Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | July 29, 2014

Blogging World War I: July 29, 1914: Nicky and Willy Exchange Notes

July 29, 1914 – ST. PETERSBURG – Following Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia the day before, Czar Nicholas, at about 0100, sent a telegram to his cousin, German Kaiser Wilhelm:

An ignoble war has been declared to a weak country. The indignation in Russia shared fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.

At the same hour, before seeing the Czar’s message, the Kaiser wrote to Nicholas:

The unscrupulous agitation that has been going on in Serbia for years has resulted in the outrageous crime, to which Archduke Francis Ferdinand fell a victim. The spirit that led Serbians to murder their own king and his wife still dominates the country.

You will doubtless agree with me that we both, you and me, have a common interest as well as all Sovereigns to insist that all the persons morally responsible for the dastardly murder should receive their deserved punishment. In this case politics plays no part at all.

On the other hand, I fully understand how difficult it is for you and your Government to face the drift of your public opinion. Therefore, with regard to the hearty and tender friendship which binds us both from long ago with firm ties, I am exerting my utmost influence to induce the Austrians to deal straightly to arrive to a satisfactory understanding with you. I confidently hope that you will help me in my efforts to smooth over difficulties that may still arise.

Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin


About 17 hours later, Wilhelm replied to the Russian Czar’s first telegram:

I received your telegram and share your wish that peace should be maintained.

But as I told you in my first telegram, I cannot consider Austria’s action against Serbia an “ignoble” war. Austria knows by experience that Serbian promises on paper are wholly unreliable. I understand its action must be judged as trending to get full guarantee that the Serbian promises shall become real facts. This my reasoning is borne out by the statement of the Austrian cabinet that Austria does not want to make any territorial conquests at the expense of Serbia.

I therefore suggest that it would be quite possible for Russia to remain a spectator of the Austro-Serbian conflict without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed.

This message actually had an effect: that evening, after reading the latest from the Kaiser, the Tsar telephoned the War Ministry and cancelled general mobilization. (Partial Russian mobilization, mostly away from the frontiers with Austria and Germany, went forward.)

From Nicholas to Wilhelm, 2020 hours*:

Thanks for your telegram conciliatory and friendly. Whereas official message presented today by your ambassador to my minister was conveyed in a very different tone. Beg you to explain this divergency! It would be right to give over the Austro-Serbian problem to the Hague conference. Trust in your wisdom and friendship.

Your loving Nicky

* Nicholas may not have seen Wilhelm’s afternoon message yet and may have been responding to the 0145 message.

Nicholas failed to mention that the Hague conference (the Czar’s pet project) was not due to meet until 1915.

This exchange of messages continued over the next few days. For more, see here and here. See also here.

And be sure to check out Brad DeLong’s post on the telegrams, along with his other Liveblogging WWI posts.


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