1916-1925: America– War and Peace

Author: Marshals von Hindenburg and Foch and Eyewitnesses  | Date: 1918

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How the Armistice Was Negotiated and Signed


Telegraphic wireless dispatch received by
Marshal Foch at 12:30 a.m. on November 7, 1918.

GERMAN General Headquarters to the Allies’ General Headquarters; the German Commander-in-Chief to Marshal Foch: The German Government, having been informed through the President of the United States that Marshal Foch had received powers to receive accredited representatives of the German Government and communicate to them conditions of an armistice, the following plenipotentiaries have been named by it: Mathias Erzberger, General H. K. A. von Winterfeldt, Count Alfred von Oberndorff, General von Grunnel, and Naval Captain von Salow.

The plenipotentiaries request that they be informed by wireless of the place where they can meet Marshal Foch. They will proceed by automobile, with subordinates of the staff, to the place thus appointed.


Telegraphic wireless response sent out at 1:30 am.

To the German Commander-in-Chief: If the German plenipotentiaries desire to meet Marshal Foch and ask him for an armistice, they will present themselves to the French outposts by the Chimay-Fourmies-La Capelle-Guise road. Orders have been given to receive them and conduct them to the spot fixed for the meeting.


Telegraphic response received at 1 pm.

The German plenipotentiaries for an armistice leave Spa to-day. They will leave here at noon and reach at 5 o’clock this afternoon the French outposts by the Chimay-Fourmies-La Capelle-Guise road. They will be ten persons in all, headed by Secretary of State Erzberger.

Supplementary telegraphic notice received at 1:50 pm.

German General Headquarters to the Allied General Headquarters: The Supreme German Command to Marshal Foch: From the German outposts to the French outposts our delegation will be accompanied by a road-mending company to enable automobiles to pass the La Capelle road, which has been destroyed.

Supplementary notice received at 6 pm.

The German Supreme Command to Marshal Foch: By reason of delay the German delegation will not be able to cross the outpost line until between 8 and 10 o’clock to-night at Haudroy, two kilometers northeast of La Capelle.


Notice had reached me that an envoy might arrive and that fire had ceased in our sector. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon a German lieutenant appeared. He was magnificently turned out and magnificently mounted, and had an escort of two men. I met him about a hundred yards in front of our lines, and he wished me to go back with him to meet the plenipotentiaries. I told him I could not leave my command; and at first he made some demur, the idea of those with him being that a French officer should accompany the plenipotentiaries from the other side of the line. I assured him there would be no firing in the sector, that the plenipotentiaries could cross the line in safety, and that I would receive them at my post of command.

"This gentleman is an officer," he said to the men with him, "and as an officer I can accept and trust his word." Five o’clock was the time fixed for the arrival of the delegates, but at that hour no one arrived: the mission, as is known, actually making their appearance considerably later in the evening, when they at once proceeded on their way.


The roads were a mass of mud, motor-cars of all sorts were ranged by the side of the main street, and the German plenipotentiaries were temporarily halted because of a break-down to a motor lorry in the road in the front of them. There were seven cars in all, two of them belonging to French Headquarters and five being German. The plenipotentiaries must have halted for nearly half an hour, and certain members of the junior staff attached to them got down while the details of a fresh route to be followed were discussed by them with the French officers by whom they were being escorted.

The senior members remained in the cars, invisible in darkness. Those we saw were of the typical officer class, clean-shaven and almost aggressively self-contained. For the most part they were silent, but occasionally they talked in low tones.

On the pavement by the houses there was a continual movement of French soldiers. No guard was round the cars, for any sort of guard was entirely unnecessary. There was not a single individual among the two or three hundred men present who even moved forward to catch a glimpse of the mission. There was no question as to any one doubting their identity, for the cars bore on their panels the crest of the Black Eagle.

The demeanor of the French soldier was typical of the high standard of courtesy set by Marshal Foch. Both army and nation realized that with Marshal Foch in command the terms of the Armistice were in absolutely safe hands, as he had abundantly shown that he had taken to the full such measures as the situation required. He insisted, however, that every detail of the transaction should be conducted in absolute privacy, and there was not present at the historic meeting a single representative of the French or Allied press.


