The Real Russian Origins of the First World War

With a similar title as above, Sean Mcmeekin, received some well informed criticism.

McMeekin, not only greatly exaggerated the significance of the preparatory period of war, he also ignored, as we shall see, that responsibility for the outbreak of war rests overwhelmingly on the shoulders of Berlin and Vienna.

In the winter of 1912– 13, war would erupt in the Balkans and threatened to drag in the great powers. Tensions mounted between Petersburg on the one side and Vienna and Berlin on the other. At the very outset of the crisis, the Russian foreign minister, Serge Sazonov, stressed to the German ambassador in Petersburg, Count Pourtalès, that Russia sought peace and was very open to compromise, but the one thing it would never again tolerate was being faced with ultimatums or having its back forced to the wall as in 1909.

Both French Ambassador Pourtalès and the Austrian ambassador, Count Douglas Thurn, believed Sazonov and made this reality very clear to their governments. Thurn repeated on numerous occasions during the Balkan crisis that although the Russian leadership sought and badly needed peace, it would accept even a nearly hopeless war rather than face further humiliation: “The defeat of 1909 has left far too deep a legacy here for any Russian government, however peacefully disposed, to be able to survive any repetition of this event.” Nothing had changed by July 1914, when Russia faced the choice between war and surrender to an even more peremptory and humiliating Austro-German challenge. The ambassadors of the Central Powers in Petersburg did their job, but their masters in Berlin and Vienna chose to ignore them.


In the first half of 1914, the Russian Foreign Ministry faced too many immediate dangers to ponder long-term historical trends. The ministry was actually rather relaxed about Serb-Austrian relations in the short term. Above all, this was because the reports of the minister and the military attaché in Belgrade stressed that Serbia’s political and military leaders well understood their country’s great need for peace and were therefore determined to do nothing to provoke Vienna. As for the Black Hand, not only Russian but also Austrian reports from Belgrade stressed its threat to Nikola Pašić’s Radical government, rather than any danger of terrorist acts on Habsburg territory. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo came as a bolt from the blue.

The regrets conveyed to Vienna by Nicholas II and Foreign Minister Sazonov concerning the crime committed at Sarajevo were genuine. Even Novoe Vremia carried an article by A. A. Stolypin, whose brother had been assassinated three years before, denouncing the murder of the archduke as barbarian savagery and a disgrace to the Slav cause in Austria. 1 Official Russian responses to the assassination and Austria’s subsequent demands were inevitably influenced by Russia’s own history and by awareness of the tangled relationships between governments, military intelligence services, and underground nationalist movements across the entire region. 2 In recent decades, many Russian dignitaries and officials, including an emperor and a grand duke, had been killed by terrorists. Some of their assassins had escaped abroad, and the leaders of Russian revolutionary parties lived in foreign countries under the protection of their laws. In 1914, both Lenin and Trotsky were living in Austria.

Most germane were the activities of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), whose leader was Józef Piłsudski, the future president of the interwar Polish republic. From its base in Austrian Galicia, the PPS plotted assassinations of officials in Russian Poland and prepared for sabotage and insurrection behind the Russian lines in the event of a Russo-Austrian war. The PPS had its “terrorist” training school in Krakow.

Piłsudski and the PPS had close links to Austrian military intelligence, to which they provided militarily useful information from Russian Poland, receiving substantial consignments of arms in return. The local Austrian police and its chief, Michał Stanisław Flatau, in Galicia were well aware of the PPS’s activities but pulled the wool over the eyes of the central civilian authorities in Vienna. Galicia enjoyed semiautonomous status and whatever the formal allegiance of local Polish officials to Habsburg authority, they were unwilling to expose or hinder Piłsudski’s efforts. Periodic Russian protests to the Austrian Foreign Ministry about the PPS’s activities got nowhere above all for this reason. In fact, Petersburg was much better informed about goings-on in Galicia than were the civilian authorities in Vienna. Colonel Alfred Redl, Russia’s main spy in the Austrian General Staff, had access to many documents touching on the links between the Austrian army and the PPS. Moreover, Piłsudski’s key negotiator with the Austrian General Staff was an agent of the Russian domestic security police (Okhrana). It is true that agents of foreign governments had not given anti-Russian terrorists the weapons subsequently used to kill an heir to the throne, which is what had happened as regards Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. But no one in Petersburg in July 1914 knew that this had happened: the only Russian official who seems to have suggested even the possibility of official Serbian involvement in the crime was Aleksandr Giers, and he did so not on the basis of any information but simply because— as he wrote— the Serbian officer corps contained many “arrogant praetorians” who were capable of anything. 3

Nikolai Shebeko had complained since arriving in Vienna as ambassador in 1913 that some of the Russian consulates were in disarray: the consulate in Bosnia was an extreme case, with the consul moribund and his assistant living in Montenegro. The ambassador sent the embassy’s second secretary, Prince Mikhail Gagarin, to Sarajevo to discover the background to events surrounding Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and passed on his report to Petersburg on July 16, 1914. Gagarin’s report stated correctly that the assassins were Austrian subjects and that the Austrian authorities, having shown gross incompetence as regards the archduke’s security, had an interest in proclaiming that the murders were the result of a hideous conspiracy with its roots abroad. Incorrectly, he wrote that the bombs thrown at Franz Ferdinand were handmade. But he also stated that the overall political situation in Bosnia was stable, the province had grown much more prosperous under Austrian rule, and many prominent Serbs, let alone Croats and Muslims, were loyal to Vienna. Genuinely threatening discontent was confined to the new Serb intelligentsia. 4

On July 15, Shebeko reported that his information suggested that the investigation had revealed nothing that could justify a conflict between Vienna and Belgrade but that in general terms “it is very possible that Austria together with Bulgaria will use the first suitable occasion to decide the Serbian question, which is so vital to the monarchy, by a single blow in an unexpected attack.” In reality, the investigation had discovered clear evidence of involvement by Serbian officers and border police. If pursued further, it would in time probably have exposed the role of Colonel Dimitrijević (Apis), the head of Serbian military intelligence. It is, however, unfair to blame the Russian government for not taking this into account. In the weeks following the assassination, the Austrians pursued a policy of disinformation, designed to lull the suspicions of foreign governments. When they did finally release the results of their investigations, it was in the form of a dossier provided to the great powers after a forty-eight-hour ultimatum had already been delivered to Belgrade. Even then, Vienna was willing neither to discuss the evidence with foreign governments nor to submit it to any neutral judicial scrutiny. Given the recent memory of Austrian accusations against Serbia supported by blatantly forged evidence, Petersburg could not be blamed for regarding Austrian claims of Serb involvement in the assassination with suspicion. 5

Actually, Vienna had a good case, which it failed to exploit to its own advantage. The Austrians were correct to believe both that senior Serbian officers had played a role in the crime and that no purely Serbian investigation would get to the bottom of their involvement. Properly used, the investigation into the crime at Sarajevo could have badly damaged the Serbian cause and further widened the growing breach between Petersburg and London. But Vienna was interested in destroying Serbia as an independent “factor of power,” not in pursuing judicial investigations. The key decision makers in Vienna had been convinced for some time that this could only be achieved through war.

This is not to deny that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife caused outrage in Austrian ruling circles. In the case of the foreign minister, Leopold Berchtold, whose family was close to the murdered couple, personal feelings were involved. For other decision makers, it was the affront to the empire’s dignity that mattered. The real point, however, was that for a number of years key figures in Vienna had believed that Serbian nationalism was a threat to the monarchy, which only war could solve. This feeling was greatly strengthened by the Balkan Wars. In October 1913, the Austro-Hungarian Common Ministerial Council had agreed that Serbia had to be destroyed as an independent state in order to restore Austria’s position in the Balkans and stop the danger of South Slav nationalism’s undermining Habsburg authority within the empire’s borders. As Berchtold explained at that time, the key difficulty was to obtain German support for this policy. The Austrian premier, Count Karl von Stürgkh, added that the precondition for success had to be “that we have been clearly injured by Serbia, because that can lead to a conflict which entails Serbia’s execution.” Without such a pretext and without Berlin’s support, military action against Serbia was impossible, which explains why in early June 1914 the Austrian Foreign Ministry’s key “strategy paper” outlining future short-term policy in the Balkans confined itself to advocating not military but purely diplomatic measures. But the circumstances surrounding Franz Ferdinand’s assassination provided exactly the scenario that the October 1913 ministerial conference had desired. Once the assassination occurred, most of the key decision makers in Vienna were determined to have their war with Serbia. They issued an ultimatum designed to be unacceptable, rejoiced when the Serbs did not fully accept this ultimatum, and then embarked immediately on a declaration of war and the bombardment of Belgrade on June 29 to ensure that no time was allowed for great-power intervention to stop the conflict. 6

The crucial decision would, however, be made in Berlin. In July 1913, the Austrians had proposed and the Germans had vetoed military action against Serbia. True to this policy, the German ambassador in Vienna initially preached restraint to the Austrians after the assassination in June 1914, only to be roundly denounced by the kaiser. As a result, Heinrich von Tschirschky became an advocate of aggression, urging the Austrians not to lose any time in taking action. The decisive moment came on July 5 and 6 when Count Alek Hoyos, Berchtold’s chief lieutenant in the Foreign Ministry, visited Berlin and received unconditional German agreement to support any Austrian move against Serbia. In the case of William II, the assassination of his friend and ally did have considerable influence on changing his stance on Austrian action against Serbia. Even in the previous autumn, however, the emperor had been ranting about the inevitable war between Teuton and Slav. Since then, the Liman von Sanders episode and the big new Russian armaments programme had further excited him against Russia. Typically, when war actually drew close, William began to retreat, but by then it was too late: he had released forces that he could no longer control. 7

The support of the German army’s leaders for Austrian action needs no explanation and represented no change in their stance: in the view of General Helmuth von Moltke, the chief of the General Staff, even in 1913 it was in German interests to start the inevitable European war as soon as possible. It is the change in attitude of the civilian leadership, which above all means Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, that is the greatest and most important puzzle. Undoubtedly, the chancellor too was swayed by talk of racial struggle, by the Liman von Sanders crisis, and by the increase in Russian armaments. He was also weighed down in July 1914 by an overwhelming sense of pessimism and fear of growing Russian power.

The emperor’s emotional shifts and illusions were notorious, but just how the chancellor succeeded in persuading himself in these terms remains bewildering. Perhaps this reflected no more than the fact that both in the Bosnian crisis of 1908– 9 and then again at moments during the Balkan conflicts of 1912– 13, Russian foreign ministers had sometimes spoken strongly but had always backed down when war threatened. Nevertheless, the chancellor’s hopes for Russian inaction reflected an extraordinary degree of wishful thinking. In 1913, Bethmann Hollweg had written that “by any objective analysis one must come to the conclusion that— given its traditional relations with the Balkan states— it would be barely possible [for Russia] to observe inactively Austro-Hungarian military action against Serbia without appalling damage to its prestige.” In military terms, Russia was clearly better prepared for war in 1914 than it had been a year before, so why its stance should be more reticent than in the previous year is hard to conceive. 8

Germany’s agreement on July 5 and 6 to Austrian action against Serbia was the single most decisive moment in Europe’s descent into war. Vienna was assured that if Russia did intervene, then Germany would go to war in support of Austria’s plan to destroy Serbian independence. Almost three weeks then passed, however, before the Austrians acted. The first indication received by Petersburg that on this occasion Berlin might well not restrain Vienna came from the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, through Alexander Benckendorff, in a letter dated July 9. In line with his overall approach in 1914, the foreign secretary’s view was that everything possible should be done to reassure Berlin and avoid stirring up its fears and nerves. 9

Real alarm began to develop in Petersburg on July 16 when warnings arrived from two sources that a strong Austrian move in Belgrade was imminent. One came from Nikolai Shebeko, who had lunched that day with a retired Austrian ambassador, Count Heinrich Lützow. Lützow had spent the morning with Berchtold and Hoyos and gave the Russian ambassador a strong indication of their intentions. Lützow himself was very alarmed by the Austrian war party, whose boastful outpourings reminded him of similar stupidities before the war of 1866 with Prussia. The veteran Austrian diplomat believed that though a victorious war would prolong the empire’s life for two generations, defeat would spell the end of the Habsburg monarchy. 10

That evening, at a soiree in Petersburg, the Italian ambassador told Maurice Schilling, head of the Chancellery, that if Russia wanted to stop Austria from taking radical and irreversible steps against Serbia, it needed to adopt a strong line and make its position “unequivocally” clear in Vienna immediately.

Sazonov instructed Shebeko to warn Berchtold against any assault on Serbian dignity or independence, the Russian foreign minister adding that from his discussions with the French leaders (who were currently in Petersburg) it was clear that France “is not disposed to allow the humiliation of Serbia.” Sazonov himself spoke “in the most decisive manner” to the Austrian ambassador in Petersburg, warning him of “Russia’s determination not to allow under any circumstances encroachments on Serbian independence.” After the conversation, Sazonov recorded that the ambassador had been “gentle as a lamb.” 11

The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia and accompanying dossier on the assassination at Sarajevo were not delivered to Sazonov by Count Friedrich Szapáry, the Austrian ambassador, until mid-morning on July 24. By then, however, the Russian Foreign Ministry had intercepted and decoded Vienna’s instructions to Szapáry, which were accompanied by the text of the ultimatum, so Sazonov knew what was coming. The foreign minister was expecting a stern Austrian note, but even so the terms and tone of the ultimatum probably surprised him as much as they did Sir Edward Grey. The Austrian demands were phrased in categorical and humiliating terms and fell into two categories. The first concentrated on the crime at Sarajevo, stressing in particular the need for a judicial investigation of the Serbian part in the conspiracy with the participation of Austrian officials. It was difficult for the Serbian government to concede this, and the results would have caused Belgrade great damage had the investigation been thorough. Much worse, however, was the other half of the ultimatum, which demanded the removal of all anti-Austrian propaganda in school textbooks, the press, and private societies. Anti-Austrian propaganda in this definition encompassed any statement of support for the unification of all branches of the Serbian people. Once again, Austrian officials were to participate in suppressing what the ultimatum referred to as this “subversive activity.” All civilian and military officers who had taken part in this propaganda were to be dismissed, with Vienna to supply a list of the men in question. 12

Because the great majority of educated Serbians were committed to the ultimate unification of all Serbs under Belgrade’s rule, this demand amounted to something close to a call for an Austrian protectorate. 13

For the first time ever, on the morning of July 24, the Russian foreign minister telephoned the emperor to report on the ultimatum’s terms. Petr Bark, the minister of finance, was about to have his weekly audience with Nicholas II, who as always at this time of year was staying in his summer palace at Peterhof, thirty minutes’ drive from Petersburg. Bark’s memoirs describe Nicholas’s response to Sazonov’s call. According to Nicholas, the foreign minister had told him that the ultimatum was brutally worded, “could not be complied with by Serbia,” and had obviously been planned by Berlin as well as Vienna in order to bring on a European war and exploit the Central Powers’ current military superiority.

