Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Round Three

I joined several writing groups on the LinkedIt website, one of which was - which is an excellent source for writers.

Downloading my book I was opening myself up to writers, authors, publishers and other frightful characters. I also joined a Historical Book group and one titled Writers & Books.

I introduced myself to each group and jumped right in posting. It didn't take long before my manuscript was dissected, analyzed and served to me in a salad bowl.

One elderly history teacher with a high author rating suggested I rethink my approach and focus more on my grandfather and expand on his journal entries. Which I could not ague with but panicked at the thought of rewriting a third time - even though they say the third time is the charm.

When I received a review of 600 words taken from the book - I did not select wisely. The reviewer wrote that it lacked emotion and did not hook him into wanting to read more - but he did say it had promise. Being who I am - which is hard enough without trying to be someone else, I posted the journal except describing George Bramwell's death. Well that tickled his fancy and suggested I start the book using it.

This made me wonder if the current opening was good enough. I copied and pasted the 1900 plus words - which immediately drew criticism since I far exceeded the 600. Posting an apology I explained my intention and the circumstances behind the posting.

The controller of the site piped in and said I had great material but the reviewers dealt mostly with fiction so he was not sure they could help me. But added, perhaps if I decided to write it as historical fiction they would be all over it with help. Besides, he added, it would open it to a wider audience.

It brought flashbacks to my original book "The Great Promise". So I am considering another rewrite and perhaps with their help I could be this story published.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Who lit the fuse?

In David Fromkin’s book “Europe’s Last Summer – who started The Great War in 1914” he presents a blow by blow account of the efforts the European powers went through in order to prevent war. However, they could not overcome the human elements; deceit,  pride, and miscommunication.

After reading his book I came to the conclusion that the war was the result of three things; Austria’s awkward handling of Serbia, the sabotage of communications between the Kaiser and Russia, as well as the Kaiser and Austria, add the pressure the German ambassador was placing on Austria to declare war on Serbia.

If more modern forms of communication would have been available, as well as less formal protocol, I believe war would have been averted.  The Kaiser could have phone his cousin Nicky in Russia and asked, “Hey Nick, what is up? How come you ordered your country to mobilize and your troops are lined up along the Austrian border?”

Nick could have explained, “Why worry cousin, it is not a full mobilization just a little one. The troops are just a sign of solidarity with Serbia and to impress Austria to not do anything rash; that is all. We do not want to go to war but we also want to protect our interest.
     Perhaps you could talk to the Austrians and tell them how foolish it would be to start a war that would destroy Europe.”

“Yes, I will call old Franz Joseph and tell him to stand down until tensions ease a bit and clear minds can find a solution.”

The Kaiser could have contacted the cabinet of the Premiers from both Austria and Hungary to drop the hint that should Austria go to war with Serbia, they would be going alone without Germany’s support. The Premiers would have said, “Kaiser, make up your mind! We get one communicate telling us to act more swiftly in attacking Serbia and another one telling us to hold off! Make up your mind, besides, we have to do something in order to save face. Then there is the issue of Russian troops at our borders and threatening to attack us – what are you going to do about that? If they attack will you honor your commitment?”

“Hey, guys, I had a chat with Nicky and he assured me that the troops are there to make you think long and hard if you really want to go through with the decision to start a war with Serbia. My advice is do not do it!”

The leader of France would have called the Kaiser, “Are you contemplating mobilizing your troops? If you are, then we will have to mobilize and Russia has already mobilized its troops so if Austria lights the match of war all of Europe will explode.”

“No, No, Germany is not going to mobilize. I just chatted with my cousin and he assured me that he only partially mobilized to demonstrate to Austria they better not mess with Serbia. I also had a conversation with the primers of both Austria and Hungary and told them to rethink what they were about to do. Now everything is cool.”

“But we heard rumors that Moltke, your army’s chief of staff, has already moved troops into position to carry out an attack on France.”

“What! Repeat what you just said. If it is true, Moltke and I are going to come to an understanding on who is calling the shots in my country! Do not mobilize for twenty-four hours to give me a chance to sort this mess out.”

