Memoirs & Diaries - My Time as German Ambassador in London 1912-14
In September, 1912, Baron Marschall died after he had only been at his post in London for a few months. His appointment, which no doubt was principally due to his age and the desire of his junior officer to go to London, was one of the many mistakes of our policy.
In spite of his striking personality and great reputation, he was too old and too tired to adjust himself to the Anglo-Saxon world, which was completely alien to him; he was rather an official and a lawyer than a diplomat and statesman. From the very beginning he was at great pains to convince the English of the harmlessness of our fleet, and naturally this only produced the contrary effect.
Much to my surprise, I was offered the post in October. I had retired to the country as a "Personalreferent" after many years of activity, there being then no suitable post available for me. I passed my time between flax and turnips, among horses and meadows, read extensively, and occasionally published political essays.
Thus I had spent eight years, and it was thirteen since I had left the Embassy at Vienna with the rank of Envoy. That had been my last real sphere of political activity, as in those days such activity was impossible unless one was prepared to help a half-crazy chief in drafting his crotchety orders with their crabbed instructions.
I do not know who was responsible for my being appointed to London. It was certainly not due to H.M. alone (i.e. Kaiser Wilhelm II) - I was not one of his intimates, though he was at all times gracious to me. I also know by experience that his nominees generally met with successful opposition.
Herr von Kiderlen had really wanted to send Herr von Stumm to London! He immediately manifested unmistakable ill-will towards me, and endeavoured to intimidate me by his incivility. Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg (the German Chancellor) was at that time kindly disposed towards me, and had paid me a visit at Gratz only a short time before.
I am therefore inclined to think that they all agreed on me because no other candidate was available at the moment. But for Baron Marschall's unexpected death, I should no more have been called out of retirement then than at any other time during all those previous years.
It was certainly the right moment for a new effort to establish better relations with England. Our enigmatic Morocco policy had repeatedly shaken confidence in our pacific intentions. At the very least, it had given rise to the suspicion that we did not quite know what we wanted, or that it was our object to keep Europe on the qui vive, and, when opportunity offered, to humiliate France.
An Austrian colleague, who had been in Paris for a long time, said to me: "Whenever the French begin to forget about revanche, you always remind them of it with a jack-boot."
After we had repulsed M. Delcasse's efforts to arrive at an understanding with us about Morocco, and prior to that had formally declared that we had no political interests there - which conformed to the traditions of the Bismarckian policy - we suddenly discovered a second Kruger in Abdul Aziz.
We assured him also, like the Boers, of the protection of the mighty German Empire, with the same display and the same result; both demonstrations terminated with our retreat, as they were bound to do, if we had not already made up our minds to embark on the world-war. The distressing congress at Algeciras could not change this in any way, still less the fall of M. Delcasse.
Our attitude promoted the Russo-Japanese and later the Anglo-Japanese rapprochement. In face of "the German Peril" all other differences faded into the background. The possibility of a new Franco-German war had become apparent, and such a war could not, as in 1870, leave either Russia or England unaffected.
The uselessness of the Triple Alliance had been shown at Algeciras, while that of the agreements arrived at there was demonstrated shortly afterwards by the collapse of the Sultanate, which, of course, could not be prevented. Among the German people, however, the belief gained ground that our foreign policy was feeble and was giving way before the "Encirclernent" - that high-sounding phrases were succeeded by pusillanimous surrender.
It is to the credit of Herr von Kiderlen, who is otherwise overrated as a statesman, that he wound up our Moroccan inheritance and accepted as they were the facts that could no longer be altered. Whether, indeed, it was necessary to alarm the world by the Agadir incident I will leave others to say. It was jubilantly acclaimed in Germany, but it had caused all the more disquiet in England because the Government were kept waiting for three weeks for an explanation of our intentions.
Lloyd George's speech, which was meant as a warning to us, was the consequence. Before Delcasse's fall, and before Algeciras, we might have had a harbour and territory on the West Coast, but after those events it was impossible.
When I came to London in November, 1912, the excitement ever Morocco had subsided, as an agreement with France had been reached in Berlin. It is true that Haldane's mission had failed, as we had required the assurance of neutrality, instead of being content with a treaty securing us against British attacks and attacks with British support.
Yet Sir Edward Grey had not relinquished the idea of arriving at an agreement with us, and in the first place tried to do this in colonial and economic questions. Conversations were in progress with the capable and business-like Envoy von Kiihlmann concerning the renewal of the Portuguese colonial agreement and Mesopotamia (Bagdad Railway), the unavowed object of which was to divide both the colonies and Asia Minor into spheres of influence.
