The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Armed conflicts in the history of humanity from the ancient times to the 20th Century.
Byron Angel

Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby Byron Angel » Wed Aug 04, 2010 11:52 am

RF wrote: The crucial difference between the Schlieffen Plan and the normal defence planning of say NATO countries is that the former placed war as a first instrument of policy, it was motivated by attack and conquest and not purely a defensive measure to deter enemies from attacking.


..... If the calculus is that one cannot survive by fighting purely defensively against France and Russia in the sort of two-front war scenario envisaged by Germany, what then?


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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby RF » Wed Aug 04, 2010 1:34 pm

Byron, if you would care to read my post at the very top of page 2 of this thread you will see that I have answered this question.

Germany was more than capable of taking on both France and Russia simultaenously, provided Britain (and Belguim) were not involved in the conflict. But the Schlieffen Plan was conceived as an instrument of aggression and conquest, the quick ''knockout blow'' against France and then deal with Russia.
For defensive purposes - not one of attack - the Schlieffen Plan was the wrong strategy. Germany's short border with France, properly reinforced, could have been used as a door for the French to batter themselves against, and bleed them dry, for Germany has a bigger population, a bigger and better army, and the French have no allies to help them in the west. Other German forces in the east, together with the Austro-Hungarians and the Turks (in the Caucasus) could have gradually reduced Russia to submission.

The process would take longer, but the crucial, and winning difference is that Germany is seen internationally as the victim of aggression, and as such gains the diplomatic support of Britain and the US against the French and Russians.

That should have been the strategy of the Germans in the summer of 1914.
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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby Karl Heidenreich » Wed Aug 04, 2010 2:56 pm

I have been, for the last week, visiting my family which is why I have not been able to check and answer at the forum. But this caught me:

RF:

Germany was more than capable of taking on both France and Russia simultaenously, provided Britain (and Belguim) were not involved in the conflict.


This is quite incorrect: the Germans were able if the Schliefen Plan worked pretty fine, which means they have to invade Belgium and then Britain will get involved. Any notion that Germany just sit and waits for the French to attack and crash against a fortified border at Alsace Loraine is ludricous. It is because from years BEFORE the war the French, the Russians and the British already considered a joint action to destroy Germany. It is historic fact that the treaties and secret pacts were in place and that the British would bring any possible "cassus beli" in order to get into the brawl. As a matter of fact if Germany did not invade Belgium both, France and Britain, would have do it (as they were planing to do with Norway late in 1940) in order to outflank the German Armies. For the Germans, who were probably doom since 1907, the only possible option was try to destroy the french armies and the BEF as early as possible and then deal with Russia. In their offensive spirit the Germans were just defending from a coordinated plan to destroy them as a wealthy nation. And, in hindsight, the allies by acting the way they did not only started WWI but also WWII and by doing so destroying themselves as superpowers and leaving the European continent, forever, as a second class player of world afairs behind USA, URSS and now China.

Regards
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Byron Angel

Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby Byron Angel » Thu Aug 05, 2010 3:22 am

RF wrote:Byron, if you would care to read my post at the very top of page 2 of this thread you will see that I have answered this question.

Germany was more than capable of taking on both France and Russia simultaenously, provided Britain (and Belguim) were not involved in the conflict. But the Schlieffen Plan was conceived as an instrument of aggression and conquest, the quick ''knockout blow'' against France and then deal with Russia.
For defensive purposes - not one of attack - the Schlieffen Plan was the wrong strategy. Germany's short border with France, properly reinforced, could have been used as a door for the French to batter themselves against, and bleed them dry, for Germany has a bigger population, a bigger and better army, and the French have no allies to help them in the west. Other German forces in the east, together with the Austro-Hungarians and the Turks (in the Caucasus) could have gradually reduced Russia to submission.

The process would take longer, but the crucial, and winning difference is that Germany is seen internationally as the victim of aggression, and as such gains the diplomatic support of Britain and the US against the French and Russians.

That should have been the strategy of the Germans in the summer of 1914.



..... Sorry, RF. My post did not perfectly reflect my thought process. I was not ignoring your post; rather, I was contrasting the your assessment with the opposite conclusion drawn by the German General Staff in their historical analysis of the strategic situation. I frankly don't see Russia surrendering so long as their France remained in the game as an active battlefield ally and war financier to Russia. Russia is too vast and possessed too great manpower assets to succumb to rapid collapse no matter how powerful a blow was delivered by Germany. And time was not on Germany's side.

My opinion.

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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby RF » Thu Aug 05, 2010 8:29 am

Byron Angel wrote:
I frankly don't see Russia surrendering so long as their France remained in the game as an active battlefield ally and war financier to Russia. Russia is too vast and possessed too great manpower assets to succumb to rapid collapse no matter how powerful a blow was delivered by Germany. And time was not on Germany's side.
My opinion.
Byron


Well, Russia nearly did collapse into revolution in the war against the Japanese in 1905, and did come to terms, though of course the French were not involved.

