The Treaty Of Versailles

The Treaty Of Versailles

The draft of the proposed peace treaty with Germany, containing about 80,000 words, was agreed to by the Big Four‘ and endorsed by the Peace Conference in plenary session on 6 May 1919. On the following day the German delegates were admitted to the Peace Conference and presented with the draft of the treaty. The German delegates protested that it was intolerably severe and contradictory of the Fourteen Points‘ on the basis of which they had consented to the armistice. They
pleaded for its radical amendment.

The publication of the peace terms sent a wave of bitterness all over Germany. The Allies were condemned for their treachery and deceit. The German government submitted a detailed memorandum on the treaty. Following these developments a few
minor alterations were made in the original treaty on the suggestion of Lloyd George and the revised treaty was given to the Germans and was given five days to accept the same and was warned that if they failed to do so, their country would be invaded. Under this pressure the German Constituent Assembly at Weimar finally voted to accept unconditionally the Allied terms of peace on 23 June1919.

On 28 June 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors in the stately old Palace of Louis XIV, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by the
representatives of Germany and of thirty-one nations which had joined against Germany and the other Central Powers. One of the thirty-two delegations on the Allied side, China, refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles because of concessions to Japan. The scene was that in which in 1871 the Hohenzollern Empire had been proclaimed, and the date was that on which in 1914 the Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary had been assassinated. The World War I was thus formally ended on the fifth anniversary of the immediate occasion of its beginning.

The chief provisions of the Treaty of Versailles were the following:

Territorial Adjustments:

The Treaty of Versailles was the price, which Germany paid for her defeat in the First World War. She lost territory both in Europe and overseas. The map of Europe was redrawn. By the terms of the treaty:

(1) Germany ceded Alsace and Lorraine to France to redress the wrong done by Germany in 1871‘.

(2) Small districts including the towns of Eupen and Malmady were ceded to Belgium.

(3) Posen and a ‗corridor‘ about 60 miles wide separating Pomerania and East Prussia, to provide an access to the Baltic sea were granted to the newly created state of Poland.

(4) Germany surrendered the important Baltic port of Danzig, which became an international ‗free city‘.

(5) The Saar Basin was provisionally severed from the German Empire, as compensation for the destruction of the coal mines in the north of France and as part payment towards the total reparation due from Germany‘.

(6) In the north the fate of northern and central Schleswig, wrested from Denmark in 1864, was determined by a plebiscite. The northern Schleswig voted for incorporation in Denmark and the central zone voted for Germany.

(7) The treaty provided for the cession of Mamel to the Allies. However, Mamel was appropriated by Lithuania in 1923.

(8) After a plebiscite, Upper Silesia was divided between Germany and Poland.

(9) Germany recognized the independence of Belgium, Poland Czechoslovakia and German Austria. In addition to territorial loss in Europe, Germany parted with all her overseas possessions.

(1) Her lease of Kiachow and privileged position in the Chinese province of Shantung, as well as her Pacific islands north of the equator, were transferred to Japan.

(2) Germany‘s portion of Samoa was given to New Zealand.

(3) Other Pacific possessions south of the equator were ceded to Australia.

(4) German South-West Africa was given to the Union of South Africa. German East Africa was shared between Britain and
Belgium. Cameroon and Togoland were divided between Britain and France. In most cases the powers receiving German colonies did so not as absolute sovereigns but as mandatories of the League of Nations.

Restrictions on Military and Naval Power:

In order to make Germany militarily weak, severe restrictions were placed on her armed forces and manufacture of armaments. Accordingly:

(1) Germany promised to reduce her army to 100,000 men.

(2) Compulsory military service was abolished and voluntary enlistment was to be for a period of twelve years for private
soldiers and twenty-five years for officers.

(3) Germany agreed to reduce her navy to six battle-ships, six light cruisers and twelve torpedo boats. However, no
submarines were allowed.

(4) Germany gave up military and naval aviation.

(5) The entire area west of the river Rhine and a zone fifty kilometers to the east of the Rhine was demilitarized. All
fortifications were to be destroyed and garrisons were prohibited.

(6) Germany also agreed to demolish fortifications at Heligoland, to open the Kiel Canal to all nations, to refrain from building forts on the Baltic and to surrender her transoceanic cables.