The British statesman, after having settled all outstanding points of difference with France and Russia, wished to make similar agreements with us. It was not his object to isolate us, but to the best of his power to make us partners in the existing association. As he had succeeded in overcoming Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian differences, so he also wished to do his best to eliminate the Anglo-German, and by a network of treaties, which would in the end no doubt have led to an agreement about the troublesome question of naval armaments, to ensure the peace of the world, after our previous policy had led to an association - the Entente - which represented a mutual insurance against the risk of war.
This was Sir E. Grey's plan. In his own words: Without interfering with our existing friendship with France and Russia, which has no aggressive aims and does not entail any binding obligations on England, to arrive at a friendly rapprochement and understanding with Germany, "to bring the two groups nearer."
...Nothing can describe the rage of certain gentlemen at my London successes and the position which I had managed to make for myself in a short time. They devised vexatious instructions to render my office more difficult.
I was left in complete ignorance of the most important matters, and was restricted to the communication of dull and unimportant reports. Secret agents' reports, on matters about which I could not learn without espionage and the necessary funds, were never available to me; and it was not till the last days of July, 1914, that I learnt, quite by chance, from the Naval Attaché of the secret Anglo-French agreement concerning the cooperation of the two fleets in case of war.
The knowledge of other important events which had been known to the Office for a long time, like the correspondence between Grey and Cambon, was kept from me.
Soon after my arrival I obtained the conviction that under no circumstances had we to fear a British attack or British support for any foreign attack, but that under any circumstances England would protect the French.
I expressed this view in repeated dispatches, with minute proof and great emphasis, but did not obtain any credence, although Lord Haldane's refusal to assent to the neutrality formula and England's attitude during the Morocco crisis had been pretty obvious indications. In addition there were the secret agreements which I have referred to, and which were known to the Office.
I always pointed out that in the event of a war between European Powers, England as a commercial state would suffer enormously, and would therefore do her best to prevent a conflict; but, on the other hand, she would never tolerate a weakening or annihilation of France; because of the necessity of maintaining the European balance of power and of preventing a German superiority of force. Lord Haldane had told me this shortly after my arrival, and all the leading people had expressed themselves in the same sense.
At the end of June I went to Kiel by command of the Emperor. A few weeks prior to this I had been made an, honorary D.C.L. of Oxford, an honour which had not been conferred on any German Ambassador since Herr von Bunsen. On board the Meteor we learned of the death of the Archduke. H.M. (i.e. Kaiser Wilhelm II) regretted that his efforts to win him over to his way of thinking had thus been rendered vain. I do not know whether the plan of an active policy against Serbia had already been decided on at Konopischt.
As I was not instructed about views and events in Vienna, I did not attach very great importance to this occurrence. Later on I could only remark that amongst Austrian aristocrats a feeling of relief outweighed other sentiments. On board the Meteor there was also an Austrian guest of the Emperor's, Count Felix Thun. He had remained in his cabin all the time suffering from seasickness, in spite of the splendid weather; but on receiving the news he was well. The fright or joy had cured him.
On my arrival in Berlin I saw the Chancellor and told him that I considered the state of our foreign relations very satisfactory, as we were on better terms with England than we had been for a long time, whilst in France also the government was in the hands of a pacifist Ministry.
Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg did not appear to share my optimism, and complained about Russian armaments. I sought to reassure him, emphasizing the fact that Russia had no interest in attacking us, and that such an attack would never receive Anglo-French support, as both countries wanted peace.
Thereupon I went to Dr. Zimmermannn, who was acting for Herr von Jagow, and he told me that Russia was about to raise 900,000 additional troops. His language betrayed unmistakable annoyance with Russia, which was "everywhere in our way." There were also difficulties in economic policy. Of course, I was not told that General von Moltke was pressing for war; but I learned that Herr von Tschirschky had been reprimanded because he reported that he had counseled moderation towards Serbia in Vienna.
On my return from Silesia to London I stopped only a few hours in Berlin, where I heard that Austria intended to take steps against Serbia in order to put an end to an impossible situation.
I regret that at the moment I underestimated the importance of the news. I thought that nothing would come of it this time either, and that matters could easily be settled, even if Russia became threatening. I now regret that I did not stay in Berlin and at once declare that I would not cooperate in a policy of this kind.
Subsequently I ascertained that, at the decisive conference at Potsdam on July 5th, the Vienna inquiry received the unqualified assent of all the leading people, and with the rider that no harm, would be done if a war with Russia should result. Thus it was expressed, at any rate, in the Austrian protocol which Count Mensdorff received in London. Soon afterwards Herr von Jagow was in Vienna to consult Count Berchtold about all these matters.
