Why World War One?

The long Failure of Western Arms.

Political leaders

Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Son  of Frederik III, who became German Emperor at Versailles in 1870 after the Franco-Prussian War and Vicky, Queen Victoria's daughter. He had an upbringing studying law and politics, and had a military education. He was an injured left arm and was a bit irascable. Became Emperor in June 1888 and then moved Bismarck out of power


The Kaiser’s letter, 14th February, 1908.

The Kaiser visited England each year to sail at Cowes, had a good relationship with Victoria and his cousins, King Edward and Tsar Nikky. He spoke English without an accent and felt himself familiar with the English, more than perhaps he was. When he sent a letter, he would expect to be understood and trusted in February, 1908.. This incident occurs against background of political propaganda, agitating to secure higher Naval estimates and trying to raise a scare. The naval groups used terms like “the German peril” and the “German challenge to British Naval Supremacy.”Kaiser Bill wrote a letter to Lord Tweedmouth, First Lord of the Admiralty, addressing the so-called German challenge.

He stated: “This phrase, if not repudiated or corrected, sown broadcast over the country and daily dinned into British ears, might in the end produce most deplorable results. I therefore deem it advisable, as Admiral of the Fleet, to lay some facts before you, to enable you to see clearly. It is absolutely nonsensical and untrue that the German Naval Bill is to provide a Navy meant as a challenge to British supremacy...” He explains that Britain should be free to have whatever Navy is needs for its world-wide Empire, the greatest trade of the world... whether it be sixty or ninety or a hundred battleships that would make no difference and certainly no change in the German Naval Bill. May the numbers be as you think fit, but people would be very thankful over here if at last Germany was left out of the discussion. For it is very galling to the Germans to see their country continually held up as the sole danger and menace to Britain by the whole press of the different contenting parties..”

Then occurs a nice put-down of Lord Esher who had been at the Board of Works looking after the Royal Palaces. “In the letter Lord Esher caused to be published a short time ago he wrote, “that every German from the Emperor down to the last man, wished for the downfall of Lord Fisher” Now I am at a loss to tell whether the supervision of the foundations and drains of the Royal Palaces is apt to qualify somebody for the judgment of naval affairs in general. As far as regards German affairs naval, the phrase is a piece of unmitigated balderdash...”

He added that British naval supremacy would be unchallenged for generations to come..

The letter was leaked shortly after. Colonel Repington, the Times military correspondent, sent in a letter “Under Which King?” claiming the Kaiser was trying to influence British military policy and Lord Esher was on every Imperial defence Committee and probably was not well-disposed to the Kaiser.

The conclusions would probably be that the Kaiser was stating what he understood to be true, that he was a bit familiar and imperious, but that the Navy lobby was stirring up the German scare dramatically to get their orders for more ships and the Kaiser identified the danger.

The Kaiser and Gustav von Bolen Krupp

The Kaiser was heavily involved in the run up to the War. The assassination in Sarajevo was an attack on Emperors and also involved a close ally. Austro-Hungary asked the Kaiser for German support around the 4-6th of July 1914. initially William said he could not give it without consulting Bethmann-Hollweg, the Chancellor, but then he did give it in what came to be known as the "blank cheque" telegram.

Berlin, July 6, 1914   Confidential. For Your Excellency’s personal information and guidance.   The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador yesterday delivered to the Emperor a confidential personal letter from the Emperor Franz Josef, which describes the present situation from the Austro-Hungarian point of view, and describes the measures which Vienna has in view. A copy is now being forwarded to Your Excellency.   I replied to Count Szagyeny today on behalf of the Kaiser, that the Kaiser sends his thanks to the Emperor Francis Joseph for his letter and would soon answer it personally. In the meantime the Kaiser desires to say that he is not blind to the danger which threatens Austria-Hungary and thus the Triple Alliance as a result of the Russian and Serbian Pan-Slavic terrorism. Even though the Kaiser is known to feel no unqualified confidence in Bulgaria and her ruler… he quite understands that the Emperor Franz Josef, in view of the attitude of Rumania and of the danger of a new Balkan alliance, is anxious to bring about an understanding between Bulgaria and the Triple alliance…   Finally, as far as Serbia is concerned, His Majesty the Kaiser cannot, of course, interfere in the dispute now going on between Austria-Hungary and that country, as it is a matter outside his jurisdiction. The Emperor Franz Josef may, however, rest assured that His Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary, as is required by the obligations of his alliance and of his ancient friendship.  

Note the date. On the same day Wilhelm had spent some time with Gustav von Bolen Krupp, head of the biggest German arms company. Krupp was close to the Kaiser. The Kaiser had effectively arranged his marriage to Bertha Krupp - the name "Big Bertha" was later attached to one of Krupp's big cannons, and he regularly saw Gustav and discussed weapons and other things. Gustav commented that at this meeting he repeatedly said to him that this time he would not chicken out. Krupp said that his production was up to the job if it came to a war. Wilhelm II's resolve was partly formed in the interchange with Krupp. Weapons lead to wars...