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.

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