While we have investigated the Treaty's that came as a result of the First World War following is the story of an unnecessary tragedy - one that can be understood only by retracing the steps taken by those who went down the road to war. Almost every day it seemed possible that the crisis could be settled as so many had been over the previous decade; almost every day there was a new suggestion that gave statesmen hope that war could be avoided without abandoning vital interests.  With each passing day, we see how the personalities of leading figures such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Emperor Franz Joseph, Tsar Nicholas II, Sir Edward Grey, and Raymond Poincaré were central to the unfolding crisis, how their hopes and fears intersected as events unfolded, and how each new decision produced a response that complicated or escalated matters to the point where they became almost impossible to contain.


A new investigation why the First World War broke out by Eric Vandenbroeck.

According to The Times in London, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo “has produced horror and consternation throughout Europe”. George V, King of Great Britain (1865-1936) ordered a week’s mourning at court, Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia (1868-1918) and his foreign minister conveyed heart-felt regrets to Vienna, and in Berlin, Wilhelm II, German Emperor (1859-1941) was genuinely grieving his friend “Franzi” whom he had last seen just weeks before. However, in Vienna the response was more varied. The official reaction to the assassination was indignant outrage, but this outward appearance was in stark contrast to the privately held thoughts of some.

After assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, was open to a diplomatic pruning of Serbian ambition if it could ensure the Balkan state remained a sapling. However 14 July would prove crucial. It was the day Hungarian's Count István Tisza was willing to back a 48-hour ultimatum to Serbia on the condition that, except for minor frontier adjustments, Austria-Hungary would not annex any Serbian territory. Furthermore, the ultimatum was to be delayed until the end of the planned summit between French President Raymond Poincaré and Tsar Nicolas in St. Petersburg.

Austria-Hungary's Foreign Minister Leopold Graf Berchtold’s 14 July report to Franz Joseph therefore confirmed Hungarian support and informed the sovereign of the steps that would be taken against Serbia. Moreover, it is the first known document that the Emperor read for certain that makes clear the possibility of an “armed intervention by Russia and France”.

On 14 July, Franz Joseph had the power to backtrack and refuse to sanction a Serbian ultimatum. It is certain, from Tisza’s letters of 1 and 8 July, and Berchtold’s 14 July report, that he knew military action against Serbia could lead to a general war, and that the Dual Monarchy might have to fight the Balkan state, Russia and France. Yet, the fact that the Emperor signed Leopold von Berchtold the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister’s report suggests he was in agreement. At the minimum, it meant that he let the preparations for war continue. Indeed the German Ambassador reported back to Berlin on 14 July that decision-makers in Vienna were in a “complete agreement” and Franz Joseph was resolute in his course of action.

On the evening of 23 July, the Emperor then was informed that Baron Wladimir Giesl had delivered the ultimatum to Serbia. In his telegram to Berchtold, Giesl had written the following.

"I gave the note and added that the term for the answer had been fixed for Saturday [25 July] at 18: 00 and that if by that time I had received no answer or an unsatisfactory one, I should leave Belgrade with the entire [Austro-Hungarian] [Austro-Hungarian] legation."

On that same day, the monarch approved the draft of his “To my People!” declaration the document that would announce the existence of a state of war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. (https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/to-my-people-emperor-franz-joseph). That is two full days before an answer from the Serbia which was to be by Saturday 25 July by 18:00.

In order to understand why the crisis escalated into full-scale war, we thus must look at Vienna and Berlin in the first instance, for it was here that an initial war was consciously risked and planned.

As Leopold Baron von Andrian-Werburg recalled:

I have the distinct impression that the war was decided on by that circle of younger talented diplomats who formed Berchtold's political council, who influenced him strongly and who, if they were - as they were in this case-- in agreement, decided things. Musulin, the impetuous chatterbox, who, when the prospects were good in the war, used to call himself 'the man who caused the war', Alek Hoyos, Fritz Szapary [ ... ] they made the war. I myself was in lively agreement with the basic idea that only a war could save Austria As the world situation was then, I am also quite sure that, two or three years later, war for Austria's existence would have been forced on us by Serbia, Rumania and Russia, and under conditions which would make a successful defense far more difficult than at that time.1

France, Russia, Britain and Italy entered the stage late in July 1914, when most decisions had already been taken.2

This was because until the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was delivered on 23 July, most European statesmen had been deliberately kept in the dark about the nature of their plan by the decision-makers in Vienna and Berlin, although the ultimatum was not a complete surprise to some when it was finally delivered.3

When the war was barely a month old, the former British Ambassador to Vienna, Sir Maurice de Bunsen, explained the extent of the secrecy exercised vis-a-vis the foreign representatives at Vienna:

The delivery at Belgrade on the 23rd July of the Austrian note to Serbia was preceded by a period of absolute silence at the Ball[haus]platz. Except Herr von Tschirschky who must have been aware of the tenor [sic], if not of the actual words of the note, none of my colleagues were allowed to see through the veil. On the 22nd and 23rd July M. Dumaine, French Ambassador, had long interviews with Baron Macchio, one of the Under-Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, by whom he was left under the impression that the words of warning he had been instructed to speak to the Austro-Hungarian Government had not been unavailing, and that the note which was being drawn up would be found to contain nothing with which a self-respecting State need hesitate to comply. At the second of these interviews he was not even informed that the note was at that very moment being presented at Belgrade, or that it would be published in Vienna on the following morning.

Count Forgach, the other Under-Secretary of State, had indeed been good enough to confide to me on the same day the true character of the note, and the fact of its presentation about the time we were speaking.

So little had the Russian Ambassador [Schebeko] been made aware of what was preparing that he actually left Vienna on a fortnight's leave of absence about the 20th July, He had only been absent a few days when events compelled him to return. It might have been supposed that Duc Avarna, Ambassador of the Allied Italian Kingdom, which was bound to be so closely affected by fresh complications in the Balkans, would have been taken fully into the confidence of Count Berchtold during this critical time. In point of fact his Excellency was left completely in the dark, no doubt for the good reason that Italy would certainly have rejected the policy embodied in the note of July 23rd if she had been invited to endorse it. As for myself, no indication was given me by Count Berchtold of the impending storm.4

In Vienna, the official reaction to the assassination was indignant outrage, but this outward appearance was in stark contrast to the privately held thoughts of some important decision-makers. Franz Ferdinand had not been universally popular, on account of his spiky character and his political views. The Germans within the Dual Monarchy had considered him to be too Slavophile, the Slavs too German, and the Hungarians too Austrian.5 Moreover, some of the decision-makers in Vienna had been keen for a 'reckoning' with Serbia for some time, a move that had always been opposed by the Archduke, and considered this a golden opportunity.6 For its Chief, Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, the Archduke's demise offered a welcome excuse for a war against Serbia. He still regretted what he (as well as his German counterpart Helmuth von Moltke) had considered the 'missed opportunity' for a 'reckoning with Serbia' in 1909. 7

Other so-called 'hawks' in Vienna were also keen to seize the opportunity of waging a war against Serbia whose pan-Slav agitation threatened to undermine the cohesion of the Austro-Hungarian empire.8

Many of the tendentious evaluations that have associated official or semi-official Serbia with the Sarajevo assassination have then moved seamlessly on to the outbreak of the war, equally tendentiously presenting it as an inevitable consequence of the murders. Yet those historians who have argued in this manner have wrongly fused the question of who bore responsibility for the assassination with a second, separate question of what subsequently impelled the Habsburg decision-makers to react as they did.


Why it became a World War

Berchtold oversaw the preparation of a diplomatic mission to Berlin. Two documents were to be forwarded to the German ally. The first was a personal letter from Franz Joseph to Kaiser Wilhelm II, signed in the Emperor's own hand but in fact drafted by Berchtold's staff chief Alek Hoyos; the second was a hastily revised version of the pre-Sarajevo Matscheko memorandum, to which was appended a brief post-assassination postscript.

These two documents make extremely strange reading today. The revised Matscheko memorandum offered the same sprawling overview of the deteriorating Balkan alignment as the original, but with a stronger emphasis on the ruinous consequences of Romanian infidelity - a point directed both at Berlin's friendly relations with Bucharest and at Tisza's preoccupation with Transylvania.

In Berlin, the possibility of a Balkan crisis was greeted favorably by military and political decision-makers, for it was felt that such a crisis would ensure that Austria would definitely be involved in a resulting conflict (unlike during the earlier Moroccan crises, for example). When Hoyos arrived in Berlin to ascertain the powerful ally’s position in case Austria made demands of Serbia, he was assured that Germany would support Austria unconditionally (something that also can be understood in context of the Matscheko Memorandum), even if it chose to go to war over the assassination, and even if such a war were to turn into a European war. This was Germany’s so-called “blank cheque” to Vienna.

Historians have debated why Germany’s decision-makers decided to support their ally come what may, and most historians today consider the “blank cheque” a crucial step that led Europe into war. For the single most decisive moment in Europe’s descent into war. In the calculations of Germany’s leaders, the crisis was a golden opportunity to test the Entente which seemed to be encircling Germany and its weakening ally Austria-Hungary. They were still confident that a war, should it break out, could be won by the Triple Alliance partners (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy), while in the long run, the Entente Powers (Russia, France and Great Britain) would become invincible. The worry was in particular that Russia would increase its army and improve its railway infrastructure to such an extent that in the near future it would become impossible for Germany to fight a successful war against Russia.

On the road to war which followed the assassination, the Hoyos Mission was a crucial juncture at which the ‘basic idea that only a war could bring Austria's salvation' became accepted in Vienna. 9 Armed with such reassurances from Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Joint Ministerial Council decided on 7 July to issue an ultimatum to Serbia, after the Austrian Premier Istvan Tisza objected to a more immediate strike. This intervention influenced the subsequent timetable significantly. The ultimatum was designed to be deliberately unacceptable, and its wording would not be revealed to anyone but the German ally until the day it was presented in Belgrade. The time limit for Serbia's answer was deliberately kept short to avoid the possibility of negotiations. However, much time would pass before the ultimatum was finally delivered to Belgrade: first the harvest had to be completed, for which most soldiers of the Dual Monarchy were on harvest leave. Moreover, it Was decided to wait until the state visit of Raymond Poincare, the French president, to Russia was over, so that the two allies would not have a chance to coordinate their response to Austria's ultimatum.10 Throughout these early days of the crisis, Vienna kept Berlin informed of their plans, while to the outside world, they both gave the impression of calm, even sending their main decision-makers on holiday to keep up this illusion - Wilhelm II considered this to be 'childish', but it was arguably much more devious than that. It certainly put the other powers off the scent. As Jean Jacques Becker has put it, 'it is hard to imagine the leaders of the country indulging in the joys of tourism [ ... ] having plotted the outbreak of a European war', and yet, this was the case for Austria-Hungary and Germany, where under the pretence of holidaying a war was plotted behind the scenes.11

The Italian alliance partner was also deliberately kept in the dark, save for Flotow's indiscretions (see footnote 3). It is due to this deception that the other major powers did not play a role in the July Crisis until 23 July, when the ultimatum was finally presented in Belgrade.

