World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

German General Staff

Article Id: WHEBN0000438600
Reproduction Date:

Title: German General Staff  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Erich von Falkenhayn, List of German colonel generals, Wilhelm Groener, Paul von Hindenburg, Prussian Ministry of War
Collection: Military History of Germany, Military of Prussia, Staff (Military)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

German General Staff

This article is part of the series
Politics of Prussia
Minister President of Prussia
German General Staff
Prussian Ministry of War
Foreign Minister of Prussia
Interior Minister of Prussia

The German General Staff, originally the Prussian General Staff and officially Great General Staff (Großer Generalstab), was a full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and later, the German Army, responsible for the continuous study of all aspects of war, and for drawing up and reviewing plans for mobilization or campaign. It existed unofficially from 1806, and was formally established by law in 1814, the first general staff in existence. It was distinguished by the formal selection of its officers by intelligence and proven merit rather than patronage or wealth, and by the exhaustive and rigorously structured training which its staff officers undertook. Its rise and development gave the German armed forces a decisive strategic advantage over their adversaries for nearly a century and a half.

The Prussian General Staff also enjoyed greater freedom from political control than its contemporaries, and this autonomy was enshrined in law on the establishment of the German Empire in 1871. It came to be regarded as the home of German militarism in the aftermath of the First World War, and the victors attempted to suppress the institution. It nevertheless survived to play its accustomed part in the rearmament of Germany and the Second World War.

In a broader sense, the Prussian General Staff corps consisted of those officers qualified to perform staff duties, and formed a unique military fraternity. Their exhaustive training was designed not only to weed out the less motivated or less able candidates, but also to produce a body of professional military experts with common methods and outlook, and an almost monastic dedication to their profession. General Staff–qualified officers would alternate between line and staff duties but would remain lifelong members of this special organization. As staff officers, their uniform featured distinctive double-wide carmine trouser stripes (German: Lampasse(n).).

Until the end of the German Empire, social and political convention often placed members of noble or royal households in command of its armies or corps but the actual responsibility for the planning and conduct of operations lay with the formation's staff officers. For other European armies which lacked this professionally trained staff corps, the same conventions were often a recipe for disaster. Even the Army of the French Second Empire, whose senior officers had supposedly reached high rank as a result of bravery and success on the battlefield, was crushed by the Prussian and other German armies during the Franco-Prussian War in the campaigns of 1870–71, which highlighted their poor administration and planning, and lack of professional education.

The Chief of Staff of a Prussian formation in the field had the right to disagree, in writing, with the plans or orders of the commander of the formation, and appeal to the commander of the next highest formation (which might ultimately be the King, or Emperor, who would be guided by the Head of the Great General Staff). This served as a check on incompetence and also served for the objecting officer to officially disassociate himself with a flawed plan. Only the most stubborn commanders would not give way before this threat.

For these reasons, Prussian and German military victories would often be credited professionally to the Chief of Staff, rather than to the nominal commander of an army. Often the commander of an army was himself a member of the General Staff, but it was now institutionally recognized that not only was command leadership important, but effective staff work was a significant key to success in both pre-war planning and in wartime operations.


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • Establishment 1.2
    • Moltke the Elder 1.3
      • War with Denmark 1.3.1
      • Seven Weeks' War 1.3.2
        • Prussian staff analysis and army improvements
      • Franco-Prussian War 1.3.3
    • From Unification to First World War 1.4
      • Organization 1.4.1
    • First World War 1.5
    • Between the Wars 1.6
    • World War II 1.7
    • July bomb plot 1.8
  • Bundeswehr 2
  • List of Chiefs of the German General Staff 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • Printed sources 6
  • External links 7


