July 28, 1914 is the day Austria-Hungry attacked Serbia. On June 28, 1914 a Serbia nationalist assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife after their driver turned down the wrong street as he drove the couple to an appointment in Sarajevo Serbia. Orthodox Serbia appealed to Orthodox Russia for help while Britain and France allies of Russia looked on with grave concern. Following mobilization by the Russian army facing Austrian territory, the much better prepared German army which was allied with Austria-Hungry attacked Serbia drawing a much less prepared Russian army into the war. Britain and France were forced to come to the aid of their Russian ally. In response, the German army swept into Belgium drawing France and Britain into the war. The excellent book George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Mirianda Carter tells the story of how these three cousins two of whom were the grand-sons of Queen Victoria who also was grand-mother-in-law of the other were swept into the War to End All Wars.
How does this concern Lee Line Steamers? Several years ago, my friend Ed Provine let me borrow his copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution dated March 30, 1899 which reported on the sinking of the ROWENA LEE at Tyler Missouri on the front page center column. A much bigger story on the front page reported to following headlines and story dated March 23, 1899 Apia Somonian Islands via Auckland New Zealand:
AMERICAN AND BRITISH WARSHIPS SHELL APIA;
GERMAN CRUISER STANDS BY IN SULLEN SILENCE
Admiral Kautz, of the Philadelphia, Calls on Followers of Mataafa To Disperse and Appoints Hour of Bombardment
German Cousul Still Continues to Uphold Mataafa
Fire from Philadelphia and English Ships, Porpoise and Royalist, Sets Villages Aflame and Slaughters Many Native.
The book George, Nicholas and Wilhelm records their interactions as England, Russia and Germany sought to expand their colonial outreach. England clearly was by far the leader in capturing and controlling colonial trading outpost since it had consistently built its navy into a world power. Russia had attempted to gain colonial territory resulting in a disastrous and costly war with Japan. Kaiser Wilhelm pushed the German government into a costly naval building program in an attempt to counter the superiority of the British navy which allowed Britain to establish and control an empire that the “sun never sat on”. Germany attempted to meddle in British colonies in an attempt to break off pieces of the British Empire and convert them into German controlled colonies. By and large, Germany’s attempts to become a world power were thwarted by Britain and to a degree America as American naval power increased. The above headlines are a subtle hint of the frictions developing between the Royal Cousins George V and Wilhelm.
While America went about its business in the 1880’s, 1890’s and early 1900’s, Britain, France, Russia and Germany were slowly grinding their way to the most massive slaughter and destruction the world had seen until June 28, 1914 when the short fuse of war was lite.
Nicholas whose army was completely unprepared to face the thoroughly professional German army was diposed and executed with his family by the Bolsheviks near the end of this terrible war. Kaiser Wilhelm was forced into exile in Holland. Allied demands for compensation from Germany for their costly war efforts led to economic disaster for Germany resulting in the seeds of the Third Reich being planted and germinated. George V put aside the trappings of his position in the royal family for the duration of the war and sought to show solidarity with his citizens. Britain’s devastating lost of young men began the slow unravelling of its once great empire.