Alfred von Schlieffen

Alfred von Schlieffen


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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).

In 1891 Schlieffen replaced Helmuth von Moltke as Chief of General Staff. 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.

Four years after being given this position he devised what became known as the Schlieffen Plan. This strategy involved a German invasion of Belgium and a right-wheel flanking movement through Holland and then southwards, cutting off Paris from the sea.

Schlieffen retired as Chief of General Staff of the German Army in 1906.

Alfred von Schlieffen died in 1913.


Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen Plan (German: Schlieffen-Plan, pronounced [ʃliːfən plaːn] ) was a name given after the First World War to German war plans, due to the influence of Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen and his thinking on an invasion of France and Belgium, which began on 4 August 1914. Schlieffen was Chief of the General Staff of the German Army from 1891 to 1906. In 1905 and 1906, Schlieffen devised an army deployment plan for a war-winning offensive against the French Third Republic. German forces were to invade France through the Netherlands and Belgium rather than across the common border. After losing the First World War, German official historians of the Reichsarchiv and other writers described the plan as a blueprint for victory. Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, succeeded Schlieffen as Chief of the German General Staff in 1906 and was dismissed after the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September 1914). German historians claimed that Moltke had ruined the plan by meddling with it out of timidity.

Schlieffen Plan
Operational scopeOffensive strategy
Planned1905–1906 and 1906–1914
Planned byAlfred von Schlieffen
Helmuth von Moltke the Younger
Objectivedisputed
Date7 August 1914
Executed byMoltke
Outcomedisputed
Casualtiesc. 305,000

Post-war writing by senior German officers like Hermann von Kuhl, Gerhard Tappen, Wilhelm Groener and the Reichsarchiv historians led by the former Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Wolfgang Förster, managed to establish a commonly accepted narrative that Moltke the Younger failed to follow the blueprint devised by Schlieffen and condemned the belligerents to four years of attrition warfare. It was not German strategic miscalculation that denied Germany the quick, decisive conflict it should have been. In 1956, Gerhard Ritter published Der Schlieffenplan: Kritik eines Mythos (The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of a Myth), which began a period of revision, when the details of the supposed Schlieffen Plan were subjected to scrutiny and contextualisation. Treating the plan as a blueprint was rejected, because this was contrary to the tradition of Prussian war planning established by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, in which military operations were considered to be inherently unpredictable. Mobilisation and deployment plans were essential but campaign plans were pointless rather than attempting to dictate to subordinate commanders, the commander gave the intent of the operation and subordinates achieved it through Auftragstaktik (mission-type tactics).

In writings from the 1970s, Martin van Creveld, John Keegan, Hew Strachan and others, studied the practical aspects of an invasion of France through Belgium and Luxembourg. They judged that the physical constraints of German, Belgian and French railways and the Belgian and northern French road networks made it impossible to move enough troops far enough and fast enough for them to fight a decisive battle if the French retreated from the frontier. Most of the pre-1914 planning of the German General Staff was secret and the documents were destroyed when deployment plans were superseded each April. The bombing of Potsdam in April 1945 destroyed the Prussian army archive and only incomplete records and other documents survived. Some records turned up after the fall of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), making an outline of German war planning possible for the first time, proving wrong much post-1918 writing.

In the 2000s, a document, RH61/v.96, was discovered in the trove inherited from the GDR, which had been used in a 1930s study of pre-war German General Staff war planning. Inferences that Schlieffen's war planning was solely offensive were found to have been made by extrapolating his writings and speeches on tactics into grand strategy. From a 1999 article in War in History and in Inventing the Schlieffen Plan (2002) to The Real German War Plan, 1906–1914 (2011), Terence Zuber engaged in a debate with Terence Holmes, Annika Mombauer, Robert Foley, Gerhard Gross, Holger Herwig and others. Zuber proposed that the Schlieffen Plan was a myth concocted in the 1920s by partial writers, intent on exculpating themselves and proving that German war planning did not cause the First World War, a view which was supported by Hew Strachan.


