Imperial Germany and War, 1871-1918.
Daniel J. Hughes and Richard L. DiNardo here identify the purpose, composition, and ethos of the German army between 1871 and 1918. They assess the strengths and weaknesses of the institution and explain how it ultimately failed in its long-dreaded two-front war. Theirs is not a history of battles--for one example, the respective functions of the War Ministry, Military Cabinet, and the General Staff receive more coverage than the Battle of Sedan. Nevertheless, with respect to the major campaigns of the First World War--particularly, the bookend failures of the Battle of the Marne and the Spring Offensive--the authors provide extensive coverage.
The authors conclude that the army's failure during the First World War stemmed in large measure from structural flaws within Prussia and the German Empire, in particular the Kaiser's role as the institutional coordinating mechanism. Wilhelm II was neither willing nor able to fulfill this role, and the army eventually assumed it. Given that it was largely a world unto itself, however, the army was unable effectively to manage the economy, society, and politics of the empire. Moreover, the army itself was hampered by disunity within its ranks and by the "excessive independence of local commanders" (464). Although the independence of local commanders had long been a hallmark of the Prussian way of war, it was ill-suited to a large-scale, modern war against competent opponents.
The authors canvas the evolution of Prussian-German thought on war from Clausewitz through the duumvirate of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Given the importance of the historiographical debate on Schlieffen and the younger Moltke, they provide extensive coverage of the tenures of these two men at the helm of the General Staff. Ultimately, the authors reject the notion that Schlieffen's memorandum of December 1905 constituted a formal, fixed plan for Germany in 1914. Thus, they are critical of the "Schlieffen School", whose adherents have argued that Schlieffen had a fixed plan that would have been successful had Moltke not altered it. Although their own assessment of Moltke is scathing, they do not follow the Schlieffen School narrative in all its particulars. Throughout the text the authors judiciously assess the merits of many other historiographical debates and do so without getting mired in technical details and petty infighting.
Although comprehensive, the book does have its limitations. For example, the authors focus primarily on the upper echelons at the expense of the rank and file. Additionally, although the authors are justified in claiming that the German army was dominated by Prussia and its traditions, more coverage of how the armies of Saxony, Bavaria, and Wurttemberg functioned within the larger imperial institution was warranted.
Hughes and DiNardo have penned a definitive account. Although the weighty tome is rather intimidating and could be used as a weapon, their writing is not deadly to the reader. They write so that one need not be an officer to understand the differences between tactics and strategy, or to understand that the traditional Prussian preference for the latter over the former contributed to the demise of the Hohenzollern empire.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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