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|Graf Leopold Berchtold von und zu Ungarschütz, Frättling, und Püllütz|
|Leopold Graf von Berchold zu Ungarschütz, Frättling, und Püllütz was born in Vienna on 18 April 1863. He was the Imperial ambassador to Russia from 1906 until 1911. After this, Berchtold became the Imperial Foreign Minister from 1912 until his resignation in 1915. Berchtold was preceded as Foreign Minister by Graf Alois von Aehrenthal.
An Auspicious Start
In 1908, Ambassador Berchtold became the host for a series of top secret meetings between Graf Aehrenthal and the Russian Foreign Minister, Alexander Izvolski. These were held at Berchtold's estate at Buchlau in Moravia. The gist of these discussions revolved around detente in the Balkans. Izvolski would not oppose Austria's formal annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and in return, Graf Aehrenthal would not oppose Russian passage of the Straits for its Black Sea fleet. When these talks concluded, Berchtold's reputation increased significantly among his peers.
The result of the agreement is well-known: Austria-Hungary annexed the two provinces without notifying the other Great Powers. The Russian Foreign Ministry, meantime, had announced its intention to pass the Straits with its fleet, only to be vetoed by Britain. Izvolski had not realised that his vaunted agreement gave him no support from Austria-Hungary on this matter, only consent. With this stunning reversal, Izvolski attempted to salvage his crushed reputation by loudly seconding Serbia's outrage over the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
When Germany stepped forth with an ultimatum, Russia was forced to withdraw, and both Izvolski and his entire country was humiliated. Izvolski's career and reputation was irreversibly damaged. He was dismissed from the office of Foreign Minister, but sent to Paris as an Ambassador. Izvolski's rage knew no bounds, and he devoted the next years of service with the aim drawing the Entente into a war against Austria-Hungary in revenge for being made Aehrenthal's dupe.
As for Berchtold, he became Austria's ambassador to Russia following the Bosnian crisis. When Graf Aehrenthal died in 1912, Berchtold returned from St. Petersburg and was appointed Foreign Minister. He found it very difficult to fill Aehrenthal's shoes. Kaiser Franz Josef had complete, unwavering confidence in Aehrenthal (especially with Aehrenthal's shrewd handling of the Bosnian annexation), but he did not immediately trust Berchtold.
How to be "Viennese"
Berchtold was easy-going by nature and disliked crises. He was part-and-parcel of the so-called "war party" (consisting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, War Minister Alexander von Krobatin, Ambassador to Serbia Wladimir Giesl von Gieslingen, and Austrian Chancellor Karl von Stürgkh along with a few others) for political expediency, but he did not revel in the challenges that such a party might incur.
His nationality was partly the reason for his concern over the future of the Empire. He was part German, part Czech, part Slovak, part Hungarian. His mix of racial types once caused a French journalist to ask Berchtold to what race he belonged. Perhaps not understanding the question, he replied "I'm Viennese." The journalist asked what would happen if the Empire came to an end, to which Berchtold responded, "I'd remain an aristocrat. It's not much, but it's better than nothing." Berchtold could not identify with any particular group; not when his aristocratic bloodlines contained so many varied ancestors.
Well-known as the best breeder of racing horses, Berchtold also had extensive vineyards and forests. The good life was his forté, and he was content to spend as much of his summers away from smoggy Vienna as possible. Thus, when the heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Berchtold was far from Vienna at his estate of Buchlau, enjoying a village fair. His chief reaction was horror like most, and Serbian complicity was his chief suspect from the start.
Planning a Suitable Response
Berchtold arrived in Vienna that afternoon and began sorting out the details as they arrived from Bosnia. With his adjutant, Graf Alexander von Hoyos, Berchtold drafted a special letter to Kaiser Wilhelm and German Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg. Hoyos was sent to Berlin with this letter, and his audience with the German leaders resulted in a positive response for Berchtold. The Germans agreed with Berchtold's desire to punish Serbia for its apparent complicity in the crime of Sarajevo and offered as much support as needed to bring the conspirators to justice, including, if need be, the Serbian government itself. Hoyos returned to Vienna with the so-called "Blank Check" of 5 July 1914.
