Explain how the Schlieffen Plan on World War I was meant to work

The Schlieffen plan was devised by Count Alfred von Schlieffenin 1905, and was the blueprint for German military success. The plan had been devised in response to a potential war on two fronts at the same time. The main objective was to avoid France attacking on the Western Front at the same time as Russia attacking on Germany's Eastern Front because if this did happen it would be much harder to get supplies transported to their troops and also they would be much weaker, resulting in not having enough soldiers in one area to attack as effectively and end up defending.

Von Schlieffen assessed both Russia and Frances forces, and concluded that it would be unwise to divide Germany's troops.

The plan stated that Germany should attack France first, as Russia was estimated to take 6 weeks to mobilize and deploy her troops due to a bad transport system. Von Schlieffen also took into account that Germany had a proficient army, as well as a good railway system.

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Therefore one of the fundamental aspects of the Schlieffen plan was that Germany had to take France in a maximum of 6 weeks to ensure they would get back for when Russia would be ready to attack. The majority of the German army attacking France was to come from through Belgium because France was heavily defended on the France-Germany border. Belgium was neutral so Germany expected to just walk through, or if Belgium did fight that the German army would be too powerful and it wouldn't slow the German forces down too much.

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There was also an attack of around 100 men sent as a diversion from Germany on the heavily defended France-Germany border. Once in France the German army was to then go straight to Paris and take control, which would render France basically out of the war, and come back to Germany behind the heavily defended France-Germany border and back to fight on the eastern front with Russia. There are four main reasons why this plan did not work as hoped: Belgium put up a lot more resistance than expected, slowing the German forces down considerably.

Russia mobilized in 10 days rather than the 6 weeks as expected and so Germany had to pull troops back from France. Britain joined the war against Germany on 4th August 1914, which brought more troops over, that Germany had to deal with. Lastly, USA joined the war in April 1917 after Germany sank the Lusitamia in May the 7th 1915 killing 1000 people, 124 of which were American. This stopped Germany from trading with USA and also brought more troops to attack them.

Question B: Why did a stalemate develop on the Western Front?

A stalemate is when all sides are unable to advance further in the war. During the first few weeks of the war the Schlieffen plan was working, however when the German forces got to Mons they met the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and even though the German army was twice the BEF's size they held them there for a while until they could not hold them anymore. After the failure of the Schlieffen plan both armies were pushed into a stalemate, neither of the sides were able to make any progress or advance any further during the first World War. In early September 1914 the British and French forces stopped the German advance in the battle of the Marne and pushed them back to the river Aisne, which forced both sides to dig in. From this point the war was to be fought from trenches.

The trenches dug by both sides eventually stretched four hundred miles, from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. Over the next four years of the war the Western Front hardly moved. Both sides were in stalemate. Stalemate occurred due to both French and British troops, and German troops "burying" themselves into their defensive positions in their trenches because being defensive was much easier than being offensive, and this was another addition to the reason of the stalemate. When attacking you had to leave the safety, protection and concealment of the trenches, you were out in the open, comparatively defenceless as all that faced you was "no-man's-land" and you knew that beyond there was hundreds of opposing troops ready to blow you down with their machine guns, and so attacking became suicidal.

Staying in your trench was by far the better option; you were hidden and highly armed. Communications were high and so trenches were supplied adequately and defence was mechanised, reinforcements and food could arrive by rail at anytime. Both sides were using all they had to push the other side back and out flank the enemy but both failed, and it turned into a stalemate due to attrition and having no clear plan except to defend.

Question C: The following were equally important reasons why the stalemate on the Western Front was finally broken:

New technology like the tank,

The American entry into the war,

The blockading of German ports,

The German offensive in March 1918.

Explain how far you agree with this statement.

The stalemate was finally broken in spring 1918 with the help of America joining the war in April 1917. Germany's attack along the Western Front with all she had left could not be obtained to the same degree, and as a result the war ended in November 1918, 9 months after the deadlock was broken. Here are the main factors that affected the course of the war.

