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American Expeditionary Forces and the Armistice

In early November, 1918 German and French delegates met at an opening in the forest a few kilometers east of the city of Compiegne, pointedly in French territory and not in neutral or German held French territory and above all not in Germany itself. That the French made the Germans come to them was just a way of the Allies trying to call the shots, but it was certainly not as convincing a show of force as would have been had they conquered Berlin and forced peace talks to be there.

This simple fact was recognized by many within the American Expeditionary Forces like John J. Pershing and George Patton who wanted to keep fighting all the way to Berlin to force an unconditional surrender. Certainly all indicators are that the Allies could have accomplished this. On the other hand there were the idealists like President Wilson who wanted to treat the Germans with kid gloves in the spirit of reconciliation and of putting an end to the cycle of wars of revenge. A third group were the French and British realists who had already been fighting more than four years and just wanted to end the carnage as quickly as possible to stop any further loss of life and return to normal life as quickly as possible. Of these three factions, it was the realists who won out.

Both sides arrived at the Forest of Compiegne by rail and stayed in their respective rail cars when they were not busy negotiating. It took three days of negotiations and communications back and forth to Berlin before they came to terms. The papers were signed at 5:00 am Paris time on November 11, 1918 and went into effect six hours later at 11:00 am. However starting the night before, the word had started to spread across much of the front lines that the end was just hours away and many troops started celebrating. And finally the Armistice went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month: 11 am on November the 11th, 1918.

At long last, the fighting was over and with that the German 2nd Reich which had been proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles in 1871 fell. The Americans had gotten to the war a bit late, but they had waded into the thickest part of the fray, fought hard and acquitted themselves well.

The Armistice put a formal end to the hostilities, but an actual peace treaty still needed to be drawn up and signed. So the three big Western Allies pulled forward into western Germany in to bridgehead cities on the Rhine. Should the Germans not sign the treaty, then it would be relatively easy for the Allies to advance on to Berlin. Needless to say, the Germans agreed to sign the treaty which was duly done on June 28, 1919 with signatories from Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan, Italy and the United States. Ironically, June 28, 1919 was five years to the day that Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie. With the treaty signed, the Army of Occupation was re-designated the American Forces in Germany, and went on to remain in Germany for three more years.

Thus far the conflict had officially been called The Great War. It was a peculiar name stoically bereft of emotion and yet still ambiguous in meaning. Starting in 1919, the United States officially called it "The World War". The Roman numeral added later was neither needed nor expected. After all, the conflict's nickname was "the war to end all wars". Each of the European powers in the war had been negatively impacted. All had lost many citizens. More than 20 million had died including 117,000 Americans. A further 21 million more combatants of all nations were wounded, and it seemed like everyone's life was changed. Back to Top.

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