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Old Mar 02, 2010, 08:53 AM   #1
Harvin87
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What If Germany Won the Battle of the Marne in 1914?

I don't want to start another what if... but ... what if the Germans would've won the battle of the marne in 1914? war's over ?
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 09:54 AM   #2
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well, if France falls, the British empire woudl still go on fighting.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 10:03 AM   #3
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 10:06 AM   #4
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It is likely that a swift war would result in a negotiated peace. We are not looking at WWII here. Whatever the French do (continue fighting, or negotiate peace), I suspect the British would follow. Neither the British or the Russians could beat Germany on land without France.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 10:14 AM   #5
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Yes, but then you have the messy issue of violating Belgium's neutrality. Given how many factors went about in the Treaty of Versailles, which was a total Allied victory, it's impossible to say "what if" with a negotiated peace.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 10:23 AM   #6
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A major difference is that Versailles was after four years of unimaginably bloody warfare and all the horrors that it brought.

A negotiated peace in 1914 would probably be more akin to the Treaty of Frankfurt or those ending other 19th century wars.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 11:17 AM   #7
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Yes, but then you have the messy issue of violating Belgium's neutrality. Given how many factors went about in the Treaty of Versailles, which was a total Allied victory, it's impossible to say "what if" with a negotiated peace.
I'm sure it could be paved over. A negotiated peace might offer Belgium some sort of recompensation, either from Germany or France for formalities sake, as the economic costs of the invasion would be negligable at this point.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 01:20 PM   #8
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It's damned difficult to know, Harvin, and that frankly does require its own thread. Annoyingly, the German government hadn't made any sort of statement about 'war aims' yet.

Militarily, though, the consequences would not be as decisive as you think, depending on the way in which the Germans 'won' the battle. More on this after I take a midterm on British history from 1688-1860.
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well, if France falls, the British empire woudl still go on fighting.
Why? The only reason the British were in the fight was because of France. No France, no Britain.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 02:20 PM   #9
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A major difference is that Versailles was after four years of unimaginably bloody warfare and all the horrors that it brought.

A negotiated peace in 1914 would probably be more akin to the Treaty of Frankfurt or those ending other 19th century wars.
The German Empire likely would've partitioned France entirely in 1871 had it not been for for the fact that it would've caused all the other powers in Europe to turn against them.

Given that this was already the case in 1914, I say again, it's impossible to play counterfactual.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 02:34 PM   #10
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It's damned difficult to know, Harvin, and that frankly does require its own thread. Annoyingly, the German government hadn't made any sort of statement about 'war aims' yet.

Militarily, though, the consequences would not be as decisive as you think, depending on the way in which the Germans 'won' the battle. More on this after I take a midterm on British history from 1688-1860.

Why? The only reason the British were in the fight was because of France. No France, no Britain.
wrong. if that's the case, Britain would have negotiated peace with the Nazis in WWII.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 02:36 PM   #11
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wrong. if that's the case, Britain would have negotiated peace with the Nazis in WWII.
I wasn't aware that Imperial Germany in 1914 was exactly equatable to Nazi Germany in 1940. Thank you for the profound history lesson.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 05:35 PM   #12
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I wasn't aware that Imperial Germany in 1914 was exactly equatable to Nazi Germany in 1940. Thank you for the profound history lesson.
tomato, tomato apparently.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 05:51 PM   #13
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they are both strong expansionist powers. close enough.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 06:03 PM   #14
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they are both strong expansionist powers. close enough.
This is quite a massive oversimplification.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 06:13 PM   #15
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oh i forgot: imperial germany surrendered like a bunch of cowards. Nazi Germany fought until the very end, and still surrendered like a bunch of cowards.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 06:22 PM   #16
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Millions of German soldiers would disagree with that.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 06:24 PM   #17
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oh i forgot: imperial germany surrendered like a bunch of cowards. Nazi Germany fought until the very end, and still surrendered like a bunch of cowards.
I can only suggest that you actually open a few history books rather than relying on wikipedia has told you. The old adage that no argument in history is wrong i believe only applies where the person putting forth the argument has some knowledge of the subject.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 06:28 PM   #18
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I can only suggest that you actually open a few history books rather than relying on wikipedia has told you. The old adage that no argument in history is wrong i believe only applies where the person putting forth the argument has some knowledge of the subject.
Adages don't apply to hilarious e-nationalism, since that would imply that the latter is not impervious to reason.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 07:08 PM   #19
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oh i forgot: imperial germany surrendered like a bunch of cowards. Nazi Germany fought until the very end, and still surrendered like a bunch of cowards.
No. Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally. The people rose up causing the Kaiser to abdicate, and an armistice was signed by his successor, following that a very disadvantageous peace treaty was signed by the Wiemar government. No surrender involved anywhere.

