Britain's Declaration of War on Germany

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  • 0:02 Background
  • 1:47 German Plans
  • 3:07 Belgian Response &…
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Public opinion played a bigger role in convincing the British to declare war on Germany than it did in any other country in Europe. Find out what upset the British people so greatly in this lesson.


By the late summer of 1914, it was clear that Europe was on the path to war. The only question was how big of a war was it going to be. Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, and Russia were all beating the drums of war against each other, with Austria-Hungary and Germany prepared to fight France and Russia over a dispute in the Balkans. For the British, however, this was still a continent affair. The British were reluctant to enter, despite the fact that they very much had a favorite.

The British had an alliance with the French, and while it had been alliances that dragged much of Europe into conflict, the British said that their agreement was only for self-defense. After all, France wasn't defending France; France was defending Russia, which in turn was defending Serbia. However, it wasn't just the alliance that caused the British some mixed feelings about staying neutral.

Ever since it had been established in 1871, the German Empire had all but declared its intention to dethrone the United Kingdom as the most industrialized nation in Europe. A key part of that was the German construction of a large navy, which Britain saw as a direct challenge to the safety of its vast empire. However, most of all, Britain had guaranteed the security of tiny Belgium. Strategically placed in Northwest Europe, Belgium not only guarded the easiest approach from the continent to England, it also was a major trading partner. In the British mindset, Belgian safety was the same as British safety.

German Plans

However, the German plan for war would instantly cause concern for the British. The German plan for defending against a two-front war with France and Russia called for an invasion of Belgium. Known as the Schlieffen Plan, this strategy focused on defeating Russia before it could assemble its army, then sneak up behind the French army by going through Belgium. In theory, the plan was the most practical way to defeat both the French and the Russians, while using the advantages of the German state, most notably its railroad network, for fast troop movement.

In practice, however, the plan relied on a full and decisive defeat of the Russian army early in the war. The Germans had hoped that the Russians would be beaten early and then beg for a peace treaty. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Russians just kept retreating, no matter how badly they had been beaten. While the Germans were winning battles, they weren't any closer to causing the Russians to beg for peace. Ultimately, the Germans had to move troops west, back to France, before Russia was defeated. However, there was still a chance in the German mindset that they could defeat France quickly. In line with this thinking, they crashed through the Belgian border.

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