While increasingly suspicious of her intentions and aware that some kind of action was being planned, the governments of the other European powers expected that Austria-Hungary would seek redress, but they were largely unaware of the secret plotting in Vienna and Berlin. In the capitals of the other Great Powers, Vienna's outrage at this act of terrorism was certainly shared, and it was expected that she would demand redress of some kind. Both Russia and France, however, denied that Serbia was in any way linked to the assassination. Sazonov stated confidently that no proof that the Serbian government had tolerated such machinations would ever be produced, and Poincare similarly denied that Belgrade had been involved in the plot. They were taken by surprise by the severity of the demands made of Serbia and suspected immediately that Vienna's decision-makers were determined to provoke a war.

The Serbian response to the 'unacceptable' ultimatum astonished everyone. The Belgrade Government agreed to all but one of the demands, making Austria's predetermined decision to turn down Serbia's response look suspicious in the eyes of those European powers who wanted to try to preserve the peace. Even Kaiser Wilhelm II now thought that every reason to go to war had gone. Britain suggested (repeatedly) that the issue could be resolved at the conference table, but her mediation proposals were only given half-hearted support by Berlin and not taken up by Vienna.

Instead, from 23 July the crisis was dominated by attempts by France and Russia as well as the Alliance to get British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey to declare Britain's hand. Britain, at this point still preoccupied with events in Ireland, refused until the very end of July to commit to her allies, in an effort to try to prevent an escalation of the crisis. It has been argued that Britain could have played a more decisive role by declaring her intentions to support France earlier, and that the outcome of the crisis might have been different as a result. According to this point of view, if Germany's decision makers had known earlier and with certainty that Britain would be involved in a war on the side of the Entente, they would have accepted mediation proposals and would have counseled peace in Vienna. Certainly Berlin worked on the (misconceived) assumption that British neutrality was possible, and even likely. However, the British cabinet was divided over a British involvement in a European war, and no definite decision to support France was possible until Germany's violation of neutral Belgium provided Grey with a much-needed reason for joining the war. By then, he was so convinced that Britain needed to declare her support for France and Russia that he threatened to resign over the issue.

In the crucial last days of July, Britain's decision-makers were divided on how to deal with the threat of war on the continent and tom between their fear of a victorious Germany and a victorious Russia, if the latter managed to win the war without British support. We can of course only speculate if an earlier declaration of British involvement would have changed the minds of decision-makers in Vienna or Berlin and made them more inclined to accept mediation instead of war. Nonetheless, the ambivalence of Sir Edward Grey's policy should not really be seen as a cause of the war, not least because his hesitant attitude was motivated by the desire to avoid an escalation of the crisis. Moreover, British public opinion, the press (with the exception of The Times), and the majority of the Cabinet were not ready for Britain to go to wax over Serbia until Belgium's demise finally provided a reason to become involved in continental affairs. Until that point Grey had feared that a definite promise of support might have led France or Russia to accept the risk of war more willingly, and had consistently refused to declare Britain's hand one way or the other.

In France, decision-making was hampered by the fact that the senior statesmen were abroad for many of the crucial days of the crisis. (This was, as we have seen, the result of a deliberate decision to present the ultimatum at the least opportune moment for French decision-makers.) France's attitude vis-a-vis her Russian ally has been much scrutinized by historians in order to ascertain if undue pressure, or at least too much support, too readily offered, influenced decisions in St Petersburg and if war-guilt can thus be attributed to France (an argument first advanced by revisionists in the inter-war years). 12 France was caught uncomfortably between two stools, and her desire to ensure British support even affected her military plans. Nothing should suggest to the Entente partner that France might be responsible for the onset of hostilities, and mobilization measures had to be postponed until reliable news had been received of German moves, while French troops were deliberately withdrawn ten kilometers behind the border to ensure that hostile acts would not even result accidentally.

In the weeks following the assassination, Russia's decision-makers reacted with alarm to the rumors that Austria might be planning to act harshly against Serbia. Having initially been reassured by Vienna's denials, the surprise at the ultimatum was all the greater, and the text of the ultimatum suggested to Sazonov immediately that war would be 'unavoidable'.13 In a meeting of the Council of Ministers on 24 July, the Ministers discussed the fact that demands had been made of Serbia which were 'wholly unacceptable to the Kingdom of Serbia as a sovereign state'. Nonetheless, the decision was made to advise Serbia not to offer any resistance to any armed invasion, while Vienna was to be asked to extend the time limit, and permission for mobilization was to be sought to cover all eventualities.14 On 25 July measures were decided on for a partial mobilization which began On 26 July. However, crucially this mobilization did not make war unavoidable, as Russia's decision-makers were at pains to stress. At the same time, the Russian Government was keen to support Britain's mediation proposals.

The argument that Serbia's rejection of one of the points of the ultimatum may have been made on the basis of perceived Russian support has been proven to be untrue.15 However, it would arguably have been impossible for Pasic to accept all of Austria-Hungary's conditions, not least because of Serbia's recent military successes. Public opinion would hardly have condoned such an outwardly visible expression of weakness, even if the Prime Minister had been inclined towards acceptance. Moreover, an investigation of the background of the assassination would have led the Austrians to Dragutin Dimitrijevic, head of the Serbian Military Intelligence, who was also known as Apis, the leader of the 'Black Hand' organization which had been behind the assassination. The demand of an Austrian-led enquiry was unacceptable because it would have revealed that the Serbian Government, while not the instigators of the plot, had nonetheless had prior knowledge of it, and had failed to prevent the murder from taking place.

 Only at the very last minute, when it was clear that Britain, too, would become involved if war broke out, did the German Chancellor try to restrain the Austrians, but his mediation proposals arrived far too late and were in any case not forceful enough. They also did not have the backing of Germany's military leaders. Austria declared war on Serbia on 28 July, and thus set in motion a domino-effect of mobilization orders and declarations of war by Europe's major powers, and her decision-makers were unwilling to stop their war against Serbia in order to make negotiations possible. By the time Britain had declared war on Germany on 4 August, following Germany's invasion of neutral Luxembourg on 2 August and Belgium on 4 August (necessitated by Germany's deployment plan, the so-called Schlieffen Plan 16), the Alliance powers (without Italy, which had decided to stay neutral) faced the Entente powers in the 'great fight' that had so long been anticipated.  

The Hoyos Mission

In all European governments, the immediate reaction to the news of the assassination was one of horror and outrage. This act of terrorism - a regicide - was immediately regarded by many as a possible cause for war. It is tragic, with hindsight, that this was also a time that had seen some improvements in the relations between Britain and Germany (and much was made, therefore, of the naval visit to Kiel in early July), but it was too little too late. Without willingness in all the European capitals to settle once more for a diplomatic solution to an international crisis, the assassination provided the trigger to an international crisis that could not be contained.

Yet already by July 3, 1914, the German General Staff considered German involvement in a coming war likely and favored it. General of the German Cavalry Wenninger, wrote to the Saxon Minister of War:

No. 73/3472

Berlin, 3 July 1914

I have to report to your Excellency that in responsible circles here the political situation is regarded as very serious - also for us. At the memorial service for His Imperial Highness Archduke Franz Ferdinand I had the opportunity to talk things over with Generalmajor Count Waldersee, Generalquartiermeister in the Great General Staff. What he said seemed to be the opinion of the Chief of the General Staff of the Army. He opined that we might become involved in a war from one day to the next. Everything depended on what attitude Russia took in the Austro-Serbian business. In any case the course of events was also being closely watched by the Great General Staff. I gained the impression that they would regard it with favor if war were to come about now. Conditions and prospects would never become better for us. ------

The documents related to the Hoyos Mission furthermore demonstrate that many of Vienna's decision-makers were eager (and this more so after Germany issued it’s ‘blank check’) to grasp the opportunity of a 'reckoning' with Serbia which presented itself in the aftermath of the assassination. Particularly a younger generation of diplomats who had participated in Alois von Aehrenthal's expansionist foreign policy in the early years of the century were of the opinion that an active foreign policy was the only way out of the internal stagnation they all felt Austria-Hungary was experiencing.17

In this, they were vigorously supported, even encouraged, by their alliance partner in Berlin. Some evidence for Austria-Hungary's acute desire to break out of a  perceived 'encirclement' and to arrest their alleged decline can be found in the Matscheko memorandum, composed before the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and then adapted to the new circumstances and presented to the German Kaiser on 5 July.18 Berthold Molden's memorandum also demonstrates already the extent of Austria-Hungary's foreign-policy aims even before Count Hoyos had received the infamous blank check during his visit to Berlin. Germany's pledge of support delivered during the Hoyos Mission was necessary for Austria-Hungary's resolve and played a part in their decision to issue an ultimatum to Serbia during their Ministerial Council meeting on 7 July , but their determination to act decisively predated the visit.19 Of course we cannot know with any certainty what Vienna's decision-makers would have decided if their alliance partner Germany had not offered unconditional support at this early stage, although it is certain that the 'hawks' in Vienna did not need any encouragement and that the cautious Tisza was unable to halt them for long: their minds were made up that the time had come for dealing energetically with the troublesome Serbs.20 However, they did receive encouragement from Berlin, where the decision-makers declared 'emphatically' that an action of the Monarchy against Serbia was 'expected'. On 7 July, the decision to issue an unacceptable ultimatum was taken, leading to the order being given to Wladimir Baron von Giesl, the Austro-Hungarian Minister in Belgrade: 'However the Serbs react to the ultimatum, you must break off relations and it must come to war.'21 Yet Serbia's surprisingly compliant reply ensured that this predetermined attitude would cause suspicion in the eyes of the other Great Powers.

Among the Entente powers, but also in Rome, there was suspicion that Germany was disingenuous in her vigorous denials to have had any prior knowledge of Vienna's intentions. The available evidence shows without doubt that German decision-makers knew about the plan, hatched in Vienna, to dispatch a deliberately unacceptable ultimatum to Belgrade and that they were well aware of the reasons for its delay. This intention was known to the German ally almost as soon as the decision was taken, and Berlin's decision makers were also aware of its likely contents before anyone else in the crisis, despite their protests to the contrary.

Planning the Ultimatum 13 July-22 July

While the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia (deliberately unacceptable and with a short time limit) was secretly being prepared, despite the fact that there was no conclusive evidence of the Serbian government's complicity in the assassination, most of Europe was in the dark about the conspiratorial dealings in Vienna, The German ally was, however, informed of these events and being kept abreast of developments. Contrary to what they would firer maintain, Berlin's statesmen were well aware of Austria's plans - the unacceptable nature and the contents of the ultimatum were known in Berlin well before it was handed over on 23 July. The delivery of the ultimatum was deliberately delayed due to the French state visit to Russia. Vienna's statesmen were eager to explain to their German ally that the hold-up was not through a change of heart or lack of nerve; however, they were forced to admit that any military action resulting from Serbia's anticipated rejection of the demands would also entail considerable delay.

