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The First World War ended on 11th Nov at 11:00. But my question is why? If peace has been agreed (The armistice was signed at 5:00), why not stop the fighting with immediate effect rather than have further pointless deaths?

I know that communications wouldn't have been as quick as now, but they had to let their men know to stop fighting at 11:00, so why not just say "stop fighting now"?

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  • 24
    Not a full answer, but presumably so that there was a single, easily remembered time to communicate to everyone. You wouldn't want to tell your troops to stand down now if you didn't know the enemy also was told to stand down, and wouldn't want the time to be confused by messengers.
    – Giter
    Mar 20 '18 at 22:52
  • 13
    "Stop fighting now" can be an issue if the enemy does not know that they are supposed to stop fighting, too. Also, it seems that some officers had ordered to stop offensive actions days before while other wanted to push until the last minute, here is a very interesting link.
    – SJuan76
    Mar 20 '18 at 22:57
  • 15
    Remember the War of 1812 - a war that was started after the British had agreed to the American position, and the peace treaty was signed before the Battle of New Orleans was fought? That's an example of why you need to agree on a date in the future, and ensure that all sides have full confidence and assurance that everyone involved will stop fighting. Otherwise you risk reigniting the war.
    – MCW
    Mar 20 '18 at 23:05
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    Also, 11 am is the twelfth hour. (First hour starts at midnight, second hour at 1am.)
    – billpg
    Mar 21 '18 at 11:55
  • 1
    @billpg: Its the start of the twelfth hour and the end of the 11th hour. So after eleven hours... Seems legit to me.
    – Chris
    Mar 22 '18 at 10:21
62

Communications weren't quick

It would have taken hours for the news to reach all the units on the western front. Radios were not in widespread use, so many telephone calls would have had to be made to many headquarters. They would then have had to send messengers to all their sub-units that didn't have telephones.

If one side stops shooting, and the other doesn't, fighting will just restart

There would be no way to guarantee that the word of the cease-fire, spreading separately on the two sides of the lines, would reach the same areas at the same time. So if side A got an order "Stop fighting immediately," and side B hadn't heard, A would stop, and B would carry on, causing casualties on side A. In fact B would be more effective than usual, because they weren't having to look out for enemy fire. Pretty soon, A would start firing again, because being shot at while having the means to shoot back, but being forbidden to do so is very hard on the nerves.

So it was necessary to give some notice if everyone was to stop simultaneously.

7
  • 1
    B wouldn't know that.
    – Strawberry
    Mar 21 '18 at 10:33
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    @Angew Absence of a positive isn't proof of a negative. Leastwise when the positive is a bullet!
    – Strawberry
    Mar 21 '18 at 14:28
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    As a case example, the final ceasefire between Finland and Soviet Union was agreed on September 2, 1944, and both sides were to stop on September 4 at 8:00. But apparently due to communication delays, the Soviet side was a day late (at least in some locations). Thankfully this did not escalate, but one has to wonder whether allowing one more day before ceasefire on both days would have resulted in less total casualties on the final day.
    – JiK
    Mar 21 '18 at 14:35
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    As another example, the Battle of New Orleans that is largely credited with bringing Andrew Jackson to prominence (and later, the presidency of the USA) famously occurred days after the War of 1812 was over (the treaty having been signed in France and not having had remotely enough time to reach either side in New Orleans).
    – KRyan
    Mar 21 '18 at 19:18
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    @KRyan Weeks, actually. The treaty was signed on Dec 24, while the main (attempted) assault of the battle occurred on Jan 8. Hostilities continued until February 13, when the British learned of the treaty while preparing to attack Mobile, AL. It didn't help that the treaty was signed in Ghent, which requires well over 5,000 miles of sailing to get to New Orleans (BRU-MIA-MSY is over 5,300 miles, according to gcmap.) There were no radios or 777s back then.
    – reirab
    Mar 22 '18 at 8:27
-3

Accepting the need for a delay as described in previous answers, there may have been a particular reason for choosing 11 am (on the 11th day of the 11th month) rather than another time.

In German culture the pre-Advent carnival season traditionally starts at 11.11 am on the 11th of November (St. Martin's Day). In many towns and cities the mayor temporarily hands over the keys to a group of ordinary citizens. Work stops and the rest of the day is spent merry-making.

St. Martin was himself a reluctant soldier who gave up his military career.

What might be the relevance of this? The attitude of the German people was uncertain. They were unprepared for defeat. Was the choice of 11 am intended to resonate psycholgically with the German people? It was time, now, to cease from war and to give up their military work. The Kaiser had already abdicated on November 9th, though news was slow. The armistice time and date symbolically handed over the keys to the German people.

The Goethe Institute, describes the carnival and the date of 11th November. Negotiators must have been aware of the significance of the 11s. I have no evidence it played any part in the choice of time, but it may have been a factor intended psychologically to influence the German people to accept an unpopular end to the war.

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  • What evidence do you have that an end to the war was unpopular with the Berman people? Jun 21 at 8:08
  • 2
    11.11 was in the Western European Timezone. For the German troops it would have started at 12:11 Central European Time. Jun 21 at 10:11
  • @PieterGeerkens I do not suggest that the fact the war had ended was unpopular as such, but the way it ended and the terms of the armistice were hardly what Germans were hoping for. It follows that there may have been concern over the possible reaction, whether or not that cocern was justified.
    – davidlol
    Jun 21 at 17:14
  • @MarkJohnson Good point. I remember hearing about a possible link with carnival many years ago. You seem to have demolished that possibility. Thanks for pointing this out. I should have checked this myself but didn't think about time zones.
    – davidlol
    Jun 21 at 17:21
  • The beginning of the carnival season is purely coincidental.
    – Jos
    Jun 22 at 3:11
-4

I appreciate your answers the truth of the matter is the allied leadership wanted a historic time. The allies continued to send Soldiers into battle between 5am and 11am. In other words we continued to prosecute the war resulting in more casualties in order to have that historic time.

2
  • 6
    " the allied leadership wanted a historic time" - do you have some sources to support that assertion?
    – Steve Bird
    Nov 12 '18 at 20:34
  • You really need to back this claim up.
    – Jos
    Jun 22 at 3:12

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