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Erich von Falkenhayn

Erich von Falkenhayn Chief of Germany's General Staff during the first two years of the First World War

Chief of Germany's General Staff during the first two years of the First World War
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Chief of Germany's General Staff during the first two years of the First World War
A.K.A. General Erich Georg Anton von Falkenhayn
Was Politician Military officer
From Germany
Type Military Politics
Gender male
Birth 11 September 1861, Białochowo, Poland
Death 8 April 1922, Potsdam, Germany (aged 60 years)
Star sign VirgoVirgo
The details
Biography

General Erich Georg Sebastian Anton von Falkenhayn (11 September 1861 – 8 April 1922) was the second Chief of the German General Staff of the First World War from September 1914 until 29 August 1916. He was removed on 29 August 1916 after the failure at the Battle of Verdun, the opening of the Battle of the Somme, the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war on the Allied side undid his strategy to end the war before 1917. He was later given important field commands in Romania and Syria. His reputation as a war leader was attacked in Germany during and after the war, especially by the faction which supported Paul von Hindenburg. Falkenhayn held that Germany could not win the war by a decisive battle but would have to reach a compromise peace; his enemies said he lacked the resolve necessary to win a decisive victory. Falkenhayn's relations with the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg were troubled and undercut Falkenhayn's plans.

Early life

Falkenhayn was born in Burg Belchau near Graudenz, West Prussia (now Białochowo, Poland) to Fedor von Falkenhayn (1814–1896) and Franziska von Falkenhayn, née von Rosenberg (1826–1888). His brother Arthur (1857–1929) became tutor of Crown Prince Wilhelm while Eugen (1853–1934) became a Prussian General of Cavalry. His only sister Olga von Falkenhayn was the mother of Fieldmarshall Fedor von Bock.

Military career

Becoming a cadet at the age of 11, he joined the Army in 1880. He served as an infantry and staff officer and became a career soldier.

Between 1896 and 1903, Falkenhayn served in Qing-Dynasty China on leave for several years and saw action during the Boxer Rebellion. He also spent time in Manchuria and Korea.

After his service in Asia, the army posted him to Brunswick, Metz and Magdeburg; he became a major-general in 1912.

Prussian Minister of War (1913–1915)

In 1913 he became Prussian Minister of War, in which capacity he was involved at the beginning of World War I, when the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo took place. Like most German military leaders, he did not expect a great European war but he soon embraced the idea and joined with others pushing for Kaiser Wilhelm II to declare war.

Chief of Staff (1914–1916)

Falkenhayn succeeded Helmuth von Moltke the Younger as Chief of the Oberste Heeresleitung (German General Staff) after the First Battle of the Marne on 14 September 1914. Falkenhayn attempted to outflank the British and French in the Race to the Sea, a series of engagements throughout northern France and Belgium in which each side made reciprocal attempts to turn the other's flank, until they reached the North Sea and had no more room for manoeuvre. The British and French eventually stopped the German advance at the First Battle of Ypres (October–November 1914).

Falkenhayn preferred an offensive strategy on the Western Front, while conducting a limited campaign in the east: he hoped that Russia would accept a separate armistice more easily, if it were not humiliated too much. This brought him into conflict with Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, who favored massive offensives in the east. Eventually, in the hope that either a massive slaughter would lead Europe's political leaders to consider ending the war or that losses would be less harmful for Germany than for France, Falkenhayn staged a battle of attrition, as claimed in his post-war memoirs, in the Battle of Verdun in early 1916. Although more than a quarter of a million soldiers eventually died and Falkenhayn was sometimes called "the Blood-Miller of Verdun", neither side's resolve was lessened.

Contrary to Falkenhayn's expectations, the French were able to limit casualties in the divisions sent to Verdun. General Philippe Pétain kept the divisions in the line at Verdun until casualties reached 50 percent of the infantry and then relieved them. The procession of divisions back and forth was analogous to the operation of a "noria", a type of water-wheel that continuously lifts water and empties it into a trough. After the relative failure at Verdun, coupled with reverses on the Eastern Front (the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war), the beginning of the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme and the intrigues of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff by Hindenburg on 29 August, 1916.

Romania (1916–1917)

Falkenhayn then assumed command of the 9th Army in Transylvania (6 September 1916) and in August launched a joint offensive against Romania with August von Mackensen. Falkenhayn's forces captured the Romanian capital of Bucharest in under four months, with help of troops from all Central Powers against the sizeable but inexperienced and poorly trained and equipped Romanian Army, which had to defend a 1,600 km (990 mi) front, the longest in Europe.

