"Russia First" German strategy in ww1?

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Behold, the roundabout near where I use to live, they've changed it now but it wasn't called The Magic Roundabout for nothing.
The USA does that in the proper venue, Figure Eight Demolition Derby.
Not as a way to get across town
Roundabouts and Dogbones are Evil.
 

CalBear

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3770925


Behold, the roundabout near where I use to live, they've changed it now but it wasn't called The Magic Roundabout for nothing.
Last off topic comment from me (SORRY!)

That nightmare is a sign from On High that you need to move somewhere they do not despise Euclidean Geometry and right angles.

One can only presume that all buildings in the region are either round or oval, with doors in the same shape.
 
Something I don't think is ever really discussed are the battles on the Franco-German border after the Battle of Lorraine.

On August 24 the Bavarians of the 6th Army initialed the Battle of the Trouée de Charmes or Battle of the Mortagne, which was initially successful but a French counteroffensive stopped the German advance and by August 26 Rupprecht ordered a retreat.

It appears that at this point OHL requested troops from 6th Army to be transferred to East Prussia to reinforce the 8th Army, but this was resisted at least partly because Rupprecht didn't think Bavarians should be defending Prussia. Apparently this is when it was decided to take the 5 divisions from the siege of Namur to send to East Prussia. The 6th Army was also able to have a request for more heavy artillery approved at this time. (See the Schlieffen/Moltke Plan falling apart?) In contrast the French thinned out their 2nd Army to send troops west to reinforce the Paris sector.

On 4 September German offensive began against the fortifications of the Grand Couronné on either side of Nancy, with the Kaiser coming to personally supervise the attack. This didn't appear to gain any sort of success although the French were hard pressed, were pushed back but reoccupied positions unnoticed. Starting on the 8th Moltke began moving troops from the left wing to the right wing and gave orders for Rupprecht to prepare to retire to the frontier, the first Rupprecht knew that things had turned to shit on the Marne. On the 10th the 6th Army began to withdraw east, by the 13th the French reoccupied their position unopposed.

It appears that this was when the big moves to the west started, Armee-Abteilung Falkenhausen, Gaede and Strantz were set up on September 17, 18 and 19 from the remnants of the 6th, 7th and 5th Armies after their main forces had left.

There's a couple of big history making mistakes in that period. Moltke could have tried to take troops from 5th or 7th Armies for East Prussia, leaving the 5 divisions in Belgium to be moved to the Marne. He could also have started moving troops west after the failure of Mortange, more than 2 weeks before they did ITOL and without the big losses arising from Grand Couronné. That sounds like a win in the Race to the Sea to me.
 
There's a couple of big history making mistakes in that period. Moltke could have tried to take troops from 5th or 7th Armies for East Prussia, leaving the 5 divisions in Belgium to be moved to the Marne. He could also have started moving troops west after the failure of Mortange, more than 2 weeks before they did ITOL and without the big losses arising from Grand Couronné. That sounds like a win in the Race to the Sea to me.

The attacks on Nancy were enough that Castelnau asked permission to abandon the fortress.

Joffre replied "If 2nd army withdrew, it would be separated from the 1st army and both destroyed piecemeal. If 1st army retired to keep contact, Belfort would have to be abandoned and both armies enveloped"

Far from being a mistake, it came close to winning the war.

As for the five divisions, if the divisions were taken from the attack on Nancy instead, the pressure on 1st and second army would have been reduced and allowed the French to move forces towards the Rhine. There are also serious questions as to the logistics of moving them to the Marne.

I find it amazing that there are arguments that keeping a few divisions in the West may have been decisive for Germany but that she can move thirty to the East without ill effect.

Going West gives Germany the chance to win. It needs Joffre to make mistakes and the Germans put enough pressure on him that he makes a lot.

Going East, relieved that pressure, gives Joffre the initiative, allows him to pick the point of attack and it gives him all the time in the world.

Joffre has a lot that he can add to an offensive other than what he used in August.

Six divisions from the Army of the Alps.
four Territorial divisions from the Channel
Eight from the fortresses.

He will also strip the fortresses of artillery and machine guns

German East first thread's only work by making a host of assumptions-

British neutrality which is wishful thinking
France avoiding Belgium out of fear of Britain- so not only are the British neutral they effectively become German allies.

