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The failure of the Schlieffen Plan – Stalemate Essay

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Schlieffen Plan – total victory against France in six weeks; ten divisions in east in holding operation

? Schlieffen, Chief of German General Staff 1890-1905, conceived & developed plan;

* Forces concentrated on right wing for a gigantic wheel; left wing reduced to slenderest possible.

* Extreme right pass south of Paris & cross Seine through Rouen ? press French back towards Moselle, where hammered in rear on anvil formed by Lorraine fortresses & Swiss frontier.

? Swinging mass, pivoting on fortified Metz, was to consist of 53 divisions – revolving door

* Counted on intervention of British expeditionary force of 100,000 in conjunction with the French.

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* Advocated using Landwehr & Ersatz troops in operations & fusing resources of nation into army.

* His dying words were: ‘It must come to a fight. Only make the right wing strong.’

* CRAIG: From a technical point of view, the plan was brilliant; from others it was disastrous.

The Moltke revisions – Moltke the younger, successor to Schlieffen, lacked predecessor’s courage

? Whittled away essence of plan: Of 9 divisions available 1905-14, 8 allotted to left wing.

* Rather than crossing ‘Maastricht Appendix’, decided Liege must be taken immediately.

* August 1914: 2 army corps taken from French Theatre in order to reinforce the Eastern Front.

Plan 17 – frontal offensive launched with bare equality of force against German fortified frontier zone.

? German army estimated at maximum of 68 infantry divisions. Deployed 83 (Landwehr & Ersatz)

* When rival armies concentrating, French Intelligence counted only 45 active German divisions.

? size of German sweep through Belgium utterly misjudged – expected to go through the Ardennes

* Thrust by the First and Second Armies towards the Saar into Lorraine.

* Third army opposite Metz & Fifth army facing Ardennes, to take up offensive between Metz & Thionville, or, If Germans came through Luxembourg & Belgium, to strike at flank.

* Fourth Army was held in strategic reserve near the centre.

1914: German railway system under military supervision – 1870-1914: lines to western frontier 9 ? 13

? August 6th: 550 trains/day crossing Rhine bridges; 12th August: 7 German armies, 1,500,000 ready.

* Deployment completed by August 17th: friction of war revealed weaknesses.

? Belgian resistance cloaked weight of main German columns and misled the Allies’ Intelligence.

? August 7th, French advance began, movement into Upper Alsace as a distraction

* Pressure of disasters elsewhere compelled its being dispatched Westwards.

? August 14th – Main thrust into Lorraine by French 1st & 2nd – 19 divisions. Shattered by 20th.

* Damaged Schlieffen plan: Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria’s 6th Army did not retreat

* German Crown Prince’s 5th Army defied orders to retreat. French pushed back to fortifications

* 4th & 3rd Armies moved into Ardennes & pushed back by German 4th & 5th Armies.

* French 5th – 10 divisions – & British – 4 divisions – moved into 1st, 2nd & 3rd German – 34 divisions; Due to premature attack of German 2nd, Allies fell back in time to escape German trap.

? Marne – 6-9 Sept. – Gap in German line forced retreat to River Aisne – defeat of Schlieffen plan

* August 26, battle of Le Cateau, hard right with British, Kluck I Army decided to turn East of Paris hoping to smash army of Lanzarec engaged in bitter fighting with Bulow’s II army at Guise

* LIDDELL HART: so much grit had worked its way into the German machine that a slight jar would suffice to cause its breakdown. This was supplied in the battle of the Marne.

* 3 September: Opening on Kluck’s right flank perceived by Galieni, military governor of Paris

* 5 September: Manoury VI Army fell on Kluck; 6 September order for general Allied offensive given.

* British headed for gap between I & II Armies as Kluck removed forward & left flank guards

* 9 September, B�low ordered retreat of his force – spread rapidly to rest of the German Armies.

* CRAIG: Defeat marked definitive failure of Schlieffen plan & turned war in west into a struggle for which the German officer corps, raised in the tradition of mobile war, was not prepared.

* Thomson & Carr: 1914 battle of the Marne was decisive because it denied Germany quick victory

? Ypres – October & November 1914 – Liddell Hart: With the repulse of the German attempt to break through, the trench barrier was consolidated from the Swiss frontier to the sea. The power of modern defense had triumphed over attack, and stalemate ensued

The nature of trench warfare

? Trench warfare: development and tactics – emerged in September 1914. Intended to be used as a breathing space – for an army forced to fall back from an unsound position.

