Prussian Warhorse – Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Heinrich Ernst Graf von Wrangel 1784-1877

When one hears that Kaiser Wilhelm did not appear when the Goethe Memorial in Berlin was unveiled, but turned up when the Wrangel Memorial was first presented to the public it might seem shocking, but it’s logical looking from the perspective of the German military monarchy. Wrangel, the old Puss in Boots, who always carried sweets in his pockets which he distributed to the children of Berlin, a crowd of which always “marched” behind him when he was walking the streets of the city. In Wrangel, the “old sabre”, with his babarian grammar and thick Prussian accent, lives the spirit of the old Prussian monarchy. When his son came into debt by gambling and faked his fathers signature on a certificate of debt he came to him and asked for his help. Old Wrangel answered: “You acted without honor, you are not my son anymore”. When his son asked what he was to do now, Wrangels answer was short: ” You own a pair of pistols”. The son shot himself.
Looking at the Prussian Monarchy the spirit of old Wrangel did indeed more than Goethes to bond it together and to give it its peculiar atmosphere. – Georg Brandes

Frederick Count von Wrangel was born into an old baltic German, Swedish-Pommeranian officers family on the 13th of April 1784. In 1796, at the age of only 12 years, he joined the Prussian army as Fahnen-Junker (ensign) in Dragoner-Regiment “von Werther” Nr. 6 (Dragoons) getting promoted to the rank of Seconde-Lieutenant in 1798.

Graf von Wrangel in 1875

Graf von Wrangel in 1875 in full war regalia and carrying his heavy cavalry sword

During the campaign of 1806/1807 we find Wrangel and his regiment in the Battle of Eylau (7th & 8th of February 1807), subordinated to the Corps led by General l’Estocq. Leading the last operational unit in the Prussian army, L’Estocq was only able to bring eight battalions, twenty-eight squadrons, and two horse artillery batteries (estimated at 7,000-9,000 men) to the battle in which Wrangel distinguished himself as being a courageous and dashing Dragoon officer. Getting badly wounded by a sabre cut during the Battle of Heilsberg in June 1807, Wrangel was taken out of action for more than six months during which he was awarded the coveted Pour le Merite and the Russian Order of St. Vladimir 4th Class.

Battle of Eylau

Battle of Eylau

In 1813/1814 Wrangel, now a major, was serving in the East Prussian Cuirassier Regiment (Ostpreussisches Kürrasier-Regiment, formerly Dragonerregiment „von Zieten“). With this regiment he participated in the Blockade of Luxemburg, the Battles of Groß-Gröschen, Bautzen, Dresden, Kulm, Leipzig, Laon and Paris and a lot of smaller engagements i.e. Haynaut, Montmirail, Etoges, Champaubert, Gue a Trenne, La Ferte-Milon, Oulchy le Chateau, Sezanne and Claye. For his bravery in this impressive list of battles and skirmishes Wrangel was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class. On the 2nd of June 1814 he finally got his first regimental command, taking over the 2. Westpreussisches Dragoner Regiment (2nd West-Prussian Dragoons), and his rise through the ranks was continuing still.

In 1837 we find Wrangel, now a General-Major in command of 13th Cavalry Division, suppressing civil risings in Münster, something he, as a stout conservative and fanatic royalist, most probably enjoyed. In 1839 he was serving as commanding General of I. Armee-Korps in Königsberg (Prussia) and in 1842 of II. Armee-Korps in Stettin.

In 1848, the year of the German Revolution, Wrangel moved against revolutionary Berlin (10th of November). The Revolutionaries had threatened to hang Wrangels wife if he would lead his troops into the capital, but Wrangel was not the person to be unsettled by such threats. When passing the Brandenburg Gate (in those days marking the western boundaries of Berlin) at the head of his troops he is said to have remarked in thick Prussian dialect “I wonder if they have hanged her by now“.
What followed was a short and harsh dispute with the commander of the civil militia Major Otto Rimpler in which both sides agreed that there was no need to shed blood. The militia was demobilized and disarmed, the assembly of the civil representatives in the Schauspielhaus was dissolved. On the 14th Wrangel declared the city to be under Martial Law. The Revolution was over and Frau von Wrangel was left unhanged and unharmed.

In 1849, now a favourite of the Kaiser and a full General der Kavallerie, Wrangel was put in command of a Prussian corps fighting in the First Schleswig War. There he fought in the Battles of Schleswig, Oversee and Düppel (being awarded the Order of the Black Eagle for his services).

