The official end of the Great War Remembered.
Signed at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, the text set out 240 pages, 15 parts and 440 punishing articles that crippled Germany economically and morally.
The treaty, negotiated between January and June 1919 in Paris, was written by the Allies. Although representatives of nearly 30 nations attended, the peace terms essentially were written by the leaders of the United Kingdom, United States and France who along with Italy, formed the “Big Four” that governed the proceedings, with almost no participation by the Germans and her defeated allies.
Up to the last moment is was uncertain whether the Germans would put their signature to the document; and the factor which decided them to do so was that the Allies were prepared to take drastic action.
Marshal Foch, Supreme Command of the Allied Forces on the Western Front had made all the preparations. The British, Americans and Belgians on the Lower Rhine were to move forward a distance of 60 miles at a single bound. The French Army, based on Mayence, would advance up the valley of the Main and join hands with the Czechoslovaks. The latter would draw a line of iron cross the south of Germany, which would be continued by the Poles on the East. The whole of the German coast-line from Danzig to Bremen would be blockaded by the British fleet. By this means Germany would have been completely enclosed in an iron net, and there is little doubt that she would have been strangled into submission.
All the plans were worked out in detail, and the scheme was to be put into operation on what was called “J” Day. Fortunately, the Germans signed, and the troops were able to stand down and carry on with their more peaceful pursuits.
Germans loathed the treaty, referring to it as the “Diktat” or dictated peace, “take it or leave it”. The first democratically elected head of government, following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm, refused to sign it and resigned. His successor, following advice that the German Army could not resume hostilities if the Government were to reject the treaty, recommended that the National Assembly sign the treaty.
The war to end all wars was over. It was now time to count the cost of this most bloody of conflicts and mourn the dead.
Ultimately more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history. More than 9 million combatants were killed, largely because of great technological advances in firepower without corresponding advances in mobility. It was the sixth deadliest conflict in world history, subsequently paving the way for various political changes such as revolutions in the nations involved.
Here are some of the key provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
1) The War Guilt clause; Germany must accept responsibility for damages and losses incurred as a result of the war and caused as a consequence of their aggression and her allies. 132 billion Marks was the eventual total assessed in 1921.
2) Military restrictions; the clauses herein were intended to make the Reichswehr (German Armed Forces) incapable of offensive action and promote international disarmament. Demobilisation of soldiers down to a level of 100,000 in a maximum of seven infantry and 3 cavalry divisions. Forbidden from manufacturing or stockpiling chemical weapons, armoured cars, tanks and aircraft. The navy was allowed to retain only 6 pre-Dreadnought battleships, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, 12 torpedo boats and was forbidden from manufacturing or utilising submarines. An air force for either service was also outlawed. The Rhineland, a strip of land in the Northwest of Germany along the Rhine River, was demilitarised to create a buffer zone between Belgium, France and Germany.
3) Territorial changes; Germany was stripped of some 25,000 square miles of territory and subsequently lost almost 7 million people. The treaty forced Germany to relinquish its gains in the Brest-Litvosk treaty following the Russian surrender and give up the city of Danzig to the League of Nations. All German colonies were to be renounced and converted into League of Nations mandates under the control of Allied states like Britain and France.
The enmity to which the treaty was held in Germany was the catalyst for the subsequent rise of the Nazis. The competing interests of the British, French and Americans resulted in the treaty neither pacifying, conciliating, nor permanently weakening Germany. When Hitler ordered the flagrant disregard of the treaty by building, tanks, aircraft, battleships and re-occupying the Rhineland, he did it to thunderous applause that would plunge the world into another 6 years of brutal war.
Marshal Ferdinand Foch, supreme commander of the Allied armies during the First World War said of the Treaty of Versailles; "This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years". How accurate his assessment would prove to be as the Second World War started 20 years and 64 days later.
Did you know that the Treaty of Versailles was signed on the anniversary of the very incident that sparked World War One?
On 28th June 1914, the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne was shot, along with his wife Sophie, by Serbian Nationalist Gavrilo Princip. Exactly 5 years later, in 1919, the signing of the treaty between the Allied powers and Germany ended one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. Would Princip have thought twice about unleashing the fatal shot, if he had known what chaos would ensue?
World History published an article that discussed a book by historian Richard Ned Lebow, professor of international political theory at King's College London, called "Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World Without World War I." According to the article, this book theorises that, without World War I, World War II would never have happened, and in the resulting peace Germany would have instead invested its considerable resources into becoming a world leader in culture; the US would never have entered the war, so would even now be a distant power rather than a close ally of the United Kingdom. The site adds: ‘The United States would have remained more isolated, less intertwined with the rest of the world, and also less tolerant of the rights of women, blacks, Jews and other minority groups. There wouldn’t have been a President Barack Obama, nor a President John F. Kennedy. At the same time, there wouldn't have been nuclear weapons, computers and possibly even the Internet. Why? Military spending drove all of these technological advancements.’
There’s no real way of knowing how the world would, or would not, have been different if Gavrilo Princip had been less of a crack shot. However, there can be no doubt that almost every family tree in the United Kingdom would have been forever altered since few houses in the UK escaped some kind of loss.
Discovering your ancestors
No matter in what avenue your family member served – whether they joined the Forces, did what they could in the factories and fields the Home Front, travelled to tend the sick on the battlefields of the Western Front or worked for the government – theirs is a completely unique story. By researching and sharing their role, deeds and legacy, you will not only ensure that their memory remains green, but also add to our store of national knowledge. Britain has a rich and chequered history, and it is our duty to keep bolstering it in any small ways we can.
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