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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ludendorff: Foch's Opponent in 1918

As He Seemed to Famed Correspondent Hamilton Fyfe at War's End

Ludendorff's "Gamble" in the West

Erich von Ludendorff
Ludendorff was a "Westerner." He declared the war must be won or lost in France and Flanders. The Westerners had their way and failed at Verdun, also giving Brusilov the chance to pull off a successful offensive against the Austrians. That summer a German officer was sent to Bukarest to offer the Rumanians inducements to throw in their lot with the Central Powers. He told his intimates that it had been decided to try no more in the west. "Neither side can break through there," he said, and it was known that he was repeating Hindenburg's view.

But after Russia had been put out of the war the hopes of Ludendorff and his faction revived. Now, they said, we are in a different position. We have no longer to meet attacks from the east. We can concentrate all our strength on the Western front and nothing can stop us. So the March offensive was prepared, Hindenburg looking on doubtfully, Ludendorff assuring everybody that he was about to bring the war to an end with "a German peace."

It was in September, 1916, that he had taken over the duties of First Quartermaster- General, under Hindenburg, installed as Chief of Staff, to the puppet Emperor — "puppet" I mean so far as his title of Commander-in-Chief was concerned. He had quickly made his heavy hand felt. It was he who had at first declared unrestricted U-boat warfare inadvisable ; it was he who later gave the word for it to begin. Nothing was done without consulting him. In the popular mind he ranked as Hindenburg's equal, and by degrees the legend grew that it was really Ludendorff and not Hindenburg who was "the man behind the throne."

Such was his great position in the spring of this year when he and his seven assistants laid the plans for the attack upon the British Fourth and Fifth Armies. At first the result seemed to justify his confidence. He was a gambler who had staked everything upon one throw, and it looked as if he had won. But from the early days of the vast struggle Ludendorff felt that things had not gone too well for him. I could read in his Army Orders, which I used to see in France, an anxiety, a striving to do better, an impatience against officers who did not spare their men sufficiently and men who failed to hold positions long enough.

"According to Plan"

He must have been feeling pretty hopeless during June, after his advance had come to a standstill, but he was to have a Field-Marshal's baton all the same. The Emperor went to Headquarters in July with the baton in his trunk, but before he had time to present it Foch struck his blow at the unguarded German right flank. That was the beginning of the end of Ludendorff's greatness. He put a bold face on, assured interviewers that all would be well, told the German public in his official despatches that all the retirements were "according to plan." The phrase became a joke in Germany. 

When he replied to the appeal for help sent by the Burgomaster of Vienna, the note of despair sounded in his tone. "Germany cannot do more than she has done," he telegraphed. In September he began to break down. He could not sleep. He began to hint at retirement. But so long as there was any chance of the German Army recovering he was kept in his command. Only when peace was demanded with menaces and the old order in Germany had come down with a run did the unhappy Ludendorff get his orders to go.

After the first week of the Battle of St. Quentin [Michael] he said : "A great battle has been fought and a victory has been gained. Nobody however, can foresee what will be the result of it." Even with his capacity for taking "a long-range view of every contingency," as a German newspaper once put it, he can hardly have foreseen that the result would be his dismissal and disgrace.

Source: The War Illustrated, "Men and Cities of the War: General Ludendorff," 9 November 1918

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