at the origins of the First World War

Ronald Moore



 1. Let's start at the beginning
 2. The Habsburg Empire 1866-1906
 3. Great Britain 1853-1895
 4. France 1870-1894
 5. Wilhelmine Germany 1888-1918
 6. German foreign policy 1888-1911
 7. Britain abandons isolation
 8. Russia 1855-1909
 9. France 1894-1911
 10. The Balkans 1877-1913
 11. Diplomacy and arms 1897-1913
 12. The Schlieffen Plan
 13. Sarajevo --- the Central Powers react
 14. Austria-Hungary crawls into action
 15. Austria-Hungary's bombshell
 16. The Russians react 25-27 July
 17. Germany stonewalls and prepares 19-28 July
 18. 28-31 July Russia orders mobilisation
 19. A Franco-Russian communications gap?
 20. Germany 28-31 July
 21. Britain, France and Italy 21-31 July
 22. The War starts in confusion
 23. Slaves to a dead general
 24. Why did Germany do it?
 25. The Austro-Hungarians
 26. What about the others?
 27. Truth will out?


 The Balkans June
 The German Empire 1871-1914
 August 1914: the German invasion of Belgium and France





I am deeply grateful to:

Ted Rawes for setting my foot on the path of this fascinating enquiry, sustaining me with comments and information and, not least, making the maps.

Toni Maurer for providing from his extensive library essential books ranging from official documents to illuminating memoirs.

Erika for putting up with her husband's transformation into an increasingly absent-minded scholar and for heroically reading, and constructively commenting on, my first draft.

This little book was circulated by Ted to his internet discussion group as a beta-version, to use the language of software makers, but little illumination resulted. Ted's own comments were detailed and helpful and I have taken account of nearly all of them. I have made a number of other alterations in the light of further reading, discussion and reflection.

One member of the discussion group declined to make any comment on the book on the grounds that he disagreed with 99% of it --- which I suppose is his right, even if hard to understand --- and that it had in effect been dictated by Ted. This I must dispute: Ted provided great help in drawing my attention to facts and pointing out errors and omissions, but with this proviso the information and opinions are the product of my own reading and thought and I alone am re-sponsible for them.


Characters mentioned in the text

Titles are ones held or awarded during office, not those conferred subsequently. For politicians, generally only appointments as prime, foreign, navy or war minister are given, up to and during the War.


Aehrenthal, Count Alois Lexa von: Foreign Minister 1906-12

Berchtold, Count Leopold: Foreign Minister 1912-15

Conrad von Hötzendorf, General Baron Franz: Chief of the General Staff 1906-11 and 1912-16

Giesl von Gieslingen, Baron Wladimir: Legate in Belgrade 1913-14

Habsburg-Lothringen, Franz Joseph: Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary etc 1848-1916

Habsburg-Lothringen, Archduke Franz Ferdinand: Inspector-General of the Forces, died 28 June 1914

Hoyos, Count Alexander: chef de cabinet to Foreign Minister 1912-17

Lueger, Dr Karl: Mayor of Vienna 1897-1910

Szápáry von Szápár, Count Friedrich: Ambassador in Petersburg 1913-14

Tisza de Boros-Jenö, Count Stefan: Hungarian Prime Minister 1903-05 and 1913-17


Bienvenu-Martin, Jean-Baptiste: Misister of Justice 1914, acting Foreign Minister July 1914

Boulanger, General Georges: leader of revanchist movement 1886-89

Dreyfus, Captain Alfred: condemned for spying 1894, rehabilitated 1906

Joffre, General Joseph: Chief of the General Staff from 1911, C-in-C August 1914-December 1916

Paléologue, Georges Maurice: Ambassador in Petersburg 1914-17

Poincaré, Raymond: Prime and Foreign Minister 1912-13 and post-war, President 1913-20

Viviani, René: Prime Minister 1914-15; Foreign Minister too June- August 1914


Ballin, Alfred: General Director, Hamburg-America Line

Bethmann Hollweg, Theobald von: Imperial Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister 1909-1917

Bismarck-Schönhausen, Prince Otto von: Prussian Prime and Foreign Minister 1862-90, German Chancellor and Foreign Minister 1871-90

Bülow, Prince Bernhard von: Foreign Secretary 1897-1900, German Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister 1900-1909

Caprivi, Count Leo von: German Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister 1890-94

Falkenhayn, General Erich von: Prussian War Minister 1913-15

Frederick Wilhelm Hohenzollern: Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia 1640-1688 (The Great Elector)

Frederick II Hohenzollern: King of Prussia 1740-1786 (The Great)

Frederick III Hohenzollern: German Emperor and King of Prussia 1888

Holstein, Baron Friedrich von: Head of Political Section, Foreign Office 1890-1906

Jagow, Gottlieb von, Foreign Secretary 1913-16

Lichnowsky, Prince Karl Max: Ambasssador in London 1912-14

Moltke, General Hellmuth von: Chief of the Prussian, later German, General Staff 1858-88

Moltke, General Hellmuth von, nephew of above: Chief of the General Staff 1906-14

Naumann, Viktor: journalist

Schlieffen, General Alfred Count von: Chief of the General Staff 1891-1905

Stumm, Wilhelm von: Head of Political Section, Foreign Office

Tirpitz, Grand Admiral Alfred von: Imperial Navy Minister 1897-1916

Tschirschky und Boegendorff, Count Heinrich von: Ambassador in Vienna 1907-16

Waldersee: General Albert von: Chief of Staff 1888-91

Waldersee, General Georg von: Quartermaster-General in 1914

Wilhelm I Hohenzollern, King of Prussia 1861-88, German Emperor 1871-1888

Wilhelm II Hohenzollern, German Emperor and King of Prussia 1888- 1918

Great Britain

Asquith, Herbert: Prime Minister 1908-16

Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of: Prime Minister 1868 and 1874-80

Buchanan, Sir George, British Ambassador in Petersburg 1910-17

Cassels, Sir Ernest: financier of German origin

Churchill, Winston S, First Lord of the Admiralty 1911-15

Crowe, Eyre: Assistant Under Secretary Foreign Office, 1912-1921

George V Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (from 1917 Windsor): King 1910-36

Gladstone, William Ewart: Prime Minister 1868-74, 1880-85, 1886 and 1892-94

Grey, Sir Edward: Foreign Secretary 1905-16

Edward VII Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: King 1901-1910

Goschen, Sir William: Ambassador in Berlin 1908-14

Haldane, Richard Burdon, Viscount: War Minister 1905-12, Lord Chancellor 1912-15

Palmerston, John Temple, Viscount (Irish peerage): Secretary at War 1809-28, Foreign Secretary 1830-34, 1835-41 and 1846-51, Prime Minister 1855-58 and 1859-65

Salisbury, Robert Cecil, Marquess of: Foreign Secretary 1878-80; Prime Minister and mostly Foreign Secretary too 1885-6, 1886-92, 1895-1900 and 1900-02


Danilov, Lt-General Yuri N: Quartermaster-General in 1914

Dobrorolski, Major-General Sergei K: Head of Mobilisation Dept.

Hartvig, Nikolai H: Minister in Belgrade 1909-14 (d 10 July 1914)

Izvolsky, Alexander P, Foreign Minister 1906-10, Ambassador in Paris 1910-1917

Nicholas II Romanov: Tsar 1894-1917

Sasonov, Sergei D: Foreign Minister 1910-16


Pacic, Nikola: Prime and Foreign Minister 1906-08 and 1912-18




Yet another book?!

A new book of a general kind about the origins of the First World War requires explanation, if not apology. This one was written pri-marily in order to download information and opinions developed over the previous five years. At the same time, the act of writing was intended to force me to be precise where I had been fuzzy, espe-cially on the timetable of the last days before the outbreak. For both these reasons there is perhaps more detail than can be read comfortably.

I also felt that my conclusions were not widely held although most of them were commonplace and amply documented, particularly about the responsibility of Germany. It is alarming that so much igno-rance persists - not mere not knowing but, as the American sage said, the worse kind, knowing what ain't so. Even in the head of Professor Schwarz of Vienna who, as recently as 20 March 2002, said that the War arose from naval rivalry between Germany and Britain and disputes over colonies; that there was an arms race which made war inevitable; and that Russia started it all by declaring war on Germany. And there are still serious students who buy the version propagated after the War by the German authorities that it had been caused by France and Russia under the malign influence of Sir Edward Grey. So the style is emphatic, almost polemical, not be-cause the few expected readers need it but out of indignation at the obtuseness of much of the historical world.

I can perhaps claim some originality in my findings about Russia: it can indeed be blamed for starting the War, not so much by mobi-lising in 1914 (this was a logical consequence of Russia's aware-ness of the Schlieffen Plan, once it was convinced that Germany was set on war) but by stirring up trouble in the Balkans during the preceding years. I stress the role of the Schlieffen Plan in com-mitting Germany to a war of aggression, in ruling out diplomacy and in prompting Russia, with some French encouragement, to order mobi-lisation prematurely and thus give the German government a pretext for going to war and the people motivation for fighting it.

It was Ruth Henig's little book - which she modestly calls a pam-phlet - that demonstrated that it was possible to cover most of the ground clearly and accurately in few pages. I wanted to go further than she and deal with more of the complexity of the subject but did not know how to do this. A stimulus was given by Peter Farrell-Vinay's dictum that the War was "the result of a dense multi-layered tapestry which cannot be expounded by a linear discourse like a book". This made me think of the subject not so much as a tapestry but as something like Wagner's Ring (an appropriate model with its ending in Götterdämmerung) which treats topics in chunks, has many repetitions to ensure that the thread is not lost, and enriches and links the material by interweaving themes. I decided that I did not have to attempt a linear narrative but could write down in manageable blocks whatever seemed important, and for the sake of intelligibility I would not be afraid of repetition. I am striving to be brief - and in consequence the writing is economical - but I do not want to be obscure.

History is a continuum

It may seem eccentric to start a short account of the War's origins in 1415 but history is a continuum and every country is shaped by its past, not least Prussia/Germany. The fear of encirclement and the resort to preventive war which came to the fore in 1914 had a long tradition. There was also a tradition of Enlightenment going back to Frederick the Great and developed by his unmilitary succes-sors. But a break occurred in the mid-19th century with the rise of nationalism and belief in Germany's manifest destiny, of belief in war as good in itself, of vulgarity and boorishness which Wilhelm II exemplified in international as well as personal relations. The mixture of these new attitudes with the Prussian tradition was explosive in a world that had become highly unstable because of the continuing decline of the Ottoman Empire and the probable disinte-gration of Austria-Hungary. And the conference system, which had served the world well for a century, could not function because Germany and Austria-Hungary had lost faith in it.

Bismarck predicted that if Wilhelm II did not change his ways he would cause the destruction of the Empire within twenty years of Bismarck's death. This duly came to pass, together with the end of the Hohenzollerns and the loss of territory. Hitler's policies (apart from anti-semitism) were similar to those of Moltke and Bethmann but applied with more determination and technology, and in consequence Germany lost more territory. But Bismarck left a legacy nevertheless, not wholly beneficent: the corporatist and federal welfare state of present-day Germany. This state has however broken with the Prussian military tradition and seems to have developed its own character as a peace-loving, even pacifist, member of the international community.

Where am I coming from?

My pointing of the finger at Germany - and specifically at General Moltke and Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, whose responsibility is clear from their own words - was not the result of prejudice. The conclusion arises inescapably from the evidence and their own statements. The only initial conviction that I did have was dis-belief in the widespread view that the War just happened, summed up in Lloyd George's famous statement in his memoirs that "we all just slithered into war". But he had adopted this position not as a scholar but as a statesman trying to moderate French ferocity against the vanquished Germans. I had been puzzled as a child when my mother gave me this "explanation" of the causes of the War that

she had lived through as a teenager and which then had been over for not much more than twenty years.

This puzzlement remained dormant until I settled in Vienna and re-read Taylor and Crankshaw on the Habsburg Empire. Its history prompts many questions, but the most challenging is: why did Austria-Hungary precipitate the War? It surely had nothing to gain and could only lose. Friends helped with advice and the loan of books and now, some years on, I feel that I have gone as far as I can. There are of course big gaps in what can be known, for in-stance, about the decisions by Germany to give the blank cheque to Austria-Hungary and by Russia to mobilise. Perhaps one day more do-cuments will surface.


This book is based on extensive study but it has no references, largely because I did not set out to write a book and so did not take detailed notes on my reading: but my purpose is to convey an argument as forcefully as possible and for this an uncluttered pre-sentation is helpful.

What follows is not much more than a pamphlet, so it deliberately leaves out material that, however interesting, is not required to support the narrative. A more ample treatment would have been not slightly but many times longer. My focus is on the main countries, and for instance not on Italy, and on the main actors and their motives, and thus elements contributing to the climate of opinion but not directly to events are at most sketched in. My book can be considered a counterweight to Joll. What he writes in The Origins of the First World War is mostly well and good as far as it goes but it does not address the essential: whodunnit? And why? My task was to cover this and only this.

The War is a complex subject and much information is simply not available, so no book, let alone a short one, can give the whole truth, but I hope that mine is at least true on the whole.



Chapter 1: Let's start at the beginning...

From Margrave of Brandenburg...

In 1415 the Holy Roman Emperor rewarded the Burgrave of Nuremberg, a Hohenzollern, for services rendered by appointing him Margrave of Brandenburg, a small, poor, swampy, sandy district in north Germa-ny. He spent little time there, but his great-grandson put down roots and also pursued inheritances. These were slow to appear: Joachim II inherited Cleves only in 1609 (and converted to Calvi-nism to secure it, without disturbing the Lutheran faith of his existing subjects) and in 1618 he inherited Prussia, later known as East Prussia. This had been a dependency of the King of Poland governed by the German Order but in 1525 its leader had converted to Protestantism and taken the Order's land for himself and his heirs. The family now ruled from Memel (Klaipéda in Lithuania) to Cleves, on the border of the Netherlands. There were two smaller territories. None were contiguous.

The Hohenzollerns felt a categorical imperative to join these ter-ritories together and unify them: this was as much defensive as aggressive, for enemies could easily pick off the separate bits. So their history in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly under the Great Elector (1640-1688) and Frederick the Great (1740-86), is of wars, alliances, treachery and the single-minded pursuit first of consolidation, then of expansion. Prussia was freed from Polish sovereignty under the Great Elector and became a kingdom in 1701, with the title accepted across the other territories, but even with a unified state it was not easy to defend. It had no natural fron-tiers and no common language, no national history, culture or con-sciousness: it was a synthetic creation situated on a great plain. It did not have to exist within any particular frontiers, or at all.

The response to this situation, particularly under Frederick the Great but already under the Great Elector, was to organise the state around the army which was maintained at the highest level that the state could afford. In order to raise this level, the state encouraged industries that might generate taxable incomes and developed an efficient and incorruptible bureaucracy to collect the taxes. Immigrants were welcomed, in particular Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and Salzburgers in the 1730's. There was tolerance of religion, nationalities and langua-ges. But nearly every measure or attitude that might seem to be a praisewothy example of liberalism was in fact devised to support the army. In return the state required the people to do their duty: work hard, pay taxes and serve in the army if required; and accept that while they had more passive freedom than other peoples in Eu-rope, their active freedom - to choose their government - was very small. Above all, everybody had to accept that they were servants of the state - even the king: Frederick called himself "le domes-tique de l'état". All were subject to the imperative of expanding Prussia. In the early nineteenth century Hegel was to provide some philosophical basis for this belief.

Frederick's successors were very different and tried to preserve the peace. The vicissitudes of the Napoleonic era however showed how much Prussia was at the mercy of events: its territories shrank and grew and it was even threatened with total abolition, its fron-tiers moved back and forth, and the question might have been asked: did Prussia really exist? So, after the victory over Napoleon in 1813 national consciousness was cultivated. This was the Prussia that Bismarck began to govern in 1862. His policies can best be un-derstood in the light of the Prussian tradition. He too feared en-circling coalitions, sought expansion and provoked wars, but he differed from it in one respect: his aims, although large, had their limits and when he had reached them he wanted simply to se-cure them.

...to German Emperor

The rise of Prussia started in the 17th century but it entered its acute phase only with the proclamation of the German Empire in Versailles in January 1871. This completed the process of unifica-tion which had begun in 1834 with the customs union embracing the whole German-speaking area except Austria and the north-western coast. In 1866 Austria was expelled from the German Confederation which dated back to 1815. A North German Union was formed in 1867 with all the remaining members except Bavaria and Württemberg. The Union established uniform conditions for the economy - currency, weights and measures, commercial and financial laws and regulations - and provided the basis for the growth in the ensuing years.

