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- The Secrets of the German War Office - 30/34 -
showing how the world's history can be changed through a kiss. At the Peace Conference in Tilsit, Napoleon, on the verge of disintegrating Prussia, met the beautiful Queen Louise of Prussia. Through her pleadings and the imprint of Napoleon's kiss on her classic arm Bonaparte granted Prussia the right to maintain a standing army of 12,000 men. That in itself did not mean much but it gave able and shrewd Prussian patriots the opportunity to circumvent and hoodwink Bonaparte's policy.
Prussia has always been fortunate in producing able men at the most needed moments. A man arose with a gift for military organization. He had every province, district, town, and village in Prussia carefully scheduled and the able-bodied men thereof put on record. He selected the 12,000 men permitted Prussia under the Napoleonic decree and drilled them. No sooner were those men drilled than they were dismissed and another 12,000 called in. From this point dates modern conscription--the father of which was General Stein--and this also inaugurated the birth of the War Machine. In the three years Prussia had 180,000 well-drilled men and 120,000 reserves, quite a different proposition from the 12,000 men Napoleon thought he had to face on his retreat from Moscow, and which played a decisive factor in the overthrow of the dictator of Europe.
Through the wars of 1864 and 1866 to 1870, the Franco-Prussian War, the War Machine of Prussia was merged into that of the German Empire and is a record of increasing efforts, entailing unbelievable hard work and a compilation of the minutest details. The modern system of organization, especially the mobilization schedules, are Helmuth von Moltke's, the "Grosse Schweiger," the Great Silent, the strategist of the 1871 campaign.
It is curious that there is a great similarity between the late Moltke and Heeringen. They have the same aquiline features, tall, thin, dried-up body, the same taciturn disposition, even to their hobbies--Moltke being an incessant chess player, Heeringen using every one of his spare moments to play with lead soldiers. He is reputed to have an army of 30,000 lead soldiers with which he plays the moment he opens his eyes--much in the same manner as Moltke, who used to request his chess-board the first thing in the morning. In military circles Heeringen is looked upon with the same respect and accredited with quite as much strategical knowledge as Moltke was. It is a significant fact, that, whenever there is any tension in Europe, especially between Germany and France, General von Heeringen or his comrade in arms, General von Thulsen Haeseler--also a great strategist and iron disciplinarian, immediately takes command of Metz, the most important base and military post in the Emperor's domain.
There is no man alive who knows one-half as much about the strategical position of Metz and the surrounding country as General von Heeringen. Often on stormy, bitter cold winter nights, sentries on outposts stationed and guarding the approaches of Metz are startled to find a gaunt, limping figure, covered in a gray army greatcoat with no distinguishing marks, stalking along. Accompanied by orderlies carrying camp stools and table; night glasses and electric torches, halting repeatedly, hidden men taking down in writing the short, croaking sentences escaping between the thin compressed lips, the "Geist of Metz" prowls round measuring every foot of ground fifty miles east, west, north, and south of his beloved Metz. The steel tipped arrow ever pointing at the heart of France is safe in the hands of such guardians.
The visible head of this vast organization is called Der Grosse General Stab with headquarters in Berlin. Each army corps has a "kleine General Stab" who sends its most able officers to Berlin. These officers in conjunction with the most able scientists, engineers and architects the Empire can produce, compose the Great General Staff. The virtual head is the German Emperor. The actual executive is called "Chef des Grossen General Stabs."
There is a small, dingy, unpretentious room in the General Staff Gebaude where at moments of stress and tension or international complications, assemble five men. His Majesty, at the head of the table; to the right the Chef of Grossen General Stab; to the left his Minister of War; then the Minister of Railways, and the Chief of Admiral Stab. You will notice the total absence of the Ministers of Finance and Diplomacy. When those five men meet the influence of diplomatic and financial affairs has ceased. They are there to act. The scratching of the Emperor's pen in that room means war, the setting in motion of a fighting force of 5,000,000 men.
Here is another instance:
When the feeling and stress over the Moroccan question was at its height General von Heeringen on leaving his quarters for his usual drive in the Thiergarten was eagerly questioned by a score of officers, awaiting his exit.
"Excellency! Geht's los?" ("Do we begin?")
Grimly smiling, returning their salutes and without pause, limping to his waiting carriage came his answer:
"Sieben Buchstaben, meine Herren!" ("Seven letters, gentlemen!")
