Terence Zuber is a retired army officer who spent eight years conducting counterintelligence operations against the Stasi. He is the author of The Battle of the Frontiers, German War Planning 1891-1914, and The Months Myth.
In this book, written on the basis of all surviving evidence about German war planning, Terence Zuber shows convincingly that German strategy on the Western front did not include a plan for a decisive strategic victory against France in 1914, period. This was because the German General Staff was convinced that Germany lacked the numerical superiority required for such an attempt. Zuber shows that the famous "Schlieffen Plan" was in fact a theoretical study which contained a proof of its own impossibility, because Schlieffen included more than twenty non-existing German divisions in his "plan". This was a desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, plea for Germany to introduce a more complete system of conscription and to raise the units Schlieffen believed were necessary for achieving a rapid victory against France. The actual German war plan, put into effect by Schlieffen's successor, the younger Moltke, is shown by Zuber to have been based on the concept of the counterstroke, waiting for the French to take the offensive first and thus reveal their forces. The result of this sober approach to the realities rather than the mythology of German strategic planning in 1914 is a reappraisal that may be disappointing not only to many armchair strategists but was something most actors on both sides wanted to hide after the final German defeat in World War One: namely, that there was no "failure of the Schlieffen plan" in 1914, simply because there was no "Schlieffen plan" in the first place, and, as a consequence, there also was no "miracle on the Marne", as the German offensive had already run out of steam when the Allied counterattack happened. Zuber concludes that there only was a very fleeting chance for a decisive German victory in the West, which came because of French tactical inferiority and occurred much earlier than the battle of the Marne, already during the "battle of the frontiers". This unique chance was missed by faulty German operational staff work. This is a theme expanded upon in Zuber's other works on "The Mons Myth" and "Ardennes 1914". At the same time, Zuber shows that the battle of Tannenberg was essentially a well-rehearsed, standard German riposte to the suicidally predictable Russian attack by the armies of Samsonov and Rennenkampf. Confirming the earlier research results by Aleksandr Solshenizyn, Zuber shows that the greatest personal merit for the victory at Tannenberg is due neither to Hindenburg nor to Ludendorff but to Hermann von François, commander of I German army corps, who delayed his counterattack sufficiently long to hit not the Russian flank, but their rear, thus leading to the complete disintegration of Samsonov's army.Read more ›
In Dr Zuber's previous book - Inventing the Schlieffen Plan: German War Planning 1871-1914 - he put forward his theory that the Schlieffen Plan was invented after the war by members of the German General Staff to explain away their defeat, by blaming army officers who were too dead to answer back. Most of the original plans and papers were destroyed during the Second World War, and only fragments survive in various archives. Dr Zuber collated as many as he could find to create a study of German war planning in the decades from the Franco-German War up to the opening of the Great War. It is a persuasive argument. Some new documents have come to light since his first book, and he has taken the opportunity to present an updated study of German war planning in the period 1904-1914. In his footnotes, he remarks that "While 85% of this book consists of new material, it has been necessary to reprint some of my previously published book". He has also presented translations of his evidence, unlike many of the pro-Schlieffen Plan writers. Note that Schlieffen himself here criticises suggestions for large German forces swinging around the northern flank of the front. See Dr Zuber's German War Planning, 1891-1914: Sources and Interpretations (Warfare in History).
The Chapters are: The Real German War Plan, 1904-14 Schlieffen's Last War Plans, 1891-1904: 1904/05; 1905/06; 1906/07. The War Planning of the Younger Moltke, 1906-14: 1907/08; 1908/09; 1909/10; 1910/11; 1911/12; 1912/13; 1913/14; 1914/15. The Marne Campaign Conclusions
As you can see, the two main sections on war planning are broken down into annual sections, explaining the thinking behind each year's plan, usually with several maps, depending on the situation and surviving evidence. 1907/08 contains the following sub-sections: French Plan XVbis (1907) with map; Aufmarsch 1907/08 (Moltke's First Plan) with map; 1907 Schlussaufgabe; German 1907 Intelligence Summary for Russia; German 1907 Intelligence Summary for Austria; German 1907 Intelligence Summary for Italy; German 1907 Intelligence Summary for Bulgaria. Depending on the year, there may be more or less sub-sections, and their length also varies according to circumstance.
