The Aftermath of the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Austria sought counsel from its powerful ally Germany. The two countries drafted a strongly-worded ultimatum to be delivered to the Serbian government. The document demanded that Serbia quash all anti-Austrian propaganda in Serbia, put an end to “terrorist” organizations inside Serbia, and allow Austria to conduct its own investigation into the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914.
The Web of Alliances in WW1
The Austro-German Alliance
What Serbia did not know was that Germany and Austria were hoping to force a military confrontation between Austria and Serbia, the outcome of which would of course be a resounding victory for Austria. The plan was to hit Serbia quickly and with force before Serbia’s ally Russia had time to react.
Austria feared Serbia’s power in the Balkans, and determined that war was the only possible way to stop Serbia’s ambitions. The demands in the ultimatum were worded in such a way that Austria and Germany did not believe they would ever be accepted by Serbia. The ultimatum was delivered by the Austrian Ambassador to Serbia on July 23rd, and the Serbian government was given until 6p.m. on July 25th to respond.
Alleged Conspiracy Between Germany and Austria to Redraw Europe June 1914
Serbia Responds to Austria’s Ultimatum
Within those 48 hours, the German government worked its diplomatic channels with the other great powers to brief them on what was in the ultimatum. Britain and France both realized that Austria’s army was not strong enough to mount such a conflict alone and that if Germany backed Austria in such a fight, Britain and France would both be forced to react. The Serbian government, meanwhile, had taken the ultimatum to Russia. After reviewing the document, Russia believed that Germany was hoping to force such a conflict to protect its own interests in the Balkans.
The Germans had expected that the Russians would choose not to get involved in a conflict like this in the Balkans. They were wrong; Russia took immediate steps to prepare four of its military districts for mobilization to aid the Serbs.
Serbia surprised everyone – even the British – by agreeing to all but one of the demands in the ultimatum. They would not accept Austrian participation in an internal inquiry into the Archduke’s assassination, stating that this was a matter that their own criminal justice system would take care of. The response was hand-delivered by the Serbian Prime Minister to the Austrian Ambassador to Serbia in Belgrade prior to the deadline.
Fearing that Austria was going to start a conflict, the Prime Minister had earlier in the day ordered his army to mobilize, and mobilization by the Serbian army got underway the next day. And what was the Austrian Ambassador’s response to the visit from the Prime Minister? He broke off diplomatic relations with Serbia and headed for the train station. Austria formally declared war on Serbia on July 28th, 1914.
Austria-Hungary Declares War on Serbia
July 28th, 1914 - Austria declares war on Serbia.
August 1st, 1914 - Germany declares war on Russia. Russia defies Germany’s warning to halt mobilization of its troops, replying that the mobilization is only against Austria.
On August 1st, France enters the fray when it orders its army to mobilize to come to the aid of its ally Russia.
August 3rd, 1914 - France declares war on Germany and Germany declares war on France.
August 4th, 1914 – Germany’s invasion of Belgium causes Britain to formally declare war on Germany.
The First Shots of WW1 are Fired
Once the formal declaration of war had been made, troops went into action. Russian troops started preparing for war in the four regions that ran along its common border with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And, on the very night that war was declared, Austrian artillery opened up on Belgrade, situated directly across the Danube River. Though mostly ineffective, the shelling continued into the next day. The Serbian Campaign had begun.
Anticipating France’s entry into the war, four days later, Germany began putting its Schlieffen Plan into action. The plan had originally been drawn up in 1905 to lay out a strategic plan for any future war with France. The problem was that in order to put the plan in action, Germany had to cross through the neutral countries of Luxembourg and Belgium to get to France. So it was, on August 1st that the first German troops entered Luxembourg, and on August 2nd that German occupation of neutral Luxembourg began.
On the morning of August 2nd, before war had even been declared against France, a small German patrol crossed into French territory at Joncherey. There, they encountered a band of French infantry soldiers on patrol. Shots were exchanged, and men on both sides died. The War on The Western Front had begun.
A Shot that Changed the World
- Anon. (1923) Source Records of the Great War, Volume I. Canada: National Alumni, The Great War Veterans Association of Canada
- Anon. (1914-1921) History of the War, Volume I. London UK: The Times
- Tuchman, Barbara. (1962) The Guns of August. New York NY: Macmillan Company
© 2014 Kaili Bisson