The Napoleonic Wars in the early-19th century, despite the dimensions of the conflict, had been fought with little advance in weaponry. The Industrial Revolution which began in most of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars ushered in enormous refinements in military technology during the second half of the century. The improvements in weaponry came together in the early-20th century to create a battlefield leathality of unprecedented proporions. And one that commanders had not yet adjusted tactics to accomodte. The result was battlefield losses of unprecedented proportions.
The machine gun mowed down whole columns of advancing inantry. Artillery became even mote murderous and proved to be the real killer of the War. Both rapid fire and heavy types appeared. And the air plane played an important role for the first time, at first in connection with recognissance and protecting balloonists attempting to locate enemy artillery. The Germans introduced gas warfare. One unexpected development was what was expected to be a war of movement bogged dowwn into trench warfare on the Western Front. Another major innovation was motorized vehicles--especially the truck. This was the principal American industrial contribution to the War. American trucks arrived in Europe nearly 3 years before American soldiers. General Pershing had learned an important lesson in Mexico--the needed for interchangeable parts. As a result, the AEF brought with it 100,000 trucks--mostly the standard type V Liberty truck. The AEF used a lot of Allied weaponry, especially French weapons, some of which were awful. Ironically, America had developed some excellent infantry weapons, especially the Browning Automatic rifle--the BAR. It was so could that it was used to great effect in World War II. While the Americans had not geared up their own weapons production, they did have trucks in large numbers. The trucks weren't practical in the mud at the front, but were widely used behind the front lines. The British introduced the tank. It strongest proponent was none other than Winston Churchill. Although there were problems at first, in the final year of the War, the improved tank along with the American infantry delivered a knock out blow the Germans. The Allies broke through the German Siegfried Line on the Western Front and forced the Germans to request an armistice. The German people were shocked, having won the war in the East.
The main weapon used by the World I soldier as all soldiers since the 17th century was the rifle. All of the World war I armies had bolt-action rifles. The various armies had iconic rifles. The standard German infantry rile was the Gewehr 98 Mauser (variously abbreviated as G98, Gew 98, and M98). It was introcuded in 1888. Its main features were rapidly adopted by other armies. The British had the Lee-Enfield rifle. It was a bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle adopted in 1895. Commonwealth forces also used the Lee Enfield. It held 15 rounds and could be fired in a minute. A competent soldier could kill an ememy 1,400 meters distant. It would also be used in World War II. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) used a lot of Allied weaponry, especially French weapons, some of which were awful. The AEF did use an American-built rile--the Springfield. The Springfield was the standard wartime rifle of the U.S. Army. It was reliable and produced in a short-barrelled version which was issued to the AEF. The performance of the U.S. rifle was comparable to the British Lee-Enfield, and was also produced in a Mk1 automatic version. The Springfield utilised a licensed Mauser action. There were, however, bot enough Springfields for the AEF. About half of the AEF was issued M1917 'American Enfield'. Ironically, America had developed some excellent infantry weapons, especially the Browning Automatic rifle--the BAR. It was so could that it was used to great effect in World War II. Unlike the other World wr I beligerants, the United sttes would have a brand new rifle for World war II, the best rifle of the war. The most innovative infantry weapon was the machine gun. Autimatic weapons had appeared as early as the American Civil Wr (1861-65). Wotld War I wasthe first time the machine gun ws used in a major way. By the time of the War, the amchine gun had been perfected. Inantry tactics, however had not adjusted. Machine guns prperly deployed with effectiuve lines of fire mowed down whole columns of advancing inantry. World War I machine guns needed 4-6 men to work them and had to be set up on a flat surface to work properly. They could generate the fire-power of 100 rifles. Other important infantry weapons included grenades and flame throiwers.
World War I armies had perfected artillery as murderous implements of war. Artillery sould prove to be the most leathal killer of the War. Armies deployed both rapid fire and heavy artillery. The effectiveness of World war I artillery was in large par new to a new eraon of war--the air plane. Thd principal role of the air plane was recognissance. They could detect ememy positionsand help direct artillery fire. As the war developed, other roles were found for the air plane, but even late in the war, the most effecyive role was recognissance and directing artillery fire. World War I artillery was large-calibre mounted firearms. Calibre meaning the diameter of its barrel bore. Classification developed in the 19th century. Guns were divided into light and heavy, based on the weight of solid shot fired. Light guns normally deployed at battalion level were 4-6 pounders. Heavy guns were 8-12 pounders. Until World War I, artillery ws deployed in the fiekd as used to attack enemy positions wuthin the line of sight. The leathality of waponry caused soldier to go underground and trenches soon appeared fom the English Channel to the Swiss border. At the same time, the airplane enabled commanders to lear about enemy positions behind the dront line.
The stalemate on the Western Front and the in depth trench systems caused commanders to demand long-range heavy field guns. Pilots cou;d not, however, act as Forward AirvObsservers (FACs) becaise they did not have radios. Commanders got hHeavy howitzers (200-400mm) which could fire devestating shells weighing over 900kg up to 18 kilometers. Larger guns could be guilt, but they were limited to rail lines. Field guns had to be light enough that horse could pulled them over muddy and shell-shattered ground. World war I artillery barrages and otgher detonations created unbelieveably loud noise. The loudest man-made noise occurred when the British blew up expolsives set under the German trenches on Messines Ridge at Ypres in Belgium (1917). It was heard in London 140 miles (220 km) away.
