CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


For Allies,Total Victory is Necessary;

For Germany It’s World Domination.

Special to The Great War Project

(19, 20, 21 January) Significant developments these days a century ago in several theaters of the war.

On January 20th,1914, according to historian Martin Gilbert, “the Germans launched their first bombing raid on Britain, when two Zeppelins crossed the North Sea” to the British coast at Norfolk. Four civilians are killed, reports Gilbert.

Damage in Norfolk from first bombing of British soil, January 1915

Damage in Norfolk from first bombing on British soil by Zeppelin, January 1915

At the same time, a significant battle erupts at the French town of Soissons. The Germans take 5,000 French soldiers prisoner.

Fighting also continues at Ypres “making Ypres itself virtually uninhabitable.” And Messines, south of Ypres, remains occupied by the Germans, one of whom is Corporal Adolf Hitler. He writes on January 20th:  “The weather is miserable, and we often spend days on end knee-deep in water, and what is more, under heavy fire.”

The British leadership continues planning for a naval – strictly naval – assault on the straits in western Turkey, known as the Dardanelles. Such a move by the British is prompted by a frantic request from St. Petersburg to alleviate the Turkish pressure on the Russians in their fight in the freezing, snowbound Caucasus.

The Russians want the British to send troops. The British do not…

…they are reluctant to move any of their troops from the stalemate on the Western Front. Writes war historian John Keegan, the Caucasus is too far away from British concentrations of troops.


Now Largely a Defensive War.

Casualties High, War Aims Hardening.

Special to The Great War Project

(16-17 January) Although the Western Front is mired in stalemate, there are still attempts, on both sides to break out of it.

They are all futile.

The mood is shifting in Allied capitals. A negotiated peace is now out of the question. The Allied war aim in 1915 according to historian Max Hastings is “to clear the whole of France of the enemy and to regain Belgium.” Attaining this goal requires “repeated and incessant attacks…an enormous effort.”

Barbed wire is so thick in some areas of the Western Front, it makes the movement of soldiers nearly impossible.

Barbed wire is so thick in some areas of the Western Front, it makes the movement of soldiers nearly impossible.

At the same time, military leaders on both the Allied and German sides arrive at the conclusion, reports The Daily Mail, “that forcing an outcome on the battlefield might take years, if it was achievable at all.”

“Across much of Europe,” writes Hastings…

…“every European leader wanted the killing – and the vast expenditures – to stop, but only when sufficient gains had been secured to justify the sacrifices of 1914.”

Intermittent fighting is underway in the French province of Champagne. It is the first significant encounter between the French and the Germans since the conflict turned into trench warfare.


‘Life in These Days Too Hideous to Write’

Special to The Great War Project

(13, 14, 15 January) Many in Britain and France are still hoping the war will end soon.

Many believe Germany is faltering, facing a debilitating stalemate on the Western Front, and a tightening naval embargo that is slowly strangling the German people.

But on January 15th precisely a century ago, a report is published in The Times in London, a dispatch from Stanley Washburn, its correspondent in Russia. It is far more pessimistic about the possibility of an early end to the war.

German troops in their trenches, date and place uncertain.

German troops in their trenches, date and place uncertain.

Washburn interviews German prisoners of war near Warsaw. His conclusion?

“The more one sees of the Germans, and these are far below the average in type, the more one begins to feel that…

…there is a long, long road ahead for the Allies before these determined people are broken.”

One soldier who writes about conditions on the Western Front where he is stationed is Corporal Adolph Hitler. “We are still in our old positions, and keep annoying the English and the French,” he writes in a letter. “The weather is miserable and we often spend days on end knee-deep in water and, what is more, under heavy fire. We are greatly looking forward to a brief respite.

“Let’s hope that soon afterwards, the whole front will start moving forward. Things can’t go on like this forever.”

They do go on it seems forever, with the suffering equal on both the German and British sides.


On the Battlefield, Conditions for the Wounded Are Appalling.

Little Doctors Can Do.

Special to The Great War Project

(8-12 January) A warning — this report contains disturbing information and may be too graphic for some readers.

A soldier lies wounded on the battlefield. Conditions are bad enough for the unwounded man. But “those who became casualties suffered appallingly,” writes historian Max Hastings.

One solder carries a severely wounded comrade, Western Front, date uncertain

One solder carries a severely wounded comrade, Western Front, date uncertain.

An example from one German soldier: “Among a bunch of corpses lay three wounded Frenchmen. One man had both legs shattered; the second’s stomach was torn open; the third had tried to shoot himself until one of our chaps took away his gun. He fired twice at his own head to escape pain, but aimed clumsily, a little too high.

“The skullcap was uplifted and he moaned in a fashion to melt the heart.

“Another man lay apparently dead, but with one leg still twitching like that of a partridge that is unable to die.


Military medicine remains primitive, advancing according to Hastings “less than many other branches of science.”

Antibiotics are yet to be discovered. In their absence, Hastings observes…

“gangrene remained a massive killer, its contribution increased by the days of delay many men endured before their wounds were properly treated.”

“Patients often deluded themselves that they were recovering because their pain receded. In truth, however, they had merely acquired the numbness and pallor that signified imminent death.

“Survival required extraordinary luck.”

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.”