Year 1919

Versailles Treaty

‘Instead of 14 points there came unfulfillable paragraphs’, cartoon on the Versailles Treaty. Since Germany had entered the November 1918 ceasefire on the basis of US President Wilson’s 14 points, the peace treaty was perceived as a disgraceful dictate and was also morally and legally flawed. It cannot be denied that the ‘Versailles Dictation’ contributed substantially to ruining the young German democracy, made Hitler’s rise possible and led to the Second World War.

Peace process from 1918 to 1923.

The Great War took longer to end by treaty than the fight­ing itself. Not until 23 August 1923 did the Allied occupa­tion forces evacuate Constantinople in conformity with the definitive Turkish peace treaty, signed at Lausanne a month earlier. Their military occupation of the former Ottoman imperial capital and its strategic straits had lasted 4 3/4 years. It had almost led to a new war in the autumn of 1922 (Chanak Crisis) when Mustapha Kemal’s triumphant Turkish Nationalists, after their decisive eviction of the Greeks from Asia Minor, confronted British troops. The war scare was enough to clinch the fall of Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government.

Such events remind us that the Great War settlement was more than just a matter of Germany, however much that country had dominated the former Central Powers and bulked foremost in the minds of peacemakers. The Treaty of Versailles with Germany (28 June 1919) was the first of six settlements with the defeated powers and the model for them all. No international agreement has undergone more analysis or remained so controversial. Not for the Allies the clearcut unconditional surrenders that concluded the Second World War whose own causes owed so much to the Peace Treaty of 1919.

The Treaty was divided into 15 parts containing almost 450 articles and numerous annexes. Germany lost 13% of her prewar territory and 6 million people or 10% of her population. By Articles 51-79 France regained Alsace­-Lorraine (120,000 Germans departed by 1921) 47 years since their annexation. Belgium received the mainly German-speaking enclaves of Moresnet, Eupen and Malmedy (population about 70,000; Articles 32-34) that Prussia had gained in 1815. The Baltic port of Memel went to the new independent state of Lithuania (Article 99). Czechoslovakia received the Hultschin district (40,000 Germans emigrated). Poland gained West Prussia and the Posen area (Article 87); parts of Upper Silesia (by referendum in 1921) under Article 88; and a corridor to the Baltic Sea where the new Free City of Danzig (Articles 100­-108) was to be administered by the League of Nations (its Covenant formed Part 1 of the Treaty). East Prussia was, therefore, cut off from the remainder of Germany. Northern Schleswig went to Denmark by plebiscite (Arti­cles 109-114).

The 1000-square mile Saar Basin was put under League of Nations administration subject to plebiscite after 15 years. In the meantime, France was to control its valuable coal­ fields as direct reparation in kind for the damage done to hers (Articles 45-50). The Rhineland, containing Germany’s Ruhr industrial heart, was to be demilitarized and occupied for 15 years (Articles 42-43). Reparations were to be paid (Article 232) with an immediate payment of RM 20bn in gold by 1 May 1921. Reparations including handing over every merchant ship of 1600grt and over (half the ships of 1000-1600grt and a quarter of fishing vessels) to compen­sate the Allies for wartime losses.

All Germany’s colonies became League of Nations’ man­dates for disposal to the victors (Article 22) and 20,000 German colonial settlers returned home. Economically Germany lost 45% of her coal (10 years of massive supplies to Belgium, France and Italy); 65% of her iron ore; 57% of lead; 72% of her zinc. The Kiel Canal (Article 380) and five major rivers became international waterways. A ban was placed on the union of Germany and Austria. Provision was made for the trial of the Kaiser and about 100 other war leaders (Articles 227-230) including Hindenburg; this was an unfulfilled but natural extension of the war guilt clause (Article 231). The German Army was reduced to a 100,000-strong volunteer force including a maximum of 4,000 officers (Article 160). Conscription was abolished (Article 173). No tanks, armoured cars, heavy artillery, flamethrowers, poison gas, Zeppelins, military aircraft, air force or general staff were permitted. No arms were to be imported or exported. The Navy was limited to 15,000 men manning 6 old battleships, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers and 12 torpedo boats (Article 181). No new warship over 10,000 tons was to be built and no U-boats were allowed (Article 181).

Little wonder that Germany signed under duress and protest. The High Seas Fleet was scuttled a week before the hated Diktat came into force. Much opinion in Britain and the USA turned against the harsh provisions to the extent that the US Senate never ratified the Treaty, itself a major weakness of the postwar settlement. Yet there were those who argued and still do that Versailles was too lenient, a compromise between the Big Four. The European Allies were keenly aware of their financial indebtedness to the USA ($10bn owed, only $2.7bn repaid 1920-32) and even the French felt obliged to refrain from claiming the Rhine frontier that Foch wanted. Versailles humiliated and hurt Germany, but, as events soon proved, did not permanently remove her capacity to wage aggressive war. Probably only the most ruthless partition of Germany into scores of 18th century-style small states and military occupation of a post­-1945 scale and length could have achieved that.

