Malcolm & Dan Joe (WW1)

"Dan-Joe & Malcolm (WW1)" -- TOC

Ch. 1 - "The Parties & The Lead-Up"

"War is a business of positions." (Napoleon)
There were probably a number of aspects to the buildup of World War One. One was an event which occurred on May 27th, 1905; it proved to be the match that lit the fuse of the European War of 1914. On that date, in the Straits of Tsushima, the Japanese fleet completely overwhelmed, within a few hours, the Russian fleet. Michael Howard wrote, "The Russian defeat in 1905 may have reassured the Germans, but it terrified the French. After 1908 they began to pour money into Russia to build up her economic structure (in particular her railways) and re-equip her armies in a 'Great Programme' of military reform that was due for completion in 1917. It was now the Germans' turn to be alarmed."2 On July 4th, 1910, at St. Petersburg, Russia and Japan signed a treaty in which they divided their "spheres of influence" in Manchuria (where both nations were building railroads) and, for that matter, in the rest of Asia. A month later, Japan annexed Korea, with no objection from Russia.

As for Europe: The people of its southern parts were always concerned with the belligerence of the barbarian tribes of the north, traceable back the Fall of Rome in 476. In 1911, the French could see that one of these fierce tribes, Germany, was again looking to the south. In 1911, the Agadir Crisis unfolded. Germany's Ambassador to France passed a diplomatic note, announcing that Germany had sent a warship to occupy Agadir, which, at that time, was part of the protectorate of French Morocco. The pretext was to protect German businesses and citizens in the small port, and the note ended "As soon as order and tranquility have returned to Morocco, the vessel entrusted with this protective mission will leave the port of Agadir." By November of 1911, Germany and France managed to settle their differences by diplomatic negotiation.3 Through the piece, the other Europeans, especially Great Britain4, looked on with grave concern that this quarrel was going to lead to war.

By 1912, the goings-on, especially between Germany and France, and the treaties worked out between Great Britain and France caused other countries to look at their respective positions, especially those on or not far from the German border, and, unlike France and Great Britain5, involved a number of European countries. Such as Serbia and Bulgaria (Map) who on February 29, 1912, secretly signed a treaty of alliance for a term of eight years, with each pledging to come to the defense of the other during war. In the meantime Germany continued to make war preparations.

In March of 1912 Germany's Reichstag approved a bill to make the Imperial German Navy the greatest in the world by 1920, with construction of 60 large ships and 40 cruisers. One historian noted that the new law proved to be "the death knell to any potential understanding between Britain and Germany." In September, after French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré signed an agreement in Moscow with the Russian Empire, Russia ratified the Franco-Russian Convention, providing that if the German Empire mobilized its troops, France and Russia would do the same.6 So too, that month, Montenegro entered into an alliance with Serbia. When October came in, Turkey and Greece both mobilized their armies in preparation of war; and, that month the First Balkan War broke out when the tiny Kingdom of Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece would join. Stock prices dropped in London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna as the First Balkan War escalated. The war lasted until the end of May, 1913, with Turkey giving up its European possessions under the Treaty of London. During this conflict, British Navy battleships, during November of 1913, were ordered to Turkish waters. In December of that year Germany declared that it would go to war if Austria-Hungary was attacked by any other nation as a matter of defending Germany's future and security. And then there was Norway, Sweden and Denmark, who that December jointly proclaimed their neutrality, refusing to favor either side in a European war.

And so we enter into the year 1913. European swords were being rattled more vigorously. Leaders of the European countries were traveling back and forth making treaties; and, at the same time, getting ready for war. The ordinary people better understood what this might all lead to, even if the country's leaders did not. On March 16, 1913, a crowd of 120,000 demonstrators turned out at Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, near Paris, to protest a recent decision by French Army officials to require three years of military service. But these demonstrations did not much influence these leaders. On April 18th, France's General Joseph Joffre presented "Plan XVII" to the Supreme War Council, in what would become the basis for French military strategy during World War One in the event of an invasion by Germany. General Joffre's plan, approved by the War Ministry on May 2, assumed that the German Army would come across the German-French border; it failed to have a contingency plan in the event that Germany would come through Belgium. Belgium, however, was very much on the minds of the German leaders. On the 29th of May, Germany's Foreign Minister, Gottlieb von Jagow, announced during a speech at the Reichstag that Germany would respect the guarantees of Belgium's neutrality, followed by Minister of War Josias von Heeringen, who pledged that "Germany will not lose sight of the fact that the neutrality of Belgium is guaranteed by international treaty." Germany, as we will see, but fifteen months later, invaded Belgium.

Next, we come to the events of that fateful year of 1914. The most prominent one being the assassination of Archduke Frantz Ferdinand.

NEXT [Chapter 02, "The Death Of A Duke"]

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Peter Landry
2015