Annika Mombauer – Her Book on von Moltke Refuted

Annika Mombauer  – A Critical Review of her book

Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War

(Cambridge University Press 2001

Terry Boardman (Oct. 2002, revised Feb. 2014)


This detailed critical review of Annika Mombauer’s book Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War (CUP, 2001) was first presented to a small historical research group that met in Bottmingen, Switzerland in the autumn of 2002. It is published here for the first time. Mombauer’s book is a travesty as a piece of historical research and serves only to besmirch the memory of an honourable man, who is not presented as an individual but merely as a type and a character on whom she wishes in her extremely prejudiced and one-sided book to pin the ultimate guilt for the First World War.

A truer picture of Helmuth von Moltke the man can be found in Thomas Meyer, Light for the New Millennium  – Rudolf Steiner’s Association with Helmuth and Eliza von Moltke Letters, Documents and After-Death Communications (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1997).

Unfortunately, Mombauer’s simplistic character assassination of von Moltke has, due to its specialist nature, been picked up by historians in the English-speaking world who deal with the First World War (especially those of a revisonist bent) or the period of the early 20th century, and its main arguments have been too uncritically repeated.  This review seeks to rectify that by placing this critique of Mombauer’s thesis before the general public.

First uploaded 23.7.2012  Last updated 13.2.2014


Mombauer puts forward the thesis that the post-WW1 Schlieffen mythology has distorted our view of Helmuth von Moltke, and that he was by no means a wimp or an inadequate but was a major cause of the war, a key warmonger.

In the first paragraph of her Introduction she asserts the existence of a new consensus among historians* that German militarism and hegemonic strivings lay at the root of World War One.

[* this was 2002. Since then, with new books by English-language authors and historians such as Christopher Clark, Sean McMeekin, Terence Zuber, and John P. Cafferky the 'consensus' of which Mombauer spoke in 2002 no longer looks so 'solid' – TB 2014]

She denies that von Schlieffen would have fought a more successful war and claims that downplaying Helmuth von Moltke’s responsibility implies downplaying German responsibility (p5). She claims that Helmuth von Moltke’s power came from his “special relationship of trust” with the Kaiser (p6). She dismisses Thomas Meyer’s book Light for the New Millennium  – Rudolf Steiner’s Association with Helmuth and Eliza von Moltke: Letters, Documents and After-Death Communications (1993, English transl. 1997) as professionally “shoddy” (p7) and  “of little value to historians” yet admits it is “the most comprehensive collection of primary material pertaining to Moltke.” (p7)(!). She passes quickly through the story of how Rudolf Steiner’s 1919 memorandum about the events of July/August 1914 and von Moltke’s role in them came to be shelved by him following a visit by General von Dommes, and notes that the German Foreign Office objected to the memorandum because of their stated fears for the safety of the exiled Kaiser in Holland if knowledge of Schlieffen’s original plan to violate Dutch neutrality in 1914 got out (p8) – the ex-Kaiser had been afforded exile in Holland. Steiner’s intention, by publishing in 1919 during the Paris Peace Conference von Moltke’s as yet unpublished pamphlet of November 1914 (Die ‘Schuld’ am Kriege – ‘The War Guilt’) was to show that Moltke’s pamphlet  revealed all too clearly the chaotic situation that prevailed among the German leadership in July and early August 1914, thus demonstrating to the world that such an incompetent leadership was incapable of planning a war of aggression against Europe over many years as claimed by Germany’s enemies and could not therefore be held  guilty of having planned one (but this was nevertheless claimed in Article 231, the notorious ‘War Guilt’ clause of the Treaty of Versailles). Mombauer, notably, does not engage with this argument or aspect of Moltke’s Memoirs (the text of the pamphlet was included in Moltke’s Memoirs which were published in 1922) because to do so would endanger her own argument which is to show that Germany’s leaders and von Moltke in particular were in fact responsible for the outbreak of the war and had long sought to bring it about.  She concludes her Introduction by commenting on efforts of the post-war Reichsarchiv to whitewash the German war effort and prepare for the next war. Right from her introduction, her presentation is one-sided and polemical.

Chapter One
She discusses military decision-making in Imperial Germany to set the context in which Helmuth von Moltke operated. She notes that the General Staff only became independent from the Ministry of War in the 1866-1871 wars (p25ff), and the key role of Waldersee (the Kaiser’s favourite) in this. She comments on the Kaiser’s will as Supreme Warlord to intervene in and dominate the General Staff and on his inadequacy in military matters. She points out that the Military Cabinet was directly answerable to the Kaiser and became independent from the Ministry of War in 1883. The Kaiser, she says, used it to escape from constitutionalism.  She discusses conflicts between the Ministry of War, the Military Cabinet and the General Staff.

Chapter Two
She writes that: Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger) got on well with von Schlieffen, but that von Moltke’s  appointment was opposed and resented by some, not least because of his perceived Theosophical leanings. The Kaiser appointed Helmuth von Moltke to be his personal aide-de-camp in 1891, from when he was in close daily contact with the Kaiser. Helmuth von Moltke’s character is recognised as exemplary (p50) but Mombauer claims that his letters attest to his being “anti-Semitic, xenophobic, nationalist, monarchist….bellicose” (p51) [Nb the first adjective she chooses to list here, yet at this point she adduces no evidence to support this claim that von Moltke was "anti-Semitic"; in her list of adjectives she presents Moltke to her readers already as the cardboard caricature of an aggressive conservative militarist - TB]. Despite Helmuth von Moltke’s early contact with Rudolf Steiner, Mombauer argues that von Moltke regarded his military career as being more important and dropped Anthroposophy when necessary (p54). The Kaiser’s nickname for von Moltke was Julius. (p55). She claims von Moltke was nervous about his new post yet she also claims that he was also ambitious; she adduces no evidence for this, merely speculation (“it is likely that Moltke was harbouring secret ambitions….” p.58). His letters to his wife show his self-confidence (p58). Prior to his appointment as Chief of Staff in 1906, he was the first in the post to speak frankly to the Kaiser about the poor state of the army’s unrealistic manoeuvres and recommended Wilhelm  to stay away; the Kaiser accepted this advice. She suggests Eulenburg’s influence may have been behind von Moltke’s appointment but again adduces no solid evidence for this speculation either.

American military historian and ex-US Army major Terence Zuber‘s controversial work, first published in 1999, that has denied the existence of ‘the Schlieffen Plan’ as conventionally understood since the 1920s is mentioned in note 126 (p74) but came too late for much discussion in Mombauer’s book.  She attempts to dismiss Zuber and downplay his findings and says that his work came too late to be included in her book. In a final sideswipe at Zuber, she claims in a footnote that “in 1914 and subsequently, the men in charge of military operations  [which of course would have included von Moltke] certainly felt they were implementing the Schlieffen Plan and they would have objected strongly to Zuber’s assertion that there was no such plan”. Again, she gives no evidence for this. Indeed, she repeats the traditional view of the Schlieffen Plan and on p. 73 presents a map of it:  von Moltke the Elder had planned to split the army 50-50 and go on the offensive against Russia in the East but von Schlieffen had discarded this.  She states (p.79) that Germany never realised that her “enemies (post 1904) were largely reacting to German provocation” [Nb the word "largely" here - TB]

On p82 she notes the sour relations between the German and Austro-Hungarian General Staffs: after 1896 there was only an exchange of New Year greetings between them.

