Mixed signals and bad intelligence bring fear and mistrust

Special to The Great War Project

(30 July) Nicky is confused. As a result of the cables from Willy that continue into the early morning hours, the Tsar cancels the general mobilization of Russia’s military he had ordered only a few hours before.

Now on this day, a century ago, the Tsar ignores the Kaiser’s entreaties, reverses himself, and signs the order of full mobilization of the six-million strong Russian military.

The Kaiser misunderstands and fears that Russia is days ahead of Germany in the rush to mobilize its forces. “I cannot commit myself to mediation,” he writes, “since the Tsar, who appealed for it, has at the same time been secretly mobilizing behind my back.”

He has simply been “acting a part and leading us up the garden path,” Willy sputters. “That means I have got to mobilize as well.”

And the rush to mobilization is underway. Good intelligence on exactly what was happening and which power was doing what is hard to come by. Confusion reigns.

Each government has its own notion of what mobilization means. For Germany mobilization means war,” writes one historian. “For Russia it does not.” Nevertheless on this day a century ago, Russia’s leaders now understand war is inevitable.

In Berlin the German high command urges caution. Don’t declare war on Russia, Gen. von Moltke, the chief of the German high command, advises his counterpart in Vienna. “Wait for Russia to attack.”

The meaning of all this is quite apparent to all the principal players, including those in Paris and London. The British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, makes it clear that if Germany attacks France, Britain will come to France’s aid. “It was widely known in government circles,” writes one historian, “that Germany in the event of war against Russia, planned to attack and crush France first before turning around and invading Russia.”

The Kaiser explodes: “England, Russia, and France are in league to wage a war of annihilation against us, taking the Austro-Serbian conflict as a pretext…the stupidity and clumsiness of our ally has been turned into a noose for our necks, and we have fallen into the snare.”

It is a fateful day indeed, this day precisely a century ago.



  1. Christopher Daly
    July 30, 2014 at 9:20 PM

    For Germany mobilization means war,” writes one historian. “For Russia it does not.”

    What exactly did mobilization mean in Russia? I don’t understand.

  2. Stephanie Boyd
    July 30, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    One hundred years ago today, Russia was on the verge of war … just like it is today. And this time around, they have no allies.

  3. Mike Shuster
    July 30, 2014 at 11:05 PM

    Mobilization means putting the military into a higher state of readiness for actual war. It does not mean war for Russia necessarily because Russia’s mobilization is meant as a deterrent, to deter Austria-Hungary from destroying Serbia and to deter Germany from entering the war. As for Germany, the belief is widespread that it wants war. Thus German mobilization means war.

    • Christopher Daly
      July 31, 2014 at 4:45 PM

      Thanks Mike.

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