In January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr valley. The reason was relatively simple: to enforce reparation payments. What is less well known is the justification for the occupation. In a word: Flagpoles.
On the face of it, Flagpoles aren’t what you’d expect to be the cause of a military occupation. Yet in January 1923 French and Belgian troops entered the Ruhr Valley and occupied it for that very reason. Timber was one of the items that Germany was due to send to the French as part of the reparations payments as set out in the Treaty of Versailles. In December 1922, the Germans technically defaulted on this. They sent a shipment of some 100,000 flagpoles ten days late. As hard as it is to believe, this delay was enough to prompt the French and Belgians to take action.
Clearly flagpoles weren’t the only reason for the occupation of the Ruhr. Germany had already defaulted on other Reparation payments, was arguing strongly for reductions in payments and was experiencing severe economic and political instability. In this climate the occupation of the Ruhr was hardly about flagpoles, it was about the French attempting to force Germany to comply with the payments that had been ordered.
Interestingly, when the Germans were late in shipping the flagpoles they gave an explanation that was accepted by the British government: poor weather had caused delays in manufacturing the flagpoles. More realistic as an explanation of the occupation is, the fact that the Germans had defaulted on some 33 coal deliveries prior to the Flagpole delay, and again early in January 1923.
Students – please note that this is by no means a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind the occupation of the Ruhr Valley in 1923. It’s simply a little interesting snippet that is often overlooked. For more detailed analysis of the occupation of the Ruhr, try one of these websites: