History Unit 3 Key Topic

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Key Topic 2: The Part Played by the British on the Western Front
The Failure of the Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan was created by General Count Alfred von Schlieffen in December 1905. The
Schlieffen Plan was the operational plan for a designated attack on France once Russia, in response
to international tension, had started to mobilize her forces near the German border. The execution of
the Schlieffen Plan led to Britain declaring war on Germany on August 4th, 1914.
In 1905, Schlieffen was chief of the German General Staff. Europe had effectively divided into two
camps by this year Germany, Austria and Italy (the Triple Alliance) on one side and Britain, France
and Russia (the Triple Entente) on the other.
Schlieffen believed that the most decisive area for any future war in Europe would be in the western
sector. Here, Schlieffen identified France as Germany's most dangerous opponent. Russia was not
as advanced as France in many areas and Schlieffen believed that Russia would take six weeks to
mobilize her forces and that any possible fighting on the RussianGerman border could be coped with
by the Germans for a few weeks while the bulk of her forces concentrated on defeating France.
Schlieffen concluded that a massive and successful surprise attack against France would be enough
to put off Britain becoming involved in a continental war. This would allow Germany time (the six
weeks that Schlieffen had built into his plan) to transfer soldiers who had been fighting in the
successful French campaign to Russia to take on the Russians.
Schlieffen also planned for the attack on France to go through Belgium and Luxemburg. Belgium had
had her neutrality guaranteed by Britain in 1839 so his strategy for success depended on Britain not
supporting Belgium.
The Schlieffen Plan was revised as tension in Europe increased. However, the basic mechanics of it
remained the same:
a devastating attack on France via Belgium as soon as Russia had announced her intention to
mobilize.
a holding operation on the Russian/German border to be carried out if necessary and if required.
Germany had 6 weeks to defeat France.
Germany would then use her modernized rail system to move troops from the French operation to the
Russian front.
Russia would then be attacked and defeated.
The Schlieffen Plan was daring but it had a number of glaring weaknesses:
The actions of Russia determined when Germany would have to start her attack on France even if she
was ready or not.
It assumed that Russia would need six weeks to mobilize.
It assumed that Germany would defeat France in less than six weeks.
In fact, the attack in August 1914 nearly succeeded and was only defeated by the first Battle of the
Marne. Poor communication between the frontline commanders and the army's headquarters in
Berlin did not help Moltke's control of the campaign. Also the withdrawal of German troops in
response to a higher than expected threat on the Russian front, meant that the Germans did not have
the military clout that Schlieffen had built into his original plan. It was a plan that nearly succeeded but
its success could only be measured by being 100% successful. France had to be defeated and this
did not happen. Schlieffen's speedy attack and expected defeat of France never occurred its failure
did usher in the era of trench warfare that is so much linked to World War One.
Zenab Saeed

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Key Topic 2: The Part Played by the British on the Western Front
Guards spotted attacks form the other side
Trenches led back from the frontline to bring in men and supplies
Trenches were protected by barbed wire.
...and difficult to attack.…read more

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Key Topic 2: The Part Played by the British on the Western Front
5) Communication: In 1914 both radios and telephones were the main ways of
communication. These were very vital for the troops in trenches. However, that did not
mean that messengers, dogs and pigeons were out of business.
6) Tanks: Tanks were known as 'The Chariots of God' at First, they were giant blocks of
metal that could carry 12 personnel and travelled at about 5 kilometres per hour.…read more

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