1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hindenburg, Paul von
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Hindenburg, Paul von
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HINDENBURG, PAUL VON (1847- ), 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 he 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 manœuvres 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 does 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 Aug. and Sept. 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, Dünaburg 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 field-marshal. 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. 29 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 identifi- cation 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 vigour 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, centred 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 Königsplatz 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.
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 of 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 services 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 maintained 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-Marshal-General 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 time to replace royalist officials by republicans. The Kapp coup d'état 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 (Grenzschutz Ost), which had headquarters at Kolberg on the Baltic. He retired from active service 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 ex-Emperor, if it had been decided by the Allies that William II. should actually be prosecuted. In 1920 he published his recollections under the title of Aus meinem Leben.