The Great War
James Mowbray

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Preceding the Outbreak of War

1879-1899 | 1901-1908 | 1911-1913 | 1914
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A. International Affairs Preceding the Outbreak of The Great War, 1879-1914.

1879 .. return to top

    7 October 1879
    Alliance Treaty Between Germany and Austria: the cornerstone of Bismarck's foreign policy and alliance system was concluded for 5 years, renewed quinquennially until 1918; terms: if either party attacked by Russia the other would come to their partner's aid with all possible forces; if attacked by some other power its partner would at least remain neutral; if the other power was aided by Russia, then each treaty partner was obliged to aid the other (note this condition for the 1914 case of Serbia being supported by Russia).

    18 June 1881
    The Alliance of the Three Emperors (Germany, Austria, Russia): concluded for 3 years, and renewed only once in 1884; terms: if one of the partners found itself at war with a fourth power, other than Turkey, the other two members of this alliance would remain friendly and neutral; if anyone of the partners went to war with Turkey they would discuss the eventual outcome in advance with the other two members of this alliance; the Austrian right to eventually annex Bosnia-Herzegovina when it wished was recognized; the principle of closure of the straits (the Dardanelles) was recognized and if Turkey violated this she would be considered at war with the aggrieved power; (other terms of less concern to us were also included); this treaty and its terms remained very secret.

    20 May 1882
    The Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, Italy): concluded for 5 years and renewed quinquennially until 1915; terms: mutual aid in the event of an aggressive war waged by France on Italy or Germany; if any partner was engaged in a war with two or more other great powers the other two would come to her aid; if one partner was forced to make war on another power the remaining partners would maintain benevolent neutrality (note the terms which allowed Italy to stay out of the war in 1914).

    12 February 1887
    The First Mediterranean Agreement (Britain and Italy, subsequently adhered to by Austria [24 March] and Spain [4 May]) was an exchange of notes rather than a treaty; terms: maintenance of the status quo in the Mediterranean, including the Adriatic, Aegean, and Black Seas; British and Italian policies to be mutually supporting in Egypt and North Africa; the agreement(s) provided a basis for common action in the event of a disturbance in the Mediterranean by France or Russia.

    20 February 1887
    Renewal of the Triple Alliance with modifications in favor of Italy and with closer cooperation with Austria in the Orient, in spite of growing Italo-Austrian discords.

    18 June 1887
    Russian-German secret treaty known as The Reinsurance Treaty to replace the expiring Alliance of the three Emperors; terms: each power was to remain neutral in the event one of them became engaged in a war with another party, except in the case of an aggressive war by Germany on France or by Russia upon Austria (other terms of less concern to us were also included).

    12 December 1887
    The Second Mediterranean Agreement [also known as the Near Eastern Entente] (Britain, Austria, Italy); terms: the partners agreed to maintenance of the status quo in the Near East and to keep Turkey free of foreign domination, including maintenance of her rights in the Straits (the Dardanelles) and in Asia Minor; the powers to intervene if necessary.

    28 January 1888
    Military agreement between Germany and Italy; terms: provided for the use of Italian troops against France in the event of a Franco-Germany war.

    3 February 1888
    Publication of the 1879 Austro-German Alliance as a warning to Russia, where much nationalistic agitation against both Germany and Austria was going on.

    18 March 1890
    Dismissal of Bismarck as Chancellor by the young German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II due in part to his dissatisfaction with Bismarck's handling of Russia and due in part to a desire on the part of the Kaiser for better relations with both Austria and Britain.

    23 March 1890
    German ministerial conference concludes with a decision to not renew the 1887 reinsurance treaty with Russia.

    18 June 1890
    Reinsurance Treaty with Russia allowed to lapse by Germany.

    6 May 1891
    Premature renewal of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, Italy) and consolidation into a single treaty document (three separate treaties formed the original basis of the arrangement) due to French pressure on the Italians to join them against Germany and Austria.

    4 July 1891
    On a visit to London Kaiser Wilhelm II pressures Britain to join the Triple Alliance.

    24 July 1891
    French fleet visits Kronstadt. French and Russian agreement to oppose the Triple Alliance looms in the face of its premature renewal (see 6 May 91), the end of the Reinsurance Treaty (see 18 Jun 90), and the appearance of Anglo-German solidarity (see 4 Jul 91), all of which threaten to isolate both Russia and France.

