Book Review – Imperial German Army 1914-18: Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle

Hermann Cron, (translated by C.F. Colton MA), edited by Duncan Rogers, Imperial German Army 1914-18: Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle. Solihull: Helion & Co, 2006.

This is an excellent reference book, but readers should not be under the impression that this is a comprehensive narrative history of the German Army during the First World War. Cron’s original masterwork was produced and published during the early, ascendant phase of Hitler’s National Socialist regime in Germany and this gives it a unique quality.

Intriguingly, the conclusions, rather than foreword, offer the most obvious acknowledgement of this connection. In it, Hermann Cron notes:

The World War of 1914-1918 brought dreadful burdens for the new (Second) Reich. In a manner worthy of their sires, Prussian sons, in union with their brother races, conducted a heroic struggle for existence against the whole hostile world. … [Everywhere] they laid down their goods and blood, victorious and dying, for the greatness of Germany. … [Now] we see the sacred legacy of the old Prussian Army [and] … wish to draw on it to draw forth the power to work for the reconstruction of our beloved Fatherland. Per aspera ad astra!  … [Since the trials of the past years] there arose for the German Volk, in Adolf Hitler, a leader of genius whose boundless energy [has] created a new German Volkswehr. … Therefore, may this history of the German Army in the 1914-1918 War, ring out in the certainty that the former unforgettable Army is not dead, but lives on in its virtues, its ability and its power, in the Armed Forces of the Third Reich!

With this approach borne in mind, the Imperial German Army provides a most comprehensive and detailed insight into how the German Army was formed and structured from both a historical perspective from the beginning of the Second Reich and founding of the German nation-state with the triumph of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and at every level from the top down. It reviews the machinations of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the ‘Great Headquarters’, the German Supreme Command and much-vaunted General Staff system. It then drills down to extraordinary detail on the establishments, weapons and equipment of every Arm of Service, such as infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers and the air service, as well as the crucial logistical combat service support, in every theatre of war, as well as within Germany itself.

Part II tracks the changes that were made as the War progressed, again, across the Arms of Service, rather than by providing a blow-by-blow account of the conflict as a separate chapter, which would provide a more cohesive context on the War as a whole. This is a pity, but Cron’s aim was to present detailed information on command and formation/unit structures for a German military readership in the late-1930s that already had a thorough knowledge (albeit a jaundiced one, coloured by the ‘Stab-in-the-Back’ theory) of the First World War. Cron no doubt expected that his work would prove to be an inspiration for the Wehrmacht for the War that was to come.

The book presents several appendices that list, firstly, the Order of Battle (ORBAT) for the German Field Army on 17th August 1914 and then, only General Oskar von Hutier’s Eighteenth Army as part of the Kaiserschlacht launched on 21March 1918. This is a curious selection; as von Hutier’s command was but one of three armies (the others being the Second and Seventeenth) that took part in the failed attempt to break the BEF on the Somme and Southern Scarpe sectors in March and early April of that momentous year. The reason for this may well be linked to the fact that Hitler and other senior members of the Nazi Party and German High Command of the Wehrmacht in this pre-Second World War era had cited ‘von Hutier tactics’ in 1918 as an important inspiration for Blitzkrieg.

The Appendices also cover a summary of brigade and mobile units, Arms of Service and Army Group and Army commanders throughout the war. For those who are keen to research modern German military history, the book also provides an outstanding Abbreviations and Glossary Appendix.

Imperial German Army, 1914-1918 is undoubtedly the best widely published and translated reference book on the German Army during the First World War available. Despite some inaccuracies, such as the apparent revelation that Second Army, heavily engaged in the Kaiserschlacht and then broken by the BEF at Amiens in August 1918, was disbanded in January 1918, it is a scholarly opus on the German war machine between 1914 and its nemesis in November 1918.

Anyone intending to conduct equally scholarly research on the German Army during the Great War should ensure that Imperial German Army, 1914-1918, Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle graces his or her bookshelf. It is a timely republication of a unique translated book, for it will complement the growing number of books that are now being produced covering the German angle of the First World War with excellent narratives of particular battles, campaigns and theatres of war and in particular, the Western Front.

By Ian Passingham, Honorary Research Fellow in War Studies, University of Birmingham

Printable version is downloadable here.

Citation: Ian Passingham, ‘Review of Hermann Cron, (translated by C.F. Colton MA), edited by Duncan Rogers, Imperial German Army 1914-18: Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle’, Birmingham “On War”, 9 September 2012

2 responses to “Book Review – Imperial German Army 1914-18: Organisation, Structure, Orders-of-Battle

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