Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Conrad Urges War Against Serbia

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 69th installment in the series.

May 20, 1913: Conrad Urges War Against Serbia

On the death of Austro-Hungarian chief of staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf (above) in 1925, the Austrian socialist leader Otto Bauer delivered a bitter eulogy: “If we are listing the five or six men in all of Europe who bear the primary guilt for the outbreak of the war, one of these five or six men would be Field Marshal Conrad.”

Bauer’s condemnation was based in fact. Conrad was an old-school Austrian German who viewed southern Slav nationalists as existential enemies of the Dual Monarchy, with Serbia in the lead. The huge expansion of Serbian territory and population in the First Balkan War alarmed Conrad, who warned the Serbs would now turn to liberating their ethnic kinsmen in Austria-Hungary. It was imperative, Conrad said, to break the momentum of Slavic nationalism by crushing Serbia and reducing it to a vassal state—maybe even absorbing it. Of course he realized this might bring war with Serbia’s patron Russia—but he believed Austria-Hungary stood a fair chance as long as it had Germany at its side.

Conrad's call for war against Serbia became louder and more urgent over the course of the First Balkan War. On January 9, 1913 he told the foreign minister, Count Berchtold, that Austria-Hungary had “lost its position in the Balkans” because of the rise of Serbian power under Russian protection, adding that “Russia must be overthrown,” and repeated the advice in a memorandum prepared for Emperor Franz Josef on January 20. On February 15, 1913, he warned the German chief of staff Helmuth von Moltke that Slavic nationalism was a threat not only to Austria-Hungary but Germany as well, which would “in the end penetrate through to the very marrow of Germany.” At a meeting of the Dual Monarchy’s ministers on May 2, 1913, during the Scutari crisis, Conrad called for the defeat and annexation of Serbia’s sidekick Montenegro, which would probably lead to war with Serbia as well.

The peaceful resolution of the Scutari crisis seemed to remove any justification for war against Serbia and Montenegro, but Conrad remained convinced the Slavic kingdoms had to be crushed militarily, not just contained diplomatically—and also saw another chance for Austria-Hungary to act in the impending Second Balkan War. On May 20, 1913, he wrote to Franz Josef: “Fate once more today would offer us the opportunity for a solution; it was not impossible that Serbia and Greece might get involved in a war with Bulgaria. Then we must not hesitate to intervene against Serbia.” In fact, Conrad urged Berchtold to conclude an alliance with Bulgaria directed against Serbia, taking advantage of Bulgarian anger at Russia (which failed to protect Bulgarian interests against Serbia and Romania) to upend the balance of power in the Balkans. But Austria-Hungary’s German ally was skeptical about a Bulgarian dalliance, and Berchtold let the idea drop.

Ironically, Conrad’s main opponent in the debate over the Dual Monarchy’s Serbian policy was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who wielded a great deal of influence as the heir to the throne and inspector general of the armed forces. The archduke made his views known in no uncertain (and often abrasive) terms: The real long-term threat to Austria-Hungary came not from the small Slavic kingdoms in the Balkans, but rather from Austria-Hungary’s supposed ally Italy. While they were technically partners in the Triple Alliance with Germany, it was common knowledge that Italian nationalists loathed Austria-Hungary, which included areas they considered historically Italian in Trentino and Trieste; although the Italian government tried to conciliate Austria-Hungary, the nationalists wanted to liberate these irredenta (“unredeemed” areas) and unite them with Italy. They were also infuriated by the oppressive, discriminatory policies Austria-Hungary directed against its restive Italian population.

Franz Ferdinand felt war with Italy was probably inevitable, and therefore opposed any policy that threatened to distract or weaken Austria-Hungary by embroiling it in conflicts elsewhere—especially in the Balkans, with the attendant risk of confrontation with Russia. And although he originally supported Conrad’s appointment as chief of staff because they agreed about the Italian threat, the two men soon fell out over the issue of war with Serbia (typically, Conrad wanted war against Italy and Serbia). As often as Conrad brought up the idea, the archduke would shoot it down: After rejecting Conrad’s proposal for war with Serbia in a personal conversation on December 14, 1912, on March 15, 1913 he scolded Conrad for mentioning the idea to Franz Josef and ordered him to drop the subject. Later, in September 1913, Berchtold told Conrad his hands were tied, citing Franz Ferdinand’s opposition to the idea. It is one of the ironies of history that the archduke’s assassination by a Bosnian Serb nationalist removed the one person who might have been able to prevent Austria-Hungary from declaring war on Serbia.

