This Day In History: Field Marshal Von Schlieffen Dies (1913)

On this date in 1913 the German Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen,  the strategist behind the German offensive in August 1914, died. He died in Berlin after a short illness.

Schlieffen was the son of a Prussian general and his family was a member of the Junker class. He spent all his life in the army and he served with distinction in the 1866 war with Austria and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  He rose through the officer corps and soon was promoted to the Great General Staff. This was an elite group of officers whose duty is was to develop strategies for the next war and to secure the borders of the German Empire. Schlieffen was a brilliant strategist and he became Chief of the Great General Staff in 1891 and he became very influential in the development of German military strategy.  After German unification, many German generals had become very concerned about a war on two fronts. They feared a potential Russian and French alliance even though this was deemed to be highly unlikely because one was a Republic and the other was an autocratic monarchy.

Alfred von Waldersee and Helmuth von Moltke had developed plans to fight both Russia and France at once. Schlieffen when became chief of the Great General Staff took over, he continued to plan for a war on two fronts. The German generals planning was proven to be needed in 1894, when Moscow and Paris stunned the world by entering into an alliance. They were both worried by the growing strength of Germany.

German prisoners
German Prisoners (1917)

Schlieffen was asked, by the Kaiser and his government to develop a strategy that would allow the Germany to fight on two fronts. His plan, which came to be known as the Schlieffen plan called for a small German army to defend East Prussia while a larger German army invaded France.   This plan would deliver a quick victory for the German army. This plan was predicated on the belief that the Russians would not be able to mobilize quickly.

Helmuth von Moltke (the younger),  the Chief of Staff of the German army in 1914 adopted the plan of Schlieffen. He slightly adapted the Schlieffen plan which involved the invasion of Belgium and then advancing into Northern France.

The so-called Moltke-Schlieffen plan failed to secure a clear and quick victory for the Germans. The Russian mobilized much more quickly than anticipated and the British expeditionary force helped the French. Above all the French victory at the First Battle of the Marne denied German the opportunity to capture Paris and end the war.  The failure of the plan meant that the Germans were to become bogged down in trench warfare for four years.

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