Kolchak inspecting his troops, later in the Russian Civil War.
November 18 1918, Omsk–The Provisional All-Russian Government, an attempt to unify the Komuch (the leftovers of the Constituent Assembly) with the other, more right-wing White forces in Siberia, satisfied neither side. Both compared it unfavorably to Kerensky’s government in 1917–the left for unnecessarily including the right when they clearly had the people’s support, and the right for including the left when their policies had led to Russia’s collapse.
In the wee hours of November 18, Cossack forces broke up an SR meeting and arrested the attendees, including both SR members of the Provisional All-Russian Government. That morning, what was left of the government (which was now purged of left-wingers) installed Admiral Kolchak, former head of the Black Sea Fleet, as Supreme Leader. The prospect of reassembling the Constituent Assembly–and with it many of the anti-Bolshevik’s claims to democratic legitimacy–were ended. The SRs, whose main program was support for the Constituent Assembly and expulsion of the occupying Germans, were dealt a twin blow in mid-November; many would quietly drop their opposition to the Bolsheviks in the coming months.
Kolchak had been effectively exiled by Kerensky in the summer of 1917 for counter-revolutionary intrigues, having been sent on a military mission to the United States. This meant, a year later, that he was one of the few notable military leaders available in Siberia. After having spent a year waiting in Manchuria, he only arrived in Omsk in October, and had been made the Provisional All-Russian Government’s War Minister on November 4. It is unclear how much Kolchak was actively involved in the coup, though it seems unlikely that he did anything to discourage it.
The Czechs, who had always been allies of the Komuch, protested the coup, but took no action against it; at this point, most of them just wanted to get home to their newly-independent country. The British were often blamed by the Soviets for their supposed involvement in the coup, though they likely did not explicitly participate. They likely knew of it, however, and British troops did take up positions to prevent a possible counter-coup against Kolchak that day.
Kolchak issued a personal manifesto that day:
The Provisional All-Russian Government has come to an end. The Council of Ministers, having all the power in its hands, has invested me, Admiral Alexander Kolchak, with this power. Taking up the cross of this power in the exceptionally difficult conditions of civil war and the complete breakdown of state life I declare: I will not go either on the road of reaction or on the fatal road of party politics. I set as my chief aim the creation of an efficient army, victory over the Bolsheviks, and the establishment of law and order, so that the people can choose for itself, without obstruction, the form of government which it desires and realize the great ideals of liberty which are now proclaimed all over the world.
The White movement was now under the control of the generals and admirals.
Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War.
November 13 1918, Belgrade–Hungary was left in an especially awkward position by the end of the war. Karólyi’s new government declared independence from Austria-Hungary at the end of October, and hoped they would be treated as a new state looking for self-determination on the same basis that the Czechoslovaks and the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were. On the other hand, Hungary had been an equal partner in Austria-Hungary. At a meeting on November 7 between Károlyi and Franchet D’Espérey in Belgrade, the Allies made their position quite clear: Hungary was a defeated belligerent, not a neutral–and Károlyi’s claims of representing all of Hungary were undercut by Hungary’s long history of oppression of its Romanian, Serbian, Croatian, and Slovak minorities.
After the armistice at Compiègne, the Allies continued to advance north of the Danube, though it is unlikely they met much resistance; the Hungarians, in their own view, had already exited the war. At 11:15PM on November 13, the Hungarians agreed to armistice terms similar to those Austria-Hungary had agreed to ten days earlier. The Hungarians would evacuate all territory corresponding to modern-day Croatia and Serbia, as well as much of Translyvania (up to the river Mureș). The Allies (including the Serbians and Romanians) would have the right to occupy whatever strategic points were deemed necessary and have free use of the railways. All German troops were to leave Hungary by November 18 (an unrealistic deadline, especially for Mackenen’s troops that were still in Romania). At the insistence of the Hungarians, the armistice did not specify a time it would take effect on the front, merely declaring that “Hostilities between the Allies and Hungary have ceased.”
Territories claimed by the Republic of German-Austria. In addition to modern-day Austria (excepting Burgenland, at that time still in Hungary), it included South Tyrol (already occupied by the Italians) and the Sudetenland.
