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Erich von Falkenhayn

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Monarch  Wilhelm II
Role  Commander-in-chief
Preceded by  Josias von Heeringen
Monarch  Wilhelm II
Name  Erich Falkenhayn

Erich von Falkenhayn LeMO Biografie Biografie Erich von Falkenhayn
Prime Minister  Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Succeeded by  Adolf Wild von Hohenborn
Chancellor  Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Died  April 8, 1922, Potsdam, Germany
Books  General Headquarters, 1914-1916, and Its Critical Decisions
Battles and wars  Boxer Rebellion, World War I
Similar People  Erich Ludendorff, Helmuth von Moltke the Youn, August von Mackensen, Paul von Hindenburg, Robert Nivelle

Service/branch  German Army, Ottoman Army
Successor  Adolf Wild von Hohenborn

General Erich Georg Anton von Falkenhayn (11 September 1861 – 8 April 1922) was the Chief of the German General Staff during the First World War from September 1914 until 29 August 1916. He was removed in the late summer of 1916 after the failure at the battle of Verdun, the opening of the Allied offensive on the Somme, the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war. He was later given important field commands in Romania and Syria. His reputation as a war leader was attacked in Germany during and after the war, especially by the faction which supported Hindenburg. Falkenhayn held that Germany could not win the war by a decisive battle but would have to reach a compromise peace; his enemies said he lacked the resolve necessary to win a decisive victory. Falkenhayn's relations with the Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg were troubled and undercut Falkenhayn's plans.


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Early life

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Falkenhayn was born in Burg Belchau near Graudenz, West Prussia (now Białochowo, Poland) to Fedor von Falkenhayn (1814–1896) and Franziska von Falkenhayn, née von Rosenberg (1826–1888). His brother Arthur (1857–1929) became tutor of Crown Prince Wilhelm while Eugen (1853–1934) became a Prussian General of Cavalry. His only sister Olga von Falkenhayn was the mother of Fieldmarshall Fedor von Bock.

Military career

Erich von Falkenhayn Erich von Falkenhayn Wikiwand

Becoming a cadet at the age of 11, he joined the Army in 1880. He served as an infantry and staff officer and became a career soldier.

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Between 1896 and 1903, Falkenhayn served in Qing China on leave for several years and saw action during the Boxer Rebellion. He also spent time in Manchuria and Korea.

Erich von Falkenhayn Photos of The Great War CommandersGeneral Erich von

After his service in Asia, the army posted him to Brunswick, Metz and Magdeburg; he became a major-general in 1912.

Prussian Minister of War

Erich von Falkenhayn General Erich von Falkenhayn c1916 Vienna Nedomansky

In 1913 he became Prussian Minister of War, in which capacity he was involved at the beginning of World War I, when the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo took place. Like most German military leaders, he did not expect a great European war but he soon embraced the idea and joined with others pushing for Kaiser Wilhelm II to declare war.

Chief of Staff

Falkenhayn succeeded Helmuth von Moltke the Younger as Chief of the Oberste Heeresleitung (German General Staff) after the First Battle of the Marne on 14 September 1914. Falkenhayn attempted to outflank the British and French in the Race to the Sea, a series of engagements throughout northern France and Belgium in which each side made reciprocal attempts to turn the other's flank, until they reached the North Sea and had no more room for manoeuvre. The British and French eventually stopped the German advance at the First Battle of Ypres (October–November 1914).

Falkenhayn preferred an offensive strategy on the Western Front, while conducting a limited campaign in the east: he hoped that Russia would accept a separate armistice more easily, if it were not humiliated too much. This brought him into conflict with Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, who favored massive offensives in the east. Eventually, in the hope that either a massive slaughter would lead Europe's political leaders to consider ending the war or that losses would be less harmful for Germany than for France, Falkenhayn staged a battle of attrition, as claimed in his post-war memoirs, in the Battle of Verdun in early 1916. Although more than a quarter of a million soldiers eventually died and Falkenhayn was sometimes called "the Blood-Miller of Verdun", neither side's resolve was lessened. Contrary to Falkenhayn's assumptions, the French were able to limit casualties in the divisions sent to Verdun. General Philippe Pétain kept the divisions in the line at Verdun until casualties reached 50 percent of the infantry and then relieved them. The procession of divisions back and forth was analogous to the operation of a "noria", a type of water wheel that continuously lifts water and empties it into a trough. After the relative failure at Verdun, coupled with reverses on the Eastern Front (the Brusilov Offensive and the entry of Romania into the war), the beginning of the Anglo-French offensive on the Somme and the intrigues of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of Staff by Hindenburg.

