Most helpful positive review
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Revealing and convincing
on 23 July 2012
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.