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World War 1 – technology and trench warfare

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World War 1 or ‘the great war’ is the first war where so many people from all over the world died for their country. It is also the first war where such large scale destruction came from man made machinery. Also the trenches were put into use for one of the first time. The trenches went almost the whole way from one side of Belgium to the other side of France. This image shows both trenches from where they started to where they ended. There were many battles and many deaths. In this project I will go into greater detail about the world war and what made it ‘the great war’.

I will explain how the new technology changed the nature of this war and all others after it. There were new weapons that were used to devastating effect. Each country had their artillery gun. Firstly there was the ‘paris gun’. Made by the French this gun was a long fire cannon. It had head on impact and destroyed anything it hit. The length of the gun was 35 metres and was 138 tons. The main advantage of having this gun was its superior range; it could hit something 75 miles away. The ‘paris gun’ was a huge gun which made it hard to move around so it had to stay at one place and could not be taken to the trenches.

Also this gun had poor accuracy so it was very unreliable and would easily kill allied forces. The Germans also had a huge gun called the big bertha. It was lighter than the Paris gun weighing at 2,200lb and only had a range of nine miles. However the shorter range and lighter build made it possible to bring the guns to the trenches and fire at the enemy. The British had the ‘Rail gun’. It only weighed 138lbs so it could be taken to the trenches. The gun could only fire 5,800 yards so it was not useful for long distance fighting.

It had great mobility, but the rail gun also had 100 yard recoil. This meant that the person firing the gun could easily be killed. Chemicals and gas attacks were also used to kill enemy soldiers. Nearly 100,000 people died in World War 1 as a result of chemical and gas attacks. There were three main gases used in WW1. Chlorine gas was one of them. It made the victims look with a glassy stare and turned the skin yellow or black. However the main damage was done inside the body. The gas destroyed the respiratory system from inside the body and froth came out of their mouth.

It would have been a terrifying experience for the people who were attacked by chlorine gas but it could be seen and prevented by gas masks easily. Phosgene gas was also used in the war. It was twice as deadly as chlorine gas but had no affects on the victims’ sight or skin. However the gas would kill quickly and was terrible for the soldiers moral. The other gas was mustard gas. It gave the skin terrible blisters and every shell could be poisoned with mustard gas so all the soldiers would be scared to go near shell holes.

At Lochnagar Crater there was evidence shell warfare had been used because there was a huge dip in the ground made by a huge shell. At almost every battle ground there were shell holes everywhere because the shells scared and did kill a lot of soldiers. Also there was evidence of machine guns because there were pill boxes with holes where the machine guns would be fired from. It was a war with airplanes, machine guns, and tanks – the weapons were made to kills thousands as quickly as possible. However, the leaders of regiments often fought World War I as if it was an older war with less sophisticated weapons.

The troops would be made to march across no mans land and be killed by machine guns. Because of this, a tactic known as trench warfare was put into practice. Many viewed trench warfare to be an effective tactic against enemy advancement. Because of this view, trench warfare proved to be, in World War I, an ineffective and terrible experience for all. In September 1914, the German commander, General Erich von Falkenhayn ordered his troops to dig trenched that would provide protection from the allied troops. When the allies reached the trench, they soon realized that they could not break through the line that the trench provided.

They also realized that the trench provided the Germans with shelter from their fire. Soon after, the allies began to dig their own trenches and, then, trench warfare began. Not very long, after the first trenches of the war were dug, a network of trenches arose. This network spread across France and Belgium for many miles. Within the network, there were three different types of trenches: front line trenches, support trenches, and reserve trenches. The first line of trenches was called front line trenches. These were usually two meters deep and had a zigzag pattern to prevent enemy fire from sweeping the entire length of the trench.

In order to prevent the trench from caving in, sandbags were stacked against the trench walls. Between the trenches of opposing forces laid no man’s land. This area between the opposing front line trenches was filled with barbwire and mines to prevent enemy crossing. If a soldier was ever injured in no man’s land, he usually was killed because of his vulnerability to enemy fire. The second and third types of trenches were the support and reserve trenches. These trenches were constructed to easily move supplies and troops to the front trenches.

