World War I: Initial German Offensive (August 1914)

German World War I offensive
Figure 1.--Here we seen German Army units marching under the Brandenberg gate in Berlin They are probably headed for the railroad station and deployment to the Belgan border. Unfortunately we do not have the actual date. Note the boys in the civilian throung. One with a camera. Many of these boys were not old enough for this War, but would have their opporotunity for combat in the following War. Put your cursor on the imge to see the boys in the crowd.

The German Schlieffen Plan to counter the French-Russian alliace was prepared in the early 20th century. There were many subsequent modifications. The basic concept called for attacking and knocking France out of the War before the ponderous Russian Army could fully mobilize. Europe proceeded to go to war with jouous crouds of civilians and marching bands cheering their young men off to war without the slighest idea of what that meant. The German Army marched into Luxembourg (August 2) and soon crossed into neutral Belgium (August 4). The German invasion of Belgium was an effort to go around the strong French border defenses. The British Government voted for war and ordered an Expeditionary Force (BEF) immediately dispatched to France, following plans aprepared before the War with the French High Command. The Germans to their surprise were seriously delayed by the small Belgian Army led by King Albert. The Germans were shocked by the Russian Army's rapid advance into East Prussia and how swiftly the BEF reached France and Belgium. The BEF formed on the left flank of the French Army. The BEF while small was highly professional. The French had committed the bulk of its army to a disastrous offensive into Alsace-Lorraine and first clashed with the German army near Mons in southern Belgium. The German invasion force forced the Allies into a strategic retreat. The Germans were convinced they could take Paris before either the British or Russians could intervene in force. The valiant resistance of the hoplessly outgunned Belgian Army helped slow the advancing Germans. Some military analysts contend that the Germans weakened their right wing, in part because of the Russian offensive, but there is considerable debate among military historians concerning the German offensive.

The Schlieffen Plan

The German Schlieffen Plan to counter the French-Russian alliace was prepared in the early-20th century. There were many subsequent modifications. The basic concept called for attacking and knocking France out of the War before the ponderous Russian Army could fully mobilize.

Declarations of War

Austria-Hungary was determined to punish Serbia for the assaination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When Austria-Hungary with German backing declared war on Serbia, Russia was committed to defend the Serbs--fellow Slavs. Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas exchanged telegrams, but ther personal relationship could not restrain the developing tragedy. The Tsar ordered a mobilization. France also began to mobilize its troops. Russia had the largest army in Europe and once moibilized posed a forbidable danger to Germany. Germany thus felt impelled to strike at France before Russia could mobilize. Germany declaring war on Russia (August 1) and France (August 3). The strike at France followed the Schlieffen Plan which meant invading Belgium. German armies crossed the Belgian birder (Aufudy 4). This brought Britain, which had treaty obligations to Belgium, into the War. Britain may have entered the War with out Germany invasion of Belgium, but the invasion provided both the causus bellum and popular support for war. Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a major European war. Germany probably would have prevailed in a war with France and Russia. The invasion of Belgium provided tactical advantages, but at the cost of brining Britain and the Empire with its immenense military and material resources into the War. After the War, the Allies demanded that Germany accept the guilt for launching the War. Some authors have laid the blame for the War largely on Germany. [Fischer] Other historians are more inclined to ascribe the blame to other countries as well seeing war in most instances as a reciprocal event. [Strachan]

Popular Attitudes

Europe proceeded to go to war with jouous crouds of civilians and marching bands cheering their young men off to war without the slighest idea of what that meant. Young men thought of valor and glory. No one thought of crnge, mud, rain, and cold or the smalls abf filth pf trench warfare. And one haf=d the vagest idea of the enormous casualties to come or how long the war would last.

German Offensive

The German Army marched into Luxembourg (August 2) and soon crossed into neutral Belgium (August 4). The German invasion of Belgium was an effort to go around the strong French border defenses. The fact that Luxembourg and Belgian were neutral countries was seen as unimportant by the Germans. Military considerations were what was important to the Germans. Diplomacy abd treaties were seen as secondary. This as the treatment of civilians in occupied Belgium would permanenly affect how the world viewed Germany. The Germans did not see that as important. But it affected how Americans saw Germany and to the astonisment of the Germans, America would eventually decide the outgcomde of the War.

Belgian Resistance

The Germans demanded unimpeeded entry into Belgium so they could avoid the French border forts, King Albert flatly refused. The Belgian Army resisted. It was much smaller than the German Army and not as well armed, but the Belgians had some powerful fortificatiins and the Belgian Army stood and fought against over wealming odds. The Germans were surprised by the strength of the Bekgian resistance. The Belgians led by King Albert could not stop the Germans, but they effectively delayed the German advance. The Belgian resistance gave the British Expeditionry Force time to land and deploy and join the fifgt in Belgium. Together the Belgians and BEF bought the French almost a month to prepare to meet the German advance and prevent thrm from reaching Paris. [Herwig]

