World War I: Versailles Peace Treaty Provisions

Figure 1.-- Here a grouip of Hitler Youth boys examine a Versailles Peace Treaty marker. Think it may have been a a boundary marker. The NAZIs began overturning the Versailles boundaries beginning with the Saarland plebecite.

The most striking aspect of the Treaty was the war guilt clause. Article 231 placed the plame for the War fully on Germany. This justified Article 228 which caused for punishing Germany "for acts gainst the laws and customs of war". And this included extensive war reparations. The other significant provisions of the Treaty was territorial concessions by Germany. There were, however, many other provisions of the Treaty which affected Germany. Especially galling for German pride was the limitatioins on the German military. The complete text of the treaty is available on-line.

War Guilt

The most striking aspect of the Treaty was the war guilt clause. Article 231 placed the plame for the War fully on Germany. This justified Article 228 which caused for punishing Germany "for acts gainst the laws and customs of war". There was no debazte permitted the Germans on this. It was either accept the Treary in its entirity or face occupation.


The Treaty afixed the blame for the War on Germany. Article 231 begins, "The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies." his justified Article 228 which caused for punishing Germany "for acts gainst the laws and customs of war". And this included extensive war reparations. Clemanceau demanded that Germany must pay Reparations to cover the cost of rebuilding the parts of France that had been destroyed during the war (750,000 houses and 23,000 factories had been destroyed). There was relatively little damage in Germany as the war on the Western Front had been fought in Belgium and France. The Germans offered to pay 40 billion marks in reparations by 1926. Reparations were to take 30 years to pay. The sum involved was not only completely beyond Germany's capacity to pay, but also violated the clear understandings leading to the November 11 Armistice. [Wells, p. 934.]


Territorial concessions by Germany were significant and accounted for about 13 percent of the German Empire's pre-World War I territory. German diplomats were shoocked when they wwre presented with the Allied plans. Most Germans had expected with the exception of Alsace-Loraine, a return to the 1914 borders. The provisions in the east were particularly shocking. It does not seem to have dawned ob the Germans the even more severe territorial concessions that they had enforced on Russia at Brest-Litovsk. There were important territorial concessions to new and existing countries. Restrictions were put on some areas that Germany retained. Some of these concessions were specified in the Versailles Treaty which with over 200 pages was very complicated. Other territorial change were to be decided by the wishes of the people or by the new League of Nations through plebecites.


Belgium upon whose territory much of the war in the West was fought received the small districts of Eupen, Malmédy, and Moresnet.


Germany ceded part of Upper Silesia to the new Czech state.


Danzig was ceded to the Allies who made it a Free City under the authority of the League, but subject to Polish jurisdiction concerning customs and foreign relations.


Plebecites were held in February and March to determine the status of northern and central Schleswig. Denmark had not been involved in the War, but Bismarck had engineered a war with Denmark in 1864 over Schlewig-Holstein. Northern Schleswig went back to Denmark, but central Schleswig remained in Germany.


Alsace-Loraine which had been seized by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War were returned to France.


A League of Nations Commission was given responsible for the Saar Basin for 15 years. The arrangemenrs concerning the Saar or Saarland, a thoroughly German area, were exccedingly complicated. After the 15-year period, a plebecite would determine the future disposition. The west bank of the Rhine, commonly referred tomas the Rhineland, had to be demilitarized as well as the west bank to a depth of 150 kilometers. the island of Heligoland was demilitarized. The Kiel Canal was opened to the ships of all nations. The almost entirely German city of Danzig was made a free city, but in effect virtually a Polish city. [Wells, p. 934.]


The port of Memel and surrounding territory was ceded to the League which eventually awarded it to Lithuanua.


Germany had to relinquish considerable territory to the new Polish sate. Large parts of Posen and central Prussia were ceded. Plebesites were held in July 1920 in southeastern Prussia and the Marienwerder district of West Prussia. The results were substantial majorities wanted to remain in Germany. Also at issue was Upper Silesia. When the Polish Army tried to seize the area without a plebecite, they were repulsed by a Freikorps unit. The plebecite was duly held (March 1921). The Council of the League of Nations still awarded part of the region to Poland. The Poles attempted to seize some areas by force. The German Government was afraid to use the Army to intervene. But the Frei Korps did resist the Poles.

Colonies and Concessions

Germany wa required to renounce all overseas concessions that it had obtained from China, Egypt, Morocco, Russia (Siberia), Siam (Thailand), and Turkey. German rights in Shantung (China) were ceded to Japan. Germany colonies in Africa (Southwest Africa) and the Pacific were ceded to the Allies to be administered by mandatories appointed by the League.


Germany was requited to abolish compulsory universal military service. The army had to be reduced to 96,000 men and 4,000 officers who had to be recruited voluntarily. Production and importation of nearly all war material had to cease. The navy had ti be limited to six battleships, six light cruisers, and 12 torpedo boats. No submarines (U-boats) were permitted. The navy had to be limited to 15,000 officers and men. Al military and naval aviation had to be terminated by October 1, 1919.

Allied Commission of Control

An inter-Allied Commission of Control was established and authorized to conduct inspections and investigations.


There were several other provisions on a variety of different matters. Germany had to surrender her 14 submarine cables. The country also had to agree to allow the trial of the former Kaiser by an international court on the charge of "supreme offense against international morality" and of other officials for violation of the laws and customs of war and other offenses. In the end, the Allies were unable to try Kaiser Wilhelm. He had fled to the Netherlands and the Dutch refused to give him up.


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Created: 12:45 AM 6/5/2009
Last updated: 12:45 AM 6/5/2009