October 1

This Day in History

World War I

Oct 1, 1918:

Crisis in Germany

At four o’clock on the morning of October 1, 1918, Max von Baden arrives in Berlin to take office as the new German chancellor, after conflict within the German military and government leadership causes his predecessor, Georg von Hertling, to resign.

Although the Allies had breached the mighty Hindenburg Line—the heavily fortified defensive zone envisioned as the last line of German defenses on the Western Front—in the last days of September 1918, German forces in general continued to hold. The news that German ally Bulgaria had sought and been granted an armistice, however, caused German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff to lose his once-steely nerve. At a crown council convened by Kaiser Wilhelm II at Spa on September 29, Ludendorff demanded that the German government seek an immediate armistice based on the Fourteen Points outlined by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson the previous January. This abrupt switch by Ludendorff—who until then had claimed the German forces were far from defeat—and his direct appeal to the kaiser angered government leaders like Hertling, who arrived too late to actively participate in the meeting and promptly resigned the chancellorship.

When von Baden arrived in Berlin the next morning, he made it clear that his policy was not to seek an armistice until the German army was able to reestablish its stability at the front. He argued that by suing for peace Germany would forfeit its post-war negotiating power, stating that "a request for an armistice makes any peace initiative impossible." Baden, an aristocrat appointed by the kaiser, quickly implemented necessary constitutional reforms in Germany, undermining the power of the military’s Third Supreme Command—and of Ludendorff in particular—in the hopes that a more moderate and democratic Germany could negotiate more favorable armistice terms with the Allies. Despite his initial resistance, von Baden himself contacted Wilson on October 4 to seek an immediate armistice. Over the next few weeks, pressured by the leftist Social Democrats, von Baden oversaw the creation of a German republic and Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication on November 9, and then announced his own retirement, handing control to the Social Democratic leader Friedrich Ebert.

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