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Falkenhayn's Plans for 1917?


DixieDivision1418
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In video game terms, OHL Chief Erich von Falkenhayn's grand strategy for 1916 might be informally described as trying to draw the French into a "killbox" at Verdun. The strategy failed, as the German 5th Army lost sight of its objectives and the French army recovered. The British and French began their offensive on the Somme, and the Russians came close to knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war with the Brusilov Offensive. When Romania entered the war, Falkenhayn was finally removed and replaced in August 1916 by his adversaries at Ober Ost, Hindenburg and Ludendorff.

Assuming the Russian offensive is either cancelled or less successful and Falkenhayn remains at OHL, what is his plan for the rest of 1916 and 1917? To be fair, it seems Falkenhayn did consider looking for other options after Verdun started going poorly, and the battle was already being wound down somewhat by June and July.

Whether he will make the withdrawal that Hindendorff did I'm not sure, or attempt any offensives in 1917.

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3 hours ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

In video game terms,

 

      Pray tell me-as it would be a revelation- just what video game equipment was available to Falkenhayn in 1916-or, come to think of it, any other year of the Great War?  

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      Pray tell me-as it would be a revelation- just what video game equipment was available to Falkenhayn in 1916-or, come to think of it, any other year of the Great War?  

I was only using an element of video game terminology as an analogy for Falkenhayn's strategy.

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9 minutes ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

I was only using an element of video game terminology as an analogy for Falkenhayn's strategy.

 

    And therein lies the problem-  the Great War was not a video game.

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    And therein lies the problem-  the Great War was not a video game.

I was certainly not suggesting that to be the case. In weapons terminology, a "kill box" is an area where combined arms fire is integrated, and the term migrated over to video games to describe an area one may be drawn into to suffer increased casualties. I only used the term as an informal analogy to what Falkenhayn is claimed to have hoped to do at Verdun - that is, to draw the French army into an area where German fire could inflict massively disproportionate casualties on them. I'm definitely not suggesting strategy and tactics in the Great War was as simple as this, it is only an analogy to summarize the real concept.

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1 minute ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

I'm definitely not suggesting strategy and tactics in the Great War was as simple as this

 

   Alas, I think you are- that the Great War can be re-run and all factors of manpower and materiel can be shifted as easily as the roll of a die.  What compromises war gaming v the historical record can be summed up in one word: REALITY

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   Alas, I think you are- that the Great War can be re-run and all factors of manpower and materiel can be shifted as easily as the roll of a die.  What compromises war gaming v the historical record can be summed up in one word: REALITY

I think you're looking too closely at one very minor aspect of the post - it has no bearing on the rest of it. In any case, it's not what I meant, and you're misrepresenting what I said.

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3 minutes ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

nd you're misrepresenting what I said.

 

     I think not. From your original post:

 

6 hours ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

In video game terms

 

6 hours ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

might be informally described

 

6 hours ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

Assuming the Russian offensive is

 

6 hours ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

Whether he will make

 

        Would it not be better to play "what if" gaming with the contents of your shopping trolley in Walmart?   What if the box of cornflakes was at the top?   What if the Coca-Cola was moved to the left?  Etc,etc.

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The most constructive answer that I can suggest is to assess Falkenhayn's intentions as extending beyond the remit of Verdun : he aspired to a method of fighting which might be moved from one sector to another, and was predicated on inflicting great damage , not only in terms of killing and capturing the enemy, but also in terms of morale and political will on the enemy homefront. In conjunction with a new U-boat onslaught, this had the potential to be truly devastating. I reckon there was more realism to his plans than he has been given credit for ; in this sense the Brusilov Offensive really spoilt his party.  He admitted that he hadn't considered the possibility of such a mighty and effective onslaught in the East : a remarkable statement that speaks well of his honesty, in my opinion.  Verdun dominated the war on the Western Front in the first half of 1916, but this must not obscure the fact that there was intense fighting elsewhere in France and Belgium, which had the hallmarks of the Verdun method, and resulted in disproportionate damage being inflicted on the Entente.  The British, for example, suffered significantly from nasty German flurries in Artois and Flanders ( Vimy and Mount Sorrell, for example).  Between February and June 1916, one third of all German casualties on the Western Front were incurred in sectors other than Verdun, and this  suggests that Falkenhayn was willing and able to transfer resources if local opportunities could be exploited.  Without Brusilov, this approach had much to commend it, and is a good " might have been" to consider.  That's my best effort to provide an answer.

 

Phil

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     I think not. From your original post:

        Would it not be better to play "what if" gaming with the contents of your shopping trolley in Walmart?   What if the box of cornflakes was at the top?   What if the Coca-Cola was moved to the left?  Etc,etc.

