World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

The armistice between the Allies and Germany was an agreement that ended the fighting in the First World War. It went into effect at 11 am on 11 November 1918, and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not technically a surrender. The Germans were responding to the policies proposed by American President Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points. The actual terms, largely written by French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, included the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of German troops to behind their own borders, the preservation of infrastructure, the exchange of prisoners, a promise of reparations, the disposition of German warships and submarines, and conditions for prolonging or terminating the armistice.

On 29 September 1918 the German Supreme Command informed Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Imperial Chancellor Count Georg von Hertling at army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, that the military situation facing Germany was hopeless. Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, probably fearing a breakthrough, claimed that he could not guarantee that the front would hold for another 24 hours and demanded a request be given to the Entente for an immediate ceasefire. In addition, he recommended the acceptance of the main demands of US President Woodrow Wilson (the Fourteen Points) and put the Imperial Government on a democratic footing, hoping for more favourable peace terms. This enabled him to save the face of the Imperial Army and put the responsibility for the capitulation and its consequences squarely into the hands of the democratic parties and the parliament. As he said to officers of his staff on 1 October: "They now must lie on the bed that they've made for us." Thus was born the "Stab-in-the-back" notion that the army had not failed, only the civilians.

On 3 October liberal Prince Maximilian of Baden was appointed Chancellor of Germany instead of Georg von Hertling in order to negotiate an armistice.

On 5 October 1918 Germany asked Wilson to negotiate terms. In the subsequent two exchanges, Wilson's allusions "failed to convey the idea that the Kaiser's abdication was an essential condition for peace. The leading statesmen of the Reich were not yet ready to contemplate such a monstrous possibility." As a precondition for negotiations Wilson demanded the retreat of Germany from all occupied territories, the cessation of submarine activities and the Kaiser's abdication, writing on 23 October: "If the Government of the United States must deal with the military masters and the monarchical autocrats of Germany now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to the international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand not peace negotiations but surrender."

Ludendorff, in a sudden change of mind, declared the conditions of the Allies unacceptable. He now demanded to resume the war which he himself had declared lost only one month earlier. However the German soldiers were pressing to get home. It was scarcely possible to arouse their readiness for battle anew, and desertions were on the increase. The Imperial Government stayed on course and replaced Ludendorff with General Wilhelm Groener. On 5 November the Allies agreed to take up negotiations for a truce, now demanding reparation payments.

A much bigger obstacle, which contributed to the five-week delay in the signing of the armistice and to the resulting social deterioration in Europe, was the fact that the Entente Powers had no desire to accept the Fourteen Points and Wilson's subsequent promises. As Czernin points out:
The Allied statesmen were faced with a problem: so far they had considered the 'fourteen commandments' as a piece of clever and effective American propaganda, designed primarily to undermine the fighting spirit of the Central Powers, and to bolster the morale of the lesser Allies. Now, suddenly, the whole peace structure was supposed to be built up on that set of 'vague principles,' most of which seemed to them thoroughly unrealistic, and some of which, if they were to be seriously applied, were simply unacceptable.

Painting depicting the signature of the armistice in the railway carriage. From left to right are German Admiral Ernst Vanselow, German Count Alfred von Oberndorff of the Foreign Ministry, German General Detlof von Winterfeldt (with helmet), British naval officer Captain Jack Marriott, and standing in front of the table, Matthias Erzberger, head of the German delegation. Behind the table are two British naval officers, Rear-Admiral George Hope, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, and the French representatives, Marshal Ferdinand Foch (standing), and General Maxime Weygand.
The armistice was signed in a carriage of Foch's private train, CIWL #2419 ("Le Wagon de l'Armistice"). It was later put back into regular service with the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits, but after a short period it was withdrawn to be attached to the French presidential train.

From April 1921 to April 1927, it was on exhibition in the Cour des Invalides in Paris.

In November 1927, it was ceremonially returned to the forest in the exact spot where the Armistice was signed. Marshal Foch, General Weygand and many others watched it being placed in a specially constructed building: the Clairiere de l’Armistice.
There it remained, a monument to the defeat of the Kaiser’s Germany, until 22 June 1940, when swastika-bedecked German staff cars bearing Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop and others swept into the Clairiere and, in that same carriage, demanded and received the surrender armistice from France.
The allied representatives at the signing of the armistice. Ferdinand Foch, second from right, seen outside his railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne.
During the Occupation of France, the Clairiere de l’Armistice was destroyed and the carriage taken to Berlin, where it was exhibited in the Lustgarten.

After the Allied advance into Germany in early 1945, the carriage was removed by the Germans for safe keeping to the town of Ohrdruf, but as an American armoured column entered the town, the detachment of the SS guarding it set it ablaze, and it was destroyed. Some pieces were however preserved by a private person; they are also exhibited at Compiègne.

After the war, the Compiègne site was restored, but not until Armistice Day 1950 was a replacement carriage, correct in every detail, re-dedicated: an identical Compagnie des Wagon-Lits carriage, no. 2439, built in 1913 in the same batch as the original and present in 1918, was renumbered no. 2419D.