Category: germany

German and Austrian War Leaders Meet at Spa

Kaiser Wilhelm II and Emperor Charles, pictured in Spa on August 14.  This would be their last meeting.

August 14 1918, Spa–In the span of only a few days, the Central Powers’ hope for a military victory had apparently disappeared.  The German collapse near Amiens, although checked before it turned catastrophic, still made it clear that the German army was in no condition to go back onto the offensive, and would be lucky to survive further Allied attacks.  In private, Ludendorff retreated into depression, while still ordering determined resistance to the British and (now increasingly) French advance.  One of his aides, Col. von Haeften, noted on August 12 that he was 

…outwardly calm, but very grave…It was not the loss of territory or the superiority of the tank…which disturbed him…What depressed the General was that he had lost confidence in the morale of his troops, the indispensable element in victory.  Ludendorff said to Haeften that the men could no longer be depended upon and we needed peace quickly….No longer could any hope be placed in an offensive.

The Kaiser had come to a similar conclusion on August 10: “I see that we must draw up the balance sheet, we are on the brink of insolvency.  The war must be ended.”  He summoned Hindenburg & Ludendorff to meet with him in Spa, along with Chancellor Hertling and Foreign Minister Hintze.

In their meetings with the Kaiser and the political leaders of Germany on August 13 and 14, Hindenburg & Ludendorff were far more sanguine than they were with their military colleagues.  Ludendorff told Chancellor Hintze that a “strategic defensive with periodic offensive action” (whatever that meant) could still offer “good prospects for finally crippling the enemy’s will to war.”  Hindenburg admitted the army could not “break the enemy’s will” as they had planned for 1918, but was optimistic that the German army could remain in control of large parts of France and thus “enforce their will on the enemy.” 

Hindenburg recommended that Germany change its diplomatic approach in the meantime, but the Kaiser was so encouraged by Hindenburg & Ludendorff’s tone that he only ordered a peace feeler via the monarchs of Netherlands and Spain, rather than directly to the Allied powers.  Chancellor Hertling went further, planning to delay even this tepid offer until “after the next German success in the west;” no such success would come.  Regardless, none of Hertling, Hintze, nor the Kaiser put too much effort into challenging Hindenburg & Ludendorff’s views.

Ludendorff knew he was deceiving the Kaiser and the Chancellor.  Perhaps he could not bear to admit defeat before the Kaiser, feared for his own position, or was already seeking to deflect post-war blame to the civilians.  Maybe his reasons were exactly what he told one of his officers: “Perfect candor would have led to a catastrophe!  If I had told them the truth, they would have completely lost their heads.”  Regardless of his motivations, the result of the conference at Spa was the waste of more lives fighting a war that had already been lost.

Coincidentally, Austro-Hungarian leadership was also in Spa at the same time, including Emperor Charles, Chief of Staff Arz, and Foreign Minister Buriàn.  The Germans tried and failed to get the Austrians to commit to more troops for the Western Front.  Arz admitted “Austria-Hungary could only continue the war until December.”  

Nevertheless, this did not stop Arz and Ludendorff from discussing far-fetched plans; Arz suggested another offensive against Italy, and the two even agreed for an attack on Romania for late September, codenamed Fangstoss.  King Ferdinand had refused to sign the Treaty of Bucharest that ended the war, and the Central Powers believed they might have to resort to force to compel him to do so.  Romania was surrounded on all sides, largely occupied by the Germans, and had been forced to demobilize, but the Central Powers only really had minimal occupation forces in the area.  Events would ultimately move faster than the plans for Fangstoss; Romania would eventually re-enter the war, but on its own terms.

Today in 1917: China Declares War on Germany

Today in 1916: Threatened US Railroad Strike Endangers Allied Munitions Supplies
Today in 1915:  Russians Sortie from Kovno
Today in 1914:  British Expeditionary Force Commander Sir John French Arrives in France

Sources include: Robert B. Asprey, The German High Command at War; Glenn E. Torrey, The Romanian Battlefront in World War I; Alexander Watson, Ring of Steel.

                                  “They are gr…

                                  “They are great people – the
boches – for putting up signs”

“They are great people – the
boches – for putting up signs; in fact the only thing that ever tempted me to
wish I was a Fritz, is the careful, the perfect, the all-inclusive,
nothing-forgotten manner
in which they mark their roads and villages – Unlike
the French, notorious for the careless way in which they conscientiously omit
signs where signs should be. The Germans mark every village with a great sign,
and road directions; every cave or cellar is so marked together with the number
it will hold; no path or trail is too insignificant to be undeserving of a
beautiful wegweiser”. The French leave up the civilian
signs and call it a day – if they have been shot down, then tant pis!”

Summer 1918,  France – American ambulance driver’s letter

Lying or Four Sitting
– From the Front in a Ford

– Photo: August 1918,  Tilloloy, Somme, France, a French soldier
reading the German wegweisers. La Contemporaine – See more photos of WW1 German roadsigns in France, here.

Hipper Takes Command of the High Seas Fleet

Admiral Franz von Hipper (1863-1932), pictured in 1916.