In 1917/18 Russia did effectively exit the war and surrender, while not just France but also Britain and the USA were its allies.

My strategy is for a long war on both fronts - which Germany has the superior army, economy and logistics to win. And by fighting only two countries militarily inferior to itself, not half the rest of the world as the Kaiser did, dragged down futher by two allies who were complete military liabilities.
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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby RF » Thu Aug 05, 2010 8:50 am

Karl Heidenreich wrote:
RF:

Germany was more than capable of taking on both France and Russia simultaenously, provided Britain (and Belguim) were not involved in the conflict.


This is quite incorrect: the Germans were able if the Schliefen Plan worked pretty fine, which means they have to invade Belgium and then Britain will get involved. Any notion that Germany just sit and waits for the French to attack and crash against a fortified border at Alsace Loraine is ludricous.


I think this needs an explanation without the conspiracy theories. Germany cannot win with the Schlieffen Plan, Germany can only lose. Why? Because if it suceeds, only France is knocked out, Britain isn't even touched. Germany had no plans to fight Britain and that was their downfall.

Yes, there were plans between the Entente Cordiale triumvirate to destroy Germany - if Germany launched or threatened an aggresive war of conquest that leaves it the dominant land power in Europe. Those secret plans were defensive in nature, particulary as far as the British were concerned, the French may have had slightly different intentions.

Germany's only chance of dealing with a combination of France and Russia is to contain the conflict to those two countries and particulary to keep Britain out of it. Providing that condition is met then Germany can destroy both by attrition. The main lesson of WW1 prior to the development of the tank was that defence was stronger than attack, and Germany had the mass of artillery to outgun the French on their own. The Germans nearly succeeded in bleeding the French to death at Verdun, where the British were holding a significant part of the western front.
And I think that the Alsace Lorraine border would have provided the Germans, well dug in, with their killing ground. That strategy is Ithink more sensible and credible than any of the alternatives.
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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby RF » Thu Aug 05, 2010 8:56 am

And if the French try to outflank the Germans by going through Belguim......the Entente Cordiale is dead....and Britain is at war with France.
''Give me a Ping and one Ping only'' - Sean Connery.

Byron Angel

Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby Byron Angel » Thu Aug 05, 2010 12:28 pm

RF wrote:
Byron Angel wrote:
I frankly don't see Russia surrendering so long as their France remained in the game as an active battlefield ally and war financier to Russia. Russia is too vast and possessed too great manpower assets to succumb to rapid collapse no matter how powerful a blow was delivered by Germany. And time was not on Germany's side.
My opinion.
Byron


Well, Russia nearly did collapse into revolution in the war against the Japanese in 1905, and did come to terms, though of course the French were not involved.

In 1917/18 Russia did effectively exit the war and surrender, while not just France but also Britain and the USA were its allies.

My strategy is for a long war on both fronts - which Germany has the superior army, economy and logistics to win. And by fighting only two countries militarily inferior to itself, not half the rest of the world as the Kaiser did, dragged down futher by two allies who were complete military liabilities.



..... In the event, Russia, even after the debacle of Tannenberg, did effectively fight for three years against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

What this distills down to for me is that the German General Staff was the most highly respected command and war-planning organization of the era and clearly came to an opposite conclusion about German prospects for success in a long two front war. Perhaps you are over-estimating German military capabilities.

In any case, here is an interesting essay on the topic that I ran across -

http://www.stanford.edu/~jakim/index_files/Sagan.pdf


Rgds / Byron

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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby RF » Thu Aug 05, 2010 1:10 pm

Byron Angel wrote:
..... In the event, Russia, even after the debacle of Tannenberg, did effectively fight for three years against Germany and Austria-Hungary.


Yes. But don't forget that for the whole of that period the bulk of the German Army was engaged on the western front.

In my scenario the front in the west is much shorter, there is only the French to fight, so some of the German forces in the actual WW1 in the west would in my scenario be deployed in Russia. Even then I would regard a time scale to win of threeyears to be acceptable.
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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby RF » Thu Aug 05, 2010 1:34 pm

Byron Angel wrote:
What this distills down to for me is that the German General Staff was the most highly respected command and war-planning organization of the era


This is the fundamental point where we differ.

Respected - yes, it undoubtedly was,

But it got matters completely wrong. One feature of the German military, running from Prussia to Hitler, is that the German Army was brilliant at tactics and discipline for winning battles and mobile offensive/defensive actions. But when it came to strategy, particulary grand strategy, its general staff and military leaders were wholly wanting. In fact under Hitler there was no grand strategy; under the Kaiser it was arrogantly assumed that concepts of grand strategy were unnecessary because Germany was superior and would win anyway. It was automatically assumed that the Schlieffen Plan would cater for any military requirements arising out of a European political crisis.