Showing how much Berlin was informed, the Bavarian Charge d’Affairs in Berlin Hans von Schoen on 18 July wrote to the Bavarian Prime Minister Count Hertling. Mentioned in the letter are also German Undersecretary of State A. Zimmerman and the Director of the Political Department:

Report 386

Berlin, 18 July 1914

I have the honour most respectfully to report as follows to Your Excellency concerning the prospective settlement between the Austro-Hungarian Government and Serbia, on the basis of conversations I have had with Under-Secretary of State Zimmermann, and further with the man charged with special responsibility for the Balkans and Triple Alliance [Dr.C.L.D. von Bergen, Director of the Political Department], and with the Botschaftsrat of the Austro-Hungarian Embassy.

The step which the Vienna Cabinet has decided to undertake at Belgrade, and which will consist in the presentation of a note, will take place on 25 inst. The reason for the postponement of the action to that date is that they wish to await the departure of Messrs Poincare and Viviani from St Petersburg, in order not to facilitate an agreement between the Dual Alliance Powers on any possible counter-action.Until then, by the granting of leave of absence simultaneously to the Minister of War and the Chief of the General Staff, the Vienna authorities will have the appearance of being peacefully inclined; and they have not been without success in influencing the press and the stock exchange. ------

Thus the first three weeks of July were a period of outward calm while behind the scenes it was a time of secret planning and plotting. It was not a foregone conclusion in Vienna and Berlin that war would result from the assassination. Meanwhile, in London, Paris and St Petersburg, there was much uncertainty and guesswork on the part of the Great Powers' governments and their Ambassadors in Vienna and Berlin who picked up on rumors but were unable to provide definite information about Austria-Hungary's intentions. By 17 July French intelligence was aware of the plan to present Serbia with an ultimatum, but this information did not reach the French Foreign Ministry until 24 July.

 Not just the Entente powers were reduced to guesswork. Throughout this period Italy was being deliberately kept in the dark by her allies while Austria-Hungary wanted to place her before a fait accompli. However, Italy became aware of Austria's plans, due to the indiscretions of the German ambassador in Rome (see note 3). The German ally was keen to entice Italy to stay with the Alliance by offering, compensation, but Austria-Hungary - not surprisingly, as such recompense would be made from her territory - was less willing.

Serbia's government reacted with concern to the developing crisis. It had suspected since Tisza's speech of 15 July that Austria-Hungary would seek some kind of redress (of which Bunsen wrote the above account) Prime Minister Pasic wrote to all Serbian missions abroad and explained that he hoped that the Great Powers might diffuse the crisis. In the weeks following the assassination, the Serbian Government made it known that it was willing to comply with any requests that were compatible with the country's independence, and to do anything 'reasonable' to help address the crime.            

 The hopes that an amicable solution might be found were dashed at 6:00 p.m, on 23 July, when the Austrian Minister in Belgrade, Wladimir Giesl, delivered a 48 hour ultimatum to the Serbian foreign Ministery (which he had received three days earlier and held back under instruction, until the French President and his colleagues had embarked on their ship for their two-day voyage home.

Presenting Serbia and the world with a fait accompli had not quite worked, as details of the planned diplomatic move had leaked in various places, but the secrecy and deliberate deception nonetheless ensured that most Europeans were taken by surprise, and that many decision-makers were caught off-guard, or were even away from their posts for some of the crucial 48 hours which followed in Paris, foreign policy was in the hands of the Minister of Justice if Bienvenu-Martin, inexperienced in foreign affairs, while Viviani and Poincare were embarked on their long journey home, and the shortness of time afforded to Serbia also ensured that the Great Powers could not intervene and suggest mediation, just as Austria-Hungary and Germany's decision-makers had intended.

Reactions to the Ultimatum

'On 23 July at 6 o'clock', Wladimir von Giesl later recalled, 'I had given the ultimatum to the [Serbian] Deputy Prime Minister Pacu. [ ... ] The next day, the swarm of bees was fully active.'22

 Pacu was startled to receive what was clearly a significant document, and assembled the ministers who were present in Belgrade. Crucially, Prime Minister Pacic was absent, spending the day campaigning in Nis for the forthcoming elections. Having read the document, the first person to speak was Ljuba Jovanovic, the Minister of Education, who proclaimed: 'We have no other choice but to fight it out.’

The delivery of Austria-Hungary's ultimatum spelt the end of a period of uncertainty during which Europe's Great Powers had been playing a guessing game about Austria-Hungary's likely move against Serbia. In Europe's capitals, the reaction was largely one of surprise at the severity of the demands, followed by immediate attempts to find a way of defusing the crisis and arranging mediation. While Vienna's (and Berlin's) decision-makers expected Serbia to refuse to accept the demands made of her and use this non-compliance as pretext for a war, in the other capitals of Europe, the quest for mediation (at best) and a localization of the conflict (at worst) began in earnest.

France, Russia and Britain now started to play major roles in the crisis of which they had so far been largely unaware. In that, they were motivated by more than just a desire to preserve peace in Europe -'alliance consideration and the desire to maintain great-power status were influencing their decisions and were to affect the outcome of the crisis. Thus, for example, France did not play an entirely negligible role in escalating the crisis because she accepted the risk of a war by pursuing her goal of maintaining France's position as a great power. Even when the Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov was still cautious, Poincare and Paleologue were encouraging a tough stance vis-a-vis Austria-Hungary.23 Following their departure from St Petersburg, the French Ambassador Paleologue repeatedly assured the Russians of unlimited French support (seemingly speaking on behalf of the French Government, but actually exceeding his authority), but the ground had already been prepared by Poincare's demands for firmness during his state visit. However, this did not mean that the French were forging ahead with their military preparations. The French Minister of War, Messimy, decided in consultation with Chief of Staf Joffre that the French army should wait for Germany to commit the first acts of hostility along their shared border, a stance that would characterize French policy for the rest of the crisis, although increasingly the Chief of Staff began to worry about the effects this would have on France's ability to wage a successful war against Germany. Joffre was, however, confident in the ability of the French Army, telling Messimy in response to the news on 24 July that France might go to war: 'Very well, sir, we will do it if it is necessary.' Messimy's enthusiastic 'Bravo!' and Joffre's confidence were a long way removed from Joffre's pessimism in 1911, when he had told the Premier Joseph Caillaux that France's chance for victory was not even 70 per cent.24

Russia, too, now reacted to the crisis which had so far been only of Austria-Hungary's and Germany's making. Her decision makers took their first steps on the road to mobilization in a 'crucial meeting' of the Council of Ministers in the afternoon of 24 July in which the Foreign Minister told his colleagues that he was convinced that 'Austria-Hungary and Germany were resolved to deal a decisive blow at Russian authority in the Balkans by annihilating Serbia'25 Once the Tsar had approved his Ministers' decision, war had become 'more probable', given Austria-Hungary's determination to go to war with Serbia, and Germany's decision to support her ally, come what may.26 The meeting on 24 July is also important because, in the absence of any written evidence as  to the conversations between the Russian and French allies during the French state visit to St Petersburg, it has been argued that the record of that first meeting following the news of the ultimatum might reflect a plan that the allies had previously agreed upon, 'if any plan was concerted with France before the departure of the French Mission'.27 Russia's decision-makers felt compelled to support Serbia and to stand up to this provocation from Vienna in the same way as Austria-Hungary's decision-makers felt compelled to put their foot down in the light of the perceived Serbian provocation: not to react would mean suffering a decline of their national honor and prestige. If Russia allowed herself to be pushed out of the Balkans, Finance Minster Bark recorded, 'she would be considered a decadent state and would henceforth have to take second place among the Powers'.28 Much the same worries motivated Vienna's decision makers, and indeed all the Great Powers worried about a potential loss of prestige and of 'Great Power status'.

In the evening of 25 July the Council of Ministers decided on a 'period preparatory to war' (the equivalent of Germany's 'Zustand drohender Kriegsgefahr') to come into effect the next day. On 26 July the partial mobilization of four military districts was confirmed,29 The Chief of the Mobilization Section of the Russian General Staff would later remember: 'The war was already a settled matter, and the whole flood of telegrams between the governments of Russia and Germany (which followed] represented merely the stage setting of a historical drama.'30

France learnt of Russia's decision for preparations for war and a partial mobilization of four districts the day it was decided, on 26 July. At a meeting of the Ministerial Council in Paris on 29 July, the Ministers approved of the Russian decision.31

In Britain, the government had been preoccupied with events in Ireland, and news of the ultimatum came as a surprise to the Cabinet. The Industrialist Albert Ballin reported from London: 'The Austrian note to Serbia is considered very calmly here. This is probably partly due to the current situation, for the Ulster question dominates the hour. The Gentlemen (Grey and Haldane] were yesterday evening extremely pessimistic.32 In fact, though, Sir Edward Grey considered the document 'extraordinary', and it caused widespread consternation in Britain and instantly overshadowed the worries about Ireland.33 Grey's efforts to arrange a solution by mediation began immediately.

The British Government was intent on arranging mediation to solve the crisis peacefully and asked for Germany's help in trying to convince the Austrians to accept this. However, Germany's statesmen merely passed on the suggestion to Vienna to save face, advising their ally in no uncertain terms that they did not expect them to accept the British proposal, thus continuing the underhand game they had already played throughout July. Rather than counseling restraint, Vienna was urged to follow up her diplomatic move with immediate military measures, 'to place the world before a fait accompli'. Still in defiant mood, and thus encouraged by Germany, Austria-Hungary did not take the other great powers up on their suggestion to extend the deadline for Serbia's answer.

Following Prime Minister Pasic's return to Belgrade, the defiant mood of 23 July (when Pacu had informed the Serbian missions abroad that 'no Serbian Government could accept [the Austrian demands] in their entirely') had turned into one of resignation. Now Pasic informed Serbia's missions on 25 July that Vienna would be offered 'full satisfaction'. However, news from the Serbian Minister in St Petersburg, Spalajkovic, that acceptance of the Austrian demands would amount to 'committing suicide' and assurances that Serbia could 'count unofficially on Russian support' led to a hardening of the Serbian attitude. In the evening of 25 July, Spalajkovic reported: 'In all circles without exception, the greatest resolve and jubilation reigns on account of the stance adopted by the tsar and his government. However in a conversation following the Council of Ministers meeting on 24 July, Sasonov advised Spalajkovic that Serbia should exercise 'extreme caution'.

