Alfred von Schlieffen

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Graf

Alfred von Schlieffen
Alfred von Schlieffen 1906.jpg
von Schlieffen in 1906
Chief of the German General Staff
In office
7 February 1891 1 January 1906
Monarch Wilhelm II
Chancellor
Preceded by Alfred von Waldersee
Succeeded by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger
Personal details
Born(1833-02-28)28 February 1833
Berlin, Province of Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia in the German Confederation
Died4 January 1913(1913-01-04) (aged 79)
Berlin
Resting place Invalids' Cemetery, Berlin
Spouse(s)
Anna Schlieffen
(m. 1868;died 1872)
Children2
Known forthe Schlieffen Plan
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the German Empire.svg  German Empire
Branch/serviceFlag of the German Empire.svg  Imperial German Army
Years of service1853-1906
Rank Generalfeldmarschall
Commands General of the Cavalry
Battles/wars Franco-Prussian War
Awards Order of the Black Eagle

Alfred Graf [lower-alpha 1] von Schlieffen, generally called Count Schlieffen (German pronunciation: [ˈʃliːfən] ; 28 February 1833 – 4 January 1913) was a German field marshal and strategist who served as chief of the Imperial German General Staff from 1891 to 1906. [1] His name lived on in the 1905–06 'Schlieffen Plan', then Aufmarsch I, a deployment plan and operational guide for a decisive initial offensive operation/campaign in a one-front war against the French Third Republic.

German Empire empire in Central Europe between 1871–1918

The German Empire, also known as Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.

Field marshal is a very senior military rank, ordinarily senior to the general officer ranks. Usually it is the highest rank in an army, and when it is, few persons are appointed to it. It is considered as a five-star rank (OF-10) in modern-day armed forces in many countries. Promotion to the rank of field marshal in many countries historically required extraordinary military achievement by a general. However, the rank has also been used as a divisional command rank and also as a brigade command rank. Examples of the different uses of the rank include Austria-Hungary, Prussia, Germany and Sri Lanka for an extraordinary achievement; Spain and Mexico for a divisional command ; and France, Portugal and Brazil for a brigade command.

A strategist is a person with responsibility for the formulation and implementation of a strategy. Strategy generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). The senior leadership of an organization is generally tasked with determining strategy. Strategy can be intended or can emerge as a pattern of activity as the organization adapts to its environment or competes. It involves activities such as strategic planning and strategic thinking.

Contents

Biography

Born in Berlin, Germany, on 28 February 1833 as the son of a Prussian Army officer, he was part of an old Prussian noble family, the Schlieffen family. He lived with his father, Major Magnus von Schlieffen, on their estate in Silesia, which he left to go to school in 1842. Growing up, Schlieffen had shown no interest in joining the military, so he did not attend the traditional Prussian cadet academies. Instead, he studied at the University of Berlin. [2] While studying law, he enlisted in the army in 1853 for his one year of compulsory military service. [3] After this, instead of joining the reserves, he was chosen as an officer candidate. Thus he started a long military career, working his way up through the officer ranks, eventually completing 53 years of service.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

German Confederation association of 39 German states in Central Europe from 1815 to 1866

The German Confederation was an association of 39 German-speaking states in Central Europe, created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to coordinate the economies of separate German-speaking countries and to replace the former Holy Roman Empire, which had been dissolved in 1806. The German Confederation excluded German-speaking lands in the eastern portion of the Kingdom of Prussia, the German cantons of Switzerland, and Alsace within France which was majority German speaking.

Prussian Army 1701-1871 land warfare branch of Prussias military, primary component and predecessor of the German Army to 1919

The Royal Prussian Army served as the army of the Kingdom of Prussia. It became vital to the development of Brandenburg-Prussia as a European power.

