Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/01
Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Wednesday, June 25, 1919, at 11 a.m.
America, United States of
- President Wilson.
- Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
- M. Clemenceau.
- M. Sonnino.
- Baron Makino.
- America, United States of
|Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B.||}||Secretaries|
|Professor P. J. Mantoux—Interpreter.|
1. (Captain Portier was present during this discussion.)
Clemenceau read the following letter from the German Delegation:The Rhine Convention
“Versailles, June 24th, 1919.
In accordance with instructions received from the Imperial Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have the honour to enquire from the Allied and Associated Governments when the negotiations can begin on the subject of an agreement relating to the occupied Rhenish territories.
(Signed) Von Haniel.”
Sir Maurice Hankey, at M. Clemenceau’s request, read the pertinent article of the Treaty of Peace with Germany, namely, Article 432.
“All matters relating to the occupation and not provided for by the present Treaty shall be regulated by subsequent agreements which Germany hereby undertakes to observe.”
Mr. Lloyd George said he would take no risks and would insist on the Germans signing without any discussion.
President Wilson and M. Sonnino agreed.
M. Mantoux, at M. Clemenceau’s request, then read the following draft of a letter prepared by the Secretary-General of the Peace Conference:—
“Monsieur le Président,
In acknowledging the receipt of your letter of June 24 with reference to the agreement as to the military occupation of the territories [Page 656] of the Rhine, I have the honour to remind you that under Article 432 of the conditions of peace, now accepted by the German Government, Germany is bound thereby to accept the terms of this agreement.
There is therefore no need to open negotiations on the subject and the instrument in question must be signed under the same conditions as the Treaty.”
M. Clemenceau suggested that in the last line the words “under the same conditions” should be deleted, and there should be substituted the words “at the same time.”
(This was agreed to, and Capt. Portier was asked to prepare a text for M. Clemenceau’s signature.)
Captain Portier on his return, stated that M. Fromageot did not like the use of the words “at the same time”. His objection was on the ground that Article 432 spoke of “subsequent agreements”, whereas if signed at the same time, it would be a “simultaneous agreement”.
(It was agreed to ignore this objection and M. Clemenceau signed the letter, which was despatched to the German Delegation.)
2. President Wilson read the Report furnished by the Allied Admirals (Appendix I).
M. Clemenceau said that for reasons he had already given, he could not confine himself to a purely naval point of view. The action of the Germans in sinking their ships at Scapa Flow must be considered in connection with the information as to their intentions in Poland, which was confirmed from many quarters. The Sinking of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow
Mr. Lloyd George commented on the fact that the information from Poland had been published in the newspapers without any explanation being asked for from the Germans.
M. Clemenceau said it was useless to ask for explanations, as the Germans would only say that we had falsified the document. His view was that nothing should be done to delay the signature of Peace. All he would do today was to write to the Germans on the questions of the sinking of the ships and the burning of the flags. The Polish affair would grow in a day or two, and give ample reasons for action.
Mr. Lloyd George thought it would be much better to take action to stop the development on the Polish front. The Germans now knew that the Allies were aware that the movement there was not spontaneous, and could probably be stopped.
M. Clemenceau agreed that it was worth trying.
President Wilson recalled that an alleged letter from Erzberger, which had been alluded to before at the Council,1 had turned out to be false. It had been traced to Polish sources. While he had the utmost [Page 657] confidence in M. Paderewski (Mr. Lloyd George said he also had this confidence), he suspected Polish sources of information. Consequently, he would like to have confirmation of the information as to German intentions on the Eastern front from other sources, before taking action.
M. Clemenceau said that he was thinking of sending an officer today to Warsaw to photograph the intercepted document.
Mr. Lloyd George pointed out that all that had been done up to the present was to publish it in the “Matin”. We ought to write to the Germans and say that this document had come into our hands, and to inform them that if the information should prove correct, the Germans would be held responsible.
M. Sonnino agreed, provided that the signature of the Treaty of Peace was not retarded.
M. Clemenceau said he had received a despatch from Poland to the effect that the Polish Government were doing their best to prevent the peasants in Upper Silesia from being goaded into a rising against the Germans.
Mr. Lloyd George said that riots must be expected though he did not anticipate serious fighting. The German Government ought to be told that they would be held responsible.