* January 1915, Western Front ran for over 750 kms. Much unsuitable for a large-scale offensive.

? The Officers and their men. Officers separated by status and privilege

* Officers had separate brothels and cinemas, separate treatment of shell shock.

? Discipline and punishment

* new recruits lack of understanding of army discipline resulted in periods of unrest.

* Crimes such as looting invariably rose after casualties.

* Disturbances at Shoreham, England in September 1917 prompted by scale of rations, higher pay of Canadians and cancellation of leave trains to Brighton in order to save fuel.

* British courts-marshal dealt with more than 300,000 offences. Average of 160 per day. On average, one man per week faced firing-squad Overwhelming majority of 1190 men executed for desertion

? Machine guns, Mortars and hand grenades

* Machine gun was most destructive weapon with its high rate of fire of up to 600 rounds per minute.

* Vickers machine gun: Crew of 6; 500 rounds/min; range: 2285; weighed 23kg.

* Lewis gun: mobile & light: Crew: 2; weighed under 13kg; fired from shoulder. 600-700rpm.

* Mortars: fired an explosive bomb, effective for long & medium distances – dugouts and earthworks

* Hand grenades were part of trench warfare and used in close fighting.

? Tank: Introduced in Somme; Allied High Commands unsure of how to use them successfully

* Cambrai, Nov. 1917, 278 tanks, British army advanced 10 kms in 6 hours, 4000 casualties.

* Third Battle of Ypres: 3 months at cost of 250,000 men – incorrect conditions & tactics for tanks

? Human cost of shell-fire – the main killer: 24-29 June 1916 – 50,000 English gunners fired 1,500,000 rounds into German positions near the Somme

* Artillery fire was totally impersonal – accounted for large number of casualties & ‘shell-shock’.

? Fighting in the trenches

* The lack of consistent aggression on the part of the men was of real concern to the officers. During the ferocity of battle there were many scheduled and unscheduled lulls.

* All soldiers conducted their offensive operations with a tactful blend of constant firing and bad shooting. The upper military leaders told the men to develop an aggressive spirit and from 1916 onwards took active steps to ensure the men co-operated on this issue.

Poisonous gas – concept developed by German Chemist Fritz Haber – used particularly in 1917

* Chemical warfare anticipated & created fear. Troops’ confidence undermined – panic & retreat.

* Temporary measures followed by the introduction of gas masks fitted with breathing devices.

* Gas injured rather than killed – it demanded treatment that took time and resources.

* For the workers at home, the manufacture of gas was dangerous and accidents were frequent.

? Trench life – Remarque’s novel All quiet on the western front – premature ageing & disillusionment

? Role of weapons in battle and the ‘offensive’ spirit

* Bewilderment of the commanders was often as great as the disillusionment of the soldiers over the failure of the ‘offensive spirit’ to overcome the superiority of defensive weapons

* For those in the trenches, the stalemate was not simply a tactical problem, but a problem of keeping dry, being fed and staying alive.

* Assumed that increased offensive power would overwhelm lines of defence.

* Passchendaele: preparatory barrage of 4.5 million shells; 300,000 British casualties.

? Front-line soldier

* Hostility between 2 sets of front-line troops was sometimes eroded as the men directed their hatreds towards the staff officers who were issuing orders from behind the lines.

* For the front-line soldier, the superiority of defensive power dictated his life.

* For the staff officer, this superiority was merely a tactical problem.

* The heavier the bombardment to create a whole in enemy lines, the more difficult for the masses of troops and equipment to move across a torn and cratered landscape.

Attempts to break the stalemate

1915 – Ypres – April to May 1915 – unsuccessful German attempt to push allies out Belgium

* Resulted in a salient being created and loss of 50,000 British lives ? determination to keep Ypres

* 22 April – Germans use of Chlorine gas against French 87 Territorial division & 45 Algerian division

* STALEMATE: Front line now basically stationary from the North Sea to Switzerland.

1915 – Battle of Loos – British – shortcomings in organisation & leadership. British use gas

1916 – Verdun – 21 February to 16 December 1916 – ‘Verdun mincing machine’

? most sustained battle of WWI. French suffered over 400,000 casualties, Germans 350,000.

