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Here are 10 facts that give some idea of the weaponry used during World War One. Initially antiquated battlefield tactics failed to comprehend the reality of industrialised warfare, and by 1915 the machine gun and artillery fire dictated the way that war was dictated.
It is also the single greatest contributor to the staggering casualty figures. Many men walked to their deaths, unaware of the devastation that industrial weapons could inflict.
1. At the start of the war, soldiers on all sides were issued with soft hats
Soldier’s uniforms and equipment in 1914 did not match the demands of modern warfare. Later in the war, soldiers were issued with steel helmets to protect against artillery fire.
2. A single machine gun could fire up to 600 rounds a minute
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At ‘known range’ the rate of fire of a single machine gun was estimated much as 150-200 rifles. Their awesome defensive capability was a major cause of trench warfare.
3. Germany was the first to use flamethrowers – at Malancourt on February 26, 1915
Flamethrowers could fire jets of flame as far as 130 feet (40 m).
4. In 1914-15 German statistics estimated that 49 casualties were caused by artillery to every 22 by infantry, by 1916-18 this was at 85 by artillery for every 6 by infantry
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Artillery proved the number one threat to infantry and tanks alike. Also, the post-war psychological impact of artillery fire was massive.
5. Tanks first appeared on the battlefield at The Somme on 15 September 1916
A Mark I tank which had broken down as it crossed a British trench on the way to attack Thiepval. Date: 25 September 1916.
Tanks were originally called ‘landships.’ The name tank was used to disguise the production process from enemy suspicion.
6. In 1917, explosives blowing up beneath the German lines on Messines Ridge at Ypres could be heard in London 140 miles away
Building mines through No Man’s Land to plant explosives under enemy lines was a tactic used before a number of major assaults.
7. An estimated 1,200,000 soldiers on both sides were victims of gas attacks
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Throughout the war the Germans used 68,000 tons of gas, the British and French 51,000. Only around 3% of victims died, but gas had the horrific ability to maim victims.
8. Around 70 types of plane were used in by all sides
Their roles were largely in reconnaissance to begin with, progressing to fighters and bombers as the war progressed.
9. On 8 August 1918 at Amiens 72 Whippet tanks helped make an advance of 7 miles in one day
General Ludendorff called it “the black day of the German Army.”
10. The term “dogfight” originated during WWI
The pilot had to turn off the plane’s engine occasionally so it would not stall when the plane turned sharply in the air. When a pilot restarted his engine midair, it sounded like dogs barking.
10 facts you (probably) didn’t know about the First World War
It's one of the most well-documented conflicts in history, but how much do you know about World War One (also known as the First World War and the Great War)? Here, Seán Lang reveals 10 lesser-known facts about the global conflict fought between 1914 and 1918.
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Published: March 10, 2020 at 10:00 am
Also known as the Great War, the First World War was a global conflict primarily fought between two groups: the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy) and the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France and Russia). It began on 28 July 1914, following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand a month earlier, and ended on 11 November 1918 with the signing of a ceasefire, or ‘armistice’.
It’s one of the most well-documented conflicts in history, but how much do you know about World War One? Discover 10 surprising facts below…
The alliance system didn’t cause the war
Many people assume that the war resulted directly from the alliance structure that bound all the European great powers together before 1914. Germany was allied to Austria-Hungary and Italy Russia was allied to France, and both countries had an entente (a diplomatic agreement) with Britain.
The alliances certainly contributed to the prewar build-up of tension between the great powers but, perhaps surprisingly, none of these alliances actually produced a declaration of war.
In July 1914 Germany gave Austria-Hungary a sweeping guarantee of support known as the ‘Blank Cheque’, which went far beyond the terms of their formal alliance. The French came in because Germany launched a pre-emptive strike against them Britain declared war not because of the entente agreements but because the Germans invaded Belgium, and Italy first kept out of the war and then came in against its own allies!
There were special battalions for short soldiers
The minimum height requirement for the British Army was 5ft 3ins, but many shorter men were caught up in the recruiting enthusiasm of August 1914 and were keen to enlist.
Rather reluctantly the War Office established a number of ‘bantam battalions’, attached to more conventional regiments. Many bantams were coal miners, and their short height and technical expertise proved a great asset in the tunnelling work that went on underneath the western front.
