War of the Spanish Succession
Great Northern War
War of the Austrian Succession
First Silesian War
Second Silesian War
Seven Years' War
War of the Bavarian Succession
French Revolutionary Wars
World War I
Frederick William I
Frederick the Great
Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz
Gerhard von Scharnhorst
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher
Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg
Carl von Clausewitz
Moltke the Elder
Albrecht von Roon
Paul von Hindenburg
Erich von Falkenhayn
Battle of Hohenfriedberg
Battle of Hohenfriedberg – Attack of Prussian Infantry, 4 June 1745,
by Carl Röchling.
The Royal Prussian
Army (German: Königlich Preußische Armee) served
as the army of the Kingdom of Prussia. It became vital to the
Brandenburg-Prussia as a European power.
Army had its roots in the core mercenary forces of
Brandenburg during the
Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War of 1618–1648. Elector
Frederick William developed it into a viable standing army, while King
Frederick William I of Prussia
Frederick William I of Prussia dramatically increased its size and
improved its doctrines. King Frederick the Great, a formidable battle
commander, led the disciplined Prussian troops to victory during the
Silesian Wars and greatly increased the prestige of the
Kingdom of Prussia.
The army had become outdated by the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars,
and France defeated Prussia in the War of the Fourth Coalition.
However, under the leadership of Gerhard von Scharnhorst, Prussian
reformers began modernizing the Prussian Army, which contributed
greatly to the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte during the War of the
Sixth Coalition. Conservatives halted some of the reforms, however,
and the Prussian
Army subsequently became a bulwark of the
conservative Prussian government.
In the 19th century the Prussian
Army fought successful wars against
Denmark, Austria and France, allowing Prussia to unify Germany and to
German Empire in 1871. The Prussian
Army formed the core
of the Imperial German Army, which was replaced by the Reichswehr
after World War I.
1 The Great Elector
1.1 Creation of the army
1.2 Campaigns of the Great Elector
2 The Soldier-King
3 Frederick the Great
3.1 Silesian Wars
3.2 Third Silesian War
3.3 An army with a country
4 The Napoleonic Wars
4.3 Wars of the Sixth And Seventh Coalition
5 19th century
5.1 Bulwark of conservatism
5.2 Moltke the Elder
5.3 Wars of unification
6 Imperial Germany
8 See also
10 External links
The Great Elector
Creation of the army
Growth of Brandenburg-Prussia, 1600–1795
The army of Prussia grew out of the united armed forces created during
the reign of Elector Frederick William of
Brandenburg-Prussia had primarily relied upon Landsknecht
mercenaries during the Thirty Years' War, in which
devastated. Swedish and Imperial forces occupied the country. In the
spring of 1644, Frederick William started building a standing army
through conscription to better defend his state.
Frederick William, the "Great Elector".
By 1643–44, the developing army numbered only 5,500 troops,
including 500 musketeers in Frederick William's bodyguard. The
elector's confidant Johann von Norprath recruited forces in the Duchy
of Cleves and organized an army of 3,000 Dutch and German soldiers in
Rhineland by 1646. Garrisons were also slowly augmented in
Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia. Frederick William sought
assistance from France, the traditional rival of Habsburg Austria, and
began receiving French subsidies. He based his reforms on those of
Louvois, the War Minister of King Louis XIV of France. The growth
of his army allowed Frederick William to achieve considerable
territorial acquisitions in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, despite
Brandenburg's relative lack of success during the war.
The provincial estates desired a reduction in the army's size during
peacetime, but the elector avoided their demands through political
concessions, evasion and economy. In the 1653
between Frederick William and the estates of Brandenburg, the nobility
provided the sovereign with 530,000 thalers in return for affirmation
of their privileges. The Junkers thus cemented their political power
at the expense of the peasantry. Once the elector and his army were
strong enough, Frederick William was able to suppress the estates of
Cleves, Mark and Prussia.
Frederick William attempted to professionalize his soldiers during a
time when mercenaries were the norm. In addition to individually
creating regiments and appointing colonels, the elector imposed harsh
punishments for transgressions, such as punishing by hanging for
looting, and running the gauntlet for desertion. Acts of violence by
officers against civilians resulted in decommission for a year. He
developed a cadet institution for the nobility; although the upper
class was resistant to the idea in the short term, the integration of
the nobility into the officer corps allied them with the Hohenzollern
monarchy in the long term. Field Marshals of Brandenburg-Prussia
included Derfflinger, John George II, Spaen and Sparr. The elector's
troops traditionally were organized into disconnected provincial
forces. In 1655, Frederick William began the unification of the
various detachments by placing them under the overall command of
Sparr. Unification also increased through the appointment of
Generalkriegskommissar Platen as head of supplies. These measures
decreased the authority of the largely mercenary colonels who had been
so prominent during the Thirty Years' War.
Campaigns of the Great Elector
Brandenburg troops of the infantry regiment of Leopold I, Prince of
Anhalt-Dessau, by Richard Knötel.