* General von Falkenhayn, chief of German General Staff: to ‘bleed France White’

* national sentiment would force the French to ‘throw in every man they had’.

* Germans suffered loss of morale; late June: advance ground to a halt & Somme – Verdun never fell.

* 300-Day battle destroyed French reserves & left French too weak for a resolute offensive.

* French counter-attacks from 23 October onwards recovered most wasteland overrun by Germans.

? Verdun was a triumph for French fortitude & generalship of Mangin, Nivelle, and Petain.

* LIDDELL HART: France’s supreme sacrifice and her supreme triumph

Somme – 1 July to 18 November 1916 To provide relief for French at Verdun & break German line

? 24 June Heavy bombardment had failed to break the German wire.

* 1 July: British 4th & French 6th Army attacked on 20-mile front. 20,000 British soldiers died.

? 15 September first use of Tanks by British not entirely successful – muddy & marshy terrain.

? Massive casualties – 620,000 (British and French), about 450,000 German – only a few miles gained.

? German historians claimed Somme & Verdun fatally weakened army – Hindenburg line March 1917

1917 – Nivelle Offensive: Chamin des Dames 16-27 April – 187,000 French losses; 17 April mutinies

* Mutinous French were only about 1% in total. Petain restored discipline at the cost of 23 mutineers

* Nivelle replaced by Petain, who ruled out any more large-scale offensives – waiting for USA

Passchendaele – 3rd battle of Ypres – 31 July to 7 December 1917 – British

* drive Germans from Belgian coast and break out of Ypres salient

* Planning and preparation – Fortnights’ heavy bombardment that preceded the ‘surprise attack had devastated the network of drains and dikes that prevented the area from becoming a swamp.

* Meteorological reports had disclosed that heavy rain was a feature of August weather.

* Battle: 31st July Haig launched the third battle of Ypres – Fifth army under Gough

* Gough made 2 attacks in August – disastrous, reported to Haig that tactical success unlikely.

* Heightened tensions between military under Haig & George’s civilian administration

* Replaced by Plumer: organised set-piece battles for September. Aided by weather.

* The third attack, in October, afforded a passage on to part of Passchendale ridge.

* Plumer & Gough – offensive should be halted – Belgian ports could not be reached before winter

* Haig: wanted control of Passchendale ridge – more easily defended line for winter.

* Campaign in early October to early November, hampered by atrocious weather,

* The Canadians captured Passchendale village on 6 November, still not giving complete control of the ridge, but even Haig was persuaded to call a halt

? Results: 11 km for over 300,000 lives & 4.25 million shells; German Western Front losses 275,000.

* Although British had advanced, Germans not demoralised and had not disappeared.

* Haig’s defence of the attrition: he gave the French army the quiet time they needed.

* Germans did not intend to attack the French; unlikely Petain had made any request to Haig.

1918 – Spring Offensive – 21 March to July – troops from Russia before US troops arrived.

* 9 April: offensive in Flanders – Germans 214 divisions to British 25 – fell 3 miles short of target

* Germans did not have the depth to press their advantage, & failed to use latest techniques

* By 27 May 1918 only 60 Kms from Paris – but German army very battle weary.

* 15 July 1918 – offensives ran into Petain’s defences – strong second line out of artillery range

* 18 July: second battle of Marne launched by Foch & Petain. Germans withdrew to line of the Vesle

Allied Counter offensive – 8 August to 25 September

? 8 August, British & French – no preparatory bombardment; simultaneous attack of tanks & artillery, with benefit of complete surprise at Amiens – drove 30 kms Ludendorff ‘black day of the German Army’.

? Allies from 26 September 1918 advanced beyond front of March 1918 – push to armistice.

Why the Allies Won

? Blockade made German position untenable: wholesale destruction of high seas fleet at Jutland

? Failed to consolidate Brest-Litovsk – Spring Offensives left west overstretched & vulnerable.

* Craig: ‘lack of fuel’ & ‘other logistical faults’ & insufficient reserves responsible for its failure

* An efficient settlement with the Russians would have provided oil from the Caucasus, and freed at least some of the 1.5 million troops needed to control Eastern Europe

? German political system had broken down ? revolution.

* Military dominance over Germany’s civilian leadership, & poor performance of Wilhelm as Supreme War Lord, led to uncomfortable total war – commanders failed to deal with home front conditions.

