World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Schlieffen Plan

Count Alfred von Schlieffen in 1906
Schlieffen Plan
Operational scope strategic offensive
Planned 1905/6–1906/14
Planned by Schlieffen, Moltke (the Younger)
Objective disputed
Date 7 August
Executed by Moltke
Outcome disputed

The Schlieffen Plan (German: Schlieffen-Plan, pronounced ) was the name given after World War I to the thinking behind the German invasion of France and Belgium in August 1914. From 1891–1906, Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen was the Chief of the Imperial German General Staff, who in 1905 and 1906 devised a deployment plan for a war winning offensive, in a one-front war against the French Third Republic. After the war, German official historians of the Reichsarchiv and other writers, described the plan as a blueprint for victory, that was fatally flawed in its implementation by Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, the German army Commander in Chief from 1906–1914. It was Moltke's failure, rather than German strategic miscalculation, which supposedly condemned the belligerents to four years of attrition warfare, rather than the quick and decisive conflict it should have been.

In 1956, Gerhard Ritter published Der Schlieffenplan: Kritik eines Mythos (The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of a Myth), which began a period of revision, when the details of the supposed Schlieffen Plan were subjected to scrutiny and contextualisation, which in general rejected the view that the plan had been a blueprint, because this was contrary to the tradition of Prussian war planning established by Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, who held that military operations were inherently unpredictable. Rather than attempting to dictate to subordinate commanders, the intent of the operation was given and then they were delegated discretion in achieving it by Auftragstaktik (mission-type tactics). In the 1990s, John Keegan studied the practical aspects of implementing the plan and judged that the physical constraints of German, Belgian and French railways and the Belgian and northern French road networks made it impossible to move enough troops far enough and fast enough for them to fight a decisive battle, if the French retreated from the frontier.

Most of the pre-1914 planning of the General Staff was secret and documents were destroyed when the deployment plans were superseded every April but speculation passed into public discourse after 1918. In the 1990s, RH61/v.96 was discovered, a document that was used in a 1930s study of pre-war German General Staff war planning. Incomplete records and other documents became available after the fall of the German Democratic Republic, that made an outline of German war-planning possible for the first time, proving many of the guesses wrong. Inferences that Schlieffen's war-planning was solely offensive had been made by extrapolating his writings and speeches on tactics into grand strategy. From a 1999 article in War in History and in Inventing the Schlieffen Plan (2002) to The Real German War Plan, 1906–1914 (2011) Terence Zuber has engaged in a debate with Terence Holmes, Annika Mombauer, Robert Foley, Gerhard Gross, Holger Herwig and others with his proposition that the Schlieffen Plan was a myth concocted in the 1920s, a view supported by Hew Strachan.


  • Background 1
    • Volkskrieg 1.1
    • Ermattungskrieg 1.2
    • Chief of the Great General Staff 1.3
    • Schlieffen 1.4
    • Deployment plans, 1892/3–1905/6 1.5
  • Prelude 2
    • Deployment plans, 1905/6–1914/15 2.1
      • Aufmarsch I West 2.1.1
      • Aufmarsch II West 2.1.2
      • Aufmarsch I Ost 2.1.3
      • Aufmarsch II Ost 2.1.4
    • Plan XVII 2.2
  • Aftermath 3
    • Battle of the Frontiers 3.1
  • History of the Schlieffen Plan 4
    • Der Weltkrieg 4.1
    • Post-1945 writing 4.2
    • Keegan 4.3
    • Sources 4.4
    • Holmes–Zuber debate 4.5
    • Humphries and Maker 4.6
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10



Map showing areas of France occupied during the Franco-Prussian War

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, European aggression had turned outwards and the fewer wars fought within the continent had been Kabinettskriege, local conflicts decided by professional armies loyal to dynastic rulers. Military strategists had adapted by creating strategy to suit the post-Napoleonic scene, in the late nineteenth century military thinking remained dominated by the the German Wars of Unification, which had been short and decided by great battles of annihilation. Clausewitz had defined decisive battle as a victory which had political results

... the object is to overthrow the enemy, to render him politically helpless or militarily impotent, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we please.
— Clausewitz[1]

and Niederwerfungsstrategie (later termed Vernichtunsstrategie) replaced the slow, cautious approach to war, which had been overturned by Napoleon. German strategists judged the defeat of the Austrians in the Austro-Prussian War (14 June – 23 August 1866) and the French imperial armies in 1870 as evidence of the validity of a strategy of decisive victory.[1]

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (26 October 1800 – 24 April 1891), had led the armies of the North German Confederation that achieved the decisive and speedy victory against the armies of the Second French Empire (1852–1870) of Napoleon III (20 April 1808 – 9 January 1873). After the Battle of Sedan (1 September 1870), there had been a republican coup d'état on 4 September and the installation of a Government of National Defence (4 September 1870 – 13 February 1871). The new regime declared guerre à outrance (war to the uttermost).[2]

In this second period of the Franco-Prussian War, from September 1870 – May 1871, the French confronted Moltke with new, improvised armies, destroyed bridges, railways, telegraphs and other infrastructure; food, livestock and other material was evacualted to prevent it falling into German hands. A

  • December, 1905 (the Schlieffen Plan)War against FranceTranslated text of the memorandum
  • The Plan That Broke the World: The "Schlieffen Plan" and World War I

External links

  • Delbrück, Hans (1990) [1920]. History of the Art of War. 4 volumes (trans. Walter J. Renfroe ed.). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.  
  • Ehlert, H. G.; Epkenhans, K.; Gross, G. P., eds. (2014). The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I (trans. D. T. Zabecki ed.). Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.  
  • Foley, R. T. (1999). Attrition: Its Theory and Application in German Strategy, 1880–1916 (PhD). London University.  
  • O'Neil, W. D. (2014). The Plan That Broke the World: The "Schlieffen Plan" and World War I (2nd ed.). self published: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.  
  • Rosinski, H. (1939). The German Army. London: Hogarth Press.  
  • Senior, I. (2012). Home Before the Leaves Fall: A New History of the German Invasion of 1914. Oxford: Osprey.  
  • Flammer, P. M. (1966–1967). "The Schlieffen Plan and Plan XVII: A Short Critique". Military Affairs (Washington, DC: American Military Institute) 30 (4).  
  • Foley, R. T. (2006). "the Real Schlieffen Plan".  
  • Gross, G. P. (November 2008). "There was a Schlieffen Plan: New Sources on the History of German Military Planning".  
  • Zuber, T. (1999). "The Schlieffen Plan Reconsidered". War in History 6 (3): 262–306.  
  • Schuette, R. C. (2014). Effects of Decentralised Execution on the German Army During the Marne Campaign of 1914 (MA).  
  • Stoneman, M. R. (2006). Wilhelm Groener, Officering and the Schlieffen Plan (PDF) (PhD). Georgetown University.  

