Hans Delbrück
Hans Delbrück was a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

. 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
Demography is the statistical study of human population. It can be a very general science that can be applied to any kind of dynamic human population, that is, one that changes over time or space...

 and economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

, to complete the analysis and the comparison between different epochs to trace the evolution of military institutions.

Delbrück's writings are chiefly concerned with the history of the art of war
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

, 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
Pericles was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars...

 described through the strategy of Frederick the Great, 1890) and Das Leben des Feldmarschalls Grafen Neithardt von Gneisenau (Life of Marshal Count Neithardt von Gneisenau
August von Gneisenau
August Wilhelm Antonius Graf Neidhardt von Gneisenau was a Prussian field marshal. He was a prominent figure in the reform of the Prussian military and the War of Liberation.-Early life:...

, 1894).


Delbrück was born at Bergen
Bergen auf Rügen
Bergen auf Rügen is the capital of the former district of Rügen in the middle of the island of Rügen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. Since 1 January 2005, Bergen has moreover been the administrative seat of the Amt of Bergen auf Rügen, which with a population of over 23,000 is...

 on the island of Rügen
Rügen is Germany's largest island. Located in the Baltic Sea, it is part of the Vorpommern-Rügen district of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.- Geography :Rügen is located off the north-eastern coast of Germany in the Baltic Sea...

, and studied at the universities of Heidelberg and Bonn
University of Bonn
The University of Bonn is a public research university located in Bonn, Germany. Founded in its present form in 1818, as the linear successor of earlier academic institutions, the University of Bonn is today one of the leading universities in Germany. The University of Bonn offers a large number...

. As a soldier, he fought in the Franco-German War, after which, in 1874, he became for some years tutor to Prince Waldemar of the German imperial family, a brother of the future emperor, Wilhelm II. He served in the Reichstag from 1882 to 1883, and afterward, in 1883, he became an editor of the Preussische Jahrbücher, a noted political magazine. He assumed charge of this publication in 1889, and kept working on it in that capacity until 1920.

In 1885, he became professor of modern history in the University of Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin
The Humboldt University of Berlin is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose university model has strongly influenced other European and Western universities...

, where his lectures were highly popular. He was a member of the German Reichstag
Reichstag (German Empire)
The Reichstag was the parliament of the North German Confederation , and of the German Reich ....

 from 1884 to 1890. Delbrück vigorously opposed the policy of the Prussian government in dealing with the Danes and the Poles, with the result that he was twice subjected to disciplinary penalties as a professor and therefore, in Prussia, a civil servant. At an early stage of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, he became pessimistic regarding the possibility of any real success for Germany except by military and political strategy and tactics of a purely defensive character. He was, on tactical rather than on moral grounds, a strenuous opponent of intensified submarine warfare, and did not conceal his conviction that the result of this method of warfare would ultimately be the intervention of America. He was a member of the German Delegation during the Versailles
Versailles , a city renowned for its château, the Palace of Versailles, was the de facto capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. It is now a wealthy suburb of Paris and remains an important administrative and judicial centre...

 Peace Conference that ended World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 where he mainly endeavoured to prove that Germany could not be made solely responsible for the outbreak of war. He died in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...


He was the father of Max Delbrück
Max Delbrück
Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück was a German-American biophysicist and Nobel laureate.-Biography:Delbrück was born in Berlin, German Empire...

, who did pioneering work in physics and also won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine administered by the Nobel Foundation, is awarded once a year for outstanding discoveries in the field of life science and medicine. It is one of five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, in his will...

 in 1969).


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. His works, however, were not translated into English for some time, hence the reputation of him held by professional military theorists in English-speaking countries has not reached the significance of Clausewitz, for example.

Ancient warfare

Delbrück's conclusions regarding ancient warfare
Ancient warfare
Ancient warfare is war as conducted from the beginnings of recorded history to the end of the ancient period. In Europe and the Near East, the end of antiquity is often equated with the fall of Rome in 476, and the wars of the Eastern Roman Empire Byzantium in its South Western Asian and North...

 were revolutionary. He showed that the figures for armies in antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 were inflated 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
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, like Marathon
Battle of Marathon
The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. It was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate...

