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A Picture of German Unity? Federal Contingents in the German Army, 1916-1917

This is a chapter I contributed to an edited book published back in 2014.  In it, I analyse the relationship between the constitutionally separate parts of the German army, the Prussian, Bavarian, Saxon and Württemberg contingents.  This is part of a bigger German political scene, the Kaiserreich’s dynamic between centralising and particularist (autonomous) tendencies.  So it’s an important topic, but little understood.  In fact, if I had my time again I might choose this as the subject of my PhD.

You can read the full chapter here. I take as a case study the period late 1916 to mid-1917, particularly the Nivelle offensive and the battles of Arras and Messines. I argue that the German army in the First World War was less homogeneous than often portrayed: the contingents co-operated effectively enough, but their existence increased administrative and operational friction. Their quality and battlefield performance varied, and there were growing concerns at this period about Saxon formations in particular. I conclude that the contingent system was significant militarily and indeed was an important factor in Germany’s eventual defeat.

Incidentally, the first part of my title comes from the memoirs of Major General (Generalleutnant) Otto von Moser. In early 1917, he was ordered to establish and run an important course for training divisional staffs on the new defensive doctrine which had just been introduced. He himself was a Württemberger and his subordinates came from Prussia, Bavaria and Württemberg. This mix led him to comment that his staff was ‘a picture of German unity’.[1]

The full citation for the chapter is:

Tony Cowan, ‘A Picture of German Unity? Federal Contingents in the German Army, 1916-1917’, in Jonathan Krause, ed., The Greater War: Other Combatants and Other Fronts, 1914-1918 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 141-160.

[1] Otto von Moser, Feldzugsaufzeichnungen 1914-1918 als Brigade-, Divisionskommandeur und als kommandierender General, 3rd edition, (Stuttgart: Chr. Belser A.G. Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1928), 269.

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