Crown Prince Wilhelm as Military Commander

Discussions on all aspects of Imperial Germany not covered in the other sections.
YM
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Crown Prince Wilhelm as Military Commander

Post by YM » 06 Oct 2005 06:15

I read that Crown Prince Wilhelm was a senior military commander during
the entire war. He already participated in the Battle of the Marne in 1914.
On the other hand, I recall hearing that he was the "most-hated man in
Germany". He carried on most indiscreetly with his mistress in the open,
he told his father when the regime was facing collapse in November 1918
that people were saying "don't shoot the Kaiser, you will get (Crown Prince)
Willy in his place!"
My question is this: Did the Crown Prince actually act as a commander,
or was he basically a figurehead whose staff actually made all the decisions?

Mad Zeppelin
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Post by Mad Zeppelin » 06 Oct 2005 19:26

In his military training, Crownprince Wilhelm had not advanced beyond regimental commander. Therefore, his appointment as commander of 5th Army in 1914 surely was a symbolic act and he he was completely dependent on his chief of staff. (In the German system even a complete idiot could be a successful army commander as long as he was provided a competent chief of staff.)
But Wilhelm never qualified as an idiot (apart from the picture that Entente propaganda painted of him), on several occassions he showed far more common sense and practical intelligence than his military "advisors". For example, although nominally responsible, he never was blamed for the Verdun slaughter.
On the other hand, his last chief of staff, Count von der Schulenburg, was so appalled by "Little Willie" and his behavior in late 1918 that he made his sons swear that no Hohenzoller should ever again be allowed to be Deutscher Kaiser.
With the troops and the German population as a whole, Wilhelm was quite popular. "Most hated" is Entente propaganda again.

bob lembke
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Kronprinz Wilhelm

Post by bob lembke » 07 Oct 2005 02:27

My father was a private (Pionier) in the Garde=Reserve=Pionier=Regiment, the flame thrower unit of the Imperial Army, most of the time being a member of 2. Kompagnie, which was based in Stenay-sur-Meuse, the location of KP Wilhelm's HQ. Both my father's oral history and documentary evidence I have uncovered indicate that the KP funded the establishment of the first flame unit out of his private funds before the Highest Army Command warmed up to the idea of flame warfare (pardon the pun). The KP frequently visited the barracks and chatted up the men and gave out cigarettes, on at least one occasion dragging his father along, prompting a funny incident . Both my father's recollections and his Feldpost indicate that Pop received cigarettes from him a number of times. (The KP's memoirs mention how he had a staff officer loaded down with packets so he could hand them out to enlisted men while he visited troops.) I have read the recollection of an officer in another elite unit how the KP would drop by and engage enlisted men in conversation, remembering their names and personal situations from previous visits, and discuss things, their families, etc. with them. Was this all theatrics, or an insincere attempt to lift the morale of the men? I could not say, but there are many stories of that sort, and I understand that he was generally very popular with the troops.

There are a number of indications that he was sincerely interested in the welfare of his men. In my father's company the men shot (32 times) and killed the company CO, who was a thief and a coward, on an exercise field. (When my father told me the story, he said: "And, remember, son, that I was the second best shot in the company!") The first sergeant marched the men back to the barracks (it happened on an exercise field at 4 AM; the drunk CO got the company out at 3 AM and marched them off for drill.) Infantry surrounded the barracks, and for three days officers came in, conducted interviews, took depositions, and after three days the infantry was withdrawn and large barrels of beer were brought in for the men. As it was the KP's pet company, and he was living only about a kilometer away, one can be sure that he was consulted about this extraordinary incident. I don't think that that would have been the outcome in any other army of the period. The officer's name was erased from the rolls of the regiment, for dishonor, I am sure.

I have heard that he was a womanizer, but that was practically the rule in the upper classes of the period. The only concrete thing I heard was him being seen driving in tennis costume with one or two women who may have been French. I am sure that soldiers seeing that would have made rude jokes, but I hardly think that they would hate him.

