Occupying Germanys industrial base

Between 11 January 1923 and 25 August 1925, France and Belgium occupied the heavily industrialised Ruhr region in reaction to Germany's failure to make the reparation payments required by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.

In response, German civilians engaged in acts of civil disobedience and passive resistance which deepened the country's economic crisis and resulted in 130 fatalities. 

Eventually, France and Belgium withdrew their troops from the Ruhr in August 1925 after agreeing to the Dawes Plan to reorganise Germany's payment of war reparations in 1924 due to economic and international pressure.

German rearmament and the rise of the extreme right- and left-wing movements in Germany were both influenced by the Ruhr occupation.


Following the First World War, Allied forces had occupied the Ruhr region. Germany was required to accept responsibility for the devastation it inflicted during the war and pay war reparations to the various Allies under the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. 

These reparations were mainly given to France because the majority of the war was fought on French soil. The Inter-Allied Reparations Commission determined the total amount of reparations required by Germany, which was around 226 billion gold marks ($972 billion in 2022).

The sum was decreased to 132 billion in 1921 (at the time, $31.4 billion, or £6.6 billion, or US $442 billion in 2022). Even after this reduction, the debt remained enormous. German manufacturers were unable to run as some of the payments were made in raw materials that were exported, which hurt the German economy and further harmed the nation's ability to pay.

French Occupation of the Ruhr, 1923–1925.

mckaywest11e_ch26 (macmillanhighered.com)

In addition to suffering from a significant deficit from World War I, France also experienced a decline in the value of the French franc. As a means of preserving its economy, France began to increasingly look toward the possibility of German reparations payments.

The Reparations Commission was in a crisis by the end of 1922 because German payment defaults had become so frequent. The British delegate advocated decreasing payments, while the French and Belgian delegates suggested seizing the Ruhr to force Germany to pay more. The Reparations Commission declared Germany in default in December 1922 as a result of a German failure to complete timber deliveries, which prompted the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium in January 1923.  

The government of Chancellor Wilhelm Cuno, in the opinion of the Allies, purposely missed its delivery deadlines for the timber in order to gauge their commitment to upholding the deal. Early in January 1923, Germany missed its coal delivery deadline for the 34th time in the previous 36 months, significantly escalating the entire dispute. 

French tanks in the Ruhr during the occupation.

» German Reparations (2/5): The occupation of the Ruhr (les-crises.fr)

The French Prime Minister, Raymond Poincaré, expressed frustration that Germany had not paid reparations and hoped for united Anglo-French economic penalties against Germany in 1922 but opposed military action.

By December 1922, however, he observed that coal for French steel production and monetary payments as specified in the Treaty of Versailles were disappearing.


After much deliberation, Poincaré decided to occupy the Ruhr on 11 January 1923 to extract the reparations himself. The real issue was not the German defaults on coal and timber deliveries but the sanctity of the Versailles Treaty. 

Poincaré often argued to the British that letting the Germans defy Versailles in regard to the reparations would create a precedent that would lead to the Germans dismantling the rest of the Versailles treaty.

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.

On 11th January, 1923, the invasion began at Poincaré's suggestion. The action was carried out by the 32nd Infantry Division of General Alphonse Caron under the direction of General Jean-Marie Degoutte.

French Prime Minister, Raymond Poincaré.

Raymond Poincaré - Babelio

According to some theories, the French intended to seize control of the Ruhr region valley, the hub of German coal, iron, and steel production, purely for financial reasons.

Others claim that France did it because the mark was nearly worthless towards the end of 1922 due to the hyperinflation that was already in place and to ensure that the reparations were paid in goods.

French soldiers during the occupation of the Ruhr, 1924.

Reparations | History, Definition, & Examples | Britannica

The supply of coal and iron ore in the Saar Basin Territory was split between Germany and France because of the territorial separation; however, the value of the two commodities was much greater when they were combined than when they were sold separately.

The supply chain had become very integrated during the industrialization of Germany after 1870, but issues with currency, transportation, and import/export barriers threatened to obliterate the steel industry in both countries.

In the post-World War II European Coal and Steel community, this issue was eventually handled.

The Inter-Allied Mission for Control of Factories and Mines (MICUM) was established as a means of insuring coal repayments from Germany after France decided to attack the Ruhr.

On January 12th 1923, The Times (London) reported on the French Ruhr occupation, specifically the entry of French troops into Essen:

A report on the French Ruhr occupation (1923) (alphahistory.com)

Violent resistance

A small group of German nationalists started making plans to infiltrate the Ruhr with the intention of carrying out sabotage attacks and destroying French equipment.

They damaged food supplies, derailed trains transporting supplies to French regiments, and committed other small-scale acts of sabotage.

The invading government reacted angrily. The German police were disarmed, and the occupied territory was fully shut down. Krupp and other businessmen received prison terms of fifteen years.

There were violent clashes everywhere.

The management of the Krupp plants in Essen incited the workforce against a French detachment that was issuing requisitions on 31st March.

The French detachment fired in self-defense, resulting in 13 deaths and 30 injuries. German propaganda made much use of the incident. Numerous German citizens were either detained or expelled.

