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Erich von Falkenhayn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn-retouched.jpg
Falkenhayn, c.1913
Prussian Minister of War
In office
7 June 1913 – 21 January 1915
MonarchWilhelm II
Prime MinisterTheobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Preceded byJosias von Heeringen
Succeeded byAdolf Wild von Hohenborn
Chief of the German Great General Staff
In office
14 September 1914 – 29 August 1916
MonarchWilhelm II
ChancellorTheobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Preceded byHelmuth von Moltke the Younger
Succeeded byPaul von Hindenburg
Personal details
Born11 September 1861
Burg Belchau, Kingdom of Prussia, German Confederation (now Poland)
Died8 April 1922 (aged 60)
Potsdam, Prussia, Weimar Republic (now Germany)
Spouse(s)Ida Selkmann
RelationsEugen von Falkenhayn (brother)
Fedor von Bock (nephew)
Henning von Tresckow (son-in-law)
ProfessionMilitary officer
AwardsOrder of the Black Eagle
Pour le Merite
Military Order of Max Joseph
Military service
Allegiance German Empire (1880–1919)
 Ottoman Empire (1917–1918)
Branch/service Imperial German Army
 Ottoman Army
Years of service1880–1919
RankGeneral der Infanterie (German Army)
Field Marshal (Ottoman Army)
UnitOldenburgisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 91
IX Corps
Infanterie-Regiment ,,von Borcke” (4. Pommersches) Nr. 21
XIV Corps
Ostasiatisches Expeditionskorps
Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 92
CommandsChief of Staff of XVI Corps
4th Foot Guards
Chief of Staff of IV Corps
Chief of the German General Staff
9th Army
Army Group F (Ottoman Army)
10th Army
Battles/warsBoxer Rebellion
First World War

General Erich Georg Sebastian Anton von Falkenhayn (11 September 1861 – 8 April 1922) was the second Chief of the German General Staff of the First World War from September 1914 until 29 August 1916. He was removed on 29 August 1916 after the failure at the Battle of Verdun, the opening of the Battle of the Somme, the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war on the Allied side undid his strategy to end the war before 1917. He was later given important field commands in Romania and Syria. His reputation as a war leader was attacked in Germany during and after the war, especially by the faction supporting Paul von Hindenburg. Falkenhayn held that Germany could not win the war by a decisive battle but would have to reach a compromise peace; his enemies said he lacked the resolve necessary to win a decisive victory. Falkenhayn's relations with the Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg were troubled and undercut Falkenhayn's plans.[1]

Early life

Falkenhayn was born in Burg Belchau near Graudenz, West Prussia (now Białochowo, Poland) to Fedor von Falkenhayn (1814–1896) and Franziska von Falkenhayn, née von Rosenberg (1826–1888). Ancestors of him goes back to 1504.[2] His brother Arthur (1857–1929) became tutor of Crown Prince Wilhelm while Eugen (1853–1934) became a Prussian General of Cavalry. His only sister Olga von Falkenhayn was the mother of Field Marshal Fedor von Bock.[3]

Military career

Becoming a cadet at the age of 11, he joined the Army in 1880. He served as an infantry and staff officer and became a career soldier. In 1893 he became a Hauptmann and transferred to topographical department of the German General Staff. He was assessed to be a capable, deliberate officer with an open mind. Between 1896 and 1903 Falkenhayn took a leave of absence and served Qing-Dynasty China as a military consultant for several years. He helped to establish some naval bases and in 1889 returned to German service in the new Kiautschou Bay Leased Territory in China, serving in a Sea Battalion until becoming a Major in the army in March 1899. He later saw action during the Boxer Rebellion. He also spent time in Manchuria and the Korean Empire.[4] Service in Asia made Falkenhayn to be the favorite of the Kaiser.[5] After his service in Asia, the army posted him to Brunswick, Metz and Magdeburg. Falkenhayn was also one of the military instructors of Crown Prince William of Prussia.[4] He became a major-general in 1912.[6]

Prussian Minister of War (1913–1915)

In 1913 he became Prussian Minister of War; at the beginning of the First World War, when the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo took place. After the assassination, Falkenhayn participated in the meeting on 5 July 1914 when Germany announced Austria-Hungary its support for the war. Like most German military leaders, he did not expect a great European war but he soon embraced the idea and joined others pushing for Kaiser Wilhelm II to declare war. Falkenhayn pushed for early mobilization since the Kaiser started to secure his palace. The war finally broke out and Falkenhayn viewed this with enthusiasm. He told the chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, that "Even if we perish over this, it will still have been worth it". He was not in Berlin when the war broke out with von Bethmann Hollweg, Alfred von Tirpitz, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger and Gottlieb von Jagow.[7][8]

