Who started WW One?




Austria  Sunday, 2nd AugustGermany  Sunday, 2nd AugustBritain  Sunday, 2nd AugustFrance  Sunday, 2nd AugustBelgium  Sunday, 2nd August

Early morning Tschirschky calls on Berchtold to persuade Austria-Hungary to declare war on Russia. Berchtold does not want to do this until troops can be returned from the Serbian front in mid-August. After further pressure the Austro-Hungarians agree to declare war on Russia before the 5 August.

2.30 A.M. Bethmann calls a meeting with Moltke, Falkenhayn, Tirpitz, Jagow and foreign ministry officials. Berlin has not received Pourtalès' message that he has given the declaration of war to Sazonov. The Russians have cut communications. They do not know if they are at war with Russia. There is also a heated discussion over the need to deliver a formal declaration of war on France. The military simply want to get on with the invasion.

Shortly after 4.00 A.M. News arrives in Berlin that Russian troops have attacked a railway installation inside the German border and a statement is issued saying Germany is at war with Russia.

Just after dawn German troops invade and occupy Luxembourg.

Morning Tschirschky in Vienna is sent the news about war with Russia and told "we expect of Austria fulfilment of her allied obligations and immediate vigorous intervention against Russia". Moltke sends similar message to Conrad. Austro-Hungarian military efforts should concentrate against Russia, the "mortal enemy". "Serbia can be kept in check with limited forces".

Morning At a meeting with the Kaiser the German military strenuously repeat their opposition to a formal declaration of war on France. Bethmann says it is a legal requirement and the ultimatum to Belgium does not make sense unless Germany is at war with France. His view prevails. [More]

Afternoon Below in Brussels is instructed to give the ultimatum to the Belgian government 7 P.M. local time. He has this in the envelop he received from Berlin on 29 July, three days earlier. [More]

Late afternoon In response to Lichnowsky's message that it is most likely Britain will oppose Germany if it violates Belgian territory Jagow tells him to explain to the British government the actions being taken in Belgium are "self-defence against French menace" and the integrity of Belgium will be restored in the peace settlement.
He is not to do this until the next morning after the delivery of the ultimatum.

Early morning The German invasion and occupation of Luxembourg breaks the 1867 treaty signed by Britain, France and Prussia. Paul Cambon calls on Grey to ask what the British will do. Grey says the treaty is a collective guarantee, unlike the treaty with Belgium, and Britain individually is not obliged to act.

Morning Lichnowsky calls on Asquith. Asquith tells him war between Britain and Germany is unthinkable but it rests largely with Germany to make British intervention impossible if she would (i) not invade Belgium and (ii) not send her fleet into the Channel to attack the unprotected north coast of France.

Morning A small group of ministers meets in Lloyd George's office. They are not willing to go to war to support France in all circumstances or for a mere violation of Belgian territory but would go to war if there was a wholesale German invasion of Belgium.
Lloyd George and Harcourt go to Asquith and tell him they represent eight to ten cabinet colleagues who hold this view.

Morning The Conservative leaders, Bonar Law and Lord Lansdowne, send a letter to Asquith. It says "... it would be fatal to the honour and security of the United Kingdom to hesitate in supporting France and Russia at this juncture; and we offer our unconditional support to the Government in any measures they may consider necessary for this object".
This Conservative stance does not depend on a violation of Belgian neutrality by Germany as a cause of war.

11.00 A.M. to about 2.00 P.M. Cabinet Meeting There is a long and difficult meeting. There is a danger the cabinet will split and the government have to resign.
Grey says he is outraged by the way Germany and Austria have pushed aside all attempts at mediation.
Grey reminds the meeting of the 1912 naval agreement with France. The French fleet is concentrated in the Mediterranean and the British in the Channel and the North Sea. The French coast is open to attack by the German navy. Grey says he could not stay in office if Britain fails to protect the French coast. If Britain is to be neutral he will go.
Samuel says Britain must not go to war for "the sake of our goodwill for France" nor for "the balance of power". If Britain goes to war, it must be solely for British interests. Britain could go to war "for the protection of the northern coasts of France, which we could not afford to see bombarded by the German fleet and occupied by the German army, or for the maintenance of the independence of Belgium".
The cabinet eventually agree that Britain will not allow German warships to enter the Channel. The neutralists are starting to divide. Some hopefully believe honouring the consequences of the naval agreement with France will not necessarily involve Britain in war. And, France protects British interests in the Mediterranean. Others see it as tantamount to a declaration of war on Germany.
Grey also confirms that the British Expeditionary Force will not be sent to the Continent if there is war. To some neutralists this means if war does come for Britain it will be only a naval war, and not as costly or terrible as a land war.
The cabinet is very close to a major split but at this point only one minister resigns. They agree to meet later to discuss what to do about Belgium. [More]

