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Inventing the Schlieffen Plan


Dikke Bertha
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I think to really understand the Schlieffen Plan (or concept, whatever you want to call it) requires a very careful look from 1914 backwards as opposed to forwards. Going back and looking at the various deployment plans, and the growth of the German Army from 1875-1914 paints a very clear picture of what a real pickle Germany had landed herself in by 1914. Especially the memorandum of the Elder Moltke clearly show his interpretations of Germany's strengths and weaknesses in relation to her enemies. Though decades were to pass after Moltke's retirement, his general insights and observations remained valid. Reading through the plans for a war against Russia or France alone gives a lot of perspective on just how difficult (impossible?) a two-front war for Germany would be. I feel there is a lot to be learned by the German experiences of 1870-71, as reflected in their attitudes towards any future war, that we sometimes overlook in examining their military.

There must have been a realisation of the weaknesses of the Schlieffen Plan in the German General Staff. There are some interesting leads in the German archives in BA-MA on pre-war heavy artillery production and allocation and the requirements to go through the French border fortifications that could lead one to speculate on the consideration of alternate plans--though the conclusions drawn seem to point to a lack of resources until 1915/16 (in pre-war planning terms).

Paul

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I think to really understand the Schlieffen Plan (or concept, whatever you want to call it) requires a very careful look from 1914 backwards as opposed to forwards.

Three days after arriving in France in command of I Corps in August 1914, Douglas Haig certainly cast his mind back to British Staff College scenarios of nearly twenty years earlier, which sought to predict how the Germans would go about solving the conundrum of bringing about the rapid collapse of France. Haig wrote in his diary after a conference at Sir John French's GHQ:

"I gathered that the Belgian army is falling back on Antwerp while the Germans are crossing the Meuse in considerable strength (at least four Corps) about Huy and Liege and marching with all speed westwards on Brussels and Namur. They have a railhead at Warenne already. This looks as if a great effort is to be made to turn the French left, which rests on Namur fortress, by an advance through Belgium. In fact, the solution of the problem which was given as the most likely one when I was at Camberley Staff College in 1897."

George

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Apart from the eponymous plan, von Schlieffen ought to be credited with demanding heavy artillery which could travel with an advancing army and not bring up the rear as formerly. He was also an enthusiast for aerial observation and the use of the railways to move troops. Paul is of course correct to say that von Schlieffen's plan must be examined with an eye on the past history. Every army plans its next war on the basis of what happened in the last one. What other basis could there be? That war was the Franco-Prussian of 1870. Germany knew that she could not hope to win a war against Russia and France combined.Bismarck moved heaven and earth to ensure that they did not combine politically. Once the pilot was put ashore, the OHL had to plan the best solution to the problem A defensive posture would have been overwhelmed eventually by Russian numbers. . Attack Russia while holding France or vice versa. Von Moltke the Younger planned the former and his plan was retained by Waldersee. Von Schlieffen, with his plans to use railways and the availability of much more mobile heavy artillery saw the opportunity to strike at France first. We all know the rest. Whether von Schlieffen's original plan of almost all of the German army striking through Holland and brushing the channel in its great wheel through Belgium would have succeeded, is open to question. It is generally considered grandiose. How much it needed to be changed and what these changes needed to be, is an unanswerable question. It takes us into the realms of what if. The fact is, there was a von Schlieffen plan which was developed over a few years and taken up and developed even further by von Moltke the Younger. During the war and in its immediate aftermath, there was no doubt in the German general staff that there had been a plan and that divergence from the plan that von Schlieffen had bequeathed to the army had lost them the war in the West.

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Although I have been critical of Zuber, and remain so, I have been at pains to stress that the results of his research could be very useful. It is the results of his analysis which I reject. I am also less than enamoured of his penchant for sensationalist titles to his books. Perhaps that ought to be laid at the door of his publisher but Zuber shows no signs of embarrassment. As well as serving alongside the German Army, I believe he studied in Germany, did he not? I seem to remember him acknowledging German professors in his book on the Battles of the Frontiers. The book is not to hand at the moment so I will have to offer up that hostage to fortune.

