Army (German Empire)

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Standard of an army high command, red square with a 2 × 2 large checkerboard pattern inside
Standard of an army high command until 1918

The armies or army high command of the German army were command authorities that were set up during the First World War . Together with their subordinate army or reserve corps and numerous special troops, they formed large military units . A total of 20 different army high commands were set up. There were also ten other army groups and departments, which were less well equipped and were usually put together for special tasks. The only Army High Command that existed before the First World War was the Army High Command in East Asia , which was briefly active in China as a special case during the Boxer Uprising .

Organization of a high command of the army

Standard organization in 1914

Group photo of the General Staff
The General Staff of the 8th Army in 1914

In 1914, during peacetime, there were eight military inspections in the German Reich with the same number of army inspectors. This position was reserved for specially selected and experienced officers who were to be at the head of the armies in the event of war. At this point in time, each inspection was already subject to troops, which the inspector could inspect to get to know them. With the mobilization on August 2, 1914, the eight inspections were converted into the high command of the 1st to 8th Army.

Since the inspectors of the military inspections in peacetime had no authority over the army corps they controlled , they also had no general staffs. These were only put together and set off during the mobilization on August 2, 1914. Each army was commanded by a commander in chief (including the eight inspectors), often with the rank of colonel general . At his side was a chief of staff , which deals with the operational matters dealt. Both were equally responsible for the leadership. The chief quartermaster was the deputy chief of the general staff . He handled all matters relating to supplies and provisions. He also published the guidelines for the stage system.

The structure of the high command itself was as follows:

  • General Staff / Operations Department (I.)
  • Adjutantage (II.)
  • Judiciary and legal affairs (III.)
  • Quartermaster General
    • Directorate and Treasury (IV.a.)
    • Medical services (IV.b.)
    • Veterinary (IV.c.)
    • Military pastoral care (IV.d.)

The operations department consisted of four general staff and two orderly officers . The actual operational command of the troops took place in it under the First General Staff Officer (Ia). The adjutant's office was responsible for personal affairs, promotions, requests, awards and lists (strengths, replacements, losses, ammunition stocks). Often it consisted of only two officers. Division IV. Was the division of the Quartermaster General. Its main task was to supply the troops, but numerous other sections for all sub-areas were also subordinate to it. For example, the commandant of the headquarters , whose job was to provide board and lodging for the Army High Command as well as to “maintain discipline and order”. He also took care of the internal work at headquarters. The armies fulfilled a double function in that they were not only supposed to deal with operational tasks, but also the administration of the immediate area . For this purpose, the Army High Command had a stage inspector with the rank of general, who in turn was assigned a whole staff.

Additional officers were assigned to the Army High Command for the individual branches of service. At the beginning of the war, each army high command had a staff officer each for the foot artillery , the pioneers and the telegraph troops as well as a railway officer and a field post director . In some armies that were intended for sieges , there was also a general of the foot artillery and of engineering and pioneering.

Expansions during the war

organization chart
Martial organization of Army High Command 7 in 1918

During the war, a state of trench warfare soon arose . Soon afterwards, warfare was shaped more and more by new technical weapons. For this reason, additional staffs were gradually added to the Army High Command, which were directly subordinate to the Chief of the General Staff. Your task should be to advise the army command and the subordinate troops regarding their type of weapon.

On September 27, 1918, Army High Command 17 had the following affiliated staffs:

In addition, other departments had been created, but most of them were subordinate to the Quartermaster General. First, an ammunition department was set up to monitor the army's ammunition level and keep the command authorities up to date. At about the same time, in October 1914, a weapons collection officer was appointed, who was promoted to staff officer for loot and collection in June 1918 . In March 1915, the commander of the motor vehicle troops , who had previously been subject to the stage inspections, was attached to the Army High Command. Further institutions were the staff officer of the train (Stotrain.) And commander of the ammunition columns and trains (Akomut.) Established in December 1916 . In January 1917 a commander of the railway troops and a commander of the heavy current department were added. Later, the position of Patriotic Education Officer was created to raise the morale of the troops. In September 1917, the construction departments of the stage inspections were also subordinated to the army high command. The last expansion was in January 1918, when a horse shop was set up .


