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Going Over The Top: All Over By Christmas?

SenatorChickpea

The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
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#3
Good article, and I agree- fine last line.

I haven't studied the events in detail, so stop me if this is a foolish question- but is there anything to the idea of the Germans getting encircled at the Marne and being driven back towards the border?
I wonder if a severe enough shock- it would probably need to be combined with the Russians not suffering their catastrophic defeats in the East- could bring the Germans to the table.
It would be an interesting scenario if the Entente 'won' the War of 1914, which would be immediately followed by Russia and Britain wondering what they needed the alliance for now....
 

David Flin

A home of love and laughter.
#4
I haven't studied the events in detail, so stop me if this is a foolish question- but is there anything to the idea of the Germans getting encircled at the Marne and being driven back towards the border?
I wonder if a severe enough shock- it would probably need to be combined with the Russians not suffering their catastrophic defeats in the East- could bring the Germans to the table.
It would be an interesting scenario if the Entente 'won' the War of 1914, which would be immediately followed by Russia and Britain wondering what they needed the alliance for now....
If we take the plans as a given (it's quite possible, for example, to posit that different plans were put in place, but then you get into so many imponderables that pretty much anything is possible), then we have the situation that the bulk of the French weight, and their best forces, are down south and moving forward, while the Germans are swinging through Belgium. The two maps show that both are basically pushing on either side of Luxemburg.

Once that is the situation, then France is pretty much forced to fling stuff as best they can to block the German approach to Paris. Encircling the German forces is a tough ask. The British forces are too few in number to act as a major jaw in an offensive.

The best chance is in the Race to the Sea, that period where the initial advance has been blocked, and now both sides are trying flanking attacks at the northern end of the line, each to fail. It would need a lot of things to go right for the Entente, delaying the German extension to allow a successful flank. That could conceivably make a mess of the committed German forces trapped. Germany could suffer a Tannenberg, and lose a lot of troops.

Then what?

A French-British advance will come across exactly the same problems that the Germans had faced. The German forces would be falling back on their lines of supply, and resupply/reinforcement gets easier. Meanwhile, the French-British are advancing over shattered ground, getting further from viable railheads, and - absent a failure of German morale - the advance is going to grind to a halt at some stage. The 100 Days in 1918 happened because the Germans were basically at the end of their tether. October 1914 isn't October 1918. Furthermore, the French and British have learned a lot in the intervening four years; tanks, creeping barrage, grenades, and an awful lot of costly experience.

My guess would be that we get to draw a different line from Switzerland to the Channel, and say this is the Trench line. There are any number of possible consequences of that. French troops might be under even more political pressure to throw German forces out completely: "We've done half the job, now for the finish." France materially will be in a better position, and Germany in a worse one. I can see those suggestions for Britain to make use of the RN to try to turn the flank with a landing somewhere. Given the experience in amphibious operations, that's likely to result in something rather less well-organised than Gallipoli.

Of course, if such an operation were tried and succeeded, then the one certainty would be that the British would be even more superior and condescending than OTL, and I'm not sure the world would ever be ready for that.

But the critical element would be how the disaster affects the morale of the German leadership. Possibly it might be combined with a different outcome at Tannenberg (perhaps the Russians were even less well organised than OTL, and fail to attack at Tannenberg, retaining two armies in being at this time. Maybe Russia decides to take a defensive posture against Germany, and throw its full weight against Austria-Hungary. Maybe Wilhelm II has a failure of nerve, and declares it was all a ghastly mistake.

Essentially, looking at the numbers and the technology and the plans, the only way I see it all being over by Christmas is through a failure of morale at the political level. I don't see a clear-cut military victory being possible for anyone. Pretty much every front throughout the whole war demonstrated just how difficult a decisive victory was. Gallipoli, Italy, the Western Front, Serbia, Salonika, etc. Nothing happened quickly, and it was a matter of grinding away as best you can. Failure of political morale is about the only route.

If that did happen, then one can make any number of extrapolations, and justify in many different directions. The world starts to look a very different place.
 

Redolegna

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#5
Just downloaded Jan Bloch's abridged Is war now impossible? While his conclusions were that yes, yes it should now be impossible because how lethal it would be, he had some good ideas about how it would be waged and how slow it would be.