Erich Ludendorff

Erich Ludendorff

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General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) was a top German military commander in the latter stages of World War I. Educated in the cadet corps, Ludendorff was named chief of staff to the Eighth Army after the outbreak of war and earned renown for the victory at the Battle of Tannenberg. He became the nominal deputy to chief of the general staff Paul von Hindenburg and overhauled the army’s tactical doctrines, but resigned in October 1918 after the failure of the Ludendorff Offensive. In his later years, he served in Parliament as a member of the National Socialist Party and wrote “Der Totale Krieg” (The Nation at War).

Erich Ludendorff embodied the strengths and weaknesses of the imperial German army in the twentieth century. He is frequently described as representing everything negative in the rising generation of officers: bourgeois by birth, specialist by training, and philistine by instinct. Appointed head of the Mobilization and Deployment Section of the General Staff in 1908, he was a leading advocate of expanding the army. The War Ministry’s reluctance to support that policy reflected concerns wider than the often-cited reluctance to risk diluting the officer corps with social undesirables. Ludendorff did succeed in getting army estimates increased in the face of a Reichstag whose parties, from Right to Left, above all disliked voting for taxes. He paid the price of his convictions in 1913 by being transferred to command an undistinguished regiment in the industrial city of Dusseldorf–a kind of punitive assignment frequently used to teach recalcitrants their manners.

When war broke out in August 1914, Ludendorff was restored to favor as deputy chief of staff to the Second Army. On August 8, he proved he was more than a desk soldier, rallying demoralized troops to play a crucial role in the capture of the Belgian fortress of Li[egrave]ge. On August 22 he was assigned as chief of staff to the Eighth Army in East Prussia.

Ludendorff’s exact role in planning and executing the Battle of Tannenberg remains debatable. What is certain is his emergence as a national hero whose symbiotic relationship with Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg seemed to symbolize the synthesis of the best of the old Germany and the new. Hindenburg supplied the character, Ludendorff the intelligence. Both men grew increasingly committed to an “eastern” solution to the strategic dilemma Germany faced by the end of 1914. Ludendorff had entered the war as a committed “westerner.” But in the aftermath of the victories of Tannenberg, the Masurian Lakes, and in southern Poland, he could hardly be blamed for wondering what might be achieved with even a few fresh corps.

Personal ambition reinforced professional conviction. Ludendorff’s increasingly open coveting of Erich von Falkenhayn’s post as chief of the General Staff earned him widespread enmity among his colleagues and, in 1915, relegation to the sidelines as chief of staff to a mired German-Austrian army operating in a secondary theater.

But eventually, Falkenhayn proved the author of his own downfall when he launched the attack against Verdun in January 1916. Combined with the Allied offensive at the Battle of the Somme six months later, the result was the kind of attritional war that Germany had little chance of winning.

On August 29, 1916, Hindenburg was appointed chief of the General Staff with Ludendorff as his deputy. It was clear where the real power rested: Ludendorff was responsible for developing and enacting the Hindenburg Program, designed to put what remained of Germany’s human and material resources entirely at the service of the war effort. Ludendorff took the lead in overhauling the army’s tactical doctrines. Going in person to the front to discover what was going wrong, he sponsored a system of flexible defense that took heavy toll of the French and the British armies in 1917. Ludendorff also played an active part in German politics. His involvement was facilitated by the inability of Kaiser Wilhelm II to fulfill the role of a pivot figure, above the everyday frictions between soldiers and statesmen, and by the fierce rivalry among the political parties, which prevented the emergence of any effective civilian rival. In July 1917, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was dismissed. His nondescript successors did little but dance to Ludendorff’s piping.

The general was for a time successful in orchestrating public support for the war effort. Trade unions and industrialists alike accepted an arms program so comprehensive that within months the impossibility of its execution was obvious. They accepted the starvation of their families in the Hunger Winter of 1917. They accepted the militarization of everyday life to a degree unthinkable in 1914. But this effort could be no more than temporary: the last spark of an exhausted system.

Ludendorff was committed less to ruling Germany than to winning the war. The defeat of the Italians at Caporetto in October 1917 and the collapse of Russia’s provisional government at almost the same time offered opportunities for negotiation. Even the submarine campaign of 1917 might have been turned to advantage. At the start of 1918 Germany had the option of offering to end unrestricted submarine warfare and withdraw from all or part of its western conquests. Instead, with Ludendorff in the driver’s seat, the Second Reich sought to integrate central and eastern Europe into an empire, a stable base for the next round of conflict for world power, while still fighting flat out in the west.

The German army had developed a set of offensive tactics that initially broke open every front to which they were applied. Ludendorff, however, possessed no equivalent strategic concepts. “Punch a hole and let the rest follow,” the famous aphorism for the German offensive of March 1918, brought initial victories that neither troops nor generals could exploit (see Ludendorff Offensive). Instead, exhausted frontline units were driven back by massive Allied counterattacks. His artifice at an end, Ludendorff first called for peace, then argued for a fight to the finish, and finally on October 26, 1918, resigned his post and fled to Sweden. Apart from a figurehead role in the Munich putsch of 1923, his postwar political career was inconsequential.

From 1914 to 1918 Erich Ludendorff remained prisoner of his faith in the decisive battle. He refused to face the fact that a great power’s armed forces could not be crushed by the combinations of mobility and firepower existing between 1914 and 1918; instead, he continued to insist that he had never been given quite enough resources to achieve the triumph glimmering over the horizon. For all his native ability and General Staff training, Ludendorff never rose above the mental level of an infantry colonel.

The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Erich Ludendorff

Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) was a Prussian soldier, general and World War I commander who became a nationalist figurehead during the Weimar era. He joined the National Socialists (NSDAP) briefly and participated in the failed Munich putsch.

Ludendorff was born in Kruszewnia in what is now western Poland. Though his family came from Prussian aristocratic and military backgrounds, they were small landowners and far from wealthy.

A bright student, Ludendorff followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the military as a teenager. He was commissioned in 1883 and excelled both in command and administrative or logistical roles.

In 1894, Ludendorff was elevated to the General Staff. An unabashed militarist, he played an important role in the Kaiser‘s program of military expansion and modernisation prior to World War I.

An intelligent but rigid and humourless figure, Ludendorff was relegated from the General Staff in 1912 following disagreements over policy. He returned after the outbreak of the war, first to oversee the implementation of the Schlieffen Plan, then joining Paul von Hindenburg on the defence of Germany’s eastern frontier.

