What did Germany gain from the Armistice of 11 November 1918?

What did Germany gain from the Armistice of 11 November 1918?

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The conditions of the armistice were very unfavourable for Germany: The naval blockade continued, prisoners of war were not released, but parts of Germany were occupied and Germany lost the practical means to continue the war.

This may be too naive, but why did Germany not just stop fighting or surrender?

Surely, this may have lead to the occupation of Germany as a whole, but it would have ended the war immediately, so that Britain and France would at least have a moral obligation to end blockades and release prisoners of war.

Firstly, to answer the question,

… why did Germany not just stop fighting or surrender?

They did. An armistice can be thought of as a surrender with pre-agreed terms and conditions.

Germany was certainly not the first country to have asked for an Armistice towards the end of World War One. Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungary, had all already requested and been granted Armistice terms.

Germany had initially approached President Woodrow Wilson, seeking an armistice on relatively favourable terms. That approach had failed. The terms that were eventually offered to Germany were much more harsh than those offered to other nations, but Germany felt they had no option but to accept (although the head of the German delegation, Matthias Erzberger, did manage to negotiate a few minor concessions from the initial Allied demands).

So, what did they gain?

They avoided a revolution at home.

Kaiser Wilhelm had abdicated on 9 November 1918. The new government headed by Friedrich Ebert was facing the prospect of imminent revolutions in Berlin, Munich and across Germany. There had just been a mutiny by the German navy that began at Wilhelmshaven. Following the earlier revolution in Russia, a number of left-wing political organisations were growing in support.

Put simply, Ebert was terrified of the prospect of a German communist revolution if he didn't accept.

The Headlines of the New York Times on 11 November 1918 give some idea of just how fragile Ebert's position was at that time:

  • Image source: detail from Wikimedia image

What actually followed the Armistice in November 1918 was the German Revolution of 1918-19 that would eventually replace the German federal constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary republic.

That outcome was far better than many in the German government and military had feared in November 1918.

In addition, the German military could maintain the fiction that they hadn't been defeated. Erich Ludendorff had refused to accept the terms offered by the Allies, and had resigned when he was overruled by the new government. Almost before the ink was dry on the agreement negotiated by Matthias Erzberger, Ludendorff had begun his efforts to re-write history, claiming that he had been deprived of victory by sinister forces undermining his efforts behind the scenes at home.

This would become part of the popular myth used by German nationalist parties in the decades that followed

On Nov 5 1918 US President Wilson with consent of the Allied Nations offered peace according to his 14 points (and some other addresses) if Germany accepted the Armistice terms. Germany did that on Nov 11 1918 and consequently had a right to peace terms according to the 14 points (and some other addresses). Most of these terms weren't respected by the Treaty of Versailles. They were replaced by much harder terms. The German government protested but had no other choice but to sign it. But the "Dictate of Versailles" wasn't acknowledged as valid by anyone in Germany.

John Maynard Keynes explained that in his "THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE PEACE"

Keynes judgment (p. 60):

"The nature of the Contract between Germany and the Allies resulting from this exchange of documents is plain and unequivocal. The terms of the peace are to be in accordance with the Addresses of the President, and the purpose of the Peace Conference is “to discuss the details of their application.” The circumstances of the Contract were of an unusually solemn and binding character; for one of the conditions of it was that Germany should agree to Armistice Terms which were to be such as would leave her helpless. Germany having rendered herself helpless in reliance on the Contract, the honor of the Allies was peculiarly involved in fulfilling their part and, if there were ambiguities, in not using their position to take advantage of them."

The way to the Armistice (p.57):

"On October 5, 1918, the German Government addressed a brief Note to the President accepting the Fourteen Points and asking for Peace negotiations. The President's reply of October 8 asked if he was to understand definitely that the German Government accepted “the terms laid down” in the Fourteen Points and in his subsequent Addresses and “that its object in entering into discussion would be only to agree upon the practical details of their application.” He added that the evacuation of invaded territory must be a prior condition of an Armistice. On October 12 the German Government returned an unconditional affirmative to these questions;-“its object in entering into discussions would be only to agree upon practical details of the application of these terms.” On October 14, having received this affirmative answer, the President made a further communication to make clear the points:

(1) that the details of the Armistice would have to be left to the military advisers of the United States and the Allies, and must provide absolutely against the possibility of Germany's resuming hostilities; (2) that submarine warfare must cease if these conversations were to continue; and (3) that he required further guarantees of the representative character of the Government with which he was dealing. On October 20 Germany accepted points (1) and (2), and pointed out, as regards (3), that she now had a Constitution and a Government dependent for its authority on the Reichstag. On October 23 the President announced that, “having received the solemn and explicit assurance of the German Government that it unreservedly accepts the terms of peace laid down in his Address to the Congress of the United States on January 8, 1918 (the Fourteen Points), and the principles of settlement enunciated in his subsequent Addresses, particularly the Address of September 27, and that it is ready to discuss the details of their application,” he has communicated the above correspondence to the Governments of the Allied Powers “with the suggestion that, if these Governments are disposed to effect peace upon the terms and principles indicated,” they will ask their military advisers to draw up Armistice Terms of such a character as to “ensure to the Associated Governments the unrestricted power to safeguard and enforce the details of the peace to which the German Government has agreed.” At the end of this Note the President hinted more openly than in that of October 14 at the abdication of the Kaiser. This completes the preliminary negotiations to which the President alone was a party, acting without the Governments of the Allied Powers.

On November 5, 1918, the President transmitted to Germany the reply he had received from the Governments associated with him, and added that Marshal Foch had been authorized to communicate the terms of an armistice to properly accredited representatives. In this reply the Allied Governments, “subject to the qualifications which follow, declare their willingness to make peace with the Government of Germany on the terms of peace laid down in the President's Address to Congress of January 8, 1918, and the principles of settlement enunciated in his subsequent Addresses.” The qualifications in question were two in number. The first related to the Freedom of the Seas, as to which they “reserved to themselves complete freedom.” The second related to Reparation and ran as follows: -"Further, in the conditions of peace laid down in his Address to Congress on the 8th January, 1918, the President declared that invaded territories must be restored as well as evacuated and made free. The Allied Governments feel that no doubt ought to be allowed to exist as to what this provision implies. By it they understand that compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and to their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea, and from the air."1

What Germany wanted to gain, or at least hoped to gain

To address the "naive" part: the Germans were at the brink of collapse - much like as the Austrians - and felt betrayed by the allies. The Germans felt they were also being tricked into the armistice negotiations as they developed.

The Germans thought that an honourable peace was on the horizon based on Wilson's 14 points. When the German delegation arrived at the railway car they were surprised to learn that the French and other allies really have led them into the woods (of Compiègne and figuratively). There were no negotiations to take place at all.

Despite the conditions expected by the German delegation when they initiated this exchange:

(German Foreign Ministry: Der Waffenstillstand 1918 - Faksimiles ausgewählter Bilder und Dokumente)

Although it is true that the notes exchanged in preparation for the armistice negotiations already took away a few of the German 'demands' - and hopes - The German delegation was still stumped on arrival:

Foch: „Was führt die Herren hierher? Was wünschen Sie?“
Erzberger: „Ich sehe Ihren Vorschlägen über die Herbeiführung eines Waffenstillstandes zu Wasser, zu Lande und in der Luft entgegen.“
Foch: „Ich habe Ihnen keine Vorschläge zu machen. Ich habe Ihnen keine Bedingungen zu stellen.

