The Götterdämmerung begun as the Allies began to crack open the vaunted Hindenburg Line. Allied offensives on the Western Front cracked the German front forcing them back toward Germany. The German Navy mutined. Riots broke out in Germany cities. A German Government was hastily formed and asked for an armistice based on President Wilson's 14 Points. After determining that the request came from a civilian German Government and not the Kaiser or German military, the Allies accepted the German offer. The gun fell silent after 4 years of vicious fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918). There had been over 8.5 million soldiers killed and 21.2 million wounded. The General staff informed the Kaiser that they could no longer guarantee his saftey. He abdicated and fled to the neutral Netherlands (November 28).
When the German Spring 1918 Western offensive ground to a halt the Allies initiated their offensive. This was largely an Anglo-American opperation. The French Army since 1917 was largely restricted to defensive operations. The British in 1914 had only a small professioinal force. By 1918 they had built a large conscript army. The army had learned a great deal on the Somme (1916) and with a new tank force was ready to assault the Hindenburg Line. The Americans when they entered the War in 1917 also had only a small professional army. America rapidly built a large concript army and by mid-1918 that army was ready to assault the Germans lines. The Allies wanted the Americans to be used as replacement troops in British and French units. Pershing insisted on fielding an American army--the AEF. Having helped stop the German offensive, the Americans along with the Brirish went on the offensive. The Allied Hundred Days Offensive proved to be the war-winning offensive of World War I. The Allies struck (August 8). The German Spring-Summer offensive had severely bled the German Army. Unfer the powerful Allied onslaught, the Germans finally began to crack and large numbers of soldiers began to surrender and desert. The Allies forced the Germans to retreat all along the Western Frint which had proven such a deadly obstacle for over 4 years.
The core of the Central Powes were Germany and Austria-Hungary with Germany by far the dominant power. With Germany successes at the beginning of the War, the Ottomans and Bulgarians entered the War on the side of the Central Powers. The War went bady for all three German partners. The Russians and British delivered stinging blows to the Ottomans causing the final disolution of the Empire. The Russians badly mauled the Austrians to such an extent that despite the Russian collapse, the Austrian Empire itself was fately weakened. Bulgaria participated in the defeat of Serbia and Romania, but when Greece entered the War, the Allies with the Serbian army opened a new front in the south. All three of Germany's allies decided to quit the War.
Belatedly the Kaiser saw that Germany had lost the War. He sought to define peace terms through the good offices of the Neterlands (September 13). He found that th Allies would not deal with him.
Bulgaria participated in the defeat of Serbia and Romania, but when Greece entered the War, the Allies with the Serbian army opened a new front in the south. The Bulgarian Army ceased fighting (September 26). This cut off Turkey from the Germans and Austrians. Bulgaria was the first member of the Central Powers to sign an armistice at Saloniki (September 29, 1918).
Arch war hawk and virtual war-time dictator who had rejected Wilson's 'peace without victory offer, helped bring America into the War, amd led thOperation Muchael suddenly decided that peace was necessary. He arrived at Hindenburg's General Headquarters in Spa. He urged Hindenburg to arrange an armistice based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. He realized tha the Alloes would not deal with the Kaiser and thus pressed for any kind of Government that could secure an armistice before the front collapsed. The man who vehemently reject President Wilson;'s peace ininiative now saw Germany's only ecurity in the same man' Fourteen Points.
The Ottoman armies in Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) collapsed, British armies were posed to move north toward Anatolia. The Empire capitulated at Mudros (September 30).
Austria-Hungary had set Word War I in motion by invading Serbia and ignoring Russia;s commitment to that country. Although the Germans suceeded in defeating the Russian, that was not before the Russian Army has inflicted enormous casualties on the Austian-Hungarian Army. The Itlians opened what was to be their final offensve of the War against the Austrians (October 24). Their objective was to recover the territory lost in the disastrous Battle of Caporetto. This Italian offensive culminated in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. This proved to be the end of the Austro-Hungarian Army. The Austrians were a small minority in the Army and the ethnic groups which composed the bulk of the Army were no longer willing to fight for Austria. The Army after Vittorio Veneto began to disentegrate. So did the Empire itself as the various parts of the Empire began to declare independence. Goverments were set up in Budapest, Prague and Zagreb. Austrian authorities ased asked Italy for an armistice (October 29). The Italians, however, continued their advance, taking Trento, Udine and Trieste. The Austrians under a flag of truce made a second offer (November 3).
