Alfred Graf von Schlieffen

Alfred Graf von Schlieffen


Although eighty years have passed, feelings still rage on the First World War. This is not only due to the fact that it involved all major European countries or the different impacts he had on them. The first industrial war formed the conscience a politics of whole generations, it transformed and destroyed in many ways the old European culture and its political systems. The publications concerned either with the War itself or his results go into the thousands, and still each nation seems to have its own point from which to view. Nevertheless in modern scholarship there is a trend towards more objectivity and thus agreement over certain points. No serious member of the scientific community would doubt
that Germany must be seen as the main responsible for the start of the war.

And well prepared it was, for the German General Staff had been busy for years
drafting plans how to solve the problem of the limited resources Germany could
draw upon. The result was the Schlieffen Plan, an operation to encircle not
less than the whole of the French Army by a swift thrust through Belgium. The
reason for the obvious German failure to do so in the first months of the war
has much been sought about. The official German history of the war blamed the
connection officer Hensch for giving withdrawal orders.(1)

Liddel Hart argued that Moltke strengthened the left wing too much, so that he was able to throw back the French, which so themselves in turn were able to move troops to the Marne.(2)

But it was not untill 1956 that the complete text of the Schlieffen Plan was publicised, together with a thundering critique of the plan itself by Gerhard Ritter. (3)

He claimed quite convincingly that the total plan was not a safe way to victory but a daring gamble which Schlieffen undertook. As nevertheless the failure of the Germans
is still attributed to their failure to execute the Schlieffen Plan properly, we will have to take a look at the campain in order to decide where and why Moltke the Younger did not succeed in defeating the French.


  • The Plan - Germany’s position in the centre of Europe in connection with long borders which were not protected by natural barriers made its defence more difficult than those of its neighbours. Therefor any commander considering a war against one of Germanys neighbours had to be aware of the danger of either getting drawn into a war of attrition […]
  • The March - In the morning hours of the 4. August 1914 the spearheads of the German armies crossed the Belgian border. Their aim was to capture the vital railpoint and fortress Liege. Their success secured the advance was only delayed for two days. Now after some short engagements the Belgian Army withdraw to Antwerpen, and Moltke’s troops […]
  • The Battle - Nevertheless the Advance continued according to plan, v. Kluck being even two days ahead of his timetable. Around the 29. and 30th it became finally obvious that the right wing had been to much stripped of troops: gaps opened between the First and the Second, later between Second and Third Army. So v. Kluck had […]
  • The Mill - The last desperate attempts to force a decision in the West ended after the “Race to the Sea” with even more losses and bloodshed, and all belligerents prepared for the next attempts in spring. Nevertheless the Western front was to be in a deadlock for the next four years, with only minimal gains despite the […]
  • Conclusion - The Schlieffen plan has often to be said as the ultimate formula for the total victory. A gigantic battle of annihilation would enable the Germans to defeat the French totally and afterwards deal with the Russians without the French in their backs. Despite this propaganda the advance was not a victory-securing manoeuvre, but a “over-daring […]
  • Bibliography - Falls, Cyril, The First World War, London 1960 Farrar, L.L., The Short-War Illusion, Oxford 1973 Hardach, Gerd, The First World War 1914-1918, Harmondsworth 1987 Hart, Liddel, The Way to win Wars, London 1942 Kielsmansegg, Peter Graf, Deutschland und der Erste Weltkrieg, Frankfurt am Main 1968 Neame, Philip, German Strategy in the Great War, London 1923 […]


1. Reichsarchiv (ed. M. Schwarz), Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918, vol. 4: Die Marneschlacht,
Leipzig 1922, p. 210pp.
2. Hart, Liddel, The Way to win Wars, London 1942, p. 182pp.
3. Ritter, The Schlieffen Plan – Critique of a Myth, London 1958