Max Hoffmann

This article is about the German World War I strategist. For the New York auto dealer, see Max Hoffman.
Max Hoffmann
Born (1869-01-25)25 January 1869
Homberg (Efze), Upper Hesse,
Grand Duchy of Hesse
Died 8 July 1927(1927-07-08) (aged 58)
Bad Reichenhall, Bavaria, Weimar Republic
Allegiance  German Empire
Service/branch Imperial German Army
Years of service 1887–1918
Rank Generalmajor
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Pour le Mérite
Iron Cross First class
Foreign officers in the Russo-Japanese War, Hoffman is at the far left of the front row.
Grave of Max Hoffmann (1927) on the Invalidenfriedhof Berlin

Carl Adolf Maximilian Hoffmann (25 January 1869 – 8 July 1927) was a German military strategist. As a staff officer at the beginning of World War I, he was Chief of Staff of the 8th Army. Hoffmann, along with Hindenburg and Ludendorff, masterminded the devastating defeat of the Russian armies at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. He then held the position of Chief of Staff of the Eastern Front. At the end of 1917, he negotiated with Russia to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In 1922, he tried to set up an anti-Soviet coalition without success.

Early life

Hoffmann was born in Homberg (Efze). He studied at the Prussian Military Academy and joined the Prussian Army in 1887 as part of the 4th Thuringian Infantry Regiment.[1]

Military career

Hoffmann attended the War College in Berlin, graduating in 1889 and winning appointment to the General Staff. He spent six months in Russia as an interpreter and five years in the Russian section of the General Staff where he became a specialist in Russian affairs and was tasked with trying to determine Russia's plan of attack in the eventuality of war between Germany and Russia. During the Russo-Japanese War, he served as Germany's military observer with the Japanese First Army in Manchuria.

At the outbreak of World War I Lieutenant Colonel Hoffmann was the deputy chief of staff of the German Eighth Army, the only German military unit defending East Prussia from a Russian attack. The remainder of the German Army, following the Schlieffen Plan, was massed in the west attempting to gain the decisive victory that would knock France out of the war. The Russian First army invaded East Prussia across its eastern frontier, the Germans attacked them unsuccessfully at the Battle of Gumbinnen on 20 August 1914. Then they learned that the Russian Second Army was approaching their southern frontier. To avoid being cut off the alarmed Eighth Army commander, Maximilian von Prittwitz, proposed to retreat over the River Vistula , abandoning East Prussia to the Russians. Prittwitz and his chief of staff were immediately relieved in favor of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff.

The two Russian armies were too far apart to readily aid one another, which Hoffmann knew from intercepted radio messages. He also knew from his experience in Manchuria of the deep dislike the two Russian commanders had for each other, which would further disincline them to support one another.[1] Hoffmann started to concentrate the Eighth Army against Alexander Samsonov's Russian Second Army in the south. Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and Hoffman encircled and annihilated the invading army in the Battle of Tannenberg. Hoffman saw the propaganda value of casting the German victory as the long-awaited revenge for a medieval defeat, so he suggested the engagement be named after Tannenberg though it actually took place much closer to Allenstein.(Ludendorff also claims credit for the name.[2]) Next the Eighth Army turned east and mauled Paul von Rennenkampf's Russian First Army at the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, driving the Russians out of East Prussia for the remainder of the war.

After Hindenburg and Ludendorff became supreme commanders in 1916, Prince Leopold of Bavaria assumed command of all German armies on the Eastern front with Major General Hoffmann as his chief of staff. Eventually Hoffmann was able to bring all of the forces on the Eastern front (including Austrian units) under their command.

Following the February Revolution the new Russian government under Alexander Kerensky attempted to reinvigorate Russian support for the war by attacking along a broad front. Hoffman withdrew for sixty miles, all the while urging Ludendorff to shift men from the Western Front to knock Russia out of the war. In mid-July 1917 six divisions were sent by train from Flanders; using these reinforcements, Hoffmann counter-attacked along the entire front and within a fortnight entered Riga. This rout fatally weakened Kerensky, led to the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, and thus to the collapse of Russian resistance and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. At a conference in December 1917 the Kaiser pressed Hoffmann for his recommendation for the post-war German–Polish border. He suggested taking from Poland a modest defensive strip; the supreme command wanted much of Poland.[3] Furious that he would even give his opinion, Ludendorff wanted him sent to command a division, which the Kaiser refused to do. In his memoirs Hindenburg does not even mention him.[4] In December 1918 Hoffmann withdrew his forces to the old German border, thus involuntarily setting the stage for the Polish-Soviet War.

Later life

In his post-war memoirs,[5] Hoffmann was critical of the German High Command including Hindenburg and Ludendorff. He was resentful that his two superiors had received the credit for the victories of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes when it was really his strategy that allowed the victories to occur. A few years after the war, when touring the field at Tannenberg, Hoffmann told a group of army cadets "See - this is where Hindenburg slept before the battle, this is where Hindenburg slept after the battle, and this is where Hindenburg slept during the battle."[6]

Hoffmann died at Bad Reichenhall on 8 July 1927.


  1. 1 2 Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5., p. 149.
  2. Ludendorff, Erich (1919). Ludendorff's own story. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 68.
  3. Wheeller-Bennett, John (1967). Hindenburg. The wooden titan. London: Macmillan. pp. 128–131.
  4. von Hindenburg, Paul (1921). Out of my life. New York: Harper & Brothers.
  5. Hoffman, Max (1999). The war of lost opportunities. Nashville TN: Battery Press. ISBN 0-89839-295-0.
  6. Hastings, Max (2013). Catastrophe 1914: Europe goes to war. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 275. ISBN 978-0-307-59705-2.
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