir, at their worst, is that between Germany united, the empire proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the Chateau de Versailles, and France, because, after all, the French had to give the second-most industrialized region, one of the most prosperous regions that is Alsace and much of Lorraine, to Germany.

I’m going to end up with an incident that looked like war was possibly going to break out between Germany and France, that is the Saverne incident, and talk a little bit about Alsace-Lorraine and stuff that isn’t in the book later, just to make it clear. It is complicated, because the French could never accept the fact that Alsace and much of Lorraine was now German. This is, again, remember we talked about nationalism and constructed identity? Most people in Alsace and in those parts of Lorraine that became part of the Second Reich, the Second Empire, what do they speak? They spoke German dialect. They did not speak French. More about that later. There was bilingualism, but that’s interesting. If you asked them, “What nationality are you?” and they reply in German, “I am French.” If you were somebody doing a survey now, you’d be sort of shocked by that. But these are complex, these identities.

Anyway, the rivalry between France and Germany was already always there. If you went to the Place de la Concorde in Paris, the Statue of Strasbourg, the town of Strasbourg, which is an important European capital now of the new Europe, for better or for worse, was covered in mourning cloth for much of the period because it had been “amputated.” They used this image often. The right arm of France had been amputated in the settlement after the Franco-German War. So, that rivalry is there. French military planners, right through the whole period at the time of Boulanger, who was one who built his reputation — you already read about the general Georges Boulanger — he is Mr. Revenge. Military planners said, “When the war comes, we will move into Alsace and take Alsace and parts of Lorraine back. Then we will move to Berlin. Simple, just like that.” To the very end, that’s their military strategy, attack. They’re going to attack and get back Alsace-Lorraine.

What the Germans plan to do has a lot to do with the way the war starts, and we will get there. The second big rivalry in Europe — and again think of the 28 th of June 1914, Sarajevo, a sixteen-year-old heavily-armed Gavrilo Princip — is that between Russia and Austria-Hungary. Their rivalry is over the South Slavs who are within the Austria-Hungarian Empire and the Serbs, who are not, but who provide a constant force for destabilization in the region. As you know, since the time of Catherine the Great, she set her eyes on Istanbul, Constantinople — they’re the same city — on the straits, on access to the Black Sea, that there was always going to be this drive of Russia to the straits.

As you know, later Turkey allies with Germany. But the big rivalry is in terms of Russian influence, destabilizing influence, seeing itself as the protector, the mother of all of the Slav peoples, is a permanent force of destabilization in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Ironically, the guy who gets offed along with his wife, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, he was one of the more — he was a prejudiced figure in many ways, but he was considered a moderate, because he believed that the South Slavs should have kind of a third status, possibly, along with Austria and Hungary within sort of a tripartite empire. Of course, he gets gunned down and what comes next is the blank check, where the Germans say, “Do what you want to settle this situation.” And the famous ultimatum to Serbia by Austria-Hungary.

The Russian government stirs up pan-Slavic fervor in the Balkans. They work consistently to do that. There are religious ties, the Orthodox religion. There are ties of alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet used in Serbia. Serbo-Croatian is the same spoken language, although Serb friends and Croatian friends would deny that in some ways, but basically it’s the same spoken language. But the Serbs use Cyrillic alphabet, which is what the Russians use, and the Croats, who are Catholic, use the alphabet used in Western Europe. So, the European alliance system, these entangling alliances, hinges on French and German enmity and the competing interests of Russia and Austria-Hungary in the Balkans. It also hinges on Bismarck, who was in many ways an odious guy but a very clever guy. His fear was that Germany would have to fight a war on two fronts.

So, what these powers are doing are looking for allies. As Bismarck said, it’s interesting he said it in French, showing that in many ways French was still the language of diplomacy. He said when you’ve got these great powers, five of them, “you have to be à trois.” You have to be with the three and not the two. His worst nightmare — and Bismarck was somebody who said he liked to lie awake at night and hate — his worst fear was having to fight the Russians and having to fight the French at the same time. When he encourages the French to get into the imperial game at the beginning, he’s doing that to try to get them to blow off a little steam out there in Africa. “My map of Africa is here,” remember the line of the map of Europe. So, as he said, here’s the exact quote, “All international politics reduces itself to this formula: try to beà trois.” As long as the world is governed by the unstable equilibrium of five great powers — Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Britain, and France.

These treaties, the arrangements — that is, the emergence of the triple alliance and the emergence of the triple entente at the time of the war, Italy is up for grabs, open to the highest bidder. Italy will go to war, despite having been a member originally of the alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany. It will go to war on the allied side, because the allies promise them more in 1915. But that’s another story. But that’s very important in the emergence of fascism in Italy, because Italy after the war, though nominally victorious, does not get what it wants. It does not get the Dalmatian Coast. It does not get the Tyrol mountains. If you fought a war based on national claims, why turn around and give regions that have only a minority of Italian populations to Italy? Benito Mussolini goes from being a socialist to being a fascist, helps create that party based upon this idea that Italy had been screwed. They never got what they were supposed to in World War I. So, he comes power as a fascist, as you know, in 1922.

In 1879 Bismarck forges this cornerstone alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary, and it’s predicated on German support for Habsburg opposition to the expansion of Russian interests in the Balkans. You can see in this the origins of the famous blank check in the hot summer, as it was, in 1914. In 1880 Italy allies with Germany and Austria-Hungary forming the triple alliance. But the wording is such that it doesn’t necessarily bring Italy into the war. As I said, Italy will come in on the side of Austria-Hungary and Germany and Italy comes in, as I just said, in 1915. Now, the details of these treaties, and these diplomats are still under the influence of Metternich and all that, but the details are not known, but the outlines are known. The details are not known but the outlines of these treaties are basically known.

