Karl Einem von Rothmaler was a German general who defended the Champagne sector of the western front from September 1914 until the end of the First World War. He was born in 1853 into an aristocratic family – his father had served in the Hanoverian army. Einem joined the Prussian Army, fighting in the Franco-Prussian war. In 1880 he joined the General Staff without first attending the war academy, a very rare achievement. In 1882, while serving with the General Staff he was promoted to captain. In 1898 he joined the Prussian War Ministry, and in 1903 he was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed Prussian War Minister. In that role he helped to modernise the Prussian army, improving the field artillery and introducing the machine gun and the famous field gray uniform. He was opposed to the mass expansion of the army, fearing that it would dilute the aristocratic officer corp. As Prussian War Minister he was one of few senior German generals to suggest that von Schlieffen’s war plan was flawed.
In 1909 he was appointed to command the VII Army Corps at Münster. In August 1914 his corps was part of Karl von Bülow’s Second Army, taking part in the siege of Liege, and the battle of the Sambre during the German advance. His corps formed the right wing of Bülow’s army during the battle of the Marne, putting him on the edge of the gap between the First and Second armies that eventually forced the Germans to retreat.
On 12 September 1914 he replaced General Max von Hausen as commander of the Third Army, on the Champagne front. Three months after taking command of the army, von Einem faced a major French offensive (first battle of Champagne, 20 December 1914-17 March 1915). The initial French attacks made some limited progress, but von Einem was able to hold the line, inflicting 240,000 casualties on the French attackers. On 16 March he was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his efforts.
In the autumn the French offensive was renewed (second battle of Champagne). This time 52 French divisions penetrated the German front line, but Falkenhayn rushed reinforcements to support von Einem. Von Einem had correctly predicted the French attack, had placed most of his artillery behind his second line of defences, and the French attack ended in deadlock.
The Champagne sector was quiet in 1916 as the fighting moved to Verdun and the Somme (although Einem was awarded the Oakleaves to his Pour le Mérite on 17 October 1916), but at the start of 1917 von Einem’s army was on the edge of the area attacked by the French during the second battle of the Aisne, 16 April-15 May 1917.
Einem’s Third Army was not involved in the first four battles of the Ludendorff offensive of 1918, but did take part in the fifth and final attack. The Champagne-Marne Offensive (15-18 July 1918) saw German armies attack east and west of Reims, hoping to cut off that city and straighten out the German lines. Einem attacked east of Reims, but his attack was defeated by General Gouraud’s French Fourth Army.
The Third Army was not involved in the early Allied counterattacks, but on 26 September the Meuse River-Argonne Forest Offensive (26 September-11 November 1918) began. Einem’s army was attacked by the French and was forced back nine miles during the first five days of the battle. By 9 October he had been forced back to the Aisne and the local section of the Hindenburg line, and by the end of the war he had been forced back to the Meuse. This was to have been the basis of a new German defensive line running north towards Antwerp, with Einem’s Third Army taking up a position around Sedan.
This new line never took shape, and on 11 November the fighting came to an end. The next day Einem was given command of Army Group Prince Wilhelm, after the removal of the Royal generals as part of the general changes sweeping through Germany. He kept this post until he retired in January 1919, taking the army group back to Germany. After the war Einem wrote his memoirs and a book on the Prussian army. He was considered an independent military thinker, but this did not affect his fighting abilities, and his army held off some of the most determined French attacks of 1915 and 1917.