The First World War Part 9

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The First World War Part 9

The First World War Part 9

How the First World War Started.

The Serbian Reply

The Serbian reply to the Austro- Hungarian ultimatum is one of the more famous documents of modern European history. A quick review, however, is called for, as the familiarity with it is only too often quite superficial. Described in many history books as a “masterpiece”, or “brilliant”, this document in fact represents a kind of hara-kiri by a sovereign state. On any detached reading of their reply, the Serbs had, as H.W Wilson put it in 1928, “bowed themselves in the dust”.105 J.A.R. Marriott, another British historian, had been even more categorical: “No submission”, he wrote in 1918, “could have been more complete and even abject.”106 The exercise, to be sure, was consistent with Pasic’s stratagem of gaining time. He knew, therefore, that a heavy price would have to be paid just to create a hope, however remote, that war could be averted. And he was prepared to pay such a price. Even the fact that the Government accepted the very first demand, preceding the ten specific points, that it publish on the front page of Serbia’s official gazette a condemnation of supposed propaganda against Austria-Hungary already constituted a crushing blow to the country’s sovereignty since such a condemnation was being dictated from Vienna. And so did the fact that the Government, acting in this instance on behalf of the King of Serbia, had simultaneously agreed to publish the same condemnation in the Army’s official bulletin. Sidney Fay, the American historian, was later to speculate that Pasic would have been in danger of being overthrown by the Army and the officers around the Black Hand (“eager for war”) if he had made concessions to the Monarchy and, especially, if he had agreed to publish a condemnation of anti-Austrian propaganda in the Army’s official bulletin. The danger of an Army revolt was averted, according to Fay, only because mobilization soon followed.107 Clearly, however, even if such fears concerning Army reactions had existed, Pasic had been fully prepared to leave them out of account.

On point 1, regarding the suppression of any publication inciting hatred against the Monarchy, the Serbian Government went as far as to promise a change in the Constitution (Article 22) in order to be able to confiscate publications expressing sentiment offensive to Austria-Hungary. Point 2, with its demand that the Narodna Odbrana and similar societies be dissolved, was also accepted entirely. The Government thereby violated Article 25 of the Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of association. With regard to point 3, about immediate elimination from Serbia’s educational institutions of everything serving, or potentially serving, to foment propaganda against Austria-Hungary, the Government asked for facts and proofs of such propaganda. However, it accepted this point in principle and thereby agreed that the Monarchy was free to meddle in the educational system of a sovereign country. On point 4, which demanded the removal of officers and officials, named by the Imperial and Royal Government, who were guilty of propaganda against the Monarchy, Pasic had privately commented to Strandtmann, “not without irony, that he himself could be affected by this point. IOS But The Serbian Government agreed to remove all those found guilty by judicial enquiry of deeds aimed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy – if this sounded a little reserved, the Government actually asked the Austro-Hungarian side to supply it with the names of such officers and officials. As has been seen, it had promptly arrested Major Tankosic without waiting for any judicial enquiry.

Point 5 had apparently caused some puzzlement to the Serbian Government: what was “the sense and the scope”, it wondered, of the demand that Serbia accept the collaboration on its territory of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government? Point 5 demanded collaboration in the suppression of subversive movements directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy – but was indeed quite vague in that it said nothing about the specifics of such a collaboration. The Ballhausplatz subsequently realized its blunder, because in its detailed remarks on the Serbian reply, dispatched to all its diplomatic missions on 28 July, it talked of a “special arrangement” with Serbia which should allow for such an Austro-Hungarian activity- but point 5 had not mentioned such an arrangement.109 Nevertheless, the Serbian Government declared its willingness to accept “every cooperation” that would accord with the principles of international law and criminal procedure, as well as with good neighbourly relations. Did this amount to an acceptance or a rejection of point 5? The answer must be neither – a vague demand had been met with a vague answer. But the fact that the Austro- Hungarian demand had not been met with greater resistance testified to Pasic’s readiness to crawl and grovel.

The Serbian Government only paused with this ceremonious self-abnegation at point 6. The latter, of course, is the famous demand by Austria-Hungary that Serbia should open “une enquete judiciaire” against persons on Serbian territory involved in the plot of 28 June, and that organs delegated by the Imperial and Royal Government would take part in the investigations. This demand was turned down. While the Serbian Government emphasized that it considered it its duty to open such an enquiry, it could not accept the participation of organs delegated by Austria-Hungary since this would constitute a violation of the Constitution and of the law on criminal procedure”. This, indeed, was the case, but Pasic himself explained in 1920 to the French historian Leon Savadjian the deeper reasons behind the rejection of point 6 and the reservations concerning point 5. The ultimatum, he said, stipulated “nothing” about the “form and extent” of the proposed Austro-Hungarian participation in the investigations in Serbia. Austria-Hungary, Pasic continued, “would have sent us a whole horde of policemen and investigators with special privileges … Who was supposed to be in charge of the inquiry? We or the Austrians? The terms of the ultimatum avoided to specify this. Certainly, however, Austria-Hungary would have appropriated all the rights for itself, and we would have found it difficult to resist had we accepted the ultimatum without any reserve.” The logic of accepting these provisions of the ultimatum, Pasic argued, would have led to Austria-Hungary arresting Serbian ministers, ransacking the ministries and public institutions, obtaining plans about the organization of the Serbian Army, etc. – with some kind of conflict inevitably ensuing, but with Serbia meanwhile rendered impotent while the Central Powers would have had supremacy in the Balkans.110

Point 6, however, was the only one to have been refused. On point 7, which had demanded the arrest of Milan Ciganović and Vojislav Tankosić the Government replied that it had already arrested Tankosic and that it had not yet been possible to arrest Ciganovic who was, it emphasized, “a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy”. Those historians trying to prove the culpability of the Serbian Government in the Sarajevo assassination have argued, on the basis of practically no evidence, that the authorities had tucked Ciganovic away in the countryside where he had been moving freely.111 In fact, no one in the Serbian Government had initially known anything about Ciganovic, When, early in July, the first news about his ties with the assassins had been carried by the Austro- Hungarian press, Pasic asked Minister Joca Jovanovic “who this official of his was”. Jovanovic was the Minister for Public Works and so Ciganovic, an employee at the Serbian state railways, was in his Ministry – but no one there knew of him. “Under pressure from Pasic”, however, “they at last unearthed Ciganovic in some small clerical post in the railway administration.” But he was nowhere to be seen. Joca Jovanovic subsequently informed his colleagues that Ciganovic “had gone off somewhere out of Belgrade”, suggesting that his exact whereabouts were not known to the Government. 112 Far from hiding Ciganovic, it had already acted in the evening of 23 July when it issued a warrant for his arrest.113

