Austro-Hungarian Red Book: Count Berchtold to Herr von Merey and Count Szogyeny, 28 July 1914

On 28 July 1914, Leopold Count Berchtold (pictured), the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, sent a coded private telegram to the Austro-Hungarian ambassadors to Germany, and Italy. In his telegram, Berchtold informs them of discussions on the Triple Alliance, which united Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Germany, as they related to the Austro-Hungarian conflict against Serbia.

Leopold Count Berchtold

Leopold Count Berchtold

Count Berchtold to the Imperial and Royal Ambassadors in Rome and Berlin. Vienna, 28 July 1914.

Address:

  1. Herr von Merey in Rome.
  2. Count Szogyeny in Berlin.

Cyphered telegram.—Private.

1.

Yesterday and today, the German Ambassador [to Austria-Hungary, Heinrich von Tschirschky]  paid me urgent visits as a result of personal orders from His Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm, the Imperial Chancellor and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to beg me, in view of the grave situation and the threatening dangers, “for God’s sake” to come to an understanding with Italy on the interpretation of Article Vll of the Triple Alliance Treaty. Italy regards our action against Serbia as an aggressive measure not only towards Serbia but also towards Russia, and it has adopted the point of view that, the Triple Alliance being of a purely defensive character, Italy did not see its way to siding with us in the eventuality of a war between us and Russia.

Moreover, it has been declared in two places, by Bolatti in Berlin and by [the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs] San Giuliano and Salandra in Rome, that Italy would not adopt a friendly attitude, unless we agreed to the Italian interpretation of Article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty.

Herr von Tschirschky, who was instructed to inform me that the German government interprets Article VII in the same way as the Italians, appealed to me in the most solemn and emphatic manner to make the situation clear as soon as possible, because we were risking the entire military action of our German ally, if Italy refused to recognise the casus foederis.

The [Italian Ambassador to Austria-Hungary, the] Duke of Avarna, who also visited me today, had been instructed by his government to make a declaration, analogous to the one made to Baron Macchio on 25 July, that in Rome it had been expected that we would in a case like the present one (a démarche in Belgrade), which surely came under the stipulations of Article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty (dans les Balcans) have begun by consulting our allies; that moreover the Italian government would, in case the threatening conflict ended with a war, which would lead to an occupation of Serbian territory, even if it should be but temporary, adhere to the reservation that it would make use of its right to compensation, as stipulated by Article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty, after having established an agreement on the subject; and lastly that the Italian government would, in the eventual war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, observe a friendly attitude, such as beseems the ally of the monarchy.

I answered the Italian ambassador that our disputes with Serbia concerned only us and Serbia, that we were not thinking of making any territorial acquisition whatsoever, and that therefore an occupation of Serbian territory need not be discussed.

When Avarna remarked, that it would be of advantage to us if we made a binding declaration to the Powers on this point, I said that this was not possible, because no one could foresee at this moment whether in the course of the war, we might not be obliged to occupy Serbian territory much against our will. If the war takes a normal course, this need not be apprehended, since we really had no cause whatever to wish to augment the number of our Serbian subjects.

I ask that your Excellency communicate the Duke of Avarna’s declaration and my answer to it to the Marquis di San Giuliano, and with regard to the claims of compensation founded on Article VII of the Triple Alliance Treaty, to make the following remarks:

As we have already declared to the Italian ambassador here, we intend to make no territorial acquisitions. Should we, against our previsions, be forced to occupy Serbian territory more than temporarily, we are prepared to enter into negotiations on the compensation question with Italy. On the other hand, we expect from Italy that the kingdom will in no way hinder its ally in the action necessary to attain its ends, and will maintain the friendly attitude of an ally, which it has promised.

Private.

I have decided for these advances towards the point of view of Italy, because we are playing a great game, in which there are serious difficulties to overcome, and in which we might fail, unless the Powers of the Triple Alliance hold firmly together.

The above might, if needed, be communicated to your Triple Alliance colleague.

2.

I am telegraphing to Herr von Merey as follows. [See the above].

Your Excellency will speak to [the German Minister of Foreign Affairs] Herr von Jagow in the above sense, and add that we are under the impression that Italy is thinking of compensation at our expense of territory with Italian populations, perhaps the Trentino. In this case we must ask to declare in the most explicit manner that the question of disjoining any portion of land from the Monarchy must not for a moment be taken into consideration.

1.

I add for your Excellency’s purely personal information, that I am instructing Count Szogyeny to speak in the above sense to Herr von Jagow and to add that we were under the impression that in diverse Italian quarters compensations at our expense were being thought of, especially in parts of the country where the population is Italian, as for instance in the Trentino. My instructions are, that where the disjoining of any part of our territory is in question, the subject cannot even be discussed.

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

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