The Role of Prussian Military Traditions in Prussia’s Rise

Prussian army, dating back as far as 16th century, was the driving force in Prussia’s rise in 18th and 19th centuries. Prussian army’s influence in these centuries was so high that the following quote became known in Europe; “Where some states have an army, the Prussian Army has a state.”

Roots of military traditions in Prussia started during Thirty Years War’ when “the Great Elector” Frederick William, after inheriting the throne, created the first royal standing army with around 5000 soldiers. Frederick’s successors kept growing the army’s numbers gradually, so much that when Kingdom of Prussia was established in 1701, Prussian army consisted of 40.000 men. At that time, Prussia’s Junker nobles also started getting military training in military schools built by Prussian monarchs. Over time, Junker noble class transformed from being feudal landlords to being well-trained officers and military men. This class of military noblemen created a unique sort of militarism within Prussia’s politics. Prussian militarism quickly became a necessity for country’s survival against Europe’s other great powers which had drastically more resources and manpower compared to Prussia. Prussian nobility were well aware of their country’s economic limits, which made them go even more militarist to make up for lack of resources. Prussian army emerged as the core of Prussian state.

Prussian army successfully proved its effectiveness in Silesian Wars and Seven Years’ War, while fighting against numerically superior enemies.As the army gained more experience through wars, they started developing their own tactics with firearms and artillery. The army and members of the army were regarded highly in Prussian society, which made recruitments a lot more easier compared to other European states. The army had priority on state’s resources as all the statesmen knew that without the army, the state wouldn’t survive.

Prussian Ministry of War was formed in 1809 and Prussian War College was established in 1810. Especially after the Napoleonic Wars, the army saw many new reforms to make it modern enough in order to make Prussia capable of rivaling both Austria and France. The famous Iron Cross was first designed by Prussians in early 19th century. Brilliant Prussian statesmen and diplomats, such as Otto von Bismarck, prioritized the army’s needs before anything else to ensure Prussian hegemony over Germany. Bismarck also worked closely with Prussian Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke, which made the ties between the state and the army even tighter. Bismarck, who was a Junker himself, endorsed the militarist state tradition and endorsed war as long as Prussia wasn’t in an unfavourable situation. The army’s victories were followed by Bismarck’s diplomatic victories during his time as Chancellor.The duo of Bismarck and the army successfully managed to bring Germany under one banner, the Prussian banner. Even after the unification of Germany and formation of the German Empire, the Prussian army traditions and Prussian militarism kept spreading all over Germany through Junker class’ influence in the Empire’s politics. New nobles within the Empire, who despised Junker militarism and traditions, started challenging them in order to stop Prussification of Germany and to liberalize the government after Bismarck.

 

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