Wilhelm Groener

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Wilhelm Groener
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-01048, Wilhelm Groener (cropped).jpg
Groener in 1928
Reich Minister of Defence
Weimar Republic
In office
20 January 1928 13 May 1932
Chancellor Wilhelm Marx
Hermann Müller
Heinrich Brüning
Preceded by Otto Gessler
Succeeded by Kurt von Schleicher
Reich Minister of the Interior
Weimar Republic
In office
9 October 1931 30 May 1932
Chancellor Heinrich Brüning
Preceded by Joseph Wirth
Succeeded by Wilhelm von Gayl
Reich Minister of Transport
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Weimar Republic
In office
25 June 1920 12 August 1923
Chancellor Konstantin Fehrenbach
Joseph Wirth
Wilhelm Cuno
Preceded by Gustav Bauer
Succeeded by Rudolf Oeser
Chief of the German General Staff
German Empire
In office
3 July 1919 7 July 1919
Preceded by Paul von Hindenburg
Succeeded by Hans von Seeckt
Personal details
Karl Eduard Wilhelm Groener

(1867-11-22)22 November 1867
Ludwigsburg, Neckar District, Württemberg
Died3 May 1939(1939-05-03) (aged 71)
Potsdam-Bornstedt, Brandenburg, Nazi Germany
Political partyIndependent
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the German Empire.svg  German Empire
Branch/service Kaiserstandarte.svg German Army
Years of service1884–1919
Rank Generalleutnant
Battles/wars World War I

Karl Eduard Wilhelm Groener (22 November 1867 – 3 May 1939) was a German general and politician. His organisational and logistical abilities resulted in a successful military career before and during World War I.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.


After a confrontation with Erich Ludendorff the Quartermaster general (Erster Generalquartiermeister) of the German Army, Groener was reassigned to a field command. When Ludendorff was dismissed in October 1918, Groener succeeded him. Groener worked with the new Social Democratic president Friedrich Ebert to foil a left-wing take-over during the German Revolution of 1918–19. Under his command, the army bloodily suppressed popular uprisings throughout Germany.

Erich Ludendorff German Army officer and later Nazi leader in Adolf Hitlers Beer Hall Putsch

Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ritter von Ludendorff was a German general, the victor of the Battle of Liège and the Battle of Tannenberg. From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general made him the leader of the German war efforts during World War I. The failure of Germany's great Spring Offensive in 1918 in its quest for total victory was his great strategic failure and he was forced out in October 1918.

German Army (German Empire) 1871-1919 land warfare branch of the German military

The Imperial German Army was the unified ground and air force of the German Empire. The term Deutsches Heer is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the Bundeswehr. The German Army was formed after the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership in 1871 and dissolved in 1919, after the defeat of the German Empire in World War I.

Friedrich Ebert 19th and 20th-century German politician and president of Germany

Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925.

Groener tried to integrate the military, which was dominated by an aristocratic and monarchistic officer corps, into the new republic. After resigning from the army in the summer of 1919, Groener served in several governments of the Weimar Republic as minister of transportation, interior and defence. He was pushed out of the government in 1932 by Kurt von Schleicher, who was working on a pact with the Nazis.

Weimar Republic Germany state in the years 1918/1919–1933

The Weimar Republic is an unofficial historical designation for the German state from 1918 to 1933. The name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the republic remained Deutsches Reich unchanged from 1871, because of the German tradition of substates. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm", in that the term does not have monarchical connotations in itself. The Reich was changed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. In English, the country was usually known simply as Germany.

Kurt von Schleicher German chancellor

Kurt Ferdinand Friedrich Hermann von Schleicher was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the Weimar Republic. A rival for power with Adolf Hitler, Schleicher was murdered by Hitler's SS during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.

