28/3/1915 Leon Thrasher’s last journey

Leon C. Thrasher is a mining engineer from the United Stages of America. He works for a mining company in the Gold Coast but has been spending the last few weeks in London. Now he is on his way back to Africa onboard the Falaba, a British passenger ship. Unfortunately for him and the ship’s other passengers, as the ship sails out of the Irish Sea it encounters a German U-boat. It tries to outrun the U-boat (the U-28, under the command of Georg-Günther von Forstner) but the U-boat catches up. Forstner gives the Falaba ten minutes to evacuate its passengers and crew.
What happens next is not entirely clear. The U-28 seems to have fired a torpedo at the Falaba before the ten minutes are up. This may be out of teutonic sadism or it may be because the Falaba was radioing and signalling for help to fast approaching British warships.

Some reports say that the torpedo causes a tremendous explosion, because the Falaba is carrying ammunition supplies that the torpedo ignites. Whether this is the case or not, the ship sinks quickly, taking down some 100 or so people from the 250 people onboard.

Mr Thrasher is among those who are lost to the sea. News that a US citizen has been slain by a German U-boat while travelling on a civilian vessel causes outrage in his homeland.

Images both from Merseyside Roll of Honour

U-boat and Falaba originally from Sphere magazine.

U-666 originally from Punch

27/3/1915 Italy’s appetites incline it towards war

Italy joined an alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany in 1882, but on the outbreak of the war last year it deserted its allies and remained neutral. The Italian government claimed that the alliance obliged them only to help Austria-Hungary and Germany if they were attacked; as they had started the war, Italy was under no obligation to come to their aid.

Despite its alliance with Austria-Hungary, Italy has never been close to the Habsburg Empire. Italian leaders have long felt that the border between the two countries was unfairly drawn, leaving much territory they see as naturally Italian under the rule of the Austro-Hungarians. This hostility what inclined the Italian leaders last year to keep their country neutral, together with a fear that joining Germany and Austria-Hungary would mean allying with the war’s losing side.
Austro-Italian border area, 1914
Since then Italy has been engaged in secret negotiations with both the Allies and with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy wants Austro-Hungarian territory and the negotiations are like a bidding war, with the Allies offering territory to entice Italy into the war while Germany and Austria-Hungary make counter-offers to keep Italy neutral. The Allies can afford to be much more generous with Austria-Hungary’s territory than Austria-Hungary itself can, but going with the Allied offer means that Italy will have to fight for its gains.

With the situation on the Eastern Front not going so well and with Germany especially keen to keep Italy out of the war, Austria-Hungary’s leaders now make their most generous offer yet to the Italians. They promise territorial concessions in the Trentino region while further east they will withdraw to the Isonzo river. They are not prepared to give Italy the port of Trieste, but they are offering to grant the city autonomy. They also offer to discuss further territorial adjustments.

Antonio Salandra and Sidney Sonnino, Italy’s prime minister and foreign minister respectively, reject Austria-Hungary’s offer. They claim that the proposal is inadequate and also insufficiently detailed. But the real reason is that their territorial appetites have grown. They now want to bring the whole of the Trentino and South Tyrol into the Italian state, as well as to absorb Trieste and the Istrian peninsula. They also crave territories along the Dalmatian coast from which Italian power could be projected into the Balkans.

Salandra and Sonnino’s ambitions cannot be achieved without war. This does not concern them. A string of defeats mean that Austria-Hungary is clearly on its last legs, so Italy’s attacking it should put an end to the Habsburg Empire once and for all. Salandra also believes that this short victorious war will make him the undisputed master of Italian politics.

image sources:

“Italy’s having a hard time holding them” ( @ThisDayInWWI )

The map of the Austro-Italian border area came from a website that has mysteriously disappeared.

Antonio Salandra (Wikipedia)

26/3/1915 [Eastern Front] Russia takes Lupkow Pass through the Carpathians

The Russians overran the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia last year. The Carpathian Mountains stand between them and the heartland of the Hungarian half of the Habsburg Empire. Fighting in these mountains has been see-sawing backwards and forwards. Earlier this year the Austro-Hungarians took control of the mountain passes but were unable to push from them to recapture Galicia.

