Novak Djokovic –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1
On 6th July 2014, Novak Djokovic emerged victorious from a gruelling encounter in the men’s final at Wimbledon.  One hundred years ago Serbian eyes were fixed on a national hero of a different kind who, in a foreign land, was due to appear not on court, but in court. The date for Gavrilo Princip’s trial was set for 12th October 1914, but during the dates now associated with Wimbledon fortnight, a game of a different kind was being played.

Centre Court for Serbia


What would receiving a blank cheque mean to you?  On 5th July 1914 Austria received one from Germany and they were delighted.  This blank cheque was not the promise of limitless cash but of limitless military support.  Austria had a guarantee from Germany of full military backing – without restriction - in their dealings with Serbia.  With this in their pocket, they were emboldened to seek bloody retribution for the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.   Europe had taken yet another big step towards war.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 5th July 1914

A Blank Cheque Anyone?

Blank Cheque –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

On 6th July 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm II steamed off on his yacht for a Baltic cruise.  It seems bizarre that the German government would insist that their Emperor go on a 20 day holiday when there was a high risk of war.  There are two explanations of this decision.  Wilhelm was told that Europe would be calmed if he went off on holiday.  The other explanation is that leading German politicians wanted the Kaiser out of the way.  They reckoned that his posturing and threats amounted to bluff and bluster and that when it came to the crunch he would buckle.  Contrary to his international image, they believed that their Emperor was essentially a man of peace.

Europe in Crisis - and the Kaiser is Steamin!

Kaiser Baltic Cruise –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 6th July 1914


Britain and Russia were warned by ambassadors of friendly countries that the Austro-Hungarian Empire (shown as a double headed eagle) was planning to attack Serbia (represented as a feisty cockerel). Meanwhile both the President and Prime Minister of France were out of the country. They were on a state visit to their ally, Russia where discussions focused on the escalating tension across Europe. In the Punch cartoon, Russia is caricatured as a bear.

Alarm Bells Were Ringing

Cartoon Germany and Serbia –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

Russia apparently condoned a horrendous act of terrorism when – on 21st July 1914 - they issued a stark warning to protesting countries. They made it crystal clear that they would not allow an attack on Serbia despite the involvement of that country in the brutal double murders in Sarajevo.

Image: On the same day, during a visit to St. Petersburg, the President of France (wearing a top hat) promised the Czar of Russia (on the right) that France would honor its treaty obligations. If war erupted, Russia could rely on France.

Russia Issue a Stark Warning

St Petersburg Russia and France Meet –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1


On 28th July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and Austrian artillery began the bombardment of the Serbian capital, Belgrade. There were many in Europe who took little interest in events in that remote corner of Europe but this conflict was set to escalate into a world war. Germany was committed to supporting Austria-Hungary and Russia had promised to help Serbia. Furthermore on this day France re-iterated its pledge to support Russia.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 28th July 1914

And So It Begins ! War Breaks Out!!

Map of Europe 1914 –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

On 29th July, Tsar Nicholas II gave the order for a limited mobilisation of the Russian Army. This was not a declaration of war but a precautionary gathering together of his troops.

However this was of immense significance to Germany who viewed this as an act of war. The German war plan dictated that they must attack before Russia could complete mobilization (around 6 weeks). However it was not Russia that was in the firing line – it was France.


Image: Russian reservists assembling in St. Petersburg.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 29th July 1914

Russia Mobilises!

Russian Reservists –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

Within the German government, leading warmongers were filled with consternation at the latest pronouncements from London.  Men who had relentlessly pressed for war were filled with anxiety as it became increasingly clear that Britain would not stand aside.  Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg ‘on this day’ made what was described as ‘a disgraceful’ attempt to persuade Britain to stay out of the war.  Britain’s dismissive response forced the German Chancellor to urgently insist that Austria should negotiate a settlement with Serbia but it was too late and Austria would not play ball.  Germany had no option but to mobilise its army and for them mobilization meant war!  The significance of this was not lost on the British and special editions of national newspapers were rushed out to convey the news.


Image: German reservists report to barracks. The previous occupants had vacated and were heading for the borders with France and Belgium!

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 30th July 1914

Germany Hits the Panic Button

German Reservists –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1



"I heard (the war) started when some chap called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry."




"I think you mean that it started when the Arch-Duke of Austro-Hungary got shot."




"No –there was definitely an ostrich involved."

Blackadder Goes Forth

How did the (Great) war start?

Blackadder Goes Forth –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1


"Well possibly.  But the real reason for the whole thing was that it was just too much effort not to have a war…… You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent a war in Europe, two super blocs developed:  us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other.  The idea was to have two cat opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent.  That way there could never be a war."

The Austro-Hungarian Empire was determined to seize this opportunity for war and to declare ‘game, set and match’ in their dealings with their upstart neighbour.  They commissioned investigators to establish a connection between the assassins of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the government of Serbia.  They then planned to serve Serbia an ultimatum that they would knock back.  Fully backed by their doubles partner (Germany), the Austrians would then slam the Serbs.   The umpire for the empire was Austrian judge Leo Pfeffer but when his report was published on 13th July 1914 it contained some surprises.
Gavrilo Princip –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1
Image: Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, and below Serbian Gavrilo Princip.

