20 JULY 1914
The trial of Henriette Caillaux, wife of former French premier Joseph Caillaux, begins today in Paris. Madame Caillaux is accused of murdering Gaston Calmette, the editor of the influential Le Figaro newspaper. She does not deny fatally shooting Calmette, but claims that she did it to prevent the publication of letters that would have revealed both her affair with Caillaux while they were both married to others and also Caillaux's secret dealings with Germany while he was premier.
Imagine if Laura Bush murdered the editor of the New York Times
to prevent the publication of correspondence between George W. Bush and Kim Jong-un. That gives you some sense of the sensational trial that gripped the French public in mid-July 1914. The events surrounding the latest Balkan crisis, in comparison, were hardly noticed, yet l'Affaire Caillaux
had a surprising connection to the activities that were going on behind the scenes in Berlin and Vienna. As details of Caillaux's contacts with Germany became known, it was reported that decrypted German diplomatic telegrams had found their way to the offices of Le Figaro
. As a result of that revelation, Berlin changed the code, which meant that France's intelligence service was left in the dark during the crucial days leading up to the July Crisis.
22 JULY 1914
ST. PETERSBURG: Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov meets with German ambassador Count Pourtalès to discuss the looming crisis in the Balkans. Sazonov says that, although he thinks Emperor Franz Josef and Count Berchtold want peace, he blames militaristic and clerical interests in the Dual Monarchy, led in part by Count Tisza, for the escalation of tensions. On the expected ultimatum to Serbia, Sazonov states that Vienna is justified in expecting Belgrade to clamp down on anti-Austrian agitation, but that the Serbian government should not be held responsible for the actions of the Sarajevo assassins. Pourtalès concludes his report to Berlin by noting a conversation Sazonov had with the Italian ambassador in which the foreign minister warned "Russia's policy is pacific, but it is not passive."
CONSTANTINOPLE: The Young Turks, led by war minister Enver Pasha, approach German ambassador Count Wangenheim with an offer of a military alliance. Berlin is cautiously interested, although the alliance proposed by the Turks would not be of much help in what Germany's leaders anticipate will be a limited war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
By 22 July, Europe's leading statesmen were aware that Vienna would deliver an ultimatum to Serbia, and they even knew about the 48-hour deadline, which had only been definitely agreed upon two days earlier. Sazonov, however, clearly misunderstood internal politics in Austria-Hungary. It was Berchtold, not Tisza, who was pushing for war, and Franz Josef had fully accepted the "now-or-never" ethos prevailing in Vienna and Berlin.
Sazonov had stepped into the role of foreign minister in 1910, in the aftermath of the Bosnian Crisis. He replaced Count Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky, whose bungling had led Russia to a diplomatic defeat at the hands of Austria-Hungary and Germany. Izvolsky did not, however, retire in disgrace, but was given the post of ambassador to France, and he had accompanied President Raymond Poincaré in his trip to the Russian capital. The presence of the former foreign minister no doubt provided Sazonov a reminder that Russia could not afford to repeat the mistakes it had made five years before.
23 JULY 1914
BELGRADE: At 6:00 p.m., the Austro-Hungarian minister to Serbia, Freiherr von Giesl, delivers his government's ultimatum to the Serb finance minister Lazar Paču, who is acting on behalf of Prime Minister Nikola Pašić. The ultimatum contains ten demands, including the suppression of the Black Hand organization and the arrest of persons suspected of complicity in the Sarajevo plot. The demands also extend to the removal of civil and military officials who are "guilty of carrying on the propaganda against Austria-Hungary" and to the suppression of anti-Austrian propaganda in Serbian schools. Paču, in light of the prime minister's absence, asks for extension of the 48-hour deadline in which to reply, but Giesl is under strict orders, and Vienna will expect a response by 6:00 p.m. on 25 July.
VIENNA: Count Berchtold sends a dispatch to the Dual Monarchy's ambassadors in the major capitals of Europe. He explains his government's position regarding the ultimatum to Serbia, but omits to inform them that, in the event of war, Austria-Hungary will not seek to annex any Serbian territory.
Giesl would normally have handed the note over to the Serbian prime minister, but a recent political crisis had forced Pašić to dissolve parliament and call for new elections. He was campaigning in the hinterlands when the ultimatum was delivered, and it was only with great difficulty that he was recalled to Belgrade to deal with the crisis. Pašić, like every other leading statesman in Europe, knew that the ultimatum was coming, but he apparently was confident that Serbia, with Russia's backing, could manage events without too much trouble. The tone and scope of the ultimatum, therefore, came as an unexpected shock to Pašić, and the 48-hour deadline left the Serbs scrambling for a response.
