War and Social Upheaval: World War I -- Weapons Systems Combat Environments


Figure 1.--Artillery proved to be the major killer of World war O/ Here British artillery is moving field pieces through Compiegne on the way to he front. Artillery was deployed by draft amimals during the War. The Germans occupied Compiegne early in the War. Eventually the Germans would sign an armistice in Marshall Foch's railway car in the Compiegne Forest.

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 adjucted 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 weaponty, especially French weapons, but their trucks were American. The trucks weren't practical in the mud at the front, but were widely used behind the front lines. The British in the last year of the War introduced the tank in force which was a factor along with the American infantry in breaking through the German Siegfried Line on the Western Front. At sea, the submarine, especially the German U-boat, unexpectedly became a major new vessel type.

Land Warfare

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 adjucted 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 weaponty, especially French weapons, some of which were awful. Ironically, America had developed some excellent infantry weapons, epecially the Broewning Automatic rile--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 propent 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.

Air Warfare

Aircraft were used for the first time in a significant way during World War I. The first ircraft were lighter than air contraptions. Tethered observation balloons were used in 19th century wars, primarily for artillery spotting. Germany expanded on this concept with its new Zeppelins, first for reconnaissance over the North Sea and Baltic and then for strategic bombing raids over England and the Eastern Front. Military commanders were not sure how to use the new fixed-wing aircraft which were still in an early stage of development. The War began only a decaded after the Wright Brithers flight at Kitty Hawk (1903). The first planes available when the War broke out were fragile flying machines at a very early stage of development. The primary use of the airplane at first and through much of the War was aerial reconisance. The first planes were not even armed. Pilots had to take pistols and shotguns up ith them. Pilots and engineers rapidly learned from early experiences, leading to the major advances. As the war progressed more robust planes were developed with more powerful engines. And aircraft designers began to developed specialized plane types. Fighters, ground attack, and bombers were developed for tactical and strategic purposes. Fighters began to be used both to protect reconisance plnes for ground support, although with out radios this was not as effective as in World War II. Large scale dog-fights swirled above the trenches over northern France. Fighter aces who racked up kills became know as aces. The press portrayed as modern knights, and many became popular heroes. Bombers began bombing, but it soon proved apparent that that they did not have the pability to hit specific trgets. The Germans who began bombing with both Zephlins and bombers soon found the best they could do was to drop bombs on cities. The Allies were preparing to retaliate with the massive bombing of Germany, but the Germans asked fo an armidtice before this ws laubched. Advances by one side or the other with new plane types and armaments caused the air balance to swing back and fourth during the War. As crashed planes were availble to both sides, advancs by obe side were quickly availble to the other side. The major factor became the greater industrial power of Britain and France and their ability to out produce the Germans.

Naval Warfare

At the time of World War I, the prinipal ship type that was seen as the implemnt of naval power was the battleship, often called drednoughts. It was the naval capital ship. This was because HMS Dreadnought (1906) revolutionized naval warfare. Until Dreadnought, battleships had a widerange of weaponry of different calibre. It was finally realizedthat the guns of real impotance was the big guns. Dreadnought was the first embodiment of this principle, making all other existing battleships obsolete. This actully was a major advantage to the Germans. They did not have a large fleet of non-drednoughts like the Royal Navy. There was a related ship type, the battle cruiser with the same big guns as a battlehip, but without the same armour, especually the heavy deck plating. The naval War had a huge inmpact on the War. The Allied naval blockade severly impaired German insustrial production by cuting off raw materials. It also prevented needed food imports. The resulting food shortags adversely affected civilain morale. And the only way Germany had of breaking the blockade was touse its battleships to destoy the battleships of the British Home Fleet. The war at sea did not make the headlines of the great land battles. There was only one major fleet engagement--Jutland (1916). The massive Dreadnoughts of World War I navies were the first battleships. They were the superweapons of the day and enormously expensive. Even so, two small vessel types had an enomous impact on the War and both were capable of sinking the heavily armored and gunned dreadnoughts. The destroyer made its debute in naval warfare.At sea, the submarine, especially the German U-boat, unexpectedly became a major new vessel type. The German U-boat would prove to be decisive, but not in a way that the Germans anticipated. It failed to cut off Britain'vital sea lanes, but to Germany's great detriment, suceeded in bringing America into the War. Besides guns, mines, and torpedoes, tere was a major shift in naval warfare. Until World War I, naval ships had been fueled by coal. But coal had many disadvantaes. It require a huge are to store and een with large coaltores limited the range of the ship. Thus major navies needed coaling sations to supply operations beyond home waters. Col-fired ngines also left a dangerous mol=ke trail. The British began transitioning to oil before the War. The Germasns without souces of oil werr reluctant to follow suit.





CIH -- WW I








Navigate the CIH World War I Pages:
[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]




Created: 12:33 AM 2/6/2013
Last updated: 3:56 PM 12/31/2017