Point 8, demanding that the Serbian authorities prevent the smuggling of explosives and weapons across the frontier and punish those officials who had helped the assassins cross the frontier, was accepted entirely by the Serbian Government. Point 9 merely reflected the petulance of the Ballhausplatz: it demanded explanations with regard to “the unjustifiable remarks” of high Serbian functionaries, given in “hostile” tone towards the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in press interviews following the assassination of 28 June. This, again, was something of a fuzzy demand, and the Serbian Government replied that it would “readily” give explanations, but it also asked for the relevant passages from those interviews to be communicated to it. Point 9, in other words, had thus been accepted. Point 10, the last on the list, was just a demand that the Serbian Government should without delay inform the Imperial and Royal Government about the execution of the measures comprised in the preceding points. This demand, too, was accepted.

In their reply, Pasic and his Cabinet made one final appeasing gesture. In the event that the Imperial and Royal Government were not satisfied with the response, and considering that it was “against the common interest to precipitate the question”, the Serbian Government offered to refer its own response to the International Tribunal at the Hague, or to the Great Powers which had taken part in the working out of the declaration made by the Serbian Government on 31 March 1909. 114 That declaration of 1909 represented, of course, Serbia’s capitulation in the Bosnian annexation crisis. Again, however, the idea was to play for time. When Pasic talked to Leon Savadjian in 1920, he said that Serbia “would have accepted the decisions of the Hague Tribunal “without any objection”, but he also emphasized that by going to an international court “one would have gained a few days of respite, during which period some miracle might have occurred to save peace.”115

Alexander von Musulin famously described the Serbian reply as “the most brilliant example of diplomatic skill ever”.116 Of course, he went on to fulminate against it – the grudging praise related to the document’s perceived trickery. But that was the Ballhausplatz reaction. Elsewhere in Europe, the reception accorded to the Serbian reply was most positive. On 27 July Sazonov was predictably enthusiastic: “The reply exceeds all our expectations through its moderation and the readiness to give Austria full satisfaction.” But he was still concerned: “We cannot conceive that the Austrian demands could still be maintained, unless a pretext is sought for an expedition against Serbia.”117 From Paris Vesnic reported to Belgrade the opinion of the Quay d’Orsay that Serbia “could not have gone further”.118 Indeed, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador Count Miklos Szecsen had been told by Under-Secretary Philippe Berthelot that the Serbian reply was “tantamount to complete capitulation”.119 Jean-Baptiste Bienvenu-Martin, the acting French Foreign Minister, subsequently put it to Szecsen that, since Serbia had accepted so much, the remaining differences could be settled “avec un peu de bonne volonté réciproque”. 120 From Rome Mihajlovic passed on the view of the Italian Foreign Ministry that the reply was “good”, and that it “could not have been coined in any other way”.121 Even Vasil Radoslavov, the pro-Austrian and pro-German Prime Minister of Bulgaria, thought that the Serbian reply “had made all possible concessions”.122

The most widely known reaction is that of Kaiser Wilhelm II. On 28 July he commented at the bottom of the Serbian reply: “A brilliant performance for a time-limit of only 48 hours. This is more than one could have expected! A great moral success for Vienna; but with it every reason for war drops away; and Giesl might have remained quietly in Belgrade.”123 Notwithstanding these remarks by the mercurial German Kaiser, the most objective assessment of the Serbian reply in the Europe of 1914 should be gauged by the reverberations in London, not Berlin. Britain, the Great Power least bound by the system of alliances, and with no stake in the Balkan mess except for the desire to avoid a general war, was always going to view the crisis more equitably than the others. According to Lord Vansittart, there was “stupefaction” in the Foreign Office that Serbia had accepted most of the “impossible” terms. “We left the Foreign Office that evening”, he wrote in his memoirs, “with the hope that another crisis had been surmounted by submission.”124 When he saw the Serbian reply; Arthur Nicolson wrote to Foreign Secretary Grey that it “practically concedes all the Austrian demands”. And Eyre Crowe minuted: “The Answer is reasonable. If Austria demands absolute compliance with her ultimatum it can only mean that she wants a war.”125 Grey had shared these assessments. In a conversation on 27 July with Count Albert Mensdorff- Pouilly; the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to London, he did not mince his words. It seemed to him, he told the Ambassador, that the Serbian reply already involved “the greatest humiliation” that he had ever seen a country undergo, and it was very disappointing to him “that the reply was treated by the Austrian Government as if it were as unsatisfactory as a blank negative.” 126

Some current academic opinion, strangely; makes no mention of such evaluations of the Serbian reply made in the European chancelleries in late July 1914. Thus Christopher Clark sees the Serbian reply as “a subtle cocktail of acceptances, conditional acceptances, evasions and rejections”. G. Otte employs very similar language when he describes the reply as “a clever concoction of acceptance and equivocation, evasion and rejection, and all dressed up in accommodating language”.127 Interestingly; Berchtold wrote something similar at the Ballhausplatz when, on 27 July; he pleaded with Franz Joseph to allow him to proceed with the drafting and sending of the telegram that would declare war on Serbia. For he had become panicked by the Serbian reply; anticipating that the Triple Entente Powers could still attempt to reach a peaceful settlement. He therefore described the reply as “accommodating” and “very skilfully composed”, but “quite worthless” in substance.128 The manner in which this judgement is defended more than a century later is quite bizarre. Clark warns his readers about the “profoundly misleading” claim made in “general narratives” that the reply represented “an almost complete capitulation”.129 The whole matter, however, does not stem from any general narratives: as has been seen, the opinion that Serbia had practically capitulated was in fact an insider one, held in July 1914 by statesmen and professional diplomats across Europe.

