Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, February 24, 2020

Blind Spots in the German Army's Interwar Modernization

German Officers at Maneuvers, 1925
General Hans von Seeckt (Center) Was in Charge of Restoring the German Army

From: "The German Army after the Great War" by Geoffrey P. Megargee in Victory or Defeat: Armies in the Aftermath of Conflict

Much has been made of the genius of men such as Heinz Guderian (especially by men such as Heinz Guderian) in forcing a stodgy,conservative military leadership to accept the new gospel of mobile warfare. . . Amidst all this praise of German doctrinal brilliance, however, one should remember that the First World War offered some operational lessons that escaped the Germans completely. rue, they did gradually develop a way to return operational maneuver to the battlefield, but there is more to the operational level of war than maneuver. Perhaps most important, the Germans failed to develop any deep understanding of the role of logistics, either in terms of their own capabilities or as a consideration in striking at the enemy. They never could escape a mind-set that put the scheme of maneuver before all else. They only thought about logistics—or "supply," the term they actually used, and a much more limited idea—after they developed the maneuver plan. 

And so, for example,they failed to learn any lessons from their own offensives of spring 1918, in which they advanced into positions that were logistically untenable, while simultaneously missing the operational and strategic importance of the enemy’s rail hubs, whose loss or interdiction might have forced the British to abandon their position in northern France and perhaps even driven the Allies to the negotiating table.

One searches in vain, however, in the postwar studies, in F.u.G., or in any of the following doctrinal manuals, for any discussion of logistics on this level. Herein lay the seeds for some of Germany’s greatest failures in the next war, when the capabilities of the logistical system did not always match the speed and scope of German advances.

The strategic sphere was more problematic still. In fact, one can argue that the Germans simply did not understand strategy; their conduct of the Great War, and the lessons they drew from it, certainly point to that conclusion. The "stab-in-the-back" myth, the concept of "total war," and the focus on operational and tactical issues—all those explanations miss the strategic blunders that really lost the Great War for Germany. For example, the Reichswehr’s leaders never questioned the wisdom of invading Belgium in 1914. In their minds, there were sound operational reasons for doing so; the fact that the invasion brought Britain into the war was unimportant to them, as it had been to the leaders of 1914. Likewise, the decision to launch unrestricted submarine warfare in1917 drew no significant attention, even though it led to war with the United States. The Germans’ fundamental problem was that they equated strategy with what one might call "grand operations." That is, when they wrote or spoke about strategy, their focus lay entirely on winning battles and campaigns. they figured that military solutions were the only solutions, and if they won enough battles, the war would take care of itself. They failed to understand how to balance political ends with economic and military means on the strategic level, and thus did not perceive that, no matter how superior their tactics and operational doctrine might be, there were some fights they just could not win, and thus should not start. As Blomberg once put it, "The more enemies, the more honour! Here again, this was a weakness that would come back to haunt the Germans in their next fight.


  1. Right. German "strategy" was 1) win battles; 2) win more battles; 3) keep winning battles.

  2. The should not be surprising since the core state of Germany, Prussia, was once described by Voltaire as a state possessed by an army.

  3. Someone needs to translate Seeckt's bio by Rabenau, Aus seinem Leben, 1918-1936....if not already. Anyone know of one?