Modern history


Keeping Germany Down

THE MILITARY CLAUSES of the treaty, which the Council of Four had started to look at even before the midwinter break, warned that dealing with Germany was infinitely more difficult than dealing with the kaiser. Most people agreed that militarism and huge armed forces, especially the German, were bad for the world; indeed, books arguing that the arms race had caused the Great War were already starting to appear. One of Wilson’s Fourteen Points talked about reducing national armaments “to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety,” and one of the selling points of the League was that it would provide such security that nations would willingly cut back on their armed forces. Lloyd George, who knew that conscription was deeply unpopular in Britain, seized on the idea with enthusiasm. Disarming the most powerful nation on the continent was clearly an important first step to the more general disarmament to be carried out by the League. Although it mattered much less, the Allies intended to impose stringent military conditions on the other defeated nations. They would also try, unsuccessfully, to persuade their friends in Europe, such as Czechoslovakia, Poland and Greece, to accept small armed forces.1

Disarmament was good in itself, but it was difficult to reach agreement on how much of an army Germany should be left with. The new German government had to be able to put down rebellion at home. Should it also be strong enough to hold off the Bolshevik threat from the east? The Allies could not do it for them. Neither could the states of central Europe. They were not only struggling to survive, but, as Hankey said severely, “there has not been the smallest sign of any serious attempt at combined effort to resist the Bolshevists among them. On the contrary, they show all the worst qualities that we have become accustomed to in the Balkan states.” The Germans, for all their flaws, were at least “a solid, patriotic, reliable and highly-organised people.” From the French point of view, however, German forces were always a danger. Foch in particular argued from the first that the Allies must confiscate German military equipment, occupy the Rhineland and its bridgeheads, destroy German fortifications along its frontiers with France and limit the German army to 100,000 men. These demands, he said implausibly, were merely military.2

One of the few top French generals to come out of the war with his reputation enhanced, Foch liked to refer to himself as a simple soldier. He was short, fair-haired, unassuming and rather sloppy in appearance. “At a distance of 15 feet,” in the opinion of an American expert, “one would never pick him for the generalissimo.” Born into a modest family in the Pyrenees, Foch was a devout Catholic and irreproachable family man who liked gardening and shooting and the theater (as long as it was nothing too modern) and hated politicians and Germans. The English general Henry Wilson, a great friend, revered his courage and refusal to give up, even in the darkest moments of the war. Foch, he said, had “an uncanny instinct as to the right thing to be done. He cannot always give you reasons.” On the other hand, the American commander, General Pershing, who clashed with him in the last days of the war, saw only “a narrow, small, self-opinionated man.” President Wilson grew to see him as the embodiment of French vengefulness and blindness. He also found him dull.3

Clemenceau, who had known him for years, was always ambivalent. “He was a great General,” he told the Supreme Council in 1919, but “not a military Pope.” During the war he had weighed General Pétain against Foch as supreme Allied commander. “I found myself between two men, one of whom told me we were finished and the other who came and went like a mad man and who wanted to fight. I said to myself ‘Let’s try Foch!’” And Clemenceau felt he had been right. “I always see him,” he said, “in March 1918, more confident, more fervent than ever, showing himself truly like a great leader, and having only one idea: to fight, and to go on until the enemy gave up.” But Clemenceau had reservations. “During the war,” he said, “it was necessary for me to see Foch practically every day in order to keep him from doing something foolish.”4

Clemenceau never could trust any soldier entirely, especially not a religious one. He did not name Foch as a French delegate to the Peace Conference and made it clear that Foch would attend its meetings only when he was invited. Foch never forgave him: “It is really extraordinary that M. Clemenceau did not think of me in the first place as a suitable person to overcome the resistance of President Wilson and Lloyd George.” When Foch and his supporters nevertheless tried to influence the peace negotiations, Clemenceau became increasingly impatient. There were dreadful scenes. During one, in the Supreme Council, Foch marched out and sat in the anteroom. When his colleagues tried to persuade him to go back in, his shouts of “Never, Never, Never” could be heard clearly within. Clemenceau thought of dismissing him from time to time, but could never quite bring himself to do so. “Leave the people their idols,” he said, “they have to have them.” 5

