Official German Statement on the Outbreak of War in August 1914

Reproduced below is the text of the German government's official statement - published some months after war was initiated in July/August 1914 - which attempted to lay blame for the outbreak of war on Russia.

In short, Germany argued that while Russia protested in public and via diplomatic despatches - not least from the Russian Tsar to the German Kaiser - her intention to ensure continued peace in Europe, her real intent was to rapidly mobilise her army so as to gain a crucial initial advantage against Germany on the battlefield.

The official statement reproduced below was chiefly intended for consumption by those nations who had at that time adopted a neutral stance, e.g. America and Italy.

Official Statement of the German Government:
"How Russia Betrayed Germany's Confidence"

On June 28th the Austro-Hungarian successor to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a member of a band of Serbian conspirators.

The investigation of the crime through the Austro-Hungarian authorities has yielded the fact that the conspiracy against the life of the Archduke and successor to the throne was prepared and abetted in Belgrade with the cooperation of Serbian officials, and executed with arms from the Serbian State arsenal.

This crime must have opened the eyes of the entire civilized world, not only in regard to the aims of the Serbian policies directed against the conservation and integrity of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but also concerning the criminal means which the pan-Serb propaganda in Serbia had no hesitation in employing for the achievement of these aims.

The goal of these policies was the gradual revolutionizing and final separation of the southeasterly districts from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and their union with Serbia.  This direction of Serbia's policy has not been altered in the least in spite of the repeated and solemn declarations of Serbia in which it vouchsafed a change in these policies towards Austria-Hungary as well as the cultivation of good and neighbourly relations.

In this manner for the third time in the course of the last six years Serbia has led Europe to the brink of a world war.

It could only do this because it believed itself supported in its intentions by Russia.

Russia, soon after the events brought about by the Turkish revolution of 1908, endeavoured to found a union of the Balkan states under Russian patronage and directed against the existence of Turkey.  This union, which succeeded in 1911 in driving out Turkey from a greater part of her European possessions, collapsed over the question of the distribution of spoils.

The Russian policies were not dismayed over this failure.  According to the idea of the Russian statesmen a new Balkan union under Russian patronage should be called into existence, headed no longer against Turkey, now dislodged from the Balkans, but against the existence of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

It was the idea that Serbia should cede to Bulgaria those parts of Macedonia which it had received during the last Balkan war, in exchange for Bosnia and the Herzegovina which were to be taken from Austria.  To oblige Bulgaria to fall in with this plan it was to be isolated, Rumania attached to Russia with the aid of French propaganda, and Serbia promised Bosnia and the Herzegovina.

Under these circumstances it was clear to Austria that it was not compatible with the dignity and the spirit of self-preservation of the monarchy to view idly any longer this agitation across the border.

The Imperial and Royal Government apprised Germany of this conception and asked for our opinion.  With all our heart we were able to agree with our ally's estimate of the situation, and assure him that any action considered necessary to end the movement in Serbia directed against the conservation of the monarchy would meet with our approval.

We were perfectly aware that a possible warlike attitude of Austria-Hungary against Serbia might bring Russia upon the field, and that it might therefore involve us in a war, in accordance with our duty as allies.  We could not, however, in these vital interests of Austria-Hungary, which were at stake, advise our ally to take a yielding attitude not compatible with his dignity, nor deny him our assistance in these trying days.

We could do this all the less as our own interests were menaced through the continued Serb agitation.  If the Serbs continued with the aid of Russia and France to menace the existence of Austria-Hungary, the gradual collapse of Austria and the subjection of all the Slavs under one Russian sceptre would be the consequence, thus making untenable the position of the Teutonic race in Central Europe.

A morally weakened Austria under the pressure of Russian pan-Slavism would be no longer an ally on whom we could count and in whom we could have confidence, as we must be able to have, in view of the ever more menacing attitude of our easterly and westerly neighbours.  We, therefore, permitted Austria a completely free hand in her action towards Serbia, but have not participated in her preparations.

Austria chose the method of presenting to the Serbian Government a note, in which the direct connection between the murder at Serajevo and the pan-Serb movement, as not only countenanced but actively supported by the Serbian Government, was explained, and in which a complete cessation of this agitation, as well as a punishment of the guilty, was requested.

At the same time Austria-Hungary demanded as necessary guarantee for the accomplishment of her desire the participation of some Austrian officials in the preliminary examination of Serbian territory and the final dissolution of the pan-Serb societies agitating against Austria-Hungary.

The Imperial and Royal Government gave a period of 48 hours for the unconditional acceptance of its demands.

The Serbian Government started the mobilization of its army one day after the transmission of the Austro-Hungarian note.

As after the stipulated date the Serbian Government rendered a reply which, though complying in some points with the conditions of Austria-Hungary, yet showed in all essentials the endeavour through procrastination and new negotiations to escape from the just demands of the monarchy, the latter discontinued her diplomatic relations with Serbia without indulging in further negotiations or accepting further Serbian assurances, whose value, to her loss, she had sufficiently experienced.

From this moment Austria was in fact in a state of war with Serbia, which it proclaimed officially on the 28th of July by declaring war.

From the beginning of the conflict we assumed the position that there were here concerned the affairs of Austria alone, which it would have to settle with Serbia.  We therefore directed our efforts toward the localizing of the war, and toward convincing the other powers that Austria-Hungary had to appeal to arms in justifiable self-defence, forced upon her by the conditions.

We emphatically took the position that no civilized country possessed the right to stay the arm of Austria in this struggle with barbarism and political crime, and to shield the Serbians against their just punishment.  In this sense we instructed our representatives with the foreign powers.

Simultaneously the Austro-Hungarian Government communicated to the Russian Government that the step undertaken against Serbia implied merely a defensive measure against the Serb agitation, but that Austria-Hungary must of necessity demand guarantees for a continued friendly behaviour of Serbia towards the monarchy.

Austria-Hungary had no intention whatsoever to shift the balance of power in the Balkans.

In answer to our declaration that the German Government desired, and aimed at, a localization of the conflict, both the French and the English Governments promised an action in the same direction.  But these endeavours did not succeed in preventing the interposition of Russia in the Austro-Serbian disagreement.

The Russian Government submitted an official communiqué on July 24th, according to which Russia could not possibly remain indifferent in the Serbo-Austrian conflict.  The same was declared by the Russian Secretary of Foreign Affairs, M. Sazonof, to the German Ambassador, Count Pourtales, in the afternoon of July 26th.

The German Government declared again, through its Ambassador at St. Petersburg, that Austria-Hungary had no desire for conquest and only wished peace at her frontiers.  After the official explanation by Austria-Hungary to Russia that it did not claim territorial gain in Serbia, the decision concerning the peace of the world rested exclusively with St. Petersburg.

The same day the first news of Russian mobilization reached Berlin in the evening.

The German Ambassadors at London, Paris, and St. Petersburg were instructed to point out energetically the danger of this Russian mobilization.  The Imperial Ambassador at St. Petersburg was also directed to make the following declaration to the Russian Government:

"Preparatory military measures by Russia will force us to counter-measures which must consist in mobilizing the army.

"But mobilization means war.

"As we know the obligations of France towards Russia, this mobilization would be directed against both Russia and France.  We cannot assume that Russia desires to unchain such a European war.  Since Austria-Hungary will not touch the existence of the Serbian kingdom, we are of the opinion that Russia can afford to assume an attitude of waiting.  We can all the more support the desire of Russia to protect the integrity of Serbia as Austria-Hungary does not intend to question the latter.  It will be easy in the further development of the affair to find a basis for an understanding."

On July 27th the Russian Secretary of War, M. Suchomlinof, gave the German military attaché his word of honour that no order to mobilize had been issued, merely preparations were being made, but not a horse mustered, nor reserves called in.

If Austria-Hungary crossed the Serbian frontier, the military districts directed towards Austria, i.e., Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, Kazan, would be mobilized, under no circumstances those situated on the German frontier, i.e., St. Petersburg, Vilna, and Warsaw.

Upon inquiry into the object of the mobilization against Austria-Hungary, the Russian Minister of War replied by shrugging his shoulders and referring to the diplomats.  The military attaché then pointed to these mobilization measures against Austria-Hungary as extremely menacing also for Germany.

In the succeeding days news concerning Russian mobilization came at a rapid rate.  Among it was also news about preparations on the German-Russian frontier, as for instance the announcement of the state of war in Kovno, the departure of the Warsaw garrison, and the strengthening of the Alexandrovo garrison.

On July 27th, the first information was received concerning preparatory measures taken by France: the 14th Corps discontinued the manoeuvres and returned to its garrison.

In the meantime we had endeavoured to localize the conflict by most emphatic steps.

On July 26th, Sir Edward Grey had made the proposal to submit the differences between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to a conference of the Ambassadors of Germany, France, and Italy under his chairmanship.  We declared in regard to this proposal that we could not, however much we approved the idea, participate in such a conference, as we could not call Austria in her dispute with Serbia before a European tribunal.

