1/8/1914 Germany sends a declaration of war to Russia and begins mobilisation

In the morning Bethmann Hollweg addresses the Bundesrat, which represents the constituent elements of the German Empire. Its support is needed for any declaration of war. The chancellor says that with Russia mobilising and France advancing its own military preparations, it is vital that Germany move or it will be left behind; hence the ultimatum to Russia. The Bundesrat gives unanimous support to Bethmann Hollweg’s proposal to declare war on Russia if the ultimatum is rejected; likewise with France if there is no guarantee of its neutrality.

When no word arrives of Russia having accepted the ultimatum, Jagow wires Pourtalès to have him inform the Russians that Germany now considers itself at war with them. But to allow time for the messages to be transmitted and decoded, and for a possible late change of heart by Russia, the declaration of war is to be given to the Russians at 6.30 pm St. Petersburg time (5.00 pm in Berlin).

Another telegram arrives for the Kaiser from the Tsar. He asks that negotiations continue even though Germany is mobilising. The Kaiser replies that it is up to the Tsar’s government to take the steps necessary to prevent war.

With the expiry of the ultimatum deadline, Falkenhayn and Moltke persuade Bethmann Hollweg that the time has come to mobilise. The Kaiser meets his senior officials and signs the order at 5.00 pm. The army will begin immediately to prepare for war and that very night troops will invade Luxembourg. Falkenhayn and Moltke rush off to send the necessary orders.

But then they are called back. Lichnowsky’s message communicating Grey’s offer to guarantee French neutrality has arrived. The Kaiser, Tirpitz, Jagow and Bethmann Hollweg are all ecstatic: Germany has just one enemy to fight now. Send the army east, says the Kaiser.

Moltke is flabbergasted. Germany has only one mobilisation plan, which requires sending the bulk of its forces west to fight the French first. If now the army is ordered east it will arrive there not as an army but as a disorganised mob. Yet the Kaiser insists. The order to invade Luxembourg is cancelled and the army will somehow have to be sent east. Telegrams are sent to both Grey and the King of Britain accepting Britain’s generous offer. Moltke is so angry that he has to be sent home. His wife thinks he may have suffered a stroke.

A late telegram from the British King (drafted for him by Grey) arrives after the Kaiser has gone to bed. He is woken to read it. The British are claiming now that Grey made no offer to guarantee French neutrality or even to definitely stay neutral themselves, that Lichnowsky must have misunderstood Grey’s comments. The Kaiser is furious. He summons Moltke and tells him to proceed with the original mobilisation plan. Luxembourg is to be invaded tonight.

Dramatis Personae

Text of the telegrams between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II

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