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Weapons of World War I

By HistoryNet Staff
7/25/2014 • Military History Magazine

“Military science develops so rapidly in times of actual war that the weapons of today soon is (sic) discarded and something better taken up.”—Attributed to a German agent in Rotterdam in 1915 news stories.

Humans proved themselves remarkably ingenuous and adaptable when it came to finding new ways to maim and kill during the First World War. The list below explores many of the weapons used to produce millions of casualties in four short years.

From left, Winchester M1897 trench gun, a 1917 Lee–Enfield and Springfield 1903 rifle. (HistoryNet Archives)
From left, Winchester M1897 trench gun, a 1917 Lee–Enfield and Springfield 1903 rifle. (HistoryNet Archives)

Rifles. All nations used more than one type of firearm during the First World War. The rifles most commonly used by the major combatants were, among the Allies, the Lee-Enfield .303 (Britain and Commonwealth), Lebel and Berthier 8mm (France), Mannlicher–Carcano M1891, 6.5mm (Italy), Mosin–Nagant M1891 7.62 (Russia), and Springfield 1903 .30–06 (USA). The Central Powers employed Steyr–Mannlicher M95 (Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria), Mauser M98G 7.92mm (Germany), and Mauser M1877 7.65mm (Turkey). The American Springfield used a bolt-action design that so closely copied Mauser’s M1989 that the US Government had to pay a licensing fee to Mauser, a practice that continued until America entered the war.

Machine guns. Most machine guns of World War 1 were based on Hiram Maxim’s 1884 design. They had a sustained fire of 450–600 rounds per minute, allowing defenders to cut down attacking waves of enemy troops like a scythe cutting wheat. There was some speculation that the machine gun would completely replace the rifle. Contrary to popular belief, machine guns were not the most lethal weapon of the Great War. That dubious distinction goes to the artillery.

A German soldier practices using his flamethrower during a training exercise near Sedan, France, May 1917.. (HistoryNet Archives)
A German soldier practices using his flamethrower during a training exercise near Sedan, France, May 1917.. (HistoryNet Archives)

Flamethrowers. Reports of infantry using some sort of flame-throwing device can be found as far back as ancient China. During America’s Civil War some Southern newspapers claimed Abraham Lincoln had observed a test of such a weapon. But the first recorded use of hand-held flamethrowers in combat was on February 26, 1915, when the Germans deployed the weapon at Malancourt, near Verdun. Tanks carried on a man’s back used nitrogen pressure to spray fuel oil, which was ignited as it left the muzzle of a small, hand-directed pipe. Over the course of the war, Germany utilized 3,000 Flammenwerfer troops; over 650 flamethrower attacks were made. The British and French both developed flame-throwing weapons but did not make such extensive use of them.

British soldiers using a capture German Lanz-type light trench mortar. (Canada Department of National Defence)
British soldiers using a capture German Lanz-type light trench mortar. (Canada Department of National Defence)

Mortars. Mortars of World War I were far advanced beyond their earlier counterparts. The British introduced the Stokes mortar design in 1915, which had no moving parts and could fire up to 22 three-inch shells per minute, with a range of 1,200 yards. The Germans developed a mortar (minenwerfer, or “mine thrower”) that had a 10-inch barrel and fired shells loaded with metal balls.

A French battery preps a 75mm canon.
A French battery preps a 75mm canon.

Artillery. The 20th century’s most significant leap in traditional weapons technology was the increased lethality of artillery due to improvements in gun design, range and ammunition‚—a fact that was all too clear in the Great War, when artillery killed more people than any other weapon did. Some giant guns could hurl projectiles so far that crews had to take into account the rotation of the earth when plotting their fire. Among smaller field guns, the French 75mm cannon developed a reputation among their German opponents as the “Devil Gun.” French commanders claimed it won the war. French 75 mm field guns also saw action in the Second World War, during which some were modified by the Germans into anti-tank guns with limited success.