Even if you could equate Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany (which you most assuredly cannot), the circumstances around the two World Wars were entirely different as well.
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Old Mar 02, 2010, 07:56 PM   #20
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The German Empire likely would've partitioned France entirely in 1871 had it not been for for the fact that it would've caused all the other powers in Europe to turn against them.
Nonsense. How did the military situation at the time even remotely permit such a partition? What would they do with all that French territory? How would they enforce it? What would be the political grounds for a regional partition of France?

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Given that this was already the case in 1914, I say again, it's impossible to play counterfactual.
Watch me. Also, any discussion will be based in history anyway, so it'll still be enlightening no matter what. And you have a poor understanding of chaos.

First thing is that we have to define what victory on the Marne actually means. Holger Herwig claims that the First Army could've defeated the French Sixth Army (Maunoury) and subsequently turned back south, fought off the BEF, and won a defensive victory in the position it was in. Maybe. The late Col. Dupuy also thought so. That's up in the air, and you'll find just as many people who disagree. Personally, I am more inclined to suggest an entirely different outcome for the whole campaign, based chiefly on Terence Zuber's book, because Zuber's awesome. (Among other reasons.) In the Zuberesque scenario, the German First Army would have, after contacting the Sixth Army on the Oise, have pulled back to act in its proper mission as the German Second Army's flank guard. This did not occur, chiefly because Alexander von Kluck and his chief of staff, Hermann von Kuhl, were after a more glorious prize than "flank guard for the largest army on the Western Front". In this scenario, the outcome of the engagement on the Marne doesn't matter. It has accomplished its primary goal, namely "being a magnet for the French Army". Chief of Staff von Moltke would, upon learning of the French concentrations near Paris, redirect troops to Lorraine and crack the Trouée des Charmes fortress barrier, now disastrously undermanned. Again, just one more possibility. There's some more, like Max von Hausen's (Saxon) Third Army properly taking advantage of their successful bayonet charge (!!!) against Foch's (French) Ninth Army (!!!) and breaking up Foch's Army when they had the chance. I mean, the whole thing is full of divergences, and operationally they all lead to a dramatically improved German situation vis-a-vis the French.

There are earlier divergences in the campaign, as well. The myth of the "right wing" being the hammer and the strongest part of the German Army in the West in August-September 1914 really needs to be dispelled one of these days. But even then, the right-wing commanders had plenty of opportunities to envelop entire Entente armies - both the BEF and Lanrezac's (French) Fifth Army. Pick any one of these, and as the Germans start driving into northern France, the situation changes drastically for everybody. Maybe the French have to pull more troops out of Alsace-Lorraine faster, so that the original Bavarian attack on the Trouée des Charmes succeeds. Maybe the German right wing ends up being so exhausted by the effort that its advance is somewhat, and doesn't get as close to Paris in the first bound.

Second, we have to take a military look at the consequences of these divergences. There are a lot of them. Depends on which you go with, frankly. Since I'm a big fan of the Trouée des Charmes plan, because I am - as mentioned - a Zuberfag, let's discuss the consequences, in general, of a breakthrough by Kronprinz Rupprecht's Army Group there. The French prewar plan in the event of massive defeat by the German Army was to pull back and regroup on the plateau of Langres. Everybody knew this long before it was actually true, just like everybody knew the Germans would probably go through Belgium long before they actually started wargaming it. The entire point Alfred von Schlieffen kept pressing with his wargames before his retirement was that emphasizing the German Army's right wing in the Westaufmarschplan would, even presuming the right wing managed a colossal victory over the French troops facing it, not prevent the French from withdrawing to Langres. It would be worse than useless, because it would draw the Belgians into conflict with Germany and add even more enemies to the roster. Hence why von Schlieffen never emphasized the role of the right wing in either his wargames or his Aufmarschpläne. At most, the right wing was supposed to be a flank guard against an Anglo-French violation of Belgian neutrality that basically everybody figured was a certainty, given Britain's historic interest in the Low Countries.

So that's what the attack on the Trouée des Charmes was intended to forestall: a French withdrawal to Langres, where they would be - the Germans believed - nigh impregnable, due chiefly to the terrain. By breaking through at Nancy, the Germans would have the chance to cut the French Army off from their Langres redoubt and keep the French troops in northern France, where they were theoretically beatable. The very salient point has been made that the French fortresses and natural defenses in the Trouée des Charmes made such an attack suicidal for the Germans. This is eminently not the case; first of all, by the time of the Battle of the Marne, the French had withdrawn most of the defenders from the area. Secondly, the Germans had wargamed the scenario out repeatedly and decided that, though it would be bloody, a combination of heavy artillery, numbers, and the overall superior German tactical unit leadership would be able to permit breakthrough. (The fact that the Germans were thinking so seriously about such a breakthrough at all in the prewar years ought alone to dispel a lot of the false history about the German Army in the West's right wing. Whatever.)

Breakthrough there is the first step to isolating the French Army's main elements in northern France, to be pushed back in late September-early October 1914. French defensive victory is much less plausible now, frankly. Still could be a factor, however. At this point, Helmuth von Moltke doesn't even have to be the Chief of the General Staff anymore, and they could have replaced him with Erich von Falkenhayn, whose accession is one of the chief reasons the Germans didn't attack the Trouée des Charmes in OTL when their chances were the best in September 1914. If the breakthrough has already occurred, von Falkenhayn won't be able to ignore the possibility of accomplishing it.

