Germany Should Not Have Invaded Belgium in WW1
Debate Rounds (3)
When analyzing the plan and it's merits both neither side may use historical events that were not direct outcomes of the plan.
A better plan would have been to defend the border along Alsace Lorraine which was narrow and defensible and attempt to knock Russia out the war. When the Schlieffen plan was created it was made with the Franco-Prussian war in mind. The powerful Prussian artillery and given them a distinct edge when attacking French defensive positions, leading many military thinkers to favor offensive warfare. However, innovations in warfare such as the machine gun rendered this inference obsolete. It also doesn't take into account the rise of railroad infrastructure and the huge advantage it grants defenders. Railroads alow defenders to use internal lines far more effectively by shifting troops rapidly across fronts.
France and Germany are two modern industrialized nations with professional armies and nationalist sentiments deeply ingrained in their society. This is also before the dawn of mechanized warfare, meaning it is very hard to exploit breakthroughs and encircle opposing forces like the Plan intended to do. This match up is pretty much a guaranteed stalemate. So what if the Plan somehow works and Paris falls? They have no hope of encircling their opponents, historically the French army used their railway system to redeploy their army to defend Paris very rapidly. If the Germans win the Battle of the Marine, they still have to siege Paris. Assaulting it is out of question as machine guns will dominate the city's urban choke-points. They will have to comit a large portion of troops to starving the city out giving the French time to regroup. Historically , the fact that Germany occupied parts of nothern France caused the French right wing and socialist parties to form a 'sacred union' were they put aside politics and focused on wining the war. I think that shows that the French will not simply capitulate. They even tried to carry on the Franco-Prussian war after having their main army captured and Paris besieged. If the Germans push farther south, they get repeated siege warfare at the very best, but most likely the offensive will slow down and some kind of trench warfare will set on.
The Germans now have to worry about occupying a hostile country while also holding a massive defensive line. As the invasion of Belgium brings the British into the war, the Germans are now waging a war of attrition with their homeland under Royal Navy Blockade. They also have to deal with the Russians who are invading Prussia. Assuming the French tore up railroads while retreating, it's going to take a while to transfer forces to the eastern front to deal with that. By the way, this is what happens if the plan somehow succeeds far beyond it's historical achievements. Historical the Germans are forced into a war of attrition that they can't win as they are under blokade. In the east, the Russians become a major threat, effectivly destroying the Hapsburg army and invading East Prussia and Galacia. Historically, the Germans scored an extremely lucky victory at Tannenburg, however that doesn't change the fact that the lack of troops on the eastern is a major weakness of the Plan that was only resolved by the extreme luck of the German commanders. In short, attacking through Belgium puts the Germans in an unwinnable war of attrition that becomes less feasible if they don't anhilite the Russians at Tannenberg, as a failure to drive Russia from Prussia could lead to Austria being knocked out of the war before Germany can do anything about it.
A far better plan would be to invade Russian Poland and stay on defensive in the west. It would be a similar situation to 1915 were Germany stayed on the defensive in the west while attacking in the east. Major differences being a smaller front, no Britain, no Blockade, no Sacred Union, and Germany can attack before the Russians fully deploy. The German border was hilly fortified terrain that would have been very hard to take. The British do not join the war and blockade Germany. It took the British and the French four years to break the western front against an enemy facing a blockade wearing down the home front. How is France supposed to break German lines alone, against defensible terrain, and without the blockade? Also the french army mutinied in 1917, refusing to fight a war to regain their own territory, how will French morale and political unity hold up when they are fighting a bloody war to take German territory? If the Germans attack the Russians, they can possibly destroy parts of the Russian army piecemeal as the russian army deployed far slower then the Germans. The Russian army would be thrown into panic and spend a good deal of time reorganizing . If Germany seizes Poland with little opposition it means that they prevent the huge defeats the Austrians suffer and also are in a good position going into 1915 as they can use the russian railway system to defend their captured territory.
I would like to thank JackFritschy for presenting his arguments.
What Was the Schlieffen Plan?
