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Inventing the Schlieffen Plan


Dikke Bertha
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Jack,

I'm convinced there are many treasures left to be found in the German military archives. I've seen whole files stuck in the wrong folders. I found one of these on my last visits and when I pointed it out to the nice woman from the staff, she replied laughing, "Well, it may be that you're the first person to ever check this out!"

Other times I've come across small 10-15 page excerpts in the most unexpected places from files long ago destroyed (or presumed to be...)

Paul

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You are quite right. It is especially true in my happy hunting ground in Munich, where the great bulk of the files have never been opened and the guides often provide only the haziest idea of the contents. As a result, one of the guiding principles of the MGFA team is that you have not checked a file until you eye has rested on each and every page within it - regardless of what is meant to be there.

Jack

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You are quite right. It is especially true in my happy hunting ground in Munich, where the great bulk of the files have never been opened and the guides often provide only the haziest idea of the contents. As a result, one of the guiding principles of the MGFA team is that you have not checked a file until you eye has rested on each and every page within it - regardless of what is meant to be there.

Jack

Jack,

Too true, and how many of us have the time to make it to all the state archives? You've been telling me for years about Munich, but how to make the time? Even Freiburg, only two hours away, is a multi-day trip due to the restricted operating hours. Stuttgart is open on Thursdays until 1900, which makes it possible for local visitors to make a day trip there worthwhile. Stuttgart, for example, has some great order of battle information on the various German armies--something you'd expect to be in Freiburg, but it's not.

Your second point is well taken. Research in the archives takes time--a lot of time. To go through every page, many times hand written text, is extremely time consuming. I've started ordering more copies. Expensive, but worthwhile. If you only have two days it's impossible to get through much material at the rate of a few hours per folder.

Paul

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Carl

Is that not interesting? I wonder where they got it and when they first had it? Makes you wonder what else is lying around forgotten.

Jack

Jack,

You'd be amazed at what's sitting in storage at IWM London as well. Howard Anderson has been working hard as a volunteer to get these scanned to DVD and available to the public through the "Mapping the Front" project.

Paul

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Jack and Paul

Indeed.

This will in fact require a Zweifrontenkrieg – one Front being TNA and the other Front being the IWM.

The whole Echevarria-Foley-Groß-Holmes-Mombauer-Zuber debate is interesting and fascinating in a particularly gruesome traffic accident sort of a way.

I have some (Väterchen Frost almost suffered terminal sticker shock) of the books on order. I have just received a copy of Groß’s There Was a Schlieffen Plan: New Sources on the History of German Military Planning (War in History, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp 389-431). The abstract at http://wih.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/15/4/389 does not do this paper justice. Here is an extract from the last page

Operational planning therefore demanded a very high risk factor. Far from ensuring victory, it was an emergency solution: the alternative – to inform the Reich government of the hopelessness of a two-front war and thus induce it to change its foreign policy – was inconceivable. It would have challenged the self-image of the general staff officers and questioned the entire position of the army in the structure of the Reich. Since neither Schlieffen nor Moltke was ready to admit defeat in military matters, they decided not to solve the Gordian knot of the two-front war in a defensive way, but to cut it with an offensive.

Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt Vith were separated from Germany because of the existence of ‘strategical’ railway and other military infrastructure and not for a desire to reunite what would become the so-called German-speaking provinces of Belgium. Belgium had a very dense railway network and for at least 50 or 60 years Germany had constructed military railways to assist in, if not an attack, at least an in-depth defence in this area.

Much was made of the lack of divisions but how would the Kriegsspiele (war games) and Generalstabsreisen (general staff rides) have been undertaken if not on a (very big) map or in a (very large) sand box.

What transpired in the beginning of August 1914 was if not the actual, original, genuine, unadulterated Schlieffen Plan it was at least a more realistic Schlieffen-Moltke Plan or (shock, horror) actually the Moltke (E) - Waldersee - Schlieffen - Moltke (Y) plan.

Carl

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I am amazed. After all this debating this map just pops up on the net! It does make you wonder what else is out there.

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Guys

While looking for a detailed map showing the movements of the right wing (the First, Second and Third Armies) from Germany into Belgium, I revisited Banks' A Military Atlas of the First World War and found this interesting comparison of the plans ('appraisals') of the elder Moltke (1879) , Schlieffen (1905), Schlieffen (1912) and the younger Moltke (1914). Unfortunately Banks does not offer a source.

An interesting point is that Moltke (Y) apparently planned to squeeze only thro' the "Liege gap" and not go thro' 'Holland' - the 'neutrality' of Luxembourg apparently not being of much concern.

