Follow by Email

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


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The rest of the week in WWI- Now you can do what you want

                                 War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.
                                                                 Winston Churchill  

When Kaiser Willie woke up on the 30th, he read the final telegraph from Tsar Nicky and knew he had been lied to- a knowledge confirmed once Pourtales' message about his last meeting with Sazonov arrived.  They had lost precious days in war prep to Russia- and likely to France as well.  After an initial tirade, he calmed down somewhat and wrote a reply to Nicky with the help of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, that included:

" role as mediator... will be endangered, if not ruined... the whole weight of the decision lies solely on your shoulders now..."

Army chief of staff von Moltke had also seen the two telegrams, along with the frightful news from his ally Austria that his counterpart Conrad was planning on war plan B- which was mobilization against Serbia alone.  Thus, if war broke out, Germany would be responsible to save Austria to the detriment of the Schleiffen Plan.  The prospect frightened him enough that he burst in on Bethmann and the Kaiser uninvited, demanding that "imminent danger of war" be declared.  At this point it was still important to show that Russia was the aggressor, and he was shot down.  In a snit, he goes off to try to at least stop one problem- he wires Conrad to enact "plan R":  mobilization against Russia first.  Conrad shares the missive with his boss Berchtold, who says, "  Who rules in Berlin- Moltke or Bethmann?"  With that, Moltke is ignored in Vienna as well.

The question of rule was a tricky one all over Europe at this point.  In Russia it had devolved to the Tsar against the war party.  And the man with the best cards in hand was also the biggest liar of the bunch- Sazonov.  At one moment he holds out to German ambassador Pourtales the ephemeral olive branch of negotiations with Austria on the basis of Austria "dropping the most objectionable demands" of Serbia.  He then becomes the point man in the battle to convince Nicky to re-sign the order for general mobilization.  He spends an hour convincing the Tsar of Germany's evil intent- and at 4 PM the Tsar signs the order.  Sazonov quickly gets the news to Army Chief of staff N.N. Yanushkevitch- and remembering the night before, tells him, "Now you may smash your phone."

In France, it was a battle between the military and the pacifists in civilian government.  Notified of Russia's mobilization orders, Army chief Joffre is told to "cover the frontiers" with the army- but staying at least 6 miles from the borders to avoid the "hint" of aggression.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

By Friday morning the 31st of July, Germany was on tinterhooks, waiting for some proof of Russian mobilization so they too could mobilize.  But the proof would prove difficult to get- even though by this point, 16 hours had passed from Russian general mobilization and 12 since the French "border covering."- as Moltke was advised that the border had been "hermetically sealed".  About 10 AM, Britain's ambassador Goschen arrived to talk to Bethmann, and Bethmann tore into him when he tried to protest Russian innocence.  Less than an hour later, a telegram from Pourtales told them that Russian mobilization had been declared; soon later, the Kaiser signed the Imminent danger of war papers.

Now the day devolved into a series of panicked diplomatic initiatives.  French ambassador Cambon had come to Sir Edw. Grey seeking a British commitment- and Grey, still unwilling to fight the "little Englanders" who wanted nothing to do with war, suggested it might take a German invasion of Belgium to get Britain to commit.  The Germans continued to work the Austrians to negotiate, and Britain to stay neutral.  And to set the cherry on the dessert of the day, Austria declared general mobilization- but in typical Austrian style declared it not immediately, but for Tuesday the 4th.

Saturday morning dawned with the demands of Joffre for mobilization- a position made more acceptable when France's Italian ambassador informed the Cabinet that Italy's foreign minister had promised neutrality if Germany moved first, and if France and Russia "showed restraint".  This was wise counsel, but less wise things had already occurred in the wee hours in London.  Right around midnight, London received both a message from French President Viviani claiming German troops had made two crossings of the French border the night before; and also word that Bethmann had gave Russia a 12-hour ultimatum to stand down.  Arthur Nicholson was wakened- but instead of going to his sleeping boss Grey, he went instead straight to Prime Minister Asquith.  Together, they put together a message to the Tsar to please stand down, which they woke King George V to sign, told German ambassador Lichnoswky that they were sending it, and actually got it sent at 3:30 AM.

