Industrial warfare is a period in the history of warfare ranging roughly from the early 19th century and the start of the Industrial Revolution to the beginning of the Atomic Age, which saw the rise of nation-states, capable of creating and equipping large armies, navies, and air forces, through the process of industrialization.
The earlier years of the First World War can be characterized as a clash of 20th-century technology with 19th-century warfare in the form of ineffective battles with huge numbers of casualties on both sides. It was not until the final year of the war that the major armies made effective steps in revolutionizing matters of command and control and tactics to adapt to the modern battlefield, and started to harness the myriad new technologies to effective military purposes. Tactical reorganizations (such as shifting the focus of command from the 100+ man company to the 10+ man squad) went hand-in-hand with armored cars, the first submachine guns, and automatic rifles that could be carried and used by one man.
The era featured mass-conscripted armies, rapid transportation (first on railroads, then by sea and air), telegraph and wireless communications, and the concept of total war. In terms of technology, this era saw the rise of rifled breech-loading infantry weapons capable of high rates of fire, high-velocity breech-loading artillery, chemical weapons, armoured warfare, metal warships, submarines, and aircraft.
Technology during World War I reflected a trend toward industrialism and the application of mass production methods to weapons and to the technology of warfare in general. This trend began fifty years prior to World War I during the U.S. Civil War, and continued through many smaller conflicts in which new weapons were tested.
August 1914 marked the end of a relatively peaceful century in Europe with unprecedented invention and new science. The 19th-century vision of a peaceful future fed by ever-increasing prosperity through technology was largely shattered by the war’s end; after the technological escalation during World War II, it was apparent that whatever the gains in prosperity and comfort due to technology applied to civilian use would always be under the shadow of the horrors of technology applied to warfare.
The earlier years of the First World War could be categorized as a clash of 20th-century technology with 19th-century warfare in the form of ineffective battles with huge numbers of casualties on both sides. It was not until the final year of the war that the major armies made effective steps in revolutionizing matters of command and control and tactics to adapt to the modern battlefield, and started to harness the myriad new technologies to effective military purposes. Tactical reorganizations (such as shifting the focus of command from the 100+ man company to the 10+ man squad) went hand-in-hand with armored cars, the first submachine guns, and automatic rifles that could be carried and used by one man.
This article aims to demonstrate that the First World War contained most of the technology, albeit in its most primitive form, that we have come to expect in what is now termed “Modern Warfare”. The list is by no means definitive, but is designed to give a general assessment of the technology available at the time.
Colonialism played a major role in the arms race that would ultimately lead to the First World War. The major European powers of the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Russia, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the United States all competed to colonise vast portions of Africa, Asia, The Middle East, South America and the Pacific Rim in order to exploit vast quantities of manufacturing materials, economic resources and manpower.
One of the main features of Industrial warfare is the concept of “total war”. The term was coined during World War I by Erich Ludendorff (and again in his 1935 book “Total War”), which called for the complete mobilization and subordination of all resources, including policy and social systems, to the German war effort. It has also come to mean waging warfare with absolute ruthlessness, and its most identifiable legacy today has been the reintroduction of civilians and civilian infrastructure as targets in destroying the enemy’s ability to engage in war.
There are several reasons for the rise of total warfare in the 19th century. The main one is industrialization. As countries’ capital and natural resources grew, it became clear that some forms of warfare demanded more resources than others. Consequently, the greater cost of warfare became evident. An industrialized nation could distinguish and then choose the intensity of warfare that it wished to engage in.
Additionally, warfare was becoming more mechanized and required greater infrastructure. Combatants could no longer live off the land, but required an extensive support network of people behind the lines to keep them fed and armed. This required the mobilization of the home front. Modern concepts like propaganda were first used to boost production and maintain morale, while rationing took place to provide more war materiel.
The earliest modern example of total war was the American Civil War. Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were convinced that, if the North was to be victorious, the Confederacy‘s strategic, economic, and psychological ability to wage war had to be definitively crushed. They believed that to break the backbone of the South, the North had to employ scorched earth tactics, or as Sherman called it, “Hard War”. Sherman’s advance through Georgia and the Carolinas was characterized by widespread destruction of civilian supplies and infrastructure. In contrast to later conflicts, the damage done by Sherman was almost entirely limited to property destruction. In Georgia alone, Sherman claimed he and his men had caused $100,000,000 in damages.
Conscription is the compulsory enrollment of civilians into military service. Conscription allowed the French Republic to form La Grande Armée, what Napoleon Bonaparte called “the nation in arms”, which successfully battled European professional armies.
Conscription, particularly when the conscripts are being sent to foreign wars that do not directly affect the security of the nation, has historically been highly politically contentious in democracies. For instance, during World War I, bitter political disputes broke out in Canada (see Conscription Crisis of 1917), Newfoundland, Australia and New Zealand (See Compulsory Military Training) over conscription.
In the British Army, the upper limit on the number of men conscripted is usually calculated by assuming that all recruits after 1 March 1916 were conscripts: 1,542,807 men, 43.7 percent of those who served in the Army during the war.
In developed nations, the increasing emphasis on technological firepower and better-trained fighting forces, the sheer unlikelihood of a conventional military assault on most developed nations, as well as memories of the contentiousness of the Vietnam War experience, make mass conscription unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Russia, as well as many smaller nations such as Switzerland, retain mainly conscript armies.
Transportation & Logistics
Prior to the invention of the motorized transport, combatants were transported by wagons, horses and on foot.
Horses were the primary source of transportation during World War I. The continued resupply of horses was a major issue of the war. One estimate puts the number of horses that served in World War I at around six million, with a large percentage of them dying due to war-related causes. In 1914, the year the war began, the British Army owned only about 25,000 horses. This shortfall required the US to help with remount efforts, even before it had formally entered the war.
Between 1914 and 1918, the US sent almost one million horses overseas, and another 182,000 were taken overseas with American troops. This deployment seriously depleted the country’s equine population. Only 200 returned to the US, and 60,000 were killed outright. By the middle of 1917, Britain had procured 591,000 horses and 213,000 mules, as well as almost 60,000 camels and oxen. A major factor prompting motorization was the decline of national horse stocks and the inability to restore them in reasonable time.
At the beginning of World War I, railways became a new arm in strategic warfare. Germany Prepared them prior to the war for the Purpose of the conflict to come. The German strategic Railway system was put to good use when large numbers of infantry and equipment were Rushed across the Belgian Frontier, the Belgian Army, anticipating the arrival of German troops by train, disrupted the rail infrastructure by destroying railway tracks, bridges and damaging locomotives, blocking the German advance.
However, railways dominated in this war as in no other. Through railways, men and material could be moved to the front at an unprecedented rate, but they were very vulnerable at the front itself. Thus, advancing armies could only move forward at the pace that they could build or rebuild a railway, e.g. the British advance across Sinai. Motorized transport did feature in World War I, but only rarely. After the railhead, troops moved on foot and guns were drawn by horses. The German strategy was known beforehand by the Allies simply because of the vast marshaling yards on the Belgian border that had no other purpose than to deliver the mobilized German army to its start point. The German mobilization plan was little more than a vast detailed railway timetable. Railways lacked the flexibility of motor transport and this lack of flexibility percolated through into the conduct of the war.
On the outbreak of the Great War the strategic railways which Germany had constructed towards, along, and, jointly with the Belgian Government (owing to the pressure she bad brought to bear upon them), even across the Belgian frontier, enabled her at once to concentrate and to throw into that country great masses of troops for an invasion of France. But although these railways afforded her material aid in rushing troops on to Belgian territory, Germany had not anticipated so vigorous an opposition, at Liege, by the brave-hearted Belgians, who thus thwarted her design first to make a sudden descent on France by rail, and then to rush the main body of her troops, also by rail, back through Germany for the attack on Russia.
Railways dominated in World War I as in no other. Through railways, men and material could be moved to the front at an unprecedented rate, but they were very vulnerable at the front itself. Thus, advancing armies could only move forward at the pace that they could build or rebuild a railway, e.g. the British advance across Sinai. Motorized transport did feature in World War I, but only rarely. After the railhead, troops moved on foot and guns were drawn by horses. The German strategy was known beforehand by the Allies simply because of the vast marshaling yards on the Belgian border that had no other purpose than to deliver the mobilized German army to its start point. The German mobilization plan was little more than a vast detailed railway timetable. Railways lacked the flexibility of motor transport and this lack of flexibility percolated through into the conduct of the war
War Department Light Railways
The War Department Light Railways were a system of narrow gauge trench railways run by the British War Department in World War I. Light railways made an important contribution to the Allied war effort in the First World War, and were used for the supply of ammunition and stores, the transport of troops and the evacuation of the wounded.
War Department Light Railway Locomotive
Britain came to the belated realisation that it needed a flexible and reliable method of supplying the front lines, bringing shells, timber, and fodder from the rear areas and their standard gauge supply points. Narrow gauge light railways were the solution.
Hundreds of locomotives were built by companies such as Hunslet, Kerr Stuart, ALCO, Davenport, Motor Rail and Baldwin to work these lines. Also, Model T Ford conversions were used. Thirty or so Companies were formed within the Royal Engineers to staff the lines. These were mostly British ex-railwaymen pressed into service, though Australian, South African and Canadian gangs served with distinction. An American unit also served under the British flag.
Each area of the front would have its own light rail to bring up materiel. The British perfected roll on roll off train ferries to bring fodder and supplies direct from England via train ferries to France. Northern French rail lines were under direct military control of the Army in the area.
By 1917, the Canadians led the way in showing the utility of light railways. Having built thousands of miles of new frontier track in Western Canada in the previous decades, these “colonials”, led by J. Stewart, supplied the Canadian Corps who went on to victory at Vimy. From this the light railways were expanded to 700 miles (1,100 km) of track, which supplied 7,000 tons of supplies daily. The ebb and flow of war meant that rail lines were built and rebuilt, moved and used elsewhere, but by the latter years of Passchendaele, Amiens and Argonne, light railways came into their own and pulled for the final victory.
Trench railways represented military adaptation of early 20th century railway technology to the problem of keeping soldiers supplied during the static trench warfare phase of World War I. The large concentrations of soldiers and artillery at the front lines required delivery of enormous quantities of food, ammunition and fortification construction materials where transport facilities had been destroyed. Reconstruction of conventional roads (at that time rarely surfaced) and railways was too slow, and fixed facilities were attractive targets for enemy artillery. Trench railways linked the front with standard gauge railway facilities beyond the range of enemy artillery. Empty cars often carried litters returning wounded from the front.
France had developed portable Decauville railways for agricultural areas, small scale mining and temporary construction projects. France had standardized 600 mm(1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) narrow gauge Decauville military equipment and Germany adopted similar feldbahn of the same gauge. British War Department Light Railways and the United States Army Transportation Corps used the French 600 mm narrow gauge system. Russia used Decauville 600 mm narrow gauge and 750 mm (2 ft 5 1⁄2 in) narrow gauge systems.
Unskilled labourers and soldiers could quickly assemble prefabricated 5-meter (16 ft 5 in) sections of track weighing about 100 kilograms (220 lb) along roads or over smooth terrain. The track distributed heavy loads to minimize development of muddy ruts through unpaved surfaces. Small locomotives pulled short trains of 10-tonne (22,000 lb) capacity cars through areas of minimum clearance and small-radius curves. Derailments were common, but the light rolling stock was relatively easy to rerail. Steam locomotives typically carried a short length of flexible pipe (called a water-lifter) to refill water tanks from flooded shell holes.
Steam locomotives produced enough smoke to reveal their location to enemy artillery and aircraft. Steam locomotives required fog or darkness to operate within visual range of the front. Daylight transport usually required animal power until internal combustion locomotives were developed. Large quantities of hay and grain were carried to the front while horses remained an essential part of military logistics. Fodder for horses constituted the single biggest commodity exported from Britain to France during the war.
During WWI trucks were used to carry combatants and materiel, 900 LGOC B-type buses were used to move troops behind the lines during the war. After initially serving without any modifications and in their red-and-white livery, they were painted khaki. It was soon found that the glass windows on the lower deck were prone to breakage, mostly from contact with the men’s rifles and packs. The glass was therefore removed and replaced by planks nailed to the sides of the vehicle.
The B-Type could carry 24 fully equipped infantrymen and their kit. Some were converted into mobile pigeon lofts to house the pigeons used for communication along the front. They served until the end of the war when they were used to bring troops home.
Similarly, cars were used for the mass-transportation of troops. During the First Battle of the Marne, the French Sixth Army was reinforced on the night of 7/8 September by 10,000 French reserve infantry ferried from Paris. This included about 6,000 men from the Seventh Division who were transported in a fleet of Paris taxicabs requisitioned by General Gallieni.
The arrival of reinforcements by taxi has traditionally been described as critical in stopping a possible German breakthrough against the Sixth Army. In 2001, Strachan described the course of the battle without mentioning taxis and in 2009, Herwig called the matter a legend: he wrote that many French soldiers travelled in lorries and all the artillery left Paris by train. The impact on morale is undeniable, the taxis de la Marnewere perceived as a manifestation of the union sacrée of the French civilian population and its soldiers at the front, reminiscent of the people in arms who had saved the French Republic Campaign of 1794: a symbol of unity and national solidarity beyond their strategic role in the battle.
