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Friedrich Karl "Fritz" von Lossberg (30 April 1868 – 4 May 1942) was a German colonel, and later general, of World War I. He was a strategic planner, especially of defence, who was Chief of Staff for the Second, Third and Fourth Armies. He was present at the battles of the Somme, Arras, and Verdun

Lossberg was born in Bad Homburg in Hesse-Nassau. Erich Ludendorff refers to him as Loszberg in his memoires.[1] Elsewhere, it is sometimes also spelt Loßberg.

Lossberg was later to become "legendary as the fireman of the Western Front, always sent by OHL to the area of crisis".[2] He was the "foremost German expert on Defensive Warfare. Was made a floating Chief of staff in problem areas with Vollmacht: the right to issue orders in a superior's name".[3]

The British Official History refers to him as a very remarkable soldier.[4]

Lossberg was awarded the Blue Max ("Pour le Mérite") for his work on the Western Front on 24 April 1917.[5][6]

'Throughout the eight months which Colonel von Lossberg spent in Mézières [in early 1915] he was straining at the leash to return to more active work at the front, and the first opportunity, which came by accident, he seized with both hands. His chief, Colonel Tappen, was still away when the French offensive [in the Champagne region] was delivered on the 25th September and von Lossberg deputized for him when General Falkenhayn explained the situation to the Kaiser, William II, the following morning. A message had come through earlier from the chief of staff of the Third Army, Lieut.-General von Hoehn, that the left corps might have to be withdrawn two miles to behind the Dormoise, and Colonel von Lossberg during his account of the situation on the Champagne battlefront expressed strong disapproval of such an action. Within three hours of that interview he was on his way to replace General von Hoehn as chief of staff, a marked honour for a junior colonel of only two months' seniority, as all the other chiefs of staff of armies were at least major-generals.' Von Lossberg was one of the leading proponents of the system of defence-in-depth.[7]

"Aged 71, Major General Fritz von Lossberg retired from the Army in 1927"[4] Elsewhere (see talk) his dates are given as 1868-1942

Innovations in defensive tactics

The doctrine of “defense in depth” or “elastic defense” was formulated in 1915 by a small group of young staff officers at the German Army High Command at Mézières, France; specifically, it was proposed by Major Max Bauer, Major Bussche, Captain Hermann Geyer, and Captain Harbon.[8] In 1916, Major Bauer and Captain Geyer expounded their ideas in an army manual, “Conduct of the Defensive Battle.”[9] In an elastic defense, the front line would be held by a minimal number of troops (to minimize the number of men exposed to artillery fire). During an attack, these troops would retreat. Reserves, who would be stationed nearby but beyond artillery range, would then counterattack and retake the front line.[8]

Initially, Lossberg, who was Bauer and Geyer’s superior, opposed elastic defense. He argued that it was impractical to expect men to make an orderly retreat under artillery fire. Furthermore, allowing units to retreat at will would make coordinating a defense almost impossible. Also, the counterattack would have to be precisely coordinated with the enemy’s attack.[10]

Lossberg thought that the front line should be held at all costs.[8] Nevertheless, Lossberg agreed that the front line should be thinly manned, and that if the front line were breached, counterattacks by nearby reserves should restore the line.[11] Furthermore, Lossberg gave more freedom and authority to front-line commanders, so that they could respond quickly to local threats and opportunities. This freedom and authority also made practical the launching of the rapid counterattacks that Bauer and Geyer had advocated.[12] Lossberg’s ideas became official army doctrine.[13]

It was Lossberg who first put into practice the theory of elastic defense during the battle of Arras (April–May 1917), where it succeeded.[14] But the elastic defense at Arras had been improvised.[15] At the subsequent battle of Passchendaele (June–November 1917) Lossberg carefully planned an elastic defense and again was successful.[16] Lossberg’s successes in battle proved the feasibility of defense in depth.

Decorations and awards

Lossberg was an honorary citizen of Bad Homburg, his home town and received medals and decorations:

Sources and footnotes

  1. Ludendorff, My War Memories
  2. Lupfer
  3. Shoah Education web site
  4. 4.0 4.1 Time Magazine
  5. Blue Max website
  6. Untitled
  7. Robert Dunlop
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Meyer, p. 33.
  9. Meyer, p. 61.
  10. Meyer, pp. 33, 62.
  11. Meyer, pp. 44, 48-49.
  12. Meyer, p. 57.
  13. Meyer, p. 56.
  14. Meyer, p. 67.
  15. Meyer, p. 68.
  16. Meyer, p. 71.

External sources

  • Wynne, Capt. G. C.; If Germany Attacks: The Battle in Depth in the West (London, England: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1940; reprinted by: Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1976).
  • Times, 06 Oct 1917; pg. 5; Issue 41602; col G Through German Eyes. The Western Command., General Von Lossberg

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