One seam right through the period is every time that Russia seeks to expand its influence in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary gets concerned and they turn to Germany saying, “You will back us. You will back us, won’t you?” They say, “Yes, of course, we will back you.” In the end what happens is that the blank check goes, after the ultimatum, to Serbia by Austria-Hungary. “Do whatever you want to settle this situation. We will back you all the way.” Why does Germany become encircled diplomatically and ultimately in war? How does it happen that Russia, czarist autocratic Russia allies with republican France? That the czar, the oppressor of the non-Russian peoples, especially the Jews in Russia, comes to Paris in 1889 and they name a beautiful bridge after him, the Pont Alexandre III, the bridge of Alexander III. The marine band learns the theme song of the czars and the socialists go wild in France. How can you ally with these people who are repressing socialists, who are repressing nationalities, they’re repressing everybody, and run this police state?

So, the last thing that Bismarck wanted are these two big states to come together on either side of him. How does this happen? Both France and Russia are outside of the triple alliance, which you already know. But there’s another reason. As a matter of fact, I read about four or five years ago there are still French companies trying to get their money back from Russia because they lost their money in 1917, when the Bolsheviks came to power and ultimately nationalized industries, big industries particularly. It is economic in that one of the old things the people say about the French economy, but it’s still true, is that French money investments, much of it goes outside of France. They build the railroads in Spain, but they invest heavily in Russian industry and in Russian railroads.

So, these economic ties are very important. There are also cultural ties. Because of the popularity of the French in aristocratic circles within Russia, but on the other hand, there were lots of Russian nobles who spoke German, who lived in Konigsberg, which is still this sort of enclave now that is still part of Russia, sort of stuck between Poland and Lithuania. But the most important reason is that French investment in Russia increases dramatically in the 1880s and 1890s. And that France seeks an ally against Germany and that relations between Russia and Germany, and this is already obvious, you’ve already discerned this, are going to deteriorate because of this tender relationship between Austria-Hungary and Germany over the Balkans.

In the very end, one of the ludicrous aspects of this whole damn thing is that just as they’re about to go to war, and just as Czar Nicholas II, about whom we’ll come back and discuss one day, he signs the mobilization order. And mobilization, for reasons I’ll come back to, is tantamount to an act of war. He’s dashing off letters to his dearest cousin Willie. And Willie is writing back to “My Dear Cousin Nicky.” These people are related. They’re cousins. But international circumstances, and the tensions over the Balkans, and French fears of Germany, bring Russia and France together and the French marine band plays whatever the theme song of the Russia czars is — it certainly wasn’t Doctor Zhivago — when they arrived. For the Russian government that blames Austria-Hungary for trying to undercut what they view as their logical influence in the Balkans, and Germany will back them right away.

In 1892 France and Russia sign a military treaty that says that there’ll be a military response if the other were attacked by Germany or by one or more of its allies. They form a formal alliance in 1894.

Chapter 2. Britain’s Loyalties: Involvement in the Continental Competition [00:22:27]

What about Britain? What about Britain? One of the things is that the British don’t want to ally with anybody. They’re on bad terms with the French and they’re on bad terms with the Russians, to make a long story short. The Great Game, as they called it, rivalry over Afghanistan, over the entire sort of extension of that frontier into Asia, means that the chances of Great Britain joining in alliance with Russia and with France seems extremely dim. Britain wants to control the seas and to go it alone. But they discover a fact that shouldn’t have surprised them in the Boer War in South Africa. They don’t have any friends. Nobody supports what they’re doing in South Africa. It’s better to have an ally in a world that gets increasingly dangerous.

What happens gradually is that the rivalry, again to make a long story short, between Germany and Britain ultimately will cause Britain to look for allies, and that suddenly it seems less probable that France and Britain will go to war. What is the nature of this increasingly bitter rivalry between Germany and Britain? One is obvious — Africa. That’s one. Second, economic in that the German economy is growing by leaps and bounds. It is the number one country in chemistry. Those of you that are chemists, the whole university system — in Britain the university system isn’t terribly practical, but in Germany chemistry is part of what they do in the German universities, which are great universities. They began to lap the British in chemistry, chemical productions, and they catch up and go ahead, and steel, too. This is a big rivalry.

The British government begins to run scared because the City is running scared. Third is this famous naval rivalry, about which Paul Kennedy, my colleague and friend has written a book, The Anglo-German Naval Rivalry. The Germans start turning out these huge ships. Then the British respond. They produce the Dreadnaught, which becomes a symbol for these huge powerful battleships like nothing that had ever been seen before. The naval leagues in both countries — again, this is a culture of imperialism, the culture of aggressive nationalism — put huge pressure on governments to throw every available resource in the building of more and more ships. Britain, which had always basically controlled the seas since the defeat of the Spanish Armada in the late sixteenth century. They’re running scared. Now, again, you can’t look ahead and say, “Aha! But there was only one naval battle of any consequence in World War I at the Battle of Jutland off the coast of Denmark.” It’s kind of a draw, but basically the Germans are forced back in their port so they lose. But the British couldn’t anticipate that.

So, their fear of Germany and the saber rattling of the thoroughly irresponsible idiot, Wilhelm II, helps make it possible to imagine an alliance with “the sneaky French.” In the 1890s there were a lot of war novels about future wars. This, in itself, reflects the fact that many people thought there would be another war. Again, they didn’t know it was going to be a war of four and a half years, but they think there’s going to be another war. I assure you I’ve never read the following book. But one of the more successful was, for a brief time, was this sort of book about a future war. I guess it’s in the early 1890s, or about the time of Fashoda. It’s in the 1890s, or maybe the first couple of years of the twentieth century. It doesn’t matter. Dover, the middle class of Dover are out parading around in the rain on a Sunday morning, miserable weather. They suddenly find that Dover’s been taken over by the sneaky French, that they’ve been digging a tunnel under the English Channel. Napoleon wanted to dig a tunnel under the Channel. There is a tunnel under the English Channel, the Chunnel. The trains rocket along, at least until they get to Britain and then they sort of plod along at about two kilometers an hour, but they’ve improved that side of it. Anyway, there’s sort of a French bias, but too bad.

They suddenly find, as they’re strolling along in the pouring rain, the horizontal rain, that the sneaky French, there were soldiers all over. Taking these sort of national stereotypes, the French are disguised as waiters wearing dirty waiter uniforms. This is the British image. I wouldn’t even comment on what English kitchens would have been like. That would be a cheap shot. But under these towels were sneaky weapons. They take over Dover. Then, of course, the British get it together and they drive them back into the tunnel, and shoot a few, and then they cement up the tunnel, and then parliament passes more battleship bills, etc., etc., the future novel. But there’s another one four or five years later. I haven’t read this one, either, and I’m not going to read it. The people in Whitby or Scarborough, speaking of horizontal rain in the east coast, they wake up and they see these huge German battleships just lobbing shells that can reach and blow up York, lobbing one shell after another. The sequel isn’t very interesting, but the British parliament passes even more bills. Then the battleships of the “good guys” go and blow up the battleships of the bad guys, and everybody can go back to eating odd things on a Sunday morning.

Chapter 3. The Formation of the Triple Entente [00:29:27]

So, how does it happen that that scenario is reversed, of what the future will be? I’ve just explained it. It has to do with the fears of both of these states of Germany. And that the crises, which you can read about, the Moroccan crisis in 1905 makes even firmer this military alliance. It’s called an entente, that word is in English, too, or an understanding, but basically it’s an alliance. By 1905 they’re already saying, “Look, our navy, the British Navy will take care of the North Sea and the Channel, and you guys take care of the Mediterranean.” The crisis in 1911, the second Moroccan crisis, which pushes Germany and France close to war, affirms all of the above things that I’ve said.

Don’t get the idea that in 1911 things are more dangerous than 1910, and in 1910 they’re more dangerous than in 1909. Again, this sort of hydraulic model of pressure building up and finally there is war. It doesn’t work like that. These alliances become firmed up. Of these great powers that Britain, and France, and Russia end up in — Bismarck was dead by then, but in his worst nightmare of being à trois, of being three. The French, by the way, had another reason to be particularly eager to have an alliance. An odd thing happens in la belle France, in most of France. The French population stops growing. It just stops as of 1846-1847. It’s regionally specific. In Brittany and in the Auvergne, in the center of France, people are still churning out babies. You still have huge families. We have friends, one of them just died, older people, and they grew up in misery in the mountains. Misery. They had thirteen children and twelve children. They were one of twelve or thirteen children. But in most of France that’s not the case. In one part of southwestern France, when people had a second baby they received a condolence card. Isn’t that bizarre?

The French population stops growing. Why? There are a couple of reasons. This is just an aside, but it’s interesting. The Napoleonic Code, remember, ends primogeniture, so you’ve got to divide up the plot of land into two or three or into two. Birth control. There are two arguments: the peasants start it and then it filters up to the middle classes, or the middle class starts it and it filters down. It depends on where you are in France. But they stop having children. Look at this. I wrote it on the board, and it may be in the book, I don’t even remember. Here are live births, 1908-1913 per thousand: Italy 32.4, Austria 31.9, Germany 29.3, England 24.9, USA 24.3, France 19.5. That is so low. The French population would have literally not grown had it not been for immigrants. Immigrants then were people coming from Italy and from Switzerland, but mostly from Italy, and from Spain, some, and from Belgium.

What’s the effect of this? There’s this enormous crisis. It has to do also with this sort of threatened virility. Why do we have fewer children? What’s the matter with us? France has become too effeminate, etc., etc. You could just hear the language of this. Women are not serving the state. Why are they not having babies anymore? What’s the matter? They want to vote. Is this getting in the way of having babies that can be sent off to war? It causes an enormous problem. It’s discussed all over the place, particularly by the nationalists. “We don’t have enough children.” Jumping ahead, and I’ll come back to this, Verdun, 1916. The Germans say, “We’re not going to take the forts at Verdun. They’re impenetrable, untakeable, cannot be taken, cannot be pris. But we will make them pay so many hundreds of thousands of people, that we will bleed them and they will be forced to sue for peace.” Falkenhayn was the general. “We won’t take the forts Douaumont and Vaux, but we will kill so many hundreds of thousands of people, and we can afford to lose hundreds of thousands of people, because our birth rate is higher.” Nice for the people sent into all this stuff. More about that later.

So, this has a big effect. If you’re going to go to war and get Alsace-Lorraine back, and if Germany gets more and more aggressive, irresponsible, no question about it. In an age of aggressive nationalism, you’d better have somebody else to help you out. There’s a lot of them, and they blew us away in 1870-1871, and they defeated — they didn’t blow away, but they defeated Austria. Prussia defeated Austria in 1866, cementing its role as the most important power in Europe. So, that helps as well. The French fears and all that. A couple more points. I don’t want to give you an example from this and I mention it just briefly. It’s interesting about how this works, how small incidents in a complicated world of national rivalries and competing identities can almost launch a war. Bam! It took the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to start it all off. There would have been a war sometime.