November 12 1918, Vienna–In the last two weeks of the war, Austria-Hungary had very quickly broken apart. The Hungarian part of the empire split off entirely (and was itself under threat from the advancing Allies). The new State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs had taken over much of what now forms Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and parts of northern Serbia. Czechoslovakia declared independence and Kraków and the surrounding area had pledged allegiance to a new Polish state under Piłsudski. The Ukrainians had established themselves in Lviv (though not without resistance from the Poles), while the Romanians had entered Bukovina and were preparing to move into Transylvania and the Italians had occupied Trento, South Tyrol, and the Austrian Littoral (including Trieste and large parts of present-day Slovenia). Even the German-populated portion of the empire was breaking away; on October 21, well before the other declarations of independence, the German Austrians had formed their own national committee.
When it became clear that none of his subjects wanted him anymore, Emperor Charles decided not to fight for his throne, ignoring pleas from Boroević to let him bring his army to Vienna to restore order. On November 11, Charles, in a carefully-worded proclamation, announced that “I renounce all part in state affairs”–not technically an abdication, but it was taken as such. On November 12, the German Austrian national committee declared the existence of the Republic of German-Austria, under the leadership of the Social Democrats. German nationalism had been growing in Austria during the war, and it was commonly assumed that the new Republic would quickly join with Germany (as the new State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs would join with Serbia). The provisional constitution, issued on the same day, stated that “German-Austria is an integral part of the German republic.” The next day, they began negotiations with Germany regarding a union, and they soon appealed for Wilson’s support on the basis of national self-determination. The Allies were less than enthusiastic about enlarging defeated Germany, however, and made sure the union did not take place.
Armistice celebrations in Philadelphia, a city which only weeks before had been effectively shut down due to the flu.
November 11 2018, Arlington–After 1568 days, the war has finally come to an end. At the time, however, it was not completely obvious that this would be a permanent end to the war. After all, the armistice at Brest-Litovsk was called off by the Germans after the Russians walked out of peace talks, resulting in thirteen days of renewed fighting on the Eastern Front before a final treaty was signed. In fact, Ludendorff had originally hoped that an armistice would let the Germans regroup behind their own borders and let them secure better peace terms than defeat and invasion of Germany would. Groener was under no such illusions, and the terms of the Compiègne Armistice, including the occupation of the Rhineland and surrender of the bulk of the German fleet, did their best to ensure that the Germans could not viably reject the resulting peace terms by force.
In the rest of Europe, the end of the war was not as neat as on the Western Front. In particular, Hungary, which had declared independence from Austria at the end of October, was still considered a belligerent by the Allies, though they were no longer resisting the advance of the Allies into territories claimed by the Serbs and Romanians. The Allies still had a significant presence in Russia (though the Czechs had lost interest after Czechoslovak independence), and the civil war between the Reds and the Whites still raged. The political future of the states that had once formed Russia’s western frontier was now extremely unclear, as the German occupation there would presumably soon end. In the Ottoman Empire, the Allies planned to occupy Constantinople and large parts of the country.
As a result, Today In WWI plans to cover the aftermath of the war going forward, though posts will no longer always be on a daily basis. I expect coverage to continue, if in an increasingly-sporadic fashion, until at least early 1923.
When I started this blog on a whim on June 29, 2014, the day after the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, I honestly did not expect I would make it all the way to the Armistice. I definitely could not have made it without extensive help and support from many people, and I especially want to thank:
My wife, for her unfailing support over the last 4+ years, including searches for topics for posts on quieter days in the war, and acquiring a signed copy of Gene Fax’s With Their Bare Hands.
My parents, for being two of my most devoted readers and for many helpful books they have provided as gifts, forming the backbone of my collection.
My Aunt Sherry and my father-in-law, for additional books.
The libraries of Arlington County, Hennepin County, the University of Minnesota, and MIT, for their extensive collections.
Williams College, for continued access to JSTOR.
Wikipedia, for general (and, more times than I’d care to admit, specific) information.
If you somehow haven’t had enough World War I coverage over the last four years and want to learn more, check out my Further Reading section for books that I found especially interesting and useful during the process.
The Allied gains on the Western Front in the “Hundred Days” from August 8 to November 11.
The last four months of the war were marked by impressive Allied victories and revolution in three of the four Central Powers. The Tsar of Bulgaria was forced out in favor of his son, the Hohenzollerns in Germany were overthrown, and Austria-Hungary completely disintegrated.
The Russian Civil War:
The Bolsheviks’ one-time allies, the Left SRs, turned against them in protest at their continuing collaboration with the Germans. Turning back to “propaganda of the deed,” they assassinated the German ambassador in Moscow and the German military governor of occupied Ukraine. Although the Bolsheviks soon cracked down on the Left SRs, they were weakened, and Komuch and Czech forces were able to take large stretches of the Volga, including Kazan. In response, the Reds moved forces that had been defending Petrograd from a possible German advance, and retook Kazan within a month. By the Armistice, the Komuch’s military power had largely been destroyed, and their Czech allies just wanted to return home to their newly-independent country.