Brandenburg-Prussia's new army survived its trial by fire through
victory in the 1656 Battle of Warsaw, during the Northern Wars.
Observers were impressed with the discipline of the Brandenburger
troops, as well as their treatment of civilians, which was considered
more humane than that of their allies, the Swedish Army.
Hohenzollern success enabled Frederick William to assume sovereignty
Duchy of Prussia
Duchy of Prussia in the 1657 Treaty of Wehlau, by which
Brandenburg-Prussia allied itself with the Polish–Lithuanian
Commonwealth. Despite having expelled Swedish forces from the
territory, the elector did not acquire
Vorpommern in the 1660 Treaty
of Oliva, as the balance of power had been restored.
In the early 1670s, Frederick William supported Imperial attempts to
Alsace and counter the expansion of Louis XIV of France.
Swedish troops invaded
Brandenburg in 1674 while the bulk of the
elector's troops were in winter quarters in Franconia. In 1675
Frederick William marched his troops northward and surrounded
Wrangel's troops. The elector achieved his greatest victory in the
Battle of Fehrbellin; although a minor battle, it brought fame to the
Brandenburg-Prussian army and gave Frederick William the nickname "the
Great Elector". After Sweden invaded Prussia in late 1678, Frederick
William's forces expelled the Swedish invaders during "the Great
Sleigh Drive" of 1678–79;
Thomas Carlyle compared the wintertime
Swedish retreat to that of Napoleon from Moscow.
Frederick William built the Hohenzollern army up to a peacetime size
of 7,000 and a wartime size of 15,000–30,000. Its success in
battle against Sweden and Poland increased Brandenburg-Prussia's
prestige, while also allowing the Great Elector to pursue absolutist
policies against estates and towns. In his political testament of
1667, the elector wrote, "Alliances, to be sure, are good, but forces
of one's own still better. Upon them one can rely with more security,
and a lord is of no consideration if he does not have means and troops
of his own".
The growing power of the Hohenzollerns in Berlin led Frederick
William's son and successor, Elector Frederick III (1688–1713), to
Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia with himself as King Frederick I in
1701. Although he emphasized
Baroque opulence and the arts in
imitation of Versailles, the new king recognized that the importance
of the army and continued its expansion to 40,000 men.
Frederick William I, the "Soldier-King", painting by Antoine Pesne
Frederick I was succeeded by his son, Frederick William I
(1713–1740), the "Soldier-King" obsessed with the army and achieving
self-sufficiency for his country. The new king dismissed most of the
artisans from his father's court and granted military officers
precedence over court officials. Ambitious and intelligent young men
began to enter the military instead of law and administration.
Conscription among the peasantry was more firmly enforced, based on
the Swedish model. Frederick William I wore his simple blue
military uniform at court, a style henceforth imitated by the rest of
the Prussian court and his royal successors. In Prussia, pigtails
replaced the full-bottomed wigs common at most German courts.
Frederick William I had begun his military innovations in his
Kronprinz regiment during the War of the Spanish Succession. His
friend, Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, served as the royal drill
sergeant for the Prussian Army. Leopold introduced the iron ramrod,
increasing Prussian firepower, and the slow march, or goose-step. He
also vastly increased the role of music in the Army, dedicating a
large number of musician-troops, especially drummers and fifers, to
use music for increasing morale in battle. The usefulness of music in
battles was first recognized in the Thirty-years War by the
Brandenburger and Swedish armies. The new king trained and drilled the
Army relentlessly, focusing on the firing speed of their flintlock
muskets and formation maneuverability. The changes gave the army
flexibility, precision, and a rate of fire that was largely unequaled
for that time period. Through drilling and the iron ramrod, each
soldier was expected to fire six times in a minute, three times as
fast as most armies.
Punishments were draconian in nature, such as running the
gauntlet, and despite the threat of hanging, many peasant
conscripts deserted when they could. Uniforms and weaponry were
standardized. Pigtails and, in those regiments which wore it,
facial hair were to be of uniform length within a regiment;
soldiers who could not adequately grow beards or moustaches were
expected to paint an outline on their faces.
Frederick William I reduced the size of Frederick I's gaudy royal
guard to a single regiment, a troop of taller-than-average soldiers
known as the
Potsdam Giants or more commonly the Lange Kerls ("long
fellows"), which he privately funded. The cavalry was reorganized
into 55 squadrons of 150 horses; the infantry was turned into 50
battalions (25 regiments); and the artillery consisted of two
battalions. These changes allowed him to increase the army from 39,000
to 45,000 troops; by the end of Frederick William I's reign, the
army had doubled in size. The General War Commissary, responsible
for the army and revenue, was removed from interference by the estates
and placed strictly under the control of officials appointed by the
Frederick William I restricted enrollment in the officer corps to
Germans of noble descent and compelled the Junkers, the Prussian
landed aristocracy, to serve in the army, Although initially
reluctant about the army, the nobles eventually saw the officer corps
as its natural profession. Until 1730 the common soldiers
consisted largely of serfs recruited or impressed from Brandenburg,
Pomerania and East Prussia, leading many to flee to neighboring
countries. In order to halt this trend, Frederick William I
divided Prussia into regimental cantons. Every youth was required to
serve as a soldier in these recruitment districts for three months
each year; this met agrarian needs and added troops to bolster the
The General Directory which developed during Frederick William I's
reign continued the absolutist tendencies of his grandfather and
collected the increased taxes necessary for the expanded military.