However, bantams were not particularly effective in battle, and by the end of 1916 the general fitness and condition of men volunteering as bantams was no longer up to the standard required. It wasn’t easy to maintain recruitment: increasingly the bantam battalions had to accept men of ‘normal’ height. And there’s not much point in a bantam battalion that is largely made up of taller men, so after conscription was introduced in 1916 the bantam battalions idea was quietly dropped.
Munitions girls kept football going
The Football League suspended its programme after the 1914–15 season (although the FA continued to allow clubs to organise regional competitions), and amateur tournaments were difficult to run with so many men in the army, so women stepped into the breach.
Munitions workers – ‘munitionettes’, as they were known – formed football teams and played against rival factories. Munitionette football attracted a wide following, and many matches were played at the grounds of professional clubs. When peace came, however, the female players had to hang up their boots and go back to the domestic lives they had been leading before the war. But the sport continued to enjoy success until women were banned from playing in Football League grounds in 1921.
Portuguese troops fought in the war
Like many neutral countries, Portugal was angry at German U-boat attacks on its merchant shipping. The Portuguese were also worried that the German military campaign in Africa might move into their colonies in Mozambique and Angola.
In March 1916, Germany declared war on Portugal. As well as patrolling the oceans and strengthening their border controls in Africa, the Portuguese also sent a military force to the western front. The Portuguese won the respect of their more battle-hardened allies, and put up a particularly stubborn fight against the great German offensive of spring, 1918.
The Russians first solved the problem of trench warfare
Launching a successful attack against a heavily fortified enemy trench was one of the most difficult problems facing military commanders on both sides: barbed wire and machine guns gave a considerable advantage to the defender. Even if an attacker did break through, the attacking force usually ran out of steam just as the defenders brought up reinforcements.
The man who solved the conundrum was the Russian general Alexei Brusilov, who in 1916 launched a massive offensive against the Austrians in co-ordination with the British and French attack on the Somme. Brusilov realised that offensives on the western front were too heavily concentrated on trying to ‘punch a hole’ through the enemy line at a particular point, so the enemy knew exactly where to send his reinforcements.
By attacking over a much larger area, Brusilov was able to hide the direction of his main attack from the Austrians, so they never knew which points to reinforce and which to abandon. Of course, Brusilov’s approach needed the sort of huge numbers of men that were the Russian army’s speciality, and after its initial success the attack petered out because the supply system for food and ammunition couldn’t cope.
The war produced Britain’s worst rail disaster
On 22 May 1915 a troop train carrying men of the Royal Scots Guards and the Leith Territorial battalion south to embark for the Gallipoli campaign crashed into a stationary local train sitting outside a signal box near Gretna Green. Moments later the Glasgow express crashed into the wreckage of the two trains, and the whole scene was engulfed by fire.
Some 226 people were killed, 214 of them soldiers, and 246 were seriously injured. It remains to this day the biggest loss of life in a railway accident in Britain.
The crash happened through the carelessness of the two signalmen, who were found guilty of criminal negligence and sent to prison. They had shunted the local train onto the main line instead of a siding and had been too busy chatting about the war to change the signals to warn the approaching troop train.
Wartime demand for rolling stock was so high that trains were using old wooden-framed carriages, which caught fire with terrifying speed. The crash was another unwanted by-product of the First World War.
Japan came to the rescue of the British in the Mediterranean
Britain’s only formal alliance before 1914 was with Japan, and it was designed to relieve the Royal Navy of some of the burden of defending Britain’s Asian colonies, and to enable Britain and Japan to help one another safeguard their respective interests in China and Korea.
When war broke out, the Japanese attacked German possessions in the Pacific and China, but in 1917 Britain requested Japanese assistance with escort duties in the Mediterranean. The region was vital for supplying Allied armies in Italy and Greece, and for maintaining communications with Africa, but the Allied navies faced threats from German and Austrian submarines.
The Japanese, operating from Malta, provided escorts for Allied merchant and troop convoys, and a search-and-rescue service for the crews of torpedoed vessels. Japan’s important role in the war strengthened its claim to be accepted by the Americans and Europeans as a fully fledged great power.