Early history

The development of a corps of full-time military professionals, working in peace and war on all aspects of operations and logistics planning, was the outgrowth of experience on the battlefield in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Before the nineteenth century, success on the battlefield was largely the result of the military competence of whichever king was in power. While Frederick the Great brought success in battle to Prussian arms, his successors did not have his talent, and this led to an inevitable decline in the generalship of the Army. Without competent operational and logistical planning, no amount of individual soldierly discipline or battlefield bravery could save the army from the combination of superior generalship and staff work of a talented adversary. Reformers in the army began to write and lecture on the need to preserve and somehow institutionalize the military talent that had brought martial glory to Prussia. For a small group of reformers, critical decision making had to be removed from arbitrary winds of chance and placed in the hands of institutionalized military excellence. The country could no longer afford to wait until a war started to gather military staff talent. One carefully selected professional staff would do the work of planning logistics and training the Army in peace as well as in war.

From the last years of the eighteenth century, it became the practice to assign military experts to assist the generals of Prussia's Army. This was largely at the instigation of comparatively junior but gifted officers such as Gerhard von Scharnhorst and August von Gneisenau. Nevertheless, such measures were insufficient to overcome the inefficiency of the Army, which was commanded by aged veterans of the campaigns of Frederick the Great, almost half a century earlier.

In 1806, the Prussian Army was defeated by French Napoleonic Wars, he provided a syllabus which became the central doctrine from which the staff worked. This standardisation of doctrine (which itself was an attempt to grasp the philosophy underlying warfare, rather than a narrow prescribed set of rules such as those laid down by Henri Jomini) was one of the distinguishing features of the Prussian General Staff model.

In 1816, the Reformer

  • Franz Edelsheim, Operations Upon the Sea at

External links

  • Addington, Larry H (1971). The blitzkrieg era and the German General Staff, 1865–1941. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.  
  • Bucholz, Arden. Hans Delbrück and the German Military Establishment: War Images in Conflict. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1985.
  • Bucholz, Arden. Moltke, Schlieffen and Prussian War Planning. New York: Berg, 1991
  • largely derivative in nature (Goerlitz and others) but easy reading  
  • Dyer, Gwynne (1985). War. Toronto: Stoddart. (New York: Crown ISBN shown)  
  • Foley, Robert (2004). Alfred von Schlieffen's Military Writings. London: Frank Cass.  
  • Goerlitz, Walter (1985). History of the German General Staff, 1657–1945. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.  
  • Howard, Michael (1961). The Franco-Prussian War. London: Routledge.  
  • Hughes, Daniel J., ed. Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1993.
  • McElwee, William (1974). The Art of War: Waterloo to Mons. London: Purnell.  
  • Mombauer, Annika. Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Overy, Richard (1996). Why the Allies Won: Explaining Victory in World War II. Pimlico.  
  • Stone, David (2011). Twilight of the Gods: The Decline and Fall of the German General Staff in World War II. Conway.  
  • Stoneman, Mark R. “Wilhelm Groener, Officering, and the Schlieffen Plan.” PhD diss., Georgetown University, 2006. abstract
  • Van Creveld, Martin (1977). Supplying War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Wawro, Geoffrey. The Austro-Prussian War: Austria's War with Prussia and Italy in 1866. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Zabecki, David (2008). Chief of Staff: Napoleonic wars to World War I. New York: Naval Institute Press.  

Printed sources

  1. ^ Dupuy, p. 20
  2. ^ Dupuy pp. 24–25, 28
  3. ^ Boot, p.122
  4. ^ Dupuy, p. 38
  5. ^ Howard, pp.60-61
  6. ^ Stone, p.29
  7. ^ McElwee, p.67
  8. ^ Howard, p.25
  9. ^ McElwee, p.50
  10. ^ McElwee, p. 107
  11. ^ Wawro, pp. 283–284
  12. ^ McElwee, p.54
  13. ^ Dupuy, pp. 88–92
  14. ^ McElwee, p. 46
  15. ^ Dupuy, pp. 77–88
  16. ^ Dupuy, pp. 113–114
  17. ^ Dupuy, p. 116
  18. ^ van Creveld, pp. 109–141
  19. ^ Liddell Hart, p. 45
  20. ^ John King Fairbank, Kwang-Ching Liu, Denis Crispin Twitchett, ed. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 269.  
  21. ^ Zabecki, p. 7
  22. ^ Dupuy, pp. 186–187
  23. ^ Stone, pp.48-49
  24. ^ Stone, pp. 61-65
  25. ^ Stone, pp.76-77
  26. ^ Stone, pp.350-351
  27. ^ Stone, pp.228-229
  28. ^ Stone, pp.314-315
  29. ^ Stone, p.316
  30. ^ Stone, pp.108-112
  31. ^ Stone, pp.301-310


