DAA Daily

New Destructive Technology in World War I

By Erkan Nasirli & Andras Repas

Science & Technology Editor and Staff Reporter

The Pawprint

World War I brought death and destruction to many – over 20 million. With many nations pouring millions and millions of dollars into technological developments on and off the battlefield, World War I was perhaps one of the fastest technologically advancing wars in history. The aftermath of the war left tragedy and death but also technologies that we still use today.

Countries were using new technology in order to succeed in battle. Because of this, technology advanced at an increasing rate throughout the war as countries were pouring millions and millions of dollars into the development and advancing of new technologies.

Tanks

Tanks were a game changer during the first world war. They allowed armies to advance over rough terrain with heavily armored vehicles and heavy firepower whilst carrying men safely guarded inside.

The first known model of the tank was called Little Willie and was used by Britain in the battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916. It was designed by Lancelot de Mole, an Australian engineer. However, France experimented with tanks a year earlier in the Souain experiment a early experimentation of all-terrain vehicles. creating a prototype of the tank called Baby Holt Caterpillar, based off of a design of a wire cutting machine made by an American company called the Holt Manufacturing Company.

The chassis of the wire cutting machine made up the base of the French Baby Holt Caterpillar. The French showcased the first functional Baby Holt Caterpillar to the army on 9 December 1915 at Souain, a former battleground turned experimental site.The caterpillar performed perfectly except for one shortcoming its length. It was unable to cross trenches longer than 1.2 meters in width and therefore was proven unsatisfactory.

Planes

With the invention of planes less than 2 decades before the start of WWI, it is no coincidence that this was where technological advancements of airplanes took great strides. During WWI, planes played a crucial role for all sides of the conflict.

In the beginning, they were typically unarmed and were used as reconnaissance tools. Later on, machine guns were added to create the first infamous fighter planes. Battle formation developed towards the end of the war, and there could be as many as a hundred planes working on the same attack. Due to the fact that planes were a relatively recent invention at the time, training with planes was just as treacherous as flying them out in combat. More than half the deaths of the Royal Flying Corps took place in training.

After the German bombing of the British civilians in 1915, they expected Britain to pull out of the war, which didn’t happen and the war continued.

Gas Masks & Poison Gas

Poisonous gas became widely used during WW1 and gained popularity because of its ability to cause many casualties at a time. The first chemical attaches which involved a chlorine–phosgene mix was released by Germany on British troops on the 9 December 1915. 88 tonnes of the gas was released and 1069 people were hospitalized of which 120 died. This was the first known gas attack. The most commonly used gasses during WW1 were chlorine and phosgene, with phosgene being six times more deadly than chlorine.

The first gas mask was called the British Smoke Hood and was adopted in June 1915. Its production stopped in September 1915 due to subsequent design. More advanced versions of the Smoke Hood were made later, including filters in order to filter out dangerous chemicals in the smoke. The first filtering gas mask was designed in 1915 by a Russian chemist named Nikolay Zelinsky. The masks filter used activated charcoal in order to neutralize the dangerous chemicals.

Flamethrowers

Flamethrowers, as we know them today, were first seen at the beginning of the great war during trench warfare. The man-portable flamethrower is the most popular of its kind and it consists of two parts: a backpack and the gun itself.

Although long before the modern flamethrower, it still existed but in a primitive form, dating back as far as the 5th-century B.C.E, the design was simple – long metal tubes were stuffed with coal or sometimes sulfur – and by blowing in one end the solids would be propelled at the target.

The word “flamethrower” originated from the German term “flammenwerfer”, and its invention is normally attributed to Richard Fiedler, who submitted models of the first prototype to the German army in 1901. He had 2 different prototypes: one large, the other small. The smaller one was called the “Kleinflammenwerfer” and was intended for portable use. It was carried by one person, and with the help of pressurized air, oil, and carbon dioxide it exploded into an 18-meter flame.

The second, heavier model, the “Grossflammenwerfer” couldn’t be carried by a one person, so it was more challenging to maintain especially with the large and expensive amount of fuel which was required for it, although it did have a range double the smaller Kleinflammenwerfer.

The German army then began using the flamethrower during the early stages of WW1 against French and British soldiers.

Submarines

The German navy in WW1 used U-Boats in the doctrine of trade interdiction, and started attacking allied convoys with these U-Boats which led to the sinking of the American passenger line cruiser RMS Lusitania, as well as the Royal Navy’s HMS Pathfinder, the sinking of the US line cruiser was one of the reasons for the US to declare war on Germany in April of 1917.

In just four years (1914-1918) the German U-Boat fleet quadrupled, quickly submarines became their weapon of choice. In 1915, they sank 396 ships compared to the 23 by surface craft. Soon, unrestricted submarine warfare was considered a war crime.  

The Germans had a navy much smaller than that of Britain, but they began sending U-Boats into the North Sea, which pushed the British to call their expensive and large ships back to British shore. Using smaller vessels the British were able to stop crucial supplies from reaching Germany. To retaliate, German U-Boats attacked British merchant vessels. Over the course of WW1, Germany managed to sink around 5,000 ships – it was the first widespread use of technology in a war.

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