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Parseval's Quest (Background)
A decision game from 1893
In 1893, Alfred Graf von Schlieffen posed a problem to the officers of the Great General Staff in Berlin. Set in what was then the “here and now,” this problem put each them in the role of the commanding general of the II Bavarian Army Corps, who, on the first day of a war between the German Empire and the French Republic, finds himself dealing with a surprise attack.
In the original game, General Schlieffen identifies the protagonist by his position. Everyone working through that problem, however, knew that the commanding general in question was Otto von Parseval. For that reason, and to provide a bit of human interest, this version of the problem will identify the protagonist as such.
Otto von Parseval
You are Major General Karl Otto von Parseval, of the Royal Bavarian Army. You were born in 1827 in Zweibrücken, a city that, in those days, stood near the border that separated the territory of the Kingdom of Bavaria from that of France. (Your paternal grandfather, Philbert Marie César de Parseval, had taken refuge in Zweibrücken in 1791, at the height of the persecution of persons of noble birth by the perpetrators of the French Revolution.)
Your father, Brigadier General Ferdinand von Parseval, spent most of his adult life as a cavalry officer of the Royal Bavarian Army. Your mother, Countess Fanny O’Hegerty, came from Dublin.
Three of your brothers also serve the King of Bavaria. Maximilian and Ferdinand Jakob perform this duty as military officers, Joseph as a senior civil servant. Your nephew August, also an officer of the Royal Bavarian Army, spends his free time building flying machines.
In 1845, you joined, with the rank of Junker (junior officer candidate), the senior (and, by far, most prestigious) infantry regiment of the Bavarian Army, the Life Guards [Leibregiment]. In 1861, by which time you had risen to the rank of captain, you took a leave of absence from the Bavarian Army in order to serve as tutor to the two sons of the Grand Duke of Oldenburg.
In 1866, you led an infantry company against the Prussians. In 1870, as a major in the Royal Bavarian General Staff, you served alongside your former enemies in the war against France.
On 9 May 1890, you took command of the II Army Corps, which is located in Würzburg.
The II Army Corps is the largest of three operational commands of the Royal Bavarian Army. (The other two are I Army Corps and the Cavalry Division.)
The II Army Corps consists of three infantry divisions: the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Infantry Divisions. In addition to these three formations, the II Army Corps possesses a regiment of field artillery and a battalion of pioneers.
The General Situation
War has broken out between France and Germany. As far as you can tell, the French intend to use this war to recapture the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. (These were incorporated into Germany in 1871, at the end of the last war between Germany and France.)
In particular, you expect that the French will employ the 6th Army Corps to attack into Lorraine in order to disrupt German mobilization and set the stage for the deployment of additional formations.1
You believe, on the basis of credible intelligence, that the 6th Army Corps consists of two infantry divisions, a regiment of corps artillery, and a brigade of cavalry2
The next post in this series will provide you with the first problem of the game.
For Further Reading:
The use of Roman numerals to depict the numbers of German army corps and Arabic numerals to indicate the numbers of French army corps reflects the practice of the armies in question.
In 1893, the actual 6th Army Corps was much larger than the formation of that name described in Schlieffen’s game. Indeed, according to a reputable yearbook (Löbell's Jahresberichte über das Heer-und Kriegswesen), it consisted of five infantry divisions and two cavalry brigades, as well as the aforementioned regiment of field artillery.