The terms were worked out with the Allied Authorities in Paris. The Armistice was signed in the Villa Giusti, near Padua (November 3). Austria and Hungary subsequently signed separate armistices following the overthrow of the Habsburg monarchy and the establishment of searate governments in Vienna and Budapest.
With the western front collapsing, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff lost their nerve. They finally sought to negotiate an end to the War.
The Third Supreme Command and the Kaiser turn to Prince Max von Baden chancellor (October 1). Prince Max was a member of the Baden royal family. He was the son of Grand Duke Frederick I's brother Prince Wilhelm. He became heir to the grand duchy in 1907. He played only a minor role in the War until the final months. He was at first active in welfare work for prisoners of war. He gradually became seen as a moderate voice, criticising the extreme right-wing policies, especially the Third Supreme Command, the military dictatorship headed by Hindenburg and Ludendorff in 1917. He had opposed the resumption of unresticted submarine warfare that ptoved ineffective, but disatrously brought America into the War against Germany. Prince Max succeeded Georg Hertling and hastily formed a new government. What the Third Supreme Command wanted was an Armistice that would give them time to reorganize and resupply the Army so they could prepare a new offensive. The Generals and the Kaiser hoped Prince Max with his reputation for moderation and oposition to the U-boat campaign could effectively deal with President Woodrow Wilson who seen as favoring a soft, non-vindictive peace. Wilson's Fourteen Points seem more attractive than anything the British and French would offer Germany. Wilson had offered the Fourteen Points as part of a peace plan the presented to Congress (January 1918). One of the points was national self determination this would prove a principle that the Germans would come to strenuosly reject in border regions were non-German populations were separated frlm Germany. Prince Max sent a telegraph to Wilson requesting an armistice between Germany and the Allies (October 4). Prince Max announced that he was preparing to move Germany towards a parliamentary democracy.
Prince Max approached President Wilson who he believed would be easier to deal with than the British and French. President Wilson replied (October 14). The response gave little cheer to the Kaiser. The presidentg was not about to agree to an temporary armistice that would allow a future cointinuation of the War. Wilson indicated that the Allies would only deal with a democratic government and not the Kaiser or the military Supreme Command. He also demanded the Germans withdraw from occupied territory. The German generals saw Wilson's stern reply as "unacceptable". Ludendorff’s resolve appears to have returned with Wilson's sobering note. He insisted that the Wilson's note should be rejected and the War resumed with vigor.
The President also asked on whose behalf Prince Max was acting. The kaiser interpreted this as meaning the llies were going to do away with him as well as the Hohenzollern monarchy as an institution.
Prince Max was related to the Kaiser, but that was not his primary concern. He was also related to the Tsar. He was an inteligent, urbane intelectual without the Kaiser's personal demons. He was determined to end the war whatever the cost to the Hohenzollerns. He had worked with socialists and willing to consider rebolution from above. He used Switzerland to communicate with the Allies. He even continued the peace process when President Wilson insisted that Hermany must 'surrender' not negotiate unless the 'militarry leaders and monarchial autocracy' was shelved. Ludendorff and the Kaiser were apauled. Ludendorff denounced the Presient's demans as 'unacceptable'. Th Kaiser snapped, "A descendent of Fredrick the Great does not abdicate." Prince Max and the Grman people were no longer in a heroc mode.
The Allied offemsive, however, was rolling east toward the German border. TheArmy's morale at the front and on the people home front was affected by knowledge that the Government was attempting to neogiate an armistice. Prince Max saw that more than cosmetic reforms would be necessary in Germany was to placate the Allies. He saw the need to end the dictatorship of the Third Supreme Command, especially the leading role played by the extrene right-wing Ludendiorff. Ludendorff was relieved (October 26). The Kaiser accepted his resignatio it the next day. He desguised himself and quitely fled to Sweden.