Belgium resists a French incursion- possible, maybe likely, but the Germans can't know

Then they take an old plan, one that assumed Italy was tying down six French divisions in the Alps and the Italian 3rd Army arrives on the Rhine, effectively 12 German divisions to that won't be there

And, ignore that the plan called for standing on the Saar but insist that the Germans move into Luxembourg to protect Metz and the ore fields.

There is nothing in the record to think that the Germans understood the importance of those mines. If they did, there's no way they don't go West
 
The attacks on Nancy were enough that Castelnau asked permission to abandon the fortress.

Joffre replied "If 2nd army withdrew, it would be separated from the 1st army and both destroyed piecemeal. If 1st army retired to keep contact, Belfort would have to be abandoned and both armies enveloped"

Far from being a mistake, it came close to winning the war.

As for the five divisions, if the divisions were taken from the attack on Nancy instead, the pressure on 1st and second army would have been reduced and allowed the French to move forces towards the Rhine. There are also serious questions as to the logistics of moving them to the Marne.

It's too late for that, by the time the Nancy attack was to kick off the 1st and 2nd Armies were on the doorstep of Paris some 200 miles away. The decision to go wide and deep had been made and pushed forward with great aggression and industry and it was stupid to try and open another offensive.

I'd consider that the left wing to be the least important of the 3 fronts, behind the Easter front and way behind the right wing, especially once that offensive had penetrated deep into France.

Just for reference the battle of Grand Couronné finished on September 13, the Armee Abteilung A, B & C were stood up on 17, 18, 19 September and the 6th Army appeared on the right wing in the Battle of Albert on September 25 and afterwards. Presumably this means that it took about 2 weeks for units to move from the left wing to the right wing, and if given the order to move in late August troops would start to arrive at the end of the battle of the Marne and be about 2 weeks in front of OTLs Race to the Sea timetable.
 
That's what the Germans thought would happen. If you ever looked at their plan, not the ISOTs kicked around here, that's about right.

You're underestimating the success the Western campaign had in transforming the situation. The French took heavy losses on the Frontiers, lost the vital iron reserves and the Germans could establish themselves in some of the best defensive positions in Europe.

They also managed to lure the Russians into East Prussia and destroy the 1st and 2nd Armies.

Since the real German plan is not to occupy Luxembourg but stand on the Saar, they would have given up the Lorraine fields without a fight. Even if they try and hold the fields, the Germans will need to deploy about 56 divisions not the 40 claimed. That gives them nothing to send East (a net of seven divisions) which will accomplish less than nothing as the Russians avoid Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes.

Do you have any evidence for any of this?

Also, how is the OTL front line on French plains more defensible than the rugged terrain around Alsace-Lorraine?


No, much of the planning is fairly accurate. Moltke correctly believed that only victory in the West can be decisive and that victory must be won in the opening weeks.

His plan would have worked if the Italians had shown up. Since the Eastern plans also assumed the Italians and the Romanians Ally with Germany, it's easy to see where it falls apart as well

Maybe if you mean a total victory, where the Germans march to Paris and onto the Channel. But they didn't really need that. Defeating Russia and then negotiating a peace in West would have been enough for them.
 
Umm... you do realize, that morale is a very real thing in warfare, and that defender has a real advantage in it? It is much easier to motivate people to defend their homes than to conduct offensive through heavily fortified borders to impose harsh terms on somebody. The physical and material situation matters only so much - if the Germans don't show any inclination to push to the Channel, British and French voters won't want to get pushed through the meat grinder, even if the French get to keep their heavy industry.

@Fulton 44 explained this pretty well IMO, so I'll quote him.

Sorry late reply

Firstly you still haven't answered the geography question, or the political question instead moving on to entente morale in this new war

So on morale the reality is that once fighting starts the nationalism on either side will kind of override qualms about why they are there. "King and country" (or Kaiser and country, emperor and country, Tsar and country come to that) was still potent incentives at this point.


Or put this way if not being invaded is really going to be a huge negative factor in ongoing morale how was it the Germans were able to keep fighting for so long?




I agree with 3, but partially disagree with 2,4 and 5 and completely disagree with 1.