The German Empire was a federation in which Prussia was by far the biggest and pre-eminent member with its sovereign and principal ministers exercising the same functions in the both the Kingdom and the Empire. Bismarck, the Imperial Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister, called the new empire - and also Britain and Austria-Hungary - "satiated", meaning that they were not seeking territo-rial expansion. He was speaking for himself and to some extent for Prussia, but not for the new Reich which rapidly saw that it was a Great Power and not a satiated one. The new German consciousness was perhaps strongest in Prussia where there was no existing iden-tity such as there was for instance in Bavaria - except that Prus-sia's military played a leading role for the Reich as a whole, and it preserved Prussia's military traditions up to 1914 and beyond.

Bismarck was able to keep the genie in the bottle until the end of his chancellorship. In the mid-eighties he made a brief foray into imperialism and acquired colonies for Germany in Africa and the Pacific, not so much in order to satisfy public opinion as to stir up anti-British feeling and secure his position against the anglo-phile Crown Prince and his British-born wife. The Prince's fatal illness soon removed the need for this and Bismarck could resume

his generally friendly attitude to Britain. As long as their spheres of influence were separate - Germany in Continental Europe and Britain in much of the rest of the world - they were not in competition.

In order to preserve the peace Bismarck entered into a series of alliances, but only after the first of the series of troubles in the Balkans that was to lead to disaster. In 1877/78 Russia defea-ted Turkey and imposed the Treaty of San Stefano which gave it large advantages (in particular the creation of a big independent but Russian-influenced Bulgaria and the near expulsion of Turkey from Europe) - too large in the opinion of the other Powers, in particular Britain and Austria-Hungary, who forced Russia to come to the conference table.

Germany was not directly involved, so Berlin was a natural meeting-

place. Bismarck chaired the congress skilfully and impartially, but as the purpose was to reduce Russia's gains, it was certain to be disgruntled, blame the chairman and be resentful of Germany. Tur-key's presence in Europe was reduced but still significant. Aus-tria-Hungary was given a protectorate over Bosnia-Herzegovina while Turkey retained sovereignty. Bulgaria was scaled down and made au-tonomous but with a German prince and under Turkish suzerainty. Britain was given Cyprus. The treaty stored up trouble for the fu-ture as it did not meet the aspirations of the Slav peoples of the Balkans and it increased Austria-Hungary's involvement in the region.

The 1879 alliance with Austria-Hungary is sometimes referred to as Bismarck's biggest mistake because it tied Germany's destiny to that of the shaky Habsburg Monarchy with its Balkan problems. This is not the case, for Germany acted independently for as long as it chose to; and Bismarck's aim was to be in a position to ensure that the Monarchy did not do anything foolish in the Balkans. Germany did indeed exercise a restraining influence until 1913, with the one disastrous exception in 1908 when it supported the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The alliance was nevertheless a mistake, for it ensured that Germany could never have a true friendship with the Monarchy's rival for influence in the Balkans, Russia. But Bismarck could not foresee the division of the European Powers into some-thing like two blocs and no doubt expected alliances to shift as circumstances developed.

The Three Emperor Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Russia 1881-86 was an expedient to keep the peace with Russia. When this ended, the Re-insurance Treaty with Russia achieved the same purpose for a while, but it committed Germany to supporting Russia's aim for he-gemony over Bulgaria and eastern Rumelia (a strip south of Bulga-ria), so in 1890 Germany did not renew the treaty. This left Russia free to enter into a military treaty with France in 1894. The Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Italy was signed in 1882, but Italy was an unreliable member from the start. In 1887 it se-cured an escape clause allowing it to abstain in a war with Bri-tain; and in 1902 it entered into an entente with France which nullified its pledges to the Alliance. And its difference with Austria-Hungary over its "unredeemed" Italian-speaking population was irreconcilable.

France was not included in these arrangements but was encouraged to acquire colonies overseas. But Alsace and half of Lorraine remained

annexed - the German army wanted to hold the fortresses of Stras-bourg and Metz - and ruled as conquered territory: France could al-ways be expected to be the ally of Germany's enemy. Bismarck strove to ensure that there wasn't one. How long he could have maintained his policies is a matter for conjecture. After the deaths of Wil-helm I and Friedrich III (the former Crown Prince) in 1888, Wilhelm II came to the throne. He provided no support for Bismarck in 1890 who was obliged to resign after his political allies lost the general election.

It is sometimes said that Germany's policy represents a continuum from Bismarck to Hitler. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bismarck was certainly a practitioner of realpolitik, but from 1871 onwards his biggest aim was to preserve the new German Empire as he had created it, with Prussia on top. He wanted stability and feared the consequences of war and territorial expansion. He was conscious that Germany could easily face an encircling coalition, as it was to in 1914-18, and that if defeated it might well be dismembered. Hence his treaties and alliances.

After his fall the new German Reich as a whole gradually adopted the Prussian military tradition of expansion, fear of encirclement and belief in pre-emptive war, the motto of which could have been:

Blessed is he whose cause is just.
Thrice blessed who gets his blow in fust.

Or as Thomas Hobbes put it in "Leviathan":

And from this diffidence of one another, there is no way for any man to secure himselfe, so reasonable as Anticipation; that is, by force, or wiles, to master the persons of all men he can, so long, till he sees no other power great enough to endanger him.

That Frederick's great preventive war, The Seven Years' War, achieved nothing except exhaustion and would have ended in defeat if Russia had not changed sides at the last moment, was forgotten.



Chapter 2: The Habsburg Empire: the aftermath of Königgrätz


The Habsburg Empire was defeated by Prussia at the battle of König-grätz (Sadowa) in 1866 and was expelled from the German Confedera-tion - this was Bismarck's aim in provoking the war. In other re-spects the settlement was moderate and except for the unfortunates who were killed and maimed the outcome was not a disaster. But Em-peror Franz Joseph inflicted a devasting wound on his empire in the following year: under pressure from his wife (her only intrusion into affairs of state) he turned the Empire into the Dual Monarchy by dividing it into two parts, an Austrian and a Hungarian. Each was to run its own affairs with only the person of the Emperor (in Hungary reigning as King) and the Ministers of War, Finance and Fo-reign Affairs in common. There were mechanisms for agreeing finan-cial questions periodically, a forum for discussing matters of com-mon interest, and the Foreign Minister could convene ad hoc mee-tings of relevant ministers. The set-up was barely workable but it was unfair of Musil to say that its incomprehensibility rivalled that of the Trinity.

The system would have been hard to operate with goodwill on both sides of the River Leitha (which marked part of the frontier). This was totally lacking in Hungary where the dominant Magyars, a mino-rity, aimed blindly to preserve their supremacy and the position of the aristocracy, and to resist the influence of Vienna. Hungary was particularly damaging with regard to the army: it refused to vote for adequate funds and it fought against the use of German as the army's common language. It was also opposed to reforms for the be-nefit of the minority populations, the most important of which in Hungary were the Romanians and Croats. In consequence Romania was hostile in spite of its secret treaty signed in 1883 and the Croats increasingly overcame their traditional hostility to the Serbs and turned into South Slav nationalists. In Austria steady progress was made in improving conditions for the non-German peoples and all might have been well but for the German-speakers' strident nationa-lism. And Hungary's dead hand was to lie on Bosnia-Herzegovina: it opposed expenditure on vital investments, in particular the rail-ways which were of strategic importance. In short, Hungary fuelled the nationalism which was to lead to the War while crippling the Empire's ability to fight.

If the Emperor had wished to introduce a fundamental reform - for instance a cantonal system - to address the nationalities problem he would have been thwarted by the opposition of the Hungarians. Had Franz Joseph's heir Franz Ferdinand lived to succeed to the throne he might have made this attempt....

With its mix of nationalities, most of which could look to other countries of their language, religion or race, it should have been self-evident that foreign and domestic policy were interwined and that for this reason both needed to be handled sensitively. This was not widely perceived in the Dual Monarchy. Indeed, until Aehrenthal became Foreign Minister in 1906, Austria-Hungary, be-lieving that it was satiated and had no aims, gave low priority to foreign policy. So it can drop out of this story until then.



Chapter 3: Great Britain --- splendid isolation 1853-1895

"We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and these interests it is our duty to follow." (Lord Palmerston in the House of Commons 1 March 1848.)

This did not mean that Britain refused absolutely to form alliances or to take part in wars on the European mainland, as was shown by the Crimean War 1853-56 where it joined France and Turkey in figh-ting Russia - on the face of it, for matters that were of little importance to anybody and none to Britain, but in reality for sup-remacy in the Balkans and the Straits. An important consequence was irreparable hostility between the former allies Russia and Austria-Hungary which, while remaining neutral, had successfully opposed Russia's occupation of the Danubian Principalities later to become the nucleus of Romania. But Britain kept aloof from Bismarck's three wars - against Denmark, the Habsburg Empire and France - even though the result was a lasting and dangerous shift in the balance of power.

Gladstone, Prime Minister for the first time in 1868-74, was cer-tainly more inclined to go to war for a moral than a practical rea-son but in 1870 Disraeli might have taken a different view had he been in office then, as he was 1874-80. For him Britain's imperial interests came first: he perceived a threat to them in the Treaty of San Stefano and joined Austria-Hungary in pressing for revision. He played an effective role at the Congress of Berlin. Britain was of course the superpower with the duty of, and to some extent the means for, preserving world peace - but jointly with the other Powers, in the Concert of Europe. Even Russia accepted its autho-rity. In Berlin we must suppose that the participants did their best to achieve a settlement which would last and at the same time would not be too adverse to their national interests. They did not do a bad job: their settlement did not blow up until 1911-14, and without Russia's prompting it might have lasted a good deal longer. But the fact is that the Berlin settlement of 1878 was the powder train that was ignited then and thus it can be called a cause of the War.

By the 1860's Britain saw in Russia a major threat to its position, for it was expanding in all directions and not least towards the jewel in the imperial crown, India. Britain's objection to Russian influence in the Balkans was that this might be used to hamper communications with the Empire. The dispute over Afghanistan was resolved by an agreement in 1885 but other sensitive areas were to appear: the Far East, Persia. In so far as one Power was a bogeyman for Britain, it was Russia - and certainly not Germany. Indeed, it was not hostile to advances by Bismarck, but did not respond, for it was not yet ripe for any alliance.



Chapter 4: France 1871-1894

France rushed into the war with Prussia without serious grounds, even if the crisis was provoked and aggravated by Bismarck. Defeat left the country seriously divided, in particular between those who had accepted the capitulation and those who wished to continue the guerilla war that followed, and between communards and their sympa-thisers on the one hand and the conservatives on the other whose leaders were responsible for massacring perhaps 40,000 people in Paris after suppressing the Commune (cf 2596 victims of the fifteen months Terror 1793/4). But France applied itself vigorously to the consequences of defeat. It raised a loan and paid the huge in-demnity (5bn francs), which had been intended to leave it crippled for years, ahead of schedule in 1873. It established a republic and resumed normal life. Haffner makes the shrewd comment that in this respect France was the winner: it acquired an up to date form of government which survived even the challenges of 1914-18, while Germany was saddled with an archaic and dysfunctional regime which destroyed the new Empire in less than fifty years.

In the 1880's, with Bismarck's encouragement, France acquired pro-tectorates in Tunisia, Indo-China, Madagascar and Congo, and began seeking acquisitions in central Africa. It came to terms with the loss of Alsace and half Lorraine and, except for the Boulanger years of nationalist agitation 1885-89, revanchism was not much of an issue. Although a Power, it had little weight in foreign affairs and belonged to no alliances. It was seriously weakened by unstable government which made it hard for any coherent policy to be deve-loped and applied. This was to handicap France until de Gaulle changed the system. A weak France was a cause of instability in Europe.

It is surprising therefore that, following Germany's decision in 1890 not to renew the Re-insurance Treaty with Russia, France was able to move quickly to negotiate an informal understanding with Russia which was concluded in 1891 and turned in 1894 into a formal military agreement committing each of the parties to come to the aid of the other if attacked by Germany or its allies. German post-war propaganda notwithstanding, the agreement was and remained purely defensive - even if the form of defence envisaged was imme-diate mobilisation and attack. Even so, Bismarck's cauchemar des coalitions was taking shape.

France and Britain were not on good terms, in particular because of colonial rivalry.



Chapter 5: Wilhelmine Germany 1888-1918

The Reich's constitution gave the Kaiser large powers: he was the head of the armed forces and he appointed the Chancellor and the other ministers without reference to parliament and so could ensure most of the time that his wishes were carried out. Decisions of peace or war were basically his although he had to carry the Chan-cellor with him. The War Minister and the Navy Secretary (Minister) had largely administrative roles for the services and the opera-tional heads reported directly to the Kaiser. Parliament's role was to pass laws and in particular to vote supply. Ministers did not emerge from parliament, were not members of it and were not answerable to it.

Large numbers of officers and officials had the right to address the Kaiser in person: for instance, some forty army officers. The Kaiser maintained his own office which included a central secreta-riat as well as substantial army and navy sections. These could all influence the information that the Kaiser received and talk him out of decisions already taken. If the personality at the top had been strong, clear-minded and hard-working it might have been possible to achieve coherent government, but Wilhelm II, although blessed with a quick mind and a retentive memory, was not such a man. Ste-venson in Armaments describes him thus: "He was normally in Berlin continuously only from January to May, spending one third of his reign on his yacht, and much of the rest of it hunting....He com-bined lack of application, posturing, and erratic judgement with inconsistency, a penchant for meddling, and an inability to dele-gate." I would add: triviality and superficiality too. The conse-quence, according to a foreign diplomat quoted by Tirpitz, was that: "In this highly organised nation, when you have ascended to the very top storey, you find not only confusion but chaos". This played a big part in making the war possible.

The Kaiser liked to conduct personal diplomacy, particularly when it could be combined with a cruise on his yacht. Unfortunately his boorishness appalled, for instance, Tsar Alexander III, the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) and Lord Salisbury. This had some influence on events, even if not a decisive one.

The Chancellor's work was further complicated by not having a de-pendable majority in parliament: to get any measure adopted he had to form an ad hoc coalition. He also had to live with power blocks with opposed interests, notably Prussian junkers (landed gentry, mostly small-scale and financially dependent on agriculture), heavy industry and social democrats.

The country was thriving and population was expanding, but worries were growing about access to raw materials and markets and about space for the extra people. There was a general desire for territo-rial expansion for these practical reasons as well as for prestige. There was concealed discontent, in the working classes at the lack of democracy although the welfare state and rising wages had raised living standards, and in the military and aristocracy at the gro-wing threat to their position and their traditional values from so-cialism and Anglo-Saxon attitudes. A belief that war would pull the country together and anyway was good in itself was widespread, not least among intellectuals. The country for all its prosperity was not at peace with itself and the upper and middle classes at least did not want peace with its neighbours.

There was a growth of national consciousness and of belief in Ger-manness (Deutschtum). This excluded the Prussian virtue of tole-rance but included honesty, discipline, industry, commitment to education and training and the arts, authoritarianism on the part of the haves and subservience amongst the have-nots, militarism and political passivity. Order alone made these desirable features pos-sible; the state was the provider of it and was the source of the individual's existence and identity. The autocratic ruler admini-stered through professional officials of proven competence and in-tegrity. In contrast, for the Anglo-Saxons the state was merely the agglomeration of its constituent individuals, with government in the hands of an unstable succession of amateur and often venal po-liticians; the result could only be disorder, the root of all evil. This attitude, while associated primarily with Prussia, prevailed throughout the German-speaking area (excluding Switzerland) - naturally with less rigour in Vienna than in Berlin. The German upper and middle classes held it passionately, were willing to de-fend it at any price against Anglo-Saxon and socialist subversion and were as eager to spread its benefits to the "lesser breeds without the law" as were their French and British counterparts with their own forms of civilisation. Whether the French-speakers in Alsace-Lorraine, for instance, were conscious of the advantages being conferred may be doubted.

German consciousness came to the fore after the German states at last pulled together and defeated Napoleon at the battle of Leipzig in 1813. Commemorative monuments were erected and speeches and pro-cessions took place on each anniversary. The military celebrated dates in the life of Frederick the Great - even his defeats. It was forgotten that Frederick's Prussia had been a tolerant multi-natio-nal state without a shred of German nationalism. A combination of dates in the years immediately before the War helped to inflame na-tional ardour and military spirit. And in 1914 people could look forward to the following year with the centenary of Bismarck's birth and the 500th anniversary of the Hohenzollerns' acquisition of Brandenburg. Frederick and Bismarck were masters of the stage-managed war, euphemistically called Defensiv-präventivkrieg, and Metternich stage-managed the campaign culminating at Leipzig. The War was to be another in the series.

