This Day In History: May 21

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Six years after the First Moroccan Crisis, during which Kaiser Wilhelm’s sensational appearance in Morocco provoked international outrage and led to a strengthening of the bonds between Britain and France against Germany, French troops occupy the Moroccan city of Fez on May 21, 1911, sparking German wrath and a second Moroccan Crisis.

In March 1911, French authorities claimed, rebel tribes staged an uprising in Morocco, endangering one of the country’s capital cities, Fez. The sultan appealed to France for help restoring order, which led the French to send their troops to Fez on May 21. Germany, however, wary of French power in Africa, believed the French had fomented the tribal revolt to create an excuse to occupy Morocco. The German foreign secretary, Alfred von Kiderlen-Wachter, neglected to consult key personnel, including the chiefs of the armed forces, before sending a naval cruiser, the Panther, to anchor in the harbor of Agadir on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, asserting Germany’s claims of French aggression on July 1 in an attempt to encourage resistance against the French among the native population.

Though, as in the First Moroccan Crisis, Germany had counted on France’s isolation and eventual submission, this did not prove to be the case, as Britain once again backed France, its partner in the Entente Cordiale of 1904. David Lloyd George, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, made this clear in a public address in London at a banquet at the Mansion House on July 21. After Russia too gave its support to France, though somewhat ambiguously, and Austria-Hungary failed to lend Germany even its diplomatic support, the Germans were forced to back down. In the ensuing negotiations, concluding November 4, Germany reluctantly agreed to recognize the French protectorate over Morocco in return for territorial concessions—which they deemed inadequate—in other regions of Africa.

Meanwhile, military talks began between the British and French, and it was decided that their two navies would divide responsibilities, with the French taking control of the Mediterranean and the British the North Sea and the English Channel. As the two countries moved from friendship to alliance—counting Russia as well on their side—in the wake of the Second Moroccan Crisis, a powerful Germany found itself increasingly isolated, with only tenuous support from its fellow Triple Alliance members, Austria-Hungary and Italy. As Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the German general staff, wrote to the German chancellor, Theobald Bethmann von Hollweg in a memorandum dated December 2, 1912: All sides are preparing for European War, which all sides expect sooner or later.