Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/90


Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Tuesday, June 24, 1919, at 11:15 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.
      • Admiral Sir G. P. W. Hope, K. C. M. G.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • M. Loucheur.
      • Admiral Ronarc’h.
    • Italy
      • M. Sonnino.
      • Admiral Grassi.
    • Japan
      • Baron Makino.
Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B. } Secretaries.
Count Aldrovandi.
Captain E. Abraham.
Mr. A. Portier.
Prof. P. J. Mantoux—Interpreter.

1. Mr. Lloyd George said he had received a long report from the British Admiralty regarding the sinking of the German ships at Scapa Flow. The case for the British Admiralty was that, at the time of the Armistice, the French the Orkneys and British naval representatives had pressed for the surrender of the German Fleet. Admiral Benson, however, had urged very strongly that surrender should not be demanded and that the Armistice should not be risked for this purpose. Marshal Foch had supported Admiral Benson very strongly. He had said that he did not wish to risk the lives of good soldiers for bad ships which had never fought a decisive battle. The Supreme War Council, consisting of the Prime Ministers and of Colonel House, had over-ruled the French and British Admiralties and unanimously agreed to ask only for the internment of the German ships and only for the surrender of certain submarines. It had been decided originally that the German ships to be interned should be interned in a neutral port. On further examination, it had been realised that this was impossible and the Allied Naval Council had chosen Scapa Flow as a suitable spot for the concentration of the German ships under surveillance. Then came the question of determining what kind of surveillance could be exercised. The British Admiralty had [Page 650]come to the conclusion that none but German crews could be put on board, as the removal of the German personnel would have been a breach of the Armistice. All that could be done was to exercise general surveillance over the fleet. He had seen the instructions issued by the British Admiralty. He quoted certain passages of those instructions. The latest report was that the ‘Baden’ and ‘Hindenburg’ had been saved or could be salvaged. There were, therefore, two capital ships available. He wished to add that Baron Makino had just informed him that the Japanese Admiralty did not consider the British Admiralty in any way to blame. The Sinking of the German Ships at the Orkneys

M. Clemenceau then handed in the opinion of the French Admiralty. (Appendix I.)

Mr. Lloyd George said that, as Admiral Hope had pointed out, if the original intention of interning the ships in a neutral port had been adhered to, it would not have been possible to place Allied crews on board.

President Wilson said that Admiral Benson, who had been present at the discussions at the Armistice time, had, unfortunately, gone home. His substitute at present was Admiral Knapp. At Mr. Lloyd George’s request, he had obtained his opinion on the point. (Appendix II.)

Admiral Hope explained that the British Admiralty could not have demanded the complete removal of the German crews. This would have been equivalent to a surrender of the German ships. With any German personnel on board, it was impossible to safeguard the ships completely. Very large parties would have been required to take charge of every compartment in each ship and this could not have been done consistently with the retention of any German crews on board.

President Wilson said that he trusted Admiral Hope would not think he had expressed any opinion on the subject. All he had done was to furnish Admiral Knapp’s personal views in compliance with Mr. Lloyd George’s request. The chief interest of the Council was to see what ought to be done. He thought it was clear that the German Admiral could be held responsible and punished. It also seemed clear that the German Government could be held responsible, but what profit could be derived from the responsibility of the German Government was not so clear. The object of the Allies could not be to renew the war but to obtain some reparation, placing them in the same situation as if the fleet had not been sunk. He assumed that enough German ships remained to make the contemplated distribution, with the exception of the share due to the British Navy. This share being, of course, a very large one could not be furnished, but he thought that there was perhaps enough to compensate the weaker navies.

[Page 651]

Mr. Lloyd George observed that there were two first class ships, one a battleship and one a battle-cruiser.

M. Clemenceau said that he wished to make a few observations. First, as to the question of right. According to the legal advisers, Germany had violated the Armistice. On the previous day, the application of Article XXXI of the Armistice had been discussed. It seemed clear to him that it did apply, and, in addressing the Germans, he thought that advantage should be taken of that article. There was, further, an anticipated violation of the Peace Conditions and this must be taken into consideration. If this were all, the stories told by the German Admiral that he believed, on the strength of a newspaper, that the Armistice was over, might be alleged in defence of the act. This however, was merely an instance of German mendacity. There was further evidence of the deliberate intention of the Germans to violate not only the Armistice but the Conditions of Peace in anticipation. French flags which, under the Peace Terms, were to be restored had been burned in Berlin. This incident had been deeply felt in France both by Parliament and people. There was, moreover, a telegram seized by the Polish authorities to the effect that an insurrection was to be organised in Upper Silesia. The movement would be disavowed officially but aided unofficially in every possible manner. Von Haniel had warned the Conference that there would be an insurrection against the Polish clauses. There was a clause in the Treaty requiring the withdrawal of the German troops from Upper Silesia within 14 days after the ratification of the Treaty. It had been hard enough to get the Treaty signed, but this evidence showed that there would be even greater difficulty in obtaining its execution. He proposed, if there were no objections on the part of his colleagues, to have this intercepted telegram published in the Press to show the Germans we were awake to their intentions.

As to reparation, he was told that there might be enough ships to indemnify the French Navy. He could make no judgment on this. In regard to responsibility, he left the matter entirely in Mr. Lloyd George’s hand, but he wished to say that material reparation was not enough. He now formally made a demand that reparation be exacted for the burning of the French flags, an act certainly done by order like the sinking of the ships. The question arose as to what form this reparation should take. He would not ask for money. Money could only be obtained at the expense of France and her Allies. He would take ships, if he could get them, but even that was not enough. He wished, by a striking act, to show that the Allies did not mean to tolerate the conduct evidenced by the burning of the flags, the sinking of the ships and the plot against Poland. It must be remembered that it was difficult to bring aid to the Poles and the forts of Dantzig would [Page 652]be able to repel a naval attack. It was quite evident that the Germans meant to violate the Treaty which they were to sign in two days. No one who was not deaf and blind to evidence could doubt it. He regretted that President Wilson was shortly to leave, but he recognised the urgency of his business in America. The American flag, however, would remain side by side with those of the Allies. He desired that a military act be accomplished, showing the will of the Allies quite clearly not to submit to any fraudulent breach of the Treaty by Germany. He did not wish this act to precede the signing of the Treaty, and, for the present, all he would ask was that a note be sent referring to the incident at Scapa Flow and to the burning of the flags and stating that reparation for these acts would be required. The note should further state that the Allies were aware of what Germany was plotting in Silesia and that precautions would be taken to prevent the execution of the plot. He would not mention what reparation or what precautions would be taken. That was all he would say for the present, with the object of establishing the position of the Allies and their right to act. But he would state what he had in mind very clearly.

He thought the Allies should take possession of Essen. M. Loucheur, whom he had asked to come, informed him that Essen was still at the present time making armaments. It was the most powerful centre of munition production in Germany. He had no intention of keeping Essen, but only of preventing supplies being made there to munition the attack on Poland. There could, in the nature of the case, be no military opposition to the operation. It would show the Germans quite clearly that their game was up. The Germans would yield and public opinion, which had supported the Allies throughout the war, would be satisfied. Failing this, there was a fear that the Germans would, one by one, get back every concession they had made. This would result in the necessity of remobilising to engage in definite acts of war. He recognised that it was necessary to act prudently for the time being, in order not to jeopardise the signature of the Peace, but it must be made clear to the enemy that Allied will would prevail.

President Wilson asked whether M. Clemenceau would allow the discussion of this proposal to be deferred until the afternoon.

Mr. Lloyd George joined in this request.

Mr. Balfour asked if he understood M. Clemenceau aright in thinking that his proposal was to write a letter at once or on the following day, regarding the sinking of the ships, the burning of the flags and the plot against Poland.

President Wilson interpolated a question. He asked whether M. Clemenceau had corroborated the last.

[Page 653]

M. Clemenceau said that he would produce full evidence.

Mr. Balfour, continuing, asked whether the letter would state that those acts violated the Armistice and therefore gave rise to a claim for reparation.

M. Clemenceau observed that the case of the flags and of the ships went together and gave rise to a claim for reparation. As regards Poland, a case would be made out. Reparation was not in question in regard to that.

Mr. Balfour said that the proposal would be then to continue the arrangements for the signature of the Peace, whether the German answer to this letter came before the signature or after. If he understood M. Clemenceau’s intention, he would prefer it to come after. Then, if the answer were unsatisfactory, which in all probability would be the case, the Allies would have to take action, and the action proposed by M. Clemenceau was to occupy Essen.

M. Clemenceau said that Mr. Balfour had quite understood his policy. Of course, it would be necessary to hear Marshal Foch regarding the execution of the plan. He wished to add that he had no intention of keeping Essen for any length of time and would, of course, give it up as soon as the Polish difficulty had been cleared up.

Appendix I to CF–90



The French Navy being represented in the discussion of the terms of the Armistice by Admiral De Bon, I do not know what was the intention of the Allied Admirals in drawing up the following clause:

“Ils y demeureront sous la surveillance des Alliés et des États-Unis, des détachements de gardes étant seuls laissés à bord.”

Personally I can interpret this clause in but one way, to wit:

The vessels interned at Scapa Flow were to be under surveillance by Interallied guards, even on board, or at least by British guards lacking guards from the other Allied and Associated Nations.

I consider that in interning the vessels at Scapa Flow it was admitted that they would be guarded by the British Navy.


Vice Admiral,
Chief of the Naval General Staff
[Page 654]

Appendix II to CF–90

[The American Naval Adviser (Knapp) to President Wilson]

My Dear Mr. President:—Replying to Mr. Lloyd George’s note to you, which you have referred to me for my opinion, I beg to submit the following.

My first note is that the French text is authoritative, and the quotation by Mr. Lloyd George is correctly made as follows:—

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

The English translation of that paragraph of Article 23, reads—

“They shall remain there under the surveillance of the Allies and the United States of America, only care and maintenance parties being left on board.”

The English translation, while not necessarily incorrect in one sense, fails to bring out the military meaning that is also implied by the French words “détachements de gardes.” Under the English translation alone, I think that the United States Naval Authorities would have had some doubt as to the propriety of putting guards on board, unless read very carefully in connection with the first clause quoted by Mr. Lloyd George and with the internment mentioned in the preceding paragraph of Article 23.

Summing up, I consider that by the authoritative text the naval authorities of the United States would have felt themselves at liberty to have placed guards on board every one of the interned German naval vessels, in order to carry out the duty of surveillance mentioned in the same quotation, especially having in mind sabotage and destruction previously committed by the Germans.

I am [etc.]

H. G. Knapp
  1. Translation from the French supplied by the editors.