Germany demands safe passage across Belgian territory.

Special to The Great War Project

(2 August) With German troops now active on Luxemburg soil, the question facing Europe is will Germany invade Belgium. The Belgian government demands to know which European powers will pledge not to violate Belgian neutrality.

France says yes to the pledge. Germany fails to respond. Late in the day, Germany plays its hand. It issues an ultimatum to the Belgian government. Berlin makes the entirely fictitious claim that France is moving troops in a threatening fashion.

Germany demands that Belgium allow German troops to cross its territory to attack France. Belgium refuses.

On this day one hundred years ago German patrols cross the French border, sparking a few skirmishes. According to historians, the first soldier is killed, French Corporal Andre Peugeot. More than a million French soldiers will die before this war is concluded.

But Germany does not declare war against France. Not yet.

The British cabinet meets in Sunday all-day emergency session. Early in the day, it adopts a cautious non-committal stance. But during the course of this day, precisely a century ago, as events unfold on the European continent, the British stance shifts.

The British give secret assurances to France that should German warships enter the English Channel or the North Sea to attack French vessels or French territory, British naval forces would come France’s aid.

Late in the day, when it learns of the German ultimatum to Belgium, the British government, led by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, orders the mobilization of the British army.

In Berlin, Moltke is considering the scenarios, especially the possibility that Britain will now declare war. If it does, Moltke concludes according to one historian “Germany should incite uprisings against Britain in South Africa, Egypt, and India thereby converting a European war into a world war.”

The potential conflict widens when late on this afternoon Germany and Ottoman Turkey sign a secret treaty of alliance. Germany pledges to defend Ottoman territory, writes one historian. In exchange, Turkey promises to declare war on Russia if Russia attacks Germany.

All the moves on this day a century ago are military in essence. There is almost no talk now of averting war.