The main aim of the Schlieffen Plan was to win a war over France so that Germany could become the most powerful country in Europe. However if, as the Germans thought, France’s ally Russia would come to help the French then the Germans would have to split up their army as Russia bordered Germany on one side and France the other therefore Germany would have to fight a war on two fronts. The Germans therefore thought up a plan that would enable them to fight only one country at a time.
The plan was that Russia would take six to ten weeks to mobilise their army, after they had heard about the war, as Russia’s railways and roads were quite backward and it would take time to assemble all their men from all over the country. This would give the Germans enough time to defeat France.
The problem was how to defeat France in just six weeks when the French already had troops along the French/German border and behind the troops were heavily fortified towns. The Germans needed to launch a surprise attack on France if they were going to achieve their objective of winning a war over France. However, the French had not put up any defences on the French/Belgian border as Belgium was a neutral country and the French would not expect an attack from there.
Part of the Schlieffen Plan, therefore, was to attack through Belgium and the Germans hoped that the Belgians would just let them through. However, even if the Belgians did put up a fight it would not matter as they only had a small army that would swiftly be defeated by the German army.
In the plan the German army was now in France but what was the best of taking France? Count Von Schlieffen, who wrote the Schlieffen Plan, thought that it would be best to tae the capital, Paris. They would achieve this by sweeping six parallel armies through northern France, taking the Channel ports to stop any overseas help i.e. British help, getting through and surround Paris (see diagram). The Germans would then take Paris and cause the French to surrender. Once this was accomplished the German army could then concentrate all its forces on fighting Russia.
Stalemate developed on the Western Front for many different reasons. The Schlieffen Plan failing was one reason as to why stalemate developed. This was because if the Schlieffen Plan had accomplished its objectives the Germans would have won the war and stalemate would not have developed. Also the when the Schlieffen Plan did fail the German army decided that they needed to surround the French and the British by sweeping round to the north if they were going to have a chance of winning the war. However both the French and British did this as well. Neither side could outflank the enemy in the ‘Race to the sea’. As neither army won the ‘Race to the sea’ both decided to ‘dig in’. The Germans did this because they could not advance any further and so that they could keep the land they had already gained. The British and French did this to prevent the Germans advancing. This ended the ‘War of Movement’ making it difficult for either side to accomplish a victory, which made stalemate develop further.
To drive the Germans out of France the British and French had to attack. Unfortunately for them trench warfare favoured the defenders not the attackers. The only way in which the attacking armies could achieve a victory in trench warfare was to achieve a breakthrough. This entailed first crossing No-man’s Land to attack enemy positions and break-in to the enemy trenches. Then breaking through the trenches to capture and occupy them, creating a gap behind enemy lines and then breaking out behind enemy lines by sending a large number of troops through the gap to encircle and defeat the enemy, achieving a victory.
This was very difficult to accomplish because the infantry led the attacks across No-man’s Land at walking pace and carried heavy kits, which were difficult to move quickly in. This made them very easy targets for the defenders. Also the defenders could use weapons, such as machine guns whereas the attackers could not use them, as they were too heavy to carry across No-man’s Land. The defender’s trenches were protected by barbed wire, which could not be destroyed by artillery bombardment, making it difficult for the attackers to get to the enemy trenches. Also the trenches were very complex and the front line trenches could get more troops, food, weapons and ammunition through the communication trenches that connected the front line trenches to other trenches further back. All of these facts meant that it was very difficult for the attackers to achieve a breakthrough and a victory, which was one of the reasons that stalemate developed.
Another reason that stalemate developed of the Western Front was because of the terrain in the area. The Germans occupied most of the high ground in the area of the fighting, this meant it was difficult for the British to achieve a victory as the Germans could see what they were doing. An example of where the Germans held high land was Sanctuary Wood. Also there was quite a lot of woodland in the area, which meant it was difficult for the British and French to see what the Germans were doing. The mud in the area made it very difficult for the British to advance quickly over No-man’s land as the artillery bombardment had churned all the ground up. These difficulties made it almost impossible for the British to achieve a victory, which would in turn end stalemate.