The middle class of the towns was required to quarter soldiers and
enroll in the bureaucracy. Because the excise tax was only applied in
towns, the king was reluctant to engage in war, as deployment of his
expensive army in foreign lands would have deprived him of taxes from
the town-based military.
By the end of Frederick William I's reign, Prussia had the
fourth-largest army (80,000 soldiers) in Europe, but was twelfth in
population size (2.5 million). This was maintained with a budget of
five million thalers (out of a total state budget of seven million
Frederick the Great
Storming of the breach by Prussian troops during the Battle of
Leuthen, 1757, by Carl Röchling.
Frederick William I was succeeded by his son, Frederick II ("the
Great") (1740–86). Frederick immediately disbanded the expensive
Potsdam Giants and used their funding to create seven new regiments
and 10,000 troops. The new king also added sixteen battalions, five
squadrons of hussars, and a squadron of life guards.
Disregarding the Pragmatic Sanction, Frederick began the Silesian Wars
shortly after taking the throne. Although the inexperienced king
retreated from the battle, the Prussian
Army achieved victory over
Austria in the
Battle of Mollwitz
Battle of Mollwitz (1741) under the leadership of Field
Marshal Schwerin. The Prussian cavalry under Schulenburg had performed
poorly at Mollwitz; the cuirassiers, originally trained on heavy
horses, were subsequently retrained on more maneuverable, lighter
horses. The hussars and dragoons of General Zieten were also expanded.
These changes led to a Prussian victory at Chotusitz (1742) in
Bohemia, and Austria conceded Silesia to Frederick with the Peace of
In September 1743, Frederick held the first fall maneuver
(Herbstübung), in which the different branches of the
Army tested new
formations and tactics; the fall maneuvers become annual traditions of
the Prussian Army. Austria tried to reclaim Silesia in the Second
Silesian War. Although successful in outmaneuvering Frederick in 1744,
the Austrians were crushed by the king himself in the Battle of
Hohenfriedberg and the
Battle of Soor
Battle of Soor (1745). The Prussian cavalry
excelled during the battle, especially the Zieten-Hussars. For his
great services at Hohenfriedberg the good friend of King Frederick,
Hans Karl von Winterfeldt, rose to prominence.
Frederick the Great, print by Richard Knötel.
Third Silesian War
Further information: Seven Years' War
Austria allied with its traditional rival, France, in the Diplomatic
Revolution (1756); Austria, France, and Russia were all aligned
against Prussia. Frederick preemptively attacked his enemies with an
army of 150,000, beginning the Seven Years' War. The Austrian
been reformed by Kaunitz, and the improvements showed in their success
over Prussia at Kolin. Frederick achieved one of his greatest
victories, however, at Rossbach, where the Prussian cavalry of
Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz
Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz smashed a larger Franco-Imperial army
with minimal casualties, despite being outnumbered two to one.
Frederick then rushed eastward to Silesia, where Austria had defeated
the Prussian army under the Duke of Bevern. After a series of
complicated formations and deployments hidden from the Austrians, the
Prussians successfully struck their enemy's flank at Leuthen, with
Friedrich once again directing the battle; the Austrian position in
the province collapsed, resulting in a Prussian victory even more
impressive than the one at Rossbach.
The Pour le Mérite, introduced by King
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great in 1740.
Frederick's maneuvers were unsuccessful against the Russians in the
bloody Battle of Zorndorf, however, and Prussian forces were crushed
at Kunersdorf (1759). Like the results after the Battle of Hochkirch,
though, in which the Prussians had to withdraw, the Austrian and
Russian Allies did not follow up on their victory. Within the week,
the Russian force began a withdrawal eastward; Austrians withdrew
Prussia was ill-suited for lengthy wars, and a Prussian collapse
seemed imminent on account of casualties and lack of resources, but
after two more years of campaigning, Frederick was saved by the
"Miracle of the House of Brandenburg" — the Russian exit from the
war after the sudden death of Empress Elizabeth in 1762. Prussian
control of Silesia was confirmed in the
Treaty of Hubertusburg
Treaty of Hubertusburg (1763).
Severe casualties had led the king to admit middle class officers
during the war, but this trend was reversed afterwards.
The offensive-minded Frederick advocated the oblique order of battle,
which required considerable discipline and mobility. This tactic
failed at Kunersdorf largely because of the terrain, which could not
be used to an advantage, and because the Russians had arrived early
and fortified themselves on the high ground. Frederick used oblique
order to great success at Hohenfriedberg and later Leuthen. After
a few initial salvos, the infantry was to advance quickly for a
bayonet charge. The Prussian cavalry was to attack as a large
formation with swords before the opposing cavalry could attack.
