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Crown Prince Wilhelm at Verdun

Crown Prince Wilhelm at Verdun

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Crown Prince Wilhelm at Verdun

Here we see Crown Prince Wilhelm, heir to the German throne and commander of the army that attacked Verdun during 1916.

Terrible Cost: Why the Battle of Verdun Was a Major Blunder

Key point: The entire fight was yet another attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare. Although many died, the plan did not work and later Imperial Germany would sue for peace.

Operation Gericht—German for “judgment” or “tribunal”—was the brainchild of Erich von Falkenhayn, chief of the German general staff as the year 1915 was coming to a close. Descended from a long line of Prussian military men, he was a cold, rational, distant man. A personal favorite of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Falkenhayn was faced with a problem: The war against France, Belgium, and Britain was not going as planned by Prussian strategists. Originally, according to the intricately developed Schlieffen Plan, the German armies were to have sliced through Belgium and into northern France, sweeping the French army and its British allies before it in an irresistible strike at Paris. But the Belgians had fought valiantly, France’s Russian ally had invaded the eastern German Empire, and the French had smashed into the exposed flank of the German army on the River Marne, halting its drive. Both sides had dug in, and the war of movement—and German dreams of a lightning victory—vanished into the sullen horror of trench warfare.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Faced with this stalemate, Falkenhayn sat down in December 1915 to write a long memorandum to the Kaiser. The key to winning the war, argued the chief of staff, lay in the West Russia, disorganized and unstable, could be dealt with later. France was the crux, and knocking France out of the war would bring the British to the peace table.

“Within our reach,” Falkenhayn’s memo read, “behind the French sector of the Western Front there are objectives for the retention of which the French General staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. If they do so the forces of France will bleed to death—as there can be no question of a voluntary withdrawal—whether we reach our goal or not.” Verdun was the site picked for this grim hemorrhaging operation, code-named Operation Judgment.

Falkenhayn’s Bold Plan

The choice of Verdun was a natural for Falkenhayn’s battle of attrition, for here were located probably the strongest fortified systems in the world. More than mere forts, the formidable defenses symbolized the French army, French honor, and independence—indeed, France itself. Falkenhayn was right in arguing that a German victory here would be intolerable to the French, a moral and psychological blow at the country’s heart. In defending it, Falkenhayn believed, they would sacrifice their army and then have to sue for peace.

As for the forts themselves, the German army felt certain that they would be easily pulverized by heavy artillery—the huge Krupp-made 420mm “Big Berthas” that had leveled the “indestructible” Belgian forts of Liège and Namur at the beginning of the war. Taking the Verdun forts, Falkenhayn reasoned, would present no great problem. What he could not foresee, however, was how determinedly the French would fight to defend them.

A sophisticated court insider, Falkenhayn carefully designed his plan to appeal to the Kaiser’s enormous vanity: The official orders for the attack were released on January 27—His Majesty’s birthday—and the Kaiser’s son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, would lead the V Army in the attack.

A major flaw in Operation Judgment, however, was its lack of goals. The target of what was to be the greatest German military operation up to that time was not to break through the Allied lines it was not even to capture the great forts themselves. At the most, taking Verdun would protect important German railway lines 20 kilometers away, but even this could not justify the intensity of the assault. Falkenhayn himself was vague on just what his forces were supposed to accomplish other than destroying the French army by attrition and then, perhaps, seeing what opportunities presented themselves afterward. His thinking was so broadly strategic that he utterly disregarded the details. To this day, military historians are puzzled by what Falkenhayn’s real objectives were.

Not having seen Falkenhayn’s memo to the Kaiser, the Crown Prince and his chief of staff, General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, set about devising a real plan of attack centered on the capture of the Verdun forts. This was to be a two-pronged pincer movement across the western and eastern banks of the Meuse, designed to overrun the forts and, it was hoped, develop into a breakthrough of the lines and a rolling up of the enemy’s forces.

Secretive, indecisive, and loath to take risks, Falkenhayn vetoed this plan of action. Capturing the forts, perversely, did not fit his idea of a drawn-out “bleeding-white” operation. The actual fall of the forts would make the process shorter, and thereby—in Falkenhayn’s cold logic—inefficient. Significantly, Falkenhayn never explained his idea to the young and inexperienced Crown Prince, possibly because he calculated that few would willingly fight in such a macabre battle.

In the end, Falkenhayn limited the Crown Prince and Schmidt von Knobelsdorf’s plan to an attack only on the Meuse’s eastern bank, and thereby weakened the German army’s striking arm. With shrewd calculation, Falkenhayn promised further reserves as the battle progressed, although these were to be kept under his strict control. Thus, the Crown Prince’s V Army believed its target was the forts, while Falkenhayn kept to his original idea.

France Unintentionally Aided the German Effort by Weakening Their Forts

Verdun consisted of a network of more than 20 large and small sunken fortresses, with Fort Douaumont, built on a hill 1,200 feet high, forming the anchor of the defense. Located on the River Meuse, the line of forts formed part of a large salient bulging into the German lines, which meant that the Germans could fire on French positions from three sides. It would have been sound strategy for the French to abandon the forts and thereby shorten their lines. Politically, however, such a move would have been inconceivable. French public opinion would have never supported voluntarily surrendering Verdun, the emblem of French military might and national honor.

Despite the symbolic importance of Verdun, the French had done much to aid German battle plans by weakening the forts. Having observed the relatively easy fall of the Belgium fortresses, the rotund and somnolent French commander-in-chief, General Joseph Joffre, had grandly declared forts to be useless. Subsequently, the fortresses of Vaux, Douaumont, and others were stripped of men and weapons that were then sent to more active fronts. Only one thin line of trenches was dug to defend the forts, now manned by skeleton crews and used as depots for housing men and materiel. No political fool, Joffre did not inform the French public about his decision to castrate these symbols of France’s pride and power.

Meanwhile, the Germans were pushing ahead with characteristic thoroughness. As in nearly all Great War battles, the attackers amassed an impressive lineup of artillery: more than 542 heavy guns, 17 305mm howitzers, 13 “Big Berthas”—which were capable of hurling a 1-ton shell for several miles—plus mortars and medium and light guns. The Germans concentrated 150 guns to each mile on an 8-mile front. A total of 140,000 men dispersed among 72 divisions faced an ill-prepared, paltry French defense of only 270 guns and 34 divisions. Also, German aircraft were sent aloft to prevent enemy observation planes from photographing the army’s preparations, a job helped by foggy, rainy weather.

Falkenhayn’s plan of attack was novel: a short, sharp bombardment on a narrow front to kill the defenders and wipe out their trenches, followed by the German infantry—not dashing themselves in suicidal waves against the enemy, but advancing in small groups and using the contours of the ground, tactics that would later be perfected by the stormtroopers of the great German offenses of 1918. The infantry’s main role would be to “mop up” the defenders, although it was widely believed that there would be nothing left to mop up after the storm of shells ceased.

The Largest Attack History Had Ever Known

Zero hour was set for February 12, 1916. The night before, German officers and enlisted men readied their weapons and stared with sullen tension at their target across the fields of barbed wire. The great killing machine of the German army was poised to unleash itself in the largest attack history had ever known.

But nothing happened. That night, a powerful snow blizzard slammed into the area with a torrent of whipping winds, freezing rains, and sub-zero temperatures that did not let up for nearly a week, thus postponing the attack.

While German soldiers crouched in their bunkers and trenches and artillery gun sighters peered helplessly into the swirling white soup, the French, alerted at last that something was indeed up, began to rush in reinforcements. Even slow-moving General Joffre arrived on the scene. This storm saved Verdun, and perhaps France as well.

When visibility improved on the 21st, the message was passed down from V Army headquarters: Attack. Operation Judgment was launched when a giant 15-inch Krupp naval gun 20 miles away belched a huge shell that arched through the sky and exploded inside the town of Verdun. This was the start of nine hours of hell.

Former German Crown Prince Wilhelm has died

Former Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, eldest son of the late Kaiser Wilhelm II, died today at his villa in Hechingen. He was 69 years old. The "heir apparent" to the former German empire, died after a long illness "within sight of an eighty room Hohenzollern castle he lacked the money to live in."

His estranged wife, Crown Princess Cecilie, rushed to Hechingen from her home in Bad Kissingen, but arrived shortly after Wilhelm had died. The cause of death is arterial sclerosis, reports the Associated Press.

Wilhelm, a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, "lived out two of the most destructive wars in history and two shattering German defeats. After the end of the first world war, and the establishment of the republic, the Kaiser and his eldest son were forced into exile. Wilhelm II was allowed to live at Doorn, in the Netherlands, while his son was sent to Wieringen, "a lonely island in Holland's Zuyder Zee."

He returned to Germany after several years, but fled to the French zone after the Russians occupied the former Hohenzollern estates in Brandenburg after World War II.

Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor August Ernst of Prussia was born at the Marmorpalais in Potsdam on May 6, 1882, as the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife, the former Auguste Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein. He went through "the usual courses of instruction" for a German prince, including attending the Prince's academy at Plön.

He was an "enthusiastic sportsman, liked English country house life, had many American friends, and in general seemed to prefer the life of an English gentleman to that of a Prussian prince." He was regarded by many as someone who would be a "safe Emperor and give Germany a rest from" his father's "strenuous rule."

On June 6, 1905, the Crown Prince married Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The marriage, at first "extremely happy," seemed to stead Wilhelm and he saw his popularity increase, "for he married a girl who was herself tremendously well liked and who understood not only the value of such popularity but how to keep it."

Crown Prince Wilhelm continued to assert himself more and found that "public sentiment sided with him against his father." He and his wife "set a very lively social pace in Berlin," and the birth of their sons "increased their favor with the people." He was "wont to spend almost every other week under arrest at his father's order," but as he grew older, he sough a position of more responsibility, and found he had many supporters.

He supported "German nationalistic policies," especially concerning the military, and he looked forward to the then coming "world conflict." But Germany's defeat in the first world war changed how Crown Prince Wilhelm I was perceived. He was "accused of tactical blunders" during Germany's failed attempt to capture Verdun in 1914. But it would be proven later that the "rulings of the German Imperial Headquarters" and not Crown Prince Wilhelm's "influenced the results."

After the first world war, the former Crown Prince became more active in the Nationalist movement. he was encouraged by "influential industrialists" to spend more time in Berlin, and he began to dress often in uniform. There were suggestions that Wilhelm should become President and "then declare a regency." During Germany's Parliamentary crisis in 1932, many believed that the Crown Prince's day had come, and that the loyal Hindenburg should declare him regent, and "make way for him."

But it was Adolf Hitler who came into power, and he soon established himself as a dictator. Crown Prince Wilhelm "accepted the situation," and "enrolled in the Nazi motor corps." His sons "won commissions in the German armed forces after Hitler had relaxed the restrictions established by the Treaty of Versailles.

By 1935, Crown Prince Wilhelm was seen as an "asset" to Hitler, but despite the "popular and governmental favor" that he enjoyed, he failed to get Hitler "to sanction the return of his father, the Kaiser." Hitler's response was an emphatic "No!"

Crown Prince Wilhelm and his brothers were not "admitted to active service by the Nazi regime," after the outbreak of the second world war in 1939, three of his sons served in the German army. His eldest son, Wilhelm, was killed in action. His youngest son, Friedrich, was interned in Scotland during the war.

In 1938, his second son, Prince Louis Ferdinand, married Grand Duchess Kira of Russia, the younger daughter of the heir to the Russian throne. The Kaiser died in 1941.

Little was heard of the Crown Prince during World War II. He was found by French troops in Baad, Austria, where he had been hiding. He was brought before the French commander, and the only thing he could say was to ask to be returned to "the comforts of his chalet."

General de Lattre de Tassigny told him: "You certainly have lost your sense of dignity. In the face of your country's collapse, you. a man of 65, care for nothing but your own comfort and a woman who pleases you. You are lamentable, Monsieur, and that is all I have to say to you."

Crown Prince Wilhelm is survived by his wife, Crown Princess Cecilie, his two surviving sons, Prince Louis Ferdinand, and Prince Friedrich, who lives in England with his wife, Lady Brigid Guinness, and their children, and two daughters, Princess Alexandrine, and Princess Cecilie, who is married to an American, Clyde Harris, of Amarillo, Texas. Wilhelm's third son, Prince Hubertus, died last year.

Prince Louis Ferdinand, an executive with the German branch of the Ford Motor Company, succeeds as head of the House of Hohenzollern.

France Unintentionally Aided the German Effort by Weakening Their Forts

Verdun consisted of a network of more than 20 large and small sunken fortresses, with Fort Douaumont, built on a hill 1,200 feet high, forming the anchor of the defense. Located on the River Meuse, the line of forts formed part of a large salient bulging into the German lines, which meant that the Germans could fire on French positions from three sides. It would have been sound strategy for the French to abandon the forts and thereby shorten their lines. Politically, however, such a move would have been inconceivable. French public opinion would have never supported voluntarily surrendering at the Battle of Verdun, as the city was the emblem of French military might and national honor.

Despite the symbolic importance of Verdun, the French had done much to aid German battle plans by weakening the forts. Having observed the relatively easy fall of the Belgium fortresses, the rotund and somnolent French commander-in-chief, General Joseph Joffre, had grandly declared forts to be useless. Subsequently, the fortresses of Vaux, Douaumont, and others were stripped of men and weapons that were then sent to more active fronts. Only one thin line of trenches was dug to defend the forts, now manned by skeleton crews and used as depots for housing men and materiel. No political fool, Joffre did not inform the French public about his decision to castrate these symbols of France’s pride and power.

Meanwhile, the Germans were pushing ahead with characteristic thoroughness. As in nearly all Great War battles, the attackers amassed an impressive lineup of artillery: more than 542 heavy guns, 17 305mm howitzers, 13 “Big Berthas”—which were capable of hurling a 1-ton shell for several miles—plus mortars and medium and light guns. The Germans concentrated 150 guns to each mile on an 8-mile front. A total of 140,000 men dispersed among 72 divisions faced an ill-prepared, paltry French defense of only 270 guns and 34 divisions. Also, German aircraft were sent aloft to prevent enemy observation planes from photographing the army’s preparations, a job helped by foggy, rainy weather.

Falkenhayn’s plan of attack was novel: a short, sharp bombardment on a narrow front to kill the defenders and wipe out their trenches, followed by the German infantry—not dashing themselves in suicidal waves against the enemy, but advancing in small groups and using the contours of the ground, tactics that would later be perfected by the stormtroopers of the great German offenses of 1918. The infantry’s main role would be to “mop up” the defenders, although it was widely believed that there would be nothing left to mop up after the storm of shells ceased.

Battle of Verdun

During the First World War Verdun was a fortified French garrison town on the River Meuse 200km east of Paris. In December 1915, General Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of Staff of the German Army, decided to attack Verdun. Although he admitted he would be unable to break through at these point on the Western Front, he argued that in defending Verdun, the Germans would "bleed the French army white".

The German attack on Verdun started on 21st February 1916. A million troops, led by Crown Prince Wilhelm, faced only about 200,000 French defenders. The following day the French was forced to retreat to their second line of trenches. By 24th February the French had moved back to the third line and were only 8km from Verdun.

On 24th February, General Henri-Philippe Petain was appointed commander of the Verdun sector. He gave orders that no more withdrawals would take place. He arranged for every spare French soldier to this part of the Western Front. Of the 330 infantry regiments of the French Army, 259 eventually fought at Verdun.

The German advance was brought to a halt at the end of February. On the 6th March, the German Fifth Army launched a new attack at Verdun. The Germans advanced 3km before they were stopped in front of the area around Mort Homme Hill. The French held this strategic point until it was finally secured by the Germans on 29th May, and Fort Vaux fell on 7th June, after a long siege.

Further attacks continued throughout the summer and early autumn. However, the scale of the German attacks were reduced by the need to transfer troops to defend their front-line at the Somme. The French now counter-attacked and General Charles Mangin became a national hero when the forts at Douaumont and Vaux were recaptured by 2nd November, 1916. Over the next six weeks the French infantry gained another 2km at Verdun.

Verdun, the longest battle of the First World War, ended on the 18th December. The French Army lost about 550,000 men at Verdun. It is estimated that the German Army suffered 434,000 casualties. About half of all casualties at Verdun were killed.

Family and children

With his father and his son Prince Wilhelm in 1927

His wife and daughters in 1934

Wilhelm married Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (20 September 1886 – 6 May 1954) in Berlin on June 6, 1905. After their marriage, the couple lived at the Crown Prince's Palace in Berlin in the winter and at the Marmorpalais in Potsdam. Cecilie was the daughter of Grand Duke Frederick Francis III of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1851–1897) and his wife, Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia (1860–1922). Their eldest son, Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, was killed fighting France in 1940. However, during the early stages of his marriage the crown prince had a brief affair with the American opera singer Geraldine Farrar, and he later had a relationship with the dancer Mata Hari.

Their children and male-line grandchildren are:

    (1906–1940) married Dorothea von Salviati and had issue.
    • Princess Christa of Prussia (born 1936)
    • Princess Anastasia of Prussia (born 1944)
    • Princess Marie-Christine of Prussia (1947–1966)
    • Prince Frederick Nicholas of Prussia (born 1946)
    • Prince Andrew of Prussia (born 1947)
    • Princess Victoria of Prussia (born 1952)
    • Prince Rupert of Prussia (born 1955) (born 1955)

    Their surviving descendants are also in the line of succession to the British throne.