She writes (p83) that the German government learned of the German General Staff’s strategy only in Dec. 1912  [N.b. this is the same year that the British Cabinet learned of the clandestine meetings between the British and French General Staffs authorised by Sir Edward Grey in Jan. 1906 and hidden subsequently by him from most of the rest of the Cabinet – TB]. Von Schlieffen ignored the navy and left Britain out of his considerations.

pp84-84: Here Mombauer presents her view of Schlieffen: a rigid technician, blinkered, obstinate, unrealistic, timid with the Kaiser, a poor strategic thinker who put all his eggs in one basket; he simply did the best of a bad job, but this led him, she says, NOT to warn government of the risks of the German position. Helmuth von Moltke, she claims, essentially continued this technical view with a few strategic considerations relating to France, Holland, and the possibilities of a long war. General Staff confidence in the German Army’s military skills led to overconfidence that Germany would win any war despite the difficulties.

p88: She writes that no real change occurred after Helmuth von Moltke took over – apart from improving manoeuvres, which also became more secretive -  until Dec. 1911 (Helmuth von Moltke’s Memorandum). von Moltke, she writes,  identified France as the military threat and  recognised the new offensive spirit in the French Army (p91). He was, she says, determined to prevent any invasion of German territory from East or West (p93) hence he strengthened German forces in Alsace- Lorraine and in East Prussia. [cf. Rudolf Steiner indications concerning Pope Nicholas I's attitude in  the 9th century and Nicholas' determination to affirm the position of the Roman Catholic Church toward both East and West; Steiner saw Helmuth von Moltke the Younger as the reincarnation of Pope Nicholas I  (858-867); T.H. Meyer, op. cit. – TB]

Helmuth von Moltke’s reasons for respecting Dutch neutrality (cf. Schlieffen’s view) were essentially military. Holland he saw as necessary as Germany’s “windpipe” in a long war (p94), especially if Britain were to join the war. This position led to the decision to go through Belgium and Luxemburg only, rather than Holland, and to take the fortress of Liege (see Helmuth von Moltke memoir in 1915, p96). Mombauer almost grudgingly recognises that some political and economic concerns did enter Helmuth von Moltke’s thinking, unlike that of von Schlieffen. She avoids saying openly that von Moltke was a better strategic thinker than Schlieffen but that is in fact the implicit thrust of her argument.

p97: Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg didn’t find out about the Liege attack plan till 31 July 1914; Mombauer argues that this von Moltke plan “effectively precluded any last minute options for peace – as was indeed the case in 1914.” After the war, she notes, many of those involved in ‘the Schlieffen Plan’ blamed Helmuth von Moltke for its failure, ignoring their own complicity; von Moltke was “a convenient scapegoat”. He was later blamed for losing Germany the war because he was supposed to have  “tampered” with the Schlieffen Plan. Mombauer is at least even-handed here, recognising that  it was “….his right, even his duty, to adapt the war plan to changing circumstances.” (p98) “….it is also difficult to see how von Moltke could have fulfilled his role as Chief of the General Staff had he not adapted and updated Germany’s strategic plan on an annual basis.”(p100) [Mombauer seems to forget that it was also von Moltke's duty as C-in-C and indeed the duty of any nation's army C-in-C to draw up and wargame plans to win wars in defence of his country, and in some situations attack is the best form of defence - TB]

But Mombauer says Helmuth von Moltke “boasted” that the Liege plan had been his, yet in the quote she cites there is no whiff of a boast; this is an example of her consistent anti-von Moltke prejudice.

p99: General Groener later claimed there had been a “deep mental rift” between von Moltke and von Schlieffen, so von Moltke didn’t consult von Schlieffen after 1906. Mombauer doesn’t think this unreasonable. (p99)

Von Moltke, she says,  saw war on two fronts as inevitable, so the alternative Ostaufmarschplan (March East Plan), in which the bulk of the army would fight in the east he abandoned  as unrealistic; but this left Germany with only one plan – a grave error, according to Swiss historian Adolf Gasser (Preussische Miltärgeist und Kriegsentfesselung 1914. 1985): “With no other plan of action, and in the certain knowledge that the Schlieffen Plan would eventually ‘expire’ [because of Russian rail development], Germany’s military planners must have decided on a war in the near future, [Nb Mombauer's 'must have' here] when they decided to scrap any alternatives to the Schlieffen Plan. This was proof, in Gasser’s view, that in Dec. 1912 Helmuth von Moltke had decided on a ‘preventive’ war in the near future.” (Gasser p5-7)

Then comes a very important statement on p104:

 ”The scrapping of the plan for an attack in the East was almost certainly partly a result of the war council meeting of Dec 1912, held in response to the bad news from London which shattered the illusion that Britain might remain neutral, at least in the initial stages of a war arising from a Balkan conflict…..Unlike the Chancellor…..the military decison-makers believed in neither French nor British neutrality after the clear warning from Lichnowsky [German ambassador in London - TB] in Dec. 1912.”

[Note the words ‘almost certainly’; this is not evidence but speculation – TB. Note too that the German war council on 8 Dec. 1912 was actually held in response to the bellicose statement made by Sir Edward Grey to the German ambasador Lichnowsky on 4 December earlier]

p105 April 1913  – Plan 2 was definitely dropped – damning evidence  [N.b. Mombauer's choice of adjective - TB] that Germany’s military decision-makers were unwilling or unable to develop military strategies for all political contingencies.” “The lack of any alternative to an all-out war scenario suggests that within the General Staff there was certainly no desire to avoid a war on two fronts – perhaps even, as Gasser suspects, an explicit desire to ensure that only such a war could occur…” [emphasis TB; note these phrases]

Mombauer’s conclusion on p105: “It can certainly not be denied that a military leadership that was determined to keep peace would have struggled to  develop alternative plans, no matter how slim the chance that they could ultimately be implemented.” 

This is an absurd argument. What military leadership in the world does this ? Their task is to prepare to fight a war, not to keep the peace – keeping the peace is a task for foreign office officials and diplomats. It was not the German General Staff that were determining German foreign policy 1900-1914. Did the British, French, Russian military develop plans to keep the peace !? Of course not. This is another example of how Germany is judged by a different standard from other nations.

Chapter 3
p106: “During these years [1908-1914] Moltke became convinced that war was unavoidable, even that it was a necessity for Germany, and he continually advocated it.” Mombauer has offered no evidence for this assertion at this point. But in her next paragraph she writes, almost in contradiction of her previous statement :

“…before 1911 the General Staff did not exert any real pressure to push for army increases.”

If the General Staff, led by von Moltke, were as keen on an all-out war on two fronts as she claims, would they not have exerted “real pressure to push for army increases”?

She then introduces without further discussion the convenient label applied by historian Stig Forster – ‘doppelte Militarismus’ [dual militarism]. This refers to the differing views of the General Staff and the Ministry of War. Her use  of Forster’s term merely serves to reinforce the hackneyed view of German society as especially militaristic, whereas in fact, the German military leaders before 1914 were not at all in a position to force their views on the civilians who ran the government.

p107: Re. casus belli: “Germany’s decision-makers knew that the perfect set-up would be a Balkan crisis.” This is a prejudicial term used by Mombauer, who claims that the “decision-makers” had no doubt that great efforts would have to be made to make Germany look innocent and offers as evidence a quote by Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria – but was he a “decision-maker”? Hardly. Again, she says: “Due to Moltke’s close relationship with the Kaiser, he was able to impress his sense of urgency on the Kaiser…” but she offers no evidence of this.

p108:  Mombauer claims that Tschirsky (of the Foreign Office) said to Bernhardi that “he was quite willing to go to war”  but the Mombauer quote following this is not evidence of this fact but of something else altogether.

Mombauer writes that following the army bill of 1 Oct. 1913, the idea of waging ‘a preventive war’ began to take shape in Moltke’s mind.” But she gives no evidence for this. In the following paragraph she says:

“A picture thus emerges in these crucial years of Moltke as an advocate of war as soon as possible…..” 

But this is not a question of years but of months, by her own admission. In footnote 6 she defines preventive war as:

“not in the sense of pre-empting an attack from one of Germany’s possible future enemies, but of preventing a situation in which Germany would no longer herself be able to launch an attack successfully.”

Yet she gives no evidence that Moltke himself thought of it like this.

On p109 she uses the prejudicial term “Moltke’s push for war” and on p110 writes that:

“The fact that Moltke so frequently and vociferously demanded war must not be overlooked.”

After 110 pages she still has offered no real evidence of this, only repeated assertions!

Despite severely criticising von Schlieffen and his Plan, Mombauer here essentially accepts the ‘Schlieffen School’ line:

“The decisions that Moltke  took  in the years 1908 to 1914 resulted in crucial changes to Germany’s military planning and led to Germany’s military defeat in the First World War.” (p110)

This is exactly what the rigidly conservative army officers wanted the world and especially Germans to believe from 1919 onwards in order to exonerate themselves from blame for Germany’s military failure: the dead von Moltke as scapegoat. Importantly, she says:

“While it is true to say that Moltke played no decisive part in developing military doctrine, and that as Chief of the General Staff his scope for commanding troops and imparting his strategic ideas at ground level were rather limited, his importance lay rather in the political sphere.” [my emphasis – TB]

This is a not unimportant admission on her part, since it significantly weakens her argument about Von Moltke’s central role and responsibility.

Yet again she repeats:

“…due to his close personal relationship with the Kaiser, Moltke’s influence cannot therefore be described as negligible.”

And yet again, after 110 pages, she still gives no real evidence of this !

She then describes the background to the Bosnian crisis of 1908 without mentioning the fact that at the Congress of 1878, it was agreed – following a British suggestion (by Disraeli and Lord Salisbury) that Austria-Hungary should administer Bosnia-Herzegovina for 30 years under nominal Turkish suzerainty and that Austria-Hungary should eventually take over full control of Bosnia.

p111: She says that Moltke and Bülow “changed the [Dual] Alliance agreement from a defensive to an offensive one” because Moltke assured the Austrian, Conrad von Hötzendorf, that Germany would support Austria-Hungary if Russia attacked Austria-Hungary as a result of an Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia. She fails to mention the long string of terrorist assaults on Austria-Hungary, assaults that had emerged from Serbia (the Omladina network, the Black Hand secret society etc.). An Austro-Hungarian punitive attack could therefore certainly be described as ‘defensive’.

Again and again, as here, she refers to Moltke’s awareness of the importance of public opinion; he wrote:

“…peace prevailed in 1909, because the current political situation in Germany was not suited to a bellicose foreign policy. Public opinion would probably not have supported a war over a Balkan issue.”

Yet Germany is always said by its detractors to have been a militaristic autocracy, an impression she herself does nothing to dispel; rather, the opposite.

p112: Here at last, she finally presents some kind of evidence that would seem to point to Moltke’s desire for a war - his letter to the Austro-Hungarian C-in-C Conrad of Sept. 1909 – but she doesn’t say what kind of opportunity Moltke was referring to: war for Germany or war just for  Austria-Hungary. This is the kind of quote often used to assert that Moltke was a warmonger, but it could equally be seen as the considered opinion of one military man to another in an allied country that the circumstances would have been favourable – from a military viewpoint – for the military forces of the two countries to conduct military operations. Military men in all countries are assessing such things all the time. Moltke and Conrad were both convinced that war was inevitable against France and Russia because those two countries both sought to change the territorial status quo in Europe at the expense of Austria-Hungary (Galicia) and Germany (Alsace-Lorraine). Nothing essentially changed in this regard on the part of France and Russia from 1894-1914 despite the fact that from time to time politicians rose to the helm of government in those countries that did not appear to favour war against the Central Powers. The Dual Alliance – predicated on war with the Central Powers – continued and by 1914 once again there were men at the helm in France and Russia who did want war with the Central Powers. It was therefore quite understandable that von Moltke and Conrad would from time to time assess the favourability and unfavourability of the changing circumstances for military action against neighbouring counties that were known to be set on it eventually.

p113: Here Mombauer cites one of the various references to Moltke’s personality by contemporaries, all of which are positive – his “open and honest personality…his calm, clear judgment…” But Mombauer ignores the sense of these and prefers to imply that he was some kind of warmongering demon.

p114: Here she writes: “Notwithstanding the fact that Moltke’s letters did not always accurately portray his true intentions…” Although she has just referred on the previous page to his “open and honest personality”, she now   implies that Moltke was a liar or deceiver: “…..his bellicose statements….” Were his statements bellicose in the same way as Kaiser Wilhelm’s ? Not at all, yet she uses the same word. This is unfounded prejudice.

That war was not only inescapable, but also desirable was a notion that Moltke shared with most of his military contemporaries…”

Mombauer omits to see the force of this point, namely, that throughout Europe military men held this view, and not just in Germany, as she implies. Yet she and numerous other historians, whose arguments in this regard are equally prejudiced, only tend to focus on German military men in this sense. In Britain, for example, Admiral Sir John Fisher and General Henry Wilson also felt that “war was not only inescapable, but also desirable”.

A key question is: did Moltke look forward to war with relish ? Was he a real warmonger, wanting war for its own sake?  Mombauer never distinguishes this motive from that of the soldier doing his duty as he saw fit, so on p115 she says of Conrad that he “hardly needed Moltke’s encouragement – he was himself an outspoken warmonger”, the word ‘himself’ implying that von Moltke was also such a warmonger. She notes “Serbian provocation” against Austria-Hungary and refers to “the troublesome Serbian neighbour” but does not comment on Serbian responsibility.

She cites von Moltke, on 21 Jan 1909 writing (p115):

“…none of the great states will, because of Serbian ambitions, light the torch of war that could set alight the roof of all Europe. That Russia, motivated by such considerations, will stay quiet in a warlike conflict between the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and Serbia does not seem at all unlikely to me.”

So how then can Moltke be seen as wanting war against Russia out of a quarrel between Austria-Hungary and Serbia?

There follows a whole paragraph of mere unsupported assertion that von Moltke never conceived of any alternative to threatening escalation and never felt deterred by “the  increasing likelihood that war could result from any localised European conflict.”

p117 Re. naval race with Britain: “An honourable agreement, for example, on the basis of a reduction in the speed of building, thus seemed desirable to him [von Moltke] too.” This is hardly the view of an irresponsible warmongering fanatic, as Mombauer makes him out to be in this book.

p118: here is a quote which shows that von Moltke took the views of the people into account and was no haughty arrogant militarist, but Mombauer does not draw this conclusion.

[[N.b. In passing, it is interesting in view of Steiner’s indication about von Moltke’s earlier incarnation as Pope Nicholas I in the mid-9th century, who had a connection with the region of Alsace and the Odilienberg, that von Moltke’s friendly colleague was named Colmar von der Goltz. Colmar is in Alsace, not far from the Odilienberg]

Finally, after 117 pages, a quote in a letter to the Austrian C-in-C Conrad Sept. 1909 which does seem to show that von Moltke would have been prepared to see a general war over the Bosnian question in 1908.

I am firmly convinced that it would have been possible to localise the war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, and the [Habsburg] monarchy would have been stabilised within and strengthened without as a result of the war’s victorious  completion and could have won a preponderance in the Balkans that would no longer be rocked so easily. Even if Russia had become active and a European war had developed, the conditions for Austria and Germany could now have been better than they will probably be in a few years’ time.”

But note that he says “Even if Russia….”, so this does not necessarily imply he was expecting and wanting a war with Russia, but rather, expecting one between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

The mending of the rift with the Austro-Hungarian General Staff was von Moltke’s work; von Schlieffen had ignored Austria-Hungary.

p119 Mombauer claims that von Moltke tried to hide from Austria-Hungary the fact that Germany’s main force in the East was against Russia because “The knowledge that Germany would only deploy the most minimal forces in the East might have resulted in Austria deciding not to attack Russia…..”  This is nonsense, because the Austro-Hungarian General Staff could see only too well that German deployment was very small in the East.
von Moltke, she says, “relied on an alliance war motivated by ‘Nibelungentreue’ (the faithfulness of the Nibelungs i.e. tribal loyalty) but she gives no evidence of von Moltke using this phrase in letters to Conrad or anyone else.

p121 On the Agadir Crisis of 1911, she writes:   “The dispatch of the German gunboat Panther to ….Agadir….marked the beginning of the second Moroccan Crisis.”

No, it was the French colonialist actions in Morocco that initiated the dispute and prompted the dispatch. Then, 3 sentences later, she recognises that “Germany felt provoked by French military intervention in Morocco” [N.b. the mild word 'intervention'] and admits “Germany’s reaction is perhaps understandable in the light of the rules of imperialism that applied at the time.” This again is typical of the double standards so many historians, including Mombauer, have applied to German foreign policy in the period 1900-1914. Germany is invariably described as being “aggressive” during the two Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911 yet the whole thing arose out of a sordid imperialist deal between the British and the French in which France would accept Britain’s takeover of Egypt, which the French had resented since the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 in return for Britain looking the other way while France muscled in on Morocco, a supposedly independent country. Germany was simply stating that she had commercial interests in Morocco too and objected to the French takeover of the country. But the British and French saw this as an effort (which it also was) by the Germans to break up the new Anglo-French Entente Cordiale and thus as hostile and “aggressive”. France’s actual aggression against Morocco tends to be forgotten amidst the argument with Germany.

In a footnote Mombauer describes Geoffrey Barraclough’s account of the Agadir Crisis as “perhaps too sympathetic to German intentions” without any discussion of it though says he is accurate in his description of German intentions as bungling and muddled i.e. she allows her readers to perceive nothing but negativity about German actions.

p122 At the height of the Agadir Crisis von Moltke’s mood she describes as “pronouncedly bellicose”. She writes that he is said to have called for a “reckoning with England”. Yet despite this seemingly important quote, she offers nothing more extensive nor any further discussion of the statement. She quotes a long section of a letter by von Moltke to his wife, which seems more ironical than “pronouncedly bellicose” (p124). Rather than actually calling in a ‘bellicose’ manner for war, the passage from the letter simply seems to express his despair at the German government’s habit of making demands and then not being prepared to follow them up with action – a typical attitude for a military man; the passage does not strike one as the ranting of a warmonger.

p125 A very poor piece of argumentation here as Mombauer tries to disagree with those who say that von Moltke’s statements at this time were all the talk of a weak man and that too much shouldn’t be placed on them. Mombauer argues with no evidence that his statements during this period  show that von Moltke was aiming at war before too long and that his injured pride and uneasy feeling hid a desire for Weltpolitik.