An army with a country
Death's Head Hussar, print by Richard Knötel.
The first garrison began construction in Berlin in 1764. While
Frederick William I wanted to have a mostly native-born army,
Frederick II wanted to have a mostly foreign-born army, preferring to
have native Prussians be taxpayers and producers. The Prussian
army consisted of 187,000 soldiers in 1776, 90,000 of whom were
Prussian subjects in central and eastern Prussia. The remainder were
foreign (both German and non-German) volunteers or conscripts.
Frederick established the Gardes du Corps as the royal guard. Many
troops were disloyal, such as mercenaries or those acquired through
impressment, while troops recruited from the canton system displayed
strong regional, and nascent national, pride. During the Seven
Years' War, the elite regiments of the army were almost entirely
composed of native Prussians.
By the end of Frederick's reign, the army had become an integral part
of Prussian society and numbered 200,000 soldiers. The social classes
were all expected to serve the state and its army — the nobility led
the army, the middle class supplied the army, and the peasants
composed the army. Minister
Friedrich von Schrötter remarked
that, "Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a
The Napoleonic Wars
A standard of the Prussian
Army used before 1807.
Main article: Royal Prussian
Army of the Napoleonic Wars
Frederick the Great's successor, his nephew Frederick William II
(1786–97), relaxed conditions in Prussia and had little interest in
war. He delegated responsibility to the aged Charles William
Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, and the army began to degrade in
quality. Led by veterans of the Silesian Wars, the Prussian
ill-equipped to deal with Revolutionary France. The officers retained
the same training, tactics and weaponry used by Frederick the Great
some forty years earlier. In comparison, the revolutionary army of
France, especially under Napoleon Bonaparte, was developing new
methods of organization, supply, mobility, and command.
Prussia withdrew from the
First Coalition in the Peace of Basel
(1795), ceding the Rhenish territories to France. Upon Frederick
William II's death in 1797, the state was bankrupt and the army
outdated. He was succeeded by his son, Frederick William III
(1797–1840), who involved Prussia in the disastrous Fourth
Coalition. The Prussian
Army was decisively defeated in the battles of
Saalfeld, Jena and Auerstedt in 1806. The Prussians' famed discipline
collapsed and led to widescale surrendering among infantry, cavalry
and garrisons. While some Prussian commanders acquitted themselves
well, such as L'Estocq at Eylau, Gneisenau at Kolberg, and Blücher at
Lübeck, they were not enough to reverse Jena-Auerstedt. Prussia
submitted to major territorial losses, a standing army of only 42,000
men, and an alliance with France in the Treaty of Tilsit (1807).
Meeting of the reformers in
Königsberg in 1807, by Carl Röchling.
The defeat of the disorganized army shocked the Prussian
establishment, which had largely felt invincible after the Frederician
victories. While Stein and Hardenberg began modernizing the Prussian
state, Scharnhorst began to reform the military. He led a Military
Reorganization Committee, which included Gneisenau, Grolman, Boyen,
and the civilians Stein and Könen. Clausewitz assisted with the
reorganization as well. Dismayed by the populace's indifferent
reaction to the 1806 defeats, the reformers wanted to cultivate
patriotism within the country. Stein's reforms abolished serfdom
in 1807 and initiated local city government in 1808.
Gerhard von Scharnhorst.
The generals of the army were completely overhauled — of the 143
Prussian generals in 1806, only Blücher and Tauentzien remained by
the Sixth Coalition; many were allowed to redeem their reputations
in the war of 1813. The officer corps was reopened to the middle
class in 1808, while advancement into the higher ranks became based on
education. King Frederick William III created the War Ministry
in 1809, and Scharnhorst founded an officers training school, the
later Prussian War Academy, in Berlin in 1810.
Scharnhorst advocated adopting the levée en masse, the universal
military conscription used by France. He created the Krümpersystem,
by which companies replaced 3–5 men monthly, allowing up to 60 extra
men to be trained annually per company. This system granted the
army a larger reserve of 30,000–150,000 extra troops. The
Krümpersystem was also the beginning of short-term (3 years')
compulsory service in Prussia, as opposed to the long-term (5 to 10
years') conscription previously used since the 1650s. Because the
occupying French prohibited the Prussians from forming divisions, the
Army was divided into six brigades, each consisting of seven
to eight infantry battalions and twelve squadrons of cavalry. The
combined brigades were supplemented with three brigades of
Corporal punishment was by and large abolished, while soldiers were
trained in the field and in tirailleur tactics. Scharnhorst promoted
the integration of the infantry, cavalry, artillery, and
engineers(sappers) through combined arms, as opposed to their previous
independent states. Equipment and tactics were updated in respect to
the Napoleonic campaigns. The field manual issued by Yorck in 1812
emphasized combined arms and faster marching speeds. In 1813,
Scharnhorst succeeded in attaching a chief of staff trained at the
academy to each field commander.