    Wilhelm was born in Berlin on 27 January 1859 — at the Crown Prince's Palace — to Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria, and Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future Frederick III). At the time of his birth, his granduncle, Frederick William IV, was king of Prussia. Frederick William IV had been left permanently incapacitated by a series of strokes, and his younger brother Wilhelm was acting as regent. Wilhelm was the first grandchild of his maternal grandparents (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), but more importantly, he was the first son of the crown prince of Prussia. Upon the death of Frederick William IV in January 1861, Wilhelm's paternal grandfather (the elder Wilhelm) became king, and the two-year-old Wilhelm became second in the line of succession to Prussia. After 1871, Wilhelm also became second in the line to the newly created German Empire, which, according to the constitution of the German Empire, was ruled by the Prussian king. At the time of his birth, he was also sixth in the line of succession to the British throne, after his maternal uncles and his mother.

    A traumatic breech birth resulted in Erb's palsy, which left him with a withered left arm about six inches (15 centimetres) shorter than his right. He tried with some success to conceal this many photographs show him holding a pair of white gloves in his left hand to make the arm seem longer. In others, he holds his left hand with his right, has his crippled arm on the hilt of a sword, or holds a cane to give the illusion of a useful limb posed at a dignified angle. Historians have suggested that this disability affected his emotional development. [4] [5]

    Early years

    In 1863, Wilhelm was taken to England to be present at the wedding of his Uncle Bertie (later King Edward VII), and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Wilhelm attended the ceremony in a Highland costume, complete with a small toy dirk. During the ceremony, the four-year-old became restless. His eighteen-year-old uncle Prince Alfred, charged with keeping an eye on him, told him to be quiet, but Wilhelm drew his dirk and threatened Alfred. When Alfred attempted to subdue him by force, Wilhelm bit him on the leg. His grandmother, Queen Victoria, missed seeing the fracas to her Wilhelm remained "a clever, dear, good little child, the great favourite of my beloved Vicky". [6]

    His mother, Vicky, was obsessed with his damaged arm, blaming herself for the child's handicap and insisted that he become a good rider. The thought that he, as heir to the throne, should not be able to ride was intolerable to her. Riding lessons began when Wilhelm was eight and were a matter of endurance for Wilhelm. Over and over, the weeping prince was set on his horse and compelled to go through the paces. He fell off time after time but despite his tears, was set on its back again. After weeks of this he was finally able to maintain his balance. [7]

    Wilhelm, from six years of age, was tutored and heavily influenced by the 39-year-old teacher Georg Ernst Hinzpeter. [8] "Hinzpeter", he later wrote, "was really a good fellow. Whether he was the right tutor for me, I dare not decide. The torments inflicted on me, in this pony riding, must be attributed to my mother." [7]

    As a teenager he was educated at Kassel at the Friedrichsgymnasium. In January 1877, Wilhelm finished high school and on his eighteenth birthday received as a present from his grandmother, Queen Victoria, the Order of the Garter. After Kassel he spent four terms at the University of Bonn, studying law and politics. He became a member of the exclusive Corps Borussia Bonn. [9] Wilhelm possessed a quick intelligence, but this was often overshadowed by a cantankerous temper.

    As a scion of the royal house of Hohenzollern, Wilhelm was exposed from an early age to the military society of the Prussian aristocracy. This had a major impact on him and, in maturity, Wilhelm was seldom seen out of uniform. The hyper-masculine military culture of Prussia in this period did much to frame his political ideals and personal relationships.

    Crown Prince Frederick was viewed by his son with a deeply felt love and respect. His father's status as a hero of the wars of unification was largely responsible for the young Wilhelm's attitude, as were the circumstances in which he was raised close emotional contact between father and son was not encouraged. Later, as he came into contact with the Crown Prince's political opponents, Wilhelm came to adopt more ambivalent feelings toward his father, perceiving the influence of Wilhelm's mother over a figure who should have been possessed of masculine independence and strength. Wilhelm also idolised his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and he was instrumental in later attempts to foster a cult of the first German Emperor as "Wilhelm the Great". [10] However, he had a distant relationship with his mother.

    Wilhelm resisted attempts by his parents, especially his mother, to educate him in a spirit of British liberalism. Instead, he agreed with his tutors' support of autocratic rule, and gradually became thoroughly 'Prussianized' under their influence. He thus became alienated from his parents, suspecting them of putting Britain's interests first. The German Emperor, Wilhelm I, watched as his grandson, guided principally by the Crown Princess Victoria, grew to manhood. When Wilhelm was nearing twenty-one the Emperor decided it was time his grandson should begin the military phase of his preparation for the throne. He was assigned as a lieutenant to the First Regiment of Foot Guards, stationed at Potsdam. "In the Guards," Wilhelm said, "I really found my family, my friends, my interests – everything of which I had up to that time had to do without." As a boy and a student, his manner had been polite and agreeable as an officer, he began to strut and speak brusquely in the tone he deemed appropriate for a Prussian officer. [11]

    In many ways, Wilhelm was a victim of his inheritance and of Otto von Bismarck's machinations. When Wilhelm was in his early twenties, Bismarck tried to separate him from his parents (who opposed Bismarck and his policies) with some success. Bismarck planned to use the young prince as a weapon against his parents in order to retain his own political dominance. Wilhelm thus developed a dysfunctional relationship with his parents, but especially with his English mother. In an outburst in April 1889, Wilhelm angrily implied that "an English doctor killed my father, and an English doctor crippled my arm – which is the fault of my mother", who allowed no German physicians to attend to herself or her immediate family. [12]

    As a young man, Wilhelm fell in love with one of his maternal first cousins, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt. She turned him down, and would, in time, marry into the Russian imperial family. In 1880 Wilhelm became engaged to Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, known as "Dona". The couple married on 27 February 1881, and remained married for forty years, until her death in 1921. In a period of ten years, between 1882 and 1892, Augusta Victoria would bear Wilhelm seven children, six sons and a daughter. [13]

    Beginning in 1884, Bismarck began advocating that Kaiser Wilhelm send his grandson on diplomatic missions, a privilege denied to the Crown Prince. That year, Prince Wilhelm was sent to the court of Tsar Alexander III of Russia in St. Petersburg to attend the coming of age ceremony of the sixteen-year-old Tsarevich Nicholas. Wilhelm's behaviour did little to ingratiate himself to the tsar. Two years later, Kaiser Wilhelm I took Prince Wilhelm on a trip to meet with Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. In 1886, also, thanks to Herbert von Bismarck, the son of the Chancellor, Prince Wilhelm began to be trained twice a week at the Foreign Ministry. One privilege was denied to Prince Wilhelm: to represent Germany at his maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria's, Golden Jubilee celebrations in London in 1887. [ citation needed ]

    Kaiser Wilhelm I died in Berlin on 9 March 1888, and Prince Wilhelm's father ascended the throne as Frederick III. He was already suffering from an incurable throat cancer and spent all 99 days of his reign fighting the disease before dying. On 15 June of that same year, his 29-year-old son succeeded him as German Emperor and King of Prussia. [14]

    Although in his youth he had been a great admirer of Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm's characteristic impatience soon brought him into conflict with the "Iron Chancellor", the dominant figure in the foundation of his empire. The new Emperor opposed Bismarck's careful foreign policy, preferring vigorous and rapid expansion to protect Germany's "place in the sun". Furthermore, the young Emperor had come to the throne determined to rule as well as reign, unlike his grandfather. While the letter of the imperial constitution vested executive power in the emperor, Wilhelm I had been content to leave day-to-day administration to Bismarck. Early conflicts between Wilhelm II and his chancellor soon poisoned the relationship between the two men. Bismarck believed that Wilhelm was a lightweight who could be dominated, and he showed scant respect for Wilhelm's policies in the late 1880s. The final split between monarch and statesman occurred soon after an attempt by Bismarck to implement a far-reaching anti-Socialist law in early 1890. [15]

    The impetuous young Kaiser rejected Bismarck's "peaceful foreign policy" and instead plotted with senior generals to work "in favour of a war of aggression". Bismarck told an aide, "That young man wants war with Russia, and would like to draw his sword straight away if he could. I shall not be a party to it." [16] Bismarck, after gaining an absolute majority in the Reichstag in favour of his policies, decided to make the anti-Socialist laws permanent. His Kartell, the majority of the amalgamated Conservative Party and the National Liberal Party, favoured making the laws permanent, with one exception: the police power to expel Socialist agitators from their homes. The Kartell split over this issue and nothing was passed.

    As the debate continued, Wilhelm became more and more interested in social problems, especially the treatment of mine workers who went on strike in 1889. He routinely interrupted Bismarck in Council to make clear where he stood on social policy Bismarck, in turn, sharply disagreed with Wilhelm's policy and worked to circumvent it. Bismarck, feeling pressured and unappreciated by the young Emperor and undermined by his ambitious advisors, refused to sign a proclamation regarding the protection of workers along with Wilhelm, as was required by the German Constitution.

