Schlieffen Plan (1905)

Schliffen Plan
German plan, evolved in 1905 by General Count Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of the German General Staff, to deal with a potential two front war against France and Russia. The plan took advantage of their main weaknesses - the slow mobilisation of the Russian army, and the determination to attack at all cost in the French army. Thus the initial effort was to be made in the west, while small holding forces gave way slowly against the Russians. It was confidently expected that on the outbreak of any war with Germany, the French would almost instantly launch an invasion of Germany through Alsace-Lorraine, the best invasion route on the Franco-German border. When was came, both expectations were proved to be true. The German plan was simply to mass 90% of their troops - some 35 corps - to the north, and when war came marching them through neutral Belgium and Holland, and sweeping round to the west of Paris, enveloping the French army, who would have been allowed to make some progress into Germany. The French army would then find itself attacked from the rear, and with Paris threatened or lost.

If this plan had been carried out in its original version, the French might have been defeated in the first few weeks of the war, although in the original memoranda outlining the plan, Schlieffen himself had considered the likelyhood of success to be slim, with three main problems unsolved - how to neutralise the very strong fortifications and garrison of Paris, the inability of the transport network to take the number of troops his plan required, and an unsolvable shortage of troops even after full mobilisation.. However, in the years between the retirement of Schlieffen in 1906, and the outbreak of the First World War, the plan was repeatedly watered down by General Helmuth von Moltke, his successor as chief of the German General Staff. First, he decided not the break Dutch neutrality, only that of Belgium, leaving the important 35 corps struggling through a narrow gap to reach France. Next, loath to allow surrender of German soil, he limited the scope of the withdrawl planed for Alsace-Lorraine. Finally, and for the same reasons, he moved more troops to East Prussia, intending to defend against any Russian attack near the borders. Thus the 2.1 million troops envisaged by Schlieffen as attacking through Belgium and Holland became 1.5 million troops attacking through Belgium, while the French armies, instead of being trapped some way inside Germany when the attack came, were instead close to the frontier and able to be redeployed much quicker. Even so, the German plan nearly succeeded, and was only defeated after the battle of the Marne (5-10 September 1914).

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

Routledge Atlas of the First World WarThe Routledge Atlas of the First World War, a good historical atlas that makes the overall nature of the war clear. Contains over 150 maps, covering just about every major aspect of the conflict from the pre-war tensions that led to war to the Armistice in 1918. [see more]
cover cover cover
How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (7 February 2001), Schlieffen Plan (1905), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_schlieffen.html

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us -  Subscribe in a reader - Join our Google Group - Cookies