Mathilde von Kemnitz
Pour le Mérite
Iron Cross First class
Imperial German Army
Years of service
General der Infanterie
World War I
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937)
was a German general, the victor of the
Battle of Liège
Battle of Liège and the
Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916, his appointment as
Quartermaster general (German: Erster Generalquartiermeister) made him
the leader (along with Paul von Hindenburg) of the German war efforts
during World War I. The failure of Germany's great
Spring Offensive in
1918 in quest of total victory was his great strategic failure and he
was forced out in October 1918.
After the war, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist leader, and a
promoter of the Stab-in-the-back myth, which posited that the German
World War I
World War I was caused by the betrayal of the German Army by
Marxists, Bolsheviks, and
Jews who were furthermore responsible for
the disadvantageous settlement negotiated for Germany in the Treaty of
Versailles. He took part in the failed
Kapp Putsch (coup d’état)
Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the
Beer Hall Putsch
Beer Hall Putsch of
Adolf Hitler in
1923, and in 1925, he ran unsuccessfully for the office of President
of Germany against his former superior Hindenburg.
From 1924 to 1928, he represented the German Völkisch Freedom Party
in the Reichstag (legislature). 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 this work, he argued that the entire physical
and moral forces of the nation should be mobilized, because peace was
merely an interval between wars. Ludendorff was a recipient of the
Grand Cross of the
Iron Cross and the Pour le Mérite.
1 Early life
2 Pre-war military career
4 Command in the East
5 Military duumvirate with Hindenburg
6 The Home Front
7 In government
Peace Offensive" in the West
10 After the Great War
11 Political career in the Republic
12 Retirement and death
13 In popular culture
14 Decorations and awards
15.1 Books (selection)
15.2 Smaller publications
17 Further reading
17.1 Primary sources
18 German studies
19 External links
Ludendorff was born on 9 April 1865 in
Kruszewnia near Posen, Province
Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia (now
Poznań County, Poland), the third
of six children of August Wilhelm Ludendorff (1833–1905). His father
was descended from Pomeranian merchants who had achieved the
prestigious status of Junker.
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 the side of her father Stephan von Dziembowski
(1779–1859). Through Dziembowski's wife Johanna Wilhelmine von Unruh
(1793–1862), Erich was a remote descendant of the Counts of
Dönhoff, the Dukes of
Duchy of Liegnitz
Duchy of Liegnitz and
Duchy of Brieg
Duchy of Brieg and the
Marquesses and Electors of Brandenburg.
He had a stable and comfortable childhood, growing up on their small
family farm. Erich received his early schooling from his maternal aunt
and had a gift for mathematics, as did his younger brother Hans who
became a distinguished astronomer. He passed the entrance exam for the
Cadet School at
Plön with distinction, he was put in a class two
years ahead of his age group, and thereafter he was consistently first
in his class. (The famous
World War II
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
Groß-Lichterfelde near Berlin through 1882.
At age 45 "the 'old sinner', as he liked to hear himself called"
married the daughter of a wealthy factory owner, Margarethe Schmidt
(1875–1936). They met in a rainstorm when he offered his umbrella.
She divorced to marry him, bringing three stepsons and a
stepdaughter. Their marriage pleased both families and he was
devoted to his stepchildren.
Pre-war military career
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 to 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 reveal the
highest praise, with frequent commendations. In 1893, he entered the
War Academy, where the commandant, General Meckel, recommended him to
the General Staff, to which he was appointed in 1894. He rose rapidly
and was a senior staff officer at the headquarters of V Corps from
1902 to 1904.
Next he joined the Great General Staff in Berlin, which was commanded
by Alfred von Schlieffen, Ludendorff directed the Second or
Mobilization Section from 1904–13. Soon he was joined by Max Bauer,
a brilliant artillery officer, who became a close friend. By 1911,
Ludendorff was a full colonel. His section was responsible for writing
the mass of detailed orders needed to bring the mobilized troops into
position to implement the Schlieffen Plan. For this they covertly
surveyed frontier fortifications in Russia, France and Belgium. For
instance, in 1911 Ludendorff visited the key Belgian fortress city of
Deputies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which became the
largest party in the Reichstag after the German federal elections of
1912, seldom gave priority to army expenditures, whether to build up
its reserves or to fund advanced weaponry such as Krupp's siege
cannons. Instead, they preferred to concentrate military spending on
the Imperial German Navy. Ludendorff's calculations showed that to
properly implement the
Schlieffen Plan the Army lacked six corps.
