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


Saturday, July 26, 2014

This (half) week in WWI

(NOTE:  this week is packed with events.  Rather than have you read a novel in one shot, I'm going to split the post so you'll just have two paperbacks to deal with.)

If you have doubted whether a Higher (or Lower) Power might have been manipulating events leading up the trail so far, I submit for your approval the meeting on Sunday the 26th between German ambassador to London Lichnowsky (as we mentioned before, a man who desparatly wanted a neutral UK since he loved London life) and Sir Arthur Nicholson (Sir Edward Grey's chief lackey while the Foreign Secretary was on vacation).  Germany was by this time well aware that the Russians were partially mobilizing the four districts which abutted Austria (including Warsaw, which abutted Germany), and Lichnowsky came to persuade the British to speak to their Russian 'casual friends' about stepping down.  Nicholson lacked two things he needed to speak freely (but that didn't stop him):  direction from Grey and knowledge of the true situation in Russia.

Sir A. Nicholson... just a bit lacking.

And why didn't he have info from his man in St Petersburg?  Well, for one thing, Russian Ambassador Buchanan, as I've mentioned before, saw only what he wanted to see, and woke up every morning singing Everything's Coming Up Roses.  For another, Russian Foreign Minister Sazanov and French man-on-the-spot in Petersburg, Paleolgue, were lying to him.  They needed to manipulate British opinion so that the Brits would step up when the time came- and that meant Germany HAD to be the aggressor whether they were or not.  On the night of the 28th, Buchanan would trip over the truth when, after another misled meeting with Sazonov, he would complain to Paleologue that If they wanted British support, Russia would have to be careful, that Germany would have to be the aggressor.  Paleologue, who had to be smirking inside, replied, "That is what I'm always telling him."

So on the 26th, Buchanan had nothing, and thus neither did Nicholson- and neither cared.  To Lichnowsky's pleas, Nicholson made four big boo-boos.  First, He denied that even the partial mobilization that the Germans could prove were going on;  second, he declined to have his nation speak to St Petersburg because a) it would be "difficult and delicate" to tell a casual ally like Russia what to do since Austria was doing what THEY were doing, and b) because of a, no one would listen anyway.  Third, he naiively suggested that, as a neutral, Britain need only act when "active military operations began."  And finally, after pausing to blow the sand out of his nostrils, Nicholson threw away a Grey-sponsored plan to have Germany mediate between Austria and Russia (which no body liked BUT the Germans), to offer "plan B"  a mediation by the four great powers with the least stake in the situation- Germany, Italy (a German ally only on paper), Britain (a neutral only when convenient) and France (a bitter enemy).  Lichnowsky, as I said, was desperate- and as he wired the plan to a German government who would never accept it, he also wired acceptance of it to Grey, who was unaware he had offered it.

In the meantime, the German military was well past ready for Vienna to fish or cut bait.  Secretary of State Jagow wired their man in Vienna, and Austrian großen Käse Berchtold warning him that the only way to localize the war was for Austria to strike immediately.  Berchtold was more than happy to comply.  So he turned to his Army chief, Conrad, and asked how soon he wanted the declaration of war.

"Only at the stage when operations can begin," Conrad answered.  "Say, August 12th."  AKA two weeks from now.

As soon as Berchtold finished changing his underwear, he informed Conrad that the diplomatic situation "would not hold that long."

Also having an underwear malfunction at this point was German chancellor Bethmann-Holweg, who learned that the vacationing Kaiser Willie was coming home and ordered the fleet to battlestations in Kiel.  Bethmann tried to dissuade him, knowing that returning the fleet to Kiel would let everyone know that Germany was prepping for war- sort of.  He even suggested that since the Kaiser had learned about (but not seen) the Serbian reply by Wolff News Agency rather than official channels (because Bethmann was trying to keep him in the dark), he shouldn't overreact- to which the Kaiser replied, I don't need a news agency to tell me there is a Russian Navy that could have torpedo boats ready to sink our navy (and me with it) within hours.  "I have ordered the fleet to Kiel," he concluded, " to Kiel she shall go!"

So by the time Bethmann met Willie at Potsdam, he knew the chewing he was about to get.  In fact, he tried to resign on the spot.

"You have cooked this broth," Willie shouted as he turned down the resignation, "and now you're going to eat it!"  They went on to have a big pow-pow at Potsdam, with Bethmann carefully feeding Willie just enough to keep him happy without him wanting to call off the upcoming war.  Not only did he keep the Serbian reply from the Kaiser till Tuesday morning, he also left out through no fault of his own:

-that German ambassador in Vienna Tschirschky cabled him that Austria was preparing to declare war at the very moment;
-News from the man in Russia, Pourtales, that Russia had already started a partial mobilization;
-and last but not least, Lichnowsky was sitting on the news that Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, had just ordered the British Navy to battlestations at Scapa Flow north of Scotland.

About this time, Grey returned from vacation, and he finally was tired of the Austrian jacking around.  He demanded that Germany begin immediate negotiations with Vienna to reel their ally in (without a reciprocal demand that Paris do the same with Russia, it is noted).  Had Bethmann consented to do this right away, it may have salvaged the thing.  But he knew that, and Berchtold knew it, and they both were going to try to derail it.

