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Paul von Hindenburg

Paul von Hindenburg [not Hindenberg] (1847-1934), German soldier, chief of the great general staff during the World War, was born on Oct. 2 1847 at Posen. His full family name was von Beneckendorf und Hindenburg. His promotion was slow; from 1877 to 1884 he served on the general staff, but Hindenburg was 47 years of age when he became colonel, and 49 when he attained a military position of higher importance as chief of the general staff of the VIII. Army Corps. In 1904, when he was 57, he was appointed to the command of the IV. Army Corps, and in 1911 was placed on the retired list, at the instance, it is said, of the Emperor William II (who had criticized maneuvers of his corps). While in command of this Eastern Corps he had thoroughly studied the strategy, and above all the geography, of a possible war with Russia, a fact which was widely known in the German army, but to which the German Emperor docs not appear, at the time, to have attached importance.

When, at the outbreak of the World War, East Prussia was overrun by the armies of Rennenkampf, military opinion turned to Hindenburg, and he was recalled from his retirement at Hanover, and appointed to the command of the VIII Army with Ludendorff as his chief of staff. In August and September he won the victories of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, which were decisive for the deliverance of East Prussia and for the prospects of any Russian advance into Germany, upon which sections of opinion in the Entente countries were reckoning.

In the summer of 1915 he planned and executed a German advance against Riga, Dunaburg and Molodetschno. In acknowledgment of his victories he had meanwhile been advanced, on Aug. 27 1914, to the rank of colonel-general (Generaloberst), and, on Nov. 27 of the same year, to that of fieldmarshal. He had further been appointed, in Nov. 1914, chief in command over the armies of the East, a command which was extended at the beginning of Aug. 1916 so as to embrace sections of the Austrian front.

Finally, on Aug. 20 1916, he was made chief of the general staff of the army in succession to Falkenhayn. In this capacity he controlled the whole conduct of the operations in the East and West, with Ludendorff in the position of quartermaster-general as his adviser and executive officer. His achievements and failures during this period belong to the military history of the war, but it may be mentioned here that his identification with Ludendorff was so close in everything he did that the credit or discredit is rightly attached to the younger soldier, who was in the full vigor of his faculties and powers of initiative.

The German people, which was unable to personify, as in 1870-71, the spirit of the war and of its patriotic aspirations in an emperor, a crown prince or a chancellor, centerd its hopes and its enthusiasms upon Hindenburg, its deliverer from the tremendous Russian menace. Justice and the facts of the case soon compelled it to associate Ludendorff inseparably with the fame of its hero, but Hindenburg remained during the war the national figure-head. A wooden statue of him was erected in the Konigsplatz in Berlin, and patriotic persons of all classes paid sums of money towards war charities for the privilege of driving a nail into this effigy.

William II was unable to assume that leadership of his people which he so proudly proclaimed. The investment of Hindenburg "with practically dictatorial power" was the most popular thing the Kaiser had done. After 1916 the Germans realized that Ludendorff and Hindenburg were the real dictators of Mittel Europa. What has been termed "monarchical socialism" was not, of course, a new thing in Germany, where for many years the state has increased its power and minimized the rights of the individual by appropriating and enforcing social reforms-the purpose being not to enlarge the liberty and increase the happiness of the individual, but to exalt the state as an institution apart from and superior to its subjects. But the stress of war suddenly gave to this system an extraordinary development. It had been the careless habit of observers for more than two years to refer to Germany as literally a nation at war, to take it for granted that the government had completely organized, and was completely directing, all the resources and energies of the empire. But the truth is that the mobilization of these forces, while far more extensive than in the enemy countries, did not reach its logical development until a bill passed on 02 December 1916, which provided for completion of the national organization: compulsory military service; government control of industries, agriculture and other productive activities; rationing of the population; government purchase and distribution of raw materials for manufacture, and compulsory civilian service.

Hindenburg entirely associated himself with Ludendorff in urging upon the German Government, in Sept. and Oct. 1918, the necessity of seeking an armistice. When the Armistice had been arranged the urgent question arose of leading the partially disorganized German armies of the West home and disbanding them. It was to the unequalled prestige and authority of Hindenburg that the provisional Republican Government, the Commission of the six Delegates o the People, looked to cope with this gigantic task. And it must be acknowledged that the magnanimity and the patriotic devotion of the man were even more strikingly displayed in this emergency than in his greatest military achievements. He addressed to the army an appeal in which he announced that an Armistice on very hard terms had been signed. He paid a tribute to the sen-ices of the army which had kept the enemy far from Germany's frontiers and thus saved the country from the horrors and devastation of war. He ma intained that they "issued from the struggle proud and with heads erect." And he concluded:- "The terms of the Armistice oblige us to execute a rapid march home - in present circumstances, a difficult task which demands self-control and the most faithful fulfilment of duty by every single one of you, a hard test for the spirit and the internal cohesion of the Army. In battle your Field-Jlarshal-Gcncral never left you in the lurch. And I rely upon you now as before."

