Tasker H. Bliss Papers

IC–118 [BC–A9]

Procès-verbal of the Twelfth Session of the Supreme War Council Held in M. Pichon’s Room at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, on Friday, January 24, 1919, at 10 Hours 30

  • Present
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • M. Pichon.
    • Great Britain
      • The Right Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P., Prime Minister.
      • The Right Hon. A. J. Balfour, O. M., M. P., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
    • Italy
      • His Excellency M. Orlando.
      • His Excellency Baron Sonnino.
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
      • Mr. R. Lansing.
    • Japan
      • Baron Makino.
      • His Excellency M. Matsui.
      • M. Saburi.

The following also attended:

  • France
    • M. Loucheur.
    • Marshal Foch.
    • General Weygand.
    • General Belin.
    • Major Lacombe.
    • M. Dutasta.
    • M. Berthelot.
  • Great Britain
    • The Right Hon. W. S. Churchill, M. P., Secretary of State for War.
    • Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, K. T., G. C. B., G. C. V. O., K. C. I. E., Commander-in-Chief, British Armies in France.
    • General Sir H. H. Wilson, K. C. B., D. S. O., Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
    • Lieutenant-General Sir G. M. MacDonogh, K. C. M. G., C. B., Adjutant-General to the Forces.
    • Major-General Hon. C. J. Sackville-West, C. M. G., Permanent Military Representative.
    • Lieutenant-Colonel Sir M. P. A. Hankey, K. C. B., Secretary, War Cabinet.
    • Mr. H. Norman.
  • Italy
    • General Diaz.
    • General di Robilant.
    • Count Aldrovandi.
    • General Cavallero.
  • United States of America
    • General Tasker H. Bliss.
    • General J. J. Pershing.
    • Brigadier-General Fox Connor.
    • Mr. A. H. Frazier.
    • Mr. L. Harrison.
[Page 705]
  • Secretariat
    • France
      • Captain A. Portier.
    • Great Britain
      • Major A. M. Caccia, M. V. O.
    • Italy
      • Major A. Jones.
    • United States of America
      • Colonel U. S. Grant.

Interpreter: Professor P. J. Mantoux.

1. Allied Army of Occupation

M. Clemenceau having declared the meeting open, said they were met together to consider Mr. Lloyd George’s proposal to fix the strength of the forces to be maintained by the Allied and Associated Powers on the Western front during the period of the armistice.

Marshal Foch then read the following memorandum:—

“From the demobilisation or re-embarkment schemes, which the various Allied Governments seem to have settled, each for their own account, it appears that the following forces will be available on the 31st March in the Franco-Belgian zone:—

French armies 46 inf. div. and 6 cav. div.
British armies 18 2
American armies 15 (and 5 in base ports).
Belgian armies 6
(Total, 85 to 90 inf. div. and 8 cav. div.)

“In his memorandum No. 52, P. C. L., dated the 24th December, the Marshal Commanding-in-Chief the allied armies stated that it was necessary to keep in arms, opposite Germany, until the signature of the preliminaries of peace, a total of 120 to 140 Allied infantry divisions.

“Since that date the German demobilisation has followed its course. From the information given on the 13th January by General von Winterfeldt1 at Spa, and on the 15th January by M. Erzberger at Treves, the German forces still included, during the first fortnight in January, the following organised great units:—

“37 divisions on the western front;

“Between 15 and 18 divisions on the eastern front; that is, a total of 52 to 55 divisions.

“The same information stated that the German figures included at the same time, as under the colours, the two classes of 1898 and 1899, 200,000 men by class; that is, 400,000 men and ‘several’ hundred thousand men, kept in active service, either as volunteers or as out of work. Therefore it follows that the actual numbers of the German army may be estimated at 600,000 to 700,000 men.

[Page 706]

“As the correctness of this information cannot be confirmed, we must, in consideration of their source, look upon the figures above given as a minimum.

“Taking into account these remarks, the number of 120 to 140 Allied divisions given on the 24th December as necessary to be maintained in front of Germany, may be reduced to 100.

“Therefore the figure of 80 to 90 Allied divisions mentioned in the first lines of this memorandum appears as an extreme minimum, under which it would be dangerous to fall as long as the preliminaries of peace are not signed. And yet this figure can only be agreed to on the express condition that these units, the number of their men, and the degree of their efficiency, will be kept up so that they may go back in action without any delay.

