History / Warfare

The July Crisis: Erich Ludendorff, 1918

Notes on First World War Revisionism, Part 2

From his out-sized influence but relatively low name recognition, historians dubbed Ludendorff the ‘silent dictator…’

Martin Kitchen in his book entitled The Silent Dictatorship argued that after the military defeat of July 18th “an increasing number of officers in the OHL were convinced that the war could no longer be won.” 

…a man that wasn’t very silent (but vastly overconfident):

However, Ludendorff noted in his war memoirs that he believed the defeat on July 18 was only a temporary setback, “…regrettable, but far from irremediable.”

Despite this major defeat, Ludendorff expected that the German forces would resume the offensive after the troops had recuperated.  Ludendorff was overly optimistic about the situation and the ability to launch a new offensive operation.

The High Command remained optimistic until 8 August 1918.  On the morning of 8 August 1918 the Allied forces mounted a surprise attack on the German forces along a 20-mile front east of Amiens.  The Allies went straight for the German forces and skipped their artillery bombardment, which would have pre-warned the German forces that an attack was coming.

Spearheading the attack were 360 heavy tanks and 96 whippet tanks that were invisible behind the fog and Allied smokescreen.  The Allied forces were nearly successful at breaking through the German lines on 8 August 1918.  The attack marked a devastating defeat for the German Army.

This near-breakthrough led the High Command to accept that the German army was no longer capable of conducting offensive military operations and that the army would be limited to defensive measures and evasions.

Historian Michel Geyer in his article Insurrectionary Warfare: The German Debate about a Levee en Masse in October 1918 stated that this was an overly wishful assessment of the situation and it was clear that the war had been lost for Germany as of 8 August 1918.

Even Ludendorff could finally see that the light at the end of the tunnel was a train barrelling down upon him:

Ludendorff did not remain under the illusion that Germany would soon defeat the enemy for long.  He described 8 August 1918 as “The black day of the German army,” and stated “…success was easy for the enemy.”  General von Lossberg described the battle that occurred on 8 August 1918 as “The worst defeat that a [single] army had ever suffered in war.”

For Ludendorff, the dream of obtaining huge pieces of France, Belgium, and Poland at an eventual peace conference held by Germany was gone.  Ludendorff stated that “August 8 put the decline of fighting power beyond all doubt… I had no hope of finding a strategic expedient whereby to turn the situation to our advantage.”

Extracting territorial gains?  From neutral Belgium?  Well, this could be understood in one sense–OHL’s wartime headquarters were in Spa, Belgium.  Perhaps Ludendorff had become fond of Belgium and didn’t want to give up Spa and its healing mineral springs.  Though I am still partial to the theory that most German general officers were true believers when it came to Flamenpolitik…Ludendorff’s true aim was almost certainly forcing on the Western Entente another Treaty of Brest-Litovsk:

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty on March 3, 1918, between the new Bolshevik government of Russia (the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey), which ended Russia’s participation in World War I. The treaty was signed at Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, Belarus) after two months of negotiations. The treaty was forced on the Soviet government by the threat of further advances by German and Austrian forces. By the treaty, Soviet Russia defaulted on Imperial Russia’s commitments to the Triple Entente alliance.

Russia ceded Baltic States to Germany, recognized the independence of Ukraine, and agreed to pay six billion German gold mark in reparations. Historian Spencer Tucker says, “The German General Staff had formulated extraordinarily harsh terms that shocked even the German negotiator.”[2] Russian-Poland was not mentioned in the treaty, as Germans refused to recognize existence of any Polish representatives, which in turn led to Polish protests.[3] When Germany later complained that the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 was too harsh on them, the Allies (and historians favorable to the Allies) responded that it was more benign than Brest-Litovsk.[4] The effects of the treaty meant that Baltic states would become nothing more than vassal German princedoms, Poland and Finland satellite states, and Lebensraum would be pursued in the east[5]

It is hard to quantify which of Ludendorff’s blunders most contributed to the First World War German defeat, but Brest-Litovsk was very high on the list.  From Spa, Ludendorff clearly had little understanding how devastated the German home front had become…