1, 2) My entire argument is that the prospect of a quick war in West was a pipedream that seduced German military and doomed their war effort. Even if you are technically right about 2, the chances were so small that it wasn't worth it to be even seriously considered.

Ok but since the German strategy for decades had been to fight and win a quick war your argument fails to address the basic reality of the situation.

Remember part of the reason why the German military was so keen to go in 1914 is precisely because they thought they saw the window of opportunity closing for their plan's success. Not just with Russian modernisation but with French developments as well (and domestic political changes were an issue too)



4) I'd say this is not true, either - the border is heavily fortified, and it was extremely difficult for the Germans to advance in France, despite their operational superiority. It would be a massive grind for France & Britain even in the best case. More likely, they would get bogged down for years.

Well like I said two points about this, your talking about two industrial powers concentrating all their efforts here against a spilt German force. Also I actaully suspect that Ironically the French and British will go through Belgium! Since there will already be war.

5) How much is "too much"? Sure, Germany can't try reverse Schlieffen and leave just two armies to West. But defending the Western border with 4-5 armies, while going on offence in East with the rest should be doable. I guess this is the question that determines if your core claim 1 is true or false - if Germany can defend West more or less indefinitely with 4-5 armies, a long war is not a problem.

And here we get back to the main point a long war is a problem. because Germany is surrounded and in economic terms out matched, it can't win a war of attrition here

I'm not an expert by any means, but I have understood from other threads that France & Britain were unlikely to be able to break through anytime soon. Maybe somebody can correct me if I'm wrong?
Anytime soon doesn't mean not at all and also see above
 
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....

Maybe if you mean a total victory, where the Germans march to Paris and onto the Channel. But they didn't really need that. Defeating Russia and then negotiating a peace in West would have been enough for them.

The problem with this is the shadow of 1871 looms large in German minds as much as French. That's the metric they are measuring against. For domestic political reasons (as well as economic reasons and generally wanting to limit damage) they want a short glorious victory*.

Thing is we can test your theory, if what you said was true why didn't they seek to negotiate in the west in 1917 when they had won against the Russians, especially as considering they were sitting on a lot French territory they were in a stronger position to negotiate from?

Ironically if swap the direction it would work better, a a quick victory in the west against France would mean they could more easily force Russia to negotiate.

1). Russia will know it's big trouble with no Western front to split German concentration. Not to mention it was largely being economically propped up by France and Britain.

2). Russia can give up large chunks of Eastern Europe and still be Russia i.e. there's a range of option where Germany can clearly win and take home the glorious spoils of victory but Russia can still survive largely intact.

3). America if far less likely to back** Russia if France and the UK have been brought to terms, than they are to back France and the UK if Russia has been brought to terms


There's another factor for wanting a fast win in the west. Britain.

1), Germany does not plan on fighting France and Britain in the west, so having to fight Britain as well not only was a nasty shock but only increases the need for a quick win

2). Britain does not have a huge standing army it's going to take time for them to arrive in force again making a quick win better


There are other more ancillary benefits as well, a quick victory in the west and bringing France to terms likely increases the chances of Italy coming in with the CP




*I mean everyone wants a short glorious victory but there are specific reasons here

**weather that's just economically or militarily as well
 
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Sorry late reply

Firstly you still haven't answered the geography question, or the political question instead moving on to entente morale in this new war

So on morale the reality is that once fighting starts the nationalism on either side will kind of override qualms about why they are there. "King and country" (or Kaiser and country, emperor and country, Tsar and country come to that) was still potent incentives at this point.


Or put this way if not being invaded is really going to be a huge negative factor in ongoing morale how was it the Germans were able to keep fighting for so long?

I did not address geography, because my argument is that it does not matter. Having to fight on two fronts is a problem for Central Powers, but it is a problem they managed for years in OTL, so what is there to address?

Morale is basically same thing as political question. If enthusiasm for the war (ie. morale) wanes in French and British publics, that will cause political problems for their rulers, as they are democracies.

As for why Germany managed to fight for so long, I guess a lot has to do with Germany not being a democracy at the time? Plus they had drummed up nationalism far more aggressively than France and Britain.


Ok but since the German strategy for decades had been to fight and win a quick war your argument fails to address the basic reality of the situation.

