WHY was Germany willing to have us enter the war against her rather than give up her submarine campaign?
She already had opposed to her 326,000,000 whites, to say nothing of 320,000,000 British Indians and 22,000,000 natives of French Africa.
Her population plus that of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey totaled but 140,000,000
Yet, she was willing to add to the formidable number of her opponents 105,000,000 Americans.
Was it an act of desperation? Was she like a gambler, who faced with defeat, stakes his all on a last desperate play, hoping the mounting tremendous damage done by her submarines would offset the slow but sure crushing of her land forces?
No! She was not gambling. As the result of careful consideration by her leaders of the war to date, she was certain our unpreparedness would give her the time to obtain a decision, if not a knock-out, from the Allies. She was convinced that even should we decide really to fight we should be too late.
This is the only conclusion which can be drawn from German literature dealing with the war and above all from numerous conversations I had with former German general staff officers, during different trips to Germany.
The majority are quite willing to talk about the war from an academic, professional point of view. However, desiring to live on good terms with their neighbors, they do not wish their names used.
One conversation in particular was such a clear outline of what others had expressed that only direct quotation can do it justice:
"Germany figured America would be too late with a fighting army to help the Allies," began the former German officer; "therefore we were willing for America to come in against us, rather than give up our submarine campaign, which at the very time you came in was more successful than ever before.
"For the great German General Staff the war from the beginning had been a race against time---time to knock out France before Russia was ready to really fight---time to knock out them both before England was ready with a real army.
"We believed only bad German leadership had prevented us from doing this.
"Hindenburg came to power before America's entry. We believed his leadership would enable us to win the race before America could get ready---because of your absolute unpreparedness."
For a moment he hesitated, then he went on:
"If a man threatening to shoot you suddenly throws away his pistol, would you be frightened? If a prize fighter broke training a month before his big fight, would his opponent be discouraged? In 1916, when President Wilson was sending us ultimatums threatening war, he was at the same time disbanding the small army that he had taken all the summer of 1916 to get together on the Mexican border. Does it seem now we were so foolish because we figured it would take years for you really to face us with an effective fighting army---and that in those intervening years we had a good chance to win?
"What does the record of the war show above everything else? Something very simple: that just as in a prize fight a war is won only by fighting.
"The same way a trained fighter can whip several untrained men, each of whom may be as big as or bigger than himself, so can a prepared nation whip several unprepared ones each as populous and rich in resources, or even more so than itself.
"Allied war propaganda had taught you that the Russian steam roller was- flattening us out on one side, while the British, French, and Italians overwhelmed us on the other---that we were on our last legs with our backs to the wall."
I interrupted him for a moment. "And like most war propaganda, that was the opposite of the truth."
"Exactly right," he continued. "We had beaten Russia so thoroughly that we held a line far within her territory. On our side of this line was all of Lithuania and Poland, new nations today mostly made up of what used to be Russia. We had wiped Roumania and Serbia off the map. We had failed in the first battle of the Marne and at Verdun to put France out. However, we had caused her army such tremendous losses that we believed it could never regain full strength.
"This same war propaganda had filled you with tales of Britain's tremendous strength, her fleet at sea, how her colonies were responding to the call of their mother country, her wonderful plans to bring the full strength of her industry to bear to win the war; of her new armies, of the gallantry of her regular army in action. All true, but all giving a false impression because not telling that it took Britain nearly two years ---until the summer of 1916---to put an army in France large enough to interfere seriously with our plans by fighting.
"And this war propaganda was really favorable to us because it made you believe that if Britain unprepared in 1914 could jump in with such splendid results immediately, you could do the same.
"If you entered the war, however, we were only interested in what fighting against us you could do and when you could do it.
"We had watched you take six months to gather up 200,000 national guard troops, send them to the Mexican border the summer of 1916, train and equip them for war. Then, just as they were finally ready, you sent them back to their homes---discharged them and dispersed them to the winds.
"Suppose you had kept them! What would 200,000 added to your 100,000 regulars---a total of 300,000--- mean in a war where millions fought in the same battle ?"
"Quite true," I said. "Only a nation in arms through a draft or universal service can furnish the millions of soldiers of modern armies."
"We had watched the failure of your 'preparedness' advocates to get Congress really to make war plans," he continued. "The bill they passed was so weak it did not even set up the machinery to put immediately your man-power in the army and your factories to making war supplies full blast at once, should war come.
"We had seen Lord Roberts and other British leaders through two long years argue, exhort, and try by every possible means to persuade the British people to adopt a draft or conscription law to build up their armies at the front and keep them full. They had failed.
