The Armistice and the occupation of the Rhine

The signing of the Armistice

The Armistice terms were signed in a railway clearing in woods at Rethondes near Compiègne. The signatories were:

“Between Marshal Foch, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, acting in the name of the Allied and Associated Powers, with Admiral Wemyss, First Sea Lord, on the one hand, and Herr Erzberger, Secretary of State, President of the German Delegation, Count von Oberndorff, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Major_General von Winterfeldt, Captain Vanselow (German navy), duly empowered and acting with the concurrence of the German Chancellor on the other hand.”

The Armistice agreement was signed at 5am (French time) on Monday, 11 November 1918 and hostilities ceased in France and Flanders at 11am.

At 6.50am, the British General Headquarters at Montreuil-dur-Mer sent an order for the four British Armies to stand fast, take defensive precautions and not to fraternise with the enemy.

Imperial War Museum photograph Q58432. Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s train arriving at Compiègne for negotiations with the German representatives, 6 November 1918. The Armistice was signed in this carriage on 11 November.

The terms of the Armistice

The parts of the Armistice agreement that covered military matters on the Western Front were:

I. Military Clauses on Western Front.

One. Cessation of operations by land and in the air six hours after the signature of the armistice.

Two. Immediate evacuation of invaded countries: Belgium, France, Alsace Lorraine, Luxemburg, so ordered as to be completed within fourteen days from the signature of the armistice. German
troops which have not left the above mentioned territories within the period fixed will become prisoners of war. Occupation by the Allied and United States forces jointly will keep pace with evacuation in these areas. All movements of evacuation and occupation will be regulated in accordance with a note annexed to the stated terms.

Four. Surrender in good condition by the German armies of the following equipment: five thousand guns (two thousand five hundred heavy, two thousand five hundred field), thirty thousand ma
chine guns. Three thousand minenwerfer. Two thousand aeroplanes (fighters, bombers— firstly all D7s and night bombing machines). The above to be delivered in situ to the Allies and United States troops in accordance with the detailed conditions laid down in the note (Annex 1) determined at the time of signing the Armistice.

Five. Evacuation by the German armies of the countries on the left bank of the Rhine. These countries on the left bank of the Rhine shall be administered by the local authorities under the control of the Allied and United States armies of occupation. The occupation of these territories will be determined by Allied and United States garrisons holding the principal crossings of the Rhine, Mayence, Coblenz, Cologne, together with bridgeheads at these points in thirty kilometer radius on the right bank and by garrisons similarly holding the strategic points of the regions. A neutral
zone shall be reserved on the right of the Rhine between the stream and a line drawn parallel to it forty kilometers to the east from the frontier of Holland to the parallel of Gernsheim and as far as practicable a distance of thirty kilometers from the east of stream from this parallel upon Swiss frontier. Evacuation by the enemy of the Rhine lands shall be so ordered as to be completed within a further period of eleven days, in all nineteen days after the signature of the armistice. All movements of evacuation and occupation will be regulated according to the note annexed.

Six. In all territory evacuated by the enemy there shall be no evacuation of inhabitants; no damage or harm shall be done to the persons or property of the inhabitants. No destruction of any kind
to be committed. Military establishments of all kinds shall be delivered intact as well as military stores of food, munitions, equipment not removed during the periods fixed for evacuation. Stores of food of all kinds for the civil population, cattle, etc., shall be left in situ. Industrial establishments shall not be impaired in any way and their personnel shall not be moved. Roads and means of communication of every kind, railroad, waterways, main roads, bridges, telegraphs, telephones, shall be in no manner impaired.

Seven. Roads and means of communications of every kind, railroads, waterways, roads, bridges, telegraphs, telephones, shall be in no manner impaired. All civil and military personnel at present employed on them shall remain. Five thousand locomotives, fifty thousand wagons and ten thousand motor lorries in good working order with all necessary spare parts and fittings shall be delivered to the Associated Powers within the period fixed for the evacuation of Belgium and Luxemburg. The railways of Alsace Lorraine shall be handed over within the same period, together with all pre-war personnel and material. Further material necessary for the working of railways in the country on the left bank of the Rhine shall be left in situ. All stores of coal and material for the up-keep of permanent ways, signals and repair shops left entire in situ and kept in an efficient state by Germany during the whole period of armistice. All barges taken from the Allies shall be restored to them. A note appended regulates the details of these measures.

Eight. The German command shall be responsible for revealing all mines or delay acting fuses disposed on territory evacuated by the German troops and shall assist in their discovery and destruction. The German command shall also reveal all destructive measures that may have been taken (such as poisoning or polluting of springs, wells, etc.) under penalty of reprisals.

Nine. The right of requisition shall be exercised by the Allied and the United States, armies in all occupied territory. The up-keep of the troops of occupation in the Rhine land (excluding Alsace-
Lorraine) shall be charged to the German Government.

Ten. An immediate repatriation without reciprocity according to detailed conditions which shall be fixed, of all Allied and United States prisoners of war. The Allied Powers and the United States
shall be able to dispose of these prisoners as they wish.

