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Tuesday 28 July 2020

The Outbreak of World War I

Although Britain did not enter WW1 until 4th August 1914, the war began on 28th July. Contrary to popular opinion, it was not a war between Emperors, as the Emperors of Germany and Russia tried their utmost to maintain peace.
"The declaration of war, which was due to be sent on August 12th, was delivered by telegram to Belgrade at eleven o’clock in the morning of 28th July, and was so unexpected that the Serbs initially believed it to be a hoax. They were quickly disillusioned when the Austrians began firing shells across the Danube, prompting the anxious Serbs to blow up the main bridge across the river to prevent the invading army from reaching Belgrade.
On hearing that Austria had launched an attack, the Russian press roused the people to demand retribution for the ‘ignoble war’ against a ‘weaker and smaller’ country, and the Tsar ordered a partial mobilisation against Austria. In spite of their antipathy towards Austria-Hungary, the Russians were largely unmoved by the headlines that attempted to turn them against Germany, and, according to one witness, the people of St Petersburg generally believed that the Kaiser would eventually prove successful in his attempts to resolve the situation peacefully.
“Everyone firmly believed in Kaiser Wilhelm’s peaceful intentions, and the efficacy of his powerful mediation, and were convinced that he would intervene in the last moment. The Kaiser’s vaunted love of peace seemed a guarantee.”
Wilhelm, realising that the situation was rapidly escalating out of control, urgently telegraphed Nicholas, asking him to halt the mobilisation, and offering further mediation while promising to ‘induce Austria-Hungary to seek a frank and satisfactory understanding with Russia.’ True to his word, he repeatedly sent emissaries to Vienna, exhorting the Austrians to show restraint and to agree to some form of compromise but his suggestions were rejected as Franz Josef’s ministers and Chiefs of Staff insisted that there could be no compromise without a complete acceptance of their demands.
Over the next forty-eight hours, telegrams flew back and forth between St Petersburg and Berlin as the Kaiser and the Tsar pleaded with each other to do everything possible to avoid war."
The Innocence of Kaiser Wilhelm II

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