The July Crisis was a diplomatic crisis among the major powers of Europe in the summer of 1914 that led to the First World War. Immediately after Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo, a series of diplomatic maneuverings led to an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to Serbia, and ultimately to war.
This ultimatum was part of a coercive program meant to weaken the Kingdom of Serbia as a threat to Austria-Hungary's control of the northern Balkans which had a significant southern Slavic population, including a Serbian community in Bosnia. This was intended to be achieved either through diplomacy or by a localized war if the ultimatum were rejected. Austria-Hungary preferred war, though István Tisza, the prime minister of the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary, hoped that the ultimatum would be reasonable enough that it would not be rejected outright.
One month after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, thus initiating the First World War.
- 1 Assassination and investigation
- 2 Austria-Hungary receives German support and settles on coercive diplomacy with Serbia
- 3 Serbia drifts
- 4 Austro-Hungarian attitude to war
- 5 German attitude to war
- 6 Preparations for the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum
- 7 Content of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia
- 8 Serbian response to the ultimatum
- 9 Proposals for mediation
- 10 Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia
- 11 Russian mobilization
- 12 German mobilization
- 13 German declarations of war
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 Bibliography
- 17 External links
Assassination and investigation
Emperor Franz Joseph ordered Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, to attend military exercises scheduled for Bosnia in the summer of 1914. After the exercises, on 28 June, Franz Ferdinand toured Sarajevo with his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Six armed irredentist Serbs coordinated by Danilo Ilić lay in wait along Sarajevo's Appel Quay because it was announced that Franz Ferdinand's motorcade would use that route.
At 10:10 AM, Nedeljko Čabrinović bombed Franz Ferdinand’s motorcade as it approached the Čumuria bridge. Twenty people were wounded, but Franz Ferdinand was unhurt. The bomb thrower had been instructed in Belgrade by Serbian Major Voja Tankosić to take potassium cyanide to prevent his capture. Čabrinović swallowed the cyanide, but it only sickened him. The Sarajevo police arrested Čabrinović and brought him to the police first aid post. Investigator Judge Leo Pfeffer was at the police station and was immediately assigned to investigate. Before the investigation got far, news arrived that Gavrilo Princip had shot and killed Franz Ferdinand and Sophie while they were on their way to visit the wounded in the hospital. Princip took his cyanide, but the cyanide had the same effect on Princip as it had on Čabrinović. The police arrested Princip, and he too was brought to the first aid post. Within 45 minutes of the shooting, Princip began telling his story to Pfeffer.
By the next day, 29 June, based on the interrogations of the two assassins, Oskar Potiorek, Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was able to telegraph to Vienna that Princip and Čabrinović had conspired in Belgrade with the comitaji Milan Ciganović and others to obtain bombs, revolvers, and money to kill Franz Ferdinand. A police dragnet quickly caught most of the conspirators. Twenty-five people went to trial, but nine were acquitted.
Immediately following the assassinations, the Serbian ambassador to France, Milenko Vesnić, and the Serbian ambassador to Russia, Spalaiković, put out statements claiming that Serbia had warned Austria-Hungary of the impending assassination. Serbia soon thereafter denied making warnings and denied knowledge of the plot. Prime Minister Pašić himself made these denials to Az Est on 7 July and to the Paris Edition of the New York Herald on 20 July. The story remained there until the outbreak of the war. During the war, the former Serbian Military Attaché to Vienna, Colonel Lesanin, claimed that Prime Minister Pašić had ordered the Serbian ambassador to Vienna, Jovanović, to warn Austria-Hungary of the plot, but Jovanović carried out his instructions poorly.
Requests for investigation
“What Serbia ought to have done to prove her innocence and render it more difficult for Austria to hold her responsible for the crime was to open a judicial inquiry into the possible complicity of Serbian subjects and take the necessary measures in that event.”—Albertini, Origins of the War of 1914
By 30 June, Austro-Hungarian and German diplomats began making requests for investigation to their Serbian and Russian counterparts. German Undersecretary of State Arthur Zimmermann addressed these requests to ambassadors to Germany. The Austrian Ambassador to Serbia made a similar request to the Secretary General of the Serbian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Slavko Gruić. Germany and Austria-Hungary were rebuffed. On July 5, based on further interrogations of the assassins, Governor Potiorek was able to telegraph Vienna that Serbian Major Voja Tankosić had given the assassins instructions. The next day, Austrian Ambassador Czernin approached Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov with the idea that the instigators of the plot against Franz Ferdinand needed to be investigated within Serbia, but he too was rebuffed.
The last assassin
One last avenue of diplomacy and investigation lay open. The lone legal adult amongst the armed assassins was Muhamed Mehmedbašić. Following the assassination, Mehmedbašić fled to Montenegro where he was arrested by the police. In Montenegrin custody, Mehmedbašić confessed to a wider conspiracy including an irredentist Serb terrorist planning meeting in Toulouse, France. Learning of the arrest but not of the confession, Austria-Hungary asked Montenegro to honor their mutual extradition treaty and hand over the assassin. After Montenegro shared Mehmedbašić’s confession with the French Ambassador, Mehmedbašić escaped to Serbia, possibly with the connivance of the Montenegrin authorities.
Austria-Hungary receives German support and settles on coercive diplomacy with Serbia
The Hoyos Mission
From 29 June to 1 July, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Berchtold and Chief of the General Staff Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf debated the appropriate response to the Sarajevo Outrage. Conrad initially advocated mobilization against Serbia. Berchtold opposed this, saying that public opinion must first be prepared. On 30 June, Berchtold suggested demanding that Serbia disband anti-Austrian societies and relieve certain officials of their responsibilities for their bad acts. Conrad continued to argue for the use of force. On July 1, Berchtold told Conrad that Emperor Franz Joseph would await the criminal inquiry results, that Count István Tisza, Prime Minister of Hungary, was opposed to war, and that Count Karl von Stürgkh, Prime Minister of Austria, hoped that the criminal inquiry would provide a proper basis for action. Conrad continued to push for war but worried what attitude Germany would take, to which Berchtold replied that he planned to inquire of Germany what its position was.
On 1 July, Viktor Naumann (German Journalist), a friend of German Foreign Secretary Jagow, approached Berchtold's chief of cabinet, Alexander, Count of Hoyos. Naumann's advice was that it was time to annihilate Serbia and that Germany could be expected to stand by her ally. The next day, German Ambassador Tschirschky spoke to Emperor Franz Joseph and stated that it was his estimate that Wilhelm II, would support resolute, well-thought-out action by Austria-Hungary with regard to Serbia.
Berchtold previously had decided to seek a more direct statement of German intentions. On 24 June, Austria-Hungary had prepared a letter for its ally outlining the challenges in the Balkans and how to address them, but Franz Ferdinand was assassinated before it could be delivered. According to the letter, Romania was no longer a reliable ally especially since the Russo-Romanian summit meeting of 14 June in Constanța. Russia was working toward an alliance of Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro against Austria-Hungary, dismemberment of Austria-Hungary, and the movement of borders from east to west. To break up this effort, Germany and Austria-Hungary should first ally with Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. To this letter was added a post-script on the Sarajevo Outrage and its impact. Finally, Emperor Franz Joseph added his own letter to Emperor Wilhelm II which closed with advocating the end of Serbia as a political power factor. Hoyos was dispatched to Germany to present these letters.
The letters were presented to Wilhelm II on 5 July. Wilhelm II voiced his support for whatever action Austria-Hungary thought appropriate but added that he needed to consult with Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg who he was quite sure would have a similar view. On 6 July, Hoyos, Zimmerman, Bethmann Hollweg, and Austro-Hungarian Ambassador Szögyény met and Germany gave its "blank cheque" commitment to Austria-Hungary of firm support.
Policy makers compromise
On 7 July, the Council of Joint Ministers debated Austria-Hungary's course of action. The most hawkish on the Council considered a surprise attack on Serbia. Count Tisza persuaded the Council that demands should be placed on Serbia before mobilization to provide a proper "juridical basis for a declaration of war". The Council agreed on putting harsh demands on Serbia but could not reach consensus on how harsh. Except for Count Tisza, the Council intended to make such harsh demands that their rejection would be very probable. Tisza held out for demands that while harsh would not appear impossible to meet. Both views were sent to the Emperor on 8 July.
The Emperor's opinion was that the gap in opinion could most likely be bridged. An initial set of demands was drafted during the Council meeting. Over the next few days, the demands were reinforced and made more iron-clad and difficult for Serbia to accept.
Léon Descos, French Ambassador to Belgrade, on 1 July reported home that the Serbian military party was involved in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, that Serbia was in the wrong, and that Russian Ambassador Hartwig was in constant conversations with Regent Alexander to guide Serbia through this crisis. The "military party" was a reference to Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, known more commonly as Apis, and the officers he led in the 1903 murder of the King and Queen of Serbia. These men had great influence in Serbia as their acts led to the installation of the current dynasty ruled by King Peter and Regent Alexander. Serbia requested and France arranged the replacement of Descos with the more hawkish Boppe who arrived on 25 July. Hartwig died of a heart attack on 10 July during a visit to the Austrian legation in Belgrade.
Austro-Hungarian attitude to war
Those in the “War Party” in Vienna saw the assassination as an excellent excuse to execute their 1912 plans for a war to destroy Serbia's ability to interfere in Bosnia. Berchtold used his memo of June 14th 1914 as the basis for the document that would be used to solicit German support. Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of the General Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army, advised Berchtold that Austria-Hungary should “cut the knot” and declare war on Serbia as soon as possible. Counsels were badly divided in Vienna, with Berchtold and Conrad supporting war, Franz Joseph I of Austria—though receptive to the idea of a war—insisting upon German support as a prerequisite, and the Hungarian Prime Minister Count István Tisza opposing a war with Serbia, stating (correctly, as it turned out) that any war with the Serbs was bound to trigger a war with Russia and hence a general European war.
Austria-Hungary immediately undertook a criminal investigation. Ilić and five of the assassins were promptly arrested and interviewed by an investigating judge. The three assassins who had come from Serbia told almost all they knew: Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosić had directly and indirectly given them six bombs (produced at the Serbian Arsenal), four pistols, training, money, suicide pills, a special map with the location of gendarmes marked, knowledge of an infiltration channel from Serbia to Sarajevo, and a card authorizing the use of that channel.
