Primary Documents - Paul von Hindenburg's Appeal for Peace Negotiations, 3 October 1918
In the wake of the Allied resurgence in the summer and autumn of 1918 - with the breaking of the Hindenburg Line in Flanders and in the Argonne - and with the sudden collapse of its own allies - the German High Command came to the conclusion that the war could not be won.
Consequently it recommended to a stunned Reichstag on 2 October 1918 that a peace with the Entente powers be negotiated, a message that was reiterated by Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg on the following day. Kaiser Wilhelm II, sensing defeat, appealed on 6 October to the army to maintain their resolve in their "grave" hour, a call he subsequently repeated with greater urgency four days later.
As the month drew to a close and with the German public growing increasingly restless - revolution was less than two weeks away - the Kaiser appointed a new, reformist Chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, along with a more representative government. He also freed numerous political prisoners, including Dr Karl Liebknecht who promptly called for a revolution.
Hindenburg - now without Erich Ludendorff who had resigned his position - contacted the Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch to open armistice negotiations on 7 November; the armistice was agreed four days later, by which time the Kaiser had been obliged to abdicate.
Reproduced below is the text of Hindenburg's call for the urgent opening of peace talks on 3 October 1918.
Paul von Hindenburg's Urgent Call for a Negotiated Peace, 3 October 1918
Berlin, October 3rd.
To The Imperial Chancellor:
The High Command insists on the immediate issue of a peace offer to our enemies in accordance with the decision of Monday, September 29, 1918.
In consequence of the collapse of the Macedonian front, and the inevitable resultant weakening of our reserves in the West, and also the impossibility of making good the heavy losses which have occurred during the battles of the last few days, there is no prospect, humanly speaking, of forcing our enemies to sue for peace. The enemy, on the other hand, is continuing to throw fresh reserves into the battle.
The German army still stands firm and is defending itself against all attacks. The situation, however, is growing more critical daily, and may force the High Command to momentous decisions.
In these circumstances it is imperative to stop the fighting in order to spare the German people and their allies unnecessary sacrifices. Every day of delay costs thousands of brave soldiers their lives.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
An "incendiary shell" is an artillery shell packed with highly flammable material, such as magnesium and phosphorous, intended to start and spread fire when detonated.
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