Erich Ludendorff

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff.jpg
General Erich Ludendorff
Born 9 April 1865
Kruszewnia near Posen, Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia now Kruszewnia near Poznań, Greater Poland, Poland
Died 20 December 1937(1937-12-20) (aged 72)
Munich, Bavaria, Nazi Germany
Allegiance  German Empire
Service/branch Imperial German Army
Years of service 1883–1918
Rank General der Infanterie
Battles/wars World War I
German Revolution
Awards Pour le Mérite, Iron Cross First class

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (sometimes incorrectly referred to as von Ludendorff)[1] (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general, the victor of the Battle of Liège and the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general (Erster Generalquartiermeister) made him the leader (along with Paul Hindenburg) of the German war efforts during World War I until his resignation in October 1918, just before the end of hostilities.[2][3]

After the war, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist leader, and a promoter of the stab-in-the-back legend, which posited that the German loss in World War I was caused by the betrayal of the German Army by Marxists and Republicans who were furthermore responsible for the disadvantageous settlement negotiated for Germany in the Versailles Treaty. He took part in the unsuccessful coup d’état against Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the Beer Hall Putsch of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925, he ran for the office of President of Germany against his former colleague Hindenburg, who he claimed had taken credit for Ludendorff's victories against Russia.[2][4]

From 1924 to 1928 he represented the German Völkisch Freedom Party in the German Parliament. Consistently pursuing a purely military line of thought, Ludendorff developed, after the war, the theory of “Total War,” which he published as Der Totale Krieg (The Total War) in 1935. In this work, he argued that the entire physical and moral forces of the nation should be mobilized, because, according to him, peace was merely an interval between wars.[5] Ludendorff was a recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross and the Pour le Mérite.

Early years

Ludendorff was born on 9 April 1865 in Kruszewnia near Posen, Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia (now Poznań County, Poland), the third of six children of August Wilhelm Ludendorff (1833–1905). His father was descended from Pomeranian merchants who had achieved the status of Junker, i.e. owner of a manor, and he held a commission in the reserve cavalry. Erich's mother, Klara Jeanette Henriette von Tempelhoff (1840-1914), was the daughter of the noble but impoverished Friedrich August Napoleon von Tempelhoff (1804-1868) and his wife Jeannette Wilhelmine von Dziembowska (1816–1854), who came from a Germanized Polish landed family on the side of her father Stephan von Dziembowski (1779-1859). Through Dziembowski's wife Johanna Wilhelmine von Unruh (1793-1862), Erich was a remote descendant of the Counts of Dönhoff, the Dukes of Legnica and Brzeg and the Marquesses and Electors of Brandenburg. He had a stable and comfortable childhood, growing up on a small family farm. He received his early schooling from his maternal aunt and had a flair for mathematics.[6]

His acceptance into the Cadet School at Plön was largely due to his proficiency in mathematics and the adherence to the work ethic that he would carry with him throughout his life. Passing his entrance exam with distinction,[6] he was put in a class two years ahead of his age group, and thereafter he was consistently first in his class. The famous World War II General Heinz Guderian attended the same Cadet School, which produced many well-trained German officers. Ludendorff's education continued at the Hauptkadettenschule at Groß-Lichterfelde near Berlin through 1882.[7]

Ludendorff married the daughter of a wealthy factory owner, Margarethe née Schmidt (1875–1936), who divorced to marry him. She brought three stepsons into his household, but no issue.[7]

Military career

Ludendorff (right) and Hindenburg.

In 1885, Ludendorff was commissioned as a subaltern into the 57th Infantry Regiment, then at Wesel. Over the next eight years, he was promoted lieutenant and saw further service in the 2nd Marine Battalion, based at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, and in the 8th Grenadier Guards at Frankfurt on the Oder. His service reports reveal the highest praise, with frequent commendations. In 1893, he was selected for the War Academy, where the commandant, General Meckel, recommended him for appointment to the General Staff, to which he was appointed in 1894. There he rose rapidly and was a senior staff officer at the headquarters of V Corps from 1902 to 1904. In 1905, under Alfred von Schlieffen, he joined the Second Section of the Great General Staff in Berlin. He was responsible for the Mobilization Section from 1904–13. By 1911, he was a full colonel. Ludendorff's responsibilities in Berlin included testing the minute details of the Schlieffen Plan, for example an assessment of the fortifications around the Belgian fortress city of Liège. Most importantly, he attempted to prepare the German army for the major war which many saw coming.

