War fervor grips Europe as millions join up.

Special to The Great War Project

(7 August) The British army is too small.

To expand its ranks quickly Lord Kitchener, the British Minister for War, launches an appeal for 100,000 volunteers. But still, Kitchener believes that Britain can only contribute 50,000 men at most for the fight in France and Belgium.

French troops posing for a photograph near border with Alsace-Lorraine, 7 August 1914

French troops posing for a photograph near border with Alsace-Lorraine, 7 August 1914

The numbers that the other belligerents field are enormous:  three million from Austria-Hungary and 4.5 million from Germany. On the other side, four million from France and six million from Russia.

British leaders argue that a substantial army must remain on British soil to protect the homeland from a feared German attack.

The response to Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers is enthusiastic. More than 1500 are signing up each day.

This enthusiasm for war is not limited to Britain. It quickly takes hold in all the belligerent nations. Among those who enlist this day a century ago in Vienna is Ludwig Wittgenstein, a young philosopher who will become world famous. Wittgenstein has returned to Austria from a teaching position at Cambridge.

All is now haste, writes historian Max Hastings. The numbers on just the German side tell a powerful story and carry with them an urgent warning of the carnage to come.

In the next two weeks, Hastings writes, “11,000 trains carry 119,754 officers, 2.1 million men and 600,000 horses across Germany to concentration areas on the frontiers of France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The infantry, cavalry, and artillery of [German General Helmuth von] Moltke’s seven western armies crossed the Rhine bridges in 560 trains a day, each of fifty-four wagons.”

The number of horses called into action is also extraordinary. “The armies of 1914 remained Napoleonic in their dependence on the horse,” writes war historian John Keegan. “The Austrian army mobilized 600,000, the German 715,000, the Russian – with its 24 cavalry divisions – over a million.”

That dependence on the horse will die early in the war, as the horses and riders are killed in enormous numbers, the victims of withering fire from powerful machine guns.