I think the KP was a sergeant at six and a lieutenant at ten (I may be off here, and of course such a posting is a bit odd, but he did see a lot of the army.) He served thru the ranks of a couple of units, and ended up the colonel of the Death's Head Hussars. When posted to the command of the 5th Army, and later, I think he only had the formal general's rank of a CO of a division or even a brigade, (Not sure here.) There is the famous story of when he took over 5. Armee his father bellowing at him publically to mind his chief of staff. He probably was not a brilliant officer, but, as "Mad Zeppelin" said, he really did not have to be. I agree that often he displayed more common sense in military/political matters than the "professionals". I find him a sympathetic but certainly a flawed individual. I think both his appearance and physical affect were such that individuals could either find him charming or off-putting, and perhaps had the appearance of a "light-weight". I would guess that he spoke fluent English and French, as his father did; I know that his French was very, very good. (Read Commandant Raynal {of Fort Vaux fame} on his meetings with the KP after being captured. I believe that the KP allowed him to wear both a pistol and a sword while a POW, and have a servant and a dog. The KP first gave him back a symbolic sword, and then, after he left the KP, he was asked back to allow the KP to present him with a proper French officer's sword, which they had just found; of course, Raynal never had a sword when he commanded the Fort.)

You have to be very careful reading WW I material, especially anything written during or just after the war. In the last four years I have read probably 200 books on the Great War, not many being secondary sources, in German, English, French, and (amazingly) in Italian, and there was an awful amount of nonsense and propaganda written. (My very subjective rating is that, on average, the American material was the worst, with the English material in second place. But the Americans had to be whipped up to get them into the war, and the Brits worked very hard to sway US public opinion.)

See, more than you ever wanted to know.

Bob Lembke

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 07 Oct 2005 06:30

A ten year old Leutnant Willie.

Image
http://historische-uniformen.de/Truppen ... nprinz.JPG

An interview with an American correspondent 1914:

http://about.upi.com/company/timeline/1911/1914

His Memoirs in 1922 were better than imagined:

http://146.82.67.74/Merchant2/merchant. ... ct_Count=3

If I'm correct Hermann von Eichhorn was originally slotted to command 5th Army in 1914 but was invalided out because of a horse riding accident.

YM
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Post by YM » 07 Oct 2005 13:59

Thank you all for the information. I am currently reading John Toland's book
"No Man's Land" which covers the war from the time of Operation Michael
to the end and he mentions Crown Prince Wilhelm offering cigarettes
to prisoners of war, so he was obviously well supplied as Bob indicates.

Regarding the negative image of the Crown Prince which was not
really deserved as has been pointed out, one must keep in mind
that Americans go to absurd lengths to demonize their enemies,
and this goes on even today regarding people like Saddam Hussein.
People like him and Hitler are portrayed as raving fools.
They are portrayed in such a way that they are incapable of having
any characteristics that are considered "good". These images
are repeated in reputable history books. The ridiculous part of this
demonization is that one wonders how "raving fools" like this
ever came to power in the first place.
For example, I have a film on video tape called "The Rise and Fall
of The Third Reich" made about 1968, based on William Shirer's
famous book. Shirer appears in the film. When discussing
the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, the narrator states
that when the police open fired "Hitler scampered away
to safety" while his men were being shot. This is implying
that he was some sort of coward. Hitler was most certainly
a monstrous genocidal mass murderer and one of the most
evil men in history, but honesty requires one to state that
his service in World War I showed that he was no coward.
However, this American tendency to demonize doesn't allow
them to state that Hitler had the "good characteristic" of
personal courage. Historians who propagate these false
ideas are not doing anyone a favor because it prevents
people from seeing the true danger of people like Hitler,
by making caricatures out of them.
Thus, I would not be surprised that Crown Prince Wilhelm
was not as ridiculous a figure as the history books and films like
"Fall of Eagles" make him out to be. Historians must
be loyal to the truth above all.

bob lembke
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Comments

Post by bob lembke » 07 Oct 2005 21:32

Peter;

Thanks again for posting the photo of the 10-year old Leutnant Wilhelm. I just love it. I wonder how much time he spent with the unit, was it only photo opportunities, of if he spent a lot of time. As artificial as the situation is, there were things that could be usefully learnt, and probably it helped develop a sympathetic view of the Other Ranks.

Also, the other links are interesting. As I thought, clearly he spoke good English.

YM;

It is interesting to read in the memoirs of American generals the formal programs to generate hate for all things German among the American troops. General Bullard writes candidly about this, -------

Got to run, will return to this in half an hour.

Bob Lembke

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Comments, con't.

Post by bob lembke » 07 Oct 2005 22:31

As I was saying, Bullard wrote quite candidly about the hate German programs aimed at his troops.

The situation in the US, where a well-organized operation to whip up pro-war feeling and suppress anything smacking of "Germanism" was organized, was breathtaking. I have been reading about this lately, doing some research for a film-maker. Hundreds of thousands of people were organized into loyalty and kangeroo court organizations to harrass and spy on their German-American neighbors. I only know of one fatal lynching, but thousands of German-Americans were beat up, put on "trial", run out of town, had their homes invaded and trashed, etc. Local committees asigned heavy Liberty Bond quotas on individuals, and if they did not buy the assigned amounts their houses were invaded, trashed, and splashed inside and out with yellow paint, and the offending head of household might be dragged to a public ceremony, possibly undressed, beated, forced to kneel and kiss the flag, and then cough up the assigned funds.

The worst treatment fell on the Mennonites, who are strict pacifists. Some, refusing the draft, were tried and sentenced to 10 and 20 years in prison, and one group were dragged off to prison after conviction, stripped naked, and hung from the ceiling by their wrists with chains (doesn't that sound familiar ....?) for a long period until half of them had died of pneumonia. It really goes on and on.

The above material is from several scholarly books and one Ph. D. thesis that my wife checked out of the research library of the University of Pennsylvania. I can give citations if you request them.

One ceremony that I am looking for more detail is one in which the German-breed dogs (i.e., about half of the common breeds of the time) of Columbus, Ohio were rounded up and dragged to the Schiller Park, in the large neighborhood known then and now as "German Village". A ceremony was held, and the dogs were all shot and tossed into a pre-dug pit, I think at the base of a large statue of Schiller, and the wonderful occasion concluded with the park being re-named "Washington Park". (The name has since reverted to Schiller Park.) Book-burnings were also held at the base of the statue.

Another high point was when one crusading district attorney indited 167 bishops and ministers of one main-line predominently German church for treason at one fell swoop.

The stuff that went on during WW I, and to some degree after it, was actually worse than during WW II, when the moral issues were quite different. (As it was, my mother and I came close to being tossed into a camp in 1942 (she had been a legal US resident for 15 years, was married to a US citizen and employee of the Navy, and I was a three-year old US citizen), and in 1944 and 1945 I used to be pulled in front of the class and beaten by the teachers in a NYC public school as a patriotic exercise, until my parents put me in a private school for my safety.) About 5-7 years ago Congress passed a law to limit the ways that information about the internment of German-Americans and Italian-Americans may be disseminated, ironically as part of a law publicizing the internment of Japanese-Americans.

I have often read really astonishing and totally impossible things written into things that pass as histories and personal narratives of the period. Based on reading probably 200 books or book-length sources in the last four years, mostly in languages other than English, the worst stuff seems to be American materials, aimed at getting the US into the war, and whipping up the correct fighting spirit, and English-language stuff from England or English-paid sources in Canada and the US aimed at the same objectives. The French, for example, had good reasons to fight; such nutty propaganda was not needed.

Bob Lembke

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 08 Oct 2005 02:30

In 1910-11 the Crown Prince visited India,Ceylon and Burma.Its said that he played up a bit but enjoyed himself on tiger hunts and a tour of the Khyper Pass. In Burma its said that he went a bit "tropo",having a Burmese mistress and smoking opium.British Intelligence figures kept a tab on him and recorded such events.

The more reserved Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria also visited India and the Far East 1898-99.Rupprecht also published a book or two on his trips to Asia.

Its said that Rupprecht's attainment of an army command(the 6th Army) prompted the Kaiser to also give his son the 5th Army in 1914.If the Bavarian heir can run an army so could the Prussian heir.

Wilhelm always appeared to be following on the coat tails of the more older and capable Bavarian Kronprinz.

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Post by joerookery » 08 Oct 2005 15:57

At the U.S. Army War College there is a life-size statue of Frederick the great. It was a gift of the Kaiser. During World War I, the statue had to be removed and hidden. Today it is out again, but in a different place at the War College.

Are there any secondary source biographies on either of the crown princes in English? I know there is a biography of William's wife in German. I miss a great deal of nuances when I tried to read that though.

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