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The Schlieffen Plan – And Why It Failed I THE GREAT WAR Special feat. AlternateHistoryHub


When the war began, over a year ago, the one
thing Germany absolutely did not want was what Germany got, a war on two fronts. Indeed,
the initial German plan for the war was designed to specifically avoid that, and it was called
The Schlieffen Plan. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War
special episode about the Schlieffen Plan. Now, in our regular episodes last summer we
saw how the German war plans played out in real life as they advanced into Belgium and
northern France before being stopped at the Battle of the Marne, but for those of you
who have only recently joined us, here’s a broader overview of what the German plans
were before the war. Okay, the Schlieffen Plan! The brainchild
of Alfred von S chlieffen, Chief of Staff of the German Imperial Army from 1891 to 1906.
The plan itself began to take form in 1905, and the idea was to find a new general war
plan that would take into account the many new factors that had arisen since the Franco-Prussian
of 1870 and 1871. Factors such as Germany’s diplomatic isolation, which basically left
only Austria-Hungary as a dependable partner and created the problem of a two-front war,
since Russia and France were staunch allies. There were also military and technological
issues to deal with- you now had machine guns and modern artillery, new forms of communication
like the telephone and the radio, and the skyrocketing size of national armies. The
Schlieffen Plan was designed to compensate for the belief that German forces would be
outnumbered by around 5 to 3, and thus a war of attrition would not be winnable. It was
an offensive plan to avoid that future and also: against archenemy France, you don’t
take a defensive posture. So… the original plan was that 7/8 of the
troops deployed to the west were going to circumvent the strong French defenses on the
Franco-German border by marching through Belgium and the Netherlands. This was, already in
1905, an acknowledgement that violating Belgian neutrality might well bring Britain into the
war. Anyhow, the remaining troops would be at the border and would draw the French into
battles with them and then would get outflanked from the north, encircle Paris and drive the
remaining French forces to the south. After this swift success, they could then send most
of the troops over to fight against Russia. There was no plan in place for dealing with
Russia, though, just the French part. Schlieffen was no longer Chief of Staff when
the war broke out, he had been succeeded by Helmut von Moltke- the younger, and Moltke
made a few changes to the plan. For starters, he changed the plan so it only
invaded Belgium and not the Netherlands. He wanted to leave the Netherlands as a supply
corridor since Germany itself might be blockaded. Also, the defense of East Prussia was of greater
importance to Moltke than Schlieffen and had to be provided for. Good thing that he had
a lot more men at his disposal than Schlieffen had had. As we know now, the Schlieffen plan failed
and Germany was forced to fight a two-front war that was often a war of attrition, and
there were a number of reasons for this failure. Indyyy! Yes? Indyyy! Yees? Indyyy! Yeees? *cough* Sorry, hi Indy, it’s Cody from AlternateHistoryHub. Oh hey, I watched your video about Britain
siding with the Central Powers last year. Glad you liked it. I watched your show too
and because of that wanted to go back to some World War 1 scenarios. Since you’re talking
about the Schlieffen Plan, I wanted to mention that I just published a video asking the question:
What if the Schlieffen plan had actually worked? That sounds great! Guys, you should check
out Cody’s video for sure and see how elemental the Schlieffenplan was to the outcome of WW1. Alright! Really like your fire extinguisher
with the clock you have there. But I will be on my way then. Yeah, it’s a real antique. Thanks for stopping
by. Alright, so why did the Schlieffenplan actually
fail? Just looking at the numbers objectively, it
seems doubtful that there were ever enough German troops to achieve the encirclement
of Paris and driving the remaining French troops southward. Not so much that there weren’t
enough men initially, but the fact that casualties couldn’t really be properly replaced. See,
the German Army was as well equipped in general as anyone else, but that was the regular troops.
This was not so for the reserve and replacement troops, who were not even trained with the
new equipment, were not as well trained anyhow, did not have machine gun crews or artillery
regiments, and could not really implement the plan. The plan relied on speed for success, and
speed relied on transportation. So how would that work? At the beginning of the war, Germany had 5,000
cars and 1.4 million horses, but to really move the troops you’d need trains, right?
So you can only go where the tracks go, and once they invaded Belgium and France, the
Belgians and French destroyed the track as they retreated, so it had to be laid again.
One reason Liege was so important to take was that it was a rail way hub; so you couldn’t
go anywhere till you took it, and the railway issues produced big supply issues too. See, much as railways are inflexible, the
whole Schlieffen Plan was inflexible. Once it was set in motion, there was no turning
back and no alternative plan. Here’s a little anecdote from the first days of the war: the
Kaiser got a misleading telegraph from London that claimed the French weren’t mobilizing
at all, so he ordered Moltke to deploy all his troops against Russia. Moltke replied,
“The deployment of millions of men cannot be improvised, it is the result of years of
planning, once set, it cannot be changed. If His Majesty insists on sending all available
troops to the East, they would not get a battle ready army but a bunch of armed men without
any food.” And the movement was so tight that any mistakes
or delays would cause the plan to crumble. And the train schedule didn’t even account
for delayed trains or broken tracks, and the siege of Liege took nearly two weeks instead
of the two days that the Germans had expected, which tied up a lot of troops and prevented
the Germans from using most of the Belgian railways until Liege fell, delaying the plan. Good communication was also important if you
want to get things moving quickly. Germany was on the same technical level as
the other nations when it came to communications. The problem was that telegraphs and radios
became scarce the closer you would get to the front. And right at the front, pigeons
and flags were still used. All this meant that the high command would get an outdated
picture of events and was giving orders based on outdated situations. But one of the biggest mistakes of the whole
thing was misinterpreting how things would be in the east. The original Schlieffen Plan dismissed Russia
as a strong enemy because Russia had just lost to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, and
the version of the plan in 1914 basically ignored how much Russia had modernized in
the past decade. Russia also mobilized before France, adding additional time pressure on
Moltke in the west, and forcing him to send troops from the western front to the eastern
front before he wanted to. But guess what? Some of them refused to go.
The Bavarian forces at the Franco-German border were the logical choice to send to the east
to defend Prussia; they were on or near German soil and were the easiest to divert, but the
Bavarians refused to go and defend Prussia. Moltke was forced to take troops from Belgium,
much more difficult and time consuming. He had problems with making his generals obey
his exact orders in general. Those Bavarian troops, for example, were under the command
of Prince Ru pprecht, the last Bavarian crown prince, and he had his own interests. See,
the German army was organized federally during peacetime and only during war was it all united
under one command. So Rupprecht refused to take his Bavarian
troops to defend Prussia, and even when he was given the task of just keeping the French
troops at the border occupied, he didn’t like that either, so he went on the offensive,
clearly violating the plan. A German officer was caught by the French
and told them details of the plan, and the French could retreat much more efficiently.
Delays, sieges, poor communications, and the transportation mess that really should have
been anticipated, served only to throw the plan off kilter, even before the Battle of
the Marne. But really, the lack of alternatives and the total inflexibility of the Schlieffen
Plan in many ways doomed it from the start and led to what Germany most wanted to avoid:
a two front war and a bloody war of attrition. They really should have anticipated better
if they ever wanted the plan to work and you are probably wondering what had actually happened
if it actually worked. So, click right here to go over to Cody’s Channel AlternateHistoryHub
and find out. And if you came over from Cody to our show, don’t forget to subscribe to
never miss our regular episodes. See you next time!