The Triple Entente of Great Britian, France, and Russia was formed in the early 20th century. The other major alliance in Europe at the time was the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, which was formed in the late 19th century. Thus, the Triple Alliance was right in the middle of the Triple Entente. If Germany ever declared war on one, the others, bound by the mutual-defense pacts part of the Triple Entente, would be forced to come to its aid. Given the geography, Germany would be unable to commit all of its forces against that country because that would leave its hinterlands undefended. But it would also be a bad strategy to split their forces in two, committing half to France and half to Russia, because they would be too small to properly attack either country.
The Schlieffen Plan was a startegy meant to combat this problem. Massive speed would be imployed in a war against France, and the forcese would then swing east to Russia before Russia had a chance to respond. The plan looked something like this:
The reason for going through Belgium was because the French-German border was heavily fortified in response to Germany's devestating victory against the French during the Franco-Prussian war. But the defenses in Belgum were much sparser than those in France. In addition, the terrain of Belgium is flat, as opposed to the area around the Franco-German border which was more mountainous, making it more ideal of a spot to launch an invasion of France than the border itself. These two things would greatly faciliate a quicker invasion of France, and, if all went well, the capture of Paris in just a few weeks. With France take care of that quickly, the bulk of the forces stationed in France would be moved to the Eastern front to deal with the Russians.
On the Eastern front before the capture of Paris, the Germans put a small army in the Prussian area. This was meant to hold off any Russian attacks until the forces in France could reach that front.
Why Was the Schlieffen Plan the Best?
Basically, there were three options. The first was to attack France and defend against Russia. The second was to attack Russia and defend against France. The third was to attack both France and Russia. Defending against both France and Russia would be impossible, as it was the Triple Alliance that were the agressors. They would have needed to conduct some offensive campaign. Since my opponent has chosen to defend the second option, I will only argue against that option.
First, Russia was much larger than France. The distance from eastern Germany to Paris through Belgium was around 150 miles. The amount of distance the German troops would have had to traverse was only 100-200 miles. On the other hand, the distance from Königsberg, the eastermost point in Germany, to St. Petersburg was 510 miles, and to Moscow, 675 miles. This was a much larger distance to traverse. In general, militarily, it is far easier to accomplish one objective that takes much less distance compared to another objective, all other things being equal, as the supply lines and communication lines get longer, and the organization and morale of the armies decreases as the distance and time increases.
Second, Russia's forces, albeit larger than France's, were much more spread out, and mobilization took much larger for the Russians than for the French. During the war, mobilization and deployment took about three weeks for the Russians and a little less than a week for the French. This would have left a good bit of time from the Germans, who were able to mobilize and deploy their forces quickly, to knock France out of the war.
Third, the technological capacity of the Russians was much less than that of the French. For rifles, while the technology of the rifles used by the French and Russians was roughly the same, not all of the soldiers in the Russian army had rifles. At the beginning of the war, there was a huge shortage of rifles in the Russian ranks. In fact, initially, around 30% of the Russian troops did not have rifles. For machine guns, considering Germany was initially on the defensive, and since machine guns are mostly imployed by defenders, it was the Germans that had most of the machine guns. For artillery, France had around 4500 field artillery pieces and 7000 fortress artillery pieces. The Russian numbers are hard to pin down exactly, but it is known that Russian artillery strategy was flawed. Too much emphasis was placed on fortress artillery in comparison to field artillery. In 1906, the military budget had 700 million roubles set aside for fortress artillery and 113 million roubles set aside for field artillery. Thus, whereas 40% of France's artillery was in field artillery, only 15% of Russia's artillery was in field artillery. Also, the coordination between the Russian infantry and artillery crops was small, compared to that of the rest of Europe at the time. These two things indicate that France's artillery strategy was far superior to Russia's at the time. Airplanes, tanks, and poison gas were not factors at the beginning of the war.
And fourth, the political scene in Russia was much more volatile than in France. Of course, the Russian revolution occurred in 1917, a full three years after the start of the war, there were major cracks in the Russian political system at the start of the war. The unrest between the urban workers, the farmers, and the upper class was already very large at the time. It had already almost boiled over in 1905. A stalled offensive would have been much more dangerous for the Russians than a strong defensive, as morale could be applied to national defense in the latter case, but the stalled offensive was viewed as a fault of the Russian army and government.
