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 The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan

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Tim of Aclea
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PostSubject: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 07 Apr 2012, 09:26

The Schlieffen Plan was based on the premise that Germany could not sustain a war on two fronts and therefore needed to knock out one out of France or Russia ASAP. Given that it was considered that they could not knock Russia out quickly, it had to be France. But this involved attacking through Belgium and hence bringing GB into the war, the German high command allowed for this. However, given that Germany managed to sustain a war on two fronts, the basic premise for the Schlieffen Plan was clearly totally flawed. I wondered how it was arrived at.

If WW1 had started with Germany accepting they could sustain a war on two fronts they could have stayed on the defensive on the Western Front with 4 armies and attacked Russia with 4 armies. Austria-Hungary would not have suffered the crushing defeat at Lemburg, Russia could have been defeated in 1915 and Italy would probably have kept out of the war.

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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 07 Apr 2012, 16:49

I think the way they beat the French in 1870 may have influenced them in the decision.

It was fairly predictable that the French, burning for revenge, and with their current ideas of the importance of 'elan', etc, would throw all they could muster into a big attack on the frontier. It would give the Germans the ideal opportunity to swing behind them, and pin them against the German defences. It might have worked, but they lost their nerve a bit and turned inside Paris, rather than swing round it. Given the state of railways, supply trains, etc, it was maybe asking a bit much to sustain those armies on the wide swing, but it sure frightened the hell out of the French!

But given what we know now, I would have to agree - they could have easily held the French on the frontier, even with 2 or 3 armies, (the Allies would hardly have tried to out-flank them by cutting through Belgium) and the Russians proved to be a lot more vulnerable than they must have looked in 1914.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 07 Apr 2012, 17:42

I agree that the 1870 Franco_German war may have encourage Germany that they could knock France out quickly, although even in 1870 it took them quite a bit longer than the 6 weeks the Schlieffen planned called for. However, that does not explain why Germany considered that they had to knock out France so quickly to win the war.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 07 Apr 2012, 18:54

I think they were in the grip of the fairly general (misguided) belief that the "Russian Steamroller" would require all their forces to withstand it. As it happened, the Russians mobilised far faster than the Germans thought they could, but proved far less effective in the field.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sun 08 Apr 2012, 15:55

Yes, I think they (and most others) regarded the Russians as the major threat, rather than the French. The Russian army was potentially huge, the French were a known (and regarded as beatable) quantity. The British had a tiny, 'contemptible' little army, not worth factoring into the equation.

It was partly a case of 'lets beat up the little kids, before the big boys get out of bed, and the real fight begins'. Nobody had any idea how it was going to turn out, and the Germans expectations of the future were no more accurate than anyone else's - they were massacred at Mons by British rifle fire.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sun 08 Apr 2012, 19:31

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=25556

There's a very interesting article on "der kindermord bei Ieper" on that thread.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 09 Apr 2012, 17:40

Given the performance of the Russian army in the Russo-Japanese war and the actual number of infantry divisions that Russia could mobilise to take part in the war, 98 to Germany's 96 I think, it is surprising that so much was placed by all sides in the 'Russian steamroller'.

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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 09 Apr 2012, 20:46

They were pretty crap even against Napoleon, but they still won, mostly by just being still there when he ran out of men, horses, and weather! Same in the Crimea - not exactly well trained, well equipped, or well anything-ed, but there just seemed to be zillions of them.

The sheer size of the place intimidates people, and the ones who were not intimidated (such as Hitler and Napoleon) would have been better off if they had been!
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 14:53

There is a school of opinion which maintains that there never really was anything called The Schlieffen Plan, and that it was more simply a vague notion that outflanking the French as quickly as possible was the key to winning any European war. That which was eventually tried (and in my view largely failed in nearly all of its main objectives) was probably therefore more Moltke's design than has been generally accepted. If I was Moltke after the event I wouldn't have been too keen to have my name on it either, so it probably suited everyone in Germany to perpetuate the notion that it was the work of a man who had effectively resigned from military authority in 1905.

Liddel-Hart's point that the Schlieffen Plan's general strategy was eminently achievable up to around 1900, and then achievable again in 1939 thanks to technical (and especially aeronautical) advances in the meantime, is also quite true. It was essentially a failure to calculate logistics which scuppered the Germans in 1914. Had they done their maths they would never have attempted the strategy, I think. Their emphatic and quick victory at Tannenberg was probably what did it for them - the unexpected opportunity to redeploy troops to the Western Front must have made them think that the strategy's chances of success could only be vastly enhanced by the windfall. All it led to was even greater stress on an already overtaxed mobilisation structure.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Wed 11 Apr 2012, 21:35

Hi nordmann

I think that all the books that I have read that have dealt with the opening of the war on the Western Front (and I have read a fair number over the years) have started with the Schlieffen Plan. A.J.P.Taylor even blamed Schlieffen for causing the war because of it. Schliefffen's dying words are supposed to have been 'Only make the right wing strong.'

