Maximilian von Prittwitz und Gaffron (1848-1918)

General Maximilian von Prittwitz (1848-1918) was the German general in command in East Prussia at the start of the First World War, but he was removed from command very quickly after briefly recommending a full-scale retreat.

Maximilian von Prittwitz und Gaffron was born in Silesia in 1848. He joined the Prussian Army, and fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. He was never seen as especially able, but he was close to the Kaiser, and rose through the ranks until in 1914 he was in command of the German Eighth Army in East Prussia.

At the outbreak of the First World War East Prussia was threatened by an unexpectedly rapid invasion by two Russian armies. General François, commander of the I Corps, convinced Prittwitz to launch an attack against the Russian First Army (Rennenkampf).

The resulting battle of Gumbinnen (20 August 1914) was a draw with François advancing in the centre, but the Russians holding on the flanks. Prittwitz panicked, and in a phone call with Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, chief of the General Staff, recommended a full scale retreat to the west of the Vistula.

On the following morning (21 August) Prittwitz consulted his field commanders, and discovered that the situation wasn't as bad as he feared. He abandoned his plans for a retreat, but it was too late to save his career. Moltke had already decided to sack him, and on 22 August he was replaced by General Hindenburg, with Ludendorff as his chief of staff. They inherited a unexpectedly promising position and were able to win the victories that established their reputation. Prittwitz spent the rest of his life in retirement, dying in 1917.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 August 2014), Maximilian von Prittwitz und Gaffron (1848-1918) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_prittwitz_max.html

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