The First World War Part 7

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The First World War Part 7

The First World War Part 7

How the First World War Started.

Many of the tendentious evaluations that have associated official or semi-official Serbia with the Sarajevo assassination have then moved seamlessly on to the outbreak of the war, equally tendentiously presenting it as an inevitable consequence of the murders. Yet those historians who have argued in this manner have wrongly fused the question of who bore responsibility for the assassination with a second, separate question of what subsequently impelled the Habsburg decision-makers to react as they did. Certainly, Vienna was not weighing up any Black Hand linkage – if for no other reason than that no one was claiming that this organization was involved; nor indeed was such a claim made until long after the end of the Empire, becoming a theme only in 1923.

In the previous part we have among others looked at the Wiesner “inquiry” into the Sarajevo assassination that deserved a more prominent place than it has hitherto been accorded in the historiography of the July crisis.

Samuel Williamson, in his widely read study of Austria-Hungary and the origins of the First World War, makes no mention of Wiesner, but writes that “the evidence from Sarajevo, buttressed by information coming from Belgrade, correctly reinforced Vienna’s initial assumptions that some elements of the Serbian government had been involved in the assassination plot”. It seems not to have occurred to Williamson when he advanced this unsupported claim, which had Vienna really been in possession of any such information, it would have made sure the whole world knew about it.109 Less surprising is that Berchtold’s biographer Hugo Hantsch chooses to ignore the Wiesner report.110 Manfred Rauchensteiner, the leading Austrian expert, does at least cite the relevant passage from the Wiesner report, but fails to convince with his claim that Wiesner “had left everything open” – for there was precious little left open in Wiesner’s categorical conclusion concerning the paucity of evidence to link the Government in Belgrade with the assassination in Sarajevo.111

Remarkably, however, new attempts have recently been made to turn the Wiesner report into a strong suit of Austria-Hungary’s July 1914 policy. Sean McMeekin describes it as “welcome news” for Vienna because it established that the assassination plot had been hatched in Belgrade. While admitting that the report “all but ruled out” the complicity of the Serbian Government, he fails to quote the relevant passage directly, focusing instead on that part which talks about the assassins being armed and assisted in crossing into Bosnia by Serbian officers. So, according to McMeekin, Berchtold was happy with the report because it had “reassured” him “that a proper dossier outlining Serbian guilt would be ready in time to make Austria’s case for war.” 112 The problem for this view of McMeekin’s is that no evidence exists for it. Indeed the evidence points to the contrary, including the fact that Berchtold had decided on war within forty-eight hours after the Sarajevo assassination. Clearly, he felt no need for the kind of reassurance hypothesized by McMeekin. Even Sidney Fay, the American historian sympathetic to the case of the Central Powers, wrote that Berchtold appeared to have made “little or no immediate use” of the Wiesner report. 113 Had it been positive it is difficult to believe he would not have done so.

No less perplexing is Christopher Clark’s treatment of this particular episode from July 1914. He writes: “Wiesner dispatched a report concluding that there was as yet no evidence to prove the responsibility or complicity of the Belgrade government.”114 But Wiesner did not say there was no evidence as yet; he said there was no evidence (“nothing’). He had, in fact, made his determination and concluded that there was no evidence even to imagine that the Serbian Government might be guilty. The fact that Wiesner had in fact also mentioned evidence which suggested such complicity to have been “out of the question” is not addressed by Clark, whose emphasis is clearly on there having existed “as yet no evidence.” This was certainly not how Potiorek in Sarajevo had understood Wiesner’s findings. Before sending his report to Vienna, Wiesner had shown it to the Feldzeugmeister who then furiously wrote to Conrad on 14 July, protesting that he could not let the matter pass “without comment.” What the Bosnian Governor objected to in the report was precisely that “Wiesner considers the connivance of the Serbian Government in the assassination as out of the question.”115 Interestingly, therefore, whereas Potiorek at the time called a spade a spade, objecting to Wiesner having unequivocally cleared the Serbian Government, Clark somehow interprets the summary of the Wiesner report as inconclusive. Back in 1930, by contrast, the significance of Wiesner’s pronouncements was certainly not lost on Bernadotte Schmitt, who is to this day one of the most highly regarded authorities on the origins of the Great War. “Count Berchtold,” Schmitt observed, “would have been in a stronger position vis-a-vis the European Powers if his agent [Wiesner] had not exculpated the Serbian Government from direct complicity in the crime of Sarajevo”.116