Again she claims that the path from “Agadir to Armageddon” began with Germany: “Arguably the most significant result was that Germany had clearly identified herself as an aggressor and troublemaker.” Yet the Agadir Crisis too began with French aggression against Morocco! Judging from many western historians’ discussion of the Agadir Crisis, it is as if they feel that the  other Powers were expected to simply accept the French takeover of Morocco. When Germany challenged it, Germany was then and still is now regarded as a bully and dangerously aggressive warmonger!

p126  “In France, Germany’s aggressive and provocative behaviour led to a revival of the revanche idea.” No. That began with the Joan of Arc commemorations in 1909, stirred up by French warmongering rightwing chauvinists.

“A longterm consequence of German provocation was the Anglo-French naval agreement….”
 ” ….Germany, who by now had shown herself clearly as an aggressor.”

Mombauer fails to contrast this one German gunboat, the Panther, with the French attempt to annex a new colony! Then, on the very next page she says: 

“Germany’s political decision-makers….did not actually want war in 1911, although they were willing to threaten it to achieve foreign policy gains.”
[and what about Fashoda, just 13 years before, when France had come so close to war with Britain over yet another sordid colonial grab?]

p130: Agadir frightened von Moltke into wanting the army kept prepared for war at all times, says Mombauer. But isn’t this common sense for any army ?

p132 An important von Moltke memo to Bethmann-Hollweg 2 Dec 1911:

“The equipping, perfecting and strengthening of her military power in all areas are making France an ever more powerful and dangerous opponent. All are preparing themselves for the big war that is widely expected sooner or later [i.e. everyone in Europe]. Only Germany and her ally Austria-Hungary are not participating in these preparations.”

If even the Chief of the General Staff himself felt that Germany was insufficiently prepared for a war that is “widely expected”, then this is not exactly convincing evidence that von Moltke had been pushing for war for years before.

p135 1912 saw a marked changeover in Germany in the government’s favour towards the army from the navy and thus a certain lessening of tensions between Britain and Germany: Mombauer writes: “Previously the General Staff had lacked self-confidence vis-a-vis the predominant navy and had received no support from other military or civilian bodies.” Yet we are always told by her and by other western historians that this was the most militaristic society on earth! Here she is saying that “the most militaristic society on earth”, the army that traced its traditions back to Frederick the Great and before lacked self-confidence vis-a-vis the predominant navy, a body that hardly existed before the mid-1890s!

p136 Mombauer notes that the Balkan War of 1912 was another pretext for a general war but that the Kaiser was against it. Bethmann-Hollweg and Kiderlen-Wächter “tried hard to change the Kaiser’s mind during those days”, she writes but doesn’t say that von Moltke tried to do so. Wilhelm II, she notes, only changed his mind “on account of the press and public opinion…”  – yet elsewhere, she maintains, like so many others, that this was supposed to be an autocracy ! Mombauer shows a real talent for continually undermining her own arguments.

13 Oct 1912 At the Hubertusstock meeting the Kaiser called for army increases but “was opposed by his military advisers.” We note that Mombauer implies that these advisers included von Moltke because she writes that:

[The Kaiser] was reassured by both Heeringen and Moltke that the German army was prepared for all eventualities, should the Balkan War escalate.

So von Moltke did not want more troops. But the next day he changed his mind. Mombauer tries to rationalise why but can only come up with ‘possibilities’ and ‘suggestions’, in other words, speculation:

“It is possible that Moltke realised….It has been suggested that this change of heart was due to Ludendorff’s influence….”

p137 von Moltke’s niece wrote at the time : “he too thinks there is absolutely no reason for going to war and he said: “If only England and Germany would go together they would lead the world; this whole tension is the work of King Edward [the King had died two years earlier but during his reign relations between England and Germany had badly deteriorated, not least due to his own personal sympathies and antipathies - TB]. He thinks the feeling in England against Germany is manufactured by politicians, the press and the diplomats.” Mombauer ignores the fact that these pertinent points contradict her own central argument.

“Moltke, who had known about Austria’s bellicose intentions, had obviously not travelled to Vienna hoping to restrain his Austrian colleague…” No evidence is offered for this statement.

The 1912 ‘War Council’
p138: “….the news from London…..that Britain would not keep out of a war on the continent, but would come to France’s aid. As a result, the Kaiser’s peaceful attitude changed completely. At a meeting of 8 Dec 1912, the so-called war council which he called in response to this news, the Kaiser was at his most bellicose.”

p.140: “At the meeting, the Kaiser, Moltke, and Muller were keen for war to result from the current crisis…..On this occasion Moltke was a clear advocate of war now rather than later, as Admiral Muller noted in his diary: ‘Gen.v. M: ‘I consider a war unavoidable, and the sooner the better.’”

Mombauer paints a picture of a man whose lips are slavering with desire for war, but von Moltke merely said war is unavoidable sooner or later and if so, then sooner rather than later. That doesn’t mean he wanted it; to recall his words to his niece: “there may be war for the simple reason that everyone has prepared for it for so long and such tremendous armaments are always a danger” (pp.136-7)

“The Bavarian military plenipotentiary Wenniger had received similar information about the meeting: ‘Moltke was in favour of an immediate strike…..the opportunity had never been more favourable.’”

Mombauer doesn’t say where Wenniger had received this information. Mombauer then speaks again about “Moltke’s bellicose words” [a favourite phrase of hers] demanding no delay, but in the next paragraph notes Moltke’s concern for public opinion “leading even him to suggest that a postponement of the war might be necessary. He suggested starting a campaign in the press to prepare the public to accept the necessity of a war against Russia”. Mombauer doesn’t offer direct evidence for this seemingly important point, but only a footnote reference to a letter of Wenninger.
p143  “Moltke’s  request for war ‘the sooner the better’ was a serious demand….” but Mombauer to this point has offered NO evidence that he made any such request.

p144  “The Balkan Wars of 1912/13 resulted in a complete upheaval of the previous European balance of power.” Yet all this was triggered by French actions in Morocco, as Mombauer herself charted. France’s sordid land grab led Italy to do the same, and she attacked Turkish possessions in N.Africa. The revelation of Turkish weakness in the Italo-Turkish war of 1911-1912 stimulated Serbia and her Balkan allies to attack Turkey in the 1st Balkan War (1912) and then the Balkan victors fell out over the spoils, which caused the Second Balkan war (1913)

p145 Mombauer presents a long quote from von Moltke on the need for public opinion to get behind a war for the sake of an ally (with the implication that Moltke was warmongering) but from a military point of view, this was simply common sense.

“Moltke depicted ….France, England, and Russia as having offensive aims in a future war and therefore being able to rally public support much more easily than Germany, whose aims he describes as defensive, as merely to preserve the status quo.”

Exactly! France wanted Alsace-Lorraine; England wanted Germany crushed for economic reasons and the Berlin-Baghdad railway terminated, and Russia wanted Constantinople and the Straits. Germany had no war aims or desires before September 1914, when some were hastily cobbled together in a document that was no more than a draft document for discussion and not adopted as official policy – the so-called ‘September Programme’ that was erroneously made so much of by German historian Fritz Fischer in the 1960s. Mombauer goes on to write:

p146 “Because he was aware that the longer she waited before provoking a war, Germany would lose her edge over her future opponents, Moltke’s attitude was sooner rather than later….”

But nowhere does Mombauer offer evidence that he wanted to provoke a war! Neither does she take into account the perfectly reasonable argument that von Moltke was not some proto-Nazi warmonger or Prussian militarist lusting for conquest but was simply responding to the poisonous diplomatic situation that had developed between the two armed camps in Europe by 1912-14, a situation that was largely the responsibility of the chancellories and the media of Europe. Within that situation, for a military man tasked with defending his country and seeking to find the best means of carrying out his task, if he asked himself when would be the best time for us to fight, ‘war sooner rather than later’ would certainly have been a sensible option in 1912  from a purely military point of view, given Germany’s situation.

Von Moltke, according to Mombauer,  “advocated the introduction of universal military conscription, which in Germany had only ever existed on paper. He wanted to match the percentage that France recruited….” [So much for the claims of German militarism ! “However, it was a demand that was difficult to push through the Reichstag.” [So much for the claims of German autocracy!]  Nowhere does Mombauer actually give direct evidence that von Moltke called for conscription.

