Erich Ludendorff was of Germany’s senior army commanders in World War One. Ludendorff found fame after German victories at Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes. Working with Paul von Hindenburg, he was responsible for destroying Russia’s army on the Eastern Front.
Erich Ludendorff on the right
Ludendorff was born on April 9th 1865 in Kruszewnia near Posen. He was trained at Ploen and Lichterfelde and was commissioned into the infantry in 1883. He gained a reputation as a hard working officer and was appointed to the General Staff. Ludendorff also developed a reputation for having hard-line militaristic views. He saw war as an acceptable way of diplomacy and as a way for a nation to assert its power. Ludendorff viewed peace as merely an interruption between wars. He also believed that it was the duty of a nation to be prepared for war and that all of a nation’s resources should be oriented towards war. During World War One, Ludendorff was a supporter of unrestricted submarine warfare as a justifiable weapon in defeating the enemy – despite the fact that it was almost certainly going to provoke a reaction from America.
At the start of the war in August 1914, Ludendorff appointed to the post of quartermaster general to von Bulow’s Second Army. Ludendorff had been responsible for fine-tuning the Schlieffen Plan and as a consequence of this, he was responsible for attacking a series of forts at Liege in Belgium and capturing them. Such a victory was fundamental to the early success of the Schlieffen Plan. With such a success to his credit, Ludendorff was appointed Chief of Staff to Paul von Hindenburg on the Eastern Front. The two formed a formidable partnership. Hindenburg got the public credit for the huge German victories at Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes, but Ludendorff played a critical role in the tactical and strategic planning.
In August 1916, Hindenburg was appointed Chief of Staff of the German Army. He appointed Ludendorff to be his quartermaster general. As a result of this appointment, Ludendorff replaced Falkenhayn who paid the price for the German failure to take Verdun.
After his appointment, Hindenburg created what was essentially a nation fully oriented to the military. All forms of industry were targeted to the military. This state of affairs became known as the Third Supreme Command. Ludendorff played a very influential role in this and the kaiser, Wilhelm II, was effectively pushed to one side. Ludendorff effectively became head of all things political, military and economic in the state when the senior political figure in the Third Supreme Command (Bethman Hollweg) resigned – though Hindenburg was very much his superior officer.
Ludendorff wanted Germany to remain an aggressive and militaristic nation. he persuaded Wilhelm II to dismiss anyone senior figure who talked of defeat or even of a negotiated peace settlement. Bethman Hollweg was one of the casualties of this. This aggressive stance of Ludendorff’s was seen when Russia pulled out of the war in 1917. The resulting peace settlement, signed at Brest-Litovsk – was exceptionally harsh on the Russians.
The German Spring push of 1918 on the Western Front, is sometimes known as the Ludendorff Offensive. It was Ludendorff’s great plan to launch a decisive blow against the Allies. When it failed, he realised that the war could not be won by Germany, especially as the military might of America was starting to make a major impact. With Hindenburg, Ludendorff transferred power back to the Reichstag in September 1918, and called for a peace settlement. However, Ludendorff changed his mind and called for the war to be pursued. By this time he had lost credibility and Ludendorff was forced to resign on October 26th 1918.
With the German Army defeated and the German people suffering the consequences of the Allied blockade and the flu epidemic that hit Europe, Ludendorff, as a known militarist, felt it prudent to leave Germany. He went to Sweden. Here he wrote numerous articles that stated that the German Army had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by left wing politicians – an idea carried forward and developed by Hitler.
Ludendorff returned to Germany in 1920 and got involved in right wing politics. He participated in the Kapp Putsch of March 1920 and in November 1923, he gave the Nazi Party the credibility it did not have at that time by joining the Munich Putsch. Here was a famed military commander joining a still relatively unknown political party and leader. The putsch was a failure but it propelled Hitler from being a political figure in just Bavaria to a nationwide figure who could count on a German ‘hero’ for support. In June 1924, Ludendorff was elected to the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party. He remained in the Reichstag until 1928. In 1925, Ludendorff stood against Hindenburg for the presidential election in Weimar Germany – but only polled 1% of the votes cast.
After 1928, Ludendorff went into retirement. Here, he concluded that the world’s problems were the result of Christians, Jews and Freemasons. In his later years, many believed Ludendorff to be little more than an eccentric. He rejected Hitler’s offer to make him a field marshall in 1935.
Ludendorff died on December 20th 1937 aged 72. Such was his stature within Germany that Hitler attended his funeral.