Armed with this liberty, Berchtold set about drafting an ultimatum that Serbia was certain to refuse. This would present his government and his Kaiser with no option except to declare war on Serbia. Berchtold's problem was two-fold. He had trouble from Conrad, who was the most hawkish of the war party but sheepish regarding his Army's preparedness. He required 17 days to bring the army up to speed even before mobilisation was to begin, and then an additional 17 days for the standard mobilisation to conduct an offensive war. The other problem was the Kaiser and Hungarian Premier Istvan Tisza.
Kaiser Franz Josef was appalled by the assassination of his heir and wife. Although they had always been on cool terms with one another, the murders were a direct assault on the imperial household and the Empire itself. The Kaiser did not want to end his long reign as it had begun: in war and revolution. Still, Berchtold put enormous pressure on him to consent to strong-armed tactics with the Serbs, even if it meant war. The Kaiser agreed that Serbia had gone too far but he required Berchtold to gain unanimous consent from his cabinet before any war-like measures would receive his approval. That meant securing the approval of Tisza.
History has given Tisza a most difficult place. His acceptance of Berchtold's proposals made war inevitable, and Tisza's assassins on 1 November 1918 laid all responsibility for the World War on his shoulders before shooting him dead. How did this happen? Tisza was against war measures in 1914. In his mind, any war with Serbia would result in the annexation of Serbian lands and Serbians. This would jeopardise the balance of Slavs and non-Slavs in the Empire, and so he opposed a military solution in favour of drawing Bulgaria (and Roumania) into an open alliance and surrounding the Serbs with hostile neighbours. Berchtold soon discovered that Tisza was the only voice not in favour of war against Belgrade and a great deal of pressure and reason was needed to convince the Hungarian Premier to consent to what amounted to a compromise.
Berchtold could dispatch an ultimatum to Serbia threatening war, but only on the condition that Serbia was capable of accepting it-in Tisza's mind, this would not involve territorial concessions. Then on 13 July 1914, the so-called "Wiesner-dokument" arrived in Vienna from Sarajevo. Friedrich Wiesner had been charged with a preliminary investigation by Berchtold to find any evidence linking the Serbians to the assassination of the Archduke. In his report, Wiesner stated there was no direct evidence that members of the Serbian government knew about the impending assassination, but there was evidence of complicity by members of the Serbian military and border patrol. Therefore, responsibility for the conspiracy could be lain at the feet of the authorities in Belgrade if Berchtold needed.
This was more than enough for Berchtold to press both Tisza and the Kaiser. There were half-hearted affirmations from both, and those Berchtold seized upon with relief. Thus, a decision was arrived at on 14 July 1914.
The details did not bother the Foreign Minister; his ultimatum was already drafted and he changed very little in it to comply with Tisza's wishes. All that remained was to deliver it to Belgrade. This was problematic, because by the time Tisza had come round and given his consent, French President Poincare and members of his cabinet were on their way to St. Petersburg to visit the Tsar. Berchtold resolved to wait until Poincare left Russia to deliver the ultimatum. That way, France and Russia would not be able to formulate a quick response.
The Serb government's initial response was to order the army's mobilisation, which occurred on 25 July. The Russians gave critical help to the Serbs in drafting a clever response to the ultimatum. In this response, the Serbs claimed ignorance over most of the charges and gave vague and apparent acceptance to all the demands except for the last, which required the right of Austrian authorities to conduct investigations and prosecutions on Serbian soil. The response was a masterpiece of diplomacy and at a glance seemed to give Vienna everything it demanded. But in reality, it conceded nothing. Although most of the Great Powers believed the note to be satisfactory (Kaiser Wilhelm included), Berchtold was given a victory by the Serbs' failure to answer the final demand.