Interesting snippets: In 1896 the Germans rearmed with a 77mm gun; in 1897 the French introduced the 75mm gun, the first with a recoil brake, with a firing rate three times that of the German gun. It also had a gun-shield and seat for the gunner. The Germans only discovered its existence in 1901 when it was used against the Boxers in China. The Germans didn't complete their hurried upgrade in response until 1908. "The argument advanced so often that Schlieffen intended the Schlieffen Plan for a war in 1906 is, therefore, unlikely: Schlieffen knew full well that Germany could not conduct an offensive war until the new artillery had been fully fielded, the crews were trained and tactical doctrine modified to accommodate the new weapon". Page 12.
"Little Maps, Big Arrows" - PP55: "The most commonly used 'evidence' for the Schlieffen plan is the standard Schlieffen plan map, particularly Map 2 in the second volume of The West Point Atlas of American Wars, which is found on Wikipedia and just about everywhere else. The title of the West Point Atlas map is 'Western Front 1914. Schlieffen Plan of 1905. French Plan XVII', which obviously implies that in 1914 the Germans intended to implement the Schlieffen plan. The West Point Atlas map is a mishmash of the actual Schlieffen plan map, the German 1914 plan and the 1914 campaign. It is an attempt to substitute 'little map, big arrows' for the systematic study of all three." PP57: "The French deployment in the West Point Atlas is misleading, making it look as though the Schlieffen plan had caught the French completely unprepared. As of 2nd August, the first day of mobilisation, Joffre began to modify the peacetime deployment plan...".
PP58: "Herwig - The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle That Changed the World - says that the Schlieffen plan was for a two-front war against France and Russia. The first line of the Denkschrift says 'Krieg gegen Frankreich' - war against France; that is, a one-front war. There is no mention in the Denskschrift, as Herwig contends, that the Russian mobilisation (sic: deployment) would take forty days, because Russians were not expected to be beligerents. It is not as though it is a recent discovery: in 1925 the Reichsarchiv official history expressly said - twice - that the Schlieffen plan was based on Aufmarsch I for a one-front war against France."
PP59: "What Herwig has done, just as the West Point Atlas did, is to improve on the Schlieffen plan, mixing the one-front 1906 Denskschrift with the two-front German war plan in 1914 so that they appear to agree with each other. While this may be a very satisfying procedure for armchair strategists, it is completely bereft of military, documentary and historical accuracy".
From the Author's Conclusion: 'Common Knowledge' and the Survival of the Schlieffen Plan (pp180-181) "'The Schlieffen Plan Reconsidered', which set off the Schlieffen plan debate, was published in 'War in History' in the autumn of 1999. 'Inventing the Schlieffen Plan' was published in 2002. It received numerous reviews including the Times Literary Supplement. The historical section of the German army called an international Schlieffen Plan conference at Potsdam in 2004. Schlieffen's planning documents were published in German War Planning, 1891-1914: Sources and Interpretations (Warfare in History). The Schlieffen plan debate continues in 'War in History' and is the subject of about fourteen articles to date. None of this is reflected in that repository of 'common knowledge', Wikipedia. The author of the Schlieffen plan Wikipedia entry recites every Schlieffen plan cliche; indeed he agrees that 'this article seems like tired conventional wisdom rather than a reflection of modern scholarship'."
"Indeed, 'common knowledge' experts on the Schlieffen plan always feel free to embellish the story without the need for evidence. The Wikipedia author says that after the Franco-British Entente was signed in 1904, Kaiser Wilhelm ordered Schlieffen to prepare a plan for a two-front war. One wonders what the Wikipedia author thinks the German war plan had been in the ten years since 1894, when the French and Russians finalised their alliance and a two-front war was a certainty."
The author then goes on to criticize Holger Herwig, who "has along history of repeating the entire Schlieffen plan dogma", quoting from another academic critic, not just his own comments.