German attitude to war
On July 2, the Saxon Ambassador in Berlin wrote back to his king that the German Army wanted Austria to attack Serbia as quickly as possible because the time was right for a general war since Germany was more prepared for war than either Russia or France. On July 3, the Saxon military attaché in Berlin reported that the German General Staff “would be pleased if war were to come about now”.
Kaiser Wilhelm II declared on July 4 that he was entirely for “settling accounts with Serbia”. He ordered the German ambassador in Vienna, Count Heinrich von Tschirschky, to stop advising restraint, writing that “Tschirschky will be so good to drop this nonsense. We must finish with the Serbs, quickly. Now or never!”. In response, Tschirschky told the Austro-Hungarian government that same day that “Germany would support the Monarchy through thick and thin, whatever action it decided to take against Serbia. The sooner Austria-Hungary struck, the better”. On July 5, 1914, Count Moltke, the Chief of the German General Staff, wrote that “Austria must beat the Serbs”.
In order to ensure Germany's full support, the permanent head of the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Ministry Count Alexander von Hoyos visited Berlin on July 5. He provided Austro-Hungarian Ambassador Count Ladislaus de Szögyény-Marich with two documents, one of which was a memo by Tisza, advising that Bulgaria should join the Triple Alliance, and another letter by [Franz Joseph I of Austria] stating that the only way of preventing the disintegration of the Dual Monarchy was “to eliminate Serbia” as a state. The letter by Franz Joseph was based closely upon Berchtold’s June 14 memo calling for the destruction of Serbia. Franz Josef’s letter explicitly stated that the decision for war against Serbia had been made before the assassination of the Archduke, and that the events of Sarajevo only confirmed the already pre-existing need for a war against Serbia.
After meeting with Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Germany Szögyény on July 5, the German Emperor informed him that his state could “count on Germany’s full support”, even if “grave European complications” ensued, and that Austria-Hungary “ought to march at once” against Serbia. He added that “in any case, as things stood today, Russia was not at all ready for war, and would certainly think long before appealing to arms”. Even if Russia were to act in defence of Serbia, Wilhelm promised that Germany would do everything in its power, including war, to support Austria-Hungary.
After his meeting, Szögyény reported to Vienna that Wilhelm “would regret it if we [Austria-Hungary] let this present chance, which was so favourable for us, go by without utilising it”. This so-called “blank cheque” of German support up to and including war was to be the main determining factor in Austrian policy in July 1914. At a meeting held also on the 5th at Potsdam palace, the German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the Foreign Ministry’s State Secretary Arthur Zimmermann, the Minister of War Erich von Falkenhayn, the head of the German Imperial Military Cabinet Moritz von Lyncker, the Adjutant general Hans von Plessen, Captain Hans Zenker of the Naval General Staff, and Admiral Eduard von Capelle of the Naval State Secretariat all endorsed Wilhelm’s “blank cheque” as Germany’s best policy. When asked if Germany was ready for a war against Russia and France, Falkenhayn replied with a “curt affirmative”. Later on July 17th, the Army’s Quartermaster general Count Waldersee wrote to the Foreign Minister von Jagow: “I can move at a moment’s notice. We in the General Staff are ready: there is nothing more for us to do at this juncture”.
Within Serbia, there was much popular rejoicing over the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Because Serbian elections were scheduled for August 14, the Prime Minister Pašić was unwilling to court unpopularity by being seen to bow down to Austria. If his attempts to warn the Austrians in advance of the plot against Franz Ferdinand had actually taken place, Pašić was probably concerned about his chances at the polls and perhaps his life being endangered if news of them leaked out.
Germany's policy was to support a swift war to destroy Serbia that would present a fait accompli to the world. Unlike the three earlier cases going back to late 1912 where Austria had asked for German diplomatic support for a war against Serbia, this time it was felt that political conditions for such a war now existed. At this time, the German military supported the idea of an Austrian attack against Serbia as the best way of starting a general war, whereas Wilhelm believed that an Austro-Serbian war would be purely local. Austrian policy based upon pre-existing plans to destroy Serbia involved not waiting to complete judicial inquiries to strike back immediately and not to strain its credibility in the coming weeks as it would become more and more clear that Austria was not reacting to the assassination. Likewise, Germany wished to give the impression of its ignorance of Austrian intentions.
As Wilhelm himself stated in private that “In order not to alarm world opinion”, the Kaiser left on his annual North Sea cruise. Shortly after, Wilhelm's close friend Gustav Krupp von Bohlen wrote that the Emperor had told him:
“He [Wilhelm] would declare war at once, if Russia mobilized. This time people would see that he was not “falling out”. The Emperor’s repeated protestations that in this case no one would ever again be able to reproach him with indecision were almost comic to hear”
In the same way, Berchtold suggested that Austrian leaders go on vacation “to prevent any disquiet” about what had been decided.
On July 6, Bethmann Hollweg and Zimmermann further repeated the promise of Wilhelm’s “blank cheque” at a conference with Szögyény. Although Bethmann Hollweg stated that the decision for war or peace was in Austria’s hands, he strongly advised that Austria choose the former.
On July 6, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey was warned by the German Ambassador in London, Prince Lichnowsky of the dangerous situation in the Balkans. Grey felt that Anglo-German co-operation could resolve any Austro-Serbian dispute, and he “believed that a peaceful solution would be reached”.
Preparations for the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum
On July 7, on his return to Vienna Count Hoyos reported to Austro-Hungarian Crown Council that Austria had Germany’s full support even if “measures against Serbia should bring about a big war”. At the Crown Council, Berchtold strongly urged that a war against Serbia be begun as soon as possible.
At that meeting of the Crown Council, all involved were in full favour of war except Count Tisza. Count Tisza warned that any attack on Serbia “would, as far as can humanly be foreseen, lead to an intervention by Russia and hence a world war”. The rest of the participants debated about whether Austria should just launch an unprovoked attack or issue an ultimatum to Serbia with demands so stringent that it was bound to be rejected. The Austrian Prime Minister Count Karl von Stürgkh warned Tisza that if Austria did not launch a war, its “policy of hesitation and weakness” would cause Germany to abandon Austria-Hungary as an ally. All present except Tisza finally agreed that Austria-Hungary should present an ultimatum designed to be rejected.
Starting on July 7, the German Ambassador to Austria-Hungary, Tschirschky, and the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Berchtold held almost daily meetings about how to co-ordinate the diplomatic action to justify a war against Serbia. On July 8, Tschirschky presented Berchtold with a message from Wilhelm who declared he “stated most emphatically that Berlin expected the Monarchy to act against Serbia, and that Germany would not understand it, if...the present opportunity were allowed to go by...without a blow struck”. At the same meeting, Tschirschky told Berchtold, “if we [Austria-Hungary] compromised or bargained with Serbia, Germany would interpret this as a confession of weakness, which could not be without effect on our position in the Triple Alliance and on Germany’s future policy”. On July 7, Bethmann Hollweg told his aide and close friend Kurt Riezler that “An action against Serbia can lead to a world war”. Bethmann Hollweg felt such a “leap in the dark” was justified by the international situation. Bethmann Hollweg told Riezler that Germany was “completely paralysed” and that “The future belongs to Russia which is growing and growing, and is becoming an ever increasing nightmare to us”. Riezler went to write in his diary that Bethmann Hollweg painted a “devastating picture” with Russia building rail-roads in Congress Poland that allow Russia to mobilize faster once the Great Military Programme was finished in 1917, and that an Austro-Serbian war would probably cause a world war, “...which would lead to an overthrow of the existing order”, but since the “existing order was lifeless and void of ideas”, such a war could only be welcomed as a blessing to Germany. Bethmann Hollweg's fears about Russia led him to credit Anglo-Russian naval talks in May 1914 as the beginning of an “encirclement” policy against Germany that could only be broken through war. After Anglo-French naval talks had taken place, the Russians demanded the same courtesy be extended to them, which led to inconclusive Anglo-Russian naval talks.
On July 8th, Tisza told another meeting of the Crown Council that any attack on Serbia was bound to lead to “intervention by Russia and consequently world war”. On the same day, Kurt Riezler’s diary has his friend Bethmann Hollweg saying: “If the war comes from the East, so that we are marching to Austria-Hungary’s aid instead of Austria-Hungary to ours, then we have a chance of winning it. If war does not come, if the Czar does not want it or France dismayed, counsels peace, then we still have a chance of maneuvering the Entente apart over this action”.
On July 9th, Berchtold advised Franz Joseph I of Austria that he would present Belgrade with an ultimatum containing demands that were designed to be rejected, which would have ensured a war without the “odium of attacking Serbia without warning, put her in the wrong” and ensured that Britain and Romania would remain neutral. On July 10th, Berchtold told Tschirschky he would present the Serbs with an ultimatum containing “unacceptable demands” as the best way of causing war, but “chief care” would be taken about how to present these “unacceptable demands”. In response, Wilhelm wrote angrily on the margins of Tschirschky’s dispatch “They had time enough for that!”
It took a week from July 7–14 for Tisza to be persuaded to support the war against Serbia. On July 9, Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador in London was told by the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey that he “...saw no reason for taking a pessimistic view of the situation”. Despite Tisza's opposition, Berchtold had ordered his officials to start drafting an ultimatum to Serbia on July 10th. The German Ambassador reported that “Count Berchtold appeared to hope that Serbia would not agree to the Austro-Hungarian demands, as a mere diplomatic victory would put the country here again in a stagnant mood”. Count Hoyos told a German diplomat “that the demands were really of such a nature that no nation that still possessed self-respect and dignity could possibly accept them”.
On July 11, Tschirschky reported to the German Foreign Minister von Jagow that he “again took the occasion to discuss with Berchtold what action was to be taken against Serbia, chiefly in order to assure the minister once again, emphatically that speedy action was called for.” On the same day, the German Foreign Office wanted to know if they should send a telegram congratulating King Peter of Serbia on his birthday. Wilhelm replied: “As Vienna has so far inaugurated no action of any sort against Belgrade, the omission of the customary telegram would be too noticeable and might be the cause of premature uneasiness.... It should be sent.” On July 12, Szögyény reported from Berlin that everyone in the German government wanted to see Austria-Hungary declare war on Serbia at once, and were tired of Austrian indecision about whether to choose war or peace. He added that this:
“absolute insistence on a war against Serbia was based on the two considerations already mentioned; firstly that Russia and France were ‘not yet ready’ and secondly that Britain will not at this juncture intervene in a war which breaks out over a Balkan state, even if this should lead to a conflict with Russia, possibly also France.... Not only have Anglo-German relations so improved that Germany feels that she need no longer feel fear a directly hostile attitude by Britain, but above all, Britain at this moment is anything but anxious for war, and has no wish whatever to pull chestnuts out of the fire for Serbia, or in the last instance, Russia.... In general, then, it appears from all this that the political constellation is as favourable for us as it could possibly be.”.