Members of the General Staff were instructed to keep out of politics
and the public eye, but Ludendorff shrugged off such restrictions.
With a retired general, August Keim, and the head of the Pan-German
League, Heinrich Class, he vigorously lobbied the Reichstag for the
additional men. In 1913 funding was approved for four additional
corps but Ludendorff was transferred to regimental duties as commander
of the 39th (Lower Rhine) Fusiliers, stationed at Düsseldorf. "I
attributed the change partly for my having pressed for those three
additional army corps."
Barbara Tuchman characterizes 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 but who was deliberately friendless and
forbidding and therefore remained little known or liked. It is true
that as his wife testified, "Anyone who knows Ludendorff knows that he
has not a spark of humor…“. He was voluble nonetheless,
although he shunned small talk. John Lee, states that while
Ludendorff was with his Fusiliers, "he became the perfect regimental
commander ... the younger officers came to adore him." His adjutant,
Wilhelm Breucker, became a devoted lifelong friend.
At the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914 Ludendorff was appointed
Deputy Chief of Staff to the German Second Army under General Karl von
Bülow. His assignment was largely due to his previous work
investigating defenses of Liège, Belgium. At the beginning of the
Battle of Liège, Ludendorff was an observer with the 14th Brigade,
which was to infiltrate the city at night and secure the bridges
before they could be destroyed. The brigade commander was killed on 5
August, so Ludendorff led the successful assault to occupy the city
and its citadel. In the following days, two of the forts guarding the
city were taken by desperate frontal infantry attacks, while the
remaining forts were smashed by huge
Krupp 42-cm and Austro-Hungarian
Skoda 30-cm howitzers. By 16 August, all the forts around
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.
Command in the East
German mobilization earmarked a single army, the Eighth, to defend
their eastern frontier. Two Russian armies invaded East Prussia
earlier than expected, the Eighth Army commanders panicked and were
fired by OHL, Oberste Heeresleitung, German Supreme Headquarters. OHL
assigned Ludendorff as the new chief of staff, while the War Cabinet
chose a retired general, Paul von Hindenburg, as commander. They first
met on their private train heading east. They agreed that they must
annihilate the nearest Russian army before they tackled the second. On
arrival, they discovered that General
Max Hoffmann had already shifted
much of the 8th Army by rail to the south to do just that, in an
amazing feat of logistical planning. Nine days later the Eighth Army
surrounded most of a Russian army at Tannenberg, taking 92,000
prisoners in one of the great victories in German history. Twice
during the battle Ludendorff wanted to break off, fearing that the
second Russian army was about to strike their rear, but Hindenburg
Then they turned on the second invading army in the Battle of the
Masurian Lakes; it fled with heavy losses to escape encirclement.
During the rest of 1914, commanding an Army Group, they staved off the
projected invasion of German
Silesia by dexterously moving their
outnumbered forces into Russian Poland, fighting the battle of the
Vistula River, which ended with a brilliantly executed withdrawal
during which they destroyed the Polish railway lines and bridges
needed for an invasion. When the Russians had repaired most of the
damage the Germans struck their flank in the battle of Łódź, where
they almost surrounded another Russian Army. Masters of surprise and
deft maneuver, they argued that if properly reinforced they could trap
the entire Russian army in Poland. During the winter of 1914–15 they
lobbied passionately for this strategy, but were rebuffed by OHL.
Early in 1915 they surprised the Russian army that still held a
toehold in East Prussia by attacking in a snowstorm and surrounding it
in the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes. OHL then transferred
Ludendorff, but Hindenburg’s personal plea to the Kaiser reunited
them. Erich von Falkenhayn, supreme commander at OHL, came east to
attack the flank of the Romanian army that was pushing through the
Carpathian passes towards Hungary. Employing overwhelming artillery,
the Germans and Austro-Hungarians broke through the line between
Gorlice and Tarnów and kept pushing until the Russians were driven
out of most of Galicia, the Austro-Hungarian southern part of
partitioned Poland. During this advance Falkenhayn rejected schemes to
try to cut off the Russians in Poland, preferring direct frontal
attacks. Outgunned, during the summer of 1915 the Russian commander
Duke Nicholas shortened his lines by withdrawing from most of
Poland, destroying railroads, bridges, and many buildings while
driving 743,000 Poles, 350,000 Jews, 300,000 Lithuanians and 250,000
Latvians into Russia.
