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On the 28th of July 1914, a month after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria together with his wife Sophie were killed in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia setting the stage for the First World War. Consequently, Austria-Hungary started the war with the blessing of its closest ally during that time, Germany (Fromkin 5).
Austria-Hungary was threatened by the ambitions of Serbians in the Balkans region of Europe, and that is why the country decided to take advantage of a bad situation to start the war with Serbia. The aim was to counter the influence of Serbia reflecting their determination to avenge the assassination. They first began by issuing an ultimatum on the 23rd of July, 1914, to Serbia demanding to conduct a thorough investigation into the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the immediate removal of the anti-Austrian propaganda in Serbia. Serbia ignored the ultimatum and began organizing its army in the preparedness for the war instead (Fromkin 93). Two days later, after failed diplomatic efforts to prevent the war, Frank Conrad, who was by then the chief of general staff, issued an order for the Austrian-Hungarian units to be prepared for the war. The war was formally avowed on the 28th of July, 1914, when Habsburg batteries instigated offensive on Belgrade. The Austria-Hungary was in shortage of weaponry, ammunition, soldiers as well as cadres that were vital to accomplish their strategic plans. Most importantly, the army was weak in gun power, which was very critical. Their artillery possessed fewer guns as compared to other strong European armies, which made them extremely exposed. Moreover, the army’s training never put enough emphasis on the use of artillery. The addition of a Prussian officer into the army was a bright move, since it was viewed as a positive step towards the war with Serbia (Strachan 83). Moreover, this was not sufficient in case there was an emergent entry of another tougher European nation into play. However, the Habsburg army of 1914 could not be in a position to deal with two fronts in a war. Frank Conrad knew the troubles that they were going to face during the war, but still insisted on fighting stating that such an ancient army could not just perish. Conrad, therefore, ordered the mobilization of nearly half of the army ignoring the reports about Russian troops moving towards the inevitable war (Fromkin 85). Consequently, he dispatched an estimated 19 infantry divisions - a number way above what Serbia had sent to the front line. In fact, Serbia sent a paltry 11 infantry divisions to face Austria-Hungary. Russia was well-prepared, and thus they sent 50 infantry divisions to face the remaining 30 infantry divisions from Austria-Hungary. One could not fail to predict the outcome of this war given the error because of the size of the army (Rousseau: David 214).
Potiorek was the commander leading the operations against Serbia. He had at his disposal a varied category of armies such the sixth, fifth, and second armies. The fifth army was located at the upper Drina River, while the second army covered Danube to offer supporting attacks. The sixth army was meant to attack Serbia on the fifth day after the fifth army had crossed over to Drina. Once the fifth and sixth armies were through with their first missions, they were to embark on supporting offensives in Central Serbia. The operations were to be carried out quickly to provide units for the Russian attack as well as persuade Romania not to take sides in the war. The speedy execution of the offensive was also aimed at destroying Serbia before it could offer any counter attacks. The terrains chosen by the armies were rough and mountainous. Potiorek’s scheme overlooked this fact, and it was going to cost him dearly. It meant that the two armies were located too far away from each other making the coordination between the two a mere dream (Hewitson 54)
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After about a week of the offensives in Serbia, the battle lasted for only a few hours. The Austrian-Hungarian armies had lost close to a third of all riflemen. There were lots of confusion on their side, and the exact number of soldiers who were killed could not be easily determined. As such, they only labeled them as missing. Apart from the infantry, artilleries were weakened as well as the service units. After seeing that this was going to cost them more than the losses they were facing at that particular moment, on the 24th of August, 1914, Potiorek issued an order for the withdrawal of all Austrian-Hungarian forces from the Serbian soil. The withdrawal meant that Habsburg army had lost in its first offensive to a small kingdom, the Balkans. The soldiers started suffering psychologically, since they had lost family members and friends. Despite Conrad’s numerous outcries that Potiorek should be responsible for the losses, Potiorek stayed in his position, because he had connections in the military leadership. Contrary to this, Potiorek blamed his failure on the 21st division stating that Bohemians did not perform their duties as expected (Fromkin, 67).
The lesson that the Austrian-Hungarian army learned from their failed first offensive against Serbia was that their soldiers needed closer supervision. One particular case was the Czech soldiers. There was little enthusiasm for their next mission in Serbia due to the demoralization of soldiers as they were planning their next course of action. On the 6th of September, 1914, they were under the attack from Serbia. This time the war had been brought home to Habsburg. The Serbians captured Semlin and stayed there for four days before the town was recaptured again by Austria-Hungary on the 14th of September, 1914, after they successfully shattered one of Serbia’s division (Sondhaus & Lawrence 160). The war proceeded as Serbia gained victory in some of the territories of Austria-Hungary, and by the end of summer, patriotic slogans had disappeared from the mouths of most of the Czechs. The Czech soldiers had lost morally after their first attempt was rendered useless by Potiorek’s leadership. At the same time, the Balkan army of Austria-Hungary had been destroyed. There was a shortage of leaders in all of the departments of their military, for example, brigade colonels and battalion captains. Later on, when the 21st division had regained some strength, it was evident that it was not going to be easy. However, this could not bring back the morale that the other soldiers previously had (Sondhaus & Lawrence 160). Cohesion and motivation could not be bargained. Even the addition of more troops would not bring back the lost morale.