In conclusion, we see that the smaller size of France (making an invasion and knockout of France much easier than Russia), the spread out and un-mobilized nature of the Russian forces at the time (giving more time for the Germans to knock out France and quickly head to Russia than the reverse), the insufficiency of the Russians' military technology (making it easier for the Germans to defend Prussia), and the volatile nature of the Russian political situation (making a stalled invasion a dangerous proposition for Russia) indicates that an invasion of France with a defense from Russian forces first seems to have been the better course of action.
So Why Did Germany Lose WWI?
Ultimately, however, Germany lost WWI. However, we can hardly fault the Schlieffen plan. The Germans depleted the force of the Schlieffen plan by taking forces away from the offensive in France to the defense of Prussia. The Battle of the Marne was a victory for the French simply because the Germans didn't have the manpower to win it. If the Schlieffen plan had been executed as it was originally intended, the French stand on the Marne would likely have been broken, and that would have made the path all but open to the Germans.
The reason there were German forces in East Prussia was because of the ineffectiveness of the Austria-Hungarian forces. The Austrian-Hungarian force that was supposed to cover most the Eastern front was untrained and unready to handle the Russian force that was opposing it. Despite the fact that the Austria-Hungarians and the Russians were rather equally matched initially, Russia was able to sweep aside the Austria-Hungarians rather easily. The outcome was essentially a full scale rout out of Galicia for Austria-Hungary. Here's a map of the campaign:
As you can see, there was a massive retreat on the Austria-Hungarian side. It was this that drew even more German troops out of the Western front after the Battle of the Marne. If the Austria-Hungarians had been able to hold their line, the German 8th Army could have been shifted west and helped turn the tide at the Battle of the Marne.
So what if the Germans Win at the Marne?
Con envisions a scenarios were German troops are not sent east, Germany wins at Marne, and the Austrians hold the east. To accept that this could happen we must first assume that the troops sent would have guaranteed victory. Let's assume that they would, where does that put Germany. The French government had already relocated to Bouduex along with the Bank of France's monetary reserves. The Germans would have to starve Paris out while the French regrouped. Just because Paris falls, it doesn't mean France is just going to throw in the towel. Paris is just a city. Now, the Germans have to defend much longer then the one they defended historically. The French army would be able to counter attack while Paris was tying down a large part of the German army or while German troops are sent east to help Austria. Because France destroyed her railroads lines during the retreat, Germany cannot bring up her artillery, making a slog around paris were the french have a 2:1 artillery advantage very hard to win. This plan also relies on the Austrians not collapsing which would be a miracle in and of it's self.
Why Attack Russia?
Con says that the Germans shouldn't attack Russia because St. Petersburg was far away. This is a throwback to the outdated concept that you have to capture someones capital to defeat them. In 1905, the Japanese defeated the Russians decisively in the Russo-Japanese war without coming anywhere close to St Petersburg. Con might also compare invading russia with Hitler's and Napoleon's attempts, but those overly ambitious attempts to drive to Moscow in one campaign, something no one in the German Command was even thinking of. Con also says that Russians are weak and while take some time to deploy giving Germany a chance to defeat France. While that is true, remember, France had to be totally knocked out, or else the British will enter the war and were Germany down through blockade, and there was virtually no chance of France getting knocked out in 1914. This begs the question, shouldn't one attack were his enemy is weak rather then were they are strong? Instead of seeing Russia's deployment time as a short window to launch a hare brained scheme, why not use it to overrun poland? It's also worth noting that France will only grow weaker while Russia will only grow stronger. France's political unity was eventually worn down and probably wouldn't even exist if french commanders simply smashed their army's against a fortified german border. The Russians officer corp will improve throughout the war, as will their logistics which had improved enormously by 1916. The germans were able to deal with this in 1915 by going on the defensive in the west while shifting forces to the east. However, if con's scenario happens, the Germans will not be able to do this as they are tied down by Paris as well as a massive front to defend. Russia is politically unstable and if Germany fully commits to the east, they could bring Russia to the table in two years or so. The Russian command will have to totally reorganize their plans as everything will be disrupted by the rapid German advance. There isn't much of a threat from France in this plan either. It took France AND Britain four years to break Germans lines in the west. In my scenario, Britan is not in the war, Germany is defending a smaller, more fortified line, and France is not united a struggle to take back their land. If Germany ask both powers to negotiate they will be hard pressed to say no. France is simply watching it's soldiers die for mere yards of foreign soil, how will the french socialist react I wonder? Russians will be tired of seeing army after army destroyed by a far superior military force just to maintains foreign lands such as poland. Make no mistake the Russians are not going to unite like they did in WW2. That's because they are fighting on foreign soil (poland/ukraine) against an enemy willing to negotiate and who isn't committing war crimes like the Nazis.