Some reforms were opposed by Frederician traditionalists, such as
Yorck, who felt that middle class officers would erode the privileges
of the aristocratic officer corps and promote the ideas of the French
Revolution. The army reform movement was cut short by
Scharnhorst's death in 1813, and the shift to a more democratic and
middle class military began to lose momentum in the face of the
Wars of the Sixth And Seventh Coalition
The Iron Cross, introduced by King Frederick William III in 1813.
Prussian hussars in the Battle of Leipzig, 1813.
The reformers and much of the public called for Frederick William III
to ally with the
Austrian Empire in its 1809 campaign against France.
When the cautious king refused to support a new Prussian war, however,
Schill led his hussar regiment against the occupying French, expecting
to provoke a national uprising. The king considered Schill a mutineer,
and the major's rebellion was crushed at
Stralsund by French
allies. The Franco-Prussian treaty of 1812 forced Prussia to
provide 20,000 troops to Napoleon's Grande Armée, first under the
leadership of Grawert and then under Yorck. The French occupation of
Prussia was reaffirmed, and 300 demoralized Prussian officers resigned
During Napoleon's retreat from Russia in 1812, Yorck independently
Convention of Tauroggen
Convention of Tauroggen with Russia, breaking the
Franco-Prussian alliance. Stein arrived in East Prussia and led the
raising of a Landwehr, or militia to defend the province. With
Prussia's joining of the Sixth Coalition out of his hands, Frederick
William III quickly began to mobilize the army, and the East Prussian
Landwehr was duplicated in the rest of the country. In comparison to
1806, the Prussian populace, especially the middle class, was
supportive of the war, and thousands of volunteers joined the army.
Prussian troops under the leadership of Blücher and Gneisenau proved
vital at the Battles of Leipzig (1813) and Waterloo (1815). Later
staff officers were impressed with the simultaneous operations of
separate groups of the Prussian Army.
Iron Cross was introduced as a military decoration by King
Frederick William III in 1813. After the publication of his On War,
Clausewitz became a widely studied philosopher of war.
Bulwark of conservatism
Expansion of Prussia (1807–1871)
The German General Staff, which developed out of meetings of the Great
Elector with his senior officers and the informal meeting of the
Napoleonic Era reformers, was formally created in 1814. In the same
year Boyen and Grolman drafted a law for universal conscription, by
which men would successively serve in the standing army, the Landwehr
and the local
Landsturm until the age of 39. Troops of the
156,000-strong standing army served for three years and were in the
reserves for two, while militiamen of the 163,000-strong Landwehr
served a few weeks annually for seven years. Boyen and Blücher
strongly supported the 'civilian army' of the Landwehr, which was to
unite military and civilian society, as an equal to the standing
During a constitutional crisis in 1819, Frederick William III
recognized Prussia's adherence to the anti-revolutionary Carlsbad
Decrees. Conservative forces within Prussia, such as Wittgenstein,
remained opposed to conscription and the more democratic Landwehr.
Frederick William III reduced the militia's size and placed it under
the control of the regular army in 1819, leading to the resignations
of Boyen and Grolman and the ending of the reform movement. Boyen's
ideal of an enlightened citizen soldier was replaced with the idea of
a professional military separate or alienated from civilian
The storming of the Frankfurt barricades by Prussian-supported Hessian
troops in 1848.
By the middle of the 19th century, Prussia was seen by many German
Liberals as the country best-suited to unify the many German states,
but the conservative government used the army to repress liberal and
democratic tendencies during the 1830s and 1840s. Liberals resented
the usage of the army in essentially police actions. King Frederick
William IV (1840–61) initially appeared to be a liberal ruler, but
he was opposed to issuing the written constitution called for by
reformers. When barricades were raised in Berlin during the 1848
revolution, the king reluctantly agreed to the creation of a civilian
defense force (Bürgerwehr) in his capital. A national assembly to
write a constitution was convened for the first time, but its slowness
allowed the reactionary forces to regroup. Wrangel led the reconquest
of Berlin, which was supported by a middle class weary of a people's
revolution. Prussian troops were subsequently used to suppress the
revolution in many other German cities.
At the end of 1848, Frederick William finally issued the Constitution
of the Kingdom of Prussia. The liberal opposition secured the creation
of a parliament, but the constitution was largely a conservative
document reaffirming the monarchy's predominance. The army was a
praetorian guard outside of the constitution, subject only to the
Prussian Minister of War
Prussian Minister of War was the only soldier required
to swear an oath defending the constitution, leading ministers such as
Strotha, Bonin and Waldersee to be criticized by either the king or
the parliament, depending on their political views. The army's
budget had to be approved by the Lower House of Parliament. Novels and
memoirs glorifying the army, especially its involvement in the
Napoleonic Wars, began to be published to sway public opinion. The
defeat at Olmütz of the liberals' plan to unite Germany through
Prussia encouraged reactionary forces. In 1856 during peacetime
Army consisted of 86,436 infantrymen, 152 cavalry squadrons
and 9 artillery regiments.
