Tuesday, 22 July 2014

On the Brink of War

One hundred years ago today, the 22nd July 1914, could be considered the last day peace remained possible.  Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum  to Servia, now called Serbia, the next day.

On the 22nd and 23rd July 1914, Servia only appeared in United States newspapers as references to financial markets reactions to the uncertainty caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on the 28 June.  On the 24th July the ultimatum made the front page of many US newspapers, including the Washington Times.

The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]), 24 July 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Sarajevo assassination is very famous, but the reasons for it are less well known.  The Balkan region was squeezed between three world powers, the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman (also known as Turkish) empires, with substantial parts of the region under foreign control.  In 1909, Austria-Hungary annexed Ottoman territories Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria declared independence from the Ottoman Empire (see Bosnian crisis).  In 1912, Servia, Rumania, Bulgaria and Greece all had territorial aspirations beyond their borders.  Servia’s aspirations included Bosnia, the province in which Sarajevo was located.

Report of the International Commission To Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars. 1914. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Washington D.C., p.38. Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/reportofinternat00inteuoft : accessed 22 July 2014)

The Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 re-drew the political map.  The Ottoman Empire fared badly and lost territory, shown in darker shades on this map.

Bartholomew J.G. The Balkan States with New Frontiers according to the Treaties of London, Constantinople & Bukharest. In Report of the International Commission To Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars. 1914. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Washington D.C. digital image no 432, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/reportofinternat00inteuoft : accessed 22 July 2014)

By 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire faced rising nationalist sentiment in its ethnically diverse territories.  Servian nationalists were emboldened, leading to the attack in Sarajevo.  Had no other country interfered, Austria-Hungary could have crushed Servia.  Perhaps the Austro-Hungarian government thought war could be limited or they could obtain a diplomatic victory as in 1909.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Servia on 28 July 1914.

Russia supported Servia.  Russia, France and Britain had diplomatic agreements with each other.  Austria-Hungary was allied with Germany.

Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914, in response to Russian military mobilization on its border.  On the 3rd August Germany declared war on France and invaded neutral Belgium.  Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on the 4th August.  The Ottoman Empire entered the war on the 29th October, siding with Germany against Russia.


  1. Thanks, Sue, that's great research, a big help making sense of this complicated time. Kudos for finding those maps!

  2. I needed that mini history lesson. Thanks, Sue.


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