Notes on "The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War"

David G. Herrmann. Princeton University Press. 1996

ISBN 0-691-03374-9

"...." Direct quotations

[...] EAR comments

[ Source detail is very good and some of it is surprising eg some German documents in the British Cabinet files in the PRO. Technical detail also good]


Land armaments only. Topic much discussed. Real question is why war happened in 1914 and not earlier or later. 1904-1914 large changes in perceptions of military strengths across Europe. How did they affect politics ? Arms race not sole cause of war and international politics not sole influence on military developments.

Chapter 1. The European Armies in 1904

Not much going on in 1904. Little political interest and no great increases in expenditures. Armies mainly occupied trying to absorb and apply technological changes, breech loading smokeless rifles, machine guns, recoil absorbing field guns, changing role of cavalry etc. Recent experience only of small, colonial operations [and not much of that for some people]. Growth of mass mobilisation schemes [and usual confusion of calling the active army ie professionals plus the embodied conscripts "regulars"] . Difficulties of comparisons with so many classes of reservists and budget conventions. French 75 mm field gun, first issued to troops 1897, most striking development and far ahead of others. Much debate over tactical consequences of new weapons, usually thought to favour of the offensive. European military observers misread lessons of Russo-Japanese War and had never taken the American Civil War seriously. But all under constraints.

France: consequences of Dreyfus, reduction from three to two years service in 1905.

Russia: army shattered by Japanese war. Stores used up. Internal turmoil causing troops to be used to maintain civil order and so impossible to train. Artillery badly equipped.

Britain: trying to reduce costs with end of Boer War by reducing the load. Hence Entente Cordiale with no military commitment.

Germany: all available resources being spent on the navy and, from October 1904, trying to suppress the Herrero revolt in South West Africa.

Austria-Hungary: paralysed by internal disputes especially Magyar obstruction. Worried about rise of Serbia and drift away from Triple Alliance of Italy and Rumania.

Italy: at low ebb. Not recovered from defeat at Adua in Ethiopia in 1896.

Chapter 2. The European Armies and the First Moroccan Crisis, 1905-1906,

Bülow's explicit threat of force on 4.6.05 [DDF 2/VI no 491 p 585] forced France to agree to a conference and got rid of Delcassé but was in fact a bluff not seriously meant. But Germany lost out in the Algeciras Conference. "The process exposed the helplessness of the Russian army, the unreadiness of the British to fight in a continental war and the vulnerability of the French while their allies were unable to help them". Consequences?

Military strength became topic for public discussion for first time, the Entente Cordiale was cemented and Haldane began designing a British Expeditionary Force. "For Bülow's impulse to throw the sword into the scales of diplomacy, Germany paid a heavy price both at Algeciras and after".

Chapter 3. Military Effectiveness and Modern Technology, 1906-1908.

No military expansion followed, available resources being needed for modernization. Only explicit military competition was between Austria-Hungary and Italy.

Reduction to two years and growing anti-militarism in France led French to try to push Russians into becoming an effective ally but knew that it would be years before that came about. Germans too knew that the Russian army was recovering but only very slowly. Naval race led to both British and Germans holding back spending on their armies. Moltke maintained the Schlieffen Plan but concentrated on training of reserves, equipment. Russia had made next to no progress in restoring its army, public criticism was beginning to be heard and the worried French pressed as far as they could for swifter mobilisation but knew that it would take years. Austrian army remained, to observers' surprise, quite good but all agreed the Italian army went from bad to worse.

A significant change was that preventive war began to be talked about, a little by the Germans but mainly by the Austrians. Conrad constantly argued for attacks on Italy, Serbia or even Budapest, believing that success in any of these would relieve Austria's internal problems. Fortunately, Franz Josef and Franz Ferdinand had more sense.

Thus there was still no breakneck arms race but the superiority of Germany had been revealed yet again and her neighbours were moving towards drawing the obvious conclusions.

Chapter 4. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Annexation Crisis and the Recovery of Russian Power, 1908 --- 1911.

Four months before the annexation was announced on 5.10.08, the state of the Russian army came under fierce public criticism. Germany knew that Russia could offer no resistance and, for the first time, encouraged Vienna in its Balkan policy. France tried to argue for a conference and mediation but the Germans refused, knowing that the French would then have to ensure the Russians did not do something foolish. Russia blustered quite a lot and outside observers got anxious but was finally forced to climb down by a German virtual ultimatum in March 1909.

