Articles

Armistice Day: WWI Ends

Armistice Day: WWI Ends



We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

At 11 o’clock in the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I–known at the time as the Great War–comes to an end.

By the end of autumn 1918, the alliance of the Central Powers was unraveling in its war effort against the better supplied and coordinated Allied powers. Facing exhausted resources on the battlefield, turmoil on the home front and the surrender of its weaker allies, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, Germany was finally forced to seek an armistice with the Allies in the early days of November 1918. On November 7, the German chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, sent delegates to Compiegne, France, to negotiate the agreement; it was signed at 5:10 a.m. on the morning of November 11.

Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of all Allied forces on the Western Front, sent a message by telegraph to all his commanders: “Hostilities will cease on the entire front November 11 at 11 a.m. French time.” The commanders ordered the fighting to continue throughout the morning of November 11, prompting later accusations that some men died needlessly in the last few hours of the war. As the historian John Buchan has written of that memorable morning: “Officers had their watches in their hands, and the troops waited with the same grave composure with which they had fought.” As watch hands reached 11, “there came a second of expectant silence, and then a curious rippling sound, which observers far behind the front likened to the noise of a light wind. It was the sound of men cheering from the Vosges [mountains] to the sea.”

READ MORE: The WWI Origins of the Poppy as a Remembrance Symbol

The Great War took the life of some 9 million soldiers; 21 million more were wounded. Civilian casualties caused indirectly by the war numbered close to 10 million. The two nations most affected were Germany and France, each of which sent some 80 percent of their male populations between the ages of 15 and 49 into battle. At the peace conference in Paris in 1919, Allied leaders would state their desire to build a post-war world that would safeguard itself against future conflicts of such devastating scale. The Versailles Treaty, signed on June 28, 1919, would not achieve this objective. Saddled with war guilt and heavy reparations and denied entrance into the League of Nations, Germany complained it had signed the armistice under false pretenses, having believed any peace would be a “peace without victory” as put forward by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points speech of January 1918. As the years passed, hatred of the treaty and its authors settled into a smoldering resentment in Germany that would, two decades later, be counted–to an arguable extent–among the causes of the Second World War.

But that would all come later. On November 11, 1918, the dominant emotion for many on and off the battlefield was relief at the coming of peace, mixed with somber mourning for the many lives lost. In a letter written to his parents in the days following the armistice, one soldier–26-year-old Lieutenant Lewis Plush of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF)–eloquently pondered the war’s lasting impact: “There was a war, a great war, and now it is over. Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy. Some return home, others remain behind forever on the fields of their greatest sacrifice. The rewards of the dead are the lasting honors of martyrs for humanity; the reward of the living is the peaceful conscience of one who plays the game of life and plays it square.”

READ MORE: Why World War I Ended With an Armistice Instead of a Surrender


Nov. 11, 1918

On Nov. 11, 1918, after more than four years of horrific fighting and the loss of millions of lives, the guns on the Western Front fell silent. Although fighting continued elsewhere, the armistice between Germany and the Allies was the first step to ending World War I. The global reaction was one of mixed emotions: relief, celebration, disbelief and a profound sense of loss.

When World War I began in August 1914, few expected the conflict to last beyond Christmas. Over the course of the next few months, however, it was clear this would not come to pass. The conflict, already expanded beyond Europe, included great movements of imperial colonies in Africa and Asia. As it progressed, further independent nations like Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, China and Japan joined the fighting. Not until 1918 would the war’s end be in sight. In October of that year, an armistice between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies ended fighting in the Middle East. Only days later, the disintegrating Austro-Hungarian Empire signed an armistice with Italy.

In the west, the German Army’s imminent collapse led Germany to pursue an armistice. The Allied delegation, led by Supreme Allied Commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch, largely ignored United States President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points for Peace and left no room for negotiation. The German delegation was given 72 hours to accept the terms, which were purposefully severe to prevent Germany from resuming fighting. These included complete demilitarization, the evacuation of France, Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine (a territory that had been annexed by Germany in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War), and the immediate release of Allied prisoners of war and interned civilians.

“Dearest Mother and Dad: If only you all could see how glad everyone in this place is! Never in my life have I ever seen such happy people, for the eleventh of November meant the biggest thing possible to them all. Fighting stopped at last the German people have awakened from their horrible dream. It's taken a long time, four years and half of the sort of thing that France has been through is tremendous, and now that it is all over, why it is almost too much for them to believe. The good folk are so happy the tears stand in their eyes, and they make no efforts to hide them. Even those who have lost their dear ones.

“I was talking last night with a mother who gave her two boys and her husband and now is all alone who told me ‘Why should not I be glad? My two boys and my good man are gone it is true, but there are so many others. The war, it is finished, thanks to the good God.’ The whole town is decorated with flags and paper banners and streamers, quite gayly, and at night, lanterns shine at every window and door.”
— James E. (Ned) Henschel, November 11, 1918.

On Nov. 10, the Germans received word that Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated and instructions from the new government that they should sign the armistice. At 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, the armistice was agreed upon. Marshal Foch sent word to Allied commanders that “Hostilities will be stopped on the entire front beginning at 11 o'clock, November 11th (French hour). The Allied troops will not go beyond the line reached at that hour on that date until further orders.” The war on the Western Front had finally come to an end. Though one of several armistices signed in 1918, it is the armistice of Nov. 11 that left a lasting global legacy.


Photograph of General Maxime Weygand of France, Admiral Wemyss of Great Britain and Marshal Foch of France, along with others involved with the Armistice, in the Forest of Compiegne on November 11, 1918, outside the railcar where the Armistice was negotiated.

Contents

Prelude Edit

Official French commemorations began the preceding Sunday, on 4 November. French President Emmanuel Macron and his spouse Brigitte Macron hosted German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Strasbourg Cathedral. A concert was held in the presence of the three guests, and French, German, and European Union flags were hoisted outside the cathedral. [1]

During the afternoon of 10 November, President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the Glade of the Armistice at Compiègne, where they laid a wrath, unveiled a Franco-German reconciliatory plaque and signed a book of remembrance in a replica of the railway carriage where the Armistice was signed. [2] The visit was symbolic as it marked the first time that French and German leaders had visited the site since 1945. [3]

Prior to Armistice Day, President Macron had already invited 120 foreign dignitaries, including 72 heads of state and government as well as leaders from 15 international organisations, for an international commemoration ceremony. [4] [5] He hosted an official reception dinner for the dignitaries at the Musée d'Orsay on the evening of 10 November. [6]

International Edit

On the morning of 11 November, President Macron and most of the dignitaries arrived at the Champs-Élysées and walked to the Arc de Triomphe. Notable world leaders were present at the ceremony there including Angela Merkel, António Guterres, Mohammed VI of Morocco, Justin Trudeau, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Mark Rutte, Benjamin Netanyahu and Jean-Claude Juncker, among others. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin arrived later, in separate motorcades. [7]

Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma played the sarabande from Bach's Suite No. 5 in C minor, followed by teenage students reading out 1918 testimonies from soldiers who had witnessed the immediate effects of the Armistice. Yo-Yo Ma and French violinist Renaud Capuçon then performed the second movement of Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello. [8] Afterwards, Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo sang the Togolese song Blewu in homage to French colonial troops. President Macron then gave a speech in which he denounced nationalism as a "betrayal of patriotism", and warned of the resurgence of "old demons". [9] [10] The ceremony ended with a performance of Ravel's Bolero by the European Union Youth Orchestra. [11]