France consented to the proposal of Sir Edward Grey, but it foundered upon Austria's declining it, as was to be expected.

Faithful to our principle that mediation should not extend to the Austro-Serbian conflict, which is to be considered as a purely Austro-Hungarian affair, but merely to the relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia, we continued our endeavours to bring about an understanding between these two powers.

We further declared ourselves ready, after failure of the conference idea, to transmit a second proposal of Sir Edward Grey's to Vienna in which he suggested Austria-Hungary should decide that either the Serbian reply was sufficient, or that it be used as a basis for further negotiations.  The Austro-Hungarian Government remarked with full appreciation of our action that it had come too late, the hostilities having already been opened.

In spite of this we continued our attempts to the utmost, and we advised Vienna to show every possible advance compatible with the dignity of the monarchy.

Unfortunately, all these proposals were overtaken by the military preparations of Russia and France.

On July 29th, the Russian Government made the official notification in Berlin that four army districts had been mobilized.  At the same time further news was received concerning rapidly progressing military preparations of France, both on water and on land.

On the same day the Imperial Ambassador in St. Petersburg had an interview with the Russian Foreign Secretary, in regard to which he reported by telegraph, as follows:

"The Secretary tried to persuade me that I should urge my Government to participate in a quadruple conference to find means to induce Austria-Hungary to give up those demands which touch upon the sovereignty of Serbia.

"I could merely promise to report the conversation and took the position that, after Russia had decided upon the baneful step of mobilization, every exchange of ideas appeared now extremely difficult, if not impossible.  Besides, Russia now was demanding from us in regard to Austria-Hungary the same which Austria-Hungary was being blamed for with regard to Serbia, i.e., an infraction of sovereignty.

"Austria-Hungary having promised to consider the Russian interests by disclaiming any territorial aspiration - a great concession on the part of a state engaged in war - should therefore be permitted to attend to its affairs with Serbia alone.  There would be time at the peace conference to return to the matter of forbearance towards the sovereignty of Serbia.

"I added very solemnly that at this moment the entire Austro-Serbian affair was eclipsed by the danger of a general European conflagration, and I endeavoured to present to the Secretary the magnitude of this danger.

"It was impossible to dissuade Sazonof from the idea that Serbia could not now be deserted by Russia."

In reply to various inquiries concerning reasons for its threatening attitude, the Russian Government repeatedly pointed out that Austria-Hungary had commenced no conversation in St. Petersburg.

The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in St. Petersburg was therefore instructed on July 29th, at our suggestion, to enter into such conversation with Sazonof.

Count Szapary was empowered to explain to the Russian minister the note to Serbia, though it had been overtaken by the state of war, and to accept any suggestion on the part of Russia as well as to discuss with Sazonof all questions touching directly upon the Austro-Russian relations.

Shoulder to shoulder with England we laboured incessantly and supported every proposal in Vienna from which we hoped to gain the possibility of a peaceable solution of the conflict.  We even as late as the 30th of July forwarded the English proposal to Vienna, as basis for negotiations, that Austria-Hungary should dictate her conditions in Serbia, i.e., after her march into Serbia.  We thought that Russia would accept this basis.

During the interval from July 29th to July 31st there appeared renewed and cumulative news concerning Russian measures of mobilization.  Accumulation of troops on the East Prussian frontier and the declaration of the state of war over all important parts of the Russian west frontier allowed no further doubt that the Russian mobilization was in full swing against us, while simultaneously all such measures were denied to our representative in St. Petersburg on word of honour.

Nay, even before the reply from Vienna regarding the Anglo-German mediation whose tendencies and basis must have been known in St. Petersburg, could possibly have been received in Berlin, Russia ordered a general mobilization.

During the same days, there took place between His Majesty the Kaiser and Czar Nicholas an exchange of telegrams in which His Majesty called the attention of the Czar to the menacing character of the Russian mobilization during the continuance of his own mediating activities.

On July 31st, the Czar directed the following telegram to His Majesty the Kaiser:

"I thank You cordially for Your mediation which permits the hope that everything may yet end peaceably.  It is technically impossible to discontinue our military preparations which have been made necessary by the Austrian mobilization.  It is far from us to want war.  As long as the negotiations between Austria and Serbia continue, my troops will undertake no provocative action.  I give You my solemn word thereon.  I confide with all my faith in the grace of God, and I hope for the success of Your mediation in Vienna for the welfare of our countries and the peace of Europe.

