Erich von Falkenhayn

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Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn-retouched.jpg
Prussian Minister of War
In office
7 June 1913 – 21 January 1915
Monarch Wilhelm II
Prime Minister Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Preceded by Josias von Heeringen
Succeeded by Adolf Wild von Hohenborn
Chief of the German General Staff
In office
14 September 1914 – 29 August 1916
Monarch Wilhelm II
Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Preceded by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger
Succeeded by Paul von Hindenburg
Personal details
Born 11 September 1861
Burg Belchau, Prussia, Kingdom of Prussia
Died 8 April 1922 (aged 60)
Potsdam, Brandenburg, Weimar Germany
Relations Eugen von Falkenhayn (brother)
Fedor von Bock (nephew)
Awards Order of the Black Eagle
Pour le Merite with Oak Leaves
Military service
Allegiance  German Empire
 Ottoman Empire
Service/branch German Army
Ottoman Army
Years of service 1880–1922
1917–1918 (Ottoman Army)
Rank General of the Infantry (German Army)
Field Marshal (Ottoman Army)
Commands 4th Foot Guards (German Empire)
Chief of the German General Staff
9th Army (German Empire)
Army Group F (Ottoman Army)
10th Army (German Empire)
Battles/wars Boxer Rebellion
First World War

General Erich Georg Anton von Falkenhayn (11 September 1861 – 8 April 1922) was the Chief of the German General Staff during the First World War from September 1914 until 29 August 1916. He was removed in the late summer of 1916 after the failure at the battle of Verdun, the opening of the Allied offensive on the Somme, the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war. He was later given important field commands in Romania and Syria. His reputation as a war leader was attacked in Germany during and after the war, especially by the faction which supported Hindenburg. Falkenhayn held that Germany could not win the war by a decisive battle but would have to reach a compromise peace; his enemies said he lacked the resolve necessary to win a decisive victory. Falkenhayn's relations with the Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg were troubled and undercut Falkenhayn's plans.[1]

Early life[edit]

Falkenhayn was born in Burg Belchau near Graudenz, West Prussia (now Białochowo, Poland) to Fedor von Falkenhayn (1814–1896) and Franziska von Falkenhayn, née von Rosenberg (1826–1888). His brother Arthur (1857–1929) became tutor of Crown Prince Wilhelm while Eugen (1853–1934) became a Prussian General of Cavalry. His only sister Olga von Falkenhayn was the mother of Fieldmarshall Fedor von Bock.[2] Becoming a cadet at the age of 11, he joined the Army in 1880. He served as an infantry and staff officer and became a career soldier.

In 1886 Falkenhayn married Ida Selkmann, with whom he had two children: a son Fritz Georg Adalbert von Falkenhayn, born in 1890, and a daughter Erika Karola Olga von Falkenhayn, born in 1904 and married to Henning von Tresckow (1901–1944).

Between 1896 and 1903, Falkenhayn served in Qing China on leave for several years and saw action during the Boxer Rebellion. He also spent time in Manchuria and Korea. Afterwards, the army posted him to Brunswick, Metz and Magdeburg; he became a major-general in 1912. In 1913 he became Prussian Minister of War, in which capacity he was involved at the beginning of World War I, when the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo took place. Like most German military leaders, he did not expect a great European war but he soon embraced the idea and joined with others pushing for Kaiser Wilhelm II to declare war.

Chief of Staff[edit]

Falkenhayn succeeded Helmuth von Moltke the Younger as Chief of the Oberste Heeresleitung (German General Staff) after the First Battle of the Marne on 14 September 1914. Falkenhayn attempted to outflank the British and French in the Race to the Sea, a series of engagements throughout northern France and Belgium in which each side made reciprocal attempts to turn the other's flank, until they reached the North Sea and had no more room for manoeuvre. The British and French eventually stopped the German advance at the First Battle of Ypres (October–November 1914).

