War becomes inevitable | 27 July 1914


As the Army continues to mobilise, telegrams continue arriving from Russia. The latest report is that Russia plans “immediately to commence an energetic offensive against Austria-Hungary as soon as it attacks Serbia”.

This is Serbia’s chance, and Pasic’s chance. All they need to do is hold up their end, their allies will defeat Austria-Hungary, and surely in the peace Serbia will be able to make the dream of Greater Serbia a reality. For them at least, the situation is clear. They have concrete, well-defined, and optimistic-but-achievable war aims. Would that everyone else did…

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Reports of Russian “mobilisation” continue to arrive in Vienna. Today sees the arrival of an extensive dispatch from the A-H consulate in Kyiv (today part of Ukraine, just about). Artillery units are on the march, Cossacks and sappers with them, and all heading towards the Austro-Russian border. Similar reports are coming from their men in Russian-controlled Poland. And domestic officials in Austro-Hungarian Galicia are looking across the border and gulping at the sight of Russian troop concentrations.

On the eve of war, some bright spark in the A-H government bothers Count Berchtold with some pertinent questions. Assuming that the war goes well and ends in a quick victory, what happens next is rather up in the air. For instance, it’s highly likely that the Central Powers’ new friend Bulgaria will be allowed to annex some of the former Ottoman lands in Macedonia that Serbia seized in the Second Balkan War.

But what happens then? Bulgaria is hardly a staunch ally. Its government may have been temporarily bought off with a German loan, but what follows? Might Russia come up with a better offer? How will Romania react to Bulgaria making territorial gains? What about Italy? In theory A-H and Italy are partners in the Triple Alliance, but that’s only in theory (of which much more later). How will Italy react to a change of circumstances in the Balkans?

Even if somehow at the last minute the conflict had been localised into an A-H/Serbia war, there’s less than no guarantee that the world and the Balkans would have emerged with a calmer, better situation. It’s entirely possible that a general war would have broken out a few months or years later, when the inevitable next crisis came along.


On the streets of Vienna, fearing the consequences of war, small savers are queuing outside the banks to withdraw their money. People are also beginning to buy extra food, and the price of food is starting to rise in concert with the purchases. More soon.


The Kaiser has arrived back at Potsdam. He has no idea of the extent to which he’s been sidelined by his ministers. Although he’s kept himself broadly informed of international events, he has almost no idea what the mood is in Berlin. He has been given a copy of the Serbian reply to the ultimatum, but he doesn’t read it yet.

Meanwhile, Bethmann-Hollweg is doing his best to prevent a prevention of war (ahem). Sir Edward Grey has now sent out his proposal for four-power mediation, but Bethmann-Hollweg is only interested in mediation between Russia and A-H, not A-H and Serbia.


Now faced with the news that Wilhelm II has gone back to Germany, and having successfully placated Sweden, President Poincare decides today to return to Paris with all speed. Viviani’s attitude is hardening against war, talking more and more of political alliances and the attitude of Jean Jaures, the popular Socialist who is firmly and entirely against war of any kind. Jaures is already moving to bring forward a planned meeting of the Socialist International in order to resist the march to war.


The Times continues with its pro-intervention tone, writing a firmly-worded editorial to the effect that if war should come, Britain should be in it. A day late and a dollar short, Sir Edward Grey has distributed his proposal for four-power mediation between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. The Italian and French governments have made favourable noises about the idea, but of course if Germany wants nothing to do with it…

Meanwhile, a Cabinet meeting has refused to sanction intervention at this stage.

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

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