For almost three generations, historians have accepted a version of the opening of WWI in August 1914 which has taken the following form: Germany placed all her hopes on the famous Schieffen Plan, a massive hook by five German armies that were to pass through Belgium, Artois, Picardy and then to the west of Paris before crushing the French against two remaining German armies in Lorraine. However, by violating Belgian neutrality the Germans brought Britain into the war alongside France and Russia, and ironically it was the tiny British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that was to administer the coup de grâce to German hopes on the Marne in September 1914. The Schieffen Plan had supposedly been a brilliant concept, aimed at winning the war in the West in six weeks, before moving German forces east to deal with Russia, who, it was thought, would be slow to mobilize. Thus the Germans would avoid the strategic nightmare of a two front war. However, in reality the plan contained fatal flaws. Simple geometry shows that Kluck's 1st Army, on the extreme right of the hook, would have to travel much further and much faster than the Crown Prince's 5th Army at the pivot of the wheel. Any delays encountered by von Kluck from unexpected Belgian or BEF resistance would be disastrous. Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in East Prussia, an invasion by two Russian armies prompted von Moltke to send two corps from his right wing in Belgium to reinforce the beleaguered 8th Army. This, according to the accepted view, was a catastrophic error. Moltke had apparently made the cardinal mistake against which the dying Schlieffen warned, he had not kept his right wing strong. Ironically, the troops sent east did not reach Prussia in time to fight against the Russians in Tannenburg and were in training crossing Germany when the Battle of the Marne was lost. The Plan was doomed from the outset. The German military historian, Holger Herwig, writes: The plan sought through a General Staff brain centre to dictate not only the opening moves of the campaign but also all subsequent operations of millions of men in a foreign land. Not only would this deny army commanders initiative, but the slightest disruption of communications threatened to unravel the overall timing of the advance. In addition, so entrenched had the fear of a two front war become that the military planners were willing to gamble on a plan that would violate Belgian neutrality and probably bring Britain into the war against them. In addition, the plan was so inflexible that nothing could be allowed to interfere with its smooth operation. The Schlieffen Plan was the albatross around the neck of the German Army in 1914 and Moltke was condemned to put the plan in operation, for which he received the blame that should really belong to the staff planners. The plan was more fantasy than fact. As the British historian Niall Ferguson explains: When Schlieffen devised his famous, notorious plan in 1905, he imagined an army which…had twenty more divisions than the Germany Army actually had in 1914, so there was a fictional quality to the planning. These…imaginary divisions being deployed and the whole notion of being able to sidestep the French by going through Belgium was in many ways a fantasy designed to make a point "We have a problem here; we need twenty more divisions." Germany did not have those 20 divisions either in 1905 or in 1914, and yet the General Staff acted as though they did. The plan, though Schlieffen himself knew it was impossible, became Germany's only reality. The General Staff was so smug that they never gave adequate attention to what the other side was planning and made unwarranted assumptions. Denis Showalter points out: The failure of the Oberstab (German General Staff) is a lack of empathy, they are…like surgeons. They think everyone else is a surgeon, that every officer, every reserve lieutenant and sergeant, every recently mobilized civilian in the Heer [German Army] will be not merely willing but able to do what these professionals can do, and do so under conditions of extreme physical and psychological stress. They do not pay enough attention to the fog and friction of the human elements of the Heer. The Oberstab officers also fail to understand the mindsets, the attitudes of their opponents because they despise them. Increasingly, as the Schlieffen Plan becomes as much a set of mantras as a military plan, the enemy is expected to conform to German intentions. Therefore it is not particularly necessary to know much about his psychology, his military structure, how generals in Russia or France will act and react; they will react the way the Plan makes them react. The Schlieffen Plan was a nightmare of logistics. For example, Kluck's 1st Army needed 1 million kilograms of fodder daily for its 84,000 horses. Food for men and horses had to vie for roadspace with ammunition being brought forward from miles behind the front line, which was constantly moving away from the railheads at a rate of 20 miles per day. Showalter asks: How are these men going to be fed, going to be kept moving, how is their everyday health going to be maintained, because four-fifths of them are not professional soldiers or serving draftees? They are officers and men called back from civilian life who have very often forgotten much of their military training. They are not particularly physically fit, they are not emotionally geared for marching twenty miles a day under the stress of potentially having to fight a battle along the way. Relentless schedules prepared by military hierarchies, based on calculations applicable only to fit, regular soldiers and assuming ideal conditions, make the Schlieffen Plan as much a regimen of torture for the Germans as for their opponents. Showalter continues: [A] platoon commander in the Heer is supposed to check his men's feet at the end of a day's march for blisters. That is regulation in every army, the British, Russian, French. But a reserve officer at the end of a fatiguing march might very well neglect to inspect his men's feet. When he does, the blisters become worse, feet become infected, men start dropping out of the ranks, and stragglers will feed themselves by stealing or looting from the country…As rations fail to come forward, the officers and NCOs, again mostly reservists, will requisition food locally. But to see that the men cook it properly is quite another problem. The Schlieffen Plan takes no account of these things. The Plan assumes that every officer, every soldier, every horse in the Heer will do his duty as the plan provides. Perhaps the horse never heard. Schlieffen was planning a war within a vacuum, which did not take account of technology, transport or communications. It was estimated that each of Germany's thirty corps consumed 130 tons of food and fodder, requiring 20 miles of road and a whole day to resupply them, and this while they were standing still. The attempt to follow a fast-marching army advancing through battle zones with everyone's meals was not usually successful. The 320,000 strong 1st Army on the outside of the wheel was the biggest problem. Continually in action against Belgian, French and British forces, it was also required to maintain a killing pace of 20 miles per day for weeks on end. To the German military bureaucrats the Plan was a vast war game, and it was unfair of the enemy to cause them to miss their deadlines. Moreover, what were the British doing in Belgium? The German planners did not believe Britain would go to war just to protect Belgian neutrality. As Ferguson explains: You had to attach far more significance to British intervention than Moltke did, and so when he and Bethman-Hollweg [the German chancellor] dismissed the Treaty of 1839 as "just a piece of paper," they showed a basic misunderstanding of traditional British foreign policy with its concerns about defense of the Channel coast. This misunderstanding gave Britain a pretext for getting involved in the war, something that the Schlieffen Plan did not account for. The first thing to go wrong with the Schlieffen Plan was that it assumed everything would go right at all levels. It assumed that from Supreme Headquarters down to the rifle companies, officers and men would understand what they had to do and implement this against an enemy who would make all the right mistakes. Secondly, the Plan overlooked the practical problems of effectively supporting, logistically and administratively, a massive sweep through the Low Countries by men marching on their feet and horses that ate their own weight of fodder each week. The logistical elements of the army were expected to keep up with the fighting troops, something that did not happen. Thirdly, the Plan assumed not merely an obliging enemy but an enemy who would accept defeat, an enemy unable or unwilling to rally from the kinds of defeats the Germans expected to impose. The German General Staff contained the best and brightest military minds of the day. The problem was they had less common sense than the average German householder because they tied themselves into knots of their own creation. They made an impossible plan and, when faults were found with it, simply continued to make the impossible plan better. By 1914 they had an almost impeccable plan that would work only in the never-never land of their own minds.