Erich Ludendorff

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff.jpg
General Erich Ludendorff
Birth name Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff
Born 9 April 1865
Kruszewnia near Posen, Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia
(today Poland)
Died 20 December 1937(1937-12-20) (aged 72)
Munich, 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, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general (Erster Generalquartiermeister) made him joint head (with Paul von Hindenburg), and chief engineer behind the management of Germany's effort in World War I until his resignation in October 1918.[2][3][better source needed]

After the war, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist leader, and a promoter of the stab-in-the-back legend, convinced that the German Army had been betrayed by Marxists and Republicans in the Versailles Treaty. He took part in the unsuccessful coups d’état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the Beer Hall Putsch of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925 he ran for president against his former colleague, Paul von Hindenburg, whom 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 which 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[edit]

Ludendorff was born on 9 April 1865 in Kruszewnia near Posen, Province of Posen (now Poznań County, Poland), the third of six children of August Wilhelm Ludendorff (1833–1905), descended from Pomeranian merchants, who had achieved the status of Junker, i.e. owner of a manor, and who 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 her father's side, and through whom Erich was a remote descendant of the Dukes of Silesia and the Marquesses and Electors of Brandenburg. He is said[by whom?] to have 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.

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,[citation needed] he was put in a class two years ahead of his age group, and thereafter was consistently first in his class. 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.[6]

Despite Ludendorff's maternal noble origins, however, he married outside them, to Margarete née Schmidt (1875–1936), the daughter of a factory owner.[6]

Military career[edit]

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 were of the highest order, 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 1902–04. In 1905, under Schlieffen, he joined the Second Section of the Great General Staff in Berlin, 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, assessing 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. The Social Democrats, who at the 1912 elections had become the largest party in the Reichstag, seldom gave priority to army expenditures, whether to build up its reserves or to fund advanced weaponry such as Krupp's siege cannons, preferring 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 pressures and in January 1913 he was dismissed from the General Staff and returned to regimental duties, given command of the 39th (Lower Rhine) Fusiliers, stationed at Düsseldorf.[6] Ludendorff was convinced that his prospects in the military were nil, but he took 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 was a man without a shadow.

However, 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[edit]

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

In April 1914 Ludendorff was promoted to Major-General and given the command of the 85th Infantry Brigade, stationed at Strassburg.[citation needed]

With the outbreak of World War I, then called The Great War, Ludendorff was first appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the German Second Army under General Karl von Bülow. His assignment was largely due to his knowledge and previous work investigating the dozen forts surrounding Liège, Belgium. The German assault in early August 1914, according to the Schlieffen Plan for invading France, gained him national recognition.[citation needed]

The Germans experienced their first major setback at Liège. Belgian artillery and machine guns killed thousands of German troops attempting frontal assaults. On 5 August Ludendorff took command of the 14th Brigade, whose general had been killed. He cut off Liège and called for siege guns. By 16 August all 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.[citation needed]

Russia had prepared for and 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 Liège's fall, Ludendorff, then engaged in the assault on Belgium's second great fortress at 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 1917
Propaganda for Paul von Hindenburg (left) and Erich Ludendorff

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. Paul von 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 were 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.

Ludendorff was 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 blockade, 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 Reich, and was one of the main supporters of the Polish Border Strip.[7] Ludendorff planned German settlement and Germanization 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 United States[8][9] Ludendorff's plans went as far as making Crimea a German colony,[10] although he explicitly denied ever having advocated the colonisation of Crimea in his memoirs published in 1919.[11]

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, on signing the treaty, the German army's position changed from fighting 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 German command all knew this was Germany's final make-or-break chance to defeat the Entente and win the war, and thus Ludendorff was willing to reorganise his army and train his large numbers of the more experienced of his forces 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 prominently; stormtroopers to break the trench deadlock. After a dress rehearsal of the stormtrooper tactics in assisting the also reinforced Austro-Hungarians 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.[12] This 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 material, or for the length of the front now needing defense. As the German war effort collapsed, Ludendorff's tenure of war-time leadership 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 French counter-offensive at the Second Battle of the Marne and an enormous British counter-offensive at the Battle of Amiens (1918). The Amiens counter-attack had been so successful and shocking 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 "black day of the German Army".[13] 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.[14]

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 during early October. Unable to achieve a peace on the terms he desired, Ludendorff had handed over power to the new civilian government, but he then blamed them for what he felt was a humiliating armistice that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was proposing. He then decided in mid-October that the army should hold out until winter set in 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 von 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 where he tendered his resignation.