Foch had insisted on writing strict provisions into the initial armistice agreement of November 11, 1918. During the Peace Conference, he warned that the Germans were not complying with the clauses of the armistice; they were not demobilizing fast enough, not handing over their weapons. The Allies, he said, must keep large armies in existence, especially in the Rhineland, or they would not be able to enforce the peace terms. The British and the Americans were skeptical. Wilson thought the French “hysterical,” and when Pershing told him that Foch was exaggerating German strength, he promptly passed the opinion on to Lloyd George.6

When the armistice came up for renewal, which it did at monthly intervals, Foch tried to insert new provisions. “It was not sportsmanlike,” said Wilson. “Little and irritating secondary demands were continually being added to the armistice conditions whilst at the same time reports were being received to the effect that the previously accepted terms were not being fulfilled.” How could they persuade the Germans to accept them? Foch’s answer was blunt: “By war.” Clemenceau, a little reluctantly, backed him up. “He knew the German people well. They become ferocious when any one retires before them.” On February 12, after considerable debate, the Supreme Council came to a compromise: the armistice was to be renewed indefinitely, without the addition of any significant changes, and Foch was put in charge of a committee to draw up detailed military terms for the peace treaty. In the continuing confusion over whether they were drawing up a preliminary treaty or the final one, no one was sure whether the military terms were going to be presented first, on the installment plan, or incorporated in some comprehensive and final document.7

When Foch’s committee reported back on March 3, it recommended a small German army with basic equipment but no frills such as a general staff or tanks. Foch asked the Supreme Council for an immediate decision. He wanted to be able to start negotiations with German representatives within three weeks. Given the rate of demobilization of the Allied armies, he and his Allied colleagues could not guarantee that they would have the upper hand for much longer. The British and the American peacemakers were unsympathetic. “This,” said Balfour, “was equivalent to holding a pistol at the head of the Council.” Nor did he want to make a decision in Lloyd George’s absence, since some of Foch’s proposals were controversial.8

Where Foch wanted a German army of 140,000 conscripts who would serve for one year only, the British representative on his committee, Henry Wilson, favored 200,000 volunteers who would serve for a number of years. The British tried to persuade the French that training thousands of men per year would produce a huge pool of experienced soldiers. He would hate, said Lloyd George, to leave France facing that threat. Foch replied that he was not worried about quantity but about quality. Long-serving soldiers could easily become the nucleus of a much larger force. The Germans, “flocks of sheep,” would end up with lots of officers to drive them.9

Lloyd George took Clemenceau aside and persuaded him to abandon a conscript German army. Foch only discovered this at the next meeting of the Supreme Council; he remonstrated furiously with Clemenceau, who refused to budge. All he achieved was a lower cap, of 100,000, on the German army. “So,” wrote Henry Wilson, “I got my principle, but not my numbers, and Foch got his numbers but not his principle. An amazing state of affairs.” 10 The military clauses were put aside to await Woodrow Wilson’s return.

Foch, like many of his compatriots, wanted far more than a disarmed Germany. He wanted a much smaller one. Germany, all the peacemakers agreed, must shrink. Where and by how much was the problem. Poland was demanding Upper Silesia, with its coalfields, and the port of Danzig (now Gdańsk). Lithuania, if it survived, wanted the Baltic port of Memel (now Klaip≐da) and a slice of territory stretching inland. Those borders in the east, which were part of the much larger settlement of Central Europe, were to cause much trouble.

On the northwest, Germany’s borders were settled relatively easily. Neutral Denmark put in a claim to the northern part of Schleswig-Holstein, a pair of duchies whose fate had much disturbed Europe in the middle of the previous century. With a mixed population of Germans and Danes and a legal status of great antiquity and bewildering complexity (Bismarck always said that only two men in Europe understood the issue—he was one and the other was in an asylum), they had been seized by Prussia as it began the creation of modern Germany. The German government had done its best to make the inhabitants German, but despite its best efforts an overwhelming majority in the northern part still spoke Danish. The Danish government beseeched the Peace Conference to act quickly. The collapse of the old German regime had produced revolutionary councils in Schleswig-Holstein as elsewhere, but they were still behaving as Germans. Danish speakers were being prevented from holding meetings, their windows were being smashed and, perhaps worst of all in such a prosperous farming area, their cows were being confiscated.11 No one wanted to reopen the old legal questions, but fortunately there was the new principle of self-determination to hand. The Supreme Council decided that the question should be referred to the committee examining Belgium’s claims against Germany. It duly reported back in favor of two plebiscites, the first of the handful ordered by the peacemakers. In February 1920, an international commission supervised a vote by all men and women over the age of twenty. The results closely mirrored the language divisions; the northern zone voted for incorporation in Denmark, the southern to stay with Germany. The border remains unchanged today.

