Moltke and His Generals: A Study in Leadership, Quintin Barry

Moltke and His Generals: A Study in Leadership, Quintin Barry

Helmuth von Moltke was the most important military figure during the 19th century wars of German unification. He, served as Chief of the Prussian General Staff during three conflicts that in seven years saw Austrian influence eliminated from Germany, Prussia take the leadership of a North German Confederation and then the creation of the German Empire.

Barry's work demonstrates how Moltke's influence and power increased over the course of these three wars. During the 1864 war against Denmark he was almost a spectator until sent to the front. During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 he was officially responsible for issuing all orders, but this system had only just been put in place, and he wasn't always able to get his way. Finally during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 his earlier successes meant that Moltke had the authority to deal with problematic subordinates. During the latter two wars Moltke's skilful handling of his subordinates played an important part in the Prussian and German victories. His position was made more complex by some of the men who came under his authority actually holding higher rank than him, both socially and within the military hierachy.

This book helps answer a question I'd had about the Prussian General Staff system. One benefit of the system is often said to be that effective command of many units was held by the chief of staff and not the commanding general. I've always wondered why this was necessary, and the answer is clear here – in the Prussian system promotion to senior ranks was often due to birth and social standing, and not to any military talent. This was especially true for members of the Royal family, who could expect to command corps or armies regardless of their suitability for command. These aristocratic generals were often suborn, wilful and unwilling to obey orders from the army high command, so a system had to be developed to bypass them. You can see this during the Second Schleswig War of 1864, where Moltke had to be sent to the front to rein in a recalcitrant general, during the Austro-Prussian War, where the right choice of chief of staff was essential to the success of some units, and even during the Franco-Prussian War, when Moltke was at the height of his powers.

It does become clear here that Moltke did have one great failing – his army commanders are often said not to have understood his plans. If this was only once or twice one could blame the subordinates, but none of the army commanders in 1866 really seem to have understood that his aim was surround the Austrian army by bringing all three of his armies together on different parts of the eventual battlefield. In the same way some of the army commanders of 1870 clearly didn't understand what Moltke was attempting to achieve. This suggests that the problem actually lies with Moltke.

This is an interesting examination of some of the problems of military leadership, and the importance of the personal relationships between the commanders involved for the success of a campaign. The author makes good use of the available sources, with letters and diaries that reflect Moltke's views and those of his subordinates.

1 - Ein Ganz Seltener Mensch
2 - Military Philosophy
3 - Organisation and Management
4 - Moltke and the King
5 - Blumenthal
6 - The Campaign in Bohemia
7 - Sedan
8 - Versailles
9 - Stosch
10 - The Loire
11 - The Red Prince
12 - Königgrätz
13 - Metz
14 - Le Mans
15 - Crown Prince Frederick William
16 - Manteuffel
17 - From the Main to the Doubs
18 - Goeben
19 - Steinmetz
20 - Werder
21 - Falckenstein
22 - The Demigods
23 - Conclusion

Author: Quintin Barry
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2015

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