The Treaty of Versailles - 28th June 1919

Introduction

By 1918 Germany was being defeated in most areas of the war. German people were hungry, war weary and demanded peace. The German government eventually asked for an armistice, and at the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, cease-fire began.

The problem of peace remained. Many people hoped that a peace settlement would prevent war from happening again, President Woodrow Wilson thought that he had the answer to all Europe’s problems. He stated his views in ‘Fourteen Points’.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points

On January 8th, 1918, Wilson outlined his peace proposals to the American Congress. These became known as the ‘Fourteen Points’ and ‘Four principles’.

On November 5th, 1918, Wilson sent a note to the Germans. The Germans agreed to an armistice and expected a peace settlement to be based upon the Fourteen points.

Of the fourteen points these were the most important:

  1. There were to be no secret treaties between powers like the treaties that had helped to cause the First World War. (Open Diplomacy)
  2. Seas should be free in peace and in war to ships of all nations (Freedom of Navigation)
  3. The barriers to trade between countries such as custom duties should be removed (free trade)
  4. All countries should reduce their armed forces to the lowest possible levels (Multilateral disarmament.)
  5. The national groups in Europe should, wherever possible, be given their independence. Wilson supported the idea of National Self-Determination, whereby a nation had the right to self-government.
  6. Russia should be allowed to operate whatever government it wanted.
  7. Territorial changes:
    • Germany should give up Alsace-Lorraine and any lands taken away during the war.
    • The Italian frontier should be readjusted.
    • Belgium should be evacuated.
    • Poland should be given an outlet to the sea.
  8. The defeated nations should not be made to pay for the war as a whole.
  9. A ‘League of Nations’ should be formed to protect world peace in the future.

Most of the points are very general: not all of them stated specific changes. Britain and France looked upon the points as being too impractical, they thought that Wilson was hoping far too much. France and Britain had used much of their wealth on the war, and France had suffered two German invasions (1870 & 1914). France wanted to ensure that no third attack would ever take place, and wanted Germany to be reduced to a minor European State.

The Paris Peace Conference

The terms for peace were discussed in Paris from 18th January 1919 until June.

  1. The conference was attended by thirty-two states, but the major powers dominated the conference, Japan, Italy (represented by Orlando), France (represented by Georges Clemenceau), Britain (represented by Lloyd George) and the USA (represented by Wilson) were considered to be the major powers. Major decisions were made by Britain, France and the USA, ‘The Big Three’.
  2. Germany and the defeated states were not invited to attend the conference.
  3. Peace was difficult to make because of the widescale disruption to Europe during the war and the general unrest that existed while the peace conference sat. When the Versailles Treaty was signed, few of Wilson’s fourteen points were adhered to, though a ‘League of Nations’ was set up.

German Land Losses

Refer to the map showing German land losses.

  1. Clemenceau wanted to make sure that France was secure from German attack and so demanded that France’s northeastern boundary was safe. Germany therefore lost Alsace-Lorraine. The Rhineland was demilitarised so that French borders were secure.
  2. Three frontier areas: Eupen, Malmédy and Moresnet were given to Belgium.
  3. Northern Schleswig went to Denmark, Southern Schleswig stayed in Germany.
  4. Troppau was transferred to Czechoslovakia.
  5. Poland gained West Prussia and Posen. This made up a ‘corridor’, giving Poland access to the Baltic Sea. East Prussia was separated from Germany. Poland also gained half of Silesia. (N.B. Article 87 said the Poland-Russia border would be settled later.)
  6. The League of Nations took control of certain areas:
    • Industrial area of the Saar (Germany regained it in 1935)
    • Memel (a port) taken from Germany (annexed by Lithuania, 1923)
    • Danzig made a free city under the control of the League of Nations.
  7. All Germany’s gains at the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3rd March 1918) were surrendered. Germany had made considerable gains when Russia made peace.
  8. Germany lost all of her overseas colonies covering a total of 1,000,000 square miles. Britain gained Tanganyika in East Africa, part of Togoland and the Cameroons. The remaining African colonies were shared between Belgium and South Africa. In the Pacific, German possessions were showed between Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
  9. The union (Anschluss) of Austria and Germany was forbidden.

As a result of these losses, Germany’s total territorial losses amounted to 28,000 square miles, and six million people.