The Chinese worked on the western front
Who actually filled all those sandbags we see in photographs of the trenches? Who loaded the guns, ammunitions and food onto lorries or trains? Who cleared up after a train was derailed or a headquarters building shelled?
The answer was the Chinese Labour Corps. They were volunteers from the Chinese countryside who were sent to Europe to fulfil a vital, but almost completely overlooked role in making an Allied victory possible. They were paid a pittance, and were generally regarded by both the British and French as expendable ‘coolies’.
They mostly served behind the lines, which limited their casualties from enemy action, although they suffered very badly from the ‘Spanish’ flu epidemic of 1918.
The war dragged on two weeks longer than you think
Although we mark the Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, as the end of the First World War, it actually lasted two further weeks in Africa.
The German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, had become a national hero in Germany through his ruthless guerrilla campaign against Britain’s imperial forces in East Africa, forcing Africans to act as his porters and devastating the economy of the local villages as he did so. Vorbeck had been forced into Portuguese Mozambique by November 1918, but he still had some 3,000 troops under his command and he was still launching raids into Southern Rhodesia when news reached him of the armistice in Europe.
Unlike the German army in Europe, Vorbeck could regard his own force as undefeated, and he decided to end the African war at a time of his own choosing. He formally surrendered to the British in Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia) on 25 November, two weeks after the Armistice in Europe.
Kipling’s words were tragic
The words that appear on the gravestones of unidentified soldiers of the First World War, “A soldier of the Great War known unto God”, were written by the celebrated writer and Nobel Prizewinner, Rudyard Kipling.
Commissioning leading figures like Kipling was a way of showing that Britain honoured its war dead. The words on the Cenotaph in Whitehall, built by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, even calls them “The Glorious Dead”. The words were chosen by Kipling, but there was a cruel irony in this commission.
Kipling’s own son John had been taken into the army despite his appallingly weak eyesight, and was killed by a German shell in 1915 at the battle of Loos. His body was never found, so he too became, in his father’s words, “a soldier of the Great War known unto God”.
Seán Lang is the author of First World War for Dummies (2014)
This article was first published in August 2014
Top 9 Facts about World War 1
The top 9 facts about WWI, how did it start, what was the impact on women, facial masks and a lot more!
1 How the War Started
A drawing of Achille Beltrame depicting Gavrilo Princip killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo via Wikipedia
The major cause of World War 1 is after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Serbian nationalist known as Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914.The Archduke Franz Ferdinand was nephew to Franz Josef who was the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was also expected to be Franz Joseph`s heir, and this is probably what prompted his assassination. Additionally, he was not assassinated alone, but was shot dead alongside his wife. Although there had been a growing tension in Europe for several decades, this assassination gave the Austro-Hungarian Empire a reason to declare war on Serbia since it blamed the assignation on the Serbian government.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire sought German support incase Russia decided to back up Serbia and this led to the beginning of World War 1.On July 28 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia and within seven days World War 1 had begun.
The major countries that joined to form the Allied Forces were Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Greece, Portugal and Serbia against Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Germany. Later on Italy, United States and Japan would join the Allied Forces while the Ottoman Empire would become part of the Central powers Alliance.
2 How it affected women
Navy poster by Howard Chandler Christy Via Wikipedia
Before the war, most women were housewives, taking care of domestic chores and tending to their husbands and kids. They were rarely engaged in direct employment and most men were the family `bread winners’. However, with the onset of World War 1 most men were deployed to the war front and women had to take up men`s positions in factories.
Women played a huge role during the war they had to work in factories which manufactured ammunition for the troops. While working on the factories they usually came into direct contact with lethal chemicals such as TNT, and their skin ended up becoming jaundiced.
3 Facial injuries had to be covered with masks
A soldier wearing a face mask, via
World War 1 was before the invention of facial reconstruction surgery, and thus most victims who got permanent facial injuries were given face masks to hide the ugly injuries. Most facial injuries usually resulted from a sniper`s shot or shrapnel.
The masks were usually connected to a pair of sunglasses, in order to hold the masks in position.
4 Trench warfare
Trenches of the 11th Cheshire Regiment at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, on the Somme, July 1916. One sentry keeps watch while the others sleep. Photo by Ernest Brooks via Wikipedia
Most soldiers fought from trenches dug in the ground, to protect them from enemy fire. Due to a long stay in the trenches, most soldiers succumbed to stress. The Allied forces trenches were usually dug in haste and the soldiers thus had to tolerate poor living conditions, which is in contrast to the German trenches which were more comfortable.
The trenches were usually infested with rats and lice, which usually made the living conditions in the trenches unbearable but the soldiers, had to persevere for the sake of war.
5 The Christmas truce of 1914
An artist’s impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches” via Wikipedia
On December 24 1914, Allied Forces and the Central Alliance agreed to a ceasefire, in order to celebrate Christmas. British and German soldiers who were fighting in France even engaged in football matches and shared pleasantries.
Christmas carols were sung and everyone enjoyed the armistice. However, the Christmas of 1915 was just a normal battle day.
6 It was a period of invention and introduction of new weapons
A German propaganda photograph showing a British tank destroying a tree via Wikipedia
New and lethal weapons were introduced during World War 1, because the more advanced weapons you took to battle the greater your chances of overpowering the enemy.
Tanks were introduced by the British during World War 1 and the British also had to introduce lethal gas bullets in order to destroy German airships known as Zeppelins which bombed and caused havoc on the Allied forces.
7 World War 1 necessitated the need for Blood Banks
Luis Agote (2nd from right) overseeing one of the first safe and effective blood transfusions in 1914 via Wikipedia
Blood Banks were conceptualized and introduced during WW1.This is because there was great demand for blood due to the injuries incurred by soldiers during battle, most of which required surgery. Captain Oswald Robertson who was a United States Army doctor launched the first Blood Bank.
He came up with the idea of using sodium citrate to keep off the blood from coagulating. With this invention, donated blood could be stored on ice for up to 28 days and transported to wherever it was needed.
8 How supply vessels were protected from destruction by enemy forces
HMS Argus displaying a coat of dazzle camouflage in 1918 via Wikipedia
Germans were notorious in destroying British merchant ships which were carrying food supplies and military artillery. As a matter of fact, the reason the United States joined the Allied Forces in 1917 is after German ships sank US merchant ships.
To counter this, the Royal Navy came up with a brilliant idea of painting their ships with bold colors in order to confuse the Germans. The Germans were used to seeing camouflaged Allied Forces ships, thus when they encountered one which had bold colors and was in plain sight they would get confused and leave it alone.
9 German language was banned in the USA
A poster of WWII era discouraging the use of Italian, German, and Japanese. Via Wikipedia
Before World War 1, German was the 2 nd most widely used language in the United States. However, after World War 1 the German language was banned from being taught in schools and German language books would no longer be used in schools.
8 Canadian Soldiers Had To Breathe Through Urine-Soaked Rags To Survive
The second batch of chlorine gas was fired at the 1st Canadian Division a mere two days after the first attack.
They hadn&rsquot had much time to learn about the Germans&rsquo new weapons, but they&rsquod picked up a few things. The gas was worse down near the ground and running away only made it choke you more. The best thing to do was to climb up to the top of trenches and hold still, although that made you an easy target.
They still didn&rsquot have gas masks, but the medics had figured out a makeshift solution. They could hold off the effects by covering their mouths with cloths. But it was a lot more effective if they soaked those cloths in urine first.
When the gas came, there was no time to be embarrassed. The Canadians moved up to the tops of the trenches. Those who took their medics&rsquo advice credited it for their lives. &ldquoI tied a handkerchief over my nose and mouth,&rdquo one survivor recalled. &ldquoThat saved my life.&rdquo
Still, it wasn&rsquot the same as using a gas mask. Approximately 2,000 Canadians died in the battle and left a pile of gas-scarred bodies that would haunt the survivors&rsquo dreams.