25 JULY 1914
VIENNA: Foreign Minister Sazonov instructs the Russian ambassador to request an additional 48 hours for Serbia to reply to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum. Count Berchtold, however, is absent, having extended his vacation in the resort town of Bad Ischl, and does not respond to the Russian request.
LONDON: German Ambassador Prince Lichnowsky informs Sir Edward Grey that Germany will not intervene to restrain Austria-Hungary in what it regards as a matter solely between the Dual Monarchy and Serbia. Grey responds that Great Britain will not act to restrain Russia if Germany does not do the same with its ally.
BELGRADE: Minutes before the expiration of the 6:00 p.m. deadline and three hours after ordering the mobilization of its armed forces, the Serb government delivers its reply to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum. Given the humiliating terms contained in the ultimatum, the Serb response is surprisingly conciliatory. All ten of the Austro-Hungarian demands are accepted, albeit with some significant reservations. The response concludes by requesting mediation by the great powers of Europe regarding the remaining unresolved issues. Vienna, however, has given clear orders to its ambassador, Freiherr von Giesl, to reject any response other than a complete capitulation, and von Giesl leaves Belgrade after announcing a rupture of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
The Serbian response was extraordinary in the lengths to which Belgrade was willing to go to accommodate the Austro-Hungarian demands. It seems likely that the Serbs thought that the conciliatory response, coupled with pressure from Russia and the other great powers, might convince Austria-Hungary to step back from the brink. If so, they were mistaken. The note had been drafted precisely so that it would be unacceptable, and Serbia's refusal to accept it unconditionally was the whole point of sending it in the first place. Austria-Hungary now had its pretext for war.
It seems incredible that all this "acting out" could go on without some intervention by the greater European players. The planet Earth sure could have used a UN Security Council at that moment in its history.
Anyway...war was preordained...and small minds were not thinking of the greater consequences...nor even the possibility of greater consequences.
I cannot help but wonder if the dual Monarchy would have relented even if somehow a crystal ball knowledge of future events were available.
Seems almost like there would have been no deviation from the set course even then.
Frank Apisa wrote:
I cannot help but wonder if the dual Monarchy would have relented even if somehow a crystal ball knowledge of future events were available.
Seems almost like there would have been no deviation from the set course even then.
Austria-Hungary's leaders didn't have a crystal ball, but they were well aware of the possible consequences of their actions. It was a calculated gamble that the Russians would flinch at the last moment, like they did in the Bosnian Crisis. For Berchtold and other decision makers, however, not taking that risk would have been even worse. Austria-Hungary would have been humiliated by a smaller state that had irredentist designs on Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and southern Hungary. It would have marked the beginning of the end of Austria-Hungary as a great power. The Dual Monarchy's decision for war, therefore, has been described as a "Flucht nach vorne
" (flight forward). Standing still was no longer an option. Austria-Hungary either had to resign itself to irrelevance and disintegration or else take a leap into the dark.
26 JULY 1914
VIENNA: As diplomatic maneuvering continues in the capitals of Europe, Count Berchtold makes preparations for Austria-Hungary's war against Serbia. Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, however, now throws a monkey wrench into Berchtold's carefully laid plans by announcing that the army will not be ready to attack until 12 August at the earliest. Given Conrad's incessant calls for war, it is a shock to Berchtold that the army would be so thoroughly unprepared when it actually came time to initiate hostilities.
BERLIN: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg is concerned about the delay in the Austro-Hungarian mobilization. Postponing the declaration of war until mid-August would invite attempts at a diplomatic solution by Great Britain and France, which Germany is keen to avoid. Meanwhile, the Kaiser, just returned from his summer cruise, orders the German fleet to return to its home bases, despite Bethmann Hollweg's warning that such a move would unnecessarily antagonize Great Britain.
Germany had placed all of its bets on Austria-Hungary launching a quick, localized war with Serbia, but Austria-Hungary's inability to mount an offensive until mid-August placed that plan in jeopardy. The biggest danger was that London would intervene and propose an international conference to settle the crisis. Eight years earlier, Germany made the mistake of agreeing to such a conference in connection with the First Moroccan Crisis, and the result had been a diplomatic disaster
. Bethmann Hollweg and the rest of the German leadership, therefore, were in no mood for British suggestions regarding a negotiated settlement.