Albert Leo Schlageter photographed in 1918.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J27290 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The most well-known of the saboteurs was 29-year-old Albert Schlageter, a veteran of the First World War who later served with the FreikorpsAfter one of Schlageter's colleagues betrayed him in exchange for a payoff, French soldiers arrested Schlageter in the act of interfering with a railway line.

Schlageter was detained, tried in a court-martial, and given the death penalty.

A French armoured vehicle in the Ruhr. Outbreaks of violent resistance prompted a strong response from the French occupiers.

» German Reparations (2/5): The occupation of the Ruhr (les-crises.fr)

Schlageter was afterwards hailed by the National Socialists (NSDAP) as a national hero, a patriot, and a victim of French invasion, further stoking up animosity towards France.

A group led by Rudolf Höss (the future commandant of the notorious death camp at Auschwitz) found and killed the man who betrayed Schlageter to the French.

Passive resistance

German residents launched a campaign of civil disobedience and quiet resistance in response to the Allied occupation.

The French occupation army killed about 130 German people throughout the events, including those participating in civil disobedience demonstrations, such as those resisting the removal of German authorities.

According to some beliefs, the German government started the hyperinflation that ruined the German economy in 1923 in order to pay for passive resistance in the Ruhr.

Others claim that with the start of reparations payments in November 1921, the path to hyperinflation was fully established before the occupation.

A French soldier guards a shipment of coal in the Ruhr, 1923.

The Ruhr occupation (alphahistory.com)

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 will never be servants!"

Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00121 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

“German Women Protest the Colored Occupation on the Rhine” 

In 1923 the French army occupied the industrial district of the Ruhr in Germany in an effort to force reparations payments. The occupying forces included colonial troops from West Africa, and Germans responded with a racist propaganda campaign that cast the West African soldiers as uncivilized savages. 

Private Collection/© Galerie Bilderwelt/Bridgeman Images

The strikes were eventually suspended in September 1923 by the new Gustav Stresemann coalition administration, which was followed by a state of emergency in the face of economic collapse, widespread unemployment, and hyperinflation. Despite this, there were riots and coup attempts directed at the Weimar Republic government, including the Beer Hall Putsch, which for the first-time propelled Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party into the mainstream of German politics. In October 1923, the Rhenish Republic was declared in Aachen.

Despite the fact that the French were able to make their occupation of the Ruhr profitable, the Germans gained sympathy for their passive resistance in the Ruhr and the hyperinflation that destroyed their economy. As a result of intense financial pressure from Wall Street and the City of London and the simultaneous decline in the value of the franc, the French were compelled to accept the April 1924 Dawes Plan, which significantly reduced their costs. Germany paid the United States under the Dawes Plan a total of 2.25 billion marks by 1927 after paying only 1 billion marks in 1924 and increasing payments for the following three years.

Striking German workers during the occupation.

» German Reparations (2/5): The occupation of the Ruhr (les-crises.fr)

A 1923 German poster showing the Ruhr: ‘Beware of the dog, the beast has spikes’.

The Ruhr occupation (alphahistory.com)

International response

The French invasion of Germany significantly increased support for the German Republic on a global scale, despite the League of Nations taking no action because it was theoretically allowed under the Treaty of Versailles. Due to their business relationships with Germany and their worry that the occupation would force Germany into a closer collaboration with the Soviet Union, France's allies Poland and Czechoslovakia opposed the occupation. With their own economic issues, the French eventually agreed to the Dawes Plan and left the occupied territories in July and August 1925.

A cartoon from 1923 depicting French premier Raymond Poincaré dining on children from the Ruhr region, a reference to hunger caused by food seizures.

Jan Smuts condemns the Ruhr occupation (1923) (alphahistory.com)

On August 25, 1925, the last French soldiers in the Ruhr region left Düsseldorf, Duisburg, and the city's significant harbour in Duisburg-Ruhrort. Sally Marks contends that:

After Ruhr-Rhineland occupation costs, Marks estimates that the earnings were close to 900 million gold marks.


In July–August 1924, a conference on the Dawes Plan's implementation was held in London. Ramsay MacDonald, a British Labour Prime Minister who believed reparations were difficult to pay, was able to persuade French Premier Édouard Herriot to make a number of Germany-related concessions.

Sir Eric Phipps, a British ambassador, said:

The Dawes Plan had a huge impact on European history since it was the first time Germany had successfully rewritten a provision of the Versailles Treaty in its favour.

Prior to the 1935 Saar status vote, when Nazi Germany won the territory, the Saar region was still governed by France.

The French occupation of the Rhineland boosted the rise of right-wing parties in German politics. The far-left Communist Party of Germany, which was governed by the Soviet Politburo and the Comintern, was largely dormant throughout the duration of the crisis, which resulted in the discrediting of the ruling centre-left Weimar coalition. Conservatives established the "Vereinigten Vaterländischen Verbände Deutschlands" in 1922 as a group of nationalist organisations after becoming disoriented by the war's defeat.

Hitler and other high-ranking NSDAP members at a meeting in 1926.

The rise of the NSDAP (alphahistory.com)

The objective was to create a cohesive right-wing front. The VVVD attained its zenith of power in the atmosphere of national struggle against the French Ruhr invasion. It promoted corporatism, rigid monarchism, and hostility to the Versailles Agreement. It was never able to bring the right together, though, due to a lack of funding and internal cohesion. By the late 1920s, it had vanished as the NSDAP (Nazi party) had come into existence.