Early life

Wilhelm Groener was born in Ludwigsburg in the Kingdom of Württemberg as the son of Karl Eduard Groener (1837–1893), regimental paymaster, and his wife Auguste (née Boleg, 1825–1907) on 22 November 1867. [1] After attending gymnasium at Ulm and Ludwigsburg, where his father had been stationed, Groener entered the 3. Württembergische Infanterie Regiment Nummer 121 of the Württemberg Army in 1884. [1] In 1890, he was promoted to Bataillonsadjutant and from 1893 to 1896 attended the War Academy at Berlin, where he finished top of his class. [1] In 1899, Groener married Helene Geyer (1864–1926) in Schwäbisch Gmünd. [1] [2] They had a daughter, Dorothea Groener-Geyer (b.1900). [2]

Ludwigsburg Place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Ludwigsburg is a city in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) north of Stuttgart city centre, near the river Neckar. It is the largest and primary city of the Ludwigsburg district with about 88,000 inhabitants. It is situated within the Stuttgart Region, and the district is part of the administrative region (Regierungsbezirk) of Stuttgart.

Kingdom of Württemberg kingdom in Central Europe between 1806–1918, from January 1871 part of the German Empire

The Kingdom of Württemberg was a German state that existed from 1805 to 1918, located within the area that is now Baden-Württemberg. The kingdom was a continuation of the Duchy of Württemberg, which existed from 1495 to 1805. Prior to 1495, Württemberg was a County in the former Duchy of Swabia, which had dissolved after the death of Duke Conradin in 1268.

Gymnasium (school) type of school providing advanced secondary education in Europe

A gymnasium is a type of school with a strong emphasis on academic learning, and providing advanced secondary education in some parts of Europe comparable to British grammar schools, sixth form colleges and US preparatory high schools. In its current meaning, it usually refers to secondary schools focused on preparing students to enter a university for advanced academic study. Before the 20th century, the system of gymnasiums was a widespread feature of educational system throughout many countries of central, north, eastern, and south Europe.

Military career


As a captain, he won appointment to the General Staff in 1899 and was attached to the railway section, where he worked for the next 17 years. [1] This was only interrupted for the usual assignments to other locations, from 1902 to 1904 he was Kompaniechef of Infantry Regiment 98 at Metz, from 1908 to 1910 he was with the XIII Army Corps and in 1910 he became a battalion commander in Infantry Regiment 125 at Stuttgart. In 1912, as a lieutenant-colonel, Groener became head of the railway section at the General Staff. His plans for the extension of the railway network and for deployment routes were based the deployment plans of Alfred von Schlieffen, the Chief of the General Staff of the German Army from 1891 to 1906. [2]

German General Staff Full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and German Army

The German General Staff, originally the Prussian General Staff and officially Great General Staff, was a full-time body at the head of the Prussian Army and later, the German Army, responsible for the continuous study of all aspects of war, and for drawing up and reviewing plans for mobilization or campaign. It existed unofficially from 1806, and was formally established by law in 1814, the first general staff in existence. It was distinguished by the formal selection of its officers by intelligence and proven merit rather than patronage or wealth, and by the exhaustive and rigorously structured training which its staff officers undertook. Its rise and development gave the German armed forces a decisive strategic advantage over their adversaries for nearly a century and a half.

Metz Prefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Metz is a city in northeast France located at the confluence of the Moselle and the Seille rivers. Metz is the prefecture of the Moselle department and the seat of the parliament of the Grand Est region. Located near the tripoint along the junction of France, Germany, and Luxembourg, the city forms a central place of the European Greater Region and the SaarLorLux euroregion.

Stuttgart Place in Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Stuttgart is the capital and largest city of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Stuttgart is located on the Neckar river in a fertile valley known locally as the "Stuttgart Cauldron." It lies an hour from the Swabian Jura and the Black Forest. Its urban area has a population of 609,219, making it the sixth largest city in Germany. 2.7 million people live in the city's administrative region and another 5.3 million people in its metropolitan area, making it the fourth largest metropolitan area in Germany. The city and metropolitan area are consistently ranked among the top 20 European metropolitan areas by GDP; Mercer listed Stuttgart as 21st on its 2015 list of cities by quality of living, innovation agency 2thinknow ranked the city 24th globally out of 442 cities and the Globalization and World Cities Research Network ranked the city as a Beta-status world city in their 2014 survey.

