The Schieffelin Plan, A Master of Staff Work and Military Appreciation

When I was undergoing the Staff Course at Wellington, I was introduced to the name of General Count Von Schieffelin (1833-1913). A deeper study conveyed to me that he was one of the most important architects of a plan to help Germany wage a two front war in the 19th and 20th century. Right from the nineteenth century to the middle of the last century Germany was obsessed with a two front war. In fact for most German generals fighting a war against both Russia on the eastern front and France on the Western front was nothing short of a nightmare. They desperately needed a plan to counter this type of war. It did not help that on the continent Russia and France were the rivals of the Germans. Count Von Schieffelin formulated a military plan to take care of this eventuality which is known as the Schieffelin Plan. The plan was a master stroke of a genius and military theorists still study it as an example of good staff work and planning.

The Plan of Count Schieffelin

Count Von Schieffelin was a German army officer. He was also a strong protagonist of a powerful German state and a strong nationalist. Von Schieffelin by dint of his ability rose to become a Field marshal and remained Chief of the German Genera staff for 14 years till 1905. The count had plenty of first hand battle experience having taken part in the Franco-German war of 1870, when the Germans over ran the entire north France and almost captured Paris. But the failure to capture Paris gave him much food for thought and he used his mind to formulate a plan that could help Germany beat both France and Russia in one decisive blow. This was the basis of his plan that is immortalized as the Schieffelin Plan.

The basic foundation of the plan was speed of action. In fact this was the most important variable of the plan. His other important parameters were:

i) Treat the Neutrality of the Low Countries Belgium, Holland and Luxemburg as a piece of paper. The counts plan hinged on an attack on France through the Low Countries to breach the French Maginot line. The Maginot line was a series of entrenched defensive fortifications to face a German onslaught.

ii) In case the first measure was accepted Von Schieffielin expected a French defeat in 6 weeks. It was to be a lightning victory.

iii) Once France was defeated the Count envisaged use of Germany’s excellent rail network and transportation of the troops to the Russian front from the French front. He assumed it would take Russia at least 6 weeks to mobilize in that period France would be defeated.

The Schieffelin plan was bold and audacious, but the crucial assumption hinged on one other important factor –England. He expected that the English reaction would be slow and they would be presented with a fait accompli.

Practical use of the Plan

The Germans mad e use of the plan in the First World War. But trench warfare and stubborn French resistance under Marshal Petain thwarted the Germans. Thus many people began to have doubts about the Schieffelin plan.

At the out break of the Second World War Adolf Hitler, The German Chancellor and supreme commander studied the Schieffelin plan afresh. There is no doubt that Hitler certainly had some knowledge of Military tactics and strategy as he had also studied the works of Fredrick and Clausewitz. He found merit in the plan and decided to adopt it with minor changes. He decided that France was to be crushed before he turned on the Soviets and as a ploy concluded the non aggression pact with Stalin in1939, taking the west and England by surprise. It was a part of his plan as envisaged by the Count.

Hitler next mobilized the German war machine which as per the Schieffelin plan moved through the Low Countries, breached the Maginot line and defeated the French. The French were defeated in 40 days as envisaged by Schieffelin. Credit must go to Hitler who interpreted and made use of the plan with impunity.

Last Word

The geo political scenario has changed and a continental war as envisaged by the Count is not likely. But despite this the plan as laid down by Field marshal Count Von Schieffelin stands out for all times to come. Military theorists and students still study this plan as an example of staff work. It is also studied at the Staff College in India.