- Moltke, Helmuth Johannes Ludwig von
- (1848–1916)Known as “The Younger,” Helmuth von Moltke was a Prussian general, chief of the German general staff from 1906 to 1914, and nephew of the victorious General Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke of the German Wars of Unification. Moltke participated in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 and enjoyed a military career that benefited from his uncle’s support, serving as his personal adjutant until 1891, as well as from the favor of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He became the monarch’s personal adjutant in 1891. By 1904, he had advanced to general quartermaster in the general staff, taking over as its chief from Alfred von Schlieffen in January 1906. He was the kaiser’s preferred candidate, although there was concern from within the military about his suitability for this important position.From 1906, Moltke was responsible for German war planning and the preparation of the German army for the event of war. His time in office was characterized by his frequent demands for preventive war and by his fear of Russia, a country he felt would in the near future become invincible. Like his predecessor, he had to prepare Germany for a war on two fronts, and he adjusted the so-called Schlieffen Plan to changing circumstances. By 1914, Germany had but one plan for the eventuality of a European war. The German army was to concentrate its efforts in the West and violate the neutrality of Luxembourg and Belgium.When war broke out in August 1914, Moltke soon lost confidence. The ill-fated Battle of the Marne destroyed his war plan and led to his dismissal in favor of Erich von Falkenhayn. Moltke never accepted his fate and attempted intrigues against his successor to regain his influential position. Instead, he was relegated to being the deputy chief of staff in Berlin, responsible for administrative matters only. After his death in June 1916, Moltke became a perfect scapegoat, first for the lost Battle of the Marne and, after 1918, for the lost war. Countless critics blamed him for adulterating Schlieffen’s deployment plan and for not being skilled enough to lead Germany to victory. His belief in anthroposophy, shared by his wife Eliza, led to further bad press and called into question not just his wartime leadership but also his suitability for leading the general staff. This view was only partially revised from the 1930s onward, although in recent years his military skills have received more favorable estimations, but his role in the outbreak of the war now receives rather more criticism.FURTHER READING:Citino, Robert M. The German Way of War. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2005;Moltke, Eliza von, ed. Helmuth von Moltke. Erinnerungen, Briefe, Dokumente, 1877–1916. Stuttgart: Der Kommende Tag, 1922;Mombauer, Annika. Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.ANNIKA MOMBAUER
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.