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Inventing the Schlieffen Plan


Dikke Bertha
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Mr. Zuber,

Your "mission" statement (above) is confusing me, why would you plan for a one front war? The Russians and French had a military alliance dating from 1892.

Regards,

Dave

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Pete 1052: I would put it this way: The "Schlieffen plan" is "common knowledge" - Wikipedia stuff. That is simply not adequate either as military planning or military history. Both demand precise description and analysis.

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Mr. Zuber,

Your "mission" statement (above) is confusing me, why would you plan for a one front war? The Russians and French had a military alliance dating from 1892.

Regards,

Dave

Dave,

Not my mission statement: the one-front war is the assumption of the "Schlieffen plan" memorandum. As I have been arguing for the last 12 years, not very realistic. I contend that what Schlieffen was saying is that even in a one-front war against the French alone, thwe german army was still too small.

Terence Zuber

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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.

-----------------------------------------

Actually, the Memorandum was never a war plan. How do you write a war plan which requires 24 divisions which do not exist?

Schlieffen's real war plans were overwhelmingly for a two-front war.

Ludendorff refers to Schlieffen's actual war planning, not the "Schlieffen plan" memorandum.

I'm afraid that I don't agree with Col Dupuy that the German General Staff had a "genius for war". German military excellence lay at the company/battlaion/regiment levels.

As far as I can tell, Dupuy didn't even speak German: he did not cite German-mlanguage sources.

Terence Zuber

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I would offer up that it is advisable to read through the various memoranda of the German General Staff Chiefs to gain perspective on what came before Schlieffen.

This is valuable to gain an understanding of the verbiage and form these documents took, and also to see Schlieffen's writings in context.

I spent some time doing so this summer and found it fascinating. They can provide a great deal of insight into the thinking of the CGS at the time, and it's interesting to watch that thinking change. I was very struck by the older Moltke's, "France has become a Fortess..."

They are all available in published form, albeit mostly in German.

Paul

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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

George,

What do you consider a "rapid victory in the west"? A pure German footmarch from Aachen around Paris to central France (Langres) was going top take 70-90 days - more if there was serious combat (and this was not France 1940). If the Germans were to quickly shift forces east, the French needed to be beaten near the German border - and the near German railheads. This was the assumption of all of Schlieffen's actual General Staff rides and war games.

Terence Zuber

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I would offer up that it is advisable to read through the various memoranda of the German General Staff Chiefs to gain perspective on what came before Schlieffen. This is valuable to gain an understanding of the verbiage and form these documents took. I spent some time doing so this summer and found it fascinating.

They are all available in published form, albeit mostly in German.

Paul

--------------------------------------

I give summaries of most of these documents in The Moltke Myth: Prussian War Planning 1857-1871 and Inventing the Schlieffen Plan: German War Planning 1871-1914.

Terence Zuber

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Not my mission statement: the one-front war is the assumption of the "Schlieffen plan" memorandum. As I have been arguing for the last 12 years, not very realistic. I contend that what Schlieffen was saying is that even in a one-front war against the French alone, thwe german army was still too small.

Terence Zuber

An interesting assertion, Terence.

Given that by 1911, the financial means Germany needed to continue its policy of Weltpolitik (started in the mid 1890s) were woefully lacking, which brought into stark focus the economic failings of said policy i.e. can't afford to build a large enough navy as well as a big enough army to fulfil Germany's stated ambitions. All of which led to the rise to political pre-eminence of the German Army League at the expense of the pro-naval Pan-German League - with cries from the Army League stating that the most imminent threat lies on land and therefore we must win European domination on land before fulfilling the global ambitions of Weltpolitik. Thus, because of the heavy tax implications (through lack of state liquidity) of continuing with naval expansion, the German Army League won the political argument of focusing on the army (though the subsequent increase in German army manpower was only half of that demanded).

Would you say, therefore, that Schlieffen's original "memorandum" was an exercise in adding grist to the mill of the German Army League (or perhaps even the start of said league's political machinations) in its pre-war political attempts to increase the size of the German Army at the expense of naval expansion i.e. more of a political exercise than a military one?

