EVENTS LEADING UP TO THE OUTBREAK OF WAR
Time chart of main events
Europe divides into two armed camps:
1882 Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy 1894 France and Russia sign alliance 1904 Britain and France sign 'Entente Cordiale' (friendly 'getting-together') 1907 Britain and Russia sign agreement.
Other important events:
1897: Admiral Tirpitz's Navy Law - Germany intends to build up fleet 1902: Britain and Japan sign alliance 1904-5: Russo-Japanese War, won by Japan 1905-6: Moroccan Crisis 1906: Britain builds first 'Dreadnought' battleship 1908: Bosnia Crisis 1911: Agadir Crisis 1912: First Balkan War 1913 Second Balkan War 1914 28 June: Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated in Sarajevo 28 July Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia 29 July Russia orders general mobilization of troops 1 August Germany declares war on Russia 3 August Germany declares war on France 4 August Britain enters war 6 August Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia.
(a) The Moroccan Crisis (1905-6)
This was an attempt by the Germans to expand their empire and to test the recently signed Anglo-French ‘Entente Cordiale’ (1904), with its understanding that France would recognize Britain’s position in Egypt in return for British approval of a possible French takeover of Morocco; this was one of the few remaining areas of Africa not controlled by a European power.
The Germans announced that they would assist the Sultan of Morocco to maintain his country’s independence, and demanded an international conference to discuss its future. A conference was duly held at Algeciras in southern Spain (January 1906).
The British believed that if the Germans had their way, it would lead to virtual German control of Morocco. This would be an important step on the road to German diplomatic domination and it would encourage them to press ahead with their Weltpolitik.
The British, who had just signed the ‘Entente Cordiale’ with France, were determined to lead the opposition to Germany at the conference. The Germans did not take the ‘Entente’ seriously because there was a long history of hostility between Britain and France. But to the amazement of the Germans, Britain, Russia, Italy and Spain supported the French demand to control the Moroccan bank and police. It was a serious diplomatic defeat for the Germans, who realized that the new line-up of Britain and France was a force to be reckoned with, especially as the crisis was soon followed by Anglo-French ‘military conversations’.
(b) The British agreement with Russia (1907)
This was regarded by the Germans as another hostile move. In fact it was a logical step, given that in 1894 Russia had signed an alliance with France, Britain’s new partner in the ‘Entente Cordiale’.
For many years the British had viewed Russia as a disgraceful example of corrupt, anti-democratic aristocratic government. Worse still, the Russians were seen as a major threat to British interests in the Far East and India. However, the situation had recently changed:
- Russia’s defeat by Japan in the war of 1904-5 seemed to suggest that the Russians were no longer much of a military threat.
- The outbreak of revolution in Russia in January 1905 had weakened the country internally.
- The Russians were keen to end the long-standing rivalry and anxious to attract British investment for their industrial modernization programme.
- In October 1905, when the Tsar granted the Russian people freedom of speech and the right to have an elected parliament, the British began to feel more kindly disposed towards the tsarist system.
These factors made agreement possible and the two governments were able therefore to settle their remaining differences in Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet. It was not a military alliance and not necessarily an anti-German move, but the Germans saw it as confirmation of their fears that Britain, France and Russia were planning to ‘encircle’ them.
(c) The Bosnia Crisis (1908)
The crisis over Bosnia, a province of Turkey, brought the tension between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to fever pitch. In 1878 the Congress of Berlin had reached the rather confusing decision that Bosnia should remain officially part of Turkey, but that Austria-Hungary should be allowed to administer it.
In 1908 there was a new government in Turkey, dominated by a group of army officers (known as Young Turks), who resented the Austrian presence in Bosnia and were determined to assert Turkish control over the province. This gave the Austrians the chance to get in first: they announced the formal annexation of Bosnia. This was a deliberate blow at the neighbouring state of Serbia, which had also been hoping to take Bosnia since it contained about three million Serbs among its mixed population of Serbs, Croats and Muslims. The Serbs appealed for help to their fellow Slavs, the Russians, who called for a European conference, expecting French and British support.
- When it became clear that Germany would support Austria in the event of war, the French drew back, unwilling to become involved in a war in the Balkans.
- The British, anxious to avoid a breach with Germany, did no more than protest to Austria-Hungary.
- The Russians, still smarting from their defeat by Japan, dared not risk another war without the support of their allies.