New Technology

New technology affected the war by changing the way that battles were fought and racing to find new ways to take land when the trenches were dug. An example of this new technology was the tank; it provided an impenetrable shield around a small group of men making it possible to cross over no-man's land and gain territory in the trenches. The tank had many disadvantages though; it was a new development so it was bound to have flaws, this lead to many tanks breaking down. The terrain and the climate had affects on these tanks, making them break down or just get stuck, and so they were then used less frequently. Chlorine gas was produced by the Germans in 1915; phosgene and mustard gas were used by both sides as the other countries caught on.

Gas attacks weren't usually highly successful because they were so dependant on knowing all aspects of the weather and then getting it correct, also if the weather is not predicted correctly the gas could be blown back and cause death or severe injuries to their own team, making it not particularly beneficial. Due to the gas attacks both sides invented 'gas masks' which prevented gas from being breathed in during a gas attack, these did not always work though and they had to be put on before the gas got to them. Aeroplanes were utilised initially by the British forces for observation purposes, however they were soon improved to carry out attacks on the opposing countries. Planes were fitted with machine guns and bombs. Aeroplanes would attempt to drop the bombs on trenches or important German buildings.

The Germans also used planes to attack British trenches and 'dog fights' ensued, again the two armies cancelled each other out. The German Zeppelin was a big 'blimp' that carried huge amounts of bombs, dropping them on many towns and cities throughout England. England improved its air defences. So from Germany switched to night bombers in 1916. New technology was not a significant part in breaking the stalemate; both side's technologies had very slight advantages on the other side's and where they gained these advantages the other team soon found a way to counter them, making technology a stalemate also.

German Blockades

The German U-boats were a problem at first but England soon imposed a naval blockade of all German ports, this prevented food and other supplies from entering Germany over sea. The conditions in Germany would have affected the army. The morale of the German men fighting would have been very low due to a lack of supplies, but the shortages of supplies that would have been affecting all of Germany and also there was the same problem in many countries at this time. Many German people were facing starvation, in the winter of 1916 the supply of potatoes ran out and there were only turnips left. A lot of the farmers in Germany had been dragged into the army, leading to a shortage in farm produce. The Germans couldn't even import the food from abroad

leading to a further shortage. This did affect the stalemate situation because it forced the Germans to eventually commit men to the Ludendorff Offensive as a last resort. The Allies defended well and with the help of America's fresh troops and supplies fended off the German onslaught near Paris. The Germans tired themselves out and also had limited supplies and had no reserves, and after the attack were pushed further back than where they were before.

The German Offensive (Ludendorff Offensive)

Russia dropped out of the war in 1917, which meant that men and equipment from the eastern front could be transferred to the western front. In March 1918 General Ludendorff ordered a massive attack, to try and finally break the defences of the Allied forces. During this attack the Allies were pushed back into France till Paris was under threat again, but this attack could not be kept up due to lacking supplies and troops. In August the American forces came to help, including over 450 tanks, and the Allies launched a counter attack. The tanks were effective and the allies began to push the Germans back, then by September the allied forces had taken more than four hundred thousand soldiers and had pushed the Germans back till the war was nearly over. Germany was now in a very desperate position.

The American entry into the war

America throughout most of the war was neutral, supplying Germany and the Allies with supplies and gaining from the war. However May the 7th 1915 over one thousand people were killed, including one hundred and twenty four Americans when a German U-Boat sank a passenger liner called the Lusitamia. Germany apologised for this incident and said they would not sink passenger vessels in the future, but they did not agree to stop submarine warfare against ships bringing military supplies to the Allies. England intercepted a telegram between Germany and Mexico, this Zimmermann telegram said that the Germans would help the Mexicans take back New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas in return for Mexican aid to Germany if America entered the war. This message made the American people angry and almost forced them into the war.


The new technology contributed to the stalemate being broken by making the opposing side have the figure ways to better or defend against new technology. Blockading of German ports made Germany desperate in the later years of the war, forcing them to gamble and risk everything. The Ludendorff offensive was an act of desperateness due to the starving soldiers and civilians, Germany knew they couldn't carry on much longer. Overall I think the war was tipped more into the Allies favour when America joined the war, this made the possibility of ending the war foreseeable. I think this because America brought lots of fresh troops and machinery to aid the counter attack. The German forces gambled by committing themselves to the Ludendorff offensive, however this did not pay off, so on the 11/11/1918 the armistice took effect and the war was over.

Updated: May 19, 2021
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Explain how the Schlieffen Plan on World War I was meant to work essay
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