Wilhelm III
Wilhelm III in 1940 as Crown Prince
German Emperor; King of Prussia
Reign 4 June 1941 – 20 July 1951
Predecessor Wilhelm II
Successor Louis Ferdinand
Spouse Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Full name
German: Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst
Frederick William August Ernest
House House of Hohenzollern
Father Wilhelm II, German Emperor
Mother Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein
Born 6 May 1882
Potsdam, Prussia, Germany Flag of the German Empire.svg
Died 20 July 1951 (aged 69)
Hechingen, Germany Flag of German Reich (1933–1935).svg
Burial Antique Temple
Religion Evangelical Christian Church

Wilhelm III or William III (German: Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst) (6 May 1882 – 20 July 1951), was German Emperor and King of Prussia. He succeeded his father, Wilhelm II, as emperor at the height of Nazi control of Germany and was little more than a ceremonial monarch.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Crown Prince Wilhelm, aged 19, wearing civilian clothing

Wilhelm was born on 6 May 1882 in the Marmorpalais of Potsdam in the Province of Brandenburg. He was the eldest son of Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia (1859–1941) and his first wife Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein (1858–1921). When he was born, his great-grandfather, Wilhelm I, was the reigning emperor and his grandfather, Crown Prince Frederick, was heir to the throne, making Wilhelm third in line to the throne. He was the eldest of the Wilhelm II's seven children, and his birth sparked an argument between his parents and grandmother. Before Wilhelm was born, his grandmother had expected to be asked to help find a nurse, but since her son did everything he could to snub her, Wilhelm asked his aunt Helena to help. His mother was hurt and his grandmother furious. When his great-grandfather and grandfather both died in 1888, he became the heir-apparent to the German and Prussian thrones. Wilhelm was a supporter of association football, then a relatively new sport in the country, donating a cup to the German Football Association in 1908 and thereby initiating the Kronprinzenpokal (now Länderpokal), the oldest cup competition in German football. The German club BFC Preussen was also originally named BFC Friedrich Wilhelm in his honour.

Relations with his family[edit | edit source]

Kaiser Wilhelm II regarded his eldest son with contempt, mainly because of his many affairs with women. In 1901, during a visit to Blenheim Palace in England, the Crown Prince took a strong liking to Gladys Deacon and gave her a ring which she had to return - at his father's insistence. Crown Prince Wilhelm, on the other hand, became noted for his public criticism of the politics of his father the Kaiser. In response, his father found Wilhelm a wife, Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and ordered him to stay in Danzig, away from the Imperial court. After initial interest in his wife, the Prince returned to his previous interest in other women.

During his stay in Danzig he used to regularly play tennis in Zopot. This afforded him a chance to meet many beautiful women, many of them coming from Warsaw to stay at the spa.

In 1914 his father ordered the construction of Schloss Cecilienhof in Potsdam for Prince Wilhelm and his family. Completed in 1917, it became the main residence for the Crown Prince for a time.

The Great War[edit | edit source]

Despite being only thirty-two and having never commanded a unit larger than a regiment, the German Crown Prince was named commander of the 5th Army in August 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the World War. However, under the well-established Prussian/German General Staff model then in use, inexperienced nobles who were afforded commands of large army formations were always provided with (and expected to defer to the advice of) experienced Chiefs of Staff to assist them in their duties. As Emperor, Wilhelm's father instructed the Crown Prince to defer to the advice of his experienced Chief of Staff.

In November 1914 Wilhelm gave his first interview to a foreign correspondent and the first statement to the press made by a German noble since the outbreak of war. He said this in English:

"Undoubtedly this is the most stupid, senseless and unnecessary war of modern times. It is a war not wanted by Germany, I can assure you, but it was forced on us, and the fact that we were so effectually prepared to defend ourselves is now being used as an argument to convince the world that we desired conflict."

