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German War aims


yperman
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Although I've found an earlier thread on "origins of the Great War" I have not found one on the thinking behind the German war aims in Europe (excluding the desire for an Empire and local naval hegemony ). Most of the other powers had understandable objectives - such as for France it was to regain the lost provinces and 'revanche', Britain for control of the seas and a Europe not dominated by Germany , Austro-Hungary to absorb Serbia and so on. The German planning seemed to envision (after the Schllieffen plan had defeated the Entente) the conquest and post war retention of the bulk of France and all of Belgium under German occupation. Which begs the question why? The war of 1870 was fought for clear and limited aims - which Prussia duly achieved. The sheer vagueness of the Kaiser's pre war European objectives seem the antithesis of Bismarckian realpolitik.

Granted it has been argued that Germany decided to strike at its encircling potential enemies because it perceived itself to be at the height of its military power compared with the rapidly arming Entente. It therefore launched a pre-emptive strike. Yet even allowing for Kaiser Wilhelm II's personal inadequacies, to go into a Great War without anything more than a hazy post war objective seems crazy even if it brought short term political unity (1).

Can anyone shed light on the pre-Great War German thinking?

Yperman

(1) A Watson 'Ring of Steel' pp30-31

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Wow!!! That's a question to fill libraries of books and endless discussion.

My feeling is, however, that Germany did not have any properly thought-through aims. The Kaiser had foolishly given Austria "carte-blanche" in the Balkans knowing full well that that would inevitably bring Russia into conflict and that that in turn would bring in both Germany on the Austrian and France on the Russian side. Not wanting 2 fronts, east and west, it was decided, in the absence of anything better, to implement the nearly 10 year-old Schlieffen plan in order to quickly defeat France (c/f 1871) before Russia completed mobilisation and then have its "back free" to concentrate on the war in the east.

Despite his antipathy and contemtuousness, I do not think the Kaiser was ready to take on Britain and the Empire, especially not at sea, but totally underestimated the consequences of his course of action.

Moltke was subsequently blamed for "bodging up" the "infallible" Schlieffen plan, but this had, in all probability, only really been intended as an intellectual exercise rather than a contingency plan and was certainly less than fool-proof - despite the fact that it nearly came off.

I am sure many will disagree, especially as a European war seemed both then and in hindsight, as inevitable, but I believe the Kaiser and his close advisers had no overriding strategic plan in the west, but felt the need to take immediate action before it was too late. If Germany had been anything approaching a democracy, I believe the war could have been confined to S.E. Europe.

Cheers

Colin

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One thing that has always struck me is how Germany (with Bavaria) was most clearly not prepared for a war of long duration or involving so many participants. This is, in my own area of interest, clearly shown by the way in which they lacked sufficient rifles and bayonets to properly arm, up to the standards of the day, their own armies.

Trajan

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Fischer's work 'The First World War' included, according to my notes,

1. Re France- possible cession of Belfort and Vosges and coastal strip Dunkirk to Boulogne, Ore field Briey, indemnity to prevent armament expenditure for 15-20 years. Treaties to make France dependent on Germany

2. Re Belgium -Liege and Verviers to Prussia and consideration of Antwerp. Belgium to become economically a German perovince

3. Re Luxembourg -to become a German federal state

4. A central Europe economic association to be created to include France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria- Hungary, Poland and perhaps Italy Sweden and Norway in effect under German leadership

5. Aim is creation of Central African empire

6. A possible preliminary a treaty with France and Belgium

7. Holland must be closed relation without compulsion, perhaps Antwerp to Holland and allow a German garrison at mouth of Scheldt.

If I recall correctly Fischer says that these aims emerged in September 1914 and were stated in March 1916

I would suggest that Germany went to war in accord with the plans of the Great General Staff, which although the finest such staff then in existence, was without political oversight. It's plan to deal with enemies on two fronts aimed at destruction of the opposing armies. I do not known enough about German systems to hazard an opinion if the Fischer aims existed before 1914, some probably did, or if they were an attempt to make sense of the situation that emerged as the staff plan failed.

Old Tom

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Can anyone shed light on the pre-Great War German thinking?

Yperman

You'll need a clinical/forensic psychologist to even attempt to answer that question.