“As long as the preliminaries of peace are not signed, it is therefore impossible to proceed further with the schemes of demobilisation, and to let the number of divisions which are being kept up fall below the above-mentioned figures.

“Or else it will not be victorious armies which will come forward in front of the defeated German forces—armies able to renew the fight, if peace is not signed—but armies which are being demobilised or moved, already for the greater part demobilised, will appear on our side, both being powerless for military action. To sum up, the debate will start on the base of an equal military situation, and then how shall we be able to speak of compensation, important indemnities? How shall we be able to impose any terms on the enemy?”

M. Clemenceau enquired whether the number of men corresponding to the number of divisions quoted could be given.

General Weygand replied that, taking an average of 20,000 men per British, Italian, and French division, and 30,000 men per American division, the following very approximate totals would be obtained:—

France 900,000
Great Britain 350,000
America 450,000
Belgium 120,000
Approximate total 1,820,000

This figure included cavalry divisions.

Marshal Foch laid stress on the fact that the above figures included combatants only. This total was in accordance with the programme at present accepted by the Allied Governments, and he pressed that no alterations should be made before the 31st March next.

Mr. Lloyd George said that he had nothing to say regarding the figures given by Marshal Foch. His first comment, however, would relate to the number of German divisions, as obviously the number of troops to be kept under arms by the Allies would have [Page 707] to bear a direct reference to the number of German troops. Marshal Foch made no proposals for the reduction of the number of German divisions. The Germans were supposed to have thirty-seven divisions on the Western front, in addition to two classes with a total of 400,000 men, plus fifteen to eighteen divisions on the Eastern front. Why should the Germans keep all these troops under arms? There was nothing in Marshal Foch’s document about calling on the Germans further to demobilise. He would like to propose that when the armistice should be renewed in three weeks’ time, the Germans should be asked to explain why they wished to keep all these troops. They could offer no real resistance. Therefore, we should refuse to renew the armistice unless further demobilisation were carried out. The Allies should fix a definite number for the Germans, adequate for the maintenance of internal order. They must have a sufficient number of troops to police, in order to put down Spartacists and other revolutionary parties. Naturally, the Germans should not be permitted to maintain any forces to carry on warfare against the Poles. On the other hand, the Allies must undertake to keep the Poles within their frontiers. The Allies should refuse to give the Poles arms or assistance so as to enable them to take the law into their own hands, and so attempt to settle their own frontiers. That should obviously be a question for the Peace Conference. He (Mr. Lloyd George) firmly believed that the Germans would like us to put forward proposals of this kind. The German soldiers were not under control, and were merely hanging around the depôts in order to get food and housing.

It must be clearly understood that the figures given in Marshal Foch’s memorandum did not represent the total number of men which would have to be maintained under arms. Together with the British quota of 350,000 divisional troops prescribed, hundreds of thousands additional men would have to be kept for other purposes, which would probably represent a total of 700,000 to 800,000 men in France alone. He proposed, therefore, that they should consider the question of imposing, as a condition of the renewal of the armistice, a reduction of the German forces, which would permit of a corresponding reduction of our own. In addition, he would insist on the delivery of arms and of the machinery for the construction of arms, e. g., at Essen, Minden, and elsewhere, until peace should be signed.

Marshal Foch said that if he correctly understood Mr. Lloyd George’s proposal, it meant that an effective demobilisation should be imposed on Germany. There would be no difficulty in adding such a clause to the armistice. The Germans would no doubt accept it, but it would be extremely difficult to ensure its execution. In a [Page 708] country like Germany it would be very easy for the people to take up arms again. Should a real leader arise, it would not be difficult for him to reconstruct the armies—trained men, officers, staffs, and a skeleton organisation existed. In a short time it would be possible to have a good army, in splendid fighting trim. In his opinion, therefore, such a clause could no doubt be included in the armistice, but it would be ineffective.