Macron paid tribute at the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier. After the commemoration, he hosted a lunch for all the visiting leaders at the Élysée Palace, while their consorts lunched at the Palace of Versailles. [7]

The first Paris Peace Forum was inaugurated in the afternoon, attended by most of the same delegates from the Arc de Triomphe event, with President Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary-General António Guterres giving opening remarks. President Trump notably did not attend, instead choosing to visit the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial. [12]

  • Ahmed Ouyahia, Prime Minister of Algeria
  • Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, President of Burkina Faso
  • Faustin-Archange Touadéra, President of the Central African Republic
  • Idriss Déby, President of the Republic of Chad
  • Azali Assoumani, President of the Union of the Comoros
  • Denis Sassou-Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo
  • Alassane Ouattara, President of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire
  • Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, President of the Republic of Djibouti
  • Alpha Condé, President of the Republic of Guinea
  • Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya
  • George Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia
  • Fayez al-Sarraj, Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya
  • Rivo Rakotovao, acting President of the Republic of Madagascar
  • Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of the Republic of Mali
  • Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania
  • Mohammed VI, King of Morocco and Moulay Hassan, Crown Prince of Morocco
  • Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the Republic of Niger
  • Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
  • Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda
  • Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal
  • Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Minister of Defence of the Republic of South Africa[14]
  • Beji Caid Essebsi, President of the Republic of Tunisia
  • Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
  • Donald Trump, President of the United States and Melania Trump, First Lady of the United States
  • Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia
  • Chea Sophara, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia
  • Ji Bingxuan, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China[15]
  • Giorgi Margvelashvili, President of Georgia
  • Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of the Republic of India
  • Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel
  • Tarō Asō, Deputy Prime Minister of Japan
  • Phankham Viphavanh, Vice President of the Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • Rami Hamdallah, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority
  • Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar[16]
  • Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of the Republic of Turkey and Emine Erdoğan, First Lady of the Republic of Turkey [17]
  • Ilir Meta, President of the Republic of Albania
  • Alexander Van der Bellen, President of the Republic of Austria
  • Charles Michel, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Belgium
  • Bakir Izetbegović, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Rumen Radev, President of the Republic of Bulgaria
  • Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, President of the Republic of Croatia
  • Nikos Anastasiadis, President of the Republic of Cyprus
  • Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark
  • Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the Republic of Estonia
  • Sauli Niinistö, President of the Republic of Finland
  • Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic
  • Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Secretary of State of the Holy See
  • Gudni Johannesson, President of Iceland
  • Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach of Ireland
  • Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic
  • Hashim Thaçi, President of the Republic of Kosovo
  • Raimonds Vējonis, President of the Republic of Latvia
  • Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of the Republic of Lithuania
  • Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg and Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg
  • Igor Dodon, President of the Republic of Moldova
  • Albert II, Prince of Monaco and Charlene, Princess of Monaco [16]
  • Milo Đukanović, President of Montenegro
  • Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands
  • Gjorge Ivanov, President of the Republic of North Macedonia
  • Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Norway
  • Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, President of the Portuguese Republic
  • Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania
  • Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation
  • Aleksandar Vučić, President of the Republic of Serbia
  • Andrej Kiska, President of the Slovak Republic
  • Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia
  • Felipe VI, King of Spain and Pedro Sánchez, Prime Minister of Spain
  • Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sweden
  • Alain Berset, President of the Swiss Confederation
  • Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine
  • The Lord Llewellyn of Steep, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to France [18]
  • Sir David Lidington, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office [18]
  • Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
  • Epeli Nailatikau, former President of the Republic of Fiji[19]
  • Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
  • Tallis Obed Moses, President of the Republic of Vanuatu
  • Moussa Faki, Chairperson of the African Union Commission
  • Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the African Union
  • Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
  • Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission
  • Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament
  • Michaëlle Jean, Secretary-General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie , Director-General of the International Labour Organization , Chair and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund
  • Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of NATO , Secretary-General of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development
  • Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
  • António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
  • Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the World Trade Organization , President of the World Bank

National and overseas Edit

The centenary was commemorated nationally in France. In addition to the main international commemorations, Emmanuel Macron also carried out a "memorial tour", visiting some of the most marked and emblematic locations of the Western Front. The tour was met with backlash, particularly "drawing the scorn of ordinary French voters over his perceived metropolitan disregard for their pocketbook concerns." [20] Macron also announced that writer Maurice Genevoix, author of numerous books on the First World War, would be listed on the Panthéon in 2019, alongside 14 other authors. [21]

Overseas France contributed to the wider French war effort. Beginning in 2014, research was conducted by historians on the relationship of overseas territories using public and private archives. In addition to the involvement of Poilus from overseas, new questions were built from war correspondence between the soldiers and their relatives: the reality of the mobilisation, the daily life of the Poilu troops in metropolitan France, the experience of war among metropolitan soldiers, their feelings, and their return to their respective islands after the war, sometimes as late as 1921. The number of Réunionese troops dead in action was readjusted to 1,693, leading to the island issuing a renewal of the plaques on its war memorials on the eve of the commemoration of the centenary. [22]

Bells were rang across the country at 11 am on 11 November to mark exactly a century since the Armistice took effect. This included the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, as well as others in overseas territories including Wallis and Futuna. [23] [24]

A concert was held in La Force in the Dordogne department of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Violonist Pierre Hamel from the Orchestre Colonne performed at the concert alongside a pianist and a cellist, using a metal violin assembled by soldiers in the trenches. [25]

Controversy Edit

In October 2018, reports circulated in the French press that Philippe Pétain, who served in the Battle of Verdun and later led Nazi-aligned Vichy France, would be paid homage at the Hôtel des Invalides alongside other World War I marshals. The Élysée responded saying it didn't understand how such a tribute "ended up there", explaining that it was "not in the [official] program". [26] Macron in particular described Pétain as a "great soldier", while remarking that he made "disastrous choices" during the Nazi occupation. [20] The resulting public outcry led to the Pétain tribute being removed from the schedule.

U.S. President Donald Trump had originally planned to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial on 10 November and pay tribute to fallen American soldiers, but the visit was later cancelled, with the White House citing it was due to "bad weather". [27] The cancellation was met with negative criticism, particularly from former Obama national security adviser Ben Rhodes and British Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill. [28]

While on the way to the Arc de Triomphe, President Trump's motorcade passed by a topless woman who ran towards it and was quickly dragged out by French police. The radical feminist group Femen claimed responsibility for the incident. [29] In addition, anti-Trump demonstrations were held at the Place de la République. [30]

On 9 November, Prime Minister Theresa May paid respects at the Thiepval Memorial in northern France along with French President Emmanuel Macron. She also visited the St Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons, Belgium, and laid wreaths at the graves of the first and last British soldiers killed in the Great War, respectively John Parr and George Edwin Ellison. Inscribed within the wreaths were handwritten messages in which she thanked those who died for being "staunch to the end", using lines from wartime poems. [31]

Remembrance Sunday Edit

The 2018 National Service of Remembrance was held on 11 November, during which two minutes of silence were observed at the Cenotaph war memorial in London, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, PM Theresa May and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. [32] In a reconciliatory act, Steinmeier became the first German leader to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph. [9] Thousands marched past the memorial and were able to lay their own wreaths, paying respect to relatives and soldiers who died in the war. [33] Despite ongoing renovations, the Big Ben rang eleven times at 12:30 pm, joining bells across the UK and globally in marking the Armistice centenary. [34] [35]

Later that day, President Steinmeier attended a Westminster Abbey memorial service with the Queen, and read out a passage from 1 St John 4: 7-11 in German. [9] The Queen and several senior royal family members also attended a remembrance concert. [36]