On July 12, Berchtold had shown Tschirschky the contents of his ultimatum containing “unacceptable demands”, and promised to present it to the Serbs after the Franco-Russian summit between President Poincaré and Nicholas II was over. Wilhelm wrote on the margins of Tschirschky’s dispatch “What a pity!” that the ultimatum would be presented so late in July. By July 14, Tisza agreed to support war out of fears that a policy of peace would lead to Germany renouncing the Dual Alliance of 1879. On that day, Tschirschky reported to Berlin that Austria-Hungary would present an ultimatum “which would almost certainly be rejected and should result in war”. That same day, Jagow sent instructions to Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador in London, stating Germany had decided to do everything within its power to cause an Austro-Serbian war, but Germany must avoid the impression “that we were egging Austria on to war. Jagow described a war against Serbia as Austria-Hungary's last chance at “political rehabilitation”. He stated that under no circumstances did he want a peaceful solution, and though he did not want a preventive war, he would not “jib at the post” if such a war came because Germany was ready for it, and Russia “fundamentally was not”. Russia and Germany being destined to fight each other, Jagow believed that now was the best time for the inevitable war, because: “in a few years Russia...will be ready. Then she will crush us on land by weight of numbers, and she will have her Baltic Fleet and her strategic railroads ready. Our group meanwhile is getting weaker”.
Jagow's belief that the summer of 1914 was the best time for Germany to go to war was widely shared in the German government. Many German officials believed that the “Teuton race” and “Slav race” were destined to fight each other in a terrible “race war” for the domination of Europe, and that now was the best time for such a war to come. The Chief of the German General Staff, Moltke, told Count Lerchenfeld, the Bavarian Minister in Berlin, that “a moment so favourable from the military point of view might never occur again”. Moltke argued that due to the alleged superiority of German weaponry and training, combined with the recent change in the French Army from a two-year to a three-year period of service, Germany could easily defeat both France and Russia in 1914.
On July 13, the Austrian investigators of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand reported to Count Berchtold that:
“There is nothing to prove or even to suppose that the Serbian government is accessory to the inducement for the crime, its preparations, or the furnishing of weapons. On the contrary, there are reasons to believe that this altogether out of the question.”
This report depressed Berchtold as it meant there was little evidence to support his pretext of Serbian government involvement in Franz Ferdinand’s assassination.
On July 14, the Austrians assured the Germans that the ultimatum to be delivered to Serbia “is being composed so that the possibility of its acceptance is practically excluded”. That same day, Conrad told Berchtold that because of his desire to get the summer harvest in, the earliest that Austria could declare war was July 25th. At the same time, the visit of the French President and Premier to St. Petersburg might that it was considered undesirable to present the ultimatum until the visit was over. The ultimatum, officially called a demarche, would not be delivered until July 23rd with an expiry date of July 25th.
On July 16, Bethmann Hollweg told Count Roedern, the State Secretary for Alsace-Lorraine, that he couldn't care less about Serbia or alleged Serbian complicity in the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. All that mattered was that Austria attack Serbia that summer, to result in a win-win situation for Germany. If Bethmann Hollweg's view was correct, an Austro-Serbian war would either cause a general war (which Bethmann Hollweg believed Germany would win) or cause the Triple Entente to break up. That same day, the Russian Ambassador to Austria-Hungary reported to St. Petersburg that,
“Information reaches me that the Austro-Hungarian government at the conclusion of the inquiry intends to make certain demands on Belgrade.... It would seem to me desirable that at the present moment, before a final decision on the matter, the Vienna Cabinet should be informed how Russia would react to the fact of Austria's presenting demands to Serbia such as would be unacceptable to the dignity of that state”.
The Austrian Ambassador in St. Petersburg falsely told the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Sazonov, that Austria was not planning on any measure that might cause a war in the Balkans, so no Russian complaints were made.
On July 17, Berchtold complained to Prince Stolberg of the German Embassy that though he thought his ultimatum would probably be rejected, he was still worried that it was possible for the Serbs to accept it, and wanted more time to re-phrase the document. Stolberg reported back to Berlin that he had told Berchtold:
“If Austria really wants to clear up her relationship with Serbia once and for all, which Tisza himself in his recent speech called ‘indispensable’, then it would pass comprehension why such demands were not being made as would make the breach unavoidable. If the action simply peters out, once again, and ends with a so-called diplomatic success, the belief which is already widely held there that the Monarchy is no longer capable of vigorous action will be dangerously strengthened. The consequences, internal and external, which would result from this, inside Austria and abroad, are obvious.”
On July 18th, to reassure Stolberg, Count Hoyos promised him that the demands in the draft text of the ultimatum “were really of such a nature that no nation that still possessed self-respect and dignity could possibly accept them". The same day, in response to rumours about an Austrian ultimatum, the Serbian Prime Minister Pašić stated that he would not accept any measures compromising on Serbian sovereignty. On July 18, Hans Schoen, a Bavarian diplomat in Berlin, told the Bavarian Prime Minister Count Georg von Hertling that Austria was only making a pretence “of being peacefully inclined”. Commenting on the draft text of the ultimatum shown to him by German diplomats, Schoen noted that:
“It is perfectly plain that Serbia cannot accept any such demands, which are incompatible with her dignity as a sovereign state. Thus the result would be war.”
Zimmermann told Schoen that a powerful and successful move against Serbia would save Austria-Hungary from internal disintegration, and that was why Germany had given Austria “a blank power of full authority, even at the risk of a war with Russia”.
On July 19th, the Crown Council in Vienna finally decided upon the wording of the ultimatum to be presented to Serbia on July 23rd. The extent of German influence on Austria-Hungary was evident when Jagow ordered Berchtold to hold back the delivery of the ultimatum by an hour to make sure that the French President and Premier were at sea after their summit in St. Petersburg. The first draft of the ultimatum had been shown to the German Embassy in Vienna on July 12th, and the final text was provided in advance to the German Embassy on July 22nd.
Because of the Austrian delay in writing the ultimatum, the element of surprise that Germany had counted upon in the war against Serbia was lost. Instead, the strategy of “localization” was adopted, which meant that when the Austro-Serbian war began, Germany would pressure other powers not to become involved even at the risk of war. On July 19th, Jagow published a note in the semi-official North German Gazette warning other powers “that the settlement of differences which may arise between Austria-Hungary and Serbia should remain localized”. Asked by Jules Cambon, the French Ambassador to Germany, how he knew about the contents of the Austrian ultimatum as he had revealed in the North German Gazette, Gottlieb von Jagow pretended to be ignorant of it. Sir Horace Rumbold of the British Embassy in Berlin reported:
“We do not know the facts. The German government clearly do know. They know what the Austrian government is going to demand...and I think we may say with some assurance that they had expressed approval of those demands and promised support should dangerous complications ensure...the German government did not believe that there is any danger of war.”
Though Jagow’s pretence was not widely believed, it was still believed at this time that Germany was aiming for peace, and could restrain Austria.
General Moltke of the German General Staff again strongly approved of the idea of an Austrian attack on Serbia as the best way of bringing about the desired world war. However, to ignore the actions of the Serbian Government — with its ignorance of the Black Hand run by top Serbian Military personnel, which helped plan and implement the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand -, or to ignore the Austro-Hungary Ambassador's misrepresentation to the Russian Ambassador on July 16, 1914 where he stated that Austro-Hunary was not planning to invade Serbia, would be naive to say the least. In effect, it could be argued that the two central powers (Serbia and Austro-Hungary) made concerted efforts not to avoid a war that turned global killing 17 million people and injuring another 20 million: this includes the deaths of 7 million civilians.
On July 20th, the German government informed the directors of the Norddeutscher Lloyd and Hamburg America Line shipping companies that Austria would soon present an ultimatum that might cause a general European war, and they should start withdrawing their ships from foreign waters back to the Reich at once. That same day, the German Navy was ordered to start concentrating the High Seas Fleet, in case of a general war. Riezler’s diary has Bethmann Hollweg saying to him on July 20th that Russia with its “growing demands and tremendous dynamic power would be impossible to repel in a few years, especially if the present European constellation continues to exist.” Riezler ended his diary with noting that Bethmann Hollweg was “determined and taciturn”, and quoted his former Foreign Minister Kiderlen-Waechter who “had always said we must fight”.
On July 21st, the German government told Jules Cambon, the French Ambassador in Berlin, and Bronewski, the Russian chargé d'affaires, that the German Reich had no knowledge of what Austrian policy was towards Serbia. In private, Zimmermann wrote that the German government “entirely agreed that Austria must take advantage of the favourable moment, even at the risk of further complications”, but that he doubted “whether Vienna would nerve herself to act”. Zimmermann ended his memo that “he gathered that Vienna, timid and undecided as it always was, was almost sorry” that Germany had given the “blank cheque” of July 5th, 1914 instead of advising restraint with Serbia. Conrad himself was pressuring the Dual Monarchy for “haste” in starting a war, in order to prevent Serbia from “smelling a rat and herself volunteering compensation, perhaps under pressure from France and Russia”. On July 22nd, Germany refused an Austrian request to have the German Minister in Belgrade present the ultimatum to Serbia because as Jagow had said, it would look too much “as though we were egging Austria on to make war”.
On July 23rd, the whole German military and political leadership ostentatiously went on vacation. Count Schoen, the Bavarian chargé d'affaires in Berlin reported to Munich:
“The administration will, immediately upon the presentation of the Austrian note at Belgrade, initiate diplomatic action with the Powers,in the interest of the localization of the war. It will claim that that Austrian action has been just of much of a surprise to it as to the other Powers, pointing out the fact that the Emperor is on his northern journey, and that the Prussian Minister of War, as well as the Chief of the Grand General Staff are away on leave of absence.”
However, on July 19th—four days before the ultimatum was presented—Jagow had asked all German Ambassadors the world over (except for Austria-Hungary) to state to their host governments that:
“If the Austro-Hungarian government is not going to abdicate forever as a great power, she has no choice but to enforce acceptance by the Serbian government of her demands by strong pressure and, if necessary, by resort to military measures.”
