Chapter 1: The Guns of August
After the war all blame for it was pinned on Germany, who supposedly incited Austria-Hungary to war in order to get a suitable excuse to invade France. It was all nonsense, of course.
Germany didn't want war. Nobody wanted it, except perhaps for Austria-Hungary. The chief failure of the Germans was that they didn't want to avoid war either. They watched with fear the modernization and build-up of French and Russian military forces. They knew the edge they had once possessed over them was slowly eroding. And so, alas, they thought that if war was supposed to come, it had better come soon. And it did, thanks to a delusional Serbian lad named Gavrilo Princip who decided to further Serbia's cause by murdering the most pro-Slav, pro-Serbian member of the Habsburg royal family, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, together with his Czech wife.
Austria was furious. It rightly believed that Princip hadn't acted alone, that he had been used as a pawn by the Black Hand, a secret organization within the Serbian military and intelligence services, which was determined to destroy what it thought were Serbia's enemies by any means necessary. The assassination gave Austria the excuse it needed to squash Serbia and remove this source of instability in the Balkans. But first, it asked Germany for support. The Germans magnanimously complied, only later realizing that this had dragged them into a collision cause with Russia.
For if you're looking for the real culprit, Russia is a good candidate. Out of delusional pan-Slavic convictions and owing to its imperialistic schemes in the Balkans, it decided to come out in support of Serbia. There was no objective reason to defend it -- after all, Serbia was a sort of pre-WW1 rogue state -- but the damage to the Russian Empire's prestige had Serbia fallen would have been unbearable. And so when Serbia received the Austrian ultimatum asking it to effectively relinquish its sovereignty in matters concerning the investigation of the archduke's murder and telegrammed Russia for help, it pleas were answered. To do Russia justice, Russian warmongering had one more reason: the Russians were convinced that it was Germany who unleashed Austria on Serbia. It was false, obviously, but the Russians -- always having been somewhat paranoid as a nation -- smelled a plot against them and began to mobilize. Too late, because Austria had already declared war on Serbia.
Now the Germans began to understand what they had got themselves into. A Russian mobilization was a grave threat to Germany and so it issued an ultimatum to Russia, requesting that its government recalls it. In a last ditch attempt to avert war, cousins Willy and Nikki (in public better known as Kaiser Wilhelm II. of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II. of Russia) exchanged telegrams promising each other to keep their respective forces in check. But they failed, for things outside their control had already been put in motion.
German military had its timetable. There was no room for wait and see: if it failed to mobilize in time, Germany's enemies would win. And so, Germany began to mobilize in response to the Russian mobilization. This in turn triggered mobilization in France, also followed by German ultimatum demanding its recall, also rejected by the recipient. From this point on, a general war was unavoidable.
Military high commands in all concerned countries finally got the chance to put their long-cultivated war plans into practice. German armies will be first to strike.
The Kaiser looked at the map, frowning. "Can't we just defend in the West and deal with the Russians first? Shouldn't be too hard."
The war room fell into absolute silence. Von Moltke spoke first: "But your majesty, that's impossible! There are timetables, plans, printed orders about to be sent. We can't change all that now. Invading France and Belgium is much easier! And what about poor old Schlieffen? He had worked on this plan all his life. His last words still ring in my ears - 'Keep the right flank strong, Helmut, you hear me? The right flank!'"
"But won't Britain come out in support of the Entente, if we move through Belgium without its consent?" The euphemism escaped no one.
"Bah!" exhaled Moltke. "Who cares about those islanders? They're a military non-entity! All they can do is to play with their boats and whine. We'll be drinking in Paris by the time they'll be able to intervene."
The Kaiser sighed. "All right then." After stopping for a second, he uttered ominous words: "Shikata ga nai."
(oh wait, no that was the other kaiser. Damn, I always get them mixed up. )
The plan in the East is to sit and wait. If the Russians strike with too much force, we'll withdraw to a more defensive line. If not, we may teach them a lesson or two about fighting in Poland.