Tasker H. Bliss Papers

[BC–A and BC–A1]

Notes of a Meeting of the Supreme War Council Held at Quai d’Orsay at 2:30 on January 12, 1919

Were present:

United States: The President
The Hon. Robert Lansing
General Bliss
Mr. Frazier
France: M. Clemenceau
M. Pichon
Marshal Foch
General Weygand
M. Clementel
M. Leygues
M. Klotz
M. Loucheur
M. Dutasta
M. Berthelot
Comte de Bearn
Great Britain: Mr. Lloyd George
Mr. Balfour
Sir Henry Wilson
Sir Maurice Hankey
Italy: Signor Orlando
Baron Sonnino
Comte Aldrovandi

M. Pichon, who was the Chairman, opened the session by calling upon Marshal Foch to give an account of the fulfilment of the terms of the armistice with Germany, an armistice which had been extended from December 17 [13] to January 17 and which was to be extended again.

Marshal Foch said that the terms of the armistice had only been partially fulfilled, especially as far as the delivery of railway material was concerned. The delivery of war material was nearly complete: 5000 guns and 25,000 machine guns having already been delivered; there were still a certain number of heavy guns not yet delivered and also a number of minenwerfer. In general, however, he could say that the material of war would soon be delivered. Up to the 9th of January, 1967 locomotives out of 5000 had been delivered. Of 150,000 freight cars, up to January 9, 1919, only 61560 had been delivered. Nearly all of the motor trucks had been delivered, to be exact: 4422 out of 5000. All of the aeroplanes had been received, 1700 in all. On January 8th the total number of French prisoners repatriated was 458,355, the remainder still in [Page 496] Germany amounted only to 28,000. Marshal Foch stated that he had many observations to make regarding the treatment of French prisoners, the state of misery in which they had been found and especially the sufferings which they had endured in the last few weeks. A number of soldiers had been deliberately killed by being shot at in the camps.

Mr. Lloyd George inquired whether the sentinels had actually fired at the prisoners.

Marshal Foch stated that this was the case, that they had repeatedly demanded that the guilty should be tried and suffer the penalty, but nothing had been done.

Mr. Lloyd George again expressed surprise and stated that he had never heard of this matter. He asked whether evidence of specific cases existed. Marshal Foch thereupon called upon General Weygand to read out the depositions of eye-witnesses who had been present when German sentinels fired upon French prisoners. General Weygand then read out several depositions.

M. Clemenceau asked whether there were any new conditions to be added to the extension of the armistice. Marshal Foch replied that in the extension of the armistice they should include problems relating to the Polish situation. (Annexure No. 1.)1

President Wilson pointed out that perhaps it might be unwise to express an opinion on this subject by itself because it would form a part of a much vaster problem; there was great doubt in his mind as to whether Bolshevism could be checked by arms, therefore it seemed to him unwise to take action in a military form before the Powers were agreed upon a course of action for checking Bolshevism as a social and political danger.

Mr. Lloyd George was in entire agreement with President Wilson upon this point. He thought the Polish problem could not be treated apart from the general situation; he felt that at the earliest possible moment the problem should be studied and a general policy adopted.

M. Clemenceau stated that he believed that a decision in this case may better be postponed until the whole question of Bolshevism could be dealt with at one time.

Mr. Balfour asked whether this contingency was not provided for in clause 16 of the armistice.

M. Pichon then read out clause 16 which, in the opinion of the meeting conferred sufficiently wide powers. M. Pichon stated that it was necessary to consider the question of the Russian prisoners of war.

[Page 497]

Mr. Lloyd George believed that there were 1,200,000 of such prisoners in a state of liberty who were now crossing the frontier; they were asked by Bolshevists either to join their party or to have their throats cut. He thought the treatment of these prisoners was a part of the whole general problem; it was not merely a question of feeding them. The great question was whether the Allies could move them to Ukraine or to any other part of Russia. Signor Orlando was entirely in accord with Mr. Lloyd George.

