Hindenburg and Ludendorff knew something that the German government's propaganda kept from the public, the war was going badly.
Hindenburg and Ludendorff knew something that the German government’s propaganda kept from the public; the spring offensive was the last throw of the dice. Although the spring offensive gave the German army its furthest advances in the West since August 1914, it failed to break the Allies and end the war.
The Spring Offensive
The failure of the spring offensive meant that Germany could only lose the war. Hindenburg and Ludendorff found civilian politicians to seek an armistice to end the war. They hoped that these civilians would take the blame for the defeat, which is just what happened. The same generals that failed to win the war blamed the people left to pick up the shattered pieces of Imperial Germany for their failures. Ludendorff invented the mythology of the ‘stab in the back’ that so undermined the Weimar Republic, whilst Hindenburg was happy to spread the myth as widely as possible.
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Allied Success And German Defeat
According to Ludendorff’s version of events the German army remained undefeated yet betrayed by the spineless civilian politicians. Anybody looking rationally at the factors surrounding Germany’s defeat in 1918 would have argued that the Germans could never have won the war, and that to continue fighting would have been the height of stupidity. Ludendorff’s misinformation and the stab in the back concept worked so well because many millions of Germans were incapable of thinking rationally as a result of unforeseen defeat and its dramatic consequences. The harshness of the Versailles settlement itself gave greater credence to the stab in the back concept, as did the official enquiry into Germany’s defeat carried out by the Reichstag in1919. The Reichstag enquiry gave Hindenburg the opportunity to support and spread the stab in the back concept and have it published by the government it sought to undermine. Ludendorff meanwhile formed links with the Nazi Party, which used his myth to great affect on the road to power.
The Appeal of the Stab in the Back Myth
The truth was that the First World War exhausted Germany, the modernity of its army, navy and its weak allies, inefficient organisation, and the effects of the Royal Navy blockade nullified industry. The German army and the navy were affected by Communist and revolutionary impulses. The German army’s morale was lowered as a result of the spring offensives, soldiers found out that the Allied armies were better fed and equipped than they were. The army was broken after August 1918 and in non-stop retreat. It had not been defeated, although the arrival of large numbers of American troops and the surrender of Austria meant that defeat was inevitable. The ‘stab in the back’ myth had no basis in reality, yet it would endure long enough to severely undermine the viability of the Weimar Republic due to millions of Germans believing it.
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