Kaiser’s Memoirs

Emperor of Germany 1888-1918

English Translation by THOMAS R. YBARRA

The Outbreak of War

AFTER the arrival of the news of the assassination of my friend, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, I gave up going to Kiel for the regatta week and went back home, since I intended to go to Vienna for his funeral.  But I was asked from there to give up this plan.  Later I heard that one of the reasons for this was consideration for my personal safety ;  to this I naturally would have paid no attention.

Greatly worried on account of the turn which matters might now take, I decided to give up my intended journey to Norway and remain at home.  The Imperial Chancellor and the Foreign Office held a view contrary to mine and wished me to undertake the journey, as they considered that it would have a quieting effect on all Europe.  For a long time I argued against going away from my country at a time when the future was so unsettled, but Imperial Chancellor von Bethmann told me, in short and concise terms, that if I were now to give up my travel plans, which were already widely known, this would make the situation appear more serious than it had been up to that moment and possibly lead to the outbreak of war, for which I might be held responsible ;  that the whole world was merely waiting to be put out of suspense by the news that I, in spite of the situation, had quietly gone on my trip.

Thereupon I consulted the Chief of the General Staff, and, when he also proved to be calm and unworried regarding the state of affairs and himself asked for a summer leave of absence to go to Carlsbad, I decided, though with a heavy heart, upon my departure.

The much-discussed so-called Potsdam Crown Council of July 5th in reality never took place.  It is an invention of malevolent persons.  Naturally, before my departure, I received, as was my custom, some of the Ministers individually, in order to hear from them reports concerning their departments.  Neither was there any council of Ministers and there was no talk about war preparations at a single one of the conferences.

My fleet was cruising in the Norwegian fjords, as usual, while I was on my summer vacation trip.  During my stay at Balholm I received only meager news from the Foreign Office and was obliged to rely principally on the Norwegian newspapers, from which I got the impression that the situation was growing worse.  I telegraphed repeatedly to the Chancellor and the Foreign Office that I considered it advisable to return home, but was asked each time not to interrupt my journey.

When I learned that the English fleet had not dispersed after the review at Spithead, but had remained concentrated, I telegraphed again to Berlin that I considered my return necessary.  My opinion was not shared there.

But when, after that, I learned from the Norwegian newspapers—not from Berlin—about the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, and, immediately thereafter, about the Serbian note to Austria, I started without further ado upon my return journey and commanded the fleet to repair to Wilhelmshaven.  Upon my departure I learned from a Norwegian source that it was said that a part of the English fleet had left secretly for Norway in order to capture me (though peace still reigned!).  It is significant that Sir Edward Goschen, the English ambassador, was informed on July 26th at the Foreign Office that my return journey, undertaken on my own initiative, was to be regretted, since agitating rumors might be caused by it.


Upon my arrival at Potsdam I found the Chancellor and the Foreign Office in conflict with the Chief of the General Staff, since General von Moltke was of the opinion that war was sure to break out, whereas the other two stuck firmly to their view that things would not get to such a bad pass, that there would be some way of avoiding war, provided I did not order mobilization.  This dispute kept up steadily.  Not until General von Moltke announced that the Russians had set fire to their frontier posts, torn up the frontier railway tracks, and posted red mobilization notices did a light break upon the diplomats in the Wilhelmstrasse and bring about both their own collapse and that of their powers of resistance.  They had not wished to believe in the war.

This shows plainly how little we had expected—much less prepared for—war in July, 1914.  When, in the spring of 1914, Tsar Nicholas II was questioned by his Court Marshal as to his spring and summer plans, he replied :  “ Je resterai chez moi cette année parce que nous aurons la guerre ” (“I shall stay at home this year because we shall have war”).  (This fact, it is said, was reported to Imperial Chancellor von Bethmann ;  I heard nothing about it then and learned about it for the first time in November, 1918.)  This was the same Tsar who gave me, on two separate occasions—at Björkö and Baltisch-Port—entirely without being pressed by me and in a way that surprised me, his word of honor as a sovereign, to which he added weight by a clasp of the hand and an embrace, that he would never draw his sword against the German Emperor—least of all as an ally of England—in case a war should break out in Europe, owing to his gratitude to the German Emperor for his attitude in the Russo-Japanese War, in which England alone had involved Russia, adding that he hated England, since she had done him and Russia a great wrong by inciting Japan against them.