Now, I'm well aware that none of this stuff means that German victory in the First World War was a certainty after that happens. Maybe Falkenhayn screws up, for instance. Perhaps the Germans will merely get control of more of France in 1914 than they actually did, and end up with trench warfare-style stalemate anyway. (Unlikely, but possible!) LightSpectra would whine too much if I didn't make a note of this here, and we all know that that's no fun. With all that said, I think we can say safely that most of the probable divergences in the course of the campaign in the West from August to September 1914 made a much more rapid German victory in the war much more likely. Of all the possible divergences, "making the right wing strong[er]" is not one that is likely to result in a greater victory. Even Martin van Creveld has seized on this, noting that the supply lines in Belgium had a strong right wing a logistical nightmare for the Germans, and that if they had sent more troops into Belgium they probably would have weakened their effort even more. Fundamentally, what the Germans needed to do was twofold: they first needed to cut the French armies off from Langres, then they needed to at least threaten Paris, at most occupy it. A stronger right wing makes the first point a military impossibility and seriously endangers the second point.

Mid-term, of course, discussion is harder, if not impossible. Say the Germans capture Paris, crush the French Army somehow. (The fate of the BEF is particularly interesting here. Some of its top commanders were deeply involved in the Curragh mutiny. Say the BEF doesn't take serious part in the Marne campaign and later, as Sir John French would have preferred. It remains largely intact and manages to escape to the Channel ports, because that's the chief consequence of a greater German focus on cutting the French off from Langres. Politically, the army now becomes dynamite. Ireland was on the brink of civil war, and Britain itself could easily have descended into fighting along with it. I'm just about the worst person in the world to talk about this, but from talking after tonight's midterm with my prof, who's written up early 20th century Irish history QUITE A BIT APPARENTLY, such a thing was pretty likely. I expect PCH or somebody else would do a damned sight better job talking about this. Long digression over.) What kind of peace treaty is in the cards? First things first, we have to talk about the peace program of 9 September 1914 that "the Germans" put together. Actually, the war-aims manifesto was written up by one German Foreign Ministry official, a rather famous guy named Kurt Riezler who's responsible for a lot of what we know about the July Crisis. He suggested that the goal of German policy was to prevent France from being a serious threat to Germany for all time. He put Antwerp, Briey, and even the French Channel ports on the table. This is radically different from anything anybody else in the German government put forth at the time, and from the reported thinking of Kanzler Bethmann-Hollweg. Is it semi-marginal? Sort of. () Can we ignore it? No. In the event of a quick victory over France, war fever probably would've pushed war aims that far. It's probably the best formulation of war aims we can work off of: small annexations of valuable territory (in both economic and military terms) directly for Germany, save Antwerp, plus an indemnity from France. What about the UK and Russia? Well, there's basically no chance in hell that Britain will continue to fight if France gives up the ghost. They can't continue to fight a war on the Continent, Ireland is going to explode fershirr now that there's no hope of distracting everybody with a war, and the only reason the British were involved with France in the first place was to "protect the balance of power of Europe" (in itself a lunatic proposition, because the concept of a balance of power is horribly bankrupt), and they cannot do that anymore. War's over. France lost. They didn't lose that much, but they lost. Britain now has to deal with the large segments of the population who weren't much interested in the war in the first place, widespread disillusionment, and all sorts of "fun" stuff like that. And anyway, what would the war gain them? What has the United Kingdom got to gain by staying at war with Imperial Germany (in the context of the first months of the war)? As for Russia, well, I'm not stupid enough to try to pull the Tsar's (and, to be fair, his military leadership's) decisions out of my tuchas. A magic 8-ball would be a better predictor than I (or anybody else) would.

And here's where we get into the realm of fiction-without-a-semblance-of-history for damned certain. We know about German and French war plans, we know about war aims, we know about the relative conditions of their armies and we can make a decent guess as to what would lead to peace breaking out in the west. If you try to predict past that, you're guessing, or you're telling a story without much historical backing. We have absolutely no way of figuring out the course of Continental history after a victorious German campaign in the west in 1914. Niall Ferguson rather famously (and rather recently!) wrote about a series of events, made them into counterfactual discussions, then extrapolated a likely course of events...way...too...far. For instance, he argued that if Germany were to have won the Great War, Europe would have evolved, under the Mitteleuropa customs union that Rathenau and others pushed, into something remarkably like the European Union, except earlier. Uh, no, we actually can't guess that far, mang. What's to say it doesn't break up earlier, for instance? Or the effects of social revolution, if and when it occurs, on the monarchist states that make up the overwhelming majority of the proposed Mitteleuropa union? There's a host of objections you could raise to those points, and I'm not dumb enough to try to Go There, girlfriend.

tl;dr: rah rah germany

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