The Schlieffen Plan: Whose Plan Was It?

Excerpted from Schlieffen’s Plan: Myth, reality, or just a bad idea? by Dana Lombardy. Published in World War One Illustrated #3, Fall 2014. This issue is still available for purchase here. This issue also included an introductory game: On to Paris! that can be played solitaire. Read more about the other issues of WWOI and our projects here. Help us to preserve the stories of this critical period of history. Here’s how.


When you make a mistake, you have three options:

1. Correct the mistake and carry on.

2. Ignore the mistake.

3. Cover up the mistake and blame someone else for it.

In his controversial 2010 book Inventing the Schlieffen Plan: German War Planning 1871-1914, Terrence Zuber wrote that what became the accepted understanding of German planning for World War One was a misrepresentation by former German officers writing after the war.

Accepted history recognizes Alfred von Schlieffen, the Chief of the Imperial German General Staff from 1891 to 1906, for developing the offensive plan used in 1914. This was through a series of memoranda he prepared. Schlieffen was in office until 1906 and died in 1913.

In Zuber’s book, the German officers wanted to deflect blame for Germany’s defeat from themselves to Helmuth von Moltke. He was Schlieffen’s successor as Chief of Staff. They claimed that Moltke did not correctly employ Schlieffen’s recommendations and thus did not defeat France in 1914. Since Moltke had died in 1916 he could not defend himself.

For 100 years, history has called the German attack in the West the “Schlieffen Plan.” Comparison between Schlieffen’s notes and Moltke’s orders shows that Moltke did not follow the plan. Instead of deploying the 83 divisions that Schlieffen recommended, Moltke only used 52. Schlieffen’s Plan suggested a pause to rest the weary troops. This would allow the men, artillery and supplies spread out for miles along roads behind the front to catch up with the most advanced units. Moltke hoped by continuing the advance it would be possible to push the bulk of the French toward the southeast, away from Paris.

Moltke did not carry out Schlieffen’s proposal for his plan in 1914. He did not pause the German advance. It was not possible for Moltke to have the additional divisions needed to try Schlieffen’s idea due to budget constraints. The plan belongs entirely to Moltke.

The Dreadnaughts: The Reason Germany Lost to France?

Excerpted from Germany’s Missing Divisions A larger German army is not a “what-if” fantasy by Dana Lombardy. Published in World War One Illustrated #3, Fall 2014. This issue is still available for purchase here. This issue also included an introductory game: On to Paris! that can be played solitaire. Read more about the other issues of WWOI and our projects here. Help us to preserve the stories of this critical period of history. Here’s how.


Count Alfred von Schlieffen estimated that defeating France would require a force of 83 divisions in the right wing hinged on the French city of Metz. The five German armies on the right wing that swung through Belgium and Luxembourg had 52 active and reserve divisions in 1914. This is 37% fewer divisions than Schlieffen stated were required.

Why was the German Army so small? Could it have been larger and had a better chance of victory in 1914? The constraints on a larger pre-war army were financial and political due to strong opposition from the Social Democratic Party. There was also a concern that a substantial increase in the size of the army would result in a dilution of the quality of the troops raised.

Could it Have Been the Budget?

From 1905 to 1912, the German Army had a budget of roughly 800 million Marks per year. The German Navy subsisted on a budget of 240 million Marks before the introduction of dreadnoughts. When Germany started to compete with the British in building battleships and battle cruisers, the German Navy’s budget doubled.

By building two to four fewer dreadnoughts, the German military might have had 360-700 million Marks to spend elsewhere before 1914 (if the Socialists allowed it). The cost of equipping and building up war stocks for an active infantry division was roughly 50 million Marks, and 25 million for a reserve division.

If an expansion months before war started could have created ten or more additional active and/or reserve divisions. They would have been all properly trained and equipped. These extra pre-war forces might have tipped the scale in Germany’s favor against France in the summer of 1914.

Dreadnaught

 

Mysteries of the Red Baron

Excerpted from Myths and Mysteries of the Great War in the Air, Part 2 by O’Brien Browne. Published in World War One Illustrated #2, Summer 2014. This issue is still available for purchase here. This issue also included an introductory game: Assassination in Sarajevo that you can play solitaire. Read more about the other issues of WWOI and our projects here. Help us to preserve the stories of this critical period of history. Here’s how.


Red BaronMost myths of the Great War in the air center on Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, Germany’s famous “Red Baron.” Among the most persistent:

  • He had all his aircraft painted red.
  • He flew a triplane with a white cowling and white wheel hubs.
  • He was secretly married.
  • He disliked women.
  • He was homosexual.
  • He was a terrible pilot.
  • He was cold and cruel.
  • He flew airplanes custom made for him.

All of this is rumor or simply wrong.

Who Shot Down the Red Baron?

Various reports stated that Richthofen was 24, 25 or 26 when killed. He was born on May 2, 1892 and killed on 21 April 1918. He was 25 when he died.

About the controversy still raging over who shot him down—pilot Roy Brown or Australian infantrymen— we will never know for sure and it is therefore incorrect to claim one or the other with certainty.

Submarine B.11

Excerpted from British Success in the Dardanelles: Submarines Score Victories in the Gallipoli Campaign, by Captain Richard F. Church, USN. Published in World War One Illustrated #2, Summer 2014. This issue is still available for purchase here. This issue also included an introductory game: Assassination in Sarajevo! that can play solitaire. Read more about the other issues of WWOI and our projects here. Help us to preserve the stories of this critical period of history. Here’s how.