By the summer of 1916, Ludendorff was Hindenburg’s deputy and, in effect, second in command of the German nation. He was a key figure in planning the 1918 Spring Offensive and its failure led to his dismissal in late October 1918.

The collapse of 1918 hit Ludendorff hard. An exponent of the ‘stab in the back’ mythology, he came to blame Germany’s defeat on the weak Kaiser, duplicitous civilian politicians, half-hearted businessmen and Jewish intriguers.

Ludendorff spent several months in exile in Sweden before returning to Germany in mid-1919. From this point, he became an active figure in right-wing nationalist politics, supporting both the Kapp putsch (1920) and the NSDAP’s failed Munich putsch (1923).

In 1924, Ludendorff won a seat in the Reichstag and formed his own nationalist and anti-religious group. He ran against Hindenburg for the presidency in 1925 but polled poorly, while his relationship with Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP deteriorated as the 1920s progressed.

Ludendorff died in Munich in December 1937, aged 72.

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Erich Ludendorff

Ludendorff was born in 1865 in Kruszewnia, near Posen in Germany. He was trained at Ploen and Lichterfelde and was commissioned into the German infantry in 1883. He quickly gained a reputation as a hard working and capable officer, so it wasn’t long before he was appointed part of the General Staff.

Ludendorff also gained a reputation for having very strong militaristic views, believing that war was an acceptable and effective way of nations asserting their dominance and maintaining power. In fact, he saw war as being the norm while peace was simply an interim. In light of this view, he also felt that the nation should always be prepared for war, with all national resources designed and created around making them more efficient in terms of their military.

This attitude reflected in significant support for the concept of unrestricted submarine warfare, which was put into action during World War One and was seen by Ludendorff as a justifiable means of defeating the enemy. His views did not even change in light of threats from the United States, who reacted with full force upon becoming a target of this aggressive war tactic.

When the war began in August 1914, Ludendorff was awarded the position of quartermaster general in von Bulow’s Second Army and was given the responsibility for attacking a series of forts in Belgium. This phase of the German plan of attack was vital to the success of the Schlieffan Plan, which Ludendorff had played a role in fine-tuning.

Upon successfully capturing the forts, Ludendorff was promoted to Chief of Staff to Paul von Hindenburg on the Eastern Front while Hindenburg received much of the credit for their subsequent successes (including the Battle of Tannenburg), Ludendorff played a significant and well-noted role in tactical and strategic planning.

As a result of these victories, Hindenburg was promoted to Chief of Staff of the German Army in August 1916, and appointed Ludendorff his quartermaster general. He replaced Falkenhayn, who was demoted having failed to take Verdun.

Once in place as Chief of Staff, Hindenburg moulded the nation until it became well-oiled machine entered on the military. All forms of industry were targeted at military production and his leadership became known as the Third Supreme Command. Under this new regime, Kaiser Wilhelm II was essentially pushed to one side while Ludendorff was given an influential position as the head of all things political, military and economic across the state.

Now in a strong position, Ludendorff began to impose his views of aggressive military tactics, persuading Kaiser Wilhelm II to dismiss any senior figure who discussed the possibility of defeat or negotiation. This was demonstrated in 1917 when the Russians pulled out of the war, with the resulting peace agreement signed at Brest-Litovsk being incredibly harsh on the Russians.

Ludendorff continued to hold his stance, and this was demonstrated once more in the German Spring Push in 1918 on the Western Front - known by many as the Ludendorff Offensive. The action was part of Ludendorff’s master plan to launch a final, decisive blow against the Allies, which he believed would be followed by their demise. However, the push failed and Ludendorff quickly realised that Germany would no longer be able to win the war, particularly in light of the new support for the Allies from the United States.

Along with Hindenburg, Ludendorff transferred power back to the Reichstag in September 2018 and called for a peace settlement. Shortly afterwards, he changed his mind and called for war to be pursued once more. However, his creditability had been severely damaged and he was forced to resign on 26th October 1918.

Upon accepting the German defeat, and facing a backlash as the German people suffered from the flu outbreak as a result of an Allied blockade, Ludendorff decided he should leave Germany and travelled to Sweden. He spent a number of months writing articled that suggested left wing politicians had ‘stabbed’ the German Army in the back, which was an idea that was developed by Hitler years later.

Ludendorff eventually decided to return to Germany and became strongly involved in right wing politics - joining the Kapp Putsch March in 1920 and the Munich Putsch of 1923, the latter of which gave credibility to the relatively unknown Nazi Party. Although the putsch was a failure, it did result in fame for Hitler, who became nationwide figure thanks to the promotion from a German ‘hero’. Ludendorff was subsequently elected to the Reichstag as a representative of the party, standing against Hindenburg for the presidential election in Weimar Germany but only polling one per cent of the votes.

He remained in his position until 1928, when he retired and concluded that all the world’s problems were a result of the Jews, Freemasons and Christians a view that led many to declare him an eccentric. He later rejected Hitler’s offer of becoming a field marshall and died on 20th December 1937 aged 72. Adolf Hitler attended his funeral.

Great War Generals: Erich Ludendorff

This dynamic and very physical soldier was born in 1865. Obviously destined for the Army, he did singularly well as a cadet, passed through the junior ranks at panther’s speed, and by the timeEuropewas (not) ready for World War I he was already on the German General Staff.

First off he led his troops with verve and bravery to capture the Belgian fortress at Liège. Promoted instantly to general, he became Chief-of-Staff of the 8 th Army under Hindenberg (q.v.) who was busy at the time dealing with the Russian invasion of East Prussia.

Ludendorff rapidly became known as a master of strategy, the most important quality in a fighting general. Using this talent he smashed two Russian armies at Tannenberg and theMasurianLakes, and keptGermanysupreme on the Eastern Front until September, 1916. Falkenhayn (q.v.) was dismissed and replaced by Hindenberg as Supreme Commander. Erich became his most senior Quartermaster-General, a vital post.

Following the onslaught at Verdun, Ludendorff withdrew German forces to the ‘Hindenberg Line’, and continued in more defensive mode, giving the soldiers time for rest and recuperation. For the next two years he was seen to exercise more domestic power inGermanythan the Chancellor himself. In fact he became a military dictator. Among his more stringent requirements he insisted on ‘calling up’ the entire civilian population for war! Then he brought in compulsory work for women restriction of workers rights and closure of the universities. The population soon realised what Ludendorff’s conception of total war was.

