Books on Helmuth von Moltke

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Moltke and the Prussian Army

The Prussian Army invented the systems of modern war, and Helmuth von Moltke was the first modern war planner. These books cover his accomplishments to develop, bring to fruition and validate--in the three wars of German unification against Denmark (1864), Austria (1865), and France (1870-71)--the war processes invented during his lifetime. These processes have been used in all modern 20th-century wars because they respond to the size, space, time, and technology mandates of industrial mass warfare. These books describes and analyzes these developments as an aspect of Moltke's life as a professional soldier.

Books on Moltke

  • Moltke and the German Wars, 1864-1871
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  • -Arden Bucholz / Hardcover 252 pages / Published July 2001
    (European History in Perspective) This book describes and analyzes these developments as an aspect of Moltke's life as a professional soldier. The Prussian Army invented the systems of modern war, and Helmuth von Moltke was the first modern war planner. His accomplishment was to develop, bring to fruition and validate--in the three wars of German unification against Denmark (1864), Austria (1865), and France (1870-71)--the war processes invented during his lifetime. These processes have been used in all modern 20th-century wars because they respond to the size, space, time, and technology mandates of industrial mass warfare. This is a masterful book that presents Moltke in a new perspective and argues a compelling case.
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  • Moltke on the Art of War
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  • -Daniel Hughes (Editor) / Paperback 288 pages / Published June 1995
    This is an excellent review of Field Marshal Helmuth Graf von Moltke's work. It's clear and lucid and strikes upon those areas where Moltke's thinking influenced later strategic minds. It's one weakness is its lack of period maps. The book has a strategic section followed by Moltke's field account of some actual action that serves as an example of the theory just discussed. But unless you are familiar with the detail of 19th century geography for Austria, Prussia, France, and Denmark then much of the description is far from helpful. You'll get far more out of this book if you have already read "Koniggratz" by Craig and a history of the Franco-Prussian War. Prussia gained ascendancy over Austria and thus dominion of Germany through the art of war by one of its ablest commanders, Moltke the Elder. With Austria defeated at the decisive battle of Koniggratz (1866), Prussia stood alone for the coveted leadership of Germany; therefore, when France declared war on Prussia (1870) to prevent German unification, ironically this afforded Prussia the opportunity to fulfill its destiny. Napoleon III intended to cut Prussia off from the southern German republics; however, Prussia called the other German republics to arms, not for defense, but for a joint attack against the French vanguard, in French territory. The French seriously underestimated Prussia's capacity to rapidly deploy its seemingly disparate forces into one cohesive whole. How did Prussia accomplish this epic task? At the strategic level Prussia was able to marshal all of its forces under one central command, but at the tactical level the subordinate commanders were permitted the greatest independence possible to take the initiative (Selbstatigkeit). Moltke states that if one makes a mistake during the initial deployment, one cannot compensate for it later. As the forces evolve, the error propagates concentrically outward like a chain reaction, jeopardizing the outcome of the entire campaign. The French deployment during the Franco-Prussian war suffered from such deficiencies.
    According to Moltke, during the decision phase the commander must champion only one perspective to the green table. Once he has arrived at a decision, although it may not be the best, his subordinates should execute it resolutely. The consistent execution of even a mediocre plan will more often lead to victory (in the long-run) than an inconsistent execution of a great plan; hence, Molke's maxim that `strategy grows silent in the face of the need for a tactical victory'. Moltke states that only a layman believes that it is possible to foresee and predict causal events deterministically in war. Moltke counsels commanders with one force just how vulnerable they are to envelopment when they maneuver their force between two opposing formations with 'interior lines' and `central position'. This appears to be a trivial statement; however, one must realize that `interior lines' was Napoleon's favorite attack maneuver, which he implemented so successfully against numerically superior but divided forces (See The Campaigns of Napoleon by David G. Chandler). Napoleon I succeeded because he adroitly maneuvered his one force directly, halfway between the two opposing forces, which effectively neutralized his opponents from acting in concert and from supporting one another. Then he would march to attack one of the two, but the other opponent had to march twice as far (to support), hence, Napoleon I could concentrate on defeating the first opponent and then countermarch to defeat the second opponent that arrived too late, thus, his single force fought as well as two. During the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III intended to implement a similar maneuver to cut Prussia off from south Germany. First, he hoped to defeat Prussia, alone, which would entice Austria and Italy into forming a triumvirate with him. Then he hoped the triumvirate would attack the south German Confederation.
    During the Franco-Prussian war, Prussia was victorious in battle, but as Moltke says, `at what a cost'. It seems to me that Prussia's losses were rather high, primarily because of their reluctance to change plans and to break off any engagement once it began. Then the `peoples army' arose like a phoenix in the midst of the vanquished French field armies, which made the consummation of Moltke's final victory elusive. He could not pursue all the remaining military targets; therefore, he just focused on one-Paris. He surrounded the French capital with the preponderance of his remaining forces (150,000) because it was the only strategic option left open to him. The commander should position himself with his uncommitted reserves to ensure that they are committed where and when they may be of greatest service; he should not be at the front with units already committed. He should send reserves to those areas where the forward units are already nearly winning, thereby, overcoming these areas of resistance faster, with fewer losses by their timely intervention. Secondly, he should endeavor to bolster tenuous positions or those that are in danger of being lost. The attack has the advantage of dictating the course of events to the defender who must conform to them. The advantages are greater morale and confidence gained through the knowledge of the time and place of the attack. The best method of attack is to envelope the opponent with two forces. First, one must attack the opponent frontally with one force to pin down as much of their main force as possible. Then the second force must attack the opponent's flank. Moltke believed that both the frontal and flank attacks should be performed simultaneously, however, if I were attacking the flank, I would wait until it has been sufficiently denuded, since the opponent will be drawing forces from it to counter the frontal attack (i.e., feint). The flank attack is usually the center of gravity (Schwerpunkt), but the frontal attack may be the center of gravity as well. There should be a reserve element to cover the force attacking the opponent's flank. An example of precisely this method took place during the battle of Koniginhof (Austria, 1866). This book is a compendium of essays written by v. Moltke that covers many practical aspects of the art of war with historical examples. Many of these methods are just as valid today as they were in 1860. Moltke writes very lucidly with great candor, which is precisely what one would expect of a Prussian Officer. Click on the book title to read more.


  • Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War
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  • -Annika Mombauer, Peter Baldwin, Christopher Clark, James B. Collins
    Hardcover 344 pages / Published April 2001
    This book, from the New Studies in European History, explores the influence of Helmuth von Moltke, Germany's Chief of the General Staff between 1906 and 1914. Based largely on previously-unknown primary sources, it shows that Moltke's influence on the Kaiser and on Germany's political decision-making to have been decisive, helping to foster an increasingly confrontational mood. This book also takes issue with the common perception of Moltke as a reluctant military leader, concluding that he was both bellicose and ambitious and played a crucial role in the outbreak of the First World War. This book is essential reading for students of Modern Europe, Germany, and the First World War because it is a very significant contribution to the scholarship on both Wilhelmine Germany and the military pre-history of the Great War.
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  • Helmuth von Moltke; A leader against Hitler
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  • -Michael Leonard Graham Balfour, Julian Frisby / Hardcover 400 pages / Published October 1972
    This book is about Helmuth James Graf (Count) von Moltke, a fascinating member of the German resistance in WWII, which was a principled resistance against the Nazi menace, from within. This biography contains hundreds of Motlke's more than 1600 letters to his wife Freya from 1939 to 1945. Because both of their handwriting was wretched, the legacy of Moltke's family name, and his work inside military intelligence, he was able to write quite openly and unhindered to his wife about countless details of the regime's atrocities, his office's attempts to blunt those evils, the development of his thought, and the rich love he had for his bride and their children.
    Moltke was the great-grandson of Bismarck's Field Marshall and the man who founded the estate of Kreisau in what is now Poland. Incidentally he was also the grand-nephew of the Kaiser's Chief of General Staff, Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke, the younger, in the first half of World War I.
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  • Helmuth von Moltke, 1848-1916: Dokumente zu seinem Leben und Wirken
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  • -Helmuth von Moltke
    Published 1993 by Perseus Verlag in the German Language.
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  • Feldmarschall Graf Moltke's Briefe aus Rußland
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  • -Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke / Paperback 201 pages / Published January 2006
    This Elibron Classics book is a facsimile reprint of a 1877 edition by Gebrüder Paetel, Berlin. Published by Adamant Media Corporation in the German Language.
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  • Blood and Iron : From Bismarck to Hitler the Von Moltke Family's Impact on German History ~Usually Ships in 24 Hours
  • -Otto Friedrich / Paperback 448 pages / Published November 1996

    This is a fascinating book that looks at one family's enormous impact on the history and psyche of Germany from the late 1800s through the WW II. Looking at three men from three generations of German (Prussian) nobles, you can trace the ascendency of Germany in the 1800s, its near domination of Europe during WW I, and then the seeds of its downfall during WW II.

