The Importance of World War I

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by Pistolenschutze, Mar 28, 2008.

  1. USMC-03

    USMC-03 New Member

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    The same could be said for just about every other Mexican president of the time... And little has changed.

    You are quite right in this regard. It's a possibility that if Wilson believed the Allies could have defeated Germany on their own, he may have held out for neutrallity even longer.
  2. Getting back, more or less, to the original topic . . .

    The "what ifs" of World War I have never failed to fascinate me. The plan that Alfred von Schlieffen formulated was brilliant; of that there can be very little doubt. His famous quote, that the German soldier on the far left of the line should brush the Channel with his sleeve, I do believe would have worked as he envisioned, assuming the Germans had sufficient troops in the attack to make that happen. Instead of the 7:1 ratio of troops committed to the attack on France as opposed to those committed to holding the line against the French in Alsace-Loraine, the German armies had only a 4:1 ratio. At the beginning of the attach this reduction did not seem to matter; the Germans initially went through the French, British, and Belgian defenders like, to borrow Patton's phrase, "s*** through a goose." But a few weeks later, it certainly did, for the Germans found themselves with an exhausted army and few reserves.

    As I see it, the main factors that most strongly contributed to the ultimate failure of the German plan--aside from the manpower shortage mentioned above--were three:

    First, the delay caused by the Belgian forts around Liege that delayed the German advance until the "Big Bertha" artillery could be brought up to pound them into submission.

    Second, the weather failed to cooperate. Troops became exhausted in the August heat, and the August rains in Belgium delayed the artillery needed against the forts.

    Third, failure to plan adequately for resupply of the field armies--especially in terms of food for men and horses--during the first few weeks of the campaign.

    Had the plan functioned as von Schlieffen envisioned, the war would indeed have been over in the 6-8 weeks that was planned. With the Germans in possession of Paris, the BEF would have had little choice but to retreat back to Britain. Germany could then have thrown massive forces against the sad sack Russian army in the east, and the war would have been all over but the shouting.
  3. USMC-03

    USMC-03 New Member

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    I have a bit different take on the main reasons the 1914 offensive failed. Weather and logistics played no small role, but I think a couple of other factors were more significant. The failure of the von Schlieffen plan mostly falls with Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke.

    First, he violated the principle of economy of force by weakening the German right wing. Had the main German thrust been concentrated at the expense of the defenses on the frontier with France I think the momentum would have been maintained and Paris would likely have fallen. von Moltke did anticipate the French well. Where the Germans made use of the indirect approach by flanking the main French defensive fortresses, the French attacked into Alsace-Lorraine, directly into equally formidable German strongholds. Had the original plan been followed, and the offensive been made with a 7 to 1 German advantage, the French may have been able to penetrate into Germany, but after the fall of Paris, it would not have mattered.

    Second, von Moltke failed to adapt quickly to the spirit of the Belgian military in general, and the fortresses at Liege and Namur in particular, when they offered far greater resistance than expected. You are correct Pistol, the von Schlieffen plan called for German forces to reach Paris in six weeks but did not really take into account any significant resistance by the Belgians. In similar fashion to Thermopylae, the fortresses at Liege and Namur bogged the Germans down giving time for the French to strengthen their left and the small, but professional, BEF to take to the field in force. Had these strong points been isolated and bypassed, the pressure and the element of maneuver could have been maintained.

    Third, von Moltke lost control of the massive German formation and a gap in the line developed when they were nearly at Paris. The French had a pretty good plan for defense in depth and use of reserve forces. Foch and Gallieni were very decisive in exploiting this weakness and stopped the Germans cold during the First Battle of the Marne. The Germans were forced to retreat by a strong French counteroffensive but held at the River Aisne. The opponents had fought each other to a standstill and began northward flanking maneuvers that developed into the "Race to the Sea." The line had extended from Switzerland to the North Sea and the armies began digging in. For the next four years Trench Warfare stagnated the lines. Each side bent but neither broke until 1918.

    Had von Moltke been able to overcome any one of these challenges, I think the outcome would have been much as you describe Pistol.
  4. Exactly so, USMC. In essence, von Moltke lost his nerve. A a great influence on his decision to strengthen the left flank, I believe, lay with the fact that the French attack into Alsace threatened Prussian, i.e., Junker lands, not merely the lands of German peasants to the south. Despite the German unification of 1870-71, the nation was still a highly stratified society; the Prussians still considered themselves a "cut above" other Germans. General von Moltke essentially wanted to have his cake and eat it too. As it turned out, he ended up with neither cake nor a meal.

    Agreed. Right up until the first shots were fired, the Germans did not really believe the Belgians would offer more than a token resistance to the German invasion. When they did, the German timetable was knocked into a cocked hat, giving the British time to land troops on the Continent and the French to organize a resistance, however ineffectual it was during the first few weeks. A much better strategy would have been, as you suggest, to isolate the Belgian forts and proceed on the offensive, not unlike what the Germans did to the Maginot line in 1940 and what we did to the Island of Truck in the Pacific during WWII--simply bypass it.

    Command and control was a major problem; no doubt about that. Part of the reason for it, I think, was the German tendency to resist even a tactical retreat. The timetable assumed a life of its own and pushed the German field commanders into foolish decisions. Also, by the time the German army was near Paris, the Germans believed the French and British were already a beaten army and had lost its will to fight. They found out differently on the Marne.
  5. USMC-03

    USMC-03 New Member

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    On the way in to work this morning I listened to an interview with a local man about Frank Buckles, the last surviving American WWI veteran. He is 107 and President Bush has approved that he be burried in Arlington National Cemetery when the time comes. I thought this article may be of interest.

    http://www.salem-news.com/articles/april082008/ww1_vet_4-8-08.php
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2008
  6. It's hard to imagine, but nearly all the WWI vets are now gone, USMC. I read a year or so ago that there were only 12 verified WWI vets (defined as having served between July 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918) still still alive world wide. All were well in excess of 100 years old. There's an interesting breakdown of the figures here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surviving_veterans_of_World_War_I
  7. TranterUK

    TranterUK Guest

    Though little profit is to be had with 'what ifs', they can be interesting. It has been suggested the world might have been better off had the allies had lost WW1. Especially that WW2 may never had happened.

    I am not sure what Russia would have said to this, and Japan's expansion in the 1930s might have been pretty much as it was, leading to war with Britain and the U.S. anyway.

    Another interesting 'what if' is the defeat of three Roman Legions under Varus by the (German) Arminius in AD 9. Despite winning and getting the Romans to withdraw it has been suggested by doing so a more fractured Europe was the result. This then led to hundreds of years of dispute and war that may have been largely avoided.
  8. When he heard the news of Varus' defeat in the Teutoberger Wald, Caesar Augustus is said, by Seutonius, to have torn open his toga and cried out in great anguish, "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!" ("Quinctili Vare, legiones redde!"). The Romans never again seriously attempted to challenge the German tribes across the Rhine and Danube rivers. Perhaps if they had, and done so successfully as they did in Gaul, the whole history of the later Roman Empire might have been different, for it was the Germans who were most responsible for defeat of the Empire in the 5th Century.
  9. swanshot

    swanshot New Member

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    I think that the importance of WW1 was that it was the first war that was simply two industrial gaints grinding up against each other. The first industrial complex to fail was the loser. When the US joined up we now had a new giant in the game, and the end was inevitable.
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