Otto von Emmich, 1848-1915

Otto von Emmich (1848-1915) was a German general who commanded 10th Corps during the siege of Liege, the first battle of the First World War.

Emmich entered the Prussian army as a cadet in 1866 and fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. He was promoted to major general in 1901 and given command of the 31st Infantry Brigade. In 1940 he was promoted to lieutenant general, and in 1905 he was given command of the 10th Division at Poznan. In 1909 he was promoted to general of infantry and made commander of the 10th Corps, based at Hanover.

At the start of the invasion of Belgium in 1914 von Emmich was given command of the 7th and 10th Corps, part of von Bülow's II Army. His job was to clear the way for the main advance and in particular to capture Liége. His task force contained six infantry brigades, three cavalry divisions and five light infantry battalions, most of them made up of regular peacetime soldiers.

Emmich's role in the siege is normally overshadowed by that of Erich von Ludendorff. Emmich's advance scouts reached Liege very quickly, but any hopes that Belgian resistance would only be token were quickly dashed. The first German assault on the Liege forts, on the night of 5-6 August, would have ended in failure if Ludendorff hadn't taken over command of the 14th Brigade and found a gap in the line of Belgian defences, putting his force inside the ring of modern forts. On 7 August Ludendorff captured the Citadel of Liege, so the Germans controlled the centre of the defences. The first of the outer forts fell to Emmich's men on 8 August, but the remaining forts held out. Emmich decided not to carry out any more attacks until after the arrival of a Krupp 420mm howitzer designed specifically to smash the Liege forts. The first of the howitzers arrived on 12 August, and the last two forts surrendered on 16 August. Emmich was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his success at Liege, the first German officer to be given that award during the First World War.

Emmich continued to command his corps, taking part in the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. In April 1915 his corps was transferred to the Eastern Front, and he took part in the battle of Gorlice-Tarnow (2-10 May 1915), a major German victory. He was forced away from the front by illness in the autumn of 1915, died in December 1915 and was buried in Hanover.

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 August 2014), Otto von Emmich, 1848-1915,

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