Although Schlieffen had retired in 1906, he was seemingly was in a position to try and influence Moltke (Y) although Schlieffen in fact died 18 months before the outbreak of WW1 - there being the well known injunctions to Moltke (Y) about "letting the last man on the right, brush the [Channel] with his sleeve" and to "keep the right wing strong".

This is the well known map from the US Military Academy that is often used to illustrate the Schlieffen Plan. But does it portray the situation in August 1914?

http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atl...map%2003new.htm

Carl

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You'd be amazed at what's sitting in storage at IWM London as well.

In a nutshell Paul, I'd guess "loads" (technical term :D). I was privileged enough to be allowed behind the scenes of the photographic archive and there are thousands of images waiting to be catalogued, held in boxes in storage. The team work through them when they can, but it's a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. Just as an example, the digital collection of images is about 20,000 strong. The actual holdings of the IWM is 10 million.

I have a feeling there's a hell of a lot of German material not catalogued at the Naval Historical Branch too. I was given an all-too-brief glimpse behind the scenes there three or four years ago and their holdings are pretty impressive.

But I digress. This Schlieffen material is fascinating even if I don't understand all the strategic nuances being a simple journalist. ;)

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In a nutshell Paul, I'd guess "loads" (technical term :D). I was privileged enough to be allowed behind the scenes of the photographic archive and there are thousands of images waiting to be catalogued, held in boxes in storage. The team work through them when they can, but it's a bit like painting the Forth Bridge. Just as an example, the digital collection of images is about 20,000 strong. The actual holdings of the IWM is 10 million.

I have a feeling there's a hell of a lot of German material not catalogued at the Naval Historical Branch too. I was given an all-too-brief glimpse behind the scenes there three or four years ago and their holdings are pretty impressive.

But I digress. This Schlieffen material is fascinating even if I don't understand all the strategic nuances being a simple journalist. ;)

But it's a good digression...

On the positive side the WFA and IWM combined "Mapping the Front" project is bringing a lot of the IWM Great War maps that have been sitting in storage to the light of day for the first time, and affordable at that. Forum pal Howard Anderson has been a bit part in making this happen.

Paul

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Going from Zuber's Battle of the Frontiers Ardennes 1914, he's a terrific researcher and writes a book that's unreadable. Terrible unuseable maps too. I'll never try another. When I quit a book on WW1 1/3 through it that's remarkable, I own hundreds of them, a large separate set of shelves won't hold them all. On top of that he makes statements such as it's impossible well trained German soldiers could have been wrong about being fired on by civilians. He's far from objective.

Save your money, I wish I had.

I have so far only read a couple of chapters of Zuber's book, but, I found the part on the training of the German army to be interesting. I knew nothing bout it before.

However, he accepts without any question the German regimental histories. For example, he says that when the German army entered Luxembourg they paid cash for everything they took. He knows this because it is written i regimental histories. If he had bothered to investigate in Luxembourg he would have found three metres of unpaid bills that were sent to the government - ranging from vets bills to billeting to a blacksmiths and forging works that was taken over for a week without any compensation whatsoever - and that's in the first thirty centimetres.

I wonder what is to come as I read further?

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I'm not sure how good or well known the following work is, but it's available for free (my favourite price :D) at the Internet Library:

Hauptmann Hans Ritter, Kritik des Weltkrieges: das Erbe Moltkes und Schlieffens im grossen Kriege

http://www.archive.org/details/kritikdesweltkri00rittuoft

It's not one of the Schlieffen/Moltke books I've heard of, but then I'm more of a Feldpostbriefe man...

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Thanks for highlighting these books, I've been looking for some good analysis of the Plan in general books and have been disappointed.

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I have given up on reading the Zuber book o n 1914 as a book. I will keep it to consult as I need it.

It's disappointing, but I find it virtually unreadable. Apart from anything else the language is appalling and the editing worse - words missing in many sentences and just about every paragraph.

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  • 2 years later...

I just got Zuber's latest Aufmarsch : "The Real German War Plan 1904-1905". This book's case appears to be based on a document "BA-MA RH 61/v.96", apparently not available before 2002, and goes into brain-numbing detail on how Zuber believes the German war plan evolved and diverged over the years from Schlieffen's alleged "Plan" - he maintains there were multiple Schlieffen scenarios rather than any single "master plan" - into Moltke's actual plan of 1914.