Austria-Hungary’s War Aims

Much as the Wiesner report and other post-Sarajevo issues between Vienna and Belgrade are important in any discussion of the July crisis, one should note that the sudden, unique opportunity of “settling accounts with Serbia” opened up by Franz Ferdinand’s death was not the only issue on the agenda of the Habsburg establishment in July 1914. However, the overwhelming focus of most historical accounts of Vienna’s post-assassination policy rests precisely on this Austro-Serbian antagonism and the desire of Austria-Hungary’s officialdom to solve, once and for all, what it described as the “existential threat” to the Monarchy posed by the South Slav, that is, the Serbian question. It may perhaps be a self-evident truth, but the point nevertheless needs to be made that the Monarchy did not, in July 1914, consider its Great Power position purely regarding its relations with Serbia. Assassination or no assassination, Serbia was seen as a constituent part of a complex, indeed grim, regional predicament.

Hence there can indeed be no proper understanding of Vienna’s decision for war without taking into account its view of developments on the wider Balkan front: Romania, hitherto a key ally of the Triple Alliance in South Eastern Europe, now appeared increasingly unreliable; Bulgaria, on the other hand, a would-be ally, could not join the Triple Alliance as long as its differences with Romania persisted and as long as Berlin continued to prefer Romania; while Albania, which both Conrad and the Ballhausplatz were hoping to turn into a militarily valuable regional ally, was in fact hopelessly ungovernable. Most important of all, Vienna believed that Russia was building a new Balkan league, aimed at the Monarchy itself. As seen in chapter thirteen, just days before the Sarajevo assassination, the Matscheko Memorandum drew attention to a highly dangerous situation that Austria-Hungary was supposedly facing in the Balkans. The Memorandum was basically a plea for assistance addressed to Germany, contending as it did that Russia and France were working away in the Balkans to fatally undermine the Triple Alliance. What I have argued is that, contrary to the established view, the Matscheko Memorandum was not a scenario for a patient, long-term diplomatic action, but rather a game plan for short term, indeed urgent, responses to perceived threats and challenges in the region. The Memorandum’s chief underlying assumption, as has also been argued, was a pre-emptive strike against Serbia. The crucial frame of reference, however, was not the Serbian danger in itself, but rather a dreaded, Russian-organized Balkan league. The assumed enmity of Serbia and the perceived loss of Romania naturally led the Ballhausplatz to anticipate a hostile combination that could also include Bulgaria and Greece. This concern about such a Balkan bloc was the starting point not only of the Matscheko Memorandum but also of Tisza’s paper from March and Flotow’s from May.

It has been a profound historiographical misjudgment to see the Matscheko Denkschrift as an analysis espousing patient diplomatic solutions when its entire message was that the time for diplomacy had practically run out. The assassination in Sarajevo had conclusively strengthened this view in Vienna. Now, surely, was the moment to deal with Serbia. But no such action in the Balkans would be possible without a firm pledge of German support. The “Hoyos Mission” was meant to obtain this insurance from Berlin, a stark testimony to the fact that Austria-Hungary, on paper a Great Power, could not in practice act alone. Admittedly, it was facing formidable hazards in July 1914, and it was not just the Russian reaction that the Habsburg decision-makers were worried about. As has been seen, Romania, too, was now a grave concern in both Vienna and Budapest. Tisza’s initial objections to war against Serbia rested on his fear of Romania’s possible intervention on Serbia’s side. On I July Berchtold instructed Conrad to prepare a memoir, to be sent to Berlin, detailing the military implications of Romania’s neutrality or, conceivably, hostility, in the event of “a European war”117. Conrad responded quickly. He delivered his thoughts the next day, warning that the mere fact of Romania staying neutral would free up at least three Russian corps for deployment against Austria- Hungary. However, should Romania become hostile, it could, together with the forces of Serbia, press forward into “the center of the Monarchy” and put the Austro- Hungarian Army in such a difficult position that it would be unable to score a decisive victory over the Russians. 118

