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Led into hell: Conservative influence on German offensive infantry tactics, 1871--1918

Steven David Jackman, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This work explains the profound influence of German conservatism on the German army's offensive infantry tactics. Accepting the argument that the German officers were highly professional and based their offensive tactics and training on their best military judgment, the work adds that they maintained the same basic conservative attitudes toward war as Friedrich the Great and his officers rather than the more liberal ideas expounded in the 1806–1815 Prussian military reform. As Hans Delbrück has argued, an army is not just an instrument optimized for fighting but also an institution, influenced by social forces and cultural norms. Although most modern experts on German history see the Aufklärung (German Enlightenment) as a radical change with previous German society, the deeper one looks the more continuity one discovers. In a tradition tracing back to Augustinian Catholicism, conservative Germans had believed in the spiritual over the material, original sin, the Great Chain of Being, innate ideas, and the rejection of human reason and empiricism. ^ Consequently, the German army misinterpreted the Franco-Prussian War's main tactical lesson, modern firepower forced greater dispersion and independence. Instead, it continued to rely on “old Prussian” values, including “offensive spirit,” mass (concentration of forces), close control (officers personally supervising, leading, and commanding their soldiers), and “old Prussian drill” (combat discipline through habituating practice). Even as changes in weapons' technology, illustrated both by rifle range experiments and foreign wars, demonstrated that such methods proved counter-productive in modern warfare, the army preserved them into World War I because it rejected technology and scientific proof of its effectiveness as materialistic. With its anachronistic methods, the army suffered during this conflict and, finally, to avoid annihilation, began to accept the modern principles, dispersion and training in independence, which formed the basis for the World War II army. ^

Subject Area

History, European

Recommended Citation

Jackman, Steven David, "Led into hell: Conservative influence on German offensive infantry tactics, 1871--1918" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3070129.