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Definition: Schlieffen, Alfred, Count von from Chambers Biographical Dictionary


Prussian soldier

He was born in Berlin. Chief of General Staff (1891-1905), he devised the "Schlieffen Plan" in 1895 on which German strategy was unsuccessfully based in World War I. In the event of a German war on two fronts, he envisaged a German breakthrough in Belgium and the defeat of France within six weeks by a colossal right-wheel flanking movement through Holland and then southwards, cutting off Paris from the sea, meanwhile holding off any Russian intervention with a smaller army in the east.

  • Bucholz, Arden, Schlieffen and Prussian War Planning (1990).

Summary Article: Schlieffen, Alfred Graf von
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(äl'frāt gräf fӘn shlē'fӘn), 1833–1913, German field marshal and strategist. In the tradition of the Prussian officer corps, Schlieffen was a professional soldier who considered political questions beyond his responsibility. As chief of the German general staff from 1891 through 1905 he developed the famous Schlieffen plan. According to the plan, Germany could solve the problem of war on two fronts by first defeating France in a lightning campaign and then throwing its full weight against Russia. The plan called for a flanking movement by an overwhelmingly strong right (i.e., northern) wing, which was to advance through Belgium and Holland and, in an enveloping move, compel the bulk of the French forces either to fight with their backs to the frontier fortresses or to flee into Switzerland. Much weaker contingents were to be used to hold back the French in the south and the Russians in the east. The plan (which disregarded Belgian and Dutch neutrality) demanded boldness for its execution. When World War I broke out in 1914 the Schlieffen plan was employed in a modified form, but a number of factors—including Russian military strength, German lack of mobility, effective French delaying action, and the reluctance of Schlieffen's successor, H. J. L. von Moltke, to weaken his eastern front—led to its failure. In World War II, unhampered by a Russian threat in the east and possessing highly mobile forces, the German command successfully employed (May–June, 1940) a variation of the Schlieffen plan to defeat France.

  • See Ritter, G. , The Schlieffen Plan (1956; tr. 1958, repr. 1968).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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