(7) The manufacture of arms and ammunition was to be supervised by an Allied Commission. All heavy armaments were prohibited.

‘War- Guilt’ Clause and Reparation:

Germany was forced to accept the responsibility for the World War I. As such she had to shoulder the burden of compensating the Allies for all damage done to their civilian population and property. The Article 231 of the treaty, the so called ‗War Guilt‘ clause states the following: The Allied and Associated Governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies. The intention behind the Article was to introduce and support the section of the treaty, which dealt with reparation. The treaty did not immediately deal with how much financial reparation Germany should pay. The question was referred to an Allied Reparation Commission. In the meantime Germany was to pay shipping damage on a ton-to-ton basis by giving up most of her existing merchant marine. Her existing resources were to be utilized to the rebuilding of devastated areas in France. She had to supply coal to France, Belgium and Italy and return works of art taken from Belgium and France. The Reparation Commission completed its calculations in 1921 and fixed the total amount of reparation to be paid by Germany at $ 27,000,000,000.


In order to force Germany to respect fully the Treaty of Versailles, Allied armies were to occupy the German area on the west bank of the river Rhine. Besides the bridgeheads on the right bank of Cologne, Coblenz and Mainz were also to be occupied by the Allies. If Germany duly fulfilled its obligations, the Allies would evacuate Cologne at the end of five years, Coblenz at the end of ten years and Mainz at the end of fifteen years.

An Assessment Of The Treaty Of Versailles:

When Wilson announced his Fourteen Points in January 1918, the Allied nations were united in a final major effort to win the war. However, the postwar emotions which set nations looking for revenge or compensation, and the differences which arose at the conferencetable, made the task of applying Wilson‘s principles a very difficult one. In spite of this, it is to the credit of the peacemakers that they remained faithful to many of the Fourteen Points. New independent nations were created and the old dynastic empires, which Wilson considered to be the cause of the war, were broken up. The Germans were moved out of France and Belgium and France recovered Alsace and Lorraine. However, the Treaty of Versailles had a number of defects.

It was a Dictated Peace:

It has been said that the Treaty of  Versailles contained the seeds of the Second World War. According to Prof. E. H. Carr, the Treaty of Versailles had certain special characteristics, which determined much of the subsequent history. It was not a negotiated peace, but a dictated treaty, a treaty imposed by the victorious powers on defeated Germany.

It was a Vindictive Treaty:

The Treaty of Versailles was vindictive. The terms of the treaty were too harsh. By this treaty, Germany was economically crippled, politically outcasted, militarily humbled, physically exhausted and territorially reduced. The huge war indemnity imposed upon Germany was beyond her capacity to  pay. The reparations not only created problems for Germany and the countries that were to receive Germany‘s payments, but also prolonged the bitterness of the war. The principle of selfdetermination was denied to the Germans inhabiting those regions, which were incorporated in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and France.

J.M. Keynes, the economist, vigorously attacked the settlement of 1919 in his book, Economic Consequences of the Peace. He
predicted that reparations would damage European economy for years to come. There was no doubt that they caused economic disruption. However, they did not cripple Germany as Clemenceau had wished them to do. Reparations were cancelled during the financial crisis of 1931 – 1932. By that time Germany had paid only about a quarter of the sum demanded. On the other hand it had received more than what was paid, in foreign loans, most of which were never repaid.

It Created Dissatisfaction among other Nations:

The victors were also dissatisfied with the Treaty of Versailles. The French were uneasy, obsessed with fears of a German revival. The Italians alleged that they had been cheated. The Russians, though not directly involved in the settlement, regarded it as a hostile conspiracy, which robbed them of lands such as the Baltic provinces, now independent nations. Some of the new states,
however, not really nation states, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, were unions of peoples.

It Failed to Maintain Peace:

Much of the criticism, which was aimed at the peacemakers, could more properly have been aimed at the later statesmen. They were more pre-occupied with their alleged grievances than with constructive effort to consolidate the peace. Many leaders such as Mussolini, showed greater concern for national self-interest rather than for international law. Clemenceau had perhaps set a poor example, working above all in the peace settlement for the interests of France. In due course it became fashionable to explain the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 in terms of the alleged injustices of the Treaty of Versailles, but the aggressiveness of Nazi Germany offers a more obvious explanation.