Accordingly, Berchtold’s shopping list in Berlin included not only military cover against Russia but also Germany’s diplomatic assistance in Romania. It is not clear whether this memoire of Conrad’s was also in Hoyos’s briefcase as he traveled to Berlin. Either way, the revised Matscheko Memorandum he was carrying concentrated just as heavily on the Romanian problem as had the original paper of 24 June. The question needing to be asked here is whether there was any meaningful difference between the two versions. Or, to put it differently: given that many historians see the Matscheko Memorandum as having proposed long-term diplomatic responses to Austria-Hungary’s Balkan problems, could it then really have been possible to change it so quickly and smoothly, into an argument for a short-term Austro- Hungarian military response – that is to say, into a case for Berlin to back Vienna in an immediate war against Serbia? T.G. Otte, one of those historians, is content to explain this seeming contradiction in terms of an “ironic twist” – since the Memorandum “was to furnish the strategic rationale for a war against Serbia after Sarajevo”.119 Leading expert Samuel Williamson, who likewise subscribes to the view that Matscheko had initially put forward a programme of assertive diplomacy, simply says that Berchtold “polished” the Memorandum after Sarajevo.120 Surely, students of history wishing to understand whether the Hoyos Mission, one of the chief episodes of the July crisis, represented continuity or departure in Austro- Hungarian foreign policy, will be more than baffled by such perfunctory explanations of the document that underpinned it.

In fact, as we have seen, the initial Memorandum of 24 June had already anticipated a war in the Balkans. In as much as it said anything about Serbia, it presented the latter as an implacable enemy; and in placing so much emphasis on the danger to both Austria-Hungary and Germany from a new Balkan alliance, sponsored by Russia, it presupposed that Serbia, as the pivot of that assumed alliance, would have to be knocked out. The revised Matscheko Memorandum, brought by Hoyos to Berlin, merely amplified and, where necessary. spelled out this basic message. In that sense, indeed, the document of 24 June only needed to be “polished.”

Just like its predecessor, the revised document argued for the necessity of an alliance with Bulgaria. A notable difference relates to Romania. Whereas the 24 June analysis suggested a last-ditch attempt to clear and even flush out Romania’s position vis-a-vis the Triple Alliance, the new evaluation declared that the possibility of securing a reliable alliance with that country should practically be “ruled out.” The 24 June paper had effectively also written Romania off – except that, mindful of the German Kaiser’s soft spot for King Carol; it had professed that one last attempt should be made to reclaim the country for the Triple Alliance.

In any case, much of the emphasis in the version delivered by Hoyos to the Germans is about a hypothetical Balkan league, presented as the spearhead of a sinister Russian plan (supported by France) to shatter the Balkan position of Austria-Hungary, and thereby decidedly affect the position of Germany itself Just to make Berlin even more uneasy, the revised piece included a reference to French “revanchist ambitions” which, it was elaborated, would be boosted by the weakening of the Habsburg Monarchy. As for Serbia, it received almost as little attention in the post-Sarajevo variant as it did in the original analysis of 24 June: its intrinsic hostility was taken for granted. Unsurprisingly, however, the main addition was the mention of the murder act in Sarajevo, described as “the indubitable proof of the insurmountable differences between the Monarchy and Serbia”.121