The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) raised the first British armoured car squadron during the First World War. In September 1914 all available Rolls Royce Silver Ghostchassis were requisitioned to form the basis for the new armoured car. The following month a special committee of the Admiralty Air Department, among whom was Flight Commander T.G. Hetherington, designed the superstructure which consisted of armoured bodywork and a single fully rotating turret holding a regular water cooled Vickers machine gun.
Six RNAS Rolls-Royce squadrons were formed of 12 vehicles each: one went to France; one to Africa to fight in the German colonies and in April 1915 two went to Gallipoli. From August 1915 onwards these were all disbanded and the materiel handed over to the Army which used them in the Light Armoured Motor Batteries of the Machine Gun Corps. The armoured cars were poorly suited to the muddy trench filled battlefields of the Western Front, but were able to operate in the Near East, so the squadron from France went to Egypt.
Lawrence of Arabia used a squadron in his operations against the Turkish forces. He called the unit of nine armoured Rolls-Royces “more valuable than rubies” in helping win his Revolt in the Desert. This impression would last with him the rest of his life; when asked by a journalist what he thought would be the thing he would most value he said “I should like my own Rolls-Royce car with enough tyres and petrol to last me all my life”.
During the First World War, sixteen American Peerless trucks were modified by the British to serve as armoured cars. These were relatively primitive designs with open backs, armed with a Pom-pom gun and a machine gun, and were delivered to the British army in 1915. They were used also by the Tsarist Russian Army as self-propelled anti-aircraft guns.
After the war, a new design was needed to replace armoured cars that had been worn out. As a result, the Peerless Armoured Car design was developed in 1919. It was based on the chassis of the Peerless three ton lorry, with an armoured body built by the Austin Motor Company.
The British Mark IV Tank is generally accepted as the most successful tank design of World War I. The Mark IV was first used in large numbers on 7 June 1917, during the British assault on Messines Ridge. Crossing dry but heavily cratered terrain, many of the sixty-plus Mark IVs lagged behind the infantry, but several made important contributions to the battle. By comparison, at the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele) from 31 July, where the preliminary 24-day long barrage had destroyed all drainage and heavy rain had soaked the field, the tanks found it heavy going and contributed little; those that sank into the swampy ground were immobilized and became easy targets for enemy artillery.
Nearly 460 Mark IV tanks were used during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, showing that a large concentration of tanks could quickly overcome even the most sophisticated trench systems.
In the aftermath of the German Spring Offensive on the western front, the first tank-to-tank battle was between Mk IV tanks and German A7Vs in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918.
About 40 captured Mark IVs were employed by the Germans as Beutepanzerwagen(The German word Beute means “loot” or “booty”) with a crew of twelve. These formed four tank companies from December 1917. Some of these had their six pounders replaced by a German equivalent. 1,220 Mk.IV’s were produced during World War I.
The last Mark IV to see service was Excellent, a Mark IV male retained by the naval gunnery school on Whale Island, HMS Excellent. In the early years of the Second World War it was restored to operational status and driven to the mainland, where its new career was allegedly brought to an early end after a number of cars were damaged. The final mark to serve with the British Army was the Mark V which included a four man crew and used Wilson’s epicyclic gearing in 1918. Additionally, the British employed a medium tank, The Medium Mark A Whippet, it was intended to complement the slower British heavy tanks by using its relative mobility and speed in exploiting any break in the enemy lines. Whippets later took part in several of the British Army’s postwar actions, notably in Ireland, North Russia and Northeast China.
The Germans developed the A7V, of which 100 chassis were built. The first tank against tank combat in history took place on 24 April 1918 when three A7Vs (including chassis number 561, known as “Nixe”) taking part in an attack with infantry incidentally met three Mark IVs.
The French produced a light-Tank design, The Renault FT, frequently referred to in post-World War I literature as the “FT-17” or “FT17”, was a French light tank that was among the most revolutionary and influential tank designs in history.
The FT was the first production tank to have its armament within a fully rotating turret. The Renault FT’s configuration – crew compartment at the front, engine compartment at the back, and main armament in a revolving turret – became and remains the standard tank layout. Over 3,000 Renault FT tanks were manufactured by French industry, most of them during the year 1918. Another 950 of an almost identical licensed copy of the FT (the M1917) were made in the United States, but not in time to enter combat. Armoured warfare historian Steven Zaloga has called the Renault FT “the world’s first modern tank.” The French heavy tank during WWI was the Char Saint-Chamond.
At the beginning of the war, artillery was often sited in the front line to fire over open sights at enemy infantry. During the war, the following improvements were made:
- the first “box barrage” in history was fired at Neuve Chapelle in 1915; this was the use of a three- or four-sided curtain of shell-fire to prevent the movement of enemy infantry
- the wire-cutting No. 106 fuze was developed, specifically designed to explode on contact with barbed wire, or the ground before the shell buried itself in mud, and equally effective as an anti-personnel weapon
- the first anti-aircraft guns were designed out of necessity
- indirect counter-battery fire was developed for the first time in history
- flash spotting and sound ranging were invented, for the location and eventual destruction of enemy batteries
- the creeping barrage was perfected
- factors such as weather, air temperature, and barrel wear could for the first time be accurately measured and taken into account when firing indirectly
- forward observers were used to direct artillery positioned out of direct line of sight from the targets, and sophisticated communications and fire plans were developed.
Shell production rose from 500,000 in the first five months of the war to 16.4 million in 1915.
By 1917, thanks to the new munitions factories and the women that worked in them, the British Empire was supplying more than 50 million shells a year. By the end of the war, the British Army alone had fired 170 million shells.
France’s transformation of its armaments production was even more successful. By importing coal from Britain and steel from the United States, releasing 350,000 soldiers to the war industries, and bolstering them with more than 470,000 women, it was able to increase its daily output of 75mm shells from 4,000 in October 1914 to 151,000 in June 1916, and that of 155mm shells from 235 to 17,000. In 1917 it produced more shells and artillery pieces per day than Britain.
Germany had started with an industrial advantage over both Britain and France – chiefly because it led the way in steel production and in many branches of chemicals and engineering – and its output of shells in 1914 was 1.36 million shells.
But shortages of vital raw materials – particularly cotton, camphor, pyrites and saltpetre – meant it could not expand its production at the same rate, and only 8.9 million shells were made in 1915.
The following year saw a huge improvement, thanks to efforts of the KRA, the wartime raw materials department, which commandeered stockpiles, allocated distribution and, most importantly, oversaw the chemical industry’s production of synthetic substitutes.
In 1916, as a result, the production of German shells increased almost fourfold to 36 million. But in the long term, the Central Powers – Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria – could not hope to compete with the Allies’ financial and industrial muscle.
The years leading up to the war saw the use of improved metallurgical and mechanical techniques to produce larger ships with larger guns and, in reaction, more armor. The launching of HMS Dreadnought (1906) revolutionized battleship construction, leaving many ships obsolete before they were completed. Consequently, at the start of the war, many navies comprised newer ships and obsolete older ones. The advantage was in long-range gunnery, and naval battles took place at far greater distances than before. The Battle of Jutland (1916) was the only full-scale battle between fleets in the war.
Having the largest surface fleet, the United Kingdom sought to press its advantage. British ships blockaded German ports, hunted down German and Austro-Hungarian ships wherever they might be on the high seas, and supported actions against German colonies. The German surface fleet was largely kept in the North Sea. This situation pushed Germany, in particular, to direct its resources to a new form of naval power: submarines.
The Naval Arms Race during World War I was dominated by the Dreadnought Battleship. The dreadnought was the predominant type of battleship in the early 20th century. The first of the kind, the Royal Navy‘s Dreadnought, made such a strong impression on people’s minds when launched in 1906 that similar battleships built subsequently were referred to generically as “dreadnoughts”, and earlier battleships became known as pre-dreadnoughts. Dreadnought’s design had two revolutionary features: an “all-big-gun” armament scheme, with more heavy-calibre guns than previous ships, and steam turbine propulsion.[ As dreadnoughts became a crucial symbol of national power, the arrival of these new warships renewed the naval arms race between the United Kingdom and Germany. Dreadnought races sprang up around the world, including in South America, lasting up to the beginning of World War I. Successive designs increased rapidly in size and made use of improvements in armament, armour, and propulsion throughout the dreadnought era. Within five years, new battleships had outclassed Dreadnought. These more powerful vessels were known as “super-dreadnoughts.” Most of the original dreadnoughts were scrapped after the end of World War I under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, but many of the newer super-dreadnoughts continued to be used throughout World War II. The only surviving Dreadnought is USS Texas, located near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
Dreadnought-building consumed vast resources in the early 20th century, but there was only one battle between large dreadnought fleets. In the 1916 Battle of Jutland, the British and German navies clashed with no decisive result. The term “dreadnought” gradually dropped from use after World War I, especially after the Washington Naval Treaty, as virtually all remaining battleships shared dreadnought characteristics; the term can also be used to describe battlecruisers, the other type of ship resulting from the dreadnought revolution.
World War I was the first conflict in which submarines were a serious weapon of war. In the years shortly before the war, the relatively sophisticated propulsion system of diesel power while surfaced and battery power while submerged was introduced.
The United Kingdom relied heavily on imports to feed its population and supply its war industry, and the German navy hoped to blockade and starve Britain using U-boats to attack merchant ships in unrestricted submarine warfare. This struggle between German submarines and British counter measures became known as the First Battle of the Atlantic. As German submarines became more numerous and effective, the British sought ways to protect their merchant ships. “Q-ships,” attack vessels disguised as civilian ships, were one early strategy.
Consolidating merchant ships into convoys protected by one or more armed navy vessels was adopted later in the war. There was initially a great deal of debate about this approach, out of fear that it would just provide German U-boats with a wealth of convenient targets. Thanks to the development of active and passive sonar devices, coupled with increasingly deadly anti-submarine weapons, the convoy system reduced British losses to U-boats to a small fraction of their former level. Lieutenant Otto Weddigen remarked of the second submarine attack of the Great War:
Balloon carriers were the first ships to deploy manned aircraft, used during the 19th and early 20th century, mainly for observation purposes. The advent of fixed-wing aircraft in 1903 was followed in 1910 by the first flight from the deck of a US Navy cruiser. Seaplanes and seaplane tender support ships, such as HMS Engadine, followed. The development of flat top vessels produced the first large fleet ships. Though several ships had previously been designed to launch aircraft and in some cases, the first true “flat-top” carrier was HMS Argus, launched in December 1917.
HMS Argus (I49)
HMS Argus was a British aircraft carrier that served in the Royal Navy from 1918 to 1944. She was converted from an ocean liner that was under construction when the First World War began, and became the first example of what is now the standard pattern of aircraft carrier, with a full-length flight deck that allowed wheeled aircraft to take off and land. After commissioning, the ship was heavily involved for several years in the development of the optimum design for other aircraft carriers. Argus also evaluated various types of arresting gear, general procedures needed to operate a number of aircraft in concert, and fleet tactics. The ship was too top-heavy as originally built and had to be modified to improve her stability in the mid-1920s. She spent one brief deployment on the China Station in the late 1920s before being placed in reserve for budgetary reasons.
Argus was recommissioned and partially modernised shortly before the Second World War and served as a training ship for deck-landing practice until June 1940. The following month she made the first of her many ferry trips to the Western Mediterranean to fly off fighters to Malta; she was largely occupied in this task for the next two years. The ship also delivered aircraft to Murmansk in Russia, Takoradi on the Gold Coast, and Reykjavík in Iceland. By 1942, the Royal Navy was very short of aircraft carriers and Argus was pressed into front-line service despite her lack of speed and armament. In June, she participated in Operation Harpoon, providing air cover for the Malta-bound convoy. In November, the ship provided air cover during Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa, and was lightly damaged by a bomb. After returning to the UK for repairs, Argus was used again for deck-landing practice until late September 1944. In December, she became an accommodation ship and was listed for disposal in mid-1946. Argus was sold in late 1946 and scrapped the following year.
HMS Furious (47)
HMS Furious was a modified Courageous-class battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy(RN) during the First World War. Designed to support the Baltic Project championed by the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, Lord John Fisher, the ship was very lightly armoured and armed with only a few heavy guns. Furious was modified and became an aircraft carrier while under construction. Her forward turret was removed and a flight deck was added in its place, so that aircraft had to manoeuvre around the superstructure to land. Later in the war, the ship had her rear turret removed and a second flight deck installed aft of the superstructure, but this was less than satisfactory due to air turbulence. On 2 August 1917, while performing trials, Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning landed a Sopwith Pup, believed to have been N6453, successfully on board Furious, becoming the first person to land an aircraft on a moving ship. On 7 August, he made one more successful landing in the same manner, but on his third attempt, in Pup N6452, the engine choked and the aircraft crashed off the starboard bow, killing him. The deck arrangement was unsatisfactory because aircraft had to manoeuvre around the superstructure in order to land.
In the meantime, all three Courageous-class ships were assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron (CS) in October 1917 when the Admiralty received word of German ship movements on 16 October, possibly indicating a raid. Admiral Beatty, commander of the Grand Fleet, ordered most of his light cruisers and destroyers to sea in an effort to locate the enemy ships. Furious was detached from the 1st CS and ordered to sweep along the 56th parallel as far as 4° East and to return before dark. Her half-sisters Courageous and Glorious were not initially ordered to sea, but were sent to reinforce the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron patrolling the central part of the North Sea later that day. Two German Brummer-class light cruisers managed to slip through the gaps in the British patrols and destroyed the Scandinavia convoy during the morning of 17 October, but no word was received of the engagement until that afternoon. The 1st CS was ordered to attempt to intercept the German ships, but they proved to be faster than hoped and the British ships were unsuccessful.
