World War 1, Weapons And Strat Essay, Research Paper
Important Weapons and Stratagies of World War 1
World war was was indeed unlike any other war. Unique stratagies and new
technology made this war what it was, a slow moving advancement and retreat for a
period of 4 years. Important tactics and sweeps such as the Schliefen Plan, Plan 17 and
use of gases played the most important role in shaping the outcome, advancment and use
of weapons in the war. One of the biggest weapon advancements which differentiated the
war from past wars was the machine-gun.
In 1884 Hiram Maxim developed the worlds first automatic, light, portable
machine-gun. Maxim designed the gun as to use the recoil energy given off by each bullet
to advance the next cartrage out and load the next bullet into the chamber. This ment that
a person no longer had to reload a gun or waste time re-aiming the gun. Each
machine-gun had the fire power of 100 rifles, and were maned by a team of 3 to 6 men,
making it more labor efficient than a rifle also. With this effeciency the machine-gun was
able to fire an unprecidented 400-600 rounds of ammunition per minute. The machine-gun
would therefore fire until the entire belt of bullets was used up. In World War 1
machine-guns were set up all along the France/Germany border, known as the Western
Front. Germany decided to protect its much needed machine-gunners in concrete
blockhouses. Machine-guns were so deadly and efficient that they soon appeared on just
about every vehicle.
In order to protect and support the machine-gunners and infintry, artillery was
placed behind to give support and long-range firepower. Famous artillery such as the
howitzers were the most common on the battle field. The main artillery for the British
Army was this long-barrled field gun. However, it soon became clear there was a great
demand for howitzers to be used under cover or against hidden targets. These fired heavy
shells on a high trajectory through a short barrel and were the best type of artillery gun to
employ against fortifications. by the end of the war they could fire shells weighing 900kg
Some of the famous howitzers that were used on the Western Front include the
German Big Bertha and the Austrian Skoda 30.5. In 1900 Alfred Krupp’s factory in Essen,
Germany, started to preduce a 350-mm howitzer that could fire an 800 lb shell over
10,000 yards. In 1908 Krupp improved his version of this gun with the capability of
destroying even the heaviest of fortifications. By 1912 Krupp had produced a 420mm
howitzer that fired a 2,100 lb shell over 16,000 yards. Weighing 175 tons, it was designed
to be loaded and sent in five sections by rail and assembled at the firing site or battle
grounds. This concerned the German Army and they asked for it to be adapted to be
moved by road. By 1914 company had produced a mobile howitzer called Big Bertha
(named after Gustav Krupp’s wife). This 43 ton howitzer could fire a 2,200 lb shell over 9
miles. Transported by Daimler-Benz tractors, it took its 200-man crew, over six hours to
re-assemble it on the site.
On the outbreak of the war, two Big Berthas and several Skoda 30.5 howitzers
were erected outside the fortress of Liege in Belgum. The first shells were fired on 12th
August at the ring of 12 forts around the city. By the 15th August all the forts had either
been destroyed or had surrendered. News of the success of this new weapon at Liege
encouraged other countries involved in the conflict to produce large mobile guns.
Another new development that soon swept the war was the improvment of the
gernade. Grenades first began being used in the 16th century. Originally they were hollow
iron balls filled with gunpowder and ignited by a slow burning match. To be effective,
soldiers had to be able to throw them over 100 feet and the tall, strong soldiers selected
for this task became known as grenadiers.
In the opening months of World War 1 the British Army used Gernade number
1. This was a cast-iron canister on an 18 inch stick. Soldiers soon discovered that they
were dangerous to use when in a front-line trench. There were several cases of soldiers
being killed when the grenade hit the front of the trench.
The German stick grenade had a wooden handle about ten inches long that carried a metal
canister at his head. The head unscrewed to allow the detonator to be inserted. The screw
cap at the end covered a string which was pulled to ignite the fuse inside the head.
Several people became involved in producing a grenade that was safe to use but
created the maximum damage to the enemy. By 1915 the Mills Bomb was the most
popular grenade used by British troops. The bomb had a central spring-loaded firing-pin
and and spring-loaded lever locked by a pin. Once the grenade was in the air, the lever
flew up and released the striker, which ignited a four-second time fuse, allowing the
thrower to take cover before it exploded. When the grenade went off the cast-iron casing
shattered producing a shower of metal fragments.