Hindenburg (seated) and Ludendorff. Painting by Hugo Vogel
During the winter of 1915–16 Ludendorff's headquarters was in
Kaunas. They occupied present-day Lithuania, western Latvia, and north
eastern Poland, an area almost the size of France. Ludendorff demanded
Germanization of the conquered territories and far-ranging
annexations, offering land to German settlers; see Drang nach Osten.
Far reaching plans envisioned Courland and Lithuania turned into
border states ruled by German military governor commanders answerable
only to the German Emperor. He proposed massive annexations and
colonisation 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. Ludendorff planned to combine German settlement and
Germanisation in conquered areas with expulsions of native
populations; and envisioned an eastern German empire whose resources
would be used in future war with
Great Britain and United
States Ludendorff's plans went as far as making
German colony As to the various nations and ethnic groups in
conquered territories, Ludendorff believed they were "incapable of
producing real culture" 
On 16 March 1916 the Russians, now with adequate supplies of cannons
and shells, attacked parts of the new German defenses, intending to
penetrate at two points and then to pocket the defenders. They
attacked almost daily until the end of the month, but the Lake Naroch
Offensive failed, "choked in swamp and blood".
The Russians did better attacking the Austro-Hungarians in the south;
Brusilov Offensive cracked their lines with a well-prepared
surprise wide-front attack led by well-schooled assault troops. The
breakthrough was finally stemmed by Austro-Hungarian troops recalled
from Italy stiffened with German advisers and reserves. In July,
Russian attacks on the Germans in the north were beaten back. On 27
July 1916 Hindenburg was given command of all troops on the Eastern
Front from the Baltic to
Brody in the Ukraine. They visited their new
command on a special train, and then set up headquarters in
Brest-Litovsk. By August 1916 their front was holding everywhere.
Military duumvirate with Hindenburg
In the West in 1916 the Germans attacked unsuccessfully at Verdun and
soon were reeling under British and French blows along the Somme.
Ludendorff’s friends at OHL, led by Max Bauer, lobbied for him
relentlessly. The balance was tipped when Romania entered the war,
thrusting into Hungary. Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of the
General Staff by Field Marshal Hindenburg on 29 August 1916.
Ludendorff was his chief of staff as first Quartermaster general, with
the stipulation that he would have joint responsibility. He was
promoted to General of the Infantry. Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg
warned the War Cabinet: "You don't know Ludendorff, who is only great
at a time of success. If things go badly he loses his nerve."
Their first concern was the sizable Romanian Army, so troops sent from
the Western Front checked Romanian and Russian incursions into
Hungary. Then Romania was invaded from the south by German,
Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Ottoman troops commanded by August
von Mackensen and from the north by a German and Austro-Hungarian army
commanded by Falkenhayn. Bucharest fell in December 1916. According to
Mackensen, Ludendorff’s distant management consisted of "floods of
telegrams, as superfluous as they were offensive."
When sure that the Romanians would be defeated OHL moved west,
retaining the previous staff except for the operations officer, blamed
for Verdun. They toured the Western Front meeting —and evaluating—
commanders, learning about their problems and soliciting their
opinions. At each meeting Ludendorff did most of the commander’s
talking. There would be no further attacks at Verdun and the Somme
would be defended by revised tactics that exposed fewer men to British
shells. A new backup defensive line would be built, like the one they
had constructed in the east. The Allies called the new fortifications
the Hindenburg Line. The German goal was victory, which they defined
as a Germany with extended borders that could be more easily defended
in the next war.
Hindenburg was given titular command over all of the forces of the
Central Powers. Ludendorff’s hand was everywhere. Every day he was
on the telephone with the staffs of their armies and the Army was
deluged with "Ludendorff's paper barrage"  of orders, instructions
and demands for information. His finger extended into every aspect of
the German war effort. He issued the two daily communiques, and often
met with the newspaper and newsreel reporters. Before long the public
idolized him as their Army’s brain.
The Home Front
Ludendorff had a goal: “One thing was certain— the power must be
in my hands." As stipulated by the Constitution of the German
Empire the government was run by civil servants appointed by the
Kaiser. Confident that army officers were superior to civilians, OHL
volunteered to oversee the economy: procurement, raw materials, labor,
and food. Bauer, with his industrialist friends, knew exactly what
should be done, beginning by setting overambitious targets for
military production in what they called the Hindenburg Program.
