Occupation of the Ruhr

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French soldiers in the Ruhr in 1923 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R09876, Ruhrbesetzung.jpg
French soldiers in the Ruhr in 1923

The Occupation of the Ruhr (German: Ruhrbesetzung) was a period of military occupation of the German Ruhr valley by France and Belgium between 11 January 1923 and 25 August 1925. The occupation was a response to the German Weimar Republic widely and regularly defaulting on reparation payments in the early 1920s. The total reparation sum of £6.6 billion had been dictated by the victorious powers in the Treaty of Versailles, and the reparation payments were due to last several decades.

Military occupation effective provisional control of a certain power over a territory

Military or belligerent occupation is effective provisional control by a certain ruling power over a territory, which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity, without the violation of the actual sovereign. The territory is then known as the occupied territory and the ruling power the occupant. Occupation is distinguished from annexation by its intended temporary nature, by its military nature, and by citizenship rights of the controlling power not being conferred upon the subjugated population.

Ruhr Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

The Ruhr is a polycentric urban area in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. With a population density of 2,800/km2 and a population of over 5 million (2017), it is the largest urban area in Germany and the third-largest in the European Union. It consists of several large cities bordered by the rivers Ruhr to the south, Rhine to the west, and Lippe to the north. In the southwest it borders the Bergisches Land. It is considered part of the larger Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region of more than 12 million people, which is among the largest in Europe.

French Third Republic Nation of France from 1870 to 1940

The French Third Republic was the system of government adopted in France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940 after France's defeat by Nazi Germany in World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government in France.



Map of the occupation of the Rhineland (1918-1919) Western Germany 1923 en.png
Map of the occupation of the Rhineland (1918–1919)

The Ruhr region had been occupied by Allied troops in the aftermath of the First World War. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which formally ended the war with the Allies as the victors, Germany accepted responsibility for the damages caused in the war and was obliged to pay war reparations to the various Allies. Since the war was fought predominately on French soil, these reparations were paid primarily to France. The total sum of reparations demanded from Germany—around 226 billion gold marks (US $ 899 billion in 2019)—was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission. In 1921, the amount was reduced to 132 billion (at that time, $31.4 billion (US $442 billion in 2019), or £6.6 billion (UK£284 billion in 2019)). [1] Even with the reduction, the debt was huge. As some of the payments were in raw materials, which were exported, German factories were unable to function, and the German economy suffered, further damaging the country's ability to pay. [2]

Allies of World War I group of countries that fought against the Central Powers in World War I

The Allies of World War I or Entente Powers is the term commonly used for the coalition that opposed the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria during the First World War (1914–1918).

Treaty of Versailles one of the treaties that ended the First World War

The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to World War I. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919.

Article 231, often known as the War Guilt Clause, was the opening article of the reparations section of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War between the German Empire and the Allied and Associated Powers. The article did not use the word "guilt" but it served as a legal basis to compel Germany to pay reparations for the war.

By late 1922, the German defaults on payments had grown so regular that a crisis engulfed the Reparations Commission; the French and Belgian delegates urged occupying the Ruhr as a way of forcing Germany to pay more, while the British delegate urged a lowering of the payments. [3] As a consequence of a German default on timber deliveries in December 1922, the Reparations Commission declared Germany in default, which led to the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923. [4] Particularly galling to the French was that the timber quota the Germans defaulted on was based on an assessment of their capacity the Germans made themselves and subsequently lowered. [5] The Allies believed that the government of Chancellor Wilhelm Cuno had defaulted on the timber deliveries deliberately as a way of testing the will of the Allies to enforce the treaty. [5] The entire conflict was further exacerbated by a German default on coal deliveries in early January 1923, which was the thirty-fourth coal default in the previous thirty-six months. [6] [7] Frustrated at Germany not paying reparations, Raymond Poincaré, the French Prime Minister, hoped for joint Anglo-French economic sanctions against Germany in 1922 and opposed military action. However, by December 1922 he saw coal for French steel production and payments in money as laid out in the Treaty of Versailles draining away.

Wilhelm Cuno German chancellor

Wilhelm Carl Josef Cuno was a German businessman and politician who was the Chancellor of Germany from 1922 to 1923, for a total of 264 days. His tenure included the episode known as the Occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian troops and the period in which inflation in Germany accelerated notably, heading towards hyperinflation. Cuno was also general director of the Hapag shipping company.