"Your cordially devoted

This telegram of the Czar crossed with the following, sent by H.M. the Kaiser, also on July 31st, at 2 p. m.:

"Upon Your appeal to my friendship and Your request for my aid I have engaged in mediation between Your Government and the Government of Austria-Hungary.  While this action was taking place, Your troops were being mobilized against my ally Austria-Hungary, whereby, as I have already communicated to You, my mediation has become almost illusory.

"In spite of this, I have continued it, and now I receive reliable news that serious preparations for war are going on on my eastern frontier.  The responsibility for the security of my country forces me to measures of defence.  I have gone to the extreme limit of the possible in my efforts for the preservation of the peace of the world.

"It is not I who bear the responsibility for the misfortune which now threatens the entire civilized world.  It rests in your hand to avert it.  No one threatens the honour and peace of Russia which might well have awaited the success of my mediation.

"The friendship for You and Your country, bequeathed to me by my grandfather on his deathbed, has always been sacred to me, and I have stood faithfully by Russia while it was in serious affliction, especially during its last war.  The peace of Europe can still be preserved by You if Russia decides to discontinue those military preparations which menace Germany and Austria-Hungary."

Before this telegram reached its destination, the mobilization of all the Russian forces, obviously directed against us and already ordered during the afternoon of the 31st of July, was in full swing.  Notwithstanding, the telegram of the Czar was sent at 2 o'clock that same afternoon.

After the Russian general mobilization became known in Berlin, the Imperial Ambassador at St. Petersburg was instructed on the afternoon of July 31st to explain to the Russian Government that Germany declared the state of war as counter-measure against the general mobilization of the Russian army and navy which must be followed by mobilization if Russia did not cease its military measures against Germany and Austria-Hungary within 12 hours, and notified Germany thereof.

At the same time the Imperial Ambassador in Paris was instructed to demand from the French Government a declaration within 18 hours, whether it would remain neutral in a Russo-German war.

The Russian Government destroyed through its mobilization, menacing the security of our country, the laborious action at mediation of the European cabinets.  The Russian mobilization in regard to the seriousness of which the Russian Government was never allowed by us to entertain a doubt, in connection with its continued denial, shows clearly that Russia wanted war.

The Imperial Ambassador at St. Petersburg delivered his note to M. Sazonof on July 31st at 12 o'clock midnight.

The reply of the Russian Government has never reached us.

Two hours after the expiration of the time limit the Czar telegraphed to H.M. the Kaiser, as follows:

"I have received Your telegram.  I comprehend that You are forced to mobilize, but I should like to have from You the same guarantee which I have given You, viz., that these measures do not mean war, and that we shall continue to negotiate for the welfare of our two countries and the universal peace which is so dear to our hearts.

"With the aid of God it must be possible to our long tried friendship to prevent the shedding of blood.  I expect with full confidence Your urgent reply."

To this H.M. the Kaiser replied:

"I thank You for Your telegram.  I have shown yesterday to Your Government the way through which alone war may yet be averted.

"Although I asked for a reply by to-day noon, no telegram from my Ambassador has reached me with the reply of Your Government.  I therefore have been forced to mobilize my army.

"An immediate, clear and unmistakable reply of Your Government is the sole way to avoid endless misery.  Until I receive this reply I am unable, to my great grief, to enter upon the subject of Your telegram.

"I must ask most earnestly that You, without delay, order Your troops to commit, under no circumstances, the slightest violation of our frontiers."

As the time limit given to Russia had expired without the receipt of a reply to our inquiry, H.M. the Kaiser ordered the mobilization of the entire German Army and Navy on August 1st at 5 p.m.

The German Ambassador at St. Petersburg was instructed that, in the event of the Russian Government not giving a satisfactory reply within the stipulated time, he should declare that we considered ourselves in a state of war after the refusal of our demands.

However, before a confirmation of the execution of this order had been received, that is to say, already in the afternoon of August 1st, i.e., the same afternoon on which the telegram of the Czar, cited above, was sent, Russian troops crossed our frontier and marched into German territory.

Thus Russia began the war against us.

Meanwhile the Imperial Ambassador in Paris put our question to the French Cabinet on July 31st at 7 p.m.

The French Prime Minister gave an equivocal and unsatisfactory reply on August 1st at 1 p.m., which gave no clear idea of the position of France, as he limited himself to the explanation that France would do that which her interests demanded.

A few hours later, at 5 p.m., the mobilization of the entire French Army and Navy was ordered.

On the morning of the next day France opened hostilities.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

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