There have been non-German and non-Austrian narratives, on the other hand, which have taken the side of Vienna in pronouncing the Serbian reply more conciliatory in form than in substance. One such is by Sidney Fay, but even he, anxious as he was to revise the verdict that Germany and her allies had been responsible for the Great War, rejected the Austrian claim that the Serbian reply had not given adequate guarantees of security. For “it was not primarily guarantees which Austria aimed at in her ultimatum, but an excuse for weakening Serbia and putting an end to the Greater Serbia danger by making war on her.”130 Bernadotte Schmitt, much less sympathetic to the Central Powers than Fay, but at least as great an authority, considered that Austria-Hungary, with “ninetenths” of the demands conceded, could have negotiated and demanded a rigid execution of the Serbian promises. An “unassailable” diplomatic position would have been gained by Austria in default of Serbian performance. “Unfortunately for her”, Schmitt concluded, “she had not expected so great a surrender on the part of Serbia, and she was determined not to accept a diplomatic solution.”131

This was the belief even in some Austrian establishment circles. Bilinski, who had indeed argued for war, nevertheless wrote in his memoirs that Giesl, otherwise “not known for excessive diplomatic talent”, should not have left Belgrade after receiving significant concessions.132 On 3 August, in Vienna’s Hotel Imperial, Josef Redlich ran into Ernst von Plener, the distinguished elder statesman from the upper house of the Reichsrat. What the bellicose Redlich heard from Plener was not to his taste: Pasic’s reply had conceded most points, Giesl had only superficially read the reply before rejecting it, the Austrian note was “ill-fated”, and there was a will to war without foreseeing a world war.133 In 1921, Plener recalled: “The note had been written in order to be rejected, hence our surprise was all the greater as the Serbs accepted, despite its humiliating tenor, most of the points, rejecting only a few; and proposing for the unresolved remainder a judicial or international diplomatic arrangement.”134

In 1914, one person in Austria-Hungary who was never likely to be profoundly misled by the Serbian reply was the retired, but otherwise quite active, esteemed diplomat Count Heinrich Lutzow He was not so naive, he wrote later, to believe that Serbia would have abided by its obligations. However, he also saw the reply as a diplomatic success for Vienna, “one can almost say a triumph”, the like of which Austria had not had since its diplomatic defeat of Prussia at Olmutz in 1850. The key point, in Liitzow’s view; was that at the time no one had yet begun to mobilize, at least not officially. After the war he met Berchtold in Switzerland and told him that, had he, Lutzow; been the Minister in Belgrade, he would “certainly” not have left the city after receiving the Serbian reply. “What could have happened to me?”, he asked Berchtold, “after all, you would not have had my head chopped off!”135

The question about Serbian mobilization

Indeed, Baron Giesl had left Belgrade with extraordinary haste. He admitted in his book that he had only glanced at the Serbian reply, but it was “quite clear” to him that it was not an unconditional reply.136 Adhering strictly to his instructions, and only minutes after Pasic had left, he signed a pre-prepared letter, informing the Serbian Prime Minister that, in the light of the unsatisafactory reply, he was leaving Belgrade with the personnel of his Legation, and that the rupture of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Serbia and Austria-Hungary would assume “le caractere d’un fait accompli’ with the receipt of the letter.137 He then hurried to catch the 6.30 train to Zemun. Four carriages had been parked outside the Legation, one of them crammed with suitcases and baggage. Only a quarter of an hour after Pasic had emerged from the Legation, Giesl appeared with his Serbian wife and their son. In order to reach the railway station, the cortege of carriages had to drive past the Foreign Ministry building where a large number of people had gathered, congesting the street. In “dead silence”, the crowd moved in order to let Giesl through. “Not a single voice”, one witness reported, “either threatening or scorning, was heard from the ranks of the people huddling here.”138

Pasic had asked Strandtmann to wait for him at the Foreign Ministry while he was at the Austro-Hungarian Legation delivering the Serbian Government’s reply. When he returned, he began complaining to the Russian Charge d’Affaires about what he thought was a suspect attitude to the ultimatum on the part of the Montenegrin King Nicholas. But soon thereafter Giesl’s letter arrived, announcing the breaking off of diplomatic relations. “Pasic”, Strandtmann wrote to Sazonov, “was deeply shocked by this news”. While fully retaining his composure, ‘”suddenly, he somehow wilted”.139 On the other hand, the intuitive decision which the Serbian Government had already taken the previous day to evacuate itself south to the city of NiS had now been fully vindicated. Strandtmann, too, hurried to get on the train later that evening, departing from the small station at Topcider because, given the prevailing expectation that an Austro- Hungarian attack could begin at any moment, the main railway station located in the border area close to the river Sava had been declared unsafe. 140

But had Serbia already mobilized its Army in the early afternoon hours of 25 July, that is, before the Serbian reply to the ultimatum had been handed to Giesl? This is an apposite question: most non-Serbian accounts maintain that the Serbian mobilization was decreed at 3 p.m. on 25 July. Alfred von Wegerer claimed this in 1931 on the basis of hearsay evidence; Albertini later re-stated the 3 p.m. thesis on the basis of no evidence at all; Manfried Rauchensteiner likewise provides zero evidence for his claim that mobilization had begun “hours” before the Serbian reply had been given; Sean McMeekin is slightly more guarded in suggesting that the mobilization was ordered at 3 p.m. on 25 July – “although it was not yet made public”.141 The idea here is of course to show that if the mobilization had been going on even before anyone in the Serbian Government had known how Austria-Hungary was going to react to its reply, then the whole exercise with that reply would have been, at least at some point on 25 July, somewhat spurious. Needless to say, the claims about an early Serbian mobilization contradict the claims that the Belgrade Government was ready to capitulate on 25 July before it allegedly received a Russian pledge of support, which made it change its mind – but then, even historians can lose sight of the implications of their arguments. In this instance, these two well-known hypotheses run in parallel, but contradict each other.

