Who's Who - Crown Prince Wilhelm
Crown Prince Wilhelm (1882-1951) was born in Potsdam on 6 May 1882, the eldest of Kaiser Wilhelm II's five sons. At the time of Wilhelm's birth Kaiser Wilhelm I was 85 years old, and Otto von Bismarck served as Chancellor.
Although militaristic in manner, Wilhelm had little command experience when the First World War began, although he had trained as an officer at Potsdam at the age of 18. In line however with the German tradition of royal army command, he was given charge of Fifth Army in August 1914.
A quick success in the Ardennes served to bolster Wilhelm's military reputation; he served the remainder of the war on the Western Front with some distinction, notably heading the Verdun offensive against the French in February 1916 (a fact which initially saw him labelled as 'the butcher of Verdun' during his exile in Holland).
Wilhelm was promoted later that year, in September 1916, to become head of the newly-created 'Army Group Crown Prince', which comprised the three armies occupying the central section of the German line.
In 1917 the Crown Prince tried to persuade the then-Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg (shortly to be dismissed) to sue for peace, bringing an end to what he regarded as a senseless war.
Despite winning a significant German victory at the Aisne in May 1918, Wilhelm realised that defeat was likely following the Allied counter-attack at the Second Battle of the Marne, again recommending a policy of retreat to the Third Supreme Command headed by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. This was firmly rebuffed.
With the German revolutions of late 1918, Wilhelm resigned from the army and left Germany in exile, following his father to Doorn, Holland on 12 November 1918 (click here to read Wilhelm's denied request to the new government to remain with the army as it returned to Germany). Both Wilhelm II and the Crown Prince were signatories of the the formal abdication document.
Wilhelm returned to Germany in November 1923, having given Chancellor Gustav Stresemann assurances that he would not take an interest in political affairs. His joined his wife, Princess Cecilie, who had remained behind in Germany, at their residence in Potsdam (named Cecilienhof, and later used for the post-Second World War Potsdam Conference). He lived the remainder of his life as a private citizen, rebuffing advances from Hitler to endorse his Nazi party.
Crown Prince Wilhelm died on 20 July 1951 of a heart attack in Hechingen.
Click here to read an extract from Crown Prince Wilhelm's 1913 book Germany at Arms. Click here to read the Crown Prince's account of the Verdun offensive. Click here to read his account of the calling off of the battle. Click here to read Wilhelm's assessment of U.S. troops immediately prior to fighting at St Mihiel in September 1918; click here to read his subsequent view as documented in his memoirs. Click here to read the Crown Prince's account of events leading to his exile in Holland.
Click here to view brief film footage of the Crown Prince from 1914.
A "dogfight" signified air combat at close quarters.
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