Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/72

CF–72

Notes of a Meeting Held in President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Monday, June 16, 1919, at 4 p.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
      • General Bliss.
    • British Empire
      • Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
      • General Sir Henry Wilson.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • Marshal Foch.
      • General Weygand.
    • Italy
      • M. Sonnino.
    • Japan
      • Baron Makino.
Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B. } Secretaries.
M. di Martino. (Assisted by an Italian Officer).
Professor P. J. Mantoux.—Interpreter.

1. President Wilson said that Marshal Foch had been invited to attend the Council in order to explain his plans in the event of a refusal by the Germans to sign the Treaty of Peace. The Governments had the responsibility for general affairs, but Marshal Foch had the responsibility for military affairs. If the general affairs were to be conducted correctly the Governments must know what the military plans were. Military Action in the Event of the Germans Refusing To Sign

Marshal Foch said that the military action to be undertaken must have a definite aim. He asked the Governments to say what the object was that he was to provide for. There was no serious enemy force in front of the Allied Army on the Western front, but there was an enemy Government. What result did the Allied and Associated Governments require of military action? They might desire that if the German Government resisted, it should be upset and replaced by a Government that would sign. If so, he would examine what the military means were for effecting it. On the contrary, they might desire more immediate and limited objects, such as the occupation of the most productive provinces of Germany, such as the Basin of the Ruhr (in Westphalia). Or again, they might desire chiefly an economic and political result. The military operation must conform to the Government’s desires. When he was given his aim, he would say what military means were available for attaining it.

M. Clemenceau said he thought the Council were already in agreement as to the principles of action. They did not seek an economic [Page 502]result nor a military conquest. What they sought was a political result, namely, that the Treaty of Peace should be signed as soon as possible. Germany was now prostrated, and was in such a state of weakness that as Marshal Foch had said, he had no effective military force in front of him. There were two possible methods, the soft method and the strong method for dealing with Germany. He himself was in favour of the strong method. We ought to take resolute, rough and prompt action to solve the difficulty. If we seemed to hestitate, or if we merely occupied certain limited territory, his opinion was that it would give the impression to the Germans that we were weaker than before, and that our demobilization had proceeded too far. Hence, he was in favour of strong measures, and the Council ought to put it to Marshal Foch to say what they should do. For his part, he could think of nothing but a march on Berlin. This would have an immediate result on German public opinion. If this were done, it was not improbable that the present Government would fall and we should have a Government to deal with which would sign. If we did not do this, the Germans would think us weakened and only able to take milder action. He would not like to give this impression. Hence, if the Germans refused to sign, strong military action must be taken.

President Wilson agreed.

Mr. Lloyd George said he was in complete accord.

M. Sonnino said there was no doubt of it.

Marshal Foch said that the decision was for strong action, and it was not for him to dispute it. The result he had to keep in view was to compel the Germans to sign the Treaty of Peace. To do that, it was necessary to seek out the German Government, if necessary, to destroy it, and to find another Government that was ready to sign. That was the object before him. It was now necessary for him to state the position as regards the means available to achieve this end. Today was the 16th June. 1919. Since the 11th November 1918, demobilisation had proceeded far. Now he could dispose of 39 divisions for an offensive operation, namely 18 French, 10 British, 5 American and 6 Belgian. On the 11th November, 1918 he had disposed of 198 divisions. Consequently, the same effort could not be expected now as if the war had been prolonged then. What was in front of him? The German Army on the Western front was not at all formidable. There was no serious organised military resistance sufficient to stop the advance of his 39 divisions. But Germany had a large population, amounting at present to some 65 millions. These 65 millions, in their male part, consisted largely of trained soldiers who had been demobilised, but were fully experienced in war, and capable of military action in any extemporized organization. Hence, in their advance, the Allied [Page 503]Army would have difficulties of a special nature to guard against. As it advanced, it would have to leave garrisons of occupation to keep the population quiet. The territory to be occupied was very vast and there was 65 millions of people to be controlled. The situation was all the more formidable owing to the fact that Germany had a single Government constituting a sole central authority. It might stir up the population and create special difficulties for the Allies to keep it in order. What made the strength of Germany was German unity. 65 millions of people were animated by the same sentiment, and were scattered over one vast territory. It was this unity that made the population so formidable. To occupy Berlin would mean an advance of 300 miles, which was a penetration of great depth. The armies would have to pass through a very densely populated district, as well as the best organized district, and the one with the strongest military traditions. To the south, this people would have the support of Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden. It would be a formidable task to keep this population quiet with only 39 divisions, if the German Government really set itself to work up trouble. On the other hand, if steps could be taken by political means to weaken Germany, the situation would be ameliorated. If Southern Germany could be detached by political maneuvres, the population to be kept in order would not be 65 millions, but only 45 millions. If his strategy was directed to that end, and was helped by a separatist policy, it would enable his Armies to reach Berlin. A question he put, therefore, was as to whether the Allied and Associated Governments were willing to deal with the separate Governments of Baden, Wurttemberg and Bavaria, which numbered some 12 to 15 millions of people, and thus help on a solution of the military problem. If, on the other hand, he must go forward into the middle of Central Europe, he would find a resistance which might be more or less great, according to which the danger would be more or less great, while the southern flank of his Army would be exposed. Before he could reach Berlin, he would have to detach so many men to safeguard the position in his rear that only a very enfeebled Army would reach there, and its southern flank would be seriously menaced. Unless the States of South Germany could be detached, as he had suggested, by some special measures, that was the situation to be faced.

