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

24/10/1918 A developing rupture between Prince Max’s government and Ludendorff’s army #1918Live

In their last note to Wilson the Germans disputed his assertion that the retreating German army was laying waste to France and Belgium and denied that the U-boat campaign was a particularly beastly undertaking. They also asserted that political reforms in Germany mean that the German government is now effectively responsible to the Reichstag. As a concession the Germans nevertheless agreed to immediately recall the U-boats to port, in advance of a general armistice.

The Germans hoped that their concession would lead to Wilson’s agreeing to proceed immediately to substantive armistice negotiations. However the reply from Washington that arrives today is disturbing. Secretary of State Lansing writes on the President’s behalf that the United States is willing now to arrange with the other Allies for armistice talks to begin. However the note makes clear that the terms offered will be such as to make it impossible for the Germans to renege on the armistice and resume the war. Wilson still sees the Kaiser as the ultimate director of German policy and does not trust any guarantees made by the German government. He offers the prospect of real negotiations with a truly representative German government, but so long as real power remains with the Kaiser and the generals then the United States must demand “not peace negotiations, but surrender”.

To the Social Democrats in Prince Max‘s cabinet, the American note means that the Kaiser will have to be removed from office. The position of Hindenburg and Ludendorff is now also under question. Ludendorff has changed his mind on the armistice issue and now wants the army to fight to the bitter end.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff today depart Berlin for the army’s field headquarters in Spa. From they issue a proclamation to the army denouncing Wilson’s proposals and urging the continuance of resistance to the Allies. The two generals are now trying to continue the war in defiance of Germany’s government.

The text of Lansing’s note.

21/10/1918 As Wilson recognises the Czechoslovaks, Austria’s Germans seek their own nation #1918Live

Centrifugal forces are tearing Austria-Hungary apart. The southern Slavs have declared a new state of Yugoslavia while the Poles of Galicia are seeking to join the independent Poland recently proclaimed in Warsaw. The Hungarians are restive too, as are the Czechs and Slovaks. Unrest is affecting the army as well as the home front, with many divisions on the Italian front today refusing to obey orders.

President Wilson of the United States has already signalled that autonomy may not be enough for the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: if they want independence, they can have it. Now he goes a step further, joining Britain and France in recognising the Paris-based Czechoslovak National Council as the legitimate government of Czechoslovakia.

Emperor Karl must feel that the one group within the Empire whose loyalty he can rely on is the German-speaking Austrians. But now they too join the march towards the Empire’s dissolution. German members of the Austrian parliament meet today and proclaim themselves to be the Provisional National Assembly for German-Austria, representing all the German people of the Austrian half of the Empire. The territory they claim for this putative German-Austrian nation is large, stretching beyond the Austrian heartland into the Tyrol, Bohemia, and Moravia.

Whether the German-Austrian leaders will be able to exercise control over all this territory remains to be seen. The Italians covet the South Tyrol while the Czechoslovaks understandably want to exercise control over all of Bohemia and Moravia.

image source:

map (Wikipedia)

20/10/1918 Lansing’s note to Vienna: the writing on the wall for Austria-Hungary #1918Live

Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary had hoped that his People’s Manifesto, a proposal for national federalism within Austria (but not Hungary) would go some way to dampening down separatist tendencies within his Empire. It has however failed to do so. Increasingly the various peoples of Austria-Hungary see the Habsburg Empire as a failed entity that they want nothing more to do with. Autonomy within Austria is not good enough for people who are now seeking independence.

Emperor Karl also hopes that a swift conclusion of an armistice might also relieve the pressures threatening to tear the Empire apart. His own request for an armistice went to the Allies with that of Germany. As the Germans are the senior of the Central Powers, Wilson is engaging primarily with them. However today a disturbing note arrives in Vienna from Washington. Wilson had previously been seeking peace on the basis of his Fourteen Points, one of which proposed that the various peoples of Austria-Hungary be provided with the “freest opportunity of autonomous development”. Now though Lansing, Wilson’s secretary of state, reports that developments have forced a change in Wilson’s thinking. Autonomy may not be enough for the peoples of Austria-Hungary and if they wish to pursue independence then Wilson will support them. For Emperor Karl this is a disaster: the peace his Empire so desperately needs will also be the end of it; he will be the last Habsburg Emperor.

The text of Lansing’s note

20/10/1918 As a concession to Wilson, Germany calls off the U-boats #1918Live

The latest note from Washington to Berlin is stern. Wilson berates the Germans for the destruction their army is leaving behind in the territory it is evacuating. Angered by the sinking of the RMS Leinster he also demands an end to the U-boat campaign before an armistice could be agreed. And he suggests that Germany’s authoritarian system of government is itself an obstacle to a ceasefire.

The Germans are peeved by the American note, feeling that it represents an insult to their army. Some, notably Ludendorff, argue that Germany must fight on and abandon any attempt to secure a shameful peace. But Prince Max, the Chancellor, knows that Germany’s ability to resist is ebbing away. Now he sends another note to Wilson. He protests against accusations of German inhumanity but as a concession he says that the U-boats are being ordered to return to port. He also claims that Germany’s government is being reformed to make it truly representative and that his cabinet is now responsible to the Reichstag. He therefore asks Wilson to let armistice negotiations proceed.

Text of the German note

17/10/1918 Wilson’s note causes consternation in Berlin #1918Live

When the Germans sent their first request for an armistice to President Wilson they did so hoping that he would offer more generous terms than his European allies. But the arrival in Berlin of Wilson’s latest note disabuses them of any notion that he is any kind of soft touch. He takes the German leaders to task for the destruction being left behind by their retreating troops in France and Belgium and then berates them for continuing the U-boat war while they are attempting to negotiate a ceasefire. The sinking of the RMS Leinster has excited anger on the Allied side, and Wilson states that it would be impossible for armistice negotiations to take place while German submarines are still sinking civilian vessels. He also says that the German system of government is itself an obstacle to peace, implicitly calling for full German democratisation.

Wilson’s harsh words cause consternation in Berlin. Prince Max is furious, feeling that Wilson has insulted the honour of the German army. A council of war today considers how Germany should respond. Ludendorff appears to have recovered his former confidence and urges rejection of Wilson’s terms and a continuation of the war. However, when the Chancellor asks him to go through the current military situation, the disastrous state of the German army is made clear. The army is now so short of men that Ludendorff proposes despatching divisions from the East to the Western Front (which would prevent the East being exploited for German needs) or by drafting industrial workers (which would cause a collapse in production of vital war goods). Prince Max dismisses these ideas as desperate fantasies. He gloomily concludes that there is no option but to continue the armistice negotiations with Wilson.

14/10/1918 Wilson demands an end to the U-boat war

Notes are flying backwards and forwards between Berlin and Washington as the German leadership tries to arrange an armistice through President Wilson. The Germans replied to Wilson’s last note stating that they accepted his Fourteen Points and were willing to withdraw from occupied territory; they hoped that this would mean a swift arrangement of a ceasefire between the armies on the Western Front. But they reckoned without the revulsion caused by the RMS Leinster‘s sinking by a German U-boat. The Allies are shocked that Germans are still sending their submarines to attack civilian ships; Wilson shares that sense of anger and wonders whether the Germans are negotiating in good faith.

So now Wilson sends a second note to the Germans. He demands an end to the U-boat war before an armistice can be concluded and also draws attention to the trail of destruction being left by the retreating Germans in France and Belgium. But he goes further, saying that the very system of government in Germany is an obstacle to meaningful armistice negotiations. It may mean therefore that the German political system will have to undergo some kind of transformation before peace can be concluded.