Further reading

  • Clausewitz, Carl von (1993) [1976].  
  • Doughty, R. A. (2005). Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.  
  • Foley, R. T. (2006) [2003]. Alfred von Schlieffen's Military Writings. London: Frank Cass.  
  • Foley, R. T. (2007) [2005]. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916. Cambridge: CUP.  
  • Humphries, M. O.; Maker, J. (2010). Germany's Western Front, 1915: Translations from the German Official History of the Great War II. Waterloo Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.  
  • Humphries, M. O.; Maker, J. (2010). "Foreword, Hew Strachan". Germany's Western Front, 1915: Translations from the German Official History of the Great War II. Foreword. Waterloo Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.  
  • Humphries, M. O.; Maker, J. (2013). Der Weltkrieg: 1914 The Battle of the Frontiers and Pursuit to the Marne. Germany's Western Front: Translations from the German Official History of the Great War I. Part 1 (1st ed.). Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.  
  • Stahel, D. (2010) [2009]. "Conclusions". Operation Barbarossa and Germany's Defeat in the East (pbk. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Zuber, T. (2002). Inventing the Schlieffen Plan. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Zuber, T. (2010). The Real German War Plan 1904–14 (e-book ed.). New York: The History Press.  
  • Zuber, T. (2011). The Real German War Plan 1904–14. Stroud: The History Press.  
  • Holmes, T. M. (April 2014). "Absolute Numbers: The Schlieffen Plan as a Critique of German Strategy in 1914".  
  • Holmes, T. M. (2003). ""One Throw of the Gambler's Dice": A Comment on Holger Herwig's View of the Schlieffen Plan".  
  • Zuber, T. (2013). "Inventing the Schlieffen Plan". Terence Zuber, Military Historian. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 


  1. ^ a b Foley 2007, p. 41.
  2. ^ a b Foley 2007, pp. 14–16.
  3. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 16–18.
  4. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 16–18, 25.
  5. ^ a b c Zuber 2002, p. 8.
  6. ^ Zuber 2002, p. 9.
  7. ^ a b Foley 2007, p. 63.
  8. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 63–64.
  9. ^ Foley 2007, p. 15.
  10. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 64–65.
  11. ^ a b Foley 2007, p. 66.
  12. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 66–67.
  13. ^ Ritter 1958, pp. 1–194.
  14. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 67–70.
  15. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 70–72.
  16. ^ a b Foley 2007, pp. 72–76.
  17. ^ Foley 2007, pp. 77–78.
  18. ^ a b Zuber 2010, pp. 116–131.
  19. ^ Zuber 2010, pp. 95–97, 132–133.
  20. ^ Holmes 2014.
  21. ^ Zuber 2010, pp. 54–55.
  22. ^ Zuber 2010, pp. 52–60.
  23. ^ Edmonds 1926, p. 446.
  24. ^ Doughty 2005, p. 37.
  25. ^ Edmonds 1926, p. 17.
  26. ^ Doughty 2005, pp. 55–63, 57–58, 63–68.
  27. ^ Zuber 2010, p. 14.
  28. ^ Zuber 2010, pp. 154–157.
  29. ^ Zuber 2010, pp. 159–167.
  30. ^ Zuber 2010, pp. 169–173.
  31. ^ a b Holmes 2014, p. 211.
  32. ^ Strachan 2010, p. xv.
  33. ^ Humphries & Maker 2010, pp. xxvi–xxviii.
  34. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 2–3.
  35. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 7–8.
  36. ^ Ritter 1958, p. 9.
  37. ^ Stevenson 2004, pp. 38–39.
  38. ^ a b Fromkin 2004, pp. 34–35.
  39. ^ Fromkin 2004, pp. 35, 203.
  40. ^ Fromkin 2004, pp. 251–253.
  41. ^ Keegan 1998, pp. 36–37.
  42. ^ Keegan 1998, pp. 38–39.
  43. ^ Zuber 2002, pp. 7–9.
  44. ^ Zuber 2011, p. 174.
  45. ^ Zuber 2002, pp. 291, 303–304.
  46. ^ Holmes 2014, p. 206.
  47. ^ Holmes 2003, pp. 513–516.
  48. ^ Zuber 2010, p. 133.
  49. ^ Zuber 2013.
  50. ^ Holmes 2014, p. 197.
  51. ^ Holmes 2014, p. 213.
  52. ^ Stahel 2010, pp. 445–446.
  53. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, p. 10.
  54. ^ a b Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 11–12.
  55. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 12–13.
  56. ^ Humphries & Maker 2013, pp. 13–14.