Subsequently, Jagow realized that his statement was incompatible with his claims of ignorance, thus leading to a hasty second dispatch claiming total ignorance of the Austrian ultimatum, but threatening “incalculable consequences” if any power tried to stop Austria-Hungary from attacking Serbia if the ultimatum were rejected. When Pourtalès, the German Ambassador in St. Petersburg reported that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov warned him that Germany “must reckon with Europe” if she supported an Austrian attack against Serbia, Wilhelm wrote on the margin of Pourtalès’s dispatch “No! Russia, yes!”
In supporting an Austrian war with Serbia, Germany’s leaders knew the risks of a general war. As the historian Fritz Fischer pointed out, this could be proven by Jagow’s request to know the full itinerary of Wilhelm’s North Sea cruise before the Austrian ultimatum was presented because:
“Since we went to localize the conflict between Austria and Serbia, we must not have the world alarmed by His Majesty’s returning prematurely; on the other hand, His Majesty must be within reach, in case unpredictable developments should force us to take important decisions, such as mobilization. His Majesty might perhaps spend the last days of his cruise in the Baltic”.
On July 22nd, before the ultimatum was delivered, the Austrian government asked that the German government deliver the Austrian declaration of war when the ultimatum expired on July 25th. Jagow refused stating that “Our standpoint has to be that the quarrel with Serbia is an Austro-Hungarian internal affair.” On the other hand, this refusal by Germany to present the ultimatum could be seen as Germany remaining as independent as it could with regards to encouraging a world war at this point.
On July 23, the Austrian Minister in Belgrade, Baron Giesl von Gieslingen, presented the ultimatum to the Serbian government. At the same time, and having a strong expectation of Serbian rejection, the Austrian Army opened its war book, and began preparations for hostilities.
Content of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia
The Austro-Hungarian ultimatum demanded from the Serbian state to formally and publicly condemn the "dangerous propaganda" against Austria-Hungary, the ultimate aim of which, it claimed, is to "detach from the Monarchy territories belonging to it". Moreover, Belgrade should "suppress by every means this criminal and terrorist propaganda".
Moreover, the Serbian government should
- Suppress all publications which "incite hatred and contempt of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy" and are "directed against its territorial integrity".
- Dissolve the Serbian nationalist organisation "Narodna Odbrana" ("The People's Defense") and all other such societies in Serbia.
- Eliminate without delay from schoolbooks and public documents all "propaganda against Austria-Hungary".
- Remove from the Serbian military and civil administration all officers and functionaries whose names the Austro-Hungarian Government will provide.
- Accept in Serbia "representatives of the Austro-Hungarian Government" for the "suppression of subversive movements".
- Bring to trial all accessories to the Archduke's assassination and allow "Austro-Hungarian delegates" (law enforcement officers) to take part in the investigations.
- Arrest Major Voja Tankosić and civil servant Milan Ciganović who were named as participants in the assassination plot.
- Cease the cooperation of the Serbian authorities in the "traffic in arms and explosives across the frontier"; dismiss and punish the officials of the at Shabatz Loznica frontier service, "guilty of having assisted the perpetrators of the Sarajevo crime".
- Provide "explanations" to the Austro-Hungarian Government regarding "Serbian officials" who have expressed themselves in interviews "in terms of hostility to the Austro-Hungarian Government".
- Notify the Austro-Hungarian Government "without delay" of the execution of the measures comprised in the ultimatum.
The Austro-Hungarian Government, concluded the document, was expecting the reply of the Serbian Government at the latest by 5 o'clock on Saturday evening, July 25th,1914.
An Appendix to the main text listed various details from "the crime investigation undertaken at court in Sarajevo against Gavrilo Princip and his comrades on account of the assassination", which allegedly demonstrated the culpability and assistance provided to the conspirators by various Serbian officials.
Instructions were given to the Austrian Minister in Belgrade, Baron von Gieslingen, whereby if "no unconditionally positive answer" is received by the Serbian government within "the 48-hour deadline" of the ultimatum ("as measured from the day and hour of your announcing it"), the Minister should proceed to leave the Austro-Hungarian Embassy of Belgrade together with all its personnel.
Serbian response to the ultimatum
On the night of July 23, the Serbian Regent, Crown Prince Alexander, visited the Russian legation to "express his despair over the Austrian ultimatum, compliance with which he regards as an absolute impossibility for a state which had the slightest regard for its dignity". Both the Regent and Pašić asked for Russian support, which was refused. Sazonov offered the Serbs only moral support while Nicholas told the Serbs to simply accept the ultimatum, and hope that international opinion would force the Austrians to change their minds. Both Russia and France, because of their military weaknesses, were most disinclined to risk a war with Germany in 1914, and hence the pressure on Serbia to accede to the terms of the Austrian ultimatum. Because the Austrians had repeatedly promised the Russians that nothing was planned against Serbia that summer, their harsh ultimatum did not do much to antagonize Sazonov.
Confronted with the ultimatum and the lack of support from other European powers, the Serbian Cabinet worked out a compromise where Serbia accepted all of the terms of the ultimatum except for the demand in point 6 that Austrian police be allowed to operate in Serbia. The German shipping tycoon Albert Ballin recalled that when the German government heard a misleading report that Serbia had accepted the ultimatum, there was “disappointment”, but “tremendous joy” when it learned that the Serbs had not accepted all of the Austrian terms. When Ballin suggested Wilhelm end his North Sea cruise to deal with the crisis, the German Foreign Ministry flatly stated the Emperor should continue his cruise because “...everything must be done to ensure that he [Wilhelm] does not interfere in things with his pacifist ideas.” At the same time, a message was sent to Berchtold from his ambassador in Berlin reminding him “Here every delay in the beginning of war operations is regarded as signifying the danger that foreign powers might interfere. We are urgently advised to proceed without delay.”
In a letter to his close friend, Venetia Stanley, the British Prime Minister Sir Herbert Asquith wrote:
"...the situation is just about as bad as it can possibly be. Austria has sent a bullying and humiliating ultimatum to Serbia, who cannot possibly comply with it, and demanded an answer within forty-eight hours-failing which she will march. This means, almost inevitably, that Russia will come to the scene in defence of Serbia and in defiance of Austria, and if so, it is difficult for Germany and France to refrain from lending a hand to one side or the other. So that we are in measurable, or imaginable, distance of a real Armageddon. Happily, there seems to be no reason why we should be anything more then [sic] spectators."
The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, wrote, “Europe is trembling on the verge of a general war. The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia being the most insolent document of its kind ever devised,” but believed that Britain would stay neutral in the coming war. Grey suggested to the Austrian ambassador that the deadline for the ultimatum be extended as the best way of saving the peace.
When Grey told his friend Lichnowsky that "Any nation that accepted conditions like that would really cease to count as an independent nation", Wilhelm wrote on the margin of Lichnowsky’s report “That would be very desirable. It [Serbia] is not a nation in the European sense, but a band of robbers!”
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov sent a message to all of the great powers asking them to pressure Austria to extend the deadline of the ultimatum. Sazonov asked the Austrian government to back its claims of Serbian complicity in killing of Franz Ferdinand by releasing the results of its official inquiry, which the Austrians refused to do as they lacked such conclusive as opposed to circumstantial evidence. Several times, the Austrians refused Russian requests to extend the deadline, despite warnings that an Austro-Serbian war could easily cause a world war. Sazonov told the Austrian ambassador “I know what it is. You mean to make war on Serbia...? You are setting fire to Europe.... Why was Serbia given no chance to speak and why the form of an ultimatum? The fact is you mean war and you have burnt your bridges.... One sees how peace-loving you are.”
On July 24, the Russian Council of Ministers met to decide their response to the crisis. The Russian Agriculture Minister Alexander Krivoshein, who was especially trusted by Nicholas, noted that:
"...our rearmament programme had not been completed and it seemed doubtful whether our Army and Fleet would ever be able to compete with those of Germany and Austria-Hungary as regards modern technical efficiency...No one in Russia desired a war. The disastrous consequences of the Russo-Japanese War had shown the grave danger which Russia would run in case of hostilities. Consequently our policy should aim at reducing the possibility of a European war, but if we remained passive we would attain our objectives...In his view stronger language than we had used hitherto was desirable."
Sazonov stated that Russia had usually been moderate in its foreign policy, but “Germany looked upon our concessions as so many proofs of our weakness and far from having prevented our neighbours from using aggressive methods, we had encouraged them.” The Russian War Minister Vladimir Sukhomlinov and the Navy Minister Admiral Ivan Grigorovich stated that Russia was not ready for a war against either Austria or Germany, but that “...hesitation was no longer appropriate as far as the Imperial government was concerned. They saw no objection to a display of greater firmness in our diplomatic negotiations”. The Russian government again asked Austria to extend the deadline, and advised to the Serbs to offer as little resistance as possible to the terms of the Austrian ultimatum. Finally to deter Austria from war, the Russian Council of Ministers ordered a partial mobilization against Austria.
Russian policy was to pressure the Serbs to accept the ultimatum as much as possible without being humiliated too much. Russia was most anxious to avoid a war because the Great Military Programme was not to be completed until 1917, and Russia was otherwise not ready for war. Because all of France’s leaders, including President Poincaré and René Viviani, were at sea on the battleship France, returning from the summit in St. Petersburg, the acting head of the French government, Jean-Baptiste Bienvenu-Martin took no line on the ultimatum. In addition, the Germans jammed the radio messages, blocking all contact from the ship-borne French leaders and Paris. Concerning the summit at St. Petersburg, Alfred Fabre-Luce has concluded the following:
There is, then, no possible doubt about the attitude taken by Poincaré at St. Petersburg between the 20th and the 23rd of July. Without any knowledge whatever of the Austrian demands or of the policy of Germany in the circumstances, he assumed a position of energetic opposition to the Central Powers, gave this opposition a very specific character, and never modified it in the slightest degree to the very end. From that time on there was a very slight chance indeed of averting war; and, moreover, Poincaré had given Russia carte blanche to initiate hostilities any time she wished to do so, as we know from the fact that two days after Poincaré’s departure from St. Petersburg, Paléologue, following his instructions, promised Sasonov, without any reservations after the delivery of the Austrian ultimatum, that France would fulfill all the obligations of the alliance. Further, Viviani, who accompanied Poincaré, declared to Nekludof at Stockholm on July 25th that “if it is a war for Russia, it will be, most certainly, a war for France also."
