Collapse of Germany


(from BBC)

On 29 September 1918 Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff* told Kaiser Wilhelm II that the war was lost and that negotiations for an armistice based on President Wilson's peace proposals should begin at once.

The German High Command (OHL) was now determined that the blame for a lost war should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the majority parties in the Reichstag rather than on the military and the imperial elite. On I October Ludendorff told a group of senior officers: 'We shall now see these gentlemen enter various ministries. They can make the peace that has to be made. They can now eat the soup they have served up to us!'

For the time being the Kaiser remained on the throne, but power was now vested in the majority parties in the Reichstag, the largest of which was the Social Democratic Party (SPD), as part of the 'revolution from above' masterminded by Admiral Paul von Hintze, a devious, blasé and ambitious opportunist who had been appointed secretary of state for foreign affairs in July.

The 'stab in the back' legend that was to play such a critical role in the eventual downfall of the Weimar Republic (in January 1933) was thus carefully constructed in the late summer of 1918 - the leaders of the SPD party were set up to take the blame for Germany's defeat, while those who had pursued the war were soon portrayed as having been 'betrayed' by all around them.

Germany was rapidly falling apart in the last few weeks of the war. By October many soldiers had had enough, and there were mass desertions. The navy mutinied in November, when orders were issued for the High Sea's Fleet to launch a massive attack on the Royal Navy in an attempt to sabotage the armistice negotiations.

On 7 November a motley crew of socialists and anarchists under Kurt Eisner seized power in Munich. The King abdicated in Bavaria, and a republican 'Free State of Bavaria' was proclaimed. On the following day, revolutionary sailors and workers took over control in Brunswick. By 8 November Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Halle, Osnabrück and Cologne were in the hands of Workers' and Soldiers' Councils. The mayor of Cologne, Konrad Adenauer, calmly announced that he fully accepted the new circumstances.

Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and the armistice was signed on 9 November to go into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Germany was now a republic in the joint hands of the theoretically Marxist Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the theoretically monarchist army.

Hindenburg (Supreme Commander of the German Army) and Ludendorff (Chief of Staff) ran the German military, and from 1916, the German domestic policy as well - a clear example of Total War.

Ludendorff and Hindenburg decide to surrender, 28 September 1918


I had slowly come to this fateful conclusion, and now felt bound and eager to act upon it, whatever others might say, who were not so well informed as to the military situation as I was. In all the great decisions of this war, I have followed my own views with a full sense of my own responsibility.
At six o'clock on the afternoon of the 28th of September, I went down to the Field Marshal's room, which was one floor below mine. I explained to him my views as to a peace offer and a request for an armistice. The position could only grow worse, on account of the Balkan situation, even if we held our ground in the West. Our one task now was to act definitely and firmly, without delay. The Field Marshal listened to me with emotion. He answered that he had intended to say the same to me in the evening, that he had considered the whole situation carefully, and thought the step necessary. We were also at one in the view that the armistice conditions would have to permit a regular and orderly evacuation of the occupied territory.
The Field Marshal and I parted with a firm handshake, like men who have buried their dearest hopes, and who are resolved to hold together in the hardest hours of human life as they have held together in success.

(E. Ludendorff, My War Memoirs 1914-1918, English translation, London, 1919, p. 721 in K.J. Mason (2007) Republic to Reich: A History of Germany 1918-1939 (Third Edition), McGraw Hill, Sydney, 2007, p. 7.)

As the reports came in from the battlefields, they were brought to Ludendorff in his room at the Hotel Britannique by grave-faced orderly officers. In every sector where the enemy had struck, the German front had given way. Each situation report was more despairing than the last, and there were no adequate reserves. The divisions held for this purpose behind the lines were exhausted, pitifully under strength, and far too few, for the great offensives of the spring and early summer had cost Germany more than a million casualties. By the afternoon of the 28t of September, Ludendorff's nerves could stand no more. Suddenly shaken with rage, he lurched to his feet and began to storm and curese against the Reichstag, the Kaiser, the navy and the home front. Those who were with him hastily shut the door and watched appalled while he worked himself up into a frenzy.
At six o'clock that evening, still white and trembling, he went slowly down the stairs to Hindenburg's room one floor below. The Field Marshal and his First Quartermaster-General looked at each other for a long moment without speaking, then Ludendorff haltingly began to outline resaons for demanding an immediate armistice. As Hindenburg listened, his faded old eyes filled with tears, but at the end he nodded in agreement. Then he stood up and took Ludendorff's right hand in both his own. They parted without further words, 'like men who have buried their dearest hopes.'

(D.J. Goodspeed, Ludendorff - Soldier, Dictator, Revolutionary, Rupert Hart-Davis, London, 1966, p. 211 in K.J. Mason (2007) Republic to Reich: A History of Germany 1918-1939 (Third Edition), McGraw Hill, Sydney, 2007, p. 7.)