The First World War was one that Germany might have won, but instead the war ended in defeat for the German Empire.[1] The collapse of the German army in 1918 after the Battle of Amiens all but ensured a victory for the Entente. Germany accepted an armistice with the Entente later in 1918, and then the Treaty of Versailles that came after it that effectively dissolved the country's empire. However, the outcome of this war may have been different with better German military planning. These were a few of the military blunders that brought about  Germany's defeat.

The Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen Plan was one of the main factors behind Germany’s defeat. This was a military plan first drafted years before 1914 that highlighted how Germany ‘could win a war in Europe’ if it emerged. The plan highlighted how Germany could defeat a Franco-Russian alliance by firstly defeating France and then the Russians with the whole German army in Eastern Europe. This was the plan expected to win Germany a quick victory.

Schlieffen Plan MapCredit: Image licensed as public domain on Wiki Commons.

However, with the outbreak of the war shortcomings in the plan became increasingly clear. Firstly, Russia mobilized its army more quickly than the Germans expected and advanced into East Prussia. Secondly, the violation of Belgium neutrality also ensured Britain’s involvement in the war and reinforcements for the French army, which the plan never really took into account. In addition to this, the Belgium army also slowed the German advance into France slightly. Given this, the plan failed to reach its objectives and a longer war on two fronts emerged with France, Britain and Russia. Germany’s military had not drafted a plan B should its primary plan fail.

The Battle of the Marne

While the German army’s advance into France did start well, the Russians also advanced towards East Prussia. As a result, Moltke ordered German divisions to be sent to the Eastern Front, which could have otherwise been used in France.  This could well have been one of most notable military blunders of the war as it turned out that Germany needed more divisions to maintain its advance toward Paris. At the Battle of the Marne British troops re-enforced the French, so Moltke withdrew the German soldiers. Germany may have had the reinforcements to potentially win this battle, but they were no longer available. As such, the French could not be defeated.

The U-Boat Campaign of 1917

By 1917, Germany was winning the war in the East; but that was not the case in Western Europe. The Royal Navy’s economic blockade was having a notable impact on German supplies, so the German High Command drafted a new plan that could potentially defeat Britain and the Entente. This plan involved unrestricted submarine warfare targeting British merchant shipping. If Germany could sink enough of those ships, then the U.K. would lose its supplies and either have to surrender or accept some an armistice offered by Germany.

German U-boatCredit: Image licensed under public domain on Wiki Commons.

Although the plan sank lots of merchant ships, the campaign failed to meet its objectives. This after Britain began to organize its merchant shipping into convoys that provided them with greater support and ensured the Germans lost more U-boats. As such, the Royal Navy reduced merchant shipping losses and Britain remained in the war.

The campaign also had notable political repercussions as it ensured that America joined the Entente’s side. President Wilson declared war on Germany during the U-boat Campaign, which provided the Entente with a big ally. By 1918, US reinforcements arrived in Europe more quickly than the German High Command had bargained for and began to re-enforce the Entente lines in time for the Battle of Amiens. Had the Germans not taken a gamble with the U-boat Campaign, then the Americans may well have remained neutral in 1918.

These were a few of Germany's military blunders during the war. Blunders in military planning such as he Schlieffen Plan and the U-boat Campaign that failed to defeat Britain and ensured US reinforcements for the Entente in 1918, were two big factors behind Germany’s defeat.