What of Franz Joseph’s handwritten letter, also delivered by Hoyos? This is possibly the most interesting single item in the gigantic body of documentation concerning the immediate origins of the First World War. As with the revised Matscheko paper, Serbia is not at the center of its observations. The focal point is Romania, but the fundamental misgivings expressed by the Austrian Emperor relate to Russia. To begin with, he links Russia with the Sarajevo assassination of his “poor nephew.” This act, he claims, was “a direct consequence of the agitation fuelled by the Russian and Serbian Panslavists, whose sole aim is the weakening of the Triple Alliance and the destruction of my Empire.” Not even the Austro-Hungarian press had after 28 June suggested a connection with the Russian Panslavists. But then, Franz Joseph’s letter to Wilhelm II was drafted at the Ballhausplatz (by Hoyos), and it reflected the Ministry’s fixation, shared by Tisza, about Russia’s aggressive Balkan diplomacy. With regard to Romania, the letter drew attention to the friendly relationship between Bucharest and Belgrade, to the “hateful agitation” against the Monarchy tolerated by the Romanian Government, and to King Carol’s recent pronouncements that, in the light of his people’s hostile mood towards Austria-Hungary, he would not be in a position to fulfill alliance obligations in an emergency. The most important comment in the letter, however, was that the Romanian Government was striving, “with Russian help,” to establish a new Balkan league, directed against the Habsburg Empire. The only way to keep Romania within the Triple Alliance, the letter suggested, was to prevent the formation of a Balkan league under Russian patronage. This could be achieved, on the one hand, if Bulgaria were to be won for the Triple Alliance and, on the other, if Romania were to be clearly told that “Serbia’s friends cannot be our friends.”

Unlike the revised Matscheko paper or, for that matter, its original of 24 June, Franz Joseph’s letter sketched a way forward, offering a vision of how things should be ordered in the Balkans. It envisaged the “isolation and diminution” of Serbia; the strengthening of the Bulgarian Government (to save it from a “return to Russophilia”); the encouragement of a Bulgarian-Romanian understanding based on Bulgaria’s guarantee of Romania’s territorial integrity; and, finally, the “reconciliation” of Greece with Bulgaria and Turkey. The idea here was, as the letter explained, to create “a new Balkan league,” under the patronage of the Triple Alliance, the objective of which would be to stop the forward push of the “Panslavist flood.” There was one impediment, however. “But this will only be possible,” Franz Joseph wrote towards the end of his letter, “if Serbia, which is currently the lynchpin of Panslavist policy, is disabled as a power factor in the Balkans.” Without employing the term “war,” the Austrian Emperor thus made it abundantly clear that the road to salvation and success was through military action. “You too”, he concluded his letter to Wilhelm II, “will be convinced after the latest terrible events in Bosnia that a straightening out of differences which separate us from Serbia is no longer conceivable, and that the existing peace policies of all European monarchs will be at risk so long as this fulcrum of criminal agitation in Belgrade remains unpunished.”122

So, it was punishment time – except that punishing Serbia was a way of confronting and expelling Russia from South Eastern Europe. And this could be done just by knocking out Serbia. The Sarajevo assassination thus offered a wonderful opportunity to Austro- Hungarian statesmen and soldiers to cut the Gordian knot in the Balkans. Defeating Serbia would effectively destroy what Vienna saw as a potentially menacing, Russian-inspired Balkan league because such a league without Serbia would simply be a non-starter. The prizes would be rich and plentiful: Romania would lose its friend and de facto ally Serbia, and would have to reconsider its attitude towards the Triple Alliance; Bulgaria would undoubtedly join the Triple Alliance once Macedonia was awarded to it at Serbia’s expense; Russian influence in the Balkans would be absolutely shattered; and, as was argued in an internal Ballhausplatz memorandum written on 6 July, even ‘the arrogance of Italian imperialists’ would be dampened by an Austro-Hungarian success against Serbia. Moreover, Burian recorded in his diary on 14 July that Albania could only be saved if Serbia was out of the way.123

Last, but not least, a successful war against Serbia would at the same time solve the Monarchy’s South Slav question – or at least ensure that Serbia could no longer play a role in it because the country would either not exist at all or it would be too small to matter after being forced to cede territories to its neighbours. In short, smashing Serbia would make Austria-Hungary the unchallenged master of South Eastern Europe. It was a dazzling prospect.

While in Berlin, Hoyos had told the Germans about Vienna’s plans for a “full partition” of Serbia.124 He may have done so without prior authorization from his boss Berchtold, but such talk did undoubtedly reflect the ideas circulating at the Ballhausplatz at the time. It is true that under Tisza’s pressure the Ministerial Council which took place on 19 July agreed, though very reluctantly, to inform foreign powers at the beginning of the war that Vienna did not intend to annex Serbia. But the Council’s reservations in this matter were very substantial, for it also agreed that a “diminution” of Serbia through the incorporation of its territories by other states could not be ruled out. It also kept open the option that “strategically necessary frontier corrections” could be made. On this occasion, Berchtold argued for “the greatest possible” transfers of Serbian territories to Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and possibly also Romania so that Serbia would “no longer be dangerous.” 125 After the meeting on 19 July, Bilinski revealed to Thallóczy that what the Council of Ministers called “frontier corrections” would really be the incorporation by Austria-Hungary of the districts of Belgrade and Sabac. He added: “If Romania wishes it, it will also get a piece; also Bulgaria; also Albania.”.126 And only three days earlier, commenting on a suggestion that Russia should be informed about Austria- Hungary’s intention to respect the territorial integrity of Serbia, Forgach wrote privately to Ambassador Merey in Rome: “Incidentally, just what will happen after a hopefully successful war is, by the way, between you and me, another question.”127

Austria-Hungary’s war aims concerning Serbia in July 1914 may not have been meticulously defined in a single policy paper, but they did not need to be. The objectives were blindingly obvious: crippling Serbia one way or another was meant to engender massive regional benefits. For the collapse of Serbia would entail Russia’s political collapse in the Balkans. As Franz Joseph indicated in his letter to Wilhelm II, a hostile Balkan league would be nipped in the bud, and an alternative one would be set up under the aegis of the Triple Alliance. These were the clear and eminently sensible war aims of Austria-Hungary. The key was, as Forgach predicted with admirable prescience, “a hopefully successful war.” Anything could have been implemented after that. Hence it is difficult to agree with Norman Stone who argued, in an influential 1966 article, that in July 1914 “Austria-Hungary had in effect no policy, and she had to be supplied with one by Germany”.128 F.R. Bridge, in his major study of Austro-Hungarian diplomacy, devotes only one sentence to Vienna’s war aims in July 1914, but at least he gets it right: “The Austrians were above all concerned to reestablish their position in the Near East by crushing Serbia and destroying the influence of Russia.”129

As for Germany, far from supplying Austria-Hungary with a policy, it had begun to accept and support policy proposals from Vienna. Wilhelm II had up to April 1914 been urging the Austrian statesmen to find a modus vivendi with Serbia. In this, he had been backed by Bethmann Hollweg and the German Foreign Office. Anticipating as he always was a future war with Russia, his main concern in the Balkans was to secure the south-eastern flank. Impressed by Serbia’s military performance in the recent Balkan Wars, he thought it far preferable to have it as a friend rather than an enemy drawing considerable resources away from the Russian front. Possibly under Tisza’s influence; however, he changed his mind in May, only weeks before the Konopischt meeting with Franz Ferdinand, and adopted the Ballhausplatz standpoint that Austro-Serb differences were irreconcilable.

This, however, was not the only shift in Germany’s Balkan policy. Highly significant, too, was its change of attitude towards Bulgaria. This became very evident over the question of the Bulgarian loan. Early in 1914, with its treasury depleted after the Balkan Wars, Bulgaria began looking for finance from abroad. It’s pro-Austrian Radoslavov Government turned to Berchtold, requesting him to facilitate a big loan in Germany. Berchtold obliged, and with zeal- in order, as he explained, not to push Bulgaria into the arms of France and Russia.130 As is well known, the German Emperor had a strong dislike for King Ferdinand of Bulgaria (and much fondness for King Carol of Romania). By the end of June, the Bulgarians had completed negotiations for a massive, 500 million franc loan from Germany. The Bulgarians concluded that the loan was “a triumph for Austrian diplomacy”.131 And so it was: a stunning feat by the Ballhausplatz in Berlin. “The conclusion of the Bulgarian loan in Berlin,” declared a delighted Berchtold, “fills me with the liveliest satisfaction.”132

But what if Serbia agreed?

