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 gamble” (10), for the advance faced many dangers which made its outcome very insecure and doubtful. even worse, every conscious politician had to see that the attack on Belgium would inevitably bring Britain into the war. Astonishing though it seems that Schlieffen’s successor Moltke the Younger was quite aware of this.
Recent research seems to show that his intention was not to defeat the French (a task for which he thought the available troops to be inadequate) (11), but to hurt them as badly as possible in order to enable Germany to wear them down in the following stalemate (a fact which for example explains the costly occupation of the Briey-Mines in Lorraine, from whose the French had drawn 85% of their pre-war iron production, and who would have fallen in German hands anyway in case of the Plan’s success) This argument can be supported by the somewhat wavering strategy of Moltke in 1914, who rather sought to gain as much success as possible than to adhere strictly to Schlieffen’s Plan.
Furthermore it seems unlikely to assume that all of the German General Staff were so blind to totally ignore the military dangers of a continued advance over 300 miles. So it seems that the Schlieffen Plan was one of the alternatives the OHL pursued in 1914, and who’s aims were a better position for the expected or feared war of attrition. Thus the failure of the Schlieffen plan did hinder Germany from winning the war directly, but it also enabled them to hold out for four years of attrition, which would been impossible if the initial attack had been carried out in the east.
10. Ritter, op.cit., p. 66
11. Herbert Mueller, Des Kaisers Paladin, in Die Zeit, Nr. 28 (1994)