Each army consisted of three to six army or reserve corps and, in some cases, cavalry units . Two to five Landwehr brigades were available to secure the rear space and at the disposal of the stage inspector , which were later combined into Landwehr divisions. In 1914, each army also had an aviation department (6 aircraft each), a field airship department (1 captive balloon each), five telegraph departments and a radio operator department (2 heavy radio stations each). In addition, there were special troops such as the heavy artillery , pioneers , supplies (ammunition columns and trains ) and medical services , the strength of which varied depending on the task of the army.

The latter associations were referred to as "army troops" because they were directly subordinate to the individual army high command and were given by the Supreme Army Command to the armies in combat for specific tasks and depending on the war situation. The Army High Command then assigned them to their regular combat troops for tactical use. These were above all the foot artillery units, aviators, assault battalions , machine gun sniper detachments, mine throwing battalions, guest troops and flamethrowers . All of these special weapons were easily maneuvered and for the most part motorized in order to be able to change locations at great speed.

A part of the divisions of the army formed the strategic reserve of the OHL. Army groups and armies also had their own reserves. The fighting divisions were replaced from time to time by the reserve divisions, which completed their training in the stage .

At the beginning of the war, the Supreme Army Command led the army by directing instructions to the individual Army High Command. But it soon turned out to be impossible to command a mass army of (after mobilization) more than 3.9 million people from a single central authority with the communications technology of the time. In the course of the war it was possible to expand the intelligence service by means of telephony and telegraphy, which initially only went up to the corps level, up to the divisional headquarters, but this also enabled them to operate much more independently. In the course of the First World War, the number of armies multiplied, and it was not uncommon for several armies to fight together in a theater of war. This made it necessary to group them together in army groups, each with its own command. For this reason, from 1916 onwards, armies were increasingly grouped under one army group command. These then acted as relieving intermediate bodies. The army groups were directly subordinate to the OHL.

Armies, army divisions and army groups


Photo of the seal on an envelope, round with spikes
Seal of the "Army High Command in East Asia", back of an envelope (1901)

During the Boxer Rebellion (1900/01) an international army was assembled from US, German, English, French, Italian, Japanese and Russian troops. This eventually comprised about 64,000 men. On August 12, 1900, Field Marshal Alfred von Waldersee was appointed Commander in Chief . This took over the command on September 27, 1900. To lead this force a staff was added to him, which was called the Army High Command in East Asia . The troops were deployed in China for over six months before both the German East Asian Expeditionary Corps and the Army High Command were disbanded on May 17, 1901 by imperial order .

During the German mobilization on August 2, 1914, armies 1 to 8 emerged from the eight army inspections . Of these, the 8th Army was deployed to protect East Prussia, the remaining seven armies marched on the western border:

Of these large units, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Army were to take offensive action against France through neutral Belgium . The 6th and 7th Armies, however, were supposed to behave defensively on the Franco-German border. In Schleswig-Holstein , at the beginning of the war, the reinforced IX. Reserve corps to protect against an Allied landing. This group of forces, sometimes referred to as the "Northern Army", was disbanded after less than three weeks and its troops were moved to the Western Front, so that they were not included in the above list.

In the further course of the war, further army high commands were formed:

However, all of these command authorities were disbanded on a case-by-case basis, renamed and often re-established for other tasks.

Army divisions and army groups

In addition to the "full-fledged" armies, there were improvised, independent large formations called "army departments". They consisted of levies from other units, often Landwehr troops and little heavy artillery. They were not subordinate to any army command, but were independent "small armies" which, like normal armies, received decrees and orders from the Supreme Army Command and the War Ministry. Sooner or later they received a regular high command themselves and could be upgraded to a full-fledged army after a possible increase in troops.

"Gruppe" was a common term in German military parlance for a command that comprised more than one subordinate military unit. The "army group" was an association within an army. It mostly arose from the subordination of several corps to a single general command for certain tactical or operational tasks. As a rule, these associations were therefore quickly disbanded and only a few gained greater importance due to their long-term existence. In addition, further "army groups" were put together for special tasks for a limited time. These associations were used in 1914 and 1915 for the siege of Antwerp and the siege of Nowogeorgiewsk or included various departments of the border guards. They were not subordinate to the Army High Command, but directly to the Supreme Army Command or the Commander in Chief East .