Germany had a peculiar feature inherited from old Prussia of which Mirabeau said that, whereas other countries had armies, Prussia was an army with a state attached. Under Wilhelm II the military still had a special position. For instance he would not let an ambassador rebuke his disloyal naval attaché because a civilian could not be allowed to give orders to an officer. At a higher level, the Chief of the General Staff was a power limited mainly by the need to car-ry the War Minister, and through him parliament, with him for the sake of supply. In the interest of relations with Britain Bethmann as Chancellor tried to restrain Navy Minister Tirpitz's ship-building programme but was generally outgunned. The General Staff, which quite properly concentrated on military threats, had the ef-fect of turning Germany's foreign policy, in so far as there was one at all, into a consideration of opportunities for preventive war. By 1913 Bethmann was thinking in much the same terms as Moltke although not about the diplomatic and military implications, for the government took little or no interest in the General Staff's planning. Unfortunately the Kaiser, the supreme warlord, didn't either.



Chapter 6: Germany --- foreign policy 1888-1911

When Wilhelm II came to the throne in 1888 it was evident that the Bismarck era was over: its limited aims and purely European focus were not appropriate for a big industrial state that was growing rapidly and saw itself as a world power. Bismarck would have to go and new policies would have to be developed to ensure that Germany got its place in the sun. Bismarck duly went, in 1890: he had lost support in the Imperial parliament, and the Prussian council of ministers refused to support him in a futile dispute that he picked with the Kaiser. His successor, Caprivi, did not attempt to for-mulate a new overall policy, nor could he have done so had he wished: only the Kaiser could have done this - or ordered it to be done - but he had no interest in such a thing. Until 1918 Germany lurched along without clear aims, indeed with conflicting ones.

The Kaiser was obsessed with Britain: a love-hate relationship. He was convinced that Germany had to become a naval power, an opinion confirmed by Admiral Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power upon His-tory which appeared in 1890. That year the Kaiser declared that Germany's future lay at sea. Caprivi and his successor took some small steps but it was not until 1897 that Tirpitz was appointed Navy Secretary and charged with building up a navy. He presented periodical budgetary laws to parliament and obtained their appro-val. The purpose of such a navy could only be to challenge Bri-tain's supremacy, which Britain would not allow. The result was corresponding increases in its building programme and a souring of relations. Even so, Britain still had a friendly attitude to Ger-many as was shown by the attempt to negotiate a tri-lateral treaty with it and Japan; Germany dithered and in 1902 the treaty was signed by Japan and Britain alone. This was the last chance for securing friendly relations and keeping Britain from entering into agreements with other countries.

The risk of war of any kind was remote, but Germany had to reckon with the possibility that the Franco-Russian alliance could turn aggressive. The General Staff under the Moltke who had won Bis-marck's wars and his successor Waldersee evaluated options for cam-paigns in the east or the west without coming to a final conclu-sion. Schlieffen, appointed Chief of the General Staff in 1891, continued the process until he retired, in 1905. In 1906 he pro-posed a radical plan, calling for an immediate attack on France, with only minimum forces to hold the eastern front. It is possible that the Plan was originally intended merely to demonstrate the need for larger forces, for it deployed "notional" (non-existent) units as well as leaving vital sectors undefended. It remained dor-mant until 1911, but then rapidly became the basis for official planning. Germany was now pursuing plans for the army and the navy which had no relation to each other, for each assumed war with dif-ferent opponents. Each required large sums of money and raising more tax was not an option because of the opposition of the federal states and the vested interests: so the more that was spent on the navy, the less there was for the army. Moreover, each plan was pursued without the diplomatic consequences being thought through

or even discussed with the Foreign Minister or the Chancellor - and these ministers were generally happy to be kept in ignorance.

During this time the rise of Germany's science-based industry began to impinge on Britain and there was some hysteria in the press, but not enough to generate an improvement in the root cause of Bri-tain's relative decline: poor education and training. But the fact remained that the two countries were major markets for each other, and in third markets they competed little. There was some emotion but nothing that could seriously be considered a cause of the War - except by the German apologists who attributed it to the machi-nations of Sir Edward Grey.



Chapter 7: Britain abandons isolation 1895-1907

The years 1892-1911 are the story of Germany misplaying its hand

and of Britain gradually abandoning the policy of splendid isola-tion. Its first choice as ally was Germany which thus had the op-portunity to form a partnership of the two strongest Powers in Eu-rope which would have been in a position to impose peace on most of the world. But Germany, deliberately it seems, put such an alliance out of the question.

Germany's naval programme which started in 1898 was taken very se-riously by Britain which increased its own naval construction ac-cordingly, but there was sympathy for Germany's wish for the ac-coutrements of Great Power status, as long as Britain was not threatened. There were still opportunities for constructive discus-sions but Germany failed to respond (an exception was agreement in principle in 1898 on the purchase by Germany of Portugal's African colonies if these should be put up for sale). Germany caused anno-yance in the negotiations to simplify the rule over Samoa and the expedition to put down the Boxer rebellion in China. The Kaiser, who throughout this period caused great offence particularly to the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), provoked outrage with his telegram congratulating President Kruger of the Transvaal on repel-ling the Jameson raid. Worse still, Germany's politicians and press sided virulently with the Boers in the Boer War and gave a hostile reception to Joseph Chamberlain's speech in November 1899 proposing alliance with Germany. Even so, Britain wished to include Germany in its negotiations for a treaty, anti-Russian in aim, with Japan. Germany dithered and the treaty was signed without it in 1902. Britain reluctantly concluded that an alliance with Germany was not possible.

France started wooing Britain - and in 1904 a colonial agreement was signed which provided the basis for the Entente (which was not put in writing at the time) and for the military discussions which started at the end of the following year.

Colonial disputes had been the main problem in Anglo-French rela-tions and it made sense to resolve them. The same applied with even greater force to relations with Russia which for generations had been a potential threat to India and now was also a rival in Per-sia: an entente was agreed in 1907. Such a Triple Entente - even if Britain's commitment was unclear and only bi-lateral - had the great advantage in Russia's eyes that it would provide an under-pinning for France if the worst came to the worst - that is, war with Germany. This was not a warranted assumption, for Britain was committed to nothing much. After the war German apologists main-tained that this supposed underpinning encouraged Russia to mobi-lise in 1914 and thus start the War.

It has been argued that the system of alliances helped to cause the War. This is not true. The agreements were all defensive, so unless one of the parties attacked another - as Germany did in 1914 - war could not happen. These agreements did not oblige the parties to stand by their allies in all circumstances. France, for example, did not support Russia over Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908-09, Germany exercised a restraining influence on Austria-Hungary in some subse-quent Balkan crises, and Austria-Hungary did not support Germany in Morocco. Germany certainly was eager to drive a wedge between the members of the Entente - this was one motive for the Moroccan ad-ventures - but French and British leaders, notably Poincaré and Grey, saw the system of balanced alignments as helpful for peace and took care to do nothing that might destabilise the Triple Alliance.

By its own efforts Germany had turned Britain from a friend into a potential foe and had completed its own "encirclement". From now on Germany's dread of hostile coalitions strengthened - but its foreign policy was to sink to new depths of incompetence.



Chapter 8: Russia 1855-1909

Alexander II came to the throne in 1855 while the Crimean War was in progress. This was showing up Russia's backwardness and he ap-plied himself to reform, first of all by freeing the serfs. He was assassinated in 1881 and was succeeded by the reactionary Alexander III. Both pursued Russification of the motley empire and expansion of its territory and spheres of influence. After successful war against Turkey, diplomatic defeat had to be accepted at Berlin in 1878, and in 1887 as a result of British and Austro-Hungarian pres-sure to reduce interference in Bulgaria. But in spite of their pan-Slav sympathies neither Bulgaria nor Serbia in the 1890's was in-fluenced much by Russia. In 1897 Austria-Hungary and Russia signed an agreement on their respective spheres in the Balkans.

Russia was expanding more successfully in central Asia - where its southwards expansion brought it into conflict with Britain - and the Far East, but Nicholas II overreached himself in provoking Japan into going to war in 1904. The resultant defeat and the re-volution that followed left Russia disabled for some years as far as international politics were concerned - and in particular, not a force in the Balkans, although this became a priority area now that the Far East was blocked. The 1894 military agreement with France was of some comfort but the two Powers did not attempt to concert their foreign policies, and the question did not arise with the 1907 entente with Britain.

In 1908/9 Russia's weakness obliged it to accept a major humilia-tion. Its Foreign Minister, Izvolsky, had agreed in an informal discussion with his opposite number, Aehrenthal, to support the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary in return for support for Russia's freedom of passage in the Straits. The annexa-tion was implemented forthwith, although Russia believed that its support was contingent on the successful conclusion of negotiations about the Straits. There was no written record of the conversation and it is not clear whether there was an honest misunderstanding or trickery on the part of Aehrenthal. Russia was indignant and sought to have the annexation reversed but when Germany told it to back off it had no choice but to comply.

The annexation was a big step towards the War:

It was seen as an affront by Serb nationalists in Serbia and Austria-Hungary and added markedly to the region's instability: it prepared the way for Sarajevo.

Russia, which had been rebuilding its forces after the losses in the Japanese war, recognised that it had to make a substantial improvement in their quantity and quality if it was to avoid further humiliations.

It aggravated enormously the grievance which Russia had been nursing against Austria-Hungary ever since the Crimean War and Russia now increased its efforts to stir up pan-Serb, pan-Slav and anti-Habsburg feeling in the Balkans.

Amidst all the inconsistencies in Russia's actions four interests were predominant, not all of them compatible:

Support for fellow Slavs and Orthodox Christians in the Balkans.

Preservation of the feeble Ottoman Empire as a more comfor-table neighbour than anything that might take its place. This aim was a vital interest but it was not compatible with the first one, so it was often disregarded.

Ensuring that the Straits did not fall into potentially hostile hands, which meant limiting Austria-Hungary's expan-sion in the Balkans.

From the mid 19th century, seeking the right to send warships through the Straits, denied by international treaties from the 1830's on, to which Russia had originally assented cheerfully: if it could not get out, neither could enemies get in.

Above all, it was in Russia's interest to preserve stability in the Balkans but in the years leading up to the War it worked in the opposite direction.



Chapter 9: France 1894-1911

In 1894 France made a disaster for itself: the Dreyfus affair. This was not finally settled until 1906 when Dreyfus was rehabilitated. It split and discredited the army and divided the French population too. It is a wonder that the army was able to pull itself together again. This was helped by a general recovery in French morale in the years immediately before the War - and this spirit more than French arms made Germany see a threat, not that one existed. Alsace-Lorraine was hardly an issue any longer and France was con-scious of its numerical and economic inferiority to Germany. Its policies were not confrontational, even though some French voices acclaimed the Ententes as encircling the Central Powers.

It was still politically unstable but in 1899-1905 strong coali-tions managed to govern competently. In 1902 a secret non-aggres-sion pact with Italy severely weakened the Triple Alliance. After the clash at Fashoda in 1898 France was aware of the need to avoid colonial disputes with Britain. Chamberlain's speech in 1899 propo-sing alliance with Germany showed that isolation was no longer sac-rosanct and France became aware of Britain's growing disenchantment with Germany. After Edward VII's successful state visit in 1903, France was able to propose a colonial agreement which grew into the Entente of 1904 and the military discussions that started in 1905. That year France reduced military service from three years to two.

At this time Britain was the leading Power in Morocco, but gave up this position to France in return for a free hand in Egypt, a vital British interest. Germany was not involved but felt that it should have been. In 1905 France began to increase its presence in Morocco primarily in order to reduce the spread of instabilty from there into Algeria, an important territory for France. It believed that it had the consent of the Powers although its actions were not in accordance with the 1880 Treaty of Madrid. It was a surprise when the Kaiser landed at Tangier and declared support for Moroccan in-dependence. France proposed bilateral discussions but Germany in-sisted on an international conference. This took place next year in Algeciras and, although minor restrictions were imposed on France, Germany was isolated. Its diplomatic defeat was however passed off at home as a victory and Bülow, the Chancellor, was made a prince.

The idea for this fiasco was promoted by Holstein, the head of the political section in the Foreign Office - an intelligent forceful man with no clear aims and no judgement. He had a large share of responsibility for the mismanagement of Germany's foreign affairs during the years 1890-1906. Germany had hoped that the crisis would break the new entente but its main effect was to draw Britain and France together: they started military discussions at the end of 1905.

The Agadir incident in 1911 was 1905 all over again: Germany objec-ted in a ham-fisted way to further French advances in Morocco and sent a warship. Britain supported France vigorously and Germany had to back off again, but the settlement, whereby France traded a por-tion of the Congo for the removal of Germany's objections in Moroc-co, was regarded as a defeat by public opinion in both countries. The Entente had survived another test - but Germany resolved not to be exposed to such humiliation again and prepared big increases in its powerful land forces and improvements in their readiness. This was the real beginning of the arms race.

This crisis notwithstanding, Britain did not close the door on Ger-many: its hope that discussion might be possible was shown by War Minister Haldane's mission to Berlin in February 1912. But there never was a basis for agreement, as was shown by Germany's ideas for a non-aggression pact and the navy bill which was published shortly afterwards. The mission was not so much a failure of diplo-macy as confusion resulting from the involvement of amateurs - the idea of the mission came from Alfred Ballin and Sir Ernest Cassels and both Germany and Britain thought that the mission had more bac-king on the the other side than it did.

The Moroccan crises consolidated the Entente although it never de-veloped into a treaty and was not even written down until 1912 when Grey, at French insistence, wrote a letter setting out what Britain was committed to - not much.

France kept its military agreement with Russia in good repair, with annual reviews.



Chapter 10: The Balkans 1877-1913

The Ottoman Empire reached its peak in 1529 when, after occupying Hungary, it laid siege to Vienna. Its second attempt was repulsed in 1683 and the Ottomans' long decline began - a decline attribu-table to corruption, weak leadership and growing lawlessness. A new frontier was established in 1699 by the Treaty of Carlowitz, with the Habsburgs acquiring the land north of the Sava and Danube rivers; they got Dalmatia in 1815, with Venice. Although the Powers wanted to preserve the status quo, the years up to 1878 saw the independence of Greece in 1830, Serbia in 1833, Montenegro in 1860 and Romania in 1861. These countries tried to form an alliance against Turkey in 1868 but it collapsed; the idea was to be revived successfully in 1912.

In 1875 Serbia went to war against the Ottomans and lost. Russia redressed the balance in 1877-8 and imposed the Treaty of San Ste-fano. This provided in particular for a large Bulgaria, nominally independent but meant to be a Russian satellite. It also gave Rus-sia the right to sail warships through the Straits. Austria-Hungary did not want such Russian influence in its backyard, and Britain did not want Russia, the main threat to its empire, to increase its reach. The Powers obliged Russia to come to the Congress of Berlin and accept a small Bulgaria with a German prince and under Turkish suzerainty. Austria-Hungary was given a protectorate over Bosnia-Herzegovina. So Russia remained largely excluded from the Balkans. It also had to forego freedom of passage of the Straits.

In 1908 the Young Turks forced the Sultan to proclaim a constitu-tional régime with an elected parliament. This might have meant that the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, still nominally Turkish ter-ritory, would be invited to send representatives to Istanbul while they could not send any to Vienna. Austria-Hungary's Foreign Mini-ster, Aehrenthal, wanted anyway to pursue an active policy and saw a way out of this embarrassment: annexation. Other, specious, argu-ments were the need to secure the defence of Dalmatia and increase investment in the territory; and, according to Brigitte Hamann, to give a present for Franz Joseph's diamond jubilee. (The Young Turks' putsch also encouraged Bulgaria to renounce the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire and Crete to join Greece.) At the same time Austria-Hungary vacated the Sanjak of Novi Bazar, where it had the right to station troops, in order, Aehrenthal said, to reduce the risk of getting involved in Balkan complications.

