Outbreak of WWI
An Austrian envoy, Count Hoyos, brings a letter from Franz Joseph to Kaiser Wilhelm. The letter says that Austria-Hungary will crush Serbia militarily on the condition that she would receive German support.
Wilhelm virtually gives Austria a blank cheque, in essence support for whatever actions they wish to take. Berlin thought that this would be just another small Balkan War.
On the 23rd of July, Vienna hands over a nearly impossible ultimatum to Serbia. On the 25th, Russia mobilizes against Austria-Hungary whilst Grey, the British Foreign Minister, desperately tries to get a conference to be held.
His efforts are rejected by Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Historians disagree about the general causes for war, but one can clearly say that all parties more or less wanted war at the time.
The Schlieffen Plan
The German Schlieffen Plan (named after Count Alfred von Schlieffen), drawn up in the 1890’s, said that Germany could defeat France and then later defeat Russia, thereby fighting two one-front wars.
It basically said that Germany could win wars against both France and Russia by first moving through Belgium, capturing Paris and then returning to the Russian border.
The follow description is a key part in Frederick Taylor’s work and theory, “War by Time-Table”, which says that the planning was very important for the outbreak of the WWI.
On the 28th of June Russia was going to mobilize her army. The Tsar’s first order was for a full mobilization (along both the Austrian-Hungarian and German border).
Soon after the first order however, the Tsar tried changing the order to only invoke a partial mobilization, towards Austria. This was to avoid provoking Germany.
The Tsar was adviced by his staff not to call off the complete mobilization, for it would then render Russia defenseless against a German attack.
The elaborate mobilization plan involving hundreds of thousand men had to be followed once it was put in motion, or else an irreversible disruption of troop transport would follow.
On the 25th of June Russia started to mobilize along the German frontier. Normally this would only be seen as a “flexing of muscles”, a political way of displaying one’s power.
But for Germany, who needed to quickly defeat France, this essentially meant an immediate mobilization and movement through Belgium. She had to act.