The Chancellor was Bethmann-Hollweg, who muttered about Erich’s ‘dictatorial thirst for power and a consequent intention to militarize the whole political scene’. He was only partially right. What Ludendorff wanted, and virtually got, was Hitler’s future dream ofGermanyas a military machine, with slaves to do the work, and everyone, including children, in uniform. A Supreme War Office was founded and given ample powers over trade and industry. The supply of munitions trebled as a result.

Erich Ludendorff

Germany is a country of tradition, contrast and discipline mixed with a craving for modernity and change. The actual Chancellor is a lady from the Centre/Right who was in her youth a devoted Communist. In the First and Second World Wars almost all of the ‘officer class’ were titled irrespective of whether Germany was a monarchy or a republic. Rare it was to find a senior army officer without a von in his name. Only recently retired was Freiherr Bertoldt von Stauffenberg, a Count as well as being a son of the heroic leader of German military resistance against Adolf Hitler, recently ‘immortalized’ by Mr Tom Cruise in a rather bad film called Valkyrie. Cruise, who is not very tall, played Klaus von Stauffenberg, who was tall. Actually Rommel was one of the few very senior officers in the Second War who was not a von.

Erich Ludendorff was not a von either, though he came from a military background. Born in 1865 his dynamism and capacity for concentration attached to a fine physical presence ensured rapid promotion in the Imperial General Staff: he was a ‘fighting gentleman’ who led his troops to take the Belgian fortress of Liège at the beginning of the Great War. This was noticed by the eagle-eyed General Hindenberg (who was a von) and got him promoted to the Staff.

Ludendorff used his mastery of strategy to crush two Russian armies at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. He maintained German superiority on the Eastern Front until September of 1916, when von Falkenhayn was fired and replaced as supreme commander by Hindenberg. Our subject became his Senior Quarter-master General.

Recovery was need after the assault on Verdun, and Ludendorff withdrew German soldiers to the Hindenberg Line (q.v.), having decided on more defensive tactics. This gave him time to become more political than military. He exercised more influence in domestic matters than the Chancellor. Truth to tell he became something of a military dictator. He demanded total mobilization of the civilian community, bringing all Germans into the war, like it or not: there was compulsory factory and agricultural work for women on call-up, restriction on workers’ rights, and German universities were closed. Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg complained loudly of Ludendorff’s ‘dictatorial thirst for power and consequent intention to militarize the whole political scene’. The answer came in Ludendorff’s favour – the setting up of a supreme war office but endowed with even more powers, especially over industry and labour. Munitions production increased greatly as a result.

Ludendorff then turned to the subject of submarine production, and unrestricted use in war, beginning in 1917. He became a hero of the Left when he took part in the successful plan to spirit Lenin through Germany back to Russia in a sealed train. Lenin organised the Russian Revolution (with others) and thus caused Russia’s withdrawal from the war against Germany.

When the terrible October Revolution ended Ludendorff orchestrated the punitive terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) which gave the Allies a clear idea of what would happen in Europe if Germany won the War. He had by no means finished. In the late spring of 1918 Ludendorff began a great offensive with the intention of securing a German victory in France before American soldiers (he United States had entered the War in late 1917) could tip the balance in favour of the Allies. Three and a half million troops were involved in five separate offensives between March and July 1918 but the operation failed. Nothing deterred, Ludendorff asked the Chancellor to approach President Wilson for an armistice based on his ‘Fourteen Points’. As intelligent as ever, he realised that better terms might be agreed should Germany become a parliamentary democracy, though in the past he had been opposed to all and any reforms. To promote the notion of a civilian government negotiating both armistice and peace, he resigned. Privately, he said that eventually he would ‘climb back into the saddle and govern according to old ways’.

Faithful to his own words, when the War was over Ludendorff encouraged opposition to the Weimar Republic, took part in a putsch in 1920, and was seen by many Germans as a master of ‘the stab in the back’ kind of politics, though he of course did not see it that way. In the Munich Putsch in 1923, when he was nearing sixty years old, he marched in the front line of the demonstrators. When the police fired at them, far from flinging himself to the ground, he marched calmly on. The officers who arrested him told him he was very brave. He was taken to court but acquitted rapidly and was soon a member of the National Socialist Party, representing it in the Reichstag from 1924 to 1928.

Probably suffering from dementia, he declared that Germany had not lost the War, and that supernatural forces had been used by the Allies to ensure their victory. He was thus an embarrassment to the Nazis he had vigorously supported. Considered insane, he died in 1937 before the commencement of the Second World War in which, though he was over seventy, he would undoubtedly have fought.

Erich Ludendorff (German Heritage)

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German military leader and later the 9th chancellor of the German Empire from 1921 to 1928. Upon his election after the Federal Election of 1921, which was seen as the first-free election, he became the first “popularly voted” chancellor.

From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general (German: Erster Generalquartiermeister) made him the leader (along with Paul von Hindenburg) of the German war efforts during World War I. The success of Germany's great Spring Offensives in 1918 in its quest for total victory was his great strategic success, after which he gained a large personality cult from the adoring German public.

After the war, Ludendorff entered politics and became a prominent nationalist leader, taking control of the newly formed DNVP in 1920. In 1921, the SPD split into two factions, into a republican and a reformist wing. This, combined with Ludendorff’s massive popularity, led to a an unexpected DNVP victory in the federal elections.

His marriage to Mathilde von Kemnitz in 1925 led to him following conspiracies, such as the world's problems were the result of Christianity, especially the Jesuits and Catholics, but also conspiracies by Jews and the Freemasons. He detested Christianity and Judaism alike, and was a reported follower of the Nordic God Odin. His political opponents used this against him, and he started to become disliked by catholics, democrats and Jews. In the federal election of 1928, the “Democratic Alliance”, formed by Zentrum, the SPD, DVP and DDP won a majority and toppled Ludendorff’s government.