All of the trenches were linked to each other by other trenches, underground tunnels, or telephone communications networks. While the design of the trenches and the network of trenches seemed like a great tactic, the reality of the life in the trenches was a different story. Life in the trenches took its toll on the soldiers involved in the war. The soldiers in the front line trenches often stayed there for at least 10 days at a time, usually with very little sleep. One soldier described the trenches as “it would not be such a bad war if only one could get more sleep.

In the line we have next to none, and fourteen days is a long time at one stretch. ” The main reason that soldiers on the front line could not sleep was to be on guard against enemy sneak attacks. Another reason that the soldiers were very tired is that night was used as a time for preparation and fixing of the trenches. The trenches were constantly being destroyed, either by enemy shellfire, or water damage. Many times, soldiers would be buried alive by the collapsing trench walls. Along with very little sleep and the destruction of trenches, soldiers also had to worry about contracting trench foot.

Trench foot is an infection of the feet caused by wet and poor living conditions. Soldiers stood for hours in waterlogged trenches without being able to change wet socks or boots. This caused their feet to slowly go numb and their skin to turn red or blue. If these conditions went untreated, they would destroy the tissue in the foot which would result in amputation. Another major concern for soldiers in the trenches was dysentery. Dysentery is a disease involving the swelling of the large intestine. The swelling caused stomach pains, diarrhoea, and usually vomiting or fever.

The main causes of dysentery were bacteria entering the body through the mouth, contact with human corpse’, and contact with infected people. Dysentery was mainly found on the soldiers because of bad sanitation from toilets in the trenches. Another major concern for soldiers in the trenches was the rats. Many times, in the trenches, the bodies of soldiers were buried in the walls of the trenches. If a wall fell, a large number of decomposing bodies would become exposed. These corpuses, as well as food scraps, attracted large numbers of rats.

A soldier told of the rats in the first world war by saying “The rats here are particularly repulsive, they are so fat – the kind we call corpse rats. They have shocking, evil, naked faces, and it is nauseating to see their long, nude tails. The rats would feast on the eyes of the dead soldiers first and then hollow out the remainder of the corpse. ” One pair of rats can produce 800 offspring per year; the number of rats that swarmed the trenches was huge. Trench warfare lasted for about four years. At the end of World War I, the network of trenches extended for more than 600 miles across the countryside.

Through the course of the war, many soldiers lost their lives not only to the fighting that was involved, but also to the extreme conditions that they had to endure in the trenches. Many years after the war, authorities realized the actual cost of trench warfare. World War I was the last time that the tactic of trench warfare was ever used. In Ulster trenches I saw that there are many types of trenches and that the trenches were constantly waterlogged and bombarded with rain as well as bullets. In the trenches food was scarce and when I went to Ulster everywhere was wet.

So in the war it world have been extremely difficult for anyone to have lived. Some of the trenches I went to were only about 15 metres apart and others were about 1 mile apart. This shows that this war was different across the trench lines. Following the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, the Germans decided that the decisive blow would now be to take the Channel ports. During this early period of the war the only troops at Ypres were the Yeomanry of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. Until the arrival of the British 7th Division they were the only troops between the German army and the Channel ports.

The Germans did actually manage to enter Ypres and a few local villages, before being forced back onto the ridges around Ypres, by the arrived of the British 7th Division. The geography of Ypres made it extremely difficult to defend. The Ypres area at the time was often described as being like a saucer, with the town of Ypres at centre where the cup sits and the surrounding land being the saucer rim. This gives a very good indication the advantages the Germans would have had for the greater part of the conflict in this area.

The British were the ones defending Ypres and had to concede most of the higher ground, which seems like an advantage but the Germans surrounded the all around the hill. They had to defend from middle the ‘saucer’. Ypres had been defended but at a terrible cost. The British had suffered over 58,000 casualties in an area less than 10 miles north to south and five miles from east to west and had been forced back into a salient – a bulge of land surrounded on three sides – and was overlooked by the German army. Ypres is a piece of land in a region of Belgium called Flanders, which means ‘flooded land’.

The area around Ypres floods easily and effective drainage systems are needed badly. During the First World War drainage ditches were destroyed by constant shelling. As a result soldiers frequently found themselves fighting in appalling conditions. Men had to go through long periods crouching in water sometimes waist deep. This led to swollen feet, impeded circulation and an inability to walk (a condition later known as ‘trench foot’). During the first winter of the war the weather was terrible, turning the low, swampy country into a bog and on every side of Ypres there was huge amounts of mud.