    21 and 27 August 1891
    The August Convention between France and Russia; terms: it was no more than an agreement to consult in a crisis-but it was a starting point.

    1 August 1892
    French mission to Russia proposes a draft military convention, which the Russians are simply not yet ready to endorse.

    15 July 1893
    German military bill increased the size of the army and was badly received in both France and Russia. It acted as a stimulus to further Franco-Russian conversations.

    27 December 1893 to 4 January 1894
    Franco-Russian exchange of notes formalized the military convention negotiated eighteen months prior (see 1 Aug 92). This agreement, effectively The Franco-Russian Entente Cordiale, was classed as a military convention by France to avoid having to submit it (as required of a formal treaty) to the Chamber of Deputies (French national legislative body). The Entente Cordiale, the origin of the term for the Allied Powers in World War I, was as much a political as it was a military arrangement; terms: (1) in the event either partner were attacked by Germany, or by Germany's partners in the Triple Alliance (Italy against France or Austria against Russia), aided by Germany, then the other member of the Entente would attack Germany with all available forces; (2) in the event a member of the Triple Alliance mobilized, both France and Russia were committed to mobilization at once; (3) troop commitments and war plans were to be coordinated (note the commitment to mobilize as soon as any member of the enemy alliance mobilized, it is a key to events in 1914).

    3 January 1896
    A freebooter raid by local South Africans from the British Cape Colony against the South African Republic, the notorious Jameson Raid, was defeated by "Oom Paul" Krueger's Boer Commandos. Kaiser Wilhelm II sent a telegram ("the Krueger telegram") to congratulate the Republic (its intent was to pressure Britain into joining the Triple Alliance, but it back-fired) and it raised a storm of public protest in Britain leading to pressure on the Government to open negotiations with France and Russia. Her Majesty's Government perceived that it was increasingly isolated in a Europe rapidly dividing into contending alliance systems.

    3 January 1896 to 29 May 1901
    Britain spent five years after the Krueger telegram incident seeking friendly arrangements with both the Entente and Triple Alliance powers at various times and to varying degrees. In the final analysis, the settlement of outstanding colonial differences with France (the Fashoda Crisis of 18 Sep-3 Nov 1898) proved easier than swallowing the arrogance of the Kaiser.

    18 May-29 July 1899
    The First Hague Peace Conference established a permanent court of arbitration.

1901 .. return to top

    29 May 1901
    Lord Salisbury, British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, wrote an internal policy memorandum defending the British isolationist tradition and position; this ended negotiations with the Germans for an arrangement, which foundered in part on the German insistence upon Britain joining the Triple Alliance or not having any arrangement with Germany.

    30 January 1902
    In spite of Salisbury's policy position his government opened negotiations with Japan for a treaty in July 1901, and this was consummated six months later (30 Jan 02), ending Britain's "splendid isolation." The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was a politico-military treaty, concluded for 5 years; terms: each partner was to remain neutral in the event the other became involved in a war with a third party, unless another power came to the aid of that third party. In which case the other partner (Britain or Japan) to this treaty would come to the aid of its ally; neither was to enter into an arrangement with another power (Russia) without consultation with its ally.

    28 June 1902
    Renewal of the Triple Alliance for six years.

    8 April 1904
    The Anglo-French Entente was consummated after long years of negotiation with a complete settlement of all outstanding colonial differences. This opened the door to Anglo-French military conversations which continued up to the outbreak of war in August 1914.

    December 1905-December 1906
    The Royal Navy laid down [Dec 05], built [Dec 05-Oct 06], and commissioned [Dec 06] the first all big-gun battleship, H.M.S. Dreadnought, which revolutionized naval architecture (in spite of the fact that the U.S. Navy already had the U.S.S. South Carolina class approved in 1905, they were not laid down until December 1906, hence, the failure to complete in a timely manner gave Dreadnought the honors!). This opened up a frantic naval construction race between all of the great naval powers, since all of their ships were now obsolete. [HMS Dreadnought mounted 10x12-inch naval rifles in five dual barbettes, three on the centre line and one on each side of the forward structure, giving her an 8-gun broadside; she turned 21-knots max. with a radius of operations of 6600 miles at 10 kts and 5000 at 19 kts; her power plant was a hybrid in as much as she burned both coal and oil.]

    17 January 1906
    Anglo-French military conversations about cooperation in the event of a European war began at the Algeciras Conference (which opened on 16 January 1906); Anglo-Belgian military conversations also began soon thereafter.

