Preparations for war on all sides “purely precautionary.”

Special to The Great War Project

(27 July) On this Monday, Europe is growing tense. Many are beginning to wonder, what will happen next?

It’s nearly two days since Vienna’s ultimatum to Serbia, and nearly nothing is happening. (A flurry of meetings is taking place.)

The Russian Tsar proposes talks with Austria-Hungary. Vienna says no thanks.

In fact as one historian writes, “in the foreign offices of Vienna and Berlin, July 27 saw the beginning of a peace scare.”

Berlin decides to do something about it. It rejects the British proposal for a peace conference. And it tells Vienna, secretly, to do the same.

Precautions abound. The situation finally gets the attention of the British cabinet, which focuses its meeting this day precisely one hundred years ago exclusively on the European situation. British leaders do not want war. They want peace.

In Russia, they douse the lights along the coast of the Black Sea, and close the port at Sevastopol to all but Russian vessels.

Paris orders 100,000 troops in Morocco and Algeria to return to France.

The British, the French, and the Russians learn of Serbia’s response to the Austrian ultimatum. It looks a lot like Serbia is complying.

The Germans are not happy with this state of affairs. They order few precautions this day a century ago and by this hope to draw Russia into making the first hostile act, thereby permitting Berlin to claim that Russia started it; they attacked us first.

By the end of the day, one historian writes, “there was more confusion than clarity, more questions than answers.”

That night Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, places British naval forces around the world on “informal alert.” The cable he sends reads: “Secret. European political situation makes war between Triple Alliance [them] and Triple Entente Powers [us] by no means impossible. This is not the Warning Telegram, but be prepared to shadow possible hostile men-of-war [German warships]…Measure is purely precautionary.”