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The Warlords: Hindenburg and Ludendorff: The Campaigns of Hindenburg and Ludendorff (Great Commanders) [Hardcover]

John Lee
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

10 Mar 2005 Great Commanders
Hindenburg and Ludendorff were two of the greatest generals of the First World War. At Tannenberg in 1914 their brilliance on the battlefield annihilated one Russian army completely, and drove a second from German territory in disarray. They repeated these feats time and again on the Eastern Front, and when Falkenhayn resigned as Chief of the Great General Staff in 1916 (partly through the pair's intriguing against him), Hindenburg was the natural choice to take over. Very soon they became two of the most powerful men in Germany. In a country where literally everything was geared towards helping the war effort, their influence reached into all parts of German life: not only the army but the economy, industry, the transport systems, and the production and distribution of food. Their power was such that they were able to force the resignation of three successive Chancellors and several government ministers. They meddled in foreign policy and affairs of state with such frequency that it was impossible for anyone of note to hold office without their approval. By the end of the First World War, Germany was effectively a military dictatorship. This is the inside story of the German war machine during the Great War. In his concise but incredibly comprehensive history of the war, John Lee shows how Hindenburg and Ludendorff rose to power, and how their iron grip on the nation very soon brought Germany to the brink of starvation, with riots and industrial strikes reaching epidemic proportions. He also shows how their Prussian values not only contributed to Germany's downfall, but paved the way for an even more devastating war 20 years later.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st Edition edition (10 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297846752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297846758
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 977,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'.... unpretentious... his narrative is clear and reliable, his maps are excellent... This is, in short, a good introduction to a huge and tragic subject by a very accomplished writer.' (SPECTATOR )

'An incisive dual biography ... The Warlords is very readable and useful ... it is the best short book in English on German high command in World War One.' (Gary Sheffield MILITARY ILLUSTRATED )


'An incisive dual biography ... The Warlords is very readable and useful ... it is the best short book in English on German high command in World War One.'

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting high level overview 30 April 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having bought this book hoping that it'd provide a clear analysis of the problems of civil-military control within WW1 Germany, I was slightly disappointed when it didn't go into heavy details of the actual control problems and concentrated instead largely on how Luddendorf and Hindenburg rose to power during the initial stages of WW1.
The book does begin to draw on the inevitable conflict between the civilian and military leaderships towards the end, however, in a book of only ~200 pages long, inevitably, it's not in immense depth nor detail.
However, this is not to say that the book isn't a good read (it's very readable) nor that it isn't thought provoking. It does pose several interesting questions and provides some good topics for debate. I'd recommend reading it as a case study to E. Cohen's book 'Supreme Command'.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hindenburg and Ludendorff, military dictators. 3 Jan 2006
By Peter Hobson - Published on
Admiral Georg von Muller, head of the Kaiser's Naval Cabinet, wrote in his diary: "But who were our politicians during the war? Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and the political branch of the General Staff...Mistake after mistake had been made...the results of an excess of megalomania. Very seldom did the actual governmental leaders manage to prevent the acts of violence planned by the High Command."

Lee's book explains how two brilliant military leaders rose to the top of their profession and managed to drag the country into defeat.

Hindenburg was actually retired when World War I broke out. The much younger Ludendorff was recognized by his superiors as being the staff officer par excellence. Thrown together to deal with a crisis on the Eastern Front, they performed far beyond expectations. After winning the Battle of Tannenburg by annihilating one Russian army and driving another into headlong retreat, they kept the Russians in check for two years.

In 1916, Hindenburg and Ludendorff were offered the supreme command of the German Army. Hindenburg became Commander of the Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, Supreme Army Command), with Ludendorff as Generalquartiermeister - Chief of Staff. The two of them became the chief managers of the German war effort for the rest of the war.

The OHL was effectively a military dictatorship, which largely relegated Kaiser Wilhelm II to the periphery. The two generals meddled with domestic politics to the point of forcing the resignation of government ministers, including the Chancellor three times. They also held an effective veto over appointments in the state hierarchy.

With Russia's withdrawal from the war in 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff played a key role in the advantageous Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. In 1918 Ludendorff planned and executed a series of German offensives which came close but failed to collapse the Western Allies (Operation Michel).

Expecting a successful resolution to the great German spring push in 1918, Ludendorff realised that the war was lost once the offensive failed, aware that with the arrival of fresh American troops the impetus would quickly swing to the Allies. He therefore, with Hindenburg, transferred power back to the Reichstag in September, demanding an immediate peace; subsequently changing his mind, Ludendorff was forced to resign on 26 October under pressure from Max von Baden's government.

Lee does not follow the belief that Hindenburg was the front man for Ludendorff. Hindenburg was the Supreme Commander and Lee offers ample evidence that Hindenburg and Ludendorff were partners, with Ludendorff in the subordinate position.

