German "East First" Plan in 1914?

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DixieDivision1418
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German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by DixieDivision1418 » 29 Aug 2019 02:49

In discussions of the Central Powers strategy in the Great War, it is common suggested that Germany should have fought on the defensive in France, relying on their fortifications, while going on the offensive against Russia. Proponents argue that doing so would keep the British Empire out of the war, keeping her economic might and navy from strangling the CP. Wilhelm II supposedly tried to do this before Germany's troops were deployed, but Moltke successfully argued that it was too late. Had such a shift been made, Germany's troops would have had no objectives once they were deployed, as Germany's Eastern-focused plans were out of date.

This scenario assumes the Große Ostaufmarsch plan continues to be updated, so that by 1914, it is a viable option for Germany. They declare war on Russia, but wait for France to declare war on them. Wilhelm decides to focus on attacking Russia, likely over Moltke's objections.

For my money, while Britain may not immediately join, I doubt they will allow France to be utterly defeated. Italy, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire will probably stay neutral, especially the former two. A surefire way to have Britain intervene is for the German navy to try sailing through the English Channel, so it'll probably only operate in the Baltic.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by HistoryGeek2019 » 29 Aug 2019 05:44

IIRC, Germany didn't have any fortifications on its border with France in 1914. So it will still get bogged down in trench warfare, only in a different location than OTL. Britain and the USA will still probably come up with an excuse to enter the war against Germany. Once that happens, Germany slowly starves under the British blockade.

If Germany is dumb enough to try a Napoleonic/Hitler style attempt to conquer Russia, then WWI might end a lot earlier once its armies freeze to death somewhere between Smolensk and Moscow.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by maltesefalcon » 29 Aug 2019 12:53

Germany's war plan was predicated on the talents and technology available to both sides at the time.

Forseeing a two-front war, it was assumed that Russia would take longer to mobilize, gather and transport their troops and equipment to the front. This due to greater distance and fewer railroad miles/rolling stock. So Russia could wait.

France in the meantime, had better equipment and could get their troops to the front much faster. So France ended up the priority, and the plan called for defeating their enemies in detail.

Going on the defensive in the West would have been disastrous for Germany. France could wait until Russia was ready or at least fully involved before launching their offensive. Germany in the meantime would advance in the East, but take few prisoners etc because the bulk of Russia's troops would not be at the frontier yet.

Once launched, the French offensive would take place on German soil, threatenng production of goods and foodstuffs in Alsace, Lorraine and the Ruhr. Even in a stalemate, a long campaign fought here would not be in Germany's best interests.

I don't believe that Germany ever intended to "conquer" either France or Russia. By this I mean totally defeat them and occupy their territory to a large degree. They only wanted to neutralize military threats.

IMHO, any attempt to upset the balance of power in Europe, by large-scale occupation of Russia or France (including colonies in Asia, Africa or the Caribbean) would in fact bring the UK into the fight.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by Terry Duncan » 03 Sep 2019 15:46