Having been promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall in 1856, during the Second Schleswig War in 1864 Wrangel was appointed Commander in Chief of the allied Prussian and Austrian Armies. The problem was that the now eighty year old Wrangel was old for his years and, though popular with the conservatives at court, at best a mediocre general. All his recent combat experiences had been acquired in against civilian insurgents in the revolutions of 1848 and the short war of 1849. He never visited a war academy and all his fighting experiences were gained in the saddle, carrying a sword against the soldiers of Napoleon. While Wrangel lurched from blunder to blunder in Denmark, the Austrian units acquitted themselves with courage and skill. On 2 February 1864, one Austrian brigade charged and took the Danish positions at Ober-Selk with such panache that old Wrangel rushed to embrace and kiss the Austrian commander on the cheeks, much to the embarrassment of his Prussian brother officers. In mid-February, Wrangel sent an advance detachment of Guards north of the Jutland border despite instructions to the contrary. But Bismarck persuaded the war minister to send a sharp reprimand to the elderly general, and Wrangel was relieved of his command at Bismarck’s insistence in mid-May. The enraged Wrangel sent a dispatch to Berlin complaining about “certain Diplomats playing soldiers, who should be hanged at the gallows“. A deed for which he apologised to Bismarck after the wars end in October 1864.

During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 Wrangel joined his former regiment the Ostpreussisches Kürassier-Regiment Nr. 3 as an honorary officer and observer. He had become too old to join the actual fighting. The same happened in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 in which he was given an honorary staff and was allowed to follow the Prussian Army in an observing role. After both wars and the victory parades that followed Wrangel was allowed to ride at the head of the victorious Prussian Army and in front of officers like Bismarck, Roon and Moltke which is a potent example of the popularity Wrangel enjoyed in Prussia.

Wrangel and his honorary staff in France, 1870

Wrangel and his honorary staff in France, 1870

Wrangel died in Berlin in the year 1877, aged 93 years.

British Steel – Mk IV Tank in Berlin, Germany 1919

This image has been lying on my desk for quite a while. So time for a quick article about it. It is a rare one, showing a british Mk IV tank captured by the german army in WW1 now used by Freikorps units during the supression of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, in January 1919. 

In January 1919 all remaining armoured cars and vehicles of the german army were regrouped in Berlin under the command of Reichswehrgruppenkommando 1, forming three Abteilungen. One of these Abteilungen was designated Schwere (heavy) Kampfwagenabteilung and consisted of two british Mark IV tanks and one german A7V tank (Heidi) formerly beloning to Freikorps Maerker. They stayed in use until Summer 1919, when all armoured vehicles had to be surrendered to the allies as dictated by the Treaty of Versailles. 

The Spartacist uprising (German: Spartakusaufstand), also known as the January uprising (Januaraufstand), was a general strike (and the armed battles accompanying it) in Germany from January 4 to January 15, 1919.

Its suppression marked the end of the German Revolution. The name “Spartacist uprising” is generally used for the event even though neither the ‘Spartacist League’ of Rosa Luxemburg fame (aka Spartakusbund) nor the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) planned, initiated nor led this uprising; each participated only after popular resistance had begun. This Uprising contributed to German disillusionment with the Weimar Government. Their leaders were Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Several workers spontaneously seized the editorial office of one newspaper in the Kochstraße in Berlin and erected barricades on the streets. This attracted more workers who blocked further streets in the newspaper quarter- including the office of Germany’s Social Democrat SPD organ “Forward” (Vorwärts).

This Social Democrat paper had printed articles hostile to the Spartacists since the beginning of September. The leaders of the USPD and the KPD/Communist Party decided to support this worker-action, appealling for a general strike in Berlin on January 7. The strike garnered about 500,000 participants who surged into downtown Berlin that weekend. In the following two days however the strike leadership (known as the ad-hoc Revolution Committee) failed to resolve the classic dichotomy between militarized revolutionaries committed to genuinedly new societies and reformists advocating deliberations with Ebert. Meanwhile the strikers in the occupied quarter obtained weapons. Within the Communist Party there was further dissent. Karl Liebknecht, unlike Rosa Luxemburg, supported a militant coup over Ebert’s government, else the KPD would be alienated from worker elements planning the coup. At the same time some KPD leaders tried persuading state military regiments in Berlin, especially the Volksmarinedivision, to their side.

Their armed presence was supposed to instigate fighting. This was unsuccessful because most soldiers had either gone home or because their loyalty to the “Rat der Volksbeauftragten” (ie., the flag of the regiment). On January 8, the KPD left the Revolution Committee after USPD representatives had invited Friedrich Ebert for talks. While these took place, the workers found out about a flyer published by Vorwärts titled “Die Stunde der Abrechnung naht!” (The hour of vengeance is coming soon!) and about the Freikorps (anti-Republican paramilitary organizations, who fought the Weimar Republic and the November Revolution), whom the SPD administration had hired to suppress the workers. Ebert had ordered defense minister Gustav Noske, also a member of the SPD, to do so on January 6. Then the Revolution Committee stopped talks with the SPD. The Spartacist League then called for its members to take part in armed combat.

A7V tank at Roye, France 1918 (Bundesarchiv)

On the same day, Ebert ordered the Freikorps to attack the workers. The former soldiers still had weapons and military equipment from World War I, which gave them a formidable advantage. They quickly re-conquered the blocked streets and buildings; many of the workers surrendered. Around 100 civilians and 17 Freikorps soldiers died during the fighting. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured by Freikorps soldiers and killed.