Failure Of The Schlieffen Plan Essay

2889 words - 12 pages

Failure of the Schlieffen Plan

In just over a month of fighting, two deeply disturbing features of
the war were evident even to the generals who had unleashed the first
campaigns: a quick victory was impossible, and the human and material
losses incurred as a result of the industrialization of war
preparation were on a scale never before seen. The Schlieffen plan had
at first seemed to go according to schedule. Although the Belgians had
declared war rather than allow the Germans passage across their
borders, their great fortresses had not proved a big obstacle. The
right wing had swung along the Channel coast to enter France on August
27, and at one time were within forty miles of Paris. But the British
had supplied an unexpectedly large expeditionary force, which helped
strengthen the French center; the Russians penetrated into East
Prussia and thus compelled the Germans to detach part of their forces
from the western to the eastern front; and the poor leadership of Von
Moltke had allowed his two armies on the Belgian front to lose
contact. The French commander Joffre seized his opportunity to
counterattack, and threw in his reserve against the dangerously
extended German line to the east of Paris. In the first Battle of the
Marne, the Germans were forced to retreat to the line of the river
Aisne, where they were able to establish a strong defense line. By
November, when the winter rains began and operations literally bogged
down, the war of rapid movement originally planned by the generals had
turned into a slogging match between entrenched armies, disposed in
double lines of ditches behind barbed wire barriers along a front that
stretched all the way from the Channel coast to Switzerland. These
lines were to move only a few miles for the next four years.This
stalemate was the result of enormous losses on both sides. The British
lost half of their professional soldiers in the defense of one city,
Ypres. In only four days of fighting in the Battle of the Frontiers,
the French army had suffered 140,000 casualties; in the first sixteen
months, over 600,000 of their soldiers had been killed. German losses
were on a similar scale, as army commanders threw in troops in
senseless bayonet charges. At the fort of Liége, a Belgian officer
related, the Germans "made no attempt at deploying but came on line
after line, almost shoulder to shoulder, until as we shot them down,
the fallen were heaped on top of each other in an awful barricade of
dead and wounded that threatened to mask our guns." By the end of the
Battle of the Marne, German casualties were 650,000. It was, however,
in the trenches that the full horror of the war became evident. The
lines became steadily more elaborate, stretching miles back to the
rear with communication trenches, dugouts, command posts, fortified

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