Australia Edit

A minute of silence was observed nationally at 11 am in remembrance of Australian soldiers who fought and died in overseas conflicts. Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed a crowd of more than 12,000 attending during a national Remembrance Day service in Canberra. A centenary extension of the Anzac Memorial in Sydney was also opened to the public. [37] [38]

In addition, over a thousand people attended a commemoration at the Australian National Memorial in the French town of Villers-Bretonneux. [37]

Belgium Edit

National commemorations were held in the Belgian capital of Brussels, led by King Philippe. The King delivered a speech in which he pledged with people to keep alive the memory of the war, and to "engage together in building a world of peace." [39] A dove and 11 pigeons (widely used during the war as a means of communication) were released during the memorial service. [39]

In Mons, celebrations were held marking the anniversary of Canadian troops taking over the city from the Germans, in the final leg of Canada's Hundred Days. [40] [41] The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada led a recreated Armistice parade through the city. [42]

India Edit

A memorial service was held at the Delhi War Cemetery, where Indian and British delegates laid wreaths. Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat led the British delegation and was joined by Sir Dominic Asquith, British High Commissioner to India, and defence attaché Brigadier Mark Goldsack. [43]

In a series of tweets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to Indian troops and pledged to "further an atmosphere of harmony and brotherhood". [44] [45]

Luxembourg Edit

A ceremony was held at the Gëlle Fra monument in the capital during the late afternoon, in the presence of Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg as well as Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. Bettel also paid tribute to war casualties. [46]

New Zealand Edit

The Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington hosted an Armistice commemoration service, which was organised as part of the wider New Zealand WW100 commemorations. A 100-gun salute was held at the Wellington waterfront, and two minutes of silence were observed at 11 am, followed by a cacophony of noise replicating how the public initially reacted to the news of the Armistice a century prior. Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave speeches at the event. [47] [48] [49]

Russia Edit

Although President Vladimir Putin attended commemorations in France, the centenary was still marked inside Russia. Russian military honoured fallen soldiers at a cemetery on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg. [9]

United States Edit

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri hosted a ceremony in which participants and relatives of WWI veterans tolled a "bell of peace" and laid wreaths in memory of those killed in the war. [50] The Washington National Cathedral organized a commemorative worship service. [51]


Armistice Ends World War I Fighting

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918), the world’s warring nations agreed to cease fighting, bringing about the end of the Great War.

When the war first began in 1914, America resolved to stay out of it. Though America offered aid and supplies to the Allies, President Woodrow Wilson vowed to remain neutral. But as the war dragged on, German hostility toward America grew worse.

By early 1917, the Germans had attacked and sunk several U.S. ships leading Congress to pass a $250 million arms appropriations bill to ready the nation for war. On April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before Congress to call for a declaration of war against Germany. He believed that unless the U.S. entered the war, Western civilization could be destroyed. Referring to it as a “war to end all wars,” he hoped it would result in lasting peace.

US #5300 – Fleetwood First Day Cover.

The following January, Wilson addressed Congress again and delivered his now-famous 14 Points speech, outlining America’s war goals. This speech marked the first clear intention of any of the warring nations. Its goals included self-determination, open agreements, international cooperation, resolving territorial disputes, creating lasting free trade and commerce, outlawing secret treaties, and establishing an independent Poland with sea access. It also suggested the creation of a peacemaking organization, which would eventually become the League of Nations.

US #2154 was based on a sketch by Captain Harvey Dunn of U.S. troops at the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans launched their Spring Offensive in 1918 to some success, but the Allies fought back fiercely with their own offensives. By late September, Germany’s military commanders realized that their situation was hopeless and were unsure if they could hold the front for another 24 hours. German General Erich Ludendorff told his government to call for an immediate ceasefire and accept Wilson’s 14 Points. German officials heeded his advice and contacted President Wilson to begin negotiations. Wilson demanded that before the negotiations could take place, Germany must retreat from all occupied territories, cease submarine activities, and the Kaiser must resign.

Item #M12335 pictures the famed Uncle Sam poster and the British poster that inspired it.

In spite of his earlier request, Ludendorff declared these conditions to be unacceptable and wished to continue fighting, but the German government decided to follow through with Wilson’s demands and replaced Ludendorff. He wasn’t the only one opposed to the 14 Points – the French, British, and Italian governments believed they were vague and unrealistic. After weeks of debate, they agreed to enter into negotiations and demand reparation payments.

Item #M12334 pictures different World War I posters.

On November 7, German representatives crossed the front line, drove ten hours through the ravaged war zone to meet the Allies early the next morning. They met in Ferdinand Foch’s private train in Compiégne, France. The Allies gave the Germans a list of demands and 72 hours in which to agree. There was little negotiation – the Germans would remove all military forces from other nations while the Allies would continue their naval blockade until the peace treaty was signed. Both sides agreed to the armistice at 5:00 a.m. on November 11 and would put it into effect at 11:00 that morning. Across the front, some troops fired to the last minute, while others embraced their former foes, and others simply acknowledged each other and walked away.

Item #M11822 – Collection of five World War I stamp sheets.


100 years ago: Tribune’s front page from day WWI ended describes a joyful city, a dark future

It was said to be the “war to end all wars.” It wasn’t. Sadly and ironically, World War I sowed the seeds of a more deadly conflict fought over the same turf by many of the same parties. But on Nov. 11, 1918, the bloodletting that cost Europe nearly a generation of young men, and killed millions more civilians, was over. The world and the city rejoiced.

The front page of the Chicago Tribune on Armistice Day captured history midstream: It recorded the jubilation of one war’s end, and yet, unknowingly, many of the factors in the creation of the next: debilitating, humiliating surrender terms for Germany, the establishment of liberal governance under immediate pressure by revolutionaries, industry under threat of seizure and the breakaway of young countries whose reclamation would prove irresistible to coming tyrants.

No Tribune reader in the fall of 1918 could have predicted the political rise of an unassuming (many thought dimwitted) German corporal named Adolf Hitler, who was at that moment lying in a hospital bed recovering from a gas attack. Across the world, Nov. 11, 1918, was a cause for celebration — a cartoon on Page 5 of the Tribune called it “Humanity’s Greatest Day.” But 100 years later, the front page of the paper on that historic day feels both joyful and eerily prescient.

Note: The service the Tribune used to generate this interactive story now no longer makes it available on this page. Click "view this image" below to see the front page on ThingLink.


On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (November 11, 1918), the world’s warring nations agreed to cease fighting, bringing about the end of the Great War.

When the war first began in 1914, America resolved to stay out of it. Though America offered aid and supplies to the Allies, President Woodrow Wilson vowed to remain neutral. But as the war dragged on, German hostility toward America grew worse. By early 1917, the Germans had attacked and sank several U.S. ships leading Congress to pass a $250 million arms appropriations bill to ready the nation for war. On April 2, 1917, President Wilson appeared before Congress to call for a declaration of war against Germany. He believed that unless the U.S. entered the war, Western civilization could be destroyed. Referring to it as a “war to end all wars,” he hoped it would result in lasting peace.

Item #M10349 – November 11 is celebrated around the world as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and Veterans Day.

The following January, Wilson addressed Congress again and delivered his now-famous 14 Points speech, outlining America’s war goals. This speech marked the first clear intention of any of the warring nations. Its goals included self-determination, open agreements, international cooperation, resolving territorial disputes, creating lasting free trade and commerce, outlawing secret treaties, and establishing an independent Poland with sea access. It also suggested the creation of a peacemaking organization, which would eventually become the League of Nations.

