Primary Documents - Kaiser Wilhelm II's Proclamation to the Army, 6 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 the Kaiser's appeal to the army dated 6 October 1918.
Kaiser Wilhelm II's Proclamation to the Army, 6 October 1918
For months past the enemy, with enormous exertions and almost without pause in the fighting, has stormed against your lines.
In weeks of the struggle, often without repose, you have had to persevere and resist a numerically far superior enemy. Therein lies the greatness of the task which has been set for you and which you are fulfilling. Troops of all the German States are doing their part and are heroically defending the Fatherland on foreign soil. Hard is the task.
My navy is holding its own against the united enemy naval forces and is unwaveringly supporting the army in its difficult struggle.
The eyes of those at home rest with pride and admiration on the deeds of the army and navy. I express to you the thanks of myself and the Fatherland.
The collapse of the Macedonian front has occurred in the midst of the hardest struggle. In accord with our allies, I have resolved once more to offer peace to the enemy, but I will only extend my hand for an honourable peace. We owe that to the heroes who have laid down their lives for the Fatherland, and we make that our duty to our children.
Whether arms will be lowered still is a question. Until then we must not slacken. We must, as hitherto, exert all our strength tirelessly to hold our ground against the onslaught of our enemies.
The hour is grave, but, trusting in your strength and in God's gracious help, we feel ourselves to be strong enough to defend our beloved Fatherland.
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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