Proposals for mediation
On July 23, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey made a mediation offer with a promise that his government would attempt to influence Russia to influence Serbia, and Germany to influence Austria-Hungary as the best way of stopping a general war. Wilhelm wrote on the margins of Lichnowsky’s dispatch containing Grey’s offer that Britain’s “condescending orders” were to be totally rejected, and Austria-Hungary would not retract any of its “impossible demands” on Serbia. He continued: “Am I to do that? Wouldn’t think of it! What does he [Grey] mean by ‘impossible’?” Jagow ordered Lichnowsky to tell Grey of the supposed German ignorance of the Austrian ultimatum, and that Germany regarded Austro-Serbian relations as “...an internal affair of Austria-Hungary, in which we had no standing to intervene.” Jagow’s statement did much to discredit Germany in British eyes. Lichnowsky reported to Berlin “If we do not join the mediation, all faith here in us and in our love of peace will be shattered.”
At the same time, Grey met with opposition from the Russian Ambassador who warned that a conference with Germany, Italy, France, and Britain serving as the mediators between Austria and Russia would break apart the informal Triple Entente.Sazonov accepted Grey’s proposal for a conference despite his reservations about the dangers of splitting the Triple Entente, Grey wrote to Sazonov that:
“I do not consider that public opinion here would or ought to sanction our going to war over a Serbian quarrel. If, however, war does take place, the development of other issues may draw us into it, and I am therefore anxious to prevent it.”
Starting on the 23rd, all of Germany’s leaders returned secretly to Berlin to deal with the crisis they had in large part initiated. A division emerged at various meetings of the Reich’s leadership between those led by the Chancellor who wanted to see what would happen following an Austrian attack on Serbia, and the military led by Moltke and Falkenhayn, who urged that Germany immediately follow up an Austrian attack on Serbia with a German attack on Russia. Moltke repeatedly stated 1914 was the best time for starting a “preventive war” from the German point of view, or the Russian Great Military Programme would finish by 1917, making Germany unable to ever again risk a war. Moltke added that Russian mobilization was regarded as an opportunity to be sought rather than as a sort of threat, as it would allow Germany to go to war while presenting it as forced on Germany. The German military attaché in Russia reported that Russian preparations for mobilization were on a much smaller scale than was expected. Though Moltke at first argued that Germany should wait for Russia to mobilize before beginning the “preventive war”, by the end of the week he urged that Germany should launch it anyway. In Moltke’s view, in order to invade France successfully, Germany would need to seize the Belgian fortress of Liège by surprise. The longer the diplomatic action continued, the less likely Moltke thought that Liège could be stormed by surprise, and if Liège was not taken, then the entire Schlieffen Plan would be unhinged.
On July 24, Zimmermann sent out a dispatch to all German ambassadors (except for Austria-Hungary) telling them to inform their host governments that Germany had no advance knowledge whatsoever of the ultimatum. That same day, Grey, who was worried by the aggressive tone of the ultimatum (which he felt seemed designed to be rejected), warned Lichnowsky of the dangers of “European war a quatre” (involving Russia, Austria, France and Germany) if Austrian troops entered Serbia. Grey suggested mediation between Italy, France, Germany, and Britain as the best way of stopping an Austro-Serbian war. Jagow sabotaged Grey’s offer by waiting until after the ultimatum had expired before passing on the British offer. Jagow pretended that “We exercised no influence of any kind with regard to the contents of the note [the Austrian ultimatum]”, and that Germany “was unable to counsel Vienna to retract” because that would humiliate Austria too much. The Russian Ambassador to the Court of St. James warned Prince Lichnowsky that “Only a government that wanted war could possibly write such a note [the Austrian ultimatum].” Upon reading an account of a meeting in which Count Berchtold informed the Russian Ambassador of his country’s peaceful intentions towards Russia, Wilhelm wrote on the margin “absolutely superfluous!” and called Berchtold an “Ass!”
Also on the 24th, when Count Berchtold met with the Russian chargé d'affaires, this prompted furious complaints from Berlin who warned that Austria should not engage in any sort of talks with any of the other powers in case a compromise might be worked out. That same day, Wilhelm wrote on the margin of a dispatch from Count Tschirschky, calling Austria-Hungary “weak” for not being aggressive enough in the Balkans, and writing that alteration in the power in the Balkans “has got to come. Austria must become predominant in the Balkans as compared to the little ones, and at Russia’s expense.” Count Szögyény reported to Vienna that “here, it is generally taken for granted that if Serbia rejects our demands, we shall at once reply by declaring war, and opening military operations. We are advised...to confront the world with a fait accompli (emphasis in the original).” When the German ambassador in Belgrade reported how sad the Serbian people were with being faced with the choice of either war or national humiliation, Wilhelm wrote on the margins of the report: “Bravo! One would not have believed it of the Viennese!...How hollow the whole Serbian power is proving itself to be; thus, it is seen to be with all the Slav nations! Just tread hard on the heels of that rabble!”
On the 24th, the Serbian government, expecting an Austrian declaration of war on the 25th, mobilized while Austria broke diplomatic relations. The British Ambassador to Austria-Hungary reported to London: “War is thought imminent. Wildest enthusiasm prevails in Vienna.” Asquith wrote in a letter to Venetia Stanley that he was worried that:
“Russia is trying to drag us in. The news this morning is that Serbia had capitulated on the main points, but it is very doubtful if any reservations will be accepted by Austria, who is resolved upon a complete and final humiliation. The curious thing is that on many, if not most of the points, Austria has a good and Serbia a very bad case. But the Austrians are quite the stupidest people in Europe (as the Italians are the most perfidious), and there is a brutality about their mode of procedure, which will make most people think that is a case of a big Power wantonly bullying a little one. Anyhow, it is the most dangerous situation of the last 40 years.”
In order to stop a war, the Permanent Secretary of the British Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Nicolson, suggested again that a conference be held in London chaired by Britain, Germany, Italy and France to resolve the dispute between Austria and Serbia.
The 24th was the real beginning of the July Crisis. Until that point, the vast majority of the people in the world were ignorant of the machinations of the leaders in Berlin and Vienna, and there was no sense of crisis. A case in point was the British Cabinet, which had not discussed foreign affairs at all until the 24th of July.
On July 25, the Emperor Franz Joseph signed a mobilization order for 8 army corps to begin operations against Serbia on the 28th, and the Austro-Hungarian ambassador Giesl left Belgrade. The Russian General Staff ordered the “Period Preparatory to War”, the first steps to mobilization if need occurred, while the caretaker government in Paris cancelled all leave for French troops as of the 26th, and ordered the majority of French troops in Morocco to begin returning to France.
On July 25, Grey suggested again that Germany inform Austria that the Serbian reply to the Austrian ultimatum was “satisfactory”. Jagow passed on Grey’s offer to Vienna without comment, which in the parlance of diplomacy is an unofficial way of advising rejection. At the same day, Jagow told the reporter Theodor Wolff that in his opinion “neither London, nor Paris, nor St. Petersburg wants a war”. On the same day, Russia announced that it could not remain “uninterested” if Austria attacked Serbia. Both the French and Russian ambassadors rejected four-power mediation, and instead proposed direct talks between Belgrade and Vienna. Jagow accepted the Franco-Russian offer as it offered the best chance to sever Britain from France and Russia. In his talks with Prince Lichnowsky, Grey drew a sharp distinction between an Austro-Serbian war, which did not concern Britain and an Austro-Russian war, which did. Grey added that Britain was not working in concord with France and Russia, which heightened Jagow’s hopes of severing Britain from the Triple Entente. On the same day, Jagow sent another message to Vienna to encourage the Austrians to hurry up with declaring war on Serbia.
On July 26, Count Berchtold rejected Grey’s mediation offer, and wrote that if a localization should not prove possible, then the Dual Monarchy was counting, “with gratitude”, on Germany's support “if a struggle against another adversary is forced on us”. That same day, General von Moltke sent a message to Belgium demanding that German troops be allowed to pass through that kingdom “in the event of an imminent war against France and Russia”. Bethmann Hollweg in a message to the German Ambassadors in London, Paris and St. Petersburg stated that the principal aim of German foreign policy now was to make it appear that Russia had forced Germany into a war, in order to keep Britain neutral and ensure that German public opinion would back the war effort. Bethmann Hollweg advised Wilhelm to send Nicholas a telegram, which he assured the Emperor was for public relations purposes only. As Bethmann Hollweg put it, “If war should come after all, such a telegram would make Russia’s guilt glaringly plain”. Moltke visited the German Foreign Ministry to advise Jagow that Germany should start drafting an ultimatum to justify an invasion of Belgium. Later, Moltke met with Bethmann Hollweg, and told his wife later that same day that he had informed the Chancellor he was “very dissatisfied” that Germany had not yet attacked Russia.
On July 26, in St. Petersburg, the German Ambassador von Pourtalès told Sazonov to reject Grey’s offer of a summit in London, stating that the proposed conference was “too unwieldy”, and if Russia were serious about saving the peace, they would negotiate directly with the Austrians. Sazonov replied that he was willing to see Serbia accept almost all of the Austrian demands, and following von Pourtalès’s advice, rejected Grey’s conference proposal in favour of direct talks with the Austrians. Von Pourtalès reported to Germany that Sazonov was being “more conciliatory”, seeking “to find a bridge...to satisfy...Austrian demands” and willing to do almost anything to save the peace. At the same time, von Pourtalès warned that changes in the Balkan balance of power would be regarded as a highly unfriendly act by Russia. The following Austro-Russian talks were sabotaged by Austria’s refusal to abandon any of the demands on Serbia As a preparatory move in case a war did break out, and Britain were to become involved, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the British Admiralty, ordered the British fleet not to disperse as planned, arguing that news of the British move might serve as a deterrent to war, and thus help persuade Germany to put pressure on Austria to abandon some of the more outrageous demands in their ultimatum. Grey stated that a compromise solution could be worked out if Germany and Britain were to work together. His approach generated opposition from British officials, who felt the Germans were dealing with the crisis in bad faith. Nicolson warned Grey that in his opinion “Berlin is playing with us”. Grey for his part, rejected Nicolson's assessment, and believed that Germany was interested in stopping a general war.
Philippe Berthelot, the political director of the Quai d’Orsay told Wilhelm von Schoen, the German Ambassador in Paris that “to my simple mind Germany’s attitude was inexplicable if it did not aim at war”. In Vienna, a dispute began between Conrad and Berchtold about when Austria should begin operations. Their conversation ran as follows: Berchtold: “We should like to deliver the declaration of war on Serbia as soon as possible so as to put an end to diverse influences. When do you want the declaration of war? Conrad: Only when we have progressed far enough for operations to begin immediately—on approximately August 12th. Berchtold: “The diplomatic situation will not hold as long as that.”
