Helmuth von Moltke (Field Marshal General)

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Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke , from 1870 Count von Moltke , called Moltke the Elder , popularly The Great Silent (born October 26,  1800 in Parchim ; † April 24, 1891 in Berlin ), was a Prussian field marshal . As Chief of the General Staff , he played a major role in Prussia's success in the wars of German unification . Moltke is one of the most successful generals of his time. He was the great-great-uncle of the resistance fighter against National Socialism Helmuth James Graf von Moltke .


Coat of arms of Count von Moltke

Helmuth von Moltke came from the von Moltke family , who belong to the Mecklenburg nobility . He was the son of the later Danish lieutenant general Friedrich Philipp Victor von Moltke (1768–1845) and his wife Henriette Sophie, née. Paschen (1776-1837). From 1801 to 1803 the family lived on Gut Gnewitz , then moved to Lübeck. After his father entered the Danish military service in 1806, he also made sure that his three eldest sons were accepted as cadets at the cadet academy in Copenhagen in 1811 . He is said not to have found his childhood happy.

Moltke was promoted to secondary lieutenant in 1818 and served in the Danish infantry regiment Oldenburg in Rendsburg . Moltke turned out to be talented and had great ambitions. He tried to be accepted into the Prussian army . With this request he turned personally to the Danish King Frederick VI. :

"At some point in the future, may I be able to use the skills I seek to acquire for the benefit of the King and Denmark."

- Moltke

His request was granted in January 1822 because it was assumed that he would return to the Danish service with international experience. But in Prussia he had completely different options. In Frankfurt (Oder) he joined the 8th Infantry Regiment (called Leib-Infanterie-Regiment) of the Prussian Army as a second lieutenant . He attended the General War School from 1823 to 1826 , Carl von Clausewitz was one of his mentors, and in 1833 was appointed to the General Staff .

Military advisor in the Ottoman Empire

In 1835 he received leave for an educational trip to southeast Europe. At the invitation of the Ottoman Minister of War Hüsrev Mehmed Pascha , he was assigned as an instructor for the Ottoman troops from 1836 to 1839. During this time he traveled to Constantinople , the Black Sea coast , the Taurus Mountains and the desert of Mesopotamia and took part in a campaign against the Kurds in 1838 . In April and May 1837 he accompanied Sultan Mahmud II on his trip to the Danube principalities . Among other things, he planned a line of defense against the Russians there. According to his plans, four fortresses were built along the Danube. One of them is the Silistra fortress . In 1838 the Ottoman Empire felt strong enough to resume the fight against the Egyptian troops of Mehmet Ali under his son Ibrahim Pascha in Syria . Moltke took part in this campaign and witnessed the decisive defeat of the Ottomans in the Battle of Nizip on June 24, 1839. Moltke published his travel report in 1841 with Ernst Siegfried Mittler in Berlin under the title Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey from 1835 to 1839 .

To the sick man on the Bosporus he said:

“For a long time it has been the task of the Western armies to set barriers to Ottoman power. Today it seems to be the concern of European politics to eke out their existence. "

- Moltke

Chief of the General Staff

Otto von Bismarck , Albrecht von Roon , Helmuth von Moltke (from left to right)

After his return to Germany, Moltke was promoted to major and in 1846 adjutant to Prince Karl Heinrich of Prussia in Rome . After his death he was transferred to the General Command on the Rhine . From 1848 to 1855 Moltke was Chief of the General Staff of the IV Army Corps and from September 1, 1855 adjutant to Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm .

This was followed by trips to Balmoral , London , Russia (for the coronation of Alexander II ) and Paris and a transfer to Breslau in January 1857 . After the death of his predecessor, General Karl von Reyher , he was entrusted with the rank of major general on October 29, 1857, with the " taking care of the business of the Chief of the Army General Staff". On September 18, 1858, Helmuth von Moltke was appointed Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army .