    15 June-18 October 1907
    The Second Hague Peace Conference. The British tried and failed to get arms limitation agreements, opposed by the Germans in no small measure because they saw it as an effort to limit German naval growth, then perceived as a challenge to the absolute supremacy of the Royal Navy in European waters, as well as world-wide.

    July 1907
    Renewal of the Triple Alliance, in spite of complete Austro-German distrust of the intentions of Italy in the event of war.

    31 August 1907
    The Anglo-Russian Entente closed the loop involving all of the great powers of Europe in one or the other of the two great alliance systems; Anglo-Russian differences in Asia and the Middle East, with special reference to Persian (Arabian) Gulf issues were completely settled. This arrangement solidified the pre-war positions of the great powers. The Central Powers, as they came to be called, were Germany, Austria, and Italy, opposed by the Entente Cordiale of France, Russia, and Britain.

    6 October 1908
    At last Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, which enraged Serbia, Montenegro, and Russia. Germany, though not forewarned, loyally supported Austria, while France and Britain supported Russia. The lines were clearly being drawn in the sand.

    4 December 1908
    The London Naval Conference agreed among the ten naval powers in attendance on conditions of warfare at sea, including regulations governing blockades, contraband materials, convoys, prizes, and similar matters. It was never ratified.

1911 .. return to top

    June-November 1911
    The Second Moroccan Crisis aggravated differences between France and Germany over influence in Morocco, and precipitated a German show of force with the dispatch of the gunboat S.M.S. Panther to Agadir (1 July 1911).

    28 September 1911-18 October 1912
    The Tripolitan War between Italy and Turkey, in which Italy acquired the first elements of her overseas Empire by conquest of Turkish possessions in North Africa (hence the name of the war), the Mediterranean, and the lower Aegean. In this defeat lay the seeds of the Turkish desire to reform their military establishment and of the German military mission to Constantinople (Nov-Dec 1913) which would do so much to put the great powers of Europe on edge before the trigger for war occurred with the assassination of the Archduke on 28 June 1914.

    16 July 1912
    The Franco-Russian Naval Convention strengthened the 1893 military arrangements.

    22 July 1912
    The Royal Navy reduces the Mediterranean fleet by moving its battleships to the Home fleet to oppose the growing strength of the German High Seas Fleet. France soon after moved all of its battleship strength from Brest to the Mediterranean to oppose the growing naval strength of Italy and Austria. Thus France and Britain entered into active naval coordination and the Royal Navy effectively became committed to defense of the French coast against the German Navy in the event of war. British Mediterranean interests were to be protected, de facto, by the French Navy.

    18 October 1912-30 May 1913
    First Balkan War pitted Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece against Turkey, weakened by the outcome of the Tripolitan War just settled. Turkey lost the war, territory, prestige, and respect for her military forces. The war was settled by the Treaty of London, negotiated 20-30 May 1913.

    5 December 1912
    The last renewal of the Triple Alliance, for six years from July 1914. Italy was agreeable to this because of a closer relationship with Austria than hitherto, and greater friction with the Anglo-French entente, chiefly over Italy's occupation of the Dodecanese Islands after the Tripolitan War, only recently ended. Italian bases there appeared a threat to Anglo-French naval dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean.

    29 June-30 July 1913
    Second Balkan War precipitated by a Bulgarian field commander attacking the Serbs and Greeks, without his government's knowledge or approval. Greece and Serbia were quickly joined by Roumania and Turkey. Bulgaria did not win this war! It was settled by the Treaty of Bucharest on 10 August 1913. Bulgaria lost most of Macedonia and other territory, some to each of her antagonists. In this defeat lay the seeds of Bulgaria joining the Central Powers in their war in the Balkans in World War I, whereby Bulgaria hoped to recover what she had lost in this struggle.

    29 September 1913
    The Treaty of Constantinople between Turkey and Bulgaria set up the arrangement which, coupled to German influence in both countries, would bring these two powers to the aid of the Central Powers once the First World War began.

    November-December 1913
    The Liman von Sanders Crisis. The Turks sought German aid in reforming their military which did so poorly in both the Tripolitan and First Balkan Wars. The Russians were incensed over the powers given to von Sanders (he was to command the First Corps at Constantinople), and the possible outcome of any effort to revitalize the Turkish Army. This was a point the British would have done well to heed before opting to land at Gallipoli in 1915!

