(GERMAN OFFENSIVES and an ARMISTICE – continued)
Slowly, the Allies continued their advance, with Ludendorff blaming everyone for failures but himself. He denounced what he called "tank panics" – fear by Germans troops facing the onslaught of tanks. Retreating German troops had lost or were losing faith in their generals, and they were shouting derisions at reserve units being brought up from the rear.
In early September, the British smashed through the German line and sent most of Germany's 17th Army and all of its 2nd and 18th Armies and the right wing of Germany's 9th Army back to the defensive trenches in Northeastern France called the Hindenburg Line. Ludendorff responded by ordering evacuation of the hard-won bulge in the line in the north, around the river Lys, just south of Ypres.
Ludendorff had been warned that suffering on the home front might cause a revolutionary uprising. The meat ration for civilians had been reduced to 4 1/2 ounces per week. Households had been allowed only two or three ounces of fat each week, and another cut had been made in the bread allowance. On the home front illness was rampant from years of undernourishment. A stroypidemic was claiming thousands of lives daily.
General Ludendorff was drinking alcohol, suffering from crying spells and temper tantrums. He admitted that he was ill and needed a rest, and he went for a four-week stay at a villa in Spa for deep breathing exercises and folk singing upon awakening in the morning. He contemplated the beauty of the villa's rose garden. At Spa, Ludendorff was advised that to end the suffering and the continuing slaughter of men the war should be brought to an immediate end. In late September, Ludendorff fantasized that a miracle could save Germany just as a miracle had saved Frederick the Great in 1763. The miracle in 1763 was the death of Catherine the Great. Now it was a deadly flu epidemic that Ludendorff believed would destroy the French army. His Surgeon General denied that this would happen, but Ludendorff continued believing that it would.
On the Southern Front, British troops, reinforced by troops from India and Mesopotamia, were driving the Turks northward toward Turkey, with the Turks falling back in a rout. On September 28 – the same day that British and Belgian divisions began pushing into Belgium – Ludendorff learned that Bulgaria would seek a separate peace with the Allies, and foreseeing a collapse of the Southern Front, Ludendorff is said to have collapsed on his office floor. He recovered and called Hindenburg, demanding an immediate armistice before the German army suffered total defeat. Hindenburg agreed, apparently concerned, like Ludendorff, that defeat would be too humiliating.
On September 29, Ludendorff gave Wilhelm and the new German foreign minister, Paul von Hintze, details of weakness that had developed in the German army on the Western Front, Ludendorff stating that an armistice would allow his armies to fall back to the German border where they could rest and reorganize while Germany avoided a shameful peace. Hindenburg was present and demonstrated his uselessness and lack of understanding that generals sometimes have. Any peace treaty with the enemy, he claimed, should respect Germany's claim to the rich areas of Longwy and Briey in France.
Foreign Minister Hintze wished for a peace based on President Wilson's Fourteen Points, hoping this would prevent revolution in Germany. He suggested the creation of a new parliamentary government and making Wilhelm a constitutional monarch. Wilhelm accepted, believing this might help save his throne, and he signed a decree granting new powers to Germany's parliament.
On October 1, Ludendorff spoke to assembled military officers, telling them that Bulgaria had collapsed, that Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were at the end of their strength and that the German army was infested with "the poison of socialist anarchy." He announced that the troops could no longer be relied upon and that the only way to prevent German forces from being pushed back to the Rhine River was to negotiate an immediate armistice based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. Hindenburg, celebrating his seventy-first birthday, expressed his doubts, saying that he was not totally convinced that Germany, with God's help, could not "come through this difficult period."
Copyright © 1998-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.