The remark which Count Lutzow made in his memoirs that no official mobilization had been occurring at the time when Serbia had handed in its reply to the ultimatum is a very important one. Lutzow was referring to Russia and Serbia. And while it is true that on the evening of 23 July War Minister Stefanovic had on his own initiative begun to take some measures in anticipation of impending conflict with Austria-Hungary. But it would be difficult to agree with Griesinger who, at 9.45 p.m. on Friday, 24 July, informed Berlin that the Serbian mobilization was “in full swing”.142 This was a massive overstatement since units and equipment were merely being moved out to bivouacs at Torlak, about ten kilometres south-east, given the capital city’s vulnerability. It had also been decided to shift the main headquarters to the town of Kragujevac further south. Stefanovic had in the night of 23 July instructed the Director of Serbian railways to get everything ready “in case” troop transportation might be required.143 Some of this activity may therefore be described in terms of precautionary mobilization measures – all of which, however, did not amount to mobilization.144 Moreover the intent of such measures, far from being aggressive, was only to withdraw forces from possible areas where they might be attacked.

On the morning of 25 July Stefanovic went to see Pasic. “What are we going to do with the Army, Mr Prime Minister”, he wondered, “are we going to mobilize?” Pondering, his hand on his beard, Pasic replied: “Do not touch anything for the time being. We shall know this evening.”145 Of course, the evening was going to bring some kind of denouement with regard to the ultimatum crisis – there would be no mobilization beforehand. The Serbian historian Mile Bjelajac has established that only at 7 p.m. on 25 July, i.e., after diplomatic relations had been severed, did War Minister Stefanovic, together with Colonel Krsta Smiljanic, write the mobilization order, which was finally then given at 9 p.m., to begin on 26 July. 146 Crackanthorpe informed London at 10 p.m. that mobilization had been ordered. 147 Towards 11 p.m. the order was being read out in central Belgrade – accompanied, as was the custom in Serbia, by drumbeats.148

Austria-Hungary made its decision to mobilize at roughly the same time. Late on 24 July Conrad received a telegram from the 13th Corps in Zagreb to the effect that mobilization had been proclaimed at 4 p.m. in Sabac, the Serbian town close to the Bosnian border. The report was false, but Conrad immediately raised the alarm with Berchtold and on the following morning demanded of the War Minister Krobatin that the Austro-Hungarian mobilization be ordered that same day, 25 July, for “we must not lag behind Serbia even a single day”.149 Since the Serbian reply was due that evening, Krobatin was about to travel to Bad Ischl to meet with Franz Joseph. Berchtold was also going to be at the Emperor’s summer residence. The Foreign Minister had on 24 July already been reminded by the increasingly hawkish Hungarian Prime Minister Tisza that, in the event of an unsatisfactory Serbian reply, the order for mobilization should ensue without fail. In a telegram of 25 July Tisza sent Franz Joseph the same message.150

The details of what was said at the meeting on 25 July in Kaiservilla, Bad Ischl, which Krobatin, too, attended, are sparse. But Margutti, Franz Joseph’s adjutant, reported Berchtold as looking “conspicuously strained”.151 Meanwhile, Giesl reached Zemun, and spoke on the telephone with Tisza in Budapest. Tisza passed on the news of the conversation to Bad Ischl, His information was personally brought by Margutti to Emperor Franz Joseph, upon which the latter immediately summoned Berchtold.152 Krobatin later recalled that they had been informed about Giesl leaving Belgrade, but also told that the Serbian Army mobilization had been “well underway” since the early afternoon.153 Conrad reported that the Emperor’s own mobilization order had arrived at 9.23. p.m. – for partial mobilization, envisaged for “Fall B” (case B for Balkan, i.e., against Serbia and Montenegro), involving eight corps, and to begin on 28 July. 154 Interestingly, no one in Bad Ischl or Vienna had at this stage actually read the text of the Serbian reply. The first among Austria- Hungary’s decision makers to be able to do so was Tisza, when he met Giesl at the Budapest railway station early on 26 July.155 It is a remarkable lapse in the massive historiography of the origins of the First World War that this important little detail from the July Crisis – namely the fact that Austria-Hungary mobilized against Serbia before its statesmen had even read the Serbian answer – is nowhere discussed, which is especially strange given the tendency of some to dwell on the idea that a more conciliatory Serbian answer might have avoided war.

The Russian response

In the course of the previous day, 25 July, there had already been considerable consternation in Vienna’s leading circles, induced by growing conjecture that the Serbs would accept everything in the ultimatum and thus avoid punishment by war. The article in the Samouprava, discussed above, had been noted at the Ballhausplatz and its compliant tone had made Count Franz Kinsky “distressed”156 Moreover, the evening edition of the Neue Freie Presse (which actually appeared in the afternoon) carried a front page report from its special correspondent in Belgrade, which declared that peace had been secured since the Serbian Government would accept the Austro- Hungarian note “tel quel”.157 In his diary, Ludwig Thalloczy notes that the decision-making circles were ‘nervous’ that day And some officials had indeed turned into nervous wrecks. In the Joint Finance Ministry, Paul Kuh-Chrobak declared that he would hang himself in the event that there were to be no war.158 Hans Schlitter, the Director of the State Archive, was present in the Ballhausplatz during that critical evening period. He writes that the mood of the officials, Macchio and Forgach amongst them, was “jittery”, and “the highest suspense” prevailed. When, at 7.15 p.m., Giesl got through on the telephone from Zemun, the jubilant shout went up: “Abgebrochen!”, i.e., relations broken off. Everybody shook hands.159 The British Ambassador to Vienna, when he subsequently reported to Grey on the events of 25 July, mentioned an initial “moment of keen disappointment” as rumours began to spread that Serbia had unconditionally accepted the ultimatum. But, later, as it became known that Giesl had in Belgrade broken off diplomatic relations, “Vienna burst into a frenzy of delight, vast crowds parading the streets and singing patriotic songs till the small hours of the morning”.160 When Giesl finally made it back to Vienna, he was greeted “with jubilation” at the Ballhausplatz. Referring to his military background, a high-ranked official told him: “No one among us would ever have been able to accomplish this, only a soldier could have done it”.161