Meaning that despite German expectations, there would not be negotiations, only conditions to accept. Foch even declaring that negotiations were not only not granted but frankly "impossible".

Since by that time not only did the allies continue to press on, these were not only the sole factors for signing. Military exhaustion on the hand, allied advances on another, and rumours of peace talks on yet another made the seriously disgruntled German public and many soldiers further unwilling to fight - or die an even more senseless death.

The true morale of the troops of the other side were opaque to all involved.

What the Germans did gain

There was no question of negotiation. The Germans were able to correct a few impossible demands (for example, the decommissioning of more submarines than their fleet possessed), extended the schedule for the withdrawal and registered their formal protest at the harshness of Allied terms. But they were in no position to refuse to sign.

Being told to either sign or face the consequences they felt and were blackmailed into signing. No one with any responsibility was in favour of signing - but except for hot heads that wanted to die in honour (like the navy command, the Kaiser and a few others) nobody came up with an alternative.

Wilson, thereby, agreed to the original German request. Nineteen days after the Germans sent him their First Note, Wilson was using his influence to bring about an armistice based on his Fourteen Points.[… ]
Four days after Wilson sent his Third Note, the Germans responded that they awaited Allied proposals for an armistice.
Bullitt Lowry: "Armistice 1918", Kent State University Press, 2000, p 41.

But the Germans were also being tricked into signing by Ludendorff and the rest of the army. Ludendorff envisioned quite correctly that those democratic powers that wanted peace should also have their signature under the shameful armistice and peace treaties, in order to turn around the the real responsibilities. The military started the war and lost it, now they wanted to blame the civilians for all of it.

Sie forderte am 29. September 1918 von der Reichsregierung die sofortige Aufnahme von Waffenstillstandsverhandlungen mit dem Hinweis, dass die Front jeden Tag zusammenbrechen könne. In der Folge zog sich das Heer langsam zurück, und am 4. Oktober ersuchte die deutsche Regierung Woodrow Wilson, den Präsidenten der USA, um Waffenstillstandsverhandlungen. Dessen Vierzehn-Punkte-Vorschlag einer internationalen Nachkriegsordnung schien noch am ehesten eine Perspektive zu bieten.

Even after the dies ater the OHL told everyone that they were winning. When the OHL ordered democratic reforms on 29. Sep everyone civilian was surprised. After the Kaiser was abdicated Ebert was only halfway in a sort of office when the signatures were made. The delegation was largely clueless. A protracted war was still a possibility but they went into an expected negotiation that wasn't allowed by the French. In fact the army leadership mutinied on the overwhelmingly monarchist democrats and refused to continue fighting. The price obviously being much more dead on both sides.

On October 23 Wilson demanded in his third note beyond the previously agreed withdrawal of the German armies from the occupied territories as well as the cessation of the U-boat War the internal reconstruction of the German Reich and measures which should make a German resumption of fighting impossible. Ludendorff, who aspired to an armistice and "had not considered the political and military consequences of his sudden decision even in the beginning", now faced the demand for a German surrender, which he flatly rejected. At this point he therefore wanted to break off further negotiations and, in blatant contradiction to his previous steps, demanded a continuation of the "resistance with extreme forces". However, the current Max von Baden government did not support this course. On October 26, 1918, Ludendorff was - surprisingly for him - dismissed by the Emperor at Bellevue Palace at the request of the Imperial Chancellor, but formally at his own request.
WP Ludendorff

They gained just a few things: the killing stopped on the battlefield, and order was largely maintained. The revolutionary spark that was spreading from the "hell no, we won't go" sailors and among very few troops of the army could therefore be contained by the loyalist right wingers and monarchists within the army and the forming freikorps.

Thus the Germans could have two revolutions at once and none at the same time: one from above and one from below which canceled each others out, largely.

Am 29. September überzeugten Hindenburg und Ludendorff Kaiser Wilhelm II., dass angesichts der militärischen Überlegenheit des Gegners Deutschland den Krieg definitiv verloren habe. Die Verantwortung wollte die Oberste Heeresleitung jedoch nicht übernehmen, sondern die „Suppe sollen die essen“, wie Ludendorff sich ausdrückte, „die sie uns eingebrockt haben“. Gemeint waren damit die später als „Novemberverbrecher“ diffamierten linksliberalen, sozial- und christdemokratischen Politiker.
(Otto Langels: "Vor 85 Jahren formulierte Hindenburg die Dolchstoßlegende", Deutschlandfunk, 18.11.2004)

Yet another perspective that might run a bit counter to high school history:

The first German request was sent to President Wilson on 4 October, and five weeks later the Armistice was signed in a railway carriage near Rethondes in the Compiègne forest. The date and the time of that signing have been commemorated annually ever since as marking the end of the war. Yet the armistice agreement was not intended to end the war but to call a truce; it merely caused the weapons to fall silent. That is why the German term - the silencing of weapons - is used for the title of this chapter, rather than the sometimes misinterpreted English/French term.
At OHL headquarters in Spa, the news that on 25 September Bulgaria had requested an armistice, coupled with the start of Foch's general offensive in Belgium and France, caused Ludendorff's physical collapse. His increasing pessimism had already alarmed some OHL staff, who decided on 26 September to call Foreign Minister Paul von Hintze to Spa to discuss the situation. Three days later Hintze and the Kaiser met with Hindenburg and Ludendorff and were told that an immediate Waffenstillstand was required to save the army, and that political reform was required to make the country accept it. Ludendorff was convinced that the worsening military situation in both east and west demanded an immediate armistice, but not peace negotiations. If the armistice conditions were too hard, he was prepared to fight on. In conference with the OHL section leaders on 1 October Ludendorff informed them that, to avoid the 'catastrophe' of an Allied breakthrough forcing the army back to the Rhine and bringing revolution to Germany, an immediate Waffenstillstand was necessary, based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. He told Thaer that 'unfortunately' he saw 'no other way'. However, when Thaer asked Ludendorff whether he believed that the Allies would grant it, and whether, if he were Marshal Foch, he himself would grant such an armistice, Ludendorff replied: 'No, surely not, rather first grab the opportunity [to gain a breathing-space by requesting an armistice]'. Yet perhaps, he continued, the Allies wanted it: 'in war one can never know'.
Ludendorff pressed Berlin several times during the next few days to hasten the formation of a new government (he and Hindenburg approved the appointment of Prince Max von Baden as the new Chancellor on 30 September), but the true military situation took some time to sink into the new minds in Berlin. OHL had kept both politicians and the German people in the dark, hence the shock when the Ludendorff-Hindenburg duo requested that the government negotiate an armistice. Consequently it was only on the night of 3/4 October that the German government's note was sent via Switzerland to President Wilson. It asked for the USA to take steps to restore peace, and also 'in order to prevent further bloodshed' to arrange a 'general armistice on land, on water and in the air'. The note was thus not only a request for an armistice, but also for negotiations for a Wilsonian peace - a peace that they believed would give them more generous terms than the Entente leaders would offer.
There is no need to go into the Allied negotiations that led to Rethondes, as they have been well described elsewhere. What is important here is Foch's attitude and his resultant decisions. They form the background to the first two stages of the negotiations in which Foch played only a small formal role. The first stage, following this first German note, consisted of the ensuing correspondence between Germany and President Wilson, in which it was agreed finally that Germany would approach Marshal Foch to ask for terms based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. The second (international) stage lasted from 29 October, when the bilateral USA-Germany phase ended, to 4 November when the Allies meeting as the SWC agreed the terms after much discussion. During this second stage Foch talked with Pétain, Haig and Pershing, but essentially it was his terms that formed the basis of the agreed military terms that were offered. The third and final stage covers the days leading up to the signing, when Foch's role was central.
Elizabeth Greenhalgh: "Foch in Command The forging of a First World War general", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2011, pp464.

