Moltke’s influence on industrial war
Here’s a contribution from a reader. This is part III of the 8 part series on industrial warfare generals.
When discussing industrial military leaders, it is almost impossible to leave out Helmuth von Moltke (the Elder). This Prussian and Chief of the German General Staff took many of the practices of Napoleon and the theories of Clausewitz to utilize and institutionalize mobilization and, with the help of Albrecht von Roon and Otto von Bismarck, to unify Germany and change the face of Europe forever. His theory of warfare, clearly stated in the quote below and written in 1880, foreshadows what war would look like for the next 65 years and beyond (in the form of inter-state industrial warfare):
The greatest good deed in war is the speedy ending of the war, and every means to that end, so long as it is not reprehensible, must remain open. In no way can I declare myself in agreement with the Declaration of St. Petersburg that the sole justifiable measure in war is “the weakening of the enemy’s military power.” No, all the sources of support for the hostile government must be considered, its finances, railroads, foodstuffs, even its prestige.
Moltke built on the tactics of Napoleon in that he would mobilize his troops in smaller units (rather than one large force mobilizing to meet another large farce) so that his commanders could both conceal troop movements and react to a ever-changing battlefield. This gave his commanders the ability to coordinate in order to strike at weak points in an enemy’s position and divert an attack around enemy fortifications. Moltke’s ideas would inspire the Schlieffen Plan, Nazi Blitzkrieg, and the mobile warfare tactics of most nation-states thereafter.
The theories of strategy and tactics laid out here would influence a new paradigm of war fighting shown in, among others, the unification wars of Germany, the Franco-Prussian War, two World Wars. His theory of striking at a nation’s industrial base was most exemplified when two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Moltke was no less than the driving influence of how war was fought, what objectives were expected from it, and how the industrial base of states developed around it throughout the entire period of time that we are discussing here; Industrial militaries are still built on these principles and still try to fight wars using the methods he taught us. Whether good or bad, Moltke’s influence is undeniable.