Berchold presented this failure to the Kaiser, along with Tisza's consent to action should the Serbs refuse their demands. Reluctantly but surely, Kaiser Franz Josef signed a declaration of war presented by War Minister Krobatin, and Berchtold helped draft the official proclamation "To My Peoples," which Franz Josef also signed. On 28 July 1914, while soldiers poured into the capital from all over Serbia, Ambassador Giesl presented the declaration of war to Premier Pasic, received warm thanks for his years of service, and then departed for the embassy to burn papers and make good his flight from the capital-turned-war camp.
Reactions from the Great Powers
The declaration of war found Belgrade packed with Serbian soldiers while the government packed its bags and left for Nish. The Serbs expected an immediate Austrian attack, but there was nothing on the opposite shores of the Danube. Meanwhile, Vienna was bombarded by official communiques from all over Europe. Sergei Sazonov was advising Russian mobilisation against Austria alone unless the war declaration was withdrawn. As any mobilisation whatsoever by Russia was tantamount to war--be it against one or both of the Central Powers (and this was well-known by the Russians, French, Austrians, etc.)--Berchtold was confident that Germany would stand by Austria because of their military treaty. Germany was being left in the dark be Berchtold, however. They really did not know what the Foreign Minister was planning or what the official stand by Vienna was. Even Berchtold's ambassadors in the European capitals could not honestly present an official line.
Right from the start, Berchtold had taken a one-track line that Austria was wronged by Serbia and had the right to respond militarily. In this he was unwavering, even in the face of a Russian mobilisation that threatened a Great Power war. The obstinancy of his stance, which appears to make Berchtold responsible for the World War, may merely be categorised as criminal neglect. Clearly, there would have been no World War if Sazonov and Russian War Minister Sukhumlinov hadn't decided as early as 25 July to mobilise and thus make a World War inevitable. But Berchtold takes a mighty and deserved portion of the blame for not shifting is position in the face of such dire developments.
On 29 July, the Serbs blew up the Danube bridge, taking a symbolic "no return" action that was not well-received in the capitals of Europe. Only a few hours later, Danube monitors began to shell Belgrade indiscriminantly. They kept this up for an hour and then withdrew to Semlin across the river. The bombardment caused only superficial damage to Belgrade and no invasion followed, though the Serbs were bracing themselves for it. This news sent shock-waves across Europe, and Sazonov recommended full Russian mobilisation.
Sazonov's actions were nearly as enigmatic as Berchtold's. He raged against Szapary, the Austrian ambassador to Russia, but spoke calmly toward Pourtales, the German ambassador. Sazonov assured the Great Powers that Russia's mobilisation was only against Austria to force Vienna to listen to the voice of reason, but he kept pressuring Russia's Quartermaster General Danilov to bring the army within striking distance of the German frontier. He upheld British Foreign Minister Edward Grey's calls for peace and a conference on the Serbian question, but at the same time assured French president Poincare that Russia would not pick up the glove it had dropped to Austria.
War Aims: Cutting a Serbian Cake
Berchtold's hard stance was not completely condemned. The British were convinced of Vienna's righteousness in this matter, but Grey took a wider view of the big picture and understood that the machinations of Berchtold at the Ballplatz could have dire consequences. Grey therefore contrived the "Stop at Belgrade" formula, whereby Austrian troops would occupy the Serbian capital with the approval of the Great Powers until the Serbian government complied with all of the demands in the ultimatum. This was picked up by all the capitals, but it was never considered in the two most important centres, Vienna and St. Petersburg.
Berchtold, for one, refused to stand on the important issue of war aims. Confronted by every ambassador, including the German, the Foreign Minister declined to state the future of Austro-Serbian relations. Russia was certainly not going to entertain the destruction of Serbia or even the reduction of the recently victorious Serbian army. For the Ballplatz, "Stop at Belgrade" stopped short of granting Vienna its just reward declaring war on another country.
