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32Bravo
04-12-2007, 01:43 PM
Schlieffen spent years perfecting his plan, so why did it fail?

Here is a brief outline:

Schlieffen stated military necessity was the reason for invading Belgium. He also stated that in a two front war “..The whole of Germany must throw itself upon one enemy, the strongest, most powerful, most dangerous enemy and that can only be France.” Schlieffen allocated six weeks and seven-eighths of Germany’s forces to smash France while one-eighth was to hold the eastern frontier against Russia until the bulk of the army could be brought back to face the second enemy.

He chose France first because Russia could frustrate a quick victory by simply withdrawing within her infinite room leaving Germany to be sucked into an endless campaign as was Napoleon. France was both closer at hand and quicker to mobilise. The German and French armies, each required two weeks to mobilise before a major attack could begin on the fifteenth day. Russia, according to German arithmetic, because of her vast distances, huge numbers and meagre railways, would take six weeks before she could launch a major offensive, by which time France could be beaten.

Clausewitz, oracle of German military thinking, had ordained a quick victory by ‘decisive battle’ as the first object in offensive war. Time counted above all else. Clausewitz condemned ‘gradual reduction’ of the enemy, or war of attrition.

To achieve the decisive victory, Schlieffen fixed upon a strategy derived from Hannibal and the Battle of Cannae. Two thousand years ago, Hannibal’s classic double envelopment of the Romans at Cannae had annihilated them. Schlieffen wrote: “..the principles of the strategy remain the unchanged. The enemy’s front is not the objective (could have been Rommel speaking). The essential thing is to crush the enemy’s flanks … and complete the extermination by attack upon his rear.”

Schlieffen didn’t have enough divisions for a double envelopment of France a’ la Cannae so the substituted a heavily one-sided right wing that would spread across the whole of Belgium on both sides of the Meuse, sweep down through the country like a monstrous hay-rake, cross the Franco-Belgian frontier along its entire width and descend upon Paris along the valley of the Oise. The German mass would come between the capital and the French armies, which drawn back to meet the German menace, would be caught, away from their fortified areas, in the decisive battle of annihilation.

So, seven hundred thousand Germans swept through Belgium. “Let the last man on the right brush the Channel with his sleeve!” says Schlieffen - and marching to meet them were a mere six divisions of the British Army.

So, why did the plan fail?

Rising Sun*
04-13-2007, 03:19 AM
I'm not a student of this area, but the references to von Clausewitz reminded me of another of his aphorisms which is probably pertinent:

"No plan survives the first battle."

32Bravo
04-13-2007, 07:30 AM
I'm not a student of this area, but the references to von Clausewitz reminded me of another of his aphorisms which is probably pertinent:

"No plan survives the first battle."


When battle is joined plans can and do go awry. Usually, it is the better trained, better disciplined and better led that are first to recover from the intial shock and regain the initiative.

The Germans were well trained and well led, and no one can question their discipline in the fight.

Schlieffen 'cherry-picked' the parts of 'Clausewitz' which fitted his own way of thinking.

Man of Stoat
04-13-2007, 08:03 AM
If I remember correctly, the bulk of the German troops were reservists called up to fight. They couldn't march or fight as well as the plan required and on the right flank they came up against the BEF, every member of which had mastered his SMLE to the extent that the Germans thought they were being machine gunned.

Either that, or the Belgian trains ;)

32Bravo
04-13-2007, 12:50 PM
If I remember correctly, the bulk of the German troops were reservists called up to fight. They couldn't march or fight as well as the plan required and on the right flank they came up against the BEF, every member of which had mastered his SMLE to the extent that the Germans thought they were being machine gunned.

Either that, or the Belgian trains ;)

The British learned hard lessons about marksmanship during the Boer War(which prevail today), and their constant search for improvement in this area paid off against the advancing Germans. To the extent that, as you say, the Germans at times thought they were facing machine guns when confronted by the accurate rapid-fire of the Tommies armed with their Lee-Enfield rifles.

(George Eller and I were discussing the merits of the Lee-Enfield rifle, and George pointed out to me that a part of the reason for the British ability to fire rapidly and accurately, was the design of the bolt-action of the rifle. Having used one of these rifles I find I have to agree.)

Using troops from the active army alone, Schlieffen would not have enough divisions both to hold the eastern frontier with Russia and to achieve superiority in numbers over France which he needed for a quick victory. According to the prevailing military doctrine, only the youngest men, fresh from the rigours and discipline of barracks and drill were fit to fight; reserves who had completed their compulsary service and returned to civillian life were considered soft and not wanted in the battle line. Schlieffen changed that. He added twenty or so reserve divisions to the line of march of the fifty active divisions. With the increase in numbers his envelopment became possible.

The reservists were mainly used on his left-wing and centre to hold the French while his right-wing advanced through Belgium. Schlieffen's successor, General von Moltke planned for a German left-wing of eight corps numbering about 320,000 men to hold the front in Alsace and Lorraine south of the Metz. The German centre of eleven corps numbering 400,000 men was to invade France through Luxemburg and the Ardenne (sounds familiar?). The German right-wing of sixteen corps numbering about 700,000 men would attack through Belgium.