, Gaugamela
Battle of Gaugamela
The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. The battle, which is also called the Battle of Arbela, resulted in a massive victory for the ancient Macedonians and led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.-Location:Darius chose a flat, open plain...

 and Zama
Battle of Zama
The Battle of Zama, fought around October 19, 202 BC, marked the final and decisive end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal...

. He concluded that the advantage of Roman armies over the "barbarians
Barbarian and savage are terms used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is often used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage...

" 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.

Medieval warfare

Regarding medieval warfare, Delbrück's findings were more controversial. He made a distinction between knights (mounted warriors) and cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 (an organized mass of mounted troops), and regarded the medieval warrior as an independent fighter, unable to join others and form units with tactical significance. This conclusion was contested by later scholars, in particular the Belgian historian J. F. Verbruggen.

Modern warfare

When moving into modern warfare, Delbrück showed his intellectual roots in Clausewitz
Carl von Clausewitz
Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz was a Prussian soldier and German military theorist who stressed the moral and political aspects of war...

. He made a distinction between two possible strategies in war: attrition and annihilation (in German, Ermattungsstrategie and Niederwerfungsstrategie, respectively), derived from Clausewitz's distinctions between strategies seeking limited objectives and strategies aimed at rendering one's opponent militarily helpless, the latter often confused with the concept of "Total War" (a term Clausewitz did not use) advocated by Ludendorff and rejected by Delbrück during WWI. The choice depended on the nature of the political objectives and existing political and economic limitations, as well as on 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 a strategy of attrition. His overall treatment of this era was, however, disappointing, in part because Delbrück overlooked the Spanish wars.

Delbrück was also very critical of his country's strategy during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. 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.


Among the other works of Delbrück, besides those mentioned above, are:
  • Historische und politische Aufsätze (1886)
  • Erinnerungen, Aufsätze und Reden (1902)
  • Die Polenfrage (1894)
  • Numbers in History (1913)
  • Regierung und Volkswille (1914)
  • Bismarcks Erbe (1915)
  • Krieg und Politik (1918)
  • Kautsky und Harden (1920)
  • Ludendorff, Tirpitz, Falkenhayn (1920)

In his book Regierung und Volkswille (1914), Delbrück attempted a defence of the old system of government in Germany and Prussia with particular reference to its “dualism,” that is parliamentary representation and simultaneously a certain degree of autocracy on the part of the sovereign in Prussia and of the federated government in the empire. A succinct statement of Delbrück's views on Germany's responsibility for World War I and an English reply can be found in articles by Delbrück and J. W. Headlam-Morley in the Contemporary Review (March 1921).

In Fiction

In Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks is an American film director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor and producer. He is best known as a creator of broad film farces and comic parodies. He began his career as a stand-up comic and as a writer for the early TV variety show Your Show of Shows...

's comedy Young Frankenstein
Young Frankenstein
Young Frankenstein is a 1974 American comedy film directed by Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder as the title character, a descendant of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein. The supporting cast includes Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Richard...

, Doctor Frankenstein sends his assistant, Igor, to retrieve the brain of Hans Delbrück for transplant into Frankenstein's monster, but a mishap leads to hilarious consequences. The tag by the tank where the brain of Delbrück is stored reads 'scientist and saint,' so it is debatable whether Brooks intended this or a fictional Delbruck.

In a clearer reference to the historical figure, in Mel Brooks's comedy The Producers: The Movie Musical, Hans Delbrück is the name of the man to whom Franz Liebkind sends a letter by carrier pigeon.

In Victor Serge’s novel Unforgiving Years (Les Années sans pardon) the character Herr Schiff - an old German professor loyal to the Nazi regime, demoralized and disoriented in war-ravaged Berlin in the closing days of the Second World War – rereads Hans Delbrück’s The History of Warfare: “Lately, it was true, the sense of most of what he read escaped him; but being incapable of inattention, the mechanical act of reading acted upon him like a sedative. His cheek cupped in his hand, he reread the works he admired out of duty.”

Hans Delbrück appears in the professor’s thoughts again, while contemplating the meaning of the war as American soldiers overtake Berlin: “The Second World War was already down as a great historical tragedy – a quasi-mythological one – which nether Mommsen, Hans Delbrück, Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlin, Oswald Spengler, or Mein Kampf could elucidate entirely…”

External links

Delbrück's History of the Art of War ("Geschichte der Kriegskunst")
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.