Furious returned to the dockyard in November to have the aft turret removed and replaced by another deck for landing, giving her both a launching and a recovery deck. Two lifts (elevators) serving the hangars were also installed. Furious was recommissioned on 15 March 1918, and her embarked aircraft were used on anti-Zeppelin patrols in the North Sea after May. In July 1918, she flew off seven Sopwith Camels which participated in the Tondern raid, attacking the Zeppelin sheds there with moderate success.
As with most other technologies, the aircraft underwent many improvements during World War I.
While early air spotters were unarmed, they soon began firing at each other with handheld weapons. An arms race commenced, quickly leading to increasingly agile planes equipped with machine guns. A key innovation was the interrupter gear, a German invention that allowed a machine gun to be mounted behind the propeller so the pilot could fire directly ahead, along the plane’s flight path.
As the stalemate developed on the ground, with both sides unable to advance even a few miles without a major battle and thousands of casualties, planes became greatly valued for their role gathering intelligence on enemy positions and bombing the enemy’s supplies behind the trench lines. Large planes with a pilot and an observer were used to reconnoiter enemy positions and bomb their supply bases. Because they were large and slow, these planes made easy targets for enemy fighter planes. As a result, both sides used fighter aircraft to both attack the enemy’s observer planes and protect their own.
Germany led the world in the design of Zeppelins, and used these airships to make occasional bombing raids on military targets, London and other British cities, without any great effect. Later in the war, Germany began attacking English cities with long range strategic bombers. As with the Zeppelin attacks, Germany’s strategic bombing of England had limited tactical value, but it was demoralizing and showed the British they could not be completely immune from the effects of the war in their own country. It also forced the British air forces to maintain squadrons of fighters in England to defend against air attack, depriving the British Expeditionary Force of planes, equipment, and personnel badly needed on the Western front.
Manned observation balloons floating high above the trenches were used as stationary reconnaissance points on the front lines, reporting enemy troop positions and directing artillery fire. Balloons commonly had a crew of two, each equipped with parachutes: upon an enemy air attack on the flammable balloon, the crew would jump to safety. At the time, parachutes were too heavy to be used by pilots in aircraft, and smaller versions would not be developed until the end of the war. (In the British case, there arose concerns that they might undermine morale, effectively encouraging cowardice.) Recognized for their value as observer platforms, observation balloons were important targets of enemy aircraft. To defend against air attack, they were heavily protected by large concentrations of antiaircraft guns and patrolled by friendly aircraft.
By inhibiting the enemy’s ability to move in secrecy, aerial reconnaissance over the front can be blamed to some degree for the stalemate of trench warfare.
Strategic bombing during World War I (29 July 1914 – 11 November 1918) was principally carried out by the United Kingdom and France for the Entente Powers and Germany for the Central Powers. All the nations at war eventually engaged in such bombing and, except Rome and Washington, the capital city of each major belligerent was targeted. A multi-national air force to strike at Germany was planned but never materialised. The aerial bombing of cities, intended to destroy the enemy’s morale, was introduced by the Germans in the opening days of the war.
The first strategic bombing in history was also the first instance of bombs being dropped on a city from the air. On 6 August 1914 a German Zeppelin bombed the Belgian city of Liège. Within the first month of the war, Germany had formed the “Ostend Carrier Pigeon Detachment”, actually an airplane unit to be used for the bombing of English port cities. During the First Battle of the Marne, a German pilot flying aerial reconnaissancemissions over Paris in a Taube regularly dropped bombs on the city. The first raid dropped five small bombs and a note demanding the immediate surrender of Paris and the French nation. Before the stabilisation of the Western Front, the German aircraft dropped fifty bombs on Paris, slightly damaging Notre Dame Cathedral.
The first extended campaigns of strategic bombing were carried out against England by the German Empire’s fleet of airships, which were then the only aircraft capable of such sustained activities so far from their bases. This campaign was approved on 7 January 1915 by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who forbade attacks on London, fearing that his relatives in the British royal family might be injured. These restrictions were lifted in May, after British attacks on German cities. The first attacks on England were on 9 January, and struck the Yarmouth area and King’s Lynn. In Britain, fear of the Zeppelin as a weapon of war preceded its actual use: even before the war the British public was gripped by “zeppelinitis”.
The Zeppelin proved too costly compared to airplanes, too large and slow a target, its hydrogen gas too flammable, and too susceptible to bad weather, anti-aircraft fire (below 5,000 feet) and interceptors armed with incendiary bullets (up to 10,000 feet) for the Imperial German Army (Reichsheer), which abandoned its use in 1916. The Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine), whose airships were primarily used for reconnaissance over the North Sea, continued to bomb the United Kingdom until 1918. In all, fifty-one raids on Great Britain were carried out, the last by the Navy in May 1918. The most intense year of the airship bombing of England was 1916. Germany employed 125 airships during the war, losing more than half and sustaining a 40% attrition rate of their crews, the highest of any German service branch.
In May 1917 the Germans began using heavy bombers against England using Gotha G.IV and later supplementing these with Riesenflugzeuge (“giant aircraft”). The targets of these raids were industrial and port facilities and government buildings, but few of the bombs hit military targets, most falling on private property and killing civilians. Although the German strategic bombing campaign against Britain was the most extensive of the war, it was largely ineffective, in terms of actual damage done. Only 300 tons of bombs were dropped, resulting in material damage of £2,962,111 damage, 1,414 dead and 3,416 injured, these figures including those due to shrapnel from the anti-aircraft fire. In the autumn of 1917, however, over 300,000 Londoners had taken shelter from the bombing, and industrial production had fallen.
The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) undertook the first Entente strategic bombing missions on 22 September 1914 and 8 October, when it bombed the Zeppelin bases in Cologne and Düsseldorf. The airplanes carried twenty-pound bombs, and at least one airship was destroyed. On 21 November the RNAS flew across Lake Constance to bomb the Zeppelin factories in Friedrichshafen and Ludwigshafen. On 25 December the Cuxhaven Raid was the first attack by sea-based airplanes launched from ships against a strategic target.
When William Weir, the President of the Air Council in 1918, told Hugh Trenchard that it was not necessary to worry about accuracy during strategic bombing raids, the general replied that “all the pilots drop their eggs into the centre of town generally.” After the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised to repay Germany for its air raids “with compound interest”. On 19 July, the first aircraft carrier-based air raid in history, the Tondern raid, was launched against the German Zeppelin base at Tondern.
On 6 June 1918 the British formed the Independent Force under Major General Hugh Trenchard to engage in long-range bombing directed at industrial targets deep in German territory. Missions were undertaken with De Havilland DH9s and Handley Page O/400s, but the war ended before Britain’s four-engined Handley Page V/1500 bomber, designed to drop 7,500 lbs on Berlin, entered service. Ultimately, retaliatory bombings on German cities provoked German retaliation against not British but French cities, which led to disagreement between British and French leadership concerning the strategy of such bombing and allocation of resources away from the Western Front. Still, the British dropped 660 tons of bombs on Germany, more than twice what Germany had managed to drop on England.
France formed the first strategic bombing unit in history, the Group de Bombardment No. 1 (GB1), in September 1914. The French were reluctant to bomb targets on their own soil, even if occupied by the Germans, and were more wary of German retaliation than the British, because French cities were within range of German bombers. Nevertheless, GB1 raided far behind the front, concentrating on the German supply network and troop concentrations, a strategy designed to directly aid the French Army on the Western Front. The French favoured light bombers, often modifying reconnaissance craft for the purpose. The Breguet 14 of 1917 remained in production until 1926.
On 4 December 1914 French pilots carried out the first Entente bombing of a city when they dropped bombs on Freiburg im Breisgau. In 1916 a French Nieuport flew over Berlin and dropped leaflets assuring the people that while they could have been bombs, “Paris did not make war on women and children”. He was forced to land sixty miles short of Russia, his intended destination.
On 1 November 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War, the Kingdom of Italy had carried out the first aerial military mission in history—a tactical bombing—when Giulio Gavotti dropped bombs by hand on Turkish positions in the Libyan desert. During World War I Italy, like France, did not wish to bomb centres of civilian population behind enemy lines, because many of the obvious targets had a high number of Italian residents or were in territories Italy had plans to annexe after the war. Like Russia, Italy possessed heavy bombers before its entry into the war, Giovanni Caproni having built the multi-engine Caproni Ca.1 in 1914.
In August 1915, the Ca.1s were placed in the 21° Squadriglia of the Corpo Aeronautico Militare. In October–November 1915, the Ca.1s attacked Austro-Hungarian railroads and supply depots. Later in the war, photographic reconnaissance and offensive actions were conducted by Ansaldo SVA aircraft, which launched a four-aircraft strike from Ponte San Pietro against Innsbruck on 28 February 1918, strafing and bombing railroad marshalling yards. Innsbruck, along with Bolzano, was again the target of an air strike by SVA bombers on 29 October 1918.
The Russian Empire possessed the only long-range heavy bomber to be operational in the first year of the war, the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets (IM). This could carry 1,100 lbs of bombs, and remain in the air for up five hours with a reduced bomb load. In August 1914 the Russians grouped their four Sikorskys in a unit dedicated to strategic bombing and based them near Warsaw in December. Cities were not the main targets on the Eastern Front: the principal targets were supply depots, troop concentrations and transportation networks, especially railway yards and stations. By March 1918, when Russia left the war, around seventy Ilya Muromets had been constructed, and they had flown over 350 bombing or reconnaissance missions along the entire Eastern Front.
Strategic bombing by Austria–Hungary was limited, mostly confined to Italian targets on the Adriatic. Nonetheless, Austro-Hungarian pilots based at Pula flew forty-two bombing missions over Venice after the Italian Front had advanced to within a few miles of the city. The Chiesa degli Scalzi, near the Ferrovia train station, was damaged, including two ceiling frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. A particularly severe raid was carried out on 27 February 1918, hitting central Venice and sending many Venetians to take refuge in Giudecca and the Lido. A letter from Ralph Curtis to Isabella Stewart Gardner written in September 1915 explains how the Venetians instituted blackout during the bombings:
The mosquitos from Pula come buzzing over nearly every fine night, and drop bombs for half an hour or so. . . . Venice is like a lovely prima donna in deep mourning. All the gilded angels wear sack-cloth painted dirty grey. Anything that shines is covered. At night all is as black as in the dark ages. “Serrenos” call out “all is well” every half hour. But when danger is signalled the electric light is cut off, sirens blow, cannon firebombs explode and the whole city shakes on its piles. All the hotels but the Danieli’s are hospitals.
The Venetian writer Alvise Zorzi attributes “the final rupture of the continuity of Venetian customs and culture” to the Austro-Hungarian bombing campaign.
The word “fighter” was first used to describe a two-seater aircraft with sufficient lift to carry a machine gun and its operator as well as the pilot. Some of the first such “fighters” belonged to the “gunbus” series of experimental gun carriers of the British Vickers company that culminated in the Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus of 1914. The main drawback of this type of aircraft was its lack of speed. Planners quickly realized that an aircraft intended to destroy its kind in the air had to be fast enough to catch its quarry.
Another type of military aircraft was to form the basis for an effective “fighter” in the modern sense of the word. It was based on the small fast aircraft developed before the war for such air races as the Gordon Bennett Cup and Schneider Trophy. The military scout airplane was not expected to carry serious armament, but rather to rely on its speed to reach the scout or reconnoiter location and return quickly to report—essentially an aerial horse. British scout aircraft, in this sense, included the Sopwith Tabloid and Bristol Scout. French equivalents included the Morane-Saulnier N.
Soon after the commencement of the war, pilots armed themselves with pistols, carbines, grenades, and an assortment of improvised weapons. Many of these proved ineffective as the pilot had to fly his airplane while attempting to aim a handheld weapon and make a difficult deflection shot. The first step in finding a real solution was to mount the weapon on the aircraft, but the propeller remained a problem since the best direction to shoot is straight ahead. Numerous solutions were tried. A second crew member behind the pilot could aim and fire a swivel-mounted machine gun at enemy airplanes; however, this limited the area of coverage chiefly to the rear hemisphere, and effective coordination of the pilot’s maneuvering with the gunner’s aiming was difficult. This option was chiefly employed as a defensive measure on two-seater reconnaissance aircraft from 1915 on. Both the SPAD A.2 and the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.9 added a second crewman ahead of the engine in a pod but this was both hazardous to the second crewman and limited performance. The Sopwith L.R.T.Tr. similarly added a pod on the top wing with no better luck.
An alternative was to build a “pusher” scout such as the Airco DH.2, with the propeller mounted behind the pilot. The main drawback was that the high drag of a pusher type’s tail structure made it slower than a similar “tractor” aircraft.
