Alternate Battle of Lorraine 1914

How will TTL battle of Lorraine end?

  • Germany wins and then invades France.

    Votes: 52 43.7%
  • Stalemate along more or less the existing border.

    Votes: 48 40.3%
  • France wins and advances to the Rhineland.

    Votes: 19 16.0%

  • Total voters
    119
An east-first strategy and a German defense in the west has been discussed before. Still, I like to discuss in more detail such an alternate battle of Lorraine.

POD: At the outbreak of the First World War, instead of deployment plan "Aufmarsch II west", Germany implements the plan "Aufmarsch II ost". This means that Germany divides its armies 50/50 between East and West. In the east, the army is cautiously attacking to take Russian Poland. In the west is only defense and therefore no invasion of Belgium.
France honors its alliance with Russia and declares war on Germany on 5 August, after the first German divisions invaded Russia the day before. Germany occupies Luxembourg on 6 August. France carries out “Plan XVII” and on 7 August, the 7th Corps attacks towards Mülhausen. On 14 August, a larger offensive is launched, with the 1st and 2nd armies invading German Lorraine. On 21 August, the 3rd and 5th army attack towards Diedenhofen / Luxembourg. France tries to bring Britain on its side into the war and therefore respects Belgian neutrality too.

The map below shows the French and German deployment. I have limited myself to the Army Corps level, because otherwise the map will be too crowded. Some individual units (cavalry, reserves, etc.) are therefore not shown. I used a height model in the background, which gives a good impression of the (im)possibilities of the terrain. I also indicated the maximum range of the fortress artillery (about 10 km at the time). Both belligerents deploy about 20 Army Corps and are therefore fairly equal in strength. Is that assumption correct?

Question: How will this battle of Lorraine end? Unlike the OTL “Battle of Lorraine”, the French armies do not have to retreat to the west because of the German advance through Belgium. How far will the French be able to push through in Alsace, Lorraine and Luxembourg? How successful is a German counter-offensive? Let the battle begin!

BattleofLorraine.jpg
 
For those interested in French fortresses, this website with many photos and maps is highly recommended! I also put the French and German fortifications in Google Earth, see attached kml-file.

It is obvious that the French built a lot of fortresses. You would think they were paranoid… Another remarkable fact is that Germany had virtually no defenses in southern Alsace. Fortifications are only located near Strassburg. Why not at Mülhausen?
 

Attachments

  • Fortresses-Lorraine.zip
    12.5 KB · Views: 22
Another remarkable fact is that Germany had virtually no defenses in southern Alsace. Fortifications are only located near Strassburg. Why not at Mülhausen?
Not that strategic.
Later I will try to find my RR map of the area at that time. Supply of a French corps will prove difficult with just wagons on reaching the real fortified area around Strasburg.
 
I think the French might capture Mulhouse but stop there. They are trapped between the Vosges and the Black Forest and there are no major Strategic objectives nearby. They need all the troops the can get in Lorraine. I think in Lorraine they will probably be able to advance at least to the Saar. They have more Troops and superior logistics in the area. but advancing further than that would be dangerous without first taking the German fortresses on the Moselle. They risk getting trapped between those and the one in Strasburg. And the German troops can always be supplied through the railways along the Moselle and the railway through the Eifel. Depending on the length of the war the state of the Iron Mines on both sides of the Border will be of extreme importance. They are in the area between Lonwy, Briey, Metz and Diedenhofen, and around Nancy. The French could also threaten the coal mines of the Saar, but those were only of minor significance to the German economy.
Does someone have information on French heavy artillery and the State of German fortifications? Terrain features could also be of importance, i belive the area around Briey is higher than the valley of the Moselle and artillery positioned there would hav longer range firing on lower targets.
 
The German fortress in Lorraine were as fearsome as Verdun complex, if anything France plan XVII Will end on a meat grinder and a German counterattack from Luxemburg and Baden. If anything German would advance slowly in french Lorraine but with France heavily injured
 
While I am not an expert, it was my understanding that the Germans had the advantage in that they are fighting a defensive war. They had prepared many strong points with predetermine artillery fire plans. I am assuming that they had telephone lines laid that would allow for quick calling in an artillery strikes. I am also assuming that there would be a lot of fortified machine gun emplacements.

