Even though World War I (also known as The Great War) may be commonly overshadowed by World War II in the eyes of general public, in many ways it was the first ‘modern war’ as it was the first major conflict fought with modernized weapons and tactics.
Most if not all of the European countries that entered the war expected it to be fought exactly the same way as previous wars had, but with the great advances in weaponry it quickly became apparent that the old ways of warfare with two opposing armies marching against one another in an open field would be long gone, as instead mass armies became bogged down along hundreds of miles of trenches and fought massive, bloody battles for only a few yards of ground.
In this new type of warfare emerged several new kinds of weaponry, including:
The Colt 1911 is one of the most influential handguns ever built, and the first conflict it saw significant action in was World War I. The weapon served as the primary sidearm of the United States military in the war. The pistol fired the .45 ACP caliber round from a seven round magazine, plus an additional round in the chamber.
The M1911 gained a reputation for reliability and accuracy, even in the muddy trenches of the war where fighting conditions were rather adverse, to say the least. The pistol would later provide the basis for scores of other handguns released after it, including several to the present day. Today, the M1911 pistol in general remains incredibly popular, with scores of manufacturers producing and selling the pistol today.
When American troops deployed to the Western Front in force in 1918, there was one infantry weapon they brought with them that the Germans learned to despise: The Winchester 1897 shotgun. This 12 gauge, pump action shotgun could take out multiple German solders at once with a single blast and would be used to effectively clear trenches.
With its rugged pump action design, the 1897 performed well in the mud of the trenches and would lay down an impressively high rate of fire as soldiers would continuously, emptying the entire six shot capacity in seconds. The German government hated the weapon so much, that they protested to have it outlawed in combat.
The Maxim MG08 Machine Gun is one of the most influential machine guns ever made and remained in service for many decades after the Great War ended. Either the Maxim or copies of the Maxim were used by both sides in the conflict, and the weapons were used as defensive arms in entrenched positions. When mass forces would attack across No Man’s Land, Maxim machine guns would open up and mow helpless advancing troops down.
The Maxim machine gun weighed nearly sixty pounds and had to be rolled into position on wheels. It could reliably fire between five hundred to six hundred rounds of ammunition a minute, depending on the model. The carriage and accessories for the weapon added an additional hundred pounds, requiring several men at once to operate the weapon successfully.
The Lee Enfield rifle in .303 served as the primary service of the British army in World War I, and would continue to be issued and used up until 1957. The big advantage to the Lee Enfield was the fact that, whereas almost all other rifles in the conflict utilized a 5 round magazine capacity, the Lee Enfield could hold 10 rounds at once.
This naturally gave the British forces a major advantage over the Germans in combat, as they would need to reload far less.
The Mauser 98 rifle was the standard issue infantry rifle for the German army in the war, and it was also perhaps the single most influential bolt action design ever devised. The action that the rifle utilizes is incredibly durable as well as smooth to operate, both of which made it a hugely valuable weapon in the trenches.
The design of the Mauser was so excellent that the Springfield M1903 rifle, the service rifle of the American army, practically copied it. Mauser successfully sued Springfield, which meant that the American government had to pay the German government royalties during the war (even though they were on opposing sides).
The Luger P08 pistol is one of the most iconic service pistols of all time, and served as the standard issue Germany Army sidearm for World War I. It held 8 rounds of 9mm ammunition, plus one more round in the chamber for 9 rounds overall.
The Luger is notable for its appearance as well as its design, utilizing a toggle locked recoil operated mechanism. Whereas the slide of most modern pistols travels rearward to eject a spent shell casing, the mechanism of the Luger will ‘toggle’ upwards.
The Mark V tank was the biggest tank to serve in World War I, and was utilized by the British. Over one thousand of these were built and deployed in the war, and featured superior armor and weaponry in contrast to the previous Mark VI tank. The Mark V had a fuel tank capacity of ninety three gallons, which meant that it could run continuously for around ten hours before needing to be refueled.
Does barbed wire really count as a weapon? It should, because it was used to great effect for the first time in World War I as a defensive weapon on the Western Front. Barbed wire would snag (and hold ) onto everything from clothing to equipment to human skin and flesh. Once soldiers would become caught in the wire, they would be easy targets for machine gun, mortar, and sniper fire.
Barbed wire would often be deployed strategically, with multiple layers of it sprawled out across many miles. Alternatively, it would be arranged more intricately, such as with a small gap or two in the line for the attacking force would feel compelled to charge through, only to be met with a concentrated hail of defensive fire.
When it was built, the Big Bertha was the largest mobile artillery piece in the world. The 16.5 inch howitzer was used by the German armies to smash their way through Belgium and into France. Germany built and used a dozen separate Big Berthas in the war.
Each Big Bertha had an effective range of six miles and would fire a nearly eighteen hundred pound projectile. You can imagine the sheer devastating that a single round of the Big Bertha would cause upon impact.
One of the deadliest weapons to make its appearance in World War I was not a firearm of any sort, but rather a chemical. Mustard gas was first unleashed by the Germans in 1917, and it would cause horrific respiratory distress that would temporarily disable swathes of enemy soldiers affected by the gas. It also inflicted physical injuries in the form of blisters on the skin and even in the lungs.
Gas shells would be loaded with mustard gas and then fired into enemy lines, inflicting hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides.
One of the premier French guns used in the war was the Chauchat machine gun. Even though the weapon had poor magazines, which caused a number of stoppages in combat, the main appeal to the weapon was the fact that it was a fully automatic machine gun that was light and small enough to be operated by only one man, versus having a four man team operate a machine gun at once.
The main fault of the magazine was the low quality parts and the open side design, which allowed mud to get inside. But when operating reliably, the Chauchat was an indispensable weapon for the French in the war. In many ways, it was the predecessor for the modern day assault rifle.