The cover the trenches provided was very poor because the walls constructed were unstable; almost as fast as they were built they slid back into the slush of mud at the bottom of the trench. In the first battle of Ypres the British and French had to just defend Ypres and hold their position. The Germans, who had mostly the upper ground had much better artillery and ammunition was likely to take over Ypres. However, they managed to keep Ypres so they were quite successful. By the beginning of 1915 it was the German army that held the advantage.

They held the idges that surrounded Ypres and seemed to have a limitless supply of ammunition as they constantly shelled the town. On the other hand the British appeared to be over-stretched. The British Expeditionary Force of skilled professional soldiers had suffered 90% casualties. The German army also had a secret and deadly weapon and on 22 April they unleashed it on the thin Allied line that defended Ypres. The Second Battle of Ypres saw the first use of poison gas in war. Many allied soldiers fell victim to chlorine gas and suffered an agonising last few minutes of life as they choked to death.

There was a huge gap in the allied trenches so the Germans could have easily taken the land, nevertheless they did not know how much damage the chemicals had done. On the third battle of Ypres Between 31 July and 10 November 1917 the British and their allies launched a series of attacks. The British Commander-in-Chief, General Haig, aimed to drive the Germans from the ridges surrounding Ypres. His main target was the Passchendaele ridge which was five miles from the British lines. However, the Germans were determined to defend the ridge every metre of the way.

They were well prepared for the British attack because for two years they had been building a line of camouflaged concrete strong points. The situation for British troops was made even worse by the weather. Almost constant rain had turned the battlefield into a sea of mud and destroyed any hope of a major advance. North of Ypres advances of 2 miles were made and Pilckem Ridge was captured from the Germans. However, further south, around the Menin road the attack was far less successful. German defences in this region were very strong and soldiers faced appalling conditions as the battle continued throughout August.

The rain continued and by the end of the month nearly double the usual amount of water had fallen. To make matters worse constant bombardment by shell fire in this area had destroyed the drainage system and water could not run away. Shell holes were filled with water and men and horses simply vanished in pools of mud. By the time that the British finally seized control of the Passchendaele ridge in November their casualties had risen to over 300,000. Although there was huge casualties and terrible deaths the British had done what the intended and captured Passchendaele. The costs were huge but their target was met.

The fourth and final battle of Ypres was after the spring of 1918 when the Germans launched their last major offensive of the war, trying to breakthrough the Allied lines before large numbers of reinforcements started to arrive from America. 44 divisions (nearly one million men) were transferred from the Eastern to the Western Front ready to face the British and French. On 10 April the Germans captured Messines Ridge and on 15 April the British were forced to give up the positions at Passchendaele that had been gained at such a terrible cost just a few months before. Dozens of British battalions were virtually wiped out.

On 29 April the Germans closed in on British defences along the Ypres-Comines Canal. For a moment it seemed as if Ypres itself might be about to fall. The German army was just a mile away from the Lille gate and the entrance to the city. It was the closest the Germans had been to Ypres since 1914. However, it was here that the German advance ground to a halt, their Lys offensive had been blocked. The Germans would not be able to win the war before American reinforcements began to turn the war in the Allies favour. By the summer of 1918 British and French forces were striking back and the German army as on the verge of surrender.

On 28 September Belgian and British forces drove the German army from the high ground to the east of Ypres. During the Fourth Battle of Ypres villages such as Passchendaele, Gheluvelt, Zantvoorde and Kruiseecke, along with the Messines Ridge passed into British hands for the final time as German resistance in the Ypres sector finally collapsed. On the trip I saw the geography of Ypres and it was extremely like a bowl. The British had an extremely hard job defending Ypres because they were surrounded and that they did not have the resources of the Germans.

I saw huge shell fire everywhere with the ditches left ranging in size. At hill 60 I saw that the shells were huge, and all of the British were sitting ducks when they started walking down the hills. The Battle of the Somme was planned to be a joint French and British attack. The idea originally came from the French Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Joffre and was agreed by General Sir Douglas Haig, despite him wanting to have a large attack in Flanders. However the attack was designed to destroy the German manpower and not to get any territorial gain.