New technology had to be brought into action in World War 1 as each side wanted a victory and therefore needed good weapons. The tank was first used in World War 1, however, the idea was not new it just had not been taken seriously by army experts. Tanks were useful in ending the stalemate because they could help the infantry break into enemy lines. Also when tanks were first used in World War 1 they shocked the Germans and they terrified some of the front line troops. Tanks are best remembered for their attack on Cambrai in November 1917 where they managed to create a hole ten kilometres wide and six metres deep through the German lines. However tanks were unreliable and often broke down during battle, some run out of petrol and others were damaged by artillery fire, and were not a safe place to be in. They were also very slow, at the beginning they were not even as fast as walking pace (2 mph on the road, 1/2 mph cross country) and by the end of the war they were slightly faster (4mph) but they still could not move quickly or with much ease.
Another new technology was gas, the Germans first used it in 1915 but it was soon used by British and French. However the Germans used it on a far greater scale than that of the Allies. When it was first used none of the troops knew what to do but soon gas masks were distributed to both sides. To begin with chlorine and phosgene were the gases that were used the most. When the wind was blowing in the direction of the enemy the gases were released from cylinders.
However later in the war gas shells were introduced. Chlorine and phosgene were lung irritants and they were intended to make the defenders gasp for breath giving the attackers easy targets. As war progressed other types of gas were used, there was ‘tear producers’ which caused much bed irritation and watering of the eyes that the defenders could not fight the attackers. Also introduced were other gases that caused various degrees of paralysis and attacked the nervous system. These were more lethal gases but not as lethal as ‘mustard gas’, which was introduced in 1917 and it burnt the skin, caused blisters and formed foam in the lungs. It was greatly feared by the Allies as the gas masks could not protect them from it and it was colourless and odourless. Despite all of this not many people died of gas and it was relatively unsuccessful as in France the wind mostly blew towards the Germans, which stopped the Germans from using it frequently. Also the Germans began to run out of the necessary chemicals.
America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917 as a result of the U-boat attacks on neutral shipping. America’s regular army was small, inexperienced to modern warfare and ill equipped. The American Air Force consisted only of one squadron of planes, which were not modern. America’s Navy was able to participate immediately by building ships. When the American troops arrived in France they were only semi- trained and needed more training. America could not offer much military expertise or support however America entering into the war was important to the ending of stalemate because it gave the French and British troop a huge lift in morale. Also America had the advantage of its huge industry so lots of equipment, weapons and food could be shipped over. America was the most powerful nation in the world and to have them backing up the Allies could only be good.
The British navy had blockaded the German ports from the beginning of the war. Soon afterwards the effects of this began to be noticed. In 1915 rationing began in Germany, in 1916 food riots broke out in many German cities as the people demanded food. By 1918 290,000 people had died of starvation in Germany. Many German people wanted an end to the war because the only way that they could get any food was by ending the war and in 1918 riots and strikes were breaking out. Meanwhile Germany’s allies were surrendering and Germany was left to fight alone causing many naval mutinies to break out. A flu epidemic was spreading round Europe and when it reached Germany thousands died. After a massive strike in Berlin the Kaiser fled to Holland and the government resigned. It was impossible for Germany to fight anymore. If the British had not blockaded the German ports there would not have been food shortages and therefore no rioting and the German people would not have wanted and end to the war. Therefore the blockading of the German ports was important in the stalemate being broken.
The Ludendorff Offensive was very important in the ending of stalemate. Although the Germans gained a lot of ground it also tired the Germans out and got morale low as the Allies still held many of the important cities. Also they had been told that the Allies had almost run out of food but they found this not to be so when they took over the Allies’ trenches and found huge supplies of food. This lowered moral because the Germans realised that the Allies were not as weak as they had first thought. Also the Germans had not achieved a break through yet. Ship loads of American troops began to arrive in May meaning that Allies had more troops and the Americans were keen and not tired as they had not been at war long. If the Germans had not launched the Ludendorff Offensive then the Germans might not have got worn out and had low morale. Therefore the offensive must have had some part to play in the ending of stalemate.
All of the above points were important in breaking the stalemate on the Western Front. However I think that the new technology used was less pivotal than the rest because although the technology was important the tank was hardly ever used and was unreliable and gas also was not used a lot so did not help in ending the stalemate. I cannot say that one point is the most important as they are all linked together. For example if the Allies had not blockaded the German ports then the Ludendorff Offensive might have never happened because the Germans might have stayed in a defensive position and not attack as there was no reason to. However when food riots did happen they needed to attack so that they could win and get the ports unblocked. Another example of how they are linked is that if the Americans had not entered the war then the Germans might have won the Ludendorff offensive as they outnumbered the Allies without the Americans and not have had low morale and have been tired of fighting. Overall I think that the statement is correct in saying that they are all equally important in finally breaking stalemate on the Western Front.