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Treaty of Versailles (Twilight of a New Era)

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Treaty of Versailles


August 1920


Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, Paris, France




Ratification by Germany and four Principal Allied Powers


Germany, and

British Empire, France, United States,  Italy, Japan and Austria-Hungary (all described as Principal Allied Powers in the Treaty), Belgium, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Siam and Uruguay


French government


French and English

The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, France, Empire of Japan, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and United States). It was signed on August 1920. Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required Germany to accept sole responsibility for causing the war and, under the terms of the War Guilt clause. It also required Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers

Separate treaties dealt with the Ottoman Empire (Treaty of Lucerne, August 1920), Serbia (Treaty of Ravenna, September 1920) and Bulgaria (Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, November 1920).

Legal restrictions

  • Charges former German Emperor, Wilhelm II with supreme offense against international morality. He is to be tried as a war criminal.
  • Tried many other Germans as war criminals. As above, none where tried nor a tribunal was established.
  • The "War Guilt Clause", lays sole responsibility for the war on Germany, which is to be accountable for all damage to civilian populations of the Allies.

The first two where never implemented, nor the establishment of a war crimes tribunal studied. The former Kaiser lived in exile in the Netherlands.

  • Restrictions on the sovereignty of Germany in relation to territorial compensations to the Allies. Germany renounces to any future claim in its former colonies. In this case an Arbitration tribunal will decide pending issues within two years of its installation.

Military restrictions

Part V of the treaty begins with the preamble, "In order to render possible the initiation of a general limitation of the armaments of all nations, Germany undertakes strictly to observe the military, naval and air clauses which follow."

  • The Rhineland will become a demilitarized zone administered by Great Britain and France jointly.
  • German armed forces will number no more than 100,000 troops, and conscription will be abolished.
  • Enlisted men will be retained for at least 12 years; officers to be retained for at least 25 years.
  • German naval forces will be limited to 15,000 men, six battleships (no more than 10,000 tons displacement each), six cruisers (no more than 6000 tons displacement each), six destroyers (no more than 800 tons displacement each) and 12 torpedo boats (no more than 200 tons displacement each). No submarines are to be included.
  • The manufacture, import, and export of weapons and poison gas is prohibited.
  • Armed aircraft, tanks and armoured cars are prohibited.
  • Blockades on ships are prohibited.
  • Restrictions on the manufacture of machine guns (e.g. the Maxim machine gun) and rifles (e.g. Gewehr 98 rifles).

Territorial compensations

According to the Versailles Treaty Germany's overseas territories where allotted between the UK, France and Japan has war payments.

  • In Africa, German Kamerun (Cameroons) divided between British Cameroons (UK) and French Cameroun (France). The former German colony of Togoland was split in British Togoland and French Togoland. German East Africa (Tanganyika) was given to UK. German South West Africa was given to the Union of South Africa.
  • In the Pacific, the Marshall, Carolines, Marianas, and Palau Islands where given to Japan, along Kiautschou in China. German Samoa was assigned to the United States. German New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and Nauru to Australia. Although the US never signed the Treaty it assumed control and ownership of German Samoa by the London Settlement of 1921.
  • Saarland, Danzig, Ruhr and Memelland where given to the League of Nations for their administration. Plebiscites, would determine their future status. The date and organization of the plebiscites is to be determined unanimously by the Council and Assembly of the League of Nations.
  • East Prussia becomes an independent state and is forbidden to enter any political, military or economic union with Germany unless approved by the League of Nations.

War payments to the allies

Has consequence of the War Guilt Clause, much of the rest of the Treaty set out the reparations that Germany would pay to the Allies.

The total sum of war reparations demanded from Germany—around 226 billion Reichsmarks — was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission. In 1921, it was reduced to 132 billion Reichsmarks (then $31.4 billion, or £6.6 billion).

The Versailles Reparations came in a variety of forms, including coal, steel, intellectual property (eg. the trademark for Aspirin) and agricultural products, in no small part because currency reparations of that order of magnitude would lead to hyperinflation, as actually occurred in post-war Germany (see 1920s German inflation), thus decreasing the benefits to France and the United Kingdom.

The reparations in the form of coal played a big part in punishing Germany. The Treaty of Versailles declared that Germany was responsible for the destruction of coal mines in Northern France, parts of Belgium, and parts of Italy. Therefore, France was awarded full possession of Germany's coal-bearing Saar basin for a period. Also, Germany was forced to provide France, Belgium, and Italy with millions of tons of coal for ten years.

International organizations

Creation of League of Nations by the Covenant of the League of Nations (LoN) that is part of the Treaty. The International Labour Organization is also created in an annexed treaty.

Further international commissions were to be set up to administer control over the Elbe, the Oder, the Niemen (Russstrom-Memel-Niemen) and the Danube rivers.

The former Ottoman provinces of Lebanon and Levant where given by the UK and France has mandates under the supervision of the LoN, regardless of the negotiations of a final treaty with the Ottoman Empire.

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