Documents britanniques, juillet-août 1914

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(34807) No. 299.
Russian Ambassador to Sir Arthur Nicolson. (Received July 30.)
Russian Embassy, London,
July 30, 1914.

My dear Nicolson,

I received yesterday night two of the enclosed telegrams. They seem to me of importance. As they refer to Schebeko's telegram of which I gave you a résumé yesterday afternoon, I enclose a translation of that telegram as well.

Yours sincerely,


Enclosures in No. 299.


Télégramme de l'Ambassadeur de Russie à Vienne à M. Sazonoff en date du 15/28 Juillet 1914.

J'ai entretenu aujourd'hui le Comte Berchtold dans le sens des instructions de votre Excellence. Je lui fis observer, en termes les plus amicaux, combien il était désirable de trouver une solution qui en consolidant les bons rapports entre l'Autriche-Hongrie et la Russie, donnerait à la Monarchie Austro-Hongroise des garanties sérieuses pour ses rapports futurs avec la Serbie.

J'attirais l'attention du Comte Berchtold sur tous les dangers pour la paix de l'Europe, qu'entraînerait un conflit arm‚ entre l'Autriche-Hongrie et la Serbie.

Le Comte Berchtold me répondit qu'il se rendait parfaitement compte du sérieux de la situation et des avantages d'une franche explication avec le Cabinet de St.-Pétersbourg. Il me dit que d'un autre côté le Gouvernement Austro-Hongrois, qui ne s'était décidé que très mal volontiers aux mesures énergiques qu'il avait prises contre la Serbie, ne pouvait plus ni reculer, ni entrer en discussion aucune des termes de la note Austro-Hongroise.

Le Comte Berchtold ajouta que la crise était devenue si aiguê et que l'excitation de l'opinion publique avait atteint tel degré, que le Gouvernement, le voulait-il, ne pouvait plus y consentir, d'autant moins, me dit-il, que la réponse même de la Serbie donne la preuve du manque de sincérité‚ de ses promesses pour l'avenir.

34734) No. 303.
Sir Edward Grey to Sir E. Goschen.
Foreign Office, July 30, 1914.
Tel. (No. 231.)
D. 3:30 P.M.

Your telegram No. 102.(1)

You must inform German Chancellor that his proposal that we should bind ourselves to neutrality on such terms cannot for a moment be entertained.

He asks us in effect to engage to stand by while French colonies are taken and France is beaten so long as Germany does not take French territory as distinct from the colonies.

From the material point of view such a proposal is unacceptable, for France could be so crushed as to lose her position as a Great Power, and become subordinate to German policy without further territory in Europe being taken from her.

But apart from that, for us to make this bargain with Germany at the expense of France would be a disgrace from which the good name of this country would never recover.

The Chancellor also in effect asks us to bargain away whatever obligation or interest we have a regards the neutrality of Belgium. We could not entertain that bargain either.

Having said so much, it is unnecessary to examine whether prospect of a future general neutrality agreement between Germany and England would offer positive advantages sufficient to compensate us for tying our hands now. My answer must be that we must preserve our full freedom to act as circumstances may seem to us to require in any development of the present crisis, so unfavourable and regrettable, as the Chancellor contemplates.

You should add most earnestly that the one way of maintaining the good relations between England and Germany is to continue to work together to preserve the peace of Europe; if we succeed in this object, the mutual relations of Germany and England will, I believe, be ipso facto improved and strengthened. For that object His Majesty's Government will work in that way with all sincerity and goodwill.

And if the peace of Europe can be preserved, and this crisis be safely passed, my own endeavour would be to promote some arrangement to which Germany could be a party, by which she could be assured that no hostile or aggressive policy would be pursued against her or her allies by France, Russia, and ourselves, jointly or separately. I have desired this and worked for it, as far as I could, through the last Balkan crisis, and, Germany having a corresponding object, our relations sensibly improved. The idea has hitherto been too utopian to form the subject of definite proposals, but if this present crisis, so much more acute than any that Europe has had for generations, be safely passed, I am hopeful that the reaction and relief that will follow may make some more definite rapprochement between the Powers possible than was possible before.

(34878) No. 318.
Sir F. Bertie to Sir Edward Grey.
Paris, July 30, 1914.
D. 8 15 P.M.
Tel. (No. 95.)
R. 10:30 P.M.

I had audience of President of the Republic this evening in order to give him your message of congratulation on success of his visit to St. Petersburg, for which he wishes me to thank you.

He told me that in middle of last night French Government received information that German Government had informed Russian Government that unless Russia stopped her mobilisation Germany would mobilise. (1) In middle of day a further report from St. Petersburg stated that German communication had been modified and had become a request to be informed on what conditions Russia would consent to demobilisation, answer to which is that she will do so provided that Austria will give assurance that she will respect sovereignty of Servia, and will submit certain of the demands of Austrian note not accepted by Servia to an international discussion.

President of Republic thinks that Austro-Hungarian Government will not accept these Russian conditions. He is convinced that preservation of peace between Powers is in hands of England, for if His Majesty's Government announce that, in the event of conflict between Germany and France, resulting from present differences between Austria and Servia, England would come to aid of France, there would be no war, for Germany would at once modify her attitude.

I explained to him how difficult it would be for His Majesty's Government to make such an announcement. He, however, said that he must maintain that it would be in the interests of peace. France is pacific, she does not desire war, and she has not gone farther at present than to make preparations for mobilisation so as not to be taken unawares, and French Government will keep His Majesty's Government informed of everything that may be done in that way. French Government have reliable information that round Thionville and Metz German troops are concentrated ready for war.

President of Republic said that if there were a general war on the continent England would inevitably be involved in course of it, for protection of her vital interests, and a declaration by her now of her intention to support France, who desires to remain at peace, would almost certainly prevent Germany from embarking on a war.

(Repeated to Embassies.)

(35076) No. 347.
Sir G. Buchanan to Sir Edward Grey.
St. Petersburg, July 31, 1914.
D. 6:40 P.M.
R. 5: 20 P.M.
It has been decided to issue orders for general mobilisation.

This decision was taken in consequence of report received from Russian Ambassador in Vienna to the effect that Austria is determined not to yield to intervention of Powers, and that she is moving troops against Russia as well as against Servia.

Russia has also reason to believe that Germany is making active military preparations and she cannot afford to let her get a start.

(Repeated to Embassies.)

Published in BB No. 113.

[NOTE. The date of despatch seems to be wrong. The final decision to issue orders for general mobilisation was made by the Tsar during the afternoon of July 30 and the official telegram ordering mobilisation was despatched at 6 o'clock that evening. Mobilisation orders were posted in the streets of St. Petersburg during the night. It is therefore most improbable that Sir George Buchanan should have despatched a telegram on the evening of the 31st announcing that it had been decided to issue orders for general mobilisation; on that day he must have said that the orders for general mobilisation had been issued. The telegram was probably sent at 6:40 P.M. on July 30 and delayed in transmission and a mistake made by the clerk who decyphered the original telegram.

(35091) No. 363.
Sir F. Bertie to Sir Edward Grey.
Paris, July 31, 1914.
D. 9:20 P.M.
Telegram (No. 101.)
R. 11 P . M .

Following from military attaché for War Office:

"Position of French troops as follows:

"Those absolutely on frontier took up their covering positions on the 30th July with orders not to approach within 8 kilom. of frontier. Remainder in garrison quarters at Rheims, Dijon, Bourges. War Office just received news that railways in Alsace-Lorraine reserved for military purposes. German troop trains moving towards frontier; some railway and telegraph lines cut. War Office think Germany mobilises this afternoon."

(35093) No. 380.
Sir F. Bertie to Sir Edward Grey.
Paris, July 31, 1914.
D. August 1, 1:10 A.M.
Telegram (No. 103.)
R. August 1, 2:5 P.M.

On the receipt at 8 80 to-night of your telegram No. 287 of this afternoon,(1) 1 sent a message to Minister for Foreign Affairs requesting to see him. He received me at 10:30 to-night at the Elysée, where a Cabinet Council was being held. He took a note of the enquiry as to the respecting by France of the neutrality of Belgium which you instructed me to make [group undecypherable].

He told me that a communication had been made to you by the German Ambassador in London of the intention of Germany to order a general mobilisation of her army if Russia does not demobilise at once.(2) He is urgently anxious as to what the attitude of England will be in the circumstances, and begs an answer may be made by His Majesty's Government at the earliest moment possible.

Minister for Foreign Affairs also told me that the German Embassy is packing up.

M. Jaurès has been killed in a restaurant by a young man on the ground that he was a pacificist and a traitor.

(35094) No. 382.
Sir F. Bertie to Sir Edward Grey.
Paris, July 31, 1914.
D. August 1, 1:12 A.M.
Tel. (No. 104.)
R. August 1, 2:15 A.M.

My telegram No. 103 of to-night.(1)

Political Director has brought me the reply of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to your enquiry respecting the neutrality of Belgium. It is as follows:

French Government are resolved to respect the neutrality of Belgium, and it would only be in the event of some other Power violating that neutrality that France might find herself under the necessity, in order to assure defence of her own security, to act otherwise. This assurance has been given several times. President of the Republic spoke of it to the King of the Belgians, and the French Minister at Brussels has spontaneously renewed the assurance to the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs to-day.

Published in BB No. 125.
Cf. No. 474.

France will respect Belgian neutrality, Germany will not. But Germany will delay a definite answer until it is too late for England to act effectively. E. A. C. August 1.

We should take no reply or a postponed reply as a refusal. A. N.

(35370) No. 426.
Sir Edward Grey to Sir E. Bertie.
Foreign Office, August 1, 1914.
Tel (No. 299.)
D. 8:20 P.M.

After the Cabinet to-day, I told M. Cambon that the present position differed entirely from that created by the Morocco incidents. In the latter, Germany made upon France demands that France could not grant, and in connection with which we had undertaken special obligations towards France. In these, public opinion would have justified the British Government in supporting France to the utmost of their ability. Now, the position was that Germany would agree not to attack France if France remained neutral in the event of war between Russia and Germany. If France could not take advantage of this position it was because she was bound by an alliance to which we were not parties, and of which we did not know the terms. This did not mean that under no circumstances would we assist France, but it did mean that France must take her own decision at this moment without reckoning on an assistance that we were not now in a position to promise.

M. Cambon said that he could not transmit this reply to his Government, and he asked me to authorise him to say that the British Cabinet had not yet taken any decision.

I said that we had come to a decision: that we could not propose to Parliament at this moment to send an expeditionary military force to the continent. Such a step had always been regarded here as very dangerous and doubtful. It was one that we could not propose, and Parliament would not authorise unless our interests and obligations were deeply and desperately involved.

M. Cambon said that the French coasts were undefended. The German fleet might come through the Straits any day and attack them.

I said that that might alter public feeling here, and so might a violation of the neutrality of Belgium. He could tell his Government that we were already considering the Belgian point, and that I would ask the Cabinet to consider the point about the French coasts. He could say that the Cabinet had not yet taken any decision on these points.

(35568) No. 448.
Sir Edward Grey to Sir E. Goschen.
(No. 256.)
Foreign Office, August 1, 1914.

I told the German Ambassador to-day that the reply of the German Government with regard to the neutrality of Belgium was a matter of very great regret, because the neutrality of Belgium affected feeling in this country. If Germany could see her way to give the same assurance as that which had been given by France it would materially contribute to relieve anxiety and tension here. On the other hand, if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country. I said that we had been discussing this question at a Cabinet meeting, and, as I was authorised to tell him this, I gave him an aide-mémoire of it.

He asked me whether, if Germany gave a promise not to violate Belgian neutrality, we would engage to remain neutral.

I replied that I could not say that; our hands were still free, and we were considering what our attitude should be. All I could say was that our attitude would be determined largely by public opinion here, and that the neutrality of Belgium would appeal very strongly to public opinion here. I did not think that we could give a promise of neutrality on that condition alone.

The Ambassador pressed me as to whether I could not formulate conditions on which we would remain neutral. He even suggested that the integrity of France and her colonies might be guaranteed.

I said that I felt obliged to refuse definitely any promise to remain neutral on similar terms, and I could only say that we must keep our hands free.

I am, &c.

(35552) No. 471.
Communication from German Embassy.

Herr von Schubert called to communicate the annexed telegram(1) from his Government which he was directed to request should be brought to the notice of Sir Edward Grey at once.

I translate:

"This morning 80 French officers in Prussian uniform attempted to cross the German frontier in 12 motor cars at Walbeck, west of Geldern. This constituted the most serious violation of neutrality on the part of France."

(Geldern is near the Dutch-German frontier, some way north of Venloo over 200 kilom. distant from the northernmost point of the Franco-German frontier).