The Serbian response to the 'unacceptable' ultimatum astonished everyone, In large parts the Government agreed to accept it (they would not allow Austro-Hungarian officials to conduct the Serbian enquiry into the assassination), making Giesl's hasty departure (he had been instructed to leave no matter what Serbia's reply) and Austria's predetermined decision to turn down Belgrade's response look suspicious in the eyes of the other European powers who wanted to try to preserve the peace. Even the Kaiser now decided that there was no longer any reason to go to war, much to the dismay of his military advisers. However, Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg chose not to alert the ally in Vienna to the Kaiser's suggestion of stopping the Austro-Hungarian advance outside of Belgrade (the 'Halt in Belgrade') in time.34

For Sir Edward Grey, this was a particularly difficult time. The days following the ultimatum were characterized by Germany's hope for British neutrality, by France's and Russia's demands for Britain's involvement in any potential conflict on their side, and by the British Cabinet's refusal to commit the country one way or another. Grey was trying to convince a reluctant Cabinet that the time had come to make a decision as war seemed unavoidable, and as Britain would be dragged inevitably into it, regardless of her decision.

If war could not be avoided, at least an attempt could be made to localize it. Britain invited all the Great powers to join in a mediation effort, and Russia encouraged Serbia to support British proposals 'energetically'. Following the Serbian reply Britain put pressure on Germany to urge Vienna towards 'some moderation'; while Russia had even suggested to Serbia that she allow Austrian troops to occupy her territory and then appeal to the Powers for help, rather than mobilizing and fighting. Sazonov also urged 'extreme moderation' to the Serbian Minister in St Petersburg.

Sazonov cabled to Strandtmann at the Russian Legation in Belgrade as follows:

Telegram 1487 Urgent

St Petersburg, 24 July 1914

If Serbia is really in such a helpless condition as to leave no doubt regarding the result of an armed struggle with Austria, it would perhaps be better that in the event of an invasion by Austria the Serbs should not even try to offer resistance, but should retreat and allow the enemy to occupy their territory without fighting, and make a solemn appeal to the Powers. In this appeal the Serbs, by pointing out the difficulty of their position after the recent war during which their moderation gained them the recognition of Europe, might refer to the impossibility of their surviving an unequal struggle, and ask for the protection of the Powers based upon a sense of justice. ------

Later Sazonof wrote to Benkendorff (the Russian Ambassador in London):

From my discussions with the German Ambassador I have gained the impression that Germany rather encourages Austria's intransigence. The Cabinet in Berlin, which could halt the whole development of the crisis, seemingly exerts no influence on its ally. The Ambassador here [Pourtales] considers Serbia's answer insufficient.

I consider such an attitude by Germany to be very alarming and think that England more than the other powers could undertake steps to put appropriate pressure on Berlin. The key to the situation lies undoubtedly in Berlin. ------

Benckendorff passed a French version of this telegram to Nicolson the same day. The telegram was also sent to the Russian Ambassador in Paris.

For Vienna's decision-makers, these were very unwelcome developments. On 27 July, Berchtold asked for the Emperor's signature on the draft declaration of war for Serbia, arguing that he 'did not interpret it impossible that the Triple Entente Powers could make still another attempt to achieve a peaceful solution of the conflict unless a clear situation is created by a declaration of war.'35 Austro-Hungarian policy was still, as it had been at the beginning of July, based on the premise that a diplomatic success would be undesirable and tantamount to failure, and that a war against Serbia was the only worthwhile outcome of the crisis.

Italy, not having been consulted by Austria-Hungary, did not consider it her duty to support her alliance partner in what she interpreted to be an aggressive move in which the casus foederis did not apply. Compensation might still have been a way of swaying the Triple Alliance partner and was favored by Germany, though unsurprisingly not by Austria-Hungary. It was of course easier for Germany to advocate compensation, as it was Austro-Hungarian territory that would have to be offered to compensate and entice Italy. At this point in the crisis, it seemed too high a price to pay.

In Germany it was still hoped that Britain would remain neutral, but this was a policy largely based on misunderstandings and wishful thinking. It was a misapprehension with serious consequences, and once Berlin's decision-makers realized that they could not, in fact, count on Britain, it was too late to restrain their ally. Underlying the German decision-makers' reasoning was the fear of what the future would bring, in particular given Russia's predicted military strength in a few years' time. This prediction of Russia's future invincibility was shared in Vienna, London and even in Paris, though crucially not in St Petersburg: 'in marked contrast to the decision-makers in the German Empire, in Great Britain or even in France, who had formed an almost sinister judgment of the strength of Russia's power, the [Russian] Foreign Minister considered the military possibilities of his country to have been modest'.36 For those in charge in Vienna and Berlin, waiting for Russia to become invincible was not an option in 1914, a time when they were still quietly confident of being able to wage a war successfully.

Last Chance 28 July -30 July

 In the light of Serbia's unexpectedly conciliatory reply to Austria-Hungary's ultimatum, it should have been possible to avert the threatening war. However, Austria-Hungary's decision-makers were as determined as they had been right from the beginning of the crisis to use this opportunity for war. Austria-Hungary's leaders were dismayed by the Serbian reply, and to prevent any further attempts at a diplomatic solution being found, refused Britain's conference suggestion of 24 July, declared war on Serbia on' 28 July and began hostilities by bombarding Belgrade from gunboats the next day. In London, Haldane dejectedly commented: 'The German General Staff is in the saddle.37 It seemed clear to him that Austria-Hungary would not have embarked on this course without the backing of her ally, and any chance of peace now seemed to have evaporated. Following a meeting with Grey and Asquith on 29 July, he wrote to his mother: 'The declaration of war by Austria against Serbia has made the situation very critical. [ ... ] It is a time for calmness and decision.'38

And yet, even now a European war might still have been avoided. Cracks began to appear between Austria-Hungary and Germany. In Berlin, Wilhelm II concluded that following the Serbian reply there was no longer any reason for Austria-Hungary to go to war with Serbia. Instead, he advocated a 'halt in Belgrade' of Austro-Hungarian troops, and negotiations. However, this important attempt at conciliation was initially undermined by Bethmann Hollweg who delayed the Kaiser's instructions to Vienna and toned it down. Instead, he focused his efforts on encouraging Wilhelm II to begin a series of telegraphic exchanges with his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, drafted by Bethmann Hollweg and intended to pass the blame for a war to Russia.39

From the following Diary entry by the German Emperors Naval Cabinet Admiral von Muller it appears that before or on 27 July Germany had already decided on war with Russia.

27 July: Admiral von Muller's diary

The mood is decidedly milder. It appears that the neutral tendency of England is having a very cooling effect on Russia and France. On the other hand Austria will not have completed her mobilization till 12 August. Tendency of our policy: to keep quiet, letting Russia put herself in the wrong, but then not shying away from war. ------

And on 28 July 1914 Moltke presented a secret 'Evaluation of the Political Situation' for Bethmann Hollweg. Therein, Moltke spoke of the coming war as a 'world war' this was the day Austria attacked Serbia and two days before the Tsar was pursued to sign a mobilization order.(DD. N0 349)

The two Emperors exchanged numerous telegrams (the famous Willy-Nicky telegrams) in which they assured each other of their own government's peaceful intentions and tried to convince each other to stop military preparations and restrain their respective allies. While in the long run this had the desired effect of providing a useful smokescreen, it had no influence on the decisions being made in either Berlin or St Petersburg.

By 29 July Germany's Government was finally willing to discuss British mediation proposals, much to the dismay of Germany's military planners and of the Austro- Hungarian ally. In Vienna, it was momentarily feared that Germany might abandon her ally after all, as Berlin started to put pressure on Vienna not to rule out international mediation. Both Tschirschky and Berchtold initially misunderstood these confusing messages from Berlin, hardly surprising, given that until this point in the crisis they had been told that Berlin would pass on mediation proposals merely to save face, but did not support them.40 But explicit warnings from Bethmann Hollweg on 30 July led to the realization in Vienna that it was still possible that the ally could abandon Austria-Hungary at the last minute.41 Astonishingly, given Germany's strong support for Austria-Hungary, at this late point in the crisis, Bethmann Hollweg wondered which points of the ultimatum Serbia had actually rejected.42

However, despite the ally's cooling off, Austria's decision-makers were still determined to go to war. Berchtold rejected the 'halt in Belgrade' idea, 41 and Conrad spoke up against it during his meeting with Emperor Franz Joseph where he declared it 'impossible' to suspend the fighting with Serbia.

Bethmann Hellweg's change of heart was motivated by continuing (and indeed renewed) hope for British neutrality; but those hopes rested on a combination of false news and wishful, thinking shared by others in Berlin, not least Kaiser Wilhelm II. However, Germany's political decision-makers became increasingly pessimistic about Britain's likely attitude while her military leaders never shared the vain hope that Britain would remain neutral. Bethmann Hollweg made ill-advised direct appeals for British neutrality which were rejected by London, but in the process they revealed Germany's intention to violate Belgian neutrality and her determination to go to war.

In St Petersburg, Paris, Berlin and London, tensions began to show between the military planners (whose attitudes were uniformly impatient) and their civilian leaders, who attempted to delay mobilizations and preserve peace for as long as possible. In Russia, military leaders were unable to get the Tsar's agreement on a declaration of general mobilization - it was nearly declared for 29 July, revoked on 30 July and finally implemented on 31 July. Vienna's military action against Serbia (following the declaration of war, Belgrade was bombarded from 29 July onwards) put pressure on St Petersburg to come to a decision. They estimated that Austria-Hungary would require 14 days from mobilization to complete their deployment against Russia, while Russia would require 25 days to be fully deployed.43

Russia's estimates for Germany's deployment were even more worrying, as they fear could be as little as 10 days from mobilization.

In Germany, the military leaders could not put into effect mobilization measures against the wishes of the Chancellor, who convinced by Sazonov's explanation that Russian mobilization did not necessarily mean war and who shied away from issuing Germany's own mobilization order, a move that would make war unavoidable, for as long as possible. Instead, Bethman-Hollweg issued a request for Russia to stop her military preparations while insisting that the military leaders wait for Russia to make the first move.

In France, the Cabinet in Paris ruled firmly that only minimal military preparations could be made and that, crucially, French troops would be held back 10 kilometers from the border. This decision was based on their desire to ensure Britain would join the war on their side. In their effort to ensure that Germany would bear the responsibility for beginning any hostilities they overruled the objections of the military leaders.44

At the same time, the French ambassador assured Sazonov of France's support, and in Paris, the wish to fulfill the alliance obligation was also confirmed, although there were differing opinions at the Quai d'Orsay. At this point in the crisis Poincare seems to have accepted that war would be unavoidable and his aim was to enter the war under the most favorable conditions for France. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Viviani, on the other hand, believed until almost the very last moment that Germany might change her mind and that war might still be averted, so much so that he was described by his colleagues as 'tortured' during a crucial ministerial council meeting on 31 july. 45 The French President set about trying to justify France's entry into the war as a defensive act, still mindful of the fact that Britain had not yet declared her support. It should be noted, however, that this policy was conducted against the back-ground of the certainty that Germany was not restraining her ally. On 30 July, Poincare recorded in his diary: 'If Germany seriously wanted to stop Austria and prevent a general conflict, she would speak a different language.’46

Furthermore, French decision making was motivated by not wanting to allow Austria even a limited military success, In this scenario, war was indeed unavoidable. Poincare's views were shared by the Minister of War and the Chief of the General Staff, though they were also not accepted universally in the Council of Ministers or in the Foreign Office.47 While Poincare was motivated by Britain's likely attitude and did not want for France to appear non-conciliatory, Viviani's main concern was to act in the interest of general peace.48 In Britain, a 'critical cabinet meeting.'49 on 29 July set the tone for the remainder of the crisis. Sir Edward Grey tried to convince the Cabinet members that Britain should intervene in a likely European war (his hand had been strengthened by the news of Russia's partial mobilization, and indication that war was probably unavoidable .. but the majority of members disagreed with his interpretation of the neutrality agreement of 1839.50 The decision was taken to inform Germany and France that Britain would not commit herself one way or the other, leading to Grey having to tell the French 'Don't count on our coming in', and the Germans 'Don't count or our abstention'. The wait continued for Britain to declare her hand, although Grey was becoming increasingly convinced of the need for Britain to be involved. The Ulster question had receded into the background and public opinion was becoming aware of the seriousness of the international situation. In response to Russian and Austrian mobilization measures, the 'precautionary period' was ordered for the British army. The British Fleet had already been ordered on 28 July not to disperse after maneuvers and had been sent to its war stations in the North Sea the next day.

