Wilhelm II: Prince and Emperor, 1859-1900

By Lamar Cecil | Go to book overview

III had intended to implement during his brief reign.5 Rather than leave military assignments to the General Staff and the Military Cabinet, which traditionally had supervised such matters and tended to prefer older generals, the Kaiser himself began to decide who would get what posts.6 Although many generals who were now pensioned off or shunted to lesser commands were in fact too advanced in age to serve with the requisite vigor, the failing which Wilhelm detected in others was their opposition to him before he came to the throne.7 Wilhelm was swift to reward those who had stood by him while he waited in the shade of his father and grandfather. Not long after becoming Kaiser, he had an opportunity to make an appointment at the pinnacle of the army. Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke, the legendary architect of victory in the wars of unification twenty years earlier, voluntarily decided in August 1888 to surrender his position as chief of the General Staff. Moltke was almost eighty-eight and physically weak, but he was also prompted to resign because Wilhelm, whom he dismissed as a hardheaded "Husarenoffizier," paid no attention to him.8 No one was surprised that the Kaiser immediately chose his longtime confidant, General Count von Waldersee, as Moltke's successor.

General Waldersee, now securely settled at the head of the army, had been one of Wilhelm's closest friends since 1882, and their relationship became even more intimate once Wilhelm ascended the throne. Waldersee had rushed to Potsdam on hearing of Friedrich III's death on 15 June 1888 and was admitted at once into the new Kaiser's presence. After receiving Waldersee's condolences, Wilhelm II discussed with the general the numerous changes in military positions he wished to effect. On this occasion, and in the months ahead, Waldersee would always prove forthcoming with suggestions concerning reassignments or retirements of the Kaiser's generals. During the first year of his reign, Wilhelm saw Waldersee on an almost daily basis, often taking extended walks with him in the Tiergarten. Waldersee treated him to a strongly conservative, Christian- social, and Russophobe train of thought, all of which the young ruler found appealing. The general, who had a pronounced tendency to self- satisfaction, was very gratified to learn from the Kaiser's old tutor, Hinzpeter, that he was the only person in whom Wilhelm had full confidence.9

The military figures who enjoyed the most constant access to the Kaiser were not necessarily those who, like Waldersee, held the highest ranks. Wilhelm's intimates in the army were his adjutants, some of whom were generals. At any given time, the Kaiser had six or eight adjutants, who rotated the taxing duty of being in the presence of the

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