M. Clemenceau offered to bring all the papers on the subject to the afternoon meeting.
President Wilson said that the sinking of the German ships at Scapa Flow had been a constant subject in his thoughts. The more he considered the matter, the more doubtful he felt. On the previous day he had met his four colleagues of the American Delegation, in order to learn their views. Mr. Lansing, who was a very experienced international lawyer, said he seriously doubted whether the German Government could be held responsible for something that had happened outside their jurisdiction. If the ships had been sunk on the High Seas, or in a German Port, his doubts would be removed, but he very much doubted whether the German Government could be held responsible in International Law for what had happened in Scapa Flow. About the responsibility of the German Admiral, he had no doubt. The Allied and Associated Powers were now about to make Peace. They were dealing with a people of such a character that this new act made no difference to our knowledge of it. Difficulties of this kind would often occur in connection with the carrying out of the Treaty. The Germans would be tricky and would perhaps often destroy things that they had undertaken to return, alleging that the destruction had been perpetrated by irresponsible persons over whom they had no control. Hence, it was necessary to face the issue as to whether if they did so, we were prepared to renew the war. All we [Page 658] could say at present was that the sinking of these ships was a violation of the Armistice. If we treated it as a violation of the Armistice, it would lead to an outbreak of war. He recalled that the Armistice continued in operation until the ratification of Peace by Germany and three of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. Until these ratifications were deposited, the Armistice would prevail. To take any military action was to abrogate the Armistice and to create a state of war while we were awaiting ratification. It would be a very serious step after we had signed the Treaty of Peace, thus to abrogate the Armistice and renew the war.
M. Clemenceau suggested that it would not be the Allies who renewed it.
President Wilson pointed out that if action was taken by the Allies, they would have to sweep the Armistice aside and there would be a state of war.
M. Clemenceau did not agree in this. He pointed out that in the paper by the legal advisers, the action of the Germans gave the right to proceed to such further measures as the Allied and Associated Powers might deem appropriate.
Mr. Lloyd George did not consider this would entitle them to occupy a city which was left to Germany under the terms of the Treaty of Peace, which had been signed.
M. Sonnino said that if action was taken after signing, it would be taken in France as a great recoil and a surrender of victory.
M. Sonnino said that if action was taken after signing, it would be regarded as an act of violation of the Armistice undertaken by the Allies.
M. Clemenceau said that there were two questions; one of International Law, and one of policy. As regards the first, the Council had all agreed yesterday that the action of the Germans constituted a violation of the Armistice. His own opinion was unchanged. The Allies were free to take note of it, or to say nothing about it, or to say it was an excellent thing, but they could not say it was not a violation of the Armistice. In his view, they were either forced to act, or otherwise to find some further means of protest. It was impossible for them to do otherwise. No Parliament in France would tolerate inaction. France alone had suffered from this action. Coming to the question of policy, President Wilson said he was not prepared to renew the war. The losses of the French had been greater than those of their Allies. In all quarters, demobilization was demanded. In the lobby, on the previous day, many Deputies had spoken to him of this. Consequently, he had no desire to reopen the war. But there was a great and supreme political interest at stake which prevailed over these considerations. Germany had [Page 659] shown every possible proof of bad faith at every point. She had committed a number of violations of the Armistice. Germany was not now in a position to resist, but if the Allies were to wait each time and take no action, the day would come when Germany would violate the Treaty of Peace, when the Allies were no longer together and when the soldiers had all been demobilized. Hence, in his view, this was the psychological moment at which to say that we insisted on proper reparation. To take action now would have a very great influence on the future doings of Germany. If this opportunity was lost, he begged President Wilson to remember that the Treaty would be in great danger.
Mr. Lloyd George said he was most reluctant to intervene in this discussion. Although the British Admiralty had made the strongest possible protest against interning instead of surrendering the German Fleet, nevertheless, the ships had been sunk in a British Port and under British care. This was the reason of his reluctance. He had consulted such of his colleagues as were in Paris, and they were quite clear as to their views. It was not a question as to whether to allow flagrant violation of the Armistice by Germany to pass without protest, or for not exacting punishment or compensation. That was not the point. The real point was that the form of compensation should have some relation to the offence. Hence, the question arose as to whether in compensation for the sinking of the ships, the Allies were entitled to seize a town after the signature of Peace. This offence had taken place last Saturday. The Treaty would be signed a week later. In the meanwhile, the Treaty contained a precise definition of the areas of occupation. In these circumstances, to occupy other territory would be a little bit tricky.
If Essen was to be occupied, the Allies ought to do so now. The only reason we did not do so was because we were afraid the Germans would not sign. This was admitted in these conversations, and this was the reason why it was proposed not to tell them. At the present time the whole feeling of the world was against Germany, and their action at Scapa Flow, and more especially in burning the French flags, had accentuated this feeling. The burning of the flags was felt to be a wanton insult. But to get the Germans to sign, knowing perfectly well that after their signature we did not intend to adhere to the letter of the Treaty, but proposed to advance further into Germany, would outrage the sense of decent people. The position of British public opinion was different from that of the French, and he did not want to have trouble with it. The Germans were old enemies of the French, and were the enemies of the British for the first time. Although British public opinion had been solid to march to Berlin if the Germans would not sign, nevertheless, it must not [Page 660] be forgotten that there was some feeling against the Treaty, including a considerable feeling amongst intellectuals. He instanced Lord Robert Cecil and the two Archbishops. What he wanted to avoid was causing a feeling that the Allies were not exacting justice, but were trampling on the fallen foe. Hence, he begged his colleagues not to advance into Germany after Peace had been signed.