Marshal Foch called the attention of the Council to conditions which he proposed, namely that a Commission should be formed at Berlin, composed of Delegates of all the Powers and that they might occupy themselves with the question of the prisoners under the general supervision of the I. A. Committee at Spa.

Baron Sonnino asked whether the clauses of the armistice conferred upon the Allies the right of directing prisoners to any particular part of Russia. He wished to know whether they had sufficient powers to do this.

Marshal Foch was of the opinion that there was nothing in the armistice which gave them such authority.

Mr. Balfour thought it was unnecessary to come to any decision yet upon the question of repatriation.

The President felt that Russia itself was in a condition which the Allies did not like and could not control. Russia being in the condition in which she was, he did not believe it possible to introduce such a decision into the terms of an armistice.

Baron Sonnino believed that in the clauses of the armistice there was sufficient authority to provide for the feeding of the prisoners, but nothing to decide where such prisoners were to be sent to.

Marshal Foch did not believe that was the question at issue. He wished to know whether the Governments were agreed that an I. A. Commission should be formed at Berlin under the general supervision of the Committee at Spa to do everything necessary for revictualling the prisoners without any conditions being attached.

M. Pichon found that the meeting agreed in approving the suggestions of Marshal Foch.

Mr. Balfour asked whether anything should be introduced into the armistice giving the Allies the liberty to deal with the future destinies of the Russians.

The President believed that Marshal Foch should in the meantime be asked to formulate a decision giving the Allies the right to send the prisoners to any part of Russia which they thought fit.

M. Pichon stated that for the renewal of the armistice he had received suggestions from Colonel House and from Comte Bonin2 [Page 498] suggesting that certain technical advisors be named to confer with Marshal Foch in the deliberations preceding the renewal of the armistice.

Marshal Foch stated that there would be no technical advisors practically speaking when the armistice was renewed. He conferred with the technical advisors before talking to the Germans; he and Admiral Wemyss were the only plenipotentiaries who addressed the Germans. He recalled that when hostilities were interrupted he had received full powers from the Supreme War Council to sign for the Governments. It was the plenipotentiaries, not the technical advisors who signed. If it were thought well to choose other plenipotentiaries, then another question was raised.

Baron Sonnino said that he had a communication from M. Klotz concerning financial matters, gold, etc.

M. Clemenceau said that it was after all not a question of military advisors.

The President said he did not understand that it was a question of having plenipotentiaries, but a question of having advisors for the plenipotentiaries.

Mr. Balfour suggested that all four Great Powers send their technical advisors.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that if questions other than military questions were to be discussed, there should certainly be other experts at Spa. Marshal Foch thought that the experts were already there; if there were not enough of them he entirely approved of sending others.

Baron Sonnino thought that there were only a few military gentlemen at Spa, but, to his knowledge, no technical advisors. It was true there were a few French experts, but no British or Americans.

M. Clemenceau was all for sending whatever technical experts were required.

M. Pichon then asked the Minister of Marine, M. Leygues, for a report upon the naval conditions of the armistice.

M. Leygues stated that the I. A. Naval Council in its investigation of the German ports had discovered that 65 German submarines were complete and capable of being towed, and 125 submarines in course of construction. 30 additional ones were at Dantzig or in the Baltic. He proposed as a new condition to the Naval armistice that all the submarines fit to take the sea should be towed to some point in Great Britain, that those in the process of construction should be destroyed, and that no further work should be permitted to take place upon ships of war in German shipyards.

The President asked whether these submarines were in addition to the 160 submarines stipulated.

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Mr. Lloyd George stated that they were in addition; he said that they had only asked for 160, because they thought that Germany had no more; he thought that these pests should be destroyed.

The President asked why this clause was to be added in such a formal manner instead of demanding the fulfilment of the original armistice; he thought it would produce a bad impression if new clauses were added and more demands made than had been originally contemplated. President Wilson then requested to hear the terms of the original armistice; after hearing them read, the President was of the opinion that it was not necessary to do anything further than to prescribe an interpretation of the existing clauses.

Baron Sonnino drew attention to the artfulness of the Germans; he pointed out that to the German mind submarines not completed were not submarines; he thought therefore that they would claim it was not necessary to deliver them.

