Schlieffen Plan (German: Schlieffen-Plan, pronounced [ʃliːfən
plaːn]) was the name given after
World War I
World War I to the thinking behind
the German invasion of France and Belgium on 4 August 1914. Field
Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen, the Chief of the Imperial Army German
General Staff from 1891 to 1906, devised in 1905 and 1906 a deployment
plan for a war-winning offensive, in a one-front war against the
French Third Republic. After the war, the German official historians
of the Reichsarchiv and other writers, described the plan as a
blueprint for victory. German historians claimed that the plan had
been ruined by
Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Helmuth von Moltke the
Younger, the Commander-in-Chief of the German army after Schlieffen
retired in 1906, who was dismissed after the First Battle of the Marne
(5–12 September 1914).
Post-war writing by senior German officers like Hermann von Kuhl,
Wilhelm Groener and the Reichsarchiv historians led by
Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Wolfgang Förster
managed to establish a commonly accepted narrative that it was Moltke
(the Younger)'s failure to follow the blueprint, rather than German
strategic miscalculation, that condemned the belligerents to four
years of attrition warfare instead of the quick, decisive conflict it
should have been. In 1956,
Gerhard Ritter published Der
Schlieffenplan: Kritik eines Mythos (The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of
a Myth), which began a period of revision, when the details of the
Schlieffen Plan were subjected to scrutiny and
contextualisation. The view that the plan had been a blueprint was
rejected because this was contrary to the tradition of Prussian war
planning established by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, which treated
military operations as inherently unpredictable. Mobilisation and
deployment plans could be drawn up but campaign plans were pointless;
rather than attempting to dictate to subordinate commanders, the
commander gave the intent of the operation and subordinates had
discretion in achieving it through Auftragstaktik (mission-type
In writings from the 1970s, Martin van Creveld, John Keegan, Hew
Strachan and others studied the practical aspects of an invasion of
France through Belgium and Luxembourg. They judged that the physical
constraints of German, Belgian and French railways and the Belgian and
northern French road networks made it impossible to move enough troops
far enough and fast enough for them to fight a decisive battle if the
French retreated from the frontier. Most of the pre-1914 planning of
German General Staff
German General Staff was secret and the documents were destroyed
when the deployment plans were superseded every April. The bombing of
Potsdam in April 1945 destroyed the Prussian army archive and only
incomplete records and other documents survived the bombing. Some
records became available after the fall of the German Democratic
Republic (GDR), making an outline of German war planning possible for
the first time, proving much of the post-1918 writing wrong.
In the 2000s, RH61/v.96 was discovered in the trove inherited from the
GDR, a document that was used in a 1930s study of pre-war German
General Staff war planning. Inferences that Schlieffen's war planning
was solely offensive were found to have been made by extrapolating his
writings and speeches on tactics into grand strategy. From a 1999
War in History and in Inventing the
Schlieffen Plan (2002)
to The Real German War Plan, 1906–1914 (2011),
Terence Zuber has
engaged in a debate with Terence Holmes, Annika Mombauer, Robert
Foley, Gerhard Gross, Holger Herwig and others with his proposition
Schlieffen Plan was a myth concocted in the 1920s, by partial
writers, intent on exculpating themselves and proving that German war
planning did not cause the First World War, a view supported by Hew
1.2 Franco-Prussian War
1.4 Moltke (the Elder)
1.4.1 Deployment plans, 1871–72 to 1890–91
1.5.1 Deployment plans, 1892–93 to 1905–06
2.1 Moltke (the Younger)
2.2 Deployment plans, 1906–07 to 1914–15
2.2.1 Aufmarsch I West
2.2.2 Aufmarsch II West
2.2.3 Aufmarsch I Ost
2.2.4 Aufmarsch II Ost
2.3 Plan XVII
2.4 Battle of the Frontiers
3.1.1 Der Weltkrieg
3.3.1 German reunification
3.3.4 Holmes–Zuber debate
3.3.5 Humphries and Maker
5 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
See also: Total war
Map showing areas of France occupied during the Franco-Prussian War
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.