At some point during the evening/night of 25 July Pasic apprised all the Serbian legations abroad of the breakdown of diplomatic relations with Austria- Hungary and of the fact that the Regent had, on behalf of the King, issued the order for the mobilization of the Army But he also emphasized that the Serbian reply had gone to “the extreme limits” of what had been possible.162 Serbia’s capacity to yield had been exhausted. It was now; as Mark Cornwall observes, “highly doubtful” that any further concessions would be made “without extreme pressure from all the Powers”.163 Moreover, over the next two days Pasic realized that, in fact, he may have gone too far in accommodating the Austro-Hungarian demands. The famous series of buoyant telegrams from Spalajkovic in St Petersburg began to arrive on Sunday, 26 July, by which time the only thing that they could influence was the mood of the Serbian Government. The first of them, which arrived at 9.40 a,m. on 26 July, talked of Russia’s willingness to make any sacrifice in order to protect Serbia military measures have been undertaken. Indescribable enthusiasm has gripped all segments of the Russian people for the Tsar and the Government [and] for entering war. The second telegram, which took almost twenty-four hours to arrive, reported “favourable resolutions” reached on behalf of Serbia at the Russian Ministerial meeting that had been presided over by the Tsar on 25 July. The third telegram, based on a conversation between the Serbian Military Attache and the Russian Chief of General Staff, was perhaps the most upbeat: “The Military Council has displayed the greatest belligerence and has taken the decision to do utmost for the defence of Serbia, the Tsar in particular has surprised all by his determination”.164

Serbia, it now seemed reasonable to assume, did not stand alone. In the meantime Sazonov had on 25 July suggested to Strandtmann to plant the idea into Pasic’s mind that, given “England’s” undoubted impartiality in the existing crisis, the Serbian Government should perhaps address a request to London for mediation.165 But Strandtmann had only managed to decipher the telegram from Sazonov late on 25 July – on the train to Nis, where the Serbian Government and the diplomatic corps were being evacuated. He did not see Pasic again until the morning of 27 July.166 Predictably, the Prime Minister was in the new circumstances not keen on mediation. He talked of “England’s insufficiently clarified position”, but Strandtmann reported to Sazonov his own view that the Serbian Government in fact feared the possibility of having to make even more concessions. Besides, as Strandtmann noted, the Government was now under the influence of Spalajkovic’s upbeat telegrams and did not wish to shift the focal point away from St Petersburg to some other European capital.167

All of which, however, should not be seen as reflecting blind new confidence in Russia on the part of Serbia. As Strandtmann elaborated in his memoirs, Pasic had also wondered why the delivery of Russian rifles to Serbia, long promised, had still not materialized. Nor had Pasic suddenly become complacent about the dangers still facing Serbia. He told Strandtmann about his suspicions concerning possible Bulgarian incursions into Macedonia, and about his unhappiness regarding the behaviour of Romania and, in particular, Serbia’s formal ally, Greece. At the same time he was under no illusion about Germany, describing the spirit in Berlin as “bellicose”. 168 The general situation was still highly precarious for Serbia. In fact, on that same day (27 July) in Nis, Pasic had sent his Finance Minister Lazar Pacu to seek out Griesinger, the German Minister. The latter was told that it was now up to Austria-Hungary to state clearly which part of the Serbian reply it had found unsatisfactory, and then to make new demands. “Do you not have”, Pacu asked Griesinger, “any instructions to negotiate?”169

This approach by Pacu may well have evinced, as Griesinger was later to opine, Pasic’s wish to exhaust all the avenues before it came to war because of his uncertainty, dating back to the Bosnian annexation crisis, about Russia’s willingness to come immediately to Serbia’s aid. 170 Certainly, one cannot speak of a completely new atmosphere in the Serbian Government following the arrival of the otherwise reassuring news from St Petersburg. Nevertheless, a mixture of boldness and creeping optimism did begin to manifest itself Early in the evening on 27 July Pasic minuted on a telegram that had arrived from Berlin: “We have made our last concession – further we shall not go, nor shall we seek mediation, for that would indicate our readiness to yield still more. Russia is holding up excellently. Italy neutral.”171 In late afternoon he had seen Stefan Chaprashikov, the Bulgarian Minister, and painted to him Serbia’s international position: Russia resolved to protect Serbia; France in solidarity with Russia; Italy unhappy with Vienna because it had been kept in the dark during the crisis; and England wished to avoid war, but would not remain neutral if it broke out – as it turned out, Pasic had a fantastically accurate picture. He told Chaprashikov that, after the delivery of the reply to the ultimatum, Serbia had nothing to add – no more concessions. As Chaprashikov reported to Sofia, PasiC lamented that, had he known that he would be supported to this extent, he ‘would not have, by any means, allowed the concessions that had been made”.172

Just this expression of regret by Pasic is evidence enough that he had not, before the expiry of the ultimatum’s deadline on 25 July, received any game-changing support from Russia. By 27 July, moreover, the Serbs had still not received the Tsar’s reply to the telegram sent to him by Regent Alexander on 24 July. The Tsar had seen this telegram, with its dramatic plea for Russian help, only on 26 July. He minuted at the bottom: “Very humble and dignified telegram. How should one answer it?” 173 His reply, sent on 27 July, travelled more than twenty-four hours and reached Strandtmann late in the evening on 28 July. It assured the Regent that, even if efforts to avoid blood-letting were to be unsuccessful, “Russia would under no circumstances remain indifferent to Serbia’s fate”.174 Coming from the highest quarter, here, finally, for the first time, Russia’s commitment to Serbia had been spelled out. Strandtmann brought the telegram to Pasic early on 29 July. As he read it out to him, Pasic at first “froze” and then, overcome with excitement, crossed himself, saying: “Oh Lord, the Great, Merciful Russian Tsar.” Tears were pouring out of his eyes.175