The leader of the German delegation to Compiègne summed up all of the above nicely, when he signed the paper:

A people of 70 million suffers, but does not die.

And as later events seem to prove, the country of Germany survived, its conservative elites survived, their nationalist spirit and aggressive militarism survived as well.

Hundred Days Offensive

The Hundred Days Offensive (10 August to 11 November 1918) was a series of massive Allied offensives which ended the First World War. Beginning with the Battle of Amiens (8–12 August) on the Western Front, the Allies pushed the Central Powers back, undoing their gains from the German spring offensive. The Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line, but the Allies broke through the line with a series of victories, starting with the Battle of St Quentin Canal on 29 September. The offensive, together with a revolution breaking out in Germany, led to the Armistice of 11 November 1918 which ended the war with an Allied victory. The term "Hundred Days Offensive" does not refer to a battle or strategy, but rather the rapid series of Allied victories against which the German Army had no reply.

British Empire
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • India
  • Newfoundland
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa

100,000+ killed
685,733 wounded
386,342 captured
6,700 artillery pieces

  • Men and materiel captured, by country
    • BEF: 188,700 prisoners, 2,840 guns [6]
    • French: 139,000 prisoners, 1,880 guns [7]
    • US: 44,142 prisoners, 1,481 guns [7]
    • Belgian: 14,500 prisoners, 414 guns [7]

    Why did it happen?

    Germany&rsquos Spring Offensive in 1918 gained them territory but exhausted their supplies and reinforcements, and the Allies pushed them back with the immensely successful &lsquo100 Days&rsquo campaign.

    Four years of hardship at home and the news of military defeats led to social unrest and revolutions in Germany, and the Kaiser abdicated in November. With a weakening military and no support on the home front, the Germans had to sign on the Allies&rsquo terms.

    Compiègne Wagon

    The Compiègne Wagon was the train carriage in which both the Armistice of 11 November 1918 and Armistice of 22 June 1940 were signed.

    Before the 1918 signing in the Forest of Compiègne, the wagon served as the personal carriage of Ferdinand Foch and was later displayed in French museums. However, after the successful invasion of France, Adolf Hitler had the wagon moved back to the exact site of the 1918 signing for the 1940 signing due to its symbolic role. The wagon was later destroyed near the end of World War II, most likely by the SS.

    The Compiègne Wagon was built in 1914 in Saint-Denis as dining car No. 2419D. It was used throughout the First World War in that capacity for Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the company best known for operating the Orient Express. [2] In August 1918, the wagon was commandeered by the French Army and converted into the office and mobile headquarters of Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander, who began using it in October 1918. [2] [3]

    On 8 November 1918, Foch and representatives from the Allied Powers and the German Empire signed the armistice in the then-called "Wagon of Compiègne". This agreement was the final ceasefire which ended fighting in the First World War the other Central Powers had already reached agreements with the Allied Powers to end hostilities.

    The car was later returned to Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits and briefly resumed service as a dining car. In September 1919, it was donated to the Army Museum (Paris). The wagon was on display in the Musée's Cour des Invalides from 1921 to 1927.

    At the request of the Mayor of Compiègne, and with the support of the American Arthur Henry Fleming, the car was restored and returned to Compiègne. It was housed in a specially created museum building as part of the "Glade of the Armistice" historic monument, with the car a few meters from the exact site of the signing ceremony

    During World War II, Hitler ordered that the wagon be moved to exactly the same location for the signing of the second "armistice at Compiègne", on 22 June 1940 this time with Germany victorious. The carriage was moved out of its protective building and returned to the signing-place, which was several metres away and had been marked out as part of the monument. Subsequently, the wagon was taken to Berlin and displayed a week later at the Berlin Cathedral. In 1944 the wagon was sent to Thuringia, in central Germany. Then it moved to Ruhla and later Gotha Crawinkel, near a huge tunnel system. There it was destroyed in March 1945 by the SS with fire and/or dynamite, in the face of the advancing U.S. Army. However, some SS veterans and civilian eyewitnesses claim that the wagon had been destroyed by air attack near Ohrdruf while still in Thuringia in April 1944. Even so, it is generally believed the wagon was destroyed in 1945 by the SS. [4]

    Replica Edit

    Today's historical wagon is an exact copy of the original one. In 1950, French manufacturer Wagons-Lits, the company that ran the Orient Express, donated a car from the same series to the museum — 2439D is identical to its ravaged twin, from its polished wooden finishes to its studded, leather-bound chairs. This car had also been part of Foch's private train during the 1918 signing. At the 1950 ceremony, it was renumbered No. 2419D. It is parked beside the display of the original car's remains: a few fragments of bronze decoration and two access ramps. [5]

    Signing the Armistice

    After the United States entered the war in 1917, the tide turned decisively in favor of the Allies. In September 1918, Germany’s generals informed Kaiser Wilhelm and his chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, that the war was lost. Two months later, the British and French governments demanded that the Germans sign a ceasefire or face an Allied invasion.

    On November 10, Kaiser Wilhelm went into exile, leaving Germany in the hands of the leaders of its most prominent political parties. Germany’s new leaders were not sure how to respond to the Allies’ demands for a ceasefire. Matthias Erzberger, one of the new leaders from the Catholic Center Party, asked Paul von Hindenburg, the commander-in-chief of the German Armed Forces, for advice. Hindenburg tearfully told Erzberger to do his patriotic duty by signing the document immediately to end the fighting. There would be no negotiation.

    So, early on the morning of November 11, Erzberger and two other representatives of the new republic journeyed to France and signed the agreement. Hindenburg and the other generals did not attend the armistice signing they did not want their names associated with the document.

    When the German people finally learned the terms of truce later that day, almost everyone was outraged. The armistice was a shock for many Germans because they had begun the war with a strong sense of national superiority and the expectation that their country would win. Few blamed the generals or the kaiser for the nation’s defeat. Instead they placed the blame on the people who signed the armistice—the Social Democrats and the Catholic Center Party. Historian Richard Evans notes:

    All of this was greeted with incredulous horror by the majority of Germans. Germany’s international strength and prestige had been on an upward course since unification in 1871, so most Germans felt, and now, suddenly, Germany had been brutally expelled from the ranks of the Great Powers and covered in what they considered to be undeserved shame. 1

    In the years that followed, many of Germany’s generals, including Hindenburg, would claim that the country’s new leaders, as well as socialists and Jews, had “stabbed Germany in the back” when they signed the armistice.

    The first Armistice Day, 1918

    On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Though the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, marked the official end of the war, the public still viewed November 11th as the date that marked the end of the Great War.

    At 2.05am on 11 November 1918, after four years of conflict, a German delegation sat down in the railway carriage of Allied supreme commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a few hours’ north of Paris. Talks had gone on for three days, and the German delegates were close to accepting the terms for an armistice, a formal agreement to end the fighting.