    The final break came as Bismarck searched for a new parliamentary majority, with his Kartell voted from power due to the anti-Socialist bill fiasco. The remaining powers in the Reichstag were the Catholic Centre Party and the Conservative Party. Bismarck wished to form a new bloc with the Centre Party, and invited Ludwig Windthorst, the party's parliamentary leader, to discuss a coalition Wilhelm was furious to hear about Windthorst's visit. [17] In a parliamentary state, the head of government depends on the confidence of the parliamentary majority and has the right to form coalitions to ensure his policies a majority, but in Germany, the Chancellor had to depend on the confidence of the Emperor, and Wilhelm believed that the Emperor had the right to be informed before his ministers' meeting. After a heated argument at Bismarck's estate over Imperial authority, Wilhelm stormed out. Bismarck, forced for the first time into a situation he could not use to his advantage, wrote a blistering letter of resignation, decrying Wilhelm's interference in foreign and domestic policy, which was published only after Bismarck's death. [18]

    Bismarck had sponsored landmark social security legislation, but by 1889–90, he had become disillusioned with the attitude of workers. In particular, he was opposed to wage increases, improving working conditions, and regulating labour relations. Moreover, the Kartell, the shifting political coalition that Bismarck had been able to forge since 1867, had lost a working majority in the Reichstag. At the opening of the Reichstag on 6 May 1890, the Kaiser stated that the most pressing issue was the further enlargement of the bill concerning the protection of the labourer. [19] In 1891, the Reichstag passed the Workers Protection Acts, which improved working conditions, protected women and children and regulated labour relations.

    Dismissal of Bismarck

    Bismarck resigned at Wilhelm II's insistence in 1890, at the age of 75, to be succeeded as Chancellor of Germany and Minister-President of Prussia by Leo von Caprivi, who in turn was replaced by Chlodwig, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, in 1894. Following the dismissal of Hohenlohe in 1900, Wilhelm appointed the man whom he regarded as "his own Bismarck", Bernhard von Bülow. [ citation needed ]

    In foreign policy Bismarck had achieved a fragile balance of interests between Germany, France and Russia—peace was at hand and Bismarck tried to keep it that way despite growing popular sentiment against Britain (regarding colonies) and especially against Russia. With Bismarck's dismissal, the Russians now expected a reversal of policy in Berlin, so they quickly came to terms with France, beginning the process that by 1914 largely isolated Germany. [20]

    In appointing Caprivi and then Hohenlohe, Wilhelm was embarking upon what is known to history as "the New Course", in which he hoped to exert decisive influence in the government of the empire. [ citation needed ] There is debate amongst historians [ according to whom? ] as to the precise degree to which Wilhelm succeeded in implementing "personal rule" in this era, but what is clear is the very different dynamic which existed between the Crown and its chief political servant (the Chancellor) in the "Wilhelmine Era". [ original research? ] These chancellors were senior civil servants and not seasoned politician-statesmen like Bismarck. [ neutrality is disputed] Wilhelm wanted to preclude the emergence of another Iron Chancellor, whom he ultimately detested as being "a boorish old killjoy" who had not permitted any minister to see the Emperor except in his presence, keeping a stranglehold on effective political power. [ citation needed ] Upon his enforced retirement and until his dying day, Bismarck became a bitter critic of Wilhelm's policies, but without the support of the supreme arbiter of all political appointments (the Emperor) there was little chance of Bismarck exerting a decisive influence on policy.

    Bismarck did manage to create the "Bismarck myth", the view (which some would argue was confirmed by subsequent events) that Wilhelm II's dismissal of the Iron Chancellor effectively destroyed any chance Germany had of stable and effective government. In this view, Wilhelm's "New Course" was characterised far more as the German ship of state going out of control, eventually leading through a series of crises to the carnage of the First and Second World Wars.

    In the early twentieth century, Wilhelm began to concentrate upon his real agenda: the creation of a German Navy that would rival that of Britain and enable Germany to declare itself a world power. He ordered his military leaders to read Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan's book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, and spent hours drawing sketches of the ships that he wanted built. Bülow and Bethmann Hollweg, his loyal chancellors, looked after domestic affairs, while Wilhelm began to spread alarm in the chancellories of Europe with his increasingly eccentric views on foreign affairs.

    Promoter of arts and sciences

    Wilhelm enthusiastically promoted the arts and sciences, as well as public education and social welfare. He sponsored the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the promotion of scientific research it was funded by wealthy private donors and by the state and comprised a number of research institutes in both pure and applied sciences. The Prussian Academy of Sciences was unable to avoid the Kaiser's pressure and lost some of its autonomy when it was forced to incorporate new programs in engineering, and award new fellowships in engineering sciences as a result of a gift from the Kaiser in 1900. [21]

    Wilhelm supported the modernisers as they tried to reform the Prussian system of secondary education, which was rigidly traditional, elitist, politically authoritarian, and unchanged by the progress in the natural sciences. As hereditary Protector of the Order of Saint John, he offered encouragement to the Christian order's attempts to place German medicine at the forefront of modern medical practice through its system of hospitals, nursing sisterhood and nursing schools, and nursing homes throughout the German Empire. Wilhelm continued as Protector of the Order even after 1918, as the position was in essence attached to the head of the House of Hohenzollern. [22] [23]

    Historians have frequently stressed the role of Wilhelm's personality in shaping his reign. Thus, Thomas Nipperdey concludes he was:

    gifted, with a quick understanding, sometimes brilliant, with a taste for the modern,—technology, industry, science—but at the same time superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success,—as Bismarck said early on in his life, he wanted every day to be his birthday—romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off, a juvenile cadet, who never took the tone of the officers' mess out of his voice, and brashly wanted to play the part of the supreme warlord, full of panicky fear of a monotonous life without any diversions, and yet aimless, pathological in his hatred against his English mother. [24]

    Historian David Fromkin states that Wilhelm had a love–hate relationship with Britain. [25] According to Fromkin "From the outset, the half-German side of him was at war with the half-English side. He was wildly jealous of the British, wanting to be British, wanting to be better at being British than the British were, while at the same time hating them and resenting them because he never could be fully accepted by them". [26]

    Langer et al. (1968) emphasise the negative international consequences of Wilhelm's erratic personality: "He believed in force, and the 'survival of the fittest' in domestic as well as foreign politics . William was not lacking in intelligence, but he did lack stability, disguising his deep insecurities by swagger and tough talk. He frequently fell into depressions and hysterics . William's personal instability was reflected in vacillations of policy. His actions, at home as well as abroad, lacked guidance, and therefore often bewildered or infuriated public opinion. He was not so much concerned with gaining specific objectives, as had been the case with Bismarck, as with asserting his will. This trait in the ruler of the leading Continental power was one of the main causes of the uneasiness prevailing in Europe at the turn-of-the-century". [27]

    Relationships with foreign relatives

    As a grandchild of Queen Victoria, Wilhelm was a first cousin of the future King George V of the United Kingdom, as well as of Queens Marie of Romania, Maud of Norway, Victoria Eugenie of Spain, and the Empress Alexandra of Russia. In 1889, Wilhelm's younger sister, Sophia, married the future King Constantine I of Greece. Wilhelm was infuriated by his sister's conversion to Greek Orthodoxy upon her marriage, he attempted to ban her from entering Germany.

    Wilhelm's most contentious relationships were with his British relations. He craved the acceptance of his grandmother, Queen Victoria, and of the rest of her family. [28] Despite the fact that his grandmother treated him with courtesy and tact, his other relatives found him arrogant and obnoxious, and they largely denied him acceptance. [29] He had an especially bad relationship with his Uncle Bertie, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). Between 1888 and 1901 Wilhelm resented his uncle, himself a mere heir to the British throne, treating Wilhelm not as Emperor of Germany, but merely as another nephew. [30] In turn, Wilhelm often snubbed his uncle, whom he referred to as "the old peacock" and lorded his position as emperor over him. [31] Beginning in the 1890s, Wilhelm made visits to England for Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight and often competed against his uncle in the yacht races. Edward's wife, the Danish-born Alexandra, first as Princess of Wales and later as Queen, also disliked Wilhelm, never forgetting the Prussian seizure of Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark in the 1860s, as well as being annoyed over Wilhelm's treatment of his mother. [32] Despite his poor relations with his English relatives, when he received news that Queen Victoria was dying at Osborne House in January 1901, Wilhelm travelled to England and was at her bedside when she died, and he remained for the funeral. He also was present at the funeral of King Edward VII in 1910.

    In 1913, Wilhelm hosted a lavish wedding in Berlin for his only daughter, Victoria Louise. Among the guests at the wedding were his cousins Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and King George V, and George's wife, Queen Mary.

    German foreign policy under Wilhelm II was faced with a number of significant problems. Perhaps the most apparent was that Wilhelm was an impatient man, subjective in his reactions and affected strongly by sentiment and impulse. He was personally ill-equipped to steer German foreign policy along a rational course. It is now widely recognised that the various spectacular acts which Wilhelm undertook in the international sphere were often partially encouraged by the German foreign policy elite. [ according to whom? ] There were a number of notorious examples, such as the Kruger telegram of 1896 in which Wilhelm congratulated President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic on the suppression of the British Jameson Raid, thus alienating British public opinion.

