German response to Russia | 26 July 1914

Period Prepatory to War

The thought has occurred to me in the past that the Russian Period Prepatory to War is probably better described as a first stage of mobilisation. The difference between the two has seemed rather like a lawyer’s distinction. In that light, I find it very interesting that there are a lot of diplomatic cables going out of St Petersburg on the subject of the PPW.

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The German response

For the German reaction we turn to General Chelius, a military man who attends the Tsar’s court. He’s been watching the measures with interest. His report describes them as “all preparations for mobilisation against Austria”. Which is an interesting response, containing both the words “preparation” and “mobilisation” in the same sentence. He is also quite clear that this is not yet a general measure.

Meanwhile, the intelligence officers in East Prussia have returned from their holidays, and all of them are moving immediately to work out what’s going on. The intelligence service has a large cadre of volunteers whose job is, at a time of crisis, to travel abroad pretending to be business travellers or holidaymakers, and report back to the military what’s going on. They’re starting to paint their picture.

Grigoris Balakian

I am now thoroughly sick and tired of dealing almost exclusively with the few “Great” Men at the top of the pile who are trying to deal with this crisis. For the first time, then, (but by no means the last), let us go and join some ordinary people. Grigoris Balakian is a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church. He’s spent the past little while studying divinity at a German university in Berlin, and therefore is excellently-placed to comment on the general mood on the streets.

The crowd [on the streets] was large enough to cause congestion [all over the place]. Hundreds of thousands of additional copies of the main daily newspapers were distributed free, for the purpose of preparing the minds of the German people for the great historical events about to happen.

All the daily newspapers, irrespective of political sympathies, defended the view of Austria-Hungary, firmly and openly advocating support for meeting the responsibilities of an ally, if needed. Only the Social Democratic party organ came out in absolute opposition to the war. The other papers all used language that was hostile towards Russia, declaring that the origins of the Sarajevo crime were better sought in St Petersburg.

At night the main buildings of Berlin were lavishly illuminated, and the people, fired with military fervour, maintained a mood of carefree celebration all night long.

We’ll be hearing just a little bit more from Balakian in the months and years to come. He has a most interesting view of the war.

Sir George Buchanan

Sergey Sazonov is well aware that this could well seem like an aggressive act. While he can be certain of French support, British support is rather less guaranteed. Sir George Buchanan is therefore told that the measures he can see are purely domestic, intended at putting down a wave of strikes in Russian factories.

Happily, Sir George has other means of finding out what’s goong on, and he reports back to London that in his opinion the measures are concerned with “intending mobilisation”. Unhappily, Sir Edward Grey is still dreaming of the conference table, and pays little attention to the developing situation. Sazonov, incidentally, has also sent a message to Belgrade telling the Serbs to decline any offer of mediation from London.

Royal Navy

The Admiralty sends out a quiet order that, in light of the international situation, the assembled, mobilised fleets should not disperse just yet.

The French response

General Laguiche is the French military attache in St Petersburg, and his report is that “secret military dispositions” are underway. Perhaps not that secret, in the light of what other people know. But now is surely France’s chance, if they’d been so minded, to say “hold on a minute, let’s think about this”. There is no such message. The government has no interest in trying to restrain their allies. It’s not their responsibility to take action.

The neutrals

In addition, there are communiques from the Danish ambassador and the Belgian military attache. They both go further, reporting without qualification that Russia is mobilising at least part of the army. Even better, the Danish government shares this news with the Austro-Hungarian ambassador. And, speaking of Belgium

The fate of Belgium

There’ll be much, much more about Belgium and about the German war-plan later. For now, suffice it to say that General von Moltke is thinking in terms of a two-front war against France and Russia simultaneously. The war-plan calls for an immediate German advance into neutral Belgium.

At no stage will anyone in Germany consider modifying the plan in order to not violate Belgian neutrality. (Nor does anyone seem to have thought of so modifying it since it was first drawn up.) If there is a war, there must be an advance into Belgium. Accordingly, General von Moltke is now drafting a diplomatic note to the Belgian government. We’ll consider it in more detail when it’s actually presented.

For now, the TL;DR is “We’re going to invade. We don’t want to fight, we’re not interested in annexing Belgian territory, and we will pay for any damage or inconvenience later; but we are going to march through Belgium to get to France.” This is, ahem, a rather unusual proposition. More soon.

Actions in Progress

July Crisis

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things. If you prefer Tumblr, I’m also on Tumblr.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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  1. Pingback: The start of the war | 2 August 1914 | The First World War day-by-day

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