Palestine (1917–1918)

Following the success, in mid-July 1917 Falkenhayn went to take military command of the Ottoman Yildirim Army Group (Heeresgruppe F, Army Group F), which was being formed in Mesopotamia and at Aleppo. After long discussions with the Ottoman upper echelon, Falkenhayn was sent on 7 September 1917 as supreme commander of two Ottoman armies in Palestine, with the rank of a Mushir (Field Marshal) of the Ottoman Army. He failed to prevent the British under General Edmund Allenby from conquering Jerusalem in December 1917. However, he is credited with avoiding a destructive defensive battle for the walled ancient city of Jerusalem with its many holy sites, as well as with a crucial role in stopping the forced removal of the Jewish population of Palestine, which Governor Djemal Pasha had planned along the lines of the Armenian Genocide. The evacuation of the entire population of Jerusalem during the harsh winter months had also been planned by Djemal Pasha and was thwarted by German officers including Falkenhayn.

Belarus (1918–1919)

In February 1918, Falkenhayn became commander of the 10th Army in Belarus, where he witnessed the end of the war. In December 1918 he oversaw the withdrawal of the 10th Army to Germany. The formation disbanded in February 1919.

Postwar

In 1919, he retired from the army and withdrew to his estate, where he wrote his autobiography and several books on war and strategy. His war memoirs were translated into English as The German General staff and Its Critical Decisions, 1914–1916 (1919). With the benefit of hindsight, he remarked that the German declarations of war on Russia and France in 1914 were "justifiable but overly-hasty and unnecessary". Falkenhayn died in 1922, at Schloss Lindstedt, near Potsdam.

Family life

In 1886 Falkenhayn married Ida Selkmann, with whom he had a son Fritz Georg Adalbert von Falkenhayn (1890–1973) and a daughter Erika Karola Olga von Falkenhayn (1904–1975) who married Henning von Tresckow (1901–1944), an officer who helped organise the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler.

Assessment

Falkenhayn in many ways typified the Prussian generals; a militarist in the literal sense, he had undeniable political and military competence and showed contempt for democracy and the representative Reichstag. He addressed the Reichstag in 1914 as follows:

Only through the fact that the Prussian army is removed by the constitution from the party struggle and the influence of ambitious party leaders has it become what it is: the secure defence of peace at home and abroad.

— Falkenhayn

Militarily, Falkenhayn had a mixed record. His offensive at Verdun proved a strategic failure. During the campaign against Romania in 1916 Falkenhayn demonstrated considerable skill in command of the German 9th Army, driving the Romanians from Transylvania, breaking through the Southern Carpathians and forcing the shattered Romanian forces northeast into Moldavia. His defence of Palestine in 1917 was also a failure but his forces, overwhelmingly Ottoman in composition, were outnumbered and outclassed and casualties were fairly equal.

Winston Churchill considered him to be the ablest by far of the German generals in World War I. Dupuy also ranked him near the top of the German commanders, just below Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Foley wrote that Germany's enemies were far more able to apply a strategy of attrition, because they had greater amounts of manpower, industry and economic control over the world, resorting to many of the methods used by Falkenhayn in Russia in 1915 and France in 1916. As the cost of fighting the war increased, the war aims of the Entente expanded, to include the overthrow of the political elites of the Central Powers and the ability to dictate peace to a comprehensively defeated enemy, which was achieved by a strategy of attrition.

All sources portray Falkenhayn as a loyal, honest and punctilious friend and superior. His positive legacy is his conduct during the war in Palestine in 1917. As his biographer Holger Afflerbach [de] wrote,

An inhuman excess against the Jews in Palestine was prevented only by Falkenhayn's conduct, which against the background of the German history of the 20th century has a special meaning, and one that distinguishes Falkenhayn.

— Afflerbach

Decorations and awards

  • Order of the Black Eagle
  • Pour le Merite (16 February 1915)
    • Oak Leaves (3 June 1915)
  • Iron Cross (1914)
    • 2nd Class
    • 1st Class
  • Commander of the Military Order of Max Joseph (Bavaria)
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit with Swords (Bavaria)
  • Knight of the Military Order of St. Henry (Saxony)
  • Gold Military Merit Medal ("Signum Laudis", Austria-Hungary) (11 October 1916)

Footnotes

  1. ^ Messenger 2001, pp. 165–166.
  2. ^ Afflerbach 1996, p. 9.
  3. ^ Smith, Audoin-Rouzeau & Becker 2003, p. 82.
  4. ^ Cowley & Parker 1996, p. 361.
  5. ^ Did a German Officer Prevent the Massacre of the Jews of Eretz Yisrael during World War I?, Jewish Ideas Daily version of The Jerusalem Post Magazine article from December 9, 2011
  6. ^ Falkenhayn 2009, pp. 1–336.
  7. ^ Falkenhayn 2009, p. 96.
  8. ^ Craig 1956, pp. 253–254.
  9. ^ Tucker 2014, p. 231.
  10. ^ Cowley & Parker 1996, p. 915.
  11. ^ Foley 2007, p. 268.
  12. ^ Afflerbach 1994, p. 485.
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