Let's Go Over The Plans
Leaves the Austrians to collapse
Brings Britain into the war.
Creates the blockade that eventually causes germany to collapse.
Allows the russians time to improve their logistics.
Commits to a war of attrition in the west that Germany can't win.
Allows Germany to commit to a far more beatable enemy.
Doesn't bring in Britain
Tests Frances resolve by forcing them to fight on a very fortified frontier on foreign soil. Historically, France's 1914 attempt to assault this border was a disaster.
In the end, cons plan failed in history. It was a gamble that France was going to go all out on the border and not be able to redeploy in time. Historically it failed. Regardless what happens around Paris, trench warfare will set on and Germany will be trapped in a war of attrition that it can't win. The blockade broke Germany internally and eventually forced them out of the war. My plan is less based on fantastic gambles and more on realistic objectives to win an industrial war in the early 20th century.
I would like to thank JackFritschy for this debate.
Plotting the Course of the Schlieffen Plan Beyond the Battle of the Marne
My opponent counters my claim that, had the Germans won the Battle of the Marne, the takeover of France would have likely been inevitable. The Battle of the Frontiers had all but destroyed the BEF and the French 5th army, requiring the 3rd and 4th armies be pulled from their attacks on Alsace and Lorraine. They exploited a gap between the German 1st and 2nd armies, one that could have easily been filled by the German 8th army, at that time in the Eastern front. Had that gap been closed, it is likely the French 3rd and 4th armies would not have fared that well during the battle. The 1st and 2nd armies were tied down facing the German 6th and 7th armies, so they would have been unable to come to their aid. The newly formed French 9th army was too raw to have been that effective, and could easily have been annihilated. Thus, we see that all of the allied forces that were in France at the time would either have been broken or tied down facing other armies, leaving Paris a prime target. After capturing Paris, which wouldn't have taken that long with no other French armies on the field, especially given the strength of the German artillery, the German 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th armies could have swung around and surrounded the French 3rd and 4th armies. With France's capital captured and all of their standing armies either captured or significantly depleted, the French would have had to sue for peace.
The Battle of the Marne occurred in early September, and it seems reasonable to assume that all of this would have been over by early October. The troops could then be shuttled to the Eastern front in just a few days (with two or three armies left behind to deal with any potential British invasion) to deal with the Russians. With a near full strength German and Austria-Hungarian force, Russia could easily have been pushed back and eventually defeated (or maybe even brought to terms beforehand, considering France, its largest ally, was just defeated).
Also, the Germans had more artillery, and more powerful artillery, than the French did.
Where Would Great Britian Have Been in This?
One of my opponent's critical assumptions is that, if the Germans had attacked the Russians and forced the French to attack, that Britain would not have entered the war. Ostensibly, this appears to be right, since Britain cited Germany's invasion of Belgium as the reason it entered WWI. However, there are two problems with this.
One, Britain was part of the Triple Entente alliance with both France and Russia. Even if the Germans had not gone through Belgium and instead attacked France right on the Franco-German border, Britain would probably have seen entered the war. Similarly, if the Germans had decided to attack Russia, Britain would probably have entered the war as well. The nature of these military-political alliances made this likely.
But more importantly, there was a huge Anglo-German rivalry that preceded WWI. Germany was determined to increase its standing in the Western world, and the way it decided to do so was to antagonize Britain on a number of fronts. This had a crucial effect on who entered WWI. "...it was critical for war that Germany become economically more powerful than Britain... The German invasion of Belgium was not important because the British decision had already been made and the British were more concerned with the fate of France. Kennedy wrote that by far the main reason was London's fear that a repeat of 1870 - when Prussia and the German states smashed France - would mean Germany would gain control the English Channel and north-west France. British policy makers insisted that would be a catastrophe for British security." British strategists would likely have seen an invasion of Russia, and most certainly a successful campaign in Russia, as enough to attack Germany. The fact that Britain was trying to weaken Germany implies that Britain would have supported France in its attack, particularly if Germany's campaign in Russia was going well.
