28th Jun 1919: Peace Treaty signed at Versailles

Although the armistice, signed on 11th November 1918, ended the actual fighting of the First World War, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the Peace Treaty, and thus ending the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. The treaty was signed on 28th June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to the war. Germany and Austria-Hungary were not invited to the negotiations, instead they were only allowed to present a response to the treaty, which they expected to be based on the ‘Fourteen Points’ put forward by US President Wilson prior to the Armistice. Terms of the Peace Treaty were drawn up mainly by the ‘Big Four’ of British Prime Minister Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Frances Clemenceau, President Wilson, and Italy’s Prime Minister Vittoria Orlando, with the first three deciding the key decisions. Australia also sent its own delegation under the leadership of Prime Minister William Hughes.

Treaty of VersaillesGermany was shocked at the severity of the terms and protested the contradictions between the assurances made when the armistice was negotiated and the actual treaty. One of the most important and controversial required “Germany to accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war. This article later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make ample territorial concessions and pay reparations to the countries that had formed the Allied ‘Entente’ powers.

In the years after it was ratified the Treaty of Versailles was revised and altered, mostly in Germany’s favour. Many historians claim that the combination of a harsh treaty and subsequent lax enforcement of its provisions paved the way for the upsurge of German militarism in the 1930s. The huge German reparations and the war guilt clause fostered deep resentment of the settlement in Germany, and when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936 (a violation of the treaty), the Allies did nothing to stop him, thus encouraging future German aggression. The Treaty of Versailles was supposed to ensure a lasting peace by punishing Germany and setting up a League of Nations to solve diplomatic problems. Instead it left a legacy of political and geographical difficulties which have often been blamed for starting the Second World War.

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