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The Origins of WWI
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The Origins of WWI
 
Imperialism
One of the main causes of the First World War was imperialism: an unequal relationship, often in the form of an empire, forced on other countries and peoples, resulting in domination and subordination of economics, culture, and territory. Historians disagree on whether the primary impetus for imperialism was cultural or economic, but whatever the reason, Europeans in the late 19th century increasingly chose to safeguard their access to markets, raw materials, and returns on their investments by seizing outright political and military control of the undeveloped world.  Between the 1850s and 1911, all of Africa was colonized
MAP: Imperialism & Colonization, 1914
MAP: Imperialism & Colonization, 1914
except for Liberia and Ethiopia.  The British, who had imposed direct rule on India in 1858, occupied Egypt in 1882, probably a strategic necessity to protect their Indian interests. The French, who had begun missionary work in Indochina in the 17th century, finished their conquests of the region in 1887, and in 1893 they added to it neighboring Laos and a small sliver of China.
MAP: European "spheres of influence" in China
MAP: European "spheres of influence" in China
After 1897 Europeans began staking out “spheres of influence” in China, and the Dutch gradually expanded their old Company holdings to include all of modern day Indonesia. In 1911, Italy conquered Libya from the Ottoman Empire, providing glory and the opportunity to relieve the population pressures in the south.  In the East, Russia completed the Trans-Siberian Railroad (1891-1903) and established itself as a major Pacific power.  Only Japan managed to contain European aggression by adopting European industrial techniques.  Trade “capitulations” imposed on her in 1858 were successfully revoked in 1894, and by 1905 Japan had won successive wars with China and Russia. Germany, a late arrival at the imperialism game, achieved only a limited empire in East and southwest Africa, and on the coast of China.  Although Germany successfully established colonies in the Pacific Southwest
(most notably in the Solomon, Marshall, and Caroline Islands), Kaiser Wilhelm’s interest in the Philippines had been dashed by United States acquisition of the archipelago in 1898, and German interests in the Western Hemisphere was stymied by President Theodore Roosevelt’s diplomatic skill over the crisis in Venezuela in 1902, and by his subsequent corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904. By 1914 the net result of imperialism was a world in which the Western powers had established themselves competitively on every continent. Britain had an empire 140 times its own size; Belgium, an empire 80 times its size; Holland, 60 times; and France, 20 times.

The Arms Race
By the 1890s, the great land armies of France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia had no equals on earth except one another.  In 1899, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia convened an international conference dedicated to
Kaiser Wilhelm Portrait
Kaiser Wilhelm Portrait
The HMS Dreadnought, a British battleship launched in 1906
The HMS Dreadnought, a British battleship launched in 1906
strengthening the limitation of armaments, and to the founding of an international court at the Hague for the settlement of disputes between nations through arbitration.  Nicholas warned that “the accelerating arms race”, which was producing larger armies, more powerful artillery, and bigger warships, was “transforming the armed peace into a crushing burden that weighs on all nations and, if prolonged, will lead to the very cataclysm it seeks to avert.”  Unfortunately, participation in the international court was voluntary. The next year, in an attempt to compensate for its small empire, Germany enacted the Second Naval Law, intending to build a navy capable of challenging the British Royal Navy in combat.  The British responded.  By 1906, keeping ahead of the Germans in modern battleships was a national priority. France, meanwhile, strove to match the German standing army of sixty million men, no small feat for a nation of forty million people.
 
The Nationalist Movement
On the eve of the First World War, several social movements had influence over the various classes of citizenry in Europe.  Socialism pressed for social justice and economic rights for the working class.  Conservatism was the accepted value system of kings, aristocrats, most priests, and many of their lesser supporters, especially in Eastern Europe.  In response to the perceived threat of Socialism, a new Conservatism, with roots in anti-Capitalism and anti-Semitism, began to spread amongst the students and shopkeepers of Paris and Vienna.  But the movement that had the most influence in Europe in 1914, including over the workers, was Nationalism--emotional loyalty to the state. The idea of popular sovereignty, that the people should be sovereign, easily led to the notion that sovereignty should be supported by the citizenry with extreme enthusiasm.
 
