German generals had been howling for military mobilization for days already, but when they learned of Russia’s now general (full) mobilization, their demands became ever more intense. They argued, to Kaiser Wilhelm, that Russia’s military was too big a threat to Germany to simply stand idle . . . they had to mobilize their own troops in order to properly meet this threat. Wilhelm, however, had to weigh this argument against the realization that Germany was not yet at war, but a mobilization may very well prompt war not only with Russia, but also with France and perhaps England as well. He therefore attempted a compromise, declaring a State of Impending War in which the borders and lines of communications were secured, and troops on leave were recalled. Unless something drastically changed, Germany would fully mobilize the next day.

The problem is that everyone was now hemmed in by their own military planners. Every nation had drawn up plans in the event of war, but the military planners had assumed, because of the treaties among nations, that the next war would be massive in scale, and thus their plans for mobilization made preparations accordingly. Now that a crisis in the Balkans had developed, the nations’ leaders now faced the painful truth that these plans were drastically limiting their choices: no war at all, or a massive war which would envelop all of Europe:

-Russia and Germany were appealing to Austria-Hungary to advance only as far as Belgrade in its war on Serbia, but Austria-Hungary had no military plans prepared for such a move, and its leaders worried that attempting a modification would confuse and disorder their military.

-Russia had initially ordered only a partial mobilization in hopes of intimidating Austria-Hungary and yet not provoking Germany, but this had to be upgraded to a general mobilization when the Russian military staff told the Tsar that a partial mobilization would only confuse and disorder their military.

-Germany had for years faced prospect of Russia’s military on its eastern borders and France’s on its West, and so had constructed a war plan against both nations simultaneously. When the Kaiser suggested that France had not yet made any aggressive moves, the German military staff reminded him that their plan for winning “the war” necessitated mobilizing against France and Russia simultaneously, and any alterations to the plan could cause a disastrous confusion for Germany’s military.

“All options except the military ones were shutting down. Power was moving into the hands of the soldiers and away from diplomats and politicians. The soldiers were motivated mainly by fear. And . . . fear is a bad counselor.”

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 71.

And so, Germany took steps to try to limit Britain’s involvement, asking them to promise their neutrality in the upcoming war in exchange for Germany’s promise to restore the borders of Belgium and France once the war had ended. One of the worst ever diplomatic moves, it had the opposite effect: nobody had talked about Belgium up to this point, and so Britain (specifically, foreign secretary Edward Grey), felt insulted by this offer . . . to promise to stand idle while Belgium’s neutrality was violated? Instead, Grey asked both Germany and France to promise to respect Belgium’s neutrality if war began. France quickly gave its assurance, but Germany’s lack thereof proved a major step in Britain’s entry into the war.

Finally, Germany issued a double-ultimatum (of which both parts were rejected by their respective recipients): German mobilization must follow unless Russia suspended all war measures within twelve hours, and France was asked for a declaration of neutrality. The first part hoped to avert war. The second part was meant to legitimize a German invasion of France if war began . . . when war began.



Tsar Nicholas had authorized a partial mobilization of Russia’s military because he wished to make it clear that although his nation had to stand firm against Austria-Hungary’s aggressive stance, he did not wish to provoke a German response, which might occur if he authorized a general mobilization. But on the afternoon of July 30, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazanov, conveyed to the Tsar the bad news which the general staff had given him that morning: the Russian military had never drawn up plans for a partial mobilization, and to attempt to do so now would force an improvisational handling of the army, probably throwing the military into such confusion and disarray as to defeat the purpose of mobilization.

Sazanov’s meeting with the Tsar “was a long one, with the foreign minister arguing the generals’ case. Austria, Sazanov said, was preparing to destroy Serbia and refusing to talk. Germany was playing a double game, appearing to restrain the Austrians but really just trying to buy time for its own preparations: Germany was far along with an undeclared mobilization of its own. Russia could not afford to respond. Russia also could not mobilize in any way short of fully—the result of trying such a thing could be disastrous. Sazanov was wrong about almost everything except Austria’s determination to attack Serbia. He was not lying, but he was dangerously misinformed.”