Eleven. Sick and wounded who cannot be removed from evacuated territory will be cared for by German personnel who will be left on the spot with the medical material required.

VI. Duration of Armistice.

Thirty four. The duration of the armistice is to be thirty days, with option to extend. During this period, on failure of execution of any of the above clauses, the armistice may be denounced by one
of the contracting parties, on forty eight hours previous notice.

The Welsh newspaper the “Western Mail” of 12 November 1918, characterising the Armistice as good in triumph over evil; of Civilisation defeating Prussian Militarism..

Annex 1 [terms of evacuation of territory and Allied and United States advance to the Rhine]

I. The evacuation of the invaded territories, Belgium, France, and Luxemburg,and also of Alsace-Lorraine, shall be carried out in three successive stages according to the following conditions:

First stage. Evacuation of the territories situated between the existing front and line No.1 on the enclosed map, to be completed within 5 days after the signature of the armistice.

Second stage. Evacuation of territories situated between line No.1 and line No.2, to be carried out within 4 further days (9 days in all after the signing of the armistice).

Third stage. Evacuation of the territories situated between line No.2 and line No.3, to be completed within 6 further days (15 days in all after the signing of the armistice).

Allied and United States troops shall enter these various territories on the expiration of the period allowed to the German troops for the evacuation of each. In consequence, the allied troops will cross the present German front as from the 6th day following the signing of the armistice, line No.1 as from the 10th day, and line No.2 as from the 16th day.

II. Evacuation of the Rhine district. This evacuation shall also be carried out in several successive stages:

(1) Evacuation of territories situated between lines 2 and 3 and line 4, to be completed within 4 further days (19 days in all after the signing of the armistice).

(2) Evacuation of territories situated between lines 4 and 5 to be completed within 4 further days (23 days in all after the signing of the armistice).

(3) Evacuation of territories situated between lines 5 and 6 (line of the Rhine) to be completed within 4 further days (27 days in all after the signing of the armistice).

(4) Evacuation of the bridgeheads and of the neutral zone. on the right bank of the Rhine to be completed within 4 further days (31 days in all after the signing of the armistice).

The allied and United States army of occupation shall enter these various territories after the expiration of the period allowed to the German troops for the evacuation of each; consequently the army will cross line No.3, 20 days after the signing of the armistice. It will cross line No.4 as from the twenty fourth day after the signing of the armistice; line No.5 as from the twenty eighth
day; line No. 6 (Rhine) the thirty second day, in order to occupy the bridgeheads.

The “Bystander” magazine of 20 November 1918 shows London crowds that gathered outside Buckingham Palace on 11 November.

The plan to advance to the Rhine

The various phase-lines given in Annex 1 (above) are illustrated on this map. Line No. 2 lay along the border with Germany and Luxemburg; north of it, the border with Belgium was Line No. 3. British forces were to advance to occupy the Rhine bridgehead in the Cologne (Köln) area.

Stages of the advance to the Rhine: British Official History

The British Rhine occupation force

British Second and Fourth Armies were selected to make the advance and to commence on 17 November 1918. In total they were to consist of 16 Divisions in four Corps (out of the current British total in Europe of 61 and 16), together with appropriate cavalry, air resources and extended lines of communication. Only the Second Army, under command of Lieut-Gen. Sir Herbert Plumer, was to enter Germany.

The move of a very large force presented a considerable challenge to the army’s transport and logistics, notably in the need to take over, repair or build railways that could supply the force. The rapid advances made in the final days of the fighting meant that the supply railheads were already some 20-35 miles behind the most advanced troops. The Quartermaster General confirmed on 18 November that there would be no difficulty in supply up to Line No.1, but that new railheads would need to be established to support moves beyond it. But events proved that even by 21 November the contemplated extensions were not yer ready, and instead of being able to march to Line No. 2 according to timetable, the force was halted on an intermediate line through Namur.

Rawlinson’s communication to the men of his Fourth Army

Marshal Foch gave an order to all Allied troops on 15 November 1918 to be sure of maintaining smartness and march discipline.

A formal entry, accompanied by civic receptions and celebrations, was made at Mons (Plumer) on 15 November; Charleroi (Rawlinson) five days later; and Brussels (a compoosite battalion under Brig-Gen Freyberg, accompanying Albert, King of the Belgians) on 22 November 1918.

Plumer gave orders for II Corps (Jacob) and the Canadian Corps (Currie), with the 1st Cavalry Division (Mullens) attached, to cross the frontier into Germany on 1 December 1918. They were to reach the Rhine seven days later and cross it to occupy the Cologne bridgehead on 13 December.

His VI Corps (Haldane) and IX Corps (Braithwaite) were to follow later and take up reserve positions west of the Rhine.

The advance across the frontier began at 5am on 1 December 1914, spearheaded by the 1st Cavalry Division with 17th Armoured Car Battalion attached, and the 5th Cavalry Brigade of 2nd Cavalry Division. Men who had arrived in France in 1914 were put into the advanced guard to have the honour of being the first to cross into Germany.

The Cologne bridgehead

The position of formations and units in December 1918


The relevant volume of the British Official History: