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- Language: English
- ASIN: B00IXRCC4Y
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The Plan That Broke the World: The “Schlieffen Plan” and World War I (What Were They Thinking? Book 2) Kindle Edition
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About the Author
William D. "Will" O'Neil studied math and business economics; served 41/2 years as a U.S. naval officer (plus another 26 years in the Naval Reserve, retiring as a captain); was a systems engineer in industry and government, working on development of many sensor systems, command and control systems, ships, and aircraft; and became first an engineering manager and then an executive in government and industry. Since the 1970s he has worked very closely as an advisor to top-level officials, commanders, and executives in government and industry.
He made his living by knowledge and worked tirelessly to expand it-technology, war, management, and the physical, biological, and social sciences.
Along the way O'Neil has written a great deal. Much in the form of reports that are secret, or at least not available for public viewing, but there have been dozens of open reports, articles, novels and various other pieces.
His Web site is at analysis.williamdoneil.com
Review this product
Top international reviews
This new book offers an atypical and highly readable focus directly on the Schlieffen Plan itself. The author's upfront disclaimer, that he is not a professional historian and has not relied upon new archival research, is important, valid, and welcome, but should not obscure that this crisp and cogent study also develops valuable historical insights. The thoughtful and logically flowing text is neatly augmented by clear, well-positioned maps, judiciously-chosen photographs, and sparse yet adequate end notes.
My previous understanding of the Schlieffen Plan was shaped by reading, decades ago, Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August" (now more than half as old as the war's outbreak itself) which implies that failures in execution were important: Schieffen's dying word advice, a year before the war's outbreak, "make the right [flank] strong," was undermined by Germany shifting some of its forces from the right to the center/middle flank and to the eastern front, and by von Kluck's First Army "turning" before Paris instead of proceeding further west to "envelope" the French capital from the side or rear. This new work builds on convincing elements of more recent studies, such as that of Terence Zuber, to argue not only that, even with more skillful execution, the Schlieffen Plan was impractical and imprudent (the downside risks of failure were disproportionate to the upside potential of success, and the odds of success were small anyway), but also that it really wasn't even a plan at all, but more of a "thought experiment," used by German strategists even more reliant upon doctrine, training, and wishful thinking.
In place of professional historical training, the author promises to deploy "other qualifications of value," and this book does not disappoint. The ability to explain military strategy in clear layman's terms is repeatedly brought to bear, as in "have you ever walked fifteen miles...[per day, carrying] fifty pounds...in blazing heat...for four weeks?" Or, in estimating that "to deploy for battle" promptly, the main thrust of Germany's invading army needed transit corridors double the width actually available.
Author William O'Neil persuasively indicates that not optimally exploiting existing transport and communication technologies essential to the "war of movement" envisaged by its planners contributed to the failure of Germany's initial attack. There was sufficient stationary thunder, but not enough Blitzkrieg. This limitation was compounded by a lack of sufficient troops to defeat France fast enough to thereafter shift large numbers to shore up the (initially) lightly-manned eastern front against Russia. To the extent that Schieffen's thought experiment might have been an argument for a larger German army, it had failed even before the war began. At any rate in place of the theoretical "Schlieffen bear-hug" envelopment, the actual German assault was more like a "billy goat...doing a lot of damage but never delivering an annihilating blow and ultimately exhausting itself."
Going beyond straight historical analysis, the book counterfactually and plausibly suggests that investing in trucks rather than dreadnought warships might have given Germany's rightwing attack on France a decisive edge, and more radically, that an altogether different strategy, consistent with dynamic Bismarckian flexibility, and based on a mobile "active defense," would have had better chances. Instead Germany, and its Austro-Hungarian ally, pursued the "glittering payoffs" of neutralizing their opponents for a long time, but in so doing undertook "extraordinary risks." The German war planners "strained at gnats of principle and swallowed camels of aggression."