During the cabinet meeting Asquith reads out the letter from Bonar Law and Lord Lansdowne offering “unhesitating support” for the government in any measures it considers necessary to support France and Russia. The cabinet know if the government collapses its successor will either be a coalition or a Conservative minority government in favour of war.
Asquith also gives his summary of the British position. He says:
(1) We have no obligation of any kind either to France or Russia to give them military or naval help.
(2) The dispatch of the Expeditionary Force to help France at this moment is out of the question and would serve no object.
(3) We must not forget the ties created by our long-standing and intimate friendship with France.
(4) It is against British interests that France should be wiped out as a Great Power.
(5) We cannot allow Germany to use the Channel as a hostile base.
(6) We have obligations to Belgium to prevent it being utilised and absorbed by Germany.
One cabinet member later described the cabinet meeting as the one "which decided that war with Germany was inevitable".

Just after midday Based on earlier diplomatic conversations the German Military Attaché reports to Berlin "... it would be desirable if our Navy refrained from actions which might lead to incidents ... regarded as a challenge. This would ... include naval attacks on French north coast, left unprotected by France in reliance on England".

During lunch The cabinet neutralists meet. Some feel they are being drawn step-by-step into a war for the benefit of France and Russia. They are being "jockeyed" over the German fleet. But Harcourt says he thinks an attack on the French Channel coast is a British interest. They discuss what to say about Belgium at the evening meeting.

Afternoon Grey gives a formal assurance to Paul Cambon that if German warships enter the Channel to operate against the French coast or shipping, the British navy will give all the protection possible.
Cambon asks what the cabinet would say about an invasion of Belgium. Grey tells him they are still considering what to say to Parliament the next day.
Grey adds if there is a European war Britain would not be able to send its army to the continent because of all its imperial responsibilities and the need to protect its coasts.

6.30 P.M. Cabinet Meeting The cabinet have an easier meeting and they agree to a statement regarding Belgium.
The report to the King of the day's meetings says "... protection of the French coasts ... is not only a recognition of our friendship with France, but is also imperatively required to preserve British interests" and "As regards Belgium, it was agreed, without any attempts to state a formula, that it should be made evident that a substantial violation of the neutrality of that country would place us in the situation contemplated as possible by Mr. Gladstone in 1870, when interference with Belgian independence was held to compel us to take action".
This statement gives some hope to those against joining the war as Germany might invade only a small part of Belgium on the route to France and the Belgians themselves not resist. If Belgium resists most in the cabinet believe Britain must enter the war.
A second cabinet member confirms he will resign. [More]

9.30 P.M. Conservative leaders meet. They know about the promise to France of naval protection but are disappointed with Asquith's formal reply to their letter which repeats the line Britain is under no obligation to France or Russia to give them naval or military support. They suspect the government is wavering and decide they should see Asquith as soon as possible the next morning.

Evening A small number of cabinet neutralists including Lloyd George meet at dinner. Lloyd George speaks strongly about the importance of maintaining Belgium's neutrality. He also talks about the danger of Russian expansion. Many are not willing to support a country like Russia. Lloyd George thinks the cabinet is on the point of breaking up.

2.00 P.M. The cabinet agree a proclamation of a state of emergency. The National Assembly now has to meet within forty-eight hours.

