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

 

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