World War I
World War I (1914–1918) reflected a trend toward
industrialism and the application of mass-production methods to
weapons and to the technology of warfare in general. This trend began
at least fifty years prior to
World War I
World War I during the American Civil
War of 1861–1865, and continued through many smaller conflicts in
which soldiers and strategists tested new weapons.
One could characterize the earlier years of the First World War as a
clash of 20th-century technology with 19th-century military science
creating ineffective battles with huge numbers of casualties on both
sides. On land, only in the final year of the war did the major armies
make effective steps in revolutionizing matters of command and control
and tactics to adapt to the modern battlefield and start to harness
the myriad new technologies to effective military purposes. Tactical
reorganizations (such as shifting the focus of command from the 100+
man company to the 10+ man squad) went hand-in-hand with armored cars,
the first submachine guns, and automatic rifles that a single
individual soldier could carry and use.
1 Trench warfare
3 Poison gas
4 Command and control
6 War of attrition
7 Air warfare
9 At sea
11 Small arms
12 Flame throwers
14 External links
Main article: Trench warfare
The new metallurgical and chemical industries had created new
firepower that briefly simplified defense before new approaches to
attack evolved. The application of infantry rifles, rifled artillery
and hydraulic recoil mechanisms, zigzag trenches and machine guns made
it difficult or nearly impossible to cross defended ground. The hand
grenade, long used in crude form, developed rapidly as an aid in
attacking trenches. Probably the most important was the introduction
of high explosive shells, which dramatically increased the lethality
of artillery over the 19th-century equivalents.
Trench warfare led to the development of the concrete pill box, a
hardened blockhouse that could be used to deliver machine gun fire.
They could be placed across a battlefield with interlocking fields of
Because attacking an entrenched enemy was so difficult, tunnel warfare
became a major effort during the war. Once enemy positions were
undermined, huge amounts of explosives would be planted and detonated
as part preparation for an overland charge. Sensitive listening
devices that could detect the sounds of digging were a crucial method
of defense against these underground incursions. The British proved
especially adept at these tactics, thanks to the skill of their
tunnel-digging "sappers" and the sophistication of their listening
7.7 cm FK 16
7.7 cm FK 16 developed and used by
Germany in WWI
At the beginning of the war, artillery was often sited in the front
line to fire over open sights at enemy infantry. During the war, the
following improvements were made:
The first "box barrage" in history was fired at Neuve Chapelle in
1915; this was the use of a three- or four-sided curtain of shell-fire
to prevent the movement of enemy infantry
No. 106 fuze
No. 106 fuze was developed, specifically designed to
explode on contact with barbed wire, or the ground before the shell
buried itself in mud, and equally effective as an anti-personnel
The first anti-aircraft guns were devised out of necessity
Indirect counter-battery fire was developed for the first time
Artillery sound ranging and flash spotting, for the location and
eventual destruction of enemy batteries
The creeping barrage was perfected
Factors such as weather, air temperature, and barrel wear could for
the first time be accurately measured and taken into account when
Forward observers were used to direct artillery positioned out of
direct line of sight from the targets, and sophisticated
communications and fire plans were developed
The majority of casualties inflicted during the war were the result of
Artillery of World War I
Main article: Poison gas in World War I
Australian infantry with gas masks, Ypres, 1917.
At the beginning of the war,
Germany had the most advanced chemical
industry in the world, accounting for more than 80% of the world's dye
and chemical production. Although the use of poison gas had been
banned by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907,
Germany turned to
this industry for what it hoped would be a decisive weapon to break
the deadlock of trench warfare.
Chlorine gas was first used on the
battlefield in April 1915 at the Second Battle of
Ypres in Belgium.
The unknown gas appeared to be a simple smoke screen, used to hide
attacking soldiers, and Allied troops were ordered to the front
trenches to repel the expected attack. The gas had a devastating
effect, killing many defenders or when the wind direction changed and
blew the gas back, many attackers. Because the gas killed the
attackers, depending on the wind, a more reliable way had to be made
to transmit the gas. It began being delivered in artillery shells. 