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 66.

Though stubborn and reluctant, the Tsar finally agreed after Sazonov suggested that a general Russian mobilization would not necessarily drive Germany to war . . . another erroneous belief.

In Russia’s general mobilization, 900,000 active-duty troops were added to the near-inevitable conflict, and 4,000,000 more reserve troops were also called up. French President Raymond Poincaré did his best to restrain the military, knowing that France’s best chance to bring Britain into the war on France’s side was to make Germany appear the aggressor. British foreign secretary Edward Grey abandoned all previous vagueness in declaring that “unless Austria is willing to enter upon a discussion of the Serbian question, a world war is inevitable,” adding that he expected such a war to bring Britain in on the side of France and Russia. When Austro-Hungarian diplomats, themselves bent on war, stubbornly refused to talk to Russia, it seemed only a brief matter of time before the final domino of the July crisis fell: the mobilization of mighty Germany’s military.



Though Austria-Hungary and Serbia had begun to mobilize their armies already, July 28 had seen the official declaration of war of Austria-Hungary against Serbia, and the resulting pronouncement by Russia that they would mobilize their army as well. Nevertheless, Tsar Nicholas had not yet signed the order, and though he had signed two mobilization orders (one authorizing partial mobilization, not intended to be a threat to Germany, another ordering general mobilization), he merely thought he was putting the paper work in order . . . Nicholas told his chief of staff that neither order was to be executed without his authorization. The Tsar had good reason to be slow to act, especially against Germany: he was exchanging telegrams with his first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm, and both were encouraging each other to restrain their allies and to do the utmost to maintain peace (interestingly, these telegrams were signed “Nicky” and “Willy” respectively).

French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré finally arrived back in France on this day after several days at sea while returning from his visit to St. Petersburg. Though surprised by the dramatic turn of events since last he had been in touch (July 23), and determined to stay true to his ally, the Russians, Poincaré nevertheless deeply wished to avoid war. He therefore urged the Russians not to do anything that might provoke German mobilization . . . a message conveyed only after the Tsar had approved partial mobilization.

The question of war now rested with Russia: would they would they/could they craft their mobilization in a way which avoided provoking Germany?



Though Germany had promised its support (on July 5) to Austria-Hungary in whatever actions it took concerning the Serbian crisis, it seems that the Austro-Hungarians took full advantage of this blank check by not even keeping its ally informed of its intentions or actions. This course began on July 28th, when both Berlin (Germany) and Belgrade (Serbia) were informed of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia at about the same time.

Part of the reason for Germany’s promise of July 5 was to make sure that its support for its junior partner in the alliance was publicly displayed. Austria-Hungary could not appear too weak, or Germany would lose its only neighboring friend. The Kaiser had originally taken the position that the time had come for Serbia to finally punish and swallow up Serbia, but with the Russian’s taking up a firm position to counter Germany’s, and with Serbia acting submissive, the Kaiser had begun to reconsider.

Austria-Hungary’s early declaration of war against Serbia was therefore intended to prevent just such a softening of resolve from Germany, and indeed, the German’s immediately complained to the Austro-Hungarian government via diplomatic channels, saying that ‘the Austro-Hungarian government “has left us in the dark concerning its intentions, despite repeated interrogations,” and that is declaration 0f war had put Germany in “an extraordinarily difficult position” that could cause it to “incur the odium of having been responsible for a world war.” ‘

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 49-54.

July 28th was therefore also the day when Germany began to urge Austria-Hungary to limit its war plans . . . to stop in the Serbian capital of Belgrade after it had invaded, and negotiate peace from this position of strength. Coincidentally, Austria-Hungarian artillery had begun to shell Belgrade from across the border early that day.

This day also included an incredible misunderstanding as well, as representatives from Russia and Austria-Hungary met to discuss the mounting crisis. The Austro-Hungarians left the meeting believing that they had made it clear that while they would not negotiate with Serbia, they were prepared to do so with Russia. The Russians, on the other hand, left the meeting believing that Austria-Hungary would not negotiate with either Serbia or Russia. Russian minister Sergei Sazonov knew that the German’s would have to mobilize their army also if Russia continued in that direction, but with Austria-Hungary taking such an intractably aggressive stance, what else could Russia do?