Deputies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which became the largest party in the Reichstag after the German federal elections of 1912, seldom gave priority to army expenditures, whether to build up its reserves or to fund advanced weaponry such as Krupp's siege cannons. Instead, they preferred to concentrate military spending on the Imperial German Navy. Ludendorff tried to influence the Reichstag through a retired general, August Keim, but the result of his agitations was that the War Ministry caved in to political pressure and dismissed him from the General Staff in January 1913. He was returned to regimental duties and given command of the 39th (Lower Rhine) Fusiliers, stationed at Düsseldorf.[7] Ludendorff was convinced that his future prospects in the military were nil, but he did agree to take up this mildly important position.

Barbara Tuchman describes Ludendorff in her book The Guns of August as Schlieffen’s devoted disciple who was a glutton for work and a man of granite character. He was deliberately friendless and forbidding and remained little known or liked. Lacking a trail of reminiscences or anecdotes as he grew in eminence, Ludendorff remained an aloof figure. Nonetheless, John Lee (p. 45) states that while Ludendorff was with his Fusiliers, "he became the perfect regimental commander ... the younger officers came to adore him."

World War I

Hindenburg, emperor Wilhelm II, and Ludendorff in January, 1917

In spite of his earlier pessimism about promotion, Ludendorff was promoted to Major-General in April 1914 and given the command of the 85th Infantry Brigade, stationed at Strassburg.[8]

With the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, then called The Great War, Ludendorff was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the German Second Army under General Karl von Bülow. He was given his assignment largely due to his previous work investigating the dozen forts surrounding Liège, Belgium. The German assault in early August 1914, executed in accordance with the Schlieffen Plan for invading France, gained him national recognition.

The first major action of the German army was the Battle of Liège. Ludendorff was there as an observer with the 14th Brigade, which was to infiltrate the city at night and secure the bridges before they could be destroyed. The brigade commander was killed on 5 August, so Ludendorff led the successful assault to occupy the city and its citadel. In the following days, two of the forts guarding the city were taken by desperate frontal infantry attacks, while the remaining forts were smashed by huge Krupp 42-cm and Austro-Hungarian Skoda 30-cm howitzers. By 16 August, all the forts around Liège had fallen, allowing the German First Army to advance. As the victor of Liège, Ludendorff was awarded Germany's highest military decoration for gallantry, the Pour le Mérite, presented by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself on 22 August.[9]

In the meantime, Russia was waging war more effectively than the Schlieffen Plan anticipated. German forces were withdrawing as the Russians advanced towards Königsberg in East Prussia. Only a week after the fall of Liège, Ludendorff, then engaged in the assault on Belgium's Citadel of Namur, was urgently requested by the Kaiser to serve as Chief of Staff of the Eighth Army on the Eastern Front.[citation needed]

Hindenburg and Ludendorff (pointing), 1917
Hindenburg (seated) and Ludendorff. Painting by Hugo Vogel

Ludendorff went quickly with Paul von Hindenburg, who was recalled from retirement, to replace General Maximilian von Prittwitz, who had proposed abandoning East Prussia altogether. Hindenburg relied heavily upon Ludendorff and Max Hoffmann in planning the successful operations in the battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. After the Battle of Łódź (1914) in November 1914, Ludendorff was promoted to Lieutenant-General.[citation needed]

In August 1916, Erich von Falkenhayn resigned as Chief of the General Staff. Hindenburg took his place; Ludendorff declined to be known as "Second Chief of the General Staff" and instead insisted on the title First Generalquartiermeister on condition that all orders be sent out jointly from the two men. Together they formed the so-called Third Supreme Command.[citation needed] As for his rank, he was promoted to General of the Infantry.