My own opinion is that a highly deluded mind-set of their own prowess coupled with a serious underestimation of their "enemies" potential led to Germany being the prime mover of WW1. This followed a fairly long list of post-Bismarck geo-political errors on Germany's part. Bismarck himself warned against such folly before and after his enforced retirement, but his warnings fell on the deaf ears of closed minds.

Cheers-salesie.

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Fischer's work 'The First World War' included, according to my notes,

1. Re France- possible cession of Belfort and Vosges and coastal strip Dunkirk to Boulogne, Ore field Briey, indemnity to prevent armament expenditure for 15-20 years. Treaties to make France dependent on Germany

2. Re Belgium -Liege and Verviers to Prussia and consideration of Antwerp. Belgium to become economically a German perovince

3. Re Luxembourg -to become a German federal state

4. A central Europe economic association to be created to include France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria- Hungary, Poland and perhaps Italy Sweden and Norway in effect under German leadership

5. Aim is creation of Central African empire

6. A possible preliminary a treaty with France and Belgium

7. Holland must be closed relation without compulsion, perhaps Antwerp to Holland and allow a German garrison at mouth of Scheldt.

If I recall correctly Fischer says that these aims emerged in September 1914 and were stated in March 1916

I would suggest that Germany went to war in accord with the plans of the Great General Staff, which although the finest such staff then in existence, was without political oversight. It's plan to deal with enemies on two fronts aimed at destruction of the opposing armies. I do not known enough about German systems to hazard an opinion if the Fischer aims existed before 1914, some probably did, or if they were an attempt to make sense of the situation that emerged as the staff plan failed.

Old Tom

Well, they succeeded on No. 4 (except for Norway-whom they tried to persuade by force a generation later, and whose people rebuffed accesion to the new Union yet another generation later).

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The subject is touched up on in this old thread which got heated at times: http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=9240&page=1 It is one of the few threads that Terence Zuber participated in (perhaps with a touch of humour, under the username "Schlieffen")

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If I recall correctly Fischer says that these aims emerged in September 1914 and were stated in March 1916

Old Tom

Point is, these aims were stated after the outbreak of war . . . . . .

Exactly, they were not only stated, but also formulated after having started the war, ("emerged" being a nice euphamism). There was huge public enthusiasm in Germany when hostilities commenced, but nobody knew what exactly they wanted to achieve (apart from military victory), so it very quickly became necessary to come up with some sort of justification and with expansionist aims public support was a given.

Cheers

Colin

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Great discussion thread, and many good points raised. To add to this point from a more tactical perspective.....Like so many other nations over the years, Germany fell into the trap of planning to fight the last war, which in their case was the 1871 Franco-Prussian war. Military technology had advanced so quickly in the next 40 years that the Germans, as well as all the major warring powers, failed to adapt their tactics. So whatever their strategic aims may or may not have been, the execution of their war plans doomed them to failure. Regards, John

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An interesting point John. My knowledge of the France Prussian war is limited but it think from a German point of view it involved a simpler more direct attack on the French. Hence distances were shorter and command and control easier. I also recall that the German General Staff did not 'war game' the complete operation because of its great extent.

Old Tom

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By this you mean what, exactly? Not adhering to Britain's rigid, self-serving concept of the global status quo?

You'll need a clinical/forensic psychologist to even attempt to answer that question.

My own opinion is that a highly deluded mind-set of their own prowess coupled with a serious underestimation of their "enemies" potential led to Germany being the prime mover of WW1. This followed a fairly long list of post-Bismarck geo-political errors on Germany's part. Bismarck himself warned against such folly before and after his enforced retirement, but his warnings fell on the deaf ears of closed minds.


Cheers-salesie.

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  • 6 years later...

I've just read Ernst Junger's 'Storm if Steel' and I asked myself the same question that's argued above. From Junger's account, it's clear that the Germans were less well equipped and supplied than the Allies. The failure of the German offensive in March 1918 and the decision to agree to an Armistice, given those deficiences and the lack of manpower that Junger describes, look predictable. The probability of defeat musr have been clear to the German staff, and the rewards as indicated in the war aims, not worth the gamble. Mind you, no one knew what they were letting themselves in for, but in any event, after reading Junger I find myself drawn more and more drawn to salesie's conclusion. They weren't quire right in the head.

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