The French were relying on "elan" to carry their forces forward. Some one told me one time that "elan" means that the you are betting that the other side runs out of bullets before you run out of men.

I agree with Nivek, that the French army would be ground up. The question in my mind is how many French soldiers would died before the French Generals realized that the plan was worthless.
 
The only concerns for Germany is that her Lorraine iron mines are unusable and the nitrates discovered in Antwerp are not available in this TL.
 
The only concerns for Germany is that her Lorraine iron mines are unusable and the nitrates discovered in Antwerp are not available in this TL.

I don’t think the French navy can blockade Germany by itself so nitrates could be imported from Chile. Although there’s going to be super weird naval dynamics. At a minimum Britain will refuse to allow the High Seas Fleet to operate in the English Channel, and may even try to block German battleships from operating on the Atlantic to break the French blockade. It’s not going to be tolerable in the long term to Germany to concede control of the high seas to a lesser naval power, so sooner or later they’re going to ignore British demands and precipitate war.
 
An east-first strategy and a German defense in the west has been discussed before. Still, I like to discuss in more detail such an alternate battle of Lorraine.

POD: At the outbreak of the First World War, instead of deployment plan "Aufmarsch II west", Germany implements the plan "Aufmarsch II ost". This means that Germany divides its armies 50/50 between East and West. In the east, the army is cautiously attacking to take Russian Poland. In the west is only defense and therefore no invasion of Belgium.
France honors its alliance with Russia and declares war on Germany on 5 August, after the first German divisions invaded Russia the day before. Germany occupies Luxembourg on 6 August. France carries out “Plan XVII” and on 7 August, the 7th Corps attacks towards Mülhausen. On 14 August, a larger offensive is launched, with the 1st and 2nd armies invading German Lorraine. On 21 August, the 3rd and 5th army attack towards Diedenhofen / Luxembourg. France tries to bring Britain on its side into the war and therefore respects Belgian neutrality too.

The map below shows the French and German deployment. I have limited myself to the Army Corps level, because otherwise the map will be too crowded. Some individual units (cavalry, reserves, etc.) are therefore not shown. I used a height model in the background, which gives a good impression of the (im)possibilities of the terrain. I also indicated the maximum range of the fortress artillery (about 10 km at the time). Both belligerents deploy about 20 Army Corps and are therefore fairly equal in strength. Is that assumption correct?

Question: How will this battle of Lorraine end? Unlike the OTL “Battle of Lorraine”, the French armies do not have to retreat to the west because of the German advance through Belgium. How far will the French be able to push through in Alsace, Lorraine and Luxembourg? How successful is a German counter-offensive? Let the battle begin!

View attachment 686854

Oh, I am always so happy to see an Aufmarsch Ost scenario...

I am taking the liberty of incorporating parts of an old post of mine from earlier this year - on a thread you may remember, @Helmuth48, since you were active in it! :)

The short answer, I suggest, is that this is going to end very badly for France. First, because it's not easy terrain to attack through here, whoever the attacker happens to be. The Germans have a 180 mile long border, mostly straddling the Vosges Mountains, a heavily forested highland range topping out at ovr 4,000ft; the rivers (Moselle, Meurthe, and Meuse) basically run north to south, which also aids defense; it is anchored on each end by Switzerland and the Belgian Ardennes, behind which lies the Westerwald; the Germans and the French both have had decades to fortify entire zones to their hearts' content. Second, because, the German dispositions were setting up to make a Plan XVII thrust into Lorraine into a giant trap.

I direct your attention to a previous discussion of this in an older thread, where @AJE pulled up a paper by Terence Holmes at a conference six years ago, "Not the Schlieffen Plan 1914":

