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Alfred Schlieffen, Graf von

Schlieffen, Alfred, Graf von (älˈfrāt gräf fən shlēˈfən) [key], 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 G. Ritter, The Schlieffen Plan (1956; tr. 1958, repr. 1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: German History: Biographies


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