Things can get bloody in the battlefield, and unless you’re armed to the tooth, it can be deadly to face an opponent. Even the soldiers in the first World War could only get ready with strong arsenals to fight their enemies.
But there wasn’t quite a lot of breakthrough in military technology then, and nations relied on simple weapons to accomplish the mission. Success in the battle depended on how tactful an army was and not just the weapons they possessed.
If anything, most nations were using similar weapons, and only a few were lucky to bring a different set of arsenal to battle.
As each nation tried to gain an advantage over the other, innovations in the military landscape picked up. More advanced weapons were developed, including the introduction of aircraft into war. For the first time, attacks could be launched from above, rendering most soldiers and civilians helpless.
Significant innovations were also made in the medical landscape to reduce deaths caused by diseases. Nevertheless, deaths in battle were still higher, and on top of advancing weaponry and military technology, more civilians were recruited into the army.
The year 1918 marked the end of the war, with more than eight million soldiers dead. The Allies, mainly France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States, won against the Central Powers, mainly Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Turkey.
The First World War Infantry Weapons
The first World War is associated with several advancements in military and weaponry technology, as people explored new ways of killing opponents on the battlefield. Although most soldiers used simple weapons, the combats achieved remarkable milestones.
Here are some first world war weapons you should know about.
While flamethrower-like weapons, such as Greek fire, were popular in ancient China, it wasn’t until 1901 that the modern flamethrower came into the limelight. Richard Fiedler handed his “Flammenwerfer” design to the German army, who later deployed it during the World War I.
A typical flamethrower consisted of two tanks that were carried on the back. In one tank was a flammable liquid, while the other was filled with propellant gas. On squeezing the trigger, the flammable liquid gushed out of the muzzle, across an igniter, throwing a jet of flames that could go up to 18 meters.
The German army used the flamethrower for the first time in 1915 in the battle against the French soldiers. The weapon was mainly used to terrify soldiers and force them out of their hiding places into the open. The Germans used the weapon in more than 300 battles during the first world war.
Later, the French and British adopted the technology, developing several flame-throwing devices. However, due to its limitations (a short-range and limited mobility), they only used it for a short time.
The rifle was a very key weapon on the battlefield during the first World War. While there were several other shooting weapons, like the mortar and the pistol, during this time, most soldiers preferred the rifle due to its accuracy.
The fighting nations used different types of rifles, though the weaponry technology was more or less the same. The Lee-Enfield .303 (developed by the British) and the Lebel and Berthier 8mm (by the French) were popular rifles among the Allies. The Central Powers used the Mauser M98G 7.92mm (developed by Germany), Mauser M1877 7.65mm (Turkey), and Steyr–Mannlicher M95 (Austria-Hungary).
The performance of the weapon was greatly determined by the design. With some rifles, one could only afford a few rounds per minute, while others like the Lee-Enfield .303 could achieve more than 15 rounds per minute, which was way above the norm.
However, training also played a big role in rifle performance. For instance, out of practice and expertise, the riflemen of the British Expeditionary Force were able to set a record of 15 rounds per minute.
It’s worth noting that, owing to its design, the rifle could only fire a single shot with each trigger pull. It was only later, towards the end of the first World War, that automatic rifles came to being. With this new technology, one could fire more than one round per trigger.
The machine gun was an improvement of the rifle technology, and most people hoped it would replace the weapon completely. The weapon could fire 400 to 600 rounds per minute, which was way more than the possible 12 rounds per minute with a rifle.
Despite its unmatched capabilities, the weapon didn’t do quite well on the battlefield. Of course, it could bring down troops in a single shot, but it was way too difficult to manage and operate.
To begin with, it took the efforts of four to six to operate the machine, making it less effective during an emergency attack. Additionally, the firearms needed to be cooled after every shot, as they would rapidly overheat and become dormant. That means they couldn’t be fired in sustained bursts.
While several cooling mechanisms developed solved the issue of overheating, the machines frequently became inoperative in hot weather conditions. As such, it was left to the experts, and the rifle remained a widely used weapon on the battlefield.
Otherwise known as the heavy gun, the artillery could kill more people than most firing weapons. Some of the big guns in this category could fire projectiles farther and at a higher rate than usual. As such, the explosive shells could get to the trenches, killing troops and even destroying communication lines.
Over time, the defensive positions became stronger, so there was a need to develop new tactics of reaching the enemy trenches. This led to the use of artillery barrages to deviate the enemy’s attention from the area of attack.
It involved setting a constantly moving artillery fire before the attacking troop to distract the enemy. Also, the attacking soldiers fired the paths behind the enemy lines to bar them from reaching the front line.
The Germans were the first people to use this mode of attack in WWI, bringing the chemical-weapon technology into being. Later, other combats adopted the technology, bringing forth gases with more severe consequences.
Some of the battlefield gases used during this time included chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas. Chlorine gas was the first gas to be used in 1915 by the German troops. The gas, which smells of bleach, irritated the eyes, nose, lungs, nose, and throat, though it rarely killed.
The mustard gas had similar effects, only that the impact was more severe. Its effects weren’t felt immediately, but after long hours of exposure, the eyes became more painful, and one could even suffer temporary blindness. Worse of all, the gas caused blisters on the exposed skin. The blisters became infected once they popped up, leading to more serious health problems.
Phosgene was deadly, and the troops used it as a silent weapon. It was way more harmful than chlorine gas, having fatal effects. On inhaling phosgene, the lungs would get filled with fluid, causing suffocation to death.
The Germans were the first to use phosgene in the attacks, though it later became a popular chemical-weapon among the Allies. Most chemical-weapon deaths during the first World War were caused by phosgene.
The use of chemical weapons was banned by international law soon after the World War I.
Although tank technology is associated with the British, the basic principles behind it were in use many decades before the first World War. The British secretly developed the weapon, conducting most of the research in Great Britain and France.
In a bid to keep the development a secret, the British called the initial vehicle a “tank,” implying that they were making irrigation tanks for sale in Russia. Even after completing the project, the battlefield vehicles were still known by this name.
These armored vehicles were initially used to boost infantry attacks. However, the early developments were less efficient, as they would break down several times. While more advanced vehicles were later developed to better performance at the battlefield, break downs remained a major challenge.
Several other versions of the tank came to being, leading to the development of highly mobile battlefield vehicles like the Mark IV. Unlike the previous models, these tanks could maneuver obstacles easily and experienced fewer breakdowns.
A New Type of Warfare
The end of World War I marked the beginning of more advanced innovations in the military landscape. Most of the weapons we see today were developed during the war, but later on, they were improved to prepare for war in the future. The weaponry technology at that time was very simple, but the combats still made it through. Almost every weapon was in its initial stages of development, and that means only a few nations had an advantage over the others. While millions lost their lives during the war, we can count the invention of new weapons a success.