Chief of Staff (1914–1916)

Falkenhayn succeeded Helmuth von Moltke the Younger as Chief of the Oberste Heeresleitung (the German General Staff) after the First Battle of the Marne on 14 September 1914, when Moltke was considered too mentally unstable to continue. Falkenhayn continued in office as minister of war for another five months before Adolf Wild von Hohenborn succeeded him.[4] He was 53 years old when he became the chief of staff of German Army, making him to be the youngest chief of staff.[9] Falkenhayn moved OHL to Mézières, to put OHL at the centre of the right wing of the German armies in the west and ordered the armies to dig in, which was the beginning of trench warfare.[10] The responsibility of Falkenhayn increased when the Kaiser failed to decide a grand strategy. Falkenhayn did not want diplomatic interference in the course of war.[11] For the first few weeks, lack of success led to widespread criticism. Falkenhayn recognized the pending failure of the modified Schlieffen Plan and attempted to outflank the British and French in the Race to the Sea, a series of meeting engagements in northern France and Belgium, in which each side made reciprocal attempts to turn the other's flank, until they reached the North Sea and had no more room for manoeuvre.[5] The British, French and Belgians eventually stopped the German advance at the First Battle of Ypres and the Battle of the Yser. (October–November 1914).[citation needed]

In November 1914, Falkenhayn acknowledged that Germany would not be able to gain a decisive victory. He advocated a mild peace with the Russian Empire to Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the better to concentrate against the French and British. Neither Bethmann Hollweg nor the generals on the Eastern Front, such as Paul von Hindenburg, Erich Ludendorff or Max Hoffmann, supported the idea since they believed that negotiation with the Russian Empire was impossible.[7] While Helmuth von Moltke the Younger and Hindenburg highly critical of Falkenhayn and sought to have him dismissed, the Emperor continued to support him.[12] A new Breakthrough Army (Durchbruchsarmee) for an offensive down the Somme river valley, consisting of nine new divisions, was formed in the first quarter of 1915 but three divisions were not ready in time.[13] The new army was transferred to the Eastern Front to shore up the Austro-Hungarian armies and was re-named the 11th Army. The new force had success during the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes but further mobilization of the troops were hard because of the shortage of junior officers and equipment.[14]

Falkenhayn found that Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (Imperial German Flying Corps, Die Fliegertruppe), needed to be expanded. Falkenhayn noticed that the scepticism of the Ministry of War to airships, made by Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was justified. He tried to use these things and give a rapid development of the air force.[15] Hohenborn was appointed minister of war. On 20 January 1915, Falkenhayn was promoted to General der Infanterie. Even though he had many enemies he had Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army, as his uneasy ally. They differed on the war aims; Conrad wanting a war against the Russian Empire and Falkenhayn against France. Falkenhayn preferred to keep the Kingdom of Italy out of the war but eventually failed in this.[7] Attacks on the Eastern front to support the Austrians, such as the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive, were tremendously successful for the Central Powers. This resulted in Russian troops embarking on the military evacuation of Russian Poland and then retreating deeper into the Russian interior. In the fall of 1915, Falkenhayn launched an attack against Serbia. Thus late in the year the favorable situation gave Falkenhayn hope to achieving peace in the east.[7]

Falkenhayn preferred an offensive strategy on the Western Front, while conducting a limited campaign in the east; he hoped that Russia would accept a separate armistice more easily, if it were not humiliated too much. This brought him into disputes with Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who favoured massive offensives in the east. Falkenhayn tried to weaken the French and British by renewed attacks and unrestricted submarine warfare.[7] According to Reinhard Scheer, Falkenhayn was an advocate of submarine warfare because countering Britain was an important war aim.[16] This brought conflicts with Bethmann Hollweg.[4] Eventually, in the hope that either a slaughter would lead Europe's political leaders to consider ending the war or that losses would be less harmful for Germany than for France, Falkenhayn staged a battle of attrition, as claimed in his post-war memoirs, in the Battle of Verdun in early 1916. Falkenhayn argued to the Kaiser that the war would be ended by causing casualties to French army.[17] He thought that French cannot lose Verdun because of psychological reasons. He ordered the Crown Prince to feint in Verdun and annihilate French Army, which would try to seize the city by sending more troops. The Crown Prince and his chief of staff, Konstantin Schmidt von Knobelsdorf disobeyed the order and tried to seize the city. This led the French Artillery to destroy German forces.[5] Because more than a quarter of a million soldiers during the battle, eventually died and Falkenhayn was sometimes called "the Blood-Miller of Verdun", neither side's resolve was lessened.[18]