Famous Last Words – The Dying Utterances of 11 Well-Known Military Commanders

ALFRED GRAF VON SCHLIEFFEN WAS 79 YEARS OLD when he died in 1913. The Prussian-born career soldier, who first made a name for himself as a cavalry officer during the 1866 Austrian War, eventually rose to become one of Germany’s top military strategists.

In 1906, von Schlieffen famously devised a war plan that would enable Germany to deliver a decisive knockout blow against long-time rival France. The scheme involved driving the entire right wing of the Kaiser’s army around the French defences to the north, through Belgium and along the Channel coast to capture Paris from the rear. A variation of the strategy would be executed by the German high command in the opening days of the First World War. Von Schlieffen passed away a year-and-a-half before the outbreak of hostilities, but anticipated that his homeland would soon be at war. In fact according to popular folklore, he used his last moments on this Earth to urge the Fatherland’s generals to bear in mind the key to his entire battle plan. “Remember,” he gasped on his deathbed, “keep the right wing strong.”

Whether it’s fact or fiction, last words such as these are the stuff of legend in the annals of military history. Here are some others.

To this day, Horatio Nelson’s dying remarks are a matter of some controversy. In fact, there are more than three different accounts of what the famed British admiral uttered on the surgeon’s table after being fatally shot during the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. According to some, Nelson murmured: “Thank God I have done my duty.” Others say the one-armed admiral whispered these words: “God and my country,” before expiring. An alternate version of the story holds that Nelson used his last breath to call out to HMS Victory’s flag captain, Sir Thomas Hardy. “Kiss me, Hardy,” he reportedly pleaded, to which his subordinate obliged, pecking the dying commander on the forehead. Some have argued that the words were actually “Kismet, Hardy!” which in many eastern tongues means “fate” – suggesting Nelson stoically met his end offering a slightly more poetic variant of the expression “shit happens.” On the other hand, three different eyewitnesses to the admiral’s final moments concur that his actual last words were somewhat more pedestrian: “Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub.” The Victory’s chaplain and purser, as well as a servant, confirm the remarks.

There has been no debate about the final words of James Wolfe, commander of the British assault on the fortress of Quebec on Sept. 13, 1759. After repelling a French sally outside of the besieged city’s gates, the 32-year-old general was struck by three musket balls, one of which tore into his chest. As an adjutant knelt beside the prostrate commander to report that the vanquished enemy was fleeing thee field, Wolfe reportedly issued instructions to try to cut off the French retreat before finally saying: “Now, God be praised, I die contented.”

The French commander, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, was also mortally wounded in the 15-minute battle. “So much the better,” he supposedly said of his imminent demise the following day. “I am happy that I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec.” Before ordering his officers to withdraw from beside his bed, Montcalm offered one final parting shot. “I have much business that must be attended to of greater moment than your ruined garrison and this wretched country.” He slipped into unconsciousness and soon died. In keeping with his last request, Montcalm was buried in a shell crater near the city.

Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s final utterances were also well-documented, although somewhat cryptic. After being shot in the left arm by his own troops after the Battle of Chancellorsville (Confederate sentries mistook him in the moonlight for a Yankee scout), the legendary 39-year-old Virginian underwent an emergency amputation. Jackson contracted pneumonia while recovering and died eight days later. In his final moments, the semi-conscious general began mumbling battle orders before finally offering this: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Another famous Virginian general, George Washington, also died far from the battlefield. After serving as America’s first president, the retired hero of the War of Independence took ill on Dec. 12, 1799. A trio of surgeons treated Washington for respiratory failure, which came on suddenly after the 67-year-old had spent an entire day outside in the freezing rain inspecting the grounds of his Mount Vernon plantation. The doctors prescribed a battery of heavy bleeding (a standard medical practice of the time), but it only served to weaken the ailing patient. Washington died at about 10 p.m. on Dec. 14. After enquiring about his funeral arrangements, he reportedly whispered “’tis well,” and then faded away.

The “George Washington” of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, also died of respiratory failure. After helping liberate Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Peru from Spanish rule, the general-turned-statesman finally succumbed to Tuberculosis in 1830 at the age of 47. A broken man, Bolivar had been chased from power after attempting to proclaim himself president-for-life over Gran Columbia, the nation he’d forged in battle. His disease finally caught up with him while he was in Cartagena awaiting passage to exile in Europe. Some accounts hold that Bolivar’s delirious last words were the puzzling: “Damn it! How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?” Others maintain that he said: “Fetch the luggage. They do not want us here,” before giving up the ghost.

