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Hans Delbrück (November 11, 1848 - July 14, 1929), German historian, was born at Bergen on the island of Rügen, and studied at the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn. He died in Berlin.

As a soldier he fought in the Franco-German War, after which he was for some years tutor to one of the princes of the German imperial family. In 1885 he became professor of modern history in the university of Berlin, and he was a member of the German Reichstag from 1884 to 1890. He was a member of the German Delegation during the Versailles Peace Conference that ended World War I.

Delbrück's writings are chiefly concerned with the history of the art of war, his most ambitious work being his Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte (History of warfare in the framework of political history, four volumes, third edition published in 1920). Other works are Die Perserkriege und die Burgunderkriege (The Persian and Burgundian Wars, 1887), Die Strategie des Perikles erläutert durch die Strategie Friedrichs des Grossen (The strategy of Pericles described through the strategy of Frederick the Great, 1890) and Das Leben des Feldmarschalls Grafen Neithardt von Gneisenau (Life of Marshall Grafen Neithardt von Gneisenau, 1894).

Delbrück was one of the first modern military historians, basing his method of research on the critical examination of ancient sources, the use of auxiliary disciplines, like Demography and Economics, to complete the analysis and the comparison between different epochs to trace the evolution of military institutions.

His conclusions regarding ancient warfare were revolutionary. Delbrück showed that the figures for armies in Antiquity were overinflated in the sources, and that, contrary to what is stated in most writings, the winner in a battle usually had more troops than the loser. He gave a completely new interpretation to some of the most famous battles in History, like Marathon, Gaugamela or Zama. He concluded that the advantage of Roman armies over the Barbarians rested, not so much in their discipline and refined tactics, but rather in their logistical support. The Romans were able to raise and maintain huge armies on the field, while the Barbarians were unable to match them.

Regarding medieval warfare, Delbrück's findings were more controversial. He made a distinction between knights (mounted warriors) and cavalry (an organized mass of mounted troops), and regarded the medieval warrior as an independent fighter, unable to join others and form units with tactical sgnificance. This conclusion was contested by later scholars, in particular Verbruggen.

When moving into modern warfare, Delbrück showed his intelectual roots on Clausewitz. He made a distinction between two possible strategies in war: attrition and annihilation (compared to Clausewitz's total and limited war), the choice depending on political and economic limitations, as well as the correlation of forces. He applied this analytical tool to the wars of Frederick the Great, concluding that, due to their numerical inferiority, the Prussians had pursued an strategy of attrition. His overall treatment of this era was, however, disappointing, as Delbrück overlooked the Spanish wars.

Delbrück was also very critic with his country's strategy during World War I. He said it would have been much better to seek victory in the Eastern front, gain minor objectives on the West and then seek peace. This was one example of the general principle, Delbrück maintained, that military and political maneuvers should be integrated.

Overall, Delbrück's works tried to place military history in the framework of general history. He regarded warfare as a cultural feature of societies, subject to evolution and influenced by the economy and the political system.

External links

Further reading

  • Delbrück, Hans (1920): History of the Art of War, University of Nebraska Press; Reprint edition, 1990. Translated by Walter, J. Renfroe. 4 Volumes.
  • Bucholz, Arden (1985): Hans Delbruck and the German Military Establishment: War Images in Conflict, University of Iowa Press.de:Hans Delbrück
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