Follow by Email

What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WWI this week

This week, I thought I'd get my overview up to the date at hand.  When we last left German Kaiser Wilhelm II, he was trying to cut himself off from all the useful allies Otto von Bismarck had lined up for him.  By far the stupidest thing he could have done was to hack off England, and not because they could beat him up.  When he came to his throne, England was in a "stay the hell outta Europe" mood; not only that, but at the time they were rivals with Russia in their Great Game contest in Central Asia, and rivals with France in Africa.  Thus, they would have likely been out of the fight in any war between Germany and her two main enemies.

But somebody HAD to have a navy to rival England.

Which caused a bunch of dominoes to fall.  First, it turned England's attention home.  Which meant it basically got out of the Game, and it made a series of arrangements with France in the 1890's that by 1904 included a near-uniting of their general staffs.  The Germans then tried to humiliate France in Africa, but the Algeciras conference of 1906 and the Agadir crisis of 1911 both gave the Germans some concessions and drove Britain and France ever tighter together, with the result that by 1914 both their military and naval arrangements were co-ordinated.  Wilhelm had tried to separate them; instead, he performed the wedding ceremony.

In the meantime, another set of dominoes fell when Russia got whupped by Japan in a 19 month war in 1904-5 that might have ended even worse for them had not Teddy Roosevelt rode in to mediate a armistice.  Then, the Russian people revolted and were crushed on what became known as Bloody Sunday- January 22, 1905.  Russia was on the ropes; but France began pouring money into the Kremlin to rebuild the army and infrastructure. 

But with Russia down for the moment, Austria tried to take advantage.  After an 1878 Russo-Turkish War much like the last dozen, Russia rolled the Ottoman armies, and tried to change the face of the Balkans.  Romania and Serbia gained de facto independence, and Bulgaria was turned into a huge puppet empire right in the middle of it.  Of Course, Europe wouldn't tolerate such a huge change in the balance of power, and the Congress of Berlin not only shrunk Bulgaria, but chopped it in two, with a semi independent north and a Turkish-occupied south ("Eastern Rumelia").  But the important part for our story- Bosnia-Herzegovina, heretofore a Turkish province, was to be "administered" by Austria (AKA "it's still yours, but we'll run it for you".) 

Austria and Russia tear chunks from Turkey.

With Russia's defeat by Japan, and the British Army's reality-check in the Boer War, as well as the metamorphosis of the little Balkan nations (Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania) from little minnows to little piranhas, Austria deemed it time to strike in 1908 and annexed B-H (AKA, "never mind, they belong to us").  Everyone could protest, but nobody could really do anything about it, especially Turkey.  In 1911, Italy (who had got dusted by Ethiopia in 1887), beat Turkey in a short war that gave them Libya and Albania semi-independence.  Then in 1911-2, the two Balkan Wars ended with Turkey having no more left to them but that little chunk in Europe they have now.

You'd think that would have settled things down.  No such luck.

“One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans (1888).”
― Otto von Bismarck

By 1914, German and Austrian experts and idiots alike agreed on one thing- if they waited the coming war until 1916 or 1917 at the latest, Russia would be revived enough to crush them both.  On May 12th, 1914, German head of the General Staff von Moltke and his Austrian counterpart Conrad von Hotzendorf met in Karlsbad.  Now von Moltke was the son of the great Helmuth von Moltke; and while everyone hoped he would be his father's equal, he was nothing close.  Hotzendorf was a boob on a par with Willie;  Clamoring for decades for a war with Serbia, and then trying to back out of it when it came, because he knew his nation to be a barking dog without much bite left.  He would later go on to write a book after the war blaming everyone but himself for the sandwich his nation had to eat.

If only we'd done it MY way... no, not that "my way", the OTHER "my way"...

What they decided was that they had to find an immediate way to trigger the war, before Russia could get any stronger.  And they had to be slick about it, because the alliance with Italy was a defensive one, and the least excuse would make them say, "mi scusi, devo vedere un uomo a Parigi." *  And they would have to find a way to placate the English.  You see, the German war plan since 1905 was to wheel through Belgium and come around the back side of the French armies, cutting them off from Paris.  But to attack Belgium was to bring England into the war, because EVERYBODY had signed a paper on Belgium's independence in 1830 to respect its neutrality. 

* "Excuse me, I have to meet a man in Paris."

So they knew a war with Russia was a war with France.  And a war with France would most likely be a war with Britain.

And even as these two sought the spark that would make them seem innocent bystanders, the spark itself was being arranged.  On May 26th- 100 years ago this Monday- a Major in the Serbian Army, Vojislav Tankosić, right hand man of Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević (known more commonly as Apis),  through a Bosnian gun runner named Milan Ciganović, supplied a cache of weapons to a trio of Bosnian youths looking to graduate to "terrorists".  These weapons included "six hand grenades, four Browning automatic pistols and ammunition, money, suicide pills, training, a special map with the location of gendarmes marked, knowledge of contacts on a clandestine tunnel used to infiltrate agents and arms into Austria-Hungary, and a small card authorizing the use of that tunnel."    (from Wiki)  It would take them until the first of June to cross the border into Austrian Bosnia- with a goal of killing the heir to the Austrian throne.


  1. Lots of history right there!

  2. Chris:
    Bravo..another excellent chapter in the run-up to the war to end ALL wars (which it did not).
    I'm SO glad you mentioned Japan kicking Russia's butt as well...seems few people figure any of THAT into the causes of WW1.
    (one domino overlooked)

    And when you said DOMINOES (plural) sure were not kidding.
    I see a lot of the "in-fighting" between these countries to be nothing less than "political chutes and ladders", too.

    Like the captions and that last picture says it
    Seems the History Channel left a lot of this stuff out when they were covering the First World War in their three-part series...(coulda been FOUR parts if they listened to CWM)

    Very well done, brother.

    Stay safe (and historically-adept) up there.