  1. ^ Die Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte (1900–1920).[5]
  2. ^ On taking up the post, Schlieffen had been made to reprimand publicly Waldersee's subordinates.[7]
  3. ^ Hermann von Kuhl, the 1st Army Chief of Staff in 1914 wrote, Der Deutsche Generalstab in Vorbereitung und Durchführung des Weltkrieges (1920) and Der Marnefeldzug in 1921, Förster had written Graf Schlieffen und der Weltkrieg in 1925, Groener, head of the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, wartime General Staff) railway section in 1914, published Das Testament des Grafen Schlieffen: Operativ Studien über den Weltkrieg in 1929 and Gerhard Tappen, head of the OHL operations section in 1914, had written Bis zur Marne 1914: Beiträge zur Beurteilung der Kriegführen bis zum Abschluss der Marne-Schlacht in 1920.[54]


See also

The failure of the plan was explained by showing that command in the German army was often conducted with only a vague knowledge of the circumstances in which the French army was in, the intentions of other commanders and the locations of other German units. Communication was botched from the start and orders could take hours or days to be delivered to other units or never arrive. Auftragstaktik, the decentralised system of command that allowed local commanders discretion, operated at the expense of co-ordination. Aerial reconnaissance had more influence on decisions, than was always apparent in writings on the war but it was a new technology and the results could contradict reports from sources of information on the ground, which were difficult for commanders to resolve. It always seemed that the German armies were on the brink of victory, yet the French could retreat too fast for the German advance to cut lines of retreat or overrun lines of communication. Decisions to change direction or to try to change a local success into a strategic victory, were taken by army commanders ignorant of their part in an OHL plan, which was changed frequently. Der Weltkrieg shows Moltke in command of a war machine "on autopilot", with no mechanism of central control.[56]

Some of the writers of Die Grenzschlachten im Westen (1925), the first volume of Der Weltkrieg, had already published memoirs and analyses of the war, in which they tried to explain why the plan failed in terms that confirmed its validity. Wolfgang Förster, head of the Reichsarchiv from 1920 and reviewers of draft chapters like Wilhelm Groener, had been members of the Great General Staff and were part of the post-war "annihilation school".[54][3] Under these circumstances, the objectivity of the volume can be questioned as an instalment of the ""battle of the memoirs", despite the claim in the foreword written by Foerster, that the Reichsarchiv would show the war as it actually happened ("wie es eigentlich gewesen" in the tradition of Leopold von Ranke), it was for the reader to form conclusions. Humphries and Maker wrote that though the volume might not be entirely objective, the narrative is derived from the documents lost in 1945. The Schlieffen memorandum of 1905 was presented as an operational idea, which in general, was the only one that could solve the German strategic dilemma and provide an argument for an increase in the size of the army. (For Humphries and Maker, this view gives credence to the view put forward by Zuber, that the Schlieffen Plan was not a definitive answer to the two-front war question.) The adaptations made by Moltke, were treated in Der Weltkrieg as necessary and thoughtful sequels of the principle adumbrated by Schlieffen in 1905 and that Moltke had tried to implement a plan based on the 1905 memorandum in 1914. The Reichsarchiv historians' version showed that Moltke had changed the plan and altered its emphasis, that this was necessary and the right thing to do.[55]

In 2013, Humphries and Maker published Germany's Western Front 1914, a translation of the Der Weltkrieg volumes for 1914, that covered German grand strategy in 1914 and the military operations on the Western Front, up to early September. Humphries and Maker wrote that the interpretation of strategy put forward by Delbrück had implications about war planning and began a public debate, in which the German military establishment defended its commitment to Vernichtunsstrategie. Humphries and Maker wrote that German strategic thinking was concerned with creating the conditions for a decisive (war determining) battle in the west, in which an envelopment of the French army from the north would inflict such a defeat on the French, as to end their ability to continue and be complete in a campaign of forty days. Humphries and Maker called this a simple device to fight France and Russia simultaneously and to defeat one of them quickly, in accordance with 150 years of German military tradition. Schlieffen may or may not written the 1905 memorandum as a plan of operations but the thinking in it was the basis for the plan of operations devised by Moltke in 1914. The failure of the 1914 campaign was a calamity for the German empire and the Great General Staff, which were disbanded by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.[53]

Humphries and Maker

In the eyes of many later German commanders (including Guderian who fought in the battle of the Marne), the German failure was not a reflection of an overly ambitious campaign objective or the prevailing battlefield conditions; it was the result of excessive caution and a failure to press the attack on Paris with every possible means in the hope of clinching the decisive success. The lesson seemed justified by the first campaigns of World War Two and formed a new cult of the offensive which subsequently pushed the German armies well beyond their limits in Operation Barbarossa.
— Stahel[52]

In 2009, Stahel wrote that the Clausewitzian culminating point (a theoretical point at which the strength of a defender surpasses that of an attacker) of the German offensive occurred before the battle, because the German right (western) flank armies east of Paris, were operating 100 kilometres (62 mi) from the nearest rail-head, requiring week-long round-trips by underfed and exhausted supply horses, which led to the right wing armies becoming disastrously short of ammunition. Stahel wrote that contemporary and subsequent German assessments of Moltke's implementation of Aufmarsch II West in 1914, did not criticise the planning and supply of the campaign, even though these were instrumental to its failure,

The German offensive of 1914 failed, because the French refused decisive battle and retreated to the "secondary fortified area". Some German territorial gains were reversed by the Franco-British counter-offensive against the outnumbered 1st Army (Generaloberst Alexander von Kluck) and 2nd Army (Generaloberst Karl von Bülow), on the German right (western) flank, during the First Battle of the Marne (5–12 September).

Moltke subscribed to a then fashionable belief that the moral advantage of the offensive could make up for a lack of numbers" on the grounds that "the stronger form of combat lies in the offensive" because it meant "striving after positive goals".
— Holmes[51]

Holmes could not adequately explain this deficiency but wrote that Moltke's preference for offensive tactics was well-known and thought that unlike Schlieffen, Moltke was an advocate of the strategic offensive,

Lack of troops made "an empty space where the Schlieffen Plan requires the right wing (of the German force) to be". In the final phase of the first campaign in the Schlieffen Plan, the German right wing was supposed to be "outflanking that position (a line west from Verdun, along the Marne to Paris) by advancing west of Paris across the lower Seine" but in 1914 "Moltke’s right wing was operating east of Paris against an enemy position connected to the capital city... he had no right wing at all in comparison with the Schlieffen Plan". Breaching a defensive line from Verdun, west along the Marne to Paris, was impossible with the forces available, something Moltke should have known.[50]

