Wilhelm II Retreats - History

Wilhelm II Retreats - History

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On October 28th, the German fleet mutinied in Kiel. Eventually, the mutiny spread throughout the German armed forces. Kaiser Wilhelm was told by General Hindenberg that the loyalty of the army could no longer be guaranteed. Wilhelm abdicated and fled to Holland. Phillip Scheidemann, the Socialist leader, declared Germany a Republic. The Allies then imposed a harsh armistice on the vanquished Germans.

First World War erupts

Four days after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Germany and Russia declare war against each other, France orders a general mobilization, and the first German army units cross into Luxembourg in preparation for the German invasion of France. During the next three days, Russia, France, Belgium and Great Britain all lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and the German army invaded Belgium. The “Great War” that ensued was one of unprecedented destruction and loss of life, resulting in the deaths of some 20 million soldiers and civilians.

On June 28, 1914, in an event that is widely regarded as sparking the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Ferdinand had been inspecting his uncle’s imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the threat of Serbian nationalists who wanted these Austro-Hungarian possessions to join newly independent Serbia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. However, as Russia supported Serbia, an Austria-Hungary declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.

On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital of Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia’s ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium’s ally, to declare war against Germany.

For the most part, the people of Europe greeted the outbreak of war with jubilation. Most patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months. Of the initial belligerents, Germany was most prepared for the outbreak of hostilities, and its military leaders had formatted a sophisticated military strategy known as the “Schlieffen Plan,” which envisioned the conquest of France through a great arcing offensive through Belgium and into northern France. Russia, slow to mobilize, was to be kept occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces while Germany attacked France.

The Schlieffen Plan was nearly successful, but in early September the French rallied and halted the German advance at the bloody Battle of the Marne near Paris. By the end of 1914, well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and neither for the Allies nor the Central Powers was a final victory in sight. On the western front–the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium–the combatants settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition.

In 1915, the Allies attempted to break the stalemate with an amphibious invasion of Turkey, which had joined the Central Powers in October 1914, but after heavy bloodshed the Allies were forced to retreat in early 1916. The year 1916 saw great offensives by Germany and Britain along the western front, but neither side accomplished a decisive victory. In the east, Germany was more successful, and the disorganized Russian army suffered terrible losses, spurring the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and immediately set about negotiating peace with Germany. In 1918, the infusion of American troops and resources into the western front finally tipped the scale in the Allies’ favor. Bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with an imminent invasion, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in November 1918.


Wilhelm was born in Berlin on 27 January 1859 — at the Crown Prince's Palace — to Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria, and Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future Frederick III). At the time of his birth, his granduncle, Frederick William IV, was king of Prussia. Frederick William IV had been left permanently incapacitated by a series of strokes, and his younger brother Wilhelm was acting as regent. Wilhelm was the first grandchild of his maternal grandparents (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), but more importantly, he was the first son of the crown prince of Prussia. Upon the death of Frederick William IV in January 1861, Wilhelm's paternal grandfather (the elder Wilhelm) became king, and the two-year-old Wilhelm became second in the line of succession to Prussia. After 1871, Wilhelm also became second in the line to the newly created German Empire, which, according to the constitution of the German Empire, was ruled by the Prussian king. At the time of his birth, he was also sixth in the line of succession to the British throne, after his maternal uncles and his mother.

A traumatic breech birth resulted in Erb's palsy, which left him with a withered left arm about six inches (15 centimetres) shorter than his right. He tried with some success to conceal this many photographs show him holding a pair of white gloves in his left hand to make the arm seem longer. In others, he holds his left hand with his right, has his crippled arm on the hilt of a sword, or holds a cane to give the illusion of a useful limb posed at a dignified angle. Historians have suggested that this disability affected his emotional development. [4] [5]

Early years

In 1863, Wilhelm was taken to England to be present at the wedding of his Uncle Bertie (later King Edward VII), and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Wilhelm attended the ceremony in a Highland costume, complete with a small toy dirk. During the ceremony, the four-year-old became restless. His eighteen-year-old uncle Prince Alfred, charged with keeping an eye on him, told him to be quiet, but Wilhelm drew his dirk and threatened Alfred. When Alfred attempted to subdue him by force, Wilhelm bit him on the leg. His grandmother, Queen Victoria, missed seeing the fracas to her Wilhelm remained "a clever, dear, good little child, the great favourite of my beloved Vicky". [6]

His mother, Vicky, was obsessed with his damaged arm, blaming herself for the child's handicap and insisted that he become a good rider. The thought that he, as heir to the throne, should not be able to ride was intolerable to her. Riding lessons began when Wilhelm was eight and were a matter of endurance for Wilhelm. Over and over, the weeping prince was set on his horse and compelled to go through the paces. He fell off time after time but despite his tears, was set on its back again. After weeks of this he was finally able to maintain his balance. [7]

Wilhelm, from six years of age, was tutored and heavily influenced by the 39-year-old teacher Georg Ernst Hinzpeter. [8] "Hinzpeter", he later wrote, "was really a good fellow. Whether he was the right tutor for me, I dare not decide. The torments inflicted on me, in this pony riding, must be attributed to my mother." [7]

As a teenager he was educated at Kassel at the Friedrichsgymnasium. In January 1877, Wilhelm finished high school and on his eighteenth birthday received as a present from his grandmother, Queen Victoria, the Order of the Garter. After Kassel he spent four terms at the University of Bonn, studying law and politics. He became a member of the exclusive Corps Borussia Bonn. [9] Wilhelm possessed a quick intelligence, but this was often overshadowed by a cantankerous temper.

As a scion of the royal house of Hohenzollern, Wilhelm was exposed from an early age to the military society of the Prussian aristocracy. This had a major impact on him and, in maturity, Wilhelm was seldom seen out of uniform. The hyper-masculine military culture of Prussia in this period did much to frame his political ideals and personal relationships.

Crown Prince Frederick was viewed by his son with a deeply felt love and respect. His father's status as a hero of the wars of unification was largely responsible for the young Wilhelm's attitude, as were the circumstances in which he was raised close emotional contact between father and son was not encouraged. Later, as he came into contact with the Crown Prince's political opponents, Wilhelm came to adopt more ambivalent feelings toward his father, perceiving the influence of Wilhelm's mother over a figure who should have been possessed of masculine independence and strength. Wilhelm also idolised his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and he was instrumental in later attempts to foster a cult of the first German Emperor as "Wilhelm the Great". [10] However, he had a distant relationship with his mother.

Wilhelm resisted attempts by his parents, especially his mother, to educate him in a spirit of British liberalism. Instead, he agreed with his tutors' support of autocratic rule, and gradually became thoroughly 'Prussianized' under their influence. He thus became alienated from his parents, suspecting them of putting Britain's interests first. The German Emperor, Wilhelm I, watched as his grandson, guided principally by the Crown Princess Victoria, grew to manhood. When Wilhelm was nearing twenty-one the Emperor decided it was time his grandson should begin the military phase of his preparation for the throne. He was assigned as a lieutenant to the First Regiment of Foot Guards, stationed at Potsdam. "In the Guards," Wilhelm said, "I really found my family, my friends, my interests – everything of which I had up to that time had to do without." As a boy and a student, his manner had been polite and agreeable as an officer, he began to strut and speak brusquely in the tone he deemed appropriate for a Prussian officer. [11]

In many ways, Wilhelm was a victim of his inheritance and of Otto von Bismarck's machinations. When Wilhelm was in his early twenties, Bismarck tried to separate him from his parents (who opposed Bismarck and his policies) with some success. Bismarck planned to use the young prince as a weapon against his parents in order to retain his own political dominance. Wilhelm thus developed a dysfunctional relationship with his parents, but especially with his English mother. In an outburst in April 1889, Wilhelm angrily implied that "an English doctor killed my father, and an English doctor crippled my arm – which is the fault of my mother", who allowed no German physicians to attend to herself or her immediate family. [12]

As a young man, Wilhelm fell in love with one of his maternal first cousins, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt. She turned him down, and would, in time, marry into the Russian imperial family. In 1880 Wilhelm became engaged to Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, known as "Dona". The couple married on 27 February 1881, and remained married for forty years, until her death in 1921. In a period of ten years, between 1882 and 1892, Augusta Victoria would bear Wilhelm seven children, six sons and a daughter. [13]

Beginning in 1884, Bismarck began advocating that Kaiser Wilhelm send his grandson on diplomatic missions, a privilege denied to the Crown Prince. That year, Prince Wilhelm was sent to the court of Tsar Alexander III of Russia in St. Petersburg to attend the coming of age ceremony of the sixteen-year-old Tsarevich Nicholas. Wilhelm's behaviour did little to ingratiate himself to the tsar. Two years later, Kaiser Wilhelm I took Prince Wilhelm on a trip to meet with Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. In 1886, also, thanks to Herbert von Bismarck, the son of the Chancellor, Prince Wilhelm began to be trained twice a week at the Foreign Ministry. One privilege was denied to Prince Wilhelm: to represent Germany at his maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria's, Golden Jubilee celebrations in London in 1887. [ citation needed ]

Kaiser Wilhelm I died in Berlin on 9 March 1888, and Prince Wilhelm's father ascended the throne as Frederick III. He was already suffering from an incurable throat cancer and spent all 99 days of his reign fighting the disease before dying. On 15 June of that same year, his 29-year-old son succeeded him as German Emperor and King of Prussia. [14]

Although in his youth he had been a great admirer of Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm's characteristic impatience soon brought him into conflict with the "Iron Chancellor", the dominant figure in the foundation of his empire. The new Emperor opposed Bismarck's careful foreign policy, preferring vigorous and rapid expansion to protect Germany's "place in the sun". Furthermore, the young Emperor had come to the throne determined to rule as well as reign, unlike his grandfather. While the letter of the imperial constitution vested executive power in the emperor, Wilhelm I had been content to leave day-to-day administration to Bismarck. Early conflicts between Wilhelm II and his chancellor soon poisoned the relationship between the two men. Bismarck believed that Wilhelm was a lightweight who could be dominated, and he showed scant respect for Wilhelm's policies in the late 1880s. The final split between monarch and statesman occurred soon after an attempt by Bismarck to implement a far-reaching anti-Socialist law in early 1890. [15]

The impetuous young Kaiser rejected Bismarck's "peaceful foreign policy" and instead plotted with senior generals to work "in favour of a war of aggression". Bismarck told an aide, "That young man wants war with Russia, and would like to draw his sword straight away if he could. I shall not be a party to it." [16] Bismarck, after gaining an absolute majority in the Reichstag in favour of his policies, decided to make the anti-Socialist laws permanent. His Kartell, the majority of the amalgamated Conservative Party and the National Liberal Party, favoured making the laws permanent, with one exception: the police power to expel Socialist agitators from their homes. The Kartell split over this issue and nothing was passed.

As the debate continued, Wilhelm became more and more interested in social problems, especially the treatment of mine workers who went on strike in 1889. He routinely interrupted Bismarck in Council to make clear where he stood on social policy Bismarck, in turn, sharply disagreed with Wilhelm's policy and worked to circumvent it. Bismarck, feeling pressured and unappreciated by the young Emperor and undermined by his ambitious advisors, refused to sign a proclamation regarding the protection of workers along with Wilhelm, as was required by the German Constitution.

The final break came as Bismarck searched for a new parliamentary majority, with his Kartell voted from power due to the anti-Socialist bill fiasco. The remaining powers in the Reichstag were the Catholic Centre Party and the Conservative Party. Bismarck wished to form a new bloc with the Centre Party, and invited Ludwig Windthorst, the party's parliamentary leader, to discuss a coalition Wilhelm was furious to hear about Windthorst's visit. [17] In a parliamentary state, the head of government depends on the confidence of the parliamentary majority and has the right to form coalitions to ensure his policies a majority, but in Germany, the Chancellor had to depend on the confidence of the Emperor, and Wilhelm believed that the Emperor had the right to be informed before his ministers' meeting. After a heated argument at Bismarck's estate over Imperial authority, Wilhelm stormed out. Bismarck, forced for the first time into a situation he could not use to his advantage, wrote a blistering letter of resignation, decrying Wilhelm's interference in foreign and domestic policy, which was published only after Bismarck's death. [18]

Bismarck had sponsored landmark social security legislation, but by 1889–90, he had become disillusioned with the attitude of workers. In particular, he was opposed to wage increases, improving working conditions, and regulating labour relations. Moreover, the Kartell, the shifting political coalition that Bismarck had been able to forge since 1867, had lost a working majority in the Reichstag. At the opening of the Reichstag on 6 May 1890, the Kaiser stated that the most pressing issue was the further enlargement of the bill concerning the protection of the labourer. [19] In 1891, the Reichstag passed the Workers Protection Acts, which improved working conditions, protected women and children and regulated labour relations.

Dismissal of Bismarck

Bismarck resigned at Wilhelm II's insistence in 1890, at the age of 75, to be succeeded as Chancellor of Germany and Minister-President of Prussia by Leo von Caprivi, who in turn was replaced by Chlodwig, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, in 1894. Following the dismissal of Hohenlohe in 1900, Wilhelm appointed the man whom he regarded as "his own Bismarck", Bernhard von Bülow. [ citation needed ]

In foreign policy Bismarck had achieved a fragile balance of interests between Germany, France and Russia—peace was at hand and Bismarck tried to keep it that way despite growing popular sentiment against Britain (regarding colonies) and especially against Russia. With Bismarck's dismissal, the Russians now expected a reversal of policy in Berlin, so they quickly came to terms with France, beginning the process that by 1914 largely isolated Germany. [20]

In appointing Caprivi and then Hohenlohe, Wilhelm was embarking upon what is known to history as "the New Course", in which he hoped to exert decisive influence in the government of the empire. [ citation needed ] There is debate amongst historians [ according to whom? ] as to the precise degree to which Wilhelm succeeded in implementing "personal rule" in this era, but what is clear is the very different dynamic which existed between the Crown and its chief political servant (the Chancellor) in the "Wilhelmine Era". [ original research? ] These chancellors were senior civil servants and not seasoned politician-statesmen like Bismarck. [ neutrality is disputed] Wilhelm wanted to preclude the emergence of another Iron Chancellor, whom he ultimately detested as being "a boorish old killjoy" who had not permitted any minister to see the Emperor except in his presence, keeping a stranglehold on effective political power. [ citation needed ] Upon his enforced retirement and until his dying day, Bismarck became a bitter critic of Wilhelm's policies, but without the support of the supreme arbiter of all political appointments (the Emperor) there was little chance of Bismarck exerting a decisive influence on policy.

Bismarck did manage to create the "Bismarck myth", the view (which some would argue was confirmed by subsequent events) that Wilhelm II's dismissal of the Iron Chancellor effectively destroyed any chance Germany had of stable and effective government. In this view, Wilhelm's "New Course" was characterised far more as the German ship of state going out of control, eventually leading through a series of crises to the carnage of the First and Second World Wars.

In the early twentieth century, Wilhelm began to concentrate upon his real agenda: the creation of a German Navy that would rival that of Britain and enable Germany to declare itself a world power. He ordered his military leaders to read Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan's book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, and spent hours drawing sketches of the ships that he wanted built. Bülow and Bethmann Hollweg, his loyal chancellors, looked after domestic affairs, while Wilhelm began to spread alarm in the chancellories of Europe with his increasingly eccentric views on foreign affairs.

