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 the first year and a half of the war. The majority of weapons which were being produced were guns and artillery that were slowly becoming more sophisticated. As a result of this, most of the tactics adopted in the first two years from both sides revolved around artillery bombardment and infantry charges. It was because of this fighting technique that stalemate struck the Western Front. There were colossal human casualties on both sides without any real gain of territory. It is due to this that the enormous changes in tactics and weapon technology then ensued. They were designed to attempt to break the stalemate and move the war underway. This collection of changes were best epitomised in the Battle of Ypres in 1915 and the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The Battle of Ypres in 1915 demonstrated the first use of deadly poisoned gas. The first gas created chlorine gas of a yellow/green colour. The creation of gas as a weapon was a large change and hugely contrasted to the artillery weapons that had been put into play in 1914. This gas irritated the lungs and many of those affected died of suffocation. Chemical warfare was first used to deadly effect by the Germans at Ypres. On 22nd April 1915, French sentries in Ypres obtained a visual on a yellow-green cloud moving towards them - a gas delivered from pressurised cylinders dug into the German front line between Steenstraat and Langemarck. Under the illusion that this cloud was a smokescreen to cover activity, the French took their posts at the firing line of their trench, in anticipation of a German attack. Unbeknown to the French they were now in the direct firing line of the chlorine and the effects were devastating and significant. From that point onward the manufacture of poison gas increased and as technology developed, new, more effective gases were produced; mustard gas being the most lethal. First used by the German’s in 1917, this new gas had no smell giving it an element of surprise that topped the original chlorine gas. Gas attacks however could easily backfire as they depended heavily on the direction of the wind and very soon after the first attack gas masks were designed on both sides in an attempt to reduce deaths. It can thus be seen that there was a large transition in tactics from the original use of artillery weapons, used to kill people through external injuries, to the use of chemical warfare, designed to take the opposition by surprise and injure them both internally and physiologically:
“Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning” (1)
The fact that this graphic and emotive language directly relating to gas attacks, is represented in a famous war time poem written by Wilfred Owen (a soldier during WW1) clearly emphasises how significant and important the introduction of chemical warfare was to those in the trenches. Wilfred Owen in his poem clearly encapsulates the difference this new fighting technique had in comparison to the original weapons used. The poem also demonstrates the effectiveness of the gas. This explains why emphasis was placed on further development of poisonous gas, to improve it and therefore increase the number of deaths.
The next large change in both weapons and tactics was represented in the Battle of the Somme, possibly the most fatal battle of the entire war. Its aim and tactic was
“To kill as many German’s as possible,” (2)
as quoted by contemporary Rawlinson one of the commanders of the 4th army. This source simply states the objective of those fighting in the war and helps illustrate why tactics changed due to the focus on killing the maximum amount of the enemy. It also shows how, despite new weapons being introduced, the main objective was always to kill and this rarely changed throughout the war.
The Somme saw the completely new invention of tanks and more sophisticated attacks such as a ‘creeping barrage’. The first tanks were used in the Battle of the Somme and were a British invention. The first successfully developed tank was the Mark I. They added further changes to the original infantry charge and advanced ahead of the infantry. They could crush barbed wire and introduced a new way of travelling through No Man’s Land. However, due to the fact that they only moved at walking pace and were harder to manoeuvre, they became easier targets:
The source is contemporary and so likely to be reliable. It shows the difficulty of manoeuvring the tanks due to their weight and size. It was for this reason that after the Somme improvements were made to the original design. This source therefore depicts why there was a need for smaller changes to be made within the fundamental change in warfare which came about by the very introduction of the tank. The new French tank designed was a quarter of the weight, weighing 7 ½ tonnes and went twice as fast. It was also equipped with a rotating turret. The tanks brought back some mobility to the Western Front, provided a boost in morale for the British and were intimidating to the enemy:
“Mysterious monsters were crawling towards them over the craters...Someone in the trenches said, ‘The Devil is coming’.”- A German war correspondent describing the effect of the sight of British tanks at the Somme.
