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Moltke, Helmuth Karl Bernhard, Count von, “the Elder” (1800–91)

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DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405189224.2011.x


Prussian Chief of Staff (1857–88), Field Marshal and creator of the modern general staff. Born at Mecklenburg into an impoverished noble family, Moltke served initially with the Danish army before transferring into the service of prussia in 1822. Following a stint as military advisor to the Ottomans (1835–9), he obtained a series of promotions culminating in appointment as chief of staff. The establishment of a War College in the aftermath of defeat by napoleon i at jena-auerstädt had provided Prussia with a nascent general staff, and Moltke now brought this body to the center of the military system. Observing that no plan survived contact with the enemy, he emphasized the need for flexibility of response and individual initiative, and his officers were trained to move between staff and command positions. He also displayed an understanding of technological and social developments vital to the conduct of warfare , including the use of railways, breech-loading rifled infantry weapons, and mass conscription. Such insights enabled him to secure the Prussian victories over Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866 (see austro-prussian war ), and France in 1870–1 (see franco-prussian war ) that helped bismarck to achieve german unification under hohenzollern leadership and to establish the german empire . This Moltke is now generally referred to as “the Elder.” Thus he becomes ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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