The Nicky and Willy telegrams (1914)


In the days leading to war, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II exchanged a frantic series of personal communications, later dubbed the ‘Nicky and Willy telegrams’:


July 29th 1914
From Tsar Nicholas to Kaiser Wilhelm
Am glad you are back. In this serious moment, I appeal to you to help me. An ignoble war has been declared to a weak country. The indignation in Russia shared fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war, I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.
Nicky

July 29th 1914
From Kaiser Wilhelm to Tsar Nicholas
It is with the gravest concern that I hear of the impression which the action of Austria against Serbia is creating in your country. The unscrupulous agitation that has been going on in Serbia for years has resulted in the outrageous crime, to which Archduke Francis Ferdinand fell a victim. The spirit that led Serbians to murder their own king and his wife still dominates the country.

You will doubtless agree with me that we both, you and me, have a common interest as well as all Sovereigns to insist that all the persons morally responsible for the dastardly murder should receive their deserved punishment. In this case politics plays no part at all. On the other hand, I fully understand how difficult it is for you and your government to face the drift of your public opinion.

Therefore, with regard to the hearty and tender friendship which binds us both from long ago with firm ties, I am exerting my utmost influence to induce the Austrians to deal honestly to arrive to a satisfactory understanding with you. I confidently hope that you will help me in my efforts to smooth over difficulties that may still arise.
Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin, Willy

July 29th 1914
From Kaiser Wilhelm to Tsar Nicholas
I received your telegram and share your wish that peace should be maintained. But as I told you in my first telegram, I cannot consider Austria’s action against Serbia an ignoble war. Austria knows by experience that Serbian promises on paper are wholly unreliable. I understand its action must be judged as trending to get full guarantee that the Serbian promises shall become real facts. This my reasoning is borne out by the statement of the Austrian cabinet that Austria does not want to make any territorial conquests at the expense of Serbia.

I therefore suggest that it would be quite possible for Russia to remain a spectator of the Austro-Serbian conflict without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed. I think a direct understanding between your Government and Vienna possible and desirable, and as I already telegraphed to you, my Government is continuing its exercises to promote it. Of course military measures on the part of Russia would be looked upon by Austria as a calamity we both wish to avoid and jeopardise my position as mediator which I readily accepted on your appeal to my friendship and my help.
Willy

July 29th 1914
From Tsar Nicholas to Kaiser Wilhelm
Thanks for your telegram, conciliatory and friendly. Whereas official message presented today by your ambassador to my minister was conveyed in a very different tone. Beg you to explain this difference! It would be right to give over the Austro-Serbian problem to the Hague conference. I trust in your wisdom and friendship.
Your loving Nicky

July 30th 1914
From Kaiser Wilhelm to Tsar Nicholas
Best thanks for telegram. It is quite out of the question that my ambassador’s language could have been in contradiction with the tenor of my telegram. Count Pourtalès was instructed to draw the attention of your government to the danger and grave consequences involved by a mobilisation; I said the same in my telegram to you.

Austria has only mobilised against Serbia and only a part of her army. If, according to the communication by you and your government, Russia mobilises against Austria, my role as mediator you kindly intrusted me with, and which I accepted at your express prayer, will be endangered, if not ruined. The whole weight of the decision lies solely on your shoulders now, who have to bear the responsibility for peace or war.
Willy

July 31st 1914
From Kaiser Wilhelm to Tsar Nicholas
On your appeal to my friendship and your call for assistance, [I] began to mediate between your government and the Austro-Hungarian government. While this action was proceeding, your troops were mobilised against Austro-Hungary, my ally. Therefore, as I have already pointed out to you, my mediation has been made almost illusory. I have nevertheless continued my action.

I now receive authentic news of serious preparations for war on my eastern borders. Responsibility for the safety of my empire forces preventive measures of defence upon me. In my endeavours to maintain the peace of the world I have gone to the utmost limit possible. The responsibility for the disaster which is now threatening the whole civilised world will not be laid at my door. In this moment it still lies in your power to avert it. Nobody is threatening the honour or power of Russia who can well afford to await the result of my mediation.

My friendship for you and your empire, transmitted to me by my grandfather on his deathbed has always been sacred to me and I have honestly often backed up Russia when she was in serious trouble especially in her last war. The peace of Europe may still be maintained by you, if Russia will agree to stop the military measures which must threaten Germany and Austro-Hungary.
Willy

July 31st 1914
From Tsar Nicholas to Kaiser Wilhelm
I thank you heartily for your mediation which begins to give one hope that all may yet end peacefully. It is technically impossible to stop our military preparations, which were obligatory owing to Austria’s mobilisation. We are far from wishing war. As long as the negotiations with Austria on Serbia’s account are taking place, my troops shall not make any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this. I put all my trust in God’s mercy and hope in your successful mediation in Vienna for the welfare of our countries and for the peace of Europe.
Your affectionate Nicky

July 31st 1914
From Kaiser Wilhelm to Tsar Nicholas
Thanks for your telegram. I yesterday pointed out to your government the way by which war may be avoided. Although I requested an answer for noon today, no telegram from my ambassador conveying an answer from your Government has reached me as yet. I therefore have been obliged to mobilise my army.

Immediate affirmative clear and unmistakable answer from your government is the only way to avoid endless misery. Until I have received this answer alas, I am unable to discuss the subject of your telegram. As a matter of fact I must request you to immediately order your troops to refrain from the slightest act of trespassing over our frontiers.
Willy


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