See also

Prussian General Staff (1808–1871)
Chief Years
Gerhard von Scharnhorst 1 March 1808 – 17 June 1810
Karl von Hake 17 June 1810 – March 1812
Gustav von Rauch March 1812 – March 1813
Gerhard von Scharnhorst March – 28 June 1813
August Neidhardt von Gneisenau 28 June 1813 – 3 June 1814
Karl von Grolman 3 June 1814 – November 1819
Johann Rühle von Lilienstern November 1819 – 11 January 1821
Karl Freiherr von Müffling 11 January 1821 – 29 January 1829
Wilhelm von Krauseneck 29 January 1829 – 13 May 1848
Karl von Reyher 13 May 1848 – 7 October 1857
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder 7 October 1857 – 18 January 1871
German General Staff (1871–1919)
Chief Years
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder 18 January 1871 – 10 August 1888
Alfred von Waldersee 10 August 1888 – 7 February 1891
Alfred von Schlieffen 7 February 1891 – 1 January 1906
Helmuth von Moltke the Younger 1 January 1906 – 14 September 1914
Erich von Falkenhayn 14 September 1914 – 29 August 1916
Paul von Hindenburg 29 August 1916 – 3 July 1919
Wilhelm Groener 3–7 July 1919
Hans von Seeckt 7–15 July 1919
Troop Office (1919–1933)
Chief Years
Hans von Seeckt 11 October 1919 – 26 March 1920
Wilhelm Heye 26 March 1920 – February 1923
Otto Hasse February 1923 – October 1925
Wilhelm Wetzell October 1925 – 27 January 1927
Werner von Blomberg 27 January 1927 – 30 September 1929
Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord 30 September 1929 – 31 October 1930
Wilhelm Adam 31 October 1930 – 30 September 1933
Staff of the Army High Command (OKH) (1933–1945)
Chief Years
Ludwig Beck 1 October 1933 – 31 August 1938
Franz Halder 1 September 1938 – 24 September 1942
Kurt Zeitzler 24 September 1942 – 10 June 1944
Adolf Heusinger 10 June – 21 July 1944
Heinz Guderian 21 July 1944 – 28 March 1945
Hans Krebs 1 April – 1 May 1945

List of Chiefs of the German General Staff

Under the post-war organisation of the Bundeswehr, the General Staff sit under the German Defence Staff and are based at the Federal Ministry of Defence in Bonn.


As some at least of the General Staff corps was clearly implicated as a source of opposition to the Nazis, several dozen General Staff officers were arrested and in most cases executed in the months following the unsuccessful plot. Also, Luftwaffe, SS or "National Socialist Leadership Officers" were appointed to positions normally occupied by General Staff officers in new or rebuilt formations.[31]

After several failed or thwarted assassination attempts, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg smuggled a bomb into Hitler's headquarters in the 20 July plot. Valkyrie was launched when the bomb exploded, even though Hitler had survived the blast. However, many line (as opposed to General Staff) officers hesitated over taking action which appeared to challenge central authority, and the entire plot failed when it became clear that Hitler was alive.

Intellectual and ideological opposition to Hitler and some of the excesses of Nazi party rule in Germany and administration of conquered territories nevertheless continued, most notably among the General Staff officers of the Ersatzheer or "Replacement Army", which provided replacements or reinforcements for the field army. They devised a scheme (Operation Valkyrie) by which the Ersatzheer would take over authority in Germany on the death of Hitler.