Great Powers Scheme to Grab Ottoman Territory

While the Great Powers struggled to keep the peace in the Balkans, to the east they were all jockeying to claim their share of the ailing Ottoman Empire, whose demise they expected at any moment. The main threat came from Russia, whose designs on Constantinople and the Turkish straits were well known, and which was also greedily eyeing Anatolia. Here St. Petersburg was using the Armenians and Kurds as pawns in a devious gambit to build its influence there: Essentially, the Russians were arming the Muslim Kurds and encouraging them to attack the Christian Armenians in order to have a pretext for Russian intervention on Christian “humanitarian” grounds, while simultaneously fostering Kurdish and Armenian nationalism in the hopes that both groups would rebel against Turkey—thus clearing the way for Russia to scoop up the Ottoman Empire’s Kurdish and Armenian territories for itself. The Russians sought to further weaken Ottoman control by forcing Constantinople to implement decentralizing reforms in eastern Anatolia.

Click to enlarge

Of course, Russia’s designs on Anatolia set off alarms in other European capitals—especially in Berlin, where Germany’s leadership feared they would get left out in a general scramble for Turkish territory. On May 20, 1913, German anxieties were heightened by a report from the German ambassador in Constantinople, Baron Hans von Wangenheim, stating that the Russians had succeeded in uniting the Kurdish tribes in Ottoman territory—no easy feat—as a preamble to a general rebellion. Not coincidentally, the next day diplomats from all the members of Triple Alliance hurriedly met to discuss how to maximize their gains in a division of the Ottoman Empire’s territories in Asia. Previously, on April 30, 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm II vowed that when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, “I will take Mesopotamia, Alexandretta, and Mersin!” (referring to two Mediterranean ports in southeast Turkey). Little could he have predicted that the Great War would find Germany on the Ottoman Empire’s side, helping protect Turkish territory against British, French, and Russian imperialists.

(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
The Time Carl Akeley Killed a Leopard With His Bare Hands
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.
(c) Field Museum, CSZ5974c, photographer Carl Akeley, used with permission.

Carl Akeley had plenty of close encounters with animals in his long career as a naturalist and taxidermist. There was the time a bull elephant had charged him on Mount Kenya, nearly crushing him; the time he was unarmed and charged by three rhinos who missed him, he said later, only because the animals had such poor vision; and the time the tumbling body of a silverback gorilla he'd just shot almost knocked him off a cliff. This dangerous tradition began on his very first trip to Africa, where, on an otherwise routine hunting trip, the naturalist became the prey.

It was 1896. Following stints at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment and the Milwaukee Public Museum, Akeley, 32, had just been appointed chief taxidermist for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, and he was tasked with gathering new specimens to bolster the 3-year-old museum's fledgling collections. After more than four months of travel and numerous delays, the expedition had reached the plains of Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia, where Akeley hunted for specimens for days without success.

Then, one morning, Akeley managed to shoot a hyena shortly after he left camp. Unfortunately, “one look at his dead carcass was enough to satisfy me that he was not as desirable as I had thought, for his skin was badly diseased,” he later wrote in his autobiography, In Brightest Africa. He shot a warthog, a fine specimen, but what he really wanted was an ostrich—so he left the carcass behind, climbed a termite hill to look for the birds, then took off after a pair he saw in the tall grass.

But the ostriches eluded him at every turn, so he returned to camp and grabbed the necessary tools to cut off the head of his warthog. However, when he and a “pony boy” got to the spot where he’d left the carcass, all that remained was a bloodstain. “A crash in the bushes at one side led me in a hurry in that direction and a little later I saw my pig's head in the mouth of a hyena travelling up the slope of a ridge out of range,” Akeley wrote. “That meant that my warthog specimen was lost, and, having got no ostriches, I felt it was a pretty poor day.”

