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


Monday, July 14, 2014

This week in WWI- Reasonable doubt?

The long awaited report on the assassination by Austrian chief counsel Dr Friedrich Wiesner came out on July 13th, and said what most intelligent people already knew.  There was no proof the LEGAL Serbian government was involved; but it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that members of that government, at the very least Major Tankositch (who gave the bombs, guns, and expired poison to Princep and his homies) and the Serbian officials that smuggled them across the border, were guilty.  This was all our friend Count Berchtold, Foreign Minister in Austria, needed to hear to set the wheels in motion.  But, unfortunately for him, he'd set two sets of wheels into motion, and one of them he'd rather not have.

The announcement of the report's findings gave him all the firepower he needed to bring Count Tisza, leader of the Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary, to the side of war.  He had been planning all along to send an ultimatum to Serbia- one written to be rejected- and thus start a "justified" war.  Tisza, you'll recall, had been against this because of his fears that Russia would intervene, and the Dual Monarchy would be like fine crystal in a cannonade.  But faced with facts, and under increasing pressure from his own political rivals, Tisza met with Berchtold on the 14th and agreed that, while it "had not been easy to take the decision of advising war..." he was "now convinced of its necessity."  He agreed to sending an ultimatum, but not before it was brought before the full Ministerial Council on Sunday the 19th.

And this was the first wrinkle in Berchtold's plan.  On the 12th, Raymond Poincare and much of the rest of the high French Government had set out on a sea trip to St Petersburg to confer with the Tsar and the other Powers That Be in Russia.  Berchtold HAD wanted to send the ultimatum while the Frenchmen were in the Baltic, to present a fait accompli before the two allies could formulate a joint response.  Waiting till Sunday screwed that;  now he would have to wait until they were on the return trip to France... which would actually work out better, because the French/Russian meeting would be over, the last of the Army divisions on "harvest leave" would be back, and he could unleash Conrad on 48 hours notice.  The new date for sending the note to Belgrade would be July 25th.

Poincare and Sazonov... boy, won't they have stuff to talk about!

But of course Tisza wouldn't make it that easy.  On the very eventful morning of July 19th, the ministers got together- including Conrad, who was officially "on vacation" from the 14th to the 22nd to make it look like nothing was going on (a tactic also used by Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov and Serbian Prime Minister Pasic over the course of our story)- at Berchtold's private residence (believe it or not, the Strudelhof, or House of Strudel.  Can't make this stuff up.

See?  The Strudelhof!

Tisza first brought up the Italian problem.  Even though Italy was a (nod, nod, wink, wink) ally, they had a lot of issues with Austria and might turn things into a two front war even if Russia stayed out.  Berchtold assured him he would make all diplomatic efforts to appease Italy, just as he had told the Germans- and never would get around to, because he knew that the Italians would come with their bags open and their hands out.  Then Tisza went to the other two-front possibility- Romania.  What could Conrad promise to protect Hungary from invasion through Transylvania?  After the idea of a division of the Fifth Vampire Corps was deemed infeasible, Conrad proposed an initial bluff- a militia/training regiment/police conglomerate which, while not being a decent fighting force might look enough like one to scare the Romanians off.  Amazingly, Tisza was happy with this as well.

But then came the killer- what were our war aims?  Tisza warned that any annexations of Serbian territory would surely bring the Russians into the war, and he refused to allow it.  Berchtold and Conrad had to be aghast- at a minimum they wanted Serbia to be no more than an Austrian satellite, and preferably wiped off the face of the earth.  So with one side just wanting to pee on the bush and the other wanting to rip it out completely, Berchtold was forced to settle for a little judicious pruning.  For instance, maybe a couple of key districts might change hands- just for security's sake- and who are we to object if Albania, Greece, Bulgaria... or even (gasp) Romania- fished themselves off a chunk or two?  The main idea was bring Serbia to a state where they'd never be a problem again.

Once again, amazingly Tisza bought it- with the caveat that it had to be PUBLICLY announced with the declaration  of war that Austria was forswearing large scale annexations.  That, perhaps, would be enough to keep the Russkies out.