"If Britain with her empire at stake wouldn't have the draft, why would the United States when nothing more than the sinking of her ships, destruction of her cargoes, and killing of her nationals at sea was involved?
"The British were already finding out that there is a limit to the size of an army which can be raised by volunteering. You had had the same difficulty in both the North and the South during your Civil War.
"Thus, as we were not having to face Britain's full man-power, there was no reason to believe we should have to face yours."
The facts he was bringing out had been dodged to date because they were unpleasant; therefore I will quote him still further:
"Then there was the question, if you did raise an army, would you send it to Europe? Britain had always kept, and in 1916 and 1917 was still keeping, a considerable force at home. Japan had been in the war since the first month. When she entered she had a large standing army. As she had had conscription for years, the great majority of her men were trained soldiers ready for instant service. Yet, she had sent no troops to Europe despite the needs of the Allies.
"Because Britain relied upon volunteering she had raised her new armies slowly, sending them to France by detachments, each as soon as it was ready without waiting for the subsequent ones.
"Each had suffered in battle before the next had arrived, In this way a large part of her man-power had been used up in small blows instead of driving at us unitedly in a crushing blow. There was every reason to believe American troops would be fed piece by piece into the furnace of war in the same manner and for the same reason."
As he continued, I thought of how later only General Pershing's determination, and the way in which President Wilson and Secretary of War Baker backed him up, had prevented this from happening to our troops.
"Just as Britain had entered the war in 1914 unprepared, so would you enter it. judging from your history during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and above all the year 1916, there was no reason to believe you would do better than Britain.
"While threatening us if we did not give up our submarine warfare You threw away your pistol. It was only a small one. You made no plans to get a big enough one to really frighten us. In other words, you were disarmed.
"To fight, you would have to arm; and that would take time, despite your great population and great wealth. There are many men as big and strong as, or even bigger and stronger than, your champion Tunney. However, before they could fight him with any chance of success they would have to put in a long time training. "Why should we have given up our submarine campaign because you, who were disarmed and needed so much time before you could fight us on the battlefields of France, threatened to join our enemies?"
I called his attention to the fact that despite British unpreparedness which gave Germany almost two years to knock out France and Russia, Germany had not done so; that if these two nations had given Britain the time to prepare and add her strength to the force against Germany, why was it not reasonable to believe that the three Allies could do the same for us?
I knew what his answer would be. I had heard it before from a dozen other former general staff officers.
It was an answer of two words:
General von Hindenburg with General Ludendorff as his first quartermaster-general was in control when Germany brought us into the war. But they were not in command of all Germany's armies during the first two years of the war.
President von Hindenburg of today, trusted by whole people, regardless of their political affiliations, when the war broke out in 1914 was Major-General von Hindenburg on the retired list of the German army, living quietly in Hanover.
In 1911, at the age of sixty-four, he had finished, so he thought, his active service in the German army. As he turned over his command of the German Fourth Army Corps with headquarters at Magdeburg, he is said to have remarked that the great military knowledge accumulated by him in forty-six years of service from second lieutenant commanding a platoon to major-general commanding an army corps would never be of use to his country.
As an eighteen-year-old second lieutenant of the Third Infantry he had distinguished himself and had been wounded in the head in the battle of Sadowa, the crushing defeat of the Austrians so skilfully planned and carried out by the great von Moltke that Austria was beaten six weeks after war began. As a first lieutenant he served in the Franco-Prussian War, in which von Moltke's plans led to the overthrow of the French regular army in seven weeks.
He took part in this Franco-Prussian War in the repeated and bloody assaults of the German infantry on the village of Saint-Privat stubbornly held by the French, but escaped unharmed. He was present at the battle of Sedan the following month when Napoleon III, surrounded and unable to break out, was forced to surrender himself, his army of 124,000 men, and more than 500 guns.
After Sedan, Lieutenant von Hindenburg took part in the siege of Paris. From its surrender until his retirement he had never heard a hostile shot fired.
As he commented on his military career being finished that day in Magdeburg in 1911, little did he dream that a short five years later, in August, 1916, the kaiser would send for him to make him chief of the general staff of all the German field armies at the end of the second year of the greatest war in history.
With him came General von Ludendorff as chief assistant. He is eighteen years younger than von Hindenburg. Like his chief, he had started his career as a second lieutenant of infantry, being commissioned when he was seventeen. Unlike him, he had never heard a hostile shot fired until this war. The attack on the Belgians holding the forts around Liège in August, 1914, was his first battle experience. By his personal example of coolness under fire and his skill in leadership he straightened out an infantry brigade which had become demoralized and led it to a successful attack.