August 11 1918–Admiral Holtzendorff, the German Chief of the Naval Staff, had been one of the leading proponents of unrestricted submarine warfare.  By August 1918, however, it was clear that the campaign had failed to defeat Britain and had mainly resulted in the arrival of an ever-growing American army, despite his pledge on his “word as a naval officer that no American will ever set foot on continental soil.”  Increasingly in conflict with Hindenburg & Ludendorff, and suffering from a severe heart condition, Holtzendorff stepped down on August 11, and was replaced by Admiral Scheer, head of the High Seas Fleet.  Scheer moved his headquarters to Spa to be closer to Ludendorff.  He also immediately proposed a vast expansion of the submarine campaign, which would involve building 36 new submarines a month.  This was not possible given Germany’s strained resources, and Germany had enough to worry about on land at the moment.

Taking Scheer’s place with the High Seas Fleet was Admiral Hipper, who had previously commanded Germany’s battlecruisers.  Hipper would be the final wartime commander of the High Seas Fleet.  After the Armistice, he would refuse to be the one to lead the fleet into internment, instead passing off the task to a subordinate, and went into a mostly-quiet retirement in Germany.

Today in 1917: Socialist Conference in Stockholm Falls Apart as Western Allies Barred

Today in 1916: France Takes Legal Action Against Calcium Carbide Cartel
Today in 1915: Plattsburgh Military Camp Opens To Train America’s Educated Elite
Today in 1914: Turkish Government to Buy Goeben and Breslau

Sources include: Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel.

“This afternoon, soccer game; France wins 1-0 …

“This afternoon,
soccer game; France wins 1-0 over England – and this evening, boxing match!”

WW1 French
soldier, cook, & PoW’s diary in a camp in Germany. Histoire du football

Illustration by WW1 French soldier
Claudius Denis – “Souvenir of my captivity by the barbarians  –  The allies play soccer”  This drawing shows the allies PoWs watching a soccer
game – note the different types of uniforms of this international crowd of
allies PoWs – Here, the 10 first photos, PoW Claudius Denis’s drawings while in captivity.

‘Thursday July 11 1918 – Worked on cars …

‘Thursday July 11 1918 – Worked on cars
& sent to Oigny in the Afternoon. It’s very quiet here as the Boches
have evacuated their old positions in front of Faverolles and have gone on higher
ground so that in some places their new lines are over a kilometer from the
French first line.’

American ambulance driver in Dampleux, Aisne, France The Compensations of War – Photo: 1918, France, American ambulance drivers working on their cars.

Flu Pandemic Affects German Planning

July 11 1918, Tournai–The flu pandemic had, by mid-summer, crossed the Atlantic with the Americans and was afflicting soldiers on both sides of the war.  The effects were more pronounced for the Germans, who were shorter on manpower in the first place and were planning two large offensives for the near future.  It should be stressed that the flu in the summer of 1918 did not follow the same pattern as the more famous and deadly flu that hit in the fall; mortality was not unusually high, and young people were not disproportionately affected.  Nevertheless, the first cases had already caused issues during Operation Gneisenau in June.  The next offensive, directed mainly at Rheims, would go forward on July 15 regardless, but worries began to mount for the long-delayed Operation Hagen, aimed at the British in Flanders and currently planned for August 1.  On July 11, Crown Prince Rupprecht, in charge of executing Operation Hagen, seriously considered postponing it due to the flu; too many soldiers were incapacitated by it, and it would certainly interfere with the large movement of men back to Flanders that would be necessary over the next three weeks.  Rupprecht decided against a postponement, and troop transfers would go ahead as planned, beginning as early as July 16–and by August, the flu pandemic had subsided for the time being.  While ultimately Operation Hagen would never take place, it would not be because of the flu.

Today in 1917: British Attack Ramadi in 122-Degree Heat

Today in 1916: Final German Attack at Verdun
Today in 1915: Armenians Surrender at Shabinkarahisar
Today in 1914:  Kaiser Wilhelm To Wish King Peter of Serbia Happy Birthday by Telegram

Kaiser Decides to Not “Liquidate” Bolsheviks

June 28 1918, Spa–The Germans’ relationship with the Bolsheviks was a complicated one. They were glad the Bolsheviks had exited the war, even if it had taken another military campaign to get them to sign the peace treaty.  On the other hand, their constant talk of revolution was dangerous, and the Army was worried they had “infected” returning PoWs with their propaganda.  They were also worried that a resurgent Bolshevik-governed Russia might prove a threat in the future–and, more to the point, wanted Russia’s resources.  The Germans had already pushed beyond the Ukraine into Rostov and elements were pushing into the Kuban beyond.  Certain elements in the Army wanted to simply “liquidate” the Bolsheviks, replacing them with a government more amenable to them, as they had done in Ukraine.

The Foreign Office, on the other hand, sharply disagreed.  The Bolsheviks had (eventually) signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with them, and reneging on that would severely undermine German credibility in any future negotiations elsewhere.  Furthermore, the majority of the anti-Bolshevik opposition (though not all) favored the Allies–this was especially true of the Czech Legion, the dominant threat in the summer of 1918.