Ah, you hadn't mentioned that the speculative nature of the question was the true issue. 

 

I gather from this that you have a negative view of counterfactual history. This is a completely reasonable and understandable position to hold, and plenty do. However, the forum rules don't seem to explicitly ban them, so I don't see any issue with posting them.

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DD- By all means, post away. I am not censorious  in that respect.   I just do not believe there is any such thing as "counterfactual history".   History is factual- "wie es eigentlich gewesen", ergo there can be no conterfactual "history". It's a contradiction in terms.

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On 11/01/2021 at 03:10, DixieDivision1418 said:

so I don't see any issue with posting them.

It's not a matter of counterfactual history being against forum rules, it's just that such posts have historically gained very little traction here.

Edited by Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
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A foray into the counterfactual is often dismissed as a fool’s errand.

 

It’s not my cup of tea.

 

It is challenging, however, trying to interpret what Falkenhayn was really aiming for with Operation Gericht.

 

In that sense, it does exercise my imagination .....wondering what the impact of the  “ Brusilov  Summer “ was on the German chances in 1916.  

 

Until a few weeks ago, I had accepted the version that cast doubt on the authenticity of Falkenhayn’s Christmas Memorandum .

 

When I took the trouble to consult his memoirs, and saw his astonishing admission that he was taken by surprise by the Russian onslaught , it struck me as unlikely that he would have fabricated his claims about the plan as set out in that memorandum.

 

That likewise persuades me to believe that he really was hoping for the Entente offensive that was launched on the Somme.

 

Brusilov failure = no Romanian entry = no Falkenhayn dismissal = continuance of his attritional plans for 1917 with primacy of Western Front effort = attacks against the British in Flanders and Artois in 1917 ???

 

There you are..... having declared this to be “ not my cup of tea”,  I’ve ended up drinking it !

 

Phil

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As opposed to fake news, what ifs are merely fake history and of no relevance whatsoever to the serious business of real history.

Regards

David

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10 hours ago, phil andrade said:

A foray into the counterfactual is often dismissed as a fool’s errand.

 

It’s not my cup of tea.

 

It is challenging, however, trying to interpret what Falkenhayn was really aiming for with Operation Gericht.

 

In that sense, it does exercise my imagination .....wondering what the impact of the  “ Brusilov  Summer “ was on the German chances in 1916.  

 

Until a few weeks ago, I had accepted the version that cast doubt on the authenticity of Falkenhayn’s Christmas Memorandum .

 

When I took the trouble to consult his memoirs, and saw his astonishing admission that he was taken by surprise by the Russian onslaught , it struck me as unlikely that he would have fabricated his claims about the plan as set out in that memorandum.

 

That likewise persuades me to believe that he really was hoping for the Entente offensive that was launched on the Somme.

 

Brusilov failure = no Romanian entry = no Falkenhayn dismissal = continuance of his attritional plans for 1917 with primacy of Western Front effort = attacks against the British in Flanders and Artois in 1917 ???

 

There you are..... having declared this to be “ not my cup of tea”,  I’ve ended up drinking it !

 

Phil

Of course, it's worth noting that the British internalized many hard lessons from their experiences during the Somme, and the Germans may find the British of 1917 wise to the game already.

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11 hours ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

Of course, it's worth noting that the British internalized many hard lessons from their experiences during the Somme, and the Germans may find the British of 1917 wise to the game already.

 

Did all the boats on the lake rise together ?

 

British experience of the Somme fighting imparted  skills and techniques that were apparent in 1917 : by the same criterion, the Germans were also improving their game.

 

If we attempt to guess what Falkenhayn's approach might have been, it's important to try and gauge how he rated the mettle of his respective foes.

 

One thing that comes over clearly in his memoir is the lavishness of the praise he bestowed on the conduct of his own troops as they struggled against immense material odds and managed to contain the huge Entente offensive in Champagne and Artois  in September and October 1915.

 

With this in mind, he presumably felt that,  with such troops endowed with mighty ordnance and vast amounts of munitions, the objectives of his Verdun strategy were plausible.

 

The question I pose : did Falkenhayn  sense that his men still retained a qualitative edge as the Battle of Verdun entered its fifth month ?

 

That was bound to determine his aspirations for a 1917 plan.

 

Phil

Edited by phil andrade
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1 hour ago, phil andrade said:

The question I pose : did Falkenhayn  sense that his men still retained a qualitative edge as the Battle of Verdun entered its fifth month ?

 

That was bound to determine his aspirations for a 1917 plan.