He has a doctorate on history from a German university; don't remember which one, his book is upstairs, and I am too lazy to take the hike. Not Goettingen or Heidelberg.

Bob

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He has a doctorate on history from a German university; don't remember which one, his book is upstairs, and I am too lazy to take the hike. Not Goettingen or Heidelberg.

Bob

Hi Bob. Just had a look. His PhD is from University of Wurzburg.

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:doh: Boo!

:D

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Tom wrote:

"...von Schlieffen ought to be credited with demanding heavy artillery which could travel with an advancing army and not bring up the rear as formerly. He was also an enthusiast for aerial observation and the use of the railways to move troops."

That's very true. I did some research recently charting the growth of the German Army from 1875-1914, and broken down by the tenures of the CGS's--the results are pretty interesting and really show the emphasis Schlieffen placed on the expansion of the mobile heavy artillery. Moltke the Younger was an even bigger friend of the "special" branches--the artillery and pioneers. Of course, some of this has to be credited to technological developments making various innovations possible. In the case of the heavy artillery it was as much a matter of buying horses!

Paul

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In the case of the heavy artillery it was as much a matter of buying horses!

Our motor pool building at Rivers Barracks, Giessen, Germany in 1978-81 was a former Wehrmacht horse stables. It had feed troughs like shelves built into the masonry walls. Rivers Barracks used to be known as Verdun Kaserne before the U.S. Army took it over. During WWII it had a lot of signal troops to support an OKW tactical operations center in the vicinity of Bad Nauheim.

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Tom wrote:

"...von Schlieffen ought to be credited with demanding heavy artillery which could travel with an advancing army and not bring up the rear as formerly. He was also an enthusiast for aerial observation and the use of the railways to move troops."

That's very true. I did some research recently charting the growth of the German Army from 1875-1914, and broken down by the tenures of the CGS's--the results are pretty interesting and really show the emphasis Schlieffen placed on the expansion of the mobile heavy artillery. Moltke the Younger was an even bigger friend of the "special" branches--the artillery and pioneers. Of course, some of this has to be credited to technological developments making various innovations possible. In the case of the heavy artillery it was as much a matter of buying horses!

Paul

A friend and I are finally actually writing a book partially on the development of the "big guns", 30.5 cm and 42 cm. They first came out as heavier less mobile versions (this is especially true of the 42 cm; the first version weighed, assembled, 175 tons, not especially mobile; the first trial version perhaps even heavier; for the first models of both calibers it was necessary to put down a rail line to the firing position.)

I have read that General der Infanterie Hans von Beseler, who was actually a Pionier=General, and had significantly reformed the Pioneers, was a close contender for the post of Chief of Staff about 1906. The intensive practical development of the big guns for the German field army began in 1907, although Krupp was building and selling 35.5 cm and 40 cm guns to foreign powers decades before, these were fixed coastal defense guns, and the latter very difficult even to ship to the customer, having to be railed to Antwerp and then shipped by sea to Italy. There were earlier models of the 30.5 cm mortars which could be moved with light field railways.

I have seen batteries of the same models of heavy artillery described as "bespannt" and "unbespannt", which I think literally means "harnessed" and "unharnessed", I think that the former had more horses, etc., and could quickly deploy like the light "horse artillery"; I even think that at one time in the divisional field artillery a battalion of field guns had one battery of "bespannt" 77 mm guns, and two "unbesspant" batteries of 77s. I'm assuming that both types of batteries had horses, the "harnessed" simply more, so, for example, all personnel could gallop with the guns, not walk.

Bob

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Terence Zuber here.

Paul Hederer asked me to appear. I am more than willing to ask a any questions, the more specific the better.

For those of you who still think there was a "Schlieffen plan", perhaps you could answer some questions yourself.

