This is a rather traditional historical account. The reader will scan what follows in vain for trendy sociological categorizations. These lie beyond my limited talents. Rather, this chapter seeks to analyze the military activity of Imperial Germany before and during the First World War at the political, strategic, operational, and tactical levels. It wishes neither to eulogize nor to condemn. Both the passage of time and the disappearance of anything remotely resembling the Royal Prussian Army or the Imperial German Navy leave little room for rancor or glorification. This paper will detail to what degree the German military operated efficiently within that strange federal composite called Imperial Germany; ‘the best administered, worst governed country in Europe.’
One should note at the outset that the discussion of army matters must come from published documents, memoirs, handbooks, official histories, and secondary accounts – due to the virtually total destruction of the erstwhile Prussian-German Army archives at Potsdam during Allied air raids in February 1942 and April 1945. Moreover, this chapter will deal primarily with the Prussian Army and its Great General Staff, rather than with the various federal contingents of Bavaria, Saxony, and Wurttemberg that comprised the peacetime German land forces. For in time of peace the Prussian king–German emperor possessed the right of‘inspection’ over these troops; and in time of war overall command of them devolved upon him and was largely exercised in his name through the Chief of the General Staff.