On this day November 11, 1918

Germany and the Allies signed an armistice treaty in a railway carriage in France’s Compiègne Forest, ending World War I on the Western Front. Principal signatories were Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Allied Commander-in-chief, and Matthias Erzberger, Germany’s representative.

armisticetrainThe Armistice was agreed at 5 AM on 11 November, to come into effect at 11 AM Paris time (that is, 11 AM GMT), for which reason the occasion is sometimes referred to as “the eleventh (hour) of the eleventh (day) of the eleventh (month)”. It was the result of a hurried and desperate process.

Acting German commander Paul von Hindenburg had requested arrangements for a meeting from Ferdinand Foch via telegram on 7 November. He was under pressure of imminent revolution in Berlin, Munich, and elsewhere across Germany.

The German delegation crossed the front line in five cars and was escorted for ten hours across the devastated war zone of Northern France. They were then entrained and taken to the secret destination, Foch’s railway siding in the forest of Compiègne.

Foch appeared only twice in the three days of negotiations: on the first day, to ask the German delegation what they wanted, and on the last day, to see to the signatures. In between, the German delegation discussed the detail of Allied terms with French and Allied officers. The Armistice amounted to complete German demilitarization, with few promises made by the Allies in return. The naval blockade of Germany would continue until complete peace terms could be agreed upon.

There was no question of negotiation. The Germans were able to correct a few impossible demands (for example, the decommissioning of more submarines than their fleet possessed), and registered their formal protest at the harshness of Allied terms. But they were in no position to refuse to sign. On Sunday 10 November, they were shown newspapers from Paris, to inform them that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated.

Erzberger was not able to get instructions from Berlin because of the fall of the government. However, he was able to communicate with the German Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg in Spa who instructed him to sign at any price as an armistice was absolutely necessary. Signatures were made between 5:12 AM and 5:20 AM, Paris time.

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