4/1/1919 Kidnapping the Kaiser

Since he fled Germany the former Kaiser has been living in the Netherlands as an uninvited guest of Count Bentinck, a Dutch aristocrat. Many in Allied countries feel that the former German emperor should face trial for his role in starting the war, but the the Dutch authorities are adamant that he will not be extradited. However Luke Lea, a US army colonel, decides to attempt his own unofficial extradition, planning to kidnap the Kaiser and extract him from the Netherlands. He recruits some of his fellow Americans for a mission described as possibly dangerous but certainly exciting, initially keeping them in the dark as to its true nature.

American soldiers are barred from neutral Holland, but through political connections Lea is able to obtain transit papers for his group. Once across the border, Lea reveals the mission’s goal and offers his fellows a chance to drop out; none of them choose to do so. They then make their way to Amerongen Castle, where the Kaiser is living with Count Bentinck. Lea and his men bluff their way into the house, where they are received by the Count, who demands to know their business. The Kaiser however declines to receive them, and even though Lea’s party can hear Bentinck talking to him in the next room they do not attempt to forcibly extract him. Lea and his men leave without the Kaiser, though Captain MacPhail of his party purloins an ashtray bearing Wilhelm’s initials.
Lea’s group make their escape across the Belgian border. However complications ensue when the Kaiser complains to the Dutch authorities about his American visitors and their theft of the ashtray. The Dutch authorities in turn complain to the Allies, leading to an embarrassing investigation and formal letters of reprimand for Lea and his fellows.


The Kaiser at Amerongen (Wikipedia Commons)

A room, possibly one in which the former Kaiser once sat (Adel in Nederland: Tentoonstelling ‘Sterke Vrouwen op Kasteel Amerongen t/m 2 oktober)

Larry MacPhail (front row, left), Luke Lea (front row, second from the left), and the rest of the group that tried to kidnap the Kaiser, after receiving their severe reprimand (Tennessee State Library and Archives: Johnny Beazley and Baseball in Tennessee)

10/11/1918 Ebert tells Erzberger to agree the Allied armistice terms #1918Live

Germany is in a state of flux. Ebert is now the Chancellor of a republic, the Kaiser having fled to Netherlands this morning. In the Chancellery he receives a telephone call on a secret line from Groener at army headquarters in Spa. Groener promises to support Ebert’s government; Ebert in turn promises to suppress the more extreme revolutionary elements and to respect the prerogatives of the army’s officer corps.

Ebert also receives the armistice terms that Foch presented to Erzberger in the Compiègne forest. The terms are harsh but Ebert knows that Germany cannot continue the war. He authorises Erzberger’s signature of an armistice on whatever terms he can obtain. The armistice negotiations now enter their final lap.

9/11/1918 Germany overthrows the Kaiser #1918Live

A revolutionary wind is blowing through Germany but the Kaiser is facing increasing calls to abdicate but remains determined to hold onto his throne. Nevertheless even in conservative circles some are now thinking that the Kaiser must go in order to take the sting out of the revolution. At military headquarters in Spa the Kaiser is joined by his son, the Crown Prince, and he meets with senior military leaders to make plans for the future. He talks of leading the army back to Germany to restore order, but Groener, the army’s quartermaster-general, administers the death blow: he informs the Kaiser that he no longer enjoys the confidence of the army. “The army,” he says, “will march back to Germany peacefully and orderly under its commanders and commanding generals, but not at the command of your majesty, because it no longer supports your majesty”.

To support Groener’s proposition, the views of a group of officers who have just arrived at Spa are canvassed. Of the thirty-nine, just one is in favour of marching behind the Kaiser. Even without the Kaiser they see an armistice as a vital precondition before any attempt to restore order in Germany can be attempted.

The Kaiser is shocked. He resolves to resign as Emperor of Germany but remain as King of Prussia. Then he goes for lunch while this news is cabled to Berlin. But disturbing reports soon arrive from Berlin. Prince Max, the Chancellor, has announced the Kaiser’s complete abdication as both emperor and king. And Scheidemann, a leading Social Democrat, has gone further: to cheering crowds gathered outside the Chancellery he announces the abolition of the monarchy. Germany is now a republic.
The Kaiser attempts to send messages to Berlin informing them that he his only abdicating as Emperor and not as King of Prussia, but no one is listening. Rumours begin to spread that the Kaiser’s personal safety cannot be guaranteed and that the soldiers making up his personal guard are no longer reliable. He finally bows to the inevitable and agrees to go into exile in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile in Berlin the situation remains chaotic. Prince Max has resigned as Chancellor, handing power to Ebert, but Ebert is furious with Scheidemann for declaring a republic, feeling that only a constituent assembly could make this change. Scheidemann is unrepentant. His spontaneous declaration has taken the wind out of the sails of Karl Liebknecht, the Spartacist leader, who had planned to proclaim a socialist republic on the Bolshevik model.

