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British Reaction to Official German Statement on the Outbreak of War in August 1914

Updated: Apr 8

Reproduced below is the text of the British government's response to the German government's publication of its view that Russia was to be held responsible for the general outbreak of war in Europe in July/August 1914.

British Reaction to Official Statement of the German Government: "How Russia Betrayed Germany's Confidence"

The ground of the charge thus made by Germany against Russia is a little difficult to fix.

Russia's attitude was entirely open throughout the negotiations, and the German Chancellor's telegrams to the German Ambassadors at London, Paris and Petrograd of July 26th (German Book, Nos. 10, 10A, and 10B, p. 428) show that, on the day following the rupture between Austria and Serbia, that attitude was already clearly understood in Germany.

In fact, there is not a sign in the whole correspondence that any statesman in the whole of Europe ever doubted that Russia would regard an actual armed attack on Serbia under the circumstances as an attack upon herself...

The German Book rests almost its whole case on the priority of mobilization measures. The way in which that case was carefully built up during the negotiations is shown by British Book No. 71, where the German Chancellor declares on July 28th that the Russian mobilization in the south endangered the efforts of the German Government to encourage direct communications between Vienna and Petrograd.

It will be seen that at the moment the Chancellor was speaking, Austria had already refused both direct discussions with Petrograd and Sir E. Grey's mediation proposals, before she heard of the Russian mobilization, and on the sole ground that she had herself declared war on Serbia.

It was after she heard of the Russian preparations that she resumed conversations on July 29th-30th. It will be observed that on July 28th Russia believed that the general Austrian mobilization had been ordered. As a matter of fact, in sifting any case based on mobilization reports there are several points to be remembered.

Mobilization measures as preliminaries to war are a German tradition. If any one will refer to the account of the negotiations between Prussia and Austria from March 31 to May 8, 1866, before the Prusso-Austrian war, given in Sybel's Foundation of the German Empire, he will see the example in this line set by Bismarck.

But a case based on priority of mobilization measures is never a strong one for several reasons.

First, it is difficult enough to tell "who began it" when the negotiations are spread over months, but it is practically impossible to do so when, as here, it is a question of hours.

The actual mobilization measures are taken in the midst of a cloud of accusations and threats, and it is impossible to separate cause from effect. Secondly, in any attempt to state the facts, the minor accusations and innuendoes must be discarded as of slight importance, except as a guide to the psychology of the moment.

The same may be said of rumours of violations of frontier. They have their value, but to put them forward, as does the German and Austrian correspondence, as the actual ground for the commencement of hostilities is to assume the impossible position that the fate of nations is subject to the reported action of a roving patrol. A marked insistence on such reports, as in the German Book, shows a poor appreciation of the value of the evidence.

Thirdly, mobilization "orders" are not mobilization. The mobilization systems of different countries are radically different; the precise nature of those systems, the lines of the railways and a hundred other points must be taken into consideration in judging mobilization measures, and any statement which ignores these factors is a mere bid for uninformed public opinion.

The hard fact that though Germany only proclaimed "Kriegsgefalzrzustand" on July 31st and mobilization on August 1st, to take effect on August 2nd, the German troops were across the Luxemburg frontier at dawn on August 2nd, will probably be judged to be historical evidence of far more value than any isolated reports received during the crisis.

As to Russian mobilization, it was fully realized in Germany that the Russian system was so complicated as to make it difficult to distinguish the localities really affected by mobilization.

Germany accuses Russia of mobilizing against Germany, not Austria, because she is reported to be mobilizing at Vilna and Warsaw, but both those towns are nearer to the Galician frontier than Prague is to the Serbian frontier, and Austria was reported to be mobilizing at Prague four days before she declared to Russia that she was only mobilizing against Serbia. The bare facts are of very slight value as evidence without a knowledge of the points already mentioned.

If the charges as to the priority of Russian mobilization are examined in the light of these considerations, it will be admitted that the evidence for those charges is remarkably slight, and that, given the admitted extreme slowness of Russian, and the extreme rapidity of German, mobilization, a fact which is frequently alluded to in the correspondence, there is no indication in favour of, and an overwhelming presumption against, the theory that the Russian measures were further advanced than the German when war was declared on August 1st.

The charge that the Czar's telegram of July 31st was misleading, and that the mobilization orders issued about the time of its dispatch destroyed the effect of sincere efforts then being made by Germany to mediate between Russia and Austria, is also unestablished.

In the first place, a glance at the Czar's telegram is sufficient to show that this charge is, to put it frankly, of the flimsiest character. His Majesty gave his "solemn word" that, while it was "technically impossible to discontinue our military preparations," the Russian troops would "undertake no provocative action" "as long as the negotiations between Austria and Serbia continue."

There was no promise not to mobilize; there was nothing but a statement which is almost word for word the same as that contained in the German Emperor's telegram to King George twenty-four hours later-the statement that, under certain circumstances, mobilization would not be converted into hostilities.

As a matter of fact, a somewhat unscrupulous use, in effect though perhaps not in intention, has been made of the Czar's telegrams to substantiate the theory of "betrayal."

Take for instance the German Chancellor's statement on July 31st (British Book, No. 108), that "the news of the active preparations on the Russo-German frontier had reached him just when the Czar had appealed to the Emperor, in the name of their old friendship, to mediate at Vienna, and when the Emperor was actually conforming to that request."

The telegram referred to must be that of July 29th (German Book, No. 21), since this is the only one which mentions "old friendship"; but this telegram, though it asks the Emperor to restrain Austria, also says in so many words that popular opinion in Russia would soon force measures which would lead to war.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

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