Hindenburg had already explained to his armies that to get the best possible deal, the soldiers needed to hang on. It was vitally important that they did not retreat.
For the moment, only Maréchal Foch had voiced the opinion that the lost provinces formed part of the occupied areas in question.
Ludendorff, for his part, felt that if Lille and its metropolis could be defended right up until any armistice then there was still a good chance that Alsace-Lorraine could remain part of Germany.
Wilson’s reply to the Second German Note had therefore put paid to any such possibility.
The Army needed to find some way of distancing itself from: peace = defeat.
By this stage Ludendorff had recovered his nerve and was for insisting that the Allies be forced to fight for any such terms, but his was a lone voice. The German army was not in a fit condition to fight it out.
Then on the 19th October Ludendorff had the brilliant idea of using a political way out. The OHL he declared was not a political entity so why was the government asking for its opinion. They were not the politicians and so any political response would not be the Army’s responsibility.
Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria was, however, more forthcoming. The Army was in a very bad way: no reserves available, no munitions, no transport.
Whatever happens, we must obtain peace before the enemy break through into Germany.
In the face of Ludendorff’s opposition Prince Max replied on the 20th October. He insisted that the current balance of military power be maintained and appealed to President Wilson to ensure that the German people’s honour be taken into account.
The content of the note was in some ways immaterial. In replying the German government was tacitly acknowledging the fact that the war was over and was merely hoping to salvage as much as possible.
As soon as they were aware of the German reply the French government insisted that when seeking military advice the people to be consulted were Foch and his commanders: Pétain, Haig and Pershing. Wilson it could be argued had been implying that it would be the Military Representatives of the Supreme War Council and not the Commanders-in-Chief who would be advising on terms.
The British reiterated that Germany was trying to walk away from the consequences of her actions. It would not be possible to negotiate an advantageous settlement if the German army was allowed to retire, reorganise and prepare a defensive position.
On the 22nd October Wilson’s reply stated that as the German government were accepting his Fourteen Points and were professing to speak on behalf of the German people he would forward their request to the Allies to see if they were inclined to accept the proposal of an armistice.
If they were, then the military would be asked to draw up conditions — which Wilson probably realised would then need to be softened by the politicians.
With regard to the Kaiser: if he remained in his current position of power, as an autocratic ruler who could do as he wished, then the United States would be seeking a German surrender and not peace negotiations.
On the 25th Hindenburg and Ludendorff made their final move to ensure that all blame for any armistice fell on the civilian government. Having pushed Prince Max to start the negotiations by stressing the Army’s need for an end to the hostilities, they now issued an Order of the Day.
President Wilson was seeking a German capitulation. This was unacceptable and it was up to the German Army to fight to the finish.
The order in fact was withdrawn but not before it had been leaked to the press and when the Government read the details in the newspapers it went looking for Ludendorff’s head.
Prince Max went to the Kaiser and gave him an ultimatum. Either Ludendorff had to go or the government would resign. The Kaiser himself was not pleased that such an order had been issued without his knowledge and summoned Ludendorff to explain his actions. It was clear that Ludendorff had just the one option: resign.
On the 26th October 1918 Germany stated that she was waiting on the Allies’ proposals.
The following day Ludendorff resigned and that evening Austria-Hungary collapsed and opened armistice negotiations. On the 30th it was the turn of the Ottoman Empire to fall. Germany was alone.
In a final fit of patriotic madness the German Admiralty issued orders for the fleet to put to sea in one final face saving sortie. Most of the fleet refused and a mutiny broke out. Soldiers sent to quell the situation embraced it. By the 5th November the port at Kiel was in the hands of the mutineers.