As part of the above argument, Mombauer, having spent 147 pages up to this point trying to convince the reader that von Moltke was the key wicked warmonger seeking to push Germany and all Europe towards war, now tries to imply that Ludendorff was the eminence grise behind Moltke’s supposed calls for universal conscription, which she has not even managed to substantiate. By contrast, leading British soldiers such as Earl Roberts were continually campaigning for conscription in Britain and seeking to involve the Press and many other forms of media and organisations to back their campaign; see A.J.A.Morris, The Scaremongers – The Advocacy of War and Rearmament 1896-1914, (1984). Once again shooting herself in the foot, Mombauer cites someone to suggest that Moltke, far from being a conscious and deliberate plotter for war, was not even in control of his own mind! This, supposing it were true, would completely undermine the thesis of Mombauer’s whole book! 

p147 She writes that Wandel (Minister of War) believed that von Moltke was under the control of “some restless and ambitious people….that he has no will of his own (that he is perhaps paralysed in his energy by a physical ailment).”

Again, this is but more unsubstantiated suggestion and insinuation. She  presents no solid evidence to back up her case that Moltke was always demanding conscription as might be expected of a proper militarist, and so she tries to insinuate  – with no real evidence – that he was mind-controlled or significantly influenced by Ludendorff, who she knows was in favour of such conscription. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

p151 von Moltke letter to Conrad 10 Feb 1913:

“Moltke was certain that the German people would support Austria if she were attacked by Russia. However, if Austria were to provoke a conflict, it would be difficult to find support for this among the German people.”

So much for the provocative militarist!

In this important letter of 10 Feb. 1913 von Moltke urged Conrad not to be provocative, but Mombauer hardly quotes from this important letter – only this passage:

“As he explained to Conrad, he envisaged a racial struggle between Germanic and Slavic races. The attack would have to come from the Slavic side, but he considered it ‘the duty of all states that carry the standard of Germanic culture (Geisteskultur) to prepare themselves for this.”

Mombauer points out (p. 153) that other German leaders shared Moltke’s “Social  Darwinist” vision. Yet such views had been prevalent throughout Europe for decades – they were one of the main factors contributing to the poisonous relations between States – and they had originated in Britain with the ideas of T.H. Huxley, Herbert Spencer, Francis Galton, and Houston Chamberlain! It is perverse of Mombauer and others to point the finger of racism accusations at Moltke or even at the German officer class as if he and they were somehow uniquely guilty of harbouring Social Darwinist racist ideas when firstly, Mombauer does not even make a solid case that Moltke was really committed to such ideas and secondly, when such ideas permeated the entire European upper class milieu at that time – in Britain more than anywhere.

 p154 “In a letter to Bethmann-Hollweg [Moltke] pleaded for more cooperation between the military and political spheres, and for a discussion of military planning in a political context”  and

p155 “Bethmann-Hollweg….never socialised with the Chief of the General Staff…..General von Moltke complained about this often and bitterly.” [So much for the arrogant militarist !]

By 1913, Moltke did not doubt that England would ‘get actively involved in the war on our opponents’ side, whether we march through Belgium or not.”

 p 163 “Would it be worth considering not  marching through Belgium, if this made English neutrality possible ? This would indeed be the case, Moltke argued, if Britain had not made it absolutely clear that she would be actively involved on the side of Germany’s opponents, whether or not Germany marched through Belgium…..[England] fears a defeat of [France] and a German hegemony and, true to her politics which are aimed at preserving the European balance of power, she will do everything to hinder an extension of power on Germany’s side. Therefore we will have to count England among our opponents.”

This was a clear-eyed and spot-on observation by von Moltke and was borne out by Grey’s stance in the Cabinet Meeting of 2nd August 1914, demanding British intervention for the sake of France, not Belgium.

p160 Nevertheless, Mombauer here notes that Moltke did consider alternatives to going via Belgium, which he was forced to reject as impractical.

p161 Mombauer notes without comment that the military had NOT hidden their plans from the government (except for the attack on Liege). So much for militarism ! In Britain by contrast, the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey and his two Liberal Imperialist colleagues in Cabinet, Asquith and Haldane, concealed from the rest of the Cabinet for six years (1906-11) the secret military negotiations which Grey had authorised in January 1906!

p162 Mombauer notes the “very real dangers” that motivated the General Staff thinking over the Belgium route i.e. France might also invade Belgium or Belgium might join Germany’s enemies.

p165 “Moltke explained why he considered an offensive strategy necessary for Germany, and why that offensive had to launched against the West first….” But the following quote introduced by Mombauer does NOT explain why Moltke considered such a strategy necessary.

p166 Moltke, to the Belgian military attaché de Melotte:

“The war with France is inevitable and much closer than you might think. We do not want it. We have nothing to gain from it. But we have had enough of the continuous alerts which hinder our development. It is absolutely essential that France stop obstructing and provoking us, otherwise we will have to confront them. The sooner, the better.” It is hardly coincidence that Moltke repeated the bellicose words of the war council on this occasion. [my emphasis – TB]

Mombauer repeats the word ‘bellicose’ here as she has throughout the book. Indeed, unwarranted, unsubstantiated repetition of claims is a characteristic of her book throughout, as we have seen.

Beyens, Belgian envoy:

“As the Kaiser is surrounded solely by generals who have no doubt been ordered to speak [by whom? - TB] the same language as the Chief of the General Staff, they want to change H.M.[the Kaiser's] peace-loving attitude and to convince him of the necessity of this war.” 
[recorded by Beyens from information given by King Albert Nov 1913]

Future Allies
Mombauer mentions (p170) that the very pro-German Italian Chief of the General Staff, Pollio, died on 28th June 1914, “the very day of the assassination at Sarajevo”. How convenient that a key German military ally, regarded by most major military figures in Germany, including von Moltke, as an excellent and reliable man, should suddenly die on the day that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who wished to keep the peace with Serbia was assassinated! But though she notes that “Pollio’s influence was regarded as crucial…” (p170)  Mombauer doesn’t say anything about the cause of death. Pollio, like the French editor Joseph Caillaux, the French Socialist politician Jean Jaurès, the Russian mystic Rasputin and Archduke Franz Ferdinand himself were all men in key positions in their countries whose voices needed to be stilled or removed in one way or other order to facilitate war between their countries and the Central Powers. And removed they all were, within five weeks of the assassination at Sarajevo. 

p172 von Jagow May/June 1914:

“In [Moltke's] opinion there was no alternative to making preventive war in order to defeat the enemy while we still had a chance of victory. The Chief of the General Staff therefore proposed that I should conduct a policy with the aim of provoking a war in the near future.”  In view of this strong claim and KEY QUOTE, it is noteworthy that Mombauer doesn’t draw attention to the possibility that Jagow nay have been seeking to exculpate himself after the event.

p174 Mombauer disingenuously quotes Col. Edward M. House  – (The Intimate Papers of Colonel House Vol. 1 p248) – as if he’s talking about just Berlin, when in fact he was referring to the whole of Europe when he famously wrote:

“It is militarism run stark mad.”

Nor does she cite the context of the quote or the fact that House refers to war resulting from Britain’s letting France and Russia loose on Germany. What House actually wrote was : 

“Whenever England consents, France and Russia will close in on Germany and Austria.”

Army Increases Debate 1914
p175 “[Tappen] remarked with scarcely hidden criticism that ‘Moltke wanted to serve his country in his responsible position as long as this was possible for him.’“  Why the assumption of criticism in these words ? No evidence is offered.

p176 After 176 pages, at no time has Mombauer discussed whether there was substance to German fears about future French and Russian war plans. Mombauer criticises Moltke for not instigating a change of strategy, but how long would a complete change of strategy have taken to work out and implement in 1913-14 ? Would it have been ready by 1916/17 ? She ignores this. [Terence Zuber’s work in any case has shown that Moltke in fact changed  and adjusted his strategic plans several times according to changing circumstances between 1906 and 1914; see his The Real German War Plan 1904-1914 (2011)] Her whole argument proves nothing except that Germany was ready and willing to fight in August 1914, but who actually pushed the situation to war? Austria-Hungary’s actions led to a localised Balkan war, while Russia’s actions led inexorably to a European war !

p177  “[Waldersee] was not suggesting of course that the politicians should be alerted to the flimsy basis for their bellicose foreign policy”.  What bellicose German foreign policy in 1912-14 ?

“The memorandum [Waldersee memorandum May 1914] is interesting not just because it confirms that  the General Staff believed that a war would come in the near future…..”
This doesn’t mean they believed that Germany would start one !

p178 There is no direct connection between what Mombauer calls Waldersee’s “logical conclusion”  and the paragraph  quote that follows it.