Now the great decision which had to be made by the German leaders in the fall of 1916 shortly after Hindenburg came to power was whether to give up the submarine warfare and keep the United States out of the war, at least for a while longer, or keep it up and bring us in.
Which course was to be followed hinged on what was the real reason for Germany's failure to date to knock out either France or Russia before Britain, unprepared in 1914, had time to put a large fighting army into France.
As to the cause for this failure there were two groups opposed to each other. One, the HindenburgLudendorff group, insisted bad German leadership to date, first under von Moltke and then under von Falkenhayn, was responsible.
The opposing group said not bad leadership but the pre-war plan of General von Schlieffen was responsible, the strategy of which was too complicated and depended upon more time for each step than the Germans had had. This group were the backers of General von Falkenhayn and General von Moltke, von Hindenburg's predecessors as chief of staff.
The Hindenburg-Ludendorff group insisted:
First: That had von Schlieffen's plan been carried out France would have been knocked out in the first round before Russia could have entered the fight.
Second: That even after the failure to do this Russia could have been knocked out before Britain produced an army, if von Falkenhayn had had the courage to seek a decisive battle instead of trying the "usury" method of wearing the Russian army down to a point where it would be too weak to fight effectively.
They insisted that in each case failure had been due to trying to play safe, instead of following the bold policy of seeking great decisive victories, even though doing so meant risking defeat.
What was von Schlieffen's plan? Why did he make it? Why didn't the Germans follow it when war broke out in August, 1914?
To find the answer to these questions it is necessary to go back for a moment to Frederick the Great. Then, we must glance at the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the principal battle-fields of which adjoin, or overlap, the Saint-Mihiel salient and the Argonne where so much American blood was shed.
Frederick the Great put Prussia on the political map of Europe by whipping all his neighbors. From the beginning of his career the war problem faced by her military leaders had been to successfully face enemies attacking her from several sides at once. By being constantly ready and by making the fullest use of his military genius Frederick took advantage of the time it took his enemies to plan to crush him by a united blow, to whip first one and then another before they were ready to come at him together.
In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the great von Moltke's constant fear was that before the German army could beat the French, the Russians with their tremendous masses would attack Germany from the rear.
When Russia and France made an alliance in 1891 what von Moltke had feared might become his great problem in the Franco-Prussian War became the great problem for the next war with France.
The problem the German General Staff had to find an answer to, if possible, was how to put out, or seriously cripple, one before the other would have time to do any vital damage, and then turn on and destroy the other. Some favored attacking Russia first as the more easily beaten, particularly because Austria-Hungary could help; and others, France first, as the more dangerous. The question of time led to the decision to strike France first.
The Franco-Prussian War, with its bitter defeats followed by the long occupancy of French territory by German troops until the heavy cash indemnity demanded as the result of victory had been paid, had left the French people with no illusions as to what happens when a nation unready for war faces a prepared one. They had been beaten, and badly beaten, despite many examples which will live in military history of brilliantly courageous acts not only by individuals but even by regiments and divisions.
When the leading American soldiers of the First and Forty-second infantry divisions, in their race for Sedan in the last days of the Great War, gained the last crest held by the Germans, one of the heights their eager eyes saw before them on the other side of the Meuse River was the plateau of Floing. Here on a September day in 1870 General Margueritte's French cavalry division charged again and again in a vain effort to break the German infantry. General Margueritte having been killed, and half the division killed and wounded, with the ground up to the very muzzles of the German rifles covered with the light blue and red of the uniforms of the French and the white bodies of their Arab horses, General de Galliffet, et, who succeeded Margueritte, when asked if the division could charge again, said, "As many times as you wish, general, up to the last man," and charged again.
After the French standing army had been virtually wiped out by the Germans, the people of the country sprang to arms and fought the best they could to oppose the invader, but without success. Beaten everywhere, with their principal cities occupied, they had to agree to German peace terms.
As a consequence they learned the lesson that a patriotic but untrained people springing to arms may die in large numbers in battle but will be unsuccessful against trained troops. They, therefore, adopted a real system of universal military service which trained every young Frenchman and also taught him that along with the rights of citizenship goes the duty of every citizen to prepare in peace to defend his country in war.
They learned also that time is the great factor. The side which is ready can strike first and generally so hard as to prevent the unready nation from ever catching its wind long enough to make good its unpreparedness.
