2/8/1914 Britain will defend Belgium and the French coast

In London, Grey tells Cambon that Germany’s occupation of Luxembourg will not trigger British intervention. Cambon is disgusted.

Meanwhile, Herbert Henry Asquith’s weekend has been ruined. The 62 year old prime minister had planned to slip away with Miss Venetia Stanley (26), but the crisis is keeping him in London. Today is Sunday and he is having to chair another cabinet meeting, in which the divisions between the pro- and anti-interventionists are at boiling point.

At the meeting, a secret Anglo-French naval agreement is revealed; the French are sending their fleet to the Mediterranean in the expectation that Britain’s fleet will defend their north coast. After some hesitation, the cabinet agrees to honour this agreement, though it does lead to one resignation.

After some further tense discussions it is more or less decided that the invasion of Belgium would represent a casus belli.

Dramatis Personae

31/7/1914 Britain asks about Belgium

Foreign Secretary Edward Grey is coming under pressure from France to clarify Britain’s position. The cabinet meets, but the anti-interventionists are still too strong for Grey, Churchill and Asquith to adopt a forceful international position. Still, the cabinet does not definitively adopt a position against intervention either, which prevents Grey’s resignation and the possible collapse of the government.

The cabinet does agree that Grey should ask France and Germany whether they will be respecting the neutrality of Belgium.

Churchill, meanwhile, issues orders to seize the two battleships being built in Britain for the Turkish navy. He is probably not acting in response to Russia’s request to deny these ships to Turkey. He just wants them for the British navy.

Dramatis Personae

29/7/1914 The Russians lose faith in the Germans

The British government is divided. A minority, including Churchill, Grey and Prime Minister Asquith, favour siding with Russia and France in the event of a European war, but most are for neutrality. At this stage any definite decision risks splitting cabinet and bringing an end to the government. A definite decision is therefore avoided.

Wilhelm meets with Bethmann Hollweg, Falkenhayn and Tirpitz (the naval minister) in Potsdam. Time seems to be running out and the Kaiser berates the chancellor for his incompetent management of policy. Nevertheless, with diplomatic efforts still in train it is deemed too soon to declare Kriegsgefahrzustand, let alone start mobilising the army.

Bethmann Hollweg suggests handing over the fleet to Britain to buy its neutrality. To Tirpitz’s relief, the Kaiser baulks at this suggestion.

The Russians learn of Austria-Hungary’s shelling of Belgrade in the late afternoon. Sazonov meets Pourtal├Ęs again. So much for Germany’s restraint of its ally! The German ambassador now advances the line sent to him by Bethmann Hollweg, that Russia should halt its military preparations lest Germany itself mobilise. Sazonov takes this as threat and accuses Germany of pushing Austria-Hungary into belligerence.