Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff  
(09.04.1865 - 20.12.1937)
place of birth:  Kruszewnia, Posen  (Kruszewnia, Poland)
Königreich Preußen:  1. General-Quartiermeister,  AOK-Stabschef,  General der Infanterie


General Erich Ludendorff was arguably Imperial Germany's most significant military figure during the Great War. He was also one of only five recipients of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (1918).  Erich Ludendorff was born on 9 April 1865 as the third of six children born to Clara von Tempelhoff and August Wilhelm Ludendorff.  His father, who had been a cavalry captain in the reserves, had recently abandoned his small business and established himself as a gentleman farmer. Young Erich thus grew up on the humble family estate named Kruszewnia, located near the  town of Poznan in modern-day Poland. Although his family had lived in Prussia for more than 200 years, he was also of Swedish, Finnish and Polish heritage. 

While his early years did not point toward a military career, Erich nevertheless entered the Royal Cadet School at Plön as a 12-year old boy. There he was studious and withdrawn, developing within himself the iron discipline which would serve him later during most of his military career. After two years in Plön, he transferred to the military academy at Gross-Lichterfelde near Berlin, and in 1882, at the age of seventeen, was commissioned a Leutnant (junior lieutenant). His first posting was at Wesel where he served for about five years in Infantry Regiment Herzog Ferdinand von Braunschweig (Eighth Westphalian) No. 57.

He then did a 3-year stint from 1887-90 in Wilhelmshaven with an elite unit of naval infantry troops, serving on the Niobe, the Baden, and the Kaiser, and sailing throughout Scandinavia and the British Isles. With a promotion to Oberleutnant (senior lieutenant), he spent a short time in Frankfurt an der Oder attached to Leib-Grenadier-Regiment Nr. 8, but was soon sent to the War College in Berlin for a three-year course with Russian as his main subject. In 1894, having done well with the language, he was sent to Russia to as a  military observer. He did his job well enough that on his return to Germany he was promoted to Hauptmann (captain) and sent to the Great General Staff.

In 1896, Hauptmann Ludendorff was transferred to the VI Corps in Magdeburg, then in 1898 he served as a company commander with Infantry Regiment No. 61 (8. Pomeranian). In 1901 he joined the staff of 9th Infantry Division in Glogau, commanded by General von Eichhorn, who was to become one of Ludendorff's subordinates during the war. As a major, he was sent back to the Great General Staff in 1904 to work under Count Alfred von Schlieffen. Ludendorff's task as part of the Second Department was the prepare the Imperial Army for mobilization. When Helmuth von Moltke replaced Schlieffen, Ludendorff was soon promoted to chief of the Second Department.  He ardently pressed for improved field communications and additional troops, heavy artillery, and aircraft. Many German political authorities did not look favorably upon his straight-forward manner, however, and Ludendorff's scheming and attempts to by-pass his chain of command made him many enemies in Berlin.

 

            

In the meantime, Erich met Margarethe Pernet Schmidt, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, and quickly convinced her to leave her husband so that they could marry. Margarethe brought with her three sons and a daughter. They never had children of their own, but Erich treated Margarethe's as his own. Because of the waves he had made Berlin, he and his new family were transferred to a relatively obscure posting in Düsseldorf. Here, as a newly-promoted colonel, he took command of Niederrheinisches Fuesilier Regiment Nr. 39.  During the months leading up to the war, he was promoted to major general and then transferred to command an infantry brigade in Strasbourg. In March 1914, Ludendorff's mother died, with apparently little effect on him. He was also still strongly disliked back in the capital, and with the threat of war, instead of being assigned as an army chief of staff, his mobilization orders had him serving as Second Army quartermaster general under Karl von Bülow.

