On this day in 1918, five days after an Allied attack at Amiens, France, leads German commander Erich Ludendorff to declare “the black day of the German army,” Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany summons his principal political and military leaders to a crown council at Spa, a resort town in Belgium, to assess the status of the German war effort during World War I.
On August 11, after the Allied victory at Amiens kicked off a new Allied offensive on the Western Front, Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg, chief of the German army’s general staff, told the new naval chief, Admiral Reinhardt Scheer, that Germany’s only hope to win the war was through submarine warfare. “There is no more hope for the offensive,” the downtrodden Ludendorff told a staff member on August 12. “The generals have lost their foothold.”
At the crown council assembled on August 13-14 by the Kaiser at Spa, where the German High Command had its headquarters, Ludendorff recommended that Germany initiate immediate peace negotiations. Ludendorff failed, however, to present the true extent of the military’s disadvantage on the battlefield; instead, he blamed revolt and anti-war sentiment on the home front for the military’s inability to continue the war effort indefinitely. Meanwhile, the chief military adviser to Austrian Emperor Karl I informed Wilhelm that Austria-Hungary could only continue its participation in the war until that December. Though the Kaiser thought it advisable to seek an intermediary to begin peace negotiations, his newly appointed foreign minister, Paul von Hintze, refused to take such an approach until another German victory on the battlefield had been achieved. Hintze, working on suppressing discontent and rebellion within the German government, told party leaders the following week that “there was no reason to doubt ultimate victory. We shall be vanquished only when we doubt that we shall win.”
Meanwhile, on the battlefront in Flanders, Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, one of the German army’s most senior commanders, wrote of his own doubt to Prince Max of Baden (the Kaiser’s second cousin, who would become chancellor of Germany the following October): “Our military situation has deteriorated so rapidly that I no longer believe we can hold out over the winter; it is even possible that a catastrophe will come earlier….The Americans are multiplying in a way we never dreamed of….At the present time, there are already thirty-one American divisions in France.” The Allied commanders, for their part, pushed their troops forward on the Western Front and made aggressive preparations for future offensives in 1919, unaware that victory would come before the year was out.