Norman Bunn

100 Comments

  1. Dan Carlin mentions in his videos that there are a few historians that debate whether the Schlieffen Plan even actually existed.

  2. Germany and Austria-Hungary made a bad selection of priorities. Germany should have manned Alsace-Lorraine and played a defensive war against France there; without invasion of Belgium, the British entry would be delayed. Austria-Hungary should have ignored Serbia as an unnecessary distraction (Serbs had recent experience from the Balkan Wars and would not be easy to defeat without overwhelming numerical superiority on Austro-Hungarian part) and commit more troops to Galicia. Russia would be in a real trouble with a bulk of German and Austro-Hungarian troops pointed against her – she had manpower but given her limited stockpile of shells, severe production bottlenecks and geographical isolation (no easy route to procure equipment from abroad) she would run out of munitions pretty quickly (to make things worse, the Russian soldiers had a habit of throwing away their weapons when in panic). Having worn down Russia and having ejected her from the war (separate peace/internal dissent/regime change) in 1915 instead of 1917/1918, Austria-Hungary could have returned to finish off Serbia (with Bulgarian help) and Germany to deal with France (fields of Alsace-Lorraine would have been already littered with fallen French in their red trousers).

  3. There was no Schlieffen Plan. It was a memo at best. The actual plan was formalized by Moltke, Hindenburg and the German military. The only part of the plan that can be credited to Schlieffen was the route of an invasion. Please get the history right.

  4. My favorite thing about the response at 6:05 is how 6 months later, Moltke would admit he made the wrong choice. German General Staff ’s Railway Department, General Herman von Staab got pretty peeved about this whole thing too. He was absolutely convinced they could have smashed the eastern front first. It's certainly interesting. Here's a link for interested folks. And, of course, read Tuchmann.

    https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2016/01/10/general-hermann-von-staab/

  5. The Schlieffen plan was a desaster. The German troops should have built their trenches at the French border, letting the French troops run into them and exhaust their forces with a minimum of casualties on German side. The main force they should have sent towards the east to defeat Russia together with Austria and the Turks (The Russians were surrounded!). With Russia finished, France would have been forced to offer peace and Italy would not have dared to attack. Also there was a chance, Britain would have remained neutral, since Belgium was not invaded.