Ludendorff enthusiastically participated in meetings on economic
policy— loudly, sometimes pummeling the table with his fists.
Implementation of the Program was assigned to General Groener, a staff
officer who had directed the Field Railway Service effectively. His
office was in the War Ministry, not in OHL as Ludendorff had wanted.
Therefore, he assigned staff officers to most of the government
ministries, so he knew what was going on and could press his demands.
War industry’s major problem was the scarcity of skilled workers,
therefore 125,000 men were released from the armed forces and trained
workers were no longer conscripted. OHL wanted to enroll most German
men and women into national service, but the Reichstag legislated that
only males 17–60 were subject to “patriotic service” and refused
to bind war workers to their jobs. Groener realized that they
needed the support of the workers, so he insisted that union
representatives be included on industrial dispute boards. He also
advocated an excess profits tax. The industrialists were incensed. On
16 August 1917 Ludendorff telegraphed an order reassigning Groener to
command the 33rd Infantry Division. Overall, "unable to control
labour and unwilling to control industry, the army failed
miserably" (actually the government did control industry with its
edicts and orders — and the result was disaster). To the public it
seemed that Ludendorff was running the nation as well as the war.
According to Ludendorff, "the authorities ... represented me as a
dictator". He would not become Chancellor because the demands for
running the war were too great. The historian Frank B. Tipton
argues that while not technically a dictator, Ludendorff was
"unquestionably the most powerful man in Germany" in 1917–18.
OHL did nothing to mitigate the food disaster: despite the blockade
everyone could have been fed adequately, but supplies were not managed
effectively or fairly. In Spring 1918 half of all the meat, eggs
and fruit consumed in Berlin were sold on the black market.
The navy advocated unrestricted submarine warfare, which would surely
United States into the war. The Kaiser asked his commanders
to listen to the warnings of his friend, the eminent chemist Walther
Nernst, who knew America well. Ludendorff promptly ended the meeting,
it was "incompetent nonsense with which a civilian was wasting his
time." Unrestricted submarine warfare began in February 1917, with
OHL’s strong support. This fatal mistake reflected poor military
judgment in uncritically accepting the Navy’s contention that there
were no countermeasures, like convoying, and confident that the
American armed forces were too feeble to fight effectively. Ultimately
Germany was at war with 27 nations.
In the spring of 1917 the Reichstag passed a resolution for peace
without annexations or indemnities. They would be content with the
successful defensive war undertaken in 1914. OHL was unable to defeat
the resolution or to have it substantially watered down. The
commanders despised Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg as weak, so they
forced his resignation by repeatedly threatening to resign themselves,
despite the Kaiser's admonition that this was not their business. He
was replaced by a minor functionary, Georg Michaelis, the food
minister, who announced that he would deal with the resolution as
“in his own fashion". Despite this put-down, the Reichstag voted
the financial credits needed for continuing the war.
Ludendorff insisted on the huge territorial losses forced on the
Russians in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, even though this required
that a million German soldiers remain in the east. During the peace
negotiations with the Romanians his representative kept demanding the
economic concessions coveted by the German industrialists. The
commanders kept blocking attempts to frame a plausible peace offer to
the western powers by insisting on borders expanded for future
defense. Ludendorff regarded the Germans as the "master race" and
after victory planned to settle ex-soldiers in the Baltic states and
in Alsace Lorraine, where they would take over property seized from
the French. One after another OHL toppled government ministers
they regarded as weak.
Peace Offensive" in the West
In contrast to OHL's questionable interventions in politics and
diplomacy, their armies continued to excel. The commanders would agree
on what was to be done and then Ludendorff and the OHL staff produced
the mass of orders specifying exactly what was to be accomplished. On
the western front they stopped packing defenders in the front line,
which reduced losses to enemy artillery. They issued a directive on
elastic defense, in which attackers who penetrated a lightly held
front line entered a battle zone in which they were punished by
artillery and counterattacks. It remained German Army doctrine through
World War II; schools taught the new tactics to all ranks. Its
effectiveness is illustrated by comparing the first half of 1916 in
which 77 German soldiers died or went missing for every 100 British to
the second half when 55 Germans were lost for every 100 British.
