Thursday, July 31, 2014

July 31st, 1914

- This morning the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister receives a copy of the telegram from Moltke to Conrad sent the prior afternoon, urging the Austro-Hungarian Chief of Staff to mobilize against Russia.  When compared to the conflicting message from Bethmann-Hollweg pleading for mediation, Berchtold exclaims 'How odd!  Who runs the government: Moltke or Bethmann?'  He takes the message from Moltke as the more definitive statement, and in agreement with Conrad submits a request to Emperor Franz Joseph for mobilization against Russia.  The Emperor agrees shortly after noon and the proclamation is published immediately.  Notably, however, mobilization against Russia will not commence until August 4th - the Railway Department has informed Conrad that with 2nd Army being deployed against Serbia, the delay is necessary to avoid logistical chaos.  Under pressure from Moltke, Conrad then requests that 2nd Army be redeployed to the Russian frontier.  The Railway Department states unequivocally that this is impossible - deviation from the mobilization plan is impossible, and since 2nd Army has begun deployment to the Serbian frontier, the only option is for it to complete its arrival in full in the south, as only then can transportation be arranged to send it back north against the Russians.  Hardly an auspicious beginning to the war for Austria-Hungary.  This debacle emphasizes the central role played by the intricate mobilization plans of each of the Great Powers - since the plans require the precise movement of thousands of trains over limited stretches of tracks, with schedules down to the minute, any deviation invites a logistical nightmare.

The mobilization plan of Austria-Hungary, giving the two
possible destinations for 2nd Army.

- At 1020am a telegram arrives in Berlin from the German Ambassador in St. Petersburg announcing Russian mobilization.  Moltke's arguments for the necessity of German mobilization in response are now overwhelming, and Bethmann-Hollweg now accepts that war is unavoidable.  At 1pm the 'State of Danger of War' is declared, a measure to prepare for mobilization.  Shortly after 3pm, an ultimatum is sent to St. Petersburg demanding a definitive statement by noon tomorrow that Russia is cancelling mobilization against both Germany and Austria-Hungary, or Germany will mobilize as well.  A similar ultimatum is sent simultaneously to Paris, requiring a declaration within eighteen hours of French neutrality in a Russo-German war, and that the French fortresses at Verdun and Toul be occupied by German forces as a guarantee of French neutrality.  Both ultimatums contain the phrase 'mobilization means war.'

- At the same time in Paris, Joseph Joffre, the Command-in-Chief of the French Army, is increasingly concerned about developments.  His greatest fear is Germany mobilizing before France, leading to a repeat of the French catastrophe of 1870.  To the Minister of War he states the case for French mobilization:
It is absolutely necessary for the government to understand that, starting with this evening, and delay of twenty-four hours in calling up our reservists and issuing orders prescribing covering operations, will have as its result the withdrawal of our concentration points by from fifteen to twenty-five kilometres for each day of delay; in other words, the abandonment of just that much of our territory.  The Commander-in-Chief must decline to accept this responsibility.
Thus was laid out the inescapable logic of mobilization in the summer of 1914 - once one power mobilized, all must follow or risk defeat and occupation.  No government could withstand such pressure once applied, and none did.

Meanwhile, the French socialist leader and pacifist Jean Jaurés is assassinated this evening as he sits in a Parisian café.  When the French cabinet is informed at 9pm, there is momentary panic.  Jaurés, a leading figure in international socialism, had long opposed measures in peacetime to expand conscription in France, while he had advocated the policy of a general strike by socialists and trade unions to prevent the outbreak of war if it appeared imminent.  In the Cabinet this evening, there is a fear that the left may react to the assassination by riots and strikes.  Some suggest that Carnet B be invoked, which would arrest a list of 2501 known socialists, anarchists, pacifists, and others.  Fearing that such a widespread operation might invoke precisely the civil unrest they hope to avoid, the Cabinet decides against Carnet B.  The reaction of the French public to Jaurés' assassination justifies the faith placed by the government in the people.  Though there is widespread mourning at the murder, there are no major protests, no attempts to use the assassination to argue against French participation in the European war.  It is one of the first indications that the left, stridently anti-war in peacetime, will lose their nerve when confronted with an actual war.