Hi there, a belated welcome to the AHF.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
In discussions of the Central Powers strategy in the Great War, it is common suggested that Germany should have fought on the defensive in France, relying on their fortifications, while going on the offensive against Russia.
Yes, there are several threads on this board and the WWI board where this has been discussed.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
Proponents argue that doing so would keep the British Empire out of the war, keeping her economic might and navy from strangling the CP. Wilhelm II supposedly tried to do this before Germany's troops were deployed, but Moltke successfully argued that it was too late.
In my opinion it would keep Britain out of the war for maybe a month or two at most. I would suggest that the British would make a 'suggestion' that Germany cease attacking Russia (after maybe inflicting a significant 'token' victory) and return to the status quo or else Britain will go to war as Germany and Austria are clearly the aggressors against its effective ally, Russia. Wilhelm did order Moltke to deploy to the east, and Moltke did tell him that this was not possible, and they reached a compromise where the troops would mobilise to their allocated depots and then redeploy to the east as needed. After the war Groener, who was head of the railway department, said it would have only taken a few days to improvise a plan and that Moltke was wrong. As Moltke was long since dead, he had no ability to put forward his case, but at the time he was not contradicted even in Falkenhayn's diary notes.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
Had such a shift been made, Germany's troops would have had no objectives once they were deployed, as Germany's Eastern-focused plans were out of date.
At best Germany could only deploy 5 armies to the east, there was insufficient infrastructure to support any more adequately and a major offensive would need that to be improved first, having been deliberately left poor to make a Russian invasian difficult. The plans were only one year out of date, so objectives could have been fairly easily 'improvised' as needed. The long standing plans were for a massive encirclement and meeting with the Austrian forces near Sieradz iirc.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
This scenario assumes the Große Ostaufmarsch plan continues to be updated, so that by 1914, it is a viable option for Germany. They declare war on Russia, but wait for France to declare war on them. Wilhelm decides to focus on attacking Russia, likely over Moltke's objections.
War in the east was viable, but not desirable. The Germans had long since concluded they would be able to reach acceptable terms with Russia at any time during a war, but would never be able to do so with France and would thus have to defeat her totally before a peace could be reached. This meant the main effort would need to be directed towards the main enemy before she was fully mobilised if possible. This had been the main line of German thinking since the time of Moltke the Elder, and why his plan to remain on the defensive mostly on both fronts (stategic and tactical defensive in the west, strategic defensive and tactical offensive in the east) was rejected as even if Russia was defeated, Germany would fall victim to France (and Britain) afterwards as she would be too exhausted in knocking out either of her enemies. They concluded a long war impossible to win, and a short war unlikely but possible to win, so opted for the latter. They rejected defensive only operations as all powers at the time felt that to be an inferior choice and knew blockade would effectively starve them out sooner or later.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
For my money, while Britain may not immediately join, I doubt they will allow France to be utterly defeated. Italy, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire will probably stay neutral, especially the former two. A surefire way to have Britain intervene is for the German navy to try sailing through the English Channel, so it'll probably only operate in the Baltic.
Britain cannot allow Germany to dominate the continent so must join France before France looses too many men as it will take a long time to make British manpower felt - it took three years as Kitchener predicted before they were fully proficient. Italy is likely to intervene against Austria as they have territorial claims there, and are unlikely to do so against France as they signed a secret agreement several years before that they would not fight France, and were rather paranoid about what the British fleet would do against the very long and exposed Italian coastline if they found themselves at war with them. Italy will join as soon as things look bad for Austria - indeed Conrad and others porposed fighting the war against Russia and then after that was won that they should attack Italy anyhow! - the two were too opposed to each other for anything but a cautious neutrality to take place.

Japan is always going to join in, it wants land in China and Tsingtao is ideal, as are all the nice German islands the Australians and New Zealanders cannot annex before Japan can get there. As for the rest of the world, it is unlikely Japan will make too much effort as she has little else to be bribed with. The Ottomans are likely to want to sit out, but may well find themselves committed by Goeben and Breslau deciding to shell Russian territory as they did shortly after arriving in Constantinople. The also did sign a treaty to aid German when the war began, but quite how ready they would be to act right away is another matter.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 03 Sep 2019 16:14

I would suggest that Germany made the right choice.

Of the three major enemy capitals, only Paris could be reached quickly. London was beyond reach unless a miracle happened at sea and Moscow was too distant to gain quickly. It had to be France first and quickly.

Cheers,

Sid

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by The Ibis » 03 Sep 2019 17:01

HistoryGeek2019 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 05:44
IIRC, Germany didn't have any fortifications on its border with France in 1914. So it will still get bogged down in trench warfare, only in a different location than OTL. Britain and the USA will still probably come up with an excuse to enter the war against Germany. Once that happens, Germany slowly starves under the British blockade.