After his appointment, Ludendorff became the chief manager of the German war effort, with the popular general von Hindenburg his pliant front man.[citation needed] Ludendorff advocated unrestricted submarine warfare to break the British naval blockade of the German sea coast, which became an important factor in bringing the United States into the war in April 1917. He proposed massive annexations and colonization in Eastern Europe in the event of the victory of the German Empire and was one of the main supporters of the Polish Border Strip.[10] Ludendorff planned German settlement in conquered areas combined with expulsions of the native population and envisioned an eastern German empire whose resources would be used in future war with Great Britain and the United States.[11][12] Ludendorff's plans went as far as making Crimea a German colony,[13] although he explicitly denied ever having advocated the colonisation of Crimea in his memoirs published in 1919.[14]

Russia withdrew from the war outright in 1917, and Ludendorff participated in the meetings held between the German leadership and the new Bolshevik leadership. After much deliberation, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March 1918. At the conclusion of the treaty, the position of the German army changed from having to fight a war on two fronts to possessing large reserves of experienced men capable of starting a fresh offensive on the Western Front for the first time since the Battle of Verdun in 1916. The entire German command knew this would be Germany's final make-or-break chance to defeat the Entente and win the war, thus Ludendorff was willing to reorganise his army and train large numbers of the more experienced soldiers in more modern tactics. These new tactics included new armour; improved artillery barrages (pioneered against the Russians at the Battle of Jugla); ground-attack aircraft; and, most importantly, stormtroopers to break the trench deadlock. After trying out the stormtrooper tactics in the Battle of Caporetto against the Italians in October 1917, Ludendorff planned and directed Germany's final Western Front offensives: Operation Michael, Operation Georgette and Operation Bluecher. Although not formally a commander-in-chief, Ludendorff directed operations by issuing orders to the staffs of the armies at the front, as was perfectly normal under the German system of that time.[citation needed]

The historian Frank B. Tipton argues that while not technically a dictator, Ludendorff was "unquestionably the most powerful man in Germany" in 1917–18.[15] But the final push to win the war fell short; Ludendorff had not adequately planned for the time needed for reinforcements to arrive at the front or for the impact of lost troops (numbering half a million) and matériel, or for the length of the front now needing defense. As the German war effort collapsed, Ludendorff's political authority faded.[citation needed]

On 8 August 1918, the German offensive, already outrunning its supply lines, ground to a halt in the face of a successful French defence in the Second Battle of the Marne. Ludendorff and the exhausted German army suddenly had to contend with a vigorous French counter-offensive at that battle, then a similarly aggressive British counter-offensive at the Battle of Amiens. The Amiens counter-attack was so shocking and successful that many of the exhausted German infantry mass-surrendered and even mutinied in a manner identical to French and Russian mutinies the previous year. It was later described by Ludendorff as a "Schwarzer Tag des deutschen Heeres" ("black day of the German regime").[16] The initiative of battle once again swung to the Entente. During what became known as the Hundred Days Offensive, Allied troops achieved territorial gains that had been unheard of since the start of the war. Ludendorff was near a mental breakdown, sometimes in tears, and his worried staff called in a psychiatrist.[17]

On 29 September, the Kingdom of Prussia assumed its pre-war authority, which lasted until Kaiser Wilhelm II's abdication. Ludendorff had tried appealing directly to the American government in the hope of getting better peace terms than from the French and British. He then calculated that the civilian government that he had created on 3 October would get better terms from the Americans. However, Ludendorff was frustrated by the terms that the new government was negotiating. Unable to achieve a peace on the terms he desired, Ludendorff handed over power to the new civilian government, but he then blamed them for what he felt was a humiliating armistice that United States President Woodrow Wilson was proposing. In mid-October, he decided that the army should try to hold out until winter, when defense would be easier, but the civilian government continued to negotiate.[citation needed]

Unable to prevent negotiations, Ludendorff stated in his 1920 memoirs that he had prepared a letter of resignation on the morning of 26 October, but changed his mind after discussing the matter with Hindenburg. Shortly afterwards, he was informed that the Kaiser had dismissed him at the urging of the Cabinet, and he was then called in for an audience with the Kaiser in which he tendered his resignation.