Armies in World War I

Western front

Map in black and white shows troop movements between the borders of Germany, Belgium and France
Deployment in the west 1914

The German deployment plan provided for the formation of seven armies (1st to 7th Army) on the western border. In the first few days these were commanded directly by the Supreme Army Command. Later on, some armies were placed under their neighbors to facilitate coordination of operations. This concerned the 7th Army, which was subordinated to Army High Command 6 (August 10 to September 7, 1914) and the 1st Army, which was assigned on instructions from Army High Command 2 (August 18 to 27, 1914).

As early as the climax of the German offensive in the Battle of the Marne , the units and high commands of the 6th and 7th Army were withdrawn from the left German wing and transferred to the right from September 7th. The reinforced corps that remained to cover the front were referred to as the Gaede Army Division and the Falkenhausen Army Division . When the front in the attempt of the war opponents to encircle the enemy flank, expanded further and further north (→ Race to the Sea ), corps from other armies were withdrawn and transferred to the right wing. In order to command these, the Supreme Army Command withdrew Army High Command 2 and 4 from the front and also placed units in the north under them. After the Channel coast had been reached and a continuous front line had been established, the Supreme Army Command established a new division of the units on October 10, 1914. From the north on the canal to the south on the Swiss border stood side by side the 4th, 6th, 2nd, 1st, 7th, 3rd and 5th Army as well as the Strantz, Falkenhausen and Gaede armies.

Orders were initially issued directly from the Supreme Army Command, but when this turned out to be impractical, between November 25, 1914 and March 7, 1915, some army high commands were again subordinated to the others. Since this did not show the desired simplification either, this system was abandoned. On August 1, 1915, however, the 5th Army and the three army departments were combined to form the German Crown Prince Army Group , to which the 3rd Army was subordinated for a short time (September 26 to December 7, 1915). Army High Command 5 acted as the high command of the Army Group. At the same time, Army High Command 1 was withdrawn from the front on September 17, 1915 because it was dispensable in the trench warfare and sent to the Eastern Front for other use (as Army High Command 12). Its formations were divided among the neighboring armies. However, when the 2nd Army was attacked the following year (→ Battle of the Somme ), the German forces grew so much that a new Army High Command 1 had to be introduced there on July 19, 1916. Army High Command 2 was responsible for the overall management of the operations of both armies as Army Group Gallwitz .

Map with colored highlights shows the positions and offensives of the 1918 spring offensive on the western front
The Western Front in the spring of 1918

On August 29, 1916, the German western army was reorganized. The Gallwitz Army Group was dissolved and in its place the Crown Prince Rupprecht Army Group of Bavaria was created, which comprised the 6th, 1st, 2nd and 7th Army. The 3rd Army was again subordinated to the German Crown Prince Army Group. Only the 4th Army on the Channel Coast remained under the direct control of the Supreme Army Command. Another reclassification took place on 1st / 2nd March 1917, when the 4th Army joined the Crown Prince of Bavaria's Army Group and its previous Commander-in-Chief now took over the three army departments on the south wing as Army Group Duke Albrecht . Shortly afterwards, on April 12, 1917, Army High Command 1 was transferred from the northern Army Group to the middle one. Thus, from April 16, 1917, the division of the German Western Army from north to south was as follows: Army Group Crown Prince of Bavaria (4th, 6th and 2nd Army), Army Group German Crown Prince (7th, 1st, 3rd and 5th Army Group) Army), Army Group Duke Albrecht (Army Divisions C, A and B).

For the planned spring offensive , the 18th Army (December 27, 1917), 17th Army (February 1, 1918) and 19th Army (February 4, 1918) were pushed into the Western Front. Each army group received one of the new armies and from the 5th Army and Army Division C a new Army Group Gallwitz was formed in the Verdun area on February 4, 1918. After Army High Command 9 arrived from Romania on July 5, 1918 , an Army Group Boehn was formed from this as well as the 2nd and 18th Armies on August 12th . In the course of the retreat movements in autumn 1918, however, the 9th Army and Army Group Boehn were disbanded, so that from October 8, 1918 the formation of February 4, 1918 with four army groups existed again.

