Forget Never

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Thursday, 31 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 35

July 31st 1914
On July 31, the Austrian Crown Council decided to continue the war against Serbia, and to ignore the dangers of Russian mobilisation in the expectation of German support. Nicholas wrote to Wilhelm to promise him that Russian general mobilisation was not aimed as a prelude to war, and stated:
"I thank you heartily for your mediation which begins to give one hope that all may yet end peacefully. It is technically impossible to our military preparations which were obligatory owing to Austria’s mobilisation. We are far from wishing war. As long as the negotiations with Austria on Serbia’s account are taking place my troops shall not make any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this."
The German Ambassador in Paris delivered an ultimatum to Premier Viviani telling him that if Russia did not stop its mobilisation, then Germany would attack France. Viviani, newly arrived back in France, knew nothing of a Russian general mobilisation, and asked his ambassador in St. Petersburg for information. Marshal Joesph Joffre of the French Army asked for permission to order a general mobilisation. His request was refused.

German mobilisation - When the word reached Berlin of Russian general mobilisation, Wilhelm agreed to sign the orders for German mobilisation, and German troops began preparations to enter Luxembourg and Belgium as a preliminary towards invading France. As the historian Fritz Fischer noted, Bethmann Hollweg’s gamble in waiting for Russian mobilisation had paid off, and the Social Democrats rallied to support the government. The Bavarian military attaché recorded that he learned of Russian mobilisation:
“I run to the War Ministry. Beaming faces everywhere. Everyone is shaking hands in the corridors: people congratulate one another one for being over the hurdle.”
 Rumours arrive in London of German troops crossing the French frontier – true or not, they are reported as fact and help to fuel a growing sense that Germany wants trouble

Under the Schlieffen Plan, for Germany to mobilise was to mean war because as part of the plan, German troops as they were called up were to invade Belgium automatically. Unlike the war plans of the other powers, for Germany to mobilise was to go to war. Both Moltke and Falkenhayn told the government that Germany should declare war even were Russia to offer to negotiate.

Declaration of war from the German Empire 31 July 1914. Signed by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Countersigned by the Reichs-Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg 

In London, Asquith wrote to Stanley that “the general opinion at present—particularly strong in the City—is to keep out at all costs”. The British Cabinet was badly divided with David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer being strongly opposed to Britain becoming involved in a war. The Conservatives promised the government if the anti-war Liberal ministers were to resign, they would enter the government to support going to war. F.E. Smith told Churchill that the Conservatives would support a war against Germany were France attacked.

Sir Edward Grey goes to the furthest possible limit in endeavouring to persuade Germany to assist him in squaring matters between Austria and Serbia.  Asks France and Germany whether they intend to respect Belgian neutrality; France says, "certainly", Germany refuses to reply.  British Cabinet not yet prepared to give France definite pledge of assistance.
Financial crisis in London. 

Panic is hitting the markets; the bank rate doubles overnight to 8 per cent and people are queuing at the Bank of England to exchange notes for gold. Stock Exchange closed.
Belgian mobilisation decreed for following day.

Shocking news reaches London in the evening. Jean Jaures, the French Socialist leader and anti-war campaigner – has been assassinated
On July 31st, Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote in a lengthy commentary: "For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria-Hungary—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us. ... Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honourable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e. playing off all European States for her own benefit against us."

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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 34

July 30th 1914
On July 30th, Nicholas sent a message to Wilhelm informing him that he had ordered partial mobiliation against Austria, and asking him to do his utmost for a peaceful solution. Upon hearing of Russia’s partial mobilisation, Wilhelm wrote: "Then I must mobilise too." The German Ambassador in St. Petersburg informed Nicholas that Germany would mobilise if Russia did not demobilise at once. The German military attaché in Russia reported that:
"I have the impression that they [the Russians] have mobilised here from a dread of coming events without aggressive intentions and are now frightened at what they have brought about."
At the same time, Nicholas’ order for a partial mobilisation met with protests from both Sazonov and the Russian War Minister General Valdimir Sukhomlinov, who insisted partial mobilisation was not technically possible, and that, given Germany’s attitude, a general mobilisation was required. Nicholas at first ordered a general mobilisation, and then after receiving an appeal for peace from Wilhelm cancelled it as a sign of his good faith. The cancellation of general mobilisation led to furious protests from Sukhomlinov, Sazonov, and Russia’s top generals, all urging Nicholas to reinstate it. Under strong pressure, Nicholas gave in and ordered a general mobilisation on the 30th.

Vladimir Sukhomlinov, Minister of War of the Russian Empire.
Cossacks are pictured, armed and ready

After receiving information from Rome that Serbia was now ready "on condition of certain interpretations, to swallow even Articles 5 and 6, that is, the whole Austrian ultimatum," Bethmann forwarded this to Vienna at 12:30 a.m., July 30th, and added:
"Please show this to Berchtold immediately and add that we regard such a yielding on Serbia’s part as a suitable basis for negotiations along with an occupation of a part of Serbian territory as a pledge." Berchtold replied that though the acceptance of the Austrian Note would have been satisfactory before hostilities had begun, "now after a state of war has begun, Austria's conditions must naturally take another tone." In response, Bethmann, now aware of the Russian order for partial mobilisation, fired off several telegrams in the early morning of July 30th.
Meanwhile on a day when the clouds over Europe were to darken markedly,  the Austrian bombardment of Belgrade continues. Serbian guns reply sporadically and an Austrian gunboat is damaged

