On 27 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Albert Count Mensdorff (pictured), sent a coded telegram to the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leopold Count Berchtold. In his telegram, Mensdorff describes British fears of the escalation of the Austro-Serbian conflict into a World War, and the desire for a Great Power conference by Sir Edward Grey.
Count Mensdorff to Count Berchtold. London, 27 July 1914.
Received your Excellency’s telegram of today. Have just communicated content to Sir Edward Grey.
I explained to him most explicitly that our … [note: cypher is missing] was not aggressive but merely self-defence and self-preservation, and that we did not aim at territorial conquest, nor wish to destroy Serbian independence. What we wanted, was a certain satisfaction for the past and guarantees for the future.
I used some of your Excellency’s arguments in the decree to Count Szapary, giving them as my personal opinion.
Sir Edward Grey told me that he was very much disappointed that we treated the Serbian answer as if it had been a decided refusal to comply with our wishes, whereas it is really the greatest humiliation an independent State has ever been submitted to, and in fact accepts all the points demanded. I insisted that the objection to our officials taking part in the inquiry was what made all the other assurances illusory.
The Foreign Secretary told me that the German Ambassador had asked him two days ago to use his influence with Petersburg in favour of Serbian moderation. He had answered that it was not possible to expect Russia to advise Serbia to yield still more than it had already done in its answer to the Note [i.e. the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia].
He had thought that this answer would form a basis on which the four non-implicated governments could build up a satisfactory arrangement.
This was his idea when he proposed a conference.
The conference would assemble under the assumption that Austria-Hungary would refrain from all military operations while the other powers would attempt to find a satisfactory way out of the difficulty.
(Sir Edward Grey’s declaration in the House of Commons of today, gave a detailed programme of the conference).
When he spoke of the necessity to refrain from military operations, I remarked that I feared it was too late for that. The Foreign Secretary then said, if we were resolved to have a war with Serbia under any circumstances, under the assumption that Russia would keep quiet, we were taking a very great risk. If we could indeed persuade Russia to keep quiet, it was well and good and he had nothing more to say. If not, the possibilities and dangers were incalculable.
If I wanted a symptom of the general anxiety felt, he would tell me that the great British fleet, which had been concentrated in Portsmouth after the manoeuvres and was to have dispersed today, has received orders to remain where it is. “We should not have called any reserves, but as they are collected in one place, we cannot afford to send them home at such a moment.”
The Foreign Secretary was grieved and anxious, but not irritated, as my German colleague said he was this morning.
His idea of a conference is intended to prevent a collision between the Great Powers, and he would be sure to act in favour of isolating the conflict. But if Russia mobilises and Germany decides for action, there will be no question of the conference.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.