Moltke, Architect of War Plan, is Sacked; Victim of Marne Defeat

Special to The Great War Project

(14 September) This day, a century ago, a dramatic reshuffling at the top of the German military.

General Helmuth von Moltke, sacked a chief of German General Staff

General Helmuth von Moltke, sacked as chief of German General Staff

General Helmuth von Moltke, the chief of the German General Staff, and the architect of Germany’s war plan, is sacked.

The war plan is his undoing. Known as the Schlieffen Plan, it is formulated years before this war. It called for a quick German strike into France to knock France out of the war. Then a reverse to the east to engage Germany’s “real” enemy – Russia.

The plan fails on both counts. The Anglo-French forces stop the German invasion on the Western Front in a massive confrontation at the Marne. The French and the British send the Germans retreating. Just a few days ago, they come near Paris but are unable to seize the French capital.

On the Eastern Front, the Germans hand a terrible defeat to the Russians in the Battle of Tannenberg, but Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary is struggling with the Russians as they bear down in the eastern European territory known as Galicia, now part of Ukraine and Poland.

All of this in just the first six weeks of war.

“The myth of German invincibility had been laid bare”

…writes historian Max Hastings of the German defeat at the Marne. “And the French army had risen superbly from the ashes of defeat.”

The French soldiers fighting at the Marne “experienced a spiritual renewal in the exultation of their advance, regaining from the occupiers many precious miles of the soil of France.”

Germans in retreat, Battle of the Marne, September 1914

Germans in retreat, Battle of the Marne, September 1914

The scapegoat for the German failures is General von Moltke. He is totally crushed by events, observes one senior officer. “His nerves are not up to the situation.” On this day a century ago, Moltke receives orders from the Kaiser “to report himself sick,” Hastings writes, in order to conceal the move from the German public.

“No man had done more to precipitate the calamity of European war,” writes Hastings. “Yet having got his way, Moltke proved incapable of effectively conducting his nation’s armies.”

More than thirty other German generals are dismissed. Germany is facing a total crisis in military leadership.

Moltke is replaced by General Erich von Falkenhayn.