B.A.: The 11/11 11 question

11

“Since this was addressed in a comic, I feel justified asking a question that’s always bothered me: was there a practical reason the war ended on 11/11 at precisely 11, or were the diplomats just being cute? And if it was the latter, did they really not understand it could end badly?”

33 Comments

  1. Everything I have read is unclear if there was a practical reason for a six hour delay. The 11-11-11 time seems to have been diplomats being cute. Though as a practical matter it would appear likely that six hours would be needed to get the word out to everyone on the front.

    In any case, there were large numbers of unnecessary casualties that morning.

  2. I should imagine there was the practicality of communicating with everyone, and 11am on 11/11 was at least memorable so there would be little confusion.

    But even it was a good idea for the Armistice itself to come into effect at a precise and memorable time, fighting could have been reduced considerably by means of a truce and people not continuing to attack the essentially defeated German forces a couple of days earlier. According to this article http://www.historynet.com/world-war-i-wasted-lives-on-armistice-day.htm “it had been known unofficially for two days that the fighting would end that day and known with absolute certainty as of 5 o’clock that morning that it would end at 11 a.m.”. A lot of junior people were dismayed to have to carry on fighting on the last morning, and middling officers dismayed to be ordered to carry on too.

    Apparently the German representative at the armistice talks Matthias Ezberger, asked for the fighting to stop ASAP.; on average, 2,250 troops on all sides were dying on the Western Front every day. “‘For God’s sake, Monsieur le Marechal,’ Erzberger pleaded, ‘do not wait for those seventy-two hours. Stop the hostilities this very day.’ The appeal fell on deaf ears.” The article continues by saying Marshal Foch wanted to proceed to the last minute, and the US General Pershing was keen not to have an armistice at all but carry on until Germany’s unconditional surrender.

    It goes into considerable detail about the subsequent Congressional investigation of the issue, and the submissions to it, and about Henry Gunther’s last minute dash.

    It ends: “Indeed, Armistice Day exceeded the ten thousand casualties suffered by all sides on D-Day […] Had Marshal Foch heeded the appeal of Matthias Erzberger on November 8 to stop hostilities while the talks went on, some sixty-six hundred lives would likely have been saved.”

  3. I think you hinted at the answer in your question. This war was often labeled as “The War to End All Wars (which it clearly didn’t). Stopping the conflict on 11-11 at 11 was probably as much a newsprint mnemonic as a diplomatic one. It certainly wasn’t a tactical one.

  4. November 11th was more accidental than planned, that’s just the day that they finally finished negotiating. However, once that was fixed, and in consideration that they would definitely need several hours to communicate the orders to all forces, selecting 11:00 seems emininently logical. If they were being “cute”, they would have picked 11:11 am.
    P.S. Armistice Day is not observed as such in Germany, although the 100th anniversary was

  5. The stupid capriciousness of the generals in WWI is almost a cliché at this point (the movie Gallipoli, Black Adder Goes Fourth, this story about more losses on Armistice day than D-day gaining traction) and I wonder if, regardless of truth or accuracy, it isn’t due for a backlash as its clicheity is recognized and exploited as a cheap way to be that extra-smart-contrary person — everyone knows the cliché of the idiot uncaring blustering WWI general, so it is counter-intuitive to present one as knowing exactly what he was doing, and as we all know, everything that is true is counter-intuitive (until, by the same logic, it isn’t…), so I will make a mint writing a novel or filming a movie, in which the bumbling idiot general is in fact crazy like a fox and saving millions of lives by seemingly carelessly throwing them away…

  6. Clearly it DIDN’T take that long for word to get out, based on the morning’s carnage.

    My takeaway from the A&J strip wasn’t “Remember the veteran”, but “whoever made this decision should have been taken out and shot.”

  7. The German president came to London and laid a wreath at the Cenotaph for the first time: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/remembrance-sunday-german-leader-lays-13571702 . He went second, just after Prince Charles, who went first representing the Queen, and before everyone else, which included Prince Charles representing himself (he laid two wreaths) and the current Prime Minister and the previous ones still alive, and the High Commissioners of India, Australia, Canada and everywhere else, and the Chiefs of Staff too.

    I witnessed part of the funeral procession for Harry Patch, the “last fighting Tommy”, who died at 111 in Wells, which is a few miles from me. His coffin was paraded along the High Street from his retirement home to Wells Cathedral for a service before being taken to near Bath, where he was from and was buried. As part of the party marching up the High Street with his coffin he requested (and got) a current serving soldier from Germany as well as one each from the UK, France and Belgium. (If Americans are feeling left out, he was invalided out of the trenches in 1917, before the major influx of US troops, so I suppose he never saw any).

