14 SEPTEMBER 1914
WESTERN FRONT: As German forces withdraw from the Marne, behind the lines there is a shakeup of the German high command. Helmuth von Moltke, who bears the blame for the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, is quietly replaced as chief of the general staff by the Prussian minister of war, Erich von Falkenhayn. The Germans do not bother to inform their allies, the Austro-Hungarians, of this switch.
With the Germans in retreat, this is a good time to evaluate the possibility of success for the Schlieffen Plan. It is the general consensus of the historical community that the plan could not have succeeded, even as originally envisioned, and there's a good deal of merit in that conclusion. The march through Belgium and northern France turned out to be a logistical nightmare, as the right wing soon found itself out of supply and far from its railheads. Communication with the front also proved daunting, as was seen at the Battle of the Marne, where the 1st and 2nd armies were out of touch with the general headquarters for several crucial days. These logistical challenges would have, if anything, been even greater if the Germans had adhered to the Schlieffen Plan as it had originally been drafted.
In addition, the plan rested on the assumption that France would surrender if the Germans occupied Paris. That had been the case in 1871, but in that war France fought alone. Forty-three years later, in contrast, the French had allies, and there is no reason to suppose that France would have simply given up once Paris had fallen. The Schlieffen Plan, however, made no allowance for the possibility that the French wouldn't surrender. There was, in short, no post-Schlieffen Plan. As such, the Germans uncharacteristically ignored the lesson of Clausewitz, who taught that the enemy's "center of gravity" is always its army, not any geographical point.
On the other hand, the German advance came remarkably close to succeeding, at least in its immediate aim of capturing Paris, and credit goes to Joffre, whose strict adherence to the French Plan XVII proved disastrous in the opening phases of the campaign, for eventually transferring forces from the frontiers to the Paris sector and then switching to the offensive. Indeed, had the Germans been less successful in Lorraine, it might have been impossible for the French to disengage and send the necessary reinforcements to cover Paris. The Schlieffen Plan, in fact, envisioned that the German left would retreat
in order to draw the French further into their lost provinces, but that proved to be politically impossible for Moltke.