“Ok, you have twenty-four hours! By the way, it is also rumored that he plans on attacking us through Belgium and if he does England will get involved and I know you do not want that to happen!”

“Damn Moltke! I thought he had more brains than that. It looks to me that my country is between a rock and a hard place.”

“Yea, you backed the wrong horse, one who is so focused on destroying an old foe that they do not see the big picture. Good luck and keep us informed.”

Instead, Germany thought that Russia had fully mobilized its troops and threatened Austria, thus forcing Germany to mobilize. But the definition of mobilizing one’s army is different with each country. In Germany the call for mobilization means war and Moltke had his own secret plans on how Germany would declare war against both France and Russia once Austria / Hungary lit the fuse by declaring war on Serbia.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The chain of events leading to war

World War I started in the first week of August, 1914. This may be my last post covering the events leading up to the Great War. I hope those of you who followed my postings enjoyed the intrigue and the stories within the story of what caused the war.

I would enjoy hearing your views regarding the causes of this horrible war.

July - August 1914

The assassination of the Archduke offered Austria an opportunity to destroy its old foe Serbia. However, Russia and Serbia shared a common culture and political ties whereby Russia would come to Serbia’s defense, which prevented Austria from acting. The murder of Franz Ferdinand also afforded Austria the Kaiser’s full support in if they decided to attack Serbia.  Although the European countries did not want a war, there were those in Germany that had planned for war and waited for the right time to initiate it. By mid August time and opportunity for war was ripe.


By the first week in July Serbia had identified all the conspirators involved in the assassination. The assassins were not Serbs but subjects of Austro-Hungarian Bosnia who lived in Serbia and therefore in order Austria to justify armed conflict, they had to establish a link between the Serbian government and the assassins.  

If evidence could be found connecting Serbia with the assassination, Austria might have been able to convince Russia of Serbia’s guilt. If Russia sided with Austria, there would not have been a World War.

On July 6th the Kaiser gave the Austrians his commitment to support them in dealing with Serbia. By giving Austria his support, he placed the future of Europe into Austrian hands, but they had to act quickly in order to prevent Russia, France or England from getting involved.

First Austria had to convince Europe that Serbia was the one who provoked Austria into taking action. Austria’s response had to be carried out quickly in order to prevent Russia, France or England the time to get involved.

It is standard knowledge that assumptions are risky, but in July of 1914 the Kaiser and his staff made several assumptions, which would come back to haunt them. Their first assumption was Russia was not prepared to fight a war, so they believed that Russia would not stand by Serbia. They also assumed that France was not ready to fight a war and they would calm Russia. Believing his assumption were accurate, the Kaiser felt his support of Austria would not become necessary, if Austria took immediate action before the European powers caught wind of Germany’s involvement.  

Both the Austrian and Hungary Premiers and their ministers formed a cabinet to deliberate over what action to take. The Hungarian Premier was that if they attacked Serbia, as suggested by Germany, there was a risk of all out war. He suggested that they draw-up an ultimatum containing a list of demands so outrageous that Serbia could not agree to them.

The ultimatum was thought to be a ‘win, win’ position for Austria because if Serbia did not agree, the European powers would believe Austria would be justified in punishing Serbia. But, if Serbia agreed to the demands, war would be circumvented.

There were two problems with this alternative plan, it would take a week before it could be acted upon, and it would forewarn countries of a possible war.

By July 14th the ultimatum had not yet reached its final form, and the final document would not be ready until July 19th.

By now time had run out, rumors of a hidden agreement between Austria and Germany were circulating. Franz Joseph read and approved the final draft; then had it delivered to Austrian’s envoy in Belgrade. The envoy would deliver it to the Serbian government on a prearranged date and they would have forty-eight-hours, July 25th, to agree to the terms. However, the ultimatum did not spell out what would happen if they did not agree to the demands.

If Germany’s assumptions were incorrect, then there would be a possible war. The only way out would be if Austria failed to act on its ultimatum or Serbia accepts all of the demands.