Promoter of arts and sciences

Wilhelm enthusiastically promoted the arts and sciences, as well as public education and social welfare. He sponsored the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the promotion of scientific research it was funded by wealthy private donors and by the state and comprised a number of research institutes in both pure and applied sciences. The Prussian Academy of Sciences was unable to avoid the Kaiser's pressure and lost some of its autonomy when it was forced to incorporate new programs in engineering, and award new fellowships in engineering sciences as a result of a gift from the Kaiser in 1900. [21]

Wilhelm supported the modernisers as they tried to reform the Prussian system of secondary education, which was rigidly traditional, elitist, politically authoritarian, and unchanged by the progress in the natural sciences. As hereditary Protector of the Order of Saint John, he offered encouragement to the Christian order's attempts to place German medicine at the forefront of modern medical practice through its system of hospitals, nursing sisterhood and nursing schools, and nursing homes throughout the German Empire. Wilhelm continued as Protector of the Order even after 1918, as the position was in essence attached to the head of the House of Hohenzollern. [22] [23]

Historians have frequently stressed the role of Wilhelm's personality in shaping his reign. Thus, Thomas Nipperdey concludes he was:

gifted, with a quick understanding, sometimes brilliant, with a taste for the modern,—technology, industry, science—but at the same time superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success,—as Bismarck said early on in his life, he wanted every day to be his birthday—romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off, a juvenile cadet, who never took the tone of the officers' mess out of his voice, and brashly wanted to play the part of the supreme warlord, full of panicky fear of a monotonous life without any diversions, and yet aimless, pathological in his hatred against his English mother. [24]

Historian David Fromkin states that Wilhelm had a love–hate relationship with Britain. [25] According to Fromkin "From the outset, the half-German side of him was at war with the half-English side. He was wildly jealous of the British, wanting to be British, wanting to be better at being British than the British were, while at the same time hating them and resenting them because he never could be fully accepted by them". [26]

Langer et al. (1968) emphasise the negative international consequences of Wilhelm's erratic personality: "He believed in force, and the 'survival of the fittest' in domestic as well as foreign politics . William was not lacking in intelligence, but he did lack stability, disguising his deep insecurities by swagger and tough talk. He frequently fell into depressions and hysterics . William's personal instability was reflected in vacillations of policy. His actions, at home as well as abroad, lacked guidance, and therefore often bewildered or infuriated public opinion. He was not so much concerned with gaining specific objectives, as had been the case with Bismarck, as with asserting his will. This trait in the ruler of the leading Continental power was one of the main causes of the uneasiness prevailing in Europe at the turn-of-the-century". [27]

Relationships with foreign relatives

As a grandchild of Queen Victoria, Wilhelm was a first cousin of the future King George V of the United Kingdom, as well as of Queens Marie of Romania, Maud of Norway, Victoria Eugenie of Spain, and the Empress Alexandra of Russia. In 1889, Wilhelm's younger sister, Sophia, married the future King Constantine I of Greece. Wilhelm was infuriated by his sister's conversion to Greek Orthodoxy upon her marriage, he attempted to ban her from entering Germany.

Wilhelm's most contentious relationships were with his British relations. He craved the acceptance of his grandmother, Queen Victoria, and of the rest of her family. [28] Despite the fact that his grandmother treated him with courtesy and tact, his other relatives found him arrogant and obnoxious, and they largely denied him acceptance. [29] He had an especially bad relationship with his Uncle Bertie, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). Between 1888 and 1901 Wilhelm resented his uncle, himself a mere heir to the British throne, treating Wilhelm not as Emperor of Germany, but merely as another nephew. [30] In turn, Wilhelm often snubbed his uncle, whom he referred to as "the old peacock" and lorded his position as emperor over him. [31] Beginning in the 1890s, Wilhelm made visits to England for Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight and often competed against his uncle in the yacht races. Edward's wife, the Danish-born Alexandra, first as Princess of Wales and later as Queen, also disliked Wilhelm, never forgetting the Prussian seizure of Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark in the 1860s, as well as being annoyed over Wilhelm's treatment of his mother. [32] Despite his poor relations with his English relatives, when he received news that Queen Victoria was dying at Osborne House in January 1901, Wilhelm travelled to England and was at her bedside when she died, and he remained for the funeral. He also was present at the funeral of King Edward VII in 1910.

In 1913, Wilhelm hosted a lavish wedding in Berlin for his only daughter, Victoria Louise. Among the guests at the wedding were his cousins Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and King George V, and George's wife, Queen Mary.

German foreign policy under Wilhelm II was faced with a number of significant problems. Perhaps the most apparent was that Wilhelm was an impatient man, subjective in his reactions and affected strongly by sentiment and impulse. He was personally ill-equipped to steer German foreign policy along a rational course. It is now widely recognised that the various spectacular acts which Wilhelm undertook in the international sphere were often partially encouraged by the German foreign policy elite. [ according to whom? ] There were a number of notorious examples, such as the Kruger telegram of 1896 in which Wilhelm congratulated President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic on the suppression of the British Jameson Raid, thus alienating British public opinion.

British public opinion had been quite favourable towards the Kaiser in his first twelve years on the throne, but it turned sour in the late 1890s. During the First World War, he became the central target of British anti-German propaganda and the personification of a hated enemy. [33]

Wilhelm invented and spread fears of a yellow peril trying to interest other European rulers in the perils they faced by invading China few other leaders paid attention. [34] [ clarification needed ] Wilhelm used the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War to try to incite fear in the west of the yellow peril that they faced by a resurgent Japan, which Wilhelm claimed would ally with China to overrun the west. Under Wilhelm, Germany invested in strengthening its colonies in Africa and the Pacific, but few became profitable and all were lost during the First World War. In South West Africa (now Namibia), a native revolt against German rule led to the Herero and Namaqua genocide, although Wilhelm eventually ordered it to be stopped.

One of the few times when Wilhelm succeeded in personal diplomacy was when in 1900 he supported the marriage of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria to Countess Sophie Chotek, against the wishes of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. [35]

A domestic triumph for Wilhelm was when his daughter Victoria Louise married the Duke of Brunswick in 1913 this helped heal the rift between the House of Hanover and the House of Hohenzollern that had followed the annexation of Hanover by Prussia in 1866. [36]

Political visits to the Ottoman Empire

In his first visit to Istanbul in 1889, Wilhelm secured the sale of German-made rifles to the Ottoman Army. [37] Later on, he had his second political visit to the Ottoman Empire as a guest of Sultan Abdülhamid II. The Kaiser started his journey to the Ottoman Eyalets with Istanbul on 16 October 1898 then he went by yacht to Haifa on 25 October. After visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Kaiser went back to Jaffa to embark to Beirut, where he took the train passing Aley and Zahlé to reach Damascus on 7 November. [38] While visiting the Mausoleum of Saladin the following day, the Kaiser made a speech:

In the face of all the courtesies extended to us here, I feel that I must thank you, in my name as well as that of the Empress, for them, for the hearty reception given us in all the towns and cities we have touched, and particularly for the splendid welcome extended to us by this city of Damascus. Deeply moved by this imposing spectacle, and likewise by the consciousness of standing on the spot where held sway one of the most chivalrous rulers of all times, the great Sultan Saladin, a knight sans peur et sans reproche, who often taught his adversaries the right conception of knighthood, I seize with joy the opportunity to render thanks, above all to the Sultan Abdul Hamid for his hospitality. May the Sultan rest assured, and also the three hundred million Mohammedans scattered over the globe and revering in him their caliph, that the German Emperor will be and remain at all times their friend.

On 10 November, Wilhelm went to visit Baalbek before heading to Beirut to board his ship back home on 12 November. [38] In his second visit, Wilhelm secured a promise for German companies to construct the Berlin–Baghdad railway, [37] and had the German Fountain constructed in Istanbul to commemorate his journey.

His third visit was on 15 October 1917, as the guest of Sultan Mehmed V.

Hun speech of 1900

The Boxer Rebellion, an anti-western uprising in China, was put down in 1900 by an international force of British, French, Russian, Austrian, Italian, American, Japanese, and German troops. The Germans, however, forfeited any prestige that they might have gained for their participation by arriving only after the British and Japanese forces had taken Peking, the site of the fiercest fighting. Moreover, the poor impression left by the German troops' late arrival was made worse by the Kaiser's ill-conceived farewell address, in which he commanded them, in the spirit of the Huns, to be merciless in battle. [40] Wilhelm delivered this speech in Bremerhaven on 27 July 1900, addressing German troops who were departing to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China. The speech was infused with Wilhelm's fiery and chauvinistic rhetoric and clearly expressed his vision of German imperial power. There were two versions of the speech. The Foreign Office issued an edited version, making sure to omit one particularly incendiary paragraph that they regarded as diplomatically embarrassing. [41] The edited version was this:

Great overseas tasks have fallen to the new German Empire, tasks far greater than many of my countrymen expected. The German Empire has, by its very character, the obligation to assist its citizens if they are being set upon in foreign lands. The tasks that the old Roman Empire of the German nation was unable to accomplish, the new German Empire is in a position to fulfill. The means that make this possible is our army.