President Wilson asked what Marshal Foch meant by special measures.

Marshal Foch said that as these would be the first to be encountered, they should be dealt with immediately.

Mr. Lloyd George asked whether Marshal Foch would release Bavaria and Wurttemberg from their share of the indemnity.

[Page 504]

Marshal Foch said he would ask for a certain sum of money and something more later.

Mr. Lloyd George asked if the total would be lighter.

Marshal Foch said no.

Mr. Lloyd George asked what then Marshal Foch meant by special treatment. What was his form of discrimination?

Marshal Foch said that they would have a pistol at their throat at the beginning.

M. Clemenceau said that political and strategic questions should not be mixed up. He asked the military chiefs not to intervene in political affairs more than statesmen did in military affairs. Marshal Foch had done right to state the difficulties which he would encounter, and he appreciated the clear statement he had made on them. He ventured to think, however, that he had not put the other side sufficiently strongly. It was true that Germany had a population of 65 millions of people within the borders of the former German Empire. But they were a beaten people and knew that they were beaten. Moreover, the reaction of the German people was different from that of the French, as had been proved in the Napoleonic wars. It was true that these millions included many experienced officers and hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of men. But they were beaten while we were successful. It was a characteristic of the German people that they could not resist unless highly organized. He thought that the comparison of 39 divisions now with 198 in November last was not justified, owing to the fact that we were now confronted by an entirely different military problem. For these reasons, he thought that Marshal Foch should have put the light in the picture as well as the shade. Moreover, the material of the two forces was not comparable. As to the stories about Germany having manufactured additional war material, these had not been confirmed, and his information was, that instead of ordering new material, the Germans had rather sought to sell what they had got. The Allies, on the other hand, had a marvellously complete material. There was a superfluity of motor machine guns, tanks, heavy guns and all the elaborate equipment of modern war. All experts agreed that our material equipment was vastly superior. In addition, there were military aspects on which he did not feel qualified to comment in much detail. The communications would of course have to be carefully guarded, and Marshal Foch could be trusted to do that. Was it necessary, however, he asked, to weaken the Army by detaching such very large forces in the rear? This of course, was a strategic and military consideration, but as a civilian, he ventured to express doubts. As regards the number of divisions, he pointed out that the United States divisions [Page 505]were of double strength and counted for two. Moreover, there was the proposed junction with the Czecho-Slovaks, who numbered some 10 or 15 divisions and were good soldiers, only lacking munitions. It was true that they were now fighting the Hungarians, but we hoped to stop them quite soon. During the march through Germany, it might be possible to send them aircraft, which would help them against the Hungarians. Then there was the Polish side of the question. The weight of the evidence was that Germany meant to fight in Upper Silesia. She would probably fight there whether she signed or not. The Poles, he believed, had some 20 divisions. All this led him to think that the Allies were not in the state of feebleness that might have been inferred from Marshal Foch’s statement. Marshal Foch had spoken of a possible detachment of Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Baden. He himself was disposed to agree that it would be good military strategy to sever south Germany from the north. If the Bavarians were attacked by the Italians also, the result would be very quick, and Bavaria could then sign the Treaty on her own account. In fact, it seemed to him, that this was the proper way to secure the right flank and then to march direct to Berlin, while the Poles should keep on fighting the Germans in Upper Silesia. He himself did not feel very much afraid of the action by individuals, and he cited the experience of Napoleon in support of this view. If Marshal Foch thought that the risks of marching on Berlin were too great, he would invite him to explain frankly what his views were and make other suggestions. He hoped that Marshal Foch was in favour of the hard method, but he had spoken as though our means were not equal to this, and some other method might be necessary. Strategy was Marshal Foch’s affair, and he hoped he would explain his views. If the plans had to be changed now, action must be taken at once, as only a few days were available.