At that time I received instructions to induce the British Press to adopt a friendly attitude should Austria administer the coup de grace to the "Great Serbia" movement, and to exert my personal influence to prevent public opinion from becoming inimical to Austria.
If one remembered England's attitude during the annexation crisis, when public opinion showed sympathy for the Serbian rights in Bosnia, as well as her benevolent furtherance of national movements in the days of Lord Byron and Garibaldi, the probability that she would support the intended punitive expedition against the murderers of the prince happened so remote, that I found myself obliged to give an urgent warning.
But I also warned them against the whole plan, which I characterized as adventurous and dangerous, and advised them to counsel the Austrians to moderation, as I did not believe that the conflict could be localized.
Herr von Jagow replied to me that Russia was not ready; there would probably be some fuss, but the more firmly we took sides with Austria, the more would Russia give way. As it was, Austria was accusing us of weakness and therefore we dare not leave her in the lurch. Public opinion in Russia, on the other hand, was becoming more and more anti-German, so we must just risk it.
In view of this attitude, which, as I found later, was based on reports from Count Pourtales that Russia would not move under any circumstances, and which caused us to spur Count Berchtold on to the utmost energy, I hoped for salvation through British mediation, as I knew that Sir E. Grey's great influence in Petrograd could be used in the direction of peace. I therefore availed myself of my friendly relations with the Minister to request him in confidence to advise moderation in Russia in case Austria, as seemed likely, demanded satisfaction from Serbia.
At first the English Press preserved calm and was friendly to Austria, because the murder was generally condemned. But gradually more and more voices were heard insisting emphatically that, however much the crime merited punishment, its exploitation for political purposes could not be justified. Austria was strongly exhorted to use moderation.
When the ultimatum was published, all the papers, with the exception of the Standard - the ever-necessitous, which had apparently been bought by Austria - were unanimous in condemnation. The whole world, excepting Berlin and Vienna, realized that it meant war - indeed, "the world-war." The British Fleet, which happened to have assembled for a naval review, was not demobilized.
My efforts were in the first place directed towards obtaining as conciliatory a reply from Serbia as was possible, since the attitude of the Russian Government left room for no doubts about the gravity of the situation.
Serbia responded favourably to the British efforts, as M. Pashitch had really agreed to everything, excepting two points, about which, however, he declared his willingness to negotiate. If Russia and England had wanted the war, in order to attack us, a hint to Belgrade would have been enough, and the unprecedented Note would not have been answered.
Sir E. Grey went through the Serbian reply with me, and pointed out the conciliatory attitude of the Government of Belgrade. Thereupon we discussed his proposal of mediation, which was to include a formula acceptable to both parties for clearing up the two points.
His proposal was that a committee, consisting of M. Cambon, the Marquis Imperiali, and myself, should assemble under his presidency, and it would have been an easy matter for us to find an acceptable formula for the points at issue, which mainly concerned the collaboration of Austrian Imperial officials at the investigations in Belgrade.
Given goodwill, everything could have been settled at one or two sittings, and the mere acceptance of the British proposal would have brought about a relaxation of the tension, and would have further improved our relations with England. I therefore strongly backed the proposal, on the ground that otherwise there was danger of the world-war, through which we stood to gain nothing and lose all; but in vain. It was derogatory to the dignity of Austria - we did not intend to interfere in Serbian matters - we left these to our ally. I was to work for "the localization of the conflict."
Needless to say a mere hint from Berlin would have decided Count Berchtold to content himself with a diplomatic success, and to accept the Serbian reply. This hint was not given; on the contrary, they urged in the direction of war. It would have been such a splendid success.
After our refusal Sir Edward requested us to submit a proposal. We insisted on war. I could not obtain any reply but that Austria had shown an exceedingly "accommodating spirit" by not demanding an extension of territory.
Sir Edward rightly pointed out that even without an extension of territory it is possible to reduce a state to a condition of vassalage, and that Russia would see a humiliation in this, and would not suffer it.
The impression grew stronger and stronger that we wanted war under any circumstances. It was impossible to interpret our attitude, on a question which did not directly concern us, in any other way. The urgent requests and definite assurances of M. Sazonof, followed by the Czar's positively humble telegrams, the repeated proposals of Sir E. Grey, the warnings of the Marquis San Giuliano and Signor Bollati, my urgent counsels, all were of no avail. Berlin persisted; Serbia must be massacred.
