Maximilian Wilhelm Gustav Moritz von Prittwitz und Gaffron
(27.11.1848 - 29.03.1917)
place of birth: Bernstadt, Niederschlesien (Bierutów,
Imperial German Generaloberst Max von Prittwitz
briefly commanded the German Eighth Army at the
outbreak of World War One. Prittwitz was born into a family of Silesian
aristocrats. His mother was the former Elizabeth von Klaß, while his
father Gustav had served as a general in the Prussian Army. He was also a
first cousin to Paul von Hindenburg's wife, Gertrude von Sperling.
Although reputed to be an excellent commander during the pre-war years,
several of Max von Prittwitz' contemporaries believed he owed his command of the
Eighth Army more to his courtly connections than to his
military skills. Chief of General Staff von Moltke and War Minister Erich von
Falkenhayn both supposedly considered him intellectually and
militarily unfit for command and simply wanted him out of Berlin.
As a fledgling commissioned officer, Prittwitz initially served in an infantry regiment and saw action in both the Austro-Prussian War
of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. He rose
steadily through the ranks of the German military for the next forty
years and was promoted to Generaloberst in 1913. As commander of the
Eighth Army, von Prittwitz was tasked with defending East Prussia from
an attack by the Russian First and Second Armies. On 20 August, as the
Eighth Army's I. Corps had already met the invading First Army head-on at
and with his rear threatened by Samsonov's Second Army, Prittwitz made a
fateful call to Army Headquarters in Koblenz. With two of his
divisions in flight and threatened with encirclement, he notified
Chief of General Staff von Moltke that his forces would have to beat a 100-mile retreat
back to the Vistula River. This signified the abandonment
of East Prussia, which the General Staff, many of whom were from that
state, found completely unacceptable. The renowned Eighth Army 1.GSO Lt.
Colonel Max Hoffmann, however, had been able to convince Prittwitz to
reverse his initial decision the very next day. But these change
of orders came too late for von Moltke, and due
to their perceived defeatist and panicked state, both Prittwitz and his Chief of Staff
Count Georg von Waldersee were replaced two weeks after mobilization.
Generaloberst von Hindenburg and right-hand man Erich Ludendorff were
immediately able to execute Hoffmann's plan and thus succeeded in
driving the two Russian armies from German soil during the Battle of
Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes.
von Prittwitz was later desperate to explain his actions, or
inaction, which had resulted in his
dismissal, but he unfortunately never got this chance. He lived in
retirement in Berlin for the next three years of the War, when he died
of a heart attack on 29 March 1917 and was interred in Berlin's Invalidenfriedhof.
He was survived by his wife Olga von Dewitz. Their only son, Erdmann von
Prittwitz und Gaffron fell in battle on 23 May 1918.