Erich Ludendorff, the third of six children, was born near Posen on 9th April 1865. His father, August Wilhelm Ludendorff (1833-1905), was a landowner. He was educated at the Cadet School at Plön. An intelligent student he was placed in a class two years ahead of his actual age group.
In 1885 Ludendorff was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 57th Infantry Regiment. He later served with the 2nd Marine Battalion and the 8th Grenadier Guards. In 1893 he attended the War Academy and the following year was appointed to the General Staff of the German Army. By 1911 he was promoted to the rank of colonel.
Ludendorff worked with General Alfred von Schlieffen on what became known as the Schlieffen Plan. Schlieffen argued that if war took place it was vital that France was speedily defeated. If this happened, Britain and Russia would be unwilling to carry on fighting. Schlieffen calculated that it would take Russia six weeks to organize its large army for an attack on Germany. Therefore, it was vitally important to force France to surrender before Russia was ready to use all its forces.
Schlieffen's plan involved using 90% of Germany's armed forces to attack France. Fearing the French forts on the border with Germany, Alfred von Schlieffen suggested a scythe-like attack through Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. The rest of the German Army would be sent to defensive positions in the east to stop the expected Russian advance.
Ludendorff used his influence to persuade the Reichstag to increase military spending and to adopt a more agressive foreign policy. This upset the Social Democratic Party and in January 1913 Ludendorff was dismissed from the General Staff and was forced to return to regimental duties and was given the command of the 39th Fusiliers at Dusseldorf.
On the outbreak of the First World War was appointed Chief of Staff in East Prussia. Working with Paul von Hindenburg, commander of the German Eighth Army, Ludendorff won decisive victories over the Russians at Tannenberg (1914) and the Masaurian Lakes (1915).
Paul von Hindenburg replaced Erich von Falkenhayn as Chief of Staff of the German Army in August, 1916. Hindenburg appointed Ludendorff as his quartermaster general. Soon afterwards, Ludendorff and Hindenburg became the leaders of the military-industrial dictatorship Third Supreme Command. Ludendorff supported unrestricted submarine warfare and successfully put pressure on Kaiser Wilhelm II to dismiss those in the armed forces that favoured a negotiated peace settlement.
Ludendorff gradually became the dominant figure in the Third Supreme Command and after the resignation of Theobald Bethmann Hollweg in July, 1917, took effective political, military and economic control of Germany. After the withdrawal of Russia from the war in 1917 Ludendorff was a key figure in the Brest-Litovsk negotiations.
With the Spring Offensive Ludendorff expected to breakthrough on the Western Front. When this ended in failure Ludendorff realised that Germany would lose the war. On 29th September 1918, the Third Supreme Command transferred power to Max von Baden and the Reichstag. By the end of October, Baden's government was strong enough to force Ludendorff's resignation.
After the signing of the Armistice, Ludendorff moved to Sweden where his wrote books and articles claiming that the unbeaten German Army had been "stabbed in the back" by left-wing politicians in Germany. He also published his memoirs, My War Memories, 1914-1918 (1920).
Fritz Thyssen later recalled: "I went to see Ludendorff chiefly to pay him a call of courtesy, but also in order to discuss with him the great national questions which then preoccupied his mind as much as mine. I deplored the fact that there were not at that time men in Germany whom an energetic national spirit would inspire to improve the situation... He recommended to me in particular the Overland League and, above all, the National Socialist party of Adolf Hitler." Ludendorff told Thyssen: "He (Hitler) is the only man who has any political sense. Go and listen."
Ludendorff eventually returned to Germany where he participated in both the Kapp Putsch (March, 1920) and the Munich Putsch (November, 1923). The following year he became one of the first supporters of the Nazi Party in the Reichstag. Ludendorff was the right-wing Nationalist candidate in the 1925 Presidential Elections but won less than 1 per cent of the vote.
In 1931 Ella Winter visited Germany. She managed to obtain an interview with Ludendorff. He asked her what magazines she was working for. Winter replied, Harper's Magazine and Scribner's Magazine. Ludendorff commented: "In the hands of Freemasons, both of them; of course you know that... The Freemasons, the Bolsheviks, the world international financiers are trying to rule the world... They and the Jews." Winter later pointed out: "I had not heard such talk outside a mental hospital and did not know how to proceed with a supposedly rational political interview."
Erich Ludendorff died on 20th December 1937.
© John Simkin, May 2013