The first three words in the Schlieffen plan memorandum, which can be found in the archive in Freiburg, are 'Krieg gegen Frankreich' (War against France). The only mention of Russia in the entire memorandum is that the Russians would not support the French. Why do you maintain that the "Schlieffen plan" was applicable in a two -front war?

The usual explaination of the "Schlieffen plan" is that the Germans would utterly defeat the French "quickly" (usually 40 days). Please cite your proof from the actual Schlieffen plan memorandum.

The Schlieffen plan myth then maintains that the plan counted on a slow Russian mobilization which would allow the transfer of German forces east. Please provide proof from the actual Schlieffen plan memorandum.

The usual (Wikipedia) Schlieffen plan map (which is all the proof the average armchair general needs for the "Schlieffen plan") bears little relationship to the actual Schlieffen plan map in the archive at Freiburg. See pages 56-7 of my The Real German War Plan 1904-14. In particular, in the actual map, the Germans do not pass east of Paris How do you explain this discrepancy?

The Schlieffen plan memorandum requires 96 divisions. In January-February 1906, when Schlieffen actually wrote the memorandum, the entire German army had 72. How would you execute the plabn using 24 'ghost divisions'? In 1914 the Germans initially had 68 divisions. How do you explain this discrepancy?

In the actual memorandum, Schlieffen says that the Germans will be stopped if they advance between Paris and the eastern French fortifications. They will therefore need to go west of Paris to outflank the French, and for that they will need 96 divisions. How do you square this with Moltke's decision to attack east of Paris in late August/early September 1914 with some 70 divisions?

In August 1914, when the "Schlieffen plan" was supposed to have been implemented, Schlieffen was dead and the original draft of the memorandum, plus Moltke's 1911 typed copy and marginal comments, were in the possession of Schlieffen's daghters (see the first page of the actual Schlieffen plan file in Freiburg and subsequent inventories). Why?

I've got lots more questions for the "Schlieffen plan" types, but this will do for now.

Armchair generalship is based on "little maps, big arrows". Real soldiering -and real military history - is based on attention to detail.

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Terence Zuber here.

Dear Professor Zuber;

Many thanks for joining us in this discussion. I am sure that it will be productive.

I very much enjoyed your two recent talks that I had the privilege to attend, and to chat with you afterwards.

I think that the Brits are presently snug in their little beds and probably snoring loudly.

Gruss aus Philadelphia,

Bob Lembke

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Terence Zuber here.

Armchair generalship is based on "little maps, big arrows". Real soldiering -and real military history - is based on attention to detail.

Welcome to the forum, Terence.

You're absolutely right, attention to detail is important - so before any of your points are debated, perhaps we ought to clear up one little, but important, detail that seems to have passed you by. You imply strongly that those who disagree with you are nothing more than "Armchair Generals" and, therefore, have little, if any, knowledge of "Real soldiering" as, by definition, you do. Yet, as far as I'm aware, you never became a general and have never commanded armies in battle; you commanded a rifle company before becoming an academic. Which, of course, makes you just as much an "Armchair General" as the rest of us, does it not?

I hope you don't mind me asking you this question - after all, as you say, attention to detail is important.

Cheers-salesie.

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Good morning All and Mr Zuber in particular,

May I thank you generally for taking the time to join the forum and offer to answer questions. Do I take it from your Forum persona that it is just Schlieffen/the Schlieffen plan/the German war plan that you are prepared to discuss ?

May I thank you personally for re-kindling my interest in WW1, through your book "The Battle of the Ardennes" which I came across when searching amazon for a book on the Battle of the Ardennes (Bulge) in WW2. Whilst I wouldn't always agree with your commentary you certainly stimulated me to look further and more deeply into the Battle of the Frontiers.

The grand strategy I'll leave to others to debate: for me, the Germans had a plan which evolved from the ideas of Schlieffen, it didn't work (but only just !); how greatly it resembled his original ideas is open to debate but I think rightly or wrongly it his name that will be always associated with it.

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Professor Zuber, may I add my thanks for the courtesy you have paid the forum. You are doubtless a busy man so I will cut to the chase.

