31/7/1914 Germany prepares to mobilise and issues an ultimatum

The German leadership is becoming increasingly frantic as news of Russian military preparations keeps coming in. At 11.40 a telegram from Pourtalès in St. Petersburg is decoded. He makes clear that the Russians have commenced general mobilisation, starting today.

The clock is now ticking. Germany’s war plan assumes that it will find itself at war with both France and Russia. The plan assumes that Russia will take several weeks to mobilise and so envisages that Germany first deploy its forces in the west to swiftly defeat France before turning east against Russia. But with Russia having commenced mobilisation, the window of time in which to defeat France is growing shorter with each passing day.

Bethmann Hollweg now accepts that Germany cannot stand still. He agrees with Moltke at last that the time for talking is over and that it is time to declare Kriegsgefahrzustand: Imminent Danger of War, a time of heightened military preparedness to be followed automatically by mobilisation and then war. The Kaiser agrees, coming into Berlin from Potsdam to sign the order at 3.00 pm.

Bethmann Hollweg tells his ambassadors to let their hosts know what Germany is doing. Furthermore, he issues Russia an ultimatum: it has until noon tomorrow to start demobilising, failing which Germany will itself commence mobilisation.

Dramatis Personae

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