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A day late, sorry.

In a secret meeting in Vienna, at the home of Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Leopold Berchtold, the final decision to invade and conquer Serbia is made. The invasion will come off regardless of Serbia's response to Austria's ultimatum in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Austria, its Emperor, Army, and the ruling German portion of its population, was smarting over its long history of losing wars and territory, and its failure to gain much territory in the Balkans from the tottering Ottoman Empire beyond the consolation prize of Bosnia-Herzegovina. So it decided to use the assassination, which had been aided by Serbia's intelligence chief and head of the Black hand pan-Slavic nationalist society, to make impossible demands of Serbia.

Slavic nationalism was becoming a major internal problem in Austria, and the new Balkan states were turbulent and violent, especially Serbia, a nuisance to Austria at best. So all the important figures in the Austrian government supported a war.

Germany supported Austria mostly because of the stupidity of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who controlled the armed forces, and because of a belief that Russia was its most dangerous enemy and that its fast developing economy (revisionist Communist history to the contrary) would soon gain important military advantages over Germany. The German Chief of Staff, Helmuth von Moltke, who pushed for a war in 1914 after cautioning against one in a crisis in 1911-12, was not nearly the man his namesake uncle, the victor in the Franco-Prussian War, had been. He had been selected because of his friendship with the Kaiser and because of his name. Wilhelm II was profoundly jealous of the military accomplishments of Wilhelm I and von Moltke the elder.

Russia supported Serbia because it shared Germany's belief in the two countries being each other's primary danger. Russia also feared German and Austrian control of the Dardanelles, then being gained by military and diplomatic cooperation with Turkey, would choke it to death. The Czar taking on the mantle of protector of the Slavs was just a convenient excuse.

France was scared stiff of Germany, knew they were outnumbered by 3 to 2, and formed an alliance with Russia and Italy to counter Germany and Austria. The fear of an inevitable German war was justified. At the peace conference that ended the Franco-Prussian War Bismark asked von Moltke the elder, sitting next to him at the conference table, why he wanted Germany to annex Alsace-Lorraine. The answer was short: "To secure my left wing in the next war."

And Britain's interest, for its own safety, was in stopping German control of the North Sea and Channel coast and preserving the balance of power against an expansionist Germany that wanted to dominate Europe.


I'm now reading Max Hasting's "Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War. I'm barely into it but Hastings puts together the history of the onset of WWI in the most complete and sensible account I've read on the subject. Some parties, especially the Germans, lied so much after the war and all changed their minds so much before and during it, that its been hard to find a WWI history that holds together and doesn't leave you with gaps in the chain of decisions and events.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Product Details

Hardcover: 672 pages
Publisher: Knopf; BC ed. edition (September 24, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307597059
ISBN-13: 978-0307597052

I skimmed the reviews on Amazon.com. It got a 4 star rating but curiously most of the low ratings were by people with ideological or revisionist complaints. After all these years the politics of WWI are still churning through some minds.

One complaint about it was that it wasn't original, like Tuchman's "Guns of August". IMHO it's a lot better. Tuchman didn't dig deeply enough into the origins of the war, and she preferred the dramatic to the more important but prosaic events, like the importance of the Goeben incident in bringing Turkey into the Central Powers vs the extensive German military investment in Turkey and the long history of Russian - Turkish conflict.
 

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"I'm now reading Max Hasting's "Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War. I'm barely into it but Hastings puts together the history of the onset of WWI in the most complete and sensible account I've read on the subject. Some parties, especially the Germans, lied so much after the war and all changed their minds so much before and during it, that its been hard to find a WWI history that holds together and doesn't leave you with gaps in the chain of decisions and events."

Reading it also. Excellent book. Not really on point, but I love the small details Hastings puts in the book. Example: "in 1900 one of every ten new French recruits were under five foot one inches in height."
 

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On July 23 Austria-Hungary will deliver to Serbia an ultimatum described by British Foreign Secretary Edward, Lord Grey as "the formidable document ever sent from one nation to another".
Austria-Hungary had its war party for some years, its main advocate being Conrad Von Hotzendorf. He has been described as the "best strategist of WWI" but as one historian noted "He was forever forgetting the pathetic inadequacy of the forces at his disposal."
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Austria-Hungary had its war party for some years, its main advocate being Conrad Von Hotzendorf. He has been described as the "best strategist of WWI" but as one historian noted "He was forever forgetting the pathetic inadequacy of the forces at his disposal."
Hastings disagrees on the "best strategist" bit - unless the bar is set very low. He says that Conrad completely screwed up the disposition of his forces in the Serbia campaign and ignored the fact that because of the 2nd Balkan War the Serb rank and file were hardened, ferocious fighters, despite a shortage of arms. Meanwhile, as you say, Conrad also forgot that the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Army had a lot of disaffected Slavs, had no modern fighting experience except for suppressing rioters and a rebellion in Bosnia. Plus its newer weapons were excellent but low budgets had prevented properly reequipping the Army.

