The end of World War One, 1918-1919

By autumn 1918 it was clear that Germany would lose World War One. Domestically, its population was suffering and its economy was under great strain:

  • A British naval blockade had led to severe food shortages. In 1918 293,000 Germans died from starvation and hypothermia.
  • The blockade, combined with a war on two fronts, restricted Germany’s ability to trade, which was the basis of its pre-war economic growth. Its chemical industry virtually collapsed.
  • German workers’ wages were falling despite the extra work they were doing to support the war. By 1918 German miners were earning only 60 per cent of their pre-war salaries.
  • Germany’s currency, the Mark, was losing its value and inflation was rising rapidly. The government was running a huge budget deficit but was unable to raise taxes on the rich.

In September 1918 the heads of the German army, Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, told the Kaiser that Germany should ask the Allies for an armistice. From November onwards a series of events occurred that became known as the German Revolution.

The Kiel Mutiny

On 3 November at the main German naval base in Kiel, frustrated German sailors mutinied instead of following orders to attack the British Royal Navy. The sailors’ mutiny sparked rebellions all over Germany and in a matter of days led to the collapse of the German government which forced the ruling monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II, to abdicate on 9 November. Friedrich Ebert, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) became Chancellor (the equivalent of Prime Minister in Britain) and took power over Germany.

End of World War One - Germany surrenders

On 11 November 1918 World War One ended when an armisitice was agreed with the Allies (Britain, France and the USA) and Germany surrendered.

The Weimar Republic

A map showing Weimar in Germany

In January 1919 Ebert and a group of members elected to represent the German people, a National Assembly, met to draw up a new constitution (a set of rules and laws) for Germany. They met in the town of Weimar as Berlin was deemed too unsafe after the Spartacist uprising earlier in the month.

The new constitution was agreed in August 1919 and the first elections in what became known as the Weimar Republic took place in June 1920, electing Ebert as Germany’s new President.