Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Man Behind the Plan

Before we begin our through WWI we need to understand the information that was behind the scenes. For a part of this year, I’ll be laying the foundation of understanding, hopefully through important dates. Incidentally, today is one such date: 101 anniversary of the German general Alfred von Schlieffen’s death. If you recognize the name, it is because it was his plan that was set in motion and started WWI.

But first, a little information about the man behind the plan: Schlieffen was born on February 28, 1833 to a Prussian noble family. It is said during his early life he showed no interest in joining the military, and instead went to school in Berlin to study law. It was after his mandatory one year of service that Schlieffen was chosen as an officer candidate, and thus began his long military career.

Schlieffen served in both the Seven Week’s War in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Over time he was able to rise through the ranks of the Great General Staff (which was an elite corps of about 650 officers) before becoming its chief in 1891.

In the years since the Franco-Prussian War and the German alliance with Austrio-Hungary in 1879, Schlieffen’s predecessors had been working on a strategy to fight a future two-front war against France and Russia. When Schlieffen took over, he continued these efforts seeing such a two-front war as a distinct possibility. Schlieffen believed that Germany’s best bet was to engage France first, attacking through Belgium and Holland and enveloping western France before finally taking Paris.

Meanwhile, a smaller German force would hold off Russia in the east, since fully mobilizing the Russian army would take more time. This strategy came to be known as the Schlieffen plan.

Less than two years after Schlieffen’s death, the plan was put in motion by the German army. While I’m tempted to go into full detail about this now, I think it would make more sense to wait. Yes, it’s well known that the German’s plan did not work, and ultimately led to a stalemate that resulted in the 4-year trench war. But, I’m going to wait and give my full commentary later this year. So instead, today you’re left with the facts of the matter and the interesting beginning to our 2014.

Until next time, happy history all!

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