It was not so easy to settle Germany’s borders in the west, when France’s need for compensation and security ran up against the principle of self-determination and the old British fears of a strong France dominating the Continent. At the northern tip of Alsace lay the rich German coalfields of the Saar. France needed coal, and its own mines had largely been destroyed by the Germans. Besides, as Clemenceau reminded the British ambassador just after the armistice, Britain had once thought of giving the Saar to the French at the end of the Napoleonic Wars; why not take the opportunity now to erase “any bitter recollection they might have of Waterloo”?

The Saar, however, was only a small piece of the much larger territory on the west bank of the Rhine that stretched north from Alsace-Lorraine to the Netherlands. The Rhineland, Clemenceau argued, should be removed from German control to ensure France’s security. “The Rhine was the natural boundary of Gaul and Germany.” Perhaps the Allies could create an independent state with its neutrality guaranteed, just as Belgium’s had been done, by the powers. “I can see,” reported the British ambassador, “that he intends to press for that very strongly.” Clemenceau in fact was prepared to compromise on many of France’s demands as long as the overriding goal of security was met. Indeed, he was even willing to consider, though little came of it, limited cooperation with Germany, with the two countries working together on rebuilding the devastated areas of France and perhaps developing fruitful economic links.12

Foch did not think in such terms and spoke with the authority of a military man who had spent his life facing the menace across the Rhine. France needed that river barrier; it needed the time that a Rhineland under its control would buy in the face of an attack from the east; and it needed the extra population. “Henceforward,” he insisted in a memorandum to the Peace Conference in January 1919, “Germany ought to be deprived of all entrance and assembling grounds, that is, of all territorial sovereignty on the left bank of the river, that is, of all facilities for invading quickly, as in 1914, Belgium, Luxembourg, for reaching the coast of the North Sea and threatening the United Kingdom, for outflanking the natural defences of France, the Rhine and the Meuse, conquering the Northern provinces and entering upon the Paris area.”13

If Germany attacked, he told Cecil, it could strike deep into France long before the United States and Britain responded. “If there were any other natural features which could be made an equally good line of defence he would not have asked for the Rhine frontier, but there were absolutely none.” His preference was an independent Rhineland which could be grouped together with Belgium, France and Luxembourg in a defensive confederation. “I think Foch is going too far,” said his friend Henry Wilson, “but it is at the same time clear to me that neutrals like the Luxembourgs and the Belgians unduly expose the flank of the poor French, and that therefore some precaution must be taken, such as that no Boche troops should be quartered over the Rhine, and possibly no Boche conscription in the Rhenish provinces.” Foch’s second choice was a neutral and demilitarized state, or perhaps states, in the Rhineland. Its inhabitants, he felt, were naturally inclined toward France; in time, they would recognize that their best interests lay in looking westward rather than to the east.14

French troops made up the majority of the occupying forces in the Rhineland, and the French commanders there shared Foch’s views completely (including Marshal Pétain, who was to take a rather different view of Germany in the Second World War). The Rhineland, said General Charles Mangin, was the symbol of “immortal France which has become again a great nation.” Mangin, whose career had been spent mainly in France’s colonies, saw the local inhabitants as natives to be won over, with festivals, torchlit processions, fireworks and a firm hand. The French also wooed the Rhinelanders with economic concessions, exempting them from the continuing blockade of Germany.15

For an exhilarating few months in 1919, it looked as though powerful separatist forces were stirring among the largely Catholic Rhinelanders, who after all had never really settled down comfortably under Prussian rule. But were they ready to throw themselves into the arms of France? The mayor of the great Rhine city of Cologne, a cautious and devious politician, spoke for the moderates. Konrad Adenauer toyed with separatism but gave it up as a lost cause by the spring.16 The diehard separatists remained a small minority.