A better solution for a single seat scout was to mount the machine gun (rifles and pistols having been dispensed with) to fire forwards but outside the propeller arc. Wing guns were tried but the unreliable weapons available required frequent clearing of jammed rounds and misfires and remained impractical until after the war. Mounting the machine gun over the top wing worked well and was used long after the ideal solution was found. The Nieuport 11 of 1916 and Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 of 1918 both used this system with considerable success; however, this placement made aiming difficult and the location made it difficult for a pilot to both maneuver and have access to the gun’s breech. The British Foster mounting was specifically designed for this kind of application, fitted with the Lewis Machine gun, which due to its design was unsuitable for synchronizing.
The need to arm a tractor scout with a forward-firing gun whose bullets passed through the propeller arc was evident even before the outbreak of war and inventors in both France and Germany devised mechanisms that could time the firing of the individual rounds to avoid hitting the propeller blades. Franz Schneider, a Swiss engineer, had patented such a device in Germany in 1913, but his original work was not followed up. French aircraft designer Raymond Saulnier patented a practical device in April 1914, but trials were unsuccessful because of the propensity of the machine gun employed to hang fire due to unreliable ammunition.
In December 1914, French aviator Roland Garros asked Saulnier to install his synchronization gear on Garros’ Morane-Saulnier Type L. Unfortunately the gas-operated Hotchkiss machine gun he was provided had an erratic rate of fire and it was impossible to synchronize it with a spinning propeller. As an interim measure, the propeller blades were armored and fitted with metal wedges to protect the pilot from ricochets. Garros’ modified monoplane was first flown in March 1915 and he began combat operations soon thereafter. Garros scored three victories in three weeks before he himself was downed on 18 April and his airplane, along with its synchronization gear and propeller was captured by the Germans.
Meanwhile, the synchronization gear (called the Stangensteuerung in German, for “pushrod control system”) devised by the engineers of Anthony Fokker‘s firm was the first system to see production contracts, and would make the Fokker Eindeckermonoplane a feared name over the Western Front, despite its being an adaptation of an obsolete pre-war French Morane-Saulnier racing airplane, with a mediocre performance and poor flight characteristics. The first victory for the Eindecker came on 1 July 1915, when Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, flying with the Feldflieger Abteilung 6 unit on the Western Front, forced down a Morane-Saulnier Type L two-seat “parasol” monoplane just east of Luneville. Wintgens’ aircraft, one of the five Fokker M.5K/MG production prototype examples of the Eindecker, was armed with a synchronized, air-cooled aviation version of the Parabellum MG14 machine gun.
The success of the Eindecker kicked off a competitive cycle of improvement among the combatants, building ever more capable single-seat fighters. The Albatros D.I and Sopwith Pup of 1916 set the classic pattern followed by fighters for about twenty years. Most were biplanes and only rarely monoplanes or triplanes. The strong box structure of the biplane wing provided a rigid wing that allowed the accurate lateral control essential for dogfighting. They had a single operator, who flew the aircraft and also controlled its armament. They were armed with one or two Maxim or Vickers machine guns, which were easier to synchronize than other types, firing through the propeller arc. Gun breeches were directly in front of the pilot, with obvious implications in case of accidents, but jams could be cleared in flight, while aiming was simplified.
The use of metal aircraft structures was pioneered before World War I by Breguet but would find its biggest proponent in Anthony Fokker, who used chrome-molybdenum steel tubing for the fuselage structure of all his fighter designs, while the innovative German engineer Hugo Junkers developed two all-metal, single-seat fighter monoplane designs with cantilever wings: the strictly experimental Junkers J 2 private-venture aircraft, made with steel, and some forty examples of the Junkers D.I, made with corrugated duralumin, all based on his experience in creating the pioneering Junkers J 1all-metal airframe technology demonstration aircraft of late 1915. While Fokker would pursue steel tube fuselages with wooden wings until the late 1930s, and Junkers would focus on corrugated sheet metal, Dornier was the first to build a fighter (The Dornier-Zeppelin D.I) made with pre-stressed sheet aluminium and having cantelevered wings, a form that would replace all others in the 1930s.
As collective combat experience grew, the more successful pilots such as Oswald Boelcke, Max Immelmann, and Edward Mannock developed innovative tactical formations and maneuvers to enhance their air units’ combat effectiveness.
Allied and—before 1918—German pilots of World War I were not equipped with parachutes, so in-flight fires or structural failure were often fatal. Parachutes were well-developed by 1918 having previously been used by balloonists, and were adopted by the German flying services during the course of that year (the famous “Red Baron” was wearing one when he was killed), but the allied command continued to oppose their use on various grounds.
In April 1917, during a brief period of German aerial supremacy, a grandstanding Member of Parliament (upset at the lack of orders for his own aircraft manufacturing firm) claimed that, on the Western Front, a British pilot’s average life expectancy was 93 flying hours, or about three weeks of active service. More than 50,000 airmen from both sides died during the war.
It is worth noting that The Fokker D.VII, a German World War I fighter aircraft designed by Reinhold Platz of the Fokker-Flugzeugwerke, proved itself to be such a formidable aircraft, that The Armistice ending the war, specifically required Germany to surrender all D.VIIs to the Allies. Surviving aircraft saw continued widespread service with many other countries in the years after World War I.
The Petroczy-Karman-Zurovec PKZ 2 Helicopter
The Petroczy-Karman-Zurovec PKZ 2 helicopter, despite its name, was invented by Wilhelm Zurovec for which he alone received German patent No. 347,578, dated 12 February 1918. Unlike the PKZ 1, which was government funded, the PKZ 2 was privately financed by the Hungarian Bank and the firm of Dr. Liptak & Co AG, a large iron foundry and steel fabricator located near Budapest which established an experimental section under Zurovec’s direction in late 1917.
In the design of the PKZ 2 helicopter, Zurovec incorporated the concept of using counter-rotating rotors to cancel torque effects. Each rotor, with a diameter of 6 meters, represented an ingenious combination of old-world craftsmanship with modern applied engineering.
The PKZ 2 was test flown for the first time at the Liptak factory on 2 April 1918. After several flights, one lasting up to one hour, tests were suspended on 5 April because engine power was insufficient to permit safe hovering above 1.2m height. The Gnome engines were replaced by three 120hp Le Rhones. Flight testing continued from 17 to 21 May, during which flights between 10 and 50 meters altitude were recorded. During periods of calm weather and smooth engine operation, the excess lift measured at ground level was 150 to 200kg. As the PKZ 2 climbed, the loss of ground effect and the increase in tethering cable weight steadily reduced the excess lift. Yet, as long as excess lift sufficed to maintain proper cable tension, the PKZ 2 remained in stable hovering flight. At higher altitudes, the excess lift became marginal, causing the machine to slowly oscillate with increasing amplitude. Provided the tethering cables were retracted at about 1.5m/s, the oscillations to cease in about 15 to 20 seconds.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The Kettering Bug was an experimental, unmanned aerial torpedo, a forerunner of present-day cruise missiles. It was capable of striking ground targets up to 121 kilometres (75 mi) from its launch point, while traveling at speeds of 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph).
The prototype Bug was completed and delivered to the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1918, near the end of World War I. The first flight on October 2, 1918 was a failure: the plane climbed too steeply after takeoff, stalled and crashed. Subsequent flights were successful, and the aircraft was demonstrated to Army personnel at Dayton.
“The Kettering Bug had 2 successes on 6 attempts at Dayton, 1 of 4 at Amityville, and 4 of 14 at Carlstrom.”
Despite some successes during initial testing, the “Bug” was never used in combat. Officials worried about their reliability when carrying explosives over Allied troops. By the time the War ended about 45 Bugs had been produced. The aircraft and its technology remained a secret until World War II.
During the 1920s, what had become the U.S. Army Air Service continued to experiment with the aircraft until funding was withdrawn.
From April 1917 to March 1920 the US Government spent about $275,000 on the Kettering Bug.
Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane
Before World War I, the possibility of using radio to control aircraft intrigued many inventors. One of these, Elmer Sperry, succeeded in arousing the US Navy‘s interest. Sperry had been perfecting gyroscopes for naval use since 1896 and established the Sperry Gyroscope Company in 1910. In 1911, airplanes had only been flying for eight years, and yet Sperry became intrigued with the concept of applying radio control to them. He realized that for radio control to be effective, automatic stabilization would be essential, so he decided to adapt his naval gyro-stabilizers (which he had developed for destroyers).
In 1913, the Navy provided a flying boat to test and evaluate the gyro-based autopilot. Sperry’s son Lawrence served as an engineer during the test phase. In 1914, Lawrence Sperry was in Europe and observed the developing techniques of aerial warfare, including the use of aircraft. In 1916, the two Sperrys joined Peter Hewitt, an early inventor of radio-related devices, to develop an explosive-laden pilotless airplane.
Elmer Sperry and Hewitt served together on the Naval Consulting Board, where they both were members of the Committee on Aeronautics and Aeronautical Motors. Because of these connections, they were able to arrange for a representative of the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance, Lt. T. S. Wilkinson, to examine the control equipment they assembled. The system consisted of a gyroscopic stabilizer, a directive gyroscope, an aneroid barometer to regulate height, servo-motors for control of rudders and ailerons, and a device for distance gearing. These all could be installed in an airplane which could be catapulted or flown from the water, and would climb to a predetermined altitude, fly a pre-set course, and after traveling a pre-set distance, drop its bombs or dive to the ground. Wilkinson reported that the weapon did not possess a degree of accuracy sufficient to hit a ship, but, because of its range of 50 to 100 miles (160 km), it might be of interest to the Army.
However, after the US declaration of war on Germany, Sperry began urging the navy to revisit the idea. The Naval Consulting Board supported him, and formally requested the Secretary of Navy to apportion $50,000 for the work. The government thus included the development of the flying bomb or aerial torpedo in its war preparations. The Senate went so far as to establish two classes for the type weapon, one for wireless control, the other for completely automatic operation. Final approval came on May 17, 1917, and the Navy agreed to provide five (later upped to seven) Curtiss N-9 seaplanes and to purchase six sets of the Sperry automatic control gear. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels agreed to spend $200,000 on the project, with the money to be administered by the Bureau of Ordnance, the Bureau of Construction and Repair and the Bureau of Engineering. The operation was established at Copiague, Long Island.
The autopilot equipment was already designed, but the radio control system hadn’t been fully developed, so while the hangars were being built at Copiague, Sperry turned his attention to this aspect, purchasing rights to a number of patented radio-related inventions. Ultimately, though, the radio control systems were not used on the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane. Later, in 1922, the system was installed on several Verville-designed planes along with gear for the Army Air Services engineering division. These aircraft successfully hit their targets from ranges of 30, 60 and 90 miles (140 km).
The first test flights of an autopilot-equipped aircraft was in September, 1917, and took place with a human pilot on board to fly the takeoff. By November, the system successfully flew the aircraft to its intended target at a 30-mile (48 km) range, where the distance-measuring gear would drop a bag of sand. Accuracy was within two miles (3 km) of target.
Having observed the test flights, Rear Admiral Ralph Earle proposed a program to eliminate the German U-boat threat, one element of which was to use flying bombs, launched from Navy ships, to attack the submarine bases at Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhavenand Heligoland. Ultimately this plan was rejected, but had an element of prophecy, for in September 1944, during World War II, a modified B-24 flying as a drone attacked the submarine installations at Helgoland. Not only was Earle’s recommendation rejected, but the Navy declared that though development of the system was to continue, no production resources were to be diverted to it, and it was not to go into production.
Curtiss-Sperry Flying Bomb
When the N-9 flight test program got started, it became apparent that a more efficient airframe was needed. Because war production deliveries could not be diverted, a special, rush order was placed with Curtiss in October, 1917, for six planes of unique design, with an empty weight of 500 lb (230 kg), top speed of 90 mph (140 km/h), range of 50 miles (80 km) and the capability of carrying up to 1,000 lb (450 kg) of explosives. They became known as the Curtiss-Sperry Flying Bomb. Because this was to be a design dedicated to the remote control concept, the planes were not equipped with seats or standard pilot controls. No flight or wind-tunnel testing of the design was performed before production began. The first was delivered on November 10.
One of the most daunting challenges to the designers was the launch mechanism. The original concept envisioned by Hewitt and Sperry was a catapult mechanism or from the water (the N-9s were seaplanes, the Flying Bomb was not). For the Flying Bomb, it was decided to try to launch it by sliding it down a long wire. In November and December 1917, three attempts were made to launch the Flying Bomb. On the first launch, one wing was damaged as the plane went down the wire, and on the second, the plane lifted from the wire but immediately plunged to the ground. The wire method was then abandoned in favor of a traditional catapult with a 150-foot (46 m) track, with power obtained from a 3-ton weight being dropped from a height of 30 feet (9.1 m). On the third try, the plane lagged behind the cart, damaging the propeller, and the plane flipped over its nose. Two more attempts in January, 1918, saw the plane get airborne, but it was too tail-heavy, so it stalled and crashed almost immediately.
It was realized that some flight test evaluation of the aircraft’s capabilities was necessary. One of the planes was then fitted out with sled runners for landing gear, a seat and standard control stick, and Lawrence Sperry decided that he would be the test pilot. While taxiing it on ice, he hit some slushy snow, and wrecked the plane, though Sperry was unhurt. A second airplane was fitted out, and Sperry managed to get it in the air, but lost control when the automatic pilot was engaged. After two complete rolls, Sperry managed to regain control and land safely.