at 2:55 a.m., July 30th, Bethmann telegraphs Vienna:
"The refusal of every exchange of views with St. Petersburg would be a serious mistake, for it provokes Russia precisely to armed interference, which Austria is primarily concerned in avoiding. We are ready, to be sure, to fulfill our obligations as an ally, but we must refuse to allow ourselves to be drawn by Vienna into a world conflagration frivolously and in disregard of our advice. Please say this to Count Berchtold at once with all emphasis and with great seriousness."
At three a.m., July 30th, Bethmann wires Vienna again:
"If Austria refuses all negotiations, we are face to face with a conflagration in which England will be against us . . . under these circumstances we must urgently and emphatically urge upon the consideration of the Vienna Cabinet the adoption of mediation in accordance with the above honorable conditions. The responsibility for the consequences which would otherwise follow would be, for Austria and us, an uncommonly heavy one."
Professor Fay wrote that "To this urgent request by Germany for Austria’s acceptance of a solution, which perhaps even yet might have avoided the conflagration of Europe, Berchtold gave no definite or frank answer."
These early-morning telegrams from Bethmann were given by Tschirschky to Berchtold while the two men were at lunch on Thursday, July 30th. Immediately afterwards, Tschirschky reported to Berlin that:
"Berchtold listened pale and silent while they {the Bethmann telegrams} were read through twice; Count Forgach took notes. Finally, Berchtold said he would at once lay the matter before the Emperor."
After Berchtold had departed for his audience with Emperor Franz Joseph (on the afternoon of Thursday, July 30th), Bethmann was told by Berchtold’s advisors (Forgach and Hoyos) that he should not expect a reply until the following morning (Friday, July 31st), for the reason that Tisza, who would not be in Vienna until then, must be consulted.
Bethmann spent the remainder of the day, July 30th, continuing to impress Vienna with the need for negotiations and to inform the Powers of his mediation efforts.
But in the evening of that hopeful day, Thursday, July 30th, with Berlin’s strenuous efforts to persuade Vienna to some form of negotiation, and with Bethmann actually awaiting a response from Berchtold, Russia gave the order for full mobilisation.
When the German Emperor learned that, were Germany to attack France and Russia, Britain would in all likelihood not remain neutral, he launched a vehement rant, denouncing Britain as "that filthy nation of grocers." That same day, the anti-Russian German-Turkish alliance was signed. Moltke passed on a message to Conrad asking for general mobilisation as a prelude to a war against Russia.
At 9:00 p.m. on July 30th, Bethmann Hollweg gave in to Moltke and Falkenhayn’s repeated demands and promised them that Germany would issue a proclamation of "imminent danger of war" at noon the next day regardless of whether Russia began a general mobilisation or not.
Later that day, Bethmann sent a message to the German ambassador to Vienna increasing pressure to accept the halt-in-Belgrade proposal, saying that: "If give way at all, it will hardly be possible to place the blame on Russia for the outbreak of the European conflagration. H.M. has, on the request of the Tsar, undertaken to intervene in Vienna because he could not refuse without awakening an irrefutable suspicion that we wanted war...If these efforts of Britain’s meet with success, while Vienna refuses everything, Vienna will prove that it is set on having a war, into which we are dragged, while Russia remains free of guilt. This puts us in a quite impossible position in the eyes of our own people. We can therefore only urgently recommend Vienna to accept Grey’s proposal, which safeguards its position in every way." Bethmann could not go to war in support of Austrian intransigence under such circumstances. But shortly afterwards, "as soon as news of Russia's general mobilization began to arrive in Berlin" the Chancellor instructed the ambassador in Vienna "that all mediation attempts be stopped", and the directive be suspended. Fritz Fischer and some other scholars have maintained the alternative view that Prince Henry's assurances that King George had promised him that Britain would remain neutral accounted for the change. Fischer notes that the telegram reporting these "vague" assurances arrived 12 minutes before the dispatch of the suspending telegram and that Bethmann himself justified the cancellation that way, while acknowledging that before then Bethmann had already prepared, but not yet sent, a telegram to Vienna explaining that he had "cancelled execution of instructions in No. 200, because the General Staff has just informed me that military measures of our neighbors, especially in the east, compel speedy decision if we are not to be taken by surprise."
Upon arriving back in France, the French Premier Rene Viviani sent a message to St. Petersburg asking that "in the precautionary measures and defensive measures to which Russia believes herself obliged to resort, she should not immediately proceed to any measure which might offer Germany the pretext for a total or partial mobilisation of her forces.” French troops were ordered to pull back six miles (10 km) from the German frontier as a sign of France’s peaceful intentions.
The British Prime Minister, Asquith, wrote to Stanley:
"The European situation is at least one degree worse than it was yesterday, and has not been improved by a rather shameless attempt on the part of Germany to buy our neutrality during the war by promises that she will not annex French territory (except colonies) or Holland or Belgium. There is something very crude & childlike about German diplomacy. Meanwhile the French are beginning to press in the opposite sense, as the Russians have been doing for some time. The City, wh. is in a terrible state of depression and paralysis, is the time being all against English intervention.”

In Britain, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York ask that people should pray for peace
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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 33

July 29th 1914
On July 29th, Austrians bombard Belgrade in afternoon.

Unsuccessful Austrian attempt to cross Danube between Belgrade and Gradishte (the first of 18 vain efforts prior to 12 August).
At home, the might of the Royal Navy is a reassuring sight, still congregated in the Channel after the Spithead review