These scenes of and disruptions continued in Germany throughout the rest of the war, and showed little sign of peacefully dying down like they had in 1916. In late 1917, and early 1918, it must have seemed to German leaders as if the country was on the brink of revolution, or that the red tide of Bolshevism would sweep westward and engulf the nation by storm just as it had in the previous year. As reports of another poor harvest spread in late 1917, the morale throughout Germany began to plummet even further. According to one account, during 1917-1918, Germans stopped worrying about the war, and only the lack of food filled their hearts and minds.64 Repeated reports from police agents warned that broad ranges of the population intended to follow the Spartacist calls to bring down the government, and enact a general peace that would relieve their suffering once and for all.65 Other reports feared that it was not just adults that might fall prey to revolutionary manipulation, but that the easily moldable German adolescents might also fall prey to leftist agitation as well. According to a summary compiled by the Centre for the Care of the Young, many juvenile prisoners felt as if they were ‘absolutely innocent,’ and this bitterness coupled with the lack of food due to the blockade would allow many to fall easy prey to the ‘Bolshevist agitator.’66

…and relieving the starvation of Germany’s civilians was not part of the negotiations with the Russians:

Russia renounced all territorial claims in Finland (which it had already acknowledged), the future Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Belarus, and Ukraine. (The territory of Congress Poland was not mentioned in the treaty.)

The treaty stated that “Germany and Austria-Hungary intend to determine the future fate of these territories in agreement with their populations.” Most of these territories were in effect ceded to Germany, which intended to have them become economic and political dependencies. The many ethnic German residents (volksdeutsch) would be the ruling elite. Two new monarchies were created: in Lithuania, and in Latvia and Estonia; German aristocrats were appointed as rulers.

This plan was detailed by German Field Marshal Erich Ludendorff, who wrote, “German prestige demands that we should hold a strong protecting hand, not only over German citizens, but over all Germans.”[14]

Continued German occupation of the ceded territories required a lot of manpower and transport, yet yielded little in the way of food or other war needs of Germany. Germany transferred hundreds of thousands of veteran troops to the Western Front for the 1918 Spring Offensive which badly shocked the Allies, but ultimately failed. Some Germans later blamed the occupation for significantly weakening the Spring Offensive.

Ludendorff apparently was unaware that his protecting hand held no food, and thus would be completely blindsided when he was bitten so badly in the autumn.  His failures as dictator were so vast he wasn’t aware that Eastern Front veterans, rather than bolstering the ranks in Belgium and France, would be a hindrance to their Western Front brethren:

By early 1918, many German soldiers had also reached a point of untenable discord as well. David Englander noted that up to ten percent of soldiers being transferred from the Eastern Front to the Western Front in early 1918 deserted while en route, and growing numbers of those who arrived to their prescribed destinations were significantly agitated, and resistant to their commanders.71 Simply put, nearly four years of devastating warfare, and rapid deterioration of army supplies and food rations due to the blockade had finally begun to take their toll on the German front line defenders. Thus, no longer could it be assumed by German leaders that the home front, nor the military, would continue to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the war. As the German army geared up for their last ditch offensive in the Spring, 1918, the home front and military teetered between starvation or revolution, leaving German leaders with two options, win the war within a few months, or sue for peace before the people did it for them.

Funny, Ludendorff did neither.

Ludendorff Washes His Hands 

OHL conducted two wartime conferences with the German civilian government at Spa, on 14 August and 29 September 1918.  The record indicates Hindenburg and Ludendorff went back and forth, on one day demanding peace overtures and the next pushing to zealously prosecute the war.  While strain might have been clouding the two OHL generals’ judgment, especially the 71-year-old Hindenburg, this event was telling:

On 13 August 1918, one day before the fateful Spa Conference, Ludendorff spoke confidentially to Foreign Secretary von Hintze.  In this conversation, Hintze reported that Ludendorff “…admitted… that although he had told me in July he had been certain of breaking the enemy’s fighting mettle and of compelling him to accept peace…he was no longer sure of it.”

When Hintze asked Ludendorff what the further conduct of the war should be, Ludendorff replied “a strategic defensive could weaken the enemy and gradually bring him to our terms.”  This statement by Ludendorff was very optimistic considering the severe military defeat that Germany had just suffered and the condition of its army.

These statements reveal some obvious contradictions.  Ludendorff believed that Germany was no longer capable of winning the war.  However, Ludendorff led the civilian authorities to believe that it was still possible to defeat the enemy.  This was just the beginning of the High Command’s deception.

To many military observers and historians decades on (now nearly a century later), ‘strategic defense’ must sound like an oxymoron.  But for four years on the Western Front, defenders had been in far more advantageous positions than attackers in every instance.  The initial German drive came to a crashing stop under Joseph Joffre’s mle1897 75mm cannons at the Marne in September 1914, and the last-ditch deployment of MP-18 toting infiltration experts (stormtroopers) couldn’t break through during Operation Michael three and a half years later.  Hindenburg and Ludendorff were true believers in German final victory:

Hindenburg used careful wording and informed the Kaiser that since the army could no longer defeat the Allied and American forces, it would cripple the enemy forces through a strategic defensive.  Hindenburg also told the Kaiser that the army could remain on French soil and would “…impose their will on the enemy.”

 The Kaiser decided to fight on.  It didn’t go well:

By early September, the enemy had recaptured all the territory that Germany had gained in the Spring Offensive.  Through September the military situation continued to deteriorate.  Germany was facing total defeat and it was doubtful that the army would be able to hold out for the eventual peace negotiations.

Over 20 divisions had been redeployed in order to reinforce other divisions and many battalions were at only fifty percent strength.  Asprey argued, “It was doubtful whether 750,000 troops remained at the front.”  While the number of German troops declined, the Allies had 120,000 fresh American troops arriving monthly.  The morale on the front was horrible and Germany was at the verge of collapse.

However, Ludendorff still refused to make any attempts at peace.  Perhaps Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim summed up Ludendorff best when he wrote in his diary that Ludendorff was “…still desperate enough to continue the fight, but lacks the courage to put it to an end.”

On the night of September 25-26, the High Command was informed that Germany’s ally, Bulgaria, wanted a separate peace.  With Bulgaria out of the war there was an exposed flank in the southeast and the Danube River would be blocked.  Combined with the prospect of Rumania re-entering the war, and the loss of the Rumanian oil fields proved too much for Ludendorff to handle.  After hearing of Bulgaria’s intention for a separate peace, Ludendorff stated to General Kuhl, “We can’t stand up to all that; we can’t fight the whole world.”

Historian Gerhard Ritter in his book The Sword and the Scepter: The Problem of Militarism in Germany argued “The suddenness of this disaster had an important bearing on Ludendorff’s decisions.”  Geyer argued that the breakdown of the Balkan front, “…more than anything else, was the straw that broke the camel’s back according to Ludendorff.”

Historians might disagree with Ritter and Ludendorff…

However, most historians believe that it was the situation in Western Europe that led to Ludendorff admitting defeat.  On the night of September 28th, Hindenburg and Ludendorff both finally agreed that an armistice should be sought immediately.  However, neither wanted to accept the blame for seeking an armistice.

…but the argument is pointless.  The situation on the Western Front was clearly untenable, but Ludendorff had also bogged down German forces with occupation duties due to Brest-Litovsk.  Reopening the Eastern Front had without a doubt stretched the Imperial German Army to the point where no forces could be redeployed.  Germany was out of reserves.  But Ludendorff’s reign of error was far from over.

Within hours of the formation of the new government, Ludendorff demanded that the new Chancellor, Prince Max, send the armistice offer immediately.  However, Prince Max believed it would be best to wait until the government was fully formed before rushing into any peace offer.

Prince Max also rightly believed that the enemy might be suspicious if an armistice offer was sent immediately after the formation of a new government in Germany.

However, Ludendorff proved to be persuasive.  Ludendorff called the office of Prince Max every hour on October 3rd warning the Chancellor that the fate of the German Army rested in Prince Max initiating negotiations with President Wilson.  Prince Max capitulated to Ludendorff’s demand on the night of 3 October 1918 and sent the armistice request to President Wilson through neutral Switzerland.

Historians have been puzzled as to why Ludendorff was suddenly desperate for peace.  The situation of the military was not significantly worse than when Ludendorff was expressing optimism about the military situation.  However, since July, the High Command had been looking for a scapegoat for seeking an armistice with the enemy.

Ludendorff and Hindenburg had carefully guided the newly formed civilian government into this position.  By transferring the High Command’s power to the parliamentary government and Reichstag, it appeared that the decision for an armistice had been the new civilian government’s intention.

