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The Oberste Heeresleitung (German pronunciation: [ˈoːbɐstə ˈheːʁəsˌlaɪtʊŋ] , Supreme Army Command or OHL) was the highest echelon of command of the army (Heer) of the German Empire. In the latter part of World War I, the Third OHL assumed dictatorial powers and became the de facto political authority in the empire.
The Imperial German Army was the unified ground and air force of the German Empire. The term Deutsches Heer is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the Bundeswehr. The German Army was formed after the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership in 1871 and dissolved in 1919, after the defeat of the German Empire in World War I.
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.
World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
After the formation of the German Empire in 1871, the Prussian Army, Royal Saxon Army, Army of Württemberg and the Bavarian Army were autonomous in peacetime, each kingdom maintaining a separate war ministry and general staff to administer their forces. On the outbreak of war, the Constitution of the German Empire made the Emperor Commander-in-Chief of the combined armies (Oberster Kriegsherr, Supreme Warlord).
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.
The Royal Saxon Army was the military force of the Electorate (1682—1807) and later the Kingdom of Saxony (1807—1918). A regular Saxon army was first established in 1682 and it continued to exist until the abolition of the German monarchies in 1918. With the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine by Napoleon the Royal Saxon Army joined the French "Grande Armée" along with 37 other German states.
The army of the German state of Württemberg was until 1918 known in Germany as the Württembergische Armee.
The Emperor's role as Commander-in-Chief was largely ceremonial and authority lay with the Chief of the General Staff, who issued orders in the Emperor's name. The pre-war Chief of the General Staff was Colonel General Helmuth von Moltke (The Younger) and the Oberste Heeresleitung was the command staff led by Moltke as Chief of the General Staff of the Army. 180:
Helmuth Johannes Ludwig Graf von Moltke, also known as Moltke the Younger, was a German general who served as the Chief of the German General Staff from 1906 to 1914. He was a nephew of Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke who is commonly called "Moltke the Elder" to differentiate the two.
The General Staff was initially formed into five divisions and two more were created during the war:
In addition to the General Staff of the Field Army, the Supreme Army Command consisted of the Emperor's Military Cabinet, the Intendant General (responsible for supply), senior advisers in various specialist fields (Artillery, Engineers, Medicine, Telegraphy, Munitions and Railways) and representatives from the four German War Ministries and representatives of the other Central Powers. The Emperor was also Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial German Navy, which was led by the German Imperial Admiralty Staff and from August 1918 by the Seekriegsleitung (SKL, Naval Warfare Command). Co-ordination was poor at the beginning of the war between OHL and SKL, the navy did not even know about the Schlieffen Plan, an initial attack on France through Belgium.[ citation needed ]
The Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria—hence also known as the Quadruple Alliance —was one of the two main coalitions that fought World War I (1914–18).
The Imperial German Navy was the navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy, which primarily had the mission of coastal defence. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded the navy, and enlarged its mission. The key leader was Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who greatly expanded the size and quality of the navy, while adopting the sea power theories of American strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan. The result was a naval arms race with Britain as the German navy grew to become one of the greatest maritime forces in the world, second only to the Royal Navy. The German surface navy proved ineffective during World War I; its only major engagement, the Battle of Jutland, was indecisive. However, the submarine fleet was greatly expanded and posed a major threat to the British supply system. The Imperial Navy's main ships were turned over to the Allies, but were sunk at Scapa Flow in 1919 by German crews.
