The Treaty of Versailles - Website for learning history Treaty of Versailles 1919 (2023)

The Treaty of Versailles was the peace settlement that was signed afterwardsthe first world warhad ended in 1918 and stood in the shadow ofRussian Revolutionand other events inRussia. The treaty was signed at the huge Palace of Versailles near Paris - hence its title - between Germany and the Allies. The three most important politicians were thereDavid Lloyd George,George ClemenceauAndWoodrow Wilson.The Treaty of Versailles - Website for learning history Treaty of Versailles 1919 (1)
The Palace of Versailles was considered the most appropriate venue simply because of its size - many hundreds of people were involved in the process and the final signing ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors accommodated hundreds of dignitaries. Many wantedDeutschland, now run byFriedrich Ebert, battered; others, likeLloyd GeorgeYou were more careful privately.

The Treaty of Sevres

The Treaty of Sevres


The First World War had left Europe devastated. The countries that had fought in it had suffered unprecedented losses:

Great Britain: 750,000 soldiers killed; 1,500,000 wounded
France: 1,400,000 soldiers killed; 2,500,000 wounded
Belgium: 50,000 soldiers killed
Italy: 600,000 soldiers killed
Russia: 1,700,000 soldiers killed
America: 116,000 soldiers killed

Those who had fought the Allies also suffered heavy casualties:

Deutschland: 2,000,000 soldiers killed
Austria-Hungary: 1,200,000 soldiers killed
Turkey: 325,000 soldiers killed
Bulgaria: 100,000 soldiers killed

The total death toll of all nations that fought in the war is estimated at 8.5 million, with 21 million wounded.

Added to these statistics was the fact that large parts of north-eastern Europe had been reduced to rubble. Flanders in Belgium had been all but destroyed by the devastation of the ancient city of Ypres. The homes of 750,000 French people were destroyed and the region's infrastructure was badly damaged. Roads, coal mines, and telegraph poles had all been destroyed, and such a loss hampered the area's ability to function normally.

The victors of World War I were in no mood to be charitable to the vanquished, and Germany in particular was blamed for the war and its aftermath.

In mid-1918, the Spanish flu struck Europe and an estimated 25 million people died. Added to this was the bitterness that pervaded Europe and was directed primarily against Germany.

The "Big Three"

The treaty was signed on June 28, 1919, after months of arguments and negotiations between the so-called "Big Three" over what the treaty should contain.

Who were the "Big Three" and where did they quarrel about Germany and its treatment after the war?

The "Big Three" wereDavid Lloyd Georgefrom Great Britain,Clemenceaufrom France andWoodrow Wilsonfrom America.

David Lloyd Georgeof Britain had two views on how Germany should be treated.

The Treaty of Versailles - Website for learning history Treaty of Versailles 1919 (2)

His public image was simple. He was a politician, and politicians needed public support to be successful in elections. If he had softened to Germany, he would have been quickly voted out. The British public was out for revenge and Lloyd George's public image reflected this sentiment. "Hang the Kaiser" and "Make Germany Pay" were two widespread calls in the immediate post-war era, and Lloyd George, seeking public support, echoed these views.

Privately, however, Lloyd George was also very concerned about the rise of communism in Russia and feared that it might spread to Western Europe. After the war ended, Lloyd George believed that the spread of communism posed a far greater threat to the world than a defeated Germany. Privately, he felt that Germany should be treated as being left behind as a barrier to the expected spread of communism. He didn't want the people of Germany to become so disillusioned with their government that they would turn to Communism. Lloyd George did not want Germany to be treated leniently, but he knew that if it broke beyond Russia's borders, Germany would be the only country in Central Europe that could stop the spread of Communism. Germany had to be punished, but not to the extent that it was left penniless. However, it would have been political suicide to go public with these views.

George Clemenceauof France had a very simple belief - Germany should be brought to its knees so that it could never start a war again.

The Treaty of Versailles - Website for learning history Treaty of Versailles 1919 (3)

This reflected the views of the French public, but it was also what Clemenceau himself believed. He had seen the northeast corner of France destroyed and he decided that Germany must never do that again. "The Tiger" did not have to adapt its policies to the French public - the French leader and the French public both thought alike.

Woodrow WilsonvonAmericawas really stunned by the wildness of thebig war. He couldn't understand how an advanced civilization could reduce itself to the point of causing so much devastation.

The Treaty of Versailles - Website for learning history Treaty of Versailles 1919 (4)

InAmerica, the government's desire to pursue a policy of isolation and leave Europe to its own devices grew. In ill health, Wilson wanted America to focus on itself, and despite developing the idea of ​​oneLeague of Nations, he wanted an American contribution to Europe to be kept to a minimum. He believed that Germany should be punished, but in a way that would lead to European reconciliation, not revenge.