After Frederick William IV suffered a stroke, his brother William I
became regent (1857) and king (1861–88). He desired to reform the
army, which conservatives such as Roon considered to have degraded
since 1820 because of liberalism. The king wanted to expand the
army—while the populace had risen from 10 million to 18 million
since 1820, the annual army recruits had remained 40,000. Although
Bonin opposed Roon's desired weakening of the Landwehr, William I was
alarmed by the nationalistic Second Italian War of Independence. Bonin
resigned as Minister of War and was replaced with Roon.
Bismarck, Roon and Moltke in the 1860s.
The government submitted Roon's army reform bill in February 1860.
Parliament opposed many of its provisions, especially the weakening of
the Landwehr, and proposed a revised bill that did away with many of
the government's desired reforms. The Finance Minister, Patow,
abruptly withdrew the bill on 5 May and instead simply requested a
provisional budgetary increase of 9 million thalers, which was
granted. William had already begun creating 'combined regiments'
to replace the Landwehr, a process which increased after Patow
acquired the additional funds. Although
Parliament was opposed to
these actions, William maintained the new regiments with the guidance
of Manteuffel. The liberal and middle-class
Landwehr was thus
subordinated in favor of the regular army, which was composed mostly
of peasantry loyal to the Hohenzollern monarchy and conservative
Moltke the Elder
Moltke the Elder, Chief of the
General Staff from 1857–88,
modernized the Prussian
Army during his tenure. He expanded the
General Staff, creating peacetime subdivisions such as the
Mobilization, Geographical-Statistical and Military History
Sections. In 1869, he issued a handbook for warfare on the
operational level, Instructions for Large Unit Commanders, writing,
"The modern conduct of war is marked by the striving for a great and
rapid decision". Moltke was a strong proponent of war game
training for officers and introduced the breech-loading needle gun
to troops, which allowed them to fire significantly faster than their
adversaries. Moltke took advantage of the railroad, guiding the
construction of rail lines within Prussia to likely places of
deployment. Because modern armies had become too large and
unwieldy for a single commander to control, Moltke supported multiple
and independent smaller armies in concentric operations. Once one army
encountered the enemy and pinned it down, a second army would arrive
and attack the enemy's flank or rear. He advocated a
Kesselschlacht, or battle of encirclement.
It was in Moltke's Instructions for Large Unit Commanders and his
concept of separated armies that we begin to see the emergence of
modern German doctrine. The system of moving units separately and
concentrating as an army before a battle resulted in more efficient
supply and lower vulnerability to modern firepower. To enable a
successful flanking attack, he asserted that concentration could only
take place after the commencement of a battle. This was a development
of the Scharnhorst concept of "March Divided, Fight United."
A major consequence of this innovation was the commander's loss of
overall control of his forces due to his available means of
communication which, at that time were visual (line-of-sight) or
couriers, either mounted or on foot. The traditional concept of the
elimination of uncertainty by means of "total obedience" was now
obsolete and operational initiative, direction and control had to be
assigned to a point further down the chain of command. In this new
concept, commanders of distant detachments were required to exercise
initiative in their decision making and von Moltke emphasised the
benefits of developing officers who could do this within the limits of
the senior commander’s intention.
At the same time Moltke had worked out the conditions of the march and
supply of an army. Only one army corps could be moved along one road
in the same day; to put two or three corps on the same road meant that
the rear corps could not be made use of in a battle at the front.
Several corps stationed close together in a small area could not be
fed for more than a day or two. Accordingly, he inferred that the
essence of strategy lay in arrangements for the separation of the
corps for marching and their concentration in time for battle. In
order to make a large army manageable, it must be broken up into
separate armies or groups of corps, each group under a commander
authorized to regulate its movements and action subject to the
instructions of the commander-in-chief as regards the direction and
purpose of its operations.
Moltke's main thesis was that military strategy had to be understood
as a system of options since only the beginning of a military
operation was plannable. As a result, he considered the main task of
military leaders to consist in the extensive preparation of all
possible outcomes. His thesis can be summed up by two statements, one
famous and one less so, translated into English as No plan of
operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the
enemy's main strength (no plan survives contact with the enemy).
Strategy is a system of expedients.
However, as can be seen from the descriptions of his planning for the
war with Austria and the war with France, his planning for war was
very detailed and took into account thousands of variables. It is a
mistake to think that Moltke thought war plans were of no use (which a
simple reading of "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy"
would seem to indicate).
Moltke originated the use of the colors blue for friendly forces and
red for hostile forces in strategy or wargaming. Hence the term blue
on blue fire in friendly fire situations.
He accomplished this by means of directives stating his intentions,
rather than detailed orders, and he was willing to accept deviations
from a directive provided that it was within the general framework of
the mission. Von Moltke held this view firmly and it later became a
fundamental of all German military theory.
Wars of unification
Battle of Königgrätz, 1866, by Georg Bleibtreu.
