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Hans von Seeckt
To Be A True Son of Prussia

Johannes Friedrich Leopold von Seeckt was born on 22 April 1866 in Schleswig.  He was the son of a Prussian General, and so was surrounded by the strict military presence of the officer class in northern Germany.  Seeckt began his military career in 1885 in the Kaiser Alexander Guard Grenadiers.  He married Dorothea Fabian in 1893, but had no children; instead, the couple traveled extensively whenever possible.  Three years later, Seeckt completed the Kriegsakademie, and he significantly ranked third in his class.

Seeckt then took a position in the General Staff Corps, and found service both in the field and on the staff.  Owing to his coolness and reserve unseen since General Moltke the Elder, associates referred to Seeckt as the "Sphinx."

At the beginning of the war in 1914, he was chief of staff of the III. Armee Korps.  Seeckt's corps was attached to General Kluck's I. Army, which marched to the Marne and defeat.   His attack around Soissions brought him to the fore in the General staff.  By March 1915, he was named chief of staff to General August Mackensen of the XI. Army.

The opening attack of the spring offensive was planned by Seeckt, and the crossing of the Dunajec River by the XI. Army near Tarnow resulted in its capturing 140,000 Russian soldiers and forcing the Russian armies to begin a slow fighting retreat out of Galicia.

For his conspicuous achievement, Kaiser Wilhelm presented Seeckt with the Pour le Meritè, Germany's highest military honour.   Meanwhile, Lemberg had fallen on 22 June to the advancing armies of Austria and Germany.  The XI. Army alone had seized  250,000 Russians as prisoners and  had advanced 300 kilometres under the worst terrain imaginable.  General Mackensen was appointed Feldmarschal; for his part, Seeckt was promoted to brigadier.  Seeckt planned the capture of Brest-Litovsk in conjunction with the Austrian I. Army under General Puhallo. 

In September 1915, Seeckt travelled to southern Hungary and organised "Army Group Mackensen," which launched the invasion of Serbia on 1 October 1915.  The objective was to rid Austria of the Serbian thorn on its southern frontier (though this thorn no longer had the strength to sting) and also to open the lines of communication with Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.  German, Austrian, and Bulgarian troops succeeded in driving the Serbs out of their own country and through hostile Albania.  Army Group Mackensen made slow progress against a desperate defense by the Serbs.  About 150,000 prisoners were taken after the Serbians made their last stand on the historic Kossovo Polje (where Serbia was crushed by the Turks in 1389).  For his participation, Seeckt received the Oak Leaf addition to his Pour le Merite award.

Running Into Another Hard Head

Army Group Mackensen was situated in Bulgaria during spring 1916, while Seeckt's planned offensive against Salonika awaited the outcome of the great German offensive at Verdun.  However, Seeckt was moved into action by the sudden and unexpected Brussilov Offensive on 4 June 1916.   Both Falkenhayn and Conrad dispatched Seeckt to Galicia as chief of staff to General Pflanzer-Baltin who commanded the Austrian VII. Army.  The VII. Army had thus been a successful fighting force and contained more than one Russian offensive in the Bukovina and southeastern Galician theatre.  However, bad blood between the Austrians and Germans caused much friction at the VII. Army HQ, and Seeckt could not come to terms with Pflanzer-Baltin.   As Seeckt was to remark later, Pflanzer-Baltin was "never a friend to the Germans."  Pflanzer-Baltin considered Seeckt brash and uncontrollable, and stated that he "came, observed, and ordered," without consulting his commander.  The undue difficulties may have played a role in the total collapse of the VII. Army several weeks after the Brussilov Offensive peaked; General Lechitski's IX. Army caved in Pflanzer-Baltin's defensive works and captured tens of thousands of Austrian prisoners, as well as hundreds of guns.  The catastrophe led to Roumania joining the Entente in the war against Austria.