Tuesday the 28th, the Kaiser woke up and was finally given the text of the Serbian reply.  He knew it was a great basis for negotiating a face-saving settlement, and demanded his ambassador tell the Austrians to submit to the same German-mediating proposal that Grey had just sent to Vienna.  But because he didn't trust the message to telegraph- he had it sent by special courier.  In the meantime, Berchtold knew that he was soon going to be besieged by requests to mediate the dispute.  So he headed them off in the only way left to him.

At 11 AM, he declared war on Serbia.

The Serbs were so shocked, that they sent wires to the capitols of Europe asking if this was some kind of joke.  The Russians knew it wasn't, and guessed it was coming.  Before they could be notified, they'd expanded the "Period preparatory to war" to the districts of Omsk,Irkutsk, Turkestan, and the Caucasus- in other words, just about the rest of the empire.  All the while still lying to Buchanan about it.

Then Willie heard the declaration of war, and hit the roof yet again.  He told Bethmann to tell Austria to negotiate- even if they had to occupy Belgrade and other border regions to save face.  His intent was to use the Serbian reply to negotiate a settlement.  But Bethmann, who had only forwarded Grey's proposal to Vienna after adding that he only sent it to placate the British (leaving out that Willie wanted it as well), let Vienna know that HIS take on the Kaiser's demand was to take Belgrade and not give it back UNLESS the Serbs met all demands unconditionally.

By this point, Poincare and Vivieni returned from the Baltic, and immediately got an embellished version of what was going on from Russian ambassador in Paris Ivolsky.  They immediately declared their support of their treaty obligations to Russia, and began a partial mobilization of their own- albeit several miles from the German and Belgian borders, to eliminate any chance of Britain seeing France as an aggressor.  In Germany, the military now begged the government to initiate their own "imminent danger of war", basically the same thing Russia had done.  The difference- and a big one it was- was that the IDW meant that they would automatically go onto full mobilization within 48 hours.  So all that was approved was a "danger of war" proclamation, which was much more limited.  This kept the hope alive that the British could be kept neutral, while hamstringing their people in Russia from forcing the tsar's men to back down.

The night of the 29th (Wednesday) was a rocky one.  On the one hand, Willie and Nicky had just stepped to their virtual negotiating table.  A series of telegrams between the two trying to save the pice had begun just after Sazonov and the military convinced the Tsar to order full mobilization.  Grasping at straws, Nicholas saw in Wilhelm's replies a glimmer of hope at 9 PM.  At 9:40, he ordered the mobilization stopped, and the brakes were thrown on at 10 PM.  "I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter!"  He told his aides; but in allowing Sazonov free reign, he'd already crossed that bridge without knowing it.

It's more than just signing your name, Nicky...

At 10:30 PM, Bethmann called in British ambassador Sir Edward Goschen, hoping to take one more stab at securing British neutrality.  He had tried to convince Willie to turn over the German fleet to Britain to keep them neutral (reasoning a navy wouldn't be needed in a purely continental war) and got laughed out of the room.  So, with very few cards to play, he promised Goschen Germany would not seek territorial gains in France.

Unfortunately, he had opened a door for Goschen.  The Brit asked about France's colonies; Bethmann wouldn't guarantee they wouldn't be taken.  He asked about Holland; Bethmann told him if the enemy stays out of Holland, so will we.

What about Belgium?
Goschen had him cornered, because everyone knew about the Schlieffen Plan by now.  Bethmann answered the only way he could- that Belgium's integrity would be respected AFTER the war.  And thus, the German battle plan was exposed.  When he found out about the meeting soon later, Prime Minister Asquith was very polite in his assessment- "There is something very crude, almost childlike, about German diplomacy."  IOW, "These guys are EEEEDIOTS!"

Moments later, a dejected Lichnowsky wired Bethmann, basically saying that from a conversation he'd just had with Grey, there was no way the British would stay completely neutral.  At 5 minutes of three AM on Thursday, Bethmann again wired Berchtold, this time in sincerity, to accept Grey's plan of German mediation.  But it was too late for that.  At 1:20 AM, a frustrated Nicky wired Willie that Russian mobilization had been proceeding since Saturday; ten minutes later, an exasperated Sazonov told German ambassador Pourtales that stopping Russian mobilization against (at least) Austria was "no longer possible."  Maybe the whole thing might have been avoided if they just went to bed at a decent hour.

Jim!  You should try Sanka!  It's caffeine free!

1 comment:

  1. Chris:
    You know, if my world history teacher would have "splained" it all this in the manner you have thus far, I might have gotten that "A" in class.
    Very well done, as usual.
    Be hard to nap in YOUR

    And it still amazes me how ANY of these shlubs (except Churchill, of course) could ever figure out which hand was doing what and to whom at any given time...astounding.
    ((pssst - I don't think they DID))
    Talk about getting WAY over-complicated in the political arena...and it was ONLY barely into the TWENTIETH century...
    We haven't come that far since, it would appear.

    Yeah, they could have definitely used some

    Good installment.
    (hope you saw the H/C shows they had on Saturday night about WW1 technologies...was a good several hours worth.

    Stay safe up there, "teach".