- The approach to war and the imminent collapse of international trade has provoked a severe economic crisis.  Stock prices have dropped sharply while interest rates have shot upwards, the latter undertaken by national banks to stop investors from withdrawing deposits.  It has a limited impact - in France, 1.5 billion francs have been withdrawn from the nation's banks over the prior four days.  Ultimately, the choice is taken this day to stop trading at the Berlin, Paris, and London stock exchanges, to avoid a meltdown.  The closure of the London stock exchange is particularly shocking - London is the financial heart of the global economy, and none of the crises of the 19th-century had forced such a drastic step.  On the same day, Lord Nathaniel Rothschild, English head of perhaps the richest banking family in the world, writes to the editor of the Times begging for the paper's articles to preach the necessity of avoiding war.  Rothschild's views are reflective of the banking community as a whole.  After the war, it will be a common refrain that the conflict was fought to enrich capitalists and bankers.  Nothing could be further from the truth - international finance is absolutely terrified, pleading with politicians to stop the relentless march to war.  They believe that no modern economy could survive more than a few months of a European-wide war, and that the inevitable result will be financial ruin.  Their fears, of course, are misplaced - each of the combatants prove willing to resort to economic measures that the bankers had never dreamt of.

- In Italy, the Council of Ministers votes to remain neutral in the coming European conflict.  Though a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, there are also strong anti-Hapsburg sentiment in Italy, seeking the acquisition of Trentino, Tyrol, Trieste, and the Adriatic coast from their nominal allies.  This decision comes as a complete surprise to the Italian Chief of Staff Luigi Cadorna, who had been appointed to the post only two days earlier, and had sought permission to dispatch Italian forces to support the Germans along the Rhine even as the Council of Ministers was deciding to renege on their treaty obligations.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July 30th, 1914

- In Russia, the Tsar's decision of the previous evening to cancel general mobilization has appalled Foreign Minister Sazonov, War Minister General Vladimir Sukhomlinov, and Chief of Staff General Janushkevich, who all believe that any delay in mobilization threatens disaster on the battlefield.  Tsar Nicholas II is at his summer residence in the Baltic, where Sazonov presses the case for general mobilization in the afternoon.  The Tsar is nervous and irritable, caught between a hope that his cousin the Kaiser could be trusted in his stated desire for peace, and the arguments of his ministers.  Finally, shortly after 4pm he submits to the arguments of Sazonov, and agrees once more to order general mobilization of the army.  Sazonov telephones Janushkevich with the order, and concludes by saying 'Now you can smash your telephone' - Janushkevich had earlier declared that upon receiving such an order a second time, he would smash his telephone to prevent another change of heart by the Tsar from having any effect.  The posters announcing mobilization go up in cities across Russia, with the first day of mobilization set for the 31st.

