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Cartoon by F.R. Townshend, 1914. Image modified by the blog author.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Imaginary Conflict: Origins of The Franco-German War, 1906

The Franco-German War began with the Tangier Crisis (March 1905 -May 1906) over the status of Morocco. In a political maneuver, Germany attempted to use the question of Moroccan independence to drive a wedge between France and Britain, while simultaneously promoting German commercial interests in Morocco. Ultimately, the crisis led to a failed political conference and a war between Germany and France.

On March 31, 1905, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Tangier to speak with Moroccan Sultan Abdelaziz. The Kaiser publicly declared support of the Sultan's sovereignty. The French took this as a challenge to their influence in Morocco, and proposed a set of Moroccan governmental reforms that would solidify their position. The Sultan rejected the proposal and called for an international conference to settle the issue.

Kaiser Wilhem II and Sultan Abdelaziz

Germany hoped to exploit the conference by generating European pressure to force France to release its hold on Morocco. Théophile Delcassé, the French foreign minister, recognizing this, defiantly rejected the very idea of a conference. Germany's Chancellor, Count Bernhard von Bülow, threatened war if the conference did not take place.

Delcassé and von Bülow

On June 15, 1905, the French government recalled all military personnel on leave. On June 22, Germany threatened to sign a military alliance with the Sultan of Morocco.

In a bid to avoid war, the French Premier Maurice Rouvier finally agreed, on July 1, that France would attend the conference to be held in mid-January 1906 at Algeciras in Spain.


However, the military build-up continued despite the planned conference. On December 30, Germany began to mobilize reserve units. On January 3, 1906, France commenced deployment of troops on the Franco-German border.

On January 16, the Algeciras Conference was convened. Thirteen nations attended.

Attendees of the Algeciras Conference

A compromise document proposed by Germany was rejected by every attendee except Austria-Hungary. Support for France by key nations such as Britain, Russia, Italy, Spain, and the United States, blocked every German initiative, and left Germany politically humiliated. Ultimately, on March 31, 1906, the conference collapsed, and troops on both sides of the Franco-German border went on high alert.

French Order for General Mobilization, 4 April 1906

On the morning of April 3, 1906, the Germans declared war on France. France declared war on Germany the afternoon of that same day. Two days later, on April 5, the first shots were fired by both sides.

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