A German strategy for the invasion and defeat of France, should war erupt between France and Germany. The Plan was to Sweep through the neutral countries of Belgium and the Netherlands and into western France.

Origin of the Plan
The plan was devised by General Alfred Von Schlieffen in 1905. He believed that the key to victory lay in the speedy destruction of the enemy's field army. The plan was based on strategy used by Hannibal to defeat the Romans at the Battle of Cannae.

The Plan
The German army was to capture Belgium and the Netherlands in 2 days. They were to then to close in on Paris from the left flank, crushing the French army outside of Paris and wiinning the war in 39 days.

Why it Failed
The rigorous pace set by the plan was well ahead of the German army's actual capacity to support troops. It required that the troops move great distances on foot, exhausting them. It streched German supply lines to the breaking point, causing ammunition and food shortages.

More reasons it failed
The actual war plans of the German Army began to become more and more corrupted by the Plan, existing and being modified to serve the Plan rather than reflect reality. By the time it was actually tested in conflict (the beginning of World War I by von Moltke the Younger & co.) Schlieffen had already disowned it as being the wrong tool for the job.

One reason the plan relied so heavily on speed is that the German war plans called for a linear two-front war; that is, they would quickly smash France and then swing their forces east to deal with Russia. This is an example of your version of reality being modified to fit the plan rather than vice versa. In practice, the extremely tight timetable of the plan and the enormous complexity of its logistics caused the operation to collapse. Surprise, which the Germans had achieved in many areas of the front, was lost as supply and reinforcement channels 'broke.' The delay gave the defenders time to erect trench defenses.

Although neither side had really planned on trench warfare, as both sides were married to the offensive, the French were pushed to it by necessity. Once started, the trenching didn't stop, and soon the entire war was being fought (on land in Europe at least) along a narrow strip of the continent along which the trench 'cities' were erected (or rather, dug).

Basically, the general idea is that in the time leading up to WWI, Germany knew that it wasn't on the best of terms with either Russia or France. It's pretty obvious that both of them are gonna go for the big one. So hey, piece o cake, Germany's the greatest military power in Europe, right? But, one small tiny eensy weensy problem - as my colleague sfc points out - two-front war. Enemies on both sides? Not preferable.

But our Herr Schlieffen (who actually died before he saw his plan totally fuck up) knows what to do! You see, I'll let you in on a little secret - Russia's really fucking big, y'see? And in addition to being big, it doesn't have the greatest infrastructure in the world. Basically, it's gonna take pretty long for Russia to mobilize its (admittedly, vast) forces. So Schlieffen decides to take advantage of this window of opportunity by going for France while the Russian Bear is still coming out of hibernation, so to speak. He can then utilize all his forces at once and go for the knockout with France without having to worry about the Eastern Front! Genius!

Ahem. Problem 1: Belgium. Belgium was a little country. Belgium didn't want any trouble. Therefore, Belgium would happily allow Germany free access, that German forces might tromp on through on the way to the Land of Mimes, right? Er, no. Belgium decides to fight back.

Now, Belgium isn't exactly keeping the kaiser awake at nights, see? It's not exactly a European heavyweight. But it does slow German momentum. Plus, it pisses the hell out of Britain, who decide that Belgium's violation is the final straw, and jump in, too.

Problem 2: the second problem, ironically, is that the Germans chickened out at the last second. While the Plan might seem pretty damn harebrained, it might have actually worked - but Germany decided to be a little more cautious, and spread the troops more evenly than initially planned. Result? Germany fails to punch right through France, Russia gets its boots on in time, and we're back where we never wanted to be in the first place: a two-front war. Better start diggin' them trenches, boys...

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