The German Imperial Admiralty Staff was one of four command agencies for the administration of the Imperial German Navy from 1899 to 1918. While the German Emperor Wilhelm II as commander-in-chief exercised supreme operational command and control of the naval forces, the military staff was split into the Admiralty, the Naval Office, the Naval Cabinet, and the Inspector-General. The command structure had a negative impact on German naval warfare in World War I, as a professional head of the Imperial Navy, similar to the First Sea Lord, was not established until August 1918. After the war and the German Revolution of 1918–19, the Admiralty Staff became subordinate to the Naval Office and was finally disestablished by order of the German President.
|№||Supreme Army Commander||Took office||Left office||Time in office|
|1||Helmuth von Moltke the Younger |
|1 January 1906||14 September 1914||8 years, 256 days|
|2||Erich von Falkenhayn |
|14 September 1914||29 August 1916||1 year, 350 days|
|3||Paul von Hindenburg |
|29 August 1916||3 July 1919||2 years, 308 days|
Upon mobilizing in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I, the Großer Generalstab (Great General Staff) formed the core of the Supreme Army Command, becoming the General Staff of the Field Army 180. Colonel General Helmuth von Moltke (The Younger), who had been Chief of the General Staff since 1906, continued in office, as did most of the Division heads. Partially as a result of these longstanding working relationships, Moltke delegated substantial authority to his subordinates, especially to the chiefs of the Operations Division, Colonel Gerhard Tappen, and the Information Division, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hentsch. These officers were often dispatched to subordinate headquarters to investigate and make decision on behalf of OHL.:
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.
Although the German armies were victorious in the Battle of the Frontiers their advance was brought to a halt at First Battle of the Marne. Communications between OHL and the front line broke down and Hentsch was dispatched by Moltke to the Headquarters of the First and Second Armies to assess the situation. After discovering the Armies were separated from each other by a gap of twenty-five miles and in danger of being encircled, Hentsch ordered a retreat to the Aisne. On hearing the news from the front, Moltke suffered a nervous breakdown on 9 September.
The Battle of the Frontiers was a series of battles fought along the eastern frontier of France and in southern Belgium, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. The battles resolved the military strategies of the French Chief of Staff General Joseph Joffre with Plan XVII and an offensive interpretation of the German Aufmarsch II deployment plan by Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The German concentration on the right (northern) flank, to wheel through Belgium and attack the French in the rear, was delayed by the movement of French Fifth Army towards the north-west to intercept them and the presence of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on his left flank. The Franco-British were driven back by the Germans, who were able to invade northern France. French and British rearguard actions delayed the German advance, allowing the French time to transfer forces on the eastern frontier to the west to defend Paris, resulting in the First Battle of the Marne.
The Battle of the Marne was a World War I battle fought from 6–12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German armies in the west. The battle was the culmination of the German advance into France and pursuit of the Allied armies which followed the Battle of the Frontiers in August and had reached the eastern outskirts of Paris. A counter-attack by six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) along the Marne River forced the Imperial German Army to retreat northwest, leading to the First Battle of the Aisne and the Race to the Sea. The battle was a victory for the Allied Powers but led to four years of trench warfare stalemate on the Western Front.
The Aisne is a river in northeastern France. It is a left tributary of the Oise. It gave its name to the French department of Aisne. It was known in the Roman period as Axona.
Moltke was replaced by the Prussian Minister of War, Lieutenant General Erich von Falkenhayn, first informally in September and then officially on 25 October 1914. 179 Although Tappen was retained as head of the Operations Division, Falkenhayn brought in two of his own associates, Generals Adolf Wild von Hohenborn and Hugo von Freytag-Loringhoven, into the OHL. Hohenborn served as Generalquartiermeister until January 1915 when he succeeded Falkenhayn as Prussian Minister of War. Freytag-Loringhoven replaced Hohenborn as Generalquartiermeister. Unlike his predecessor, Falkenhayn centralised decision making in his own hands and rarely explained himself to his subordinates; this characteristic has caused historians difficulty in assessing his actual intentions.:
After taking command Falkenhayn became engaged in the Race to the Sea as the German and Franco-British armies attempted to outflank each other to the north. The campaign culminated at Ypres where both combatants launched major offensives that failed to achieve a breakthrough.Two strategic issues dominated the remainder Falkenhayn's tenure as Chief of the General Staff.