    The Germans had been defeated after a brutal summer of attrition over the past four months, Allied and American forces had overwhelmed the final line of German defences in the battles of the Hundred Days Offensive. On 9 November 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II had been persuaded to seek asylum in the Netherlands.

    In the early hours of 11 November, final terms were laid out and at 5.12am, the armistice was signed. It declared the “cessation of hostilities by land and in the air six hours after the signing”. Terms of the agreement included: the immediate German withdrawal from the territories they had acquired during the conflict the disarmament and demobilisation of the German military and the release of Allied prisoners. The terms made it impossible for Germany to resume any fighting.

    This was the last of the September–November 1918 armistices between the warring nations, and peace came into effect six hours after the armistice was signed, at 11am – or at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. It has been estimated that during the time between the signing and the announcement of peace, the war produced a further 11,000 casualties.

    Over the last century, the day has become a more sombre day of reflection, marked with poppies and respectful silence. However, 11 November 1918 was a moment of wild celebration for many. “The day the war ended was a weird and wonderful carnival rather than the day of mournful seriousness that Armistice Day would become in later years,” wrote Guy Cuthbertson for BBC History Magazine. “The armistice brought church services and tears, but it was a day of joy, spontaneity, noise and fun.”

    In Cambridge, students threw books, a bull was driven into one of the colleges, and an effigy of the kaiser was burned in the market square while people danced around the bonfire.

    On 12 November, the Daily Mirror reported: “Conversation in the Strand was impossible owing to the din of cheers, whistles, hooters and fireworks”. While the initial celebrations were filled with relief and jubilation in many quarters, the soldiers still had to be ‘demobbed’ and huge swathes of the population were irrevocably changed. Peter Hart, an oral historian at the Imperial War Museum’s Sound Archive, wrote in 2009 about the many soldiers who returned home with mental and physical scars.“Many had presumed that they would not live to see the end of the war. Part of their mental defences was the idea that they had nothing to look forward to that as doomed men they did not have much to lose if they were killed. In a flash their mental landscape had changed.”

    London crowds celebrating the signing of the Armistice.

    A group of women joyfully waving Union Jacks on Armistice Day.

    Boisterous scenes in Downing Street on Armistice Day.

    Crowds at Trafalgar Square, London.

    A group of American soldiers ride in a truck, waving American flags during an Armistice Day parade , New York City. One soldier holds a sign reading ‘To Hell With The Kaiser.’

    Cheering New York shipyard workers celebrate the news of the Armistice, New York.

    Jubilant crowds close to Buckingham Palace, London, celebrating Armistice Day.

    An Armistice scene outside the White House in Washington, D.C.

    A crowd of thousands massed on Broad Street, New York, near a replica of the Statue of Liberty, to cheer as news of the armistice was announced to the public.

    Crowds in Paris, France upon the announcement of the Armistice.

    A crowd of soldiers on the Western Front celebrating as an officer announces the news of the Armistice.

    What did Germany gain from the Armistice of 11 November 1918? - History

    World War I Ends with German Defeat

    Faced with an effective British blockade, fierce resistance from the British and French Armies, the entrance of the United States Army, political unrest and starvation at home, an economy in ruins, mutiny in the navy, and mounting defeats on the battlefield, the German generals requested armistice negotiations with the Allies in November of 1918.

    Under the terms of the armistice, the German Army was allowed to remain intact and was not forced to admit defeat by surrendering. U.S. General John J. Pershing had misgivings about this, saying it would be better to have the German generals admit defeat so there could be no doubt. The French and British were convinced however that Germany would not be a threat again.

    The failure to force the German General Staff to admit defeat would have a huge impact on the future of Germany. Although the army was later reduced in size, its impact would be felt after the war as a political force dedicated to German nationalism, not democracy.

    The German General Staff also would support the false idea that the army had not been defeated on the battlefield, but could have fought on to victory, except for being betrayed at home, the infamous 'Stab in the Back' theory.

    This 'Stab in the Back' theory would become hugely popular among many Germans who found it impossible to swallow defeat. During the war, Adolf Hitler became obsessed with this idea, especially laying blame on Jews and Marxists in Germany for undermining the war effort. To Hitler, and so many others, the German politicians who signed the armistice on November 11, 1918, would become known as the 'November Criminals.'

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    The Allies' Armistice Demands

    Official release by the German Government, published in the Kreuz-Zeitung, November 11, 1918.

    The following terms were set by the Allied powers for the Armistice.

    1. Effective six hours after signing.

    2. Immediate clearing of Belgium, France, Alsace-Lorraine, to be concluded within 14 days. Any troops remaining in these areas to be interned or taken as prisoners of war.

    3. Surrender 5000 cannon (chiefly heavy), 30,000 machine guns, 3000 trench mortars, 2000 planes.

    4. Evacuation of the left bank of the Rhine, Mayence, Coblence, Cologne, occupied by the enemy to a radius of 30 kilometers deep.

    5. On the right bank of the Rhine a neutral zone from 30 to 40 kilometers deep, evacuation within 11 days.

    6. Nothing to be removed from the territory on the left bank of the Rhine, all factories, railroads, etc. to be left intact.

    7. Surrender of 5000 locomotives, 150,000 railway coaches, 10,000 trucks.

    8. Maintenance of enemy occupation troops through Germany.

    9. In the East all troops to withdraw behind the boundaries of August 1, 1914, fixed time not given.

    10. Renunciation of the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest.

    11. Unconditional surrender of East Africa.

    12. Return of the property of the Belgian Bank, Russian and Rumanian gold.

    13. Return of prisoners of war without reciprocity.

    14. Surrender of 160 U-boats, 8 light cruisers, 6 Dreadnoughts the rest of the fleet to be disarmed and controlled by the Allies in neutral or Allied harbors.

    15. Assurance of free trade through the Cattegat Sound clearance of mine fields and occupation of all forts and batteries, through which transit could be hindered.


    The first Armistice Day was held at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a "Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic" [7] during the evening hours of 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day events were subsequently held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on the morning of 11 November 1919, [8] which included a two-minute silence as a mark of respect for those who died in the war and those left behind. [9]

    Similar ceremonies developed in other countries during the inter-war period. In South Africa, for example, the Memorable Order of Tin Hats had by the late 1920s developed a ceremony whereby the toast of "Fallen Comrades" was observed not only in silence but darkness, all except for the "Light of Remembrance", with the ceremony ending with the Order's anthem "Old Soldiers Never Die". [10] [Note 1]

    In Britain, beginning in 1939, the two-minute silence was moved to the Sunday nearest to 11 November in order not to interfere with wartime production should 11 November fall on a weekday. [12] This became Remembrance Sunday.