The more I pressed the less were they inclined to come round, if only that I might not have the success of averting war in conjunction with Sir Edward Grey.
Finally, on the 29th, the latter decided on the famous warning. I replied that I had invariably reported that we should have to reckon with English opposition if it came to a war with France. Repeatedly the Minister said to me "If war breaks out, it will be the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen."
After that, events followed each other rapidly. Sir Edward was still looking for new ways of avoiding the catastrophe. Sir W. Tyrrell called on me on the morning of August 1st to tell me that his chief still hoped to find a way out. Would we remain neutral if France did?
I understood that we should then agree to spare France, but he had meant that we should remain altogether neutral towards Russia also. That was the well-known "misunderstanding." Sir Edward had asked me to call in the afternoon. As he was at a meeting of the Cabinet, he called me up on the telephone, Sir W. Tyrrell having hurried to him at once. In the afternoon, however, he talked only about Belgian neutrality and the possibility that we and France might face one another in arms without attacking.
Thus this was not a proposal at all, but a question without any guarantee, as our interview, which I have mentioned before, was to take place soon afterwards. Berlin, however, without waiting for the interview, made this report the foundation for far-reaching measures. Then there came M. Poincare's letter, Bonar Law's letter, King Albert's telegram. The waverers in the Cabinet - excepting three members who resigned-were converted.
Till the very last moment I had hoped that England would adopt a waiting attitude. Nor did my French colleague feel at all confident, as I heard from a private source. Even on the 1st of August the King had given the President an evasive reply. But England was already mentioned as an opponent in the telegram from Berlin announcing the imminent danger of war. Berlin was therefore already reckoning on war with England.
Before my departure Sir E. Grey received me, on the 5th, at his house. I had called at his request. He was deeply moved. He told me he would always be prepared to mediate. "We don't want to crush Germany." Unfortunately this confidential interview was made public, and Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg thus destroyed the last chance of gaining peace through England.
The arrangements for our departure were perfectly dignified and calm. The King had previously sent his equerry, Sir E. Ponsonby, to express his regrets at my departure and that he could not see me himself. Princess Louise wrote to me that the whole family were sorry we were leaving. Mrs. Asquith and other friends came to the Embassy to take leave.
A special train took us to Harwich, where a guard of honour was drawn up for me. I was treated like a departing Sovereign. Such was the end of my London mission. It was wrecked, not by the wiles of the British, but by the wiles of our policy.
Count Mensdorff and his staff had come to the station in London. He was cheerful, and gave me to understand that perhaps he would remain there, but he told the English that we, and not Austria, had wanted the war.
Looking back after two years, I come to the conclusion that I realized too late that there was no room for me in a system that for years had lived on routine and traditions alone, and that only tolerated representatives who reported what their superiors wished to read. Absence of prejudice and an independent judgment are resented. Lack of ability and want of character are praised and esteemed, while successes meet with disfavor and excite alarm.
I had given up my opposition to the insane Triple Alliance policy, as I realized that it was useless, and that my warnings were attributed to "Austrophobia," to my idee fxe. In politics, which are neither acrobatics nor a game, but the main business of the firm, there is no "phil" or "phobe," but only the interest of the community. A policy, however, that is based only on Austrians, Magyars, and Turks must came into conflict with Russia, and finally lead to a catastrophe.
In spite of former mistakes, all might still have been put right in July, 1914. An agreement with England had been arrived at. We ought to have sent a representative to Petrograd who was at least of average political capacity, and to have convinced Russia that we wished neither to control the straits nor to strangle Serbia.
"Lachez l'Autriche et nous ldcherons les Francais" ("Drop Austria and we will drop the French"), M. Sazonof said to us. And M. Cambon told Herr von Jagow, "Vous n'avez pas besoin de suivre I'Autriche partout" ("You need not follow Austria everywhere").
We wanted neither wars nor alliances; we wanted only treaties that would safeguard us and others, and secure our economic development, which was without its like in history. If Russia had been freed in the West, she could again turn to the East, and the Anglo-Russian rivalry would have been re-established automatically.
We could also have considered the question of the reduction of armaments, and need no longer have troubled ourselves about Austrian complications. Then Austria would have become the vassal of the German Empire, without any alliance - and especially without our seeking her good graces, a proceeding ultimately leading to war for the liberation of Poland and the destruction of Serbia, although German interest demanded the exact contrary.
I had to support in London a policy the heresy of which I recognized. That brought down vengeance on me, because it was a sin against the Holy Ghost.
"Eggs-a-cook" were boiled eggs sold by Arab street vendors. It was later used by Anzac soldiers when going over the top.
- Did you know?