Cheers-salesie.

Edit: Apologies - in my attempts to summarise as briefly as possible I missed out a key word, I should have said the German Army League's "predecessors" (seeing as the League itself was not actually formed until January 1912).

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Another way of investigating this issue might be to examine the publications and histories written during the war and afterwards to see who first mentioned the Schlieffen Plan and to what extent it may have influenced later writers, like a snowball getting larger as it rolls down a hill. Possibly those early discussions of the plan cite original source documents. I first heard about the plan in the early 1960s.

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Another way of investigating this issue might be to examine the publications and histories written during the war and afterwards to see who first mentioned the Schlieffen Plan and to what extent it may have influenced later writers, like a snowball getting larger as it rolls down a hill. Possibly those early discussions of the plan cite original source documents. I first heard about the plan in the early 1960s.

The first man to mention the Schlieffen Plan was von Schlieffen, before the war. He is famously reputed to have mentioned it with his dying breath in 1913.

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Tom, I'm aware of that; it's been repeated again and again in the standard histories. What I'm driving at is determining when historians began using the term "Schlieffen Plan" to describe the entire operational concept of the German Army in 1914. I don't deny the existence of the overall concept in a general sort of way but it also seems plausible to me that many commentators have projected many things onto the plan that weren't actually there.

My knowledge of this is from secondary sources so I'm reluctant to go further out on a limb speculating about what may or may not have been the case. Today there are histories of the histories of the American Civil War that show the varying interpretations of what actually caused the war and why it turned out the way it did. Was it the outcome of historical inevitability caused by vast social and economic forces or was there an element of contingency to it? Was the Confederate defeat all Longstreet's fault? It's a bit like the back-and-forth discussions of Haig and the "Lions and Donkeys" schools of thought.

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Pete 1052:

Read the first chapter of Invneting the Schlieffen Plan in which I spend 51 pages doing exactly what you suggest.

truthergw:

That Schlieffen's last words were 'make the right wing strong' goes back to a book written by Schlieffen's doctor which is thoroughly unreliable.

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Salesie,

Schlieffen had been arguing for a larger German army even before he became chief of the General Staff in1891. I know of no connection between Schlieffen and the German Army League. I can see no proof that Moltke even read the Memorandum before 1911 or that anyone ascribed any importance to it until 1919, when Groener latched onto it as a means of explaining why the General Staff lost the Battle of the Marne. The pro-Army forces didn't win the resource battle with the navy until 1913, and by then it was too late for Germany.

Terence Zuber

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Hello

Just some things :

1The 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?

According to my notes the text says : In einem Kriege gegen Deutschland wird sich Frankreich besonders solange es auf eine wirksame Unterstützung Russlands nicht rechnen kann, voraussichtlich zunächst auf die Verteidigung beschränken.

I do not think that this means that the Russians would not support France.

2. What are the grounds for the assumed hostility of Belgium ?

Carl

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Salesie,

Schlieffen had been arguing for a larger German army even before he became chief of the General Staff in1891. I know of no connection between Schlieffen and the German Army League. I can see no proof that Moltke even read the Memorandum before 1911 or that anyone ascribed any importance to it until 1919, when Groener latched onto it as a means of explaining why the General Staff lost the Battle of the Marne. The pro-Army forces didn't win the resource battle with the navy until 1913, and by then it was too late for Germany.

Terence Zuber

Thanks for that, Terence.

In my last post I was attempting to apply some logical progression to your assertion in post #103 i.e. "I contend that what Schlieffen was saying is that even in a one-front war against the French alone, the german army was still too small." And was hoping that you could add some depth to the political undertones contained in your statement, especially given the fact that politics and the military in Wilhelmine Germany were inseparable. A man such as Schlieffen could not have risen to his position without being a political animal of the highest order, and it's difficult to take your assertion at face value without recognising the deep political undertones contained within.