President Wilson suggested that they say this was the interpretation which they placed upon the terms of the Naval armistice and to insist upon it. What he wished to avoid was, because of mistakes made, to seem to add new conditions.

Baron Sonnino thought that this precaution would be maintained up to the signing of Peace. After that, the Germans would do what they liked with any submarine which remained to them.

The Minister of Marine stated that in addition to the submarines, there were also 800 hydroplanes and 11 zeppelins; he expressed the desire that these airships and hydroplanes be delivered to the Allies or else rendered inutilizable.

Mr. Lloyd George objected that he did not think that they had met to discuss such matters; he thought that they were going to have some sort of agreement between themselves before the formal meetings took place; he thought they were going to have a confidential talk upon important matters. Marshal Foch departed the day after to-morrow and needed instructions to extend the armistice.

The President thought that it was not necessary to have a formal meeting on the following day but they could decide subsequently what would be the best day for such meeting.

Mr. Lloyd George quite agreed that the lengthier conferences could be put off until later.

It was finally agreed that Marshal Foch should furnish the three Governments with a memorandum stating what technical subjects were to be discussed and that the four Governments should then appoint their technical advisors to meet at 10 o’clock on the following day at the Palais d’Orsay. After reaching a decision these technical advisors were to report to the Supreme War Council, which would sit again at 2:30 on the same day. He then decided that the [Page 500] meeting should continue without the military men who thereupon withdrew.

M. Pichon thought that it was in order for the meeting to consider the procedure of the Conference. The French Government had already submitted a draft of such procedure.3 If any other Government had submitted a draft they would be glad to consider it; otherwise, he thought the French document might be taken as a basis.

The President asked whether this subject was not for the more general conference.

M. Pichon stated that there were many things in the procedure which could not be decided without the presence of the delegates, but they should at least decide upon the number of delegates.

Lloyd George had seen the document, and also [although?] he had a few suggestions to make, he thought that the draft was well considered and formed a good basis for discussion.

M. Pichon said they proposed that there should be 5 delegates for each of the great powers.

Baron Sonnino enquired whether they were to be interchangeable.

M. Pichon thought that this was another question which could be raised when the technical advisors were named.

Mr. Lloyd George could not see the object of three delegates for each of the smaller belligerent powers. He thought that for Belgium and Serbia two delegates would be enough and for Siam one. Belgium had been represented at several of the Meetings of the Supreme War Council by one delegate only and she had also found that sufficient. If they increased the number of delegates, there would be a tremendous crowd. He was afraid he would have to press for representation of the Dominions and the Colonies.

President Wilson asked whether that could not be provided for by making the delegates interchangeable.

Mr. Lloyd George replied that they were independent nations and that they had given the British Empire one million of their best troops.

President Wilson suggested that it was rather a psychological matter, that the impression would gain ground that such an addition would be an increase in the representation of Great Britain, the Great Powers would thus be running the Peace Conference.

Mr. Lloyd George remarked that they had run the war.

The President thought that if they restricted themselves to 5 they would remove the impression that they were overloading the top.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that they consider the question of South Africa. They had conquered their enemy; they formed a [Page 501] league amongst themselves which was quite independent of the British Empire; they had a point of view quite different from theirs. What he wished to say was that as Belgium had been satisfied with one representative they consult the small powers only when they wanted them. Australia had furnished more men than either Belgium or Servia; she had had more men killed than the United States. The Colonies had a point of view different from that of the British Empire.

The President requested Mr. Lloyd George to see how it would work out: while Great Britain did not represent her colonies, they were still her friends, so that in all questions affecting the Dominions Great Britain and her Dominions would have 10 votes.

M. Clemenceau objected that there would be no voting, except by countries.

Mr. Lansing suggested that Great Britain had 5 technical advisors in addition to her regular delegates.

The President felt that the Colonies would have ample opportunities to state their views.

Mr. Lloyd George insisted that the contribution of the colonies to the war had been tremendous.

Mr. Lansing found it unjust that those South American Republics which had actually gone to war with Germany should have no better representation than those Republics which had merely broken off relations.