The Reparations issue was to sour Allied-German relations into the 1930s. Fixed at £6.6bn plus interest in April 1921, the Weimar Republic promptly paid £50m but halted payments during the 1922 inflation crisis thus triggering a Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr. The American­-compiled Dawes Plan (April 1924) gave a loan to secure future payments and stabilized matters until the June 1929 Young plan cut the original figure by 75%, proposing annual instalments until 1988. Germany made a first payment in May 1930 but the world economic depression and Hitler prevented any more. All told Germany had paid RM21.6bn, or an eighth of the original demand, but re­ceived more in loans (mainly from the USA) to aid her economic recovery.

The Austrian Republic signed next at St Germain (10 September), admitting responsibility for the war (Article 77). Austria now consisted of only two-thirds of the former Habsburg German-speaking territories, losing 3.5 million Germans to Czechoslovakia and 250,000 South Tyroleans to Italy. Bulgaria’s fate was similar (Neuilly 27 November) but her reparations were the only ones wholly specified from the start – £90 million; 278,000 Bulgarians left the ceded territories.

Peace with Hungary was delayed by Bela Kunn’s Commu­nist takeover until 4 June 1920 (Trianon). It proved the harshest of all the settlements. Privileged Dual Monarchy Hungary was reduced to one-third in area and population. She lost Transylvania to Rumania, the most enlarged Allied Power, and her ancient capital of Pressburg (Bratislava) to the entirely new state of Czechoslovakia. No fewer than 280,000 Hungarians fled the ceded lands by 1924.

Turkey, alone of the defeated Central Powers, had the opportunity to mitigate her treatment by force of arms against a former Allied power – Greece. So crucial were these events to the modern republic that they are known as the Turkish War of Independence. Nevertheless the main territorial difference between Sevres (10 Aug 1920) and Lausanne (24 July 1923) lay in the restoration of Turkey-in­-Europe and the inviolability of Anatolia. The Great War had swept away the old Ottoman Middle East hegemony and Sultanate for good.

Conspicuous of course by her absence from the peace process was Russia. Yet the fear of a Bolshevized Europe was a great influence throughout. By the end of 1920 the Red Army had won the Civil War but had failed to export the Revolution on its bayonets. The Polish Army was the first foreign foe to defeat it conclusively until the Afghan mujahideen in 1989. The internally victorious but fragile Soviet Union began to recognize its new western neigh­bours and borders culminating in the March 1921 Treaty of Riga with Poland. Not so fortunate were the USSR’s south­ern neighbours in the Caucasus who had enjoyed a frac­tious independence since the upheavals of 1917. Between April 1920 and February 1921 Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia in turn became Socialist and Soviet Republics.

By 1924-25 non-Communist Europe could be said to be recovering prewar levels of prosperity and to have re­moved the most obvious scars of war. The political and emotional legacies of the Great War, and on the Western Front even its physical imprint, are with us still.


Diary May 19, 1919

Polish general with Ukrainian leader

World War One Diary for Monday, May 19, 1919: France – Peace Process: Poles refuse to accept Allied decisions on Ukraine. USA: Army Chief of Staff and Secretary of State Polk approve permanent ‘Black Chamber’ code and cypher organization. Baltic… learn more

Diary May 18, 1919

Private of the Partisan Battalion of the Estonian Army

World War One Diary for Sunday, May 18, 1919: Baltic States: General Alexander P Rodzianko’s White Northern Corps (6,000 men) begins drive towards Petrograd from Estonia, Narva and Gdov taken (May 21). Poland­: Paderewski resigns as Prime Minister. learn more

Diary May 17, 1919

Red vs White cavalry

World War One Diary for Saturday, May 17, 1919: South Russia: General Ulagai’s White cavalry charge and rout 6 Red cavalry regiments on steppe north of river Manych which Wrangel bridges with causeway of village wooden fences (until May 18).… learn more

Diary May 16, 1919

German sailors Scapa Flow

World War One Diary for Friday, May 16, 1919: Britain: Asquith answers Lord French about Kitchener’s supersession. Limited price coal exports to Allies ended. learn more

Diary May 15, 1919

M V Tukachevsky is one of the most brilliant Red commanders.

