Austria-Hungary Shells Belgrade

Special to The Great War Project.

(28 July) At noon this day, a century ago, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.

Tragically, for just an hour before, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm finally reads the full text of Vienna’s ultimatum to Serbia, and Belgrade’s response. He declares “It is a capitulation of the most humiliating kind.”

“Every reason for war is removed,” he writes. Let Vienna occupy Belgrade, temporarily, he proposes. Under those circumstances, “I am ready to mediate for peace.”

At this moment Wilhelm’s proposal is quite similar to peace negotiations proposed by the British Foreign Secretary.

But sadly the British are in the dark. Wilhelm’s reaction becomes known only after the war.

Germany’s military leaders – the war party — ignore the Kaiser’s orders. They want war and they are pushing Vienna to declare war and attack. In Vienna the foreign minister, a member of the war party, reports that Serbian forces are the first to fire. To the contrary. Austrian troops are the first to fire.

In the evening, the Kaiser drafts a telegram to his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Addressing him as Nicky, Willy writes: “I am exerting my utmost influence to induce the Austrians to deal straightly to arrive at a satisfactory understanding with you.”

He signs it, “Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin, Willy.”

The telegram makes no difference.

In the darkness of night precisely a century ago, Austrian artillery shell Belgrade. The Serbian government has already abandoned its capital.

“Two shells exploded in a school,” according to one historian. “One at the Grand Hotel, others at cafes and banks. Offices, hotels and banks had been closed.

“The city had been left defenseless.”

The focus is now on Russia. Will St. Petersburg come to the defense of its Slavic neighbor? And will France, and Great Britain, back their ally Russia? The French ambassador to Russia has already pledged French support for its Russian ally.

And on the other side, what steps will Germany take to back Austria-Hungary? What are its war plans?

Catastrophe is but days away.




  1. alex
    July 28, 2014 at 9:50 PM

    Mike…always so good at telling real stories. Thanks. – Alex

  2. J Young
    July 29, 2014 at 6:19 PM

    At every step, this could have been stopped, even at this point. Was it the prevailing view in Europe that Tsar Nicholas II was an ineffective, out of touch ruler that made Germany think that this was the time to provoke Russia into war?

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