Nationalism and the Unification of Germany
Nationalism spread outward from France and inspired the Italian-speaking to forge a nation-state from the hodgepodge of smaller principalities. It had a similar effect on the German-speaking peoples of Europe, who, following the defeat of Napoleon, had been organized into a loose confederation of states numbering more than 30.  The Habsburgs of Austria dominated the congress, but by this time Prussia had also become influential. German nationalism grew during this period, a reaction in part to continued pressures from France, which had claimed that the Rhine River was their natural boundary.  Germans increasingly embraced a notion of identity bound not just by a common language, but also by geographic proximity.  But German unification was hampered by the dualistic influences of Austria and Prussia.  Attempts to unify in the mid-19th century failed, and they revealed to the rest of Europe the threat a unified Germany posed to the delicate balance of power that had been crafted in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars.  German opinion differed about how to achieve unification.  Prussians favored the Kleindeutschland (little, or "lesser", Germany) solution, in which the German states would be united under their leadership.  Prussia was also wary of the Catholic influence in the Austrian Empire, and were opposed to incorporating the numerous ethnicities which comprised so much of the Austrian empire .  In the Grossdeutschland (Greater Germany) solution, the German states would be united under the leadership of the Hapsburgs of the Austrian state.
 
In the late 1850s, Prussia continued to gain influence in Europe.  By the early 1860s, a constitutional crisis saw control over the Prussian military’s purse strings shift from the parliament to the king.  Under the leadership of Minister-President, Otto von Bismarck, chosen by Wilhelm I, German diplomacy shifted toward Realpolitik, a strategy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations (such as Prussia's abundant natural resources), rather than on ideological, moral, or ethical premises. Bismarck believed he had the means of unifying Germany under the Kleindeutschland model, but that he could only circumvent the conditions of the treaties binding the various German states to one another if another nation first declared war on Prussia.  Through skillful diplomacy involving an alliance with the newly formed Italy, Bismarck was able to engineer an Austrian war declaration on Prussia.  He successfully isolated Austria from the other German states.  The superior Prussian military was able to win an uncontested and decisive victory over Austria.  A quick treaty forever ended Austrian dominance of the German states, and created the North German Confederation under Prussian dominance.  Then, in 1870, Bismarck again engineered a declaration of war against his country, this time from France. Under Napoleon III, France had expected to gain some territory from the Austrian-Prussian War, but had emerged from negotiations with nothing.  Napoleon believed that Austria would join them in a revenge war against Prussia, and that some of the southern border German states would join them.  Instead, France found itself alone against all of the North German Confederacy.  Prussia’s superior engineering of steel, and their superior railroad network allowing for rapid mobilization proved decisive.  They even captured Napoleon III along with
German Kingdoms, 1870
German Kingdoms, 1870
The unified German Reich, 1871-1918
The unified German Reich, 1871-1918
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
his entire army. The French declared themselves to be a new republic, but still refused to surrender. The German encircled Paris to force a surrender. In the resulting treaty, France relinquished most of its traditionally German regions (Alsace and the German-speaking part of Lorraine); paid an indemnity, and accepted German administration of Paris and most of northern France with "German troops to be withdrawn stage by stage with each installment of the indemnity payment." The victory over France in 1871 confirmed Prussia as the dominant player in a unified German state. With the proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser, Prussia assumed the leadership of the new empire. The southern states became officially incorporated into a unified Germany at the Treaty of Versailles of 1871.  The Germanic peoples in the northern part of the Austrian empire remained with Austria.
 
Nationalism in Eastern Europe
In Eastern Europe, the three great empires of Russia, Austria, and the Ottomans ruled over a multitude of ethnicities which increasingly were rediscovering the worth of their own languages and cultures, directly threatening the stability and security of these empires. To the east, Russia ruled over huge and restless Polish-speaking areas in the north, over large Ukrainian and Turkish-speaking regions, and over Bessarabia, the region just east of the mouth of the Danube that Russia had seized from the Turks in 1812 and that the Romanians eventually claimed on ground of national identity. To the south, as the Ottoman Empire slowly crumbled from within, one Balkan province after another asserted its autonomy or independence from the Turks. These new nations were weak, sparking a long competition between Austria and Russia for dominance. The other Great Powers strove to balance the
MAP: The Baklan Peninsula
MAP: The Balkan Peninsula
gains made by each empire.  At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Russia had its influence in Bulgaria reduced, Bosnia and Herzegovina were put under Austrian administration, and Austria was given indirect influence in the Kingdom of Serbia. For the time being, imperialism in the East was being controlled by patient diplomacy and by the Great Powers’ reluctance to permit either Austria or Russia from establishing hegemony in the Balkans. Despite these territorial gains made at the expense of the Ottomans, the Austrian Empire was also in decline, having been severely weakened by their failed war with Prussia in 1866.  Austrian emperor Franz Joseph had agreed in 1867 to give his Hungarian holdings equal political status with his Austrian
MAP: Ethnic groups of Austria-Hungary, 1910
MAP: Ethnic groups of Austria-Hungary, 1910
domains, creating the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary in which Franz Joseph governed simultaneously as emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, with the two states administering their own internal matters.  Hungary had its own ethnic problems. The southeastern half, Transylvania, contained a large Romanian population; the southwestern tip of Hungary was inhabited by Croats, and the north by Slovaks. Hungary ruthlessly controlled these ethnic minorities. The apprehensive German Austrians, however, maintained a precarious dominance over Czechs and Poles in the north, and over Slovenes, Bosnians, and other South Slavic people in the south by turning one or another nationality against the rest.  Key to the security of the empire was preventing the creation of one large independent Slavic state on the southern border.  That meant blocking the enlargement of Serbia.
 