The annexation was a blunder. It increased the Monarchy's already large Slav population: in 1914 this accounted for 47% of the total. It infuriated Russia, it provoked Serbia and Montenegro and the South Slavs within the Monarchy. And it caused Germany to make a misjudgement, which it was prone to do in matters of foreign poli-cy: it threw its weight behind Austria-Hungary and imposed a humi-liation on Russia, which in consequence decided on major improve-ments in the quantity and quality of its armed forces. But by now Germany was no longer indifferent to the Balkans, for since the late 1890's it had been developing the project for the Baghdad railway to link Europe with the Persian Gulf, as well as aiming for commercial benefits in the Ottoman Empire. Whether these projects were realistic given Germany's lack of capital (its spare money went into investment at home and the forces), the poor condition of Turkey and the opposition of other countries is hard to say, but they had great emotional importance. Germany could not allow the Balkans - the gateway to the Middle East - to fall into hostile hands or influence. And Austria-Hungary was no longer valuable sim-ply as the only loyal ally: it was the key to the Balkans. It could not be expected to survive indefinitely, but for Germany it was vi-tal to maintain it for as long as possible. Here were interests to be defended by force if necessary. For the Kaiser there was also the need to show solidarity with his fellow Emperor and respect for his grey hair.

There was moreover the question of what was going to happen to the Ottoman Empire: would its decline continue, even to the point of collapse? or would the Young Turks pull it round? Germany became committed to preserving it as a potential market and military ally in spite of its political and economic weakness.

For Russia too the Balkans were vital, not just out of solidarity with the Slav populations. It could not afford to have the Straits under the control of a potentially hostile Power: the bulk of its exports took this route and Russia felt pain in 1911 when Turkey closed the Straits to it. For the freedom of the Straits it was worth going to war. Russia knew that it did not have the strength to seize the Straits and a ministerial committee established this in February 1914. But if the Central Powers were to seek to extend their influence in the Balkans Russia could not stand idly by. Given its weakness, it would have been logical for it to take care not to disturb the peace in the Balkans and provoke intervention by the Central Powers nor to hasten the decline of Turkey, but it did the exact opposite.

It is not clear when it began masterminding Serbia: it may have had a hand in the bloody coup which overthrew the Obrenovic dynasty in 1903 in favour of the nationalistic Peter Karageorgevic. Nationa-lism was anyway in the air: all the Balkan states were arming, partly against the outside world, partly against each other. Serbia started shrill propaganda against Austria-Hungary which rose to a crescendo after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina: an underta-king to desist from this and from fomenting hostile activities was imposed on Serbia by the Powers as part of the 1909 settlement. The Narodna Obrana was accordingly disbanded - but the clandestine Black Hand, headed by a serving general, immediately took its place. Russia supplied arms and its Legate, the strongly anti-Habsburg Hartvig, was in the government's confidence. How far he encouraged Serbia - Vienna thought a great deal - is not clear, nor how far he was acting on his own initiative. But it is evident that Russia did not throw its considerable weight on the side of re-straint, as would have been prudent.

In September 1911 Italy invaded Libya with a view to annexing it from Turkey. This prompted the Balkan states (not Romania) in March 1912 to form an alliance under Russia's auspices. It went to war against Turkey in October and this forced Turkey to make peace with Italy. The Balkan states were immediately victorious and signed an armistice in December, having taken all Turkey's European territory except for a small strip around Constantinople. Vienna reacted ve-hemently, in particular to Serbian occupation of part of Albania, which had just been declared a state (November 1912). A conference of the Powers' ambassadors in London was called under the chairman-ship of Sir Edward Grey. Its work was briefly interrupted when, after a coup by the Young Turks, fighting resumed. An agreement was signed in May 1913 confirming most of the allies' conquests and the existence of an independent Albania. Bulgaria was dissatisfied with its share of the spoils and went to war against Greece and Serbia and was defeated; Turkey seized some territory and Romania too - it had been negotiating for compensation for its neutrality. An armi-stice was signed in August and the Treaty of Bucharest in December.

All this was bad for Austria-Hungary. Bulgaria, no great friend of Russia, was weakened severely - but it did at least now look to-wards Vienna. Albania, which was seen as a potential opponent of Serbia, was under constant threat from Serbia and Montenegro al-though in 1913 the Powers forced the withdrawal of Montenegro, and Austria-Hungary, with Germany's support, forced the withdrawal of Serbia (October). Italy had designs on Albania too. But by far the worst was that hostile Serbia had nearly doubled in size and in-creased accordingly in national spirit, and was fanning irreden-tism among the Monarchy's South Slavs. These had been increasingly restive, most of all the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but even Hun-gary's Croats were taking to violence.

Austro-Hungarian thoughts turned to suppressing Serbia by force: Germany had at last stopped being a restraint and the strong line on the Albanian question had been a success. The military had long been advocating this, but now even the cautious Foreign Minister, Berchtold, was talking of a show-down. What force could achieve was never made clear: there would still be much the same number of hos-tile Slavs in the world and their desire to form a single state for all their people would only increase. But the fear was that without strong action the South Slav populations would become ungovernable, and the nationalist disease would spread to all the minority peo-ples if Austria-Hungary did not take strong action to control it: the domino theory.

In Europe at that time it was legitimate to go to war to defend vi-tal interests and perhaps even aggressively to acquire desired pri-zes. Austria-Hungary had a special mentality, as did the two other autocracies. The Emperor ruled by the grace of God (Gottes-gnadentum); he had a sacred duty to hold on to the territories en-

trusted to him and could not negotiate any part of them away; but it was legitimate to lose them in war, no matter how foolish - as Franz Joseph lost Italian territory in 1859 and 1866. And if it came to the crunch it was better to go down fighting rather than live on in ignominy. So, if the Monarchy saw itself faced with the probability that its empire would dissolve if nothing were done, but with a faint chance of saving it by war, even if this war would be a European one that might well end in disaster, then war was the right course. All the suffering that would be entailed was not considered.

This attitude would have been self-evident to the Tsar, weird though it is to us, for his mind-set was the same. Yet Russia worked systematically over a period of years to create this situa-tion in which Austria-Hungary was likely to go to war against Rus-sia's Slav and Orthodox brother Serbia, a war in which its public opinion would not allow it to stand idly by, which the system of alliances and ententes would probably make general and for which it was absolutely not prepared. France has a share of responsibility. It could have refrained from selling arms to the Serbs and, more important, as the provider of massive loans it could have told Russia to behave itself in the Balkans.



Chapter 11: Diplomacy and arms 1897-1913

The arms race has entered into the general consciousness as a, if not the, cause of the War. This view was propagated, for instance, by Sir Edward Grey who was in a position to know. But it was not quite like that: the picture of all the European states building up their arsenals until they just had to be used is not correct. In fact only Germany went into the war adequately armed - and with manpower below the levels that conscription could have provided.

There was certainly a naval arms race, started by Germany in 1897/8 from a low base and responded to by Britain from a high one. Both parties invested heavily in more, bigger and better warships. And Germany's bill of 1912 raised the temperature further by providing for a big increase in manpower and thus in the navy's readiness. The naval arms race was just one factor out of several which per-suaded Britain to drop its ideas of rapprochement with Germany and to enter into the Ententes instead - with France in 1904 and with Russia in 1907. As the years went by the heat began to go out of the question: Britain got used to living with a Germany that had a growing navy. By 1914 it was hardly contentious, particularly as from 1911 the thrust of Germany's extra military expenditure was increasingly devoted to the land forces.

In those days perhaps half of government expenditure was applied to the military, significantly more for the continental Powers if in-vestment in strategic railways is taken into account. It was hard to find the money when other calls on government money were rising - education, health, pensions - and today's levels of taxation were unimaginable. So the military never got what they wanted. And they needed a lot just to keep up with technology: not only in the area of weapons but in completely new developments such as submarines, wireless and telephones, cars, lorries and aeroplanes and even field kitchens. It was a struggle just to keep more or less up to date. This would describe military expenditure in the years up to 1911, with one general exception and one particular one. Powers involved in wars had to spend more while they were in progress and continue to do so for some while in order to rebuild supplies: Russia with the Japanese War, Britain with the Boer War and Italy with the Turkish War. But Russia was a special case, for after its humiliation in 1909 over Bosnia-Herzegovina it realised that it needed stronger forces - not just better equipped but also better organised. To be a credible Power and maintain its position at the conference table it had to appear able and willing to uphold its position by force. It set appropriate measures in hand. But while war was an acceptable ultima ratio, the general aim was to avoid it through diplomacy and in particular through the conference system which had maintained peace since 1878. In 1909 Russia was not harbouring aggressive thoughts.

The successive crises in 1905-6, 1908-9 and 1911 had a ratcheting effect and the Balkan Wars 1912-13 caused alarm - it was apprecia-ted that the region could easily precipitate a general war. Not only Russia felt the need not to go naked into the conference chamber: after its fiasco in Morocco in 1911 Germany felt that it must have the strength to impose its will. It was also nervous of France's reviving national spirit and of Russia'a military pro-gramme. So in 1912 it legislated for a 6% increase in the army's manpower to 543,000 - parliament would gladly have voted for more - and expanded naval manpower and also maintained a big naval buil-ding programme. But immediately there was agitation for substantial increases and a bill was drafted on 4-5 December 1912. The date is important because on the 8th the Kaiser held an informal council of war in which he urged immediate preparations for war against Russia and France and invasion of Britain. Moltke was all in favour but Tirpitz persuaded the meeting to wait for eighteen months so that his fleet would be better prepared and the deepening of the Kiel canal would allow it to pass into the North Sea. (Thanks to Sara-jevo the timetable was kept.) But the army's spending plans were already being prepared and in May 1913 Germany adopted a law rai-sing the army's strength rapidly to 890,000 and massively increa-sing matériel - in response to the Balkan situation, it said, and not as a threat to any particular state.


Even Austria-Hungary, which over the centuries had always failed to support its policies with appropriate forces, voted in 1912 for some increase over a period of years, after overcoming Hungarian opposition. But, true to form, it did not match its growing belief in the inevitability of war with equivalent military measures. Its policy was to rely on Germany. The absurd situation had been crea-ted whereby Germany was involved willy-nilly in the Monarchy's Bal-kan problems - but the Monarchy became Germany's puppet and in 1914 felt obliged to take a strong line against Serbia partly for fear of losing Germany's support.

France reacted to Germany's May 1913 measures after fierce debate, by restoring service from two years to three - a heavy human and economic burden with a man's expectation of life only sixty years, but France's biggest weakness was the disproportion in population, nearly 2:1 in favour of Germany. The numbers looked very different if Russia was added in, but Russians would not be fighting in the West. The longer service was to be phased in and would not benefit France's fighting strength fully until 1916 and in the short term would cause disruption. The authority for corresponding expenditure on weapons was not passed until 15 July 1914 because of arguments about how it was to be financed. The extent of France's military weakness was made known to all the world on 13 July 1914 when Sena-tor Humbert's report was published.

Russia reacted too, with a Great Programme for the next five years which began to take effect early in 1914 but would not make Russia a force to be reckoned with until 1916 at the earliest. Germany was however alarmed and believed that by 1918 at the latest Russia would go to war over the Balkans and the Straits; it underestimated Russia's lack of industry, educated manpower and infrastructure even though these lacks were being addressed. For military hardware Russia was already approaching self-sufficiency. The time could be foreseen, even if it was not imminent, when Russia would be a superpower - and one with interests incompatible with Germany's.

Britain's military doings were important for the conduct of the War but not for its start. Haldane's army reforms, the plans for the expeditionary force to France, the necessary combined forces plan-ning which started when Churchill took over the Admiralty in 1911, liaison with France: all this might have given Germany pause but didn't. It has been argued that if Britain had made a clear commit-ment to France, Germany would have stayed its hand. This is unlike-ly, for Moltke regarded the British army as negligible and he said he would welcome its arrival in France so that he could destroy it. Also a clear stand was not possible, for there was no majority for one in the cabinet, in parliament or the country, apart from which in 1914 Grey hoped that if Britain kept aloof it could act as ho-nest broker.

A theme of this chapter has been the relationship between diplomacy and arms. The conference system had not done a bad job, starting with Vienna in 1814-15 which had managed to satisfy everybody that mattered. But later conferences tended to have losers. Russia lost at Berlin in 1878, Germany lost at Algeciras in 1906. There weren't conferences in 1909 and 1911 because these were exercises in power. The London conference on the Balkans was an apparent success but it left Austria-Hungary feeling hard done by in spite of support for its position on Albania. A particular problem for the Central Powers was that they were in the minority when their ally Italy voted with their opponents. In short, Germany and Austria-Hungary no longer believed that their interests could be secured by diplo-macy, and they had to resort to Clausewitz' other means.

There are two points to make in relation to these other means. Since the French Revolution the continental countries had main-tained conscription (Prussia since the 17th century), partly for military reasons, partly for social ones. It was believed that a period of at least two years was needed for training, so if all eligible males were enlisted the result would be enormous armies. Even with selective conscription as practised in Germany (not only in order to keep numbers within bounds but also to avoid recruiting socialists from industrial towns who might infect the entire army) or in Russia where influence and corruption reduced numbers sub-stantially, the armies were vast. When the temperature rose it was easy for Germany to increase numbers sharply just by reducing ex-emptions. So it approached the War with nearly 1m men under arms. It, like most countries including France and Russia also had a sys-tem of reserves and militia which made the mobilisable strength much greater still. So the real race was in manpower where France was handicapped by its relatively small and stagnant population.

Even more important was readiness. Russia's vast manpower was more potential than actual, but Germany could go to war at a day's no-

tice. This fact was of crucial importance in 1914 and it meant that the scope for diplomacy was drastically reduced.



Chapter 12: The Schlieffen Plan

The Plan was worked out while Schlieffen was Chief of the General Staff, completed in 1905, the year in which he retired, and issued in 1906. It provided for the concentration of virtually all the ar-my on a narrow front: it would sweep through neutral Holland and Belgium, past Paris and encircle the French forces. The rest of the French front and the eastern front would be defended only lightly. The Plan was a gamble aiming at immediate total victory and its success would depend on speed: that is, for it to work Germany had to make the first move. But it was only an option.

The Plan may at first have been not much more than an academic exercise intended to demonstrate that the army needed greater re-sources and that the possibility existed for surpassing the ele-gance of Old Moltke's victory at Sedan, which itself was compared to Hannibal's defeat of the Romans at Cannae. The desire for a quick conclusion stemmed from the belief that no Power, including Germany, could stand the economic consequences of a general war for more than six months. Although the Plan was open to severe strate-gic objections, it may also have been prompted by the hatred of the French which was fuelled from 1871 onwards by the celebration of Sedan Day as a national day with a large dose of anti-French fee-ling, although there were on the whole no grounds for this. Major Zuber's argument that Schlieffen's plan was never formally adopted and that what Moltke did in 1914 was materially different need not concern us now: I apply the term Schlieffen Plan to the original and also to the modified version adopted in 1913 and implemented in August 1914, for they were the same in essence.

Moltke aimed to reduce to reduce the risks in the Schlieffen Plan: the forces south of Luxembourg and in the east were made somewhat stronger, and Dutch territory was to be respected in order to pre-serve a neutral Holland with its ports in case the war turned out to be a long one. He was attacked subsequently for making these changes on the grounds that the thrust through France was made with too few men. It was indeed, but this was because neither Schlieffen nor Moltke had the troops for the sweep to the west of Paris that Schlieffen envisaged. As things were, the failure was due not to Moltke's changes but to Belgian resistance, British involvement, and the exhaustion of his men as well as the heroic and brilliant defence of Paris by the French. The extra troops in the east secured the victory at Tannenberg, and those on the French front were able to repel the French counter-attack. Moltke also added to the Plan an immediate assault on the fortress at Liège, reducing to zero the scope for diplomacy once the decision for war had been taken. For Germany now mobilisation really did mean war.

In April 1913 the General Staff decided to abandon its planning for the only alternative - a major offensive on the eastern front - and to concentrate on the Schlieffen Plan. This decision was not con-sistent with a defensive stance nor does the denuding of the vul-nerable eastern front accord with a real fear of Russian aggres-sion: an attack by Russia, although unlikely, was conceivable, but an attack by France lay outside the bounds of probability. And even if Russia were to attack, France would not necessarily be drawn in,

for the Entente was purely defensive. So the decision implied a commitment to a preventive war, that is, one started by Germany. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg and Foreign Secretary Jagow learnt about the decision in 1913; if they protested it was without result. The Kaiser was probably informed too but by July 1914 had evidently forgotten. And all three learnt about Liège at that time.