Afternoon Poincaré starts preparing his message to the National Assembly. He wants to say "at last we can release the cry, until now smothered in our breasts: Vive L' Alsace Lorraine" but ministers persuade him that such a declaration will be bad for foreign opinion and make the war appear as one of revenge. He agrees to remove the passage.

Brussels Below is told by Berlin to open the sealed document he received on Wednesday and deliver the note inside to the Belgian government at 7.00 P.M. The note claims the French are about to attack Germany through Belgium and the Germans must be allowed to come through Belgium to repel this attack.
He is to give the impression to the Belgian government that he received the note just that afternoon. The Belgian reply is to be in Berlin by 1.00 P.M. the next day, Monday, 3 August. [More]

7.00 P.M. Below arrives at Davignon's office and hands him the note. Both men are upset and Davignon grows angry. He does not believe the German claim that France is about to attack. Davignon says the note will be dealt with immediately and Below leaves.

Late evening King Albert calls a Crown Council with his ministers. It goes on through the night. There is heated argument but not on whether or not to accept the German ultimatum. They are all agreed it should be rejected. The argument is over how best to resist the Germans. Should they fight near the border or withdraw into the interior of Belgium.
They decide to immediately ask the Guaranteeing Powers for diplomatic support but not to ask for military support until an invasion begins.

Austria  Monday, 3rd AugustGermany  Monday, 3rd AugustBritain  Monday, 3rd AugustFrance  Monday, 3rd AugustBelgium  Monday, 3rd August

See next day

9.30. A.M. Tirpitz approves suggestion that Germany refrains from naval actions that might provoke the British. Jagow telegrams Lichnowsky saying "We can definitely state that a threat to the French north coast on our part will not take place as long as England remains neutral".

Midday German government receives news Belgium has rejected the ultimatum. They don’t declare war on Belgium hoping the Belgians will offer only token resistance to the German army.

Afternoon 1.05 P.M. Schoen in Paris is instructed to deliver the German declaration of war on France to the French government at 6.00 P.M. It contains accusations of French frontier infringements and bombing raids on Germany. There have been no bombing raids.

Morning Lichnowsky gives Grey an assurance from Berlin that "a threat to the French north coast on our part will not take place as long as England remains neutral". He also assures Grey that Germany will maintain the "integrity" of Belgium after the war.

Morning Shortly after Grey sees Lichnowsky, the British Foreign Office learns Germany has sent an ultimatum to Belgium.

9.30 A.M. Bonar Law and Lord Lansdowne call on Asquith. They fear he is trying to find a reason for Britain not to intervene. On talking to him they conclude he supports Grey and Churchill but is trying to find a way to keep the cabinet together.

10.00 A.M. Cabinet Meeting Grey reports the latest information. He tells the cabinet about the unconfirmed German demand for passage of its troops through Belgium. He mentions Lichnowsky's promise that Germany will not attack the French coast if Britain is neutral but he doubts that Lichnowsky is authorised to say this.
Asquith announces he has overnight authorised the mobilisation of the British Army for home defence.
They discuss the statement Grey is to make to the House of Commons in the afternoon and agree the principle points.
Asquith now has resignation letters from three cabinet members and another announces he will resign. The meeting is very emotional. Asquith says in other circumstances he would resign but there would be no government with a majority in the House of Commons. He thinks coalitions are bad for the country.
Lloyd George makes a strong appeal for them not to go or delay and sit in their usual places when Grey speaks in the Commons, and the Government appears united. The Liberal Party members in the Commons are not aware of the cabinet resignations when Grey makes his statement. Later two members withdraw their resignations. [More]

Early afternoon King George receives a personal telegram from King Albert of Belgium referring to the King's friendship and Britain's support of Belgium in 1870. King Albert makes a supreme appeal for "the Diplomatic intervention of your Majesty's government to safeguard the integrity of Belgium".