As the First World War broke out, Ludendorff accompanied the invasion force troops tasked which laying siege to the Belgian fortress city of Liege. When 14th Brigade commander von Wussow was killed in action, Ludendorff quickly took the initiative and led the14th as it fought  its way through the village of Queue-du-Bois. In the early morning hours of 7 August, he dispatched a colonel into Liege to order the surrender of the Citadel. Ludendorff later arrived at the Citadel and pounded on the door, falsely believing it to be in German hands. The frightened Belgians were only happy to surrender to him, though, and for his quick thinking and intrepid actions, he was awarded the Pour le Merite and became a national hero. More importantly, German Supreme Command now saw Ludendorff as a proven, decisive leader and strategist. Thus, plans were quickly made to have him transferred to the Eighth Army in order to team with the recently reactivated von Hindenburg and hopefully salvage Germany's precarious position on the Eastern Front.

At the Hannover train station on the morning of 23 August 1914, a most unlikely but successful and historic partnership was formed  -- von Hindenburg the solid old soldier from an aristocratic Prussian background, and the younger, more volatile Ludendorff of more humble beginnings. They immediately began devising a strategy to save the Eighth Army and shore up the Eastern Front from a certain Russian invasion. Most of their plan had already been worked out and implemented, however, by Eighth Army operations officer Max Hoffmann. Although von Hindenburg and Ludendorff were given the immediate credit for the tremendous victory at Tannenberg, where the Germans crushed the Russian Second Army, historians have largely decided that most of the credit was due to Hoffmann's expertise. The dynamic duo of Hindenburg-Ludendorff were nonetheless on their way to becoming cult heroes back home, a factor which would continually raise its head during the Great War and even on into the years leading up to the Second World War.


"General Ludendorff is a first-class man to work for. He is also the right man for this job: cold and ruthless."

Oberstleutnant Max Hoffmann
Eighth Army Deputy Chief of Staff



"He (Ludendorff) is chilly, reserved, remote, almost wholly without charm. He seems devoid of any social instinct...a man of mystery."

H.L. Mencken
Aug 1917



"My children warmed to their new father from the very beginning. Their love and admiration for him grew even deeper as the war progressed."

Margarethe Pernet Ludendoff


By early November 1914, von Hindenburg and the newly-promoted Lieutenant General Ludendorff exercised supreme command of all Germans troops in the East from their headquarters Ober-Ost.  More victories followed on the Eastern Front with von Hindenburg giving his automatic approval to Ludendorff and Hoffmann's assault plans against the Russians. With Falkenhayn's failure at Verdun, von Hindenburg was sent to replace him in August 1916 as Chief of General Staff. Ludendorff naturally accompanied him, rejecting however the title of Second Chief. Instead, he created his own misleading designation as Erster Generalquartiermeister, First Quartermaster General. Continuing as von Hindenburg's deputy, he was assured that he'd have joint responsibility in all military decision making. At this point, Ludendorff was in fact the most authoritative military leader and was well on his way to controlling Germany's political scene as well.

In the spring of 1918, an increasingly stressed Ludendorff envisioned one last opportunity for Germany to make headway on the Western Front. Operations Michael and Georgette, carried out in March and April, punched through some 30 miles into enemy territory but eventually stalled. Over the next two months, operations Blücher-Yorck, Gneisenau, and Friedensturm quickly came to naught due lack of troops and supplies, not to mention the presence of fresh American soldiers. By the end of September, the Allies had pushed the Germans back to the Hindenburg Line once again, and Ludendorff's mental state continued its downward spiral. On 26 October, Kaiser Wilhelm II accepted Ludendorff's angrily offered resignation but refused to let von Hindenburg go; Wilhelm was convinced that the old field marshal was an important symbol of German unity. Notably, General Ludendorff lost two sons, both pilots, during the war: Franz (Sept 1917) and Erich (Mar 1918).