Facing this onslaught were the Tommies of the British Expeditionary Force:

The BEF suffered 90,000 casualties by the end of October 1914.
The BEF acquired the nickname 'Old Contemptibles' as a result of a supposed order from Kaiser Wilhelm. It is a 'supposed' order as it could well have been created by British propagandists, the order of the day reading; "It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate first the treacherous English [and] walk over General French's contemptible little army." Either way, the name stuck.

Curious, that the name of the general commanding the British Army was 'French'.

32Bravo
04-14-2007, 08:46 AM
It was an incredulous Committee of Imperial Defence, meeting as a War Council in the afternoon of the 5th August that was stunned into silence by what Kitchener had to say.

The Committee of Imperial Defence comprised of civilian ministers: Asquith, Grey, Churchill and Haldane (the Frocks, as they were known to the military), and the Army by eleven general officers including Field Marshal Sir John French, Sir Douglas Haig, Sir James Grierson, Sir Archibald Murray and Major-General Henry Wilson (the Boneheads, as they were known to the civillians).

Kitchener: Kitchener of Khartoum; K of K; Kitchener of Chaos.
Kitchener was the first active soldier to enter Cabinet since the time of Charles II.

“We must be prepared to put armies of millions in the field and maintain them for several years!” Kitchener had had no involvement in the planning of the coming campaign on the continent and considered it to be ludicrous to ‘tack on’ Britain’s six divisions to the French strategy. He saw clearly that the six divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were likely to affect little in the outcome of the coming clash between seventy German and seventy French divisions. Kitchener continued to explain that to win a war in Europe, Britain must have an army of seventy divisions, equal to the Continental armies, and he stated that to raise and train an army of such magnitude would take three years. The Regular Army with its professional officers and especially its NCOs was a precious commodity, indispensable as a nucleus for training the larger force which would be required. To fritter it away in immediate battle under what he expected to be unfavourable circumstances and where, from the long-term view, its presence could not be decisive, he regarded as criminal folly. Once it was gone there were no more troops properly trained, in his opinion, to take its place.

In the end the War Council were not impressed by Kitchener’s prophecy “How or by what process of reasoning he made this forecast of the length of the war…” wrote government minister Grey “..was never disclosed.”

And so it came to pass that of Britain’s five divisions of infantry and one of cavalry, four of infantry were sent to France together with the cavalry and one was kept in England for home defence in case of a German invasion across the Channel.

Rising Sun*
04-14-2007, 09:41 AM
It was an incredulous Committee of Imperial Defence, meeting as a War Council in the afternoon of the 5th August that was stunned into silence by what Kitchener had to say.

The Committee of Imperial Defence comprised of civilian ministers: Asquith, Grey, Churchill and Haldane (the Frocks, as they were known to the military), and the Army by eleven general officers including Field Marshal Sir John French, Sir Douglas Haig, Sir James Grierson, Sir Archibald Murray and Major-General Henry Wilson (the Boneheads, as they were known to the civillians).

Kitchener: Kitchener of Khartoum; K of K; Kitchener of Chaos.
Kitchener was the first active soldier to enter Cabinet since the time of Charles II.

“We must be prepared to put armies of millions in the field and maintain them for several years!” Kitchener had had no involvement in the planning of the coming campaign on the continent and considered it to be ludicrous to ‘tack on’ Britain’s six divisions to the French strategy. He saw clearly that the six divisions of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were likely to affect little in the outcome of the coming clash between seventy German and seventy French divisions. Kitchener continued to explain that to win a war in Europe, Britain must have an army of seventy divisions, equal to the Continental armies, and he stated that to raise and train an army of such magnitude would take three years. The Regular Army with its professional officers and especially its NCOs was a precious commodity, indispensable as a nucleus for training the larger force which would be required. To fritter it away in immediate battle under what he expected to be unfavourable circumstances and where, from the long-term view, its presence could not be decisive, he regarded as criminal folly. Once it was gone there were no more troops properly trained, in his opinion, to take its place.

In the end the War Council were not impressed by Kitchener’s prophecy “How or by what process of reasoning he made this forecast of the length of the war…” wrote government minister Grey “..was never disclosed.”

And so it came to pass that of Britain’s five divisions of infantry and one of cavalry, four of infantry were sent to France together with the cavalry and one was kept in England for home defence in case of a German invasion across the Channel.

Does this mean that Britain denuded itself of its main training cadre in the early part of the war, by losses in the field or just by it being overseas?

32Bravo
04-14-2007, 10:48 AM
Does this mean that Britain denuded itself of its main training cadre in the early part of the war, by losses in the field or just by it being overseas?


In 1914 a British Cavalry Division consisted of about 9,000 officers and men, while an Infantry Division was of around 18,000.

The BEF had received some reinforcements, but by the end of October, after the first battle Ypres, they had suffered circa 90,000 casualties. Thus, as Kitchener had feared, the BEF had been practically anihilated. The vast majority of the casualties sustained, came from artillery barrage. However, between August and November they did make their mark.