Russia applied pressure on Serbia to accept Austria’s demands and place its faith in European justice.  Yet, Russia had made several compromises to Germany in the past in order to keep peace, and the compromises only produced more concessions. Therefore the Russian government decided to try a firm approach when dealing with Germany. They decided to order a partial mobilization of their army to give Germany the impression they would stand firm.

France secretly initiated their first steps in preparation of war by recalling its generals and bringing their troops home from Morocco.

With all of the political maneuverings between countries in hopes of evading a war, there was someone in favor of war, Germany’s Chief of Staff von Moltke. He had developed a secret war strategy that even ranking officials, including the Kaiser, were not aware of. It included a preemptive attack against both Russia and France, a two front war. In order to accomplish his plan he would need the full support of the German people. Russia’s partial mobilization would afford him the opportunity he was looking for.

Moltke’s plan mirrored that of Schlieffen’s 1906 plan; gather a large army and invade France through Belgium. A main element in Moltke’s plan involved Austria aligning its army along the Russian front; to act as a shield to protect Germany when war broke out.

Germany kept pressuring Austria to attack Serbia as soon as possible but their army would not be ready until mid August. But an unexpected event  would happen which would initiate a war the European powers, including Germany, did not want, but could not stop.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review of 'From Notes and Well Remembered Incidences'

I received a second review of my e-book, 'From Notes and Well Remembered Incidences'. The reader gave it four stars but pointed out that there were several spelling errors, which I agree there could be a couple but not several. Then it dawned on me that the reviewer was American and much of the story is written using British English instead of American English, such as 'organize' and 'organise' or 'defence' and 'defense'.

Now that this was brought to my attention, I added a disclaimer to the 'Preface' explaining that English - English was used rather than American English. The book was written using UK English because my grandfather was British and his story is about the Royal Field Artillery and therefore it was only logical to use the appropriate spelling.

The reviewer did say, "Frederick Coxen's diary is a useful source of information to the military historian, giving as it does a soldier's eye view of the early Great War years, including mention of Royal Field Artillery tactics and practices in the field. Reading it was especially poignant to me as my great uncle served in the RFA and was killed in action on the Somme. - Coxen's grandson has done historians a service by publishing this work."

Which was my goal and so I thank the reviewer for verifying that I achieved my intended purpose.

From Notes and Well Remembered Incidences

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fred G. Coxen

The date was 1887. Richard and Alice Coxen were adding a son, Frederick George, to the four children which already filled their house in Battersea, England.
Richard was a sail-maker, a trade he learned while serving in the Royal Navy. By the late 1800’s sail making was a dying art since modern vessels were being propelled by coal-fired steam engines.
     Little is known about Fred’s childhood, until he turned eighteen in 1905. That is when he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), assigned to the 55th Battery. His reasons for enlisting are unknown, but it could be argued that he did so in order to further his education. Even though the law of 1870 provided schooling for all children, it was common that children of working class parents were given only a rudimentary education at best; many never had an opportunity to attend school beyond the age of 12.
     When children turned the age of eighteen, the British military offered soldiers a basic education in return for six years of active and six years of reserve duty. In 1907 Fred earned both his third and second class education certificates in composition – leading one to believe that his desire to obtain an education may have been a major inducement in his decision to enlist.
    Along with a classroom education, he was also trained in all aspects of operating artillery, yet he selected Signalling as his specialty. He and George Millington graduated together in the 168th Class, School of Signaling, at Aldershot. When new field telephones were introduced, Fred was sent to Ireland in 1909 for training. Communications between the artillery batteries and the forward observation post were extremely vital for shelling accuracy and target selection.
    In 1911 he was awarded the ‘Assistant Signal Instructor’ certificate, just prior to his departure from active duty to begin his RFA reserve obligation.  

