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Germany Military Railways

German Railroads 1910 mapThe honor of making the first thorough study of railroads and their influence on the conduct of war belongs to Field Marshal Count von Moltke (The Elder - 1800-1891) and the Great Prussian General Staff; they taught the method of utilizing them from the military point of view, and they thus established the foundation of success. Moltke foresaw that mobility on the strategic level could be multiplied by employing railroads. He planned to utilize this mode of transport to speed German armies to the battlefield and thereby to concentrate overwhelming force at the right time and in the right place to ensure victory. Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, the famous Prussian officer who retired in 1888 after serving thirty years as chief of the general staff, made possible the defeat of the Danes in 1864, the Austrians in 1866, and the French in 1870–1871, when Prussian-German armies achieved rapid and final victories over their enemies.

In 1870 Moltke deduced the French war plan from a cheap French railroad map. Having studied railroad maps of eastern France, Moltke correctly divined that the French would be forced to concentrate their forces in two basic areas, around Metz and Strasbourg. Six main rail lines ran from the interior of Prussia to the Pfalz, which would allow for the rapid assembly of forces. From the Pfalz, Moltke planned to move forward so as to drive between the French forces at Metz and Strasbourg. While technical progress has made arms production more rigid, it has also rendered transportation much more flexible. It would be impossible for a present-day Moltke to deduce a war plan from a railway and road map, for the simple reason that there are too many railways and too many roads.

The lack of sufficient railways caused enormous delays in the German siege of Paris in 1870-71. The single line available for the needs of the third and fourth German army corps could not supply the necessary provisions in time and for that reason the bombardment of Mount Avron, to the east of the city, could not be begun until after Christmas, although a great line of cars was available from Lagny to just in front of Paris. The point of attack of a fortress depended largely on the location of the terminal point of a railway.

Many armies attempted to utilize railways at the time von Moltke was doing so. But von Moltke developed detailed plans for his army's use, conducted exercises to test their effectiveness, and trained the forces that would execute the plans. His creation of a railways department within the General staff, along with the establishment of a civilian-military joint committee, ensured the efficient use of railways and their integration into the operations of the army. These factors made von Moltike's use of the railroads totally different and significantly superior to that of the other armies of his time.

In general, the military authorities, at whose head, in time of war, were the Prussian Minister of War and the Chief of Staff, represented the interest of the armed power. The Chief of the General Staff (assisted by Quartermaster-General), superintended training of staff officers, worked out in his railway section all arrangements for concentration of army in case of war, prepared plans for all possible campaigns, collected military information regarding foreign countries, compiled military histories and maps, superintended survey of Germany, examined and approved of plans of Army Corps Commanders for autumn manuvers, inspected and commented on their reports on the manuvers and the capabilities of all officers engaged therein.

The Railway Section formed the fourth Section of the "Haupt Etat." It was under a Chief of a Section, and comprised a certain number of officers. Its special duty was to attentively follow everything that affected the subject of military transport, and possess an accurate knowledge of all railway systems both at home and abroad, together with the amount of traffic they are capable of; and work out large military transport arrangements, etc. In consequence of the large number of General Staff officers required to carry out the concentration of a large army by rail, endeavours were made to attach all General Staff officers for a time to the Railway Section, to make them familiar with the duties.

The railway battalion was placed under the Chief of the General Staff of the Army, who was also given the superintendence of the War Academy as regards scientific matters. The railway battalion was intended to form in war the nucleus for the military railway formations, and in addition to train officers and men to military railway duties, and further the development of field railway technical knowledge. As, in case of war, the field railway formations would have to be immediately at the disposal of the highest military authorities, their peace training is placed under the supervision of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army, who should be the most competent judge of the duties they would be called upon to perform in war time. As regards the general routine of duty, the battalion, in accordance with the rule observed for other special branches of the service, is placed under the command of a general commanding, viz., in this case the general commanding the Guard Corps. The railway battalion has also charge in peace time of the wheeled transport and field equipment belonging to the several railway formations that would have to be mobilised.

The agents charged with the direction of the service of railroads in time of war; the Inspector General of lines of communication and railroads, and the Chief of the service of field railways took charge of the business as far as it is necessary for the defence of the country and place themselves in touch with the administration of railways by means of the Commandants of lines in the various districts. This double direction of the work may be observed through all the details of the service of railroads, even to the conduct of each train; in this latter case the chief of the military train and the trainmaster responsible for the technical part; the attributes of the two are very definite and carefully limited.

It is evident that the efficiency of the line in time of peace gives a sure means of its comparison in time of war; the efficiency of a railroad in time of war exacts the maximum effort over a great deal of the course; to this must be added that the movement must be effected with absolute security, and on this account it is necessary, in pushing the work of the road to the maximum, to renounce the advantage of the rapidity which we have in time of peace. How many complete military trains of one hundred and ten axles can efficiently pass over the line in a specified time—for example, in twenty-four hours— the security of the train being guaranteed? The reply to this question will give the efficiency of the line.

The principle of station interval of trains is maintained for the operation of the military time-table, that is to say, no train can leave a station until it has received the signal that the track is clear to the next station. On this basis the military authorities establish the military time-tables. They show how many trains can pass each way in twenty-four hours, the speed being invariable for all, they fix the necessary division into sections, establish the stops, give the number of engines, fix the water stations, in a word, adjust all the details of the service and establish the efficiency of the line.

The military time-tables were extremely simple compared to those in time of peace and they insure, in consequence, a rule of service which is as little susceptible of derangement as possible. They form the first sure foundation for all the other preparation of military transportation for war.

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Page last modified: 15-11-2011 18:54:34 ZULU