France Occupies the Ruhr Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

French and Belgian troops occupied Germany’s industrial center in response to the German government’s failure to make prompt reparations for the consequences of World War I. The occupation devastated Germany’s economy and stimulated the growth of extreme nationalism.

Summary of Event

The Ruhr industrial district, which spans some two thousand square miles, lies between the Ruhr and the Lippe Rivers, extending from the Dutch frontier on the west to Hamm in the east. After the middle of the nineteenth century, it became one of the world’s most important industrial concentrations, primarily because of its huge coal deposits. In the 1920’s, the area produced more than 80 percent of Germany’s coal as well as 80 percent of its iron and steel. Most of the iron ore processed in the region came from Sweden and the French province of Lorraine. Ruhr Valley;French occupation World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];postwar period France;Ruhr occupation [kw]France Occupies the Ruhr (Jan. 11, 1923-Aug. 16, 1924) [kw]Ruhr, France Occupies the (Jan. 11, 1923-Aug. 16, 1924) Ruhr Valley;French occupation World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];postwar period France;Ruhr occupation [g]France;Jan. 11, 1923-Aug. 16, 1924: France Occupies the Ruhr[05760] [g]Germany;Jan. 11, 1923-Aug. 16, 1924: France Occupies the Ruhr[05760] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 11, 1923-Aug. 16, 1924: France Occupies the Ruhr[05760] [c]Economics;Jan. 11, 1923-Aug. 16, 1924: France Occupies the Ruhr[05760] [c]Military history;Jan. 11, 1923-Aug. 16, 1924: France Occupies the Ruhr[05760] Poincaré, Raymond Cuno, Wilhelm Stresemann, Gustav Herriot, Édouard Dawes, Charles G. Hitler, Adolf

The French occupation of the Ruhr district was a consequence of the French government’s unrealistically high demands for German reparations. At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Paris Peace Conference (1919) Versailles, Treaty of (1919);German reparations the delegates had been unable to agree on an amount of reparations, and so they established a Reparations Commission to determine the total bill. In the meantime, the Allies demanded that Germany begin making preliminary payments, which included deliveries of coal to France as compensation for the French mines flooded by retreating German troops. Germans were horrified by these and other conditions included in the Treaty of Versailles.

xlink:href="Ruhr_Valley.tif"

alt-version="no"

position="float"

xlink:type="simple"/>

From the election of 1919 until the elections of 1924, the French parliament was dominated by conservatives and nationalists who supported a hard-line position toward reparations. In March of 1921, even before the final amount of reparations had been decided, the French government asserted that the Germans were behind in their coal deliveries and sent troops to occupy Dusseldorf and two other Ruhr cities. The following year, Raymond Poincaré, who had served as president during the war, became prime minister. Poincaré was firmly committed to a legalistic interpretation of the Versailles treaty, and he made it clear that he would not hesitate to use military force if Germany fell behind in its payments.

In April of 1922, the Reparations Commission decided that Germany had to pay a total figure of thirty-three billion dollars, a huge amount that dwarfed the reparations charged after previous European conflicts. Even though many economists argued that the amount exceeded Germany’s capacity, French public opinion vehemently opposed making any concessions. The people of Germany, in contrast, viewed the reparations as exorbitant and entirely unjust. German chancellor Wilhelm Cuno, who headed a nonpartisan, conservative ministry, failed in his attempts to secure a moratorium on the payments.

During the latter part of 1922, all European nations were faced with serious economic problems. The German government informed the Allies that it could not meet its schedule of cash payments but that it would continue to make deliveries of coal and natural resources. With the United States pressuring France and other countries to repay their war debts, Poincaré became increasingly insistent that Germany make full and prompt payments. When Germany’s coal shipments fell 10 percent short of the promised amount, Poincaré decided—against the advice of the British government—to use military force.

On January 11, 1923, Poincaré dispatched a technical mission and two army divisions to Essen, the headquarters of the German Coal Syndicate. The Belgian government assisted the operation with a token number of troops. The stated purpose of the mission was to ensure that coal and timber deliveries were made according to schedule. Internationally, the occupation, which was inconsistent with the principles of the League of Nations, was unpopular and provoked much sympathy for Germany.

Raymond Poincaré.

(Library of Congress)

In response to the occupation, Chancellor Cuno decided to pursue a policy of passive resistance, and he ordered Ruhr residents not to work in the coal mines or to cooperate with occupying forces. The French received their coal, but Cuno’s policy made the coal extremely expensive. Angry Ruhr residents committed numerous acts of sabotage, and their demonstrations sometimes developed into violent confrontations. In one of these clashes, thirteen people were killed. In order to keep the shipments flowing, Poincaré was forced to send five army divisions (amounting to seventy-five thousand troops), as well as thousands of administrators, engineers, and railway workers.