    After the end of World War II, most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, followed the earlier example of Canada and adopted the name Remembrance Day. [13]

    Other countries also changed the name of the holiday just prior to or after World War II, to honour veterans of that and subsequent conflicts. The United States chose All Veterans Day, later shortened to 'Veterans Day', to explicitly honour military veterans, including those participating in other conflicts. [14]

    In the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, both Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday are commemorated formally, but are not public holidays. The National Service of Remembrance is held in London on Remembrance Sunday. [ citation needed ]

    In the United States, Veterans Day honors American veterans, both living and deceased. The official national remembrance of those killed in action is Memorial Day, which predates World War I. Some, including American novelist Kurt Vonnegut and American Veteran For Peace Rory Fanning, have urged Americans to resume observation of 11 November as Armistice Day, a day to reflect on how we can achieve peace as it was originally observed. [15]

    In Poland, National Independence Day is a public holiday, celebrated on 11 November to commemorate the anniversary of the restoration of Poland's sovereignty as the Second Polish Republic in 1918, after 123 years of partition by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. [16]

    "Armistice Day" remains the name of the holiday in France ("Armistice de la Première Guerre mondiale") [17] and Belgium. [18]

    It has been a statutory holiday in Serbia since 2012. Serbia is an Allied force that suffered the largest casualty rate in World War I. To commemorate their victims, people in Serbia wear Natalie's ramonda as a symbol of remembrance. [19]

    Ceremonies are held in Kenya over the weekend two weeks after Armistice Day. This is because news of the armistice only reached African forces, the King's African Rifles, still fighting with great success in today's Zambia about a fortnight later, where the German and British commanders then had to agree on the protocols for their own armistice ceremony. [20]

    Wasted Lives on Armistice Day

    Irish Guardsmen stand at their post five minutes before the Armistice, near Maubeuge on November 11, 1918.

    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    Joseph E. Persico
    Winter 2005

    On November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front in France suffered more than thirty-five hundred casualties, although it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end that day and known with absolute certainty as of 5 o’clock that morning that it would end at 11 a.m. Nearly a year afterward, on November 5, 1919, General John J. Pershing, commander of the AEF, found himself testifying on the efficiency of the war’s prosecution before the House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs.

    The encounter was amicable and respectful since members were dealing with the officer who had led America to victory in the Great War. However, a Republican committee member, Alvan T. Fuller of Massachusetts, deferentially posed a provocative query: ‘This question is somewhat irrelevant to the matter under discussion,’ Fuller began, ‘but I would like to ask General Pershing if American troops were ordered over the top on the other side on the morning of the day when under the terms of the Armistice firing was to cease…and that those troops who were not killed or wounded marched peacefully into Germany at 11 o’clock. Is that true?’

    Pershing answered with his customary crisp confidence:

    When the subject of the armistice was under discussion we did not know what the purpose of it was definitely, whether it was something proposed by the German High Command to gain time or whether they were sincere in their desire to have an armistice and the mere discussion of an armistice would not be sufficient grounds for any judicious commander to relax his military activities….No one could possibly know when the armistice was to be signed, or what hour be fixed for the cessation of hostilities so that the only thing for us to do, and which I did as commander in chief of the American forces, and which Marshal Foch did as commander in chief of the Allied armies was to continue the military activities….

    Just days later, however, the congressman forwarded to Pershing a letter from a constituent with a cover note saying, ‘I have been deluged with questions on this subject.’ The enclosed letter had been written to Fuller by George K. Livermore, former operations officer of the 167th Field Artillery Brigade of the black 92nd Division, stating that that force had been engaged since 5 a.m. on November 11 and had been ordered to launch its final charge at 10:30 a.m. Livermore lamented ‘the little crosses over the graves of the colored lads who died a useless death on that November morning.’ He further described the loss of U.S. Marines killed crossing the Meuse River in the final hours as ‘frightful.’ Congressman Fuller closed his letter to Pershing asking for ‘a real frank, full answer to the question as to whether American lives were needlessly wasted.’

    Fuller had Pershing’s answer within the week, and it was categorical. By allowing the fighting to go forward, Pershing reiterated that he was simply following the orders of his superior, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of Allied forces in France, issued on November 9, to keep up the pressure against the retreating enemy until the cease-fire went into effect. Consequently, he had not ordered his army to stop fighting even after the signing of the armistice, of which, ‘I had no knowledge before 6 a.m. November 11.’

    The possibility of an armistice had begun the evening of November 7 when French soldiers of the 171st Régiment d’Infanterie near Haudroy were startled by an unfamiliar bugle call. Fearing they were about to be overrun, they cautiously advanced toward the increasingly loud blaring when out of the mantle of fog three automobiles emerged, their sides gilded with the imperial German eagle. The astonished Frenchmen had encountered a German armistice delegation headed by a rotund forty-three-year-old politician and peace advocate named Matthias Erzberger. The delegation was escorted to the Compigne Forest near Paris where, in a railroad dining car converted into a conference room, they were met by a small, erect figure–Marshal Foch–who fixed them with a withering gaze. Foch opened the proceeding with a question that left the Germans agape. ‘Ask these Gentlemen what they want,’ he said to his interpreter. When the Germans had recovered, Erzberger answered that they understood they had been sent to discuss armistice terms. Foch stunned them again: ‘Tell these gentlemen that I have no proposals to make.’

    No proposals, perhaps, but he did have demands. Foch’s interpreter read aloud the Allied conditions, which struck the Germans like hammer blows: All occupied lands in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France–plus Alsace-Lorraine, held since 1870 by Germany–were to be evacuated within fourteen days the Allies were to occupy Germany west of the Rhine and bridgeheads on the river’s east bank thirty kilometers deep German forces had to be withdrawn from Austria-Hungary, Romania, and Turkey Germany was to surrender to neutral or Allied ports 10 battleships, 6 battle cruisers, 8 cruisers, and 160 submarines. Germany was also to be stripped of heavy armaments, including 5,000 artillery pieces, 25,000 machine guns, and 2,000 airplanes. The next demand threw the German delegates into despair. Though the German people already faced starvation, the Allies intended to paralyze the enemy’s transportation by continuing its naval blockade and confiscating 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 railway cars, and 5,000 trucks. The translator droned on through thirty-four conditions, the last of which blamed Germany for the war and demanded it pay reparations for all damage caused. Foch informed Erzberger that he had seventy-two hours to obtain the consent of his government to the Allies’ terms, or the war would go on.

    On average, 2,250 troops on all sides were dying on the Western Front every day. ‘For God’s sake, Monsieur le Marechal,’ Erzberger pleaded, ‘do not wait for those seventy-two hours. Stop the hostilities this very day.’ The appeal fell on deaf ears. Before the meeting, Foch had described to his staff his intention ‘to pursue the Feldgrauen [field grays, or German soldiers] with a sword at their backs’ to the last minute until an armistice went into effect.

    Photo of General John J. Pershing.

    To Pershing the very idea of an armistice was repugnant. ‘Their request is an acknowledgment of weakness and clearly means that the Allies are winning the war,’ he maintained. ‘Germany’s desire is only to regain time to restore order among her forces, but she must be given no opportunity to recuperate and we must strike harder than ever.’ As for terms, Pershing had one response: ‘There can be no conclusion to this war until Germany is brought to her knees.’ The French and British Allies might be exhausted and long for peace, but Pershing saw his army akin to a fighter ready to deliver the knockout punch who is told to quit with his opponent reeling but still standing. Conciliation now, he claimed, would lead only to future war. He wanted Germany’s unconditional surrender.

    The Germans finally yielded and signed the armistice at 5:10 on the morning of the eleventh, backed up officially to 5 a.m. and to take effect within Foch’s deadline: the eleventh month, eleventh day, eleventh hour of 1918. Pershing’s postwar claim that he had had no official knowledge of the impending armistice before being informed by Foch’s headquarters at 6 a.m. was disingenuous. The moment when the fighting would cease had been clear from the time Foch handed Erzberger the deadline, information to which Pershing was privy. On the evening of November 10 and through that night, news of the impending end was repeatedly affirmed from radio transmissions received at Pershing’s AEF headquarters in Chaumont.