The alleged Temes-Kubin incident and the beginning of the war

By this time, of course, Serbia was already at war. Austria-Hungary had declared hostilities on 28 July. From the moment of Giesl’s departure from Belgrade this outcome was hardly in serious doubt. Luigi Albertini goes to great lengths to present Berchtold between 25 and 28 July as willing, in the last analysis, to accept a peaceful solution.176 Hugo Hantsch, Berchtold’s otherwise generous biographer, makes no attempt in that direction.177 For there is precious little contemporary evidence of any hesitation on Berchtold’s part. On the contrary, on 26 July he sent a telegram to the Austro-Hungarian Embassies in Berlin, Rome, London and Paris, in which he spoke of the decision, reached after “years of sufferance”, to confront the Great Serbian agitation “with the sword”.178 It seems that the nature of the Serbian reply had created something of a fright at the Ballhausplatz. For also on 26 July, Hoyos wrote to Baron Franz Schiessl, Franz Joseph’s cabinet secretary, that the Serbian reply, although it completely lacked in merit, could nevertheless be used against Austria-Hungary because it had been “so skilfully composed”. Hoyos let Schiessl know that Berchtold intended to “accelerate the matter” and have the war against Serbia declared on Tuesday, 28 July, ‘to impede a possible intervention of third Powers or other incidents”.179

Indeed, on that same 26 July Grey launched the initiative for a Four-Power conference in London (Britain, Germany, France, Italy) to try and settle the Balkan crisis which had by now become a European problem of the first order. Hans Schlitter, who had heard in Vienna’s journalist circles that negotiations would take place and war would be averted, met Hoyos in Volksgarten in the evening of 27 July and told him about it. Hoyos commented: “Nonsense – no negotiations, but rather war!”180 Berchtold himself wrote on that day to Franz Joseph that, in the light of the Serbian reply, it should not be ruled out that “the Powers of the Triple Entente might yet make another attempt to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict unless a clear situation is created by a declaration of war”. 181 The Austrian historian Fritz Fellner considers this justification “so monstrous” that it should have been sufficient to silence all debate about who had started the war.182

Berchtold, according to Samuel Williamson, “was the one person who could have prevented the outbreak of war.” Peace would have been preserved, Williamson maintains, had Berchtold pursued “militant diplomacy” instead of “hostile, military confrontation”.183 In fact, Franz Joseph was another person who could have halted the progression towards a bloody showdown. For his signature was of course required for the declaration of war on Serbia. The evidence about his mindset concerning war and peace during these days is rather mixed. Ludwig Thallóczy, who knew everybody in Vienna, remarked in his diary entry for 23 July on the Emperor’s “great bellicosity”.184 On the other hand, some of his loyal servants who produced memoir accounts after the war painted a very reluctant Emperor. Krobatin, for example, wrote that on 25 July Franz Joseph had only after “long hesitation”, ordered him to proceed with mobilization. He then told him: “Go now, I cannot do otherwise.”185 And Margutti cited, also with regard to the events of 25 July, the Emperor’s words that the rupture of diplomatic relations with Serbia did “not necessarily mean conflict”.186 In 1917, however, Bilinski, another loyalist, revealed a rather different Franz Joseph to the Viennese journalist Heinrich Kanner. Bilinski, who had spent much of July 1914 in Bad Ischl, stated that the Emperor had during the crisis “especially” reckoned with Russia’s involvement in a great war. Franz Joseph is supposed to have told him after the delivery of the ultimatum to Serbia: “Russia cannot possibly put up with it.”187

Be that as it may; in Bad Ischl on 28 July; July Franz Joseph duly signed the declaration of war on Serbia, as well as the manifesto “To my People!” The latter was post-dated to 29 July; the day when it was to be published in the many languages of the Monarchy. Berchtold had on 27 July sent the Emperor the draft declaration of war and also informed him about a report that the Serbian troops had opened fire from “Danube steamboats” on Austro-Hungarian troops at Temes-Kubin (Kovin) which had resulted in a “big skirmish”.188 The draft declaration of war included a reference to the Temes-Kubin incident, and it was this document which the Emperor signed.189 Except that the big border skirmish never happened. All mention of it was dropped from the text of the declaration of war sent to Serbia, and Berchtold subsequently explained to Franz Joseph that he had eliminated it in the absence of corroborating evidence. Such retrospective integrity; however, was absent when he told the German Ambassador on 28 July that he saw the British mediation proposal as coming “too late” because Serbia had opened hostilities and the declaration of war had ensued since.190

This whole charade ended with what initially appeared as a bad joke. The conventional way of declaring war was through a diplomatic representative on the ground, but Giesl and his personnel had of course left Belgrade. A telegram had to do – a most unusual step. But because direct wire connections between Austria-Hungary and Serbia had been cut, it was decided to send the telegram, in claris, via Czernowitz (today Chernivtsi in western Ukraine) and Bucharest.191 And since no one in Vienna was sure whether the Serbian Government was in Nis or in Kragujevac (where in fact the Serbian General Staff had moved), the declaration of war was sent to both places. In Nis on 28 July; Pasic, his cabinet and the whole of the diplomatic corps were having lunch in the garden of the restaurant “Evropa”. At around 2 p.m., a postman approached the Serbian Prime Minister and handed him a telegram from his bag. Pasic, sitting at a table with his wife and two daughters, read it, crossed himself, and handed it to Strandtmann who, together with the German Minister, sat at an adjoining table. The Russian Charge d’Affaires then returned it to Pasic without a comment, before immediately getting up and rushing off to inform Sazonov. But soon a secretary from the Serbian Foreign Ministry arrived at Strandtmann’s residence with a message from Pasic that an identical telegram had been received by the Army in Kragujevac. The suspicion was being entertained by Serbian Ministers that perhaps a “provocation or mystification” was in play, aimed at getting the Serbs to make a careless move. An investigation’ was then ordered to determine the origin of the telegrams.192

A factor contributing to incredulity among the Serbs was that Griesinger, whom Pasic had questioned, knew nothing about a declaration of war despite the fact that, before breaking off diplomatic relations, Giesl had entrusted the German Legation to look after the affairs of Austria-Hungary in Serbia. Touchingly in retrospect, Pasic told Griesinger that the whole affair was particularly suspect because at that moment international mediation was under way. 193 At 7.30 p.m., however, the Prime Minister informed the Serbian Legation in Cetinje that doubts about the authenticity of the telegrams had been removed.194 Indeed, towards midnight the Austro-Hungarian river monitors from the Danube flotilla, the bulk of which had been concentrated at Zemun, started bombarding Belgrade.195 The First World War, initially resembling a “Third Balkan War”, had begun.