Rising Sun*
04-14-2007, 12:54 PM
In 1914 a British Cavalry Division consisted of about 9,000 officers and men, while an Infantry Division was of around 18,000.

The BEF had received some reinforcements, but by the end of October, after the first battle Ypres, they had suffered circa 90,000 casualties. Thus, as Kitchener had feared, the BEF had been practically anihilated. The vast majority of the casualties sustained, came from artillery barrage. However, between August and November they did make their mark.

So, Britain is left largely with the one division that remained in Britain to train the huge number of men required for the rest of the war?

What I'm getting at is that the training cadre is more important in a sustained war and Kitchener seemed to know it was going to be a sustained war, and needed that cadre, but the War Council or whatever overruled him and sent the core of the British training cadre to France to no great effect. ??

If so, it's a different and much more militarily competent Kitchener than we've been given by the popular histories.

32Bravo
04-14-2007, 01:08 PM
So, Britain is left largely with the one division that remained in Britain to train the huge number of men required for the rest of the war?

What I'm getting at is that the training cadre is more important in a sustained war and Kitchener seemed to know it was going to be a sustained war, and needed that cadre, but the War Council or whatever overruled him and sent the core of the British training cadre to France to no great effect. ??

If so, it's a different and much more militarily competent Kitchener than we've been given by the popular histories.

Almost. However, Kitchener released the other division to reinforce the BEF. So they too were decimated. This happened in what has come to be known as 'the race to the sea'.

The BEF were replaced by the Terrritorails, which - regarding the military prowess - Kitchener rated as Zero, but they were to prove him wrong. As a result of the high casualty rate caused by the artillery, by Novemeber, the armies settled inot the stalemate of the trenches and the T.A> were abble to hold their own, until the volunteers began to arrive in 1915.

It should come as no surprise, given your question on training, that the Tommies suffered from a lack of ability in field tactics in the later battles of the Somme etc.

Wolfgang Von Gottberg
04-14-2007, 04:28 PM
The plan was meant as a 'Stormattack' so that the Western Front could be fully secured before the Russians could mobilize in the East.

The reason the plan failed was because the Belgians refused to surrender to the Germans, and used general gorrila warfare with the Germans. Eventually the Germans crushed them, but this wasted valuable time.

By the time Germany got to France, Russia was ready.

32Bravo
04-14-2007, 04:40 PM
The plan was meant as a 'Stormattack' so that the Western Front could be fully secured before the Russians could mobilize in the East.

The reason the plan failed was because the Belgians refused to surrender to the Germans, and used general gorrila warfare with the Germans. Eventually the Germans crushed them, but this wasted valuable time.

By the time Germany got to France, Russia was ready.

All true, but it was only a part of it, there were other factors that came into play. However, the part played by the Belgians cannot be ignored.

The readiness of Russia, when it came, was somewhat irrelevant to the outcome in the west.

Purple96
04-14-2007, 09:00 PM
Von Moltke (the Younger) commander of the west lacked the intestinal fortitude to follow the Schlieffen plan to the letter, his front commander Von Kluck was as we know bogged down by the Belgians for too long, and afterward he lacked the zeal to push through the BEF, which he could have, but Von Kluck and Moltke became over-cautious at that point, and turned south toward the Marne/Paris line instead of pushing farther north and west to complete the grand envelopment foreseen by Schlieffen. To add to their problems the Russians invaded east Prussia in less than two weeks causing Von Moltke to send 5 divisions east at the time they were needed for the big push north west of Paris. It failed due to the resolute stop-gap measures and bravery of the Belgians, the tenacity of the French and British commanders and their forces, and the ABSOLUTE under-estimation of the Russian's ability to mobilize quickly. The single most important thing probably was lack of REAL confidence in the Plan by von Moltke and Kluck to take their objectives regardless of the cost, thus they got sucker-played by Joffe, Gallieni, and Haig, which caused German forces to engage to far south of their objectives, and the Miracle of the Marne was born, while Schleiffen's baby died.

32Bravo
04-15-2007, 01:36 AM
Well, in fairness to Moltke, he was the one stuck with having to execute the plan, not Schlieffen. Schlieffen never computed Belgian resistance into his time-frame. The Belgians were expected to offer only verbal protestations.

"Be bold! Be bold!" said Schlieffen.

"Yes be bold!" said Moltke "But not too bold!"

32Bravo
04-15-2007, 01:45 AM
The Belgians could field six divisions. At Liege they had strong fortresses that the germans had to neutralize before they were able to sweep on by. They cold only neutralize the fortresses by bringing forward and assembling massive howitzers which fired enormous shells over and into the fortresses. The Belgians continued to resist by guerilla tactics, cutting telegraph cables, blowing bridges and generally disrupting German communications and their ability to get men and supplies forward quickly. Added to that was the snipers. The Germans were held up in villages and at other bottle-necks by sniper fire. This triggered a hard response from the Germans by way of reprisals against civillians, which began stories of atrocities such as gang-rape and babies being skewered on bayonets, which served to fuel the allied propaganda machine allowing them to demonize the 'Hun'.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWatrocities.htm