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1919 Treaty of Versailles

By the summer of 1918 it was evident to many officers that Germany could not win the war. In September 1918 Ludendorff recommended that Germany sue for peace. In October 1918 the military allowed the birth of a democratic parliament because it did not want to be held responsible for the inevitable armistice that would end the war on terms highly unfavorable to Germany. Instead, the civilian government that signed the truce was to take the blame for the nation's defeat. A popular uprising began on 03 November 1918 when sailors in Kiel mutinied. They refused to go out on what they considered a suicide mission against British naval forces. On 11 November 1918, the government signed the armistice that ended the war. Germany's loses included about 1.6 million dead and more than 4 million wounded.

Signed on 28 June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles officially ended military actions against Germany in World War I and created the League of Nations, an international organization designed to preserve peace. The Treaty of Versailles limited Germany to an army of 100,000 soldiers. The treaty also stipulated that the Rhineland be demilitarized and occupied by the western Allies for fifteen years, and that Germany surrender various other territories. The German Navy was stripped of its battleships, submarines, and aircraft. The effort to rebuild began immediately following the war. The decision about what direction and shape the Navy would take was influenced by several factors. The German Navy's anticipated enemy, the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, and the political situation all played a part in the development of the post-World War I German Navy.

Articles 159-213 of the Peace Treaty of Versailles included the Military, Naval and Air Clauses, with the Naval Clauses beginning at Article 181 and running through Article 197. Two months from the coming into force of the present Treaty the German naval forces in commission were not to exceed 6 battleships of the Deutschland or Lothringen type, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, 12 torpedo boats, or an equal number of ships constructed to replace them as provided in Article l90. No submarines are to be included.

Two months from the coming into force of the Treaty, German surface warships, as enumerated, were to be surrendered to the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers in such Allied ports as the Powers may direct. This included the Battleships Oldenburg, Thuringen, Ostfriesland, Helgoland, Posen, Westfalen, Rheinland, and Nassau; the Light Cruisers Stettin, Danzig, Munchen, Lubeck, Stralsund, Augsburg, Kolberg, Stuttgart; and, in addition, forty-two modern destroyers and fifty modern torpedo boats, as chosen by the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers.

After the 11 November 1918 Armistice ended the fighting, the greater portion of the the German High Seas Fleet went to the

British base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The erstwhile German warships lay at anchor there, tended by German nucleus crews while surrender negotiations at Versailles draeged on. Finally, on 21 June 1919, the crews of the ships joined a large number of their comrades in a last defiant act against the victors. Rather than surrender their ships, they tried to scuttle them. Most sank, but some were later raised and repaired.

Article l90 of the Peace Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to construct or acquire any warships other than those intended to replace the units in commission provided for in Article l81 of the Treaty. The warships intended for replacement purposes shall not exceed the following displacement: Armored ships, 10,000 tons; Light cruisers, 6,000 tons; Destroyers, 800 tons; and Torpedo boats, 200 tons. It was reasoned that only ships capable of coastal defence could be built under 10,000 tons.

Woodrow Wilson had personally represented the United States at the Versailles peace conference, and he arrived in Paris intent upon establishing a collective security organization that would prevent another world war from ever happening again. The League of Nations was founded in 1919 as a result of the Treaty of Versailles and the end of World War I. The League and its covenant were the ultimate expression of that vision, and President Wilson submitted the treaty to the Senate confident that he could persuade enough of its members to vote for ratification. The Senate's refusal on 19 November 1919 to accept the treaty with 14 "reservations" signaled a resurgent isolationism that would characterize American diplomacy through the 1920s and early 1930s. In a final vote on March 19, 1920, the Treaty of Versailles fell short of ratification by seven votes.

After rejecting the Treaty of Versailles the United States remained technically at war with Germany until the summer of 1921, when a separate peace was signed. The US Government signed the Treaty of Berlin on August 25, 1921. This was a separate peace treaty with Germany that stipulated that the United States would enjoy all "rights, privileges, indemnities, reparations or advantages" conferred to it by the Treaty of Versailles, but left out any mention of the League of Nations, which the United States never joined.

Failure to permit honorable surrender may only hasten a subsequent conflict. The "stigma" of signing such an onerous treaty along with the severe reparations undermined the newly established German Weimar Republic, plunged Germany into depression, and paved the way for the rise of Adolf Hitler, Nazism, and World War II twenty years later. Rear Admiral Iasiello addsed "The absence of postwar vision [at Versailles] negated, for all practical purposes, any hope of a just and lasting peace."

The first of the Deutschland class armored ships was ordered under the 1929 Program for the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic. Of a type popularly called "pocket battleships", the Deutschland class ships were given the name of Panzerschiffe, or Armoured ships, by Germany. The ship was laid down as Deutchland [renamed Lutzow in February 1940] on 05 February 1929, launched 19 May 1931 and completed on the 01 April 1933. Admiral Scheer was laid down on 25 June 1931, launched 01 April 1933 and completed 12 November 1934. Admiral Graf Spee was launched 30 June 1934 and commissioned in January 1936. Adolf Hitler became chancellor in January 1933. In the spring of 1935 Hitler formally denounced the disarmament provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, and achieved British recognition of German rearmament in the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.

Deutschland displaced 11,700 tons, and Admirasl Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee displaced 12,100 tons, well above the Versailles limit of 10,000 tons. They had cruiser-type hulls, and thin armor protection, but carried heavier guns (eleven-inch) than contemporary foreign cruisers. They were propelled by diesel engines that provided extraordinarily long range, though with a maximum speed (about 29 knots) that was somewhat slower than most cruisers. Largely designed as oceanic commerce raiders, it was expected that they could outgun almost any opponent that could not be outrun. But their armament of two triple 11-inch turrets was ludicrously heavy for a mere commerce-raider, and incapable of rapid fire against a fast-moving target. Their diesel engines proved disappointing in service, and as battleship speeds soon rose to 28-30 knots, the rationale for the design largely disappeared.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:29:30 ZULU