The Austrio-Hungarian Council of Ministers met in secret, ultimately voting to declare war on Serbia. On the one hand, this seemed a senseless decision: why declare war when your (Austria’s) army was still more than two weeks from completing its mobilization process? On the other hand, Austro-Hungarian leaders knew that in order to punish Serbia properly, they needed the support of Germany to stave off Russia, and though Germany had promised its support, an early declaration of war helped to commit them to this position before they had an opportunity to reconsider.

This became important when, later that day, the text of Serbia’s response to Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum became available. British foreign secretary Edward Grey saw the Serbian response as an immense capitulation, and saw an opportunity for a negotiated settlement among the nations of the area. When Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm returned from his vacation and read Grey’s assessment the next day before also reading the Serbian response, he would indeed attempt to soften Germany’s support for Austria, calling the Serbian response “a capitulation of the most humiliating kind,” so that “every cause for war falls to the ground!”

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 49-53.

The early and seemingly unnecessary declaration of war upon Serbia therefore served to fix both Austria and Germany into a course towards war against Serbia. Mobilizing an army was expensive, and Austria-Hungary’s previous two mobilizations, during the Balkan wars earlier in the 1910s, had served no purpose at all, the army standing idle as other nations gained the spoils of war. This time, Austria-Hungary wanted its money’s worth.



-Austria-Hungary had begun mobilizing its army immediately (on July 25) for two reasons. First, it needed to start the clock ticking on a lengthy process in the event that it attacked Serbia. Second, it wanted to send a message to France and Britain that if they wanted to avert a larger war, then they had better restrain their ally, Russia, from becoming involved. Unfortunately, French President Raymond Poincaré was still at sea, returning from his visit to St. Petersburg, and thus unable to send or receive any information until he made landfall. Coincidentally, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was on vacation, and also out of touch.

-Britain’s foreign secretary Edward Grey suggested a conference of Britain, France, Germany and Italy as a means of defusing the situation (nothing would come of this, as events happened too quickly to arrange such a conference).

-Russia’s declaration of a Period Preparatory to War (though not yet mobilization) had the intention of forcing the Austrians to reconsider, but the Germans were far more worried, for they had learned that Russia’s actions were dangerously close to a state of undeclared mobilization. When asked for an explanation, the Russians gave the Germans lies in response, setting a tone where the Germans became increasingly distrustful of later Russian assurances of goodwill.

-The French ambassador to Russia also learned about the Russian’s actions, but didn’t bother to remind them that they had an obligation to inform France of any plans for mobilization, nor did he even tell his own government. It may be that he simply did not want to do anything which might discourage the Russians.

“And so the final week of peace had begun with Austria mobilizing while sending signals that no one was available to receive; with Russia in the first stages of mobilizing while pretending not to be; with Germany beginning to feel directly threatened; and with France’s ambassador urging the Russians as well as the Serbians on. Britain was sending ambiguous signals that the continental powers were free to interpret as they wished. Berlin and Paris were both, for the time being, effectively leaderless. Nothing irreversible had happened, but neither was anyone quite in control.”

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 49-50.



“Measured by the headlines that it generated, this was an extraordinary day” in history.

~G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918 (New York: Delacorte Press, 2006), 44.

Almost precisely up to the 48 hour deadline set by Austria’s ultimatum, Serbia presented its response to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Belgrade, Baron Geisl. Though the Austrians had demanded unconditional acceptance, the Serbians agreed to only half of the demands. [the English translation is included below] Instructed to find such a response unacceptable, Geisl immediately broke off diplomatic relations with Serbia. He had packed in advance, and was on a train in less than 30 minutes, crossing into Hungary less than 10 minutes after that.

Interestingly, Serbia may have tried to play both sides of the fence in its response to Austria.