3.00 P.M. Grey makes a statement to a packed House of Commons. He explains that Britain has no alliance or binding military agreements with France.
As a result of the strong friendship France has with Britain her fleet has concentrated in the Mediterranean and Britain has now promised France the Royal Navy will protect the Channel and western coasts of France.
He goes on to talk about Belgium as a problem becoming worse by the hour. He tells the House it appears an ultimatum has been given to Belgium by Germany offering friendly relations if she facilitates the passage of German troops. He does not yet know if this news is accurate. He mentions King Albert's appeal to Britain for diplomatic intervention.
He says Britain cannot stand aside and see Belgium lose her neutrality and France defeated. It would mean the whole of the continent falling under the control of a single power. Britain has always opposed such aggrandisement.
Grey says Britain, with its powerful Fleet, will suffer little more in war than if she stands aside. Trade will cease and Britain will suffer terribly whether or not she is in the war.
On the Conservative benches the cheering and clapping show overwhelming support for Grey. On the Liberal side the reaction is much less enthusiastic especially below the gangway. [More]

About 4.30 P.M. Following Grey the leader of each main political party makes a brief statement. Bonar Law for the Conservatives again gives the government "unhesitating support".
Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, to great surprise, is wholeheartedly behind the government's policy.
MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party, says he believes the government is wrong and Britain should remain neutral. The Speaker then suspends further debate until 7.00 P.M.

After the last speeches A meeting of the Liberal Foreign Affairs Group attracts 27 MPs. The majority of them disagree with Grey and they issue a press release calling for the government to continue negotiations with Germany with a view to Britain remaining neutral.

6.00 P.M. Cabinet Meeting The cabinet meets again and agrees that a message is sent the next day to Berlin asking the German government to withdraw its ultimatum to Belgium. [More]

7.00 P.M. Grey returns to the Commons and reads a note he has just received from the Belgian legation. It summarises the German ultimatum and declares that Belgium has rejected the ultimatum and is resolved to repel aggression by all possible means. He and Asquith leave the House.
Even though Grey had the support of most MPs, the great majority or at least three-quarters by some estimates, the three hour evening adjournment debate that follows produces mainly speakers against the government's policy, and no cabinet members take part. [More]

Evening While looking out of his office window watching the lamps being lit in St James Park, Grey makes the remark "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime".

Brief The cabinet resignations

6.00 P.M. Schoen delivers and reads out the German declaration of war on France to Viviani. It contains false accusations that the French have carried out bombing raids on Germany. Schoen asks for his passports and leaves.

7.00 A.M. An official of the Belgian foreign ministry delivers the Belgian reply to the German legation. It includes the statement "Were Belgium to accept the proposals laid before it, the Belgian Government would sacrifice the nation's honour while being false to its duties towards Europe". [More]

10.55 A.M. Below wires Berlin that Belgium has rejected the German demand "and will oppose by force any violation of her neutrality". Later he also wires "Feeling towards Germany bad".

Brussels The Belgian government is careful not to openly side with the Entente powers, France and Britain, hoping when the German government realises Belgium will resist it will call off its invasion.

Late afternoon The British ambassador is given a copy of the German ultimatum and the Belgian reply and he wires summaries to London.

Austria  Tuesday, 4th AugustGermany  Tuesday, 4th AugustBritain  Tuesday, 4th AugustFrance  Tuesday, 4th AugustBelgium  Tuesday, 4th August

Military situation Germany is at war with Russia, France and Britain. Austria-Hungary, the country that created the crisis with its ultimatum to Serbia, is at war with only Serbia.

Following the Emperor's orders of the 31 July, Austria-Hungary begins general mobilisation.

Morning Austria has still made no move to fight Russia and that afternoon Bethmann will be explaining to the Reichstag that Germany is forced to go to war to defend its Austro-Hungarian ally.
He wires Vienna: "We have been compelled to go to war on account of Austria's procedure, and have a right to expect that Austria should not seek to hide this fact, but will openly announce that the threat of interference in the Serbian conflict is forcing Austria to go to war".

3.00 P.M. Bethmann addresses the Reichstag. He admits the invasions of Luxembourg and Belgium are breaches of international law but says "necessity knows no law". He also says Britain has been told Germany will not attack the northern French coast and the territorial integrity and independence of Belgium will be respected at the end of the war. [More]

Afternoon Goschen calls on Jagow with the British request sent that morning that Germany does not violate Belgian neutrality. Jagow says the answer must be "no" and he explains German troops have already crossed the Belgian border that morning and the Belgians are resisting.

