There were many reasons for a stalemate developing on the Western front which I am going to discuss, the first was that each country had their own war plans in which each one had weaknesses.
The first war plan I am going to look at is Germanys Schlieffen Plan; this plan was to march to France and defeat them in a matter of 6 weeks and then would be able to turn their attention to Russia. The problem facing German commanders was that if a war broke out they would have to fight Russia and France at the same time this is known as a Two Front War.
This plan relied on the Russian army being slow to mobilise which Germany was adamant they would be.
The next plan I’m going to look at is Britain’s; Britain’s plan was to set up and ready the BEF (British expeditionary force) and to travel across the channel to France on short notice. Yet they would not last too long with only a small army of 150,000 and they also had to make it across the channel without alerting any enemy boats e.t.c.
Frances plan was to try to attack deep into Germany and try o force surrender this plan was never too likely to work as it was too obvious and far too hard. This was known as Plan 17.
The next is the Russians plan, Russia was going to try to defeat Germany and Austria by sheer weight of numbers but the Russian troops would have gradually been took down/killed as there army was badly trained and not very well equipped.
The plan I am going to discuss is Austria -Hungary’s, there plan was to help Germany defeat Russia after the Germans had defeated France. The main thing wrong with this plan was that it completely relied on the success of the Schlieffen Plan.
Failure of the Schlieffen Plan
The first plan put into use was the German Schlieffen plan and in this part of the essay I am going to discuss the many reasons why this plan was not successful and how it led to the development of the stalemate.
The first reason was that Helmuth von Moltke argued that Belgium’s small army would be unable to stop German forces from quickly entering France. Moltke suggested that 34 divisions should invade Belgium whereas 8 divisions would be enough to stop Russia advancing in the east but this was not the case. The Belgium soldiers fought much harder and with much more bravery than expected which slowed down the Germans and also created time for the British BEF to get across the channel to join France for the start or “The Battle Of Mons”.
Battle of Mons
The battle of Mons was the first Major battle of the first world war and also it was the first battle with the technology/weapons available like the:
- Machine Gun
- And Enfield Rifle
These Weapons were designed to slaughter a greater amount of soldiers and quicker and this is what they did during this war there was a terrible amount of loss of life to both sides caused by the development of this new technology.
On the morning of 23rd August, General Alexander von Kluck and his 150,000 soldiers attacked the British positions. Although the German Army suffered heavy losses from British rifle fire, Sir John French (British commander) was forced to instruct his outnumbered forces to retreat. French favoured a withdrawal to the coast but the British war minister, Lord Kitchener, ordered the British Expeditionary Force to retreat to the River Marne.
The French lost over 200 soldiers in 12 days which was enough to show them that Plan 17 was not working so they abandoned it and regrouped to defend Paris from the advancing Germans.
Once again the Germans had been slowed down and the Schlieffen plan was looking less likely to succeed.
Battle of Marne
After the battle of Mons the BEF and the French were in retreat and retreated all the way back to the river Marne but the German army also had problems the Russians had mobilised much quicker than expected and already invaded Germany so the German supreme commander Moltke had to pull out 100,000 troops from the army advancing onto France and the British to go back and hold off the Russians yet still this was not all the problems, during the quick advance food or ammunition was not able to keep up so the German troops was forced to leave most of it behind were which left the German soldiers hungry and exhausted. As the German army was still advancing French troops were rushed to Paris by anyhow possible even public taxis were used,
The BEF and the French were able to stop the German advance but neither side could make any Major progress by 8th September both sides had to result in digging trenches to protect themselves from snipers and shell fire. The Schlieffen plan had now failed. Up to this point it had been an all moving war but now both sides had taken up more defensive tactics and this was the first sign of the stalemate developing.
It was quick and easy to dig the trenches in France as the land was very flat and was very soft and chalky so trenches could have been dug in a matter of hours.
Race to the sea
The next battle that took place was the “race to the sea” this was a key battle as whoever got control of the ports would have an upper hand receiving re-enforcements and equipment.
The Germans (now facing a two-front war) noticed they could not get through enemy lines but if they managed to get control of the ports they would not be surrounded by Britain and France and would be in a Better position to attack. So the Germans decided that they would head for the ports but this was held as important ground by the British as this is where they got there equipment and reinforcements so they had to beat the Germans there.
THE RACE WAS ON as the Germans advanced towards the sea British and French troops moved in to block them every time it looked like they had a chance of getting through and the Germans eventually got trapped. The British got control of more ports but once again this battle resulted in digging trenches as what started to be “The First Battle Of Ypres”.
As these trenches were dug soldiers believed that they would only be in them for a matter of weeks but in fact they spent nearly 3 and a half years in them fighting and not really achieving anything or making any outstanding breakthroughs.
The First Battle Of Ypres
The key battle of the race to the sea was the first battle of Ypres; Ypres was a medieval town in Belgium which was taken by the German Army at the beginning of the war. However, by early October, 1914, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was able to recapture the town. The first major German attempt to regain Ypres took place on 15th October. Experienced BEF riflemen held their positions but suffered heavy losses. At this point of the war both sides were now lacking men as the Germans had lost around 100,000 and the British had nearly been wiped out by losing 50,000, but still the British had the upper hand as they were in control of the ports so were supplied with equipment and reinforcements. The French had also suffered around 1 million dead or wounded in only 10 weeks but they was still not giving up and was still trying to break through German lines but they could not succeed and suffered heavy losses.
At the end of 1914 the stalemate was in place and both sides were stuck new tactics were now had to be tried to try and break it.
The main reason I believe why the stalemate developed was because of all the war plans having weaknesses and that no country could make a decisive break through and get the upper hand.
There was also many other reasons like:
- The equal abilities of the Germans and the British and the French so no-one could tower over the other countries and take charge.
- The flat land of northern France which enabled soldiers to be able to see an enemy coming from miles away, making it easier to fire at them from further away.
- The new technology like the Enfield rifle and the machine gun. The machine gun was underestimated until it was put into use, this weapon would make it a lot easier to defend your trench if enemy soldiers went “over the top”.
- And the last and most I think least effective tactic of the first world war was the “over the top” routine this is where soldiers would climb out of there trenches onto no-mans land trying to get into enemy trenches, but most of the soldiers who ever tried this would have been no doubtfully slaughtered going across no-mans land most likely by the enemy machine guns.