Schieffen wanted to invade the Netherlands through the Maastricht appendix to avoid the bottleneck around Liege, he hoped to do this by diplomacy. but Moltke decided that he could not afford the risk.

I have always felt that it was the French who had the real opportunity for a decisive victory in 1914. If they had abandoned plan XVII and used their fortress network as a shield to concentrate the bulk of their army on their left flank they could have decisively outnumbered the Germans on the open flank (even as it was they outnumbered the Germans at the Marne).

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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sun 15 Apr 2012, 16:38

I personally think the entire WW1 was wrong. We do not even remember what the war was all about now. Yet, all these nations went into that war with high hopes of annihilating their enemies.

Considering the costs of the war to Europe, Germany, Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and finally to Britain, it was a war not worth fighting at all.

Because of that war we got Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and WW2. This war saw the end of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. As a result of this war the British Empire came to an end. It created enormous instability every where in the World, not to speak of all the causalities. Was it a war worth fighting for an Austrian Archduke's assassination? Could they not have found some kind of diplomatic compromise? Some other manner of rubbing Serbia's nose in the dirt? I wonder.

Tas
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sun 15 Apr 2012, 20:48

I reckon the assassination wasn't the cause of the war, just the excuse - if it hadn't happened, there would have been some other excuse.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 16 Apr 2012, 11:01

Perhaps it would have been better, considering the enormous costs, for Britain to not go for its typical balance of power approach with creating the 'Entente Cordiale' with France. Perhaps it may have been better for Britain to stay aloof from the war until at a much later stage and then come in as the only surviving Great Power and Peace maker.

Thus Britain's influence in the World would have increased enormously and it would not be playing second fiddle to the US for most of the 20th Century.

Tas
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 16 Apr 2012, 20:36

Possibly, Tas. It would certainly have been better if Britain had had a coherent plan in 1914 which would have protected its interests, rather than merely acting as an appendage to the French army.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 21 Apr 2012, 07:00

Tas

if Britain had stayed out of the Great War then the Central Powers would certainly have won the war. Germany would have been the only surviving Great Power in Contintental Europe and under the Kaiser hostile to Britain. Germany would then have been able to channel her resources towards the gaining of navel supremacy.

regards

Tim
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 21 Apr 2012, 10:57

I agree. If Britain had stayed out in 1914, the Central Powers would have won,and we have a good idea from the Brest-Litovsk Treaty just how extensive their territorial acquisitions would have been [including their Bulgarian and Turkish allies, the Black Sea would have become in effect a German lake]

By 1920, Britain would have found itself in a worse position than the spring of 1941,completely isolated and not a single potential ally anywhere in Europe.

btw, Mons. THe Germans may have suffered from the BEF's musketry, but the BEF also suffered from the German medium and heavy artillery. Left to his own devices, General French would have taken the BEF home in early September.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 21 Apr 2012, 13:51

Tim of Aclea wrote:
Tas

if Britain had stayed out of the Great War then the Central Powers would certainly have won the war. Germany would have been the only surviving Great Power in Contintental Europe and under the Kaiser hostile to Britain. Germany would then have been able to channel her resources towards the gaining of navel supremacy.

regards

Tim

There is another possible scenario. Perhaps the French and the Russsians may not have gone to war with Germany. Germany had been, since the Napoleonic wars, the traditional ally of Britain, the German Kaiser was a grandson of Queen Victoria. Although he was unstable and a bit of a nutcase, he had admired Britain for a long time, and regarded himself as some kind of Englishman.

Ideally it would have been much better if his father had lived longer. Emperor Frederick was gradually converting Germany into a Liberal State à la Britain. His British wife , Empress Victoria, was a daughter of Queen Victoria, and loved Britain. Alternately if the Kaiser Wilhelm II had let his Chancellor Bismarck stay either in office or as an adviser. Bismark was very wary of a war with Britain and would have certainly avoided it.

All these 'what ifs!'