That said, I'll move on and ask a blatantly obvious question:

In 1914, Germany went to war with a plan (otherwise there would have been chaos on mobilisation and deployment, which there clearly wasn't), a plan which, on the western front, resembled closely that outlined by Schlieffen as early as 1905 - if not a modified Schlieffen plan in 1914 then whose plan was it?

Cheers-salesie.

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Mr. Zuber,

Thank you for the reply, Schlieffen had a memorandum (for a one front war) that was only designed to frighten the government into increasing the size of the army. Looking at the map (of December, 1905, post #29) it does look frightening - marching through two neutral countries with virtually all your available troops and leaving the border regions to look after themselves, Britain likely to take exception and France and Russia bound to, you have a point there, what I don't understand is the similarity between the 1905 map and what actually happened, as you say the turn was east of Paris and not west as on the map, and only a third or so of the available forces marched through Belgium but surely the concept is the same? It seems to me, as purely an "armchair general", that they look enough alike to see why it's called the Schlieffen plan.

Regards,

Dave

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I can see no proof that Moltke even read the Memorandum before 1911 or that anyone ascribed any importance to it until 1919, when Groener latched onto it as a means of explaining why the General Staff lost the Battle of the Marne.

As a matter of interest, Walter Görlitz's book The Kaiser And His Court: The First World Diaries Of Admiral Georg von Müller contain a pre-1919 reference to the 'plan'. Included in Müller's diary entry for 27 November 1918 is the following:

As to whether it would have been possible to avoid the entrance of England against is not a subject for discussion here. One thing is certain: that the military policy of the German Empire grossly underestimated the hostility of England, and challenged it by invading Belgium, according to the alleged Schlieffen Plan, the political grounds for which did not apply in the summer of 1914.

Jon

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Hello

Just some things :

1The 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?

According to my notes the text says : In einem Kriege gegen Deutschland wird sich Frankreich besonders solange es auf eine wirksame Unterstützung Russlands nicht rechnen kann, voraussichtlich zunächst auf die Verteidigung beschränken.

I do not think that this means that the Russians would not support France.

2. What are the grounds for the assumed hostility of Belgium ?

Carl

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Hello

Just some things :

1The 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?

According to my notes the text says : In einem Kriege gegen Deutschland wird sich Frankreich besonders solange es auf eine wirksame Unterstützung Russlands nicht rechnen kann, voraussichtlich zunächst auf die Verteidigung beschränken.

I do not think that this means that the Russians would not support France.

2. What are the grounds for the assumed hostility of Belgium ?

Carl

Carl,

I am working from the original documents in the Freiburg archive, Nachlass (papers) Schlieffen N43/138, a photocopy of which I have in my possession. See my translation in: German War Planning 1891-1914. Sources and Interpretations.

I think that 'Krieg gegen Frankreich' doesn't require much interpretation, particularly since the Russians are not mentioned again and no forces are sent east.

I have no idea where your transcription originated, but the transcriber was sloppy.

As for presumed Belgian hostility, the Germans were going to march through their country. The German intelligence analyses, under Moltke at least, assumed that the Belgians would align themselves with the French, prett y much regardless of what the Germans did.

Terence Zuber

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Thanks for that, Terence.

In my last post I was attempting to apply some logical progression to your assertion in post #103 i.e. "I contend that what Schlieffen was saying is that even in a one-front war against the French alone, the german army was still too small." And was hoping that you could add some depth to the political undertones contained in your statement, especially given the fact that politics and the military in Wilhelmine Germany were inseparable. A man such as Schlieffen could not have risen to his position without being a political animal of the highest order, and it's difficult to take your assertion at face value without recognising the deep political undertones contained within.

That said, I'll move on and ask a blatantly obvious question:

In 1914, Germany went to war with a plan (otherwise there would have been chaos on mobilisation and deployment, which there clearly wasn't), a plan which, on the western front, resembled closely that outlined by Schlieffen as early as 1905 - if not a modified Schlieffen plan in 1914 then whose plan was it?

Cheers-salesie.