I have a few complaints about this book: Greater length is devoted to how Hindenburg and Ludendorff rose to power than to how they drove Germany into defeat. The same number of pages is given to the Battle of the Masurian Lakes as to the industrial problems of 1917-18. Exactly one sentence describes how the Foreign Minister, Jagow, was forced to resign for his opposition to unrestricted submarine warfare.

I would recommend this book as a case study of the problems of command.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great military leaders during the war, failed statesmen afterwards 19 Mar 2007
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on
It is a common misconception that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was the primary villain that started the First World War. The collective leadership of all the European countries failed, when Princip assassinated the Archduke and his wife, it started a chain of events that no one person either started or had any power to stop. It was also the case that Wilhelm held much less power in Germany than is commonly thought. The German military wielded great power, although a great deal of it was behind the scenes. Two of the most powerful members of that military establishment were the aristocrat Paul von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg and the commoner Erich Ludendorff. More than any other officers, they controlled the military power of Germany and they kept the nation in the war far longer than would otherwise have been the case.

To their credit, both men were organizational geniuses who served their country very well at a time of great crisis. When one looks back at the amount of forces arrayed against the Central Powers in World War I, it is amazing that Germany came very, very close to winning the war. If the Russian Empire had not held out for as long as it did, or if the Germans had been willing to give a little more ground in the east in the first few months of the war, it could very well have ended in early 1915 with an allied defeat. Hindenburg and Ludendorff were also intelligent enough to understand when they were defeated and to force an armistice before Germany was invaded and conquered.

After the great tragedy of the war, another came soon after and both men played an unfortunate part in it. As soon as the ink was dry on the armistice, both men began the duplicitous game of claiming that defeat was due to a political "stab in the back." By putting forth the myth that Germany was never militarily defeated, they sowed the seeds that led to the rise of Adolph Hitler and another world war. This will forever be a black mark on both men. The stature of Hindenburg was such that if he had simply told the German people that the forces allied against Germany were just too great and that the armistice was asked for before the defeat could be total, they would have believed him. Devoid of the "political stab in the back" myth, Hitler would have had a much more difficult time gaining power and quite possibly could not have done so.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff were two of the best leaders of the twentieth century and that is made clear in this book. Unfortunately, their stellar leadership in the war was not followed by such quality behavior when it was over. Lee does an excellent job in explaining the historical context for the rise of these two men, the service they provided in the war and their failure as statesmen once it was over.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a solid introduction to Hindenburg and Ludendorff 4 May 2008
By David W. Lang - Published on
In his The Warlords: Hindenburg and Ludendorff, John Lee has put together a thoroughly readable summary of two men who, for a brief period, formed arguably the most powerful partnership in Europe.

In brisk, economic prose, Lee analyzes the careers of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, tracing their young roots in the value system of the Prussian army and following their separate maturations until the two joined in the Great War. They soon outdistanced the Kaiser in real power, and Lee does an exemplary job in showing how their partnership--shaped, guided, and blinded by Prussian values--did much to bring down the country and system they both desperately wanted to preserve.

Much of what Lee discusses has been covered previously by other writers, but he has reassembled the material into a concise volume and in the process, he offers new insights. He is masterly at writing sharp, summary paragraphs. This book serves both as a solid introduction to Hindenburg and Ludendorff and as a provocative review of their deeds.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An ok book on the real leaders of Germany in 1917 - 1918 9 Dec 2013
By historyguy - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An ok book on the virtual military dictators of Germany in WWI. I wanted more analysis and detail into their decision making process and strategic objectives during the war, and what I got was an overview with some shades of what I wanted. I have always found the year 1918 very fascinating since Germany was expanding to the east at the expense of Russia, and was discovering the great wealth of that area, and it's potential for Germany's war effort. I think the last year of the war saw Germany's thirst for conquest come alive for the first time. The invasion of Belgium was a pragmatic move to avoid French border defenses, but the move to the east (in the later part of the war) was for Russian mineral and foodstuff wealth, and for planned German colonies in the Baltic and the Crimea. To me, Ludendorff's 1918 war aims in the east were a preview of Hitler's future dreams of conquest there (minus the Holocaust, of course).
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The two field marshalls who lost the war for Germany. 31 Oct 2010
By Kevin M Quigg - Published on
This book shows the clearest reason why military leaders should not be in control of a nation. Hindenburg and Ludendorff were great Field Marshalls, but they were horrible in leading the nation. Yet for all practical purposes, they were Germany's WWI leaders. In fact, Hindenburg made political decisions outside his jurisdiction during the war. However, after the Armistice, both blamed politicians, Jews, Catholics, and other leftists for Germany's loss. They didn't suck it up and admit defeat, but placed the blame elsewhere. Both were not honorable men, they pushed aside critics because they disagreed with them. They ultimately lost the war for Germany.

Lee does a good job of detailing the successes and failures of these two men. Hindenburg ultimately selected Adolf Hitler as his successor, and this was his worst mistake. I think the book is a good read on two poor politicians but capable military men.
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