If Germany is dumb enough to try a Napoleonic/Hitler style attempt to conquer Russia, then WWI might end a lot earlier once its armies freeze to death somewhere between Smolensk and Moscow.
The Franco-German border was heavily fortified. Look up the Metz fortifications for info on the German side. IIRC the program was called Moselstellung.
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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 05 Sep 2019 22:31

Terry Duncan wrote:
03 Sep 2019 15:46
Hi there, a belated welcome to the AHF.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
In discussions of the Central Powers strategy in the Great War, it is common suggested that Germany should have fought on the defensive in France, relying on their fortifications, while going on the offensive against Russia.
Yes, there are several threads on this board and the WWI board where this has been discussed.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
Proponents argue that doing so would keep the British Empire out of the war, keeping her economic might and navy from strangling the CP. Wilhelm II supposedly tried to do this before Germany's troops were deployed, but Moltke successfully argued that it was too late.
In my opinion it would keep Britain out of the war for maybe a month or two at most. I would suggest that the British would make a 'suggestion' that Germany cease attacking Russia (after maybe inflicting a significant 'token' victory) and return to the status quo or else Britain will go to war as Germany and Austria are clearly the aggressors against its effective ally, Russia. Wilhelm did order Moltke to deploy to the east, and Moltke did tell him that this was not possible, and they reached a compromise where the troops would mobilise to their allocated depots and then redeploy to the east as needed. After the war Groener, who was head of the railway department, said it would have only taken a few days to improvise a plan and that Moltke was wrong. As Moltke was long since dead, he had no ability to put forward his case, but at the time he was not contradicted even in Falkenhayn's diary notes.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
Had such a shift been made, Germany's troops would have had no objectives once they were deployed, as Germany's Eastern-focused plans were out of date.
At best Germany could only deploy 5 armies to the east, there was insufficient infrastructure to support any more adequately and a major offensive would need that to be improved first, having been deliberately left poor to make a Russian invasian difficult. The plans were only one year out of date, so objectives could have been fairly easily 'improvised' as needed. The long standing plans were for a massive encirclement and meeting with the Austrian forces near Sieradz iirc.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
This scenario assumes the Große Ostaufmarsch plan continues to be updated, so that by 1914, it is a viable option for Germany. They declare war on Russia, but wait for France to declare war on them. Wilhelm decides to focus on attacking Russia, likely over Moltke's objections.
War in the east was viable, but not desirable. The Germans had long since concluded they would be able to reach acceptable terms with Russia at any time during a war, but would never be able to do so with France and would thus have to defeat her totally before a peace could be reached. This meant the main effort would need to be directed towards the main enemy before she was fully mobilised if possible. This had been the main line of German thinking since the time of Moltke the Elder, and why his plan to remain on the defensive mostly on both fronts (stategic and tactical defensive in the west, strategic defensive and tactical offensive in the east) was rejected as even if Russia was defeated, Germany would fall victim to France (and Britain) afterwards as she would be too exhausted in knocking out either of her enemies. They concluded a long war impossible to win, and a short war unlikely but possible to win, so opted for the latter. They rejected defensive only operations as all powers at the time felt that to be an inferior choice and knew blockade would effectively starve them out sooner or later.
DixieDivision1418 wrote:
29 Aug 2019 02:49
For my money, while Britain may not immediately join, I doubt they will allow France to be utterly defeated. Italy, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire will probably stay neutral, especially the former two. A surefire way to have Britain intervene is for the German navy to try sailing through the English Channel, so it'll probably only operate in the Baltic.
Britain cannot allow Germany to dominate the continent so must join France before France looses too many men as it will take a long time to make British manpower felt - it took three years as Kitchener predicted before they were fully proficient. Italy is likely to intervene against Austria as they have territorial claims there, and are unlikely to do so against France as they signed a secret agreement several years before that they would not fight France, and were rather paranoid about what the British fleet would do against the very long and exposed Italian coastline if they found themselves at war with them. Italy will join as soon as things look bad for Austria - indeed Conrad and others porposed fighting the war against Russia and then after that was won that they should attack Italy anyhow! - the two were too opposed to each other for anything but a cautious neutrality to take place.