By 30 July, Russia's suspended mobilization was becoming a problem and her military and diplomatic leaders agreed on the urgency of a general mobilization and attempted to persuade the Tsar to order it. One more time, however, the Tsar changed his mind and his order for a general mobilization was once again scaled down to a partial one. Eventually, the president of the Duma was asked to intervene and change the Tsar's mind, faced with the alarming news that Germany had already started to mobilize the Tsar allowed mobilization to finally run its course.                                      

In Germany, the importance of ensuring that Russia would put herself in the wrong meant that Bethmann Hollweg insisted on mobilization being delayed for as long as possible. It was decided on 30 July that by midday on 31 July, Germany was to declare her mobilization, whether or not Russia had begun fully to mobilize.

This move would make war inevitable, as Germany's military planners knew only too well. That same day, Moltke declared: 'This war will turn into a world war in which England will also intervene. Only few can have an idea of the extent, the duration and the end of this war. Nobody today can have a notion of how it is all going to end’.51

Yet as Fritz Fellner pointed out out, 'there were no alliance obligations demanding such an action', Germany was merely required to come to the aid of her alliance partner, not to fight against Russia, and certainly not to fight against France (Fellner 'Austria-Hungary', p. 22).

Italy had been largely ignored by Germany and Austria-Hungary throughout the crisis, and San Giuliano advised his Ambassadors in Berlin and Vienna that Italy would not take part in an 'unjustified war’.52 The German Ambassador reported on 30 July that the casus foederis did not apply for Italy in this war of aggression. Germany was keen to change Italy's mind with concessions, but given that these would be made from Austro-Hungarian territory, Vienna was not willing to promise anything, much to Berlin's frustration. We can of course not ever know if concessions, judiciously offered at the right time, might have swayed Italy onto the Dual Alliance side. In the last days of July, Vienna's decision-makers were in any case so confident in their army's ability to wage their war against Serbia that concessions to Italy did not seem worth considering.

Mediation proposals and ultimatums: 31 july-1 August

The need for the potential enemy to be (or to appear as) the aggressors resulted in a waiting game in France, Russia and Germany to see who could last out the longest before declaring a general mobilization. The French decision-makers were determined to let the Germans put themselves in the wrong; military plans were adapted accordingly, and their implementation delayed to ensure that France (Quid not be accused of border violations and of starting hostilities. This was seen as particularly important, for in order to win Britain to France's side, she needed to be convinced that France was not acting aggressively. Little could contemporaries know just how important the timing of mobilization orders, of troop movements and of declarations of war would become in the passionately fought debate on the causes of the war, not only once war had broken out, but for decades to come.

A general mobilization, as demanded by the Chief of the General Staff Joffre on 31 July under threat of resignation, seemed too daring to the civilian leadership who were concerned about English susceptibilities', and the Council of Ministers did not decide on mobilization, but placated Joffre by ordering a partial mobilization (disposition de covertures’) in the afternoon that day.53 The timing of this decision, 5.15 pm, is important because it proves mat this partial mobilization was not agreed in reaction to a similar German measure, as Poincare and Messimy would later maintain. Rather, it was arrived at before the news of Germany's declaration of 'Kriegsgefahrzustand' had been received in Paris, where the French Ambassador's long telegram from Berlin had only arrived at 4.25 p.m. and would not have been deciphered and delivered to the Council meeting before the decision was made.54 At this point, due to the never fully explained delay in the delivery of a telegram from Paleologue which informed the French of Russia's decision to mobilize,  the French did not yet know that their ally had ordered full mobilization.55 Once Joffre learnt of the German decision, he immediately reiterated his demand for general mobilization which was agreed to (though with great reservations of a large part of the Council members, including Poincare and Viviani) at a second Council of Ministers meeting at 9 p.m. The political leaders still hoped for a peaceful outcome and the final decision to begin general mobilization measures was not made until 4 p.m. on 1 August. This decision was made although at this point no clear indication had been received about Britain's military involvement in a European conflict. In order to ensure British support, French decision-makers stressed that their mobilization was not synonymous with war and that they continued to hope for a diplomatic solution.56

In Russia, as we have seen, the decision for general mobilization was first made and then revoked by Tsar Nicholas II who believed, based on a telegram by his German cousin Wilhelm II, that there was still a possibility that Germany might support negotiations in Vienna. Given that he could not have known that Wilhelm's telegrams were disingenuous (see note 37), at this point in the crisis this was not an entirely unreasonable hope. At this late hour, Bethmann Hollweg finally tried to avert the now seemingly inevitable catastrophe by passing on Grey's mediation proposal to Vienna and encouraging the ally to accept it.

As in Paris, Russian military decision-makers were exasperated, due to the change of heart of their monarch, and frustrated at seeing their military plans relegated behind diplomatic attempts at preserving peace. The documents in this volume show the surprising parallels that existed for the military planners in all European capitals during the crisis: the military leaders were keen to implement their plans, but to their frustration these were relegated, at least for a while, to diplomatic concerns. How long that relegation lasted depended to a large extent on the position the military occupied within the decision-making process of anyone of the Great Powers: in Germany and Austria-Hungary, military reasoning outweighed political and diplomatic concerns first, while in Russia and France military leaders were held back longer, by their monarch in Russia's case, and by their civilian leadership in the case of France. In London, where military leaders echoed their European colleagues' frustrations to some extent, they were not in a position to influence the decisions that were being made in the Cabinet in London.

While the Russian decision for mobilization was made, revoked, and then finally made in earnest, in Berlin the German decision-makers were eagerly hoping for news of a Russian mobilization. They had already decided on a deadline (at midnight on 31 July) when their own mobilization would have to be declared even if Russia had not yet implemented hers, and so as not to appear as the aggressor, they were hoping for conclusive evidence that Russia had beaten them to it and declared her own general mobilization first. That Russia's mobilization was indeed announced before Germany's was a fortuitous circumstance of which much would be made by apologists of Germany in the war-guilt debates that followed the outbreak of war, and to this day the argument that Russia started the war due to her general mobilization is one that can still be encountered.57 It is true that Russia's mobilization was declared first (justified by an alleged secret mobilization order in Germany which had in fact not yet taken place 58, but it is important to note that Germany had already decided on implementing her mobilization regardless, and that Germany's decision-makers just kept their fingers crossed that in the event the enemy would be the first to declare a general mobilization to ensure that Germany's moved appeared to be defensive. An early mobilization was necessitated by the demands of the German deployment plan (the so-called Schlieffen Plan), and not instigated in response to Russian moves. Russian mobilization was announced in the morning of 31 July. The German Ambassador in St Petersburg was assured that Russian mobilization did not have to result in war and that while negotiations were continuing with Austria, Russia would not attack, but that they could not simply revoke the mobilization once it had been declared. Germany followed suit at 1 p.m. that day. Vienna was promptly informed of this measure, advised that this would 'probably' mean war within 48 hours, and told: 'We are expecting of Austria immediate active participation in the war against Russia.’59

On the same day as declaring her own mobilization, Germany made further appeals for neutrality to Britain, and issued ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding an end to their mobilization measures. At the same time, Germany implored the alliance partner to ignore Serbia now in favor of fighting against the greater enemy, Russia. Austria-Hungary's war against Serbia was now relegated behind the looming war with Russia. Wilhelm II appealed to Franz Joseph: 'In this difficult struggle it is of utmost importance that Austria deploy her main troops against Russia and does not split them up by a simultaneous offensive against Serbia'.60

This was what Germany's military plan depended on, but in Vienna Conrad could not bring himself to abandon his long-desired war with Serbia (with whom Austria-Hungary had, after all, been at war since 28 July). At the Joint Ministerial Council meeting of 31 July, Vienna's decision-makers discussed demands from Bethmann Hollweg to consider the British mediation proposal. It was decided that no negotiation could be entered upon if this required an end to the fighting in Serbia, and a diplomatic solution was considered 'odious' and undesirable. Even once Germany was at war with Russia, however, Austria-Hungary found it hard to relegate the war against Serbia behind the now more pressing conflict with Russia. As a result, she did not declare war on Russia until 6 August.

On 31 July, Wilhelm II appealed directly to Italy's King Victor Emanuel for support of the alliance partners, but in vain, as Italy still did not regard the casus foederis as given. It was thought that compensation might still get her on course, and at this late stage in the crisis, Austria-Hungary was finally willing to discuss this possibility. However, it was too little, too late, and Italy's neutrality was officially declared on 1 August.

In Britain, there was still no decision for or against intervention, leading to frustration among the military leaders which echoed the impatience of their colleagues elsewhere in Europe. And of course, it led to frustration and worry in St Petersburg and Paris, where the nervous wait for a British declaration of support for her Entente partners continued. Nicholas II wrote anxiously to King George V: 'I trust that your country will not fail to support France and Russia in fighting to maintain the balance of power in Europe.’61 But this trust was based on wishful thinking as Grey had not declared Britain's hand at this late stage in the crisis. The Cabinet continued to be divided, although Germany's intransigence was beginning to have an effect. Germany had refused to accept British mediation proposals, while Russia had twice accepted them. Now Britain raised the question of Belgian neutrality and asked both France and Germany to declare their intention to respect the neutral's borders. France immediately responded affirmatively, but Germany failed to declare her intentions .62

Britain would soon have to declare her hand, and the issue of Belgian neutrality would prove decisive in this.

Late in the crisis, it briefly appeared as if Berlin's desperate belief in British neutrality would fulfill itself, as a telegram from the German Ambassador in London seemed to offer the prospect that Britain would remain neutral if Germany respected French neutrality in turn. Astonishingly, in a second telegram that day, the news from London appeared even better. Britain would remain neutral even if Germany ended up at war with France and Russia, Lichnowsky reported. Bethmann Hollweg's desperate hope that Britain would stay out of the conflict seemed, for a moment, to have fulfilled itself, and Germany's military plans were briefly halted at the Kaiser's order. In the event, it turned out that this news had indeed been too good to be true and the misunderstanding of 1 August had resulted in nothing but brief confusion in Berlin, and a feeling of betrayal, particularly in the Kaiser. Later allegations of Grey's (and Britain's) alleged war guilt had their roots partly in this infamous misunderstanding.

