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Subject: German war aims in WWI rss

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Carl Nyberg
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So I've been reading up on world war I and I noticed that Petrograd was the capital of Russia in world war I. How easy would it have been for Germany to do an amphibious assault on Petrograd in WWI?

I read that the Germans were following the Schlieffen plan, which was formed around 1905 and outdated. Also, this plan assumed France and Britain would violate Belgian neutrality before the Germans did and hence suffer the international disapproval.

The point is that Germany didn't really have any solid goals in WWI. They seemed to be just throwing soldiers to the front lines. If Germany had had a specific goal like "take Petrograd" or "take Paris" could the outcome have been different?
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bill437 wrote:
So I've been reading up on world war I and I noticed that Petrograd was the capital of Russia in world war I. How easy would it have been for Germany to do an amphibious assault on Petrograd in WWI?


Technically and logistically impossible.

Quote:
I read that the Germans were following the Schlieffen plan, which was formed around 1905 and outdated. Also, this plan assumed France and Britain would violate Belgian neutrality before the Germans did and hence suffer the international disapproval.


The Germans justified their violation of Belgian neutrality on the grounds of "military necessity". They assumed that the French would be just as cavalier toward Belgian neutrality, but regardless of what the French did, the Germans were determined to flank their opponent by driving through Belgium.

The Schlieffen Plan was not outdated; German war plans were updated constantly, as were those of all the great powers. The flaw with the German plan was that they simply did not have enough manpower to pull it off (though they came close).

Quote:
The point is that Germany didn't really have any solid goals in WWI. They seemed to be just throwing soldiers to the front lines. If Germany had had a specific goal like "take Petrograd" or "take Paris" could the outcome have been different?


The Germans had very clear war aims. Militarily, they planned to knock out France in a rapid campaign, then transfer the bulk of their forces east to deal with the Russians. Politically, they planned to exact massive reparations and territorial concessions from their enemies, and in the process to permanently destroy France's war-making potential.
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Glenn McMaster
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Quote:
So I've been reading up on world war I and I noticed that Petrograd was the capital of Russia in world war I. How easy would it have been for Germany to do an amphibious assault on Petrograd in WWI?


Russia mobilized 10 or 11 armies in 1914, of which 8 went to the western front and the others covered the Ottomans and the Baltic. One of them was sent to cover St. Petersburg and Finland. Looking at the terrain and the waters near that city, I don’t an amphibious assault would have worked.

Quote:
I read that the Germans were following the Schlieffen plan, which was formed around 1905 and outdated. Also, this plan assumed France and Britain would violate Belgian neutrality before the Germans did and hence suffer the international disapproval.


Be careful on the chronology - the German war plan evolved over 20 years. To 1905 German war planning had increasingly looked to Belgium as a method to circumvent the difficulties of a cross-border assault. In these plans, Schlieffen could await a French violation of Belgium. After 1905 it became less and less likely that Britain would remain neutral, such that German planning looked more to violating Belgium first. By 1913 the eastern mobilization plan had been shelved and the German intention was to automatically violate Belgium immediately at the start of the war.

Quote:
The point is that Germany didn't really have any solid goals in WWI. They seemed to be just throwing soldiers to the front lines. If Germany had had a specific goal like "take Petrograd" or "take Paris" could the outcome have been different?


Such goals would hardly matter – Russia was defeated without taking St. Petersburg and Paris proved out of reach. Germany wins by exhausting her opponents and keeping the US neutral.

Quote:
Politically, they planned to exact massive reparations and territorial concessions from their enemies, and in the process to permanently destroy France's war-making potential.


That was how German war aims against evolved, but along the way there were plenty of bumps in the road. For instance, against Russia it was not until the Russians had spurned German advances for peace on the basis of the status quo that eventually it was decided Poland would be stripped from the Russians. Most of the "massive" territorial concessions you mention were the subjegated minorities of the Russian Empire (Ukraine, Finland, Baltic States, etc) that wished to break free of the regime by 1917.
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Steve Trauth
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The other thing about the Schlieffen Plan was that it didn't count on Crown Prince (of Bavaria) Rupprecht's insistence on attacking in the Moselle region, and Moltke deciding to go with it, under the impression that a breakthrough around Nancy would create a double envelopment of the French armies and thereby result in the defeat of France.