When on November 5 we left Spa in motor cars and reached the French lines we found enemy carriages already waiting to take us to the unknown scene of negotiations. This motor tour with the French officers lasted ten hours, and it appears likely was intentionally prolonged in order to drive us all over the devastated province and prepare us by what we saw for what was shortly to be put before us in the way of hatred and revenge in the extremely severe Armistice conditions. Now and again a Frenchman pointed silently to heaps of ruins, or mentioned a name, "Voila St. Quentin." In the evening, wherever it was a train stood ready for us. The windows of the carriages were curtained, and when we awoke the next morning the train stood in the midst of a wood.

We know now that the negotiations took place in the forest of Compiegne, but a week ago we knew nothing. Perhaps it was a measure of precaution, even for our sakes, that we were taken through no town. Perhaps acts of violence were feared on the part of the population, for the hatred for us among them is boundless. The wood was evidently barred by troops to all comers. There were no houses and no tents. On the railway line stood two trains, one occupied by Marshal Foch and his people, the other by ours.

Here for three days we lived, worked, and deliberated. This seems to be the modern form of such negotiations. The castles and fortresses of olden times have gone, even for such purposes. The train with its sleeping-rooms, drawing-rooms, and dining cars was very comfortable, and we were provided with everything we wanted. The officer who had charge of the train had us supplied, and the conduct of the numerous guards who stood around was beyond reproach.

But all the hostility and the fullness of hate for our country that seems now to be cherished in France came to expression in the form of negotiations, as well as in the terrible nature of the conditions. Those of us who were soldiers wore uniforms and the Iron Cross. The introduction of the half-dozen French officers who conducted the negotiations with us "in plenum" and the greetings were of the coldest.

Foch, who showed himself only twice—at the opening and at the end—gave us no word of the particular politeness that in earlier times distinguished the most chivalrous nation in the world, and his officers just as little. He received us with the words, "Qu’est ce que vous desirez, messieurs?" and invited us into his business car, furnished with tables and maps. As each was to speak his own language and everything was translated, the reading of the conditions alone occupied nearly two hours. It was moreover a discovery when Foch answered that there were to be no negotiations, and only dictated matter. Altogether, with all his coldness, he was by no means so tactless and brusque as was General d’Espery at Belgrade.

Then we retired to our train, which stood on the other line. As we had been sent by the old Government, and had certainly not been authorized to sign everything without conditions, we proceeded, at the instance of Erzberger, to divide the various points under three heads, military, naval and diplomatic, and discussed them separately with the members of the enemy commissions, which consisted only of officers. Military Germany thus, with two civilians, stood face to face with now completely militarized France. The enemy maintained, in the persons of all his representatives, the same objective; their coldness was mitigated by no single word that bordered upon the human, as had marked our reception by the Marshal. The English Admiral adopted the tone of the French, and only from Foch’s Chief of the General Staff, who bore the Alsatian name of Weygandt, did We perhaps receive any greater politeness.

During our two days’ proceedings there was really no negotiation, and we could only try to obtain concessions on various conditions. For when the enemy demanded delivery of 160 U-boats we could only point out the technical impossibility, as we had not 160 to give. This demand had to be changed into the formula, "all U-boats." The chief point was that of food, and of this we were in a certain measure able to obtain assurance.

In the meantime, in this lonely wood, with its two railway trains, we were cut off from all intercourse with the outside world. Foch himself went off twice to Paris, and couriers were able in two hours to arrive with the papers. Thus it was possible for the enemy on Sunday, early, to hand us the Paris newspapers with the abdication of the Kaiser. We read no laughter, no triumph, in their faces. Immediately before the close of the second and last plenary sitting we placed before the enemy in the German language our protest against the treaty, but in the end we had to sign.


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Chicago: "Marshals von Hindenburg and Foch, and Eyewitnesses", "How the Armistice Was Negotiated and Signed," 1916-1925: America– War and Peace in America, Vol.12, Pp.158-165 Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPFX2RSUZIG9DP2.

MLA: "Marshals von Hindenburg and Foch, and Eyewitnesses". "How the Armistice Was Negotiated and Signed." 1916-1925: America– War and Peace, in America, Vol.12, Pp.158-165, Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPFX2RSUZIG9DP2.

Harvard: "Marshals von Hindenburg and Foch, and Eyewitnesses", 'How the Armistice Was Negotiated and Signed' in 1916-1925: America– War and Peace. cited in , America, Vol.12, Pp.158-165. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPFX2RSUZIG9DP2.