Under pressure from the government of Chancellor Max von Baden, Erich Ludendorff, the quartermaster general of the German army, resigns on October 27, 1918, just days before Germany calls for an armistice, bringing World War I to an end after four long years.
Second in command to Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg for most of the war effort, Ludendorff had masterminded the final, massive German offensive during the spring of 1918. Beginning that summer, however, the Allies—spearheaded by British, French and American troops—made a great resurgence, reversing many of Germany’s gains and turning the tide decisively toward an Allied victory. By the end of September, the Germans had been forced to retreat to the so-called Hindenburg Line, the last line of their defenses in eastern France and western Belgium; on September 29, that formidable line was breached.
That same day, at a meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm’s crown council at the resort town of Spa, Ludendorff demanded that Germany seek an immediate armistice on the terms set forth by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points address the previous January. A week later, the newly appointed chancellor, von Baden, contacted Washington to open peace negotiations. Fighting continued, however, as Wilson and the other Allies refused to negotiate with an undemocratic Germany governed, in effect, by the army’s Supreme Command. A defiant Ludendorff and Hindenburg resolved to fight on, issuing a letter to all army group commanders calling the Allied demands that Germany submit to its armistice terms unreasonable and “nothing for us soldiers but a challenge to continue our resistance with all our strength.”
This telegraphed “fight to the finish” order was withdrawn after an army commander protested—its message was largely impossible for the demoralized and broken German army to carry out. It was leaked to the newspapers, however, and published on October 25 to the great outrage of the German government. Von Baden went to Kaiser Wilhelm to demand Ludendorff’s resignation; for his part, Ludendorff traveled to Berlin to convince the kaiser to reject the latest note from President Wilson. He blamed defeat on the battlefield to discontent on the home front, stating that if the German people would support their troops, “the war can be maintained for some months.” Although backed by Hindenburg and the chief of the German navy, Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, Ludendorff had angered the kaiser, and was forced to tender his resignation. Hindenburg tried to resign as well, but was refused by Wilhelm, and he remained as a mere figurehead for a great German war-making machine that had lost its driving force. Less than two weeks later, the kaiser himself abdicated, and World War I was over.