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Why World War I Ended With an Armistice Instead of a Surrender

October 31, 2018 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Both sides had suffered too much to continue, but Germany would be left battered by harsh terms.

On Nov. 11, 1918, at precisely 11:00 a.m., along the Western Front in France, the incessant boom of artillery abruptly went silent. An American medical officer, Stanhope Bayne-Jones, suddenly could hear water dripping off a bush next to him. “It seemed mysterious, queer, unbelievable,” he later recalled, according to an account on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website. “All of the men knew what the silence meant, but nobody shouted or threw his hat in the air.” It took hours for the reality to sink in. World War I—the bloodiest conflict so far in human history, with more than with more than 8.5 million military casualties—had finally ended.

The war ended with an armistice, an agreement in which both sides agree to stop fighting, rather than a surrender. By November 1918, both the Allies and Central Powers who’d been battering each other for four years were pretty much out of gas. German offensives that year had been defeated with heavy casualties, and in late summer and fall, the British, French and U.S. forces had pushed them steadily back. With the United States able to send more and more fresh troops into combat, the Germans were outmatched. As Germany’s allies crumbled around them as well, the war’s outcome seemed clear.

Soldiers celebrating World War I Armistice in November, 1918.

Even so, both sides were ready for the carnage to stop. “An invasion of Germany would have required too much in terms of morale, logistics and resources,” explains Guy Cuthbertson of Liverpool Hope University and author of Peace at Last: A Portrait of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918. Beyond that, “where would it end? Berlin is a long way from France.” Instead, “There was a need to end the war as soon as possible as long as the Allies could achieve peace with victory.”

Read more: Life in the Trenches of World War I

Germany’s political and military situation were weak enough that the Germans feared being conquered, Cuthbertson says. “Germany was suffering from starvation,” he says, with the situation getting worse “by the hour.”

Germany asked to negotiate an armistice.

In fact, the Germans had started making overtures about an armistice in early October. At first they tried to go through U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, fearing that the British and the …read more


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