Chapter 13: Sarajevo: the Central Powers react

As 1914 opened, Europe seemed set for a period of peace. The London Conference had brought the Balkan Wars to a conclusion with appa-rent harmony between all the Powers, and if trouble were to brew again, as was entirely possible, the Conference would no doubt cope. Anglo-German relations were good: the parties had learnt to live with naval rivalry; Britain had at last agreed to co-operate with Germany on the Baghdad railway and it had repeated its support for Germany to take over Portugal's African colonies if these should be put up for sale, with the possiblity of similar support if the Belgian Congo were to be on offer. The other Powers were of course aware that Germany's military planning was based on attac-king France through Belgium - just through the south-east corner, they thought - but did not attach much immediate relevance to it. The appointment in November 1913 of Germany's General Liman von Sanders not only as adviser to the Turkish army but also as comman-der of its 1st Corps had caused a stir, but the command was re-signed in January 1914. Russia had however wondered about Germany's intentions.

When amateur assassins murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne, together with his morganatic wife, in Sara-jevo on 28 June 1914, there was horror but no concern amongst the Entente which was not aware of what the Central Powers immediately began to prepare.

On 1 July Viktor Naumann, a German journalist with access to high levels in both Berlin and Vienna, had a meeting with Count Alexan-der Hoyos, chef de cabinet to Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Fo-reign Minister, and later with Berchtold himself. According to Hoyos' minute, Naumann said that Germany was alarmed by Russia's arms programme and there was talk of a preventive war; Stumm, Director of the Political Department in the Foreign Ministry, had spoken of the danger and of the war which Germany could have when-ever it wanted. Naumann urged Austria-Hungary to take the opportu-nity created by Sarajevo, for even the Foreign Office judged the moment opportune for provoking the great decision (which can only have meant war with Russia). At Hoyos' request Naumann undertook to check with Stumm that Germany would indeed cover the Monarchy's back. Austria-Hungary's decision to take military action against Serbia had however already been taken in principle - but in the be-lief that the war could be kept local. The information that Germany was prepared for a European war was ignored.

Until this point Germany's policy had in general been to restrain Austria-Hungary from adventures in the Balkans and there are no re-cords documenting the change, nor was it communicated adequately. On 30 June Ambassador Tschirschky spoke to Berchtold on the basis of the old policy. The Kaiser received his report on 2 July and minuted angrily that "the Serbs must be dealt with, and soon." So his position was clear at the time Naumann was in Vienna. We can only guess what was in his mind - perhaps nothing more than solidarity with Franz Joseph and no thought about what this could entail. But he must have known that Moltke wanted war even if Bethmann re-garded it as only one of the probable, acceptable outcomes - the other was a diplomatic defeat for Russia that would leave it dis-credited and powerless in the Balkans.

Characteristically Austria-Hungary took no steps to prepare the ar-my for action nor did it think about what would happen afterwards: cura posteriora, said Berchtold. But it needed to be sure of Ger-many's support. Franz Joseph wrote a letter to Wilhelm dated 2 July (drafted by Hoyos, presumably the previous day,) saying that Serbia must be suppressed as a political force in the Balkans and enclo-sing a turgid memorandum from the Foreign Ministry advocating the development of Bulgaria as a counterpoise to Serbia. These papers were taken to Berlin by Hoyos and handed over by the Austro-Hunga-rian Ambassador on 5 July. The Kaiser agreed immediately to support Franz Joseph in whatever he thought fit to do; constitutionally this decision (the blank cheque) needed the Chancellor's endorse-ment which was provided next day. Before the meeting on the 5th Wilhelm had a number of one-to-one discussions with ministers and senior officers but no general meeting. There are no written re-cords of the individual discussions: because of their informal na-ture it is not surprising that not everything was noted, but in that literate age it would have been odd if nothing had been put on paper. Purging of the records must be suspected.

The Kaiser was urged to go ahead with his planned cruise starting in Kiel on the 6th, probably as much in order to keep him out of the loop as to avoid raising the Entente's suspicions. He was cer-tainly aware of the possibility of war.

The standpoints of the three leading actors in Germany are clear from their own words.

- The Kaiser said to Krupp in Kiel that Germany would declare war as soon as Russia mobilised and this time he would not back down (as he had done in 1905-6 and in 1911).

- Bethmann:

- addressing the Reichstag 3 August 1914: "In doing this (giving the blank cheque) we were well aware that any warlike proceeding by Austria-Hungary against Serbia could bring Russia into the picture and thereby, in accordance with our commitments as allies, involve us in a war."

- speaking to Kurt Riezler, his private secretary, on 8 July 1914: "If the war doesn't come, if the Tsar doesn't want it or if France in consternation advises peace, then we still have the pro-spect of manoeuvering the Entente apart over this action." That is, war was the first preference and a diplomatic victory would be only a second-best.

- speaking to Conrad Haussmann in late 1917: "Yes, oh God, it was in a certain sense a preventive war. But if war was hanging over us, if in two years' time it would come in much more dangerous and inescapable form, and if the military say that now it is still pos-sible without being defeated, but this would no longer be the case in two years' time! Yes, the military!"

- Moltke:

- in a report dated 5 August 1914 the Bavarian Legate in Berlin wrote to the Chairman of the Bavarian Council of Ministers: "I have just learnt that Gen. von Moltke spoke about the situation today as follows. He had the most definite knowledge that Russia, Great Bri-tain and France had agreed and were preparing a war of aggression against Germany in 1917. He regarded Russia as the leader of the plot. It could be considered a stroke of fortune that the murder in Sarajevo had exploded the mine laid by the three Powers at a moment when France was not prepared and Russia was undergoing a transition."

- in a letter to Field Marshall Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz dated 14 June 1915: "In this war, which I prepared and initiated, to be condemned to inactivity is ghastly."

But Moltke and Bethmann had different positions. Moltke was inte-rested only in war, with the hope of removing for many years if not for ever the threat which he saw from the combined forces of France and Russia. He did not take Britain seriously as a land force al-though he was aware that a British naval blockade would be dange-rous. Bethmann believed that the involvement of Britain in a war would tilt the scales against Germany, so it was vital to ensure that Britain stayed neutral, at least for the six weeks supposedly needed to defeat France. This hope was not compatible with the Schlieffen Plan - an invasion of Belgium was virtually certain to bring Britain in - and his stance is hard to understand.

Berlin took no steps to prepare for war such as building up sup-plies - the army was always ready - presumably in order not to arouse suspicion but also out of disagreement about how this would be financed. The documents show little activity after 6 July; Austria-Hungary was encouraged to take action and to do so soon, but there is nothing in them that could be called pressure. How-ever, Berchtold declared after the War in a chance encounter with Lichnowsky, German Ambassador in London 1912-14, that he would never have taken such a hard line against Serbia if he had not been constantly pressed to do so by Berlin.

Austria-Hungary's fear of losing Germany as an ally if it did not heed this pressure was a factor in its decision to go to war.

If Austria-Hungary had had the will and the means to launch an im-mediate and successful invasion of Serbia it might have been pos-sible to keep the war local, which would have pleased the Kaiser, but this will was absent. So were the means for beating the Serbs, as events were to show.



Chapter 14: Austria-Hungary crawls into action

Policy was decided by the Foreign Minister as primus inter pares together with the Prime Ministers of Austria and Hungary and the joint Finance and War Ministers, and endorsed by the Emperor. A meeting on 7 July decided on military action against Serbia but Tisza, the Hungarian Premier, dissented. Berchtold reported to the Emperor, on holiday in Ischl, and took with him a memorandum set-ting out Tisza's views. These were that hard demands should made on Serbia, but not so hard as to be unacceptable; the Serbian state could be weakened and diminished but not destroyed; and on no ac-count should its territory be annexed - the Monarchy had more than enough Slavs already. The Emperor's minute: ad acta. Immediate ac-tion was not envisaged anyway as Austria-Hungary wanted to assemble a dossier for presentation to the Powers. It fell between two stools: it had the choice of going to war promptly (which it was not in a position to do) and hoping to keep the matter local, or going down the legalistic route, which was more congenial, and ap-pealing to the Powers with the dossier - but it had no confidence in conferences and was therefore set on war. So it started off in a state of mental confusion.

Tisza was won over and a meeting on 14 July agreed to send a stiff Note (it was not called an ultimatum for there was no "or else" attached) such that war could be expected - and Serbia's humilia-tion would be complete if it accepted the Note. This would be de-livered on 23 July: France's President Poincaré and Premier Viviani were on a visit to Russia and were due to leave Petersburg that evening, so the two Powers would not be able to concert their re-sponse - presumably a vigorous and unwelcome one, under the influ-ence of the supposed firebrand Poincaré and against the inclina-tions of the peace-loving Tsar.

This may have been a miscalculation, for France was not bellicose. In 1912 Poincaré had gone to great lengths to make it clear to Russia that, while France would back it unreservedly if it was attacked by Germany or its allies, as required by their agreement, Russia could not count on support in other circumstances unless consent had first been obtained. This is very far from the blank cheque that German apologists made out of these statements. Now, at the end of July the French socialist government tried to restrain Russia from mobilising but its message arrived too late. Poincaré himself had a lively awareness of the threat from Germany and might not have urged restraint had the Note been delivered while he was in Petersburg. It is also likely that he briefed the French Ambas-sador to ensure that Russia mobilised promptly if the threat mate-rialised. But Russia was indeed restrained at first and it urged Serbia to adopt a conciliatory stance.

On the 19th Berchtold chaired a ministerial meeting which agreed the text of the Note. It was sent to Giesl, the Ambassador (strict-ly, the Legate - then the title ambassador was used only for the most important posts) in Belgrade for handing over at 5 pm (later changed to 6pm because of a delay to the planned departure of the French from Petersburg) on the 23rd. A reply was required within 48 hours and if Serbia did not accept the Note in full, Giesl was not to enter into discussions but break off relations immediately.

The Monarchy's slow progress carried with it two dangers that Berchtold was conscious of: public opinion might cool down and - Germany shared this concern - the other Powers might be able to im-pose mediation. But this time-table made it possible for Austria-Hungary to send via its ambassadors a lengthy brief for handing over to their host governments on the 24th together with a copy of the Note. The German Ambassador in Vienna was given a copy of the Note on the 21st - it could hardly have been provided much earlier as the text had not been settled until the 19th - and forwarded it to Berlin. But Berchtold recorded more than once that Berlin had been kept fully on board, thus in a letter to the Ambassador in Rome posted on the 23rd: "...our intention to take very energetic steps, agreed with Berlin, against Serbia."

The Note took as its starting point the declaration that Serbia had been forced to make to the Powers in 1909 that it would not con-duct, encourage or allow activities - words or deeds - hostile to Austria-Hungary. As Serbia had failed to do so and as Franz Fer-dinand's assassination had been made possible by Serbian officials, Austria-Hungary felt obliged to make a number of demands, in particular that a re-affirmation of the 1909 declaration should be published in official gazettes, guilty persons should be pro-secuted, Serbia should allow Austro-Hungarian officials to join in the investigation in Serbia and the press should be prevented from making attacks on Austria-Hungary. The Note required an answer within 48 hours but did not specify any further action by Austria-Hungary.



Chapter 15: Austria-Hungary's bombshells

When Europe's governments - not Germany's - read the Note they were horrified: for example, Sir Edward Grey said that in his long expe-rience he had never seen a state make such demands on another. But he hoped that mediation by the Powers not directly involved would be possible: Germany, France, Italy and Russia. What heightened the shock was that the crisis had been expected to blow over, or at worst be the subject of yet another conference. Only the Russian Foreign Minister, Sasonov, immediately recognised that the Note meant war, although he took some time to draw conclusions. He asked Austria-Hungary to extend the deadline for Serbia's reply and was told that the Powers had been informed as a courtesy but their com-ments had not been invited. France could not react as its leaders were at sea. Italy showed the first sign of the sacro egoismo that would guide its policy: it told Austria-Hungary that it would ex-pect territorial compensation if Austria-Hungary occupied Serbian territory even temporarily, as stipulated by the Triple Alliance paragraph (7) - an interpretation of the agreement denied by Austria-Hungary but endorsed by Germany.

The Serbs had difficulty in reacting to the Note at all: relevant ministers were not in Belgrade and Premier Pacic was electioneering in the south of the country, but a ministerial committee was assem-bled to draft a reply, in a race against time. The document that was handed to Giesl at 17.58 on the 25th was hot from the type-writer with a number of manual alterations. The first draft had been not far short of a simple acceptance, but successive revisions resulted in the final version which can be regarded as a master-piece of drafting: it read like an acceptance with qualifications that were slight and understandable. The Kaiser, who did not see it until the morning of the 28th, thought Giesl should have accepted it. But his instructions were: unequivocal acceptance or break off relations. So, soon after 18.00 he and his staff made the short train journey across the Danube to Semlin in Hungarian territory, from where he was able to report to Vienna.

Serbia must have had doubts about the acceptability of the Reply, for at 15.00 on the 25th it ordered mobilisation. It is a mystery why the original draft was rejected. It cannot have been influenced by the Russian Ambassador, Hartvig, for he had died (in the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador's office) on 10 July, and the Chargé was strongly aware of Serbia's need for peace after the two Balkan Wars. Ever since the assassination Russia had urged Serbia to be conciliatory, even to the point of accepting military occupation. Clearly a bland reply accepting everything would have been the best tactic: Austria-Hungary could not go to war then and if it objected later to Serbia's non-performance, it would not be able to do very much as the heat would have gone out of the situation. The Reply may simply have been a piece of Serbian bloody-mindedness which is something that people who have not been exposed to the Serbs cannot imagine although events in the Balkans in the last years do give some idea. Certainly there was no official message from Russia: there is only a conjecture that the Serbian Ambassador heard pro-Serbian statements in Petersburg and sent an encouraging cable to Belgrade. Certainly the Reply in its final version shows devilish cunning: it appeared an acceptance to everybody except Austria-Hungary who rejected it and was immediately in the wrong. But the consequence could only be war.

It is also possible that Serbia believed that it could resist an Austro-Hungarian attack: in a telegram to St Petersburg on 27 July it asked for arms but expressed confidence. And rightly: in two campaigns in late 1914 Austria-Hungary was to be routed.

Austria-Hungary immediately prepared the Declaration of War on Ser-bia and also drafted a Proclamation to his peoples by Franz Joseph - his comments on this show that he was by no means gaga.



Chapter 16: The Russians react 25-27 July

Russia accepted that Austria-Hungary was entitled to some satisfac-tion from Serbia but understood from the Note that war was inten-ded, and deduced that this could only be with the encouragement of Germany. It therefore began to prepare accordingly although it still hoped for a negotiated settlement. On 24 July it decided to advise Serbia not to resist if attacked. On the 25th, before the news of the rejection of Serbia's Reply that day reached Peters-burg, the government issued a statement saying it could not remain indifferent, implying military support for Serbia. (The German Am-bassador had already been warned by Sasonov, on 21 July, that "La politique de la Russie est pacifique mais pas passive".) The Fo-reign Ministry instructed its Ambassador in Vienna to urge Berch-told to authorise his Ambassador in Petersburg to explore with Sa-sonov demands that Serbia could meet, and drafted a letter for the Tsar to send to King George V requesting Britain to use its influ-ence to maintain the status quo in the Balkans, for it looked as if Austria-Hungary was set on the destruction of Serbia, and the pos-sibility of European war must be taken into account. The Tsar gave the instruction for measures preparatory to mobilisation to start that night. Mobilisation would not follow automatically. In the following days many reports about military movements flowed into Berlin.

On the 26th the General Staff drafted papers for the Tsar to sign, one ordering general mobilisation, the other partial (against Austria-Hungary alone).

Did mobilisation automatically mean attack? This had been Russia's doctrine and was certainly Germany's. And if partial mobilisation was a complete nonsense - there was no plan for it and it would on-ly confuse any subsequent general mobilisation, and if Germany was not to feel threatened, the angle between the German and Austro-Hungarian frontiers would have to be left bare and vulnerable - why did the General Staff propose it? In 1922 General Dobrorolski, in charge of mobilisation in 1914, published an essay saying it was a nonsense but his chiefs did not appreciate this until 28 July. He also said that mobilisation did mean attack. These statements are surprising and one might suspect that the article was spurious, but comments on it by Danilov, who had been Quartermaster-General, indicate that it was genuine.

Dobrorolski also maintained that the preparatory measures were just that: not a man was mobilised nor a horse commandeered, even if in a few cases excessive zeal did cause preparations to go beyond what had been authorised. This statement has not been accepted by all historians.



Chapter 17: Germany stonewalls and prepares 19-28 July

Germany's public stance was that it was not involved in Austria-Hungary's dispute with Serbia and therefore could not comment on what its ally was likely to do. On the 21st, following the publica-tion of Austria-Hungary's report on Sarajevo, ambassadors were in-structed that while its ally's cause was just, Germany hoped that the dispute could be kept local. This remained its official posi-tion, although it expected a European war to result from an Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia.