Shortly before the Second World War, some General Staff officers, notably Franz Halder, the Chief of Staff at OKH, had sought to remove Hitler from power in a Coup d'état, to avoid what they believed would be a disastrous and premature war. The trigger for this coup was to have been the order for the occupation of the Czech Sudetenland. In the event, the apparent capitulation of the French and British governments postponed any threat of war, and Halder and his co-conspirators let the matter drop as being no longer feasible.[30]

July bomb plot

At a lower level, training of General Staff officers continued, but the course was still almost as long, intense, and exclusive as in peacetime.[28] Properly-trained staff officers became increasingly scarce, and in some cases newly qualified staff officers lacked the dedication or moral courage of their predecessors.[29]

After 1941, OKH was largely responsible for operations on the Eastern Front only (and administration of the army as a whole), while OKW directed operations on the other fronts. There were now effectively two general staffs, often competing with each other, with arbitration of all disputes in the hands of Hitler, further increasing his personal power. Finally, in late 1941, Hitler dismissed Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander in chief of the Army, and assumed direct command of the Army himself. From this time onwards, neither OKW nor OKH could independently plan or conduct operations, but merely implemented Hitler's often flawed commands.[27]

While the traditional German staff administration and planning was to contribute greatly to the early German successes, many of these triumphs were the result of the initiative of comparatively junior officers who were opposed to the restraint of the General Staff. Hitler's personal intervention also greatly hindered the effective working of the General Staff, notably by confirming Gerd von Rundstedt's order to halt short of Dunkirk in 1940.

In part this was due to the increasing pre-eminence of the other branches of the German armed forces, in particular of the Luftwaffe. The commander in chief of the Luftwaffe, Hitler's friend and political colleague Hermann Göring, always had personal influence with Hitler which no Army leader had. Another was the increasing tension between OKH and OKW. While the need for a joint headquarters to coordinate the work of all the services was desirable in theory, for example to determine industrial and manpower priorities and avoid duplication of effort, OKW was increasingly used as an alternate Army planning staff by Hitler. At the same time, OKW failed in its task of overseeing the overall war effort, resulting in wasteful diversion of resources to several competing and unregulated forces (such as the SS) responsible only to themselves or to Hitler alone.[26]

Towards the end of the War of 1914 to 1918, the General Staff had almost wholly usurped the political power of the state. At the beginning of World War II, by contrast, its influence was less than it had been at the outset of the First World War and actually declined during the war.

World War II

The armed forces command structure was changed by Hitler in 1938, with an Armed Forces HQ (the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, usually contracted to OKW) placed over the army command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH) and the other service commands and almost entirely displacing the Reich War Ministry.[25]

Hitler curtailed the Army's traditional independence early, by the fortuitous disgrace of the commander in chief of the armed forces, Werner von Blomberg, and false accusations of homosexuality against the commander in chief of the army, Werner von Fritsch. (The combined scandals were known as the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair.)

The Army's leaders retained a generally conservative political outlook, and had an ambivalent attitude towards the Nazi party. They did fear that the Army's leading role as the defenders of Germany might be challenged by the unruly SA, the party's political militia, and when Hitler suppressed the SA in the Night of the Long Knives, they stood aside and effectually acquiesced in the extrajudicial murders involved.[24] While the General Staff welcomed Hitler's expansion of the army, they were opposed to many of his wilder schemes and continually urged caution. When several of Hitler's early moves such as the Occupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss with Austria and the occupation of the Sudetenland succeeded despite advice from the General Staff that these might bring about a premature war with France and Britain, Hitler was further convinced that his intuition was superior to the General Staff's intellectual analysis.