London decides 2 August-6 August

On 2 August the long-awaited decision for war was finally taken in London when the Cabinet met twice that day and decided, in Walter Runciman's words, 'that war with Germany was inevitable'.63 Initially, it did not look as if the Cabinet could agree. Prime Minister Asquith recorded: 'We had a long Cabinet from 11 to nearly 2, which very soon revealed that we are on the brink of a split. [ ... ] There is a strong party including all the 'Beagles' and reinforced by Lloyd George[,], Morley and Harcourt who are against any kind of intervention in any case.64 In the end, the Conservative Party leaders offered their support to the Government  and this was welcome news for Grey in his attempts to unite the Cabinet behind a decision for war. On 1 August, Balfour explained to Count Benckendorff's son-in-law 'that if it was purely a question of Serbia, [the Tories] were against war; it if was the [ ... ] European issue, they were for it to a man.'65 By now, Grey was even threatening to resign if Britain did not support France.

The next day, news was received of Germany's ultimatum to Belgium, delivered on 2 August. Asquith commented in a letter to Venetia Stanley: 'The Germans, with almost Austrian crassness, have delivered an ultimatum to Belgium & forced themselves on to their territory, and the Belgian King has made an appeal to ours.66 Germany's action led to a change of heart among those who had still opposed Britain's entry into the war, most crucially, in Lloyd George, while others who had contemplated resigning (Simon and Beauchamp) were swayed to stay by Asquith.67 In the end, two members of the Cabinet, Burns and Morley, resigned as a result of the decision to come to France's aid.68 In a lengthy statement in the House of Commons, Grey outlined Britain's difficult position. He explained that France had declared herself willing to respect Belgium's neutrality, while Germany had refused to do so. Britain's prospects were bleak for, according to Grey, Britain was 'going to suffer, I am afraid, terribly in this war whether we are in it or whether we stand aside'. In the afternoon, when the House reconvened, he was able to tell its members about the German note, amounting to an ultimatum to Belgium. At last, he was able to unite not only the Cabinet, but most of the country behind a war in defense of Belgium's honor. Without Germany's invasion of Belgium, Grey's task would have been far more difficult; fighting for Serbia would never have delivered the same unifying reason for war. The Russian Ambassador in London, Benckendorff, could report to St Petersburg a surprising reversal in public opinion in favor of war following the German declaration of war on Russia on 1 August, and invasion of Luxembourg the next day.

Belgium proved a great cause for going to war, but there is much evidence to suggest that it was not actually the reason why Grey wanted to convince the Cabinet to join France. Some contemporaries felt that 'Belgium did not determine Grey's attitude',69 and this impression seemed confirmed by the fact that Grey had threatened to resign if the Cabinet declared for neutrality on Wednesday 29 July [ ... ] before Belgium was mentioned seriously (if at all) in the Cabinet discussions. Belgium had nothing whatever to do with the Cabinet decisions. Without it there would have been more resignations but there still would have been war. 70

In Germany, the news of Britain's decision came as a shock, particularly for Wilhelm II and Bethmann Hollweg. Admiral von Muller recorded after the war: 'For the Kaiser England's joining our enemies was indeed a serious blow. England-experts in the Auswartiges Amt had reckoned that England would intervene during the course of the war if the French were doing badly, but only with the intention of reinstating peace soon without humiliating Germany.’71

Belgium's Crown Council meeting in the evening of 2 August unanimously decided to reject the German ultimatum presented to them that day. False news of French border violations and the dropping of French bombs in southern Germany did not help to sway the Belgian Government to accept Germany's conditions, nor did it lead to a change of heart in Rome. On 3 August Below forwarded the reply by the Belgian Government which rejected the claim that France had violated Belgium's borders and reaffirmed its desire to repel the infringement of Belgium's rights by any power.

While delivered on 2 August it had in fact been drafted by Moltke as early as 26 July. Albertini comments 'on the hypocrisy and clumsy obtuseness displayed in this document by which the rulers of Germany thought to trick world opinion into believing that the German army had been unexpectedly compelled to enter Belgium because reliable news had been received that the French were invading that country. As if it were not self-evident that the German General Staff could embark on the venture of invading Belgium to take the French in the rear only as a result of having a plan of concentration, a railway network, and an organization planned long years in advance'. (Luigi Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914, 3 vols. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1952-1957, Vol. III, p. 455.) Germany build a special railway to Luxemburg whereby continuous traffic going one way could not be checked by traffic coming in from the side and proceeding in the opposite direction. This railway remained under German control making it impossible for Luxemburg to resist a German military invasion.

Germany also made false claims, about French border violations and the dropping of French bombs, to Italy:

2 August: Germ Secretary of State Jagow to Flotow

Berlin, 2 August 1914

According to news from the Generalkommando of the 3,d Bavarian Army Corps, French aviators are throwing bombs in the wider surroundings of Nuremberg. Moreover, French patrols have crossed the border. These hostile acts before a declaration of war amount to an attack by France on us. This means the casus foederis.

Russia too has yesterday already opened hostilities, before the declaration of war was issued. ----

That the story’s about the French where just unsubstantiated rumors can be seen from the following document:

2 August: Minister Treutler to Bethmann

Bombs on Nuremberg just a myth

Munich, 2 August 1914 R. 3 August p.m.

The news, also spread here by the Suddeutscbe Korrespondenzbureau [Southern German News Agency], that today French planes had dropped bombs near Nuremberg has so far not been confirrned. There had merely been the sighting of unknown planes which were obviously not military ones. No dropping of bombs has been noted, even less of course whether the aviators were French. ------

Also the charges that Russia attacked Germany first where made up, yet also Bethmann Hollweg wrote on 2 August:

Yesterday at 5 p.m. H.M. the Kaiser declared general mobilization. Due to attack by Russian troops on German territory we are at war with Russia. [ ... ] War with Russia will undoubtedly result in attack on us by France and war with her. ----

Bethmann Hollweg to Kaiser Wilhelm II, 2 August, alleged that the Russians had destroyed railway lines on the German border, and that two squadrons of Cossacks had been deployed into Johannisburg in East Prussia. This also was not true.

Al of the above unsubstantiated allegations were published widely in the German press; for example also, the Hamburger Nachrichten reported on 3 August under the heading 'Germany's just case' that 'dishonorable French officers in German uniforms [ ... ] had attempted to cross the border. [ ... ] French aviators [had] thrown bombs near Nuremberg'. Here also the myth that a French doctor had attempted to poison German wells with Cholera.

 But see how these false allegations were used to justify the German declaration of war on France: 3 August: Bavarian Charge d’Affairs Schoen to French Minister of Foreign Affairs Viviani

German declaration of war on France

 [letter handed to the French President at 6.45 p.m.]

The German administrative and military authorities have noted a number of flagrantly hostile acts committed on German territory by French military aviators. Several of these have seemingly violated the neutrality of Belgium by flying over the territory of that country. One has attempted to destroy railway installations near Wesel; others were seen over the district of the Eifel, another threw bombs on the railways near Karlsruhe and Nuremberg.

I am instructed, and I have the honor, to inform Your Excellency, that in consequence of these attacks the German Empire considers itself in a state of war with France due to France's actions.

At the same time I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that the German authorities will detain French mercantile vessels currently in German ports, but that they will release them if, within forty-eight hours, complete reciprocity is assured.

My diplomatic mission having thus come to an end it only remains for me to request Your Excellency to be good enough to hand me my passports, and to take the steps You consider suitable to assure my return to Germany, with the staff of the Embassy, as well as with the staff of the Bavarian Legation and of the German General Consulate in Paris.*

* Bethmann Hollweg's telegram to Schoen arrived incomplete in Paris, and Schoen put together this letter based on a certain amount of guesswork. The original text is published in DD No. 734, and No. 734a for the garbled message. The German government then published the original text via Wolff's press bureau, alleging that the text had possibly been deliberately garbled by the French telegraph office. See DD, No. 734 c.

France mobilized on 2 August, but troops were still not allowed to cross into enemy territory. On 3 August Germany declared war on France (her declaration of war on Russia had been made on 1 August), using the above fabricated news of French bombs being dropped over German territory as pretext.

Given that she was now at war with Russia, Germany's military deployment plan compelled her to launch an immediate attack in the West while in the East Russia was expected to be slow to mobilize. The French had been determined to leave the declaration of war to Germany so as not to appear as an aggressor. Their patience had paid off, leading Poincare to comment in his diary on 3 August: 'never had a declaration of war been received with such satisfaction'.72

On 5 August, a 'historic' war council was held at No 10 Downing Street, during which the most important ministers, generals an, admirals discussed how Britain would best come to France', military aid in the war in which they had finally decided to become involved.73

Britain's decision to support her Entente partner was a further factor in Italy's decision for neutrality in July 1914. King Vittorio Emanuele III telegraphed to Wilhelm II on 3 August that the Italian Government did not accept that the casus foederis arose for Italy, which proved a shock for Germany's military leaders who had clung to the belief that Italy could be counted on, not necessarily for the military support they would bring, but because the Triple Alliance should be seen to stand united. At the very least. Moltke insisted, Italy would have to be pressed to allow the import of food into Germany unhindered - this was a matter of 'life and death' for Germany.74 It would have been difficult at the best of times to enthuse Italians for a war on Austria-Hungary's side, but in the circumstances of July 1914, when it appeared as if Austria was acting as the aggressor, the Italian Government could arguably not really have decided differently.75 Italy's declaration of neutrality was drafted on 2 August and formally published on 3 August. That day, San Giuliano declared in conversation with the journalist Olindo Malagodi: 'Our decision depended necessarily on that of England.’76 By 5 August, in Berlin hopes had changed from securing Italian involvement to ensuring that Italy would at least maintain neutrality and not actively become involved on the side of the Entente. By 6 August the Entente Powers were at war with the Dual Alliance. Now neither side wanted to settle for mediation. All governments were confident of victory and convinced that war, if still avoided now, would come in any case, but at a less convenient point in the future. Few, if any, Europeans anticipated either the length, the nature, or indeed the outcome and long-term consequences of this World War whose outbreak, as the documents clearly show, could easily have been avoided as it had on previous occasions. If they had been able to predict its ruinous nature and outcome, perhaps they would have chosen to avoid it once more.

A major issue is the so called Short War Illusion. To understand this phenomenon, the warnings of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, the uncle of the namesake who in I August 1914 got the Kaiser to order the attack in the West, are highly germane. Pondering in his years of retirement the lessons of the Franco-Prussian War in which he had led Prussia to victory against Napoleon III, he came to the conclusion that a future war could no longer be fought among the Great Powers of Europe, Such a war, he was convinced, would be a Volkskrieg, a people's war, that no belligerent could hope to win. Everything should therefore be done to avoid a major European war.

