Johannes Georg von der Marwitz
|Born||7 July 1856|
Stolp, Province of Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia, German Confederation now Słupsk, Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland
|Died||27 October 1929 (aged 73)|
Wundichow, Province of Pomerania, Free State of Prussia, Weimar Republic now Unichowo, Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland
|Service/||Imperial German Army|
|Years of service||1875–1918|
|Rank||Inspector-General of Cavalry|
General der Kavallerie
|Commands held||XXXVIII Reserve Corps|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
|Spouse(s)||Helene von Kameke|
|Relations||Hans-Georg von der Marwitz (son)|
Marwitz was born in Stolp (Słupsk) in the Province of Pomerania and entered the Prussian Army in 1875. In 1881 he married Helene von Kameke, daughter of Prussian War Minister Georg von Kameke, with whom he had five children. From 1883 to 1886 he attended the Prussian Military Academy. Until 1900 he commanded a cavalry regiment, at which point he became chief of staff of XVIII Corps. Before the outbreak of the First World War he was the Inspector-General of Cavalry.
Marwitz was assigned to the Western Front in 1914 as commander of II Cavalry Corps, and participated in the Battle of Haelen. After this first battle Marwitz was transferred to the Eastern Front to take command of the newly formed XXXVIII Reserve Corps, which he led in the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes in the early winter of 1915. He was then transferred south and fought with Austria-Hungary against the Russians and was awarded the Pour le Mérite on 7 March 1915.
After recovering from an illness in the fall of 1915, Marwitz served on the Western Front as the commander of the VI Corps, before returning to the Eastern Front until the successful halting of the Russian Brusilov Offensive in June 1916. On 6 October 1916 he became adjutant to Kaiser Wilhelm II, a post that he left in December 1916 to take command of the Second Army on the Western Front.
The German Army formed along the Siegfried-Stellung line to Havrincourt Wood to la Vacquerie; a mile behind was the Hindenbrg Support line. In front lay a strongly fortified line of trenches. Behind the Support Line was yet another system called the Beaurevoir-Masnieres-Marcoing Line. esch system was built with deep concrete bunkers with massed machine-gun cover; in front were 50 yards plus of thick barbwire. The planned Wotan Line to Cambrai, where situated Marwitz's Second Army was never completed. His superior officer was Feld-Marschal Crown Prince Rupprecht, in command of the Army Group. General Marwitz's command was 3 or 4 infantry divisions. As per instructions he sent out patrols into British trenches searching for prisoners. Marwitz thought troop dispositions unchanged when reporting on 18 November 1917. His officers apparently attached no particular significance to the presence of camouflaged tanks in the sector, seen for the first time on November 20. Marwitz, ignoring air reconnaissance of a build-up in the rear, concluded that an attack was unlikely. The Caudry Group however took prisoner testimonies more seriously, being more responsive also to air intelligence.
When he first heard of the British tank attack, he was still in bed at the le Cateau HQ. The surprise was disabling to his infantry, exacerbated by cut communication lines. Commanding Northern Group the Crown Prince informed Berlin, who blamed Second Army inattentiveness. But Marwitz was forced to contemplate total withdrawal. The morning of 21 November, Fontaine had already fallen, but the Second Army knew the allied strength and its dispositions. They ordered up Reserves, the 214th, 119th and 3rd Guards Divisions, all from the north Aisne and Flanders. Rupprecht required even more to support Marwitz’s position. Action would fall on Bourlon Ridge, identified by the British as a vital strategic target. But the Germans had already raided Byng's III Corps seizing many prisoners. The massive German build-up around Cambrai should have informed them that the Germans finally took the threat of tank warfare seriously. In this Battle of Cambrai, which saw the most extensive use of tanks to date, more than twice the previous number, as well as new combined arms tactics. As a consequence, the morning of 26 November 1917, Rupprecht and Marwitz planned at le Cateau the first offensive against the British since April 1915. The following afternoon, they were joined by Lieutenant-General von Kuhl, Group Chief of Staff, at a special conference of all Group commanders. Marwitz, who was under pressure from Ludendorff, remained silent, subdued, still reeling and shocked by the unconventional speed of the allied attack. Marwitz's stormtroops destroyed many hundreds of tanks, but the allies had thousands of them. However, by the end of the month, the attack petered out, and the tanks went into winter quarters. Marwitz and staff immediately determined to counter-attack, and they did their best to recover enemy machines. The last day of the tank battle, 1 December, they managed a "superhuman effort" to reach hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches. But on December 3, fighting continued, and into 5 December, when bombardments on Marcoing, Nine Wood and Cantaing took place in thick fog. Two days later, a severe blizzard halted the fighting. Of 50,000 German casualties, over 10,000 were taken prisoner. Although it was 7 December, Marwitz's men had run out of ammunition a week earlier, at a time when the enemy's tanks had ground to a halt. Nonetheless this did not prevent Rupprecht from ordering his men onwards.
