First World War: The German Army

In 1914 Germany was recognised as having the most efficient army in the world. Its structure included universal mass conscription for short-term military service followed by a longer period in reserve. The German Army placed great emphasis on high quality training and maintaining a large number of experienced senior officers.

Planning and operational control was conducted by the General Staff. The Kaiser Wilhelm II was the official Commander-in-Chief, but the Army chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke was the effective leader in the field. Moltke was followed in this post by Erich von Falkenhayn (1914-16) and Paul von Hindenburg (1916-18).

The German Army in 1914 comprised 25 corps (700,000 men). Within a week of mobilization some 3.8 million men were under arms. There were eight army commands and a further ten were created during the war. A cavalry regiment and other support forces were attached to each 2 divisions.

Within a week of war being declared, the reserves had been called up and some 3.8 million men were in the German Army. By August 1916, about 2.85 soldiers were serving on the Western Front with another 1.7 million on the Eastern Front.

When the First World War came to an end in November 1918, the German Army had suffered an estimated 5 million casualties, including 1.75 dead. After the war the Treaty of Versailles restricted the German Army to 100,000 men.

Primary Sources

(1) G. W. Steevens, The Daily Mail (1897)

The German Army is the post perfectly adapted, perfectly running machine. Never can there have been a more signal triumph of organisation over complexity. The armies of other nations are not so completely organized. The German Army is the finest thing of its kind in the world; it is the finest thing in Germany of any kind. Briefly, the difference between the German and, for instance, the English armies is a simple one. The German Army is organised with a view to war, with the cold, hard, practical, business-like purpose of winning victories. And what should we ever do if 100,000 of this kind of army got loose in England?

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