How Far Did Weapons and Tactics Change Over the Period of 1914 and 1918?

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How Far Did Weapons and Tactics Change Over the Period of 1914 and 1918?

The First World War was the first major European war since 1870; a war lasting four years and culminating in around eight million deaths. The introduction of trench warfare revolutionised weapon technology and inspired a variety of different approaches to the way war was fundamentally fought. Several key weapons were introduced to warfare, including the tank, the machine gun and the use of poisonous gas. These weapons completely changed the face of warfare between 1914 and 1918, with many influencing the tactics adopted. Some changed the nature of war to a larger extent than others. In addition, the introduction of planes and boats added a different dimension to the war with the spreading of fighting to the air and sea adding greater complexity to the way war was fought.

Up until the First World War most military leaders believed that battles and wars were won mainly as a result of cavalry charges. In particular, the speed and the mobility of the cavalry resulted in the majority deeming it to be such a successful method of attack. However, as trench warfare began to be introduced in the early stages of the Great War, the cavalry became far too vulnerable to artillery and machine guns. This resulted in only three in four hundred horses surviving any particular attack. The most significant factor that resulted in the cavalry’s demotion was the boom in artillery, which steadily heightened in importance. Due to the amount of resources being thrown into the war, the technology of weapons inevitably found itself progressing. Originally single firing rifles were used by soldiers. They resulted in soldiers losing valuable time when reloading and weren’t very accurate. Due to their inaccuracy artillery often bombarded their own forward trenches before they successfully got their range right. Technology made it possible to produce heavier artillery than anything that had been seen before. Larger guns such as the Howitzer could fire shells at enemy targets hundreds of yards away. In addition, smaller versions of field guns were also used in artillery attacks and hand held trench mortars were used by the men in the trenches. The machine gun was the main weapon used on the Western Front; it allowed continuous fire and enabled greater accuracy when shooting at the enemy. The first machine guns of all armies ranged between 30kg-60kg each, this weight often not including their mountings, carriages and supplies. It was for this reason that there were several adaptations made throughout the war, making the machine gun a more sophisticated weapon.

It was the introduction of trench warfare and the new more impressive artillery that dictated artillery bombardments as the most prominent battle feature throughout most of the war. It was a belief held by the war generals that the only way to win the war on the Western Front was to take over the enemy’s trenches and drive their forces back until they surrendered. This long term objective is why the army generals followed the same tactics for four years in order to ultimately gain a break-through. Each attack would begin with a heavy artillery bombardment from behind the front line, intended to demolish the barbed wire defences and blow apart the machine gun posts. The bombardment would usually continue for a few days before the next stage of the attack would take place, an example of this being British bombardment of German trenches at the Battle of the Somme. When the bombardment finished, the men in the trenches consequently were ordered to go ‘over the top’. These infantry men wore and carried standard equipment such as a steel helmet to give them protection and weapons which weighed at least 28kg. They would charge across No Man’s Land in an attempt to reach the enemy trenches where they would aim to capture prisoners and kill enemy soldiers. It was trench warfare that dramatically changed the role of the infantry making the infantry men the backbone of the infantry charge. This was a fundamental tactic used throughout the war.
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To accompany the artillery bombardment and artillery charge, in 1915, the Germans developed the Zeppelin, also known as the Blimp. This was an airship containing machine guns and bombs that was used during the early part of the war in bombing raids by the Germans. However, they were susceptible to being bombed by planes and they contained highly flammable hydrogen so were abandoned part way through the war.

After the colossal change from the cavalry charge to the infantry change and the introduction of trench warfare, there were no real drastic changes to the weapons used in ...

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