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, all he had to do was to follow the Truppenamt/General Staff plan to build up the Nazi war machine. However, the General Staff advised Hitler that the German army would be fully modernised and ready for war by 1944 or 1945 only. As a result most artillery pieces were still horse drawn at the outbreak of war in 1939. Throughout the war, the German industry was unable to furnish small arms in sufficient quantities, forcing the Army to rely heavily on older weapons, prizes of war, and adaptations of former designs produced in conquered countries, thus producing an arsenal filled with an array of incompatible pieces, unlike the smaller number of standard small arms used by the Allies.

When Germany was defeated in 1918, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles specifically forbade the creation or recreation of the General Staff. Despite this, the German officer corps led by Hans von Seeckt, the chief of the Weimar Republic‍ '​s army, carefully set about planning the next war in a camouflaged general staff hidden within the Truppenamt ("troop office"), an innocent-looking human-resources bureau within the small army permitted by the peace accord. The Kriegsakademie had also been abolished, but training of General Staff Officers continued, dispersed among the Wehrkreise (Military District) headquarters but overseen by tutors from the Truppenamt.[23] A new Kriegsakademie was established in 1935

Between the Wars

A consequence of wartime attrition was the premature deployment of Kriegsakademie students to army and corps general staffs, some of them before reaching their second year curriculum. Later, standards for General Staff assignment were altered due to the closure of the Kriegsakademie, to allow examined officers to serve on staff apprenticeships, raising concerns that these new General Staff Corps officers were not evaluated or trained at the level of those they were replacing.[22]

The General Staff under Schlieffen, and subsequently under Moltke, did not compensate for logistic flaws nor provide contingencies in case of the failure of their original plan to achieve quick success. Although superior German staff work at division, corps and army level throughout the First World War contributed to their continuous run of successes until very near the end of the war, the German nation collapsed under the strain. Thus the German General Staff lost the war of attrition against the Entente cordiale formed by France and the United Kingdom, in part due to logistical reasons. Focusing exclusively on military aspects of the war, the General Staff ignored political needs, which were to be discovered during the war itself, for example with the women on the home-front.

As per pre-war planning upon mobilisation in August 1914, most of the General Staff, including the Oberquartiermeisters, were reassigned to the headquarters of the Armies and Corps. The remaining core became the "General Staff of the Field Army", part of the Oberste Heeresleitung (Supreme Army Command). Under the Chief of the General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger and Generalquartiermeister, Hermann von Stein, the streamlined General Staff was now divided into only three departments; Operations, Intelligence and Political Affairs.

First World War

  • Chief of the General Staff
    • Central Department
    • 6th Department: Annual Maneuver
    • Military History Department II: Older wars
  • Oberquartiermeister I
    • 2nd Department: Operations
    • Railroad Department
    • 4th Department: Foreign Fortifications
  • Oberquartiermeister II
    • 3rd Department: France and Great Britain
    • 9th Department: Netherland, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, German Colonies
  • Oberquartiermeister III
    • 5th Department: Operational studies
    • 8th Department: Kriegsakademie
  • Oberquartiermeister IV
    • 1st Department: Scandinavia, Russia, Turkey
    • 10th Department: Austria-Hungary and the Balkans
  • Oberquartiermeister V
    • Military History Department I: Recent wars
    • Archives and Library

The Chief of the General Staff's chief deputy held the title of Generalquartiermeister. Beneath them were the five Oberquartiermeisters, who supervised the heads of the General Staff departments. The Railroad Department had the largest number of officers assigned, while the Second Department was the most important.[21]


The General Staff thought that Japan would most likely not win the First Sino-Japanese War.[20]

Nor had the General Staff, before the war, considered the use of potential allies such as Turkey, or dissident factions within the French, British and Russian empires, to distract or weaken the Allied war effort. "A swift victory over the main armies in the main theatre of war was the German General Staff's solution for all outside difficulties, and absolved them from thinking of war in its wider aspects."[19]