The “quick fait accompli” in the Balkans wished for by the German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg never happened. In the evening hours of 8 July Berchtold told Conrad that the ultimatum would not be presented before the end of the harvest and the completion of the “Sarajevo proceedings” – meaning the inquiry into the assassination. The ultimatum, Conrad was informed, would be delivered on 22 July. In the meantime, Berchtold suggested, it would be a good idea if Conrad and the War Minister were to go on holiday in order to keep up a pretense that nothing was afoot.133

As recounted earlier, the inquiry into the Sarajevo assassination was never going to be more than window-dressing, since the Ballhausplatz “itinerary” had already been worked out. Historians have devoted much more attention to the issue of the summer harvest as a factor delaying Austria-Hungary’s next moves against Serbia, namely the delivery of the ultimatum and mobilization. At this time the absence of many troops on harvest leave affected seven of the sixteen army corps districts, including three bordering Serbia. As early as 6 July Berchtold was pointing out to Conrad that “the Monarchy would have to live from the harvest for one year.” Most of the troops on harvest leave were scheduled to return by 19 July, with some not due back until 25 July. 134 The Imperial Army would not be ready before 12 August. One can only speculate whether an earlier action would have made much difference. But given the speed of Serbia’s mobilization after 25 July and the subsequent performance of its Army, it is difficult to believe that Austria-Hungary would have been able to bring about the “quick fait accompli.”

In any case, Berchtold was under no illusion that capturing some Serbian territory would be of much use diplomatically. At their meeting on 8 July, Conrad told him in no uncertain terms that “nothing” would be achieved by holding some territory. Success would not come until “we have beaten the Serbian Army.” 135 The difference in tactical assumptions between Berlin and Vienna was thus very considerable. A further consideration regarding the timetable concerned the state visit by the French President to St Petersburg. It will be remembered that on 14 July Burian argued for delaying delivery of the ultimatum until Poincare’s departure from Russia. At first, the Ballhausplatz believed that the visit would be from 20 to 25 July, and so Berchtold wrote to Franz Joseph that the ultimatum would be handed to the Serbian Government on Saturday, 25 July. On 15 July, however, the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in St Petersburg informed the Ballhausplatz that the visit would end on 23 July.136 The ultimatum was therefore delivered on 23 July and Vienna declared war on 28 July. But this concern about the French President’s presence in Russia reveals another, curious discrepancy between Austria-Hungary and Germany. Bethmann Hollweg appeared to believe that France, having recently incurred major financial losses in South America, would act “in strongest terms” as a brake on any Russian ideas about war. 137 The thinking in Vienna was quite different. The whole point of delivering the ultimatum only after Poincare had completed his visit was to have him out of the way – at sea, returning slowly to France. The idea was, as the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to St Petersburg Fritz Szapary recalled, to make a peace orientation easier for Russia. “Rightly or wrongly,” Szapary wrote, “there existed in Vienna greater confidence in Russia’s love of peace than in that of Poincare”.138

Nevertheless, policy-makers in Austria-Hungary, just like those in Germany, fully anticipated the possibility that Russia would not stay on the sidelines. This eventuality was, after all, the underlying reason for the Hoyos mission. On 8 July, at a time when he was still opposing the proposed settling of accounts with Serbia, Tisza wrote to Franz Joseph to warn him that it would provoke Russian intervention, invoke “the world war”, and make Romania’s neutrality “very questionable”.139 Franz Joseph himself, when he read the text of the ultimatum to Serbia on 20 July, declared that a European war was “certain”, for Russia would find it “impossible” to put up with such affront.140 As War Minister Krobatin stated in January 1916, it had been reckoned, during the preparation of the action against Serbia in 1914, that an intervention by Russia was ‘inevitable.”141 Few, however, seemed to be particularly worried by this prospect. On 13 July Count Liitzow talked to an unnamed younger official at the Ballhausplatz (probably Forgach) who astonished him with his nonchalance at the prospect of a world war: “What great harm can come to us? If things go wrong, we shall only lose Bosnia and a piece of East Galicia!”142 And on 15 July Josef Redlich recorded in his diary what Hoyos had told him on that day: ‘If a world war breaks out, it is all the same to us.”143