    Serving in the RFA Reserves allowed Fred more time to pursue his training as an electrician. During this period of time he lived in Westminster, at 28 Berkeley Street, an address which proved to be romantically significant. The attractive Lillian Turner, who lived with her parents at 32 Berkley Street, provided an alluring and convenient dating arrangement. It did not take long for Lillian to put a twinkle in Fred’s eyes. After a brief courtship, they were married on October 12th, 1912, at the Parish Church, in the Parish of St. Mary, Lambeth.
By 1913 the young couple moved to 93 Rectory Lane, Tooting Bec Common, where Lillian gave birth to a baby girl they named Doris.  It could be assumed that Fred would have kept abreast of what was happening in Europe, after years of escalating turmoil.

The Great European Powers Germany, France, Russia and Austria – Hungary were escalating their military strength against one another. Germany’s army was the largest in Europe and Kiser Wilhelm was in the process of building a navy to rival that of Great Britten, which was disturbing.
Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of the aging emperor Franz Joseph, would be turning fifty years old in the spring of 2014. He was heir apparent to the Hapsburg thrones of Austria and Hungary, after the untimely death of Franz Joseph’s only son. The emperor, as well as most of the populous disliked the fact that Ferdinand would become the next monarch.
Austria and Hungary both claimed ownership of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Austria wanted to annex it, which might be the reason Austrian officials made arrangements in 1913 for the archduke to travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina in late June 1914 to inspect their armed forces maneuvers. His official visit might substantiate Austrian’s claim.
After the Bulkan Wars of 1912-1913, Austria– Hungary and Serbia still harbored hard feelings against each other.
Serbia and Russia had political ties, which prevented Austria from attacking them. Knowing this, Franz Ferdinand sought support from the Kiser in hopes that Germany would give Russia pause if Austria attacked Serbia.
Otto von Bismarck, a German ambassador, predicted that ‘some damn foolish thing in the Balkans,’ would ignite the next war. On June 28, 1914, the assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationals, brought his prediction to fruition.
When the Kiser heard of the assassination he became irate and his temper was used to offer Austria a blank check in dealing with Serbia. The house of cards, constructed of alliances between key countries in Europe, would begin to collapse when Austria attacked Serbia.
    Russia had an alliance with Serbia; therefore Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. As Austria-Hungary had a partnership with Germany, Germany declared war on both Serbia and Russia. Russia and France had an agreement, so France slid into the abyss alongside the others. This cascading effect would continue as other countries entered the war, with the exception of Great Britten. 
    Since Great Britten was not involved in alliances with other countries; however, she did have a loose agreement with France, although not politically binding. It was an agreement that they would openly discuss providing mutual aid should either country be attacked. However, under the existing circumstances, this agreement took on deeper meaning and greater importance to Britain once she considered the consequences if France should lose the war. Parliament was debating this issue when the game changed.
    Germany declared that they were going to use Belgium, a neutral country, as an avenue for attacking France. Belgium’s neutrality was part of the 1839 Treaty of London.3 Under that treaty the European powers would recognize and guarantee the independence and neutrality of Belgium. The significant part of the treaty was in Article VII, which required Belgium to remain perpetually neutral and the signatory powers would be committed to guard that neutrality in the event of invasion. The cosigners of the treaty were Great Britten, Austria, France, the German Confederation (Prussia), Russia, and the Netherlands.  Since Germany’s intention was to break the treaty, Britain felt that under Article VII it was their responsibility to come to Belgium’s defense. Therefore they sent an ultimatum to Germany; if they invaded Belgium, Britain would enter the war.4
    German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg could not believe that Britain would go to war against Germany over a mere ‘scrap of paper’. Kaiser Wilhelm was unconcerned by the threat, and ordered his army to invade Belgium on August 4, 1914. When the German Army crossed over the Belgian border, the British Parliament signed the General Mobilization Decree; Britain was officially at war with Germany.
    Fred, at the age of 26 was working as an electrician and still committed to the RFA Reserve, it can be assumed that he was very aware of the escalating tensions in Europe and the possibility of war. He would have had mixed emotions between serving his country and taking care of his family.
Within a few hours after the decree was posted, Fred received orders to report for duty on August 5th at Newcastle upon the Tyne. The forces that had been put in motion prior to this date would forever alter Fred’s life.

