Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/83


Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Monday, June 23, 1919, at 11 a.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
      • The Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour, O. M., M. P.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
    • Italy
      • M. Sonnino.
    • Japan
      • Baron Makino.
Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B. } Secretaries.
Count Aldrovandi.
Prof. P. J. Mantoux—Interpreter.

1. With reference to C. F. 78, Minute 5 [3],1 Mr. Lloyd George said that he fully approved of Mr. Balfour’s draft letter, subject to two slight alterations in the following sense: (1) to show Draft Letter to the that, when referring to Ottomans, the letter referred only to Ottoman Turks, and (2) to ensure that we were not committed in any way to removing the Turks from Constantinople. Mr. Montagu had obtained the impression that the letter did commit us to this. Draft Letter to the Turkish Delegation

Mr. Balfour said that the letter was only intended to give a hint of this possibility.

President Wilson agreed that such a hint might be useful.

(Mr. Balfour was authorised to make the necessary modifications to meet Mr. Lloyd George’s views, after which the letter would be communicated to M. Clemenceau for despatch.)

2. Mr. Balfour said that, on the previous evening, he had been asked to draft for the consideration of the Council a letter to the German Delegation dealing with the question of the of the sinking of the German Ships. He had actually prepared a draft but had come to the conclusion, after examining the facts, that it was not worth considering at this point. He was advised that the sinking of the ships by the Germans was not in the narrow technical sense a breach of the letter of the Armistice. The breach was rather one against general military law than the Armistice. We now knew that this action was [Page 618] a deliberate act of the German Admiral, who had been under the impression that the Armistice expired at noon on Saturday, and he thought, on the expiration of the Armistice, he had a right to commit an act of war. The Sinking of the German Ships

(At this point Admiral Hope, Admiral Ronarc’h, Admiral Grassi, M. Fromageot, M. Weiss,3 Mr. Hurst and M. Loucheur were introduced.)

President Wilson asked Admiral Hope to describe exactly what had occurred, in order to establish the facts.

Admiral Hope stated that at noon on Saturday the German ships had hoisted the German flag and the crews had commenced to abandon ship. They had not been permitted to have many boats and many of the crews consequently jumped overboard in lifebelts. British guard boats were at once ordered to the scene and directed the German boats to stop. Some of them had not done so and had been fired on. The German Admiral left his flagship in a trawler and reported that the sea-cocks had been opened. He also reported that he was under the impression that the Armistice had ended at noon and therefore he was not breaking its terms.

In reply to Mr. Lloyd George, he said that it was not, he believed, correct that new crews had been substituted for the original crews. Some men had been sent back to Germany and the total numbers had been reduced, but, so far as he was aware, no new men had been brought in. Attempts had been made to tow the ships to the shore and three light cruisers and, he believed, eighteen destroyers had been beached. One battleship, the Baden, one of the latest German Dreadnoughts, (the flagship), as well as four destroyers, still remained afloat. Some of the beached ships should be recoverable.

M. Clemenceau suggested that, having heard the facts from Admiral Hope, the international lawyers should be heard next.

Mr. Balfour said that there was apparently nothing specific in the Armistice against the sinking of these ships, but he understood it was in contradiction to the general principles governing armistices.

M. Fromageot, asked for his opinion, read the following extract from Article XXIII of the Terms of Armistice:—

“Les navires de guerre de surface allemands que seront désignés par les Alliés et les Etats-Unis seront immédiatement désarmés puis internés dans des ports neutres, ou, à leur défaut, dans les ports alliés désignés par les Alliés et les Etats-Unis.

Ils y demeureront sous la surveillance des Alliés et des Etats-Unis—des détachements de gardes étant seuls laissés à bord.”4

From the use of the word “demeureront”, he drew the meaning that [Page 619] nothing was to be changed. Consequently, the sinking of the ships implied an infraction of the Armistice. It was also stated that only guard and maintenance parties were to be left on board. These parties were intended to maintain the ships and not to sink them.

Mr. Hurst said that he had very little to add to what M. Fromageot had stated. Two points, however, occurred to him. In the official version of the Armistice, which he had in his hand, it was stated that the French text is the official one, the English and German texts being translations. On this point, the French text was much clearer. The fact that the German Admiral thought that he was entitled to sink the ships because the Armistice had expired had, in fact, no justification. The Armistice would not, in fact, terminate with the signature of the Peace nor before the ratification. Hence, his view was that there was no justification for the Admiral’s action.

M. Clemenceau said that this was very important.

M. Sonnino said that evidently the German Admiral’s opinion that he was entitled to do it because he thought the Armistice had expired favoured our thesis that he was not entitled to do it during the Armistice.

Mr. Balfour pointed out that the German Admiral may have thought that signature to the Armistice had been refused, in which case he would be correct in assuming that hostilities had re-commenced.

M. Clemenceau said that it was not an affair of ours what the Admiral had thought. We only had to consider the facts.

Mr. Balfour said the next question was as to whether, apart from the damages we might demand from the German Government, the German Admiral could be tried, for example, by court-martial.

M. Clemenceau asked under whose orders the German Admiral had been. Was he under the British Admiralty.

Mr. Lloyd George replied that he was not; he was merely under the surveillance of the British Admiral.

Mr. Hurst said that there were principles laid down in the Regulations under the Laws and Customs of War on Land5 which were equally applicable to naval war, from which he quoted the following:—

  • “Article 40. Any serious violation of the Armistice by one of the parties gives the other party the right to denounce it, and even, in case of urgency, to re-commence hostilities at once.
  • “Article 41. A violation of the Armistice by individuals acting on their own initiative only confers the right of demanding the punishment of the offenders and, if necessary, indemnity for the losses sustained.”

M. Weiss said that Article 3 of the Laws and Customs of War on Land would apply to this case, namely:— [Page 620]

“A belligerent party which violates the provisions of the said Regulations shall, if the case demands, be liable to make compensation. It shall be responsible for all acts committed by persons forming part of its armed forces.”

There was no doubt that, under this provision, a Government was responsible for the actions of its agents and officers. The responsibility of the German Government, therefore, could not be doubted. In reply to the question as to the Court under which the German Admiral should be tried, he said it was a subject for negotiation.

Mr. Balfour suggested that the Articles quoted were not quite consistent. Article 41 of the Regulations suggested that the individual was responsible, whereas Article 3 said that the Government was responsible. M. Weiss used the argument that because the German Admiral had committed this act, the German Government were responsible.

M. Clemenceau said that there appeared to him to be no contradiction between the two texts. The Admiral might be personally responsible, but the damages for which reparation or indemnity might be claimed would not be levied on his private property but on the German Government. Therefore, each of the articles had its own effect. If the personal responsibility was the greater, Article 41 would apply. If compensation were the more important, Article 3 would apply. What he proposed was that the international lawyers should be asked to present a text, establishing the theory of jurisprudence on which action was to be taken, but the political decision as to the punishment of the Admiral or reparation from the German Government would rest with the Heads of Governments.

Mr. Balfour suggested, since it was no use asking for reparation from the Germans in the form of money, as we had already demanded in the Treaty all the money that they could furnish, the Admirals should consider whether reparation should be demanded in the way of ships.

Admiral Hope said that the Germans had only been left a few old battleships and light cruisers.

(It was agreed that, before the 4 o’clock meeting, the following reports should be furnished:—

By the International Lawyers, who should prepare a text stating the theory of jurisprudence on which action could be taken.
By the Admirals stating whether reparation could be furnished by the surrender of German ships.)

[Page 621]

3. Mr. Balfour said that he had also been asked to prepare a draft letter to the German Delegation on the subject of their contravention of the Terms of Armistice in the Baltic Provinces. He understood, however, that the demand to the Germans to withdraw from the Baltic Provinces had been made so recently that the Allies had not yet a case against the Germans. German Action in the Baltic Provinces

Mr. Hurst then read a summary of the demands made to the Germans. On June 10th, General Gough6 had given orders to General von der Goltz7 for certain withdrawals. On June 14th Helsingfors intercepted the following message:

“General von der Goltz takes orders only from his German superiors and rejects General Gough’s orders to local forces.”

Meanwhile, on June 12th [13th],8 the Council of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers had decided that Marshal Foch should order the Germans:—

to stop all future advance Northwards towards Esthonia;
to evacuate Libau and Windau at once and to complete the evacuation of all territory which before the war formed part of Russia, with the least possible delay, in accordance with Article 12 of the Armistice Terms.

This decision was not communicated to General Nudant at Spa until June 18th. Consequently, the action was only four days old and the Germans could not yet be accused of a breach of the Armistice.

President Wilson said that it ought to be borne in mind that the Germans had altered the gauge of the railways in the Baltic Provinces from the Russian to the German gauge and had put in their rolling stock. One consequence of the evacuation of the German Army would be the withdrawal of this rolling stock, which would affect the food distribution and inflict great privations on the civil population. Mr. Hoover, who informed him of this, added that the Germans claimed this rolling stock as their own.

Mr. Balfour suggested that part of the rolling stock might be taken as compensation for the ships.

M. Clemenceau suggested that the Baltic Provinces, who would benefit, ought to pay for the rolling stock.

President Wilson said that the Allies had no means of compelling the Germans to leave the rolling stock. Consequently, it must be remembered that entire withdrawal meant the starvation of the people in the Baltic Provinces.

(Mr. Hudson entered at this point.)

[Page 622]

Mr. Balfour said he would ask General Gough and such other sources of information that were open to him for information on this point.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that the Allied and Associated Powers ought to ascertain the views of the Letts and Lithuanians. It was possible that they would prefer to risk the privations rather than not get rid of the Germans. He understood that their representatives were in Paris.

President Wilson said he was informed by Mr. Hudson that a provision in the Treaty of Peace compelled the Germans to leave half the rolling stock in the Baltic Provinces. He suggested that the question should be referred to the Baltic Commission in Paris.

(This was accepted. It was agreed to invite the Baltic Commission to report to the Council of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers on the effect which the evacuation of the Baltic Provinces by Germany would have on the food supplies of these regions, taking into consideration the fact that the Germans have altered the gauge of the railways from the Russian to the German gauge and would withdraw a part of their rolling stock. The Commission should be authorised to consult the representatives of the Baltic Provinces in Paris.

Mr. Hudson undertook to communicate this decision at once to the Baltic Commission.)

(The Allied Admirals and the International Lawyers withdrew at this point.)

  1. Ante, p. 576.
  2. André Weiss, legal consultant of the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs; adviser on legal questions to the French delegation.
  3. For English translation of this part of article XXIII, see p. 641.
  4. Hague Convention of October 18, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. 2, p. 1204.
  5. Lt. Gen. Sir Hubert Gough of the Interallied Military Mission to the Baltic Provinces.
  6. Gen. Count Rudiger von der Goltz, commanding German troops in the Baltic Provinces.
  7. CF–63, p. 373.