If anything, it can be argued that improvising on the fly, was more of a cause of the German defeat than actually going with the Schlieffen Plan. What the Moselle campaign did was keep forces along the Franco-German frontier area that were tabbed to be used on the right wing of the sweep through Belgium ( which was over and above the 2 corps sent to East Prussia that arrived after the Battle of Tannenberg was over in any event.).

The other thing is, von Kluck was dogged in his pursuit of the French 5th Army's flank as well as the BEF, and when they withdrew east of Paris, he followed them instead of sweeping around to the west of Paris. This deviation to the east of Paris, as well as his crossing the Marne left his 1st Army's right flank wide open to the newly formed French 6th Army (deployed nw of Paris as well as the Paris garrison) -who promptly pitched into the German's rear when the opportunity presented itself.

In hockey parlance (as it is the only sport I can provide a decent analogy of the events) - it is a bit like being down a goal but on the power play- but giving up a short handed goal -all in the last minute of the game... all of the above factors were positively stifling to the Germans in September 1914 -and the end result, was a deadlock before Paris. Since the Schlieffen Plan only envisioned about a 4 -6 week campaign resulting in a decisive victory, the fact that the German Army was then left with no plan B if it failed to gain a decisive victory, was itself part of the end result of 3.5 more years of deadlock.
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Wendell
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southern_cross_116 wrote:
The other thing about the Schlieffen Plan


There is actually some question whether the Schlieffen Plan was really even a 'plan' in the formal military sense, or more just a general operational concept, not fully developed and perhaps meant more as an intellectual exercise, or for use in getting funding for the German Army than for fighting a two-front war.
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Steve Trauth
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Interesting stuff Wendell - I just got done reading Guns of August- sop so my material will have been a bit dated (having been written in the 60's) - I'd be interested in reading more current material on the topic.

Edited for a typo.
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Wendell
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southern_cross_116 wrote:
Interesting stuff Wendell - I just got done reading Guns of August- sop my material will have been a bit dated (having been written in the 60's) - I'd be interested in reading more current material on the topic.


David Fromkin in Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914? and David Stevenson on Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy both briefly address this. Terence Zuber has a whole book on it (Inventing the Schlieffen Plan: German War Planning 1871-1914) but at $149 from Amazon, I haven't bought it! I did IIRC find a shorter paper by him on-line once where he made the case more briefly.

EDIT: Apparently Zuber has a newer book out called The Real German War Plan, 1904-14 which also makes the same case and costs under $20 from Amazon.
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Seth Owen
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southern_cross_116 wrote:
The other thing about the Schlieffen Plan was that it didn't count on Crown Prince (of Bavaria) Rupprecht's insistence on attacking in the Moselle region, and Moltke deciding to go with it, under the impression that a breakthrough around Nancy would create a double envelopment of the French armies and thereby result in the defeat of France.

If anything, it can be argued that improvising on the fly, was more of a cause of the German defeat than actually going with the Schlieffen Plan. What the Moselle campaign did was keep forces along the Franco-German frontier area that were tabbed to be used on the right wing of the sweep through Belgium ( which was over and above the 2 corps sent to East Prussia that arrived after the Battle of Tannenberg was over in any event.).

The other thing is, von Kluck was dogged in his pursuit of the French 5th Army's flank as well as the BEF, and when they withdrew east of Paris, he followed them instead of sweeping around to the west of Paris. This deviation to the east of Paris, as well as his crossing the Marne left his 1st Army's right flank wide open to the newly formed French 6th Army (deployed nw of Paris as well as the Paris garrison) -who promptly pitched into the German's rear when the opportunity presented itself.

In hockey parlance (as it is the only sport I can provide a decent analogy of the events) - it is a bit like being down a goal but on the power play- but giving up a short handed goal -all in the last minute of the game... all of the above factors were positively stifling to the Germans in September 1914 -and the end result, was a deadlock before Paris. Since the Schlieffen Plan only envisioned about a 4 -6 week campaign resulting in a decisive victory, the fact that the German Army was then left with no plan B if it failed to gain a decisive victory, was itself part of the end result of 3.5 more years of deadlock.