I have read many authoritative documents which quote from or refer to The Schlieffen Plan or Memorandum. You quote a sentence from a document which refers to 'The war against France' and extrapolate from that, the non existence of a Schlieffen Plan.The document to which you refer is a plan, is it not? Since von Schlieffen concentrated almost entirely on the Western front in his plan, it is no great wonder that he would refer to it as a war against France. That was after all his pre-occupation as against a war against Russia.or a war against both at the same time.

In your post, you ask pertinent questions, some of which have been debated here on the forum. To point to discrepancies between the actual conduct of the war and the plan as usually portrayed, merely emphasises the fact that such a plan existed.

Lastly, the historians of the Great War when writing their official history, were in no doubt that there had been a von Schlieffen plan and I find that for instance, Ludendorff in his " Meine Kriegserinnerungen", p.19, also refers to a plan by von Schleffen, ' one of the great soldiers'. One of your compatriots, Col. T.N. Dupuy, in his " A Genius for War", devotes a chapter to analysis of the Von Schlieffen Plan. He mentions that it evolved through several versions.

I am afraid that a rather forced interpretation of a phrase in a document is far from convincing me that no plan existed.

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For those of you who still think there was a "Schlieffen plan", perhaps you could answer some questions yourself.

The first three words in the Schlieffen plan memorandum, which can be found in the archive in Freiburg, are 'Krieg gegen Frankreich' (War against France). The only mention of Russia in the entire memorandum is that the Russians would not support the French. Why do you maintain that the "Schlieffen plan" was applicable in a two -front war?

In other words, you are arguing that for any plans or projections by Schlieffen to have been the genesis for German operations in the West in August 1914, these would have had to have explicitly predicted (on the single memorandum copy you reference) the war on two fronts which pertained in that year. Implicitly, then, you are suggesting that the consequence of this is that any plans of Schlieffen as the basis for a rapid victory in the West simply could not be applied in any form by Moltke in the case of a two front war. Why not?

George

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Perhaps the "Schlieffen Plan" could be better described as an operational concept rather than as any specific published document. The U.S. Army makes the distinction between Operations Plans and Operations Orders. Both are written in the familiar five-paragraph format developed by the British during the Great War, with numerous annexes, appendicies and tabs attached to the back. The difference between the two is that the OPLAN describes a general concept and organization of forces for operations in an area whereas the OPORD is an order for a specific operation. Most OPORDs are developed from previously written OPLANs and are modified as necessary during combat by "FRAGOs," brief Fragmentary Orders.

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Pete, the Schlieffen Plan has an importance well beyond its operational content. It has great significance in any debate on the causes of the war. Were Prussia and OHL hell bent on war whatever the consequences? It has significance for the early conduct of the war. Did von Moltke throw away an opportunity to win the war by not adhering more closely to it? It has significance in the debate on War Guilt and therefore on the Versailles Treaty. All of these debates remain open. When an author states that the plan was a myth, one is entitled to demand very strong evidence. One might well wonder what it was that so many authorities in the military and its history were actually talking about when they discussed what they thought was a Schlieffen Plan. This thread is not really about the content or detail of the plan, it is debating its existence. Professor Zuber claims it is a myth. That there was no plan. I and others deny that, although we are quite happy to acknowledge that it evolved over time. I assume that when your fragmentary orders alter the operations plan, they do not eradicate it and cause it to disappear?

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I assume that when your fragmentary orders alter the operations plan, they do not eradicate it and cause it to disappear?

Of course not. FRAGOs are adjustments to an existing order. They are brief because the issuing HQ and staff do not have the time to write an entirely new OPORD of 75-plus pages. Plus, the bottom line or main point has to be up front so subordinate unit HQs don't have to read and digest a new lengthy document to find out what is required.

I suspect that this thread is turning into semantics about what the word "plan" means, like when Clinton said he did not have "sex" with that woman. There is also a forest and trees element to it.