On the day of the armistice with the Entente, Ludendorff disguised himself in a false beard and glasses and went to the home of his brother, astronomer Hans Ludendorff, in Potsdam. A few days later, he boarded a steamer for Copenhagen. Though he was recognized, he continued from Denmark to Sweden.[18]

Reflections on the war, a look to the future

In exile, Ludendorff wrote numerous books and articles about the German military's conduct of the war while forming the foundation for the Dolchstoßlegende, the "stab-in-the-back theory," for which he is considered largely responsible.[19] Ludendorff was convinced that Germany had fought a defensive war and, in his opinion, that Kaiser Wilhelm II had failed to organize a proper counter-propaganda campaign or provide efficient leadership.[19]

Ludendorff was extremely suspicious of the Social Democrats and leftists, whom he blamed for the humiliation of Germany through the Versailles Treaty. Ludendorff claimed that he paid close attention to the business element (especially the Jews), and saw them turn their backs on the war effort by letting profit, rather than patriotism, dictate production and financing. Again focusing on the left, Ludendorff was appalled by the strikes that took place towards the end of the war and the way that the home front collapsed before the military front did, with the former poisoning the morale of soldiers on temporary leave. Most importantly, Ludendorff felt that the German people as a whole had underestimated what was at stake in the war; he was convinced that the Entente had started the war and was determined to dismantle Germany completely. Ludendorff wrote:

By the Revolution the Germans have made themselves pariahs among the nations, incapable of winning allies, helots in the service of foreigners and foreign capital, and deprived of all self-respect. In twenty years' time, the German people will curse the parties who now boast of having made the Revolution.

Erich Ludendorff, My War Memories, 1914–1918

Political career

Ludendorff (centre) with Hitler and other prominent early Nazi leaders

Ludendorff returned to Germany in February 1919.[20] The Weimar Republic planned to send him and several other noted German generals (August von Mackensen, among others) to reform the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China, but this was cancelled due to the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles and the image problem of renting such a noted general out as a mercenary. Throughout his life, Ludendorff maintained a strong distaste for politicians and found most of them to be lacking an energetic national spirit. However, Ludendorff's political philosophy and outlook on the war brought him into right-wing politics as a German nationalist. His membership and support for the Nazi Party helped it to gain credibility in its early years.

At Hitler's urging, Ludendorff took part in the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. The plot failed, and in the trial that followed, Ludendorff was acquitted. In 1924, he was elected to the Reichstag as a representative of the NSFB (a coalition of the German Völkisch Freedom Party and members of the Nazi Party), serving until 1928. He ran in the German presidential election of 1925 against his former commander Paul von Hindenburg, but received just 285,793 votes. Ludendorff's reputation may have been damaged by the Putsch, but he conducted very little campaigning of his own and remained aloof, relying almost entirely on his lasting image as a war hero, an attribute that Hindenburg also possessed. He also was de facto leader of the Tannenbergbund, founded in 1925 to help preserve memories of the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg.

Tipton notes that Ludendorff was a Social Darwinist who believed that war was the "foundation of human society," and that military dictatorship was the normal form of government in a society in which every resource must be mobilized.[21] The historian Margaret Lavinia Anderson notes that after the war, Ludendorff wanted Germany to go to war against all of Europe, and that he became a pagan worshiper of the Nordic god Wotan (Odin); he detested not only Judaism, but also Christianity, which he regarded as a weakening force.[22]

Last years and death

After 1928, Ludendorff went into retirement, during which he launched several abusive attacks on his former superior Hindenburg for not having acted in a "nationalistic soldier-like fashion". The Berlin-based liberal newspaper Vossische Zeitung mentions in its article "Ludendorff's hate tirades against Hindenburg - Poisonous gas from Hitler's camp" that Ludendorff as of March 29, 1930, was deeply rooted in Hitler’s Nazi ideology.[23]

Ludendorff and his second wife Mathilde von Kemnitz (1877–1966) published books and essays to prove that the world’s problems were the result of Christianity, especially the Jesuits and Catholics, but also conspiracies by Jews and the Freemasonry. They founded the Bund für Gotteserkenntnis (Society for the Knowledge of God), a small and rather obscure esoterical society of Theists that survives to this day.[24]