At the very time that the Tsar was announcing his summer war program I was busy at Corfu excavating antiquities ;  then I went to Wiesbaden, and, finally, to Norway.  A monarch who wishes war and prepares it in such a way that he can suddenly fall upon his neighbors—a task requiring long secret mobilization preparations and concentration of troops—does not spend months outside his own country and does not allow his Chief of the General Staff to go to Carlsbad on leave of absence.  My enemies, in the meantime, planned their preparations for an attack.

Our entire diplomatic machine failed.  The menace of war was not seen because the Foreign Office was so hypnotized with its idea of “surtout pas d’histoires” (“above all, no stories”), its belief in peace at any cost, that it had completely eliminated war as a possible instrument of Entente statesmanship from its calculations, and, therefore, did not rightly estimate the importance of the signs of war.

Herein also is proof of Germany’s peaceful inclinations.  The above-mentioned standpoint of the Foreign Office brought it to a certain extent into conflict with the General Staff and the Admiralty Staff, who uttered warnings, as was their duty, and wished to make preparations for defense.  This conflict in views showed its effect for a long time; the army could not forget that, by the fault of the Foreign Office, it had been taken by surprise, and the diplomats were piqued because, in spite of their stratagems, war had ensued, after all.

Innumerable are the pieces of evidence that as early as the spring and summer of 1914, when nobody in Germany believed as yet in the Entente’s attack, war had been prepared for in Russia, France, Belgium, and England.

I included the most important proofs of this, in so far as they are known to me, in the Comparative Historical Tables compiled by me.  On account of their great number, I shall cite only a few here.  If in so doing I do not mention all names, this is done for reasons easily understood.  Let me remark furthermore that this whole mass of material became known to me only little by little, partly during the war, mostly after the war.

1.  As far back as April, 1914, the accumulation of gold reserves in the English banks began.  On the other hand, Germany, as late as July, was still exporting gold and grain ;  to the Entente countries, among others.

2.  In April, 1914, the German Naval Attaché in Tokyo, Captain von Knorr, reported that he was greatly struck by the certainty with which everyone there foresaw a war of the Triple Alliance against Germany in the near future . . . that there was a something in the air as if, so to speak, people were expressing their condolences over a death sentence not yet pronounced.

3.  At the end of March, 1914, General Sherbatshev, director of the St. Petersburg War Academy, made an address to his officers, wherein, among other things, he said :  That war with the powers forming the Triple Alliance had become unavoidable on account of Austria’s anti-Russian Balkan policy ;  that there existed the strongest sort of probability that it would break out as early as that same summer ;  that, for Russia, it was a point of honor to assume the offensive immediately.

4.  In the report of the Belgian ambassador at Berlin regarding a Japanese military mission which had arrived from St. Petersburg in April, 1914, it was stated, among other things :  At the regimental messes the Japanese officers had heard quite open talk of an imminent war against Austria-Hungary and Germany ;  it was stated, however, that the army was ready to take the field, and that the moment was as auspicious for the Russians as for their allies, the French.

5.  According to the memoirs of the then French ambassador at St. Petersburg, M. Paléologue, published in 1921, in the Revue des Deux Mondes, the Grand Duchesses Anastasia and Militza told him on July 22, 1914, at Tsarskoe Selo, that their father, the King of Montenegro, had informed them, in a cipher telegram, that “we shall have war before the end of the month [that is, before the 13th of August, Russian style] ; . . . nothing will be left of Austria. . . . You will take back Alsace-Lorraine. . . . Our armies will meet in Berlin. . . . Germany will be annihilated.”

6.  The former Serbian Charge d’Affaires at Berlin, Bogitshevich, tells in his book, Causes of the War, published in 1919, of the following statement which Cambon, the then French ambassador at Berlin, made to him, on the 26th or 27th of July, 1914 :  “ If Germany wishes matters to come to a war, she will have England also against her.  The English fleet will take Hamburg.  We shall thoroughly beat the Germans.”  Bogitshevich states that this talk made him sure that the war had been decided upon at the time of the meeting of Poincaré with the Russian Tsar at St. Petersburg, if not sooner.