As a consequence, the French had become a nation in arms, trained as soldiers, ably led, and ready instantly to strike a tremendous blow.
On the other hand, the Russians had shown they needed time before they could strike. The Russian army had shown many weaknesses in the Russo-Japanese War. The small revolts and political disturbances in different parts of Russia during this war had shown the Russian government none too strong.
After the war, the Russian army made a vigorous effort to take advantage of its military lessons. Considerable improvements were made in every direction. However, the internal situation of the country prevented taking all the measures necessary to bring about the immediate mobilization in time of war of a trained army with numbers in proportion to the total population of Russia.
The Duma, or Russian House of Representatives, which the tsar had but recently allowed to come into existence, was not sure that the improvements in the army were wanted only to fight an outside foe. It was inclined to refuse any money through fear that the army was being built up to subdue the Russian people, should they demand further political rights,
On the other hand, the tsar's government, not certain of the loyalty of the mass of the Russians, was not sure that it was a good idea to train an increased proportion of them to be soldiers. The result was that Russia with her population of 170,000,000 had trained only about one-third of the number of men she had available for military service.
Thus France, with a population of only 40,000,000 by comparison with Russia's population of 170,000,000, could put practically as many trained soldiers immediately in the field as Russia.
In addition, the French army could be fighting on the German frontier much more quickly than that of Russia. France, being a highly developed country industrially, had an excellent railway system covering every part of her territory. Also the necessary lines had been built to enable her whole army to be quickly concentrated on the German border. Russia, a backward nation industrially, had comparatively few railroad lines. Despite the urgings of her own general staff, backed up by the French government once an alliance had been made, the railroads necessary to concentrate her army quickly on the German-Austro-Hungarian frontier had not been built.
This meant that the French army, unless stopped by battle, would be pouring into Germany long before the Russians would have reached the German frontier.
Thus, the best German plan was to use the time which Russia would have to take before she could attack, to defeat the French army. That being done, Germany could then concentrate all her forces, except troops left for garrison purposes in France, against Russia.
However, beating France would be a very different problem from that of the war of 1870-71.
In the first place, she was ready with an efficient and much larger army. In the second place, in that war Britain not only had kept out but in general had favored the German side. Now, while not allied by hard and fast treaties with France and Russia, she was practically tied to them by agreements. She might remain out for a time, but her ultimate entry was a certainty. The question was, what would and could she do when she entered?
Our Civil War from 1861 to 1865 was the first war in which railways played an important part. The strength of any body of troops, the distance it can be moved, and the time necessary are the three fundamentals of strategy. Or, as the Confederate General Forrest, who had no education but was born with a sense of strategy, used to express it, "Get there fust with the most men." By their ability to transport large bodies of troops and supplies a considerable distance in a short time, railways introduced a new feature in military strategy.
General von Moltke was the first European general fully to grasp this. He attributed a large part of his success in whipping Austria in six weeks in 1866 and destroying the French regular army in seven weeks in 1870 to his use of railways. Afterwards, he often advised, "Build no more fortresses, build railways."
General von Schlieffen, who succeeded him in 1891 as chief of the German General Staff, also was a strong believer in the importance of railways. He used to say, "No longer are we satisfied only to ask how many battalions our enemy has; also we must know what is the extent of his railways, as railways are now an engine of war without which the large modern armies of today are helpless."
The tremendous growth in the sizes of the French and German armies, and the consequent necessity to use railways, were among the principal reasons why von Schlieffen had a more difficult problem in planning to defeat the French than that which faced von Moltke in 1870-71.
From the earliest records in our history there have been three main routes for armies from the territory which is modern Germany to invade that which today is France, or vice versa.
The three are strewn with battle-fields on which many bloods have been spilled---Roman, Gaul, Germanic, and Tartar in the days before firearms---Russian, Austrian, Dutch, British, German, French, and Spanish since.
The southern one passes through the territory where Germany, Switzerland, and France come together, not far from Valdajon, where so much of our artillery trained before going to the front.
The central one comes by the fortress of Metz, which was the next objective of the American army when the Armistice was signed, and the fortress of Verdun, in 1916 the scene of the greatest defense in history. On one side is the Saint-Mihiel salient where we fought our first independent battle, and on the other is the Argonne, the hills and forests of which were soaked with American blood from every state in the Union, shed in the greatest single battle we have ever fought. Between these two routes lie the beautiful forest-covered Vosges Mountains, where most of our divisions had their first experience in trench warfare.