-On the one hand, it was very submissive and tranquil in its tone. Even the demands it rejected it did so not because of objections, but rather it had questions about the propriety of the demands. Concerning the harshest demand for example (that Austria be allowed to participate in the investigation of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo), the Serbian response suggested that this would be a breech of Constitutional law and criminal procedure, but that Austria could nevertheless be kept closely informed. Many, including Germany’s Kaiser, believed that the response to a satisfactory victory for Austria-Hungary.

-On the other hand, Serbian leaders certainly knew that Austria was out for blood, and even their involvement in the assassination investigation might be preferable to war. Rejection of the demands, therefore, may have been mostly the personal decision of Serbian prime minister Nikola Pasic. He was soon up for reelection, and thus had an interest in putting up a strong front against the Austrians. Further, their involvement in the investigation would reveal just how much he had known about the assassination attempt, raising questions about why he hadn’t done more to stop it.

Both Austria-Hungary and Serbia announced that they were mobilizing their military forces (Serbia had even begun a few hours before delivering its response), and Russia declared a “Period Preparatory to War,” from which later mobilization could take place faster: troops on leave or on maneuvers were ordered to return to their base, and planners of military districts began to make ready for mobilization. All this was necessary because armies in those days required immense and lengthy logistical preparations in order to arrive in their proper positions with adequate organization and supplies. Thus, mobilization was inherently threatening to neighboring countries, for it presented them with the prospect of an nearby army while having no army of their own to defend against it should it attack. Ausria’s and Serbia’s mobilizations could easily trigger Russia’s, and thereby Germany’s and thereby France’s mobilizations as well.

At the time that these first mobilizations were ordered, the head of the Serbian army, Radomir Putnik, was vacationing in the Austrian province of Bohemia. Austrian authorities rightly detained him, but then Austria-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph demanded both his release and also that he be given a special train for his return to Serbia. Judging by this act of “Old World courtliness” (47), war had not yet become too merciless and mechanized . . . but WWI would change that.


25 July, 1914:
The Serbian Response to the Austro-Hungarian Ultimatum,
English Translation

The Royal Government has received the communication of the Imperial and Royal Government of the 23rd inst. and is convinced that its reply will dissipate any misunderstanding which threatens to destroy the friendly and neighbourly relations between the Austrian monarchy and the kingdom of Serbia.

The Royal Government is conscious that nowhere there have been renewed protests against the great neighbourly monarchy like those which at one time were expressed in the Skuptschina, as well as in the declaration and actions of the responsible representatives of the state at that time, and which were terminated by the Serbian declaration of March 31st, 1909; furthermore that since that time neither the different corporations of the kingdom, nor the officials have made an attempt to alter the political and judicial condition created in Bosnia and the Heregovina. The Royal Government states that the I. and R. [Imperial and Royal] Government has made no protestation in this sense excepting in the case of a textbook, in regard to which the I. and R. Government has received an entirely satisfactory explanation. Serbia has given during the time of the Balkan crisis in numerous cases evidence of her pacific and moderate policy, and it is only owing to Serbia and the sacrifices which she has brought in the interest of the peace of Europe that this peace has been preserved.

The Royal Government cannot be made responsible for expressions of a private character, as for instance newspaper articles and the peaceable work of societies, expressions which are of very common appearance in other countries, and which ordinarily are not under the control of the state. This, all the less, as the Royal Government has shown great courtesy in the solution of a whole series of questions which have arisen between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, whereby it has succeeded to solve the greater number thereof, in favour of the progress of both countries.

The Royal Government was therefore painfully surprised by the assertions that citizens of Serbia had participated in the preparations of the outrage in Sarajevo. The Government expected to be invited to cooperate in the investigation of the crime, and it was ready, in order to prove its complete correctness, to proceed against all persons in regard to whom it would receive information.

According to the wishes of the I. and R. Government, the Royal Government is prepared to surrender to the court, without regard to position and rank, every Serbian citizen for whose participation in the crime of Sarajevo it should have received proof. It binds itself particularly on the first page of the official organ of the 26th of July to publish the following enunciation:

The Royal Serbian Government condemns every propaganda which should be directed against Austria-Hungary, i.e., the entirety of such activities as aim towards the separation of certain territories from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and it regrets sincerely the lamentable consequences of these criminal machinations….

