*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Great War, a four-year-slog dividing Europe that heralded a new age of combat, mercifully came to a close at 11am on November 11, 1918 in France. With tens of millions dead and wounded, the Allied victory had done much to change the continent. For the most part, classical monarchies were thrown out the window as new lines were drawn on the map. The changes instituted in the wake of the conflict would do much to lay the groundwork for another global war to follow.
Just eight months before, it seemed as if the outcome might be entirely different. The German Army strung together a series of victories in northern France and Belgium, advancing after Russia removed itself from the conflict to settle the upheaval of its October Revolution. The Allied resistance, led largely by the British, was on the run until the attack slowed as supplies had difficulty reaching the front.
By summer, the Allies would strike back. Assaults by the British and French rolled back the German opposition. Constantly undermanned, the Central Powers — Germany and Austria-Hungary — could only hope for a stalemate as the warmer months turned into an autumn chill. With both the military and civilians wondering how momentum had been lost, many began turning on the leadership of Kaiser Wilhelm II. With the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia the previous year, some openly wondered if Communism might be a better alternative.
As September ended, it became clear to German officers that the time to sue for peace had come. Large sections of the military were now walking away from combat in droves, leaving the army and navy further depleted. If the Allies were to discover the sorry state of the Kaiser’s forces, they might run through the whole of Germany and Austria-Hungary. As negotiations commenced along the lines of the Fourteen Points posited by President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, German leadership quietly prepared to hang responsibility on others in the legislature, creating the perception of a “stab in the back” that would haunt the Social Democratic Party when the Nazis rose to prominence.
On November 9th, Kaiser Wilhelm officially stepped down from the throne as part of the conditions for the cease-fire. Orders were soon shipped through to commanders near the front lines on both sides: fighting would officially come to an end at November 11, 1918 at 11am. Though many would later cry foul that some had launched attacks right up until that very morning, forcing men to die for no real reason other than appearances, the end of combat operations was greeted with cheers from all angles.
All told, World War I had resulted in an estimated 30 million deaths and injuries among the troops, with an additional 10 million civilian casualties. The advent of new technologies to deal death — tanks, airplanes equipped with bombs, mustard gas — wreaked destruction on unprecedented levels. When leaders from both sides convened in Paris to negotiate the terms of surrender, somber reflection turned to punitive anger. Saddling the Germans with heavy responsibility and extensive financial obligations, the Treaty of Versailles announced on June 28, 1919 crushed the remnants of the Central Powers.
Lying in a bed recovering from the effects of a chemical weapons attack when the armistice was announced, Adolf Hitler could not believe his ears. Almost 15 years later, the Austrian veteran would harness the undercurrent of animosity caused by the treaty to seize power.
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1880 – Australian folk hero Ned Kelly is hanged outside the Old Melbourne Gaol after being convicted of murder
1919 – Latvian soldiers defeat German paramilitaries at Riga, ending the Latvian War of Independence
1926 – Infamous highway US Route 66 is established, connecting Chicago with Los Angeles
1961 – A Congolese mob kills 13 UN peacekeepers in the Kindu Atrocity