The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 18
THE DECLARATION OF WAR ON FRANCE
THE NEUTRALIZATION OF FRANCE
After the outbreak of war between Germany and Russia, war between Germany and France must have followed automatically. The German plan of campaign was to dispose of France first, and then to settle with the Russians. To enable the German armies to begin their activity against France as speedily as possible, that is to say, to produce a declaration of war in the west, was the task which the General Staff laid upon the Foreign Office. With this object the latter had sent to Paris on July 31st at the same time as the announcement of mobilization which was conveyed to Russia, a note almost to the same effect, the tone of which, however, as we have seen, was much more threatening. It said definitely "Mobilization inevitably means war," and categorically demanded of the French Government that they should say whether they would remain neutral in a Russo-German war; the answer to be given within 18 hours.
The intention was obvious: by setting this question to France they wished to force her to declare at once that she was on Russia's side; war would then have been declared without more ado, and by August 2nd activity against France could have been begun.
Confiding subjects of the Kaiser have nevertheless seen in this action of the German Government a proof of their love of peace.
Dr. David, for example, thought:
"The German Government undertook the attempt at least to confine the conflagration to the east. This is no small factor to their credit. It was seriously intended. There could be no doubt on this point." ("The Social-Democracy in the World- War," p. 80.)
A man who regarded the German Government with less confidence would probably have cherished doubts as to whether the form of the ultimatum which Germany sent to Paris in the telegram printed above with the demand that a statement on neutrality should at once be made, was that which would have been chosen by anyone who really desired her neutrality. But even the most innocent and trusting spirit must lose all doubts when he learns that this telegram to Schön had an appendix, which the German Government very wisely did not publish, but on the contrary marked "Secret." It was not their fault that this appendix nevertheless became known to the French Government, not long afterwards, when the war was in full swing. It ran:
"If, as is not to be expected, the French Government states it will remain neutral, your Excellency will tell them that we must demand as a guarantee of their neutrality the surrender of the fortresses of Toul and Verdun, which we would occupy and restore at the conclusion of the war with Russia. The answer to the latter question must reach here by to-morrow (August 1.—K.) afternoon, at 4p.m.
That no French Government, even the most pacifist with a Jaurès at the head of it, could accede to this demand, and that the question about neutrality was not intended "to confine the conflagration to the east" but to force France to war at once, is obvious. At 4 p.m. on August 1st they expected to have a ground for war against France, and at 5 p.m. the declaration of war was to be handed to Russia. It was thus hoped to be able to begin the war at the same time on both fronts, and the front against France seemed to the General Staff more urgent than that against Russia. On August 4th Jagow assured the Belgian Ambassador, Baron Beyens:
"To avoid being destroyed, Germany must first destroy France and then turn against Russia."
It was therefore very upsetting that France's answer was quite an unexpected one. Viviani did not refuse neutrality, as Bethmann-Hollweg had assumed he would, nor did he promise it, so that there was no opportunity to produce the demand for the surrender of Toul and Verdun; Schön therefore had to telegraph on August 1st:
"To my definite and repeated question whether France would remain neutral in the case of a Russo-German war, the Premier replied to me that France would do what her interest demanded."
Schon had no instructions to meet this answer. Nor was it easy for the Foreign Office to declare themselves, on the strength of it, "forced to war" and "assailed by France," which was, however, necessary if they were to create a favourable moral atmosphere for the war.
Immediately on the receipt of Schon's reply the Foreign Office set itself to evolve a declaration of war, and produced the following document, still dated Aug. 1st:
"The German Government has from the beginning of the crisis been striving for a peaceful settlement. But while it was mediating between Vienna and St. Petersburg by desire of H.M. the Tsar of Russia and in conjunction with England, Russia mobilized her whole army and navy. The security of the German Empire has been threatened by this measure, which had not been preceded by any extraordinary military preparations in Germany. Not to meet such a danger would mean to risk the existence of the Empire. The German Government has therefore summoned the Russian Government to cease mobilizing against Germany and her allies at once. At the same time the German Government informed the Government of the French Republic of this message, and in view of the known relations of the Republic to Russia, asked for a declaration whether France were willing to remain neutral in the Russo-German war. To this the French Government has given the ambiguous and evasive answer that France will do what her interests demand. By this answer France reserves the right to take the side of our enemies, and is able at any moment to take us in the rear with her army, in the meanwhile mobilized. In this attitude Germany must see a threat, especially as, although the time limit has long expired, she has received no reply to the summons to Russia to cease mobilizing her forces, and thus a Russo-German war has broken out. Germany cannot leave it to France to choose the time at which the threat to her Western frontier will become a reality, but being threatened from two sides must at once begin her defence.
