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Alfred von Schlieffen

Alfred von Schlieffen was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1833. He attended the Berlin War Academy (1858-61) and was a staff officer during the Austro-Prussian War (1866). On Feb 7, 1891, an important change took place in the Prussian General Staff. Moltke's first successor, the cavalry general, Count Waldersee - later made First General and General Field-Marshal - had, as is generally understood by reason of politics, left this office of great importance and been transferred to Altoona as the Commanding General of the Ninth Army Corps (Schleswig-Holstein). For the office vacated, i. e., Chief of Army's General Staff, Count Alfred von Schlieffen was selected, which office he held until the close of 1905.

Schlieffen feared that France and Russia would join together to attack Germany. His main concern was to devise a plan that could deal with a war against Russia in the east and France in the west. The second successor of Moltke was an untiring worker, a sharp thinker and a wellrhosen leader and instructor of the general staff personnel. He prepared them for the great war, involving millions of troops. The leading principle in his teachings was winning a war not by partial advances, but by large annihilating battles. To the enemy's utter destruction, all forces must be directed and the will that was to lead them was the will of complete victory. "Die Vernichtungschlacht," the highest goal that an army leader could hold out to his men, would be brought about by attack from two or three sides.

The idea of such attacks, Schlieffen has worked out in a series of articles called "Cannae," published during the years 1909-1913. The nucleus for these tactics is drawn from the battle of Cannae, and in his studies he maintained that such a battle can be fought in modern times. The enemy's front must not be the goal for the strongest attacks; the essential is to press back his flanks. These, however, must not be sought at the ends in front, but he must be met throughout his whole front and depth. The annihilation would be completed by attacking him in rear. Schlieffen's operational thinking can be condensed in the following sentence: "The flank attack is the gist of the entire history of war."

Subservient to such strategy and battle tactics, Schlieffen applied his Cannae investigations to Frederick the Great's and Napoleon's battles and the wars of 1866 and 1870-71, calling attention to battles that nearly fulfilled the Cannae requirements, such as Waterloo, Langensalza, Koniggratz, Gravelotte, St. Privat, pointing out in the last where Moltke's plans miscarried because his army corps leaders did not completely grasp his simple but comprehensive schemes to bring about a "Vernichtungschlacht." Schlieffen closed his series with careful consideration of the operations which led to the battles of Beaumont and Sedan, calling the latter a typical Cannae.

The Von Schlieffen Plan was the basis on which the Great General Staff of Berlin felt confident of crushing French resistance within a very few weeks of the first clash of arms. Count Alfred von Schlieffen, who became Chief of the Great General Staff in 1891, submitted his plan in 1905; it was adopted, slightly modified, in 1914. There can be no doubt that the movements of the German armies in Aug, 1914, show a great many traits of Schlieffen's corps and troop maneuver principles: the use of the strongest possible forces on one front; chiefs of the corps fully empowered, advancing with each corps on separate roads; advancing echelons on that flank which is to bring about the turning movement; also just as nearly as possible no strategical reserves (corps reserves, army reserves, etc.).

The German Reich was jeopardized by a war on two fronts. There was the danger of being ground between two millstones. In the event of a long war, the second consideration, the German Reich had no chances of victory if an Anglo-French sea blockade were to sever its supply of raw materials. Schlieffen intended to solve both problems by beating France in a fast campaign immediately after the outbreak of the war. Subsequently, it would have been possible to commit almost all forces against the cumbersome Russian colossus, whose mobilization would take more time.

Arguably the most decisive wargames of all time were played in 1905. That was the only year Count von Schlieffen's plan for a wide turning movement through neutral Belgium and Holland was wargamed before his retirement. Virtually all present were on the Kaiser's (German) team while two 1st Lieutenants played the armies of France, Britain, Belgium and Holland. The wargame concluded with the destruction of the France Army, so quickly that the British did not have time to come to her aid. The Kaiser was pleased. In the same year at Wilkinson's urging the British played a wargame examining the consequences of a new war between Germany and France. The British game also envisioned a German turning movement through Belgium. Like the German wargame the British game also indicated the Germans would destroy the French Army before a British Expeditionary Force (BEF) could intervene.

On Jan 1, 1906, General von Moltke succeeded Count von Schlieffen as chief of the General Staff. Alfred von Schlieffen died in 1913.

Moltke made the left or defensive wing in Alsace and Lorraine stronger than Schlieffen designed, and that he did so at the expense of the right wing, the decisive one, which in swinging round was to sweep the French Armies against the back of their eastern frontier fortresses and against the Swiss frontier. It has been repeated by many German authorities (e.g. General Wilhelm Groener) that Schlieffen made the proportion of one wing to the other 1 to 7, while Moltke changed it to 1 to 3. The Schlieffen plan was worked out for war on the Western front only; for when drawn up, Russia was still very weak as a result of the Manchurian War. It also contemplated additions to the army that did not take place. The younger Moltke's watered-down version of the Schlieffen Plan was divested of its basic idea and thus of its operational advantages, while the political drawback, the violation of Belgium's neutrality, remained.

The Schlieffen plan presumed that Belgian neutrality would not be broken by Germany first. This was all changed in the deployment plan of the mobilization year 1908-09, by which Liege was to be captured by a coup de main, without artillery preparation, during the mobilization. The von Schlieffen plan used in 1914 was a good plan, but it failed to accomplish the results expected due to the delay caused by the resistance of the fortress of Liege, through which ran the main roads and railroads absolutely needed for communications and supplies.

For a doubtful operational success, they had thus taken the risk of a guaranteed political disaster. In July 1914 German diplomatic circles were forced to adjust to the military deployment plans - rather than the other way around. The German Reich got exactly the kind of war it wanted to avoid: a war against France, Russia, and a naval power, England.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:35 ZULU