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Clemenceau - French President
Clemenceau - French President

German deligates in Paris - they had no say over the terms of the Treaty
German deligates in Paris - they had no say over the terms of the Treaty

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Lloyd-George British Prime Minister
Lloyd-George British Prime Minister
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Wilson President of USA
Wilson President of USA

THE BIG QUESTIONWere the Peace Treaties of 1919–1923 fair?
HEADLINE QUESTIONSWhat were the motives and aims of the Big Three at Versailles?
Why did the victors not get everything they wanted?
What were the immediate reactions to the peace settlement?
Could the treaties be justified at the time?
CONTENT THAT YOU NEED TO KNOWThe peace treaties of 1919–1923 (Versailles, St Germain, Trianon, Sèvres and Lausanne);The roles of individuals such as Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George in the peacemaking process;The immediate reactions to, and opinions about, the treaties, especially in Britain, France, Germany and the USA.

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Were the peace treaties of 1919-23 fair?
The leaders of the great powers met at Versailles in 1919 to discuss the terms that were going to be imposed upon Germany. The aims of the leaders differed considerably.

What were the aims and motives of the Big Three at Versailles?


  • The French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, believed that Germany must be punished and made to pay for the cost of the War and for the humiliation suffered by France in the past.
  • Clemenceau also wanted guarantees that it could never happen again. He wanted the Rhineland to be handed over to France and Alsace-Lorraine to be returned.
  • He wanted to make Germany pay for all the damage caused by the War.
  • Large areas of France had been destroyed in the wart. Everyone knew who to blame, and some French politicians wanted Germany to be totally destroyed.

Great Britain

  • Great Britain had not suffered the same degree of damage as France, but Britain had paid an enormous cost for victory however.
  • In all the Great War cost £5.700,000 a day, some had been raised by increasing income tax from 6p to 30p, but most had been borrowed; now it all had to be paid back.
  • The British people expected that Germany would be made to pay for the effects of the war.
  • The Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised to, 'Squeeze Germany until the Pips Squeak'.
  • But when Lloyd George got to Versailles he adopted a different approach. He did not want Germany to be punished too hard, but be allowed to recover.


  • The USA had not suffered any damage during the war, apart from some fires started by German agents to destroy goods going to Britain and France.
  • American soldiers only arrived in Europe in spring 1918, so Woodrow Wilson arrived in Europe in December 1918 without any scores to settle with Germany.
  • Wilson's main concern was to try to ensure that war could never break out again. So he came with his ‘Fourteen Points’ one of which suggested the setting up of a League of Nations.
  • Wilson believed in 'Self-Determination'. This meant he wanted peoples to be able to run their own affairs. He objected to Italy taking over the Adriatic Coast.


  • The Italian Government did not join the war until 1915. Britain and France signed the secret Treaty of London, agreeing to Italy taking possession of the Adriatic coast of the Balkans as far south as Albania and also some the islands of the coast of Greece.
  • Italy had suffered very badly during the War. 460,000 soldiers had been killed and the country was heavily in debt to the USA. To most Italians it seemed to have been a disaster.
  • The Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando arrived at Versailles expecting the Allies to honour the promises that they had made in the Treaty of London.

  • Japan had supported the Allies throughout the war and expected some sort of reward.
  • The Japanese wanted Manchuria, which was part of Northern China.


  • The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June. The German delegates had not been allowed to attend any of the meetings at Versailles, but had been shown the terms of the treaty in May.
  • When they saw the terms, they were horrified. They had expected that the Treaty would be based upon Wilson's 'Fourteen Points', which recommended 'Self-Determination'.
  • The German delegates considered restarting the war, but this was impossible.
  • Land - Germany lost about 10% of her land.
  • Alsace-Lorraine was given back to France.
    • The Polish Corridor was created to give the new country of Poland a way out to the Baltic. This cut Germany into two.
    • Germany also lost land to Belgium, Denmark and Czechoslovakia.
  • Colonies - all German colonies were taken away and were handed to Britain and France to look after under League of Nations mandates until they were ready for independence.

