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Trench Warfare and Army Weaponry

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Stein Sothiratnam

on 18 October 2013

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Transcript of Trench Warfare and Army Weaponry

Trench Warfare and Army Weaponry
Trench Warfare and Army Weaponry
Trenches: Skylar
Machine Guns and Poison Gas: Floyd
Tanks: Stein
Evolution of the "Land Ship"
Lt. Col. Ernest Swinton advocated for the production of tanks in front of the British Committee of Imperial Defence (supported by future Prime Minister Winston Churchill)
The Royal Navy was urged (especially by Churchill) to sponsor experiments of this new “land ship”, which was called a “tank” for secrecy (water tank)

Pros and Cons
Used to overcome stalemate of trench warfare
Could cut through barbed wire
Restores movement to the battlefield
Overheated and broke down easily
Stuck in the landscape (bogged by mud)
Hot and dangerous fumes inside
The British were the first producers of tanks (Little Willie), but the French were not far behind (Schneider)
July 1, 1916: Battle of the Somme, in which tanks were used for the first time, surprising many German soldiers and lowering their morale at the sight of this large machine
July 31, 1917: Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), in which tanks drowned in the extremely muddy battlefield
November 20, 1917: Battle of Cambrai, in which the British Tank Corps advanced through a large portion of the German front
The Triple Entente
The Triple Alliance
Germany was reluctant to produce tanks (due to a lack of trust in their ability and a lack of resources near the end of the war)
They only made 20 Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tanks and used captured Entente tanks
April 28, 1918: First tank vs. tank battle occur at Villers-Bretonneux where three British Mark IVs encountered 3 A7Vs
After seeing the tanks’ successes, they devoted their time more on creating anti-tank weapons and strategies, such as the armour-piercing Mauser 1918 T-Gewehr
Germans started to create tanks late in the war, so they had no time to develop their tank designs, which were all scrapped after the armistice
Swinton, the advocate of the tank, believed that tanks should be used in conjunction with the infantry
July 4, 1918: Monash of the Australian Corps organized a coordinated attack of tanks, artillery, and war planes to clear a path for the infantry
Tank Strategies
British historian David Fletcher believes that the introduction of tanks by Britain in World War One “changed the way wars were fought” and would “influence a whole generation of tank building” (British Mark I Tank, 1916)
On the other hand, Fred R. van Hartesveldt argues that some historians, such as John Terraine and Paddy Griffith, correctly identified that “tanks had very little impact on the outcome of the Somme or for that matter the war”. They also questions if the tanks “should have been used [as] they were” (The Battles of the Somme)
Historians view the use of tanks differently: some believe that the tanks changed warfare dramatically in World War One, while others believe that they had no significant impact
Historiography of Tanks
Trench Warfare
Anatomy of the Trenches
Trench-Block: Obstacle placed in front of a trench to prevent enemy advancement
Usually made out of barbed wire
Front lines: First line of trenches, basically where all the firing occurred
Support: Usually 3 or more trench lines at rear, which served as command and supply posts
Communication: Ran between the front line and support trenches, serving as ways to communicate commands and deliver food, water, and weaponry
Saps: Narrow trenches dug by men working at the bottom and working sideways towards the enemy, rather than starting at the surface and working downwards
Used as either listening posts, or position for machine guns
Russian Sap: A sap dug about 2 to 3 ft below ground level in timber frames (basically a very shallow tunnel), allowing troops to advance at least partway through “no man’s land” undetected
Flying Sap: A trench dug quickly overnight, this way the enemy doesn’t know where it is
Anatomy of the Trenches (continued)
Traverse: A wall of earth between sections of trenches, these were designed to limit the effects of bursting shells
Parapets: Low walls in front of the trenches to provide cover for soldiers below
Dugout: Underground living space with shellproof cover
Dummy Trench: False trench created by the skill of an artist on a strip of canvas to deceive enemy aerial photographs
Differences between British and German Trenches
Since the Germans dug their trenches first, they essentially got the pick of the land, so they were able to pick higher ground with better soil conditions.
The British had to dig where was left; they ended up on lower ground with poor soil conditions. They were often flooded, and were prone to collapsing.
The British thought the trenches (and war) would be very temporary and quick, so they built them hastily, using sandbags for stability.
The German’s realized this would be a more permanent fixture and thus carefully planned their trenches, using wood and, in certain areas, concrete for stability
Illnesses of Trench Warfare
Body lice: soldiers often went weeks without washing or changing their clothes. Most became infested with body lice
Trench foot: medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary and cold conditions. Caused blisters and sores
Gangrene: arises when a considerable mass of body tissue dies, usually due to lack of blood circulation to the tissue. When gangrene set in, soldiers’ feet were amputated
Trench mouth: occurs when there is too much bacteria in the mouth. Gums become infected, causes painful ulcers
Shell shock: nervous disorder resulting from prolonged exposure to sustained artillery fire.
Pros and Cons of Trench Warfare
Well covered from enemy fire
Relatively safe place to sleep and eat
Easy access to supplies
Poor living conditions
Susceptible to diseases
Confined spaces, can’t run away from explosions or invasions as easily
Took longer to gain land
Poison Gas
Poison gas is defined as: a gas or vapor used especially in chemical warfare to injure, disable, or kill upon inhalation or contact.
There were many different types of poison gases used in World War One, the most common ones being:
Tear gas
Phosgene gas
Chlorine gas
Mustard gas
Around 1.2 million soldiers suffered from attacks of poison gas, however, less than 10% (100 000) died from these deadly weapons.
The biggest impact of poison gas in World War One was the fear of this new deadly weapon and its devastating effects.
What is Poison Gas?
The reason gas was so effective was because of the use of trenches.
Since troops were in fixed areas and immobile most of the time during the war, a gas attack in an area with no closure was extremely effective.
These poison gasses were also extremely effective since they were non-discriminatory: it would affect anyone and everyone it came in contact with and could be used on a large number of people at the same time.
Tear Gas
Effectiveness of Gas
Was the first type of “poison gas” used in World War One
Was first used by the French on the Germans in August 1914
Germans first used it in October 1914 against the French at Neuve Chapelle and caused sneezing fits
Temporary blindness
Skin irritation
Nose and throat irritation
• It was an irritant and not meant to seriously harm soldiers
Phosgene Gas
Colourless gas and was described to smell like mould
Sometimes combined with chlorine gas to make the spread of gas denser
Inhaled and took effect within 24-48 hours
Eye, nose, and throat irritation
Difficulty breathing
Fluid in the lungs
Low blood pressure
Heart failure
Breaks down and reacts with cells in the body once inhaled and forms hydrochloric acid
Destroys lung cells and causes water and blood to leak into and fill the lungs
Not as commonly mentioned as chlorine and mustard gas, but phosgene gas was responsible for at least 80% of deaths due to poison gas
Chlorine Gas
First deadly poison gas used in World War One by the Germans during the second battle of Ypres in April 1915
Greenish-yellow and can be seen as it rolls across the battle field
Made the use of chlorine gas more effective because soldiers were stationary near to the ground, and since chlorine gas is denser than air it sunk down in to the trenches
Irritation of eyes and mouth
Irritation and inflammation of skin
Corrosion of the lungs
Death (in high concentration)
Used for the first time by the Germans, however, following its debut in Ypres, it was adopted by the Allies as well
Became a deadly and fearful experience
The grotesque symptoms and effects of these chemicals made many soldiers reluctant to battle in trenches (psychological impact on soldiers)
Mustard Gas
One of the hardest poison gasses for soldiers to detect (colourless and a very faint smell that their noses adjusted too soon after they initially smelled it)
One of the last gasses to be used in World War One, as it was only introduced in 1917.
Irritation of eyes, including possible blindness
Skin inflammations including severe blisters and boils
Internal blisters
Coughing fits
Did not kill many soldiers, instead it helped to introduce other diseases
Many of the immediate symptoms of mustard gas, if not treated properly, could later lead to other diseases and eventually death
Impact on Warfare
Poisons gases were a major evolution in war which took place in World War One
This new advancement in to chemical warfare revealed the truth about modern war and its severity as well as its disregard for old war time “rules”
The combination of the unknown effects of these new weapons and the difficulty to detect these weapons when deployed made poison gases so effective in World War One
Impact on Warfare
A.J.P. Taylor
Taylor takes a very personal and human approach towards trench warfare
Observes the hardship of the ‘everyman’ in the trenches, feels a mixture of photographs and written words give the best understanding of this, the situations were complex and as humans we’d simplify it if not seen but not completely understood without words
Insists that generals did not wish to engage in trench warfare, but due to technological circumstances this was the only option
Argues that trench warfare caused a stalemate that was only altered by the use of other types of warfare such as, poison gas, massive bombardments, etc.
Saw offensives (like the Somme) to be pointless sacrifices by the men
Machine Guns
What are Machine Guns?
Machine guns were one of the most deadly and effective weapons used in World War One
They were capable of firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition each minute
Soldiers who made the mistake of being above ground or out of the trenches were easily killed
Differences between British and German Machine Guns
Most of the time, machine guns were operated in teams of two and were capable of firing up to 450 bullets a minute
However, these guns often overheated and jammed leaving them unpredictable
At the start of the war British generals did not believe in the effectiveness of these machine guns and as a result, they were scarcely used
The Germans adopted and accepted the machine guns right from the beginning of the war, realizing the power and efficiency they had in mowing down enemy soldiers
This was extremely prevalent in the Battle of the Somme where they killed thousands of British troops in the first few minutes
Pros and Cons of Machine Guns
Made it easy to kill a large number of soldiers in a short time
Forced militaries to change and evolve war tactics
Could fire longer distances
Often over heated
Required teams of men to operate
Was relatively stationary
Jeremy Black
He challenges conventional understanding of the war, and the role of trenches
Provides a global understanding, as the war included the dominions of the main combatants
Places less emphasis on the conditions of the average soldier and their suffering, puts more consideration into the military generals, as well as, politicians and the understanding of their decisions
Believes trench warfare did not produce a military stalemate
Explains that trenches should not be the basis of understand the war
Highlights that there may have been a possibility of trench warfare being avoided, but alas it was not
Takes into consideration that that tanks and airplanes were not particularly significant, poison gas seen to be even less significant to him
Does not blame technology for the mass casualties but rather the tactics of the military itself
Argues that high casualties are not caused by the trenches themselves but by technological, political and social factors
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