Max von Gallwitz was a capable German General of the First World War who held commands on the Eastern Front, during the invasion of Serbia, at Verdun, during the battle of the Somme and finally faced the Americans during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918. He had an unusual background for a senior German general, born the son of the county tax collector. He enlisted in the Prussian Army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and remained in the army after the war, joining the Field Artillery in 1872.
After attending the Kriegsakademie he served on the General Staff and at the Prussian War Ministry. In 1890 he was promoted to Major, and in 1896 to Colonel, and chief of Field Artillery at the Prussian War Ministry. In 1899 he was promoted to Lieutenant General, and given command of the Sixteenth Division at Cologne. In 1911 he was made Inspector of Field Artillery, and in 1913 he was ennobled by the Kaiser.
At the start of the First World War he commanded the Guard Reserve Corps, one of the most highly regarded reserve units. The corps took part in the siege of Namur, before it was sent to the Eastern Front. There it formed the left wing of the 8th Army during the first battle of the Masurian Lakes, taking part in the envelopment of the Russian Second Army. The corps then served with the Ninth Army, during the German campaigns in Poland in late 1914 (first battle of Warsaw, second battle of Warsaw).
In November 1914 the Guard Reserve Corps was split up, and Gallwitz was given command of a mixed German/ Austro-Hungarian corps, still fighting in Poland. On 9 February 1915 Gallwitz was promoted to command Heeresgruppe (Army Group) Gallwitz, initially in south east Poland.
The situation on the Eastern Front was transformed after the battle of Gorlice-Tarnow (2-10 May 1915), which saw a German army break through the Russian lines and forced them to retreat from Poland. In July Gallwitz’s army joined the offensive, attacking Warsaw from the north west (third battle of Warsaw). During this campaign Gallwitz was awarded the Pour le Mérite (24 July 1915) and saw his command renamed as the Twelfth Army.
On 28 September 1915 Gallwitz received the Oakleaves to his Pour le Mérite. He was also chosen to command the German 11th Army during the invasion of Serbia. On 7 October his army crossed the Danube east of Belgrade, while an Austro-Hungarian army crossed the river to the west. The Serbs were soon pushed back into the centre of the country, and then forced to retreat across Albania to the Adriatic.
Gallwitz was preparing to attack the Alied encampment at Salonika when he was ordered back to the Western Front, to take command of Meuse Group West at Verdun (29 March 1916). He was there until July, when he was moved to the Somme to take command of the Second Army. On 19 July 1916 he was given command of a new Army Group Gallwitz, containing the First and Second Armies, and with responsibility for the defence on the Somme.
The failure at Verdun and the continued British and French offensive on the Somme saw Falkenhayn replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorff. They moved Gallwitz back to Verdun, to command the Fifth Army (17 December 1916), with orders to restore the situation. His arrival coincided with the end of the period of French counterattacks at Verdun, and Gallwitz’s new command would stay largely quiet throughout 1917. On 21 December 1917 he received the Order of the Black Eagle.
On 1 January 1918 Gallwitz was given command of Army Detachment C in addition to the Fifth Army, creating yet another Army Group Gallwitz. This time his main opponents were the Americans, first at St Mihiel, and them during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. There he was able to slow down but not stop the Allied advance along the Meuse.
As the war came to an end, Gallwitz was opposed to the Armistice negotiations, instead preferring to issue a call to arms to defend the homeland against invasion, a possibility that worried many Allied leaders. He was considered as a successor to Hindenburg as chief of the General Staff, but was not appointed to the soon to be abolished post. Instead he entered politics, serving as a member of Reichstag from 1920-1924 representing the National People’s Party.
Von Gallwitz died on 18 April 1937 in Italy. His son Werner von Gallwitz became a general during the Second World War, and was killed near Sevastopol during 1944.