The Dual Monarchy's decision for war, therefore, has been described as a "Flucht nach vorne" (flight forward).
That as well as what an aperçu describes as "Selbstmord aus Lebensangst" (suicide from fear of life).
27 JULY 1914
BERLIN: State Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow informs the ambassadors of Great Britain and France that Germany is not interested in joining a four-power mediation of the Balkan crisis. The French ambassador, Jules Cambon, asks Jagow "if he had pledged himself to follow Austria everywhere blindfolded." Meanwhile, the Kaiser, impressed by the Serbian response to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum, now expresses optimism that the conflict can be avoided.
LONDON: First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill announces that the fleet, having completed its annual summer maneuvers in the North Sea, will not disperse.
VIENNA: Armed with a report that Serbian troops had fired on an Austro-Hungarian military installation (later proven to be false), Berchtold meets with Franz Josef to have the 83-year-old emperor sign the declaration of war and the mobilization order. Franz Josef signs the papers, reportedly saying only "also doch," which, loosely translated, means "well, that's that."
An unexpected development threatened to derail the Austro-Hungarian and German plans for war. Kaiser Wilhelm, who had been cruising in the North Sea during the previous week, was evidently unaware that Vienna had intended its ultimatum to serve solely as the pretext for war. With the Serbian response fulfilling almost all of Austria-Hungary's demands, the Kaiser thought that there was a chance to use it as the basis for peace negotiations. If Wilhelm had been able to forcefully intervene at this point, in defiance of his chief ministers, events might have taken a very different turn. As it was, and unknown to those participating in those events, this was probably the last best chance to avoid war.
28 JULY 1914
VIENNA: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. The first shots of the war are fired by Austro-Hungarian river monitors on the Danube at Serbian army positions near Belgrade.
BUDAPEST: Field Marshal Radomir Putnik, the Serbian chief of the general staff and a hero of the Balkan Wars, is arrested by local police while on his way back to Belgrade from a vacation in the Hungarian capital. Emperor Franz Josef intervenes and personally guarantees Putnik's safe passage to Serbia.
BERLIN: Kaiser Wilhelm instructs Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to pursue a plan to localize the conflict to the Balkans by pledging to Russia that Austria-Hungary will limit itself to occupying Belgrade. Bethmann Hollweg wires the German ambassador in Vienna with instructions, and then advises the kaiser to follow up with a personal telegram to the tsar.
ST. PETERSBURG: Reacting to the news of the commencement of hostilities and uncertain what Russia's next step might be, Foreign Minister Sazonov asks the army chief of staff, Nicolai Yanushkevich, to prepare orders for total mobilization against Germany and Austria-Hungary and for partial mobilization against Austria-Hungary alone. Yanushkevich warns that Russia does not have plans in place for partial mobilization, and that such an order could result in chaos.
PARIS: News of the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war competes for space on the front pages of Parisian newspapers with reports of the stunning verdict in the trial of Madame Caillaux. Accused of murdering the editor of Le Figaro, the wife of the former premier is acquitted on the grounds that her actions amounted to a "crime of passion."
Bethmann Hollweg was unenthusiastic about the kaiser's plan to limit the war, and placed little effort in seeing it through. Even if he had pushed the initiative more forcefully, however, it is unlikely that the Entente powers would have put much credence in such a pledge, given the humiliating terms demanded in the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum. In any case, the kaiser was too late: had he insisted on negotiations based on the Serbian response to the ultimatum, mediated by the uninvolved great powers, as late as 26 July, he conceivably might have put enough pressure on Vienna to dissuade it from its course of action. As it was, his plan to limit the war to an occupation of Belgrade was a non-starter from the very beginning, and the pace of events would soon outrace anyone's ability to stop the march to war.
29 JULY 1914
ST. PETERSBURG: Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas engage in an exchange of telegrams. Communicating in English and signing himself "Willy," the kaiser seeks to convince Nicholas that Russia should restrain itself and allow Austria-Hungary to deal with Serbia. Nicholas, signing off as "Nicky," calls the war "ignoble" and suggests that the matter be submitted to the International Court at the Hague, a move which the kaiser dismisses as Blödsinn (nonsense). Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sazonov, despite receiving assurances of full support from French ambassador Maurice Paléologue, persuades the tsar to approve a mobilization of the Russian army only in those military districts bordering Austria-Hungary.
