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Profile - Planning for "The Day": The Other Powers

Having previously taken rather detailed looks at German and French  planning for the expected Great War, it’s time to take quick looks at how the other countries were planning for their roles in the conflict.


Austria-Hungary.  While their German allies had to plan for a two front war, against France in the West and Russia in the east, on paper at least the Austro-Hungarians had to consider a three front war, against the Russians in the east, the Serbs in the south, and, just in case, the Italians in the southwest.   For our purposes, though they did have plans for Italy their deployment planning for Russia and Serbia were the most important.  The Imperial-and-Royal general staff organized the available forces into three groups:

  • Minimalgruppe Balkan:  Three army corps to deploy against Serbia.
  • A-Staffel:  Nine army corps to deploy in Galicia, against Russia.
  • B-Staffel:  Three army corps constituting the strategic reserve.

The deployment of B-Staffel varied depending upon which of the two mobilization planes was to be implemented, which essentially reflected who was to be the main enemy. 

  • Plan B envisioned a war solely against Serbia, in which B-Staffel would join Minimalgruppe Balkan for offensive operations, while A-Staffel would keep watch on the Russians.  
  • Plan R assumed a war with Russia and Serbia, with B-Staffel joining A-Staffel in Galician for operations against Russia while Minimalgruppe Balkan would take a defensive stance against a possible Serbian offensive. 

As was the case with the German and French war plans, the Austro-Hungarian ones also had some flaws.  The most important was that at some point a decision had to be made to implement one or the other plan. 


Russia.  The Russians also developed two different war plans, depending upon whether Germany made a major effort against France, leaving only small force in the East, or if Germany put stronger forces in the East.

  • Plan G:  Presumed that Germany would make its main effort against Russia.  As Germany would mobilize much faster than Russia, the Russians accepted that they would have to conduct a fighting withdrawal.  Abandoning Poland, they would retreat to the fortified zone running north from the Pripyet marshes through Brest-Litovsk and Kovno.  There they would complete mobilization and then assume the offensive and throw the Germans back.
  • Plan A:  Assumed Germany would make its main effort against France, in which case Russia would undertake an early offensive against the Germans in East Prussia with two armies to ease pressure on the French, while concentrating the bulk of her forces for an offensive against Austria-Hungary.

Like all planners, the Russians assumed that their troops were at least as good as those of their enemies.  They were correct in the case of Austria-Hungary, but not in that of Germany. 


Britain:  In a sense, the British really didn’t have a “war plan.”  They had a contingency plan in the event they entered a Continental war, intending to coordinate their deployment and movements on the French left flank.  In the first days of the war, as the BEF was preparing to ship out, some individuals, notably Admiral of the Fleet John Fisher, advocated ignoring events in France and Belgium to land the expeditionary force on the German Baltic coast for a march on Berlin.  Given the total lack of experience in such operations, the lack of preparation for one, the presence of the German High Sea Fleet, German coast defenses, and German preparations if such an adventure were to have occurred (a reserve corps and substantial Landwehr forces were temporarily retained in northern Germany for such an eventuality) this might have been a formula for a disaster.

Oddly, Fisher’s proposal was the only alternative Britain had to placing an army on the French left, demonstrating a serious lack of strategic imagination.   If the Baltic proposal or some other alternative plan had been properly studied, rather than just thrown out at the last minute, Britain perhaps might have found a better use for the BEF than to help cover the French Left Flank.  Of course, the BEF did well.  But in its movements and operations on the French flank from the landing on the Continent, through the advance into Belgium, the subsequent retreat, and the Battle of the Marne, the BEF might have done even better with a better commander than Sir John French.  And while the British plan more or less worked, it did ultimately involved the Empire in a major continental commitment, for which it was wholly unprepared.


Belgium: Belgian planning was purely defensive.  On mobilization the available forces would deploy in such a way as to provide some defense against France or Germany or Britain.  Plans were devised for each potential enemy, which outlined how the field forces would concentrate to impede their advance, with some attempt to consider different contingencies.  Ultimately all Belgian plans presumed that ultimately the army would fall back on the heavily fortified “national redoubt” at Antwerp, to stand siege and hope for support from whoever hadn’t invaded them.  The fortresses of Liege and Namur were to hold out for as long as possible, to tie down enemy troops who might otherwise be used against Antwerp. 

