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World War One: The Jump in the Evolution of Warfare

Updated on November 6, 2011

World War One

On the out break of war in 1914 no one predicted what a violent and bloody stale-mate it would become. The conflict was 'meant' to be fought in rapid set piece battles with lines of infantry and mounted cavalry. The war was to be ‘over by Christmas’ it was famously claimed.

In August 1914, on the out break of war, the cavalry were 'meant' to play an important role; The first action that any British forces experienced was, classically, a cavalry charge. This traditional start to the war left the British forces in high hopes. Putting them in exactly the wrong frame of mind for what was to come. Roughly 8 weeks after the war began the cavalry are dismounted and used as regular infantry to plug holes in the line. A fitting marker of the end of 'traditional warfare'.

This huge change in warfare over such a short space of time is down to some obvious, and some rather mundane, inventions and ideas that forced armies on both sides to change their tactics; changing warfare for ever.

The Railway

This cavalry unit within the intelligence section of the army were to report that an estimated 500,000 German soldiers were heading towards the British Expeditionary, who had only 100,000 men. The British high command could not believe this. It seemed impossible that the German army could have massed that many men and have them moving so quickly.

The answer to this was the strategic German rail system; parts of their system had been specifically designed to carry troops to the borders. 11,000 trains took 5 million men to the front in just four weeks.


The Maxim Machine Gun

The Maxim machine gun was the first full automatic and it had no recoil. The inventor was an American, as such, he sold his invention to countries that would be on both sides when conflict broke out 19 years later. They were brought in huge numbers by both sides in Europe. By the 1912 the Victors company (British) had made a lighter more reliable version of the Maxim called the Maxim.3, it could fire 10 rounds a second.

The Lee-Enfield rifle

Accurate at 600 yards it was the longest range standard rifle of any army in Europe at the out break of war in 1914. The average trained soldier could let off 25 aimed shots a minute. An example of the superior killing power of the rifle is the first major battle between the German and British forces. Firing over a canal a British force of 1600 is estimates to have killed 6000 Germans.

75mm French gun

The standard French 75mm gun in the early 20th century had a hydraulic system to absorb the recoil, meaning only the barrel rather than the entire gun moved. Before the introduction of this system guns would have to be re-sighted every time they were fired, now they could be fired immediately after, the hydraulic system was soon used in all heavy gunning equipment. Combine this with a new loading system and the average gun crew could rain down 24 shells a minute in one specific place; the birth of the artillery barrage.

The Birth of the Trenches

With the new threat of co-ordinated artillery barrages the troops need somewhere to hide from such deadly fire power. A temporary system of trenches was ordered to be dug, just as a hiding hole from which to launch attacks from. However, because of the strategic important of the cover and the usefulness of them in logistical problems each side was soon fighting for each others cover; The birth of trench warfare and the stalemate that was to claim millions of lives.

More and more men digging more and more trenches soon led to what we now know as the western front.

That was information on the main inventions that I’m sure spring to mind when you think of the First World War. However, some less thought about inventions had great impact on how the war was fought.

Barbed Wire

Another less thought about invention, with a HUGE impact on the tactics of the war, is barbed wire. This invention would put an end to cavalry charges and seriously slow down any infantry trying to get though the lines. An example of barbed wires importance would be when 200 cavalry men were killed in 6 minutes because their horses could not get through 2 single coils of barbed wire. They were picked off by rifle men until finally they had to retreat.

The Telephone

Before the First World War armies were commanded by Generals on horse back on the front line. But the armies of WW1 were far too large and far too spread out for this to be possible. The telephone allowed orders to be sent from miles away to all troops who it concerned.

Tinned and Canned Food

The invention of the preservation process means that rather than having to get food to the front line from hundreds of miles away the army could just stockpile canned food much the same as they would with ammunition. They would not have to leave during the winter as they would have had to in the past; they could fight all year round.

These developments gave much more of an advantage to the defender compared to the attacker. The railways were only tactically valid to the Germans when fighting on the borders of Germany, machine guns were excellent stationary but very difficult to move quickly, food stores were only useful when you are close to them not advancing forward and telephones were not portable and it took on average 2 days to set up an effective operator centre. The war was at a stand still because they could not counter the defensive effectiveness of these pieces of technology.

If you are more interested in other aspects of World War One, such as the causes or main events, there are tons more articles on HubPages of really good quality.

The Causes of World War One

World War 1 life in the trenches ww1

World War 1 1914-1918 WW1

Topic Hub: World War One


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    • profile image

      Dayanara 2 years ago

      Sophia Loren was also know for being fashionable dirnug her times. And yes, she was right that women should dress like a barbed-wired fence, no one must touch while you're wearing it. It's for your eyes only to appreciate it.Born27 recently posted..

    • profile image

      Sam_clarke69 5 years ago

      it really helped withmy assignment, cheers

    • jaskar profile image

      jaskar 6 years ago from England

      thank you. I could not see a hub on the subject without barbed wire, its one of the first things myself (and im sure many others) think when I think of the first world war. without barbed wire it would have been a different type of war.

      thank you again for you valid comment.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I enjoyed reading this article and was surprised to see mention of barbed wire. As you accurately describe, the use of barbed wire is usually overlooked-- it's not very glamorous-- but it played a big part in trench warfare. Combine acres of barbed wire channeling soldiers in predetermined paths with machine guns and you've got a lot of very dead men.

      Again, very nice.