Hindenburg and Ludendorff (pointing), 1917
In February 1917, sure that the new French commander General Robert
Nivelle would attack and correctly foreseeing that he would try to
pinch off the German salient between
Arras and Noyon, they withdrew to
the segment of the
Hindenburg line across the base of the salient,
leaving the ground they gave up as a depopulated waste land, in
Operation Alberich. The Nivelle Offensive in April 1917 was blunted by
mobile defense in depth. Many French units mutinied, though OHL never
grasped the extent of the disarray. The British supported their allies
with a successful attack near Arras. Their major triumph was capturing
Vimy Ridge, using innovative tactics in which infantry platoons were
subdivided into specialist groups. The Ridge gave the British
artillery observers superb views of the German line but elastic
defense prevented further major gains. The British had another success
in June 1917 when a meticulously planned attack, beginning with the
detonation of mines containing more high explosive than ever fired
before, took the Messines Ridge in Flanders. This was a preface to the
British drive, beginning at the end of July 1917, toward the
Passchendaele Ridge, intended as a first step in retaking the Belgian
coast line. At first the defense was directed by General von Lossberg,
a pioneer in defense in depth, but when the British adjusted their
tactics Ludendorff took over day by day control. The British finally
took the Ridge, it was impossible to stop determined attacks that
inched forward for preset, limited gains, but the British paid a heavy
Ludendorff worried about declining morale, so in July 1917 OHL
established a propaganda unit. In October 1917 they began mandatory
patriotic lectures to the troops, who were assured that if the war was
lost they would "become slaves of international capital". The
lecturers were to "ensure that a fight is kept up against all
agitators, croakers and weaklings".
Following the overthrow of the Tsar, the new Russian government
Kerensky Offensive in July 1917 attacking the
Austro-Hungarian lines in Galicia. After minor successes the Russians
were driven back and many of their soldiers refused to fight. The
counterattack was halted only after the line was pushed 240 kilometres
(150 mi) eastwards. The Germans capped the year in the East by
capturing the strong Russian fortress of Riga in September 1917,
starting with a brief, overwhelming artillery barrage using many gas
shells then followed by infiltrating infantry. The
power and soon were at the peace table.
To bolster the wobbling Austro-Hungarian government, the Germans
provided some troops and led a joint attack in Italy in October. They
sliced through the Italian lines in the mountains at Caporetto. Two
hundred and fifty thousand Italians were captured and the rest of
Italian Army was forced to retreat to the Grappa-Piave defensive line.
On 20 November 1917 the British achieved a total surprise by attacking
at Cambrai. A short, intense bombardment preceded an attack by tanks
which led the infantry through the German wire. It was Ludendorff’s
52nd birthday, but he was too upset to attend the celebratory dinner.
The British were not organized to exploit their break-through, and
German reserves counterattacked, in some places driving the British
back beyond their starting lines. The local German commander had not
implemented defense in depth.
Hindenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Ludendorff in January 1917
At the beginning of 1918 almost a million munition workers struck; one
demand was peace without annexations. OHL ordered that "'all strikers
fit to bear arms' be sent to the front, thereby degrading military
With Russia out of the war, the Germans outnumbered the Allies on the
Western Front. After extensive consultations, OHL planned a series of
attacks to drive the British out of the war. During the winter all
ranks were schooled in the innovative tactics proven at Caporetto and
Riga. The first attack, Operation Michael, was on 21 March 1918 near
Cambrai. After an effective hurricane bombardment coordinated by
Colonel Bruchmüller, they slashed through the British lines,
surmounting the obstacles that had thwarted their enemies for three
years. On the first day they occupied as large an area as the Allies
had won on the Somme after 140 days. The Allies were aghast, but it
was not the triumph OHL had hoped for: they had planned another
Tannenberg by surrounding tens of thousands of British troops in the
Cambrai salient, but had been thwarted by stout defense and
fighting withdrawal. They lost as many men as the defenders; —the
first day was the bloodiest of the war. Among the dead was
Ludendorff’s oldest stepson, a younger had been killed earlier. They
were unable to cut any vital railway. When Ludendorff motored near the
front he was displeased by seeing how: "The numerous slightly wounded
made things difficult by the stupid and displeasing way in which they
hurried to the rear."  The Americans doubled the number of troops
being sent to France.
Their next attack was in Flanders. Again they broke through, advancing
30 km (19 mi), and forcing the British to give back all of
the ground that they had won the preceding year after weeks of battle.