M. Clemenceau suggested that a control could be exercised.

Marshal Foch replied that the controlling parties would only be allowed to see what the Germans wished them to see. Undoubtedly, guarantees could be taken by seizing arms, but it was doubtful whether they would give them all up. In addition, munition factories could be taken over, but it would be quite impossible to occupy them all. Our own line of action could not be based on the estimate of the military situation existing in Germany at any given time, because it would be impossible to say what the actual military strength of Germany at the time really was. Therefore, conditions might be made, but in reality there was no guarantee that they would be adhered to. He would not take up time in referring to the clauses entered by Napoleon in the Treaty of Tilsit,2 limiting the Prussian forces to 40,000 men. It was well known how Prussia, notwithstanding these conditions, had been able to prepare for a levy en masse in 1813. Herr Erzberger, on the 14th January last, at Treves, had said, “The German army has ceased to exist.” Nevertheless, over seventy divisions still existed. Von Winterfeldt, at the same meeting, had also maintained that it was not incumbent on the Germans to supply figures relating to their demobilisation; but since false and exaggerated statements had appeared in the British press, he had supplied the figures which had been quoted in his (Marshal Foch’s memorandum). To sum up, he maintained that clauses relating to demobilisation, including the surrender of arms and the seizure of munition factories, could be entered in the armistice, but it would be very dangerous to base our policy on the assumption that these conditions would be fulfilled. He urged, therefore, that the Allied Governments should make no reductions in the agreed strengths of the armies of occupation, at all events before the 31st March next.

President Wilson asked that the following aspect of this matter be considered before coming to a conclusion. It had been stated that the officers of the German army had no control over their men. Consequently, even if remobilisation were ordered, it probably could not be carried out. They had also been told that the men were [Page 709] merely hanging round the depots in order to be fed. It was admitted that it would be very difficult for Germany to establish any credit until she could resume her economic life. Obviously this was difficult under present conditions; meanwhile, the number of unemployed must increase, and would still further increase if demobilisation were hastened. The increase of unemployment would widen the soil for the seeds of Bolshevism, and so create a Germany with which it would be impossible to deal at all. Moreover, sooner or later the Allies would be compelled to trust Germany to keep her promises. When peace would be signed, should we still be compelled to maintain a great army of occupation to make sure that Germany would keep her promises? In the Peace Treaty, Germany might agree to maintain a smaller army; should we be compelled to keep an army on her border to ensure the fulfilment of this promise? The real solution of the question lay in an early peace. Peace would bring with it a settlement of the many questions which were troubling Europe, which now consisted of a seething body of an uncertain and fearful people who did not know what fate awaited them. He put forward these considerations, though he realised they did not lead to a definite conclusion.

Mr. Lloyd George agreed with President Wilson that the only satisfactory solution of the difficulty would be the making of peace. But they, in Great Britain, were compelled to face the problem of demobilisation at once. It was a very serious problem. Great Britain was not a military nation like France, and the people were not disciplined. Therefore, he felt compelled at once to say that he was doubtful whether Great Britain could contribute the troops asked for. At any rate, he could give no undertaking. He would, without further delay, have to discuss the question with his advisers in order to arrive at an immediate conclusion. He admitted that it might be best to put off the decision until the signing of the Peace Treaty; but they could not do that in Great Britain. Some means must, therefore, be devised for reducing their effort.

Marshal Foch’s argument really meant that Germany could never be trusted, and, therefore, that the armies of occupation could never be materially reduced. On the other hand, he thought they had in food, raw material, and the seizure of arms, better means of controlling the situation in Germany. As long as it was a question of fighting, they had had no difficulty with the British troops. But, now that the soldiers were standing to their arms, whilst many of their comrades were being demobilised and were able to obtain good employment at high rates of pay, the feelings of discontent were bound to arise, which made matters extremely difficult. Therefore, he would still press that they should make an effort to reduce the [Page 710] German armies, using food, raw material, and the surrender of arms as levers. The Germans had already surrendered most of their cannon, and, without cannon, men alone constituted a small danger.

General Bliss expressed the view that the problem that confronted the United States of America was different from that which Great Britain had to solve. The two, however, were the same in this respect: that behind the Government were the people, who might at any moment take matters into their own hands. Consequently, in drawing up their plans, that fact had to be taken into consideration. As regards the United States, taking the rate at which troops could be shipped to America, it did not appear that the numbers could be reduced to the figures requested by Marshal Foch before next summer. Consequently, as peace would doubtless be concluded before then, the problem became one of little moment as far as America was concerned.