Item #M11405 – World War I was the first war to involve tanks, some of which are pictured on these stamps.

The Germans launched their Spring Offensive in 1918 to some success, but the Allies fought back fiercely with their own offensives. By late September, Germany’s military commanders realized that their situation was hopeless and were unsure if they could hold the front for another 24 hours. German General Erich Ludendorff told his government to call for an immediate ceasefire and accept Wilson’s 14 Points. German officials heeded his advice and contacted President Wilson to begin negotiations. Wilson demanded that before the negotiations could take place, Germany must retreat from all occupied territories, cease submarine activities, and the kaiser must resign.

Item #M11406 pictures various aircraft used during the war.

In spite of his earlier request, Ludendorff declared these conditions to be unacceptable and wished to continue fighting, but the German government decided to follow through with Wilson’s demands and replaced Ludendorff. He wasn’t the only one opposed to the 14 Points – the French, British, and Italian governments believed they were vague and unrealistic. After weeks of debate, they agreed to enter into negotiations and demand reparation payments.

On November 7, German representatives crossed the front line, drove ten hours through the ravaged war zone to meet the Allies early the next morning. They met in Ferdinand Foch’s private train in Compiégne, France. The Allies gave the Germans a list of demands and 72 hours in which to agree. There was little negotiation – the Germans would remove all military forces from other nations while the Allies would continue their naval blockade until the peace treaty was signed. Both sides agreed to the armistice at 5:00 a.m. on November 11 and would put it into effect at 11:00 that morning. Across the front, some troops fired to the last minute, while others embraced their former foes, and others simply acknowledged each other and walked away.

U.S. #697 – After attending the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson traveled across America to get national support for the treaty.


This Day in History, November 11, 1918: World War I Ends

On November 11, 1918 an armistice was signed between the Germans and the Allies, ending World War I.

ABMC SECRETARY MAX CLELAND: On this day in history, November 11 th , 1918, the armistice was signed between the Axis and Allies ending the First World War.

The armistice was the culmination of a coordinated Allied offensive extending across the western front, a distance of more than 400 miles. Faced with this overwhelming advance, the Germans were driven back from the territory they had fought hard to acquire over four long years of war.

(Sounds of soldiers marching by)

ABMC SECRETARY MAX CLELAND:With the situation looking increasingly dire with every passing day, the Germans dispatched a diplomatic delegation to the front.

On the morning of November 11 th in Compiègne, France, an armistice was reached between the Allies and Germany, declaring a cessation to hostilities on the western front effective the 11 th hour, of the 11 th of day, of the 11 th month.

(Large crowd cheering/celebrating)

ABMC SECRETARY MAX CLELAND: Four years of intense fighting had cost all combatant nations dearly, and Allied soldiers and civilians alike rejoiced.

ABMC SECRETARY MAX CLELAND:The signing of the Armistice on November 11 th became a national holiday in the United States to honor those who served in the First World War, and helped bring it to a close.

(Celebrations continue followed by moment of silence)

ABMC SECRETARY MAX CLELAND: More than 30,000 Americans who died in the First World War are buried overseas. The American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the sacrifice of those who fell through the care of the hallowed grounds in which they lie.


On This Day: Armistice Day: World War I ends

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ends. At 5 a.m. that morning, Germany, bereft of manpower and supplies and faced with imminent invasion, signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiégne, France. The First World War left nine million soldiers dead and 21 million wounded, with Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France and Great Britain each losing nearly a million or more lives. In addition, at least five million civilians died from disease, starvation, or exposure.

On June 28, 1914, in an event that is widely regarded as sparking the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, was shot to death with his wife by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia. Ferdinand had been inspecting his uncle’s imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the threat of Serbian nationalists who wanted these Austro-Hungarian possessions to join newly independent Serbia. Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism once and for all. However, as Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention.

On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. On July 29, Austro-Hungarian forces began to shell the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and Russia, Serbia’s ally, ordered a troop mobilization against Austria-Hungary. France, allied with Russia, began to mobilize on August 1. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3. After crossing through neutral Luxembourg, the German army invaded Belgium on the night of August 3-4, prompting Great Britain, Belgium’s ally, to declare war against Germany.

For the most part, the people of Europe greeted the outbreak of war with jubilation. Most patriotically assumed that their country would be victorious within months. Of the initial belligerents, Germany was most prepared for the outbreak of hostilities, and its military leaders had formatted a sophisticated military strategy known as the “Schlieffen Plan,” which envisioned the conquest of France through a great arcing offensive through Belgium and into northern France. Russia, slow to mobilize, was to be kept occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces while Germany attacked France.

The Schlieffen Plan was nearly successful, but in early September the French rallied and halted the German advance at the bloody Battle of the Marne near Paris. By the end of 1914, well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and neither for the Allies nor the Central Powers was a final victory in sight. On the western front—the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium—the combatants settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition.

In 1915, the Allies attempted to break the stalemate with an amphibious invasion of Turkey, which had joined the Central Powers in October 1914, but after heavy bloodshed the Allies were forced to retreat in early 1916. The year 1916 saw great offensives by Germany and Britain along the western front, but neither side accomplished a decisive victory. In the east, Germany was more successful, and the disorganized Russian army suffered terrible losses, spurring the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. By the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and immediately set about negotiating peace with Germany. In 1918, the infusion of American troops and resources into the western front finally tipped the scale in the Allies’ favor. Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies on November 11, 1918.

World War I was known as the “war to end all wars” because of the great slaughter and destruction it caused. Unfortunately, the peace treaty that officially ended the conflict—the Treaty of Versailles of 1919—forced punitive terms on Germany that destabilized Europe and laid the groundwork for World War II.


1918: On this Day in History, World War I Ends

At 11 o’clock in the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the World War I–known at the time as the Great War–came to an end.

At 11 o’clock in the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the World War I–known at the time as the Great War–came to an end.

It is also Veterans Day
Veterans Day is a U.S. legal holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars. In 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in World War I, then known as “the Great War.” Commemorated in many countries as Armistice Day the following year, November 11th became a federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became legally known as Veterans Day.

By the end of autumn 1918, the alliance of the Central Powers was unraveling in its war effort against the better supplied and coordinated Allied powers. Facing exhausted resources on the battlefield, turmoil on the home front and the surrender of its weaker allies, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, Germany was finally forced to seek an armistice with the Allies in the early days of November 1918.

On November 7, the German chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, sent delegates to Compiegne, France, to negotiate the agreement it was signed at 5:10 a.m. on the morning of November 11.

Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of all Allied forces on the Western Front, sent a message by telegraph to all his commanders: “Hostilities will cease on the entire front November 11 at 11 a.m. French time.” The commanders ordered the fighting to continue throughout the morning of November 11, prompting later accusations that some men died needlessly in the last few hours of the war.

As the historian John Buchan has written of that memorable morning: “Officers had their watches in their hands, and the troops waited with the same grave composure with which they had fought.” As watch hands reached 11, “there came a second of expectant silence, and then a curious rippling sound, which observers far behind the front likened to the noise of a light wind. It was the sound of men cheering from the Vosges [mountains] to the sea.”

The Great War took the life of some 9 million soldiers 21 million more were wounded. Civilian casualties caused indirectly by the war numbered close to 10 million. The two nations most affected were Germany and France, each of which sent some 80 percent of their male populations between the ages of 15 and 49 into battle. At the peace conference in Paris in 1919, Allied leaders would state their desire to build a post-war world that would safeguard itself against future conflicts of such devastating scale.

