Year 1914


The Fronts in 1914: Battle of the Marne and Tannenberg

The final prewar crisis was caused by the fatal shooting of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, at Sarajevo (Bosnia) on 28 June 1914. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian not a Serb – although he had at­tended Belgrade University. His accomplice, Cabrinovic, was undeniably Serbian. Both were arrested and sentenced to 20 years’ penal servitude. The repercussions of their crime would cost the lives of at least 9,700,000 combatants and perhaps 10 million civilians (including deaths from genocide, starvation and influenza).

Austria declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914. When Russia mobilized, as a demonstration of solidarity with fellow Slavs, Germany declared war on Russia and France. German armies invaded neutral Belgium to outflank France’s border fortresses. This flouting of a solemn treaty (Treaty of London 1839) and international law obliged Britain to declare war on Germany (4 August 1914). She made preparations to dispatch a small (two corps), but highly professional, expeditionary force to France.

People welcome the outbreak of the war

People everywhere welcomed the outbreak of the war. These young Berliners have been called up to serve in the German Army.

France was determined to pursue her long-cherished war of revenge against Germany and her army was wedded to a philosophy of l’ offensive a l’ outrance (all-out offensive). C-in-­C Joffre’s ‘Plan XVII‘ envisaged an invasion of Alsace-­Lorraine followed by an advance to the Rhine. It almost entirely neglected to take prudent steps to meet any other contingency than a sweeping French victory. The result was that, when the German Chief of Staff, Moltke, implemented the so-called ‘Schlieffen Plan’ (that of his 1891-1905 prede­cessor) for a vast scything advance through Belgium and northern France, designed to trap the French armies, it came close to success. Only the mistakes and moral inade­quacy of Moltke (a sick man) paralleled by the iron nerve, adaptability and organizational genius of Joffre and the Paris garrison commandant, Gallieni, saved France and the Allied cause in the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914).

Schlieffen Plan

The original operation map of the Schlieffen Plan.

The Belgian Army, belatedly joined by British rein­forcements, made a defiant stand at Antwerp. In early October, the Belgians retreated down the Channel coast. By 15 October 1914, the continuous entrenched Western Front had been established from the sea to Switzerland. Furious German attempts to break through at Arras and Ypres were conspicuously unsuccessful.

Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg

Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg, while in the back Russian PoWs marching in captivity.

Two big Russian armies – gallantly but very ineptly lead and poorly equipped – immediately lurched into East Prussia. Although ultimately disastrous, their misguided onslaught did serve to force the Germans to withdraw forces from the West at a critical time. Hindenburg crushed the Russians at Tannenberg (late August 1914). A Russian invasion of Galicia (Austrian-ruled Poland) proved less easy to contain, being blocked a few miles east of-Cracow.

Despite the massive potential threat posed to Britain’s traditional naval supremacy by the German Navy, the latter remained in harbour. Commerce raiders, U-boats and minelayers made some mischief but the formidable German Pacific Squadron (von Spee) was bloody annihilated off the Falklands by British battlecruisers in early December 1914. Shortly afterwards came that strange interlude, the ‘Christmas Truce’ on the Western Front, when spontaneous outbreaks of fraternization took place between British and German (particularly Bavarian) troops. For a ‘brief shining moment’ (to use one later and borrowed phrase but per­haps apposite here), a hell-bent, war-crazed continent teetered on the edge of the sulphurous abyss.


Diary August 17, 1914

World War One Diary for Monday, August 17, 1914: EASTERN FRONT East Prussia: Two Russian forces, the First Army under General Pavel Rennenkampf and General Alexander Samsonov‘s Second Army, invade East Prussia from the east and southeast, where they are… learn more

Diary August 16, 1914

World War One Diary for Sunday, August 16, 1914: HOME FRONTS Germany: Austrian-born Adolf Hitler volunteers to fight with the German Army. He will serve throughout the conflict on the Western Front as a messenger, suffer wounds, and receive various… learn more

Diary August 15, 1914

Diary for Saturday, August 15, 1914: WESTERN FRONT Belgium: FALL OF LIEGE. Garrison Commander General Leman taken PoW in ruins of Fort Loncin. D’esperey’s I Corps (1,000 casualties) with Petain’s 4th Brigade repulses Richthofen’s I Cavalry Corps crossing attempt of… learn more

Diary August 14, 1914

World War One Diary for Friday, August 14, 1914: WESTERN FRONT BATTLE OF LORRAINE (August 14-22): including Battles of Morhange (August 14­-20) and Sarrebourg (August 14-20). Southeast of Metz two French armies, the First under General Auguste Dubail and the… learn more

