Central Powers

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Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Kaiser Franz-Joseph of Austria-Hungary in 1914.

The Central Powers were originally the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, subsequently joined by the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria, who were all allies in The Great War. The first two empires were located between the Russian Empire and Romania in the east, France in the west, and Serbia, Montenegro and Italy in the south.

Kaisers Wilhelm II of Germany and Karl of Austria-Hungary, wearing each others uniforms, late 1916.


Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria
Mehmed V, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Road to War

See: Causes of World War I

The German and Austro-Hungarian Empires concluded a defensive alliance treaty on October 7, 1879, being joined by Italy on May 20, 1882, forming the Triple Alliance. It was formally redrafted on December 5, 1912.[1] Romania joined the Alliance on February 5 & 26, ratified at Bucharest on March 8, 1913.[2]

With the murders on 28 June, 1914 of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian thrones, the Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, and his wife, in Sarajevo by Serbian terrorists, armed and expedited by agents of the Serbian Government in Belgrade[3] the Vienna government served an ultimatum upon the Serbs,[4] which the latter declined to fully accept[5], which led to the outbreak of war between those two States on July 28, 1914. On the same day Montenegro said they would "co-operate" with Serbia.[6]

The Austro-Hungarian and German requests for Italian support were rejected by the Italian Government arguing that Austria's declaration of war on Serbia was an aggressive act and a breach of Article 7 of the Treaty which intimated they should have consulted all Alliance partners first[7], ignoring the obvious aggression of Serbia with its organised murders of the Austrian heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. However, Italy had its eyes on the Trentino, and Adriatic & Aegean seas, and were seeking what they called "compensation" for supporting the Alliance. On July 31, The German Ambassador at Rome reported to Berlin that Italy's Marquis San Giuliano told him that Italy was declaring herself neutral.[8] In the end Italy betrayed her former allies by entering The Great War on May 23, 1915, on the side of the Western Allies, Russia, and Romania (who also changed sides using similar arguments to the Italians.[9].)

Imperial Russia, having suffered a humiliating defeat on land and sea in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War[10], and seeing herself as the leader of the Pan-Slav Movement[11][12][13]., had encouraged the Serbs by giving them a 'blank cheque' of guaranteed support, began mobilising its forces from mid-July against Austria-Hungary, not making a formal announcement of it until July 31st[14], and also Germany. Russia had been conspiring with France since at least 1891[15] for a decisive war against the two central powers[16] each with their own objectives. The Russians proceeded to move vast armies to the borders of both Germany and Austria-Hungary[17] and the latter, which had only partially mobilised - against Serbia[18], was obliged to fully mobilise on July 31 to protect its eastern and northern borders.[19]. France then mobilised against Germany on August 1st.[20][21]

Germany was the last of the European powers to mobilise, on August 2.[22].[23][24] In military terms, mobilisation is war and a declaration becomes a mere formality.[25] Rather surprisingly, Belgium had mobilised the day before Germany![26]

Two huge Russian armies invaded Germany (East Prussia) on August 2nd, and Germany accordingly declared war on them and their ally, France.[27]. (Austria-Hungary's formal declaration of war with Russia was not made until August 5th.[28]).

Following the outbreak of European war in August 1914, the Ottoman Empire signed a Treaty of Alliance with the Central Powers on August 3 & 4, 1914.[29].

Bulgaria, still resentful after its defeat in July 1913 at the hands of Serbia, Greece, Romania and the Ottoman Empire, was the last nation to enter the war, invading Serbia in support of Austro-Hungarian forces in October 1915.

The End

Montenegro was first out of the war, requesting an armistice on January 12, 1916 following an Austro-Hungarian joint army and naval offensive.[30] The previous year the Serbian army had been forced into retreat and "virtually annihilated" by Austro-Hungarian forces, survivors fleeing to Corfu.[31]

The Central Powers decisively defeated Russia, who sued for peace and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 and left The Great War.[32] On March 5, a defeated Romania signed a preliminary Peace Treaty also with the Central Powers, concluding with the Treaty of Bucharest on May 7th.[33]

Bulgaria, however, was the first Central Power to agree an armistice with the Allies, on September 29, 1918, following a successful French-led Allied advance, using remnants of the Serb army, Greeks, four battalions of French Black troops from Senegal and six squadrons of Moroccans, smashed through the Macedonian Front.[34][35]

The Ottoman Empire then also called for an armistice, which they signed on October 30, 1918, following the latest British and Arab offensives in Palestine and Syria.[36]

Austria-Hungary concluded separate ceasefires with the Western Allies during the first week of November following the commencement of the disintegration of the Habsburg Empire late in the previous month, and Germany signed the Armistice ending the war on the morning of 11 November, 1918, after a succession of advances in northern France since August by the British and their Imperial Forces, the French and, latterly, the arrival of two million American troops[37].

It is generally accepted by most historians[38] that the treatment of the Central Powers at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and the dictated Peace Treaties[39][40] destroying their empires was wrong and were a direct cause of World War II.