This source helps to convey the enormity of the tank and how they successfully intimidated the enemy. I am inclined to believe this source as reliable as it’s written by a contemporary soldier, experiencing the tanks for the first time. The extreme response helps to emphasise how large the change in warfare was that was brought about by the tanks in comparison to the previous fighting methods, thus supporting my argument. (4)
The creeping barrage was a slight change in the tactics that had been used from the beginning of the war. First used at the Battle of the Somme, it involved artillery fire moving forward in stages just ahead of the advancing infantry. This was a complicated procedure that required precise timing by both the heavy artillery and the infantry in order to work. Failure to do this would result in the artillery killing their own soldiers.
Yet another substantial change in tactics arose in 1917 when objectives partially changed from preliminary bombardment accompanied by an infantry attack to infiltration tactics. This was an idea developed by General Oskar von Hutier in 1917. It comprised small groups venturing into No Man’s Land and between enemy points on the Front Line. When this was achieved infantry would advance forward in an attack across No Man’s Land.
A very significant weapon of war which was developed was planes. They originally were used to take the place of Zeppelins. At first they were only used to observe enemy positions but by 1918 both sides had developed bomber planes equipped with machine guns and bombs to attack enemy cities. The creation of these bomber planes demonstrates another large change to weapons and tactics used in the war.
By 1918, there were many features of war that had changed to a great extent through the development of new weapons such as tanks and gas and the way they were used in the war. There were also smaller developments made to the first tactics used in 1914, for example the creeping barrage.
Alternatively, there were also features that were used throughout the war that were subjected to little change. A tactic used by both sides was to bomb boats carrying supplies to the enemy. This tactic remained the same over the duration of the war. New weapons such as the German U-boat with the assistance of torpedoes helped to put this tactic into practice and to good effect. Snipers were also used in the war from start to finish. The element of surprise was also adopted throughout the war, for instance, the morbid beauty of the gas attack was that it could be lethal if the enemy were unaware of it. It was for this reason that advances in chemical technology were made to find an odourless gas to give as little warning to the enemy as possible. The tactic of tunnelling was also one of the most effective, due to its element of surprise. The practice of tunnelling under the enemy trenches and planting explosives could produce devastating effects and was prominent throughout the war.
In conclusion, I have argued that the most significant change to weapons in the war was the transition from cavalry to infantry, brought about by the introduction of trench warfare and the boom in artillery. This improvement in the sophistication of weapons had a direct impact upon tactics in the war due to the type of weapon necessitating how soldiers fought against the enemy. After the original change, little change occurred to either weaponry or tactics until 1915. The introduction of chemical warfare followed by the invention of tanks and eventually bomber planes presented huge changes to the original fighting procedures used in 1914. The rate of this change from 1915 onwards was also significant. This marked change is very apparent when comparing the Western Front in 1914, where artillery was their main weapon to 1918, when 412 tanks, numerous soldiers and over 1,000 compact aircraft broke through German lines.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/ Accessed: 25th/11, 6th/12, 9th/12
http://www.worldwar1.com/ Accessed: 30th/11
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_people_died_in_World_War_1 Accessed: 2nd/12, 7th/12, 9th/12
http://www.historyonthenet.com/WW1/weapons.htm Accessed: 29/11, 9/12
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWtactics.htm Accessed: All history controlled assessment sessions
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrage_%28artillery%29 Accessed: 6th/12
http://www.firstworldwar.com Accessed: All history controlled assessment sessions
http://www.firstworldwar.com/weaponry/index.htm Accessed: All history controlled assessment sessions
GCSE Modern World History second addition Ben Walsh
Collin’s revision guide GCSE Modern World History
Textbook (2 quotes): Collin’s revision guide GCSE Modern World History (sources 2 and 4)
Poem website http://www.potw.org/archive/potw3.html (source 1)
Tank picture (source 3):