It has been built up during thirty years of faithful, peaceful labor, following the principles of my blessed grandfather. You, too, have received your training in accordance with these principles, and by putting them to the test before the enemy, you should see whether they have proved their worth in you. Your comrades in the navy have already passed this test they have shown that the principles of your training are sound, and I am also proud of the praise that your comrades have earned over there from foreign leaders. It is up to you to emulate them.

A great task awaits you: you are to revenge the grievous injustice that has been done. The Chinese have overturned the law of nations they have mocked the sacredness of the envoy, the duties of hospitality in a way unheard of in world history. It is all the more outrageous that this crime has been committed by a nation that takes pride in its ancient culture. Show the old Prussian virtue. Present yourselves as Christians in the cheerful endurance of suffering. May honor and glory follow your banners and arms. Give the whole world an example of manliness and discipline.

You know full well that you are to fight against a cunning, brave, well-armed, and cruel enemy. When you encounter him, know this: no quarter will be given. Prisoners will not be taken. Exercise your arms such that for a thousand years no Chinese will dare to look cross-eyed at a German. Maintain discipline. May God’s blessing be with you, the prayers of an entire nation and my good wishes go with you, each and every one. Open the way to civilization once and for all! Now you may depart! Farewell, comrades! [41] [42]

The official version omitted the following passage from which the speech derives its name:

Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German. [41] [43]

The term "Hun" later became the favoured epithet of Allied anti-German war propaganda during the First World War. [40]

Eulenberg Scandal

In the years 1906–09, journalist Maximilian Harden published revelations of homosexual activity involving ministers, courtiers, army officers, and Wilhelm's closest friend and advisor, [44] Prince Philipp zu Eulenberg. [45] This resulted in a succession of scandals, trials, and suicides. Harden, like some in the upper echelons of the military and Foreign Office, resented Eulenberg's approval of the Anglo-French Entente, and also his encouragement of Wilhelm to rule personally. The scandal led to Wilhelm suffering a nervous breakdown, and the removal of Eulenberg and others of his circle from the court. [44] The view that Wilhelm was a deeply repressed homosexual is increasingly supported by scholars: certainly, he never came to terms with his feelings for Eulenberg. [46] Historians have linked the Eulenberg scandal to a fundamental shift in German policy that heightened its military aggressiveness and ultimately contributed to World War I. [45]

Moroccan Crisis

One of Wilhelm's diplomatic blunders sparked the Moroccan Crisis of 1905, when he made a spectacular visit to Tangier, in Morocco on 31 March 1905. He conferred with representatives of Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco. [47] The Kaiser proceeded to tour the city on the back of a white horse. The Kaiser declared he had come to support the sovereignty of the Sultan—a statement which amounted to a provocative challenge to French influence in Morocco. The Sultan subsequently rejected a set of French-proposed governmental reforms and invited major world powers to a conference which would advise him on necessary reforms.

The Kaiser's presence was seen as an assertion of German interests in Morocco, in opposition to those of France. In his speech, he even made remarks in favour of Moroccan independence, and this led to friction with France, which was expanding its colonial interests in Morocco, and to the Algeciras Conference, which served largely to further isolate Germany in Europe. [48]

Daily Telegraph affair

Wilhelm's most damaging personal blunder cost him much of his prestige and power and had a far greater impact in Germany than overseas. [49] The Daily Telegraph Affair of 1908 involved the publication in Germany of an interview with a British daily newspaper that included wild statements and diplomatically damaging remarks. Wilhelm had seen the interview as an opportunity to promote his views and ideas on Anglo-German friendship, but due to his emotional outbursts during the course of the interview, he ended up further alienating not only the British, but also the French, Russians, and Japanese. He implied, among other things, that the Germans cared nothing for the British that the French and Russians had attempted to incite Germany to intervene in the Second Boer War and that the German naval buildup was targeted against the Japanese, not Britain. One memorable quotation from the interview was, "You English are mad, mad, mad as March hares." [50] The effect in Germany was quite significant, with serious calls for his abdication. Wilhelm kept a very low profile for many months after the Daily Telegraph fiasco, but later exacted his revenge by forcing the resignation of the chancellor, Prince Bülow, who had abandoned the Emperor to public scorn by not having the transcript edited before its German publication. [51] [52] The Daily Telegraph crisis deeply wounded Wilhelm's previously unimpaired self-confidence, and he soon suffered a severe bout of depression from which he never fully recovered. He lost much of the influence he had previously exercised in domestic and foreign policy. [53]

Naval expansion

Nothing Wilhelm did in the international arena was of more influence than his decision to pursue a policy of massive naval construction. A powerful navy was Wilhelm's pet project. He had inherited from his mother a love of the British Royal Navy, which was at that time the world's largest. He once confided to his uncle, the Prince of Wales, that his dream was to have a "fleet of my own some day". Wilhelm's frustration over his fleet's poor showing at the Fleet Review at his grandmother Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, combined with his inability to exert German influence in South Africa following the dispatch of the Kruger telegram, led to Wilhelm taking definitive steps toward the construction of a fleet to rival that of his British cousins. Wilhelm called on the services of the dynamic naval officer Alfred von Tirpitz, whom he appointed to the head of the Imperial Naval Office in 1897. [54]

The new admiral had conceived of what came to be known as the "Risk Theory" or the Tirpitz Plan, by which Germany could force Britain to accede to German demands in the international arena through the threat posed by a powerful battlefleet concentrated in the North Sea. [55] Tirpitz enjoyed Wilhelm's full support in his advocacy of successive naval bills of 1897 and 1900, by which the German navy was built up to contend with that of the British Empire. Naval expansion under the Fleet Acts eventually led to severe financial strains in Germany by 1914, as by 1906 Wilhelm had committed his navy to construction of the much larger, more expensive dreadnought type of battleship. [56]

In 1889 Wilhelm reorganised top-level control of the navy by creating a Naval Cabinet (Marine-Kabinett) equivalent to the German Imperial Military Cabinet which had previously functioned in the same capacity for both the army and navy. The Head of the Naval Cabinet was responsible for promotions, appointments, administration, and issuing orders to naval forces. Captain Gustav von Senden-Bibran was appointed as the first head and remained so until 1906. The existing Imperial admiralty was abolished, and its responsibilities divided between two organisations. A new position was created, equivalent to the supreme commander of the army: the Chief of the High Command of the Admiralty, or Oberkommando der Marine, was responsible for ship deployments, strategy and tactics. Vice-Admiral Max von der Goltz was appointed in 1889 and remained in post until 1895. Construction and maintenance of ships and obtaining supplies was the responsibility of the State Secretary of the Imperial Navy Office (Reichsmarineamt), responsible to the Imperial Chancellor and advising the Reichstag on naval matters. The first appointee was Rear Admiral Karl Eduard Heusner, followed shortly by Rear Admiral Friedrich von Hollmann from 1890 to 1897. Each of these three heads of department reported separately to Wilhelm. [57]

In addition to the expansion of the fleet, the Kiel Canal was opened in 1895, enabling faster movements between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.

Historians typically argue that Wilhelm was largely confined to ceremonial duties during the war—there were innumerable parades to review and honours to award. "The man who in peace had believed himself omnipotent became in war a 'shadow Kaiser', out of sight, neglected, and relegated to the sidelines." [58]

The Sarajevo crisis

Wilhelm was a friend of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and he was deeply shocked by his assassination on 28 June 1914. Wilhelm offered to support Austria-Hungary in crushing the Black Hand, the secret organisation that had plotted the killing, and even sanctioned the use of force by Austria against the perceived source of the movement—Serbia (this is often called "the blank cheque"). He wanted to remain in Berlin until the crisis was resolved, but his courtiers persuaded him instead to go on his annual cruise of the North Sea on 6 July 1914. Wilhelm made erratic attempts to stay on top of the crisis via telegram, and when the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was delivered to Serbia, he hurried back to Berlin. He reached Berlin on 28 July, read a copy of the Serbian reply, and wrote on it:

A brilliant solution—and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected. A great moral victory for Vienna but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade. On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilisation. [59]

Unknown to the Emperor, Austro-Hungarian ministers and generals had already convinced the 83-year-old Franz Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war against Serbia. As a direct consequence, Russia began a general mobilisation to attack Austria in defence of Serbia.