Buy on Amazon.com – The First World War is one of history’s greatest tragedies. In this remarkable and intimate account, author G. J. Meyer draws on exhaustive research to bring to life the story of how the Great War reduced Europe’s mightiest empires to rubble, killed twenty million people, and cracked the foundations of the world we live in today.

The Versailles Treaty, signed on June 28, 1919, would not achieve this objective. Saddled with war guilt and heavy reparations and denied entrance into the League of Nations, Germany complained it had signed the armistice under false pretenses, having believed any peace would be a “peace without victory” as put forward by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points speech of January 1918.

As the years passed, hatred of the treaty and its authors settled into a smoldering resentment in Germany that would, two decades later, be counted–to an arguable extent–among the causes of the Second World War.

Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, second right, arrives in Boulogne, France, on June 13, 1917

But that would all come later. On November 11, 1918, the dominant emotion for many on and off the battlefield was relief at the coming of peace, mixed with somber mourning for the many lives lost. In a letter written to his parents in the days following the armistice, one soldier–26-year-old Lieutenant Lewis Plush of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF)–eloquently pondered the war’s lasting impact: “There was a war, a great war, and now it is over.

Men fought to kill, to maim, to destroy. Some return home, others remain behind forever on the fields of their greatest sacrifice. The rewards of the dead are the lasting honors of martyrs for humanity the reward of the living is the peaceful conscience of one who plays the game of life and plays it square.”


Wasted Lives on Armistice Day

Irish Guardsmen stand at their post five minutes before the Armistice, near Maubeuge on November 11, 1918.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Joseph E. Persico
Winter 2005

On November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front in France suffered more than thirty-five hundred casualties, although it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end that day and known with absolute certainty as of 5 o’clock that morning that it would end at 11 a.m. Nearly a year afterward, on November 5, 1919, General John J. Pershing, commander of the AEF, found himself testifying on the efficiency of the war’s prosecution before the House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs.

The encounter was amicable and respectful since members were dealing with the officer who had led America to victory in the Great War. However, a Republican committee member, Alvan T. Fuller of Massachusetts, deferentially posed a provocative query: ‘This question is somewhat irrelevant to the matter under discussion,’ Fuller began, ‘but I would like to ask General Pershing if American troops were ordered over the top on the other side on the morning of the day when under the terms of the Armistice firing was to cease…and that those troops who were not killed or wounded marched peacefully into Germany at 11 o’clock. Is that true?’

Pershing answered with his customary crisp confidence:

When the subject of the armistice was under discussion we did not know what the purpose of it was definitely, whether it was something proposed by the German High Command to gain time or whether they were sincere in their desire to have an armistice and the mere discussion of an armistice would not be sufficient grounds for any judicious commander to relax his military activities….No one could possibly know when the armistice was to be signed, or what hour be fixed for the cessation of hostilities so that the only thing for us to do, and which I did as commander in chief of the American forces, and which Marshal Foch did as commander in chief of the Allied armies was to continue the military activities….

Just days later, however, the congressman forwarded to Pershing a letter from a constituent with a cover note saying, ‘I have been deluged with questions on this subject.’ The enclosed letter had been written to Fuller by George K. Livermore, former operations officer of the 167th Field Artillery Brigade of the black 92nd Division, stating that that force had been engaged since 5 a.m. on November 11 and had been ordered to launch its final charge at 10:30 a.m. Livermore lamented ‘the little crosses over the graves of the colored lads who died a useless death on that November morning.’ He further described the loss of U.S. Marines killed crossing the Meuse River in the final hours as ‘frightful.’ Congressman Fuller closed his letter to Pershing asking for ‘a real frank, full answer to the question as to whether American lives were needlessly wasted.’

Fuller had Pershing’s answer within the week, and it was categorical. By allowing the fighting to go forward, Pershing reiterated that he was simply following the orders of his superior, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of Allied forces in France, issued on November 9, to keep up the pressure against the retreating enemy until the cease-fire went into effect. Consequently, he had not ordered his army to stop fighting even after the signing of the armistice, of which, ‘I had no knowledge before 6 a.m. November 11.’

The possibility of an armistice had begun the evening of November 7 when French soldiers of the 171st Régiment d’Infanterie near Haudroy were startled by an unfamiliar bugle call. Fearing they were about to be overrun, they cautiously advanced toward the increasingly loud blaring when out of the mantle of fog three automobiles emerged, their sides gilded with the imperial German eagle. The astonished Frenchmen had encountered a German armistice delegation headed by a rotund forty-three-year-old politician and peace advocate named Matthias Erzberger. The delegation was escorted to the Compigne Forest near Paris where, in a railroad dining car converted into a conference room, they were met by a small, erect figure–Marshal Foch–who fixed them with a withering gaze. Foch opened the proceeding with a question that left the Germans agape. ‘Ask these Gentlemen what they want,’ he said to his interpreter. When the Germans had recovered, Erzberger answered that they understood they had been sent to discuss armistice terms. Foch stunned them again: ‘Tell these gentlemen that I have no proposals to make.’

No proposals, perhaps, but he did have demands. Foch’s interpreter read aloud the Allied conditions, which struck the Germans like hammer blows: All occupied lands in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France–plus Alsace-Lorraine, held since 1870 by Germany–were to be evacuated within fourteen days the Allies were to occupy Germany west of the Rhine and bridgeheads on the river’s east bank thirty kilometers deep German forces had to be withdrawn from Austria-Hungary, Romania, and Turkey Germany was to surrender to neutral or Allied ports 10 battleships, 6 battle cruisers, 8 cruisers, and 160 submarines. Germany was also to be stripped of heavy armaments, including 5,000 artillery pieces, 25,000 machine guns, and 2,000 airplanes. The next demand threw the German delegates into despair. Though the German people already faced starvation, the Allies intended to paralyze the enemy’s transportation by continuing its naval blockade and confiscating 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 railway cars, and 5,000 trucks. The translator droned on through thirty-four conditions, the last of which blamed Germany for the war and demanded it pay reparations for all damage caused. Foch informed Erzberger that he had seventy-two hours to obtain the consent of his government to the Allies’ terms, or the war would go on.

On average, 2,250 troops on all sides were dying on the Western Front every day. ‘For God’s sake, Monsieur le Marechal,’ Erzberger pleaded, ‘do not wait for those seventy-two hours. Stop the hostilities this very day.’ The appeal fell on deaf ears. Before the meeting, Foch had described to his staff his intention ‘to pursue the Feldgrauen [field grays, or German soldiers] with a sword at their backs’ to the last minute until an armistice went into effect.

Photo of General John J. Pershing.

To Pershing the very idea of an armistice was repugnant. ‘Their request is an acknowledgment of weakness and clearly means that the Allies are winning the war,’ he maintained. ‘Germany’s desire is only to regain time to restore order among her forces, but she must be given no opportunity to recuperate and we must strike harder than ever.’ As for terms, Pershing had one response: ‘There can be no conclusion to this war until Germany is brought to her knees.’ The French and British Allies might be exhausted and long for peace, but Pershing saw his army akin to a fighter ready to deliver the knockout punch who is told to quit with his opponent reeling but still standing. Conciliation now, he claimed, would lead only to future war. He wanted Germany’s unconditional surrender.

