Alfred von Schlieffen - History of World War I - WW1 - The Great War

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World War 1 Picture - Alfred Graf von Schlieffen

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Alfred von Schlieffen

World War 1 Picture - Alfred Graf von Schlieffen

Picture - Alfred Graf von Schlieffen

Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, mostly called Count Schlieffen ( 28 February 1833 - 4 January 1913) was a German field marshal and strategist who served as Chief of the Imperial German General Staff from 1891 to 1906. His name lived on in the 1905 Schlieffen Plan for the defeat of the French Third Republic and the Russian Empire.


Schlieffen was born in Berlin on 28 February 1833 as the son of a Prussian army officer. He entered the army in 1854 at the age of 20. Quickly moving to the general staff, he participated in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, and in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. In 1884, Schlieffen became head of the military history section of the general staff, replacing Count von Waldersee as chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1891, after thirty-eight years of military service.

In 1905 Schlieffen presented the Schlieffen Plan a scheme to prevent Germany from having to fight a two-front war by first defeating France quickly, then throwing its full weight against Russia.

The rest of Schlieffen’s career was spent inculcating the operational ideas required to make this strategy work. He retired on 1 January 1906 after nearly 53 years of service and died in Berlin on January 4, 1913, just nineteen months before the outbreak of the First World War. In reference to his Schlieffen Plan, Schlieffen's last words were said to have been, "Remember: keep the right wing strong."


World War 1 Picture - Grave at the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery, Berlin

Picture - Grave at the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery, Berlin

Schlieffen was perhaps the best-known contemporary strategist of his time, although criticized for his "narrow-minded military scholasticism." Schlieffen's operational theories were to have a profound impact on the development of maneuver warfare in the twentieth century, largely through his seminal treatise, Cannae, which concerned the decidedly un-modern battle of 216 BC in which Hannibal defeated the Romans.

His theories were studied exhaustively, especially in the higher army academies of the United States and Europe after World War I. American military thinkers thought so highly of him that his principal literary legacy, Cannae, was translated at Fort Leavenworth and distributed within the U.S. Army and to the academic community.

As General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, pointed out, General Eisenhower and many of his staff officers, products of these academies, "were imbued with the idea of this type of wide, bold maneuver for decisive results."

General Erich Ludendorff, a disciple of Schlieffen who applied his teachings of encirclement in the Battle of Tannenberg, once famously christened Schlieffen as "one of the greatest soldiers ever."

Long after his death, the German General Staff officers of the Interwar and World War II period, particularly General Hans von Seeckt, recognized an intellectual debt to Schlieffen theories during the development of the Blitzkrieg doctrine.


"A man is born, and not made, a strategist."-Schlieffen

"To win, we must endeavour to be the stronger of the two at the point of impact. Our only hope of this lies in making our own choice of operations, not in waiting passively for whatever the enemy chooses for us."-Schlieffen

Foley, Robert Alfred von Schlieffen's Military Writings. London: Frank Cass, 2003.
Foley, Robert T. "The Real Schlieffen Plan", War in History, Vol. 13, Issue 1. (2006), pp. 91-115.

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