In other aspects these post-war services of Hindenburg had certain grave and prejudicial effects. The role which was assigned to him and to other soldiers (Ludendorff being carefully excluded as too dangerous a political schemer) demonstrated that the German Republic was at first unable to dispense with the services of royalist officers, just as it was unable for a long lime to replace royalist officials by republicans. The Kapp coup d'etat of March 1920 was facilitated by the fact that many of these officers and officials were in a position to make their influence felt against the republic. There was at one time, in 1920, some talk of putting up Hindenburg as a candidate for the presidency of the Reich, if it had then become vacant. During the first half of 1919 Hindenburg held the chief command of the forces for defending the Eastern frontier, which had headquarters at Kolberg on the Baltic.

He retired from active sen-ice on July 3 1919, and subsequently lived at Hanover as a private citizen. Unlike Ludendorff, he kept himself clear of the political conflicts of the day. A chivalrous, almost a quixotic action, was his offer, on the morrow of his retirement, to place himself at the disposal of the Allied and Associated Powers as a substitute for the exEmperor, if it had been decided by the Allies that William II should actually be prosecuted.

With his aging wife who was soon to die and his spry young dachshund, Feldmarschall von Hindenburg settled down after the War, positive that he had fulfilled his duty to the Fatherland. No irony is greater than that in 1925 he, who always remained an avowed Monarchist, should have been persuaded that it was his duty to run for President of the Republic. In April 1925 Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg, the idol of the German Nation, after previously refusing , accepted the pro-Monarchist nomination for the Presidency of the German Republic. The aged (78 years old) Field Marshal had remained indurately opposed to accepting nomination, until Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz appeared to undermine Hindenburg's resistance. It was subsequently given out on the slenderest authority that the ex-Kaiser at Doorn had intervened to command the old man to stand for election, a rumor denied by the Kaiser's household.

Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was elected as Reich President in April 1925. Initially Paul von Hindenburg was not even a candidate on the first ballot; on the second (when the candidate who has a plurality wins), he was elected by 14,648,877 votes. Hindenburg was elected President largely by reactionaries. They considered him then a reactionary stalking horse for the return of Kaiser Wilhelm or for the setting up of an absolute Dictatorship. In 1927 he cautiously asked Stresemann if there would be any objection to his denouncing "the German War guilt lie" at a Tannenberg celebration. With Stresemann's consent, the speech, then considered daring, was pronounced by President von Hindenburg at Tannenberg on Sept. 18, 1927. "With clean hearts we started out in defense of our Fatherland," he cried, "and with clean hands the German Army wielded the sword."

By 1930 as President of Germany, he was Honorary President of the patriotic Stahlhelm ("Steel Helmet") militant organization, and quarreled on Stahlhelm's behalf with the Government of Prussia. Dr. Otto Braun, Socialist Prime Minister of Prussia, had refused to relax his rule that Stahlhelm members may not parade or demonstrate in Rhenish Prussia.

The political situation in the final stages of the Weimar Republic was confusing and unstable. Changing cabinets and coalitions and political, social and economic crises were the order of the day. Paul von Hindenburg, President of the Reich, was resorting more and more frequently to emergency decrees and dissolved the Reichstag twice in 1932. The prevailing political conditions facilitated the transition of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) from a radical splinter group to a party of government. In the two elections to the Reichstag in 1932 and in the election of 1933, which was free only on paper, the NSDAP won the largest share of the vote by far. On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Reich by President Hindenburg. Hitler was thus placed at the head of a cabinet comprising non-attached Conservative ministers, members of the NSDAP and representatives of the German National People's Party (DNVP).

In August 1934, following the death of President von Hindenburg, Hitler merged the office of Chancellor and President together and required to armed forces to swear an oath of loyalty him. In February 1938 Hitler became Supreme Commander of the armed forces, and replaced the war ministry with a Supreme Headquarters (OKW).




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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:22 ZULU