Battle Strategy in the Great War
In order to fully understand how WWI was a total war from Germany’s perspective, one must first realize the background of Germany’s military strategy entering the war. Helmuth von Moltke the Younger was one such military strategists. He adapted the Schlieffen plan (created by Count Alfred von Schlieffen) by strengthening certain areas of the front, and weakening others. This plan was originally devised in order to counteract the actions of the opposing forces on the Western and Eastern fronts, but this aggressive and offensive battle plan meant advancing forward small and insignificant distances at the cost of extremely high casualty rates. This yielded initial success in the first months of the war, but following the Battle of the Marne, German offensives were ended and entered the “stalemate” that it remained in for much of the war. As detailed in Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel, the tactics of the battle can shift very rapidly throughout the course of the battle, and tactics were often abandoned within the first hours, if not minutes of the battle. This was due to massive chaos from entire battalions being obliterated in seconds, causing remaining soldiers to be distraught and oblivious on the battlefield, and the disorganization of the “rush and crush” style of warfare. This kind of battle clearly was not working for the Germans as the war progressed, and “Helmuth von Moltke was replaced by Erich von Falkenhayn as German chief of staff” (Farrar 30). Falkenhayn felt that Germany needed to face the possibility that it could not defeat the Triple Entente without creating peace between one of the nations in the entente. The Kaiser approved this strategy, and Germany decided to set its sights on Russia. Germany slowed offensive operations on the Eastern front, and increased the number of soldiers going to sea and heading to the Western front. Falkenhayn believed that defeating Britain was more important than France or Germany, starting the “Race to the Sea” in which submarines and naval battleships were sent out to sea to search for merchant ships on their way to ally countries. These ships would then be ransacked and sunk by German forces so “Britain, the main enemy, would be starved out by a submarine blockade based in Belgium” (Farrar 31). Running out of options, Falkenhayn pushed for Russia to sign an armistice between it and Germany, but this caused friction between Falkenhayn and Hindenburg and Ludendorff. In a final attempt to end the war on the Western front, Falkenhayn ordered a massive battle of attrition in the hopes Germany will “bleed France white” and defeat them at Verdun. After the loss of hundreds of thousands of men, neither side was concluded to be the victor. This battle of attrition did absolutely nothing for Germany besides decrease morale significantly, and put Europe further and further in to a stalemate after so many men were lost in an utterly futile event. “Despite horrific casualties, the French did not sue for peace because co-ordinated British and Russian offensives not only diverted German forces but also demonstrated that the entente remained firm” (Farrar.34-35). This shows how even though France sustained a great death toll, they were not shaken enough to give in to defeat, and this battle of attrition only proved negative for both sides. Due to his massive failure at Verdun which cost both the French and the Germans the lives of a great portion of their new generation, Falkenhayn was replaced by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff as joint heads of the German army in August 1916.