M. Clemenceau, interrupting, said that the French troops would never advance without the consent of their Allies.
Mr. Lloyd George said that M. Clemenceau asked what was to be done. Would we allow the incident to pass? Certainly not, but whatever was done must be announced before the signature of peace. He would take the risk of that. First he would punish those who were responsible, and this would apply not only to the German Admiral, who should be court-martialled, but to those persons who had destroyed the flags, who should be put in the same category as the other Germans to be tried.
Secondly, he thought that the Allied and Associated Powers were entitled to relevant compensation. If some action of the same kind had taken place on land, no-one would ever dream of asking for compensation on the sea. The punishment must fit the crime, and consequently must be Naval. Two German ships of the first class had been saved, namely the battle-ship “Baden” and the battle-cruiser “Hindenburg”, which he supposed was better than any battle-cruiser the British Navy had. He would say at once that as those ships had been sunk in British ports, subject to the consent of his colleagues, France must have first claim to them. To show the importance of battle cruisers, he recalled that he had had a conversation during the war with Admiral Sims, who had pointed out that in 1921 the Germans would have had a superiority in battle-cruisers, a superiority which could have been countered only by obtaining battle-cruisers from Japan. If the Germans had had a superiority of one battle-cruiser it would have been extremely difficult to bring their fleet to action. In addition to the “Hindenburg” and the “Baden”, some light cruisers had been beached at Scapa, and he would say at once that so far as the British Empire was concerned, he waived all claim to them and would allow France to have them, subject to the consent of his colleagues.
President Wilson interpolated that, for his part, he agreed.
Mr. Lloyd George said that as regards the rest of the German fleet, the report of the Admirals showed that it was of two categories. The first category consisted of some very useful light cruisers. Great Britain did not require these, and if France wished to have them, he would support her claim. As regards the second category, they were said not to be of much value, but he recalled that during the war old [Page 661] material had often proved to be useful. He did not know what more he could offer. In regard to the flags, it was more difficult to provide for compensation. He begged, however, that France would on no account act alone in occupying some city.
M. Clemenceau said he would not do so without the agreement of the Allies.
Mr. Lloyd George said that nothing could be more fatal. He did not anticipate real trouble with Germany for at least ten years.
M. Clemenceau thought he was wrong, and that trouble might come at once.
Mr. Lloyd George said that even if it were in five years, it was just as important that the Allies should hold together.
He felt himself to be in the position of a supplicant, handicapped by what had happened in a British port, but nevertheless he hoped that France would not insist on any action being taken as an act of retaliation after the signature of peace.
(M. Clemenceau withdrew at this point to speak to M. Fromageot, and on his return,)
Mr. Lloyd George said that the British Government would give up all claim to the German destroyers at Scapa Flow.
President Wilson said he would give expression to the fear that had been in his mind for many weeks. So far as he could recall, the Treaty of Peace only gave one method of securing compulsion on Germany for its execution, namely that the period of occupation could be extended by the Council of the League of Nations. He had asked himself, supposing Germany acts in bad faith and does not fulfil the Treaty what could we do? In his view, any exercise of force would be an act of war and the whole Treaty would be at an end. Everyone agreed that the action of the Germans at Scapa Flow had been a breach of the Armistice. But if we were to retaliate the Armistice would be off, and the war would be on.
Mr. Lloyd George said that the action taken by the Germans on Saturday had been an act of war.
President Wilson said he thought the best plan was that proposed by Mr. Lloyd George, namely, to write to the Germans and tell them that the act of the German Admiral was a breach of the Armistice, and that he would be tried. Also that the Allies felt it right to demand that the German Government should make restitution as far as possible. We could not get more than Mr. Lloyd George had proposed, because the Germans had no more ships. He thought, however, that we ought to avoid military action or anything that would give the impression that we were renewing the war.