But the Germans were stopped short of the rail junction that was their
goal. Next, to draw French reserves south, they struck along the
Chemin de Dames. In their most successful attack yet they advanced
12 km (7.5 mi) on the first day, crossing the Marne but
stopping 56 kilometres (35 mi) from Paris. But each triumph
weakened their army and its morale. From 20 March 1918 to 25 June the
German front lengthened from 390 kilometres (240 mi) to 510
kilometres (320 mi). Then they struck near Reims, to seize
additional railway lines for use in the salient, but were foiled by
brilliant French elastic tactics. Undeterred, on 18 July 1918
Ludendorff, still "aggressive and confident", traveled to Flanders
to confer about the next attack there. A telephone call reported that
the French and Americans led by a mass of tanks had smashed through
the right flank of their salient pointing toward Paris, on the opening
day of the Battle of Soissons. Everyone present realized that surely
they had lost the war. Ludendorff was shattered.
OHL began to withdraw step by step to new defensive lines, first
evacuating all of their wounded and supplies. Ludendorff’s
communiques, which hitherto had been largely factual, now distorted
the news, for instance claiming that American troops had to be herded
onto troop ships by special police.
On 8 August 1918 they were completely surprised at Amiens when British
tanks broke through the defenses and intact German formations
surrendered. To Ludendorff it was the "black day in the history of the
German Army". The German retreats continued, pressed by Allied
attacks. OHL still vigorously opposed offering to give up the
territory they desired in France and Belgium, so the German government
was unable to make a plausible peace proposal.
Ludendorff became increasingly cantankerous, slating his staff without
cause, publicly accusing the field marshal of talking nonsense, and
sometimes bursting into tears. Bauer wanted him replaced, but instead
Oberstabarzt Hochheimer was brought to OHL, he had worked closely with
Poland during the winter of 1915–16 on plans to bring
in German colonists, before the war he had a practice in nervous
diseases. The doctor "spoke as a friend and he listened as a
friend", convincing Ludendorff that he could not work effectively
with one hour of sleep a night and that he must relearn how to relax.
After a month away from headquarters his patient had recovered from
the severest symptoms of battle fatigue.
On 29 September 1918 Ludendorff and Hindenburg told an incredulous
Kaiser that they must have an immediate armistice. A new Chancellor,
Prince Maximilian of Baden, approached President
Woodrow Wilson but
his terms were stiff and the Army fought on. The chancellor told the
Kaiser that he and his cabinet would resign unless Ludendorff was
removed, but that Hindenburg must remain to hold the Army
together. The Kaiser called his commanders in, curtly accepting
Ludendorff’s resignation and then rejecting Hindenburg’s.
Ludendorff would not accompany the field marshal back to headquarters,
"I refused to ride with you because you have treated me so
Ludendorff had assiduously sought all of the credit, now he was
rewarded with all of the blame. Widely despised, and with revolution
breaking out, he was hidden by his brother and a network of friends
until he slipped out of Germany disguised in blue spectacles and a
false beard, settling in a Swedish admirer’s country home, until
the Swedish government asked him to leave in February 1919. In seven
months he wrote two volumes of detailed memoirs. Friends, led by
Breucker, provided him with documents and negotiated with publishers.
The memoirs testify to his capacity for work, his intellectual
brilliance, and the sweeping range of his involvement: "We regarded
ourselves as the leaders of the whole nation in arms". Groener
(who is not mentioned in the book) characterized it as a showcase of
his "caesar-mania". He was a brilliant general, according to
Wheeler-Bennett he was "certainly one of the greatest routine military
organizers that the world has ever seen", but he was a ruinous
political meddler. The influential military analyst Hans Delbrück
concluded that "The Empire was built by Moltke and Bismarck, destroyed
by Tirpitz and Ludendorff."
After the Great War
In exile, Ludendorff 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. Ludendorff was convinced that
Germany had fought a defensive war and, in his opinion, that Kaiser
Wilhelm II had failed to organize a proper counter-propaganda campaign
or provide efficient leadership.
Ludendorff was 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 — as he saw it — 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 the way that the home
front collapsed before the military front did, 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.
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 in the Republic
Ludendorff (centre) with Hitler and other prominent early Nazi leaders
Ludendorff returned to Berlin in February 1919. Staying at the
Adlon Hotel, he talked with another resident, Sir Neill Malcolm, the
head of the British Military Mission. After Ludendorff presented his
excuses for the German defeat Malcolm said "you mean that you were
stabbed in the back?", ironically coining a key catchphrase for
the German right-wing.
