CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


Holy War Finds Little Support Among Ottoman Muslims;

New Front Opening in the Caucasus.

Special to The Great War Project.

(19-20-21 December) Turkey’s holy war against the Allied nations, especially Britain, is a flop. That’s the conclusion of war historian John Keegan.

Sultan Mehmed V, Caliph of the Ottoman Empire.

Sultan Mehmed V, Caliph of the Ottoman Empire.

The Muslim Caliphate in the person of Sultan Mehmed V declares “holy war” in November and according to Keegan, he “called on all Muslims in British, French, and Russian territory to rise in arms.” “The effect was negligible.” Britain is concerned that the call to holy war might find sympathy among some of the Indian Troops it transports to the Middle East and to Europe. But they are not swayed, Keegan writes.

In fact many Muslim soldiers in the British ranks “did fight against the Sultan-Caliph’s soldiers.”

And on the French front, “the numerous Muslim regiments of the French army fought the Germans without paying the Sultan’s call to jihad any attention whatsoever,” reports Keegan. But the involvement of the Ottoman Empire with its vast and numerous territories “was a strategic event of the greatest importance,” writes Keegan. The Ottoman territory touched enemy lands at so many points – the Persian Gulf, the Arab lands, Persia to name just a few.


Soldier Calls German Behavior ‘Bestiality.’

Special to The Great War Project

(17-18 December) The German treatment of wounded prisoners is sparking outrage in Britain and France.

Canadian POWs, date and place uncertain.

Canadian POWs, date and place uncertain.

More and more stories emerge of the killing of the wounded.

“The savagery of the conflict,” writes historian Martin Gilbert “was to arouse great indignation when details of German treatment of wounded men, after they had been captured became known in the Allied capitals.”

And the testimony does not come from the Allies only. French troops discover a German soldier’s diary, and it contains incendiary information. “The sight of the trenches,” the soldier reports on these days a century ago, “and…

…the fury, not to mention bestiality of our men in beating to death the wounded English…

…affected me so much that for the rest of the day, I was fit for nothing.”

The French share the diary with the British, who publish these excerpts in their own frontline news reports.


British Allow Bombardment in Bid to Sink German Ships

Special to The Great War Project

(15-16 December) German warships are bombarding the British coast this day a century ago at the Yorkshire seaside resort of Scarborough, in the first German naval bombardment of civilian targets.

Many of the residents and visitors to Scarborough are “elderly widows,” reports historian Max Hastings, who are “reading their letters over genteel breakfast tables in the Grand Hotel.”

The rubble at Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire, result of German naval bombardment, 16 December 1914.

The rubble at Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire, result of German naval bombardment, 16 December 1914.

The hotel receives “a series of direct hits, devastating the interior.” The attack is coming from two German battlecruisers crossing back and forth on South Bay, firing steadily only several hundred yards off shore. “The gable end of the town hall was wrecked, along with shopfronts and boarding house bedrooms,” Hastings reports.

“A magistrate named John Hall was dressing when a shell obliterated his bedroom and himself.”

“Twenty miles away at Whitby, similar murderous scenes were played out by two other German cruisers…at nearby Hartlepool during thirty minutes of firing, German warships wrecked Lloyds bank and caused a gasworks to explode.”

Then the German ships turn for home.

According to Hastings, the British Admiralty “chose to allow the Germans to strike unimpeded because this would give them a much better chance of trapping” the German battlecruisers and cutting off their escape home, back to German ports.


The Trenches Fill with Water; They are Sinking,

Along with the Soldiers in Them.

‘More Cruel, Relentless, Pitiless: Sigmund Freud.

Special to The Great War Project

(12-13-14 December) Conditions on the Western Front are horrible, and getting worse.

One great factor is mud, making fighting almost impossible.

Australian stretcher bearers trapped in mud, Battle of Ypres, Belgium

Australian stretcher bearers trapped in mud, Battle of Ypres, Belgium

Visiting the front line, French General Philippe Petain reports that “deep mud was delaying the French advance,” according to historian Martin Gilbert. The British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, found the ground “only a quagmire” on a front-line visit just two days ago.

One British general remembers later, “There appeared to be no stones or gravel, and rain converted the soil into a sort of liquid mud of the consistency of thick porridge,” Gilbert writes, “without the valuable sustaining quality of that excellent Scots mixture.”

“To walk off the roads meant sinking in at once.”

The trenches themselves sink as soon as they are built…

“so to retain any cover at all meant constant work.”

Fighting does continue with each side taking a few trenches only to lose them a few days later. Often most of the rifles become clogged with mud and unable to fire.

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.”