Back to Top

23rd of July









July 23


In 1914 following the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austro-Hungary gives the Kingdom of Serbia an Ultimatum.

When the Heir Presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated by Serbian, Gavrilo Princip, on the 28th of June 1914 the Austro-Hungarian immediately accused the government of the Kingdom of Serbia. The Kingdom of Serbia were furious over the Austro Hungarian annexing of Bosnia and Herzegovina and it was while visiting the Bosnian Capital of Sarajevo that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.

Bad blood existed between the two Minor powers for some time and on the 7th of July 1914, in response to the assassination, the Ministerial Council of Austro-Hungary convened in Vienna to discuss the “measures to be used in reforming the evil internal political conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as shown up by the disastrous event at Sarajevo”. Diplomatic preparations had already been made when the Austro-Hungarian government met with delegates from the German Government who assured them that Germany would support any acts of aggression with Serbia. The events of that month which led up to the First World War is known as “the July Crisis”.

With this assurance in mind the Ministerial Council began to “make up their minds as to whether the moment had not come for reducing Serbia to permanent inoffensiveness by a demonstration of their power”. The Ministers agreed on placing demands on Serbia that “must undoubtedly be hard, but should not be impossible of fulfilment. Should Serbia accept them we should be able to quote a dazzling diplomatic victory, and our prestige in the Balkans would be raised”. If their demands were not met than they planned to take Warlike action against Serbia, stressing that the “object of such action ought to be the reduction of Serbia, but not her complete annihilation” for fear of provoking Russia (an ally of Serbia) into all out war. By the end of the meeting the Ministers stated that any act of aggression on Serbia could not be considered until they could determine “Whether it would be possible to mobilize against Serbia first, and only subsequently against Russia as well, if this should become necessary”? But a larger concern remained due to the current climate in European politics.

On the 20th of May 1882 the Austro-Hungarian Empire signed a treaty with Germany and Italy known as the Triple Alliance Treaty (1882). The treaty was a military alliance of the signatories which ensured support of the other nations in the event of aggression from any other “Great Power”. The Great Powers were Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Austro-Hungary, Russia and The United States.

On the 17th of August 1892 France and Russia drafted their own Military Alliance in response, guaranteeing the others assistance if either was attacked by another Great Power. The Franco-Russian Treaty was completed on the 4th of January 1894. Great Britain had remained neutral but on the 8th of April 1904 they signed the “Entente Cordiale” with France which was a similar military alliance treaty on the 31st of August 1907 The United Kingdom and Russia signed a Military Alliance. These treaties between Britain, France and Russia became known as the Triple Entente and along with the Triple Alliance two great power structures had formed in Europe.

By the 14th of July Germany had convinced Austro-Hungary that a swift offensive against Serbia before Russia could react was possible and pushed them to take a hardline against Serbia. On the 14th of July a report from the German Ambassador to Vienna stated that the Ultimatum to Serbia “is being composed so that the possibility of its being accepted is practically excluded”.

The Ultimatum was sent to the Serbian government on the 23rd of July 1914 and did indeed contain some tough demands that would demoralise the Kingdom of Serbia. Some of the demands included that Serbia accept an independent enquiry by Austro-Hungary into the assassination and the Serbian government’s involvement, which is guilty of tolerating the terrorists and has “exhibited to the whole world the dreadful consequences of such tolerance”.  Serbia must take steps to suppress any anti Austro-Hungarian propaganda and eliminate any terrorist threat against them. That Serbia accepts the Austro-Hungarian governance of Bosnia and not concern themselves with the affairs of the country, but live as a friendly nation, changing their foreign policy. Serbia were given 48 hours to comply with the ultimatum.

Upon receiving the Ultimatum Serbian Government requested further assurances from Russia that it would have their support in the event of hostilities. Russia, believing that Germany were using the event to push for war to secure their assets in the area, mobilised units on the 24th of July in anticipation of war. Serbia could not accept all the terms of the Ultimatum which was worded in such a way to call the Serbian government criminals and totally demoralise them. In anticipation to the Austro-Hungarian response to this, Serbia also began to mobilise troops.

On the 28th of July Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia and, due to the military alliance treaties of all the Great Powers of Europe, the First World War began.