  6. One comment : slow down the speak frequency … But this is the very best I know on WWI. Congrats!

  7. Why the hill it included invading Netherlands it doesn't have any borders with France. How is that going to help

  8. Why didn't Germany just bomb the French forts with tons of bombs. Just enough to destroy the forts and breezed thrrough France?

  9. Indiana, can you please do a special on Plan 17( French offense plans in case of German invasion and it included French invasion plans through the Saarland)

  10. You should make posters of your map and the schlieffen plan and sell them. You have the best historical maps I’ve seen in a while

  11. Hmm, Attack through Belgium, feint at the French defenses along the franco-german border, use speed as a weapon, and underestimate the Russians… I think we'll see this again some time…

  12. Excellent video buds, I’m writing a paper on this very subject (German war aims, plans, and how they failed). What sources did you look at in making this video?

  13. Great and informative videos so I am sorry to make a pedantic nitpick but… the Belgian city is not pronounced "Leej". It is a French word and it is pronounced "Lee-ay-jeh".

  14. One question about the plan though. Besides the Swiss army, is there any reason that Germany didn’t go through Switzerland rather than Belgium?

  15. It reminds me of chess bringing your side pawns down the bored to take out the center pawns.

  16. One thing you should understand from the video: try as much as you can to not get into war!

  17. Ironically it was Moltke’s namesake and uncle who said “ Plans never survive contact with the enemy”

  18. I don't really comment on old videos, but I just wanna say that AlternateHistory could be interesting, but straight up facts of real history is more interesting. I stumble upon AlternateHistory channel a few times and everytime I'm not into it. What you guys did and still doing here is much more interesting, entertaining and educational. I'm still going through the war from day one, hope to catch up.

  19. the germans and austrians should have concentrated on russia and leave the french and belgians alone. the russians left the war in 1917, and would have surrendered evn earlier under greater strength, especially with the ottomans joining germany eventually. as germany would conquer vast tracts of land in russia, beyond the east prussian border, and the world at large would have no choice but to accept this situation, the french would have had no choice but to reconsider attacking germany, and the belgians would probably have tried to deter them from so doing, fearing the might of germany. so basically the schleiffen plan failed because it involved attacking two countries that were more important on the world stage than czarist russia.

  20. If Moltke didn't divert troops to the East or did "persue direction epineal" the plan might have worked… not due to any brilliancy on its part or the inflexible timetable, but because at this time the French were making a bunch of stupid mistakes that inadvertently gave the Germans more time.

  21. German plans always fail because they rely on everything running at 100% with no setbacks and tight timelines. It's a recipe for disaster.

  22. Hi Nigel. Fantastic video's. But what video are you referring to that Alternatehistory made about GB siding with CP in WW1? Can't seem to find that one.

  23. this was explained concisely, and was very clear to understand, thank you.

  24. Those Bavarians made things worse for even themselves, by showing disloyalty and as result only helped contribute to their defeat in the war. And they had a monarchy dynasty that lasted around 700 years and only ended in result of WWI.

  25. Please provide links to documents or info about refusal of Prince to send troops to Prussia. Thanks.!

  26. Mean while at head quarters: lieutenant comes runnig in:sir we just got a massage from the left flank, there being destroyed.
    General: send in the reserve's.
    Lieutenant: but sir but battle over, were in a pow camp now.

  27. Germany: hi Belgium can we cross your country to attack France ?

    Belgium: NO

  28. My thought on this. What if instead of focusing on an aggressive Western front, Germany first tried to go on the offensive against Russia? Only applying defense of the west? With France fighting alone on the west, seeing as Britain was not included due to the lack of Belgium being invaded, France would have to fight also on a very narrow front. We know that Germany whipped Russia and had annexed allot of land in the war as is (but was forced to cede this back in the treaty of Versailles). When the Russians fall, it leaves France alone. Then, Germany along with Austria Hungary as well as the Ottomans would be able to easily take the Balkans as well as Romania. Italy, will not attack Germany because they are not encouraged by German defeats. Then, France begins to loose the war of attrition. Germany, then either makes the mistake of trying to go through Belgium and bring Britain in the war very late or slugs through the defenses. Perhaps even through Italy, seeing as they might join them and result in the defeat of France.

  29. Is it me, or does the pre-WW1 Germany look cooler on the map.

  30. The "Schlieffen Plan" sounds like a trendy new diet plan….Ha Ha Ha!!

  31. Another fascinating video mate, thank you.
    And it's pronounced "Lee-age" mate, just thought I'd let you know.
    The Germans rigid and inflexible? That's unusual!!

