Armistice Day 1918: People celebrating the end of the First World War at Trafalgar Square, in London
The fighting in World War I ended in Western Europe when the Armistice took effect at 11:00 am GMT on November 11, 1918, and in Eastern Europe by the early 1920s. During and in the aftermath of the war, the political, cultural, and social order was drastically changed in Europe, Asia and Africa, even outside the areas directly involved in the war. New countries were formed, old ones were abolished, international organizations were established, and many new and old ideologies took a firm hold in people's minds.
Throughout the period from the armistice on November 11, 1918 until the signing of the peace treaty with Germany on June 28, 1919, the Allies maintained the naval blockade of Germany that had begun during the war. As Germany was dependent on imports, it is estimated that 523,000 civilians had lost their lives during the war, and a quarter-million more died from disease or starvation in this eight month period.
The terms of the Armistice did allow food to be shipped into Germany, but the Allies required that Germany provide the ships. The German government was required to use its gold reserves, being unable to secure a loan from the United States.
Signing of Treaty of Versailles
The blockade was not lifted until early July 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed by most of the combatant nations.
After the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, between Germany on the one side and France, Italy, Britain and other minor allied powers on the other side, officially ended war between those countries. Other treaties ended the belligerent relationships of the United States and the other Central Powers.
Included in the 440 articles of Treaty of Versailles were the demands that Germany officially accept responsibility for starting the war and pay heavy economic reparations. This treaty drastically limited the German military machine: the German troops were reduced to 100,000 and the country was prevented from possessing major military armament such as tanks, warships, and submarines.
Europe Map after World War I
There were some general consequences from the creation of a large number of new small states in Eastern Europe as a result of the dissolution of the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and (a little earlier) Ottoman empires, and the regional disturbance of the Russian Civil War. Internally these new states tended to have substantial ethnic minorities, which wished to unite with neighbouring states where their ethnicity dominated.
The League of Nations sponsored various Minority Treaties in an attempt to deal with the problem, but with the decline of the League in the 1930s these treaties became increasingly unenforceable. One consequence of the massive redrawing of borders and the political changes in the aftermath of World War I was the large number of European refugees.
Economic and military cooperation amongst these small states was minimal ensuring that the defeated powers of Germany and the Soviet Union retained a latent capacity to dominate the region. In the immediate aftermath of the war, defeat drove cooperation between Germany and the Soviet Union but ultimately these two powers would compete to dominate Eastern Europe.
Inflation out of control in Germany after World War I
In Germany, there was a socialist revolution which led to the brief establishment of a number of communist political systems in (mainly urban) parts of the country, the abdication of the Kaiser, and the creation of the Weimar Republic.
On 28 June 1919, Germany, which was not allowed representation, was not present to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Germany was forced to pay 132 billion marks ($31.5 billion, 6.6 billion pounds) in reparations (a very large amount for its day which was finally paid off in October, 2010). It was followed by the Inflation in the Weimar Republic, a period of hyperinflation in Germany between 1921 and 1923. On December 1922 the Reparations Commission declared Germany in default, and on 11 January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr until 1925.
Germany saw relatively small amounts of territory transferred to Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium, a larger amount to France and the greatest portion as part of re-established Poland.
Germany's overseas colonies were divided amongst a number of Allied countries. It was the loss of territory that now constituted part of Poland that caused by far the greatest resentment. Nazi propaganda would feed on a general German view that the treaty was unfair—many Germans never accepted the treaty as legitimate, and later gave their political support to Adolf Hitler, who was arguably the first national politician to both speak out and take action against the treaty's conditions.
Nations that gained territory:
Yugoslavia (as the successor state of the Kingdom of Serbia);
Romania, Greece, France, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and United Kingdom, with League of Nations Mandates;
Nations that lost territory:
Germany – forced to give it up after the Treaty of Versailles;
Weimar Germany (as the successor state of the German Empire);
China – Jiaozhou Bay and most of Shandong in North China forcibly ceded to the Japanese Empire;
Russian SFSR (as the successor state of the Russian Empire);
Austria (as the successor state of Cisleithania and the Austro-Hungarian Empire);
Hungary (as the successor state of Transleithania and the Austro-Hungarian Empire);
Turkey (as the successor state of the Ottoman Empire);
United Kingdom – most of Ireland as the Irish Free State.
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties.
Although the armistice signed on 11 November 1918 ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty.
Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required Germany to accept sole responsibility for causing the war and, under the terms of articles 231–248 (later known as the War Guilt clauses), to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. The total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion, £6.6 billion) in 1921.
Article 227 charges former German Emperor, Wilhelm II, with supreme offense against international morality. He is to be tried as a war criminal.