Clemenceau chose not to know what his military was up to. Nor did he directly forbid it from intriguing with the separatists. He himself did not care so much how the Rhineland was managed, as long as it did not become, yet again, a platform for attacks on France. He wanted the Allied occupation to continue; indeed, he wanted it extended to the eastern side of the Rhine to protect the bridgeheads. If he could get this guarantee for France’s security, he was prepared to back down on other French demands, such as reparations. He urged his allies to keep the peace terms together as a package. As he told Balfour in February, he did not want the disarmament terms, even though nearly ready, to be given to the Germans because they would feel that they had nothing left to bargain with and so be difficult on everything else.17

Clemenceau had to move carefully on the Rhineland: his critics at home were watching him closely. From the Elysée Palace, Poincaré warned: “The enemy is picking herself up and if we do not remain united and firm, everything is to be feared.” Poincaré’s view that France should have direct control of the Rhineland had much support in France. While the government had been careful during the war, for propaganda reasons, not to talk publicly about annexing parts of Germany, private French citizens had set up committees and rushed into print with their aspirations (without the censors making any effort to stop them). The river had always been the boundary between Western civilization and something darker, more primitive. France had civilized the Rhineland, they wrote. Charlemagne’s capital had been there; Louis XIV had conquered it; and French revolutionary armies had conquered it again. (The much longer periods when the Rhineland was ruled by German-speaking princes were skipped over hastily.) The people of the Rhine were really French in their genes and their hearts. Their love of good wine, their joie de vivre, their Catholicism (as even anticlerical French writers pointed out) were proof of this. Get rid of the Prussians, and the Rhineland would revert to its true, French, nature. And—perhaps this argument was the most compelling of all—the Rhineland was fair compensation for France’s losses.18

The Americans were unmoved. The League, not the Rhineland, would solve France’s security problems. As House put it, “If after establishing the League, we are so stupid as to let Germany train and arm a large army and again become a menace to the world, we would deserve the fate which such folly would bring upon us.” Lloyd George was undecided. Perhaps the Rhineland could be a small neutral state. On the other hand, as he repeatedly said, he did not want to create new Alsace-Lorraines to disrupt the peace of Europe for yet another generation.19

French officials floated various ingenious schemes: a permanent occupation by Allied troops; a customs union with France that left the Rhineland technically in Germany; a plan to make the Rhineland part of France militarily and of Germany legally. Some dreamed of something more dramatic. “To assure a durable peace for Europe,” said the French Foreign Ministry, “it is necessary to destroy Bismarck’s work, which created a Germany without scruples, militarized, bureaucratic, methodical, a formidable machine for war, which blossomed out of that Prussia, which has been defined as an army which has a nation.”20 To see an independent Bavaria again, a Saxony, above all a chastened Prussia, in the center of Europe would quiet French nightmares.

Clemenceau himself was rather more realistic. He was convinced that Germany would survive and that France would have to deal with it. He could not forget that France’s future security depended on its allies as much as on its own efforts. The Rhineland was only a piece of what France wanted. If he went all out to gain it, would his allies support France’s bill for reparations? Would they be as sympathetic on disarming Germany? The full extent of his maneuvers and his real thoughts will never be known, and that is as he preferred. When the French Foreign Ministry tried to prepare a summary of the 1919 negotiations on the Rhineland a few years later, it could not find a single document in its files.21 Clemenceau destroyed most of his own papers before he died.

In the early months of the Peace Conference, Clemenceau did his best to build up a reserve of goodwill among his allies by cooperating, for example, on the League of Nations. He kept silent on the Rhineland in the Supreme Council, sounding out his allies privately on the alternatives of outright annexation or an autonomous Rhine state. He found some sympathy among the Americans, particularly from House. The British, he felt, would be harder to win over. He did not apparently talk to Wilson before the president’s departure for the United States. As Lloyd George put it, with his usual disregard of geography, “the old tiger wants the grizzly bear back in the Rocky Mountains before he starts tearing up the German hog!”22

On February 25, André Tardieu, one of the official French delegates, finally presented a formal statement on the Rhineland to the Peace Conference. It was his usual dazzling performance. Tardieu, who came from a family of Paris engravers, was a distinguished intellectual (he had been top of his class at the élite Ecole Normale Supérieure), diplomat, politician and journalist. In 1917, Clemenceau sent him to the United States as his special representative. He was very clever, energetic and charming. Lloyd George could not abide him, and Wilson never forgave him for his close contacts with the Republicans in Washington. Clemenceau was fond of him and trusted him as much as he did anyone. He also kept him firmly under control. When Tardieu made the mistake of standing in front of him at a meeting of the Supreme Council, the old man rapped sharply on the table. “S’il vous plaît, Monsieur.” Tardieu slunk back to his seat in a fury, but dared not answer back.23