Japan is always going to join in, it wants land in China and Tsingtao is ideal, as are all the nice German islands the Australians and New Zealanders cannot annex before Japan can get there. As for the rest of the world, it is unlikely Japan will make too much effort as she has little else to be bribed with. The Ottomans are likely to want to sit out, but may well find themselves committed by Goeben and Breslau deciding to shell Russian territory as they did shortly after arriving in Constantinople. The also did sign a treaty to aid German when the war began, but quite how ready they would be to act right away is another matter.
Can you provide links to good discussions of this ATL? The search function still lags a smart human...

Re UK entering absent a Belgian violation I'm of two minds. On the one hand the cabinet was opposed prior to Belgium; on the other how does UK sit out the France-Germany naval battle in the North Sea? Then again a Germany that will abjure Belgium invasion for UK's sake can surely craft some naval policy suitable to British.

Niall Fergusson argues that Germany had a long war mindset from the start. Have you read him and, if so, why is he wrong?

IMO a western strategic defensive could mean no British involvement, which IMO means no Italian declaration and no effective blockade. Germany wins a long war in this scenario pretty handily.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by Terry Duncan » 06 Sep 2019 11:10

This, I believe, is the main thread on the subject, and I agree the search engine is somewhat lacking at times.

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=153801

If you want to look for inventive scenarios, not always too practical but worth a look at least, look through posts by Dave Bender on this and other boards, he often came up with ideas to see Germany win.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by glenn239 » 07 Sep 2019 15:10

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
05 Sep 2019 22:31
IMO a western strategic defensive could mean no British involvement, which IMO means no Italian declaration and no effective blockade. Germany wins a long war in this scenario pretty handily.
I can see a clear case that British neutrality would prevent Italy from switching sides and declaring war on its former ally Austria. But what of the scenario where Italy, upon seeing the British choice, elects to honor its alliance commitments and declares war on Serbia in anticipation of making easy gains in the Balkans? Italian policy in this period was nothing if not opportunistic.

What is the policy of Japan? I think it a strong theory that without the British navy, the Japanese are not willing to annex the German Far Eastern Empire. But like the Italians, they also are opportunistic and with opportunity. What will they do in China? Or Russia, perhaps? What of the French Far East Empire? After all, if Britain is too cowardly to defend the French homeland, it can hardly complain if its own ally divests France of Indochina, can it?

What is the policy of Russia? The Russian decision for war in 1914 was on the assumption that the Entente would defeat the Central Powers, Austria first in perhaps 1915, Germany second in perhaps 1916. But here, not only is that not possible, but rather the opposite. And, as it becomes increasingly clear that Russia will be defeated, the Ottomans, Rumanians, and Japanese become more likely to pile on. What options do the Russians have to avoid this, given this British policy of appeasement towards Germany?

What is the policy of France? Their war fighting strategy was to win with the Russians quickly, and if that failed, to fall back on the strength of the British Empire in order to win a long war. Now, after their early war strategy has failed, they have no British card to play and no strategy to win a long war. Oftentimes the French are assigned the mindless task of puttering away on the German frontier. But what are the real French options? I will list 5 -

1. Fight as the Dual Alliance and lose the war.
2. Make peace with Germany on the best terms possible, before French strength is broken.
3. Initiate a French naval campaign in the North Sea and Scandinavia in hopes of drawing the RN into direct battle with the HSF.
4. Use the French fleet to execute a blockade of Germany from behind the British fleet.
5. Invade Belgium itself to compel Britain into the war.

Case 1 matches your assumption that "no British involvement" is possible.

In Case 2, what is the implication of Anglo-French relations in the post war period? Can Britain afford the Franco-German alliance that seems inevitable.

Cases 3,4,5 are all similar in that France is using its armed forces to expand the conflict with Germany in a manner that also complicates matters for Britain. Can the British allow it? And if not, since the British cannot ally with Germany without emerging in the post war period the junior partner in Europe, what options do the British have should the French pursue cases 3,4, or 5 ?