German and Austrian talk of preventive war began again. No one took it very seriously except Conrad who badly wanted a nice little war with Serbia which he thought he could win easily [but he couldn't in 1914]. He began to plan for war with Russia and he and Moltke commenced regular contact. There was even public talk in Germany of preventive war and Schlieffen was still writing and being published.

The main consequence was that Russia began to rearm seriously. The new war minister, Sukhomlinov, paid special attention to mobilisation. Interestingly, his first move was to bring back the line of first deployment from in front of Warsaw to Brest-Litovsk, thinking the more forward line to be too vulnerable. At first, this worried the French but they concluded that it would make little difference to their problem. But it all took time and even by 1910, Moltke thought that reorganization meant that the Russians would be almost incapable of mobilising. But by then, some anxiety about Russian railway building was beginning.

During those years, the Germans and the British had little money to spare from the naval race. Von Heeringen even postponed the renewal of the Quinquennat for two years, till 1911, hoping to get a little more money that way. He did and used it mainly to strengthen technical troops and improved equipment. By 1909, the British Committee of Imperial Defence had decided that intervention on the continent would be necessary and the following year, Henry Wilson began detailed talks with "a somewhat diffident French general staff". France worked on technological innovations while in Austria-Hungary the usual political stalemate intervened once the annexation crisis ended. Only Italy began a serious effort to modernize.

There is a long and detailed discussion of reactions to the growing realization of the potential of air power. France was well ahead of everybody else but Germany began trying to catch up.

Thus in these years, it looked as if not all that much had happened but in fact for the second time France and especially Russia had their vulnerability rubbed in even though the Germans had not meant it seriously. The next time Germany tried the same thing again, the military balance would look very different.

Chapter 5. The Second Moroccan Crisis and the Beginning of German Panic 1911-1912.

Kiderlen-Wächter, the German Foreign Minister, was pursuing his own policy [is there not a story about how Bethmann Hollweg, the Chancellor, had to get him drunk to find out what he was up to?] when he waited until the French gave him a pretext to start the crisis in May 1911. His miscalculation became obvious when Britain aligned itself with France. Faced with a real danger of war with France, Britain and probably Russia, Germany had to climb down. The "'compensation"' , unsavoury bits of Africa, could not hide the reality and by November, German nationalist circles were very cross indeed.

In fact, neither side was very confident, nothing new for the French but a novelty for the Germans. The French were in serious disarray, Michel's plan for full use alongside the active [wrongly called "regular"] army having been rejected, Michel himself dismissed and replaced with Joffre. Moreover, French superiority in field artillery had largely gone and inferiority in heavy guns even more apparent. Suspicion of German intentions towards Belgium was growing and neither Britain nor Russia could be counted on. Russia was distinctly equivocal and urged caution and no concrete preparations for British intervention had been made even if the small force envisaged would have made any difference. In August 1911, the Committee of Imperial Defence found the prospects distinctly uninviting. While the soldiers put forward a reasonably coherent plan for intervention on the continent, they doubted whether it would be sufficient to prevent French defeat and the navy's plan was disappointingly fatuous, its main element being a landing in north Germany.

The Germans were also very nervous. Although still comfortably superior to France alone, they feared lack of public support for such a nebulous cause and the Kaiser got worried about his fleet being "copenhagened" by the British long before it was ready. Nor was the Russian army in quite as deplorable a state as it had been. On the incoherence at the heart of the German government, a General Wandel wrote ---' But it is characteristic of our circumstances of government that neither the War Minister nor the Chief of the Army General Staff is in any way informed of how things stand''.

There were three reasons for the 1912 military law in Germany. The first was an attempt by Bethmann Hollweg to head off a fresh round of naval building so as to try to come to terms with Britain. The second was the alarm expressed in the Reichstag and the third was reassessment by the military leaders. It was known and accepted that such a step would accelerate the arms race. The first failed completely and Bethmann Hollweg found himself having to find the money for both soldiers and ships with a major political crisis regarding taxation and growing antagonism towards Britain. The War Minister put forward concrete proposals in November 1911, arguing that naval expansion increased the risk of war with Britain and that the German army was no longer a sufficient deterrent. Italy, now deeply involved in North Africa, could not be counted on. Even Belgium and Holland were thinking of strengthening their forces, thus adding to the hazards of the Schlieffen Plan. The actual manpower increase in the 1912 law looked modest, at 28,890 men but it also provided for units to be maintained closer to their war strengths than before. Most important of all, the tone of public political discussion had changed greatly. Encirclement and inevitable war had become commonplaces.