I asked Herr von Schubert in a bantering way whether he meant me to take this statement seriously. The reference to breach of neutrality sounded to me like a joke, in view of the invasion of French territory by the German forces without a declaration of war.

He indignantly declared that the matter was most serious, as the statement emanated from his Government itself.

35476) No. 514.
Germany's Ultimatum to Belgium (Exchange Company's special Telegram).
Brussels, August 3, 1914.

The Belgian Government has received an ultimatum from Germany offering an entente if Belgium is willing to facilitate the movements of German troops.

The Cabinet is now sitting to discuss the answer which had to be given at 7 o'clock this morning.

The German troops are in operation to the north of Liége in Belgium.

(35796) No. 515.
Communi cated by Belgian Minister (August 3.)
Bruxelles, le 8 août 1914.

Allemagne a remis hier soir, 7 heures, note proposant neutralité amicale comportant passage libre par notre territoire, promettant maintien indépendance royaume et possession à la conclusion de la paix, menaçanté en cas de refus, traitement comme ennemi. Délai réponse fixée douze heures. Nous avons répondu atteinte à neutralité serait violation flagrante droit des gens; acceptation proposition sacrifierait honneur nation, consciente de son devoir. Belgique fermement décidée repousser agression par tous les moyens possibles.


(35675) No. 573.
Sir Edw ard Grey to Sir E. Goschen.
Foreign Office, August 4, 1914.
Tel. (No. 266.)
D. 9 30 A.M.

The King of the Belgians has made an appeal to His Majesty the King for diplomatic intervention on behalf of Belgium.

His Majesty's Government are also informed that the German Government has delivered to the Belgium Government a note proposing friendly neutrality entailing free passage through Belgian territory and promising to maintain the independence and integrity of the kingdom and its possessions at the conclusion of peace, threatening in case of refusal to treat Belgium a an enemy. An answer was requested within twelve hours.

We also understand that Belgium has categorically refused this as a flagrant violation of the law of nations.

His Majesty's Government are bound to protest against this violation of a treaty to which Germany is a party in common with themselves, and must request an assurance that the demand made upon Belgium will not be proceeded with, and that her neutrality will be respected by Germany. You should ask for an immediate reply.

(35798) No. 594.
Sir Edward Grey to Sir E. Goschen.
Foreign Office, August 4, 1914.
Tel (No. 270.)
D. 2 P.M.

We hear that Germany has addressed note to Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs stating that German Government will be compelled to carry out, if necessary by force of arms, the measures considered indispensable.

We are also informed that Belgian territory has been violated at Gemmenich.

In these circumstances, and in view of the fact that Germany declined to give the same assurance respecting Belgium as France gave last week in reply to our request made simultaneously at Berlin and Paris, we must repeat that request, and ask that a satisfactory reply to it and to my telegram No. 266 of this morning(1) be received here by 12 o'clock to-night. If not, you are instructed to ask for your passports and to say that His Majesty's Government felt bound to take all steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium and the observance of a Treaty to which Germany is as much a party as ourselves.

(36017) No. 658.
Sir F. Villiers to Sir Edward Grey. (Received August 5.)
(No. 119.) Confidential.
Brussels, August 3, 1914.

With reference to my telegram No. 15 of to-day,(1) I have the honour to forward copies of the German ultimatum and of the Belgian reply.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs asked me to treat these documents as strictly confidential. Their contents have not been made public, and their full text has so far been communicated only to myself.

I have, &c.


Enclosure 1 in No. 658.

Ultimatum presented to Belgium by Germany, August 2, 1914, 7 30 P.M.

Le Gouvernement allemand a reçu des nouvelles sûres d'après lesquelles les forces françaises auraient l'intention de marcher par la Meuse sur Givet et Namur. Ces nouvelles ne laissent aucun doute sur l'intention de la France de marcher sur l'Allemagne par territoire belge. Le Gouvernement allemand ne peut s'empêcher de craindre que la Belgique, malgré la meilleure volonté, ne sera pas en mesure de repousser sans secours une marche en avant française d’un si grand développement. Dans ce fait on trouve une certitude suffisante d'une menace dirigée contre l'Allemagne.

C'est un devoir impérieux de conservation pour l'Allemagne de prévenir cette attaque.

Le Gouvernement allemand regretterait très vivement que la Belgique regardât comme un acte d'hostilité contre elle le fait que les mesures des ennemies de l'Allemagne l'oblige de violer de son côté le territoire belge.