But that still wasn’t good enough for Ludendorff.

If peace terms were not to Germany’s liking, the German Army would be in a better position than before and would be capable of reopening war.  This “…led to the suspicion among historians, but first articulated among the Allies, that the peace offer was a deceit from the start.”

Ludendorff and Hindenburg were not prepared to accept responsibility for many of the terms that President Wilson would ask of Germany.  When Ludendorff was asked about Wilson’s second peace note, he replied “the enemy should win such terms by fighting for them.”

Also, Ludendorff told the government that he believed that Germany was now capable of beating the enemy because he believed he could muster another 600,000 troops.  In reply to President Wilson’s second note, Hindenburg and Ludendorff released a general statement to the German troops stating the High Command took no responsibility for future negotiations with Wilson.

He became a proto-Hitler-in-the-Fuhrerbunker:

There are also numerous accounts that Ludendorff was suffering from illness in the last three quarters of 1918.  However, it is hard to tell whether Ludendorff was actually losing his mind or was just severely overworked and nervous about the military situation.

Regardless, through September and October 1918 an increasing number of officers lost faith in him.  While the plan to transfer blame to the civilian government for seeking an armistice may have been successful, Ludendorff would not emerge from the war with the prestige that he desperately sought.  After countless confrontations with the new civilian government, Ludendorff was relieved of his position on the night of 26 October 1918.

Following the war, Ludendorff wrote several books that argued that the civilian government and the German population were responsible for the defeat of Germany.  Ludendorff would blame everyone from soldiers, to socialists, to the civilian government for Germany’s defeat.

So, did firing Ludendorff finally permit the armistice of 11 November?

This telegraphed “fight to the finish” order was withdrawn after an army commander protested—its message was largely impossible for the demoralized and broken German army to carry out. It was leaked to the newspapers, however, and published on October 25 to the great outrage of the German government. Von Baden went to Kaiser Wilhelm to demand Ludendorff’s resignation; for his part, Ludendorff traveled to Berlin to convince the kaiser to reject the latest note from President Wilson. He blamed defeat on the battlefield to discontent on the home front, stating that if the German people would support their troops, “the war can be maintained for some months.” Although backed by Hindenburg and the chief of the German navy, Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, Ludendorff had angered the kaiser, and was forced to tender his resignation. Hindenburg tried to resign as well, but was refused by Wilhelm, and he remained as a mere figurehead for a great German war-making machine that had lost its driving force. Less than two weeks later, the kaiser himself abdicated, and World War I was over.

Very fascinating…yet very wrong.  If there had been any semblance of order when Germany finally stopped fighting in 1918, perhaps a far bloodier squeal could have been averted.


Wilhelm II did not abdicate on or before 9 November 1918 (the day Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the end of the German Empire and the birth of the Republic):

Letter from Kaiser Wilhelm II to Crown Prince Wilhelm, 9 November 1918

My Dear Boy:

After the Court Chamberlain had informed me that he could no longer guarantee my safety at Main Headquarters, and that the troops also were no longer trustworthy, I resolved after a severe mental struggle to leave the army, which has collapsed, and go to Holland.

I advise you to stick to your post until the conclusion of the armistice.

In Berlin two Governments, under the leadership of Ebert and Liebknecht, are fighting against each other.

I hope to see you again in happier times.

Your faithful and deeply affected father,

Wilhelm’s letter speaks of Berlin descending into chaos, with civil war brewing.  Rather than risk capture, torture and/or death in the transit from Spa, Belgium back to the Imperial capital, Wilhelm fled north and abdicated from Amerongen, Netherlands on 28 November 1918.  What on Earth happened in the two weeks following Ludendorff’s dismissal?

Mutiny–triggered by the order of 24 October 1918:

One of Wilson’s preconditions was the cessation of Germany’s submarine war. Despite the objections of Admiral Scheer, the Chief of the German Admiralty Staff, the German Government made this concession on 20 October. The U-boats at sea were recalled on 21 October.[1] In response, on 22 October Scheer ordered Admiral Hipper, commander of the High Seas Fleet, to prepare for an attack on the British fleet, utilizing the main battle fleet, reinforced by the newly available U-boats. Hipper’s order was promulgated on 24 October; Scheer approved it on 27 October.[2] The Fleet then began to concentrate at Schillig Roads off Wilhelmshaven to prepare for the battle.