The northern route lies through the plains of Belgium on which there is hardly a town which has not been besieged or seen a battle near by, numerous towns more than one: from the year 1500 until Belgium was proclaimed neutral in 1832, there were 395 battles fought on her soil. The country around Oudenarde, from which our Ninety-first Infantry Division drove the Germans in one of the last combats of the war, had been the scene of eleven previous battles.
Between the central and northern routes lie the wooded Ardennes Mountains, whose evergreen-covered slopes proved such a relief to the eye after the war-torn Argonne, for the divisions making up the left of our army in the long march from the Meuse River to the Rhine after the Armistice.
In the war of 1870-71, the Germans used the central route. As the French forces in battle at any one time never exceeded 125,000 and the total German 200,000, they did not overflow to the right and left very far.
However, the German and French armies had steadily increased in size. When the war broke out in August, 1914, Germany's standing army was 840,000; that of France, 884,000, including native troops in Africa. By the time the first battle of the Marne took place, Germany had mobilized a total of 3,000,000 to face both France and Russia, and France a total of 2,600,000
The German and French forces which would be deployed along the Franco-German border a few days after war was declared would be so large that they would have to use more than one route. In fact, they would cover the whole Franco-German frontier with a great many left over.
General von Moltke had won his victories by using the German railways to put his troops along a long curved line so that when they marched toward the enemy's army they would converge on it, the way an army of ants starting from one-third of the rim of a wheel and moving down its spokes would converge on the hub. Thus, when the two armies joined battle, the German one was in a position to attack not only from the front but from one or both flanks as well. This was the way in 1870 von Moltke beat Marshal Bazaine's army, surrounded it and shut it up in Metz, where it finally surrendered. Our line on the second day of the Saint-Mihiel salient battle was almost on some of these battle-fields.
This also was the way he beat the Emperor Napoleon III a short while later at Sedan, surrounding him and forcing his surrender with all his army. The ridge south of Sedan mentioned above as captured by our First and Forty-second infantry divisions in the closing days of the war was occupied in the Sedan battle of 1870 by German troops advancing in the same direction as ours in 1918. However, then Sedan and the hills around it were occupied by the French instead of the Germans as in 1918.
General von Schlieffen planned to do the same thing in the coming war, but because of the size of the armies on a much larger scale. However, as the French army more than covered the whole of the Franco-German frontier the Germans would have to advance not only along the whole frontier, instead of just the central route as in 1870, but along the southern route through Switzerland and the northern one through Belgium if they were going to turn both French flanks and bend them back until the whole French army was surrounded. The French thus forced to surrender, the Germans would be free to turn practically their whole strength on Russia.
However, von Schlieffen did not have enough troops to turn both French flanks. Therefore, the question was whether to turn their right by going the southern route through Switzerland, or their left by the northern route across the plains of Belgium.
The Germans considered the Swiss system of universal training good as far as it went. However, they knew the time of service was so short that the Swiss were not sufficiently trained and disciplined to successfully resist an attack by the Germans. But this southern route is much farther away from the greater part of Germany than the northern route through Belgium. The time necessary to get troops well on their way to Switzerland would put them across Belgium.
Therefore, the northern route through Belgium was chosen. Could and would the Belgians put up enough of a fight to stop the Germans coming through Belgium?
The Belgian people, as a whole, were indifferent to national defense and inclined to dodge the issue by saying that as their neutrality had been agreed to they did not need any. The old King Leopold knew too much history to believe that neutrality would protect a small nation in the way of great Powers at war, any more than being innocent protects a bystander in a street riot.
As a consequence, after a great deal of hard work, the King had managed to get the money to fortify Antwerp, Belgium's principal seaport, and Liège and Namur, two centers where roads and railways running through Belgium cross the Meuse River. These two towns, deep in the narrow river valley cut by the Meuse and climbing the hills on both sides, will be remembered by thousands of Americans who spent a night in them on their way from the Army of Occupation to various leave areas.
The Germans knew that, aside from their greater numbers, their much better trained and equipped troops would have little difficulty in defeating the Belgian army. They knew the size of the guns in the Belgian forts and the thickness of the armor and concrete protecting them. They had learned the lesson taught by the Japanese during the siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese found the siege guns with their army not powerful enough to smash the Russian forts. They knew twelve-inch coast defense mortars could. Therefore, they tore up these mortars from their concrete foundations in the forts protecting Japanese harbors, transported them to their army in front of Port Arthur, where they set them up in concrete foundations. While this took time and was only done with difficulty, once they were in place, their heavy shells soon crushed the Russian forts. This prepared the way for their capture by the Japanese troops and the surrender of Port Arthur.
