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The balloting is done... the votes are tallied... and your winner is:

Helmut von Moltke

With a leader who was able to cleverly marshal his reserves through the use of technology, von Moltke pulled ahead with a late charge to pass Alexander the Great, with Robert E Lee narrowly edging Ghengis Khan for the bronze.


Your winner >>

Helmut von Moltke (Moltke the Elder)
hvm Helmut von Moltke created the German army as we know it. His insights at the strategic, operational and tactical levels won all three Wars of German Unification. More than that, he raised the Prussian General Staff, later the “Great” General Staff, out of obscurity.
Of Danish stock, Moltke was an accomplished intellectual who put his gifts at the service of Prussia. When advising the Ottoman Empire, his advice was largely ignored, leading to Turkish defeat at the 1839 Battle of Nezib. One of the first board wargamers, he rose quickly in Prussian service and became chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1857, aided by his friendship with Wilhelm I. The General Staff was at its nadir due its defeat in Demark in 1848-1850 and the humiliation at Olmuetz. Moltke reorganized the army’s logistics and tactics using modern technology such as railroads, telegraph and the Dreyse breech-loader. He also emphasized staff rides and independent command (Auftragstaktik).
When the 1864 Schleswig-Holstein War started to sputter, Moltke was made chief of staff of the German coalition army. He switched from Napoleonic tactics of assault columns to open, mobile formations. He organized victory through a rare German amphibious operation on the island of Als. Throughout this campaign, he noted the strength and weaknesses of both the Prussians and their nominal partners, the Austrians.

This knowledge helped greatly in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War. His use of railroads allowed his “march separately, fight together” strategy to strategically confuse, operationally paralyze and tactically overwhelm the Austrians. He recognized and made provisions for the inherent dangers of Auftragstaktik and the fact that his subordinates were all members of the royal family. At Koeniggraetz for example, a Prussian general attacked prematurely and Wilhelm I considered retreat. Moltke spread calm over the situation because he knew the Crown Prince was coming to roll up the enemy flank. A cool head is worth thirty hot ones in battle. However, Moltke noted the inferiority of Prussian artillery in this war.

Moltke’s modernization of the artillery helped tremendously when the French Chassepot rifle outclassed the Dreyse in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Accurate and devastating shelling allowed flanking movements to support the costly massed infantry charges to close the range to the French positions in the frontier battles, erasing the French small arms advantage. At a crisis during Gravelotte, Moltke personally led a corps to save the situation. Masking Metz made the decisive battle at Sedan a foregone conclusion.

Moltke’s greatness seems cold. Orders, intelligence, maps, railroads and timetables do not heat men’s blood and make women’s hearts flutter; they merely win wars. His reforms made the Great General Staff key to the German army. His emphasis on logistics, topography and technology was lasting. Those concepts carry on in one form or another to this day. An argument can be made that Germany lost both World Wars but they wouldn’t have come as close to winning as they did without Moltke’s legacy.


image from Wikimedia

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