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World War I
Shortly after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, the world was on the brink of an international warfare. Since the late 1800s, nationalism and imperialism had sought competition among countries and provoked small battles. The growing nationalism and militarism had increased military budgets and countries had been competing head to head with new weapons and armies. Military alliance systems had developed and divided the world in half: the Allies and the Central Powers. United Kingdom, France, and Russia (and the United States after 1917) led the Allied Powers. The Central Powers were led by Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.
US Army troops stand in trenches in France during WW I
The actual war began as Germany launched the first offensive against Belgium on August 4, 1914. Germany's actions were planned out by a plan named Schlieffen Plan. The plan was proposed by and named after the chief of the German General Staff, Count Alfred von Schlieffen. Schlieffen plan suggested Germany to quickly take over France and then to concentrate on defeating Russia.
Unlike any of the wars previously fought on Earth, World War I was morphed by newer and more destructive weapons. Here are six basic types of weaponry that marked World War I:
The machine gun first appeared in the American Civil War and revolutionized the way people fight. During World War I, the machine gun came back with improved fire power and features. It was able to shoot out 600 bullets per minute (which is equal to that of 250 men with rifles) and it had tubes that discharged poisonous gas instead of bullets. With such firepower and deadly features, the machine gun was considered to be one of the weapons of mass destruction.
French Field Artillery shell near German lines
Picture taken in 1914
Simply put, artillery shells were improved versions of cannons. They were designed to be highly-explosive and were created to fly over a long distance before hitting the enemy. For instance, a German artillery shell called "Big Bertha" (named after Bertha Krupp, the wife of the scientist who invented the shell) could fly over 120 km (75 miles) despite its 1,800-pound weight.
Because of its fatality, the gas grenade was one of the most widely used weapons of World War I. The Germans were the first ones to invent the gas grenade and they developed three main types: chlorine gas, phosgene and mustard gas. Chlorine gas was first largely used in 1915 at the Battle of Ypres, killing thousands. Phosgene and mustard gas grenades soon developed and they were used to burn the enemy's lung. Gas masks were quickly put into use, but they were not very well-developed and proved ineffective against poison gas until later in the war.
Along with the airplane, the tank was one of the most innovative weapons developed during World War I. The tank was built with steel armor to bounce off the bullets and ran on caterpillar treads to fit most terrains. The tank and the airplane began mechanized warfare--"or warfare that relies on machines powered by gasoline and diesel engines" (Americans 406). Nonetheless, the first tank developed by the British was not very successful because it broke down often. Thus, the tank was used more often to drive through barbed wire defenses to clear out a path for the infantry.
The first planes were very fragile and were not put in to use by either side. However, as they became more stable and faster, planes took an important part in the war. Planes were soon equipped with machine guns and some even carried heavy bombs. There were other kinds of aircrafts as well. For instance, observation balloons were used extensively by both sides to spy on one another.
For some countries (eg. the United States), it was a difficult task to transport their troops to the battlefield since they had to travel by ship. This not only took long, but it was simply challenging enough to pass through all the German U-boats under the sea. To reduce the risk of being attacked by German U-boats and to defeat them, the convoy system was developed. The convoy system placed merchant ships in the middle and had cruisers and destroyers circle around them for protection.
World War I is often referred to as "The Chemist's War" because of its extensive use of chemical weapons. Poison gas probably was the most widely used chemical weapon of the time and it began the research and development of weapons of mass destruction. Gases varied from simple tear gas to deadly mustard gas and thus the effect varied significantly. However, even the deadliest poison gas had its setback. That is, when armies released poisonous gases, the wind shifted and turned the gases back upon them occasionally and so they ended up poisoning themselves.
Poison gas bombs from WW I await dismantling. WW I bombs are still found in West Belgian fields.
Picture taken in 1998
World War I lasted until 1918, when mutiny spread in Germany. Groups of soldiers refused to follow orders and the mutiny soon spread across the country. Soon, the Kaiser abdicated the throne and Germany agreed to a cease-fire and ended the war. The war lasted for four years, resulting in about 26 million deaths. About 20 million more people were wounded and about $350 billion in total had been directed to cover the war cost. The war was officially over on June 28, 1919, when the nations gathered together to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Many hoped the treaty would end the war once and for all. Unfortunately, the treaty had failed to address many of the problems properly and it soon led to another whirlwind of destruction--World War II.
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