In this capacity he was commissioned in 1862 to work out a plan in the event of a war against Denmark . Knowing its strengths and weaknesses, Moltke developed his planning.

The General Staff created by the reforms during the Wars of Liberation became a center of military and political influence at the latest with King Wilhelm I's cabinet order of June 2, 1866. Moltke was appointed general and, as chief of the general staff, was given the right to issue direct orders to the field army in the name of the king and without the intermediary of the war minister, so that he could directly direct military operations himself. This increased influence was expressed in the name Great General Staff, which was customary after the establishment of the German Empire .

Moltke was regarded as a brilliant strategist and was responsible for the drafting of the plans for the German-Danish War (1864), the German War (more precisely: the Prussian-German War of 1866) against the troops of the German Confederation (especially Austria , Bavaria , Saxony , Hanover and Electoral Hesse ) and the Franco-German War (1870/1871). He recognized the importance of strategic paths for the deployment of large armies early on .

Moltke personally led the decisive battle against Austria at Königgrätz . After the victorious battles against France , he received the hereditary title of Count on October 28, 1870, and on June 16, 1871, he was appointed Field Marshal General . He remained the up to the requested for reasons of age adopted on August 9 Three Emperors year 1888 in the official position of the Chief of the General Staff.

For his services in the wars of 1866 and 1870/1871 he received high endowments .

As a member of the Conservative Party, Moltke was a member of the North German or German Reichstag from 1867 (for the Reichstag constituency, Koenigsberg 1 district ) and was its age president from 1881 . From 1872 he was also a member of the Prussian manor house .

Moltke and Bismarck are regarded as the forge of the unification of the empire in 1871, Moltke from a military and Bismarck from a political point of view. Although Moltke had immediate rights with the Kaiser from 1871 and thus in fact had the opportunity to make military decisions together with the Commander-in-Chief to the exclusion of the Reichstag and Chancellor, he was always prepared to submit to the primacy of politics demanded by Bismarck . In his last speech in the Reichstag, which he gave when he was almost 90 years old on May 14, 1890 (a few months after Bismarck's dismissal), he warned urgently of a new war in Europe with the words:

"Gentlemen, it can be a seven-year war, it can be a thirty-year war - and woe to him who first tosses the fuse into the powder keg!"

- Moltke

Moltke's sound recordings - made in October 1889 - are probably the only recordings of people born in the 18th century that have survived to this day.

Mission tactics

Moltke understood the strategy as a system of temporary workers. Because of the many imponderables in the war, he only considered the beginning of a campaign to be plannable: "No operational plan will with any degree of certainty extend beyond the first encounter with the main enemy power." Therefore, he saw his task primarily in the comprehensive planning of the military conflict all technical possibilities.

He recognized early on that the railroad and the telegraph would enable the strategist to conduct campaigns much more quickly and that mistakes in the original assembly of the armed forces could hardly be made good. So he assigned general staff officers to the railway officials to check each individual route.

From an operational point of view, due to the increased defensive power, he went from the frontal attack , as was still common under Napoleon, to the frontal and flank attack carried out at the same time . In order not to make this development in sight of the enemy and thereby warn him, he directed separately deploying forces at the same time against the flanks and the main front of the enemy. Thanks to optimally deployed transport and communication systems, the risky principle “march separately - strike together” could then be applied.

Moltke always distinguished himself in a special way through the iron composure with which he let things come to him, in order to then take the necessary measures flexibly and imaginatively. He granted the subordinates extensive freedom of action in carrying out the combat mission.

With these principles, Moltke became a role model in leading modern mass armies in his time. The Bundeswehr, too, cultivates mission tactics as a strength in its leadership strategy.

"Weigh first, then dare."