During the second week of July 1914 Count Helmuth von Moltke was hard at work to ensure that Europe went to war.  The head of the German army felt that conditions could not be more favourable and that Germany and Austria-Hungary should move quickly.  They had sufficient pretext for war and delays would simply assist their enemies. However his war plan failed and by mid September 1914 this leading warmonger was a wreck who announced to the Kaiser that the war was already lost!

1914 - 'A Good Year for a War'

Count Helmuth Von Moltke –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 6th July 1914

On 13th July 1914 the Austrian government learned that its investigators could not implicate Serbia in the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  Although the evidence did exist, they couldn’t find it and indeed considered the involvement of the Serbian government to be ‘out of the question’. This was not good news for Foreign Minister Count Berchtold (shown) and those of his colleagues who were hell bent on war. There was more bad news to follow for the war party when judge Leo Pfeffer asserted that certain high ranking Austrian officials had facilitated the assassination by ignoring warnings and by ensuring security was virtually non-existent.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 13th July 1914

Austrian Warmonger has a Disappointing Day

Count Berchtold –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ was banned by the Nazis for its un-German views.  A scene that caused Hitler particular irritation deserves to be presented in full.  The issue being discussed by some German soldiers is ‘How do wars start’?


Tjaden … [asks] how a war starts in the first place.


‘Usually when one country insults another one badly,’ answers Kropp, a little patronizingly.


But Tjaden isn’t going to be put off. ‘A country? I don’t get it. A German mountain can’t insult a French mountain, or a river, or a forest, or a cornfield.’


‘Are you really that daft or are you just pretending?’ grumbles Kropp. ‘That isn’t what I mean. One nation insults another…’


‘Then I shouldn’t be here at all,’ answers Tjaden, ‘because I don’t feel insulted.’


… [Kat] ‘…Why on earth should a French locksmith or a French shoemaker want to attack us? No, it’s just the governments. I’d never seen a Frenchman before I came here, and most of the Frenchmen won’t have seen one of us. Nobody asked them any more than they did us.’


‘So why is there a war at all? asks Tjaden.


Kat shrugs. ‘There must be some people who find the war worthwhile.’


‘Well I’m not one of them,’ grins Tjaden.


‘No, and nor is anybody else here.’


‘So who, then?’ persists Tjaden. ‘It’s no use to the Kaiser. He’s got everything he needs anyway.’


‘No, you can’t say that,’ counters Kat, ‘up to now he hadn’t had a war. And all top-grade emperors need at least one war, otherwise they don’t get famous. Have a look in your school history books.’


‘Generals get famous because of wars, too,’ says Detering.

Banned Book Reveals Home Truths

All Quiet on the Western Front Book –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 16th July 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 21st July 1914

With the international crisis deepening the President and Prime Minister of France departed Russia by sea to return to France. The voyage, which was expected to last around 4 days, took them along the coast of Germany. Throughout the trip, communication with the French leaders would be at best unreliable and insecure. This provided their enemies with a wonderful opportunity for a bit of devilment!

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 23rd July 1914

While France are at Sea the International Crisis Deepens

Cartoon Serbia Must Die –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

Image: This Austrian cartoon states ‘Serbia must die’.


With the leaders of France at sea, Austria hit Serbia with its ultimatum. Serbia had 48 hours to agree to all points or they would be attacked. When Serbia asked Russia for help, Russia had to give a response without being able to consult their ally, France. The Russian government could not consult with the French President as Germany was able to block radio signals.



Image:  Kaiser (second from left) enjoying his holidays, unaware of steps being taken to lead his country to war.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 24th July 1914

Kaiser Finds Out Depth of Crisis from a Newpaper Report!

Kaiser on Holiday –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

On 24th July 1914 - still on his Baltic cruise - Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was stunned when he saw the terms of the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia.  He was also deeply upset at the fact that the source of his information was not his own government but a crew member on board his yacht.  His radio operator had read about the ultimatum in a Norwegian newspaper and translated the story for him!  Meanwhile Serbia was urgently asking Russia for advice and support.

Serbia made a conciliatory reply to the Austrian ultimatum.  At that stage, no member of the German government had seen the ultimatum and when the Kaiser was eventually handed a copy of the Serbian response he was delighted and declared it ‘a brilliant response’,  and stated that now, ‘all reason for war is gone!’  The Kaiser then came up with a peace plan upon which German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg promised to act.  However he opted instead to hold onto this document until news arrived that Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia. However Austria was moving fast and within two hours Emperor Franz Josef had been persuaded to sign the mobilization order having been told by Count Berchtold (Foreign Minister) that Serbia was attacking them.  It was a lie!  Austria was bringing war closer and at this point was not consulting Germany.


Image:  Emperor Franz Josef.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 21st July 1914

Kaiser Declares 'All Reason for War is Gone!'