Schlieffen anticipated that the French could block the German advance by forming a continuous front between Paris and Verdun. His argument in the 1905 memorandum was that the Germans could achieve a decisive result only if they were strong enough to outflank that position by marching around the western side of Paris while simultaneously pinning the enemy down all along the front. He gave precise figures for the strength required in that operation: 33 12 corps (940,000 troops), including 25 active corps (active corps were part of the standing army capable of attacking and reserve corps were reserve units mobilised when war was declared and had lower scales of equipment and less training and fitness). Moltke’s army along the front from Paris to Verdun, consisted of 22 corps (620,000 combat troops), only 15 of which were active formations.
— Holmes[31]

Zuber wrote that the Schlieffen memorandum was a "rough draft" of a plan to attack France in a single front war, which could not be regarded as an operational plan, as the memo was never typed up, was stored with Schlieffen's family and envisioned the use of units not in existence. The "plan" was not published after the war, when it was being called an infallible recipe for victory, ruined by Moltke. Zuber wrote that if Germany faced a war with France and Russia, the real Schlieffen Plan was for defensive counter-attacks.[49] Holmes supported Zuber in his analysis that Schlieffen had demonstrated in his thought-experiment and in Aufmarsch I West, that 48 12 corps (1.36 million combat troops) was the minimum force necessary to win a decisive battle against France or to take strategically important territory. Holmes questioned why Moltke attempted to achieve either objective with 34 corps (970,000 front-line troops), only 70 percent of the minimum required. In the 1914 campaign, the retreat by the French army denied the Germans a decisive battle, leaving them to breach the "secondary fortified area" from the Région Fortifiée de Verdun, along the Marne to the Paris fortified area. If this defensive position could not be overrun in the opening campaign, the French would be able to strengthen the line with field fortifications. The Germans would then have to break through the reinforced line in the opening stages of the next campaign, which would be much more costly. Holmes wrote that

Holmes–Zuber debate

and Moltke made no more alterations to Aufmarsch I West but came to prefer Aufmarsch II West and tried to apply the offensive strategy of the former to the latter.[48]

The plan was predicated on a situation when there would be no enemy in the east [...] there was no six-week deadline for completing the western offensive: the speed of the Russian advance was irrelevant to a plan devised for a war scenario excluding Russia.
— Holmes[47]

and the most significant of these errors, was an assumption that a model of a two-front war against France and Russia was the only German deployment plan. The thought-experiment and later deployment plan, modelled an isolated Franco-German war (albeit with aid from German allies) and the 1905 plan was one of three and later four plans, available to the Great General Staff. A lesser error was that the plan modelled the decisive defeat of France in one campaign of fewer than forty days and that Moltke the Younger foolishly weakened the attack, by being overly-cautious and strengthening the defensive forces in Alsace-Lorraine. Aufmarsch I West had the more modest aim of forcing the French to choose between losing territory or committing the French army to a decisive battle, in which it could be weakened and then finished off later

There is no evidence here [in Schlieffen's thoughts on the 1901 Generalstabsreise Ost (eastern war game)]—or anywhere else, come to that—of a Schlieffen credo dictating a strategic attack through Belgium in the case of a two-front war. That may seem a rather bold statement, as Schlieffen is positively renowned for his will to take the offensive. The idea of attacking the enemy’s flank and rear is a constant refrain in his military writings. But we should be aware that he very often speaks of an attack when he means counter-attack. Discussing the proper German response to a French offensive between Metz and Strasbourg [as in the later 1913 French deployment-scheme Plan XVII and actual Battle of the Frontiers in 1914], he insists that the invading army must not be driven back to its border position, but annihilated on German territory, and "that is possible only by means of an attack on the enemy’s flank and rear". Whenever we come across that formula we have to take note of the context, which frequently reveals that Schlieffen is talking about a counter-attack in the framework of a defensive strategy [italics ours].
— Holmes[46]

The pre-1914 planning of the German General Staff was secret and most of the original documents were destroyed each year, when the annual deployment plan was superseded each April or in the bombing of Potsdam in April 1945 but guesses passed into public discourse. In the 1990s, the discovery of RH61/v.96, a document that was used in a 1930s study of pre-war German General Staff war planning, access to incomplete records and other documents made available after the fall of the German Democratic Republic, made an outline of German war-planning possible for the first time, proving many of the guesses wrong.[43][44] An inference that all of Schlieffen's war-planning was offensive, came from the extrapolation of Schlieffen's writings and speeches on tactical matters to the realm of strategy.[45] Holmes wrote


Schlieffen wrote that commanders must hurry on their men, allowing nothing to stop the advance and not detach forces to guard by-passed fortresses or the lines of communication, yet they were to guard railways, occupy cities and prepare for contingencies like British involvement or French counter-attacks. If the French retreated into the "great fortress" into which France had had been made, back to the Oise, Aisne, Marne or Seine, the war could be endless. Schlieffen also advocated a bigger army (to advance with or behind the right wing), an increase the size of the army by 25 percent, using untrained and over-age reservists. The extra corps would move by rail to the right wing but this was limited by railway capacity and railway transport would only go as far the German frontiers with France and Belgium, after which the troops would march. The extra corps appeared at Paris, having moved further and faster than the existing corps, along roads already full. Keegan wrote that this resembled a plan falling apart, having run into a logical dead end. Railways would bring the armies to the right flank, the Franco-Belgian road network would be sufficient for them to reach Paris in the sixth week but in too few numbers to defeat decisively the French without another 200,000 men for which there was no room; Schlieffen's plan for a quick victory was fundamentally flawed.[42]