The problem was that if this insight of an old war horse had been followed by his successors it would have made large armies and the planning of a major war superfluous. Although his nephew and his comrades never openly refuted Moltke the Elder's wisdom, it seems that for their own profession's sake they wanted to make great wars fight-able and winnable again. Hence they adopted Schlieffen's idea of annihilation and added to it the notion of a lightning war. Brutal attack, swift advances into enemy territory and total defeat within weeks had become the way out of the military-professional dilemma that they faced in the era of People's Wars. This explains the illusory claim that circulated among the soldiers on the Western Front, that victory would be achieved within months and that they would be home again by Christmas 1914. It is against the background of the feeling that a preventive war could be won by the Central Powers that a fatal decision was taken by a few men in Berlin and Vienna that pushed Europe over the brink. This means that there is no need for scholars to go on a round-trip through the capitals of Europe with the aim of finding out that other decision-makers were more responsible for the First World War than the two emperors and their advisers. Berlin and Vienna continue to be the best places for historians to look closely for clues as to why war broke out in 1914.

See also:  Historiographical Controversies about the Origins of the First World War

and why not before: The period of avoiding war 1911-1914

Update 7 July 2013: The Real Russian Origins of the First World War

Update 10 April 2016:  Russia 1918-23: The second First World War.


1 Cited in Fritz Fellner, 'Austria-Hungary', in Keith M. Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914, UCL Press, London 1995, pp. 9-25, p. 14.).

2 For selected titles on the diplomatic events of the July Crisis see, inter alia, Imanuel Geiss (ed.), July 1914. The Outbreak of the First World War. Selected Documents, Scribner, London 1967; Luigi Albertini, The Origins of the War of 1914, 3 vols, Eng. transl., Oxford University Press, Oxford 1952-1957; Fritz Fischer, War of Illusions. German Policies from 1911-1914, Norton, London 1975; James Joll and Gordon Martel, The Origins of the First World War, Longman, 3rd edn, London 2007; Keith M. Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914, London 1995; David Stevenson, Armaments and the Coming of War, Clarendon, Oxford 1996; John W. Langdon, July 1914. The Long Debate 1918-1990, Berg, New York, Oxford 1991; David Stevenson, The Outbreak of the First World War, Macmillan, London 1997.

3 Ludwig von Flotow's (the German Ambassador in Rome) indiscretion in conversations with San Giuliano between 14 and 16 July had given some of the game away, and the French military secret service were also aware of the Austro-Hungarian intention to issue an unacceptable ultimatum. See Stefan Schmidt, Frankreichs AufSenpolitik in der Julikrise 1914, Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, p. 68

4 BD, XI, No. 676, de Bunsen to Sir Edward Grey, letter of 1 September 1914.

5 Jurgen Angelow, Der Weg in die Urkastrophe. Der Zerfall des alten Europa 1900-1914, Bebra Verlag, Berlin 2010, p. 118.

6 Ibid.,p.118

7 Franz Conrad von Huetzendorf, Aus meiner Dienstzeit 1906-1918, 5 vols, Rikola, Vienna, Leipzig, Munich 1921-1925, Vol. I, p. 165.

8 On the decision for war in Vienna, see for example Gunther Kronenbitter, 'Krieg im Frieden', Oldenbourg, Munich 2003, passim and Samuel Williamson Jr, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, Macmillan, London 1991, passim.

9 The words of Leopold von Andrian- Werburg, cited in John Leslie, 'Osterreich-Ungarn vor dem Kriegsausbruch', in Ralph Melville et al. (cds), Deutschland und Europa in del' Neuzeit. Halbband, Stuttgart 1988, pp. 661 .. 684, p. 668. For details of the Hoyos Mission see Chapter 6, pp. 183ff.

10 The state visit had been planned since the spring of 1914. On 16 July, President Poincare, Premier Viviani and the political director of the Quai d'Orsay Pierre de Margerie departed from Dunkirk, and would only return to French soil on 29 July, leaving the running of foreign affairs in the hands of the inexperienced Minister of Justice Jean-Baptiste Bienvenu-Marrin . French and Russian political leaders had conducted a number of visits in the preceding years: in 1912, Poincare visited Russia to discuss matters relating to Italy, Grand Duke Nikolaevitch attended French military manoeuvres in the same year, and Joffre made a similar visit to Russia in 1913. Roy A. Prete, Strategy and Command. The Anglo-French Coalition on the Western Front, 1914, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal et al., 2009, p. 6.

11 Becker cited in John Keiger, Raymond Poincare, Cambridge Universlty Press, 1997, p, 165.

12 For details of the historiographical debate on the origins of the First World War see:

13 See Dominic Lieven, Russia and the Origins of the First World War, St. Martin's Press, New York 1983, p. 140.

14 Ibid., p. 144.

15 For this see The "Missing Telegram" from St Petersburg, here:

16 For' details on the debate on the nature of the Schlieffen Plan, see for example Hans Ehlert, Michael Epkenhans and Gerhard P. Gross (eds), Der Schlieffenplan. Analyse und Dokumente, Schoeningh, Paderborn 2006. For details of Germany's war plans, see Annika Mombauer, 'German War Plans’ in R. Hamilton and H. Herwig (eds), War Planning 1914, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010, pp. 48-79.

17 See Fritz Fellner, 'Austria-Hungary', in Keith M. Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914 UCL Press, London 1995, pp, 9-25, p. 11, and John D. Leslie, 'The Antecedents of Austria-Hungary's War Aims. Policies and Policy-Making in Vienna and Budapest before and during 1914', Wiener Beitraege zur Geschichte der Neuzeit, 20, 1993, pp. 307-394. Fellner identifies the three most decisive of these diplomats: 'Forgach was the planner and theorist of the anti-Serbian policy; Hoyos the instrument for securing the endorsement of the anti-Serbian policy by the German Empire; and Musulin the draftsman who drew up the decisive documents that put the plan and the political conviction into action, namely the ultimatum and the declaration of war.' Fellner, 'Austria-Hungary', p. 12.

18 The differences between the two versions are analysed in detail in H. Bertil A. Petersson, 'Das osterreichisch-ungarische Memorandum an Deutschland vom5. Juli 1914', Scandia, 29,1963, pp. 138-190, passim.

19 For details of the Hoyos Mission, see for example Fritz Fellner, 'Die Mission Hoyos’, in Wilhelm Alff (ed.), Deutschlands Sonderung von Europa 1862-1945, Peter Lang, Frankfurt, Bern, New York 1984, pp. 283-316.In German see also the dissertation of  E Leuer, 2010: http://othes.univie.ac.at/11119

20 Hoyos was one of the 'hawks': Diary of Joseph Redlich, 3 November 1916: 'Yesterday evening alone at Alek Hoyos'. We talked very confidentially and companionably. He does not regard peace as near! I was very touched when he told me openly that he has for a long time been depressed by the feeling really to have been the actual cause of the war because he had held and used decisive influence over Berchtold [ ... J.' Cited in Fellner, 'Die "Mission Hoyos’, p. 290.

21 Cited in Fellner, 'Austria-Hungary', p. 15.

22 Wladimir von Giesl, 'Konnte die Annahme der serbischen Antwortnote den Ausbruch des Weltkrieges verhindern?' Berliner Monatshefte, May 1933, pp. 454-469, p. 464.

23 Stefan Schmidt argues for a revision of the traditional view (largely based on Renouvin's post-war publications) that France attempted to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. His evidence suggests a much more calculating element to French policy in July 1914. With the aim of preventing German hegemon) in Europe, Schmidt claims Poincare advocated a 'firm' policy vis-a-vis Austria-Hungary's demands in his talks with the Russian ally during his state visit to St Petersburg. In Schmidt's interpretation, such a demand carried the implicit assurance of military support if the crisis led to war. Schmidt, Frankreichs Aussenpolitik in der julikrise 1914, Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, p. 355. In 1931, Frederick L. Schuman argued that the French President's visit to Russia had had a significant effect in that it 'impress[ed] Nicholas and Sazonov with French willingness to follow them in any course they might choose and to strengthen their determination to resist the Austrian demands on Serbia. This was not an incitement to war, nor even, in so many words, a "blank check" to St Peters-burg. ( ... ) But it was the inevitable result of Poincare's insistence on Entente solidarity, which he regarded as essential to French security'. Schuman, War and Diplomacy in the French Republic, Whittlesey House, London 1931, p. 215.

24 Robert A. Doughty, 'France', in Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig (eds), War Planning 1914, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010, pp. 143-174, p. 167.

25 Dominic Lieven, Nicholas II. Twilight of the Empire, St Martins Griffin, New York 1993, p. 201. As Schuman points out, these decisions were made 'before the expiration of the forty-eight hour time limit of the Austrian note to Serbia and before any rupture of diplomatic relations between Vienna and Belgrade, and they reflect Sazonov's determination to resort to war in the event of an Austrian attack on Serbia.' War and Diplomacy, p. 219.

26 Dominic Lieven, Russia and the Origins of the First World War, St Martin's Press, New York 1983, pp. 146-147.

27 Robert C. Blinkley makes this speculative point, and also argues that the document 'strongly testifies that the original intent of the Russian Government (perhaps, by implication, of the French Government also) was honorable and pacific'. 'New Light on Russia's War Guilt', Current History, 23, 4, January 1926, pp. 531-533, p. 533.

28 Bark's notes of the meeting of 24 July cited in Lieven, Nicholas II, p. 201.

29 See for example Alfred von Wegerer, 'Russian Mobilization of 1914', Political Science Quarterly, 43, 1928, pp. 201-228. Wegerer's revisionist account argues that Russia would have had no need to declare her partial mobilization in response to Austria's declaration of war on Serbia on the 28th, and he accuses Russia of implementing 'de facto a secret introduction to mobilization, a masked pre-mobilization' on 26 July (p. 202). Ulrich Trumperer has the shown the extent to which German intelligence services went to try to get news of Russia's moves during those crucial days of July: 'War premeditated? German Intelligence operations in July 1914', Central European History, 9, 1, 1976, pp. 58-85, pp. 65f. For a detailed discussion of the measures implemented, see L.C.E Turner, 'The Russian Mobilization in 1914', in P. Kennedy (ed.), War Plans of the Great Powers, Allen & Unwin, London 1979, pp. 261ff. and most recently, Bruce W. Menning, 'Russian Military Intelligence, July 1914: What St. Petersburg Perceived and Why It Mattered', article MS, forthcoming.

30 Sergei K. Dobrorolski, Die Mobilmachung der russischen Armee, 1914, Berlin I922, pp. 21-22.

31 This is based-on the report by Minister of the Interior Maly to Caillaux

32 Ballin to Jagow, 24 July 1914, GP, 39, No. 15889.

33 Ballin was right about the preoccupation with Irish matters which threatened, in July, to lead to a 'head-on clash between the Liberals and Conservatives'. D.C. Watts, 'The British Reactions to the Assassination at Sarajevo',European Studies Review, 1,3,1971, pp, 233-247, p. 234.

