This was a plan devised by Colonel Von Schlieffen in 1905. The plan was devised to help Germany to avoid a war on two fronts against Russia and France. Graf Von Schlieffen thought that Russia would be extremely slow to mobilise and that would give Germany time (approximately one and a half to two weeks) to attack France and hopefully capture Paris. It was thought that by the time they had captured France the Germans could leave a small token force in France and then go over to fight the Russians in the east. They believed that the whole capture of France would take only six weeks.
One of the major parts of Graf von Schlieffen’s plan was that Britain would not enter a war just over a piece of paper that she had signed eighty years previously. This piece of paper was the Treaty of London. It said that Belgium was neutral and that the countries signing it would defend Belgium’s neutrality. In any case the Germans thought that if the British did enter the war as Britain had a ‘contemptibly little army’ they would not have any effect on the outcome.
The intended movement of the German forces in the Schlieffen Plan was to sweep through Belgium and capture it. Belgium was chosen for a number of reasons; because of its relatively flat land, and the fact that it had only one soldier for every ten German soldiers. A key factor of the plan was that neither France nor Belgium were expecting the attack through Belgium, also the Germans would be able to bypass the most prominent French fortress towns. Then they could turn their attention to France and go south towards Paris. Once they were north of Paris they were going to form a pincer movement to encircle Paris and hope that the French surrendered.
Why did a stalemate develop on the Western Front?
The stalemate developed on the Western Front at the end of 1914. There were a number of reasons for this and they fall under four main categories;
1. The failure of the Schlieffen Plan: When the Germans realised that they were not going to go anywhere they retreated to the high ground and then dug themselves in to defend the land that they had already captured. One of the things that caused the Germans to do this was that the British and the Belgians had held the Germans up at places like Liege and Mons. The main factor in this category was the French defence of Paris and subsequently the race to the sea. When the French and the Germans continuously tried to outflank their opponents they were met by opposing troops defending the land and this caused them both to dig trenches and try and defend the line. This continued until they ran out of room and stopped at the sea. This now meant that there was a huge line of trenches from the English Channel to Paris and beyond. Once this was established breakthroughs were almost impossible to make.
2. Introduction of new technology, weapons and tactics: When the Germans had chosen the ground and dug their trenches they would set up their machine guns so that every time opposing troops came charging over the top they would be mowed down by the German machine gun fire. Other weapons introduced during the First World War were either new or vastly improved ones. Two prime examples of this are the rifle and the artillery gun. The rifle had come on in leaps and bounds since the Boer War (the last war before 1914). Now if a soldier fired his rifle there was no cloud of smoke to give away his position and he could fire it a lot further with a great deal more accuracy. The artillery gun proved extremely useful in the war, as it was used to great effect by bombarding the enemy trenches. This meant that soldiers were pinned down in the trenches making it extremely hard to attack. These weapons contributed towards the stalemate by making it extremely hard for the enemy to attack the defending side.
3. Exhaustion by 1914: Both sides had casualties in their millions by the end of 1914. The highly trained and well-equipped B.E .F, which was originally dispatched at the start of the war, was now nearly depleted. At the end of the battle of the Marne there were over two million dead soldiers and many different armies from both sides were beginning to feel these huge losses as they were a great deal smaller. Germany were around one million men less because they had to transfer some of them to the Eastern Front where Russia were attacking. The home front was now starting to feel the strain of keeping up with the ammunition and weapons that were being used by the soldiers at the front. And this meant that neither side could plan big offensive to make a breakthrough if they did not have the resources to do so.
4. Inexperience of modern warfare: Both sides had entered the war expecting the conflict to be won by tactics that had been used to win previous wars like cavalry charges and pitched battles. Many of the Generals e.g. Jofre, von Kluck and Haig in charge of the countries were previously in Cavalry divisions and thought that these were definitely the way forward, as it happens they were completely the opposite and were the ultimate way to lose men as they were shot down by enemy machine gun fire.
The following were equally important reasons why the stalemate on the Western Front was finally broken:
New technology like the tank
The American entry into the war
The blockading of German ports
The German offensive in March 1918
Explain how far you agree with this statement.
There are some ways in which I agree with this statement and some ways that I don’t. One of the reasons was, in my view a great deal more important that than two of them and slightly more important than the Americans entering the war. The Allied blockade of the German ports was by far the best factor contributing to the end of the stalemate and hence the end of the war in most places. The fact that the Germans relied almost most entirely on imports for things like rubber and steel which were both needed in great quantities to fight a war of any substance. This weakness was exploited by the Anglo-French blockade; they encircled most of the German ports in the north of the country so that nothing could get in or out.
This meant that the Germans had trouble making weapons and basic things that were needed for example tyres to go on vehicles. This made the German leaders that either they had to win the war soon or surrender because the German population was starving and suffering from a variety of diseases, especially influenza. The bug had killed several hundred thousand men in Germany. A combination of these things led to the whole German public and some of the army becoming unsatisfied, there were some small uprisings and a few mutinies the biggest being the Kiel mutiny.
In my view the second most important factor was the American entry into the war and their fresh troops arriving. This was not only a physical boost with increased manpower and weapons, the supply of resources seemed almost inexhaustible from the Americans. But the Americans also gave the Allies a mental boost because now they had the Americans on their side it was virtually impossible to lose the war with all their power.
Another booster for the Allies was America’s economic power, e.g. the Americans produced more steel than the whole world put together. On the 11th of November 1918 the Americans occupied 23% of the Allied front line, which considering that they had only been there in real strength for about six months and they were still arriving this is a great achievement. But, in the six months they were there the Americans did lose 116,000 men.
The Americans entering the war was another of the reasons the German generals decided to launch the attack on the allied lines. The Germans threw all their reserve and remaining troops into this offensive, to be known as The Kaiserschlacht offensive. Initially they managed to advance well through the Allied lines and made a gain of about forty miles. But soon they were struggling for supplies. The offensive had gone too fast, too far and some say too north. They had made so many advances in the few days that they had been attacking that they were out protruding with a salient bulging around them.
The Allies then simply attacked from the sides to take back lost land. They could not get any supplies of food or weapons to the front line because the Allies mostly cut them off en route. Now a significant breakthrough had been made this left the gate open for another attack this caused a movement along the whole Western Front which ultimately ended the stalemate. After the Allies had counter attacked they started to push towards Germany, A small time later Allied troops could be seen crossing the Hindenberg Line.
The factor that least contributed to the breaking of the stalemate was the invention of technology like the tank. Although this was successful the two sides did not learn how to make breakthroughs for a while when they adopted tactics such as the all arms attack. These technological advances did help to win battles but they did not signal the end of the breakthrough but once the breakthrough was made they were used well to push back the Germans.