Here are ten interesting facts about the Armistice, that ended WW II.
1- The Kiel Mutiny and German Revolution was the final blow to the German Empire
The German Empire was in a desperate position and many knew that The Great War was not winnable. Some Imperial Army commanders still had schemes for victory and the Imperial Navy wanted to engage the British Royal Navy in a decisive battle, but on November 3rd, 1918, the sailors of Germany’s High Seas Fleet revolted in the Kiel Mutiny.
The revolt spread through all of Germany and in a few days Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and the transition to the Weimar Republic began. On November 10th, Chief of the General Staff Paul von Hindenburg instructed the German delegation currently negotiating the terms of the Armistice to sign whatever terms and conditions and quickly due, to growing riots and unrest at home.
2 – While many leaders were happy to end the fighting with an armistice, some wanted more
Though the Armistice ending World War I was essentially a German surrender, it still can’t quite be called true peace. And even if one calls it a peace, it wasn’t truly a full defeat, a complete victory.
General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, for one example, even after it was obvious the military might of the Allies was heavily beating Germany’s forces, he wanted to crush the Germans, believing that only their total defeat would keep the nations of Europe from fighting again before long.
3 – At 5:12 AM on November 11th, 1918, the Armistice was signed in Marshal Foch’s train car
In the Forest of Compiègne sat French Marshal and Allied Supreme Command Ferdinand Jean Marie Foch’s private train and the railcar where Western Allied and German commanders and politicians signed the agreement to cease hostilities.
The French turned the car into a monument. When Hitler returned to France with Nazi Germany’s invasion a little of two decades later, he forced the French to sign the surrender of their country in the exact same car. He later ordered it blown up to avoid a similar symbolic gesture returned in kind to Germany.
4 – Though the Armistice was signed just after 5:00 AM, fighting went on for several more hours
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was agreed as the time hostilities between Germany and the Western Allies would end. Fighting continued up until the last minute. Future American president Harry S. Truman, now an artillery captain, kept his battery firing until the final moments.
5 – Much of the Armistice was built on American President Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points”
In a speech on January 8th, 1918, Wilson outlined his principles for peace and the end to the war between the major nations of the Western world in 14 points. These points included Germany evacuating troops from occupied areas, the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires into separate nations, to be free and autonomous, and the understanding of self-determination for many countries.
Where self-determination was a condition that worked out well for many countries, places like south-eastern Europe would struggle with this for decades to come as various peoples sought to govern themselves. Likewise, the Middle East has also struggled to work with and maintain the borders set up by European leaders in secret agreements after the war.
6 – The Armistice, understandably, was very unfavorable to Germany
Among the Armistice’s 35 terms were the cessation of all hostilities by 11:00 AM the same day, the immediate removal of all German troops from territories outside of Germany’s August 1st, 1914 borders, and the return of all POWs held by Germany.
Upon signing, Germany was also required to disarm their High Seas Fleet and surrender all their submarines to Allied powers. The Allied naval blockade of Germany was to stay in place while armistice was in effect, however.
Furthermore, the terms stated that Allied armies were to occupy 30 km bridgeheads in several places along the Rhine river for which Germany was to pay for. The general outline for war reparations from Germany to be paid to Allied nations for damage and the cost of the war was also included.
7 – Paris Celebrated victory
That morning, flags were unfurled and bells rang out across Paris. Hundreds of students gathered at the Ministry of War and Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau came out to proclaim “Vive la France!” and the whole crowd cried the same.
8 – When the ceasefire took effect at 11:00 AM, celebration on the front looked quite different
There was some cheers and happiness among the troops and even some men that crossed the line to celebrate with their former enemy. But, for the most part, the troops were sombre, quiet and exhausted after a long war. According to Jörn Leonhard, one British corporal recalled “…the Germans came from their trenches, bowed to us and then went away. That was it. There was nothing with which we could celebrate, except cookies” .
9 – These are the names of the last soldiers killed in each army on the Western Front
- George Edward Ellison, a British soldier killed at 9:30 AM
- Augustin Trébuchon, a French soldier killed at 10:45 AM
- George Lawrence Price, a Canadian soldier killed at 10:58 AM
- Henry Gunther, an American soldier killed at 10:59 AM
- Lt. Tomas, a German who was killed after the 11:00 AM deadline by American troops who didn’t receive word of the ceasefire.
10 – The “stab in the back” myth was born
This myth, exploited by the Nazi’s in their rise to power, began when German troops started coming home. Many, especially right-wing nationalists, believed that the forces of Germany had not been defeated, but undermined and betrayed by the new civilian government of the Weimar Republic trying to seize full power.
However, the facts are against this notion, are that the Imperial Army and Navy no longer supported the Kaiser, the Navy was in full mutiny, and the people of Germany were rioting and starving with various Socialist and Bolshevik groups trying to stage a revolution.
By Colin Fraser for War History Online