The emperor did not trust his foreign minister’s interpretation of events. Sazonov, he remarked, was prone to exaggeration and excitement. Nicholas could not believe that his cousin in Berlin would deliberately launch a European war, which would be a disaster for the whole world, over a Balkan issue. William II’s desire for peace had always seemed sincere not just in word but also in deed. In the end, compromises with Germany had been achieved on every occasion in recent years, even in very difficult cases. Nor, added Nicholas, had Berlin exploited Russia’s defenseless position in 1905– 6, when aggression would have been certain to succeed. Bark writes that he agreed with his monarch’s instincts.14

However, to do the foreign minister justice, also Paul Benckendorff and Anatolii Nekliudovhad had a similar reaction when they read the Austrian ultimatum. Nekliudov’s case is especially interesting because the minister in Stockholm was an experienced diplomat with little faith in either Sazonov or the Russian army and a man who believed that war would probably lead to defeat and revolution. Nevertheless, wrote Nekliudov, Russia could never surrender to the third Austro-German ultimatum in five years, nor could it abandon all its influence in the Balkans, whose creation had demanded so much effort and suffering from previous generations. If Russia surrendered now to the Central Powers’ menace, “our public opinion could never understand nor would it forgive the Imperial government if it agreed to such a thing.”15

Later on the morning of July 24, Sazonov joined the French and British ambassadors for an early lunch at the French embassy in Petersburg. Sir George Buchanan reported to London that the language of Maurice Paléologue in particular (who in this case stood accused of overstating his mandate) suggested that on this issue France and Russia would fight even if Britain stayed out.16

The key moment that day in Petersburg was the meeting of the Council of Ministers at 3: 00 p.m. Once again Petr Bark’s memoirs are the key source.  Serge Sazonov spoke first. He stressed Germany’s “systematic preparations” to build up its power so it could impose its will not just in the Near East but in “all international questions.” Ever since 1905, Russian military weakness had forced it “always to give way when faced with Germany’s arrogant demands” and “to conduct negotiations in a tone unsuitable for one of the great powers.”

Unfortunately, concessions and weakness had merely whetted the Germans’ appetite. If Russia gave way again and allowed the destruction of Serbia’s independence, its prestige in the Balkans “would collapse utterly.” Having sacrificed so much in the past to liberate the Balkan peoples, if it caved in now and “failed to fulfil its historic mission, it would be considered a decadent state and would henceforth have to take second place among the powers.” Far from ensuring peace and Russian security, a further retreat now would merely encourage later challenges, and Russia, already weakened and humiliated, “would nevertheless be involved in war.” The Central Powers knew that Serbian acceptance of the ultimatum would spell the end of the country’s independence and were therefore expecting its rejection. They “were resolved to deal a decisive blow at Russian authority in the Balkans by annihilating Serbia.” In the foreign minister’s view, Russian security demanded that this effort be resisted even at the cost of war, but he did not hide the fact that “war with Germany would be fraught with grave risks because it was not known what attitude Great Britain would take in the matter … Should Britain decide to remain neutral, the situation would become extremely difficult for Russia and France, even if they were adequately armed and prepared.” 17

Aleksandr Krivoshein, the minister of agriculture, spoke next, and Bark writes that it was his statement that “was the most instrumental in influencing our decisions.” He began by outlining the domestic implications of war. Russia had faced near disaster in 1905 when the revolutionary movement “might well have caused it to perish.” Only the army’s “loyalty to the crown” had saved the situation. Since then, much had been achieved. Representative institutions had allowed public participation in government, and the state’s finances were in good repair. “However, our rearmament programme had not been completed and it seemed doubtful whether our Army and our Fleet would ever be able to compete with those of Germany and Austro-Hungary as regards modern technical efficiency.” In fact, Russia would probably never achieve industrial and cultural equality with the Central Powers. “On the other hand, general conditions had improved a great deal in Russia during the past few years, and public and parliamentary opinion would fail to understand why, at this critical moment involving Russia’s vital interests, the imperial government was reluctant to act boldly.” Krivoshein stated that “no one in Russia desired war.” The disastrous consequences of the Russo-Japanese War had shown the grave danger that Russia would run in the event of hostilities. But he strongly endorsed the foreign minister’s warning that “concession was no guarantee of peace.” Although war would present a “grave danger” to Russia, Krivoshein believed that a firmer line than in recent years was the more likely way to avoid it. 18

Petr Bark recalls that “Krivoshein’s speech made a profound impression on the cabinet. He had touched us deeply and was, moreover, undoubtedly the most influential member of the cabinet.” On the matter of war and peace, the ministers of war, the navy, and finance had also to be asked their opinion. Vladimir Sukhomlinov, the war minister, and Ivan Grigorovich, the navy minister, told the council that they could not claim that Russia’s military forces were superior to those of Germany and Austria. Nor could they deny that the rearmament programme was by no means  completed. Nevertheless, “great improvements” had occurred since the war with Japan, and the state of the armed forces did not rule out a firmer stance as regards Germany and Austria. Petr Bark added that a finance minister always wanted peace and that war must necessarily endanger “the financial and economic stability of the country.” Nevertheless, “since the honour, dignity and authority of Russia were at stake, the finance minister should adhere to the opinions of the majority of the council.” The chairman of the council, Ivan Goremykin, summed up the debate by stating that Russia had to support Serbia but should urge Belgrade “to show a desire for conciliation and to fulfill the Austrian government’s requirements in so far as they did not jeopardize the independence of the Serbian state.” Firmness seemed to be the likeliest way to preserve peace, but Russia must, if necessary, accept the consequences of war. 19

Almost as interesting as what the ministers said at the meeting of July 24 was what they chose not to say in front of all their colleagues. On the eve of the council’s meeting, the minister of war took aside Nicholas de Basily, deputy head of the Chancellery, and asked him to pass on to Sazonov the realities of Russia’s current military position: “Even with the support of France we would find ourselves until 1917, and perhaps even until 1918, in a position of indisputable inferiority with respect to the combined forces of Germany and Austria. Consequently, we should do everything in our power to avoid war.” In his memoirs, General Sukhomlinov subsequently claimed that the situation was far different from 1909, because the Russian army could now fight if it had to. Sukhomlinov was good at evading responsibility for decisions behind a front of military bluster. In his memoirs, he wrote, “I was a soldier and had to obey, once the army was summoned to defend the country, and not get involved in arguments.” Had he sought to plead military weakness as a reason to avoid war, “people would have had a right to accuse me of cowardice.” The minister of the navy, Admiral Grigorovich, commented privately, “Our fleet is in no state to measure up to the German navy … Kronstadt [the naval fortress blocking maritime access to Petersburg] will not save the capital from bombardment.” 20

Among the civilian ministers, after the council meeting Petr Bark expressed his fears privately to his “patron,” Krivoshein: “All the advantages arising out of a superiority in armaments were on Germany’s side and we were obviously running serious risks.” Perhaps most striking is the silence of Nikolai Maklakov, who as minister of internal affairs was responsible for defending the regime from revolution. He was not requested to speak at the meeting of July 24.