Later, mustard gas, phosgene and other gases were used. Britain and
France soon followed suit with their own gas weapons. The first
defenses against gas were makeshift, mainly rags soaked in water or
urine. Later, relatively effective gas masks were developed, and these
greatly reduced the effectiveness of gas as a weapon. Although it
sometimes resulted in brief tactical advantages and probably caused
over 1,000,000 casualties, gas seemed to have had no significant
effect on the course of the war.
Command and control
Main article: Command and control
In the early days of the war, generals tried to direct tactics from
headquarters many miles from the front, with messages being carried
back and forth by couriers on motorcycles. It was soon realized that
more immediate methods of communication were needed.
Radio sets of the period were too heavy to carry into battle, and
phone lines laid were quickly broken. Runners, flashing lights, and
mirrors were often used instead; dogs were also used, though they were
only used occasionally as troops tended to adopt them as pets and men
would volunteer to go as runners in the dog's place. There were also
aircraft (called "contact patrols") that could carry messages between
headquarters and forward positions, sometimes dropping their messages
The new long-range artillery developed just before the war now had to
fire at positions it could not see. Typical tactics were to pound the
enemy front lines and then stop to let infantry move forward, hoping
that the enemy line was broken, though it rarely was. The lifting and
then the creeping barrage were developed to keep artillery fire
landing directly in front of the infantry "as it advanced".
Communications being impossible, the danger was that the barrage would
move too fast — losing the protection — or too slowly — holding
up the advance.
There were also countermeasures to these artillery tactics: by aiming
a counter barrage directly behind an enemy's creeping barrage, one
could target the infantry that was following the creeping barrage.
Microphones (Sound ranging) were used to triangulate the position of
enemy guns and engage in counter-battery fire. Muzzle flashes of guns
could also be spotted and used to target enemy artillery.
German ammunition train wrecked by shell fire, c. 1918.
Railways dominated in this war as in no other. Men and material could
get to the front at an unprecedented rate by rail, but trains were
vulnerable at the front itself. Thus, armies could only advance at the
pace that they could build or rebuild a railway, e.g. the British
advance across Sinai. Motorized transport was only extensively used in
the last two years of World War I. After the rail head, troops moved
the last mile on foot, and guns and supplies were drawn by horses and
trench railways. The German strategy was known beforehand by the
Allies simply because of the vast marshaling yards on the Belgian
border that had no other purpose than to deliver the mobilized German
army to its start point. The German mobilization plan was little more
than a vast detailed railway timetable. Railways lacked the
flexibility of motor transport and this lack of flexibility percolated
through into the conduct of the war.
War of attrition
All countries involved in the war applied the full force of industrial
mass-production to the manufacture of weapons and ammunition,
especially artillery shells. Women on the home-front played a crucial
role in this by working in munitions factories. This complete
mobilization of a nation's resources, or "total war" meant that not
only the armies, but also the economies of the warring nations were in
For a time, in 1914–1915, some hoped that the war could be won
through an attrition of materiel—that the enemy's supply of
artillery shells could be exhausted in futile exchanges. But
production was ramped up on both sides and hopes proved futile. In
Shell Crisis of 1915
Shell Crisis of 1915 brought down the British government,
and led to the building of HM Factory, Gretna, a huge munitions
factory on the English-Scottish border.
The war of attrition then focused on another resource: human lives. In
Battle of Verdun
Battle of Verdun in particular, German Chief of Staff Erich Von
Falkenhayn hoped to "bleed France white" through repeated attacks on
this French city.
In the end, the war ended through a combination of attrition (of men
and material), advances on the battlefield, arrival of American troops
in large numbers, and a breakdown of morale and productivity on the
German home-front due to an effective naval blockade of her seaports.
Main article: Aviation in World War I
The Fokker triplane belonging to
Manfred von Richthofen
Manfred von Richthofen (the "Red
As with most technologies, aircraft and their use underwent many
improvements during World War I. As the initial war of movement on the
Western Front settled into trench warfare, aerial reconnaissance over
the front added to the difficulty of mounting surprise attacks against
entrenched and concealed defenders.