A pair of German soldiers (and their mule) wear GM-15s, Germany's first gas mask. These helped prevent inhalation of mustard gas and other potential biochemicals.
A pair of German soldiers (and their mule) wear GM-15s, Germany's first gas mask. These helped prevent inhalation of mustard gas and other potential biochemicals.

Poison gas. On April 22, 1915, German artillery fired cylinders containing chlorine gas in the Ypres area, the beginning of gas attacks in the First World War. Other nations raced to create their own battlefield gases, and both sides found ways to increase the severity and duration of the gases they fired on enemy troop concentrations. Chlorine gas attacked the eyes and respiratory system; mustard gas did the same but also caused blistering on any exposed skin. Comparatively few men died from gas. Most returned to active service after treatment, but the weapon incapacitated large numbers of troops temporarily and spread terror wherever it was used. The use of poison gas was outlawed by international law following the war, but it has been used in some later conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88).

Tanks. Ideas for “land battleships” go back at least as far as the Medieval Era; plans for one are included among the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. The long-sought weapon became reality during the First World War. “Tank” was the name the British used as they secretly developed the weapon, and it stuck, even though the French simultaneously developed the Renault FT light armored vehicle, which had a traversable turret, unlike the British designs. (Various reasons have been given for choosing the name “tank,” from shells that were shaped like water-carriers to the British concealing construction of their secret weapon under the guise of making irrigation tanks for sale to Russia.) The first British tank (“Little Willie”) weighed approximately 14 tons, had a top speed of three mph, and broke down frequently. Improved tanks were deployed during the war, but breakdowns remained a significant problem that led many commanders to believe the tank would never play a major role in warfare. The Germans developed an armored fighting vehicle only in response to the British and French deploying tanks. The only German design of the war, A7V, was an awe-inspiring but cumbersome beast that resembled a one-story building on treads.

Initially, tanks were doled out in small numbers to support infantry attacks. The Battle of Cambrai, November 20, 1917, is generally regarded as the first use of massed tank formations; the British deployed over 470 of them for that battle. However, the French had already successfully employed 76 tanks during the battle at Malmaison on October 23, 1917, one of the most impressive French victories of the Great War.

 Germany's gigantic bomber, the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI
Germany's gigantic bomber, the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI

Aircraft. The air war of World War I continues to fascinate as much as it did at the time. This amazing new technology proved far more useful than most military and political leaders anticipated. Initially used only for reconnaissance, before long planes were armed with machine guns. Once Anthony Fokker developed a method to synchronize a machine gun’s fire with the rotation of the propeller, the airplane became a true weapon.

Early aircraft were flimsy, kite-like designs of lightweight wood, fabric and wires. The 80–120 horsepower engines used in 1914 produced top speeds of 100 mph or less; four years later speed had nearly doubled. Protection for pilots remained elusive, but most pilots disdained carrying parachutes regardless. Over the course of the war multi-engine bombers were developed, the largest being Germany’s “Giant,” the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI, with a wingspan of 138 feet and four engines. It had a range of about 500 miles and a bomb-load capacity of 4,400 lbs., although in long-range operations, such as bombing London, Giants carried only about half that much.

World War I U-Boat at sea. (SSPL/Getty Images)
World War I U-Boat at sea. (SSPL/Getty Images)

Submarines. Britain, France, Russia and the United States of America had all developed submarine forces before Germany began development of its Unterzeeboats (Undersea boats, or U-boats) in 1906, but during World War I submarines came to be particularly associated with the Imperial German Navy, which used them to try to bridge the gap in naval strength it suffered compared to Britain’s Royal Navy. Longer-range U-boats were developed and torpedo quality improved during the war. Submarines could strike unseen from beneath the waves with torpedoes but also surfaced to use their deck gun. One tactic was for the low-riding subs to slip in among a convoy of ships while surfaced, attack and dive. An unsuccessful post-war effort was made to ban submarine warfare, as was done with poison gas.

