Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke (May 25, 1848–June 18, 1916), also known as Moltke the Younger, was a nephew of Field Marshal Count Moltke and served as the Chief of the German General Staff from 1906 to 1914. His role in the development of German war plans and the instigation of the First World War is extremely controversial.
Helmuth von Moltke was born in Mecklenburg-Schwerin and named after his uncle, Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, future Field Marshal and hero of the Wars of Unification. During the Franco-Prussian War Moltke served with the 7th Grenadier Regiment, and was cited for bravery. He attended the War Academy between 1875 and 1878 and joined the General Staff in 1880. In 1882 he became personal adjutant to his uncle, then Chief of the General Staff. In 1891, on the death of his uncle, Moltke became aide-de-camp to Wilhelm II, thus becoming part of the Emperor's inner circle. In the late 1890's he commanded first a brigade and then a division, finally being promoted to Lieutenant General in 1902. 
In 1904 Moltke was made Quartermaster-General; in effect, Deputy Chief of the General Staff. In 1906, he became chief on Schlieffen's retirement. His appointment was controversial then and remains so today. The other likely candidates for the position were Hans Hartwig von Beseler, Karl von Bülow, and Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz. Critics charge that Moltke gained the position on the strength of his name and his friendship with the Kaiser. Certainly Moltke was far closer to the Kaiser than the other candidates. Historians argue, however, that Beseler was too close to Schlieffen to have succeeded him, while Bülow and Goltz were too independent for Wilhelm to have accepted them. Indeed, Moltke's friendship with the Kaiser permitted him latitude with his majesty that others could not have enjoyed. It should be noted that Goltz, at least, saw nothing wrong with Moltke's performance as Chief. 
As Chief of the General Staff Moltke was responsible for the development and execution of the strategic plans of the German Army. There is considerable debate over the nature of his plans. Critics from the so-called "Schlieffen School" argue that Moltke took his predecessor's plan (the "Schlieffen Plan"), modified it without understanding it, and failed to execute it properly during the First World War, thus dooming German efforts. The Schlieffen Plan (based on the Denkschrift of 1905) envisaged a one-front war against France and England. The entire German Army would take the offensive in the West, with the hammer blow being delivered by the right wing, which would attack through Belgium and the Netherlands, both of which then and in 1914 were neutral. Moltke's planning was based on a two-front war against France and Russia, and predicated upon the army in the West (still vastly stronger than the army in the East), gaining a quick decision against the French so that troops could be shifted to meet the Russian threat. It has recently been argued by Terence Zuber that Schlieffen's memorandum of 1905 was never a war plan, or even representative of his thinking, and that in actuality Schlieffen planned something similar to what Moltke executed in 1914. In addition, Moltke opted to respect the territorial integrity of the Netherlands, thus maintaining her usefulness as a port in the event of a British blockade.
During the Marne Campaign of 1914, Moltke's health broke down and he was succeeded by Erich von Falkenhayn. It is a matter of debate whether the failure of the Marne Campaign can be placed at Moltke's feet. A number of historians, notably Zuber and S.L.A. Marshall, contend that the failure of Alexander von Kluck's First Army to keep position with Karl von Bülow's Second Army, thus creating a gap near Paris that was exploited by the French, is a more direct cause than any planning foibles on Moltke's part. The Schlieffen School disagrees, and argues that Moltke lost control of the invading armies during the month of August and thus was unable to react when the First Battle of the Marne developed in September. While Moltke had lost effective touch with his field commanders, German operational doctrine had always stressed personal initiative on the part of subordinate officers, more so than in other armies. Other historians argue that the multitude of strategic options Moltke faced, and the danger of the Russian invasion of East Prussia clouded Moltke's judgement.
Moltke's health continued to deteriorate and he died in Berlin on June 18, 1916.
|Preceded by |
|Chief of the General Staff |
|Succeeded by |
Erich von Falkenhayn
|[hide] Chiefs of the German General Staff (1871–1919)|
|Helmuth von Moltke the Elder | Alfred Graf von Waldersee | Alfred Graf von Schlieffen | Helmuth von Moltke the Younger | Erich von Falkenhayn | Paul von Hindenburg | Wilhelm Groener | Hans von Seeckt|