“Should a war break out now, its duration and end can not be foreseen. The largest powers of Europe armed as never before would take the field. None could be so completely defeated in one or two campaigns that it would declare itself vanquished and that it would have to accept the hard peace conditions imposed upon it. None would promise not to rise up again, even if only after years to renew the struggle. Such a war could easily become a seven years` or a thirty years` war. Woe to him who applies the torch to Europe, who is the first to throw the match into the powder cask.” – Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke in a speech to the Reichstag on the 14th of May 1890.
Born October 26, 1800, in Parchim, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Helmuth von Moltke was the son of an aristocratic German family. Moving to Holstein at age five, Moltke’s family became impoverished during the War of the Fourth Coalition (1806-1807) when their properties were burned and plundered by French troops. Sent away to Hohenfelde as a boarder at age nine, Moltke entered the cadet school at Copenhagen two years later with the goal of entering the Danish army. Over the next seven years he received his military education and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1818.
After service with a Danish infantry regiment, Moltke returned to Germany and entered Prussian service. Posted to command a cadet school in Frankfurt an der Oder, he did so for a year before spending three conducting a military survey of Silesia and Posen. Recognized as a brilliant young officer, Moltke was assigned to the Prussian General Staff in 1832. Arriving in Berlin, he stood out from his Prussian contemporaries in that he possessed a love of the arts and music.
A prolific writer and student of history, Moltke authored several works of fiction and in 1832, embarked on a German translation of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Promoted to captain in 1835, he took six months leave to travel through southeastern Europe. While in Constantinople, he was asked by Sultan Mahmud II to aid in modernizing the Ottoman army. Receiving permission from Berlin, he spent two years in this role before accompanying the army on campaign against Muhammad Ali of Egypt. Taking part in the 1839 Battle of Nizib, Moltke (who was in command of the Ottoman artillery) was forced to escape after Ali’s victory.
Returning to Berlin, he published an account of his travels and in 1840, married his sister’s English stepdaughter, Mary Burt. Assigned to the staff of the 4th Army Corps in Berlin, Moltke became fascinated with railroads and began an extensive study of their use. Continuing to write on historical and military topics, he returned to the General Staff before being named Chief of Staff for the 4th Army Corps in 1848. Remaining in this role for seven years, he advanced to the rank of colonel. Transferred in 1855, Moltke became the personal aide to Prince Frederick (later Emperor Frederick III).
In recognition of his military skills, Moltke was promoted to Chief of the General Staff in 1857. A disciple of Clausewitz, Moltke believed that strategy was essentially the quest of seeking the military means to a desired end. Though a detailed planner, he understood and frequently stated that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” As a result, he sought to maximize his chances of success by remaining flexible and ensuring that the transportation and logistical networks were in place to allow him to bring decisive force to the key points on the battlefield.
Taking office, Moltke immediately began making sweeping changes in the army’s approach to tactics, strategy, and mobilization. In addition, work began to improve communications, training, and armaments. As an historian, he also implemented a study of European politics to identify Prussia’s future enemies and to begin developing war plans for campaigns against them. In 1859, he mobilized the army for the Austro-Sardinian War. Though Prussia did not enter the conflict, the mobilization was used by Prince Wilhelm as a learning exercise and the army was expanded and reorganized around the lessons obtained.
In 1862, with Prussia and Denmark arguing over the ownership of Schleswig-Holstein, Moltke was asked for a plan in case of war. Concerned that the Danes would be difficult to defeat if allowed to retreat to their island strongholds, he devised a plan which called for Prussian troops to flank them in order to prevent a withdrawal. When hostilities commenced in February 1864, his plan was bungled and the Danes escaped. Dispatched to the front on April 30, Moltke succeeded in bringing the war to a successful conclusion. The victory solidified his influence with King Wilhelm.
As the King and his prime minister, Otto von Bismarck, began attempts to unite Germany, it was Moltke who conceived the plans and directed the army to victory. Having gained considerable clout for his success against Denmark, Moltke’s plans were followed precisely when war with Austria began in 1866. Though outnumbered by Austria and its allies, the Prussian Army was able to make near-perfect use of railroads to ensure that maximum force was delivered at the key moment. In a lightning seven-week war, Moltke’s troops were able to conduct a brilliant campaign which culminated with a stunning victory at Königgrätz.
His reputation further enhanced, Moltke oversaw the writing of a history of the conflict which was published in 1867. In 1870, tensions with France dictated the mobilization of the army on July 5. As the preeminent Prussian general, Moltke was named Chief of Staff of the Army for the duration of the conflict. This position essentially allowed him to issue orders in the name of the King. Having spent years planning for war with France, Moltke assembled his forces south of Mainz. Dividing his men into three armies, he sought to drive into France with the goal of defeating the French army and marching on Paris.