- At 255am, Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg sends an urgent telegram to the German ambassador in Vienna, requesting the Austro-Hungarians to accept mediation of their dispute with Serbia after limiting their offensive to the capture of Belgrade.  The Chancellor has now joined the Kaiser in desperately seeking to avoid the general European war that their prior actions during the crisis made likely.  The ability of both, and in particular the Kaiser, to affect the course of events is rapidly slipping away.  Once mobilization was on the table, the generals came to the fore.  In Germany, this meant Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of Staff of the army.  His family had already made its mark on German history - his uncle, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, had led the Prussian army that crushed first Austria and then France in the German Wars of Unification.  Now the nephew faces the culminating crisis of his professional career.  From his perspective, even the partial Russian mobilization threatened disaster - every day the German army now waited to mobilize meant that it would fight at a greater and greater disadvantage if/when war came.  He makes his case to Bethmann-Hollweg at 1pm, though the Chancellor still holds out hope of a peaceful resolution to the crisis.  Later that afternoon, von Moltke learns of the dispositions of the Austro-Hungarian army.  To date, they  have only mobilized against Serbia, not Russia, and Conrad has also decided to deploy the Austro-Hungarian 2nd Army to the Serbian front, instead of against Russia.  This would leave only twenty-five divisions in Galicia on the Russian frontier, far fewer than von Moltke believed necessary - the German war plan relies on Austria-Hungary containing the Russians in the first month of the war while the Germans marched west.  That evening he telegrams Conrad directly, begging him to mobilize against Russia, and promising that Germany will mobilize as well.  This is a blatant overreach of his authority, and in direct conflict with the efforts of the Kaiser and the Chancellor to preserve the peace.  However, the crisis has reached the point where communications between generals are of greater importance than communications between civilians, even if they are monarchs, as is the case with the ongoing 'Willy-Nicky' telegrams.  Ultimately, both monarchs, despite the outward appearance of wielding absolute power, are finding themselves incapable of resisting the blandishments of their generals, presented in the language of crisis and national survival.

- The French government is steadfast in its support of its Russian ally, but is also eager for Britain to enter the war as well.  To this end, the French army is ordered to withdraw ten kilometers from the border with Germany - it is felt essential to show that France is not the aggressor should war break out.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July 29th, 1914

- The first shots of the Great War are fired this morning when Austro-Hungarian artillery fire on the Serbian capital of Belgrade (which sits right on the border between the two countries) and Serbian fortifications. Militarily, the bombardment makes no impact - indeed, the Austro-Hungarian army will not be sufficiently prepared to actually invade Serbia until August 12th.  Such ineffectiveness portents the overall quality of the Austro-Hungarian war effort.

- For much of July, both the bulk of the British political establishment and the British public had been blissfully unaware of the growing threat of war in the Balkans, their attention fixated on the long-running Home Rule crisis in Ireland, which threatened that summer to provoke a civil war.  By the last week of July, as awareness of the crisis dawned, most saw no reason for British participation in the conflict.  While the Entente Cordialle had clearly placed Britain in the camp of France and Russia, it was not a formal, binding alliance - Britain had no legal obligation to defend either country.

Within the government, however, key figures moved to prepare Britain for war.  Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey had on July 26th sought to convene an international conference to settle the Balkan dispute peacefully.  The proposal came to nothing - the Austro-Hungarian government was determined on a military solution to the Serbian question, and had the full support of their German allies.  Grey now came to realize that a general European war was probable, and personally felt that Britain could not allow France in particular to be crushed by German power.  On the afternoon of the 29th, Grey informs the German ambassador that 'it would not be practicable' for Britain to remain neutral if Germany attacked France and Russia.  The Foreign Secretary, however, is walking a very fine line - he has no authorization from the Cabinet to issue such a declaration, nor can he promise the French ambassador Britain's entry into the war.  He hopes to be able to convince the rest of the Cabinet of the necessity of intervention, but to this point it seems an uphill battle.

Grey is not the only British minister acting independently.  This morning the dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy leave Portland on Britain's Channel coast and sail to their wartime base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys.  They do so on the orders of Churchill, so that the fleet would be prepared if war came suddenly.  Not only does Churchill not make any public statement about the move, but also does not inform his fellow Cabinet ministers, knowing they would have objected.  Only Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, who also believes Britain should support France, knows of the order.

- Meanwhile, Grey's statement to the German ambassador has contributed to second thoughts amongst German officials.  On the 28th, Kaiser Wilhelm II had undertaken an about-face and now stated that Austria-Hungary should accept mediation as opposed to provoking war.  Illustrative of the respect his officials accorded him, German Chancellor Theodor von Bethmann-Hollweg passes this suggestion on to Vienna without endorsement, and Berchtold ignores it.  The Chancellor believed the crisis could be managed to allow for an Austro-Hungarian victory while preventing a general war.  These illusions are shattered by the report from the ambassador in London on his conversation with Grey.  Bethmann-Hollweg now faces the prospect of war with not only France and Russia, but also Britain, and recoils.  The German War Minister, Erich von Falkenhayn, appalled by such indecision, argues that steps should be taken to prepare for mobilization, but Bethmann-Hollweg manages to hold him off for now.