Falkenhayn preferred an offensive strategy on the Western Front, while conducting a limited campaign in the east: he hoped that Russia would accept a separate armistice more easily, if it were not humiliated too much. This brought him into conflict with Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, who favored massive offensives in the east. Eventually, in the hope that either a massive slaughter would lead Europe's political leaders to consider ending the war or that losses would be less harmful for Germany than for France, Falkenhayn staged a battle of attrition, as claimed in his post-war memoirs, in the Battle of Verdun in early 1916. Although more than a quarter of a million soldiers eventually died and Falkenhayn was sometimes called "the Blood-Miller of Verdun", neither side's resolve was lessened. Contrary to Falkenhayn's assumptions, the French were able to limit casualties in the divisions sent to Verdun. General Philippe Pétain kept the divisions in the line at Verdun until casualties reached 50 percent of the infantry and then relieved them. The procession of divisions back and forth was analogous to the operation of a "noria", a type of water wheel that continuously lifts water and empties it into a trough.[3][4] After the relative failure at Verdun, coupled with reverses on the Eastern Front (the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war), the beginning of the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme and the intrigues of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff by Hindenburg.

Later career[edit]

Falkenhayn then assumed command of the Ninth Army in Transylvania, and in August launched a joint offensive against Romania with August von Mackensen. Falkenhayn's forces captured the Romanian capital of Bucharest in under four months, with help of troops from all Central Powers against the poorly trained, equipped and inexperienced Romanian Army, which had to defend a 1,600 km (990 mi) front, the longest in Europe.

Following the success, Falkenhayn went to take military command in Ottoman Palestine. Given the rank of Mushir (Field Marshal) in the Ottoman Army, he was assigned to command the Yildirim Army Group (Heeresgruppe F, Army Group F). He eventually failed to prevent the British under General Edmund Allenby from conquering Jerusalem in December 1917. In February 1918, Falkenhayn became commander of the 10th Army in Belarus, where he witnessed the end of the war.

Postwar[edit]

In 1919, he retired from the army and withdrew to his estate, where he wrote his autobiography and several books on war and strategy. His war memoirs were translated into English as The German General staff and Its Critical Decisions, 1914–1916. With the benefit of hindsight, he remarked that the German declarations of war on Russia and France in 1914 were "justifiable but overly-hasty and unnecessary".[5] Falkenhayn died in 1922, at Schloss Lindstedt, near Potsdam.

Assessment[edit]

Falkenhayn in many ways typified the Prussian generals; a militarist in the literal sense, he had undeniable political and military competence but showed contempt toward democracy and the representative Reichstag. He addressed the Reichstag in 1914 as follows:

Only through the fact that the Prussian army is removed by the constitution from the party struggle and the influence of ambitious party leaders has it become what it is: the secure defence of peace at home and abroad.

— Falkenhayn[6]

Militarily, Falkenhayn had a mixed record. His offensive at Verdun proved a strategic failure. During the campaign against Romania in 1916 Falkenhayn demonstrated considerable skill in command of the German 9th Army, driving the Romanians from Transylvania, breaking through the Southern Carpathians and forcing the shattered Romanian forces northeast into Moldavia.[7] His defence of Palestine in 1917 was also a failure but his forces, overwhelmingly Ottoman in composition, were outnumbered and outclassed and casualties were fairly equal. Winston Churchill considered him to be the ablest by far of the German generals in World War I. Dupuy also ranked him near the top of the German commanders, just below Hindenburg and Ludendorff.[8] Foley wrote that Germany's enemies were far more able to apply a strategy of attrition, because they had greater amounts of manpower, industry and economic control over the world, resorting to many of the methods used by Falkenhayn in Russia in 1915 and France in 1916. As the cost of fighting the war increased, the war aims of the Entente expanded, to include the overthrow of the political elites of the Central Powers and the ability to dictate peace to a comprehensively defeated enemy, which was achieved by a strategy of attrition.[9]

All sources portray Falkenhayn as a loyal, honest and punctilious friend and superior. His positive legacy is his conduct during the war in Palestine in 1917. As his biographer Holger Afflerbach (de) wrote,

An inhuman excess against the Jews in Palestine was prevented only by Falkenhayn's conduct, which against the background of the German history of the 20th century has a special meaning, and one that distinguishes Falkenhayn.