British Expeditionary Force

It was not a forgone conclusion that the British would join France in a war with Germany. They had not joined France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870). In fact the British were concerned that the French were trying to draw them in a war against Germany. The French on the evee of war went to St. Petersburg to encourage Tsarist officials. The British War Cabinent decided against war if the Germans invaded France. The British were committed to a defnsive alliance, but the French were taking a beligerant approach. In the end the Germans were determined to activate the Schlifen Plan which projected a massive invasion through Belgium to avoid French defeneses. The Germans were sure that gain them a rapid victory before the British could make a meaningful contribution. The German attitude toward Germany in 1914 was very different than it had been in 1870. Kaiser Wilhem II had managed becuse of his belicose statemenbs and decission to build a highseas fleet had steadily eroded the German image in British public opinion. The invasion of neutral Belgium outraged the British public. Britain not only had a special relationship with Belgium since the 1830s, but had treaty obligation to insure Belgian neutrality establish when Belgium was created. King Leopold I had been largely responsible for bringing Albert and Vicoria together and was a family confident. For Britain the violation of Belgian neutality was the causus bellum for the declaration of war on August 4. [Gilbert] Britain, France, and Russia became known as the Allies. The German gamble to win the War by a quick strike through Belgium before Britain could effectively intervene proved to be a dreadful mistake. (The Kaiser was to make a second disastrous gamble in 1917, renewing unrestricted sunmarine warfare, believing they could win the War before America could train and transport an army to France.) The British Government voted for war and ordered an Expeditionary Force (BEF) immediately dispatched to France, following plans aprepared before the War with the French High Command. ThecGernans were surprised with how swiftly the BEF reached France and Belgium. The BEF formed on the left flank of the French Army. The BEF while small was highly professional.

Russian Offensive

The Germans were also shocked by the Russian Army's rapid advance into East Prussia. The Russians, true to their treaty obligations, with the commencemebnt of hoistilities, drove west with their huge but cumbersome army into Germany (East Prussia) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Lithuanian and Poles had decisevely defeated the Teutonic Knights near Tannenburg haltuing German expansion east (1410). Thus it was a location indelibly engrained in German history. Germany braced for the invading Russian Army. The Germans under Hindenburg and Ludendorff met a Russian army under Samsonov (August 26, 1914). The Germans smashed the Russians, taking 100,000 prisoners. Such was the scale of the Russian defeat that Samsonov shot himself. A second Russian army under Rennenkampf was to have joined up with Samsonov. The Germans soon engaged that army and destroyed it in the Battle of the Mansurian Lakes. Hindenburg and Ludendorff became German national heros.

French Offensive

The French had committed the bulk of its army to a disastrous offensive into Alsace-Lorraine and first clashed with the German army near Mons in southern Belgium. The French suffered enormous lossess attacking German fortifications in Alsace. Joffe is often not given credit for reassing the sitiation. He disengaged from Alsace and brilliantly used the French rail system to shift forces west to meet tge German advance through Belgium. [Herwig]

German Drive South

The German invasion force forced the Allies into a strategic retreat. The Germans were convinced they could take Paris before either the British or Russians could intervene in force. The valiant resistance of the hoplessly outgunned Belgian Army helped slow the advancing Germans. Some military analysts contend that the Germans weakened their right wing, in part because of the Russian offensive, but there is considerable debate among military historians concerning the German offensive. The BEF formed on the left flank of the French Army. The BEF while small was highly professional. The Western Front is generally told as a conflict between the Germans and Allis British and French). This was not the case in the first critical months of the conflict whivh pitted the French and Germans, both with more than 60 divisions. The Belgians helped slow the Germans. This gave the British time to get the BF across the Channel and their performance was legendary, albeit costly. In the final anaysis, however, the issue during the first weeks would be decided by the Germans and French. If the Germans were to be stopped, it would have to be the French who would do it. And the French had weakened their Army with the disastrous offensives against fortified German positions. One historian describes the fighting. "For the rest of the day there was stalemate between the German 6th Brigade along the edge of the plateau and the Moroccans at Chambry, with neither side able to advance in the face of the violent shellfire. The Germans suffered badly in their inadequate treches from the devastatingly accurate fire of the French 75mm guns and the Moroccans were bombarded by the German heavy howitzers on the far side of the Marne, well out of range of the French guns. at about 1.00pm, fearing that the French were about to attack, Oberst Gra-umlaut-ordered his last remaining reserve to enter the front line but when they left the woods they were struck by friendly fire from the batteries at Germany, which mistook them for the enemy. In a desperate attempt to save the situation, the battalion adutant, Leutnant Lademacher, lept on his horse, galloped headlong down the slope, swam the canal in full equipment and ran to the batteries to get them to cease firing. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done and the battalion was torn apart as men fled in all directions to escape the shells." [Senior]

Sources

Fischer, Fritz.

Gilbert, Martin. World War I.

Herwig, Holger. The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle that Changed the World.

Senior, Ian. Home before the Leaves Fall: A New History (2012), 384p.

Strachan, Hew. The First World War (Viking, 2004), 354p. Strachan offers an excellent brief review of some of the lesser known campigns. This volume is a condensed version of a three volume work he is preparing.






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Created: 6:03 AM 10/2/2008
Last updated: 2:50 AM 5/31/2013