CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


Tsar’s Army in Disarray; Talk of Mutiny Spreads.

Germany’s Leaders: We Do Not Lust for Territory.

Pro-German Bomber Targets U.S. Senate.

Special to The Great War Project

(Editor’s note: This blog will take a short break. It will return in about ten day’s time.)

(30 June-4 July) On the Eastern Front, the Russian army continues to fall back under ceaseless German attack.

Early in the war, Russians capture Lemberg (Lviv) from Austria-Hungary.

Early in the war, Russians capture Lemberg (Lviv) from Austria-Hungary.

One of the most important targets in the East European territory of Galicia (today’s Poland and Ukraine) is the city of Lemberg, today’s Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Facing a weak army of Austria-Hungary several months earlier, the Russian army takes Lemberg, precipitating a rout of Austrian forces and a near collapse of the Austrian army.

Germany rushes reinforcements from the Western Front to the East to rescue the Austrian forces. But now the tide is turning.

The Russians are in disarray, and German troops are sweeping eastward.

In mid-June, Polish cavalry fighting on the Austrian side deal the Russians a severe blow. The Polish forces are fueled by the Poles’ desire to carve out an independent natiton as the war delivers up much of Polish territory occupied for many years by the Russians.


War of Attrition on All Fronts; Sickness a Deadly Enemy

Millions More Troops Needed

Special to The Great War Project

(26-29 June) It’s nearly a year since this war broke out, and it’s clearer now than ever, it’s a war of attrition on all fronts, Western, Eastern, and in several areas of the Ottoman Empire.

On June 29th a century ago, General Henri-Philippe Petain, a commander of French forces “told his superiors,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “that the war of attrition on the Western Front would go ‘to the side which possesses the last man.’”

Casualties mount on the Western Front, time and place uncertain.

Casualties mount on the Western Front, date and place uncertain.

On the same day, reports Gilbert, “the British government introduced a National Registration Bill, the first step on the road from voluntary to compulsory military service.”

The British continue to pour troops into the Western Front and Gallipoli, the deadlocked battle on the Gallipoli peninsula of northwestern Turkey.

The total additional British troops reaches more than two million.

“But,” writes Gilbert, “by the end of June 1915, it had become clear that even this would not be enough.”

This same week, a hundred years ago, “the number of French troops under arms reached five million.”

They are not supplied sufficiently, even simple items such as steel helmets, most important to the French troops. “There were never enough,” reports Gilbert. By this moment in the war, the soldiers needed millions. They received only tens of thousands.

The war in the Middle East is emerging as another active front, and it too is deadlocked.

Indian troops in Mesopotamia campaign, date and place uncertain.

Indian troops in Mesopotamia campaign, date and place uncertain.

At the beginning of June in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), British forces, landed at the top of the Persian Gulf, take Amara, in southern Iraq. Their goal is to seize Damascus and drive the Turkish forces out of Iraq and Syria.

At first the British score a series of victories. But in June, “grave difficulties were beginning to emerge.” On June 27th a combined force of British and Indian troops attacks the Turkish garrison at Nasariya in southern Iraq.

The heat is unbearable, writes Gilbert, reaching 115 degrees Fahrenheit.The troops are attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. The Turkish artillery keeps up steady and accurate fire.

Finally the Turks leave Nasariya to the British but they dig in at al Kut, further north.


Countryside and Cities Plundered; Rape and Murder Widespread

Bolshevik Propaganda Reaches Front

Special to The Great War Project

(21-25 June) The Russian Army in Poland continues to fall back, suffering heavy losses in the process.

Russian peasant soldiers, Eastern Front 1915.

Russian peasant soldiers, Eastern Front 1915.

Disillusionment with the war begins to spread in Russia, on the battlefield, and on the home front.

The Germans retain only defensive positions on the Western Front and divert all the forces they can to the east. There, the German offensive is unstoppable. “During the six months of the relentless offensive,” writes historian Adam Hochschild, “the Russian army lost an estimated 1.4 million men, or more than 7,500 a day.”

Propaganda leaflets from the Russian anti-war Bolsheviks begin to appear “in packages sent to the troops from home,” reports Hochschild. “The army was hit by its first large wave of deserters.”

Despite the retreat though, the Russians manage to regroup, observes historian Michael Neiberg, and they stay in the war.

At the same time, in the Austro-Hungarian army, “draft dodging and desertion were mounting already from the beginning of 1915,” according to historian Alexander Watson.

The Russian army retreats on a front more than 600 miles long. Russian soldiers scorch the earth as they withdraw. The scale of destruction is staggering.

Russia’s troops, Hochschild reports “destroyed crops, houses, railways, entire cities, anything that might be of use to the enemy. In western Russia….

a zone of destruction gradually spread for hundreds of miles, where no food grew and few buildings stood.”

“From this wasteland the retreating Russians also forcibly removed huge numbers of people. Targeted above all were non-Russian minorities, who the Tsarist government feared would cooperate with the German occupiers.”


Austrian Troops Throw Down Their Weapons, Then Surrender.

Germany in Control of Eastern Front

Special to The Great War Project.

(Editor’s note: Catastrophe, A Blog of World War One, will take a short break. It will return next week.)

(16-20 June) By now, in the spring of 1915, Austria-Hungary’s army is coming apart.

On the Eastern Front, the Russians are in retreat. But not as a result of Austrian successes. The Germans are smashing the Russians. They have come to the rescue of Austria-Hungary.

“Even with German help,” writes historian Geoffrey Wawro, “its army lay shattered on a line that wended from Poland along the crests of the Carpathians and all the way south to Bosnia.”

Austrian and German prisoners of Russia, Eastern Front, date and place uncertain.

Austrian and German prisoners of Russia, Eastern Front, date and place uncertain.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire, also known as the Dual Monarchy or the Habsburg monarchy, encompasses present-day Austria and Hungary as well as Croatia, Bosnia, and parts of Poland and Czechoslovakia.

“The very meaning of Austria had been shattered too,” writes Wawro. “Beaten too many times to count, the Dual Monarchy had lost whatever respect it had commanded from its subjects and neighbors, and lost any semblance of cohesion or for that matter sovereignty.”

“Its days on the earth were numbered.”

The state of the Austrian army is so bad, its generals are ordered “to reeducate their troops on the purpose of the war,” Wawro reports. The Austrian troops are fighting, they are told, “because England, France, and Russia had conspired to make Germany and Austria-Hungary ‘slave peoples.’”

Austrian command, Eastern Front, date and place uncertain.

Austrian command, Eastern Front, date and place uncertain.

“The greatest slave driver of the three was Russia…a rich, backward land…where corruption finds a home everywhere and the masses live in poverty and ignorance.”

Russia is the cause of the war, the racist Austrian narrative goes – “hordes of Asiatic and half-Asiatic barbarians” outnumbering the Austrians four to one.

By the spring of 1915 “no one believed these fictions,” reports Wawro. “The romantic nonsense of a happy empire of united peoples that had undergirded the army in peacetime had dissolved entirely under the stress of war.”

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.”