Zulu Hitler


During the first world war two generals, Paul Von Hindenberg and Erich Ludendorff, rose to pre-eminence in Germany, and became virtual dictators of the country.  Ludendorff first became known in the early days of the war when he commanded the assault on the Belgian fortresses at Liege, capturing the forts within 48 hours.  Shortly thereafter Germany was threatened on its eastern borders by huge Russian armies, and Ludendorff was named chief of staff to the elderly Paul von Hindenberg, who was called out of retirement to command the defense.  (Hindenberg's first military action was in the Seven Weeks War of 1866.)  Under this leadership team (and with the assistance of Colonel Hoffmann) the German army won a spectacular victory at Tannenberg, in which a whole Russian army was encircled and annihilated.  The battle was actually centered on another village, Frogenau, but it was given the name of Tannenberg to avenge the medieval loss of the Teutonic knights to the Poles in 1410, thereby enhancing its mythic significance.


Thereafter the prestige of the two generals, Hindenberg and Ludendorff, continued to grow, and by the end of the war this partnership virtually ruled Germany, in both military and civilian matters.  (Some insiders slyly referred to Hindenberg as General Was Sagst Du, because whenever he was asked a question he would turn to his chief of staff and say "What says you, Ludendorff?")  They worked so closely together that they came to be regarded as, in some sense, almost a single entity, and their edicts were signed simply with the initials HL.


This reminds me of the conventional reference point for longitude on the earth's surface.  By international agreement the line of reference is taken to be the line passing through Greenwich, England.  This is called Zero Longitude, and every other longitude is referenced to this location.  The designation is sometimes abbreviated as ZL, but it has become more common to use the word "Zulu", possibly because a single word with vowels separating the consonants is more memorable or easier to pronounce.  It may also be a result of the interesting human tendency to jargonize expressions.  (As far as I know, there is no connection between this terminology and the Zulu tribe of Africa.)  Whatever the reason, the standard time reference, representing the time in Greenwich, England on the 24-hour scale, is commonly called Zulu Time.


Following the first world war, the impression was widespread in Germany that their armies had not actually lost the war, but had been "stabbed in the back" by disloyal persons within the country (primarily Communists, Freemasons, and Jews).  The prestige of the legendary duo, Hindenberg and Ludendorff, somehow emerged from the debacle largely undiminished.  After writing his memoirs in Sweden, Ludendorff returned to Germany in 1919, and began to preach a new "Nordic" religion, as well as vilifying all the internationalist groups that had stabbed Germany in the back.  In the early 1920's he became associated with a former army corporal, Adolph Hitler, and the emerging Nazi party.  (The word Nazi, of course, is a jargonization of Nationalsozialistische, the German word for "National Socialist".)  Ludendorff even participated in Hitler's failed putsch in 1923, although subsequently he came to despise Hitler.  Hindenberg, for his part, was elected President of the German Republic, in which capacity he was maneuvered into naming Hitler as chancellor.  When Hindenberg died in 1934, Hitler succeeded him as President, assuming supreme command of the armed forces, while retaining the chancellorship.  By the time of Ludendorff’s death in 1937, Hitler was the unchallenged dictator of Germany.


Return to MathPages Main Menu