CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


Turmoil Among the Allies

Who Will Fight the War Now?

Special to The Great War project.

(13-18 March) On March15th a century ago, under intense pressure and with no possibility of retaining his crown, Tsar Nicholas the Second of Russia abdicates the throne.

He turns over the monarchy to his son. “I request all to serve him truly and faithfully,” Nicholas declares.

Tsar Nicholas abdicates the Russian throne.

Tsar Nicholas abdicates the Russian throne.

“The war had claimed its first Allied sovereign,” writes historian Martin Gilbert. “The 300-year-old imperial system over which the Tsar had presided was over.”

Now what?

Will Russia remain with the Allies and continue the fight?

Writes one foreign diplomat in the Russian capital Petrograd,

“Russia is a big country, and can wage war and manage a revolution at the same time.”

Not quite.

On March 17th one hundred years ago, the commander-in-chief of the Russian navy is murdered — shot and killed. “The revolutionary forces were strong and unleashed,” writes Gilbert. “Anti-war fever was intense.”

The first Russian revolution

The first Russian revolution

Nevertheless, the following day Russia’s Foreign Minister announces, “Russia would remain with her allies. She will fight by their side against a common enemy until the end, without cessation and without faltering.”

As the question of Russia’s continued commitment to fighting the war dominates the news from Russia, the news from the U.S. is equally urgent – will the United States enter the war?


Strikes, Violence, Martial Law Hit Russian Capital.

The First Russian Revolution Begins.

Special to The Great War Project.

(9-12 March) On March 10th a century ago, Russia is facing a real revolution.


Revolution breaks out in Petrograd, the Russian capital, March 1917.

“As a general strike began in Russia,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “Martial Law was declared in Petrograd.”

Tsar Nicholas faces heavy pressure to abdicate the monarchy. But he resists. Violence breaks out.

On these days a century ago, the Tsar is still thinking about territory he will gain for Russia when the war ends. Secret discussions are underway with the French to determine the shape of the Russian Empire.

Tsar Nicholas reviewing the palace guard just prior to the Russian Revolution in an undated photo.

Tsar Nicholas reviewing the palace guard just prior to the outbreak of revolution.

But Russia’s workers and soldiers have other goals in mind.

Gilbert reports: On March 12th as Nicholas is on his way to Petrograd, “the soldiers of the Petrograd garrison joined the crowds in the streets of the capital demonstrating against him.”

“There was street fighting when soldiers loyal to the Tsar together with the police sought to maintain order, but they were massively outnumbered.”

Soon fires break out across the city.


Debate Sharpens Amidst Submarine Attacks, Secret Plotting.

Britain Regaining Offensive; Russia Collapsing.

Special to The Great War Project.

(5 March) Across the globe a century ago, events are speeding up, with the United States hurtling toward war.

“The Zimmerman telegram was published in the United States on March 1st,” reports historian Martin Gilbert.

The Zimmermann telegram encoded.

The Zimmerman telegram encoded.

Many in the United States who sought to keep the nation out of war denounced the telegram as a fake, a forgery. The telegram from the German foreign minister to his counterpart in Mexico City urged Mexico to join Germany in the fight against the U.S.

For its troubles, according to the telegram, at the end of the war, Mexico would regain Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, all territories it had lost in wars with Mexico in the 19th century.

Two days later, reports Gilbert, the German foreign minister confirms that the telegram is real.

“One more nail,” Gilbert observes, “had been knocked into the coffin of American neutrality.”

Far afield from Western Europe, reports Gilbert, the Allied war in the Middle East and Turkey is once again gaining momentum.

The British army is on the March in Mesopotamia (now Iraq). They are targeting the city of Kut on the Tigris River south of Baghdad, which they had lost the year before.

The British march to Baghdad.

The British march to Baghdad.

The British, moving up river, reach Kut a century ago, and take more than 1700 Turkish prisoners. The British are now within 25 miles of Baghdad.

In Persia, reports historian Gilbert, the Turks lose ground in Persia (now Iran) and Arabia. The British also make gains in Palestine and the Sinai.

All these gains appear to put to rest Germany’s ambition to become the dominant European nation in the Middle East.

The Turks see the writing on the war and begin their withdrawal from Baghdad.

Crucial developments in Russia are also unfolding rapidly. On March 3rd one hundred years ago, a strike breaks out in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). The strike is targeting a key munitions facility, reports Gilbert, “the army’s main provider of weapons and ammunition.”

On the same day, a bread shop is looted, sparking riots. Turmoil in Russia is spreading rapidly. In just a few days, “an estimated 90,000 Russians are on strike.

At the same time, the Russian government is about to declare martial law in Petrograd.


Wilson to Congress: I Am a Man of Peace,

But U.S. Must Arm American Ships.

The Slow, Slow Creep to War.

Special to The Great War Project

(26 February) With President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Germany a century ago, debate about possible American entry into the war heightens.

“Debate about the war did not cease of course,” writes historian Michael Kazin. “Lawmakers from both [American political parties] delivered passionate speeches for and against taking new and aggressive actions to punish Germany.”

The debate over American intervention.

The debate over American intervention.

“Interventionist newspapers like the New York Times,” reports Kazin, “predicted a swift economic decline if transatlantic shipping did not resume soon.”

The Germans had begun to attack U.S. merchant ships, and soon there are American casualties.

But still President Wilson is not prepared to declare war. “Unless the president changed his mind,” reports Kazin, “the anxious status quo might last – as the departing German ambassador hoped.”

(The German ambassador is preparing to leave the United States after the break in relations.)

But privately Wilson is moving closer to taking the U.S. into the war. Writes Kazin: “By mid-February Wilson had privately arrived at a decision he knew carried the risk of war.”

Opposition to war takes to the streets.

Opposition to war takes to the streets.

“The United States would place guns powerful enough to sink a submarine on merchant vessels bound for Europe. For the president, armed neutrality was a middle course – between letting the Germans have their way on the high seas and joining the Allies.”

And in addition, reports historian Kazin, “it would also, he hoped, appease shipping companies who were seeing their profits rotting away on domestic wharves. Before announcing it, Wilson told the members of his cabinet he wanted to seek the approval of Congress, although his advisors assured him he had the legal power to act without it.”

On February 26th, precisely a century ago, “Wilson unveiled the idea before a joint session of Congress.” Writes Kazin. “He shrewdly appealed both to national self-interest and to the strong desire of most Americans to avoid war.”

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”