In 1868, fifteen years into his military career, Schlieffen married his cousin Countess Anna Schlieffen. They had one healthy child (Elisabeth Auguste Marie Ernestine Gräfin von Schlieffen, 13 September 1869 - 23 September 1943), but after the birth of a second (Marie, who became a nun), his wife died. [2] After that, Schlieffen focused all his attention on his military work. [4]

Military service

On the recommendation of his commanders, [2] Schlieffen was admitted to the General War School in 1858 at the age of 25, much earlier than others. He graduated in 1861 with high honours, which guaranteed him a role as a General Staff officer. In 1862, he was assigned to the Topographic Bureau of the General Staff, [2] providing him with geographical knowledge and a respect for the tactical and strategic value of terrain and weather that would serve him well throughout his career, particularly in the war games he conducted and in the devising of various war plans including the famous Schlieffen Plan. In 1865 he was transferred to the German General Staff proper, though his role was initially a minor one. He first saw active war service as a staff officer with the Prussian Cavalry Corps at the Battle of Königgrätz of 1866, during the Austro-Prussian War. [2] The tactical "battle of encirclement" conducted there was from that point forward a constant feature of his tactical doctrine, even as his strategic doctrine consistently favoured the counter-offensive due to both his understanding of terrain and his respect for von Clausewitz's assessment of the constantly-diminishing strength of the offensive.

Schlieffen Plan German General Staffs early-20th-century overall strategic plan

The Schlieffen Plan was the name given, after the First World War, to German war plans and the influence of Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen and his thinking on the invasion of France and Belgium on 4 August 1914. Schlieffen was Chief of the General Staff of the German Army from 1891 to 1906. In 1905 and 1906, Schlieffen devised an army deployment plan for a war-winning offensive against the French Third Republic. After losing the First World War, German official historians of the Reichsarchiv and other writers described the plan as a blueprint for victory. Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, succeeded Schlieffen as Chief of the German General Staff in 1906 and was dismissed after the First Battle of the Marne. German historians claimed that Moltke had ruined the plan by meddling with it.

German General Staff Full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and German Army

The German General Staff, originally the Prussian General Staff and officially Great General Staff, 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.

Battle of Königgrätz decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian War

The Battle of Königgrätz was the decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian War in which the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire. Taking place near Königgrätz and Sadowa (Sadová) in Bohemia on 3 July 1866, it was an example of battlefield concentration, a convergence of multiple units at the same location to trap and/or destroy an enemy force between them.

During the Franco-Prussian War, he commanded a small force in the Loire Valley in what was one of the most difficult campaigns fought by the Prussian Army. [4] In France, Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, promoted him to Major and head of the military-history division. After years working alongside Helmuth von Moltke and Alfred von Waldersee, on 4 December 1886 he was promoted to Major General, and shortly afterwards, with the retirement of Moltke, became Waldersee's Deputy Chief of Staff. [4] Not long after this he became Quartermeistergeneral, then Lieutenant General on 4 December 1888, and eventually General of the Cavalry on 27 January 1893. In August 1905, at the age of 72, Schlieffen was kicked by a companion's horse, making him "incapable of battle". After nearly 53 years of service, Schlieffen retired on New Year's Day, 1906. [3] He died on 4 January 1913, just 19 months before the outbreak of the First World War. [3] His apocryphal last words are said to have been, "Remember: keep the right wing very strong," (in reference to the main strategic manoeuvre of Aufmarsch I West), but nobody actually present is known to have said this. Furthermore, the origin of this tale is unknown but only seems to have started appearing several decades after his death.

Franco-Prussian War significant conflict pitting the Second French Empire against the Kingdom of Prussia and its allies

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire and later the Third French Republic, and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

Loire Valley French World Heritage Site

The Loire Valley, spanning 280 kilometres (170 mi), is located in the middle stretch of the Loire River in central France, in both the administrative regions Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire. The area of the Loire Valley comprises about 800 square kilometres (310 sq mi). It is referred to as the Cradle of the French and the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards, and artichoke, and asparagus fields, which line the banks of the river. Notable for its historic towns, architecture, and wines, the valley has been inhabited since the Middle Palaeolithic period. In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites.

Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden sixth Grand Duke of Baden from 1856 to 1907

Frederick I was the sovereign Grand Duke of Baden, reigning from 1856 to 1907.

Size and composition of the German Army

For Schlieffen, Germany's smaller rate of conscription (55 percent) compared to France's (80 percent) presented a problem. This numerical imbalance was worsened by Russia's 1894 alliance with France. German tactical and operational abilities could not compensate for this quantitive inferiority. It was always Schlieffen's intention to institute genuinely universal conscription and, more importantly, raise as many combat units from trained reservists as possible. [5]

Franco-Russian Alliance military alliance

The Franco-Russian Alliance, or Russo-French Rapprochement, was an alliance formed by the agreements of 1891–93; it lasted until 1917. The strengthening of the German Empire, the creation of the Triple Alliance of 1882, and the exacerbation of Franco-German and Russo-German contradictions at the end of the 1880s led to a common foreign policy and mutual strategic military interests between France and Russia. The development of financial ties between the two countries created the economic prerequisites for the Russo-French Alliance.

Schlieffen was not in charge of conscription policy; that was the purview of the War Ministry, which in turn was under the budget powers of the Reichstag. Since politics and economics blocked increases in the peacetime army, Schlieffen resorted to creating masses of new units when war came, when he would assume command of the army. Upon mobilisation, large numbers of reservists would be assigned to replacement battalions (Ersatzbataillone), while waiting for an open spot in the field army. [6]

From June 1891 onwards, Schlieffen began to push for transforming Ersatzbataillone into brigade-sized manoeuvre units in the field army. There were major drawbacks to this design. These units were not cohesive, combat-capable forces. Replacement units as field units would also not be able to replace field army casualties. Because the War Ministry had no intention of creating such armed hordes with practically no equipment or command and control, nor was it willing to incur the political cost, it turned down Schlieffen's proposals and nothing was done until 1911, six years after Schlieffen's retirement, when 6 ersatz divisions entered the German order of battle thanks to Ludendorff's efforts. Schlieffen continued to believe in the veracity of his idea and the mass use of Ersatzbataillone in combat formed the keystone of the January 1906 Schlieffen plan Denkschrift. The Schlieffen plan Denkschrift was therefore not a war plan, an impossibility because Schlieffen had retired on 31 December 1905 and the 96 divisions needed to carry out this one-front war plan never existed (in 1914 the German army had 79, of which 68 were deployed in the west), but a demonstration of what Germany might accomplish if she instituted true universal conscription. [6]

Schlieffen thought that even this hypothetical 96-division German army would probably not be able to defeat France in a full-scale strategic offensive:

These preparations [encircling Paris] can be made any way that you like: it will soon become clear that we will be too weak to continue the operation in this direction. We will have the same experience as that of all previous conquerors, that offensive warfare both requires and uses up very strong forces, that these forces become weaker even as those of the defender become stronger, and this is especially true in a land that bristles with fortresses. [7]

Without 12 ersatz divisions on the right flank (in 1914 the German army had only 6 and they were all sent to Lorraine), outflanking Paris was impossible. Schlieffen admitted in the Denkschrift that ersatz units could not catch the right wing by foot-marching nor would the rail system be in a state to support the deployment of 12 ersatz divisions to Paris. If they could not be sent to the right wing, they could be deployed practically anywhere else on the German front, either between Verdun and Mézières, at Metz or on the right bank of the Moselle. [8] There is no evidence that Schlieffen ever conducted an exercise to test a scheme of manoeuvre similar to the one in the Schlieffen plan Denkschrift (a right wing envelopment of Paris), which would be odd indeed if this represented the pinnacle of Schlieffen's strategic thought. None of Schlieffen's surviving deployment plans (Aufmarsch), General staff rides (Generalstabsreisen) or war games (Kriegsspiele) bear any resemblance to the manoeuvre of the "Schlieffen plan". Instead they all point to Schlieffen's counterattack doctrine. [9]

