- Moltke, Helmuth von
- (1800–1891)Helmuth von Moltke was a Prussian strategist and military modernizer. On graduation from the Military Academy of Denmark, Moltke entered the Danish service, but in 1822, he joined the Prussian army. He was seconded to Turkey as a military adviser between 1835 and1839. In 1857 he became chief of the Prussian General Staff. Moltke advocated a system in which officers would be able to coordinate their units almost instinctively, without the need for specific orders. His idea was decentralization of command structure to achieve greater concentration of forces on the battle-field. This would allow movement in separated columns, leading to coordination for a decisive strike. By exploiting railway transportation and telegraph communication, Moltke hoped to bring greater numbers of troops to bear at crucial junctures. Moltke attempted to implement such a system in the Schleswig-Holstein War of 1864, but his directives were ignored. The Austro-Prussian War in 1866, however, was different. Moltke was permitted both to plan and direct the action. The Prussian army entered Austria in three columns. They converged on the enemy at Königgrätz on July 3, thereby securing victory. When a war with France became imminent in 1870, no one argued with Moltke’s plan for the campaign. Moltke correctly estimated that the French would concentrate their forces in two areas and that the Prussians should drive one great wedge between these concentrations, destroying first one and then the other before they could join together. The first French army was engaged in two great battles. The second French army was encircled at Sedan and had to surrender. Victory in the Franco-Prussian War was thus his greatest professional triumph. Taken together, Moltke’s victories paved the way to the establishment of a unified German Empire. Wilhelm I made him a count, promoted him to field marshal, and made him the first chief of the German general staff. Moltke resigned in 1888, having grown deeply distressed over the influence of the belligerent clique that surrounded Wilhelm II. In 1890, Moltke warned that when a war broke out, its result would be incalculable.As the architect of the modern German general staff, Moltke was a preeminent military innovator. For him, military strategy had to be understood as a system of options. He gave his subordinates liberty in making decisions, because he believed that no battle plan could survive contact with the enemy and that his military successes were due to the elasticity of his strategy.See also <
>; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Bucholz, Arden. Moltke, Schlieffen, and Prussian War Planning. New York: St. Martin’s, 1991;Citino, Robert M. The German Way of War. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005;Morris, William O. Moltke: A Biographical and Critical Study . New York: Haskell House, 1971.MARTIN MOLL
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.