Following this example, the Germans secretly prepared guns with shells heavy enough to smash the Belgian forts, and carriages which could be taken apart and moved with an army.
A greater question than that of any resistance which the Belgians might make was what Great Britain could do in case the German right flank came through Belgium on its way to turn the left of the French army.
As Germany was her principal and steadily growing rival in overseas trade, carried by her own merchant ships and protected by an efficient navy, it was believed she would enter the war sooner or later.
An invasion of Belgium undoubtedly would cause Britain to come in immediately. Her statesmen, as well as her soldiers and sailors, had always realized that the defense of England against a continental invader did not begin with her own shore lines but with the Low Countries across the English Channel occupying its eastern or continental side. Von Schlieffen and other German military leaders, arguing from history, were certain Britain would come in.
Britain's career as a great Power started when she drove Holland out of the waters of the English Channel and took control herself. She had fought Spain to put her out of the Low Countries---Holland, Belgium, and northern France of today. She had fought France in the days of the kings to keep her out of the Channel, and to stop her gradual movement to the north by which she swallowed southern Flanders. She fought the First French Republic and the First Empire under Napoleon to get the French out of Belgium and Holland. In 1870 she extracted a promise from Prussia not to send troops through Belgium in the war against France.
The question then was not whether she would come in, but could she put enough troops in the field in time to give the French enough aid to stop the German right from coming through Belgium and turning the French left; the first step in the plan to outflank, surround, and force the surrender of the French army.
Whatever the kaiser may have subsequently said about Britain's "contemptible little army," the German General Staff knew all about it. They had carefully studied the Boer War and the reforms in the British regular army which had taken place as a consequence. They knew that among other things the British regular army had learned really to shoot. They knew its high standards of discipline, of training, and of courage.
However, they knew also that this regular army did not have a general staff in the full modern sense of the word. They knew that consequently it lacked efficient leadership in war, in just the same way that a big business cannot be efficiently handled unless it has a modern system of management.
They knew that in the British form of government the ideas of many civilians in the British cabinet and other important posts would govern when it came to war, rather than those of the best professional soldiers.
They knew that the British people had not accepted the lessons of the Boer War. They knew that, despite the heavy losses in blood and treasure, the numerous defeats in the early part of the war, and the fact that it took Britain more than two years to suppress the Boers, the British people still refused to accept universal service as a means of training every subject in peace to be ready to defend his country in war.
They knew that when war came, outside of the comparatively small regular army, the only other force with any training would be the territorials, which, in general, correspond to our national guard. This force would need several months to reach war strength and equipment. They knew that the immense army really necessary to fight a modern war would have to be brought into existence after war came.
They knew that no plans existed for raising, training, equipping, and supplying such an army, once war came.
They knew that the only force ready and planned to be immediately sent to France once war came was the Expeditionary Force of 100,000 regulars. This 100,000 would not sufficiently increase the French strength of 2,000,000 to stop the Germans from carrying out their plan to knock France out the first round.
They would have succeeded or failed long before the British could add to the strength of their Expeditionary Force.
In 1905, when seventy-two years old, von Schlieffen was so badly injured by his horse falling with him that he retired from active service.
He died January 4, 1913, murmuring to General von Hahnke, his son-in-law, "It must come to a fight. Only make the right wing strong."
The Hindenburg-Ludendorff group pointed out in 1916 that in the first days of the war everything had gone better than planned.
The Belgian forts around Liège and Namur had fallen even more easily than had been expected. The Belgian army had been unable to offer any serious resistance to the German advance. The British instead of sending the whole of their Expeditionary Force of approximately 100,000 as had been counted upon, had sent but 70,000. It had gotten no farther north than Mons, where, overwhelmed and outflanked, it was driven back with the French troops on its right.
Until the Marne was reached, the plan had gone according to schedule. But when the French stood upon that river, the German right flank, under General von Kluck, did not have troops enough, as von Schlieffen had planned, to go to the west of Paris, thus turning the French left flank, getting in their rear, and bringing about a decisive victory. Instead General von Kluck in his endeavor throughout the French retreat to keep on turning their left flank, had gotten so far to the west that there was a gap between him and the next German army to his left, under General von Bülow. Therefore, instead of going to the west of Paris, he had to close in to the east in order to get in touch with von Bülow, He had to go so far east that he finished with Paris to the west of him instead of being to the west of it.