On 11 December 1893 Schlieffen wrote a Denkschrift that represented the completion of his idea of mass warfare. When war came, the German government ought to declare full mobilisation in East Prussia, owing to its vulnerability to Russian cavalry raids. The East Prussian militia would have pre-prepared equipment to defend themselves with. Behind this militia screen the German field army would deploy and then throw back the Russians. [10]

War planning

Schlieffen plan Denkschrift (1905) and French Plan XVII (1913) Schlieffen Plan.svg
Schlieffen plan Denkschrift (1905) and French Plan XVII (1913)

The cornerstone of Schlieffen's war planning was undoubtedly the strategic counter-offensive. Schlieffen was a great believer in the power of the attack in the context of the defensive operation. Germany's smaller forces relative to the Franco-Russian Entente meant that an offensive posture against one or both was basically suicidal. On the other hand, Schlieffen placed great faith in Germany's ability to use its railways to launch a counter-offensive against a hypothetical French or Russian invasion force, defeat it, then quickly re-group her troops and launch a counter-offensive against the other. To quote Holmes:

The Generalstabsreise Ost [eastern wargame] of 1901 followed on from a Generalstabsreise West of the same year, in which the French – not the Germans – attacked through Belgium and Luxembourg and were decisively beaten by a counter-attack on the left bank of the Rhine near to the Belgian border. It was this defensive victory that Schlieffen was referring to when he spoke of the need to crush one enemy first and then turn against the other. He insisted that the Germans 'must wait for the enemy to emerge from behind his defensive ramparts, which he will do eventually'. That was the approach adopted in this exercise, and the Germans won a decisive victory over the French. [11]

Schlieffen also recognised the need for offensive planning, however, as failing to do so would limit the German Army's capabilities if the situation called for them. In 1897, starting from a plan of 1894, Schlieffen developed a tactical plan that – acknowledging the German army's limited offensive power and capacity for strategic manoeuvers – basically amounted to using brute force to advance beyond the French defences on the Franco-German border. [12] To complement this unsophisticated manoeuvre and improve its chances of success he deemed it necessary to outflank the fortress line to the north and focus on destroying it from north–south starting at Verdun. This was, it must be stated, a tactical plan centred around the destruction of the fortress-line that called for very little movement by the forces involved. [13]

In 1905, however, Schlieffen developed what was truly his first plan for a strategic offensive operation – the Schlieffen plan Denkschrift (Schlieffen plan memorandum). This plan catered for an isolated Franco-German war which would not involve Russia, and more specifically it called for Germany to attack France. The rough draft of this plan was so crude as not to consider questions of supply at all and be vague on the actual number of troops involved, but theorised that Germany would need to raise at least another 100,000 professional troops and 100,000 "ersatz" militiamen (the latter being within Germany's capabilities even in 1905) in addition to being able to count on Austro-Hungarian and Italian forces being deployed to German Alsace-Lorraine to defend it. The German Army would then move through the Dutch province of Maastricht and northern Belgium, securing southern Belgium and Luxembourg with a flank-guard to protect both Germany and the main force from a French offensive during this critical manoeuvre [this being the point of the 1913 French Plan XVII]. [14]

But it is here, in the second and final phase of the operation, that Schlieffen shows his true genius: he notes the immense strength of the French "second defensive area" in which the French can use the fortress-sector of Verdun, "Fortress Paris", and the River Marne as the basis of a very strong defensive line. Appreciating its defensive power, Schlieffen knew that he would have to try to force the French back from the Marne or at least secure a bridgehead over the Marne and/or Seine if he did not want the second German operation/campaign of the war to result in heavy losses. To do this, Schlieffen insisted that they cross the Seine to the west of Paris and, if they managed to cross in strength against sufficiently weak opposition, then they might even be able to force the French back from the westernmost sections of the Marne and surround Paris. [14]

