Who's Who - Count von Bernstorff

Count Bernstorff Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff (1862-1939) served, until his recall in 1917, as German Ambassador to the United States.

Bernstorff presented his diplomatic credentials to Washington in 1908 and quickly established a popular reputation among diplomatic and political circles for his apparent moderation (a rarity in Kaiser Wilhelm II's Germany).  With an American wife Bernstorff also demonstrated pro-British views.

Favouring a negotiated peace with Germany (particularly after the Schlieffen Plan's failure at the Marne in September 1914) he was regarded positively by the peaceable Wilson.  Alas for Bernstorff (and Wilson) the former's views were regarded with disparagement in Berlin.

Despite his personal magnetism Bernstorff found his position in Washington strained by German embracement of the highly controversial policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, which exacted a heavy toll on American merchant shipping (and which Bernstorff opposed).  Add to this the espionage activities of German military attaché Franz von Papen and naval attaché Karl Boy-Ed and Bernstorff's diplomatic position became untenable.

Bernstorff was recalled to Berlin in 1917.  Although awarded another Ambassadorship in September the same year - to Turkey - he was viewed with great displeasure by both the Kaiser and by the military Third Supreme Command (Hindenburg and Ludendorff).

With revolution in the air in November 1918 he was offered - by Friedrich Ebert - control of the Foreign Office, but declined.  Instead he chose diplomatic retirement, serving from 1921 as a Deputy in the Reichstag.

He died in 1939.

Click here to read Bernstorff writing on the subject of German spies in the U.S.; click here to read his diplomatic note regarding the reintroduction of unrestricted U-boat warfare in January 1917.

In WW1 an "ace" was a pilot who scored five confirmed "kills".

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