East or West?

Discussions on all aspects of Imperial Germany not covered in the other sections.
Gwynn Compton
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East or West?

Post by Gwynn Compton » 03 Nov 2002 22:37

Which way would have you struck in 1914 if you had been Kaiser? Would you have tried in the West, or gone for the Russian's in the East?

(Yep, Hindsight is such a wonderful thing :wink: )

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 05 Nov 2002 00:32

I would have attacked through the Low Countries and France - only there can a knock-out blow be struck. Russia is just too big to knock out in one campaign.

The German Schleiffen plan was right - it only failed because Moltke changed the dispositions because he was too scared to face the consequences of a temporary advance of enemy troops into Germany.

The right wing should have gone through Holland as well as Belgium, and been composed of 90% of the German army, not 60% as in 1914. Instead he chose to strengthen the forces facing the French and Russian initial offensives, at the cost of fatally weakening his own.

If he'd stuck to Schleiffen's original plan, then yes, the French might have pushed all the way across the Rhine into southern Germany, only to fall back again because of the threat to Paris. And yes, the Russians might have taken East Prussia and advanced all the way to the Elbe, and maybe even reached Berlin, but if the French had been defeated that wouldn't have mattered either in the long term.

Russian forces sacked Berlin TWICE in the Seven Years War back in Frederick the Great's time (18th Century), but Frederick still prevailed. Sheer guts and determination, that man had - and Moltke didn't.

The Austrians got it wrong too - they should have massed most of their army against Serbia and knocked her out quickly, and stayed on the defensive against the Russians - instead they attacked on both fronts at once and failed dismally.

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Post by Gwynn Compton » 05 Nov 2002 06:59

I'd be inclined to agree, though the German's did underestimate the time it would take for the Russian's to strike in the East, even so, victory could only be achieved through defeating France quickly. Seizure of Paris was key to this, had Paris fallen, Allied morale would have quickly collapsed.

The decision by Kluck to not encircle Paris was dangerous, as it left a large fortress on his flank, from which assaults could be launched.

As it was, ground could be given to the Russians without danger, as their organisation left a lot to be desired, and had they had the ability to seize victory on the East, I doubt the Russian's would have realised it until the time had passed.

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 05 Nov 2002 12:38

Kluck had little choice given the information available to him at the time. His army could either go west of Paris or east. But whichever way it went, it would leave a gap in the German front, because the Germans simply didn't have enough men to fill up the front. They needed a whole extra army to complete their plan, and they didn't have one.

Kluck thought he could get away with leaving a gap because he believed that the BEF was in no condition to fight, and he had no idea that the French 6th Army in Paris even existed! So when the Allies advanced into the gap he was caught completely by surprise and had no chance to complete his own advance.

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » 05 Nov 2002 15:29

With the benefit of hindsight - I wouldn't have struck anywhere, but gone on the defensive and let the French and Russians bleed themselves dry. Then there would have been little incentive for Britain to join the war, in which case America would never come in, and I would be left without the onus of aggression. As it turned out historically, Russia could be defeated and would be even more quickly this way. Should work out beautifully politically and militarily, and give me a chance for a favourable peace within a relatively short time.

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Antonio Pena
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East or West

Post by Antonio Pena » 05 Nov 2002 22:51

I agree with Qvist. If Germans stand in the french frontier waiting for the french attack conform to the XVII Plan I think that the French armies would be defeated. Also in the East a defensive plan would be the best one, I suppose that the British intervention will be avoided, at this moment (The alibi for the British intervention was the German invasion of Belgium). And if tha Austrian invasion of Serbia and a defensive front facing the Russians I suppose that Germany would have a possibility to won or have a favorable peace

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Post by Gwynn Compton » 06 Nov 2002 10:08

I think if you went on the defensive in the West, you'd have to strike East, or else the Russian's may simply give up on Germany, and concentrate on breaking Austria. And it wouldn't look good if you stood still while you're only ally got beaten to a pulp.

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » 06 Nov 2002 11:07

I think if you went on the defensive in the West, you'd have to strike East, or else the Russian's may simply give up on Germany, and concentrate on breaking Austria. And it wouldn't look good if you stood still while you're only ally got beaten to a pulp.

Gwynn


I disagree. Historically, Germany did stand on the defensive in the East with minimal forces, and were still able to inflict crippling defeat on the Russians at Tannenberg. With defense in the West, there would be more forces available for defense in the East. Besides, there's nothing against seizing any opportunities that may present themselves should the Russians concentrate their forces elsewhere. Also, there is nothing standing in the way of sending reinforcements to Austria if they're in trouble. Which also in fact is what happened historically, even with the bulk of the German army tied down in the West. The point is - don't go for the decisive knock-out blow. It's beyond you and will only create problems.

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 06 Nov 2002 20:04

What about the morale of the German army and people? At the time virtually no-one realised just how much advantage the defender had over the attacker in modern warfare. Hence the offensives of 1914.

What would the ordinary German civilian and soldier have thought if his great country, undefeated for generations, had gone to war but just sat passively on the defensive? They would have said to themselves, "why did we go to war at all if we're not going to try and win?"

In 1914 Europeans, with the exception of the British, had not learned the lessons of the American Civil War. They still believed in the teachings of Napoleon: the principle of maneuver, and the quick, overwhelming victory - so much so that French officers were not taught ANY defensive tactics at all, only attack, attack, attack.

Napoleon always attacked, even when at a disadvantage, to throw his opponents off balance. And it worked for him. European generals and soldiers were trained to that way of thinking.

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Andy
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Post by Andy » 07 Nov 2002 01:55

The reason Germany was not able to defeat France in 1914 was because the French had a great Army! I consider the French Army of 1914 to be on par with the German ARmy of 1914. Joffre was also a much better leader the Moltke.

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 07 Nov 2002 08:21

Almost agree. The standing French army was equal, man for man, with the standing German armies. But the German reservists were better prepared for quick mobilisation than the French reservists. And of course the German armies were larger than the French army.

Andy wrote:The reason Germany was not able to defeat France in 1914 was because the French had a great Army! I consider the French Army of 1914 to be on par with the German ARmy of 1914. Joffre was also a much better leader the Moltke.

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Qvist
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Post by Qvist » 07 Nov 2002 10:28

Hello Tim

Well, I did say "with the benefit of hindsight" :)

But you are right, of course. Not only that, but my General Staff is full of people who have been intellectually conditioned to think that decisive offensive is the only way to fight a war. And let's face it, I'd have a tougher time than them justifying my position at that point.

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 07 Nov 2002 15:09

Absolutely.

Reading Niall Ferguson's books has taught me that the most convincing (and thus most interesting) alternative history is that where alternative decisions are made using only the same information as historical figures had available to them at the time. This information was, more often than not, wildly inaccurate or heavily weighted down with propaganda.

Giving yourself 'prophetic foresight' when writing alternative history just makes it too damn easy!

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