This order didn’t go over well:

The sailors themselves, however, believing the attack to be a suicide mission, would have none of it. Though the order was given five times, each time they resisted. In total, 1,000 mutineers were arrested, leaving the Imperial Fleet immobilized. By October 30, the resistance had engulfed the German naval base at Kiel, where sailors and industrial workers alike took part in the rebellion; within a week, it had spread across the country, with revolts in Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck on November 4 and 5 and in Munich two days later.

Oops.  I’ve already written my peace/piece about the boneheaded German admirals that took down the Empire, but were Scheer’s actions treasonous?

Scheer was however aware that plans for a large-scale naval attack at such a late stage of the war would almost certainly be vetoed by the government of Prince Max von Baden.  He therefore chose not to inform von Baden of his plans.

At the very least they were stunningly insubordinate…except for the coincidence on land:

Wilson’s answer is a demand for unconditional surrender.  It is thus unacceptable to for us soldiers.

Tell it to Belgium, Luxembourg and Russia, or France in 1871, you arrogant pricks.

When our enemies know that no sacrifices will achieve the rupture of the German front, then they will be ready for a peace which will make the future of our country safe for the broad masses of our people.

At the front, October 24 [1918], 10 P.M.

 [Signed] Von Hindenburg

Same old OHL delusion, but the date is the same as Scheer’s naval order.  Ludendorff tries to explain away this document that led to his ouster, but this increasingly looks like a coordinated attempt by both the Army and Navy to undermine Max Baden.  Funny, OHL already was aware of the risks:

Between 11 and 12 o’clock on 29 September 1918, another meeting occurred between Ludendorff, Hindenburg, Hintze, and the Kaiser.  Hintze warned that due to the situation the High Command was in, a ‘revolution from below’ might occur.  Hintze was aware that if Germany sought an armistice it could possibly prompt a revolution given that the German people had been promised victory by Ludendorff just months ago.

The collapse of the military could have also meant a collapse of the bourgeoisie way of life in Germany, prompting revolution.  Ralph Lutz in his book, German Revolutions 1918-1919 argued “The failure of the German Army leaders to gain the promised victory would bring about a military revolution that was clear to all.”

Hintze warned that a ‘revolution from below’ (the people) could be stopped by a ‘revolution from above’ (governmental change), by organizing the government on a broader basis.  Also, with a reform in the civil government, it would convince the Entente and President Wilson that Germany was in transition to a more democratic state.  Ludendorff, Hindenburg, and the Kaiser agreed that a new government had to be formed in order to begin negotiations with the enemy and to prevent a revolution in Germany.

The revolution OHL was desperate to avoid came with a vengeance from Kiel.  Ludendorff had no clue how pissed off the German surface fleet sailors had become:

By 1918 many of the sailors and dockyard workers in the North German ports had been won over to the support of the Independent Socialist Party – the USPD a more radical breakaway from the mainstream socialist whose leaders had largely supported the war. And it was in this context that when von Hipper issued his suicidal order on 24th October for the fleet to move to the channel, sailors in Wilhelmshaven refused to obey.

Using small torpedo gunboats with loyal crews, a mutiny was prevented and 47 ringleaders were imprisoned. In response in the nearby port of Kiel the sailors met in the local trade union offices and voted their support for the USPD’s demands of ‘Frieden und Brot’ or “Peace and Bread’ – an echo of the Bolsheviks rallying call, and the release of their imprisoned comrades. Under the leadership of two USPD members amongst their ranks, Karl Artelt and Lothar Popp, they made an unsuccessful march on the prison – shots were fired and the mutineers turned back with 36 casualties.

However by the next day there were 40,000 sailors and marines on the streets of Kiel and Wilhelmshaven – and the mutineers were in control of the city. Again echoing the Russian revolution, Soviet-style councils of soldiers, sailors and workers were formed and constituted a de-facto power in the city, and soon afterwards throughout Germany. By 7th November a workers’ council controlled Munich, a Bavarian Socialist Republic was declared and King Ludwig forced to flee.

