The Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Crown Council, 19 July 1914

On 19 July 1914, Austria-Hungary’s top decision-makers met in Vienna for the second Crown Council of July 1914. The Crown Council decided on the content of the ultimatum to be sent to Serbia. 

Europe 1914

 

Crown Council of Ministers for Common Affairs. Vienna, 19 July 1914

Protocol of the Council of Ministers for Common Affairs held in Vienna on 19 July 1914, the minister of the Imperial and Royal House and of Foreign Affairs presiding.

Present:

The Imp. Roy. [e.i. Imperial and Royal] Premier Count Stürgkh,

The Roy. Hungarian Premier Count Tisza,

the Imp. and Roy. Common Finance minister Dr. Ritter von Bilinski,

the Imp. and Roy. War minister Ritter von Krobatin,

the Imp. and Roy. Chief of the General Staff Baron Conrad von Hötzendorf,

the Representative of the Naval Commander, Vice-Admiral von Kailer,

Keeper of the Protocol: Secretary of legation Count Hoyos,

Subject of Council: The forthcoming diplomatic action against Servia.

Before the Council of Common Ministers was constituted and the sitting was opened by the Minister in the Chair [Leopold Berchtold], an informal discussion on the text of the note to be presented to the Servian government, took place and the text was definitely settled.

The Minister in the Chair then opened the Council of Ministers and proposed that the note should be presented to the Royal Servian government on the 23rd of July at five in the afternoon, so that the term of 48 hours would expire on Saturday the 25th at five in the afternoon and the order for mobilisation could be published in the night from Saturday to Sunday. It was Count Berchtold’s belief that it is improbable that the news of our step would be publicly known before the President of the French Republic had left Petersburg; but even if this were the case, he did not think that it would do any harm, since we had fully considered the duties of etiquette and had waited until the visit was over. To a prolongation of the delay he must object on diplomatic grounds. Berlin was beginning to get nervous and news of our intentions had already transpired in Rome, so that unwanted incidents could not be guarded against, if action were again postponed.

Under the prompting of this declaration, made by the presiding minister, the council voted by common assent that the note should be presented on the 23rd at five in the afternoon.

The Roy. Hungarian Premier (Count Tisza) declares that if the news of the presenting of the ultimatum should reach Budapest from Belgrade on the Thursday, he would speak on the subject in the Hungarian chamber of deputies. This was taken into account.

The Chief of the General Staff (Baron Conrad) remarked that for military reasons he was in favour of a speedy beginning of the impending action. The news he had lately received from Servia showed that three situations had been created by degrees.

First, large numbers of troops had been collected along the Bulgarian and Albanian borders; next there were reports of great numbers of soldiers having been transported to Old-Servia. Of these he had taken no account, because it was shown that they were merely exchanged for reserves. During the last three days however, he had received more serious news. First he was informed that two regiments, the 6th and the 17th had been transferred from New-Servia to Old-Servia, and yesterday he heard from a very trustworthy and confidential person in Bulgaria, that three divisions had been ordered north. Of course he would have to get these news verified. If they proved true, he must ask to be allowed to take speedy counter-measures.

Next the question of proclaiming the state of siege in all the territory of the monarchy inhabited by South-Slavs was discussed and after a long debate, it was unanimously resolved that the state of siege would not be proclaimed before the mobilisation was published, not only to avoid a bad impression in foreign countries, but also among our own population. The same was resolved for Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the state of siege was also to be put in force at the same time as the mobilisation.

The Imp. and Roy. War Minister (Krobatin) then communicated, the diverse measures for the mobilisation, which he had caused to be prepared. His explanations showed that everything necessary could be completed for the Imperial sanction on Wednesday the 22nd and that arrangements had been made with both governments with regard to the measures to be taken by the administrative authorities in both countries.

The Council of Ministers then resolved to send a private letter to the chief commander of Bosnia and Herzegovina through the Common Finance Minister, informing him of the intentions of the Imp. and Roy. government with regard to Servia.