And with Britain in the war, a blockade would have inevitably followed.
Problems With Attacking Russia
The total number of Russian casualties in the Russo-Japanese war was around 43,300. The outcome of the war was the loss of Russian influence in Manchuria and Korea, and the loss of half of Sakhalin Island. This victory by the Japanese can hardly be considered decisive enough to warrant calling this equivalent to the defeat the Germans would have needed to have inflicted on the Russian during WWI to knock them out of the war. While Napoleon's and Hitler's strategies were flawed, looking at their attempts was well as earlier attempts by Swedish and Polish forces (separately), we see that a successful invasion of Russia, one where the Russians fully capitulate and relinquish control of their military, is extremely hard, and saying that the Germans in WWI could have easily beaten Russia is a very long stretch.
While Russia's mobilization time was longer than the rest of the European powers, it did not take that long. I said in the last round that it only took three weeks. This is not nearly enough time to complete an attack of Russia, especially considering Russia would have the advantage of interior lines for constant reinforcement and resupply, meaning that at least a portion of the army could have attacked the Germans earlier. If Germany had attacked France first, Russia would have had to complete its mobilization, destroy the Austrian-Hungarian forces in Galicia, and march deep into the hearts of Germany and Austria-Hungary, all of which would have taken a considerable amount of time, and certainly would have taken long enough for Germany to defeat France with a stronger force and swing back to the East.
On national unity, while it is true that France would have been less unified if they were attacking, they would never have fallen apart over an offensive war, failed or otherwise. The divisions between the French were much less crippling than those that plagued Russia. However, if Russia had been attacked, they would have been more unified. Part of the reason Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown was because it was making little headway in its attack of Germany, costing the lives of many men and supplies. If Russia was defending itself, it is more than likely that a revolt would never have happened, and all of the resources of the nation committed to defense.
The Problem of Having Germany Defend Against France
France had a plan before WWI for attacking Germany known as Plan XVII. It involved the French armies navigating around the sparser German defense in Alsace and Lorraine, taking the defenses individually, and uniting to knock out any force sent to oppose it. The plan looked something like this:
You can notice that the Germans had much fewer defenses on the Franco-German border than the French did. The only major defensive structures were located in Metz and Strasbourg, which were almost 50 miles apart, whereas the French had a much more complete and connected system of defense, with major defensive structures locate in Verdun, Toul, Epinal, and Belfort, smaller, more wall-like structures between Verdun and Toul, as well as between Epinal and Belfort, and small defensive structures around Nancy. Therefore, whereas a frontal assault by the Germans against the French positions was impractical, the same was not true in the reverse. A quick mobilization by the French would have easily allowed them to circle and besiege Metz, and brush aside any token forces sent by the Germans in time around Strasbourg. By this time, the French would have gained massive momentum with the German forces incoming to stop them. Of course, the French failed to do much on that front during WWI, but that was because of poor offensive tactics, the fact that three German armies met them on the field, instead of the one or two that would have greeted them if the Germans had decided to attack Russia, and the fact that the BEF, and French 4th and 5th armies were not on that front.
An offensive war against Russia would have required a massive amount of work, particularly with supply and communication lines, and would have faced Russia on territory they knew, with internal lines, easier resupply, and the morale boost of a defensive war. An offensive war against France would have been much more likely to knock one of them out of the war, because the Schlieffen plan was good enough to do so. Any other plan would have resulted in a less desirable outcome.
: Mosier, John, The Myth of the Great War
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Zephyr8 10 months ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro's argument was that Germany should have attacked Russia because the Franco-German border would have been easier to defend, Russia easier to invade, and Britain would not have entered the war. Con easily countered that Russia would have been extremely hard to conquer, and would have required so much manpower that the Germans could leave very few troops on the Franco-German border, leaving the French an easy opportunity to invade Germany. The only point con was a little questionable on was Britain. Britain's involvement should not be downplayed. I honestly don't think either side was convincing in this area. Pro ignored Britain's threatened hegemony overseas by Germany, and con ignored the slippery nature of Anglo-Russian relations that would have made a British intervention on Russia' behalf not so certain. Britain aside, con clearly won on military strategy, and, again, I don't think either side was decisive on the British question, so I make this a con win.
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