Army crushed Danish forces in the Battle of Dybbøl
Second Schleswig War
Second Schleswig War (1864), allowing Prussia and Austria
Schleswig and Holstein, respectively. Disputes orchestrated
by the Prussian Minister President, Otto von Bismarck, led to the
Austro-Prussian War (1866). The needle guns of the Prussian infantry
were highly successful against the Austrians, who were defeated at
Königgrätz. Under the leadership of Moltke, the Prussian
proved victorious over France in the
Franco-Prussian War (1870).
Unlike the Austrians, the French had the powerful
which outclassed the Prussian needle gun. However, the Prussian
artillery was effective against the French, who were frequently
flanked or surrounded by the mobile Prussians.
Patriotism in Prussia
from the victories began to undermine liberal resistance to
The battlefield successes of Prussia allowed the unification of
Germany in 1871 and the crowning of King William I of Prussia as
William I, German Emperor. The Prussian
Army formed the main component
of the Reichsheer, the army of the German Empire.
Emperor William II reviews Prussian troops, by Carl Röchling.
The Imperial German
Army inherited much of the traditions and concepts
of the Prussian Army, which was its largest component army. According
to article 61 of the Imperial constitution, the Prussian military code
was to be introduced throughout the German Reich. The conservative
leaders of the army took an ever-increasing role in both domestic and
By the end of the 19th century, most Prussian officers could be
divided into two groups: those who argued for boldness and
self-sacrifice, and those who advocated technology and maneuver in
order to minimize casualties. First encountered during the
Franco-Prussian War, new technological military innovations such as
the machine gun increased the power of defensive units. For the
Prussians, who advocated offensive operations, infantry attacks would
risk becoming sacrificial assaults.
With regard to a possible future two-front war, Schlieffen, the Chief
General Staff from 1891–1906, had suggested a deployment
scheme which became known as the Schlieffen Plan. Modified by Moltke
the Younger, its intention of quickly defeating France proved
impossible to achieve. In the actual event of the first world war; on
the Western Front, the German advance stalled into trench warfare
after the First Battle of the Marne. On the Eastern Front, however,
the Prussian operations succeeded in encircling and smashing the
Russians at Tannenberg. Unable to break through the French and British
lines on the Western Front, the
Germans eventually lost the war of
The Imperial German
Army was replaced after
World War I
World War I with the
Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic. Although the Treaty of
Versailles attempted to disarm Germany, the
maintained many of the traditions of the Prussian Army. The General
Staff was camouflaged as a non-descript
Truppenamt (troop office),
while the War Academy was replaced with decentralized divisional
schools. Seeckt, the head of the Reichswehr, designated the new
military's battalions as successors of the traditions of Prussian
During the interwar era, German officers contemplated how to apply
maneuver warfare after the experiences of the Great War. Innovations
in armor and air were adopted to the war of movement, resulting in the
doctrine of Blitzkrieg.
Since the 17th century, the army of
characterized by its initiative, maneuverability, and aggressive
command at the operational level of war. The Hohenzollern state often
had fewer resources and manpower than its rivals, and thus the
Prussians focused on quickly achieving a decisive victory to avoid a
war of attrition. The Prussians practiced what became known as
Bewegungskrieg, or war of movement, in an attempt to strike at the
flanks or rear of the enemy. The Prussian emphasis on decisive
battles instead of wars of attrition led to its being inexperienced in
siege warfare, at which the Prussians have been considered
The Great Elector practiced many of the concepts applied to the
Army in later centuries, including flank attacks at Warsaw
and, at Fehrbellin, the willingness to attack when outnumbered.
The elector advocated campaigns that were "short and lively".
During the 1740s,
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great issued a series of new
regulations and documents regarding his army's experiences during the
first two Silesian wars and how they would relate to future wars. The
doctrines he espoused focused on speed and offense. Lighter and faster
cavalry were preferred over heavy cavalry; while hussars were treated
as luxury troops by Frederick William I, his son made them an integral
part of the army. The artillery was to use light three-pound guns
which made up for their lack of power with versatility. After
being outmaneuvered by the Austrians in the Second Silesian War,
Frederick began emphasizing an overwhelming attack instead of a war of
attrition. Rather than frontal attacks, the Prussian king tried to
apply the oblique order, by which his army's strongest wing was
focused against the enemy's weakest wing or flank, while restraining
his own weaker wing.
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great summed up the Prussian
style of war at Leuthen, advocating an attack on the enemy "even if he
should be on top of the Zobtenberg".
The Prussian emphasis on attack was well-ingrained in its officer
corps. Flies unsuccessfully went on the offensive in the Battle of
Langensalza, despite being outnumbered by the Hanoverians and having
Falckenstein's troops nearby. Similarly, Kirchbach was willing to
endure excessive casualties at Wörth without waiting for
reinforcements. Moltke wanted a quick campaign in
Austria so that Russia or France would not become involved in the
Austro-Prussian war. Although Moltke considered Prince Frederick
Charles' march through
Bohemia to be too slow,
Hans Delbrück found
the "Red Prince's" eventual attack at Königgrätz to have been in the
Prussian tradition, "which, by daring to lose a battle, wins it".