Raymond Poincaré French statesman and lawyer

Raymond Nicolas Landry Poincaré was a French statesman who served three times as 58th Prime Minister of France, and as President of France from 1913 to 1920. He was a conservative leader, primarily committed to political and social stability.

Prime Minister of France head of government and of the Council of Ministers of France

The French Prime Minister in the Fifth Republic is the head of government. During the Third and Fourth Republics, the head of government position was called President of the Council of Ministers, generally shortened to President of the Council.


French Chasseurs Alpins in Buer Bundesarchiv Bild 102-09896, Franzosische Alpenjager in den Strassen Buers.jpg
French Chasseurs Alpins in Buer

After much deliberation, Poincaré decided to occupy the Ruhr on 11 January 1923 to extract the reparations himself. The real issue during the Ruhrkampf (Ruhr campaign), as the Germans labelled the battle against the French occupation, was not the German defaults on coal and timber deliveries but the sanctity of the Versailles Treaty. [8] Poincaré often argued to the British that letting the Germans defy Versailles in regards to the reparations would create a precedent that would lead to the Germans dismantling the rest of the Versailles treaty. [9] Finally, Poincaré argued that once the chains that had bound Germany in Versailles were destroyed, it was inevitable that Germany would plunge the world into another world war. [9]

Initiated by Poincaré, the invasion took place on 11 January 1923. General Alphonse Caron's 32nd infantry corps, under the supervision of General Jean-Marie Degoutte, carried out the operation. [10] Some theories[ which? ] state that the French aimed to occupy the centre of German coal, iron, and steel production in the Ruhr area valley simply to get the money. Some others[ which? ] state that France did it to ensure that the reparations were paid in goods, because the mark was practically worthless due to hyperinflation that already existed at the end of 1922. Since the territory of the Saar Basin was separated from Germany, the supply of iron ore fell on the French side and coal on the German side, but the two commodities had far more value together than separately: the supply chain had grown tightly integrated during the industrialization of Germany after 1870, but the problems of currency, transportation and import/export barriers threatened to destroy the steel industry in both countries. [11] Eventually, this problem was resolved in the post-World War II European Coal and Steel community. [12]

An invasion is a military offensive in which large parts of combatants of one geopolitical entity aggressively enter territory controlled by another such entity, generally with the objective of either conquering; liberating or re-establishing control or authority over a territory; forcing the partition of a country; altering the established government or gaining concessions from said government; or a combination thereof. An invasion can be the cause of a war, be a part of a larger strategy to end a war, or it can constitute an entire war in itself. Due to the large scale of the operations associated with invasions, they are usually strategic in planning and execution.

Coal A combustible sedimentary rock composed primarily of carbon

Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other elements; chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. Coal is formed if dead plant matter decays into peat and over millions of years the heat and pressure of deep burial converts the peat into coal.

Iron Chemical element with atomic number 26

Iron is a chemical element with symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is by mass the most common element on Earth, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust. Its abundance in rocky planets like Earth is due to its abundant production by fusion in high-mass stars, where it is the last element to be produced with release of energy before the violent collapse of a supernova, which scatters the iron into space.

Following France's decision to invade the Ruhr, [13] the Inter-Allied Mission for Control of Factories and Mines (MICUM) [14] was set up as a means of ensuring coal repayments from Germany. [15]

Passive resistance

Protests by gymnasts from the Ruhr at the 1923 Munich Gymnastics Festival (The sign on the left reads "The Ruhr remains German"; the sign on the right reads "We never want to be vassals".) Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00121, Munchen, Turnfest, Festzug.jpg
Protests by gymnasts from the Ruhr at the 1923 Munich Gymnastics Festival (The sign on the left reads "The Ruhr remains German"; the sign on the right reads "We never want to be vassals".)

The Allied occupation was greeted by a campaign of passive resistance from the German inhabitants. Approximately 130 German civilians were killed by the French occupation army during the events, including during civil disobedience protests, e.g., against dismissal of German officials. [16] [17] Some theories assert that to pay for passive resistance in the Ruhr, the German government began the hyperinflation that destroyed the German economy in 1923. [8] Others state that the road to hyperinflation was well established before with the reparation payments that started on November 1921, [18] see 1920s German inflation. In the face of economic collapse, with high unemployment and hyperinflation, the strikes were eventually called off in September 1923 by the new Gustav Stresemann coalition government, which was followed by a state of emergency. Despite this, civil unrest grew into riots and coup attempts targeted at the government of the Weimar Republic, including the Beer Hall Putsch. The Rhenish Republic was proclaimed at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) in October 1923. [19]

Though the French succeeded in making their occupation of the Ruhr pay, the Germans through their passive resistance in the Ruhr and the hyperinflation that wrecked their economy, won the world's sympathy, and under heavy Anglo-American financial pressure (the simultaneous decline in the value of the franc made the French very open to pressure from Wall Street and the City), the French were forced to agree to the Dawes Plan of April 1924, which substantially lowered German reparations payments. [20] Under the Dawes Plan, Germany paid only 1 billion marks in 1924, and then increasing amounts for the next three years, until the total rose to 2.25 billion marks by 1927.