By the time Hitler came to power, Ludendorff was no longer sympathetic to him. The Nazis distanced themselves from Ludendorff because of his eccentric conspiracy theories.[25] In his later years, Ludendorff became a pacifist.[26] In January 1933, on the occasion of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of the Reichstag by President Hindenburg, Ludendorff allegedly sent the following telegram: "I solemnly prophesy that this accursed man will cast our Reich into the abyss and bring our nation to inconceivable misery. Future generations will damn you in your grave for what you have done."[27] Historians, however, consider this text to be a forgery.[28] In an attempt to regain Ludendorff’s favor, Hitler paid Ludendorff an unannounced visit to his home on Ludendorff’s 70th birthday in 1935 and offered to make him a field marshal if he came out of retirement and back into politics with the Nazi Party. Infuriated, Ludendorff allegedly rebuffed Hitler by telling him: "A field marshal is born, not made!"[29] Ludendorff died at his home in Tutzing, Bavaria, on 20 December 1937 at age 72. He was given — against his explicit wishes — a state funeral organized and attended by Hitler, who declined to speak at his eulogy. He was buried in the Neuer Friedhof in Tutzing.

Decorations and awards


  1. "Foreign News: Lord Kitchener". Time. 25 May 1925. Retrieved 27 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Saturday, 22 August 2009 Michael Duffy (22 August 2009). "Who's Who – Paul von Hindenburg". First World Retrieved 16 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Saturday, 22 August 2009 Michael Duffy (22 August 2009). "Who's Who – Erich Ludendorff". First World Retrieved 16 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Andreas Dorpalen. "Paul von Hindenburg (German president) : Introduction – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 16 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Erich Ludendorff (German general) : Introduction – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". 20 December 1937. Retrieved 16 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Parkinson, Roger (1978). Tormented warrior. Ludendorff and the supreme command. London: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 13–14. ISBN 0-340-21482-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Biografie Erich Ludendorff (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Retrieved 6 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Parkinson, 1978, p. 23-25
  9. Parkinson, 1978. p. 49
  10. Armies of occupation page 128 Roy Arnold Prete, A. Hamish Ion – Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1984
  11. Nazi Empire German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler, page 102, Shelley Baranowski, Cambridge University , Press 2010
  12. The silent dictatorship: the politics of the German high command under Hindenburg and Ludendorff, 1916–1918. page 193, Martin Kitchen
  13. A History of Modern Germany, Volume 3: 1840–1945 Hajo Holborn, page 488, 1982
  15. Tipton, Frank B. A History of Modern Germany University of California Press, 2003, p. 313
  16. Livesay 1919, pp. 20 and 95.
  17. David Reynolds – BBC2 programme Armistice 3 November 2008
  18. Weintraub, Stanley. "A Stillness Heard Round the World." Truman Talley Books, 1985, p. 398-399
  19. 19.0 19.1 Nebelin, Manfred: Ludendorff: Diktator im Ersten Weltkrieg, Munich: Siedler Verlag--Verlagsgruppe Random House, 2011
  20. John W. Wheeler-Bennett (Spring 1938). "Ludendorff: The Soldier and the Politician". The Virginia Quarterly Review. 14 (2): 187–202.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Frank B. Tipton (2003). A History of Modern Germany. p. 291.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Margaret Lavinia Anderson (5 December 2007). Dying by the Sword. The Fall of the Hohenzollern and Habsburg Empires" from History 167b, "The Rise and Fall of the Second Reich.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Ludendorff beschimpft Hindenburg". Retrieved 28 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "The God-cognition by Mathilde Ludendorff (1877–1966)". Bund für Gotterkenntnis Ludendorff e.V. Retrieved 20 November 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. David Nicholls, Adolf Hitler: A Biographical Companion, ABC-CLIO, 1 Jan 2000, p.159.
  26. Ludendorff turned pacifist
  27. Kershaw, Ian. Hitler. Longman, 1991, p. 426.
  28. Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte. 47. Jahrgang, Oktober 1999 (PDF; 7 MB), S. 559–562.
  29. "World War I: Encyclopedia," p. 716 – by Spencer Tucker, Priscilla Mary Roberts – History – 2005


External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Woodrow Wilson
Cover of Time Magazine
19 November 1923
Succeeded by
Hugh S. Gibson
  1. Ludendorff, Erich. The Nation at War. Hutchinson, London, 1936. (= "Der totale Krieg")