At virtually the same time, Sazonov was showing Tsar Nicholas II a dispatch from their Vienna embassy indicating that the Austrians were going to do just what they were discussing at the House O' Strudel.  Nicky replied that, "In my opinion, a state should not present any sort of demands to another- unless, of course, it is bent on war."  Now wait a minute, you might ask.  How is it that this secret plan, disguised to the point of sending military leaders on vacation and holding an official ministerial meeting at the Vienna IHOP, got heard about within a week by the Russians?  Glad you ask, because this is the second set of wheels.

You see, one of Berchtold's buddies was a retired ambassador to Italy named Heinrich von Lutzow.  And one of the secret "vacation meetings" he let Lutzow sit in on.   Much like Tisza, he felt that "localizing the war is a fantasy" and that world war would erupt.  Unable to officially dissuade Berchtold, he did the next best thing.  The same day Tisza came over to the dark Side, Lutzow told one of HIS buddies- his neighbor, the British ambassador in Vienna, Sir Maurice de Bunsen- hoping he'd spread the word and derail the plan.  Bunsen kicked it around a bit, and then cabled the news to Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary, well known for standing for... well not known for standing for anything.  The first cable on the 16th, he told the story on the ultimatum; then next day, he confirmed the source as Lutzow.  Bunsen had tried to pump Berchtold himself on the 16th for more info, but Berchtold was too smart (just barely) to tell him anything, and Bunsen was too polite to break up the small talk with politics.  Finally, he went to Gossips 'r' Us- the Italian embassy in (name your nation), and the one in Vienna told him he didn't think it was a big deal.  So Bunsen let it drop, and Grey did what he did best- he ignored it.

Lutzow- 62 year old tattletale.

And had it stopped there, Berchtold would have dodged a bullet.  But the second bullet came when the loquacious Sir Maurice talked to the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Nikolai Shebeko.  Naturally, Shebeko got ahold of Sazonov.  In the meantime, Bunsen's story to Grey had landed in the lap of London's Serbian ambassador, Mateja Boskovic, and made it's way back to Serbia.  Belgrade was already awash in rumors, including one the night before the state funeral for the unfortunate Russian ambassador Hartwig (see last week's episode) that an attack on the Austrian Legation and Austrian citizens was planned.  Thus, Pasic took his well-timed "vacation" (in his case, a campaign trip for his upcoming re-election).  And thus it was that Sazanov came home from his vacation to find out just what was going on.

And what he found was, in addition to the dispatch from Shebeko, another underling in the Foreign department, one Baron von Schilling, had talked to his local Gossips 'r'Us, specifically  Marquis Carl Carlotti di Riporballa, who said he thought Austria-Hungary not only capable but probable of doing such a thing.  So Sazonov knew what was coming, but didn't know when- until his people watching the diplomatic cables (as Russia had cracked the Austrian codes) told him that Berchtold had asked and received the date that Poincare et al were LEAVING  St. Petersburg.

In true "loose lips" fashion, Berchtold had sunk his own ship.

PS-  It was also on that Sunday morning that the Great WWI pre-game PR campaign kicked off.  German Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow posted an article in the North German Gazette:

"... more and more voices are heard admitting that the desire of Austria-Hungary to bring about a clarification of her relations with Serbia is justified." To maintain the European peace "... the settlement of differences which may arise between Austria-Hungary and Serbia should remain localised".


  1. Chris:
    I swear I could never have imagined reading about SO many MINISTERS with SO little morality among them.
    (more like MINSTRELS than MINISTERS - "song and dance" troupe...LOL)

    I have heard of Lutzow - Germans named a WW2-era heavy cruiser after him...before that it was named the Deutschland and before THAT a WW1 era cruiser.
    The Germans thought a LOT about "Mr Snitch"...didn't they?

    Good post.

    Stay safe up there.

    1. Lutzow was a longtime naval man before entering the gov'mint, so that doesn't surprise me. And Gov'mint ministers apparently don't feel themselves under the same moral bounds as the clergy.