The signing of the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892 gave Germany cause to fear an attack on two fronts. This was followed by the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 and the Entente Cordial to create the informal Triple Entente, increasing Germany's perceived threat of a combined attack from France, Britain and Russia.
The German Army Chief of Staff Alfred von Schlieffen was given instructions to devise a plan that would be able to counter a combined attack from France, Britain and Russia.
In December 1905, he circulated what later became known as The Schlieffen Plan, the key to his plan was that if war took place France had to be defeated quickly so that Russia and Britain would be unwilling to continue.
The plan assumed:
- Russia would take 6 weeks to mobilise its army
- Belgium would offer little or no resistance
- France could be defeated in 6 weeks
- France would attempt to re-take Alsace and Lorraine; territories they lost to Germany during the Franco-Prussian war.
- Britain would remain neutral
World War One Models
It was vital to get France to surrender before Russia could use its huge army.
His plan involved using 90% of Germany's land forces to attack France through Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg and thus avoiding the key French forts on the border with Germany. The remaining 10% of the army would be used to set up a defensive position in the east to stop any Russian advance.
In 1906 Helmuth von Moltke replaced Schlieffen as the German Army Chief of Staff and he modified the plan by proposing that:
- the main route would be through the plains of Flanders in Belgium avoiding the need to invade Holland
- 34 divisions (80%) would attack France and 8 divisions would be used to stop Russia advancing in the east
- more divisions would be switched from the attack through Belgium to defend Alsace-Lorraine
In 1914 Germany became increasingly convinced that war with Russia was going to occur and assumed France would also attack, as she was an ally of Russia and keen on revenge following her defeat in the Franco-Prussian war.
The Schlieffen Plan had become an integral part of any plans for war against Russia. Germany planned to mobilise and assemble her army on foreign soil.
The Schlieffen Plan was executed on the 2nd August 1914 after Russia declared war on Austria, an ally of Germany; accordingly the German Army invaded Luxembourg and Belgium.
What happened though was:
- the advance was held up by the Belgians
- the Russians mobilized in just 10 days, not six weeks, so that more troops had to be diverted from the attack on France to defend the eastern border
- Britain entered the war on France's side due to an agreement with Belgium to defend her against German attack
- the British Expeditionary Force reached France and Belgium far quicker than expected
- the Germans failed to take Paris when they had the chance; instead they decided to attack the French army east of the capital at the Battle of the Marne (5th - 11th September 1914).
After a short 'race to the coast', in which both sides tried to outflank each other, the German troops dug in to defensive positions, thus creating a chain of trenches from Switzerland to the North Sea and a military stalemate that was to last for nearly four years.