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by maltesefalcon » 07 Sep 2019 21:44

As for Japan...your idea that Japan would not attack Germany's Far East colonies without the German batlle fleet being preoccupied with the Royal Navy....

I wonder if the opposite might factor in as well. Barring any (potential or actual) UK involvement in Europe, the Royal Navy would have freedom of action elsewhere.

What if the now-neutral British actually deterred Japan from acting? In the admittedly unlikely event of a quick Franco/Russian victory for example, the UK could sail in and pick up some more territories.

In the short term, Germany would not be able to do anything but complain. However this may cause some friction in the long run in US/UK relations.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by ljadw » 08 Sep 2019 08:29

East first is impossible : east first means east only .Germany had not the forces to attack in the east and in the west . It had to choose .
East first is also suicidal
Financially : it would be a long war and Germany had not the money for a long war,and Russia could not pay for the German expenses : it was to poor .
Politically :a Russian defeat would result in the end of the autocratic regime of the Czar,democratisation of Russia, civil war, attempts from Poles, Fins, Balts to become independent.This would spread to Germany ( It did in the OTL !!).Germany would be saddled up with more Slaves,and it was already losing the demographic battle in the East .
Militarily : militarily Russia was invincible and after a successfull war Germany would be forced to station an occupation army in Russia for a long time .
Economically :Russia was one of Germany's biggest importers .Its defeat would have as result that this would cease .
And most important : defeat of Russia would not help Germany in its attempt to dominate Europe .The Schlieffen Plan would be impossible and France would be more safe .
It would also be the end of AH : the Hungarians remained a part of AH only because they feared the Russians. If the Cossacks disappeared,Hungary would becoime independent .

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by glenn239 » 10 Sep 2019 17:10

maltesefalcon wrote:
07 Sep 2019 21:44
What if the now-neutral British actually deterred Japan from acting? In the admittedly unlikely event of a quick Franco/Russian victory for example, the UK could sail in and pick up some more territories.
Even if neutral the British fleet is still fully occupied in Europe watching the situation and in particular, the German navy. What shall they deter the Japanese with? They might do so with a diplomatic warning, but will this make Britain's position more or less secure in Paris and Tokyo? The gist in France would be that British will fight for France's colonies, but not for France itself? Would the British be intending to win over, or offend permanently, the French population by doing so?
In the short term, Germany would not be able to do anything but complain. However this may cause some friction in the long run in US/UK relations.
If the British are burning their bridges in Tokyo in the meantime, why would Germany want to interrupt them while they make that mistake? The Germans would be perfectly content in any situation of British neutrality, because their winning war strategy was to defeat each member of the Entente in isolation, before turning on the next to defeat it. The Entente strategy was unified pressure to prevent this occurring. If Britain had remained neutral, they are performing Germany's strategy for Germany - the Germans can disarm the Italians by alliance, occupy Serbia, defeat Russia, all before even deciding about France or a course of action that risks war with the British.

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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by BDV » 16 Sep 2019 16:43

ljadw wrote:It would also be the end of AH : the Hungarians remained a part of AH only because they feared the Russians. If the Cossacks disappeared,Hungary would becoime independent .
Not necessarily. Just like Austrians lost the fertility contest to the Hungarians, Hungarians were in the process of losing it to the KuK Romanians and Slavs. Folk outside and inside KuK Empire were getting tired of Magyar histrionics, it's within the realm of reason than a faux-pas may end the Magyarorszag experiment.

As to the Russians, Tsardom (in particular Nikky) had lost control of the bureaucracy; the inmates were running the asylum (see the Black Hand debacle). Ergo, Tsarist Russia wasn't long for this world.
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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by BDV » 17 Sep 2019 04:25

Sid Guttridge wrote: Of the three major enemy capitals, only Paris could be reached quickly. London was beyond reach unless a miracle happened at sea and Moscow was too distant to gain quickly. It had to be France first and quickly.
That's fine, save for the Russian Capital of the time being St. Petersburg.
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Re: German "East First" Plan in 1914?