On 19 July, at a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council, the finishing touches to the ultimatum were applied, and the date for its delivery decided. The Germans, in the meantime, had been growing increasingly nervous and were practically demanding Austria- Hungary’s immediate military engagement in the Balkans.144 At the Council meeting of 19 July, as discussed above, there was still some bickering over how much of Serbia would be annexed, but Tisza was by now firmly in the war camp. The die was cast. Yet even at this moment of imperial resolve, an exchange between Tisza and Conrad revealed just how insecure the Habsburg leaders felt about the peoples they governed. Responding to Tisza’s anxiety about the strength of the forces remaining in Transylvania in the event of a general mobilization, Conrad assured him that they would be sufficient to stall an advance by the Romanian Army. Those troops, he explained, were so selected that only a small percentage represented the Romanians of Hungary.145

In the end, the chief worry among the small circle of Habsburg statesmen, diplomats and soldiers making preparations for war was that Serbia might spoil the show by actually accepting the ultimatum in full. Thus Bilinski “agonized” on 23 July, that fateful day when the ultimatum was delivered, about what might happen if the Serbs did accept.146 A Ballhausplatz legal expert, Alexander von Hold- Ferneck, prepared a memorandum, dated 25 July, to address this very question. It argued that if Serbia qualified its acceptance by any protest, this could still result in a declaration of war because, for example, Serbia would thereby be breaching its note of March 1909. This was the document, it will be recalled, which ended the Bosnian annexation crisis and by which Serbia undertook to maintain friendly relations with the Habsburg Monarchy Even if Serbia accepted the ultimatum across the board and without a protest, Hold-Ferneck continued, Austria-Hungary could still object on the grounds that the authorities in Belgrade had failed to carry out within the given time limit (Prist) those provisions containing such stipulations as “immediately” or “with utmost expedition”. The demand for the abolition of the Narodna Odbrana was suggested as a case in point.147

Of course, such jitters proved unfounded. However, they were fully understandable given that Habsburg officialdom perceived the moment as one of those now-or-never occasions, a matter of life and death. On 7 July, after the Joint Ministerial Council, Berchtold told Wladimir Giesl who was about to return to his post in Belgrade: “Regardless of how the Serbs react, you have to break off relations and depart; it must come to war.”148 The stress experienced by Berchtold during the hectic days of July must have been horrendous. He desperately wanted a war against Serbia. In October 1914 his wife related how “poor Leopold could not sleep on the day he wrote his ultimatum to the Serbs, as he was so worried that they would accept it. Several times in the night he had got up and altered or added some clause, to reduce this risk.”149

As we have seen, some historians are stubbornly clinging to the thesis about Serbia’s culpability for the assassination which they then use to account for Habsburg decision-making in July 1914. Count Hoyos’s own post-war confession that he did not, in July 1914, believe Belgrade guilty of the assassination, taken together with Serbia being cleared by Vienna’s own investigator at the time, show that the Ballhausplatz knew Serbia’s Government was innocent of assassinating the Archduke, and indeed of spreading propaganda. Thus Austria-Hungary was not acting on a misplaced assumption of Serbian guilt, but rather on the basis of its wider strategic self-interest.


109 Williamson, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, p.193. Williamson, admittedly, has a long footnote (no, p.246), but the sources he lists to deal with the Sarajevo assassination plot and do not provide any backing whatsoever for his assertion about the involvement of “some elements of the Serbian government”.

