Ulrich Wille

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General Wille (1914-1918)
Ulrich Wille, painted in 1916 by Ferdinand Hodler
Ulrich Wille in the color of the Corps Tigurinia Zurich
Ulrich Wille on horseback in front of his house in Meilen

Ulrich Wille (born April 5, 1848 as Conrad Ulrich Sigmund Wille in Hamburg , † January 31, 1925 in Meilen ZH ) was a general in the Swiss Army during the First World War .


Origin, family, education

Ulrich Willes paternal ancestors named Vuille came from La Sagne in today's canton of Neuchâtel . The great-great-grandfather Henry Vuille married around 1740 in Zweibrücken in the Holy Roman Empire . In 1849 Ulrich Wille's parents, François Wille , journalist and member of the preliminary parliament of the Frankfurt Parliament, and the writer Eliza Wille moved to Switzerland as a result of the failed liberal revolution. They acquired the Mariafeld estate in Meilen , which has remained in the possession of the Wille family to this day.

Ulrich Wille attended elementary school in Meilen, but not the Cantonal School in Zurich. He prepared for university with private lessons and in an institute in Stäfa . The law school he graduated from the University of Zurich (where he in 1865 for participating in a duel the Consilium abeundi was granted), Halle and Heidelberg , where he in 1869 received his doctorate . In Zurich he joined the Corps Tigurinia in 1865 and the Corps Borussia in Halle in 1866 .

Wille was married to the German Countess Clara von Bismarck (1851-1946), the daughter of Friedrich Wilhelm Graf von Bismarck and sister of the officer and horse breeder August Graf von Bismarck . They had two daughters and three sons, of whom the Hitler-friendly Ulrich Wille junior also became corps commander . One of his daughters was the horse athlete and amateur photographer Renée Schwarzenbach-Wille . She was the mother of his granddaughter, the writer and travel journalist Annemarie Schwarzenbach , a friend of Erika and Klaus Mann . Wille lived in the Mariafeld estate at (today) General-Wille-Strasse 165 in Meilen.

Military career

Ulrich Wille's military career began in 1867 with the artillery and, after having passed training courses, earned him the appointment of lieutenant in the same year . Wille immediately reported as an instructor, but was only able to join the artillery instruction corps in the summer of 1870 after the border occupation in 1870, which he took part in as a lieutenant. His approaches to training, which were revolutionary for Switzerland, quickly made a name for themselves. Wille was able to hold out thanks to the support of the chief instructor of the artillery, Colonel Hermann Bleuler , and the chief of the federal artillery, Hans Herzog . Wille was promoted in quick succession: in 1874 to captain , in 1877 to major and in 1881 to lieutenant colonel . He published numerous papers on what he believed to be an urgent reform of the Swiss army, especially in the magazine for the Swiss artillery that he took over in 1880 .

On September 8, 1883, Ulrich Wille was appointed Chief Instructor of the Cavalry by the Federal Council , where, as in the artillery, he immediately pushed ahead with conflict-ridden reforms. He advocated a consistent modernization of the Swiss army based on the Prussian model . The aim of training the militiamen should be to educate the citizen to become a modern soldier by means of drill and discipline. This brought him into conflict with the supporters of the traditional civil army, who considered Willes' methods to be incompatible with a democratic state and spoke of the army being "forced" and "soldier dragging". Nevertheless, he was promoted to colonel in 1885 and achieved through a confrontation with the chief of arms of the cavalry, Colonel Gottlieb Zehnder , that he resigned in 1891 and the posts of chief of arms were merged with that of the chief instructor. The political intrigues and quarrels about himself finally forced Wille in 1896 to seek his release from the instruction corps. In the same year he ran unsuccessfully in the National Council elections .

After his release, he took over the management of the military science department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and taught on war history, army organization, tactics and military training. The Federal Council gave Ulrich Wille the command of the 6th Division in 1900 and of the 3rd Army Corps in 1904 . As a troop leader, he was particularly exemplary in terms of his maneuver planning and major troop exercises. The new military organization of the Swiss Army in 1907 was strongly influenced by Willes' ideas, which he had disseminated since 1901 as editor of the Allgemeine Schweizerische Militär-Zeitung .