On July 27th, Grey sent another peace proposal through Prince Lichnowsky asking for Germany to use its influence on Austria-Hungary to save the peace. Grey warned Lichnowsky that if Austria continued with its aggression against Serbia, and Germany with its policy of supporting Austria, then Britain would have no other choice but to side with France and Russia. The French Foreign Minister informed the German Ambassador in Paris, von Schoen, that France was anxious to find a peaceful solution, and was prepared to do his utmost with his influence in St. Petersburg if Germany should “counsel moderation in Vienna, since Serbia had fulfilled nearly every point”.
On the 27th, Wilhelm ended his cruise in the North Sea and returned to Germany. Wilhelm landed at Cuxhaven (Kiel) departing on July 25 at 6PM over the objections of his chancellor. The next afternoon, the order to disperse the British Fleet and dismiss British reservists was rescinded, putting the British Navy on a war footing.
When Wilhelm arrived at the Potsdam station late in the evening of July 26, he was met by a pale, agitated, and somewhat fearful Chancellor. Von Bethmann-Hollweg's apprehension stemmed not from the dangers of the looming war, but rather from his fear of the Kaiser's wrath when the extent of his deceptions were revealed. The Kaiser's first words to him were suitably brusque: "How did it all happen?" Rather than attempt to explain, the Chancellor offered his resignation by way of apology. Wilhelm refused to accept it, muttering furiously, "You've made this stew, Now you're going to eat it!" 
Later, on July 27th, Austria-Hungary started to complete the preparations for war. That same day, Jagow informed Szögyény that he was only pretending to take up the British offers of mediation in order to ensure British neutrality, but had no intention of stopping the war. Szögyény reported “in order to avoid a misunderstanding” that Jagow had promised him that: “the German government assured Austria in the most binding fashion that it in no way identifies itself with the proposal [Grey’s mediation offer] which may very shortly be brought to Your Excellency’s [ Berchtold ] notice by the German government: it is, on the contrary decidedly opposed to consideration of them, and is only passing them on out of deference to the British request” (emphasis in the original). Jagow went on to state he was “absolutely against taking account of the British wish”, because “the German government point of view was that it was at the moment of the highest importance to prevent Britain from making common cause with Russia and France. We must therefore avoid any action which might cut the line, which has so far worked so well, between Germany and Britain”. Szögyény ended his telegram that “If Germany candidly told Sir E. Grey that it refused to communicate England’s peace plan, that objective [ensuring British neutrality in the coming war] might not be achieved.” Bethmann Hollweg, in a message to Prince Tschirschky, wrote on the 27th of July: “As we have already rejected one British proposal for a conference, it is not possible for us to refuse this suggestion also a limine. If we rejected every attempt at mediation, the whole world would hold us responsible for the conflagration and represent us as the real war-mongers. That would also make our position impossible here in Germany, where we have got to appear as though the war had been forced on us. Our position is the more difficult because Serbia seems to have given way very extensively. We cannot therefore reject the role of mediator; we have to pass on the British proposal to Vienna for consideration, especially since London and Paris are continuously using their influence on St. Petersburg.” In passing on Grey’s message, Bethmann Hollweg deleted the last line which read: ”Also, the whole world here is convinced, and I hear from my colleagues that the key to the situation lies in Berlin, and that if Berlin seriously wants peace, it will prevent Vienna from following a foolhardy policy.” In his reply to London, Bethmann Hollweg pretended that: “We have immediately initiated mediation in Vienna in the sense desired by Sir Edward Grey.” Jagow sent Grey’s offer to Tschirschky, his ambassador in Vienna, but ordered him to not show it to any Austrian official in case they might accept it. At the same time, Bethmann Hollweg sent a distorted account of Grey’s offer to Wilhelm.
In London, Grey told a meeting of the British Cabinet that they now had to decide whether to choose neutrality if war did come, or to enter the conflict. While the Cabinet was still undecided about what course to choose, Churchill put the British fleet on alert. His order read: "Secret. European political situation makes war between Triple Alliance and Triple Entente by no means impossible. This is not the Warning Telegram, but be prepared to shadow possible hostile men of war... Measure is purely precautionary.” The Austrian Ambassador in Paris, Count Nikolaus Szécsen von Temerin, reported to Vienna: “The far-reaching compliance of Serbia, which was not regarded as possible here, has made a strong impression. Our attitude gives rise to the opinion that we want war at any price.” A Russian diplomat in London criticized Grey for putting too much faith in Germany as a force for peace. The British were warned that “War is inevitable and by the fault of England; that if England had at once declared her solidarity with Russia and France and her intention to fight if necessary, Germany and Austria would have hesitated.” In Berlin, Admiral von Müller wrote in his diary that “Germany should remain calm to allow Russia to put herself in the wrong, but then not to shrink from war if it were inevitable.” Bethmann Hollweg told Wilhelm that “In all events Russia must ruthlessly be put in the wrong.”
On July 28th at 11.49 AM, Prince Lichnowsky sent the fourth British offer of mediation, this time from King George V as well as Grey. Lichnowsky wrote that the King desired that “British-German joint participation, with the assistance of France and Italy, may be successful in mastering in the interest of peace the present extremely serious situation.” At 4.25 PM on July 28th, Lichnowsky reported to Berlin that “since appearance of Austrian demands nobody here believes in possibility of localizing conflict.” The Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Nicolson and the Private Secretary to Sir Edward Grey, Sir William Tyrrell saw Grey's conference offer as “the only possibility of avoiding a general war” and hoped "to get full satisfaction for Austria, as Serbia would be more apt to give in to the pressure of the Powers and to submit to their united will than to the threats of Austria”. Tyrrell relayed Grey's view that if Serbia were invaded, “world war would be inevitable”. Lichnowsky in his dispatch to Berlin offered "an urgent warning against believing any further in the possibility of localization [of the conflict]”. When Sir Edward Goschen, the British Ambassador in Berlin, presented Grey’s conference proposal to Jagow, the Germans totally rejected the offer. In a letter to Grey, Bethmann Hollweg stated that Germany “could not summon Austria before a European court of justice in her case with Serbia”. Austrian troops began to concentrate in Bosnia as a preparatory step towards invading Serbia. Falkenhayn told the German government “It has now been decided to fight the matter through, regardless of the cost”, and advised Bethmann Hollweg to order a German attack on Russia and France at once. Moltke supported Falkenhayn by submitting the assessment that 1914 was a “singularly favourable situation” for Germany to go to war as both Russia and France were not prepared whereas Germany was. Once the Russian Great Military Programme would be completed by 1917, Moltke stated that Germany would never be able to entertain the prospect of a victorious war again, and so should destroy both France and Russia while it was still possible. Moltke ended his assessment that “We shall never hit it again so well as we do now.” Jagow backed up Moltke by sending a message to Vienna telling the Austrians they must attack Serbia at once because otherwise the British peace plan might be accepted.
On the 28th, after reading the Serbian reply, Wilhelm first commented: “But that eliminates any reason for war”, or "every cause for war falls to the ground”. Wilhelm noted that Serbia had made “a capitulation of the most humiliating kind", that “The few reservations which Serbia has made with respect to certain points can in my opinion surely be cleared up by negotiation,” and acting independently of Grey, made a similar “Stop in Belgrade” offer. Wilhelm stated that because “The Serbs are Orientals, therefore liars, tricksters, and masters of evasion”, a temporary Austrian occupation of Belgrade was required until Serbia kept its word.
Wilhelm’s sudden change of mind about war enraged Bethmann Hollweg, the military and the diplomatic service who, acting in accord, proceeded to sabotage Wilhelm’s offer. A German general wrote: “unfortunately...peaceful news. The Kaiser wants peace...He even wants to influence Austria and to stop continuing further.” Bethmann Hollweg sabotaged Wilhelm’s proposal by informing Prince Tschirschky: “You must most carefully avoid giving any impression that we want to hold Austria back We are concerned only to find a modus to enable the realisation of Austria-Hungary’s aim without at the same time unleashing a world war, and should this after all prove unavoidable, to improve as far as possible the conditions under which it is to be waged.” In passing on Wilhelm’s message, Bethmann Hollweg excluded the parts wherein the Emperor told the Austrians not to go to war. Jagow told his diplomats to disregard Wilhelm’s peace offer, and continue to press for war. General Falkenhayn told Wilhelm that he “no longer had control of the affair in his own hands”. Falkenhayn went on to imply that the military would stage a coup d’etat, and depose Wilhelm in favour of the hawkish Crown Prince Wilhelm if he continued to work for peace.
Bethmann Hollweg’s two favourable conditions for war that he mentioned in his telegram to Vienna were that Russia be made to appear the aggressor forcing a reluctant Germany into war, and that Britain be kept neutral. The necessity of making Russia appear the aggressor was the greater concern to Bethmann-Hollweg because the German Social Democratic Party had denounced Austria for declaring war on Serbia and ordered street demonstrations to protest Germany’s actions in supporting Austria. However, Bethmann Hollweg put great faith in the private promises he received from SPD leaders that they would support the government if Germany was faced with a Russian attack.
Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia
At 11:00 AM on July 28th, 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia. Following instructions from Bethmann Hollweg, Prince Tschirschky did not present Wilhelm’s “Stop in Belgrade” proposal until noon. Later that day, Austrian monitors bombarded Belgrade. In Russia, partial mobilization was ordered for the four military districts bordering Austria-Hungary. Wilhelm sent a telegram to Nicholas asking for Russian support for the Austrian war against Serbia. Nicholas replied: “Am glad you are back...I appeal to you to help me. An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country... Soon I shall be overwhelmed by pressure brought upon me...to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid such as a calamity as a European war, I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.”
Shortly after declaring war on Serbia, Conrad informed the Germans that Austria-Hungary could not start operations until August 12th, to much fury in Berlin. The Bavarian diplomat Count Lerchenfeld reported to Munich: “The Imperial government is thus put into the extraordinary difficult position of being exposed during the intervening period to the other Powers’ proposals for mediation and conferences, and if it continues to maintain its previous reserve towards such proposals, the odium of having provoked a world war will in the end recoil on it, even in the eyes of the German people. But a successful war on three fronts (viz, in Serbia, Russia and France) can not be initiated and carried on such a basis. It is imperative that the responsibility for any extension of the conflict to the Powers not directly concerned should under all circumstances fall on Russia alone.” At the same time, the German Ambassador to Russia, Portalés, reported that, based on a conversation with Sazonov, Russia was prepared to make “astonishing” concessions by promising to pressure Serbia to agree to most of the Austrian demands to avoid a war. The prospect of talks was rejected out of hand by Bethmann Hollweg.