After the loss in elections, it was perceived that Ludendorff was no longer advantageous to the DNVP, and was later replaced by his protege, Alfred Hugenburg in 1929. Upon his ousting as party leader, he retired to Munich and wrote two ideological books. Das Effizienzproblem (The Efficiency Problem) was published in 1931, and underlined Ludendorff’s thoughts and opinions on the “undesirables” of society (Jews, Catholics, Jesuits, Socialists Ώ] ). His second book, Der totale Krieg (The Total War), detailed his military and ideological theory of Total War. In this work, he argued that the entire physical and moral forces of the nation should be mobilized, because peace was merely an interval between wars.

Ludendorff died of liver cancer in the private clinic Josephinum in Munich, on 20 December 1937 at the age of 72. He was given a state funeral, which was attended by Wilhelm II and Alfred Hugenburg. Ludendorff remains a controversial figure in history, with some praising his role in the imperial victory, though his opinions on Christians and Jews remain criticised by all sides of the political and scholarly spectrum.

All you need to know about… Erich Ludendorff

Once called ‘the most powerful man in Germany’, Erich Ludendorff was a prominent general in the German Army of the First World War. He was also a writer, military theorist, and ultra right-wing politician. He went to cadet school at an early age, and later attended the prestigious War Academy. He quickly rose through the ranks of the German military: in 1894 he was appointed to the General Staff of the German Army, and by 1911 he was a colonel.

He looks stern. What was he like in war?

Ludendorff was well read in military matters and put his education to use. Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, he worked on the Schlieffen Plan, Germany’s plan to wage war on two fronts against France and Russia.

In 1914, Ludendorff oversaw Germany’s first major action of the war: he led the German Army to victory at the Battle of Liège in August 1914, part of Germany’s invasion of Belgium, which was the gateway to France. Ludendorff remembered this attack on the Belgian fortified city with great fondness, later writing:

The favourite recollection of my life as a soldier is the coup de main on the fortress. It was a bold stroke, in which I was able to fight just like any soldier of the rank and file who proves his worth in battle.

The feat won him the Pour le Mérite, Germany’s highest military award for bravery, presented to him by the Kaiser.

Did he always find victory easy?

Despite his strategic skill and bravery in war, one of Ludendorff’s greatest victories was also one of his most difficult to achieve. The Germans had underestimated the strength of the Russian Army, and they were vastly outnumbered by their opponents at Tannenberg between 26 and 30 August 1914.

‘Our decision to give battle arose out of the slowness of the Russian leadership and was conditioned by the necessity of winning in spite of inferiority in numbers, yet I found it immensely difficult to take this momentous step,’ wrote Ludendorff.

Nevertheless, superior German tactics led to the Russians being encircled and crushed by their foe. The commander of the German 8th Army, Paul von Hindenburg, was celebrated for leading his army to victory at Tannenberg, but Ludendorff was also praised for his leading role in the battle, and the importance of his actions have since been emphasised by historians.

Ludendorff later called Tannenberg ‘one of the most brilliant battles in the history of the world’.

He sounds arrogant. Was he?

In short, yes – Ludendorff has even been accused of being a dictator. In 1916, when Hindenburg took over from Erich von Falkenhayn as Chief of Staff of the German Army, Ludendorff asked to be made Quartermaster General. Together, the two men led the Third Supreme Command, which effectively turned Germany into an expansionist military state over which Ludendorff had control.

In 1918, the Germans realised that they were about to lose the war Ludendorff then resigned, and his power diminished. He spent the interwar period promoting the ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth, blaming others for his own failure to effecively manage the German Army’s supply chain.

He became involved in politics and was a vigorous supporter of the Nazi Party, participating in the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. His relationship with Hitler was strained, but the latter was keen to align himself with the right-wing veteran, who became increasingly paranoid about the number and nature of Germany’s enemies.

What did he write about?

As well as writing his memoirs, Ludendorff advanced a theory of ‘total war’ (the total mobilisation of a nation’s forces against its enemies). He published this in 1935, just two years before he died from cancer.

This article was published in issue 72 of Military History Monthly.

Erich Ludendorff

Erich Ludendorff was of Germany’s senior army commanders in World War One. Ludendorff found fame after German victories at Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes. Working with Paul von Hindenburg, he was responsible for destroying Russia’s army on the Eastern Front.

Erich Ludendorff on the right

Ludendorff was born on April 9th 1865 in Kruszewnia near Posen. He was trained at Ploen and Lichterfelde and was commissioned into the infantry in 1883. He gained a reputation as a hard working officer and was appointed to the General Staff. Ludendorff also developed a reputation for having hard-line militaristic views. He saw war as an acceptable way of diplomacy and as a way for a nation to assert its power. Ludendorff viewed peace as merely an interruption between wars. He also believed that it was the duty of a nation to be prepared for war and that all of a nation’s resources should be oriented towards war. During World War One, Ludendorff was a supporter of unrestricted submarine warfare as a justifiable weapon in defeating the enemy – despite the fact that it was almost certainly going to provoke a reaction from America.

At the start of the war in August 1914, Ludendorff appointed to the post of quartermaster general to von Bulow’s Second Army. Ludendorff had been responsible for fine-tuning the Schlieffen Plan and as a consequence of this, he was responsible for attacking a series of forts at Liege in Belgium and capturing them. Such a victory was fundamental to the early success of the Schlieffen Plan. With such a success to his credit, Ludendorff was appointed Chief of Staff to Paul von Hindenburg on the Eastern Front. The two formed a formidable partnership. Hindenburg got the public credit for the huge German victories at Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes, but Ludendorff played a critical role in the tactical and strategic planning.

In August 1916, Hindenburg was appointed Chief of Staff of the German Army. He appointed Ludendorff to be his quartermaster general. As a result of this appointment, Ludendorff replaced Falkenhayn who paid the price for the German failure to take Verdun.

After his appointment, Hindenburg created what was essentially a nation fully oriented to the military. All forms of industry were targeted to the military. This state of affairs became known as the Third Supreme Command. Ludendorff played a very influential role in this and the kaiser, Wilhelm II, was effectively pushed to one side. Ludendorff effectively became head of all things political, military and economic in the state when the senior political figure in the Third Supreme Command (Bethman Hollweg) resigned – though Hindenburg was very much his superior officer.

Ludendorff wanted Germany to remain an aggressive and militaristic nation. he persuaded Wilhelm II to dismiss anyone senior figure who talked of defeat or even of a negotiated peace settlement. Bethman Hollweg was one of the casualties of this. This aggressive stance of Ludendorff’s was seen when Russia pulled out of the war in 1917. The resulting peace settlement, signed at Brest-Litovsk – was exceptionally harsh on the Russians.

