On 28 June 1914 the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were shot dead by a 19-year old student during a visit to the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. Members of the Serbian Panslavist movement, who were supported by Russia, wanted to reinforce their demand for a Serbian nation that would be independent from Austria-Hungary.
The armed forces in Vienna were urging a rapid retaliatory strike against Serbia and the German Empire confirmed its loyalty to the alliance with the Danube Monarchy on 5 / 6 July (Mission Hoyos). A quick and forceful military strike against Serbia was meant to create a fait accompli and prevent Russia from stepping in. While the Imperial government on the one hand wanted to locally restrict the conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the time for a war against Russia was considered “the least unsuitable moment“ since Russia was threatening to overwhelm Germany with “the number of its forces“ anytime soon. Due to European politicians taking a rather hesitant stance in the matter, the “July Crisis“ worsened dramatically and finally led to World War I.
Johann-Bernhard Mann was a Lieutenant Commander in June / July 1914 and was Admiral of the Fleet von Tirpitz’s assistant, who was in health treatment in Tarasp / Switzerland from 2 to 26/27 July. Mann kept him informed about the ongoing conversations on the highest political and military level. When the war broke out, he also became the Representative of the German Imperial Naval Office at the Supreme Headquarter.
In three handwritten diaries (N 568/1-3), he reports about the period from July 1914 to August 1915. In addition to details about the political and military situation, they also include illustrations of meetings with Emperor Wilhelm II, the Imperial Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg, representatives of the Foreign Office and the military leadership.
On 6 July, Lieutenant Commander Mann describes a meeting of Emperor Wilhelm II and Admiral von Capelle to Admiral of the Fleet von Tirpitz. Capelle was Undersecretary of State in the German Imperial Naval Office at the time and in that function he was von Tirpitz’s assistant. In early July the military leadership was just being informed of everything that happened– at that time the events did not result in any immediate military action yet. The Emperor and leading politicians were expecting the situation to be resolved within eight to ten days.
In the memoirs published by Admiral of the Fleet von Tirpitz in 1919, some text fragments contain records of Captain Mann in the exact same wording. There was heated public debate about the work of von Tirpitz following its publication. For example, both Admiral von Müller (Head of the German Imperial Naval Cabinet) and State Secretary (in the Foreign Office) von Jagow disagreed with von Tirpitz and published their own version of the events.
From 1913 to 1916 the Undersecretary of State Zimmermann worked under the leadership of State Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow in the Foreign Office. Zimmermann was involved in the decision-making about supporting Austria-Hungary in their war against the Kingdom of Serbia during the July Crisis as part of “Mission Hoyos“.
The two Austrian-Hungarian politicians mentioned in the text also played a major role in the July Crisis. While Graf Berchthold pleaded for a military intervention and thus supported Mission Hoyos, Graf Tisza favoured a solution that would be acceptable for Serbia mainly because he was afraid of the reaction of the Russians.
In anticipation, the German Army Command took initial steps on 8 / 9 July to prepare for a possible conflict, but that was still done hidden from the public and other states.
Handing over the Note with the demands placed by Austria on Serbia, however, was done later, that is to say following the departure of the French President from Petersburg on 22 / 23 July 1914. The German Ambassador in Vienna informed the German Imperial Government about the content of the ultimatum on 12 July, but it was only a first draft. The final version was not completed until 19 July.
Austria had granted the Serbs a deadline of 48 hours within which they had to respond to their claims. If within that period no response was forthcoming, the Austrian mobilisation would be initiated. However, Austria’s demands were phrased in such a way that it was impossible for the Serbs to accept.
Admiral of the Fleet von Tirpitz wrote to his deputy officer on 13 July – being aware of the ultimatum – in which he recommended an agreement with the Tsar as he did not believe that a war could be locally restricted. Neither did he believe in England holding a neutral position.
On 20 July the French government delegation led by the French President Poincares visited St. Petersburg for three days. Contrary to the statement made by Zimmerman on 13 July, Austria’s Note was now to be handed over after the visit. It should coincide with a statement made by Germany aimed at Russia, France and England expressing the assumption of a locally restricted war as described above and the desired – not explicitly expressed – non-interference of the other European Great Powers.
The German individual armed services had so far been performing according to schedule since the political and military leadership had only started deliberating on a mobilisation on the 18 / 19 July. In Austria on the other hand, the military preparations had already set in which was certainly related to the forthcoming handover of the Note. As war clouds were gathering, the military situation in Germany changed from 21 and 22 July. From now on the Germans started preparing a military operation, although part of it was still done undercover.
Evidently, the 29 July was a particularly busy day: The events and results captured by Lieutenant Captain Mann are spread over almost five pages. On that day, Austrian battleships had been bombarding the Citadel of Belgrade from five o’clock a.m. after Austria had initiated a partial mobilisation on 25 July and declared war on Serbia three days later.
In Germany there was a lot of controversial debate between the Emperor and the civil and military leadership about how to respond to Austria’s action and whether for example “the state of danger of war“ should be proclaimed. Von Tirpitz describes the meeting in the Neue Palais in Potsdam in great detail in his annals. His reports include the statement that the Chancellor „had completely fallen to his knees“ and that the Emperor was annoyed about Bethmann’s inadequacy.
In subsequent publications it is therefore highlighted that there were significant disagreements amongst German political leaders (Emperor, Imperial Chancellor and State Secretary in the Foreign Office).
The Emperor considered the Tsar’s dispatch a hidden threat as he expressed in his telegram to State Secretary von Jagow on that day. He completely ignored the Imperial Chancellor – a clear sign and expression of his annoyance about Bethmann Hollweg. This was followed by several mediation attempts, all of which failed to stop the war.
On the 30 July the Russian general mobilisation was put into place followed by the Austrian general mobilisation on 31 July. The Russian general mobilisation was perceived as a provocation in Germany. On the day of the Austrian general mobilisation, Germany therefore announced “the state of imminent danger of war“ and issued an 12-hour ultimatum towards Russia during which the Russian general mobilisation was to be ceased.
As Russia failed to respond to Germany, Berlin had the German army mobilised on 1 August and declared war on Russia on that same evening. As France had been rather evasive in responding to Germany’s request for neutrality, Germany declared war on France on 3 August together with German troops invading Belgium. On 4 and 8 August Great Britain’s reaction was the declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Quellen — N 568 Nachlass Johann-Bernhard Mann | Bild 183 Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst - Zentralbild
Hinweis — Der Nachlass N 568 liegt digitalisiert vor und kann über BASYS-Invenio abgerufen werden.