July 1914

On the night of 30 July, when handed a document stating that Russia would not cancel its mobilisation, Wilhelm wrote a lengthy commentary containing these observations:

. For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us . Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honourable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e., playing off all European States for her own benefit against us. [60]

More recent British authors state that Wilhelm II really declared, "Ruthlessness and weakness will start the most terrifying war of the world, whose purpose is to destroy Germany. Because there can no longer be any doubts, England, France and Russia have conspired themselves together to fight an annihilation war against us". [61]

When it became clear that Germany would experience a war on two fronts and that Britain would enter the war if Germany attacked France through neutral Belgium, the panic-stricken Wilhelm attempted to redirect the main attack against Russia. When Helmuth von Moltke (the younger) (who had chosen the old plan from 1905, made by General von Schlieffen for the possibility of German war on two fronts) told him that this was impossible, Wilhelm said: "Your uncle would have given me a different answer!" [62] Wilhelm is also reported to have said, "To think that George and Nicky should have played me false! If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it." [63] In the original Schlieffen plan, Germany would attack the (supposed) weaker enemy first, meaning France. The plan supposed that it would take a long time before Russia was ready for war. Defeating France had been easy for Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. At the 1914 border between France and Germany, an attack at this more southern part of France could be stopped by the French fortress along the border. However, Wilhelm II stopped any invasion of the Netherlands.


Wilhelm's role in wartime was one of ever-decreasing power as he increasingly handled awards ceremonies and honorific duties. The high command continued with its strategy even when it was clear that the Schlieffen plan had failed. By 1916 the Empire had effectively become a military dictatorship under the control of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. [64] Increasingly cut off from reality and the political decision-making process, Wilhelm vacillated between defeatism and dreams of victory, depending upon the fortunes of his armies. Nevertheless, Wilhelm still retained the ultimate authority in matters of political appointment, and it was only after his consent had been gained that major changes to the high command could be effected. Wilhelm was in favour of the dismissal of Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in September 1914 and his replacement by Erich von Falkenhayn. In 1917, Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided that Bethman-Hollweg was no longer acceptable to them as Chancellor and called upon the Kaiser to appoint somebody else. When asked whom they would accept, Ludendorff recommended Georg Michaelis, a nonentity whom he barely knew. Despite this, the Kaiser accepted the suggestion. Upon hearing in July 1917 that his cousin George V had changed the name of the British royal house to Windsor, [65] Wilhelm remarked that he planned to see Shakespeare's play The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. [66] The Kaiser's support collapsed completely in October–November 1918 in the army, in the civilian government, and in German public opinion, as President Woodrow Wilson made clear that the Kaiser could no longer be a party to peace negotiations. [67] [68] That year also saw Wilhelm sickened during the worldwide Spanish flu outbreak, though he survived. [69]

Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise in late 1918. Mutiny among the ranks of his beloved Kaiserliche Marine, the imperial navy, profoundly shocked him. After the outbreak of the German Revolution, Wilhelm could not make up his mind whether or not to abdicate. Up to that point, he accepted that he would likely have to give up the imperial crown, but still hoped to retain the Prussian kingship. However, this was impossible under the imperial constitution. Wilhelm thought he ruled as emperor in a personal union with Prussia. In truth, the constitution defined the empire as a confederation of states under the permanent presidency of Prussia. The imperial crown was thus tied to the Prussian crown, meaning that Wilhelm could not renounce one crown without renouncing the other.

Wilhelm's hope of retaining at least one of his crowns was revealed as unrealistic when, in the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, Chancellor Prince Max of Baden announced Wilhelm's abdication of both titles on 9 November 1918. Prince Max himself was forced to resign later the same day, when it became clear that only Friedrich Ebert, leader of the SPD, could effectively exert control. Later that day, one of Ebert's secretaries of state (ministers), Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann, proclaimed Germany a republic.

Wilhelm consented to the abdication only after Ludendorff's replacement, General Wilhelm Groener, had informed him that the officers and men of the army would march back in good order under Hindenburg's command, but would certainly not fight for Wilhelm's throne on the home front. The monarchy's last and strongest support had been broken, and finally even Hindenburg, himself a lifelong monarchist, was obliged, with some embarrassment, to advise the Emperor to give up the crown. [70] [a] Previously, Bismarck had predicted: "Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this." [72]

On 10 November, Wilhelm crossed the border by train and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war. [73] Upon the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles in early 1919, Article 227 expressly provided for the prosecution of Wilhelm "for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties", but the Dutch government refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies. King George V wrote that he looked on his cousin as "the greatest criminal in history", but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George's proposal to "hang the Kaiser".

It was reported, however, that there was little zeal in Britain to prosecute. On 1 January 1920, it was stated in official circles in London that Great Britain would “welcome refusal by Holland to deliver the former kaiser for trial,” and it was hinted that this had been conveyed to the Dutch government through diplomatic channels.

”Punishment of the former kaiser and other German war criminals is worrying Great Britain little, it was said. As a matter of form, however, the British and French governments were expected to request Holland for the former kaiser’s extradition. Holland, it was said, will refuse on the ground of constitutional provisions covering the case and then the matter will be dropped. The request for extradition will not be based on genuine desire on the part of British officials to bring the kaiser to trial, according to authoritative information, but is considered necessary formality to ‘save the face’ of politicians who promised to see that Wilhelm was punished for his crimes.” [74]

President Woodrow Wilson of the United States opposed extradition, arguing that prosecuting Wilhelm would destabilise international order and lose the peace. [75]

Wilhelm first settled in Amerongen, where on 28 November he issued a belated statement of abdication from both the Prussian and imperial thrones, thus formally ending the Hohenzollerns' 500-year rule over Prussia. Accepting the reality that he had lost both of his crowns for good, he gave up his rights to "the throne of Prussia and to the German Imperial throne connected therewith." He also released his soldiers and officials in both Prussia and the empire from their oath of loyalty to him. [76] He purchased a country house in the municipality of Doorn, known as Huis Doorn, and moved in on 15 May 1920. [77] This was to be his home for the remainder of his life. [78] The Weimar Republic allowed Wilhelm to remove twenty-three railway wagons of furniture, twenty-seven containing packages of all sorts, one bearing a car and another a boat, from the New Palace at Potsdam. [79]

Life in exile

In 1922, Wilhelm published the first volume of his memoirs [80] —a very slim volume that insisted he was not guilty of initiating the Great War, and defended his conduct throughout his reign, especially in matters of foreign policy. For the remaining twenty years of his life, he entertained guests (often of some standing) and kept himself updated on events in Europe. He grew a beard and allowed his famous moustache to droop, adopting a style very similar to that of his cousins King George V and Tsar Nicholas II. He also learned the Dutch language. Wilhelm developed a penchant for archaeology while residing at the Corfu Achilleion, excavating at the site of the Temple of Artemis in Corfu, a passion he retained in his exile. He had bought the former Greek residence of Empress Elisabeth after her murder in 1898. He also sketched plans for grand buildings and battleships when he was bored. In exile, one of Wilhelm's greatest passions was hunting, and he killed thousands of animals, both beast and bird. Much of his time was spent chopping wood and thousands of trees were chopped down during his stay at Doorn. [81]


Wilhelm II was seen as the richest man in the Germany before 1914. After his abdication he retained substantial wealth. It was reported that at least 60 railway wagons were needed to carry his furniture, art, porcelain and silver from Germany to the Netherlands. The kaiser retained substantial cash reserves and as well as several palaces. [82] After 1945, the Hohenzollerns’ forests, farms, factories and palaces in what became East Germany were expropriated and thousands of artworks were subsumed into state-owned museums.