France and Britain did not react at once and simply continued previous policies. Yet again, Conrad suggested a preventive war, this time against Italy while it was tied up in Africa and was dismissed for his pains.

Chapter 6. The Balkan Wars and the Spiral of Armaments, 1912-1913.

In 1912, France continued to improve its military organisation. The naval agreement with Britain and serious planning for British aid together with the conspicuous presence of senior Russians at the summer manoeuvres raised the temperature further. The Russians tightened their conscription procedures. Schemua, Conrad's successor, managed to get more money and, at least as important, Tisza agreed with Berchtold that things had changed. Austrian troop levels rose and field artillery improved.

The result of the first Balkan War clearly damaged Austrian confidence. Turkey was no longer a worthwhile ally and Austria's Balkan neighbours were potentially much stronger. Germany began to worry that Austria would not be able to take an effective part in a war with Russia. The Austrians gloomily concluded that "It was useless to say we have no money. We must pay until a change comes about and we no longer have almost all of Europe against us". The money was found and strength increase put into effect by August 1913.

In Germany, Moltke argued, first and most clearly at the "'war council'' of 8.12.12, that war was inevitable and "the sooner the better" ie before the balance tilted further against Germany. Demands for a "nation in arms" from the German nationalists and alarmist talk of surprise attacks by Russia and France from the generals resulted in a debate, some of it in public, about the feasibility of a large army increase so as to come closer to the French level of conscription. The War Ministry feared that large increases could not coped with, insufficient officers and professional NCOs for adequate training and shortage of barrack accommodation were perhaps the two major problems. But the argument that the social cohesion and political reliability of the army would be endangered seems not to have played only a small part in the discussion. Moltke simply wanted more men, about 300,000 or three times the level proposed by the War Minister. The latter conceded the military desirability but argued that such a large increase while the 1912 changes were still being absorbed was impractical. It also posed legal and political problems since overall strength was close to the 1% of the population laid down by the constitution. The result was a law which increased military manpower by 1/6th.

The law was welcomed by the Reichstag, the Chancellor having separated it from the corresponding funding bill. The centre and right voted for the first and the centre and left for the second since it gave the Reichstag power over direct taxation of wealth for the first time. "The step from believing in the likelihood of war to accepting its necessity was not to be a long one".

The Entente Powers inevitably reacted. Even Jules Cambon, the French ambassador in Berlin [who had for years been arguing for détente] thought France had to try to make up the "inevitable disproportion of forces" that would result. The only solution the French could find was to revert to three years service. Approved officially in March 1913, a prolonged parliamentary battle followed. The French left favoured short service and a defence based on the use of reserves [ on 31.8.01 I put on the list notes on a book on the French return to three years service by Gerd Krumeich, a German historian] on the lines of "the people in arms" and the supporters of the proposal put forward several arguments for it. One of them was the fear of a surprise German attack requiring the "troupes de couverture" to be reinforced, an argument which added to growing public anxiety. Approval in July 1913 meant an increase of about 1/6th in manpower, to about 700,000 men, and enabled Joffre to get his new and more offensive Plan XVII accepted.

[ Krumeich points out that it meant no real increase until 1916 and that it seriously disrupted the active army in the meantime].

The Russians, while pleased by the changes in France, had begun to plan their increases in March 1913 but incompetence, muddle and internal disputes meant the resulting "Great Plan" did not reach the Duma until June 1914. In the meantime, the Russians continued the practice begun during the Balkan wars of keeping the class of recruits due for demobilisation in the autumn in service during the winter while the new recruits were being trained, an increase of 30% in effective manpower, a change which deeply worried the Germans and Austrians. But little progress was made in improving the strategic railways in spite of French pressure, the Russian government preferring to develop those lines of more general value to the economy.

Cumulatively, all these changes and events, together with the often very alarmist and chauvinistic talk that went with them served to "profoundly affect the assumptions with which statesmen faced the next great international crisis".

