Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Maria - June 16, 2016

As the major players converged at the front-lines during WWI, new technology threw everyone into a tailspin. Both sides had implemented trench warfare, leaving nothing but a consistent barrage of bullets that resulted in no progress for either side. It became a war of attrition, and something needed to be done to change the course of the war.

Well WWI also brought about new weaponry and transport strategies that helped bring the war out of its stalemate. Read on to learn about eight weapons that emerged from the dawning of technology, and helped transform the usual tactics of the military thereafter.

8. The Machine Gun

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Machine guns weren’t a new weapon in 1914, as American Hiram Maxim had previously invented the gun of the same name already by 1884. However, it was enhanced and became easier to maneuver during WWI, and remained useful across the stretch of no man’s land separating the two sides on the Western Front.

Germany’s own heavy machine gun, the standard Maschinengewehr 08, was built to mirror the Maxim gun, firing off 400 rounds in 60 seconds. The British even had their own version, the Vickers machine gun, which could shoot between 450-500 bullets a minute.

7. Barbed Wire

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Barbed wire actually materialized on the Western Front as a deadly defense weapon after initially being introduced to corral cattle on American farmland. It worked best for snagging on the enemy’s equipment and clothing, slowing down anyone who was caught up in it. Those who did get entangled then became prime targets for snipers. Once you added the deadly stopping power of the machine gun, the barbed wire made the proposition of gaining ground almost impossible.

6. Rifles

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

The British army were in favor of using the Lee-Enfield .303 during WWI. This model was only a slight upgrade from the original weapon used by the army since 1902. The bolt-action Lee-Enfield was most notably reliable, holding a magazine of ten bullets and well-suited to handle harsh conditions of trench warfare. In fact, a trained soldier could shoot out 15 rounds per minute with these rifles, even taking the time to reload. This model would continue to be used throughout WWII, and for years after.

The German infantry had a standard Gewehr 98 rifle. However, while the Gewehr was an accurate and well-built weapon, it wasn’t as well prepared to deal with the conditions on the Western Front. It was a hassle to maneuver in the trenches, unlike the Lee-Enfield, and it required an extra sight for short-range firing.

5. Poisonous Gas

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Hundreds of French troops were attacked and killed with chlorine gas, which was first introduced by the Germans at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. After this, the British also started working with chlorine gas, later evolving into the use of the deadlier phosgene and mustard gas, which could actually blind anyone it came into contact with.

By 1917, poison gas was a mainstay and could be utilized with greater precision by chemical shells and mortars. Over the course of the war, there were an estimated one million gas casualties on all sides.

4. Artillery

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

The heavy use of artillery weapons caused the majority of casualties on the battlefields during WWI. Enemy lines were acquainted with handling heavy artillery fire over long stretches of time before full-blown infantry assaults would be underway. For example, a bombardment of the German trenches included over 3,000 guns, from which 4.5 million bullets were fired for two weeks during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

The British Howitzer-Mark 1, a general field gun, could launch two rounds of 290lb shells per minute. And the long-range Paris Gun, so titled and used by the Germans in March 1918, were used to attack the French Capital. It had a 118-foot-long barrel that could actually set off a shell 25 miles into the air, managing to target Paris from 74 yards away – a seemingly great hurdle for the days of WWI.

3. The Aircraft

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Newly integrated into the war, most aircraft were some of the most useful weapons of all.

In the beginning, most only had a few unarmed, wood-and-canvas aircraft, to be made available as aerial scouts. By November 1914, though, air warfare certainly took a leap forward, introducing interrupter gear which would give a machine gun mounted on a plane the ability to fire without wrecking the propeller.

After that, pilots started tossing grenades on enemy troops as they flew by, or they would just carry pistols to take random shots at other aircraft. Pilots like German Manfred von Richthofen (Red Baron) and Max Immelmann were superbly handy with their skills in the Fokker Eindecker aircraft. They ended up becoming the leading threats in an era of dog fights and fighter aces.

The German fighters thought they had the upper hand to their British counterparts during the Battle of Somme. But the death of the Red Baron, who was shot down in April of the next year, proved otherwise. After all, Britain introduced better fighters, like the SE5 and Sopwith Camel in 1917.

2. Tanks

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Quite possibly the most innovative and destructive force to enter WWI, tanks were an immediate hit. Otherwise called “land battleships,” these tanks first rolled into action during the Battle of Somme in 1916, developed under the order of Winston Churchill.

The tank was designed to make new attempts at ending the trench warfare stalemate. Their heavy-duty armour was indestructible when it came to simple machine gun fire, and the conveyor belt-like tracks on the vehicles would be able to cross right over trenches and even barbed wire. However, tanks weren’t without their faults. They were generally pretty slow and had mechanical issues like any other machine. But as the war was nearing its end in 1918, they started rolling out more reliable, enhanced vehicles in higher numbers.

1. U-Boats

Breaking the Habit: 8 WWI Weapons That Marked a New Era of Warfare

Germans were highly in favor of relying on their U-boats to vie for naval supremacy. In 1914, they had 33 U-boats (which were essentially submarines) in operation. Their main goal was preventing Britain from receiving shipments, hoping to stall their maritime trade and lead to the island’s starvation.

However, Kaiser Wilhelm was serious about restricting this method of warfare, as he was worried the US may intervene and sink them. Despite this, the restrictions were lifted in 1916 and German U-Boats were responsible for sinking around 320,000 tons of Allied ships by the start of 1917.

And just as Wilhelm predicted, mounting US casualties on ships significantly contributed to America declaring war on Germany in 1917.