World War One Diary for Thursday, May 15, 1919: Siberia: Around this date Red Eastern Front 361,000 men plus 195,000 in three rear Military Districts as Kolchak’s armies retreat. North Russia – Murmansk Railway: 400 British storm 60th Village (named… learn more

Diary May 14, 1919

SPD party protest meeting against the Treaty of Versailles

World War One Diary for Wednesday, May 14, 1919: France – Peace Process: Dr Renner’s Austrian delegation arrives at St Germain-en-Laye, terms for Austria discussed on May 15. Allies nominate Baltic Commission. Smuts to friend on peace terms ‘… the… learn more

Diary May 13, 1919

Greek 'Evzones' troops

World War One Diary for Tuesday, May 13, 1919: Turkey­: Greek troops land at Smyrna (until May 16) initially to protect Christian population and keep order, but about 20 Turks soon shot in streets; Greeks court-martial 74 Greeks, Turks and… learn more

Diary May 12, 1919

German Minister President vs Treaty of Versailles

World War One Diary for Monday, May 12, 1919: Germany: National Assembly meets in Berlin, Chancellor Scheidemann asks ‘What hand would not wither’ if treaty signed. France – Peace Process: Economic Council decides on further blockade measures if Germany refuses… learn more

Diary May 11, 1919

Actress Asta Nielsen

World War One Diary for Sunday, May 11, 1919: Nothing special to report. learn more

Diary May 10, 1919

British military cemetery

World War One Diary for Saturday, May 10, 1919: Britain: Labour Corps recruiting opens for military cemetery work in France (15,445 men by April 1920). Government awards Royal Navy pay scheme with back pay from February 1. AV Roe&Co begin… learn more

Diary May 9, 1919

tenant strike in Germany

World War One Diary for Friday, May 9, 1919: Britain: 408,491 ex­-servicemen on out-of-work donations. learn more

Diary May 8, 1919

German delegation to Versailles

World War One Diary for Thursday, May 8, 1919: France – Peace Process: German delegation protests vs specific peace terms (also on May 10, 11, 13, about Saar on 16, about PoWs on 19, each on one topic). Complaints transferred… learn more

Diary May 7, 1919

Clemenceau presents Versailles peace treaty

World War One Diary for Wednesday, May 7, 1919: France – Peace Process – 7th Plenary Session: draft treaty read by Clemenceau to German delegation at Trianon Palace (Versailles) with 15 days for consideration in writing (deadline extended May 20… learn more

Diary May 6, 1919

Council of Three at Versailles.

World War One Diary for Tuesday, May 6, 1919: France – Peace Process: 6th Plenary session approves draft peace treaty; Foch, unhappy with French security guarantees, speaks against. Council of Three dispose of German colonies (Southwest Africa to South Africa,… learn more

Diary May 5, 1919

Allied troops meet at Verst 555 on the Volga front

World War One Diary for Monday, May 5, 1919: Russia­: C-in-C Red Army Vatsetis sacks Colonel Kamenev for insubordination on Eastern Front but Lenin reinstate him in command of Eastern Front three weeks later. Vatsetis warns Defence Council that small-arms… learn more

Diary May 4, 1919

Admiral Kolchak

World War One Diary for Sunday, May 4, 1919: France – Peace Process: Supreme Allied Council invites Italians’ return, they do on May 5. Senior US official, probably E House, sees Kerensky who feels Reds can last ‘only a few… learn more

Diary May 3, 1919

British Victory Parade in Dublin

World War One Diary for Saturday, May 3, 1919: Ireland: 3 Irish­-American ‘Friends of Irish Freedom’, having lobbied Wilson in Paris, arrive to report (June 3). Britain: Ration book issue ended; butter ration increased to 2oz per head per week.… learn more

Diary May 2, 1919

Hindenburg sworn in Reich President

World War One Diary for Friday, May 2, 1919: Germany: ­Hindenburg announces his resignation as Army C-in-C as from peace. Hungary: Allies agree to occupy Budapest. Britain: Admiralty publishes March 1915 Dardanelles dispatches. learn more

Diary May 1, 1919

Volunteers from Upper Bavaria march into Munich

World War One Diary for Thursday, May 1, 1919: Germany: Government troops retake Munich from Spartacists after they murder 10 hostages. Reprisals and death sentences (until June 14) raise deaths to 719 since January 7 (including 58 Russian ex-PoWs who… learn more

Diary April 30, 1919

Kemal Pasha becomes 'Atatürk'

World War One Diary for Wednesday, April 30, 1919: Turkey: Kemal Pasha appointed Inspector-General Ninth Army, Anatolia. France – Peace Process: Japan granted Shantung subject to verbal promise of eventual nestoration to China; Chinese delegation protest on May 6. Britain:… learn more