Now the Russians attack once more in the Carpathians. Perhaps they are buoyed up by their capture of Przemysl, perhaps news of the town’s fall has shaken the Austro-Hungarians, but either way the Russians are able to capture the Lupkow Pass through the Carpathians. Could the way finally be open for them to mount an invasion of Hungary?

image source (History Net)

23/3/1915 Singapore: mutineers executed

Indian Muslim troops in the British army mutinied in Singapore on the 15th of February. Now the mutiny is over. Some of the mutineers have been killed in combat, others have been rounded up and put on trial. Some are transported or given long prison sentences but some 47 are sentenced to death. Today they are executed by firing squad in public executions watched by some 15,000 people.

image source (Wikipedia)

22/3/1915 [Galicia] The Fall of Przemysl

Austro-Hungarian troops have been under siege in the Galician fortress town of Przemysl since November. The situation has become increasingly desperate, with the garrison now on the brink of starvation. A recent attempt to break out through the Russian lines has failed. Now General Kusmanek, the Austro-Hungarian commander, accepts the inevitable. He orders his men to surrender the town, after first destroying anything that could be of use to the enemy. The fall of Przemysl delivers an army of nearly 120,000 men into the hands of the Russians. The bag includes 9 generals.
Przemysl had largely been emptied of civilians before the beginning to the siege, but among those who remained are members of the town’s Jewish community. The Russians now subject these to a brutal reign of terror.

The fall of Przemysl releases large numbers of Russian troops who had been besieging it. Now perhaps they will be able to push through the Carpathian Mountains into the Hungarian lands beyond.

“The Fall of Przemysl”, by H. C. Seppings-Wright (Illustrated London News)

February 1915

Franz Ferdinand’s assassins executed. Turkey’s invasion of Egypt fails. The Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes: Germany smashes Russia again. Unrestricted submarine warfare. British plans to attack Constantinople. Turkey starts to deal with the Armenians.


Icy death in the Carpathians


Avenging Franz Ferdinand


South Africa and Nyasaland: rebels crushed, an enemy invasion defeated

Germany announces unrestricted submarine warfare


Turkey repulsed at the Suez Canal


The Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes: Germany attacks


Masurian Lakes: a second Tannenberg?


Shell shock


Masurian Lakes: last stand in the Augustow Forest


Mutiny in Singapore


Singapore: a mutiny crushed


Gallipoli: Winston Churchill’s big idea


Masurian Lakes: the battle draws to a close


[Western Front] France resumes its Champagne Offensive


Turkey starts to deal with the Armenians

See also:

1915 Who’s Who

January 1915

Monthly archive


19/3/1915 [Eastern Front] The Austro-Hungarians attempt a break-out from besieged Przemysl

In Galicia, the siege of Przemysl continues. The Austro-Hungarian defenders have been holding out in the fortress city since November. They have tied down large numbers of Russian troops and blunted the enemy’s attempt to invade the Hungarian lands beyond the Carpathians. But the situation in Przemysl is becoming increasingly desperate. The defenders are running out of food. The Russians continue to blast the town with their artillery while their infantry gradually capture the Przemysl’s outer fortifications. Przemysl cannot hold out for much longer.

The Austro-Hungarians have been attacking in the Carpathians. They have made some progress but not enough: there is no prospect of their breaking through and relieving Przemysl. In the besieged city, General Kusmanek is informed that it will not be possible to raise the siege. Rather than surrender, Kusmanek orders his men to attack, hoping that they can break through the Russian lines and march to link up with the main Austro-Hungarian army.
But the sortie fails. The Russians hold the line. The Austro-Hungarians are unable to escape. They are trapped in Przemysl and must accept their fate there.

Image sources

Russians attack (Wikipedia)

Austro-Hungarians attack (Wikipedia)

18/3/1915 Dreadnought v. U-boat

The British navy has not a had a good day of it at the Dardanelles, but it has more luck in the Pentland Firth that separates the Orkneys from northern Scotland. German U-Boat commander Otto Weddigen is patrolling here in the U-29. He made his name last September when he engaged British cruisers in the North Sea, sinking three of them. Perhaps in an attempt to replicate that success, when some British battleships appear in the Pentland Firth he fires off a torpedo at one of them. Unfortunately for him, the torpedo misses. Worse, he finds himself too close to the surface and the Dreadnought, another British battleship is able to ram the U-29. It sinks with all hands.

There is a certain grim irony to this. The Dreadnought was the first of the British super-battleships, but Weddigen’s coup last September seemed to imply that the age of the battleship was coming to an end. Now the Dreadnought reasserts the dominance of the battleship, but by ramming the U-29 it has reverted to the naval tactics of the ancient world.

Otto Weddigen (Wikipedia)

HMS Dreadnought (Wikipedia)