The beginning of the end
September / October 1918



In the beginning of 1918 the political-militairy leaders of the German Empire, after almost four years of heavy fighting, thought that the war could still be won. On March 3, Russia was forced to sign the peace treaty of Brest-Litowsk. This victory on the eastern front encouraged the supreme command (OHL, Oberste Heeres Leitung). The OHL consisted of emperor Wilhelm II, fieldmarshal Paul von Hindenburg and general Erich Ludendorff 

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von Hindenburg, Wilhelm II, Ludendorff

Together they planned a large scale offensive with 70 divisons on the western front. After some initial successes, the offensive came to an end. Germany did not have an adequate answer to the continuous strengthening of the French and British troops by US units. On July 18 the Allies launched a counter-attack with a large preponderance of troops and equipment, which resulted in a breakthrough at the front of Amiens on August 8. And it was only then that the OHL admitted the war could not be won!

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von Hindenburg

Neither Von Hindenburg nor Ludendorff could be persuaded to withdraw their troops to a well defensible position in order to create better conditions for peace negotiations. Also, despite the strict military censorship, it proved to be impos- sible to conceal the collapse on the western front. As the truth slowly dawned, great unrest broke out among the civilian population in Germany.
During the second half of September 1918 the situation for Germany worsened. Without consulting Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire made a peace offer to the Allies on September 14.

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Moreover, September 21 the south-eastern front in Bulgaria collapsed, mainly because of the military weakness of the Ottoman Empire. Germany was alone and it was only a matter of time before the Allies would 'walk in' the southeast of the German Reich.
At the request of Ludendorff a crisis meeting of the so-called 'Crown Council' was held on September 29 in the headquarters of the OHL in Spa. 
Besides Wilhelm II, several other members of the Imperial Government was present. namely: chancellor Count Härtling and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs Admiral Paul von Hintze.

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With the exaggerated claim that the entire front could collaps within 24 hours, Ludendorff and Hintze (who already had previously agreed on this matter) succeeded to convince the Council to take drastic decisions. 
Urged by Hintze, Ludendorff, just back on his feet after his nervous breakdown, decided to embark on a wild gamble. Although a strict authoritarian conservative himself, he ordered a "revolution from above" on 29 September 1918 in reaction to military setbacks in the west and the breakdown of Bulgaria. This was an attempt to prevent the army from being totally defeated and from taking an active part in a possible revolution in Germany.
Ludendorff's gamble rested on three expectations: first, he believed that democratization would avert a Russian-style socialist revolution in Germany by taking some wind out of the sails of the revolutionary workers' movement; second, he assumed a democratic government would be more respectable in the eyes of President Wilson and that a German democracy might thus win better peace terms than the old government; third, and most importantly, Ludendorff's gamble also had a domestic aspect: the Reichstag Majority -- democrats and socialists, in particular -- should take responsibility for the defeat and "liquidate" the war. Ludendorff claimed that German democrats and socialists had prevented him and Hindenburg from winning the war. Whether he fully believed this is unclear. He certainly made his opinion public as often as he could and thus poured out some of the poison that later helped to kill the Weimar Republic. Hindenburg supported this "stab-in-the-back" legend a little less notoriously but nonetheless effectively even though he was fully aware that Germany had lost the war in 1918.

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President Wilson

Ludendorff's quest for the parliamentarization of the German political system had immediate effects. Not even the most stubborn conservatives dared oppose the prestigious general. On 3 October the Reichstag majority accepted a liberal monarchist as new chancellor, Prince Max von Baden. The new chancellor appointed ministers from the Reichstag Majority, including two Social Democrats. At the request of Ludendorff he immediately sent a note requesting a truce to the American president. Wilson answered after some hesitation, demanding that Germany withdraw from all occupied territories.

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Max von Baden

This also enabled the military leadership of Germany to admit, without losing face, that they had failed politically.  Indeed, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson accepted only a democratically elected government as a partner.  Towards the end of October 1918 no Reichstag Party - with the exception of the USPD -  wanted the abolition of the monarchy and nobody was waiting for a revolution.

They wanted a peaceful democratic development. However, it did not come so far. A growing peace movement demanded the resignation of the Emperor and after the Wilson memorandum of October 23  the imperial government was also convinced that better peace terms could be obtained if the emperor and the crown prince would have resigned.

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previously: nach Paris

However, Wilhelm II had no intention at all to give up the throne and eventually, on November 7, the MSPD demanded more influence  in the cabinet and also they demanded the resignation of the emperor and the crown prince. 
November 9 the revolution began with a general strike in the big companies and the emperor fled to the Netherlands (Amerongen).

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   currently: nach Amerongen

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