To an extent, the General Staff became obsessed with perfecting the methods which had gained victory in the late nineteenth century. Although he maintained an icy formal demeanour, Moltke the Elder had been a flexible and innovative thinker in many fields. Schlieffen, by comparison, was a single-minded and narrow military specialist. The Schlieffen Plan committed Germany to an early outright offensive against France while Russia was still mobilising, and also required an unprovoked invasion of neutral Belgium, to make it possible to rapidly surround and annihilate the French army. The rigidity of the plan, based around a minutely detailed mobilisation schedule and railway timetable, prevented any political moves which might have averted hostilities, as Kaiser William discovered on the eve of the war when he considered not invading France in order to avoid Great Britain joining Germany's enemies. Additionally, it failed to take adequate account of logistics and the inability of horse-drawn transport to supply troops far from railheads.[18]

Germany then was at risk of being at war on both Eastern and Western fronts. To meet this threat, Chief of Staff Alfred von Schlieffen drew up and continually refined the Schlieffen Plan to meet this eventuality. The plan has been accused of being too rigid. Manuel de Landa, in War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991), argued that the Prussian army now favoured the Jominian theory, which gave preeminence to the Army and to its autonomy, compared to the civilian control advocated by Clausewitz. Thus, centralization of decision was preferred over decentralization allowing local initiative. Already in Prussia under Moltke, the General Staff had achieved a special political significance. Since 1883, its head (and the commanding generals and commanders-in-chief) had the right of access to the Emperor, and it could therefore effectively make military decisions without the oversight of the Chancellor or the Reichstag. This was one of the seeds of the mass destruction of the First World War, as military planning was not subject to political control. Thus, the Schlieffen Plan developed into the only war plan and into a kind of dogma, without many of the leading politicians being informed. Nor was the German Navy's high command informed.

The General Staff began preparing for what seemed to be another inevitable war with France, which was intent on revenge and recovery of the provinces annexed by Germany. Bismarck's continuing diplomatic intrigues prevented any hostile European coalition forming against Germany, but with his departure in 1890, France eventually gained Russia as an ally.

With unification the Prussian General Staff became the Imperial German General Staff, with seconded general staff officers from Saxony, Württemberg and Bavaria, and was responsible for military planning for the whole German Empire. The General Staff was divided between the central Großer Generalstab in Berlin and the general staffs of the corps and division HQs. The head of the Großer Generalstab was the "Chief of the General Staff" and was also the technical superior of all general staff officers.

William II with his generals

From Unification to First World War

A favorable situation will never be exploited if commanders wait for orders. The highest commander and the youngest soldier must always be conscious of the fact that omission and inactivity are worse than resorting to the wrong expedient.[17]

Concurrently, Moltke pushed for reassessment and self-improvement of Prussian military units to maintain tactical superiority relative to other nations' units, introducing his concept of Auftragstaktik or mission-oriented tactics, to promote initiative as a well-defined leadership doctrine at all levels of command, written into every Prussian tactical manual published after the Franco-Prussian War:

The end result of strategic preparation by Moltke and diplomatic overtures by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was the unification of all the independent German states and the creation of a German Empire under Prussian control. King Wilhelm I was proclaimed "German Emperor" on 18 January 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles following the Prussian victory. This victory surprised many military professionals around the world, since France had been considered a great military power, while Prussia was widely considered a lesser power, despite its military successes under Friedrich Wilhelm III, in 1813–15 over Napoleon, and more recently over Austria during the Seven Weeks' War of 1866.[15] Most states hastened to adopt Prussian staff methods and structures, with mixed success.[16]

During the war, there were again the inevitable mistakes due to the "fog of war", but German formations moved with a speed and precision which French staff officers, accustomed only to moving battalion-sized punitive columns, could not match. In the French (and British) armies of the time, there was an anti-intellectual prejudice in favour of brave and unimaginative regimental officers over intelligent and well-trained staff officers. The French Army paid dearly for this bias in 1870 and 1871.