For the advance, several plans were developed for use depending upon where the main French army was found. In all circumstances, the ultimate goal was for his troops was to wheel right to drive the French north and cut them off from Paris. Attacking, the Prussian and German troops met with great success and followed the basic outline of his plans. The campaign came to a stunning climax with the victory at Sedan on September 1, which saw Emperor Napoleon III and most of his army captured. Pressing on, Moltke’s forces invaded Paris which surrendered after a five-month siege. The fall of the capital effectively ended the war and led to the unification of Germany.
Having been made a Graf (Count) in October 1870, Moltke was permanently promoted to field marshal in June 1871, in reward for his services. Entering the Reichstag (German Parliament) in 1871, he remained Chief of Staff until 1888. Stepping down, he was replaced by Graf Alfred von Waldersee. Remaining in the Reichstag, he died at Berlin on April 24, 1891.
MEDALS AND DECORATIONS:
Order of the Black Eagle with chain and diamonds
Grand Cross of the Order of the Red Eagle, with Oak Leaves and Swords
Order of the Crown (Prussia), 1st class with swords, with enamel band of the Red Eagle and oak leaves
Grand Commander of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, with Swords and Diamonds, and Star with diamonds
Grand Cross of the Pour le Mérite with Star, with oak leaves, with the crown with diamonds
Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts
Grand Cross of the Iron Cross of 1870
Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class of 1870
Honour Commander of the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg)
Service Award Cross
Lifesaving Medal on ribbon (Prussia)
Grand Cross of the House Order of Albert the Bear (Anhalt)
House Order of Fidelity (Baden)
Grand Cross of the Military Merit Order of Karl Friedrich (Baden)
Grand Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph (Bavaria)
Grand Cross of the Order of Henry the Lion, with Swords (Brunswick)
Grand Cross of the Grand Ducal Ludwig Order (Hesse)
Military Merit Cross (Hesse)
Military Merit Medal with Swords (Schaumburg-Lippe)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Wendish Crown, with Gold Crown and Swords (Mecklenburg)
Military Merit Cross, 1st class (Mecklenburg)
Cross for distinction in the war (Mecklenburg-Strelitz)
Grand Cross of the House and Merit Order of Peter Frederick Louis, with Swords (Oldenburg)
Order of the Rue Crown (Saxony)
Grand Cross of the Military Order of St. Henry (Saxony)
Grand Cross of the Order of the White Falcon with Swords (Saxe-Weimar)
Grand Cross of the Saxe-Ernestine House Order (Saxon duchies)
Grand Cross of the Military Merit Order (Württemberg)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown (Württemberg)
Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
Grand Cross Legion of Honour (France)
Order of the Most Holy Annunciation (Italy)
Grand Cross of the Military Order of Savoy (Italy)
Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary (Austria-Hungary)
Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold (Austria-Hungary)
Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword with chain (Portugal)
Order of St. Andrew (Russia)
Order of St. Alexander Nevsky with diamonds (Russia)
Order of the White Eagle (Russia)
Order of St. Anna, 1st class (Russia)
Order of St. George, 2nd class (Russia)
Royal Order of the Seraphim (Sweden)
Grand Cross of the Order of the White Elephant (Siam)
Imtiyaz Medal with diamonds (Turkey)
Order of the Medjidie, 1st class (Turkey)
Sword of honour (Turkey)
MOLTKES VOICE RECORDED ON THE EDISON PHONOGRAPH
On 15 June 1889, Adelbert Theodor Edward (“Theo”) Wangemann started out aboard the four-master “La Bourgogne” on a trip to Europe on behalf of Thomas Alva Edison that was supposed to last for only a few weeks, but from which he was not in fact to return until 27 February 1890. Wangemann’s assignment during the first two weeks after arrival was to maintain the phonographs on display at the world’s fair in Paris, readjust them, furnish them with improved components, and train the personnel who operated them
On 21 and 22 October, as a stop on the way to Vienna, the Wangemanns and Devrient were guests of the venerable Field Marshall Count Helmuth von Moltke, who enjoyed a legendary reputation in the German Empire on account of his military successes in the three wars of German unification between 1864 and 1871. This visit too is well documented. Wangemann played the cylinder of Prince Bismarck, whose voice Count Moltke recognized only after a correction of the playback speed, and had the roughly twenty relatives of the Count who were present speak into the phonograph one after another. At least four cylinders of Count Moltke’s voice were made on 21 October, of which only two are preserved. These are the only recordings of a person born in the eighteenth century which are still audible today. Wangemann had previously received a new cylinder shipment with blanks of brick-red color without a string core, which he used on this occasion.
On the first cylinder, Count Moltke refers directly to Edison’s groundbreaking invention but has to repeat his statement, having named the “telephone” instead of the “phonograph” the first time around. After that, he recites a few lines from the first part of “Faust,” in which Goethe calls technological progress into question.
- The Franco-German War of 1870-1871 (written by Moltke – english translation)
- Letters of Field-Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke to his mother and his brothers
- Essays, speeches, and memoirs of Field-Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke (Volume 1)
- Essays, speeches, and memoirs of Field-Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke (Volume 2)
- Poland – An historical sketch, by Count Helmuth von Moltke
- Projects for the campaign of 1866 against Austria