Year
1914

Austria-Hungary issues ultimatum to Serbia

At six o’clock in the evening on July 23, 1914, nearly one month after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a young Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Baron Giesl von Gieslingen, ambassador of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Serbia, delivers an ultimatum to the Serbian foreign ministry.

Acting with the full support of its allies in Berlin, Austria-Hungary had determined in the aftermath of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination to pursue a hard-line policy towards Serbia. Their plan, developed in coordination with the German foreign office, was to force a military conflict that would, Vienna hoped, end quickly and decisively with a crushing Austrian victory before the rest of Europe—namely, Serbia’s powerful ally, Russia—had time to react. As the German ambassador to Vienna reported to his government on July 14, the [note] to Serbia is being composed so that the possibility of its being accepted is practically excluded.

According to the terms of the ultimatum delivered on July 23, the Serbian government would have to accept an Austro-Hungarian inquiry into the assassination, notwithstanding its claim that it was already conducting its own internal investigation. Serbia was also to suppress all anti-Austrian propaganda and to take steps to root out and eliminate terrorist organizations within its borders—one such organization, the Black Hand, was believed to have aided and abetted the archduke’s killer, Gavrilo Princip, and his cohorts, providing weapons and safe passage from Belgrade to Sarajevo. The Dual Monarchy demanded an answer to the note within 48 hours—by that time, however, anticipating Serbian defiance, Gieslingen had already packed his bags and prepared to leave the embassy.

While the world waited for Serbia’s response, Germany worked diplomatically to contain the effects of the ultimatum, but none of the other great powers, with reason, were inclined to see Austria-Hungary, with its relatively weak military, as acting alone. By 1914, the battle lines had been drawn in Europe: if Germany stood with Austria-Hungary against Serbia (and by extension, Russia) then Russia’s allies, France and Britain, would be likely to step into the fray as well.

The British cabinet, just after receiving the news of the Austrian note to Serbia, held a meeting in London, one that had previously been devoted to discussing Ireland’s desire for independence. This note, as Winston Churchill famously wrote, was clearly an ultimatum, but it was an ultimatum such as had never been penned in modern times. As the reading proceeded it seemed absolutely impossible that any State in the world could accept it, or that any acceptance, however abject, would satisfy the aggressor. The parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone faded back into the mists and squalls of Ireland, and a strange light beganto fall upon the map of Europe.

On receipt of the ultimatum, Serbia at once appealed to Russia, whose council of ministers met on July 24 to determine a course of action. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov voiced his belief that Germany was using the crisis over the archduke’s death as a pretext for starting a preventive war to defend its interests in the region. Defying Austro-German expectations that Russia would back down in the case of such a conflict, the council agreed to order four military districts to prepare for mobilization.

Meanwhile, in Belgrade on the afternoon of July 25, convinced that Austria-Hungary was preparing for a fight, Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic ordered the Serbian army to mobilize. Pasic himself delivered the Serbian answer to the ultimatum to Gieslingen at the Austrian embassy, just before the 6 p.m. deadline. Serbia’s response effectively accepted all terms of the ultimatum but one: it would not accept Austria-Hungary’s participation in any internal inquiry, stating that this would be a violation of the Constitution and of the law of criminal procedure. This response did much to appeal Pasic and his country to international observers of the conflict; to Vienna, however, it made little difference. Gieslingen, bags packed and car waiting to drive him to the railroad station, broke the Dual Monarchy’s diplomatic relations with Serbia and left to catch his train. Three days later, on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, beginning the First World War.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Military seizes power in Egypt

In Egypt, the Society of Free Officers seizes control of the government in a military coup d’etat staged by Colonel Gamal Abdal Nasser’s Free Officers. King Farouk, whose rule had been criticized for its corruption and failures in the first Arab-Israeli war, was forced to ...read more

Detroit Riots Begin

The Detroit Riots were among the bloodiest riots in American history. Thel strife occurred during a period of Detroit’s history when the once-affluent city was struggling economically, and race relations nationwide were at an all-time low. The Detroit Police Department’s vice ...read more

Miss America resigns

On this day in 1984, 21-year-old Vanessa Williams gives up her Miss America title, the first resignation in the pageant’s history, after Penthouse magazine announces plans to publish nude photos of the beauty queen in its September issue. Williams originally made history on ...read more

U.S. women take home gymnastics gold

On July 23, 1996, at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team wins its first-ever team gold.The 1996 U.S. women’s team, nicknamed the “Mag 7″ or “magnificent seven,” was made up of seven immensely talented teenaged girls: Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, ...read more

Former President Ulysses S. Grant dies

On this day in 1885, just after completing his memoirs, Civil War hero and former President Ulysses S. Grant dies of throat cancer. The son of a tanner, Grant showed little enthusiasm for joining his father’s business, so the elder Grant enrolled his son at West Point in 1839. ...read more

Montana rancher Conrad Kohrs dies

Conrad Kohrs, one of Montana’s first cattle barons, dies in Helena.A native of Denmark, Kohrs immigrated to the United States in 1850 at the age of 15. Seeking his fortune, he headed west in hopes of finding a gold or silver mine. He had some small success in California and ...read more

Raymond Chandler is born

Raymond Chandler, creator of detective Philip Marlowe, is born in Chicago on this day.Chandler was raised in England, where he went to college and worked as a freelance journalist for several newspapers. During World War I, Chandler served in the Royal Flying Corps. After the ...read more

Legionnaires gather in Philly

On this day in 1976, members of the American Legion arrive in Philadelphia to celebrate the bicentennial of U.S. independence. Soon after, many began suffering from a mysterious form of pneumonia. Their ailment would come to be known as Legionnaires’ disease. About 4,000 ...read more

Black Bart strikes again

Black Bart robs a Wells Fargo stagecoach in California. Wearing a flour sack over his head, the armed robber stole the small safe box with less than $400 and a passenger’s diamond ring and watch. When the empty box was recovered, a taunting poem signed “Black Bart” was found ...read more

An accord on Laos is reached

Avoiding a Cold War showdown, the United States and the Soviet Union sign an agreement guaranteeing a free and neutral Laos. While the agreement ended the “official” roles of both nations in the Laotian civil war, covert assistance from both Russia and the United States continued ...read more

Halleck takes command of the Union army

General Henry W. Halleck assumes the role of general-in-chief of all Union forces in an effort to better coordinate the overall Union war effort, which is floundering.A native of New York, Halleck graduated from West Point in 1839. He showed such promise that he was allowed the ...read more