The government of Napoleon III of France was undoubtedly startled by the Prussian victory over Austria, and urgently sought to reform their army to face the conflict with Prussia which seemed inevitable and imminent. Their senior officers entirely failed to grasp the methods of the Prussian General Staff. The Chief of Staff of the French Army, Marechal Edmond Leboeuf, fatuously stated in 1870 that the French Army was ready for war, "down to the last gaiter button." In the event, at the outset of the Franco-Prussian War, 462,000 German soldiers concentrated flawlessly on the French frontier while only 270,000 French soldiers could be moved to face them, the French army having lost 100,000 stragglers before a shot was fired through poor planning and administration. (Most of these were reservists who had not been able to join their units before the units were hastily dispatched to join the armies forming up near the frontier.)[14]

Franco-Prussian War

The attack of a position is becoming notably more difficult than its defense. The defensive during the first phase of battle offers a decisive superiority. The task of a skillful offensive will consist of forcing our foe to attack a position chosen by us, and only when casualties, demoralization, and exhaustion have drained his strength will we ourselves take up the tactical offensive.... Our strategy must be offensive, our tactics defensive.[13]

In reviewing Prussian deficiencies against the Austrians, the General Staff made several improvements to increase the strategic and tactical proficiency of the King's army. Cavalry would no longer be held in reserve, but would actively screen the army's movements at all levels, make first contact with the enemy, and constantly observe hostile activities. Newly developed rifled artillery would no longer be placed in the rear of the order of march for employment behind the infantry; instead, a significant detachment would travel with the advanced guard of the leading corps or other major element, and the remainder would march with the front of the main body, providing immediate artillery coverage of the advanced guard on contact and of the main body during subsequent deployment on the field. A renewed emphasis was placed on maintaining contact with subordinate and superior commands, so that commanders always were informed of units' locations on the battlefield, reducing the "fog of war" effect. Finally, the introduction of the breech-loading infantry rifle marked a revolution in weapons effect, so that Moltke made the following analysis in 1865:

Prussian staff analysis and army improvements

In contrast to the Prussian staff, Austrian staff officers gained their posts either by membership of the Austrian nobility and a desire to avoid tedious regimental duties, or after uninspiring training which made them into plodding, rule-bound clerks.[12] In all aspects of preparation, planning and execution, their muddled efforts compared badly with that of their Prussian counterparts.

The War between Prussia and Austria (1866) became almost inevitable after the end of hostilities with Denmark. Many Prussians regarded the war as a sad necessity. Moltke, describing his reasons for confidence to War Minister Albrecht von Roon, stated, "We have the inestimable advantage of being able to carry our Field Army of 285,000 men over five railway lines and of virtually concentrating them in twenty-five days ... Austria has only one railway line and it will take her forty-five days to assemble 200,000 men." Although there were inevitable mistakes and confusion on the battlefield, Moltke's pre-war calculations were proved correct, and the Austrian army was brought to battle at Königgrätz and destroyed.

Seven Weeks' War

The Second Schleswig War (1864), the political origins of which lay in Denmark's conflict with Prussia and Austria over the Schleswig-Holstein Question, vindicated Moltke's concepts of operations and led to an overhaul of the command arrangements of the Prussian Army. Moltke envisaged a rapid attack to prevent the Danes falling back behind water obstacles which the Prussian Navy could not overcome. A rigid system of seniority placed Friedrich Graf von Wrangel, widely regarded as being in his dotage, in command. He ignored all of Moltke's directives and his own staff's advice, and by allowing the Danish Army to withdraw at its leisure he prolonged the war for several months. The resulting post mortem was to ensure a better (though not infallible) system for appointing commanders.

War with Denmark

The General Staff reformed by Moltke was the most effective in Europe, an autonomous institution dedicated solely to the efficient execution of war, unlike in other countries, whose staffs were often fettered by meddling courtiers, parliaments and government officials. On the contrary, the General Staff itself had a powerful effect on Prussian, and later German, politics.[11]

Moltke's wide experience also prompted the General Staff to consider fields of study outside the purely military, and rapidly adapt them to military use. Immediately upon his appointment, he established the Abteilung (section or department) which studied and promoted the development of railway networks within Prussia and incorporated them into its deployment plans. He also formed telegraphic, and other scientific and technical departments within the General Staff[10] and a Historical division, which analysed past and current conflicts and published accounts of them and lessons learned.