Clearly, though, more attention to flight testing the basic design was needed, particularly in the area of handling qualities. Sperry and his assistant, N. W. Dalton, obtained a Marmon automobile, and mounted the Curtiss-Sperry Flying Bomb to the top of it. In this configuration, Sperry and his crew drove the Long Island Motor Parkway at 80 mph (130 km/h), one of the first examples of an open-air wind tunnel, and adjusted the flight controls to what they thought was the optimum settings. The design of the fuselage was changed slightly, lengthening it by two feet.
The Marmon was not only an excellent way to adjust the flight controls, it was realized that it would also be a good launching platform, and this was tried on March 6, 1918. The aircraft left the car cleanly, and flew in stable flight for the 1,000 yards (910 m) that the distance-measuring gear had been set for. For the first time in history, an unmanned, heavier-than-air vehicle had flown in controlled flight.
The feat, however, could not be duplicated, and it was thought that the roadway was too rough. The Marmon was fitted with railroad wheels, and an unused spur of the Long Island Rail Road, four miles (6 km) east of Farmingdale, New York was put back into service. On the first try, before full flying speed had been reached, the aircraft developed enough lift to raise the front wheels off the track, and another crash resulted. It was time to re-think the catapult system, and to help design it, Sperry and Hewitt hired a young and promising engineer named Carl Norden. The first try with the new system was in August, 1918, and it too resulted in a crash. Two more tests were tried, with the stabilization package that had been design for the Flying Bomb replaced with the four-gyro system used earlier on the N-9 tests, but the result was again a disappointment, with very short flights ending in crashes. On the last one, on September 26, the Flying Bomb climbed straight for about a hundred yards, then entered a spiral dive and crashed. This was the final flight for the Curtiss-Sperry Flying Bomb, as all the usable airframes had been consumed in crashes, and there remained no confidence in the design. Sperry and Hewitt returned to the N-9.
Return of the N-9
The Sperrys built a wind tunnel at the Washington Navy Yard and carried out a series of tests on the N-9, fine tuning the design. On October 17, an unmanned N-9 was launched using the new Norden catapult system. It came cleanly off the track, climbed steadily and flew within 2° of the line of intended flight. The distance gear had been set for a flight of eight miles (13 km), but somehow malfunctioned. When last seen, the N-9 was cruising over Bayshore Air Station at about 4,000 feet (1,200 m), heading east. It was never seen again.
Despite the success of the stabilization gear, there was doubt in the Navy about the program, and they asked Carl Norden to review the Sperry components and recommend improvement. The navy was, by now, satisfied with the concept, and was contemplating purchasing such equipment on its own, apart from the Sperrys. Elmer Sperry tried to stir up enthusiasm again, calling the concept of the flying bomb the “gun of the future”. This was to no avail, however. World War I came to a close when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Almost a hundred flights had been flown in the N-9, but almost all of these were in the N-9s and had a safety pilot on board. The Navy took complete control of the program from Sperry, spelling the end of the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane.
Follow on programs
During the early post-war years, the Navy sponsored similar projects. For the first program, Witteman-Lewis aircraft and Norden-designed gyrostabilizers were used, but the results were no better than those achieved by the Sperrys. In 1921, the program was reoriented to focus on the radio control aspect. The control equipment was developed at the radio laboratory at NAS Anacostia (later the Naval Research Laboratory). In 1923, tests began, and were relatively successful, but interest waned and the project lapsed in 1925. Over a decade was to pass before the Navy seriously undertook the development of target drones and pilotless aircraft.
Command and control
In the early days of the war, generals tried to direct tactics from headquarters many miles from the front, with messages being carried back and forth by couriers on motorcycles. It was soon realized that more immediate methods of communication were needed.
Radio sets of the period were too heavy to carry into battle, and phone lines laid were quickly broken. Runners, flashing lights, and mirrors were often used instead; dogs were also used, though they were only used occasionally as troops tended to adopt them as pets and men would volunteer to go as runners in the dog’s place. There were also aircraft (called “contact patrols”) that could carry messages between headquarters and forward positions, sometimes dropping their messages without landing.
The new long-range artillery developed just before the war now had to fire at positions it could not see. Typical tactics were to pound the enemy front lines and then stop to let infantry move forward, hoping that the enemy line was broken, though it rarely was. The lifting and then the creeping barrage were developed to keep artillery fire landing directly in front of the infantry “as it advanced”. Communications being impossible, the danger was that the barrage would move too fast — losing the protection — or too slowly — holding up the advance.
There were also countermeasures to these artillery tactics: by aiming a counter barrage directly behind an enemy’s creeping barrage, one could target the infantry that was following the creeping barrage. Microphones (Sound ranging) were used to triangulate the position of enemy guns and engage in counter-battery fire. Muzzle flashes of guns could also be spotted and used to target enemy artillery.
Technological innovations used during the Great War included:
- Military Communications (signals)
- Signal Lamps
- War Pidgeon’s
- Dispatch Riders
- Aerial Reconnaissance
The Western Front
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne. Following the race to the sea, both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. This line remained essentially unchanged for most of the war.
Between 1915 and 1917 there were several major offensives along this front. The attacks employed massive artillery bombardments and massed infantry advances. However, a combination of entrenchments, machine gun nests, barbed wire, and artillery repeatedly inflicted severe casualties on the attackers and counterattacking defenders. As a result, no significant advances were made. Among the most costly of these offensives were the Battle of Verdun with a combined 700,000 casualties (estimated), the Battle of the Somme with more than a million casualties (estimated), and the Battle of Passchendaele with roughly 600,000 casualties (estimated).
In an effort to break the deadlock, this front saw the introduction of new military technology, including poison gas, aircraft and tanks. But it was only after the adoption of improved tactics that some degree of mobility was restored. The German Spring Offensive of 1918 was made possible by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk that marked the end of the conflict on the Eastern Front. Using the recently introduced infiltration tactics, the German armies advanced nearly 60 miles (97 kilometres) to the west, which marked the deepest advance by either side since 1914 and very nearly succeeded in forcing a breakthrough.
Battle fronts would eventually range from Russia in the East, Mesopotamia, East Africa, German Samoa, Gallipoli, The Western Front, China, The Indian Ocean, The Atlantic, The Mediterranean, The Italian Front, The Balkans and many more.
In spite of the generally stagnant nature of the Western Front, this theatre would prove decisive. The inexorable advance of the Allied armies during the second half of 1918 persuaded the German commanders that defeat was inevitable, and the government was forced to sue for conditions of an armistice. The terms of peace were agreed upon with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
- Aircraft Fighter
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- Dreadnought Battleship
- Aircraft Carrier
- Machine Gun
- Small Arms
- Anti-Tank Weapons
- Armoured Car
- Specialist Troops/Shock Troops
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- Flying Bomb/Aerial Torpedo
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Technological Advances – Summary
Trench warfare is a form of land warfare using occupied fighting lines consisting largely of trenches, in which troops are significantly protected from the enemy’s small arms fire and are substantially sheltered from artillery. The most prominent case of trench warfare is the Western Front in World War I. It has become a byword for stalemate, attrition and futility in conflict.
Trench warfare occurred when a revolution in firepower was not matched by similar advances in mobility, resulting in a grueling form of warfare in which the defender held the advantage. In World War I, both sides constructed elaborate trench and dugout systems opposing each other along a front, protected from assault by barbed wire. The area between opposing trench lines (known as “no man’s land“) was fully exposed to artillery fire from both sides. Attacks, even if successful, often sustained severe casualties.
Given the success they had in the 1870s against the French, it is not surprising that the German battle plan for the First World War were similar. The Germans attempted to repeat the “knock-out blow” against the French armies in the Schlieffen Plan. However, technology had changed considerably in the intervening four decades, with the machine gun and considerably more powerful artillery swinging the balance of power decisively to the defense. While all combatants were desperate to get the front moving again, this now proved difficult.
Germany introduced new tactics with infiltration and stormtrooper tactics toward the end of World War I, which bypassed resistance, leaving its reduction to other means. Russian general Aleksei Brusilov used similar tactics in 1916 on the Eastern Front.
The introduction of the tank in a series of increasingly successful operations pointed the way out of trench warfare, but the war ended before the British plans to field thousands of tanks could be put into place.
Military Strategy in World War I
At the start of World War I strategy was dominated by the offensive thinking that had been in vogue since 1870, despite the more recent experiences of the Second Boer War(1899–1902) and Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), where the machine gun demonstrated its defensive capabilities. By the end of 1914, the Western Front was a stalemate and all ability to maneuver strategically was lost. The combatants resorted to a “strategy of attrition“. The German battle at Verdun, the British on the Somme and at Passchendaele were among the first wide-scale battles intended to wear down the enemy. Attrition was time-consuming so the duration of World War I battles often stretched to weeks and months. The problem with attrition was that the use of fortified defenses in depth generally required a ratio of ten attackers to one defender, or a level of artillery support which was simply not feasible until late 1917, for any reasonable chance of victory. The ability of the defender to move troops using interior lines prevented the possibility of fully exploiting any breakthrough with the level of technology then attainable.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of strategy in World War I was the difference among the British between the “Western” viewpoint (held by Field Marshal Haig) and the “Eastern”; the former being that all effort should be directed against the German Army, the latter that more useful work could be done by attacking Germany’s allies. The term “Knocking away the props” was used, perhaps as an unfortunate consequence of the fact that all of Germany’s allies lay south of (i.e. ‘beneath’) her on the map. Apologists and defenders of the Western viewpoint make the valid point that Germany’s allies were more than once rescued from disaster or rendered capable of holding their own or making substantial gains by the provision of German troops, arms or military advisers, whereas those allies did not at any time provide a similar function for Germany. That is, it was Germany which was the prop, and her allies (particularly Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary) did not suffer significant reverses until Germany’s ability to come to their aid was grossly impaired.
On other fronts, there was still room for the use of strategy of maneuver. The Germans executed a perfect battle of annihilation against the Russians at the Battle of Tannenberg (1914). In 1915 Britain and France launched the well-intentioned but poorly conceived and ultimately fruitless Dardanelles Campaign, combining naval power and an amphibious landing, in an effort to aid their Russian ally and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. The Palestine campaign was dominated by cavalry, which flourished in the local terrain, and the British achieved two breakthrough victories at Gaza (1917) and Megiddo (1918). Colonel T. E. Lawrence and other British officers led Arab irregulars on a guerrilla campaign against the Ottomans, using strategy and tactics developed during the Boer Wars.
World War I saw armies on a scale never before experienced. The British, who had always relied on a strong navy and a small regular army, were forced to undertake a rapid expansion of the army. This outpaced the rate of training of generals and staff officers able to handle such a mammoth force, and overwhelmed the ability of British industry to equip it with the necessary weapons and adequate high-quality munitions until late in the war. Technological advances also had a huge influence on strategy: aerial reconnaissance, artillery techniques, poison gas, the automobile and tank (though the latter was, even at the end of the war, still in its infancy), telephone and radio telegraphy.
More so than in previous wars, military strategy in World War I was directed by the grand strategy of a coalition of nations; the Entente on one side and the Central Powerson the other. Society and economy were mobilized for total war. Attacks on the enemy’s economy included Britain’s use of a naval blockade and Germany employing submarine warfare against merchant shipping.
Unity of command became a question when the various nation states began coordinating assaults and defenses. Under the pressure of horrendously destructive German attacks beginning on March 21, 1918, the Entente eventually settled under Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch. The Germans generally led the Central Powers, though German authority diminished and lines of command became confused at the end of the war.
World War I strategy was dominated by the “Spirit of the Offensive” where generals resorted almost to mysticism in terms of a soldier’s personal “attitude” in order to break the stalemate, this led to nothing but bloody slaughter as troops in close ranks charged machineguns. Each side developed an alternate thesis. The British under Winston Churchill developed tank warfare with which they eventually won the war. The Germans developed a “doctrine of autonomy” the forerunner of both blitzkrieg and modern infantry tactics using groups of Stormtroopers who would advance in small mutually covering groups from cover to cover with “autonomy” to exploit any weakness they discovered in enemy defenses. Almost all the blitzkrieg commanders of World War II, particularly Erwin Rommel were stormtroopers in World War I. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Germany launched and almost succeeded in a final offensive, however the new tactics of autonomy revealed a weakness in terms of overall coordination and direction. The March offensive, intended to drive a wedge between the French and British armies, turn on the latter and destroy it, lost direction and became driven by its territorial gains, its original purpose neglected.
World War I ended when the ability of the German army to fight became so diminished that Germany asked for peace conditions. The German military, exhausted by the efforts of the March offensives and dispirited by their failure, was first seriously defeated during the battle of Amiens (8–11 August 1918) and the German homefront entered general revolt over a lack of food and destruction of the economy. Victory for the Entente was almost assured by that point, and the fact of Germany’s military impotence was driven home in the following hundred days. In this time, the Entente reversed the gains the Germans had made in the first part of the year, and the British Army (spearheaded by the Canadians and Australians) finally broke the Hindenburg defensive system.