In 1998, Keegan wrote that Schlieffen had desired to repeat the frontier victories of the Franco-Prussian War in the interior of France but fortress-building since that war had made France harder to attack; a diversion through Belgium remained feasible but this "lengthened and narrowed the the front of advance". A corps took up 29 kilometres (18 mi) of road and 32 kilometres (20 mi) was the limit of a day's march and the end of a column would still be near the beginning of the march, when the head of the column arrived at the destination. More roads meant smaller columns but parallel roads were only about 1–2 kilometres (0.62–1.24 mi) apart and with thirty corps advancing on a 300-kilometre (190 mi) front, each corps would have about 10-kilometre (6.2 mi) width, which might contain seven roads. The number of roads was not enough for the ends of marching columns to reach the heads by the end of the day and this physical limit meant that it would be pointless to add troops to the right wing, as there was no room. Schlieffen was realistic and the plan reflected mathematical and geographical reality but anticipating that the French would refrain from advancing from the frontier and that the German armies would fight great battles in the hinterland was wishful-thinking. Schlieffen pored over maps of Flanders and northern France to find a route by which the right wing of the German armies could move swiftly enough to arrive within six weeks, after which the Russians would have overrun the small force guarding the eastern approaches of Berlin.[41]

Example of an erroneous and misleading map, purported to represent a "Schlieffen Plan" by post-war writers.


In the late 1990s, Zuber had even argued that the memorandum did not reflect Schlieffen's strategic thinking, war plans or ideas.[38] By ascribing much of the detail of the plan as it was implemented to Moltke, who followed some of the memorandum, Fromkin referred to the "Moltke Plan", which included a surprise attack on the Belgian frontier fortresses and depended on Austria-Hungary to contain the Russian army, who had become a much greater threat since its revival after 1905.[39] After the war, the German government had suppressed some of Moltke's papers and other evidence had been destroyed or travestied and all the German regimes until 1945 had conducted a propaganda campaign, to make more palatable the conduct of men whose decisions led to a lost war.[40]

In their writings, Fromkin, Stevenson and Zuber, held that what became known as the Schlieffen Plan may not have been a plan but a hypothesis in the memorandum of 1905 and the brief 1906 addition.[37] According to this school of thought, Schlieffen may not have intended his concept to be carried out but considered it an intellectual exercise. Fromkin wrote that the memorandum had never been refined into an operational programme, because no orders or operational details were appended. For the plan to work, the German army needed more divisions and more parallel roads through Belgium than existed and the memorandum was better interpreted as a scenario. After the war, German generals had put the blame for the lost war on dead men, who supposedly failed to follow the plan and this interpretation had become the orthodox view between the wars. Research by Ritter in the 1950s and Keegan in the 1990s, showed that this was a distorted view and that the memorandum should be read in the context of Schlieffen's other writings.[38]

and Cohn wrote that the plan may have worked if Moltke had followed Schlieffen's original plan. Had Moltke not depleted the right flank on the Western Front, the 1st Army would not have been forced away from the sea, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF, Field Marshal Sir John French), would have been overwhelmed. The French armies would have been trapped between Paris and the French eastern frontier and that supply difficulties would have prevented this was contradicted by the improvisations which occurred during 1914.

The great scythe-sweep which Schlieffen planned was a manoeuvre that had been possible in Napoleonic times. It would again become possible in the next generation—when air-power could paralyse the defending side's attempt to switch its forces, while the development of mechanised forces greatly accelerated the speed of encircling moves, and extended their range. But Schlieffen's plan had a very poor chance of decisive success at the time it was conceived.
— Liddell Hart[36]

Before the discoveries of the 1990s, historians had written that the plan was impractical, due to advances in weaponry and transport, brought about by the industrial revolution and the rise of industrial warfare. In the introduction to The Schlieffen Plan: Critique of a Myth (Ritter 1958), Liddell Hart praised the Schlieffen Plan as a conception of Napoleonic boldness but that

Post-1945 writing

By 1945, the historians had also published two series of popular histories but in April, the Reichskriegsschule building in Potsdam was bombed and nearly all of the war diaries, orders, plans, maps, situation reports and telegrams usually available to historians studying modern wars, were destroyed. In 1990, after the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic, it was discovered that some records remained and had been taken over by the Soviet authorities. About 3,000 files and 50 boxes of documents were handed over to the Bundesarchiv, containing the working notes of Reichsarchiv historians, comprising business documents, research notes, studies, field reports, draft manuscripts, galley proofs, copies of documents, newspaper clippings and other papers. The trove shows that Der Weltkrieg is a "generally accurate, academically rigorous and straightforward account of military operations", when compared to other contemporary official accounts.[34] Six volumes cover the first 151 days of the war, in 3,255 pages (40 percent of the series). The first volumes attempted to explain why the German war plans failed and whom to blame?[35]

The Reichsarchiv historians produced Der Weltkrieg (also known as the Weltkriegwerk), a narrative history, in fourteen volumes published from 1925 to 1944, that is the only source written with free access to the German documentary records of the war.[33]

... the events of the war, strategy and tactics can only be considered from a neutral, purely objective perspective which weighs things dispassionately and is independent of any ideology.
— Jochim[32]

Work began on Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918: Militärischen Operationen zu Lande in 1919 in the Kriegsgeschichte der Großen Generalstabes (War History Section) of the Great General Staff. When the staff was abolished by the Treaty of Versailles, about eighty historians were transferred to the new Reichsarchiv in Potsdam, led by the President of the Reichsarchiv, General Hans von Haeften and overseen from 1920 by a civilian historical commission. Theodor Jochim, the first head of the Reichsarchiv section for collecting documents, wrote that

Der Weltkrieg

History of the Schlieffen Plan

Moltke followed the trajectory of the Schlieffen plan [sic], but only up to the point where it was painfully obvious that he would have needed the army of the Schlieffen plan [sic] to proceed any further along these lines. Lacking the strength and support to advance across the lower Seine, his right wing became a positive liability, caught in an exposed position to the east of fortress Paris.
— Holmes[31]