The German Spring push of 1918 on the Western Front, is sometimes known as the Ludendorff Offensive. It was Ludendorff’s great plan to launch a decisive blow against the Allies. When it failed, he realised that the war could not be won by Germany, especially as the military might of America was starting to make a major impact. With Hindenburg, Ludendorff transferred power back to the Reichstag in September 1918, and called for a peace settlement. However, Ludendorff changed his mind and called for the war to be pursued. By this time he had lost credibility and Ludendorff was forced to resign on October 26th 1918.

With the German Army defeated and the German people suffering the consequences of the Allied blockade and the flu epidemic that hit Europe, Ludendorff, as a known militarist, felt it prudent to leave Germany. He went to Sweden. Here he wrote numerous articles that stated that the German Army had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by left wing politicians – an idea carried forward and developed by Hitler.

Ludendorff returned to Germany in 1920 and got involved in right wing politics. He participated in the Kapp Putsch of March 1920 and in November 1923, he gave the Nazi Party the credibility it did not have at that time by joining the Munich Putsch. Here was a famed military commander joining a still relatively unknown political party and leader. The putsch was a failure but it propelled Hitler from being a political figure in just Bavaria to a nationwide figure who could count on a German ‘hero’ for support. In June 1924, Ludendorff was elected to the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party. He remained in the Reichstag until 1928. In 1925, Ludendorff stood against Hindenburg for the presidential election in Weimar Germany – but only polled 1% of the votes cast.

After 1928, Ludendorff went into retirement. Here, he concluded that the world’s problems were the result of Christians, Jews and Freemasons. In his later years, many believed Ludendorff to be little more than an eccentric. He rejected Hitler’s offer to make him a field marshall in 1935.

Ludendorff died on December 20th 1937 aged 72. Such was his stature within Germany that Hitler attended his funeral.

Erich Ludendorff: Tactical Genius, Strategic Fool

On a list of historical figures who have left disaster in their wake, few can top Erich Ludendorff. And yet, he was not an incompetent man. On the contrary, he was one of World War I’s most able generals, among the few who recognized that Western Front battlefield tactics would require a fundamental rethinking, especially with regard to combat leadership.

Unfortunately, even here his contribution proved disastrous, as his tactical revolution enabled Germany to hold out far longer than it might have, thereby exacerbating the November 1918 collapse. In the realms of operations, strategy and politics, Ludendorff’s baleful influence wreaked havoc on Germany over the course of the war, while the seeds he planted would eventually support the rise of Adolf Hitler and an even more disastrous German defeat.

Ludendorff was born on April 9, 1865, in the town of Kruszewnia, near Posen, Prussia. Like most of the border towns split between Polish and German ethnicity, Kruszewnia was a hotbed of Prusso-German nationalism. His parents were middle-class but strongly nationalist. And as young Erich gobbled up military histories filled with romantic legends and nationalist nonsense about Prussia’s struggles against Napoléon or its heroic defeat of the “evil French” in the Franco-Prussian War, his nationalistic fervor soon eclipsed that of his parents. As a teen, Ludendorff made the obvious career choice of the German army. He excelled at cadet school and after graduation entered the army as an infantry officer.

At the time, the nobility dominated the army’s officer corps. While there was certainly no room for Jews or members of the lower class, there were considerable opportunities for young, ambitious sons of the middle class, especially if they were bright and diligent and possessed the presence and poise required of a good officer. Ludendorff had all of these qualities and was quickly nominated by his superiors for the Kriegsakademie, the elite Prussian military academy from which the Great General Staff was handpicked.

The Kriegsakademie was so rigorous that most cadets washed out of the first and second-year courses. By now the culture of both the Kriegsakademie and the General Staff had shifted from the deep strategic analysis that marked the writings of Prussian generals Gerhard von Scharnhorst, August von Gneisenau, and Carl von Clausewitz to an emphasis on such technical aspects as planning, tactics and mobilization. Future Lt. Gen. Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, who attended the Kriegsakademie immediately before World War I, said as much in a letter to military historian Basil Liddell Hart after World War II:

You will be horrified to hear that I have never read Clausewitz or [Hans] Delbrück or [Karl] Haushofer. The opinion on Clausewitz in our General Staff was that of a theoretician to be read by professors.

But Ludendorff excelled precisely in those tactical and technical areas, and he soon became a junior member of the Great General Staff, as well as one of Alfred Graf von Schlieffen’s most trusted staff officers. His career progressed steadily until 1912, on the eve of World War I, when a major budgetary fight broke out among the General Staff, the Imperial Navy and the Prussian War Ministry.

For more than a decade, the Prussian government had funded a massive buildup of the Imperial Navy to counter the British Royal Navy. The General Staff now sought greater support for the army and its planning obligations, particularly with regard to the Schlieffen Plan (the invasion of France). In the end, the War Ministry sided with the navy, resisting any large-scale enlargement of the army, perhaps out of concern that a strong officer corps might challenge the nobility’s control. Ludendorff led the charge for the General Staff, in the process angering many higher-ups. And when the dust settled in 1913, the General Staff shipped off Colonel Ludendorff to command an infantry regiment in the west.

In late July 1914, the simmering European crisis over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, exploded into war. The Germans immediately invaded France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Ludendorff was assigned as deputy chief of staff to the Second Army under General Karl von Bülow and charged with seizing Liège’s key fortresses, a move that would enable the German right to strike deep into Belgium, then sweep south to encircle the French army.

As Ludendorff rolled forward through complex firefights, he was probably also involved in a number of atrocities, in which German troops shot Belgian civilians (upward of 6,000 by the end of September) in retaliation for the supposed activities of guerrilla fighters known as Franc-tireurs. In the midst of the heavy fighting, Ludendorff led a small group of Germans to the citadel at the heart of Liège, literally knocked on the front door and demanded the surrender of its garrison. One has to wonder how history might have turned if one of the Belgians had done his job and summarily shot Ludendorff for his temerity. Instead, the Belgians surrendered, and he received the coveted Pour le Mérite medal for his actions.

