World War I did not really End on the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month…of 1918!

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A Brief History

On November 11, 1918, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car in the forest of Compiègne, France, officially ending fighting at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day in the eleventh month, but fighting did not actually end at that exact time and nor did the war!

Digging Deeper

Today, Belgium, France, Serbia, and New Zealand commemorate the armistice between the Allies of World War I and Germany.  The Commonwealth Nations, except Mozambique, similarly observe Remembrance Day, while the United States honors those who served its armed forces on Veterans Day, both holidays also occurring on November 11th.  Given that at the time World War I was a war on an unprecedented global scale in which weapons and vehicles never before used in combat first saw action and millions died around the world, it should come as little surprise that nearly one hundred years after an armistice was finally agreed upon to end the conflict, so many countries around the world still commemorate this event.

Yet, just because an armistice is agreed upon does not mean that everyone involved instantaneously became aware of it.  After all, Twitter did not exist in 1918!  Thus, in two separate instances, German commanders continued military operations days or even months after the armistice of November 11th.

In the first instance, news of the armistice had not yet reached the German commander conducting operations in East Africa.  This man, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, actually took the town of Kasama following a British evacuation on November 13th.  He then reached the Chambeshi River the next day only to have the British inform him of the armistice.  Realizing that what the British said was true, he agreed to a ceasefire.  Whereas most other German military leaders in Germany’s African colonies had surrendered relatively early on in the war, Lettow-Vorbeck not only outlasted all of them as a participant in the African theater of the war, he did not even stop his operations until after the fighting ended in Europe!

Yet, Africa is not as far away from France, where the armistice was agreed upon, as is New Guinea in the Asian and Pacific Theater of World War I.  Nearly two months after the war ended in Africa, Hermann Detzner’s unit in New Guinea continued to believe the war was still ongoing  until January 5, 1919.  By that time, he had finally received news of the war’s end.  Therefore, he wrote a letter to the Australians offering to capitulate, which he and his troops did, thereby becoming the final unit to do so.

Even so, technically, the war only officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.

Question for students (and subscribers): What date do you consider the end of World War I and why?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information on the armistice, please read the following book:

Persico, Joseph E.  Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918 World War I and Its Violent Climax.  Random House, 2005.

For the memoirs of the last Germans to stop fighting, please see these books:

Detzner, Hermann.  Vier Jahre Unter Kannibalen: Von 1914 Bis Zum Waffenstillstand Unter Deutscher Flagge Im Unerforschten Innern Von Neuguinea (Classic Reprint) (German Edition).  Forgotten Books, 2018.

Von Lettow-Vorbeck, Paul Emil.  My Reminiscences of East Africa: The East Africa Campaign of the First World War by the Most Notable German Commander.  LEONAUR, 2010.


About Author

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.