Exploring the Possibilities of a successful Schlieffen Plan (Germany's plan in WWI)

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Germany Dictates the Future

Exploring the Possible Results of a Successful Schlieffen Plan

Ian Western

International Relations - J Block


Delbarton School

September 25th, 2008

World War I has been considered by many historians to be the defining event of the twentieth century, and had the outcome of the war been something other than an Allied victory, the world would be an entirely different place. The spark of the First World War, a simple and seemingly insignificant assassination, led to a chain of events that evolved into a global conflict. The catalyst that expanded the war was Germany's execution of the Schlieffen Plan, a plan that called for an invasion of France through neutral Belgium. Had Germany executed the original Schlieffen Plan successfully, the resulting events would have been better for the world in comparison to the actual results of World War I. Assuming that the successful execution of the Schlieffen Plan led to a short war that resulted in a German victory, the avoidance of the millions of casualties that resulted from the lengthy battles of World War I after the initial invasion would have made the world a better and happier place.

There is also reason to believe that Germany's successful implementation of the Schlieffen Plan would have prevented the evolution of the conflict into a World War. Additionally, German victory would have prevented and/or delayed multiple negative international events that actually occurred as a result of the war, most noticeably the Treaty of Versailles, and its catastrophic effects that led to World War Two. Furthermore, Germany's demands after achieving victory would have led to a more peaceful and cooperative world than the one that resulted from the demands of the Allies within the Treaty of Versailles. Had it not been for the "Miracle of the Marne", Germany would have had the chance to determine the next century of history.

"You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees"�, Kaiser Wilhelm told his departing troops departing for the frontlines. Both the Allied powers and the Central powers believed that the future conflict would be a short and glorious war. Had the Schlieffen Plan worked, World War I could have very possibly lasted no longer than four months. The primary objective of the Schlieffen Plan was to conquer France by entering the country through neutral Belgium, avoiding the heavily fortified Franco Prussian border. From France, Germany would then proceed to attack its ally, Russia, before its armies had fully mobilized. Many factors led to the plan's failure, but Chief of German General Staff Helmuth von Moltke's placement of troops was ultimately the main cause that led to the collapse of the Schlieffen Plan. Germany would have almost undoubtedly won the war.

Prior to the invasion and not in accordance to the plan, Moltke reinforced Eastern Lines with 180,000 men from forces that were supposed to attack through Belgium, greatly reducing their power in favor of defense of the Franco-German Border.� Had Moltke concentrated his forces in the North, he would have been able to defeat Belgium and the British Expeditionary Force that was attempting to uphold Belgian neutrality much faster than he actually did in history, ultimately resulting in a quick victory over France. In addition to a delayed invasion of France, the mobilization speed of the Russians was faster than the Germans expected, and Russia was able to invade East Prussia before Germany had taken France. This caused the Germans to pull even more men from their main force in France, in order to reinforce the Eastern Front, and the Western invasion force gradually became weaker. Moltke also further reinforced his troops on the Franco Prussian border in order to defend against Allied troops aiming to get to the heart of Germany. Such defense was issue that the Schlieffen plan ignored, as it called for the invading French forces to be completely enveloped, putting France on the defensive while Germany held the Offensive. One can see how Moltke drastically altered the Schlieffen Plan, and how its effects on Germany led to the long and exhausting conflict that became World War 1. Had Moltke adhered to the Schlieffen Plan, Germany could have achieved victory over France, Russia, and Serbia while avoiding the long draining effects of a World War.

Assuming the Schlieffen Plan was successful and that France and Russia surrendered to Germany within a period of four months, the resultant status of Europe would have been better for international relations because it would have prevented millions of casualties that occurred in the later stages of the actual war. In order to prove that Germany would have defeated France and Russia in short amount of time, one must analyze the military power of said countries. German Army was the best fighting force in the world. Its soldiers had a high level of both fitness and rigorous training, and trained much longer than the soldiers of France and Russia. Germany also had more artillery than all the Allied countries, including Britain, combined.� Furthermore, Germany was fully expecting a short war, and readied both its military and civilian population for such. After succeeding Schlieffen as chief of general staff, Moltke stated that the next large conflict "will be a national war which will not be settled by a decisive battle but by a long wearisome struggle with a country that will not be overcome until its whole national force is broken, and a war which will utterly exhaust our own people, even if we are victorious."� One can see how the Chief of German general staff feared a prolonged conflict, and planned to avoid a war that would fully deplete the German nation. Strict adherence to the Schlieffen Plan would have given Germany a much better chance of achieving victory. Had the troops been distributed according to Schlieffen's demands as opposed to Moltke's, the invasion of France through Belgium would have had much more success.