Pan-Slavic Nationalism & Austrian Security
Serbia was the only Balkan nation to threaten a Great Power directly. Following a change of dynasties in 1903, the aggressive Serbian leader Nicholas Pashich adopted an openly anti-Austrian policy. At the same time, he promoted Pan-Slav nationalism--a vision that the Slavic peoples would one day be united under one nation.  Additionally, the Serbians could or would do little to stop the activities of the anti-Austrian secret society, the Black Hand. To the Austrians, the rise of Pan-Slavic nationalism, and particularly Serbian aggression, was a direct threat to the future of the Austrian Empire. Serbia had become “a jackal snapping at the Austro-Hungarian Achilles heel.”
 
Austria initiated countermeasures designed to curb Serbian power. First, they installed tariff barriers against Serbian exports of pork and rum, but these only resulted in Serbia gaining markets in France and Germany. The Austrian foreign minister, Baron Alois von Aehrenthal, had a more aggressive goal. He wanted to end forever the Pan-Slav dream.  The first action was the building of a railroad southward to the Aegean to cut Serbia off from the other Slavic areas and from the Adriatic Sea. Then, in 1908, von Aehrenthal decided to annex Bosnia (with its 975,000 Orthodox Serbs and many more Serbs and Serb-sympathizers of other faiths), and Herzegovina outright so that they could never become part of a greater Slavic state on the Austrian southern border.  To do this, Aehrenthal needed Russian cooperation. The moment seemed right for negotiation, as Russia, having recently been humiliated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, was looking for a way to save face by gaining access to the Mediterranean. To do this, Russia needed international permission to run its fleet through the Straits of Constantinople, forbidden under the Treaty of Berlin.
Alois von Aehrenthal
Alois von Aehrenthal
Aehrenthal worked out a secret deal with Russian foreign minister Alexander Izvolsky. In exchange for Russian support for the Austrian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria would support Russia’s acquisition of the sole right to move warships through the Straits of Constantinople.  The Russians were humiliated, however, when Aehrenthal announced the annexation before Izvolsky had secured his position with the other Great Powers, causing his part of the deal to fall through.

Serbia seethed with resentment over the annexation and demanded the Russians do something about it. Izvolsky wanted to take Russia to war with Austria over this issue, but backed down when Germany threatened to reveal his role in the secret deal. The Russians were not prepared to have it known that they had secretly betrayed their Serb allies.  The Bosnian crisis appeared at the time to be a victory for Austria-Hungary, but it left both Russia and Serbia deeply resentful. And in Russia, the crisis affected the political atmosphere. To save face, Russia would hereafter have to stand up to Austria-Hungary.

And despite these efforts by von Aehrenthal, who was promoted to Count after this political "success", Serbian continued to expand. In 1911, Turkish reformers in the Ottoman Empire fell from power after losing a war with Italy in which the Italians gained Libya. The Balkan states of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro saw this as an opportunity to attack the Ottomans and expand their borders.  They formed the Balkan League, and declared war on the Ottomans in September and October of 1912. Each of the Balkan nations had military victories and added to their territories before an international peace effort arbitrated peace. In the negotiations for the Treaty of London, which ended the war, Austria-Hungary was successful in blocking Serbia’s access to the Adriatic Sea by insisting on the creation of an independent Albania, to be ruled by a German prince.  The Second Balkan War broke out in June 1913 when Bulgaria, dissatisfied with the division of the spoils of Macedonia, attacked its former allies Serbia and Greece. Their armies repulsed the Bulgarian offensive and counter-attacked into Bulgaria. Meanwhile, Romania and the Ottoman Empire took the opportunity to attack Bulgaria and make their own territorial gains. In the resulting Treaty of Bucharest, Bulgaria lost most of the territories it had gained in the First Balkan War.  This crisis too was ended by an international effort. But to the dismay of the Austro-Hungarians, Serbia had again gained in territory and strength.

