Moltke, Helmuth Carl Bernhard von

Moltke, Helmuth Carl Bernhard von


Born Oct. 26, 1800, in Parchim, Mecklenburg; died Apr. 24, 1891, in Berlin. Prussian and German military figure; count (1870); field marshal (1871); military theorist.

Moltke was at first an officer in the Danish Army but entered the Prussian service in 1822 and graduated from the Berlin General War College in 1826. He was a military adviser in the Turkish Army from 1836 to 1839 and afterward held staff positions in the Prussian Army; from 1858 to 1888 he was chief of the Prussian General Staff (Imperial Staff from 1871). Under Moltke’s leadership the General Staff became the chief organ of war planning for the country. Supported by O. von Bismarck, Moltke carried out several measures to strengthen the army. In Prussia’s victorious wars with Denmark (1864), Austria (1866), and France (1870–71) he was chief of the field staff (practically commander in chief) under the Prussian king William I (German emperor from 1871). He was a Conservative deputy to the Reichstag from 1867 to 1891 and a hereditary member of the Prussian House of Lords from 1872.

In his theoretical works Moltke propounded the idea of the inevitability of wars and their “civilizing” role. He argued that it was necessary to anticipate the enemy by mobilizing the army and deploying it along the borders; in his view it was essential to initiate surprise military actions in order to converge on one point from several directions (”marching separately, battling as one”), engage the enemy from the flanks, and defeat him in one general battle by attacking from the front and the flanks, thus achieving victory in a war of short duration. In Moltke’s works on military history there is no analysis of the causes of wars or of the way in which they are conducted.

Moltke’s literary heritage had a considerable influence on subsequent generations of German military leaders. His precepts, based on the experience of war with weaker enemies, made the German command overestimate Germany’s military and economic potential and led to adventurism in politics and strategy.


Militärische Werke, vols. 1–4. Berlin, 1892–1911.
Voennye poucheniia: Operativnaia podgotovka k srazheniiu. Moscow, 1938. (Translated from German.)
Istoriiagermano-frantsuzskoi voiny 1870–71. Moscow, 1937. (Translated from German.)