Unlike Washington or Bolivar, the savior of Canada, Maj. Gen. Sir Isaac Brock, died with his boots on — leading a charge up Queenston Heights on Oct. 13, 1812. With American soldiers having crossed the rapids of the Niagara to capture the strategic high ground overlooking the river, the 43-year-old British major general rallied what redcoats and militia men he could muster and led a last-ditch assault to drive the enemy from their tenuous foothold in Canada. While struggling up the steep slope on foot, sabre in hand, Brock was fatally struck in the chest by an American sharpshooter. According to popular legend, the dying general called out: “Push on, brave York volunteers!” or simply “Surgite!” — Latin for “press on”. Yet, eyewitnesses to the scene reported that the general uttered not single a word and simply crumpled to the ground after being hit. Despite the loss of their beloved commander, the British (with help from local militia and native allies) won the day, driving the Americans off Canadian soil. Today, surgite is the motto of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, as well as the name of the school’s alumni magazine.

George Armstrong Custer’s last words have also been mythologized. While being swarmed by hostile Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors at Little Big Horn, Montana on June 25, 1876, the colourful 7th Cavalry commander reportedly shouted platitudes and encouragements to his doomed men. “Hurrah, boys! Let’s get these last few reds then head on back to camp.” It’s almost certainly a fabrication dreamed up sometime later Custer and his entire force were wiped so none present could possibly have reported anything that was said.

The last words of another controversial American military leader, Benedict Arnold, are also the stuff of national folklore. After departing his homeland a traitor, the Connecticut-born hero of Saratoga, settled in New Brunswick, Canada before relocating to London in 1791. That’s where he finally expired on June 14, 1801 at the age of 60. “Let me die in this old uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another,” the reviled turncoat reportedly said.

Also dying in exile, Napoleon Bonaparte was supposedly thinking of the three things he loved most in life when he breathed his last just six years after his defeat at Waterloo. “France. Armée. Joséphine,” the deposed emperor called out from his deathbed on St. Helena.

Union general John Sedgwick was rebuking his men for cowering in the face of enemy sniper fire at Spotsylvania Courthouse on May 8, 1864 when his time came. “What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?” The 50-year-old commander demanded of his troops who were scurrying for cover. “I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Moments later, the major general was shot dead by a sharpshooter’s bullet.

It wasn’t a great leader of men, but an anonymous Union infantryman marching to certain death on June 3, 1864 who scrawled perhaps the most poignant last words in military history. The unnamed soldier’s bloody diary, later recovered from a Virginia battlefield, carried one brief but eerily prophetic entry for the day. It read simply: “Cold Harbor. I was killed.”


The Enduring Mystique of Cannae

In February 1914, as his son prepared for the War Acade­my entrance examination, General Helmuth von Moltke (the younger) sent him a book and a word of advice: Study Cannae. The book was not an eyewitness account of the battle (though Hannibal’s own narrative was thought to exist) rather, it was the high­ly regarded masterwork of General Alfred von Schlieffen, the former chief of the Ger­man general staff.

Schlieffen’s studies of en­circlement battles had led to his “Cannae concept,” the idea that envelopment and annihilation are the highest aims in battle, and subse­quently to the Schlieffen Plan, the basis for German strategic doctrine on the eve of World War I.

But why Cannae? Why had a battle fought in antiquity fired Schlieffen’s imagination? The answer lies in the romance of Cannae, in the history of the German army, and in the experiences of Alfred von Schlieffen.

Hannibal’s victory over Rome is the stuff of legend. There is the leader: a young man marked by brilliance. There is the foe: a superior army motivated by crisis. There is the tactic: a double envelopment choreographed to perfection. Finally, there is the result: total annihilation. This is the sequence that ap­pealed to Schlieffen (as it has to military leaders through the ages) and it was particu­larly appealing because it of­fered, in a single afternoon, a model for German military experience.

Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712-86), the em­bodiment of that experience, was a man of Hannibalic dar­ing. More to the point, his tactics resembled the Cartha­ginian’s–tactics that, more than anything, gave structure to the Cannae concept.

Frederick often coupled as­tonishing speed with the oblique order, a staggered ad­vance that placed the extrem­ities of his wings at the most forward positions. The ma­neuver is best illustrated by the Battle of Leuthen, in December 1757. It resembled Cannae in that Frederick, outnumbered, drew the Aus­trians forward and then launched a flank assault, ulti­mately inflicting eight times as many casualties as he suffered. He won with envelop­ment, not Cannae-like double envelopment, but Leuthen and other victories still sup­ported the Cannae concept.

The next pillar for Schlief­fen’s ideas was erected by the elder Helmuth von Moltke. With Frederick’s spirit, Napo­leon’s example, and industrial Prussia’s resources, Moltke conceived of war on an unprecedented scale. His doc­trine, strategic envelopment, combined rapid mobilization, concentrated force, and re­lentless mobility to encircle and annihilate the enemy.

Strategic envelopment bore fruit at Koniggratz in July 1866, when a ponderous Aus­trian unified command was beset by three smaller, more mobile Prussian armies. Ma­neuver was impossible for the quarter-million Austrians–as it was for the Roman mani­ples at Cannae–and the war ended before (experience said) it should have begun.

Four years later, against the French at Sedan, Moltke repeated his success. But whereas the double envelop­ment at Koniggratz was reminiscent of Cannae, Sedan was a greater achievement–a Cannae-like encirclement, a victory that the official Ger­man history called “unprece­dented.” Of course, its precedent was Cannae. And in du­plicating Hannibal’s victory so thoroughly, Moltke’s doctrine became the irrefutable truth of the German general staff Schlieffen couldn’t help but be impressed. As a cadet he had studied Frederick. As an officer he had witnessed Ko­niggratz. And in 1900, nine years after becoming chief of the general staff, he read his­torian Hans Delbrück’s ac­count of the Battle of Cannae. It was Delbrück who thought he had discovered Hannibal’s personal account of the battle–embedded in the narrative of the Greek his­torian Polybius. “I have no doubt,” he wrote, “that….we are holding in our hand, in the account of his greatest victory, a direct expression of the mind of this hero….” Delbrück argued that Cannae was the watershed battle of ancient history, not because of Hannibal ‘s victory but because of Rome’s defeat: It was so catastrophic that Rome changed her military struc­ture–and conquered the world. Delbrück claimed that Hannibal’s success was due entirely to the cavalry attack from behind that the infan­try’s double envelopment served as a sort of caldron, containing the Romans while the cavalry exerted pressure.

When Schlieffen read this, he ordered the general staffs history section to prove that Cannae was the prototypical Western battle–and then he set about duplicating it. He had already developed a plan for an offensive against France in a vast wheeling ma­neuver through Belgium. But Cannae gave him new confi­dence in his plan, and he set down its specifics as though they were the “direct expres­sion” of Hannibal’s mind.

In 1910, at the War Acade­my ‘s centennial, an aged Schlieffen announced: “In front of every…commander lies a book [on] military his­tory…. [In it] one finds the heartwarming reality, the knowledge of how everything has happened, how it must happen, and how it will hap­pen again.”

The Schlieffen Plan called for the German army to focus everything on a northern sweep so broad that it took in Paris. The French would be rolled up from behind, like the Romans at Cannae.

But important features of Cannae were absent. Missing was the shock of the double envelopment. Although Del­brück had regarded the infantry as a simple barrier, he had not denied that the enormity of Hannibal’s victory was due to multiple shocks. Yet Schlieffen understood him to mean that any obstacle, be it a river or a neutral country, could replace the infantry en­velopment. Also missing, of course, was Hannibal, Del­brück’s heroic figure, re­placed by a timetable. Can­nae’s single afternoon had stretched to a grueling month its contained field to exhausting distances its bold risks to foolhardy gambles. Hannibal had not had to con­sider lunch, or railroads, or the Belgian border. MHQ

This article originally appeared in the Summer 1990 issue (Vol. 2, No. 4) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: The Enduring Mystique of Cannae

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The logistics of the plan and its significance for the German war effort

Prior to World War I, The Schlieffen Plan established that, in case of the outbreak of war, Germany would attack France first and then Russia. Instead of a ‘head-on’ engagement, which would lead to position warfare of inestimable length, the opponent should be enveloped and its armies attacked on the flanks and rear.