Wilhelm sent a telegram to Nicholas stating “I think a direct understanding between your government and Vienna possible and desirable”. The Austrian General Staff sent a note to Jagow complaining about his statement that he did not regard a Russian partial mobilisation as a threat to Germany, and asked that Germany mobilise to deter Russia from supporting Serbia. In response to the Austrian message, Jagow told a Russian diplomat that “Germany was likewise obliged to mobilise [in response to Russian partial mobilisation]; there was therefore nothing left to be done and the diplomatists must now leave the talking to the cannon.”]
At a meeting in Potsdam, according to Admiral Tirpitz’s notes, Wilhelm “expressed himself without reserve regarding Bethmann’s incompetence” in foreign affairs. Bethmann Hollweg suggested that Germany sign a naval agreement with Britain limiting the size of the High Seas Fleet to keep Britain out of the war. Admiral Tirpitz went on to record: “The Kaiser informed the company that the Chancellor had proposed that in order to keep England neutral, we should sacrifice the German fleet for an agreement with England, which he, the Kaiser had refused.”
In order to ensure acceptance of his peace plan, Grey proposed a “Stop in Belgrade” offer, in which Austria would occupy Belgrade and go no further. Since this was the same proposal as Wilhelm had made, Bethmann Hollweg regarded this as a particular threat as it would have made it difficult for Germany to reject it. Bethmann Hollweg asked that Austria at least make an effort to show some interest in the British peace plan. In an effort to sabotage Bethmann Hollweg’s offer (which though not sincere was regarded as dangerous in case it might succeed), Moltke asked Vienna not to consider the British peace plan, and instead to order general mobilisation and activate War Plan R, the Austrian war plan for a war against Russia.
At a meeting with Bethmann Hollweg late on July 29th, both Falkenhayn and Moltke again demanded that Germany use Russian partial mobilisation as an excuse to go to war. Bethmann Hollweg again insisted that Germany must wait for Russian general mobilisation as it was the only way of ensuring that the German public and that Britain would remain neutral in the “imminent war” against France and Russia. In order to “make Russia appear the aggressor”, Moltke asked for Austrian mobilisation against Russia so as to provide a casus foederis for Germany to arise” and mobilise likewise. In the same message, Moltke expressed hope that the British peace plan would fail, and announced his belief that the only way of saving Austria-Hungary as a power was through a general European war. In the evening, Moltke repeated his request, and promised again that “Germany will mobilise” against Russia, were Austria to do the same. Count Szogyeny reported to Vienna that the German government “...regarded the possibility of a European conflict with the most complete calm”, and that the Germans were only concerned about the possibility of Italy not honouring the Triple Alliance.
In a meeting in London, Grey warned Prince Lichnowsky in veiled terms that if Germany attacked France, then Britain would consider going to war with Germany. Grey repeated his “Stop in Belgrade” peace plan, and strongly urged that Germany accept it. Grey ended his meeting with the warning that “unless Austria is willing to enter upon a discussion of the Serbian question a world war is inevitable. To support Grey’s warnings, the British government ordered a general alert for its armed forces. In Paris, Jean Jaures, the leader of the French Socialist Party and an outspoken pacifist was assassinated by a right-wing fanatic. In St. Petersburg, the French Ambassador Maurice Paleologue, upon learning belatedly on the night of July 29th–30th of Russian partial mobilisation, protested against the Russian move.
At another meeting with Goschen late on the night of the 29th, Bethmann Hollweg stated that Germany would soon be going to war against France and Russia, and sought to ensure British neutrality by promising him that Germany would not annex parts of metropolitan France (Bethmann Hollweg refused to make any promises about French colonies). During the same meeting, Bethmann Hollweg all but announced that Germany would soon violate Belgium’s neutrality, though Bethmann Hollweg said that, if Belgium did not resist, Germany would not annex that kingdom.
The Goschen-Bethmann Hollweg meeting did much to galvanize the British government into deciding to ally with France and Russia. Sir Eyre Crowe commented that Germany had “made up her mind” to go to war. Germany’s policy was to reveal to Britain her war aims in hope that a statement might be reached that would ensure British neutrality. Instead, Bethmann Hollweg’s move had the opposite effect, since it was now clear to London that Germany had no interest in peace.
After Goschen left the meeting, Bethmann Hollweg received a message from Prince Lichnowsky saying that Grey was most anxious for a four power conference, but that if Germany attacked France, then Britain would have no other choice but to intervene in the war. In response to the British warning, Bethmann Hollweg suddenly changed course. As he wrote to Prince Tschirschky: “If therefore, Austria should reject all mediation, we are faced with a conflagration in which Britain would be against us, Italy and Romania in all probability not with us. We should be two Powers against Four. With Britain an enemy, the weight of the operations would fall on Germany...Under these circumstances we must urgently and emphatically suggest to the Vienna Cabinet acceptance of mediation under the present honorable conditions. The responsibility falling on us and Austria for the consequences which would ensure in case of refusal would be uncommonly heavy.” Five minutes later, Bethmann Hollweg asked Vienna in a second message to stop “refusing any exchange of views with Russia”, and warned that we “...must refuse to allow Vienna to draw us into a world conflagration frivolously and without regard to our advice.” In another message, Bethmann Hollweg wrote “To avert a general catastrophe or in any case to put Russia in the wrong, we must urgently wish Vienna to begin and continue conversations with Russia.” As the historian Fritz Fischer noted, only when Bethmann Hollweg received a clear warning that Britain would intervene in a war did he begin to apply pressure on Austria for peace. Bethmann Hollweg’s advice was rejected by Austria as being too late. Count Berchtold told the German Ambassador that he would need a few days to think about the German offer, and until then, events would proceed.
The overall picture is deeply gloomy. A 'war cloud' is gathering over Europe, with Russia now appearing determined to act with Serbia

In Berlin, the feeling is much the same, with Russia's moves to mobilise making it certain that Germany will respond – and yet the Telegraph's correspondent detects that Germany 'is really drifting into war against her will'

The effect of war is already being felt on commodity markets. Wheat prices are rising, undoing hopes of a good harvest leading to prices dropping

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Monday, 28 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 32

July 28th 1914

And so it starts, though Britain will not join the fray for another week. Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and the first skirmishes are reported. Hopes for the peace conference proposed by Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, are foundering, though in London, Paris and St Petersburg, The Daily Telegraph reports, it is still believed a wider European war can be averted.