105 Herbert Wrigley Wilson, The War Guilt,1928, p.317.

106 J.A.R. Marriott, The European Commonwealth: Problems Historical and Diplomatic, Oxford, 1918, p.294.

107 Fay, The Origins of the World war, vol.2, pp.341-342.

108 Strandrnan, Balkanske uspomene, p.314.

109 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10860, circular to Athens and all the other missions, 28 July 1914. Even Roderich Goofi, a postwar academic defender of Austria-Hungary, admitted that point 5 of the ultimatum had failed to specify the manner and, “in particular”, the duration of the collaboration with the Austro-Hungarian authorities on Serbian soil. See Goon, Das Osterreichischserbische Problem, p.280.

110 Leon Savadjian, Les origines et les respon: sibilites de la guerre mondiale, Paris, 1933, p.59.

111 See, for example, Friedrich von Wiesner, Milan Ciganovic, Die Krigsschuldfrage, November 1927, p.roao.joachirn Remak (Sarajevo, p.208) states that it was ‘absolutely essential’ to keep Ciganovic from talking to the Austrians. Christopher Clark (The Sleepwalkers, P.465) accepts the theory about Ciganovic being protected by the Serbian authorities. Ciganovic’s fame grew considerably greater after the war. In 1925 Milos Bogiccvic, the ex-Serbian diplomat turned apostate, published an article where he alleged that Ciganovic had ‘introduced’ the assassins to Lieutenant-Colonel Dimitrijevic and Major Tankosic, but also that he had at the same time been a “confidant” of the Serbian Government. See [Milos] Boghitschewitsch, Weitere Einzelheiten iiber das Attentat von Sarajevo, Die Kriegsschuldfrage, July 1925, p..440. Though unsubstantiated, this was great news for German and Austrian propagandists. Friedrich von Wiesner, the Ballhausplatz legal expert famous for his July 1914 report to Vienna in which he could not point at the complicity in the assassination of the Serbian Government, described Ciganovic in his 1927 article as “the actual organizer of the assassination” (p.1045). More important, Wiesner followed Bogicevic in suggesting that Ciganovic had also worked for the Serbian Government as its spy in the ranks of the Black Hand. Thus, according to Wiesner, the Serbian Government knew about the Sarajevo assassination because its man Ciganovic had – amazingly – organized the whole enterprise with its knowledge and on behalf of the Black Hand. In Wiesner’s interpretation, therefore, the Serbian Government and the Black Hand appear to have acted in cahoots to eliminate Franz Ferdinand. The question why, then, if the Black Hand was such a good ally there should be a need to spy on it in the first place was of course not tackled by Wiesner. The problem for all the proponents of the theory about a large Serbian conspiracy behind the Sara¬jevo assassination, is their desire to have it both ways: to insist that the Black Hand, or the nationalist circles in the Serbian military, represented an inde¬pendent power factor, constantly threat¬ening Pasic and his Government; and yet to also suggest, not least by highlighting the case of Ciganovic, that the two would have been quite happy to cooperate in such a sensitive matter as had been the preparation of the assassination in Sarajevo.

112 Jovanovic, The Murder of Sarajevo, P.7.

113 Andrej Mitrovic, Serbia’s Great war I9I4-I9I8, London, 2007, p.46.

114 The text of the ultimatum can be found, inter alia, in DUA, vol.8, no.I0395; the Serbian reply is in DUA, vol.8, no.10648; the remarks of the Ballhausplatz on the individual points in the Serbian reply are in  ÖUA, vol.8, no.I0860.

115 Savadjian, Les origines et les responsibilites de la guerre mondiale, p.60.

116 Musulin, Das Haus am Eallplatz, p.241.

117 IBZI., vol.1/5, no.119, circular telegram Sazonov to Paris, London, Vienna, Rome, Constantinople and Berlin, 27 July 1914.

118 Dedijer et al.,, vol.7/2, no.586, telegram Vesnic, 2.7 July 1914.

119 ÖUA, vol.8, nO.10739, telegram Szecsen 26 July 1914.

120 DDF, vol.II, no.147, circular telegram Bienvenu-Martin to Berlin, London, St Petersburg, Vienna and Rome, 27 July 1914.

121 Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no.594, telegram Mihajlovic, 27 July 1914.

122 Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no.562, telegram Colak-Antic, 26 July 1914.

123 Imanuel Geiss (ed.), July 1914. The Outbreak of the First World war: Selected Documents, New York, 1974, p.222; DD, no.271, Antwortnote der serbischen Regierung auf das osterreichisch-ungarische Ultimaatum.

124 Vansittart, The Mist Procession, p.124.

125 BD, vol.II, no.171, Nicolson to Grey; 27 July 1914; minute Crowe, 28 July 1914.

126 BD, vol.II, no.188, Grey to de Bunsen, 27 July 1914.

127 Clark, The Sleepwalkers, P.466; Otte, July Crisis, p.282.

128 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10855, Berchtold to Franz Joseph, 27 July 1914.

129 Clark, The Sleepwalkers, p.465.

130 Fay, The Origins of the World war, vol.2, p.348.

131 Schmitt, The Coming of the war 1914, vol.I, p.539.

132 Bilinski, Wspomnienia, vol.1, p.292.

133 Redlich, Schicksalsjahre, vol.r, diary entry for 3 August 1914, p.620.

134 Plener, Erinnerungen, vol.3, P.438.

135 Lutzow; Im diplomatischen Dienst, p.227.

136 Giesl, Zwei Jahrzente, p.270.

137 Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no.539.

138 Pavlovic, 1914: Ljudi i dogadaji, p.64.

139 IBZI, vol/5, Appendix 8, telegram Strandtrnann to Sazonov, 6 August 1914; Strandman, Balkanske Uspomene, p.314-

140 Strandman, Balkanske Uspomene, p.314.

141 Wegerer, Der entscheidende Schritt, P.44; Albertini, The Origins of the war of 1914, vol.2, p.363. n.2; Rauchensteiner, Der erste Welkrieg, p.118; McMeekin, July 1914, pp.200-201.

