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Helmuth von Moltke: Memoradum on the Possible War between Prussia and Austria (1866)

In a memorandum from April of 1866 about the possible war between Prussia and Austria, Moltke describes the most efficient movement of troops to the front. As he explains, the efficient use of railways could allow Prussia to make up for its disadvantage with respect to troop numbers. The following passage emphasizes the need for increased railway transportation capacities and describes the effects of rapid mobilization – factors that indeed contributed to the Prussian victory that summer.

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Memorandum, Berlin, April 2, 1866.

As a political question, the war against Austria, its probability or inevitability, lies outside the scope of my judgment. But from my standpoint I believe I must express the conviction that the success or failure of this war essentially depends on our reaching a decision about it sooner than the Austrians, and if possible, right now.

One advantage for us, which cannot be overstated, is that we can advance our army on five railroad lines and thereby have it essentially concentrated on the Saxon-Bohemian border within 25 days.

Austria has just one railway leading toward Bohemia, and allowing for the troops it already has in Bohemia and Galicia, and assuming further that its cavalry is already on the march, it requires 45 days to assemble 200,000 men.

If Bavaria joins Austria, then it is not so much its army as the use of its Regensburg-Pilsen-Prague railway line that will be disadvantageous for us, since this shortens the above-mentioned Austrian concentration by about 15 days.

If the mobilization of the Prussian army is ordered right now, then Bavaria – so ill-prepared for war in terms of arms, mobilization, and the concentration of its approximately 40,000 men near Bamberg – will in all probability not be ready when the first battle between Austria and Prussia has been fought. Deploying the Bavarian armed forces can hardly serve the purpose of laying siege to Coblenz, or Cologne, or even Erfurt, or of seizing Prussian territory, but more probably of waiting for a successful outcome and then showing up as an armed power on the side of the victor.

For us it all depends on defeating this one enemy Austria, [and] to this end we have to muster all [our] forces, and if anybody should ask for my opinion, we have to enlist not only the VIIth, but also the VIIIth Army Corps.

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