By 1914 four significant crises had been solved by the Great Powers without resorting to international arbitration in The Hague.  Before the aforementioned Balkan Wars, war had been averted between Germany and France in a dispute over Morocco in 1905, and again in 1911.  After some obligatory saber rattling, the main parties had settled these disputes via diplomatic negotiation.  Many Europeans had read Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion, which argued that the threat of disruption of international credit would either deter a larger war, or would bring one to a speedy conclusion.  On the eve of the First World War, there was no reason to believe that any such conflict would ever take place.  In Vienna, however, Serbian expansionism had pushed the prevailing thinkers to the brink of tolerance.  The Austro-Hungarian leadership concluded that no further successes would be allowed Serbia, “that viper’s nest.”  It was in this atmosphere of heightened tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, and between Austria-Hungary and Russia, that the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was murdered in Sarajevo in 1914.
 
The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria
On June 28, 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand & his wife Sophie visited Sarajevo, the capital of the Austrian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to dedicate a new hospital. They arrived by train and were a part of a caravan of open-topped cars.

Seven conspirators, whom most historians agree were members of Young Bosnia (whose broader membership included the Black Hand), were spaced out along the route. This terrorist organization operated out of, and with at least some level of assistance from the Serbian government. The conspirators opposed the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 and were committed to the independence of the South Slavic peoples from Austria-Hungary. Each of the conspirators had
Franz Ferdinand & Sophie arrive in Sarajevo
Franz Ferdinand & Sophie arrive in Sarajevo, 6/28/1914
instructions to try to kill Ferdinand when the royal car reached his position. The first one lost his nerve and allowed the car to pass. When the six car procession passed the central police station, another assassin hurled a hand grenade at the Archduke's car. The driver accelerated when he saw the object flying towards him, but the bomb had a 10 second delay and exploded under the wheel of the third car. Two of the occupants were seriously wounded and a dozen spectators were also hit by bomb shrapnel. To avoid capture, he swallowed cyanide and jumped into the river to make sure he died. The cyanide pill only made him sick, and the River was only 5 inches deep. A few seconds later he was hauled out and detained by police. The other conspirators missed their opportunities due to the crowd and chaos after the failed attempt. Ferdinand is alleged to have shouted in anger to local officials, "So you welcome your guests with bombs!" The procession then went directly to the state Senate.
After that they insisted on visiting the wounded in the hospital. In order to avoid the city center, it was decided that the royal car should travel straight along Appel Quay to the Sarajevo Hospital. However, someone forgot to inform the driver about this decision. On the way the driver took a right turn off of Appel Quay. One of the conspirators, Gavrilo Princip, was standing near Moritz Schiller's deli just north of Latin Bridge, having apparently given up, when he spotted Franz Ferdinand's car. After realizing the mistake, the driver braked and began to back up, but the car stalled and the gears locked, giving Princip his opportunity. Princip stepped forward, drew his Model 1910
Ferdinand & Sophie leave the Senate (2 views)
Ferdinand & Sophie leave the Senate (2 views)
Vehicle Route to and from the Senate
Vehicle Route to and from the Senate
Browning FN model 1910
Browning FN model 1910
Gavrilo Princip being arrested
Gavrilo Princip being arrested
Franz Ferdinand's Car, a 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton
Franz Ferdinand's Car, a 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton
Ferdinand's clothes
Ferdinand's clothes
pistol, pistol-whipped a nearby pedestrian, and at a distance of about five feet, fired twice into the car. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie in the abdomen. They both died quickly. Princip too tried to kill himself with cyanide but, like his coconspirators, was also only made sick.
Portrait of Archduke Ferdinand
Portrait of Archduke Ferdinand
Gavrilo Princip after his arrest
Gavrilo Princip after his arrest
Artist's rendition of the assassination
Artistic rendition of the assassination (2 versions)
Former site of Schiller's deli, now a museum
Former site of Schiller's deli, now a museum (3 views)
View north from Latin Bridge toward the museum
View north from Latin Bridge toward the museum (2 views)
The July Crisis
The essential issue was the extent that the Kingdom of Serbia was involved in the terrorist plot.  The Austro-Hungarian government had no conclusive proof that Princip had acted on behalf of the Serbian government, nor that the Serbians had knowledge of the planned attack. It is known that some members of the Serbian cabinet and the military command had knowledge of several terrorist plots, and it's generally agreed today that Princip had been armed and trained by a terrorist group working underground from Serbian bases for South Slav independence and unity. Austria-Hungary seized upon this moment as the opportunity to deal with Serbia once and for all. They would wage a limited war on Serbia and strive to keep other nations, particularly Serbia's ally Russia, on the sidelines. The key to Russian neutrality under such circumstances was the counter threat of German intervention on the side of Austria-Hungary. To that end, Franz Joseph sent a personal letter to Kaiser Wilhelm II, requesting German support. The Kaiser responded with what has been
New York Times headline, 6/29/14
New York Times headline, 6/29/14
Franz Joseph of Austria
Franz Joseph of Austria
commonly called a "blank check." Austria-Hungary could count on German support, "even if matters went to the length of a war between Austria-Hungary and Russia." Other German officials privately goaded the Austrians into proving that they were an ally worthy of German support. Clearly Germany wanted improve or reverse the decline of their only ally.