Main article: Franco-Prussian War
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (26 October 1800 – 24
April 1891), led the armies of the
North German Confederation
North German Confederation that
achieved a decisive and speedy victory against the armies of the
Second French Empire
Second French Empire (1852–1870) of
Napoleon III (20 April 1808 –
9 January 1873). On 4 September, after the
Battle of Sedan
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). 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).
Francs-tireurs in the
Vosges during the Franco-Prussian War.
The Germans had defeated the forces of the Second Empire by superior
numbers and then found the tables turned, only their better training
and organisation had enabled them to capture Paris and dictate peace
terms. Attacks by francs-tireurs, forced the diversion of 110,000
men to guard railways and bridges, which put great strain on Prussian
manpower. 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....
— Moltke the Elder
having already written in 1867, that French patriotism would lead them
to make a supreme effort and 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, 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.
Colmar von der Goltz
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), reacted against the short-war
belief of mainstream writers like
Friedrich von Bernhardi
Friedrich von Bernhardi (22 November
1849 – 11 December 1930) and
Hugo von Freytag-Loringhoven
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 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.
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
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 and 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, 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 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
The Strategiestreit (strategy debate) was a public and sometimes
acrimonious argument after
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 at the
Humboldt University of Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin from 1895, challenged the orthodox army
view and its critics. 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. 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 annihilation) or Ermattungsstrategie (strategy of
exhaustion) but had died in 1830 before he could revise the book.
Delbrück wrote that Frederick the Great had used Ermattungsstrategie
Seven Years' War
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 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. Delbrück analysed the 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 strategists 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 a 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.
Moltke (the Elder)
Deployment plans, 1871–72 to 1890–91
Assuming French hostility and a desire to recover Alsace-Lorraine,
Moltke (the Elder) drew up a deployment plan for 1871–72, 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 had 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
Despite international developments and his doubts about
Vernichtungsstrategie, 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 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 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 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.
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
Alfred von Waldersee
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.[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 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.
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. 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.
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.
— Schlieffen, 1909
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
Deployment plans, 1892–93 to 1905–06
In his war contingency 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 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 because 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 only.
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.
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 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 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 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
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
Moltke (the Younger)
Helmuth von Moltke the Younger
Helmuth von Moltke the Younger took over from Schlieffen as Chief of
German General Staff
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.
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
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
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.
Deployment plans, 1906–07 to 1914–15
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.
Aufmarsch I West
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.
Aufmarsch II West
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 percent of the German army would
operate in the west and 20 percent 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 percent of the
German force in the west (20 percent 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.
Aufmarsch I Ost
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 percent of the German army would deploy
in the west and 40 percent 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 percent of the German force in the east
(about 20 percent 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
Aufmarsch II Ost
Map of French, Belgian and German frontier fortifications, 1914
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 percent of the
German army would operate in the west and 40 percent 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. 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.
Main article: Plan XVII
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
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
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. 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 and the gap
between the Fifth Army and the
North Sea was covered by Territorial
units and obsolete fortresses.
Battle of the Frontiers
Main article: Battle of the Frontiers
Battle of the Frontiers
Battle of Mulhouse
Battle of Lorraine
Battle of the Ardennes
Battle of Charleroi
Battle of Mons
When Germany had declared war, France began the execution of Plan XVII
with five attacks, now known as the Battle of the Frontiers. The
German deployment plan, Aufmarsch II, concentrated German forces (less
20 percent to defend Prussia and the German coast) on the
German–Belgian border. The German force was to execute an offensive
into Belgium, to force a decisive battle with the French army, north
of the fortifications west of the Franco-German border. Plan XVII
was implemented as an offensive into
Alsace-Lorraine and Belgium. The
French attack into
Alsace-Lorraine resulted in worse losses than
anticipated, because artillery-infantry co-operation that French
doctrine (despite its embrace of the "spirit of the offensive")
provided for, proved 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
Within a few days the French had suffered costly defeats and the
survivors were back where they began. The Germans advanced through
Belgium and northern France, pursuing the Belgian, British and French
armies and reached an area 30 km (19 mi) north-east of Paris
but failed to trap the Allied armies and force them to a decisive
battle. The German advance outran its supplies and Joffre was able to
use French railways to move the retreating armies, to 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. 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 percent of the army
assembled in the west) to counter the French offensive of Plan XVII.
