The end of World War One, 1918-1919

By autumn 1918 it was clear that Germany would lose the First World War. From November onwards a series of events occurred which 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 armistice 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.

BRAT is an acronym for 'Blame, Reparations, Armed forces, and Territory' an easy way to remember the four terms of the treaty of Versailles

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.

The Treaty of Versailles

In early 1919 the victorious Allies met to discuss how to punish Germany and on 28 June 1919 the new German government was forced to sign a peace settlement called the Treaty of Versailles. The main terms of the treaty, and the impact of them, were as follows (remember BRAT):

CategoryTerms of the TreatyImpact of these terms
BlameGermany was forced to accept the blame for starting the war under article 231 of the treaty, known as the War Guilt ClauseBy accepting blame Germany accepted responsibility for the damage caused during the war. It therefore had to pay the Allies for this damage
ReparationsThis was the name given to the money Germany had to pay for the war damage it had caused. In 1922 the amount to be paid was set at £6.6 billionThis put a huge strain on the already massively weakened German economy, which was still shattered after the war. Germany struggled to pay the monthly instalments when they began in 1922
Armed ForcesGermany’s army and navy were significantly reduced in size and its air force abolished. This meant that a maximum of 100,000 troops were allowed in the army and conscription (compulsory service) and tanks were banned. Germany’s navy was reduced to 15,000 personnel, allowed only 6 battleships and no submarines These terms were humiliating for Germany, which prided itself on the strength of its military. It also left Germans feeling vulnerable to future attack – it was surrounded by former enemies: France in the West and the newly communist Russia in the East
TerritoryGermany lost land on all sides of its borders as well as its overseas colonies. It was also forbidden from stationing troops west of the river Rhine (next to its border with France) creating a de-militarised zoneGermany was reduced in size by 10 per cent. It lost 12 per cent of its population, 16 per cent of its coalfields and half of its iron and steel industry. Its colonies were given to the Allies as ‘mandates’, to prepare them for independence

Excerpt from the Treaty of Versailles, 1919