34 See Imanuel Geiss (ed.), July 1914, Scribner, London 1967, No.115.

35 QUA, VIII, No. 10855. As Fritz Fellner points out, 'This justification, with which Berchtold presented the declaration of war for signature, should have been sufficient to silence from the start all historical and, indeed, all-political, debate about the question of responsibility for the unleashing of the war. However dangerous subversive activity in the South Slav provinces of the Habsburg Monarchy might have been, however hostile Russian politicians might have been towards Austria-Hungary, until July 1914 the will to make war was present only in Austro-Hungarian government circles. [ ... ] The will to this third Balkan War dominated the thoughts and actions of Austrian politicians and military men.' Fellner, 'Austria-Hungary', in K. M. Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914, UCL Press, London 1995, pp. 9-25, pp. 16-17.

36 Schmidt, Frankreichs Aussenpolitik, p. 357.

37 Frederick Maurice, Haldane 1856-1915, Faber & Faber, London 1937, p. 353.

38 Ibid.

39 As Bethmann Hollweg callously explained to the Kaiser, should war nonetheless result from the crisis, the existence of such telegrams would point clearly to Russia's guilt and would make it appear as if Germany had wanted to preserve peace in July 1914. Imanuel Geiss, Julikrise, Vol. II, No. 587. Letting Russia put herself in the wrong was a deliberate policy in Berlin. In his speech to the Reichstag on 4 August the Chancellor used these telegrams to make the case for Germany's desire for peace during the crisis.

40 As Kronenbitter argues, Tschirschky had been reprimanded early on in the crisis for trying to restrain the ally, and now did not approve of Bethmann Hollweg's attempts to diffuse the situation, not least because it undermined his own position in Vienna. Gunther Kronenbitter, 'Krieg im Frieden', Olden bourg, Munich 2003, p. 509, n. 380.

41 For details see Kronenbitter, 'Krieg im Frieden', pp. 506-507.

42 See Kronenbitter, 'Krieg im Frieden', p. 507.

43 See Bruce Menning, 'Russian Military Intelligence' forthcoming. Russia's estimates for Germany's deployment were even more worrying, as they fear could be as little as 10 days from mobilization.

44 For details of French anxiety over Britain's uncertain attitude and the French Cabinet's decision to implement the 10-kilometre restriction against Joffre's will, see for example Roy A. Prete, 'French Strategic Planning and the Deployment of the B.E.F. in France in 1914', Canadian Journal of History, XXIV, April 1989, pp. 42-62, pp. 49-50.

45 Stefan Schmidt, Frankreichs Aussenpolitik, Munich 2007, p. 316.

46 Notes journalieres, Poincare papers, BNF, Nafr.16027, fo1. 125, cited in ibid, pp.312-14.

47 Ibid, pp. 314-15

48 See ibid, p. 323; John F.V. Keiger, France and the Origins of the First World War, Macmillan, London, Basingstoke 1983, pp. 154-64.

49 As John Burns commented at the time. See Keith Wilson, 'Britain', in idem. Decisions for War, 1914, UCL Press, London 1995, p. 189.

50 At the Treaty of London in 1839, Belgium's independence and neutrality had been guaranteed by the Great Powers.

51 BA-MA, N35/1, Aufzeichnungen v. Haeften, p. 27.

52 Richard Bosworth, Italy and the Origins of the First World War, MacMillan, London 1983, p. 395.

53 Stefan Schmidt, Frankreichs Aussenpolitik in der Julikrise 1914, Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, p. 347. See also Chapter 9, p. 410, n. 33, and.

54 Schmidt, Frankreichs Aussenpolitik, p. 349.

55 Conan Fischer makes the important point that when the French ordered their mobilization they did so in the mistaken belief that Germany had mobilized before Russia, Europe between Democracy and Dictatorship, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford 2011, pp. 37-38.

56 Schmidt, Frankreichs Auf5enpolitik, pp. 351-353.

57 This argument has been advanced by Sean McMeekin who asserts that 'we must consider the possibility that they [the German General Staff] may have never put the hair-trigger Schlieffen Plan into action had their strict timetable not been threatened by Russia's secret early mobilization against Germany.' The Russian Origins of the First World War/ Belknap Press/ Cambridge, MA 2011, p. 72. For alternative details of Russia's mobilization see tor example Stephen Cimbala, 'Steering Through Rapids', Journal of Slavic Military History, 9, 2, 1996, pp. 376-398. For older accounts see Alfred von Wegerer, 'Russian Mobilization of 1914', Political Science Quarterly, 43, 1928, pp. 201-228; Sergei K. Dobrorolski, 'La mobilisation de l'Armee russe en 1914', Revue d'Histolre de la Guerre Mondiale, 1, April-July 1923, pp.53-69

58 See for example Frederick Schuman, War and Diplomacy in the French Republic, Whittlesey House, London 1931,'p. 233

59 Die deutschen Dokumente zum Kriegsausbruch (DO) , No. 479, Bethmann Hollweg to Tschirschky, 31 July 1914, D. 1.45 p.m

60 Fritz Fellner considers this telegram 'a shocking, documentation 'of ~ ',it disregard for the interests of an ally who had been promised loyal friendship and protection'. Wilhelm II's telegram was 'monstrous in its wording, in its total disregard for the interests of the alliance partner, and it its complete misrepresentation of the situation'. Fellner, 'Austria-Hungary', in Keith Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914, UCL Press, London 1995, pp. 9-25, pp. 21-22

61 Nicholas II to George V, 1 August 1914, cited in Marina Soroka, Britain, Russia and the Road to the First World War. The Fateful Embassy of Count Aleksandr Benckendorff (1903-1916), Ashgate, Farnham 2011, p. 254.

62 Prince Lichnowsky, who had worked tirelessly for peace in July 1914, summed up his frustration in January 1915: 'On our side nothing, absolutely nothing, was done to preserve peace, and when we at last decided to do what I had advocated from the first, it was too late. By then Russia, as a result of our harsh attitude and that of Count Berchtold, had lost all confidence and mobilized. The war party gained the upper hand. [ ... ] Such a policy is comprehensible only if war was our aim, not otherwise.' Lichnowsky's memorandum cited in Johr. e.G. Rohl (ed.), 1914: Delusion or Design? The Testimony of two German Diplomats, Elek, London 1973, pp. 79ft.

63 Cited in Keith M. Wilson, 'The British Cabinet's Decision for War, 2 August 1914', in British Journal for International Studies, I, 1975, pp. 148-159, p. 150. See also Samuel R. Williamson, Jr., 'General Henry Wilson, Ireland, and the Great War', in William Roger Louis (ed.), Resurgent Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain, London, LB. Tauris, 2011, pp. 91-105, who argues that Wilson was instrumental and successful in getting the Tory leadership to put pressure on the Liberals, and that this pressure was almost as important as Belgium in leading to the decision to intervene.

64 Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock (eds), H.H. Asquith. Letters to Venetia Stanley, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1985, p. 146.

65 Cited in Soroka, Britain, Russia and the Road to the First World War, p. 254.

66 Ibid., p. 148.

67 Ibid., p. 148: 'You will be relieved to hear that there is a slump in resignations.

I wrote last night a strong appeal to the Impeccable, with the result that he & Beauchamp have returned to the fold, & attended the Cabinet this morning. ]. M[orley] remains obstinate & I fear must go [00'] Master C. Trevelyan also persists in his determination: happily, il n'y a pas d'homme necessaire;'

68 For a moving account of these decisions, see K.M. Wilson, 'The Cabinet Diary of J.A. Pease', Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical Society, XIX, III, 1983, pp. 41-51, p. 48. See also Asquith's letters to Venetia Stanley, 2, 3 and 4 August 1914, in Brock and Brock, Asquith. Letters, pp. 145-150.

69 Ramsay McDonald's memorandum, recalling a conversation with Lloyd George and Edwin Montagu on 7 October 1914, cited in Keith M. Wilson, 'Britain', in Keith M. Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War, 1914, VCL Press, London 1995, pp. 175-208, p.8

70 Ramsay McDonald's memorandum, recalling a conversation with John Morley on 6 October 1914, cited in Wilson, 'Britain', p. 176. As Wilson points out, Belgium had in fact been mentioned in the meeting of 29 July, although it is also true that Grey threatened to resign, and that members of the Cabinet felt that 'Grey wishes to go to war without any violation of Belgium.' Harcourt to Lloyd George, 2 (?) August, cited in ibid., p. 177. See also (387). Asquith's letter of 4 August is revealing in this respect: 'We had an interesting Cabinet, as we got the news that the Germans had entered Belgium, & had announced to 'les braves Belges' that if necessary they wd. push their way through by force of arms. This simplifies matters, so we sent the Germans an ultimatum to expire at midnight [ ... ]. Brock and Brock, Asquith. Letters, p. 150.

71 Muller's marginal notes on a manuscript written by Vice-Admiral Freiherr von Keyserlingk after the war. Cited in Stephen Schroder, Die englisch-russische Marinekonvention, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Cottingcn 2004, p. 589.

72 Cited in Stefan Schmidt, Frankreichs Aufssenpolitik, Oldenbourg, Munich 2009 p. 354.

73 For details, see for example Roy Prete, 'French Strategic Planning', Canadian Journal of History, XXIV, April 1989, pp. 42-62, p. 54.

74 Moltke was concerned that the coming war would not be short, and had been at pains to ensure that it would be possible for Germany to continue the import on which her population depended. This was one of the reasons why he insistent on not violating the neutrality of the Netherlands. His fear of the famine of Germany's population in a long war was increased by the news of Britain’s declaration of war. On Moltke's idea to use Holland as a windpipe see also Annika Mombauer, Helmuth von Moltke, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 2001, pp. 94-95.

75 William A. Renzi, 'Italy and the Great War', American Historical Review, 73, 5 June 1968, pp. 1414-1432, p. 1420. Another important reason for Italy's policy in July 1914 was that the army was in poor shape and that 50,000 troops were still tied up in the war in Libya.

76 Olinda Malagodi, Conversazioni della guerra, 1914-1919,2 vols, R. Ricciardi, Milan 1960, Vol. I, p. 17. San Giuliano declared as early as 30 July that he was certain England would fight on the side of France and Russia if war were to break out. See Flotow's Telegram, DD, 2, No. 414.

77 Cited in Gunther Kronenbitter, 'Macht der Illusionen', Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen, 57, 1998, p. 541.

78 OUA, VIII, No. 11204.

79 Cited in Fritz Fellner, 'Zwischen Kriegsbegeisterung und Resignation - ein Memorandum des Sektionschefs Graf Forgach vom janner 1915', in Hermann Wiesflecker and Othmar Pickl (eds), Beiträge zur Allgemeinen Geschichte. Alexander Novotny zur Vollendung seines 70. Lebensjahres, Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz 1975, pp. 153-162, p. 159.


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