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New Weapons of World War 1

World War 1 was unique in that it was the first war in which all of the combatants made significant advances in military technology. The previous patterns throughout the long centuries of human warfare, was for a relatively slow improvement of existing weapons and tactics. For example, bronze swords were replaced by iron swords and then by steel swords, but they were still swords. Occasionally a combatant nation would develop a significant innovation in military technology, such as the Byzantine Empire's Greek Fire, or the Mongols' use of gunpowder rockets, but these breakthroughs were not transformative on the battlefield. The armies that fought under Napoleon, for example, were not that different from the armies of France and Germany that fought during the war of 1870.

German U Boat
German U-Boat Surrendering to a United States Destroyer After Being Forced to the Surface by Depth Charges

The First World War broke the pattern of technological development, and launched the world towards an accelerated arms race. The current age of drones and atomic weaponry has its roots in World War 1. This was the first war in which technology and scientific know how were applied in a focused and intentional manner to improve the quality and lethality of weapons, and most importantly to invent entirely new weapons.

The was saw improvements in weapons, tactics and the invention entirely new classes of weapons including:

  • Submarine Warfare, particularly the U-Boats
  • Tanks
  • Poison Gas
  • Combat Aircraft including the first use of massed bombers and interceptors
  • Super Guns such as Big Bertha
  • Motorized Troops
American Plane Over German Lines
American Airplane Over German Lines - Western Front, WW1

By today's standards, many of these weapons seem quaint. A single modern fighter jet aircraft could probably sweep the entire sky clear of all the biplanes and open cockpit planes that fought deadly dog fights over the skies of France and Germany. And a WW1 u-boat would not stand a chance against a modern Destroyer. But in the period of 1914 to 1918, these advances in weapons were revolutionary.

When we look at the lumbering and ungainly tanks of World War 1, we must not forget that only 50 or so years before, during the American Civil War (the last major war before World War One), both armies had still been equipped with muskets.

Motorized Artillery of WW1
French Motorized Artillery. World War 1 Saw the First Use of Mechanized Warfare Although the Combatants Relied Mainly On Horse Power.

In the one hundred years since the First World War, the human genius for inventing newer and better ways to kill has given us much better weapons. However World War 1 remains the mother of our deadly arms. Interestingly as well, none of the weapons invented during World War 1 have become obsolete: we still use tanks, submarines, and bombers. Only the quality and lethality of these weapons has changed.