Chapter 4. The Saverne Incident [00:35:56]

This is the case of Zabern, in German, Saverne in French It’s a very nice little town. I went to Saverne. You’ve got to see all these places. So I went to Saverne. There’s a nice canal that runs through it. Alsace and Strasbourg were annexed to France in 1681 by the megalomaniac Louis XIV. They had been part of France a very long time. In 1871, for reasons you know, they become part of Germany. But this incident at Saverne, what it does is it reinforces the stereotypes that the French have of the Germans and that the Germans have of the French. It’s the image of German quest for domination, and aggressiveness and the role of the German army, which seems to have absolutely no limits. Someone once said about Prussia that it was a state tacked on to an army. The Saverne Affair seemed to indicate that Germany was still the same way.

If you go up to Alsace, you go up to the Vosges Mountains. There’s this route called the Route des Crêtes, or the route of the peaks. You can look down into the Vosges — it still is France, but from what had been German Alsace. You can see all of these monuments put up by German hiking clubs to try to reaffirm this German identity that people had. Identity is an extremely complex thing. First of all, what is clear is that the vast majority of the population spoke German. Whether this makes them feel German or not, it’s not sure. Let me give you a couple examples. I didn’t send this around it’s too much.

Let’s say for the total of Alsace and Lorraine, the parts that were annexed into the German Reich, that the number of communes in which German dialect was the dominant language is 1,225 in which French was the dominant language was 385. The percentage of the population that spoke German is seventy-seven percent. The population that spoke French as their major language was twelve percent. There was some bilingualism, but not a whole lot, actually, and ten percent sort of neither, in that they were probably more or less perfectly bilingual because of intermarriage. So, when the Germans come in after 1871, they are better than what the French did after World War I. The French try to just rip German out as a language of instruction. Get rid of all the street signs in German. The Germans are a little more delicate in the way that they do things, but German is the language of administration. Another important point is that they don’t trust the Alsatians. Even though they speak German, they don’t trust them.

Alsace and those parts of Lorraine are annexed into the Reich, but they don’t have the same rights as a region that the other parts of Germany like Wurttemberg and Bavaria have. German deputies from Alsace and those parts of Lorraine don’t have the right to vote on issues of war, for example, in the Reichstag. They are not trusted because they are seen as potentially disloyal to the Reich. The idea is that they have been infected with Frenchness. Part of this is religious. It’s so complex. Alsace is a wonderfully interesting area. It has the largest percentage of Protestants in France outside of Ardèche in the south center. It’s also got a large percentage of Jews, who had been victimized by anti-Semitic riots after 1848. But the majority of the population is Catholic.

The German Empire, going back to the Kulturkampf of Bismarck, the war against the Catholics, still doesn’t really trust the Catholics. You’ve got Catholics in Bavaria, usually very right-wing Catholics in Bavaria. You’ve got Catholics in the Rhineland. You’ve got some Catholics up in the North in the Palatinate and you’ve got a lot of Catholics in Alsace. So, they don’t trust them, basically. They don’t trust them. Relations between the German troops, who, as in the case of Spain, are not coming from that region — people occupying Catalonia come from Galicia or they come from Castile so they won’t be infected by the local population, from the point of view of the Spanish state — so, the troops that are in Alsace are not from Alsace, because they don’t trust them. So, tensions are very good.

What happens in Saverne at a place where military civil relations aren’t terribly good, in this town of 8,000 people, is that there is an incident that gets blown out of proportion. There is some drilling. The Germans soldiers are always drilling. And they’re drilling and the commander makes a crack about the Alsatians. He calls them an extremely unfortunately scatological term that he meant to refer to all Alsatians. He essentially says, “Well, if you beat the hell out of those people, you’ll be doing a service to all.” This gets around. One of the reasons that relations weren’t very good in this particular town was because there was a German officer who had the bad idea of sleeping with a fourteen-year-old girl. Some of the local guys go get this guy in this room and just pound him into a well-deserved pulp. So, it spins out of control.

What happens is on both sides in Berlin and Paris, this becomes a huge incident, confirming the stereotype of the Other. There’s nasty language. Bethmann-Hollweg, who was the chancellor then, says some over-the-top things about the French, and the influence of France and Alsace, etc., etc., and that the French are planning a war. And the French government, in a time when there is a nationalist revival, at least among the elites in France, they respond in kind and everything gets big titles, big titres, big headlines and stuff like that. They don’t go to war. But what it does is it reaffirms these stereotypes and it makes people a little more edgy.

Chapter 5. The Schlieffen Plan: The Timetable of Mobilization [00:43:08]

In 1913, but well before that, military planners — I have three minutes and that’s just what I need — military planners are looking ahead to the next war. The French we’ve already talked about. They have a not terribly poetically designated plan number eighteen, which is to invade Alsace-Lorraine with élan. That’s all you need, they said, élan, patriotic frenzy, fury. All you need is to be on the offensive and that’s the end of it. By the way, they invade wearing red pants and they could be shot, picked out through the fog finally in 1914, until they put a little less-bright color on. How are the Germans going to fight a war on two fronts?

How are you going to do that? They’re afraid of the Russians. Why? There are a lot of Russians and the other peoples. They think it’s going to take about two weeks for the Russian army, once mobilization is declared, that the big bear will roll their forces toward the German frontier in German Poland. So, how are you going to win the war in two weeks? If you invade France not through Alsace-Lorraine, but if you invade — well, you’re going to have big trouble. You’re going to run into fortification. So, how are you going to invade France? The only way you can defeat them, and a guy called Schlieffen, whose name I wrote in what I sent around to you, is that you have to invade Belgium, and, from his point of view, the Netherlands, though Moltke, his successor, takes the Netherlands out of the equation.