    British public opinion had been quite favourable towards the Kaiser in his first twelve years on the throne, but it turned sour in the late 1890s. During the First World War, he became the central target of British anti-German propaganda and the personification of a hated enemy. [33]

    Wilhelm invented and spread fears of a yellow peril trying to interest other European rulers in the perils they faced by invading China few other leaders paid attention. [34] [ clarification needed ] Wilhelm used the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War to try to incite fear in the west of the yellow peril that they faced by a resurgent Japan, which Wilhelm claimed would ally with China to overrun the west. Under Wilhelm, Germany invested in strengthening its colonies in Africa and the Pacific, but few became profitable and all were lost during the First World War. In South West Africa (now Namibia), a native revolt against German rule led to the Herero and Namaqua genocide, although Wilhelm eventually ordered it to be stopped.

    One of the few times when Wilhelm succeeded in personal diplomacy was when in 1900 he supported the marriage of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria to Countess Sophie Chotek, against the wishes of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. [35]

    A domestic triumph for Wilhelm was when his daughter Victoria Louise married the Duke of Brunswick in 1913 this helped heal the rift between the House of Hanover and the House of Hohenzollern that had followed the annexation of Hanover by Prussia in 1866. [36]

    Political visits to the Ottoman Empire

    In his first visit to Istanbul in 1889, Wilhelm secured the sale of German-made rifles to the Ottoman Army. [37] Later on, he had his second political visit to the Ottoman Empire as a guest of Sultan Abdülhamid II. The Kaiser started his journey to the Ottoman Eyalets with Istanbul on 16 October 1898 then he went by yacht to Haifa on 25 October. After visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Kaiser went back to Jaffa to embark to Beirut, where he took the train passing Aley and Zahlé to reach Damascus on 7 November. [38] While visiting the Mausoleum of Saladin the following day, the Kaiser made a speech:

    In the face of all the courtesies extended to us here, I feel that I must thank you, in my name as well as that of the Empress, for them, for the hearty reception given us in all the towns and cities we have touched, and particularly for the splendid welcome extended to us by this city of Damascus. Deeply moved by this imposing spectacle, and likewise by the consciousness of standing on the spot where held sway one of the most chivalrous rulers of all times, the great Sultan Saladin, a knight sans peur et sans reproche, who often taught his adversaries the right conception of knighthood, I seize with joy the opportunity to render thanks, above all to the Sultan Abdul Hamid for his hospitality. May the Sultan rest assured, and also the three hundred million Mohammedans scattered over the globe and revering in him their caliph, that the German Emperor will be and remain at all times their friend.

    On 10 November, Wilhelm went to visit Baalbek before heading to Beirut to board his ship back home on 12 November. [38] In his second visit, Wilhelm secured a promise for German companies to construct the Berlin–Baghdad railway, [37] and had the German Fountain constructed in Istanbul to commemorate his journey.

    His third visit was on 15 October 1917, as the guest of Sultan Mehmed V.

    Hun speech of 1900

    The Boxer Rebellion, an anti-western uprising in China, was put down in 1900 by an international force of British, French, Russian, Austrian, Italian, American, Japanese, and German troops. The Germans, however, forfeited any prestige that they might have gained for their participation by arriving only after the British and Japanese forces had taken Peking, the site of the fiercest fighting. Moreover, the poor impression left by the German troops' late arrival was made worse by the Kaiser's ill-conceived farewell address, in which he commanded them, in the spirit of the Huns, to be merciless in battle. [40] Wilhelm delivered this speech in Bremerhaven on 27 July 1900, addressing German troops who were departing to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China. The speech was infused with Wilhelm's fiery and chauvinistic rhetoric and clearly expressed his vision of German imperial power. There were two versions of the speech. The Foreign Office issued an edited version, making sure to omit one particularly incendiary paragraph that they regarded as diplomatically embarrassing. [41] The edited version was this:

    Great overseas tasks have fallen to the new German Empire, tasks far greater than many of my countrymen expected. The German Empire has, by its very character, the obligation to assist its citizens if they are being set upon in foreign lands. The tasks that the old Roman Empire of the German nation was unable to accomplish, the new German Empire is in a position to fulfill. The means that make this possible is our army.

    It has been built up during thirty years of faithful, peaceful labor, following the principles of my blessed grandfather. You, too, have received your training in accordance with these principles, and by putting them to the test before the enemy, you should see whether they have proved their worth in you. Your comrades in the navy have already passed this test they have shown that the principles of your training are sound, and I am also proud of the praise that your comrades have earned over there from foreign leaders. It is up to you to emulate them.

    A great task awaits you: you are to revenge the grievous injustice that has been done. The Chinese have overturned the law of nations they have mocked the sacredness of the envoy, the duties of hospitality in a way unheard of in world history. It is all the more outrageous that this crime has been committed by a nation that takes pride in its ancient culture. Show the old Prussian virtue. Present yourselves as Christians in the cheerful endurance of suffering. May honor and glory follow your banners and arms. Give the whole world an example of manliness and discipline.

    You know full well that you are to fight against a cunning, brave, well-armed, and cruel enemy. When you encounter him, know this: no quarter will be given. Prisoners will not be taken. Exercise your arms such that for a thousand years no Chinese will dare to look cross-eyed at a German. Maintain discipline. May God’s blessing be with you, the prayers of an entire nation and my good wishes go with you, each and every one. Open the way to civilization once and for all! Now you may depart! Farewell, comrades! [41] [42]

    The official version omitted the following passage from which the speech derives its name:

    Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German. [41] [43]

    The term "Hun" later became the favoured epithet of Allied anti-German war propaganda during the First World War. [40]

    Eulenberg Scandal

    In the years 1906–09, journalist Maximilian Harden published revelations of homosexual activity involving ministers, courtiers, army officers, and Wilhelm's closest friend and advisor, [44] Prince Philipp zu Eulenberg. [45] This resulted in a succession of scandals, trials, and suicides. Harden, like some in the upper echelons of the military and Foreign Office, resented Eulenberg's approval of the Anglo-French Entente, and also his encouragement of Wilhelm to rule personally. The scandal led to Wilhelm suffering a nervous breakdown, and the removal of Eulenberg and others of his circle from the court. [44] The view that Wilhelm was a deeply repressed homosexual is increasingly supported by scholars: certainly, he never came to terms with his feelings for Eulenberg. [46] Historians have linked the Eulenberg scandal to a fundamental shift in German policy that heightened its military aggressiveness and ultimately contributed to World War I. [45]

    Moroccan Crisis

    One of Wilhelm's diplomatic blunders sparked the Moroccan Crisis of 1905, when he made a spectacular visit to Tangier, in Morocco on 31 March 1905. He conferred with representatives of Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco. [47] The Kaiser proceeded to tour the city on the back of a white horse. The Kaiser declared he had come to support the sovereignty of the Sultan—a statement which amounted to a provocative challenge to French influence in Morocco. The Sultan subsequently rejected a set of French-proposed governmental reforms and invited major world powers to a conference which would advise him on necessary reforms.

    The Kaiser's presence was seen as an assertion of German interests in Morocco, in opposition to those of France. In his speech, he even made remarks in favour of Moroccan independence, and this led to friction with France, which was expanding its colonial interests in Morocco, and to the Algeciras Conference, which served largely to further isolate Germany in Europe. [48]

    Daily Telegraph affair

    Wilhelm's most damaging personal blunder cost him much of his prestige and power and had a far greater impact in Germany than overseas. [49] The Daily Telegraph Affair of 1908 involved the publication in Germany of an interview with a British daily newspaper that included wild statements and diplomatically damaging remarks. Wilhelm had seen the interview as an opportunity to promote his views and ideas on Anglo-German friendship, but due to his emotional outbursts during the course of the interview, he ended up further alienating not only the British, but also the French, Russians, and Japanese. He implied, among other things, that the Germans cared nothing for the British that the French and Russians had attempted to incite Germany to intervene in the Second Boer War and that the German naval buildup was targeted against the Japanese, not Britain. One memorable quotation from the interview was, "You English are mad, mad, mad as March hares." [50] The effect in Germany was quite significant, with serious calls for his abdication. Wilhelm kept a very low profile for many months after the Daily Telegraph fiasco, but later exacted his revenge by forcing the resignation of the chancellor, Prince Bülow, who had abandoned the Emperor to public scorn by not having the transcript edited before its German publication. [51] [52] The Daily Telegraph crisis deeply wounded Wilhelm's previously unimpaired self-confidence, and he soon suffered a severe bout of depression from which he never fully recovered. He lost much of the influence he had previously exercised in domestic and foreign policy. [53]