War Plans and War Guilt (pp183): It is also 'common knowledge' that the Germans had an aggressive war plan, which proves German guilt for starting the First World War. This 'common knowledge' is directly contradicted by both the French and Russian war plans, which provided for a co-ordinated offensive against Germany, and by the fact that it was the French and Russians that attacked first. The first battles, at Stalluponen and Tannenberg in East Prussia and in Alsace and Lorraine in the west, were all fought on German territory. If aggressive war planning and conducting the first attack are proof of war guilt then it was the French and Russians who were guilty, not the Germans. In fact, the Russians and the French attacked because it was militarily advantageous to do so; the Germans defended on interior lines because it was militarily advantageous to do so. Neither strategy is intrinsically 'moral' or 'immoral. The decision to go to war is political. Whether international politics are moral or immoral - indeed, whether the idea of 'war guilt' makes any political or ethical sense at all - is not a problem for military history".
The opening battles were indeed fought on German territory (though the French and Poles might have something to say about that); and the Schlieffen enthusiasts appear to have overlooked that fact. The war guilt is a separate question, although the Kaiser's 'blank cheque' to the Austrians (and countersigned by them) is a signed confession in my book. Many of the author's contentions are not hidden secrets or conspiracy theories; even I had come across some of them before - see Armaments and the Coming of War: Europe 1904-1914 for example. This is historical research and writing at work - someone does some research that doesn't mesh with the established view - it gets discussed, and the established view absorbs and adapts; or the older generation dies off and the new generation becomes the establishment. That is what we are seeing here.Read more ›
A thoughtful and provocative analysis of Imperial Germany's war plans leading up to the outbreak of the first world war. The book ruthlessly demolishes many preconceived ideas which I had believed in for many years. The author is to be congratulated for this fresh look at an always absorbing topic. Highly recommended.
I can't get enough of trying to understand what drove Europe to 'civil war' in 1914. I'm a WW1 battlefield guide. It's my job to know this stuff.
What continues to interest me is the local European political decisions that war was the best option to settle the differences between France, Germany and Russia.
This was what I hoped to find in this book. A war plan - the military side of things - must also deal with the political reasons why a war plan should exist at all. This is touched on by Zuber in his presentstion of each succeeding year's German war plan but as the engine driving the military machine, the political situation over the years 1900-1914 in Europe receives far less attention than it deserved.
This book is a detailed analysis of plans and war games drawn up by Schlieffen, both Moltkes and others of the German High Command from late in the 1890s to 1914. This comprises about 80% of the book. It makes tedious and repetitious reading for anyone not involved with the academic analysis of this subject. An irritatingly common problem in this book is the copy & paste of sentences and paragraphs that have been lifted out of the author's previous work. He does acknowledge that some material from earlier books has been used but it has been used very badly, with minimal editing.
The author does not believe "The Schlieffen Plan", as illustrated by the West Point Academy 'Schlieffen Plan map' and accepted as 'common knowledge', existed. He goes to great lengths to prove his point. Much of this is refutations of other authors' books and papers, with references to newly available German archives. However, I was less than impressed to find that one reference was to one of the author's own previous books which also refuted the existence of the "Schlieffen Plan." This is clearly the author reinforcing his point simply by repetition, something he is scathing about in the work of others. There may be other examples of this self-referencing by Zuber. I may get round to checking.
Zuber has a massive problem. In trying to refute the existence of The Schlieffen Plan he is undone by events. Whatever you want to call it, the German forces in 1914 executed the move through Belgium and the great 'right hook' that Schieffen had originally drawn up. Zuber attempts to explain that Schlieffen offered it up as a plan that was without merit - a strategical coconut deliberately set up to be knocked down. But the German armies did indeed execute the very move that Zuber would have us believe Schlieffen thought was worthless.
It may be useful in academic circles to clear up any misunderstandings and misinterpretations in the analyses of events, particularly if new documents become available. If the German plan before August 1914 was to respond to French and Russian aggression, it is a point well worth making, in fact essential to understanding European history 1900-1989. However, I did not find this book did so with a view to having this theory accepted by a wider audience other than the authors whom Zuber wishes to refute and in that I believe he failed. An opportunity wasted.Read more ›