In August, Seeckt became chief of staff of Army Group Archduke Karl, a newly formed force charged with stemming the Russian advance; the Army Group was originally designated the XII. Army, but it never assembled as most of its troops were thrown to the defense of other existing armies during the Brussilov Offensive.  Seeckt worked better with the Archduke Karl, and after hard fighting, the Russians were finally halted in the foothills of the Carpathians. The Archduke Karl's forces then combined with newly demoted General Erich Falkenhayn's IX. Army in the campaign to destroy Roumania. 

In the final phase in late November, Archduke Karl was proclaimed Austria's new Kaiser, and the Archduke Joseph took his place as Commander.  Throughout 1917, Seeckt remained as chief of staff of Army Group Archduke Joseph.  Seeckt's diligence was such that when he left for his next assignment, the Archduke Joseph reflected that he could not imagine a better chief of staff than the "Sphinx."

Adventure in the East

In December 1917, Seeckt was dispatched to Constantinople to become chief of staff of the I. Army, ranked Major General. The High Command had nominated General Liman von Sanders (formerly holding this position), but Enver Pasha had turned him down.

British General Allenby took Jerusalem only a week before Seeckt's arrival.  Meanwhile, von Sanders took control of the Palestine Front. As chief of the Turkish General Staff, Seeckt was senior to Sanders.  Seeckt was both attached to the Turkish Army and assigned to the German Military Mission in Turkey, which Sanders commanded.  Therfore, the overlapping realm of authority caused the two to quarrel at the most inopportune moments. 

Owing to the nature of the Turkish army, Seeckt's activities turned toward politics, which he loathed; it came to be that by spring 1918, German and Turkish interests drifted apart.  There were endless conflicts over rights and claims in the Caucasus, which the German High Command wanted to exploit for war materiel, while the Turks looked to the region for political expansion.

Thanks to Ludendorff's offensives in France in the spring of 1918, the Palestine theater took a back seat in Germany's interest. By mid-September, the Entente had broken out of Salonika to bring defeat to the starving Bulgarians.  Shortly thereafter, Allenby crushed Liman's beleaguered forces in Syria.

When Bulgaria signed an armistice on 28 September 1918, the Turks' position was never worse. On 30 October, the Ottoman Empire signed an armistice, and gave the Germans one month to vacate Anatolia.  Seeckt left on the 4 November and reached Odessa in the Ukraine, where anarchy was starting to break out.  He arrived in the newly formed Republic of Germany on 13 November.

Defeat Isn't the End, But a Beginning

Being a proud Prussian Junker, Seeckt was hostile to the new Republic, but he intended to serve the Fatherland in any way he could.  General von Hindenburg sent Seeckt to Königsberg in January 1919 to oversee the evacuation of German troops from the Ukraine. His handling of this anarchic situation led to his appointment to the German delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.   In July 1919, he became chief of the general staff, and a year later, he was in complete control of the German army until his retirement in 1926. 

In the midst of great turmoil and under the scrutiny of the distrustful Entente, Seeckt secretly laid the foundations for the German Army's rebirth under the Third Reich.  He encouraged the Rapallo Treaty with the Soviet Russians in 1922, whereby German war machinery could be built and tested on Soviet soil in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  

Following retirement from the General Staff, Seeckt entered politics and served in the Reichstag, wrote several books, and traveled to China from 1933 to aid Chiang Kai-shek in his struggle against the warlords and the communists.

Seeckt wrote a great deal after his retirement; Gedanken Eines Soldaten was written in 1935.   Johannes Friedrich Leopold von Seeckt died on 27 December 1936, in Berlin.

GWS, 5/01
Orders of Battle:  Eastern Front, May 1915
Immediately preceding the Dunajec offensive
Deutsche XI. Armee, preuß. Generaloberst v. Mackensen
    Chief of Staff, preuß. Oberst Seeckt
Seeckt with Turkish War Minister Enver Pasha in Lemberg, 1915.