 

Phil

 

Given the way Falkenhayn was able to control information as to his thinking (and the destruction of the German archives in the 1945 bombing raid), we'll never know for certain, but it would be difficult of him not to feel that way. By the end of June the Germans had likely captured more than 50,000 prisoners and were consistently driving in French positions on the right bank, while cementing their grip on the left. 

 

Still, one major factor to consider is that, up until Brusilov and then the Somme, German thinking hadn't really diverged from prewar operational planning. The German army had gone into the war planning on a major offensive in the west, an operational pause on strong lines followed by transfer of forces east, the defeat of Russia, and then the transfer back west to end the French armies. Until June of 1916, Falkenhayn could feel decently confident that matters had mostly gone according to plan, the Tsar's armies had been badly defeated in the field, the French had been staved in and then stymied in their counter-offensives, and the Germans were grinding through their units at Verdun. Then the Brusilov offensive hits, the French army shows it had been actually reserving much of its energy for the Somme, and suddenly the Germans are flying blind for the first time in the war. 

 

With this in mind, I feel like Falkenhayn likely wouldn't have diverged from Hindenburg and Ludendorff's strategic decisions in 1917 of essentially returning to what was working in 1915 and decisively ending one of the two fronts in the war. The question is whether he would have engaged in Alberich, or continued to fight it out with the Entente over the Montdidier salient.

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Hello Sasho !

 

  Let me pitch my interpretation July to October 1916 was a time of crisis for Germany.

 

The War Loan failed for the first time ( October ?).

 

One third of the 800,000 battle casualties the Germans admitted to suffering in that period were attributable to the Eastern Front.

 

Casualties they had not bargained for.

 

It was bad enough having to endure the Somme and Verdun : but those struggles were already countenanced , so to speak.

 

To sustain an additional quarter million casualties in a struggle that came as a surprise made the cup run over, accompanied as it was by the vastly greater Austro Hungarian losses and the intervention of Romania on the side of the Allies.

 

Phil

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Perhaps the most important change of all would be that with Falkenhayn still present, you may not see Germany resume Unrestricted Submarine Warfare or institute the Hindenburg Program. This may not be enough to change the outcome of the war, as the Entente certainly held the advantage in material, but it may keep Germany in the war longer.

 

The lack of a Brusilov Offensive also means Austria-Hungary isn't effectively crippled and forced to rely on Germany for the rest of the war.

Edited by DixieDivision1418
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Wasn’t Falkenhayn an advocate of unrestricted submarine warfare  ?

 

Unless I’m mistaken, it was started on his watch.

 

I see that you allude to its resumption, rather than its initial instigation, so forgive me if I’m being picky.

 

Phil

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8 hours ago, phil andrade said:

Wasn’t Falkenhayn an advocate of unrestricted submarine warfare  ?

 

Unless I’m mistaken, it was started on his watch.

 

I see that you allude to its resumption, rather than its initial instigation, so forgive me if I’m being picky.

 

Phil

Originally, though I'm sure how involved he was personally in the decision. Bethmann-Hollweg didn't like the idea, and without Hindenburg and Ludendorff pressing for it, I'm sure if it will be resumed in 1917 or not.

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One of the most striking aspects of Falkenhayn's strategic outlook was his preference for trying conclusions in the West : at least, that's my impression.

 

I note that he was an advocate of reaching a settlement with the Russians that might have allowed them some concessions in the Baltic, in order to reinforce the German position in the West.

 

I would also opine that his experience of the failure to break through in Flanders in the autumn of 1914 , with the heavy losses suffered at First Ypres and in other episodes in the so called " Race to the Sea", imparted an aversion in him to anything that was based on prodigal offensives aimed at break throughs on the grand scale, and that he sought alternatives in the local, but relentless attritional battles that could demoralise and bleed the enemy disproportionately, with Verdun being his notorious exemplar.

 

That approach seems to me to be an advocacy of realism, consistent with the strategic predicament of two front warfare, and I would have thought that he would have seen unrestricted submarine warfare as an important extension of this, even if it entailed risks of US intervention.

 

Had he still been supremo in 1917, my sense is that he would have adhered to that approach : take Brusilov's 1916 summer  out of the equation, and his method was bound to be pretty effective.

 

So say I .

 

 

Phil

 

 

 

 

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On 1/25/2021 at 04:32, phil andrade said:

Had he still been supremo in 1917, my sense is that he would have adhered to that approach : take Brusilov's 1916 summer  out of the equation, and his method was bound to be pretty effective.

You may be right, but from what I've read, while the submarine campaign certainly hurt Britain, it was never a credible threat. It would seem it was ultimately a disaster for Germany - Britain was unharmed, and the United States sufficiently angered to enter the conflict.

