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The First World War almost starts 2 years early

While perusing the Times from 1912 I came across an article that mentioned Austrian mobilisation.  This got my attention for two reasons.  The first reason was that it’s big stuff.  Mobilisation is as close as you can get to going to war with actually doing so. Things must have come close to the brink.  As Eric Sass explains (in a wonderful series, by the way) they had:

On November 22, 1912, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II had promised Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones, that Germany would back up Austria-Hungary in a war, and on November 17, the French premier Raymond Poincare assured the Russian ambassador that France would back up Russia. The stage was set for a conflagration.

He goes on:

Fortunately, internal divisions in St. Petersburg helped avert further escalation. The Council of Ministers, furious that Nicholas II had bypassed them in ordering mobilization, demanded that he cancel the orders. At the same time, France, Germany, and Britain were scrambling to arrange a diplomatic meeting that would allow them to iron out the complicated situation in the Balkans; the Conference of London, which first met in December 1912, ended up preventing Serbia from expanding to the sea, satisfying Austro-Hungarian demands.

I love the use of the word “fortunately”.

The Austrians even issued a commemorative medal:


The second reason it grabbed my attention was that it completely undermines the argument (put forward by Harry Elmer Barnes) that the Entente was just as much to blame for the First World War as the Germans.  The claim rests on the idea that mobilisation meant war.  In other words, Russia’s partial mobilisation in 1914 was just as aggressive as Germany’s subsequent declaration of war.  The fact that a mobilisation happened and war did not follow only a couple of years previously would appear to blow that argument out of the water.

40 comments to The First World War almost starts 2 years early

  • From my reading of history, the various interlocking treaties between the major powers along with militarist factions in various countries (including England) meant that from the signing of the Entente Cordiale in April 1904 it was always just a hair trigger away.

    King Edward the Seventh used his family connections across most of Europe to placate and calm down the ruling families (mostly his cousins), with his death in 1910, that influence was removed and replaced by the weaker George V.

    So from May 1910 onwards, the main protagonists were like circling and growling Rottweilers, each being stirred on by nationalist factions within their own countries and blowing all challenges to their interests at home and abroad out of all proportion.

    The fact that this didn’t explode into open warfare before August 1914 is of credit to no-one. The major powers were the ones which built the hair trigger response through the mesh of interlocking treaties, in doing so they made themselves hostages to fortune (or events) and made war an inevitability. It was just a matter of time.

    That the mobilisation of Austria in 1912 didn’t lead to war is of no consequence, the trigger slipped but didn’t fire.

    The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand could have been resolved without a wider conflict, although a Balkan war was always inevitable. It was not the railway timetables of Europe that lead to the guns of August 1914, it was the signing of the Entente Cordiale and others.

  • As usual with history, I have nothing useful to contribute, other than to encourage Patrick to keep this series coming, and others to keep the same with their informative comments. Fascinating, no other way to put it.

    (And now I am subscribed to the thread too – life is good:-))

  • It still blows my mind that these people — Nicholas II, Wilhelm II and George V — were all cousins.

    Damn thing should have been called the War of Victoria and Albert’s Hubris.

  • Antoine Clarke

    I think the Kaiser’s repressed homosexuality and the cultural inferiority complex of German intellectuals towards France were the irreconcilable problems.

    It REALLY pissed off German intellectuals that despite 1871 and the war reparations that were designed to bankrupt France, that nobody thought Berlin was the cultural centre of Europe. They half wanted to copy it, or destroy it and pretend it didn’t exist.

    You see this virtual schizophrenia in the attitude of German orders in occupied territories in August 1914: shoot a few people in the public square and threaten to exterminate the population of a town, then get upset when people aren’t friendly back.

    And in the space race of the day, aeroplanes, France and the USA were pulling away.

  • Antoine Clarke

    John Galt is not taking into account that individuals matter (which is a little bit ironic).

    The Kaiser wanted a war at all costs. The only issue for him was timing. The Rostock-Kiel canal was widened to allow the (enlarged) German Navy to move from the Baltic to the North Sea without going around Denmark.

    That was completed in July 1914 IIRC.

    For the record, despite German lies (picked up by propaganda tools both during and AFTER the first world war), France did not declare war on Germany until Germany had done so first and was already invading neutral Belgium en route to France.

    The Kaiser should have hanged.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    The Rostock-Kiel canal was widened to allow the (enlarged) German Navy to move from the Baltic to the North Sea without going around Denmark.