Yet tensions between Maklakov and Krivoshein became so acute during a meeting of the council later that week that a duel nearly resulted. When General Serge Dobrorolsky visited Maklakov on July 29 to collect his signature on the orders for mobilization, he found the minister sitting in his office, which contained so many icons that it appeared more like a chapel than a government bureau. Maklakov spoke to Dobrorolsky about how greatly the revolutionaries would welcome war, adding that “in Russia war cannot be popular with the mass of the people and revolutionary ideas are dearer to the masses than a victory over Germany. But one cannot escape one’s fate.” Nikolai Maklakov’s own fate was to be one of the first former tsarist high officials to be shot by the Bolsheviks, meeting his death with great courage. His brother and old political opponent Vasili, a leading liberal politician, subsequently took Nikolai’s children into his own home. 21

After the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Sazonov met the Serbian minister, Miroslav Spalajković. The message that Russia urged the greatest possible Petersburg went via Vienna and that many of them were now being delayed or deliberately scrambled.

At eight o’clock on the following morning, Prime Minister Pašić, having returned to Belgrade shortly before, arrived at the Russian legation. His view was that Serbia could neither accept nor reject the ultimatum but must above all else try to gain time to allow the great powers to intervene. 22

Whatever Petersburg’s advice, it seems unlikely that the Serbs would simply have accepted the ultimatum in toto. In that case, Vienna would almost certainly have rejected the Serbian response anyway and gone to war. It is in any case naive to think that if the Serbs had simply accepted the ultimatum, the crisis would have been resolved. On the contrary, to actually implement the Austrian demands would have been extremely difficult and would have provided a vast potential for conflict. One can imagine many different scenarios as regards the impact on great-power relations of Austro-Serb disputes about how to execute the terms of the ultimatum. For example, Italy’s advice to the Serbs was that they should accept the ultimatum totally in order to gain time. Vienna’s success would only be temporary because the great powers, with Italy in the lead, would never accept the destruction of Serbian independence or of the status quo in the Balkan Peninsula. It was of course precisely to avoid this scenario that the Austrians were determined to destroy Serbia quickly through war and present Europe with a fait accompli. 23

At eleven in the morning of July 25, Nicholas II chaired a meeting of ministers to confirm and supplement the previous day’s recommendations of the council. Of the civilian ministers, only Sazonov, Goremykin, Krivoshein, and Bark were invited, which says something fundamental about whose opinions counted at this crucial moment. The meeting occurred at Krasnoe Selo, a short journey south of the capital by train, because this was where the summertime manoeuvres and parades of the Guards and the other troops of the Petersburg Military District took place. At this time of year, the emperor lived in his summer palace at Peterhof on the shores of the Gulf of Finland but traveled every day to Krasnoe Selo to inspect his troops.

The meeting of July 25 confirmed the decisions of the previous day’s Council of Ministers: Russia would the great powers should ask Austria to give them time to review the dossier of evidence that had accompanied the ultimatum; if Serbia considered resistance to be hopeless, then it should entrust its fate to the great powers; if circumstances subsequently required, then the mobilization of the four military districts facing Austria (Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, Kazan) should be ordered; meanwhile, the minister of war should make sure that the army’s supplies, plans, and equipment were ready for mobilization. As regards the last point, the emperor formalized procedures by ordering that the period preparatory to war come into effect from July 26.24

Most historians who study the crisis focus on diplomacy and end their story with the outbreak of war. The soldiers are generally seen as an obstacle to peace. Military plans and hopes for a rapid victory also failed, which further encourages the historian to dismiss them. To understand the outbreak of war, however, one needs to grasp why the military leaders thought and acted as they did in July 1914.

One way to do this is to show how subsequent military operations justified many of their concerns in the days running up to the outbreak of war. The Russian military leaders were caught between the slowness of their mobilization when compared with their enemies’ and the urgent need to intervene quickly enough to stop the Germans from crushing France and winning the war. The foolish promise in 1911 of the then chief of the General Staff, Iakov Zhilinsky, that the Russians would attack Germany after the fifteenth day of mobilization tightened the screw. The disaster that befell General Aleksandr Samsonov’s Second Army at Tannenberg in August 1914 owed much to the fact that he advanced without one-fifth of his infantry and without part of his cavalry reconnaissance forces and his logistical tail. The leading Western historian of the campaign comments, for example, that Samsonov’s XIII Corps was destroyed partly because it went into the battle “half-blind” for lack of its cavalry. 25

The story of Austrian and Russian perspectives on the Habsburg forces’ campaign against Serbia is even more relevant to what was happening in July 1914. Noting the deployment of six Austrian corps against Serbia during the Bosnian crisis of 1908– 9, General Sukhomlinov told the French military attaché that “Serbia is a trump card which it is important to preserve for later.” The Serbian army’s remarkable performance in the Balkan Wars and its subsequent growth along with Serbia’s population and territory made this “trump card” more valuable than ever. Not surprisingly, a key Russian staff conference in November 1912 underlined the crucial importance of not allowing the Austrians to defeat Serbia and then turn on Russia with their whole army. To achieve this end, the conference resolved that, first, Russia must not “delay the moment of the announcement of mobilization, so that this can be carried out more or less simultaneously with the enemy and, second, we must tie the declaration of war to the calculation that the operations of the Russian armed forces should be fully under way at a time when Austria has still not finished its struggle with Serbia.” In July 1914, military priorities had a big impact on Russian policy: rather than risk the extinction of its Serb and French allies, Russia felt obliged to hurry forward with its military preparations, thereby making war more likely to happen. 26

From the moment that the first information about Austrian deployments on the southern front came into Petersburg on July 24, the Russian military leadership was determined not to be left behind.

Austria’s planning had divided its army into three sections: one to fight Serbia, another to hold the Galician front against Russia, and a third to be committed initially against either Serbia or Russia according to circumstances. Obsessed by the objective of crushing Serbia, Conrad von Hötzendorff, the Austrian chief of the General Staff, initially sent the third echelon southward, only then to have to recall it at the last moment and redirect it against the rapidly growing threat on the Russian front. In the absence of these reinforcements, the Austrian offensive against Serbia failed. But the combination of last-minute improvisation and an inadequate railway network meant that this third echelon of reinforcements then did not reach Galicia in time for the early battles with the Russians. In essence, Conrad’s incompetence had wrecked Austrian offensive capability almost before the war had begun. This contributed greatly to devastating losses and a major defeat for the Habsburg armies. If the initial plans of the Russian chief of staff on the southern front, Mikhail Alekseev, had not been watered down by Petersburg, the Russians might actually have destroyed the Austrian forces on the eastern front in the autumn of 1914, which would have had enormous implications for the war’s outcome, tearing the Central Powers’ southeastern front wide open at a time when German forces were entirely committed elsewhere. 27

The Russian period preparatory to war was the product of the Bosnian crisis, owing something to warnings from the military attaché in Berlin, Colonel Mikhelson, that “the preparedness for mobilization of the German army is so great that we cannot count on knowing in time that mobilization is under way,” a point he illustrated with reference to the entirely undetected preliminary warnings that had gone out to commanders of German military districts during the recent Moroccan crisis. Although the law on the preparatory period was only finally confirmed in March 1913, that was not because of disagreements as to its essence but just another episode in the struggle between Kokovtsov and Sukhomlinov over funding the army. The law’s preamble stated its core aim, which was to use a period of diplomatic crisis that put peace at serious risk in order to take all preliminary measures to ensure that any subsequent mobilization and concentration of military forces went smoothly. Above all, this meant ensuring that personnel, equipment, and supplies were in place and adequate when the orders for mobilization arrived. A limited recall of reservists in the frontier districts was allowed, above all to provide a military screen near the border behind which the Russian armies could concentrate and deploy. 28

