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Schlieffen Plan & Plan XVII


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Allan Mallinson in his book - 1914 Fight The Good Fight

accredits Field Marshal Lord Wavell with saying

If ever a plan deserved victory it was the Schlieffen Plan; if ever one

deserved defeat it was Plan XVII.

Was he correct ?

Billy

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In my opinion, if the Germans had stuck to the Schlieffen Plan as originally devised, with an exceptionally strong right-wing, victory would have been assured. Whereas Plan XVII was sheer suicidal lunacy, as events proved.

Keith

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If Plan XVII hadn't been carried out in August 1914 there would have been no retreat to the Marne

and therefore no advance to the Aisne.

In fact Mons and the Retreat might never have happened, stalemate from day 1.

Billy

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If Plan XVII hadn't been carried out in August 1914 there would have been no retreat to the Marne

and therefore no advance to the Aisne.

In fact Mons and the Retreat might never have happened, stalemate from day 1.

Billy

Hardly stalemate Billy. The Germans would have enveloped Paris, eliminated the BEF, and totally crushed the French Army.

Keith

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I (almost) never get involved with silly what-if threads like this - but I feel a need to point out something that has been debated in this forum on several occasions.

The "schlieffen plan" of 1914 was operated by a German Army many divisions short of what von Schlieffen envisaged in his original memo (many divisions short because Germany had run into financial/economic problems by 1911 and could not afford to continue the naval race and, even with the money saved on naval expenditure, could not afford to raise army manpower to what was called for; only managing to increase by half of that planned). So, a watered down "schlieffen plan", a not fully applied Plan XVII, meant that neither side started with a fully cohesive, workable plan - but Joffre, much to his credit, got his act together much quicker than von Moltke did and changed his strategy/operations almost overnight when recognising the realities.

Any what-ifs about this are circular arguments that lead nowhere - who's to say that Joffre would not have been quicker to recognise the realities and change even if von Moltke had fielded more divisions? And even if the German army had succeeded in 1914, does history not tell us that the fall of France does not mean the end of the war?

The facts are clear; in the event, the German army with a revised "schlieffen plan" still tried to envelop Paris, eliminate the BEF and destroy the French Army - it failed, just as it failed to achieve any of its objectives on the western front at any stage of the war.

Cheers-salesie.

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Salesie, I agree with you that 'what-ifs' are a rather pointless discussion. But the first post raised the question of whether the original Schlieffen plan deserved victory, and whether Plan XV11 deserved defeat. I think the answer to both these questions is a resounding 'YES'.

Moltke's tinkering with the Schlieffen plan snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and Joffre's foresight turned the initial failure of Plan XV11 into what could be termed an honourable draw, giving the Allies time to get their act together.

Keith

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I have always wondered what would have happened if both plans had worked .

The German Army would have ended up in France and the French Army in Germany !

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I think the original comment is looking at the level of boldness shown by each plan showed, rather than the effectiveness in practice.

The Schlieffen plan is tactically bold and on paper could have destroyed the enemy. Its 'blue sky' thinking - but then, so was Market Garden. Its not too far off Napoleons tactic of moving so fast the enemy could not respond effectively.

Plan XVII was just suicide. As Max Hastings points out, it resulted in the French losing more troops in one day than we did on the first day of the Somme. I don't see how anyone could have expected it to work. And it wasn't so much a 'plan' as a principle. In Hagakure, it suggests that you should always attack because the enemy might die of old age whilst you create your plan. It has the terrific life 'a real man rushes recklessly towards an irrational death.' I think the French would have agreed.

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Keith, Seb,

I think the reason Moltke altered Schliefen's so-called plan was because he (and I think if remember correctly what Terenve Zuber said) probably Schlieffen as well, realised it couldn't work by that stage of military development. If the the German right wing had been further strengthened at the expense of the centre and left wings, then, as poor as they were in combat, the French would have cut through the Ardennes and further south.

The reason why the German plan of 1914 came so near to success wasn't due to the plan itself but rather that the German military superiority in terms of organisation, training and tactics was greater at that time than at any time in the war.

Joffre's options were limited by politics. Gallieni's alternative idea, picked up by his supporters after the war, that France should have fallen back to its fortress belt and let the Germans advance into France, wouldn't have gone down too well with a French political class and public, keen to retake Alsace-Lorraine rather than cede yet more French territory to Germany ! Pan XVII allowed room to react to wherever Germany attacked and in mid August Joffre strengthened 4th Army considerably so it, rather than Lanrezac's 5th Army, became the main attacking force. His adapted plan, of the advance through the Ardennes,to cut off the German right wing, had its merits but his poorly led and trained forces weren't good enough. A lot has been made of German Reserve units fighting in the first-line which implies that it was the Germans superiority in numbers which made the difference, it wasn't, French reserves bolstered their units as well. In simplistic terms, what made the difference was the Germans were better at fighting than everyone else ! An obvious point which is sometimes overlooked. A decreasing superiority which existed until the last months of the war.