7.00 P.M. Goschen calls on Jagow again. This time he has the British ultimatum sent in the afternoon.
He reads it to Jagow. "Unless Imperial Government can give assurance by 12 o'clock that night that they will proceed no further with their violation of Belgian frontier and stop their advance, I have been instructed to demand my passports and inform the Imperial Government that His Majesty's Government will have to take all steps in their power to uphold neutrality of Belgium".
Jagow says that his answer is the same. Goschen says in that case he has to ask for his passports. He asks to see Bethmann and Jagow eagerly agrees.

Shortly after The Chancellor is very agitated and he harangues Goschen for about twenty minutes.
He says it is "intolerable" that when Germany is trying to save itself Britain "should fall upon them just for sake of the neutrality of Belgium". Goschen's account of the meeting says Bethmann used the notorious phrase that Britain was going to war for "a scrap of paper". [More]

9.30 A.M. Grey wires Goschen instructing him to tell the German government Britain is "bound to protest against this violation of a treaty to which Germany is a party in common with themselves, and must request an assurance that the demand made upon Belgium will not be proceeded with, and that her neutrality will be respected by Germany".
He is to ask for an immediate reply. The message is in the form of a request, not an ultimatum, and does not say what the British government will do if the request is ignored.

11.00 A.M. The Belgian legation gets news that Germany has warned Belgium she will use armed force. Confirmation of this from the British Minister in Brussels follows shortly after.

11.30 A.M. Cabinet Meeting Grey gives the latest news from Belgium and reads out the draft of another telegram he is going to send to Goschen in Berlin requiring an answer by midnight.

Midday Lichnowsky passes the Foreign Office a message from Jagow. It repeats the German assurance that in the case of armed conflict with Belgium, Germany will not annex any Belgian territory. It claims that Germany is compelled to invade Belgium to forestall a French attack on Germany through Belgium.

2.00 P.M. Asquith and Grey telegram Goschen asking for a reply to the message sent to him at 9.30 A.M. If Germany does not reply by midnight he is instructed to "ask for your passports and to say that His Majesty's Government feel bound to take all steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium". Britain's request is now an ultimatum.

Afternoon Grey sees Mensdorff. He says there is no cause for Britain and Austria to quarrel as long as Austria does not go to war with France.

Evening Paul Cambon now knows Britain will support France. He asks Grey "How will you fight the war?". "Will you send your Expeditionary Force?" Grey replies "No". "We shall blockade the German ports. We have not yet considered sending a military force to the Continent".
Cambon says public opinion will force Britain to intervene on the continent and to be effective it must be immediate.
He uses a map of French army deployment to show Grey the need for British forces on the left of the French, as agreed by the British and French General Staffs, if France is attacked through Belgium. He asks Grey to tell Asquith and the cabinet of these considerations.

Shortly after 9.00 P.M. A small group of cabinet members, Asquith, Grey, Haldane, later joined by Lloyd George and McKenna, meet in the cabinet room.
There is no news from Berlin. Goschen's messages never get to London but the government learns from an intercepted message from Berlin to the German embassy he has asked for his passports. They decide to wait until 11.00 P.M. midnight Berlin time.

Shortly after 11.00 P.M. Midnight Berlin time. There is still no news from Berlin and Asquith and the cabinet ministers with him decide to send a declaration of war to Lichnowsky. [More]

Shortly after midnight The Foreign Office gets a message from Brussels saying the Belgium government has asked for military help.

Morning Poincaré is worried that the British have made no commitment to send the BEF to France. He writes to King George requesting him to send British troops to cover the French left flank as the Germans attack through Belgium.

3.00 P.M. The President has no right to address the National Assembly and Poincaré’s speech is read out for him in both houses. It stresses the defensive nature of French policy and claims France represents liberty, justice and reason. He calls for a union sacrée. In the Chamber of Deputies the entire assembly gets to its feet and cheers his words. He doesn't mention Alsace and Lorraine.

8.00 A.M. Brussels receives confirmation German troops have entered Belgium.