PARIS: President Poincaré finally returns to Paris, having cancelled planned stops at the Scandanavian capitals in his rush to return home from meeting with the Russian leaders in St. Petersburg. The chief of the general staff, Joseph Joffre, urges his Russian counterpart to begin mobilization as quickly as possible, since it is known in France that the brunt of any initial German attack will be in the west rather than the east.
BERLIN: Army Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke advises Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg that Austria-Hungary will need to mobilize against Russia, and that Russia will need to respond with its own mobilization. That, in turn, will force Germany to mobilize against both Russia and France in order to protect its ally and itself. "If the conflict between Austria and Russia is unavoidable," Moltke writes, "Germany will mobilize and prepare itself for a two-front war."
The "Willy-Nicky Telegrams
" were a last desperate attempt to stave off war, but it was an exercise in futility. Tsar Nicholas simply could not accept what Kaiser Wilhelm was offering - a promise to limit the war to the Balkans. In any event, matters were swiftly falling out of the hands of the statesmen and into the laps of the generals. Moltke, nephew of the Prussian general who crushed the French in 1870, accurately predicted the series of decisions that would lead to an outbreak of world war. It now became a question of who would get the blame for mobilizing first.
30 JULY 1914
BERLIN: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg is beginning to realize the extent to which Germany will be encircled by hostile powers if the Balkan crisis sparks a great war. He is now convinced that Great Britain will not stand by in the event of a German attack on France, and so he begins to explore the possibility of accepting Grey's plan for a four-power mediation. Bethmann Hollweg, however, is still thinking in terms of localizing the conflict, something to which Vienna might agree but that St. Petersburg has shown no interest in accepting.
VIENNA: In light of Russia's partial mobilization on Austria-Hungary's frontier, the Dual Monarchy announces full mobilization of its armed forces. Berchtold rejects any attempt at mediation or direct talks with Russia.
ST. PETERSBURG: Conflicting signals from Germany have left Tsar Nicholas confused. The German ambassador, Friedrich von Pourtalès, has announced that Germany will be forced to mobilize its forces if Russia's army does not stand down, but Kaiser Wilhelm has personally assured the tsar that he is willing to act as a mediator to help resolve the crisis. Foreign Minister Sazonov finally convinces the tsar to order a general mobilization of the Russian armed forces, to take effect the next day.
It's evident that Bethmann Hollweg was getting a case of cold feet, probably because he realized that events were not working out the way he had anticipated. Russia was not backing down, as it had in 1909, and Great Britain was not going to sit on the sidelines of a German-French conflict, as it had in 1870. Two decades of inept diplomacy had yielded a situation where Germany had to stand by its only reliable ally, Austria-Hungary, in the face of a constellation of hostile powers arrayed in both the east and west. In the end, the chancellor's belated attempts to stave off a world conflagration were stymied by the same Austro-Hungarian intransigence that he had earlier encouraged.
31 JULY 1914
BERLIN: Following confirmation of Russia's general mobilization, Germany announces a "state of threatened war" (Kriegsgefahrzustand), a preliminary step to its own mobilization. Berlin demands that Russia suspend its mobilization within 12 hours or face the possibility of war. Likewise, it demands that France clarify its intentions in the event of a Russo-German conflict. Paris replies that it will act "according to its interests."
LONDON: Foreign Secretary Grey declines to give a pledge to the French ambassador that Great Britain will intervene on the side of France in the event of war with Germany. "I said that the Cabinet would certainly be summoned as soon as there was some new development," reported Grey of his conversation afterwards, "but at the present moment the only answer I could give was that we could not undertake any definite engagement." Grey, however, does ask the French and German governments if they intend to respect Belgian neutrality. Paris immediately responds that it will, but Berlin refuses to make a similar pledge.
PARIS: As the public's is driven into a frenzy by talk of possible war, socialist leader and pacifist Jean Jaurès is gunned down at the Café du Croissant by a right-wing nationalist with the improbably appropriate name of Villain.
Sir Edward Grey's refusal, at this late stage, to commit Great Britain to intervene in a continental war has baffled historians ever since. Evidently, Grey thought that remaining non-commital would restrain Russia. Instead of that, however, it merely encouraged Germany. Grey was certainly aware that Great Britain had made commitments that effectively obligated it to come to France's aid in the event of war, but it would soon become apparent that the British cabinet was not as well informed.