In 2014, Holmes wrote,
Moltke followed the trajectory of the Schlieffen plan [sic], but only
up to the point where it was painfully obvious that he would have
needed the army of the Schlieffen plan [sic] 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.
Work began on Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918: Militärischen Operationen
zu Lande 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, led by the President
of the Reichsarchiv, General Hans von Haeften and 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.
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 (1920) and Der
Marnefeldzug in 1921, by Lieutenant-Colonel Wolfgang Förster who had
written Graf Schlieffen und der Weltkrieg (1925), Wilhelm Groener,
Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, the wartime German General Staff)
railway section in 1914, published Das Testament des Grafen
Schlieffen: Operativ Studien über den Weltkrieg 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 in 1920. 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. 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.
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.
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 Ermattungsstrategie, 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. 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
Martin van Creveld
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. Schlieffen's
assumption that the armies could live off the land was proved correct.
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
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.
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.
Example of an erroneous and misleading map, purported to represent a
"Schlieffen Plan" by post-war writers.
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. The number of roads was not enough for the ends of marching
columns to reach the heads by the end of the day and this physical
limit, meant that it would be pointless to add troops to the right
Schlieffen was realistic and the plan reflected mathematical and
geographical reality but expecting the French to refrain from
advancing from the frontier and the German armies to fight great
battles in the hinterland was 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. 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.
Schlieffen also advocated an army (to advance with or behind the right
wing), bigger by 25 percent, 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 railway transport would only go as far
the German frontiers with France and Belgium, after which the troops
would have to march. The extra corps appeared at Paris, having moved
further and faster than the existing corps, along roads already full.
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
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, 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. Six volumes cover the first
151 days of the war in 3,255 pages (40 percent of the series). The
first volumes attempted to explain why the German war plans failed and
who was to blame.
In 2002, RH 61/v.96, a summary of German war plans from 1893 to 1914
discovered in the records, that had been written in the late
1930s–early 1940s, for a revised edition of the volumes of Der
Weltkrieg on the Marne campaign, was made available to the public.
Study of pre-war
German General Staff
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. 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. In 2014, 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
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 [italics ours].
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 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 had tried to apply the
offensive strategy of the former to the latter.
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. Horst 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 maintain 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 again made a short war possible. 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 the
French border fortifications were outflanked.
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 had been completed. 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 (war of manoeuvre).
Moltke (the Younger) used the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on 28
June 1914, as an excuse to attempt Vernichtungsstrategie against
France, before Russian rearmament deprived Germany of any hope of
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 was 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 and eliminate one as quickly as
In 1914, Moltke (the Younger) attacked Belgium and France with 34
corps, rather than the 48 1⁄2 corps specified in the
Schlieffen Memorandum, 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.
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 that would have
been followed in 1914, had the Germans not invaded Belgium. For this
contingency, Joffre planned for three of the five French armies (about
60 percent 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 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
and would have had to hazard 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.
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 pulverize 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.
Zuber wrote that the Schlieffen Memorandum was a "rough draft" of a
plan to attack France in a single front war, which could not be
regarded as an operational plan, as the memo was never typed up, was
stored with Schlieffen's family and envisioned the use of units not in
existence. The "plan" was not published after the war, when it was
being called an infallible recipe for victory, ruined by the failure
of Moltke adequately to select and maintain the aim of the offensive.
Zuber wrote that if Germany faced a war with France and Russia, the
Schlieffen Plan was for defensive counter-attacks. Holmes
supported Zuber in his analysis that Schlieffen had demonstrated in
his thought-experiment and in Aufmarsch I West, that 48 1⁄2
corps (1.36 million combat troops) was the minimum force necessary to
win a decisive battle against France or to take strategically
important territory. Holmes questioned why Moltke attempted to achieve
either objective with 34 corps (970,000 front-line troops), only 70
percent of the minimum required. In the 1914 campaign, the retreat by
the French army denied the Germans a decisive battle, leaving them to
breach the "secondary fortified area" from the Région Fortifiée de
Verdun (Verdun fortified zone), along the Marne to the Région
Fortifiée de Paris Paris fortified zone).