    After the general was apprised that the signing had taken place, the order going out from him merely informed subordinate commanders of that fact. It said nothing about what they should do until 11 o’clock, when the cease-fire would go into effect. His order left his commanders in a decisional no man’s land as to whether to keep fighting or spare their men in the intervening hours. The generals left in that limbo fell roughly into two categories: ambitious careerists who saw a fast-fading opportunity for glory, victories, even promotions and those who believed it mad to send men to their deaths to take ground that they could safely walk into within days.

    Congressman Fuller’s mention of the loss of marines that final day referred to an action ordered by Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall, Pershing’s commander of the V Corps. No doubt had clouded Summerall’s mind as to how all this talk of an armistice on the eleventh should be treated. The day before he had gathered his senior officers and told them, ‘Rumors of enemy capitulation come from our successes.’ Consequently, this was no time to relax but rather to tighten the screws.

    Major General Charles P. Summerall had ordered the 5th to force a crossing of the Meuse River that morning.

    Summerall, a fifty-one-year-old Floridian, had spent three years teaching school before entering West Point. By the time he arrived on the Western Front he wore ribbons from the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the Boxer Rebellion. He was a severe, unsmiling, some said brutal man who liked to turn out in prewar dress uniform with copious medals, gilded sashes, and fringed epaulettes–suggesting a viceroy of India rather than a plain American officer. Because he had taught English, Summerall prided himself that he possessed a literary turn of phrase. ‘We are swinging the door by its hinges. It has got to move,’ he told his subordinates as he ordered them to cross the Meuse River on the war’s last day. ‘Only by increasing the pressure can we bring about [the enemy’s] defeat….Get into action and get across.’ His parting shot was: ‘I don’t expect to see any of you again, but that doesn’t matter. You have the honor of a definitive success–give yourself to that.’ Was he referring to ending his present command over them, or foretelling their fate? In either case, Summerall was spurring them on to defeat an already defeated enemy, whatever the cost.

    Among replacements rushed to the Meuse was Private Elton Mackin, 5th Marine Regiment. Soon after America entered the war, Mackin had read an article in the Saturday Evening Post about the Marine Corps that lured the baby-faced nineteen-year-old to enlist. He had thus far survived 156 days at the front, beginning with his regiment’s bloody baptism in the battle for Belleau Wood. Whether he would survive the last day depended on General Summerall’s decision, and the human price it would exact.

    In the gray hours before dawn on November 11, Mackin’s regiment stumbled out of the Bois de Hospice, a wood on the west bank of the Meuse. The night was frigid, shrouded in fog and drizzle as the marines tried to find their way to the river in the gloom. Army engineers had gone before them, throwing flimsy bridges across the water by lashing pontoons together, then running planks over the top. The first signs that the marines were headed in the right direction were the bodies they stumbled upon, engineers killed attempting to construct the crossings.

    Summerall crosses the Meuse on one of the rickety bridges used by the marines.

    At about 4 a.m., the marines reached the first pontoon bridge, a rickety affair thirty inches wide with a guide rope strung along posts at knee height. They could see only halfway across before the bridge disappeared into the mist. Beyond, nothing was visible but the flash of enemy guns. The marines began piling up at the bridgehead, awaiting orders. A major blew a whistle and stepped onto the bridge. As the men crowded behind him, the pontoons began to sink below the water sloshing about the men’s ankles. The engineers shouted to them to space themselves before the span collapsed.

    Enemy shells began spewing up geysers, soaking the attackers with icy water. German Maxim machine guns opened fire, the rounds striking the wood sounding like a drumroll, those hitting flesh making a’sock, sock, sock’ sound. The span swung wildly in the strong current. Mackin saw the man ahead of him stumble between two pontoon sections and vanish into the black water. The German guns’ bullets continued knocking men off the pontoons, like ducks in a shooting gallery. Still, the Americans kept coming. By 4:30 a.m. the marines and infantrymen of the 89th Division had taken Pouilly on the river’s east bank. In the remaining 6 1/2 hours they were to storm the heights above the town and clean out the machine gun nests. As day broke, Mackin watched a runner come sprinting across the bridge. The message from General Summerall’s headquarters read only, ‘Armistice signed and takes effect at 11:00 o’clock this morning.’ Again, nothing was said about halting the fighting in the meantime. Mackin survived to write of his experience. But the Meuse River crossings had cost more than eleven hundred casualties in the hours just before the war’s end.

    Numerous members of Congress, including Fuller, had received appeals from families wanting to know why such pointless expenditure of life had been allowed to happen. Congress had already created a Select Committee on Expenditures in the War Department to investigate procurement practices, the sufficiency and quality of weaponry, and waste and graft in supplying the AEF. To this body, the House decided to add a ‘Subcommittee 3’ to investigate the Armistice Day losses. Royal Johnson, Republican from South Dakota, was appointed chairman to serve with another majority member, Republican Oscar Bland from Indiana, and a minority member, Daniel Flood, a Virginia Democrat. Johnson’s interest in the task assigned him was intensely personal. He was barely out of uniform himself. At age thirty-six, Johnson had taken leave from the House of Representatives and enlisted as a private in the 313th Regiment, ‘Baltimore’s Own,’ rising through the ranks to first lieutenant and earning the Distinguished Service Cross and Croix de Guerre.

    Doughboys of the 28th Infantry Regiment crowd a trench in France during World War I.

    Among the ranks of the 313th engaged on armistice morning was Henry N. Gunther, a fine-looking soldier in his mid-twenties, erect, with a clear-eyed gaze and a guardsman’s mustache that suggested a British subaltern rather than an American private. Gunther, however, had had difficulty with army life. He came from a heavily German neighborhood in east Baltimore where the culture of his forebears remained strong. When the United States went to war, Gunther and his neighbors began to experience anti-German prejudice. In this poisonous atmosphere, Gunther felt no impulse to enlist. He was doing nicely at the National Bank of Baltimore and had a girlfriend, Olga Gruebl, who he intended to marry.

    Nevertheless, Gunther was drafted five months after America entered the war. His closest pal, Ernest Powell, became platoon sergeant in Company A, while Gunther was appointed supply sergeant. ‘Supply sergeants were traditionally unpopular,’ Powell recalled. ‘Army clothing in the war, as they said at the time, came in two sizes–too large and too small.’ Supply sergeants took the brunt of the soldiers’ gripes, and Gunther began keeping to himself, his enthusiasm for army life well controlled.

    After arriving in France in July 1918, he wrote a friend back home to stay clear of the war since conditions were miserable. An army censor passed the letter along to Gunther’s commanding officer, who broke the sergeant to private. Gunther then found himself serving under Ernie Powell, once his coequal, a chafing humiliation. Thereafter, Powell observed Gunther becoming increasingly brooding and withdrawn.

    By Armistice Day, the 313th had been engaged in nearly two months of uninterrupted combat. At 9:30 that morning, the regiment jumped off, bayonets fixed, rifles at port, heads bent, slogging through a marshland in an impenetrable fog toward their objective, a speck on the map called Ville-Devant-Chaumont. Its advance was to be covered by the 311th Machine Gun Battalion. But in the fog, the gunners had no idea where to direct their fire, and Company A thus moved along in an eerie silence. Suddenly, German artillery opened up, and men began to fall.

