CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


Fight On, the Cry from All Sides.

Only Lone Voices in Opposition.

Special to The Great War Project

(24-26 March) Stalemate and deadlock still prevail on the Western Front in northern France and Belgium.

British troops in the trenches on the stalemated Western Front, date and place uncertain.

British troops in the trenches on the stalemated Western Front, date and place uncertain.

Elsewhere, defeat after defeat, slaughter after slaughter on both sides only steels the determination to fight on. Writes historian Martin Gilbert: “In Petrograd and Vienna, in Paris, London and Berlin, the drums of patriotism beat all the more loudly as the stalemate and bloodshed of the battlefield intensified.”

Despite the miscalculations, and poor communications, and terrible intelligence that lead to nothing but disaster, there is still no push to end the war.

In fact the war is fueling the desire of all belligerents to gobble up more territory and more power.

On this same day a century ago, a senior British official submits a memorandum to the British War Council.

It’s titled with unusual candor: “The Spoils.”


Thousands of Austrians Taken Prisoner; Starvation in Fort;

Russian Officer: ‘Most Horrible Sight I’ve Ever Seen.’

Special to The Great War Project

(21-23 March) While the British focus most of their attention on northwestern Turkey – the Dardanelle Straits and the Gallipoli Peninsula — the war between Austria-Hungary and Russia on the Eastern Front continues to produce an enormous number of casualties and terrible suffering.

Until March 22nd a century ago on the Eastern Front, thousands of soldiers of Austria-Hungary occupy the ancient fortress at Przemysl (pronounced SHEH-mih-shuhl) in Galicia (now southern Poland).

Austrian prisoners at Przemysl , March 1915.

Austrian prisoners at Przemysl , March 1915.

But on this day “amid ferocious blizzards,” reports historian Martin Gilbert, “hundreds of wounded men had frozen to death in the fields before they could be treated.”

The Austrians surrender the fortress. As related by historian Geoffrey Wawro, a British witness to the surrender writes, the garrison looked “half-starved…a more hopeless, dejected crowd I have never seen.”

The Austrian troops are faint with hunger. During the long Russian siege of the fortress, the soldiers eat all the stocks of food…

“Then they eat the horses, then every dog and cat in the city,” 

One Russian officer who enters the fortress after the surrender writes, it is ‘the most horrible sight I’ve ever seen in war…The Hungarian soldiers, crazed for want of food, their hands and faces smeared with blood as they devoured the raw and dripping bits of [horse] flesh, gouged with their knives and fingers from the dead bodies of newly killed horses.”


Second Naval Assault on Dardanelles Abandoned.

Secret Plan with Russia to Carve up Ottoman Empire.

Special to The Great War Project

(19-20 March) The British bombardment a century ago of the Dardanelle Straits in western Turkey is a disaster. Three French and British battleships are sunk by mines in the straits. Three more are put out of action by shore artillery batteries.

The sinking of the French warship Bouvet, March 18, 1915

The sinking of the French warship Bouvet, March 18, 1915

One of the French warships, the Bouvet, suffers an explosion and quickly sinks, drowning all 600 sailors on board.

Initially it is believed the ship is sunk by a torpedo fired from Turkish batteries on shore. But later, according to war historian John Keegan, it is determined the Bouvet is the victim of one of hundreds of Turkish mines not discovered by the British.

It is a disastrous defeat, but the British leadership does not face up to it. The British commanding admiral urges a second quick naval attack on March 19th. He is supported by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the single British leader most responsible for the naval attack.

“Both men were confident,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “that if the warships could force their way past the Narrows and into the Sea of Marmara, the [Turkish] artillery batteries…would be outflanked.”

Churchill argues this would so demoralize the Turks, it would bring about their capitulation. But bad weather postpones another naval assault, giving members of the British War Council time to rethink their strategy. Churchill is unable to convince his own naval command of his plan, and reports Gilbert…

“from that moment Churchill is forced to take a back seat.”

Contrary to Churchill’s pleas, there is “a growing desire among the senior British in particular to see the army put on shore to attack the remaining forts from the rear.”


At Dardanelles, Turkish Defenses Sink, Cripple Six Battleships;

A Colossal British Miscalculation

Special to The Great War Project

(17-18 March) On the morning of March 18th a century ago, the British unleash a huge naval attack on the Dardanelles, the strategic waterway in northwestern Turkey.