Looking at the question from a broader point of view, he wished to support Mr. Lloyd George’s proposal that they should do all they could to reduce the armies and to reduce the output of armament and munitions in Germany. While complete disarmament might be impossible of attainment, much could be done on those lines to improve the situation. On the other hand, he was of the opinion that these limitating conditions should be included in the Treaty of Peace and not in the armistice. In the Treaty of Peace it would be possible to lay down any conditions they liked relating to the reduction of the armies, the dismantling of factories, the output of munitions, &c. Therefore he urged his colleagues to hasten the conclusion of peace.

General Pershing said that in his opinion the position of Germany to-day was such that it would be impossible for her to resume offensive operations with any possible chance of holding her own. Demobilisation had proceeded so far that possibly not more than 1,000,000 men were now under arms, and these were not in a state of discipline or efficiency such as to cause alarm. They were at rest or scattered about, and not in any sense an organised body of troops well in hand. Food conditions were such that she could be prevented from carrying on military operations. Her ports were all open to the British Navy, and her rivers could be ascended with facility. The Allies controlled the Rhine and its commerce. They also occupied a large part of her territory. As regards armaments, she had surrendered such an amount that what was left would not permit her resuming hostilities. Therefore the situation did not require the Allies to fix the numbers of troops they should retain and, with the prospects of early peace, he could see an early settlement of these questions. Under these conditions he thought that the demobilization [Page 711] of all the armies might proceed without bothering much about it. The demobilisation of the American troops depended on the quantity of shipping available; but if their calculations held good, they would be able to reduce their troops by April next to the numbers prescribed by Marshal Foch.

Sir Douglas Haig said that he could add no fresh arguments, but he could state his opinion. General Pershing had stated that Germany would be unable to offer any marked resistance, in which view he differed somewhat from the opinion expressed by Marshal Foch. In his own opinion, Germany was still in a position to cause a great deal of trouble. Therefore, until peace was signed, the Governments ought to maintain their forces up to the strength prescribed by Marshal Foch. Unless they could obtain guarantees that arms would be surrendered and munition factories destroyed, they must maintain the forces laid down by Marshal Foch. These forces were, in his opinion, not excessive.

General Sir Henry Wilson agreed that they ought to do what Mr. Lloyd George had said to get the German army reduced. But, until they saw that this had been done, they could not reduce their own forces. Until they had sufficient guarantees, they ought to be careful what they did. The Germans were a martial people, magnificent soldiers, and a proud people, and, if the opportunity came, they would certainly be able to do as well as the Bolsheviks. The Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, wished to discuss with Marshal Haig, Mr. Winston Churchill, and himself the question of the strength of the Army of Occupation to be maintained by Great Britain, so that he was obliged to reserve his decision. But he would point out that Great Britain had large commitments elsewhere, including the maintenance of the navy, which might militate against her keeping in France the forces asked for.

Mr. Lloyd George enquired whether the destruction of the machinery at Krupp’s and Minden would not be sufficient guarantees.

Marshal Foch replied that the Germans had had another factory at Mayence which the Allies had now seized. But there might be many other factories, and a full list of these was not in their possession.

Mr. Lloyd George said that he had had considerable experience of munitions. In his opinion, in every country two or three factories alone were absolutely essential, and when these went the others would prove inadequate. Guns, for instance, could only be manufactured in one or two places.

[Page 712]

General Pershing remarked that it was largely a question of the supply of material, and a large percentage of the necessary material was already controlled by the Allies.

General Diaz said that they were discussing a question which greatly affected Italy. They had so far demobilised 13 divisions, and the balance of 38 divisions were kept under arms merely to satisfy the requirements of the Alliance. For instance, one division was kept at Innsbruck merely with the object of acting with the Allies against Germany if necessary. In many parts of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire there was a tendency to increase the number of troops, using these as nuclei to form large armies. In a word, the authorities in those regions were carrying out the principle adopted by Prussia in 1806. This, he thought, constituted a grave danger. On the other hand, he agreed that they could not indefinitely remain mobilised on a war footing, and a way out of the difficulty must be found. In his opinion, they should take action against Germany and Austria by removing all the artillery, by destroying munition factories, and by regulating the output of mines. In other words, the Allies should hold in their hands all the sources from which engines of destruction were produced. Without artillery the Central Powers would have no means of carrying out a successful war. Therefore, he would insist that the Allies should take essential guarantees, otherwise the difficulty would never be solved.

