Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Hans Delbruck & The German Military Establishment, A Book Review

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by belasar, Apr 15, 2012.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,461
    Likes Received:
    1,148
    Hans Delbruck & The German Military Establishment, By Arden Bucholz, University of Iowa Press, 1985, 191 9ages, Photos, Notes, Index, Amazon New: $193.80, Used: $13.49


    Hans Delbruck (1848-1929) was a Military historian and commentator who's life encompassed both the birth, and death of Imperial Germany's Second Reich. A Prussian by birth, veteran of the Franco-Prussian War and a trained historian he attempted, without success, to change the way military history was seen and understood. His expeirence as a Reserve officer in the 29th Rhenish Infantry Regiment during the Franco-Prussian War exposed him to the differences between how history was taught and how it was when felt first hand. He concluded that wars could be understood only if you also understood politics, economics and demographics as well as unit formations and personalities.

    At this time this concept was considered both novel, revolutioary and just a little suspect. Prussian Academia wanted nothing to do with the study of military history, prefereing that experts write and comment on these matters. These experts were naturaly serving or retired military officers, and in this they were supported by the German Military establishment. Members of the Great General Staff wrote highly detailed, and politicly sterile, accounts of regimental war histories of Imperial Germany's, Napoleonic as well as those of Fredrick the Great.

    These histories helped foster the image within the German military that wars were decisive catalysts for political change and expansion. Fighting must be 'Battles of Annihilation', otherwise they had no meaning. The Great general Staff became so enamoured with this concept of military strategy they attempted to rewrite history and claim it was Fredrick the Great, and not Napoleon Bounapart, who first introduced this modern concept of war.

    Delbruck responded that this was a serious misreading of history. He pointed out that rarely did Fredrick commit to set piece battles, but rather used manuver and economics to win his campaigns against superior enemy positions. On the occasions when he did commit to general battle the outcomes were almost never deceisive and often left both armies spent and unable to pursue the 'victory' they won. It was not enough, wrote Delbruck, to have the will, the means to wage a war of Annihilation was needed as well. This vital element was missing from German war theory.

    The military establishment responded that Delbruck was a civilian and amateur, who had no real understanding of military matters. Had Delbruck truely understood how ingrained this theory of 'Battles of Annihilation' was within the Prussian command structure he would have despaired of Germany's fate.

    In 1891 Alfred von Schlieffen was named Chief of the General Staff and was tasked with turning Germany's concept of war fighting into a workable strategic plan. Unfortunately Germany was beset by three powerfull enemies in Russia, France and Britain. Year, after year, during annual exercises he would try to make German military theory meet military realities as faced by Germany. Unfortunately the numbers simply did not up, Germany did not have a military powerfull enough to seek and win a battle of annihiation against so strong a coalition.

    Instead of viewing the situation as Delbruck suggested it should be, Schlieffen created the plan that bears his name and promptly retired in 1905. The plan however required an army considerably larger than Germany had and was unwilling or unable to create. When Germany went to war in 1914, having nothing better and unwilling to consider anything else, she did so with Schlieffen's 10 year old plan.

    It of course did not work.

    Delbruck became as much a commentator on current events as historian at the wars outbreak. A loyal German he hoped for German victory but counciled caution. He took the Kaiser's and Chancellor's public statements that Germany was not engaged on a war of conquest, but rather an attempt to protect Germany's position in Europe. As the war progressed it steadly became clear to Delbruck that the Military command who effectively ran Imperial Germany was unalterably wedded to its War of Annihilation. The enemy had to be beaten, Germany's conquests must remain part of the Reich. A negotiated peace, short of absolute victory, was unthinkable to German military commanders.

    Ludendorf and Hindenburg understood in 1918, that with American entry in the war and the severe state of the German army, Germany could no longer realisticly win the war, but still must try one last gamble to win the 'Battle of Annihilation' anyway. As in 1914 after initial success the offensive stalled. This time with the army exhausted the front began to crumble. The High Command went to the Kaiser and stated the war was lost and that he must abdicate to save Germany.

    The Gerneral's, unwilling or unable to accept that it was their failed plans and theory's that were responcable for Germany's defeat came up with the "Dolchstoss" or 'stab in the back' theory for failure to bring victory. Delbruck would argue forcefully in the postwar investigations that this was nonsence and it was the commander's misreading of the situation and failure to employ the same tactics Fredrick the Great had used against superior enemies to meet the Empire's need.

    Unfortunately Delbruck's only strong support came from the more radical political elements and he was thought to either to be in league or a dupe of them. The German people prefered the Generals myth of a stab in the back to Delbruck's more reasoned arguements. This in turn became how the people came to look at the war, which helped to delegitamitise the Weimar Republik and set the stage for Hitler a decade later.

    Delbuck lived long enough to be aware of Hitler and his Nazi Party, but weather he knew or suspected that he would eventually seize power is unkown. What is known is that he wrote that if Germany persisted in its delusion of the the Dolchstoss over the truth it was in great danger of falling into conservative tyranny.

    I found it interesting to compare the similarities between the High Command of 1914-18 and Hitler's Germany. Both were wedded to the 'War of Annihilation', both were suffused with a Pan-Germanism that could not conceive of surrendering any conquest and both, when faced with failure, found fault not within themselves and their misconceptions, but with those who had the least control and understanding of Germany's perdicament. There of course were great differences as well. No mass atrocities, no fighting to the last man and no race hatred.

    I find it intriuging to consider what might have happened had German Military thought had embraced Delbruck's view of history. WWI might not have been quite the bloodbath it was. The Imperial houses of Europe might have survived. No Communism, No Facsism, and perhaps Hitler would be nothing more than a footnote in Bavarian politics.

    Is it really possible that the only thing standing between the world we know and one that might have been is a flawed understanding of history?

    Needless to say by the length of this review I found this book of great interest and deeply thought provoking.

    BR-XX



     
    LRusso216 likes this.
  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2009
    Messages:
    13,809
    Likes Received:
    2,293
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    An interesting read and review. The theories of Delbruck ring a bell. There is much in common between the German generals of WW1 and the IJN of WW2. I'm not sure, however, that race hatred played no part in the theory of Dolchstoss. In any case, a fine review.
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,461
    Likes Received:
    1,148
    Using the book as a guide one could infer that Pan-Germanism in 1914-18 it was less race hatred than race pride that motovated the conservative German generals and public. Belgain's, Pole's and Russian's wern't bad people neccasarily, just not German and therefore not 'destined' for greatness. By the '20's it began to morph into the race hatred that Hitler and the Nazi Party could exploit.
     

Share This Page