In the context of the July 1914 crisis, too much significance should not be ascribed to the arrangements authorized for the period preparatory to war, especially as regards the recall of reserves. This mattered on the Russo-Austrian front because the Russians were worried at the prospect of an early Austrian offensive, which would disrupt the concentration and deployment of the Russian forces. Creating a thick screen to stop the Austrians seemed vital. But this was barely an issue on the Russo-German front. In fact, the long delay before Russian forces could advance into Germany was owed to the time it would take to recall reservists in the much larger military districts of the Russian interior and then—above all— to move troops from the Russian heartland to the border region. This was a matter of three weeks or more, and no Russian advance could commence until these troops had arrived. The period preparatory to war did not, however, allow either the recall of reservists in the military districts of the interior or the movement of troops from these districts to the border. It is true that the chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Ianushkevich, told his subordinates that where necessary they could go beyond the strict letter of the law, but there was no way in which this could affect the recall of reservists in the military districts of the interior. The only way in which this could be done was to paste up the red mobilization posters across the length and breadth of the Russian interior, including Petersburg and Moscow. No one has suggested that this was done during the period preparatory to war in July 1914. In fact, as late as 4 p.m. on July 29 the German General staff itself reported that no significant number of reservists had yet been recalled in the Vilna or Petersburg districts, a statement that further undermines the argument that the measures taken by Russia under the terms of the period preparatory to war played a suficient role in alarming Berlin or bringing on the conflict. 29

Contrary to McMeekin’s suggestion there is no evidence in the Russian archives of any unusual troop movements from the interior to the western frontier region. In the orders distributed to commanders from the chief of the General Staff on July 25, 1914, top priority was given to getting units back to their depots from their summer camps. 30

The period preparatory to war came into force early on July 26. For the following two days, Sazonov’s moods ebbed and flowed, but the overall situation further darkened. Vienna accompanied its rejection of the Serbian response to the ultimatum with mobilization against Serbia on July 25 and a declaration of war on July 28. It opened hostilities on the next day by bombarding Belgrade. Austrian determination to destroy Serbia before the other great powers could intervene was clear. No outsider could know just how lethargic and incompetent Vienna was to be in mounting its onslaught on Serbia and deploying its armies in Galicia. The Russian military leadership was influenced by its memories of large-scale, secret Austrian mobilization and deployment in Galicia in the winter of 1912– 13. As is always likely to happen at moments of crisis, Russian military intelligence rather overestimated the scale of the initial Austrian mobilization in July 1914, which aroused all its traditional fears of being preempted by an Austrian attack from Galicia. These fears were not illusory. Despite the great delays caused by Conrad von Hötzendorff’s incompetence, the Russian Guards Corps and Third Caucasian Corps arrived only just in time to keep the Austrians out of the vital railway hub at Lublin.31The two key agents within the Austrian army whom the Russians had used in 1913 were both gone. In any case, unlike in 1912– 13, the crisis unfolded far too quickly for the Russians to get accurate information from agents in Austria. Nor could Petersburg obtain any help from Berlin: all Russian attempts to get Germany to intervene to slow the Austrian plunge into war were met with claims that the conflict must be localized— in other words, Russia had to leave Serbia to its fate.

Assurances that Vienna’s occupation of Serbian territory would only be temporary were of no comfort; as Baron Schilling commented, the Austrians had occupied Bosnia for thirty years before annexing it. An additional worry was that a victorious Austria could easily decide to bribe Bulgaria with Serbian territory, thereby winning over Sofia for the Central Powers. Austrian treatment of Serbia would be a strong warning to Romania that irredentist agitation had its risks and Russian protection was a chimera. Meanwhile, the Young Turk leaders in Constantinople would be confirmed in their existing view that Germany and its allies were the most powerful force in Europe and that Turkey must seek their protection. Russian diplomats in the Balkans and Constantinople made all these points. Faced with this threat, the Russian government, not surprisingly, responded to Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia with an order to mobilize the four military districts facing the Habsburg monarchy. In this era of armed diplomacy, what other means did Russia have to show serious intent to Germany and Austria? In so doing, however, the Russians moved much further down the slippery slope that led from rival military preparations to actual war. 32

The crisis reached its denouement on July 30 and 31 as two contradictory currents collided. On the one hand, the rival military leaderships began to exert ever greater influence as war seemed increasingly near and probable. On the other hand, from the night of July 29– 30 Berlin at last began to exert pressure on Vienna to accept mediation and halt its invasion of Serbia after occupying Belgrade as a gauge that Serbia would honour its commitments. A number of factors were involved here. Italy had made clear its refusal to support its German and Austrian allies. Russia’s partial mobilization alerted the Germans to the fact that it would almost certainly be impossible to localize any Austro-Serb conflict. In itself, that would not have deterred Germany, most of whose leaders were fully willing to face a war with France and Russia. But that war had to be presented to the German people as defensive, and British intervention was greatly feared, at least by most of the civilian leadership. Late in the evening of July 29, dawning awareness that British neutrality could not be relied on was confirmed by a telegram from Prince Lichnowsky, the ambassador in London, passing on Sir Edward Grey’s warning that although Britain was little concerned about the fate of Serbia or even Russia, if Germany went to war with France, then the British were unlikely to stand aside. Berlin’s response to the threat of British intervention supports Sazonov’s belief that London held much the best chance of deterring Berlin from aggression. 33

The former German foreign secretary Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter had the useful habit of stating bluntly realities that other diplomats expressed in euphemisms. Shortly before his death in 1912, he told the Austrian ambassador in Berlin that “in a great European war that blew up as a result of a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Russia, it would not be hard for Germany in alliance with Austria-Hungary to squash Russia and France, but if a third enemy of England’s power was added, then the chances of success would be very questionable.” By the time that Bethmann Hollweg had understood the reality of Britain’s probable intervention, it was, however, already too late. Reining in Vienna at this stage would be very difficult. And in any case, the German military leadership with its very narrow operational perspectives was always less worried about the threat of British intervention in a European war than were the diplomats or the navy. Even as Bethmann Hollweg began to suggest moderation to Vienna, the chief of the German General Staff, Helmuth von Moltke, was urging the Austrians forward and calling for mobilization against Russia. 34

Yet unlike in the German case, Austrian and Russian planning did not require that mobilization lead inexorably to war without any possibility of a pause. Looked at from Berlin, however, the Russian situation seemed confusing and ominous: reports poured in of troop movements as four districts were mobilized, some troops moved up to the frontier to screen mobilization, and many units still scrambled to get back to their depots from summer camps. In reality, things were not as alarming as they seemed to the Germans. So long as the Petersburg and Warsaw military districts were not mobilized, Russian preparations for war against Germany could not get very far. Both these military districts faced special problems. Mobilizing the Guards Corps in the Petersburg Military District meant drawing in reserves from the length and breadth of the empire. The situation in the Warsaw Military District was most complicated of all because in this case three fronts needed to be formed, with Russian armies deploying to invade Galicia in the south, Silesia in the west, and East Prussia in the north. Partial mobilization against Austria alone would throw the Warsaw Military District’s plans into chaos. As we shall see, in part for this very reason, the Russian leadership at this point was locked in a debate as to whether the mobilization already ordered against Austria would wreck subsequent military preparations for a war against Germany. If the generals were correct, then, ironically, the German General Staff should have welcomed Russia’s partial mobilization and waited for the moment when the last-minute improvisations it required had the same chaotic effects on Russian movements as Conrad von Hötzendorff’s bungling caused in Austria. 35