If this "secondary fortified area" could not be overrun in the opening
campaign, the French would be able to strengthen the line with field
fortifications. The Germans would then have to break through the
reinforced line in the opening stages of the next campaign, which
would be much more costly. Holmes wrote that
Schlieffen anticipated that the French could block the German advance
by forming a continuous front between Paris and Verdun. His argument
in the 1905 memorandum was that the Germans could achieve a decisive
result only if they were strong enough to outflank that position by
marching around the western side of Paris while simultaneously pinning
the enemy down all along the front. He gave precise figures for the
strength required in that operation: 33 1⁄2 corps (940,000
troops), including 25 active corps (active corps were part of the
standing army capable of attacking and reserve corps were reserve
units mobilised when war was declared and had lower scales of
equipment and less training and fitness). Moltke's army along the
front from Paris to Verdun, consisted of 22 corps (620,000 combat
troops), only 15 of which were active formations.
Lack of troops made "an empty space where the
Schlieffen Plan requires
the right wing (of the German force) to be". In the final phase of the
first campaign, the German right wing was supposed to be "outflanking
that position (a line west from Verdun, along the Marne to Paris) by
advancing west of Paris across the lower Seine" but in 1914 "Moltke's
right wing was operating east of Paris against an enemy position
connected to the capital city...he had no right wing at all in
comparison with the Schlieffen Plan". Breaching a defensive line from
Verdun, west along the Marne to Paris, was impossible with the forces
available, something Moltke should have known.
Holmes could not adequately explain this deficiency but wrote that
Moltke's preference for offensive tactics was well known and thought
that unlike Schlieffen, Moltke was an advocate of the strategic
Moltke subscribed to a then fashionable belief that the moral
advantage of the offensive could make up for a lack of numbers on the
grounds that "the stronger form of combat lies in the offensive"
because it meant "striving after positive goals".
The German offensive of 1914 failed, because the French refused
decisive battle and retreated to the "secondary fortified area". Some
German territorial gains were reversed by the Franco-British
counter-offensive against the 1st Army (
Generaloberst Alexander von
Kluck) and 2nd Army (
Generaloberst Karl von Bülow), on the German
right (western) flank, during the
First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Marne (5–12
Humphries and Maker
In 2013, Humphries and Maker published Germany's Western Front 1914,
an edited translation of the Der Weltkrieg volumes for 1914, covering
German grand strategy in 1914 and the military operations on the
Western Front to early September. Humphries and Maker wrote that the
interpretation of strategy put forward by Delbrück had implications
about war planning and began a public debate, in which the German
military establishment defended its commitment to
Vernichtunsstrategie. The editors wrote that German strategic thinking
was concerned with creating the conditions for a decisive (war
determining) battle in the west, in which an envelopment of the French
army from the north would inflict such a defeat on the French as to
end their ability to continue in forty days. Humphries and Maker
called this a simple device to fight France and Russia simultaneously
and to defeat one of them quickly, in accordance with 150 years of
German military tradition. Schlieffen may or may not written the 1905
memorandum as a plan of operations but the thinking in it was the
basis for the plan of operations devised by Moltke (the Younger) in
1914. The failure of the 1914 campaign was a calamity for the German
Empire and the Great General Staff, which was disbanded by the Treaty
of Versailles in 1919.
Some of the writers of Die Grenzschlachten im Westen (The Frontier
Battles in the West, 1925), the first volume of Der Weltkrieg, had
already published memoirs and analyses of the war, in which they tried
to explain why the plan failed in terms that confirmed its validity.
Förster, head of the Reichsarchiv from 1920 and reviewers of draft
chapters like Groener, had been members of the Great General Staff and
were part of a post-war "annihilation school". Under these
circumstances, the objectivity of the volume can be questioned as an
instalment of the ""battle of the memoirs", despite the claim in the
foreword written by Förster, that the Reichsarchiv would show the war
as it actually happened ("wie es eigentlich gewesen"), in the
tradition of Leopold von Ranke. It was for the reader to form
conclusions and the editors wrote that though the volume might not be
entirely objective, the narrative was derived from documents lost in
1945. The Schlieffen Memorandum of 1905 was presented as an
operational idea, which in general was the only one that could solve
the German strategic dilemma and provide an argument for an increase
in the size of the army. The adaptations made by Moltke were treated
in Die Grenzschlachten im Westen, as necessary and thoughtful sequels
of the principle adumbrated by Schlieffen in 1905 and that Moltke had
tried to implement a plan based on the 1905 memorandum in 1914. The
Reichsarchiv historians' version showed that Moltke had changed the
plan and altered its emphasis because it was necessary in the
conditions of 1914.