The major maneuvering exercise ( imperial maneuver ) led by Ulrich Wille as commander of the 3rd Army Corps on the occasion of the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in autumn 1912 had given all foreign guests (including the French military attaché ) the impression that the Swiss Army took the protection of neutrality seriously and would try to fulfill this mandate.

General in World War I and national strike

After the outbreak of World War I, Wille was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Swiss Army in the intrigue-laden general election of August 3, 1914 after Wille himself requested the withdrawal of Theophil Sprecher , who was ported by the parliamentary groups . Theophil Sprecher remained in his post as Chief of the General Staff . The choice of the new commanding officer was particularly controversial in French-speaking Switzerland and among the Social Democrats .

Wille was a polarizing figure due to his open sympathy for the German Empire , his hard line in matters of discipline and his authoritarian ideas about the state. During active service he promoted monotonous drill exercises and grueling marches as well as practices of draconian disciplinary punishment of soldiers with hard work and drill. On the other hand, he repeatedly made use of his right to pardon in cases of convicted officers and also intervened directly in military jurisdiction in favor of officers, including in the case of a first lieutenant who was accused of sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl.

In July 1915, in a so-called "saber-rassler letter" to the pro-German Federal Councilor Arthur Hoffmann , Wille described the time as suitable for Switzerland to enter the war on the side of the German Reich. In 1915/16, in the Obersten affair , which put a heavy strain on relations between the language groups, the general covered two general staff officers who had carried out intelligence services for Germany and Austria-Hungary.

In the second half of the war, Wille increasingly spread rumors of the revolution and, contrary to the facts, claimed that at the Zimmerwald and Kiental conferences a revolution in Switzerland had already been decided in 1915/16. Due to his repeated demands to the Federal Council for a military presence against the workers, the majority of researchers ascribe considerable responsibility for the outbreak of the state strike. On November 4, 1918, in a letter to the Federal Council (so-called “Wille Memorial”), Wille painted the “possibility of a sudden, unexpected outbreak of a revolution” in Switzerland and asked the Federal Council for a massive military presence in the big cities to shoo this rabble back into its lair ». At the same time, he withdrew the previous occupation forces from Zurich in order to demonstrate to the Zurich cantonal government that it was dependent on the army command. On November 5, the Zurich government council, frightened by this, asked for troop protection and the Federal Council ordered a military occupation of Zurich. This escalation finally led to the start of the national strike on November 12th. Contrary to the general's urging, the Federal Council decided not to arrest the strike leadership immediately. After the strike was broken off, a large parade of the troops of order took place in Zurich on November 16 in the presence of Willes and Emil Sonderegger as a military victory celebration. When Wille resigned as general on December 11, 1918, his services were owed, but not his report on active service.


On one of the largest weapons courses in Switzerland in Bure (Jura) one's barracks named after Will. On the Spittelfeld shooting range (near Olten), the General Wille House is used by the army in summer and operated by the Swiss Alpine Club in winter .

Willes estate is partly in the Federal Archives, another part is family-owned and not accessible to research. In the spring of 1987, Niklaus Meienberg wrote a critical, widely acclaimed portrait of Wille and his family for Weltwoche . As Die Welt als Wille & Wahn , it was published in book form in the autumn of the same year. Meienberg relied on photographs of unpublished letters from Willes to his wife, which Meienberg had made of a decorative item in an exhibition without permission. Meienberg described in the book on the one hand that the general was pro-German, which was well known, but also that he had an anti-democratic sentiment, which was "suspected" in the words of the NZZ. The then critical historian and deputy editor-in-chief of the NZZ, Alfred Cattani , called the book a pamphlet , but agreed with Meienberg that the family's archive should be published. This did not happen until 2018, which is why, according to the NZZ, there is still no critical biography. In the course of historical-political attempts to instrumentalize the state strike on the part of right-wing circles, there were attempts to transfigure Willes in 2018.


