The end of World War One

And then it was over: The armistice was signed in French Marshal Foch’s private train car.

World War One began with a single pistol shot. It then became a deadly stalemate leaving millions dead. But how did history’s second deadliest conflict end? And was it ever truly resolved?

  • What was happening one year before the war ended?

    In November 1917, the war had been going on for three and a half years. The war in the west had reached a deadlock, while Germany and the other Central Powers were also fighting Russia in the east. But in December, Russia exited the war.

  • Why?

    The October Revolution in Russia, when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian government.

    This allowed huge numbers of German troops to march on the Western Front. For a few months, it looked as though the Allies would lose.

    But in April 1917, two years after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by German forces, US President Woodrow Wilson bowed to public pressure and declared war on Germany.

  • What did this mean?

    Time was not on Germany’s side. They needed to push for a final, quick offensive to secure victory before the Americans became too heavily involved.

    And, so, the Spring Offensive began. The Germans tried to push through Allied lines in northern France and Belgium.

  • How did the Allies respond?

    The next stage for the Germans was to push the Allies back to the English Channel, but they had sustained heavy losses. The Allies awaited US reinforcements, and on 8 August 1918, the Hundred Days Offensive started.

    This series of counter-offensives pushed Germany back into central Europe and defeated them once and for all. These battles are now largely forgotten, but they were some of Britain’s greatest military victories.

  • How did Germany react?

    By autumn, the Central Powers were exhausted and their citizens were hungry and in the mood to revolt.

    Nonetheless, in October, the German navy was ordered to go into battle against the British. The thought of being sent to a pointless defeat caused a mutiny among the German ranks. Rioting spread across the country’s ports.

    By this time, Germany’s Allies were already starting to give up. And, so, Germany accepted the inevitable. The government approached the US and asked for an armistice, which was signed on 11 November.

  • What happened next?

    The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919, just outside Paris, by the US, the UK, France, Italy, Japan — that would collectively become known as the League of Nations — along with Germany.

    The treaty forced huge concessions on the defeated Germans. But, most controversially, the document required “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war.

    Germany was forced to pay enormous reparations. The country’s economy would later collapse under the weight of these payments.

    And it was this mixture of economic turmoil and resentment mixed with a desire for revenge that provided the perfect environment for the rise of Adolf Hitler.

You Decide

  1. What is more important: how wars start or how they end?

Activities

  1. As a class, discuss why you think we discuss World War Two more than World War One.

Word Watch

Versailles
A town just outside Paris.
League of Nations
A group of nations whose aim was to prevent war from happening again. It quickly collapsed.
Reparations
Money paid for by a country, or people, for doing something wrong.
Turmoil
A state of confusion and uncertainty.
Resentment
Anger about someone or something else.

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