1914 .. return to top

    28 June 1914
    The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir apparent to the Austrian throne)and his wife at Sarajevo, Bosnia, by Gavrilo Princip. The latter was an agent of The Black Hand, the society properly named Union or Death, which was a terrorist organization aimed at recovering Bosnia-Herzegovina for the Serbian state. The Serbian Government had prior knowledge and did nothing to prevent the assassination. Europe was generally sympathetic to the Austrian desire for "satisfaction" from the Serbs; however, the treaty arrangements created an explosive situation. Refer back to the terms of the several treaties on issues such as involvement of second parties to a dispute, and conditions under which a supporting power must mobilize. Also keep in mind that fear of being isolated had driven many of the treaty arrangements, and failure to back an ally might well mean that at a later time a power would have to "go it alone" if they failed to aid their ally at this critical juncture.

    23 July 1914
    Austrian Ultimatum to Serbia with 24 hours to completely accept the terms.

    24 July 1914
    Russian policy emerged: Serbia must not be attacked and annexed by Austria.

    25 July 1914
    Austria assures Russia Serbian territory will not be annexed; Russia settles on first military measures (preliminary mobilization steps) against Austria, to be followed by war if Serbia is invaded. France assures Russia of support. The Serbians order mobilization and then reply evasively to Austria, which immediately orders mobilization against Serbia.

    26 July 1914
    The British Foreign Minister, Lord Grey, proposes an international conference to resolve the problem short of war. France and Russia accepted, though the latter preferred the direct negotiations with Austria which she (Russia) had already initiated. Austria refused to submit a matter of national honor to international arbitration, and Germany backed her.

    27 July 1914
    The French initiate preparations for war short of mobilization; in London the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, directs the Grand Fleet, then on summer maneuvers, not to disperse to home ports. Lord Grey supports Russia, and does nothing to restrain her preliminary military measures.

    28 July 1914
    Austria declares war on Serbia, and the game is afoot!

    29 July 1914
    Austria mounts her attack on Serbia, but it will be 12 August 1914 before Austria is ready to do more than shell Serbian positions. The Germans urge Austria to renew negotiations with Russia and they try to obtain British neutrality. Russia orders general mobilization, altered later in the day to mobilization against Austria only after Kaiser Wilhelm sent a conciliatory message to the Tsar, his cousin "Nikky."

    30 July 1914
    Austro-Russian talks resume, however, for technical reasons, the Russians renew the order for general mobilization, which confronted the Germans with a crisis of their own, given the nature of their war plans (The Schlieffen Plan).

    31 July 1914
    Germany declared the existence of a "state of threatening danger of war" and sent a 12-hour ultimatum to Russia demanding the cessation of military activities on the Russo-German border. Germany then asked Paris what its position would be in the event of a Russo-German war. Germany refused a British request that Belgian neutrality be respected. At 1700 hours Austria decreed general mobilization (which meant war with Russia).

    1 August 1914
    France replied to the German query of the day before that in the event of a Russo-German war she, France, would be "guided by her own interests." At 1555 hours France issued the mobilization orders. At 1600 hours Germany issued mobilization orders. However, Germany offered Britain a promise not to attack France if Britain could keep the French neutral! At 1900 hours, in the absence of a reply from Russia to the ultimatum of the day before, Germany declared war on Russia.

    2 August 1914
    Britain gave assurances to France that the Royal Navy would protect the French coast from incursions by the Germans in any form, the "moral obligation" growing from the naval conversations after 1904. The German invasion of Luxembourg began, and Germany submitted a demand to Belgium for a right of free passage over her territory, in return for a guarantee of territorial integrity.

    3 August 1914
    Germany declared war on France, on the pretext of frontier violations. German forces crossed the Belgian frontier.

    4 August 1914
    Britain declared war on Germany in the wake of the Belgian invasion, which allowed Lord Grey to make an effective case in the cabinet, parliament, and for the government to make it to the country.

    6 August 1914
    Austria declared war on Russia. Italy, consistent with German expectations, declared that Germany's declaration of war was not consistent with the terms of the treaty under which Italy would be required to enter the war in support of her erstwhile allies. Italy thus declared her neutrality, which would last until she entered the war on the side of the Entente on 23 May 1915 (and then only against Austria, though she would later be forced into war against first Turkey, then Bulgaria, and finally Germany).

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