Although these officers subsequently alternated between regimental and staff duties, they could be relied upon to think and act exactly as Moltke had taught them when they became the Chiefs of Staff of major formations. Moltke himself referred to them as the "nervous system" of the Prussian Army. In the victories which the Prussian Army was to gain against Austrian Empire and France, Moltke needed only to issue brief directives to the main formations, leaving the staffs at the subordinate headquarters to implement the details according to the doctrines and methods he had laid down, while the Supreme Commands of his opponents became bogged down in a mountain of paperwork and trivia as they tried to control the entire army from a single overworked headquarters.[9]

Each year, the Prussian Army's top 120 junior officers were selected by competitive examination to attend the Kriegsakademie. The academic standards at this institution were so high that fewer than half the entrants graduated successfully. From this elite, Moltke selected the best twelve for his personal training as General Staff officers. They attended theoretical studies, annual manoeuvres, "war rides" (a system of tactical exercises without troops in the field) under Moltke himself, and war games and map exercises known as Kriegsspiele.[7][8]

In 1857, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, a widely travelled officer who was a confidante of King William I, was appointed Chief of the General Staff. Under his control, the existing staff system was expanded and consolidated.

General Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the General Staff from 1857 to 1888

Moltke the Elder

Nor was there ever a large pool of officers to draw upon to perform General Staff duties. In 1871, there were only 375 officers fully qualified to serve on the General Staff, even after an emergency expansion during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1914, there were 625 General Staff-qualified officers.[6]

The General Staff was always a small, elite body, numbering only fifty or so officers on its establishment and rarely exceeding one hundred officers. Only one or two officers were permanently assigned to the General Staff, described in official returns as des Generalstabs ("of the General Staff") at any time; most were attached to the General Staff from their parent regiments, although usually for several years at a time, and were listed as im Generalstab ("on the General Staff"). When the General Staff was required to take the field during major campaigns, it remained a small but effective body. During the Franco-Prussian War for example, the portion of the Staff which accompanied the headquarters of the King (as commander-in-chief) and was responsible for the direction of armies which totalled 850,000 men, consisted of the Chief of Staff himself, a Quartermaster-General and an Intendant-General whose duties were not directly concerned with military operations, three heads of departments, eleven other officers, ten draughtsmen, seven clerks and fifty-nine other ranks (orderlies, messengers etc.).[5]

which continually planned for likely and unlikely scenarios. As early as 1843, when Europe had been largely at peace for nearly thirty years and most major nations had no plans for war, observers noted sheaves of orders at the Prussian War Ministry, already made out to cover all foreseeable contingencies and requiring only a signature and a date stamp to be put into effect. [4] After the defeat of Napoleon, the General Staff was formally established. Entry to it followed completion of a course at the


Although Prussian commanders of forces were still appointed by rigid seniority or royal patronage, each Army, Korps and Division commander had a staff-trained officer assigned as his Adjutant. Scharnhorst intended that they "support incompetent Generals, providing the talents that might otherwise be wanting among leaders and commanders".[3] The unlikely pairing of the erratic but popular Field Marshal Blücher as Commander in Chief with Lieutenant General von Gneisenau as his Chief of Staff showed this system to its best advantage.

As part of its measures, introductory military schools in Berlin, Königsberg and Breslau, and the Academy for Young Officers (later the Kriegsakademie), open to all applicants of merit, were founded for the intellectual training of staff officers.[2] In most non-Prussian military academies of the time, the emphasis of the training syllabus was the preparation of junior artillery and engineering officers, not strategic planners.

Although Prussia's military strength and freedom of action was severely restricted by the peace terms imposed at Tilsit, this Commission nevertheless acted as a General Staff to plan and implement the reconstruction of the Prussian Army. [1]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.