Though his methods are questioned, Britain’s Field Marshal Haig was ultimately proved correct in his grand strategic vision: “We cannot hope to win until we have defeated the German Army.” By the end of the war, the best German troops were dead and the remainder were under continuous pressure on all parts of the Western Front, a consequence in part of an almost endless supply of fresh American reinforcements (which the Germans were unable to match) and in part of industry at last supplying the weakened Entente armies with the firepower to replace the men they lacked (whilst Germany wanted for all sorts of materials thanks to the naval blockade). Interior lines thus became meaningless as Germany had nothing more to offer its allies. The props eventually fell, but only because they were themselves no longer supported.
The role of the tank in World War I strategy is often poorly understood. Its supporters saw it as the weapon of victory, and many observers since have accused the high commands (especially the British) of shortsightedness in this matter, particularly in view of what tanks have achieved since. Nevertheless, the World War I tank’s limitations, imposed by the limits of contemporary engineering technology, have to be borne in mind. They were slow (men could run, and frequently walk, faster); vulnerable (to artillery) due to their size, clumsiness and inability to carry armour against anything but rifle and machine gun ammunition; extremely uncomfortable (conditions inside them often incapacitating crews with engine fumes and heat, and driving some mad with noise); and often despicably unreliable (frequently failing to make it to their targets due to engine or track failures). This was the factor behind the seemingly mindless retention of large bodies of cavalry, which even in 1918, with armies incompletely mechanised, were still the only armed force capable of moving significantly faster than an infantryman on foot. It was not until the relevant technology (in engineering and communications) matured between the wars that the tank and the airplane could be forged into the co-ordinated force needed to truly restore maneuver to warfare.
Infiltration Tactics during World War I
These tactics emerged gradually during the later years of World War I, used in various forms by the Russian general Aleksei Brusilov in the Brusilov Offensive of 1916, by the British Third Army at the Battle of Arras in April 1917 (most notably the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps), following the reorganisation of British infantry platoons according to the new Manual SS 143, in the new year and by the Germany military in the Siege of Riga in September 1917 and the Battle of Caporetto in October 1917.
The tactics became especially associated with the stormtroopers of the German Army, and were also called Hutier tactics, after General Oskar von Hutier, who used these tactics to great effect during Operation Michael in March 1918.
A form of infiltration tactics was proposed by French headquarters on 16 April 1915 in Note 5779, which stated that the first waves of infantry should penetrate as far as possible and leave enemy strongpoints to be dealt with by follow-up waves. These were partially adopted on 9 May 1915, the opening day of the Second Battle of Artois, by the French XXXIII Corps which advanced 4.5km in the first hour and a half of the attack. The problem was reinforcing and holding the gains against German counterattack.
A young French infantry officer, Captain André Laffargue, put forward similar ideas in a pamphlet written in August 1915 Étude sur l’attaque dans la période actuelle de la guerre (Study of the attack in the current period of the war). Laffargue based his proposals in particular on his experiences attacking immediately south of Neuville-Saint-Vaast on 9 May 1915 when commanding a company of 153rd Infantry Regiment. Laffargue was left wounded on the German front line but his Regiment advanced another 1.5 km, only to be held up by two German machine guns. Laffargue’s pamphlet focused primarily on the small-unit perspective, calling for mobile firepower to deal with local resistance such as machine guns and advocating that the first waves of an attack advanced in the intervals or gaps between centres of resistance which should be temporarily neutralised on the edges by fire or heavy smoke. They would then be encircled and dealt with by successive waves. Had these methods been followed Laffargue suggests that the attack could have resulted in a complete breakthrough of the German defences and the capture of Vimy Ridge.
The crucial distinction between the forms of infiltration advocated by French headquarters and Laffargue as against those under development in the German army was that the French remained firmly wedded to the use of the attack by waves, despite the high casualties which could ensue. Laffargue put forward the view that the psychological support of the attack in line was necessary to enable men to advance against heavy fire. The French Army published Laffargue’s pamphlet in 1915 (having already put forward a more developed version of his ideas in Note 5779) and the following year a commercial edition found wide circulation. The British, like all combatants during 1914-18, made frequent use of wave attacks and translated and published Laffargue’s pamphlet in December 1915. The US Infantry Journal published a translation as The Attack in Trench Warfare in 1916.
The claim that the Germans translated and used Laffargue’s pamphlet as a training manual has been refuted by Gudmundsson. The Germans were already developing their own form of infiltration tactics: an experimental Pioneer unit commanded by Hauptmann Willie Rohr had been formed in the spring of 1915, over two months before Laffargue’s pamphlet was published.
Named for the German general of the infantry Oskar von Hutier. Infiltration attacks began with brief and violent bombardments of the enemy front lines, to suppress and demoralize enemy combatants stationed there. The bombardment also targeted enemy rear areas to destroy or disrupt roads, artillery, and command units.
This was done to confuse the enemy, and reduce their capability to launch effective counterattacks from secondary defense lines. For maximum effect, the exact points of attack remained concealed until the last possible moment.
Light infantry led these attacks. They would attempt to penetrate enemy weak points to bypass and isolate heavily defended positions in the front line. Infantrymen with heavier weapons would then follow-up and have a great advantage when attacking the isolated enemy strong points. Other reinforcements would then enter these breaches, and the entire enemy line would shortly collapse. The attacks relied heavily on speed and surprise.
This tactic initially worked well and saw heavy use. However, because of this extensive implementation, the enemy quickly developed effective defenses. Also, as in the case of the more traditional mass attack, reserve troops following the assault units had to consolidate any gains against an enemy counterattack.
One of the problems of World War I was that even when a breakthrough was made, the ground was so devastated that moving up reserves and material was difficult, allowing the enemy time to regroup. Thus, even with the new tactics and their relatively light use of artillery, attacks would tend to bog down sooner or later, and no massive breakthrough was possible.
Specialist Tactical Units
Stormtroopers (in German Sturmtruppen; the term “thrust troops”, Stoßtruppe was also used) were specialist soldiers of the German Army in World War I. In the last years of the war, Stoßtruppe were trained to fight with “infiltration tactics” (see above), part of the Germans’ new method of attack on enemy trenches. Men trained in these methods were known in Germany as Sturmmann (literally “storm man” but usually translated as “stormtrooper”), formed into companies of Sturmtruppe (“assault troops”, more often and less exactly “storm troops”). The infiltration tactics of the stormtroopers are still in use today, in one form or another. Other armies have also used the term “assault troops”, “shock troops” or fireteams for specialist soldiers who perform the infiltration tasks of stormtroopers.
Austro-Hungarian Assault Units
During the winter of 1914–1915 large parts of the Eastern Front switched to trench warfare. To cope with the new situation many Austro-Hungarian regiments spontaneously formed infantry squads called Jagdkommandos. These squads were named after the specially trained forces of Russian army formed in 1886 and were used to protect against ambushes, to perform reconnaissance and for low intensity fights in no-man’s-land.
Austro-Hungarian High army command (Armeeoberkommando, AOK) realised the need for special forces and decided to draw on German experience. Starting in September–October 1916 about 120 officers and 300 NCOs were trained in German training area in Beuville (near village Doncourt) to be the main cadre of the newly raised Austro-Hungarian army assault battalions. The former Jagdkommandos were incorporated into these battalions.
Arditi was the name adopted by Royal Italian Army elite storm troops of World War I. The name derives from the Italian verb ardire (“to dare”) and translates as “The Daring Ones”.
Reparti d’assalto (Assault Units) were formed in the summer of 1917 by Colonel Bassi, and were assigned the tactical role of shock troops, breaching enemy defenses in order to prepare the way for a broad infantry advance. The Arditi were not units within infantry divisions, but were considered a separate combat arm.
The Reparti d’assalto were successful in bringing in a degree of movement to what had previously been a war of entrenched positions. Their exploits on the battlefield were exemplary and they gained an illustrious place in Italian military history. They were demobilized by 1920.
The name Arditi was later used in 1919–20 by the Italian occupiers of Fiume who were led by Gabriele D’Annunzio, most of whom had been members of the Royal Italian Army. Their use of a uniform with black shirts and black fez was later taken up by Benito Mussolini‘s paramilitary forces, the Blackshirts.
From 1 October 1975 the flag of X Arditi Regiment (formed in 1942 in imitation of the IX Assault unit of the First World War) was adopted by the 9º Reggimento d’Assalto Paracadutisti Col Moschin (9th Parachute Assault Regiment Col Moschin). To this day operatives of Col Moschin and Italian commando frogmen are known as “Arditi Incursori” and are viewed as the heirs of the Arditi of World War I.
Alpenkorps (German Empire)
The Alpenkorps was a provisional mountain formation of division size formed by the Imperial German Army during World War I. It was considered by the Allies to be one of the best in the German Army.
After experiencing considerable difficulties in fighting the French Chasseurs Alpins in the Vosges Mountains during the Battle of the Frontiers, the German Army determined to create its own specialized mountain units. The Royal Bavarian 1st and 2nd SnowshoeBattalions (Kgl. Bayerisches Schneeschuhbataillon I & II) were formed in Munich, Bavaria on November 21, 1914. A third battalion was formed in April 1915 from the 4th, 5th and 6th companies of the second battalion. In May 1915, the three battalions were brought together with a fourth (formed from troops of the other battalions and Bavarian Landwehr troops) to form the 3rd Jäger Regiment (Jäger Regiment Nr. 3). In October 1915, the designation Schneeschuhbataillon was eliminated.
Also in May 1915, the previously separate Bavarian 1st, 2nd and 2nd Reserve Jäger Battalions were joined to form the Royal Bavarian 1st Jäger Regiment (Kgl. Bayer. Jäger Regiment Nr. 1). The Prussian 10th, 10th Reserve and 14th Reserve Jäger Battalions were also joined together, forming the 2nd Jäger Regiment (Jäger Regiment Nr. 2).
These units, along with the elite Royal Bavarian Infantry Lifeguards Regiment(Infanterie-Leib-Regiment), the Bavarian Army bodyguard regiment, became the core of the Alpenkorps, and were complemented with additional artillery, machinegun and other support units. The Alpenkorps was officially founded on May 18, 1915 with BavarianGeneralleutnant Konrad Krafft von Dellmensingen as its commander, and Bavarian Generalmajor Ludwig Ritter von Tutschek and Prussian Generalmajor Ernst von Belowas his brigade commanders.
5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force)
The 5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) is an infantry regiment of the Indian Armycomprising Gurkha soldiers of Nepalese origin. It was formed in 1858 as part of the British Indian Army and served in the First World War.
During the First World War, the regiment primarily saw service in the Middle East—the 1st Battalion saw extensive and hard service at Gallipoli in 1915 (where seven officers and 129 men were killed in the first few hours after the battalion landed). During the withdrawal, a company of the 5th Gurkhas were among the last troops to leave.
The 2nd Battalion saw service in Mesopotamia, initially with the 2nd (Rawalpindi) Division and from April 1916 with the 15th Division. The 1st Battalion joined them in March 1917 from the 1st (Peshawar) Division and both battalions fought together at the Action of Khan Baghdadi. A 3rd Battalion was raised for service on the North-West Frontier, before being disbanded in 1921.
Légion étrangère (The French Foreign Legion)
In World War I, the Foreign Legion fought in many critical battles on the Western Front, including Artois, Champagne, Somme, Aisne, and Verdun (in 1917), and also suffered heavy casualties during 1918. The Foreign Legion was also in the Dardanelles and Macedonian front, and was highly decorated for its efforts. Many young foreigners, including Americans like Fred Zinn, volunteered for the Foreign Legion when the war broke out in 1914. There were marked differences between such idealistic volunteers and the hardened mercenaries of the old Legion, as the poet Alan Seeger pointed out, making assimilation difficult. Nevertheless, the old and the new men of the Foreign Legion fought and died in vicious battles on the Western front, including Belloy-en-Santerre during the Battle of the Somme, where Seeger, after being mortally wounded by machine-gun fire, cheered on the rest of his advancing battalion.
As most European countries and the US were drawn into the war, many of the newer “duration only” volunteers who managed to survive the first years of the war were generally released from the Foreign Legion to join their respective national armies. Citizens of the Central Powers serving with the Foreign Legion on the outbreak of war were normally posted to garrisons in North Africa to avoid problems of divided loyalties.
Established in 1872, the Alpini are the oldest active mountain infantry in the world. Their original mission was to protect Italy’s northern mountain border with France and Austria. In 1888 the Alpini deployed on their first mission abroad, in Africa, a continent where they returned on several occasions and during various wars of the Kingdom of Italy. They emerged during World War I as they fought a three-year campaign on the Alpsagainst Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger and the German Alpenkorps in what Most of the above battalions were regular Alpini battalions, while some were units raised for special tasks: in example the Monte Marmolada battalion was a Skiing battalion tasked with combat on the Marmolada glacier.
The Alpini battalions were divided in 233 companies of 100 to 150 men each. The Alpini regiments were never sent into battle as whole, instead single companies and battalions were given specific passes, summits or ridges to guard and defend on their own.
The war has become known as the “War in snow and ice“, as most of the 600 km frontline ran through the highest mountains and glaciers of the Alps. 12 meters (40 feet) of snow were a usual occurrence during the winter of 1915/16 and thousands of soldiers died in avalanches. The remains of these soldiers are still being uncovered today. The Alpini, as well as their Austrian counterparts: Kaiserschützen, Standschützen and Landeschützen occupied every hill and mountain top around the whole year. Huge underground bases were drilled and blown into the mountainsides and even deep into the ice of glaciers such as the Marmolada. Guns were dragged by hundreds of troops on mountains up to 3,890 m (12,760 feet) high. Roads, cable cars, mountain railroads and walkways were built up, through and along the steepest of cliffs. Many of these walkways and roads are still visible today, and many are maintained as Via Ferrata for climbing enthusiasts. In addition, along the former frontline it is still possible to see what is left of hundreds of kilometers of barbed wire.