    Quite so. John Fisher, then the British Admiralty’s First Sea Lord, predicted in 1908 that war with Germany would begin in October, 1914, after Germany had finished enlaring the Kiel canal. He was off by only a few months; the new locks in the canal were finished in June, 1914.

  • Edward

    The very construction of the High Seas Fleet made it clear that Germany was spoiling for a fight with the British Empire. There was no possible reason for the Germans to need a blue water fleet. There was always going to be a war. Wilhelm II’s fear of Edward VII delayed it for a bit, that’s all.

  • Midwesterner

    I am (still) confused about how WWI was triggered. Serbia, IIUC, was attempting to militarily gain access to the sea, having conquered a briefly independent Albania. A-H partially mobilized to prevent that, in effect siding with the Albanians against Serbia. We know from the 1990’s that Serbians seem inclined to conquest and even genocide when it suits them. It seems to me the problem is the Czar using military threat to support the Serbian conquest of Albania.

    If I have this much right, how are the militaristic ambitions and personal insecurities of the Kaiser relevant to Germany siding with Austria in the event of a Russian attack on A-H? Doesn’t blame always fall on the invaders, in this case Serbia into Albania and potentially Russia into A-H if they interfered? If Serbia/Russia had not threatened A-H, would A-H have assisted Germany in their presumed plans for unilateral aggression against France or UK? I don’t think that is a given since A-H had so much more to lose than Germany did. There is obviously a ton that I don’t know, but I was taught the very best taxpayer funded curriculum.

    Speaking of which, with a hundred years of militant Progressives, et al, filtering and rewriting the accepted historical narrative to produce a big-government/strong-leader/trust-your-betters friendly version, going back and reading the letters and newspapers of the time is essential original research. Patrick’s historical media excavations raise questions and doubts about the approved presentation of history. You’ve covered it at both ends of the scale from personal safety in the UK to empires going to war. Since we are apparently going into yet another world wide crisis that will no doubt get ugly at both domestic and international levels, understanding the early accomplishments of Progressive movement is timely.

    For example, if the canal scenario is correct, is there is a present day “canal” being built, that when completed will open the gates to yet another world wide systemic power struggle?

    KipEsquire, the inbred nature of world leadership is as bad or worse now. While the current aristocracy isn’t genetic, it is socially and philosophically inbred and behaves very much as pre-WWI aristocracy did.

  • Surellin

    How odd. Our priest at church sent out a flyer this year about the “Christmas in the trenches” episode in World War One, which he weirdly translated from 1914 to 1912. I was beginning to wonder, from the title of this post, whether his misunderstanding of history was more general than I had thought.

  • A bit of a brain dump I’m afraid. Just hope it’s useful/comprehensible.

    I like to think there are issues of right and wrong here. OK, so we’re talking about the actions of states so there’s a lot of wrong to start with. But some are wronger than others.

    Alliances do not necessarily lead to wars as the Cold War showed us. I think it is also worth asking whether the alliances themselves were right or not. Perhaps, more accurately, whether the interests they served were legitimate or not.

    I think one of the problems was that there were competing versions of what was right and wrong. What right did Austria have to Bosnia-Herzegovina? What right did Germany have to Alsace-Lorraine? What right did Britain have to rule the waves?

    I suspect that the monarchs helped to postpone the war. I suspect that there were currents moving underneath them (nationalism, socialism, democracy) which in the end they couldn’t control.

    A lot of the regimes in Europe were weak and had grievances. Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary were all under threat from the mass ideologies: nationalism, socialism and democracy. Even Britain (as in the regime) was under threat from Irish nationalism, trade unionism and calls for a wider suffrage. Germany was aggrieved over the Panther incident and its puny empire. France was aggrieved over the lost provinces. Russia was aggrieved over any number of diplomatic set backs from the Russo-Japanese war to the Austrian takeover of Bosnia-Herzegovina to this incident here. Weakness at home and grievances abroad – it’s not a great combination. Or, to put it another way, a lot of them felt cornered.

  • Regional

    WRT to French reparations to Germany after the war of 1871, they were used to modernise Berlin and don’t feel sorry for the French, Napoleon imposed stiff reparations on Allemagne which the local councils had to collect. Fascism was beginning to appear in gymnasiums which were set up as covert resistance centres to French domination although there was no army of occupation, the local councils were Napoleon’s goons although it can be said that if the French felt they were holding out, they’d be back.

