Saturday, August 02, 2014

August 2nd, 1914

- In many of the larger cities of Europe, enormous crowds form, in part to celebrate the coming of war (in the belief it will be both short and glorious), in part to learn the latest news, and in part simply to be present at the most important moment of their nation's lives.  In St. Petersburg, crowds gather in the Winter Palace Square, waving flags and portraits of the Tsar.  When Nicholas II appears on the palace balcony, the entire crowd kneels and sings the national anthem.  Images of these crowds are among the most famous of the war, seen as a poignant reminder of the hopes and optimism that many embraced in August 1914, in stark contrast to the horrors to come.  Not everyone, though, shares this war enthusiasm.  These crowds are urban and disproportionately middle-class.  In rural Europe, the coming of war is greeted with much more reserve - through conscription peasants were more familiar with army life than their urban middle-class counterparts, and thus they do not share the latter's romantic and idealist view of war.

A jubilant crowd in Munich on August 2nd, among whom is one
particularly infamous figure.

- In France, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), representing the trade union movement in the country, calls on its members to support the government and mobilization.  This is a dramatic about-face for the CGT - it had long embraced revolutionary syndicalism and pacifism, and its stance had long been that if war ever appeared likely a general strike was to be called to ensure the maintenance of peace.  This about-face is a product of several factors.  First, the death of Jaurès has robbed the movement of a key voice at the moment of crisis.  Second, many of the urban working-class prove susceptible to the call of nationalism - forced to choose, most feel greater loyalty to other classes in France than their working-class compatriots in Germany.  Third, the war can be seen in terms favourable to the left - in this light, Imperial Germany is an autocratic and feudal remnant, which the war will sweep away.  Finally, the very speed of the crisis has prevented coordinated action - as late as the 30th, Jaurès himself was suggesting that the crisis would blow over.  Even if the workers had wanted to go on strike to prevent the war, there was hardly time to have organized such a move.

- As part of German mobilization, the first trains, each with fifty-four cars, cross the Hohenzollern Bridge over the Rhine River.  Over the next sixteen days, 2150 such trains are scheduled to use the bridge.

- After the debacle of the 1st, Luxembourg is fully occupied today, the Germans meeting no significant resistance.

- A strange scene at Armstrong's Elswick shipbuilding yard on the Tyne in northern England.  In the yard lies the dreadnought Sultan Osman I, built by Armstrong under contract for the Ottoman Empire. It was one of two dreadnoughts ordered by the Ottomans from British shipyards - the other, Reshadieh, had been completed just weeks earlier, while Sultan Osman I was awaiting the last of its 12-inch guns.  An Ottoman steamer had arrived in England on July 27th, carrying 500 sailors for the voyage to Constantinople.  The two dreadnoughts were to form the backbone of the otherwise-antiquated Ottoman navy.  They had cost the impoverished nation almost £6 million, and had been paid for through extra taxes, donations from villagers, and deductions from the salaries of civil servants.  The two were seen as a point of pride by the Ottoman people, a symbol that their much-battered nation was still a Great Power, despite the recent loss of Libya and most of its Balkan territories.

The ships will never reach Constantinople.  The focus of Churchill and the Admiralty is on the possibility of war with Germany, the latter having the second-largest navy in the world.  In a war at sea, the crucial measurement of strength was the number of dreadnoughts one could deploy.  While the Royal Navy had more than Germany, the margin was not overwhelming, and so Churchill had decided that, in this moment of crisis, Britain needed to confiscate the Ottoman dreadnoughts to add to the British margin of superiority at sea.  Thus the yard sees the odd sight of a detachment of the Sherwood Foresters Regiments, bayonets fixed, boarding Sultan Osman I, in order to prevent the Ottoman sailors from taking possession.  Though Churchill offers compensation, the Ottoman government is both offended and indignant at the British action.

