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20 October 2014
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The Road To War: The Triple Alliance
How did the Triple Alliance view the members of the Triple Entente?

Most leaders of the European empires were related to each other through Queen Victoria's many children. Tsar Nicholas of Russia was a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. As war broke out they sent several telegrams to each other attempting to negotiate peace and indicating their close relationship.

'...I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure brought upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid such a calamity as a European War, I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.


And in reply:

'With regard to the hearty and tender friendship which binds us both from long ago with firm ties, I am exerting my utmost influence to arrive at a satisfactory understanding with you. I confidently hope you will help me in my efforts to smooth over difficulties that may still arise. Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin,


Thinking Point: How sincere do you think these telegrams were in trying to prevent war? If they were sincere, why was war not avoided?

King George V, © IWM

For Britain, the situation was uncertain. It was just coming out of a state of 'splendid isolation' from continental Europe. King George V was also a cousin of the Kaiser, and the two countries retained close ethnic and cultural ties in spite of the growing naval rivalry.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, © IWM

This challenge sparked off British involvement in the Moroccan Crisis (1906) and the Agadir Crisis (1911), both instances when German ships were sent to threaten the French forces in Morocco. The Anglo-French alliance became more solid when in 1912, Britain promised to defend France's northern coast from Germany's naval forces. If a land war broke out, as the supporters of the Schlieffen Plan believed, Germany figured Britain would stay neutral.

As far as France was concerned, Germany had beaten them in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 (Prussia was a part of Germany), taking the rich territories of Alsace and Lorraine. The war was one of sweeping movement, crushing sieges and was over in less than a year. There was no reason to expect that France would be more difficult to beat again.

Why do you think Germany was certain it would win a quick war against the Triple Entente?

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A - It had a strong army and navy, and a well-established battle plan.

B - It did not think that Britain would be involved, only France and Russia.

C - It was run by arrogant leaders who thought the German forces were superior to all others.

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