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


Monday, July 21, 2014

This week in WWI

On the 20th, the battleship France, with French President Poincare and Premier (and reluctant Foreign Minister) Viviani on board, docked at Kronstadt, the naval base off St. Petersburg, where they were picked up by the Tsar on his Yacht the Alexandria.  Poincare was ready to find out whether there was steel in the Russian diplomacy; Viviani would have rather been home watching the developments on the trial of Mme. Caillaux, who had shot dead a newspaper editor who'd bad-mouth her leftist hubby.

The next day, Poincare got a shock from British ambassador to Russia Buchanan;  that Austria was planning to give a threatening ultimatum to Serbia shortly.  What was more shocking than that Buchanan knew something that everyone else didn't was a) he had actually figured out from evidence presented, and b) the reason Poincare didn't already know was that his man in Belgrade, one Leon Descos, had had a nervous breakdown a few weeks back and hadn't been replaced yet.  The idea that Austria was going to get froggy was enough to galvanize Poincare; and as fate would have it, his next scheduled meeting (by protocol) was with Austrian ambassador Count Freidrich Szapary.  Poincare pointedly questioned the Hungarian- and got the kind of answers that confirmed his suspicions.  He told off Szapary, reminding him that "Serbia has very warm friends in Russia- and Russia has one in France."  He saw the Austrian game and was ready to call the bluff.  As he told his own ambassador in St Pete, Maurice Paleologue, ""Austria has a coup de theatre in store for us."

Poincare- not taking any crap.

Shortly thereafter, Poincare told the story to Russian FM Sazonov, who promptly went to German ambassador Freidrich Pourtales and reamed him out.  "There must be NO talk of an ultimatum,' Sazoinov warned the German.  If anyone doubted what the Austrians were up to, they weren't in Russia's capital.

The 23rd was the day the ultimatum was to be delivered- awaiting only the sailing off of the France.  Sazonov still hoped to head it off; he contacted his man in Vienna, Shebeko, and told him that he'd word from the gossips in Rome that Austria "was planning a stroke and meant to annihilate Serbia."  He instructed him to "cordially but firmly" to warn the Austrians against any move, and to inform them that they would get follow up warnings from France (which ended up arriving hours after the ultimatum was delivered) and possibly Great Britain (which was a forlorn hope, as Sir Edward Grey was still bent on staying out of it).  Of course, Shebeko HAD to be out when the message arrived, and the Charge d'Affaires rushed it over to the Ballplatz, where Berchtold's secretary told him to have Shebeko set up an appointment with Berchtold, say, 11 AM the next day.

So while everyone waited for the note to be delivered that evening, Berchtold briefly removed his head from his butt long enough to ask some pertinent questions of Conrad von Hotzendorf.

NOTE: for you that haven't been playing along all this time, Berchtold is the Austrian FM, Conrad is head of the Army.

The first question was, what if we mobilize and THEN Serbia accepts our demands?  Remember, the problem here is a "false-start" mobilization would likely finished Austria financially.  Conrad said, we just add to the demands that Serbia pay for the mobilization- problem solved.  Then, Berchtold asked the question he should have been asking since German Chancellor Bethman told him to ask it- What about the Italians?  Waaaay back on the 10th, Italian FM Antoio di San Guiliano told Austria that the price of Italian neutrality would likely be all of the South Tyrol- which included Conrad's country estate.  Obviously, Austria would not acquiesce to territorial demands on the border- what if mobilization should bring about a two front war with Serbia AND Italy?

Conrad told him basically, it was YOUR job to handle Italian neutrality, not mine.  If we don't have Italy neutral, we shouldn't mobilize.  Ooops, a little late for that.

At this point, would like to thank Sean McMeekin and his book July 1914 for tons of assistance.

