Prussian Officer Corps So Special, Why?

Prussian officer corps are well known with its transformation and success in military history. Here are some interesting article how Prussian Officer Corps had become “the army”

Prussian Officer Corps So Special
russian officer corps

Le Trophée, 1898, French dragoon with captured Prussian flag at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, 1806

Defeat and reformation in prussian officer corps

Following the disastrous defeats of the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstedt (1806) at the hands of Napoleon, a fundamental change took place not only within the Prussian army, but also within Prussia as a state

The battles marked the end of the old Prussian Frederickian army, established by the Frederick the Great and continued by his successors.

The old Frederickian army was quite authoritarian in terms of leadership and reliant on its superior iron discipline, and not on the quality of its officer corps. It was the king who decided. The Prussian army stood and fell with the genius of Frederick.

The old model served Prussia well during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), but Napoleon taught the Prussian a bitter lesson, that times have changed.

Frederick has long since died, and his successors proved far less capable. Furthermore, army sizes grew massively during the Napoleonic wars compared to the past century, making it impossible for a single person to wield the Prussian army with the same tactical flexibility as Frederick did.

War had become a matter of mass, with a much stronger emphasis on mass and mobilisation. In this new world, the old centralised and authoritarian command structure of Frederick outlived its usefulness.

The two defeats shocked the Prussian military to its very core. The proud and glorious legacy of Frederick the Great, the reputation of the Prussian army, its nimbus of invincibility were shattered in a single day so easily by a single man, Napoleon.

The defeats were so complete and devastating that they made even the staunchest defender of the old order realise that change was necessary. The Prussian army had to change fundamentally to never suffer such a humiliation again.

It was utter defeat from which the Prussian state, the Prussian army, and with it the Prussian officer corps, was reborn.

The so-called military reformers Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Boyen, and the later more influential Clausewitz rebuilt the Prussian army.

They laid the foundation for its future with two main lessons

a) the decentralisation of the command structure, the personal initiative of every officer were the only way to overcome the chaos of the “modern battlefield”

b) that military excellency is a matter of continuous evolution, of adaption, of modernisation, of critical thinking. It was a never-ending pursuit.

The Prussian army already rested once on its laurels, with catastrophic consequences. It was a mistake that should never be repeated anymore.

It was this spirit, a spirit heavily inspired by the ideals of Enlightenment, that made the Prussian officer corps what it was, and in a certain sense special.

An officer corps, much earlier than many of its competitors, based on the ideals of reason and knowledge. At least, in theory.

It took time for the reforms to take root, but the foundation was there.

For similar contents, please check history