Another Russian of high rank, a member of the Duma and a good friend of Sazonov, told me later about the secret Crown Council held, with the Tsar presiding, in February, 1914 ;  moreover, I obtained corroboration, from other Russian sources mentioned in my Historical Tables, of the following :  At this Crown Council Sazonov made an address wherein he suggested to the Tsar to seize Constantinople, which, since the Triple Alliance would not acquiesce in it, would cause a war against Germany and Austria.  He added that Italy would break away from these two, in the natural course of events ;  that France was to be trusted absolutely and England probably.

The Tsar had agreed, it was said, and given orders to take the necessary preliminary steps.  The Russian Finance Minister, Count Kokovzev, wrote to the Tsar advising against this course—I was informed of this by Count Mirbach after the peace of Brest-Litovsk—recommending a firm union with Germany and warning against war, which, he said, would be unfavorable to Russia and lead to revolution and the fall of the dynasty.  The Tsar did not follow this advice, but pushed on toward war.

The same gentleman told me this :  Two days after the outbreak of war he had been invited by Sazonov to breakfast.  The latter came up to him, beaming with joy, and, rubbing his hands together, asked :  “ Come now, my dear Baron, you must admit that I have chosen the moment for war excellently, haven’t I ? ”  When the Baron, rather worried, asked him what stand England would take, the Minister smote his pocket, and, with a sly wink, whispered :  “ I have something in my pocket which, within the next few weeks, will bring joy to all Russia and astound the entire world ;  I have received the English promise that England will go with Russia against Germany ! ”

9.  Russian prisoners belonging to the Siberian Corps, who were taken in East Prussia, said that they had been transported by rail in the summer of 1913, to the vicinity of Moscow, since maneuvers were to be held there by the Tsar.  The maneuvers did not take place, but the troops were not taken back.  They were stationed for the winter in the vicinity of Moscow.  In the summer of 1914 they were brought forward to the vicinity of Vilna, since big maneuvers were to be held there by the Tsar ;  at and near Vilna they were deployed and then, suddenly, the sharp cartridges (war ammunition) were distributed and they were informed that there was a war against Germany ;  they were unable to say why and wherefore.

10.  In a report, made public in the press, during the winter of 1914-15 ;  by an American, concerning his trip through the Caucasus in the spring of 1914, the following was stated :  When he arrived in the Caucasus, at the beginning of May, 1914, he met, while on his way to Tiflis, long columns of troops of all arms, in war equipment.  He had feared that a revolt had broken out in the Caucasus.  When he made inquiries of the authorities at Tiflis, while having his passport inspected, he received the quieting news that the Caucasus was quite peaceful, that he might travel wheresoever he wished, that what he had seen had to do only with practice marching and maneuvers.

At the close of his trip at the end of May, 1914, he wished to embark at a Caucasian port, but all the vessels there were so filled with troops that only after much trouble could he manage to get a cabin for himself and his wife.  The Russian officers told him that they were to land at Odessa and march from there to take part in some great maneuvers.


11.  Prince Tundutov, Hetman of the Calmuck Cossacks living between Tsaritsin and Astrakhan, who was, before and during the war, personal aid of the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaievitch, came to General Headquarters at Bosmont in 1918, seeking to establish connection with Germany, since the Cossacks were not Slavs at all and thoroughly hostile to the Bolsheviki.

He stated that he had been sent by Nicholas Nicholaievitch, before the outbreak of war, to the General Staff, in order to keep the Grand Duke posted on happenings there and that he had been a witness of the notorious telephone talks between the Tsar and the Chief of the General Staff, General Januskevitch ;  that the Tsar, deeply impressed by the earnest telegram of the German Emperor, had resolved to forbid mobilization and had ordered Januskevitch by telephone not to carry out mobilization, i.e., to break it off ;  that the latter had not obeyed the unmistakable order, but had inquired by telephone of Sazonov, Minister of Foreign Affairs—with whom, for weeks, he had kept in touch, intrigued and incited to war—what he was to do now ;  that Sazonov had answered that the Tsar’s order was nonsense, that all the General need do was to carry out mobilization, that he [Sazonov] would bring the Tsar around again next day and talk him out of heeding the stupid telegram from the German Emperor ;  that, thereupon, Januskevitch had informed the Tsar that mobilization was already under way and could no longer be broken off.

