By October 1918, although France and Belgium were still far from being free of German troops, it was clear to all sides that the western front was slowly collapsing. At the same time, Allied forces were steadily advancing northward from the south, liberating much of Serbia and putting pressure upon Austria-Hungary. Neither Germany nor Austria-Hungary was yet ready to surrender, but Germany’s government was undergoing a revolution, and Austria-Hungary’s army was collapsing amid mass mutiny.
Germany’s first revolution was a quiet one that happened in two stages. On September 29, 1918, Germany’s top two generals, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, pressured Kaiser Wilhelm II into establishing a constitutional monarchy, because the Allied forces refused to negotiate with the kaiser and insisted upon dealing with representatives of the German people instead.
On October 2, the kaiser relinquished all of his authority regarding military decisions to the new Parliament—an act that, for all practical purposes, reduced the kaiser to a figurehead. His cousin, Prince Max von Baden, was named chancellor and effectively assumed leadership of the country. Although Prince Max immediately began to make inquiries to the Allies about an armistice, he was not ready to surrender unconditionally, as he believed that he could negotiate favorable terms for Germany, despite continuing losses on the battlefield. A lengthy exchange of diplomatic notes went on for the next month.
Bulgaria was the first of the Central Powers to surrender, signing an armistice in Salonica on September 29, 1918. On October 7, Poland declared itself an independent state, which immediately sparked fighting between Poland and Ukraine over the possession of the border territory of East Galicia. On October 14, the provisional government of Czechoslovakia came into existence. On October 25, a Hungarian National Council was established in Budapest in preparation for an independent Hungary, separate from Austria.
As the war petered out, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States became the primary Allied representative for handling the peace negotiations. Earlier in the war, when the United States was neutral, Wilson had repeatedly attempted to broker peace among the fighting powers and made sincere efforts to work out an agreement that would be fair to all sides. By 1918, however, Wilson’s position had changed considerably. American soldiers were now fighting and dying against the Germans in France, and both Germany and Austria had considerably less leverage than before. Wilson was now determined that neither country would gain peace cheaply.
On October 3–4, 1918, the first joint German-Austrian diplomatic note was sent to Wilson, requesting an armistice and suggesting that all hostilities end without any penalties for either side. Wilson rejected the note on October 8, stating that he would not even discuss the idea of an armistice until France, Belgium, and Serbia were completely free of German and Austrian forces.