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  • Armed forces - the German army was reduced to 100,000 men and conscription was banned, the navy was reduced to six ships and submarines were banned, the airforce was to be completely destroyed.
  • The Rhineland - this was to be demilitarised, no soldiers or military equipment were to be kept within thirty miles of the east bank of the river. The Allies would occupy it for fifteen years.
  • The Saar - this was to be occupied for fifteen years and France would be able to mine coal in it for those years.
  • Reparations - Germany was to pay for the damage caused by the war, the full cost would be worked out by 1921; it eventually came to £6,600,000,000. This would be paid for the rest of the twentieth century.
  • War Guilt - Germany was to accept the blame for the war, alone.

Why did the victors not get everything they wanted?
  • France was not allowed to occupy the Rhineland. - Lloyd George believed that this would only antagonise the Germans.
  • Woodrow Wilson was not able to achieve freedom of the seas. - Lloyd George wanted to maintain Britain’s naval supremacy.
  • Lloyd George was unable to achieve a moderate settlement. – Public opinion in Britain and French aims forced him to accept harsher terms for Germany than he would have liked.
  • Italy was not given the Adriatic coast that had been promised at the Secret Treaty of London in 1915. - Woodrow Wilson would not agree to the creation of an Italian Empire.
  • Japan was not allowed to occupy Manchuria; it was given the former German territories in China.

This cartoon makes a prediction about another war occuring because of the terms of Versailles, it suggests that there will be another World War in 1940. The Second World War broke out in September 1939 - not a bad prediction in 1919!
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This British cartoon shows the Allies in the middle wrestling Germany to the ground, France being the dominant wrestler with Lloyd-George asking for the Americans to help.
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The Treaty of Saint-Germain was signed between the Allies and Austria on September 10th 1919. The main terms were as follows.
  • The Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, the Austrian Republic was regarded as representing the former empire.
  • Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia were declared to be independent.
  • Austria handed over Eastern Galicia, the Trentino, South Tirol, Trieste and Istria.
  • The Austrian army was limited to 30,000 men and reparations were to be paid for thirty years.
  • The Union of Austria and Germany was forbidden, except with the agreement of the Council of the League of Nations.


The Treaty of Trianon was signed between the Allies and Hungary on June 4th 1920. It was delayed by more than a year by a war between Hungary and its neighbours, which led to an invasion by Romania. The main terms of the Treaty were as follows.
  • Hungary lost ¾ of its territory and 2/3 of its population.
  • Slovakia was given to Czechoslovakia and Western Hungary was given to Austria.
  • Croatia and Slavonia were given to Yugoslavia and Transylvania was given to Romania.
  • The Hungarian army was to be limited to 35,000 men.
  • The Hungarians agreed to pay part of the Austrian reparations
  • The Hungarian government agreed to hand over war criminals.


The Treaty of Neuilly was signed between the Allies and Bulgaria on November 27th 1919.
  • Bulgaria lost some land to Yugoslavia and the Adriatic coast to Greece, but gained some from Turkey.
  • Bulgaria had to pay reparations of £100,000,000.
  • The Bulgarian army was limited to 20,000 men


The Treaty of Sevres was signed between the Allies and the Sultan of Turkey on August 10th 1920. It had been delayed by war between Turkey and Greece and an invasion by Italy.
The main terms were as follows.
  • Arabia and Armenia became independent.
  • Syria became a French mandate and Mesopotamia and Palestine became British mandates.
  • Smyrna was to be controlled by Greece for five years and then have a referendum to decide its future.
  • Rhodes and the Dodecanese Islands were given to Italy.
  • Thrace and all other Turkish islands in the Aegean were given to Greece
  • Britain gained Cyprus.
  • The Straits became international and the territory on either side was demilitarised.
  • The Allies would be allowed to station troops in Turkey to ensure that the treaty was obeyed.
However, the Treaty was not recognised by the new Turkish government of Mustafa Kemal, which seized power after a revolution.

A new Treaty of Lausanne was signed on July 24th 1923.
  • In the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey recovered some territory from Greece, but gave up all claims to non-Turkish territory lost at the end of the war.
  • All claims for reparations from Turkey were dropped.
  • In November 1918 Germany had surrendered unconditionally. This meant that they had no right to take part in any of the discussions at the peace conference.
  • They simply had to accept whatever the Allies decided.
  • Germany had suffered worse than any of the other major countries, except possibly for Russia.
  • Two million German soldiers had been killed and the German economy had been ruined by the blockade set up by the Allies.