Two weeks later, General of Infantry Erich Ludendorff fled in disguise to Sweden where he penned My War Memories, but he returned to Germany and its volatile political scene by early 1919. Pressing ever further to the right, he then participated in the failed Kapp Putsch of 1920, as well as Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. After divorcing his wife, Erich married Mathilde Spiess in 1926 and became increasingly involved in the occult, expressing agitation towards Jews, Catholics, and Free-Masons. He had also become bitter enemies with von Hindenburg. In 1936 he wrote Total War which expounded on his theory that modern war involved the whole nation. On 20 December 1937, at the age of 72, the most influential German leader during the Great War went to his deathbed in Tutzing, Bavaria.  Although Ludendorff was a member of the Nazi Party, he did warn of Hitler's tyranny shortly before his death. Despite this, Hitler paid final tribute to him by walking behind his swastika-draped casket.

"I will NEVER allow Ludendorff to become Chief of General Staff.  He is a dubious character, fired by personal ambition."

Kaiser Wilhelm II to Bethmann-Hollweg
Jan 1915
 
 

1. Gen-Quartiermeister ... 29.08.1916  -  26.10.1918
General der Infanterie .... 29.08.1916

Großkreuz des EK ............ 24.03.1918

Pour le Mérite .................... 08.08.1914   (Eichenlaub:  23.02.1915)
 
  
 

  
 
Curriculum Vitae
   
01.07.1879 Preußische Hauptkadettenanstalt - Berlin/Groß-Lichterfelde
15.04.1882 Infanterie-Regiment ,,Herzog Ferdinand von Braunschweig (8. Westfälisches) Nr. 57 - Wesel
15.04.1882 Sekonde-Lieutenant
01.01.1887 Militär-Turnanstalt - Berlin
01.07.1887 Seebataillon Wilhelmshaven
01.07.1890 Leib-Grenadier-Regiment ,,Friedrich Wilhelm III (1. Brandenburgisches) Nr. 8 - Frankfurt an der Oder
01.07.1890 Premier-Lieutenant
01.10.1890 Preußische Kriegsakademie - Berlin  (student)
30.06.1893 Leib-Grenadier-Regiment ,,Friedrich Wilhelm III (1. Brandenburgisches) Nr. 8 - Frankfurt an der Oder
01.04.1894 Großer Generalstab - Berlin
00.03.1895 Hauptmann
01.03.1896 IV. Armeekorps - Magdeburg   (on Karl von Hänisch's general staff)
01.04.1898 Infanterie-Regiment ,,von der Marwitz (8. Pommersches) Nr. 61 - Thorn  (Coy Cdr)
01.07.1900 9. Infanterie-Division - Glogau  (on general staff)
01.07.1902 V. Armeekorps - Posen  (Ia on Ferdinand von Stülpnagel's general staff)
01.07.1902 Major
01.04.1904 Großer Generalstab - Berlin  (Section 2)
01.10.1906 Preußische Kriegsakademie - Berlin  (Instructor)
01.04.1908 Großer Generalstab - Berlin  (Section 2)
01.04.1908 Oberstleutnant
21.04.1911 Oberst
27.01.1913 Niederrheinisches Füsilier Regiment Nr. 39 - Düsseldorf  (Cdr)
22.04.1914 Generalmajor
01.05.1914 85. Infanterie-Brigade - Straßburg  (Cdr)
   
Great War
   
02.08.1914 2. Armee  (Sr. Quartermaster)
22.08.1914 8. Armee  (Paul von Hindenburg's Chief of Staff)
18.09.1914 9. Armee  (Paul von Hindenburg's Chief of Staff)
01.11.1914 Oberbefehlshaber Ost  (Paul von Hindenburg's Chief of Staff)
27.11.1914 Generalleutnant
05.08.1915 Heeresgruppe Hindenburg  (Paul von Hindenburg's Chief of Staff)
30.07.1916 Heeresfront Hindenburg  (Paul von Hindenburg's Chief of Staff)   
29.08.1916 Oberste Heeresleitung - Erster Generalquartiermeister  (First Quartermaster General)
29.08.1916 General der Infanterie
28.10.1918 zur Disposition gestellt   
   
   
 
 
 

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