Field command in Romania, Palestine, Belarus

Falkenhayn then assumed command of the 9th Army in Transylvania (September 6, 1916) and in August launched a joint offensive against Romania with August von Mackensen. Falkenhayn's forces captured the Romanian capital of Bucharest in under four months, with help of troops from all Central Powers against the numerous but poorly trained, equipped and inexperienced Romanian Army, which had to defend a 1,600 km (990 mi) front, the longest in Europe.

Following the success, in mid-July 1917 Falkenhayn went to take military command of the Ottoman Yildirim Army Group (Heeresgruppe F, Army Group F), which was being formed in Mesopotamia and at Aleppo. After long discussions with the Ottoman upper echelon, Falkenhayn was sent on 7 September 1917 as supreme commander of two Ottoman armies in Palestine, with the rank of a Mushir (Field Marshal) of the Ottoman Army. He failed to prevent the British under General Edmund Allenby from conquering Jerusalem in December 1917. However, he is credited with avoiding a destructive defensive battle for the walled ancient city of Jerusalem with its many holy sites, as well as with a crucial role in stopping the forced removal of the Jewish population of Palestine, which Governor Djemal Pasha had planned along the lines of the Armenian Genocide. The evacuation of the entire population of Jerusalem during the harsh winter months had also been planned by Djemal Pasha and was thwarted by German officers including Falkenhayn.

In February 1918, Falkenhayn became commander of the 10th Army in Belarus, where he witnessed the end of the war. In December 1918 he oversaw the withdrawal of the 10th Army to Germany. The formation disbanded in February 1919.


In 1919, he retired from the army and withdrew to his estate, where he wrote his autobiography and several books on war and strategy. His war memoirs were translated into English as The German General staff and Its Critical Decisions, 1914–1916. With the benefit of hindsight, he remarked that the German declarations of war on Russia and France in 1914 were "justifiable but overly-hasty and unnecessary". Falkenhayn died in 1922, at Schloss Lindstedt, near Potsdam.

Family life

In 1886 Falkenhayn married Ida Selkmann, with whom he had two children: a son Fritz Georg Adalbert von Falkenhayn, born in 1890, and a daughter Erika Karola Olga von Falkenhayn, born in 1904 and married to Henning von Tresckow (1901–1944).


Falkenhayn in many ways typified the Prussian generals; a militarist in the literal sense, he had undeniable political and military competence but showed contempt toward democracy and the representative Reichstag. He addressed the Reichstag in 1914 as follows:

Only through the fact that the Prussian army is removed by the constitution from the party struggle and the influence of ambitious party leaders has it become what it is: the secure defence of peace at home and abroad.

Militarily, Falkenhayn had a mixed record. His offensive at Verdun proved a strategic failure. During the campaign against Romania in 1916 Falkenhayn demonstrated considerable skill in command of the German 9th Army, driving the Romanians from Transylvania, breaking through the Southern Carpathians and forcing the shattered Romanian forces northeast into Moldavia. His defence of Palestine in 1917 was also a failure but his forces, overwhelmingly Ottoman in composition, were outnumbered and outclassed and casualties were fairly equal.

Winston Churchill considered him to be the ablest by far of the German generals in World War I. Dupuy also ranked him near the top of the German commanders, just below Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Foley wrote that Germany's enemies were far more able to apply a strategy of attrition, because they had greater amounts of manpower, industry and economic control over the world, resorting to many of the methods used by Falkenhayn in Russia in 1915 and France in 1916. As the cost of fighting the war increased, the war aims of the Entente expanded, to include the overthrow of the political elites of the Central Powers and the ability to dictate peace to a comprehensively defeated enemy, which was achieved by a strategy of attrition.

All sources portray Falkenhayn as a loyal, honest and punctilious friend and superior. His positive legacy is his conduct during the war in Palestine in 1917. As his biographer Holger Afflerbach wrote,

An inhuman excess against the Jews in Palestine was prevented only by Falkenhayn's conduct, which against the background of the German history of the 20th century has a special meaning, and one that distinguishes Falkenhayn.

Decorations and awards

  • Order of the Black Eagle
  • Pour le Merite (16 February 1915)
  • Oak Leaves (3 June 1915)
  • Iron Cross (1914)
  • 2nd Class
  • 1st Class
  • Commander of the Military Order of Max Joseph (Bavaria)
  • Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit with Swords (Bavaria)
  • Knight of the Military Order of St. Henry (Saxony)
  • Gold Military Merit Medal ("Signum Laudis", Austria-Hungary) (11 October 1916)
  • References

    Erich von Falkenhayn Wikipedia