Contrary to Falkenhayn's expectations the French were able to limit casualties in the divisions sent to Verdun, General Philippe Pétain kept the divisions in the line at Verdun until casualties reached 50 per cent of the infantry and then relieved them. The procession of divisions back and forth was analogous to the operation of a "noria", a type of water-wheel that continuously lifts water and empties it into a trough.[18][19] To worsen the situation, on 27 August 1916 Falkenhayn received news that the Kingdom of Romania had declared war on Austria-Hungary. After the relative failure at Verdun, coupled with reverses on the Eastern Front (the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war), the beginning of the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme and the intrigues of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff by Hindenburg on 29 August 1916.[7]

Romania (1916–1917)

Falkenhayn then assumed command of the 9th Army in Transylvania (6 September 1916) and in August launched a joint offensive against Romania with August von Mackensen and driven the Romanian forces to Russia.[5]

Palestine (1917–1918)

Following his success in Romania, in mid-July 1917 Falkenhayn went to take military command of the Ottoman Yildirim Army Group (Heeresgruppe F, Army Group F), which was being formed in Mesopotamia and at Aleppo. After long discussions with the Ottoman upper echelon, Falkenhayn was sent on 7 September 1917 as supreme commander of two Ottoman armies in Palestine, with the rank of a Mushir (Field Marshal) of the Ottoman Army. In the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, Falkenhayn failed to prevent the British under General Edmund Allenby from conquering Jerusalem in December 1917. He was replaced by Otto Liman von Sanders for his failure.[5]

He is credited with avoiding a destructive defensive battle for the Old City of Jerusalem with its many holy sites, as well as with a crucial role in stopping the forced removal of the Jewish population of Palestine, which Governor Djemal Pasha had planned along the lines of the Armenian genocide.[20] The evacuation of the population of Jerusalem during the harsh winter months had also been planned by Djemal Pasha and was thwarted by German officers including Falkenhayn.[20]

Belarus (1918–1919)

In February 1918, Falkenhayn became commander of the 10th Army in Belarus, where he witnessed the end of the war. In December 1918 he oversaw the withdrawal of the 10th Army to Germany. The formation disbanded in February 1919 and Falkenhayn retired from the army following the dissolution of his unit.[4]


In 1919, Falkenhayn retired from the army and withdrew to his estate, where he wrote his autobiography and several books on war and strategy. His war memoirs were translated into English as The German General staff and Its Critical Decisions, 1914–1916 (1919).[21] With the benefit of hindsight, he remarked that the German declarations of war on Russia and France in 1914 were "justifiable but overly-hasty and unnecessary".[22] Falkenhayn died in 1922, at Schloss Lindstedt, near Potsdam and was buried in Potsdam.[4]

Family life

In 1886 Falkenhayn married Ida Selkmann, with whom he had a son Fritz Georg Adalbert von Falkenhayn (1890–1973) and a daughter Erika Karola Olga von Falkenhayn (1904–1975) who married Henning von Tresckow (1901–1944), an officer who helped organise the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler.


Falkenhayn in many ways typified the Prussian generals; a militarist in the literal sense, he had undeniable political and military competence and showed contempt for democracy and the representative Reichstag. He addressed the Reichstag in 1914, saying, "Only through the fact that the Prussian army is removed by the constitution from the party struggle and the influence of ambitious party leaders has it become what it is: the secure defence of peace at home and abroad."[23]

Militarily, Falkenhayn had a mixed record. His offensive at Verdun proved a strategic failure. During the campaign against Romania in 1916 Falkenhayn demonstrated considerable skill in command of the German 9th Army, driving the Romanians from Transylvania, breaking through the Southern Carpathians and forcing the shattered Romanian forces north-east into Moldavia.[24] His defence of Palestine in 1917 was also a failure but his forces, overwhelmingly Ottoman in composition, were outnumbered and outclassed and casualties were fairly equal.