Military Losses

  1. The German army was reduced to 100,000 men, and conscription was disallowed.
  2. No tanks, aircraft or heavy artillery were to be manufactured for the German armed forces.
  3. German navy reduced to: six battleships, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers, and twelve torpedo boats. Germany had to build ships for the Allies.

Economic Losses

The German steel industry depended on coal from the Saar, and iron ore from Alsace-Lorraine. Germany lost both of these areas. Germany also lost coalmines in Upper Silesia, to Poland.

Reparations (compensation payment for war damages

  1. This was a difficult problem to solve and so a reparations commission was established to decide how many goods and how much money Germany should pay.
  2. The figure 6,600 million was eventually agreed upon.
  3. Some people thought this figure was too high. J.M. Keynes (a British economist) said that Germany would only become poorer and bitter. He was right.

War Guilt Clause

  1. This refers to Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, which placed the blame for all losses received by the Allies in the First World War, on Germany.
  2. The treaty also specifically asked that Kaiser be brought on trial. Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland in 1918, and the Dutch refused to release him.

The Signing of the Treaty of Versailles

  1. The terms of the treaty were presented to the Germans. The German Foreign Minister, Count Brockdorff-Ramtzau, complained of its severity
  2. The Germans were given three weeks to prepare their formal complaint. The Germans complained about nearly every clause. The allies ignored all but a few complaints.
  3. With no other option, the Germans signed the treaty. ‘Peace’ was signed in the Hall of Mirrors, at Versailles.
  4. The Germans felt cheated by this treaty, because virtually none of Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ had been included in the treaty. The Germans called the treaty a ‘diktat’ because it was dictated to them, without real consultation. The Weimar government, especially Ebert who had signed the treaty, was looked upon as traitorous.

Reaction of Britain, France and the USA

  1. Most people in Britain had wanted revenge and so had gained some satisfaction. Lloyd George was satisfied that Britain had gained most of Germany’s colonies, so that after 1919, Britain could recover its wealth and power.
  2. France, however, was not satisfied that Germany had been weakened enough. Marshal Foch of France said in 1919: ‘This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty-one years’. By this he meant Germany had not been weakened enough and would rise again in twenty-one years. He predicted Germany’s rise correctly. Britain and America promised help to France should Germany threaten her in the future.
  3. Most remarkable of all, America refused to ratify the treaty. Wilson was a Democrat. The republican part in America opposed Wilson’s involvement in Europe, and in the autumn of 1918, the Republicans had a majority in Congress. Congress refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles because:-
    1. Republicans were against Democrats
    2. Republicans wanted ‘isolation’

France still felt insecure, because Britain would not support France without American aid.

Reasons why Germany Thought the Treaty of Versailles was Unfair

  1. Germany thought the Treaty of Versailles (28th June 1919) was unfair because it was a ‘diktat’. The ‘Big Three’ had not negotiated with Germany at Paris from January – June 1919. Germany was given only three weeks to comment on the vast amounts of peace clauses. Her objections were largely ignored. Germany resented the attitude of revenge which was summed up by the British press as:
  2. "Make Germany Pay"

    and

    "Squeeze the German Lemon until the Pips Squeak!"

  3. Germany though the Treaty was unfair because it was not based fully on Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’. On the 5th November, 1918, Germany had accepted the Fourteen Points as the basis for peace and an armistice began at 11 o’clock on the 11th November 1918. By the 28th June 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the Fourteen Points had been largely forgotten. (See table below)
How the Fourteen Points were Ignored
Fourteen Points Treaty of Versailles
Open Diplomacy The ‘Big Three’ made all the decisions at Versailles, so the treaty was a ‘diktat’.
Freedom of the Seas Germany could not enjoy freedom of navigation because her navy was so reduced.
Multilateral disarmament Only Germany disarmed at Versailles. It was enforced unilateral disarmament. Also, to humiliate Germany further, she had to build ships for the Allies (Allies rearmed)
National-Self Determination NSD was applied unfairly at Versailles, e.g. Poland. Poland was given Posen-West Prussia, and therefore, the Germans on this land were now under foreign rule. Also the Anschluss of Germany and Austria was not allowed, and so the German speakers in these lands were denied NSD.
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