Manned observation balloons floating high above the trenches were used
as stationary observation posts, reporting enemy troop positions and
directing artillery fire. Balloons commonly had a crew of two, each
equipped with parachutes: upon an enemy air attack on the flammable
balloon, the crew would jump to safety. At the time, parachutes were
too heavy to be used by pilots in aircraft, and smaller versions would
not be developed until the end of the war. (In the British case, there
arose concerns that they might undermine morale, effectively
encouraging cowardice.) Recognized for their value as observer
platforms, observation balloons were important targets of enemy
aircraft. To defend against air attack, they were heavily protected by
large concentrations of antiaircraft guns and patrolled by friendly
While early air spotters were unarmed, they soon began firing at each
other with handheld weapons. An arms race commenced, quickly leading
to increasingly agile planes equipped with machine guns. A key
innovation was the interrupter gear, a Dutch invention that allowed
a machine gun to be mounted behind the propeller so the pilot could
fire directly ahead, along the plane's flight path.
As the stalemate developed on the ground, with both sides unable to
advance even a few miles without a major battle and thousands of
casualties, planes became greatly valued for their role gathering
intelligence on enemy positions. They also bombed enemy supplies
behind the trench lines, in the manner of later attack aircraft. Large
planes with a pilot and an observer were used to reconnoiter enemy
positions and bomb their supply bases. These large and slow planes
made easy targets for enemy fighter planes, who in turn were met by
fighter escorts and spectacular aerial dogfights.
Germany led the world in the design of Zeppelins, and used these
airships to make occasional bombing raids on military targets, London
and other British cities, without any great effect. Later in the war,
Germany introduced long range strategic bombers. Germany's strategic
bombing of England had limited tactical value, but it was demoralizing
and forced the British air forces to maintain squadrons of fighters in
England to defend against air attack, depriving the British
Expeditionary Force of planes, equipment, and personnel badly needed
on the Western front.
Main article: Tanks in World War I
Although the concept of the tank had been suggested as early as the
1890s, few authorities showed interest in them until the trench
World War I
World War I caused serious contemplation of unending war
and ever escalating casualties. In Britain, a landships committee was
formed, and teamed with the inventions committee, set out to develop a
Based on the caterpillar track (first invented in 1770 and perfected
in the early 1900s) and the four-stroke gasoline powered internal
combustion engine (refined in the 1870s), early World War One tanks
were fitted with Maxim type guns or Lewis guns, armor plating, and
caterpillar tracks configured to allow crossing of an 8-foot-wide
(2.4 m) trench.
Early tanks were unreliable, breaking down often. Though at first they
terrified the Germans, their use in the engagements of 1917 provided
more opportunities for development than actual battle successes. It
was also realized that new tactics had to be developed to best make
use of this weapon. In particular, planners learned that tanks needed
infantry support and massed formations to be effective. Once tanks
could be fielded in the hundreds, such as at the Battle of Cambrai in
November 1917, they began to show their potential. Still, reliability
was the primary weakness of tanks throughout the remainder of the war.
In the Battle of Amiens, a major Entente counteroffensive near the end
of the war, British forces went to field with 534 tanks. After several
days, only a few were still in commission, with those that suffered
mechanical difficulties outnumbering those disabled by enemy fire.
Regardless of their effects on World War I, tank technology and
mechanized warfare had been launched and grew increasingly
sophisticated in the years following the war. By World War II, the
tank had evolved into a fearsome weapon and restored mobility.
Main article: Naval warfare of World War I
The years leading up to the war saw the use of improved metallurgical
and mechanical techniques to produce larger ships with larger guns
and, in reaction, more armor. The launching of HMS Dreadnought (1906)
revolutionized battleship construction, leaving many ships obsolete
before they were completed. German ambitions brought an Anglo-German
naval arms race in which the
Imperial German Navy
Imperial German Navy was built up from a
small force to the world's most modern and second most powerful.
However, even this high-technology navy entered the war with a mix of
newer ships and obsolete older ones.
The advantage was in long-range gunnery, and naval battles took place
at far greater distances than before. The 1916 Battle of Jutland
demonstrated the excellence of German ships and crews, but also showed
High Seas Fleet
High Seas Fleet was not big enough to challenge openly the
British blockade of Germany. It was the only full-scale battle between
fleets in the war.