During the next three years more than 33 million Mills Bombs were issued to
soldiers in the British Army. It was also modified so that it could be fired by a rifle.
Martin Hale, an English engineer, developed a cylindrical iron grenade mounted upon a
thin steel rod and fitted with a simple impact fuse. The rifle was loaded with a blank
cartridge and the grenade rod inserted into the barrel. On firing, the gas released from the
cartridge, could send the grenade over 600 feet.
Another innovation, the tank, was the first of its kind to ever be seen on the battle
field. Speculation of its usefulness caused its use to be ovelooked. The first Mark VIII
was ready in the summer of 1918. One new innovation was the separation of the engine
from the crew compartment. This reduced the fire risk and helped stop fumes and heat
from the engine entering the area where the crew worked. The armour protection was
improved and the length increased to combat Germany’s decision to construct wider
trenches on the Western Front. Weighing 37 tons, the 34 ft. Mark VIII tank could cross
a gap of 15 ft. The seven built in (the rest were made inFrance and the United States)
were fitted with Rolls-Royce aero engines.
After British tanks went into action on 15th September, 1916, the German Army
immediately demanded their own landships. The German High Command appointed a
committee composed of experts from leading engineering companies. Josef Vollmer was
eventually chosen to design the German tank that became known as the Schwerer
Powered by two engines, the tank was first demonstrated in the of 1917. In
addition to six water-cooled machine-guns, it had a 5.7-cm Sokol gun at the front of the
vehicle. A hundred of these tanks were ordered and the first of these were ready in
The Schwerer Kampfwagen A7V was first used at St Quentin on 21st March
1918. Although some of its features, such as the sprung tracks and the thicker armour,
made it better than at that time, the A7V was less successful as a battle vehicle. The main
problems concerned its mechanical reliability and the difficulty it encountered crossing
One new terror that took everyone by suprise was the use of chemicals in warfare.
Dangerous posions such as Chlorine kills thousands and injured more. William L. Langer
had this to say. Our Stokeses had fired only 41 gas and 24 thermite bombs when the
hostile machine guns, which had located our emplacements, covered the entire position
with such an intense fire that further operation of the guns was not to be thought of. The
shells literally rained about, high explosives varying with gas and occasionally shrapnel.
How shall I adequately describe our experiences during those five horrible hours, as we
lay in shell holes or on the road those dreadful, endless hours of paralyzing uncertainty and
suspense, during which machine guns united with shellfire and gas to make death seem
ever so much closer than life?
The Germans first used chlorine gas cylinders in April 1915 against the French at
Ypres. French soldiers reported seeing yellow-green clouds drifting slowly towards the
Allied trenches. They also noticed its distinctive smell which was like a mixture of
pineapple and pepper. At first the French officers assumed that the German infantry were
advancing behind a smoke screen and orders were given to prepare for an armed attack.
When the gas arrived at the Allied front-trench soldiers began to complain about pains in
the chests and a burning sensation in their throats.
Most soldiers now realised they were being gassed and many ran as fast as they
could away from the scene. An hour after they attack had started there was a four-mile
gap in the Allied line. As the German soldiers were concerned about what the chlorine gas
would do to them, they hesitated about moving forward in large numbers. This delayed
attack enabled Canadian and British troops to retake the position before the Germans
burst through the gap that the chlorine gas had created.
Chlorine gas destroyed the respiratory organs of its victims and this led to a slow
death by asphyxiation. One nurse described the death of one soldier who had been in the
trenches during a chlorine gas attack. He was sitting on the bed, fighting for breath, his
lips plum coloured. He was a magnificent young Canadian past all hope in the asphyxia of
chlorine. I shall never forget the look in his eyes as he turned to me and gasped: I can t
die! Is it possible that nothing can be done for me? It was a horrible death, but as hard as
they tried, doctors were unable to find a way of successfully treating chlorine gas
It was important to have the right weather conditions before a gas attack could be
made. When the British Army launched a gas attack on 25th September in 1915, the wind
blew it back into the faces of the advancing troops. This problem was solved in 1916 when
gas shells were produced for use with heavy artillery. This increased the army’s range of
attack and helped to protect their own troops when weather conditions were not
After the first German chlorine gas attacks, Allied troops were supplied with
masks of cotton pads that had been soaked in urine. It was found that the ammonia in the
pad neutralized the chlorine. These pads were held over the face until the soldiers could
escape from the poisonous fumes. Other soldiers preferred to use handkerchiefs, a sock, a
flannel body-belt, dampened with a solution of bicarbonate of soda, and tied across the
mouth and nose until the gas passed over. Soldiers found it difficult to fight like this and
attempts were made to develop a better means of protecting men against gas attacks. By
July 1915 soldiers were given efficient gas masks and anti-asphyxiation respirators.