    “Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims” was one of his quoted remarks. Another is “We are two civilised nations – British and German – and what were we doing? We were in a lousy, dirty trench fighting for our lives? For what? For eighteen pence a flipping day.”

  8. Given the amount of concentrated and fractal stupid that WWI was, giving people an extra several hours to murder each other barely even rates.

    NOTHING in WWI makes sense.

  9. This past Saturday I was with some friends and I happened to remark that the next day was Armistice Day. Much to my surprise none of my friends had even heard of it – I even gave them the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” quote and got nothing but blank stares which made me quite sad…

    On a related note, PBS’ American Experience has an excellent 3-part series on WWI which you can watch online for free. (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/great-war/)

  10. From one of my Scottish cousins. An extract from a letter that her great-great uncle [another cousin umpteen times removed], who had lived south of Glasgow, sent from Austria in April 1915:

    “It is terrible just now. We are pushing them back slowly, but we are paying a price for it and no mistake. You people only read about the 3rd or 4th stage of the battle; you have only to see the first and second stages, and then you would put fighting out of fashion. Words cannot describe the horribleness of it. It sounds all right to read about the noise and crash of battle; and the glorious charges and victories, but, oh! what an aftermath! – thousands lying in all sorts of positions and the wounded crying for water and relief and no help for them; and then, the slightly wounded, streaming all roads in search of a dressing station to get their wounds attended to; and everywhere motors, waggons, and munition tumbrils, loaded with wounded. Shells bursting all around, and the rattle of machine guns make you quite silly and dazed, or excited, and hysterical. I have got the luck myself. Twice in one night my right and left hand men were bowled over, and I got off uninjured. But you never know your luck – here today and gone tomorrow.”

    He died of mustard gas poisoning three days after writing this.

  11. Might I recommend two books about WWI (fiction, nonetheless horrifying, but books that will stay in your mind for a long time): Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’, and it’s sequel, ‘A God in Ruins’.

  12. I had an interesting “World War One experience” a few years ago…

    I happened to have been midway through a book about the war at the time, and I was of course totally #TeamAllies. My family had lived in Austria-Hungary at the time, but for some fairly obvious reasons I don’t feel much kinship with Austria.

    Then at a family event, my cousin happened to mention “You know, Grandpa fought in the first World War.”
    “He what?”
    “For the Austrian Army.”
    “But he would have been way too young.”
    “He lied about his age to enlist.”
    “How did I never know this?”
    “In fact, his service during the war was one of the factors that helped our family escape in 1939.”
    “…”

    And just like that, the book I’d been reading spun on its axis. The soldiers I’d been conditioned to think of as the “bad guys” was now… my grandfather.

    The soldier Arlo’s father ran into could have been Grandpa (different war, but the principle’s the same).

    Nothing personalizes war like suddenly facing how easily somebody could have been “the enemy.”

  13. In panel 1, i guess the soldiers are wearing gas masks ? They don’t look like traditional WWI helmets. In fact, they look more like snakes,or the troopers from Star Wars.

  14. Once I was perusing a list of special-qualification scholarship awards, and saw one for descendants of WWI vets. My parents told me my grandfather had in fact been in the Russian army. But a quick inquiry with the scholarship sponsors made clear they meant U.S. veterans.

    (Further family lore: his unit became part of the Red Army during the Civil War. But a few years later, he and my grandmother decided they didn’t care for the Soviet Union after all, and they were able to emigrate, including my Aunt Marie who had already been born there. Her four younger brothers, including my father, were all born in Ohio. Despite the bad experience with state Communism, they were politically Leftists, active in the labor movement, and some of them even actual “card-carrying members” of CPUSA!)

  15. larK: The cliche of the clueless WW1 general is generally false. They were learning all the time, and changing tactics as they learned. For example, the First Battle of Ypres showed the folly of charging in ranks against massed rifle fire (not even much machine gun or artillery yet), so that lesson learned, generals stopped doing it. Other things were tried such as hitting defenders with huge artillery barrages to force them to underground to allow the attackers time to cover the no-man land, but it also told the defenders where the attack was going to be so they could call for reinforcements. So more complicated tactics involving feints were tried. Occasionally desperate times still called for direct assaults, but these were rare.

    https://www.quora.com/Why-did-the-British-call-for-bayonet-charges-during-the-WWI-when-the-commanders-knew-it-would-result-in-their-soldiers-being-wiped-out

  16. At least early on in the first war, it wasn’t terribly clear who were the “good guys” and “bad guys”. I recall stories about German-American groups raising funds to support the war effort back home. After all, the British hadn’t been our friends that much through history. We were much more in support of the French.