"I am therefore commanded to inform your Excellency that: 'His Majesty the German Emperor declares in the name of the Empire that Germany announces she is in a state of war with France.'"
This declaration of war was not dispatched. The reasons for this are not recorded. They probably hesitated to follow up the insufficiently founded declaration of war on Russia with a second of similar calibre to France. With what embarrassment the declaration, just made, of war on Russia was regarded is shown even in the fact that they do not dare to mention it in the document in question, but simply talk of a "Russo-German war having broken out," as if it were some natural happening, like the eruption of a volcano, independent of all human determination. But on the validity of the declaration of war on Russia depended that on France. If Germany were attacked by Russia, then she had to protect herself from being attacked at pleasure by France. If, on the other hand, the German Government were the aggressors against Russia, they became the aggressors against France also, as soon as they declared war on the latter merely for the reason that she intended to do what her interests demanded.
To these considerations there might perhaps be added another, namely, that war might have been declared on England and Italy for the same reason as on France. The neutrality of the former countries was also not certain; they also could "at any moment fall on the rear" of the Central Powers, with their armies and fleets in the meanwhile mobilized. It would surely have been dangerous to give this reason as sufficient ground for a declaration of war on France just at the moment when they were endeavouring, on different lines, to obtain the neutrality or the alliance of the two Powers mentioned.
In no case could it be asserted that by the French statement alone Germany was already attacked and forced to war. Yet this was what they wanted to persuade the world to believe.
But whatever reasons decided them not to send off the document, the fact that it was not sent at least shows that they became convinced that France's answer, to the effect that she would be guided by her own interests, afforded no sufficient ground for a declaration of war.
But the declaration of war was urgently required, now that the war with Russia was already in progress. In their embarrassment they finally resorted to the same means as they had taken refuge in after declaring war on Russia, to prove that the latter had broken the peace: they appealed to acts of war which had been begun by the enemy.
THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMEN
The memorandum to the German Reichstag of August 3rd, which we have already mentioned several times, was, as it states, finished at 12 noon on August 2nd. The German Ambassador handed the French Premier the declaration of war on August 3rd at 6.45 p.m. But the memorandum was already able to announce:
"On the morning of the next day (August 2nd) France opened hostilities."
Of what nature were these?
The declaration of war on August 3rd details them :
"French troops already crossed the German frontier yesterday at Altmünsterol, and on mountain roads in the Vosges, and are still on German territory. A French aviator, who must have flown over Belgian territory, was shot down yesterday in the attempt to destroy the railway at Wesel. The presence of several other French aeroplanes over the Eifel territory was yesterday established beyond all doubt. These also must have flown over Belgian territory. French aviators yesterday dropped bombs on the railway lines at Karlsruhe and Nürnberg. France has thus placed us in a state of war with her."
Now at last they had the long-desired state of war. France, it is true, could at the same time politely produce a list of complaints about violations of the frontier, and Bethmann-Hollweg, in his war speech on August 4th, had even to confess that they were not unjustified. The French Government did not, however, make these a cause of war; in order to prevent violations of the frontier by their troops they had even done what the German Government did not do; as early as July 3oth they had issued orders that:
"Although Germany has made her defensive arrangements only a few hundreds of metres from the frontier on the whole front from Luxemburg to the Vosges and placed covering troops in their battle positions, we have withdrawn our troops ten kilometres from the frontier and forbidden them to advance nearer." (Yellow Book of 1914. No. 106.)
