WWI: Letter of ultimatum

Thursday 23rd July 1914 was the day the Austro-Hungarian ministers had decided on for delivering their ultimatum to Serbia – with 48 hours to reply. On that day, Count von Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian foreign minister, telegraphed to Count Albert von Mensdorff-Pouilly-Dietrichstein, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador at London:

As among the Entente Powers, Great Britain might be most easily led to form an impartial judgment on the step which we are to-day taking at Belgrade, I request Your Excellency in the conversation which you will have on the 24th instant on the occasion when you hand in our circular note at the Foreign Office, to point out among other matters that it would have been within the power of Servia to render less acute the serious steps which she must expect from us, by spontaneously doing what is necessary in order to start an inquiry on Servian soil against the Servian accomplices in the crime of 28th June, and by bringing to light the threads, which, as has. been proved, lead from Belgrade to Servia.

Up to the present time, although a number of notorious indications point to Belgrade, the Servian Government have not taken any steps in this direction; on the contrary, they have attempted to wipe out the existing traces.

Milan CiganovicThus, from a telegraphic despatch from our Legation at Belgrade, it is to be gathered that the Servian civil servant Ciganovic, who is compromised by the independent testimony of the affidavits of both criminals, on the day of the outrage was still in Belgrade, and three days afterwards, when his name was mentioned in the papers, had already left the town. As is well known also, the director of the Servian press declared that Ciganovic is completely unknown in Belgrade.

With regard to the short time-limit attached to our demand, this must be attributed to our long experience of the dilatory arts of Servia.

The requirements which we demand that Servia should fulfil, and which indeed contain nothing which is not a matter of course in the intercourse between States which are to live in peace and friendship, cannot be made the subject of negotiations and compromise; and, having regard to our economic interests, we cannot take the risk of a method of political action by which it would be open to Servia at pleasure to prolong the crisis which has arisen.

At six in the evening, Baron Giesl von Gieslingen, the Austro-Hungarian Minister at Belgrade, handed this note – attached to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia – to Doctor Laza Patchou, the Acting Prime Minister of Serbia and Minister for Foreign Affairs:


I have the honour to transmit to Your Excellency herewith the enclosed Note which I have received from my Government, addressed to the Royal Serbian Government.

Doctor Laza Patchou then telegraphed all the Serbian Legations abroad:

The Austro-Hungarian Minister handed me this afternoon at 6 p.m. a note in regard to the Serajevo outrage embodying the demands of the Austro-Hungarian Government, and insisting on a reply from the Serbian Government within two days, i.e., by Saturday, at 6 p.m. He informed me orally that he and his staff would leave Belgrade unless a favourable answer were forthcoming within the stipulated time.

Some of the Ministers being absent from Belgrade the Serbian Government have not as yet come to any decision, but I am in a position to state now that the demands are such that no Serbian Government could accept them in their entirety.

On that day the Russian Chargé d’Affaires at Belgrade telegraphed to Sergei Sazonov, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs:

The Austrian Minister, at 6 o’clock this evening, presented an ultimatum from his Government to the Minister of Finance, Patchou, in the absence of Pashitch [Nikola Pašić, the Serbian Prime Minister], requiring the acceptance of the demands contained therein within forty-eight hours. Giesl added verbally that, in the event of failure to accept the note integrally within forty-eight hours, he was under instructions to leave Belgrade with the staff of the legation. Pashitch and the other Ministers, who are away electioneering, have been recalled and are expected at Belgrade to-morrow, Friday, at 10 A.M. Patchou, who communicated to me the contents of the note, solicits the help of Russia and declares that no Servian Government could accept the demands of Austria.

The Russian Chargé d’Affaires at Belgrade sent the Serbian Letter of Ultimatum to Sergei Sazonov, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, with this header:

TEXT of the note presented to the Servian Government by the Austro-Hungarian Minister to-day. [Here follows the text of the note]

Jean-Baptist Bienvenu-Martin, Minister for Justice and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, wrote to London, Berlin, St. Petersburgh, and Rome that evening:

According to information collected by the French Ambassador at Vienna, the first intention of the Austro-Hungarian Government been to proceed with the greatest severity against Servia while keeping eight army corps ready to start operations.

