War could come at any moment

Special to The Great War Project

(25 July) Vienna’s ultimatum to Serbia is designed to be rejected.

Before it responds to Vienna, Serbia mobilizes for war. Three hours later on this Saturday a century ago the Serbian government sends its response to Vienna. Hoping to avoid war, it’s conciliatory, even humiliating, as many historians have noted.

Serbia does not wish to provoke an attack, but it finds it impossible to accept all the terms of the ultimatum, especially point 6, the provision demanding that Vienna have a direct hand in the investigation of the Archduke’s assassination in June.

Fearing an attack, the Serbian government makes the decision to move its operations south of Belgrade, immediately, away from the border with Austria-Hungary.

At the same time, Russia takes several steps that signal war is imminent. The government in St. Petersburg orders all troops back to bases. Martial law is proclaimed in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and in Russia’s border lands with Austria-Hungary and Germany.

And top secret orders are issued to start “the period preparatory to war in all lands of the empire.” Russia will not stand by if Vienna attacks Belgrade.

In Belgrade in mid-afternoon, Serbia issues secret orders to mobilize its forces against Austria-Hungary. By early evening, Vienna’s diplomats in Belgrade have left the city by train and are already across the border in Austria-Hungary.

It seems that Serbia and Russia are ready for the inevitable attack on Belgrade. Germany is pushing Vienna to attack.

The unknowns are in Paris and London. Will they honor their alliance with St. Petersburg and follow it into war with Austria-Hungary and Germany? On this day one hundred years ago, the answer to that question is not at all clear.

Both France and Britain are urging caution on Russia and Serbia. The British are pushing for the convening of a conference to avert the possibility of war. There are doubts in Paris and especially in London that going to war to protect Serbia would find support there.

Darkness falls on that fraught Saturday night. When news of Serbia’s response to the ultimatum becomes public in Vienna, crowds gather, shouting “Down with Serbia, Down with Russia.” Similar scenes appear in Berlin.

The powers of Europe do not seem able to stop the powerful rush to war.