Eastern Front

Half-length photo of Paul von Hindenburg
As "Commander-in-Chief of the East", Paul von Hindenburg was for a long time the most influential German commander on the Eastern Front

On the Eastern Front , the order of command was made more complicated by the mixing of German and Austro-Hungarian units. Originally, only the 8th Army was deployed to protect East Prussia, while the Landwehr Corps came under Austrian command on September 4, 1914. To support the Austro-Hungarian armed forces , a new 9th Army was formed near Breslau in September 1914, which first attacked southern Poland, but then moved to the Gnesen - Thorn area . On November 1, 1914, both German armies were subordinated to the Commander-in-Chief East . On November 15, 1914, the Gallwitz Army Group was formed between the two armies, while the Landwehr Corps was expanded to form the Woyrsch Army Division. The latter, however, was under Austrian command. In January 1915, the Supreme Army Command also formed a southern army to stabilize the Austrian front in the Carpathian Mountains . At the same time, a new 10th Army was formed in East Prussia. At the beginning of February 1915, under the Commander-in-Chief East, from north to south: 10th Army, 8th Army, Gallwitz Army Group, 9th Army and under Austro-Hungarian orders in the south the Southern Army and Woyrsch Army Division.

For the summer offensive of 1915, a Lauenstein Army Detachment was formed in East Prussia in April and the new 11th Army was ordered to attack in the south (→ Battle of Gorlice-Tarnów ). In the course of the operations, the Lauenstein Army Division was expanded into the Nyemen Army. Shortly afterwards, the bow army was formed on the Austrian section of the front. On August 5, 1915, however, the Supreme Army Command decided to direct operations on the Eastern Front again and abolished the Commander-in-Chief East. Instead, until September 1, 1915, the troops were reallocated from north to south as follows: Army Group Hindenburg (Njemen Army, 10th, 8th and 12th Army), Army Group Leopold (9th Army, Woyrsch Army Division), Army Group Mackensen (11th Army) Army, Bug Army) and the Southern Army under Austrian command. The offensive of the Central Powers against Serbia in the same year made a further division of the troops necessary. The 11th Army and the Mackensen Army Group were transferred to the Balkans. Only the Bug Army remained on this section of the front, whose Army High Command as Army Group Linsingen also commanded the Austro-Hungarian 4th Army. In East Prussia, the Nyemen Army was renamed the 8th Army (the old 8th Army was disbanded) and some of its units were relocated north as the Scholtz Army Detachment.

Map of the Eastern Front, 1915
The Eastern Front in the summer of 1915

Under the impression of the Russian Brusilov offensive , a Commander-in-Chief was created again on July 30, 1916, who was to lead the German troops on the Eastern Front. On September 19, 1916, the Eichhorn Army Group (8th Army, Scholtz Army Division, 10th Army), Woyrsch Army Group (12th Army, Woyrsch Army Division, Gronau Army Division), Linsingen Army Group (Bug Army, Austro-Hungarian 4th Army) were subordinate to this from north to south ) and the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army with the Eben Army Group. The Southern Army, 9th Army and Army Group Mackensen were also under Austrian command. The German forces in the south focused on invading Romania . On October 4, 1916, the Southern Army and numerous Austrian units came under the command of the Commander in Chief East, and on October 10, 1916 the 12th Army was disbanded. The Scheffer Army Detachment took the place of the latter.

This division of troops lasted for a long time until the Woyrsch Army Group was disbanded on December 15, 1917. As negotiations with the Bolshevik government in Russia began, further command posts were cut. So on February 3, 1918, the Southern Army and on March 28, 1918, the Eichhorn Army Group. The commander in chief of the latter took over the previous Army Group Linsingen. On April 16, 1918, only the 8th and 10th Army, the Eichhorn-Kiew Army Group (from May 1st "Eichhorn" and from August 13th "Kiev"), Army Group Mackensen (9th April 1918) were at German command authorities under the Commander in Chief East 3rd Army, 3rd Bulgarian Army). On June 18, 1918, Army High Command 9 was finally transferred to the Western Front.