When the Ambassador in Turkey reported that he had responded dis-couragingly to soundings about an alliance, the Kaiser, evidently expecting war, said the approach should be welcomed as Germany now needed every available rifle. A treaty was signed on 2 August.

Grey had been proposing mediation since the 24th; he was not con-cerned about the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia but feared that this could involve all the Powers and action was needed to ensure that this did not happen. Germany was urging Austria-Hungary to get on with military action as it feared that mediation might become unavoidable. It gave non-committal replies to Grey. At first it said that it could not support a conference because this would be dragging its ally in front of a court; then on the 27th it passed on to Austria-Hungary a message from Grey with the rider that Germany did not support it; then a message was sent on to Tschirschky, Ambassador in Vienna, with no instruction at all; and later still that day Bethmann forwarded to him a telegram from Lichnowsky, Ambassador in London, reporting Grey as saying that Germany should at least use its influence with Austria-Hungary to stop it going to war against Serbia, for this would provoke Russian intervention; he had already endeavoured to keep Russia cool and now Germany must do its bit. Bethmann commented that it was neces-sary to do something, otherwise the conflagration (he takes it for granted that there will be one) would appear to be Germany's fault and this would create an impossible situation for the government with the German people.

The Kaiser returned to Berlin on the 27th but did not see the Reply until the following morning. He minuted that every ground for war had fallen away and Giesl should have kept calm and stayed in Bel-grade. But that very morning, the 28th, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia (it had informed Germany of its intention the day before) and ordered partial mobilisation, so it was too late for the Kaiser's opinion to be acted on. It had already told Germany that it would not be able to move against Serbia until 12 August.

In Berlin the military began preparing for war when the leaders (Moltke, Quartermaster-General Waldersee and Tirpitz) returned from their holidays on the 26th but events were still being directed by the politicians. Late on the 28th Bethmann set out his cynical at-titude in a cable to Tschirschky: he does not know what Austria-Hungary is doing; its delay risks mediation, and for the German government an untenable position at home and guilt in the event of war; it is essential that responsibility for an extension of hosti-lities beyond the countries directly concerned should lie with Russia; but on no account give Vienna the impression that Berlin is trying to restrain it.



Chapter 18: 28-31 July Russia orders mobilisation

On 28 July the Chief of the General Staff warned senior commanders that the 30th would be the first day of general mobilisation --- pre-maturely, for it was only in the late afternoon of the 29th that the Tsar was asked by telephone to authorise this, which he did. Arrangements were made and cables sent to London and Paris. But France was not consulted as was required by an annex to the Franco-Russian treaty.

Meanwhile the Kaiser and the Tsar had been exchanging cables - the first ones crossed in the early hours of the 29th. The Kaiser's messages were drafted for him, competently; the style of the Tsar's suggests that he wrote his own....A cable from the Kaiser on the 29th saying that military measures by Russia would prevent his me-diation may have caused the Tsar's decision to change the order to partial mobilisation - a futile move, for Germany now objected to any mobilisation. The Kaiser, who was "everything by starts and no-thing long", had forgotten his council of war eighteen months before and now was sincerely trying to avoid a conflagration.

The Tsar's cable sent in the small hours of the 30th was a disas-ter: it spoke of the military measures decided five days ago, mea-ning the preparations. The Kaiser understood mobilisation and he was convinced that the Tsar had been deceiving him.

Sasonov may well have decided early on that Germany was planning aggression but in his discussions with diplomats he appeared open-minded, even suggesting that the crisis could be resolved with the right form of words. But he terminated a meeting with Ambassador Szápáry on the 29th when news of Austria-Hungary's futile bombard-ment of Belgrade arrived: this may have convinced him of the need to have general mobilisation. Sasonov's view of Germany's inten-tions was reinforced when its Ambassador delivered a peremptory exhortation to stop military preparations; the Russians understood him to say that otherwise Germany would mobilise and attack immediately.

The question of general versus partial mobilisation is confused. The fact that partial would handicap rather than help R's defence was clear: there was no plan, so there would be disorder; it would put troops in places different from those required by general mobi-lisation; and as the aim was to avoid provoking Germany it left bare the corner between Germany and Austria-Hungary. The general in charge of mobilisation, Dobrorolski, must have understood all this. If he tried to enlighten his superiors, he did not succeed at first, but by the morning of the 30th Sasonov as well as the War Minister and the Chief of the General Staff were convinced of the need for general mobilisation to be restored. After a telephone ap-proach to the Tsar had failed to move him, Sasonov with difficulty obtained an audience at 3 pm. It took an hour for him to wear down the Tsar with the argument that war was probable and partial mobi-lisation would leave Russia in a dangerous situation.

General mobilisation was announced in the streets on the 31st. The Tsar assured the Kaiser that this did not mean attack and wanted a similar assurance from the Kaiser, which was not given. The Tsar's assurance was certainly given in good faith, and common sense says, Dobrorolski notwithstanding, that it must indeed have been possible for the troops to go as far as the depots or even deployment with-out attack being automatic.

Austria-Hungary had announced that it would not annex any Serbian territory, so what did it want? This lack of aims would have ham-pered any negotiations. Earlier it had thought of distributing bits of new Serbia (the gains in the Balkan Wars) to neighbouring states but the resultant enlargement of Bulgaria would have been unaccep-table to Austria-Hungary's ally Romania. It declined to discuss the crisis with Russia and from the 28th its position was that there was no scope for discussion or mediation as there was now a state of war. But on the 30th Ambassador Szápáry was authorised to start discussions with Russia on matters affecting it - that is, not Ser-bia - but even so a step in the right direction.

Austria-Hungary ordered general mobilisation on the 31st and told Russia, truthfully, that this did not necessarily mean war.

Willy to Nicky that day: You mobilised but I am still trying to me-diate (not really: as soon as his government heard reports of Rus-sia's general mobilisation late on the 30th it stopped even preten-ding to press Austria-Hungary to accept mediation); I have now learnt of your full mobilisation and must now mobilise myself.

Germany's ultimatum arrived in Petersburg at about midnight on the 31st and gave twelve hours for a reply.



Chapter 19: A Franco-Russian communications gap?

President Poincaré and Prime & Foreign Minister Viviani sailed away from Petersburg in the evening of 23 July, just as the Austro-Hungarian Note was being delivered in Belgrade. Statesmen were still expecting the crisis to be resolved peacefully, so there had probably been little discussion of substance. The official communi-qué was bland and referred only to the need to preserve stability "in the East" --- the draft had said "in the Balkans". Anyway, the French could hardly have spoken with one voice, for Poincaré be-lieved that Germany presented a real threat and Viviani did not. On the Russian side Sasonov had a livelier perception of danger than the Tsar, as is shown by his immediate reaction to the text of the Note next day: he saw that it meant a European war. There may perhaps have been some informal discussion between Poincaré and Sasonov about the form the German threat would take (the Schlieffen Plan) and what might be done to counter it, but this seems im-probable, as the only meaningful counter would have been general mobilisation by Russia, yet partial mobilisation remained on the agenda for several days. More plausibly, Poincaré may have taken Ambassador Paléologue aside and said that it was his job, if the crisis took a turn for the worse, to keep the Russians up to scratch and that he, Poincaré, would protect him from the French government.

In the next days Paléologue, his government and the Russian govern-ment acted strangely. On the French side communications difficul-ties are not an explanation except on 30 July: telegrams took time to cypher and send but even at sea Poincaré and Viviani were not out of touch, and Acting Foreign Minister Bienvenu-Martin was accessible in Paris. The strange actions were not as clear cut as is sometimes made out but even after all possible allowances have been made the fact remains that their effect was to accelerate Russia's decision to mobilise.

Although Russia envisaged partial mobilisation as early as the 24th, at no time did it formally consult France about it, as was required by treaty. Paléologue may have believed that the matter was being handled by the the partners' military who were indeed in touch and that it was not necessary to draw Russia's attention to the need for it to consult. He certainly did not do so. And at no time did his government remind him about this.

Russia did inform the French and British ambassadors on the 24th of the possibility of mobilisation but Paléologue did not report about this --- and then not accurately - until late on the 25th when the de-cision for partial mobilisation and general preparatory measures had already been taken by the Tsar. Then and subsequently Sasonov may have been less than frank with him, and allowance must be made for the prevailing confusion, aggravated by the Tsar's indecision and Sasonov's mercurial temperament, but even so Paléologue's re-porting gives the impression of being deliberately slow and confusing, notably with regard to the decisions for general mobilisation.

On the 24th and again on the 28th Paléologue promised firm French backing although he had no instructions to this effect. This was no more than a re-affirmation of treaty obligations and would have been unexceptionable if accompanied by a reminder of the need to continue negotiating and to consult France if mobilisation was in-tended. On the latter occasion Paléologue gave this commitment ("he could officially declare the complete readinesss of France to ful-fil her obligations in the case of necessity") instead of what he had been instructed to say, namely that France would "support en-tirely, in the interests of the general peace, the actions of the Imperial government".

French government policy was to try to keep the Russians in a ne-gotiating posture and to refrain from provoking Germany. Whether Paléologue had specific instructions on this point is not clear, but he should not have needed any, and he was certainly aware of the need to avoid provocation. Anyway, he did not make the attempt.

Viviani did not remonstrate with Paléologue at any time. It is hard not to conclude that Poincaré was able to restrain him.


The key to all this is of course the Schlieffen Plan. For those who expected Germany to start a war in which it would first of all in-vade Belgium and France the imperative was to reduce the Germans' ability to implement the Plan. A threat to Germany by Russia was the obvious answer. So, once France and Russia were clear that Ger-many was set on war, Russia had to mobilise --- and not just mobi-lise, but attack as fast as it could. (This explains Dobrorolski's assertion that mobilisation meant attack --- for him, if not for the Tsar.) Leading actors had to ensure that this necessary action was not impeded by doves such as the French Prime Minister.

Russia ordered mobilisation and Germany started the war. This does not mean that Germany can be exonerated: it was intent on going to war in any case and Bethmann had succeeded only with difficulty in delaying the start of hostilities for a few hours in the hope that Russia would provide justification. If Russia had not mobilised, Germany would still have invaded Luxembourg, Belgium and France --- at most a day later, but with no justification that would bring the German people on board.

The Franco-Russian decisions were based on a realistic appraisal of Germany's intentions but it would have been better for the Ententes if Russia had not mobilised so promptly. Then the German government would have had no argument for selling the war to its people --- a point Bethmann was well aware of --- and without it, the people would not have had much commitment to the War. Indeed, even with this ar-gument the mass of the people, as distinct from the upper and in-tellectual classes, was lukewarm. Without this argument it might have been difficult for Germany to prosecute the War at all.



Chapter 20: Germany almost manages not to face in different directions 28-31 July

The military were preparing for imminent war - on the 26th Moltke had drafted an ultimatum requiring Belgium to give free passage to German troops and sent it to Foreign Secretary Jagow. The Kaiser's return the next day caused them concern, for he might prove wobbly, as he had done in the past. And indeed he did: he saw no grounds for Austria-Hungary to go to war with Serbia. His part in the Willy-Nicky exchanges seems sincere, likewise his proposal on the 28th, which chimed with a similar one from Grey the next day, that Austria-Hungary should not seek the destruction of Serbia but mere-ly occupy a part such as Belgrade and then negotiate. Bethmann was holding the balance between the military and the Kaiser and endea-vouring to delay hostilities until Russia could be shown to be the aggressor, but he did not want Austria-Hungary to get cold feet. So he passed the stop-in-Belgrade proposal on to Vienna (twelve hours later and without mentioning that the Kaiser was the originator and was willing to mediate between the Monarchy and Serbia) and sugges-ted that the proposal could provide a negotiating point with Russia.

In the night 29-30th Bethmann - having been told by Lichnowsky that, contrary to Bethmann's hope, Britain could not stand idly by if France was attacked - cabled Tschirschky to tell Berchtold that an inflexible attitude would not merely play badly before world opinion but would increase the risk that the Central Powers would stand alone against not just Russia and France but also Britain and Italy: Austria-Hungary therefore should not dismiss out of hand Grey's latest proposal for a four-Power conference. Tschirschky delivered the message "most emphatically". Later Bethmann pointed out to him that for Russia mobilisation certainly did not mean war and suggested direct talks with Russia as an alternative to the conference. Moltke followed Bethmann's lead and urged Conrad not to regard Russia's partial mobilisation as a provocation and to wait for Russia to attack.

As part of the stage-management aimed at putting Russia in the wrong the Kaiser was persuaded to send to the Tsar on the afternoon of the 30th a cable drafted by Bethmann saying that the Kaiser's mediation was being endangered by Russia's mobilisation against Austria: the Tsar now had responsibility for peace or war. The Kaiser meant what he said, for he had become convinced of Russia's bad faith. The danger that he would thwart Bethmann and Moltke's plan for war was receding.

Late on the 30th Bethmann learnt that Berchtold was still hesita-ting to act on his earlier cable requesting Austria-Hungary to agree to mediation as proposed by Grey. He then sent another tele-gram to Tschirschky setting out the full situation in stark terms: if Austria-Hungary rejects the proposal it will hardly be possible

to push on to Russia the blame for the European war ("conflagra-tion") which is now breaking out; and if Grey in response to Beth-mann's plea succeeds in restraining France and Russia while Vienna rejects everything, Vienna will be shown to want a war into which Germany will be drawn; this would put his government into a com-pletely untenable position vis-à-vis its own people.

Although news of Russia's general mobilisation had not yet reached Berlin, Moltke and War Minister Falkenhayn wanted to declare at noon next day, the 31st, Drohende Kriegsgefahr (imminent danger of war), which would automatically lead to mobilisation. In a meeting with them just after 9pm, immediately after he had drafted his cable to Vienna, Bethmann persuaded them to delay by fifteen hours.

At about 11 pm rumours of Russia's general mobilisation reached Berlin: Bethmann stopped his last cable to Tschirschky and the Fo-reign Office phoned instructions to drop mediation. During the night Tschirschky was also informed that Berlin would send an ulti-matum to Russia requiring it to stop mobilisation immediately. The military wanted to proceed to their own mobilisation forthwith but Bethmann persuaded them to wait until a negative reply from Russia had been been received; likewise to delay action until a declara-tion of war had been sent to Russia - Bethmann believed was this was necesary to provide a basis for the planned ultimatum to Belgium.

Bethmann had managed to keep Germany's leadership together although in dealing with the Kaiser and the military he was the junior part-ner. He is often characterised as weak and indecisive, but in these critical days he showed energy, determination and skill. At this stage the politicians, not the miltary, were in charge, even if the overall policy was essentially a military one. But during the night Moltke broke ranks and sent to Conrad a telegram which arrived at 7.45 am on the 31st urging immediate mobilisation against Russia and promising Germany's full support. This prompted Berchtold's comment "Who is governing in Berlin: Moltke or Bethmann Hollweg?" In fact Moltke was merely a little hasty.

On Friday 31st in the morning the British Ambassador brought the official rejection of Bethmann's "infamous proposal" to respect the integrity of France (but only that) if Britain would stay neutral. At noon the official announcement of Russia's mobilisation was received, and Austria-Hungary announced mobilisation. Diplomatic activity aimed at averting a war continued in Paris, London and Vienna but not in Berlin. Here the focus was on starting it. At 1 pm Drohende Kriegsgefahr was declared. At 3 pm the Kaiser approved the texts of the ultimatums to Russia and France. The one for France was sent to the Ambassador with a secret instruction that if it was accepted France should be required to hand over the for-tresses of Verdun and Toul as surety - an indication that French neutrality was neither expected nor desired.

Austria-Hungary was urged to join Germany in its war with Russia; efforts were made to rally the doubtful allies Italy and Romania

(Bethmann was banking on Italy's loyalty), and even the neutrals Greece and Sweden; and the Ambassador in Turkey was told to accelerate the proposed treaty, but only if Turkey undertook to make a serious contribution to the war.

The Willy-Nicky exchange continued: Germany still insisted that Russia must stop its mobilisation. If it had done so now, a day or two into the process, the resultant chaos would have left it defenceless.



Chapter 21: On the sidelines: Britain, France and Italy 23-31 July

Grey failed to understand that the Central Powers now had no use for the conference system and that efforts to arrange mediation were unlikely to succeed: he continued until the end. The preser-vation of his role as honest broker was one reason for his refusal to come out with clear backing for France. Another was that he would have had no majority in support of such a stance in the cabi-net, parliament or the country. By the same token it was not pos-sible to recall reservists and prepare the Expeditionary Force for despatch to France, but Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty kept the Navy in a state of readiness instead of standing it down after manoeuvres.

