Episode 4. Who ignited First World War? (III)

Part 1

Part 2

On the morning of August 1, Nicholas II received the German ambassador. He strongly maintained that the mobilization posed no threat to Germany and furthermore had no hostile intent. Also, it would be impossible to immediately halt the mobilization because of the enormous spans of territory involved. Pourtalès quickly transmitted the substance of the conversation to Berlin. The Germans no longer believed a word, and in reality the Russian mobilization continued into its second day. According to Russia’s prewar plans – which were well known in Berlin – on the 15th day, the Russian army would be ready to attack.

That evening, the Kaiser made his decision. The German Ambassador Count Pourtalès went to the Russian Foreign Ministry. “Without giving Sazonov the time to say a single word,” Moris Paleologue wrote in his memoirs, recounting Sazonov’s own words, “[Pourtalès] said with a hurried, trembling voice ‘Agree to demobilize! Agree to demobilize! Agree to demobilization!’“

Next, the German ambassador asked whether the Russian government intended to give a favorable response to the previous day’s request to halt mobilization. Sazonov said no. Having asked twice more if Russia would cancel its mobilization, Pourtalès handed Sazonov a declaration of war. He was so nervous he handed over two versions of the document.

That was the formal part. Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich recorded the informal side of it, writing Nicholas II’s words in his own diary. Late in the evening on August 1, the Tsar, having received the German declaration of war, fired out a long telegram to the English King. The sleepy King at 2 a.m. had gone to have a cup of tea with the Queen. He bathed and had gone to the bedroom when a valet caught up with him. In his hand was a telegram from Wilhelm II. Having already declared war, he appealed for peace, asking for a cessation of hostilities! The chasm had opened, and the Kaiser could already see the bottom and the last desperate attempt to save them both. Nicholas did not answer him.

Carrying out their own mobilization plans, the Germans faced a similar problem as the Russian general staff: they could only mobilize against Russia and France at the same time. To reassure the English and limit Germany’s war to Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm sent a telegram to Britain’s King George. Its goal was to maintain that the Germans were following Sir Grey’s “advice”:

“For technical reasons my mobilization, announced this afternoon, must proceed on two fronts – Eastern and Western – in accordance with procedure. It is impossible to cancel, for that reason I apologize that this telegram arrived late. But, if France demonstrates to me its neutrality, guaranteed by Great Britain’s fleet and army, then I will, of course, refrain from invading France and will apply my forces elsewhere. I hope that France will not be alarmed. My troops at the border will be restrained by telegraph and telephone from entering France.

Germany had only declared war on Russia. Sir Grey could go to sleep. He had done magnificent work in recent days, and was probably incredibly tired. Furthermore, this was one more opportunity for Britain’s chief diplomat to play it safe and guarantee Germany was headed in the needed direction: to fight only with Russia!

London transmitted two dispatches to Berlin with a small interval in between. The first reported Britain’s security guarantees to Belgium. The German Ambassador Lichnowsky then sent a telegram of his own. The ambassador reported that British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey promised to keep France from joining the war provided Germany itself would not attack it. This dispatch triggered a joyous resuscitation in Berlin! It appeared that a terrible war on two fronts could be avoided, and perhaps war itself as Russia would be much more appeasing knowing it would fight alone.

But reality quickly spoiled the Kaiser’s mood. The projected actions of Germany’s military leadership perfectly illustrated why Sir Grey was so insistent that Germany fight only with Russia. It was quite simple. One of Germany’s chief military leaders, General Erich Ludendorff captured the problem clearly and simply: “Attacking Russia while defending the West in preexisting conditions would have meant, as shown in numerous war games, a protracted war, and such a plan was thus rejected by General Count von Shlieffen.”

The hasty declaration of war against Russia caused great surprise among the leadership of the Wehrmacht. According to all of its carefully formulated plans, Germany should attack France first! Not understanding the actions of his government, the commander of the German navy, Grand Admiral von Tirpitz wrote, “As such, any clue as to why we declared war first remains unknown to me. In all likelihood we did it out of formal legal conscientiousness. The Russians began the war without declaring it and we believed defense was impossible, without declaring it ourselves.”

Invading Russia in the first stage of the war was something the Germans could not do, did not want to do, and did not prepare to do. To understand this, one must examine the German war plan. Known was the “Schlieffen Plan,” named after the chief of the general staff who “rejected” the idea of invading Russia. The plan reads:

1. War with France is inevitable.
2. Under current political conditions, this can only be a war on two fronts.
3. The only way to win is to defeat the enemies one at a time.
4. A swift victory of the Russian army is not possible due to the conditions of Russia and its terrain.
5. Consequently the blow should be struck in the West as the East defends itself.
6. The French army must be defeated before the full deployment of the Russian army. This can be effectuated through an encirclement maneuver.
7. The French line of fortresses cannot be quickly broken, therefore, must be bypassed.
8. Such circumvention is only possible through the territory of neutral Belgium and Switzerland. Considering the terrain of each, the latter option is unacceptable.