Initially ten battleships – six British and four French – take part as well as a fleet of minesweepers, cruisers, and destroyers. “Even in the long history of the Dardanelles,” writes war historian John Keegan, “such an armada had never been seen there before.”

At the start it looks bad for the Turks.

British warships attack Dardanelles waterway, March 18, 1915

British warships attack Dardanelles waterway, March 18, 1915

“The Turkish forts at the entrance to the straits had been put out of action by naval bombardment” in the days leading up to the allied assault, reports historian Martin Gilbert. Within three hours of the main assault, “the forts covering the minefields inside the straits had been incapacitated. The lines of mines laid across the entrance to the Dardanelles were swept clear as the warships advanced.”

There are nine more lines of mines that the British identify. “But,” writes Gilbert, “an unexpected line of twenty mines, which had been laid parallel to the shore by a small Turkish steamer, the Nousret, ten days earlier, wreaks havoc.”

“Minesweepers could not do their work because of gunfire from Ottoman forts,” writes historian Michael Neiberg. Many of the forts have German-trained gunners, and they prove highly effective.

Reports Gilbert, “three of the ten Allied battleships were sunk.” Another French ship is badly damaged and is beached. Another British ship hits a mine and is crippled.

More than 600 men on one of the French battleships drown.

The Germans advising the Turkish forces view this initial encounter with the world’s most powerful navy as a victory.

Art & Culture of War

To My Peoples

Screenshot of virtual exhibition, To My Peoples: The First World War 1914-1918

The Europeana museum, the Austrian National Library, and Google collaborated on the online presentation, “To My Peoples!” The First World War 1914 – 1918, a collection of “untold stories & official histories of WW1.”

We created a new virtual exhibition to commemorate the First World War. The exhibition guides you through the Emperor Franz Joseph’s manifestos, from announcements for mobilisation, to administering shortages, to dealing with prisoners of war and refugees. The big influence of the First World War on children is presented in remarkable drawings and letters by students in the chapter “My dear Pupils”. The exhibitions ends with a selection of photographs from the front, the hinterland and life in the field.

The War Illustrated

Painting from The War Illustrated of a battle in 1914 Belgium
“The Story Of The Great European War Told By Camera, Pen And Pencil” was the subtitle of The War Illustrated, a magazine published in London publication by William Berry (later owner of The Daily Telegraph). The first issue date was August 22, 1914, eighteen days after the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The magazine continued until 1919, with a peak circulation of 750,000 (and was revived in 1939 during the Second World War).

The issues were later packaged into books (all online at the Internet Archive: see list below). “Volume I. The First Phase” featured articles Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (“How the Boer War Prepared Us for the Great War”) and H. G. Wells:

The cause of a war and the object of a war are not necessarily the same. The cause of this war is the invasion of Luxemburg and Belgium. We declared war because we were bound by treaty to declare war. We have been pledged to protect the integrity of Belgium since the kingdom of Belgium has existed. If the Germans had not broken the guarantees they shared with us to respect the neutrality of these little States we should certainly not be at war at the present time.
—H. G. Wells, “Why Britain Went to War”, The War Illustrated: Volume I

BBC “Live” Blogs 1914 Assassination

The BBC applied their modern news reporting techniques to “live” blogging the century-old assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, with on-the-scene videos and minute-by-minute updates.

BBC News is used to reporting breaking news around the world. It’s what we do, part of the reason for our very existence. So if there were to be an assassination of a prominent European leader today, we would want to be there, reporting live. And audiences expect to consume breaking news in a live blog environment which is why we wanted to experiment with revealing history in this way.

This was the idea behind 1914 Live as the BBC’s First World War season reaches the first significant anniversary. We would use all the techniques of breaking news in 2014 to report on events from Sarajevo 100 years ago, particularly the BBC’s Live format.
BBC, “1914 Live: History retold as breaking news”

Gallery: Guns, Gas Masks and Pigeons

A building is pictured after a German 'Friedrichshafen' seaplane crashed into its roof (Reuters / Archive of Modern Conflict, London)

A German ‘Friedrichshafen’ seaplane crashed into a building’s roof (©Reuters / Archive of Modern Conflict, London)

The Reuters gallery, titled “Guns, Gas Masks and Pigeons”, unveils some recently found photos from a private collection. The images picture the “more unfamiliar aspects of the war, from squadron athletics to pigeons used to send messages at the Front,” including a “sequence of images, showing a German U-boat sinks an Allied merchant vessel.”