57 Responses to Weapons of World War I

  1. TRYHARD says:

    YOUR WELCOME

  2. TRYHARD says:

    Goblin Barrel or Skeleton Army…. VOTE NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. TRYHARD says:

    Tbh A COMBAT AXE CAN TAKE OUT THE FLAMETHROWER EVEN BEFORE IT CAN SHOOT

  4. The best tryhard says:

    i rekt a nuke out of the air with my throwing knife.

  5. The best tryhard says:

    i got a nuke using only my combat axe and became Gabe Newell after that game

  6. The best tryhard says:

    World War I (WWI or WW1), also known as the First World War, or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918. More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history.[5][6] Over 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians died as a result of the war (including the victims of a number of genocides), a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents’ technological and industrial sophistication, and the tactical stalemate caused by trench warfare, a grueling form of warfare in which the defender held the advantage. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, and paved the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved.[7]

    The war drew in all the world’s economic great powers,[8] assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom/British Empire, France and the Russian Empire) versus the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive, against the terms of the alliance.[9] These alliances were reorganised and expanded as more nations entered the war: Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.

    The trigger for the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia,[10][11] and entangled international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Within weeks, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world.

    On 28 July, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia and subsequently invaded.[12][13] As Russia mobilised in support of Serbia, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany. After the German march on Paris was halted, what became known as the Western Front settled into a battle of attrition, with a trench line that would change little until 1917. Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, the Russian army was successful against the Austro-Hungarians, but was stopped in its invasion of East Prussia by the Germans. In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers, opening fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Sinai. Italy joined the Allies in 1915 and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in the same year, while Romania joined the Allies in 1916, followed by the United States in 1917.

    The Russian government collapsed in March 1917, and a subsequent revolution in November brought the Russians to terms with the Central Powers via the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which constituted a massive German victory. After a stunning German offensive along the Western Front in the spring of 1918, the Allies rallied and drove back the Germans in a series of successful offensives. On 4 November 1918, the Austro-Hungarian empire agreed to an armistice, and Germany, which had its own trouble with revolutionaries, agreed to an armistice on 11 November 1918, ending the war in victory for the Allies.

    By the end of the war, the German Empire, Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire had ceased to exist. National borders were redrawn, with several independent nations restored or created, and Germany’s colonies were parceled out among the winners. During the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the Big Four (Britain, France, the United States and Italy) imposed their terms in a series of treaties. The League of Nations was formed with the aim of preventing any repetition of such a conflict. This effort failed, and economic depression, renewed European nationalism, weakened member states, and the German feeling of humiliation contributed to the rise of Nazism. These conditions eventually contributed to World War II.

  7. The best tryhard says:

    From the time of its start until the approach of World War II, the First World War was called simply the World War or the Great War and thereafter the First World War or World War I.[14][15] At the time, it was also sometimes called “the war to end war” or “the war to end all wars” due to its then-unparalleled scale and devastation.[16]

    In Canada, Maclean’s magazine in October 1914 wrote, “Some wars name themselves. This is the Great War.”[17] During the interwar period (1918–1939), the war was most often called the World War and the Great War in English-speaking countries.

    The term “First World War” was first used in September 1914 by the German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel, who claimed that “there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ … will become the first world war in the full sense of the word,”[18] citing a wire service report in The Indianapolis Star on 20 September 1914. After the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the terms World War I or the First World War became standard, with British and Canadian historians favouring the First World War, and Americans World War I. Blah Blah Blah i ended the war with a crossmap tomahawk on Hitler and ended world war 2 get rekt lads

  8. kaneki9029 says:

    ww1 sucks

  9. kaneki9029 says:

    can some one please write my history report for me

  10. kaneki9029 says:

    the only reason we went to war is because jesus wanted it

    • lol says:

      Not true at all

      • Raid says:

        Dude you are not even sure if jesus died for your sins, you just believe what pope says, you don’t question or even study the bible. Not true at all like lol said

    • Kevin Campbell says:

      Severely misinformed. Jesus wants peace among us, not for us to kill millions of our own kind. That would be something Satan would want us to do, not the savior of Earth, God’s only son. Crack open a bible and think before you say.

