What Was the July Crisis?

This diplomatic crisis in Europe was one of the factors that led to World War I.

The July Crisis was one of the main events that catalyzed the onset of World War I. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, led to the country ordering investigations on the Kingdom of Serbia who was to cooperate, failure to which Austria-Hungary would invade Serbia. Austria-Hungary needed Germany’s help to make real their threat, but Russia was also willing to help defend Serbia. Due to the then global power plays and alliances, the chain of conflict would eventually include France and the UK. Those who carried out the assassination wanted to unite all the South Slavic territories that were outside the rules of Serbia or Montenegro. What followed next was a series of diplomatic meetings and discussions in the month of July that did not bear fruits.

The Assassination

On June 28, 1914, Ferdinand attended a military exercise in Bosnia, which Austria-Hungary had annexed in 1908, without knowing that Danilo Ilić had installed six armed irredentists; five Serbs and one Bosnian Muslim to kill him. Serbian Major Voja Tankosić had instructed Nedeljko Čabrinović to detonate a bomb and take potassium cyanide to avoid capture, all of which he did but Ferdinand was unhurt and the cyanide only sickened Čabrinović. During the arrest and questioning of Čabrinović, Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Ferdinand and his wife. Although Princip took cyanide too, it failed to kill him. Serbia’s initial statement was a denial of involvement and claimed that it had warned Austria-Hungary of a possible assassination although there was a delightful mood in Serbia.


Austro-Hungarian and German officials made a request to investigate Serbian and Russian involvement when it emerged that Tankosić had instructed the assassin. This request came after one of the assassins was arrested and gave details of Serbian involvement and a meeting they had in France. Serbia refused to honor a series of demands from Austria-Hungary and Germany that were to lower the tensions at the time when Russia was forming an alliance with Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro against Austria-Hungary. All this time, Germany was more than prepared for war and wanted Austria-Hungary to attack Serbia as quickly as possible so that they could take Russia and France by surprise.

The Ultimatum and Serbian Response

Austria-Hungary designed an ultimatum that Serbia could not accept so that they could go to war. The ten-point ultimatum demanded the suppressing of anti- Austro-Hungarian sentiments in Serbia, removal specific military personnel, acceptance of Austro-Hungarian operatives in Serbia and involving them in the trial of the assassins, explaining why top Serbian officials are hostile to Austria-Hungary, and informing Austria-Hungary of each step taken to implement the ultimatum. Serbia had 48 hours to answer. Serbia’s response was controversial with some historians claiming that it agreed to all the ultimatums while others claiming that Serbia drafted a smart letter that seemingly agreed to some of the ultimatum points while realistically, it was a highly perfumed rejection. Britain made mediation efforts in a bid to stop the war while Germany led a propaganda machinery that discredited reports that it took part in drafting the ultimatum.

Declaration of War

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, at 11:00 am. Russia ordered partial mobilization within its districts that bordered Austria-Hungary while Germany, France, and Britain militaries were on standby. Diplomatic meetings that followed involved accusations and threats between Austria, Germany, Britain, France, and Belgium with mentions of non-players like Italy and Luxembourg. During the meetings, Russia had put its army on high alert waiting for orders. On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia and on the following day, it took control of Luxembourg and gave Belgium an ultimatum requesting free passage for its army on the way to France. Belgium refused and on August 3, Germany declared war on Belgium and France. Germany committed casus belli when it violated Belgium’s and Luxembourg’s neutrality and for this reason, Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4. Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Russia on August 6, 1914, was the last event leading to the first World War.

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