Mysteries & Controversies of WWI – 10 of The Biggest!


Looking back at the First World War there are many events and that spark controversy to this day and mysteries to be cleared up. We are looking at 10 of these and try if we can make sense of them.

1. Who Fired The First Shot?

PHOTO_02_Austro-Hungarian_River_Monitor_Shelling_BelgradeAustro-Hungarian River Monitor Shelling Belgrade

Most people think the first battle of World War One took place on 5 August 1914, when Germany invaded Belgium. The first fighting, however, occurred nine days earlier on the night of 28 July, mere hours after Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia. This battle was an

Most people believe the first battle of the war began on August 5, 1914, when the Germans invaded Belgium. The very first skirmishes though actually took place nine days earlier on July 28, hours after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The skirmish involved an amphibious assault attempt to take the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

The British war effort is less clear on who fired the first shots. As per the Daily Mirror, Corporal E. Thomas of the 4th Dragoon Guards fired the first shots on August 22, 1914. Thomas was a member of a 120-person force sent to investigate German cavalry advances in the Belgian village of Casteau. At 6:30 am on August 22, 1914, Thomas and his squad encountered a unit of 4 German cavalrymen who they engaged in combat. Thomas fired the first shot. History is unclear if anyone actually died in this skirmish.

The Australians, however, lay claim as the first to actually fire shots on behalf of the British Empire during the war. As per ABC News, within four hours of the British joining the war on August 5, 1914, the Australians fired the first shots of the war 17,000 kilometers away from the European Theater at Point Nepean when a German cargo ship named the SS Pfalz tried to leave Australian waters.

The SS Pfalz was just 10 minutes shy of escaping Australian port for open seas when Australian artillery headquarters received orders to stop or sink the ship.

Upon receipt of orders, gunners at Fort Nepean fired a warning across the SS Pfalz bow. This came as a surprise to Australian pilot Captain Montgomery Robinson who was on the Pflaz as a guide to navigate them out.

Relates Mr. Graynor of the incident, “So for a second or two there was a physical tussle on the bridge [of the ship] between the German captain and the Australian pilot. The pilot was adamant that they must stop because the next shot was going to be into the ship.” The Pfalz surrendered.

2. Who Killed Jon Parr?

Private_John_Parr_grave_at_St_Symphorien_cemeteryThe grave of John Parr (via)

John Henry Parr was a British soldier. A private, he is believed to be the first British soldier killed in action by enemy fire during the war.

A reconnaissance cyclist, Private Parr specialized in riding ahead of his unit to uncover information about the enemy or other necessary intelligence and then returning with all possible speed to update the commanding officer. Upon the start of the war in August 1914, Parr’s battalion was moved from Southampton to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. When the German Army started its advance into Belgium, Parr’s unit settled in near the village of Bettignies alongside the canal in the town of Mons. On August 21, Parr and another cyclist were sent forward to the village of Obourg which is north east of Mons and over the Belgian border to locate the enemy. Most believe that they encountered a cavalry patrol from the German First Army and Parr stayed behind to hold them off while his partner rushed back to deliver their report. It is believed Parr was killed in the ensuing battle.

What truly happened to Parr remains a controversy to this day. What is known is that he was killed in action, but because the British army retreated to a new position around the Marne following the battle of Mons, Parr’s body was left behind. In the months that followed because of the nature of trench warfare news and accounting of Parr’s death was not recognized till much later. After not hearing from him for a while Parr’s mother wrote to the army inquiring on his status. The army was not able to tell her of his condition. It is believed that at the time they may have believed he had been captured. During that period dog tags did not exist to help ID casualties. The true circumstances of Parr’s death remain a secret in history. With the front line 11 miles away it is just as luckily he died from friendly fire vs a German patrol encounter or the Battle of Mons itself on August 23.

Parr was recovered, identified and buried in the St Symphorien military cemetery, just southeast of Mons. His gravestone marks his age at 20 as the army was unaware of his true age of just seventeen. Almost poetically, his grave faces that of George Edwin Ellison, the last British soldier killed during the Great War.

3. What Happened To The USS Cyclops?

USS_Cyclops_in_Hudson_River_19111003USS Cyclops; Anchored in the Hudson River, off New York City.

The USS Cyclops (AC-4) was the first of four Proteus-class ships built for the United States Navy in the years preceding World War I. Named after the mythical race of one-eyed beings in Greek mythology, the Cyclops was the second U.S. navy ship to bear that name. On or shortly after March 4, 1918, the ship and her crew of 306 simply disappeared off the face of the earth in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle. Till this day it remains the single largest loss of life in U.S. naval history not involving direct combat.

As the disappearance occurred during a time of war, it was theorized she was captured or sunk by a German raider or U-boat because she was carrying 10,800 long tons of manganese ore used to produce munitions. At the time and in the years since the German government has consistently denied knowing anything with regard to the vessels whereabouts. Officially, the Naval History & Heritage Command has stated that she “probably sank in an unexpected storm” but the true and ultimate cause of the ship’s fate is unknown.

On March 10, 1918, the day after the ship was rumored to have been sighted by Amolco, weather reports indicated that a violent storm swept through the Virginia Cape area. Many believed that a combination of overload, engine troubles, and bad weather lead to the Cyclops sinking. However, the extensive naval investigation concluded: “Many theories have been advanced, but none that satisfactorily accounts for her disappearance.” Bizarrely, though, this finding was reported before Cyclop’s two sister ships, the Proteus and Nereus, also vanished in the North Atlantic during WWII. Much like their sister, both ships were transporting heavy ores similar to those the Cyclops carried on her final, fateful voyage. Like the Cyclops, theories were raised that their loss was the result of things ranging from catastrophic structural failure to bizarre mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle herself.