It's been a while, but it seems to me that the main critique of the Schlieffen Plan was that it involved march rates by soldiers on foot that were simply not attainable by a per-mechanized army. I believe there were anecdotes of German soldiers literally marching while asleep as they were so exhausted. While I suppose one might be able to march while half asleep, obviously you can't fight that way.

As it was, the German plan came pretty close to success, but as the Belgians, British and French also had a vote in the outcome the effort fell a bit short.

The question of war aims is a legitimate one, although it's really a can of worms, as it often is. I dare say that clearly stated and articulated war aims are pretty rare in history and strategies designed to accomplish those aims rarer still. The 1900 to 1945 German leadership seems to have been universally misguided at the grand strategic level, consistently aiming for goals that were probably beyond Germany's reach and going out of their way to antagonize powers that were not necessarily guaranteed enemies. (Britain in WWI, the Soviet Union in WW2 and the USA in both)
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Jean-Pierre Maurais
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bill437 wrote:

The point is that Germany didn't really have any solid goals in WWI. They seemed to be just throwing soldiers to the front lines. If Germany had had a specific goal like "take Petrograd" or "take Paris" could the outcome have been different?


With respect, you are totally wrong here. Germany had clear war aims. I refer you to Germany's Aims in the First World War, written by Fritz Fischer.
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Plans don't win wars, nor do they loose them. The problem lies within the people (as always).

Von Schlieffen designed the plan to work with a strong (very very strong) right wing.
He so called last words where "keep the right wing strong".

His successers weren't that convinced that the plan would work (because of new tactics and weapons, even if imaginary), and started to changing the plan year after year.

Now, since these guys where pansies, they opted for a "malcom in the middle" option, with no real strong point, but instead spreading the armies more evenly accross the line.
This ofcourse can be done, but not with the base idea of the hamer and anvil (as Von Schlieffen wrote it).

Now, Russia is a different matter, they had no plans for them before the west was defeated.
Russia historically mobilized far quicker then anticipated, and German High command freaked, pulling even more resources from the right wing to re-inforce the east border, even if before they arrived, the German 8th army already defeated the first 2 russian armies.

They whole situation looked like a game of chicken, but instead of gambling (and having some trust in your own commanders), they decided to try and hold out on both sides. Not their best moment, cause once they finally defeated the russians (something that could have been easely done with even 60% of the german army), they could have more easily shifted them to the west front, and at least hope to defeat the French, who by this hypotatical point in time, weren't as strong (in combination with the British) as they where historically, went the east front was shut down.

Remember that Paris still looked like the 1 option to knock France out of the war in 1914, because that's what happened in 1870, this doesn't go for St. Petersburg. There is simply nothing there that was worth the walk.
The Ukraine was Germans primary goal, because of the wheat and oil found there.

Now, ofcourse this whole thing is a gross simplification of the story, but enough books have been writtin about them.
bottom line to remember is that Germany was also dragged into this war, semi unprepared (I agree that they did little to stop it from happening).

Cheers, Haring
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Wendell
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Haring wrote:
Plans don't win wars, nor do they loose them. The problem lies within the people (as always).

Von Schlieffen designed the plan to work with a strong (very very strong) right wing.
He so called last words where "keep the right wing strong".


One minor problem with Schlieffen's concept (it wasn't detailed enough to be called a 'plan' in the military sense) was it included every single division in the German army (that means zero divisions for East Prussia). Oh, and it also included a dozen divisions that did not exist.

So it was a plan that required about 116% of the German Army to execute.
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wifwendell wrote:
Haring wrote:
Plans don't win wars, nor do they loose them. The problem lies within the people (as always).

Von Schlieffen designed the plan to work with a strong (very very strong) right wing.
He so called last words where "keep the right wing strong".


One minor problem with Schlieffen's concept (it wasn't detailed enough to be called a 'plan' in the military sense) was it included every single division in the German army (that means zero divisions for East Prussia). Oh, and it also included a dozen divisions that did not exist.

So it was a plan that required about 116% of the German Army to execute.


He counted on the occult black label strumtroopers with laserguns to keep East Prussia safe, but the Kaizer sent them to tattooine..

Cheers, Haring
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