However, the bulk of Schlieffen's planning still followed his personal preferences for the counter-offensive. Aufmarsch II and Aufmarsch Ost (later Aufmarsch II West and Aufmarsch I Ost, respectively) continued to stress that Germany's best hope for survival if faced by a war with the Franco-Russian entente was a defensive strategy. This "defensive strategy", it must be noted, was reconciled with a very offensive tactical posture as Schlieffen held that the destruction of an attacking force required that it be surrounded and attacked from all sides until it surrendered, and not merely repulsed as in a "passive" defense:

Discussing the proper German response to a French offensive between Metz and Strasbourg, he insists that the invading army must not be driven back to its border position, but annihilated on German territory, and "that is possible only by means of an attack on the enemy’s flank and rear". Whenever we come across that formula we have to take note of the context, which frequently reveals that Schlieffen is talking about a counter-attack in the framework of a defensive strategy [italics ours]. [15]

In August 1905 Schlieffen was kicked by a companion's horse, making him "incapable of battle". During his time off, now at the age of 72, he started planning his retirement. His successor was yet undetermined. Goltz was the primary candidate, but the Emperor was not fond of him. [16] A favourite of the Emperor was Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, who became Chief of Staff after Schlieffen retired.

Moltke went on to devise Aufmarsch II Ost, a variant upon Schlieffen's Aufmarsch Ost designed for an isolated Russo-German war. Schlieffen seems to have tried to impress upon Moltke that an offensive strategy against France could only work in the event of an isolated Franco-German war, as German forces would otherwise be too weak to implement it. [17] Knowing this, Moltke still attempted to apply the offensive strategy of Aufmarsch I West to the two-front war Germany faced in 1914 and Schlieffen's defensive plan Aufmarsch II West. With too few troops to cross west of Paris, let alone attempt a crossing of the Seine, Moltke's campaign failed to breach the French "second defensive sector" and his troops were pushed back in the Battle of the Marne. [18]

Influence

Grave at the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery, Berlin Invalidenfriedhof, Grabmal von Schlieffen.jpg
Grave at the Invalidenfriedhof Cemetery, Berlin

Schlieffen was perhaps the best-known contemporary strategist of his time, although criticised for his "narrow-minded military scholasticism." [ citation needed ] [19]

Schlieffen's operational theories were to have a profound impact on the development of manoeuvre warfare in the 20th century, largely through his seminal treatise, Cannae , which concerned the decidedly un-modern battle of 216 BC in which Hannibal defeated the Romans. Cannae had two main purposes. First, it was to clarify, in writing, Schlieffen's concepts of manoeuvre, particularly the manoeuvre of encirclement, along with other fundamentals of warfare. Second, it was to be an instrument for the Staff, the War Academy, and for the Army all together. [20] His theories were studied exhaustively, especially in the higher army academies of the United States and Europe after the First World War. American military thinkers thought so highly of him that his principal literary legacy, Cannae, was translated at Fort Leavenworth and distributed within the U.S. Army and to the academic community.

Along with the great militarist man we've known Schlieffen to be, there are also underlying traits about Schlieffen that often go untold. As we know, Schlieffen was a strategist. Unlike the Chief of Staff, Waldersee, Schlieffen avoided political affairs and instead was actively involved in the tasks of the General Staff. These tasks included the preparation of war plans, and the readiness of the German Army for war. He focused much of his attention on planning. He devoted time to training, military education and the adaptation of modern technology for the use of military purposes and strategic planning. [4] It was evident that Schlieffen was very much involved in preparing and planning for future combat. He considered one of his primary tasks was to prepare the young officers in not only a way in which they would accept responsibility for taking action in planning manoeuvres, but also for directing these movements after the planning had taken place. [21]

In regards to Schlieffen's tactics, General Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in the Second World War, pointed out that General Eisenhower and many of his staff officers, products of these academies, "were imbued with the idea of this type of wide, bold maneuver for decisive results."