Afin de dissiper tout malentendu, le Gouvernement allemand déclare ce qui suit:

1. L'Allemagne n'a en vue aucun acte d'hostilité contre la Belgique, si la Belgique consent dans la guerre qui va commencer à prendre une attitude de neutralité bienveillante vis-à-vis de l'Allemagne; le Gouvernement allemand de son côté s'engage au moment de la paix à garantir le royaume et ses possessions dans toute leur étendue.

2. L'Allemagne s'engage sous la condition énoncée à évacuer le territoire belge aussitôt la paix conclue.

3. Si la Belgique observe une attitude amicale, l'Allemagne est prête, d'accord avec le Gouvernement belge, à acheter contre argent comptant tout ce qui serait nécessaire à ses troupes et à indemniser tout le dommage causé en Belgique.

4. Si la Belgique se comporte d'une manière hostile contre les Allemands et particulièrement fait des difficultés à leur marche en avant par une opposition des fortifications de la Meuse ou par des destructions de routes, chemins de fer, &c., l'Allemagne sera obligée de considérer la Belgique en ennemie; en ce cas l'Allemagne ne prendra aucun engagement vis-à-vis du royaume, mais elle laissera le règlement ultérieur des rapports des deux États l'un vis-à-vis de l'autre à la décision des armes. Le Gouvernement allemand a l'espoir justifié que cette éventualité ne se produira pas et que le Gouvernement belge saura prendre les mesures appropriées pour l'empêcher de se produire. Dans ce cas, les relations d'amitié qui unissent les deux États voisins deviendront plus étroites et durables.

(1) No. 561.

Enclosure 2 in No. 658.

Reply of Belgian Goverment to German Ultimatum.

Par sa note du 2 août, le Gouvernement allemand a fait connaître que, d'après des nouvelles sûres, les forces françaises auraient l'intention de marcher sur la Meuse par Givet et Namur, et que la Belgique, malgré sa meilleure volonté, ne serait pas en état de repousser sans secours une marche en avant des troupes françaises. Le Gouvernement allemand s'estimerait dans l'obligation de prévenir cette attaque et de violer le territoire belge. Dans ces conditions, l'Allemagne propose au Gouvernement du Roi de prendre vis-à-vis d'elle une attitude amicale et s'engage, au moment de la paix, à garantir l'intégrité du royaume et de ses possessions dans toute leur étendue. La note ajoute que si la Belgique fait des difficultés à la marche en avant des troupes allemandes, l'Allemagne sera obligée de la considérer comme ennemie et de laisser le règlement ultérieur des deux États l'un vis-à-vis de l'autre à la décision des armes.

Cette note a provoqué chez le Gouvernement du Roi un profond et douloureux étonnement.

Les intentions qu'elle attribue à la France sont en contradiction avec les déclarations formelles qui nous ont été faites le 1 août au nom du Gouvernement de la république.

D'ailleurs si, contrairement à notre attente, une violation de la neutralité belge venait à être commise par la France, la Belgique remplirait tous ses devoirs internationaux et son armée opposerait à l'envahisseur la plus rigoureuse résistance.

Les traités de 1839, confirmés par les traités de 1870, consacrent l'indépendance et la neutralité de la Belgique, sous la garantie des Puissances, et notamment du Gouvernement de Sa Majesté le Roi de Prusse.

La Belgique a toujours été fidèle à ses obligations internationales; elle a accompli ses devoirs dans un esprit de loyale impartialité; elle n'a négligé aucun effort pour maintenir et faire respecter sa neutralité.

L'atteinte à son indépendance dont la menace le Gouvernement allemand, constituerait une flagrante violation du droit des gens. Aucun intérêt stratégique ne justifie la violation du droit.

Le Gouvernement belge en acceptant les propositions qui lui sont notifiées, sacrifierait l'honneur de la nation en même temps qu'il trahirait ses devoirs vis-à-vis de l'Europe.

Conscient du rôle que la Belgique joue depuis plus de quatre-vingts ans dans la civilisation du monde, il se refuse à croire que l'indépendance de la Belgique ne puisse être conservée qu'au prix de la violation de sa neutralité.

Si cet espoir était déçu, le Gouvernement belge est fermement décidé à repousser par tous les moyens en son pouvoir toute atteinte à son droit.

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