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Erich Ludendorff Admits Defeat: Diary Entry by Albrecht von Thaer (October 1, 1918)

This document captures the mood of the officer corps as they realized that the war was lost. Erich Ludendorff’s (1865-1937) statements, as recounted by Albrecht von Thaer, also demonstrate the military leadership’s predilection for faulting civilian forces on the home front for the German defeat. The military often blamed the lack of resolve in the domestic sphere for the course of the war rather than their own strategic mistakes.

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Terrible and appalling! So it is! In truth! As we were gathered together, Ludendorff walked into our circle, his face full of the deepest worries, pale, but with his head held high. Truly the figure of a beautiful German hero! I had to think of Siegfried with the deadly wound in his back from Hagen’s spear.

He said approximately the following: it is his duty to tell us that our military situation is terribly serious. Every day it is possible that there might be a breakthrough on the western front. He has had to report this in the last few days to His Majesty. For the first time, the O.H.L.* was asked by His Majesty, as well as the Chancellor, what the O.H.L and the army is still capable of accomplishing. In agreement with the Field Marshall, he responded: the O.H.L. and the German army are at an end; the war can no longer be won; indeed, a total defeat can probably no longer be averted. Bulgaria has fallen. Austria and Turkey, at the end of their strength, will probably soon fall as well. Our own army is unfortunately already badly infected with the poison of Spartacist-socialist ideas. One can no longer rely on the troops. Since August 8, things have rapidly gotten much, much worse. Some troops prove themselves so continuously unreliable that they have to be removed from the front as quickly as possible. If they are replaced by troops with the will to fight, then these are greeted with the call “strikebreaker” and challenged not to fight any more. Ludendorff said that he could not operate with divisions, which are no longer reliable.

Thus it can be foreseen that the enemy, with the assistance of the war-happy Americans, will achieve a great victory, a very large, important breakthrough. Then the army in the west will lose its last foothold and will flood back over the Rhine in complete dissolution and will carry with it the revolution to Germany.

This catastrophe must be avoided at all costs. Because of the reasons just stated one can no longer allow oneself to be knocked about. Therefore, the O.H.L. has demanded from His Majesty and from the Chancellor that they immediately ask President Wilson of America to bring about an armistice with the goal of bringing about a peace on the basis of his Fourteen Points.

He [the O.H.L.] has never shied away from demanding the utmost of his troops. But now that it has become clear to him that the continuation of the war serves no purpose, he is of the opinion that it should be ended as quickly as possible, in order to avoid unnecessarily sacrificing the bravest ones, who are still loyal and able to fight.

It was terrible for the Field Marshall and for him to have to report this to His Majesty and the Chancellor. The last chancellor, Graf Hertling, immediately declared in an honorable manner to His Majesty that he had to resign immediately from his position. After so many years of working honorably he could not and did not want to conclude his life as an old man by handing in a request for an armistice. The Kaiser accepted his resignation.

Excellence Ludendorff continued: “Therefore, right now, we have no chancellor. Who will he be? We do not yet know. I have, however, asked His Majesty to include in the government those groups who are largely responsible for things having developed as they have. We will now watch these men move into the ministries. They should be the ones to make the peace treaty that must now be concluded. They should be the ones who eat their own soup.”

* O.H.L.: Oberste Heeresleitung or Supreme Army Command.

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