Signing of Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in the French palace on 28 June 1919 was the most important treaty ending the First World War.

It was one of a series of treaties signed between the Allies (France, the British Empire,  Russia, Japan, Italy and the United States) and the Central Powers (Germany,  Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) ending the bloodiest war the world had ever seen.

The conflict left 15 to 19 million dead and about 23 million military personnel wounded.

Treaties that ended First World War, Archive KewThe conflict was ended by the signing of several treaties, all of which have been brought together for the first time at Britain’s National Archive in Kew, on the outskirs of London.

The seeds of future conflict

The Treaty of Versailles re-shaped Africa, as Germany was stripped of its former colonies – many of which were in Africa.

This is Article 22, which handed the colonies of the defeated Central Powers over to the League of Nations, to be administered by the Allied Powers.

Treaty of Versailles: Certified British copy of peace treaty signed with Germany 28 June 1919, Archive, Kew

Germany was stripped of its African colonies – among others.

These had been extensive before the conflict.

Germany's African ColniesTogoland was divided between France and Britain, the French part becoming modern-day Togo and the British part joining Ghana.

Kamerun (Cameroon) was also partitioned between the two allies.

Ruanda (Rwanda) and Urundi (Burundi) were given to Belgium. Britain received German East Africa (Tanzania), while German South-West Africa (Namibia) went to South Africa.

South Africa’s mandate over Namibia became hotly contested because of the imposition of apartheid, and was finally terminated by the UN in 1961.

The partition of Cameroon is a factor in the current conflict between the country’s Anglophone and Francophone populations.

Nazi demands

Hitler denounced the Treaty of Versailles and demanded that Germany have its former colonies returned to it.

Nazi demand for African Colonies

This was part of Nazi policy and can be traced back to 1923.

It led to the formation of in 1925 of the Koloniale Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft (the Colonial Empire Association), which was incorporated into the Nazi party.

It became the Reichskolonialbund, on 13 June 1936 led by the former governor of German East Africa.

It’s aim was to reclaim the overseas colonies that Germany had lost under the Treaty of Versailles.

This was backed by newspapers, magazines, conferences and “Colonial Exhibitions”.

This postcard is one example.

In reality Hitler became too bogged down fighting the Soviet Union and Britain and their allies and was unable to fulfill his African dreams, but his armies did invade North Africa and were only finally turned back at the battle of El Alamein, in which South African troops played a major role.