  32. Awsome subscribed look forward to supporting liking and sharing your videos! Amazing work!

  33. Some of what I've read suggests that two forms of war, one of annihilation and the other of exhaustion, were considered by the German general staff. Schlieffen is supposed to have written a treatise about War with France which considered invading through Belgium and Holland in a war of annihilation which may have assumed France as the only enemy. I gain the impression that the Germans may have intended pursuing a war of annihilation only if only France xor Russia was their sole opponent, otherwise, they would pursue a war of exhaustion fighting on interior lines using their excellent railway system to move troops quick to threatened areas while letting their opponents appear the aggressor. Von Moltke the younger seems to have ignored the war of exhaustion possibility and, I think, strengthened the left wing at the expense of the right, all of which may have been contrary to what Schlieffen intended not only in weakening the right wing, but also using this plan while facing a two-front war. The deployment that resulted is, perhaps, more properly called Moltke the younger's plan but that doesn't roll off the tongue as well.

  34. Schlieffen plan not only determine the outcome of the war, but also shape the world's future

  35. The Schlieffen plan did not fail, they never used it. Despite his deathbed exhortation, his plea to keep the right strong fell on deaf ears.

  36. i love this show, you guys do great work. I would say though that the Schlieffen plan didn't fail, as it was never implemented. The idea was for the strength of the army to be with the wing that invaded through Belgium, while only enough troops as were needed would hold the wing on the German French border. Schlieffen's dying words were that they shouldn't weaken the attack by moving men to hold the border with France. Yet before the war started, Rupprecht had insisted that his army needed more men, and units that Schlieffen had intended to use in the attack were shifted to holding the border and his own plan for attack, thus fatally undermining Schlieffen's own plan.

  37. Who else scrolled through the video just to see if there was a AHH face reveal?

  38. Sorry, you got it all wrong!
    There never was a Schlieffen Plan and the war exercises during Schlieffen's last years tenure proved that invading Belgium in order to attack France would be a waste of resources, as shows Terence Zuber in his book "The Real German War Plan 1904-14".
    Zuber's books are very thoroughly researched using primary sources and should be taken very seriously, as well as receiving more attention. He is not mainstream, though, so, the public, teachers and academy cling to the old, war propaganda distorted way of telling the Great War history.

  39. Moltke kept taking men from the german right. Schlieffens last words before dying? "remember: keep the right wing very strong." Apochryphal maybe, but still……….

  40. Sir, you are butching the pronounciation of Moltke's name. Imagine pronouncing Lincoln as Linky in a serious academic presentation.

  41. Excellent video in all respect but you forgot to mention among the causes of failure lack of coordination and authority in German high command

  42. When you see Schlieffen Was fired in 06 and wrote his plan in 05… you know it didnt end well

  43. Yep…"Everybody has a plan…until they get hit " I just love to hear how all these geniuses have it all mapped out years in advance and then some other detail like the French and Belgians sabotaging their own train systems is a complete surprise. Am I to conclude that Von S figured the French would just sit on their hands while the Germans marched by?

  44. I love seeing you collab with AlternateHistoryHub and HistoryBuffs

  45. The British go to war because Germany marches through Belgium? Dass ich nicht lache..

  46. Best line ever: "The French could retreat much more efficiently. " ☺😁🤣

  47. Moltke wasn’t wrong though about redirecting troops on a whim. Troops cannot be mailed from place to place as an independent resource. Rather it requires a large logistical army of supplies and engineers that must arrive before a troop ever sets foot n the field.

    But yes, he was inflexible

  48. This plan was briefly mentioned by George C. Scott's character in the movie "Patton." The Schlieffen Plan was also known as the "swinging door" plan.

  49. 2:10 when the German troops also marched through your country and your country was also the country with the most spies of both parties in ww1(long story) but everyone's talking about Belgium.
    sad dutch noises
    edit: they still did march troops through the Netherlands but they did not invade it.

  50. TLDW: Plan super unrealistic and didn't even account for the possibility of the French/Belgians destroying their own railroads.

  51. Question: Why didn't Austria-Hungary send a big chunk of their land forces to defend Eastern Prussia, while the overwhelming majority of the German land forces finished off France? Wasn't the alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary a guarantee to the safety of East Prussia in case the Russians attacked Germany while the latter was preoccupied with finishing off France in the west? Just a thought.

  52. Schlieffen plan failed because Germany did not has the resources to execute it . About 20 years later Hitler did try to conquer Soviet Union on same bases and failed miserably again . Now , I can't tell if germans are poker players or idiots but my distaste and bad feelings for military people , ad least from those perspectives , are justified .

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