In this kind of warfare, whoever occupied the higher ground first was almost impossible to dislodge, so both sides turned to drilling tunnels under mountain peaks, filling them up with explosives and then detonating the whole mountain to pieces, including its defenders: i.e. Col di Lana, Monte Pasubio, Lagazuoi, etc.
Climbing and skiing became essential skills for the troops of both sides and soon Ski Battalions and special climbing units were formed. It was during these years that the Alpini, their spirit and their mules became famous, although at the cost of over 12,000 casualties out of a total of 40,000 mobilized Alpinis.
Many of the famous Alpini songs originated during this time and reflect upon the hardships of the “War in Snow and Ice”.
has since become known as the “War in snow and ice“.
Tunneling companies of the Royal Engineers
Royal Engineer tunneling companies were specialist units of the Corps of Royal Engineers within the British Army, formed to dig attacking tunnels under enemy lines during the First World War.
The stalemate situation in the early part of the war led to the deployment of tunnel warfare. After the first German Empire attacks on 21 December 1914, through shallow tunnels underneath no man’s land and exploding ten mines under the trenches of the Indian Sirhind Brigade, the British began forming suitable units. In February 1915, eight Tunneling Companies were created and operational in Flanders from March 1915. By mid-1916, the British Army had around 25,000 trained tuneless, mostly volunteers taken from coal mining communities. Almost twice that number of “attached infantry” worked permanently alongside the trained miners acting as ‘beasts of burden’.
From the spring of 1917 the whole war became more mobile, with grand offensives at Arras, Messines and Passchendaele. There was no longer a place for a tactic that depended upon total stasis for its employment. The tactics and counter-tactics required deeper and deeper tunneling, hence more time and more stable front lines were also required, so offensive and defensive military mining largely ceased. Underground work continued, with the tuneless concentrating on deep dugouts for troop accommodation, a tactic used particularly in the Battle of Arras.
As a result of so much mining activity by both sides, detection and breakthrough into each other’s tunneling systems occurred frequently. The result was often the deployment of the emergency camouflet, a pre-prepared charge which was always ready in the British and Allied forces sectors when tunneling was taking place. Vicious hand-to-hand fighting in the dark with picks, shovels and wood used as weapons might also take place. Although all miners were trained to use rifles, the restrictions of tunnel construction and the conditions of the tunnels where the miners had to operate often meant they could not be used. If the opposing side were unsuccessful in repelling an attack, then enemy tunnels could be used for short periods to observe enemy tunneling activity and direction.
Two members of the Tuneless Companies were awarded the Victoria Cross:
Sapper William Hackett 254 Tunneling Company, Royal Engineers awarded posthumously for helping his fellow miners when a tunnel collapsed at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée, France on 26 June 1916. His medal is held by the Royal Engineers Museumand he is commemorated at the Tuneless Memorial.
Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell, of No 1 Tunneling Company, 4th Canadian Engineers Royal Canadian Engineers for preventing the demolition of bridges on the Canal de I’Escaut, north-east of Cambrai on 8–9 October 1918. His medal is held by the Canadian Military Engineers Museum, CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick.
Sam Gloade was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his service in the tunneling company of the 6th Field Company and Battalion, Royal Canadian Engineers.
was an Ottoman imperial government specialist unit under the War Department and was allegedly used to suppress Arab separatism and Western imperialism under Ottoman Empire. Many members of this organization had also played special roles during the Armenian Genocide. The main aim of the Special Organization was to re-open the Ottoman parliament. The members of the organization also participated in the resistance against Italians in Libya. It was the progenitor of the National Security Service (Turkish: Milli Emniyet Hizmeti) of the Republic of Turkey, which was itself the predecessor of the modern National Intelligence Organization (Turkish: Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı, MİT).
In 1903, French military theorists noticed that the machine guns of the day, heavy and relatively immobile, were of little use in infantry assaults. They determined that “the machine gun must learn to walk”. They researched the possibility of a light machine gun which could be carried by troops. A marching fire tactic was theorised, using incidental suppressive fire, with the advancing troops considered a deadlier threat than the un-aimed bullets, causing the enemy to fall back. The prototype guns were not approved for production, and none were in service when the war began. At the start of hostilities, France quickly turned an existing prototype (the “CS” for Chauchat and Sutter) into the lightweight Chauchat M1915 automatic rifle with a high rate of fire. The French Army was equipped with it, and the first American units to arrive in France used it in 1917 and 1918. Hastily mass-manufactured under desperate wartime pressures, the weapon was prone to jamming and overheating.
Seeing the potential of such a gun, the British Army settled upon the American-designed Lewis gun fitted for a .303-inch (7.7 mm) round; infantry platoons provided with the guns were instructed in fire and movement tactics. The Lewis gun was the first true light machine gun that could in theory be operated by one man, though in practice the bulky ammo pans required an entire section of men to keep the gun operating. Soon, the Lewis gun was seen to be useful in marching fire assaults, notably by the Australian Corps in the July 1918 Battle of Hamel. To serve the same purpose, the German Army adopted the MG08/15 which was impractically heavy at 48.5 pounds (22 kg) counting the water for cooling and one magazine holding 100 rounds.
In 1918 the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) was introduced in the US Army, and with the 15.5-pound (7 kg) weapon came new field tactics. For marching fire assaults, the BAR’s shoulder sling was to be adjusted in length to allow the butt of the weapon to be held firmly at the side of the torso just above the hips, with one hand at the trigger and the other hand aiming. A recommended rate of fire was one round per footstep, with eyes kept on the target and the weapon aimed low at first. The tactic was to be employed under conditions of limited field of fire and poor visibility such as advancing through woods.
The light machine gun directly affected the organization of the infantry, and, by the middle of 1917, put an end to the tactic of company-sized waves. Platoons and squads became important.
MP 18 submachinegun
The MP 18.1 manufactured by Theodor Bergmann Abteilung Waffenbau was the first practical submachine gun used in combat. It was introduced into service in 1918 by the German Army during World War I as the primary weapon of the Sturmtruppen, assault groups specialized in trench combat. Although MP18 production ended in the 1920s, its design formed the basis of most submachine guns manufactured between 1920 and 1960.
The firepower of this new class of weapons made such an impression on the Allies that the Treaty of Versailles specifically banned further study and manufacture of such light automatic firearms by Germany.
In 1915, the German Rifle Testing Commission at Spandau decided to develop a new weapon for trench warfare. An attempt to modify existing semi-automatic pistols, specifically the Luger and C96 Mauser failed, as accurate aimed fire in full automatic mode was impossible due to their light weight and high rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. The Commission determined that a completely new kind of weapon was needed. Hugo Schmeisser, working for the Bergmann Waffenfabrik was part of a team composed of Theodor Bergmann and a few other technicians. They designed a new type of weapon to fulfill the requirements, which was designated the Maschinenpistole18/I. It is not clear what the “I” designation is intended to indicate, although its successor, the MP28, was designated the Maschinenpistole 28/II.
Full-scale production did not begin until early 1918. Though technically not the world’s first submachine gun, being beaten by the double-barreled Italian Villar-Perosa of 1915, in modern usage of the term the MP 18 is considered the world’s first submachine gunsince the Villar Perosa had been designed to be used as a light machine gun on aircraft before it was adapted to infantry use as a single-barreled shoulder-fired weapon in late 1918.
The MP 18 primarily served in final stages of World War I in 1918, especially in the so-called Kaiserschlacht offensive. At least 5,000 MP 18.1s were built and used during World War I, based upon observed serial number ranges of captured weapons; however, it is possible that up to 10,000 were built for the war. Though production was outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles, manufacture continued in secret into the early 1920s, as the final production total (again, based upon observed serial numbers) ended at around 35,000.
The MP 18 proved to be an excellent weapon. Its concept was well-proven in trench fighting. The basic design directly influenced later submachine gun designs and showed its superiority over the regular infantry rifle in urban, mobile, and guerrilla warfare. The MP 18 served with German police and paramilitary forces after the end of the war. It was widely used in combat by the Freikorps Von Epp against the Spartacus League in Bavaria and by other Freikorps in Berlin, where its efficiency in urban combat was demonstrated. Since the Treaty of Versailles prohibited the use and manufacture of pistols with a barrel over four inches (102 mm) and/or a magazine capacity over eight rounds, all Trommel Magazines TM 08 were destroyed.
The hand grenade
Replaced the bayonet as the weapon of choice for clearing an enemy trench or to destroy a strongpoint. Charles Edmund Carrington wrote in his journal about his experiences in the Great War and commented about the extensive use of hand grenades. As he and his men attempted to clear the zigzag shaped trench of the Germans, both sides predominantly began tossing hand grenades with an occasional rifle or pistol shot when someone rose above the trench’s parapet to throw a grenade. Amazingly, he records four different types of grenades used in just this one encounter.
The Imperial German Army deployed flame throwers (Flammenwerfer) on the Western Front attempting to flush out French or British soldiers from their trenches. Introduced in 1915, it was used with greatest effect during the Hooge battle of the Western Front on 30 July 1915. The German Army had two main types of flame throwers during the Great War: a small single person version called the Kleinflammenwerfer and a larger multiple person configuration called the Grossflammenwerfer. In the latter, one soldier carried the fuel tank while another aimed the nozzle. Both the large and smaller versions of the flame-thrower were of limited use because their short range left the operator(s) exposed to small arms fire.
Poison gas/Chemical Warfare
At the beginning of the war, Germany had the most advanced chemical industry in the world, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s dye and chemical production. Although the use of poison gas had been banned in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, Germany turned to this industry for what it hoped would be a decisive weapon to break the deadlock of trench warfare. Chlorine gas was first used on the battlefield in April 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium. The unknown gas appeared to be a simple smoke screen, used to hide attacking soldiers, and Allied troops were ordered to the front trenches to repel the expected attack. The gas had a devastating effect, killing many defenders as the wind was not taken into account and blew the gas back. Later, mustard gas, phosgene and other gases were used. Britain and France soon followed suit with their own gas weapons. The first defenses against gas were makeshift, mainly rags soaked in water or urine. Later, relatively effective gas masks were developed, and these greatly reduced the effectiveness of gas as a weapon. Although it sometimes resulted in brief tactical advantages and probably caused over 1,000,000 casualties, gas seemed to have had no significant effect on the course of the war.
Early versions were constructed by the Scottish chemist John Stenhouse in 1854 and the physicist John Tyndall in the 1870s.
Another early design was the “Safety Hood and Smoke Protector” invented by Garrett Morgan in 1912, and patented in 1914. It was a simple device consisting of a cotton hood with two hoses which hung down to the floor, allowing the wearer to breathe the safer air found there. In addition, moist sponges were inserted at the end of the hoses in order to better filter the air. There is a common misconception that “Safety Hood and Smoke Protector” inspired WWI era gas masks. The density of gasses in the WWI theater were heavier than air they were dispersed into. This would mean that the gas would creep along the ground, often filling in the trenches and shell craters below ground level. The use of a device that draws clean air from the “floor” would facilitate the effect of the gas rather than protect against it.
The first use of poison gas on the Western Front was on 22 April 1915, by the Germans at Ypres, against Canadian and French colonial troops. The initial response was to equip troops with cotton mouth pads for protection. Soon afterwards the British added a long cloth which was used to tie chemical-soaked mouth pads into place, and which was called the Black Veil Respirator. Dr. Cluny MacPherson of Newfoundland Regimentbrought the idea of a mask made of chemical absorbing fabric and which fitted over the entire head to England, and this was developed into the British Hypo Helmet of June 1915. This primitive type of mask went through several stages of development before being superseded in 1916 by the canister gas mask. This had a mask connected to a tin can containing the absorbent materials by a hose.
The British Royal Society of Chemistry claims that British scientist Edward Harrisondeveloped the first practical gas mask for mass production (towards the end of 1916), a claim supported by a thank-you note written by Winston Churchill.
American chemist and inventor James Bert Garner is credited by American sources with the invention of the gas mask in April 1915. Reading a newspaper article describing a gas attack on British forces which he thought had employed chlorine gas, Garner remembered experiments he had performed while teaching at the University of Chicago, thus he set about creating the first gas mask, which he tested on two of his associates in a gas filled chamber. Following the success of the test, he provided the results to the British government. Also in World War I, since dogs were frequently used on the front lines, a special type of gas mask was developed that dogs were trained to wear. Other gas masks were developed during World War One and the time following for horses in the various mounted units that operated near the front lines. In America thousands of gas masks were produced for American as well as Allied troops. Mine Safety Appliances was a chief producer. This mask was later used widely in industry.
Propaganda in World War I
Nations were new to cinema and its capability to spread and influence mass sentiment at the start of World War I. The early years of the war were experimental in regard to using films as a propaganda tool, but eventually became a central instrument for what George Mosse has called the “nationalization of the masses” as nations learned to manipulate emotions to mobilize the people for a national cause against the imagined or real enemy.