Having the largest surface fleet, the United Kingdom sought to press
its advantage. British ships blockaded German ports, hunted down
German and Austro-Hungarian ships wherever they might be on the high
seas, and supported actions against German colonies. The German
surface fleet was largely kept in the North Sea. This situation pushed
Germany, in particular, to direct its resources to a new form of naval
Naval mines were deployed in hundreds of thousands, or far greater
numbers than in previous wars. Submarines proved surprisingly
effective for this purpose. Influence mines were a new development but
moored contact mines were the most numerous. They resembled those of
the late 19th century, improved so they less often exploded while
being laid. The Allies produced enough mines to build the North Sea
Mine Barrage to help bottle the Germans into the North Sea, but it was
too late to make much difference.
World War I
World War I was the first conflict in which submarines were a serious
weapon of war. In the years shortly before the war, the relatively
sophisticated propulsion system of diesel power while surfaced and
battery power while submerged was introduced. Their armament had
similarly improved, but few were in service.
Germany had already
increased production, and quickly built up its
U-boat fleet, both for
action against British warships and for a counterblockade of the
British Isles. 360 were eventually built. The resulting U-boat
Campaign (World War I) destroyed more enemy warships than the High
Seas Fleet had, and hampered British war supplies as the more
expensive surface fleet had not.
The United Kingdom relied heavily on imports to feed its population
and supply its war industry, and the German Navy hoped to blockade and
starve Britain using
U-boats to attack merchant ships. Lieutenant Otto
Weddigen remarked of the second submarine attack of the Great War:
How much they feared our submarines and how wide was the agitation
caused by good little U-9 is shown by the English reports that a whole
flotilla of German submarines had attacked the cruisers and that this
flotilla had approached under cover of the flag of Holland. These
reports were absolutely untrue. U-9 was the only submarine on deck,
and she flew the flag she still flies – the German naval ensign.
Submarines soon came under persecution by submarine chasers and other
small warships using hastily devised anti-submarine weapons. They
could not impose an effective blockade while acting under the
restrictions of the prize rules and international law of the sea. They
resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare, which cost
sympathy in neutral countries and was a factor contributing to the
American entry into World War I.
This struggle between German submarines and British counter measures
became known as the "First Battle of the Atlantic". As German
submarines became more numerous and effective, the British sought ways
to protect their merchant ships. "Q-ships", attack vessels disguised
as civilian ships, were one early strategy.
Consolidating merchant ships into convoys protected by one or more
armed navy vessels was adopted later in the war. There was initially a
great deal of debate about this approach, out of fear that it would
U-boats with a wealth of convenient targets. Thanks to
the development of active and passive sonar devices, coupled with
increasingly deadly anti-submarine weapons, the convoy system reduced
British losses to
U-boats to a small fraction of their former level.
Between late 1914 and early 1918, the Western Front hardly moved. The
beginning of the end for
Germany was a huge German advance. In 1917,
Russia surrendered after the October Revolution,
Germany was able
to move many troops to the Western Front. Using new stormtrooper
tactics developed by Oskar von Hutier, the Germans pushed forward some
tens of kilometers from March to July 1918. These offensives showed
that machine guns, barbed wire and trenches were not the only
obstacles to mobile warfare.
In the Battle of Amiens of August 1918, the
Triple Entente forces
began a counterattack that would be called the "Hundred Days
Offensive". The Australian and Canadian divisions that spearheaded the
attack managed to advance 13 kilometers on the first day alone. These
battles marked the end of trench warfare on the Western Front and a
return to mobile warfare. The sort of unit that now began to emerge
combined cyclist infantry and machine guns mounted on motor cycle
sidecars. These motor machine gun units had originated in 1915 .
Hindenburg Line fell to the Allies and the Canal du Nord was
crossed. In Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm was told
Germany had lost, and must
now surrender. Advances continued but political developments inside
Germany to sign an armistice on November 11, 1918.
The war was over, but a new mobility-driven form of warfare was
beginning to emerge; one that would be mastered by the defeated
Germans and deployed in 1939 as their blitzkrieg, or "lightning
warfare", embodying all they had learned in 1918.
