The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866, Quintin Barry

The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866, Quintin Barry

The Austro-Prussian War was the second of three wars fought in less than a decade that ended with Germany united under Prussian leadership. The first saw Prussian and Austrian work together to defeat the Danes and take the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein. The military victory in this war wasn't matched by a clear political plan, and arguments over the two provinces helped sour the relationship between Austria and Prussia. However the main issue was Prussia's desire to be treated as Austria's equal, and Austria's unwillingness to accept that. The war only lasted for seven weeks, and the main campaign only four weeks, and the war was decided by one battle, at Sadowa or Königgrätz.

The book starts with a look at Moltke's background, the changing military technology of the period and his experience of high command during the Schleswig-Holstein War. This was the period that saw the breach loading rifle enter Prussian service, the first Krupp artillery and the widespread use of the railway and the telegraph.

It quickly becomes clear that Moltke was rather lucky during the war against Austria. He is normally portrayed as orchestrating a masterful plan where three separate armies united on the battlefield after a smooth advance into Bohemia, but against a less passive opponent his plan could easily have unravelled. His left-wing army was dangerously exposed to attack for several days, and the Austrians could also have moved against his right and centre armies with little risk of intervention from the left. Even at Königgrätz he benefited from the Austrian commander's inaction - only two of the three Prussian armies arrived on time (and only one army took the brunt of the early fighting), and a determined Austrian attack might have produced a different result to the battle. General Benedek, the Austrian commander, actually had quite a good reputation, so his inaction was rather unexpected.

The campaign was also rather more complex than its short duration might suggest. Moltke had to coordinate the activities of three separate armies in Bohemia, each of which fought a number of small scale battles on the way to Königgrätz, as well as attempt to impose his authority on the Prussian army operating against Austria's German allies. 

There is a nice structure to the main topic - Part II looks at the build-up to war, when Moltke was worried about the slow start to Prussian mobilisation, Part III looks at the campaign before Königgrätz, Part IV at the actual battle and Part V at the period between the battle and the end of the war, a period that included some minor battles against the Austrians and the defeat of Austria's German allies.

This is a good readable campaign history, but is also excellent on the clash between the military and political leaders and the problems faced by Moltke in imposing his will on his fellow officers, a task made more difficult by the presence of senior members of the Royal family in command of two of the three armies.

There are quite a few familiar names amongst the German commanders. Manstein, Kleist and Mantauffel appear again during the Second World War, von der Tann and Goeben are more familiar as First World War warships and the young Hindenburg makes a brief appearance.

Intriguingly this conflict feels very different, and rather more old-fashioned, from the almost contemporary American Civil War. This may be because of the presence of a glittering array of kings, princes, archdukes, dukes and counts amongst the commanders on both sides, but the speed of the campaign also gives it a different feel.

This war isn't as well known as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, probably because of its short duration, but it played just as important a role in the creation of modern Germany, helping to draw the border between Germany and the Hapsburg realms.

Sections
1 - Prelude
2 - Preparation
3 - War
4 - Königgrätz
5 - Aftermath

Author: Quintin Barry
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 552
Publisher: Helion
Year: 2014 of 2010 original


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