Prince Tundutov added :  “ This was a lie, for I myself saw the mobilization order lying beside Januskevitch on his writing table, which shows that it had not as yet been given out at all.”

The psychologically interesting point about the above is that Tsar Nicholas, who helped prepare the World War and had already ordered mobilization, wished to recede at the last moment.  My earnest, warning telegram, it seems, made him realize clearly for the first time the colossal responsibility which he was bringing upon himself by his warlike preparations.  Therefore, he wished to stop the war machine, the murderer of entire peoples, which he had just set in motion.  This would have been possible and peace might have been preserved if Sazonov had not frustrated his wish.

When I asked whether the Grand Duke, who was known as a German-hater, had incited much to war, the Cossack chief replied that the Grand Duke had certainly worked zealously for war, but that incitement on his part would have been superfluous, since there was already a strong sentiment against Germany all through the Russian officer corps ;  that this spirit was transmitted, principally, from the French army to the Russian officers ;  that there had been a desire, in fact, to go to war in 1908-09 (Bosnian Question), but France was not then ready ;  that, in 1914, Russia, likewise, was not quite ready ;  that Januskevitch and Sukhomlinov had really planned the war for 1917, but Sazonov and Isvolsky, as well as the French, could not be restrained any longer ;  that the former two were afraid of revolution in Russia and of the influence of the German Emperor on the Tsar, which might dissuade the Tsar from the idea of waging war ;  and that the French, who were sure, for the time being, of England’s help, were afraid that England might come to an understanding later on with Germany at the expense of France.

When I asked whether the Tsar had been aware of the warlike spirit in Russia and had tolerated it, the Cossack Prince answered that it was worthy of note that the Tsar had forbidden once for all, as a matter of precaution, the inviting of German diplomats or military attaches to luncheons or evening meals given by Russian officers at which he himself was to be present.


12.  When our troops advanced in 1914 they found, in northern France and along the Belgian frontier, great stores of English soldiers’ greatcoats.  According to statements by the inhabitants, these were placed there during the last years of peace.  Most of the English infantrymen who were made prisoners by us in the summer of 1914 had no greatcoats ;  when asked why, they answered, quite naïvely :  “ We are to find our greatcoats in the stores at Maubeuge, Le Quesnoy, etc., in the north of France and in Belgium.”

It was the same regarding maps.  In Maubeuge great quantities of English military maps of northern France and Belgium were found by our men ;  copies of these have been shown to me.  The names of places were printed in French and English, and all sorts of words were translated in the margin for the convenience of soldiers ;  for instance :  moulin=mill, pont=bridge, maison=house, ville=town, bois=wood, etc.  These maps date from 1911 and were engraved at Southampton.

The stores were established by England, with the permission of the French and Belgian Governments, before the war, in the midst of peace.  What a tempest of horror would have broken out in Belgium, the “neutral country,” and what a rumpus England and France would have kicked up, if we had wished to establish stores of German soldiers’ greatcoats and maps in Spa, Liege, and Namur !

Among the statesmen who, besides Poincaré, particularly helped unleash the World War, the Sazonov-Isvolsky group probably should take first rank.  Isvolsky, it is said, when at Paris, proudly placed his hand upon his breast and declared :  “ I made the war.  Je suis le père de cette guerre”  (“I am the father of this war”).

Delcassé also has a large share in the guilt for the World War, and Grey an even larger share, since he was the spiritual leader of the “encirclement policy,” which he faithfully pushed forward and brought to completion, as the “legacy” of his dead sovereign.