The failure of the plan was explained in Der Weltkrieg by showing that
command in the German armies was often conducted with vague knowledge
of the circumstances of the French, the intentions of other commanders
and the locations of other German units. Communication was botched
from the start and orders could take hours or days to reach units or
never arrive. Auftragstaktik, the decentralised system of command that
allowed local commanders discretion within the commander's intent,
operated at the expense of co-ordination. Aerial reconnaissance had
more influence on decisions than was sometimes apparent in writing on
the war but it was a new technology, the results of which could
contradict reports from ground reconnaissance and be difficult for
commanders to resolve. It always seemed that the German armies were on
the brink of victory, yet the French kept retreating too fast for the
German advance to surround them or cut their lines of communication.
Decisions to change direction or to try to change a local success into
a strategic victory, were taken by army commanders ignorant of their
part in the OHL plan, which frequently changed. Der Weltkrieg portrays
Moltke (the Younger) in command of a war machine "on autopilot", with
no mechanism of central control.
In 2001, Strachan wrote that it is a cliché that the armies marched
in 1914 expecting a short war, because many professional soldiers
anticipated a long war. Optimism is a requirement of command and
expressing a belief that wars can be quick and lead to a triumphant
victory, can be an essential aspect of a career as a peacetime
soldier. Moltke (the Younger) was realistic about the nature of a
great European war but this conformed to professional wisdom. Moltke
(the Elder) was proved right in his 1890 prognostication to the
Reichstag, that European alliances made a repeat of the successes of
1866 and 1871 impossible and anticipated a war of seven or thirty
years' duration. Universal military service enabled a state to exploit
its human and productive resources to the full but also limited the
causes for which a war could be fought and Social Darwinist rhetoric
made the likelihood of surrender remote. Having mobilised and
motivated the nation, states would fight until they had exhausted
their means to continue.
There had been a revolution in fire power since 1871, with the
introduction of breech-loading weapons, quick-firing artillery and the
evasion of the effects of increased fire power, by the use of barbed
wire and field fortifications, the prospect of a swift advance by
frontal assault was remote, making battles indecisive. Major-General
Ernst Köpke, the Generalquartiermeister of the German army in 1895,
wrote that an invasion of France past Nancy would turn into siege
warfare and the certainty of no quick and decisive victory. Emphasis
on operational envelopment came from the knowledge of a likely
tactical stalemate. The problem for the German army was that a long
war implied defeat, because the probable coalition of enemies, France,
Russia and Britain, was far more powerful. The role claimed by the
German army as the anti-socialist foundation, on which the social
order was based, also made the army apprehensive about the internal
strains that would be generated by a long war.
Schlieffen was faced by a contradiction between strategy and national
policy and advocated a short war based on Vernichtungsstrategie,
because of the probability of a long one. Given the recent experience
of military operations in the Russo-Japanese War, Schlieffen resorted
to an assumption that international trade and domestic credit could
not bear a long war and this tautology justified
Vernichtungsstrategie. Grand strategy, a comprehensive approach to
warfare, that took in economics and politics as well as military
considerations, was beyond the capacity of the Great General Staff (as
it was among the general staffs of rival powers). Moltke (the Younger)
found that he could not dispense with Schlieffen's offensive concept,
because of the objective constraints that had led to it. Moltke was
less certain and continued to plan for a short war, while urging the
civilian administration to prepare for a long one, which only managed
to convince people that he was indecisive. 
By 1913, Moltke (the Younger) had a staff of 650 men, to command an
army five times greater than that of 1870, which would move on double
the railway mileage (56,000 miles (90,000 km)), relying on
delegation of command, to cope with the increase in numbers and space
and the decrease in the time available to get results. Auftragstaktik
led to the stereotyping of decisions at the expense of flexibility to
respond to the unexpected, something increasingly likely after first
contact with the opponent. Moltke doubted that the French would
conform to Schlieffen's more optimistic assumptions. In May 1914 he
had said "I will do what I can. We are not superior to the French."
and on the night of 30/31 July 1914, remarked that if Britain joined
the anti-German coalition, no-one could foresee the duration or result
of the war.