He had already in his "Fourteen points“. The key points in this document were:

  1. no more secret treaties
  2. Countries must try to reduce their weapons and their armed forces
  3. national self-determination should allow people of the same nationality to govern themselves, and one nationality should not have the power to govern another
  4. All countries should belong to the League of Nations.

Italy and the Big Three

Associated with the "Big Three".Italylead byVictor Orlando. He was often left out of the important negotiations, even though Italy fought on the side of the Allies. Why was Italy treated like this?

At the beginning of the war in 1914,Italyshould have fought with Germany and Austria, since she had signed the Triple Alliance, which stipulated that if one of the three was attacked, the other two would rush to that country's aid. Italy did not side with Germany, but waited until 1915 and joined the side of Great Britain and France. This association with Germany was enough to taint Italy in the eyes of the "Big Three". Italy, too, had not played an overwhelming role in the war. Their army had been defeated in the battles ofCaporetto. Their strategic importance to Central Europe was minimal, while Britain dominated the Mediterranean with naval bases in Malta and Gibraltar. Italy's potential military influence was limited in 1919 should it become necessary to put pressure on Germany and Austria.

Therefore, leading up to the treaty, the three main nations were far removed from how Germany should be treated. The eventual treaty seemed to satisfy all on the Allied side. To France it seemed as if Germany had been crushed; for Great Britain,Lloyd Georgewas content that enough of Germany's power remained to act as a buffer against communist expansionRussia;Wilsonwas just glad the procedure was over and he could return home.

What exactly did the treaty with Germany do?

The terms of the Versailles Treaty

The contract can be divided into several sections; territorial, military, financial and general.


Germany was deprived of the following land:

  • Alsace-Lorraine (given to France)
  • Eupen and Malmedy (handed over to Belgium)
  • North Schleswig (given to Denmark)
  • Hultschin (given to Czechoslovakia)
  • West Prussia, Posen and Upper Silesia (ceded to Poland)

Saarland, Danzig and Memel were placed under the control of the League of Nations, and the people of these regions were to be able to vote or not in a future referendum on whether or not to remain in Germany.

TheLeague of Nationsalso took control of the German overseas colonies.
Germany had to go backRussiataken in the countryTreaty of Brest-Litovsk. Part of this country was transformed into new states: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. An enlarged Poland also received part of this land.


Germany's army was reduced to 100,000 men; the army were not allowed tanks

An air force was not allowed to her. She was only allowed 6 large naval ships and no submarines. The western Rhineland and 50 km east of the Rhine were declared a demilitarized zone (DMZ). Neither German soldiers nor weapons were allowed to enter this zone. The Allies were to keep an occupying army on the west bank of the Rhine for 15 years.


The loss of vital industrial areas would be a severe blow to any attempts by Germany to rebuild its economy. Above all, coal from the Saar and Upper Silesia was a vital economic loss. Coupled with the fines associated with reparations, Germany seemed clear that the Allies wanted nothing more than to bankrupt her.

Germany was also forbidden from merging with Austria into a superstate in order to limit its economic potential to a minimum.


There are three important clauses here:

  1. Germany had to admit full responsibility for starting the war. That was clause 231 – the infamous “war guilt clause”.
  2. Germany, being responsible for starting the war under § 231, was therefore responsible for all war damage caused by the First World War. As a result, she had to pay reparations, the bulk of which would go to France and Belgium to pay for the damage caused to the infrastructure of both countries by the war. In the truest sense of the word, reparations would be used to pay for the damage to be repaired. Payment can be made in kind or in cash. The number was not fixed at Versailles - it was to be determined later. The Germans were told to write a blank check which the Allies would cash when it was convenient for them. The figure was eventually estimated at £6,600m - a huge sum of money far beyond Germany's ability to pay.
  3. ALeague of Nationswas established to maintain world peace.

In fact, the first 26 clauses of the contract dealt with the organization of the league.

The German Response to the Versailles Treaty

After agreeing to the armistice in November 1918, the Germans were convinced that they would be consulted by the Allies on the content of the treaty. This did not happen and the Germans were unable to continue the war as their army was all but disbanded. Although this lack of guidance angered them, there was nothing they could do about it. Therefore, the German representatives first saw the terms of the treaty just weeks before they were due to sign it on June 28, 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.

When the conditions became known, there was trouble across Germany. The treaty became known as a dictate - as it was forced upon them and the Germans had no choice but to sign it. Many in Germany did not want the treaty signed, but officials there knew they had no choice since Germany was unable to resume war.

In a final gesture of defiance, the captured German naval force being held at Scapa Flow (north of Scotland) i.e. intentionally scuttled themselves.

Germany had two options:

  1. sign a contract or
  2. be ambushed by the Allies.