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Philipp Scheidemann declares the Republic (Wikipedia: Philipp Scheidemann)

8/11/1918 Bavaria becomes a republic but the Kaiser insists that Germany will not lost its Emperor nor Prussia its King #1918Live

Revolution is spreading through Germany with the masses turning against the royal families that have long ruled them. Yesterday the King of Bavaria fled to Austria; today in Munich the monarchy is declared abolished. Bavaria is now a socialist republic with Kurt Eisner of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD) its first premier.

The position of the Kaiser as head of Prussia and Germany meanwhile is increasingly under threat. The Social Democrats have called for his removal, a move calculated to prevent their support ebbing away to more radical rivals like the USPD or the Spartacists of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Prince Max, the Chancellor, fears that the country will descend into a civil war if the Kaiser does not go. From Berlin he telephones the Emperor at Spa, warning him that he should resign to prevent the country descending into chaos. The Kaiser is again furious, railing at Max that he has no intention of abdicating and will restore order to Germany at the head of his army if needs be. The Chancellor offers to resign, but the Kaiser will not let him go; he wants Prince Max to stay on so that blame for the armistice terms will attach itself to him.

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Celebrating the Bavarian Republic (German History in Documents and Images: The Proclamation of the Bavarian Republic (November 8, 1918))

3/11/1918 The Kiel mutiny escalates and unrest spreads across Germany, but the Kaiser again declines to abdicate #1918Live

The sailors of Germany’s fleet are in a rebellious mood. A recent mutiny prevented the fleet’s commanders from sending them off to die in a doomed battle with the British, but the mutiny’s ringleaders have been placed under arrest. In Kiel the sailors have been demonstrating to demand the release of their comrades. The naval garrison here is commanded by Souchon, who in 1914 managed to bring Turkey into the war on Germany’s side. Now though he is struggling to maintain order. Troops stationed in Kiel are proving unreliable, with soldiers openly sympathising with the sailors.

Today the sailors decide that they have had enough of demonstrating. Breaking into army barracks, they seize arms, with the soldiers offering no resistance. Then they free the mutineers from their captivity. It is only at this point that blood is shed, when a brief firefight breaks out between the sailors and a group of officers; seven men are killed, a few dozen injured. But the bloodshed emboldens the sailors. To each other and to Kiel’s soldiers and workers they begin to talk of revolution and the overthrow of German authoritarianism.

Unrest is spreading across Germany generally, with strikes and demonstrations becoming more political in their demands. Demands for the removal of the Kaiser are increasingly heard, but Wilhelm is determined to hold onto his throne. He announces that if necessary he will lead his army against the malcontents, declaring that he has no intention of abdicating “on account of a few hundred Jews or a thousand workers”.

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Sailors and their sympathisers demonstrate in Kiel (’56 Packard Man — Steamship Sunday 1918: German Sailors Mutiny)

Karl Arteit, a radical leader of the sailors (Homepage Klaus and Renate Kuhl: Sailors’ revolt in Kiel)

1/11/1918 Sailors mutiny in Kiel, unrest spreads across Germany, but the Kaiser will not abandon Germany in its hour of need

Mutinous sailors forced the commanders of Germany’s fleet to call off their suicidal plan for an advance into the English Channel. In an effort to restore discipline, the naval authorities have arrested ringleaders of the mutinies and sent the most unruly ships to separate ports. However the dispersal of the rebellious ships has served only to spread discontent to previously reliable squadrons. Sailors based in Kiel now start refusing orders and demanding the release of their arrested comrades. They also start to fraternise with dockworkers and soldiers garrisoned in the town, who prove receptive to the sailors’ rebellious message. Souchon, the recently appointed naval governor of Kiel, finds himself unable to contain the unruliness.

Unrest is in fact spreading across Germany, with striking workers demanding an immediate end to the war. People are also calling for the overthrow of the Kaiser and the establishment of a republic. Wilhelm Drews, Prussia’s interior minister, travels to the army headquarters at Spa to bravely tell the Kaiser that calls for him to go are growing. The Kaiser is furious, telling Drews that he cannot abdicate, because if he were to do so the army would disintegrate and Germany descend into chaos. The Kaiser will not abandon Germany in its hour of need.

Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia (Color by Klimbim)

26/10/1918 As Allied leaders discuss armistice terms, the Kaiser sacks Ludendorff

After discussing possible armistice terms with the Western Front commanders yesterday, Foch today reports to Clemenceau and Poincaré, France’s prime minister and president respectively. Foch follows the other generals by suggesting armistice terms that will effectively make it impossible for the Germans to return to war. If they refuse then the Allies should continue fighting until the Germans are obliged to surrender.

