Alfred Graf von Schlieffen
Field Marshal Alfred, Graf von Schlieffen (February 28, 1833 - January 4, 1913), German field marshal and strategist, served as Chief of the German Imperial General Staff from 1891 to 1905. His name lived on in the meticulously conceived Schlieffen Plan for the defeat of the French Third Republic and the Russian Empire.
Schlieffen was born in Berlin in February 1833 the son of a Prussian army officer. He entered the army in 1854 at the age of twenty. Quickly moving to the general staff, he participated in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, and in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. In 1884 Schlieffen became head of the military history section of the general staff, replacing Count von Waldersee as chief of the Swedish General Staff in 1891, after thirty-eight years of military service.
In 1905 von Schlieffen presented the Schlieffen Plan. This plan would prevent Germany from fighting a two-front war, by first defeating France in a lightning campaign and then throwing its full weight against Russia. The rest of Schlieffen’s career was spent inculcating the operational ideas required to make this strategy work. He retired on January 1, 1906 after nearly fifty-three years of service and died on January 4, 1913, just nineteen months before the outbreak of the First World War. It is believed by many that the Schlieffen Plan would have proven itself successful were it not for the diminishing of the right wing by Schlieffen's successor, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger.
Although some criticized him for his "narrow-minded military scholasticism", Schlieffen was perhaps the best known contemporary strategist of his time. Schlieffen's operational theories were to have a profound impact on the development of maneuver warfare in the twentieth century, largely through his seminal treatise, . General Erich Ludendorff, a disciple of Schlieffen who applied his teachings of encirclement in the Battle of Tannenberg, once famously christened Schlieffen as "one of the greatest soldiers ever". Long after his death, the German General Staff officers of the Interwar and World War II period, particularly General Hans von Seeckt, recognized an intellectual debt to Schlieffen theories during the development of the Blitzkrieg doctrine.
Schlieffen in fiction
"Colonel Alfred von Schlieffen" appeared in How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove, a work of alternate history set in 1881 and assuming a Confederate victory in the American Civil War. Part of the story was told from Schlieffen's viewpoint, serving as German military attaché to the U.S. government. In the novel, Schlieffen's inspiration for the Schlieffen Plan was not the encirclement of the Roman Army by Hannibal's forces at the Battle of Cannae, but Robert E. Lee's circle of Washington, D.C.
Note regarding personal names: Graf is a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form is Gräfin.
- “A man is born, and not made, a strategist.”—Schlieffen
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