It wasn't till 11 that Grey finally- if not completely- woke up, and he sent another lackey, secretary Sir William Tyrell, to go talk to Lichnowsky.  And somehow or another, he managed to convince Lichnowsky that if Germany refrained from attacking France, Great Britain would guarantee French "passivity" in a German war with Russia.  Grey now had to deal with his own people.  He gathered Churchill, Asquith, and a handful of others and asked them to follow him in declaring their resignations if the "little Englanders" succeeded in getting "no intervention for ANY reason".  It was the one line in the sand Grey could, or would draw- either war was on the table, or the British government would fall.

The next "blow against the empire" came in the early afternoon in Paris, when the German ambassador asked if France would stay out of a Russo-German War.  President Viviani was sent to tell the ambassador, "France will act in accordance with her interests."  Which was an official way to give an unofficial no.  The ambassador pressed for a less ambiguous answer, which only pissed off the peace-seeking Viviani; and when he returned to the Cabinet, he ceased his opposition and by 3:30, France had become the third nation to declare general mobilization.

The ball was not in Berlin's court- and they had already fumbled.  The problem was that Bethmann declared to Moltke that mobilization required a declaration of war- and that because one of the first phases would be seizing train crossings in Luxembourg (which Germany administered anyway) to keep them out of French hands.  Two days later, the army would cross into Belgium.  It was a semantic point, and it was hamstringing Germany's ability to prepare.  Nonetheless, Germany became the last nation to declare general mobilization about 5 PM.  No sooner had the word went out than Jagow came bursting in with Lichnowsky's message about Tyrell's promise in Grey's name.  Willie was delighted- it meant he could fight a one-front war with Russia!  But Moltke protested.  The German war plan was so intricate, so precise, that to turn the whole force of the army east (when most of it was pointed towards France) was next to impossible.  The Kaiser raged at Moltke ("Your Uncle {the late Field Marshall and predecessor in the position}would have given me a different answer!" ) Moltke was ordered to stop any border crossings, and telegrams were rushed off in response- Bethmann to Grey and Willie to Georgie.

Even as this was going on, the whole debate was being set to naught because Pourtales had been instructed to give the declaration of war to Sazonov at about this very moment.  Three times, Pourtales asks if Russia would give Germany a satisfactory answer to the twelve hour ultimatum.  Three times, Sazonov says no; the last time, he says, "I have no other answer to give."  Legend says the two men broke into tears as Pourtales gave him the declaration; then followed up with a twenty minute shouting battle over whose fault it was.  Now it was war... but there was one last measure of stupidity that had to play out.

About 8 PM in London, Grey is summoned to Buckingham Palace by Georgie, who had just received the Kaiser's telegram.  Confronted with a promise he had made that Britain could never have kept (mainly because of Grey's own playing fast and loose with everyone), Grey claimed that there "must have been a misunderstanding..."  And that's just what Georgie sent back to Willie.

Just after going to bed, Willie got the return cable.  He got up, called Moltke, said, "Now you can do what you want", and returned to bed in dejection.


  1. Ole Winston should know about blunders in war.
    Gallipoli and all.
    He got better, though.

    1. In a perfect world, the Gallipoli plan made sense. And Winston never had a bad thing to say about Sir E. Grey. So go figure.

  2. I enjoy the weekly history lesson!

    1. Thank you ma'am! I may scale it back now that the "fun stuff" is almost done, but haven't decided yet.

  3. Chris:
    During the days of the 30th and 31st, the only analogy that came to mind was a barnyard full of chickens running about with their heads cut

    And, not to jump that far ahead, but much of what you've spoken about HERE speaks volumes as to WHY the (soon to be formed) League of Nations failed so miserably.

    Very good account of a convoluted time, for sure.
    Stay safe up there.

    1. Couldn't have put it much better myself, Bobby...