President Wilson reminded Marshal Foch that a few weeks ago he had explained to the Council his whole plan on a map, and had displayed a well-thought-out plan of advance to Berlin. It had seemed then quite clear to him that a march could be made on Berlin. He asked if anything had happened since then to modify Marshal Foch’s views and expectations.

Marshal Foch pointed out that since then some time had elapsed. It was incontestable that the Germans might have some organisation by this time, although he had no definite information as to its existence. It was incontestable that material might have been manufactured. It was incontestable that German public opinion had been pulled together.

To return to the subject of discussion, he feared he must have expressed himself badly, for he had been misunderstood both in the [Page 506]ensemble and in detail. The Allies had all the forces necessary for breaking down the German resistance. But forces would have to be left behind for occupying a great part of Germany. This would greatly reduce the forces which could appear before Berlin, and we should cut a poor figure if the occupation of the places in rear had reduced the Army too far.

His idea had always been to adopt a separatist strategy, but to make certain of this it was necessary that he should be supported by political action. Hence, he would ask the Governments not to insist on pursuing a policy of obtaining the signature of the German Government as a whole only in Berlin, but to allow him to obtain the signature of the different parts, e. g. Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, etc., etc., separately, so as to help him in his campaign. By this means they would weaken the final resistance of Prussia which was the last enemy.

President Wilson said that the suggestion was worth considering as the armies began to advance. The only question which arose today, however, was as to whether Marshal Foch was prepared to develop the plan he had explained for the march on Berlin.

Marshal Foch said that he could only state that he could do so subject to some reserves. He could not go very far unless he was able to develop the plan of separatist strategy which he had just explained, or unless other forces were put at his disposal beyond those that were now available.

M. Clemenceau said he must frankly state his impression that Marshal Foch’s plan was unacceptable. The situation was too grave for anyone to conceal what he felt. He reminded Marshal Foch that some three weeks ago he had explained very freely and without any reserves his plan, and second that he had then displayed complete confidence as to its practicability. To-day, however, he asked that it should be accompanied by military [political?] action, otherwise the strategical plan of an advance on Berlin could not be carried out. In fact, when asked what he could do in a military way, he replied by saying: “Give me a good policy and I will give you a good strategy”. Did he ask for negotiations with Bavaria? Were the Allied and Associated Powers to send High Commissioners to Munich? Were they to institute a Government there, or what? To do this would be to endanger our prestige, and for his part he could not undertake it. If the march on Berlin was, in Marshal Foch’s opinion, impossible, the question must be discussed in order to see what could be done. He had not been prepared for this, in view of Marshal Foch’s confidence on the last occasion. Marshal Foch now said he must make reservations if a certain policy were not adopted in South Germany. This would be to put the responsibility on to the civilians. He knew, however, that [Page 507]Marshal Foch had never refused to undertake responsibility in the war, and he was certain he would not fail now. Hence, he must ask him to complete his programme, and say what could be done. As regards the plan he had proposed, he himself must make express reserves. If the Allies devoted themselves to the encirclement of Bavaria, the Germans would fall on the Poles in Upper Silesia, and this was the reason he could not agree. Strategy was not his profession, and he did not desire to oppose his views to those whose lives had been devoted to it. If the situation was as Marshal Foch had described, he would have expected to have suggested the intervention of the Italians. This would have been a good negotiation to undertake. He was prepared to consider and discuss this. In leaving Marshal Foch the other day, however, he had felt that everything was all right. He did not complain if Marshal Foch had reflected over the matter, and now felt some disquietude. He felt it right to say, however, that the time was now pressing. If, in five days time, the Germans refused to sign, and the best reply that the Allies could give was a slow march along the Rhine Valley, he thought the Germans would not be impressed.