General Pershing said that he would approve of any steps being taken to reduce Germany’s means of producing war material.

President Wilson said that he did not think the German people would be willing to take up arms again, nor that Germany could in her present condition possibly carry out an organised war against organised Governments. He would ask that a draft resolution be drawn up embodying in explicit terms the proposals made by Mr. Lloyd George. This resolution could then be submitted to the meeting, and brought under discussion. He thought they should at the same time study a scheme to relieve unemployment in Germany. In his opinion, Bolshevism was the greatest danger, and the only real protection against it was food and industry. Consequently, whilst demobilising the German Army, they should take steps to protect themselves against the greater danger of Bolshevism.

Mr. Lloyd George said that following what President Wilson had said, the question of immediate disarmament was important, because it was understood that the German troops were selling their machine-guns, rifles, &c., and it was possible that these were being sold to Bolshevik agents. In his opinion, that danger added to the argument in favour of disarmament. Again, whatever figures were put down on paper, it was evident that the Allied Armies would become less [Page 713] efficient as time went on. Germany would then be more formidable in proportion to ourselves, unless she were disarmed. He quite agreed with President Wilson’s suggestion that they should have a definite proposal placed before them. He would suggest, therefore, that a small committee, including some member with a knowledge of manufactories, should be appointed to consider and put forward proposals as to the best manner of disarming Germany.

(This proposal was agreed to.)

M. Loucheur, who at this stage entered the Council Chamber, said, in reply to a question put to him by M. Clemenceau, that all the production of Germany depended on the basin of Westphalia, and if Essen and its neighbourhood were seized, Germany could under no circumstances go on fighting. As regards the surrender of artillery, he felt convinced that Germany would be effectually disarmed only if machine guns were included.

M. Clemenceau said that Mr. Lloyd George’s proposal had been accepted: it remained to nominate the members of the Committee. He, himself, would nominate M. Loucheur.

Mr. Lloyd George nominated Mr. Winston Churchill.

President Wilson nominated General Bliss.

M. Orlando nominated General Diaz.

(It was agreed that a Special Committee, composed of Mr. Churchill, M. Loucheur, Marshal Foch, General Bliss, and General Diaz should be appointed to consider and report on:—

The strength of the armies to be maintained by the Allied and Associated Powers on the Western Front during the period of the armistice.
The demobilisation of the German Army and the guarantees (e. g., surrender of arms, seizure of munition factories, &c.) necessary to ensure the fulfilment of the conditions imposed.)

2. Strength Returns of Armies of Occupation

Marshal Foch asked permission to take this opportunity of suggesting that the chiefs of the Allied armies should meet together to devise a means of keeping each other informed regarding the process of demobilisation. In his opinion, it was very necessary for them to have advance information regarding the number of troops under arms at given dates.

M. Orlando proposed that these plans of demobilisation should also include data relating to the small Powers. He thought that was most important. In the old Austro-Hungarian Empire it would be found that some of the States, instead of demobilising, were calling men under arms. He thought that the scheme prepared should include both maximum and minimum figures.

[Page 714]

(As this matter did not require action by the Supreme War Council, it was decided that Marshal Foch should assemble the Allied Commanders-in-Chief, and arrange to obtain from them the required data relating to the programme of demobilisation.)

Allied War Medals

Marshal Foch then read the following proposal:—

“I have the honour to propose to the Supreme Council of the Allies that those who have fought in the great war, of all the Allied nations alike, should receive one identic commemorative medal. This glorious emblem, worn by them in all parts of the world, would help to maintain among them the feeling of close fellowship which, after fortifying our armies on the battlefield, will assure during peace, by the bond of common memories, the greatness of the associated nations.”

President Wilson, in approving the idea, enquired whether the intention was that each individual Government should strike a medal of the same kind.

Marshal Foch replied that each individual Government should agree to issue to their troops the same medal and the same ribbon.

(The Supreme War Council agreed to recommend for the approval of the Governments concerned, the issue of an identic medal and ribbon to all the troops of the Allied and Associated Powers who had fought in the war.)

  1. Military representative on the German Armistice Commission.
  2. Treaty of Peace between France and Prussia, July 9, 1807, G. F. de Martens, Recueil des principaux traités d’alliance, de paix, de trève, etc., 2d ed., vol. 8, p. 661.