First off, the original placement of troops would have decreased the amount of time it took to defeat Belgium, which would have been overrun by being outnumbered if nothing else, thereby reducing the time France had to mobilize its troops to the North. Swift movement through Belgium and Northern France would have almost guaranteed a German victory at the Battle of the Marne, where a German defeat ultimately led to the failure of the Schlieffen Plan. Had the Germans achieved victory at the Battle of the Marne during their invasion of France, they would have avoided trench warfare, and maintained the strategy of a war of movement. Through a strategy of movement, the Germans were undoubtedly the strongest army involved in the war. This is evident in Belgian King Albert's statement to his troops while they were preparing to depart for the defense at Liege: "The German Army, when it moves to attack stops for no obstacle."� Albert had traveled to Berlin in November of 1913 to declare its neutrality to Germany, and had witnessed the potential of the German Military. If a foreign enemy leader believed Germany would not be stopped in a war of movement, then it is reasonable to believe as such in France. It is therefore also reasonable to believe that France would have surrendered shortly after Germany had broken through the French and Belgium defense border. A continuous war of movement in France alone, would have avoided millions of casualties that resulted from multiple instances of trench warfare of World War 1, and would prevented the immense casualties that resulted from battles on French territory such as Verdun and Somme.

Following the surrender of France, Germany would have been in an excellent position to successfully invade Russia, just has Alfred von Schlieffen had hoped for. Russia's plan for the war, known as Plan XIX, called for an immediate invasion into East Prussia with only two divisions, while the rest of the army focused on invading Austria Hungary. German strategy and technology were vastly superior to that of Russia, as is evident in the Russian defeats at Tannenberg and Lodz.� Despite the Great Manpower of Russia, its armies would have not been able to withstand the strength of the German force coming from a defeated France. The unorganized and inefficient Russian would have eventually had to surrender to the German military power, and the entire conflict between Germany, Russia, and France could have ended right then and there, a mere 4 months into the war. Germany's remaining opposition would have been the small armies of Serbia, which only numbering in the 200,000's,� would have undoubtedly have had to surrender against the exponentially larger manpower of Germany. One can see how if Moltke adhered to the original plan set forth by Alfred von Schlieffen; Germany would have had a chance to avoid a prolonged World War, and all the casualties that came along with it. With the defeats of France, Russia, and Serbia, Great Britain would be less inclined to continue to fight Germany on its own, and had no intentions of directly threatening German Territory. Britain's withdrawal from the conflict would have avoided numerous casualties that resulted from late battles on the Western Front. Moreover, the United States of America would not have a motive to go to war with Germany if Germany had demobilized its navy in response to peace with Britain. The United States is one of many countries that wouldn't have necessarily joined the war if the Schlieffen Plan had worked and Germany achieved a short victory. The short victory that could have resulted from a successful Schlieffen Plan could have led to the avoidance of numerous deaths of soldiers from countries that entered the war following Germany's initial invasion. This alone is grounds to believe that a successful Schlieffen Plan would have been better for international relations.

In addition to preventing millions of deaths, a short victory of the Germans through successful execution of the Schlieffen plan would have prevented many events that led to future international conflict. The infamous Treaty of Versailles, a spark that ultimately led to World War II as well as years of deadly conflict, would have been avoided entirely. Without the economic depression that resulted from the vast amount of reparations Germany was forced to pay for taking sole responsibility for the war within the treaty, Hitler would have not had the opportunity to unite and reform the country under the Nazi party. Germany would have been in a similar economic and political status as it was before the war if the Schlieffen Plan had worked, and therefore would have no need for the Nazi's economic and militaristic revolutions that led to World War II and the atrocities of the holocaust. All can agree that the world would be a better place had Hitler not risen to power, and a successful execution of the Schlieffen Plan could have prevented his rise and the disastrous events that followed.