Chapter 7. The European Armies and the Outbreak of the First World War.

And along came the next crisis, in July 1914. The military balance was not "so different from" that in the 1911 crisis.

The German army had made much progress. It had absorbed the 1911 and 1912 changes and was well on the way to those required by the 1913 law. Two new army corps, more technical troops, more machine guns, an air service that was beginning to catch up with the French and a supply of very heavy artillery sufficient to deal with the Liège forts, new field grey uniforms and adequate stocks of all kinds had all been achieved. The Austrians too had made progress, with much less Magyar obstruction.

The French however suffered from the institution of three year service, suggesting that the German War Minister had been right to oppose too rapid expansion. A shortage of experienced NCOs hindered training and the Germans had more or less caught up in those areas where the French had been superior such as field artillery and machine guns. Nothing effective had been achieved in heavier guns and various expedients, such as removing guns from fortresses, had to be resorted to. The troops continued to wear bright red trousers. Outside observers thought the French to be better tactically and their officers to be highly professional compared to the Germans.

Russian reforms were at last beginning to have some effect. Manpower was greater, mobilisation improved and better field artillery was arriving with the troops. But service troops such as motor transport and air were still hopelessly inadequate and the "Great Program" had hardly begun. Outside observers still thought the infantry to be stolid and unimaginative and lacking good NCOs while the officers showed little initiative.

There was almost no change in the British army except that a "well equipped and rationally organised" air service was developed. In general, observers thought it to be competent and effective but senior officers still found difficulty in handling larger forces than they had ever operated with previously. The Italian army had deteriorated further under the stress of operations in Libya but it was at least recognised that something had to be done and some reforms were being put in hand.

The major change was in the Balkans. All were enlarging and reorganising their armies, several profiting from captured equipment and greater recruiting territories. One Austrian estimate was that in place of 12 Turkish divisions, there would soon be five to seven Serbian, one Bulgarian, two Montenegrin and ten Greek divisions. They had all gained in experience and confidence. For the Austrians, a likely ally had been replaced by a most dangerous grouping.

Even Belgium began to arm and an increase from 180,000 to 250,000 was approved in 1913 [the author does not say so but I think that this was when conscription was instituted for the first time. He does say that this was a reaction to "the perceived threat from Germany". My impression is that it was more likely to have been prompted by the rising level of tension generally.]

The Entente Powers had become much more tightly linked than before. One effect of the crises and of the Balkan Wars had been to excite patriotic emotion in France and Panslavism in Russia. Moltke, assuming that war with either Russia or France would inevitably mean war with both and because a general staff map exercise a month before had shown a decisive victory over Russia was not possible [not sure if this one was known to Zuber], in March 1913 ended work on the Größer Ostaufmarsch which would have meant attacking Russia first. For the moment at least, the Central Powers were and felt stronger than the Entente while recognising that that would end fairly soon.

Thus they all entered the July Crisis in an entirely different frame of mind to that prevalent in earlier crises [ true even of Britain? ]. Even Tisza, writing to Franz Josef in March 1914 believed Russia and France would attack once the Balkan states were ready. Germany seems to have, at the beginning of the crisis, to have wrongly believed that Russia would remain neutral as it had before but soon realized it would not. Only Italy knew full well that it take no active part on either side.

The military balance in 1914 was not that different from that of 1911 but the prospects looked radically changed. Germany and Austria had done as much as they thought they could, although in August 1913, Falkenhayn, the new War Minister in Germany, put forward proposals for effectively universal military service in 1916 since it was clear that France and Russia would both be notably stronger in a few years. But the climate was different. "Statesmen in Berlin had acquired the habit at least since 1905 of being able to hold their own in military confrontations with rival powers....... The prospect of losing this capability in the atmosphere of 1914 was a disquieting one." On the Entente side, the crisis was regarded as a test of their cohesion and failure would have serious consequences.

The resulting war was to sweep away all of these military calculations in that no one had foreseen or prepared for what actually proved necessary.


By threatening force in earlier crises, even without seriously intending war, Germany forced cohesion on her rivals and brought about an arms race which, if slow to start, became rapid and explicitly directed on both sides by 1914. That race, and still less changing military technology or the influence of arms manufacturers, did not cause the war directly but change the order of preferences with which statesmen entered the July Crisis.

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