Remember part of the reason why the German military was so keen to go in 1914 is precisely because they thought they saw the window of opportunity closing for their plan's success. Not just with Russian modernisation but with French developments as well (and domestic political changes were an issue too)

Pardon my sarcasm, but OTL course of events failed to address the basic reality of the situation. As has been said, everybody expected a quick war, and they got a several year grind.

This might have been the reason why Germans chose the Western plan, but hindsight still proves that they were wrong. And as such, their planning cannot be used as an argument for why Eastern plan would have been impossible.


Well like I said two points about this, your talking about two industrial powers concentrating all their efforts here against a spilt German force. Also I actaully suspect that Ironically the French and British will go through Belgium! Since there will already be war.



And here we get back to the main point a long war is a problem. because Germany is surrounded and in economic terms out matched, it can't win a war of attrition here


Anytime soon doesn't mean not at all and also see above

In OTL they also concentrated all their efforts against a split German force - and barely managed to keep them at bay. Offence is fundamentally much harder, so defending on a smaller front on West while moving a couple of armies to East shouldn't have enabled a breakthrough for the British and French anytime soon.

Maybe Britain and France would have been able to eventually grind Germany and A-H down over the years if they were bloodthirsty enough to take on them no matter the cost - but that is doubtful given they were democracies at the time, and as such subject to public opinion. Also, remember that in this case they would also be facing an A-H that is still functional, while the Balkan front likely would have collapsed what with German focusing East.


The problem with this is the shadow of 1871 looms large in German minds as much as French. That's the metric they are measuring against. For domestic political reasons (as well as economic reasons and generally wanting to limit damage) they want a short glorious victory*.

This might very well be the reason why they chose the Schlieffen plan - but they were still wrong, and as such this is not an argument for this discussion. IIRC even Moltke admitted later that they should have gone East - I'll try to find a source for this.


Thing is we can test your theory, if what you said was true why didn't they seek to negotiate in the west in 1917 when they had won against the Russians, especially as considering they were sitting on a lot French territory they were in a stronger position to negotiate from?

Ironically if swap the direction it would work better, a a quick victory in the west against France would mean they could more easily force Russia to negotiate.

1). Russia will know it's big trouble with no Western front to split German concentration. Not to mention it was largely being economically propped up by France and Britain.

2). Russia can give up large chunks of Eastern Europe and still be Russia i.e. there's a range of option where Germany can clearly win and take home the glorious spoils of victory but Russia can still survive largely intact.

3). America if far less likely to back** Russia if France and the UK have been brought to terms, than they are to back France and the UK if Russia has been brought to terms


There's another factor for wanting a fast win in the west. Britain.

1), Germany does not plan on fighting France and Britain in the west, so having to fight Britain as well not only was a nasty shock but only increases the need for a quick win

2). Britain does not have a huge standing army it's going to take time for them to arrive in force again making a quick win better


There are other more ancillary benefits as well, a quick victory in the west and bringing France to terms likely increases the chances of Italy coming in with the CP




*I mean everyone wants a short glorious victory but there are specific reasons here

**weather that's just economically or militarily as well

Sure, a quick victory in West WOULD have been the best end result for Germany if they actually managed to pull it off - but I'd say it was unlikely, making it a pipedream.

As for why Germany didn't negotiate with France and Britain in 1917, I don't know. Didn't they try to go for total victory, or at least to extract some territorial adjustments from the French instead of accepting status quo antebellum? So they would have had to adjust their expectations by quite a bit - which should have been an easier thing to sell to their public in an Eastern strategy.
 
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I did not address geography, because my argument is that it does not matter. Having to fight on two fronts is a problem for Central Powers, but it is a problem they managed for years in OTL, so what is there to address?

Because they lost doing so and they had recognised the danger before hand, hence their plans. And this is the point the German plan was to win in the west quickly and then mop up in the east, because they knew that if they failed to do that they would be squeezed to death in a war of attrition.

Which is what happened so actaully their fears were borne out by reality.


Morale is basically same thing as political question. If enthusiasm for the war (ie. morale) wanes in French and British publics, that will cause political problems for their rulers, as they are democracies.

