German Army (German Empire)

German Army
Deutsches Heer
Country Germany
TypeArmy/Air Force
RoleProtecting the German Empire and its interests by using ground and air forces.
Size500,000 (1871)
3,800,000 (1914)
4,500,000 (1918)
13,500,000 (World War I total)
Motto(s)"Gott mit uns"
ColorsBlack, white, and red
Supreme WarlordGerman Emperor:
Wilhelm I (first)
Wilhelm II (last)
Chief of the General StaffMoltke the Elder (first)
Hans von Seeckt (last)

The Imperial German Army (German: Deutsches Heer) was the name given to the combined land and air forces of the German Empire (excluding the Marine-Fliegerabteilung maritime aviation formations of the Imperial German Navy). The term Deutsches Heer is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the Bundeswehr. The German Army was formed after the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership in 1871 and dissolved in 1919, after the defeat of the German Empire in World War I.

Formation and name

German Army hussars on the attack during maneuvers, 1912.
Draftees of the German Army, 1898.

The states that made up the German Empire contributed their armies; within the German Confederation, formed after the Napoleonic Wars, each state was responsible for maintaining certain units to be put at the disposal of the Confederation in case of conflict. When operating together, the units were known as the Federal Army (Bundesheer). The Federal Army system functioned during various conflicts of the 19th century, such as the First Schleswig War from 1848–50 but by the time of the Second Schleswig War of 1864, tension had grown between the main powers of the confederation, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Confederation was dissolved after the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

Prussia formed the North German Confederation and the treaty provided for the maintenance of a Federal Army and a Federal Navy (Bundesmarine or Bundeskriegsmarine).[1] Further laws on military duty also used these terms.[2] Conventions (some later amended) were entered into between the North German Confederation and its member states, subordinating their armies to the Prussian army in time of war, and giving the Prussian Army control over training, doctrine and equipment.[a]

Shortly after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the North German Confederation also entered into conventions on military matters with states that were not members of the confederation, namely the Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden.[b] Through these conventions and the 1871 Constitution of the German Empire, an Army of the Realm (Reichsheer) was created. The contingents of the Bavarian, Saxon and Württemberg kingdoms remained semi-autonomous, while the Prussian Army assumed almost total control over the armies of the other states of the Empire. The Constitution of the German Empire, dated April 16, 1871, changed references in the North German Constitution from Federal Army to either Army of the Realm (Reichsheer) or German Army (Deutsches Heer).[3]

After 1871, the peacetime armies of the four kingdoms remained relatively distinct. "German Army" was used in various legal documents, such as the Military Penal Code, but otherwise the Prussian, Bavarian, Saxon and Württemberg armies maintained distinct identities.[4] Each kingdom had its own War Ministry, Bavaria and Saxony published their own rank and seniority lists for their officers and the Württemberg list was a separate chapter of the Prussian army rank lists. Württemberg and Saxon units were numbered according to the Prussian system but Bavarian units maintained their own numbers (the 2nd Württemberg Infantry Regiment was Infantry Regiment No. 120 under the Prussian system).[citation needed]

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