General Wilhelm Groener (1867-1939)

Wilhelm Groener (1867-1939) was a German general who was head of the railway section in 1914 and played a major part in the success of the German mobilization. He was later given control of much of the German economy before angering powerful industrial and military figures. He returned to the front, serving in the Ukraine, but his main significance came at the end of the war. In October 1918 he replaced Ludendorff and he played a major part in the formation of the Weimar Republic. In the early 1930s he was an opponent of the Nazi party, but lacked the support he would have needed to push through his policies.

Groener (or Gröner) was born in Ludwigsberg on 22 November 1867) and joined the Würtemberg army in 1884. In 1899 he became a member of the General Staff, and he became a specialist in the Railroad Section. By 1918 he was head of the section, with the rank of colonel, and he played a major part in the quick deployment of the German Army at the start of the First World War. He then played an important role in organising the supply system that kept the army in the field. He was promoted to major-general in June 1915.

In May 1916 Groener became head of the War Food Office, with the job of establishing a system of rationing. He also retained his post as head of the railways.

In October 1916 Groener was appointed as head of the War Bureau, a new central planning created as part of the Hindenburg Program. His new job was to increase German military production, and for the best part of a year he was virtually the economic dictator of Germany.

Groener's downfall was triggered by his realisation that the welfare of the munitions workers played a part in their productivity. As a result he was concerned with their welfare, and in July 1917 he suggested that workers should be given a role in management. He also wanted to introduce price restraints as part of a battle with war profiteers. These two suggestions made him unpopular with many military and industrial leaders, and in August 1917 he was dismissed from his post and given command of a division on the Western Front. However his actions had impressed the SPD, later one of the key political figures of the Weimar Republic.

In February 1918 Groener was moved to the Eastern Front, where in March he became Chief of Staff to Army Group Eichhorn in the Ukraine. His job was to begin the economic exploitation of the Ukraine.

On 26 October 1918, with Germany's armies in retreat, Ludendorff was dismissed as Quartermaster General (effectively Deputy Chief of Staff to Hindenburg) and replaced by Groener. Groener was aware that the war had been lost. He authorised the withdrawal of German troops from France. On 6 November he informed Max von Baden, the official head of the government, that he needed to seek an immediate armistice, and on 9 November he had the difficult job of telling Kaiser Wilhelm II that he would have to abdicate.

On 10 November Groener came to an agreement with Ebert, head of the emerging Republic. He agreed to support the new republic if Ebert agreed to preserve as much as possible of the officer corps. After that he played a major part in the demobilization of the German Army, played a part in the formation of the Freikorps, helped put down the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, but also opposed an attempted officer's revolt. He also advised the government to accept the Versailles Treaty.

In September 1919 he retired from military service. His actions in 1918-1919 had alienated the right wing and the officer corps. However he had established his credibility on the left and centre, and in 1920 he began a successful post-war political career, serving as Transportation Minister under Wilhelm Cuno from 1920-23.

In 1928 Hindenburg asked Groener to serve as Defence Minister, as a rare example of a former soldier who was also acceptable to the SPD. Groener supported the rearmament of the Reichswehr, but he opposed the Nazis. In 1931 he became Interior Minister, putting him in a potentially powerful position to oppose them, but his efforts lacked support. On 14 April 1942 he banned the SA, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, but this ban was ineffective. It lost him what support he had retained in the officer corps, and on 13 May 1932 he resigned as Defence Minister. On 30 May the Bruning government fell, and Groener was removed as Interior Minister.

Groener wrote several books after the First World War. During the first break in his political career he wrote on the 1914 battle of the Marne. After 1932 he produced works on General Schlieffen and Moltke the Younger. Somewhat surprisingly Groener survived the Nazi purges and died of natural causes at Bornstedt near Potsdam on 3 May 1939.

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 August 2014), General Wilhelm Groener (1867-1939) ,

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