On 12 March 1920 5,000
Freikorps troops under the command of Walther
von Lüttwitz marched on the Chancellery, forcing the government led
Friedrich Ebert and
Gustav Bauer to flee the city. The putschists
proclaimed a new government with a right-wing politician, Wolfgang
Kapp as new "chancellor". Ludendorff and
Max Bauer were part of the
Kapp Putsch was soon defeated by a general strike that
brought Berlin to a standstill. The leaders fled, Ludendorff to
Bavaria, where a right-wing coup had succeeded. He published two
volumes of annotated —and in a few instances pruned — documents
and commentaries documenting his war service. He reconciled with
Hindenburg, who began to visit every year.
In May 1923 Ludendorff had an agreeable first meeting with Adolf
Hitler, and soon he had regular contacts with National Socialists. On
8 November 1923, the Bavarian Staatskomissar Gustav von Kahr was
addressing a jammed meeting in a large beer hall, the
Bürgerbräukeller. Hitler, waving a pistol, jumped onto the stage,
announcing that the national revolution was underway. The hall was
occupied by armed men who covered the audience with a machine gun, the
first move in the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler announced that he would
lead the Reich Government and Ludendorff would command the army. He
addressed the now enthusiastically supportive audience and then spent
the night in the War Ministry, unsuccessfully trying to obtain the
army’s backing. The next morning 3,000 armed Nazis formed outside of
the Bürgerbräukeller and marched into central Munich, the leaders
just behind the flag bearers. They were blocked by a cordon of police,
firing broke out for less than a minute. Most of the Nazi leaders were
hit or dropped to the ground. Ludendorff and his adjutant Major Streck
marched to the police line where they pushed aside the rifle barrels.
He was respectfully arrested. He was indignant when sent home while
the other leaders remained in custody. Four police officers and 16
Nazis had been killed, including Ludendorff’s servant.
They were tried in early 1924. Ludendorff was acquitted, but Heinz was
convicted of chauffeuring him, given a one-year suspended sentence and
fined 1,000 marks. Hitler went to prison but was released after nine
months. Ludendorff’s 60th birthday was celebrated by massed bands
and a large torchlight parade. In 1924, he was elected to the
Reichstag as a representative of the NSFB (a coalition of the German
Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP) and members of the Nazi Party), serving
until 1928. Gradually he began to part company with Hitler, but
nonetheless was persuaded to run for president in March 1925. He
received 1.1 per cent of the vote. No one had a majority, so a second
round was needed; Hindenburg entered and was narrowly elected.
Ludendorff was so humiliated that he broke off their friendship. In
1927 he refused to stand beside the field marshal at the dedication of
the Tannenberg memorial. He attacked Hindenburg abusively for not
having acted in a "nationalistic soldier-like fashion". The
Berlin-based liberal newspaper
Vossische Zeitung states in its article
"Ludendorff's hate tirades against Hindenburg — Poisonous gas from
Hitler's camp" that Ludendorff as of 29 March 1930, was deeply rooted
in Hitler’s Nazi ideology.
Tipton notes that Ludendorff was a social Darwinist who believed that
war was the "foundation of human society," and that military
dictatorship was the normal form of government in a society in which
every resource must be mobilized. 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 worshipper of
the Nordic god Wotan (Odin); he detested not only Judaism, but also
Christianity, which he regarded as a weakening force.
Retirement and death
Ludendorff divorced and married his second wife Mathilde von Kemnitz
(1877–1966) in 1926. They published books and essays to prove that
the world’s problems were the result of Christianity, especially the
Jesuits and Catholics, but also conspiracies by
Jews and the
Freemasons. They founded the Bund für Gotteserkenntnis (in German)
(Society for the Knowledge of God), a small and rather obscure
esoterical society of Theists that survives to this day. He
launched several abusive attacks on his former superior Hindenburg for
not having acted in a "nationalistic soldier-like fashion".
By the time Hitler came to power, Ludendorff was no longer sympathetic
to him. The Nazis distanced themselves from Ludendorff because of his
eccentric conspiracy theories.
On 30 January 1933, the occasion of Hitler’s appointment as
Chancellor by President Hindenburg, Ludendorff sent the following
telegram to Hindenburg:
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.
Other historians consider this text to be a forgery. In an attempt
to regain Ludendorff’s favor, Hitler arrived unannounced at
Ludendorff’s home on his 70th birthday in 1935 to promote him to
field marshal. Infuriated, Ludendorff allegedly rebuffed Hitler by
telling him: "An officer is named General Field-Marshal on the
battlefield! Not at a birthday tea-party in the midst of peace."