    Naval expansion

    Nothing Wilhelm did in the international arena was of more influence than his decision to pursue a policy of massive naval construction. A powerful navy was Wilhelm's pet project. He had inherited from his mother a love of the British Royal Navy, which was at that time the world's largest. He once confided to his uncle, the Prince of Wales, that his dream was to have a "fleet of my own some day". Wilhelm's frustration over his fleet's poor showing at the Fleet Review at his grandmother Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, combined with his inability to exert German influence in South Africa following the dispatch of the Kruger telegram, led to Wilhelm taking definitive steps toward the construction of a fleet to rival that of his British cousins. Wilhelm called on the services of the dynamic naval officer Alfred von Tirpitz, whom he appointed to the head of the Imperial Naval Office in 1897. [54]

    The new admiral had conceived of what came to be known as the "Risk Theory" or the Tirpitz Plan, by which Germany could force Britain to accede to German demands in the international arena through the threat posed by a powerful battlefleet concentrated in the North Sea. [55] Tirpitz enjoyed Wilhelm's full support in his advocacy of successive naval bills of 1897 and 1900, by which the German navy was built up to contend with that of the British Empire. Naval expansion under the Fleet Acts eventually led to severe financial strains in Germany by 1914, as by 1906 Wilhelm had committed his navy to construction of the much larger, more expensive dreadnought type of battleship. [56]

    In 1889 Wilhelm reorganised top-level control of the navy by creating a Naval Cabinet (Marine-Kabinett) equivalent to the German Imperial Military Cabinet which had previously functioned in the same capacity for both the army and navy. The Head of the Naval Cabinet was responsible for promotions, appointments, administration, and issuing orders to naval forces. Captain Gustav von Senden-Bibran was appointed as the first head and remained so until 1906. The existing Imperial admiralty was abolished, and its responsibilities divided between two organisations. A new position was created, equivalent to the supreme commander of the army: the Chief of the High Command of the Admiralty, or Oberkommando der Marine, was responsible for ship deployments, strategy and tactics. Vice-Admiral Max von der Goltz was appointed in 1889 and remained in post until 1895. Construction and maintenance of ships and obtaining supplies was the responsibility of the State Secretary of the Imperial Navy Office (Reichsmarineamt), responsible to the Imperial Chancellor and advising the Reichstag on naval matters. The first appointee was Rear Admiral Karl Eduard Heusner, followed shortly by Rear Admiral Friedrich von Hollmann from 1890 to 1897. Each of these three heads of department reported separately to Wilhelm. [57]

    In addition to the expansion of the fleet, the Kiel Canal was opened in 1895, enabling faster movements between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.

    Historians typically argue that Wilhelm was largely confined to ceremonial duties during the war—there were innumerable parades to review and honours to award. "The man who in peace had believed himself omnipotent became in war a 'shadow Kaiser', out of sight, neglected, and relegated to the sidelines." [58]

    The Sarajevo crisis

    Wilhelm was a friend of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and he was deeply shocked by his assassination on 28 June 1914. Wilhelm offered to support Austria-Hungary in crushing the Black Hand, the secret organisation that had plotted the killing, and even sanctioned the use of force by Austria against the perceived source of the movement—Serbia (this is often called "the blank cheque"). He wanted to remain in Berlin until the crisis was resolved, but his courtiers persuaded him instead to go on his annual cruise of the North Sea on 6 July 1914. Wilhelm made erratic attempts to stay on top of the crisis via telegram, and when the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was delivered to Serbia, he hurried back to Berlin. He reached Berlin on 28 July, read a copy of the Serbian reply, and wrote on it:

    A brilliant solution—and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected. A great moral victory for Vienna but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade. On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilisation. [59]

    Unknown to the Emperor, Austro-Hungarian ministers and generals had already convinced the 83-year-old Franz Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war against Serbia. As a direct consequence, Russia began a general mobilisation to attack Austria in defence of Serbia.

    July 1914

    On the night of 30 July, when handed a document stating that Russia would not cancel its mobilisation, Wilhelm wrote a lengthy commentary containing these observations:

    . For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us . Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honourable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e., playing off all European States for her own benefit against us. [60]

    More recent British authors state that Wilhelm II really declared, "Ruthlessness and weakness will start the most terrifying war of the world, whose purpose is to destroy Germany. Because there can no longer be any doubts, England, France and Russia have conspired themselves together to fight an annihilation war against us". [61]

    When it became clear that Germany would experience a war on two fronts and that Britain would enter the war if Germany attacked France through neutral Belgium, the panic-stricken Wilhelm attempted to redirect the main attack against Russia. When Helmuth von Moltke (the younger) (who had chosen the old plan from 1905, made by General von Schlieffen for the possibility of German war on two fronts) told him that this was impossible, Wilhelm said: "Your uncle would have given me a different answer!" [62] Wilhelm is also reported to have said, "To think that George and Nicky should have played me false! If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it." [63] In the original Schlieffen plan, Germany would attack the (supposed) weaker enemy first, meaning France. The plan supposed that it would take a long time before Russia was ready for war. Defeating France had been easy for Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. At the 1914 border between France and Germany, an attack at this more southern part of France could be stopped by the French fortress along the border. However, Wilhelm II stopped any invasion of the Netherlands.


    Wilhelm's role in wartime was one of ever-decreasing power as he increasingly handled awards ceremonies and honorific duties. The high command continued with its strategy even when it was clear that the Schlieffen plan had failed. By 1916 the Empire had effectively become a military dictatorship under the control of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. [64] Increasingly cut off from reality and the political decision-making process, Wilhelm vacillated between defeatism and dreams of victory, depending upon the fortunes of his armies. Nevertheless, Wilhelm still retained the ultimate authority in matters of political appointment, and it was only after his consent had been gained that major changes to the high command could be effected. Wilhelm was in favour of the dismissal of Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in September 1914 and his replacement by Erich von Falkenhayn. In 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided that Bethman-Hollweg was no longer acceptable to them as Chancellor and called upon the Kaiser to appoint somebody else. When asked whom they would accept, Ludendorff recommended Georg Michaelis, a nonentity whom he barely knew. Despite this, the Kaiser accepted the suggestion. Upon hearing in July 1917 that his cousin George V had changed the name of the British royal house to Windsor, [65] Wilhelm remarked that he planned to see Shakespeare's play The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. [66] The Kaiser's support collapsed completely in October–November 1918 in the army, in the civilian government, and in German public opinion, as President Woodrow Wilson made clear that the Kaiser could no longer be a party to peace negotiations. [67] [68] That year also saw Wilhelm sickened during the worldwide Spanish flu outbreak, though he survived. [69]

    Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise in late 1918. Mutiny among the ranks of his beloved Kaiserliche Marine, the imperial navy, profoundly shocked him. After the outbreak of the German Revolution, Wilhelm could not make up his mind whether or not to abdicate. Up to that point, he accepted that he would likely have to give up the imperial crown, but still hoped to retain the Prussian kingship. However, this was impossible under the imperial constitution. Wilhelm thought he ruled as emperor in a personal union with Prussia. In truth, the constitution defined the empire as a confederation of states under the permanent presidency of Prussia. The imperial crown was thus tied to the Prussian crown, meaning that Wilhelm could not renounce one crown without renouncing the other.

    Wilhelm's hope of retaining at least one of his crowns was revealed as unrealistic when, in the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, Chancellor Prince Max of Baden announced Wilhelm's abdication of both titles on 9 November 1918. Prince Max himself was forced to resign later the same day, when it became clear that only Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD, could effectively exert control. Later that day, one of Ebert's secretaries of state (ministers), Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann, proclaimed Germany a republic.

    Wilhelm consented to the abdication only after Ludendorff's replacement, General Wilhelm Groener, had informed him that the officers and men of the army would march back in good order under Hindenburg's command, but would certainly not fight for Wilhelm's throne on the home front. The monarchy's last and strongest support had been broken, and finally even Hindenburg, himself a lifelong monarchist, was obliged, with some embarrassment, to advise the Emperor to give up the crown. [70] [a] Previously, Bismarck had predicted: "Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this." [72]

    On 10 November, Wilhelm crossed the border by train and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war. [73] Upon the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles in early 1919, Article 227 expressly provided for the prosecution of Wilhelm "for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties", but the Dutch government refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies. King George V wrote that he looked on his cousin as "the greatest criminal in history", but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George's proposal to "hang the Kaiser".

    It was reported, however, that there was little zeal in Britain to prosecute. On 1 January 1920, it was stated in official circles in London that Great Britain would “welcome refusal by Holland to deliver the former kaiser for trial,” and it was hinted that this had been conveyed to the Dutch government through diplomatic channels.