And so, Germany’s thin military logic provided the necessity to strike France – and not just France, but by violating the neutrality of Belgium as well! Makes sense, since France was Germany’s real enemy, the German general staff was planning to defeat it first. For the Germans, Russia was a secondary concern, if a war begins on the Eastern front, it would be better to go on the defensive. So it turns out that, left alone, the German army would start by destroying the French not the Russians simply because Germany had prepared for that for more than 20 years, and could not change it all in a day.

Espionage has always existed so von Schlieffen’s conclusions were not secret. That the Germans would have to violate Belgium’s neutrality was absolutely clear. That is why London came out guaranteeing Belgium’s neutrality before the outbreak of hostilities. It was one more reminder of how Germany should act properly. France’s defeat lay in the route through Belgium, but in such a case, England would enter the war. If Berlin wanted the British to remain neutral, it would have to strike to the East, contrary to Germany’s planning, contrary to common sense, contrary to everything! Only by driving Germany into a corner could one ensure that it would really start the fight with Russia.

That’s exactly what Sir Grey was trying to do. No one could guarantee him that the Russian army, still unprepared, would invade Germany on its own. One could not hope for such a gift from Nicholas II (although in reality it would come). They were no fools in London, they perfectly understood that the smartest thing for the Tsarist government to do would be to prepare for war, not actually fight, and quietly watch the German and French melee from its borders — formally prepare for battle, avoid it in reality. As such, the French would weaken and eventually be defeated as Russia maintained a position of caution. A war that produced that outcome was not at all what the organizers wanted! Down the road Germany could reconcile with Russia such that further conflict with St. Petersburg would not occur. Then there would be no worldwide cataclysm, no seas of blood, no REVOLUTIONS in Berlin and St. Petersburg! That could not be allowed: Germany and Russia should annihilate one another. That is why the British pushed the Germans to declare war on Russia alone.

Utter bewilderment reigns among the Wehrmacht leadership. The Kaiser did not explain England’s foul play to the military brass that was literally dragging Germany by the ears to the East. Therefore, the government’s behavior shocked the rationally minded German generals and admirals. They knew perfectly well that the plan did not call for a special need for a hasty declaration of war on Germany. It demanded a swift launch of hostilities against France. Germany would only benefit from any delay in fighting to the east. Why take on the ignominy of declaring war and attacking if Germany did not plan on invading Russia? Why declare war on a government that you only planned on defending yourself against?

The funniest thing is that nearly all historians writing about the First World War ask exactly this question, every one of them. But none of them answer! Because they look for the answer in Berlin when it resides in the corridors of the British Foreign Office!

This situation became a stalemate. In military history, it has always played out as such: first mobilization, then declaration of war, and only then is there fighting. For the Germans in 1914 it was the reverse: first a breaking of diplomatic ties, then on August first they begin mobilization. No fighting at all. On the contrary, after mobilizing the Germans take defensive positions. Nonsense! Why did they declare war then if they can defend themselves without declaring it!?

This is a generally unprecedented instance: before that day, declaring war had always been the prerogative of the attacking side. The whole point is for the aggressor to declare hostilities so that it can pounce on its prey “with a clear conscience”. In 1914, the Germans did it all wrong: according to plan, Germany was supposed to defeat France, but it declared war on Russia. The behavior of the Germans looks like complete idiocy – with one caveat: one must forget the “hints” of Sir Grey. By contrast, being mindful of them, one has to agree that the Germans could not have done anything differently.

However, while the Kaiser was accosting his generals, the old German prewar mobilization plan was completed and the army continued to concentrate on the west, rather than the eastern border. Chief of the German General Staff Moltke tried to explain the obvious truth to his monarch. Should the German army transfer to the east, Germany would be completely unprotected if France did decide to attack!

It was a weighty argument. After so many quirks from the English and the strange comportment of the Russians, no one was to be trusted. Here Moltke played his final card. In accordance with the Schlieffen plan, Germany’s 16th division was already moving to towards Luxembourg and would soon pass the border. The Kaiser and his chancellor panicked and demanded the force be stopped, lest Luxembourg’s neutrality be violated and Britain join the war. They managed to stop the division literally one kilometer from the border. But then another telegram came from London, this time from King George. It was a reply message to the Kaiser. The British monarch said that he knew nothing of any British guarantees of French neutrality.

Despair gripped Wilhelm II. Forced to obey Sir Grey and declare war on Russia, he, of course, hoped that the conflict would be limited, but then London waivered again and did not want to take responsibility for France hitting the German army in the back. France’s mobilization was in full swing, and its sea and land forces were at full readiness. The Kaiser had but one option – to turn on the French themselves.