As the sun began to set, Akeley and the boy turned back to camp. “As we came near to the place where I had shot the diseased hyena in the morning, it occurred to me that perhaps there might be another hyena about the carcass, and feeling a bit ‘sore’ at the tribe for stealing my warthog, I thought I might pay off the score by getting a good specimen of a hyena for the collections,” he wrote. But that carcass was gone, too, with a drag trail in the sand leading into the bush.

Akeley heard a sound, and, irritated, “did a very foolish thing,” firing into the bush without seeing what he was shooting at. He knew, almost immediately, that he'd made a mistake: The answering snarl told him that what he’d fired at was not a hyena at all, but a leopard.

The taxidermist began thinking of all the things he knew about the big cats. A leopard, he wrote,

“... has all the qualities that gave rise to the ‘nine lives’ legend: To kill him you have got to kill him clear to the tip of his tail. Added to that, a leopard, unlike a lion, is vindictive. A wounded leopard will fight to a finish practically every time, no matter how many chances it has to escape. Once aroused, its determination is fixed on fight, and if a leopard ever gets hold, it claws and bites until its victim is in shreds. All this was in my mind, and I began looking about for the best way out of it, for I had no desire to try conclusions with a possibly wounded leopard when it was so late in the day that I could not see the sights of my rifle.”

Akeley beat a hasty retreat. He’d return the next morning, he figured, when he could see better; if he’d wounded the leopard, he could find it again then. But the leopard had other ideas. It pursued him, and Akeley fired again, even though he couldn’t see enough to aim. “I could see where the bullets struck as the sand spurted up beyond the leopard. The first two shots went above her, but the third scored. The leopard stopped and I thought she was killed.”

The leopard had not been killed. Instead, she charged—and Akeley’s magazine was empty. He reloaded the rifle, but as he spun to face the leopard, she leapt on him, knocking it out of his hands. The 80-pound cat landed on him. “Her intention was to sink her teeth into my throat and with this grip and her forepaws hang to me while with her hind claws she dug out my stomach, for this pleasant practice is the way of leopards,” Akeley wrote. “However, happily for me, she missed her aim.” The wounded cat had landed to one side; instead of Akeley’s throat in her mouth, she had his upper right arm, which had the fortuitous effect of keeping her hind legs off his stomach.

It was good luck, but the fight of Akeley’s life had just begun.

Using his left hand, he attempted to loosen the leopard’s hold. “I couldn't do it except little by little,” he wrote. “When I got grip enough on her throat to loosen her hold just a little she would catch my arm again an inch or two lower down. In this way I drew the full length of the arm through her mouth inch by inch.”

He felt no pain, he wrote, “only of the sound of the crushing of tense muscles and the choking, snarling grunts of the beast.” When his arm was nearly free, Akeley fell on the leopard. His right hand was still in her mouth, but his left hand was still on her throat. His knees were on her chest and his elbows in her armpits, “spreading her front legs apart so that the frantic clawing did nothing more than tear my shirt.”

It was a scramble. The leopard tried to twist around and gain the advantage, but couldn’t get purchase on the sand. “For the first time,” Akeley wrote, “I began to think and hope I had a chance to win this curious fight.”

He called for the boy, hoping he’d bring a knife, but received no response. So he held on to the animal and “continued to shove the hand down her throat so hard she could not close her mouth and with the other I gripped her throat in a stranglehold.” He bore down with his full weight on her chest, and felt a rib crack. He did it again—another crack. “I felt her relax, a sort of letting go, although she was still struggling. At the same time I felt myself weakening similarly, and then it became a question as to which would give up first.”

Slowly, her struggle ceased. Akeley had won. He lay there for a long time, keeping the leopard in his death grip. “After what seemed an interminable passage of time I let go and tried to stand, calling to the pony boy that it was finished.” The leopard, he later told Popular Science Monthly, had then shown signs of life; Akeley used the boy’s knife to make sure it was really, truly dead.

Akeley’s arm was shredded, and he was weak—so weak that he couldn’t carry the leopard back to camp. “And then a thought struck me that made me waste no time,” he told Popular Science. “That leopard has been eating the horrible diseased hyena I had killed. Any leopard bite is liable to give one blood poison, but this particular leopard’s mouth must have been exceptionally foul.”

