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Schliefen Plan Doomed to Fail

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In the midst of a struggle to be recognized as a world power, Germany faces the horrors of a two front war. Seeing war as inevitably essential, Germany turns to the Schlieffen plan. The Schlieffen plan was a tactical war plan drafted by Graff Alfred Von Schlieffen to counter the two front war. Schlieffen was the Chief of the German General Staff from 1891-1905. With the well organized, world power, France on the west and a massive Russia on the east, it is obvious why the Germans were highly concerned with the French-Russian alliance. Schlieffen's plan was to rapidly surround and overwhelm the French army in time to get to the Russians before they have had ample time to mobilize their army. Some believe that changes made to the Schlieffen plan by the General Chief of staff Helmuth von Moltke is what caused the plan's failure. Although this statement is true, in part, it leaves out the key problems with the plan itself. Moltke did make some bad moves that merely aided in the failure of a doomed plan.

Schlieffen plan was to send seven-eighths of the German army on the offensive against France. Germany had no plans of occupation but merely a plan to rapidly destroy the French army. In order to make the attack swift and effective, the Germans had to go through Belgium. Belgium is flat and traversable for an army the size of the Germans. The problem, dismissed by the Germans as a necessity of war, is that Belgium is a Neutral country.

Schlieffen was fixated with the battle of Cannae where Hannibal and his army surrounded the legions of Rome and routed them in a decisive victory. Schlieffen believed that the surrounding tactic of Hannibal in 216 B.C. was the most effective way to quickly crush the French army. Schlieffen planned to take the right wing of the German army through Belgium and Luxembourg. The left wing of the German army would buckle down on the French-German boarder with orders to withdraw if necessary to draw the French army further into their trap. The first army on the furthest right wing planned on rapping over Brussels moving southwest through Belgium and France eventually wrapping around Paris heading directly east. The second, third, fourth and fifth armies would use the same sweeping motion in order to surround the French with major German forces from the North, East and West. After crushing the French army, Germany planned on moving the entirety of its forces west to war with Russia.

In 1914 the Russia was in the midst of much turmoil. It is estimated that the Russian army was called on around one hundred thousand times to put down disturbances. Even though the Russian army was the largest army in the world considering their number of troops, their ability to mobilize with the condition of their roads and railroads alone was considered to be severely inadequate without even mentioning the vastness of the country itself. Germany, taking this into considerations believed that it would take at least six weeks for the Russian army to mobilize. The Germans left one army to watch the east; trusting that six weeks would be enough time for the armies of the west to return before Russia could mobilize. The Schlieffen plan put much thought into how Germany would sweep through France but seemed to have no real plan with which to attack Russia.

In the years following the failure of the schlieffen plan, war critics blamed Moltke for altering Schlieffen's "perfect" plan. Shortly before the beginning of the war, it is believed that Schlieffen's dying request was that Germany keeps the right wing strong. As Barbara Tuchman says, if Schlieffen's motto was "Be bold, be bold," Moltke's was, "but not too bold." Moltke went against this request by shifting some of the forces from the right wing to the left. Moltke, unlike Shlieffen, did not like the idea that France could possibly push into Germany on the left wing. To Moltke, Schlieffen's plan was too risky. According to Jack Snyder, this change created a major problem for the Germans in a rapid destruction of the French army because it "served only to keep the French safely bottled up behind their fortresses, while the weakened right wing could no longer push home its flank attack". Moltke made another bad decision when he removed two more corps from the right wing in order to assist the battle in the East at Tannenberg. Ironic enough, these soldiers arrived after the battle had already ended.

Though Moltke might have aided in the failure of the Schlieffen plan, the plan had a few holes of its own. In Schlieffen's plan, the right wing was required to cover massive amounts of land with five armies. Though it might have looked good on paper it is impossible to ignore the fact that spreading these armies out leaves massive gaps between them, leaving them easily surrounded.

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