- The seizure of Sultan Osman I and Reshadieh happens the same day that secret negotiations are concluded between the Ottoman Empire and Germany.  Prior to the July crisis, the Ottomans had sought alliances with the Great Powers of Europe, both for defending the tottering empire as well as regaining lost territories in the Balkans.  None had taken the Ottomans up on their offer - the Ottoman Empire had long been described as the 'Sick Man of Europe,' whose decline appeared to be terminal.  Its military was ineffective, its economy backwards, and was reliant on foreign investment for any significant industrial growth.  Their most recent alliance offer, made by Grand Vizier Said Halim and Enver Pasha, had been sent to Germany on July 22nd, one day before the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was delivered to Serbia.  While previously the Germans had viewed the Ottomans as militarily useless, the prospect of a general European war changed perspectives.  Suddenly, the prospect emerged of using the Ottomans to distract the British and the Russians, drawing some of their forces away from the more vital battlefields in Europe.  Though war with Russia was not the original intent of Enver and the Grand Vizier, they were willing to accept the terms, believing the war would be short, and offered the potential of German aid if other Great Powers attempted to partition the Ottoman Empire.  Thus a secret defensive alliance is signed between Germany and the Ottoman Empire this day.  It does not immediately lead to the Ottomans entering the war, however, for the negotiations have been kept from most of the Ottoman cabinet by Enver, and it would not be easy to convince the others of the necessity of entering the war.  Further, the Ottoman military remained a shambles - it would take months of mobilization before they would be able to threaten their neighbours.  Still, having negotiated the alliance, the Germans are now eager to make the Ottomans co-belligerents.

- At 7pm, the German ambassador to Belgium delivers an ultimatum to the Foreign Office in Brussels.  It had been in the ambassador's safe since its arrival by special courier on July 29th, having been drafted personally by Moltke on the 26th.  The note stated that the Germans had indications the French intended to invade Belgium to attack the German army - obvious misinformation without considering that Moltke must have had a 'premonition' of the 'indications' a week earlier.  It goes on to state that, given the obvious inability of the Belgian army to defend itself, it would be necessary for the German army to move into Belgium to block the French 'advance'.  Emphasis was placed on the benign nature of this intervention, pledging to restore Belgian independence as soon as the war was over.  However, if Belgium resisted, the country would be seen as an enemy, and dealt with militarily.  Finally, a answer was demanded within twelve hours.

The ultimatum was a central component of the Schlieffen Plan, and it was hoped that Belgium would stand aside as the Germans marched through.  Indeed, Moltke could not imagine the tiny army of Belgium offering anything more than token resistance - surely they understood that active resistance meant annihilation.  So much the better if the pesky neutral adopted the proper attitude to Germany.

- There are two Cabinet meetings held in London today to discuss the ongoing crisis.  Grey is finally able to win agreement for a declaration that the Royal Navy will not allow the German fleet to pass into the Channel and bombard French ports unmolested.  Though this is a step towards war, it is still a very small one, and Grey continues to emphasize to the French ambassador that further commitments are not inevitable.  Even this decision comes at the cost of two resignations, and it is apparent that the middle group in Cabinet is still unwilling to go any further in the direction of intervention.  That afternoon a communication from the leaders of the opposition Conservative party emphasize their support for intervention and their willingness to join a coalition government.  This adds a party dimension to the crisis - this is a Liberal government, and ministers do not want to make way for Conservatives who would be even more energetic and aggressive in prosecuting the war.  Thus a desire to keep the Conservatives out is one small addition to the scale in favour of intervention.

That evening, Grey is informed by telegram of the German ultimatum to Belgium.  He immediately meets with Prime Minister Asquith, who agrees to order immediate mobilization of the British army.  An invasion of Belgium might now bring unity to a Liberal government that remains badly divided over the war.  The British government now awaits word of the Belgian response - they can hardly enter the war in defense of Belgian independence if the Belgians themselves are not willing to defend themselves.  Will tiny Belgium stand in the way of the German behemoth?

- At 9pm, the Belgian Council of State convenes, presided over by King Albert.  Discussing the matter for the next three hours, there was no serious consideration given to accepting the German ultimatum.  No faith was placed in the assurance that in victory Germany would evacuate Belgium - it was generally believed that once the Germans were allowed into the country, they would never leave.  Both the King and the ministers also had no illusions regarding the consequences of resistance - the Belgian army was hopelessly overmatched, and at best could hope to slow the German steamroller.  However, as Baron de Bassompierre recorded, 'If we are to be crushed, let us be crushed gloriously.'  The meeting adjourns at midnight to allow the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Justice Minister to draft the reply.

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