from ‘the War Illustrated’, 5th February 1516
'the Romantic Career of
General von Falkenhayn'
by Edward Wright

The Man We Are Fighting


Concerning the Romantic Career of General von Falkenhayn, the Hope of the Central Empires

Contemporary with the Great War as we are, it is almost impossible to pick out the leaders of genius in these gigantic, days. Frequently the thought occurs: Where is the Napoleon, the Caesar, the Hannibal of 1915? Only will the light of history reveal the men who really mattered in the greatest of racial feuds. The enemy, however, possesses one man whose career is as romantic as it has been so far triumphant. That man is General von Falkenhayn, on whom now rests the fate of the Central Empires and all the territories occupied by the Teuton peoples. Originally the son of a poor Austrian nobleman, Falkenhayn now towers far above Mackensen, Hindenburg, the Crown Prince, and even Wilhelm himself. In the following article Mr. Edward Wright, who is known to our readers as the brilliant author of the "Great Episodes of the War," gives an interesting study of this General's amazing personality.


Though the Germans do not think much of the fighting qualities of the Austrians, they have had to go to Austria for a leader; for since the German Emperor and his first Chief of Staff, Helmuth von Moltke, failed to break through to Paris in September, 1914, the direction of all the campaigns has been undertaken by Erich von Falkenhayn. He is by race a Bohemian Austrian, about fifty-three years old, and he owes his position largely to his southerner qualities. There is nothing of the stoic pose of the Prussian about him; a tall, handsome, and still youngish-looking figure, with bright eyes and mobile face, he has all the charm of temperament of the Viennese type.

Personality the Secret of Success

And it is by his personal charm that this son of a poor emigrant Austrian nobleman has made his way in life. His people left Austria about the same time as the Moltkes left Denmark, and after being educated in a cadet corps, Falkenhayn served as subaltern in 1880 with an infantry regiment at Oldenburg. Seven years later he entered the Academy of War in Berlin, which he left in 1890 with such distinction that he was given a position on the General Staff. There was no doubt that he was a man with a brilliant mind; but, like thousands of young German captains of merit, he would have risen very slowly in his profession had it not been for his great personal charm.

The First Rungs

After sixteen years of work and study he was only a commander of a company of infantry at Thorn when his fine drawing-room manner enabled him to climb out of the rut. At that time the great man in Germany was Count von Waldersee, the favourite of the elder Moltke, and his successor as commander of the forces. Waldersee was the principal intriguer against Bismarck, and it was mainly due to his influence that the young German Emperor threw over the old Minister, and began to prepare for a struggle with Britain. Falkenhayn made himself useful to Waldersee, and by way of reward the young captain was sent to China to help in the reorganisation of the Celestial Army. His handsome face and graceful ways helped him wonderfully at the Court of Peking. The Dowager-Empress liked his company, the Manchu Princesses made tea for him with their Royal hands, and the Order of the Double Dragon was conferred upon him.

The Courtier-Soldier in the Orient

For two years Falkenhayn remained at Peking helping to instruct the army which Yuan Shi Kai was afterwards to use with such surprising effect. It is said that Falkenhayn's fame in China spread to Japan, and that he was asked to come to Tokio and work for the Japanese Staff. The tale, however, seems unlikely. Falkenhayn went to Berlin for a brief period of work on the General Staff, and then returned with the rank of major to China, where, after working at Kiao-Chau, he joined his old patron Waldersee when the German Expeditionary Force arrived during the Boxer troubles.

The death of Waldersee in 1904 interrupted his progress. In 1905 Falkenhayn was a lieutenant-colonel, and six years afterwards he was given. command of the 4th Regiment of Guards. All this time he was working on General Staff problems, and in the ordinary way he would have become one of those solid, well-experienced officers to whose obscure yet magnificent labours the efficiency of the German war-machine is due. But in 1912 he rose with an extraordinary rapidity that amazed the German public.

The Zenith of Fame

At the beginning of the year he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Fourth Army Corps; in April of the same year he was made Major-General; and in the summer of 1913 he became Minister of War. He eclipsed all records. Never had Germany had so young a Minister of War. Then, on December 1st, 1914, while still retaining his post as Minister of War, he became Chief of the General Staff. Even Roon and the elder Moltke had to split up the work of forming the armies and directing the operations; but Falkenhayn alone did everything.