At the express desire of the Roy. Hungarian Premier (Tisza) the Chief of the General Staff gave private information on the mobilisation, and answers in the affirmative Count Tisza’s question whether in the case of a general mobilisation, the garrisons remaining in Transylvania for its safety, were sufficiently strong to ensure order in case of internal disturbances. The garrisons were Landstrum-formations [militia], commanded by officers. An experienced general would take the command. These troops would certainly not be sufficiently strong to resist an attack on the part of the Roumanian army, but they could retard the advance of the Roumanian army. These troops were recruited in such a manner, that there were very few Hungarian Roumanians among them.

The Roy. Hungarian Premier was satisfied with this answer and declared that the Roy. Hungarian government would provide reinforcements of the gendarmes in Transylvania and he would, if necessary, send a Royal commissioner there, who would act jointly with the commander of the troops, to maintain order in Transylvania, where immediately after the mobilisation, the state of siege will be proclaimed.

On the suggestion of the Imp. and Roy. Premier (Count Stürgkh) the question of what should be done if Italy sent an expedition to Valona was discussed in principle.

The Minister in the Chair (Berchtold) explains that he did not think such an action on Italy’s part at all probable, but that diplomatic measures against such an eventuality were being taken. Should Italy decide otherwise, the Imp. and Roy. government would pro forma [as a matter of form] have to share the undertaking; but it is too early to consider this eventuality seriously just now.

The Royal Hungarian Premier (Tisza) then asked the council to vole the resolution, of which he had spoken at their last meeting, and from which the Royal Hungarian government made the whole action depend. The Council of Ministers must express unanimously that the action against Servia was not in any way connected with plans of aggrandisement on the part of the Monarchy, and that no part of Servia should he annexed, except slight frontier regulations, imposed by military considerations. He must absolutely insist that such a resolution be voted unanimously by the Council.

The Minister in the Chair (Berchtold) declared that he could not accept the Royal Hungarian Premier’s point of view without certain reservations, in the present political situation, he was also of opinion that, should it come to war with Servia and we were the victors, we should annex no part of this country, but by making it surrender large portions of its territory to Bulgaria, Greece and Albania, eventually to Roumania, reduce its size so much, that it would cease to be dangerous. The situation in the Balkans might change; it is not impossible that Russia should succeed in overthrowing the present cabinet in Sofia and appointing a government hostile towards us; Albania is no reliable factor as yet; he must, as manager of the foreign affairs of Austria-Hungary reckon with the possibility that after the war there might be circumstances which would make it impossible for us to renounce all annexation, if we are to improve our frontiers.

The Royal Hungarian Premier (Tisza) declared that he could not accept these reservations of Count Berchtold and must, in consideration of his responsibility as Hungarian Premier ask the conference to vote his point of view unanimously. He asks this not only from reasons basing on domestic politics, but more particularly, because he is firmly convinced that Russia would resist à outrance [excessively] if we were to insist upon the complete annihilation of Servia, and because he believes that the best card we hold for improving our international situation is to declare to the powers as early as possible, that we have no intention of annexing any territory whatever.

The Minister in the Chair (Berchtold) declares that even before this discussion he had the intention of declaring as much in Rome.

The Imp. Roy. Premier (Stürgkh) expressed his belief, that even if the annexation of Servian territory remained out of the question, Servia might be made dependent upon the monarchy by the deposition of the dynasty by a military convention and by other corresponding measures. Certainly the resolution of the Council of Ministers must not be voted in such a manner that corrections of the border, which might become necessary from a strategic point of view, would have to be renounced.

The Imp. and Roy. War Minister (Krobatin) declared that he would vote the resolution on the condition that besides corrections of the border, the occupation of a bridgehead on the other side of the river Save, for instance in the Schabatz district, would be allowed. After this the following resolution was unanimously voted:

The Crown Council of Common Ministers at the proposition of the Royal Hungarian Premier (Tisza) votes that as soon as the war begins, the monarchy declares to the foreign powers that no war for conquest is intended, nor is the annexation of the kingdom contemplated. Of course the strategically necessary corrections of the border, or the reduction of Servia’s territory to the advantage of other states or the unavoidable temporary occupation of Servian territory is not precluded by this resolution.

The Minister in the Chair (Berchtold) mentions with gratification that on all points the Council is perfectly agreed and closes the conference.

 

Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits

 

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