1 AUGUST 1914
LONDON: Prime Minister Asquith calls a meeting of his cabinet to discuss the growing crisis. Asquith reckons that a majority of the Liberal Party membership is opposed to intervention in a continental war, and he himself is no friend of Serbia, declaring at one point that the Serbs deserved "a thorough thrashing." The cabinet is, not surprisingly, divided on intervention, and no decision is made on whether to send British forces across the Channel.
PARIS: Concerned that Germany might be mobilizing in secret, President Poincaré, at the urging of General Joffre, announces that France will mobilize on 2 August.
BERLIN: After receiving no reply from St. Petersburg to its demand to cease mobilization, Berlin announces a general mobilization. Two hours later, Germany declares war on Russia.
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE: Shortly after Turkey pays the last installment on the Sultan Osman I, a battleship being completed in the Armstrong shipyard, British naval personnel seize both the Sultan Osman and another battleship, the Reshadieh, which is still under construction. The orders come from First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.
Asquith had anticipated the possibility of an armed conflict in 1914, but he expected it to occur in Ireland, where civil war was likely to break out over the explosive issue of home rule. The Liberal Party had historically been opposed to entanglements in continental affairs, and it was William Gladstone, famed leader of the Liberals,who had been prime minister in 1870-71, when Britain refused to intervene in the Franco-German War. Nevertheless, in 1911, France concentrated its fleet in the Mediterranean after receiving Asquith's pledge that the British navy would protect France's northern and Atlantic coasts in the event of war with Germany. It was a substantial commitment that went beyond the vague assurances of the entente cordiale between the two countries, but few in the cabinet knew about it.
2 AUGUST 1914
LONDON: In a contentious cabinet meeting, Asquith, for the first time, reveals the extent of British pre-war military commitments to France. Two ministers resign in protest, the rest vote to support war if Germany invades Belgium or attacks the French channel coast.
BRUSSELS: The German minister to Belgium presents a note to the minister of foreign affairs which begins by stating that, according to reliable information, France is preparing to invade. In order to defend itself, Germany announces that it plans to march into Belgium first. Brussels can either acquiesce in this armed incursion or else "Germany will, to her regret, be compelled to consider Belgium as an enemy."
CONSTANTINOPLE: News of the British seizure of its battleships is the final spur to the Turkish government to conclude a secret defensive alliance with Germany. Although the terms of the treaty do not specifically obligate the Turks to intervene in the current conflict, events will soon draw the Ottoman Empire into the war.
The great powers, including Prussia, had guaranteed Belgium's neutrality in 1839
. The Schlieffen Plan had originally envisioned a large sweeping maneuver through Belgium and the Netherlands, but subsequent revisions cut the number of troops assigned to that flank, which resulted in an invasion of Belgium only. Belgium's army was woefully unprepared for modern war, and was waiting for a delivery of heavy artillery that it had ordered from the Krupp works in Germany when the German note arrived in Brussels. It goes without saying that Berlin had no information, reliable or otherwise, that indicated France was prepared to invade Belgium, although the German public was roiled by reports - equally unfounded - that French airplanes had dropped bombs near Nuremberg.
3 AUGUST 1914
LONDON: Foreign Secretary Grey leads the debate in the House of Commons over Britain's policy regarding the continental crisis. He announces that the country cannot stand by idly if the German fleet attacks France's channel and Atlantic coasts, nor can it tolerate a violation of Belgium's neutrality. One of the few voices raised in opposition to Grey's speech is that of James Keir Hardie, a pacifist and one of the founders of the Labour Party.
BRUSSELS: The Belgian government delivers its response to Berlin's ultimatum demanding free passage for German troops. "The Belgian Government, if they were to accept the proposals submitted to them, would sacrifice the honour of the nation and betray their duty towards Europe."
ROME: The Italian government declares that it will not follow its Triple Alliance partners and will, instead, remain neutral in the growing conflict.
BERLIN: Having no reply to its demand to demobilize, Germany declares war on France.
Italy's leaders were correct in their interpretation of the Triple Alliance as a purely defensive compact, and thus their decision to remain neutral was justifiable. It was also no surprise, as Germany and Austria-Hungary long doubted the reliability of their ally when it actually came time for war. Indeed, their suspicions were well-founded, as Italy had earlier reached secret non-aggression agreements with both France and Russia.