It did not. Barely 21 years later, fighting resumed as World War II broke out across Europe, Africa and Asia and off the coasts of Australia and North and South America – involving 61 countries and 1.7 billion people, three quarters of the world's population. Fifty million lost their lives.

A Lethal Date

November 11 already had a deadly place in history. In 1673 it marked the Second Battle of Khotyn, a little-remembered but historic battle in which united European forces under the command of the great Polish general Jan Sobieski drove back invading Muslims who had already been expelled from Spain and turned back at the gates of Vienna, Austria.

It was in the battle at Khotyn that a new innovation learned from the Chinese – missiles tipped with high explosives – were successfully used to help drive back the invaders.

In the United States, November 11, 1864, is still remembered in the American south as the day that Union General William Tecumseh Sherman torched Atlanta, Georgia, burning it to the ground as he marched to the sea – destroying everything in his way, determined to break the South’s will and its ability to supply the Confederate army.

Justifying his brutality, Sherman told New York newspapers bluntly, “War is Hell.”

The Great War

The devastation that became known as World War I began on July 28, 1914 as the Austrian-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. Four days later, Russia and Germany declared war on each other and France ordered a general mobilization.

Starting it all was the assassination in Yugoslavia of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia, but Russia supported Serbia and German’s emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, supported Austria-Hungary.

Germany warned Russia that full mobilization against Austria-Hungary would mean war. Germany responded by declaring war. Russia’s ally, France, urged Great Britain to proclaim its support. A day later, German soldiers crossed into Luxembourg as part of a strategy to invade France through neutral Belgium. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3; that night, Germany invaded Belgium, prompting Great Britain to join the conflict against Germany.

A Bloody Mess

Before it ended officially on November 11, 1918, World War I had drawn in the United States on the side of France and England versus Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Turkish Ottoman Empire. More than 16 million people died – more than half of them European civilians caught in the crossfire.

It was the last great conflict to see horses in cavalry charges – and the first in which tanks, chemical warfare and airplanes played a deadly role.

It ended because of economics. The western allies had ample oil and raw material – and succeeded in cutting off supplies to their enemies. In October 1918, Germany realized that it could no longer carry on the war effort – and began negotiating a cease-fire.

A Famous Train Car

For three days negotiators haggled over the terms of the cease-fire aboard a railway dining car selected by French train engineer Arthur-Pierre Toubeau brought to a siding in the Rethondes Forest near the town of Compiègne. The Germans parked 100 yards away in a carriage built for Napoleon III that still bore his coat of arms. Finally at 5:30 a.m. on November 11, German leader Matthias Erzberger signed the Armistice in the French dining car.

Within 6 hours the war was over – officially at 11:11 a.m.

The diner – Wagon Lits Company car No. 2419D – returned to duty, then in 1927 was ceremonially parked in the forest at the exact spot where the Armistice was signed. There it remained until June 22, 1940, when Hitler forced the French to surrender to him in the same historic carriage – which was hauled to Berlin.

As the Allies advanced into Germany in early 1945, the diner was removed by the Germans for safekeeping to the town of Ohrdruf, but as the Americans entered the town, SS troopers guarding it set it ablaze – destroying it. Not until Armistice Day 1950 was a replacement re-dedicated, the identical Compagnie des Wagon-Lits Carriage No. 2439, built in the same batch as the original.

It was officially renumbered No. 2419D and today sits at the historic spot in Rethondes Forest.

The Treaty of Versailles

The Armistice of Compiègne ended the fighting and marked a complete defeat for Germany. The Armistice was not formally a surrender. Another six months of heated negotiations resulted in the final Treaty of Versailles.

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