from 'the War Illustrated', 9th November, 1918
General Ludendorff
by Hamilton Fyfe


Men And Cities of the War

portraits of General Ludendorff - two line drawings from war-time German publications


“Call no man happy until he is dead," ran the gloomy Greek proverb, and I would add to it a rider, "Call no general famous until war is over." I admit that the career of General Ludendorff is not yet closed. He may be proclaimed Military Dictator of Germany. That is what the Pan-Germans would like. Possibly their idol retired with this idea in his mind. But such a fame would be short- lived. Germany is in no mood for military dictators. No one could restore the situation of the German armies. All that a coup d'etat of this nature could produce would be Bolshevism. Ludendorff would soon find himself against a wall, looking down rifle-barrels, like the men around the Tsar.

To do him justice, I do not suppose that he would flinch even from such a fate as that. He has never shown any lack of courage, either physical or moral. At the beginning of the war he was under fire with the men of his brigade for three days at Liege. His troops were the first to enter the place. He received no orders to occupy it, but he learned that the Belgians had gone and, upon his own initiative, marched his battalions in. Very soon after this Hindenburg was sent to take command on the eastern front, and he appointed Ludendorff his Chief of Staff at once. A special train took him from Liege, where he still was at the end of August, across the Continent to Hindenburg's East Prussian headquarters, and together they planned the Battle of Tannenberg, which was the first step in Russia's disintegration and downfall.

"Little Ludy"

I remember asking everyone when I got to Russia in October who this unheard-of genius could be. He had not got into the German "Who's Who." Outside the General Staff building nobody knew his name even. In that building, which stands out so prominently among the sights of Berlin, he had the reputation of a clever Staff officer, who had specialised on transport and supply. He had started without any advantages. His father was a small landed proprietor in the province of Posen. In a number of the Leipzig "Illustrirte Zeitung," dedicated to the worship of Ludendorff, on his fifty-third birthday last April, I saw a photograph of the farmhouse in which the hero was born. A modest little place enough.

In that number there were pictures of Ludendorff in all stages of his career. Until after he had come of age he was undersized. "Little Ludy" he was called when he joined his first regiment as a subaltern. But he filled out and even gained in height, and by the time he was promoted to be a Staff captain, at the early age of thirty, he was a big man. In appearance he might serve as a type of the Prussian officer as French and British picture him. A Frenchman who knew him before the war has described him as "cruel-looking." He certainly has that rather brutally self- satisfied air ol the Prussian, but I should say that his habitual expression is keen and concentrated rather than cruel.

It is easy to see that his mind is always at work. His face shows it. His features are intensely alive. Otherwise he is nothing much to look at. Under a broad, domed forehead, a long, slightly- curved nose juts out between very blue eyes. His fair hair is close-cropped in the German officer fashion ; he has a small bristling moustache. His chin is rounded and already double, and he is inclined to be stout of body. A heavy, powerful, dominating kind of man.

He spits out the maxims of the typical strong character. "Danger exists only for the weak. The strong do not talk about difficulties, they remove them. Those who accuse Fate should accuse themselves."

Melodramatic Talker

When he was asked to send a message for use in the last War Loan campaign he wrote: "Will is the source of all motive power, mighty and decisive. The harder the task, the firmer becomes the will. He who loosens his will goes under." If an Englishman talked or wrote like that we should set him down a humbug, and ten to one we should be right. But the Germans are a simpler, less self-conscious folk. Ludendorff proved himself a big man, although he talked like a character in a cheap melodrama.

None but a big man could have begun the war as brigadier (which in the German Army carries only colonel's rank with it), and within three years have won such a position that he was described as "the real master of the German Empire." Ludendorff could not have done it unless he had had a Hindenburg to serve. Gradually he got all the strings of civil as well as military policy into the hands, ostensibly of his chief, but really of himself.

He and his chief have been described over and over again in our newspapers as "inseparables," and the current legend is that Ludendorff supplied the brains for all their joint enterprises. Strange that our newspapers should be so deceived. The truth is that the two men were at no time in agreement. Hindenburg was always in favour of hammering away at the Russians. In 1915 he had his way, and very nearly knocked the Russian armies out. In 1916 he opposed the attempt to storm Verdun. He said it could not be done. He urged another Russian campaign.

His "Gamble" in the West

Ludendorff was a "Westerner." He declared the war must be won or lost in France and Flanders. The Westerners had their way and failed at Verdun, also giving Brussiloff the chance to pull off a successful offensive against the Austrians. That summer a German officer was sent to Bukarest to offer the Rumanians inducements to throw in their lot with the Central Powers. He told his intimates that it had been decided to try no more in the west. "Neither side can break through there," he said, and it was known that he was repeating Hindenburg's view.

But after Russia had been put out of the war the hopes of Ludendorff and his faction revived. Now, they said, we are in a different position. We have no longer to meet attacks from the east. We can concentrate all our strength on the Western front and nothing can stop us. So the March offensive was prepared, Hindenburg looking on doubtfully, Ludendorff assuring everybody that he was about to bring the war to an end with "a German peace."

It was in September, 1916, that he had taken over the duties of First Quartermaster-General, under Hindenburg, installed as Chief of Staff, to the puppet Emperor — "puppet" I mean so far as his title of Commander-in-Chief was concerned. He had quickly made his heavy hand felt. It was he who had at first declared unrestricted U boat warfare inadvisable ; it was he who later gave the word for it to begin. Nothing was done without consulting him. In the popular mind he ranked as Hindenburg's equal, and by degrees the legend grew that it was really Ludendorff and not Hindenburg who was "the man behind the throne."

Such was his great position in the spring of this year when he and his seven assistants laid the plans for the attack upon the British Fourth and Fifth Armies. At first the result seemed to justify his confidence. He was a gambler who had staked everything upon one throw, and it looked as if he had won. But from the early days of the vast struggle Ludendorff felt that things had not gone too well for him. I could read in his Army Orders, which I used to see in France, an anxiety, a striving to do better, an impatience against officers who did not spare their men sufficiently and men who failed to hold positions long enough.

"According to Plan"

He must have been feeling pretty hopeless during June, after his advance had come to a standstill, but he was to have a Field-Marshal's baton all the same. The Emperor went to Headquarters in July with the baton in his trunk, but before he had time to present it Foch struck his blow at the unguarded German right flank. That was the beginning of the end of Ludendorff's greatness. He put a bold face on, assured interviewers that all would be well, told the German public in his official despatches that all the retirements were "according to plan." The phrase became a joke in Germany.

When he replied to the appeal for help sent by the Burgomaster of Vienna, the note of despair sounded in his tone. "Germany cannot do more than she has done," he telegraphed. In September he began to break down. He could not sleep. He began to hint at retirement. But so long as there was any chance of the German Army recovering he was kept in his command. Only when peace was demanded with menaces and the old order in Germany had come down with a run did the unhappy Ludendorff get his orders to go.

After the first week of the Battle of St. Quentin he said : "A great battle has been fought and a victory has been gained. Nobody however, can foresee what will be the result of it." Even with his capacity for taking "a long-range view of every contingency," as a German newspaper once put it, he can hardly have foreseen that the result would be his dismissal and disgrace.


field marshall Hindenburg (left) and general Ludendorff (right) studying plans

see also : Portraits of German Generals and Admirals


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