German Army (German Empire)

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The German Army (German: Deutsches Heer) was the name given to the combined land and air forces of the German Empire or German Reich. The term Deutsches Heer is also used for the modern-day German Army, the land component of the Bundeswehr.

The Imperial German Army was formed after the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and dissolved in 1919, after the defeat of the German Empire in World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Kaiserstandarte of the German Army 1888 – 1918


Form of Iron Cross used on German and Austrian-Hungarian (k. u. k. Armee) military aircraft and armoured vehicles in 1915.

The basic peacetime organizational structure of the Imperial German Army was based around the Army inspectorate (Armee-Inspektion), the army corps (Armeekorps), the division, and the regiment. During wartime, the staff of the Army inspectorates formed field army commands, which controlled the corps and subordinate units. During World War I, a higher command level, the army group (Heeresgruppe) was created. Each army group controlled several field armies.

  • Role:
    • Protecting the German Empire, and its interests, by using ground and sea assets
    • Protecting Germans worldwide
  • Size:
    • 500,000 (Normal)
    • 13,000,000 (World War I)

Army inspectorate

Germany, with the exception of Bavaria, was divided into army inspectorates. There were five in 1871, with three more added between 1907 and 1913.[1] The Bavarian Ministry of War maintained its own command, which functioned as the inspectorate for that kingdom. Each inspectorate would be considered the equivalent of an army area and controlled a number of corps.

After World War I began, armies were formed from the army inspectorates. They included:

Air Force

The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte, known before 1916 as the "Imperial German Flying Troops" (German: Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches), was the over-land air arm of the German military during World War I (1914–1918). Although its name actually means something very close to "The German Air Force" it remained an integral part of the German army for the duration of the war.

Chiefs of the German General Staff (1871–1919)

Ranks of the Imperial German Army

The German Army from 1871 to 1914 inherited the various traditions and military ranks of its constituent states, thus becoming a truly federal armed service. There was compulsory military service for all men; There was no right to refuse military service. The military age began at the age of 17. General active service lasted three years for the cavalry and mounted field artillery and two years for the other troops. This was followed by the reserve duty, which, together with the active service, lasted seven years.

Enlisted ranks (Mannschaften/Gemeine)

  • Musketeer (Musketier - Prussian army infantry regiments), Infantryman (Infanterist - Bavarian army infantry regiments), Soldier (Soldat - Saxon army infantry regiments), Gunner (Kanonier - foot artillery), Pioneer (Pionier - pioneer branch). Other unit-specific enlisted ranks were: Fusilier (Füsilier), Grenadier (Grenadier), Huntsman otherwise Light-Infantryman (Jäger), Dragoon (Dragoner), Hussar (Husar), Cuirassier (Kürassier), Uhlan (Ulan), Fusilier Guard (Garde-Füsilier), Grenadier Guard (Garde-Grenadier), etc.
  • Lance Corporal (Gefreiter; Private E2); up until 1918 the only rank (with exception of Obergefreiter in the foot artillery) to which an enlisted soldier could be promoted, the rank was a deputy rank to the Corporal/Sergeant (Unteroffizier)[2] rank.[3]
  • Senior Lance Corporal otherwise Second Corporal (Obergefreiter; Private First Class); foot artillery rank introduced from 1859, the rank replaced the earlier in 1730 introduced artillery Bombardier rank.[3]

Additionally, the following voluntary enlistees were distinguished:

  • One-Year Volunteer Enlistee (Einjährig-Freiwilliger); was a voluntary short-term form of active military service and designation open for enlistees up to the age of 25. Such volunteer enlisted soldiers were usually high school graduates (Matura, Abitur), who would volunteer to serve a one-year term rather than the regular two or three-year conscription term, with free selection of their chosen military service branch and unit, but throughout were obligated to equip and subsist themselves at entirely their own cost. In today's monetary value this could at bare minimum cost some 10,000 Euro, which purposely reserved this path open to officer-material sons from mostly affluent social class families wishing to pursue the Reserve-Officer path; it was the specific intention of Wilhelm II that such Reserve-Officer career path should only be open to members of so-called "officer-material" social classes.[4] On absolving their primary recruit training and shorter military service term, those aspiring to become Reserve-Officers would have to qualify and achieve suitability for promotion to the Gefreiter rank and then would continue to receive further specialized instruction until the end of their one-year term, usually attaining and leaving as surplus Corporals (überzählige Unteroffiziere) (Reservists), with the opportunity to advance further as reservists. Enlistees who did not aspire to officer grade would leave at the end of their one-year term as Gemeine[5] (Ordinary soldier) enlisted rank (for example Musketier or Infanterist) and a six-year reserve duty obligation. Eligibility for this specific one-year path of military service was a privilege approved upon examining the enlistee's suitability and academic qualifications.
  • Long-Term Volunteer Enlistee "Capitulant" (Kapitulant); were enlisted soldiers who had already absolved their regular two or three-year military conscription term and had now volunteered to continue serving for further terms, minimum was 4 years, generally up to 12 years.[6][7]

Note: Einjährig-Freiwilliger and Kapitulant were not ranks as such during this specific period of use, but voluntary military enlistee designations. They however, wore a specific uniform distinction (twisted wool piping along their shoulder epaulette edging for Einjährig-Freiwilliger, the Kapitulant a narrow band across their lower shoulder epaulette) in the colours of their respective nation state. This distinction was never removed throughout their military service nor during any rank grade advancements.

A leaflet (also as posters) published in 1920 by German Jewish veterans of the Imperial German Army from the Reichsbund in response to accusations of lack of patriotism: "To the German mothers! 12,000 Jewish soldiers died on the field of honor for the Vaterland. Christian and Jewish heroes fought together and rest together in foreign soil. 12,000 Jews fell in battle! Blind, enraged political paryt hatred does not stop at the graves of the dead. German women, do not allow that the Jewish mother be mocked in her pain!"

Non-commissioned officers and warrant officers / Unteroffiziere

Junior NCOs (NCOs without the lanyard) / Unteroffizier ohne Portepee

Senior NCOs (NCOs with the lanyard) / Unteroffizier mit Portepee

Warrant Officers and Officer Cadets

Officer corps

Subalterns / Hauptleute ("Head Men")

Field Officers / Stabsoffiziere (“Staff Officers”)

General Officers / Herrenvolk ("Gentlemen")

See also

Further reading

External links


  1. Günter Wegner: Stellenbesetzung der deutschen Heere 1815-1939, Volume 1, Biblio Verlag, Osnabrück 1993, pp. 33–36
  2. Duden; Origin and meaning of "Korporal", in German. [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Gefreiter" - Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste, Erste Section, A-G, (Universal Encyclopaedia of the Sciences and Arts, First Section, A-G), Author: Johann Samuel Ersch and Johann Gottfried Gruber, Publisher: F. A. Brockhaus, Leipzig, 1852, Page 471-472, in German. [2]
  4. Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th Edition, Volume 6, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1885–1892, Page 659. in German
  5. Duden; Definition of "Gemeine", in German. [3]
  6. Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th Edition, Volume 10, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1885–1892, Page 116, in German
  7. Duden; Definition of "Kapitulant", in German. [4]