The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was a peace settlement signed after World War One. The treaty severely punished Germany by taking away territory and overseas colonies and forcing her to pay huge reparations. The terms were drawn up by the Allied leaders - ‘The Big Four’ - composed of David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (Italy), Georges Clemenceau (France) and Woodrow Wilson (US). The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 at the Versailles Palace in France.

The Allied leaders who met in the Hall of Mirrors to discuss the terms of the treaty disagreed on the best way to approach the agreement. Wilson had devised a 14 point plan that aimed to bring long-term peace and prosperity to Europe. However, the French believed that Germany should be harshly punished to prevent any future conflict. Privately, Lloyd George sided with Wilson but knew that to satisfy the British public he would have to back a more severe set of terms

Treaty of in front of the Reichstag
Treaty of in front of the Reichstag

Background

Europe was devastated by World War One, and each country that fought in the conflict suffered heavy casualties. The total death toll for all nations was 8.5 million, with 21 million wounded.

A huge portion of north-eastern Europe has been reduced to rubble; Flanders in Belgium was destroyed and the historic city of Ypres was devastated. The infrastructure of France had been brought to its knees as road, coal mines and telegraph poles were destroyed. This devastation was coupled with the severe mental scar of war.

The Allies in World War One were influenced by the huge losses suffered by their nations and were not prepared to be charitable. The Spanish flu epidemic that swept through Europe in 1918 made matters worse.

Negotiations between the “Big Four” did not run smoothly.

The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, was conflicted about what should be done with Germany.

On the one hand he was influenced by public opinion. He knew that Britain did not want him to be lenient towards Germany. The British people wanted Germany to pay for the war, and in public Lloyd George agreed. "Hang the Kaiser" and "Make Germany Pay" were two very popular calls following the end of the war and Lloyd George publicly supported these views.

On the other hand, Lloyd George questioned whether severe punishment was the most sensible choice for Europe’s future. The Russian Revolution and the rise of communism had introduced a bigger threat than Germany. Privately, he feared that the Germans might be so angry that they would turn to communism.

Lloyd George was afraid that if communism was to spread outside of Russia, Germany could work like a buffer in preventing it from spreading across Europe. However, he knew that these views would make him very unpopular with the British people, who wanted Germany to be harshly punished.

Georges Clemenceau of France reflected the views of the French people: he wanted Germany to be treated as harshly as possible.

Woodrow Wilson of America advocated a far more diplomatic approach. He was shocked by the horror of World War One and proposed a plan to bring stability to Europe.

Americans were urging the government to adopt a policy of isolationism. Wilson believed that Germany should be punished, but to the extent that it would bring the risk of revenge.

He had already outlined this plan in his "Fourteen Points", which proposed an end to trade secrets; a reduction in each country’s armed forces and weapons and the formation of the League of Nations.

Although a part of the “Big Four”, Italy led by Vittorio Orlando, was frequently left on the sidelines of negotiations. The fact that Italy was initially a part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria tainted her credibility in the eyes of the Allies. Also, Italy’s army had been beaten at the battles of Caporetto and she had not been a major player in the war. Italy was of little strategic importance to Europe.

The Big Three could not agree on how Germany should be treated following the war. They tried to draw up a treaty that would satisfy everybody - an objective that the Treaty of Versailles eventually reached. France was satisfied that Germany had been treated harshly enough, while Lloyd George was relieved that Germany had enough power to act as a buffer to Russia.

So what exactly were the implications of the treaty on Germany?

The Terms of the Treaty of Versailles

The treaty can be separated into three different sections; territorial, military and financial.

Territorial

  • The following land was taken away from Germany:
  • Alsace-Lorraine (given to France)
  • Eupen and Malmedy (given to Belgium)
  • Northern Schleswig (given to Denmark)
  • Hultschin (given to Czechoslovakia)
  • West Prussia, Posen and Upper Silesia (given to Poland)

The Saar, Danzig and Memel were put under the control of the League of Nations and the people of these regions would be allowed to vote to stay in Germany or not in a future referendum.

The League of Nations also took control of Germany's overseas colonies.

Germany was ordered to return the land it had taken from Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Military

The treaty reduced the German army to 100,000 men. It also prohibited Germany from having tanks and an air force. Her navy was reduced to only six naval ships.

The west of the Rhineland and 50 kms east of the River Rhine was also made into a demilitarised zone (DMZ).

Financial

Germany was bankrupted as a result of the war. By losing its industrial territory, Germany struggled to rebuild her economy.

The German reaction to the Treaty of Versailles

When Germany agreed to the Armistice in November 1918, she was told that she would be able to negotiate the terms of the treaty. In fact, Germany had no room to negotiate and no option to continue the war. The German representatives did not see the treaty until a few weeks before they were expected to sign it.

The German people were in shock when they learned about the contents of the treaty. Most of the German population rejected the treaty, but the representatives had no choice in the matter. Many in Germany did not want the Treaty signed, but the representatives knew that they had no other option.

The captured German naval force in the north of Scotland sank their own ship in one final show of defiance.

Germany could either sign the treaty or face an Allied invasion.

The Consequences of the Treaty of Versailles

The Allies were satisfied that the Treaty suitably punished Germany for World War One. They were positive that the League of Nations would prevent another war from taking place in Germany.

However, the German people were angry over the treatment of Germany. Those representative who signed it were called the “November Criminals”. Germans argued that they should not be punished for a war they did not choose.

Were the terms of the Treaty of Versailles actually carried out?

Not all of the terms in the treaty were carried out, but many were put into practice for many years after the war.

In particular, the league of Nations was formed, although Germany was initially excluded from it.

In terms of territory, Germany handed over all the land it was required to, including land given to Poland, France, Belgium, Russia and Denmark. It also gave all of its overseas colonies to the League.

Germany also reduced its military to 100,000 men, although in the 1920s Germany was able to get around it by recruiting soldiers for a short contract before putting them in the reserves. The German navy was also reduced to only six battleships. Germany also complied with the instruction that she could not have an air force. Although, potential pilots were trained in other countries.

Western Germany was also demilitarised, as outlined in the treaty. Germany also accepted the “War Guilt Clause” and paid reparations. Although Germany did try and pay reparations, in 1922 she was simply incapable of producing the huge sum of money. This led to the French invasion of the Ruhr.

In the 1920s the Allies decided to reduce reparations and ease Germany’s debt. Hitler first announced his intention not to pay reparations in 1933.

During the 1920s Germany complied to nearly all of the Treaty. It was only after 1933 that the Nazis disregarded its terms.

The Other Peace Settlements

Germany was not the only nation punished for her role in World War One. Her allies, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, were also addressed.

Austria-Hungary, which was to be split into two separate states, signed two peace settlements. Austria signed the Treaty of Saunt Germans and Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon.

Czechoslovakia was created when the two countries were carved up and Poland also received large sections of land.

Both Austria and Hungary had to reduce their militaries and pay reparations.

Bulgaria also had to sign a treaty for her part in the war - the Treaty of Neuilly. She lost land to Yugoslavia and reduced her military.

Turkey had to sign a particularly harsh treaty - the Treaty of Sevres.The Ottoman Empire lost much of its land in Europe. Land held by Turkey in the Middle East was also made into a mandate, which was ruled by the British and French for a while.  The remaining Turkish land - Asia Minor - was occupied by Britain, France, Italy and Greece.

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Treaty of Versailles". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.