Of course such judgments have nothing to do with the only reality visible from Berlin by July 29, which was that major Russian military preparations were under way. Amid the speed and confusion of developments, it is not sinister or even surprising that military observers in Berlin played down the fact that the three Russian military districts facing Germany had still not mobilized by midday on July 30. All judgments about the actions of statesmen and soldiers in these days have to take into account the fact that they were operating under extreme pressure, with very imperfect information and often with minimal sleep. But to blame this climate of fear and confusion on the Russians makes no sense. On the contrary, it was the inevitable result of an Austro-German strategy that called for immediate and rapid war against Serbia, partly deluded itself into believing that this was achievable without Russian and French intervention, and fobbed off all attempts by entente diplomacy to gain sufficient time to negotiate and avoid catastrophe until it was too late. By the time that Berlin perhaps opened a small window of opportunity on July 30, Germany and Austria had done everything possible to persuade the Russian leadership that the Central Powers were bent on war and that conflict was unavoidable. In Petersburg, much of the drama of July 30 and 31 revolved around whether Russia should stick to just a partial mobilization against Austria or should on the contrary mobilize all its forces. No one in the Russian leadership believed that Germany would remain passive if Russia mobilized all its military districts. The Russian army could stand fully mobilized and concentrated on the empire’s borders for weeks. On the contrary, the Schlieffen Plan— Germany’s only war plan— had boxed Berlin into the necessity of declaring war and invading Belgium and Luxembourg almost the moment that mobilization was proclaimed as the first stage in delivering a knockout blow to France. Because Serge Sazonov did not fully grasp the realities even of Russian mobilization, he might not have completely understood the “logic” of German military planning.

But by the afternoon of July 29, Sazonov and his key advisers in the Foreign Ministry had come to the conclusion that war could no longer be avoided. Austria was seen—correctly— as hell-bent on attacking Serbia. Berlin had done nothing to stop it and seemed from the Russian perspective even to be egging it on. Meanwhile, the German ambassador in Petersburg, Count Pourtalès, had just delivered to Sazonov his government’s demand that unless Russia ceased its military preparations, German mobilization and war must follow. In their shoes, I too would have decided that war could not be avoided. 36

This issue was so urgent for Sazonov and his advisers because the Russian military leadership was now emphasizing that any partial mobilization against Austria would disrupt what it saw as the inevitable general mobilization that must follow shortly. The chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Ianushkevich, had failed to make this point when the Council of Ministers had initially supported the idea of partial mobilization on July 24 in order to warn Austria of Russia’s determination to support Serbia without directly threatening Germany. New in the job, he lacked either the knowledge or the strength of will to stand up against Sazonov’s use of military measures for largely diplomatic purposes. The head of the Mobilization Section of the General Staff, General Serge Dobrorolsky, immediately protested, but by then Ianushkevich had already committed himself to supporting Sazonov’s strategy. 37

What had been a merely theoretical proposition on July 24 became a reality with the decision to mobilize the four military districts facing Austria on July 28. By then too, the quartermaster general, Yuri Danilov, had returned from leave, and he was far more forceful and better informed than Ianushkevich in arguing that partial mobilization would be fatal. Whether he was correct is difficult to judge at this distance, but there is no reason to doubt that the generals were entirely sincere in their conviction that partial mobilization would lead to disaster. In Russia, as elsewhere at that time, the army’s leadership monopolized expertise on all military questions. On the other side, urging the case against general mobilization, was Ivan Goremykin, the chairman of the Council of Ministers, who had a meeting with Nicholas II on the morning of July 29. But even the retired ambassador Roman Rosen, who was lobbying furiously against general mobilization, believed that by July 29 the chances for peace were very slim. 38

In the afternoon of July 29, Nicholas II agreed to the pleas of his key military and civilian advisers and sanctioned general mobilization, only to reverse his decision at the last minute that evening after receiving what appeared to be a glimmer of hope for peace in the form of a telegram from his cousin William II in Berlin. “In extreme agitation,” the emperor insisted that “everything possible must be done to save the peace. I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter.” At eleven in the morning of July 30, Sazonov, Krivoshein, the minister of agriculture, and Ianushkevich conferred; Ianushkevich and Sukhomlinov, the minister of war, subsequently attempted on the telephone to persuade the emperor to return to general mobilization, but to no avail. There is no reason to accuse the civilian or military leaders of warmongering: they were genuinely terrified that delay, let alone the continuation of partial mobilization, might do Russia fatal damage in a war they now considered to be inevitable. The ministers even co-opted Mikhail Rodzianko, the president of the Duma, to write a memorandum for Nicholas II urging the need for general mobilization.

Nicholas was faced by the united pressure not just of his generals but also of the Foreign Ministry, the de facto head of the domestic government, and the spokesman of the Duma and public opinion. In many ways, the surprise is that the emperor held out on his own for so long. 39

Only after Sazonov went to the Peterhof palace and spoke to Nicholas for an hour from three o’clock in the afternoon of July 30 did the monarch finally give way, accompanying his surrender with the words “This means to send hundreds of thousands of Russian men to their deaths.” A member of Nicholas’s household recalled the emperor’s appearance as the crisis reached its denouement: “I was struck by his very exhausted appearance: the features of his face had changed, and the small bags that appeared under his eyes when he was tired seemed far bigger.” As war grew ever nearer, the empress Alexandra and her daughters spent much of their time in church, praying for peace. In the hours before the German declaration of war on Russia (August 1), Nicholas joined them: “In church he prayed very hard that God would spare his people this war, which seemed so close and unavoidable.” By then, a miracle was indeed the only possible source of hope. 40

In German propaganda and sometimes in the works of historians, the fact that Russia was first to authorize general mobilization is used as an argument for pinning responsibility on Petersburg for the outbreak of war. At the time, this was an important means for the German government to disclaim responsibility before its own people and particularly before German socialists. In so doing, it could play on the revulsion of left-wing elements in the country for the tsarist regime and on an older and deeper current of fear in German culture about the threat of Russia’s barbarian hordes. Subsequently, blaming Russia was a useful element in German rejection of the war-guilt clauses of the Treaty of Versailles.

Yet there is a little truth in this accusation. By July 30 and 31, the only way to avoid war would have been for Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to force the Austrians to accept the British proposal for mediation. Given the mood in Vienna, this could have been achieved only by a direct, sustained, and credible threat by the chancellor to abandon Austria should it ignore German advice. In reality, German pressure on Austria during these two days never amounted to this. The impact of Bethmann Hollweg’s advice to the Austrians was also being undermined both by the German ambassador to Vienna, Tschirschky, and by Moltke’s plea to the Austrian leadership to ignore the chancellor and plunge ahead into war. Had Bethmann Hollweg committed himself to threatening the Austrians directly, it is by no means certain that the mercurial William II would have supported him throughout the resultant furor. The Austrians would have been justifiably outraged by what would have been a betrayal of the German promise of unlimited support on which their whole strategy in July 1914 had been based. If William had supported Bethmann Hollweg, then both men would have been execrated for their weakness by most of the civilian and military leadership in Berlin, not to mention by much of German public opinion. The Russian general mobilization actually got Bethmann Hollweg off the hook and allowed him to present the conflict to the German public as a war of defense against aggressive tsarism. Inevitably, Russia’s mobilization was quickly met by a German ultimatum, followed on August 1 by a declaration of war against Russia. Because German military planning took for granted the fact that France and Russia would fight together in all circumstances and aimed at rapid victory over the French, the declaration of war on France and the invasion of Belgium followed immediately. On August 4, to the surprise of many Russians and the vast relief of Sazonov, Britain joined the conflict. 41

If one concentrates on the July crisis, then responsibility for the outbreak of war rests overwhelmingly on the shoulders of Berlin and Vienna. German policy accepted enormous risks and made fundamental miscalculations, and nevertheless as these risks and miscalculations became clear between July 29 and July 31, it chose to plunge forward into war. It is true that even by July 29 diplomacy was becoming increasingly entangled by military preparations for war. Even in this respect, Germany was most at fault. Only there did mobilization require immediate declarations of war and the crossing of international borders.