For this reason, the Crown might have considered Ludendorff a traitor.  He was forced into Swedish exile until 1920.  But that was par for the course in late 1918.  Prince Max Baden jumped on the treason train on 9 August, unilaterally announcing the Kaiser’s abdication (without Wilhelm’s consent) and turning the chancellorship over to SPD leader Friedrich Ebert before refusing Ebert’s request that Baden ascend to the throne.

Somehow the armistice was put into place a mere two days later, “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” (11/11/1918 at 11:00 A.M.)  That day was particularly bloody–10,944 casualties of which 2,738 were KIA.  Its terms were decidedly unfavorable towards the Germans:

I. Military Clauses on Western Front

One – Cessation of operations by land and in the air six hours after the signature of the armistice.

Two – Immediate evacuation of invaded countries: Belgium, France, Alsace-Lorraine, Luxemburg, so ordered as to be completed within fourteen days from the signature of the armistice.  German troops which have not left the above-mentioned territories within the period fixed will become prisoners of war.  Occupation by the allied and United States forces jointly will keep pace with evacuation in these areas.  All movements of evacuation and occupation will be regulated in accordance with a note annexed to the stated terms.

Three – Reparation beginning at once to be completed within fifteen days of all the inhabitants of the countries above enumerated (including hostages, persons under trial or convicted).

Four – Surrender in good condition by the German armies of the following war material: Five thousand guns (2,500 heavy, and 2,500 field), 25,000 machine guns, 3,000 minenwerfer, 1,700 airplanes (fighters, bombers – firstly, all of the D 7’S and all the night bombing machines).  The above to be delivered in situ to the allied and United States troops in accordance with the detailed conditions laid down in the note (annexure No. 1) drawn up at the moment of the signing of the armistice.

Five – Evacuation by the German armies of the countries on the left bank of the Rhine.  The countries on the left bank of the Rhine shall be administered by the local troops of occupation.  The occupation of these territories will be carried out by allied and United States garrisons holding the principal crossings of the Rhine (Mayence, Coblenz, Cologne), together with the bridgeheads at these points of a thirty-kilometre radius on the right bank and by garrisons similarly holding the strategic points of the regions.  A neutral zone shall be reserved on the right bank of the Rhine between the stream and a line drawn parallel to the bridgeheads and to the stream and at a distance of ten kilometres, from the frontier of Holland up to the frontier of Switzerland.  The evacuation by the enemy of the Rhine-lands (left and right bank) shall be so ordered as to be completed within a further period of sixteen days, in all, thirty-one days after the signing of the armistice.  All the movements of evacuation or occupation are regulated by the note (annexure No. 1) drawn up at the moment of the signing of the armistice.

Six – In all territories evacuated by the enemy there shall be no evacuation of inhabitants; no damage or harm shall be done to the persons or property of the inhabitants.  No person shall be prosecuted for offences of participation in war measures prior to the signing of the armistice.  No destruction of any kind shall be committed.  Military establishments of all kinds shall be delivered intact, as well as military stores of food, munitions, and equipment, not removed during the time fixed for evacuation.  Stores of food of all kinds for the civil population, cattle, etc., shall be left in situ.  Industrial establishments shall not be impaired in any way and their personnel shall not be removed.

Seven – Roads and means of communication of every kind, railroads, waterways, main roads, bridges, telegraphs, telephones, shall be in no manner impaired.  All civil and military personnel at present employed on them shall remain.  Five thousand locomotives and 150,000 wagons in good working order, with all necessary spare parts and fittings, shall be delivered to the associated powers within the period fixed in annexure No. 2, and total of which shall not exceed thirty-one days.  There shall likewise be delivered 5,000 motor lorries (camion automobiles) in good order, within the period of thirty-six days.  The railways of Alsace-Lorraine shall be handed over within the period of thirty-one days, together with pre-war personnel and material.  Further, the material necessary for the working of railways in the countries on the left bank of the Rhine shall be left in situ.  All stores of coal and material for the upkeep of permanent ways, signals, and repair shops shall be left in situ.  These stores shall be maintained by Germany in so far as concerns the working of the railroads in the countries on the left bank of the Rhine.  All barges taken from the Allies shall be restored to them.  The note, annexure No. 2, regulates the details of these measures.

Eight – The German command shall be responsible for revealing within the period of forty-eight hours after the signing of the armistice all mines or delayed action fuses on territory evacuated by the German troops and shall assist in their discovery and destruction.  It also shall reveal all destructive measures that may have been taken (such as poisoning or polluting of springs and wells, etc.).  All under penalty of reprisals.

