CATASTROPHE, A Blog of World War One


Threatens Wilson’s Ability to Join the War.

Enter The Wobblies, The Loose Cannons of the Labor Movement

Special to The Great War Project.

(18 September) When President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Imperial Germany, there were many anti-war opponents in the United States.

There were those who based their opposition to the war on religious views. Also pacifists, conscientious objectors, and anti-draft activists.

Anti-war meeting in Seattle.Free speech denied.

Once called up and sent to army training camps, many changed their minds and succumbed to putting on a uniform.

But “how this change was accomplished,” reports historian Thomas Fleming, “is not a pretty story. Harassed camp commanders, already grappling with shortages of everything, had little time to give much thought to the techniques of persuasion.”

“At most camps, the ‘conchies’ were left to the untender mercies of sergeants and lieutenants, who called them yellow-bellies, cowards, and pro-Germans.

Fleming reports, “The Mennonites, who resisted all forms of persuasion, had a particularly bad time….At one camp, a Mennonite resister was scrubbed with brushes dipped in lye. Sadists in another camp billeted them with men infected with venereal disease. Not too surprisingly many resisted this brutal treatment and were court-martialed.”

Anti-war strikes spreading.

“Some 110 were sentenced to the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, army prison for terms ranging from ten to thirty years. One martyr to his faith and conscience wrote to his parents from his prison cell, “you can’t imagine how it is to be hated. If it wasn’t for Christ it would be impossible.”

This, according to historian Fleming, “meant deep trouble for the radical union, the Industrial Workers of the World,” also known as the IWW or the Wobblies. “The Wobblies were the loose cannons of the labor movement…the IWW aimed at unionizing the unskilled and uneducated workers largely ignored by the other craft unions in the labor movement.”

According to Fleming “the union returned with interest the violent hostility of the employers and their friends” in government.


Eleven Times Italy and Austria Clash,

Seeking Victory That is Impossible on the Western Front,

Leaving Only Blood and the Dead.

Special to The Great War Project.

(17 September) The battle in the Alps between Italy and Austria-Hungary is often an overlooked front of the Great War, despite leaving hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded.

When Italy entered the war on the Allied side, “her rulers,” writes historian Norman Stone, “had expected an easy trot to Vienna, and had hardly advanced beyond the customs-posts. Subsequent offensives had brought twice as many casualties to the Italians as to the Austrians but had only occasionally brought any kind of gain.”

Battle for the Isonzo River.

Stone continues: “There were eleven separate battles on the north-eastern border – the river Isonzo [now the Soca in Slovenia]. And as the Italians learned about guns, and the Austrians became tired, there were successes of a fairly modest kind.”

“However, …these gains came at an enormous cost – one and a half million Italian casualties as against 600,000 Austrian. In the eleventh battle, the Italians lost 170,000 men, 40,000 of them killed.”

Actually when war broke out in 1914, Italy was initially on the Austria/Germany side. But Italy soon switched sides, eager to take crucial territory away from Austria-Hungary.

“The Germans were not surprised,” writes historian Michael Neiberg, “and they pressured Austria-Hungary to make territorial concessions that might keep Italy on their side.”

“The Austro-Hungarians reacted with fury at what they saw as Italian perfidy,” Neiberg writes, “in the empire’s moment of great need.”

Austrian mountain units at the battle of the Isonzo.

Reports Neiberg, “Italy then followed a policy of pure self-interest, listening to offers from both sides.”

So Italy goes with Britain and France, a fateful decision that will lead to horrible losses. Why? “Because, historian Neiberg reports, “the Italian army was unprepared for war, and belligerence was unpopular with many Italians.”

The Italians concentrate all their strength on the single front at the Isonzo River, whereas the Austrians had other fronts requiring their attention. Over the next two years, Italy would face eleven great battles there by this moment a century ago. Neither side won decisive victories there, but, according to historian Neiberg, despite their horrible losses…

…each battle gave the Italians “just enough results to convince them to keep trying.”


Soldiers Throw Down Their Arms.

Refuse Orders to the Trenches.

Mutiny Favors the Bolsheviks.

Special to The Great War Project.

(10 September) The turmoil in Russia remains unabated. It is not yet clear who rules Russia in the aftermath of the revolution earlier in the year and the abdication of Tsar Nicolas the Second.

But political and military circumstances are dangerously unpredictable.

Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin addresses a crowd in Petrograd.

In the midst of this tumult a century ago, reports historian Martin Gilbert, “the Germans achieved two victories at the extremities of the Eastern Front. During the first week of September one hundred years ago, after a massive bombardment with more than 100,000 gas shells, German troops drove the Russians from the Baltic port of Riga.”

Across Europe, on the Romanian Front, “the Germans advanced five miles on an eighteen-mile line, taking 18,000 prisoners.”

There is also a contingent of Russian troops stationed south of Paris awaiting orders for action at the Western Front.

Reports Gilbert, “Raising the red flag of Bolshevism, they refused to go to the trenches.”


French Are Bled White, but Are Americans Ready?

What A Way to Get Leave.

Special to The Great War Project.

Editor’s note: an earlier caption on a graphic in this report misidentified it. It is Marshal Foch, the French military leader, not the French president Raymond Poincare

(4 September) Some of the first Americans arrive in Paris and then to the battlefield.

“The Americans are Here.”

On September 6th a century ago, General John J. Pershing, commander of the American army in France, known as the American Expeditionary Force or AEF, moves his headquarters from Paris to Chaumont, according to historian Martin Gilbert, “near to what would most probably be the American sector of operations.”

But, Gilbert continues…

…“it was proving a hard time to have his men ready for action.”

That same day, the French president, Raymond Poincare, came to review the American troops. The parade ground was muddy and churned up. Neither Pershing nor Poincare was impressed with the readiness of the American troops.

French military leader, Marshal Foch.

The American Secretary of War insists no American soldiers shall be sent to the front before they are trained thoroughly. When he hears this, the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau “replied acerbically, it was not a question of being ready; nobody was ever fully ready.”

“It was a question of helping France which was exhausted and bled white and needed help.”

“By this time,” reports historian Thomas Fleming, “Pershing had no illusions about what he and Woodrow Wilson were confronting on the Western Front: defeat.”

“Pershing,” reports Gilbert, “understood the almost desperate needs of his allies.” Still, it looks like Pershing does not intend to bring large numbers of American troops to the French battlefield until the summer of 1918.”

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”