Through as late as July 27th, Jagow expressed the view that Russian partial mobilization against the frontiers of Austria-Hungary was not a casus belli, Moltke instead argued that Germany should mobilize at once and attack France. Moltke was overruled by Bethmann Hollweg in two meetings on July 29th, who argued that Germany should wait for Russia to begin a general mobilization. As Bethmann Hollweg told Moltke, this was the best way to ensure that blame for the “whole shemozzle” could be placed on Russia’s door, and thus ensure British neutrality. While promising not to start mobilization without the Chancellor’s orders, Moltke ordered the German military attaché in Belgium to ask for permission for German troops to cross through on the way to attack France. Also on July 28th, Bethmann Hollweg offered to form an anti-Russian military alliance with Turkey.
In a meeting with the British Ambassador Goschen, Bethmann Hollweg made the flagrantly false statement that Germany was trying to pressure Austria to abandon the war against Serbia. As Prince Henry of Prussia pretended that King George V had promised him that Britain would remain neutral, the Kaiser rejected Bethmann Hollweg’s offer of a naval agreement with Britain, stating that Germany did not have to offer Britain anything now that George had apparently promised his country’s neutrality.
In London, Churchill wrote to George V that the Royal Navy had been placed “upon a preparatory precautionary basis”. Churchill went to write that “it is needless to emphasize that these measures in no way prejudice an intervention or take for granted that the peace of the great powers will not be preserved.”
On July 29th, Wilhelm sent a telegram to Nicholas stating “I think a direct understanding between your government and Vienna possible and desirable”. The Austrian General Staff sent a note to Jagow complaining about his statement that he did not regard a Russian partial mobilization as a threat to Germany, and asked that Germany mobilize to deter Russia from supporting Serbia. In response to the Austrian message, Jagow told a Russian diplomat that “Germany was likewise obliged to mobilize [in response to Russian partial mobilization]; there was therefore nothing left to be done and the diplomatists must now leave the talking to the cannon.”
At a meeting in Potsdam, according to Admiral Tirpitz’s notes, Wilhelm “expressed himself without reserve regarding Bethmann’s incompetence” in foreign affairs. Bethmann Hollweg suggested that Germany sign a naval agreement with Britain limiting the size of the High Seas Fleet to keep Britain out of the war. Admiral Tirpitz went on to record: “The Kaiser informed the company that the Chancellor had proposed that in order to keep England neutral, we should sacrifice the German fleet for an agreement with England, which he, the Kaiser had refused.”
In order to ensure acceptance of his peace plan, Grey proposed a “Stop in Belgrade” offer, in which Austria would occupy Belgrade and go no further. Since this was the same proposal as Wilhelm had made, Bethmann Hollweg regarded this as a particular threat as it would have made it difficult for Germany to reject it. Bethmann Hollweg asked that Austria at least make an effort to show some interest in the British peace plan. In an effort to sabotage Bethmann Hollweg’s offer (which though not sincere was regarded as dangerous in case it might succeed), Moltke asked Vienna not to consider the British peace plan, and instead to order general mobilization and activate War Plan R, the Austrian war plan for a war against Russia.
At a meeting with Bethmann Hollweg late on July 29th, both Falkenhayn and Moltke again demanded that Germany use Russian partial mobilization as an excuse to go to war. Bethmann Hollweg again insisted that Germany must wait for Russian general mobilization as it was the only way of ensuring that the German public and that Britain would remain neutral in the “imminent war” against France and Russia. In order to “make Russia appear the aggressor”, Moltke asked for Austrian mobilization against Russia so as to provide a casus foederis for Germany to arise” and mobilize likewise. In the same message, Moltke expressed hope that the British peace plan would fail, and announced his belief that the only way of saving Austria-Hungary as a power was through a general European war. In the evening, Moltke repeated his request, and promised again that “Germany will mobilize” against Russia, were Austria to do the same. Count Szogyeny reported to Vienna that the German government “...regarded the possibility of a European conflict with the most complete calm”, and that the Germans were only concerned about the possibility of Italy not honouring the Triple Alliance.
In a meeting in London, Grey warned Prince Lichnowsky in veiled terms that if Germany attacked France, then Britain would consider going to war with Germany. Grey repeated his “Stop in Belgrade” peace plan, and strongly urged that Germany accept it. Grey ended his meeting with the warning that “unless Austria is willing to enter upon a discussion of the Serbian question a world war is inevitable. To support Grey’s warnings, the British government ordered a general alert for its armed forces. In Paris, Jean Jaurès, the leader of the French Socialist Party and an outspoken pacifist was assassinated by a right-wing fanatic. In St. Petersburg, the French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue, upon learning belatedly on the night of July 29th-30th of Russian partial mobilization, protested against the Russian move.
At another meeting with Goschen late on the night of the 29th, Bethmann Hollweg stated that Germany was soon be going to war against France and Russia, and sought to ensure British neutrality by promising him that Germany would not annex parts of metropolitan France (Bethmann Hollweg refused to make any promises about French colonies). During the same meeting, Bethmann Hollweg all but announced that Germany would soon violate Belgium’s neutrality, though Bethmann Hollweg said that, if Belgium did not resist, Germany would not annex that kingdom.
The Goschen-Bethmann Hollweg meeting did much to galvanize the British government into deciding to ally with France and Russia. Sir Eyre Crowe commented that Germany had “made up her mind” to go to war. Germany’s policy was to reveal to Britain her war aims in hope that a statement might be reached that would ensure British neutrality. Instead, Bethmann Hollweg’s move had the opposite effect, since it was now clear to London that Germany had no interest in peace.
After Goschen left the meeting, Bethmann Hollweg received a message from Prince Lichnowsky saying that Grey was most anxious for a four power conference, but that if Germany attacked France, then Britain would have no other choice but to intervene in the war. In response to the British warning, Bethmann Hollweg suddenly changed course. As he wrote to Prince Tschirschky: “If therefore, Austria should reject all mediation, we are faced with a conflagration in which Britain would be against us, Italy and Romania in all probability not with us. We should be two Powers against Four. With Britain an enemy, the weight of the operations would fall on Germany...Under these circumstances we must urgently and emphatically suggest to the Vienna Cabinet acceptance of mediation under the present honourable conditions. The responsibility falling on us and Austria for the consequences which would ensure in case of refusal would be uncommonly heavy.” Five minutes later, Bethmann Hollweg asked Vienna in a second message to stop “refusing any exchange of views with Russia”, and warned that we “...must refuse to allow Vienna to draw us into a world conflagration frivolously and without regard to our advice.” In another message, Bethmann Hollweg wrote “To avert a general catastrophe or in any case to put Russia in the wrong, we must urgently wish Vienna to begin and continue conversations with Russia.” As the historian Fritz Fischer noted, only when Bethmann Hollweg received a clear warning that Britain would intervene in a war did he begin to apply pressure on Austria for peace. Bethmann Hollweg’s advice was rejected by Austria as being too late. Count Berchtold told the German Ambassador that he would need a few days to think about the German offer, and until then, events would proceed.
On July 30th, Nicholas sent a message to Wilhelm informing him that he had ordered partial mobilization against Austria, and asking him to do his utmost for a peaceful solution. Upon hearing of Russia’s partial mobilization, Wilhelm wrote: “Then I must mobilize too.” The German Ambassador in St. Petersburg informed Nicholas that Germany would mobilize if Russia did not demobilize at once. The German military attaché in Russia reported that:
“I have the impression that they [the Russians] have mobilized here from a dread of coming events without aggressive intentions and are now frightened at what they have brought about.”
At the same time, Nicholas’ order for a partial mobilization met with protests from both Sazonov and the Russian War Minister General Vladimir Sukhomlinov, who insisted partial mobilization was not technically possible, and that, given Germany’s attitude, a general mobilization was required. Nicholas at first ordered a general mobilization, and then after receiving an appeal for peace from Wilhelm cancelled it as a sign of his good faith. The cancellation of general mobilization led to furious protests from Sukhomlinov, Sazonov, and Russia’s top generals, all urging Nicholas to reinstate it. Under strong pressure, Nicholas gave in and ordered a general mobilization on the 30th.
When the German Emperor learned that, were Germany to attack France and Russia, Britain would in all likelihood not remain neutral, he launched a vehement rant, denouncing Britain as “that filthy nation of grocers”. That same day, the anti-Russian German-Turkish alliance was signed. Moltke passed on a message to Conrad asking for general mobilization as a prelude to a war against Russia.
At 9:00 PM of July 30th, Bethmann Hollweg gave in to Moltke and Falkenhayn’s repeated demands and promised them that Germany would issue a proclamation of "imminent danger of war" at noon the next day regardless of whether Russia began a general mobilization or not. Bethmann Hollweg was overjoyed upon learning of Russian general mobilization at 9:00 am of the 31st, as it allowed him to present the war as something forced on Germany by Russia.
At a meeting of the Prussian State Council held on July 30th, Bethmann Hollweg noted Russian mobilization was a not a source of worry for Germany:
“Although the Russian mobilization had been declared, her mobilization measures cannot be compared with those of the West European states...Moreover, Russia does not intend to wage war, but has been forced to take these measures because of Austria.”
Bethmann Hollweg stated that his only interest now was, for domestic political reasons, to “represent Russia as the guilty party” behind the war. In the same meeting, the Chancellor stated that if it appeared to public opinion that Russian mobilization had forced Germany into a war, then there was “nothing to fear” from the Social Democrats. Bethmann Hollweg went to add “There will be no question of a general or partial strike or of sabotage.”