The explanation of his surprising rise resides in his relations -with the Crown Prince. Owing to his Chinese reputation, he had been charged with the military instruction of the heir to the throne; and while carrying out this task in an admirable manner, he succeeded in making his pupil his friend and admirer. Falkenhayn, besides being a charmer, was very great on strategy; and though all Germans then reckoned that General von Haeseler was their supreme military genius, yet Falkenhayn managed to win a high, sound position for himself by his talent for diplomacy. In the quarrels between the Crown Prince and the Kaiser, Falkenhayn, by acting as intermediary, gained the confidence of both parties. As is known, there were Haeseler and the war-makers behind the Crown Prince, and Ballin and other German industrial magnates behind the Kaiser. Falkenhayn pleased the war-party by the overbearing manner with which he put down in the Reichstag the agitation over the Zabern affair; and at heart, of course, he was as eager for war as any man on the German General Staff.

Falkenhayn Busy on All Fronts

Yet he succeeded in retaining the confidence of the Kaiser, and when the Emperor was won over and made to strike before he wanted to, Falkenhayn became his factotum. Instead of remaining at Berlin and watching personally over the administration of the Army, Falkenhayn travelled from front to front in the Kaiser's company. The administrative machine was so Well constructed that it worked automatically, leaving Falkenhayn ample leisure to study the mistakes of his rivals.

And their mistakes were tremendous. Haesler, who was supposed to be the greater Napoleon, failed in his great stroke at Rethel on September 2nd, 1914, and went to pieces in the Argonne Forest. At his command was the most powerful of all the German armies, consisting of six corps under the nominal leadership of the Crown Prince. The Kaiser in person, with Heeringen and Rupert, of Bavaria to help him, made a bad failure at Nancy; and Helmuth von Moltke came near to smashing up the whole German campaign in the Battle of the Marne.

The Man Who Criticised Wilhelm

Falkenhayn, as Minister of War, with no responsibility for any operations, was able to criticise, and according to German rumour he showed himself, during the break-up of the original scheme of attack, a man of great moral courage; for it is said that he turned on the German Emperor, and gave him sonic very candid advice about not interfering in the technical business of the battlefield. Falkenhayn regarded the French field, in October, 1914, as a lost campaign. He had no desire to hack a path to Calais; and when the Calais .coup failed, Falkenhayn was made, by one of the most surprising turns of destiny, the practical master of Germany and Austria- Hungary. He had completely subdued the Kaiser, and the Crown Prince regarded him as the only possible saviour of Germany.

Hindenburg alone stood in the way, and though Falkenhayn desired to see his brilliant friend, Mackensen, in supreme command on the eastern front, he had to put up with continual interference from the old Field-Marshal, who had become, by reason of his victory at Tannenberg, the idol of the public. It was not until Hindenburg failed before Warsaw, and allowed the Russian Army to stride the Carpathians and menace the wheatfields of Hungary, that Falkenhayn got a free hand. What he then did, with Mackensen as his spearhead, is a matter of history.

Could Have Taken Calais

It was Falkenhayn who organised the new munition factories in Germany and Austria, more than half a year before the Powers of the Triple Entente saw clearly that shells and guns would win the struggle. As early as the winter of 1914 the Germans were using fifteen shells to Russia's one. But Falkenhayn artfully restricted the number of rounds per gun on the western front, so as not to alarm the French and British commanders. When, at the end of April, Falkenhayn was ready with two thousand new pieces of heavy artillery, and a shell output of a quarter of a million a day, he could have won Calais with at least as much ease as he won Warsaw.

Falkenhayn's Bid for a New Empire

It was his personal predilections that largely determined his point of attack; and it was as an Austrian by race that he struck at Russia. His scheme was as grandiose as anything that Napoleon ever attempted. He estimated that in fifty years' time Russia would have three hundred million inhabitants, and Germany only a hundred million. With a view to preventing the Teutonic Empire from being crushed in the next war, Falkenhayn designed to create a new European Power of the first magnitude. It was to consist of Poland, Lithuania, Courland, and Southern Russia, with Odessa as its Black Sea port and Riga as its Baltic outlet. This new State was to be called "The Eastern Slav Confederation," and Falkenhayn, with the blood of the Bohemian Slavs in his veins, was to be its virtual founder. He won over the Kaiser to his way of thinking, but while he was still trying to overcome the dislike of the Austrian Court to losing their Polish territories, Russia created a new army and resumed the offensive six months before Falkenhayn thought she would be able to again strike.

Edward Wright


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