1 . Newspaper Novoe Vremia, no. 13743, June 17/ 30, 1914, p. 4.

2 . Including crucially and tragically the case of the Armenians and of Russo-Turkish relations; on this, see M. Reynolds, Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, 1908– 1918 (Cambridge, U.K., 2011), chaps. 2 and 3.

3 . A key text here is Bachmann, Ein Herd der Feindschaft gegen Russland, esp. pp. 57– 58, 66– 95.  The Russian Foreign Ministry archive also contains many examples of Russian complaints and of their detailed knowledge about PPS activities and links to the Austrian General Staff; see, for example, Arkhiv vneshnei politiki Rossiiskoi imperii (Archive of the Russian Empire’s Foreign Policy) in Moscow (henceforth AVPRI), Fond 151. See list of other abbreviations below, Opis 482, Delo 3717, listy 33ff., Minister of Internal Affairs Makarov to Kokovtsov, Oct. 18, 1912 (OS).

4 . Shebeko to Sazonov covering a report by Gagarin to Shebeko, July 3/ 16, 1914, nos. 247 and 248, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 4, pp. 298– 311. AVPRI, Fond 813, Opis 1, Delo 445, Shebeko to Schilling, March 27/ April 9 and June 25/ July 9, 1914, listy 116 and 119, on the failings of Russian consuls in general and of the consulate in Sarajevo in particular.

5 . Shebeko to Sazonov, July 2/ 15, 1914, no. 236, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 4, pp. 283– 84.

6 . Protocol of the Common Ministerial Council, Oct. 3, 1913, no. 8779, in OUA, vol. 7, pp. 397– 403; Matschenko Memorandum, n.d., no. 9918, in OUA, vol. 8, pp. 186– 95.

7. For a narrative of the Hoyos mission, and I. Geiss, ed., July 1914: The Outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents (New York, 1967), pp. 54– 88.

8 . Bethmann Hollweg to Berchtold, Feb. 10, 1913, no. 12818, in GP, vol. 34, pp. 346– 48. Konrad H. Jarausch, The Enigmatic Chancellor: Bethmann Hollweg and the Hllbris of Imperial Germany.Enigmatic Chancellor, 1973.

9 . Benckendorff to Sazonov, June 26/ July 9, 1914, no. 146, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 4, pp. 188– 93.

10 . Shebeko to Sazonov, July 3/ 16, 1914, no. 247, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 4, p. 298. This was not the first time that Lützow had expressed such fears to foreign observers; see Svatkovsky’s report of Dec. 24, 1913/ Jan. 6, 1914, in AVPRI, Fond 138, Opis 467, Delo 745, list 5. Schebeko, Souvenirs, p. 213.

11 . Schilling’s daily record is published in English in full as How the War Began in 1914: Being the Diary of the Russian Foreign Office from the 3rd to the 20th (Old Style) of July 1914 (London, 1925), with Schilling himself writing an introduction. In this case Daily Record, July 3/ 16, 1914, no. 245, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 4, pp. 296– 97; Daily Record, July 5/ 18, 1914, no. 272, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 4, p. 329; Sazonov to Shebeko, July 9/ 22, 1914, no. 322, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 4, p. 381. On Italian warnings about credibility, see, for example, Krupensky to Sazonov, July 11/ 24, 1914, no. 27, July 13/ 26, 1914, no. 95, and July 17/ 30, 1914, no. 297, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 49, 124, 266– 67.

12 . The ultimatum and its supporting dossier of documents are Berchtold to Giesl, July 20, 1914, no. 10395, and Berchtold to Austrian missions, July 25, 1914, no. 10654, in OUA, vol. 8, pp. 665– 704. Vasili Strandman, the chargé d’affaires in Belgrade, writes that his own telegram summarizing the terms of the ultimatum was delayed by the Austrians and only arrived in Petersburg after Sazonov’s meeting with Szapáry: CUBA, Sviatopolk-Mirsky Collection, Balkan Reminiscences, p. 367.

13 . J. E. Gumz, The Resurrection and Collapse of Empire in Habsburg Serbia, 1914– 1918 (Cambridge, U.K., 2009), is a fascinating account of just how radical (and reactionary) were the Habsburg army’s intentions when it came to the eradication of Serbian national consciousness.

14 . P. Bark, Memoirs, chap. 7, pp. 1– 3, 25– 26, Bark Collection, CUBA.

15 . Ibid., pp. 1– 6. CUBA, Benckendorff Collection, box 19, Paul to Alexander Benckendorff, July 28/ Aug. 10, 1914. A. Nekliudoff, Diplomatic Reminiscences (London: John Murray, 1920), pp. 298– 99.

16 . Buchanan to Grey, July 24, 1914, no. 101, in BD, vol. 11, pp.

17 . Bark, Memoirs, chap. 7, pp. 7– 13.

18 . Ibid., pp. 13– 16.

19 . Ibid., pp. 17– 21.

20 . Basily, Memoirs, p. 91. V. Sukhomlinov, Vospominaniia (Berlin, 1924), pp. 284– 86. S. Dobrorolsky, “La mobilisation de l’armée russe en 1914,” Revue d’Histoire de la Guerre Mondiale 1 (1923), pp. 53– 69.

21 . P. Bark, Memoirs, Bark Collection, CUBA, chap. 7, p. 22. S. Dobrorolsky, Mobilizatsiia russkoi armii v 1914 godu (Moscow, 1929), pp. 147– 49.

22 . Vasilij Štrandman [Basil deStrandman], Balkanske. Uspomene [Balkan Reminiscences], pp. 349– 50, 357– 61.

23 . Krupensky to Sazonov, July 13/ 26, 1914, no. 95, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, p. 124.

24 . On Nicholas’s movements and the makeup of the meeting on July 25, see the Kamer-furerskii zhurnal for that day: GARF, Fond 601, Opis 1, Ed. Khr. 1594, listy 71ff. For the resolutions of the meeting of July 24, see no. 19, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 38– 40. For the introduction of the period preparatory to war, see July 12/ 25, 1914, no. 42, in MOEI, pp. 59– 60.

25 . On XIII Corps but also on the Russian sacrifice of safety to speed in general, see Menning, Bayonets Before Bullets, pp. 231, 243– 45. Zaionchkovsky, Podgotovka, pp. 279, 311– 14. A. Kersnovsky, Istoriia russkoi armii, 3 vols. (Belgrade, 1935), vol. 3, pp. 624– 25.

26 . MDSH, carton 7N 1535, “Armée russe: Renseignements généraux, 1910– 1914,” no. 44, Matton report, June 13/ 26, 1909, p. 3; A.M. Zaionchkovskii, Podgotovka Rossii k mirovoi voine (Moscow: Shtab. RKKA, 1926), pp. 271ff.

