What is the declaration of war

August 1, 1914 - Germany declares war on Russia

European diplomacy failed all along the line in 1914. After the assassination attempt in Sarajevo on June 28, Austria-Hungary blames neighboring Serbia for the murder of heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Then the alliance mechanism takes effect: The Danube Monarchy ensures Germany's support and declares war on Serbia. Serbia then receives assistance from Russia and Moscow initiates a mobilization of the army. The German military, in turn, is pushing for a quick response. That is why the government declared war on Russia on the evening of August 1, 1914. "If our neighbor doesn't want it any other way, if he doesn't grant us peace, I hope to God that our good German sword will emerge victorious from this difficult battle," proclaimed Kaiser Wilhelm II from the balcony of his palace in Berlin. The next day, German troops occupy Luxembourg without an official declaration of war and march into Belgium.

Since the German military believes in a quick victory in the West, they also declare war on France, which is allied with Russia. With the invasion of Belgium, in turn, the case of an alliance is given for England. With the British declaration of war on August 4, 1914, all of Europe's great powers are finally involved. Every power had expected a war at some point, but none had prepared it specifically, says Herfried Münkler, political scientist at Berlin's Humboldt University. In 1914, "only a little more than half of the men liable for military service in Germany were actually trained in weapons". In addition, the empire only had ammunition for a few months. That is why the German economy was switched to arms production in a hurry.

Germans initially without a war goal

Every great power pursues different war aims. Great Britain wants to create a "balance of power" and prevent Germany from dominating the continent. France wants Alsace-Lorraine, annexed by Germany, back. Russia wants to secure its access to the Mediterranean Sea and its influence in the Balkans. Austria, in turn, wants to demonstrate strength to Serbia. Only the German Empire had no defined goals, says Professor Münkler. "This in turn has the terrible consequence that with every military success ... demand for annexation is piled on demand for annexation." This creates in the minds of German politicians and military what the Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer described in 1961 as "reaching for world power". "A handle that you hadn't even looked at before 1914," said Münkler. Until then, the Germans would have "only wanted to have a certain share in the great global game".

Nonetheless, Wolfgang Kruse, an adjunct professor at the Historical Institute of the Fernuniversität Hagen, does not doubt "that the politics of the German Reich and its ally Austria-Hungary, especially during the July crisis, bore the main responsibility for triggering the First World War" - even if the latest research for all European powers in the prewar period have shown tendencies towards an exacerbation of the European crisis.

USA made an enemy without need

The first winter will be critical for the Germans. In the two-front war, their attack in the west got bogged down. 1915 followed the most successful military year for the German empire: Serbia was conquered, the French and British attacks in the west got stuck in the wire, Russia wavered. The following year the Germans attacked Verdun. It is estimated that this costs a total of 700,000 people their lives. Then Germany’s military leadership under Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hinderburg takes on a new enemy without need: the USA. "The most fatal wrong decision is certainly the one of January 9, 1917," says Professor Münkeler. With the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Americans were drawn into the war.

Germany's Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz is now styling the struggle of the Europeans into a struggle of the continents: "In truth, it is about the freedom of the European continent and its peoples against the all-consuming tyranny of Anglo-Americanism." In November 1918, American troops and English tanks halt the last attack on Paris. The German front collapses. The First World War is over. Ten million soldiers have died and an estimated seven million civilians have died.

Status: 08/01/2014

Program tips:

On WDR 2 you can always hear the due date around 9:40 a.m. Repetition: from Monday to Friday at 5:40 p.m. and on Saturday at 6:40 p.m. The deadline is available as a podcast after it has been broadcast.

"ZeitZeichen" on WDR 5 (9:05 am) and WDR 3 (5:45 pm) also commemorates the German declaration of war on Russia on August 1, 2014. The "ZeitZeichen" is also available as a podcast.