His journal begins with ‘My Diary from notes and well remembered incidences’ and proceeds with a nearly daily account of his experiences from August 4th 1914 to May of 1915.

First journal entry:
August 4th

‘ General Mobilization, will it be declared?’  was the thought with me all day. My dear wife first gave me the news, but then I could not believe it, until we walked to the post office and saw the Official Declaration.

And then I knew that, I should have to leave my home and dear ones — for ‘ Where?’  that was my one great thought. And until then I never realized what it all meant; with the conflicting thoughts of my dear ones, and the fascination that I was going to participate in a real scrap. My mind was in a real whirl, and was so until I left home next day, for Newcastle-on-Tyne.[i] And then — ‘Where?’ 

[i] By the time of the First World War, existing coastal batteries on the east coast, most of which had been built during the nineteenth century against the perceived threat of France, had been adapted or new batteries created to take the new breech-loading guns. At the outbreak of hostilities, it was the Admiralty that was responsible for overseeing the home shore defences, as the Army was overstretched providing men and equipment in France, Belgium and the Middle East. Because of the concentration of strategic factories and installations (in Tyne and Wear for example, twelve armaments factories) the North-East coast was one of the most heavily defended areas in the country; the perceived threat was initially against bombardment or invasion from the sea, but by 1916, when the Army took over command of the home defence, the aerial threat from Zeppelins and, in southern Britain, heavy bombers, was the most pressing concern, fuelled by panic among the civilian population, who were under attack from the enemy for the first time. In 1916 a network of searchlights was established 25 miles inland from Sussex to

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Let there be war

After the Balkan wars, Austria grew fearful of Serbia’s growing military strength and considered attacking it before it got stronger. However, Russia had an interest in Serbia, as well as a protection agreement.
 Archduke Ferdinand had met with Kaiser to ask for Germany’s full support if Austria attacked Serbia. He hoped by obtaining the Kaiser’s support it would prevent Russia from supporting Serbia. However, Wilhelm refused to offer his unconditional support and therefore the status queue of power was unchanged.

Upon hearing of the Archduke’s assassination, Wilhelm went into one of his tirades and thought Austria should settle this matter militarily and gave them a blank check regarding support.

Several of Germany’s high ranking officers were in favor of a preemptive first strike against Russia or France. If Austria attacked Serbia and Russia came to their support, Germany would have an excuse to start a war with Russia.

Austria wanted to destroy Serbia even before the assassination but now it had an excuse to do so, along with Germany’s full support. This chain of events sat well with Fritz Joseph because Ferdinand would not become Austria’s monarch, and he was given the green light from Germany to deal with Serbia.
All the ducks were in a row, the only question was how to proceed. In order for the world powers to accept Austria’s military strike on Serbia, Austria would have to do it soon in order for the world to think it was an act of passion. However, Austria could not organize their military soon enough in order for the passion plan work.

Another alternative was to prove the Serbian government had a hand in the assassination. If they were involved, it could be considered an act of war. But a thorough investigation found no evidence linking the government to the assassins.

Since other plans fell through, it was decided that the Austrian government would draw up demands that Serbia had to agree to within 48 hours to prevent a war. The demands would be so unreasonable it would be impossible for them to accept.

The problem they faced was to plan for a war without appearing to do so. To accomplish this they sent their military officers on vacation while the politicians tried to agree on the wording of the ultimatum.

The Austrian governmental process was consuming precious time offering opportunities for information to leak-out through diplomatic channels. Eventually Serbia did catch wind of Austria’s plan and met with the Russian ambassador to seek guidance and support.

Russia was not prepared to engage an enemy as powerful as Germany so they encourage Serbia to aqueous to Austrian demands in order to keep the peace. The suggestion did not set well, but there was little they could do.

In the end Serbia agreed to all the demands except they did alter some of the wording which would give them an out later.  When Serbia submitted their response at the last minute, Austria thought their plan failed until they read the altered elements.