Moving through Switzerland’s mountainous terrain would have been impractical, whereas in the North, Luxembourg had no army at all, and the weak Belgian army was expected to retreat to its fortifications.

Schlieffen decided to concentrate all German effort on the right wing of the German army, even if the French decided on offensive action along another part of the long common border and even at the risk of allowing the French temporarily to reclaim Alsace-Lorraine.

In his planning, Schlieffen counted on two things: that German victory in the West would be quick (he estimated this to take about 6 weeks), and that Russian mobilisation would be slow, so that a small German defensive force would suffice to hold back Russia (considered to be a ‘clay-footed colossus’) until France was beaten.

After a swift victory in the West, the full force of the German army would be directed eastwards. Russia would be beaten in turn. This was the recipe for victory, the certain way out of Germany’s encirclement.

Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. Select to enlarge. The plan was first put to paper at the end of 1905 when Schlieffen retired, and was adapted to changing international circumstances by his successor, the younger Helmuth von Moltke.

The underlying principle remained the same until August 1914. By the autumn of 1913, all alternative plans had been abandoned, so that Germany would have to begin a European war, whatever its cause, by marching into the territories of its neutral neighbours in the West.


Influence [ edit | edit source ]

Schlieffen was perhaps the best-known contemporary strategist of his time, although criticized for his "narrow-minded military scholasticism."

Schlieffen's operational theories were to have a profound impact on the development of maneuver warfare in the twentieth century, largely through his seminal treatise, Cannae, which concerned the decidedly un-modern battle of 216 BC in which Hannibal defeated the Romans. Cannae had two main purposes. First, it was to clarify, in writing, Schlieffen's concepts of maneuver, particularly the maneuver of encirclement, along with other fundamentals of warfare. Second, it was to be an instrument for the Staff, the War Academy, and for the Army all together. ⎙] His theories were studied exhaustively, especially in the higher army academies of the United States and Europe after World War I. American military thinkers thought so highly of him that his principal literary legacy, Cannae, was translated at Fort Leavenworth and distributed within the U.S. Army and to the academic community.

Along with the great militarist man we've known Schlieffen to be, there are also underlying traits about Schlieffen that often go untold. As we know, Schlieffen was a strategist. Unlike the Chief of Staff, Waldersee, Schlieffen avoided political affairs and instead was actively involved in the tasks of the General Staff. Γ] These tasks included the preparation of war plans, and the readiness of the German Army for war. He focused much of his attention on planning. He devoted time to training, military education, and the adaptation of modern technology for the use of military purposes and strategic planning. Γ] It was evident that Schlieffen was very much involved in preparing and planning for future combat. He considered one of his primary tasks was to prepare the young officers in not only a way in which they would accept responsibility for taking action in planning maneuvers, but also for directing these movements after the planning had taken place. ⎚] In regards to Schliffen's tactics, General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, pointed out, General Eisenhower and many of his staff officers, products of these academies, "were imbued with the idea of this type of wide, bold maneuver for decisive results."

General Erich Ludendorff, a disciple of Schlieffen who applied his teachings of encirclement in the Battle of Tannenberg, once famously christened Schlieffen as "one of the greatest soldiers ever."

Long after his death, the German General Staff officers of the Interwar and World War II period, particularly General Hans von Seeckt, recognized an intellectual debt to Schlieffen theories during the development of the Blitzkrieg doctrine.


The Schlieffen Plan was put into action in 1914, but trouble in East Prussia changed the course of history.

Germany’s war contingency plans…drawn up in 1905…were a creative strategy to achieve a rapid victory in a two front war. The goal of rapid engagement was seen as a way to win and also save lives and minimize economic damage to all belligerents. So the plan, dubbed the “Schlieffen Plan” after its designer Count Alfred von Schlieffen, gave German leaders peace of mind. The 1906 portrait shown here depicts General von Schlieffen.