M. Pichon thought that to give Belgium, Serbia and Greece and Roumania the same votes and no more than the South American countries, which had done nothing in the war, would be a great injustice.

Mr. Sonnino then inquired what would be the fate of Montenegro. Mr. Clemenceau replied that he preferred to take up one subject at a time.

Mr. Pichon said it was necessary to decide the question whether the smaller powers which had taken part in the war should have three or two delegates.

Mr. Lloyd George remarked that there seemed to him to be another method of distinguishing between those nations which had taken part in the war and those which had not; that the privilege of frequent attendance should be given to powers which had taken part, and those which had not taken part might be called in less frequently. He was afraid of getting a sort of public meeting.

Mr. Lansing inquired whether the Dominions would have a voice in discussing the question of the disputed boundaries. Mr. Lloyd George answered that they really have a blood interest in France and Belgium.

[Page 502]

The President interposed by saying that he believed that everything which affected the world’s peace was the world’s business. He said he had a sentimental feeling for Belgium, Roumania and Serbia which was affecting his thought, and that he would like to give them a greater proportional representation, if possible.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that the part which they had taken in the struggle should count. The President asked why should Siam have a vote.

Mr. Pichon believed that the meeting should name the powers and their representation in sequence. It was thereupon decided that Belgium should have two (2), Greece two (2), Serbia two (2), Portugal one (1), Siam one (1) and Roumania two (2).

Mr. Balfour said he was the champion of Portugal and he wished to call attention to the fact that she had troops in France and had incurred debts.

Mr. Pichon pointed out that Roumania had treaties with France, Italy and Great Britain which she had made before entering the war.

Mr. Balfour did not mind Roumania being treated as an ally for the purpose of representation, but he did not want to put Roumania in the same position in which she would have been if she had fought successfully to the end. “I think Roumania ought to get a part of Russia.”

Baron Sonnino thought that these were two distinct questions He thought that they all agreed that Roumania deserved two (2) representatives for what she suffered, but that the question of whether the treaty rights were to be restored or not should be held in reserve.

Mr. Pichon then went on with the representation. China was allotted two (2) and Brazil two (2).

Mr. Lloyd George then said that he proposed an amendment about the Dominions. He called attention to the second paragraph of clause two of the French document and suggested that wherever questions arose which interested the Dominions they should have two representatives for each Dominion.

The President begged to make the suggestion that other states had no backers for their Dominions. It is not, he said, as though they were isolated. They would, undoubtedly, welcome advice, but it seemed to him that with five representatives for Great Britain they could interchange their representation. It seemed to him that allowing each Dominion two representatives in addition to the five allowed Great Britain in these International Councils might be open to misconstruction. He suggested that each Dominion have one representative.

Mr. Lloyd George stated that if there were any feeling against the Dominions having two representatives he preferred to have the [Page 503] matter suspended, rather than decided. The President hoped that Mr. Lloyd George did not get the impression that there was the slightest jealousy in his remark.

Mr. Lansing inquired how many Dominions there were. If Newfoundland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and India were included, that would mean five additional representatives.

Mr. Pichon then asked the conference to consider the representation of Poland and the Czecho-Slovaks. It was suggested that Poland should have two (2) and Bohemia two (2).

It was decided that the question of the Dominions would be postponed until the following day.

Mr. Pichon then described the situation in Montenegro at length showing that there were two factions, one claiming that Montenegro desired to be amalgamated with the Greater Serbia, and the other, the party of the King, insisting that the meeting at Podgoritza did not actually reflect the sentiment of the country.

The President said that the action of Serbia toward Montenegro had gone some way toward prejudicing his mind against Serbia. It was absolutely against all principle that the processes of self-government should be forced, and “I consider it likely that the meeting at Podgoritza was an extra constitutional assembly, and called together under conditions which could not be considered legal.” He knew of no reason for the presence of Serbian troops in Montenegro, and the circumstances of the last few months had made him a partisan of the rights of that country.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that Montenegro ought to have the right to state her own case, and we should hear the case before determining it. He said he was not anti-Serbian.

