Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz

Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz

Wilhelm Leopold Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz (August 12, 1843–April 19, 1916) was a Prussian soldier and military writer; he was born at Bielkenfeld, East Prussia.

Military career

He entered the Prussian infantry in 1861. In 1864 he entered the Berlin Military Academy, but was temporarily withdrawn in 1866 to serve in the Austrian war, in which he was wounded at Trautenau. In 1867 he joined the topographical section of the general staff, and at the beginning of the Franco-German War of 1870-71 was attached to the staff of Prince Frederick Charles. He took part in the battles of Vionville and Gravelotte and in the siege of Metz. After its fall he served under the Red Prince in the campaign of the Loire, including the battles of Orleans and Le Mans.

He was appointed professor at the military school at Potsdam in 1871, promoted captain, and placed in the historical section of the general staff. It was then he wrote Die Operationen der II. Armee bis zur Capitulation von Metz (The Operations of the Second Army until the surrender of Metz) and Die Sieben Tage von Le Mans (The Seven Days of Le Mans), both published in 1873. In 1874 he was appointed to the staff of the 6th division, and while so employed wrote Die Operationen der II. Armee an der Loire (The Operations of the Second Army on the Loire) and Léon Gambetta und seine Armeen (Léon Gambetta and his armies), published in 1875 and 1877 respectively. The latter was translated into French the same year, and is considered by many historians to be his most original contribution to military literature.

The views expressed in the latter work were unpopular with the powers that be and led to his being sent back to regimental duty for a time, but it was not long before he returned to the military history section. In 1878 Goltz was appointed lecturer in military history at the military academy at Berlin, where he remained for five years and attained the rank of major. He published, in 1883, Roßbach und Jena (new and revised edition, Von Rossbach bis Jena und Auerstadt, 1906), Das Volk in Waffen (The Nation in Arms), both of which quickly became military classics, and during his residence in Berlin contributed many articles to the military journals.

In 1883, Sultan Hamid, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, asked for German aid in reorganizing the Ottoman Army. Baron von der Goltz was sent. He spent twelve years on this work which provided the material for several of his books. After some years he was given the title Pasha (a signal honor for a non-Moslem) and in 1895, just before he returned to Germany, he was named Mushir (field-marshal). His improvements to the Ottoman army were significant and the Turkish army performed well in the Greco-Turkish War (1897).

On his return to Germany in 1896 he became a lieutenant-general and commander of the 5th division, and in 1898, head of the Engineer and Pioneer Corps and inspector-general of fortifications. In 1900 he was made general of infantry and in 1902 commander of the I. army corps. In 1907 he was made inspector-general of the newly created sixth army inspection established at Berlin, and in 1908 was given the rank of colonel-general (Generaloberst). Following the 1911 manœuvres Goltz was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal), and retired from active service.

At the outbreak of the First World War Goltz was recalled to duty; he was appointed the military governor of Belgium but he soon gave up that position and became a military aide to the (essentially powerless) Sultan Mehmed V. Baron von der Goltz did not get along with the head of the German mission to Turkey, Otto Liman von Sanders, nor was he liked by the real power in the Ottoman Government, Enver Pasha.

Despite the personal animosity, in October of 1915, with the British under General Townshend advancing on Baghdad, Enver Pasha put Goltz in charge of the Fifth Army (see the Mesopotamian Campaign). Baron von der Goltz was in command at the Battle of Ctesiphon - which was a draw, as both side retreated from the battlefield. However with the British retreating, Goltz turned his army around and followed them down the river. When Townshend halted at Kut, Goltz laid siege to the British position (see the Siege of Kut). Much like Julius Caesar's legions at the Battle of Alesia, the Turkish army had to fight off a major British effort to relieve the Kut garrison while maintaining the siege. All told the British tried three different attacks and each one failed at a total cost of 23,000 casualties.

Baron von der Goltz was briefly involved in the Armenian Genocide. A revolt occurred in the city of Edessa early in 1916. The Armenian community took control of the old part of the city and held out against the attacks by the local military forces. The Baron went to Edessa and negotiated their surrender on the promise that the Armenians would not be deported. However, he was unable to uphold this promise and the Ottoman authorities did deport the Armenian population. Few survived this deportation and the Baron's reputation in Britain and America was blackened as a result.

Goltz died on April 19, 1916, just two weeks before the British in Kut surrendered. There are persistent rumors that the Baron did not die of typhus but was actually poisoned by some of his Turkish officers. It is a fact that the siege of Kut was one of the few significant military successes of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and much of the credit must go to the generalship of Baron von der Goltz. After his death, the Turkish army in Mesopotamia never won another battle.

Writing career

From the 1870s till World War I, Baron von der Goltz was more widely read by British and American military leaders than Clausewitz. In addition to many contributions to military periodicals, he wrote Kriegführung (1895), later titled Krieg und Heerführung, 1901 (The Conduct of War); Der Thessalische Krieg (The War in Greece, 1898); Ein Ausflug nach Macedonien (1894) (A Journey through Macedonia); Anatolische Ausflüge (1896) (Anatolian Travels); a map and description of the environs of Constantinople; Von Jena bis Pr. Eylau (1907) (From Jena to Eylau).

Quote: He who stays on the defensive does not make war, he endures it. - The Nation in Arms, 1883.

Partial List of Works

  • Feldzug 1870-71. Die Operationen der II. Armee. Berlin, 1873.
  • Angeline. Stuttgart, 1877.
  • Leon Gambetta und seine Armee. Berlin, 1877.
  • Rossbach und Jena. Studien über die Zustände und das geistige Leben der preußischen Armee während der Uebergangszeit von XVIII. zum XIX. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1883.
  • Das Volk in Waffen, ein Buch über Heerwesen und Kriegführung unserer Zeit. Berlin, 1883.
  • Ein Ausflug nach Macedonien. Berlin, 1894.
  • Kriegführung. Kurze Lehre ihrer wichtigsten Grundsätze und Formen. Berlin, 1895.
  • Anatolische Ausflüge, Reisebilder von Colmar Freiherr v. d. Goltz; mit 37 Bildern und 18 Karten. Berlin, 1896.
  • Krieg- und Heerführung. Berlin, 1901.
  • Von Rossbach bis Jena und Auerstedt; ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des preussischen Heeres. Berlin, 1906.
  • Von Jena bis Pr. Eylau, des alten preussischen Heeres Schmach und Ehrenrettung; eine kriegsgeschichtliche Studie von Colmar Frhr. v. d. Goltz. Berlin, 1907.
  • Jung-Deutschland; ein Beitrag zur Frage der Jugendpflege. Berlin, 1911.
  • Kriegsgeschichte Deutschlands im neunzehnten Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1910-1912.
  • 1813; Blücher und Bonaparte, von Feldmarschall Frhn. v. d. Goltz.. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1913.

Note regarding personal names: Freiherr is a title equal to the title Baron, not a first or middle name. The female forms are Freifrau and Freiin.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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