The Schlieffen Plan was a solution to the problem of being landlocked and surrounded by numerically superior enemies. And such fears were not unwarranted. They were honed over the centuries by the hard experience of warfare conducted on German lands with devastating results. The ‘Thirty Years War” comes to mind as one example of a horrifying international war on German soil.

The plan was precise and risky. It required first of all a full-force advance on the Western Front, to achieve a rapid victory, and then quickly shift the bulk of forces to the Eastern Front, where the numerically superior enemy was expected to mobilize slowly. This strategy was feasible considering that in the “War of 1870” the Prussian Army defeated France in a short war. And the Russian Empire was considered a lumbering giant, slow to mobilize its enormous but mostly primitive population.

When war broke out in August 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm famously boasted that he would have lunch in Paris in exactly 42 days. Such was the precision of planning and confidence of German leaders in their finely honed military machine.

The Schlieffen Plan was put into action, but trouble in East Prussia changed the course of history. People today don’t know much about East Prussia, once located on Germany’s easternmost border. But in August 1914 it was the hot spot on the Eastern Front. The Russians surprised everyone by launching an immediate invasion of East Prussia.

How could trouble in East Prussia derail the perfect plans of a superb military machine? The answer rests with our human emotions. The unexpectedly swift invasion of East Prussia caused the kind of indignation that we might feel if Mexico invaded Virginia. The Kaiser simply could not tolerate the desecration of his sacred Prussian homeland. He ordered two German Armies removed from the Blitzkrieg already deep into France and routed them to the threat in the east, violating the Schlieffen Plan strategy.

Emotion thus overruled strategy, but the reasons are understandable. East Prussia was the legacy of the Teutonic Knights. By 1914, Germans had ruled this land for 700 years and it was the birthplace of the Kingdom of Prussia. And it was homeland of the “Junker” nobility who dominated the Officer Corps of the entire German Armed Forces.

But the result of weakening the German right wing at the Western Front, caused by removing two armies, was the major reason of the German failure to achieve a quick victory in France. Even worse, the rerouted troops were not needed by the time they arrived on the Eastern Front… Germany already had a new hero, Paul von Hindenburg, the savior of East Prussia and hero of the Battle of Tannenberg.

Knowing all of this gives gives you a different perspective. When we hear of WWI it seems as if the Western Front was the whole war..trench warfare, a savage stalemate war, fought in a miserable moonscape of dirt and mud…with Germany and Austria-Hungary versus Britain, France, Italy and the US coming in at the end of the war. But that was only one half of the conflict.

The other half of WWI was a different war, a mobile war fought on the Eastern Front...a fight with Germany and Austria versus the huge armies of the Russian Empire, which included the territories of future Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. That war was an epic struggle as well. What is normally forgotten is that Germany and Austria were the only ones of all the belligerents in the war, that had to split their forces and fight on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

The Kaiser congratulting victorious German troops after their victory defending East Prussia.

After the first victories on the Eastern Front, the war there was mobile and ended in victory over Russia in 1917. But on the Western Front the war froze into a stationary bloodbath. The failure of executing the Schlieffen Plan robbed Germany of a fast victory, such as the victory over France in 1870, and tragically the goal of Schlieffen to save lives and minimize economic damage to all belligerents was also lost. Germany still had conquered the most territory and was winning the war until the end of 1917. It is very likely that Germany would have won the war if the United States had not saved the exhausted British and French in 1918.

July 1917 German poster demonstrating that Germany was winning the War.


The myth of the schlieffen plan

After the war was lost, Germany's military leaders initially attempted to keep details of the plan a secret, not least because they might have underlined the war guilt allegations made by the victors against Germany. Official document collections omitted Schlieffen's memorandum of 1905, although in private correspondence and in their memoirs, contemporaries frequently referred to Schlieffen's "recipe for victory," which had, in their opinion, been squandered by his successor. Details of the memorandum did not become public until after World War II, when the German historian Gerhard Ritter published this and other documents. His study of the Schlieffen Plan, and his subsequent publications, blamed German militarism for the outbreak of war.