He wrote two further books on military themes, demonstrating that he
still could think coherently about war despite his warped
Erich Ludendorff died of liver cancer in the private clinic Josephinum
in Munich, on 20 December 1937 at the age of 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.
In popular culture
The Ludendorff Bridge, also known as the Bridge at Remagen, is named
The 1974 British television drama
Fall of Eagles
Fall of Eagles features actor
Michael Bates as Ludendorff.
A fictionalized version of Ludendorff, which bears little resemblance
in terms of appearance or biography, is portrayed by
Danny Huston in
the 2017 film Wonder Woman. In the film, which is set during the final
days of World War I, Ludendorff grows convinced that Germany can turn
the tide with a new "hydrogen-based form of mustard gas" developed by
his chief chemist Isabel Maru, which he intends to use in a massive
chemical attack against London.
Decorations and awards
Knight of the
Military Order of Max Joseph
Military Order of Max Joseph (Bavaria)
Grand Commander with Star of the House Order of Hohenzollern
Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite (Prussia)
Grand Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight of the
Military Order of St. Henry
Military Order of St. Henry (Saxony)
Knight of the Military Merit Order (Württemberg)
Knight Grand Cross of the House and Merit Order of Peter Frederick
Louis with Swords and laurel
Military Merit Cross, 2nd class (Mecklenburg-Schwerin)
Military Merit Cross, 1st class with war decoration (Austria-Hungary)
Gold Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis, Austria-Hungary)
Cross for Merit in War
Cross for Merit in War (Saxe-Meiningen)
World War I
World War I portal
Meine Kriegserinnerungen 1914–1918. Mittler & Sohn, Berlin 1919,
Mein militärischer Werdegang. Blätter der Erinnerung an unser
stolzes Heer. Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1933.
mit Mitarbeitern: Mathilde Ludendorff – ihr Werk und Wirken.
Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1937.
Auf dem Weg zur Feldherrnhalle. Lebenserinnerungen an die Zeit des 9.
November 1923. Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1937.
mit Mathilde Ludendorff: Die Judenmacht, ihr Wesen und Ende.
Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1939.
Wie der Weltkrieg 1914 „gemacht“ wurde. Völkischer Verlag,
Die Revolution von oben. Das Kriegsende und die Vorgänge beim
Waffenstillstand. Zwei Vorträge. Karl Rohm, Lorch 1926.
Das Marne-Drama. Der Fall Moltke-Hentsch. Ludendorffs Verlag, München
„Tannenberg“. Zum 20. Jahrestag der Schlacht. Ludendorffs Verlag,
Die politischen Hintergründe des 9. November 1923. Ludendorffs
Verlag, München 1934.
Über Unbotmäßigkeit im Kriege. Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1935.
Französische Fälschung meiner Denkschrift von 1912 über den
drohenden Krieg. Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1935.
Tannenberg. Geschichtliche Wahrheit über die Schlacht. Ludendorffs
Verlag, München 1939.
Feldherrnworte. Ludendorffs Verlag, München 1938–1940.
als Hrsg.: Ludendorffs Volkswarte, Wochenzeitung, erschienen 1929 bis
zum Verbot 1933 in München
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World War I
World War I fact book. Stroud,
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revolution. London: William Heinemann. p. 153.
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in the operational level of war. London: Routledge. p. 114.
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^ von Lossberg, Fritz (1939). Meine Tätigkeit im Weltkriege
1914–1918. Berlin: E. S. Mittler & Sohn. p. 343.
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of the war in the west. London: Cassell. p. 67.
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^ Foerester, Wolfgang (1952). Der Feldherr Ludendorff im Unglück.
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at war 1914–1918. London: Allen Lane. p. 551.
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^ Ludendorff, 1919, II, p. 147.
^ Breucker, Wilhelm (1953). Die Tragik Ludendorffs. Eine kritische
erinnerung an den general und seine zeit. Berlin: Helmut
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Wikisource has the text of a 1922
Encyclopædia Britannica article
about Erich Ludendorff.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Erich Ludendorff.
Ludendorff by H. L. Mencken published in the June 1917 edition of the
Erich Ludendorff From Spartacus Educational
My War Memories by
Erich Ludendorff at archive.org
Erich Ludendorff at Find a Grave
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19 November 1923
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