In Germany military parlance this means the Emperor's signature, Wilhelm II, to the mobilization orders.
In order to give the reader a fairly correct view of this mighty organization, I have to explain each group separately. The whole system rests on the question of mobilization, meaning the ability to arm, transport, clothe. and feed a fighting force of four and one-half million men, in the shortest possible time on any given point in either eastern or western Europe. For let it be clearly understood that the main point of the training of the German armies is the readiness to launch the entire fighting force like a thunderbolt on any given point of the compass. Germany knows through past experience the advisability and necessity of conducting war in an enemy's country. The German army is built for aggression. There are four main groups:
Each of these groups is, of course, subdivided into numerous branches which we shall go into under each individual head.
First comes organization. The German army is composed of three distinct parts: the standing army, the reserves, and Landwehr.
The standing arm comprises 790,000 officers and men. This body of men is ready at an instant. It is the reserves who need an elaborate system of mobilization. The reserves are divided into two classes, first and second reserves. So is the Landwehr, having two levies--the first and second Aufgebot. Every able-bodied man on reaching the age of twenty-one can be called upon to serve the colors. One in five only is taken, as there is more material than the country needs--the fifth being selected for one of five branches: infantry, cavalry, artillery, Genie corps, or the navy. The time of service in the infantry is two years; in the cavalry three, in the artillery three, in the Genie corps two, and in the navy three. Well-conducted men get from two to four months of their time. This is by no means a charity on the part of the authorities, but a well-thrashed and deep-laid scheme to circumvent the Reichstag as it gives the Emperor another 75,000 men. A certain class of men passing an examination called Einjahriges Zeugniss or possessing a diploma called Abiturienten Examen (the equivalent of a B. A.) serve only one year in each branch. This class provides most of the reserve officers. The active officers, usually the scions of an aristocratic house or the sons of the old military or feudal families in Germany, are mostly educated in one of the state Kadetten-Anstalten, military academies, of which Gross-Lichterfelde bei Berlin is the most famous. The real backbone and stiffening of the German army and navy is the noncommissioned officers recruited from the rank and file. In fact, this body of men is the mainstay of the thrones in the German Empire, especially of Prussia. These men, after about twelve years of service in an army where discipline, obedience, and efficiency are the first and last word, are then drafted into all the minor administrative officers of the state, such as minor railway, post, excise, municipal, and police. The reader will see the significance of this when it is pointed out that not only the Empire but the War Machine has these well-trained men at its beck and call. The same thing applies to the drafting of officers to hold the highest administrative positions in the state.
There are twenty-five army corps all placed in strategical position. The strongest is in Alsace-Lorraine and along the Rhine; the second in importance garrisoning the Prussian-Russian border. The whole country is subdivided into Bezirks commandos (districts posts) whose business is to have on record not only every able-bodied man--reservists--but every motor, horse, and vehicle available; also food and coal supply--in fact, everything likely to be wanted or useful to the army. Every German reservist, or otherwise, knows the reporting place of his district and has to report there when notified within twenty-four hours. The penalties for noncompliance are high even in peace times. In the event of war or martial law they are absolutely stringent. The commandos are so placed that they could forward their drafts of men and material to their provincial concentration points at the quickest possible notice. These provincial concentration points, being railway centers, are so located that the masses of men and materials pouring in from all sides can be handled and sent in the wanted and needed direction without any congestion. How this is done I shall explain when I come to transportation. In each of those district commandos are depots, Montirungs-Kammern (arsenals), where a full equipment for each individual on the roll is kept. The marvelous quickness with which a civilian is transferred into a fully equipped military unit must be seen to be believed, and is only made possible through systematic training and constant maneuvers. These maneuvers are costly, but have long been recognized in German military circles as essential in training the units and familiarizing the commanders with the handling of enormous masses of men. In the last Kaiser maneuvers over half a million men were concentrated and massed; in fact, shuttlecocked from one end of the Empire to the other without a hitch.
The control of the army in peace or in war lies with the Emperor. He is the sole arbiter and head. No political or social body of men has any control in army matters. No political jealousies would be permitted. Obedience and efficiency are demanded. Mutual jealousies and political tricks such as we have seen in the Russian campaign in the East and lately in France are impossible in the German system, for the Emperor would break instantly, in fact has done so, any general guilty of even the faintest indication of such an offense. And there is no appeal to a Congress, a Chamber of Deputies, or political organ against the Emperor's decision.
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