Salsie,

Please see my objections to your assertion that the Memorandum was a war plan, as presented in my first and second posts, beginning with the fact that it was written in January and February 1906, after Schlieffen had retired, and not in 1905, as you state. The Memorandum required 96 divisions: in 1914 the Germans initially had 68. In what way are those two similar? Or are you going to pull "little maps, big arrows" on me?

Terence Zuber

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Mr. Zuber,

Thank you for the reply, Schlieffen had a memorandum (for a one front war) that was only designed to frighten the government into increasing the size of the army. Looking at the map (of December, 1905, post #29) it does look frightening - marching through two neutral countries with virtually all your available troops and leaving the border regions to look after themselves, Britain likely to take exception and France and Russia bound to, you have a point there, what I don't understand is the similarity between the 1905 map and what actually happened, as you say the turn was east of Paris and not west as on the map, and only a third or so of the available forces marched through Belgium but surely the concept is the same? It seems to me, as purely an "armchair general", that they look enough alike to see why it's called the Schlieffen plan.

Regards,

Dave

Dave

It is important to proceed from the documents themselves, and not add anything to them.

Regardless of your opinion that the Russians were "bound to" act against a German advance against France, there is no mention of such an occurrance in the Memorandum.

You think the concept works if 1/4 of the required force is unavailable, that instead of having a 2-1 superiority the odds are even, that whether you march east or west of Paris is irrelavent? Sorry, military opeartions are not so simple-minded. The "details" - force structure, comparison of forces, concept of manoeuvre - matter more than the "concept".

Terence Zuber

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As a matter of interest, Walter Görlitz's book The Kaiser And His Court: The First World Diaries Of Admiral Georg von Müller contain a pre-1919 reference to the 'plan'. Included in Müller's diary entry for 27 November 1918 is the following:

As to whether it would have been possible to avoid the entrance of England against is not a subject for discussion here. One thing is certain: that the military policy of the German Empire grossly underestimated the hostility of England, and challenged it by invading Belgium, according to the alleged Schlieffen Plan, the political grounds for which did not apply in the summer of 1914.

Jon

As I noted in Inventing the Schlieffen Plan (296-8) on 7 September 1914 the Bavarian Military Representative to OHL, Karl Ritter von Wenninger, wrote of a "Schlieffen plan" but then went on to describe what he meant (Mueller does not) and Wenninger's idea of the Schlieffen plan was a double envelopement, including an attack throught the Trouee de Charmes in the centre of the French fortress line, to surround the Verdun-Toul fortress complex: not quite the classic march west of Paris to Switzerland. If the "Schlieffen plan" is ever mentioned, it is nowadays just assumed that what is meant is the 1906 Memorandum, and what is overlooked is the 14 years of real war plans that Schlieffen wrote, and which I have described in great detail in Inventing the Schlieffen Plan, in The Real German War Plan and elsewhere.

Terence Zuber

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Salsie,

Please see my objections to your assertion that the Memorandum was a war plan, as presented in my first and second posts, beginning with the fact that it was written in January and February 1906, after Schlieffen had retired, and not in 1905, as you state. The Memorandum required 96 divisions: in 1914 the Germans initially had 68. In what way are those two similar? Or are you going to pull "little maps, big arrows" on me?

Terence Zuber

It seems that we have a semantics problem, Terence? I will deal with this later, but first I'd like to point out that there is some evidence to suggest that, in the event of a European war, the probability of the encirclement of the French left, by a German invasion through Belgium, was recognised as early as 1897. In post #77, George kindly gives us an August 1914 snippet from Haig's diary i.e.

"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.""

It would seem, therefore, that such encirclement through Belgium was in British minds (at least) much earlier than 1905/06. Is this further evidence that Schlieffen's memorandum was politically motivated i.e. an attempt to increase the size of the German Army by "proving" that greater resources were needed to defeat France (based on a commonly held perception, amongst military minds, that the "obvious" course of any German invasion of France was through Belgium)?