World War I

Groener as deputy war minister of Prussia in 1917 (with his first wife on the left) Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R10386, Wilhelm Groener mit Frau.jpg
Groener as deputy war minister of Prussia in 1917 (with his first wife on the left)

The deployment of millions of troops to the frontier by rail boosted Groener's reputation and he received numerous decorations in 1914. In June 1915, he was promoted to Generalmajor. Due to his organisational skills, in December 1915 Groener was put in charge of food deliveries from Romania. In May 1916, he joined the leadership of the newly created Kriegsernährungsministerium (War Food Ministry). In November 1916, as a Generalleutnant he became head of the Kriegsamt (War Office) the department that managed the war economy and deputy of the Prussian Minister of War. [1] [2]

Kingdom of Romania kingdom in Southeastern Europe between 1881 and 1947

The Kingdom of Romania was a constitutional monarchy that existed in Romania from 26 March 1881 with the crowning of prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen as King Carol I, until 1947 with the abdication of King Michael I of Romania, and the Romanian parliament proclaiming Romania a socialist republic.

With Erich Ludendorff, Groener worked on the draft for the Hilfsdienstgesetz (Auxiliary Services Act, 1916), which laid down the conscription of men (Arbeitszwang) for the war economy. Groener negotiated with the civilian bureaucracy, unions and representatives of the employers. Despite his efforts to appear neutral to maximise output, he became the target of criticism. Factory owners resented him for accepting the unions as partners. Revolutionary groups used his strict admonishments against those who went on strike while soldiers died at the front to undermine his standing with the workers. The negotiations made the limits of Germany military power obvious to Groener and he began to doubt that Germany could win the war. This caused confrontations with the third Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL, the supreme command of the German army), led by Paul Hindenburg and Ludendorff. During the change at the Reichskanzlei in July 1917, when Georg Michaelis replaced Bethmann-Hollweg as Chancellor, Groener suggested that the state should intervene to limit corporate profits and the wage growth that resulted from booming war-related public demand. [1] On 16 August 1917 he was recalled from his post and reassigned to an operational command. This was seen by the public as a response to his views on social policy. [1]

Groener served for six months at the western front first as the commander of the 33rd Division, and then of the XXV Reserve Corps, where he was able to observe trench warfare and the mood of the troops. [1] In March 1918, he commanded the I Corps during the occupation of Ukraine. On 28 March, he was appointed chief of staff of the army group Heeresgruppe Eichhorn-Kiew . [1] [2] This task required him to deal with organisational and political challenges, in particular confrontations with the army high command of Austria-Hungary and supervising, then reshuffling, the Ukrainian government which needed help against bolshevik revolutionaries. [1]

End of the war and German revolution

After the dismissal of Erich Ludendorff on 26 October 1918, Groener was recalled and on 29 October appointed as Ludendorff's successor as First Quartermaster General (Deputy Chief of the General Staff) under Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. The military situation was becoming untenable and social unrest and rebellion in the German armed forces and the civilian population threatened to break out into revolution. Groener started to prepare the withdrawal and demobilisation of the army. [2] [3] :51 As the revolution spread through Germany in early November, Groener began to see the Emperor, Wilhelm II, as an impediment to saving the monarchy and the integrity of the army. Privately, he felt the Kaiser should sacrifice himself in a hero's death at the front. [3] :75

On 6 November, Groener had reacted indignantly when the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert suggested that the Emperor should abdicate. Groener advised Wilhelm II to go on 9 November, because he had lost the confidence of the armed forces and recommended abdication to the monarch, when Emperor Wilhelm suggested to use the army to crush the revolution at home. [3] :76,82 Groener's goal was to preserve the monarchy, but under a different ruler. [2] He was also in favour of accepting the armistice conditions put to the German government, despite their severe nature. [2]

On the evening of 10 November, Groener contacted the new chancellor, Friedrich Ebert and concluded the Ebert-Groener pact, which was to remain secret for a number of years. Ebert agreed to suppress the Bolshevik revolutionaries and to maintain the traditional role of the armed forces as a pillar of the German state; Groener promised that the army would support the new government. [4] For this act, Groener earned the enmity of many other military leaders, many of whom sought the retention of the monarchy.

