The Path to War
Event Description 1. Boer War 1899-1902 Germany opposed Britain's attempt to defeat the Boers in South Africa. 2. First Moroccan crisis 1905-1906 Kaiser Wilhelm promised to support the sultan of Morocco against France's attempts to take over the country. 3. 'Daily Telegraph' article 1908 In a newspaper interview, Kaiser Wilhelm said the English were mad and the Germans hated them. This caused great offence in Britain. 4. Bosnia 1908 Austria annexed Bosnia in the Balkans. This annoyed Serbia, which wanted to take over the area. Russia wanted to help Serbia, but had to back down. 5. Dreadnought crisis 1909 Scared by the growing German navy, the British people demanded that the government build eight of the new Dreadnought battleships. 6. Agadir 1911 There was a revolution in Morocco, so France sent an army to take over. Kaiser Wilhelm sent the gunship 'Panther', but Britain and France forced him to back down. 7. Balkan Wars 1912-1913 Serbia and other countries in the Balkans conquered most of Turkey's land in Europe. Serbia became a powerful country, and said Austria-Hungary was its next target. 8. Assassination of Franz Ferdinand 1914 The heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary was shot by Gavrilo Princip, a young Serb terrorist, in Sarajevo in Bosnia.
Key Dates Leading to War
DateEvent July 5th The Austrian government asks the German government if it will support Austria in a war against Russia, if Russia supports Serbia. The Germans say they will support whatever the Austrian government decides to do - the so called 'blank cheque'. July 23rd The Austrian government sends the Serbian government an ultimatum. July 25th The Serbians accept all the conditions except one - that Austrian police should be allowed into Serbia. July 28th Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. July 30th The Russian army is mobilised. August 1st Germany declares war on Russia. August 3rd Germany declares war on France and, following the Schlieffen Plan, attacks Belgium. August 4th Britain keeps the promise made in a treaty of 1839 to defend Belgium, and declares war on Germany.
The Schlieffen Plan
Germany had been preparing for war long before 1914. In fact, Germany had started drawing up a plan for war - the Schlieffen Plan - in 1897. It took nine years to finalise, but it was based on the theory that Germany would be at war with France and Russia at the same time. It did not prepare for many of the events that occured in July and August 1914. It was based on the belief that, if the country went to war, Germany would be faced with a war on two fronts with France and Russia.
The plan assumed that France was weak and could be beaten quickly, and that Russia was much stronger, but would take longer to mobilise its army.
The plan began to go wrong on 30 July 1914, when Russia mobilised its army, but France did not. Germany was forced to invent a pretext to declare war on France (3 August 1914).
Things got worse when Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 because, in a Treaty of 1839, Britain had promised to defend Belgium.
It took nine years to devise - it was started in 1897, presented in 1905, and revised in 1906.
- The plan imagined a huge hammer-blow at Paris, using 90 per cent of the German army, swinging down through Belgium and northern France, to take out France in a quick, decisive campaign.
- It was a plan of attack - for Germany, mobilisation and war were the same thing.
- It was Germany's only plan for war.
- It did not plan for a situation where Germany was at war with Russia, but not with France. When the German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg asked: "Is the Fatherland in danger?", the German general Moltke declared: "Yes".
- In the event, Russia took only ten days to mobilise, and Moltke was forced to send some troops to the eastern front, which weakened the main attack on Paris.
- When the German army asked permission to go through Belgium on 2 August 1914, the Belgians refused, so the German army had to fight its way through Belgium. This slowed it down and tired the soldiers.
- Britain's decision to uphold the 1839 Treaty with Belgium amazed the Germans. "For a scrap of paper, Great Britain is going to make war?" said the amazed Bethmann-Hollweg.