CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


An “Effortless” Campaign?

Now Supply Lines Over Stretched, Reinforcements Needed.

Special to The Great War Project

(2-4 September) The British campaign in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq) is proving, so far, to be one of the few bright spots for the British, at this moment in the war, a century ago.

With little resistance, the British steam up the Persian Gulf, seize Basra, the main city near the Gulf, and push north.

The British India army on the march in Mesopotamia (Iraq).

The British India army on the march in Mesopotamia (Iraq).

British forces defeat the Ottoman defenders at Nasiriya, and towns south in the lower Euphrates. The British are aided by anti-Turkish uprisings in the Shi-ite cities of Najaf and Karbala.

In response, “the Ottomans formed a new army,” writes historian Michael Neiberg, “to hold the British in lower Mesopotamia.”

The Ottoman ally, Germany “sent an experienced general to command the force.”

But the German has far bigger goals in mind. “He envisioned pushing the British forces out of Mesopotamia, then invading Persia and possibly India.”

Neiberg points out that none of the belligerent powers see Iraq as the primary theater of war. Still “they all saw the advantages of a campaign there. Mesopotamia had a vital geographic location, sitting close to the Persian Gulf, Arabia, Persia and India.”

The British Anglo-Persian Oil Company also eyes oil extraction in the region, “at a time when militaries and civilian economies alike were becoming more dependent on oil.”

“The British also saw a value in increasing their prestige among the Sunni and Shia Muslims of the region, most of whom had only nominally accepted Ottoman [rule] in the area.”


Fallout From Lusitania Disaster, German Spy Rings;

Sabotage of American Munitions Plants

Special to The Great War Project

(31 August – 1 September) In the United States in the summer of 1915 a century ago, the debate over the war sharpens.

The fallout after the May 7th sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania by a German submarine with the loss of 128 American lives creates a crisis in the American view of the war.

President Wilson steering the ship of state.

President Wilson steering the ship of state.

“There was still but one overriding concern,” writes historian Arthur Link…

“whether the future would bring war or peace with Germany over the issue of submarine warfare.”

Germany and the United States trade notes this summer, with American President Woodrow Wilson attempting to force the end of Germany’s U-boat offensive. But the outcome of this exchange is unclear.

Anti-German cartoon: Made in Germany. Kaiser. "I'm not quite satisfied with the sword. Perhaps, after all, the pen is mightier!"

Anti-German cartoon: Made in Germany. Kaiser. “I’m not quite satisfied with the sword. Perhaps, after all, the pen is mightier!”

“President Wilson,” observes Link, “after taking the high ground of complete opposition to submarine attacks against merchant shipping, had then beaten a slow retreat toward acceptance of a ‘legal’ underseas campaign and a narrowing of the issue with Germany to the safety of Americans on belligerent passenger ships.”

The Lusitania was a British passenger liner.

Wilson makes it clear, writes Link, that “he would not insist upon an immediate German apology and reparation for the loss of American lives on the Lusitania.

In a note to the Imperial German government, Wilson issues “a stern warning against a renewal of unlimited underseas attacks on passenger ships.” But he also invites the German government “to join him in a campaign for the freedom of the seas as long as the present war should last.”

The response in Berlin is mixed. Some German military leaders reject this offer out of hand.

But one key member of the German cabinet, the Imperial Secretary of the Treasury, writes a long memorandum to the German Chancellor that “argues openly and persuasively for a positive reply to Washington.”

“Germany, he bluntly warned….simply could not survive if the United States joined her enemies…

...”for American belligerency would mean the unlimited and unending economic reinforcement of the Allies.”

“War with America,” Link writes, ”had to be avoided in any event during the next few weeks [in August] so long as the fate of Germany’s campaigns in Russia and the Balkans were in doubt.”


Plot Largest Offensive in British History.

In East, Germanization of Occupied Lands

Special to The Great War Project

(24-30 August) With the war at Gallipoli all but over now a century ago, with the war on the Western and Eastern Fronts and in Mesopotamia (Iraq) now essentially deadlocked, and with the war in Arabia, Syria, and Palestine still at the planning stage, the First World War sees a lull at the end of the summer 1915.

Yet this lull is deceiving.

More than a year of slaughter leaves the belligerents even more intent on winning the war then when they start it in August 1914.

Russian withdrawal

Russian troops withdrawing from Eastern Europe as Germany conquers Russian territory, summer 1915.

To be sure, there is a small but growing movement in Europe to negotiate a peace. But the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded on all sides – and the panic that the empires of Europe and Asia feel about the uncertainty of their existence once the war ends — leave the war leaders no choice but to continue and even expand the war, to the bitter end.

Germany in particular moves quickly to incorporate the lands it conquers in Eastern Europe into German provinces, which now include Warsaw, the Polish capital; Lemberg, a city in Western Ukraine; Vilna, the capital of Lithuania; and Russian territory as far east as Minsk.

Writes the German supremo General Erich Ludendorff….

“I am determined to resume in the occupied territory that work of civilization at which the Germans had labored in those lands for many centuries.”

In a supremely arrogant observation, Ludendorff writes, “the population, made up as it is of such a mixture of races, has never produced a culture of its own and, left to itself, would succumb to Polish domination.”

“Germanization of the conquered eastern lands was begun at once,” writes historian Martin Gilbert. The German occupiers take steps to Germanize financial, judicial, agricultural, and forestry systems.


Ottoman Officer Surrenders; Tells a Remarkable Tale

Conspirators Plotting the Arab Revolt.

Special to The Great War Project

(22-23 August) War – overt and covert – spreads in the Middle East.

In Mesopotamia (now Iraq) the British offensive to seize Baghdad from Ottoman forces bogs down.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the British are focusing their attention on Arabia and Syria. The action right now, a century ago, is covert, a spy-versus-spy maze with huge stakes, most of the Middle East for the taking.

British troops in Egypt, date and place uncertain.

British troops in Egypt, date and place uncertain.

A century ago, on these days in the Ottoman trenches of Gallipoli, a young Turkish lieutenant walks across no-man’s-land carrying a white flag. When he reaches the British trenches, he tells them he wishes to surrender.

His name is Mohammed al-Faroki, writes historian Scott Anderson, and he recounts a remarkable story.

“He claimed to be a member of a secret military society called al-Ahd (the Awakening),” according to Anderson.

The group is waiting for the right moment to stage a revolt against the Turks.

Rumors of such groups “had become rather commonplace,” but Faroki brings with him details of the conspirators, “which units they commanded and where they were currently deployed.”

The British bring Faroki to Cairo where he is interrogated by British intelligence there. He tells them they have “squandered a profound military opportunity by not landing at Alexandretta in the spring of 1915.”

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.”