The occupation of the Ruhr greatly exacerbated Germany’s problem of postwar inflation, which had already become serious. In order to pursue its policy of passive resistence, Germany had printed large amounts of money to pay companies and workers for nonactivity. As a result, German money lost almost all of its value: In 1919, fourteen German marks were worth one U.S. dollar, but by January of 1923 it took eighteen thousand marks to purchase a dollar, and by November of 1923 it took more than four trillion marks. A significant number of Germans became too poor to buy basic items, and many lost their life savings.

The Ruhr occupation also did serious damage to the French economy. It greatly increased the size of France’s budget deficit and further debilitated the already weak French franc. Since the occupation was an economic failure, informed observers realized that France would not be able to rely on regular reparations payments. Then, in August of 1923, just as Germany appeared to be threatened with chaos, all the moderate political parties in the country united to form a Great Coalition to deal with the emergency. Gustav Stresemann, the leader of the conservative Peoples’ Party, served as chancellor during the next hundred days, a period usually considered one of the more successful periods of German history. Stresemann ordered an end to passive resistance, took steps to reach an understanding with France, dealt with inflation by issuing a new German currency, and helped suppress communist and Nazi uprisings.

Poincaré finally acknowledged that the size and schedule of German payments would have to be modified. In November of 1923, he agreed to the appointment of an international commission to examine the practical question of Germany’s ability to pay. By June of 1924, the new French premier, Édouard Herriot, was firmly committed to reaching a settlement and withdrawing troops from the Ruhr district as soon as possible.

On August 16, 1924, the commission, which was headed by American financier Charles G. Dawes, reached agreements on a more realistic schedule of German payments and a reduction of the French debt to the United States. As part of the Dawes Plan, Dawes Plan the French government agreed to evacuate the Ruhr. The signing of the agreements on September 1, 1924, alleviated Franco-German tensions and helped prepare the way for the Locarno Agreements of 1925, Locarno Treaties (1925) which included France’s renunciation of another military intervention in Germany.

Significance

The occupation of the Ruhr produced a great deal of political instability and economic dislocation, which in turn led to a great deal of anger and bitterness, especially in Germany. One of the manifestations of this anger was a growth in political extremism. On the left, the German Communist Party attracted large numbers of new followers. On the extreme right, Adolf Hitler attempted a November, 1923, takeover of the Bavarian government in his unsuccessful Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Beer Hall Putsch (1923)

The withdrawal of French troops from the Ruhr, combined with the accommodating policies of Chancellor Stresemann, helped to bring about the conciliatory climate in European diplomatic relations that prevailed from 1924 until the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. However, in many sectors of German society, bitter resentments about the Ruhr occupation continued to exist, and these unpleasant memories were skillfully exploited by Hitler and the Nazis. Ruhr Valley;French occupation World War I (1914-1918)[World War 01];postwar period France;Ruhr occupation

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Balderston, Theo. Economics and Politics in the Weimar Republic. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Informative survey emphasizes the German economy during the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bassel, Richard. Germany After the First World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A good discussion of the legacies of the war and the ways in which the Weimar government dealt with overwhelming financial and political challenges.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fischer, Conan. Ruhr Crisis, 1923-1924. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. The most complete work devoted to the occupation; particularly valuable for its depiction of daily life in the Ruhr region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keiger, John F. Raymond Poincaré. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002. The most scholarly and readable political biography available on Poincaré.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McDougall, Walter. France’s Rhineland Diplomacy, 1914-1924. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978. A scholarly and readable account of French policies toward postwar Germany.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Paxton, Robert. Europe in the Twentieth Century. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2004. Highly recommended as an excellent introduction to the crisis within the broader context of European history and international conflict.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmidt, Royal J. Versailles and the Ruhr: Seedbed of World War II. The Hague, the Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. Useful account of the economy of the Ruhr Valley, the diplomacy of German reparations, and the impact of France’s military occupation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wright, Jonathan. Gustav Stresemann: Weimar’s Greatest Statesman. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. The most scholarly of several political biographies devoted to Stresemann.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Racist Theories Aid Nazi Rise to Political Power

Weimar Constitution

Germans Barter for Goods in Response to Hyperinflation

Beer Hall Putsch

Dawes Plan

Germany Attempts to Restructure the Versailles Treaty

Maginot Line Is Built

Hitler Comes to Power in Germany

Collapse of France

Categories: History Content