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16 September 2014
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The Road To War: The Triple Entente
How did the Triple Entente react to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand?

Gavrilo Princip, © IWM

When Gavrilo Princip pulled the trigger in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 it set off an explosion around Europe. Austria sought advice from Germany who promised to support Austria fully, effectively giving it a 'blank cheque' for military support. In response, Austria drew up an ultimatum demanding Serbia accept responsibility for the murder and to accept 'Austrian help' in driving out other 'plotters', what might have been the beginning of Austrian occupation and finally annexation. The message to Russia was clear: back down from Austria's plans or face Germany.

When Austria-Hungary delivered its ultimatum, France and Britain strongly suggested that the Serbian government should accept as many of the terms as possible. Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Minister, also put forward the idea of a conference of international mediation by Germany, France and Italy to negotiate any terms rejected by Serbia. France and Italy supported this idea.

However, before the reply was returned with Serbia's objections, Russia immediately began preparing its army. Any hope of avoiding a war seemed outweighed by the necessity of 'getting the jump' on the Germans. Germany insisted that military preparations stop immediately, or it too would begin mobilisation. No solution could be agreed on for any type of mediation, and Germany refused to join Grey's peace conference.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 July, the same day that Russia ordered the start of mobilisation. Frantic telegrams between the Tsar and the Kaiser were exchanged in a last attempt to prevent full-scale war. Three days later, Russia began a full mobilisation. Germany delivered an ultimatum insisting Russia stop mobilising. By 1st August, Germany had declared war against Russia. France mobilised its army the next day to help Russia. No one knew what Britain would do yet.

What do you think Britain could have done to protect its interests, maintain its alliances and still avoid war?

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A - Remain neutral and try to negotiate peace between Germany, Austria-Hungary, France and Russia.

B - Allow France and Russia to use British territories as bases, but not use British troops.

C - It could not avoid war, as it had a 'moral obligation' to help France defend itself.

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