25/11/1918 After 50 years, France recovers Strasbourg #1918Live

Since the Western Front armistice came into effect the Germans have been retreating and the Allies advancing to recover the lost territory. This leads to emotional scenes as places that have been under German occupation since the war’s start are now liberated. King Albert of Belgium returned to Brussels a few days ago, seeing his capital for the first time since 1914, and is greeted by cheering crowds. French troops today arrive in Strasbourg, capital of Alsace, which, like nearby Lorraine, was lost to France after the war of 1870. The return of the Tricolour to the streets of Strasbourg gives rise to more emotional scenes, but patriotic joy here may not be entirely universal, as one of the first acts of the French soldiers is to suppress a revolutionary council that had established itself in the town.

images:

The King and Queen of Belgium in Brussels (The Cross of Laeken: The King Returns to Brussels, 1918)

The French army returns to Strasbourg (The Blue Line – the Vosges Frontier from 1871 to 1914: The Kaiser’s Birthday, place Kléber, Strasbourg)

see also:

November 1918 in Alsace-Lorraine (Wikipedia)

Alsace-Lorraine (1914-1918 Online)

11/11/1918 The guns stop firing, too late for some #1918Live

The Allied and German negotiators signed the armistice just after 5.00 am this morning but it does not come into effect until 11.00 am. As word spreads of the war’s imminent end fighting begins to trail off but before then fighting is surprisingly intense, with Allied troops either trying to capture symbolic targets or to secure advantageous positions in case the ceasefire breaks down and fighting is resumed. Canadian troops expend great efforts to liberate Mons, site of the first clash between British and German troops in 1914. By the time the guns stop firing it is in Canadian hands. American troops die taking the town of Stenay, apparently for no better reason than it has some excellent bathing facilities.

People keep dying right up until 11.00 am (and possibly beyond, as some isolated units only discover that the war is over after mid day). There are reports of Allied artillery pieces continuing to fire on the Germans until the very last moment, simply because doing so will save them the bother of bringing the un-used shells home.

There are a number of candidates for the last man killed. Near the Meuse river Augustin Trébuchon is bringing a message to frontline troops that hot soup will be served after the armistice comes into effect; then a bullet ends his life at 10.50 am. On the outskirts of Mons, Privates Arthur Goodmurphy and George Laurence Price are so far forward that news of the impending armistice has not reached them. Without orders, they move on further to investigate some abandoned houses. Then Price is shot and killed by a sniper at 10.58 am.

American troops taking part in the last stages of the Meuse-Argonne offensive are still fighting this morning but again, as news of the imminent armistice spreads they mostly choose to sit tight until the ceasefire. Private Henry Gunther has other ideas. Previously a sergeant, he was demoted after complaining to a friend in a letter about army conditions, advising him to avoid being drafted. Now he seizes a last chance for glory and makes a solo bayonet charge on a German machine-gun post. The Germans try to wave him away but he keeps coming and fires his gun before the machine guns cut him down, one minute before the armistice takes effect.

The last German deaths appear not to have been recorded. In total both sides suffer some 11,000 casualties today, of which roughly 2,700 are fatalities.

When the guns stop firing there does not appear to be much in the way of fraternisation between the two sides. There are reports of German soldiers waving towards their former enemies before beginning their long march home. Lieutenant Clair Groover of the US army is unusual in that he does meet a German today. A tearful German soldier approaches him, saying that his brother was killed yesterday. The German asks for permission to find and bury his brother’s body.

image sources:

map (New Zealand history: Armistice and occupation of Germany map)

Augustin Trébuchon’s grave (Wikipedia)

George Lawrence Price (Wikipedia)

Henry Gunther (Wikipedia)

11/11/1918 The armistice is signed #1918Live

In Compiègne Forest German and Allied negotiators have been trying to conclude an armistice that will end fighting on the Western Front. The Germans have been shocked by the severity of the terms the Allies are offering. Yesterday though Erzberger, the lead German negotiator, was directed by Ebert, Germany’s new Chancellor, to sign whatever terms he can get. Revolution is now spreading through Germany and the army is disintegrating; if the war continues then chaos and anarchy will be the result.

Ebert’s authorisation led to an intense burst of negotiations. Finally just after 5.00 am today the two sides reach an agreement. The Germans were unable to persuade the Allies to significantly improve their terms, though they did win some concessions. Foch and the Allied negotiators now accept that Germany will not have to surrender more U-boats than it actually possesses. They allow the German army to retain a very small amount of its military capacity in order to combat internal disorder. The Germans also win a slightly longer window in which to evacuate their troops from occupied territory.

Fundamentally though the armistice terms are dictated to the Germans by the Allies and are designed to prevent any resumption of hostilities by them. The German army is to surrender almost the entirety of its artillery pieces, mortars and machine guns, as well as huge numbers of trucks, locomotives and train carriages. The Germans have 15 days to withdraw from Belgium, Luxembourg and France (including Alsace-Lorraine) and must then withdraw their forces 40 kilometres east of the Rhine. The Allies will occupy the west bank of the Rhine and bridgeheads across it, with the right to seize any property they need from the local population. Germany’s navy will completely disappear, its warships and U-boats sailing to Allied ports for internment, pending a final decision on their fate.
The armistice nullifies the unequal treaties Germany signed with Russia and Romania earlier this year. German troops are also to be withdrawn from all the territories it has been occupying in the east. And Lettow-Vorbeck‘s army in Africa is to surrender. All prisoners of war held by the Germans are to be repatriated.

The Germans had hoped that the armistice would mean the end of the blockade of their ports, but this is not to be. The armistice states that the blockade will continue until a final peace settlement is agreed. For Erzberger this is a particularly egregious provision. He reads out a formal note of protest before signing the armistice, warning that the terms will unleash famine and anarchy in Germany. Yet his concluding words are defiant: “A nation of seventy million people suffers, but it does not die”.

Erzberger had wanted the armistice to take effect immediately but Foch insisted on a six hour gap. The fighting will end at 11.00 am. Messengers race off to tell frontline units that the war is ending. Foch meanwhile travels to Paris to present the armistice terms to Clemenceau. “My work is finished,” the generalissimo tells his Prime Minister. “Your work begins.”

images:

Painting of Erzberger protesting, by Maurice Pillard Verneuil, and the Allied armistice negotiators

10/11/1918 Canadian troops close in on Mons #1918Live

By now it is clear that the war is about to end, yet the Allies continue to attack the Germans. The German position on the Western Front is collapsing. With the rail hub of Sedan now in Allied hands the German occupation forces cannot be adequately supplied: it would be impossible for them to make a stand even if they were to want to. Everywhere the Germans are being pushed back, with only the most limited resistance being presented to the Allies. In Belgium Canadian troops are now at the gates of Mons. While not a target of any great strategic importance, Mons has a symbolic significance to the British and their Commonwealth allies. It was here in 1914 that British forces first clashed with the Germans and suffered their first defeat. Now Currie, the Canadian commander, is determined that Mons will be recaptured before the war ends.

9/11/1918 Erzberger remonstrates with Foch, in vain #1918Live

On the Western Front the Allied advance continues. The Germans are mostly retreating rather than fighting and the Allies are being slowed more by the booby traps and destruction the Germans have left behind than by German resistance. Nevertheless the recovery of Belgium continues, with Tournai and Ghent today liberated by British and Belgian troops respectively.

In the forest of Compiègne armistice negotiators are trying to bringing the war to an end. The German team is still reeling from the unexpected harshness of the terms presented by Foch yesterday. Now Erzberger, the lead negotiator, asks again for an immediate ceasefire so that the German army can be deployed home to prevent revolutionary chaos. Foch brushes him off once more: German disorder is a problem for Germany and there can be no ceasefire until all the terms are agreed. Erzberger for his part is still waiting for word from Berlin as to whether the terms can be accepted, so he is unable to agree the Allied terms. The war therefore will continue.

7/11/1918 Germany’s armistice negotiators cross the lines #1918Live

Wilson‘s latest note told the Germans that Foch had been authorised to present armistice terms to a German delegation. The way is therefore clear for the war’s conclusion. Prince Max, the Chancellor, was initially wary of seeking an immediate ceasefire but his mind has been concentrated for him by the revolutionary chaos spreading in Germany. Groener meanwhile has warned that the army is on the brink of collapse. French and American troops have finally reached Sedan; without this vital rail hub the entire German position in France becomes untenable. The ability of the German army to continue resistance is ebbing away by the day.

Prince Max persuades Erzberger to head the armistice delegation. Erzberger is the leader of the Centre Party, which represents Catholic interests. He had previously called for an end to the war, so Prince Max hopes that the Allies will treat him more favourably.

Today under a white flag of truce Erzberger and his delegation cross the Allied lines. They are brought to a train that will transport them to meet Foch and his team.

image source:

Matthias Erzberger (Wikipedia)

5/11/1918 The end draws near: Wilson tells the Germans that Foch has been authorised to receive their armistice delegation #1918Live

Germany’s position is now dire. At home unrest is spreading, with Lübeck today following Kiel in declaring for the revolution. The collapse of Austria-Hungary meanwhile leaves the country vulnerable to invasion from the south. And on the Western Front the ability of the army to resist the Allies diminishes hourly. Yesterday Allied troops forced a crossing of the Sambre canal; as part of this battle New Zealand troops succeeded in storming the town of Le Quesnoy, capturing large numbers of German prisoners. Groener, Ludendorff‘s replacement, decides that he has no option now but to order a general retreat.

It must then come as something of a relief when the latest note from Washington arrives in Berlin. Lansing, the Secretary of State, informs the Germans that Wilson has conferred with the other Allies and that Marshal Foch has now been authorised to receive Germany’s representatives and present the Allied armistice terms to them. The end of the war is at last in sight.

Lansing’s note

image source:

The Scaling of the Walls of Le Quesnoy, by Edmund Butler