  • Paul Marks

    First of all – if only World War One had not happened in 1914, by 1918 (at the latest) France and Russia (even without Britain) would have been able to do to the jumped Prussians what should have been done to Frederick the Great’s Prussia in the 1700s (and would have been done – had not the Empress Elizabeth died on the eve of victory).

    How did the First World War get triggered?

    Very well.

    Austro Hungary declared war on Serbia – because of the muder of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand (the Hapsberg Empire and Serbia had been enemies since a coup in Serbia in 1903).

    Russia partly mobilized (because of the insistance of Minister Of War that Germany might use the situation to attack Russia – as Russian strength was growing, but Russia was still weak).

    Germany, Hapsberg Austria and Russia had once been friends – but Pan German and Pan Slav ideas pushed them apart.

    And there were two specific incidents….

    Russia believed that Austria had betrayed them during the Crimean war (by not comming to the aid of Russia – in spite of Russia saving the Hapsburgs in 1848).

    And Germany broke its friendship with Russia (an alliance maintained by Bismark – in spite of my hatred of the man, I despise him almost as much as I despise Frederick the Great, I must admit he was right about some things) because……..

    Well because the Emperor Willy II (and the whole academic-political elite) was/were wrong headed – see his (and their) insistance on building up a great navy (which provoked Britain) and his (and their) insistance on building up a, LOSS MAKING, Empire (to provoke Britain – because, well because that is what they wanted to do….).

    Anyway – back to the triggering of war……

    Germany declared war on Russia (using the excuse of the Russian part mobilisation) – for Russia was growing in power and Germany must defeat Russia (and Britain – and France, and America [in order to take over Latin America] and….) in order to rule the world…….

    “And why should Germany want to rule the world….?” – Well ask the German academics. As Ludwig Von Mises was fond of pointing out – the “Socialists of the Chair”, the professors, were all full of this Germany-must-rule-the-world stuff, which they justified with economic arguments, even though their view of economics made no sense……

    Anyway German War plans (the S. Plan) depended on defeating France before Russia.

    But France refused to declare war (in spite of Germany holding large parts of France).

    So Germany just staged some incidents on the border (as Hitler did with Poland in 1939) pretended that France had attacked – and declared war on France.

    For some reaon the P.C. modern historians tend to leave this out of their account of the war.

    The S. Plan depanded on attacking France through Belgium.

    Germany was not actually at war with Belguim (and Britain had been a protector of Beligium independence since 1830), but Germany decided to attack anyway…….

    Much as (later) Germany decided a good way to keep on good terms with the United States was to try and make a secret alliance with Mexico (which was in the middle of Revolution and Civil War) promising Mexico the States it lost in 1848 and 1836.

    German reasoning on this point (as with the build up of the navy and the loss making empire – and the whole “we must rule the world” idea) is best explained by mental health professionals.

    Anyway the war was NOT the fault of Imperial Germany – all the textbooks say we were all to blame (so that must be the case).

    But it is all water under the bridge now….

    It is not as if the German government would again sacrifice their strong economy, this time by underwriting all the bankrupt banks of Europe, as part of an insane plane for a “United Europe” under German leadership.

    Oh no – they are far too sensible.

    The “Germans have changed” – they have given up their United Europe idea, and are content to rule their own land (not the lands of other people).

    If only……

  • “German reasoning on this point… is best explained by mental health professionals.”

    Indeed. You might also add in the Schlieffen Plan for good measure. That was pretty nuts too.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Midwesterner: no Serbian invasion of Albania had anything to do with World War I.

    What happened: Germany wanted to dominate Europe. German political and racial ideologues persuaded themselves and the dominant political clique (including Kaiser Wilhelm) that Germany could and should attack and defeat neighboring rival powers (France and Russia). France was despised, and presumed to be plotting war to avenge 1870. Russia was Slavic, and posed a “racial” challenge to Germanic supremacy. In addition, Germany challenged Britain’s control of the sea by building a large battlefleet.

    Meanwhile, Austria-Hungary drifted into political near-collapse, due to the rampant ethnic divisions in its populace. The empire-kingdom was dominated by Germans and Magyars, and the various Slav groups were unhappy. The Serbian government sponsored agitation among Serbs in A-H for secession and union with Serbia, a situation aggravated when A-H annexed the mainly Serb area of Bosnia, which bordered Serbia. The A-H government regarded Serbia as a “viper” to be crushed.

    In 1914, Archduke and imperial-royal heir Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Bosnia by terrorists sponsored by Serbian intelligence rogues. A-H seized on this as an excuse to invade Serbia. (A-H issued an ultimatum so intentially draconian it could not be entirely complied with. Other powers, including Britain, which was neutral, condemned it as excessive. Serbia offered near-total compliance, which even Kaiser Wilhelm thought was sufficient, but A-H immediately declared war.)

    Russia, as “protector” of the lesser Slavic nations, objected, and ordered partial mobilization for war against Austria. Germany promptly issued ultimatums to Russia to stop mobilization and to France to declare neutrality (and let Germany occupy French border fortresses to ensure it). France and Russia thereupon went to full mobilization, as did Germany.

    Britain wanted peace above all, but also had tacitly promised France to block the Channel against the German fleet. Britain also was a guarantor of Belgium’s neutrality. But Germany bypassed France’s border forts by marching through Belgium – and that was too much for Britain, which declared war on Germany.

  • Even now the events of 1914 are fascinating because they seem to apply to the potential conflicts of our own time.

    In 1962 JFK was obsessed with Barbara Tuchman’s book “The Guns of August” which, rather amateurishly, made the case that the First World War was started more or less by accident. This explains a lot of Kennedy’s behavior during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Today commentators like Walter Russell Meade point out the parallels between today’s China, with its naval build up and its aggressive stance towards its neighbors,and pre-1914 Imperial Germany.

    On the surface there may be a few similarities but I think the differences are more important than people think.

    China is not a technological and scientific powerhouse the way Germany was in 1914. Ambitious students do not flock to Chinese universities the way that they did to German ones. Antonie gets it right when she identifies German cultural resentment as an important part of the motivation for German behavior in 1914. Cultural resentment is almost entirely absent from Chinese attitudes. China has 4000 years of practice of feeling superior to foreign barbarians.

    This is a great samizdata topic, in the best traditions of the site.

  • Regional

    Paul Marks,
    The Allemagne by doing nothing will dominate Europe.

  • Alsadius

    John Galt: If signing major alliance networks is what caused the war, why didn’t the Cold War blow up? I suspect you’re missing a lot of major factors, not least that nobody in Europe had fought a really destructive war in a century, and they’d all forgotten how awful it was.

    Patrick: How was the Schlieffen Plan nuts? It came within a hair of punching out France cleanly in WW1, and a very similar plan did knock them out in WW2. For that matter, it’s not that far off the approach that they used in 1870 to great effect(i.e., “Let the French make a stupid attack into your border, then come around the side”). If a war was going to be fought, the Schlieffen Plan was far and away the best chance the Germans had to win.

  • Keith

    I recall being taught that the Schlieffen Plan failed because the German High Command did not entirely trust it and moved enough troops from the north to the south of the line that the French were able to stop the drive on Paris (at the Marne?).

  • It wasn’t the alliances. Formal alliances had been a feature of European diplomacy since before the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and the overriding goal was always to preserve the balance of power. The problem was that you had to pick your partners carefully, which was the trap Austria and Germany fell into. Austria had always wanted to expand into the Balkans, but Bismarck was able to restrain them — by threatening to abrogate the treaties if they did without consultation. Exit Bismarck, enter Kaiser Wilhelm II, and everything changed. KWII wasn’t interested in preserving the balance of power, he wanted to expand Germany’s influence to become the dominant power in continental Europe, and when Austria finally declared on war on Serbia in 1914, it was ONLY because KWII saw an opportunity to expand Germany at the expense of Rusiia and France. (He was hopelessly wrong, of course, but being wrong was his métier.)

    The comment about German expansionism better explained by psychology is far more accurate than people realize today. The Deutsche Geist posited German ethnic superiority over other peoples, and it was a major reason for their arrogance and militarism. Throw in KWII’s megalomania, and voilà.

    By the way, German troops had been waging war on civilian populations since 1871, not 1914. The cry of “Francs-tireurs!” (meaning guerilla warfare, i.e. a signal for reprisals) originated in the Franco-Prussian war, not WWI.

    My background for all this is a final-year course on Modern German History (1815 – 2005) delivered by a German history professor named Alfred Mierzejewski, who wrote the definitive biography of Ludwig Erhard. I’m not sure there is a better historian on the topic — certainly he is regarded as the preeminent German economic historian of today. He would probably express a reply in stronger terms than mine, come to think of it.

    Short answer to the question: “How did WWI start?” is 1) Kaiser Wilhelm II, 2) the German politicians and generals (Bethmann-Hollweg, Von Moltke, Schlieffen, Tirpitz etc) of the era, and 3) the Deutscher Geist. In other words, the fault lay with Germany: first second and third, with Austria a distant fourth.

  • Patrick Crozier (Twickenham)

    @Alasidius, I’m not sure the Germans were ever that close to winning in 1914. I read somewhere – sorry, can’t remember where – that by the time the Germans reached the Marne their supply chain was already overstretched and their men, exhausted. The staff should have known this would have happened well in advance. They’d also been delayed in Belgium. This tends to suggest it was a plan without any slack. Nuts.

    Also, wouldn’t they have been much better off going on the defensive in the West and offensive in the East? That way, they wouldn’t have faced war with the British and they may well have defeated Russia in a year or two.

  • That way, they wouldn’t have faced war with the British and they may well have defeated Russia in a year or two.

    Not sure that I buy your alternate history, the road to Moscow is notoriously difficult as both Napoleon and Hitler discovered.

    Certainly the Germans could probably have destroyed Russia’s pitiful armies as they demonstrated in 1917, but that doesn’t mean that they could subdue those lands on anything like a permanent basis.

    There would have had to be an accounting with Great Britain at some stage as the British navy was both a barrier to global expansion and a threat to German maritime imports (by way of naval blockade) in the event of war.

    As soon as Germany faced war in the west, regardless of the opponent, opportunists like Stalin and Lenin would have been fomenting rebellion in the occupied Russian territories in the East.

    The very vastness of Russia ensures that the German’s couldn’t push them into the sea as they did in 1940 at Dunkirk.

  • Paul Marks

    The S. plan might have worked (although it was long shot).

    Had not Von M. (junior) not altered it – as S. said on his death bed “for God’s sake keep the right wing strong” – Von M. (junior) took troops ear marked for the hammer (the via Belgium and north east Franc force) and put them on the border with France (fearful that a French offensive might work).

    Von M. jr also went into a part panic by sending back several divisions to face the Russians (they never got to the Russian front till well after the battle of T. was over) divisions on trains in the middle of Germany – at the time they were most needed.


    It has one thing that Germany did not have in 1914 or 1939.

    China is HUGE.

    It is not just all those manufactured goods from China – although that DOES make it an powerhouse (British and American shops in 1914 and 1939 were not DOMINATED by German goods), it also the fact that it has vast natural resources (rare earths and so on) and is buying ownership of supplies all over the world (with Chinese private companies backed by the state banks – so they basically have a blank cheque to gain control of raw material supply ownership).

    The Chinese also have a population of more than a billion people.

    And even today – NUMBERS still matter.

    Also the West is weak – really weak.

    Even in 1939 British manufacturing was vastly stronger than stronger than the education system and the media give people the impression it was.

    Today British manufacturing is basically finished.

  • Midwesterner

    A couple follow up questions to stir the pot. First, Albania had, faced with the intentions of the Balkan League, fought against the Balkan League to preserve their status as part of the Ottoman Empire. Oops. While they were hoping for full independence (unlikely in the circumstances,) once their Ottoman plan collapsed they were placed in the position of choosing between being under the authority of either the Balkan League or part of the A-H Empire. Certainly, giving Balkan history and what the Serbs have done when annexing territory, pleading their way into the A-H as a protection from the Balkan League was their best, most reasonable, and most liberty minded option.

    A-H, a doddering and dysfunctional empire, doesn’t like the idea of a Serbian Navy controlling their access to the Mediterranean and ultimately to the high seas by controlling the strait of Otranto. This would mean that all of A-H’s access to the seas would be controlled by Russia and the Russia empowered Balkan League. With there only other access to the seas being via Germany or the Italian Alps, A-H is in a bind. Albania is in a bind, A-H is in a bind and the solution they both want involves only each other and their own territories (at this point in time). It is a win/win for the A-H and Albanians. An ‘oh darn’ for the Serbs and Russians.

    So my original question (I realize the danger of alternate history scenarios but what is history without considering them?) still stands. “If Serbia/Russia had not threatened A-H, would A-H have assisted Germany in their presumed plans for unilateral aggression against France or UK? I don’t think that is a given since A-H had so much more to lose than Germany did.” It sounds like Kim comes the closest to answering it. I’ll restate it.

    A-H is faced with the (apparently soon to be realized) intention of Russia and the Balkan League to gain control of the Strait of Otranto and control A-H sea access and trade. This is pretty clearly an act clearly of aggression against the A-H Empire. When A-H presents a defense of Albania, one consented to and desired by the Albanians, the Serbs then assassinate the arch-duke. Had Russia and the Balkan League not been very credibly threatening A-H, would A-H have supported the Germans’ Napoleon complex? I don’t think that is at all a given. If my pathetic knowledge of European geography is at all accurate, wouldn’t A-H have needed Germany for barge scale access to sea ports? I don’t recall that there is a way to get barges through the Italian Alps.

    So A-H is boxed in and forced to choose between isolation and giving up its blue water access, transiting a perpetually contested strait (which may have been possible for naval ships, but not merchant) or caving to German conditions. Sounds to me like there is no right answer.

    I am way beyond anything I learned in state school districts 36, 95 and 200, and am now into Wikipedia territory. But I prefer to look at military history with first thought being given to economic factors, and only when they are clearly absent from the minds of the players, look for alternative explanations. The clear consensus here is that Germany falls under one of those alternative explanations (Paul summed that up pretty sweetly). But I am having a hard time seeing how, at that point in time, A-H had any other alternative than to support the Albanians against the Balkan League which was backed by Imperial Russia.

  • Paul Marks

    The Germans treated their “allies” the Hapsburg armies with total contempt – General Conrad was led to believe the Germans would support him against Russia, but they did not (and the Hapsburg armies were defeated).

    Not that the Hapsburg armies were any good anyway – they barely defeated the Serbians. The Hapsburg officers (with bright yellow sashes accross their chests – basically as “snipers please kill me” things, made even Haig and co look good).

    The Germans were tactical wonderful – and strategically insane (much as they were in the Second World War).

    The British had some good stratgic ideas (such as knocking out Turkey and linking up with Russia – by sailing to Constaniople), but messed them up tactically.

    On the Western Front only the British 2nd Army (led by Plummer and H.) even seemed to grasp that they were engaged in SEIGE WARFARE (withe the whole of Gemany, and occupied land, being the enenmy fortress, and their role being basically to contain it – till it could be starved into submission) the rest of the army high command seemed to be under the impression that they were in the 1640s – with infantry advancing at walking pace and in lines (like pike blocks) to open up gaps for the cavarly.

    Such tactics did not work in 1815 (when P. tried them against Andrew Jackson at the battle of New Orleans) – let alone 1915 (however wel they may have worked in the 1640s).

    Still back to the start of the war…

    What choice did Austria-Hungary have?

    Not get provoked by Colonel Apex and his “Black Hand” Serbian murderers in 1914?

    So many things went wrong that day. Had the driver not gone down the road (taking Franz Ferdinand and Sophie back from seeing the victims of the previous terrorist attack in hospital), had he not stopped and tried to reverse, had the guard not been on the wrong side of the car (he desperatly tried to get round and was only seconds late..), but everything went wrong – and Franz Ferdinand and Sophie lay dying (“Sophie, Sophie, do not die – stay alive for our children”).

    Hard not to be provoked – as the “Black Hand” had reasoned. And both the Serbian and German powers (in their very different ways) took advantage of the loyality of the Hapsburgs to the old honour code.

    Yes war will lead to utter ruin – but one can NOT fight after this.

    Remember the basic purpose of the 9/11 attacks was NOT to bring down America directly – it was to PROVOKE America into war in the Middle East and, thus, drain America in will and money (exactly what was achieved).

    Not fall out with Russia decades before?


    Somehow prevent the Serbian coup in 1903…. which turned Serbia into an anti Hapsburg power.

    Remember it was real “Prisoner of Zenda” stuff.

    If Colonel Apex’s (yes him again) murderers had not seen the light comming out from the crack in the secret compartment,then the King and Queen of Serbia might well have lived – after all help was only minutes away….

    It was a time in history when a single competant intelligence officer (or even a part time person once on the edge of “the game”) might have made a difference of all history…..

    I sometimes think of it.

  • Russ in Texas

    Good chance the Hungarian Diet wouldn’t have approved war participation with its own troops in a purely offensive German venture that had no fig-leaf.

    Never really understood the German thing — they were ripe to dominate Europe for the long run on sheer economics, if they’d not gotten all adventurey.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course Colonel D.D. nickname was Apis no Apex.

    Silly me.

  • RAB

    This is absolutely top notch stuff, with cracking comments that has re-focused my understanding of the origins of WW1, but you lot know me of old don’t you? so you know what to expect, especially at xmas…

    Do any of you remember an episode of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns? The one called “Whinfrey’s Last Case” where the dastardly Hun tries to start the War a year early?

    Britain’s top secret agent in the best Bond fashion, thwarts a German plot, planning to infiltrate Britain with nannies, shepherds, judges, village idiots, and vicars [Job done there I suspect ;-)].

  • Paul Marks

    It was the bands and the waiters RAB – that was the invasion force…..

  • lucklucky

    Midwestern check the Austro Hungarian Empire maps.

  • Midwesterner

    I did, lucklucky. Empires need high volume reliable direct access to blue water for both naval and merchant shipping. As best I can tell A-H’s only blue water access was either overland through Italy, or an extremely uneconomical canal route through Germany or through the strait of Otranto. I’m not a history buff and certainly not knowledgeable on this topic, but I like to look at economic influences on decisions and I haven’t heard anything that suggests a reliable alternative to safe passage for merchant shipping through the Otranto. IIUC, all other routes to blue water are either through the Black Sea and at the mercy of Russia or overland through other hostile powers. Am I wrong?

  • lucklucky

    Well when you started talking about barges i thought you weren’t aware of Austro Hungarian Ports in Adriatic since i doesn’t make sense to talk about barges when there is also railways.

    Neverthless how Serbs can block Otranto Strait with almost no ships? Not even the Allies, then already with Italians, could completely seal it and they put a complete barrage of permanent ships in it something that Serbia could never pull it off due to lack of resources.

  • Midwesterner

    The A-H and the Italians believed, probably correctly, that Serbia would install a Russian naval base. It does not take much in the way of a threat to make merchant shipping unviable. Certainly the Russian navy based out of a Serbian Albania would have that capacity. Russia was already spoiling for a confrontation with A-H for reasons I don’t quite follow but apparently have to do with shared Slavic ethnicity or something. I suspect their motivations may also fall under “alternative explanations”.

    A similar situation to this is occurring today with India and China regarding the possibility of a Chinese naval base in Burma/Myanmar and the effort by the Chinese to become a strong force in the Indian Ocean. India is quite reasonably concerned about what China intends to do with a strong navy in the Indian Ocean. It is quite reasonable to ask why China wants to project a strong navy into that sea.

  • Midwesterner

    That would be Russian ethnicity shared with the Serbs, not the A-H, of course.

  • Mark Green

    As someone whose main reference for the reasons for the War is Churchill’s rather obviously jingoistic tome, thanks to everyone above for giving me new perspectives. The Otranto Straits, really? I had to look that up, and I can’t even use that in Scrabble.

  • Paul Marks

    The Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914 had a nice sea coast on the Adriatic. The Italian or British fleets might be able to block then there – but Serbia?

    What has the Adriatic got to with Serbia?

    Unless, of course, the dream of the Black Hand is achieved – and Serbia not only takes over Montenegro, but also what we call Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia and Slovenia (and Treste as well?).

    However, only raving lunatic (such as Woodrow Wilson) could believe in such a “Yugoslavia” concept.

  • Ed Snack

    Just a couple of comments, first China has no even close to a monopoly on any rare materials, not even “rare earths”, they simply have a greater tolerance for dirty refining of those items for now.

    Then on WW1, Britain was not obligated under its treaty with France to come to France’s aid, it only promised to consult. In fact two members of Asquith’s cabinet resigned over the decision to declare war on Germany. However military arrangements worked out by Sir Henry Wilson assumed that the army would dloy in France and there were comprehensive plans to do so.

    On the actual outbreak, before declaring war and as a result of the assassination, Austria-Hungary gave Serbia an ultimatum, couched in such a way that it was assumed that no self-respecting government could possibly accept, that is it was intended as a step to war and not an alternative. To their surprise, the Serbians caved in and agreed. AH declared war anyway, their military high command was determined on war with Serbia. Oddly enough, having declared war with full German support, it took the AH army months to initiate an invasion of Serbia, and they were repulsed at first, so one is not sure why they were so keen and apparently confident.

    The Schiefflin plan could certainly have succeeded and nearly did. It was weakened by troops being withdrawn as noted above, to reinforce the German left, but it was only Joffre’s last minute realisation of the German plan that gave France the opportunity to at least attempt to forestall them. German supply was running low but they had enough to continue had they electe,d to do so rather than cut back prematurely as they did.

  • Paul Marks

    Ed – the German invasion of Belgium.

    Britain (and before that England) has been fighting to prevent any major power controlling the low countries since the 16th century.

    Whether it was Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, or Willy II.

    And the Germans had plans beyond this – for example Latin American and ….. (sorry but the academic and political elite in Germany had got some barking notions into their heads).

    By the way – who said China has a monopoly?

    If it had – it would not be buying up alternative sources of supply (of various raw materials).

    The thing about China is not “monopoly” it is SIZE.

    China is huge.

    Nazi Germany in the 1930s was no better than China (worse in some ways) – but it was tiny, China is huge.

    And British and American manufacturing are a total mess….

    However, of course I would like to see rare earth mines reponed in the United States.

    The signs for them could be made from the skins of EPA officials.

    But that would not solve the basic problem.

    The fiscal and monetary situation in the West is unsustainable – and that is hitting the “real economy” (making things).

    Things will get a lot worse before they get better.

    If they get better.

  • Paul Marks

    Why was General Conrad so (falsely) confident?

    Perhaps he was an idiot.

    Or perhaps he was a fatalist – who was just putting on a show of confidence that he did not really feel.

    Many of the high people in the Hapsburg Empire believed it was doomed.

    After all even the schools were teaching anti Hapsburg propaganda.

    For example, that is where a young boy got his anti Hapsburg “Pan German” ideology from – from school.

    The very schools that the government funded.

    In many ways the entire West is a vast “Austro-Hungarian” Empire now.

    Hopelessly dysfunctional (they had two million government employees – even exculding the military).

    Wrapped in Red Tape (and other sorts of tape – the Empire actually had a coloured tape fileing system).

    And subverted from within.

    With the very teachers and university lecturers it paid for – seeking to destroy it.

    Hard not be a fatalist in such an environment.

    “Let us fight – even though it is hopeless (indeed because it is hopeless)” may be the sentiment.

  • Stanley T

    We forget that most parties did really think it would be a short war, as the only precedents they had were the Prussian wars of 1866 (against Austria) and 1870 (against France), and the France-Savoy v Austria war of 1859, and generals always fight the last war. Of course with 20/20 hindsight the protracted and bloody American civil war was a better precedent, even ending in trench warfare outside Richmond. In those days, however, it was Europeans who were top of the pile and completely insular. Union general Sherman was an observer on the Prussian side in 1870 and was less than impressed.

  • Paul Marks

    The British should have known how difficult it is to attack entrenched enemies – even if they had forgotten such things as the Battle of New Orleans.

    After all the Boer War was only a few years before the First World War.

    As for Sherman – a very good general.

    But he was luckly that the the fool Jefferson Davis replaced the Confederate commander in the (J.J.)with the demented Texan General Hood.

    I have attacked Haig and co many times – but they never launched a frontal attack on prepared enemies when they were OUT NUMBERED.

    That is exactly what Hood did – and more than once. He destroyed the Confederate armies in the West.

    I do not care how brave he was – or how many limbs he had lost (or that he had to strapped to his horse).

    The man was not a commander – he was just a fighter (that is not same thing).

    In 1870 the French were SLOW – that is how the Germans were able to out flank them (to get round them – isolate them in pockets and so on).

    The Germans would not have been able to do that to Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson – or to Grant and Sherman.

    It does not matter who has the most men on paper – it matters who gets to the VITAL PLACE first with the most men and materials.

    “But what is the vital place” – it changes, a good General can work where it is, and when it changes they know the change.

    Strange to think of the French as slow – but they were.

    They were slow in 1940 also – the Germans just moved faster (as well as in a more organised way).

    Of course the French were messed up by all the French civilian refugees on the roads – but sometimes you have to be prepared to push your own civilians off the roads (even if that means fireing above their heads).

    War is not a game.

    By the way the British were often slow – especially in the Second World War.

    As the old military saying has it…..

    “Slow = dead”.