CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


Millions of Americans Crossing the Atlantic

Germany’s First Target at Sea: the Tuscania.

Special to The Great War Project

(18 February) The build-up of American troops on the Western Front is proceeding far too slowly, and the Americans know it. The Americans “feared the worst for the coming year,” writes one American officer a century ago.

“From a military point-of-view Germany is stronger in the West today than it has been since 1914.” Germany has 170 divisions against Britain’s 54 and French 93.

Canadian troops in northern France.

That translates into more than half a million men for the British, nearly a million for the French.

But with Germany no longer fighting a two-front war – a war against the Allies in the West, and Russia in the East — it is moving millions of troops from the Eastern to the Western Front.

By the end of January 1918, the Americans have a mere 180,000 troops in France, and only 85,000 of them “are with the fighting troops.”

But that is set to change. “In the scales against this gloomy foreboding,” writes historian Gary Mead, “was set the gathering flood of doughboys sailing across the Atlantic.”

The crossing is not without its risks. German U-boats still lurk in the waters off the coast of England and Ireland. They still attack the ships carrying troops from America.

The Tuscania

One in particular was a deadly attack on the ocean liner Tuscania, sister ship of the much better known Lusitania, sunk by a German submarine in 1915.

The Tuscania “was the first troopship,” Mead reports, “carrying doughboys from the United States to France to be torpedoed in the First World War. She was attacked without warning in that killing ground favored by U-boats off the coast of Ireland.”

“The Tuscania,” Mead writes, “was the biggest disaster in the ferrying of American soldiers to Europe.” On her last voyage, she left the port of Hoboken, New Jersey on January 24, 1918. She carried more than 2,000 American soldiers as well as a British crew of 384. She sailed in a convoy of thirteen ships…

In a ferocious squall, “it was a miracle the U-boat could see anything at all.”

…Mead writes.


Everything in Short Supply

Germans Fainting in the Streets

Not Even a Single Loaf of Bread, Nor a Glimmer of Guilt.

Special to The Great War Project.

(11 February) The British blockade of Germany is nearly air tight.

“The addition of ships from the U.S. Navy,” reports historian Thomas Fleming, “enabled the British to create a virtually impenetrable blockade.”

British blockade of Germany.

Writes another historian, “the goal of preventing the arrival of even a single loaf of bread in Germany was all but achieved.”

“The United States Navy joined with the Royal Navy,” reports historian Hew Strachan, “in enforcing the blockade against both the Central Powers [Germany and Austria] and their neutral suppliers, and it did so with unexpected vigor.”

According to historian Martin Gilbert…

“Germany’s civilian economy was rapidly reaching a crisis point. There were shortages of everything: “rubber, tin, copper, clothing, household items, and above all, food, worsened by a poor harvest in 1917.”

Coal was in short supply, reports historian Adam Hochschild, “and those waiting in line for it were often shod in cardboard shoes with wooden soles since scarce leather was saved for soldiers’ boots.”

“So many horses had been sent to the front,” Hochschild continues, “that the Berlin Zoo’s elephants were put to work hauling wagons through the streets.”

British blockade map.

According to historian Thomas Fleming, “Fats and meat were all but vanished from the German diet. The death rate was climbing ominously. The tuberculosis rate had doubled.”

One American reporter who spent time in Germany reports that Germans are fainting in the streets from hunger.


And the Clocks are Ticking.

Melt Down the Church Bells!

Special to The Great War Project

(23 February) American soldiers are now in the war!

For the first time, ten months after the United States declared war on Imperial Germany, “United States troops are taking offensive action on the Western Front,” reports historian Martin Gilbert.

“On February 13,” reports Gilbert, in the zone of Champagne, “American artillery batteries took part in a six-hour rolling barrage before a French attack that broke through the German lines and captured more than 150 German prisoners.”

Americans on the Western Front.

Ten days later, according to Gilbert, “at Chevregny two American officers and 24 of their men volunteered to take part with French troops in a raid on German trenches. The raid lasted half an hour, and twenty-five Germans were taken prisoner.”

According to one newspaper account, “although the actual occasion was not of much importance, February 23rd is one of the dates that will always be remembered in the history of the war.”

But it is true that the United States is in the war now, in a real way, with Americans getting killed and inflicting death as well.

Later in February a century ago, an American officer is watching another French raid on the German trenches in northern France.

According to Gilbert, “Carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment, he joined in the raid, helped to capture several German soldiers, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.” It was the first such award to a member of the American Expeditionary Force.”

The officer’s name? Colonel Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur decorated for valor by the French

At the same time, Winston Churchill is back in a significant role in the war. Churchill is now Minister of Munitions in the British government. At this moment in the war a century ago, Churchill is touring the sorrowful battlefields of the previous three years.

Churchill writes to his wife: “Nearly 800,000 of our British race have shed their blood or lost their lives here during three and a half years of unceasing conflict.

Many of our friends and my contemporaries all perished here.

“Death seems as commonplace and as little alarming as the undertaker. Quite a natural ordinary event, which may happen to anyone at any moment, as it happened to all these scores of thousands who lie together in this vast cemetery, ennobled and rendered forever glorious by their brave memory.”


 Fighting Resumes for Ukraine,

Russia Losing All Its Territory.

Special to The Great War Project.

(28 January) Russia may have pulled out of the war on the Eastern Front, but that hasn’t stopped the fighting there.

Russia under Lenin believes Ukraine is part of Russia, and they are willing to fight for it.

In January a century ago, Lenin’s forces, according to historian Martin Gilbert, “enter the Ukraine and declare the triumph of Bolshevism there.”

German troops fight on the Eastern Front

Fighting breaks out between Russian forces and Ukrainian nationalists at Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine “where three years earlier German and Russian forces, according to Gilbert, “had battled for supremacy.”

On January 29 Lenin’s forces enter Kiev and Odessa, both in Ukrainian territory.

“Two days later,” Gilbert writes…

“with Ukraine falling rapidly under Bolshevik rule, Lenin established the Union of Soviet Socialist republics – the USSR, also known as the Soviet Union.”

“This was followed within two weeks by the creation first of the of the Red Navy and then the Red Army.”

Soon after that, Lenin and Trotsky realize that they must quickly lead Russia formally out of the war if the government they are establishing will retain any territory at all.

Russian troops on the march.

There have been long drawn out negotiations between the Germans and Bolshevik forces at Brest-Litovsk on the Russian border with Poland. But in early February a century ago, the talks break down, because the Germans are pressing the Russians under Lenin and Trotsky to accept terms – the loss of territory – that they simply cannot accept.

The Germans are planning to resume the war against Russia, and Lenin and Trotsky realize it. “Tomorrow,” the German commander General Max Hoffman writes “we are going to start hostilities against the Bolsheviks. No other way out is possible. Otherwise these brutes will wipe up the Ukrainians, the Finns, and the Balts, and then quickly get together a new revolutionary army and turn the whole of Europe into a pig-sty.”

Art & Culture of War


The Great War Project welcomes letters, photos, and other memorabilia that you or your family members may have.

Here’s one, a poignant homecoming.


Los Angeles resident Gina Barker Young provided this family photo of her great great grandfather William Thomas Patterson welcoming his sons Lawrence and Thomas home from the war, Los Angeles, 1918

Los Angeles resident Gina Barker Young provided this family photo of her great great grandfather William Thomas Patterson welcoming his sons Lawrence and Thomas home from the war, Los Angeles,1918

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”