27 . Menning, “War Planning and Initial Operations in the Russian Context.” The first report on Austrian troops’ deployment to the southern border came from Consul General Priklonsky in Budapest on July 24: Priklonsky to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 11/ 24, 1914, no. 34, in MOEI, 3rd ser., p. 53. On the eastern front, see Stone, Eastern Front, and M. Rauchensteiner, Der Tod des Doppeladlers: Österreich-Ungarn und der Erste Weltkrieg (Graz, 1994). On Alekseev, see the memoirs and other documents edited by his family: V. Alekseeva-Borel, Sorok let v riadakh russkoi imperatorskoi armii: General M. V. Alekseev (Moscow, 2000).

28 . AVPRI, Fond 133, Opis 470, Delo 14, listy 67– 69, Mikhelson to Osten-Sacken, Nov. 14/ 27, 1908. AVPRI, Fond 138, Opis 467, Ed. Khr. 303/ 306, listy 2ff., has a covering letter from Sukhomlinov to Sazonov, dated May 2, 1912 (OS), explaining the history of this legislation and then a copy of the law itself. McMeekin, Russian Origins of the First World War, chap. 2, greatly exaggerates the significance of the preparatory period.

29 . For a published copy of the law, see CGS to Foreign Ministry, July 12/ 25, 1914, no. 80, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 97ff. The French General Staff’s reports on Russian mobilization are very useful: MDSH, carton 7N 1535, June 1912, report by Captain Wehrlin, “Les caractéristiques de l’armée russe,” pp. 1– 21, which is about the mobilization and concentration of the Russian army. See also, for example, the 1913 “Notice statistique sur l’armée russe”; the section on mobilization is on pp. 47ff. Apart from analyses like the two mentioned that were prepared within the General Staff, the reports of French officers attached to Russian units also often contained valuable information about mobilization. The estimate for the Vilna District’s reservists comes, for example, from a report by Captain Perchenet, who spent six months in the district in 1912: “Rapport du Capitaine Perchenet à la suite du stage accompli dans la circonscription de Vilna d’avril à octobre 1912,” section on mobilization, pp. 1– 5. On the German General Staff report of July 29 see page 293 of Anscar Jansen, Der weg in den ersten weltkrieg (Marburg, 2005).

30 . Ianushkevich’s orders to commanders are in Journal of the General Staff Committee, July 12/ 25, 1914, no. 79, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 95– 96. On the absence of troop movements see Enteni Geivud (Anthony Heywood), “Iiul’ 1914– 90: Sekretnaia mobilizatsiia’ v. Rossii,” Rodina, 8, 2014, pp. 24– 25.

31 . On Lublin, see O.R. Airapetov,  Uchastie Rossiiskoi Imperii v Pervoi Mirovoi Voine (1914- 1917): 2014 , vol. 1, p. 128.

32 . Schilling, How the War Began in 1914: Being the Diary of the Russian Foreign Office from the 3rd to the 20th (Old Style) of July 1914 (London, 1925), with Schilling himself writing an introduction. MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, reproduces the record in separate daily extracts. It is a good source on Russian perspectives on the crisis and was not “doctored”; see nos. 25, 51, 121, 172, 224, 284, 349, 396, pp. 45– 48, 67, 146, 182, 212– 15, 256– 58, 294, 326– 28. Schilling’s comment on the “temporary” occupation of Bosnia is in no. 121, July 14/ 27, 1914, p. 146. The opinions of Russia’s representatives in Constantinople and Sofia are of particular interest: M. N. Giers to Sazonov, July 14/ 27, 1914, no. 154, pp. 168– 69, and Savinsky to Sazonov, July 16/ 29, 1914, no. 251, pp. 233– 34.

33 . Lichnowsky’s telegram to Jagow and Bethmann Hollweg’s subsequent telegram to Tschirschky calling for moderation in Vienna are nos. 130 and 133 in Geiss, July 1914, pp. 288–90, 291– 92.

34 . Kiderlen’s words are from Szyogeny to Berchtold, Jan. 15, 1913, no. 5392, in OUA, vol. 5, pp. 454– 55.

35 . Once again, the French sources on Russian mobilization are invaluable; see, for example, Wehrlin, “Les caractéristiques de l’armée russe,” June 1912, pp. 1– 21.

36 . Daily Record, July 16/ 29, 1914, no. 224, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 212– 15; Behrens to CNGS, July 13/ 26, 1914, no. 99, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 128– 30. Marina Soroka, Britain, Russia and the Road to the First World War: The Fateful Embassy of Count Aleksandr Benckendorff (1903-16) , (Cambridge, U.K., 2014), pp. 167– 98, esp. pp. 180– 97, pp. 251– 52.

37 . For Dobrorolsky’s view, see S.  Dobrorolsky, “La Mobilisation de l'armée russe,” pp. 64– 68; Dobrorolsky, Mobilizatsiia, pp. 5, 93– 95.

38 . Nicolas de Basily, Diplomat of Imperial Russia, 1903-1917: Memoirs, 1973, p. 99, describes a discussion with Danilov on July 30. Rosen, Forty Years of Diplomacy, vol. 2, pp. 163– 70. Rosen writes that Goremykin met Nicholas on July 30, but the kamerfurerskii zhurnal gives the date as July 29: GARF, Fond 601, Opis 1, Ed. Khr. 1594, listy 71ff.

39 . Daily Record, July 17/ 30, 1914, no. 284, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 256– 58.

40 . Ibid.; Sazonov, Vospominaniia (Rossiia v memuarakh diplomatov), 1991,p. 248. GARF, Fond 601, Opis 1, Ed. Khr. 1594, listy 71ff. (kamerfurerskii zhurnal); P. Gilliard, Trinadtsat’ let pri tsarskom dvore (Paris, n.d.), p. 83.

41 . Daily Record, July 16/ 29, 1914, no. 224, in MOEI, 3rd ser., vol. 5, pp. 212– 15. Bethmann Hollweg to Pourtalès, July 29, 1914, no. 127, in Geiss, July 1914, p. 285. Albertini, Origins, vol. 3, pp. 28– 31.


                                                                                                 List of Abrevations.

AAA: Arkhiv Akademii Nauk (Archive of the Academy of Sciences), St. Petersburg.

AVPRI: Arkhiv vneshnei politiki Rossiiskoi imperii (Archive of the Russian Empire’s Foreign Policy), Moscow.

BD: British Documents on the Origins of the War, 1898– 1914, ed. G. H. Gooch and H. V. Temperley, 11 vols. (London, 1926–38).

CUBA: Columbia University Bakhmeteff Archive, New York.

GARF: Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (State Archive of the Russian Federation), Moscow.

GP: Die grosse Politik der europäischen Kabinette, 1871– 1914, ed. J. Lepsius et al., 40 vols. (Berlin, 1922– 27).

KA: Krasnyi Arkhiv (Moscow, 1922– 40).

MDSH: Ministère de Défense, Service Historique (French Military Archive), Paris.

ME: Moskovskii Ezhenedel’nik (Moscow, 1906– 10).

MOEI: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia v epokhu imperializma, 2nd and 3rd ser. (Moscow, 1931– 40).

NA: National Archives, Kew, London.

OUA: Österreich-Ungarns Aussenpolitik von der bosnischen Krise bis zum Kriegsausbruch 1914, ed. L. Bittner and H. Uebersberger, 9 vols. (Vienna, 1930).

RGAVMF: Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv voenno-morskogo flota (Russian State Naval Archive), St. Petersburg.

RGB OR: Rossiiskaia natsional’naia biblioteka, Otdel rukopisei (Russian National Library, Manuscripts Section), Moscow.

RGIA: Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv (Russian State Historical Archive), St. Petersburg.

RGVIA: Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi voenno-istoricheskii arkhiv (Russian State Military-Historical Archive), Moscow.





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