Views on Nazism

In the early 1930s, Wilhelm apparently hoped that the successes of the German Nazi Party would stimulate interest in a restoration of the monarchy, with his eldest grandson as the fourth Kaiser. His second wife, Hermine, actively petitioned the Nazi government on her husband's behalf. However, Adolf Hitler, himself a veteran of the First World War, like other leading Nazis, felt nothing but contempt for the man they blamed for Germany's greatest defeat, and the petitions were ignored. Though he played host to Hermann Göring at Doorn on at least one occasion, Wilhelm grew to distrust Hitler. Hearing of the murder of the wife of former Chancellor Schleicher, he said "We have ceased to live under the rule of law and everyone must be prepared for the possibility that the Nazis will push their way in and put them up against the wall!" [83]

Wilhelm was also appalled at the Kristallnacht of 9–10 November 1938, saying "I have just made my views clear to Auwi [August Wilhelm, Wilhelm's fourth son] in the presence of his brothers. He had the nerve to say that he agreed with the Jewish pogroms and understood why they had come about. When I told him that any decent man would describe these actions as gangsterisms, he appeared totally indifferent. He is completely lost to our family". [84] Wilhelm also stated, "For the first time, I am ashamed to be a German." [85]

"There's a man alone, without family, without children, without God . He builds legions, but he doesn't build a nation. A nation is created by families, a religion, traditions: it is made up out of the hearts of mothers, the wisdom of fathers, the joy and the exuberance of children . For a few months I was inclined to believe in National Socialism. I thought of it as a necessary fever. And I was gratified to see that there were, associated with it for a time, some of the wisest and most outstanding Germans. But these, one by one, he has got rid of or even killed . He has left nothing but a bunch of shirted gangsters! This man could bring home victories to our people each year, without bringing them either glory or danger. But of our Germany, which was a nation of poets and musicians, of artists and soldiers, he has made a nation of hysterics and hermits, engulfed in a mob and led by a thousand liars or fanatics." ― Wilhelm on Hitler, December 1938. [86]

In the wake of the German victory over Poland in September 1939, Wilhelm's adjutant, General von Dommes [de] , wrote on his behalf to Hitler, stating that the House of Hohenzollern "remained loyal" and noted that nine Prussian Princes (one son and eight grandchildren) were stationed at the front, concluding "because of the special circumstances that require residence in a neutral foreign country, His Majesty must personally decline to make the aforementioned comment. The Emperor has therefore charged me with making a communication." [87] Wilhelm greatly admired the success which Hitler was able to achieve in the opening months of the Second World War, and personally sent a congratulatory telegram when the Netherlands surrendered in May 1940: "My Fuhrer, I congratulate you and hope that under your marvellous leadership the German monarchy will be restored completely." Hitler was reportedly exasperated and bemused, and remarked to Linge, his valet, "What an idiot!" [88] In another telegram to Hitler upon the fall of Paris a month later, Wilhelm stated "Congratulations, you have won using my troops." In a letter to his daughter Victoria Louise, Duchess of Brunswick, he wrote triumphantly, "Thus is the pernicious Entente Cordiale of Uncle Edward VII brought to nought." [89] Nevertheless, after the German conquest of the Netherlands in 1940, the aging Wilhelm retired completely from public life. In May 1940, when Hitler invaded the Netherlands, Wilhelm declined an offer from Churchill of asylum in Britain, preferring to remain at Huis Doorn. [90]

Anti-England, anti-Semitic, and anti-Freemason views

During his last year at Doorn, Wilhelm believed that Germany was the land of monarchy and therefore of Christ, and that England was the land of liberalism and therefore of Satan and the Antichrist. [91] He argued that the English ruling classes were "Freemasons thoroughly infected by Juda". [91] Wilhelm asserted that the "British people must be liberated from Antichrist Juda. We must drive Juda out of England just as he has been chased out of the Continent." [92]

He believed the Freemasons and Jews had caused the two world wars, aiming at a world Jewish empire with British and American gold, but that "Juda's plan has been smashed to pieces and they themselves swept out of the European Continent!" [91] Continental Europe was now, Wilhelm wrote, "consolidating and closing itself off from British influences after the elimination of the British and the Jews!" The end result would be a "U.S. of Europe!" [93] In a 1940 letter to his sister Princess Margaret, Wilhelm wrote: "The hand of God is creating a new world & working miracles. We are becoming the U.S. of Europe under German leadership, a united European Continent." He added: "The Jews [are] being thrust out of their nefarious positions in all countries, whom they have driven to hostility for centuries." [87]

Also in 1940 came what would have been his mother's 100th birthday, on which he wrote ironically to a friend "Today the 100th birthday of my mother! No notice is taken of it at home! No 'Memorial Service' or . committee to remember her marvellous work for the . welfare of our German people . Nobody of the new generation knows anything about her." [94]

Next to the throne

The German Emperor Wilhelm I died in Berlin on March 9, 1888 and Prince Wilhelm's father was proclaimed Emperor as Frederick III. He was already suffering from an incurable throat cancer and spent all 99 days of his reign fighting the disease before dying. On June 15 of that same year, his 29-year-old son succeeded him as German Emperor and King of Prussia.

Although in his youth he had been a great admirer of Otto von Bismarck, Wilhelm's characteristic impatience soon brought him into conflict with the "Iron Chancellor", the dominant figure in the foundation of his empire. The new Emperor opposed Bismarck's careful foreign policy, preferring vigorous and rapid expansion to protect Germany's "place in the sun." Furthermore, the young Emperor had come to the throne with the determination that he was going to rule as well as reign, unlike his grandfather, who had largely been content to leave day-to-day administration to Bismarck.

Early conflicts between Wilhelm II and his chancellor soon poisoned the relationship between the two men. Bismarck believed that Wilhelm was a lightweight who could be dominated, and he showed scant respect for Wilhelm's policies in the late 1880s. The final split between monarch and statesman occurred soon after an attempt by Bismarck to implement a far-reaching anti-Socialist law in early 1890.

Wilhelm II Retreats - History

Where did Wilhelm II grow up?

Wilhelm was born in Berlin, Germany at the Crown Prince's Palace on January 27, 1859. His father was Prince Frederick William (who would later become Emperor Frederick III) and his mother was Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria of England). This made young Wilhelm heir to the German throne and grandson of the Queen of England.

Wilhelm was an intelligent child, but also possessed a violent temper. Unfortunately, Wilhelm was born with a deformed left arm. Despite having an unusable left arm, his mother forced him to learn to ride a horse as a young boy. It was a difficult experience he would never forget. For the rest of his life, he would always try to hide his left arm from the public, wanting to appear as a physically powerful German ruler.

In 1888, Wilhelm became the Kaiser, or emperor, of Germany when his father died of throat cancer. Wilhelm was twenty-nine years old. As Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm had a lot of power, but not all the power. He could appoint the Chancellor of Germany, but the chancellor had to work with the parliament who controlled the money. He was also officially commander of the army and navy, but the real control of the army was in the hands of the generals.

Wilhelm was an intelligent man, but emotionally unstable and a poor leader. After two years as Kaiser, he dismissed the current chancellor and famous German leader Otto von Bismarck and replaced him with his own man. He blundered many times in his diplomacy with foreign nations. By the early 1900s, Germany was surrounded by potential enemies. France to the west and Russia to the east had formed an alliance. He also alienated the British in an erratic interview with the Daily Telegraph (a British newspaper) in which he said that the Germans didn't like the British.

By 1914, Wilhelm II had decided that war in Europe was inevitable. He and his advisors determined that, the sooner the war began, the better chance Germany had to win. Germany was allies with the Austro-Hungary Empire. When Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, Wilhelm advised Austria to give an ultimatum to Serbia that Serbia was sure to refuse. He promised Austria that he would support them with a "blank check", meaning he would back them up in the event of war. Wilhelm was sure that the war would be over quickly. He had no idea as to the chain of events that would take place.

When Serbia refused Austria's demands, Austria declared war on Serbia. Soon Serbia's ally Russia was mobilizing for war. To help defend Austria, Germany declared war on Russia. Then France, Russia's ally, declared war on Germany. Soon all of Europe had chosen sides and World War I had begun.

The war did not proceed as planned. Germany was able to push back an ill-equipped Russian army in the east, but they did not quickly conquer France as planned. Germany was fighting a war on two fronts, a war they could not win. As the war went on for years, Wilhelm's control over the army waned. Eventually, the German army generals had all the real power and Wilhelm became a figurehead.