Germany was well-aware that the crisis threatened to invoke numerous treaties and alliances. Russia, as a supporter of Serbia, very well might intervene. Internal papers suggest that Germany was doubtful that Russia would do so, given her own precarious internal status following their defeat by Japan. The Germans also took into account the Franco-Russian alliance, formed in 1891, but did not believe that France would automatically come to the aid of Russia. France had stayed out of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and the Bosnian
Crisis in 1908. The Germans appear to have concluded that these risks were worth taking. Kaiser Wilhelm felt that Germany was encircled by enemies who were getting stronger, and that Germany needed to break out or face certain decline. Austrian domination of the Balkans would effectively break the circle.

Austria-Hungary, at the urging of Wilhelm II, delivered an ultimatum to the foreign minister of Serbia, and a timeline of 48 hours to meet all of the requirements. Some of the requirements were more tolerable to the Serbians than others. They were required, for example, to purge all terrorist organizations operating in Serbia, and to ban anti-Austrian propaganda. Unacceptable was the demand that Serbia dismiss officials and army officers chosen by Austria. Most offensive to Serbian sovereignty was the demand that Serbia accept Austrian participation in an internal investigation of the assassination. Austria had crafted a list of demands which was clearly designed to be unacceptable. In a masterful act of diplomacy, however, the Serbians objected only to the last demand, a ploy designed to win over European sympathies. At the same time, however, Serbia mobilized for war. Austria-Hungary then found themselves in the unenviable position of having to follow through with a war declaration based on Serbia’s unwillingness to give up its sovereignty. Britain proposed a mediation to the crisis, but Germany would have none of that. They wanted their localized war.

On July 28, at 11:10 A.M., Austria declared war on Serbia. The next day, they began shelling Belgrade. But the Germans had miscalculated. The Russians were in no mood to repeat the public humiliation they had suffered at the hands of Austria-Hungary during the 1908 Bosnia Crisis.
Nicholas II of Russia
Nicholas II of Russia
Mobilization for War
By this time in history, the Great Powers in Europe had recognized the necessity of planning ahead for war eventualities. The Russian plan had envisioned a future crisis in which they would be at war with both Austria-Hungary and Germany. But, not wanting to provoke Germany, Czar Nicholas mobilized only the part of his army facing Austria. At the same time, he sent a telegram to Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm, who was his first cousin (both were grandsons of Britain's Queen Victoria), asking for help in de-escalating the crisis. This telegram crossed with one from Wilhelm expressing similar sentiments. Nicholas's generals vigorously protested the partial mobilization, explaining that it would throw off the elaborate timetable that had been their master plan, making the entire plan unworkable. Earlier wars had proven the importance of rail in troop deployments, but the use of rail required precise logistics. If Russia did not fully mobilized at once, they'd
never be able to deal with a possible German attack. The reluctant czar thus ordered full mobilization on July 29. Just before midnight, however, he received another telegram from his cousin "Willy" in Germany. Nicholas panicked, and rescinded the full mobilization order. His generals again protested, and on the morning of the 30th, the order was reinstated. Nicholas and Wilhelm continued their frantic conversation via telegram. On July 30, the kaiser wrote to Nicholas: "I have gone to the utmost limits of the possible in my efforts to save peace....Even now, you can still save the peace of Europe by stopping your military measures." German generals, recognizing the Russian head start, determined that July 31st would be the deadline for German mobilization. On the 31st, Nicholas replied: "It is technically impossible to stop our military preparations which were obligatory owing to Austria's mobilization. We are far from wishing for war. As long as the negotiations with Austria on Serbia's account are taking place my troops shall not make any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this." Germany then mobilized.