* In January 1918 in the middle of a harsh winter the country was wracked by strikes

? Entry of Americans – negative morale effects on German people & troops & vice-versa for allies.

* American numbers sure to crush Germany in the end.

The impact of war on Australia, Britain and Germany


Australia – When war declared, government offered 20,000 troops. 40,000 volunteered

? Initial high standards for enlistment were lowered as labour needs increased during war.

* By end of 1914 enlistment numbers had dropped. Galipolli created surge by mid-1915.

? After mid 1915, recruitment became a problem for the government as the grim reality of modern warfare hit home to Australians through the stream of casualties, reports and images of the war.

* Government-sponsored recruiting drives held where exhibitions & speakers pushed men to enlist.

* September 1915 Universal Service League (USL) formed to push for conscription.

? 1916 Billy Hughes drive for 128,000: ‘Call to arms’. 81,000 volunteered.

* 1916, Allied offensives’ huge casualties caused government to reassess recruiting programme.

* AIF needed 32,500 immediate reinforcements followed by 16,000/month. Only 6,000/month

? With the defeat of the Conscription Referendum on 20 October 1916, recruitment was professionally organised by D. McKinnon, the Director General of Recruiting.

Britain – August 1914, 100,000 men were asked for and by early September 200,000 had enlisted

? By March 1916, 2.5 million men had voluntarily enlisted in the British forces.

* Methods employed by British to encourage enlistment became the model for other nations.

* Recruitment committees formed in all regions, using local knowledge

* Drives and recruitment marches through smaller towns and villages were very successful.

* Massive poster campaigns evoking patriotic and emotive themes

* Women were targeted to persuade husbands, boyfriends, brothers, and sons to enlist.

* Well known identities spoke at rallies to instil the desire to ‘serve king and country’

Germany – 4,250,000 reserves to supplement the 750,000 standing army

? Army peaked at 11 million men – not being created at expense of population – high birth rate


Australia – 1916 Hughes proposed conscription to solve labour shortages – no parliamentary majority

? 28 October 1916 referendum. Hughes, along with supporters, was expelled from the Labor party

* Hughes remained PM by forming National Labour Party, by gaining support from the liberal party.

? Ranged against: ‘rump’ of Labor Party, majority of trade union movement and Catholic Church.

* Dr Daniel Mannix ‘leader’ of anti-conscriptionists; Amongst Irish, British suppression of ‘Easter Uprising’ of 1916 was seen as savage and extreme.

? Results close. The ‘No’ vote won by a majority of 72,496 nationally whilst NSW, SA, Queensland voted ‘No’ and Victoria, WA and Tasmania supported the ‘Yes’ cause.

* critical ‘No’ votes came from conservative farming community – feared labour shortages.

? After offensives against Hindenburg line, 2nd referendum held on 20 December 1917.

* Majority against conscription had increased to 166,588, and Victoria also voted ‘No’.

* Increased ‘war-weariness’ had eroded the pro-conscription base.

? Conscription issue polarised Australian political scene and had sharply divided the nation.

Britain – late 1915: ‘Kitchener’s Army’ 3,000,000; attrition rate demanded more troops

* In January 1916 the government introduced the Military Service Bill.

? Bill proposed the conscription of single or widowed males 18 – 40 years. Exceptions applied to clergy, workers in essential industries, widowers supporting families, & conscientious objectors.

? May 1916 Second Military Service Bill. Widened conscription to 41 & many exempted industries

* Considerable opposition to both bills mostly from outside the parliament.

* Groups formed to fight conscription such as No Conscription Fellowship and the National Council Against Conscription Included disparate factions: religious, left wing, intellectuals.

* THOMPSON: if conscription introduced earlier, war may have ended sooner: fewer French losses.

Germany – system of conscription in place in 1870; 3 years national service & then reserve status

The war and civilians

impact on civilians – concept of ‘total war’

Australia – effects limited; censorship; restrictions on sporting events & bar’s operation hours

Britain – December 1914 & London 1915 bombing by Zeppelins – propaganda exaggerated effects

? Real effects felt through food shortages – U-boat action – 6 million tonnes – & military supply diversion.

* Prices rose sharply. Strike action from 1915; Poor harvests in 1916 threatened food supplies.

