Monday, January 2, 2012
The Real German WWI War Plan
This is an important book for those who wish to understand how the First World War came about. The ‘school’ explanations were always too pat and something was clearly missing. What this book makes abundantly clear is that Germany did not have a land based offensive strategic concept at all and the whole tale of a master plan known as the ‘schlieffen plan’ is at best a deliberate calumny promulgated by the allies to justify to the world at large the reality that they did have an offensive strategic concept that they had promoted behind the façade of alliances and supported by a series of moves to support such a war of outright aggression.
I personally can never forgive the fools who led the
British Empire into the
maelstrom of WWI. It was an egregious
error and it allowed the French militarists to successfully begin the war with
the outright support of
who hoped to expand into the Balkans. It crippled the Russia British
Empire itself and we got the horrors of the twentieth century as a
direct result and it is hard to imagine a worse outcome.
War is always a story of miscalculations.
was surrounded by two hostile powers in France and Russia
and a weak ally in
requiring military support. Austria
was hugely outnumbered on paper on the Russian side and largely matched on the
French side. Germany
prewar planning envisaged how best to practice a strategic defense and that was
practically their only strategic choice. Thoughts on outright defeating the
French Army were easily shown to need a third more troops and a one front war. This actually happened in the Second war with
armor doctrine providing the necessary force multiplier. Germany
4 The French came to believe they could win such a war and they went immediately over to the offensive. German unanticipated tactical superiority halted the offensive in its tracks and roundly trashed the French with a two for one exchange of losses.
5 The Russians got the same treatment in
so. East Prussia
6 What followed was Moltke’s blunder, although it is not called that. Having put the French into full retreat, he followed them into Northern France with no strategic concept and failed to release six corps for transport back to
were they would have been in
position to actually destroy the Russian armies then and there. East Prussia
7 This led to inevitable strategic stalemate. At the same time, it proved impossible for anyone to undo this error by simply withdrawing back toward the mass of the French army in
were the war may well have been brought to a successful conclusion or a quick armistice. Lorraine
In fact the fiction of the Schlieffen plan served to provide Moltke cover for his failure to stay with the original plan which then led to the inevitable long war that ground up all the belligerents and precipitated WWII.
The calculation to go to war in 1914 was driven by two things. The Allies believed that they would never have a better preponderance of power. They were right because changes taking place in
and elsewhere would have necessitated the enlargement of the German Army which
in a decade would have made a war plausibly unwinnable. For the same reason Germany had
zero reason to want such a war. It was a
preemptive war. The second driver is the
folly of Germany Germany’s own
international ambitions reflected in the build up of its navy and the promotion
of a naval arms race with which was unwinnable. This led directly to Great
Britain Britain’s decision to seek alliance with and that
allowed French offensive war planning to become plausible. France
This is a vastly more valid explanation of the events and positions that led to the Great War and I heartily recommend this book.
The Real German War Plan, 1904-14, by Terence Zuber
Stroud, Gloucester/Charleston, SC.: The History Press, 2011. Pp. ii, 190. Maps, notes, index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 0752456644.
In 2002 Zuber, a retired U.S. Army officer with a doctorate in history, gave us Inventing the Schlieffen Plan, which has proven one of the most important and controversial recent works on World War I, arguing persuasively that Germany had no “Schlieffen Plan” in the popularly understood sense of a single master plan for a quick victory in a war with France and Russia.
The Real German War Plan, Zuber examines Imperial
strategic dilemma in the period leading p to World War, giving the reader an
analysis and comparison of the various prewar mobilization plans in conjunction
with contemporary strategic military intelligence assessments. This was a
difficult period due to the to the French Army’s unexpected introduction of
massive numbers of quick-firing guns, the famous “75”, which gave them a
temporary, but critical superiority in artillery which made a German invasion
obviously impossible, because it required several years for Germany to
develop its own quick-firing guns and produce them in large quantities. Germany
This led Schlieffen, chief of the Great General Staff, to develop various more or less notional plans, looking to the future, for his proposed right flank wheel through Belgium to Paris, culminating in his final grand memorial that included twenty-four non-existent divisions, an increase of 35 percent over historical strength, and arguably was an appeal for an enlarged army, likely essential if anything like the Schlieffen “Plan” was feasible.
Zuber is persuasive that that German mobilization plans were much more flexible and opportunistic than previously believed. He argues that the 1914 plan as initially implemented by Moltke the Younger was well within the parameters of past plans, but failed due to Moltke’s unfocused implementation of his own plan and plain lack of sufficient forces, not to mention excessive assumptions about what the enemy might do.
This book’s shining value, though, is Zuber’s thorough, scholarly, and readable explanation of the strategic context underlying all German war planning over the twenty years prior to World War One. Many interesting details are also presented, such as the importance of the prodigious French use of 75mm artillery ammunition during in the 1914
of the Marne, which actually caused shortages
during later operations.
Zuber’s careful “net assessment” also illuminates
Germany’s relative strategic position vis a
vis France and
over a long period. He points out that Russian industrial
development accelerated sharply after the defeat by Russia Japan
in 1905 and the subsequent revolutionary disorders in the country, with ominous
strategic consequences for Germany,
though he also contends that ’s
strategic position was weak in 1913-14 compared to then-expected immediate
future developments. The latter contention is based to a significant
degree on Germany’s belated effort to implement Schlieffen’s final request by
significantly expanding the number of reserve divisions and corps shortly just
before the onset of World War One. The three major continental powers ( Germany France, Germany,
all had significant under-utilized trained reservists who could have been
formed into organized units, but weren’t due to budget-related equipment issues
and, perhaps, negative attitudes toward reservists by professionals.
Schlieffen’s requested extra twenty-four reserve divisions could easily
have been paid for by the money invested in Russia Germany’s
unsuccessful and enormously expensive naval race with , and budget authority for
this expansion had just started when war broke out. Britain
Zuber’s several volumes on the question of German military planning in the period leading up to the Great War has sparked a great deal of scholarly debate. The on-line journal, War in History has been the principal forum for the discussion of the Zuber’s thesis that there was no one “ Schlieffen Plan” as such. Most recently, the July2011 has a not very convincing rebuttal to his premise. This academic acrimony, should detract from the greater, strategic context, which makes this book an excellent study of recent developments in study of the onset of World War One and continental
The book’s greatest value, however, lies in Zuber’s presentation of the relationship between the German General Staff’s analysis of
’s strategic position and
its development of appropriate military strategies, a methodology that merits