Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Franco Prussian War, 1870

Helmuth von Moltke

Franco-Prussian War                               
It was the Franco-Prussian War that finally established the German armed forces as being the finest in Europe, perhaps the world. It was not German weapons or men that proved decisive, however, but the new concept of a General Staff, which other nations were quick to copy.
After the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Prussian commander Helmuth von Moltke engaged in detailed study of what had worked and what had gone wrong. He decided that the key problem had been at the detailed level of logistics. Put simply men and supplies had been ordered to follow routes that were unsuitable, either because of narrow bridges or poor road surfaces or single track railroads. 

He therefore formed a General Staff in Berlin divided into three divisions: Operational, Administrative and Supply. The staff was to be responsible for deciding how many men or supplies could be moved along any particular railroad or road in a given period of time, and then of drawing up detailed movement orders to make maximum effective use of the transport network. By contrast to this detailed work, Moltke believed that his generals should be given a free hand to implement as they saw fit his broadly defined objectives. 

The system worked perfectly when France declared war on Prussia and her German allies on 15 July 1870. Within 2 weeks, the Prussians had 475,000 men on the border complete with heavy artillery and full supply wagons. The French had by this date managed to mobilize only 224,000 men, most of whom were still in barracks without their supply transport having arrived. 

The Prussians attacked, inflicting a series of defeats on the outnumbered and outmanoeuvred French at Saarbrücken, Spichern, Mars-le-Tour, Gravelotte and Metz. The final battle at Sedan on 1 September saw the last French army crushed and Emperor Napoleon III taken prisoner. The French then declared a republic and hastily fortified Paris. The resulting siege dragged on until 15 February 1871 when France finally surrendered. 

Prussia gained not only a free hand to unify Germany under the King of Prussia, including those German states that did not favour the move, but also annexed the long-disputed border territorties of Alsace and Lorraine. s

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