October 28, 2018

“Conditions of armistice with Austria-Hungary”: Paper discussed by the Supreme War Council at Versailles, France setting out the terms of an armistice with Austria-Hungary.

100 years ago, on 11th November 1918, the Great War came to an end. The final German armistice agreement followed the surrender of Bulgaria (29th September), the Ottoman Empire (30th October) and finally as shown in this month’s featured document, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. (3rd November). The military power of Austria-Hungary was very closely tied to Imperial Germany during the First World War. The competency of the military strength of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was severely compromised by factors such as the inadequacy of the Austrian high command and the significant geographical spread of its composite parts which were made up of many different nationalities. This led to the interpretation by many that Germany was fettered with the shortcomings of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s military strength.

The armistice of Germany marked the culmination of the Hundred Days Offensive. This was a highly successful Allied operation which involved a series of attacks to push back the Central Powers from their former military gains to the so-called ‘Hindenburg Line’. The final armistice agreement (also known as ‘Armistice of Compiègne’) came into effect at 11am (CET), on 11th November 1918: “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. Due to the exhaustion of Germany’s resources, and its lack of any substantial ally, there was little room to negotiate.

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You can find the document at the Churchill Archives here.

The ‘negotiation process’ took place in a secret location, in a railway car in the forest of Compiègne. The conditions of the agreement were read out to the German delegation, and purportedly caused a highly emotive response. Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander during the war, gave them 72 hours to agree. Foch allegedly responded to the signing of the armistice agreement with a dispassionate “Tres bien”. He was a vocal critic of the controversial Treaty of Versailles, viewing it as too lenient on Germany. As the treaty was signed 7 months later, he proclaimed that “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years”. His words were strikingly accurate; the Second World War began twenty years and 65 days afterwards.

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