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Fortresses / Festungen

One of Frederick the Great's sayings was, that "The best place for war was in an enemy's country, the next best in a neutral country, and the worst of all in one's own." Von Moltke put the idea in another way, when he said that the best way to defend a frontier was to make a vigorous attack across it. The German tradition therefore is that the empire is to be defended by taking the offensive.

The fixed defences maintained by the German empire (apart from naval ports and coast defences) belong to two distinct epochs in the military policy of the state. In the first period (roughly 1871-1899), which was characterized by the development of the offensive spirit, the fortresses, except on the French and Russian frontiers, were reduced to a minimum. In 1871, in accordance with this idea, by far the greater number of the old fortified towns of Germany were, to use the technical term, declassed. They were struck off the list of the fortresses, and their walls and ramparts were demolished to provide sites for new boulevards. Even the fortresses that were retained and improved were regarded as not primarily defensive, but rather as the entrenched camps that would protect the mobilisation area and provide room within the circle of their advanced forts for great magazines of warlike stores. The number of fortresses was purposely limited, as it was held that there was more loss than gain in shutting up large garrisons behind their works : the fewer men thus employed the more there would be for the field armies.

By 1891 Germany was divided into eleven fortress-inspection districts. In the Königsberg district were the first-class fortress or fortified camp of Königsberg, the coast forts at Memel anil Pillan, and the fortress of Boyen ; in the Duntsic district are coast fortresses at Dantsic, Colborg, Stralsund, and Swinemunde : the Posen district had two places of arms or fortified camps at Posen and Neisse, a minor fortress at Glalz and a railroad blockade fort at Glogau. In the Berlin district were the first-class fortresses of Kustrin, Magdeburg, and Spandau and the forts for railroad obstruction at Konigitein and Torgau ; the district of Mayenee had three strong places of the first class in Mavence, Rastatt, and Ulm; in the Metz district the first-class fortress or fortified camp of Metz was flanked by the railroad-obstruction forts at Bitsch and Diedenhofen : the Cologne district had the fortified camps of Cologne and Coblenz, the fortress of Khrenbreitstein, and railroad blockade fortifications at Düsseldorf, Wesel, and Saar-Louis ; in the Kiel , district, besides the first-class fortress of Sonderburg-Duppel, there were coast fortifications at the mouths of the Ems, the Elbe, and the Weser, and at Wilhelmshaven, Kiel, Friedrichsort, and Travemilnde ; in the Thorn district there was a fortified camp at Thorn, with smaller fortresses at, Graudenz, Marienburg, and Dirschau : the Strasburg district had the great fortress at Strasburg and minor works at Neu Breisaeh ; in the Munich district was a first-class fortress to serve as a fortified camp at Ingolstadt, besides which the only effective fortifications were the works built to command the railroad at Germersheim.

In the interior only Spandau, Custrin, Magdeburg, Ingolstadt and Ulm were maintained as defensive supporting points, and similarly on the Rhine, which was formerly studded with fortresses from Basel to Emmerich, the defences were limited to New Breisach, Germersheim, Mainz, Coblenz, Cologne and Wesel, all of a "barrier" character and not organized specially as centers of activity for field armies. The French frontier, and to a less extent the Russian, were organized offensively. Metz, already surrounded by the French with a girdle of forts, was extended and completed as a great entrenched camp, and Strassburg, which in 1870 possessed no outlying works, was similarly expanded, though the latter was regarded an instrument of defence more than of attack. On the Russian frontier Königsberg, Danzig, Thorn, Posen, Gtogau (and on a smaller scale Boyen in East Prussia and Graudenz on the Vistula) were modernized and improved.

When the French began to construct the line of fortifications along their eastern frontier - the entrenched camps of Belfort, Epinal, Toul and Verdun, and the lines of forts between them - German military critics ridiculed the project, wrote of it as a "new Chinese wall," and pointed to it as a confession of weakness on the part of France. The Germans pointed to it as a proof that the French army was incapable of holding the open field, and contrasted with it the defences of their own frontier, where they had only the two fortresses of Metz and Strasburg, and depended for the defence of the country, not on these entrenched camps, but on their power of throwing a great army across the border within a few days of the declaration of war.

The reorganisation and growing efficiency of the French army and the prospect of having to carry on " a war on two fronts," as the result of the alliance between France and Russia, led to a considerable extension of the fortress system of the German empire. It was realised that Germany was no longer relatively so powerful as she had been in the years after the Franco-German war, and that she might be compelled to fight on the defensive on the eastern or western frontier, or on both at the same time.

From 1899, Germany began to pay more attention to her fixed defences, and in the next years a long line of fortifications came into existence on the French frontier, the positions and strength of which were regulated with special regard to a new strategic disposition of the field armies and to the number and sites of the twelve strategic railway stations between Cologne and the Belgian frontier, and later - the so-called " fundamental plan " of operations against France having apparently undergone modification in consequence of changes in the foreign relations of the German government - an immense strategic railway station was undertaken at Saarburg, on the right rear of Thionville and well away from the French frontier, and many important new works both of fortification and of railway construction were begun in Upper Alsace, between Colmar and Basel.

Germany was particularly well fortified on the side looking toward France. In this section were situated the strong fortresses of Metz, Strassburg, Rastatt, Mainz. Cologne, and Coblenz, and the minor fortifications of Dicdenhofen, Saar-louis, New Breisach. Germersheim, Ingolstadt, Hamm. and Wesel. The other large German fortresses were in Eastern or Central Prussia, namely Danzig, Königsberg, Posen, Küstrin, Sandau, Magdeburg, and Xeisse. The minor fortresses in the interior were Thorn, Dirschau, Glogau, Glatz, and Konigstein.

The coast defences included, besides the great naval ports of Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea and Kiel on the Baltic, Danzig, Pillau, Memel, Friedrichsort, Cuxhaven, Geestemunde and Swinemunde.

At the outbreak of the Great War, both on the eastern and western frontier, the Germans were able to concentrate on a front provided by two parallel lines of railway following the general trend of the frontier, provided with large military stations, with long lines of sidings, and connected up with the main lines of the country running east and west. On the eastern frontier these military lines were protected by a chain of fortresses. On the western side, besides fortress protection there was the security given by the concentration taking place partly behind the frontier of neutral Luxemburg and Belgium. In both cases, for many years measures have been taken to protect the concentration on this double front, by keeping an extra force in the frontier districts.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:33 ZULU