The Germans finally yielded and signed the armistice at 5:10 on the morning of the eleventh, backed up officially to 5 a.m. and to take effect within Foch’s deadline: the eleventh month, eleventh day, eleventh hour of 1918. Pershing’s postwar claim that he had had no official knowledge of the impending armistice before being informed by Foch’s headquarters at 6 a.m. was disingenuous. The moment when the fighting would cease had been clear from the time Foch handed Erzberger the deadline, information to which Pershing was privy. On the evening of November 10 and through that night, news of the impending end was repeatedly affirmed from radio transmissions received at Pershing’s AEF headquarters in Chaumont.

After the general was apprised that the signing had taken place, the order going out from him merely informed subordinate commanders of that fact. It said nothing about what they should do until 11 o’clock, when the cease-fire would go into effect. His order left his commanders in a decisional no man’s land as to whether to keep fighting or spare their men in the intervening hours. The generals left in that limbo fell roughly into two categories: ambitious careerists who saw a fast-fading opportunity for glory, victories, even promotions and those who believed it mad to send men to their deaths to take ground that they could safely walk into within days.

Congressman Fuller’s mention of the loss of marines that final day referred to an action ordered by Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall, Pershing’s commander of the V Corps. No doubt had clouded Summerall’s mind as to how all this talk of an armistice on the eleventh should be treated. The day before he had gathered his senior officers and told them, ‘Rumors of enemy capitulation come from our successes.’ Consequently, this was no time to relax but rather to tighten the screws.

Major General Charles P. Summerall had ordered the 5th to force a crossing of the Meuse River that morning.

Summerall, a fifty-one-year-old Floridian, had spent three years teaching school before entering West Point. By the time he arrived on the Western Front he wore ribbons from the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the Boxer Rebellion. He was a severe, unsmiling, some said brutal man who liked to turn out in prewar dress uniform with copious medals, gilded sashes, and fringed epaulettes–suggesting a viceroy of India rather than a plain American officer. Because he had taught English, Summerall prided himself that he possessed a literary turn of phrase. ‘We are swinging the door by its hinges. It has got to move,’ he told his subordinates as he ordered them to cross the Meuse River on the war’s last day. ‘Only by increasing the pressure can we bring about [the enemy’s] defeat….Get into action and get across.’ His parting shot was: ‘I don’t expect to see any of you again, but that doesn’t matter. You have the honor of a definitive success–give yourself to that.’ Was he referring to ending his present command over them, or foretelling their fate? In either case, Summerall was spurring them on to defeat an already defeated enemy, whatever the cost.

Among replacements rushed to the Meuse was Private Elton Mackin, 5th Marine Regiment. Soon after America entered the war, Mackin had read an article in the Saturday Evening Post about the Marine Corps that lured the baby-faced nineteen-year-old to enlist. He had thus far survived 156 days at the front, beginning with his regiment’s bloody baptism in the battle for Belleau Wood. Whether he would survive the last day depended on General Summerall’s decision, and the human price it would exact.

In the gray hours before dawn on November 11, Mackin’s regiment stumbled out of the Bois de Hospice, a wood on the west bank of the Meuse. The night was frigid, shrouded in fog and drizzle as the marines tried to find their way to the river in the gloom. Army engineers had gone before them, throwing flimsy bridges across the water by lashing pontoons together, then running planks over the top. The first signs that the marines were headed in the right direction were the bodies they stumbled upon, engineers killed attempting to construct the crossings.

Summerall crosses the Meuse on one of the rickety bridges used by the marines.

At about 4 a.m., the marines reached the first pontoon bridge, a rickety affair thirty inches wide with a guide rope strung along posts at knee height. They could see only halfway across before the bridge disappeared into the mist. Beyond, nothing was visible but the flash of enemy guns. The marines began piling up at the bridgehead, awaiting orders. A major blew a whistle and stepped onto the bridge. As the men crowded behind him, the pontoons began to sink below the water sloshing about the men’s ankles. The engineers shouted to them to space themselves before the span collapsed.

Enemy shells began spewing up geysers, soaking the attackers with icy water. German Maxim machine guns opened fire, the rounds striking the wood sounding like a drumroll, those hitting flesh making a’sock, sock, sock’ sound. The span swung wildly in the strong current. Mackin saw the man ahead of him stumble between two pontoon sections and vanish into the black water. The German guns’ bullets continued knocking men off the pontoons, like ducks in a shooting gallery. Still, the Americans kept coming. By 4:30 a.m. the marines and infantrymen of the 89th Division had taken Pouilly on the river’s east bank. In the remaining 6 1/2 hours they were to storm the heights above the town and clean out the machine gun nests. As day broke, Mackin watched a runner come sprinting across the bridge. The message from General Summerall’s headquarters read only, ‘Armistice signed and takes effect at 11:00 o’clock this morning.’ Again, nothing was said about halting the fighting in the meantime. Mackin survived to write of his experience. But the Meuse River crossings had cost more than eleven hundred casualties in the hours just before the war’s end.

Numerous members of Congress, including Fuller, had received appeals from families wanting to know why such pointless expenditure of life had been allowed to happen. Congress had already created a Select Committee on Expenditures in the War Department to investigate procurement practices, the sufficiency and quality of weaponry, and waste and graft in supplying the AEF. To this body, the House decided to add a ‘Subcommittee 3’ to investigate the Armistice Day losses. Royal Johnson, Republican from South Dakota, was appointed chairman to serve with another majority member, Republican Oscar Bland from Indiana, and a minority member, Daniel Flood, a Virginia Democrat. Johnson’s interest in the task assigned him was intensely personal. He was barely out of uniform himself. At age thirty-six, Johnson had taken leave from the House of Representatives and enlisted as a private in the 313th Regiment, ‘Baltimore’s Own,’ rising through the ranks to first lieutenant and earning the Distinguished Service Cross and Croix de Guerre.

Doughboys of the 28th Infantry Regiment crowd a trench in France during World War I.

Among the ranks of the 313th engaged on armistice morning was Henry N. Gunther, a fine-looking soldier in his mid-twenties, erect, with a clear-eyed gaze and a guardsman’s mustache that suggested a British subaltern rather than an American private. Gunther, however, had had difficulty with army life. He came from a heavily German neighborhood in east Baltimore where the culture of his forebears remained strong. When the United States went to war, Gunther and his neighbors began to experience anti-German prejudice. In this poisonous atmosphere, Gunther felt no impulse to enlist. He was doing nicely at the National Bank of Baltimore and had a girlfriend, Olga Gruebl, who he intended to marry.

Nevertheless, Gunther was drafted five months after America entered the war. His closest pal, Ernest Powell, became platoon sergeant in Company A, while Gunther was appointed supply sergeant. ‘Supply sergeants were traditionally unpopular,’ Powell recalled. ‘Army clothing in the war, as they said at the time, came in two sizes–too large and too small.’ Supply sergeants took the brunt of the soldiers’ gripes, and Gunther began keeping to himself, his enthusiasm for army life well controlled.

After arriving in France in July 1918, he wrote a friend back home to stay clear of the war since conditions were miserable. An army censor passed the letter along to Gunther’s commanding officer, who broke the sergeant to private. Gunther then found himself serving under Ernie Powell, once his coequal, a chafing humiliation. Thereafter, Powell observed Gunther becoming increasingly brooding and withdrawn.

By Armistice Day, the 313th had been engaged in nearly two months of uninterrupted combat. At 9:30 that morning, the regiment jumped off, bayonets fixed, rifles at port, heads bent, slogging through a marshland in an impenetrable fog toward their objective, a speck on the map called Ville-Devant-Chaumont. Its advance was to be covered by the 311th Machine Gun Battalion. But in the fog, the gunners had no idea where to direct their fire, and Company A thus moved along in an eerie silence. Suddenly, German artillery opened up, and men began to fall.