Finally recognizing the seriousness of the situation, the Germans balked. The Kaiser, upon reading the Serbia reply to Austria's ultimatum, felt that "the grounds for war had now fallen away." A flurry of last-minute proposals for mediation and withdrawals ensued, but none of them addressed the principle German and Austrian concern, that Balkan ascendancy and Austrian decline threatened both Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany thus felt compelled to send the Russians an ultimatum: twelve hours to begin demobilization of their forces arrayed against Germany and Austria-Hungary. When the deadline expired, Germany declared war on Russia at 5:00 p.m., August 1. On the same day, Germany issued an ultimatum to France: declare your neutrality within eighteen hours.

During the hectic correspondence between Germany and Russia, the French initiated a limited mobilization on the Western front. They were determined not to be caught unprepared (as they had been in the war with Germany in 1870) . The French troops, however, deployed six miles from the border so as not to be provocative. Some members of the French government appear to have desired war, seeing an opportunity to take back the Alsace and Lorraine territories which had been lost to Germany in the 1870 war. It's unclear, however, whether this level of French patriotism influenced decision-making at the highest levels. But rising tensions and pre-conceived war plans again played a part. Joseph Joffre, chief of the French General Staff, calculated that, once Germany had mobilized, every day's delay in mobilizing would result in the loss of twenty-five kilometers of territory to the Germans. In response to the German ultimatum, the French thus declared general mobilization on August 1, without having even waited to receive word of German mobilization. Germany, apparently believing that war with France was inevitable, accused the French of violating German territory in several places, and declared war on August 3.
 
The Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan
Germany's long-range war plans had to account for the likelihood of fighting a two-front war, against Russia in the East, and France in the west. The plan devised to deal with this scenario was the Schlieffen Plan, named after its originator, Alfred von Schlieffen, German chief of staff from 1891-1905. The plan called for the commitment of seven-eights of Germany's total strength in an all-out offensive on the western front against France. To outflank French border forts, the army would perform a huge wheeling movement, sweeping through neutral Luxembourg and Belgium. The plan emphasizes the importance military planners placed on timetables. By the twenty-second day, German forces would reach the French frontier. On the thirty-first day, the army would be at the Somme and
German bully threatens little Belgian
German bully threatens little Belgian
Meuse rivers, and then the right wing would envelop Paris and push the French army toward the left wing, coming in from Alsace-Lorraine. This great semi-circular pincer movement would paralyze and crush French forces. The whole thing would be over in forty-two days, and the German army would board trains and head over to the Eastern front to fight the Russians. The Schlieffen plan was no secret, of course, and during the crisis, Belgium mobilized to prepare for the German onslaught. On August 2, Germany gave Belgium an ultimatum: free passage for the German army, or be invaded. Belgium refused, and on August 4, Germany invaded.

Great Britain
Although the British had reasons to distrust Germany, and had strengthened ties with France and her ally Russia, no formal agreement required the British to aid either country should they go to war with Germany.
British-German relations had actually improved somewhat in the recent past. King George V, cousin to Kaiser Wilhelm, assured the Kaiser's brother that Britain wished to remain neutral in the conflict. Even though this was in conflict with what George's own ambassadors and foreign ministers were saying, Wilhelm chose to believe it. But British calculations were that their continued mastery of the seas depended on a friendly France to assure access to India and to Middle East oil. Although the British had an agreement with Belgium to protect her neutrality, commercial supremacy was uppermost on British minds. Finally, Britain did warn the Germans on July 29 that they would not remain neutral if France were drawn in. After that they concentrated all of their effort on pushing for mediation of the Austro-Serbian dispute. After the Germans ignored a British ultimatum on August 4 to withdraw from
Pre-war treaties & alliances
Pre-war treaties & alliances
Belgium, Britain declared war. Italy, caught between competing interests over Germany and Austria, remained neutral, for the time being. With the Great Powers of Europe now bound by declarations of war, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey watched a lamplighter extinguishing the lamps on Downing Street at the end of the day, and famously remarked, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
 
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