As war breaks out, online news services truly prove their worth. While newspapers struggle to keep up with the latest events and mainstream television news is limited to time-determined bulletins, websites can provide minute-by-minute coverage as the crisis unfolds.

The war on Iraq may prove to be the first major conflict where internet news delivery plays the most prominent role in providing people with up-to-date information.

Just minutes after the America's "decapitation strike", aimed at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, was launched, online services filed their reports.

At 3am the Daily Telegraph headlined with Saddam Targeted as War Breaks Out and its broadsheet rivals the Guardian and the Independent were also actively following events on their respective websites. Meanwhile the BBC Online has provided an hour-by-hour update service on the war.

Newspaper and broadcast websites around the world, relying on feeds from news agencies such as Reuters and Agence France-Presse, which still have reporters in Baghdad, were also swift to begin relating the conflict, regardless of local time.

But the rush to get up-to-the minute information is proving too much for many key websites, with response times falling as too many visitors try to access pages, according to figures from Keynote Systems. Monitoring the BBC News Online it found that during today lunchtime the download time slowed from 0.47 to 1.88 seconds.

BBC Online reports that traffic to the top sites has risen by up to 40 percent, according to Comshore Media Matrix. And while visitors' thirst for online news has been driven by the outbreak of war, military sites have seen a similar spike in interest according to BBC Online. The US Army site is so inundated it is taking over a minute to load, while the Foreign and Commonwealth website is taking a minute and a half to appear.

The situation is even worse with Arabic sites such as those run by Al Jazeera, which were only intermittently available. Although visitors might not stand to gain much by visiting some of the Iraqi news sites, which were in no rush to provide information on the war — neither the Iraq Daily nor the official Iraqi News Agency had updated their sites over 12 hours after the attack.