By 1918, Germany had had enough of The Great War.
They had six million casualties.
So they asked for an armistice.
Not a surrender, an armistice.
They didn’t think they needed to surrender because there wasn’t a single enemy soldier on German soil.
In fact the German army still occupied a very large chunk of France and Belgium.
So they felt justified in saying “Look, neither side’s really won, and we’ve all had enough. So let’s just call it a day, eh?”
But the allies didn’t see it like that.
They said to the Germans “Why don’t you put your weapons down while we work out the terms of the armistice?”
And the Germans did.
Not realising that once they did that, they lost all negotiating leverage.
It took the allies 6 months to come back with final terms, in The Treaty of Versailles.
And what those terms amounted to was a complete and total humiliating German surrender.
But by that time it was too late for the Germans to do anything.
The terms they were given included the following.
They were to surrender all their overseas colonies.
Alsace Lorraine would go to France.
East Prussia would go to Poland.
Even The Rhineland would be occupied by the conquering armies.
German and Austria would no longer be united.
Germany would be limited to just a tiny army.
Germany would have no air force, and effectively no navy, at all.
Germany would pay massive reparations to the victors, the equivalent of 100,000 tons of pure gold, more than half the gold ever mined.
And finally, Germany must formally and publicly accept total guilt for the war.
So, on the one hand taking from the Germans more than they could give.
And on the other hand, loading them with more shame than they could bear.
The Versailles Treaty was so unfair the American President, Woodrow Wilson, went back to the USA in disgust.
But with the German army now disbanded, they had no choice.
The French were determined to humiliate the Germans.
They made their leaders sign the surrender document in Marshal Foch’s private railway carriage.
Then they exhibited the railway carriage in Paris, where it became an attraction for hundreds of thousands of French tourists each year.
As a symbol of French military superiority and German inferiority.
Finally it was installed as a national monument in the woods at Compiegne.
The Versailles Treaty led economically and emotionally to the rise of Nazism and the Second World War.
It contributed to hyperinflation and starvation in Germany.
It contributed to Hitler’s rise to power.
It became the focus for German nationalism and militarism.
And ten years later, one by one, the terms of the treaty were overturned.
The Germans reoccupied the Rhineland.
The Germans reunited with Austria.
The Germans rebuilt their entire navy, and air force, and army.
And then began taking back everything they thought had been unfairly taken from them.
They took The Rhineland back from the occupying armies.
They took East Prussia back from Poland.
They took Alsace Lorraine back from the French.
And then they set about teaching the people who they felt betrayed them a lesson.
They conquered all of France in a matter of weeks.
And when the French leaders asked for an armistice, guess where the Germans made them sign it.
They made them sign it in that same railway carriage at Compiegne.