Helmuth von Moltke

Helmuth von Moltke

(1800-1891)

The “Bismarck of the Battlefield,” Helmuth von Moltke, was born in Parchim, in Mecklenburg, Prussia in 1800. Von Moltke graduated from the royal military academy at Copenhagen and served briefly in the Danish army before joining the Prussian army in 1822. He studied at the Kriegsakadamie (Prussian War Academy) and absorbed the les¬ sons offered by Karl von Clausewitz (see no. 69), who was the director.

Von Moltke served as a military adviser to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1835 to 1839. He was named first adjutant to Crown Prince Frederick William in 1855 and was promoted to major general in 1856.

The crucial turning point in his career — and the Prussian army’s development — came when he was named chief of the Prussian general staff in 1857.

Having studied the campaigns of Frederick the Great of Prussia (see no. 58) and Napoleon (see no. 67), von Moltke applied their lessons to the changes brought by new military technology.

Planning for future wars, he intended to use the railroad, the telegraph and the industrial production of weapons to achieve a decentralized command structure and a greater concentration of forces at the front.

He thereby brought the essence of Napoleonic warfare, mobility, up to date with modern technology. Von Moltke developed Prussia’s war machine to strike hard, fast and decisively.

The first test of his tactics came in the Prussian-Danish War of 1864. Prussia’s solid victory enhanced his stature, and von Moltke prepared for the coming break with Austria.

In 1866, Prussia and Austria collided in the Seven Weeks’ War. Using von Moltke’s plans, three large, disconnected Prussian columns of troops entered Austrian territory. They suddenly con¬ verged and attacked the shocked Austrians at the Battle of Koniggratz which won the war.

By 1870, von Moltke’s reputation had grown so formidable that no other Prussian leader would contest his views openly. Rather than attempt to repeat his earlier plans, Von Moltke devised and executed a concentrated attack. His vision worked to perfection; the bulk of the French army, and Emperor Napoleon III, surrendered at Sedan.

Von Moltke was made a count in 1870 and was promoted to field marshal in 1871, the year the German Empire was formed. The cre¬ ation of the new nation was largely due to the efforts and vision of Otto von Bismarck and von Moltke.

In the last years of his life he became dis¬ tressed by the attitudes of the military clique that surrounded the new Prussian emperor, Wilhelm II. He spoke out against the narrow-mindedness of the military leaders at the Reichstag (German legislature) in 1890.

Von Moltke died while on a visit to Berlin a year later.