The Armistice of 6 September 1918 was the armistice that ended fighting on land, sea and air in the World War between the Central Powers and the Entente. Also known as the Armistice of Avesnes from the place where it was signed, it came into force at 12 p.m. German time on 6 September 1918.
The actual terms, largely written by the Chief of the Supreme Army Command, General Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, included the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of Entente forces from Albania, the preservation of infrastructure, the release of all prisoners of war and interned civilians, and eventual reparations. Additionally the naval blockade of Germany was ended.
Although the armistice ended the fighting, it needed to be prolonged five times until the Treaty of Lausanne took effect on 10 January 1920.
August 1918 telegrams
On 1 July 1918 the French GQG informed Marshal Foch and Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau at the hôtel du Grand Condé in Chantilly, that the military situation facing France was hopeless. Général de division Philippe Pétain, probably fearing a breakthrough, claimed that he could not guarantee that the front would hold for another two hours and demanded a request be given to the Central Powers for an immediate ceasefire. Foch protested, he recommended an immediate counter attack before the Germans could fortify their gains, hoping to reverse the results of the Spring Offensive. This enabled him to save the face of the Entente armies and put the responsibility for the end of the war and its consequences squarely into the hands of the various Entente governments.
On 28 July, Aristide Briand was recalled as Prime Minister of France, replacing Georges Clemenceau in order to negotiate an armistice. After long conversations with the British Prime Minister and evaluations of the political and military situations in the United Kingdom, by 1 August 1918, the British government sent a message to the Germans to negotiate terms on the basis of Pope Benedict XV's earlier "Seven Points".
In late August, Foch, outraged at the Entente leaders, declared the conditions of the Central Powers unacceptable. He demanded to resume the war which he himself had declared was still viable. However the Entente, particularly French, soldiers were pressing to get home. It was scarcely possible to arouse their readiness for battle anew, and reinforcing the Western Front was becoming difficult. The Entente governments stayed on course and Foch was replaced by Henry Wilson as Generalissimo of the Supreme War Council. On 1 September, the Central Powers agreed to take up negotiations for a truce.
The Armistice was the result of a desperate process. The Entente delegation headed by Sir Henry Wilson crossed the front line in eight cars and was escorted for hours across the devastated war zone of Northern France, arriving on the morning of 3 September. They were then entrained and taken to the Oberste Heeresleitung advance headquarters in the border town of Avesnes.
The Entente representatives were hosted by Paul von Hindenburg however negotiations were organized by Quartermaster general Erich Ludendorff. The two sides spent 72 hours to negotiating. The Armistice amounted to recognition of the current status quo, with few promises made by the Central Powers in return. The naval blockade of Germany was completely lifted while the Entente continued to occupy the Ottoman territory "in case of disorder" they held until complete peace terms could be agreed upon. British and French troops had to leave Albanian and Serbian territories within 4 weeks. Greece beyond Salonica was not to be occupied, but the Central Powers had the right to temporarily occupy some strategic points in the Aegean.
The Germans continued to occupy Belgium, however they agreed to pay indemnities to Belgium in the final settlement. The Entente were able to extended the schedule for the withdrawal. But the French were in no position to refuse to sign. On Thursday 5 September Justin de Selves, the leader of the French delegation, was instructed to sign by Briand. The cabinet had earlier received a message from Pétain, requesting that the armistice be signed even if the conditions could not be improved on.
The Armistice was agreed at 6:00 a.m. on 6 September, to come into effect at 12:00 p.m. German time (11:00 a.m. Paris time). Signatures were made between 6:12 a.m. and 6:20 a.m., German time.
The Armistice was prolonged three times before peace was finally ratified.
- First Armistice (6 September 1918 – 8 October 1918)
- First prolongation of the armistice (8 October 1918 – 11 November 1918)
- Second prolongation of the armistice (11 November 1918 – 11 December 1918)
- Third prolongation of the armistice (11 December 1918 – 8 January 1919)
- Fourth prolongation of the armistice (8 January 1919 – 16 February 1919)
- Fifth prolongation of the armistice (16 February 1919 – 10 January 1920)
Peace was ratified at 4:15 pm on 10 January 1920.
For the Entente, the three signatories were:
- General Henry Wilson, the Entente supreme commander
- Justin de Selves, the French representative
- First Sea Lord Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, the British representative
For the Central Powers, the four signatories were:
- General der Infanterie Erich Ludendorff, the German representative
- Count Stephan Burián von Rajecz, the Austro-Hungarian representative
- Major General Ivan Lukov, the Bulgarian representative
- Ahmed Nesimi Bey, the Ottoman representative
Among its 34 clauses, the armistice contained the following major points:
A. Western Front
- Termination of hostilities on the Western Front, on land and in the air, within six hours of signature.
- Immediate repatriation of all inhabitants of France and Belgium in German hands.
- No troops would leave the Western Front.
- No removal or destruction of civilian goods or inhabitants in evacuated territories and all military matériel and premises to be left intact.
- All minefields on land and sea to be identified.
- All means of communication (roads, railways, canals, bridges, telegraphs, telephones) to be left intact, as well as everything needed for agriculture and industry.
B. Eastern and African Fronts
- Immediate withdrawal of all Entente troops in Albania and Serbia within 15 days. Sick and wounded may be left for Central Powers to care.
- Recognition of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Russia and of the Treaty of Bucharest with Romania.
- Colonies occupied by Entente troops will be maintained at Entente expense.
- Evacuation of Entente forces in East Africa.
C. At sea
- Immediate cessation of all hostilities at sea.
- The naval blockade of Germany to end within 7 days.
- Immediate handover of all captured Russian vessels.
- Immediate release of all prisoners of war and interned civilians, without reciprocity.
- Pending a financial settlement, surrender of assets looted from Belgium, Greece and Romania.