M. Clemenceau said he had tried his best to agree with his colleagues, and he hoped that they would try to do something to agree [Page 662] with him. He had asked M. Fromageot whether the occupation of Essen would be a renewal of the war, and M. Fromageot had replied that it looked very much like it. It would be an act of reprisal. He would, therefore, let this drop, though he still thought, himself, that it was the best thing to do and that this fact would be especially decisive on the Polish question. There were three questions:—first, the juridical question as to whether the Germans had broken the Armistice, and the Council were all agreed on this. Secondly, the question of punishment of the Admiral. They were agreed on this also. The third was the question of reparation in kind and in amount. He would acknowledge that if adequate reparation could be made in kind, this would be the best solution, but it was not easy to arrange and he did not think it was possible. He asked himself, however, whether France could not demand some of the mercantile marine left to Germany. M. Bérenger2 had written him yesterday and said he ought to ask for some petroleum ships. He thought something might be done in this direction. He considered Mr. Lloyd George’s proposals as to warships satisfactory in proportion to their number. Perhaps some others could be salved. His idea to-day was to send the Germans a letter based on the text of the report from the Legal Advisers.3 He would accept this report subject to the few corrections as the basis of the letter to the Germans but would add a paragraph about the burning of the flags. He would add that the Allies would demand reparation as soon as the investigations they were making allowed them to do so. To-day he did not wish to go further than this. A remark of President Wilson’s had put into his mind the thought that it might be useful to add a warning that if the Germans continued in this war it would be necessary for the Allies to consider the prolongation of the military occupation. This would make them think a good deal, and would be a certain compensation for public opinion in France. In the meanwhile, the naval experts should be asked to give further information about oil vessels and the merchant fleet. Consequently, he thought he was not so far from what President Wilson had proposed.
President Wilson then read the report by the Legal Advisers. (Appendix II.)
(It was agreed to adopt this as the basis of a letter to the German Delegation, subject to the following modifications:—
In the following sentence:—
“The destruction of these ships, instead of their preservation as has been provided, constituted at once a violation of the Armistice, the destruction of the pledge handed over, and an act of insubordination towards the Allied and Associated Powers,”
It was agreed to substitute the words “Gross breach of good faith, (felonie)” for “insubordination”.
In paragraph 3 it was agreed to insert the last sentence, beginning “As regards the question whether …” as an allusion to Article 31 of the Armistice Convention of November 11th, 1918, in some such terms as the following:—“According to the principles acknowledged in Article 31 of the Armistice of November 11, 1918.”
President Wilson said he would accept it provisionally, although he did not believe Article 31 was applicable.
M. Sonnino pointed out that even if the Article was not directly applicable, the principle might be applicable.
At the end of the first sentence of Para. 4, M. Clemenceau suggested to add, after the word “appropriate”, the following words:—”as reparation for the loss caused.”
(This was agreed to.)
M. Clemenceau suggested an addition at the end of the memorandum in some such terms as the following:—
“The fact of sinking the German Fleet not only constitutes by itself a breach of the Armistice, but the burning of French flags in Berlin, taken in conjunction with it, constitutes a deliberate and systematic breach of the Articles of the Treaty of Peace. Consequently, the Allied and Associated Powers take official cognisance of these acts of breach of faith, and as soon as they have investigated all the circumstances of the act, they will demand the necessary reparation.”
President Wilson proposed that an English and French speaking person should be nominated by the Council to draft a letter to the Germans on the above basis. He proposed that the final sentence should be put in some such manner as the following:—
“These articles are in effect a breach of the terms of the Treaty in anticipation, and inevitably create an impression that shakes the confidence of the Allied and Associated Powers in the good faith of the Germans, and makes it necessary to warn them of the consequences.”
M. Clemenceau urged that the prolongation of the period of occupation should be specifically referred to.
President Wilson suggested some such phrase as the following:—
“Makes it necessary to suggest the probable necessity of resorting to the means provided for in the Treaty of Peace.”
He thought, however, it would be advisable to leave the matter to the Drafting Committee.
(It was agreed that Mr. Balfour and M. Loucheur should prepare a letter to the Germans, based on the above discussion.)
M. Loucheur, accompanied by Mr. Hurst and M. Fromageot, entered the room to receive instructions from M. Clemenceau.
Mr. Lloyd George undertook to communicate with Mr. Balfour.[Page 664]
3. M. Clemenceau said that the Germans would arrive on Friday morning, but their credentials would first have to be checked.
Mr. Lloyd George said that he had been informed that a telegram received on the previous day by the German Delegation had caused great hilarity. It was rumoured that the Germans were sending some persons of minor importance to sign the treaty. He recalled that they had attempted the same thing in connection with the Armistice, and suggested that an immediate demand should be made to them to state who their delegates would be. Arrangements for Signing the Treaty
M. Clemenceau sent for M. Dutasta and instructed him to mate this demand immediately to the Germans.
4. The following resolution was approved and initialled by the five Heads of Governments, and given to Captain Portier, who accompanied the Secretary-General:—
“The Secretary-General of the Peace Conference is instructed to make the necessary arrangements for the signature of the Treaty with Poland not later than the signature of the Treaty of Peace with Germany.”Polish Treaty