Case Study 2, Germany Before 1945, Step Two: Determine the Failure’s Indicators

This seems a good deal cleaner than the earlier protocol.

Germany failed to achieve its supposed security in WWI, or its quest for Poland and European Russia and the ethnic cleansing, to borrow a modern term, in WWII.

  • Step One: Define the Failure–DONE
  • Step Two: Determine the Failure’s Indicators–WORKING
  • Step Three: Identify the Contributing Social, Economic, Political, Demographic and Environmental Causes of the Failure(s)
  • Step Four: Identify the Military Factors(s) If Any
  • Step Five: Analyze Each Identified Factor
  • Step Six: Stop, Think, and Ask: Does This Make Sense?
  • Step Seven: Publish and Duck

Surrender in 1918 and 1945 are not necessarily indicators of failure. Those may have come earlier. How? Let’s look.

The policies and actions of 1914 that led to the surrender in 1918 aren’t that hard to pin down, but we’ll do that later. What we need to do NOW is the failure’s indicators. Were there any before the surrender? Arguably, yes. First, Wilhelm II’s “surprise” and “anger” that both England and Russia “played him false” in his desire for peace during the summer of 1914. Analyzing Willie’s earlier and subsequent behavior, this analyst has to say that this was an act; it almost had to have been. His cousin George V of Great Britain, as a constitutional monarch, had relatively little control over foreign policy, which was in the province of his prime minister and the cabinet. Nicholas II had somewhat more power, but not a great deal. Wilhelm wasn’t stupid, but he may have been slightly naïve. Though Germany’s diplomats had tried to contain the crisis to the Balkans, the German military couldn’t.

The Schlieffen Plan, Its Myths and Misunderstandings

Alfred von Schlieffen became the head of Germany’s Great General Staff during a period of tumult in European strategic theory. He inherited an organization that had been politically marginalized, and thus its influence on policy was questionable if it had any at all. The entire idea of strategy as practiced by the legendary Fredrick II (‘the Great”) and as executed by Helmuth von Moltke was thrown into a muddle by its own success against the French in 1871. Though the French armies were crushed quickly in that conflict, the French people were not, compelling the German coalition to divert tens of thousands of troops in rear area security duties. What was more, after Napoleon III was captured, the French declared another Republic and formed an even larger army than had already been defeated. Though they were eventually beaten, the fact that the quick victory that the Prussians/Germans had traditionally enjoyed didn’t occur caused no end of dithering about strategy. In the end, the Great General Staff’s strategic planning was based on a very public debate about national warfare and, essentially, imperial war.

Schlieffen, however, proceeded with a traditional German military plan of envelopment that projected the use of more forces that the German Empire could muster…ever. Even with reserves, the plan outlined in the famous Memorandum of 31 December 1906 and all the drafts (there were several and a few fragments here and there that made it into the final version) required roughly two and a half million men to execute. Germany could not mobilize that many trained soldiers at once, regardless of the reservist’s status or numbers. It was written mainly by Schlieffen himself and partly by his successor, Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger; nephew of the Elder).

Critiques and criticisms of the Schlieffen “Plan” are many. Let’s just suffice it to say it was barely a “plan” at all, other than “at the outset, we invade France through Belgium and Luxembourg, drive to the Channel coast and swing south around Paris.” The overall army commander would lead twenty-odd corps commanders in a massive battle that would smash the French again. This was the heart of the “plan” that supposedly was used in 1914.

This analyst submits that the execution of the “plan” in 1914 wasn’t Schlieffen’s, but Moltke the Younger’s, who filled the position of the chief of the Great General Staff after Schlieffen’s retirement in 1906. He envisioned one of four options, all of which required a quick victory against France so that the army could turn and deal with Russia. It sounds familiar because this was the extent of German strategic military planning in 1914 and 1939.

German Strategic Thought and the Lack Thereof

Germany had this problem as a military state: Their only diplomatic tool (after Bismarck) was a hammer (the military), so every problem was treated like a nail. Though this lack of adaptability may be a cause of the ultimate failure, it is also an indicator of impending failure that was foreseen in Britain at least before 1914. Given the size of the German Navy in 1914, it seemed almost as if it were a plaything of Wilhelm II. While the Kaiser loved all things British, he seemed to hate Britain itself–and his British mother–with something of a passion. Enamored of uniforms and parades, Wilhelm is often portrayed as a child in a man’s body. His apparent outrage at his cousin George V’s support of Russia and France in 1914 may have been mere posturing, but perhaps not.

Both John French and Douglas Haig observed that, while the German military machine was impressive and dangerous in 1914, German strategic direction seemed to lack focus under Moltke the Younger.  While the much-vaunted Schlieffen Plan(s) was a bold stroke, Germany never had the forces required to pull it off…and both France and Britain knew it. Furthermore, German violation of Belgian neutrality and their subsequently brutal treatment of that tiny country raised international ire, especially in the United States. Germany’s unquestioning support of Austria-Hungary in the Serbian crisis in the summer of 1914 would indeed have diluted German power if the Dual Monarchy ran into trouble in the Balkans…which they did. But Moltke supported sending precious German assets to assist Vienna’s quest for vengeance. This overextension of not-infinite resources on two fronts doomed the German Empire the longer the conflict lasted.

Similarly, Germany’s primary planning tool in the summer of 1939 seemed to have been hope: Hope that Britain and France wouldn’t make good on their promises to Poland. While Britain and France were tired and frightened as nations, they were still dangerous enough for Hitler and his generals to be wary of them. So wary, indeed, that they offered an olive branch to Stalin, who eagerly took it. But in 1940, after Germany smashed the French and British armies, the olive branch Hitler extended to Britain was snubbed in large part because the “European Peace” offered would leave no vestige of any of the minor powers intact. However, in a larger sense, Hitler’s actions and promises made ad broken in the past didn’t leave a great deal of confidence that he would keep his promises. Indeed, history showed that he was only truly loyal to himself and Mussolini.

Indicators of failure, in other words, came early, often before the conflicts that brought Germany low. They may appear to be military in origin, but not entirely. We’ll see about this next time.


Why the Samurai Lost Japan, Kindle Edition

By the time you read this, you should be able to see it at your favorite booksellers. There’s a constant tug on the behalf of this book to venture upon a Solomons/New Guinea/Battle for Australia book that treats that long campaign as Japan’s Verdun, the campaign that largely broke the back of the IJN.

More on this later.

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