Emperor Franz Josef –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

The French President finally saw a copy of the Austrian ultimatum.  Still on board his ship en route to France, he was unable to influence matters.  The deadline for acceptance had passed and Serbia had rejected 1 of the 10 points.  The Austrian army had been called up and would soon be marching south.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 26th July 1914

France is Too Late to Influence the Ultimatum

Poincare French President –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

On the orders of Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) the British fleet sailed to its war stations.  In Germany, a confused and frustrated Kaiser returned from holiday and demanded of his Chancellor (Prime Minister), ‘How did it all happen?’  The German government rejected the idea of a peace conference even though the Russians were prepared to attend.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 27th July 1914

The British Fleet Starts to Move

British Fleet 1914 –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

Germany warned Russia that they had 12 hours to cancel the mobilization of it troops or face war.   France also received an ultimatum – declare yourself neutral or face the consequences.  France responded by mobilizing its forces, calling up more than a million men.  However they were preparing to move towards their border with Germany when the main thrust of Germany’s Schlieffen Plan would see troops poor through Belgium.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 31st July 1914

Germany Threatens Russia and France

France Mobilises Troops –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

On 1st August, Germany demanded that the Russian mobilisation should be cancelled and when they received no reply, they were left with only one possible course of action. The German ambassador to Russia handed the Tsar’s Foreign Minster the declaration of war and then burst into tears.  Tears were also shed when the French Ambassador to London visited the British Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey. He wanted an assurance that Britain would back France in the coming war but, with all hopes of peace not yet dashed, Grey remained on the fence.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 1st August 1914

Germany Declares War on Russia

Newspaper August 1914 –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1
Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

Images:  Above Newspaper from 1st August 1914. Right Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg of Germany.  He kept hold of a peace plan drawn up by the Kaiser, saying ‘Austria will not be denied her victory’.


 “Britain must be held responsible for (these) terrible events!”


This was the view of German Chancellor Theobald Bethmann-Hollweg.  It was a view echoed by Admiral von Tirpitz who complained in his memoirs, that uncertainty over Britain’s attitude helped cause the war.  On the Allied side, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov, and Winston Churchill felt that an early, unambiguous statement of intent would have made the Central Powers think twice.    

Germany demanded free passage for it troops through neutral Belgium.  The Punch cartoon below indicates quite clearly not only Belgium’s response but how Britain viewed their refusal.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 2nd August 1914

Bravo Belgium!

Cartoon Germany Threatens Belgium –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

Image:  In 1914 Germany hoped that their strength in depth and great pace would make them world champions.



On 1st July 2014 Belgium faced a tough match in the football world cup when they took on the USA.  In economic and military terms the USA is a superpower but in the football rankings they are not yet a match for the likes of Brazil, Argentina or Germany.


In July 1914 it was Germany who threatened to knock Belgium out in a contest of a different kind.  Belgium was a minnow, while Germany was  a military superpower about to send west an army of 2.2 million men.  Belgium’s

Belgium Takes on a Super Power

Germany Invades Belgium –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

defensive strategy was largely dependent on well placed concrete forts, armed with Krupp guns.  Germany’s offensive plans relied on their big guns to pound the Belgian defenders, and on the pace of their forward units on the flanks.   Speed was essential to German success and they hoped this would take them not only past Belgium and into the next round v France but also straight through to the final v Russia. 

With war declared, Germany implemented the Schlieffen Plan and its troops swept into Belgium.  The German army intended to defeat France before Russia could complete its mobilisation (estimated to be 6 weeks) and their troops were racing towards Paris.  German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg was incredulous that Britain should go to war with Germany – a kindred nation – because of a ‘scrap of paper’.  This was his nickname for the Treaty of London which was signed by all leading powers in 1839 to guarantee the neutrality of Belgium.   However Britain felt that their international reputation would be diminished if they were seen to ignore a treaty obligation.  Britain responded by issuing an ultimatum to Germany – quit Belgium by midnight (23.00 GMT) or face war with Britain. There was no response.  At 11.00 p.m. as Big Ben chimed, Sir Edward Grey (British Foreign Minister) looked forlornly from a window in Downing Street and commented:  “The lamps are going out all over Europe.  We shall not see them lit again in our time”.  A message was quickly flashed to British warships - ‘Commence hostilities with Germany’.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 3rd August 1914

Germany Declares War on France/ Britain Threatens Germany

Map of Schlieffen Plan –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1

The British Cabinet voted to declare war on Germany.  This was justified by Germany’s contravention of the Treaty of London by which leading nations had pledged to defend the neutrality of Belgium.  Within 20 minutes of the declaration of war, telegrams were sent to British forces that simply said, ‘War – Germany – Act’.   Up and down the country, officials opened the ‘War Book’ at the appropriate section and began to follow the instructions for mobilisation that applied to them. To prevent a financial crisis, British banks closed.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 4th August 1914

Britain Goes to War

Britain Goes to War –Western Front Witness –July Crisis -Causes of WW1 –How Did WW1 Start?- Outbreak of WW1