Secrecy | Death of Hartwig | 10 Jul 1914

Holy hell, is there ever a lot of secrecy going round at the moment. We’ll take a look at one of its major manifestations, and then there’s an event this evening that will seriously poison diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia.

Secrecy in Austria-Hungary

Conrad von Hotzendorf sends a memo to Count Berchtold today. He discusses the implications of men not returning from harvest leave until late in the month. He outlines current estimates of the strength of the Serbian army, pointing out (correctly, as it will turn out) that they won’t just be able to brush Serbia aside. Conrad also emphasises how very important it will be to keep things as quiet as possible. Secrecy concerning A-H’s intentions will be vital in order to prevent the Serbians preparing for war, and to prevent the Entente powers from holding joint talks about what to do about the ultimatum.

Berchtold entirely agrees, and over the next two weeks he’ll effectively lean on the press. News and speculation about the Serbian situation can’t be entirely excluded from the newspapers, but it’ll be kept minimal and calm. Another idea comes into his head, which we’ll look at in a few days when the Common Ministerial Council meets again to discuss the ultimatum further.

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Hartwig and Giesl

Meanwhile, there’s an extremely odd happening in Belgrade between two ambassadors; Baron Giesl from Austria-Hungary, and Nikolai Hartwig from Russia. The two of them have established a decent working relationship, but Giesl’s recently been away from Belgrade. Today he’s returned, and Hartwig postpones a planned trip to take a rest cure at Bad Nauheim to speak with him. (Hartwig has several chronic health issues.) There are several issues that need clearing up. Accusations that the Russian embassy had failed to fly its flag at half-mast during Franz Ferdinand’s recent requiem service, and that it had subsequently hosted a high-spirited party, have been poisoning the diplomatic well.

The meeting begins extremely favourably. Giesl accepts all of Hartwig’s explanations and clarifications in very short order, and they’re soon moving on to the meat of the discussion. Hartwig then begins on a longer speech, one intended to defend Serbia’s position and reassure Giesl that their government’s hands are clean and they’re committed to peace. However, he’s started, but he’s never going to finish. Before he can really get into his stride, he collapses and dies from a massive heart attack.

His daughter Ludmilla then sets the scene for the days to come by being incredibly suspicious. Hartwig’s well-known health problems are of no matter now. She makes a thorough inspection of the room, even taking away Hartwig’s cigarette butts for examination. (They were Hartwig’s own cigarettes.) Before long, wild rumours will be circulating that Giesl has somehow assassinated Hartwig. Giesl himself will be at the barber in a few days’ time when he overhears two others loudly discussing the certain fact that Hartwig was killed by means of an undetectable electric chair. This is, ahem, not exactly the most positive turn of events for the diplomatic relationship between Austria-Hungary and Russia.

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.

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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