CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


Deployment Not Fast Enough, Lloyd George Tells House.

Matter of Life or Death.

The Tank Makes the Difference – Finally.

Special to The Great War Project

(19 November) For the British and especially the French, the American Expeditionary Force is far too slow to reach Europe.

On this day a century ago, the new French prime minister Georges Clemenceau tells the French chamber of deputies, he would not accept the new Russian government’s declaration of peace. “War, nothing but war,” is Clemenceau’s stand.

New French PM Georges Clemenceau presses for war, nothing but war.

At this crucial stage in the war, though, that requires fresh troops, and the only source of new troops is the U.S. But the situation with the American Expeditionary Force presents serious problems.

In a meeting under the strictest secrecy, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George tells Colonel Edward House, President Woodrow Wilson’s closest confidante, that the American effort is not good enough.

Americans arriving in France.

“It had become clear,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, that the American hope — backed by the American commander General John J. Pershing — “of having a million armed Americans in Europe by the summer of 1918 was nowhere near realization. The most recent calculation of the maximum possible had reduced that number to 525,000 by May1918.”

“Nor would the United States have sufficient shipping tonnage available to supply and feed them all, possibly not until 1919.”

“Incompetence was also proving a problem,”

reports Gilbert, “some American supply ships were reaching France with less than fifty percent of their available cargo space taken up. For the British the prospect of the scaling down and postponement of the American contribution was a blow.”


Passchendaele in Flanders,

Victory or Disaster?

Either Way, Another Blood-soaked Horror.

Special to The Great War Project

(12 November) By November 10th, a century ago, the battle for Passchendaele in Flanders has come to an end. Among those taking part are the Canadian forces. Although meager in number, they figure prominently in the outcome.

The Canadians advance a bare five hundred yards, reports history Martin Gilbert, “in the face of a massive German artillery bombardment of more than five hundred guns and continual air attacks.”

More than half a million soldiers died at the 3-month stalemate at Passchendaele.

Passchendaele became just another “war of attrition,” writes historian Michael Neiberg, “that cost enormous casualties for negligible gains of territory.”

The numbers for the battle are staggering.

“Since the start of the British offensive on the last day of July,” Gilbert reports, “British forces had gained four and a half miles of ground. The cost was 62,000 dead.”

Some 164,000 are wounded.

Mud is everywhere.

As for the Germans, they lose 83,000 killed and as many as a quarter of a million wounded. Some 26,000 Germans are taken prisoner.

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George hails Passchendaele as a great victory. But he adds, “when I look at the appalling casualty lists, I sometimes wish it had not been so.”

“A deep reluctance,” observes historian Gilbert, “to be in the casualty lists could be seen that month in the statistics following the call-up in Canada. So unpopular was the prospect of military service in Europe, that of the nearly 332,000 able-bodied Canadians who are eligible to be drafted, less than 22,000 reported for military service. More than 310,000 applied for exemptions.”

It was an indication, Gilbert writes, of the growing grasp of the reality of this war.


War on the Eastern Front is Over.

Lenin and Trotsky Announce End to Hostilities.

Special to The Great War Project.

(5 November) The Russian provisional government is collapsing.

And, reports historian Martin Gilbert, “it was too late to restore the disintegrating situation. Nothing could counter the great swell of anti-war opinion.”

Lenin speaks to the masses, leads the revolution.

On this day a century ago, “it was learned in Petrograd, the Russian capital, that Russian troops on the Baltic Front had thrown down their arms and begun to fraternize with their German enemies.

The provisional government in Petrograd orders the 155,000 strong Petrograd garrison to go to the front, reports Gilbert. They refuse, under pressure from the Bolshevik military committee.

The following day, soldiers loyal to the government of liberal Alexander Kerensky are ordered to enter the city. On November 6th, they refuse. At the same time, reports historian Gilbert, “the Bolsheviks occupied the principal buildings in the capital, the railway stations, the bridges over the River Neva, the state bank, and most importantly, the telephone exchange.”

The second revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, is at hand.

On November 7nd a century ago, more than 18,000 Bolsheviks “surrounded the Provisional Government ministers in the Winter Palace, defended by a mere 1,000 soldiers.” More than 9,000 revolutionary sailors enter the city. Then 4,000 anti-Kerensky soldiers.

Lenin and other leaders of the Bolshevik revolution.

More fire power, loyal to the Bolsheviks, enters Petrograd and takes up key strategic positions. Warships take up positions and announce their support for the Bolshevik revolution.

The cruiser Aurora, anchored in the city and controlled by the Bolsheviks, announces it will open fire on the Winter Palace. It fires off blank charges. The city is shaken. The Bolsheviks “overrun the Palace,” reports Gilbert. “scattering its defenders.”

Vladimir Lenin is elected chairman of people’s commissars, putting him in charge of the Russian capital.

Leon Trotsky is named Commissar of Foreign Affairs.


A British Letter to Change the World.

A Jewish National Home,

Designed to Keep the Russians in the War.

What About the Arabs?

Special to The Great War Project.

(2 November) Now a development in the Middle East that could change the world.

On November 2nd a century ago, Britain issues what will come to be known as the Balfour Declaration. It is a letter from the British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, to the British Lord Rothschild, the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Great Britain.

The Balfour Declaration, signed by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour.

It expresses Britain’s support for “a National Home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

Although the letter has been issued with the purpose of keeping Russia, with its considerable Jewish population, in the war, the Declaration will electrify the Jewish population around the world, and especially in Europe, the United States, and in Russia.

Lord Balfour, British Foreign Secretary

One senior Foreign Office official writes at the time, “Information from every quarter shows the very important role the Jews are now playing in the Russian political situation. Almost every Jew in Russia is a Zionist, and if they can be made to realize that the success of Zionist aspirations depends on the support of the Allies and the expulsion of the Turks from Palestine, we shall enlist a most powerful element in our favor.”

The Balfour Declaration comes just as the war for Palestine begins to sharpen.

The British have twice attempted to seize Gaza at its southern border with Palestine. And twice they have failed to dislodge the Ottoman Turks’ control there.

This time, the British come up with an fascinating scheme – an operation that is truly clever.

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”