If Moltke had followed Schlieffen’s real intentions for the counter-offensive conduct of a two-front war, the first great battle of 1914 would have been fought in Lorraine in the third week of hostilities, on terms much more favourable to Germany than they were at the battle of the Marne. We can reconstruct this alternative scenario because we know exactly what the French chief of staff Joseph Joffre intended to do if the Germans did not invade Belgium.​
French war planning was constrained by two political imperatives. In the first place, France was committed by agreement with her Russian ally to launch an ‘all-out and immediate’ attack against Germany as soon as possible after the outbreak of war. Moreover, the French government had resolved not to encroach on Belgian territory unless the Germans did so first. Joffre was therefore obliged to incorporate in his war plans a variant which allowed for a full-scale offensive avoiding Belgian territory altogether, and that would have come into effect in 1914 if the Germans had stayed on the defensive and not entered Belgium. For this eventuality Joffre decided that three of his five armies, comprising some 60 percent of his first-line troops, should invade Lorraine on 14 August, aiming initially to reach the line of the river Saar between Sarrebourg and Saarbrücken (Doughty 2010, 146-8, 155-8, 168). Ominously, that position was flanked at both ends by the German fortresses of Metz and Strasbourg.​
Schlieffen had long before outlined how the Germans should exploit a massive French incursion through ‘the relatively narrow space between Metz and Strasbourg’. The aim must not be to push the enemy back to his fortified border. Rather, he had to be engaged on three sides, ‘from Metz, from the Saar and from Strasbourg’, and brought to a standstill there, which would give the Germans an excellent chance of decisive victory by means of envelopment attacks out of Metz and Strasbourg. The ultimate aim of this ‘attack on the enemy’s flank and rear’ would be to surround the French invasion forces and ‘not just defeat them, but lay them low and as far as possible annihilate them’ (Boetticher 1933, 260).​
Joffre himself was acutely aware of the perils attending a French offensive in Lorraine. He said that the object would be to rupture the German front, but he conceded​
that:​
"in the course of this operation our forces would be liable to be taken in flank by attacks coming in all probability from both Metz and the region of Molsheim-Strasbourg. By penetrating like a wedge into the midst of the enemy’s lines we would be more or less inviting envelopment (Joffre 1932, 74-5)."​
But a German defensive posture in 1914 would have compelled Joffre to embark on that hazardous course of action — that was precisely what he was committed to if the Germans refrained from attacking through Belgium and waited instead for the opportunity to counter-attack. In that event, the war would have started with a great battle of encirclement as soon as the French First, Second and Fourth Armies had completed their short advance into the danger zone between Metz and Strasbourg. Speaking in 1904 of the strategic importance of these fortresses, Schlieffen once again emphasized their role in counter-offensive operations: ‘I do not mean a Metz and Strasbourg that are to be besieged and defended, but rather a Metz and Strasbourg in which armies are assembled and through which they march in order to attack the enemy by surprise’ (Zuber 2004, 160).​

As AJE put it: This may have failed if the French didn't use such a strategy, and they considered doing so when Victor-Constant Michel, the de facto French Chief of Staff, made a defensive plan to counter a potential German move through Belgium. But the French generals and government rejected his plans due to a lack of offensive spirit, fired him, and replaced him with Joseph Joffre, who once again made offensive plans of the type that Schlieffen could take advantage of, and these were the plans that Holmes is describing, so it would have ultimately worked in that respect in 1914. And this is, of course, the scenario you have set up here.

It explains why the Germans fortified Metz and Strasbourg to a very high degree while leaving the border between them, and therefore the iron ore mines, almost undefended. The same thing that made those mines an apparent vulnerability also made them useful as bait for the French to invade. The result is that there is a high likelihood - I would almost say, certainty (and I think Holmes would, too) - that a big chunk of the French First and Second Armies will be crushed and captured in a German envelopment, crippling the French Army for the duration of the war, at least as a offensive force.

If the French are going to be doing any waltzing in Coblenz, I can only think it is likely to be in the role of prisoners of war.
 
I don’t think the French navy can blockade Germany by itself so nitrates could be imported from Chile. Although there’s going to be super weird naval dynamics. At a minimum Britain will refuse to allow the High Seas Fleet to operate in the English Channel, and may even try to block German battleships from operating on the Atlantic to break the French blockade. It’s not going to be tolerable in the long term to Germany to concede control of the high seas to a lesser naval power, so sooner or later they’re going to ignore British demands and precipitate war.

The High Seas Fleet will still be restricted to the North Sea, but at least German merchant ships won't be - though they will have to figure out armed convoys against French commerce raiders. A lot of imports will doubtless be routed through Italy and the Netherlands.

It's a problem, but a much smaller one than the one they had to solve in OTL.
 
Top