Kaiser Wilhelm, right after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, wrote that "Vienna must take a hard stand against Belgrade. They must take back the Sanjak, and that right soon!" He was referring to the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, a strip of Bosnia that was occupied by Austria-Hungary until 1908 and which separated Serbia from Montenegro. It was conquered from Turkey at the beginning of the First Balkan War and divided between the two in 1913. The ownership of this territory had been desirable to Austria-Hungary before 1908 as a bridge for its projected railway line to Salonika. Although the largest seaport in the Balkans was long considered by the world to be Austria's ultimate foreign policy aim, neither Berchtold nor Aehrenthal ever considered Salonika as a feasible and worthwhile prize.
Chancellor Stürgkh and certain elements of the military favoured simply annexing the Macva region in northeastern Serbia, which would give the army a commanding position over northern Serbia from the heights of the Cer ridge. This place would be the scene of ferocious fighting in August and September 1914. General Conrad and the War ministry insisted on complete annexation of Serbia to suppress the problem once and for all. It was clear to everyone that this program would never work out.
Berchtold himself though the best solution would be for Austria-Hungary to partition Serbian territories out to its neighbours; thus, Bulgaria would be given Macedonia and Albania would be given Kossovo. This would bring these countries close to Vienna, and Serbia would be weakened considerably. (Tisza was likely to accept this proposal, but these things were beyond his reach now.) Such a proposition was never spoken aloud by Berchtold, but his refusal to denounce this plan in front of the Russian and French ambassadors led especially Sazonov to conclude that this was the Ballplatz's goal.
Who's the Master and Who's the Servant?
The brief and pointless bombardment of Belgrade on 29 July was the first and only war-like activity against Serbia for the next 10 days. Berchtold must have had a hand in its occurrence, because when he was summoned before Kaiser Franz Josef and asked why his flotilla had bombarded Belgrade, Berchtold flatly lied and said it was a response to a Serbian attack. It was as sad as when the Young Turks lied to the Sultan Mohammed after the Turkish navy bombarded Russian ports in October, telling him it was only done after the Russians had treacherously attacked Turkey. The old Sultan died believing he had been wronged by the Russians, and no doubt Kaiser Franz Josef had no reason not to believe his long-serving Foreign Minister's claims either.
This was the sum of Berchtold's work: He was a servant who thought he knew better than his master. Berchtold considered his position to be the only one suitable to preserve the Empire, and he could not risk this position by trying to explain it to his Kaiser or to the Germans, both of whom were genuinely afraid of a World War. In a letter to Kaiser Wilhelm, Kaiser Franz Josef described Berchtold's report of an initial Serbian attack as justification for military action (the blowing of the Danube bridge was proof enough of Serbian guile) and nothing more was ever heard of the incident. The movement of millions of soldiers on the continent shifted attention away from Berchtold's petty fabrications. Things had expanded far away from the Ballplatz.
Berchtold resigned from the post of Foreign Minister in January 1915, and was replaced by Graf Istvan Burian. Berchtold then became lord high chamberlain to the Archduke Karl, who was the heir to the Imperial crowns. Following Karl's ascension to the throne in late November 1916, Berchtold went into a secluded retirement. Leopold Graf Berchtold died on 21 November 1942 at Peresznye near Sopron, Hungary.
The Glamour of War?
Anton Graf Berchtold, a brother of Leopold, was given command of the XIII. Mountain Brigade, which was attached to the 58. inf. div., in the XVI. Corps of Feldzeugmeister Wenzel von Wurm.
GWS, 10/01 [rev. 9/03]
|A Noble Pedigree|
|Arms of an old and noble pedigree: The part Czech, part Hungarian, part German, and part French Leopold Graf Berchtold von und zu Ungarschütz, Frättling, und Püllütz let others worry about nationalism. As far as he was concerned, the best pedigree was a mixed one, albeit aristocratic; that way, there could be no favouring one nationality over another.|