  • Hermann Böschenstein: Federal Councilor and General in the First World War , in: Swiss Journal for History 10 (1960). Pp. 515-532.
  • Documents on the national general strike in 1918 , in: Schweizer Monatshefte 48 (1968/69). Pp. 833-860.
  • Daniel M. Frey: Before the revolution? Security service - deployment of the army during the national strike in Zurich . Zurich 1998.
  • Hans Rudolf Fuhrer , Paul Meinrad Strässle (ed.): General Ulrich Wille. Example for one - enemy for the other . Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zurich 2003, ISBN 3-85823-998-4 .
  • Willi Gautschi (ed.): Documents on the national strike in 1918 , Zurich 1971: Benziger.
  • Peter Hauser : General Ulrich Wille as a corps student . In: Einst und Jetzt 58 (2013), pp. 141–158.
  • Carl Helbling : General Ulrich Wille. Biography . Fretz & Wasmuth, Zurich 1957.
  • Rudolf Jaun : Prussia before your eyes. The Swiss officer corps in the military and social change of the fin de siècle . Chronos, Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-905313-11-1 .
  • Bruno Lezzi : 1914. General Ulrich Wille and the readiness of the Swiss army for war (= studies on military history, military science and conflict research . Volume 13). Biblio Verlag, Osnabrück 1975, ISBN 3-7648-1059-9 .
  • Niklaus Meienberg : The world as will & madness. Elements related to the natural history of a clan . 5th edition, Limmat-Verlag, Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-85791-128-X .
  • Lea Moliterni Eberle: «Don't let my life be lost!» Requests for pardon to General Wille in the First World War . NZZ Libro, Zurich 2019.
  • Michael Olsansky (Ed.): On the edge of the storm: The Swiss military in World War I (= Ares series, Bd. 4). Baden 2018.
  • Edgar Schumacher (Ed.): General Wille. Collected Writings . Fretz & Wasmuth, Zurich 1941.
  • Edgar Schumacher: General Wille and the home . In: Allgemeine Schweizerische Militärzeitschrift 130 (1964) 8, pp. 500–503.
  • Edgar Schumacher: General Ulrich Wille. A reflection on the centenary . In: Schweizer Monatshefte 28 (1948/49) 1, pp. 1–10.
  • Edgar Schumacher: General Ulrich Wille. His way to the war sufficient militia. With a selection of documents from the general's manuscript . Atlantis-Verlag, Zurich 1940.
  • Daniel spokesman: The general election of August 3, 1914 . In: Swiss Journal for History 52 (2002) 2, pp. 163–193 ( full text ).
  • Daniel spokesman: How the Federal Council and the army reacted to the national strike of 1918 . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , November 11, 2018.

Web links

Commons : Ulrich Wille  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

References and comments

  1. Matriculation Edition University of Zurich; accessed April 21, 2017
  2. Kösener Corpslisten 1960, 144/100; 96/288.
  3. The soldier educator . In: Coop newspaper . No. 40/1999.
  4. ^ Adrian Müller: Shot deaf, beaten to the wreck - how Swiss soldiers used to be tortured. In: watson.ch from October 19, 2018.
  5. ^ Daniel spokesman: Intrigues, delays and an evening Canossagang , NZZ, August 2, 2017
  6. Daniel Speaker: Language Boundaries: The Strengthening of the Romands In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of August 12, 2016
  7. Sebastian Steiner: Under martial law. Swiss military justice 1914–1921 . Zurich: Chronos Verlag 2018, pp. 134–137
  8. ^ Böschenstein, Hermann: Federal Councilor and General in World War I , in: Swiss Journal for History 10 (1960). Pp. 515-532
  9. Documents on the national general strike in 1918 , in: Schweizer Monatshefte 48 (1968/69). Pp. 833-860
  10. https://www.bar.admin.ch/bar/de/home/service-publikationen/publikationen/geschichte-aktuell/landesgeneralstreik--11--bis-14--november-1918.html
  11. https://sac-olten.ch/huetten/general-wille-haus/
  12. Thomas Feitknecht: "You have to keep your eyes open." ( Memento from September 12, 2012 in the web archive archive.today ) In: Tages-Anzeiger from December 15, 2005.
  13. The General and his sharpest critic , Neue Zürcher Zeitung of February 19, 2018, p. 13
  14. Christoph Mörgeli : The equal . In: Weltwoche from January 4, 2018. P. 27