General Erich Ludendorff, a disciple of Schlieffen who applied his teachings of encirclement in the Battle of Tannenberg, once famously christened Schlieffen as "one of the greatest soldiers ever."

Long after his death, the German General Staff officers of the Interwar and Second World War period, particularly General Hans von Seeckt, recognised an intellectual debt to Schlieffen theories during the development of the Blitzkrieg doctrine.

Quotations

Notes

  1. Regarding personal names: Graf was a title before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Count . Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a legal class, titles preceded the full name when given (Graf Helmuth James von Moltke). Since 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), can be used, but are regarded as a dependent part of the surname, and thus come after any given names (Helmuth James Graf von Moltke). Titles and all dependent parts of surnames are ignored in alphabetical sorting. The feminine form is Gräfin .

Footnotes

  1. "Alfred Schlieffen, Graf von." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition (November 2011): 1.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Dupuy 1977, p. 128.
  3. 1 2 3 V. J. Curtis, "Understanding Schlieffen," The Army Doctrine and Training Bulletin 6, no. 3 (2003), p. 56.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Dupuy 1977, p. 129.
  5. Zuber 2002, pp. 138-139.
  6. 1 2 Zuber 2002, p. 139.
  7. Zuber 2004, p. 195.
  8. Zuber 2002, p. 46.
  9. Zuber 2002, p. 212.
  10. Zuber 2002, p. 140.
  11. Holmes 2014, pp. 205.
  12. Dupuy 1977, p. 135.
  13. Walter 1967, p. 132.
  14. 1 2 Zuber 2010, Chapter 1905/06.
  15. Holmes 2014, pp. 206.
  16. Walter 1967, p. 138.
  17. Walter 1967, p. 139.
  18. Otto, Helmut (July 1979). "Alfred Graf von Schlieffen: Generalstabschef und Militärtheoretiker des Imperialistischen Deutschen Kaiserreiches Zwischen Weltmachstreben und Revolutionsfurcht". Revue Internationale D'histoire Militaire. 43: 74.
  19. Paret, Peter (1984). Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 311. ISBN   0-691-09235-4.
  20. Dupuy 1977, p. 132.
  21. Dupuy 1977, p. 133.

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Sigismund Wilhelm Lorenz von Schlichting was a Prussian general and military theorist, perhaps best known for his participation in the debates over infantry tactics in the 1880s and 1890s.

Terence Zuber is an American military historian specializing in the First World War. He received his doctorate from the University of Würzburg in 2001 after serving for twenty years as an infantry officer in the United States Army. He has advanced the controversial thesis that the Schlieffen Plan as generally understood was a post-World War I fabrication.

Russian invasion of East Prussia (1914) battle

The Russian invasion of East Prussia occurred during World War I, lasting from August to September 1914. As well as being the natural course for the Russian Empire to take upon the declaration of war on the German Empire, it was also an attempt to focus the German Army on the Eastern Front, as opposed to the Western Front. Despite having an overwhelming superiority over the Germans in numbers, the invading Imperial Russian Army spread its forces thin and was defeated in the battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. It was the only time that Germany was ever invaded in World War I.

Cult of the offensive

The cult of the offensive refers to a strategic military dilemma in which leaders believe that offensive advantages are so great that a defending force would have no hope of repelling the attack; consequently, all states choose to attack. It is most often used in the context of explaining the causes of World War I and the subsequent heavy losses that occurred year after year, on all sides, during the fighting on the Western Front.

Hermann von Kuhl German general

Hermann Josef von Kuhl was a Prussian military officer, member of the German General Staff, and a Generalleutnant during World War I. One of the most competent commanders in the German Army, he retired in 1919 to write a number of critically acclaimed essays on the war. Hermann von Kuhl is one of only five recipients to be distinguished with both the "military class" and "peace class" of the Pour le Mérite, Prussia's and Germany's highest honor.

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Military offices
Preceded by
Count Waldersee
Chief of the General Staff
1891–1906
Succeeded by
Helmuth von Moltke