Within a few days the French were back in their starting positions, having suffered a costly defeat.[29] The Germans advanced through Belgium and northern France against the Belgian, British and French armies and reached an area 30 kilometres (19 mi) to the north-east of Paris, without managing to trap the Allied armies and force a decisive battle on them. The German advance outran its supplies and Joffre was able to use French railways to move the retreating armies and re-group behind the river Marne and within the Paris fortified zone, faster than the Germans could pursue and the French defeated the faltering German advance, with a counter-offensive at the First Battle of the Marne, assited by the British.[30] Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, Chief of the German General Staff, had tried to apply the offensive strategy of Aufmarsch I (a plan for an isolated Franco-German war, with all German forces deployed against France) to the inadequate western deployment of Aufmarsch II (only 80 percent of the army assembled in the west) to counter the French offensive of Plan XVII. In 2014, Holmes wrote,

When Germany declared war, France began the execution of Plan XVII with five initiatives, now known as the Battle of the Frontiers. The German deployment plan, Aufmarsch II, included a concentration of German forces (bar 20 percent to defend Prussia and the German coast) on the German–Belgian border. The force was used to execute an offensive into Belgium, to force a decisive battle with the French army, beyond the fortified Franco-German border.[27] Plan XVII was implemented as an offensive into Alsace-Lorraine and Belgium. The French attack into Alsace-Lorraine resulted in worse losses than anticipated, because artillery-infantry co-operation that French doctrine (despite its embrace of the "spirit of the offensive") provided for, proved insufficient. The attacks of the French forces in southern Belgium were conducted with negligible reconnaissance or artillery support and were repulsed, without preventing the western manoeuvre of the northern German armies.[28]

Battle of the Frontiers
August 1914
Battle Dates
Battle of Mulhouse 7–10 August
Battle of Lorraine 14–25 August
Battle of the Ardennes 21–23 August
Battle of Charleroi 21–23 August
Battle of Mons 23–24 August

Battle of the Frontiers


and that to achieve this, the French armies were to concentrate, ready to attack either side of Metz–Thionville or north into Belgium, in the direction of Arlon and Neufchâteau.[24] An alternative concentration area for the Fourth and Fifth armies was specified in case the Germans advanced through Luxembourg and Belgium but an enveloping attack west of the Meuse was not anticipated and the gap between the Fifth Army and the North Sea was covered by Territorial units and obsolete fortresses.[25]

Whatever the circumstances, it is the Commander in Chief's intention to advance with all forces united to the attack of the German armies. The action of the French armies will be developed in two main operations: one, on the right in the country between the wooded district of the Vosges and the Moselle below Toul; the other, on the left, north of a line Verdun–Metz. The two operations will be closely connected by forces operating on the Hauts de Meuse and in the Woëvre.
— Joffre[23]

After amending Plan XVI in September 1911, Joffre and the staff took eighteen months to revise the French concentration plan, the concept of which was accepted on 18 April 1913. Copies of Plan XVII were issued to army commanders on 7 February 1914 and the final draft was ready on 1 May. The document was not a campaign plan but it contained a statement that the Germans were expected to concentrate the bulk of their army on the Franco-German border and night cross before French operations could begin. The instruction of the Commander in Chief was that



Aufmarsch II Ost was for the contingency of an isolated Russo-German war, in which Austria-Hungary might support Germany. The plan assumed that France would be neutral at first and possibly attack Germany later. If France helped Russia then Britain might join in and if it did, Italy was expected to remain neutral. About 60 percent of the German army would operate in the west and 40 percent in the east. Russia would begin an offensive because of its larger army and in anticipation of French involvement but if not, the German army would attack. After the Russian army had been defeated, the German army in the east would pursue the remnants. The German army in the west would stay on the defensive, perhaps conducting a counter-offensive but without reinforcements from the east.[21] Aufmarsch II Ost became a secondary deployment plan when the international situation made an isolated Russo-German war impossible. Aufmarsch II Ost had the same flaw as Aufmarsch I Ost, in that it was feared that a French offensive would be harder to defeat, if not countered with greater force, either slower as in Aufmarsch I Ost or with greater force and quicker, as in Aufmarsch II West.[22]

Map of French, Belgian and German frontier fortifications, 1914

Aufmarsch II Ost

Aufmarsch I Ost was for a war between the Franco-Russian Entente and Germany, with Austria-Hungary supporting Germany and Britain perhaps joining the Entente. Italy was only expected to join Germany if Britain remained neutral; 60 percent of the German army would deploy in the west and 40 percent in the east. France and Russia would attack simultaneously, because they had the larger force and Germany would execute an "active defence", in at least the first operation/campaign of the war. German forces would mass against the Russian invasion force and defeat it in a counter-offensive, while conducting a conventional defence against the French. Rather than pursue the Russians over the border, 50 percent of the German force in the east (about 20 percent of the German army) would be transferred to the west, for a counter-offensive against the French. Aufmarsch I Ost became a secondary deployment plan, as it was feared a French invasion force could be too well-established to be driven from Germany or at least inflict greater losses if not defeated sooner. The counter-offensive against France was also seen as the more important operation, since the French were less able to replace losses than Russia and it would result in a greater number of prisoners being taken.[18]

Aufmarsch I Ost

Aufmarsch II West was implemented in August 1914 but using the overall strategy of Aufmarsch I.
— Holmes[20]

Aufmarsch II West anticipated a war between the Franco-Russian Entente and Germany, with Austria-Hungary supporting Germany and Britain perhaps joining the Entente. Italy was only expected to join Germany if Britain remained neutral. 80 percent of the German army would operate in the west and 20 percent in the east. France and Russia were expected to attack simultaneously, because they had the larger force. Germany would execute an "active defence", in at least the first operation/campaign of the war. German forces would mass against the French invasion force and defeat it in a counter-offensive, while conducting a conventional defence against the Russians. Rather than pursue the retreating French armies over the border, 25 percent of the German force in the west (20 percent of the German army) would be transferred to the east, for a counter-offensive against the Russian army.[19] Aufmarsch II West became the main German deployment plan, as the French and Russians expanded their armies and the German strategic situation deteriorated before 1914, Germany and Austria-Hungary being unable to increase their military spending to match them due to legislative deadlock.

