Helmuth von Moltke

Helmuth von Moltke

Helmuth von Moltke

Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke was born on 26 October 1800 in Parchim, Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He was the son of the later Danish Lieutenant General Friedrich Philipp Victor von Moltke and his wife Henriette Sophie.

After the father joined the Danish military service in 1806, he also ensured his three eldest sons in 1811 as cadets at the Cadet Academy in Copenhagen. Moltke was promoted to second lieutenant in 1818 and served in the Danish Infantry Regiment Oldenburg in Rendsburg. He proved to be a talent and had great ambitions.

He then tried to get into the Prussian army and in 1822 his wish came true. In Frankfurt, he joined, as a second lieutenant, to the 8th Infantry Regiment of the Prussian Army. He attended the General War School from 1823 to 1826, where Carl von Clausewitz was one of his mentors, and was appointed in 1833 in the General Staff.

Moltke became quite popular among the high society in Berlin. He was a man of literature and arts. He spoke fluent English; it is known that he translated Edward Gibbon’s iconic work ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire into German.

In 1835 he was on vacation for an educational trip to the southeast of Europe. At the invitation of the Ottoman War Minister Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha, he was assigned from 1836 to 1839 as an instructor of the Ottoman troops.

During this time he traveled Constantinople, the Black Sea coast, the Taurus Mountains and the desert of Mesopotamia and in 1838 took part in a campaign against the Kurds. In April and May 1837 he accompanied Sultan Mahmud II on his journey to the Danubian principalities. He planned there, inter alia, a line of defense against the Russians.

According to his plans, four fortresses were built along the Danube. One of them is the fortress Silistra. In 1838, the Ottoman Empire felt strong enough to resume the fight against the Egyptian troops Mehmet Ali under his son Ibrahim Pasha in Syria. Moltke participated in this campaign and attended the decisive defeat of the Ottomans at the Battle of Nizip on June 24, 1839 at.

His travelogue Moltke published in 1841 at Ernst Siegfried Mittler in Berlin under the title Letters on states and events in Turkey from the years 1835 to 1839.

After his return to Germany Moltke was promoted to Major and later became the Adjutant of Prince Karl Heinrich of Prussia in Rome. After his death he was transferred to the Generalkommando am Rhein. From 1848 to 1855 Moltke was Chief of the General Staff of the IV Army Corps and from 1 September 1855 Adjutant of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm.

This was followed by trips to Balmoral, London, Russia and Paris and a transfer to Breslau in January 1857. After the death of his predecessor, General Karl von Reyher, he was commissioned on 29 October 1857 in the rank of major general with the “exercise of the business of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army”.

On 18 September 1858 Helmuth von Moltke was appointed Chief of Staff of the Prussian army. In this capacity, he was commissioned in 1862 to draw up a plan for the case of a war against Denmark. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses, Moltke developed his planning.

The General Staff created by the reforms during the Wars of Liberation became the center of military and political influence. Moltke was appointed General and, as Chief of the General Staff, was given the right to give orders to the field army on behalf of the king directly and without the mediation of the Minister of War, so that he could direct military operations himself.

This increased influence was expressed in the name of the Great General Staff, which was customary after the founding of the German Reich.

Moltke was considered an ingenious strategist and was in leading responsibility in the drafting of the plans for the German-Danish War (1864), the Austro-Prussian War (1866) against the troops of the German Confederation (especially Austria, Bavaria, Saxony and Hanover) and the German-French War (1870-1871).

He recognized early on the importance of strategic paths for the deployment of large armies. He highly encouraged the establishment and spread of railroads and expertly used them to better mobilize armies in the event of a war. His theories on mobile warfare affected the 20th century German military strategies enormously.

Moltke and Bismarck are considered as forge of the unification of 1871, Moltke from military and Bismarck from a political point of view. Although Moltke from 1871 had de facto possibility of making military decisions together with the commander-in-chief to the exclusion of the Reichstag and Chancellor, he was always ready to submit to the demanded by Bismarck primacy of politics.

In 1870, Moltke was made a Graf (Count) for his early accomplishments in the Franco-Prussian War. A year later, in 1871, he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. Moltke retired as the Chief of the General Staff in 1888 and three years later, on 24 April 1891, he died at his home in Berlin.


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