  And in Berlin, crowds throng the Austrian embassy

A signed copy of the declaration of war between Austria -Hungary and Serbia
On July 28th at 11.49 a.m. Prince Lichnowsky sent the fourth British offer of mediation, this time from King George V as well as Grey. Lichnowsky wrote that the King desired that “British-German joint participation, with the assistance of France and Italy, may be successful in mastering in the interest of peace the present extremely serious situation.” At 4.25 p.m. on July 28th, Lichnowsky reported to Berlin that “since appearance of Austrian demands nobody here believes in possibility of localizing conflict.” The Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Nicolson and the Private Secretary to Sir Edward Grey, Sir William Tyrrell saw Grey's conference offer as “the only possibility of avoiding a general war” and hoped "to get full satisfaction for Austria, as Serbia would be more apt to give in to the pressure of the Powers and to submit to their united will than to the threats of Austria”. Tyrrell relayed Grey's view that if Serbia were invaded, “world war would be inevitable”. Lichnowsky in his dispatch to Berlin offered "an urgent warning against believing any further in the possibility of localization [of the conflict]”. When Sir Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador in Berlin, presented Grey’s conference proposal to Jagow, the Germans totally rejected the offer In a letter to Grey, Bethmann Hollweg stated that Germany “could not summon Austria before a European court of justice in her case with Serbia”. Austrian troops began to concentrate in Bosnia as a preparatory step towards invading Serbia. Falkenhayn told the German government “It has now been decided to fight the matter through, regardless of the cost”, and advised Bethmann Hollweg to order a German attack on Russia and France at once. Moltke supported Falkenhayn by submitting the assessment that 1914 was a “singularly favourable situation” for Germany to go to war as both Russia and France were not prepared whereas Germany was. Once the Russian Great Military Programme would be completed by 1917, Moltke stated that Germany would never be able to entertain the prospect of a victorious war again, and so should destroy both France and Russia while it was still possible. Moltke ended his assessment that “We shall never hit it again so well as we do now.” Jagow backed up Moltke by sending a message to Vienna telling the Austrians they must attack Serbia at once because otherwise the British peace plan might be accepted.
On the 28th, after reading the Serbian reply, Wilhelm first commented: “But that eliminates any reason for war”, or "every cause for war falls to the ground”.  Wilhelm noted that Serbia had made “a capitulation of the most humiliating kind", that “The few reservations which Serbia has made with respect to certain points can in my opinion surely be cleared up by negotiation,” and acting independently of Grey, made a similar “Stop in Belgrade” offer. Wilhelm stated that because “The Serbs are Orientals, therefore liars, tricksters, and masters of evasion”, a temporary Austrian occupation of Belgrade was required until Serbia kept its word.
Wilhelm’s sudden change of mind about war enraged Bethmann Hollweg, the military and the diplomatic service who, acting in accord, proceeded to sabotage Wilhelm’s offer. A German general wrote: “unfortunately...peaceful news. The Kaiser wants peace...He even wants to influence Austria and to stop continuing further.” Bethmann Hollweg sabotaged Wilhelm’s proposal by informing Prince Tschirschky: “You must most carefully avoid giving any impression that we want to hold Austria back We are concerned only to find a modus to enable the realisation of Austria-Hungary’s aim without at the same time unleashing a world war, and should this after all prove unavoidable, to improve as far as possible the conditions under which it is to be waged.” In passing on Wilhelm’s message, Bethmann Hollweg excluded the parts wherein the Emperor told the Austrians not to go to war. Jagow told his diplomats to disregard Wilhelm’s peace offer, and continue to press for war. General Falkenhayn told Wilhelm that he “no longer had control of the affair in his own hands”. Falkenhayn went on to imply that the military would stage a coup d’etat, and depose Wilhelm in favour of the hawkish Crown Prince Wilhelm if he continued to work for peace.
Bethmann Hollweg’s two favourable conditions for war that he mentioned in his telegram to Vienna were that Russia be made to appear the aggressor forcing a reluctant Germany into war, and that Britain be kept neutral. The necessity of making Russia appear the aggressor was the greater concern to Bethmann-Hollweg because the German Social Democratic Party had denounced Austria for declaring war on Serbia and ordered street demonstrations to protest Germany’s actions in supporting Austria. However, Bethmann Hollweg put great faith in the private promises he received from SPD leaders that they would support the government if Germany was faced with a Russian attack.

"Serbia has in fact met the Austrian demands in so wide-sweeping a manner that if the Austro-Hungarian Government adopted a wholly uncompromising attitude, a gradual revulsion of public opinion against it in all of Europe would have to be reckoned with."

German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg in a wire to the German Embassy in Vienna

News of the declaration of war comes late to London but in New York, 'the full force of the news' is felt

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Sunday, 27 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 31