While the Schlieffen Plan unfolded in the West, the operational situation in East Prussia was going to hell in a handbasket, as the Russian army had moved earlier than expected. To make matters worse, General Maximilian “the Fat Soldier” von Prittwitz had panicked and recommended that his Eighth Army abandon East Prussia and retire to Pomerania. Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke promptly fired Prittwitz, replacing him with retired General Paul von Hindenburg. But while Hindenburg was certainly dependable and unflappable, he wasn’t considered especially bright. So Moltke brought in Ludendorff, brilliant and already a war hero, to be Hindenburg’s chief of staff.

The two hurried east to assume command of the Eighth Army, which the Russians had already badly mauled in a skirmish at Gumbinnen. On arrival, they confronted two invading armies:

General Pavel Rennenkampf’s First Army from the east and General Aleksandr Samsonov’s Second Army from the south. As Prittwitz retired into obscurity, Eighth Army Deputy Chief of Staff Max Hoffmann briefed his new bosses on a plan he had already set in motion.

The Russian First Army had stopped at Gumbinnen, while the Second Army rapidly advanced north. Since the Russians were communicating via uncoded radio transmissions, the Germans had a clear fix on their enemy’s positions. What they didn’t know was that Rennenkampf and Samsonov had been bitter enemies since the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War and would not be overly inclined to help each other.

Hoffmann recognized that if the German Eighth Army concentrated its strength against one of the opposing forces and screened the other, it could defeat the Russians in detail. Samsonov’s advance obviously made his army the most vulnerable. Hindenburg and Ludendorff saw the advantage and signed off on Hoffmann’s plans. Cavalry units screened Rennenkampf’s First Army, which remained stationary despite having an open road to Königsberg. Meanwhile, the Eighth Army used the rail system to rapidly redeploy south and west. It broke the flank corps of Samsonov’s Second Army, then enveloped and destroyed the entire Russian force.

The deputy had done the work, but Hindenburg and Ludendorff took credit for the Battle of Tannenberg, Germany’s first major victory of the war.

Yet even as the situation stabilized in East Prussia, matters worsened elsewhere in the East. A series of major defeats threatened to knock Germany’s main ally, Austria-Hungary, out of the conflict. To restore the situation in Galicia, Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Hoffmann took command of the Ninth Army, which had been scratched together from Western Front corps and much of the Eighth Army. During heavy fighting, in which the Russians managed to surround three German divisions only to let them slip away again, the bitter foes fought to a standstill. Nevertheless, the confrontation proved one of Ludendorff’s finest hours, as the Ninth Army bought the Austrians enough time to recover and patch together a front.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff insisted Germany should act decisively to drive Russia out of the war. But by then, General Erich von Falkenhayn had succeeded Moltke as chief of the General Staff. Falkenhayn, with a broader strategic vision and perhaps a deeper appreciation of what a push into Russia would entail, demurred. So, while subsequent German offensives inflicted devastating losses on the tsarist enemy, they failed to achieve overall victory.

As to who was correct, no one can say, though it’s worth noting that no invasion from the West deep into the Russian heartland has ever succeeded. By confining the fighting to the borderlands, where the Russians faced serious logistical difficulties, Falkenhayn may well have set the stage for the eventual political collapse and defeat of tsarist Russia in 1917.

As the war stretched into 1916, Falkenhayn and the Hindenburg-Ludendorff duo continued to bicker over German strategy. Ludendorff was not above disloyalty to his superior and tried to sway the imperial regime in favor of an Eastern offensive. But Kaiser Wilhelm II remained loyal to his chief of staff. Then Falkenhayn, who had recognized back in 1914 that Germany could not defeat the forces arrayed against it, made a series of operational blunders.

First, having argued that Germany was engaged in a battle of attrition against Britain, he launched a great offensive against the French at Verdun. That battle bled the French white, but it also exhausted the Germans. As the fighting reached its climax in early June, Russia launched a major offensive against Austria, which promptly collapsed. Falkenhayn had to shut down Verdun and rush reinforcements east to shore up the Austrians.

Adding to his woes, in mid-June the British began preparatory bombardments on the Somme. Two weeks later their troops went over the top. On July 1, the first day of battle, they took a disastrous 60,000 casualties. But thereafter the weight of British artillery coupled with unimaginative German tactics, which demanded that soldiers hold every foot of ground, led to equally heavy casualties among the Germans—losses they could ill afford. Romania’s declaration of war in August further compounded the Central Powers’ strategic difficulties.

With the Reich in desperate straits, Kaiser Wilhelm finally yielded to political pressure and replaced Falkenhayn with Hindenburg and Ludendorff. From that point on, Ludendorff became the true driving force behind the German war effort, as Hindenburg deferred to him on virtually every decision.

The Germans faced a desperate situation in the West. “The battle of materiel,” as Ludendorff termed it, was even more serious. On the Somme, British attacks were imposing huge losses on the German army. Also that fall, the French launched a sharp offensive that would regain much of the ground they had lost at Verdun. One of Ludendorff’s first actions was to visit the Western Front to see for himself what was happening. He sought input from both senior officers and frontline commanders. “I attached the greatest importance to verbal discussion and gathering direct impression on the spot,” he later noted in his memoirs.

The loss of ground up to date appeared to me of little importance in itself. We could stand that, but the question how this, and the progressive falling off of our fighting power of which it was symptomatic, was to be prevented was of immense importance…. On the Somme, the enemy’s powerful artillery, assisted by excellent aeroplane observation and fed with enormous supplies of ammunition, had kept down our own fire and destroyed our artillery. The defense of our infantry had become so flabby that the massed attacks of the enemy always succeeded. Not only did our morale suffer, but in addition to fearful wastage in killed and wounded, we lost a large number of prisoners and much materiel….I attached great importance to what I learned about our infantry…about its tactics and preparation. Without doubt it fought too doggedly, clinging too resolutely to the mere holding of ground, with the result that the losses were heavy. The deep dugouts and cellars often became fatal mantraps. The use of the rifle was being forgotten, hand grenades had become the chief weapons, and the equipment of the infantry with machine guns and similar weapons had fallen far behind that of the enemy.

From the chiefs of staff he visited, Ludendorff demanded complete and accurate briefings rather than “favorable report[s] made to order.” Based on a thorough lessons-learned analysis, he then fundamentally recast the German army’s defensive philosophy. By late 1916 his staff and field officers had developed the first modern defensive warfare doctrine for the era of machine guns and artillery. This new doctrine rested on the concept of holding frontline positions lightly with machine gunners, with successively stronger defensive positions echeloned in depth. By now artillery was the great killer on the Western Front, so Ludendorff concentrated German reserves and defensive positions in rear areas, out of range of all but the heaviest Allied guns.

