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The German Armies in Modern Era

  • Category(s): Modern Historical Essays
  • Created on : 25 October 2013
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


German Armies - The terrible cost caused by these armies in two World Wars.

1. The Great War

In the 19th Century these armies became supreme in continental Europe in the 1860’s and 1870’s Bismarck’s time. The German military machine effectively started the Great War in the West and East and the Balkans. Once Austro-Hungary was committed to invading Serbia with Germany’s sanction the assassination of the Hapsburg heir: Franz Ferdinand in 1914 (August) the German war machine left nothing to chance. It drove through its neutral neighbour Belgium into France in 1914 to pre-empt a French incursion to support Russia. The East Prussian lands were the jumping off ground for the advance into the East and Tsarist Russian territories – here again the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia made Germany’s Eastern campaign essential or Imperial Russia would invade Germany to support Serbia and France. Serbia was threatened by the Kaiser’s ally Austro-Hungary. The chessboard was set out and the game had begun. The process of the German mobilisations in 1914 and the German strategic planning pre 1914 in all theatres and the alliances entered into by Imperial Germany lead me to believe Germany was intent upon belligerence at the outset of the Great War and before it began. She was unprepared for any negotiations as they would weaken her knockout blow in the West and soften her advance in the East. She was not ready for any dialogue. Thus her implacability and aggressive determination drove the World of Europe into War.

She made no efforts to put out initiatives for France and Russia pre-August 1914 and restrain the outdated Habsburg Empire which had been permitted to tip the continent over the brink into full on conflict, quite unnecessarily. Yet clearly Germany wanted the fight and she got it on the pretext of the Franz Ferdinand assassination by the secretive group the Black Hand. Germany was in the driving seat and not the Dual Monarchy (The Hapsburgs) and Germany would not let the opportunity slip of starting the Great War. She had picked off the Austrian Empire in 1866 (Sadowa) and France 1870/71 (Sedan). Her aggression policy was stated then and repeated in 1914 about 40 years later. With a different regime and High Command in Berlin the Great War with its terrible casualty toll over 4 years may have been avoided. As it was that War was inflicted upon the continent by Germany alone. I have no hesitation in stating that proposition.

2. The Second World War

Again caused by Germany and her territorial ambitions and encroachments on her neighbours in 1938-1940 leading to an Anglo/French response then the USSR defended itself against further German inroads into her territories in 1941. Germany’s military behaviour was aggressive as in 1914. Once again as in 1914 she made no attempt to make peace – she desired war as she did at start of the First War. Her war like intent was abundantly clear.

3. The Performance of the German Armies

In the Great War they operated well in the East and West and knocked out Tsarist Russia in 1917. In the West their early knockout plan in 1914 only narrowly failed (Schlieffen plan). Their Generals had to agree to an armistice (i.e. cease fighting) in 1918 – Germany could take no more punishment and the British Naval blockade starved her out. Their attritional tactics in the West on the Somme and Passchendaele were effective. They could not break through at Verdun in 1916 due to stubborn resistance by Petain’s French Troops despite greater German forces. They did break through in France in March 1918 with stronger forces against the British. The French reserve saved the day as the German troops were neither armoured nor mechanised and could only advance at walking pace. Too slow to clinch a pincer movement as their General Ludendorff apprehended in the event. The Russians had thrown their hand in at Brest – Livotsk in 1917. In the Second World War the German Armies were ground in to the dust to not only the policy of unconditional surrender but Total defeat in Total War. In the East in 1945 they could practically fight no longer and nearly ran out of manpower and equipment due to the overwhelming Red Armies supplied by Britain through the Arctic Ports in the early 1940’s. In the West their armour had also gone and their crack troops were severely weakened. The German army made a good fist of the Berlin Battle despite the enormous weight of the Soviet Armies against them. Of course Wehrmacht had great success all over Europe from 1939-43. They were highly mechanised, disciplined, armoured and supported effectively by Air Power in these first years of the Second World War. They were unstoppable yet Stalingrad was looming in 1942-43 – their comeuppance.

4. Conclusion

There can be no analysis of the German Armies in these two World Wars without complete concentration on the persecution of the Jews in World War II. Yes it did not happen in World War I but the German WW I and WW II military machines honed in that First World War nursed the wish to dominate Europe. Clearly the war machine of World War II was centred upon the World War I operation. The terrible avaricious slaughter in the Camps was possible because of the German WWII military apparatus which itself had sprung from the Prusso- German military general staff in the 1914-1918 War. I argue an atrocious mistake was made in Versailles (1918/1919) not to disable truly Germany’s military capacity indefinitely. If this had been done in 1918/1919 and adhered to six million Jewish lives would have been saved and mainly women and children. The leaders of Britain (Lloyd George) France (Clemenceau) and the USA (Woodrow Wilson):- the victorious powers do not come out of Versailles 1918/1919 with honour. Germany was left with the chance to rearm which she took eagerly. Reparations were never paid. The French troops were forced out of the Ruhr and Rhineland. Why did no one have the sense to look at the cost of German militarism in the Great War? It was not going to die down. Such militarism which was only just defeated in the West in the Great War and was victorious in the East with such enormous casualties on all sides, West and East should never have been permitted to take place ever again. Germany was in charge in the Great War and in particular the German Generals who would not call a halt until 11 November 1918. They were militaristic, aggrandising and aggressive to those massed against her. She simply wanted to dominate Europe in World War I. In the Second World War the persecution of the Jews emerged from a fiercely accusatory regime hell bent again on German military domination of Europe. It does not take a lot of imagination to see that the Holocaust in one shape or form was coming once Germany got back into gear in the 1930’s. By then she could not be disabled militarily. Germany could put up with vast casualties of her own in World War I and likewise she did inflict upon the other belligerents a great casualty toll – it was a short step to gas the Jews and exterminate six million of that race and religion. Make no mistake a nation who conducts herself as Germany did in World War I is going to make the same mistake again and this time cause mass slaughter in some kind – likely to be Jews. It is staring you in the face. It was no aberration: the Holocaust. Germany was under the Nazis in World War II but they lead the same Germany who started and prosecuted World War I. Hitler even fought in World War I. They got their inspiration from the Great War. They never apologised for starting the Great War and endeavouring to win it at such grave cost. The Holocaust was a diabolical policy waiting to happen in a nation committed to mass killing in every shape or form.

5. The Lesson

Never permit an aggrandizing power at the heart of Europe of the nature of World War I Germany to ever again stride the Continent militarily. Fortunately this possibility has dramatically reduced post 1945 in Europe. Bush was entirely right to invade Iraq- an aggressive leader (Saddam) had caused one million deaths in the Iran/ Iraq War, 1980’s, which he had started unprovoked. Like it or not the First World War was caused by unprovoked incursions by Germany into France and Russia. Let us all remember the lesson of the past and above all the senseless slaughter on the Western Front in 1914-18 and the concentration camps’ policy which lead to such loss of life – even greater. Both of which calamities originated from the German unprovoked military machine at work.