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The Use of Technology During World War 1

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Technical Warfare: Discuss the impact that the Industrial Revolution had on the course of World War 1. How did the use of new technologies during World War 1 influence the war? Which sides benefited the most from the technologies? Which technologies were the most important?

Technology during World War One reflected the trend toward industrialism and the application of mass production methods to weapons and to the technology of warfare in general. “The Industrial Revolution gave armies and complex railway systems to create the ability of bringing masses of men, equipment and ammunition to the rear of the battlefield.” (Beaumont, J, 1995) Development of rapid-firing guns (machine guns and artillery) had given defending forces immeasurable advantages over those who were attacking, by making it more difficult to survive on top of the ground. Stalemate was the result of a number of developments in military technology in the late 19th century and reflected the fact that the WW1 occurred ‘at a very particular period in history in military technology and transport.’ (Kennedy, P 2012) Success in the war was partly because of the advanced technologies in weaponry and communications. Certain technologies were crucial to the way the war was fought. These advances include communication and railway systems. Poison gas also played an important role during World War One.

Communication was essential on the battlefield. If there was a communication malfunction, then the results could be fatal. Units at the front line needed to know where their enemy troops were, while the commanders working behind the lines could only control their men if they had a reliable source of information. Communication included some of the most up-to-date technology of the time while others dated back in history. One of the forms of communication was telephones. Telephones allowed different parts of the battlefield to communicate with each other. Long wires were used to link the telephones. The system was reliable as long as the wires were intact. Since the phone wires were set up in the trenches, the wires frequently broke “for causes that ranged from the clumsy feet of careless soldiers to enemy shellfire.” (Kennedy, R 2012). When an army advanced, the soldiers would bring the telephone line forward to set up communication posts in the trenches. Radios were also used during World War 1.

Mobile radio devices were capable of transmitting and receiving Morse code, however these devices were often too bulky and fragile for trench life. Radios were more common at sea, where they allowed ships and submarines to communicate with each other and receive orders from their bases on land. Some armies relied on visual communication to send messages. Until 1915 the British army used an adapted paraffin lamp known as a “Begbie” to send messages via Morse code, using special lens to concentrate the light into a more powerful beam. However, this method was not as secure since anyone who could see the light could intercept the message. Another way of communicating was using carrier pigeons to deliver messages. The pigeons used their homing instincts to carry routine messages and information in the heat of a battle. In 1918 a pigeon called Cher Ami received the French Croix de Guerre medal for carrying a message from an isolated group of American soldiers giving their location. The information allowed nearby units to start a rescue mission, saving the lives of 194 members of the 77th Infantry Division. (Kennedy, R 2012)

From the earliest days of their introduction, railways have been regarded as “offering the most efficient means for meeting the special needs of military transport in time of war.” (Pratt, E 2009) In becoming a new arm of modern warfare, they helped alter its scope and character. Through railways, soldiers and their materials could be moved to the front at an extraordinary rate, but they were very vulnerable at the front itself. While the use of railways in the war was considerable, advancing armies could only move forward at the pace that they could build or rebuild a railway. Before the war began, the German military invested heavily in these trains, known as iron horses, and the tracks that carried them. The military had counted on trains and practiced the mobilization of its army on them. In only a matter of two weeks the whole German Army was completely mobilized. The French military, however, did not control its nation’s railroads and little practice was done with trains. As a result of this, the French military troops took over a month to coordinate. Germany saw this as an advantage to allow the Schlieffen Plan to work. This is an example of how railway systems were used to take advantage over enemies. Railroad lines were also used to supply front line military units with food, ammunition, and comfort items.

Poison gas was the one of the most feared of all weapons used. This was because the gas was indiscriminate and could be used on the trenches even when there was no attack present. Whereas the machine gun killed soldiers instantly, the gas could leave “a victim in agony for days and weeks before he finally succumbed to his injuries.” (Trueman, C 2012) Soldiers had to put on crude gas masks to protect themselves. The first gas attack was by the French. In August 1914, the French used tear gas grenades containing xylyl bromide on the Germans. This gas acted more like an irritant rather than a killer. Although the French were the first to use a gas against an enemy, it was the Germans who had been giving a great deal of thought to the use of poison gas as a “way of inflicting a major defeat on an enemy.” (Trueman, C 2012) One concern when using the poison gas was the wind direction. When the wind was in a decent direction, the gas was released so that the gas could drift over to the opposition’s side. However occasionally the wind could change direction and instead, the attackers would be blown back at them.

Technology greatly impacted World War One. Because of technological advancements, warfare was changed because the more efficient weapons made it easier to kill the enemy and eliminate chivalry. This caused higher casualties and trench warfare was introduced to keep soldiers safe while not attacking. Of all the wars in the 20th century, technology influenced World War One the greatest.

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