He and the boy must have been quite the sight when they finally made it back to camp. His companions had heard the shots, and figured Akeley had either faced off with a lion or the natives; whatever the scenario, they figured Akeley would prevail or be defeated before they could get to him, so they kept on eating dinner. But when Akeley appeared, with “my clothes ... all ripped, my arm ... chewed into an unpleasant sight, [with] blood and dirt all over me,” he wrote in In Brightest Africa, “my appearance was quite sufficient to arrest attention.”

He demanded all the antiseptics the camp had to offer. After he'd been washed with cold water, “the antiseptic was pumped into every one of the innumerable tooth wounds until my arm was so full of the liquid that an injection in one drove it out of another,” he wrote. “During the process I nearly regretted that the leopard had not won.”

When that was done, Akeley was taken to his tent, and the dead leopard was brought in and laid out next to his cot. Her right hind leg was wounded—which, he surmised, had come from his first shot into the brush, and was what had thrown off her pounce—and she had a flesh wound in the back of her neck where his last shot had hit her, “from the shock of which she had instantly recovered.”

Not long after his close encounter with the leopard, the African expedition was cut short when its leader contracted malaria, and Akeley returned to Chicago. The whole experience, he wrote to a friend later, transported him back to a particular moment at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which he’d visited after creating taxidermy mounts for the event. “As I struggled to wrest my arm from the mouth of the leopard I recalled vividly a bronze at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, depicting the struggle between a man and bear, the man’s arm in the mouth of the bear,” he wrote. “I had stood in front of this bronze one afternoon with a doctor friend and we discussed the probable sensations of a man in this predicament, wondering whether or not the man would be sensible to the pain of the chewing and the rending of his flesh by the bear. I was thinking as the leopard tore at me that now I knew exactly what the sensations were, but that unfortunately I would not live to tell my doctor friend.”

In the moment, though, there had been no pain, “just the joy of a good fight,” Akeley wrote, “and I did live to tell my [doctor] friend all about it.”

Additional source: Kingdom Under Glass: A Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man's Quest to Preserve the World's Great Animals

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Meghan Markle Is Related to H.H. Holmes, America’s First Serial Killer, According to New Documentary
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons // Nigel Parry, USA Network

Between staging paparazzi photos and writing open letters to Prince Harry advising him to call off his wedding, Meghan Markle’s family has been keeping the media pretty busy lately. But it turns out that her bloodline's talent for grabbing headlines dates back much further than the announcement that Markle and Prince Harry were getting hitched—and for much more sinister reasons. According to Meet the Markles, a new television documentary produced for England’s Channel Four, the former Suits star has a distant relation to H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer.

The claim comes from Holmes’s great-great-grandson, American lawyer Jeff Mudgett, who recently discovered that he and Markle are eighth cousins. If that connection is correct, then it would mean that Markle, too, is related to Holmes.

While finding out that you’re related—however distantly—to a man believed to have murdered 27 people isn’t something you’d probably want to share with Queen Elizabeth II when asking her to pass the Yorkshire pudding over Christmas dinner, what makes the story even more interesting is that Mudgett believes that his great-great-grandpa was also Jack the Ripper!

Mudgett came to this conclusion based on Holmes’s personal diaries, which he inherited. In 2017, American Ripper—an eight-part History Channel series—investigated Mudgett’s belief that Holmes and Jack were indeed one in the same.

When asked about his connection to Markle, and their shared connection to Holmes—and, possibly, Jack the Ripper—Mudgett replied:

“We did a study with the FBI and CIA and Scotland Yard regarding handwriting analysis. It turns out [H. H. Holmes] was Jack the Ripper. This means Meghan is related to Jack the Ripper. I don’t think the Queen knows. I am not proud he is my ancestor. Meghan won’t be either.”

Shortly thereafter he clarified his comments via his personal Facebook page:

In the 130 years since Jack the Ripper terrorized London’s Whitechapel neighborhood, hundreds of names have been put forth as possible suspects, but authorities have never been able to definitively conclude who committed the infamous murders. So if Alice's Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll could have done it, why not the distant relative of the royal family's newest member?

[h/t: ID CrimeFeed]


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