Lettow-Vorbeck continued his campaign in Mozambique, nearly reaching Quelimane before turning back north. At the end of September, his forces crossed the Rovuma again, returning to German East Africa for the first time in nearly a year. By November, his forces had entered Northern Rhodesia [Zambia], where he would learn of the Armistice on the 13th.
The Turks turned their main attention towards Baku, taking the city from its Armenian and British defenders in mid-September. Dreams of pushing on further into Persia or even across the Caspian into Central Asia were overtaken by events elsewhere.
Allenby’s forces broke through in Palestine on September 19, and British cavalry surrounded and effectively destroyed two Turkish armies. They soon took Damascus (together with Feisal’s Arab forces), and by the end of October had pushed beyond Aleppo. In late October, the British attacked in northern Mesopotamia as well, destroying much of the Turkish defending force. The Bulgarian collapse, however, was what forced Turkey out of the war, due to the threat that the British could just march on Constantinople by land. After the most-prominent CUP leaders (the “Young Turks”) were forced out of office, the Turks concluded an armistice with the Allies on October 30. The Allies occupied Mosul on November 4, and would arrive in Constantinople by land and sea on November 12.
Italy and Austria-Hungary:
The Italians, still cautious after Caporetto, did not decide to join in the general Allied offensives, and did not attack until late October. At this point, Austria-Hungary was quickly falling apart–a move by Emperor Charles to quickly federalize the Austrian half of the empire had backfired, and Wilson had made it clear that any acceptable peace with Austria-Hungary would require Czechoslovak and Yugoslav independence. By the time an armistice was concluded in early November, Austria-Hungary had essentially ceased to exist: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and a State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs had all declared independence with no real opposition. Austria’s Polish territories had pledged allegiance to an independent Poland, which was still in the process of forming on November 11. Ukrainian forces took control of Lviv, though fighting quickly broke out between the Ukrainians and the local Polish population. The Italians, meanwhile, had occupied all of South Tyrol and were moving into the “Austrian Littoral”–including large swathes of territory home to Slovenes and Croats with no love for the occupying Italian forces.
The Italians had one final success of their guerilla naval tactics in the final days of the war, when frogmen sank the dreadnought Viribus Unitis on November 1; a day earlier, it had been handed over to the new State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, though the Italians were not aware of this at the time.
In mid-September, the Americans, in their first major independent operation, took the St Mihiel salient, a quick victory as the Germans had been busy preparing an evacuation of the salient. There was no effort to follow up on the victory and push towards Metz, however, as Pershing had committed to an offensive on the other side of the Meuse later in the month. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, launched on September 26, was considerably less successful; the Americans would take extremely heavy casualties for only small gains. Other near-simultaneous Allied offensives had better luck, however–the Canadians on the Canal du Nord, a combined Allied force in Belgium, and, most dramatically, a British attack on the St. Quentin Canal. These combined offensives, along with Bulgaria’s sudden exit, sent Ludendorff into a panic and led him to call for an immediate armistice. Although he would later walk this back, the damage was done; the explicit appeal, issued on October 3, made it much less likely that the Central Powers’ forces could continue to resist in a war they were clearly losing.
Foch (center, with cane) and Wemyss (to the immediate left) pictured outside the train car in which the armistice was signed.
November 11 1918, Compiègne–The German armistice delegation at Compiègne had attempted to secure better terms, but had failed at doing so, apart from a slight extension of the two-week timeframe to evacuate Belgium, France, and Alsace-Lorraine. On November 10, they received notification that the Kaiser had abdicated, and received instruction from the new Chancellor, Ebert, that they were to sign the armistice as they were. Shortly after 5AM local time (GMT) on the 11th, Erzberger, the other Germans, Foch, and Wemyss signed the armistice. The armistice was slated to go into effect six hours after the signing (backdated to 5AM), at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Fighting continued until 11AM across the front, though dampened by rain that day. Gunner B.O. Stokes, with the New Zealand Field Artillery, recalled:
We heard the announcement of the Armistice when we were still in the Forest de Mormal on a cheerless, dismal, cold, misty day. There was no cheering or demonstration. We were all tired in body and mind, fresh from the tragic fields of battle, and this momentous announcement was too vast in its consequences to be appreciated or accepted with wild excitement. We trekked out of the wood on this dreary day in silence.
