Great War Generals: Erich Ludendorff

Great War Generals: Erich Ludendorff

This dynamic and very physical soldier was born in 1865. Obviously destined for the Army, he did singularly well as a cadet, passed through the junior ranks at panther’s speed, and by the timeEuropewas (not) ready for World War I he was already on the German General Staff.

   First off he led his troops with verve and bravery to capture the Belgian fortress at Liège. Promoted instantly to general, he became Chief-of-Staff of the 8th Army under Hindenberg (q.v.) who was busy at the time dealing with the Russian invasion of East Prussia.

   Ludendorff rapidly became known as a master of strategy, the most important quality in a fighting general. Using this talent he smashed two Russian armies at Tannenberg and theMasurianLakes, and keptGermanysupreme on the Eastern Front until September, 1916. Falkenhayn (q.v.) was dismissed and replaced by Hindenberg as Supreme Commander. Erich became his most senior Quartermaster-General, a vital post.

   Following the onslaught at Verdun, Ludendorff withdrew German forces to the ‘Hindenberg Line’, and continued in more defensive mode, giving the soldiers time for rest and recuperation. For the next two years he was seen to exercise more domestic power inGermanythan the Chancellor himself. In fact he became a military dictator. Among his more stringent requirements he insisted on ‘calling up’ the entire civilian population for war! Then he brought in compulsory work for women; restriction of workers rights and closure of the universities. The population soon realised what Ludendorff’s conception of total war was.

   The Chancellor was Bethmann-Hollweg, who muttered about Erich’s ‘dictatorial thirst for power and a consequent intention to militarize the whole political scene’. He was only partially right. What Ludendorff wanted, and virtually got, was Hitler’s future dream ofGermanyas a military machine, with slaves to do the work, and everyone, including children, in uniform. A Supreme War Office was founded and given ample powers over trade and industry. The supply of munitions trebled as a result.

   Not satisfied with his powers merely on land, Erich pushed the Cabinet for unrestricted submarine warfare, beginning in 1917. It was part of his strategy to permit Lenin (q.v.) to get toRussiathroughGermanyin order to start the Revolution and getRussiaout of the War. After the October Revolution Ludendorff insisted on the severe terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918 q.v.) which gave the Allies a clear indication of how things would be if Germanywon the War.

In the early months of 1918 The United States at last joined in the War, sending across the seas thousands of troops armed to the teeth. Ludendorff started the ‘Ludendorff Offensive’, a huge assault on the Western Front designed to secure a German victory before the Americans arrived! Ludendorff knew well enough that the American armies would tip the balance in favour of the Allies. On the Western Front three and a half million troops engaged in a life or death struggle between March and July 1918. There were some initial successes, but it was not enough. Erich asked the Chancellor to make an approach to President Wilson (of theUSA), seeking for an armistice based on his (Ludendorff’s) Fourteen Points.Germanyrocked back on its heels: Ludendorff, who had always rejected any kind of reform, was now proposing thatGermanyshould become a parliamentary democracy. He resigned in October so that the civilian government could take responsibility for the terms of the armistice and resultant peace: strategy again . . . ‘then we climb back in the saddle, and govern according to old ways,’ he said.

    It did not work. After the War was over Ludendorff opposed the WeimarRepublic(q.v.), took part in a right-wing putsch (1920), led another march in the ‘Munich Putsch’ and when police fired on his group calmly survived a hail of bullets. He was arrested, tried, and possibly because he had been a war hero, acquitted. Increasingly eccentric, if not to say quite mad, he then became a Nazi deputy to the Reichstag (q.v. 1924 – 28). He went on record as saying that in his opinion it was supernatural forces which had brought about the events of Noveember 1918. This made him an embarrassment to the Nazi party he was supporting. He died at seventy-two in 1937, just two years before the commencement of the Second World War.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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