The President disclaimed any anti-Serbian feeling, except in this case. He did not very well see who was to select the Montenegrin representative. The de facto government was under Serbian domination and the King was in exile. While he feels that Montenegro ought to be represented, he did not see how the representative should be chosen.

Mr. Balfour was not quite clear as to what had happened there. Baron Sonnino explained that what happened there had taken place after the armistice, and although according to the terms of the armistice Montenegro was to have been occupied by French troops, no armed forces were sent there except the Servian troops. He argued that as the Serbs and Montenegrins were practically one race, that if the King were allowed to have one representative, the other element would certainly have a representation in the Serbian delegates.

[Page 504]

The President suggested that Montenegro be accorded a representative, and that the problem of how to find him be deferred.

Mr. Pichon remarked that at any rate they ought to know who to inform that the state was entitled to representation.

Baron Sonnino said it comes to this: “That we must ask for a Montenegrin representative through the King of Montenegro.”

The President thought that it was desirable that the meeting should show itself that the man who represented Montenegro actually represented her. He suggested that a representative be assigned to Montenegro, and that the conference reserve its right to examine his credentials. He remarked that Montenegro was as old a political entity as Serbia, and has handsome political history behind it. Mr. Lansing asked, “Do you recognize the King of Montenegro?” He answered, “We do”. Mr. Balfour said, “We pay for him”.

Mr. Pichon thought they were engaging in a theoretical discussion of conditions in Montenegro. He thought they should decide that Montenegro should have a delegate, and that they should in the meantime endeavor to ascertain the real state of affairs in the country.

Baron Sonnino suggested that American troops be sent there to find out exactly what is going on. Mr. Clemenceau remarked that precisely similar conditions existed in other places. The President said he was perfectly willing to send a representative to ascertain the conditions, but he did not think it should be an official representative.

Mr. Lloyd George remarked that he did not think that if an agent was sent that the fact should be recorded. It might create a painful impression if an agent were despatched to an allied Government to investigate conditions.

Mr. Pichon stated that it was very difficult to determine the question of Russian representation without discussing the whole question of Bolshevism. He said that there were different groups of Russians in Paris; namely, Prince Lvoff’s, Sazonoff’s, Tchaikow-ski’s4 parties, the latter the party of Savinkoff. He said these various representatives will be called in to give their views at the conference. He did not believe that they should apply to the Government of Omsk to send representatives, as the French Government did not believe it really representative of the people.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that they should agree upon a policy and should decide whether troops should still be kept there, whether the existing troops should be reinforced, or whether they should be withdrawn. While he did not greatly admire the Bolshevik Government [Page 505] it was, nevertheless, a de facto government recognized by about two-thirds of the people. He hoped that the conference would carefully consider what their attitude should be toward the present Russian Government. He added that to pretend to make a permanent, endurable peace when Siberia and Russia were in a state of civil war would be mockery. In the meantime he protested strongly against the conference choosing representatives for one hundred million Russians.

The President argued that the various Russian leaders in Paris should not be admitted as representatives, but merely be heard.

Mr. Pichon then stated that they would then have to consider the representation of the great powers. It was understood that the enemy powers should not be represented until the Allied powers had reached an [agreement].5

(A remark by the President). Mr. Lloyd George stated that at the Supreme War Council the smaller nations were only consulted when their intentions were involved. The President said he did not like the appearance of consulting nations that we are protecting unless they were interested. Mr. Lansing remarked that if they followed that procedure they would be imitating the Council of Vienna. The President was in favor of holding informal conversations amongst the great powers, but believed that they must have an organization of all the nations, otherwise they would run the risk of having a small number of nations regulate the affairs of the world, and the other nations might not be satisfied.

Mr. Balfour proposed that they have private talks to reach formal conclusions, and then put these conclusions before the smaller nations for their examination and admit them to the conference to hear their observations.