    At sixteen minutes before 11, a runner caught up with the 313th’s parent 157th Brigade to report that the armistice had been signed. Again, the message made no mention of what to do in the interim. Brigadier General William Nicholson, commanding the brigade, made his decision: ‘There will be absolutely no let-up until 11:00 a.m.’ More runners were dispatched to spread the word to the farthest advanced regiments, including Gunther’s. The 313th now gathered below a ridge called the Côte Romagne. Two German machine gun squads manning a roadblock watched, disbelieving, as shapes began emerging from the fog. Gunther and Sergeant Powell dropped to the ground as bullets sang above their heads. The Germans then ceased firing, assuming that the Americans would have the good sense to stop with the end so near. Suddenly, Powell saw Gunther rise and begin loping toward the machine guns. He shouted for Gunther to stop. The machine gunners waved him back, but Gunther kept advancing. The enemy reluctantly fired a five-round burst. Gunther was struck in the left temple and died instantly. The time was 10:59 a.m. General Pershing’s order of the day would later record Henry Gunther as the last American killed in the war.

    To question officers as to why men like Gunther had been exposed to death at literally the eleventh hour, the Republicans on Subcommittee 3 hired as counsel a recently retired army lawyer, Samuel T. Ansell. A forty-five-year-old West Pointer, Ansell had served as acting judge advocate general during the war and left the army specifically to take the congressional job for the then-substantial salary of twenty thousand dollars per year. His first move was to have all senior American commanders who had led troops on the Western Front answer these questions: ‘What time on the morning of November 11, 1918, were you notified of the signing of the armistice? What orders were you and your command under with respect to operations against the enemy immediately before and up to the moment of such notification and after notification and up to 11 o’clock? After receipt of such notification did your command or any part of it continue to fight? If so, why and with what casualties? Did your command or any part of it continue the fight after 11 o’clock? If so, why and with what casualties?’Ansell proved a fire-breathing pros-ecutor, ill concealing his premise that lives had indeed been thrown away on the war’s last day. Among the first witnesses he called was Pershing’s chief of operations, Brig. Gen. Fox Conner. Proud, ruggedly handsome, and a wily witness, Conner admitted that, pursuant to Foch’s order to keep the pressure on, one American army, the 2nd under Lt. Gen. Robert Lee Bullard, had actually moved an assault originally planned for November 11 up to November 10 ‘to counteract the idea among the troops that the Armistice had already been signed’ and ‘to influence the German delegates to sign.’

    Not all commanders shared the view that Germany had to be pressured to sign. For days the Germans had shown no stomach to engage the Allies and carried out only rear-guard actions as they fell back. On armistice morning, the commander of the 32nd Division, Maj. Gen. William Haan, received a field telephone call from his subordinate commanding the 63rd Brigade asking permission to attack in order to straighten out a dent on his front. Haan retorted that he did not intend to throw away men’s lives on the war’s last morning to tidy up a map. The 32nd initiated no attacks while Haan’s men waited and took losses only from artillery fire.

    Hotshot commanders nevertheless managed to find reasons to advance. Stenay was a town held by the Germans on the east bank of the Meuse. The 89th Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. William M. Wright, determined to take Stenay because ‘the division had been in the line a considerable period without proper bathing facilities, and since it was realized that if the enemy were permitted to stay in Stenay, our troops would be deprived of the probable bathing facilities there.’ Thus, placing cleanliness above survival, Wright sent a brigade to take the town. As the doughboys passed through Pouilly, a 10.5cm howitzer shell landed in their midst, killing twenty Americans outright. All told, Wright’s division suffered 365 casualties, including sixty-one dead in the final hours. Stenay would be the last town taken by the Americans in the war. Within days, it too could have been marched into peacefully rather than paid for in blood.

    Bland, the other Republican on Subcommittee 3, knifed quickly to the heart of the matter when his turn came to question General Conner. ‘Do you know of any good reason,’ Bland asked, ‘why the order to commanders…should not have been that the Armistice had been signed to take effect at 11 o’clock and that actual hostilities or fighting should cease as soon as possible in order to save human life?’ Conner conceded that American forces ‘would not have been jeopardized by such an order, if that is what you mean.’

    Bland then asked, regarding Pershing’s notification to his armies merely that hostilities were to cease at 11 a.m., ‘Did the order leave it up to the individual commanders to quit firing before or to go ahead firing until 11 o’clock?’ ‘Yes,’ Conner answered. Bland then asked, ‘In view of the fact that we had ambitious generals in this Army, who were earnestly fighting our enemies and who hated to desist from doing so…would it have been best under the circumstances to have included in that order that hostilities should cease as soon as practicable before 11 o’clock?’ Conner answered firmly, ‘No sir, I do not.’

    ‘How many generals did you lose on that day?’ Bland went on. ‘None,’ Conner replied. ‘How many colonels did you lose on that day?’ Conner: ‘I do not know how many were lost.’ ‘How many lieutenant colonels did you lose on that day?’ Conner: ‘I do not know the details of any of that.’ ‘I am convinced,’ Bland continued, ‘that on November 11 there was not any officer of very high rank taking any chance of losing his own life….’

    Conner, visibly seething, retorted, ‘The statement made by you, I think, Mr. Bland, is exceedingly unjust, and, as an officer who was over there, I resent it to the highest possible degree.’

    Bland shot back, ‘I resent the fact that these lives were lost and the American people resent the fact that these lives were lost and we have a right to question the motive, if necessary, of the men who have occasioned this loss of life.’ With that, Conner was dismissed.

    Also called to testify was the second highest ranking officer in the AEF, Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, who had commanded the First Army. Under questioning by the subcommittee’s counsel, Liggett admitted to Ansell that the only word passed along to the troops was that ‘the Armistice had been signed and hostilities would cease at 11 o’clock, Paris time.’ Ansell forced Liggett to agree that orders from AEF headquarters had left subordinate commanders in the dark as to their next course of action. The corpulent old general shifted responsibility to the commander on the scene ‘to judge very quickly from whatever was going on in his immediate neighborhood.’ Coupling Foch’s ‘keep fighting’ order and Pershing’s relaying of it, Ansell said, ‘I have difficulty to discover authority in any division commander under the terms of those two orders to cease advancing or cease firing on his front before 11 o’clock no matter what time he got the notice announcing the Armistice.’ Ansell added, suppose such a commander concluded: ‘I am in a situation where I can desist from the attack, and I am going to do so and save the lives of the men. Would you consider he had used bad judgment?’ Liggett did not hesitate: ‘If I had been a division commander, I would not have done that.’

    At that point subcommittee Chairman Johnson interjected a personal experience in France occurring soon after the armistice while he was visiting a hospital: ‘I met several subordinate officers who were wounded on November 11, some seriously. Without exception, they construed the orders which forced them to make an attack after the armistice as murder and not war.’ Asked if he had ever heard such accusations, Liggett answered, ‘No!’ With that, he too was dismissed.

    Brigadier General John Sherburne, former artillery commander of the black 92nd Division who had returned to civilian life, provided the Republican members of the subcommittee with what they most wanted: the views of a decorated noncareer officer who felt no obligation to absolve the army. A white officer with the division, Sherburne described the joy his black troops expressed near midnight on November 10 when the sky ‘was lighted up with rockets, roman candles, and flares that the Germans were sending up.’

    This persuasive evidence of the approaching end was further confirmed, he said, when soon after midnight a wireless message intercepted from the Eiffel Tower reported: ‘The Armistice terms had been accepted and…hostilities were going to cease. My recollection is that in that wireless message the hour of 11 o’clock was stated as the time.’ Sherburne’s testimony made clear that the men in the trenches had persuasive information nearly twelve hours in advance that the war’s end was at hand, though Pershing had told Congress that he had had no knowledge that the armistice was about to be signed until he was notified at 6 a.m.