Belgium had been declared independent and neutral in 1831. If you go into Belgium the idea is you invade Belgium. You get through the big fort at Liège. You get through the kind of rough country, which is not too much. Then you hit theplat pays, the flatlands, and you roll toward the English Channel. The last thing Schlieffen reportedly said on his deathbed was, “The last soldier, his right arm should touch the English Channel.” Then you turn down and you put Paris in a headlock, and they will sue for peace and you will beat them in two weeks before the big bear can come moseying along slowly. That’s why mobilization was tantamount to an act of war, because it starts the timetable. They’ve got to defeat them in two weeks.

What happens if you go through Belgium? From the point of view of the British, it’s bad enough to have the sneaky French across the Channel. But what if you’ve got the Germans in Ostend eating moules frites? What if you have the Germans across the Channel? Big-time enemies a very short, choppy boat ride away. What’s this going to do? It’s going to reaffirm the alliance. Sir Edward Grey, the one who said most famously, and he got it right, “Lights are going out in Europe. They will not be relit again in our lifetime.” At this point, the British hesitate. The French said, “Will the word ‘honor’ be struck from the English dictionary?” The French ambassador is chasing around a high official in the czarist regime in Russia saying, “You must back us all the way.”

So, the invasion guarantees that the worst nightmare of Bismarck will come true, that they will be à trois. The fact that it doesn’t work out, for a variety of reasons, the way the German high command intended, and the way Schlieffen intended, and von Moltke, means that they don’t, for reasons I’ll come back to, can’t get Paris in that headlock, force them to sue for peace, and the race to the sea begins to try to outflank — as in a football game, to make a ridiculous analogy — the outside linebacker. They end up at the sea. Then shovels, and defensive weapons like barbed wire and machine guns, become the weapons of the war. That explains why there wasn’t and subsequently could never be a knockout punch, and why millions of people died in and around those trenches.


Die Schande von Schlieffen: Evaluating Germany’s Opening Move of the First World War

Germany’s opening gambit of World War One, the execution of the Schlieffen Plan, was both bold and aggressive. It propelled German troops into Belgium and France, resulted in massive casualties for both sets of belligerents, and effectively ensured British entry into the conflict. For all its daring, however, the Schlieffen Plan failed to achieve its objectives of decisively defeating the French Army and forcing France from the war. This paper examines and evaluates the Schlieffen Plan in three sections. The first section examines the motivating factors driving the German General Staff to devise the Schlieffen Plan by looking at the international and strategic environment in which Germany found itself. The second section describes the unfolding of the Schlieffen Plan, noting its operational effectiveness and highlighting its successes and failures. Finally, the paper concludes with a holistic analysis of the Schlieffen Plan at both the strategic and operational levels. While the specific conclusions of the paper are detailed at length in the final section, the fundamental argument is that the Schlieffen Plan failed at both an operational and strategic level. It relied on unfounded and overly optimistic assumptions about the tactical superiority of German troops, subordinated political objectives to military preferences, and imperiled Germany’s position by severely weakening the Eastern front and provoking British entry into the war.

The Origins of the Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen Plan had many progenitors, but its origins can be traced back to the period following the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War. That conflict decisively changed the balance of power in Europe by creating, for the first time in history, a united Germany. The nature of Germany’s birth ensured a degree of lingering animosity between Berlin and Paris, as Germany’s unification was inextricably tied to France’s defeat at the hands of Prussia. Perhaps more consequential, however, was Germany’s annexation of the French territory of Alsace-Lorraine. This territorial seizure created powerful irredentist pressures in France and served to further exacerbate Franco-German animosity. Thus, German policymakers and generals had good reason to worry about future hostilities with France. German leaders also had to plan for potential conflict with Russia, as it continued to grow as a military and economic threat to the German Empire’s eastern borders. These twin pressures led to the first iteration of the ideas that would ultimately coalesce into the Schlieffen Plan.

The first version of the Schlieffen Plan was devised by Chief of Staff Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (Moltke the Elder) in 1888 and sought to replicate Germany’s 1871 victory by striking at Paris. However, in this version of the plan, the German General Staff planned to strike at Russia first, as they feared that their initial assumptions about the length of time that Russia would require to mobilize were unduly optimistic.[i] The decision to strike Russia first was ultimately reversed by Alfred von Schlieffen, who became Germany’s third Chief of Staff in 1891, and thus the Schlieffen Plan was born.[ii] Schlieffen assessed France to be the greater threat, as he realized that its armed forces were both better equipped and more easily mobilized than those of the Russian Empire. As a result, he planned to commit as many as 82 of Germany’s proposed 96 divisions to the Western front stretching between Metz and Aachen.[iii] The idea was to use these troops as a sledgehammer to strike through the Benelux in order to bypass French border defenses before turning southwest to encircle and annihilate French forces attempting to defend Paris.

This plan was driven by Germany’s unfortunate position vis-à-vis Russia and France. The two countries had formed a defensive alliance in 1894, which committed them both to “mobilize immediately the whole of their forces and deploy them with such speed that Germany shall be forced to fight simultaneously on the East and on the West.”[iv] By 1904, Great Britain also seemed increasingly like an adversary following its signing of the Entente Cordial with France. This threat was compounded in 1907 when Great Britain and Russia signed the Anglo-Russian convention.[v] While London was far from certain to intervene against Germany given its detached diplomatic posture, France and Russia, alone, were significant threats: Their combined GDP was 20% greater than the combined economic output of Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary, and Russia’s population was 33% greater than Germany’s, granting it an enormous manpower advantage. In a worst-case scenario involving British and Belgian support for France and Russia, Germany would face a force of 5,726,000 soldiers in 218 infantry and 49 cavalry divisions. Even when one aggregates German and Austro-Hungarian forces – 3,485,000 soldiers in 137 infantry and 22 cavalry divisions – and accounts for their interior lines advantage, which allowed them to more rapidly shuttle units between battlefields and fronts, the German General Staff faced a numerical shortfall of monumental proportions.[vi]

