von Hindenburg's Telegram to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg

Translation courtesy of Dirk Steffen (DSteffen709@aol.com).

General Staff of the Army Great Headquarters, 23 December 1916

Reg. No. 16340 P.

To the Imperial Chancellor (Telegram)

Following the exchange of telegrams between General Ludendorff and Secretary of State Zimmermann regarding the submarine campaign, I emphasize my views to vis-à-vis your Excellency that from the military point of view we must not lose any more time in order to begin with the agreed torpedoing of armed enemy merchantmen.

The Entente powers are waging this war with all available means. There can be no doubt, following the outright rebuff we have received from all [their] parliaments. Even the Wilson's efforts cannot change this if our adversaries wish to remain faithful to their commitments. I believe the offer [of peace] is an English ploy. At any rate we can no longer respond to it in view of the national sentiment and regarding our favourable military position. It would be a grave and inexcusable mistake, if we fell for this delaying measure.

The army, which is locked in mortal combat with the enemy, would feel the same. Officers and men expect the ruthless use of all available force. The morale in the army must not be ignored, lest it should lose its fighting spirit.

Therefore, I ask your Excellency to take this into consideration when undertaking relevant diplomatic steps.

England is unlikely to be defeated by the torpedoing of armed merchantmen alone. Stronger measures have to be put into place to break England's will.

At the conference at Pless at the end of August [1916] your Excellency indicated that you would make the decision for unrestricted submarine warfare subject to my declaration that I considered the situation favourable from a military point of view. The situation will be favourable at the end of January. Our victory in Romania will be consolidated by then. On the other hand, we must not give the enemy more time to prepare himself for the decisive encounter on the continent.

Holland, Denmark and the Nordic states should be allowed a free passage to the north of England. Whether we will afford the same consideration to America remains to be seen. The efficacy of the unrestricted submarine campaign must not be impaired by it. I explicitly reserve myself the right for a final decision on that issue. The diplomatic and military preparations for the unrestricted submarine campaign have to commence immediately, in order to ensure its timely beginning at the end of January.

I request your Excellency to enter in discussions with the Supreme Command and the Chief of the Admiral Staff without delay.

(Signed) von Hindenburg

Last Updated: 23 January, 2003.

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