The largest gun of the war was the German Big Bertha, a 48-ton rail operated howitzer.
It was named after the wife of its designer Gustav Krupp. It could fire a one-ton (2,050-lb/930-kg) shell 9.3 miles (15 km). It sounds like aar winning weapon, but kin fact it hassecere limitations. It required a crew of 200 men six hours or more to assemble. Germany deployed 13 of these huge guns which they would call 'wonder weapons'. Germany would again in World war II ;place its fakith in wonder Weapons. Even late in World War II, the Germans from Führer Adolf Hitler down to basic privates were hpong that Windr Weapons woyld turn the course of the war.
Poison gas was first used in World War I. Poison gas was first been developed by a German Jewish scientist working for the Whermacht. Gas was widely used on the both the Western and Eastern Front during the War. Losses were especially severe on the Eastern Front where the Russians were not equipped to take the needed counter measures and were unable to reply with gas weapons of their own. The Germans first used poison gas at Ypres (April 1915) with devestating effect. The British and French followed suit. I don't think the Americans and Russians used it, but I think the Austrians did. Gas because of its stealth and horendous effects was perhaps, the most terror-inspiring of all the World War I weapons. Poison gas caused only a small fraction of total battlefield deaths, less than 0.1 million, but more than 1.3 million men received terrible wounds--many never fully recovered. Countermeasures were, however, rapidly developed which reduced gas to primarily a means of harassing the opposing forces. One estimate suggests that by the end of the War in 1918, about 25 percent of all artillery shells fired contained chemical weapons.
One unexpected development was what was expected to be a war of movement bogged dowwn into trench warfare on the Western Front. Even so, a major innovation in World War I was the introduction of motorized vehicles--including both wheeled and tracked vehicles. The most important wheeled vehicle was the truck. This was the principal American industrial contribution to the War. American trucks arrived in Europe nearly 3 years before American soldiers. General Pershing had learned an important lesson in Mexico--the needed for interchangeable parts. As a result, the AEF brought with it 100,000 trucks--mostly the standard type V Liberty truck. While the Americans had not geared up their own weapons production, they did have trucks in large numbers. The trucks weren't practical in the mud at the front, but were widely used behind the front lines. We also see armored cars. The British introduced the tank. It strongest proponent was none other than Winston Churchill. The Germans were not impressed ith the rank at first and did not have the industrial capcity to produce them. The British developed the tank. The French produced the largest number. The Americans did not produce any tanks, but used British and French tanks. Although there were problems at first, in the final year of the War, the improved tank along with the American infantry delivered a knock out blow the Germans. The Allies broke through the German Siegfried Line on the Western Front and forced the Germans to request an armistice. The German people were shocked, having won the war in the East. The Germany Army unimpressed with the tank at first, fully realized their mistke at the end of the War. As a result, Germn militafry thinking in the intet-War era focused on the tank. It becme a central component in Blitzkrieg. What the Germans did not fully apprecite was the importance of the truck and would launch the War without the capability of producung lkarge numbers of trucks.
Animals played an important role in World War I. The most important was the horse. World War I was the first important European War since ancient times in which the calvalry did not play an important role. All the major combatant countries began the War with important calvalry forces, but found that changes in weaponry and aerial reconisance had rendered horse calvalry obsolete. Even so, the horse was still important as a draft animal. By all accounts, the horse was the most important animalduring the War. All of the combatant forces used draft animals to transport supplies and equipment as well as to move artillery. A British reader tells us that there is a monument in London dedicated to the donkey in war. Gradually trucks were introduced. The American Expeditionary Force brought a huge number of trucks with it. And the War would prove to be a dividing line between horse-draw carts and waggons and trucks. After the War, improved trucks rapidly replaced horses in America. The process was slower in Europe. Trucks were particularly useful behind the lines, but often could not negotiate the muddy and torn up terraine at the front. Dogs were also important in the War. The French and German armies in particular used dogs, mostly as sentries, scouts, anunition and equipment carries as well as to send messages. They also proved useful in killing rats in the trenches. The French and Germans trained about 50,000 dogs. When the Americans arrived in France, they did not have trained dogs. The British and Belgians loaned trained dogs to the Americans. Carrier pigeons were also important in carrying messages.
Navigate the CIH World War I Section:
[Return to the Main World War I combat environment weaponry page]
[Return to the Main World War I weaponry page]
[Aftermath] [Alliances] [Animals] [Armistace] [Causes] [Campaigns] [Casualties] [Children] [Countries] [Declaration of war] [Deciding factors] -------[Diplomacy] [Economics] -------[Geo-political crisis] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Military forces] [Neutrality] [Pacifism] [People] [Peace treaties] [Propaganda] [POWs] [Russian Revolution] [Signals and intelligence] [Terrorism] [Trench warfare] ------[Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War I page]
[Return to Main war essay page]