Ceasefire in the Balkans, French War Council Approves Plan XVII

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 64th installment in the series.

April 13-19, 1913: Ceasefire in the Balkans, French War Council Approves Plan XVII

With the fall of Janina (Ioannina) to the Greeks and Adrianople (Edirne) to the Bulgarians in March 1913, the last two reasons for the Ottoman Turks to continue holding out against the Balkan League were removed, and from April 13 to 19, 1913, Turkish representatives agreed to a ceasefire with Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece as a preamble to negotiations for a lasting peace. For all intents and purposes, the First Balkan War was over.

It was pretty clear what shape the peace treaty (to be negotiated at the Conference of London over the following weeks) would assume: The Turks would have to give up virtually all of their European territories except for a small strip of territory to the west of the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, left at the suggestion of British foreign minister Edward Grey as a buffer for the strategic Turkish straits.

However the diplomatic crisis resulting from the First Balkan War was far from over, as the smallest member of the Balkan League, Montenegro, continued to lay siege to the important city of Scutari (Shkodër) in the western Balkans. This threatened to provoke military action by Austria-Hungary, whose foreign minister, Count Berchtold, insisted that Scutari should belong to the new, independent state of Albania.

As part of the deal which defused the military standoff between Austria-Hungary and Russia in March, the Russians agreed that Scutari would go to Albania as long as their client, Serbia, was compensated with territory in the interior. By mid-April 1913, the Serbians took the hint from their Russian patrons and withdrew from Scutari—but the Montenegrins were hanging on with grim determination (pointless obstinacy might be more accurate, considering Montenegro was now defying a consensus among all of Europe’s Great Powers, who made their displeasure known by dispatching a multinational fleet to the Adriatic Sea to blockade the tiny kingdom). Although the Montenegrin forces laying siege to Scutari appeared incapable of capturing the well-defended city, in the Balkans when military might failed there was always recourse to treachery.

Meanwhile, tensions were already brewing between the other members of the Balkan League, as Bulgaria fell to squabbling with Serbia and Greece over Ottoman territory conquered in the First Balkan War. To the south, the Bulgarians still claimed Salonika, occupied by the Greeks. In the west the Serbians, forced by the Great Powers to give up their conquests in Albania, had sent at least two diplomatic notes asking the Bulgarians for a larger share of neighboring Macedonia—but the Bulgarians ignored both requests. By mid-April, the Serbs were organizing paramilitary groups in Bulgarian-occupied territory, with plans to incite rebellion against their erstwhile ally, and Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić (above) was privately warning the Great Powers that Serbia would go to war with Bulgaria if its demands weren’t met.


Click to enlarge.

The Bulgarians had some idea what was coming: As early as mid-March, 1913, Tsar Ferdinand warned his son that the Greeks and Serbians were forming an alliance against Bulgaria. Meanwhile Romania—hitherto a neutral power—was now demanding a chunk of Bulgaria’s northern territory, Silistra, in return for recognizing Bulgarian conquests to the south. The victor of the First Balkan War was rapidly running out of friends.

French Supreme War Council Approves Plan XVII

Appointed chief of staff of the French army during the war scare accompanying the Second Moroccan Crisis, Joseph Joffre’s top priority was drawing up a new strategic plan for war with Germany, which was increasingly viewed as inevitable. The plan formulated by his predecessors, Plan XVI, was considered dangerously passive and obsolete: It called for French armies to assume a defensive stance southeast of Paris, thus giving up the initiative to the Germans and contravening military doctrine of the day, which called for offensive outrance (all-out attack) relying on the élan (spirit) of French soldiers.

The obvious goal was to regain the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, lost to Germany in 1871, but the issue was complicated by the possibility of a German attack through Belgium, as it was widely recognized that the Germans would probably violate Belgian neutrality in an attempt to circumvent French fortresses and envelop French armies from the north. Still, there was a range of opinion among French officers about how large this Belgian incursion would be, and where it would be directed. Joffre and most of his colleagues assumed the Germans would limit their maneuvers to the closest corner of Belgium, east of the River Meuse, in order to minimize the violation of Belgian territory and (hopefully) keep Britain out of the war. A more alarming scenario—the one actually envisioned by the German Schlieffen Plan—had German armies crossing west of the Meuse to strike deep to the rear of the French armies.

In fact Joffre’s predecessor, Supreme War Council vice-president General Victor Michel, foresaw just such a scenario, and drew up his own radical plan to replace Plan XVI, calling for a French deployment far west along the Belgian border, followed by an advance into Belgium to defensive positions connecting the three key fortress cities of Antwerp, Namur, and Verdun. But the British general Sir Henry Wilson warned that a French violation of Belgian neutrality would alienate public opinion in Britain, making it more difficult to persuade the proud island nation to join the war against Germany. Michel’s plan was doubly unacceptable because it gave up the cherished offensive to the Germans. France’s civilian leadership instructed Michel’s successor Joffre that the Republic’s war plan should be offensive in nature—but avoid Belgium.

On April 18, 1913, Joffre presented his proposal for a new strategy, Plan XVII, to the Supreme War Council, including President Raymond Poincaré and war minister Adolphe Marie Messimy. Plan XVII divided 62 divisions, containing roughly 1.7 million troops, in five armies along the French frontier with Germany and Belgium. In line with the civilian leadership’s instructions, French strength was concentrated near the German border for a direct attack aiming to liberate Alsace-Lorraine. The French First Army would form south of Epinal and strike east into Alsace, towards the Rhine; the Second Army would form south of Nancy and strike northeast into Lorraine; the Third Army would form north of Verdun and strike east and northeast, near Metz. The Fourth Army would be held in reserve, while the Fifth Army stood alone on the French left (northwestern) flank to check a German advance through Luxembourg and Belgium.


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In retrospect it is easy to criticize Joffre’s plan for failing to anticipate the German threat to the French left flank, but the fact is he was placed in a difficult situation by France’s civilian leadership, who foreclosed serious consideration of any strategy involving Belgian territory in order to placate their cagy British allies. Unable to devote serious planning resources to Belgian scenarios, Joffre naturally concentrated on plans for a direct attack on Germany, as instructed by the civilian leadership—while still leaving himself some flexibility in the form of the Fifth Army, near the Belgian border, and the Fourth Army, in reserve.

Indeed, a number of historians have pointed out that Plan XVII was a general plan of concentration, rather than a specific plan of attack, which left Joffre a great deal of leeway to react to German moves (including an invasion of Belgium) by making big strategic decisions on the fly. But at the end of the day his plan still failed to provide sufficient forces to counter an “all out” German thrust through Belgium; in 1914 this would bring France to the brink of disaster.

See the previous installment, next installment, or all entries.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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