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Why did the Schlieffen Plan fail?

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Introduction

Why did the Schlieffen Plan fail? This has been a question discussed many times. Well, one problem that was certain was that there were too many assumptions in the actual plan. There were assumptions such as "Russia will take six weeks to mobilise." This was probably true at the time, for Russia had just fought a war against Japan, and had lost. This meant that the armies were weakened, and demoralised. However, this was in 1904. When the plan was carried out, the Russian army had been greatly improved, as had the railway services in Russia, thus ensuring a faster mobilisation (10 days or so instead). Another assumption that Schlieffen made was that Belgium would remain neutral, as would Britain. This, however, also proved incorrect. The Belgians put up some resistance, thus bringing Britain into the war, due to the Belgian - European alliance many years before. This contradicted another theory of Schlieffen's: that the alliance was too old to be upheld. So Britain was brought into the war, a costly mistake by Germany. The Belgian resistance wasn't big enough to completely halt the Germans, but they were definitely slowed down, thus giving Russia even more time to mobilise. This a major problem for the Germans, because they were supposed to go round the west of Paris, surround the city, force the French to surrender, and then prepare for a war with Russia on the other side of Germany. ...read more.

Middle

to fight the Belgians, to go the east of Paris to assist more German troops down at Alsace-Lorraine, where French troops where fighting fiercely. This meant that a good chance to force the French to surrender was lost, as the French, under Joffre's orders, the French forces defending Paris rushed to the front using any methods of transport possible, including buses and taxis! The French forces on the eastern border of France, having failed to take Alsace-Lorraine, retreated, and met up with French forces fleeing from Germans by the River Marne. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF), having held off the Germans at Mons, retreated and joined with the French at the River Marne. Until this point, the Schlieffen plan was going well. Most of the Allies were in retreat, so Moltke, sent more units away, this time to the eastern front to resist the advancing Russians, who were worrying Moltke. Many other accusations thrown at Moltke have been something along the lines like "Moltke had no confidence in the plan." I myself agree with this, and even if a plan is the best one possible, it can't be executed if the General doesn't have a lot of confidence in it. Other accusations are "He was too far from the front to properly control events," and "Moltke had no drive by the end. ...read more.

Conclusion

The worst change in my opinion was sending the right wing force to the east of Paris instead of the west, and sending some troops the east front. This is another way the plan went wrong. Schlieffen had assumed that it would take 6 weeks for Russia to mobilise (which was probable in 1904), but this assumption proved incorrect, as did the others, and Russia instead mobilised in around 10 days. This put pressure on Moltke to finish the campaign in the west and transfer troops to the east end. This, I feel, caused Moltke to make some bad choices, and some fatal changes to the plan. If he had remained calm under the pressure, he may have kept the troops he transferred with their original forces, and the Germans' strength would possibly have overwhelmed the Allies, forced the British and French to surrender, and then moved the whole German army to the eastern front and overwhelmed the Russians, thereby ensuring the victory of the war for Germany. So, all in all, I believe that the Allies managed to prove the assumptions wrong, thus putting great pressure on Moltke to change the very inflexible plan (due to all the assumptions), which led to Moltke to making some bad changes, and therefore ending any real chance of a decisive victory on the western front, so that Germany had to fight a war on two fronts for several years. ...read more.

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