Tardieu’s memorandum of February 25, which he had drawn up on Clemenceau’s instructions, asked for Germany’s western borders to stop at the Rhine and for Allied forces to occupy the bridgeheads permanently. France, he insisted, did not have the slightest interest in annexing any part of the Rhineland, but Tardieu did not say how it was to be governed. The response from France’s allies was firm. “We regarded it,” said Lloyd George, “as a definite and dishonourable betrayal of one of the fundamental principles for which the Allies had professed to fight, and which they blazoned forth to their own people in the hour of sacrifice.” Always the realist, he also pointed out that trying to divide Germany up probably would not work in the long run; “meanwhile it would cause endless friction and might provoke another war.” Wilson, in the United States, was equally firm. “This could not be,” he told Grayson. “The desires of the people were German in character. Taking this territory away from Germany would simply give a cause for hatred and a determination for a renewal of the war throughout Germany that would always be equal to the bitterness felt by France against Germany over the lost provinces.” The president ordered House not to make any commitments on the Rhineland. He would deal with the issue in person when he returned to Paris.24

In an attempt to come up with a compromise, Lloyd George, Clemenceau and House set up a secret committee a few days before Wilson’s boat docked. Tardieu, who represented France, now came out openly for an independent Rhine state. “France,” he said, “would never be content unless it was secured against a repetition of 1914 and . . . this security could only be given by drawing the frontier along the Rhine. France had the right to expect that if there was to be another war, it should not take place on French soil.” Kerr replied that Britain could not see either separating the Rhineland from Germany or stationing troops there permanently. British public opinion was against it; so were the dominion governments, whose wishes could not be ignored. On the other hand, British forces would, of course, come to France’s aid if Germany attacked again. Tardieu pointed out that they would probably not arrive in time. (The French did not take seriously Lloyd George’s offer to build a tunnel under the Channel.) The American representative said very little. The talks produced nothing useful.25

By the time Wilson was due back in Paris, considerable progress had been made on the military clauses of the Germany treaty, but Germany’s borders, including the Rhineland, were far from settled and the tricky issue of reparations was completely deadlocked. When Wilson’s ship reached Brest on the evening of March 13, House came down to meet him. He brought discouraging news. There was only the outline of a German treaty.

The colonel thought he had simply briefed the president. Mrs. Wilson and her supporters, who had never liked House, declared that the president was shattered. “He seemed to have aged ten years,” she said twenty years after the event, “and his jaw was set in that way it had when he was making a superhuman effort to control himself.” He exclaimed, according to Mrs. Wilson, “House has given away everything I had won before we left Paris.” Grayson later added his embellishment: the president was horrified to discover that House had not only agreed to the establishment of a separate Rhine republic but had gone along with the nefarious scheme of the British and the French to play down the significance of the League of Nations by taking the covenant out of the German treaty. House had done neither, but Wilson’s suspicions were aroused, and those around him were happy to keep them alive.26

We will never know what happened between the president and the man he had once called an extension of himself, but certainly that night a crack appeared in their friendship. They continued to see each other and House continued to act for the president, but it was rumored that he no longer had his master’s ear. Lloyd George thought the main trouble came later, in April, when he, Clemenceau and House were meeting in the latter’s room at the Crillon. House was trying to smooth over a dispute, this time between Wilson and the Italians over Italy’s claims in the Adriatic. The president walked in unexpectedly and clearly felt that something was going on behind his back. “He had at least one divine attribute,” said Lloyd George; “he was a jealous god; and in disregarding what was due to him House forgot that aspect of his idol and thus committed the unforgivable sin.”27

