WWI Weapons:
Return

 

During WWI, new weapons were used for the first time:

One of these was the tripod supported machine gun, which with its ability to fire up to 600 bullets every minute, may have been one of the biggest killers of WWI.

Whatever the body count, machine guns were to blame for many thousands of deaths in the trenches and No Man’s Land.

The British used the vickers MK1-1 and the Germans used a Maschinengewehr 34; move curser over the image.

 

Another innovation in weapons first seen in WW1 was gas; it was introduced by the Germans in 1915, but soon all armies were using it; when the gas first appeared it was a greenish yellow colour, which gradually turned into a white blue mist as it dispersed towards the enemy trenches; this frightened many soldiers as they had never encountered gas before and they didn’t know how to deal with it; however, gas masks were soon distributed to the soldiers.

The image of the gas mask shows the tin on the front, which contained chemicals to filter the gas and stop it from poisoning the wearer; if the chemicals in the tin ran out, then the tin could be replaced; it could also be altered if a new type of gas was used.

The first gases used were lung irritants such as chlorine or phosgene, which caused the victims to choke and gasp for breath, leaving them near helpless when trying to defend their trench; later gases were known as 'Tear Producers', which had a similar effect in making the soldiers defenceless, by giving them irritated watery eyes; some gases attacked the nervous system and caused paralysis, which were more lethal than the others.


In 1917, the most notorious of all the gases appeared 'Mustard Gas'; this gas was like an acid; it caused blisters on the skin and formed foam in the lungs, which could be fatal; worst of all, mustard gas was colourless and odourless, so it was almost impossible to detect before it was too late; although gas was the new wonder weapon of the war, it didn’t kill as many people as it was expected to; it was responsible for approximately 90,000 deaths and over 1 million injured or blinded.

Both the British and the Germans used grenades:

Early grenades were simply made from empty food cans, however as time progressed, more complicated grenades were developed and each side used a different style of grenade.

The British model was of oval shape and when it exploded it broke into 48 different pieces which all flew off in different directions at a rapid speed; the German grenade was a totally different shape, complete with a long handle.


Tanks were probably the greatest weapon of all and possibly helped Britain to win the war; they were based on the caterpillar tractors used on particularly muddy farms before the war; a plumber from Nottingham thought up the first ideas about a weapon such as the tank, but when he showed them to government officials they simply thought that he was mad; the name "Tank" was derived from the fact that when they were waiting to be shipped over to the trenches in France, they were hidden under large tarpaulins marked "Water Tanks" as a disguise and the name stuck.

They were first unveiled during the Battle of the Somme and they terrified the Germans; with the tank's ability to crush the barbed wire defences, the British were at a great advantage; the tanks carried a crew of ten men, plus two machine guns and a cannon and when the opposition first saw them, it was thought that there was nothing they could do; however, once a tank crashed through the German front line, there was rarely enough men in the tank to defend the part of the trench they had captured and more often than not they were forced back; as soon as the Germans captured a tank they were able to dismantle it, figure out how it was put together and then build their own version.

The Whippet "A" was the first British medium tank to enter service in WWI and it was the first tank with a separate turret displaying the classic silhouette that we still see in present day tanks; it's successes in 1918 made the tacticians sit up and take notice of the medium tank concept.

A War of Attrition:

At the battle of Ypres in October and November 1914 it was realised that whichever side attacked would lose thousands of men; it was a stalemate; if neither side attacked then the war would never end, but if a side did attack then thousands of their soldiers would be killed by machine gun fire from the opposition.

The Allies knew that as the Germans were occupying Belgian and French territory, they had to win it back and the only way to do this was to decide on a war of attrition; this meant that the Allies would attack; they would send their men out into No Man’s Land; they knew they would lose thousands of their British and French soldiers, but they too would kill many Germans.



Go back.