While Zuber defiinitely has an an agenda to present Germany as other than the sole aggressor in the war's outbreak, and appears to stretch facts to fit, I have long felt that there is something dodgy about the "Schlieffen Plan" that gets trotted out ad nauseam as Germany's master plan for winning a war on two fronts. I get the feeling that Schlieffen's various versions of his "Plan" were feasibility studies only, and I can't see him being so dumb as to totally overlook the logistic needs of the plan, especially the right wing if the right wing was to be the main thrust. The right wing arrived north of Paris quite knackered and Schlieffen would have anticipated this. Likewise, I can't see Schlieffen being locked into a rigid timetable in which victory would come x days into the war - he would have known that rigid plans would not survive the first contacts. Also, if the whole plan required a quick knockout of France as a necessary precursor to be then be able to defeat Russia, the German failure to go for broke on the Marne does not make sense - it was Germany's best and only chance, and Schlieffen himself had stated that a stalemate would destroy Europe. So I don't see German troops marching across Belgium and into France to a rigid Schlieffen plan, that looks like an invention of people with an agenda or a dumbing-down of a complex situation that folks like because it's easy to understand. Zuber contends that Kluck's First Army was in fact intended to cover the right flank rather than to make a main thrust, and that the main thrust was intended through the centre. He maintains that von Kluck in fact screwed up by advancing over-agressively and opening a gap between First & Second Army. This makes sense in terms of the fact that logistics were far more difficult for First Army than for Second, and for Second than for Third.

However, if the army was not in fact carrying out a rigid "Schlieffen Plan", Zuber to me still doesn't make a strong case for what they were in fact carrying out.. I'll need to read the book twice.

Anybody care to venture how seriously Zuber is taken by the history fraternity ?

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My copy of this work has joined Zuber's other books on the ' reference only ' shelf. His research seems extremely detailed and I would certainly refer to it at need but I find it hard to accept his conclusions based on that research. Speaking personally, the repeated theme of his books, that he is revealing for the first time what 'really happened' during various well analysed events, tends to grate a bit. There have been several in depth discussions on the forum re the Schlieffen Plan and it is of course a subject of perennial interest. Was it a plan? Officially it was a memo presented as he retired and supplemented several times after he retired. Was it simply a skeleton? Was it followed? Should it have been followed more closely? etc. etc. There is no doubt that The Plan took on mythic proportions after the war and was used as a stick to beat opponents with in the internecine war which broke out between former members of OHL. I think that the missing part of the jigsaw which is mainly responsible for the mystery surrounding The Plan is the assumptions made by von Schlieffen as to the non-military context in which the plan was to unfold. Did he assume an unopposed traversal of Belgium? The bulk of the German army delivered at the French-Belgian border by rail would have given a much different scenario to the one which actually occurred that August. General Staff plans tended to leave non-military considerations to one side, as we would expect. Political considerations such as safe passage over foreign territory did not fall under their control and had to be simply assumed.

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Earlier this year I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Zuber, finding his approach to the reading of issues very interesting. He is exceedingly over-zealous in his praise for the attributes of the German Army and he finds it very difficult to keep this admiration out of his arguments. His parallel, for me, is now Jack Sheldon; in terms of having a professional background with the German army (without being German themselves), leading to an interest in the German element of the history of the Great War. The difference in their work is that Jack can give a balanced view of the information he gathers from his research and in an academic bit readable style. Zuber, on the other hand, creates unbalanced and difficult pieces of work. I found one of his statements in an email a little offensive (not towards me but the British Army) but my reply was stopped as the moderator felt I was missing the irony in his comment (it was part of the Birmingham Centre's system). I was not missing anything and you know me - I am not particularly harsh in any of my posts B) .

Jim

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I think that the missing part of the jigsaw which is mainly responsible for the mystery surrounding The Plan is the assumptions made by von Schlieffen as to the non-military context in which the plan was to unfold. Did he assume an unopposed traversal of Belgium? The bulk of the German army delivered at the French-Belgian border by rail would have given a much different scenario to the one which actually occurred that August. General Staff plans tended to leave non-military considerations to one side, as we would expect. Political considerations such as safe passage over foreign territory did not fall under their control and had to be simply assumed.

Indeed - I feel Germany lost the war politically, by failing to tightly integrate political and military strategy with each other, and with a realistic appraisal of global political realities. Britain was way ahead on this, whereas Bethmann-Holweg appears to have been astonished (feigned or otherwise) at the British response to the invasion of Belgium. It wasn't von Schlieffen's job to worry about the political consequences of his plans/studies, it was the politicians'. Zuber claims French plans showed that France was prepared to enter Belgium first if necessary, as part of their offensive strategy... he tries to make a point that in fact France invaded Germany rather than Germany invaded Luxembourg and Belgium. He is badly wrong there - he ignores French orders to stay back from the borders till the last minute, and ignores the fact that even demanding free passage through a neutral country (Belgium) was a political act of war - and for Britain and France this was equivalent to real war. In fact France did a good political job of avoiding any appearance of aggression, while not missing a trick in egging on Russia and being ready to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine the moment Germany gave them a pretext. If your war strategy requires free passage through a country, you need to have cultivated that country's compliance years in advance, or be pretty sure that that country is too weak & insignificant for your potential enemies to care, or is viewed internationally as a de facto part of your sphere (Luxembourg), or you need to be sure that your enemies can't or won't do anything significant about it. Germany gets 0/10 on this re. Belgium. It was all downhill after Bismarck.