Other fronts

On May 24, 1915 Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. As early as May 28, 1915, German troops (→ Alpine Corps ) were deployed on the front against Italy for a few months. From the end of August 1916, Germany was officially at war with Italy. But only for the planned major offensive in autumn 1917 was the German 14th Army assembled in mid-September and pushed into the front between the Austro-Hungarian Army Groups of Tyrol and Boroevic. The German army took part in the following Battle of Karfreit (October 24-27, 1917) and was then withdrawn. Army High Command 14 left the front section on January 22, 1918 and was used as Army High Command 17 on the Western Front.

When the Central Powers were preparing the campaign against Serbia and Montenegro in autumn 1915 , a new 11th Army was formed using the previous Army High Command. This became the core of the new Mackensen Army Group, to which the Austro-Hungarian 3rd Army and the Austro-Hungarian Army Group Fülöpp belonged. When the offensive was successful and Bulgaria also entered the war, the Bulgarian 1st and 2nd Army were also subordinated to the Army Group on October 14, 1915. The 11th Army and a German Army Group Command (under changing names) remained in the Balkans until the end of the war.

A limited number of German troops fought on the fronts of the Ottoman Empire , but they only had corps headquarters. Army Group Command F later also arrived there. An army high command was not used there.


  • R. Brühl, A. Charisius, K. Dorst u. a. (Ed.): Dictionary of German military history , 2 vols., Military Publishing House of the GDR , Berlin (East) 1985.
  • Hermann Cron: The organization of the German army in the world wars , Verlag ES Mittler & Sohn , Berlin 1923.
  • Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in the World War 1914–1918 . Military publisher Karl Siegesmund, Berlin 1937.
  • Edgar Graf von Matuschka: Organizational history of the army 1890 to 1918 . In: From Bismarck's discharge to the end of the First World War, 1890–1918 . Munich 1983, pp. 157–282 (= German military history 1648–1939. Edited by the Military History Research Office , vol. 3). ISBN 3-88199-112-3

Web links

Commons : Army (German Empire)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hermann Rahne: Mobilization - Military mobilization planning and technology in Prussia and the German Empire from the middle of the 19th century to the Second World War , Berlin (East) 1983, p. 135 f.
  2. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 72
  3. On these and other details of the smaller sections and their tasks, cf. Hermann Cron: The organization of the German army in the world war , Berlin 1923, pp. 30–35
  4. ^ Hermann Cron: The organization of the German heres in the world wars , Berlin 1923, pp. 148–157
  5. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 73
  6. Hermann Cron: The Organization of the German Heres in the World War , Berlin 1923, p. 35
  7. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, pp. 73 f .; see also 1918 Commander of the Uhlan Regiment. "King Wilhelm I." (2nd Württembergisches) No. 20
  8. ^ A b c Edgar Graf von Matuschka: Organization history of the army 1890 to 1918 . In: From Bismark's release to the end of the First World War, 1890–1918 . Munich 1983, p. 225
  9. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 75 f.
  10. R. Brühl, A. Charisius, K. Dorst u. a. (Ed.): Dictionary of German military history . Vol. 1, Berlin (East) 1985, p. 25
  11. ^ Edgar Graf von Matuschka: Organizational History of the Army 1890 to 1918 . In: From Bismark's release to the end of the First World War, 1890–1918 . Munich 1983, p. 209 f.
  12. ^ Hermann Stegemann: History of the war. Volume 1. Stuttgart / Berlin 1917, p. 103
  13. ^ Walter Görlitz: History of the German General Staff from 1650-1945. Augsburg 1997, p. 163 and 166
  14. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 73 fn. 51
  15. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 82
  16. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, pp. 82-85
  17. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 43
  18. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 44
  19. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 44 f.
  20. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 45 f.
  21. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 46 f.
  22. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 47 f.
  23. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 49 f.
  24. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 50 f.
  25. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 52
  26. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 53
  27. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 54 f.
  28. ^ Hermann Cron: History of the German Army in World Wars 1914-1918 . Berlin 1937, p. 55 f.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on July 23, 2010 in this version .