July 27th 1914
On July 27th, Grey sent another peace proposal through Prince Lichnowsky asking for Germany to use its influence on Austria-Hungary to save the peace. Grey warned Lichnowsky that if Austria continued with its aggression against Serbia, and Germany with its policy of supporting Austria, then Britain would have no other choice but to side with France and Russia. The French Foreign Minister informed the German Ambassador in Paris, von Schoen, that France was anxious to find a peaceful solution, and was prepared to do his utmost with his influence in St. Petersburg if Germany should “counsel moderation in Vienna, since Serbia had fulfilled nearly every point”.
On the 27th, Wilhelm ended his cruise in the North Sea and returned to Germany. Wilhelm landed at Cuxhaven (Kiel) departing on July 25 at 6 p.m. over the objections of his chancellor. The next afternoon, the order to disperse the British Fleet and dismiss British reservists was rescinded, putting the British Navy on a war footing.
When Wilhelm arrived at the Potsdam station late in the evening of July 26, he was met by a pale, agitated, and somewhat fearful Chancellor. Von Bethmann-Hollweg's apprehension stemmed not from the dangers of the looming war, but rather from his fear of the Kaiser's wrath when the extent of his deceptions were revealed. The Kaiser's first words to him were suitably brusque: "How did it all happen?" Rather than attempt to explain, the Chancellor offered his resignation by way of apology. Wilhelm refused to accept it, muttering furiously, "You've made this stew, Now you're going to eat it!"
Later, on July 27th, Austria-Hungary started to complete the preparations for war. That same day, Jagow informed Szogyeny that he was only pretending to take up the British offers of mediation in order to ensure British neutrality, but had no intention of stopping the war. Szogyeny reported “in order to avoid a misunderstanding” that Jagow had promised him that: “the German government assured Austria in the most binding fashion that it in no way identifies itself with the proposal [Grey’s mediation offer] which may very shortly be brought to Your Excellency’s [ Berchtold ] notice by the German government: it is, on the contrary decidedly opposed to consideration of them, and is only passing them on out of deference to the British request” (emphasis in the original). Jagow went on to state he was “absolutely against taking account of the British wish”, because “the German government point of view was that it was at the moment of the highest importance to prevent Britain from making common cause with Russia and France. We must therefore avoid any action which might cut the line, which has so far worked so well, between Germany and Britain”. Szogyeny ended his telegram that “If Germany candidly told Sir E Grey that it refused to communicate England’s peace plan, that objective [ensuring British neutrality in the coming war] might not be achieved.” Bethmann Hollweg, in a message to Prince Tschirschky, wrote on the 27th of July: “As we have already rejected one British proposal for a conference, it is not possible for us to refuse this suggestion also a limine. If we rejected every attempt at mediation, the whole world would hold us responsible for the conflagration and represent us as the real war-mongers. That would also make our position impossible here in Germany, where we have got to appear as though the war had been forced on us. Our position is the more difficult because Serbia seems to have given way very extensively. We cannot therefore reject the role of mediator; we have to pass on the British proposal to Vienna for consideration, especially since London and Paris are continuously using their influence on St. Petersburg.” In passing on Grey’s message, Bethmann Hollweg deleted the last line which read: ”Also, the whole world here is convinced, and I hear from my colleagues that the key to the situation lies in Berlin, and that if Berlin seriously wants peace, it will prevent Vienna from following a foolhardy policy. In his reply to London, Bethmann Hollweg pretended that: “We have immediately initiated mediation in Vienna in the sense desired by Sir Edward Grey.” Jagow sent Grey’s offer to Tschirschky, his ambassador in Vienna, but ordered him to not show it to any Austrian official in case they might accept it. At the same time, Bethmann Hollweg sent a distorted account of Grey’s offer to Wilhelm.
The French Chief of Staff, Joffre, and the French War Minister, Adolphe Messimy, express their hopes through the military attache in St. Petersburg that should war break out, the Russians would immediately take the offencive in East Prussia.
The French issue standby mobilisation orders.
In London, Grey told a meeting of the British Cabinet that they now had to decide whether to choose neutrality if war did come, or to enter the conflict. While the Cabinet was still undecided about what course to choose, Churchill put the British fleet on alert.

Winston Churchill with the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, 1914
His order read: "Secret. European political situation makes war between Triple Alliance and Triple Entente by no means impossible. This is not the Warning Telegram, but be prepared to shadow possible hostile men of war... Measure is purely precautionary.” The Austrian Ambassador in Paris, Count Nikolaus Szecsen von Temerin, reported to Vienna: “The far-reaching compliance of Serbia, which was not regarded as possible here, has made a strong impression. Our attitude gives rise to the opinion that we want war at any price.” A Russian diplomat in London criticised Grey for putting too much faith in Germany as a force for peace. The British were warned that “War is inevitable and by the fault of England; that if England had at once declared her solidarity with Russia and France and her intention to fight if necessary, Germany and Austria would have hesitated.” In Berlin, Admiral von Muller wrote in his diary that “Germany should remain calm to allow Russia to put herself in the wrong, but then not to shrink from war if it were inevitable.” Bethmann Hollweg told Wilhelm that “In all events Russia must ruthlessly be put in the wrong.”

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Saturday, 26 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 30

Day 30 - July 26th 1914
On July 26, Count Berchtold rejected Grey’s mediation offer, and wrote that if a localisation should not prove possible, then the Dual Monarchy was counting, “with gratitude”, on Germany's support “if a struggle against another adversary is forced on us”. That same day, General Von Moltke sent a message to Belgium demanding that German troops be allowed to pass through that kingdom “in the event of an imminent war against France and Russia”. 
Bethmann Hollweg

Bethmann Hollweg in a message to the German Ambassadors in London, Paris and St. Petersburg stated that the principal aim of German foreign policy now was to make it appear that Russia had forced Germany into a war, in order to keep Britain neutral and ensure that German public opinion would back the war effort. Bethmann Hollweg advised Wilhelm to send Nicholas a telegram, which he assured the Emperor was for public relations purposes only. AsBethmann Hollweg put it, “If war should come after all, such a telegram would make Russia’s guilt glaringly plain”. Moltke visited the German Foreign Ministry to advise Jagow that Germany should start drafting an ultimatum to justify an invasion of Belgium. Later, Moltke met with Bethmann Hollweg, and told his wife later that same day that he had informed the Chancellor he was “very dissatisfied” that Germany had not yet attacked Russia.

On July 26, in St. Petersburg, the German Ambassador von Pourtalès told Sazonov to reject Grey’s offer of a summit in London, stating that the proposed conference was “too unwieldy”, and if Russia were serious about saving the peace, they would negotiate directly with the Austrians. Sazonov replied that he was willing to see Serbia accept almost all of the Austrian demands, and following von Pourtalès’s advice, rejected Grey’s conference proposal in favour of direct talks with the Austrians. Von Pourtalès reported to Germany that Sazonov was being “more conciliatory”, seeking “to find a satisfy...Austrian demands” and willing to do almost anything to save the peace. At the same time, von Pourtalès warned that changes in the Balkan balance of power would be regarded as a highly unfriendly act by Russia. The following Austro-Russian talks were sabotaged by Austria’s refusal to abandon any of the demands on Serbia As a preparatory move in case a war did break out, and Britain were to become involved, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the British Admiralty, ordered the British fleet not to disperse as planned, arguing that news of the British move might serve as a deterrent to war, and thus help persuade Germany to put pressure on Austria to abandon some of the more outrageous demands in their ultimatum. Grey stated that a compromise solution could be worked out if Germany and Britain were to work together. His approach generated opposition from British officials, who felt the Germans were dealing with the crisis in bad faith. Nicolson warned Grey that in his opinion “Berlin is playing with us”. Grey for his part, rejected Nicolson's assessment, and believed that Germany was interested in stopping a general war.
Philippe Berthelot, the political director of the Quai d’Orsay told Wilhelm von Schoen, the German Ambassador in Paris that “to my simple mind Germany’s attitude was inexplicable if it did not aim at war”. In Vienna, a dispute began between Conrad and Berchtold about when Austria should begin operations. Their conversation ran as follows: Berchtold: “We should like to deliver the declaration of war on Serbia as soon as possible so as to put an end to diverse influences. When do you want the declaration of war? Conrad: Only when we have progressed far enough for operations to begin immediately—on approximately August 12th. Berchtold: “The diplomatic situation will not hold as long as that.”
In summary:
Germany thinks Russia will not fight, but threatens mobilisation, i.e. war, if Russia does not stop her preparations, and asks Entente States to keep Russia quiet.  
Kaiser and German Fleet return from Norway.
Conrad informs Berchtold that he will not be ready for full military action before 15-Aug-1914. Shelling would have to do until then.
The Kaiser's first words to Bethmann-Hollweg upon his return - "How did it all happen?"
Austria begins to mobilise eight corps on Russian frontier.
Sir Edward Grey suggests Conference of Ambassadors in London.
Russia declares she will mobilise on Austrian frontier if Austria crosses Serbian frontier.  General Putnik released with apologies.
A copy of the ultimatum is wired to Poincare aboard the French battle cruiser France.
Montenegro orders mobilisation.

