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Arnold Brecht on the Final Weeks of the War (Retrospective Account, 1966)

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Wilson’s answer came on October 5. It demanded a more definite statement that Germany accept the President’s points in the sense that on entering the discussions an agreement had to be reached only on the practical details of their application. Secondly, it demanded Germany’s withdrawal from the areas occupied by her, and, thirdly, raised questions about the controlling authorities in Germany.

In a conference on October 9 Colonel Heye stated again: “It would mean playing a game of chance (Hasardspiel) on the part of the High Command if they failed to expedite the peace move. It may be that we could hold out until the spring, but again, a turning point may come any day. Yesterday fate hung by a thread— whether or not a break-through would succeed. Troops have no rest any more. Not possible to calculate whether they will hold or not. Every day new surprises. I do not fear a catastrophe, but would like to save the army, so that we still have it as a means of pressure during the peace negotiations.”

Ludendorff chimed in, taking the point of view that Germany need not accept every demand, that in particular a possible demand for a surrender of German fortresses might be rejected. But his answers to the question as to how much longer it was possible to resist were wavering and uncertain. To the question whether the front could be held another three months, Ludendorff answered no, and to the question of Prince Max: “In case present peace moves fail and both our two remaining allies withdraw, would it be possible for us to continue the war alone?” he gave the heavily conditioned answer: “If there were a pause in the fighting in the west, yes.”

The German reply to Wilson’s answer was issued with the full consent of the High Command. Wilson’s second note of October 15 was considerably more severe. For the first time a distinction was made between peace and armistice; the conditions for the latter were to be left to the judgment and counsel of the military advisers. The note also spoke of unlawful and inhuman practices on the part of the German fighting forces and stated that the realization of peace would depend upon the definiteness and satisfactory nature of the guarantees Germany would be able to give on her internal power structure. The consternation this note caused everywhere in Germany and especially its effect upon the army were manifest. Emotional opposition was stirred, pride reared up, and the High Command wanted to back out. The grave question now arose whether it was at all possible to back out, since the disclosure of the unfavorable situation after four years of official assertions that victory was certain had in the meantime had its effect both at home and abroad.

The relative positions taken by the High Command and the civil government now changed. The High Command asked whether the German people would rally once more in a supreme effort to the last, or whether their moral power of resistance was exhausted. Foreign Secretary Solf saw in this question an attempt to shift responsibility. “Why then is there such a depressed mood? Because military power has collapsed. But now we are told: military power will collapse unless the general morale is upheld. This escape should not be permitted. ...”

On October 17 three conferences followed. In the second the situation was discussed in all its aspects. Ludendorff expressed himself in a more optimistic manner about the possibility of holding out during the coming weeks. But his indefinite and changing statements did not arouse complete confidence in the face of the facts mentioned. [ . . . ]

To the summing-up question whether the Western Front, if strengthened by the transfer of forces from the east—a possibility which was yet doubtful—would still stand in three months’ time, Ludendorff answered: “I have already told the Chancellor that I consider a break-through possible, but not probable. I feel no inward probability about the break-through. If you ask me on my conscience, I can only answer: I do not fear it.” When reminded of his own earlier statements he answered: “Today too matters are such that we can be broken through and defeated any day. The day before yesterday things went well; things could also turn out badly.”

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