Four weeks into the First World War, on 23 August 1914 Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg, having achieved significant success at the fortress city of Liège in Belgium, were transferred to the Eastern front, in order to rescue a potentially dire situation against the Russian Empire’s huge armies. They were threatening not only the whole of East Prussia, but had a conceivable chance to march on to Berlin itself, thereby bringing the war to an early end. In the coming months with Ludendorff’s arrival, assisted by his able deputy Lieutenant-Colonel Max Hoffmann, German forces would instead force the Tsar to retreat. The Germans secured decisive early victories against the Russians, such as in the Battle of Tannenberg and around the Masurian Lakes of Central Europe.
Come the spring of 1915, the Germans had conquered a large swathe of territory in the East, and were inflicting horrendous casualties on the Russian divisions. After just over a year of war, by September 1915 the Russians had lost 1,750,000 men.
As further humiliation for Russia, and to demonstrate his contempt for the Bolsheviks, Ludendorff granted Finland, Poland and the Ukraine their independence
Before the age of Blitzkrieg, the rapidity of German advances in the East were “made possible only because Ludendorff paid the closest attention to prosaic administrative details”. He set the road-mending companies feverishly to work, while he ordered that the broad Russian railway line gauge be changed to the narrower German gauge. This enabled the swift transfer of German soldiers and materiel to the Eastern front. World War One was in many ways a railway war. It had created a constant necessity for lumber, railway sleepers and cellulose. Ludendorff therefore established forestry inspectorates and saw-mills to help cope with the demand.
After less than 18 months of fighting, the German Army had captured land areas such as all of Lithuania, Courland (western Latvia), Suwalki and Bialystok (both in northern Poland), and Grodno (western Belarus). Ludendorff poured over his map at headquarters with satisfaction, and he divided these conquered areas into separate districts under German rule. He formed a police corps and law courts with provincial appeals, along with a high court of appeal founded in Kovno (central Lithuania), where Ludendorff and Hindenburg settled down in new headquarters from October 1915.
Ludendorff issued local coinages and levied taxes and customs duties. In the opposite manner to present day neoliberalism, he controlled big business at home and in the captured territories. Ludendorff nationalised industries en masse and brought them under his domain, roughly brushing aside the arguments of corporate managers who came to see him. Hindenburg, a massive and intimidating presence, nodded approvingly and grunted in his deep voice to support his colleague’s views.
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Lieutenant Colonel Donald J. Goodspeed, professor emeritus of history at Brock University in Ontario, wrote that, “Ludendorff was at least as brilliant an administrator as a soldier, and he thoroughly enjoyed using his powers. More ambitiously than Napoleon, he dreamed of the future colonisation of the East, especially of Courland… Ludendorff, determined that Germany would get everything possible out of the occupied territories, administered them with a ruthless hand”.
Further power was drawn to Ludendorff as he created monopolies on cigarettes, alcohol, especially spirits, salt, matches and confectionery. He founded a chain of newspapers and placed them under strict censorship, which forced upon the local populations the news that he wanted them to read. Ludendorff established factories for the manufacture of barbed wire, and erected workshops for the repair of military equipment.
Four weeks into the First World War, on 23 August 1914 Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg, having achieved a significant success at the fortress city of Liège in Belgium, were transferred to the Eastern front, in order to rescue a potentially dire situation against the Russian Empire’s huge armies.
A German standard army
Large caches of captured Russian machine-guns were altered to take German ammunition. Billets were constructed for the German troops, better quality hospital facilities were built, winter clothing was provided; and other measures were adopted to maintain the health of the German Army’s soldiers and its horses. Leave was arranged and the mail delivery system put in order to reach standards of German efficiency.
