Erich Georg Anton Sebastian von Falkenhayn was born in Graudenz, a city in West Prussia, on November 11, 1861. He held the position of Chief of the Imperial German General Staff during a portion of the First World War before Kaiser Wilhelm II eventually removed him from office. Falkenhayn started his military career at a young age and served as a military instructor to the Chinese army from 1899 to 1903. During the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, he played a role as a member of the German General Staff, participating in actions when the Allies marched to relieve besieged Peking.
Upon his return to Germany, Falkenhayn continued to serve on the German General Staff and became the Prussian Minister of War in 1913. During this time, he frequently clashed with Helmuth von Moltke, the Chief of Staff. However, when World War I broke out in August 1914 and the German forces faced setbacks at the Marne, Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Moltke and appointed Falkenhayn as his replacement on September 14, 1914.
Falkenhayn's cautious nature made him seem well-suited to the trench warfare realities of World War I, a contrast to many of his contemporaries. He tended to favor defensive strategies over offensive ones, which was a sensible approach but not ideal for the Eastern Front. His preference led him to reject an ambitious plan proposed by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff to capture the entire Russian army.
Falkenhayn, however, believed that the primary theatre of the war was the Western Front. In early 1916, he conceived a plan to besiege the historic French city of Verdun, aiming to "bleed it white" as he put it. His strategy involved drawing most of the French army into the Verdun area, effectively tying them down, and then systematically destroying them with concentrated artillery fire.
The French suffered significant losses at Verdun, as did the Germans. The strategy succeeded in diverting French attention entirely toward the defense of Verdun, to the extent that the British launched the Somme offensive on July 1, 1916, primarily to relieve the pressure on the French forces at Verdun. Nevertheless, the German offensive at Verdun ultimately failed, and by the time the Somme offensive began, the French had already started regaining ground.
Following the failure of the Verdun offensive, and with other setbacks like the Russian resurgence under Brusilov, the loss of Bitola to the Serbs, and the fall of Gorizia to Italy, Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to replace Falkenhayn with the more aggressive Paul von Hindenburg on August 29, 1916, particularly after learning of Romania's declaration of war on Austria-Hungary.
Falkenhayn was then sent to the Transylvanian Front to lead the Ninth Army. On September 30, 1916, he achieved victory over the Romanian army at the Battle of the Red Tower Pass and advanced toward Bucharest. By mid-November, his forces joined up with Mackensen's army, and they entered Bucharest on December 6, effectively defeating Romania.
Falkenhayn's next assignment was in Palestine, where he commanded Turkish forces in early 1917. He faced a series of setbacks, including a defeat by General Allenby at Gaza on October 31, 1917, and the fall of Jerusalem to the British in December. Falkenhayn was ultimately dismissed by General Liman von Sanders in February 1918. Upon his return to Germany, he retired from military service. Erich von Falkenhayn passed away on April 8, 1922, near Potsdam.