In 2009, Stahel wrote that the Clausewitzian culminating point (a
theoretical point at which the strength of a defender surpasses that
of an attacker) of the German offensive occurred before the Battle of
the Marne, because the German right (western) flank armies east of
Paris, were operating 100 km (62 mi) from the nearest
rail-head, requiring week-long round-trips by underfed and exhausted
supply horses, which led to the right wing armies becoming
disastrously short of ammunition. Stahel wrote that contemporary and
subsequent German assessments of Moltke's implementation of Aufmarsch
II West in 1914, did not criticise the planning and supply of the
campaign, even though these were instrumental to its failure and that
this failure of analysis had a disastrous sequel, when the German
armies were pushed well beyond their limits in Operation Barbarossa,
World War I
World War I portal
Manstein Plan (Second World War plan with similarities)
^ On taking up the post, Schlieffen had been made to reprimand
publicly Waldersee's subordinates.
^ a b Foley 2007, p. 41.
^ a b c Foley 2007, pp. 14–16.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 16–18.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 18–20.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 16–18, 30–34.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 25–30.
^ a b Zuber 2002, p. 9.
^ Zuber 2002, p. 8.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 53–55.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 20–22.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 22–24.
^ a b Foley 2007, p. 63.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 63–64.
^ Foley 2007, p. 15.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 64–65.
^ a b Foley 2007, p. 66.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 66–67.
^ Holmes 2013, p. 62.
^ Ritter 1958, pp. 1–194.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 67–70.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 70–72.
^ Zuber 2011, pp. 46–49.
^ a b Foley 2007, pp. 72–76.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 77–78.
^ Strachan 2001, p. 177.
^ a b Zuber 2010, pp. 116–131.
^ Zuber 2010, pp. 95–97, 132–133.
^ Zuber 2010, pp. 54–55.
^ Zuber 2010, pp. 52–60.
^ Edmonds 1926, p. 446.
^ Doughty 2005, p. 37.
^ Edmonds 1926, p. 17.
^ Doughty 2005, pp. 55–63, 57–58, 63–68.
^ Zuber 2010, p. 14.
^ Zuber 2010, pp. 154–157.
^ Zuber 2010, pp. 159–167.
^ Zuber 2010, pp. 169–173.
^ a b c Holmes 2014, p. 211.
^ Strachan 2010, p. xv.
^ Humphries & Maker 2010, pp. xxvi–xxviii.
^ a b Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 11–12.
^ Zuber 2002, p. 1.
^ a b Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 2–3.
^ Zuber 2002, pp. 2–4.
^ Foley 2007, p. 24.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 23–24.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 69, 72.
^ Creveld 1980, pp. 138–139.
^ Creveld 1980, p. 139.
^ Creveld 1980, pp. 139–140.
^ a b Keegan 1998, pp. 36–37.
^ a b Keegan 1998, pp. 38–39.
^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 7–8.
^ Zuber 2011, p. 17.
^ Zuber 2002, pp. 7–9.
^ Zuber 2011, p. 174.
^ Zuber 2002, pp. 291, 303–304.
^ Zuber 2011, pp. 8–9.
^ Holmes 2014, p. 206.
^ Holmes 2003, pp. 513–516.
^ Zuber 2010, p. 133.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 79–80.
^ Foley 2007, pp. 80–81.
^ Holmes 2013, pp. 55–57.
^ Holmes 2013, pp. 57–58.
^ Holmes 2013, p. 59.
^ Holmes 2013, pp. 60–61.
^ Zuber 2011, p. 176.
^ Holmes 2014, p. 197.
^ Holmes 2014, p. 213.
^ Strachan 2001, pp. 242–262.
^ Humphries & Maker 2013, p. 10.
^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 12–13.
^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 13–14.
^ Strachan 2001, p. 1,007.
^ Strachan 2001, p. 1,008.
^ Strachan 2001, pp. 1,008–1,009.
^ Strachan 2001, pp. 173, 1,008–1,009.
^ Stahel 2010, pp. 445–446.
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