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Friday, 25 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 29

July 25th 1914
On July 25, the Emperor Franz Joseph signed a mobilization order for 8 army corps to begin operations against Serbia on the 28th, and the Austro-Hungarian ambassador Giesl left Belgrade. The Russian General Staff ordered the “Period Preparatory to War”, the first steps to mobilization if need occurred, while the caretaker government in Paris cancelled all leave for French troops as of the 26th, and ordered the majority of French troops in Morocco to begin returning to France.
The Serbian leadership fears for the worst. Austria will attack no matter what the contents of the reply. Serbia orders general mobilization of it's army at 3:00 pm. Nobody knew it, but, World War I had just begun. Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pasic delivering the reply to the Austrian ambassador, Baron Vladimir von Giesl - Part of your demands we have accepted... For the rest, we place our hopes on your loyalty and chivalry as an Austrian general."
With a mere 5 minutes to go, Pasic personally delivers the reply to Giesl at 5:55 pm. The reply yields almost everywhere. It might as well have yielded nothing. 
The Austrian legation departs Belgrade on the 6:30 pm train as planned. The train is across the Danube and back in the Empire by 6:40 pm.
The Austrian mobilization order must be signed by Emperor Franz Josef. Berchtold obtains this signature at 7:23 pm by telling the aged Emperor that the Serbs were already attacking. Conrad was given his marching orders. Alarm Day for the Austrian army was set for 27-Jul and troop movements would begin on the day following.
An oversight: Germany has not been informed of these actions by her ally, Austria-Hungary.

                       map of the powder-keg frontier between Austria-Hungary and Serbia
On July 25, Grey suggested again that Germany inform Austria that the Serbian reply to the Austrian ultimatum was “satisfactory”. Jagow passed on Grey’s offer to Vienna without comment, which in the parlance of diplomacy is an unofficial way of advising rejection. At the same day, Jagow told the reporter Theodor Wolff that in his opinion “neither London, nor Paris, nor St. Petersburg wants a war”. On the same day, Russia announced that it could not remain “uninterested” if Austria attacked Serbia. Both the French and Russian ambassadors rejected four-power mediation, and instead proposed direct talks between Belgrade and Vienna. Jagow accepted the Franco-Russian offer as it offered the best chance to sever Britain from France and Russia In his talks with Prince Lichnowsky, Grey drew a sharp distinction between an Austro-Serbian war, which did not concern Britain and an Austro-Russian war, which did. Grey added that Britain was not working in concord with France and Russia, which heightened Jagow’s hopes of severing Britain from the Triple Entente. On the same day, Jagow sent another message to Vienna to encourage the Austrians to hurry up with declaring war on Serbia.

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 28

Day 28 - July 24

Pasic returns to Belgrade at 5:00 am.
Giesl and staff begin burning sensitive diplomatic papers and cipher books. They are already preparing for their departure from Belgrade on tomorrow's evening train.
Prince Alexander urgently wires the Russian Czar for assistance and guidance in the matter.
Russia advises Pasic to "proceed with extreme caution.
Serbia makes the contents of the ultimatum public in a hope to gain public support. The world is aghast at the contents. They ask for the impossible. Sir Edward Grey says: "...never before seen one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character".  He at once proposes four-Power (Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy) mediation.
The Russian War Minister Vladmir Sukhomlinov
The Navy Minister Admiral Ivan Grigorovich
The Russian Council of Ministers met to decide their response to the crisis. The Russian Agriculture Minister Alexander Krivoshein, who was especially trusted by Nicholas, noted that:
"...our rearmament programme had not been comp

