Primary Documents - German Armistice Delegate's Account of Negotiations, 5-11 November 1918

Monument honouring the dead near Compiegne With German military morale in evident decline on the Western Front and revolution brewing at home - Kaiser Wilhelm II was himself obliged to abdicate on 9 November 1918 - the German government determined to negotiate an armistice with the Allies on 6 November, having issued preliminary diplomatic feelers two days earlier.

Consequently on 7 November the German Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg exchanged a series of telegrams with the Supreme Allied Commander, Ferdinand Foch, to agree a date, time and place for formal negotiations.  (Click here and here to read Allied eyewitness accounts of the armistice negotiations; reproduced below is an account by a German delegate.)

Although Germany had insisted that it would only enter into negotiations on the understanding that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's so-called 'Fourteen Points' would form the basis for a settlement, the armistice terms were nevertheless punitive.  The Allies agreed to an armistice only on the basis that Germany effectively disarm herself, thereby preventing the latter from renewing hostilities.

The Allies' armistice terms were presented to German negotiators on 8 November 1918; alarmed at the severity of the terms the Germans lodged formal protests before reluctantly signing at 5 a.m. on 11 November; the armistice was to come into effect six hours later, at 11 a.m.

President Wilson shortly afterwards announced details of the armistice to Congress, and further celebrated the agreement in a Thanksgiving Address at the close of the month.

German Armistice Delegate's Account of Negotiations, 5-11 November 1918

When on November 5th we left Spa in motor-cars and reached the French lines we found enemy carriages already waiting to take us to the unknown scene of negotiations.

This motor tour with the French officers lasted ten hours, and it appears likely was intentionally prolonged in order to drive us all over the devastated province and prepare us by what we saw for what was shortly to be put before us in the way of hatred and revenge in the extremely severe armistice conditions.

Now and again a Frenchman pointed silently to heaps of ruins, or mentioned a name, "Voila St. Quentin."

In the evening, wherever it was, a train stood ready for us.  The windows of the carriages were curtained, and when we awoke next morning the train stood in the midst of a wood.

We know now that the negotiations took place in the forest of Compiegne, but a week ago we knew nothing.  Perhaps it was a measure of precaution, even for our sakes, that we were taken through no town.  Perhaps acts of violence were feared on the part of the population, for the hatred for us among them is boundless.

The wood was evidently barred by troops to all comers.  There were no houses and no tents.  On the railway line stood two trains, one occupied by Marshal Foch and his people, the other by ours.

Here for three days we lived, worked, and deliberated.  This seems to be the modern form of such negotiations.

The castles and fortresses of olden times have gone, even for such purposes.  The train with its sleeping, drawing-room, and dining cars was very comfortable, and we were provided with everything we wanted.  The officer who had charge of the train had us supplied, and the conduct of the numerous guards who stood around was beyond reproach.

But all the hostility and the fullness of hate for our country that seems now to be cherished in France came to expression in the form of the negotiations, as well as in the terrible nature of the conditions.

Those of us who were soldiers wore uniforms and the Iron Cross.  The introduction of the half-dozen French officers who conducted the negotiations with us "in plenum" and the greetings were of the coldest.

Foch, who showed himself only twice - at the opening and at the end - gave us no word of the particular politeness that in earlier times distinguished the most chivalrous nation in the world, and his officers just as little.

He received us with the words, "Qu'est ceque vous desirez, messieurs?" and invited us into his business car, furnished with tables and maps.

As each was to speak his own language and everything was translated, the reading of the conditions alone occupied nearly two hours.  It was moreover a discovery when Foch answered that there were to be no negotiations, and only dictated matter.

Altogether, with all his coldness, he was by no means so tactless and brusque as was General d'Esperey at Belgrade.

Then we retired to our train, which stood on the other line.  As we had been sent by the old Government, and had certainly not been authorized to sign everything without conditions, we proceeded, at the instance of Erzberger, to divide the various points under three heads, military, naval, and diplomatic, and discussed them separately with the members of the enemy commissions, which consisted only of officers.

Military Germany thus, with two civilians, stood face to face with now completely militarized France.  The enemy maintained, in the persons of all his representatives, the same objective; their coldness was mitigated by no single word that bordered upon the human, as had marked our reception by the Marshal.

The English Admiral adopted the tone of the French, and only from Foch's Chief of the General Staff, who bore the Alsatian name of Weygand, did we perhaps receive any greater politeness.

During our two days' proceedings there was really no negotiation, and we could only try to obtain concessions on various conditions.  For when the enemy demanded delivery of 160 U-boats we could only point out the technical impossibility, as we had not 160 to give.  This demand had to be changed into the formula, "all U-boats."

The chief point was that of food, and of this we were in a certain measure able to obtain assurance.

In the meantime, in this lonely wood, with its two railway trains, we were cut off from all intercourse with the outside world.  Foch himself went off twice to Paris, and couriers were able in two hours to arrive with the papers.  Thus it was possible for the enemy on Sunday, early, to hand us the Paris newspapers with the abdication of the Kaiser.

We read no laughter, no triumph, in their faces.  Immediately before the close of the second and last plenary sitting we placed before the enemy in the German language our protest against the treaty, but in the end we had to sign.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

'minnie' was a term used to describe the German trench mortar minnenwerfer (another such term was Moaning Minnie).

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