And I addressed that idea in my post

As for why Germany managed to fight for so long, I guess a lot has to do with Germany not being a democracy at the time? Plus they had drummed up nationalism far more aggressively than France and Britain.

Germany was a democracy (certainly by the standards of the day), also you think the entente didn't go with nationalism or do you think the Germans are somehow super nationalistically motivated?


Pardon my sarcasm, but OTL course of events failed to address the basic reality of the situation. As has been said, everybody expected a quick war, and they got a several year grind.

This might have been the reason why Germans chose the Western plan, but hindsight still proves that they were wrong. And as such, their planning cannot be used as an argument for why Eastern plan would have been impossible.

Only they won't be making moves based on hindsight will they?

They were however making moves based on know about both east and west situations.

and here's the thing, it not like the east first idea is some revolutionary thing the German high command hadn't considered pre-war.



In OTL they also concentrated all their efforts against a split German force - and barely managed to keep them at bay. Offence is fundamentally much harder, so defending on a smaller front on West while moving a couple of armies to East shouldn't have enabled a breakthrough for the British and French anytime soon.

OTL had both sides making offensives so you presenting this as an inversion of OTL is not correct.

And you still ignoring the advantage the German position OTL gave them namely sitting on 25% of France and weaken France considerably by doing that

and as I said the lowlands might be a route.

Maybe Britain and France would have been able to eventually grind Germany and A-H down over the years if they were bloodthirsty enough to take on them no matter the cost - but that is doubtful given they were democracies at the time, and as such subject to public opinion. Also, remember that in this case they would also be facing an A-H that is still functional, while the Balkan front likely would have collapsed what with German focusing East.


This whole idea that democracy's lack the will to fight get brought up time and time again but is never substantiated, OTL Britain kept fighting for 4 years on foreign soil. Plus as per above Germany was a democracy


This might very well be the reason why they chose the Schlieffen plan - but they were still wrong, and as such this is not an argument for this discussion.

It is the discussion because you want them to go against the established plan which was only wrong in hindsight


IIRC even Moltke admitted later that they should have gone East - I'll try to find a source for this.

Even if he did being right in hindsight doesn't mean very much

Sure, a quick victory in West WOULD have been the best end result for Germany if they actually managed to pull it off - but I'd say it was unlikely, making it a pipedream.


Yes but they didn't think it was, and since you still haven't shown that beating Russia quickly and then wining in the west is a more likely alternative, your alternative isn't better.

I think the problem here is you are looking at OTL and thinking their plan failed and because it failed therefore there must have been a different better plan to follow. Only that's an assumption.

(Of course assuming that OTL decisions are inherently the best ones is also an assumption, but I still haven't seen the glaringly obvious thing the German high command missed here that makes either the East first option a better option or the west first option as initially planned* a certain failure).


*As I said in a recent thread, the Germans are kind caught in their own trap here. They have a plan, that plan was based on certain assumptions two big ones being we cut through Belgium and the Belgian's (and the rest of the world) are fine with that. They then make political moves with that in mind. Only after they have made a lot of pollical moves, many of which they would find unpalatable to walk back from, they find out that those two assumptions are wrong (amongst others).

So they can either:

1). back the fuck down, but well lots of reason against doing this

2). Suddenly come up with a brand new plan, only the last week of July 1914 is really not the time to be doing that

3). grit their teeth, take the risk and go for it hoping for the best, hoping maybe they get lucky and the French are as shit as they were 40 year prior, hope the shop keepers are blustering, hope the spirt of Bismarck is smiling on them (it's not Bismarck would have been spinning in his grave)

As for why Germany didn't negotiate with France and Britain in 1917, I don't know.

Maybe it's because you assumptions about German thinking is wrong.


Didn't they try to go for total victory, or at least to extract some territorial adjustments from the French instead of accepting status quo antebellum? So they would have had to adjust their expectations by quite a bit - which should have been an easier thing to sell to their public in an Eastern strategy.
Not sure what you suggesting here TBH, but like I said they were much better placed to extract territorial adjustments from France OTL since they were already sitting on French soil.
 
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As for why Germany didn't negotiate with France and Britain in 1917, I don't know. Didn't they try to go for total victory, or at least to extract some territorial adjustments from the French instead of accepting status quo antebellum? So they would have had to adjust their expectations by quite a bit - which should have been an easier thing to sell to their public in an Eastern strategy.

