Section B - Controversy #1: Germany and WW1 Qs

Sample materials

Q5. Use Sources 1, 2 and 3 and your own knowledge.

‘Decisions made in Berlin from 1900 determined the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914.’
How far do you agree with this opinion?

Explain your answer, using the evidence of Sources 1, 2 and 3 and your own knowledge of the issues related to this controversy.

Sources for use with Question 5


(From Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire 1871–1918, published 1985)

In the 1890s, commercial rivalry in the world’s markets increased dramatically. Above all, German policy embarked on a collision course with Britain’s vital interests when the decision was taken to expand the battle fleet. From the time of the first Supplementary Navy Bill of 1900, there was no doubt as to Germany’s aims, with their sometimes openly declared, sometimes carefully concealed, aggressive intent. Nor was there any inclination in London to meet this new danger with a child-like trust. Germany’s naval policy was too mistakably bound up with ‘the image of the enemy across the Channel’ for the British to sit back and wait for things to happen. We need to bear in mind both the domestic political dimensions of the ‘Tirpitz-Plan’, as well as the German decision not to yield on battleship building. That plus the decision to arm against Britain on such a massive, concentrated scale, without cause from London, shows how Germany’s moves on the chess board determined the rules of the game up to 1914.


(From Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War, published 1998)

The extent of German malice aforethought must not be exaggerated. For men who have been accused of
planning a war, the senior members of the German General Staff were uncannily relaxed in July 1914. At the time the Kaiser issued his famous ‘blank cheque’ to the Austrians, Moltke, Waldersee, Groener, chief of the Railway Section, and Major Nicolai, the head of key intelligence agency Section 111b, were all on holiday (in separate resorts, it should be said). Tirpitz and Admiral von Pohl were too. It was only on 16th July that Nicolai’s stand-in, Captain Kurt Neuhof, was advised to step up surveillance of Russian military activity. Nicolai himself was not back at his desk for another two days. Even then his orders to the so-called ‘tension travellers’ – ie German spies in Russia and France – were merely to find out ‘whether war preparations are taking place in France and Russia’.


(From John Keegan, The First World War, published 1998)

The existence of a permanent medium of negotiation between the European powers might have robbed the war plans that lay in their pigeonholes of their menacing capacity to determine events instantly. In Germany, Russia and Austria, where the sovereign was commander in chief both in name and fact, and where each organ of the military system answered directly to him, communication between these different organs was beset by secretiveness and jealousy. The system, disastrously, took its most extreme form in Germany. In the crisis of 1914, the Kaiser, when he alone might have put the brakes to the inevitable progression of the Schlieffen Plan, found he did not understand the machinery he was supposed to control. He panicked and let the Schlieffen Plan determine events.

June 2010

Q5 Use Sources 1, 2 and 3 and your own knowledge.

‘German aggression was responsible for the outbreak of a general European war in August 1914.’ How far do you agree with this judgement?

Explain your answer, using Sources 1, 2 and 3 and your own knowledge of the issues related to this controversy. (Total for Question 5 = 40 marks)


(From Gordon Corrigan, Mud, Blood and Poppycock, published 2003)

Fischer, the German historian, is adamant that Germany’s foreign policy aims were focused on annexation, and that she went to war to achieve these aims. What is undeniable is that Germany, by offering unconditional support to Austria-Hungary in her dispute with Serbia, precipitated the series of events that led to war. Long
before that, at least as early as 1906, Germany had in place a plan for an aggressive war based on the premise that Germany would have to fight Russia and Francesimultaneously, with Britain as a possible ally of France.

(From L. F. C. Turner, The Origins of the First World War, published 1970)

After Sarajevo, Wilhelm II and Bethmann Hollweg courted a great war and, in view of the prevailing mood in Paris and St. Petersburg, there was little hope of averting catastrophe after the Austrian ultimatum was presented in Belgrade. The crisis got out of control because Bethmann pushed Austria into a premature
declaration of war on Serbia. The French General Staff drove Russia along the fatal path to mobilization. This conduct reflected French confidence in victory, but was also a reaction to the German war plan devised by Count von Schlieffen. That plan, with its flagrant violations of neutrality, had been approved by the German
Government since 1904. In the final phase, military considerations were of decisive importance.


(From James Joll, The Origins of the First World War, published 1984)

The arms race, in which all the major powers were involved, has contributed to the sense that war was bound to come, and sooner rather than later. It caused serious financial difficulties for all the governments involved in it; and yet they were convinced that there was no way of stopping it. Although publicly it was justified as having a deterrent effect which would make for peace rather than for war, no government had, in fact, been deterred from arming by the arms programmes of their rivals, but rather had increased their own armament production. By 1914 Tirpitz had hoped that the German fleet would be so strong that no British
government would risk going to war. The British were determined to maintain their naval superiority, whatever the financial and political cost. The continuing international tension, and the strains of the armaments race, each contributed to a mood in which war was accepted almost as a relief. As a French observer in 1912 put it, ‘How many times in the last two years have we heard people repeat “Better war than this perpetual waiting!”’.