Sympathy for Germany

Front page of Chicago Daily Tribune, 6 March 1923, announcing French troops killing four resisting Germans France Invades Ruhr Chicago Daily Tribune 6 March 1923.jpg
Front page of Chicago Daily Tribune, 6 March 1923, announcing French troops killing four resisting Germans

Internationally, the French invasion of Germany did much to boost sympathy for the German Republic, although no action was taken in the League of Nations since it was technically legal under the Treaty of Versailles. [21] The French, with their own economic problems, eventually accepted the Dawes Plan and withdrew from the occupied areas in July and August 1925. The last French troops evacuated Düsseldorf and Duisburg along with the city's important harbour in Duisburg-Ruhrort, ending French occupation of the Ruhr region on 25 August 1925. According to Sally Marks, the occupation of the Ruhr "was profitable and caused neither the German hyperinflation, which began in 1922 and ballooned because of German responses to the Ruhr occupation, nor the franc's 1924 collapse, which arose from French financial practices and the evaporation of reparations". [22] Marks suggests the profits, after Ruhr-Rhineland occupation costs, were nearly 900 million gold marks. [23]


Despite his disagreements with Britain, Poincaré desired to preserve the Anglo-French entente and thus moderated his aims to a degree. His major goal was the winning of the extraction of reparations payments from Germany. His inflexible methods and authoritarian personality led to the failure of his diplomacy. [24]

British perspective

When on 12 July 1922, Germany demanded a moratorium on reparation payments, tension developed between the French government of Poincaré and the coalition government of David Lloyd George. The British Labour Party demanded peace and denounced Lloyd George as a troublemaker. It saw Germany as the martyr of the postwar period and France as vengeful and the principal threat to peace in Europe. The tension between France and Britain peaked during a conference in Paris in early 1923, by which time the coalition led by Lloyd George had been replaced by the Conservatives. The Labour Party opposed the occupation of the Ruhr throughout 1923, which it rejected as French imperialism. The British Labour Party believed it had won when Poincaré accepted the Dawes Plan in 1924. [25]


French troops leaving Dortmund Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00769, Dortmund, Letzte Franzosen verlassen die Stadt.jpg
French troops leaving Dortmund

Dawes Plan

To deal with the implementation of the Dawes Plan, a conference took place in London in July–August 1924. [26] The British Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, who viewed reparations as impossible to pay, successfully pressured the French Premier Édouard Herriot into a whole series of concessions to Germany. [26] The British diplomat Sir Eric Phipps commented that "The London Conference was for the French 'man in the street' one long Calvary as he saw M. Herriot abandoning one by one the cherished possessions of French preponderance on the Reparations Commission, the right of sanctions in the event of German default, the economic occupation of the Ruhr, the French-Belgian railroad Régie, and finally, the military occupation of the Ruhr within a year". [27] The Dawes Plan was significant in European history as it marked the first time that Germany had succeeded in defying Versailles, and revised an aspect of the treaty in its favour.

The Saar region remained under French control until 1935.

German politics

In German politics, the French occupation of the Rhineland accelerated the formation of right-wing parties. Disoriented by the defeat in the war, conservatives in 1922 founded a consortium of nationalist associations, the "Vereinigten Vaterländischen Verbände Deutschlands" (VVVD, United Patriotic Associations of Germany). The goal was to forge a united front of the right. In the climate of national resistance against the French Ruhr invasion, the VVVD reached its peak strength. It advocated policies of uncompromising monarchism, corporatism and opposition to the Versailles settlement. However, it lacked internal unity and money and so it never managed to unite the right before it had faded away by the late 1920s, as the NSDAP emerged. [28]

See also

Related Research Articles

World War I reparations were war reparations imposed during the Paris Peace Conference upon the Central Powers following their defeat in the First World War by the Allied and Associate Powers. Each of the defeated powers was required to make payments in either cash or kind. Because of the financial situation Austria, Hungary, and Turkey found themselves in after the war, few to no reparations were paid and the requirements for reparations were cancelled. Bulgaria, having paid only a fraction of what was required, saw its reparation figure reduced and then cancelled. Historians have recognized the German requirement to pay reparations as the "chief battleground of the post-war era" and "the focus of the power struggle between France and Germany over whether the Versailles Treaty was to be enforced or revised".