Now, back to those semantics I mentioned earlier. I carefully worded my question to you in my last post, and I was not asserting that said memorandum was a war plan, but I will change the question somewhat in an attempt to avoid any further confusion.

In 1914, Germany went to war with a plan (otherwise there would have been chaos on mobilisation and deployment, which there clearly wasn't), a plan which, on the western front, resembled closely (not exactly matched), in strategic intent and operational movement, that outlined by Schlieffen in his memorandum as early as 1905/06 (and in British minds at least as early as 1897) - if not a modified (changed by some lesser or greater degree) Schlieffen plan (i.e. a memorandum turned into a plan) by 1914 then whose plan was it? Who was the architect of the plan that Germany used in its pre-emptive strike of August 1914?

Cheers-salesie.

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It seems that we have a semantics problem, Terence? I will deal with this later, but first I'd like to point out that there is some evidence to suggest that, in the event of a European war, the probability of the encirclement of the French left, by a German invasion through Belgium, was recognised as early as 1897. In post #77, George kindly gives us an August 1914 snippet from Haig's diary i.e.

"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.""

It would seem, therefore, that such encirclement through Belgium was in British minds (at least) much earlier than 1905/06. Is this further evidence that Schlieffen's memorandum was politically motivated i.e. an attempt to increase the size of the German Army by "proving" that greater resources were needed to defeat France (based on a commonly held perception, amongst military minds, that the "obvious" course of any German invasion of France was through Belgium)?

Now, back to those semantics I mentioned earlier. I carefully worded my question to you in my last post, and I was not asserting that said memorandum was a war plan, but I will change the question somewhat in an attempt to avoid any further confusion.

In 1914, Germany went to war with a plan (otherwise there would have been chaos on mobilisation and deployment, which there clearly wasn't), a plan which, on the western front, resembled closely (not exactly matched), in strategic intent and operational movement, that outlined by Schlieffen in his memorandum as early as 1905/06 (and in British minds at least as early as 1897) - if not a modified (changed by some lesser or greater degree) Schlieffen plan (i.e. a memorandum turned into a plan) by 1914 then whose plan was it? Who was the architect of the plan that Germany used in its pre-emptive strike of August 1914?

Cheers-salesie.

Salesie,

You really have to read Inventing the Schlieffen Plan. I discussed all this nearly 10 years ago, and several times since, including in The Real German War Plan.

The sole and distinguishing characteristic was not, as you say, that the Germans were going to enter Belgium. Any war in west Europe was going to be fought in Belgium, period. Both the French and German armies had grown to near 70 divisions and were too large to fight it out in Alsace-Loraine or eastern France, particularly since the Vosges mountains covered 3/4 of the border and made large-scale military opeartions practically impossible. The French had recognized this since the First Moroccan Crisis (1905) and French politicans and sioldiers were saying so in the newspapers and books. When Joffre took over in 1911 he told the government that he would have to enter Belgium. Ostensibly, the government refused to grant him permission to do so until the Germans had, but on 2 August 1914, the first day of mobilization and before war had been declared, Joffre implemented "Varaint 1" of Plan 17 which put three of five French armies on the Franco-Belgian border. The Franco-Russian alliance required an immediate French offensive: Joffre was going to enter Belgium, regardless. He just got lucky and Moltke made a completely unnecessary attack on Liege first. The initail battles between the French and German main bodies were not fought in France, as "common knowledge" maintains, but inside Belgium, as a meeting engagement between two advancing armies.

Let's clear away the "Schlieffen plan" nonsense before we discuss real German planning, which requires serious study of war games, intelligence estimates and war plans over a 23-year period.

Terence Zuber

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Mr. Zuber,

Ouch, "simple minded", well, I'm sure there are other members of this forum that would probably agree with you. I don't want to put words in your mouth (I'm sure you will let me know if I do) but is it your contention that since the Schlieffen "plan" was only a ploy to enlarge the size of the army Germany did not actually have an offensive plan (through Belgium) and was simply responding to the French incursions in Alsace-Lorraine?

Regards,

Dave

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