Hypothetically, if Joffre had used German troops, and Moltke, French troops then I think we'd be singing the praises of Plan XVII today

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"Hypothetically, Ii the Joffre had used German troops, and Moltke, French troops then I think we'd be singing the praises of Plan XVII today"

I like that.I don't entirely agree but I like that. :w00t:

It reminds me of Max Hastings talking to Germans about the fighting in Normandy during WWII. They were not very impressed with allied efforts and their response was usually 'If it had been us doing it, we would have been in Berlin in a month.'

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Keith, Seb,

I think the reason Moltke altered Schliefen's so-called plan was because he (and I think if remember correctly what Terenve Zuber said) probably Schlieffen as well, realised it couldn't work by that stage of military development. If the the German right wing had been further strengthened at the expense of the centre and left wings, then, as poor as they were in combat, the French would have cut through the Ardennes and further south.

The reason why the German plan of 1914 came so near to success wasn't due to the plan itself but rather that the German military superiority in terms of organisation, training and tactics was greater at that time than at any time in the war.

Joffre's options were limited by politics. Gallieni's alternative idea, picked up by his supporters after the war, that France should have fallen back to its fortress belt and let the Germans advance into France, wouldn't have gone down too well with a French political class and public, keen to retake Alsace-Lorraine rather than cede yet more French territory to Germany ! Pan XVII allowed room to react to wherever Germany attacked and in mid August Joffre strengthened 4th Army considerably so it, rather than Lanrezac's 5th Army, became the main attacking force. His adapted plan, of the advance through the Ardennes,to cut off the German right wing, had its merits but his poorly led and trained forces weren't good enough. A lot has been made of German Reserve units fighting in the first-line which implies that it was the Germans superiority in numbers which made the difference, it wasn't, French reserves bolstered their units as well. In simplistic terms, what made the difference was the Germans were better at fighting than everyone else ! An obvious point which is sometimes overlooked. A decreasing superiority which existed until the last months of the war.

Hypothetically, Ii the Joffre had used German troops, and Moltke, French troops then I think we'd be singing the praises of Plan XVII today

A point of logic, Steve. If the German incursion deep into northern France was a result of superior German fighting ability then what happened on the Marne? Only a month into the war, did the German army suddenly lose it's greater ability and/or the French and British suddenly become better? Of course not, the fact is that the German right wing did enjoy a local superiority in numbers until Joffre recognised the realities and reorganised the allied forces (with exactly the same standard of troops he had before).

As for superior German fighting ability, the Old Contemptibles would certainly not agree (if an army ever punched well above its weight they certainly did) and it was the so-called "inferior" French who stopped the overrated German army and forced it back on the Marne (with a little help from the BEF). And let's not forget that the much vaunted German Army never achieved any of its objectives at any stage of the war on the Western Front.

Cheers-salesie.

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It reminds me of Max Hastings talking to Germans about the fighting in Normandy during WWII. They were not very impressed with allied efforts and their response was usually 'If it had been us doing it, we would have been in Berlin in a month.'

As mentioned elsewhere on this Forum, Sir Max isn't backward in knocking the achievements of Great Britain and her Allies. Mystery to me how we ever won a war.

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Don't forget that von Rupprecht lost the war for Germany by advancing from the Saarland into France (after retreating across the Lorraine), when he should have continued retreating and enticing the French on to destruction from the rear.

There appear to have been two reasons for this; firstly that he wanted to win a glorious victory like all his contemporaries on the west, and secondly that German landowners objected to their lands being overrun by the French. Von Moltke's HQ has to take some blame as well as when Rupprecht asked whether he could attack he was told to act as his conscience dictated. Hardly a good piece of strategic thinking.

If he had carried on retreating there would hav een fewer troops for the French to use in the west, and fewer German troops as well.

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Hi Salesie,

The big French defeat took place not on the German right flank but in the centre; in the Battle of the Frontiers the sides were numerically evenly matched, in a series of encounter battles the Germans won virtually every time. It is worth considering that if the French losses hadn't been so great and after the initial defeat Joffre had pressed forward again on the following day (his original initial thoughts before the magnitude of the loss became apparent) then the Battle of the Frontiers may have been the decisive victory that the Germans craved. As it was 26,000 killed didn't represent that decisive victory, the French weren't routed and a fighting retreat, allowed them to turn on the Marne.

The German Army had their best chance of victory in August 1914 due to their superior training, organisation and tactics. The French army was poorly led, particularly at divisional/corps level; thankfully in Joffre they had someone who was more than a match for Moltke in reacting to the situation as it evolved. He made sure that the French learned quickly*, Generals were replaced and they were fighting on homesoil; when the Marne arrived 2-3 weeks later the German's under-estimated their opposition and fighting on extended lines came undone.

The BEF may have "punched above its weight" but it was still inferior to the German Army in August 1914. What the Germans lacked was the political and economic savvy to match their fighting arm, which is of course an integral part of modern warfare that they largely failed to appreciate and cost them dearly in the end.

