Russia supports Serbia | 25 July 1914

The July Crisis is turned on its head today as the Russian government commits itself to supporting Serbia with military force if necessary. I’ve also written a seperate post about what exactly mobilisation is and why everyone thinks it’s so important.


Here’s something that not a lot of people know! In the morning, Nikola Pasic sends a telegram to his ambassadors. He’s still unsure of Russian intentions. If the full weight of the Austro-Hungarian army is to fall on Serbia, they don’t have the men or the equipment to hold them off for long. The telegram’s content is backed up by a separate report into the attitude of the government sent by Crackanthorpe to Sir Edward Grey. The Serbian government, at this point, has no option but to accept the ultimatum on every point. There will be no war.

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Russian support

And then the telegrams begin to arrive from Russia. By midday, the Serbian cabinet has in its possession a message stating that Russia will be taking “energetic measures, even mobilisation” and that they would be publishing an “official communique in which Russia takes Serbia under its protection”. This, needless to say, is a complete game-changer. The Serbian cabinet immediately begins drawing up a fresh response to the ultimatum. It’s far too long to quote, and it takes them so long to draft that they nearly miss the deadline altogether.

With fifteen minutes to go, they’ve finished their work. You could write an entire book just analysing the points of the ultimatum and the ways in which the Serbian government chose to answer them. Suffice it to say that they have written a message addressed to almost everyone in the world, except the Austro-Hungarian government. They’ve flatly refused to accept point 6, requiring them to allow Austro-Hungarian officials to investigate and prosecute Serbians accused of being part of the plot for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Many of the remaining points are accepted only subject to hedgings, conditions, and queries. The government is deliberately painting themselves as confused, innocent, wronged bystanders, for the benefit of international opinion.

And so the ambassador Giesl waits in his office for a message whose content he can already guess. During the afternoon, orders had been leaving the cabinet room. The Serbian army is mobilising, and institutions of all kinds are departing for Kragujevac and Nis, away from Belgrade’s vulnerable location just across the Danube from Austria-Hungary. Pasic appears with five minutes left to deliver the message. 35 minutes later, Giesl is leading his diplomatic staff out of Belgrade, and he becomes the first of the major players of July to disappear from sight.

There will be a war. The only question left is “how big?”

St Petersburg

The Council of Ministers meets again, this time with the Tsar himself in the chair. Again, proceedings are dominated by Sazonov and his insistence on the need to defend Serbia and maintain Russian influence in the Balkans.

And now the council needs to sort out how to proceed. Mobilisation is clearly the next step, but there’s rather a large problem here. Russian mobilisation is an all-or-nothing affair. They have only one plan, for a general mobilisation of their entire army, followed immediately by invasion of Prussia and Galicia. There is no plan to take action against only Germany, or only Austria-Hungary.

This is perhaps not as unreasonable as it might seem; or, at least, not for the obvious reasons. There’s been no reason for Russia to suspect that war with Austria-Hungary does not also mean war with A-H’s ally Germany. If they only mobilise part of the way, and then Germany orders full mobilisation, they’ll have lost precious time. On the other hand, again we must turn to recent history. The winter of 1912-13 had seen a crisis which saw both Russia and Austria-Hungary mobilise. The Russians had, in that event, improvised a successful plan for partial mobilisation that did not threaten Germany too badly, and the crisis passed without war.

A large amount of time is spent discussing this issue, with no clear answer yet. The situation isn’t helped by the general ignorance and incompetence of the Russian war minister, Vladimir Sukhomlinov, and General Yanushkevich, the head of the Russian Army (of whom more later).


Sazonov also makes time to meet with the Austro-Hungarian ambassador Szapary for a negotiation on how war might be avoided. Well, in theory it’s a negotiation. In practice it’s rather more of a bollocking. He derides the ultimatum at great length and then departs, insisting that Austria-Hungary take the ultimatum back before any negotiation can take place.


Meanwhile, President Poincare drops in on the Swedish government. This may seem like an unusual decision in the light of everything else that’s happening, but it’s easily explicable. For one thing, the visit to St Petersburg was to be followed by a quick tour of the Scandinavian countries, and Poincare does not want to cause panic by interrupting his schedule unduly.

And for another, Russia’s relations with Sweden have not been ideal lately, and it’s vital that Sweden not somehow be provoked into joining the Central Powers. Being on dry land also allows Poincare to get a reliable telegraph link back to Paris, allowing him to temporarily issue some firm directions to the government. (To his disgruntlement, the pacifistic Viviani is thoroughly sidelined.)

Poincare’s meeting with King Gustav V is a complete success. The King indicates that Sweden is quite content to sit back on the periphery with a bucket of popcorn and watch the war with interest.


In Berlin, the military men are getting back from their holidays. General Helmuth von Moltke, the head of the army (often known as Moltke the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle, who also held that post) returns tomorrow. War minister Erich von Falkenhayn returned yesterday. They now know that Austria-Hungary intends to cash the blank cheque.

Enabling Acts

Austria-Hungary is beginning to adopt a series of Enabling Acts to give itself emergency powers for use during war. It’s a familiar story; civil rights limited, strict press censorship brought in. In Austria, martial law and military justice is being extended to cover a large swathe of civilian actions. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, similar measures are not being taken in Hungary.


Sir Edward Grey, fiddling enthusiastically as peace burns, is working on an official proposal for four-power mediation. By the time he’s finished, it will be about as welcome and helpful as a bacon butty in a mosque. He’s a day late and a dollar short.


Once again: there’s going to be a lot of talk about mobilisation over the next few days. For an explanation of exactly what it is and why everyone’s so worried about it, please see here.

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.)

One thought on “Russia supports Serbia | 25 July 1914

  1. Pingback: What is mobilisation? | 25 July 1914 | The First World War day-by-day

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