leted and it seemed doubtful whether our Army and Fleet would ever be able to compete with those of Germany and Austria-Hungary as regards modern technical efficiency...No one in Russia desired a war. The disastrous consequences of the Rusoo - Japanese War had shown the grave danger which Russia would run in case of hostilities. Consequently our policy should aim at reducing the possibility of a European war, but if we remained passive we would attain our objectives...In his view stronger language than we had used hitherto was desirable."
Sazonov stated that Russia had usually been moderate in its foreign policy, but “Germany looked upon our concessions as so many proofs of our weakness and far from having prevented our neighbours from using aggressive methods, we had encouraged them.” The Russian War Minister Vladmir Sukhomlinov and the Navy Minister Admiral Ivan Grigorovich stated that Russia was not ready for a war against either Austria or Germany, but that “...hesitation was no longer appropriate as far as the Imperial government was concerned. They saw no objection to a display of greater firmness in our diplomatic negotiations”. The Russian government again asked Austria to extend the deadline, and advised the Serbs to offer as little resistance as possible to the terms of the Austrian ultimatum.Finally to deter Austria from war, the Russian Council of Ministers ordered a partial mobilization against Austria.
Russian policy was to pressure the Serbs to accept the ultimatum as much as possible without being humiliated too much. Russia was most anxious to avoid a war because the Great Military Programme was not to be completed until 1917, and Russia was otherwise not ready for war. Because all of France’s leaders, including President Poincare and Rene Viviani, were at sea on the battleship France, returning from the summit in St. Petersburg, the acting head of the French government, Jean-Baptiste Bienvenu- Martin took no line on the ultimatum. In addition, the Germans jammed the radio messages, at least garbling contacts between the ship-borne French leaders and Paris, and possibly blocking them completely.
Concerning the summit at St. Petersburg, Alfred Fabre-Luce has concluded the following:
There is, then, no possible doubt about the attitude taken by Poincaré at St. Petersburg between the 20th and the 23rd of July. Without any knowledge whatever of the Austrian demands or of the policy of Germany in the circumstances, he assumed a position of energetic opposition to the Central Powers, gave this opposition a very specific character, and never modified it in the slightest degree to the very end. 

The Kaiser hears about the ultimatum from his yacht's radio officer who read it in the Norwegian newspaper. 

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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 27

23rd July 1914

The 23rd July was the actual presentation of Austrian Ultimatum to Serbia at Belgrade at 6 p.m., demanding answer within 48 hours. The Austrian Minister in Belgrade, Baron Giesl von Gieslingen, presented the ultimatum to the Serbian government. At the same time, and having a strong expectation of Serbian rejection, the Austrian Army opened its war book, and began preparations for hostilities Publication of the Ultimatum was presented in Vienna shortly afterwards.  Bethmann-Hollweg writes circular to German Ambassadors saying "action and demands of Austria-Hungary fully justified".  [Moment of presentation well-chosen: following absent from their posts: Serbian Prime Minister (Pashich), Kaiser (Norway), Franz Josef (Ischl), Poincare and Viviani (Russia), Shebeko (Russian Ambassador in Vienna), Goschen (British Ambassador in Berlin).
Baron Giesl von Gieslingen

 On the night of July 23, the Serbian Regent, Crown Prince Alexander, visited the Russian legation to "express his despair over the Austrian ultimatum, compliance with which he regards as an absolute impossibility for a state which had the slightest regard for its dignity. Both the Regent and Pasic asked for Russian support, which was refused. Sazonov offered the Serbs only moral support while Nicholas told the Serbs to simply accept the ultimatum, and hope that international opinion would force the Austrians to change their minds. Both Russia and France, because of their military weaknesses, were most disinclined to risk a war with Germany in 1914, and hence the pressure on Serbia to accede to the terms of the Austrian ultimatum. Because the Austrians had repeatedly promised the Russians that nothing was planned against Serbia that summer, their harsh ultimatum did not do much to antagonize Sazonov.
On this day 100 years ago all German officers' leave stopped
Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister, spends the afternoon of July 23 hosting a garden party at 10 Downing Street, which is attended by a cluster of European diplomats and ambassadors – Serbia is represented, though not, it appears, Austria and Germany

And if minds are not on garden parties, then they are planning summer holidays – and considering, publishers Hodder and Stoughton hope, which novels to pack

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

37 Day Count Down to War - Day 26

On July 22, Germany refused an Austrian request to have the German Minister in Belgrade present the ultimatum to Serbia because as Jagow had said, it would look too much “as though we were egging Austria on to make war”

The Austro-Hungarian government waited three weeks following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand - heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne currently held by Franz Josef - before issuing its formal response.

Seizing the opportunity presented by Ferdinand's assassination (who in any event had not been viewed with any great favour, either by Franz Josef or by his government), the Austro-Hungarian government decided to settle a long-standing score with near-neighbour Serbia.

Austria-Hungary's response, following a Ministerial Council Meeting on 7 July, - its ultimatum - comprised a lengthy list of demands made upon the Serbian government.  It took as its basis an assumption that the Serbian government was implicated in events at Sarajevo.

The ultimatum was presented by the Austrian government to Belgrade on Thursday 23 July 1914 at 6 p.m.  A response was demanded within two days, by Saturday 25 July at 6 p.m.  Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, commented that he had "never before seen one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character."

Here is a copy of the full text from the ultimatum

Vienna, July 22, 1914

Your Excellency will present the following note to the Royal Government on the afternoon of Thursday, July 23: On the 31st of March, 1909, the Royal Serbian Minister at the Court of Vienna made, in the name of his Government, the following declaration to the Imperial and Royal Government:

“Serbia recognizes that her rights were not affected by the state of affairs created in Bosnia, and states that she will accordingly accommodate herself to the decisions to be reached by the Powers in connection with Article 25 of the Treaty of Berlin. Serbia, in accepting the advice of the Great Powers, binds herself to desist from the attitude of protest and opposition which she has assumed with regard to the annexation since October last, and she furthermore binds herself to alter the tendency of her present policy toward Austria-Hungary, and to live on the footing of friendly and neighborly relations with the latter in the future.”

Now the history of the past few years, and particularly the painful events of the 28th of June, have proved the existence of a subversive movement in Serbia, whose object it is to separate certain portions of its territory from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This movement, which came into being under the very eyes of the Serbian Government, subsequently found expression outside of the territory of the Kingdom in acts of terrorism, in a number of attempts at assassination, and in murders.

Far from fulfilling the formal obligations contained in its declaration of the 31st of March, 1909, the Royal Serbian Government has done nothing to suppress this movement. It has tolerated the criminal activities of the various unions and associations directed against the Monarchy, the unchecked utterances of the press, the glorification of the authors of assassinations, the participation of officers and officials in subversive intrigues; it has tolerated an unhealthy propaganda in its public instruction; and it has tolerated, finally, every manifestation which could betray the people of Serbia into hatred of the Monarchy and contempt for its institutions.

