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"What would German victory in the west have looked like? " Topic

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GreenLeader17 Jan 2017 8:35 p.m. PST

One of the great 'what ifs' concerns Britain staying out (or at least, not committing a vast land army) of the Great War.
The notion that this would have been 'a good thing' is often dismissed on the strength that Germany would have thus defeated the French and secured her objectives in the West… but I have never seen anyone explain exactly what these were.

My understanding is that their war plans called for a rapid defeat of the French, so they could switch their armies to the East to face Russia – which rather suggests they would have had to grab at any negotiated peace offering the French proposed. Surely there is no way they could have fought for every inch of France – or even occupied a large chunk of it – if they needed to switch their forces East. France would have had to remain as a sovereign nation, though perhaps with the loss of a province or two. Did German plans call for the annexation of Belgium? I am not sure on this, as I do not think they even expected Belgium to oppose their move through it towards France – which suggests to me that it was not actually an objective itself.

So basically, my question is: had the British stayed aloof, and had the French / Belgians been defeated in 1914, what would such a defeat have looked like, really? Would it have seen a huge shift in the geopolitical situation of Europe? Or would it have been pretty much 'business as usual' within a few years?

I ask this with a totally open mind on the subject, so please do not assume I have some hidden agenda or axe to grind.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP17 Jan 2017 10:26 p.m. PST

You can do worse than to Google "German war aims in 1914".
Here is one take:

I read somewhere that Germany went to war with no clear aims. That surprised me, considering the bellicose nature of Kaiser Bill. But then….
Supposedly, by this thesis, the German Government hastily drew up a set of war aims to impose on the defeated Allies. The plan languished in a drawer somewhere.
The aim was to cripple France in such a way that she could never be a threat to Germany again. I suspect said Plan would have been as effective as the Versailles Treaty. Or as effective as the plans to cripple France after the Franco Prussian War.
Would the French have looked for scapegoats? Consider the Dreyfus Affair, and you decide.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP18 Jan 2017 4:42 a.m. PST

For all his many flaws the Kaiser was not hell-bent on conquering Europe, except maybe in a fancy day-dream.

Even the French had come to terms with 1870. Revenge was not on the political agenda around that time. It had been put on the back burner as more pressing concerns accumulated over five decades.

Nobody in Europe desired another war, but nobody was going to avoid a fight should it happen.

The original plan was to address the matter in the Balkans with a bit of sabre-rattling or maybe a brief war to teach the Serbians not to meddle in the affairs of major powers.

A few weeks later armies marched against each other all over Europe.

Plans of battle had been drafted and re-drafted, but the outcome and aftermath was left for diplomats to decide. Germany certainly had a list of things it could benefit from should they be victorious.

I cannot stress enough how common reparations were in those days. Versailles has often been described as an aberration, though it was merely standard practice for centuries before.

A German/Austrian/Ottoman victory over France/Russia would have serious consequences. Germany would probably annex parts of coal-rich Belgium and France to fuel the industry and carve away at the Belgian Congo and French Colonial Africa. What's left of Belgium would probably end up being a German protectorate or lumped together with the Netherlands.

We would see German gains in Russia and the Ottomans and Austrians carving away at the Balkans, the Black Sea and the Caucasus.

It would stabilize these nations for a while longer until they eventually implode somewhere down the line.

France would probably be deeply divided politically, the perfect opportunity for a strong figure to emerge at a time where the leadership and structures of the République are in question.

I have serious doubts that even a "benign" German domination of Europe would go down well. We might get a kind of European integration, but with Germany dominant it would be on unequal terms, mostly for the glory and benefit of Germany first.

It may take a while, but sooner or later Europe would go to war, depending on how the situation evolves the US will become a decisive factor in determining which side wins. If Germany becomes a major trade partner and the coalition against Germany appears too bellicose …

Germany winning in 1914 doesn't resolve anything. Europe was a set of tectonic plates that had been pushing against each other since Vienna. WWI didn't resolve this problem and a French collapse in 1914 doesn't either.

Europe changed after four years of bloody battle in the Trenches with most of the monarchies collapsing, but it took another World War to really change minds.

A France defeated in 1914 does not change the mindset, we still have the Kaiser and his personal demons, the dying Russian, Austrian and Ottoman empires. It's another 1870 and no real resolution other than that Germany becomes too powerful to some and France is further weakened.

Europe needed a 500-year long civil war to finally understand the need to put the rifle and sword away when dealing with each other. It started in the 1500's when the first states were centralized all the way to the Wagnerian finale of Hitler's mad genocidal regime.

Yes, there was a concept of a German-led European Economic system but that would have been at best a one-way street even in its more benign form.

At best it leaves France bitter and unwilling to cooperate at any level, a Britain having to contend with possible German expansion and it leaves the question in the air on which side the USA would end up supporting. A Germany playing the card of stability in Europe against the British and their ambitions and the perpetually resentful French …

Giles the Zog18 Jan 2017 4:54 a.m. PST

Try Fritz Fischer's "Germany's Aims on the First World War".

WS is essentially correct. The Germans had a wooly idea of reducing French power in the west and adding bits of Luxembourg and Belgium in to the Reich and or the German customs union. Holland would be in the customs union IIRC but still independent. Frontier strips of France would also be occupied and or annexed.

The problem the Germans had, was that different parts of the military and civilian ministries wanted different things. Then you had mission creep as the war progressed which influenced how each claim and counter claim was seen as viable.

At one point when Wilson was involved in trying to get an armistice, the Germans wanted the peace settlement to be based on the situation on the ground, not the previous boundaries.

Added in to this was the desire for overseas colonies especially a contiguous central African colony (Congo, Angola, SW Africa, E Africa, northern Mozambique and Kenya) all of which were to be welded together from their western European colonial powers.

So again, the disparate German factions were horse trading their claims between each before presenting it to the Entente and neutral arbiters.

The other IF in your question is what is Britain had not been involved. Then British policy would have demanded at the very least demilitarisation of Flanders and northern France to ensure no German forces there. Assuming at that point Britain had already given up on its treaty to protect Belgiums neutrality and integrity, then Germany would have got LUxumbourg and eastern Belgium, and Flanders would either be a British proectorate in all but name, or maybe added to Holland.

There would be similar deals over the Portuguese colonies which we had already discussed dividing before the war broke out with Germany – though Portugal probably wouldn't have become involved if Britain wasn't, so that would have been another separate deal.

Your other question, would it have been a geopolitical shift, then IMHO yes it would be. IF Britain by standing aside would effectively be in a tacit alliance with Germany as to the distribution off power in western Europe. At the very least, the low countries and France would consider it a betrayal and certainly not been in alliance with Britain so we would be isolated in Europe (hmmm, that's never happened before or since).

I think that scenario is unlikely, as Britain's aim has always been to ensure there is no hegemonic power in western Europe.

Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it's worked so well?
Hacker: That's all ancient history, surely?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We 'had' to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch… The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it's just like old times.
Hacker: But surely we're all committed to the European ideal?
Sir Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.
Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?
Sir Humphrey: Well, for the same reason. It's just like the United Nations, in fact; the more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up, the more futile and impotent it becomes.
Hacker: What appalling cynicism.
Sir Humphrey: Yes… We call it diplomacy, Minister.

Grelber18 Jan 2017 5:56 a.m. PST

While Leopold was king, the Germans saw some possibility of avoiding war with Belgium by paying the king a fee of some sort for transit rights, kind of like a turnpike toll. Given that scenario, it would have been hard to justify Britain going to war.


Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP18 Jan 2017 11:48 a.m. PST

I have serious doubts that even a "benign" German domination of Europe would go down well.

Certainly didn't here, in June 2016.

KTravlos20 Jan 2017 4:33 a.m. PST

"Nobody in Europe desired another war"
Conrand von Hotzendorf, Moltke the Younger, Alexander Krivoshein pretty clearly did. Others were ambivalent (Sazonov, Henry Wilson, Edward Grey, Poincare) ,and some were dead set against a war (Kokovtsov, Franz-Ferdinand).

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