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Webmatters : Armistice 1918: President Wilson replies to the Germans

Armistice

President Wilson replies

On the 9th October, President Wilson replied to the First Note, asking if the German government were accepting his Fourteen Points or were they trying to negotiate them.

Wilson had heard about the European deliberations and was far from happy with their attitude. He took the stance that they should not be working on their own set of armistice terms. The fact that he had produced his own proposals without ever having consulted his European partners (who had taken the brunt of the fighting over the past four years) seems to have escaped him.

The matter was smoothed over and Wilson was forced to recognise that he could not simply agree terms with the Germans without consulting the Allied powers.

The Germans were more than happy with Wilson’s reply because he did not appear to be demanding anything drastic. Their military situation, however, continued to grow perilous, Cambrai had fallen to the Canadians that day and the French were finally across the Chemin des Dames and advancing on Laon.

The 2nd German Note

By the 12th the Germans found themselves forced into the corner and replied that yes they would abide by the points, but, they wanted to know: would the British and the French?

The Germans were prepared to evacuate the territory as required and suggested that a mixed commission should be put together to organise it. The German government was hoping that once the evacuation had been carried out that that would be the end of the matter.

Wilson received this note on the 13th and pondered over what his reply should be. There was a strong movement in the United States that was seeking revenge for the American lives lost (in particular civilians who had been lost at sea. Unrestricted U-Boat activity had sunk numerous passenger ships including the ferry boat Leinster on the 10th).

But neither Wilson nor his closest adviser Colonel Edward House believed that this was the way forward. They had reached a critical moment, and the German reply touched upon it. What if the Europeans insisted on terms that the Germans felt they were unable to accept, or alternatively, what would happen if the Europeans decided that they were not prepared to offer an armistice.

The British wanted Wilson to be quite clear on one issue. Any agreed armistice had to leave the Germans incapable of recommencing hostilities should the following negotiations break down.

On the 15th the German government received a reply from Wilson stating that if this was the case: all U-boat activity had to cease immediately and that no wanton destruction should take places in those areas to be evacuated. He would ask the Military Representatives to draw up suitable conditions.

It was also made clear that the current supremacy of the Allied and US military position would be maintained. The German military were not going to be given a breathing space in which to reorganise themselves.

This of course had been what the Germans had been hoping for; to use an armistice to reorganise and then bargain from a position of strength. That Wilson was now including the Allied Military in the drawing up of an armistice did not bode well for the Germans.

They were being forced to come to terms with the possibility that they were not going to get off as lightly as they had hoped if they accepted Wilson’s terms. The alternative was: drop all pretence of an armistice and face the wrath of the Allies in the field.

One person who would not be in the thick of things at the end was Corporal Adolf Hitler who had been wounded on the 14th October by a gas shell near the village of Wervik in Belgium.