At the beginning of the 20th century the major nations of Europe formed two grand alliances, in which they pledged to support each other in the event of one of them being attacked. As you can see from the above, it was complicated!

There was one between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, called the Triple Alliance, and the other was the Triple Entente between France, Russia and England.

It was on 31st August 1907 that Britain, Russia & France formed the Triple Entente. They were doing it as they were all concerned about the threat posed by the Triple Alliance.

The interesting thing is that I don’t think that when they formed these alliances, they felt they would lead to war. I think it was the opposite, both sides hoped that it would stop war.

It didn’t!

What actually happened?

This is the frightening bit, more than that, it is something that could so easily happen today.

It all started with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia on 28th June 1914, that triggered off a series of actions that led to World War I. 

Immediately, the Austria-Hungarian Empire saw it as a terrorist act, and they insisted on investigating it, not the Serbs, but them, the Austria-Hungarians. However, this was something the Serbs were not going to allow unfortunately the Austria-Hungarians insisted, with the result that at 6:00 pm on July 23 the Austrian ambassador to Serbia, Baron Giesl, delivered an ultimatum to the Serbian finance minister, Lazar Paču, giving them precisely forty-eight hours to reply.

As all the different treaties came into effect they inevitably set off a damaging series of events that ended up with war that killed over 10 million people.

This is when it all kicked off.

Due to the alliances agreed by both the Triple Entenet and The Triple Alliance, this action triggered off a series of things, all in a very short time.

You see, at the same time, it appeared that Serbia had a separate alliance with Russia, so they immediately appealed to Russia.  Serbia then refused to meet the demands, with the result that on July 28th the Austrian-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. As the Germans were in the Triple Alliance with them, they had to declare war on Serbia.  That wasn’t all, the German Generals were concerned that while fighting Serbia the Russians might use it as an excuse to invade. This led the Germans, on 1st August, to declare war on Russia. 

This is where the Triple Entente came into effect.

The Germans knew they would be vulnerable if they were forced to fight on two fronts, but by declaring war on Russia they knew that the agreements under the Triple Entente could kick in.  Then, when two days later Russia’s mobilized, the Germans knew they had a problem. They didn’t want to fight two major European nations at once, they needed to knock one out quickly, and the obvious one was France, before Russia was ready to fight. For that reason, Germany declared war on Russia on August 1, and on the 3rd August declared war on France.

This brings Great Britain in!

To knock out France quickly the German Army planned to invade France through Belgium, so they built their forces up by the Belgium border.

Belgium was a small country, but it was protected by Britain under a treaty.  The treaty said that if anyone invaded Belgium the British Army would come to their aid. Therefore, Belgium called on Great Britain under the treaty, the result was that on August 4th Great Britain declared war on Germany.

This meant that due to the Entente Cordial, and treaties that grew out of it, we were all at war within 7 days of the Germans mobilising.  A war that everyone thought would be over by Christmas, in the end lasted four years and resulted in over 10Million deaths!

This all happened 7 days in the middle of summer in 1914, which leads to these questions:

  • Could the same thing happen today?
  • If so, how much quicker could we be at war?
  • Would the results be the same?

Frightening isn’t it.

That is why history is important, so we don’t make the same mistakes.

Isn’t history interesting?

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© Tony Dalton