The consequence was that instead of flanking the French, the German right was outflanked by the French Sixth Army, which had been moved up by General Gallieni, the Governor of Paris, under the orders of Marshal Joffre. They attacked von Kluck so heavily that he began to retreat. This was the beginning of the German defeat.
The reason why the Germans did not have enough troops to carry out von Schlieffen's plan, was that his successor, the younger von Moltke, had changed the plan. The change had resulted in the German right flank, which was to march through Belgium and keep on turning the French left flank, being nearly 400,000 men weaker than in von Schlieffen's plan.
Von Moltke had done this because the South German states considered that von Schlieffen had not left enough troops along their part of the Franco-German border, and that, therefore, they would be invaded.
Von Schlieffen had that determination of spirit which characterizes great generals and great surgeons. He would not let a minor hurt interfere with the carrying out of a great operation which would insure ultimate success beyond a doubt. Invasion of part of Germany's home territory, even though it led to destroyed villages and towns and the civil population fleeing across the fields and down the roads to escape the dangers of combat, would not make him change a plan which would decisively defeat the French army. To do so would have been as logical as for a great surgeon in the midst of a major operation to neglect an essential in order to save the patient additional pain.
Von Moltke, however, was not of such stern stuff. He had the more ordinary type of mind which inevitably compromises. As desirable and safe as this may be in business and other ordinary affairs of peace, no great victory has ever been produced in war on land or sea by such a mind. Von Moltke was the nephew of the great von Moltke. This undoubtedly largely influenced the kaiser in appointing him to succeed von Schlieffen as chief of staff. It is only fair to say that von Moltke did not feel himself capable and did not wish to accept the position.
When sufficient news had arrived at the German general headquarters to make it certain that the first Marne battle was a defeat, von Moltke lost his grip. Instead of immediately taking control of the situation he sat with a white face gazing at the map, a broken man. He was relieved as chief of staff shortly afterwards, being succeeded by von Falkenhayn. He died a few years later, brought to the grave prematurely by his sense of great failure.
To make matters worse from the German point of view, the French commanding general, "Papa" Joffre, had clear strategical vision and the moral courage to carry out what it enabled him to see.
In the first days of the war Joffre carried out the French pre-war plan of taking the offensive immediately, instead of waiting for the Germans to attack. He attacked the enemy in Lorraine on his right, in Luxemburg in his center, and Belgium on his left. When his attacks were stopped and his left flank turned by von Kluck, he did not worry about how much French territory or how many French cities he was abandoning to the invaders. He thought only of drawing his army south to escape the trap laid for him. This despite violent criticism from many of his fellow countrymen. He continued to retreat until the time came when, no longer in danger of being flanked, and reenforced by troops from the Franco-Italian front and from Alsace, which the extreme French right had invaded, he felt he could stand and successfully fight the German army. The great victory of the first Marne vindicated his judgment and confounded those critics who could only see that he had given up many square miles of the sacred soil of France to the invader.
"Papa" Joffre's successful leadership emphasized the claim of the Hindenburg-Ludendorff group that not von Schlieffen's plan but bad German leadership lost the first Marne to the Germans and their opportunity to knock France out in the first round.
The Second round, that with Russia, opened with Russia leading strongly. During the first Marne battle, the German retreat to the Aisne which followed, and the subsequent race to the sea during the fall of 1914(2) the Russians had pushed ahead.
In the north they were invading East Prussia. In the center they were within a few miles of the city of Cracow. In the south they had crossed the Carpathian Mountains and were pouring into the plains of Hungary.
Leaving as few troops as they dared in the intrenched lines in France, which now stretched from Switzerland 500 miles to the English Channel, the Germans concentrated all available forces against the Russians.
Starting with a smashing blow on the Dunajec River in Galicia, in May, 1915, General von Mackensen's troops broke entirely through the Russian line. This started a series of defeats which by the end of the summer had driven the Russians out of East Prussia, Poland, Galicia, and Hungary well back into Russia proper.
The Germans and Austro-Hungarians made such large captures of men and material that the Russian army was virtually put out of action for a year. However, it was not destroyed and put out of the war.
During July and August of 1915, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had again and again insisted that the thing to do was to take the risk involved by first breaking through the Russian line and then boldly turning their rear. By doing this they were sure they could bring about a decisive victory on a large scale, which would force Russia to make peace.
