The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics, 1918-1945

By John W. Wheeler-Bennett | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
FROM SPA TO KAPP (November 1918-March 1920)

(i)

VERY early in the morning of November 10, 1918, a little group of weary and saddened men stood to attention as a special train, whose splendours of cream and gold passed unnoticed in the darkness, glided quietly from its siding at the little Belgian station of Spa and vanished towards the Dutch frontier. The two red lamps on the rear carriage signified to those few who remained behind that the last of the German Emperors was passing into exile.

The departure of Wilhelm II from Spa came as the climax of a period of ever-increasing tension and dramatic incident.1 On the previous day the Kaiser had heard from the lips of his First Quartermaster-General, Wilhelm Gröner, the bitter and historic words: 'Der Fahneneid ist jetzt nur eine Idee',2 and, thus convinced at last that he no longer commanded the loyalty of his troops or his subjects, he had released his officers from their oaths of fealty and departed into exile, there to abdicate as German Emperor and King of Prussia.3 His going marked the end of an epoch both for the German Reich and for the German Army, for it left the one without a Kaiser and the other without a War Lord.

For an Englishman, accustomed to the legal maxim that a soldier, at any rate in time of peace, 'is only a civilian armed in a

____________________
1
A brilliant account of these events has been written by Professor Maurice Baumont , of the University of Paris, entitled L'Abdication de Guillaume II ( Paris, 1930), of which an English translation, The Fall of the Kaiser, was published in New York in 1931. See also Kuno Graf von Westarp, Das Ende der Monarchie am 9. November 1918 ( Berlin, 1952), and J. W. Wheeler-Bennett, Hindenburg: the Wooden Titan ( London, 1936), pp. 183-205.
2
Literally translated these words mean 'The oath on the colours is now but a fiction', but their meaning is more clearly conveyed by: 'To-day oaths are but words'.
3
Wilhelm II's original intention was to abdicate only as German Emperor and to retain his rights as King of Prussia; however, under pressure from Berlin, he signed on November 28, 1918, at Amerongen an unequivocal abdication both as King and Emperor.

-3-

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