The French government was even less relevant. Its President and Prime Minister did not get back to Paris until 29 July. Its general position was to avoid provocation for it knew that in the event of war it would bear the brunt of Germany's onslaught and it instruc-ted its ambassador to urge restraint on Russia. However, he did not do this but egged it on and he reported late and inaccurately on its intentions, nor did he remind the Russians of their obligation to consult France before mobilising. Had Paléologue done his duty it would have been difficult for Russia to mobilise.

France also tried without success to extract a clear statement of support from Grey. When it received Germany's ultimatum on 31 July it replied simply that it would act in accordance with its interests.

Italy knew what it wanted - in particular the irredenta in Austria - but it made no move at this stage beyond seeking compensation in the event of an occupation of Serbian territory. If its lack of lo-yalty had been evident the Central Powers might have thought again. There was in fact little dialogue between Italy and Austria-Hungary, at least in Rome where Vienna's ambassador had developed an almost insane hatred of his host country, on top which he was ill for extended periods. Italy's ambassador in Vienna was intense-ly loyal to the alliance; he was not the man to take the opportuni-ty for blackmail and he was ashamed of his country's egotistical policy. Austria-Hungary could not meet Italy's wishes: it was going to war to uphold the divine right of emperors against nationalism and it would be totally inconsistent if it made concessions to Ita-lian nationalism.

When war broke out Italy informed its partners that the causa foederis did not arise because neither Germany or Austria-Hungary had been attacked, and anyway they had not consulted Italy about their actions.



Chapter 22: The War starts in confusion

After its initial reluctance, Austria-Hungary accepted Germany's urgings to negotiate even though these had now ceased and Germany wanted action. On 31 July discussions were started with Russia in both Vienna and Petersburg which were cordial although Austria-Hungary stuck to its intention of crushing Serbia militarily, which was not acceptable to Russia. Both sides gave assurances that mobi-lisation need not mean war - the Monarchy's was announced on 31 July, with 4 August as the first day and was stated to be a purely defensive response to Russia's mobilisation. Poor muddled Austria-Hungary clung to its belief that its dispute with Serbia could be kept local (even though Germany was showing that it had a different agenda) and it did not declare war on Russia until 6 August. It did not declare war on Britain and France at all: they declared war on it on the 12th. Its hope that peace with Russia would be preserved is shown by its decision to send a strong army to invade Serbia rather than massing its forces against the main threat, Russia. On the 30th Moltke, who in general was backing Bethmann's policy of manoeuvering Russia into the wrong, broke ranks and pressed Conrad to do this but by then it was too late. And the General Staff in Berlin knew of Conrad's plan. Germany was inconsistent: that very day it urged Vienna to take Belgrade, halt there and negotiate, but, as we have seen, this was only a temporary position based on expedience.

At 1pm on 1 August France gave its non-committal reply to the Ger-man ultimatum; at 5pm it declared mobilisation but troops were kept 10 km from the German frontier in order to prevent incidents. Ger-many therefore felt obliged to invent some - bombing raids on Nuremberg too. It ordered general mobilisation and at 7pm local time (6pm in Germany) its declaration of war was delivered to Rus-sia. Late that evening the Tsar received the last of the Kaiser's cables: it stated that the Tsar could still avoid war by stopping mobilisation - not true, as the German war machine was already in motion.

There was confusion in Bethmann's mind too: he knew that Moltke's plan involved marching through Belgium and that this was likely to bring Britain into the war, but he continued to hope that it could be kept out. He had some grounds: the forces of pacificsm and non-intervention were so strong that the matter was by no means cut and dried. On 31 July the cabinet allowed itself to believe that parti-cipation in a war could be naval only and decided that in the event of war the Expeditionary Force would not be sent to France immedi-ately. On Sunday 2 August the cabinet considered France's request that Britain assume responsibility for defending its northern coast - in agreement with Britain its own fleet was concentrated in the Mediterranean. Grey secured this commitment only with difficulty. The neutralists toed the line in the end because they knew that otherwise Grey and Asquith would resign and that the Conservatives, committed to France, were waiting to take their place. It would have been better for Britain's honour and perhaps for its security if they had resigned much before this. On the 3rd Grey made a hesi-tant address to the Commons and secured support for his hesitant policy, with implied support for France and commitment to Belgium.

On the 3rd Grey sent an ultimatum to Germany telling it to respect Belgium's neutrality, or else, and to reply by midnight on the 4th.

Germany had already moved into Luxembourg on the 2nd and delivered its ultimatum to Belgium in the evening; it declared war on France on the 3rd and invaded Belgium very early on the 4th without reply-ing to the British ultimatum, but at 7pm Goschen, the Ambassador, was given an oral rejection by Bethmann and immediately asked for his passports. His Note confirming this may have been intended to be the declaration of war but it was not clear.

Germany had pushed Europe into war.



Chapter 23: Slaves to a dead general


Keynes observed that most politicians were slaves to some dead eco-nomist. Germany was a slave to Schlieffen, Chief of the General Staff, whose plan for a blitzkrieg against France had been formula-ted as an option in 1905, the year he retired, and adopted in modi-fied form by his successor as the only plan in the year of his death, 1913.

This plan had a number of remarkable features: in particular, it was a plan for a war of aggression, it assumed first strike. Its aim was to hit France before it could prepare its defences and to knock it out in six weeks or less, so that the full weight of Ger-many's forces could then be turned against Russia. If a crisis became acute, no time would be allowed for diplomacy. Moltke added to the Plan a coup de main by troops from the Aachen garrison against the fortress at Liège which made this restriction tighter still by reducing to zero the time between declaring war and active hostilities. The Plan involved the breach of Belgium's neutrality which would not just put Germany in the wrong but would probably bring Britain into the war too. The Plan made no provision for de-fence, and least of all on the Russian front which was manned very lightly. In a real crisis Germany had no choice but to go to war. So, although Bethmann was able to make a contribution to the stage-management, and the military accepted his leadership in this, after 30 July (Russia's declaration of general mobilisation) his freedom of action was small.

He had been aware of the Plan since 1913; it is not clear whether he had protested, although Foreign Minister Jagow did claim after the war that he himself had done so, unavailingly. In the July crisis Bethmann acted to some extent as though he had put the Plan out of his mind. The Kaiser evidently had done so completely: late on 1 August he asked Moltke why he could not do the opposite of the Plan: put the mass of the army on the Russian front. This would have meant awaiting Russia's attack which might never come and defending the French frontier lightly, with the hope that if Russia did attack, France would not join in, as there would be no causa foederis. This had been one of Old Moltke's plans: very rational. Moltke said that this change was impossible - the general in charge of railway movements said after the war that it could have been done in two weeks - and also dangerous with France and Russia mobi-lising. This was true: unless Germany could trust absolutely the Tsar's assurances that mobilisation did not mean attack, it simply could not take the risk that Russia might invade its exposed and lightly defended eastern provinces before Germany had gone to war. And because of the Plan, Germany could go to war only against France. It is very hard to argue that Germany should have taken the risk of waiting for Russia to attack, for Russia knew of the Plan at least in outline; Germany probably knew that Russia knew - it had a highly placed spy - and could be expected to act accordingly, that is, go to war against Germany with all possible speed in order to take the heat off France.

So Germany implemented the Plan and was held on the Marne. It had above all wanted to avoid fighting on two fronts and now had to do so. And Britain joined in the war. The Plan did not work but it ensured that Germany was seen by the world to have gone to war as aggressor and had to fight not two foes but three.

A real snag for Moltke was that war might have been averted. Schlieffen had planned for an army that wished to start a war, as Moltke did.


There is little information about Russia's thinking at the critical time but there are some clues, and one can try to put oneself in the shoes of Russia's leaders. They knew that the Plan involved a German onslaught on France, which might well succeed and then be followed by a full attack on Russia which could not be withstood. Russia's self-interest required it do all it could to disrupt Ger-many's plan. This could only mean mobilising and attacking East Prussia with all possible speed; even a defeat might lead Germany to transfer forces away from the French front (it did), and as for victory....The key point for Russia was to determine whether Ger-many was set on war. Already on 24th July this was Sasonov's spon-taneous reaction to the Austro-Hungarian Note to Serbia and as the crisis developed the opinion must have become firmer; it was he who took the lead in persuading the Tsar to reinstate general mobilisa-tion. Whether this mobilisation automatically meant attack is un-clear. The Tsar evidently thought it didn't. Dobrorolski said it did: plausibly, for if the purpose of mobilising was to frustrate the Schlieffen Plan, attack had to be as nearly immediate as pos-sible. It is not convincing to argue that Russia's general mobili-sation was merely in order to strengthen its negotiating position over Serbia. It was in no position to intervene militarily, for if it attacked Austria-Hungary, Germany would join in (causa foederis) but France possibly, or even probably, would not. So Russia dare not adopt such a stance. In short, Russia's actions must have been governed by its awareness of the Schlieffen Plan at least in out-line, and make perfect sense on this basis, and not otherwise.

The dead general had set up a situation in which neither Russia nor Germany dared to abstain from going to war as fast as they could. Once Russia had declared general mobilisation, war was inevitable. And once Russia had decided that Germany was set on war, it had no choice but to mobilise.


In 1912/13, when Joffre took over as Chief of the General Staff, France dropped its defensive stance and planned a counter-offensive through the Ardennes - he believed that this would be the scene of any attack as lack of German troops would rule out operations on the left bank of the Meuse. This justified Moltke's strengthening of his left wing which was able to do more than just stand firm. It was a miracle that France could improvise a defence. If it had maintained its defensive strategy the Plan's failure might have been bigger and quicker.

Game theory

The Schlieffen Plan and its effect on Russia and Germany is a sub-ject for examination by an expert in game theory: it looks as if from 30 July onwards both parties acted rationally to optimise their outcomes.



Chapter 24: Why did Germany do it?

Although much paper and ink have been wasted in attempts to argue the contrary, it is clear that the War happened because of Ger-many's actions: its blank cheque to Austria given with full aware-ness of the possible consequences, as Bethmann admitted, its ob-struction of mediation and its invasion of Luxembourg, Belgium and France. Why did it act in this way?

The Prussian syndrome

The biggest single reason might be called the Prussian syndrome. Germany was beginning to feel encircled by potentially hostile neighbours who were growing in strength and who might one day launch an attack which Germany would not be able to withstand. This view had some foundation but was also paranoia - and tradition.


It is hard to say that Germany was encircled. To the south it had Austria-Hungary, and to the south of that, Italy and Romania, allies, but admittedly unreliable ones. In so far as Germany was encircled, it was facing the Entente Powers, none of which was a sworn enemy. This loose association had developed into a counter-poise to the Triple Alliance and had come about because of Ger-many's ham-handed diplomacy, its rejection of British overtures and its naval programme which can only have been intended to fight or at least intimidate Britain. The Ententes involving Britain would not have developed as they did if Germany had acted differently - they were originally agreements on colonial conflicts and did not relate to Germany at all. And they remained strictly defensive.

The supposed encirclement does look tighter if account is taken of the Anglo-French positions in North Africa. And it is a fact that in some quarters in France at least the Ententes were indeed gree-ted as encirclement. But Germany was not exposed as Prussia had been: its frontier with France was now defensible and the vulner-able part in the west was protected by the neutrality of Belgium and Holland. It eastern frontier was certainly exposed. But Ger-many's neighbours France and Russia had no hostile intentions and anyway were in no position to attack even if they had wanted to: their military situation was weak and would take years to improve. And France's numerical inferiority would only worsen.

The arms race?

The only real arms race was Britain/Germany at sea. Germany's pro-gramme had done much to sour relations, but in 1914 Britain had largely come to accept the existence of a strong German fleet. There was no other point of friction between them: Britain had adopted a helpful attitude on African colonies and, finally, on the Baghdad railway too.

Ever since 1897, when Germany decided to build a strong navy, the Powers had been increasing their armed strength and preparedness - the emphasis was as much on manpower and speed of deployment as on armaments. Much of the expenditure was to cope with wars: Britain, Russia and Italy all had peaks for this reason. The fact is that although the Powers were steadily increasing their military expen-diture and preparedness, none was in the position of having such strong forces that it felt that it simply had to let fly. The grea-ter part of the expenditure was anyway on men, not arms, and the non-manpower expenditure was largely for innovations and for up-grading traditional matériel. But the cost of maintaining ever-increasing armies in a state of readiness was a powerful encourage-ment to go to war sooner rather than later, particularly for Austria-Hungary.

Germany's expansion of manpower in its army bills of 1912 and 1913 prompted counter-measures in France and Russia, and Germany felt that Russia's programme, combined with its rapid industrialisation and its manpower, would make it unbeatable by say 1917. So: it had to be taken out sooner rather than later, and 1914 was a good time. Russia's new programme had only just been introduced and its mobi-lisation plan was out of date and would not be replaced until the end of the year. France was weakened temporarily by its move to three year service (the full benefit would not be felt until 1916) and its failure to vote money for appropriate arms until 15 July 1914; moreover, the extent of its weakness was made clear in Sena-tor Humbert's report published on 13 July.

So the Prussian response to this situation was not wait-and-see, or diplomacy, but preventive war, even though the danger was far from clear and present. Indeed, Germany went to war not so much because it was threatened by France and Russia but because it saw that they were weak. Once again, out of their own mouths: "These considera-tions mean that in the normal course of events an attack on Germany is not likely in the near future, but also that there is not only no need whatever to avoid a conflict, moreover that the prospects for a quick victory in a big European war today are very good for Germany and the Triple Alliance. Soon this will cease to be the case." Memo in May 1914 by Waldersee, deputy to Moltke. The empha-sis is his.

A great risk of war

There was nothing to fight over. France had got used to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine. Russia was concerned about its Slav brothers in the Balkans: it has to be blamed heavily for stirring them up, but this was by no means a casus belli between it and Germany. But there was indeed a great risk that war could result from badly handled events:

Further collapse by Turkey and the possibility that the Straits could come under the control either of Russia or the Central Powers, outcomes unacceptable to one side or the other.

The disintegration of Austria-Hungary which might happen at any time once Franz Joseph (84 in 1914) was no longer there to hold it together.

Wars between the Balkan states or attacks by them on the territory or interests of Austria-Hungary (eg by Serbia on Albania).

Unpredictable happenings such as Sarajevo.


The Straits were a vital interest for Russia and to a lesser extent Germany. Russia could not allow them to pass into the control of a hostile power which might exercise a stranglehold on its foreign trade. Germany was concerned that the Balkans and the Straits should not come under Russian control, for it was aiming to expand its political and commercial influence over the Middle East and needed free access. But by 1914 the other Powers - even Russia - were not antagonistic to Germany's aims. This situation was cer-tainly explosive but, if all the Powers had wished, the conference system might have had a good chance of resolving local crises and preserving peace between the Powers as it had during much of the previous hundred years. But the Central Powers felt that the system had worked to their disadvantage and they wanted no more of it --- Germany had been disappointed at Algeciras in 1906, and the London Conference's apparent success in controlling the Balkan Wars had weakened Austria-Hungary's position and left it exposed to further damage. Even moderates felt that if war was probable it was right to get on with it before Russia's relative position improved further.

Other German agendas:

A successful preventive war would bring indemnities and terri-torial acquisitions. These had not been spelled out in July 1914 but the fact that Bethmann produced an extensive pro-gramme for such measures in September 1914 (which he regarded as modest!) suggests that the idea of a grab for world power was floating in the air at that time. The naval programme can have had no other purpose. But it has not been demonstrated that Germany caused the war with explicit aims of this kind.

There was a belief in "social Darwinism": countries were going either up or down; so, if Germany was to avoid decline, it had to ensure its ascent.

War was good in itself. "Wenn wir auch darüber zugrunde gehen, schön war es doch". (Even if this ruins us, it will still have been a fine thing.) War Minister Falkenhayn 4 August 1914.

War would strengthen national spirit, unite the country, keep the socialists down, prolong the privileges of the aristocracy and military, and keep Anglo-Saxon influences out. These factors were not predominant as some respectable historians maintain, but they certainly provided an environment in which the military could easily carry their point.

Supporting Austria-Hungary, the only loyal ally, was desirable and the Kaiser at least had a sentimental attachment to Franz Joseph.

There was a paradox: the Kaiser hated in particular Britain which was the object of Tirpitz' programme, yet the war that Moltke star-ted, with a bit of luck, would not involve Britain at all!

