Plan XVII was the name of a "scheme of mobilization and concentration" that was adopted by the French General Staff in 1913, to be put into effect by the French Army in the event of war between France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 but was not ‘a prescribed narrative for the campaign’ or battle plan.


Following the defeat of the French armies during the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 of 1870-71, the French military had to adapt to a new balance of power in Europe. The emergence of the German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 on the other side of the Rhine, combined with the loss of Alsace and Lorraine
The Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine was a territory created by the German Empire in 1871 after it annexed most of Alsace and the Moselle region of Lorraine following its victory in the Franco-Prussian War. The Alsatian part lay in the Rhine Valley on the west bank of the Rhine River and east...

, seriously weakened France's strategic position.

In 1898, the French General Staff adopted Plan XIV. Taking into account the numerical inferiority of the French Army, Plan XIV was an offensive strategy along the Franco-German border. Besides the increasing disparity in population (by the turn of the century France had a stagnant population of around forty million, compared to fifty million Germans) there was also the problem of reserves. The war of 1870-71 had demonstrated the ability of the German General Staff to make use of the German railroad network to deploy its armies and its capability to quickly mobilize its reservists into front-line units. While the French General Staff began to apply the lessons of the use of railways, the question of using reservists in frontline units was not resolved. Plan XIV didn't take reserves into account.

In 1903, Plan XIV gave way to Plan XV. While still defensive in character, Plan XV did consider using reserve formations, although in a subordinate role.

Plan XVI of March 1909 placed greater emphasis on the risk of a German attack through Belgium, and was modified in 1911 by Général Joseph Joffre
Joseph Joffre
Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre OM was a French general during World War I. He is most known for regrouping the retreating allied armies to defeat the Germans at the strategically decisive First Battle of the Marne in 1914. His popularity led to his nickname Papa Joffre.-Biography:Joffre was born in...


Details and Justification

Joffre presented plan XVII in 1913. Unlike other plans, it was a plan of concentration but did not include a fixed military strategy, which remained flexible to permit an offensive into Belgium or Lorraine.

Plan XVII Enacted

When Germany declared war in 1914, France began the execution of Plan XVII with five initiatives, now collectively known as the Battle of the Frontiers
Battle of the Frontiers
The Battle of the Frontiers was a series of battles fought along the eastern frontier of France and in southern Belgium shortly after the outbreak of World War I. The battles represented a collision between the military strategies of the French Plan XVII and the German Schlieffen Plan...

  1. Battle of Mulhouse
    Battle of Mulhouse
    The Battle of Mulhouse , which began on August 9, 1914, was the opening attack of World War I by the French army against Germany...

     - (7–10 August 1914)
  2. Battle of Lorraine
    Battle of Lorraine
    The Battle of Lorraine was a battle of World War I fought in August 1914 between France and Germany. This followed Plan XVII, which proposed a French offensive through Lorraine and Alsace, and into Germany itself.- French Offensive :...

     - (14–25 August 1914)
  3. Battle of the Ardennes
    Battle of the Ardennes
    The Battle of the Ardennes was one of the opening battles of World War I. It took place from August 21–23, 1914, part of the Battle of the Frontiers.-Background:...

     - (21–23 August 1914)
  4. Battle of Charleroi
    Battle of Charleroi
    The Battle of Charleroi , or the Battle of the Sambre , was fought on 21 August 1914, between French and German forces and was part of the Battle of the Frontiers. The French were planning an attack across the Sambre River, when the Germans launched an attack of their own...

     - (21- August 1914)
  5. Battle of Mons
    Battle of Mons
    The Battle of Mons was the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War. It was a subsidiary action of the Battle of the Frontiers, in which the Allies clashed with Germany on the French borders. At Mons, the British army attempted to hold the line of the...

     - (23–4 August 1914)

The German strategy, the Schlieffen plan
Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan was the German General Staff's early 20th century overall strategic plan for victory in a possible future war in which the German Empire might find itself fighting on two fronts: France to the west and Russia to the east...

, included an attack through Belgium and northern France to encircle Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...


Plan XVII was implemented as an offensive into Alsace-Lorraine. The German defense of Alsace-Lorraine turned out to be much better than expected and force proved to be a more and more meaningless concept in wars fought by modern, huge armies supplied by industrialized countries.

Within a few weeks, the French were back in their starting positions, having suffered great losses. Meanwhile the Germans had advanced against resistance through Belgium and northern France and were threatening Paris. Only the fact that the German attack ran out of steam, and that Joffre was able to re-organise his armies across France, allowed the French and their British allies to halt the German advance in the First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...


The original Schlieffen Plan
Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan was the German General Staff's early 20th century overall strategic plan for victory in a possible future war in which the German Empire might find itself fighting on two fronts: France to the west and Russia to the east...

had little defense in Alsace-Lorraine in order to lure French forces away from Paris into Germany, then to be double-enveloped and destroyed. In this perspective the failure of the French in Alsace-Lorraine has contributed to their success at the Marne and it would have been even worse for France if it had been more successful.

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