To sustain morale Ludendorff created soldiers’ clubs, libraries, bookshops and concerts. He intensified military training and tweaked it to incorporate lessons learnt during the war. Supply services were improved, and the roads were made fit for all-weather transport, including mechanized machinery and horses. Ludendorff saw to it that Germany was furnished with ample quantities of Polish scrap-iron, brass, copper, skins and hides. The German Army was heavily reliant on the horse, and there was an ongoing shortage of these once sought after animals. He implacably ordered that horses be conscripted from farmers and peasants, despite the hardship this brought on the people in occupied regions.
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In particular, Ludendorff commandeered the Lithuanian horse which he wrote “possesses great powers of endurance” and is “a very useful animal for military purposes”; though the general admitted of Lithuania itself, “The country was bound to suffer severely as the result of the continuous heavy demands made upon it, especially the constant levies of horses and cattle. The local administrative authorities often drew my attention to this fact, but there was nothing for it but to insist on these deliveries”.
Ludendorff ruthlessly enacted tight controls over agriculture in the conquered regions, and he dispatched motor-ploughs, agricultural machinery and seed from Germany to augment food crops. German companies were established to farm the colonised areas, while a census was taken of peasants’ cattle.
A greater Fatherland
From the war’s outset, Ludendorff spoke bluntly about his desire “of a greater Fatherland and of territorial acquisitions that would compensate the German people for their sacrifices”. His view was that “if Germany makes peace without profit, Germany has lost the war”. For these reasons Ludendorff began to enjoy “a tremendous reputation with the masses of the German people”, along with Hindenburg.
On 11 September 1917 at a Crown Council meeting in Pless Castle, Silesia, Ludendorff demanded “the conquered territories in the East be divided into a Duchy of Courland and a Grand Duchy of Lithuania”. These annexed lands would ostensibly be placed under the personal sovereignty of the Kaiser.
Ludendorff was at least as brilliant an administrator as a soldier, and he thoroughly enjoyed using his powers. More ambitiously than Napoleon, he dreamed of the future colonisation of the East.
Aspirations beyond Europe
Ludendorff’s hegemonic aspirations for the West were likewise exacting. Once victory was obtained, far from his considering the returning of Alsace-Lorraine to France or offering concessions on it, he intended that these provinces be fully incorporated into Prussia, rather than administered as a separate entity. Ludendorff had plans for the seizure of all French property in Alsace-Lorraine, which he wanted to hand over to German war veterans as compensation for their sacrifices to Germany. He wanted economic union with Belgium, and a prolonged military occupation of that country.
In late 1917, as Germany’s eastern forces were preparing to give the coup de grâce to the Tsar’s regime, Ludendorff increased his demands against the Kremlin. His final peace terms to Russia were harsh and audacious in scope, and he was becoming impatient with how long the negotiations were taking. To show how serious he was, Ludendorff ordered German soldiers to march deep into eastern Europe during the early spring of 1918 – which they did, almost unmolested. Ludendorff was firmly set on carving out a great slice of Russia’s Empire, to be absorbed into the German Reich: A land mass stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, hundreds of miles of fertile, resource rich land.
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These expansionist goals were supported strongly by Field Marshal Hindenburg. He and Ludendorff rarely disagreed on anything, hence their seamless collaboration. On 19 December 1917 Hindenburg informed the German foreign secretary, Richard von Kühlmann, that Germany needed the Baltic territories “for the manoeuvring of my left wing in the next war”.
As further humiliation for Russia, and to demonstrate his contempt for the Bolsheviks, Ludendorff granted Finland, Poland and the Ukraine their independence – all formerly part of the Russian Empire – while Estonia and Latvia were to be occupied by the German Army. Also stripped from the Kremlin were the Black Sea port of Batumi and Kars Oblast. Ludendorff turned his ire towards Romania too. He insisted that Romania be turned into a German satellite under a puppet regime, partly as retribution for the Romanians having unexpectedly chosen to join the Allied side in August 1916.
Shane Quinn has contributed on a regular basis to Global Research for almost two years and has had articles published with American news outlets People’s World and MintPress News, Morning Star in Britain, and Venezuela’s Orinoco Tribune. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.