One disadvantage for the side that launched chlorine gas attacks was that it made
the victim cough and therefore limited his intake of the poison. Both sides found that
phosgene was more effective than chlorine. Only a small amount was needed to make it
impossible for the soldier to keep fighting. It also killed its victim within 48 hours of the
attack. Advancing armies also used a mixture of chlorine and phosgene called ‘white star’.
Trench warefare may well be the main reason World War 1 took over 4 years to
fight. There is an important thing to understand about trench warfare and what it was like
to be in the trenches. It was not the same people in the same trench all through the war. A
soldier would usually occupy a front line trench for only a week at a time. The army
realized that even in quiet periods, being in the front line was a terribly wearing
experience. At any moment, if you put your head above the parapet, a sniper might get
you; at any moment, a trench mortar or shell might land among you, killing and maiming.
Consequently, people there are living in a state of great anxiety, which if continued for
long, would wear them down; and they would wear down pretty rapidly to the point
where they can’t be used again. To avoid this, the army was constantly recycling people,
having them in the front line a week at a time, then moving them to reserve trenches, then
moving them out of the lines altogether (giving them time to recuperate), and then
bringing them back again.
The German Army first began experimenting with flame-throwers in 1900 and
were issued to special battalions eleven years later. The flame-thrower used pressurized
air, carbon dioxide or nitrogen to force oil through a nozzle. Ignited by a small charge, the
oil became a jet of flame.
Flame-throwers were first used at the Western Front in October 1914. Operated by two
men, they were mainly used to clear enemy soldiers from front-line trenches. At first they
had a range of 25 metres but later this was increased to 40 metres. This meant they were
only effective over narrow areas of no mans land. Another problem was that the
flame-thrower was difficult to move around and only contained enough oil to burn 40
seconds at the time. Soldiers who operated flame-throwers had a short-life span because
as soon as they used them they were the target of rifle and machine-gun fire.
Soldiers in front-line trenches suffered from enemy snipers. These men were
usually specially trained marksmen that had rifles with telescopic sights. German snipers
did not normally work from their own trenches. The main strategy was to creep out at
dawn into No Man s Land and remain there all day. Wearing camouflaged clothing and
using the cover of a fake tree, they waited for a British soldier to pop his head above the
parapet. A common trick was to send up a kite with English writing on it. Anyone who
raised his head to read it was shot.
A barrage is a term used to describe extensive artillery fire enemy positions.
Barrages were classified as light, moderate or heavy. A light barrage amounted to six or
seven shells every ten minutes. A moderate barrage was thirty shells a minute and a heavy
one, fifty to sixty shells a minute.
The first successfully developed tank, Mark I, was ready for use in the summer of
1916. , Commander-in Chief of the , had doubts about the value of tanks. However, after
failing to break through German lines at the , Haig gave orders that tanks that had reached
the , should be used at on 15th July, 1916.
Of the 59 tanks in France, only 49 were considered to be in good working order. Of these,
17 broke down on the way to their starting point at . The sight of the tanks created panic
and had a profound effect on the morale of the German Army. Colonel , chief of staff of
the Tank Corps, was convinced that these machines could win the war and persuaded to
ask the government to supply him with another 1,000 tanks.
Aware of the tank’s early problems, argued that they should only be deployed when the
terrain was appropriate. At he managed to persuade General to use 412 tanks followed
by soldiers and supported by over 1,000 aircraft. The strategy worked and the managed
to breakthrough the German frontline.
New inventions and developed tactics made this war frightning. 8,538,315 people
died in the war due to such weapons of mass destruction. It seems that as long as power
and greed are in the world with bright young minds, no one is safe