Forsvarsstudier no. 2/2001
Title: A Military Revolution?
Prussian military reforms before the wars of German unification
Author: Dierk Walter
When the armies of King William of Prussia crushed the field forces of Austria one of Europe’s leading powers, in Bohemia in 1866, they paved the way for German Unification. It was to take place in 1871 after another stunning victory over the French army, which had been considered to be the finest in the world. Both victories came as a surprise to the contemporaries. Even until today they seem to require an explanation.
It is assumed that the Prussian army underwent a series of drastic reforms immediately before the Wars of German Unification. Besides a reorganization of the army structure the main elements of this “military revolution.” were the rise of the modern general staff, the introduction of the needle—gun, the beginning of the military use of railways and telegraphs, reforms in military education, and in strategy and tactics.
Modern historiography, however, has to ask whether that concept of a military revolution in Prussia immediately before the Wars of Unification really makes any sense. With good reason, one can as well argue that the political circumstances of the founding of the Second German Empire were responsible for the creation of a myth we still adhere to.
Dierk Walter is currently working in Abteilung Neueste allgemeine Geschichte. Historisches Institut, at Universität Bern as an assistant to Professor Stig Förster.