“In the light of the recent revelations about secret Anglo-Russian negotiations on a naval agreement [May-June 1914], Germany’s complete ‘encirclement’ seemed unavoidable in future.”
 Nb Mombauer doesn’t comment on the fact of Germany’s complete ‘encirclement’, which the British and French had been compassing since 1904 at least. What were the German military supposed to do in these circumstances?

8 July 1914 Falkenhayn to Bethmann-Hollweg: “[Falkenhayn  felt] ‘that the army absolutely needed a period of quiet in order to come to terms with the big army bill of 1913′”  So does that make  Falkenhayn  one of the ‘warmongers’ of 1914?

p179 Mombauer refers to “an emotional plea” by Moltke in his letter to Bethmann-Hollweg 18 July 1914 but there is nothing overtly emotional in the lengthy quote which follows.

p180 Again Mombauer speaks of the pronounced desire for war on the part of “Germany’s military leaders” cited by the ‘evidence’ in her study, but the German military leaders’ feelings were based on fears for survival not lust for conquest. On the basis of just one flimsy quote by Falkenhayn she deduces that military leaders “both within the Ministry of War  and the General Staff, the top military leaders shared the belief that the time was right for war in the summer of 1914″ [Falkenhayn was then the Minister of War].

She then tries to solve a conundrum, the contradiction that, as she claims, they were all for war, yet “even while the July Crisis was unfolding, military planners still kept an eye to the future, quarrelling over army increases that would only take effect in 1915 or even 1916. How can this apparent contradiction be explained ? 
Well, it can’t, because there was NO real German will for war in summer 1914.

p181 “Given ….the many occasions in the past when the military had considered the opportunity for a strike to be present, but the civilians had preferred to pursue a more peaceful policy…” i.e. the civilians had held back the military. How was this possible if Germany was supposed to be such a militarist autocracy? Mombauer’s argument is repeatedly hamstrung by such contradictions. It is frankly astonishing that her ideas and this book have been treated so uncritically by Anglo-American historians since its publication. Her arguments and her claims have cropped up again and again in other works, invariably tarring the figure of von Moltke as the villain of the whole piece, the man who drove Europe to war.

Chapter 4 July Crisis

 p182 “Research into the July Crisis has established that the decision to use the  assassination of the Archduke, supposedly by Serbian controlled terrorists, as an opportunity for settling Austria’s Balkan problems was arrived at as much in Berlin as in Vienna.”

No evidence is here offered by her to substantiate this statement. Once again, we have here mere assertion and repetition.

p183 “While Austria-Hungary still wanted to punish the Serbs, Germany, by virtue of her military plans, wanted to begin hostilities against France and Russia….” ‘Germany’, meaning who ?

A very important point: p185ff Mombauer here claims that there was  a holiday conspiracy in which  German leaders deliberately went on holiday in June -July as a pretence: but she offers no direct evidence of this at all, not even in a footnote at this point.

“…most were away on holiday, keeping a deliberately low profile….Until the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia was delivered, the key decision-makers could afford to be absent from Berlin and their return to the centre of decision-making was carefully timed to ensure they had their say when it really mattered…..”

p192 The responsible political leaders, Bethmann-Hollweg and Jagow, were also absent from Berlin, giving the crisis – quite deliberately – ‘a leaderless appearance’. 

Again, no evidence of conspiracy or intention is presented whatsoever. It is mere assertion. What is not mere assertion, however, what is unchallengeable fact, is that Britain and France made no effort at all to restrain Russia from 28th June to 30th July (the Russian order for general mobilisation).

p193  “…their absence helped to create the impression of calm that both Berlin and Vienna wanted to convey to the outside world…” Again, no evidence of conspiracy whatsoever. Such evidence would really support  her case, but she doesn’t produce any.

pp194-195: “On 11 July [Waldersee] requested information about Conrad’s strategic intentions…Waldersee requested this information soon, in order to be able to advise Moltke accordingly  It is clearly not true to claim as Turner does that Waldersee ‘did nothing at all’ during the crucial days of July…

Yet Turner was right; Waldersee DID nothing; he merely requested information. On this episode, see n43:

This was an unfortunate result of the plan to demonstrate outward calm by sending key men on holiday. Key decision-makers, such as Conrad and Moltke, could not coordinate or confirm their strategies, and military discussions had to be conducted by less senior figures. [emphasis – TB]

She fails to present ANY evidence at all for any of this.

p196 Waldersee returned to Berlin on 23rd July. Mombauer writes: “It would be more accurate to say that he returned when he knew to expect the greatest political tension…..” i.e. the day of the ultimatum [emphasis - TB]. Maybe, but she gives no evidence for this assertion.
Moltke’s return was also timed to coincide with the expected rising of tension…. [emphasis - TB] Again, no evidence from Mombauer.

p197 Bethmann too had secretly travelled to Berlin….. [emphasis - TB] This implies a conspiracy, but again, she presents no evidence thereof.

Mombauer denies that only the military were really guilty; she insists that the civilian government personnel were also guilty (see p185). Why did the civilian leadership this time give way to the military unlike in previous crises? Because Russia was serious this time and the civilians in the government sensed that and feared it. Moltke doesn’t discuss this point.

p186 Her thesis is to identify the degree of influence of the military in the July Crisis. She writes: “A detailed study of the available evidence demonstrates a much higher degree of involvement of key military men than has previously been suspected.”

She is here implying that no-one else has made detailed studies….

“However it is now possible to draw on a variety of materials…..that help to shed light on [Moltke's] intentions….” Mombauer doesn’t say here what materials these are. She acknowledges the almost complete lack of personal papers due to the “almost complete destruction of Moltke’s papers”.

p191, p198-9: Mombauer mentions without comment that the Kaiser was for European peace in the July Crisis both before and after receipt of Serbian note.

p197 “Only now did the Entente states realize the gravity of the situation; the ‘softly softly approach’ had worked [i.e. the alleged "holiday conspiracy" by Germany and Austria-Hungary] in preventing Russia and France from initiating any military measures before the ultimatum was delivered.”

No. There is no evidence of such an approach; rather was it a case of Austrian schlamperei (slackness). Certainly Austria-Hungary had wished to wait till the Franco-Russian talks in St Petersburg were over so that Poincaré and the Russians could not confer as to what to do about the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia and its likely consequences, but Poincaré and the Russians had in all probability already conferred in talks during the French visit, of which no official records were made.

p200 the ‘new material’ of Falkenhayn’s diaries shows that on 28 July Moltke  advocated a delay in mobilisation. Mombauer notes: “It is much more difficult to explain why Moltke opposed this measure. Falkenhayn seems to have thought that Moltke still hoped for peace.…” She doesn’t go into this further, though the following quote from Falkenhayn’s diary tends to totally undermine her argument about Moltke’s constant warmongering.

“I do, by the way, understand this decision; for anyone who still believes in the possibility of keeping the peace, or at least wishes for it, can, of course, not subscribe to the declaration of an imminent  danger of war. Naturally, this decision leads to a military disadvantage for us, but if Moltke is willing to justify that, I cannot oppose it. (Falkenhayn diary 29 July 1914)

 Mombauer speculates: More likely, [Moltke] agreed with Bethmann’s view that they should wait for as long as possible  in order to let the Russians take the blame……It is also possible that Falkenhayn painted a deliberately unfavourable picture of Moltke, for whom he had little respect [emphasis – TB].

