Germany had been preparing the setup for the war and the Schlieffen Plan was made to pull off the battle with France and Russia. This plan was proposed by Count Alfred von Schlieffen in 1905. What was the Schlieffen Plan, why was it created, what were the particular changes that were made in the plan and was it even needed? In this article, we will discuss and find out the answers to these questions.
France and Britain signed a peace-friendly, understanding treaty, the Entente Cordiale in 1904, which encouraged both the countries to join hands as one against the threat of Germany. While in negotiations, Russia was also added to the alliance and this concerned Germany of a combined attack from the respective countries. This fear led Germany to prepare a counter-attack plan of the joined alliances and that plan is generally known as the Schlieffen Plan. The plan was basically to weaken the combined alliance and, for that, Schlieffen wanted France to be the first one to be defeated. After that, it would be difficult for Russia and Britain to continue the war. Thus, it was essential for Germany to defeat France so they would surrender before Russia prepared its army for war.
Schlieffen and the German Army
Schlieffen was one of the brightest students of military history. His plans were inspired by the Cannae Battle. In that battle, the great Roman forces were defeated with a successful flanking manoeuvre, which turned the flanks of Roman Army and destroyed it completely. Schlieffen was convinced that the strategy could work with a modern army and the main focus of his plan was the implementation of the enormous flank attack. He proposed in 1905 that Germany’s preference with France and Russia—its most likely rivals in a continental war—were that the two were isolated and separated. Germany, along these lines, could dispose of one while the other was held within proper limits. When one partner was defeated, Germany would have the capacity to consolidate its powers to overcome the other through gigantic troop focus and quick organisation.
Schlieffen wished to imitate Hannibal by inciting a defensive fight and utilising enormous power, in a solitary force, to bring a quick and decisive triumph. He chose France as the first one to be defeated, with Russia held off until the point that the French were destroyed.
Fundamental Model of the Schlieffen Plan
- To attack France through Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium before Russia prepared and mobilised its army.
- If required, the help of Austrian and Hungarian allies would hold the German/Russian border.
- A maximum of six weeks to defeat France.
- After defeating, moving the army back to defeat the Russian army.
This arrangement called for four armed force gatherings, called the Bataillon Carré, to mass on the German right.
That northernmost power would comprise of:
- Five divisions
- 17 infantry corps
- Six substitution corps, known in German as Ersatz Korp
- Men older than 45 years old, known in German as Landwehr & Landsturm.
Those powers were to wield the south and east in the wake of going through unbiased Belgium, transforming into the flanks and back of the solidified French protection along the German outskirts. After the crossing of the Somme River (west of Paris) at Abbeville and Chaulnes, the primary body of the Bataillon Carré would swing to draw in the protectors of the French capital, with the Ersatz Korps lending support. The group in the middle – including six infantry corps, Landwehr troops and a mounted force division – was about to attack the French at La Feré and Paris, encompassing the capital on the north and east. The third gathering would focus on the right wing of the southernmost region, with eight corps, five hold corps and three Landwehr troops, assisted by two roaming mounted force divisions.
The last gathering comprised of three mounted force divisions, three infantry corps, two Ersatz Korps and holding corps on the left wing. That last gathering was to hinder any French endeavour to counterattack, and it could be withdrawn and transported to the right, if important. The Upper Rhine to the Swiss outskirts and the Lower Alsace were to be protected via Landwehr units.
Ratio of Manpower
The labour proportion was 7:1 from the right to left wing. That massive power was to get through at the Metz-Diedenhofen region and to sweep away every French power before it, which swung like a door that had its pivot in the Alsace area. Schlieffen worked out a definite timetable that considered every conceivable French reaction to German activities, with specific consideration paid to the gently safeguarded Franco-German outskirt. With that arrangement, Schlieffen trusted Germany could vanquish France inside a month and a half and the battle finish with an unequivocal “super Cannae” in the south.
Count Alfred von Schlieffen’s Successor
The successor of Alfred was Helmuth von Moltke, who took charge as the chief of army staff of the German army in 1906. He customised the plan by removing Holland from the countries to be invaded and the Flanders would be the main route. Moltke presented certain changes to the plan after holding the command of the army.
Modifications by Helmuth von Moltke to the Schlieffen Plan
- According to Moltke, Belgium’s army was a very small one, which could not stop German forces from entering France quickly.
- 36 divisions were ordered to invade Belgium.
- 8 divisions were saved to stop the Russian army’s advance into the East.
On 2 August 1914, the Schlieffen plan was executed when Luxembourg and Belgium were invaded by the German army. Somehow, the Belgium army held up the Germans and they were shocked by the quick advancement of the Russian army into East Prussia. Not only that, the Germans were also amazed by how fast the British army reached France and Belgium.
On 3 September, the French forces’ Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Joffre, gave orders to his army to draw back a line by the side of the River Seine, south-east of Paris and over sixty kilometres south to the Marne. The commander of the British Expenditure Army, Sir John French, agreed on joining with the French forces to attack the German army.
The First Attack by the French Army on German Forces
On the morning of 6 September, the German 1st army was attacked by the French 6th army; the entire force was ordered by General Alexander von Kluck to meet up the attack by opening a gap of fifty kilometres between the German 2nd army and the French ones, which was led by General Karl von Bulow. This alliance between the three states became the reason for splitting of the German armies when the French 5th army and the British troops advanced. The Germany forces struggled to break the lines. The French 6th army was about to be defeated, although it was saved by using the taxis in Paris to rush the six thousand reserves armed troop to the battle.
On 9 September, the German Commander-in-Chief, Helmuth von Moltke, ordered General Karl von Bulow and General Alexander von Kluck to move back, meaning the British and French army could now cross the line of Marne.
Moltke moved the improvised plan into action on 2 August 1914. The Schlieffen Plan was modified by the chief himself. This modification made by Helmuth von Moltke was the root cause of the failure of the whole plan. Things didn’t go as planned, the Russians sent troops to the border much sooner than expected, which made Moltke release more soldiers, which doomed the plan. He sent less troops than what was recommended by Schlieffen to advance.
He had assumed Belgium would not give much opposition, but the Belgians held up the Germans very much. The aid that was sent to Belgium and France by the British Army arrived much sooner than expected, too, which forced the German troops to back off. Moreover, the communication between the troops and officers with the headquarters of the German army was flawed and poor, which was one of the greatest reasons of losing control. The plan worked at first, but there were too many flaws in the modifications, which made them lose the battle. The tables were turned during the Battle of the Marne, where it was very obvious that things were not in Germany’s hands anymore. The plan lacked in many ways, which caused the troops to suffer heavy losses on the battleground. Over time, many debates have been had about Schlieffen’s purpose with this plan as well as the execution of his plan.
1999; T. Zuber, ‘The Schlieffen Plan Reconsidered’ in: War in History
2006; R. Foley, ‘The Real Schlieffen Plan’ in: War in History
2008; T. Zuber, ‘Everybody Knows There Was a ‘Schlieffen Plan”: A Reply to Annika
Mombauer’ in War in History