Richard Cornwell


On 28 June 1914 Bosnian nationalists had assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and thus unwittingly precipitated the sequence of diplomatic and military preparations which propelled Europe to war. By the end of July the major continental powers had mobilised and by early August Germany was at war with both Russia and France. Her ally, Austria, would be incapable of containing the massive Russian armies once these had been organised, and Germany faced the daunting prospect of a war on two fronts. The German High Command had long possessed a scheme for obviating this disadvantage, and by launching a swift and decisive stroke against France hoped to secure a victory in the West before moving the bulk of her armies eastwards against Russia. Yet the plan for this initial offensive, the so-called Schlieffen Plan, required the German armies to move through Belgium in order to outflank the French defences and on 4 August 1914 this action provided Britain with the necessary jus- tification to enter the war at the side of France and Belgium. In the first few weeks of war the invading German armies scored a series of rapid and in- spiring successes, but by the beginning of Septem- ber the French, aided by a small British Expeditionary Force, halted the enemy advance and compelled a tactical withdrawal.1 The front-line troops of both sides now dug themselves crude entrenchments and awaited reinforcements and fresh supplies. Attempts to restore the battle of manoeuvre by outflanking the northern end of the opposing line merely resulted in the establishment of a line of trenches


Assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand; Schlieffen Plan; German armies; British Expeditionary Force

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Copyright (c) 2018 Richard Cornwell

ISSN 2224-0020 (online); ISSN 1022-8136 (print)

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