Mr. Lloyd George said that Marshal Foch was Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Army, that is, of the American and British, as well as of the French Armies. Some weeks ago, he was asked to give his advice as to the military action to be taken. The Council had also asked for naval advice, and both the military and the naval advice had been given. Marshal Foch had then explained the whole situation. How he would advance with one flank on one river valley, and another flank on another river valley, making a corridor right up to Berlin. Marshal Foch had then told the Council exactly what troops were at his disposal. He had never said they were not sufficient. He did say to President Wilson; “please cancel the departure of two divisions” and President Wilson had done so. Then he had explained how the French Army was quite ready and he had turned to him and said “the British are not ready”. He had immediately placed himself in communication with the Secretary of State for War, who was in Paris, and had asked Marshal Foch to see Mr. Churchill and General Wilson He himself had felt the matter to be so important that he had sent for Mr. Churchill on the same afternoon, and Mr. Churchill had replied that he was taking immediate steps to put matters right. He believed that this had been done. If it had not, it would be done at once. Now, Marshal Foch said he had doubts and reservations. President Wilson had asked him, “Supposing the Allies preferred to stick to your old plan, are you ready to march”. He had replied, “No”, that is, he had replied with reserves. It was very strange that he had only just told the [Page 508]Council this. Marshal Foch had said that changes had taken place in Germany. If so, surely Marshal Foch ought to have told the Council before what these changes were. He understood that Marshal Foch had just been to Luxemburg. He had not come back specially to tell the Council all that he had discovered. He had only come to the Council because he was pressed to come. If Marshal Foch thought that the plan he had explained three weeks ago was inadequate, as Allied Commander-in-Chief, it was his business to inform the Council. When had he discovered this inadequacy? Was it in Luxemburg? Or was it last week? The Council had never refused to see Marshal Foch. If he said he had something urgent to speak about, they would always see him. Certainly, if he had said, “I cannot carry out my plan”, they would have seen him. As the representative of one of the Governments which was proud to have its Army commanded by such a distinguished soldier as Marshal Foch, he felt he had a right to complain that Marshal Foch had never raised this question until it was almost too late for the Governments. What he feared was that Marshal Foch was mixing up politics with strategy. He hoped that Marshal Foch would not mind his saying that he feared he was allowing his judgment on political matters to create doubts in his judgment on strategical matters. The Allies had always trusted Marshal Foch, and the events of last year had shown them to be right in doing so, so long as he confined his judgment to purely military matters. He asked therefore, again for a purely military opinion from Marshal Foch. If a wrong decision was taken now, he would meet trouble in the House of Commons, and M. Clemenceau would meet it in the Chamber, while President Wilson would also have his troubles. Therefore, he entreated Marshal Foch to give them the military opinion. In so important a matter, he felt it would be best to have a written opinion. He himself agreed with M. Clemenceau that we must be prepared to march resolutely. If we were not able to do so, he was prepared to go back to England and to say that the Army needs strengthening, but he must know how much it needed. He was not prepared to advance on Berlin on the strength of anything that Marshal Foch had said today.

President Wilson added that if Marshal Foch said his forces were insufficient, he was prepared to ask for troops to be sent back from the United States of America, but to enable him to ask for these, he must be able to tell Congress that Marshal Foch declared that 39 divisions was not enough.

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Mr. Lloyd George then read extracts from the procès-verbaux of the 10th May (C. F: 5)1 and 19th May (C. F. 18 A),2 where Marshal Foch had explained his plans.

Marshal Foch said that things had really been attributed to him that he had never said. The plan decided on between him and the military advisers of the Allied and Associated Governments was still the basis he proposed. Incontestably, the Armies could begin their advance and could capture Weimar. As they advanced towards Berlin, however, their advance would become more difficult owing to the heavy responsibilities imposed upon them.

If some sort of military anemia set in, the march on Berlin would be more difficult, and he must state that he had never said the Armies could reach Berlin. What he had in mind was that the Armies could not get very far unless a separatist strategy was adopted. All he asked for was that his separatist strategy should be supported by a separatist policy. He would say again that he was ready to start with the existing forces but that as the advance proceeded, a separatist policy must follow a separatist strategy. He said he was quite prepared to give his views in writing on this important question.

(It was agreed that Marshal Foch should present his views to the Council in writing.)

Marshal Foch withdrew, the experts on Reparation were introduced, and their discussions recorded as a separate meeting.3