Gustav Stresemann German politician, statesman, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Gustav Ernst Stresemann was a German statesman who served as Chancellor in 1923 and Foreign Minister 1923–1929, during the Weimar Republic. He was co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926.

Locarno Treaties multilateral treaties negotiated in Locarno, Switzerland during October 1925

The Locarno Treaties were seven agreements negotiated at Locarno, Switzerland, on 5–16 October 1925 and formally signed in London on 1 December, in which the First World War Western European Allied powers and the new states of Central and Eastern Europe sought to secure the post-war territorial settlement, and return normalizing relations with defeated Germany. It also stated that Germany would never go to war with the other countries. Locarno divided borders in Europe into two categories: western, which were guaranteed by Locarno treaties, and eastern borders of Germany with Poland, which were open for revision.

War reparations are compensation payments made after a war by the vanquished to the victors.

Dawes Plan a plan in 1924 to resolve the World War I reparations that Germany had to pay

The Dawes Plan was a plan in 1924 to resolve the World War I reparations that Germany had to pay, that had strained diplomacy following World War I and the Treaty of Versailles.

The Young Plan was a program for settling Germany's World War I reparations written in August 1929 and formally adopted in 1930. It was presented by the committee headed (1929–30) by American industrialist Owen D. Young, creator and ex-first chairman of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), who, at the time, concurrently served on the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation, and also had been one of the representatives involved in a previous war-reparations restructuring arrangement—the Dawes Plan of 1924. The Inter-Allied Reparations Commission established the German reparation sum at a theoretical total of 132 billion, but a practical total of 50 billion gold marks. After the Dawes Plan was put into operation in 1924, it became apparent that Germany would not willingly meet the annual payments over an indefinite period of time. The Young Plan reduced further payments by about 20 percent. Although the theoretical total was 112 billion Gold Marks, equivalent to US ca. $27 billion in 1929 over a period of 58 years, which would end in 1988, few expected the plan to last for much more than a decade. In addition, the Young Plan divided the annual payment, set at two billion Gold Marks, US $473 million, into two components: one unconditional part, equal to one third of the sum, and a postponable part, equal to the remaining two-thirds, which would incur interest and be financed by a consortium of American investment banks coordinated by J.P. Morgan & Co.

German Rentenmark

The Rentenmark was a currency issued on 15 November 1923 to stop the hyperinflation of 1922 and 1923 in Weimar Germany, after the previously used "paper" Mark had become almost worthless. The name literally meant "pension mark", in order to signal that pensions were secure. It was subdivided into 100 Rentenpfennig and was expanded in 1924 by the Reichsmark.

The following lists events that happened during 1924 in the Weimar Republic.

Genoa Conference (1922)

The Genoa Economic and Financial Conference was a formal conclave of 34 nations held in Genoa, Italy from 10 April to 19 May 1922. It was planned by British prime minister David Lloyd George to resolve the major economic and political issues facing Europe, and to deal with the pariah nations of Germany and Russia, both of which had been excluded from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The conference was particularly interested in developing a strategy to rebuild defeated Germany, as well as central and eastern Europe, and to negotiate a relationship between European capitalist economies and the new Bolshevik regime in Soviet Russia. However Russia and Germany signed a separate agreement at Rapallo and the result at Genoa was a fiasco with few positive results. The conference did come up with a proposal for resuming the gold standard that was largely put in place by major countries.

Spa Conference of 1920

The Spa Conference was a meeting between the Supreme War Council and the government of the Weimar Republic in Spa, Belgium on 5–16 July 1920.

Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic

Hyperinflation affected the German Papiermark, the currency of the Weimar Republic, between 1921 and 1923. It caused considerable internal political instability in the country, the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium as well as misery for the general populace.

The Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission was created by the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919, to supervise the occupation of the Rhineland and "ensure, by any means, the security and satisfaction of all the needs of the Armies of Occupation". It came into being on 10 January 1920, when the treaty came into force. It was based in Coblenz.