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What was the immediate impact of the peace treaty on Germany?

Why was the Weimar Republic weak?
  • Conditions in Germany in the winter of 1918/19 were very bad. In January 1919 there was an attempted revolution by the Spartacists, who were communist.
  • This was only put down by the Frei Korps, gangs of ex-soldiers, who roamed the streets of Berlin in uniform.
  • The politicians who had signed the Armistice were called the November Criminals by Hitler, who joined the German Workers Party, a small extreme group in Bavaria, in 1919.
  • The government became very unpopular and from 1919 onwards there was increasing violence and large numbers of murders.
  • Many soldiers did not believe that the army had actually been defeated, as Germany had surrendered before it had been invaded.
  • Some wanted to fight on, but the odds against Germany had been very long indeed, with Britain, France and the USA all on the other side. When they returned home they were treated like heroes.
  • Most people had expected that that the Treaty would not be too severe so that Germany would be able to recover.
  • They believed that Germany would be treated according to the terms of the Fourteen Points. The terms of the Treaty were much harsher than anyone had anticipated.
  • The Weimar Constitution was based upon proportional representation. This meant that it was very difficult for one party to gain an overall majority in the Reichstag, the lower house of the German parliament.
  • The Allies hoped that this would prevent a strong government coming to power. In fact it meant that all German governments were weak and were unable to take decisions.

How did the reparations payments affect Germany?
  • The final bill was presented on 1 May 1921 and was fixed at £6,600,000,000. To be paid over thirty years.
  • Germany was also to pay for the cost of the armies of occupation and had to agree to the sale of German property in the Allied countries.
  • Germany was to hand over all merchant ships of over 1600 tonnes, half of those between 800 and 1600 tonnes and one quarter of her fishing fleet.
  • She was also to build 200,000 tonnes of shipping for the Allies in each of the next five years.
  • Large quantities of coal were to be handed over to France, Belgium and Italy for the next ten years.

What was the reaction to the peace settlement in France?
  • The French were unhappy with the terms of the Versailles Treaty and wanted Germany to be punished more severely.
  • French politicians saw reparations as a way of increasing the severity of the treaty.
  • The new German government made its first reparations payment in 1922, but in December announced that it would not be able to make further payments.
  • In January 1923, the Germans stopped coal shipments. The Allied Reparations Commission declared Germany in default and on January 11th.
  • The French and Belgian governments retaliated by sending troops into the Ruhr. They intended to force the Germans to hand over coal and iron ore in place of the payments.
  • The German workers in the Ruhr went on strike and the Weimar government called for passive resistance to the French and Belgians and paid strike pay to workers by printing paper currency. This led to hyperinflation in Germany.
  • The French attempted to set up a separatist movement in then Rhineland, but then cut off the Ruhr from the rest of Germany and brought in their own workers to work in the coalmines.
  • Violence broke out and a number of French soldiers were killed.

What were the results of the occupation of the Ruhr?
  • Inflation in Germany reached ridiculous proportions as the government printed money to pay the strikers. Eventually 62 factories were working around the clock to keep up with demand.
  • The Weimar government became more popular for the first time. Its support for the strikers swung popular opinion behind it.
  • Gustav Stresemann came to power and immediately tackled hyperinflation.
  • Hitler's attempt to seize power in Munich in November (the Beer Hall Putsch) came too late and was a complete flop.
  • Stresemann managed to persuade the French to leave the Ruhr in 1925, after promising to restart Reparation payments.

In April 1924 the Dawes Plan was agreed. Why was the Dawes Plan introduced?
  • Passive resistance was called off by Gustav Stresemann in September 1923.
  • France was beginning to be affected by inflation and Stanley Baldwin the British prime minister asked US banks to support Germany.
  • Reparation payments were set at 1,000,000,000 gold marks per year, increasing to 2,500,000,000.
  • In return Germany received a loan of 800,000,000 gold marks.

What was the reaction to the peace settlement in the USA?
  • Many people thought that the Versailles Treaty was too severe and blamed Woodrow Wilson for staying in Europe for too long.
  • The Treaty of Versailles was never ratified by Congress and the USA adopted a policy of isolation.