World War 1- The Importance of Joffre and Von Moltke

As the country all turned their lights out on the 5th August, we all stood and remembered 100 years since the beginning of World War 1, the War which was famously quoted as ‘ending all wars’. As part of WUHstry’s remembrance, we are posting on the big events of the war and all the innocent lives that were lost.

My post is about the importance of Marshal Joseph Joffre, one of France’s most senior officers in World War One, as well as Helmuth von Moltke the younger, who was the German Army Chief of Staff. Both were important in the early stages of the War.

Marshall Joseph Joffre

Joffre was a senior officer in the French army when World War 1 broke out, his role was Chief of the General Staff. As a senior figure in the army, Joffre had gained a reputation for being an offensive strategist who had replaced all the defensive minded strategists in the French Army.

Regiment of the French Bayonets 

The reason Joffre was held in such regard at the time for his actions in the Battle of Marne, which took place on the 6th-10th of September 1914. The Germans at the time were carrying out the Schlieffen Plan which aimed to circle the French army after marching through central Belgium to get the Lille, and if the plans work it would capture Paris.

A French offensive which prompted German counter-attacks, which then forced the French back onto a fortified barrier, leading to their defence being strengthened. With this move happening, it meant that  they could redistribute their forces to reinforce their left flank, which proved vital in the Battle of the Marne. The North Wing of the German forces was weakened further due to the movement of 11 divisions to fight in Belgium and East Prussia. The German 1st Army which was led under General Von Kluck swung north of Paris rather than the South West that was predicted. This required them to pass into the valley of the River Marne, leading them straight across the Paris defences exposing them to a flank attack and possible counter-envelopment.

This led to Joffre on the 3rd September to order a halt to the French retreat and then reinforced the French left flank to begin a general offensive. This lead to Kluck to halt the advance prematurely in order to support the German flank. This act led to the keeping the French in the war, saving Paris and pushing back the Germans 42 miles.

Although this was a great victory for Joffre and the French, however he is better known for becoming associated with trench warfare on the Western Front and not being able to come up with a strategy to end it. Not only this but he lost his credibility amongst the French public further by failing to breakthrough at the battle of the Somme. This push was touted as the final one but was a failure, and was made worse by endurance the French soldiers had to take in the Trenches through battles like the Verdun.

Therefore you could easily argue that Joffre was important to the French War effort, due to the fact that he kept the French in the war, and helped saved countless lives. Although the trenches meant that countless lives were lost, more could have been lost if Joffre had not been able to counter the German attack.

French soldiers in one of the many Trenches

Helmuth von Moltke:

Helmuth von Moltke was nephew of the renowned Prussian General Moltke the Elder, who was famous for important victories against Austria in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. This meant that straight away, if the younger von Moltke was to pursue any military interests, he would have pretty big shoes to fill.

Von Moltke the Elder

In 1906 Von Moltke the younger took the position of Army Chief of Staff, taking over from Alfred von Schlieffen, who as mentioned earlier had an integral plan which would become a big part of the German war effort. This plan was to quickly defeat the French in the West through a rapid, overwhelming flank attack through Belgium and the Netherlands whilst keeping a small army at bay for Russian attacks.

Basic Image of the Schlieffen Plan

Moltke retained the plan of his predecessor but modified it to take account of the French military build up in the South prior to the war beginning. However Moltke’s adaptations did not work as well as he would have hoped, due to the fact he did not implement them effectively. Although Moltke managed to persuade Kaiser Wilhelm II that the plan would be unstoppable once the ball started rolling, Moltke’s own indecisiveness cost him and Germany massively during the invasion of France.

Kaiser Wilhelm III

Unlike Joffre, Moltke was easily distracted and was awfully indecisive. Fear of a Russian attack in the east as well as an opportunity to capture an unplanned victory against the French in Lorraine just make him indecisive and he couldn’t make up his mind over what action to take. His indecisiveness cost him in the Battle of the Marne, where his orders were unclear, resulting in field officers ordering a retreat, stalemate and then trench warfare. After all the actions or lack of them, Wilhelm replaced Moltke on the 14th September 1914, 4 days after the end of the Battle of the Marne with Erich Falkenhayn, and Moltke later died in 1916.

There is an obvious difference between both Joffre and Von Moltke. Joffre was a confident commander in that he knew he always wanted an offensive plan, and he illustrated this through getting rid of his defensive tacticians to stick to his offensive plans. However Von Moltke was indecisive and had big shoes to fill due to having such a famous uncle, as well as being in the shadow of his predecessor, it made it hard for him to be his own man. However what both have in common is they ended up shaping the events of the first World War and the trench warfare, through having stalemate and having both sides move around so much to conquer the other. The Schlieffen plan if anything just allowed for the Germans to be attacked from both sides rather than have just one area flattened at a time.


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