110 Hantsch, Leopold Graf Berchtold, vol.2, P.590. Hantsch mentions Wiesner’s trip to Sarajevo, but not the report.

111 Rauchensteiner, Der Erste Weltkrieg, p.106.

112 McMeekin, July I914, 2014, p.120.

113 Fay, The Origins of the World War, vol.,2 p.239.

114 Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p.454.

115 Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol.a, p.83.

116 Schmitt, The Coming of the War 1914, vol.I, p.363.

117 ÖUA, vol.8, no.9976, note Berchtold to the Chief of General Staff, 1 July 1914.

118 ÖUA, vol.8, no.9995 note by Chief of General Staff, 2 July 1914.

119 T. G. Otte, July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914, 2014, p.57.

120 Samuel R. Williamson, Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, 1991, p.195.

121 ÖUA, vol.8, appendix to no.9984

122 ÖUA vol.8, no.9984.

123 Solomon Wank, Desperate Counsel in Vienna in July 1914: Berthold Molden’s Unpublished Memorandum, Central European History, vol.26, no.3 (Autumn 1993), p.309; István Diószegi, Burian. Biographie und Tagebuchstelle, diary entry for 14 July 1914, p.206.

124 DD, no.18, telegram Tschirschky, 7 July 1914.

125 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10393, record of a meeting of the Ministerial Council in Vienna, held on 19 July 1914.

126 Thallóczy; Tagebucher, diary entry for 19 July 1914, p.49.

127 Fritz Fellner, Zwischen Kriegsbegeisterung und Resignation – ein Mernoran sum des Sektionchefs Graf Forgach vom Janner 1915 in Hermann Wiesflecker and Othmar Pickl (eds.), Beitrage zur allgemeinen Geschichte, Graz, 1975, p.154.

128 Norman Stone, Hungary and the Crisis of July 1914, Journal of Contemporary History, vol.I, no.3.July 1966, p.170.

129 Bridge, From Sadiwa to Sarajevo, p.378.

130 ÖUA, vol.7, no.9522, telegram Berchtold to Mercy; 26 March 1914.

131 Richard C. Hall, Bulgaria’s Road to the First World War, Boulder, 1996, pp.269-270.

132 ÖUA, vol.8, no.1O107, telegram Berchtold to Tarnowski, Sofia, 7 July 1914.

133 Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol., p.6r.

134 John R. Schindler, Fall of the Double Eagle: The Battle for Galicia and the Demise of Austria-Hungary, Lincoln, 2015, p.101; Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol.4, p.40; Sondhaus, Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, pp.142-143.

135 Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol.4, p.62.

136 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10272, Berchtold to Franz Joseph, 14 July 1914; no.10291, telegram Otto Czernin, 15 July 1914.

137 Muller, Mars und Venus, p.38.

138 Friedrich Graf Szapary, Das Verhältnis Österreich-Ungarns zu Russland in Eduard Ritter von Steinitz (ed.), Rings um Sasonow, Berlin, 1928., pp.103-104.

139 Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol.a, p.57

140 Robert A. Kann, Kaiser Franz Joseph und der Ausbruch des Weltkrieges, 1971, p.12.

141 Miklos Komjathy (ed.), Protokolle des Gemeinsamen Ministerrates der Österreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie 1914-1918, Budapest, 1966, minutes of the Joint Ministerial Council meeting held in Vienna on 7 January 1916, p.370.

142 H.Lützow, Im diplomatischen Dienst,1971, pp.219-219.

143 Redlich, Schicksalsjahre, vol. I, diary entry for 15 July 1914, p.613.

144 See, for example, OUA, vol.8, no.102I5, report Szogyeny; 12 July 1914.

145 ÖUA, vol. 8, no.10393.

146 Thallóczy; Tagebucher, diary entry for 23 July 1914, p.53.

147 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10706. See also Seton-Watson, Sarajevo, pp..264-265.

148 Cited in Rauchesteiner, Der erste Weltkrieg, pp.103-104.

149 Michael Karolyi, Faith Without Illusion, London, 1956, P.56.

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