Front cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Foreword

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pp. vii-xii

The Prussian-German tradition in land warfare has generated more than its share of books over the centuries. Good books? That’s another story.

Gerhard Gross’s The Myth and Reality of German Warfare is one of the good ones—one of the best, in fact. Name any criteria by which to judge superior military historical scholarship, and this book has it: broad and deep primary source research; an author who combines scholarly academic training with the technical insight of an operator within the German military...

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Preface

Colonel Hans-Hubertus Mack, Ph.D.

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pp. xiii-xiv

Military operations have always been the hallmark of the German art of leadership. Generations of German General Staff officers were trained and educated in operational thinking. Following their orders, millions of German soldiers fought and died in the deserts of north Africa, at the gates of Paris, and in the vastness of Russia.

Individuals such as Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, Hans von Seeckt, Erich von Manstein, and Adolf Heusinger, the first...

Abbreviations and Special Terms

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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

Is there a German way of war? While German historians either avoid this question or have in recent years unjustly reduced it to the idea of genocidal war of annihilation, Anglo-American and Israeli historians decades after the end of the Second World War continue to have lively and controversial discussions about German military warfare during the era of world wars. In addition to the scholarly interest, some authors have demonstrated an unmistakable intent to learn from German operational warfare, with the focus...

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1 Definitions: Tactics—Operations—Strategy

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pp. 7-16

What does operational thinking mean? To approach this topic it is necessary to define the terms “operation” and “operational,” and to categorize them within the three levels of warfare that are recognized internationally at the beginning of the third millennium—those being the strategic, the tactical, and the operational. Simultaneously, we must also examine the effectiveness of the definitions of those terms. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, the meanings of terms change over the years, parallel to the variety...

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2 Factors and Constants: Space, Time, and Forces

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pp. 17-26

As suggested by the contemporary literature, German General Staff officers carried into the two world wars not only their marshal’s batons in their rucksacks, but also Clausewitz’s book Vom Kriege. Without any doubt the operational thinking of officers like Moltke the elder, Schlieffen, Beck, Guderian, and Manstein was influenced by the study of classical and contemporary military theorists. Thorough analysis, however, indicates that the influence of military theory literature on the majority of the General Staff officers...

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3 The Beginnings: Planning, Mobility, and a System of Expedients

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pp. 27-56

It all started with Moltke. That sentence summarizes his multiple contributions to the beginnings of operational thinking in Germany.1 But Moltke really did not start it all. In contrast to the official line of the Military History division of the Great General Staff, operational thinking actually arose from the advent of mass military forces armed with increased firepower in the form of individual handheld firearms and artillery. This had been a development of the French Revolution and the resulting changes in society...

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4 The Sword of Damocles: A Two-Front War

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pp. 57-98

“Only make the right wing strong.” Schlieffen on his deathbed probably did not utter that phrase addressed to his successor, as his followers long maintained. Nonetheless, those words express the tragedy of a man whose life’s work was posthumously glorified either as a recipe for victory or condemned as the climax of Prussian-German militarism. Based on the studies of Gerhard Ritter in the 1950s,1 schoolbooks and nonfiction texts to this day inform their readers that the German Reich entered the...

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5 Bitter Awakening: World War I

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pp. 99-132

“In the evening, we were moved forward to the first line to check any renewed thrust. The British, however, seemed to have had enough. Our success that day was that we had managed to hold our position. Still, the battlefield looked dreadful, with corpses, mostly British, lying there in droves. The fighting had been so very fierce that neither side took prisoners.”1

This was not the type of maneuver warfare the General Staff had planned and prepared for, but rather it was the long, drawn-out war of attrition...

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6 Old Wine in New Wineskins: Operational Thinking in the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht between Reality and Utopia

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pp. 133-188

World War I mercilessly exposed the weaknesses of German operational thinking and caused the operations experts of the army to fall into a military identity crisis. The question of whether in the face of positional warfare rapid and mobile warfare was still even possible touched the core of the German Army’s military thinking. The overwhelming majority of the military was convinced that numerically superior enemy forces could only be overcome by rapidly conducted operations. That was the only feasible foundation...

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7 Lost Victories, or the Limits of Operational Thinking

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pp. 189-258

A quarter-century after the start of World War i the German Reich started World War II with the 1 September 1939 attack on Poland. While most officers of the Wehrmacht welcomed the war as a step in the revisionist objective of reclaiming Germany’s Great Power status, the war from the very beginning was, for Hitler and the national Socialist regime, an ideological racial war of extermination for the purpose of gaining Lebensraum (living space) in the east. The Wehrmacht prosecuted this war until...

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8 Operational Thinking in the Age of the Atom

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pp. 259-294

The Wehrmacht surrendered on 8 May 1945. For the second time within the space of just under thirty years the German armed forces had lost a world war. Germany, which subsequently was occupied by the Allies, was demilitarized and divided into four occupation zones. With that second defeat it lost its position as a major power in Europe. In contrast to 1918, there was no question in 1945 about the defeat. This time it was total and the surrender was unconditional. Moreover, Germany was overwhelmingly discredited...

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Conclusion

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pp. 295-306

The history of operational thinking is the great narrative of the German Army during the era of the world wars and beyond. It consists of multiple interconnected themes, and it transcends the two lost world wars. The influence of that thinking, both in its components and its entirety, is still felt today—especially in the English-speaking world, and up through the 1980s in the Bundeswehr itself. Because of differing military cultural concepts, the boundaries between tactics, operations, and strategy are sometimes...

Notes

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pp. 307-360

Bibliography

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pp. 361-394

Index

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pp. 395-432

Color Maps

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