Nine – The right of requisition shall be exercised by the allied and United States armies in all occupied territories, subject to regulation of accounts with those whom it may concern.  The upkeep of the troops of occupation in the Rhineland (excluding Alsace-Lorraine) shall be charged to the German Government.

Ten – The immediate repatriation without reciprocity, according to detailed conditions which shall be fixed, of all allied and United States prisoners of war, including persons tinder trial or convicted.  The allied powers and the United States shall be able to dispose of them as they wish.  This condition annuls the previous conventions on the subject of the exchange of prisoners of war, including the one of July, 1918, in course of ratification.  However, the repatriation of German prisoners of war interned in Holland and in Switzerland shall continue as before.  The repatriation of German prisoners of war shall be regulated at the conclusion of the preliminaries of peace.

Eleven – Sick and wounded who cannot be removed from evacuated territory will be cared for by German personnel, who will be left on the spot with the medical material required.

II. Disposition Relative to the Eastern Frontiers of Germany

Twelve – All German troops at present in the territories which before belonged to Austria-Hungary, Rumania, Turkey, shall withdraw immediately within the frontiers of Germany as they existed on August First, Nineteen Fourteen.  All German troops at present in the territories which before the war belonged to Russia shall likewise withdraw within the frontiers of Germany, defined as above, as soon as the Allies, taking into account the internal situation of these territories, shall decide that the time for this has come.

Thirteen – Evacuation by German troops to begin at once, and all German instructors, prisoners, and civilians as well as military agents now on the territory of Russia (as defined before 1914) to be recalled.

Fourteen – German troops to cease at once all requisitions and seizures and any other undertaking with a view to obtaining supplies intended for Germany in Rumania and Russia (as defined on August 1, 1914).

Fifteen – Renunciation of the treaties of Bucharest and Brest-Litovsk and of the supplementary treaties.

Sixteen – The Allies shall have free access to the territories evacuated by the Germans on their eastern frontier, either through Danzig, or by the Vistula, in order to convey supplies to the populations of those territories and for the purpose of maintaining order.

III. Clause Concerning East Africa

Seventeen – Evacuation by all German forces operating in East Africa within a period to be fixed by the Allies.

IV. General Clauses

Eighteen – Repatriation, without reciprocity, within a maximum period of one month in accordance with detailed conditions hereafter to be fixed of all interned civilians, including hostages under trial or convicted, belonging to the Allied or associated powers other than those enumerated in Article Three.

Nineteen – The following financial conditions are required: Reparation for damage done.  While such armistice lasts no public securities shall be removed by the enemy which can serve as a pledge to the Allies for the recovery or reparation for war losses.  Immediate restitution of the cash deposit in the national bank of Belgium, and in general immediate return of all documents, specie, stocks, shares, paper money, together with plant for the issue thereof, touching public or private interests in the invaded countries.  Restitution of the Russian and Rumanian gold yielded to Germany or taken by that power.  This gold to be delivered in trust to the Allies until the signature of peace.

V. Naval Conditions

Twenty – Immediate cessation of all hostilities at sea and definite information to be given as to the location and movements of all German ships.  Notification to be given to neutrals that freedom of navigation in all territorial waters is given to the naval and mercantile marines of the allied and associated powers, all questions of neutrality being waived.

Twenty-one – All naval and mercantile marine prisoners of the allied and associated powers in German hands to be returned without reciprocity.

Twenty-two – Surrender to the Allies and United States of all submarines (including submarine cruisers and all mine-laying submarines) now existing, with their complete armament and equipment, in ports which shall be specified by the Allies and United States.  Those which cannot take the sea shall be disarmed of the personnel and material and shall remain under the supervision of the Allies and the United States.  The submarines which are ready for the sea shall be prepared to leave the German ports as soon as orders shall be received by wireless for their voyage to the port designated for their delivery, and the remainder at the earliest possible moment.  The conditions of this article shall be carried into effect within the period of fourteen days after the signing of the armistice.