Later that day, Bethmann sent a message to the German ambassador to Vienna increasing pressure to accept the halt-in-Belgrade proposal, saying that: “If Vienna...refuses...to give way at all, it will hardly be possible to place the blame on Russia for the outbreak of the European conflagration. H.M. has, on the request of the Tsar, undertaken to intervene in Vienna because he could not refuse without awakening an irrefutable suspicion that we wanted war...If these efforts of Britain’s meet with success, while Vienna refuses everything, Vienna will prove that it is set on having a war, into which we are dragged, while Russia remains free of guilt. This puts us in a quite impossible position in the eyes of our own people. We can therefore only urgently recommend Vienna to accept Grey’s proposal, which safeguards its position in every way.” Bethmann could not go to war in support of Austrian intransigence under such circumstances. But shortly afterwards, "as soon as news of Russia's general mobilization began to arrive in Berlin" the Chancellor instructed the ambassador in Vienna "that all mediation attempts be stopped", and the directive be suspended. Fritz Fischer and some other scholars have maintained the alternative view that Prince Henry's assurances that King George had promised him that Britain would remain neutral accounted for the change. Fischer notes that the telegram reporting these "vague" assurances arrived 12 minutes before the dispatch of the suspending telegram and that Bethmann himself justified the cancellation that way, while acknowledging that before then Bethmann had already prepared, but not yet sent, a telegram to Vienna explaining that he had "cancelled execution of instructions in No. 200, because the General Staff has just informed me that military measures of our neighbors, especially in the east, compel speedy decision if we are not to be taken by surprise."
Upon arriving back in France, the French Premier René Viviani sent a message to St. Petersburg asking that “in the precautionary measures and defensive measures to which Russia believes herself obliged to resort, she should not immediately proceed to any measure which might offer Germany the pretext for a total or partial mobilization of her forces.” French troops were ordered to pull back six miles (10 km) from the German frontier as a sign of France’s peaceful intentions.
The British Prime Minister, Asquith, wrote to Stanley:
“The European situation is at least one degree worse than it was yesterday, and has not been improved by a rather shameless attempt on the part of Germany to buy our neutrality during the war by promises that she will not annex French territory (except colonies) or Holland or Belgium. There is something very crude & childlike about German diplomacy. Meanwhile the French are beginning to press in the opposite sense, as the Russians have been doing for some time. The City, wh. is in a terrible state of depression and paralysis, is the time being all against English intervention.”
On July 31, the Austrian Crown Council decided to continue the war against Serbia, and to ignore the dangers of Russian mobilization in the expectation of German support. Nicholas wrote to Wilhelm to promise him that Russian general mobilization was not aimed as a prelude to war, and stated:
“I thank you heartily for your mediation which begins to give one hope that all may yet end peacefully. It is technically impossible to our military preparations which were obligatory owing to Austria’s mobilization. We are far from wishing war. As long as the negotiations with Austria on Serbia’s account are taking place my troops shall not make any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this."
The German Ambassador in Paris delivered an ultimatum to Premier Viviani telling him that if Russia did not stop its mobilization, then Germany would attack France. Viviani, newly arrived back in France, knew nothing of a Russian general mobilization, and asked his ambassador in St. Petersburg for information. Marshal Joseph Joffre of the French Army asked for permission to order a general mobilization. His request was refused.
When the word reached Berlin of Russian general mobilization, Wilhelm agreed to sign the orders for German mobilization, and German troops began preparations to enter Luxembourg and Belgium as a preliminary towards invading France. As the historian Fritz Fischer noted, Bethmann Hollweg’s gamble in waiting for Russian mobilization had paid off, and the Social Democrats rallied to support the government. The Bavarian military attaché recorded that he learned of Russian mobilization:
“I run to the War Ministry. Beaming faces everywhere. Everyone is shaking hands in the corridors: people congratulate one another one for being over the hurdle.”
Under the Schlieffen Plan, for Germany to mobilize was to mean war because as part of the plan, German troops as they were called up were to invade Belgium automatically. Unlike the war plans of the other powers, for Germany to mobilize was to go to war. Both Moltke and Falkenhayn told the government that Germany should declare war even were Russia to offer to negotiate.
In London, Asquith wrote to Stanley that “the general opinion at present—particularly strong in the City—is to keep out at all costs”. The British Cabinet was badly divided with David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer being strongly opposed to Britain becoming involved in a war. The Conservatives promised the government if the anti-war Liberal ministers were to resign, they would enter the government to support going to war. F.E. Smith told Churchill that the Conservatives would support a war against Germany were France attacked.
On July 31st, Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote in a lengthy commentary: "For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria-Hungary—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us. ... Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honorable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e. playing off all European States for her own benefit against us."
On August 1st 1914, a British offer to guarantee French neutrality was sent out and promptly accepted by Wilhelm. At 4:23 PM a telegram from the German Ambassador to Britain arrived with a planned British proposal to guarantee the neutrality of France and thus limit the war to one fought in the east. Wilhelm then ordered German forces to strike against Russia alone, leading to fierce protests from Moltke that it was not technically possible for Germany to do so as the bulk of the German forces were already advancing into Luxembourg and Belgium. Wilhelm immediately accepted the proposal by telegrams at the ambassadorial and royal levels." In keeping with this decision, Wilhelm II demanded his generals shift the mobilization to the east. Helmuth von Moltke (the younger), the German Chief of General Staff, told him that this was impossible, to which the Kaiser replied "Your uncle would have given me a different answer!" Instead, it was decided to mobilize as planned and cancel the planned invasion of Luxembourg. Once mobilization was complete, the army would redeploy to the east.
In response to Wilhelm’s order, a dejected Moltke complained that “Now, it only remains for Russia to back out, too.” Moltke then proceeded to persuade the Emperor to continue the advance for “technical reasons”.
In Berlin, Bethmann Hollweg announced that Germany had mobilized and delivered an ultimatum to France telling that country to renounce its alliance with Russia or face a German attack. In response to reports of German troops invading Luxembourg and Belgium plus the German ultimatum, French mobilization was authorized on August 1st. On the afternoon of August 1st, Wilhelm signed the mobilization orders. Bethmann Hollweg was angry with Moltke for having Wilhelm sign the orders without informing him first. By 7:00 pm of August 1st, German troops invaded Luxemburg.
German declarations of war
Also on 1st August, Germany declared war on Russia. When presenting his declaration of war, the German Ambassador accidentally gave the Russians both copies of the declaration of war, one which claimed that Russia refused to reply to Germany and the other that said Russia’s replies were unacceptable. Grey warned Lichnowsky that if Germany invaded Belgium, Britain would go to war.
On August 2nd, the British government promised that the Royal Navy would protect France’s coast from German attack. The British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey gave Britain's firm assurance of protecting France with its navy to French Ambassador Paul Cambon. Cambon's account stated: "I felt the battle was won. Everything was settled. In truth a great country does not wage war by halves. Once it decided to fight the war at sea it would necessarily be led into fighting it on land as well." Within the British Cabinet, the widespread feeling that Germany would soon violate Belgium’s neutrality and destroy France as a power led to the increasing acceptance that Britain would be forced to intervene.
A German ultimatum was delivered, this time to Belgium on August 2, requesting free passage for the German army on the way to France. King Albert of Belgium refused the German request to violate his country’s neutrality. On August 3, Germany declared war on France, and on Belgium on August 4. This act violated Belgian neutrality, the status to which Germany, France, and Britain were all committed by treaty. It was inconceivable that Great Britain would remain neutral if Germany declared war on France; German violation of Belgian neutrality provided the casus belli.
Later on August 4, German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg told the Reichstag that the German invasions of Belgium and Luxembourg were in violation of international law, but he argued that Germany was "in a state of necessity, and necessity knows no law." At 7 PM that evening British Ambassador Sir Edward Goschen delivered Britain's ultimatum to German Secretary of State to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Gottlieb von Jagow, demanding a commitment by midnight that evening (within five hours) to go no further with Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality. Jagow rejected the British ultimatum and Goschen demanded his passports and requested a private and personal meeting with Bethmann Hollweg; Bethmann invited Goschen to dine with him. During their highly emotional conversation Bethmann Hollweg expressed astonishment that the British would go to war with Germany over the 1839 treaty guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium, referring to the treaty as a "scrap of paper" compared to the "fearful fact of Anglo-German war." The unified opposition shown in Britain was in fact motivated by long-term strains of liberal and conservative thought, with the desire to protect small nations and the balance of power in Europe, respectively, a factor in coming to the government's decision.
Goschen's telegrams on August 4 to Grey never reached London. Whether a state of war existed between Britain and Germany was therefore a confused matter until the expiry of the ultimatum at midnight, Berlin time.
Goschen's account of the "scrap of paper" conversation dated August 6 was later edited and published by the British Government and outraged public opinion in Britain and the United States. The British government expected a limited war, in which it would primarily use its great naval strength.
- See diplomatic documents from http://home.wlu.edu/~patchw/His_223/July%201914.htm
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- Documents Diplomatiques Francais III Serie 1911-14, 3, X Doc. 537. This document notes that the diplomatic cable was forwarded to the Secret Service of the National Security Department of France to investigate the matter of the January 1914 irredentist planning meeting in Toulouse but the Secret Service did not report back.
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- Fromkin, 2004 page 239
- Balfour, 1964 pp. 350-51
- Albertini, 1953 Vol III, p 381
- Albertini, 2005, Vol III, p 172, referencing Die Deutschen Dokumente zum Kriegsausbruch, Vol. III, p 562
- Fischer, 1967 page 87
- Fromkin, 2004 page 237
- Fromkin, 2004 pages 237
- Fromkin, 2004 pp 239-240
- Fromkin, 2004 page 240
- Fromkin, 2004 page 241
- Fromkin, 2004 page 243
- Albertini, 1953, Vol III pp 406-7 (referencing Recouly p. 55 for the quote)
- Fromkin, 2004 page 244
- Fromkin, 2004 page 247
- Bethmann Hollweg, 1920 pp. 158-9
- Howard, 2007 p 26
- Albertini, 1953, Vol III p 500
- Marks, 2002 p 30; Boyle, 1999, p 134; Tuchman, 2004 p 153
- Strachan, 2001, pp 97-98
- Balfour, 1964 p 355
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- Balfour, Michael: The Kaiser and His Times, W. W. Norton & Company, UK 1986, ISBN 978-0-393-00661-2
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- Butler, David Allen (2010). "THE BURDEN OF GUILT: How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace, Summer 1914". Casemate Publishers. http://books.google.com/books?id=FkMt49l3qkEC. Retrieved 2012-07-15. .
- Dedijer, Vladimir: The Road to Sarajevo, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1966
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- Fromkin, David: Europe's Last Summer: Why the World Went to War in 1914, William Heinemann Ltd, 2004, ISBN 978-0-434-00858-2
- Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, http://www.amazon.com/Decisions-War-1914-1917-Richard-Hamilton/dp/0521836794/, 2004, ISBN 0521836794, ISBN 978-0521836791
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- The Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum (original German text)
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