During the Cold War from circa 1950 until around 1989 the U.S. Army planned to defend against a Warsaw Pact armored and mech infantry breakthrough in the Fulda Gap of West Germany. Generally the concept was a delaying action that went through many permutations over a 40-year period. However, one could factually say that there never was a formal "Fulda Gap Plan." We're quibbling about nomenclature here.

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Hello

I can but welcome the occasional presence of Mr. Zuber to this place. Altough I do not agree with several of his conclusions the width of his research commands respect.

Carl

ps book was a bit expensive so I only had access to a library copy

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To Steve Marsdin: I'm willing to discuss everything that I've written.

To Pete 1052: Airborne all the way! Pete 1052 brings up an essential point: everyone assumes that the "Schlieffen plan" memorandum was what we would now call an OPLAN. What I have done, in effect, is the first thing that any subordinate commander or operations officer would do when receiving an OPLAN: conduct a mission analysis, which goes something like this:

Mission: a one-front war against France, perhaps supported by Britain and Belgium. Russia is neutral.

Own forces.The plan requires 96 divisions: we have only 72. The plan therefore requires 24 additional divisions. Herr Generalfeldmarschall has made some very optimistic assumptions as to how we will procure these additional divisions.

Enemy forces: French are assumed to be on the defensive, deployed from Mezieres to Belfort. The last INTSUM gives the French 49 divisions, the British 6. The Belgians will withdraw to Antwerp. If we actually have 96 divisions, we wil outnumber the Franco-English nearly 2-1.

Deployment: Mass of manoeuvre north of Metz. One army at Metz and south.

Concept of the operation: defeat the French army wherever it appears. In the unlikely event that the French attack into Lorriane, the decisive battle will take place in Lorraine. Most likely course of action is for the Schwerpunkt to move through Holland and Belgium and push into northeren France. The French will likely be able to hold a defensive position between Paris-Verdun along one of the river lines, at which point we will have to circumvent Paris to the west to outflank this position. The march to the Somme will take 31 days. If it is necessary to pursue the French to the south of Paris, to the plateau of Langres and beyond, the operation may be expected to optimistically take 70-90 days. Success is not assured. As the Generalfeldmarschall has noted, our advance will most likely exhaust itself - reach the Clausewitzian 'culminating point' - before we have defeated the French.

There were no modifying FRAGOs. Moltke did not even look at the memorandum until 1911, and when he did his marginal comments show that he was not impressed with the memorandum.

.

Little of this applied to the German situation 1910-1914.

The Germans faced a two-front war.

The Germans did not have the necessary 96 divisions.

The Germans did not outnumber the enemy 2-1. In the west, the odds were even to slightly against the Germans. In the east the Russians outnumbered the Austro-Germans 2-1.

What did come to pass was that, as Schlieffen had foretold, a German attack between Paris and Verdun with about 70 divisions was brought to a screeching halt on the Marne.

Most people assume that any plan Schlieffen wrote was a Schlieffen plan which was the same thing as the 1906 Memorandum. I have described all of Schlieffen's real plans, and Moltke's too, and none of them have anything to do with the "Schlieffen plan" memorandum.

Schlieffen wrote the memorandum as another in 14 years of arguments for radically increasing the size of the German army, which never happened.

If anyone is interested, I can describe Schlieffen's real planning in summary (it is presented in detail in Inventing the Schlieffen Plan)

Once again, I invite anyone who still believes there was a "Schlieffen plan" to address the specific points I made yesterday.

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Thank you,

I'll let the Schlieffen Plan debate run its course first ...... and learn from all the contributions.

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I think that what historians generically call the "Schlieffen Plan" was the general concept of passing through Belgium and enveloping Paris with a strong German right pincers movement. It was a broad concept of operations, not an inflexible plan that was frozen in concrete over the decades that it evolved. I doubt there is any one document (or documents) that one could say was the Schlieffen Plan. It is a term of convenience used by historians. Dr. Zuber's contribution is to say that the term Schlieffen Plan means different things to different people.

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