Articles 228–230 tried many other Germans as war criminals.
Article 231 (the "War Guilt Clause") lays sole responsibility for the war on Germany, which is to be accountable for all damage to civilian populations of the Allies.
Signing the Treaty of Versailles
Part V of the treaty begins with the preamble: "In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations, Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval and air clauses which follow...".
Germany was also forbidden to unite with Austria to form a larger Nation to make up for the lost land.
The Rhineland will become a demilitarized zone administered by Great Britain and France jointly.
German armed forces will number no more than 100,000 troops, and conscription will be abolished.
Enlisted men will be retained for at least 12 years; officers to be retained for at least 25 years.
German naval forces will be limited to 15,000 men, 6 battleships, 6 cruisers, 6 destroyers and 12 torpedo boats. No submarines are to be included.
The manufacture, import and export of weapons and poison gas are prohibited.
Armed aircraft, tanks and armoured cars are prohibited.
Blockades on ships are prohibited.
Restrictions on the manufacture of machine guns and rifles.
Germany's borders in 1919 had been established nearly a half-century earlier, at the country's official establishment in 1871. Territory and cities in the region had changed hands repeatedly for centuries, including at various times being owned by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Sweden, Kingdom of Poland, and Kingdom of Lithuania. However, Germany laid claim to lands and cities that it viewed as historically "Germanic" centuries before Germany's establishment as a country in 1871. Other countries disputed Germany's claim to this territory. In the peace treaty, Germany agreed to return disputed lands and cities to various countries.
Germany was compelled to yield control of its colonies, and would also lose a number of European territories.
The province of West Prussia would be ceded to the restored Poland, thereby granting it access to the Baltic Sea via the "Polish Corridor" which Prussia had annexed in the Partitions of Poland. This turned East Prussia into an exclave, separated from mainland Germany.
Alsace and much of Lorraine, both originally German-speaking territories, were part of France, having been annexed by France's King Louis XIV who desired the Rhine as a natural border. After approximately two centuries of French rule, Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine were ceded to Germany in 1871 under the Treaty of Frankfurt. In 1919 both regions were returned to France.
Northern Schleswig was returned to Denmark following a plebiscite on 14 February 1920. Central Schleswig, including the city of Flensburg, opted to remain German in a separate referendum on 14 March 1920.
Most of the Prussian provinces of Province of Posen (now Poznan) and of West Prussia which Prussia had annexed in the Partitions of Poland (1772–1795) were ceded to Poland without a plebiscite. Most of the Province of Posen had already come under Polish control during the Great Polish Uprising of 1918–1919.
The Hultschin area of Upper Silesia was transferred to Czechoslovakia without a plebiscite.
The eastern part of Upper Silesia was assigned to Poland, despite the Upper Silesia plebiscite resulting in 717,122 votes being cast for Germany and 483,514 for Poland.
The area of the towns Eupen and Malmedy went to Belgium despite a plebiscite to the contrary. The Vennbahn railway was also transferred to Belgium.
The area of Soldau in East Prussia, an important railway junction on the Warsaw-Danzig route, was transferred to Poland without a plebiscite.
The northern part of East Prussia known as the Memelland or Memel Territory was placed under the control of France and was later annexed by Lithuania.
From the eastern part of West Prussia and the southern part of East Prussia, after the East Prussian plebiscite a small area was ceded to Poland.
The province of Saarland was to be a under the control of the League of Nations for 15 years, after which a plebiscite between France and Germany, was to decide to which country it would belong. During this time, coal would be sent to France.
The strategically important port of Danzig with the delta of the Vistula River on the Baltic Sea was separated from Germany as the Freie Stadt Danzig (Free City of Danzig). This created the so-called Polish Corridor, giving Poland access to the sea.
Austria was forbidden from merging with Germany.
In article 22, German Colonies were divided between Belgium, the United Kingdom, and certain British Dominions, France, and Japan with the determination not to see any of them returned to Germany — a guarantee secured by Article 119.
In Africa, Britain and France divided German Kamerun (Cameroons) and Togoland. Belgium gained Ruanda-Urundi in northwestern German East Africa. Great Britain obtained by far the greater landmass of this colony, thus gaining the 'missing link' in the chain of British possessions stretching from South Africa to Egypt (Cape to Cairo). Portugal received the Kionga Triangle, a sliver of German East Africa. German South West Africa was mandated to the Union of South Africa.
In the Pacific, Japan gained Germany's islands north of the equator (the Marshall Islands, the Carolines, the Marianas and the Palau Islands) and Kiauchau in China.
German Samoa was assigned to New Zealand. German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Nauru to Australia as mandatory.