The final version of the Schlieffen Plan, developed by the nephew of Moltke the Elder, Helmuth Johannes Ludwig von Moltke (Moltke the Younger), responded to this disadvantageous situation by continuing to prioritize the defeat of France. Moltke the Younger, much like Schlieffen, aimed to quickly neutralize France. He then planned to use the highly efficient German railway system to shift the bulk of the German military east to engage the more slowly-mobilizing Russian menace. However, Moltke the Younger was more cautious than Schlieffen, and he therefore modified the plan in a manner that marginally reduced the number of divisions tasked with executing the right hook through the Benelux.[vii] Specifically, his qualified plan would deploy a greater number of troops south of Metz in order to repulse a French attack on Alsace-Lorraine and protect the Saarland, an industrial hub for Germany. This left only 54 divisions to execute the right hook. To compensate for this diminished right wing, Moltke the Younger reformulated the Schlieffen Plan to forgo an invasion of Holland. He also changed the operational objective of the right wing from advancing around Paris to simply pushing French forces to the southeast. The goal, of course, was to achieve a grand encirclement trapping the French between the reinforced German left wing and the inexorably advancing right wing.[viii]

The Schlieffen Plan was extremely risky, and it placed an enormous amount of faith in the German troops’ ability to achieve an almost unimaginable objective. However, when one realizes the dire strategic situation in which the General Staff found itself, the plan becomes more comprehensible. Simply put, it was a desperate gamble designed to overcome the challenge of a two-front war by exploiting Germany’s advantage in mobilization and access to interior lines to defeat Berlin’s quantitatively superior but more ponderous foes. The planning was conducted exclusively by the German General Staff, and it largely excluded civilian leadership and the Austro-Hungarian General Staff. As a result, the plan was highly technical and assiduously detailed, as one would expect of any product created by the extremely capable and detail-oriented German military. However, it relied upon several important but questionable assumptions and failed to consider important political realities and Austro-Hungarian limitations. As will be shown later, these failures eliminated many of the Schlieffen Plan’s supposed advantages.

Source: U.S. Army War College Dept. of History

The Schlieffen Plan in Action

The June 28, 1914 assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo precipitated a crisis in Europe. After nearly a month of intense negotiating and brinksmanship, the inexorable slide toward war began. On July 23, the Austro-Hungarians issued a list of impossible demands to the Serbs, giving them only two days to respond.[ix] In response, Czar Nicholas II ordered Russian forces to prepare for partial mobilization.[x] The real turn toward crisis occurred on July 28, when Austria-Hungary officially declared war on Serbia and prompted Russia and France to begin mobilizing, which in turn led the German Empire to declare a state of emergency and begin calling up its own reserves.[xi] Germany occupied Luxembourg on August 2, and the full invasion of France through Belgium, as specified by the Schlieffen Plan, began on August 3.[xii]

Initially, Germany’s planned invasion seemed to be proceeding exactly according to expectations. The superb German railway network and reserve system allowed for the rapid mobilization and movement of troops to the front. Indeed, from the outbreak of hostilities to the capture of Liege on August 17, German trains transported 3 million soldiers and 850,000 horses to the front. The process succeeded like clockwork, which is demonstrated by Germany’s ability to organize 2,150 westward-bound trains – with one train crossing the Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine every ten minutes – without major incident.[xiii]

Germany’s initial target was Liege, which was an important railroad junction and would, therefore, help support German logistical requirements in Belgium and northern France. The pivot point for the turn into Belgium was just north of Lorraine, and the forces arrayed here included fifty-two divisions in three armies. The First Army, led by von Kluck, was composed of 320,000 men on the far-right wing. Further down the line were Büllow’s Second Army of 260,000 and von Hausen’s Third Army of 180,000.[xiv] These three armies surged into Belgium, pushing to Brussels before pivoting southwest toward Paris. Unfortunately for German leadership, Belgian troops did not meekly capitulate as they had assumed. Instead, they mounted a spirited defense of Liege.[xv] The city was surrounded and fortified by a ring of steel and concrete forts, and five days into the conflict the city still had not fallen. This city’s stubborn refusal to capitulate was, in part, assisted by the fact that the German attack occurred while mobilization was still ongoing, thus limiting the size of the force Germany could deploy. However, the inability to quickly take Liege created a huge bottleneck that threatened to halt the German advance in its tracks.[xvi] Meanwhile, both German and French forces were conducting limited offensives in the south around Lorraine. While the German Fifth and Sixth Armies were victorious, inflicting nearly 10,000 casualties on the French, they were themselves too broken to meaningfully pursue French forces.[xvii]

By this point, German forces had largely succeeded in pushing into Belgium, though progress was retarded by Belgian partisans and, more importantly, German fear of them. This contributed to a German overreaction, which alienated Belgian citizens and severely damaged Germany’s image abroad. Increasing Belgian resentment also forced a sizeable German force to remain behind to hold and pacify the region, slowing progress and reducing the number of units available for frontline service.[xviii] Despite these impediments to progress, good fortune shined on German leaders due to French incompetence as well as random chance. On August 21, French Commander in Chief Joseph Joffre misread German troop positions by failing to recognize that Germany had already fully deployed nearly all of its reserves to the front. As a result, he noted the strength of German forces in Belgium and Lorraine and concluded that their forces in the center must be weak. He thus ordered the French Third and Fourth Armies to attack the German pivot point in the Ardennes. Unfortunately for the French, the German position was formidable here as well, outnumbering the French 21 divisions to 20. The day the forces met was misty, and French reconnaissance completely missed the Germans. Thus, the French blindly crashed into German troops, whose superior numbers and howitzers, which granted an advantage over the French 75 mm field guns in the hilly terrain, led to catastrophic losses among French forces.[xix]