They signed the contract because they really had no choice. When the ceremony was over, Clemenceau went out into the gardens of Versailles and said, "It is a beautiful day."

The aftermath of Versailles

The treaty seemed to please the "Big Three" as in their eyes it was a just peace, as it kept Germany weak yet strong enough to stop the spread of Communism; protected the French border with Germany from another German attack and founded the organization thatLeague of Nations, that would end warfare around the world.

However, it left a mood of anger throughout Germany, feeling that Germany had been treated unfairly as a nation.

Above all, Germany hated the clause blaming it for the cause of the war and the resulting financial penalties that the treaty had to inflict on Germany. The signers (although they had virtually no choice) became known as the "November criminals".

Many Germans felt punished for the mistakes of the German government in August 1914, since the government, not the people, had declared war.

Were the provisions of the Versailles Treaty actually carried out?

TheLeague of Nationswas created. This happened even if Germany was initially excluded from it.

Land had to be given to Poland, France, Belgium and Denmark. This happened - all the land that Germany had to give up was handed over. Territories placed under the control of the League of Nations were handed over to the League of Nations.

All overseas colonies were to be handed over to the League of Nations. That happened.

Any land taken from Russia had to be returned to Russia. This happened despite the fact that countries in the western sphere became Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in accordance with the belief in national self-determination.

The German army had to be reduced to 100,000 men. That's what happened on paper. The fact that Germany bucked the rule didn't mean it literally broke it - although it was a deliberate attempt to break that notion. German soldiers were recruited for short service contracts in the 1920s and placed in reserve when their term of service was over. Thus, at no time did Germany have more than 100,000 troops on duty, although it certainly had sizable reserves, which gave Hitler a boost when he waived the Versailles clauses.

The German Navy was reduced to 6 battleships with no submarines. That happened. Germany could not afford battleships after the war, and most navies now switched to (gradually) smaller, faster ships that could also carry powerful weapons - like cruisers. Aircraft carriers were also developed with greater dedication. Submarines were trained abroad - Versailles didn't cover this, so didn't violate the Versailles terms - just the spirit.

No air force was allowed. This happened, but as with submarines, potential pilots were trained abroad or with gliders in Germany to teach them the theory of flying. This did not break Versailles.

West Germany should be demilitarized. This happened. Germany was forbidden to unite with Austria. That happened.

Germany had to accept the "war guilt clause" and pay reparations. The former happened in the sense that Germany signed the treaty, meaning that it accepted that notion on paper, if not actually. Germany tried to pay reparations when it could. She refused to pay in 1922. She simply could not produce what was needed that year and this led to the French invasion of the Ruhr. In the 1920s, it was the Allies who decided to cut reparations and thus alleviate Germany's hardship. The first refusal to pay reparations came in 1933, when Hitler announced Germany would not pay - and the Allies did nothing.

Therefore, in the 1920s, the terms were met in almost all parts of the treaty. After 1933, when the Nazis took power, the conditions were systematically broken.

The other peace settlements

It is often forgotten that with the energy that went into punishing Germany, other countries fought on its side and had to deal with them as well. These countries were Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

Austria-Hungary had to sign two peace agreements, indicating that this state was about to be split in two.

Austria signed the Treaty of Saint Germain.

Hungary signs the Treaty of Trianon.

After signing these treaties, Austria and Hungary were treated as two completely new countries. Both lost land to neighboring countries; the new state of Czechoslovakia was practically created out of this land division; large pieces of land went to Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia. Part of Austria went to Italy.

Both new countries had to reduce their military capabilities and both states had to make reparations for war damage. However, the numbers at stake were nowhere near as high as the numbers imposed on Germany.

Bulgaria had to sign the Treaty of Neuilly. Bulgaria lost land to the new state of Yugoslavia, had to reduce its military capabilities and pay reparations.

Turkey, more precisely the Turkish Empire, had to sign the Treaty of Sèvres.

This was a very tough contract. Why was Turkey treated like this? Many on the Allied side still remembered what happened at Gallipoli, when the ANZACS suffered appalling losses at the hands of the Turks in one of the greatest Allied defeats of World War I. In a way, there was an element of revenge against "Johnny Turk" who had had the audacity to inflict defeat on one of the world's greatest powers - Britain.

Turkey lost most of its land in Europe. Turkey only had one foot left in what passes for Europe. The Turkish Straits came under the control of the League of Nations at a time when it was dominated by Britain and France. Turkey-held land in Arabia was made a mandate - the country was ruled by the British and French until the people of the territories were ready to rule themselves. Syria and Lebanon went to France while Iraq, Transjordan and Palestine went to Britain.

Armies from Britain, France, Greece and Italy occupied what was left of Turkey - the area known as Asia Minor.

The treaty only served to anger the nationalist Turks who tried to overturn it. They started doing this in 1921.

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