- Moltke's motto


Kreisau Castle , Moltke's retirement home

Moltke married on April 20, 1842 in Itzehoe Mary Burt (1825-1868), a stepdaughter of his sister Auguste (1809-1883). Through the marriage, his nephew Henry von Burt also became his brother-in-law. Burt was temporarily Moltke's adjutant and after Moltke's death published the correspondence between Moltke and his wife. Due to illness, Burt lived in Blasewitz from 1884 to 1892 in a villa on the Elbe. The Villa Henry von Burts, now at Regerstraße 2 (Dresden, then Blasewitz Johannstraße 1, later 33) was called, as noted in Blasewitz's address books, Villa Moltke for a long time . However, it was converted into Villa Dudek in 1910 and changed as a result.

Moltke had in Silesia , the Good Kreisau purchased as a retirement home. There he built a mausoleum on Kapellenberg for his wife, who died early on December 24, 1868 at the age of 43 , which can still be found today. Moltke died in 1891 in his official residence in Alsenviertel , north of Königsplatz in Berlin. The sculptor Otto Lessing (1846–1912) took off the death mask and prints of the hands on behalf of the army command. On the basis of these impressions, Lessing created a half-length Moltke's marble figure (loss of war) until 1894. Moltke was buried in the mausoleum on Gut Kreisau. His bones were lost at the end of World War II in 1945.

Moltke was the uncle of the Prussian general colonel and chief of the general staff Helmuth Johannes Ludwig von Moltke . He was still the great-great-uncle of the resistance fighter against National Socialism Helmuth James Graf von Moltke .


Moltke monument by Joseph Uphues at the Großer Stern in Berlin
Uniformed portrait right by Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke with the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross from 1870. Bronze medal by August Schabel, Munich.
Portrait head at the Moltke Bridge in Berlin

Monument in Berlin

The Moltke monument in Berlin is located on the northeastern edge of the Großer Stern in the Großer Tiergarten . Originally erected in 1904 by Joseph Uphues on Königsplatz in front of the Kroll Opera House , Albert Speer moved it to its current location in 1938–1939, along with the Bismarck and Roons monuments and the Victory Column . The marble sculpture shows Moltke calmly leaning against him in uniform with folded hands and a peaked cap on .



Like Otto von Bismarck , Moltke was one of only four carriers of both classes of the Pour le Mérite . The list of ranks and quarters of the Royal Prussian Army for 1884 shows the following medals and decorations:

German states

Grand Cross of the House Order of Albrecht the Bear on June 24, 1871
to bathe
House Order of Loyalty on April 27, 1871
Grand Cross of the Military Karl Friedrich Order of Merit on July 2, 1868
Grand Cross of the Military Max Joseph Order on November 7, 1870
Grand Cross with Swords of the Order of Henry the Lion on April 11, 1871
Grand Cross of the Order of Ludwig on March 16, 1871
Hessian Military Merit Cross on March 16, 1871
Military Merit Medal
Swords for the Grand Cross with crown in gold of the House Order of the Wendish Crown on April 11, 1871
Military Merit Cross 1st Class on June 24, 1871
Cross for distinction in war
Grand Cross of Honor with a golden crown and swords of the Oldenburg House and Merit Order of Duke Peter Friedrich Ludwig on January 9, 1871
House order of the diamond crown
Grand Cross of the Military Order of St. Henry on October 26, 1870
Grand Cross with Swords of the House Order of the White Falcon on January 9, 1871
Grand Cross of the Duke of Saxony-Ernestine House Order on October 29, 1861
Grand Cross of the Württemberg Military Merit Order on January 20, 1871
Grand Cross of the Order of the Württemberg Crown on March 23, 1869