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The failure of Austria-Hungary to subdue Serbia constituted a severe strategic setback. The failure was due to the instability of the Austrian-Hungarian army as well as poor operations of the army in Habsburg. Inadequately trained troops were also a major reason for the failure.
Germany was another chief player in the war that broke out in 1914. As a matter of fact, Germany was the dominant power during the First World War. It instigated controversial beliefs such as nationalism, imperialist competition, and militarism that led to this war. When Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian student, killed Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand, the Serbian government was accused of being involved in the plot. Austria threatened to go to war with Yugoslavia, though there was fear that Russia might step in to defend Yugoslavia. However, Germany promised Austria that if they advance and attack Yugoslavia, then they would safeguard themselves from any form of attack by the Russians. Germany was a good friend of Austria, and as such, it succeeded in an attempt to incite Austria into starting the war (Fromkin 84). The reasons for Germany to act in such a way. First, Germany reasoned that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand could expose it to attacks. If Austria did not take revenge, then it meant that Habsburg had lost control of safeguarding its citizens. The second reason was that by losing Yugoslavia in the fight, Russia could have suffered a major setback in its control of Europe. By annexing Yugoslavia, Germany was sure that Greece and Bulgaria could be exposed to attacks, hence Russia would have no option but to obey their orders. Having formed an alliance with Turkey, Germany was sure that it was going to be victorious in case it faces any other European country. In addition, Germany was also confident Britain would not wish to be the party in a war where Russia is the aggressor.
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In order for Britain not to participate in the war, Germanys made it look like Russians were the pioneers of the war (Hewitson & Mark 118). They tricked other nations by stating that the Serbia-Austria war was a local conflict, which was not to be tampered with by any outside forces. After Austria-Hungary had begun its offensive in Serbia, on the 29th and 30th of July, 1914, Russia started its efforts of protecting Serbia by organizing its army. Germany was only scared of Britain’s entry into the war. Britain, on the other hand, started peace talks in order to bring the war to an end, but none of the countries involved wanted to participate. After Britain’s failed peace attempts, it decided that it was time to engage and stop pretending to be neutral. Britain’s action caught Germany unaware, since Germany expected Britain’s entry later on in the war.
Realizing that Russia was mobilizing its troops for war, Germany gave an order to Russia to stop its mobilization process. It was obvious that Russia did not listen, and, as such, Germany took advantage of the situation and declared war against Russia. Moltke, who was the leader of the German army, started the mobilization process and promised to deliver the western front war first before he could embark on fighting with the Russians (Fromkin 44). Germany usually employed the method of encircling the enemy before destroying him. They were going to use this technique in defeating Serbia before they could face Russia.
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Germans declared war against France on the 3rd of August, 1914. After that, Germans were already in Belgium, where they captured Liege. This move consequently led to the downfall of Belgium. Britain also threatened to declare war on Germany if was not going to withdraw from Belgium. Germany continued with its offensive and eventually invaded France. On the eastern front, Germany was losing significantly, which led to an order by its commander for some troops to be taken to counter the offensive of Russia (Fromkin 65). The battle of Marne was the one that led to the destruction of Germany’s plan of its offensive. The French having noticed that Germany was vulnerable to the northern army made use of this weakness and attacked. The gap in the northern front also made Britain use that weak spot to attack Germany (Friedman & Norman 208). The German army momentum was slowed down at this point as they retreated backwards. The Germans mainly depended on short wars to use their plan. However, when this privilege was taken away from them, they became very vulnerable. The soldiers were also tired from many days without sleep and could not handle the great force they were facing. Their last effort was to attack the French front. It was unsuccessful, and the war ended on the 3rd of November, 1914, when they decided to focus on the east. On the eastern front, however, Russia was successful in destroying the Austrian-Hungarian army. The Germans performed their Schlieffen plan concerning Russia capturing about a hundred thousand soldiers. The offensive ended on the 10th of September, 1914, when Russian troops withdrew from Germany. The Germans neglected their ally, Austria, forgetting what had caused the war. They fought separately, while Austria also struggled on its own.
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During October, German soldiers launched an attack on Warsaw and Langorad. They were, however, defeated by the Russians who were waiting for them at the border. They consequently retreated from Poland for good. The movement of Hindenburg’s forces into the Northern Prussia was meant to aid with their strike against the northern front of the Russian army, which was unprotected. With this, he was sure of an addition of six more divisions to supplement the ones that he already possessed, as promised by Falenhayn. The promise did not materialize, however, as Falenhayn decided later that all troops should be withdrawn from the western front (Hewitson 73).
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