One has to come back to the central fact that Germany did not have a functioning government. It would have been normal for it to have policies agreed between all relevant elements - or at least ones commonly understood and not needing much discussion. But Germany had no overall plan - but rather divergent intentions - and it em-barked on adventures without knowing what it hoped to gain or how it could retreat. It was this confusion that left Germany isolated, not the malice of Sir Edward Grey. Eyre Crowe, then the second most senior civil servant in the Foreign Office, wrote in January 1907 that Germany was either "consciously aiming at the establishment of a German hegemony at first in Europe, and eventually in the world ...or the great German design is no more than the expression of a vague, confused and unpractical statesmanship not realising its own drift." A bit of each, in fact.

Why now?

Moltke would have preferred to go to war eighteen months earlier -

this was his view at the Kaiser's Council of War in December 1912 -

but he concurred grudgingly in the delay sought by Tirpitz. But by July 1914 this delay was up, Sarajevo provided a heaven-sent oppor-tunity and France and Russia were at a disadvantage because of the status of their re-armament programmes. All that was necessary was to stage-manage the situation so that the German people could be persuaded that Russia was the aggressor.


It is clear that the impetus for Germany's actions came from Moltke, acting not in a personal capacity but as operational head of the army. The Reichskanzler was more than a fellow-traveller: he was a committed ally. A man with a copious mind, he certainly saw all the elements pointing towards war, and there were many - and the risks - but as he hinted after the war, he had believed too easily the military's assurances of success. "Ah, die Militärs", was his enigmatic comment. Like Moltke, he was not an isolated in-dividual but the spokesman for an important element in society. If these two key positions had been held by other men, history would probably have taken much the same course.

The Kaiser was for war in December 1912 and was prepared for it in early July 1914 but, it seems, not 28-31 July 1914 when he found himself a prisoner of events, the Schlieffen Plan and his own pos-turing. Most members of the upper classes and academia were vehe-mently in favour of war. The masses on the whole were passive but trade union leaders took the view that if the war made Germany stronger this would be good for their members and only a few fol-lowed Liebknecht and Luxembourg in upholding socialist pacificism.

And for all socialists Tsarist Russia was the Great Satan of the age.

What did they expect?

The Kaiser told his troops that they would be home again by the autumn and Bethmann Hollweg also believed that the war would be short --- both accepted that the Schlieffen Plan would work. Stale-mate was not envisaged. Germany's three previous wars had all been won quickly, with a single decisive battle. Even with complete suc-cess, this scenario was not realistic: France had not only to be defeated, it had to be conquered, which in 1870/71 had taken another six months after Sedan. And then there was Russia.

The military leaders kept their doubts and reservations to them-selves, but they did not think that victory was a foregone conclu-sion. The Chief of Staff's planning took into account the possibi-lity of a long war --- a war of attrition - and the War Minister even considered the possibility of defeat. But they could not imagine the slaughter that they were setting in train, with tens of thou-sands of men sent to certain death in a single advance. When the politicians spoke of the coming war as a conflagration they were more accurate than they knew.

Because of this ignorance, going to war was still an option for a civilised country.



Chapter 25: And whatever got into the Austro-Hungarians?

For the Monarchy the late 1890's and the years 1900-12 were a peri-od of steady economic growth and healthy public finances. Vienna's stately villas and impressive public works such as the first under-ground railway line with its elegant jugendstil stations still bear witness to this prosperity. The Balkan Wars brought it to an end by strangling trade with the region and by overloading the Imperial budget with the cost of maintaining men under arms for roughly a year from October 1912 to October 1913. The prospect of continuing instabilty and in particular of a resumption of encroachment on Al-bania by Montenegro and Serbia made it likely that mobilisation would again be necessary to force these Slav states to respect their neighbour's territory. The Monarchy's success in driving Ser-bia out of Albania in October 1912 by threatening war convinced it that force was the only language that Serbia understood. A short sharp war to settle the matter once and for all would be preferable to such a running sore. And Conrad was not aware that puny, exhaus-ted Serbia was more than a match for Austria-Hungary.

The very existence of Serbia was a threat to the Monarchy: it was a focus initially for the movement to unite all Serbs, including those in the Monarchy, under the King of Serbia, and as oppressive Hungarian rule increasingly alienated the Croats, Serbia came to be seen as the nucleus for a South Slav state and thus an even greater threat to the Monarchy's survival. The Russian Chargé in Vienna thought that Vienna also felt threatened by Serbia's vigorous demo-cracy and secularism. In military circles but also much more widely the slogan became popular: Serbien muss sterbien (Serbia must die).

A South Slav kingdom would upset the balance of power in the Bal-kans to the detriment of the Monarchy and its friends Romania and Bulgaria and its protégé Albania. If the Monarchy lost Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dalmatia (Slav territory in spite of the predominance of Italian in the ports) would be indefensible. And worst of all, once the nationalist principle had been successfully asserted, there was no knowing where it would end: the German-speakers might even seek union with the Reich. German nationalism was in fact powerful, particularly in Vienna where the flood of immigrants at-tracted by jobs threatened to turn the Germans into a minority, just as the fertile Czechs had already done in Prague. Czechs formed the bulk of the immigrants; next in importance were the Jews, in particular from the east. The mayor of Vienna, the effec-tive but cynical Lueger, was able to ensure that the bulk of the immigrants were quickly Germanised. (It is a scandal that important streets in Vienna are still named after this anti-semite.) The ob-duracy of the Germans in the Bohemian and Austrian parliaments and the Czech response hampered effective government, and the Czechs became increasingly disenchanted with the Monarchy. The South Slavs might be starting the process, but the dissolution of the Monarchy was now felt to be only a matter of time - perhaps as soon as the death of Franz Joseph, which could be any day. But apart from the Serbs, the other minority peoples had been happy enough and would have remained loyal to the Monarchy but for the blinkered nationa-

lism of the Germans and Hungarians. The Monarchy, with a dozen peoples living in harmony, was for all its faults a wonderful creation that commanded strong loyalty, as the army was to show during four years of war. Even the Czechs defected to the Russians only in thousands, not in droves as is often reported. It was the German army that collapsed first.

Even so, by 1914 there was a feeling that things could not go on as they were, they were bound to fall apart. When the War started there was even a widespread feeling of relief: the period of wai-ting was over, and a war against Serbia was generally popular. The fact that the War would be a general European one, with the Monar-chy opposing countries with which it had no quarrel at all, did not impinge at first even in government circles, as is shown by the failure to declare war on France and Britain.

The government and not just the people had this feeling that some-thing had to be done, no matter what the consequences. It is also clear that Berchtold and Conrad both expected Russia to be passive; and in the worst case, Conrad thought, Germany would deal with it - although he was aware of the Schlieffen Plan and knew that it was the other way round: for six weeks it was up to the Monarchy to hold the Russians. So there was fatalism and wishful thinking.

At the highest levels there was also a strange medieval notion of honour and disregard for human suffering as is shown by two quota-tions from General Edmund von Glaise-Horstenau's Die Katastophe:

General Conrad meinte, daß ein großes Reich und eine große Armee nicht ohne Kampf die Waffen strecken dürfen; er scheute sich dabei nicht von einem Vabanquespiel zu sprechen. (General Conrad was of the opinion that a great empire and a great army could not lay down their arms without a fight; in saying this he did not hesitate to talk of an all-or-nothing bet.)

Der greise Kaiser sagte am 31 Juli zu ihm (Conrad) in dumpfer Resignation: "Wenn die Monarchie schon untergehen muß, dann soll sie es in Ehre tun." (The aged Kaiser said to him (Conrad) on 31 July in gloomy resignation: "If the Monarchy has to go under, then it must do so with honour.")

The Monarchy's policy thus resulted from a confused mixture of fee-lings, a total disregard for the human suffering that would result, and an unrealistic appraisal of the situation. But its actions, as always, were slow and hesitant: the lines that Grillparzer put into the mouth of a 17th century Habsburg held good:


Das ist der Fluch von unserm edeln Haus:
Auf halben Wegen und zu halber Tat
Mit halben Mitteln zauderhaft zu streben

(That's the curse of Habsburg's noble house: On half ways towards half deeds, With half means hesitantly to strive.)

Austria-Hungary went down its chosen path only because of strong encouragement from Germany which, if it had wished, could have imposed restraint as it had often done in the past. As it was, on 31 July Germany precipated it into war just as a negotiated settlement was no longer looking completely impossible, for Russia and Austria-Hungary were talking to each other again.



Chapter 26: What about the others?


Contrary to traditional wisdom, Britain was marginal. Its role was to be on the wrong end of Germany's naval programme and to join ententes with Russia and France which made Germany feel encircled and obliged to go to war. With such a passive role there is not much that it could have done differently. It could have declared support for France at an early stage in the July crisis and after-wards it was justly criticised for not doing so; but this would have changed not the course of events but only the party in power. Also Britain did not want to weaken its position as honest broker.

Ireland was a distraction for Britain but not one that affected its foreign policy.


Russia's programme of army reform and re-armament was by no means extreme for a Great Power of vast extent, and it was normal that it should have forces proportionate to its position in the world. It certainly harboured desires to occupy the Straits but it knew that these desires were unrealistic in 1914 and likely to stay so for years to come, so they were without practical effect. But it could not watch Austria-Hungary extend its influence in the Balkans to the detriment of the Slav peoples and with risk to the Straits. Russia had real interests at stake in Serbia, not just prestige. In spite of its decision to mobilise - taken without consulting France as it was surely bound to do at least by the spirit of the military agreement - it was still prepared to negotiate, even on 31 July 1914.

It must however be censured severely for encouraging Serbia's hos-tility towards Austria-Hungary. It was all too likely that Serbia's activities would provoke a strong response, as happened in 1914, and Russia would find itself dragged into a war for which it was years away from being prepared. Its conduct was irresponsible in the extreme. Whether this was government policy or the initiative of Russia's Minister in Belgrade, Hartvig, is unclear. He collapsed and died while talking to the Austro-Hungarian Minister on 10 July

1914 so he was not available to testify after the event. Be this as it may, Russia's and the world's interest required stability in the Balkans, and Russia in Petersburg and in Belgrade should have stri-ven to preserve it, yet it did the opposite. And Russia's sponsor-ship of the First Balkan War was criminal folly.

There is no evidence that Russia was involved in Serbia's Reply to Austria-Hungary's Note, but it is recorded that Russia urged non-resistence on Serbia.


The evidence is not of French bellicosity in the years before the war, but rather of a consciousness of weakness and a strong desire for peace, notwithstanding Joffre's paper in 1912 asserting that France would have a good chance in a war with the Central Powers if Austria-Hungary was tied up in Serbia, if Russia and Britain fought alongside France, and if Italy remained neutral. Poincaré, who has been accused of giving Russia a blank cheque, in 1912 did the oppo-site and urged Russia to undertake nothing without first obtaining France's agreement. This suggests that if in 1914 Russia had in-formed France of its intention to mobilise, France would have tried to dissuade it.

A degree of blame attaches to France for not restraining Russia from stirring up the Balkans - as Russia was dependent on French money it would have been obliged to heed French advice. France may also be blamed for financing Russia's arms programme and arming the Serbs, but that was only prudent given what Germany was doing. Similarly, Paléologue's efforts in support of Russian mobilisation can be regarded as sensible in view of Gemany's intentions although the consequences turned out to be very harmful to the interests of the Ententes.


If Italy had declared at an early stage that it would not join the Central Powers in the war that they were preparing, it might have given them pause. Or perhaps not: they knew that it was unreliable and even likely to join their enemies, and Conrad had for years been advocating a preventive war against it.


The King made it clear to the Central Powers that although he per-sonally was loyal to Romania's alliance with them, public opinion, inflamed by Hungary's treatment of the Romanians in Transylvania, was powerfully anti-Habsburg and in consequence pro-Russian. The Monarchy knew that it could not afford to leave the border undefended.


Its alliance with Germany was a nuisance for Russia, but it was so weak that it was not expected to be much of a factor in the war. It did not weigh in the scales when decisions were taken by Russia and Germany.


The Central Powers saw it as a weapon against Serbia, and it even-tually joined them, but in July 1914 the possibility of its support did not carry much weight in Berlin or Vienna. Bulgaria's role in the War is interesting mainly because in 1918 its surrender preci-pitated the collapse of the Central Powers.



Chapter 27: Truth will out?

The Treaty of Versailles - which Germany was pressed into signing by the continuing blockade and the threat of a resumption of hos-tilities - contained a clause in which "Germany accepts the respon-sibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed on them by Germany and her allies". This was the basis for the im-position of heavy indemnities. In order to get them reduced, or to provide a justification for not paying, Germany set to work syste-matically to make the case that the War was the fault of anybody or nobody but certainly not of Germany. Officially funded bodies were set up for this purpose, floods of Foreign Ministry documents were released, with some gaps, and no military documents. The odd thing is that even these documents contain strong indications of what Germany had really been up to, such as Bethmann's admission to par-liament in early August that war had been accepted as a possible consequence of the blank cheque to Austria-Hungary, and the state-ment by Moltke to the federal states that Sarajevo had provided a heaven-sent opportunity. Somehow these did not attract attention. And a German textbook for use in schools published in 1922 stated unequivocally that the War had been started by Russia, France and Britain.

The other participants in the War published their documents at varying rates but by 1938 the process was nearly complete. The Soviet Union had published documents eagerly with the aim of dis-crediting the Tsarist régime; it also argued that capitalism caused imperialism, which caused the rivalry which caused the War. The myth that the War resulted from colonial rivalry is not dead yet.

Germany's cause was helped by two American academics who published books tending to exonerate Germany: Barnes (1925) and Fay (1928). Their books did not go unchallenged but they were influential.

Albertini, who died in 1942 with his fourth volume, conclusions, uncompleted, had access to most of the published documents. His references to "those historians who plead Germany's innocence" in-dicate the line he would have taken. As it was, the world had to wait until 1961 when Fischer published his Griff nach der Weltmacht which was based not just on published documents but also on tho-rough archival research. He does not establish beyond a doubt that Germany went to war in order to dominate the world, but this clear-ly would have been the result of a German victory. He also argues for the Primat der Innenpolitik (the primacy of domestic politics): such factors were important in making the war acceptable to the German leaders and people, but it is hard to demonstrate that they outweighed the purely military considerations. Fischer's Krieg der Illusionen (1969) covered German foreign policy 1911-14 and gives a good picture of the mixture of confusion and aggression prevailing in Berlin.

Oddly, Fischer's general conclusions have been accepted, after in-itial horror, by German-speaking scholars (if not the public) and indeed have been taken further, but there are still Anglo-Saxon dissidents, following the lead of Lloyd George who in his War Me-moirs published in the late 1930's said "the nations in 1914 sli-thered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war." Some of these belong to the school that sees the situation in 1914 (notably in the Balkans) as having been so explosive, and attitudes so fa-vourable to starting and fighting wars, that the conflagration was inevitable. James Joll is the leading exponent of this view: his highly-regarded book The Origins of the First World War (1984) de-votes to Sarajevo and the July crisis only a cursory and not wholly accurate chapter; but he does concede that it did not have to be this particular war at this particular time. That is exactly the point: it was this war because certain individuals took actions which made it happen. So it is useful - anyway, interesting - to try to identify these people and understand their actions.

Because of the complexity of the subject and more than eighty years of obfuscation there is still some way to go, even if the kernel of the matter is clear and fairly simple, as these pages may have shown.




This little book is intended to conclude my work on the War and I shall not seek further information. But the book is obviously not the last word on the subject and, in spite of the dogmatic tone of the preceding pages, my mind remains open in case anything comes my way that calls for a reconsideration. So, readers' comments will be very welcome.

Ronald Moore
Renngasse 14/43a
A-1010 Vienna


July 2004



Geography is fundamental to an understanding of the origins of the First World War, but to provide the set of maps that is required is beyond my scope or abilities. The three maps that follow do not illuminate the whole question but shed light on three aspects:

1. The Balkans in June 1914: where the trouble started and where frontiers were not stable. Nor are they today inspite of political changes and ethnic cleansing. This map needs an overlay showing the mixture of populations,languages and religions.

2. The German Empire 1871-1914: secure in its frontiers except in the east, so the adoption of the Schlieffen Plan can be understood only as a commitment to aggression. The map also shows what a big country Germany was in 1914, and what a large part of it was Prussia. It does not show that Prussia also had the main centres of population, industry and agriculture.

3. The Schlieffen Plan: vision and reality. Moltke had much larger forces than Schlieffen could hope for, but he still did not have enough for the projected sweep to the west of Paris. This would still have been the case if he had not strengthened his line south of Luxembourg --- amply justified in the event.


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