In 1904, Germany’s intentions were becoming clear so Britain signed the Entente Cordiale with France. This was a way of saying that they would cooperate with each other in the case of a war. When Russia began negotiations to join as well, the German officers feared a combined attack from three of the largest empires in the world.
The German Army Chief of Staff, Alfred von Schlieffen, had to find a way to prevent a war on two fronts. By 1905, he believed that if he forced France to surrender quickly, Russia, due to its poor railway system, would not have enough time to mobilize its armed forces. Von Schlieffen proposed that Germany should attack France with 90% of its army and that the other 10% should defend the Russian front in case of an attack.
Von Schlieffen said that the German Army should attack through the neutral countries Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. He knew that France’s main defences were on the border between France and Germany, south of Luxembourg. He believed that concentrating the northernmost troops (the right flank) would be more effective, would surprise the French, and allow Germany to defeat France within six weeks. The intent of the plan was not to destroy cities or industry in order to weaken the French war efforts but to capture most of the French Army and to force France to surrender.
However, in 1906, von Schlieffen retired and Helmuth von Moltke took his place. Von Moltke felt that von Schlieffen’s plan was too risky and altered it. He decided to pull a significant number of troops from the northern flank and avoid invading Holland but instead strengthen the forces at Alsace-Lorraine. He also decided to transfer three army corps and one cavalry division to the Eastern Front in defence against Russia. Von Moltke’s weakening of the main offensive meant that Germany did not have a real chance of defeating France and so could easily become trapped between two fronts.