Twenty-three – German surface warships which shall be designated by the Allies and the United States shall be immediately disarmed and thereafter interned in neutral ports or in default of them in allied ports to be designated by the Allies and the United States.  They will there remain under the supervision of the Allies and of the United States, only caretakers being left on board.  The following warships are designated by the Allies: Six battle cruisers, ten battleships, eight light cruisers (including two mine layers), fifty destroyers of the most modern types.  All other surface warships (including river craft) are to be concentrated in German naval bases to be designated by the Allies and the United States and are to be completely disarmed and classed under the supervision of the Allies and the United States.  The military armament of all ships of the auxiliary fleet shall be put on shore.  All vessels designated to be interned shall be ready to leave the German ports seven days after the signing of the armistice.  Directions for the voyage will be given by wireless.

Twenty-four – The Allies and the United States of America shall have the right to sweep up all mine fields and obstructions laid by Germany outside German territorial waters, and the positions of these are to be indicated.

Twenty-five – Freedom of access to and from the Baltic to be given to the naval and mercantile marines of the allied and associated powers.  To secure this the Allies and the United States of America shall be empowered to occupy all German forts, fortifications, batteries, and defence works of all kinds in all the entrances from the Cattegat into the Baltic, and to sweep up all mines and obstructions within and without German territorial waters, without any question of neutrality being raised, and the positions of all such mines and obstructions are to be indicated.

Twenty-six – The existing blockade conditions set up by the allied and associated powers are to remain unchanged, and all German merchant ships found at sea are to remain liable to capture.  The Allies and the United States should give consideration to the provisioning of Germany during the armistice to the extent recognized as necessary.

Twenty-seven – All naval aircraft are to be concentrated and immobilized in German bases to be specified by the Allies and the United States of America.

Twenty-eight – In evacuating the Belgian coast and ports Germany shall abandon in situ and in fact all port and river navigation material, all merchant ships, tugs, lighters, all naval aeronautic apparatus, material and supplies, and all arms, apparatus, and supplies of every kind.

Twenty-nine – All Black Sea ports are to be evacuated by Germany; all Russian war vessels of all descriptions seized by Germany in the Black Sea are to be handed over to the Allies and the United States of America; all neutral merchant vessels seized are to be released; all warlike and other materials of all kinds seized in those ports are to be returned and German materials as specified in Clause Twenty-eight are to be abandoned.

Thirty – All merchant vessels in German hands belonging to the allied and associated powers are to be restored in ports to be specified by the Allies and the United States of America without reciprocity.

Thirty-one – No destruction of ships or of materials to be permitted before evacuation, surrender, or restoration.

Thirty-two – The German Government will notify the neutral Governments of the world, and particularly the Governments of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland, that all restrictions placed on the trading of their vessels with the allied and associated countries, whether by the German Government or by private German interests, and whether in return for specific concessions, such as the export of shipbuilding materials, or not, are immediately cancelled.

Thirty-three – No transfers of German merchant shipping of any description to any neutral flag are to take place after signature of the armistice.

VI. Duration of Armistice

Thirty-four – The duration of the armistice is to be thirty days, with option to extend.  During this period if its clauses are not carried into execution the armistice may be denounced by one of the contracting parties, which must give warning forty-eight hours in advance.  It is understood that the execution of Articles 3 and 18 shall not warrant the denunciation of the armistice on the ground of insufficient execution within a period fixed, except in the case of bad faith in carrying them into execution.  In order to assure the execution of this convention under the best conditions, the principle of a permanent international armistice commission is admitted.  This commission will act under the authority of the allied military and naval Commanders in Chief.

VII. The Limit for Reply

Thirty-five – This armistice to be accepted or refused by Germany within seventy-two hours of notification.

This armistice has been signed the Eleventh of November, Nineteen Eighteen, at 5 o’clock French time.


Hindenburg and Ludendorff found the American armistice conditions tantamount to unconditional surrender and thus completely unacceptable, but apparently weren’t aware what the British and French had in mind.  Notice nothing is mentioned about lifting the blockade–Germany did not see the urgency in coming to the peace treaty that finally lifted the British weapon of deprivation in July 1919, despite hundreds of thousands dying of hunger.

That raises some uncomfortable questions–how did Germany become so dependent on imported foodstuffs, and why didn’t rationing work effectively?


One thought on “The July Crisis: Erich Ludendorff, 1918

  1. Pingback: Military History Analyzed, Part 3 | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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