A talented military strategist, Ludendorff's early success in World War One were obscured by Germany's defeat and his pro-Nazi political activities in the post-war period.
Erich Ludendorff was born on 9 April 1865 near Posen in Prussia (now Poznan, Poland). He went into the army at 18 and, in 1894, he was appointed to the German general staff. Here he helped revise the Schlieffen Plan, Germany's strategy for victory over France and campaigned for greater military expansion in anticipation of war.
When war broke out in 1914, Ludendorff was made quartermaster general to Von Bulow's Second Army but when the Russians threatened to overrun the German Eighth Army in East Prussia, Ludendorff was appointed their chief of staff, serving under Paul von Hindenburg. Their spectacular victories over the Russians at Tannenberg (1914) and at the Masurian Lakes (1915) brought Hindenburg worldwide renown - although arguably much of the credit belonged to Ludendorff. In 1916, when Hindenburg was appointed chief of staff, he made Ludendorff his quartermaster general.
Hindenburg, assisted by Ludendorff, worked on the mobilisation of Germany to prosecute 'total' warfare, staking everything on the stubborn pursuit of a 'victorious peace' that would secure German gains. In 1917, Ludendorff supported unrestricted submarine warfare which brought the United States into the war. After Russia's withdrawal from the war in 1917, Ludendorff played a key role in the resulting Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
In March 1918, Ludendorff launched a huge, but unsuccessful, offensive on the Western Front in attempt to defeat the Allies before the arrival of American troops. In the autumn, faced with the imminent collapse of Germany's allies, he refused to accept the armistice terms demanded by the Allies and insisted the war continue. He resigned when he was overruled. After the war, Ludendorff briefly went into exile in Sweden before emerging to claim that he had been deprived of victory by sinister forces operating behind the scenes. The popularity of this legend - that the German army was undefeated in battle but sabotaged by the home front - did much to condition the country for Adolf Hitler's ascent.
Ludendorff participated in an unsuccessful Nazi coup in Munich in 1923, and in 1925 ran for president against Hindenburg, now a bitter enemy. From 1924 to 1928 he was a Nazi member of the Reichstag. After falling out with the Nazis he retired and died on 20 December 1937.
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