The Beginnings of World War 1 1915
The Crises of 1914 Part II
March the First, 1915, would go down in history as the date which brought on the conflict, later to be called, the Great War. The Great War had, in fact, almost commenced in Europe in the previous year, but frantic attempts of diplomacy, wise decisions by German generals, not to mention convenient disobedience of orders, had isolated the Austro-Serbian war to merely Serbian territory. The European nations, except for France, were satisfied with their various diplomatic achievements & believed that a European war had been diverted. They were wrong.
The beginning of 1915 indicated no hint whatsoever in how the year would end. The Austro-Serbian war had become quiet after the Christmas battles, & apart from a few border skirmishes, little activity took place during the winter of the New Year period. Although negotiations took place between the two combatants, none of the attempts were serious. Instead, both sides had spent the time readying their respective armies for spring campaigns.
The Austrians trained & recruited more troops as did the Serbians. Meanwhile, the Russians were able to smuggle armaments to the Serbs. The Austrians, on the other hand, had to fend for themselves. Their allies, the Germans, were still fuming over the fact that the Austrians had gotten involved in a conflict without any consideration as to their part. Furthermore, a militant Austria, one trying to gain in power & territory via conquest, was not ideally what Germany wanted. Within living memory, both empires were once at war as Prussia went about alienating Austria while uniting the rest of Germany. The last thing the German government thus wanted was a powerful Austria; one which was capable of undoing all of Prussia’s hard work.
Yet this somewhat international balancing act would suddenly change due to the actions of a small British Dominion in the South Pacific. Australia, a small country by population standards, had only recently become a nation in 1901. Its existence up to that date, as an outpost of the British Empire, had only come about as a convenient penal colony in 1788. Prior to that, it was a continent which was owned by the Aboriginals, whose culture & society had little in common with that of Europe. Yet, within 140 years, this country’s actions would hasten on the Great War.
The island of New Guinea, located north of Australia, had seen little European activity over the years. As Australia was taken by the British & later developed, nearly one hundred years would go by before anyone took any interest in New Guinea. But spurred on by empire building, this would soon change.
Accompanying empire building, Australians have long harboured a tradition of invasion paranoia, one which their governments over the years had in abundance. From the beginning, in 1788, it was feared that the French would invade. Next came the Chinese. Then the Russians. After the American Civil War, it was feared that the Americans, now employing a powerful navy & army, would try to conquer Australia as pay-back to the British by establishing a Untied States of Australia. After no American invasion took place, & with the Dutch now firmly established throughout the Indonesian Archipelago, naturally the Dutch were then feared. Next in line, with the reforms delivering the fruits from modernisation & European influence (especially British), Japan was seen as the next potential invader & became known as the "yellow peril". Finally, with the Germans sniffing around the Asia-Pacific region, the Germans likewise joined this list of paranoid delusions.
So when the Dutch began taking an interest in the western half of New Guinea &, if that was not bad enough, the Germans began taking an interest in the eastern half not long afterwards, for the northern Australian colony of Queensland, this was far too much. Fearing a future German or Dutch invasion, the Governor of Queensland Henry Chester, in April 1883, announced that the eastern half of New Guinea was now part of Queensland. The decision, taken without any arrangements with the British, was cheered on by Australians, but was greatly frowned upon by Westminster. The Australian colonies were not even 100 years old & already they had commenced empire building themselves. To everyone it was politics. To the Australians it meant that they were coming of age. To the British it meant their authority was being challenged by a small colony. Furthermore, there were possible international repercussions from Europe or America.
By July 1883 the British ordered the Queenslanders out of the island. At first the Queensland government refused, but after lengthy negotiations, the British agreed that for Queensland’s withdrawal, Britain would declare New Guinea as a protectorate. A disgruntled Queensland government was forced to accept this situation as their original reason for annexation, that being a German takeover, was negated by the promised British presence.
Unfortunately for the Queenslanders, the Germans more or less ignored the British protectorate & in September of 1883 took possession of the northern coast of New Guinea. The Queenslanders would never trust the British in New Guinea again & this event would also help to hasten on the Australian Commonwealth & nationhood. The immediate result, however, was the return of Queensland’s small army to the southern coastline of New Guinea. Well established in the south by 1889, the Queensland government refused all requests by the British to withdrawal, citing that the Germans refused to leave the north. Thus the battlelines were set for the future.
Upon Australia becoming a nation in 1901, the paranoia of the past would govern Australia’s foreign policy up until 1915. Further evidence of German expansion by military conquest came in the form of the German Pacific Naval squadron being permanently stationed in the South Pacific. Although it was nothing in the overall scheme of things, it was enough for the Australian government to order the latest naval vessels from Britain. By 1913, Australia had assembled the most powerful fleet, except for the Japanese, in the region which included a battle cruiser as well as several cruisers & destroyers.
