Hermann von Eichhorn was a German general who had the misfortune to become the most senior German killed during the First World War. He was born in Breslau in 1848 into an aristocratic Prussian family. He joined the Prussian Foot Guards in 1866 and fought in that year's Austro-Prussian war and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
Over the next forty years he rose through the ranks, reaching major general in 1883, lieutenant general in 1901, general of infantry in 1905 and colonel general in 1913. In 1904 he was appointed to command the XVIII Army Corps at Frankfurt. In 1912 he became inspector general of the VII Army Inspectorate and by 1914 he was the officer nominated to command the Fifth Army if war broke out.
At the start of the First World War, Eichhorn was out of action after suffering a serious injury while horse riding. He was unable to return to action until 26 January 1915, missing the critical early campaigns of the war. He took part in the battle of Soissons, and was then posted to the eastern front to command a new Tenth Army.
Eichhorn was almost immediately thrown into a major battle. His tenth army formed the left wing of the German army for the second battle of the Masurian Lakes (7-21 February 1915). Its role was to swing around behind the Russian Tenth Army, trapping it against the German Eighth Army of Otto von Below. Eichhorn’s attack began on 8 February. By 12 February his army had advanced fifty miles, had turned to its right and was advancing behind the Russians. Only a determined Russian rearguard action prevented the total success of the German plan. Even so, the Russians suffered 200,000 casualties and lost their entire XX corps.
Although the focus of attention on the eastern front soon moved south, especially after the battle of Gorlice-Tarnow (2-10 May 1915), fighting continued on the Baltic front. In August 1915 Eichhorn captured the Russian fortress at Kovno, winning the Pour le Mérite. In September he captured Vilna, and then held it against Russian counterattacks in March-April 1916, winning the Oakleaves to his Pour le Mérite.
On 30 July 1916 Eichhorn’s command was expanded to include the Eighth Army, creating Army Group Eichhorn and giving him command of all German troops in Courland and Lithuania. His army group launched a successful offensive in October 1917, taking Riga and capturing the Baltic islands of Ösel, Moon and Dagö. In December he was rewarded with a promotion to field marshal.
The Bolshevik revolution ended the serious fighting on the eastern front. It also led to a series of independence movements in parts of the Russian Empire. Late in 1917 the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament) declared independence. Germany recognised the new state on 30 December, while the Bolsheviks sent in troops in an attempt to regain control. On 9 February Germany and Austria signed a separate peace treaty with the Ukraine, and sent in troops to defend their new “ally”. At the same time they invaded western Russia to force the Bolsheviks to make peace.
On 4 March Eichhorn was appointed to command the German occupation forces in western Russian and the Ukraine (a new Army Group Eichhorn). His main job was to extract as much grain as possible from the Ukraine to break the British blockade. He used a combination of bribery and violence to achieve this aim, aided by his able chief of staff General Wilhelm Groener. One of his victims was the Ukrainian “rada”, soon dissolved by Eichhorn, who replaced it with a new Hetman, General Pavlo Skoropadsky. His methods made him increasingly unpopular in the Ukraine, and on 30 July he was murdered by a left wing social revolutionary who hoped to force the Bolsheviks to abandon their limited cooperation with the Germans. He was buried next to Alfred von Schlieffen in the Invaliedenfriedhof in Berlin.
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