For four long years, World War One ravaged Europe. The conflict is still infamously known as the “Great War” today, but in 1914 no one could have imagined the death and destruction that would be brought on by the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
By autumn 1918, nearly 8.5 million people were dead, Germany’s morale was lower than ever and all sides were exhausted. After so much loss and destruction, World War One finally came to a halt in a train carriage on 11 November.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month
At 5am on that day, the armistice was signed in a train carriage in Rethondes by representatives from France, Germany and Britain. It followed negotiations led by French commander Ferdinand Foch.
Six hours later, the armistice went into effect and the guns went quiet. The conditions of the armistice not only halted the fighting, however, but also provided for the start of peace negotiations and ensured that Germany could not continue the war.
In line with this, German troops had to surrender and withdraw inside Germany’s pre-war boundaries, while Germany also had to surrender most of its war materials. This included, but was not limited to, 25,000 machine guns, 5,000 pieces of artillery, 1,700 aeroplanes and all of its submarines.
The armistice also called for the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the creation of a democratic government in Germany.
According to the deal, if Germany broke with any of the conditions of the armistice, fighting would resume within 48 hours.
The Treaty of Versailles
With an armistice signed, the next move was to establish peace. This began at the Paris Peace Conference in spring 1919.
The conference was led by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, US President Woodrow Wilson and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando.
The treaty produced at the conference was drafted primarily by France, Britain and the United States. Minor Allied powers had little say, while the Axis powers had no say whatsoever.
In an attempt to balance out Clemenceau’s desire for revenge, the treaty included some of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which espoused his idea of bringing about “a just peace” rather than just a rebalancing of power. But in the end, the agreement saw Germany severely punished.
Not only did Germany lose about 10 per cent of its territory, but it also had to take full responsibility of the war and pay war reparations. The payments totalled around £6.6 billion in 1921.
In addition, Germany’s military was also reduced. Its standing army could now only number 100,000 men, while only a few factories could manufacture ammunition and weapons. The terms of the treaty also forbid armoured cars, tanks and submarines to be built.
Unsurprisingly, Germany complained bitterly about these terms but was ultimately forced to accept these terms.
On 28 June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, as it became known, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors – the central gallery in the Palace of Versailles in France – by the Allies and Germany.