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On this day in history in 1918, an armistice was declared, bringing an end to the First World War.
The armistice was timed for the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918. It is claimed that this combination was a mere coincidence, but cynics say that it was a public relations exercise, and that lives were lost by delaying the end of the war to achieve a fatuous combination of digits.
The First World War had started in 1914, after years of hostility between France and Germany. Britain had been pulled into the war as an ally of France, having signed the Entente Cordial in 1904. When the war broke out, Germany had attacked France by storm and had almost taken Paris, when the French retaliated with a head on assault at the Marne, stopping the German battalions but not defeating them. A stalemate resulted, with each side digging defensive trenches along a line from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier.
The British army joined the French, pursuing a weary campaign of sniping at the enemy from the trenches, interrupted by occasional forays over the trench walls and coming face to face with the enemy. The Americans joined the trenches in 1917, and brought in tanks in an attempt to break the deadlock. After four years of dogged fighting and a total of 10 million deaths, it became clear that the German army could not carry on the fight. The Germans were running out of materiel, facing starvation at home, and frustrated soldiers were deserting. In October 1918, the German generals asked for a cease fire.
There were long and protracted negotiations. The Germans would not surrender and the Allies, British French and Americans, had fought too long to accept that kind of a truce where the other side remained fully armed. They needed the Germans to disarm, and demanded severe conditions for an armistice. On 10th November 1918, the German government collapsed and the Kaiser abdicated, leaving the German army no choice but to accept the Allies terms. It was mutually agreed that each side would simultaneously cease fire the next day, 11th November, at noon, German time, corresponding to 11-00 A.M. British time.
At the treaty of Versailles, 1919, the Allies insisted that the German state, forfeit a considerable amount of territory, in the hope that an emaciated Germany would not be able to go to war again. This hope was thwarted in 1939, when the Germans precipitated the Second World War.
Winter, Jay M. The Great War in History.
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