Winston Churchill considered him to be the ablest of the German generals in World War I. Dupuy also ranked him near the top of the German commanders, just below Hindenburg and Ludendorff.[25] Foley wrote that Germany's enemies were far more able to apply a strategy of attrition, because they had greater amounts of manpower, industry and economic control over the world, resorting to many of the methods used by Falkenhayn in Russia in 1915 and France in 1916. As the cost of fighting the war increased, the war aims of the Entente expanded, to include the overthrow of the political elites of the Central Powers and the ability to dictate peace to a comprehensively defeated enemy, which was achieved by a strategy of attrition.[26]

All sources portray Falkenhayn as a loyal, honest and punctilious friend and superior. His positive legacy is his conduct during the war in Palestine in 1917. As his biographer Holger Afflerbach [de] wrote, "An inhuman excess against the Jews in Palestine was prevented only by Falkenhayn's conduct, which against the background of the German history of the 20th century has a special meaning, and one that distinguishes Falkenhayn."[27]


He received the following decorations and awards:[4]

See also


  1. ^ Messenger 2001, pp. 165–166.
  2. ^ Herwig & Hamilton 2004, p. 72.
  3. ^ Afflerbach 1996, p. 9.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Erich Georg Alexander Sebastien von Falkenhayn". the Prussian Machine. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e Tucker 2016, pp. 63–65.
  6. ^ Biographie, Deutsche. "Falkenhayn, Erich von - Deutsche Biographie". (in German). Retrieved 14 December 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Falkenhayn, Erich von | International Encyclopedia of the First World War (WW1)". Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  8. ^ Herwig & Hamilton 2004, p. 71.
  9. ^ TIMES, Special Cable to THE NEW YORK (14 December 1914). "FALKENHAYN YOUNGEST CHIEF; Won a Reputation Defending Army After Zabern Incident". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  10. ^ Bruns 2014, pp. 31–32.
  11. ^ Proceedings of the Military History Symposium, USAF Academy. 1969. p. 44.
  12. ^ The Star and Sentinel. The Star and Sentinel.
  13. ^ NN (1917). "2". Zeitung der 10. Armee (in German). doi:10.11588/DIGLIT.12997.
  14. ^ Falkenhayn 2009, p. 42-43.
  15. ^ Falkenhayn 2009, p. 47-48.
  16. ^ Scheer, Reinhard (1920). Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War. p. 55.
  17. ^ Andrews, Evan. "10 Things You May Not Know About the Battle of Verdun". HISTORY. Retrieved 4 December 2021.
  18. ^ a b Smith, Audoin-Rouzeau & Becker 2003, p. 82.
  19. ^ Cowley & Parker 1996, p. 361.
  20. ^ a b Did a German Officer Prevent the Massacre of the Jews of Eretz Yisrael during World War I?, Jewish Ideas Daily version of The Jerusalem Post Magazine article from 9 December 2011
  21. ^ Falkenhayn 2009, pp. 1–336.
  22. ^ Falkenhayn 2009, p. 96.
  23. ^ Craig 1956, pp. 253–254.
  24. ^ Tucker 2014, p. 231.
  25. ^ Cowley & Parker 1996, p. 915.
  26. ^ Foley 2007, p. 268.
  27. ^ Afflerbach 1994, p. 485.
  28. ^ "Hof- und Staatshandbuch des Herzogtums Braunschweig für das Jahr 1908". (1908). In Hof- und Staatshandbuch des Herzogtums Braunschweig (Vol. 1908). Meyer. p. 17
  29. ^ Hof- und Staats-Handbuch des Großherzogtum Baden (1910), "Großherzogliche Orden", p. 202
  30. ^ "Ritter-Orden: Oesterreichsch-kaiserlicher Leopold-orden", Hof- und Staatshandbuch der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie, 1918, p. 75, retrieved 5 February 2021
  31. ^ "Ritter-Orden: Königlich-ungarischer St. Stephan-orden", Hof- und Staatshandbuch der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie, 1918, p. 56, retrieved 5 February 2021


Further reading

  • Ritter, Gerhard (1972). The Sword and the Scepter: The Problem of Militarism in Germany: The Tragedy of Statesmanship–Bethmann Hollweg as War Chancellor [Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk: das Problem des Militarismus in Deutschland. Dritter Band: Die Tragödie der Staatskunst Bethmann Hollweg als Kriegskanzler (1914–1917)]. Vol. III (trans. ed.). Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press. ISBN 978-0-87024-182-6.
  • Watson, Alexander (2008). Enduring the Great War: Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British armies, 1914–1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-52188-101-2.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by Prussian Minister of War
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New Formation
Commander, 9th Army
6 September 1916 – 1 May 1917
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New Formation
Commander, Ottoman Army Group F
20 July 1917 – 6 February 1918
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commander, 10th Army
5 March 1918 – 6 January 1919
Succeeded by
This page was last edited on 30 June 2022, at 12:38
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