This toleration of which the Royal Serbian Government was guilty, was still in evidence at that moment when the events of the twenty-eighth of June exhibited to the whole world the dreadful consequences of such tolerance.

It is clear from the statements and confessions of the criminal authors of the assassination of the twenty-eighth of June, that the murder at Sarajevo was conceived at Belgrade, that the murderers received the weapons and the bombs with which they were equipped from Serbian officers and officials who belonged to the Narodna Odbrana, and, finally, that the dispatch of the criminals and of their weapons to Bosnia was arranged and effected under the conduct of Serbian frontier authorities.

The results brought out by the inquiry no longer permit the Imperial and Royal Government to maintain the attitude of patient tolerance which it has observed for years toward those agitations which center at Belgrade and are spread thence into the territories of the Monarchy. Instead, these results impose upon the Imperial and Royal Government the obligation to put an end to those intrigues, which constitute a standing menace to the peace of the Monarchy.

In order to attain this end, the Imperial and Royal Government finds itself compelled to demand that the Serbian Government give official assurance that it will condemn the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Monarchy territories that belong to it; and that it will obligate itself to suppress with all the means at its command this criminal and terroristic propaganda. In order to give these assurances a character of solemnity, the Royal Serbian Government will publish on the first page of its official organ of July 26/13, the following declaration:

“The Royal Serbian Government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy territories that belong to it, and it most sincerely regrets the dreadful consequences of these criminal transactions.

“The Royal Serbian Government regrets that Serbian officers and officials should have taken part in the above-mentioned propaganda and thus have endangered the friendly and neighborly relations, to the cultivation of which the Royal Government had most solemnly pledged itself by its declarations of March 31, 1909.

“The Royal Government, which disapproves and repels every idea and every attempt to interfere in the destinies of the population of whatever portion of Austria-Hungary, regards it as its duty most expressly to call attention of the officers, officials, and the whole population of the kingdom to the fact that for the future it will proceed with the utmost rigor against any persons who shall become guilty of any such activities, activities to prevent and to suppress which, the Government will bend every effort.”

This declaration shall be brought to the attention of the Royal army simultaneously by an order of the day from His Majesty the King, and by publication in the official organ of the army.

The Royal Serbian Government will furthermore pledge itself:

1. to suppress every publication which shall incite to hatred and contempt of the Monarchy, and the general tendency of which shall be directed against the territorial integrity of the latter;

2. to proceed at once to the dissolution of the Narodna Odbrana to confiscate all of its means of propaganda, and in the same manner to proceed against the other unions and associations in Serbia which occupy themselves with propaganda against Austria-Hungary; the Royal Government will take such measures as are necessary to make sure that the dissolved associations may not continue their activities under other names or in other forms;

3. to eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, everything, whether connected with the teaching corps or with the methods of teaching, that serves or may serve to nourish the propaganda against Austria-Hungary;

4. to remove from the military and administrative service in general all officers and officials who have been guilty of carrying on the propaganda against Austria-Hungary, whose names the Imperial and Royal Government reserves the right to make known to the Royal Government when communicating the material evidence now in its possession;

5. to agree to the cooperation in Serbia of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the integrity of the Monarchy;

6. to institute a judicial inquiry against every participant in the conspiracy of the twenty-eighth of June who may be found in Serbian territory; the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government delegated for this purpose will take part in the proceedings held for this purpose;

7. to undertake with all haste the arrest of Major Voislav Tankosic and of one Milan Ciganovitch, a Serbian official, who have been compromised by the results of the inquiry;

8. by efficient measures to prevent the participation of Serbian authorities in the smuggling of weapons and explosives across the frontier; to dismiss from the service and to punish severely those members of the Frontier Service at Schabats and Losnitza who assisted the authors of the crime of Sarajevo to cross the frontier;

9. to make explanations to the Imperial and Royal Government concerning the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian functionaries in Serbia and abroad, who, without regard for their official position, have not hesitated to express themselves in a manner hostile toward Austria-Hungary since the assassination of the twenty-eighth of June;

10. to inform the Imperial and Royal Government without delay of the execution of the measures comprised in the foregoing points.

The Imperial and Royal Government awaits the reply of the Royal Government by Saturday, the twenty-fifth instant, at 6 p.m., at the latest.

A reminder of the results of the investigation about Sarajevo, to the extent they relate to the functionaries named in points 7 and 8 [above], is appended to this note.


The crime investigation undertaken at court in Sarajevo against Gavrilo Princip and his comrades on account of the assassination committed on the 28th of June this year, along with the guilt of accomplices, has up until now led to the following conclusions:

1. The plan of murdering Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his stay in Sarajevo was concocted in Belgrade by Gavrilo Princip, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, a certain Milan Ciganovic, and Trifko Grabesch with the assistance of Major Voija Takosic.

2. The six bombs and four Browning pistols along with ammunition — used as tools by the criminals — were procured and given to Princip, Cabrinovic and Grabesch in Belgrade by a certain Milan Ciganovic and Major Voija Takosic.

3. The bombs are hand grenades originating from the weapons depot of the Serbian army in Kragujevatz.

4. To guarantee the success of the assassination, Ciganovic instructed Princip, Cabrinovic and Grabesch in the use of the grenades and gave lessons on shooting Browning pistols to Princip and Grabesch in a forest next to the shooting range at Topschider.

5. To make possible Princip, Cabrinovic und Grabesch’s passage across the Bosnia-Herzegovina border and the smuggling of their weapons, an entire secretive transportation system was organized by Ciganovic. The entry of the criminals and their weapons into Bosnia and Herzegovina was carried out by the main border officials of Shabatz (Rade Popovic) and Losnitza as well as by the customs agent Budivoj Grbic of Losnitza, with the complicity of several others.«

On the occasion of handing over this note, would Your Excellency please also add orally that — in the event that no unconditionally positive answer of the Royal government might be received in the meantime — after the course of the 48-hour deadline referred to in this note, as measured from the day and hour of your announcing it, you are commissioned to leave the I. and R. Embassy of Belgrade together with your personnel.

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