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5 hours ago, DixieDivision1418 said:

You may be right, but from what I've read, while the submarine campaign certainly hurt Britain, it was never a credible threat. It would seem it was ultimately a disaster for Germany - Britain was unharmed, and the United States sufficiently angered to enter the conflict.

 

          Credible threat?  Yep.

          ultimately a disaster for Germany?  Nope.  What submarine campaign against Germany by the British?   

 

"Britain was unharmed"      ....................   we will just ignore the 17,000 Merchant Navy deaths  and the 3000+ ships lost then shall we?    Oh- and better have this  knocked down immediately-  it's  our national memorial to the Merchant Navy  on Tower Hill in London.  No point having it if we were "unharmed"

 

image.png.610b347f2250f48bb74ce76d04bdc72a.png

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 Credible threat?  Yep.

          ultimately a disaster for Germany?  Nope.  What submarine campaign against Germany by the British?   

 

"Britain was unharmed"      ....................   we will just ignore the 17,000 Merchant Navy deaths  and the 3000+ ships lost then shall we?    Oh- and better have this  knocked down immediately-  it's  our national memorial to the Merchant Navy  on Tower Hill in London.  No point having it if we were "unharmed"

On January 17th, 1917, a random and completely insignificant Tuesday on the Western Front, 170 members of the BEF still died. This was a collection of 170 tragedies, yet it was a tiny drop in the bucket that wouldn't be felt at the strategic level. At the strategic level, Britain, despite the loss of life, wasn't really harmed. That was a more than replaceable level of losses, with the biggest manpower drain actually being the UK's need to concentrate a very high level of manpower into their shipbuilding industries to make good on the replacements.

 

Discussing anything but the personal lives and suffering of individual soldiers involves an inherent degree of callousness/inhumanity, given the way in which any mass undertaking reduces its individual members into cogs in a machine. No need to go off on someone for discussing something at the level it is being approached at.

 

On 25/01/2021 at 09:32, phil andrade said:

One of the most striking aspects of Falkenhayn's strategic outlook was his preference for trying conclusions in the West : at least, that's my impression.

 

I note that he was an advocate of reaching a settlement with the Russians that might have allowed them some concessions in the Baltic, in order to reinforce the German position in the West.

 

I would also opine that his experience of the failure to break through in Flanders in the autumn of 1914 , with the heavy losses suffered at First Ypres and in other episodes in the so called " Race to the Sea", imparted an aversion in him to anything that was based on prodigal offensives aimed at break throughs on the grand scale, and that he sought alternatives in the local, but relentless attritional battles that could demoralise and bleed the enemy disproportionately, with Verdun being his notorious exemplar.

 

 

I personally think this is a misreading of Falkenhayn. For example, he was planning in 1915 to engage in a large breakthrough operation between Arras and Albert, but the need to divert forces East, and the reinforcement of the successes obtained there throughout the summer, consumed the resources he had built up for his operation. In this regard Falkenhayn actually showed a degree of flexibility normally not credited to him, as he was willing to shelve his plans in the west and even let Ludendorff and crew expand eastern operations beyond what he initially wanted, as the successes increasingly showed themselves there. 

 

In addition, the blood mill on the Meuse was actually a case of Falkenhayn being pulled away from his initial operational plan by the way in which points naturally gain in perceived strategic significance the more each party bleeds for them. The primary purpose of Verdun was to fix the French army's resources with the primary goal of opening the way for a breakthrough operation, either against the French proper, or potentially against the BEF in a counter-attack against a failed offensive. It's only as Verdun stagnated (in large part because of Falkenhayn's initial under-investment vs. a broad front operation) that it became the mathematical attrition that he increasingly obsessed over.

 

Given the increasing material and manpower resources of the German army (and, paradoxically, the simultaneous catching up of the Entente artillery and ammunition park),  it's very likely that Falkenhayn would have sought to force a decision in 1917, especially considering that he was increasingly aware that his previous assessment that Germany could outlast its opponents was becoming increasingly incorrect. The era when German heavy gunnery could dominate a battlefield and the Germans had a major leg up in coup de mains was done. The likeliest case, considering the success the Central Powers had had in mid-late 1916 against the post-Brusilov Russian army, was a shift towards seizing a decision in the east.

 

In short, I don't really think operations under Falkenhayn look that different. To me the biggest question is if Falkenhayn shows the same doggedness that he had shown at Verdun, and chooses to fight out the Entente on the lines post Somme without engaging in an Alberich style operation to create a mass of maneuver. 

 

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