The Royal Government regrets that according to a communication of the I. and R. Government certain Serbian officers and functionaries have participated in the propaganda just referred to, and that these have there fore endangered the amicable relations for the observation of which the Royal Government had solemnly obliged itself through the declaration of March 31st, 1909….

The Royal Government binds itself further:

  1. During the next regular meeting of the Skuptschina to embody in the press laws a clause, to wit, that the incitement to hatred of, and contempt for, the Monarchy is to be most severely punished, as well as every publication whose general tendency is directed against the territorial integrity of Austria-Hungary.

It binds itself in view of the coming revision of the constitution to embody an amendment into Art. 22 of the constitutional law which permits the confiscation of such publications as is at present impossible according to the clear definition of Art. 12 of the constitution.

  1. The Government possesses no proofs and the note of the I. and R. Government does not submit them that the society _Narodna_ _Odbrana_ and other similar societies have committed, up to the present, any criminal actions of this manner through any one of their members. Notwithstanding this, the Royal Government will accept the demand of the I. and R. Government and dissolve the society _Narodna_ _Odbrana_, as well as every society which should set against Austria-Hungary.
  2. The Royal Serbian Government binds itself without delay to eliminate from the public instruction in Serbia anything which might further the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary provided the I. and R. Government furnishes actual proofs of this propaganda.
  3. The Royal Government is also ready to dismiss those officers and officials from the military and civil services in regard to whom it has been proved by judicial investigation that they have been guilty of actions against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy; it expects that the I. and R. Government communicate to it for the purpose of starting the investigation the names of these officers and officials, and the facts with which they have been charged.
  4. The Royal Government confesses that it is not clear about the sense and the scope of that demand of the I. and R. Government which concerns the obligation on the part of the Royal Serbian Government to permit the cooperation of officials of the I. and R. Government on Serbian territory, but it declares that it is willing to accept every cooperation which does not run counter to international law and criminal law, as well as to the friendly and neighbourly relations.
  5. The Royal Government considers it its duty as a matter of course to begin an investigation against all those persons who have participated in the outrage of June 28th and who are in its territory. As far as the cooperation in this investigation of specially delegated officials of the I. and R. Government is concerned, this cannot be accepted, as this is a violation of the constitution and of criminal procedure. Yet in some cases the result of the investigation might be communicated to the Austro-Hungarian officials.
  6. The Royal Government has ordered on the evening of the day on which the note was received the arrest of Major Voislar Tankosic. However, as far as Milan Ciganovitch is concerned, who is a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and who has been employed till June 28th with the Railroad Department, it has as yet been impossible to locate him, wherefore a warrant has been issued against him.

The I. and R. Government is asked to make known, as soon as possible for the purpose of conducting the investigation, the existing grounds for suspicion and the proofs of guilt, obtained in the investigation at Sarajevo.

  1. The Serbian Government will amplify and render more severe the existing measures against the suppression of smuggling of arms and explosives.

It is a matter of course that it will proceed at once against, and punish severely, those officials of the frontier service on the line Shabatz-Loznica who violated their duty and who have permitted the perpetrators of the crime to cross the frontier.

  1. The Royal Government is ready to give explanations about the expressions which its officials in Serbia and abroad have made in interviews after the outrage and which, according to the assertion of the I. and R. Government, were hostile to the Monarchy. As soon as the I. and R. Government points out in detail where those expressions were made and succeeds in proving that those expressions have actually been made by the functionaries concerned, the Royal Government itself will take care that the necessary evidences and proofs are collected.
  2. The Royal Government will notify the I. and R. Government, so far as this has not been already done by the present note, of the execution of the measures in question as soon as one of those measures has been ordered and put into execution.

The Royal Serbian Government believes it to be to the common interest not to rush the solution of this affair and it is therefore, in case the I. and R. Government should not consider itself satisfied with this answer, ready, as ever, to accept a peaceable solution, be it by referring the decision of this question to the International Court at The Hague or by leaving it to the decision of the Great Powers who have participated in the working out of the declaration given by the Serbian Government on March 18/31st, 1909.