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Helmuth von Moltke Research Papers

In 1857, Helmuth von Moltke became the Prussian Chief of the General Staff, which at the time consisted of only sixty-four officers. Moltke trained each of these staff officers then assigned them to a division or corps. This served the dual purpose of enhancing liaison communications between the field and the General Staff, and allowing Moltke to evaluate the field commanders, many of whom owed their positions to patronage rather than merit. The effect of this measure was to strengthen centralized control over the army.

Helmuth von Moltke

A second reform that Moltke undertook was streamlining the system by which the Prussian army mobilized, allowing it to rapidly seize the initiative at the outbreak of war. 

  • von Moltke believed that the key to rapid deployment was the railroad, and he closely supervised the building of the German rail network. 
  • von Moltke began equipping the army with the latest weaponry, particularly a breech-loaded infantry rifle known as the needle gun that had 65 percent accuracy at three hundred paces. This weapon provided a significant advantage over the muzzle-loaded rifles used by other continental armies at the time. 
  • The increased use of a field telegraph system enabled the General Staff to maintain close communications with field units and rapidly deploy assets to tactical advantage during combat. In essence, he adopted a strategic planning model emphasizing the concept that wars are won by careful preparations long before the battles are fought.

Moltke’s military preparations and emphasis on technology and mobility became the essential elements leading to the Prussian victory in the Prussian-Austrian War of 1866. Although this war was nominally fought to determine who should rule the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein, Bismarck and King William recognized that the actual purpose was to end Austrian domination over the German Confederation, which prevented the formation of a truly unified Germany under Prussian leadership.

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