HOLDING THEIR BREATH

Another tense day of indecision. Who will make the next move?

Special to the Great War Project

(29 July) Leaders in Vienna now turn their attention eastward, to Russia. Will Russia intervene to save Serbia if it looks like Austria-Hungary will destroy Serbia?

Crowds at Winter Palace, St. Petersburg after Russia announces partial mobilization. 29 July 1914

Crowds at Winter Palace, St. Petersburg after Russia announces partial mobilization. 29 July 1914

Leaders in Vienna are watching Russia “partially” mobilize its military forces. The object of this partial mobilization is Austria-Hungary. Yet there is no Russian declaration of war.

Gen. Helmuth von Moltke, the chief of the German general staff, keeps track of these developments from his office in Berlin. In a memo he writes on this Wednesday, he comes to the prescient conclusion that “the civilized states of Europe will begin to tear one another to pieces.”

Such a war, he continues, “will annihilate the civilization of almost the whole of Europe for decades to come.” Yet astonishingly, he still wants to fight this war.

Willy and Nicky continue their correspondence by telegram. The cables reveal an astonishing ignorance of events swirling around the two monarchs.

The Kaiser writes to the Tsar, “I think a direct understanding between your government and Vienna is possible and desirable.” He adds, “My government is continuing its exertions to promote it.” This last is entirely untrue. It’s not that the Kaiser is lying to his cousin. He is simply ignorant of the decisions and actions on his behalf that his political and military leaders are taking.

Nicky responds that he is not hearing this from the German ambassador in St. Petersburg. “Please clear up this difference,” he writes. “I trust to your wisdom and friendship.”

Elsewhere, there are still those who are searching for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

In London this morning a century ago, Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, proposes bringing all of Europe’s heads of state together for peace negotiations.

At the same time, British naval vessels take up war positions in the North Sea.

It is not yet clear whether Great Britain will fight or remain neutral. Germany tries to drive a wedge between Britain and its allies in Paris and St. Petersburg by secretly telling London if Britain remains neutral, Germany will seize only colonies from France in the war to come.

Late on this day, a hundred years ago, Willy and Nicky exchange increasingly anxious cables. The Kaiser urges Russia to remain on the sidelines “without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed.” He offers to mediate between Russia and Austria.

Relentlessly, Germany and Austria – and Russia – continue their preparations for war.

  1 comment for “HOLDING THEIR BREATH

  1. Christopher Daly
    July 29, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    This is just incredible. There are conflicts whose origins I understand and wars that have been fought to battle what can be honestly defined as “evil”. But WWI is just not one of them. Years ago I watched a lengthy program on PBS about the Great War, hoping to gain an understanding of what was so important to the nations involved that would justify the conflict. Back then I didn’t come away with an answer and as the beginning of the war is documented here and elsewhere, I’m left with the same feeling that it could have been avoided, but the behind-the-scene machinations of a few made it inevitable.

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