One may take the view of those German politicians who assumed that France took these measures not in the interests of peace, but only because she was not yet ready, that is to say, out of treachery, in order to gain time and afterwards to "fall upon the rear" of the enemy. But whoever adopts this attitude will have to grant that the French Government would have failed in their own object if they began hostilities prematurely.
For this very reason the statements in the declaration of war must be regarded with the greatest mistrust. On what information is it based ?
On August 2nd at midnight the Imperial Chancellor telegraphed to London:
"According to absolutely reliable reports France has to-day permitted the following act of aggression on us:
"1. French cavalry patrols early this afternoon crossed the frontier at Altmünsterol, in Alsace.
"2. A French aviator has been shot down near Wesel.
"3. Two Frenchmen tried to blow up the Aachen tunnel on the Wesel railway and were shot in the act.
"4. French infantry crossed the frontier in Alsace and fired shots.
"Please communicate with the English Government to the above effect and earnestly point out to Sir Edward Grey into what a dangerous situation Germany is brought by these provocations, which are a breach of good faith, and that she is being driven to the most grave decisions. Your Excellency will, I hope, succeed in convincing England that Germany, after clinging to the idea of peace to the last possible limits, is driven by her opponents into the role of the provoked party, who must resort to arms to preserve her existence."
On August 3rd there was then drawn up in the Foreign Office at 1.45 p.m. the following catalogue of French aggressions, reported by the General Staff:
"1. Report from the Corps Commander of the XVth Army Corps: Violations of the frontier by the French on the evening of August 1st at Metzeral and the Schlucht pass have been established beyond doubt. German outposts were shot at.—No casualties. Sent off from Strassburg, August 2nd, 9.30 p.m.
"2. Report from the General Commander of the XVth Army Corps: In the night of August 1st-2nd the frontier was crossed by French infantry opposite Markirch. The French fired first. No casualties.—Sent off from Strassburg, August 2nd, at 5.55 p.m.
"3. The 5oth Infantry Brigade reports from Miilhausen: August 2nd, 12.10 p.m. Enemy patrols have crossed the frontier at Altmimsterol, near Rath, but have gone back again.
"4. Report from the Lines of Communication Commandant of Cologne. Sent off on August 2nd, at 11.45 p.m.: Enemy aeroplanes have been actively engaged in flying over the frontier from the direction of Treves to Junkerath, and from the Dahlheim direction to Rheydt, and on the right bank of the Rhine near Cologne. At Rheydt they signalled with red, white and green lights.
"5. Telegraphic report from the Chief of Staff of the XXIst Army Corps, August 3rd, 9.40 a.m.: Three aeroplanes and an airship (broad in front and tapering behind) were bombarded with machine guns early this morning above the railway station of Saarburg, Lorraine. The aeroplanes did not give the prescribed signals of identification.
"6. Report from the Lines of Communication Commandant in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine of August 2nd, evening : Two enemy aeroplanes reported to-day (August 2nd) at Neustadt a. d. Haardt towards 10 p.m. last night.
"7. Report from the Lines of Communication Commandant at Wesel (received in the evening of August 2nd) : An enemy aeroplane shot down near Wesel."
In this compilation of August 3rd the first thing that strikes us is that there is no mention in it of blowing up the Aachen tunnel. For good reasons. Although it was based on "absolutely reliable reports" it was proved to be false the very next day. It proved to be one of the many rumours which were current in those days of excitement, but which ought not to have been accepted as correct by a serious statesman without investigation.
Even the reports of the military authorities did not always prove correct. Thus on the morning of August 3rd at 10 a.m. the Luxemburg Minister of State Eyschen telegraphed to Jagow:
"There is just being distributed in the town of Luxemburg a proclamation by the General commanding the VIIIth Army Corps, Tulff von Tscheepe, which contains the following: "'Since France, disregarding the neutrality of Luxemburg, as is established beyond doubt, is opening hostilities against Germany from Luxemburg soil, His Majesty has issued orders that German troops also are to enter Luxemburg.'