What House may have done at Brest is put to Wilson a suggestion coming from Foch, among others, to present a preliminary treaty to Germany with the military terms and perhaps some financial ones, leaving the difficult issues such as borders and reparations for later. Wilson certainly heard of it almost as soon as he arrived back. He immediately scented a plot to delay the covenant of the League of Nations. On March 15 he spoke “very frankly” to Lloyd George and Clemenceau. “There were so many collateral questions which must be referred to the League of Nations when created that its creation must be the first object, and that no treaty could be agreed upon that would deal only with military, naval and financial matters.” Wilson refused to go to that afternoon’s meeting of the Supreme Council, which was meant to approve the military terms; he needed time, he claimed, to read them. “Impudence,” said the British general Henry Wilson. Two days later, when the question finally came up, the president contemplated opposing the provision for a German volunteer army. Lloyd George, irritated at the delay, threatened in return that he would refuse to approve the League of Nations covenant. The terms went through. 28

Germany was left, as even the Allies admitted, with something closer to a police force than an army. When the promise of reductions in all armies failed to materialize in later years, it added to British unease about the German treaty, and to German resentment. With an army of 100,000 men and a navy of 15,000, and with no air force, tanks, armored cars, heavy guns, dirigibles or submarines, Germany was to be put in a position where it could not wage an aggressive war. Most of its existing stocks of weapons, and all its fortifications west of the Rhine and along its eastern bank, were to be destroyed. Only a few factories in Germany would be allowed to produce war materials, and all imports were forbidden. To make sure that Germany did not train men surreptitiously, public services, such as the police, had to be kept at prewar levels, and private societies—touring clubs, for example, or veterans’ associations—were not allowed to do anything of a military nature. In Germany’s high schools and universities, students were no longer to be cadets. All this would be enforced by the Germans themselves, supervised by an Inter-Allied Commission of Control. It was, in retrospect, like the ropes of the Lilliputians over Gulliver.29

The difficulties over the military terms were not yet over. Wilson now found himself in a serious quarrel with the British over the naval terms, a quarrel that reflected both older rivalries and the newer one that was developing as the United States became a world naval power. To begin with, the British Admiralty longed to destroy the Kiel Canal, which linked the Baltic and the North Sea and thus enabled Germany to move even its largest ships without sending them through the straits by Copenhagen. The admirals feared, with good reason, that commercial shipping interests and the American government might object. The alternative of handing over the canal to the Danes was out of the question; they showed no enthusiasm for such a poisoned chalice. The best that could be done was to take it out of German control and let every nation’s ships use it. The Americans objected even to that. “A punitive measure,” said Admiral William Benson, the American naval representative and chief of naval operations. With the new Panama Canal firmly under their control, the Americans did not want precedents for international management of waterways. Benson also objected in general to imposing harsh terms on Germany, which he argued would drag the United States into endless efforts to enforce them. The compromise, which went into the treaty, simply allowed free passage for all countries at peace with Germany. 30

The Americans had similar reservations about British proposals to raze the fortifications along Germany’s coasts. “Naval armaments were being limited,” Lansing complained. “Why then should Germany not be permitted to defend her own coasts?” Lloyd George came up with a solution; defensive fortifications were acceptable, offensive ones were not. In the end, all German fortifications conveniently turned out to be defensive except the ones that the British really cared about.

Out in the North Sea were two tiny low-lying islands, Heligoland (Helgoland) and Dune, which the British had given to Germany in 1890, in what seemed like an excellent deal, for Zanzibar. Unfortunately, time had produced airplanes, submarines and long-range guns—and the Anglo-German naval race. The useless specks of land became formidable bases. The Admiralty had a simple solution: “The key of the mad dog’s kennel must be in our pocket,” said an admiral, “for there is no knowing when the evil beast will get another attack of hydrophobia.” If the Americans objected, an alternative was to blow them both to smithereens. From his retirement in England, the half-blind Sir Edward Grey put in his suggestion, to turn Heligoland into a sanctuary: “For some reason this, humanly speaking, unattractive and barren spot is a resting place for millions of birds on migration.” Why not give it to Hughes of Australia? suggested Clemenceau. The final British position, which the French supported, was that only the fortifications and harbors should be destroyed. President Wilson “was entirely in sympathy with the destruction of the fortifications on the Islands of Heligoland and Dune, but he thought the destruction of the breakwaters was rather a serious matter from a humane point of view, as those formed havens for fishermen in case of storms in the North Sea.” He did not, he added, want to give “an impression of gratuitous violence.” The fishermen, according to the British, could easily find shelter in natural harbors. The British got their way on this, but the islands remained German. In the 1930s, with the Nazis in power, the fortifications were rebuilt, only to be blown up again after the Second World War.31