So at six PM local time, Austrian ambassador Giesel marches into the Serbian ministry, expecting to deliver the ultimatum to Serbian PM Pasic.  But if you recall, Pasic had taken off on that "campaign trip", and left in charge Finance Minister Dr Laza Pacu- who did not speak French, the language of diplomacy.  So first, Giesel had to read him the ultimatum.  Then, Pacu tried to call Pasic to come back, which he refused.  Then he pled that they couldn't possibly get the cabinet together to discuss the note until Sunday- long after the deadline passed.  Giesel told him this was the era of phones and trains- you CAN get them together if you WANT to.  Finally, Pacu flat refused to take the document from Giesel's hand.  To which Giesel slapped it on a nearby table, said do with it as you will, and stomped out.

Baron Wladimir Giesl von Gieslingen

At this point, Pacu knew what to do, as he had been coached from the start.  He flashed copies to all the friendly foreign embassies- starting with the Italians- which of course meant Sazonov knew about the note and what was in it before Szapary arrived moments later to tell him officially.  Sazonov read the riot act to Szapary again (featuring, "You- are setting Europe ablaze!"), before then lighting into the German ambassador as well.  Sazonov concluded his diatribe to Pourtales with Austria is just using this as an excuse to swallow Serbia- if she tries, Russia WILL go to war. 

Now here is where the "minds of intelligent men" REALLY go off the track.  Pourtales tells both his boss in Berlin, von Jagow, and Szapary that what HE took from the meeting with Sazonov was that Russia merely wanted to get the rest of Europe involved diplomatically, and that "prompt Russian intervention was NOT (emphasis mine) to be expected."  (Little did he know that Sazonov was already starting the wheels in motion for the "Period Preparatory to War"- a euphemism for mobilization.)  Which led Szapary to tell Vienna that the meeting between Pourtales and Sazonov was "friendly" and led to hopes of German-Russian co-operation in heading things off.  (Little did HE know that Sazonov was already telling Paleologue that the Germans were "wholeheartedly supporting Austria without the slightest suggestion of conciliation".  And Paleologue- with the France at sea, the only Frenchman that knew WTH was going on- told Sazonov that France stood ready to meet her treaty obligations.)

Jump to the afternoon and evening of the 25th.  Giesel marches over to Pasic's office.  Now Pasic and the cabinet had drafted that morning a conciliatory note accepting almost all of the conditions.  This is what our school history books tell us.  What they leave out was that once the note was in hand the night before, the Serb ambassador to Russia had went to Sazonov seeking his advice- and Sazonov told them what to accept and what to reject.  That afternoon, the draft reply was re-written to conform to what Sazonov told them.  When Giesel arrived at 5:55 PM, he was told by Pasic that over all they would accept the demands, and then told him what they wouldn't accept.  Giesel then pulled out a note that said that the response was unacceptable.  At 6:15, the Austrian legation had their code books burned and were aboard the train to Vienna.  At 9:23 PM, Emperor Franz Josef signed the order for mobilization.

And early Sunday morning, in the four military districts of Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, and Kazan, the Period Preparatory to War began.


  1. This is some fascinating stuff. It's like watching two trains rushing towards each other on the same track from the vantage point of an observer 100 years in the future.
    I wonder...I truly do...will someone be saying the same thing about us in 2114?
    Okay, that's a downer...time to look for pictures of monkeys smoking cigars again.

    1. A downer but a helluva prescient thought...

  2. I'm fascinated by their hairdos alone. Between the two men, they cover (or don't) a variety of styles. It's a shame they didn't just agree to have the populace vote on the one with the least offensive hair/lack thereof, and call it a day. Skip all the war business.

  3. Chris:
    Al makes a good analogy just KNOW thsi isn;t going to be solved without war.
    What amazes me is that with ALL these politicians running all over the place and doing all this..."stuff", and their military doing THEIR stuff, how could even THEY keep track of it all?
    (they probably couldn't, and that's what led to war, right?)

    Bey you'er looking forward to that HISTORY CHANNEL series on WW1 too,

    Good installment.

    Stay safe up there.

    1. You'll have to keep me up to date on this HC WWI series... I've been avoiding them since they became the "Stupid Reality Show Network".