* A better example of a "learning curve" than is often cited to describe British Army improvements later in the war: the French could improve quite quickly by better fire control, use of artillery, better leadership, etc. etc. they had had little pre-war training but you learn quickly underfire. They would narrow the gap in performance over the next few weeks.

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There seems to be little doubt that the German army, General Staff, formations, units and soldiers, in 1914 exemplified what one author - I can't find my note - called a 'genius for war'. I think that should be qualified by restricting war to operations and tactics; their strategy was questionable.

Old Tom

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Hi Salesie,

The big French defeat took place not on the German right flank but in the centre; in the Battle of the Frontiers the sides were numerically evenly matched, in a series of encounter battles the Germans won virtually every time. It is worth considering that if the French losses hadn't been so great and after the initial defeat Joffre had pressed forward again on the following day (his original initial thoughts before the magnitude of the loss became apparent) then the Battle of the Frontiers may have been the decisive victory that the Germans craved. As it was 26,000 killed didn't represent that decisive victory, the French weren't routed and a fighting retreat, allowed them to turn on the Marne.

The German Army had their best chance of victory in August 1914 due to their superior training, organisation and tactics. The French army was poorly led, particularly at divisional/corps level; thankfully in Joffre they had someone who was more than a match for Moltke in reacting to the situation as it evolved. He made sure that the French learned quickly*, Generals were replaced and they were fighting on homesoil; when the Marne arrived 2-3 weeks later the German's under-estimated their opposition and fighting on extended lines came undone.

The BEF may have "punched above its weight" but it was still inferior to the German Army in August 1914. What the Germans lacked was the political and economic savvy to match their fighting arm, which is of course an integral part of modern warfare that they largely failed to appreciate and cost them dearly in the end.

* A better example of a "learning curve" than is often cited to describe British Army improvements later in the war: the French could improve quite quickly by better fire control, use of artillery, better leadership, etc. etc. they had had little pre-war training but you learn quickly underfire. They would narrow the gap in performance over the next few weeks.

You seem to be one of those who think that the best team lost, Steven. You're right on one point, though, Germany never had the political and economic savvy to win a total war - the problem with your argument is, these long-term strategic realities were not a factor in 1914 and cannot, in any way, be used to explain why the "superior" German army never achieved any of its objectives in 1914/15.

Cheers-salesie.

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You seem to be one of those who think that the best team lost.

Cheers-salesie.

Quite the opposite Salesie. My viewpoint is that in those initial encounters in August 1914, the Germany Army was "better at it" than their opposition. To my mind that amplifies the efforts of the French, BEF and Belgians for withstanding the initial setbacks, learning, persevering and eventually winning through; rather than detracting from those efforts.

Barring catastrophic error on either side the war couldn't have been won quickly in 1914; Terence Zuber intimates that Schlieffen had realised this in the end, unfortunately the German Army hadn't. I don't think their war plan was blue-sky thinking I think it was head-in-the-clouds thinking, that partly caused the cataclysm of the Great War.

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Quite the opposite Salesie. My viewpoint is that in those initial encounters in August 1914, the Germany Army was "better at it" than their opposition. To my mind that amplifies the efforts of the French, BEF and Belgians for withstanding the initial setbacks, learning, persevering and eventually winning through; rather than detracting from those efforts.

Barring catastrophic error on either side the war couldn't have been won quickly in 1914; Terence Zuber intimates that Schlieffen had realised this in the end, unfortunately the German Army hadn't. I don't think their war plan was blue-sky thinking I think it was head-in-the-clouds thinking, that partly caused the cataclysm of the Great War.

It seems that we agree, Steven. The only thing I would add is that Germany's head-in-the-clouds thinking primarily caused WW1.

Cheers-salesie

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I believe they speak very highly of him.

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Dupuy?

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1308836.A_Genius_For_War

There seems to be little doubt that the German army, General Staff, formations, units and soldiers, in 1914 exemplified what one author - I can't find my note - called a 'genius for war'. I think that should be qualified by restricting war to operations and tactics; their strategy was questionable.

Old Tom

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Salesie, you don't like the Germans very much, do you

:)

Don't have a problem with Germans per se, Martin, just those (of any nationality) who try to re-write history in order to convince us that the German army was something it wasn't (along with, of course, those who contribute nothing to a thread apart from asking silly bloody questions like "Salesie, you don't like the Germans very much, do you").

Cheers-salesie.

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Don't have a problem with Germans per se, Martin, just those (of any nationality) who try to re-write history in order to convince us that the German army was something it wasn't (along with, of course, those who contribute nothing to a thread apart from asking silly bloody questions like "Salesie, you don't like the Germans very much, do you").

Cheers-salesie.

I usually enjoy challenging people who make sweeping generalisations, are inconsistent in their qualifications of what represents aspects of "success" and "failure" and generally attempt to shout down rather than engage in reasoned discussion, but you seem such a rude little man that I suspect it would be a fruitless exercise.

Cheers

MS

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Oh a good example of why I don't come on here as much any more.

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