At first Joffre intended for to use mainly French soldiers but the German attack on Verdun in February 1916 turned the Somme offensive into an almost all British attack. General Sir Douglas Haig now took over responsibility for the operation and with the help of General Sir Henry Rawlinson, Haig came up with his own plan of attack. Haig’s strategy was for an eight-day constant bombardment that he believed would completely destroy the German forward defences. General Rawlinson was in charge of the main attack and his Fourth Army was expected to advance towards Bapaume.

To the north of Rawlinson’s army, General Edmund Allenby and the British Third Army were ordered to make a breakthrough with cavalry standing by to exploit the gap that was expected to appear in the German front-line. General Fayolle was to advance with the French Sixth Army towards Combles. Haig used 750,000 men (27 divisions) against the German front-line (16 divisions). However, the bombardment failed to destroy either the barbed-wire or the concrete bunkers protecting the German soldiers.

This meant that the Germans were able to defend their good defensive positions on higher ground when the British and French troops attacked at 7. on the morning of the 1st July. The BEF suffered 58,000 casualties (a third of them killed), therefore making it the worse day in the history of the British Army. The British thought that the Germans were so close to the point of exhaustion that it would be an easy victory for them. The plan did not work for many reasons. Firstly the bombardment was not strong enough to destroy the barbed wire – the shells tangled the barbed wire up even more! Also the British men were told to walk down to the Germans instead of running, so they were easy targets for the German artillery and shells.

Thirdly Haig either underestimated the Germans or he overestimated his bombardment tactics. The Germans had anticipated the attack weeks before when their scout planes saw troops and weapons being moved towards the front line. This gave them time to prepare. They went back and dug deeper trenches, which were up to twelve metres deep. Weapons and soldiers were brought forward to help defend. Haig’s preliminary bombardment had not been such a success as he had hoped. It meant that the Germans could be sure that an attack was imminent and so they took even further precautions.

Also Germans had pick of the land to build trenches at first so in the Somme area they were on raised ground, a better position for defending. After they heard the bombing stop German troops left the trenches they were sheltering in and took position. Haig could not be sure whether his bombardment had been successful. There were low clouds and mist so the trenches could not be seen from the sky, so it was hard to tell whether targets had been hit. German artillery had stopped firing so Allied artillery bombardment was not able to pinpoint it’s location to destroy it.

This meant another difficulty for the soldiers when they eventually “went over the top”. As they had stopped firing it was assumed they were destroyed. So the British sent attacking soldiers. Although many trenches were completely destroyed by the shelling many Germans survived in their dugouts and when night raids were sent out mixed reports came back. Some said that the trenches were empty others said there was no damage. Some said that the wire was cut some said it wasn’t. The generals could not be sure how successful Haig’s bombardment had been. Many shells did not even explode on impact because of the wet and muddy terrain.

These were called “duds”. Many times when a shell hit the barbed wire instead of cutting it, it just tangled it more. There were so many casualties because when reinforcements came, the Allied troops were told to walk in lines across no-mans land. This made it easy for the Germans to just shoot forward and hit someone. Also the Allied troops were terribly trained and did not know what they were up against so they just walked into the Germans hands. When I went to the battle field I saw just how surrounded the British really were and the artillery was firing at them from every direction.

Also there was a tree in no-mans land called the danger tree. It was named the danger tree because it was surrounded by German trenches and was used as target practice by the Germans. I found out about a man called Lewis McGee. He was killed in action at the Battle of Passchendaele, on 13 October 1917. Lewis McGee won a Victoria Cross he was born on the 13th May 1888 and died on the 13th October 1917. He was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

He was 29 when he died. He was a sergeant in the 40th Battalion, which was from Tasmania. On the 4th October 1917 in Belgium, Sergeant McGee’s platoon was suffering severely and the advance of the company was stopped by machine-gun fire from a pill-box post. Sergeant McGee rushed to the post armed only with a revolver, shooting some of the crew and capturing the rest, which enabled the advance to proceed. He reorganized the remnants of his platoon and did splendid work during the consolidation of the position. His coolness and bravery contributed largely to the success of the company’s operation.

He was killed in action shortly afterwards. World war one was a war that was fought stupidly and arrogantly by both sides. Every general told their men to just run across no-mans land and die. Each battle was lost by one side. Then battles were rarely won by a side. The generals were at fault for all of battle loses. So I believe that the war could have been over much quicker if trenches were not introduced. The bravery of all the soldiers should be recognised because each one of them had to endure pain, loss and the contemplation of death. This war was all about lions being led by donkeys.

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