Actually it was two civilians who got the grand strategy right. One was Bismarck, who after the Franco-Prussian War realised the French would want to fight another war, with the probability of being in alliance with Russia. His was the correct political solution to that threat: seek allies to counterbalance the threat, which could only mean court friendship with Britain. And to do that, don't offer a challenge at sea. Logically Germany and Britain should have been natural allies, and would have prevented a world war.
The other civilian to get matters right was Konrad Adenaur, who in his lifetime saw the folly of the arrogance of the German military leadership and sensibly cemented the Federal Republic of Germany into the NATO alliance.
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Byron Angel

Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby Byron Angel » Fri Aug 06, 2010 12:37 pm

RF wrote:
Byron Angel wrote:
What this distills down to for me is that the German General Staff was the most highly respected command and war-planning organization of the era


This is the fundamental point where we differ.

Respected - yes, it undoubtedly was,

But it got matters completely wrong. One feature of the German military, running from Prussia to Hitler, is that the German Army was brilliant at tactics and discipline for winning battles and mobile offensive/defensive actions. But when it came to strategy, particulary grand strategy, its general staff and military leaders were wholly wanting. In fact under Hitler there was no grand strategy; under the Kaiser it was arrogantly assumed that concepts of grand strategy were unnecessary because Germany was superior and would win anyway. It was automatically assumed that the Schlieffen Plan would cater for any military requirements arising out of a European political crisis.

Actually it was two civilians who got the grand strategy right. One was Bismarck, who after the Franco-Prussian War realised the French would want to fight another war, with the probability of being in alliance with Russia. His was the correct political solution to that threat: seek allies to counterbalance the threat, which could only mean court friendship with Britain. And to do that, don't offer a challenge at sea. Logically Germany and Britain should have been natural allies, and would have prevented a world war.
The other civilian to get matters right was Konrad Adenaur, who in his lifetime saw the folly of the arrogance of the German military leadership and sensibly cemented the Federal Republic of Germany into the NATO alliance.



..... I've read that criticism before and, with regard to the Hitler era at least, agree with the assessment - not so much as an indictment of the General Staff as an organization itself, but as a recognition that it was far from its own master in regard to matters of grand strategy. After 1933, German grand strategy and foreign policy was largely driven by Hitler's rashly aggressive ideological aims and was undeniably quite out of synch with Germany's true international position. In earlier days, when the Prussian/German General Staff held more sway with its nation's leadership, it served with great distinction - the Prusso-Danish War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, the nationalization of the separate armies of the German states into a unified German military service. All this having been said, it must yet be kept in mind that the General Staff was never the sole arbiter of either German foreign policy or grand strategy. It was responsible only for the activities of the mailed fist when and if called into action. The politicians and diplomats controlled the velvet gloved hand. It was the head of state decided which to wield.

One of the military perceptions of the European nations in August 1914 that probably influenced leadership decisions might have been that almost all post-Napoleonic military conflicts in Europe over the previous 100 years had been SHORT wars, normally counted in months rather than years. I suspect that, had the leadership been granted any foreknowledge of what lay in store between 1914 and 1918, there would have been a mad rush to the negotiating table.

Couldn't agree more re Bismarck - arguably the father of modern Germany. I consider him to have been a gigantically important historical figure who has really not received proper respect in the West.

I hold Konrad Adenauer in great esteem as well. He was not favored with so grand a stage as Bismarck and his range of options as a leader were highly constrained by the particular post-war position of Germany - a defeated and occupied nation squeezed between the West and the East. But, for his accomplishment in so dramatically recasting the political tenor of the German people in essentially a single generation and physically re-building Germany alone, he must be marked down as a great national leader.

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Re: The guns of August: the reason for WWI

Postby RF » Fri Aug 06, 2010 6:05 pm

Byron,

Your comment about SHORT wars is a very valid one, for in August 1914 there was a widespread public expectation ''that it will be all over by Christmas.''

The reality was that the earlier short wars were short because they were contained conflicts, and a few decisive battles finished them.

But the start of WW1 was totally different in scale, not just in the area of conflict but the number of different countries involved, who had also large navies and colonial empires. That it would reverberate around the world should have been seen by those sober enough to stop and think. One of the few that did was Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, who on 4 August 1914 said ''the lights are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them coming back on again in our lifetime.''

But even in the nineteenth and early twentieth century there were four wars which had given portent of what would happen in a situation of total war. They were overlooked by the European military - the American Civil War, the War of the Triple Alliance (in South America), the Second Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War.
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