Two days after the French attack on the Ardennes began, French General Lanrezac ordered the Fifth Army to retreat, completely abandoning all French fortifications in the area and creating a rift with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The BEF made contact with von Kluck’s First Army on the 23 rd , and while it executed a masterful delaying action, holding off 6 German divisions with only 2 divisions of its own and inflicting three times as many losses as it suffered, the arrival of German howitzers and infantry reinforcements compelled the British to fall back.[xx] At this point, the French were in tatters and their northeast was completely exposed to German attack. The French military had already sustained 260,000 casualties and were in full retreat. The one positive to emerge for the French from the complete collapse of the Ardennes offensive was that their units withdrew so quickly that German forces could not execute their planned encirclement. Thus, while shattered, much of the French Army remained intact.[xxi]

Source: U.S. Army War College Dept. of History

This point of the offensive was the best position Germany would ever enjoy, and it seemed as if their forces had achieved the impossible. However, it was at this moment that the inadequacies of the Schlieffen Plan began to emerge. The first problem was primarily one of logistical and technical limitations. The highly centralized nature of the plan combined with poor communication technology led to severe confusion in parts of the front. Moreover, Germany’s operational concept of Auftragstaktik, which gave commanders wide latitude to move as they saw fit, only magnified the divergence between the intentions of the General Staff and the actions of the commanders.[xxii] Supply became another issue. While the highly developed German train network allowed for rapid initial mobilization, the celerity it facilitated dissipated once formations advanced beyond rail terminals. German troops had to march hundreds of kilometers with heavy packs and uncomfortable clothes, and these problems were magnified by the fact that the First, Second, and Third German Armies had only 1,000 vehicles between them. These difficulties were further exacerbated by Belgian railway sabotage. The delays this created meant that German forces were unable to exploit the opening they had created by smashing French forces in the Ardennes.[xxiii]

These problems were compounded by two of Moltke’s decisions in the days after the Ardennes battles. First, he ordered further attacks in the south, with a particular focus on Nancy. This prevented the transfer of forces from the relatively quiet southern front to the higher-intensity right wing. Second, he ordered three army corps to reinforce forces in the east facing off against the Russians. This was largely a result of the Austro-Hungarian failure to deploy even a token force in Galicia to hold Russian attention, and it reveals the utter lack of coordination between the German and Austro-Hungarian staffs.[xxiv] The combination of these decisions led to an unnecessarily weak right wing that was vulnerable to French counterattack, and counterattack the French did.

Following the collapse of French and Belgian forces in the north, Joffre scrambled to cobble together a new army, designated the French Sixth Army. Concentrated around Paris, it was composed of reserve forces from within France’s interior and elements of retreating formations. While the French situation seemed quite dire, it is important to remember that the advantages derived from holding the interior lines – namely, the ability to quickly move troops from point to point and react with greater alacrity – belonged to the French defenders. Moreover, just as the German logistical train was being stretched to the breaking point, the French still enjoyed access to their own railways, only further enhancing their interior lines advantage.[xxv] France and its allies also enjoyed a clear quantitative advantage at this point in the war, as Moltke’s redeployment to the east meant that German forces, now numbering twenty divisions with a combined 750,000, faced combined French and British forces of over a million men.[xxvi]

Source: U.S. Army War College Dept. of History

On 29 August, Moltke ordered his army to advance south, ignoring Paris to encircle and crush French forces around Alsace-Lorraine. However, von Kluck’s First Army had advanced too aggressively, leaving a gap between the First and Second Army vulnerable to attack from French forces in Paris. With only one reserve corps guarding the German right flank, Joffre unleashed the French Sixth Army on the Germans, crashing into the exposed right wing of the German Second Army and tearing a 40km gap in the German lines. The BEF then plunged into this hole, effectively cutting off the German First Army from the rest of the front and menacing the rear of the German Second Army.[xxvii] On September 9, the fortieth day of the conflict and the point by which the Schlieffen Plan had assumed French capitulation to be imminent, Moltke ordered German forces to retreat behind the Aisne River.[xxviii] This decision marked the end of the opening offensive and the ultimate failure of the Schlieffen Plan.

Considering the Merits and Demerits of the Schlieffen Plan

Before advancing into the analysis, it is important to note one thing clearly: The Schlieffen Plan was a failure both operationally and strategically. It did not eliminate France from the war, it assured British entry into the conflict, and it did not succeed in annihilating the French Army as Moltke had hoped. In that sense, one cannot objectively argue that the Schlieffen Plan accomplished its objectives. Despite these operational and strategic shortfalls, however, the Schlieffen Plan was not an abject failure for two reasons. First, it allowed Germany to occupy the industry and resource-rich northeast of France. By pushing the French back, it also protected the crucial region of the Saarland, which was home to a large segment of German heavy industry needed to support the war effort. Nonetheless, these achievements were more than outweighed by the strategic debacle created by the entry of the U.K., which led to a greater number of soldiers facing down the German military and, more importantly, the imposition of a complete blockade of Germany that strangled its war effort.