In 1918, it became apparent that Germany was going to lose the war. The army was exhausted and running out of supplies. There were food and fuel shortages throughout Germany. On December 9, 1918 Wilhelm abdicated (gave up) his throne and fled Germany to the Netherlands.

Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1933
by Oscar Tellgmann

Wilhelm lived out the rest of his life in the Netherlands. He died at the age of 82 in 1941.

Nazi Summer Camps In 1930s America?

To the unsuspecting observer, the 25-minute silent, grainy black and white video from the vaults of the U.S. National Archives seems to showcase a quaint, carefree summer camp for boys in 1937.

Healthy, happy, high-energy guys — against the bucolic backdrop of the Catskill Mountains in eastern New York — pitch tents, get muddy, play checkers, shoot rifles, box and wrestle one another, raise a Nazi swastika flag .

Volks-Deutsche/Jungen in USA, video of a Bund-sponsored camp near Windham, N.Y. from the National Archives — filmed in the summer of 1937.

National Archives YouTube

In the 1930s, while Adolf Hitler was inciting the German people toward bellicosity and Nazis were establishing horrific concentration camps around Germany, Nazi summer camps for youngsters — like the one near Windham, N.Y., featured in the clip — popped up around this country. The pro-Hitler retreats were sponsored by German loyalists, such as the German-American Bund led by Fritz Kuhn.

The Bund, "which came to include more than 70 local chapters," according to a 2014 National Archives blog post, "was founded in 1936 to promote Germany and the Nazi party in America. The most well-known of the organization's activities was the 1939 pro-Nazi rally held at Madison Square Garden that drew a reported 20,000 attendees."

Girls do calisthenics at a Bund-sponsored summer camp in the 1930s. From the National Archives video Camp Activities of Boys and Girls. National Archives hide caption

This was the same year that Hitler staged military strategy sessions with top Nazi leaders. And declared war on Poland — and decided to battle Britain and France, if necessary.

Documentary film of the Nazi summer camps in America, the Archives post continues, "complete with the official uniforms and banners of the Hitler Youth, might be the most visual and chilling example of the [Bund's] attempts to instill Nazi sympathies in German-American children."

A handful of summertime sanctuaries — for boys and girls — received campers. Camp Will And Might in Griggstown, N.J., for instance, hosted 200 German-American boys between the ages of 8 and 18 — and hoisted the Nazi flag — in the summer of 1934, the Altoona, Pa., Tribune reported on Aug. 13.

Camp Activities of Boys and Girls, video of Bund-sponsored programs from the National Archives — compiled in the late 1930s.

National Archives YouTube

And Camp Hindenburg in Grafton, Wis. — near Milwaukee — was another site of Nazi youth and family camps. "Children dressed in Nazi uniforms and drilled military-style, with marching, inspections, and flag-raising ceremonies," Mark D. Van Ells of City University of New York posted on America in WWII. "Although the Bund denied it, children were taught Nazi ideology."

Swastika Nation

Arnie Bernstein, author of the 2013 book Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German American Bund, estimates the Bund membership at its zenith ranged between 5,000 and 25,000 — though the Bund claimed a much larger enrollment

"The majority of the campers were children or grandchildren of German immigrants and naturalized American citizens who were part of the Bund," Bernstein says.

New York campers in the 1930s wear shorts with Hitler Youth logo. From Volks-Deutsche/Jungen in USA. National Archives hide caption

On the surface, these enterprises offered standard summer-camp fare. "But their real purpose," Bernstein says, "was to indoctrinate and raise children to be good Aryans loyal to the Bund, its leader Kuhn, and of course Hitler. They would march about in their uniforms carrying American and Bund flags, singing German songs. Uniforms were modeled on Hitler Youth uniforms."

Bernstein says, "There were forced marches in the middle of the night to bonfires where the kids would sing the Nazi national anthem and shout 'Sieg Heil.' Nazi propaganda was plentiful at these camps as well."

Superficially sunny, the camps presented situations for dark behavior, Bernstein says. The attendees were exploited by the Bund, both for physical labor and for physical abuse. He says, "This all came out in congressional hearings."

Citizen Unrest

As Germany's military might increased overseas, Americans became more uncomfortable with Nazism and its expression on U.S. soil. Writing in the Los Angeles Times last year, Michael Hiltzik explains how Americans' concern for the Nazi summer camp programs helped usher in the House Un-American Activities Committee and McCarthyism.

The camps "more or less died out as the Bund came to its wheezing end with Fritz Kuhn's imprisonment in 1939," Bernstein explains. "With the strong central leader in prison for forgery and embezzlement, members started leaving the Bund and taking their kids with them."

By 1940, he adds, the Bund was moribund "and with that, the camps suffered significant drops in attendance and activities." Plus, the programs came under intense government scrutiny and were raided.

"So realistically, they ended in 1940," Bernstein adds. "The Bund sputtered along into 1941, but by then was whittled down to only hard-core loyalists. The Bund itself was officially disbanded days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war against the United States."

Some of the camps were converted to different uses others fell into ruins. Bill Maloney, who lives in Wayne, N.J., has visited — and taken photos that are posted on his website — of nearby Camp Bergwald. Asked how he felt when he saw the overgrown site, he says, "Puzzlement and discomfort that a Hitler Youth camp could be in any way acceptable in the U.S., even before the war. It is especially disturbing that it is so close to home and that the people involved would have been our neighbors. Maybe some still are. The site is only 3 miles from where I live."

As for what happened to the campers, who knows? One of the adult leaders at a New York camp, Gustav Wilhelm Kaercher, worked as a power-plant designer for a utility company in New York City. He was arrested by the FBI in 1942 — for being a German spy.

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Fighting a Lost War, 1943

Robert M. Citino

Arthur Goodzeit Award

Throughout 1943, the German army, heirs to a military tradition that demanded and perfected relentless offensive operations, succumbed to the realities of its own overreach and the demands of twentieth-century industrialized warfare. In his new study, prizewinning author Robert Citino chronicles this weakening Wehrmacht, now fighting desperately on the defensive but still remarkably dangerous and lethal.

&ldquoLike all of Citino’s work, this book brims with perceptive insights and clever observations.&rdquo

&mdashGerman Studies Review

&ldquoA fine book, well written and relevant to professional military officers and academics alike. Furthermore, it is good history. Citino demonstrates the power of objective analysis to illuminate present challenges through a rigorous study of the past. . . . Even those who consider themselves well read on the topic will find new and interesting nuggets and will have their preconceived notions challenged. Perhaps the greatest merit of this book is the idea that ‘ways of war’ have a shelf-life.&rdquo

&mdashArmy History

&ldquoSkilfully performs the dual act of combining impeccable research with a cracking good read. Indeed far from the Wehrmacht’s lost war being the harbinger of a dry history, Citino’s study brings out the great importance of this period by highlighting the drama within the German command as well as the grueling events at the front. . . . In all aspects of his discussion of 1943 Citino’s trademark mastery of the vast literature is evident. . . . Like his many past works, The Wehrmacht Retreats deserves to be widely read.&rdquo

&mdashWar in History

&ldquoEssential reading for anyone interested in the military campaigns of the war. . . . Whether the reader is a serious military historian, a serving soldier, or the casual military history buff, the prose is perfect. Added benefits are excellent photos and maps. . . . Citino’s contribution stands as the definitive operational analysis of the Wehrmacht in 1943.&rdquo

&ldquoLike all of Citino’s work, this book is fairly brimming with perceptive insights and shrewd observations. . . . The writing is always lively and a good read. The Wehrmacht Retreats is a must for both the serious scholar to even the most casual student of World War II.&rdquo

&mdashNew York Military Affairs Symposium

&ldquoThis splendidly detailed operational history recasts 1943 as a year of stalemates, and examines how the Wehrmacht managed savage defensive moves despite hemorrhaging in an unwinnable two-front war.&rdquo

&mdashWorld War II Magazine

&ldquoAn expert on the ‘German way of war,’ Citino cites the German military tradition of emphasizing the offensive over defense as being a prime reason for the sapping of the Wehrmacht’s power in the pivotal year 1943. This is a well-written and very readable work that will interest those looking for more depth in their understanding of the military history of World War II. Recommended for readers with knowledge of World War II or an interest in military history.&rdquo