First was the priority accorded to the eastern and western fronts. Victories at the Battle of Tannenberg and First Battle of the Masurian Lakes had made Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg a popular hero and contrasted starkly with the stalemate in the west. Hindenburg and his supporters sought to shift Germany's main effort to the eastern front in hopes of knocking Russia out of the war.Falkenhayn resisted this, believing that France and Great Britain were the true opponents and that a decisive victory against the Russians was impossible.
The second concern was the Battle of Verdun, the centrepeice of Falkenhayn's western strategy. Writing after the war, Falkenhayn stated that his intention was to draw the French Army into a battle of attrition and wear them down. However as the battle developed casualties between the two armies were roughly equal. After the failure of Falkenhayn's strategy at Verdun and the entry into the war of the Kingdom of Romania on the Allied side in August 1916, he was replaced on 29 August by Hindenburg. 451:
Paul von Hindenburg's command became known as the Dritte OHL (Third OHL) but Hindenburg was "neither the intellectual centre of the strategic planning [...] nor of the new war economy", 513 as proposed in the Hindenburg Programme of 31 August 1916. He was mostly a figurehead and a representative of the military command to the public. Control was mainly exercised by his deputy, General of Infantry Erich Ludendorff, who held the title Erster Generalquartiermeister (First Quartermaster General). :513-514 The duumvirate increasingly dominated decision making on the German war effort, to an extent that they are sometimes described as de facto military dictators, supplanting the Emperor and Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, whom they managed to have replaced with Georg Michaelis in the summer of 1917. :19–20:
The OHL, through the Hindenburg Programme, a total war strategy, sought decisive victory. Ludendorff ordered the resumption of the unrestricted U-boat Campaign, which, along with the Zimmermann Telegram, provoked the United States to enter the war. The OHL ensured safe passage for Vladimir Lenin and his associates from Switzerland to Russia. After the October Revolution, the OHL negotiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to free troops for the 1918 Spring Offensive on the Western Front. As the tide of the war turned against Germany with the Allied Hundred Days Offensive, in late September 1918, Ludendorff called for the "parliamentisation" of the German government and immediate armistice negotiations. When he reversed course and demanded the fight to be resumed in October, Ludendorff was sacked and replaced by Lieutenant-General Wilhelm Groener. Hindenburg remained in office until his resignation from the armed forces in the summer of 1919.
As the German Revolution began, Hindenburg and Groener advised the Emperor to abdicate. Groener subsequently came to an agreement with the Social Democrat leader Friedrich Ebert known as the Ebert–Groener pact under which the Army leadership agreed to back the new republican government. With the war over in November 1918, the OHL was moved from Spa to Schloss Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel, to supervise the withdrawal of the German armies from the occupied territories.The final location of the OHL was at Kolberg after February 1919 as the military focus had shifted to preventing territorial encroachment by the Second Polish Republic.
In July 1919, the Supreme Army Command and Great General Staff were disbanded by order of the Treaty of Versailles. For a few days, Groener had replaced Hindenburg as Chief of the General Staff, after the latter resigned in late June. He resigned from his position as head of Kommandostelle Kolberg (as the staff had become on the formal dissolution of the OHL) in September 1919.
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, known generally as Paul von Hindenburg, was a German Generalfeldmarschall and statesman who commanded the Imperial German Army during the second half of World War I before later being elected President of the Weimar Republic in 1925. He played a key role in the Nazi "Seizure of Power" in January 1933 when, under pressure from advisers, he appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of a "Government of National Concentration", even though the Nazis were a minority in both the cabinet and the Reichstag.
The Battle of Tannenberg was fought between Russia and Germany between the 26th and 30th of August 1914, the first month of World War I. The battle resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Russian Second Army and the suicide of its commanding general, Alexander Samsonov. A series of follow-up battles destroyed most of the First Army as well and kept the Russians off balance until the spring of 1915. The battle is particularly notable for fast rail movements by the Germans, enabling them to concentrate against each of the two Russian armies in turn, and also for the failure of the Russians to encode their radio messages. It brought considerable prestige to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his rising staff-officer Erich Ludendorff.