The emphasis shifted from the trench lines to well-camouflaged strong points that would shield the defenders from observation and bombardment. The deeper the enemy worked his way into these defenses, the more resistance he would encounter and the farther he would stray from his own artillery support. The new doctrine also demanded that battalion commanders and their subordinates, down to junior officers and NCOs, exercise initiative on the battlefield and not wait for directions from above.

What is particularly impressive about these changes is that they were put into practice within two months of their inception. On December 1, the German army published The Principles of Command in the Defensive Battle in Position Warfare. Ludendorff and the General Staff further ensured the new doctrine was inculcated at all leadership levels, requiring even senior commanders and staff officers to attend courses introducing the methods. These tactical reforms represented the building blocks of modern war. And they were to play a major role in German defensive successes on the Western Front in 1917: first, in defeating the Nivelle Offensive in April, nearly breaking the French army in the process and second, in thwarting Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s heavy-handed offensive at Passchendaele, Belgium, in late summer and fall.

To further reduce the strain on the army, Ludendorff ordered a major withdrawal to curtail the line the army had to defend on the Western Front. During Operation Alberich, named for the vicious dwarf of the Nibelungen saga, the withdrawing Germans completely destroyed more than 1,000 square miles of French territory. Astonishingly, they filmed their performance. As General Karl von Einem, commander of the Third Army, described the footage: “We saw factories fly into the air, rows of houses fall over, bridges break in two—it was awful, an orgy of dynamite. That this is all militarily justified is unquestionable. But putting this on film—incomprehensible.” The Allies would not forget at Versailles. Nevertheless, the operation did free up 10 German divisions.

At the time Ludendorff was implementing his extraordinary improvements to the army’s tactical abilities and short-term strength—and thus, Germany’s ability to prolong the war—he was also pushing for a series of strategic and political decisions that would ultimately seal Germany’s fate.

Strategically, Ludendorff supported the Imperial Navy’s efforts to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, whatever its impact on the United States. The Germans had launched their first unrestricted U-boat campaign in 1915. The result, particularly the sinking of RMS Lusitania on May 7, had pushed America to the brink of war. Only the desperate intervention of Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg persuaded Kaiser Wilhelm to halt the campaign. The navy forced the issue again in the fall of 1916, however, presenting figures that suggested unrestricted submarine warfare would bring Britain, the engine of the Allied cause, to its knees. But the navy’s research was bogus—a case of figures lie and liars figure.

The truth was that unrestricted submarine warfare would almost immediately bring the United States into the war. Here again, Ludendorff threw his weight behind the navy’s arguments by insisting the United States was incapable of fielding an effective army, much less deploying it to Europe to fight on the Western Front. His comment to a senior industrialist in September 1916 sums up his understanding of strategy: “The United States does not bother me…in the least I look upon a declaration of war by the United States with indifference.” Even more astonishing is that in the fall of 1916 Ludendorff was seriously worried that Holland or Denmark might enter the war on the Allied side.

On Feb. 1, 1917, the Germans unleashed their U-boats, and in April the United States declared war. By July 1918, the Americans had four divisions (the equivalent of eight European divisions) in the field, and 250,000 doughboys were arriving in France every month. German submarines had not sunk a single American troop transport. The U-boat offensive had failed. It remains one of the more disastrous strategic decisions in human history.

Politically, Ludendorff continued to meddle in the Reich’s internal affairs. In July 1917 he forced out Bethmann Hollweg and persuaded Kaiser Wilhelm to replace the chancellor with a cipher, Georg Michaelis. The army soon found itself battling strikes, fomented by the military spending demands Ludendorff was putting on the economy, and food riots, exacerbated by the government’s flawed agricultural policies. To end the strikes, the army drafted obstreperous munitions workers, which only served to further lower morale among the troops.

Russia’s collapse in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, coupled with victory over the Italians at Caporetto in October, afforded the Germans a window of opportunity. In the fall of 1917, the General Staff, under Ludendorff’s guidance, applied aspects of the defensive doctrine to offensive operations. By the early winter of 1918, they had invented modern decentralized combined-arms warfare and trained substantial units in the new tactics. Gambling that this development would secure German victory before the gathering might of the United States could shift the momentum in the Allies’ favor, Ludendorff readied his armies for a series of spring offensives. Interestingly, he drew few units from the now quiescent Eastern Front. Ludendorff left the Eastern army in place for two reasons: first, because troops were deserting in large numbers as they moved from east to west, and second, because throughout the spring and summer of 1918 Ludendorff continued to pursue megalomaniacal goals in the East that rivaled Hitler’s ambitions two decades later.

Although Ludendorff managed to build an extraordinary, albeit fragile, force for his coming offensive, he did not have the slightest idea what its operational goals should be. When asked as much by Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, group commander of the northern forces along the Western Front, Ludendorff testily replied: “I object to the word ‘operations.’ We will punch a hole into [their line]. For the rest we shall see. We also did it this way in Russia.” And that is precisely what the Germans, under Ludendorff’s direction, did. Their impressive battlefield gains were completely devoid of strategic and operational benchmarks, and they constructed no defenses to maintain the greatly expanded front.

Moreover, to make these gains, the Germans took nearly a million casualties—far heavier offensive losses than those suffered by the Allies earlier in the war. By the summer of 1918, the German army could no longer defend itself on the Western Front. On July 15, Ludendorff launched a major offensive, code-named Peace Storm, against Reims. His troops encountered well-prepared French lines deployed in defense-in-depth echelons. The offensive failed.

By now the balance was shifting drastically against the Germans. The first Allied blow came on July 18, when a combined Franco-American offensive hit ill-prepared German defenses along the Marne salient. The resulting loss of ground that the Germans had taken at the end of May was the first sign of disasters to come. Three weeks later, the British, led by Canadian and Australian corps, struck German defensive positions outside Amiens, forcing them into retreat by midmorning. Fleeing soldiers tried to discourage reinforcements from restoring the situation. Ludendorff was later to describe August 8 as the “black day” of the German army.