The sailors in Germany's High Seas Fleet upon learning that a suisie forray was being planned by the admirals mutinied (October 28). Te mutiny spread to naval ports (November 1).
With Ludendorff gone and his beloved fleet in the hands of mutineers, the Kaiser began to lose a grip on reality. He sudenly enunciated a European Monroe Doctrine (October 29). He saw Japanese troops arriving through Serbia to throw out the Americans. [Sulzberger, p. 265.] This not only defied geographic sense, but Japan was a member of the Allies not to mention that Allied armies had begin to liberate Serbia. Prince Max called upon the Kaiser to ask him to abficate in favor of a 2-year old grandson. The Crown Prince was passed over because he had played an important roler in the war. He had stroinhly argued forrenewing unrestrixcted submarinde warfare which drew America into the War. He was even more unpooular than Wilhelm himself.
The Socialists who were powerfull in the Reichstag demanded the Kaiser abdicate (November 3). Some deputies suggested he abdicate in favor of one of his sons, but not the Crown Prince who the Socialists despised.
General Gröner replaced Ludendorff as quartermaster general. He informed Prince Max that the Army was near collapse and would have to surrender if an armistice was not reached with 3 days. Riots broke out in German cities, especially in the north. Workers and soldier councils began to take over cities reminisent of the process in Russia when the trsar was overthrown. At this point Hindenburg made a last effort to save he Kaiser. He informed Prince Maxs new Minister of the Interior [Police] that if Wilhelm was ousted that "the army would not hold together ... but would simply stream back home like a horde of marauding bnndits." [Sulzberger, p. 265.]
Prince Max was in an impossible possition. The Reichsstag was fractured. The Socialists wanted to remove the Kaiser and pressed an ultimatum on the Prince. Right-wing deputies were adament about the continuation of the monarchy. Prince Max temporized. He decided that the best option was to set up a constitutional monarchy. He had little freedom of action. He warned the Kaiser that civil war loomed if he did not abdicate and leave Germany. Wilhelm was in no mood to go quietly. In the palace he insisted to his generals that he would lead the troops against the revolutionaries some of whom had been aided bt the Soviet Ambassador who had arrived after the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. General Groener who had replaced Ludendorff this was impossible. and speaking for the badly stressed Hindenburg who was near collapse that this was impossible, explaining, "Sire you no longer have an army."
The revolutions that began in the north spread south. Kurt Eisber, a former journalist, seized control of Munich (November 7). He proclaimed Bavaria to be a socilist republic. The rail lins were cut to ensure that therevolution sid not spead to Berlin.
Hindenburg contacted the Allied Supreme Commander, Ferdinand Foch, to open armistice negotiations (November 7). When the NAZIs began the campaign against the Novemnber Criminals, Hindinberg's role was ignored.
Maththias Ezberger heading a Grman armistice commottee arrived at Marsgal Foch's mobile headquarters aboard a train in the Compiègne Forest to sur for peace. They met a stony face Marshal Foch. He had his terms read out to the Germans. The terms were designed as quite simply tp 'Germany at the mercy of the victors'. When the terms of the Allied demands reached Wilhelm at Spa. thre was no longerany doubt that he would have to abdicate. He procrastinated. He toyed with the iea of yielding the imperial criwnm but remaining king of Prussia. Woth revolution sweping Germamy, Pribce Max undrstood that delay was a threat to his weak Government and his ability to maintain order. He thus decied to act on his own. He announced from a balcony of the imperial chancellory that the Kaiser and the Crown Prince would abdicate and that Friedrich Ebert, a conservative Social Democat had accepted appointment as the Imperal Chancellor under a refgency that would assume control of Germany. The Kaiser saw it as 'Barefaced, outrageous treason." But Germany was no longer within his grasp. Gen Groener made it ckear that he thought the only honorable course for Wilhelm was to go to the frint and somehow manahed to gt himself shot. For obvious reasons, the Kaiser was not excited anout this prospect. He expressed humanitarian and religious objections. [Sulzberger, pp. 366-67.]