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ritter von Ludendorff was a German general, the victor of the Battle of Liège and the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general made him the leader of the German war efforts during World War I. The failure of Germany's great Spring Offensive in 1918 in its quest for total victory was his great strategic failure and he was forced out in October 1918.
Hermann Karl Bruno von François was a German General der Infanterie during World War I, and is best known for his key role in several German victories on the Eastern Front in 1914.
General Erich Georg Sebastian Anton von Falkenhayn 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 Paul von 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.
Karl Eduard Wilhelm Groener was a German general and politician. His organisational and logistical abilities resulted in a successful military career before and during World War I.
Ludwig Alexander Friedrich August Philipp Freiherr von Falkenhausen was a German Generaloberst most notable for his activities during World War I.
A quartermaster general is the staff officer in charge of supplies for a whole army. He is in charge of quartermaster units and personnel, i.e. those tasked with providing supplies for military forces and units.
Ober Ost is short for Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten, German for "Supreme Commander of All German Forces in the East" during World War I. It also has an implied double meaning, as in its own right, "Ober Ost" translates into "Upper East," which describes its geographic region in reference to the German Empire. In practice it refers not only to said commander, but also to his governing military staff and the district they controlled: Ober Ost was in command of the German section of the Eastern Front.
Colonel Max Hermann Bauer was a German General Staff officer and artillery expert in the First World War. As a protege of Erich Ludendorff he was placed in charge of the German Army's munition supply by the latter in 1916. In this role he played a leading role in the Hindenburg Programme and the High Command's political machinations. Later Bauer was a military and industrial adviser to the Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek.
The Ebert–Groener pact, sometimes called the Ebert-Groener deal, was an agreement between the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert, at the time the President of Germany, and Wilhelm Groener, Quartermaster General of the German Army, on November 10, 1918.
Friedrich Karl "Fritz" von Loßberg 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 2nd, 3rd and 4th armies. He was present at the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras and the Battle of Verdun. Loßberg was born in Bad Homburg in Hesse-Nassau. Erich Ludendorff refers to him as Loszberg in his memoires. English-speaking sources often spell his name Lossberg. Loßberg was later to become "legendary as the fireman of the Western Front, always sent by OHL to the area of crisis"..
Operation Alberich was the code name of a German military operation in France during the First World War. It was a planned withdrawal to new positions on the shorter and more easily defended Hindenburg Line, which took place between 9 February and 20 March 1917. The retirement eliminated the two salients which had been formed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, between Arras and Saint-Quentin and from Saint-Quentin to Noyon. The retirement took place after months of preparation but General Erich Ludendorff hesitated to order the witdrawal until the last moment. The retirement to the chord of the Bapaume and Noyon salients shortened the Western Front, providing 13–14 extra divisions for the German reserve, which being assembled to defend the Aisne front against the Nivelle Offensive being prepared by the French.
Walther Gustav Reinhardt was a German officer who served as the last Prussian Minister of War and the first head of the army command within the newly created Ministry of the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic. During the Kapp Putsch of 1920, Reinhardt remained loyal to the elected government and was one of the few senior officers of the Reichswehr willing to order troops to fire at the revolting units.
The Hindenburg Programme of August 1916 is the name given to the armaments and economic policy begun in late 1916 by the Third Oberste Heeresleitung, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. The two were appointed after the sacking of General Erich von Falkenhayn on 28 August 1916 and intended to double German industrial production, to greatly increase the output of munitions and weapons.
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.
Hugo Friedrich Philipp Johann Freiherr von Freytag-Loringhoven was a Prussian general and a writer on military matters, being awarded the Pour le Mérite in 1916 for his work as a historian.
The leaders of the Central Powers of World War I were the political or military figures who commanded or supported the Central Powers during World War I.
Dietrich Gerhard Emil Theodor Tappen was a German World War I general.