Marwitz was the time of this major allied offensive a highly experienced soldier, sporting a noticeable white moustache. Opposite British III Corps, he held a vital part of the line for the Germans from the town of Albert to Hargicourt, his command opposed both French and British divisions, was composed of three corps and fourteen divisions. However Second Army was a 'paper' strength revealing serious manpower shortages. Its weakness lay in the fact that half the troops were inferior quality. The Germans had become restless, insubordinate, and desirous of mutiny. Its ground was not as well defended as it might have come to expect. The isolated positions did not possess deeply dug trenches. The communications were in 1918, permanently under bombardment. The German troops were losing confidence. By 9 August, his commanders advised retreat behind the line of the River Somme. Crown Prince Rupprecht warned only a complete retreat to reform in a stronger position alongside Ninth Army would suffice; but Ludendorff turned down flat any idea of it; the line was to be held at all costs. The Second Army's defeat on 11 August 1918 was attributed to the allied tanks. But OHL blamed Marwitz, and shifted the burden onto his Chief of Staff, Major-General Erich von Tschischwitz. Marwitz's command was subjected to a reorganization with 18th and 9th Armies. The High Command threw every reserve into the Hindenburg Line. The allies meanwhile planned 'masses of manoeuvre' to encircle Marwitz's Second Army from north and south to outflank the town of Montdidier in an elaborate pincer movement.
While the allies prepared for everything; Marwitz left much to chance, knowing his forces were over-stretched. One of the strongest positions held by the German forces was the village of Peronne: surrounded by marshes, Marwitz had ordered the destruction of all bridges in the sector. Monash arrived with his Australians on 26 August 1918 to launch and assault over open ground providing every opportunity for Marwitz's men. The attack began on 5 am on 30 August towards the heavily defended town on Mont Saint Quentin. Elite German units in advanced trenches defended the pock-marked trenches. The Kaiser Alexander Regiment held the hilltop with 600 men each in three battalions. A battalion of Australian veterans pushed the Germans out. The Germans had occupied the area since 1916, and Marwitz felt the defeat badly; it was a big dent to morale. The Germans had fought hard against the youthful Australians, but Marwitz's formations were facing attrition. But 2nd Guards Reserve Division and 4th Bavarian Division had long been in the line without relief; desperately tired, hungry, and without 2,800 reinforcements to make full complement. Desertion had become epidemic three battalions of 55 Infantry Regiment had 'melted away'. Marwitz told his diary the attrition was taking its toll. On 24 August, Marwitz had decorated one officer who killed 14 tanks. But tanks generally struck terror in the ranks, who bound grenades together in anticipation; rifles were abandoned for heavy machine-guns, leaving artillery unprotected in the rearguard.
On 26 August Marwitz summarised his complaints, the men had endured "unspeakably hard conditions for such a terribly long time". The rail connections had not been made, disrupted by allied bombing. Air attacks were a problem for Marwitz Second Army: he was a victim himself by an "army of fliers", his staff stood with the men; one dud bomb penetrating Staff HQ. Marwitz saw the suffering at first hand for himself. On one day alone 120 bombs fell on Cambrai occupied by Second Army. Marwitz was finally relieved of command on 22 September 1918. Marwitz was promoted to command Fifth Army consisting of nine divisions. He attempted to instill discipline in troops fleeing before allied tanks, "its just the fear of those things and not their actual effect", he wrote in his diary entry of 29 September. All along the Meuse-Argonne Front the Franco-American forces made progress north, supported by tanks; the Germans tried to reply with artillery and machine-gun fire proving stiff resistance.
As the Argonne Offensive rumbled onward, it ground to a halt, with American soldiers refusing to be stopped by withering machine-gun fire. On 3 October, Marwitz drove out to meet forward observation posts. His troops occupied the high ground. The US 1st Army faced an uphill climb from the plain into an area covered by woods, in which "are built-in machine guns, individual guns, mortars, surveillance posts..." concealing German troops. American artillery was ineffective. Although despondent, the Germans held their ground grimly. American operations commenced at 5.30 am on 5 October from the east bank of the Meuse, but almost immediately they stalled in dark fog. The tactics had changed, the Germans were cheered by Group, but rumours of a possible peace sapped their morale.
By 1 November there were barely seven exhausted divisions on an 18 km front at Barricourt Heights. Marwitz's manouevrability was further hampered by shelled out roads and collapsed communications lines cutting off his HQ from front line commanders. Marwitz was in favour of withdrawing Fifth Army behind the relatively safety of the east bank of the Meuse, to re-group and get some rest, but OHL refused, sending strict orders to stand and fight. On 2 November, the Americans achieved real success, sweeping uphill over the German positions, and Marwitz's centre line broke. General Hunter Liggett interpreted this as a weakness that had anticipated an attack on their right flank, but when it came in caused the line to collapse in depth. The capture of Barricount signalled a general rout. Marwitz remained patriotically loyal throughout. He issued an order that the Second Army must fight on, "The Fatherland Forever". Despite his unrealistic order, the armies began to disintegrate, at less than half battalions' fighting strength.
On 10 November, Marwitz left his post on the Meuse and called in to see Gallwitz. He demanded an armistice; the loss of Barricourt Heights, he told the Chief, had been the end. The French had reached Sedan on 6–7 November, and retreating Germans had left behind considerable quantities of equipment.
After the war, Marwitz withdrew from public life. He died at Wundichow in 1929 at the age of 73.
Media related to Georg von der Marwitz at Wikimedia Commons
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