Helmuth von Moltke the Younger
Moltke in 1906
|Chief of the German General Staff|
1 January 1906 - 14 September 1914
|Alfred von Schlieffen|
|Erich von Falkenhayn|
|Born||25 May 1848|
Biendorf, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, German Confederation
|Died||18 June 1916 (aged 68)|
Berlin, Province of Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
|Awards||Pour le Mérite|
Order of the Red Eagle
House Order of the Wendish Crown
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
|Nickname(s)||Moltke the Younger|
(Moltke der Jüngere)
|Allegiance|| North German Confederation|
|Branch/service|| Prussian Army|
Imperial German Army
|Years of service||1868-1916|
|Commands||1st Guards Infantry Brigade|
1st Guards Infantry Division
Chief of the General Staff
World War I
Helmuth Johannes Ludwig Graf von Moltke (German: ['h?lmu:t f?n 'm?ltk?]; 25 May 1848 - 18 June 1916), also known as Moltke the Younger, was a German general and Chief of the Great German General Staff. He was also the nephew of Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke who is commonly called "Moltke the Elder" to differentiate the two.
As Chief of the Great General Staff, he served as commander-in-chief of the German Army in the years leading up to and during the outbreak of World War I. His legacy remains a matter of controversy due to disputes about his role in Germany's decision to go to war and the failure of the Schlieffen Plan.
Helmuth von Moltke was born in Biendorf, Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and was named after his uncle, Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, future Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) and hero of the Unification of Germany. During the Franco-Prussian War, Moltke served with the 7th Grenadier Regiment and was cited for bravery. He attended the War Academy between 1875 and 1878 and joined the General Staff in 1880. In 1882 he became personal adjutant to his uncle, who was then Chief of the General Staff. In 1891, on the death of his uncle, Moltke became aide-de-camp to Kaiser Wilhem II, thus becoming part of the Emperor's inner circle. In 1898 he became commander of the 1st Guards Infantry Brigade and in 1902, being promoted to Lieutenant General, received command of the 1st Guards Infantry Division.:47-49
In 1904 Moltke was made Quartermaster-General; in effect, Deputy Chief of the General Staff. In 1906, he became chief on the retirement of Alfred von Schlieffen. His appointment was controversial then and remains so today. The other likely candidates for the position were Hans Hartwig von Beseler, Karl von Bülow and Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz.:68 Critics charge that Moltke gained the position on the strength of his name and his friendship with the Kaiser, whom he was certainly far closer to than the other candidates. Historians argue that Beseler was too close to Schlieffen to have succeeded him, while Bülow and Goltz were too independent for Wilhelm to have accepted them. Moltke's friendship with the Kaiser permitted him a latitude that others could not have enjoyed. Goltz, at least, saw nothing wrong with Moltke's performance as Chief.:71
Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War and the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914, Moltke was called to the Kaiser who had been told by Karl Max, Prince Lichnowsky, that the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey had offered French neutrality under guarantee of Great Britain. According to John Keegan however the Kaiser believed that Britain would remain neutral if Germany did not attack France. Whichever is true, the Kaiser, seeing that a two-front war could be avoided, told Moltke to divert forces from the western to the eastern front against Russia. Moltke refused, arguing that such a drastic alteration of a long-planned major mobilization could not be done without throwing the forces into organizational chaos and the original plan now in motion must be followed through. Years later, General Hermann von Staabs, head of the German railway division, would disagree in a book detailing a contingency plan that the German army had for such a situation.:93-94 Grey's offer turned out to be a wishful misinterpretation by Lichnowsky:92 and the Kaiser told Moltke to proceed as originally planned. Moltke's health, already stressed from this argument with his ruler, broke down as a consequence of German defeat at the first battle of the Marne, and on 14 September 1914, he was succeeded by Erich von Falkenhayn.
