- from ‘the War Illustrated, 25th August, 1917
- Chapters from the Inner History of the War
- 'Who Fired The First Shot?'
- by Lovat Fraser
a border barricade
.I consider that the first shot in the Great War was fired by an unknown German at 8.50 on the morning of Sunday, August 2nd, 1914, at a point about eight miles east of the fortress of Belfort, and about one and a half miles east of the church which stands in the French frontier village of Petit Croix.This unknown German was standing about one hundred and fifty yards inside German territory, at the edge of a little wood called "Le Breuleux," near the railway line which runs from Belfort to Mulhouse. I select him because, after much research, I can find no authentic evidence of an earlier shot.
from 'le Miroir' - a view of the border posts at Petit Croix
Some people contend that the first shot was fired on that fateful Sunday morning of June 28th, when the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were murdered at Sarajevo, in Bosnia. Again, it may be argued that the hostilities between Austria- Hungary and Serbia constituted the true beginning of the Great War ; but I maintain that the Great War really began when the five Great Powers — Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Great Britain — took up arms. For the benefit of those who think differently, however, I will note the initial acts of war between Austria- Hungary and Serbia.The first hostile act was committed on July 27th by Austria-Hungary, who seized the Serbian steamers Dcligrad and Morava on the Danube near Orsova. The Serbs knew what was coming, for diplomatic relations had been abruptly broken off on July 25th. At 1.30 on the morning of July 28th Serbian engineers blew up the bridge over the River Save between Belgrade and Semlin. The Austrians were ready, and opened artillery and rifle fire on the Serbs, while their Danube monitors also fired. These are the first authenticated shots in the Austro-Serbian war.
Austrian Danube monitors attacking Belgrade in July 1914
Black SaturdayAll this time there had been no declaration of war, but at noon on July 28th Austria- Hungary declared war on Serbia. Nothing further is recorded until midnight on July 29th, when the Austrians bombarded Belgrade.The first hostile act committed by Germany against France occurred on Friday, July 31st, at the German frontier station of Amanvillers, near Metz. The authorities at Amanvillers detained, in spite of protests, Locomotive No. 0113, belonging to the Eastern Railway Company of France. On the same day Germany detained at Hamburg, Cuxhaven, and elsewhere British merchant ships belonging to the Great Central Company and others, thereby committing her first hostile act against Great Britain.On Saturday, August 1st, which was a day of terrible suspense and gloom for all Europe, obscure things happened on the borders of the wild lake and forest region in East Prussia known as Masuria. The Germans alleged that during the day Russians had crossed their frontier at Echwidlen, south-cast of Biala. A stray telegram came to England saying that a German patrol had ridden into Poland from Gross Prostken, a frontier station, and that a Russian patrol had fired some shots. The truth was never known, for at 7.10 p.m. on that black Saturday Germany declared war on Russia.Sunday, August 2nd, 1914, was really the first day of the Great War. Early on the Sunday morning, at an hour which I have always understood was 6 o'clock, German troops in motor-cars entered the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, a perpetually neutral State under the Treaty of London of 1867. They crossed the River Moselle at two points, over the bridges of Remich and Wasserbillig. Soon afterwards German armoured trains packed with troops entered by Wasserbillig. No shots appear to have been fired in Luxemburg.First Authenticated ShotLess than three hours afterwards there was fired what I conclude to have been the first authenticated shot of the war. On July 30th General Joffre had with- drawn all French troops to a distance of ten kilometres from the frontier, in order to leave to the Germans the responsibility for any hostilities. The order was not cancelled until 5.30 p.m. on that memorable Sunday. During the Sunday morning German cavalry patrols entered French territory at eleven points, possibly more, along the frontier before Beltort, and penetrated to various villages. They also entered France at Cirey-sur- Vezouze cast of Luneville, and at points north and south of Longwy, but I cannot trace the exact hour of the latter incursions.On the other hand, the exact hour of each of these occurrences in the frontier region east of Belfort is set down in accessible records. The affair near Petit Croix, which I have selected as the first, was not, however, an invasion. It was an exchange of shots across the frontier. Three armed French Customs officers were on duty on the railway, about one hundred yards inside their own frontier. They saw on German territory an armed party of about twenty-five Germans, some of them two hundred and fifty yards away, others four hundred yards away. The Germans suddenly began shooting at them, and fired about fifteen shots in all. The three Frenchmen withdrew without replying, and turned out the other seven members of the Customs staff. All then moved forward towards the frontier, when the Germans fired another fifteen shots. The first man to fire a shot on the French side was Captain Dentz, who was in command of the Customs station of Petit Croix The French fired nineteen shots in all and the Germans then withdrew.
