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Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke
Nickname "Moltke the Younger"
Born (1848-05-23)May 23, 1848
Died 18 June 1916(1916-06-18) (aged 68)
Place of birth Biendorf, Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Place of death Berlin, German Empire
Allegiance Kingdom of Prussia Kingdom of Prussia
German Empire German Empire
Service/branch Prussian Army
Imperial German Army
Years of service 1868 – 1916
Rank Generaloberst
Commands held Deutsches Heer
Battles/wars Franco-Prussian War,
World War I
Awards Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (United Kingdom)

Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke (German pronunciation: [ˈhɛlmuːt fɔn ˈmɔltkə]; 23 May 1848, Biendorf – 18 June 1916), also known as Moltke the Younger, was a nephew of Field Marshal Count Moltke and served as the Chief of the German General Staff from 1906 to 1914. The two are often differentiated as Moltke the Elder and Moltke the Younger. Moltke the Younger's role in the development of German war plans and the instigation of the First World War is extremely controversial.


Helmuth von Moltke was born in Mecklenburg-Schwerin and named after his uncle, Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, future Field Marshal and hero of the Wars of Unification. During the Franco-Prussian War Moltke served with the 7th Grenadier Regiment, and was cited for bravery. He attended the War Academy between 1875 and 1878 and joined the General Staff in 1880. In 1882 he became personal adjutant to his uncle, then Chief of the General Staff. In 1891, on the death of his uncle, Moltke became aide-de-camp to Wilhelm II, thus becoming part of the Emperor's inner circle. In the late 1890s he commanded first a brigade and then a division, finally being promoted to Lieutenant General in 1902.[1]:47–49 In 1904 Moltke was made Quartermaster-General; in effect, Deputy Chief of the General Staff. In 1906, he became chief on Schlieffen's retirement. His appointment was controversial then and remains so today. The other likely candidates for the position were Hans Hartwig von Beseler, Karl von Bülow, and Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz.[1]:68 Critics charge that Moltke gained the position on the strength of his name and his friendship with the Kaiser. Certainly Moltke was far closer to the Kaiser than the other candidates. Historians argue, however, that Beseler was too close to Schlieffen to have succeeded him, while Bülow and Goltz were too independent for Wilhelm to have accepted them. Indeed, Moltke's friendship with the Kaiser permitted him latitude that others could not have enjoyed. Goltz, at least, saw nothing wrong with Moltke's performance as Chief.[1]:71

Marne campaign

Shortly before the outbreak of hostilities and the Marne Campaign of 1914 Moltke was called to the Kaiser who had been told by Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky that the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey had offered British neutrality if France was not attacked. At this news, the Kaiser, seeing that a two front war could be avoided, told Moltke to reverse the western front forces to the eastern one against Russia. At this, Moltke refused arguing that such a drastic alteration of a long planned major mobilization could not be done without throwing the forces into organizational chaos and the original plan now in motion must be followed through. Years later, General Hermann von Staab, head of the German railway division, would dispute this opinion with a book detailing a contingency plan that the German army had for such a situation.[2]:93–94 Although Grey's offer turned out to be a wishful misinterpretation by Lichnowsky[2]:92 and the Kaiser told Moltke to proceed as originally planned, the general's health broke down as a consequence of this clash, and on 25 October 1914, he was succeeded by Erich von Falkenhayn.[3]

It is a matter of debate whether the "failure" of the Marne Campaign can be placed at Moltke's feet. Some critics contend that Moltke's weakening of the Schlieffen plan led to German defeat. The records show that Moltke, who was concerned about Russia, moved resources eastward. In fact Moltke moved 180,000 men east before the war.[4] Many thousands more men were transported from the crucial right wing to the left wing facing France in Alsace and Lorraine. Most controversially, on August 28, Moltke sent two corps and a cavalry division to reinforce Ludendorff and Hindenburg just before the epic victory at the Battle of Tannenberg (1914). These series of moves have been viewed by some historians as responsible for much of the strategic failure of the Schlieffen Plan as enacted in 1914. A number of historians, notably Zuber and S.L.A. Marshall, contend that the failure of Alexander von Kluck's First Army to keep position with Karl von Bülow's Second Army, thus creating a gap near Paris that was exploited by the French, is a more direct cause than any planning foibles on Moltke's part. The Schlieffen School disagrees, and argues that Moltke lost control of the invading armies during the month of August and thus was unable to react when the First Battle of the Marne developed in September. While Moltke had lost effective touch with his field commanders, German operational doctrine had always stressed personal initiative on the part of subordinate officers, more so than in other armies. Other historians argue that the multitude of strategic options Moltke faced, and the danger of the Russian invasion of East Prussia clouded Moltke's judgement.[5]

Although earlier in the campaign German generals and press had been proclaiming the campaign as good as won, on 4 September Moltke was found despondent that the lack of prisoners meant that the Germans had not yet really won a decisive victory.[6]:186–7 Moltke may well have been overly preoccupied with the unsuccessful German offensive in Lorraine, and he issued no orders to First, Second and Third Armies between 2 and 5 Sep whilst the Battle of the Marne was in progress.[6]:192

Later activity

Grave of Helmuth von Moltke in the Invalids' Cemetery (Invalidenfriedhof), Berlin (restitution stone from 2007).

After being succeeded by Falkenhayn, Moltke was entrusted in Berlin with the office of chief of the home substitute for the general staff (Der stellvertretende Generalstab), which had the task of organizing and forwarding the reserves and of controlling the territorial army corps, corresponding to those at the front. Moltke's health continued to deteriorate and he died in Berlin on 18 June 1916 during the funeral for Marschall von der Goltz. He left a pamphlet entitled Die “Schuld” am Kriege (The Blame for the War), which his widow Eliza intended to publish in 1919. She was dissuaded from doing so because of the problems this might cause. The pamphlet was designed to show the "chaotic" nature of events leading up to the war, in order to counter allied accusations of deliberate warmongering by Germany. However, army chiefs and the German foreign ministry were disturbed by its contents. General Wilhelm von Dommes was sent to advise Eliza von Moltke against publication. Having read the pamphlet he confided to his diary that it "contains nasty stuff." Instead, Eliza published the blander Erinnerungen, Briefe, Dokumente, a collection of her husband's letters and documents. Other material was archived. Some was later destroyed in World War II, and the original pamphlet has not been since accessible.[1]:10


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Mombauer, Annika (2001). Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-79101-4. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Tuchman, Barbara (1962). The Guns of August. Ballantine Press. 
  3. Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1922). "Moltke, Helmuth von". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York. 
  4. Crowley, Robert (September 1, 2001). "The What Ifs of 1914". In Crowley, Robert. What If?. Penguin Group. pp. 275. ISBN 9780425176429. 
  5. "Who's Who - Helmuth von Moltke". Retrieved 2007-01-02. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Terraine, John (1960). Mons, The Retreat to Victory. Wordsworth Military Library, London. ISBN 1-84022-240-9. 


  • Tuchman, Barbara. The Guns of August, also published as August 1914, Macmillan Publishers, 1962.
  • Craig, Gordon. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, 1964.
  • Meyer, Thomas (Ed.). Helmuth von Moltke, Light for the new millennium: Rudolf Steiner's association with Helmuth and Eliza von Moltke: letters, documents and after-death communications. Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1997. ISBN 1-85584-051-0.
  • Mombauer, Annika. Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Terraine, John (1960). Mons, The Retreat to Victory. Wordsworth Military Library, London. ISBN 1-84022-240-9. 
  • Zuber, Terence. Inventing the Schlieffen Plan: German War Planning, 1871-1914. Oxford University Press, 2002.

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