Diary August 13, 1914

World War One Diary for Thursday, August 13, 1914: WESTERN FRONT Belgium: 3 Liege forts surrender to Germans (one blows up) as Austrian 12inch (ca. 30 cm) Skoda howitzers join in. Alsace: French Belfort garrison (57th Division) stops ‘Landwehr’ pursuit… learn more

Diary August 12, 1914

World War One Diary for Wednesday, August 12, 1914: SOUTHERN FRONTS AUSTRIAN INVASION OF SERBIA: Advancing across the border into Serbia from the north and northwest, some 200,000 Austro-Hungarian troops led by General Oskar Potiorek invade. Although outnumbered, the Serbians… learn more

Diary August 11, 1914

World War One Diary for Tuesday, August 11, 1914: WESTERN FRONT Alsace: Germans retake Mulhouse. Belgium: ­Belgians fight near Tirlemont, St Trond and Diest. SOUTHERN FRONTS Serbia: Austrian 2nd, 5th and 7th Armies, screened by heavy shelling, cross rivers Sava… learn more

Diary August 10, 1914

World War One Diary for Monday, August 10, 1914: SEA WAR Mediterranean: The German warships ‘Goeben’ and ‘Breslau’ pass through the Dardanelles seaway and their British pursuers call off the chase. The German ships, along with their crews, become part… learn more

Diary August 9, 1914

World War One Diary for Sunday, August 9, 1914: WESTERN FRONT France: LANDING OF THE BEF. British I and II Corps land at Le Havre and Boulogne (complete on August 17). After the French have taking Mulhouse and following 15-mile… learn more

Diary August 8, 1914

World War One Diary for Saturday, August 8, 1914: WESTERN FRONT France: In accordance with a prewar strategic blueprint for war against Germany known as Plan XVII, France’s Army of Alsace under General Paul Pau advances against the German-held city… learn more

Diary August 7, 1914

World War One Diary for Friday, August 7, 1914: SEA WAR Mediterranean: German Vice Admiral Wilhelm von Souchon, pursued by Vice Admiral Sir A. Berkeley-Milne‘s two British battlecruisers, continues to lead his two warships, the ‘Goeben‘ and ‘Breslau’, through the… learn more

Diary August 6, 1914

World War One Diary for Thursday, August 6, 1914: POLITICS: SERBIA The government declares war on Germany. WESTERN FRONT Belgium: General Erich Ludendorff of the German Second Army wins great fame in his homeland by leading 1,500 troops through part… learn more

Diary August 5, 1914

World War One Diary for Wednesday, August 5, 1914: POLITICS: AUSTRIA-HUNGARY Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia at 1200 hours. Austrian Lt Pokorny solves first Russian cryptogram of war. Letter from German Chief of Staff Moltke to Austrians von Hötzendorf: ‘Italy’s… learn more

Diary August 4, 1914

World War One Diary for Tuesday, August 4, 1914: POLITICS: BRITAIN The government declares war at 2300 hours as the Germans reject the British ultimatum requesting that their troops leave Belgian soil. Army Reserves and Territorial troops mobilized. Government commanding… learn more

Diary August 3, 1914

World War One Diary for Monday, August 3, 1914: POLITICS: BELGIUM The Belgian government rejects the German ultimatum (0700 hours) demanding that its forces have free passage through Belgian territory and also receives confirmation that Britain and France will provide… learn more

Diary August 2, 1914

World War One Diary for Sunday, August 2, 1914: POLITICS: GERMANY Ultimatum is delivered to Belgium at 1900 hours demanding that German forces be allowed to move through Belgian terri­tory unhindered to pre-empt a French attack on Germany. The ultimatum… learn more

Diary August 1, 1914

World War One Diary for Saturday, August 1, 1914: POLITICS: GERMANY GERMANY DECLARES WAR ON RUSSIA at 1910 hours after Russia has ignored ultimatum. ORDERING OF MOBILIZATION of men aged 20 to 45 years at 1700 hours. Kaiser signs declaration,… learn more

Diary July 31, 1914

World War One Diary for Friday, July 31, 1914: POLITICS: GERMANY GERMANY DECLARES IMMINENT DANGER OF WAR ALERT AT MIDNIGHT, ISSUES ULTIMATUMS TO RUSSIA AND FRANCE. Russia is told that it must cease all war preparations by noon on August… learn more

Diary July 30, 1914

World War One Diary for Thursday, July 30, 1914: POLITICS: RUSSIA Tsar signs general mobilization order. First day actually August 4. Russian fleets mobilize. Zemstvos Union of rural councils formed. POLITICS: GERMANY At 02:00 Russia offers to Germany to stop… learn more

Diary July 29, 1914

World War One Diary for Wednesday, July 29, 1914: BALKANS FRONTS In the first engagement of what will become World War One, Austro­-Hungarian warships on the Danube River bombard Belgrade, the Serbian capital. Serbian artillery replies from Topcider heights. Serbs… learn more