Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The German High Command at War
reviewed by Ron Drees

The German High Command at War:
Hindenburg and Ludendorff Conduct World War I
by Robert Asprey
William Morrow, 1991

German Command on the Eastern Front: Hoffmann, Ludendorff, and Hindenburg

After gaining a basic understanding of the ebb and flow of the war, one should read this book to learn about the personalities, clashes, successes, and failures from the German side as Robert Asprey describes them mercilessly. While many battles are discussed briefly, with hard-to-comprehend maps, this book is above all about German leaders of WWI and how they interacted — usually badly. Apparently the Duo, as the author calls them, of Hindenburg and Ludendorff were not concerned with national welfare but with obtaining unbridled power to conduct the war on their terms, regardless of how the nation suffered.

Asprey argues that Ludendorff was the worst of the Duo — egotistical, ruthless, irresponsible, intolerant, and at the end, a poor strategist who wasted the Army in a last ditch effort to win the war. Hindenburg was vainglorious, spending countless hours sitting for portraits larger than life size and worrying about the correct number of buttons on his coat. Each lied to the Kaiser, the chancellors, the Reichstag, and most of all to the German public who never knew — but who became ever more suspicious about how badly the war was going until the collapse at the end.

The Duo, Kaiser Wilhelm, the various chancellors, and staff members all ate the equivalent of a banquet every night while half-a-million Germans died of starvation. The Duo were politicians who forced out civilian members of the government who either opposed them or were standing in positions they wanted. The Kaiser had mood swings like a teeter-totter, was too weak to demand the truth but allowed himself to be steamrollered. The various chancellors were weak, enabling the Duo to run roughshod over the government.

Order Now
The Duo and others had to resign before the end of the war but continued to absolve themselves of the responsibility for losing the war. Hindenburg accused the German public of stabbing the Army in the back. Yet it was the public who allowed their sons to be sacrificed for nothing and tolerated the hardships of very short rations, no coal or oil for heating, no medical supplies for themselves or the Army, no clothing or shoes, and swallowed lies upon lies about the progress of the war. The Duo backstabbed the public by their conduct of the war and a second time by contributing to the rise of Corporal Hitler. Hindenburg, when reelected as president of Germany in 1932, appointed Hitler as chancellor. The corporal led Germany down the same path but to an even more horrendous ending. The world is still recovering from both catastrophes.

Although somewhat dated now, this double biography of Hindenburg and Ludendorff is well worth reading, particularly if you want to get an insight into one more aspect of the "German side" of the Great War.


  1. For a fuller understanding also read Fritz Fischer "Germany's War Aims in the First World War. Which gives added insight into the behaviour of a very small group of people which led Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to their shared doom. (Did you know that Germany genuinely thought it was winning the war until September 1918?).

    A hard book to find, and even harder to read, but stunning. Published in English by Chatto & Windus in 1967

  2. An excellent book for delving into personalities that have gone meglomanical. Incompetency was not limited to Haig and crew. Cheers

  3. This gives me a lot of information I was unaware of. Thank you!