The Treaty of Versailles signed after the First World War came to an end, imposing very harsh territorial, military and economic conditions on Germany.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed between the Allies (Britain, France and the USA) and Germany, at the palace of Versailles in France. It sought to impose certain conditions on Germany in the hope that it would prevent further war in the future.
The Big Three
The Allies all had different opinions on how Germany should be treated. Georges Clemenceau of France was most vociferous in imposing the harshest terms on Germany, David Lloyd George of Britain and Woodrow Wilson of the USA were inclined to be more cautious but they had to bear in mind public opinion, and did not want to be viewed as being lenient.
Clemenceau wanted to cripple Germany so it could never engage in another war, George was more concerned about Communism in Russia and worried it might be popular in Germany if the economy is devastated, and Wilson was keen to not be involved in another war and pursue the policy of isolation in the USA.
The Terms of the Treaty
After much negotiation between the Allies, the terms of the treaty were eventually decided on, and covered areas of territory, the military and the economy, and Germany also had to admit responsibility for causing the First World War. Here is a selection of the terms:
Germany was to lose its overseas colonies which were to be governed as mandates by the League of Nations. Alsace-Lorraine was given to France, Northern Schleswig was given to Denmark, Danzig was made part of Poland. The Sudetenland was to form part of Czechoslovakia, and land that Germany gained when it signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was to be returned to Russia. The territorial losses amounted to approximately 13.5% of Germany’s pre First World War territory and around 7 million of its citizens.
The Army was reduced significantly to 100,000 men and was not allowed to have any tanks; the navy was greatly reduced and not allowed any submarines and only a handful of ships. The air force was effectively non-existent. The entire Rhineland area was made into a demilitarised zone.
As Germany was forced to admit responsibility for the war, the country was also forced to pay reparations for the damage caused; mainly to Belgium and France. The amount determined was an immensely high figure which was impossible for Germany to pay off, and was a major factor in the economic crisis which devastated the country.
The Significance of the Treaty of Versailles
Although Britain and the USA felt the terms of the treaty to be very harsh, France would not back down on any of the terms. In Germany the treaty was obviously received very poorly, but the Weimar government had little choice but to sign it.
The aftermath of the First World War and the terms of the treaty left Germany in political, economic and social chaos and paved the way for politically extremist groups to gain popularity. One of the Nazi Party’s main aims was to reverse many of the terms of the treaty, particularly territorial and military conditions, and was one of the reasons for their popularity.
- Brendon, Piers. The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s. London: Pimlico, 2001.