On the day of the armistice, 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.[15]

Reflections on the war, a look to the future[edit]

In exile, he 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.[16] Ludendorff was convinced that Germany had fought a defensive war and, in his opinion, Kaiser Wilhelm II had failed to organize a proper counter-propaganda campaign or provide efficient leadership.[16]

Ludendorff was also 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 saw the home front collapse before the front, 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[edit]

Ludendorff returned to Germany in February 1919.[17] The Weimar Republic planned to send him and several other noted German generals (von Mackensen, among others) to reform the National Revolutionary Army of China, but this was cancelled due to the limitations of the Treaty of Versailles and the image problems with 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 and won his support that helped to pioneer the Nazi Party.

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 1925 presidential election against former commander Paul von Hindenburg and 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 which Hindenburg also possessed.

Tipton notes that Ludendorff was a Social Darwinist who believed that war was the "foundation of human society," (p. 291) and that military dictatorship was the normal form of government in a society in which every resource must be mobilized.[18] 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; he detested not only Jews but also Christianity, which he regarded as a weakening force.[19]

Last years and death[edit]

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.[20]

In his later years, Ludendorff became a pacifist[21] and went into a relative seclusion with his second wife, Mathilde von Kemnitz (1877–1966), writing several books and leading the Tannenbergbund. He concluded that the world’s problems were the result of Christians (especially the Jesuits and Catholics), Jews, and Freemasons. Together with Mathilde, he 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.[22]

By the time Hitler came to power, however, Ludendorff was no longer sympathetic to him, the Nazis having distanced themselves from his increasingly eccentric conspiracy theories.[23] In January 1933, on the occasion of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor by President Hindenburg, Ludendorff told him, "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."[24] 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!"[25] Ludendorff died at his home in Tutzing 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, Bavaria.

Decorations and awards[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the Italian Wikipedia.


  1. ^ "Foreign News: Lord Kitchener". Time. 25 May 1925. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Saturday, 22 August 2009 Michael Duffy (2009-08-22). "Who's Who – Paul von Hindenburg". First World Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  3. ^ Saturday, 22 August 2009 Michael Duffy (2009-08-22). "Who's Who – Erich Ludendorff". First World Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  4. ^ Andreas Dorpalen. "Paul von Hindenburg (German president) : Introduction – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  5. ^ "Erich Ludendorff (German general) : Introduction – Britannica Online Encyclopedia". 1937-12-20. Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  6. ^ a b c "Biografie Erich Ludendorff (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Armies of occupation page 128 Roy Arnold Prete, A. Hamish Ion – Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1984
  8. ^ Nazi Empire German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler, page 102, Shelley Baranowski, Cambridge University , Press 2010
  9. ^ The silent dictatorship: the politics of the German high command under Hindenburg and Ludendorff, 1916–1918. page 193, Martin Kitchen
  10. ^ A History of Modern Germany, Volume 3: 1840–1945 Hajo Holborn, page 488, 1982
  11. ^
  12. ^ Tipton, Frank B. A History of Modern Germany University of California Press, 2003, p. 313
  13. ^ Livesay 1919, pp. 20 and 95.
  14. ^ David Reynolds – BBC2 programme Armistice 3 November 2008
  15. ^ Weintraub, Stanley. "A Stillness Heard Round the World." Truman Talley Books, 1985, p. 398-399
  16. ^ a b Nebelin, Manfred: Ludendorff: Diktator im Ersten Weltkrieg, Munich: Siedler Verlag--Verlagsgruppe Random House, 2011
  17. ^ John W. Wheeler-Bennett (Spring 1938). "Ludendorff: The Soldier and the Politician". The Virginia Quarterly Review 14 (2): 187–202. 
  18. ^ Frank B. Tipton (2003). A History of Modern Germany. p. 291. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ "Ludendorff beschimpft Hindenburg". Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  21. ^ Ludendorff turned pacifist
  22. ^ "The God-cognition by Mathilde Ludendorff (1877–1966)". Bund für Gotterkenntnis Ludendorff e.V. Retrieved 20 November 2011. 
  23. ^ David Nicholls, Adolf Hitler: A Biographical Companion, ABC-CLIO, 1 Jan 2000, p.159.
  24. ^ Kershaw, Ian. Hitler. Longman, 1991, p. 426.
  25. ^ "World War I: Encyclopedia," p. 716 – by Spencer Tucker, Priscilla Mary Roberts – History – 2005


External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Woodrow Wilson
Cover of Time Magazine
19 November 1923
Succeeded by
Hugh S. Gibson