Post by JAG13 » 18 Sep 2019 04:31

glenn239 wrote:
07 Sep 2019 15:10

I can see a clear case that British neutrality would prevent Italy from switching sides and declaring war on its former ally Austria. But what of the scenario where Italy, upon seeing the British choice, elects to honor its alliance commitments and declares war on Serbia in anticipation of making easy gains in the Balkans? Italian policy in this period was nothing if not opportunistic.
Italy almost went with the CPs at the Marne, then changed sides when the fall of Przemysl made them think AH was done. Here the 2nd AH Army would go to Serbia instead of playing yo-yo might tip the scales, might not, might cause the Italians to rush-in early and try to grab Albania and a chunk of Serbia.

Serbian army is interned.

Absent a Belgian detour war becomes a naval issue, the HSF would likely made for France but, Grey also obtained power to use the RN to protect the French channel coast IIRC so... it might end in war anyway or the German admiral turns away leaving the French alone so they can suicide against a dug-in German army.

It also means no Przemysl losses, no Carpathian losses for the KuK, no real incentive for Italian intervention on that side... and yes, make a better case for siding with the CPs, although I am pretty sure the Italian industry would be swamped with French money in order to try to woo the Italians.

The Russians would be in for a tough time, no German envelopments and yet likely losing as many men but with nothing to show for it, morale would be low.
What is the policy of Japan? I think it a strong theory that without the British navy, the Japanese are not willing to annex the German Far Eastern Empire. But like the Italians, they also are opportunistic and with opportunity. What will they do in China? Or Russia, perhaps? What of the French Far East Empire? After all, if Britain is too cowardly to defend the French homeland, it can hardly complain if its own ally divests France of Indochina, can it?
I think they would play Italian, wait and see before making rash decisions, not yet full of crazies like in WW2.
What is the policy of Russia? The Russian decision for war in 1914 was on the assumption that the Entente would defeat the Central Powers, Austria first in perhaps 1915, Germany second in perhaps 1916. But here, not only is that not possible, but rather the opposite. And, as it becomes increasingly clear that Russia will be defeated, the Ottomans, Rumanians, and Japanese become more likely to pile on. What options do the Russians have to avoid this, given this British policy of appeasement towards Germany?
The Russians would be screaming for help and cursing the British, the French would be pointing out to their losses with the Russians not caring one bit, they are the ones dealing with three enemy armies and with the Romanians and Japanese looking greedy...
What is the policy of France? Their war fighting strategy was to win with the Russians quickly, and if that failed, to fall back on the strength of the British Empire in order to win a long war. Now, after their early war strategy has failed, they have no British card to play and no strategy to win a long war. Oftentimes the French are assigned the mindless task of puttering away on the German frontier. But what are the real French options? I will list 5 -

1. Fight as the Dual Alliance and lose the war.
2. Make peace with Germany on the best terms possible, before French strength is broken.
3. Initiate a French naval campaign in the North Sea and Scandinavia in hopes of drawing the RN into direct battle with the HSF.
4. Use the French fleet to execute a blockade of Germany from behind the British fleet.
5. Invade Belgium itself to compel Britain into the war.

Case 1 matches your assumption that "no British involvement" is possible.

In Case 2, what is the implication of Anglo-French relations in the post war period? Can Britain afford the Franco-German alliance that seems inevitable.

Cases 3,4,5 are all similar in that France is using its armed forces to expand the conflict with Germany in a manner that also complicates matters for Britain. Can the British allow it? And if not, since the British cannot ally with Germany without emerging in the post war period the junior partner in Europe, what options do the British have should the French pursue cases 3,4, or 5 ?
I dont know if the British would be "appeasing" Germany, Grey and others would certainly be doing their outmost to get into the war and, at the very least, help the Entente.

Can they do it once it becomes obvious that war was a bloodbath? Likely, they were convinced a blockade would strangle Germany within 6 months... but how do they get in?

The French cant back down, they know the Germans would impose even worse conditions than last time making sure they cease to be a threat.

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