However, Lord Haldane, a very astute and competent Minster of war for Britain just prior to the Great War, the man who created the territorial army, and enabled Britain to participate in the war at all by having it ready, was strongly against the war. He was not listened to in the era of Jingoism. I think all in all, it was a big mistake by Britain, although Britain did try to recover from it (and very well) as it always does even till today. Regards,

Tas
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 21 Apr 2012, 13:59

I have to add the following to my previous message:-

The enmity between Britain and Germany was largely the fault of the stupidity of Kaiser Welhelm II. He had initiated a naval competition with Britain without first creating an arms agreement, perhaps a naval agreement. If Germany had not gone so aggressively for a naval buildup and so much competition with Britain, perhaps the old friendship between Britain and Germany may have remained in tact.

Tas
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Sat 21 Apr 2012, 16:12

Or, as Wilhelm himself is supposed to have said to his war cabinet (Bismark, Molte and the rest) late in the war, 1917 or even '18:

"If my grandmother (ie Queen Victoria) were still alive, She would NEVER have let this happen!".
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Tue 24 Apr 2012, 18:05

"To think that George and Nicky should have played me false! If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it."

The Kaiser Wilhelm actually la­mented this at the outbreak of World War I

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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Wed 25 Apr 2012, 15:35

So it would appear that 'the Great War' to these people was a family quarrel gone bad.

I am reading about Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons: they had a lot of family quarrels; The Young King Henry often rebelled against his father, and The Young King when he died, a few days short of thirty years, he was on one such rebellion. When he lay dying his father offered to go to his son's death bed, but his third son Richard I, told him it may be a ruse to lure his father into a trap to capture him. What a family! The last son John, lost all of Aquitaine and Normandy and a lot of other now French territory to the French before he died.

All the thoughts of King Henry II to fashion a great West European Empire à la Charlemagne, by marrying all his daughters strategically, and having Beckett elevated to Pope all came to no avail, because of the sheer cussedness of Beckett and the constant rebellions of his four sons, the Young King, Richard, Geoffrey and John.

Tas
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 30 Apr 2012, 01:46

The following gives a very good account of the start of WW1. It was all a tragic accident:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uzpX37gYUs&feature=relmfu

Franz Ferdinand was the man to bring about reforms in the Austro-Hunagarian Empire. Britain could have kept out of it I think.

Tas
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 30 Apr 2012, 07:27

Britain could only have "kept out of it" as part of an isolationist policy which itself would have needed to have started many years before. In 1914 the option did not exist, at least not if Britain did not want to find itself completely vulnerable to subsequent aggression by an ascendant Germany.

In the 1890s the notion of "splendid isolation" had been seriously envisaged as a valid foreign policy by successive British administrations, reacting primarily to an analysis of what had actually been gained from its involvement in Crimea. This had led to extremely militant attempts by others to commandeer British colonial resources (vis: the Boer War). In the early years of the 20th century Britain therefore abandoned this approach in favour of one where it proactively anticipated aggression directed against it and might hopefully avoid war on those grounds. One result of this policy however was simply that it deferred, rather than avoided, war and that the potential war being deferred grew larger as time went on.

Britain had no option to "opt out" of the Great War. It was as much a result of British foreign policy as it was that of anyone else's. Diplomacy was no longer able to contain the resentments and militarism. The British administration required the war as much as any other of the main protagonists. Opting out was not an option.
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 30 Apr 2012, 09:51

Perhaps you are right Nordmann. However, this was a war with extremely serious consequences. If any war was to be avoided this was it.

I can't believe that all of Europe, all these Empires went to war so frivolously; just because some idiotic terrorist organization, 'The Black Hand' saw fit to assassinate the Austrian heir to the throne. And how easy it was to assassinate him and his wife; a bomb had been thrown at him, however no additional precaution were taken. Princip was on his way home. Apparently the Archduke's chauffeur took a wrong turn and brought the victim right into the hands of his assassin, an idiotic student. That was how the greatest of all wars started, after 40 years of peace in Europe. Every one had forgotten how to wage war. The Generals were as bad as the soldier. The Austrians, with their huge, much vaunted Empire, could not even take care of little Serbia. Bizarre! It seems to me all these governments were run by a bunch of 'amateurs'.

Tas
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PostSubject: Re: The premise behind the Schlieffen Plan   Mon 30 Apr 2012, 09:59

Do not confuse the trigger with the cause.

The proof that Serbian revolutionary activity, whether opportunistic or as a component of a wider revolutionary movement within Europe, was simply a trigger is in the roll call of powers who committed themselves to combat within five days and which of these powers had any directly vested interest in Balkan politics.

Analysis of these years of "peace" you mention preceding the Great War reveals several major European powers who were behaving anything but peacably. In fact the real mystery concerning the outbreak of general warfare is how it hadn't happened sooner. It most definitely wasn't due to the same powers being in any way concilatory with each other or pursuing policies designed to establish peace.
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