When it came to Germany’s submarines, the British and the Americans found themselves on the same side. “These pests ought to be disposed of,” said Lloyd George when the matter came up for discussion. The American secretary of the navy, Josephus Daniels, spoke for many when he compared them to poison gas: “I believe all submarines should be sunk and no more should be built by any nation, if and when the League of Nations becomes a fact.” The French and Italians objected. “There is no treacherous weapon,” said the French minister of marine, “there can only be treachery in the way the weapon is used.” And if the submarines were to be destroyed, they would like a share in the work and in the profits from the scrap. In the end, the French navy took ten submarines; the remainder were broken up.32

The real tension between the British and the Americans came over Germany’s surface ships. Initially both had taken the same view: their admirals did not want them; it would be expensive and difficult to incorporate them into their own fleets. Although Wilson thought it foolish to destroy perfectly good ships, Lloyd George rather liked the idea of sinking them ceremoniously in the middle of the Atlantic. The French and the Italians objected. France, said a French admiral, had thrown all its resources into winning the war on land. “Our fleet suffered losses which could not be repaired, while the fleets of our allies increased in considerable proportion.” It would make more sense, in his view, to divide the ships up. The Japanese suggested diffidently that they might take a few as well.

Britain was about to give way at the beginning of March when House told Lloyd George that the United States could not accept an increase in the British navy. The distribution of the German fleet had set off alarm bells in the mind of the excitable and Anglophobic American naval adviser. Admiral Benson pointed out that whether the distribution was done on the basis of contribution to the war effort or on that of losses, in either case Britain would come out with the greatest share. “In future her sole naval rival will be the United States, and every ship built or acquired by Great Britain can have in mind only the American fleet.” Britain, he was convinced, was determined to dominate the world’s seas and world trade. 33

Lloyd George tried to defuse the issue by suggesting another of his sleights of hand: the ships would be given out, but the United States and Britain would go ahead and sink theirs. Unwisely, perhaps, he made this dependent “upon the understanding that we should not in the future enter into a building competition against each other.” Otherwise the British navy would simply go ahead and keep its share of the German ships. Behind his proposal lay British concern over the continuing expansion of the American navy, which threatened to end Britain’s naval dominance. Daniels had brought a second major building program before Congress at the end of 1918. The public justifications were reassuring: that the program was really just a continuation of the one of 1916 or that it was intended only to support the League of Nations. In Paris, however, Benson was saying firmly that the United States should not stop until its navy equaled Britain’s. It was a fundamental of British policy that its navy must be larger than any other, ideally larger than any two other navies. But the British knew that they could not keep up financially in a naval race; moreover, they did not want to jeopardize their new relationship with the United States. 34

Daniels came over to Paris in person to try to defuse the tension. “President,” he told his diary, “hoped we would talk it over and reach some right understanding.” The talks went badly. “The supremacy of the British Navy,” Walter Long, the first lord of the Admiralty, told Benson and Daniels, “was an absolute necessity, not only for the very existence of the British Empire but even for the peace of the world.” Benson replied briskly that the United States was quite capable of taking a share in keeping the peace. He and his British counterpart, “Rosie” Wemyss, quarreled so angrily that Daniels feared they were about to come to blows. “The British Admiral thought his country ought to have the right to build the biggest navy in the world and we ought to agree to it. To Benson that would have been treason to his own country.” The British threatened to oppose the special amendment on the Monroe Doctrine in the covenant of the League. Lloyd George told Daniels over breakfast on April Fool’s Day that the League would be useless if the United States continued its building. “They had stopped work on their cruisers, & we ought to stop work if we really trusted the League Wilson wanted.”35

In the end, since neither side, admirals apart, really wanted a break, a truce was declared. The Americans promised to modify their building program (which they had to do in any case, because Congress was being difficult) and the British promised not to oppose the amendment or the League. Each side agreed it would continue to consult with the other. The new mood did not, however, produce an agreement on the German ships that remained at Scapa Flow. “We should like to see them sunk,” Wemyss told a subordinate, “but I do see that they are a pawn in the game.” The cooperation between the British and the Americans which had so struck observers was ruffled by what later came to be called “the naval battle of Paris.” It was to be shaken even further by the question of German reparations. 36

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