- left : from a French weekly newspaper 'le Petit Journal'
- right : from a German children's book
Earliest CasualtiesNot a soul seems to have been hit on either side and in this trivial and unimpressive manner the Great War began.
An hour or so later, so far as I can fix the time, there was a much more serious encounter at or near Jonchcrey, not far from Delle, and more than ten kilometres from the German frontier. A French post consisting of Corporal Peugeot and four men saw to their surprise a German cavalry patrol, consisting of Lieutenant Mayor and six men of the 5th Mounted Jaegers, riding towards them. Peugeot challenged, and Mayor responded by firing three shots at him with his revolver, mortally wounding him. The other Frenchmen fired in turn at Mayer, killing him instantly. Mayor and Peugeot appear to have been the first men killed on either side in the Great War.At 9 o'clock on the Sunday evening the German light cruiser Augsburg fired twenty shots at the Russian port of Libau, in the Baltic, and claimed to have done some damage. These were probably the first shots fired in the naval war.On the main eastern front the first authenticated invasions of both Germany and Russia occurred on Monday, August 3rd. At 6 p.m. the Russians attacked the town of Johannisburg, in East Prussia, a few miles across the frontier.. At some unrecorded hour the same day the Germans crossed from Silesia and Posen and look the Polish towns of Tschenstochow, Berdzin, and Kalisch,Extraordinary confusion still exists about the exact hour and day on which the Germans began their great crime of the invasion of Belgium. Personally I have now little doubt about the hour and place. The Germans formally invaded Belgium at about 9 a.m. at Gemmenich, four miles from the great German city of Aix-la-Chapellc. A patrol of twenty-five hussars trotted up to the frontier line at 8.45. Three Belgian gendarmes were the sole witnesses of this tremendous and solemn event which shook the world. One, named Bechet, rode off on his bicycle to a telephone post as soon as he saw the cavalry approaching. The other two, whose names were Thill and Henrion, barred the road. The officer leading the hussars dismounted and read a high-flown proclamation addressed to the Belgian people. The gendarmes retired, and the invasion began.Invasion of BelgiumBut did this event occur on Monday, August 3rd, or Tuesday, August 4th ? The twelve hours' ultimatum sent by Germany to Belgium expired at 7 a.m. on Monday August 3rd. Germany formally declared war on France at 6.45 p.m. on the Monday evening. The French Yellow Book and various histories give the date of the actual invasion of Belgium as August 3rd, but I think there can be no doubt it was on August 4th.It is now clear in short, that Germany invaded Belgium in 1914 on the same day, at the same hour, and I believe at the very self-same minute, as she entered France in 1870. Germany invaded France at Weissenburg at 9 a.m. on August 4th, 1870, the first shot on that day having been fired "soon after 8 o'clock'." No trustworthy evidence tells when and where the first shots were fired in Belgium.The first shot fired by Great Britain in. the war presumably stands to the credit of the light cruiser Amphion or the destroyer Lance, of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla. It was fired during the morning of August 5th at the German mine-layer Koenigin Louise, which was sunk. The first attack by German submarines was made on August 9th against the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron, and on that occasion H.M.S. Birmingham sank U15.The first recorded, collision between British and German troops occurred on August 22nd near Villers St. Ghislain, a few miles east of Mons. Captain Hornby with a squadron of the 4th Dragoon Guards charged a column of Uhlans, routed them, and captured several prisoners. There were other patrol encounters on that day. Next morning at dawn the Germans fired the first shell of the Battle of Mons.
corporal Peugeot, the first French soldier killed in the war