After the assassination of the Archduke there began a period of political bicep flexing and a flurry of pacts, friendly handshakes and aggressive finger pointing as the major (and some of the not so major) powers of Europe shuffled themselves into two distinct sides ready for an August face-off.
On the 6th July, Germany put an arm around its Austro-Hungarian cousins and told them they could count on German support if they decided on revenge against Serbia.
Rumours are abound that the Serbian government were behind the assassination. On the 9th July the Austro-Hungarian government send Friedrich von Wiesner to check it out.
Not surprisingly 4 days later, on 14th July, Herr von Wiesner reports back confirming the rumours that the Serbia government were indeed behind the assassination. Now they are really annoyed.
On 21st July,the Chief of Staff of the Austro-Hungarian Army; Conrad von Hotzendorff called for the declaration of war on Serbia claiming that no one in Europe would bat an eyelid.
Feeling brave two days later on 23rd July, the Austro-Hungarian government placed 15 separate demands on the Serbia government, including one that they arrest the leaders of the black hand gang and send them to Vienna for trial.
The next day, 24th July, fearing the worst, the Serbs ask Russia for help if they were to be attacked by Austria-Hungary. They get the nod from Russian 26th July. Meanwhile they have already stuck two fingers up at Austria-Hungary by flatly refusing to co-operate with any of their demands. This didn’t really go down well with Emperor Franz Josef and the rest of the Austo-Hungarians, and they declared war on Serbia on 28th July.
On the 31st July Russia mobilises it’s army in support of Serbia, and in a kind of ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ stance moved troops right up to the borders of Austrio-Hungary and Germany.
This p*ssed of Germany, who declared war on Russia on August 1st. But, not content with taking on Russia, Germany declare war on France on August 3rd and are now committed to fight a war on two fronts.
Now it’s time for Britain to get in on the act. When Germany declared war on France, Belgium understandably became very nervous. As a neutral territory they looked to Britain to help them preserve their position. Britain, being the nice chaps they were, immediately tipped their hat to Belgium and guaranteed to protect their neutrality. In the same breath Britain warned Germany that if they set foot in Belgium they could consider themselves at war with Britain and her empire.
It’s all about to kick off big time, because the Germans walked into Belgium on August 4th and true to their word Britain declared war on Germany. Over the next 10 days or so, all the major protagonists declared war on each other, making two very distinct, very powerful and very destructive sides. Austria-Hungary and Germany on one side, Russia, France and Great Britain on the other.
And after all this political show boating and feather ruffling it is left to the ordinary man in the street to fight it out in the trenches. To live and to die amongst the mud, the guns, the filth, the gas, the rats and the blood…