    ”Punishment of the former kaiser and other German war criminals is worrying Great Britain little, it was said. As a matter of form, however, the British and French governments were expected to request Holland for the former kaiser’s extradition. Holland, it was said, will refuse on the ground of constitutional provisions covering the case and then the matter will be dropped. The request for extradition will not be based on genuine desire on the part of British officials to bring the kaiser to trial, according to authoritative information, but is considered necessary formality to ‘save the face’ of politicians who promised to see that Wilhelm was punished for his crimes.” [74]

    President Woodrow Wilson of the United States opposed extradition, arguing that prosecuting Wilhelm would destabilise international order and lose the peace. [75]

    Wilhelm first settled in Amerongen, where on 28 November he issued a belated statement of abdication from both the Prussian and imperial thrones, thus formally ending the Hohenzollerns' 500-year rule over Prussia. Accepting the reality that he had lost both of his crowns for good, he gave up his rights to "the throne of Prussia and to the German Imperial throne connected therewith." He also released his soldiers and officials in both Prussia and the empire from their oath of loyalty to him. [76] He purchased a country house in the municipality of Doorn, known as Huis Doorn, and moved in on 15 May 1920. [77] This was to be his home for the remainder of his life. [78] The Weimar Republic allowed Wilhelm to remove twenty-three railway wagons of furniture, twenty-seven containing packages of all sorts, one bearing a car and another a boat, from the New Palace at Potsdam. [79]

    Life in exile

    In 1922, Wilhelm published the first volume of his memoirs [80] —a very slim volume that insisted he was not guilty of initiating the Great War, and defended his conduct throughout his reign, especially in matters of foreign policy. For the remaining twenty years of his life, he entertained guests (often of some standing) and kept himself updated on events in Europe. He grew a beard and allowed his famous moustache to droop, adopting a style very similar to that of his cousins King George V and Tsar Nicholas II. He also learned the Dutch language. Wilhelm developed a penchant for archaeology while residing at the Corfu Achilleion, excavating at the site of the Temple of Artemis in Corfu, a passion he retained in his exile. He had bought the former Greek residence of Empress Elisabeth after her murder in 1898. He also sketched plans for grand buildings and battleships when he was bored. In exile, one of Wilhelm's greatest passions was hunting, and he killed thousands of animals, both beast and bird. Much of his time was spent chopping wood and thousands of trees were chopped down during his stay at Doorn. [81]


    Wilhelm II was seen as the richest man in the Germany before 1914. After his abdication he retained substantial wealth. It was reported that at least 60 railway wagons were needed to carry his furniture, art, porcelain and silver from Germany to the Netherlands. The kaiser retained substantial cash reserves and as well as several palaces. [82] After 1945, the Hohenzollerns’ forests, farms, factories and palaces in what became East Germany were expropriated and thousands of artworks were subsumed into state-owned museums.

    Views on Nazism

    In the early 1930s, Wilhelm apparently hoped that the successes of the German Nazi Party would stimulate interest in a restoration of the monarchy, with his eldest grandson as the fourth Kaiser. His second wife, Hermine, actively petitioned the Nazi government on her husband's behalf. However, Adolf Hitler, himself a veteran of the First World War, like other leading Nazis, felt nothing but contempt for the man they blamed for Germany's greatest defeat, and the petitions were ignored. Though he played host to Hermann Göring at Doorn on at least one occasion, Wilhelm grew to distrust Hitler. Hearing of the murder of the wife of former Chancellor Schleicher, he said "We have ceased to live under the rule of law and everyone must be prepared for the possibility that the Nazis will push their way in and put them up against the wall!" [83]

    Wilhelm was also appalled at the Kristallnacht of 9–10 November 1938, saying "I have just made my views clear to Auwi [August Wilhelm, Wilhelm's fourth son] in the presence of his brothers. He had the nerve to say that he agreed with the Jewish pogroms and understood why they had come about. When I told him that any decent man would describe these actions as gangsterisms, he appeared totally indifferent. He is completely lost to our family". [84] Wilhelm also stated, "For the first time, I am ashamed to be a German." [85]

    "There's a man alone, without family, without children, without God . He builds legions, but he doesn't build a nation. A nation is created by families, a religion, traditions: it is made up out of the hearts of mothers, the wisdom of fathers, the joy and the exuberance of children . For a few months I was inclined to believe in National Socialism. I thought of it as a necessary fever. And I was gratified to see that there were, associated with it for a time, some of the wisest and most outstanding Germans. But these, one by one, he has got rid of or even killed . He has left nothing but a bunch of shirted gangsters! This man could bring home victories to our people each year, without bringing them either glory or danger. But of our Germany, which was a nation of poets and musicians, of artists and soldiers, he has made a nation of hysterics and hermits, engulfed in a mob and led by a thousand liars or fanatics." ― Wilhelm on Hitler, December 1938. [86]

    In the wake of the German victory over Poland in September 1939, Wilhelm's adjutant, General von Dommes [de] , wrote on his behalf to Hitler, stating that the House of Hohenzollern "remained loyal" and noted that nine Prussian Princes (one son and eight grandchildren) were stationed at the front, concluding "because of the special circumstances that require residence in a neutral foreign country, His Majesty must personally decline to make the aforementioned comment. The Emperor has therefore charged me with making a communication." [87] Wilhelm greatly admired the success which Hitler was able to achieve in the opening months of the Second World War, and personally sent a congratulatory telegram when the Netherlands surrendered in May 1940: "My Fuhrer, I congratulate you and hope that under your marvellous leadership the German monarchy will be restored completely." Hitler was reportedly exasperated and bemused, and remarked to Linge, his valet, "What an idiot!" [88] In another telegram to Hitler upon the fall of Paris a month later, Wilhelm stated "Congratulations, you have won using my troops." In a letter to his daughter Victoria Louise, Duchess of Brunswick, he wrote triumphantly, "Thus is the pernicious Entente Cordiale of Uncle Edward VII brought to nought." [89] Nevertheless, after the German conquest of the Netherlands in 1940, the aging Wilhelm retired completely from public life. In May 1940, when Hitler invaded the Netherlands, Wilhelm declined an offer from Churchill of asylum in Britain, preferring to remain at Huis Doorn. [90]

    Anti-England, anti-Semitic, and anti-Freemason views

    During his last year at Doorn, Wilhelm believed that Germany was the land of monarchy and therefore of Christ, and that England was the land of liberalism and therefore of Satan and the Antichrist. [91] He argued that the English ruling classes were "Freemasons thoroughly infected by Juda". [91] Wilhelm asserted that the "British people must be liberated from Antichrist Juda. We must drive Juda out of England just as he has been chased out of the Continent." [92]

    He believed the Freemasons and Jews had caused the two world wars, aiming at a world Jewish empire with British and American gold, but that "Juda's plan has been smashed to pieces and they themselves swept out of the European Continent!" [91] Continental Europe was now, Wilhelm wrote, "consolidating and closing itself off from British influences after the elimination of the British and the Jews!" The end result would be a "U.S. of Europe!" [93] In a 1940 letter to his sister Princess Margaret, Wilhelm wrote: "The hand of God is creating a new world & working miracles. We are becoming the U.S. of Europe under German leadership, a united European Continent." He added: "The Jews [are] being thrust out of their nefarious positions in all countries, whom they have driven to hostility for centuries." [87]

    Also in 1940 came what would have been his mother's 100th birthday, on which he wrote ironically to a friend "Today the 100th birthday of my mother! No notice is taken of it at home! No 'Memorial Service' or . committee to remember her marvellous work for the . welfare of our German people . Nobody of the new generation knows anything about her." [94]

    Battle of Verdun

    The Battle of Verdun was a battle of the First World War. It started when the German Fifth Army attacked French positions, near Verdun, on February 21, 1916. It ended on December 18 of that year but the front line had not changed very much. Both sides lost about 337,000 soldiers each. Never before was industrialisation so visible in war. They also speak about the Hell of Verdun or the Blood pump. The Battle of Verdun is considered the biggest and longest in world history.

    Never before or since has there been such a long battle, involving so many men, fought on such a tiny piece of land. There were many attacks and counterattacks one small village changed hands 16 times. The battle, which lasted from 21 February, 1916 until 19 December 1916 caused over an estimated 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded and missing). About 300,000 died. The battlefield was not even a square ten kilometres. From a strategic point of view, there can be no justification for these terrible losses. The battle lowered into a matter of prestige for the two nations, and started being fought for the sake of fighting and honor, according to German command Paul Von Hindenburg.

    The French commander, Marshall Philippe Pétain, used a system of rotation by which every division in France fought for a short time at Verdun. After the battle the landscape was left as one of the worst battlegrounds on all of France, filled with craters of the artillery, the trenches, the odor left by the dead, etc. During the battle the chief of the German General Staff, Erich Von Falkenhayn, was relieved from duty and sent to lead a joint Austrian, German and Bulgarian attack on Romania, leaving Paul Von Hindenburg as Chief of Staff.