Mr. Clemenceau then spoke at some length: “Am I to understand from the statement of President Wilson that there can be no question however important it may be for France, England, Italy or America upon which the representative of Honduras or of Cuba shall not be called upon to express his opinion? I have hitherto always been of the opinion that it was agreed that the five great Powers should reach their decisions upon important questions before entering the halls of the Congress to Negotiate Peace. If a new war should take place, Germany would not throw all her forces upon Cuba or upon Honduras, but upon France; it would always be upon France. I request then that we stand by the proposals which have been made, proposals to the effect that meetings be held in which the representatives of the five countries mentioned shall participate, to reach decisions upon the important questions, and that the study of secondary [Page 506] questions be turned over to the commissions and the committees before the reunion of the conference. We are not convened to reach a decision upon this subject this evening, and I readily concede that we take into consideration all that President Wilson has just stated. But there is a point that must not be lost to view, I refer to the making public of our deliberations. There is a general expectation on the part of the public which desires that everything occurring in the course of our deliberations, all the subjects that are discussed, shall be made known. If we limit ourselves in our publications to conversations invested with an official character, how can we keep the public informed? Would it not be believed that we are concealing something important? On the contrary, in my judgment, it is of the utmost importance for us to show to the public the results of our labors. Unquestionably the smaller Powers are quite as much interested in the conclusion of a peace as are the great Powers. France, England, the United States and Italy have a great past behind them. Upon them devolves the responsibility for the conclusion of peace and in the negotiations their preponderating roles should be recognized. Unquestionably the smaller Powers have the same moral rights as have the great Powers, but it is impossible to permit the small Powers to render decisions on questions which do not directly concern them in any way. We are ready to do everything that is possible to defend their rights and their interests, but it is not possible to say that all the Powers are upon the same footing when they approach the settlement of the controversies raised by the war.

We have agreed that Japan should have five delegates like the Great Powers. Japan participated in the war in the Far East, but who can say that in the war she played a part that can be compared for instance to that of France? Japan defended its interests in the Far East, but when she was requested to intervene in Europe, everyone knows what the answer of Japan was. The account that has to be settled is not one alone of money; there is an account for the blood shed that has to be settled also; the blood which France has shed gives to France an indisputable right to raise her voice and to insist upon her point of view in those questions which are exclusively her [concern. If this way of looking at the matter is]6 not accepted by all, I could not retain the honor of representing France in the Peace Conference. The question is so important that I propose that we do adjourn its solution until tomorrow, to reflect upon the suggestions which have been made by President Wilson, and upon the remarks which I have just formulated.”

This proposal was then adopted by the Assembly.

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Before those present separated President Wilson raised the question as to what should be stated to the representatives of the press as to what had been done in the course of the deliberations this day. (The President stated that his only suggestion was that they had better not begin the conference until they were in substantial agreement amongst themselves, otherwise the conference would become a debating society.)

It was thereupon proposed and approved by the Assembly that the following statement should be made to the press:

“After the meeting of the Supreme War Council authorized to study the necessary conditions for the renewal of the Armistice, the representatives of the Powers took up the examination of the procedure and the methods to be followed in the conversations to settle the preliminaries of the peace.”

(This proposition was approved by the meeting.)

M. Pichon requested the representatives present to settle the question of the selection of the technical delegates to the Peace Conference, and to decide if these delegates are to be interchangeable.

President Wilson remarked that if the delegates of the Powers have need of technical advisors, at all events it is not necessary to admit these technical advisors to sit in the conference. Mr. Lloyd George expressed the opinion that the delegates of the Powers should be selected and named once for all, and that it is their right to be surrounded by all the counsellors they may need without, however, according to these counsellors a vote in the conference.

He proposed however that the Assembly should reserve to itself the right of conceding to these delegates the right to address the conference whenever they should hold it desirable to permit them to do so.

This proposition was approved and the session was adjourned at thirty-five minutes past six.

  1. See Appendix I to BC–A, p. 477.
  2. Count Bonin Longare, Italian Ambassador to France.
  3. Vol. i, p. 386.
  4. N. V. Tschaikowski, President of the Russian Government of the Northern Region (Archangel).
  5. This word supplied from copy in Woodrow Wilson papers.
  6. These words supplied from copy in Woodrow Wilson papers.