The Schlieffen Plan was devised so that Germany could successfully invade France by going through Belgium and Luxembourg instead of battling the heavily fortified French areas near Metz. This would all take place within six weeks. If successful, the plan would eliminate the threat of a war on two fronts, giving Germany the opportunity to take large parts of Europe. However, this would have been a master plan if there were no flaws. As clever a plan it was, mistakes were made and the costs phenomenal During the late 1800s to early 20th century, Europe was living in a state of tension.
Many of the major nations knew that a war was inevitable and so alliances were formed. By 1881, Germany had already signed a pact with Austria-Hungary. Thirteen years later, France signed a treaty with Russia. This surrounded Germany and so the Schlieffen Plan was produced. Alfred Von Schlieffen was called upon to think up a plan that would allow Germany to attack France without fighting a war on two fronts. French-German relations were at an all time low because of the Franco Prussian War of 1870. Two of France’s providences, Alsace and Lorraine were now part of Germany.
France obviously desired revenge while Germany believed that they had unfinished business to attend to in taking the capital, Paris. Even though Von Schlieffen retired in 1906, the plan was altered by his successor, Helmuth Von Moltke. This was mainly due to the new treaty signed in 1907. The Entente Cordial, which Britain and France signed in order to help decrease the threat of a successful German invasion. Eventually Russia joined with the two nations to form the Triple Entente. With the Triple Alliance of Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary also in place war was now a near certainty.
The Schlieffen plan was greatly needed by Germany if they were to have any chance of winning a war. Theoretically, the Schlieffen Plan was a mastermind. Go through neutral Belgium and Luxembourg to avoid the heavily fortified French borders. If they could take Paris within six weeks they could easily turn round and defend the eastern sides of Germany from the advancing Russia. Von Schlieffen believed that Russia would take far too long to mobilise for war and Britain would enter the war at too late a time. Britain had also signed a treaty to protect Belgium if invaded back in 1839.
Von Schlieffen presumed that Britain wouldn’t go to war ‘Over a scrap of paper. ‘ He still kept faith that invading Belgium would be a surprises attack. This a huge mistake. Germany felt that the Schlieffen Plan was absolute and therefore had no backup plan if errors occurred. Another example of Von Schlieffen’s complacency was that he strongly believed that because France were defeated in six weeks back in the Franco Prussian War, it was highly possible to do it again. However, times change and Germany suffered the consequences. Britain also stuck by their vow to protect Belgium and Russia was ready to battle much quicker than expected.
The plan was meant to work in the shape of a scythe. Cutting through Belgium and curling around the back of Paris. This was decided because the French fortifications between Metz and Switzerland were far too sturdy and powerful to be quickly defeated, if at all. Instead, curling through Belgium and into the back of Paris would be a safer option. However, this was a gamble. If on one hand Britain stood by their pact with the neutral nation, Belgium or Belgium themselves resisted, then the plan most certainly be a failure, but if on the other hand this didn’t happen, Germany could take Paris and consequently conquer France.
Germany firmly believed that this was possible and so stood by the plan. Austria-Hungary was also involved in the plan. During the time in which Germany would spend combatting against France, Austria-Hungary would aid the defence of Germany’s eastern borders from a possible Russian attack. Germany made the mistake of presuming that Russia being a large area and an inferior nation would fail to mobilise their troops within six weeks. It was agreed first of all that 90% of Germany’s armed forces would attack France with the remaining defending against any Russian threat.
Despite this, Von Moltke suggested that 34 divisions should invade France with 8 divisions defending from Russia. Germany were still confident success would be achieved and following Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and the beginning of a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, German troops marched on into Belgium. The same day, 3rd August, 1914 Britain and France declared war on Germany, with Belgium giving the German army a hard time ‘walking through’ their country. Russia also mobilised for battle in a short amount of time, thus eliminating Germany’s hopes of avoiding a war on two fronts.
Germany now had to become serious in getting troops to battle. Conscription had been enforced so that every German man had to serve his country’s armed forces. A good way of increasing the German army numbers. The train timetables were also altered so that troops could reach the front line in no time at all. However, Britain dismissed the idea of conscription and tried to bring the nation together by encouraging the public to sign up. If they signed in groups they could be assigned to the same station as each other.
All the nations wanted to end the fighting quickly because they knew that if they didn’t trench warfare would develop and fighting would go on for much longer than hoped. Unfortunately that did just happen and the war lasted for another four years. In conclusion, the Schlieffen Plan was of high quality on pen and paper. However, put into practice it went disastrously wrong. At least it wasn’t a complete failure. Germany wasn’t defeated. They managed to re-organise and fight for a few more years. Maybe if a backup plan was devised as well, there may have been a difference in the outcome. Overall, the plan was great, the consequences were not.