    The Von Moltke family epitomized Prussian nobility and the upper-class vanguard of a society in the newly created German state. Theirs is a story of 100 years of German history in which Von Moltke family members played crucial roles in turbulent European diplomacy and power struggles from the Franco-Prussian War (1871) through World War II. Field Marshal Von Moltke, who took Paris in 1871 and made Germany the dominant power in Europe, was the great great uncle of Count Helmuth James Von Moltke, who was implicated and later executed by the Gestapo in 1945 for conspiring against Hitler. In choosing the Von Moltkes, Friedrich chronicles, assesses, and illuminates an often tragic century of German history?a history as much of Bismarck, Hitler, Wagner, Strauss, Mann, and Brecht. Friedrich's engaging, accessible style puts this tumultuous period in Europe in reach of lay readers, history buffs, and scholars alike.

    Opposing the Nazis from the outset, patriotic lawyer Count Helmuth James von Moltke worked as an analyst in the Third Reich's military intelligence headquarters, where he clandestinely supported the anti-Hitler resistance and devised a blueprint for a democratic Germany. Arrested by the Gestapo, he was executed in 1945, months after Hitler narrowly escaped a detonated bomb in an assassination attempt by his generals. Von Moltke abhorred Nazism as a terrible perversion of Prussian traditions that had been ratified in part by his great-great-uncle, Bismarck's field marshal, Helmuth Carl Bernhard von Moltke, who captured Paris in 1871 in the Franco-Prussian War. Yet Field Marshal von Moltke scorned "that ill weed Democracy," and his nephew and namesake, General Helmuth von Moltke, German chief of staff in WWI, worked out the strategic plan for a two-front war against France and Russia that led him and his country to ruin.

    Some Germans truly were on the side of the angels, and among them Helmuth James von Molke, who met his end in the aftermath of the briefcase bombing, was especially heroic. The last third of this book is devoted to his underground campaign to overthrow Hitler and establish a peaceful model for the future. The first subject of the book is his great-uncle, Helmuth von Molke of the Prussian General Staff, who masterminded Prussia's triumph over Denmark and then victory in the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars of the 1860s and 1870s. Despite his association with Prussian militarism, old von Moltke was driven by a firm sense of personal ethics, and for all the pain associated with his wars, at least they were brief. The same cannot be said for his nephew, the hapless Helmuth Johannes von Moltke, appointed Chief of the German General Staff in the lead up to World War One. Faced with the challenge of updating the already-flawed Schlieffen Plan, he actually managed to make it worse, dooming Germany, France, Belgium and Britain to four years of trench warfare. The von Moltkes are modern Prussia's most remarkable clan, and in the concluding chapter we are treated to a "Where Are They Now" of its surviving members.

    In the relatively brief history of Germany as a unitary state (148 years old this year), few non-royal families have played as important a role as the von Moltke family. In a time when the 'sweeping family saga' is a popular fiction genre, the fact that this story isn't only true, but also extremely well written, should commend it to any reader with an interest in European history. Of course, the von Moltke family's impact actually reaches back before the Reich into the history of Prussia. The first of three men Otto Friedrich focuses on, Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), was Prussia's key military strategist during the Franco-Prussian War, and possibly Germany's greatest strategist ever, surpassing even his friend and mentor, Clausewitz. His nephew and namesake, General Helmuth von Moltke (1848-1916), on the other hand, was nervous, indecisive, and largely unable to deal with the responsibilities of command that came to him in part due to his famous name. The third Helmuth, Count Helmuth James von Moltke (1907-1945), was one of nature's noblemen. A liberal (in the European sense), he was actively involved in the opposition to Hitler and Nazism -- a fact that led to his execution shortly before the Reich's own collapse. The letters Helmuth James wrote from prison, to his wife most notably, but to others as well, are deeply moving, and filled with a Christian spirit that reminded me of St Paul's own epistles from prison.

    Otto Friedrich is a tremendously skilled historian, and also an excellent writer. 'Blood and Iron' is well documented, logically presented, and also very readable. Plus, he's not afraid to share his opinions and interpretations, most particularly in 'A Note on Sources' following the close of the narrative. His insights there on other documents and histories are well worth reading. As, indeed, is this entire book. I recommend it very highly.

    There would be no German today as we know it without the Moltke Family. Their personal history is the history of the rise and fall of Germany. Friedrich's style is so fluid and engaging that the dead come to life, the scenes from all across Europe emerge. If you want to understand German history, this is the place to start.

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