There was to be no help for Serbia; no conference took place, and Austria kept Bosnia. It was a triumph for the Austro-German alliance, but it had unfortunate results:
- Serbia remained bitterly hostile to Austria, and it was this quarrel which sparked off the outbreak of war.
- The Russians were determined to avoid any further humiliation and embarked on amassive military build-up and modernization of the army, together with an improvement in their railway system to allow faster mobilization. They intended to be prepared if Serbia should ever appeal for help again.
(d) The Agadir Crisis (1911)
This crisis was caused by further developments in the situation in Morocco. French troops occupied Fez, the Moroccan capital, to put down a rebellion against the Sultan. It looked as if the French were about to annex Morocco. The Germans sent a gunboat, the Panther, to the Moroccan port of Agadir, hoping to pressurize the French into giving Germany compensation, perhaps the French Congo.
The British were worried in case the Germans acquired Agadir, which could be used as a naval base from which to threaten Britain’s trade routes. In order to strengthen French resistance, Lloyd George (Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer) said that Britain would not stand by and be taken advantage of ‘where her interests were vitally affected’.
The French stood firm, making no major concessions, and eventually the German gunboat was removed. The Germans agreed to recognize the French protectorate (the right to ‘protect’ the country from foreign intervention) over Morocco in return for two strips of territory in the French Congo. This was seen as a triumph for the Entente powers, but in Germany public opinion became intensely anti-British, especially as the British were drawing slowly ahead in the ‘naval race’. At the end of 1911 they had built eight of the new and more powerful ‘Dreadnought’ -type battleships, compared with Germany’s four.
(e) The First Balkan War (1912)
The war began when Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria (calling themselves the Balkan League) launched a series of attacks on Turkey. These countries had all, at one time, been part of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire. Now that Turkey was weak (regarded by the other powers as ‘the Sick Man of Europe’), they seized their chance to acquire more land at Turkey’s expense. They soon captured most of the remaining Turkish territory in Europe.
Together with the German government, Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, arranged a peace conference in London. He was anxious to avoid the conflict spreading, and also to demonstrate that Britain and Germany could still work together. The resulting settlement divided up the former Turkish lands among the Balkan states.
However, the Serbs were not happy with their gains: they wanted Albania, which would give them an outlet to the sea, but the Austrians, with German and British support, insisted that Albania should become an independent state. This was a deliberate Austrian move to prevent Serbia becoming more powerful.
(f) The Second Balkan War (1913)
The Bulgarians were dissatisfied with their gains from the peace settlement and they blamed Serbia. They had been hoping for Macedonia, but most of it had been given to Serbia. Bulgaria therefore attacked Serbia, but their plan misfired when Greece, Romania and Turkey rallied to support Serbia. The Bulgarians were defeated, and by the Treaty of Bucharest (1913), they forfeited most of their gains from the first war.
It seemed that Anglo-German influence had prevented an escalation of the war by restraining the Austrians, who were itching to support Bulgaria and attack Serbia. In reality, however, the consequences of the Balkan Wars were serious:
- Serbia had been strengthened and was determined to stir up trouble among the Serbs and Croats living inside Austria-Hungary;
- the Austrians were equally determined to put an end to Serbia’s ambitions;
- the Germans took Grey’s willingness to co-operate as a sign that Britain was prepared to be detached from France and Russia.
(g) The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand
This tragic event, which took place in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, on 28 June 1914, was the immediate cause of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia, which was soon to develop into the First World War.
The Archduke, nephew and heir to the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, was paying an official visit to Sarajevo when he and his wife were shot dead by a Serb terrorist, Gavrilo Princip. The Austrians blamed the Serb government and sent a harsh ultimatum. The Serbs accepted most of the demands in it, but the Austrians, with a promise of German support, were determined to use the incident as an excuse for war.
On 28 July, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The Russians, anxious not to let the Serbs down again, ordered a general mobilization (29 July). The German government demanded that this should be cancelled (31 July), and when the Russians failed to comply, Germany declared war on Russia (1 August) and on France (3 August).
When German troops entered Belgium on their way to invade France, Britain (who in 1839 had promised to defend Belgian neutrality) demanded their withdrawal. When this demand was ignored, Britain entered the war (4 August). Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on 6 August. Others countries joined later.
The war was to have profound effects on the future of the world. Germany was soon to be displaced, for a time at least, from her mastery of Europe, and Europe never quite regained its dominant position in the world.