142 DD, vol.1, no.158, telegram Griesinger, 24 July 1914.

143 Stefanovic, Pred buru, p.6.

144 One of the wildest claims made by a historian about the Serbian mobilization is that by Graydon Tunstall, who writes that “Serbia had commenced full mobilization measures three hours prior to receipt of the Austro-Hungarian note.” That would make it at 3 p.m. on 23 July. No supporting evidence whatsoever is given. See Graydon A. Tunstall, Jr., “Austria-Hungary” in Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig (eds.), The Origins of World war I, Cambridge, 2003, p.142.

145 Ibid.

146 Bjelajac, Zasto revizija?, p.179.

147 BD, vol.II, no.130, telegram Crackanthorpe to Grey, 25 July 1914.

148 Loncarevic, Jugoslaviens Entstehung, pp.609-610.

149 Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol.4, pp.109-110.

150 Roderich Gooss, Das Wiener Kabinet und die Entstehung des Weltkrieges, Wien, 1919, p.216; ÖUA, vol.8, no.10708, Tisza to Franz Joseph, 25 July 1914.

151 Margutti, Kaiser Franz Joseph, p.413.

152 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10646; Galantai, Die Qsterreichisch-Ungarische Monarchie in der Weltkrieg, p. 344; Margutti, Kaiser Franz Joseph, pp.413-415.

153 Alexander von Krobatin, “Aus meinen Erinnerungen an den Kaiser” in Steinitz, Erinnerungen an Franz Joseph I, p.325.

154 Conrad, Aus meiner Dienstzeit, vol.4, p.122. 155 Galanrai, Die Osterreichisch-Ungarische Monarchic und der Weltkrieg, p.346.

156 Redlich, Schicksalsjahre, vol.I, diary entry for 26 July 1914, p.616.

157 “Die Nachricht unseres Spezialkorres-pondenten”, Neue Freie Presse, Wien, 25 July 1914 (Abendblatt), p.1.

158 Thalloczy, Tagebucber, diary entry for 25 July 1914, pp.57 and 59.

159 Kraler, Schlitter, diary entry for 25 July 1914, p.253.

160 BD, vol.n, no.676, report de Bunsen to Grey, I September 1914.

161 Szilassy, Der Untergang, p.266.

162 Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no.540, Pasic circular, 25 July 1914- The time of dispatch of this telegram is not given.

163 Cornwall, Serbia, p.82.

164 Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no.556, telegram Spalajkovic, 26 July 1914, dispatched at 2.55 a.m.; no.559, telegram Spalajkovic, 25 July 1914, dispatched at 3.22 p.m., received at 2.40 a.m. on 26 July; no.570, telegram Spalajkovic, 25 July 1914, dispatched at 8 p.m., received on 26 July, but no exact time is given. Christopher Clark wrongly gives the number of this last telegram (no.570) as no.556, and although he states correctly that it had been dispatched at 8 p.m. on 25 July, he seems to treat it in the context of what he explains as the “steady crescendo” of Spalajkovic’s cables which had encouraged the Serbian Government to stiffen its attitude before composing its reply to the ultimatum. See Clark, The Sleepwalkers, pp.462-463 and p.649, n.33 and n.35.

165 IBZI, vol.1/5, no.49, telegram Sazonov to Strandtmann, 25 July 1914.

166 Strandman, Balkanske uspomene, pp.318 and 321-322.

167 IBZI, vol. 1/5, no.149, telegram Strandrmann to Sazonov; 27 July 1914.

168 Strandrnan, Balkanske uspomene, pp.323-324.

169 Freiherr von Griesinger, Die kritischen Tage in Serbien, Berliner Monatsbefte, September 1930, p.843.

170 Ibid., p.844.

171 Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no. 588, minute Pasic, 27 July 1914.

172 Die Bulgarischen Dokumenten zum Kriegsausbruch 1914, Die Kriegsschuldfrage, March 1928, pp.244-245, Tschapraschikow to the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, 27 July 1914.

173 IBZI, vol.1/5, no.37.

174 IBZI, vol.1/5, no.120, telegram Nicholas II to Crown Prince Alexander, 27 July 1914. Also in Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no.604, which has the text of the Tsar’s telegram in French.

175 Strandman, Balkanske uspomene, pp.327-328.

176 Albertini, The Origins of the war of 1914, vol.2, pp.376-389.

177 See Hantsch, Leopold Graf Berchtold, vol.2, pp.612-616.

178 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10714, circular telegram, 26 July 1914.

179 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10772, private letter Hoyos to Schiessl, 26 July 1914.

180 Kraler, Schlitter, diary entry for 27 July 1.914, p.254.

181 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10855, Berchtold to Franz Joseph, 27 July 1914.

182 Fellner, Austria-Hungary, p.16.

183 Samuel R. Williamson,Jr., “Leopold Count Berchtold: The Man Who Could Have Prevented the Great War” in Giinter Bischof and Fritz Plasser (eds.), From Empire to Republic: Post-World war I Austria, New Orleans and Innsbruck, 2010, P.24.

184 Thalloczy, Tagebucher, diary entry for 23 July 1914, p.55.

185 Krobatin, Aus meinen Erinnerungen an den Kaiser, p.325.

186 Margutti, Kaiser Franz Joseph, p.415.

187 Kann, Kaiser Franz Joseph und der Ausbruch des Weltkrieges, p.16.

188 ÖUA, vol.8, no.10855, Berchtold to Franz Joseph, 27 July 1914.

189 Roderich Gooss, Das Wiener kabinett und die entstehung des weltkrieges, 1919, pp.218-219.

190 ÖUA, vol.8, no.11015, Berchtold to Franz Joseph, 29 July 1914; DD, no.313, telegram Tschirschky 28 July 1914.

191 Roderich Gooss, Das Wiener kabinett und die entstehung des weltkrieges, 1919, p.220.

192 Strandman, Balkanske uspomene, P.327.

193 Julius Griesinger, “Die kritischen Tage in Serbien”, Berliner Monatshefte, September 1930, pp.846-847.

194 Dedijer et al., vol.7/2, no. 629, telegram Pasic, 28 July 1914.

195 Olaf Richard Wulff, Die Osterreichisch-ungarische Donauflotille im Weltkriege 1914-1918, Wien-Leipzig, 1934, p.32.

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