- This morning Foreign Minister Sazonov, influenced by the leadership of the Russian army, convinces Tsar Nicholas II to order the general mobilization of the Russian army.  The fear is now widespread that if Russia does not immediately mobilize, it risks being caught unprepared if Germany mobilizes first and attacks.  General mobilization is set to begin the following day, but at the last moment the Tsar changes his minds and cancels the order, reverting to partial mobilization only, much to the outrage of his ministers.  The u-turn results from a series of telegrams exchanged directly between the German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar, each begging the other to refrain from taking the final plunge into war.  The 'Willy-Nicky Telegrams,' as they become known, are a throwback to an earlier age when international relations were a matter for monarchs only, who acted on the basis of personal relationships with each other.  The viability of conducting diplomacy in this manner is now to be tested.

Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28th, 1914

- The First World War can be said to begin at 11am with a simple telegram sent by Count Leopold von Berchtold, the Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary, to the Serbian government announcing that a state of war now existed between the two countries.  Since June 28th, Berchtold and Field Marshall Conrad von Hötzendorff, Chief of Staff of the Austro-Hungarian army, had sought to utilize the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo as a pretext to attack Serbia, long seen as a troublesome enemy in Vienna.  An ultimatum to Serbia on July 23rd had been designed to be rejected, and when the Serbian reply on July 25th agreed to all demands but one, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Belgrade had broken diplomatic relations and left the Serbian capital without even reading the particulars of what the Serbs had objected to.  The expectation was that a short, decisive victory would cripple the Serbs and create an image of Austro-Hungarian strength, in contrast to the generally-prevailing opinion abroad that Austria-Hungary was in decline.  In this attack they had been encouraged by their German allies - Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany told the Austro-Hungarian ambassador on July 5th that the time had come to deal with Serbia and offered his full support.

- Even as the declaration of war was sent, however, any hope of containing the war to the Balkans had already evaporated.  Russia viewed itself as a protector of Serbia, and at a Council of Ministers meeting on July 24th, it was decided that the four military districts facing Austria-Hungary - Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, and Kazan - were to take steps to prepare for mobilization, a move which Tsar Nicholas II signed off on the following day.  When news arrived of the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war arrived in St. Petersburg, Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov announced that the Russian army in the four districts would mobilize, the last step before war.  Publicly the intent of only mobilizing against Austria-Hungary may have been intended to intimidate Austria-Hungary to back away from its attack on Serbia, but in practice General N. N. Janushkevich understood by July 28th that mobilization greatly increased the chances of a general European war, and that mobilization of the entire Russian army was now necessary.  Mobilization was perhaps the crucial step towards war, as once one country mobilized, its enemies would feel overwhelming pressure to mobilize their own army, so as to avoid being caught unprepared.  The Russian government had been encouraged to take these steps by the French Ambassador Maurice de Paléologue, who declared to Sazonov that France fully stood behind their Russian ally (despite having received instructions from Paris to encourage the Russians to find a peaceful solution).

- By this date, most Europeans had become aware that a general war was now likely, provoking a range of reactions.  Not everyone was yet swept up by enthusiasm for the coming conflict - in Berlin 100 000 attended a rally opposing war.  In Vienna, however, news of the declaration of war on Serbia was greeted by large cheering crowds, scenes that would be repeated in European capitals over the next week.  Others looked forward to what appeared to be the great event of the age - to his wife, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty (the cabinet minister in charge of the Royal Navy), wrote this day that 'Everything tends towards catastrophe, & collapse.  I am interested, geared-up & happy.'