The disposition at this moment was more conciliatory; in answer to a question put to him by M. Dumaine, whom I instructed to call the attention of the Austro-Hungarian Government to the anxiety aroused in Europe, Baron Macchio stated to our Ambassador that the tone of the Austrian note, and the demands which would be formulated in it, allow us to count on a peaceful result. In view of the customary procedure of the Imperial Chancery I do not know what confidence ought to be placed in these assurances.
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WWI: a military expedition to be concluded by a speedy occupation

Serbian troops retreat through Albania, 1915In the House of Commons on 20th July, the Conservative MP for Plymouth, Shirley Benn, asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, “whether the Servians are now advancing upon Elbasan“?

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Francis Dyke Acland, Liberal MP for Camborne, replied:

A report has reached me that they have crossed the Albanian frontier, but I have no confirmation of it.

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WWI: the idea of a conflict of widespread dimensions

Alfred Dumaine - authorAlfred Dumaine, the French Ambassador at Vienna, wrote to René Viviani, the French Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, on 19th July 1914:

The Chancellor of the Consulate, who has sent me his half-yearly report, in which he sums up the various economic facts which have been the subject of his study since the beginning of the year, has added a section containing political information emanating from a trustworthy source.

I asked him briefly to sum up the information which he has obtained regarding the impending presentation of the Austrian note to Servia, which the papers have for some days been persistently announcing.

You will find the text of this memorandum interesting on account of the accurate information which it contains.

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WWI: Aviation section

On 18th July 2014, Dr. M. Spalaikovitch, the Serbian Minister at St Petersburg, telegraphed to: Nikola Pašić, Serbian Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs (presumably, in response to the Prime Minister’s long telegram to all the legations abroad on 14th July):

I have spoken to the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs on the subject of the provocative attitude of the Korrespondenzbureau and the Vienna press.

M. Sazonof told me a few days ago that he wondered why the Austrian Government were doing nothing to put a stop to the futile agitation on the part of the press in Vienna which, after all, frightened nobody, and was only doing harm to Austria herself.

On 18th July 1914, the U.S. Congress formed the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, giving official status to aircraft within the U.S. Army for the first time.

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WWI: Italy neutral, London silent

On Friday 17th July 1914, M. M. S. Boskovitch, the Serbian Minister at London, telegraphed to Nikola Pašić, Serbian Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs:

The Austrian Embassy is making very great efforts to win over the English press against us, and to induce it to favour the idea that Austria must give a good lesson to Serbia. The Embassy is submitting to the news editors cuttings from our newspapers as a proof of the views expressed in our press. The situation may become more acute during the next few weeks. No reliance should be placed in the ostensibly peaceable statements of Austro-Hungarian official circles, as the way is being prepared for diplomatic pressure upon Serbia, which may develop into an armed attack. It is probable that as soon as Austria-Hungary has taken action at Belgrade she will change her attitude and will seek to humiliate Serbia.

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WII: “Energetically suppressed”

On Thursday 16th July 1914, Dr. M. Yovanovitch, Serbian Chargé d’Affaires at Berlin, telegraphed to Nikola Pašić, Serbian Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs:

The Secretary of State has informed me that the reports of the German Minister at Belgrade point to the existence of a Great Serbian propaganda, which should be energetically suppressed by the [Serbian] Government in the interest of good relations with Austria-Hungary.

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WWI: Four letters from Vienna

M. Yov. M. Yovanovitch, the Serbian Minister at Vienna, wrote three letters to Nikola Pašić, the Prime Minister of Serbia and Minister for Foreign Affairs from Vienna on 15th July 1914.


The most important question for us is, what, if any, are the intentions of the Austro-Hungarian Government as regards the Serajevo outrage. Until now I have been unable to find this out, and my other colleagues are in a similar position. The word has now been passed round here not to tell anybody anything.
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