Meanwhile in Germany a rift has opened up between the Chancellor, Prince Max, who wants to continue negotiations towards an armistice, and Ludendorff, the army’s Quartermaster-General, who now favours an end to negotiations and military resistance to the outmost. In defiance of Prince Max, Ludendorff has had Hindenburg, the army’s commander, issue a proclamation condemning the armistice negotiations. Now Hindenburg and Ludendorff return to Berlin to meet the Kaiser, where they threaten to resign unless Prince Max is sacked and a more pliant Chancellor appointed; Max meanwhile has also threatened to resign unless Ludendorff is sacked.

By now Ludendorff’s star has fallen and the Kaiser is afraid his own star will fall with it. Instead of sacking Max, the Kaiser sacks Ludendorff, hoping that this will placate both President Wilson and the increasingly restive German people. Hindenburg’s offer of resignation is not accepted; the Kaiser needs him to continue leading Germany’s army in the nation’s hour of need. Ludendorff’s replacement meanwhile will be Groener, whose previous work directing the German war economy should make him more acceptable to the Social Democrats than any other general.

Ludendorff’s removal shocks many in the army, even those who were deeply critical of his leadership. But the way is now clear for Prince Max to pursue more substantive negotiations with Wilson.

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Erich Ludendorff (Wikipedia)

3/10/1918 Germany requests an armistice

Germany is preparing to request an armistice from the Allies. In order to spread responsibility for defeat in the war (and hopefully save the Kaiser), a new government is being formed, one that will have majority support in the Reichstag and include a broad range of parties, including the Social Democrats. Hertling, the outgoing Chancellor, is informed of his resignation over lunch with the Kaiser. His replacement is Prince Max, heir to throne of Baden. He seems like an ideal choice: a progressive who nevertheless sees the need for royals and aristocrats like himself to retain positions of influence.

Max proves more troublesome than expected. He is shocked when the true scale of the military disaster is revealed to him, so much so that he seriously considers declining the chancellorship, but a sense of duty obliges him to accept the post. He is also opposed to the idea of an immediate armistice request, thinking instead that time is needed to prepare the German public for the reality of defeat. But the Kaiser overrules him, insisting that if the army says an armistice in needed then one must be sought immediately.

Today Max is formally installed as Chancellor. He is still dragging his feet on the armistice and demands that the army must issue a statement saying that an immediate armistice is required. Hindenburg obliges, stating that any delay will lead to unnecessary loss of life. Late this evening Max gives in and despatches a formal note to President Wilson, requesting an immediate armistice on the basis of his Fourteen Points.

29/9/1918 Germany’s “Revolution from Above”

Germany’s position is unravelling. The Allies are pressing hard on the Western Front while its allies are being picked off: Bulgaria has thrown in the towel, Turkey is being battered in the Middle East and Austria-Hungary looks like it might be on the brink of disintegration. Ludendorff has come to the conclusion that an armistice must be secured at once before the situation deteriorates further. Now he and Hindenburg meet with Hintze, the foreign minister, and demand an immediate request to the Allies for an armistice.

Hintze however fears the political consequences of an armistice request. The German public have largely been shielded from the facts of the disastrous situation at the front and are still under the impression that victory is within Germany’s grasp. A sudden revelation of the true situation could lead to an explosion of anger against the regime. To prevent a domestic crisis, Hintze proposes that the German government be reformed by bringing in parties from across the political spectrum, in order to spread the responsibility for defeat. This “revolution from above” might just prevent a revolution from below.

Ludendorff and Hintze’s case is put to the Kaiser. He agrees to the government’s reformation and the subsequent request to Wilson for an armistice on the basis of his Fourteen Points. Then they all go for lunch.

14/8/1918 Hindenburg and Ludendorff block peace talks

The disaster at Amiens has forced the Germans to take stock. Yesterday Ludendorff and Hindenburg, the army’s chief of staff, met with senior German politicians; Hindenburg remained confident but Ludendorff was pessimistic. Today the generals brief the Kaiser, in the company of Chancellor Hertling and Hintze, the foreign minister. Ludendorff now recovers his poise somewhat, admitting a reverse on the battlefield but blaming it on agitations by socialists and malcontents in Germany. The generals insist that German forces are still well-placed to fight a successful defensive war on the Western Front, hoping that the Allies will just give up and let Germany keep Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine and some territory captured from France. The Kaiser and Hintze suggest some kind of peace overture, but Hindenburg and Ludendorff reject this as an admission of weakness. The German army will have to first win an impressive military victory so that Germany can enter peace talks from a position of strength.

The Kaiser is notionally Germany’s supreme warlord but for now he defers to the generals. Despite the recent defeats, there will be no serious attempt to seek an end to the war.

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Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff (in 1916) (Wikipedia: the Hindenburg Programme)