Signing of the armistices in 1918
The battles of late 1918 were disastrous for Germany and its allies. On 30 October 1918, the Allies signed the Armistice of Mudros with the Ottoman Empire. In western Europe, Germany, France, USA and the British Empire, including Australia, signed the Armistice of 11 November 1918. Negotiations with Germany and the Ottoman Empire most directly affected the Australian troops. Similar negotiations led to an armistice with both Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria.
Situation for Germany and the Ottoman Empire
At the start of October, Germany's military situation was poor.
On 29 September, British, Australian and American troops breached the Hindenburg Line during the Battle of St Quentin Canal. This highlighted Germany's hopeless situation to its leaders.
On the same day, in response to operations on the Western Front and the news that Bulgaria was suing for peace, General Erich Ludendorff told Field Marshal Paul von Hindenberg that Germany needed an armistice.
At a meeting of the German Army High Command on 1 October, Ludendorff declared that Germany had lost the war.
The situation was worsened by the naval blockade on Germany and the country's poor economic situation. Changes in the German government led to the liberal-minded Prince Max of Baden becoming Chancellor on 3 October. Prince Max sought to begin negotiations with the Allies.
British victory at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 marked the end of the Palestine campaign. The Ottoman Empire responded to this defeat and recognised that the war was no longer winnable. The Grand Vizier, Talaat Pasha, encouraged the ruling party to resign.
Ahmed Pasha, who replaced Talaat Pasha on 14 October, began negotiations to end the war in the Middle East.
Negotiation of the armistices
Truce with the Ottoman Empire
Turkish moves began on 16 October when Ahmed Pasha released British Major-General Sir Charles Townshend, who had been captured at Kut in 1916. Townshend carried a message to the Allies from the Ottoman Empire to request peace negotiations.
On 27 October, Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, the commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, received a Turkish delegation led by Rauf Bey onboard HMS Agamemnon.
After several days' negotiation, the Armistice of Mudros was signed between Britain and the Ottoman Empire. It came into effect on 31 October.
The agreement was not without its controversy.
Britain excluded the French and Italians from negotiations. French Premier George Clemenceau and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando let British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George know they were displeased when they met with him.
After the armistice was signed, the Allies occupied critical points of the Ottoman Empire. It seems bittersweet that Australian troops were involved in the occupation of the Gallipoli peninsula, where many of their comrades had died.
After Prince Max became Chancellor of Germany, attempts at negotiations began in earnest.
On 4 October, the Germans sent a note to President Woodrow Wilson seeking negotiations based on his Fourteen Points agenda. Some exchanges ensued between Wilson and the German government with a critical issue being the position of the Kaiser Wilhelm II.
On 29 October, Wilhelm departed for the German Army's headquarters at Spa in Belgium, and on 9 November Prince Max announced that he had abdicated the throne. Wilhelm fled to Holland and formally abdicated in November.
Last-ditch efforts from Germany
Around the same time, Ludendorff, who had advocated for peace, began to reconsider his position. He pushed for a renewed effort by the German Army. This was unrealistic both from Germany's strategic position and the morale of the army.
Similarly, the Imperial German Navy tried one last attack against the British Grand Fleet, which led to a mutiny on 29 October.
These events, coupled with the worsening situation on the German home front, made the armistice a high priority.
Final terms for the agreement
Meanwhile, the Allies were still debating the terms of any peace negotiations.
At a meeting at the Palace of Versailles on 29 October, plans for peace were discussed based on the different views of Wilson and the supreme Allied commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch.
By 5 November, the Allies agreed to meet the German delegations. The next day, Germany's Secretary of State Matthias Erzberger departed for France. He arrived at Compiègne on 8 November and was presented with terms by Foch. There was no room for negotiation. Despite asking for an immediate cessation of hostilities, Foch made it clear that the war would continue until Germany accepted the terms of the armistice.
At 5am on 11 November 1918, Erzberger signed the armistice that came into effect at 11am and ended the fighting in World War I.
Australia's reaction to the armistice
Sir Harry Gullett was the official historian of the Australian Imperial Force's contribution to the campaign in Palestine. He reflected on the Armistice of Mudros:
After more than two and a half years in the saddle, marching and fighting almost incessantly in a desert alien land, the light horsemen might have been expected to greet this armistice with demonstrations of relief and joy. But the news was received calmly, almost with stolid indifference. In some measure the absence of excitement was perhaps tied to the fact that the armistice had been fully anticipated, but in the main it was due to mental and physical weariness and to sharp personal sorrow.
The Official Historian, Charles Bean, described the armistice in Europe in a more matter of fact manner. He simply stated, after a description of the process leading up to that point, that:
The end of the war had come almost as suddenly as its beginning.
On 11 November, Governor-General of Australia Sir Ronald Ferguson received a cablegram from the Secretary of State for the Colonies on behalf of King George V. The message announced the signing of the armistice with Germany and thanked the Australian people for their support. In his reply, Ferguson wrote:
The People of Australia rejoice with the whole Empire in the success of the Allies and in the hour of victory renew their devoted allegiance to Your Majesty's throne and person.
On 12 November, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article describing the reaction of Sydney's population to the signing of the armistice. The article was titled 'ENORMOUS CROWDS IN STREETS. NOISE AND PATRIOTIC SONGS'.
Soldiers at the front received news of the armistice with a mixture of relief and sorrow at the enormous loss of life. Newspaper reports of the reaction in Australia stood in contrast to the soldiers' subdued reaction. But while there were wild celebrations across the country, too many people were mourning a lost loved one for there to be universal joy.
The commander of the Australian Corps, General Sir John Monash, noted in a letter dated 12 November that:
Naturally everybody in France is in the highest spirits. All the little villages and larger towns, even those which are no a mere heap of bricks, are bedecked with flags or all colours, and the emaciated and careworn villagers who have been for four years under enemy dominion, are at last wreathed in happy smiles. The country is, however, absolutely denuded of supplies, and such things as vegetables, eggs, milk and comforts of that kind, are not to be had. The problem of supply, so far away from the coast, is going to be a particularly difficult one, as the railways are very congested. However, as the enemy has to hand over to us at once 5,000 locomotives, and something like 100,000 railway waggons, the situation should, in a little while, be much relieved.
Monash's somewhat muted comment came at the end of a long description about the prospective move of the Australian Corps into Germany.
Finally, Captain Reginald Heywood of the Australian Army Veterinary Corps recorded in his diary on 11 November that:
Darkie woke me with the news that we are out of a job and that Fritz [Germany] has caved in. Goodness knows how the news got through. Early civilian travellers from Abbeville had the good oil and the 14th Bn. picked it up on their wireless later.
Then Brig. Gen. Brockman announced it in the square at Picquigny amidst great excitement and by midday the town wore a most gaudy and beflagged appearance. Every lorry Bike and other vehicle flew the French tricolour derived from a stock which came to light in a most mysterious manner.
By a strange coincidence the Canuks [Canadians] had just got Mons so that famous place figures for England and her Dominions in the opening and the finish of the war.