O'Neil's argument points to a fatally rigid path dependency in early twentieth century German military thinking. Prussian strategies (active reserves, mass education, mass conscription, skill training, flexible and rapidly deployed defense through attack, etc.) that worked so brilliantly in Bismarck's mid-19th century wars of unification were misapplied in 1914 on a catastrophic scale that "broke the world." Only at the final stage of proceeding from his logical and well-formulated argument to such conclusions does O'Neil seriously part from historical analyses, to make (plausible but tentative) psychological observations about the general limitations of human risk-taking on a massive and modern scale. The book series promised along such lines seems likely to offer further value to historians, however, and I will be looking forward to seeing future volumes come forth.
O'Neil understandably dodges the "war guilt" minefield, as have most other recent historians, but this book also has implications there worth noting briefly. Few commentators now hold Germany either solely responsible or blameless for the Great War's outbreak, but the question of relative severity amongst the multitude of blunders made by all parties (and thereby over-determining the war's causes) still has relevance. This book modestly, yet persuasively, strengthens the case that Germany's errors were not only more significant in scale and import than those of other countries, but also that the "Schlieffen Plan's" flaws were rather more irremediable and predictable than has been generally appreciated.
The author argues that the Schlieffen Plan, such as it was, failed because the German army could not effectively adjust operations as the campaign unfolded. This deficiency resulted from a lack of reconnaissance to gain useful intelligence, communications to exercise command and control, and motorization to rapidly move forces. Thus, once the field armies went into the attack, senior commanders were unable to bring their combat strength to bear on the French army's vulnerabilities.
Because of its easy-reading style and unique focus on campaign planning and decision-making, this book will appeal to generalists and specialists alike.
General Schlieffen was the German war theorist who in 1906 produced a short memo describing a possible scenario for German victory in a war against France. The proposal was for German troops to invade northeastern France by launching massive assaults which cut through the territory of neutral Belgium. Belguim was created in 1839, following the Napoleonic wars, to provide a buffer small nation between France, Germany and Great Britain across the English channel.
O';Neill teaches us that the plan was never put into practice as General von Moltke was unable to mount the necessary troops and provide the proper transportation and logistical support to make it work. Though the Prussian military tradition had produced an efficient and deadly fighting army plans did not go according to Hoyle for the Kaiser's troops. Stalemate rather than swift movement became the sanguinary norm on the Western Front until allied victory in 1918.
The books with strategy and briefly profiles the political and military leaders of the combatant nations. Nevertheless, it is an easy read as the author has the ability to convey complex matters in an easily grasped format. The book is lavishly illustrated containing many well drawn maps. Anyone who is studying the genesis of World War I would do well to buy this succinct and valuable work
which has more information than many other longer and more expensive books on the topic. Recommended.
This book focuses on the development and tweaking of the Schlieffen Plan and then its implementation as war broke out. The plan was based on the premise that Germany needed a quick victory in the West, so that victorious forces could be moved the the border with Russia, before its forces could be fully mobilized. Railroads were a key to the plan, to move German troops into position rapidly.
The book begins by noting the background for development of this plan, including the Franco-Prussian War, the role of Moltke the Elder, the German General Staff, budgetary issues, the change in leadership in Germany, European politics and alliances, armaments of the various countries, the geography of war, and so on. This provides valuable context for understanding the development of the Plan. The book then describes the actual German attack. Next? A step back in time to consider the "plan" that Alfred Graf von Schlieffen developed.
Indeed one aspect of this discussion was the extent to which there actually was a formal plan! The actual German movement is compared with the "plan."
A fascinating work. The structure of the work is a bit awkward, going back and forth in time. But the end result is pretty satisfying. . . .
I would like to see a similar study on how the Imperial German Navy came to believe that its "Riskflotte" concept made any sense at all - which ties into one of O'Neil's might-have-beens about where resources could have come from.
Illustrations work well on my old Kindle Keyboard, a plus.
O'Neil's focus is almost exclusively on the plan for and execution of operations against France. A bit more analysis of the over-arching strategy of 'France - then Russia' and its origins would have strengthened the work as history. Though it is not necessary if the work is viewed as a case-study in bad decision-making, as O'Neil apparently intends.
It's a worthwhile read, and a great introduction to Zuber (whose work is also available on Amazon).
Second, he approaches the main topic--what was "the Schlieffen Plan?" Was it really a plan? To what extent was it executed? What were the results. Most interestingly, what were the social and economic realities underlying the "plan."
I found it engrossing and enlightening.