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Armistice with Germany (Compiègne)
The armistice treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed in a railway carriage in woods near Compiègne on November 11th, 1918. Principal signatories were the Allied Commander-in-chief, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, and Matthias Erzberger, a representative of the closest thing Germany had left to a government.
The Armistice was agreed at 5am on November 11th, to come into effect at 11am, Paris time. It was the result of a hurried and desperate process.
Acting German commander Paul von Hindenburg had requested arrangements for a meeting from Ferdinand Foch via telegram on the 7th. He was under pressure of imminent revolution in Berlin, Munich and elsewhere across Germany.
The German delegation crossed the front line in five cars and was escorted for ten hours across the devastated warzone of Northern France (perhaps, they speculated, to focus their minds on the lack of sympathy they could expect). They were then entrained and taken to the secret destination, Foch's railway siding in the forest of Compiègne.
Foch appeared only twice in the three days of negotiations - on the first day, to ask them what they wanted, and on the last day to see to the signatures. In between, the German delegation discussed the detail of Allied terms with French and Allied officers. The Armistice amounted to complete German demilitarization, with few promises made by the Allies in return. The naval blockade of Germany would continue until such time as complete peace terms could be agreed.
There was no question of negotiation. The Germans were able to correct a few impossible demands (for an example, the decommissioning of more submarines than their fleet possessed), and registered their formal protest at the harshness of Allied terms. But they were in no position to refuse to sign. On Sunday 10th, they were shown newspapers from Paris, to inform them that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated.
Telegrams passed to and from the German team to both German Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg in Spa and the hastily-assembled civilian government of Friedrich Ebert in Berlin. Erzberger apparently attempted to take negotiations to the limit of the 72 hours Foch had offered Hindenberg, but an open telegram from Berlin imploring him to sign immediately somewhat undermined his team's credibility. Ebert was desparate, facing imminent insurrection in many large German cities. Signatures were made between 5.12am and 5.20am, Paris time.
For the Allies, the personnel involved were entirely military:
- Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French supreme commander
- First Sea Lord, Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss , the British representative
- General Weygand, Foch's Chief of Staff
For Germany, the main 'plenipotentiary' was a civilian, with military advisors:
- Matthias Erzberger, for the civilian government
- Count Alfred von Oberndorff, for the Foreign Ministry
- General Detlev von Winterfeldt, Army
- General von Gruennel, Army
- Captain Ernst von Salow, Navy
Minutes of the long sessions were not kept, but several accounts note the stern tone set by Foch, including the abrupt opening remark: <<Qu'est ce que vous desirez, messieurs?>> (What do you want, gentlemen?) and the equally dismissive closing remark: <<Eh bien, messieurs, c'est fini, allez>> (Fine, gentlemen, it's done. Let's go). In response to German protests at the harshness of Allied terms, Foch reminded them of Bismarck's shrugged response to similar protestation by France in 1871, when Germany was the victor: Krieg ist Krieg (War's war). Foch coldly returned the sentiment with <<La guerre est la guerre>>.
Foch's railway carriage, Car No 2419D of the Wagons-Lits Company, was incorporated into a series of monuments built at the site. It was torn out of its building and re-used in June, 1940 by Hitler. In a brief ceremony, representatives of the French government were forced to sign a paper conceding abject defeat at the hands of the Third Reich. Hitler observed in silence. The carriage was installed in Berlin shortly afterwards. According to different sources, it was either deliberately demolished by German soldiers to prevent a humiliating re-use in 1945, or destroyed in a British air raid.
An identical carriage from the same 1913 series, Car No.2439 D, was located, restored and installed in the Compiègne memorial after 1945, with original objects rescued from 2419D before the German army arrived in 1940. It may be visited in Compiegne to this day .
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