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Earlier this year I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Zuber, finding his approach to the reading of issues very interesting. He is exceedingly over-zealous in his praise for the attributes of the German Army and he finds it very difficult to keep this admiration out of his arguments. His parallel, for me, is now Jack Sheldon; in terms of having a professional background with the German army (without being German themselves), leading to an interest in the German element of the history of the Great War. The difference in their work is that Jack can give a balanced view of the information he gathers from his research and in an academic bit readable style. Zuber, on the other hand, creates unbalanced and difficult pieces of work. I found one of his statements in an email a little offensive (not towards me but the British Army) but my reply was stopped as the moderator felt I was missing the irony in his comment (it was part of the Birmingham Centre's system). I was not missing anything and you know me - I am not particularly harsh in any of my posts B) .

Jim

There seems to be, Jim, a school of thought that has immense difficulty in reconciling the fact that the much-vaunted German Army of 1914-18 never achieved any of its objectives in the western theatre of operations. Zuber, of course, is one of the prime proponents of said school's dogma, with many of its members being from the American side of the Atlantic - they simply can't come to terms with the fact that their much admired German Army actually lost, and seem to make lame excuse after lame excuse for said failure. And, even when that failure was palpable as early as 1914 when the geo-political/material aspects of total-war had not had enough time to make any meaningful strategic difference to operations in the field, they still claim that the "best team lost".

As for Zuber having a taste for irony - I too just love irony, perhaps the following would be to Zuber's taste?

Here's a post from last year, from one those Junkerphiles I spoke of in the first paragraph:

However, one element of Germany's preparedness was the excellence of their general staff education and organization. Risking awakening salesie, yesterday I attended a symposium on military history, and I was talking to the keynote speaker, a professor of military history at the US Army Command and General Staff College, and he described the British staff education of the period as willfully being woefully deficient, reflecting the "gentleman amateur" attitude of the British officer class. He added that that is why current US command control theory and general staff education and organization follow the German model, and not the British model of the period.

And here's my reply:

Don't worry, ***, I don't have a problem with this view at all. After all, men who built the largest empire the world has ever seen, men who, in 1914, fielded an army that punched well-above its weight against an enemy whose officer corps was bigger than its total strength, men who in just over three years managed to build from scratch an army capable of beating the so-called best army in the world, could never be described as anything but gentlemen amateurs.

I mean, only a fool would argue that rank amateurs could surpass, by huge amounts, the achievements of devout, highly trained and focused professionals?

Cheers-salesie.

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It would be great if Mr Zuber had the opportunity to respond to criticisms of his work here... anybody in contact with him ?

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Don't worry Rod. He gets plenty of 'air time' on the Birminghamd email Forum, plenty of lively debate too but, as Salesie puts it, he is in a school of thought that is hard to shift. He even makes an argument derived from the American Civil War as if that conflict had any real comparison value against the Great War.

Of course Salesie, the Prussian tradition had no bearing upon the Germans! :whistle: I would debate issues with anyone on this Forum but I find the times I have crossed swords with him on the other site difficult.

Jim

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Don't worry Rod. He gets plenty of 'air time' on the Birminghamd email Forum, plenty of lively debate too but, as Salesie puts it, he is in a school of thought that is hard to shift. He even makes an argument derived from the American Civil War as if that conflict had any real comparison value against the Great War.

Of course Salesie, the Prussian tradition had no bearing upon the Germans! :whistle: I would debate issues with anyone on this Forum but I find the times I have crossed swords with him on the other site difficult.

Jim

What would we amateurs know, Jim, when compared to professionals like Zuber? After all, only amateurs could think that an army failing to achieve any of its objectives at all is a highly significant factor when forming conclusions about said army's performance at the sharp-end. It's a bit like asking those professional media pundits who describe Holland's performances in the 1970s as Total Football a question such as, how total can their football have been if they didn't win anything? How amateurish to see the end-result as being worthy of consideration.

Notice that I didn't put gentleman before amateur - as a Yorkshireman, I would find a gentleman tag to be highly offensive. :lol:

Cheers-salesie.

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as a Yorkshireman, I would find a gentleman tag to be highly offensive. :lol:

You don't have to worry about me on that score mate - it'd never occur to me to offend you with such a term! :thumbsup:

Your chum Gentleman George

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