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 June 27, 1919

Treaty of Versailles signing

World War One Diary for Friday, June 27, 1919: France – Peace Process: China says she will not sign Treaty due to Shantung clauses. Germany accepts final protocol. Next day, Saturday, June 28 (exactly 5 years after SUNDAY, JUNE 28,… learn more

Diary June 26, 1919

German PoWs in France

World War One Diary for Thursday, June 26, 1919: Germany: Fightings in Berlin and Hamburg. Britain: Haig appeals to workmen and unions to help unemployed ex­-servicemen find work. learn more

Diary June 25, 1919

warship sunk by its crew in Scapa

World War One Diary for Wednesday, June 25, 1919: France – Peace Process: Allied note protests at Scapa Flow scuttle and at retention of captured French flags. Siberia: Reds 20 miles from Perm and advancing East of Ufa. learn more

Diary June 24, 1919

Versailles Daily Mail

World War One Diary for Tuesday, June 24, 1919: France – Peace Process: Belgium to have priority in German reparations up to $ 500 millions. Hungary: Hungarian­-Czech Army truce. Anti­-Communist Budapest rising suppressed as are three others (June 22­-25). learn more

Diary June 23, 1919

Treaty of Versailles

World War One Diary for Monday, June 23, 1919: France – Peace Process: Mr Haniel indicates (25 minutes before ultimatum expires) Germany will sign under protest after delay refused. Germany ­Soldiers burn captured French 1870-71 flags in Berlin. Britain: Revised… learn more

Diary June 22, 1919

French war propaganda

World War One Diary for Sunday, June 22, 1919: France – Peace Process: German Assembly at Weimar votes 237­-138 for Peace Treaty. Supreme Council refuses to accept German war guilt and criminals reservations. South Russia: ­Denikin’s Volunteer Army 24 miles… learn more

Diary June 21, 1919

scuttling of the battlecruiser 'Seydlitz'

World War One Diary for Saturday, June 21, 1919: North Sea: GERMAN HIGH SEAS FLEET INTERNED AT SCAPA FLOW SCUTTLES from 1215 hours;: 9 of 1,800 German sailors killed as 10 dreadnoughts, 5 battlecruisers, 8 cruisers, 32 destroyers sunk by… learn more

Diary June 20, 1919

German Finance Minister Erzberger and Interior Minister Dr. Hugo Preuss

World War One Diary for Friday, June 20, 1919: France – Peace Process: Count Brockdorff-Rantzau refuses to sign Peace Treaty, as does Scheidemann Government which resigns (Bauer-Erzberger Ministry formed on June 21). Allied Supreme Council orders Marshal Foch to advance… learn more

Diary June 19, 1919

Paris at the tomb of the unknown soldier

World War One Diary for Thursday, June 19, 1919: Nothing much to report. learn more

Diary June 18, 1919

CMB27 Coastal Motor Boat

World War One Diary for Wednesday, June 18, 1919: Baltic: Royal Navy’s CMB4 torpedoes sinks Red cruiser Oleg off Fort Krasnya Gorka, Lieutenant Agar wins Victoria Cross. Stalin executes 67 actually loyal officers of Kronstadt garrison. Siberia­: Reds take Ossa… learn more

Diary June 17, 1919

Demonstration vs Versailles peace treaty

World War One Diary for Tuesday, June 17, 1919: France – Peace Process: Austrian counter-proposal. Wilson leaves Paris for Brussels. German Versailles delegates stoned by Berliners. North Russia: 7 RAF and White planes destroy Red airfield with more than 4… learn more

Diary June 16, 1919

German-British posts in Upper Silesia

World War One Diary for Monday, June 16, 1919: France – Peace Process: Final Allied reply to German objections requires acceptance in 5 days; early League of Nations membership, Upper Silesia plebiscite and slight Polish frontier changes conceded. German plenipotentiaries… learn more

Diary June 15, 1919

Major-General Bulak-Balkhovich

World War One Diary for Sunday, June 15, 1919: Northwest Russia: Around this date Red deserters swell White Northern Corps to 25,000 men, becomes Northwest Army. learn more

Diary June 14, 1919

Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy

World War One Diary for Saturday, June 14, 1919: Britain: FIRST NON-STOP ATLANTIC FLIGHT (Alcock and Brown, until June 15) with a modified Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s (Newfoundland) to Clifden (Ireland). South Russia: 5 Sopwith Camel fighters of… learn more

Diary June 13, 1919

Denikin enters Tsaritsyn

World War One Diary for Friday, June 13, 1919: South Russia: ­Wrangel’s Caucasus Volunteer Army (mainly cavalry and element of Denikins forces) attacks Tsaritsyn (until June 15) but Red defences too tough, Whites lose nearly 25% including 8 generals and… learn more

Diary June 12, 1919

Anton Denikin

World War One Diary for Thursday, June 12, 1919: South Russia: ­Denikin recognizes Kolchak as White Supreme Ruler, in speech at farewell dinner for British Military Mission chief Lieutenant-General Briggs. France – Peace Process: Turk delegation arrives. South Persia: ­Capture… learn more

Diary June 11, 1919

Czech soldiers

World War One Diary for Wednesday, June 11, 1919: Czechoslovakia: Hungarian Red Army advancing victori­ously in Slovakia. USA: Irish Sinn Fein leader de Valera arrives in New York on visit. learn more

Diary June 10, 1919

Tyroleans demand a referendum to join Germany

World War One Diary for Tuesday, June 10, 1919: France – Peace Process: Austria protests at Allied terms. Baltic States: Estonians take Jakobstadt and Kreutzburg on river Dvina. North Russia: British storm Murmansk Railway Siding 10 (until June 11) after… learn more

Diary June 9, 1919

Red partisans in an ambush.

World War One Diary for Monday, June 9, 1919: Siberia: Red 25th Rifle Division captures Ufa with many supplies and much grain after surprise river Belaia crossing (June 7). By c. June 15 Whites driven back 50 miles east into… learn more

Diary June 8, 1919

Interned German warships in Scapa Flow

World War One Diary for Sunday, June 8, 1919: France – Peace Process: Count Brockdorff-Rantzau returns to Versailles. Allies request Hungarian Communist leader Bela Kun to stop attacking Czechoslovakia and invite him to Paris; he complies. Germany: Government troops suppress… learn more