I am not now in a position to investigate the very damaging information which has been transmitted to me, in the best of faith, concerning the organization and activities of the Great Orient Lodges.  Secret and public political organizations have played important parts in the life of peoples and states, ever since history has existed.  Some of them have been beneficial :  most of them have been destructive, if they had to have secret passwords which shunned the light of day.  The most dangerous of these organizations hide under the cloak of some ideal object or other—such as active love of their neighbors, readiness to help the weak, and poor, and so forth—in order that, with such pretexts as a blind, they may work for their real secret ends.  It is certainly advisable to study the activities of the Great Orient Lodges, since one cannot adopt a final attitude toward this worldwide organization until it has been thoroughly investigated.

I shall not take up the war operations in this work.  I shall leave this task all the more readily to my officers and to the historians, since I, writing as I am without a single document, would be able to describe events only in very broad outline.

When I look back upon the four arduous war years, with their hopes and fears, their brilliant victories and losses in precious blood, what is uppermost in my mind is the feeling of ardent gratitude and undying admiration for the unequaled achievements of the German Nation in arms.


Just as no sacrifice in endurance and privation was too great for those staying at home, so also the army, in defending itself during the war criminally forced upon us, did not merely overcome the crushing superiority of twenty-eight hostile nations, but likewise, on land and water and in the air, won victories whose glory may have paled a bit in the mists of the present day, but, for that very reason, will shine forth all the more brightly in the light of history.  Nor is that all.  Wherever there was distress among our allies, German intervention, often with weak forces, always restored the situation and often won noteworthy successes.  Germans fought on all the battlefields of the far-flung World War.

Surely the heroic bravery of the German nation deserved a better fate than to fall a victim to the dagger that treacherously stabbed it from behind ;  it seems to be the German destiny that Germans shall always be defeated by Germans.  Recently I read the unfortunately not entirely unjustified words :  “ In Germany every Siegfried has his Hödur behind him.”

Finally, let me say a word concerning the German “atrocities” and give two instances thereof !

After our advance into northern France I immediately ordered that art treasures be protected.  Art historians and professors were assigned to each army, who traveled about inspecting, photographing, and describing churches, châteaux, and castles.  Among them Professor Clemen, Curator of the Rhine Province, especially distinguished himself and reported to me, when I was at the front, on the protection of art treasures.

All the collections in towns, museums, and castles were catalogued and numbered ;  whenever they seemed to be imperiled by the fighting they were taken away and assembled, at Valenciennes and Maubeuge, in two splendid museums.  There they were carefully preserved and the name of the owner marked on each article.

The old windows of the cathedral of St. Quentin were removed by German soldiers, at the risk of their lives, under English shell-fire.  The story of the destruction of the church by the English was told by a German Catholic priest, who published it with photographs, and it was sent, by my orders, to the Pope.

At the chateau of Pinon, which belongs to the Princess of Poix, who had been a guest of mine and the Empress, the headquarters of the general commanding the Third Army Corps was located.  I visited the château and lived there.  Previously the English had been quartered there and had ravaged the place terribly.  The commanding general von Lochow, and his staff had a great deal of trouble getting it into some sort of shape again after the devastation wrought by the English.

Accompanied by the general, I visited the private apartments of the Princess, which, up to then, our soldiers had been forbidden to enter.  I found that her entire wardrobe had been thrown out of the clothes presses by the English soldiers and, together with her hats, was lying about on the floor.  I had every garment carefully cleaned, hung in the presses, and locked up.  The writing desk had also been broken into and the Princess’s correspondence was scattered about.  At my command, all the letters were gathered together, sealed in a package, placed in the writing desk, and locked up.

Afterward, all the silverware was found buried in the garden.  According to the villagers this had been ordered as early as the beginning of July, so the Princess had known about the war long before its outbreakl !  I at once ordered that the silver be inventoried, deposited in the bank at Aix-la-Chapelle, and returned to the Princess after the war.  Through neutral channels I caused news to be transmitted to the Princess in Switzerland, by my Court Marshal, Freiherr von Reischach, concerning Pinon, her silverware, and my care for her property.  No answer was received.  Instead, the Princess had published in the French press a letter to the effect that General von Kluck had stolen all her silver.

On account of my care and the self-sacrificing work of German art experts and soldiers—partly at the risk of their lives—art treasures worth billions were preserved for their French owners and for French towns.  This was done by the Huns, the boches !