"This is due to an error. There is absolutely not a single French soldier on Luxemburg soil, nor is there the slightest sign of a threat to its neutrality by France. On the contrary, on August 1st (Saturday evening) the rails of the permanent way were taken up on French soil at Mont Saint Martin Longwy. This shows that as late as this day there was no intention of invading Luxemburg by railway."
It was of no avail. The German generals apparently felt qualified where it suited them to "establish hostilities" by the French " beyond all doubt." The proclamation of General Tulff shows, however, "beyond all doubt," that on the German side not a few patrols, but the VIIIth Army Corps had begun hostilities against France as early as the morning of August 3rd, by His Majesty's command, by penetrating on to Luxemburg soil.
That the General was acting on his own initiative need not be assumed, although the military in those days were already becoming very independent. For example, the following Note from Count Montgelas was laid before Jagow on the afternoon of August 3rd:
"The Commander-in-Chief in the Mark announces that in view of the violations of the frontier, authentically proved, he is forced to take the same measures against the French Embassy and the French as have already been taken against the Russian Embassy and the Russians."
The Commander-in-Chief in the Mark then considered himself qualified by reason of "violations of the frontier authentically proved" to declare war on France of his own accord, at least for Berlin. This was really too mad for Jagow. He added to the Note:
"What sort of measures are these? We are not yet in a state of war. Diplomats are therefore still accredited."
War was, however, not declared on the Commander-in-Chief in the Mark, for a few hours later Schön announced in Paris that Germany was at war with France.
In her declaration of war the chief weight was laid on the aviators. The alleged violations of the frontier by French airmen were at least balanced by encroachments on French territory by German troops, which were reported at the same time, and of which Viviani had already complained on August 2nd. But the aeroplanes! Now in those days a peculiar mania had seized the masses of the people. At night they saw aeroplanes and airships everywhere above them, and heard bombs explode. The Chief of Police in Stuttgart at this time issued a warning to be calm and rational, in which he said:
"Clouds are being taken for aeroplanes, stars for airships, and bicycle handlebars for bombs."
In spite of the inclination to believe in such circumstances every report about aeroplanes, which were, of course, even in the darkest night, at once recognized as "French military aeroplanes," the Chancellor could only quote three cases, of which one, that an "aeroplane had been sighted over the Eifel," deserves no consideration at all, for there were then many aeroplanes in Germany, and who could have said, if they really were "sighted," that those in the Eifel were French and not German, or perhaps Belgian or Dutch that had lost their way?
But the case at Wesel?
The Chancellor reported on August 2nd:
"A French military flying officer was shot down from the air near Wesel."
The official military report of noon on August 3rd only said vaguely:
"An enemy machine shot down near Wesel."
Nothing about the occupant, or whether he was a civilian or an officer. But in the declaration of war it was asserted that a military airman had attempted to destroy the railway at Wesel.
Of this there is not a word in the report of the Lines of Communication Commandant at Wesel. We have just seen what weight is to be attached to the aeroplanes sighted in the Eifel and to the attempt on Wesel. As to the South German military aviators, to whose misdeeds reference was made in the declaration of war, they have long since been branded as empty fictions.
As early as April, 1916, the municipal authorities of Nürnberg made a statement:
"Nothing is known to the Deputy Corps Headquarters of the IIIrd Bavaria Army Corps here of the story that the stretches of railway, Nürnberg-Kissingen and Niirnberg- Ansbach, were each bombed by enemy aeroplanes before and after the outbreak of war. All statements and newspaper reports to this effect have proved to be false."
About this the Berlin Foreign Office had had earlier information. On August 2nd, 1914, the Prussian Ambassador in Munich sent the following message to the Imperial Chancellor, which is marked as arriving in the Foreign Office on August 3rd, at 3 p.m.:
"The military report, also circulated here by the Süddeutsche Korrespondenzbureau, that French aeroplanes dropped bombs to-day in the neighbourhood of Niirnberg has so far found no confirmation. Only known aeroplanes have been seen, which were obviously not military ones. The dropping of bombs is not confirmed, still less, of course, that the machines were French."
It was primarily on these bombs from aeroplanes that the justification of the German declaration of war delivered in Paris was based. It was in every respect a complete invention.