&mdashLibrary Journal

&ldquoAn outstanding book. Citino’s impeccably researched and superbly written study challenges standard notions and forces readers to think and reflect.&rdquo

&mdashStephen G. Fritz, author of Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II

&ldquoCitino has something interesting and original to say about every campaign. . . . A major contribution of great value for specialists but also highly attractive to the general reader.&rdquo

&mdashEvan Mawdsley, author of World War II: A New History and Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War, 1941�

&ldquoAn excellent sequel to Citino’s Death of the Wehrmacht. Together, they provide an essential and compelling reassessment of Hitler’s fighting machine in World War II.&rdquo

&mdashDavid M. Glantz, author of The Stalingrad Trilogy

Drawing on his impeccable command of German-language sources, Citino offers fresh, vivid, and detailed treatments of key campaigns during this fateful year: the Allied landings in North Africa, General von Manstein's great counterstroke in front of Kharkov, the German attack at Kasserine Pass, the titanic engagement of tanks and men at Kursk, the Soviet counteroffensives at Orel and Belgorod, and the Allied landings in Sicily and Italy. Through these events, he reveals how a military establishment historically configured for violent aggression reacted when the tables were turned how German commanders viewed their newest enemy, the U.S. Army, after brutal fighting against the British and Soviets and why, despite their superiority in materiel and manpower, the Allies were unable to turn 1943 into a much more decisive year.

Applying the keen operational analysis for which he is so highly regarded, Citino contends that virtually every flawed German decision—to defend Tunis, to attack at Kursk and then call off the offensive, to abandon Sicily, to defend Italy high up the boot and then down much closer to the toe—had strong supporters among the army's officer corps. He looks at all of these engagements from the perspective of each combatant nation and also establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt the synergistic interplay between the fronts.

Ultimately, Citino produces a grim portrait of the German officer corps, dispelling the longstanding tendency to blame every bad decision on Hitler. Filled with telling vignettes and sharp portraits and copiously documented, The Wehrmacht Retreats is a dramatic and fast-paced narrative that will engage military historians and general readers alike.

About the Author

Robert M. Citino is senior historian, National World War II Museum and author of eight books, including Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942 The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years' War to the Third Reich Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe, 1899� and Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational Warfare, which won both the Society for Military History's Distinguished Book Award and the American Historical Association's Paul Birdsall Prize.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and German Supremacism

Before Hitler led Germany with a wave of nationalism, Kaiser Wilhelm II was the driving force of supremacism in the nation. As a military leader, he convinced the Prussian armies that they were destined for greatness. His main goal when speaking appeared to be that of impressing people, of swaying them to his beliefs. Kaiser Wilhelm II, much like Adolf Hitler, geared his political career toward influencing others towards excessive patriotism.

The need to impress people, to influence their way of thinking, and to convince them of Prussian greatness may have stemmed from a childhood of neglect and outright disdain. He suffered from a genetic imperfection that affected his left arm, and as a result the youth of Kaiser Wilhelm II was spent suffering harsh judgment from his own mother. He had a number of other personal issues affecting his emotional and mental instability. He appeared to be racist and xenophobic as well given his statements regarding England and France as “black.”

He personally led the military, taking responsibility for the appointment and promotion of officers. He also did this for the general governance of the nation by personally choosing the Reich Chancellor. Kaiser Wilhelm II effectively made it impossible for anyone to naysay by taking such control over the nation that anyone who spoke against him was practically committing suicide, the Express reports.

Not surprisingly given his convictions that Prussians were prone to greater things, he was a big supporter of engaging in war. He valued his military officials more than any other citizen under his rule. Military budgets were high, and any who opposed the military’s rule was often killed. Kaiser Wilhelm II made it very clear that under his regime, militarism was not to be questioned under any circumstances. Even before the onset of World War I, he had been looking for any excuse he could find to bring Germans onto the battlefield to prove their excellence to the world.

Kaier Wilhelm II was an unstable man to be certain, and was an incredibly war-driven one at that. Had a military state been necessary for any reason, he might have been a useful leader. As things were, he was more of a tyrant than anything else. He had a complicated history which led to complex personality issues, but in all plausibility Kaiser Wilhelm II might never have been one of the better leaders for Prussia to have lived under.

Rominten Hunting Lodge

The Rominten Hunting Lodge (German: Jagdschloss Rominten) was the residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the Rominter Heath in East Prussia.

The electoral Hunting Lodge of Rominten ("Kurfürstliche Jagdbude Rominten") was first mentioned in historical records in 1572. In 1674, a new lodge was built, as the old one had fallen into disrepair. By the late 19th century, neither lodge was in existence all that remained was a small forestry workers' settlement, a tavern and a forester's office. [1]

Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia rediscovered the Rominter Heath as a potential hunting ground. Kaiser Wilhelm II first visited the Heath in 1890 and decided to build a Royal Hunting Lodge at Theerbude [2] (lit: Tarhut). The building was constructed by Norwegian workers to a Norwegian Dragestil design, following plans drawn up by Holm Hansen Munthe and Ole Sverre. The materials were also imported from Norway. The Kaiser first stayed at the new lodge in autumn 1891. [1] [3]

A small Norwegian Stave Church-style chapel dedicated to Saint Hubertus (the patron saint of hunting) [4] was built in 1893, and Theerbude was renamed "Kaiserlich Rominten" (Imperial Rominten) on 13 September 1897. Over the following years, a youth hostel and an orphanage were built, and the village became a popular tourist resort. An "Empress-wing" was added to the lodge in 1904. [1]

Wilheim II spent several weeks each fall at Rominten and at his other retreats in Prökelwitz and Hubertusstock. Rominten had the distinction of being the place where he and his ministers made the most important decisions regarding improvements to the navy and ship-building. [5] Government ministers would travel out to the lodge from Berlin. Most of Wilhelm's time at Rominten, however, was spent hunting. [5] He and his entourage would rise at 5:00 each morning and be driven out to the forest. Standing on special platforms, they would wait for herders to drive deer and elk toward their positions. [6]

From 22 September to 2 October 1913, Wilhelm II visited the lodge for the last time. In his 23 years of hunting on the Rominter Heath, he had brought down 327 deer. [7]

After World War I, the Lodge remained the private property of Wilhelm II, although the exiled Kaiser would never return to Rominten. In September 1933, Wilhelm refused to allow Hermann Göring to stay in the lodge Göring subsequently built his own Reichsjägerhof Rominten just a few miles away, with a game reserve extending nearly 100 square miles (260 km 2 ). [4] [8] After Wilhelm's death in 1941, Göring forced the heirs to sell the Rominten Hunting Lodge to the State of Prussia (of which Göring was Minister-President) for his own use. [9]

After World War II, the region became part of the Soviet Union. The village was demolished and the lodge was re-erected in Kaliningrad's Central Park, to serve as the seat of the park administration. A bronze statue of a deer was moved to the Glinka Park in Smolensk another deer statue was moved to Sosnovka near Moscow. [10]

Today, the village no longer exists, as the area is located directly on the Polish–Russian border. [11]

1 The March Of The Ten ThousandBattle Of Cunaxa

Immortalized by the ancient Greek historian Xenophon in his work Anabasis, the March of the Ten Thousand is the story of a group of Greek mercenaries who went to war in Persia. They were hired by Cyrus the Younger, who planned to go to war with his brother Artaxerxes II and seize the throne. However, Cyrus was slain in battle, stranding the Greeks in enemy territory with no one to guide them out.

More than 2,700 kilometers (1,700 mi) from the sea, the Greeks were asked to surrender, a death sentence to be sure, and they refused. The Greeks were harried by the Persians for the entire journey to the Black Sea, but local tribes and the elements proved to be deadly foes as well.

After suffering through a snowstorm which thinned their numbers, the Greeks arrived at a town named Gymnias. They didn&rsquot wait there long because a local guide assured them that they were only five days from the sea.

Five days later, Xenophon began hearing cries from the men at the front of the line. Fearing an attack, he rushed to the front, only to realize what the men were screaming: &ldquoThe Sea, The Sea.&rdquo [10] Though some of them died on the journey, most managed to arrive safely in Greece.

Watch the video: Wilhelm II of Germany


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