Primary Documents - French Reaction to Austria's Ultimatum, 27 July 1914

Jules Cambon, French ambassador to Germany in 1914 Reproduced below is the text of the reaction of Jules Cambon, French ambassador to Germany, to news that the Austro-Hungarian government regarded Serbia's reply to their ultimatum of 23 July 1914 unsatisfactory.

Cambon reported that a meeting with von Jagow in Berlin led him to believe that Germany, like Austria-Hungary, appeared not to desire a peaceful settlement with Serbia - this in spite of protestations to the contrary by von Jagow.

The day following Cambon's report - on 28 July 1914 - Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Official Report by Jules Cambon
French Ambassador at Berlin in 1914

Berlin, July 27, 1914

I had a conversation yesterday with the Secretary of State and gave support to the demarche which Sir E. Goschen (British ambassador to Germany) had just made.

Herr von Jagow replied to me, as he had to the English Ambassador, that he could not accept the proposal that the Italian, French and German Ambassadors should be instructed to endeavour to find with Sir Edward Grey a method of resolving the present difficulties, because that would be to set up a real conference to deal with the affairs of Austria and Russia.

I replied to Herr von Jagow that I regretted his answer, but that the great object which Sir Edward Grey had in view went beyond any question of form; that what was important was the cooperation of England and France with Germany and Italy in a work of peace; that this cooperation could take effect through common demarches at St. Petersburg and at Vienna; that he had often expressed to me his regret at seeing the two allied groups always opposed to one another in Europe; that there was here an opportunity of proving that there was a European spirit, by showing four Powers belonging to the two groups acting in common agreement to prevent a conflict.

Herr von Jagow evaded the point by saying that Germany had engagements with Austria.  I observed to him that the relations of Germany with Vienna were no closer than those of France with Russia, and that it was he himself who actually was putting the two groups of allies in opposition.

The Secretary of State then said to me that he was not refusing to act so as to keep off an Austro-Russian dispute, but that he could not intervene in the Austro-Serbian dispute.  "The one is the consequence of the other," I said, "and it is a question of preventing the appearance of a new factor of such a nature as to lead to intervention by Russia."

As the Secretary of State persisted in saying that he was obliged to keep his engagements towards Austria, I asked him if he was bound to follow her everywhere with his eyes blindfolded, and if he had taken note of the reply of Serbia to Austria which the Serbian Charge d'Affaires had delivered to him this morning.

"I have not yet had time," he said.  "I regret it.  You would see that except on some points of detail Serbia has yielded entirely.  It appears then, that, since Austria has obtained the satisfaction which your support has procured for her, you might to-day advise her to be content or to examine with Serbia the terms of her reply."

As Herr von Jagow gave me no clear reply, I asked him whether Germany wished for war.  He protested energetically, saying that he knew what was in my mind, but that it was wholly incorrect.  "You must then," I replied, "act consistently.  When you read the Serbian reply, I entreat you in the name of humanity to weigh the terms in your conscience, and do not personally assume a part of the responsibility for the catastrophe which you are allowing to be prepared."

Herr von Jagow protested anew, adding that he was ready to join England and France in a common effort, but that it was necessary to find a form for this intervention which he could accept, and that the Cabinets must come to an understanding on this point.

"For the rest," he added, "direct conversations between Vienna and St. Petersburg have been entered upon and are in progress. I expect very good results from them and I am hopeful."

As I was leaving I told him that this morning I had had the impression that the hour of detente had struck, but I now saw clearly that there was nothing in it.  He replied that I was mistaken; that he hoped that matters were on the right road and would perhaps rapidly reach a favourable conclusion.  I asked him to take such action in Vienna as would hasten the progress of events, because it was a matter of importance not to allow time for the development in Russia of one of those currents of opinion which carry all before them.

In my opinion it would be well to ask Sir Edward Grey, who must have been warned by Sir Edward Goschen of the refusal to his proposal in the form in which it was made, to renew it under another form, so that Germany would have no pretext for refusing to associate herself with it, and would have to assume the responsibilities that belong to her in the eyes of England.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. I, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

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