In which case, why trust anything else in Falkenhayn’s diaries, if she does not trust this ?  Mombauer then brings forward what she admits are “second-hand opinions” that indicate Moltke had more aggressive views.

p201 Mombauer discusses Moltke’s memorandum of 28 July, which is also included in Thomas Meyer’s book (see op. cit.). She omits Moltke’s account of the causes of the crisis (Serbian terrorism) and her discussion of the document completely ignores what his account indicates about Moltke as an individual.

p.202 n82: Albertini’s discussion of the document is more even-handed:

“Though resolved to go to the ally’s help, he [von Moltke] seems at the critical moment to have perceived the terribleness of the tragedy towards which events were moving and to have been somewhat more cautious than the War Minister Falkenhayn” [who said 4 August: "Even if we perish over this, at least it will have been fun"]

p203 Mombauer claims that Moltke insisted on German general mobilisation even before the Russian order for general mobilisation and that despite his insistence, the Kaiser and Bethmann-Hollweg did NOT allow it.

p204: “There was only one reason why war would become unavoidable once German mobilisation was declared: because German troops would have to march into Belgium and take Liege immediately.”
This shows Mombauer’s ignorance of military realities. In those days all European general staffs had long recognised that mobilisation meant war, at least from the 1894 French and Russian Dual Alliance Military Agreement drawn up by Generals Boisdeffre and Obruchev (see George Kennan, The Fateful Alliance (1984)). Especially for Germany was this the case due to her geographical position. All military men knew this was the case for Germany. Mombauer, however, puts too much emphasis here on the Liege attack because of Moltke’s role in planning it.

p205 30 July Bethmann-Hollweg attempts to restrain Austria-Hungary – this is inconvenient for Mombauer’s civilian-lust-for-war thesis.

p205ff Mombauer insists that Moltke wanted immediate general mobilisation and war because the Liege attack required that every hour counted. She gives no direct evidence of this and only asserts it.

p207 Mombauer simply accepts Bethmann-Hollweg’s July 1917 assertion to Theodor Wolff that Moltke had been responsible for the declaration of war on Russia – which was certainly a major error on Germany’s part. Any responsible historian in these circumstances should ask herself what Bethmann-Hollweg’s motives for making such a statement may have been. Things were looking bad for Germany in July 1917, and thus for those who had been in office in 1914. von Moltke was already dead and thus a convenient scapegoat who could not answer back.

p208 The last days of July: “Now the military  came into their own…” [N.b. Only now !! So much for the constant refrain about a 'German militarist autocracy' - TB] Falkenhayn in particular stands out as a belligerent advocate of war…..and desired a war almost for its own sake.

N.b. nowhere in the book is Mombauer able to say that of Helmuth von Moltke, despite everything else she says about him.

“There were times during the last days of July 1914 when Falkenhayn pushed for war even more than the Chief of the General Staff.”

Mombauer doesn’t go into this, which also undermines her thesis that Helmuth von Moltke was the main culprit.

n104: The Italian historian of the war, Albertini, also noted that Moltke was more cautious than Falkenhayn in the last days before war broke out. Mombauer claims that Falkenhayn didn’t understand Moltke’s mood swings because Falkenhayn didn’t know about the impending attack on Liege, but again, this is mere unsupported speculation on her part. Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia, she writes, “led Moltke to join Falkenhayn in his vociferous demands for mobilisation.” Why did Moltke join Falkenhayn if Moltke was the main warmonger as Mombauer has been arguing throughout her book? Why didn’t Falkenhayn  join Moltke ?

p211: “Despite his bellicose words….” Again the repeated refrain….

p213 “Moltke’s guilt lies as much in disguising his own doubts about Germany’s ultimate chances at victory as in constantly advocating a war. Thus….German political decision-makers….completely overestimated Germany’s military strength”. Moltke’s guilt: disguise, deception, constant advocacy of war – Mombauer racks up her case, but it has been built on sand.

p214 Contradiction: Mombauer claims Moltke was severely oppressed by Austrian slowness: “Yet he did not get in contact with Conrad at any time in July”.  This is contradicted on p195 when she discusses “the General Staff holiday conspiracy” and writes that in July: “Clearly, for the German military, there was no need to feel pressured by time.”

p215 “The one-sided nature of Germany’s military planning began to impose restrictions not just on Germany’s options, but also on Austria’s. In fact, it made a localised conflict impossible”. So, Mombauer argues, the move from localised war to European war was because of Germany; Mombauer constantly ignores the role of Russia. This is typical of anti-Germany ‘school’  of historians such as Mombauer; determined to fix guilt on Germany, they remain fixated on Germany and pay little attention to Russia, France and Britain.

Mombauer now begins to lay it on thick:  p216 “Military requirements made it impossible for the [German] politicians to react to Russia’s reassurances that her mobilisation did not have to result in war…..”

No. “Reassurances” that mobilisation did not mean war, from men like Czar Nicholas II and Foreign Minister Sazonov, men who understood next to nothing about modern military realities, meant nothing.  Mobilisation DID mean war for ALL countries and to suggest otherwise, as the Russians did, was either deception or ignorance.

p216  “Britain even suggested that in such a scenario she would not support Russia if a conflict proved unavoidable despite a genuine Austrian  negotiation attempt.”

What does this statement refer to ? Mombauer does not say. There was no way Britain would not have supported Russia when it came to the crunch. Appeasement of Russia had become  the “backbone” of British foreign policy by 1914, and the Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov, well aware of this, even threatened to blackmail Britain in July 1914 if British support was not forthcoming, darkly hinting that Russia would turn away from Britain. Buchanan (ambassador in St Petersburg), Nicholson (Permanent Under-Secretary at the FO), and Grey (Foreign Secretary) were all petrified at this prospect and were determined not to lose Russia’s ‘friendship’ because of what that loss might mean for Britain’s Asiatic possessions, above all, India, and also because it might entail a return to the Franco-Russian alliance vs Britain scenario that had dominated European and global affairs until the Ententes of 1904 and 1907.

p219 “Of all the men present at the Schloss (1 Aug) only Moltke knew how much each hour counted” [here Mombauer wants to imply: because of Liege]

Mombauer gets the London telegrams affair of 1 August 1914 completely wrong; she says, following Fritz Fischer, that the British had made an “offer” to guarantee French neutrality when in fact, Grey himself said no such thing. Grey was merely being either incompetent and ignorant of reality [the Franco-Russian Alliance] or  – if he did know of it  – devious and disingenuous even to raise the matter.

p220 n143
“Thomas Meyer, one of Moltke’s apologists, credits the Chief of the General Staff with rather a lot of foresight when he claims that he had immediately recognised that the news [of the British offer] had to be fake. In fact, Meyer tries to blame Britain for the outbreak of war”.

Yet Mombauer herself several times indicates how Moltke had, with insight, for years understood Britain’s foreign policy, her balance of power position with regard to Belgium and northern France, her likely intervention to support France etc.

p221 Moltke was a realist in military terms – something Mombauer refuses to acknowledge in any generous way. That is why he had to reject the Kaiser’s order to turn the army round on 1st August, as the ignorant Kaiser simply did not comprehend what it meant to organise and direct a modern army in wartime.

p223 One of the very few occasions of “sympathy” (or crocodile tears?) Mombauer shows for Helmuth von Moltke are these words: “…even a layman can imagine Moltke’s horror as he was faced with the Kaiser ordering a German deployment in the East….”

p224 Mombauer quotes Adam von Moltke: “Eight years of difficult and well thought-out work were to be eradicated through a monarch’s capricious demand for power”. But on p 220 she writes: “What had taken months to perfect could not simply be changed at the last minute.” [emphasis - TB] She doesn’t notice the error.

p225 Criticising Moltke’s failure to develop any alternative strategy, Mombauer writes, with great naivete: “If France and Britain had decided not to support Russia, then a deployment to the eastern front and a defensive stance could have prevented an escalation of the Austro-Serbian conflict”. But there was no way France and Britain would not have supported Russia. Mombauer’s view is based not only on her incomprehension of diplomatic realities, but on her non-recognition of an Entente conspiracy: the French and Russian elites were determined on war eventually; it was, they felt, the only way they could realise their respective aims, the acquisition of Alsace-Lorraine and Constantinople/the Straits. (see Sean McMeekin, The Russian Origins of the First World War, 2011)

Chapter 5 The General Staff at war
p247 Mombauer introduces more ‘new material’  – the Plessen diaries on the first weeks of the war.

p253 She lightly passes over Kluck’s supposed responsibility for not enveloping Paris.
“When the German armies crossed the Marne to move towards Paris….” makes no sense, because the Marne is well south of Paris. Does she mean the Aisne ?

pp255-6 She notes the German tradition of giving freedom to local commanders rather than controlling everything rigidly from the centre, a tradition Moltke maintained. So much for the rigid “German military machine”.

p257 She says that when Moltke sent Lt.Col. Hentsch to ascertain the situation of the 1st and 2nd Armies on the ground, von Bülow was “optimistic and there was no thought of retreat” when Lt.Col. Hentsch visited him on 8 Sept, but Keegan (The First World War, 1999) has the opposite on p132 of his book :

The result of their discussion was to be decisive for the outcome of the campaign in the West. Bülow dominated…..[British exploitation of the 1st-2nd Army gap would be] ‘catastrophic’…. Bülow  proposed to avert disaster by ‘voluntary concentric retreat’.

Mombauer says:

Hentsch advised him that because of the seriousness of the situation of the First Army [which Hentsch had not yet visited (!); he went there the following morning], both armies would have to retreat behind the Marne.