During the German invasion in 1914, the Belgian plan called for which the field forces to concentrate on the east side of the River Gette and delay the German advance until it became necessary to fall back on the Fortress of Antwerp.


Serbia: In 1914 the Serbian Army was good, with considerable combat experience under its belt.  But it was still recovering, reequipping, and reorganizing in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars that had only ended in the summer of 1913.  Their primary concern was the threat of a renewed war with Bulgaria.  Planning for a war with Austria-Hungary was essentially defensive.  Upon mobilization the Serbs planned to have a thin covering force on the frontier with Austria-Hungary, while holding their main forces back in the interior, so as to undertake counterattacks once the main enemy thrust developed.  It was a sensible plan, given Austro-Hungarian superiority in numbers, and the potential Bulgarian threat, and worked well, until Germany and Bulgaria entered the game.


Italy:  On the outbreak of the war, Italy remained neutral, reminding the Germans and Austro-Hungarians that their alliance was supposed to be a defensive one.  Nevertheless, there was an Italian war plan in place.  Although the strains of the Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912) had caused the Italians to inform the Germans and Austro-Hungarians that they would be unable to meet their existing treaty obligations for some time, in late 1913 they resumed their commitment.  If Italy entered the war, she would:

  • Send three army corps and two cavalry divisions (c. 150,000 troops) to arrive on the Rhine by M+17, to undertake operations in support of the German Army in Alsace by M+20
  • Undertake an offensive in the Alps designed to pin as many French troops there as possible. 
  • Form a joint naval task force with Austria-Hungary and Germany to disrupt the movement of French forces from North Africa to Europe, and then undertake joint amphibious operations against Corsica and the South of France.

On August 6, 1914 the Germans and Austro-Hungarians informed newly appointed Italian chief-of-staff Luigi Cadorna (1850-1926) that all arrangements were in order for the movement of the Third Army by rail through Austria and southern Germany.  By then, however, Italy had already exercised its options under the terms of the alliance to remain neutral.  Nevertheless, the rail lines  remained open through the middle of August, waiting for the army which never came.

Despite being neutral, the Italian Army undertook a partial mobilization, positioning troops in the Po Valley, to be able to respond to any future political decision to join the Central Powers or to fight against them.  That decision did not come until May of the following year.


Ottoman Empire:  The Ottoman Army had not done well in the Italo-Turkish and Balkan Wars (September 1911-August 1913).  The First Balkan War (Oct. 8, 1912-May 30, 1913) had been particularly disastrous.  But the Turks learned quickly, and initiated reforms that began to tell during the Second Balkan War (June 29, 1913-August 10, 1913).  A comprehensive reform program continued through 1913 and into 1914.  This was largely the work of Turkish military reformers, though influenced by the presence a German military mission (which usually gets all the credit).  By the time the Ottomans entered the Great War, in October of 1914, the reforms had gone a long way, though they were by no means completed.

As the Great War was breaking out, in August of 1914, Turkish war planning was still largely defensive, with possible courses of action largely depending on contingencies.  The army was concentrated in five areas:

  • Thrace:  Very strong forces were ready to defend from threats to Constantinople by the Greeks or Bulgarians, or by sea against the Straits.
  • Caucasia:  Substantial forces were in eastern Anatolia to defend against a Russian offensive and to undertake local offensives if opportunity arose.
  • Syria:  Substantial forces were available in the event of war with Britain, to undertake an offensive against Egypt.
  • Southern Arabia:  An army corps was available to keep local tribes under control, and possibly threaten British held Aden.
  • Mesopotamia:  Several divisions were dispersed along the main river lines in a purely defensive posture.  

These dispositions changed after the Turks allied themselves with the Central Powers in mid-Autumn of 1914.


Having dealt with the war plans of Germany, France, and, to a lesser extent, the other European powers, in a future CIC we will attempt a comparative critique of the various proposals.

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