Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Count Berchtold to Count Szogyeny, 28 July 1914

On 28 July 1914, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, sent a coded telegram to Laszlo Count Szogyeny, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Germany. In his telegram, Berchtold shares an edited version of the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to the United Kingdom’s, Albert Count Mensdorff, 27 July telegram to Vienna.

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

Count Berchtold to Count Szogyeny. Vienna, 28 July 1914.

Cyphered.

Count Mensdorff telegraphed as follows on 27 July:

“I had an opportunity to-day of explaining fully to Sir Edward Grey that our action in Servia 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.

He had believed that this answer would at least form the basis for the four other governments to build some satisfactory arrangement upon.

This was the idea that made him propose a conference.

The conference would meet under the assumption that both Austria-Hungary and Russia would refrain from all military operations while the other powers were trying to find a way out of the difficulty.

(The declaration Sir Edward Grey made in the House of Commons today gave details of the plan for this conference.) When he spoke of the necessity that we should refrain from military operations in Serbia, I remarked that it was perhaps too late for this, whereupon the Foreign Secretary said, if we wanted to have war with Serbia at any price, and imagined Russia would in this case keep quiet, we were running a great risk. If we succeeded in keeping Russia quiet, all was well and good, and he had nothing more to say, if not, the possibilities and dangers were incalculable.

As a symptom of the anxious feeling prevalent, he told me that the great British fleet, which after the manoeuvres had been concentrated in Portsmouth and was to have been dispersed today, received orders to stay where it was. “We should not have called in the Reserves,” he said, “but since they are assembled, we cannot afford to send them home at this moment”. The Foreign Secretary was grieved and disquieted, but not irritated, as my German colleague had described him in the morning.

His idea of a conference aims at preventing a collision between the Great Powers, and it is probable that he will try for the isolation of the conflict. If Russia mobilises, and Germany resolves for action, the conference will die of itself.

I do not think that it will be necessary to call your Excellency’s attention to the fact that the British proposal of a conference comes too late, seeing that we already find ourselves in a state of war.”

The above is for your information and for communication to the German Minister of Foreign Affairs.

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

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