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck wearing a cuirassier officer's metal Pickelhaube.
The Prussian-style war of movement and quick strikes was well-designed
for campaigns using the developed infrastructure of Western and
Central Europe, such as the wars of unification, but failed when it
was applied by the German
Army to the Soviet Union and Northern
Africa. The Prussian and later German systems were regarded as
weak in intelligence, counterintelligence, and logistics, but during
the First World War the German
Army was often able to lay its hands on
British and French battleplans. If the enemy successfully endured the
initial operational attacks, the Prussian system had great difficulty
in Stellungskrieg, or war of position, though during the First World
War those were not as pronounced.
Army is often considered to have used the flexible
Auftragstaktik (mission tactics), by which subordinate
officers led using personal initiative. This developed out of the
relationship between the
Junker aristocracy, who made up most of the
officer corps, and the monarchy. In return for political support from
the nobles, the monarchs granted them greater privileges on their
estates and greater initiative on the battlefield. According to the
theory of Auftragstaktik, the commander would issue a mission to his
subordinate officers, who were to pursue the directive as they saw
fit. Gneisenau was an early proponent of Auftragstaktik, and
Moltke interpreted the theory as "the higher the authority, the
shorter and more general" the orders; considerable leeway was
granted to subordinates in order to pursue the goal. 19th-century
historians saw Leuthen as one of the best examples of
Auftragstaktik and an early example of combined arms.
Often stereotypically associated with the Prussian
Army was the
Pickelhaube, or spiked helmet, in use in the 19th and early 20th
centuries. Victorious battles were celebrated through military
marches, such as the "Hohenfriedberger Marsch", allegedly written by
Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great after Hohenfriedberg, and the "Königgrätzer
Marsch", by the march composer Piefke. The Prussian Großer
Zapfenstreich military tattoo is still in use by the modern
Iron Cross was adopted by the
German Empire and its
successor states, and is also still used as a symbol of the
German General Staff
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Colors of prussian infantry pre
^ a b Citino, p. 6.
^ Koch, p. 49.
^ a b c Koch, p. 59.
^ Craig, p. 3.
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^ Craig, p. 2.
^ Craig, p. 7.
^ MacDonogh, p. 18.
^ a b Craig, p. 12.
^ a b Reiners, p. 17.
^ MacDonogh, p. 23.
^ Reiners, p. 265.
^ Sandro Wiggerich (2011), Der Körper als Uniform. Die Normierung der
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^ a b Koch, p. 79.
^ a b Koch, p. 86.
^ Koch, p. 83.
^ Craig, p. 11.
^ Clark, p. 97.
^ Koch, p. 88.
^ Craig, pp. 14–15.
^ Koch, p. 89.
^ Koch, p. 100.
^ MacDonogh, p. 141.
^ Koch, p. 111.
^ a b Craig, p. 17.
^ Koch, p. 108.
^ Koch, p. 121.
^ Craig, p. 22.
^ Koch, p. 133.
^ Ritter, p. 133.
^ Ritter, p. 134.
^ Blackbourn, p. 17.
^ Fulbrook, p. 52.
^ Citino, p. 110.
^ Citino, pp. 108–09.
^ a b c Citino, p. 128.
^ Craig, p. 40.
^ Craig, p. 41.
^ a b Koch, p. 183.
^ Craig, p. 42.
^ Koch, p. 181.
^ Dierk, Walter. Preussische Heeresreformen 1807–1870: Militärische
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^ Craig, p. 70.
^ Craig, p. 80.
^ Craig, p. 106.
^ Craig, p. 120.
^ Clark, p. 603.
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^ Craig, p. 125.
^ Lech Trzeciakowski, Posłowie polscy w Berlinie 1848–1928, p. 68.
^ Craig, p. 139.
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^ Citino, 148.
^ a b c Citino, p. 150.
^ Citino, p. 151.
^ a b Originally in Moltke, Helmuth, Graf Von, Militarische Werke.
vol. 2, part 2., pp. 33–40. Found in Hughes, Daniel J. (ed.) Moltke
on the Art of War: Selected Writings. (1993). Presidio Press: New
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^ Craig, pp. 190, 217.
^ Clark, p. 558.
^ Geoffrey Wawro. Franco-Prussian War. 2003, in Citino, p. 190.
^ Citino, p. 239.
^ Citino, p. 243.
^ Citino, preface xiii.
^ Citino, preface xiv.
^ Jeremy Black. European Warfare, 1660–1815, 1945, in Citino, p. 69.
^ Citino, p. 30.
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^ Hans Delbrück. Friedrich Karl, in Citino, p. 173.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Military of Prussia.
Grosser-Generalstab.de (in German)
Army of the Napoleonic Wars
Die Regimenter und Bataillone der deutschen Armee (in German)
Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown Univer