Ottoman Empire


Honorary citizenships



1st page from the ordinances for senior troop leaders of June 24, 1869
  • The two friends (novella), 1827.
  • Letters about conditions and events in Turkey from the years 1835 to 1839. 1841 (selection in: Under the Crescent ). ( Digitized and full text in the German text archive )
    • More recent selection with an introduction by Max Horst: Letters from Turkey , Albert Langen-Georg Müller Verlag, Munich 1938.
  • The Russian-Turkish campaign 1828–29. 1845, digitized
  • The Italian campaign of 1859 . Mittler, Berlin 1863.
  • Letters from Russia . Berlin, Paetel 1877.
  • Hiking book: handwritten. Records from d. Travel journal. Berlin, Paetel 1879.
  • Collected writings and memorabilia of General Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke. 8 volumes. Mittler, Berlin 1891 ff.
Vol. 1: On the life story. 1891
Vol. 2: Mixed writings. 1892
Vol. 3: History of the Franco-German War from 1870–71. 1891
Vol. 4 (letters, collection 1): Letters ... to his mother and to his brothers Adolf and Ludwig. 1891
Vol. 5 (Letters, Collection 2): Letters from the General Field Marshal ... and memories of him. 1892
Vol. 6 (Letters, Collection 3): Letters ... to his bride and wife. 1892
Vol. 7: Speeches. In addition to a subject index for volumes 1-7. 1892
Vol. 8: Letters about conditions and events in Turkey from the years 1835 to 1839. [6. Ed.]. 1893
  • Moltke. Records, letters, writings, speeches. 1922.
  • Max Horst: Moltke. Life and work in personal testimonies , Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Leipzig 1931.

Literature (selection)

The state bibliography MV currently lists almost 200 titles on Helmuth von Moltke, including almost 70 independently published writings. (see web links)

Web links

Commons : Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Heinrich Walle : "Moltke, Helmuth Graf von" in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 18 (1997), pp. 13-17 (online version) .
  2. Elly Heuss Knapp: View from the Münsterturm , Strasbourg, 1934/1941.
  3. ^ Digitized and full text in the German Text Archive ; Digitization of the title in the Internet Archive . The work appeared in numerous reprints with the title Under the Crescent .
  4. ^ German Werth: The Crimean War .
  5. M. Horst: Introduction in: Moltke. Life and work in self-testimonies. , Leipzig 1937, p. 29 and time table, p. 474.
  6. ^ Speech to the Reichstag on May 14, 1890. Retrieved June 29, 2014 .
  7. ^ Prince Bismarck and Count Moltke Before the Recording Horn: The Edison Phonograph in Europe, 1889-1890. Retrieved June 29, 2014 .
  8. Amory Burchard: Bismarck's Voice from the Past . In: Zeit Online . January 31, 2012.
  9. ^ Herbert Rosinski: The German Army. An analysis , Econ Verlag, Düsseldorf and Vienna 1970, p. 117 ff.
  10. Meyer's Enzyklopädisches Lexikon, 9th edition, Mannheim 1976, Volume 16, p. 406.
  11. ^ Heinz Longerich: Dark times and new districts. In: Norddeutsche Rundschau . January 7, 2011, accessed July 2, 2014 .
  12. Olaf Jessen: The Moltkes: Biography of a family. CH Beck, 2nd edition 2011. ISBN 978-3406604997 .
  13. ^ Barbara Bechter: Handbook of German Art Monuments. Part: Dresden. Deutscher Kunstverlag Berlin Munich 2005. Page 149. ISBN 978-3-422-03110-4 .
  14. ^ Information ( memento from November 4, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) of the Kreisau Initiative
  15. https://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/denkmal/liste_karte_datenbank/de/denkmaldatenbank/daobj.php?obj_dok_nr=09050419,T
  16. Rank and quarter list of the Royal Prussian Army for 1884. Ernst Mittler and Son, Berlin 1885.
  17. List of dekorirten with Grand Ducal Hessian medals and decorations persons, Darmstadt 1875, p 84; Court and State Manual of the Grand Duchy of Hesse 1879, p. 145.
  18. ^ Foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724. Helmuth Karl Bernhard, Freiherr, Graf von Moltke. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed October 7, 2015 .
  19. ^ Michel catalog: No. 9601 and block number 2184