Von Falkenhayn would not permit this plan to be carried out. He was content with the safer, but less decisive, method of steadily pushing the Russians back while killing, wounding, and capturing large numbers. Instead of taking the risk of using strategical skill to force the enemy's army to surrender after they had fought ineffectually to keep from being trapped, von Falkenhayn believed the enemy's army could be put out by wearing it down by constant friction. In other words, by constantly attacking large numbers would be killed and wounded with the result that the enemy army would finally disintegrate.
This method, called the "usury" method, later led to "Papa" Joffre's relief from command of the French army. It was to become the chief bone of contention between General Haig, commanding the British army, and Lloyd George, the British premier.
By September, von Falkenhayn decided that the German-Austro-Hungarians had advanced far enough into Russia and withdrew as many divisions as he considered safe, in order to prepare for an attack on Serbia followed by a second one on France.
Thus the second round, the one against Russia, came to an end without putting Russia out.
While the Russians were so badly damaged they were unable to do any dangerous fighting for approximately a year, a considerable number of German troops had to be left to watch them.
This considerably lessened the number available after Serbia had been wiped off the map in the winter of 1915-16, to attack Verdun. This second attack on France, the third round of the war, began February 21, 1916.
The Germans lost the round.
First, because the French army put up the greatest defensive fight in history. Secondly, because von Falkenhayn again sought victory through "usury."
It is true he wore down the French army tremendously because of the loss of 340,000 which they took. But he also wore down the German army without decisive result.
Thirdly, the British by the end of June, 1916, finally were ready with Kitchener's New Army and with a French force under the then General Foch heavily attacked the Germans on the Somme.
To add to the troubles of Germany, the Russians whom von Falkenhayn had considered so worn down by his "usury" methods as to be unable to make another large offensive came to life.
The result was that in July and August, 1916, when the British and French were hammering on the Somme, large German reserves which might have been seriously needed to stop them, had to be rushed to Hungary to save the Austro-Hungarians. The Russian General Brusilof had started a surprise attack on them in June. By the middle of August he had captured more than 350,000.
The success of this offensive caused Roumania to enter the war on the side of the Allies.
Von Falkenhayn, in reality relieved, was allowed to resign.
By the end of 1916, Hindenburg had stopped the Russians, stopped the British and French on the Somme, and almost wiped Roumania off the map; killing, wounding, and capturing at least 200,000 Roumanian soldiers.
Once more dark days for Germany had been changed to cheerful ones by Hindenburg-Ludendorff successes--just as that first and darkest period for Germany in the failure of the first battle of the Marne in 1914 had been brightened by them with victories over the Russians.
At Tannenberg in East Prussia in the last days of August, 1914, they killed, wounded, and captured 170,000 Russians with a loss of but 15,000 Germans killed and wounded. They thus virtually destroyed the Second Russian Army. General Samsonof, who commanded the Russians, fleeing with the remnants of his army, could not bear the disgrace. He committed suicide after telling the few of his staff left him, "The Emperor trusted me. How can I face him after such a disaster?"
Nine days later Hindenburg and Ludendorff had defeated another Russian army under General Rennenkampf at the battle of the Masurian Lakes. The remnants of this army---almost a disorganized rabble-- -were chased across the river Niemen back to Russia from which they had come.
These two battles were over in two weeks. Two Russian armies, each stronger than the one commanded by Hindenburg, had been decisively beaten.
One hundred and thirty-five thousand Russians had been captured, 40,000 to 50,000 killed, and at least 100,000 more wounded, making a total Russian loss of a quarter of a million.
This record of Hindenburg-Ludendorff finally won the dispute for them. It was decided that had strategical skill and determination of the Hindenburg-Ludendorff type been used since the opening days of the war in 1914 Germany would have knocked out first France and then Russia before unprepared Britain was ready---and the war probably won.
However, by the close of 1916 Russia and France were greatly weakened through having borne the brunt of the war for two years. They had passed their maximum strength and must steadily grow weaker. Therefore, Britain more and more would have to bear the brunt of the war. This not only in giving money and war material to her allies, but above all in putting fighting men on the battle-field.
But as she had not yet adopted real conscription and volunteering had passed its maximum, her army would not greatly increase in size. It might decrease.
Also, the submarine campaign was more and more seriously interfering with her supply of war material and food.
To judge from Britain's example, it would be two years before the United States would have an effective fighting army. If she decided to send it to Europe the submarines would seriously interfere with, if not stop, her doing so.
Hindenburg and Ludendorff gave Germany the skilled leadership---lacking the first two years of the war---to take advantage of this new opportunity.
America's unpreparedness would give Germany the time needed---so Germany defied us, and we declared war.
Table of Contents