Wilson actually had more problems with the British and French than the Germans. The Germans as the Western Front was collapsing were strongly motivated to end the War. The Fourteen Points sounded very attractive as German armies faced defeat. The British and French had no real incentive as the Allied armies pushed toward the Rhine. The British, French, and Italians all had serious reservations about Wilson's Fourteen Points. They War had been extreemly costly. Belgium and northern France was uin ruins. The British and French were determined to get reprations. Wilson favored a softer peace, but was willing to compromise to get British and French support to the new League of Nations. He was also committed to national self-determinastion, especially a revived Polish state for which he needed British and French support. Only after Wilson agreed to reparations would the British and French consent to the Armistice.
Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann declared the creation of a German republic on the Reichstag balcony (November 9). Prince Max did not resist amd immediately resigned, becoming the final imperial chancelor. The Kiel naval mutiny occurred on the same day. Prince Max handed over to Social Democratic Party leader Friedrich Ebert, thus earming the hated of the right-wing nationalists.
The Kaiser hesitated until Field Marshal Hindenburg who had recovered his composure informed him that the Army could not support him, meaning would not. Hindenberg informed him, "I cannot accept the responsibility of seeing the Emperor haled to Berlin by insurgent troops and delivered over as a prisoner to the Revolutionary Government.' I must advise Your Majesty to abdicate and to proceed to Holland." Which was conveniently only 40 miles away. Prince Max convinced the Kaiser that the best action he could take was to seek refuge in a non-beligerant friendly country. He thus decided to flee Germany and seek refuge in neighboring Holland. The Netherlands had maintained its neutrality during the War. Unlike Belgium, the Germans did not invade the Netherlands in World War I.
The Kaiser refused to abdicate and fled uncerimoniously to the Netherlands (November 10). Wilhelm fully intended to remain in Germany after the War and abdication, but the reality of of the impossibility of this finally reached him. At dawn his personal white and gold trained crossed the border. He crossed the border at Eysen. There a stunned sentry telephoned the Hague. Queen Wilhelmina called an emergency meeting of the cabinet. Soon a special train arrived for the Kaiser and his party. It took them to Ameronngen where Dutch-English count Godard Bentinck put his 17th century manor house at the Kaiser's disposal. The Kaiser had left his wife, family, army, country, and a host of princes and aristocrats behind as well as a defeated country.
Ebert forwarded a note to President Wilson. After determining that the request came from a civilian German Government and not the Kaiser or German military, the Allies indicated that they were willing to accept the German offer. At the time, the general impression was gthat the German military was resoonsible for the War. Over time, historians lessened the focus on Germany, but in fact the Prissia of=fficer corps from the beginning pressed for war and convinced the kaiser who also leaned in yhat direction. Wilson replied that the Allies after the Armistice were willing to begin peace negotiations on the basis of his Fourteen Points. That was wilson's intentions. His allies, however, had very different intentions. Marshal Foch was empowered to expalain the aristice conditions. Ebert and Hindenburg had no alternative. Ebert appointed representatives to receive the terms for the armistice from the Allies.
With the Kaiser gone and a new civilian Goovernment in power, the situation changed. Germans officers at Compiègne were out of touch and were unsure what to think. The German delefation was shown Paris newspapers o inform them that the Kaiser had abdicated (November 10).
