Anton Ludwig Friedrich August von Mackensen
(06.12.1849 - 08.11.1945)
place of birth: Kreis Wittenberg
Preußen: OBH, Generaladjutant SM, Generalfeldmarschall (Kav)
One of Imperial Germany's most successful field commanders
during the Great War, this future field marshal was born on 6 December into
the family of land agent Ludwig von Mackensen, said to be of Scots ancestry,
and his wife Marie Rink. Per his father's wishes, young August first studied agriculture in
but then entered the military at age 19 as a one-year volunteer.
He stayed on and served with distinction during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 as part of the
elite Death's Head Hussar regiment fighting in major battles at Beaumont,
Sedan and Orleans, and earning the Iron Cross 2nd Class. He continued his
military career as a cavalry staff officer. His marriage in
1879 to Doris von Horn produced two daughters and three sons; Eberhard
served in Italy during the Second World War as a divisional commander,
and Hans was Germany's ambassador to Rome during this time.
As a young
officer serving in Königsberg, Mackensen
found an important mentor in the person of War Minister Verdy du Vernois.
Although he never studied at the Military Academy, Mackensen was
transferred in 1880 to the Great General Staff where he learned from the
likes of von Moltke and von Schlieffen. In 1895 Kaiser Wilhelm II
selected Mackensen as his aide-de-camp, the first commoner to serve in
this position, and four years later the Kaiser named him to the Prussian
aristocracy. In 1892 he published a significant, two volume history of
his cavalry regiment entitled "The Black Hussars." His wife
died in 1905, and 1908 saw both his promotion to general of cavalry and
his marriage to his second wife, Leonie von der Osten.
The First World War found him
initially active on
the Eastern Front as commander of XVII. Corps attached to the
Eighth Army. He took part in every major conflict in the East and
would remain on that front for the war's duration. His XVII. Corps
suffered an initial humiliating defeat to the Russians (Rennenkampf) at Gumbinnen,
but they later took part in great success at both Tannenberg
and Masurian Lakes.
Leutnant (18 yrs)
As commander of Army Detachment Mackensen and the Ninth
Army, he successfully directed the siege of Warsaw and subsequent
seizure of Lodz, for which he was awarded the Pour le Merite.
His Eleventh Army, which as part of the Army Group Mackensen-Kiev
included Austro-Hungarian units, was based in the Dunajec sector
of Galicia (1915) and successfully broke through the Russian lines at Gorlice-Tarnow,
one of the greatest victories of the war. In June 1915, von Mackensen's
troops were able to retake the Przemysl Fortress and helped
Austria recapture the city of Lemberg (L'viv, Ukraine). He was
then received the prestigious Order of the Black Eagle and was
promoted to field marshal. He was also one of only five recipients of
the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (1917). Following a successful
stint in Serbia, he became commander of Army Group Mackensen-Romania
(1916-18) under Falkenhayn and headed up the defeat and military
occupation of Romania, where he remained until war's end.
After the Armistice, von Mackensen was briefly held captive in
Hungary and Salonika (Greece), returning to Germany in 1919 and retiring
from the Army one year later. The field marshal then served as a leader
in the monarchist Stahlhelm forces and later became an important
figurehead for the Nazi Party, ardently supporting Hitler. Nevertheless,
as a member of the Confessional Church (die Bekennenden Kirche) he
actually spoke out for the persecuted pastor Martin Niemöller.
He was also more loyal to the monarchy than to Naziism and defied Hitler
by being conspicuously present at Kaiser Wilhelm II's funeral. There,
the last remaining WW1-era field marshal tearfully laid his cavalry
cloak over his fallen leader's coffin. In 1945, the 95-year old field
marshal spent his final days fleeing westward with millions of refugees
escaping the onslaught of the Red Army. August von Mackensen, the last
surviving German Field Marshal from the First World War, died on 8 March
in Schmiedeberg and is buried in Burghorn cemetery near Celle. His son
Hans was a Nazi diplomat, while his son Eberhard served as a general in
the Wehrmacht and was later convicted of war crimes.