It is a matter of debate whether the "failure" of the Marne Campaign can be placed at Moltke's feet. Some critics contend that Moltke's weakening of the Schlieffen Plan led to German defeat. The records show that Moltke, who was concerned about Russia, moved 180,000 men east before the war. Many thousands more men were transported from the crucial right wing to the left wing facing France in Alsace and Lorraine. Most controversially, on 28 August, Moltke sent two corps and a cavalry division to reinforce Ludendorff and Hindenburg, just before the epic victory at the Battle of Tannenberg. The series of moves has been viewed by some historians as responsible for much of the strategic failure of the Schlieffen Plan as enacted in 1914. A number of historians, notably Zuber and S. L. A. Marshall, contend that the failure of Alexander von Kluck's 1st Army to keep position with Karl von Bülow's 2nd Army, thus creating a gap near Paris that was exploited by the French, is a more direct cause than any planning foibles on Moltke's part. The Schlieffen School disagrees and argues that Moltke lost control of the invading armies during the month of August and thus was unable to react when the First Battle of the Marne developed in September. While Moltke had lost touch with his field commanders, German operational doctrine had always stressed Auftragstaktik (personal initiative) on the part of subordinate officers, more so than in other armies. Other historians argue that the multitude of strategic options Moltke faced and the danger of the Russian invasion of East Prussia clouded Moltke's judgement.
Although earlier in the campaign, German generals and the press had been proclaiming the campaign as good as won, on 4 September, Moltke was found despondent that the lack of prisoners meant that the Germans had not yet really won a decisive victory.:186-7 Moltke may well have been overly preoccupied with the unsuccessful German offensive in Lorraine, and he issued no orders to the First, Second and Third Armies between 2 and 5 September whilst the Battle of the Marne was in progress.:192
Following the German retreat from the Marne, Moltke allegedly reported to the Kaiser, "Your Majesty, we have lost the war."
Whether General von Moltke actually said to the Emperor, "Majesty, we have lost the war," we do not know. We know anyhow that with a prescience greater in political than in military affairs, he wrote to his wife on the night of the 9th, "Things have not gone well. The fighting east of Paris has not gone in our favour, and we shall have to pay for the damage we have done".-- Churchill
After being succeeded by Falkenhayn, Moltke was entrusted in Berlin with the office of chief of the home substitute for the general staff (Der stellvertretende Generalstab), which had the task of organising and forwarding the reserves and of controlling the territorial army corps, corresponding to those at the front. Moltke's health continued to deteriorate and he died in Berlin on 18 June 1916, during the Staatsakt (memorial state ceremony) for Marshal Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz. He left a pamphlet entitled Die 'Schuld' am Kriege (The Blame for the War), which his widow Eliza intended to publish in 1919. She was dissuaded from doing so because of the problems it might cause. The pamphlet was designed to show the "chaotic" nature of events leading up to the war, to counter Allied accusations of warmongering by Germany. Army chiefs and the German foreign ministry were disturbed by its contents. General Wilhelm von Dommes was sent to advise Eliza von Moltke against publication. Having read the pamphlet he confided to his diary that it "contains nasty stuff". Instead, Eliza published the more bland Erinnerungen, Briefe, Dokumente, a collection of her husband's letters and documents. Other material was archived. Some was later destroyed in World War II and the original pamphlet has not been accessible since.:10
At sixty-six, Moltke was one of the older commanders of 1914 and in poor health, having suffered a stroke shortly before the outbreak of war. These factors negatively affected his determination when he was under stress. His personal interests included music, painting and literature. While often assertive in manner, his character was assessed by the historian Barbara W. Tuchman as being essentially that of a self-doubting introvert.
Moltke was a follower of theosophy, which taught that humanity was an endless, unchanging cycle of civilizations rising and falling. Historian Margaret MacMillan connected his personal beliefs with his resigned approach to the possibility of a general war in the leadup to the First World War. Like many of his colleagues on the German General Staff, he was heavily influenced by Social Darwinism. His view of international relations as merely a struggle for survival led him to believe that the longer the start of the war was delayed the worse things would be for Germany.