Worse followed. The British army mounted the bulk of late summer and early fall Allied offensives, while the American army increasingly made its presence known. A round of major pushes by the British, Canadians and Australians drove back the German army deep into Belgium. The continuous heavy fighting was exhausting Ludendorff’s men: Companies were down to less than 30 men, regiments to barely 100. Half a million troops ultimately deserted, and the rear area gave out. By October, Germany’s allies were collapsing one after another.

Once again, Ludendorff displayed neither leadership nor strategic sense. In September he began casting about for someone to blame for the looming German defeat. His initial target was his staff. By early October, he had shifted the blame to the liberals and socialists. As the German political, strategic and operational situation spiraled out of control, Ludendorff himself approached a complete breakdown. On October 26, the Kaiser dismissed him. Disguising himself in a false beard, Ludendorff fled to Sweden to write his extraordinarily dishonest memoirs.

Ludendorff’s postwar career was no more propitious for German history. He was an early and enthusiastic proponent of Dolchstoss, the infamous social legend that Communists and Jews had somehow managed to stab an unbeaten German army in the back and cause the Reich’s downfall. Thus, to a large extent, Germany’s military leadership escaped responsibility for the catastrophic defeat of the German army on the Western Front. Not surprisingly, in the postwar period Ludendorff became an ardent supporter of radical nationalist parties, lending his name to the Nazis and confronting the police lines with Hitler during the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923. Although he later broke with the Nazis, the damage had already been done: Ludendorff had provided an unknown street agitator with considerable political legitimacy.

As a commander, Ludendorff represented the strengths and weaknesses of the German army. “In my final analysis on Ludendorff,” notes David Zabecki, the foremost historian of Germany’s 1918 offensives, “I have to conclude that in many ways he was a reflection of the German army as a whole in the first half of the 20th century: tactically gifted, operationally flawed and strategically bankrupt.”

For further reading, Williamson Murray recommends: Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914–November 1918, by Erich von Ludendorff The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914–1918, by Holger Herwig and The German 1918 Offensives, by David T. Zabecki.

Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.

Ludendorff, Erich

Ludendorff, Erich (1865�), German general.Ludendorff embodied two of the twentieth century's shaping events: German imperialism and total war. As a young General Staff officer his outspoken advocacy of engaging the army earned him a punitive transfer. On the outbreak of World War I, he was the architect of the victory over the Russians at Tannenberg (August 1914), while serving as chief of staff to Paul von Hindenburg. Through political intrigue and battlefield victories the ambitious, mercurial Ludendorff sought to become chief of staff of the German Army. When Erich von Falkenhayn was dismissed in 1916, Hindenburg became supreme military commander and Ludendorff his deputy—reflecting the doubts about Ludendorff's character that permeated the German hierarchy.

Ludendorff galvanized what remained of Germany's human and material resources behind the war effort. He also overhauled the army's tactical doctrines. In domestic politics, he orchestrated the dismissal (July 1917) of Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg and dominated his successors. With the collapse of Russia, Ludendorff extended German power far eastward in the vindictive Peace of Brest‐Litovsk. But his deficiencies as a general brought about his downfall. Ludendorff's spring 1918 offensives in the west lacked strategic objective and exhausted Germany's fighting power. With the Allies on the offensive, Ludendorff in September demanded an armistice. He was dismissed by the new government. In the Weimar Republic, he took part in two unsuccessful rightist putsches𠅋y Friedrich Kapp (1920) and Adolf Hitler (1923)𠅊nd became an outspoken 𠇊ryan” racist.
[See also World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Covelli Barnett , The Swordbearers: Studies in Supreme Command in the First World War , 1963.
Norman Stone , Ludendorff, in The War Lords: Military Commanders of the Twentieth Century , ed. M. Carver, 1976, pp. 73�.

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Was Erich Ludendorff any form of nobility?

Erich Ludendorff was the most powerful German general at the end of the First World War, achieving practically dictator status from 1916 on.

A very common mistake is to posthumously nobilitate Erich Ludendorff unjustly to the apparently expected "Erich von Ludendorff".

"Expected" here as most of the military officers were indeed members of the aristocracy and carrying a nobiliary particle in their names like the most frequent von or zu etc. His nominally senior partner in OHL leadership Paul von Hindenburg being just the next best example.

Ludendorff never had that von as part of his name. But he was born right into a family that had vast connections into the nobility. Quite a few members were indeed nobility.

Ludendorff was born on 9 April 1865 in Kruszewnia near Posen, Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia (now Poznań County, Poland), the third of six children of August Wilhelm Ludendorff (1833–1905). His father was descended from Pomeranian merchants who had achieved the prestigious status of Junker.
Erich's mother, Klara Jeanette Henriette von Tempelhoff (1840–1914), was the daughter of the noble but impoverished Friedrich August Napoleon von Tempelhoff (1804–1868) and his wife Jeannette Wilhelmine von Dziembowska (1816–1854), who came from a Germanized Polish landed family on the side of her father Stephan von Dziembowski (1779–1859). Through Dziembowski's wife Johanna Wilhelmine von Unruh (1793–1862), Erich was a remote descendant of the Counts of Dönhoff, the Dukes of Duchy of Liegnitz and Duchy of Brieg and the Marquesses and Electors of Brandenburg.

He later even married Mathilde von Kemnitz and while the above excerpt mainly lists his maternal lines of nobility, his merchant father also had ties going back to a king of Sweden.

That should make him a (distant?) member or at least descendent of the houses of Vasa and Jagiello.

In a forum someone claims to be a family member and shares the detail that Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to ennoble Ludendorff, invited him to an audience to discuss the proceedings, but Ludendorff is said to have declined the offer. (War Ludendorff adelig?)

Erich Ludendorff was born to be a soldier: Both his father and maternal grandfather had been officers in the Prussian cavalry. But Erich Ludendorff was not born to be a general. In Prussia (the dominant state in the cluster of Germanic states that would unify into the nation of Germany in 1871) generals came from the nobility. A person of noble birth was marked by the designation "von" before his last name. Ludendorff, born on April 9, 1865, was a commoner, raised in a struggling family that lived in the province of Posen. To reach the top of the German armed forces, he would have to work unrelentingly—and that is what he did.

This is confusing. Now, the von is not strictly necessary for being nobility, just incredibly "common" in those circles (excuse the pun).

Was he not nobility from birth? If not: why not, given the genealogy? Did he have the "title" of Junker, designating a very low rank within the nobility?