At 0830 on the morning of November 11, word was received at 89th Division headquarters that an armistice would go into effect at 1100 and that all firing should cease at that time.
The 89th Division had gone from St. Mihiel to the battle of Meuse-Argonne, with the offensive beginning on November 1. The battle was one of the biggest of the war. Fierce fighting had raged for 10 days.
Note: The following information on the Armistice is excerpted from “Why World War I Ended With an Armistice Instead of a Surrender”, on History.com.
The Germans had started making overtures about an armistice in early October. At first they tried to go through U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, fearing that the British and the French would insist upon harsh terms. But that didn’t succeed.
The Germans finally sent a late-night radio message to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, commander-in-chief of the Allied forces, requesting permission to send a delegation through the lines to negotiate an armistice, and asked for a general cease-fire. Forty-five minutes later, Foch replied. He ignored the cease-fire request, but gave the Germans permission to come.
On the night of November 7, three automobiles made their way through no-man’s land in northern France, as a German bugler sounded a truce and another soldier waved a white flag. The German envoys boarded a French train and traveled through the night. On the morning of November 8, they pulled into a railroad siding in the Forest of Compiègne, alongside Foch’s railroad car.
For the Germans, there was the fear of national disgrace. Whoever proposed a laying-down of arms would be hated by militaristic Germans for the rest of his life. Indeed, Matthias Erzberger, the politician who reluctantly agreed to lead the German delegation, would be murdered not quite three years later by German ultra-nationalist extremists.
There wasn’t much negotiation. French General Maxime Weygand read the terms that the Allies had decided upon.
The Germans became distraught that they would have to disarm, fearing that they’d be unable to defend their government against communist revolutionaries. But they had little leverage.
On the morning of November 11, Erzberger and Foch met for the final negotiations. The German emissary tried his best to persuade Foch to make the agreement less severe. Foch made a few small changes, including letting the Germans keep a few of their weapons. Finally, just before dawn, the agreement was signed.
The Germans agreed to pull their troops out of France, Belgium and Luxembourg within 15 days, or risk becoming prisoners of the Allies. They had to turn over their arsenal, including 5,000 artillery pieces, 25,000 machine guns and 1,700 airplanes, along with 5,000 railroad locomotives, 5,000 trucks and 150,000 wagons. Germany also had to give up the contested territory of Alsace-Lorraine. And they agreed to the indignity of Allied forces occupying German territory along the Rhine, where they would stay until 1930.
When the 89th Division received the word of the armistice, orders were sent out immediately to the battalions by whatever means possible – phone, courier, runner, etc. Artillery was ordered to stop firing at 1045 in order to avoid mistakes.
And so it was that the guns fell silent on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
Here’s an amazing “recording” of the sound of the Armistice. It reconstructs the sound for two minutes, from 1059 to 1101.
The End of the War shows a ‘recording’ made on film of sound pressure impulses picked up by ‘sound ranging’ equipment stationed along the allied front.
Obviously, the world rejoiced.
The division was reassigned to the Army of Occupation, and on November 24 began a march into Germany.
The division stayed in Germany until May 6, 1919, at which time it returned to the U.S.
On November 11, Ben was in Beau Desert Convalescent Camp near Bordeaux, waiting to be reassigned to his unit. The doctor had written on October 13 that he would be “ready in a short time”.
The Armistice changed all that.
On November 25, 1918, the War Department modified General Orders that changed conditions for those in hospitals and convalescent units.
Now the attention of medical officers would no longer focus on physical reclamation of the soldier for duty, but rather on making the soldier fit to return to civilian life as soon as possible.
Here’s what it meant for Ben:
- He would not be transferred back to his division.
- He would be incorporated into a newly formed convalescent unit.
- He would be sent to the convalescent center at Camp Funston.
- He would be discharged as soon as possible.
Do you think he was happy?
Legacy of November 11
November 11 itself would become a hallowed day in the U.S. In 1919, President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day, which in 1926 became a permanent legal holiday.
And in 1954, the U.S. Congress—at the urging of veterans’ organizations—changed its name to Veterans Day to honor service members who had served in World War II and the Korean War.
- Convalescent Centers – Section IV – Office of Medical History – U.S. Army Medical Department
- Armistice information and photos – https://www.history.com/news/world-war-i-armistice-germany-allies
- Making a New World: Armistice Soundwave – Coda to Coda – https://codatocoda.com/blog/making-a-new-world-armistice-soundwave/
- Newpaper – Armistice – The Hanover Democrat – November 15, 1918
- Armistice celebration photo – WikiCommons
- Veterans Day poster – US Goverment
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