The Great War

By Field Marshal von Hindenburg

Edited by Charles Messenger

Frontline Books, 2013

Great WarHindenburg might now be most remembered for being the man who appointed Hitler as Chancellor in 1933, but he also played a key role during the First World War. He had a long and very successful military career in the German army before retiring in 1911. However on the outbreak of war he was recalled and rose to prominence after the early German victories at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. In November 1914 he was promoted to Field Marshal, and further victories on the eastern front ensued. He later became Chief of the General Staff following the resignation of Von Falkenhayn. Feted as a national hero after the war, he became President of Germany in 1925 until his death in 1934 ultimately enabled Hitler to appoint himself head of state.

This volume is an abridged version of Hindenburg’s memoir ‘Out of My Life’, first published in 1920. Charles Messenger has cut down the original text by about one third, but otherwise largely kept the memoir the same as the original 1920 translation.

The memoir helps to understand the strategic decisions that were taken during the war, and Hindenburg’s frustration of the continued war on the western front at the expense of a decisive breakthrough in the east. After his appointment of Chief of the General Staff Hindenburg faced pressure from the other Central Powers to tie down Allied troops on other fronts. Ultimately this led to the shortening of the German line in 1917 and the evolution of German tactics towards more fluid warfare.

Hindenburg covers his partnership with Ludendorff, although their differences of opinion towards the end of the war are conveniently omitted. In fact the end of the war is fairly glossed over, with the period of 1918 from the British summer offensive (August 8th) onwards warranting 25 pages and the last days of the war just three. The book finishes abruptly with the end of the war.

Hindenburg was fiercely loyal and faithful to the Kaiser, something that comes through despite the shortening of the original manuscript. Having not read the original un-abridged translation, I cannot attest to the impact that Messenger’s editing has had on the overall tone of the book. Nevertheless this remains an interesting, albeit one-sided, insight into one of the ‘key players’ of the war.

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The Great War

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