British efforts in pro-war film production took some time to find their stride as it, unlike Germany, did not realize the potential of film as a means of projecting the nation’s official point of view. The British recognized early in the war that they needed to target neutral audiences, specifically America, to either get them to join the war or further support the war effort in Britain. One of the leading figures in bringing British war films to the U.S. was Charles Urban, the best known film producer in England at the time. He first brought Britain Prepared to the States in early 1916 and The Battle of the Somme in August 1916, both of whose rights were sold to the Patriot Film Corporation. Neither achieved the success the British sought, in part because of Urban’s and Wellington House’s refusal to address Urban’s German ancestry or that the films were produced by the British government with the intention of winning over American audiences. This stance changed in November 1916, when the British created the War Office Cinematograph Committee (WOCC), under which the film’s official intent was to be known. It was absorbed by the Department of Information (DOI) early in 1917.
The U.S. entered the war in April 1917, which achieved Wellington House’s primary objective. The DOI increased its production of war films, but did not know what would play most effectively in the U.S., leading to nearly every British war film being sent to the States thereafter, including The Tanks in Action at the Battle of the Ancre and The Retreat of the Germans at the Battle of Arras, both of which were eventually released as serials. It also turned away from feature length films because they took longer to produce, leaving greater gaps between releases. The DOI found it better to constantly release films and shorts of varying lengths and topics, including newsreels, to increase the market saturation. Newsreels became increasingly popular and a part of the standard war propaganda policy with the DOI and its successor, the Ministry of Information.
The U.S. developed its own propaganda organization, the Committee on Public Information (CPI), days after the declaration of war. Originally wary of film as a propaganda medium, it created the Division of Films on 25 September 1917 to handle films taken by army Signal Corps cameramen. It did not release commercial films. Urban’s Kineto Company of America edited, processed, and printed the CPI’s films, including Pershing’s Crusaders, America’s Answer, and Under Four Flags. Similar to Britain, American interest in feature-length films waned, in favor of newsreels and shorts. This also proved to be more profitable though even American audiences came to prefer British war films.
Charlie Chaplin produced and starred in multiple pro-US propaganda films. One film, Zepped, which contains the only known scenes of a Zeppelin bombing raid over London, was designed to be used on a morale mission for the troops in Egypt and to defuse the terror inspired by the frequent Zeppelin raids. In 1918, Chaplin made, at his own expense, The Bond, and produced short clips in which he beat up Kaiser Wilhelm with a hammer bearing the inscription “War Bonds”.
Germany was one of the first nations to recognize and effectively mobilize the film industry towards national causes. The German industry expanded during World War I largely due to the isolation that resulted from the government’s 1916 ban on most foreign films, prior to which it imported films, especially from Denmark. Building upon a history in which Kaiser Wilhelm II was the biggest movie star of the era, the Chief of Staff of the Germany army, General Ludendorff saw film as an effective war weapon and used the fledgling Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft, better known as Ufa, to create pro-German films. By the end of the war, the booming industry which expanded from 25 to 130 production companies from 1914 to 1918 was consolidated into larger companies, primarily under Ufa. Germany also launched a secret film campaign in the United States. In an effort to maintain U.S. neutrality and spread pro-German sentiments, German officials set up The American Correspondent Film Company. As a front man for this organization, photographer Albert K. Dawson was attached to the German and Austrian army. Dawson was among the most active and daring film correspondents in the Great War.
Many resources were redirected to support the fighting, leading to a decline in French film production during the war. Additionally, most of the films shown in France during the war were American. The French war films often depicted the disputed territory, Alsace-Lorraine, which was a major victim of Weimar hostilities. The many depictions of heroic and suffering women and children led to the territory’s representation as a beautiful female victim, abused by Germanic Huns, silently crying for national redemption.
Medical Advances during World War I
During World War I, Curie saw a need for field radiological centres near the front lines to assist battlefield surgeons. After a quick study of radiology, anatomy, and automotive mechanics she procured X-ray equipment, vehicles, auxiliary generators, and developed mobile radiography units, which came to be popularly known as petites Curies (“Little Curies”). She became the director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and set up France’s first military radiology centre, operational by late 1914. Assisted at first by a military doctor and by her 17-year-old daughter Irène, Curie directed the installation of 20 mobile radiological vehicles and another 200 radiological units at field hospitals in the first year of the war. Later, she began training other women as aides.
In 1915 Curie produced hollow needles containing ‘radium emanation’, a colorless, radioactive gas given off by radium, later identified as radon, to be used for sterilizing infected tissue. She provided the radium from her own one-gram supply. It is estimated that over a million wounded soldiers were treated with her X-ray units. Busy with this work, she carried out very little scientific research during that period. In spite of all her humanitarian contributions to the French war effort, Curie never received any formal recognition of it from the French government.
Also, promptly after the war started, she attempted to donate her gold Nobel Prize medals to the war effort but the French National Bank refused to accept them. She did buy war bonds, using her Nobel Prize money. She was also an active member in committees of Polonia in France dedicated to the Polish cause. After the war, she summarized her war time experiences in a book Radiology in War (1919).
Sir Harold Delf Gillies (17 June 1882 – 10 September 1960) was a New Zealand-born, and later London-based, otolaryngologist who is widely considered the father of plastic surgery.
Following the outbreak of World War I he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. Initially posted to Wimereux, near Boulogne, he acted as medical minder to a French-American dentist, Valadier, who was not allowed to operate unsupervised but was attempting to develop jaw repair work. Gillies, eager after seeing Valadier experimenting with nascent skin graft techniques, then decided to leave for Paris, to meet the renowned surgeon Hippolyte Morestin. He saw him remove a tumour on a patient’s face, and cover it with jaw skin taken from the patient. Gillies became enthusiastic about the work and on his return to England persuaded the army’s chief surgeon, Arbuthnot-Lane, that a facial injury ward should be established at the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot.
This rapidly proved inadequate and a new hospital devoted to facial repairs was developed at Sidcup. The Queen’s Hospital opened in June 1917 and with its convalescent units provided over 1,000 beds. There Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery; more than 11,000 operations were performed on over 5,000 men (mostly soldiers with facial injuries, usually from gunshot wounds). The hospital, later to become Queen Mary’s Hospital, was at Frognal House(the birthplace and property of Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney after whom Sydney, Australia was named).
For his war services Gillies was knighted in the Birthday Honours list of June 1930. William Arbuthnot-Lane commented, “Better late than never”.
Shell shock was a term coined to describe the reaction of some soldiers in World War I to the trauma of battle. It was a reaction to the intensity of the bombardment and fighting that produced a helplessness appearing variously as panic and being scared, or flight, an inability to reason, sleep, walk or talk.
During the War, the concept of shell shock was ill-defined. Cases of “shell shock” could be interpreted as either a physical or psychological injury, or simply as a lack of moral fibre. While the term shell shock is no longer used in either medical or military discourse, it has entered into popular imagination and memory, and is often identified as the signature injury of the War.
In World War II and thereafter, diagnosis of “shell shock” was replaced by that of combat stress reaction, a similar but not identical response to the trauma of warfare.
During the early stages of World War I, soldiers from the British Expeditionary Forcebegan to report medical symptoms after combat, including tinnitus, amnesia, headaches, dizziness, tremors, and hypersensitivity to noise. While these symptoms resembled those that would be expected after a physical wound to the brain, many of those reporting sick showed no signs of head wounds. By December 1914 as many as 10% of British officers and 4% of enlisted men were suffering from “nervous and mental shock”.
The term “shell shock” came into use to reflect an assumed link between the symptoms and the effects of explosions from artillery shells. The term was first published in 1915 in an article in The Lancet by Charles Myers. Some 60–80% of shell shock cases displayed acute neurasthenia, while 10% displayed what would now be termed symptoms of conversion disorder, including mutism and fugue.
The number of shell shock cases grew during 1915 and 1916 but it remained poorly understood medically and psychologically. Some doctors held the view that it was a result of hidden physical damage to the brain, with the shock waves from bursting shells creating a cerebral lesion that caused the symptoms and could potentially prove fatal. Another explanation was that shell shock resulted from poisoning by the carbon monoxide formed by explosions.
At the same time an alternative view developed describing shell shock as an emotional, rather than a physical, injury. Evidence for this point of view was provided by the fact that an increasing proportion of men suffering shell shock symptoms had not been exposed to artillery fire. Since the symptoms appeared in men who had no proximity to an exploding shell, the physical explanation was clearly unsatisfactory.
In spite of this evidence, the British Army continued to try to differentiate those whose symptoms followed explosive exposure from others. In 1915 the British Army in France was instructed that:
Shell-shock and shell concussion cases should have the letter ‘W’ prefixed to the report of the casualty, if it was due to the enemy; in that case the patient would be entitled to rank as ‘wounded’ and to wear on his arm a ‘wound stripe‘. If, however, the man’s breakdown did not follow a shell explosion, it was not thought to be ‘due to the enemy’, and he was to [be] labelled ‘Shell-shock’ or ‘S’ (for sickness) and was not entitled to a wound stripe or a pension.
However, it often proved difficult to identify which cases were which, as the information on whether a casualty had been close to a shell explosion or not was rarely provided.
If symptoms persisted after a few weeks at a local Casualty Clearing Station, which would normally be close enough to the front line to hear artillery fire, a casualty might be evacuated to one of four dedicated psychiatric centres which had been set up further behind the lines, and were labelled as “NYDN – Not Yet Diagnosed Nervous” pending further investigation by medical specialists.
Even though the Battle of Passchendaele generally became a byword for horror, the number of cases of shell-shock were relatively few. 5,346 shell shock cases reached the Casualty Clearing Station, or roughly 1% of the British forces engaged. 3,963 (or just under 75%) of these men returned to active service without being referred to a hospital for specialist treatment. The number of shell shock cases reduced throughout the battle, and the epidemic of illness was ended.
During 1917, “shell shock” was entirely banned as a diagnosis in the British Army, and mentions of it were censored, even in medical journals.
The treatment of chronic shell shock varied widely according to the details of the symptoms, the views of the doctors involved, and other factors including the rank and class of the patient.
There were so many officers and men suffering from shell shock that 19 British military hospitals were wholly devoted to the treatment of cases. Ten years after the war, 65,000 veterans of the war were still receiving treatment for it in Britain. In France it was possible to visit aged shell shock victims in hospital in 1960.
At the beginning of World War II, the term “shell shock” was banned by the British Army, though the phrase “postconcussional syndrome” was used to describe similar traumatic responses.
The End of Industrial Warfare
The Atomic Age
The use of nuclear weapons first came into being during the last months of WWII, with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was the only use of nuclear weapons in combat. For a decade after World War II, the United States and later the Soviet Union (and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom and France) developed and maintained a strategic force of bombers that would be able to attack any potential aggressor from bases inside their countries.
Before the development of a capable strategic missile force in the Soviet Union, much of the war-fighting doctrine held by western nations revolved around the use of a large number of smaller nuclear weapons used in a tactical role. It is arguable if such use could be considered “limited” however, because it was believed that the US would use their own strategic weapons (mainly bombers at the time) should the USSR deploy any kind of nuclear weapon against civilian targets.
A revolution in thinking occurred with the introduction of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which the Soviet Union first successfully tested in the late 1950s. To deliver a warhead to a target, a missile was far less expensive than a bomber that could do the same job. Moreover, at the time it was impossible to intercept ICBMs due to their high altitude and speed.
In the 1960s, another major shift in nuclear doctrine occurred with the development of the submarine-based nuclear missile (SLBM). It was hailed by military theorists as a weapon that would assure a surprise attack would not destroy the capability to retaliate, and therefore would make nuclear war less likely.
World War I spanned the eras of the Napoleonic Wars (and the wars of the 19thCentury) and what scholars generally agree is the period of the Modern War, the period immediately after World War II in 1945. At the beginning of World War I in 1914, all of the major combatants were employing ‘Napoleonic’ style tactics of deploying their armies in mass ranks, facing their opponents and prosecuting a campaign of maneuver, with high volleys of small arms fire in an effort to defeat the enemy through attrition.
Sadly, the technology discussed in this article, even in the early stages of 1914, had made this form of combat hopelessly outmoded. Massed heavy artillery, the machine gun, strategic strongholds, aerial reconnaissance and military communications resulted in appalling casualties. By 1918, we see that strategy, tactics and technological innovation resembled more what one would come to expect in future conflicts.
The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million: over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.
The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Entente Powers (also known as the Allies) lost about 6 million military personnel while the Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million died from diseases and 6 million went missing, presumed dead. This article lists the casualties of the belligerent powers based on official published sources. About two-thirds of military deaths in World War I were in battle, unlike the conflicts that took place in the 19th century when the majority of deaths were due to disease. Nevertheless, disease, including the Spanish flu and deaths while held as prisoners of war, still caused about one third of total military deaths for all belligerents.
The First World War has been described as “The Second Thirty Years War”. The concept of a “second Thirty Years War” originated in 1946 with former head of French Government Charles de Gaulle’s speech in Bar-le-Duc (28 July 1946) evoking “the drama of the thirty years war, we just won” and was echoed, among others, by Sigmund Neumann in his book The Future in Perspective (1946). In 1948 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the idea a boost when, in the first paragraph of the Preface to The Gathering Storm (1948), he says his books will “cover an account of another Thirty Years War”. Suggesting that World War II was merely a continuation of World War I.