— Afflerbach[10]

Decorations and awards[edit]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Messenger 2001, pp. 165–166.
  2. ^ Afflerbach 1996, p. 9.
  3. ^ Smith, Audoin-Rouzeau & Becker 2003, p. 82.
  4. ^ Cowley & Parker 1996, p. 361.
  5. ^ Falkenhayn 2009, p. 96.
  6. ^ Craig 1956, pp. 253–254.
  7. ^ Tucker 2014, p. 231.
  8. ^ Cowley & Parker 1996, p. 915.
  9. ^ Foley 2007, p. 268.
  10. ^ Afflerbach 1994, p. 485.

References[edit]

  • Afflerbach, Holger (1994). Falkenhayn: Politisches Denken und Handeln im Kaiserreich [Falkenhayn: Political Thinking and Action in the Empire]. Beiträge zur Militärgeschichte (in German). München: Oldenbourg. ISBN 3-48655-972-9. 
  • Afflerbach, Holger (1996). Falkenhayn: Politisches Denken und Handeln im Kaiserreich [Falkenhayn: Political Thinking and Action in the Empire]. Beiträge zur Militärgeschichte (in German) (repr. ed.). München: Oldenbourg. ISBN 3-486-56184-7. 
  • Cowley, Robert; Parker, Geoffrey (1996). The Reader's Companion to Military History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-39566-969-3. 
  • Craig, Gordon A. (1956). The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640–1945. New York: Oxford University Press. OCLC 275199. 
  • Falkenhayn, Erich von (2009) [1919]. General Headquarters, 1914–1916 and its Critical Decisions (PDF) (Naval & Military Press ed.). London: Hutchinson. ISBN 978-1-84574-139-6. Retrieved 29 February 2016. 
  • Foley, R. T. (2007) [2005]. German Strategy and the Path to Verdun: Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition, 1870–1916 (pbk. ed.). Cambridge: CUP. ISBN 978-0-521-04436-3. 
  • Messenger, Charles, ed. (2001). Reader's Guide to Military History. London: Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 978-1-57958-241-8. 
  • Smith, Leonard V.; Audoin-Rouzeau, Stéphane; Becker, Annette (2003). France and the Great War, 1914–1918. New Approaches to European History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-52166-176-5. 
  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2014). 500 Great Military Leaders. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1598847589. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ritter, Gerhard (1972). The Sword and the Scepter: The Problem of Militarism in Germany: The Tragedy of Statesmanship–Bethmann Hollweg as War Chancellor [Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk: das Problem des Militarismus in Deutschland. Dritter Band: Die Tragödie der Staatskunst Bethmann Hollweg als Kriegskanzler (1914–1917)]. III (trans. ed.). Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press. ISBN 978-0-87024-182-6. 
  • Watson, Alexander (2008). Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British armies, 1914–1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-52188-101-2. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Josias von Heeringen
Prussian Minister of War
1913–1915
Succeeded by
Adolf Wild von Hohenborn
Military offices
Preceded by
Helmuth von Moltke
Chief of the General Staff
1914–1916
Succeeded by
Paul von Hindenburg
Preceded by
New Formation
Commander, 9th Army
6 September 1916-1 May 1917
Succeeded by
General der Infanterie Robert Kosch
Preceded by
New Formation
Commander, Heeresgruppe F
20 July 1917-6 February 1918
Succeeded by
General der Kavallerie Otto Liman von Sanders
Preceded by
Generalfeldmarschall Hermann von Eichhorn
Commander, 10th Army
5 March 1918-6 January 1919
Succeeded by
Dissolved