  1. Montgelas, Count Max, & Schucking, Professor Walther, Outbreak of the World War (Kautsky Papers), Oxford University Press, London & New York, 1924, p.607-611.
  2. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.612-614.
  3. Cassels, L., The Archduke and the Assassin, London, 1984, ISBN 0-584-11011-1
  4. The Austrian Red Book, Vienna, April 1915, English translation in "International Conciliation", 1915, book no.89, published by the American Association for International Conciliation, New York.
  5. The Serbian Blue Book, Belgrade, May 1915, English translation in "International Conciliation", book no.90, 1915.
  6. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.279, telegram no.306.
  7. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.192-3, telegram 134, July 25, 1914, German Secretary of State von Jagow to Emperor Wilhelm II with Ambassador in Rome's report; German Ambassador at Rome to Foreign Office, Berlin, July 30, 1914, telegram no.419.
  8. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.427, telegram 534.
  9. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.454, telegram 582, August 1, 1914.
  10. Connaughton, Richard, The War of the Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear, London, 1988, ISBN 0-415-00906-5
  11. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.285-6: Russian Ambassador proposed to the Bulgarian Premier on July 27, 1914 that all the Balkan nations should conclude a new Balkan alliance to support Serbia. This was curtly refused, the Premier replying that "Bulgaria would not lift a finger for the benefit of Serbia."
  12. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.298, telegram no.337, German Military Attache in St.Petersburg reports on conversation he had with Prince Troubetzkoi, who is in the Tsar's entourage, speaking of the Serbs: "they are our Slav brothers, and we cannot leave our brethren in the lurch."
  13. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.419, German General Staff Report to Foreign Office, July 31, 1914, that 60,000 Russians are to be sent through Romania by way of Negotin to Serbia.
  14. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.274.
  15. The Franco-Russian Alliance in "International Conciliation", book no.136, March 1919, pps:107-121.
  16. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.170, telegram 134, German Ambassador Count Pourtales to Foreign Office in Berlin, July 23, 1914, reporting on visit to Russia of President Poinclaré of France; states "my Austro-Hungarian colleague believes that M.Poincaré is urging them [the Russians] on here to a conflict with the Triple Alliance."
  17. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.361, telegram no.422, July 30, 1914, from German Consul-General at Warsaw to Imperial Chancellor: "Russia is already in a state of complete preparation for war; Vistula railroad is mobilised and freight traffic is to be entirely stopped. Most of the officers' ladies left yesterday."
  18. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.307.
  19. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.419, full mobilisation of all Austro-Hungarian forces was proclaimed July 31.
  20. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.458.
  21. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.302, telegrams no.341 & 2, July 29, 1914: German Chancellor, Bethman-Hollweg states that despite this "we continue to hope for the preservation of peace."
  22. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.441.
  23. The German White Book, Berlin, June 1919.
  24. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.306-8, Report of July 29, 1914 of the German General Staff to the Imperial Chancellor, summing up that "the military situation is becoming from day to day more unfavourable for us."
  25. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.403, telegram no.488, July 31, 1914, Bethmann-Hollweg to German Ambassador at Paris: "In spite of the still pending and apparently not hopeless mediation, and although we ourselves have taken no mobilisation measures of any kind, Russia has today ordered the [full] mobilisation of her entire army and navy against us also. We have had to declare [therefore] a 'state of threatening danger of war', which must be followed by [our own] mobilisation if Russia does not suspend all war measures against Austria and ourselves within twelve hours."
  26. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.446, telegram 565 August 1, 1914.
  27. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.476-7.
  28. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.600.
  29. Montgelas & Schucking, 1924, p.526, telegram no.726.
  30. Noppen, Ryan & Wright, Paul, Austro-Hungarian Battleships 1914-18, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2012, pps:28-30. ISBN 978-1-849-8-688-2
  31. Young, Peter, editor, History of the First World War, BPC Publishing, London, 1971, vol.7, no.11, "Defeat of Bulgaria" by Alan Palmer, p.2986
  32. Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John W., Brest-Litovsk, The Forgotten Peace, March 1918, London and New York, 1966 (1st edition 1938)
  33. Young, Peter, History of the First World War, BPC Publishing, London, 1971, vol.7, no.13, "The Romanian Imbroglio" by J. Michael Kitch , pps: 3029-37
  34. History of the First World War, BPC 1971, vol.7, no.11, "Defeat of Bulgaria" by Alan Palmer, pps: 2980-87
  35. Rady, Prof., Martyn, The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power, Allen Lane, London, 2020, p.322, ISBN: 978-0-241-33262-7
  36. History of the First World War, BPC 1971, vol.7, no.13, "The Collapse of Turkey" by David Walder, pps: 3050-6
  37. Rady, 2020, p.322.
  38. Two examples being: The End of Order: Versailles 1919 by Charles L. Mee, London, 1980, ISBN 436-27650-X and Hall of Mirrors by David Sinclair, London, 2001, ISBN 0-7126-8389-5
  39. Montgelas, Count Max, The Case for the Central Powers - An Impeachment of the Versailles Verdict, London, 1925.
  40. Germany, Crown Prince Wilhelm of, I Seek The Truth - on the responsibility for the War, London, 1926.