* Hotels & restaurants operating times regulated. Rationing of bread, milk, sugar, tea, & meat

* April 1917: Convoy system ensured food supplies never reached German shortages – only 1% sunk.

? Early in August 1914 the Asquith government past the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA)

* Suspend certain civil liberties; censorship; Limit population movement; cut social activities.

Germany – blockading of Germany & diversion to military caused substantial food shortages

* Jan 1915 – rationing; 1916 bread rationed; Coffee unobtainable, butter substituted

* Sausages were filled with offal, vegetables or saw dust. Clothing was recycled until unusable

* Human hair bought & used as substitute for rubber & leather belts in industrial machinery

? food production: 1916 War Food Office controlled over 250 separate regulations on commodities.

* Wheat Board of 1915 & Imperial Potato Office of 1916 encouraged conservation

* Serious food shortages followed poor crops of 1915 & 1916. Mobile canteens introduced

? Coupled with influenza epidemic, German population began to show signs of discontent.

* Siegfriede, peace of victory, supported by conservatives & Bethmann Hollweg, ‘guaranteed’.

* CARR: Because the state was intervening in the regulation of the economy, ordinary Germans began to blame it for its manifest failure to protect their living standards in second half of war.

* Somme led Ludendorff to total mobilization of civilian population, causing unrest augmented by ‘Turnip Winter’ and encouraged by first Russian Revolution, March 1917.

* THOMSON: ‘war-time collectivism’ led to widespread discontent against the government

war effort

Australia – Government established series of institutions such as the Wool Board and the Wheat Board

? No need for government controls on labour. Major domestic problem was to settle strikes

? July 1916 Necessary Commodities Commission to fix prices.

? 1914 War Precautions act: information, transport, & enemy aliens – 1918 nearly 7,000 interned

Britain – July 1915: Munitions of War Act – gave Lloyd George(M of M) dictatorial control over industry

? Food Production: All non-productive land converted to food production

* By the end of the war wheat and potato production had almost doubled in Britain.

? government introduced regulations to control all aspects of food production and distribution.

* Voluntary rationing encouraged to conserve supplies, this was later made compulsory.

* Labour controls: success of recruitment drive caused labour shortages.

* 1916: Ministry of Labour; August 1917: Ministry of National Service

Germany – ‘burgfreide’ – political truce for duration of war – Reichstag approves war credits.

? Largely self-reliant in food iron & coal but relied on imports of vital raw materials

* Aug 1914: Rathenau (chairman AEG) in charge of KRA – Germany could only fight for 12 months.

* Set up series of War Raw Materials Corporations, which succeeded in preventing the loss of the war in early 1915 owing to lack of supplies.

* Ersatz – synthetic materials (rubber), substitutes (fixation process for nitrates; aluminium)

? 1916 Hindenburg created Supreme War Office: labour force, manufacturing industries, transport

* To ensure proper allocation of labour occurred, Exports & Exemptions Office, AZS, was set up in 1915. National Service law: military & trade unions agreement for mobilisation of males 17-60.

social and economic changes in the role of women.

Australia – direct contributions to the war in two areas: voluntary work and nursing

* The Red Cross and Australian Comforts Funds raised large sums of money and produced huge amounts of clothing and other ‘comforts’ to be sent to Australian service men.

* 1916 Australian Women’s Service Corps to offer to replace men in non-combat roles.

* Unions vigorously fought against women in work-force – cheap labour source undermining pay.

Britain – slow to move into traditionally male occupations. As war continued, role increased; vote – 1918

* 1916 Conscription gave great impetus: 1917-18 Munitions industry employed 1,000,000 women

* Women used in non-combat roles – transport, communications, clerical, trade and technical jobs

* Created tension in workplaces, claims of undercutting traditionally male pay & conditions.

Germany – German government most effective in its use of women for the war effort

? 1914 government placed Gertrude Baumer in charge of organisation of women in industry.

* Typically, in rural sector, light industry & transport. Eventually, in heavy industries.


Britain: French (indecisive use of reserves at Loos); 17 December 1915: Haig

US: 6 April 1917 – entry into war – Pershing

France: Joffre (lack of preparation for Verdun); December 1916: Nivelle (mutinies); April 1917: Petain;

Foch – Allied Supreme War Council

Germany: von Moltke the younger (Marne); September 1914: Falkenhayn (Verdun);

29 August 1916: Hindenburg & Ludendorff

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