Austria rejected the Serbian counter offer and it would be just a matter of time before Austria would gather their army, as did the other major powers.

It is interesting to reflect on the events that created a horrific war which cost so dearly in human lives. It was Austria’s desire to destroy Serbia that presented the spark to ignite the flames of war. The major European powers did not want war, except for Germany’s military, yet politicians and military leaders allowed vanity to cloud rational thought as they led their countries to war.  

Author's books: 

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Supporting Actors

The main players remain the same, but the supporting actors made things interesting.

Major Voja Tankosic, was a top ranking member of a secret faction within the Serbian army called the Black Hand. He was the one who supplied the weapons used in the assassination. The question is, did Gavrilo Princip, an untrained college student, really develop the assassination plan, or did Major Tankosic engage him to carry out his own plan.

Of course there is political intrigue as to the Major’s motive for getting involved. One consideration is that he wanted the event to be blamed on Nicola Pasic, the Prime Minister of Serbia, a man he considered a weak leader.

The plot thickens when one of Princip’s friends by the name of Ciganovic, was the one who arranged the meeting between Major Voja Tankosic and Princip. However, he was also a police informant, which would offer the Prime Minister, Nicola Pasic, to be kept informed of Princip’s progress.

If word got out that the Prime Minister was kept abreast of the assassination plot and did nothing to stop it, he would receive international criticism. Austria would think that the Serbian government was behind the assassination because they remained silent. However, if Pasic had stopped Princip, and word got out, then he would be considered a traitor and hung. The only other option was fall back on the politician’s oldest disclaimer; deny all knowledge of any information regarding the plot. His only hope for saving himself would if Princip failed to carry out the assassination.

Some historians have mentioned Pasic may have sent a cable to his minister in Vienna requesting him to warn the Austrian Government. The cable would state that the Serbian Government uncovered information of a possible attempt on the Archduke’s life and perhaps the Austrian government should reschedule the Archduke’s trip.

Substantiation that a cable was sent is based upon the Serbian Minister’s official request for an interview with the Austrian Foreign Minister. But, since they despised one-another, the Minister instead sought a meeting with the Austrian Finance Minister.  During their meeting, the Serbian Minister decided not to deliver the exact cable information, instead he watered it down to convey the possibility of a disenchanted Serb might try to attack the Archduke.

It did not matter which version of the cable the Minister delivered. Since the Finance Minister was not in charge of security for the Archduke, the information would be transmitted to General Potiorek. But the General did not include the Finance Minister in on the initial planning of Ferdinand’s trip, and therefore he would not pass on the information. He thought if anything did happen, the general would be blamed.  

The petty bickering was not limited to the Austrian officials. There were riffs between the Serbian Prime Minister and the leader of the Black Hand. Both men tried to prevent the plan from going forward. Apis – leader of the Black Hand, sent one of his trusted cohorts to Bosnia to meet with the man in charge of Princip’s group. The currier informed him that the plan had been called off and in turn he was to order Princip to stand down – which Princip ignored.

To intensify the mystery of who was behind the plot, the Serbian Prime Minister, Pasic, had received an anonymous letter a few days before the assassination. The letter stated that the Austrian government may have Ferdinand killed during the military maneuvers so his death could be blamed on Serbia, which would offer an excuse for Austria to attack Serbia without condemnation from other countries.

So why was Franz Ferdinand killed?

One reason was he was at the right place at the right time for a group of Serbian nationalist to send a firm message to Austria by killing their heir apparent.

Or, the assassination may have been designed by Ferdinand’s uncle, Emperor Fritz Joseph, to prevent Ferdinand from succeeding him.

Who killed the Archduke?

The answer is obvious, it was Princip. But was he a pawn in a political game of chess? After all, could an untrained Serbian college student be capable of planning such a complicated plot? It is clear that there were several supporting actors whose own agendas contributed to the end result. However, did any of those involved think that the Archduke’s death would start a world war?’

Next: Opportunity knocks