    Attrition Warfare: The Battle of Verdun

    After reassessing Germany&rsquos strategic position at the end of 1915, General Erich von Falkenhayn set about targeting the French Army, whom he believed were at the &ldquolimits of endurance,&rdquo at a place so critical to France that Joseph Joffre, commander in chief of the French armies on the Western Front, would have no choice other than to fight to the last man to regain that position. This &ldquobite and hold&rdquo tactic, Falkenhayn believed, would allow the Germans to take advantage of their more tactically powerful defensive position, &ldquobleeding France white&rdquo as they counter-attacked, and in the process, knocking &ldquoEngland&rsquos best sword&rdquo out of the war.

    By December 1915, Falkenhayn had concluded that on the Eastern Front, Russia was on the verge of revolution and withdrawal from the war, and therefore felt that victory could be achieved instead on the Western Front, by defeating France. France&rsquos defeat, Falkenhayn believed would result in Britain seeking peace terms, or alternatively being so weakened that it could be defeated outright. On Christmas Day in 1915, Falkenhayn wrote a letter to Kaiser Wilhelm II recommending a dual strategy of unrestricted submarine warfare against merchant ships delivering supplies to Britain, and offensive war against France on the Western Front.

    Erich von Falkenhayn. wiki

    Falkenhayn chose Verdun, a place of considerable historical significance for the French, located in a small area of Lorraine kept by France after 1870. At Verdun in 843, Charlemagne divided his empire into three parts, two of which formed modern-day France and Germany, while the third developed into the middle battleground, which included Alsace and Lorraine. The name Verdun itself, translated from a pre-Roman Gallic dialect, meant &ldquopowerful fortress.&rdquo Verdun had heroically withstood German sieges in both 1792 and 1870 before eventually falling. It had been the easternmost French position during the Battle of the Marne, but the removal of heavy artillery pieces and men during 1915 had left Verdun severely weakened.

    By the beginning of 1916 Verdun was guarded only by a single thin trench line to the north and east of the main fortifications. There were not enough men remaining to occupy the thick woods immediately opposite their position, which allowed the German army to move and reinforce undetected. General Herr, who was commander of the Fortified Region of Verdun, concerned with its vulnerable position, contacted Joffre&rsquos staff for artillery reinforcements. The response was the further withdrawal of two artillery batteries. Joffre insisted that Verdun would not be the point of attack, believing that the Germans were unaware that Verdun had been disarmed.

    Another who predicted disastrous consequences for France should the Germans attack at Verdun was Lieutenant Colonel Emile Driant, a battalion commander in the woods outside Verdun and who was also a member of the French Chamber of Deputies. Driant wrote to his colleagues criticizing Joffre &ldquofor not establishing a solid second line of defense&rdquo and informed them that &ldquoFrance lacked the strength to defeat a determined German assault on the sacred national shrine.&rdquo

    2009 Annual - Verdun: A Generation Lost

    Hoping to bring a decisive conclusion along the Western Front despite the mud-and misery-filled trench deadlock, German General von Falkenhayn launched an attack from which the French could not retreat, and would prove costly for them to defend. The goal of the German offensive was the historic and symbolic city of Verdun.

    The German attack used new weapons such as poison gas, fighter airplanes to clear the skies of enemy observation planes, and a massive collection of artillery to devastate the defenders and obliterate the extensive French fortifications. The offensive was meant to inflict staggering casualties upon the defenders that would compel the Entente to negotiate. In the end, the Germans also suffered losses that ran to the hundreds of thousands, making Verdun a symbol of war's inhumanity as well as tragic sacrifice.

    Designed by Roger Nord, Verdun: A Generation Lost is based on the same design as his other WWI game which appeared in Against the Odds #11, The Big Push: The Battle for the Somme. Verdun: A Generation Lost features a 22" by 34" map that, like The Big Push, uses squares to regulate the game's functions, 352 large counters, and approximately 30 pages of rules and charts. Rules cover artillery, defensive fire, and close assault attacks, various types of weaponry, and there are six smaller scenarios covering pivotal aspects of the battle, as follows:

    1. Firestorm on the Meuse - In the first year and a-half of the war, Germany held her own on the Western front. In late 1915, General Erich von Falkenhayn devised a scheme to pry open the lines. The German Army would go on the offensive and attack France where he believed she could die fighting - Verdun, an ancient provincial town on the Meuse River. In a remarkable effort Falkenhayn assembles over 1200 guns, many of them heavy pieces, and ten of the Army’s best divisions, in just under two months and in secrecy. They will attack a front of eight miles, pulverizing and crushing resistance.

    2. Crown Prince’s Plan - When General Falkenhayn wins the Kaiser’s approval to attack at Verdun, an intense debate has followed at 5th Army Headquarters. Crown Prince Wilhelm, the Kaiser’s son and ostensible commander of the 5th, wanted a broader frontal attack on both banks of the Meuse. His chief of staff, General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, the real power in the command, readily agreed. But Falkenhayn, ever cautious about potential allied counteroffensives everywhere, held back. He ordered the East Bank offensive only. In this what-if scenario, the Crown Prince gets his way and the whole front opens in fury, west and east. All German forces launch their attacks.

    3. Operation May Cup - By early April, the Germans realize that no quick, deadly blow would cave in the Verdun sector. They have chiseled on the East Bank, and then switched to the West Bank, without the dramatic success witnessed in the first week of the offensive. Regrouping, the Crown Prince launches Operation May Cup, designed to capture jumping-off locations for the assault on Verdun itself. Thiaumont with its field-works, Fleury, Fort Vaux and Fort Souville are targets. Let loose for the first time, phosgene gas staggers the defenders. The Alpendivision, one of the best units in the German Army, is sent to breakthrough.

    4. Hell’s Doorway - By July, Nivelle has shortened the turnover time for units, resulting in higher casualties and greater fatigue. The Germans increasingly turn their attention to the Somme infantry and artillery start shipping out to aid defenses there. The drawdown is working by mid-July German attacks taper off. In the interim, the Germans do their piece meal gains and the French grind back. Verdun takes on a deadly life of its own. The ostensible goal, Verdun town, is blurred in attacks and counterattack s over a moonscape of destroyed ground. Fort Souville looms ahead and must be taken to secure the way. Elite Alpen Korps, backed with phosgene gas, presses ahead through an endless inferno.

    5. They Shall Not Pass - By August, fortunes turn against the Headquarters of both armies. Joffre, borrowing from Verdun to pay his favored project, the Somme, runs into disfavor. Parliament conducts a harsh inquiry. Falkenhayn, twittering away his reserves between Brusilov’s offensive, the Somme and Verdun, and gaining little success anywhere, runs into his own political wall. The tandem of Von Hindenburg and Ludendorff replaces him in August, with the Kaiser’s blessing. At Verdun, the Germans effectively call off the offensive after mid-July. Fighting goes on, since the French need more space, and the Germans do not wish to retreat from ground won at such cost. The whole Verdun front see-saws in yards gained and lost. French morale seems to improve, and German materiel and morale sinks. Throughout September, the French trio of Generals Pétain, Nivelle and Mangin lay plans for the fall offensive. The German Crown Prince can no longer rely on his aggressive chief of staff, General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf, who has left for the Russian Front.

    6. Ramparts Revenge - In September and October, the French trio of Pétain, Nivelle and Mangin lay the groundwork for a counter offensive to win back the Verdun front. General Pétain carefully marshals guns and troops for a determined set piece attack. After the big 400mm rail guns arrive, the heaviest bombardments begin in mid-October. In the meanwhile, German troop morale declines from constant barrages, loss of air control, and a sense of foreboding about a new French offensive. Their unit strengths are down from constant attrition. Verdun’s front becomes a backwater. Already, Hindenburg and Ludendorff have laid plans to pull back at the Somme. Privately, Crown Prince Wilhelm likes the idea for Verdun as well, yet the High Command chooses to stay, for the symbolic value of the ground taken. The French intend to exploit German fears. Their aim is to exact revenge and take back territory. Before winter sets in, Army Group Centre Commander Pétain hopes to restore the former lines and give Verdun breathing room. Local commanders Nivelle and Mangin desire that and more - they focus on storming Douaumont and reclaiming national glory.

    All of the above, plus a 44 turn Campaign Game! Don't miss this one.

    This Annual also includes Siege at An Loc, 1972 as a bonus game, and articles cover both. Also included are articles by Phil Jelley on the siege of Londonderry and a lavish survey of solitaire games by Paul Aceto.

    Verdun: A Generation Lost and the 2009 ATO Magazine Annual

    Maps - Two full color 22" x 34" mapsheets
    Counters - Over 350 full color 5/8" large die-cut pieces
    Rules length - 24 pages
    Charts and tables - 8 pages
    Complexity - High
    How challenging is it solitaire? - Average
    Playing time - Up to 8 hours per scenario, 40 hours for the campaign game

    Design - Roger G. Nord
    Development - Lembit Tohver
    Graphic Design - Craig Grando

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    Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader version 5 or later. Free download here.

    And, the publisher of this game recommends the books below if you would like to learn even more about this campaign:


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  7. Mezigor

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