The end result was that Serbia badly beat the initial Austrian assault. But it was isolated from help and supplies and its army was a wasting force - 60 percent of the male population of Serbia died in the war. When Bulgaria entered the war against it Serbia was doomed. It did last until the end of 1915 before its forces were all evacuated from Serbian soil.

Conrad appears to have thought that the Serbians would be effectively defeated in 3 weeks so he planned to disengage 3 armies from the mopping up to use on the Russian front.
 

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On July 23 Austria-Hungary will deliver to Serbia an ultimatum described by British Foreign Secretary Edward, Lord Grey as "the formidable document ever sent from one nation to another".
Austria-Hungary had its war party for some years, its main advocate being Conrad Von Hotzendorf. He has been described as the "best strategist of WWI" but as one historian noted "He was forever forgetting the pathetic inadequacy of the forces at his disposal."
A really (or even modestly) competent general actors the correlation of forces (as the Russians call it) into his appreciations and plans. Conrad did NOT do that, which pretty well blows him as far as being the best strategist of WWI, at least IMO. Actually, when you start looking closely at them - NONE of the senior commanders really showed themselves as being really good strategists. Some did well enough as operational commanders, though. More Germans than British, French, Austrian or Russian, I'd say, but that doesn't really set the bar that high.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Found this...looked interesting, if involved:


http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/july-crisis/
Except to make it real the participants would have to spend the 40 previous years fighting, preparing to fight, and scheming against each other, have their folks back home fomenting about @#$%s in the next country over, and also have assorted Marxists and nationalists scheming to overthrow them.

Clyde, Hastings seems to consider BEF commander Sir John French the absolute worst of the top ranks. Just looking in the index his entry has: despises, loathes, defeatism, non-cooperation, disharmony, weakness.... Kitchener, of course, was supposed to be the top Brit strategist, but seems to have pretty much stuck to logistics and manpower, leaving strategy to the French by default, but Sir John truly loathed them.
 

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Except to make it real the participants would have to spend the 40 previous years fighting, preparing to fight, and scheming against each other, have their folks back home fomenting about @#$%s in the next country over, and also have assorted Marxists and nationalists scheming to overthrow them.

Clyde, Hastings seems to consider BEF commander Sir John French the absolute worst of the top ranks. Just looking in the index his entry has: despMax is far from thr only one who feels that way about French. ises, loathes, defeatism, non-cooperation, disharmony, weakness.... Kitchener, of course, was supposed to be the top Brit strategist, but seems to have pretty much stuck to logistics and manpower, leaving strategy to the French by default, but Sir John truly loathed them.
Max Hastings isn't the only one who feels that way about Sir John French. I can't say i disagree greatly. Perhaps if he hadn't had to try and fight a coalition war with the French as the dominant (on the ground) ally, he might have done better. And if he hadn't had Haig as a (scheming to replace him, and with excellent political connections back in Blighty) subordinate. I am inclined to find Nivelle as perhaps the very worst senior commander on the Allied side, though.

It is to be noted that i find little to admire AS COMMANDERS (as individuals, many on both sides had admirers and justly so) in any of the senior commanders on either side in WWI. Or for that matter - few in WWII, and for sure none on our side in Vietnam.
 

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All of the military "thinkers" were mesmerized by "The Plan"-Plan XVII, the Schieffen Plan, Plan 19 for the Russians, etc. Nivelle said "We have the formula" before launching the Chemin des Dames offensive. The Germans especially worshipped at the altar of the Elder Von Moltke without ever really thinking about what he actually said or wrote-"No plan survives contact with the enemy."
 

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All of the military "thinkers" were mesmerized by "The Plan"-Plan XVII, the Schieffen Plan, Plan 19 for the Russians, etc. Nivelle said "We have the formula" before launching the Chemin des Dames offensive. The Germans especially worshipped at the altar of the Elder Von Moltke without ever really thinking about what he actually said or wrote-"No plan survives contact with the enemy."
Indeed so.
 
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