      • kaneki9029 says:

        you took what I said to seriously. Just a joke.. honestly

      • Kennedy Ogba says:

        thank you Kevin Campbell for this reply. GOD gave man choice and creative power. that is reason devil revolted against the entire ORDER. Why would man be given creative power. he has since vowed to make man use his creativity to fulfill his 3 point agenda 1. steal 2. kill 3. destroy. unfortunately humanity especially leaders don’t realise this truth. if the world can come together to use our creative capacity to promote love across all divides, we can create a kingdom that will be filled with love, joy, peace, prosperity, goodness, perfect health, mercy. everything- yes everything can become perfectly alright if man can realise this TRUTH

      • Jesus Christ says:

        em em. That’s actually not true at all. if you all going to be all jesusy atleast know your shit

      • Xavier Edmonds says:

        haha jesus tuned in

      • Nyssa Sharma says:

        pfft jesus himself is telling yall

      • Christopher says:

        I agree man

      • Topher says:

        I don’t think so

    • emo cuck lord says:

      he died for our sins (not tragedies)

      but honestly, what would jesus do?

    • BarryG says:

      Trump killed Jesus so that the evangelicals could start worshipping “Republican” prosperity gospel Jesus, also known as alt-Jesus … yes the anti-Christ is backed by the main churches, who else? You see it in Trump’s “miraculous” victory … a deal with Satan. The demon inside Trump must be hidden by coloring his skin Orange. Father of lies.

    • u wan sum? says:

      haha thats funny and halarious LOL

  11. Brett Stefonek says:

    Demons run… when a good man goes to war…….

  12. Samuel Chell says:

    Was this really the worst war of all–the meeting, for the first time, of human flesh and the sophisticated machinery of 20th century technology–on the ground, on and under water and overhead in the air.? It seemed to mark the end of all romantic notions of “war heroes” and to produce disillusionment to an unprecedented degree. The literature and graphic art before the war and after the war documents a sudden, dramatic shift from the propriety of Victorian times to the chaos and horror of modernity.

  13. Samuel Chell says:

    A recent BBC TV series–“Our Zoo”–documents the creation of a zoo-without-cages by a soldier fortunate to return from World War I (intact). Finding no peace in religion or comfort in meeting with maimed fellow survivors, he turns to nature. His quest to rescue animals and restore them to freedom and health is as much a quest about his own healing and wholeness.

  14. Dakota Cawthern says:

    let jabebus in your anus and express his power only then will you know what full anal baptism is. Its not by your pastor but by jabebus himself.

  15. bj mic says:

    the ww1 stared becasue militarism,alltances,imperlism,nationism

  16. Deziray Aguilar says:

    ello

  17. Deziray Aguilar says:

    so hey yall my name is right here : no yo bees wax

  18. Deziray Aguilar says:

    death of war means they tried their best to protect us and they died :(

  19. zipper says:

    But by birthing you, your mom sure did.

  20. Anime Enthusiast says:

    Mortars. Mortars of World War I were far advanced beyond their earlier counterparts. The British introduced the Stokes mortar design in 1915, which had no moving parts and could fire up to 22 three-inch shells per minute, with a range of 1,200 yards. The Germans developed a mortar (minenwerfer, or “mine thrower”) that had a 10-inch barrel and fired shells loaded with metal balls.
    Yeah ’bout the 1200 yard thing, not really it was 800 yards https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stokes_mortar#Combat_use

  21. Julius Cristales says:

    Anime is for the big boys jesus is dead and so is god suck the pubic hairs on my asshole and call me papa john your all my children gimme yo kids so i can sacrafice them to the weeb god.

  22. Topher says:

    WW1 is really interesting

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