Erich von Ludendorff

From Kaiserreich

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (born on April, 9 1865 at Kruszewnia, part of the kingdom of Prussia now the premier kingdom of Germany) is a German general. Along with Paul von Hindenburg, he was one of the key leaders who led to the German victory during the Weltkrieg, became a Generalfeldmarschall and led with Hindenburg a military dictatorship on Germany from 1917 to 1924.


Early life

Ludendorff was born in Kruszewnia near Posen, the third of six children of August Wilhelm Ludendorff (1833–1905), descended from Pomeranian merchants, who had become a landowner in a modest sort of way, and who held a commission in the reserve cavalry. Erich's mother, Klara Jeanette Henriette von Tempelhoff (1840–1914), was the daughter of the noble but impoverished Friedrich August Napoleon von Tempelhoff (1804–1868), and his wife Jeannette Wilhelmine von Dziembowska (1816–1854) — she from a Germanised Polish landed family on her father's side, and through whom Erich was a remote descendant of the Dukes of Silesia and the Marquesses and Electors of Brandenburg. He is said to have had a stable and comfortable childhood, growing up on a small family farm. He received his early schooling from his maternal aunt and had a flair for mathematics.

His acceptance into the Cadet School at Plön was largely due to his proficiency in mathematics and the adherence to the work ethic that he would carry with him throughout his life. Passing his Entrance Exam with Distinction, he was placed in a class two years ahead of his actual age group, and thereafter was consistently first in his class. Heinz Guderian attended the same Cadet School, which produced many well-trained German officers.

Rise in the military

In 1885 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 57th Infantry Regiment, at Wesel. Over the next eight years he saw further service as a first lieutenant with the 2nd Marine Battalion at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, and the 8th Grenadier Guards at Frankfurt (Oder). His service reports were of the highest order, with frequent commendations. In 1893 he was selected for the War Academy where the commandant, General Meckel, recommended him for appointment to the General Staff. He was appointed to the German General Staff in 1894, rising rapidly through the ranks to become a senior staff officer with V Corps HQ in 1902–04. In 1905, under von Schlieffen, he joined the Second Section of the Great General Staff in Berlin, responsible for the Mobilisation Section from 1904–13. By 1911 he was a full colonel.

Ludendorff was involved in testing the minute details regarding the Schlieffen Plan, assessing the fortifications around the Belgian fortress city of Liege. Most importantly, he attempted to prepare the German army for the war he saw coming. The Social Democrats, who by the 1912 elections had become the largest party in the Reichstag seldom gave priority to army expenditures, building up its reserves, or funding advanced weaponry such as Krupp's siege cannons. Funding for the military went to the Kaiserliche Marine. He then tried to influence the Reichstag via the retired General Keim. Finally the War Ministry caved in to political pressures about Ludendorff's agitations and in January 1913 he was dismissed from the General Staff and returned to regimental duties, commanding the 39th (Lower Rhine) Fusiliers at Düsseldorf. Ludendorff was convinced that his prospects in the military were nil but took up his mildly important position.

During the Weltkrieg

In April 1914 Ludendorff was promoted to Major-General and given the command of the 85th Infantry Brigade, stationed at Strassburg. With the outbreak of the Weltkrieg Ludendorff was first appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the German Second Army under General Karl von Bülow. His assignment was largely due to his knowledge and previous work investigating the dozen forts surrounding Liège, Belgium. The German assault in early August 1914, according to the Schlieffen Plan for invading France, gained him national recognition. The Germans experienced their first major setback at Liège. Belgian artillery and machine guns killed thousands of German troops attempting frontal assaults. On 5 August Ludendorff took command of the 14th Brigade, whose general had been killed. He cut off Liège and called for siege guns. By 16 August all forts around Liège had fallen, allowing the German First Army to advance. As the victor of Liège, Ludendorff was awarded Germany's highest military decoration for gallantry, the Pour le Mérite, presented by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself on 22 August.

Russia had prepared for and was waging war more effectively than the Schlieffen Plan anticipated. German forces were withdrawing as the Russians advanced towards Königsberg in East Prussia. Only a week after Liège's fall, Ludendorff, then engaged in the assault on Belgium's second great fortress at Namur, was urgently requested by the Kaiser to serve as Chief of Staff of the Eighth Army on the Eastern Front. Ludendorff went quickly with Paul von Hindenburg, who was recalled from retirement, to replace General Maximilian von Prittwitz, who had proposed abandoning East Prussia altogether. Hindenburg relied heavily upon Ludendorff and Max Hoffmann in planning the successful operations in the battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. After the Battle of Łódź in November 1914 Ludendorff was promoted to Lieutenant-General.

In August 1916, Erich von Falkenhayn resigned as Chief of the General Staff. Paul von Hindenburg took his place; Ludendorff declined to be known as "Second Chief of the General Staff" and instead insisted on the title First Generalquartiermeister, on condition that all orders were sent out jointly from the two men. Together they formed the so-called Third Supreme Command. Ludendorff was the chief manager of the German war effort, with the popular general von Hindenburg his pliant front man. From 1916 onwards, Germany became an unofficial military dictatorship with Hindenburg and Ludendorff at the helm of the country. Ludendorff advocated unrestricted submarine warfare to break the British blockade, but his demands were refused for fear of bringing the United States into the war.

Thanks to the new infiltration tecniques proposed by Ludendorff, Riga fell to German hands. Russia withdrew from the war in 1917 following the beginning of the Russian Civil War and Ludendorff participated in the meetings held between German and the new Bolshevik leadership. After much deliberation, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed in March 1918. Ludendorffs infiltration tactics where then used at the Greek front, where the Germans won a great victory by choosing to bypass the Allied fortifications at Salonica, with the use of small storm trooper squads infiltrating enemy lines ahead of the main advance. Once again the new tactics proved very successful and German divisions swept through Greece.

Having secured that front, Ludendorff and Hindenburg deemed it time to launch a Great Offensive on the Western Front. Ludendorff is considered the architect of 1919 Great Spring Offensive which was launched on the 2nd March and managed to destroy the French lines and encircle Paris in France. In the meanwhile, a successful attack in Trento led to the siege of Venice, with a great part of the Italian Army trapped there. Following these decisive victories, Italy and France surrendered before the end of the year.

After two more years of war in the Middle East, in November 1921 Ludendorff proposed the Peace with Honour which was signed on November 11th with the remaining free powers of the Entente and put an end to seven years of war.

Political Life

After the victory in the Weltkrieg, Hindenburg and Ludendorff remained in charge of the country, relegating the Kaiser to the position of popular figurehead. After signing the Peace with Honour, they focused on reconstructing the country and its economy, establishing order in the new German puppets in Western and Eastern Europe (Flanders-Wallonia, Poland, Lithuania, White Ruthenia and United Baltic Duchy).

However, their diplomatic ability in time of peace was not as good as their military ability in time of war, as shown by the failure of the short-lived reign of Prince Joachim as King of Ireland in 1922. His suicide attempt in 1923 and the failed attempt to cover the scandal was exploited by press tycoon Alfred Hugenberg who launched a campaign against the Hildenburg-Ludendorff dictatorship. In 1924, following increasing quarrels with Hildenburg and pressure from the press, the public opinion and the Kaiser, their government collapsed and Grand Admiral von Tirpitz became Reichskanzler.

After the end of their government, Ludendorff was forced to retire from the military, although he was allowed to keep wearing his uniform and medals. Stript of all of his military powers, Ludendorff retired to his estate, rarely appearing in public again.

Personal Life

Despite Ludendorff's maternal noble origins, he married outside them, to Margarete née Schmidt (born in 1875).

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