  17. Follow-up to my previous post: how did I not know until today that my family (in 1939) had actually been days away from going to China rather than the United States?

    Which means this site would have been called 我不明白这些漫画.

  18. Bill: naw, probably it would be קריקטורות אני לא מבין
    According to Wikipedia, most of the Jews who fled to China during that period later emigrated to Israel after the founding of the PRC…

  19. One of Robert’s grandfathers fought under Pershing in the Mexican part of WWI – he was in the Calvary. He was an immigrant and went into the army as (in Italian – as I don’t have time to look up the name in Italian as R is waiting for me to go up to bed) St the John the Baptist Ambrosini. He came out of the war as James Ambrose and a citizen.

    There was a cease fire that was signed first to allow for the negotiation of the Armistice. The soldier killed was an African American soldier at 10:59 am supposedly and a from the British army one at 10:58 am.

    I was awake at 5 am on the morning of the 11th and watched the ceremonies in Paris before going to sleep. I was surprised that PM May of the UK did not seem to be there. In the overtalk by the announcer (all news stations seemed to have the same feed) it was mentioned that the leaders of all of the 70 countries which had fought in the war were there – which seems to me that she should have been there – or someone representing her.

    If you did not see it – it was pouring rain. The leaders came to the area on buses and then walked side by side (more or less) up the street to Arc d’ Triumph where the ceremonies were held – luckily there was a roof set up. Missing from this group was T rump who arrived by limp after they were seated with the Mrs. (he and Macron had their wives, others did not seem to) and then after they were seated, Putin arrived by Limo (alone) also. There was a review of the (ceremonial) troops by Macron. Yoyo Ma played along with a violinist. There were readings by French high school students of letters that soldiers wrote afterwards about the end of the war. There was a EU high school orchestra which played Revel’s Bolero (another piece of his was played earlier). A woman singer also performed (missed her name). Macron gave the speech that excerpts of which were shown.

    Then they went to lunch.

  20. Concerning the generals ordering last minute attacks: These were, of course, utterly futile. The Armistice dictated, that the germans leave the occupied territories and surrender their weapons (at least part of them), gaining more territory was utterly pointless if the other side had agreed to withdraw anyway.

    What I myself learned only recently is that the allies were not the only ones trying last minute attacks: The German navy ordered an attack of almost the whole fleet against England, keeping the plans secret from the government. This was at the end of october, negotiations for the end of the war were already underway. Fortunately, many German sailors in Kiel actually refused the order at the 29th october (“Kieler Matrosenaufstand” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiel_mutiny). This uprising lead almost directly to the resignation of the German Kaiser and the formation of a German republic.

    So, sometimes the most despicable and idiotic war atrocities lead to start something positive. I just wish this could happen more often without the actual war and atrocities in between (especially considering that this republic was usurped by even worse war mongers only a few decades later).

  21. Markus: “This uprising lead almost directly to the resignation of the German Kaiser and the formation of a German republic. So, sometimes the most despicable and idiotic war atrocities lead to start something positive.”

    And… how did that whole “German republic” thing work out? I’m not sure I’d put that in the “something positive” folder.

  22. CIDU BIll: Indeed, that was what I was trying to say with my last sentence, though it came out muddled: It would habe been even more preferable to learn the lessons of having crazed megalomaniacs starting WWII, without actually having to endure said megalomaniacs bringing pain, destruction and genocide to half of Europe.

    Even so, ending the German militaristic empire at the end of WWI was a step in the right direction at the time. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to lasting stability and peace.

  23. Markus: I would actually say that the formation of the Republic was so poorly timed that it was actually bad. i.e. not a good step that didn’t do quite enough good, but rather something whose timing was so bad that it was actually a negative.

    The German generals had always claimed that the war was going quite well for Germany. So when the Republic was formed, followed almost immediately by an Armistice and a humiliating treaty, it was easy to blame the Republic for it. Creating a Republic five years earlier or five years later might have been good, but it was pretty disasterous that it was formed then.

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