    At Ansell’s urging, Sherburne went on to describe how he and his operations officer, Captain George Livermore, author of the letter to Congressman Fuller, had then telephoned divisional, corps, and army headquarters to find out, since the armistice had been signed, if an attack by the 92nd from the Bois de Voivrotte set for that morning could be called off. All up and down the chain of command, Sherburne testified, he was informed that the order stood. Ansell asked the effect of this order on the troops. ‘I cannot express the horror that we all felt,’ Sherburne said. ‘The effect of what we all considered an absolutely needless waste of life was such that I do not think any unit that I commanded took any part in any cel-ebration of the armistice, and even failed to rejoice that the war was over.’

    ‘Who in your judgment was responsible for this fighting?’ Ansell asked. Sherburne hesitated. ‘It is pretty poor testimony to have gossip,’ he answered. Ansell pressed him to go on. Sherburne then said:

    I cannot feel that Gen. Pershing personally ordered or was directly responsible for this attack. If there is any obligation or liability upon him it is from not stopping what had already been planned….Our Army was so run that division and brigade and even corps commanders were piteous in their terror and fear of this all-pervading command by the General Staff which sat in Chaumont….They did not look upon human life as the important thing. In this, to a certain extent, they were right you cannot stop to weigh in warfare what a thing is going to cost if the thing is worthwhile, if it is essential. But I think on the 9th and the 10th and the 11th they had come pretty near to the end of the War and knew they were pretty near the end. But they were anxious to gain as much ground as possible. They had set up what, in my opinion, is a false standard of excellence of divisions according to the amount of ground gained by each division….It was much like a child who had been given a toy that he is very much interested in and that he knows within a day or two is going to be taken away from him and he wants to use that toy up to the handle while he has it….A great many of the Army officers were very fine in the way that they took care of their men. But there were certain very glaring instances of the opposite condition, and especially among these theorists, these men who were looking upon this whole thing as, perhaps one looks upon a game of chess, or a game of football, and who were removed from actual contact with the troops.

    It was, Sherburne went on, difficult for conscientious officers to resist direction from Chaumont, no matter how questionable. He admitted that even in a situation where his own life was at stake, he would have yielded to pressure from the general staff. ‘I would far rather have been killed,’ he told the subcommittee, ‘than to be demoted.’

    The 33rd was another division engaged to the last minute. As the unit’s historian later described the final day:

    Our regimental wireless had picked up sufficient intercepted messages during the early hours of the morning to make it certain that the Armistice had been signed at 5 o’clock that morning and the fact that the prearranged attack was launched after the Armistice was signed…caused sharp criticism of the high command on the part of the troops engaged, who considered the loss of American lives that morning as useless and little short of murder.

    According to Brig. Gen. John Sherburne, many commanders were anxious to gain as much ground as possible before the armistice took effect.

    The 81st Division took the severest blow that morning. One of its regimental commanders had told his men to take cover during the last hours, only to have his order countermanded. With forty minutes left in the war, the troops were ordered to ‘Advance at once.’ The division reported 461 casualties that morning, including sixty-six killed.

    The army claimed to have put a hundred clerks to work on the subcommittee’s request for the number of AEF casualties that occurred from midnight November 10 to 11 o’clock the next morning. The figures provided by the adjutant general’s office were 268 killed in action and 2,769 seriously wounded. These figures, however, failed to include divisions fighting with the British and French north of Paris and do not square with reports from individual units on the ground that day. The official tally for the 28th Division, for example, showed zero men killed in action on November 11, but in individual reports from field officers requested by the subcommittee, the commander of one brigade alone of the 28th reported for that date, ‘My casualties were 191 killed and wounded.’ Taking into account the unreported divisions and other underreported information, a conservative total of 320 Americans killed and more than 3,240 seriously wounded in the last hours of the war is closer to the fact.

    By the end of January 1920, Subcommittee 3 concluded its hearings. Chairman Johnson drafted the final report, arriving at a verdict that ‘needless slaughter’ had occurred on November 11, 1918. The full Select Committee on Expenditures in the War chaired by Congressman W.J. Graham initially adopted this draft.

    Subcommittee 3’s Democratic member, Flood, however, filed a minority report charging that Johnson’s version defamed America’s victorious leadership, particularly Pershing, Liggett, and Bullard. Flood saw politics at work. The country had gone to war under a Democratic president. By 1918 the Republicans had won control of Congress, and it was they who had initiated the Armistice Day investigation. By the time the inquiry ended, Wilson’s hopes for the United States’ entering into the League of Nations were fast sinking and critics were questioning why America had gone to war in the first place.Flood suspected that the Republicans on the subcommittee were inflating the significance of the events of the last day, ‘trying to find something to criticize in our Army and the conduct of the war by our government.’ The committee, he claimed, had ‘reached out for those witnesses who had grievances….’ As for Ansell, whom he repeatedly referred to as the ‘$20,000 counsel,’ he had ‘been permitted to browbeat the officers of the Army.’ Flood also hinted that the lawyer had left the War Department, ‘with whom he is known to have quarreled,’ under a cloud. Finally, Flood argued that the select committee had been created to investigate wartime expenditures and not to second-guess generals on ‘matters beyond the jurisdiction of the committee.’

    Flood’s dissent, with its patriotic ring, found enough sympathy that Chairman Graham took a rare step. He recalled the already approved Johnson report. Three hours of acrimonious debate followed.

    In the end, Johnson bowed to pressure not to hold up the select committee’s report any further, and on March 3 he struck from his draft any imputation that American lives had been needlessly sacrificed on Armistice Day. The New York Times took the Dan Flood view, editorializing that the charge of wasted life ‘has impressed a great many civilians as being well founded….[But,] the civilian view [that] there should have been no shot fired if the commander of a unit had been notified of the signing is, of course, untenable….Orders are orders.’

    American forces weren’t alone in launching assaults on the last day. The British high command, still stinging from its retreat at Mons during the first days of the war in August 1914, judged that nothing could be more appropriate than to retake the city on the war’s final day. British Empire losses on November 11 totaled some twenty-four hundred. The French commander of the 80th Régiment d’Infanterie received two simultaneous orders that morning: one to launch an attack at 9 a.m., the other to cease fire at 11. Total French losses on the final day amounted to an estimated 1,170.

    The Germans, in the always-perilous posture of retreat, suffered some 4,120 casualties. Losses on all sides that day approached eleven thousand dead, wounded, and missing.

    Indeed, Armistice Day exceeded the ten thousand casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day, with this difference: The men storming the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who fell on November 11, 1918, lost their lives in a war that the Allies had already won. Had Marshal Foch heeded the appeal of Matthias Erzberger on November 8 to stop hostilities while the talks went on, some sixty-six hundred lives would likely have been saved.In the end, Congress found no one culpable for the deaths that had occurred during the last day, even the last hours of World War I. The issue turned out much as General Sherburne predicted in his testimony. Soon, except among their families, the men who died for nothing when they might have known long life ‘would all be forgotten.’

    Joseph E. Persico is the author of numerous books, including Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage (Random House Trade, 2001). This article is based on his recently published book, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day 1918, World War I and Its Violent Climax (Random House, November 2004).

    This article was originally published in the Winter 2005 edition of MHQ. For more great articles, subscribe to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History today!