Oskar von Hutier, 1857-1934

Oskar von Hutier (1857-1934) was a German general best known for being the first to test out new infiltration tactics on a large scale at Riga in 1917, and who also commanded an army during Ludendorff's series of offensive in the west in 1918.

Hutier was born in 1857. He joined the army, and rose through the ranks, receiving command of the 1st Guard Division before the war. By 1917 he had risen to command of 21st Corps on the Eastern Front.

Hutier rose to fame in the autumn of 1917. He was given command of the Eighth Army, at the northern end of the Eastern Front. In late August Hutier was ordered to prepare for an attack towards Riga. This had two purposes - to put pressure on the weakened armies of Revolutionary Russia and to test out new tactics on a large scale. The new plan of attack involved a short bombardment followed by an attack by elite 'storm troopers', who would infiltrate between enemy strong points and try and get as far into the opposite lines as possible. Slower moving normal infantry would clear up the strongpoints later. The resulting battle of Riga was a clear German victory. Hutier's men were across the River Dvina by the end of 1 September, Riga fell on 3 September and by 5 September the front line was thirty miles behind the city. By the end of the month the Germans had captured Friedrichstadt, west of the Dvina, and Jacobstadt, seventy miles up the river from Riga. The new tactics were a great success, and became known as 'Hutier Tactics', although the general had only tested them in battle, not designed them.

After his success in the east Hutier was transferred to the Western Front, and given a key command in the upcoming 'Kaiser's Battle'. Hutier was given command of a new Eighteenth Army of four corps. This was to be the southern-most of the three armies involved in the first of Ludendorff's great offensives of 1918 - the second battle of the Somme (21 March-4 April 1918). Hutier's army made the most progress of the three, but this actually worked against the Germans. The original plan had been for Hutier to reach the Somme then form a shield for the armies to his north, which were to push north-west and attempt to cut off the British armies in Flanders. Instead when Hutier made good progress the plan was changed, and he was ordered to push further south-west, while Amiens became the main target. The Germans continued to make progress for the rest of March, but the last general assault came on 30 March when Hutier attacked French troops on the southern flank of the new Somme salient. By the end of the battle Hutier's men were just west of Montdidier and Moreuil, but were unable to make any more progress. A final attack on 4 April failed, and the offensive officially came to an end.

The main focus of Ludendorff's efforts moved away from the Somme in April and May, but in June Hutier's army took part in the fourth of the offensives- the Battle of Noyon-Montdidier (9-13 June 1918). This time the aim was to link up the two massive German salients created in the Second battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of the Aisne. Hutier's Eighteenth Army attacked south from the Somme salient, running into the French Third Army (General Georges Humbert). This time the Germans made very little progress - the French were expecting the attack, and disrupted the initial German attacks with a counter-bombardment before launching a counter-attack on 11 June. The Allies had also begun to develop defensive tactics to deal with the infiltrators, including rapid counterattacks to deal with any breakthrough.

Hutier retained command of the Eighteenth Army until the end of the war, taking part in the German retreat. The British victory in the Battle of Amiens (August 1918) left Hutier in an awkward salient with limited communications, and by early September he was in retreat back to the Hindenburg Line. At the start of the final series of Allied attacks Hutier's army was on the Oise River, but the retreat continued until the end of the war. Hutier retired after the end of the fighting and died in 1934.

The Hindenburg Line, Patrick Osborn & Marc Romanych. A good study of the full network of defences generally known in English as the Hindenburg Line, and which spread from the Channel coast to the St. Mihiel salient east of Verdun. Looks at the original purpose behind their construction, the actual shape they took on the ground, and how they performed under attack. Very useful to have a book that focuses on the entire length of this key German fortification [read full review]
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Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 September 2014), Oskar von Hutier, 1857-1934 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_hutier.html

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