More recently, however, it has been argued by the American historian Terence Zuber that there never was a Schlieffen Plan. His contention is that the famous 1905 memorandum did not amount to a military plan. Other historians have suggested that it would be more appropriate to use the term Moltke Plan when referring to the outbreak of war in 1914, because by then Schlieffen's own plan had been superseded by that of his successor. Zuber's thesis has provoked much debate (see, for example, the journal War in History where much of this debate has taken place), but he has largely failed to convince his critics that there was no Schlieffen Plan. His apologetic interpretation that Germany did not have an offensive war plan in 1914 has similarly found few supporters.

The debate has, however, reemphasized what others had already stressed: that there never existed a guaranteed recipe for victory that Schlieffen's hapless successor adulterated, and that it would be prudent to think carefully about the terminology used to describe Germany's prewar military plans. The term Schlieffen Plan as a convenient way of summarizing German military intentions is perhaps not accurate enough by 1914, when Germany put its offensive war plan into action, Schlieffen had long ceased to have any influence on Germany's military planning. The responsibility for the plans that were put into practice in August 1914 lay with his successor, Helmuth von Moltke, who had adapted Schlieffen's ideas to changing international and domestic conditions.


Alfred von Schlieffen

(Alfred von Schlieffen, Earl of Schlieffen Berlin, 1833-1913) German military man who conceived the plan of attack followed in the First World War.He was an officer of the Prussian General Staff during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.And, after the unification of Germany, which was completed by victory in that war, he joined the General Staff of the German Imperial Army, of which he was head between 1891 and 1906.

When he retired from office, he left as a testament the Schlieffen Plan, aimed at ensuring German victory in a possible war against France: bypassing the French border defenses in an enveloping maneuver from the north, by means of a rapid attack through the Netherlands, before Russia (bound to France by a treaty) could mobilize its troops and go on the offensive forcing Germany to fight on two fronts The plan, based on the concentration of forces on the right wing of the advance, was intended to surprise the main body of the French army from behind and leave it bagged in Lorraine.


Influence

Schlieffen was perhaps the best-known contemporary strategist of his time, although criticized for his "narrow-minded military scholasticism."

Schlieffen's operational theories were to have a profound impact on the development of maneuver warfare in the twentieth century, largely through his seminal treatise, Cannae, which concerned the decidedly un-modern battle of 216 BC in which Hannibal defeated the Romans. Cannae had two main purposes. First, it was to clarify, in writing, Schlieffen's concepts of maneuver, particularly the maneuver of encirclement, along with other fundamentals of warfare. Second, it was to be an instrument for the Staff, the War Academy, and for the Army all together. [20] His theories were studied exhaustively, especially in the higher army academies of the United States and Europe after World War I. American military thinkers thought so highly of him that his principal literary legacy, Cannae, was translated at Fort Leavenworth and distributed within the U.S. Army and to the academic community.

Along with the great militarist man we've known Schlieffen to be, there are also underlying traits about Schlieffen that often go untold. As we know, Schlieffen was a strategist. Unlike the Chief of Staff, Waldersee, Schlieffen avoided political affairs and instead was actively involved in the tasks of the General Staff. These tasks included the preparation of war plans, and the readiness of the German Army for war. He focused much of his attention on planning. He devoted time to training, military education, and the adaptation of modern technology for the use of military purposes and strategic planning. [5] It was evident that Schlieffen was very much involved in preparing and planning for future combat. He considered one of his primary tasks was to prepare the young officers in not only a way in which they would accept responsibility for taking action in planning maneuvers, but also for directing these movements after the planning had taken place. [21]

In regards to Schlieffen's tactics, General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, pointed out that General Eisenhower and many of his staff officers, products of these academies, "were imbued with the idea of this type of wide, bold maneuver for decisive results."

General Erich Ludendorff, a disciple of Schlieffen who applied his teachings of encirclement in the Battle of Tannenberg, once famously christened Schlieffen as "one of the greatest soldiers ever."

Long after his death, the German General Staff officers of the Interwar and World War II period, particularly General Hans von Seeckt, recognized an intellectual debt to Schlieffen theories during the development of the Blitzkrieg doctrine.


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