Introduction of WWI (1914-1918)
The First World War lasted for four years and three months. It was called “The Great War” or “The War to end wars”. It began on August 4, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918. The Allies, which made up of 27 states including France, Britain, Russia, Italy , the United States, Rumania, Greece, Serbia and Japan, fought against the Central Powers including Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria.The result of the war gave birth to seven new nations, took ten million combatant lives cost about £ 35,000 million.
Since Austria was the agressor, Italy decided not to assist the Central Powers. Her main purpose in not joining the war was to bargain for territory. In May 1915s, after signing a secret treaty (Treaty of London) with the Allies, who promised her nearly all the Austrian territories, Italy decided to enter the War.
After United States entered into the war in 1917, the tide began to turn against the Central Powers. The Allies finally defeated the Central Powers in November 1918. The main reasons for the defeat were firstly, there were 27 Allied states fought against 4 Central Powers, therefore the Allied states had more manpower and more resources. Secondly, the Allied states had almost complete control of the seas, so they could successfully blockade the German coastline and starve the Central Powers of food and raw materials.
No history of the war would be complete without an overview of the weapons of war and we shall look into them.
World War 1 became famous for its trench warfare, where troops adopted to a more defensive strategy. Defensive technology was better than offensive and the war was no longer an active war, however they decided to play tactics.
Below are the weapons used during WWI.
The main weapon used by the Allies in the trenches was the bolt-action rifle. 15 rounds could be fired in a minute and a person standing 1.4km away could be killed.
The Americans used the shotgun, which had a greater effect at clearing the enemy trenches. This provoked a horrified reaction from the German government, as the doctors had difficulties treating the wound.
Below are some rifle models were relied upon by the key belligerent armies.
a) German Maseur
The standard weapon in the German army, the 7.92 mm Mauser Gewehr 98 was designed in 1898 by Peter Paul Mauser (1838-1914). It was superior in design compared to the majority of its contemporaries, it incorporated the clip and magazine into a single detachable mechanism, saving valuable loading time.
However German armies suffered as it could not be used for rapid firing and was limited by a five-cartridge magazine.
b) British Lee-Enfield
British Lee-Enfield 0.303-inch rifle was issued to all British soldiers on the Western Front. First produced in 1907 and officially titled the Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) Mark III, the name was derived from its designer (James Lee, an American) and its manufacturer (the Royal Small Arms Factory based in Enfield, London).
With its ten-cartridge magazine, it was suitable for rapid firing; a well- trained soldier could expect to fire twelve well-aimed shots a minute.
c) French Lebel
Just as the Germans adopted the Mauser and the British the Lee-Enfield, the French developed the Lebel 8 mm weapon as their rifle of choice during the war.
Despite its wide usage, there were actually flaws in their design. Its eight rounds were loaded, nose to tail fashion, in a tubular magazine placed under the barrel of the rifle. This resulted in slow loading because the operator had to be wary of one round hitting the primer of the cartridge in front, thereby causing an unexpected explosion.
Machine guns needed 4-6 men to work them and had to be mounted on a flat surface. They had the fire-power of 100 guns. Large field guns had a long range and could deliver devastating blows to the enemy but needed up to 12 men to work them.
The German army was the first to use chlorine gas at the battle of Ypres in 1915. Chlorine gas causes a burning sensation in the throat and chest pains. It was the first appearance of chemical warfare. Mustard gas was the most deadly weapon used. It was fired into the trenches in shells. It is colourless and takes 12 hours to take effect. Effects include blistering skin, vomiting, sore eyes, internal and external bleeding. Death can take up to 5 weeks. Soldiers wore masks to protect them from the poison gas. If they didn’t have gas masks, they would pee in a rag and put that up to their face, it eradicates the poisonous chemical when inhaled.
The Zeppelin, also known as blimp, was an airship used during the early part of the war in bombing raids by the Germans. They carried machine guns and bombs. However, they were abandoned because they were easy to shoot out of the sky.
Tanks were used for the first time in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme. They were developed to cope with the conditions on the Western Front. The first tank was called 'Little Willie' and needed a crew of 3. Its maximum speed was 3mph and it could not cross trenches.
Almost nearing the end of the war, more modern tanks was developed. It could carry 10 men with a revolving turret and could reach 4mph.
Planes were also used for the first time. At first they were used to deliver bombs and for spying work but became fighter aircraft armed with machine guns, bombs and sometimes cannons. Fights between two planes in the sky became known as 'dogfights'
Torpedoes were used by submarines. The Germans used torpedoes to blow up Allies cargos carrying supplies. The Germans torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania on May 1st 1915 which sank with a loss of 1,195 lives. The Americans were outraged that she joined the war in 1917 on the side of the allies.
After the First World War, there was little political stability in Europe. In Eastern Europe, the new states, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Finland were always threatened by the communist Russia. In central Europe, the Germans always yearned for Treaty of Versailles to be revised.
In southern Europe, the Italians also harboured ill-feeling towards the Versailles Settlement because the Big Three failed to promise the territorial ambitions of Italy as in the Treaty of London of 1915. There were only two states in Europe, Britain and France which hoped to preserve the Versailles Settlement. As both Britain and France were gravely weakened by the war, it is doubtful that they would be willing to make a costly war against any aggressors who were determined to revise the Versailles Settlement.
The First World War left crushing economic burdens on all the European countries. It has been estimated that the European victors owed an aggregate of $10 billion to the U.S. The economic burdens of the European governments were multiplied when they had to rehabilitate devastated areas, to pay pensions to the wounded and to the relatives of the dead and to pay the interest due on the public and foreign debts. There was mass unemployment in Italy, Germany, Britain and France shortly after the war.
The League of Nations was born in 1920 which was a hopeful sign for peace in the future. The League had a noble ideal which advocated open diplomacy, economic co-operation and peaceful solution of international disputes.
Sub-total for British Imperial Forces
Total (Entente Powers)
Total (Central Powers)