Aufmarsch II West

Aufmarsch I West anticipated an isolated Franco-German war, in which Germany might be assisted by an Italian attack on the Franco-Italian border and by Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces in Germany. It was assumed that France would be on the defensive because their troops would be (greatly) outnumbered. To win the war, Germany and its allies would have to attack France. After the deployment of the entire German army in the west, they would attack through Belgium and Luxembourg, with virtually all the German force. The Germans would rely on an Austro-Hungarian and Italian contingents, formed around a cadre of German troops, to hold the fortresses along the Franco-German border. Aufmarsch I West became less feasible, as the military power of the Franco-Russian alliance increased and Britain aligned with France, making Italy unwilling to support Germany. Aufmarsch I West was dropped, when it became clear that an isolated Franco-German war was impossible and that German allies would not intervene.[18]

Aufmarsch I West

Moltke made substantial changes to the offensive concept sketched by Schlieffen in the memorandum War Against France of 1905/06. The 6th and 7th armies with eight corps, were to assemble along the common border, to defend against a French invasion of Alsace-Lorraine. Moltke also altered the course of an advance by the armies on the right (northern) wing, to avoid the Netherlands, retaining the country as a useful route for imports and exports and denying it to the British as a base of operations. Advancing only through Belgium, meant that the German armies would lose the railway lines around Maastricht and have to squeeze the 600,000 men of the 1st and 2nd armies through a gap 12 miles (19 km) wide, which made it vital that the Belgian railways were captured quickly and intact. In 1908, the General Staff devised a plan to take the Fortified Position of Liège and its railway junction by coup de main on the 11th day of mobilisation. Later changes reduced the time allowed to the 5th day, which meant that the attacking forces would need to get moving only hours after the mobilisation order had been given.[17]

The Russian reforms cut mobilisation time by half compared with 1906 and French loans were being spent on building more railways; German military intelligence thought that a programme due to begin in 1912 would lead to 6,200 miles (10,000 km) of new track by 1922. Modern, mobile artillery, a purge of older, inefficient officers and a revision of the army regulations, had improved the tactical capability of the Russian army and railway building would make it more strategically flexible, by keeping back troops from border districts, to make the army less vulnerable to a surprise-attack, moving men faster and with reinforcements available from the strategic reserve. The new possibilities enabled the Russians to increase the number of deployment plans, further adding to the difficulty of Germany achieving a swift victory in an eastern campaign. The likelihood of a long and indecisive war against Russia, made a quick success against France more important, so as to have the troops available for an eastern deployment.[16]

Moltke the Younger took over from Schlieffen on 1 January 1906, beset with doubts about a great European war. French knowledge about German intentions might prompt them to retreat to evade an envelopment, that could lead to a Volkskrieg and leave Germany exhausted, even if it did eventually win. A report on hypothetical French replies to an invasion, concluded that since the French army was six times larger than in 1870, the survivors from a defeat on the frontier could make counter-outflanking moves from Paris and Lyon against a pursuit by the German armies. Despite his doubts, Moltke retained the concept of a big enveloping manoeuvre, because of changes in the international balance of power. The Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) weakened the Russian army and the Tsarist state and made an offensive strategy against France more realistic for a time. By 1910, Russian rearmament, army reforms and reorganisation, including the creation of a strategic reserve, made the army more formidable than before 1905. Railway building reduced the time needed for mobilisation and a "war preparation period" was introduced, to provide for mobilisation to begin with a secret order, reducing mobilisation time further.[16]

Deployment plans, 1905/6–1914/15


Schlieffen's thinking was adopted as Aufmarsch I (Deployment [Plan] I) in 1905 (later called Aufmarsch I West) that modelled a Franco-German war, in which Russia was assumed to remain neutral but was expected to include Italy and Austria-Hungary as German allies. "[Schlieffen] did not think that the French would necessarily adopt a defensive strategy" in such a war, even though their troops would be outnumbered but this was their best option and the assumption became the theme of his analysis. In Aufmarsch I, Germany would have to attack to win such a war, which entailed all of the German army being deployed on the German-Belgian border, to invade France through Limburg (the southern province of the Netherlands), Belgium and Luxembourg. The deployment plan assumed that Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops would defend Alsace-Lorraine.

In a staff ride during the summer, Schlieffen tested a hypothetical invasion of France, with most of the German army and three possible French responses, in which the French were defeated but then Schlieffen proposed a French counter-envelopment of the German right wing by a new army. At the end of the year, Schlieffen war gamed a two-front war, in which the German army was evenly divided and defended against invasions by the French and Russians and where victory first occurred in the east. Schlieffen was open-minded about a defensive strategy and the political advantages of the Entente being the aggressor, not just the "military technician" portrayed by Ritter. The variety of the 1905 war games demonstrate that Schlieffen took account of circumstances; if the French attacked Metz and Strasbourg, the decisive battle would be fought in Lorraine. Ritter wrote that invasion was a means to an end not an end in itself, as did Zuber in 1999 and the early 2000s. In the strategic circumstances of 1905, with the Russian army defeated in Manchuria, the French would not risk open warfare and the Germans would have to to force them out of the border fortress zone. The studies in 1905 demonstrated that this was best achieved by a big flanking manoeuvre through the Netherlands and Belgium.[15]

In 1905, Schlieffen wrote that the Russo-Japanese War (8 February 1904 – 5 September 1905), had shown that the power of Russian army had been overestimated and that it would not recover quickly from the defeat. Schlieffen could contemplate leaving only a small force in the east and in 1905, wrote the memorandum War Against France which was taken up by his successor, Moltke the Younger and became the concept of the main German war plan from 1906–1914. The great mass of the German army would assemble in the west and the main force would be on the right wing. An offensive in the north through Belgium and the Netherlands would lead to an invasion of France and a decisive victory. Even with the windfall of the Russian defeat in the Far East and belief in the superiority of German military thinking, Schlieffen had reservations about the strategy and research published by Ritter (1956, English edition in 1958) showed that the memorandum went through six drafts. Schlieffen considered other possibilities in 1905, using war games to model a Russian invasion of east Germany, against a smaller German army.[13][14]