But Keegan (op. cit. p132) has none of this and implies that retreat was Bülow’s idea: “Next morning, 9th Sept., Hentsch again conferred with Bülow’s staff officers, though not the General himself, and agreed that he would visit Kluck….to advise a retirement, which would close the menacing gap. While he was covering the 50 miles to First Army headquarters, Bülow decided to act on the conclusions arrived at by his juniors. He signalled Kluck that…..’Second Army is beginning retreat.”

p261 Mombauer describes Moltke and Ludendorff as “fellow conspirators” against Falkenhayn  in the early months of his headship of the army, following Moltke’s removal. Here she cites one letter from one source in connection with this for this, (Zechlin, Ludendorff) but this was merely a request from Moltke for a briefing from Ludendorff; it is hardly evidence of a ‘conspiracy’ against Falkenhayn, although Moltke was certainly critical of Falkenhayn’s strategy 1914-1916, and had good reason to be; Falkenhayn believed in a ‘war of attrition’. The horrors of Verdun would result from his strategy.

p263 Ludendorff later accused Hentsch of sabotaging the Marne Battle because he was a Freemason. Mombauer merely dismisses Ludendorff’s “allegations and conspiracy theories” and says they “cannot be taken seriously” without investigation. Rubbish they may have been but it is hardly the mark of a responsible historian simply to dismiss something without having first disproved it.

p264 Mombauer notes that in the middle of overseeing the campaign, on 26 August Moltke visited Rudolf Steiner who happened to be staying at Niederlahnstein. Why did Moltke do this? She does not say.

p266 Another example of Moltke’s prejudice: she says Moltke “clung to his position even when things were going so badly wrong. Given his ambition, this is hardly surprising….”  Yet she gives hardly any evidence of personal  ambition on his part.

p273 N.b. Moltke fell seriously ill (gall bladder and liver problems) on 22 Oct 1914, the day after his interview with the Kaiser. 23 Oct the Kaiser visited Moltke in hospital. 

p274 Was Moltke’s article Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen. ‘Die Schuld’ am Kriege (Observations and Memoirs. The Issue of War Guilt, Nov. 1914 influenced by Rudolf Steiner ? Mombauer brings no evidence of this.

p282 In a book about Helmuth von Moltke Mombauer writes nothing about the man in the last year of his life August 1915 – June 1916!

p282 She concludes viciously:

“The war that he and his colleagues had conjured up was supposed to lead to the triumph of the stronger forces over the weaker, much in keeping with his own Social Darwinist beliefs…..the full extent of the disaster that resulted from his decision-making was worse than anything he could possibly have imagined.”

p283 “Far from being an ineffectual and reluctant military leader….through his constant advocacy of war ‘the sooner the better’ he did much to heighten the increasingly bellicose mood in Wilhelmine Germany.”

“This study confirms the view that Moltke benefited from his close friendship with the Kaiser….” But if it was so close, why didn’t Kaiser stand by him in 1914 ?   “Moltke was an ambitious careerist….”  Mombauer gives no real evidence of this. It is an overstated exaggeration that sullies what was an honourable career.

p285 Mombauer claims Bethmann-Hollweg and Moltke basically had the same aims and the same desires: “Both believed in the inevitability of an armed conflict in the very near future, and both envisaged a racial struggle against the Slavs, emphasising racial differences which they considered unbridgeable.” Once again, she offers here zero evidence for this assertion.

p286 She says it is immaterial who was in charge because they had the same views – if so, why did Bethmann-Hollweg hold out so long against general mobilisation; why did he continue to hope for friendship with Britain and British non-involvement in the war while Moltke on the contrary did not share that view?

Mombauer herself says on the same page: “Only when it was certain that a localised war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary would escalate into a European war did Bethmann lose his courage – unlike the military…”

“…this did not stop him, from actively endorsing a bellicose policy.” This word ‘bellicose’ is used about Moltke many, many times throughout the book.

“The responsibility of the German military, and of Moltke in particular for demanding war cannot be denied.”
It can be denied if by the accusation is meant some kind of lust for war. It is the job of any commanding officer in any army to determine when to fight so that his army has the best possible chance of success.

p287 “Historians have perhaps too easily dismissed Moltke’s importance due to his apparent interest in Spiritualism, his reputed ‘softness’, his alleged reluctance to accept the influential office that he occupied….”

Note the order of those 3 points and the word ‘apparent’. Mombauer has not adduced any evidence in this entire book for Moltke’s interest in ‘Spiritualism’. She clearly does not understand the very great difference between Spiritualism and Anthroposophy, or even between Spiritualism and Theosophy, let alone the difference between Theosophy and Anthroposophy. ‘Spiritualism’ does not even feature in the book’s Index.

Mombauer again lays it on thick:
“Moltke was a hard-headed realist who had no qualms about pursuing and advocating war, whose decisions were based on his Social Darwinist beliefs, who advocated a racial struggle and who was willing to resort to ruthless intrigues to get rid of his successor Falkenhayn.” 

This makes von Moltke sound like a real proto-Nazi. She has brought forward nothing solid as evidence of Moltke’s ‘ruthlessness’; this is an unjustifiably emotive term. She utterly fails to make any such case that
“…he had steered Germany into this catastrophe…The evidence now available confirms without a doubt that Moltke and his colleagues wanted war….

Having said on p286 “The responsibility of the German military, and of Moltke in particular for demanding war cannot be denied”,
she says on p287:
“Moltke was in many ways no better and no worse than his military contemporaries. Falkenhayn was the more bellicose of the two….”

But she does not in this book make the kind of systematic comparison between Moltke and his military contemporaries that would justify the  sweeping statement above.

He was not certain of victory but he believed that any delay in ‘the big fight’ would further decrease Germany’s chances of victory. Soon, Germany would no longer be able to fight a successful war; war itself might become redundant. What would become of the ‘warrior state’ of Prussia-Germany in such a world ? What would the prospects be for the military elite, the men whose job it was to prepare the future war? Would they not also become redundant, if war ceased to be an option for the continuation of policy with other means?

She is here implying that Helmuth von Moltke was just another Prussian war-lusting militarist in the military Junker tradition going back to the time of Clausewitz or Frederick the Great; Moltke becomes a mere label, a type, not an individual. Needless to say, she proffers no evidence that Helmuth von Moltke actually thought the thoughts she implies he did here.

Building towards her climax, she writes of his “…almost criminal irresponsibility” i.e. that by modern post-Nuremburg standards, he would be indictable as a war criminal:

“Moltke’s main share of responsibility lies in encouraging, almost to the point of deception, an aggressive foreign policy…“Perhaps one of the most important conclusions to be drawn from this investigation is that war was not inevitable and that it certainly was no accident. Until the very last moment, individual decision-makers could have stopped an escalation of the conflict.”

Quite so, Mombauer’s excessively narrow focus on Germany and Helmuth von Moltke prevents her from applying the same principle to the statesmen of the Entente. Furthermore, she herself looks at Helmuth von Moltke, especially in her book’s conclusion, merely as an example of a type, not as an individual.

Finally, Mombauer ends her book by cleverly trying to use Helmuth von Moltke’s own words against himself, quoting a letter of 7 Sept 1914 to his wife:

I am often overcome by dread when I think of this and I feel I should take responsibility for this horror; and yet, I could not have acted otherwise than I did.”

The translation is rather different in Meyer p83:

“I am often overcome with horror when I think about it, and I feel as if I should answer for this appalling situation, yet I could have done no other than I have.”

In her very last paragraph, Mombauer takes a dig at Anthroposophy:

“His anthroposophical belief in karma would have made him anticipate an atonement for the wrongs he committed in his lifetime, which must have made the burden of responsibility even harder to bear”.

Again, she gives no evidence for this.

“His death in 1916  spared him the realisation of the full extent of the horrors of the war that he willed, let alone its poisonous legacy.”

Mombauer omits to mention that Thomas Meyer’s book Light for the New Millennium shows only too well how wrong this statement was and that Helmuth von Moltke on the contrary realised precisely, after his death, not only the full horrors of the war but also its future consequences.

The devil is indeed in the details with this book. A close reading of Mombauer’s Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War shows it to be a shoddy piece of scholarship largely based on unwarranted and unsubstantiated assertions, claims and insinuations, a book that seems determined to pillory and castigate a single man who was actually a decent and honourable human being and treat him not as an individual but as a type in order (unjustifiably, as I have argued in this review) to lay the blame on him for the catastrophe of the First World War and thus by implication, for the subsequent disasters of the 20th century. Mombauer wrote her book within the context of a movement of historians promoted by the Establishment and mainstream media, mostly in the Anglo-American world, who, around the turn of the millennium, when Anglo-American triumphalism and neo-imperialism were rife, seemed set on fixing on Germany the blame not only for the Second World War but also for the First. They will not succeed.

Terry Boardman
Feb. 2014

Original review article written October 2002