1914: Then Came Armageddon

Outbreak in France

“Did [Germany] think she was deceiving France, finding her ignorant and asleep?”

Heroic France and Her Allies, 1918

Union Sacrée

French citizens understood their role in the conflict as one primarily of defense. In July 1914, the French ambassador to Russia assured Tsar Nicholas II that Russia would not have to fight the Germans alone. But French diplomats in Paris waited, hoping for a peaceful resolution. Russian and German mobilization by August 1, however, showed that war in France was inevitable. Germany’s Schlieffen Plan, which envisioned Germany knocking out France first before confronting Russia, ensured that France would be drawn into the conflict. Germany invaded Luxembourg on August 2, prompting France to mobilize. Germany declared war on France on August 3. France then prepared to defend itself as German troops hurried through Belgium on the way to Paris, violating Belgian neutrality. Nearly all Frenchmen rallied to the cause of national defense in early August 1914, setting aside political and religious differences for the moment and creating what became known as the Union Sacrée (Sacred Union).

French poster ordering general mobilization
The general French mobilization order

Patriotic French Postcards

“This morning, French territory was violated by German troops at Ciry and near Longwy. They are marching on the fort which bears the latter name. Elsewhere the Custom House at Delle has twice been fired upon. Finally, German troops have also violated this morning the neutral territory of Luxembourg. You will at once use this information to lay stress on the fact that the German Government is committing itself to acts of war against France without provocation on our part, or any previous declaration of war, whilst we have scrupulously respected the zone of ten kilometres which we have maintained, even since the mobilisation, between our troops and the frontier,” sent by M. René Viviani to the French Ambassadors in London, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, and Constantinople. Yellow book 235.

The Triple Entente

The Triple Entente refers to the alliances binding France, Great Britain, and Russia together and contributing to the expansion of the Austrian and Serbian conflict into a continental war. France was allied with Russia through the Franco-Russian alliance of 1894 and with Great Britain via the Entente Cordiale of 1904; Great Britain and Russia were allied through the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907.

Germany felt threatened and antagonized by the Triple Entente and attempted to neutralize the alliance by invading France before France and Russia could mobilize a strong enough response.