Although the Kaiser was certainly sympathetic to the Army’s point of view, having argued that the Bolsheviks should be “beaten to death” in February, on June 28 he sided with the Foreign Office.  Despite their disagreements with the Bolsheviks, they were to be reassured that neither the Germans nor the Finns would make any move on Petrograd.  Lenin deeply distrusted the Germans, but even so eventually took the gamble that they were telling the truth; on August 10, he would divert Red Army forces that had been covering Petrograd east to fight the Czechs.

Today in 1917: First American Division Arrives in France

Today in 1916: Spartacist Karl Liebknecht Sentenced to Hard Labor

Today in 1915:  British at Gallipoli Take Turkish Trenches at Gully Spur

Sources include: John Keegan, The First World War; Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War.

                                         “I co…

                                         “I could not entirely agree
with Clemenceau’s view”

“Chaumont, Sunday, June 23, 1918 – M. Clemenceau came to Chaumont today for a conference on increase of
American manpower. I took Clemenceau to see some of our troops. As we motored along through the rolling country of the Vosges Mountains, Clemenceau
and I discussed the situation of the different Allied countries and their
relative standing after the war. He went to some length in his conjectures. He said, “Great Britain is finished,
and in my opinion she has
seen the zenith of her glory” I said “what makes you think so Mr. Prime
minister?” He replied, “First of all, the immense drain of the war will make it impossible for her to retain commercial
supremacy. Second, the experience of her Colonial troops in this war will make
their people more independent and she will lose her control over them.” I could
not entirely agree with Clemenceau’s view and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I
think you are mistaken about the British and believe we shall see them fully
recover from the effects of the war.” Continuing, I said, “What about France’s
future?”  “Ah! she will once more be the leading power in Europe,” he replied. “But you do not mention
Germany,” said I. He replied, “The Germans are a great people, but Germany will
not regain her prestige and her influence for generations.”

He spoke of the other countries only
casually and made no predictions about them.”

General Pershing’s diary in Chaumont France – My Experiences In The World War – Photo: June 23 1918, Clemenceau and Pershing in Chaumont. See more photos @ Conference de Chaumont  &  100ans en Haute-Marne

German Foreign Minister Calls for Peace Talks

June 24 1918, Berlin–After four large-scale offensives on the Western Front (and a fifth in Italy), the Central Powers had made the largest gains of the war in the west since 1914.  However, they seemed no closer to victory there; Ypres, Amiens, and Rheims were all still in Allied hands, and the last drive towards Paris had ended in almost complete failure.  Recognizing this, in a speech in the Reichstag on June 24, German Foreign Minister Kühlmann acknowledged that “an absolute end through pure military decisions alone without any diplomatic negotiations could scarcely be expected,” and called for peace talks.  Germany’s armies, though weakened by the losses in the spring offensives, were still formidable, and the Central Powers had a great bargaining position, occupying most of Belgium, as well as large parts of northern France and Italy (not to mention their gains in the East).  

However, the speech was soon attacked by conservatives in the Reichstag, who saw anything less than the promise of total military victory as conceding defeat.  Hindenburg & Ludendorff (although they had privately approved a memo urging negotiations themselves) soon joined in on the attacks, saying that “the speech has had a shattering effect upon the army.”  Hindenburg & Ludendorff had long disliked Kühlmann, especially after the Brest-Litovsk negotiations.  In early July, Hindenburg & Ludendorff strong-armed the Chancellor and the Kaiser into sacking Kühlmann; he was replaced by a conservative friend of the Kaiser, Admiral Paul von Hintze.

Today in 1917: Enver Pasha Lays Out First Plans for Recapture of Baghdad

Today in 1916: Somme Bombardment Begins
Today in 1915: First Battle of the Isonzo

Sources include: Robert B. Asprey, The German High Command at War; Alexander Watson, Ring of Steel.


                                          ‘Giant arms of electric light, searching the foe’

“Saturday, June 8 1918 – Last week
Paris has lived through seven frightening daysBig Bertha dropping shells on
the city daily and Gothas dropping bombs almost nightly. The other night as I
stood at my window, pieces of exploded French
shrapnel fell on the street below with the sharp, crackling noise of hail striking the pavement. Overhead the blackness of the night was pierced here and there by giant arms of electric light, French lights searching the foe. And
everywhere the firmament became incessantly illuminated by the sudden twinkling
of little stars—as the shells burst in the dark
night. And when the shell bursts its hundreds of bullets
and pieces scatter over a widespread area with sufficient
force to kill anyone they hit. From the ledge of my
window I gathered up a handful of shrapnel pieces varying in size from a .44 caliber cartridge to a pigeon
egg; and then I hurried into bed, in a corner of the room as far
from the window as possible. The fire of the French
barrage made sleep difficult so I read until 1am when the
Berloque announced that the air battle was over.”

American diplomat in Paris – The War Diary
of a Diplomat
– Illustration: 1918, Paris Under Fire