In some sectors, six hours was not enough time to convey news of the armistice to troops in the thick of fighting. Parts of 89th Division, which had attacked at 4AM that morning, did not stop fighting until noon. There are no known reports of any shooting continuing beyond 12:30 in the afternoon.
I leave you with a recollection from American Private Frank W. Groves:
At the front our days and nights were filled with the sounds and smells of the bombardment. Never were we free of it and we had learned to live with it. On November 11 at 11:00 am those sounds and vibrations abruptly stopped. The quietness that followed was awesome; you could feel it – almost smell and taste it. There was no singing, no shouting, no laughter; we just stood around and looked and listened.
King Ferdinand re-enters Bucharest on December 1, accompanied by General Berthelot.
November 10 1918, Iași–Since Bulgaria’s collapse, the Romanians had quietly been preparing to re-enter the war. With most of their country occupied, however, doing so before linking up with the French advancing north through Bulgaria would have been a disastrous move; the Germans and Austro-Hungarians could have crushed them with little effort. By the second week of November, however, the situation had changed. Austria-Hungary had left the war (even if Hungary’s status was still in question), and Germany was actively negotiating armistice terms with the Allies. If the Romanians wanted a seat at the peace table and the gains they wanted from Bulgaria and Hungary, re-entry into the war would greatly help them. However, even if the Germans were no longer in a condition to attack the Romanians, they could still carry out severe damage in occupied Romania.
Nevertheless, the Romanians announced an immediate mobilization and sent an ultimatum to General Mackensen, demanding that all German troops leave Romania within 24 hours. Mackensen’s forces were already doing so, to prevent being cut off from Germany by Austria-Hungary’s exit, but such a short timeline was impossible. At dawn on the 10th, French forces crossed the Danube into German-occupied Romania; the Germans offered only desultory resistance. Romanian troops had already begun moving into Bukovina (in the former Austrian half of the empire) at the invitation of local Romanian councils, and on November 10 the Romanian National Council in Transylvania similarly invited the Romanian army to intervene there.
At the expiry of the ultimatum on November 10, Romania declared war on Germany, less than twenty-four hours before the general armistice. What little fighting there was ended when the news of the armistice reached Romania on the 12th.
Philipp Scheidemann, on a balcony of the Reichstag, proclaims Germany to be a republic.
November 9 1918, Berlin–The Kaiser left Berlin for OHL headquarters in Spa on November 8, hoping to avoid increasing calls for his abdication–or, if revolution should come, to avoid the fate of his cousin Nicholas II. He found little solace there; Groener and Hindenburg had opposed abdication, believing it would cause a complete collapse of morale at the front, as it had in Russia after the February Revolution. Briefly, Groener thought it best that the Kaiser should go fight at the front himself–such an act of bravery would inspire the troops, and if he were killed in battle, it would quietly circumvent the abdication question.
However, by November 9, the spreading revolution across Germany made it clear that the Kaiser’s abdication was necessary to prevent a civil war. Hindenburg and Groener met with the Kaiser that morning. Hindenburg, breaking out in tears, could not bring himself to do it, and asked to resign himself. Groener had no such compunctions, and told the Kaiser that he must abdicate. The Kaiser was infuriated at what he viewed as a violation of Groener’s oath. The Kaiser proposed leading an army himself back to Germany to restore order personally. Groener warned this would just lead to a civil war, and besides was impossible due to the rebels’ control of the railroads. The army would march back to Germany under the its generals, but not under the Kaiser. The Kaiser demanded a statement in writing from his generals, but this was impossible, and instead there was an informal poll of any army officers as to whether they would follow the Kaiser back to Germany. Only one said they would, and most even doubted they could suppress a Bolshevik uprising even if the Kaiser resigned.
At 1PM, the Kaiser agreed to a half-measure; he would resign as Emperor of Germany, but remain as King of Prussia. This was a constitutional impossibility, but hoped it would let him keep some of his pride and at least one of his thrones. Hindenburg would take over as supreme commander of the Army, and an armistice could be immediately concluded.
Matters were taken out of the hands of the meeting at Spa, however, by events in Berlin. The revolution had spread to the capital, and large crowds gathered in public places, while the garrison had gone over to the rebels and mutineers from other cities arrived in the capital. Prince Max, attempting to control the situation, unilaterally announced
unilaterally announced that the Kaiser and Crown Prince had both abdicated.