The decision in 1915, by Australia’s Prime Minister Billy Hughes, to invade German New Guinea also had other factors. Coupled with the need for a powerful modern navy were improvements in the army. This was built upon the great experience of Australia’s army during the Boer War. This inturn, fuelled the paranoia in Australia, as Germany, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, had expressed his full support for the Boers. If war was ever to start, as a result of the Boer War between Britain & Germany, Australia would discover very quickly that it was on the front lines by default.
Another aspect to Australia’s consideration, one that has been much overlooked, was trade. Australia wanted the trade of the South Pacific to itself. The only consideration about sharing the trade within the region was given to New Zealand: another British dominion in the South Pacific & one thought to be a de facto state of the Australian Commonwealth. However, far more important than trade was gold. Not only was it discovered in abundance in Australia/British New Guinea, but it was also discovered in German New Guinea.
Thus for a whole range of reasons, Prime Minister Hughes, confident that the military forces would defeat the Germans, ordered them to invade German New Guinea on 1 March 1915. The invasion was extremely successful. Somewhat ridiculously, no one in Australia, however, believed that Germany would go to war over the issue. Noting that Germany had backed down the previous year, in a major way, during the crises in Europe over bigger events, the Australian government wrongly believed that Germany would take even less interest in losing a small colony on the other side of the world.
The Germans, naturally, were outraged. They immediately demanded to the British that their colonials evacuate German New Guinea & pay reparations. Britain too was furious at the Australians & quietly demanded that they return the territory invaded back to its rightful owners. This the Australians refused & citied the usual paranoia about an beating back a mythical immediate German invasion of Australia/British New Guinea. The Germans, after noting the ominous silence on behalf of the British, soon raised the spectre of war.
Once again Europe was in crisis. As the Austro-Serbia conflict now disappeared to the sidelines, now it appeared that Britain & Germany were going head to head. The French, noting a chance to gain at the expense of the Germans immediately threw their lot in with the British. Although no defence treaty per se existed between Britain & France, this was soon ratified. As the deadline for the Australian withdrawal drew close, the Royal Navy Grand Fleet went to sea. In response so too did the German High Seas Fleet.
In a similar fashion, the French army mobilised upon hearing the news that the High Seas Fleet had sortied. Naturally the Germans quickly responded. It the relief of Germany, but to the annoyance of France, Russia declared neutrality over these events. Russia was more interested in seeing Germany & the others distracted while she inturn watched the Austro-Serbian war. If & when the moment raised, then Russia would act by joining the Serbs. Not only would this catch Austria off balance, ensuring territorial gain at the expense of the Austrians, but it would mean that Russia would live up to its image of defender of Slavic Peoples.
But before anything eventful took place in Europe, it was the Australians who once again got involved. As troop ships were being convoyed by the Royal Australian Navy, in order to invade other German colonies on islands to the north of New Guinea, the German cruiser Emden deliberately manoeuvred into a threatening position trying to halt the invasion force. This was seen as an act of war on behalf of the Royal Australian Navy ships & HMAS Sydney, several times more powerful than the Emden, gave battle sinking the German ship. News of the naval encounter spread rapidly around the world. So do did the German response - the declaration of war on 30 March 1915.
Battle almost commenced at once in Europe. Although nothing large at first, the Royal Navy & the German Navy skirmished throughout the North Sea. Both sides, though, could sense a major sea battle would soon take place. They were not to be disappointed. On 31 May 1916, the largest sea battle ever to take place in history did so at Jutland. Even though the Royal Navy lost more ships, the High Seas Fleet retreated in disarray never to venture into another major naval battle ever again. Instead the Germans commenced U-Boat attacks for the next four years that almost won the war for them.
On land it was a similar story. The French & German armies skirmished with one another until the French put Plan XVII into action. This plan called for the liberation of the provinces of Lorraine & Alsace, which were both taken by Germany after the 1870 war. Alas, through inept French generalship & a well organised German defence, Plan XVII proved to be a useless offensive which cost the life of many a Frenchman. In response, the Germans unleashed their almost successful Schlieffen Plan. It was only stopped, however, by the heroic defence of the French & British armies.
Four years would go by before Germany & Austria surrendered. In that time, almost the entire world, including the United States & Russia, were to be sucked into the vortex of battle. Millions of people, including civilians, would die during the war. Furthermore, the world would change forever. Alas the lessons from the horrors of the Great War were not listened to. Instead an even bigger war would return within a generation. In the meantime, Australia would keep its conquests of German colonies while avoiding much of the blame for starting the Great War. Instead, as the war historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote, it was to be a war which was bound to happen. http://www.geocities.com/marcuswest/1915.html