Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/82
Notes of a Meeting Held at Mr. Lloyd George’s Residence, 23 Rue Nitot, Paris, on Monday, June 23, 1919, at 9 a.m.
- America, United States of
- President Wilson.
- British Empire
- The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, O.M., M.P.
- M. Clemenceau.
- M. Sonnino.
- Baron Makino.
- America, United States of
|Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B.|
|Interpreter—Prof. P. J. Mantoux.|
1. The Council had before them Note No. 85 from the German Peace Delegation dated June 23rd, 1919 (Appendix I), which had been distributed to the Heads of Government by the Secretary-General between 6.0 and 7.0 a.m. German Request for Extension of Armistice
Mr. Lloyd George said that after carefully considering the matter he felt that the sinking of the German ships in the Orkneys weighed principally with him against granting the German request for an extension of the armistice for 48 hours. There was no doubt that the sinking of these ships was a breach of faith. If bridges were blown up, and loss of life caused, and military operations hampered by these or similar measures, the public would say that this was the reason for which time had been granted. Consequently, he was inclined to reply with a refusal, mentioning the sinking of the German ships.
President Wilson said that if he was assured that he was dealing with honourable men, or even with ordinary men, he would be willing to give not 48, but 24, hours. However, he shared Mr. Lloyd George’s suspicions to the full, and did not trust the Germans. He would like to know, however, whether it was correct that the direct telephonic line between Versailles and the German Government was broken. If they could not communicate with their Government until the evening, it might make a difference.
M. Clemenceau said they could obtain immediate communication by telephone.
President Wilson said that he had just been reading the German authorisation given to Von Haniel. He observed that he was given [Page 614] full powers to hand over the reply of the Imperial Government to the Note of the President of the Peace Conference of the 16th inst. to afford explanations, to receive counter-explanations, and to conduct negotiations, but he had no powers to sign.
M. Clemenceau said that so far as he was concerned, he was in favour of refusing the German request.
President Wilson said that in that case he would not say anything about the sinking of ships at the Orkneys. He would rather not mention a matter about which the full circumstances were not yet known.
Mr. Lloyd George said there was no doubt about the sinking of the ships, and that they had been sunk by the Germans themselves. A possible excuse was that the German Government was so disorganised, that individuals were acting on their own initiative without higher authority. This, however, was a reason against granting an extension of time.
President Wilson said that the case for the bad faith of the Germans was so overwhelming that there was no necessity to cite specific instances. It was a fact, however, that the German Government had been formed to sign the Treaty.
Baron Makino pointed out that the National Assembly had passed a vote of confidence in the new Imperial Ministry by 236 votes to 89, with 68 abstentions, and had made no reserves. (See Note No. 76.)1
Mr. Lloyd George said he had just received Mr. Balfour’s view, which was in favour of refusal. He took the view that we could trust no German officer, and that in the case of the ships in the Orkneys, they had conspired together to break the armistice.
President Wilson pointed out that the German Admiral was reported to have said that he was ordered to sink the ships on the termination of the armistice.
Mr. Lloyd George said that what influenced Mr. Balfour was that the Germans could not be trusted.
President Wilson said that nevertheless he thought there was no need to make specific mention of the sinking of the ships.
Mr. Lloyd George considered that it was only important from a political point of view.
Baron Makino said that the principal object was to get the Germans to sign. He suggested that possibly it might make it more difficult for the Germans to sign if we insisted on their giving their answer this very evening.
M. Clemenceau said that the great object and the greatest difficulty was to make the Germans honour their signature.[Page 615]
M. Sonnino suggested that the military authorities ought to be consulted.
Mr. Lloyd George said he had already consulted the British Military Authorities, who had no doubt at all that it would be a great mistake to give any extension of time. He recalled what had been stated at the Conference of Generals on the previous Friday2 that the soldiers had already been sleeping in the open air for five nights, and were exposed to considerable hardships.
M. Clemenceau thought that there was no doubt about military opinion.
Mr. Lloyd George urged the importance of politeness in the reply. He pointed out that history was apt to judge these matters by the actual terms of the letter. He recalled how Bismarck’s communications had been scrutinised from this point of view.
(After some further discussion, it was agreed to send the reply in Appendix II.)