In 1903, French military theorists noticed that the machine guns of
the day, heavy and relatively immobile, were of little use in infantry
assaults. They determined that "the machine gun must learn to
walk". They researched the possibility of a light machine gun which
could be carried by troops. A marching fire tactic was theorised,
using incidental suppressive fire, with the advancing troops
considered a deadlier threat than the un-aimed bullets, causing the
enemy to fall back. The prototype guns were not approved for
production, and none were in service when the war began. At the
start of hostilities, France quickly turned an existing prototype (the
Chauchat and Sutter) into the lightweight
automatic rifle with a high rate of fire. The
French Army was equipped
with it, and the first American units to arrive in France used it in
1917 and 1918. Hastily mass-manufactured under desperate wartime
pressures, the weapon was prone to jamming and overheating. Seeing
the potential of such a gun, the British Army settled upon the
Lewis gun fitted for a .303-inch (7.7 mm)
round; infantry platoons provided with the guns were instructed in
fire and movement tactics. The
Lewis gun was the first true light
machine gun that could in theory be operated by one man, though in
practice the bulky ammo pans required an entire section of men to keep
the gun operating. Soon, the
Lewis gun was seen to be useful in
marching fire assaults, notably by the
Australian Corps in the July
1918 Battle of Hamel. To serve the same purpose, the German
Army adopted the MG08/15 which was impractically heavy at 48.5 pounds
(22 kg) counting the water for cooling and one magazine holding
In 1918 the M1918 Browning Automatic
Rifle (BAR) was introduced in the
US Army, and with the 15.5-pound (7 kg) weapon came new field
tactics. For marching fire assaults, the BAR's shoulder sling was to
be adjusted in length to allow the butt of the weapon to be held
firmly at the side of the torso just above the hips, with one hand at
the trigger and the other hand aiming. A recommended rate of fire was
one round per footstep, with eyes kept on the target and the weapon
aimed low at first. The tactic was to be employed under conditions
of limited field of fire and poor visibility such as advancing through
The light machine gun directly affected the organization of the
infantry, and, by the middle of 1917, put an end to the tactic of
company-sized waves. Platoons and squads became important.
The Imperial German Army deployed flame throwers (Flammenwerfer) on
the Western Front attempting to flush out French or British soldiers
from their trenches. Introduced in 1915, it was used with greatest
effect during the Hooge battle of the Western Front on 30 July 1915.
The German Army had two main types of flame throwers during the Great
War: a small single person version called the
Kleinflammenwerfer and a
larger crew served configuration called the Grossflammenwerfer. In the
latter, one soldier carried the fuel tank while another aimed the
nozzle. Both the large and smaller versions of the flame-thrower were
of limited use because their short range left the operator(s) exposed
to small arms fire.
^ Compare: Boot, Max (2006). "The Consequences of the Industrial
Revolution". War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the
Modern World (reprint ed.). New York: Penguin Publishing Group.
ISBN 9781101216835. Retrieved 2017-01-24. The First Industrial
Revolution transformed warfare between the end of the Crimean War
(1856) and the start of
World War I
World War I (1914)
^ March, F. A.; Beamish, R. J. (1919), History of the World War: An
Authentic Narrative of the World's Greatest War, Leslie-Judge
^ Raudzens 1990, pp. 421–426
^ Hartcup 1988, pp. 129, 130, 140
^ a b "Fusil mitrailleur Chauchat. FM modèle 1915 C.S.R.G." Les
mitrailleuses du premier conflit mondial (in French). mitrailleuse.fr.
2003. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
^ a b Bull, Stephen; Hook, Adam (2002).
World War I
World War I Trench Warfare
(1916–1918). Elite. 84 (3 ed.). Osprey. pp. 31–32.
^ P. Griffiths 1994 Battle Tactics of the Western Front p130
^ a b Sheffield, G.D. (2007). War on the Western Front. Osprey.
p. 250. ISBN 1-84603-210-5.
^ Persons, William Ernest (1920).
Military science and tactics. 2.
^ Blain, W.A. (November–December 1921). "Does the Present Automatic
Rifle Meet the Needs of the Rifleman?". The Military Engineer. Society
of American Military Engineers. 12–13: 534–535.
^ Landing-Force Manual: United States Navy. U.S. Government Printing
Office. 1921. p. 447.
Johnson, Jeffrey: Science and
Technology , in: 1914-1918-online.
International Encyclopedia of the First World War.
Historical film documents on technology during
World War I
World War I at
Zabecki, David T.: Military Developments of
World War I
World War I , in:
1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the Firs