The Lipetsk fighter-pilot school was a secret training school for fighter pilots operated by the German Reichswehr at Lipetsk, Soviet Union, because Germany was prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles from operating an air force, and had to find alternative means to continue training and development for the future Luftwaffe. Today it is the site of Lipetsk Air Base.

Cuno cabinet

The Cuno cabinet was the seventh democratically elected Reichsregierung of the German Reich, during the period in which it is now usually referred to as the Weimar Republic. The cabinet was named after Reichskanzler (chancellor) Wilhelm Cuno and took office on 22 November 1922 when it replaced the Second Wirth cabinet under Joseph Wirth. The Cuno cabinet was forced to resign on 12 August 1923 and was replaced the next day by the first cabinet of Gustav Stresemann.

The following events occurred in January 1923:

Ruhr Question

The Ruhr Question was a political topos put on the agenda by the Allies of World War I and the Allies of World War II in the negotiations following each respective war, concerning how to deal with the economic and technological potential of the area where the Rhine and Ruhr intersect. France was heavily in favor of monitoring this region, due to the perception that the economic and technological potential of the region had allowed the German Reich to threaten and occupy France during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, and World War II. The Ruhr question was intimately associated with the Saar Statute and the German Question. There was also a close relationship between the Ruhr Question and the Allied occupation of the Rhineland (1919-1930), the Occupation of the Ruhr, the founding of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (1946), the Monnet Plan (1946-1950), the Marshall Plan (1948-1952), the International Authority for the Ruhr (1949-1952), the Schuman Declaration (1950), and the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community (1951). The political treatment of the Ruhr question is known as Ruhrpolitik in German. When one looks at the Rhineland as a whole or the attempted establishment of the Rhenish Republic in 1923, the terms Rhein- und Ruhrfrage or Rhein-Ruhr-Frage are used in German.


  1. Timothy W. Guinnane (January 2004). "Vergangenheitsbewältigung: the 1953 London Debt Agreement" (PDF). Center Discussion Paper no. 880. Economic Growth Center, Yale University. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
  2. The extent to which payment defaults were genuine or artificial is controversial, see World War I reparations.
  3. Marks, pp. 239–240.
  4. Marks, pp. 240–241.
  5. 1 2 Marks, p. 240.
  6. Marks, p. 241.
  7. Marks, p. 244.
  8. 1 2 Marks, p. 245.
  9. 1 2 Marks, pp. 244–245.
  10. Mordacq, Henri. Die deutsche Mentalitat. Funf Jahre B. am Rhein. p. 165.
  11. John Maynard Keynes, The economic consequences of the Peace.
  12. "Declaration of 9 may - Robert Schuman Foundation". www.robert-schuman.eu. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  13. Fischer, p. 28.
  14. Fischer, p. 42.
  15. Fischer, p. 51.
  16. "Anaconda Standard". 1923-02-10. Twenty Germans were said to have been killed and several French soldiers wounded when a mob at Rapoch attempted to prevent the expulsion of one hundred officials. Picture shows French guard being doubled outside the station at Bochum following a collision between German mob and the French
  17. "Hanover Evening Sun". 1923-03-15. Three Germans killed in Ruhr by French sentries
  18. Ferguson, Adam; When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany p. 38. ISBN   1-58648-994-1
  19. "WHKMLA : The French Occupation of the Rhineland, 1918-1930". www.zum.de. Retrieved 2019-01-11.
  20. Marks, pp. 245–246.
  21. Walsh, p. 142.
  22. Sally Marks, '1918 and After. The Postwar Era', in Gordon Martel (ed.), The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered. Second Edition (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 26.
  23. Marks, p. 35, no. 57.
  24. Hines H. Hall, III, "Poincare and Interwar Foreign Policy: 'L'Oublie de la Diplomatie' in Anglo-French Relations, 1922–1924," Proceedings of the Western Society for French History (1982), Vol. 10, pp. 485–494.
  25. Aude Dupré de Boulois, "Les Travaillistes, la France et la Question Allemande (1922–1924)," Revue d'Histoire Diplomatique (1999) 113 No. 1 pp. 75–100.
  26. 1 2 Marks, p. 248.
  27. Marks, p. 249.
  28. James M. Diehl, "Von Der 'Vaterlandspartei' zur 'Nationalen Revolution': Die 'Vereinigten Vaterländischen Verbände Deutschlands (VVVD)' 1922–1932," [From "party for the fatherland" to "national revolution": the United Fatherland Associations of Germany (VVVD), 1922–32] Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte (October 1985) 33 No. 4 pp. 617–639.


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