November 9, 1918 – Kaiser Abdicates, German Republic Proclaimed
Pictured – The king takes flight.
The Kaiser’s world was in collapse. The red flag flew over eleven cities in Germany as of November 9, with the Social Democrats calling for the Wilhelm’s resignation. The prior evening, Germany’s Admiral von Hintze arrived at Spa to tell the Kaiser that neither the navy would no longer follow his orders. “My dear Admiral, the navy has left me in the lurch very nicely,” he replied. But what, he asked, of his army? He wanted to put “machine guns in the streets” rather than quit his throne “on account of a few hundred Jews or 1,000 workers.”
General Groener, who had replaced Ludendorff as Quartermaster General, spoke up. Impossible, he replied. The revolutionaries controlled the railways. Rebels held Aachen only twenty miles away from HQ at Spa, and most of them were army deserters anyway. Wilhelm pushed for an attack on the nearby rebels, or at least perhaps he could remain at Spa while his negotiators worked out an armistice with the Allies, after which he could lead his troops back to Berlin. No, said Groener. “The army will march home in peace and order under its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it no longer stands behind Your Majesty.” “Have they not taken the military oath to me?” asked the Kaiser. “Today,” Groener replied, “oaths of loyalty have no substance.”
At that moment a telegram arrived from the commandant of Berlin which read “All troops deserted. Completely out of hand.” Other cities in Germany reported much the same. Faced with total revolution, shortly before midday the Chancellor Prince Max announced the Kaiser’s abdication. It was a desperate attempt to preserve the monarchy, or at least some semblance of the old regime. Ideas such as keeping Wilhelm as King of Prussia were floated, but there was no saving the situation. Max resigned himself, and passed over the Chancellorship to Friedrich Ebert, leader of the Social Democrats, who was the only man capable of maintaining the government.
In Berlin, revolutionaries seized the imperial palace and proclaimed the beginnings of a German Soviet Republic. To pre-empt a communist coup, the socialist politician Philip Scheidemann appeared on a Reichstag balcony and announced a parliamentary German Republic. The following months would see what type of new government would prevail.
The German Empire was over. Even in Spa the soldiers outside headquarters were busily establishing their own soviet council. Admiral Scheer, the leader of the High Seas Fleet, arrived later in the day, and in an effort to steel imperial resolve pointed out to the Kaiser that if he resigned the navy would be without a leader. “I no longer have a navy,” Wilhelm grimly stated. The next morning he left for exile in the Netherlands.
Wilhelm crosses the border into Holland, on November 10, 1918.