Submarine B.11

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46942933

The British submarines in the Gallipoli campaign consisted of three 1904-built B-class boats, They were gasoline powered, with very limited range of action. Despite these shortcomings and that the Strait’s defenses presented a formidable obstacle, B.11 was to penetrate the Strait on December, 13 1914. Lieutenant Norman Douglas Holbrook would be in command. Holbrook had to contend with uncharted shoals, strong currents, minefields, shore batteries and a massive anti-submarine net across the main shipping channel. They selected B.11 for the attempt for two reasons. Holbrook was the most experienced of the three British sub commanders, and B.11 had just completed a battery overhaul.

Underway at 0400 on the 13th, B.11 headed for an area about one mile south of Canakkale (also known as Chanak.) Turkish warships were known to anchor in a defensive posture to protect the Strait. B.11 submerged and tried to stay close to the western side of the channel but a southerly current and shoals hindered her progress. Holbrook’s voyage brought him under and through the minefield in about five hours. Coming to periscope depth he discovered he was in Sari Sighiar Bay opposite Canakkale. Amazingly, he was less than a mile from the anchored Turkish battleship, the Mesudiye.

Holbrook skillfully maneuvered B.11 into a firing position only 800 yards from the Mesudiye. Fighting the strong currents, he fired one torpedo and was rewarded by a loud thump. The periscope confirmed the hit. As the Turkish ship began settling by the stern, it fired its guns that could bear on the B.11’s periscope.

B.11’s Daring Escape

Holbrook turned B.11 south, heading down the Strait. The slowly sinking Mesudiye’s guns continued firing, and the Turkish shore batteries joined in. The loss of the ship’s compass and a badly fogged periscope impaired the B.11’s steering. Navigating by dead reckoning, Holbrook ran aground, exposing the ship’s conning tower to the Turkish fire.

Pushing the electric motors to full power, he was able to free B.11 from almost certain destruction. Despite splashes from near misses, Holbrook navigated the final distance to the open sea using the small portholes in the exposed conning tower. Holbrook’s exploit captured the imagination of the British Empire and he became the first submarine officer (and first British naval officer) in World War One to receive the Victoria Cross (VC), Great Britain’s highest military award.

In the frenzy of anti-German sentiment, the Australian town of Germantown was renamed Holbrook and a replica of Holbrook’s VC and a scale model of a B-class submarine are displayed in the city.

The Vanishing Hero and the Revenge that Never Happened

Excerpted from Myths and Mysteries of the Great War in the Air, Part 1 by O’Brien Browne. Published in World War One Illustrated #1, Fall 2013. This issue is still available for purchase here. This issue also included an introductory game: Zeppelin Raider! that can play solitaire. Read more about the other issues of WWOI and our projects here. Help us to preserve the stories of this critical period of history. Here’s how.


Georges Guynemer

Georges Guynemer by “Lucien” (unknown painter), Musée de la Légion d’Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie, Paris

Never underestimate the power of a good story. World War I was perhaps the last opportunity for a fighter pilot to become a hero in the medieval sense the word. It was not unusual for propagandists to embellish the career of popular pilots to the level of heroic legend. However, the facts usually do not match up to the myths.

One such myth is that Capitaine Georges Guynemer flew into the clouds, never to be seen again.

Guynemer was a French ace with 53 air to air kills credited to him before his death. At his memorial service, a French general stated, “[Guynemer] had disappeared in empyrean glory through a miraculous assumption.” This is certainly a romantic notion.

Writers picked up on the general’s statement and repeated it endlessly. The repetition made it as though the good Captain had actually vanished into the clouds rather than met his death. In fact, Capitaine Guynemer had been shot down on September 10, 1917 by Leutnant Wissemann near Poelkapelle. A German doctor examined his body. A shot through the head had killed him.

The French Get Revenge?

A myth related to the first is that French Ace of Aces René Fonck Killed Ltn. Wissemann, the Pilot Who Shot Down Guynemer. Propagandists credited Fonck with killing Wissemann in a delicious and often repeated tale of vengeance for the death of Guynemer.

Not true. Captain Geoffrey Hilton Bowman and Lt. T. C. Hoidge of the Royal Flying Corps shot down Wissemann on September 28, 1917, a little over two weeks after the fall of the French ace.

Terror in the Sky: The Zeppelin over Britain

In 1937, the luxury Zeppelin airship Hindenburg burned in a devastating fire.  Instead of non-flammable helium, the Germans used hydrogen as the lifting gas for their airships.  Public opinion labeled Zeppelins as unsafe because of the disaster, which was seen worldwide on newsreels.

With that disaster in mind, one might not consider them to be a terrifying vehicle of war. However, Zeppelins plagued the British skies with near-impunity during the first two years of World War I.

Zeppelins were much more difficult to bring down than one would think. Zeppelins used multiple cells made from cow intestines and suspended in a rigid structure of an aluminum alloy called duralumin to contain the hydrogen. For the hydrogen to ignite, it needed to mix with oxygen and a spark or flame. Normal machine-gun fire and tracers could not bring them down.

The huge airships carried explosives and incendiaries to drop on targets. The world’s first Zeppelin bombing campaign caused 557 deaths and 1558 wounded, most of them civilians.

The ammunition at the beginning of WWI could not bring them down. This changed when the British developed incendiary and explosive ammunition. It was now possible to shoot a Zeppelin down, but it required concentrated machine-gun fire to do so.

Excerpted from Zeppelin Scourge: The First Aerial Battle of Britain by Steve Suddaby. Published in World War One Illustrated #1, Fall 2013. This issue is still available for purchase here. This issue also included an introductory game: Zeppelin Raider! that can be played solitaire. Read more about the other issues of WWOI and our projects here. Help us to preserve the stories of this critical period of history. Here’s how.