One Scottish soldier wrote about it after the war. &ldquoWhen we got to Ypres, we found a lot of Canadians lying there dead from gas the day before,&rdquo he said. &ldquoPoor devils, and it was quite a horrible sight for us young men.&rdquo 
6 Mark 1 M1918 Trench Knife
Trench knives saw widespread use during the First and Second World Wars. Germans relied on the Nahkampfmesser fighting knife for close-quarters combat, while British forces used their own type of knives. The US military produced several trench knives, but these saw limited use. The Mark 1 M1918 had a flat, double-sided blade with a brass or bronze handle that incorporated a spiked knuckleduster. The knuckleduster&rsquos grip guard, while usable as a weapon, simultaneously aided the soldier&rsquos grip. At the bottom of the pommel was a large nut used as a kind of skull hammer, which gave the Mark 1 three possible modes of attack.
The guard prevented it from becoming a popular weapon. The knives arrived late in the war and were only issued to soldiers whose gear did not include a bayonet, such as paratroopers. These soldiers often needed utility knives, however, and the trench knives were designed for combat. Many soldiers hated them. Due to the weapon&rsquos shortcomings, as well as a shortage of brass required to produce it, Mark 1 didn&rsquot see restandardization in World War II. However, some were ordered and issued to soldiers for lack of a better alternative.
Weapons of War - Introduction
Other sections of this site devote themselves to considerations of the causes and personalities behind the conflict.
However no history of the war would be complete without an overview of the weapons of war, in all their varying forms. Thus this area of the site provides summary information of the tools by which the armies conducted war, and include many of the innovations war always brings to the development of weaponry.
For example, while not new the development of poison gases took on a new urgency during 1914-18. Long-range gun development was hastened. Some developments were more successful than others: the tank, first developed by the British, was here to stay: but the flame-thrower, aside from its initial terrifying aspect, was short-lived.
|Bayonets||Chiefly used as a psychological weapon|
|Flamethrowers||How 'sheets of flame' terrorised the British in 1915|
|Grenades||Mills Bombs and Jam Pots: both forms of grenades|
|Machine Guns||How the German Army saw its potential before 1914|
|Pistols||The officer's weapon|
|Poison Gas||First used by the French and popularised by the Germans|
|Rifles||Still the infantry's greatest asset|
|Tanks||The design and use of tanks during wartime|
|Trench Mortars||An ancient weapon given fresh life in the trenches|
Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy
Flak was a term used to describe anti-aircraft fire.
- Did you know?
Outbreak of World War I
Almost exactly a century before, a meeting of the European states at the Congress of Vienna had established an international order and balance of power that lasted for almost a century. By 1914, however, a multitude of forces were threatening to tear it apart. The Balkan Peninsula, in southeastern Europe, was a particularly tumultuous region: Formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire, its status was uncertain by the late 1800s, as the weakened Turks continued their slow withdrawal from Europe. Order in the region depended on the cooperation of two competing powers, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The slumping Austria-Hungary--in which small minorities (Germans in Austria, Magyars in Hungary) attempted to control large populations of restless Slavs--worried for its future as a great power, and in 1908 it annexed the twin Balkan provinces of Bosnia-Herzogovina. This grab for territory and control angered the independent Balkan nation of Serbia--who considered Bosnia a Serb homeland--as well as Slavic Russia.
Upstart Serbia then doubled its territory in back-to-back Balkan wars (1912 and 1913), further threatening Austro-Hungarian supremacy in the region. Meanwhile, Russia had entered into an alliance with France--angry over German annexation of their lands in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71--and Great Britain, whose legendary naval dominance was threatened by Germany&aposs growing navy. This Triple Entente, squared off against the German-Austro-Hungarian alliance, meant that any regional conflict had the potential to turn into a general European war.
6-10 Interesting Facts About WW1
6. During WWI, Albert I, the King of Belgium (pictured above), fought alongside his troops and his wife, Queen Elisabeth, worked as a nurse at the front. – Source
7. Minnie Schönberg, the mother of the Marx Brothers, upon hearing that farmers were exempt from being drafted, bought a farm and forced the brothers to work on it, so they won’t be called to fight in WWI. – Source
8. During WWI, a lone Portuguese soldier convinced the German soldiers that they were fighting against an entire unit for three days without eating or drinking. – Source
9. The ocean liner Olympic, sister ship to Titanic, became the only merchant vessel in WWI to sink an enemy warship when she rammed U-boat U-103. – Source
10. Some cataract patients have an “extraordinary sensitivity” to ultra-violet light. They were used in WW1 to detect flashing UV beacons. – Source
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