Because of his foppish and dandified appearance, emphasised by the cigarette holder he always used, the Crown Prince was regarded by the British during the Great War as a figure of ridicule, known to them as ‘Little Willy’. He was born in Potsdam on 6 May 1882, the eldest of Kaiser, and his memoirs begin with his childhood and early years and the development of his relations with his father, a somewhat remote figure though he notes that as time went on he often found himself being approached to use his position to make representations to the Kaiser. He was commissioned into the First Foot Guards and later was given command of a squadron of the Garde du Corps (the elite cavalry regiment) and then, to broaden his military experience, he took command of a battery of the 1st Regiment of Field Artillery and finally he was appointed commanding officer of the Life Guard Hussar Regiment – the Death’s Head Hussars. When war came he was given command of the Fifth Army with General Schmidt von Knobelsdorf as his chief of staff, and it was his army that launched the Verdun offensive in February 1916 .As you read on the more it becomes clear trhat he was, in fact, far from his caricature. He was well aware of the enormous prestige attached to his person as son of the All-Highest and he did not hesitate to make use of it, in the political and military scene. He played no small part in the downfall of the Chancellor, von Bethman Hollweg, in 1917. In the aftermath of Ludendorff’s resignation he urged the Kaiser not to appoint Groener in his place, a man he regarded as a defeatist whom he disliked and mistrusted. He also maintained that the German army was not defeated at the Marne; it was withdrawn by its leaders. The battle was lost because the High Command gave it up as lost. When Moltke’s emissary, Lt Col von Hentsch, doing his rounds of the Army commanders ordering them to fall back, arrived at Fifth Army HQ, the Crown Prince refused point blank to comply without a written authority, which Hentsch did not have. And even when von Moltke himself turned up, “struggling to repress his tears” and demanded the instant withdrawal of Fifth Army, Wilhelm, after a lengthy argument still refused to go until he was ready. Moltke, apparently, left in tears. The imagination boggles at the thought of Haig tearfully imploring Rawlinson to obey orders, and the latter standing there, arms folded and saying:”Shan’t!”
MEMOIRS OF THE CROWN PRINCE OF GERMANY
This is the autobiography of the Crown Prince Wilhelm from his earliest days to his departure to Holland immediately after the armistice. An enlightening picture of the political and military scene in Germany during the Great War.