In addition to avoiding World War II, the entire Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism could have also been avoided, which ultimately meant that the entire Cold War would not have occurred. A main cause of the Russian Revolution was the Tsarist Regime's preoccupation with World War I failure to respond to the citizens' economic needs.� Had the Russia surrendered to Germany early in the war, the Tsarist Regime would have had more time to adequately respond to its citizens needs, and eventually avoid the Bolshevik Revolution. Furthermore, on the off chance that the Bolshevik Revolution did occur, the opposing "White Armies" would have been stronger as a result from avoiding casualties suffered in the latter stages of World War I. All can agree that the world would have been a better place had the various conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, that resulted from the war between democracy and communism been avoided. One can see how the aftermath of World War I is terrible when compared to the possible aftermath of a successful Schlieffen Plan.

The countries that involved themselves later in the war would have also been better off if the Schlieffen Plan was successful. Had the war not escalated as it did as a result of a successful Schlieffen plan, Middle East would have had the opportunity to be a more peaceful place than it is today. Had the Middle Eastern Countries not been involved, Britain would have never made premature promises to the two main religious groups of the area: Arabs and Jews. Arabs were promised total governmental command of lands inhabited by Arabian populations, apart from those currently under European control, such as Egypt, Aden and Algeria. The Arabs pursued the lands of Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Palestine with the greatest interest.� The Jews desired lands in Palestine, because of its Biblical significance as the territories of Israel and Judah, but it had been under Islamic control since 600 A.D. The Jews could live in Palestine, but any attempt to create a Jewish homeland would be resisted.� The League of Nations, an international organizations based off of Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points and formed after the Treaty of Versailles, gave Britain authorization to govern and rule over Jordan, Palestine, and Iraq and gave the French similar authorization over the states of Syria and Lebanon. Neither the Jews nor the Arabs of the Middle East were given what they were promised, which led to a conflict that is still occurring in modern society. One can see that Middle East would have been better off had the Germans executed the Schlieffen Plan to success.

In comparison to the resulting status of international relations from the Treaty of Versailles, Germany's demands after achieving short victory in the war over France, Russia, and Serbia would have led to a more peaceful and cooperative world. Although Germany invaded France preemptively, Germany was not looking for territorial gains on the European Continent. Rather, it fought mainly to assert itself as a great world power. Had it won the war in the time predicted within the Schlieffen Plan, it would have not made any unreasonable demands of territory, reparations, or governmental transfers. Germany had no interest in annexing any parts of Belgium or France, but would have been content with simply demilitarizing these areas.� If Britain agreed to some sort of peace with Germany after the successful invasion of France, Germany would have demanded nothing more than its right to expand its Navy, and its right to trade and expand in Africa. Although the Germans antagonized the British by building up a Navy, it did so for the purpose of easing its restrictions on colonization, not for a cause of war. Had the British and Germans agreed to a naval peace as well, Germany's economy would continue to grow and ideally would have peacefully contributed to the economy of Europe. German's predicted demands show that the Europe would have been more stable if the Schlieffen Plan worked.

The effects on the world that resulted from World War 1 will never fully disappear. Even today, results from the Treaty of Versailles and an Allied victory play a prominent roll in international relations. Had the Germans achieved a short victory through proper and successful implementation of the Schlieffen Plan, the world would be a better place, and many of the evils that are apparent in history would not have come to pass. The simple avoidance of casualties that would have resulted from a successful Schlieffen Plan would have had a drastic, yet positive impact on international relations. Furthermore, the aftermath of such a short German victory would have been better for the world as opposed to the rules and regulations put forth in the Treaty of Versailles. Lastly, the German demands would not have led to such catastrophic events that the Treaty of Versailles sparked. Helmuth Von Moltke did not have realize that his mistake of weakening his right flank would impact the entire world for decades to come, and had he listened to Schlieffen's advice of "Keep the Right Wing Strong," he would have had the possibility to create a more harmonious relationship between numerous countries.


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� Peter I. Bosco, World War I. (New York: New York: 1991) Pg 10

�Bosco, Pg 10

� Zachary Kent, World War I: "The War to End Wars" (Hillside, New Jersey: 1994) pg 18

� Hew Stachan, The First World War (New York, New York: 1994) pg 42

� Bosco pg 48

� D. F. Flemming, The Origins and Legacies of World War I (Garden City, New York: 1968) pg 80

� James L. StokesBury, A Short History of World War I, (New York, New York: 1981) pg 73

� Fleming pg 130

� Flemnig pg 190

� Fleming pg 194

� Strachan pg 105

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