The most important thing about a battle plan is its execution but sometimes people decide to make changes that completely ruin it. When Alfred von Schlieffen retired in 1906, General von Moltke became the German Chief of Staff and assumed the responsibility of carrying out the famous Schlieffen Plan. Before Wilhelm II appointed Moltke to chief of staff, Moltke had one condition - that the emperor would not intervene in his military affairs. People expected great things from him because he was the nephew of Field Marshal Count Moltke, who led Germany to victory against France in 1871. What people didn’t expect was that Moltkes deviations from the Schlieffen Plan would lead to one of the biggest screw ups for Germany in WWI that would lead them into a bloody stalemate that would cost them the war.
The Schlieffen Plan was designed to quickly defeat France by leading a single powerful flank attack through Belgium and Holland that would eventually help encircle the French armies while also capturing Paris. At the same time a small army would keep Russia at bay until France was defeated because they were allies. Schlieffen’s plan also took into account that it would be much easier to defeat France by attacking its rear because it was vulnerable rather than pushing through the heavily fortified Franco-German border. The Schlieffen Plan predicted that there would be little resistance from Belgium and expected them to simply let them pass or be quickly defeated if they decided to fight.
Moltke disliked the Schlieffen Plan and severely altered it by making two critical decisions. The first critical change Moltke made was removing two of his armies that were supposed to push through Belgium and placing them in another area to counter the expected French invasion. But this wasn’t a decision made based on military strategy but on pride. Moltke felt that it would be unacceptable and disgraceful to allow French troops onto German soil. The original plan would have allowed the French invasion since it would have been a small sacrifice and would concentrate a large faction of the French Army in the South while 90% of the German Army would push through Belgium and storm France.
This change proved to be disastrous because Moltke decided to use scorched earth tactics to intimidate the Belgians in order to keep up with the Schlieffen Plan timetable. Not only did Moltke anger the Belgian people, but he also inspired rebellion movements that managed to hold out long enough until British reinforcements showed up. The Belgian Army managed to fight the Germans for 13 weeks with support from the British and reduced the might of their army. Because of his actions Moltke and his troops had to retreat. To make things worse German commanders decided to waive the plan of attacking France at its undefended rear and decided to make a full-frontal attack on the Franco-German border. This was one of the gravest mistake of the war because the full frontal attack began where the line was heavily protected by the French.
Moltkes second slew of mistakes began with his strategic failures during the Battle of Marne. After the German Armies had successfully made their way through Belgium, they began their advance to Paris and aimed to cut a large portion of the French Army off from the coastlines. The German Army was making good progress until a strategic error early in the campaign would eventually derail any hopes of winning the Battle of the Marne. Moltkes managed to do the unthinkable, he had lost command over his armies! The lack of communication became obvious when the offensives of both armies fell out of synch and opened up a gap near Paris that the British Forces and the French exploited. As a result, the 2nd German Army was in grave danger of being destroyed and the field commanders thought it was best to avoid an encirclement. They then retreated to a more favorable positioning which forced their other comrades to fend for themselves. Moltkes could no longer encircle Paris by flanking nor control his men. Not only did the Battle of the Marne successfully stop the advancement of German troops, it also created the trench warfare system that WWI is known for.
Post by Arvin Ramdas