Germany's biggest problem in WW1 is political. In 1916 the Reichstag adopted the 'Peace Resolution' of no annexations and no indemnities, which is a bit much but in reality the politicians and public were more interested in territory in the east and would have been happy to negotiate over the west. However the Reichstag was merely the Legislature, the Executive Government and the Silent Dictatorship existed and controlled Foreign Policy and the Silent Dictatorship in particular was land hungry and quite extreme politically, the Polish Strip is a good example of this.

This is why no compromise peace was offered to the west in 1917 after Russia dropped out. However by this time the French and British were quite radcialised and with the US in the war scented blood in the water so likely would have rejected a compromise offer.
 

DougM

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The reality is as the computer figures out in the movie war games the only winning move is not to play. Germany had no winning move.
If they don’t go through Belgium then it will be too hard and take to long. If they go east then France will kick its but. Germany had no alie against France to help carry the load. So if Germany doesn’t go into France then France WILL go into Germany. And more important Germany stuff is located close the France then French stuff is located near Germany.
So unless you think that Germany could hold the line with 10% of itsOTL western army freeing the rest to go east you are going to see this war end in very short order with Germany losing.

The only hope Germany had was run through Belgium and knock out France. With France out of the war and Belgium occu what is GB going to do? Water born invasions didn’t really work in WW1. So after France surrenders you apologize to Belgium and pull out and give the British an excuse to justify backing down. Then Russia looks at how badly it is doing and sees what is about to hit it and sues for peace. And you are all hone by Christmas.
It is a huge gamble but it is the only chance for Germany. And Germany is 100% sure that their will be a war eventually (relatively soon) as it has been avoided for to long. And Germany is 1000% sure that Russia is going to stronger in 5-10 years then they are now and odds are Germany will be in a worse position. So it is now or never. And France and GB and Russia have done nothing to assure Germany that it will be save in the future. In fact they are getting stronger and forming an alien economy that surrounds Germany.
Frankly no one can say that Germany was wrong in its assumption that waiting for the war to start a few years down the line was a bad idea. It is only knowing how bad the war was that makes it obvious that it was a bad idea for Germany.
But in truth it was a bad idea for everyone with the possible exception of the US government and the US corporations. It was the Beginning of the end of the British empire and France was never the same again. Russia is obvious but it didn’t help AH and the group that ran Turkey was not particularly good for turkey and the results in the Middle East were so bad that we are still dealing with the after effects a century later.
It is just that Germany and Russia had more immediate effects. But arguably France and GB ultimately suffered worse. As today’s Germany is in much the position it was while France has been reduced and the British Empire is gone. So arguably they ultimately got the worst of it.

Have any of you ever played the game Supremacy? It is like risk but with economics and nukes. The game usually ends when one side feels it has no choice and it’s position is getting weaker. Often one side will use economics to screw over the other side. Then just as the first side is going yo go broke it launches a desperate war and goes down swinging. (Often nuking the planet). Frankly this is similar to Germanies position (as far as the only people that matter are concerned) they thought it was fight now or have to become a second class power and do as the Allies dictated later.
Most of the other counties had reasons to believe that the war was best fought then and not put off any longer.
 

NoMommsen

Donor
...
This might very well be the reason why they chose the Schlieffen plan - but they were still wrong, and as such this is not an argument for this discussion. IIRC even Moltke admitted later that they should have gone East - I'll try to find a source for this.
...
like that ? ;)
(just a quick google search)
 
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The reality is as the computer figures out in the movie war games the only winning move is not to play. Germany had no winning move.

The problem is the scenarios are all binary and total, WW2 style, rather than having any sort of subtlety that was possible until as late as 1917 in many circumstances. There is little consideration given to options other than the simplest and most absolute, like beating France in 6 weeks and the war over by Christmas.

The fact of the matter is that unlike WW2 WW1 can be won by the CP by military means, the correlation of forces and balance of power does not put it beyond their grasp and a reshuffling of the deck chairs can produce results. I think people know this, which is why East First threads come up so often, the problem is that while CP victory is possible east first isn't the way to do it.
 
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