In his war plans from 1892–1906, Schlieffen faced the difficulty that the French could not be forced to fight a decisive battle quickly enough to enable German forces to be transferred to the east against the Russians, so as to fight a war on two fronts one-front-at-a-time. Forcing the French from their frontier fortifications would be a slow and costly process and Schlieffen preferred to avoid this, by a flanking movement through Luxembourg and Belgium. In 1893, this was judged impractical because of a lack of manpower and mobile heavy artillery. In 1899, Schlieffen added the manoeuvre to German war plans as a possibility, if the French pursued a defensive strategy because the German army was more powerful and by 1905, Schlieffen judged the army to be formidable enough to make the northern flanking manoeuvre the basis of the war plan.[12]

Deployment plans, 1892/3–1905/6

in a manner analogous to those of battalions and regiments of earlier times. War Against France (1905) the memorandum later known as the "Schlieffen Plan" was a strategy for a war of extraordinarily big battles, in which corps commanders would be independent in how they fought, provided that it was according to the intent of the commander in chief. The commander in chief led the complete battle, in the manner of commanders of the encounter battles, so that "the sum of these battles was more than the sum of the parts".[11]

The success of battle today depends more on conceptual coherence than on territorial proximity. Thus, one battle might be fought in order to secure victory on another battlefield.
— Schlieffen, 1909[11]

Schlieffen continued the practice of Stabs-Reise (staff rides), tours of places where wars might be fought and war games, to teach the techniques of command of a mass conscript army. The huge size of such armies, spread battle over a much greater space than in the past and Schlieffen expected the army corps to fight Teilschlachten (battle segments), equivalent to the tactical engagements of smaller traditional armies. Such battles would occur distant from each other, as corps and armies closed with the opposing army and become a Gesamtschlacht (complete battle), in which the significance of the battle segments would be determined by the plan of the Commander in Chief. The commander would give operational orders to the corps, which would then play their part in his plan,


Within the army, organisation and theory had no obvious link with war planning and responsibilities overlapped. The General Staff devised deployment plans and its chief became de facto Commander in Chief if war began but in peace, command was vested in the commanders of the twenty army corps districts. These commanders were independent of the General Staff Chief and trained soldiers according to their own devices. The German system of government was federal and the ministries of war of the constituent states controlled the forming and equipping of units, command and promotions. The system was inherently competitive and became more so after the Waldersee period, when the possibility increased of another Volkskrieg, a war of the nation in arms, rather than the few European wars fought by small professional armies, that had occurred after 1815.[9] Schlieffen concentrated on matters he could influence and pressed for increases in the size of the army and the adoption of new weapons. A big army would create more choices about how to fight a war and better weapons would make the army more formidable. Mobile heavy artillery could help make up for numerical inferiority against a Franco-Russian coalition and smash fortifications. Schlieffen tried to make the army more operationally capable so that it was better than its potential enemies and rapidly could win a decisive victory.[10]

In February 1891, Schlieffen was appointed to the post of Chief of the Großer Generalstab (Great General Staff), the professional head of the Kaiserheer (German Army). The post had lost influence to rival institutions in the German state, because of the machinations of the previous incumbent Alfred von Waldersee (8 April 1832 – 5 March 1904), who had held the post from 1888–1891 and had tried to use his position as a political stepping stone.[7][2] Schlieffen was seen as a safe choice, being junior, anonymous outside the General Staff and with few interests outside the army. Other governing institutions gained power at the expense of the General Staff and Schlieffen had no following in the army or state. The fragmented and antagonistic character of German state institutions, made the development of a grand strategy most difficult, because there was no body to co-ordinate foreign, domestic and war policy. The General Staff planned in a political vacuum and Schlieffen's weak position was exacerbated by his narrow military view.[8]

Chief of the Great General Staff

Colmar von der Goltz (12 August 1843 – 19 April 1916) and other military thinkers, reacted against the short-war thinking of mainstream writers like Friedrich von Bernhardi (22 November 1849 – 11 December 1930) and Hugo von Freytag-Loringhoven (20 May 1855 – 19 October 1924) as an illusion. They saw the longer war against the improvised armies of the French republic and the indecisive battles of the winter of 1870–1871, as a better example of the nature of modern war.[4] Hans Delbrück (11 November 1848 – 14 July 1929), was professor of modern history in the Humboldt University of Berlin from 1895, editor of the Preußische Jahrbücher and author of The History of the Art of War within the Framework of Political History (four volumes 1900–1920).[5][1] Delbrück introduced Leopold von Ranke’s system of Quellenkritik/Sachkritik (source criticism) into the study of military history and attempted to reinterpret Vom Kriege (On War). Delbrück wrote that Clausewitz had intended to divide strategy into Vernichtungsstrategie (strategy of annihilation) or Ermattungsstrategie (strategy of exhaustion) but had died in 1830 before he could revise his book.[5] Delbrück wrote that Frederick the Great had used a strategy of exhaustion during the Seven Years' War. Eighteenth century armies were small, composed of professionals who were hard to replace and were tied to magazines for supply, which made them incapable of fulfilling a strategy of annihilation. A public and sometimes acrimonious debate between Delbrück, the General Staff historians and other commentators, who believed that Delbrück was challenging the army monopoly on strategic wisdom, became known as the Strategiestreit (strategy debate).[6]


The days are gone by when, for dynastical ends, small armies of professional soldiers went to war to conquer a city, or a province, and then sought winter quarters or made peace. The wars of the present day call whole nations to arms.... The entire financial resources of the State are appropriated to military purposes....
— Moltke the Elder[3]

The attacks of francs-tireurs, had forced the diversion of 110,000 men to guard railways and bridges. Moltke resorted to an Exterminationskrieg against the French population, against the protests of the German civilian authorities, which after the fall of Paris, negotiated a quick end to the war. Moltke wrote later,

Francs-tireurs in the Vosges during the Franco-Prussian War.


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.