The Germans had sent the query of whether or not Paris would remain neutral on July 31. Not long before, in April, pacifists happened to have won in the parliament. New French Prime Minister Viviani was also a supporter of peace, he sought to avoid war. No problem that by doing so he would be abandoning his Russian “allies”. Who cares that Poincaré promised “war” in St. Petersburg. France has democracy, and therefore the opinion of the prime minister doesn’t have to coincide with that of the president. It’s very convenient when the left hand isn’t responsible for the right! In short, the respected French leaders played good cop, bad cop. But this was not limited to a few conversations: on July 31, i.e. before the German declaration of war against Russia, on the orders of the French defense minister, French forces pulled back 10 kilometers from the border “as proof of France’s peaceful intentions and to avoid accidental incidents and provocations.” This was a continuation of Grey’s “hints” to the Germans: don’t worry, and boldly declare war on the Russians!

The next day, already after Germany’s declaration of war on Russia, the French position became even more uncertain. At Germany’s request, it gave an incredibly evasive answer: “France will act as its interests require.” Prime Minister Viviani was forced to announce the mobilization on August 1, adding that “it does not mean war.” According to the Russian-French treaty, France was required to declare war on Germany, but instead made such “peaceful” statements! This – a violation of the “alliance” treaty and a betrayal on the first day of the war, was done in anticipation that the Germans would start to fight against only Russia against its own plans and common sense.

Instead of explicitly declaring war on Berlin, as required as an ally, the French break the real-life comedy. The motivation of our Entente colleagues seems childish. Russian Ambassador in Paris Izvolskiy reported August 1, “For political reasons … it is incredibly important to France that its mobilization not precede Germany’s and that appear as a reaction in turn,” that “it would be better if the declaration of war was made by Germany, not France.” French Marshall Joffre wrote to his commanders, “because of national considerations of moral order and for imperative reasons of diplomatic integrity, it is necessary that Germany be held fully responsible for the commencement of hostilities.” At the same time, it makes everything much simpler – our faithful “allies” still maintain their hopes that Germany could be set exclusively on Russia. Hence all the diplomatic gibberish.

It was after these responses from Paris that the Kaiser sent a telegram to Nicholas II at two in the morning, trying one last time to save both of them. Now the whole stealthy “allies” scheme became clear to Germany’s leader. Sir Grey tricked him twice: the first time when he said that England in general would not participate in the war and second when he forced Germany to declare war on Russia alone. Then, after the beginning of the Russian-German conflict, the Germans had no guarantees of Paris’ neutrality, neither from the British nor from the French themselves. Paris could at any time nobly declare that it was initiating hostilities as Russia’s faithful “ally” and strike Germany with its back turned. Berlin also had to wait patiently for this.

Perhaps it would have happened, and the French traitors would have entered into history if the Germans hadn’t spared Paris. At a time when the French government responded to Berlin vaguely and indistinctly, to await a stab in the back was pointless. The French did not promise anything specific and it would have been totally incomprehensible for them to refrain from joining the war. The British were not prepared to fight should the Germans invade France. But in order to violate all of their deployment plans, the German command and Wilhelm himself needed to receive an official French guarantee of neutrality. Therefore, on August 2, the German government issued an ultimatum to Belgium demanding it allow German forces to pass through its territory to the French border, as was called for in the Schlieffen Plan. On August 3, Belgium rejected Germany’s demand and asked for help from England. On the same day, understanding that it had no more cards to play, Germany declared war on France, appearing before the whole world as the arrant aggressor. England then issued an ultimatum to Germany demanding it not violate the sovereignty of Belgium. As we already understand, the Germans could not comply. On August 4, Britain entered the war on a white horse as the defender of Belgian liberty …

Sir Grey’s behind-the-scenes work had brought the long-awaited fruits. Just days after the German-Russian and Austrian-Serbian conflicts started, they went global. The most brutal war in human history had begun – the result of the careful planning and masterful organization of the British government. The signs of this careful planning have been disguised thus far, but if you read very carefully the literature dedicated to the First World War, through the enormous heaps of lies will shine the golden light of truth. We read in the era’s chronicles of naval battles that the English King’s fleet entered beginning of the First World War already fully mobilized. The order for the early mobilization of the British sailors was issued July 10, 1914, long before the specific actions of all other participants in the conflict. Coincidence, our historians tell us. But Winston Churchill, who was in the British Admiralty at the time, said something quite different: “Never in the past three years have we been so well prepared.” He’s right – such excellent, brilliant preparation for war does not happen coincidentally. This was the result of years of systematic efforts. This was the result of epic work by the country’s military leadership, political leadership, diplomats and spies. Therefore, by conducting exercises for which the navy allegedly mobilized and refused the sailors to take leave. And two weeks later, a fully stocked “peaceful” British fleet entered the war to defend the Belgians from “aggressive” Germany, whose mobilization had only begun…

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