At sixteen minutes before 11, a runner caught up with the 313th’s parent 157th Brigade to report that the armistice had been signed. Again, the message made no mention of what to do in the interim. Brigadier General William Nicholson, commanding the brigade, made his decision: ‘There will be absolutely no let-up until 11:00 a.m.’ More runners were dispatched to spread the word to the farthest advanced regiments, including Gunther’s. The 313th now gathered below a ridge called the Côte Romagne. Two German machine gun squads manning a roadblock watched, disbelieving, as shapes began emerging from the fog. Gunther and Sergeant Powell dropped to the ground as bullets sang above their heads. The Germans then ceased firing, assuming that the Americans would have the good sense to stop with the end so near. Suddenly, Powell saw Gunther rise and begin loping toward the machine guns. He shouted for Gunther to stop. The machine gunners waved him back, but Gunther kept advancing. The enemy reluctantly fired a five-round burst. Gunther was struck in the left temple and died instantly. The time was 10:59 a.m. General Pershing’s order of the day would later record Henry Gunther as the last American killed in the war.

To question officers as to why men like Gunther had been exposed to death at literally the eleventh hour, the Republicans on Subcommittee 3 hired as counsel a recently retired army lawyer, Samuel T. Ansell. A forty-five-year-old West Pointer, Ansell had served as acting judge advocate general during the war and left the army specifically to take the congressional job for the then-substantial salary of twenty thousand dollars per year. His first move was to have all senior American commanders who had led troops on the Western Front answer these questions: ‘What time on the morning of November 11, 1918, were you notified of the signing of the armistice? What orders were you and your command under with respect to operations against the enemy immediately before and up to the moment of such notification and after notification and up to 11 o’clock? After receipt of such notification did your command or any part of it continue to fight? If so, why and with what casualties? Did your command or any part of it continue the fight after 11 o’clock? If so, why and with what casualties?’Ansell proved a fire-breathing pros-ecutor, ill concealing his premise that lives had indeed been thrown away on the war’s last day. Among the first witnesses he called was Pershing’s chief of operations, Brig. Gen. Fox Conner. Proud, ruggedly handsome, and a wily witness, Conner admitted that, pursuant to Foch’s order to keep the pressure on, one American army, the 2nd under Lt. Gen. Robert Lee Bullard, had actually moved an assault originally planned for November 11 up to November 10 ‘to counteract the idea among the troops that the Armistice had already been signed’ and ‘to influence the German delegates to sign.’

Not all commanders shared the view that Germany had to be pressured to sign. For days the Germans had shown no stomach to engage the Allies and carried out only rear-guard actions as they fell back. On armistice morning, the commander of the 32nd Division, Maj. Gen. William Haan, received a field telephone call from his subordinate commanding the 63rd Brigade asking permission to attack in order to straighten out a dent on his front. Haan retorted that he did not intend to throw away men’s lives on the war’s last morning to tidy up a map. The 32nd initiated no attacks while Haan’s men waited and took losses only from artillery fire.

Hotshot commanders nevertheless managed to find reasons to advance. Stenay was a town held by the Germans on the east bank of the Meuse. The 89th Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. William M. Wright, determined to take Stenay because ‘the division had been in the line a considerable period without proper bathing facilities, and since it was realized that if the enemy were permitted to stay in Stenay, our troops would be deprived of the probable bathing facilities there.’ Thus, placing cleanliness above survival, Wright sent a brigade to take the town. As the doughboys passed through Pouilly, a 10.5cm howitzer shell landed in their midst, killing twenty Americans outright. All told, Wright’s division suffered 365 casualties, including sixty-one dead in the final hours. Stenay would be the last town taken by the Americans in the war. Within days, it too could have been marched into peacefully rather than paid for in blood.

Bland, the other Republican on Subcommittee 3, knifed quickly to the heart of the matter when his turn came to question General Conner. ‘Do you know of any good reason,’ Bland asked, ‘why the order to commanders…should not have been that the Armistice had been signed to take effect at 11 o’clock and that actual hostilities or fighting should cease as soon as possible in order to save human life?’ Conner conceded that American forces ‘would not have been jeopardized by such an order, if that is what you mean.’

Bland then asked, regarding Pershing’s notification to his armies merely that hostilities were to cease at 11 a.m., ‘Did the order leave it up to the individual commanders to quit firing before or to go ahead firing until 11 o’clock?’ ‘Yes,’ Conner answered. Bland then asked, ‘In view of the fact that we had ambitious generals in this Army, who were earnestly fighting our enemies and who hated to desist from doing so…would it have been best under the circumstances to have included in that order that hostilities should cease as soon as practicable before 11 o’clock?’ Conner answered firmly, ‘No sir, I do not.’

‘How many generals did you lose on that day?’ Bland went on. ‘None,’ Conner replied. ‘How many colonels did you lose on that day?’ Conner: ‘I do not know how many were lost.’ ‘How many lieutenant colonels did you lose on that day?’ Conner: ‘I do not know the details of any of that.’ ‘I am convinced,’ Bland continued, ‘that on November 11 there was not any officer of very high rank taking any chance of losing his own life….’

Conner, visibly seething, retorted, ‘The statement made by you, I think, Mr. Bland, is exceedingly unjust, and, as an officer who was over there, I resent it to the highest possible degree.’

Bland shot back, ‘I resent the fact that these lives were lost and the American people resent the fact that these lives were lost and we have a right to question the motive, if necessary, of the men who have occasioned this loss of life.’ With that, Conner was dismissed.

Also called to testify was the second highest ranking officer in the AEF, Lt. Gen. Hunter Liggett, who had commanded the First Army. Under questioning by the subcommittee’s counsel, Liggett admitted to Ansell that the only word passed along to the troops was that ‘the Armistice had been signed and hostilities would cease at 11 o’clock, Paris time.’ Ansell forced Liggett to agree that orders from AEF headquarters had left subordinate commanders in the dark as to their next course of action. The corpulent old general shifted responsibility to the commander on the scene ‘to judge very quickly from whatever was going on in his immediate neighborhood.’ Coupling Foch’s ‘keep fighting’ order and Pershing’s relaying of it, Ansell said, ‘I have difficulty to discover authority in any division commander under the terms of those two orders to cease advancing or cease firing on his front before 11 o’clock no matter what time he got the notice announcing the Armistice.’ Ansell added, suppose such a commander concluded: ‘I am in a situation where I can desist from the attack, and I am going to do so and save the lives of the men. Would you consider he had used bad judgment?’ Liggett did not hesitate: ‘If I had been a division commander, I would not have done that.’

At that point subcommittee Chairman Johnson interjected a personal experience in France occurring soon after the armistice while he was visiting a hospital: ‘I met several subordinate officers who were wounded on November 11, some seriously. Without exception, they construed the orders which forced them to make an attack after the armistice as murder and not war.’ Asked if he had ever heard such accusations, Liggett answered, ‘No!’ With that, he too was dismissed.

Brigadier General John Sherburne, former artillery commander of the black 92nd Division who had returned to civilian life, provided the Republican members of the subcommittee with what they most wanted: the views of a decorated noncareer officer who felt no obligation to absolve the army. A white officer with the division, Sherburne described the joy his black troops expressed near midnight on November 10 when the sky ‘was lighted up with rockets, roman candles, and flares that the Germans were sending up.’