Finally they received word that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated and instructions from the new government that they should sign the armistice. Erzberger, the authorized representative of the Reich government, was instructed to sign by President Ebert. The German cabinet had earlier received a message from Hindenburg, requesting that the armistice be signed even if the Allies refuse to accept German requests for revisions. Agreement was reeched at Compiègne 5:00 a.m. (November 11). It was schedulded to go into force that night. There was no total agreement on the Armistice, General Pershing wanted to fight on to Berlin. But he had no say in the latter. Marshal Foch sent word to Allied commanders that “Hostilities will be stopped on the entire front beginning at 11 o'clock, November 11 (French hour). The Allied troops will not go beyond the line reached at that hour on that date until further orders.” The war on the Western Front had finally come to an end. Though the Compiègne Armistice was only one of several armistices signed in 1918, it is the armistice of November 11 that became the lasting global legacy of ending the War. The gun fell silent after more than 4 years of horrendous fighting at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918). There had been over 8.5 million soldiers killed and 21.2 million wounded in what came to be called the Great War. The great Allied capitals woke up with news of the Armistice. The Armistice was wildly celebrated throughout the Allied countries (Paris, London, Rome, Washington, and the Dominion capitals as well as smaller cities and towns. People took the streets exuding sxheer hoy, dancing and waving flags. Armistice day would become nationl holidays, still celebrated today under different names. We have no information on Delhi or Tokyo. The celbration was muted in Brussels and Belgrade as they were still occupied by the Germans. The stuation was very different in Berlin, Vuenna, Sofia, and Ankara. The Germans were shocked. Only a few monnths earlier, they thought they had won the War. Ther officials resonsible for agreeing to the Armidstice would come to be known in Germany as the November Criminals. We are not sure about what occurred in St. Petersburg as the Russian Civil War was already in progress. No country, however, benefitted more from the Allied imposed Armistice than Russia.
The provisions of the Armistice included: 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, 3,000 trench mortars, 2,000 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 5,000 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. 16. The blockade remains in effect. All German ships to be captured. 17. All limitations by Germany on neutral shipping to be removed. 18. Armistice lasts 30 days. [German press release]
Even before the departure of the Kaiser, Germsny was falling into Chaos. The glory days and popm of Imperial Germany were gone. The Army, the pride of Germany, had been defeated. And the Kaiser still refusinh to abdicate sought refuge from the Chaos in the Netherlands (November 9). Germany suddenly transitioned into a Republi an worst ofall, power was now in the hands of the Socialists--something Bismarck and the Kaiser had as a nasjor priority been trying to prevent. The Socilist Part of Germany (SPD) were moderte, democratic Socialists, but still Socialists. They were led by Friedrich Ebert. The new Chancellor faced major problens establishing order. The major problem was that security forces (the Army and police) were basically loyal to the E,pror and histile to the Soicialists. The Navy had staged an innsurection. The political right wing (mostly moabarchodsts) were stunned by the loss of the War anbd the Kaoser;s fklight to the Netherlanfs. The political left was on the march and many thought the SPD was too moderate. The Bolheviks (Communisdts) has seized power in Russiaa. Theeir counteroarts wanted to relicated the seizure of power in Germany. After all, Marx has explained that the Revilution would take place in the most industrialized countriers with the largest proleterit. The revolutionary vanguard was Independent Social Democrats (USPD), the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund), and Germany new Communist Party. The Comminisdts were led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. The Imperial Government was literally melting away. Power throughout the Reich had fallen into the hands of emergency Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils (Arbeiter- und Soldatenräte) committees -- just like the Sovits that formed aftr the colalpse of the Trarist regime. The major difference was tht unlike Russia--the German Army did not disentegrate. Anbd the SPD had to rely in the Army--a mis-matched pair. This wa also gthe crucuable for the firmation of the Freikorps.
Finally on November 28, only 2 weeks after the November 11 Armistace, Wilhelm abdicated from his sanctuary in the Netherlands.
I herewith renounce for all time claims to the throne of Prussia and to the German Imperial throne connected therewith. At the same time I release all officials of the German Empire and of Prussia, as well as all officers, noncommissioned officers and men of the navy and of the Prussian army, as well as the troops of the federated states of Germany, from the oath of fidelity which they tendered to me as their Emperor, King and Commander-in-Chief. I expect of them that until the re-establishment of order in the German Empire they shall render assistance to those in actual power in Germany, in protecting the German people from the threatening dangers of anarchy, famine, and foreign rule.
Proclaimed under our own hand and with the imperial seal attached. Amerongen, 28 November, 1918 (Signed) WILHELM
Sulzberger, G.L. he Fall of Eagles: The Death of the Great European Dynasties (Crown Publishers: New York, 1977).
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