The failure of the plan is attributable to three fundamental shortcomings in the manner in which it was created. First, the German General Staff enjoyed nearly complete autonomy to plan as it saw appropriate. While this approach, divorced from political fetters and mismanagement, contributed to the stunning German success at the outset of the campaign in France, it also led to a failure to adequately recognize and grasp the grand strategic implications of German action. For example, despite clear British warnings that a violation of Belgian neutrality would guarantee their entry into the war, the German General Staff never fully appreciated the consequences of their turn through Belgium.[xxix] In other words, in an effort to win a quick victory over the French, German military leadership ensured that they would face a much more difficult war if they proved unable to quickly knock the French out of the campaign. The automaticity of the plan also limited Germany’s strategic options. Because German strategy relied on rapid mobilization, once the country began to follow a path toward war there was nothing the political leadership could do to halt the Army’s deployment to the west. This effectively barred civilian leadership from the decision process and even undermined peace talks that were underway between Paris, Vienna, and St. Petersburg by forcing a rapid military escalation irrespective of the political situation.[xxx]

Second, the German General Staff utterly failed to coordinate with its Austro-Hungarian counterparts. Indeed, the extent of joint planning was the annual exchange of Christmas cards during the holidays.[xxxi] This inability to recognize the importance of alliance partners proved extremely detrimental to German interests, as it led to a bizarre situation in which the entire Eastern Front was left all but defenseless to Russian attack. This was deeply troubling to Moltke, as the Germans were counting on an Austro-Hungarian offensive against Russia to buy them the time needed to defeat France, deploying only 10% of their forces to the east. The Austro-Hungarian Galician front was equally sparse, as Austrian Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf inexplicably decided to activate War Case B, a plan that directed the entire military against Serbia despite the growing Russian menace in the east. While von Hötzendorf belatedly attempted to switch to War Case B+R, which would have deployed a sizeable number of forces to Galicia in the east, the railroad system and mobilization timetables were too rigid to adjust to this change, and Austro-Hungarian troops went on, what Alexander Watson calls a “[1,000km] joyride to the Balkans.”[xxxii] While the Germans were able to defeat the Russians at Tannenberg in East Prussia, thus securing the eastern front against imminent Russian invasion, this was largely due to luck that Moltke could not have foreseen.[xxxiii] The extremely slow Austro-Hungarian mobilization to the east, in large part attributable to a lack of close coordination and war-planning between Berlin and Vienna, did not occur until late in August.[xxxiv] Thus, little stood in the way of the Russian Army, and concern over the undefended east compelled Moltke to prematurely shift forces from France. As a result, Germany simply lacked the depth necessary to halt the counterattack of the French Sixth Army and lost the small degree of momentum its forces had achieved in France.

Third, the Schlieffen Plan assumed a tactical and numerical superiority that Germany simply did not possess. While the campaign against France assumed an army of 94 divisions in the west, the Kaiser’s forces in 1914 could array only 60 divisions against the French.[xxxv] The Germans were, quite simply, fighting with phantom divisions. This became painfully apparent as the German Army became increasingly overextended as it advanced along an ever wider front and occupied regions with restive populations. The shortage in available forces was only exacerbated by a failure to account for logistical hurdles. From a lack of automobiles to an underestimation of the extent of Belgian railroad sabotage, the German General Staff consistently and systematically downplayed the problems associated with supplying such a massive force. As a result, units bogged down and were unable to exploit operational openings quickly enough to have a strategic effect. Finally, the General Staff had an almost racist view of the French, whose Republican traditions they deemed inferior to German authoritarian discipline, and they complacently assumed a near-repeat of the 1871 victory in the Franco-Prussian War.[xxxvi]

It is perhaps possible that German forces could have overcome these barriers to success if they were simply much better than the French forces that opposed them. Indeed, this was part of the myth German leaders told themselves to justify such a risky gamble. The reality was far more complex. While the German Army was clearly the most proficient of the Continental forces – with more rigorous training and a greater number of experienced NCOs per company – its advantage in armaments was very slight.[xxxvii] The Germans had about 500 more heavy field guns than the French, and their howitzers had no equivalent in the French inventory. However, French field artillery was more effective, with greater range, firepower, and rate of fire. France also enjoyed a slight advantage in aircraft. In all other indicators, the armies were almost exactly on an equal footing.[xxxviii] Therefore, German convictions that a quick victory was possible were little more than naïve optimism. Of course, this also means that those who blame Moltke for “diluting” Schlieffen’s initial plan are unfair in their criticism. It was not Moltke’s “weakening” of the right wing that proved consequential. Rather, Germany simply lacked the necessary number of divisions needed to execute an invasion of this scale and magnitude. Moltke’s adaptations, moreover, likely did much to salvage the plan, as they recognized certain political realities – such as the need to bolster defenses against a French attack on Alsace-Lorraine – and kept German forces out of Holland, thus reducing the size of the front and level of manpower needed to hold occupied territory.

The Schlieffen Plan was a bold idea for solving an intractable problem. The campaign envisaged by the Schlieffen Plan made perfect sense on an abstract level, as it allowed Germany to achieve local superiority against the French, eliminate the threat in the west, and then concentrate the full might of the German Army against the Russians. Moreover, it adroitly recognized the advantages provided by internal lines and railroads, planning to exploit them for the rapid transfer of troops from front to front. However, the Schlieffen Plan failed to account for the operational challenges that would surface in France. By exaggerating German tactical prowess, underestimating Belgian resolve, and ignoring the logistical headaches that would be created by the deployment of hundreds of thousands on foreign soil, the Germans created a Pollyannaish plan. These errors were compounded by the fact that decision-making rested almost entirely within the General Staff, leading to important grand strategic oversights and a failure to coordinate with allies. As a result, the campaign pulled the powerful British Empire into the war against the Germans and left the Eastern Front almost completely exposed. Thus, while the campaign realized some important successes, it failed to achieve its initial objectives. Germany found itself bogged down in the west as its forces slowly wore down and its economy suffocated under the strangulation of the British blockade. The German General Staff thought big, and they came tantalizingly close to victory. To their detriment, though, their early successes were not big enough, and they found themselves in an awful war of attrition that ultimately led to the collapse of their empire.


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