This persuasive evidence of the approaching end was further confirmed, he said, when soon after midnight a wireless message intercepted from the Eiffel Tower reported: ‘The Armistice terms had been accepted and…hostilities were going to cease. My recollection is that in that wireless message the hour of 11 o’clock was stated as the time.’ Sherburne’s testimony made clear that the men in the trenches had persuasive information nearly twelve hours in advance that the war’s end was at hand, though Pershing had told Congress that he had had no knowledge that the armistice was about to be signed until he was notified at 6 a.m.

At Ansell’s urging, Sherburne went on to describe how he and his operations officer, Captain George Livermore, author of the letter to Congressman Fuller, had then telephoned divisional, corps, and army headquarters to find out, since the armistice had been signed, if an attack by the 92nd from the Bois de Voivrotte set for that morning could be called off. All up and down the chain of command, Sherburne testified, he was informed that the order stood. Ansell asked the effect of this order on the troops. ‘I cannot express the horror that we all felt,’ Sherburne said. ‘The effect of what we all considered an absolutely needless waste of life was such that I do not think any unit that I commanded took any part in any cel-ebration of the armistice, and even failed to rejoice that the war was over.’

‘Who in your judgment was responsible for this fighting?’ Ansell asked. Sherburne hesitated. ‘It is pretty poor testimony to have gossip,’ he answered. Ansell pressed him to go on. Sherburne then said:

I cannot feel that Gen. Pershing personally ordered or was directly responsible for this attack. If there is any obligation or liability upon him it is from not stopping what had already been planned….Our Army was so run that division and brigade and even corps commanders were piteous in their terror and fear of this all-pervading command by the General Staff which sat in Chaumont….They did not look upon human life as the important thing. In this, to a certain extent, they were right you cannot stop to weigh in warfare what a thing is going to cost if the thing is worthwhile, if it is essential. But I think on the 9th and the 10th and the 11th they had come pretty near to the end of the War and knew they were pretty near the end. But they were anxious to gain as much ground as possible. They had set up what, in my opinion, is a false standard of excellence of divisions according to the amount of ground gained by each division….It was much like a child who had been given a toy that he is very much interested in and that he knows within a day or two is going to be taken away from him and he wants to use that toy up to the handle while he has it….A great many of the Army officers were very fine in the way that they took care of their men. But there were certain very glaring instances of the opposite condition, and especially among these theorists, these men who were looking upon this whole thing as, perhaps one looks upon a game of chess, or a game of football, and who were removed from actual contact with the troops.

It was, Sherburne went on, difficult for conscientious officers to resist direction from Chaumont, no matter how questionable. He admitted that even in a situation where his own life was at stake, he would have yielded to pressure from the general staff. ‘I would far rather have been killed,’ he told the subcommittee, ‘than to be demoted.’

The 33rd was another division engaged to the last minute. As the unit’s historian later described the final day:

Our regimental wireless had picked up sufficient intercepted messages during the early hours of the morning to make it certain that the Armistice had been signed at 5 o’clock that morning and the fact that the prearranged attack was launched after the Armistice was signed…caused sharp criticism of the high command on the part of the troops engaged, who considered the loss of American lives that morning as useless and little short of murder.

According to Brig. Gen. John Sherburne, many commanders were anxious to gain as much ground as possible before the armistice took effect.

The 81st Division took the severest blow that morning. One of its regimental commanders had told his men to take cover during the last hours, only to have his order countermanded. With forty minutes left in the war, the troops were ordered to ‘Advance at once.’ The division reported 461 casualties that morning, including sixty-six killed.

The army claimed to have put a hundred clerks to work on the subcommittee’s request for the number of AEF casualties that occurred from midnight November 10 to 11 o’clock the next morning. The figures provided by the adjutant general’s office were 268 killed in action and 2,769 seriously wounded. These figures, however, failed to include divisions fighting with the British and French north of Paris and do not square with reports from individual units on the ground that day. The official tally for the 28th Division, for example, showed zero men killed in action on November 11, but in individual reports from field officers requested by the subcommittee, the commander of one brigade alone of the 28th reported for that date, ‘My casualties were 191 killed and wounded.’ Taking into account the unreported divisions and other underreported information, a conservative total of 320 Americans killed and more than 3,240 seriously wounded in the last hours of the war is closer to the fact.

By the end of January 1920, Subcommittee 3 concluded its hearings. Chairman Johnson drafted the final report, arriving at a verdict that ‘needless slaughter’ had occurred on November 11, 1918. The full Select Committee on Expenditures in the War chaired by Congressman W.J. Graham initially adopted this draft.

Subcommittee 3’s Democratic member, Flood, however, filed a minority report charging that Johnson’s version defamed America’s victorious leadership, particularly Pershing, Liggett, and Bullard. Flood saw politics at work. The country had gone to war under a Democratic president. By 1918 the Republicans had won control of Congress, and it was they who had initiated the Armistice Day investigation. By the time the inquiry ended, Wilson’s hopes for the United States’ entering into the League of Nations were fast sinking and critics were questioning why America had gone to war in the first place.Flood suspected that the Republicans on the subcommittee were inflating the significance of the events of the last day, ‘trying to find something to criticize in our Army and the conduct of the war by our government.’ The committee, he claimed, had ‘reached out for those witnesses who had grievances….’ As for Ansell, whom he repeatedly referred to as the ‘$20,000 counsel,’ he had ‘been permitted to browbeat the officers of the Army.’ Flood also hinted that the lawyer had left the War Department, ‘with whom he is known to have quarreled,’ under a cloud. Finally, Flood argued that the select committee had been created to investigate wartime expenditures and not to second-guess generals on ‘matters beyond the jurisdiction of the committee.’

Flood’s dissent, with its patriotic ring, found enough sympathy that Chairman Graham took a rare step. He recalled the already approved Johnson report. Three hours of acrimonious debate followed.

In the end, Johnson bowed to pressure not to hold up the select committee’s report any further, and on March 3 he struck from his draft any imputation that American lives had been needlessly sacrificed on Armistice Day. The New York Times took the Dan Flood view, editorializing that the charge of wasted life ‘has impressed a great many civilians as being well founded….[But,] the civilian view [that] there should have been no shot fired if the commander of a unit had been notified of the signing is, of course, untenable….Orders are orders.’

American forces weren’t alone in launching assaults on the last day. The British high command, still stinging from its retreat at Mons during the first days of the war in August 1914, judged that nothing could be more appropriate than to retake the city on the war’s final day. British Empire losses on November 11 totaled some twenty-four hundred. The French commander of the 80th Régiment d’Infanterie received two simultaneous orders that morning: one to launch an attack at 9 a.m., the other to cease fire at 11. Total French losses on the final day amounted to an estimated 1,170.

The Germans, in the always-perilous posture of retreat, suffered some 4,120 casualties. Losses on all sides that day approached eleven thousand dead, wounded, and missing.

Indeed, Armistice Day exceeded the ten thousand casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day, with this difference: The men storming the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, were risking their lives to win a war. The men who fell on November 11, 1918, lost their lives in a war that the Allies had already won. Had Marshal Foch heeded the appeal of Matthias Erzberger on November 8 to stop hostilities while the talks went on, some sixty-six hundred lives would likely have been saved.In the end, Congress found no one culpable for the deaths that had occurred during the last day, even the last hours of World War I. The issue turned out much as General Sherburne predicted in his testimony. Soon, except among their families, the men who died for nothing when they might have known long life ‘would all be forgotten.’

Joseph E. Persico is the author of numerous books, including Roosevelt’s Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage (Random House Trade, 2001). This article is based on his recently published book, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day 1918, World War I and Its Violent Climax (Random House, November 2004).

This article was originally published in the Winter 2005 edition of MHQ. For more great articles, subscribe to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History today!