After announcing the Kaiser’s abdication, Prince Max handed the chancellorship to Friedrich Ebert, head of the mainline socialist party, the SPD. Whether he decided this himself, or under urging from Ebert, is unclear, as accounts differ. Later that day, hoping to preempt a declaration by the USPD (as had happened in Munich the previous day) or the Spartacists, SPD deputy chairman Philipp Scheidemann went out to a balcony on the Reichstag declared Germany to be a republic:
The old and decayed have fallen! The Monarchy is shattered! Long live the new! Long live the German Republic!
This angered Ebert, who hoped to defer the constitutional question until later, but there was no avoiding it at this point. Shortly after , Spartacist Karl Liebknecht made a similar declaration from the city hall. That evening, revolutionary factory stewards, distrustful of Chancellor Ebert, seized the Reichstag, and announced that soviets were to be elected the next day, that would in turn elect a revolutionary government.
Back in Spa, the Crown Prince returned to command his Army Group, while the Kaiser condemned Prince Max’s declaration as treason. Groener and Hindenburg met with the Kaiser again. The Kaiser, infuriated with Groener, refused to talk with him, using the excuse that, as a Württemberger, he was no longer a subject of the King of Prussia. Hindenburg spoke instead, telling the Kaiser that there was no means to counteract Prince Max’s declaration, and that the Kaiser’s personal safety could no longer be guaranteed, even with the Army. He urged him to leave for in the neutral Netherlands. The next morning, the Kaiser crossed the border into exile, where he would remain until his death in 1941.
Mathias Erzberger, head of the German armistice delegation and a leading member of the Catholic Centre party. Although initially in favor of large German annexations, he gained the unlikely mantle of being one of Germany’s leading advocates for a negotiated peace after sponsoring a peace resolution in the summer of 1917 upon learning of Germany’s military weaknesses.
November 8 1918, Compiègne–With Ludendorff’s departure, both the military and civilian leadership of Germany were willing to seek an armistice. In a conference in Paris from October 29 through November 4, Allied leaders (Colonel House representing the Americans) came to an agreement on the armistice terms that would be acceptable to the Allies. The Allies largely agreed to the Fourteen Points as a basis, though the British insisted on a reservation regarding the freedom of the seas (which they objected to as a limit on their naval power and right to blockade), while the French insisted on their right to reparations from Germany. Otherwise, the Americans were willing to leave the military details to the generals and admirals, and on November 5 Lansing informed the Germans that they must contact Foch to seek terms. The details of the agreement were of increasingly little importance to the Germans, with their army in full retreat Groener did not think they could hold while revolution was breaking out behind the lines. On November 6, Groener informed Prince Max that an armistice must be concluded by Saturday the 9th; Monday the 11th would be too late.
On November 7, a German delegation led by Mathias Erzberger (chief proponent of the Reichstag peace resolution in 1917) crossed the front line. The local ceasefire that allowed this was mistakenly interpreted as a general armistice by the United Press Association, leading to false reports of an armistice in the United States that day. At 9AM on November 8, the delegation met with First Sea Lord Wemyss and Foch, who had the Allies’ proposed terms read aloud. The Germans would hand over large quantities of military stores, and evacuate Belgium, France, and Alsace-Lorraine within two weeks, while Allied forces would occupy the Rhineland. Ten dreadnoughts, six battlecruisers, eight cruisers, fifty destroyers, and 160 U-boats would be interned in neutral ports. The blockade of Germany would continue unabated until a final peace was concluded. Any violation of the armistice terms would result in a resumption of hostilities within forty-eight hours.
The Germans were shocked by the harsh terms. The naval representative protested at the naval terms, saying that the undefeated German fleet could not be interned; Wemyss tersely replied that if that was required, the German fleet only had to leave their ports. Erzberger realized that the terms would be difficult for his government to accept, and requested an immediate ceasefire to stop the bloodshed and let the German army prevent a Bolshevik takeover in Germany while more lasting armistice terms were agreed to. This was not without precedent; the Central Powers had agreed to a ceasefire with Russia until a formal armistice was signed at Brest-Litovsk a week later. Foch refused; Bolshevism was “the usual disease prevailing in beaten armies” and was not worried about any revolution spreading beyond Germany. The only concession the Germans were able to extract was the reduction in the number of submarines to be interned from 160 (a number they did not have) to their entire submarine fleet, which was what the British wanted anyway. At 1PM, Erzberger forwarded the Allied terms back to Berlin.