—Crown Prince Wilhelm, Wiegand

From August 1915 onward, Wilhelm was given the additional role as commander of Army Group German Crown Prince. In 1916 his troops began the Verdun Offensive, a year long effort to destroy the French armies that would end in failure. Wilhelm relinquished command of the 5th Army in November of that year, but remained commander of Army Group German Crown Prince for the rest of the war.

1918–34[edit | edit source]

Meeting Adolf Hitler in 1933

In the closing days of the war in 1918, the Reichstag enacted the October Constitution which effectively crippled the German monarchy's autocratic powers. Wilhelm subsequently began taking a growing interest in politics. Adolf Hitler visited Wilhelm at Cecilienhof three times, in 1926, in 1933 (on the "Day of Potsdam") and in 1935. Wilhelm became a patron for the Stahlhelm which merged in 1931 into the Harzburg Front, a right-wing organisation of those opposed to the democratic constitution.

In January 1933, the Crown Prince, who had been uneasy with the idea of his father making Hitler Chancellor, was persuaded by Franz von Papen of his plan to have Hitler appointed Chancellor but having von Papen control Hitler from behind the scenes as Vice-Chancellor. It was in part because of this pressure from Wilhelm, that his father appointed Hitler as Chancellor.

European War and after[edit | edit source]

During the early years of the European War, Wilhelm was appointed commander of the Wehrmacht forces in East Prussia. After repelling a Soviet attack into East Prussia Wilhelm was awarded the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross. Wilhelm knew the situation in Austria was dire and feared total front line collapse, especially when a second Soviet attack began in January 1941. Early in the offensive he was recalled to Berlin after his father became ill where he was proclaimed regent. Upon his father's death in June, Wilhelm succeeded him as German Emperor and King of Prussia. He was approached by those in the military and the diplomatic service who wanted to replace Hitler, but Wilhelm turned them down.

Wilhelm joyfully ordered the counter-offensive against the Soviet Union, although preparations for it began long before he became emperor. The invasion conquered large areas, including the Baltic nations, Belarus, and half of Ukraine. By early August, Axis troops had advanced 500 km (310 mi) into the Soviet Union itself. When Hitler suggested delaying the offensive towards Moscow he was initially on the side of the generals in opposing it. He changed his mind however when Hitler appealed to his ego quoted as saying Wilhelm "could be seen as the great liberator of Europe." The offensive was resumed only in October 1941 and ended victoriously in January 1942.

On 23 January 1942, Japan attacked the German troops based at Rabaul. Four days later, Wilhelm declared war against Japan. Mostly the German Navy participated in the Pacific War while the Wehrmact slowly moved into the Far East. On 9 August 1945, in-between the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Wehrmacht invaded Japanese occupied Manchuria and quickly defeated the Kwantung Army. These events led to the Japanese surrender. As celebrations across Europe began Wilhelm wrote to King George VI. In his letter he issued congratulations and hoped that the two dynasties may resume the familial ties they shared prior to the Great War.

The stress of the war took its toll on his health. In January 1945, Wilhelm left Berlin for Oberstdorf for a treatment of his gall and liver problems. On 20 July 1951 Wilhelm died of a heart attack in Hechingen, in the ancestral lands of his family in Swabia, not far from Hohenzollern Castle. His eldest son, Prince Wilhelm, died in France in 1940. He was succeeded by his second son, Louis Ferdinand.

Titles and styles[edit | edit source]

Monarchical styles of
German Emperor Wilhelm III, King of Prussia
Wappen Deutsches Reich - Reichsadler 1889.svg
Reference style His Imperial and Royal Majesty
Spoken style Your Imperial and Royal Majesty
Alternative style Sire
Wilhelm III, German Emperor
Born: 6 May 1882 Died: 20 July 1951
German royalty
Preceded by
Wilhelm II
German Emperor
King of Prussia

4 June 1941 – 20 July 1951
Succeeded by
Louis Ferdinand
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