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Eric von Falkenhayn

In the early part of the war, when the Kaiser's plan for entering Paris in September, 1914, and reaching London from Paris by the end of October, had been frustrated, and the German armies forced to retreat, the Kaiser accepted the resignation of Moltke, Chief of the General Staff, who thus appeared as the scapegoat in the German miscalculations, and appointed in his stead General Eric von Falkenhayn, one of the cleverest of Berlin courtier-soldiers.

Cold, calculating, suave, and an intriguer, the scion of one of the oldest German houses, Falkenhayn had begun his career by winning the good will of the Kaiser's sons through a brother Eugene, who had been their tutor, mentor, and military governor in their boyhood. This, together with an intimate association afterward with Field-marshal Count von Waldersee, on whose staff he served in the allied march upon Pekin in 1900, and from knowing the American-born Countess von Waldersee, a favorite aunt of the Kaiserin, brought Falkenhayn into contact with the Kaiserin, and it was not long before he won favor. He had a gift for repartee, was mentally alert and resourceful. Various accomplishments and a readiness of speech finally commended him to the Emperor as particularly well qualified to take charge of the Department of War, and especially to champion the cause of the army in the Reichstag, after the public uproar created by the sabering at Zabern of a lame and unarmed cobbler by a young infantry officer.

Falkenhayn was in sharp contrast to Moltke. As age went among commanding German officers, he was young, while Moltke was over sixty-six. Temperament Moltke had not, but Falkenhayn did have it, being alive and energetic, a bundle of nerves, sometimes agreeable and sometimes irascible, intuitional and venturesome, while Moltke was placid and methodical, democratic, liberalminded and cautious. The two were about as far apart as two Germans could be. Moltke, until the Marne battle, had never got into a real embarrassment in his life, while Falkenhayn, in peace times, had repeatedly been in situations from which only a genius, or a favorite of fortune, could have been extricated.

Physically he bore a resemblance to the Japanese Chief of Staff, Kodana, He had the same alert eye, and winning smile, the same habit of asking interminable questions, and the robustness of youthful middle age. He was of middle height, and extremely slender, which was quite unusual for a German officer past fifty. He had been little with troops, but enough to conform to the regulations which required that no one designed for staff duty could entirely escape service in the field. He was a graduate of the War Academy, and before succeeding Moltke had been twice a Chief of Staff, altho never before a chief of the entire army. During 1909-10 he was Chief of Staff to the Sixteenth Army Corps, with headquarters at Metz, and previous to his appointment as Minister of War, was Chief of Staff to the Fourth Army Corps, with headquarters at Magdeburg.

Falkenhayn was an adequate representative, of the German military caste. He embodied its ideals and traditions. The renascence of the German army after the failure of 1914 was commonly ascribed to Falkenhayn. He was a man whose ambitions were limited only by his power to achieve them. It was he who planned, and Mackensen who acted, in the great drive against the Russians in the summer of 1915. He was the strategist and Mackensen the tactician. For a Chief of Staff, he was dangerously temperamental, rushing as he did from extremes of pessimism to heights of optimism. In moments of anger he would raise his voice - a good powerful voice. When pleased, his whole countenance would seem to participate in the expression. While often ungracious he had in him much real good nature. When living at Metz he often seemed stiff and autocratic in public, but those who called at his modest home found him willing to grant favors and quite eager to make friends.

As Chief of Staff, Falkenhayn reigned supreme at the Kaiser's headquarters, and acquired an extraordinary ascendency over his sovereign. On the profest ground of military exigencies he was disposed to keep at a distance from Imperial Headquarters not only the Chancellor, cabinet ministers, and various statesmen and foreign diplomats, but even the rulers of some of the sovereign States comprised in the German Empire. Owing much as he did to the Crown Prince, Falkenhayn, in 1916, yielding to solicitations such as had failed Hindenburg in the East, when he wanted reinforcements to take Riga, sent all his available troops to the heir apparent, and his mentor Count von Haeseler, in order that they might attempt the capture of Verdun, a scheme to which, however, he had become himself committed, believing it would be possible thus to open up a road to Paris.

The Kaiser was afterward disposed to saddle Falkenhayn with blame, both for the successful renewal of the Russian offensive and for the Crown Prince's failure before Verdun, so that Falkenhayn might sooner have shared the fate of Moltke, had he not possest influence at Court. Verdun and Riga, however, had opened the Kaiser's eyes to the fact that Germany was confronted with ultimate defeat, owing to the greater resources of her foes in man-power, munitions, and money. The best Germany could now hope for was a draw. Owing to the extraordinary growth about this time of Hindenburg in popular favor, the Kaiser removed Falkenhayn, and put Hindenburg in his place as Chief of the General Staff.

Falkenhayn did not wholly disappear from public view, however, serving as he did afterward in Roumania and Asiatic Turkey.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:04 ZULU