Fritz von Lossberg
Friedrich Karl "Fritz" von Lossberg (30 April 1868 – 4 May 1942) was a German colonel, and later general, of World War I. He was a strategic planner, especially of defence, who was Chief of Staff for the Second, Third and Fourth Armies. He was present at the battles of the Somme, Arras, and Verdun
Lossberg was later to become "legendary as the fireman of the Western Front, always sent by OHL to the area of crisis". (Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL, Supreme Army Command) He was the "foremost German expert on Defensive Warfare. Was made a floating Chief of staff in problem areas with Vollmacht: the right to issue orders in a superior's name".
The British Official History refers to him as a very remarkable soldier.
'Throughout the eight months which Colonel von Lossberg spent in Mézières [in early 1915] he was straining at the leash to return to more active work at the front, and the first opportunity, which came by accident, he seized with both hands. His chief, Colonel Tappen, was still away when the French offensive [in the Champagne region] was delivered on 25 September and von Lossberg deputized for him when General Falkenhayn explained the situation to the Kaiser, William II, the following morning. A message had come through earlier from the chief of staff of the Third Army, Lieut.-General von Hoehn, that the left corps might have to be withdrawn two miles to behind the Dormoise, and Colonel von Lossberg during his account of the situation on the Champagne battlefront expressed strong disapproval of such an action. Within three hours of that interview he was on his way to replace General von Hoehn as chief of staff, a marked honour for a junior colonel of only two months' seniority, as all the other chiefs of staff of armies were at least major-generals.' Von Lossberg was one of the leading proponents of the system of defence-in-depth.
"Aged 71, Major General Fritz von Lossberg retired from the Army in 1927" Elsewhere (see talk) his dates are given as 1868-1942
Innovations in defensive tactics
The doctrine of "defense in depth" or "elastic defense" was formulated in 1915 by a small group of young staff officers at the German Army High Command at Mézières, France; specifically, it was proposed by Major Max Bauer, Major Bussche, Captain Hermann Geyer, and Captain Harbon. In 1916, Major Bauer and Captain Geyer expounded their ideas in an army manual, "Conduct of the Defensive Battle." In an elastic defense, the front line would be held by a minimal number of troops (to minimize the number of men exposed to artillery fire). During an attack, these troops would retreat. Reserves, who would be stationed nearby but beyond artillery range, would then counterattack and retake the front line.
Initially, Lossberg, who was Bauer and Geyer’s superior, opposed elastic defense. He argued that it was impractical to expect men to make an orderly retreat under artillery fire. Furthermore, allowing units to retreat at will would make coordinating a defense almost impossible. Also, the counterattack would have to be precisely coordinated with the enemy’s attack.
Lossberg thought that the front line should be held at all costs. Nevertheless, Lossberg agreed that the front line should be thinly manned, and that if the front line were breached, counterattacks by nearby reserves should restore the line. Furthermore, Lossberg gave more freedom and authority to front-line commanders, so that they could respond quickly to local threats and opportunities. This freedom and authority also made practical the launching of the rapid counterattacks that Bauer and Geyer had advocated. Lossberg’s ideas became official army doctrine.
It was Lossberg who first put into practice the theory of elastic defense during the battle of Arras (April–May 1917), where it succeeded. But the elastic defense at Arras had been improvised. At the subsequent battle of Passchendaele (June–November 1917) Lossberg carefully planned an elastic defense and again was successful. Lossberg’s successes in battle proved the feasibility of defense in depth.
Decorations and awards
Lossberg was an honorary citizen of Bad Homburg, his home town and received medals and decorations:
- Iron Cross of 1914, 1st and 2nd class
- Pour le Mérite (21 September 1916) with oak leaves (24 April 1917)
- Order of the Red Eagle, 4th class
- Order of the Crown, 3rd class (Prussia)
- Knight's Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords
- Service Award (Prussia)
- Honor Cross 2nd Class of the Princely House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords
- Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph (Bavaria)
- Military Merit Order, 3rd class with Swords and Crown (Bavaria)
- Commander's Cross Second Class of the Military Order of St. Henry (Saxony)
- Knight's Cross Second Class of the Albert Order with Swords (Saxony)
- Commander of the Military Merit Order (Württemberg)
- Knight's Cross of the Order of the Crown (Württemberg)
- Commander Second Class of the Order of the Zähringer Lion (Baden)
- Bravery Medal (Hesse)
- Military Merit Cross, 2nd class (Mecklenburg-Schwerin)
- Knight's Cross, First Class of the Order of Henry the Lion
- Knight's Cross, First Class of the House and Merit Order of Peter Frederick Louis (Oldenburg)
- Commander of the Order of the White Falcon
- Hanseatic Cross of Bremen
- Commander, First Class of the Ducal Saxe-Ernestine House Order with Swords
- Cross for Merit in War (Saxe-Meiningen)
Sources and footnotes
- Ludendorff, Erich; My War Memoirs. London: Naval & Military Press, 2005
- Lupfer, Timothy T; The Dynamics of Doctrine: The Change in German Tactical Doctrine during the First World War 1981 Combat Studies Institute, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
- Oldham, Peter; The Hindenburg Line. London: Leo Cooper, 1997
- Blue Max website
- "Defense in Depth". Time Magazine. 1939-09-25. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- Defence in Depth article at the Wayback Machine (archived 30 September 2007)
- Ties Fritz von Lossberg to Frederick at the Wayback Machine (archived 29 July 2009)
- Awarded oakleaves Friedrich Karl von Lossberg -- 24 April 1917
- Genealogy site
- Fritz von Lossberg, Meine Tatigkeit im Weltkriege, 1914—1918 (Berlin, 1939), 277. G.O.H., XI, 17.
- Bradley J. Meyer (1981) "Innovation and Expertise: Some changes in German tactical doctrine during World War I" (unpublished M.A. dissertation, Department of History, Ohio State University), Chapter 2. The Defense Expert: Fritz von Lossberg, pages 30–80. Available on-line at: http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd/send-pdf.cgi/Meyer%20Bradley%20J.pdf?acc_num=osu1133976573 .
- Wynne, Capt. G. C.; If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West (London, England: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1940; reprinted by: Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1976).
- Times, 6 October 1917; pg. 5; Issue 41602; col G Through German Eyes. The Western Command., General Von Lossberg