100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

German General Staff In Upheaval

Kaiser Wilhelm II surrounded by his general staff. Standing (from left to right): Bulow, Mackensen, Molkte, Crown Prince Wilhelm, General Francois, Lumenoff, Falkennayn, Einem, Baseler, Chancellor Bathmann Hollweg, Heringen. Seated (from left to right): Crown Prince of Bavaria, Duke Wurtemburg, General Kluck, Emmich, Haeseler, Hindenburg, Admiral Tirpitz.

Kaiser Wilhelm II surrounded by his general staff. Standing (from left to right): Bulow, Mackensen, Molkte, Crown Prince Wilhelm, General Francois, Lumenoff, Falkennayn, Einem, Baseler, Chancellor Bathmann Hollweg, Heringen. Seated (from left to right): Crown Prince of Bavaria, Duke Wurtemburg, General Kluck, Emmich, Haeseler, Hindenburg, Admiral Tirpitz.

In the 17th and 18th century, success in war depended on the military skills of whatever monarch ruled. The kingdom of Prussia began to assign experts to advise it’s military leaders. After the defeat of Napoleon, the General Staff was formally established. One of the early directors of its military academies was Carl von Clausewitz. The General Staff was a small, elite body, numbering only fifty officers or so. As it grew, it rarely exceeded one hundred. In 1857, Helmuth von Moltke was appointed Chief of the General Staff. Under his control, the existing staff system was expanded and consolidated. Each year, the Prussian Army’s top 120 junior officers were selected by competitive examination to attend the War Academy. Fewer than half the entrants graduated successfully. From this elite, the best twelve were chosen for personal training as General Staff officers. With unification of the German States, the Prussian General Staff became the Imperial German General Staff. Where other countries had military staffs hampered by incompetent appointments and politics, the German General Staff was the most effective in Europe, an autonomous institution dedicated solely to the efficient execution of war.

General von Hindenburg from a 1915 postcard

General von Hindenburg from a 1915 postcard

Supremely confident at the beginning of the current conflict, the German General Staff has now seen that a quick conclusion to the war is not achievable. Eastern commanders General Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff are unhappy with the leadership under Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn. They would like to move new troops and additional resources to the Eastern Front to defeat Russia. Hindenburg and Ludendorff have been campaigning against Falkenhayn and have brought others into their their widening struggle including German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Kaiser Wilhelm’s wife. The two generals have threatened to resign if Falkenhayn is not dismissed.

Kaiser Wihelm II in the uniform of a crirassier.

Kaiser Wihelm II in the uniform of a cuirassier.

On January 15, 1915 Kaiser Wihelm II pleads with Hindenburg to reconsider. It is unprecedented that the Kaiser as Supreme War Lord would be in a subordinate position to a pair of his generals.

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