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|Erich von Falkenhayn|
|Erich von Falkenhayn was born in 1861 at Burg Bechau in West Prussia. He joined the army as any good Prussian would, and served as a military instructor in China beginning in 1899. He was a member of the German staff during the Boxer Rebellion, and he saw action when the Allies marched to relieve besieged Peking. Falkenhayn remained in China until 1903. He returned to Germany and continued to serve on the General Staff. Falkenhayn was then appointed Minister of War to Prussia in 1913. He immediately fell afoul with Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke over most decision.
Following the set-back at the Marne in September 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed von Moltke and appointed Falkenhayn as his Chief of Staff. Falkenhayn was well-suited to the concept of trench warfare. His cautious nature lent to considerations for the defensive rather than the tradition of the offensive that had pervaded the war rooms of the Great Powers. This was to be disadvantageous on the Eastern Front, however.
The Eastern front in spring 1915 was the scene of the Central Powers reversal of Russia's successes during the winter battles. General Ludendorff, in conjunction with General Hoffmann, had drawn up and presented Falkenhayn with a bold, sweeping offensive in the northeast, designed to hinge on Wilno (Vilnius) and bring the German army behind Minsk. This vast manoeuvre would trap the entire Russian army behind it, unable to escape because of the formidable barrier of the Pinsk marshes. However, Falkenhayn rejected the plan out of hand. His cautious nature could not conceive of the scheme, and he lent his support to the plans of Generals Mackensen, Prinz Leopold, and Gallwitz in the southeast. In this, Falkenhayn understood the forward movement of the German armies along the Carpathian passes allowed some escape should things go wrong...
He did not allow for the terrible terrain Mackensen would be forced to cross, as well as allowing the Russian army the opportunity to evade capture. Thus, the spring and summer offensives were a complete success insofar that the Russians were driven from their Polish salient and much Austrian territory was cleared; but Ludendorff would not let Falkenhayn forget that a great historic opportunity to totally destroy the Russian army had been forever missed.
Falkenhayn nevertheless believed that the war was really being fought in the West. He conceived of Verdun as a place where the French armies could be brought to their destruction. His plan, to lure the French into the Verdun salient and then methodically destroy them with concentrated artillery fire, was entirely lacking in imagination. Indeed, it smacked of lunacy, for there was no objective except to kill as many Frenchmen as possible. The French lost a stunning number of men in their defense of Verdun, but amazingly, Falkenhayn's simple objective was lost as the Germans attempted to advance and actually capture Verdun. In this way, the Germans suffered nearly as many casualties as the French.
The failure of Verdun, the resurgence of Russia through the Brussilov offensive, the loss of Bitolj to the Serbs, and the loss of Gorizia (Görz) to Italy all combined to have Falkenhayn's leadership called into question. The final straw was Roumania's declaration of war on Austria-Hungary. German might was all that held the kingdom in neutrality, and Falkenhayn had failed to deliver this. He was therefore relieved of command and sent on 29 August 1916 to the Transylvanian Front, to command the IX. Army. At the Battle of the Red Tower Pass on 30 September 1916, he defeated the Roumanians (see below), and advanced toward Bucharest. He linked up with Mackensen's composite Army of the Danube in mid-November. His troops entered Bucharest on 6 December, where the defeat of Roumania was loudly proclaimed.
Falkenhayn was dispatched to command the Ottoman forces in Palestine in early 1917. However, his troops were defeated by General Allenby at Gaza on 31 October 1917. Following this and a few other setbacks in upper Palestine (including the inevitable loss of Jerusalem, Falkenhayn was dismissed by General Liman von Sanders in February of 1918. He returned to Germany and retired. Erich von Falkenhayn died in 1922.
GWS, 5/01 [rev. 9/03]
|General Falkenhayn describes the battles raging all along the Transylvanian Front to the Supreme Commander, Archduke Friedrich. This photo was taken outside Hermannstadt in autumn 1916.|
|Orders of Battle: Transylvania, September 1916
Immediately preceding the invasion of Roumania
IX. Deutsch Armee, Gen. d. Inf. von Falkenhayn
XXXIX. res. Korps, Genlt. von Staabs
Szivo Group, Oberstleutnant von Nossek
Sunkel Group, Genlt. Sunkel
CLXXXVII. Deutsch inf. div., Genlt. Sunkel
Schmettow's kav. Korps, Genlt. von Schmettow
LI. Honved inf. div., Genmj. Tanarki
III. Deutsch kav. div., Genlt. von Schmettow
I. kav. div., Genmj. von Ruiz
LXXVI. res. div., Genlt. von Elstermann
The disaster on the Red Tower Pass is worth noting. The Roumanian Alt Army had early seized this important pass and delivered the bulk of its forces through there, so that by the first week of September 1916, Hermannstadt was threatened and soon captured. This most important town in Transylvania was the focus of the German 9. Army, assembled for the purpose of bringing down Roumania as quickly as possible. The Germans succeeded in launching a series of counteroffensives in the last week of September that radically changed the Roumanians' conduct of the war. While the bulk of the 9. Army hammered at the new defense lines about 5 km north of Hermannstadt during the whole of 25 September, the 187. inf. brig. attacked the flanks of the Roumanian I. Corps on the 26th and scored a serious breakthrough. While the Roumanians shifted reserves west during the evening, the German 3. cavalry division swung way to the east and attacked the reserves flooding in from the Roumanian 2. Army. The whole Roumanian I. Corps backed off Hermannstadt and its defensive works on 28 September, leaving them now exposed to fresh attacks by the rest of the 9. Army.
Unbeknowst to all of them, the German Alpenkorps had slyly passed to the west of the 187. brigade and continued due south to the Roumanian frontier apparently unnoticed. During the evening of 28 September, they crossed the high passes of the Cibiner range and entered Roumania itself. By the afternoon of 29 September, a 15 km length of the Red Tower Pass on both sides of the frontier were under attack virtually unopposed. Total chaos broke out in the ranksof the Alt Army as it was realized that the I. Corps and much of its reserves were trapped on the wrong side of the pass. By 1 October, thousands of Roumanian casualties had been realized, many thousands of prisoners taken, and the campaign to conquer Transylvania was permanently stopped.
|Orders of Battle: Roumania, November 1916
Immediately following the defeat of Roumania
Army Front Erzherzog Karl, Generaloberst Karl Franz Josef
IX. Deutsch Armee, Gen. d. Inf. von Falkenhayn
K.u.K. Group Szivo, Oberst von Szivo
LIV. Deutsch Korps, Genlt. Kühne
XI. Bayerisch inf. div., Genlt. Kneußl
CCCI. inf. div., Genmj. von Busse
Schmettow kav. Korps, Genlt. Schmettow
VI. Deutsch kav. div., Genmj. Sägner
VII. Deutsch kav. div., Genmj. von Mutius
XLI. Deutsch inf. div., Genmj. von Knobelsdorf
Krafft Group, Genlt. Krafft von Dellmensingen
LXXIII. K.u.K. inf. div., Feldmlt. Goiginger
Alpine Korps div., Genmj. von Tutschek
CCXVI. Deutsch inf. div., Genmj. Vett
I. Deutsch res. Korps, Genlt. von Morgen
XII. Bayerisch inf. div., Genlt. Huller
LXXVI. Deutsch res. div., Genlt. Elstermann
XXXIX. Deutsch res. Korps, Genlt. von Staabs
LI. Honved inf. div., Genmj. Tanarky