Groener oversaw the retreat and demobilisation of the defeated German army after the signing of the armistice on 11 November 1918. Despite a very tight schedule, the withdrawal was effected without problems. [1] Groener organised the defence of the eastern borders of the Reich until a peace treaty could be signed. The headquarters of OHL, at Schloss Wilhelmshöhe from 14 November 1918 to 13 February 1919, were moved to Kolberg. [1]

On 23 June 1919, Ebert asked OHL for an opinion on whether the Reich should sign the Treaty of Versailles. Groener supported signing as he was worried that the unity of the Reich would be in danger if fighting was resumed, contradicting the officer corps and the views of Walther Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of War. Hindenburg followed Groener on this issue and when Hindenburg resigned, Groener succeeded him. OHL was dissolved as a condition of he treaty and Groener temporarily took over command at Kolberg. He started to organise the establishment of the new peace-time ( Reichswehr ), arguing in favour of a high share of former general staff officers among the new leadership, including in the Reichswehrministerium. He also supported a senior position for Hans von Seeckt. [1] On 30 September, Groener resigned from the army, against the wishes of Friedrich Ebert, Groener felt that his pact with the Social Democrat had cost him the trust of many of his fellow officers. [2]

Political career

After his resignation from the army, Groener moved in and out of retirement during the 1920s. Not a member of any party, at Ebert's request he served as Minister of Transport between 1920 and 1923. His main achievement was the rebuilding of the Reichsbahn . In 1923, when the Cuno government resigned, Groener left politics and wrote military and political treatises, such as Das Testament des Grafen Schlieffen (1927). [1] [2] Hindenburg, Ebert's successor as Reichspräsident, appointed Groener as the successor of Otto Geßler as Minister of Defence on 20 January 1928, a post he held until 1932. [1] Besides expanding the Reichswehr, Groener made an effort to integrate it into the society of the Weimar Republic. [2] In 1930, Groener married Ruth Naeher-Glück (born 1894) in Berlin and had a son. This second marriage and the early birth date of his son undermined Groener's relationship with the conservative Hindenburg. [2]

On 8 October 1931 he became acting Interior Minister in the government of Heinrich Brüning and favoured the banning of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA storm troops). [1] As Interior Minister he was asked to outlaw the SA, whilst his goal as Defence Minister was to integrate it into a national, non-partisan paramilitary force. [1] In April 1932, under pressure from several German states, Groener outlawed the SA and Schutzstaffel (SS). Kurt von Schleicher, his subordinate at the Reichswehrministerium wanted to set up a cooperation with the two groups and worked on Hindenburg, to have Groener dismissed. He also allied himself with the NSDAP. After a rhetorical defeat in the Reichstag, Groener resigned on 13 May as Defence Minister, urged by Schleicher who told Groener that he had lost the trust of the Reichswehr. [1] When the Brüning government fell on 30 May, Groener also lost his position as Innenminister and left politics for good. [1] [2]

Groener moved to Potsdam-Bornstedt in 1934, where he wrote his memoirs, Lebenserinnerungen. [2] Groener died of natural causes in Bornstedt on 3 May 1939. He is buried in the Südwestkirchhof Stahnsdorf, located between Potsdam and Berlin. [5]

Decorations and awards


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 "Biografie Wilhelm Groener (German)". Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Biografie Wilhelm Groener (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on July 11, 2014. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 Haffner, Sebastian (2002). Die deutsche Revolution 1918/19 (German). Kindler. ISBN   3-463-40423-0.
  4. William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, New York, NY, Simon & Schuster, 2011, p. 54
  5. "Südwestkirchhof Stahnsdorf (German)". Märkische Allgemeine. Retrieved 29 May 2013.

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Military offices
Preceded by
Paul von Hindenburg
Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by
Hans von Seeckt
Political offices
Preceded by
Gustav Bauer
Transportation Minister of Germany
Succeeded by
Rudolf Oeser
Preceded by
Otto Geßler
Defence Minister of Germany
Succeeded by
Kurt von Schleicher
Preceded by
Joseph Wirth
Interior Minister of Germany
Succeeded by
Wilhelm Freiherr von Gayl