Book Review: The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I

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by Hans Ehlert, Michael Epkenhans, and Gerhard P. Gross, editors

Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2014. Pp. viii, 576. Illus., maps, notes, appends., gloss., index. $75.00 hardback. ISBN: 0813147468

Studies in the “Schlieffen Plan” and the "Zuber Thesis"

One of the most important developments in the scholarship on World War I was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and collapse the communist regime in East Germany.  The opening of the former East German archives produced two startling revelations. The first was that the East German secret police had a large chunk of the population spying on the rest of it.  The second was a treasure trove of documents relative to World War I, long thought to have been destroyed. Holger Herwig used much of this material in his path breaking study of Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I.

Another researcher who made extensive use of the material was Terence Zuber.  Using this material, Zuber focused mainly on pre-1914 German military planning, most notably the controversial figure of Alfred von Schlieffen. Zuber produced a thesis that challenged the current thinking on Schlieffen and the war plan that bore his name.  Zuber’s thesis touched off a vigorous and at times heated debate, particularly with Terence Holmes, which was fought out in consecutive issues of War in History.  Finally, with the centennial of the war coming, the Center for Military History and Social Sciences Studies (ZMS), successor to the old Office of Military Historical Research (MGFA), convened a conference on the subject of the Schlieffen Plan and its eventual execution. The presenters were primarily German scholars, along with some international scholars, and their translated papers, edited by noted World War I scholar David Zabecki comprises this generally excellent collection of essays.

The heart of the book is in the essays by Annika Mombauer, Robert Foley and Gerhard Gross.  These fine pieces constitute an extended analysis of Zuber’s thesis, showing its strong points and exposing its weaknesses. Other articles cover various aspects of German pre-war planning.  Most interesting is Stefan Schmidt’s piece on French war planning.  Schmidt shows that the French high command gave serious thought moving into Belgium in the event of war with Germany, even if the Germans did not. Ultimately, however, the French gave up on the idea, not because of any concern for international law, but because such an act could put their relationship with Britain at risk.  At the other end of the spectrum is Jan Kusber’s rather superficial and disappointing short article on Russian war planning.  There are also interesting articles on Austria-Hungary, Britain, Switzerland, and Belgium as well.  The only piece that deals with the actual 1914 campaign is the article by Dieter Storz, that covers the fighting in Lorraine and the Vosges in 1914.  Storz highlights the tensions between the Prussian and Bavarian segments of the German army.

Aside from the articles, The Schlieffen Plan also contains German deployment plans, all of which emerged from the East German archives. These documents will prove of great interest to students of the period ranging from the most serious to the casual.  A couple of large scale maps are included as well. Taken all together, this volume marks a major contribution to the body of scholarship on this subject.        

Note:   The Schlieffen Plan is also available in pdf, $75.00, ISBN 978-0-8131-4747-5

Our Reviewer:  Prof. DiNardo , who teaches at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, in Quantico, is the author or editor of several works in military history, among them Breakthrough: The Gorlice-Tarnow Campaign, 1915, Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse, and James Longstreet: The Man, The Soldier, The ControversyHis most recent review for StrateyPage was  Unholy Sabbath: The Battle of South Mountain in History and Memory, September 14, 1862
Reviewer: Richard L. DiNardo   


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