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For King and Kaiser! The Making of the Prussian Army Officer, 1860-1914.

On the eve of World War I the Royal Prussian Army made up close to 80 per cent of Imperial Germany's ground forces and had a regular officer corps of approximately twenty-two thousand. How these officers (and their predecessors during the imperial era) had been educated, selected, trained, and promoted is the subject of this book. Chapter one, entitled "Tradition," summarizes the characteristics of the Prussian army and its officer corps since the time of Frederick the Great. The next two chapters describe the procedures used to educate (in civilian schools), select, and train the majority of those Germans who wished to become professional army officers (as distinct from those who merely coveted a commission in the reserves). Chapters four and five focus on the relatively small number of officer candidates who rose through the cadet corps, while chapter six deals with the final stages of advancement from ensign to commissioned officer. Chapter seven covers the selection and training of those subalterns who eventually received permission to attend the War Academy and who graduated after three years of study with significantly improved career prospects. The final chapter offers some conclusions and thoughts on the Prussian army and its various defects.

Clemente's account is based exclusively on printed sources, ranging from military handbooks of the imperial era to recent publications by historians and political scientists in the German and English-speaking world. On some aspects, notably the curricula of various civilian and military schools, he offers comments which are both readable and well-balanced. On many other topics, Clemente's failure to consult archival material seriously limits the usefulness of his work. For example, he depends too much on the published memoirs of certain German officers - Ludendorff, Groener, Manstein, Guderian, and others - when more candid judgements on the procedures and institutions of the Prussian army could have been found in the unpublished reminiscences, diaries, and letters of many individuals who came through the system before 1914. (See, for instance, Colonel-General Wilhelm Heye's bitter comments about life in the Prussian cadet corps in his Nachlass at the Freiburg military archive).

A more serious defect has to do with Clemente's uncritical acceptance of the "traditional" notion that commoners, except for these being themselves the sons of officers, had more difficulty than "aristocrats" in getting a commission in the Prussian army and/or rising to high position. His claim (based on dated sources) that aristocrats predominated in the Prussian general staff throughout the imperial era is very much open to challenge, for it ignores the simple fact that a large number of officers with a noble predicate in their name were actually commoners by birth and upbringing; that is, they had been elevated to noble status at some point in their military career. Equally misleading is the assertion that the Prussian War Academy, that gateway to staff appointments and accelerated promotions, was always headed by an aristocrat. In actual fact, five of the twelve generals heading that institution between 1871 and 1914 were of "bourgeois" background, namely August (von) Etzel, Karl Rudolf (von) Ollech, Karl (von) Villaume, Karl Litzmann, and Erich (von) Gundell. There is no space to record further examples where fresh research might have allowed Clemente to offer more convincing statistical assessments.

As for Clemente's conclusions, they generally follow the interpretations perviously offered by Karl Demeter, Martin Kitchen, and Hans-Ulrich Wehler (the latter being cited in the backnotes but, for reasons unknown, omitted from the "Select Bibliography"). A more original approach to the topic would have been welcome.
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Author:Trumpener, Ulrich
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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