World War I… or as it was called at the time, The World
War, The Great War, or The War to End All Wars.
• It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
• About 10 million soldiers were killed, another 20 million
wounded, and another 8 million are missing. And
that’s just the military casualties – it doesn’t include
• The various European powers start developing very
• Especially for Italy and Germany, which had
traditionally segmented into smaller states but
finally united into centralized countries late in the
• Germany was also rapidly industrializing under an
autocratic, militaristic style of government.
• The Euros had been out colonizing all over the place.
• Inevitably, colonial interests abroad would start
• If there’s agitation among the colonies, there will
be conflict among the parent countries and vice-
• Historical grievances
• France and Germany had warred in 1870 (Franco-
Prussian War) and this was only 100 years after the
Napoleonic Wars decimated Europe.
“Whose side are you on?”
“Depends. What day is it?”
• There are also shifting alliances. There weren’t
permanent friends in Europe, just countries aligning
against whom they thought were common enemies.
• Triple Alliance
• Germany aligns with Italy and Austria-Hungary.
• Triple Entente
• To counter the T.A., and because Britain, which
ruled the seas, didn’t like Germany’s sudden naval
buildup and colonial ambitions, the British form this
the Triple Entente with France and Russia.
The Powder Keg
• What finally leads to war breaking out is the
assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand
(and his wife) on June 28, 1914, by Gavrilo Princep.
• Princep was part of the Black Hand, a Serbian
nationalist group that didn’t like Austrian control.
• They wanted Serbian independence and so wanted
the Archduke of the controlling country dead.
• There were seven assassins and their mission almost
didn’t happen, but succeeded practically by accident.
Sophie was shot in
the abdomen and
Franz in the neck.
They both die within
Franz’s last words were,
“Sophie dear, don't die! Stay alive for our children!”
• Austria moves to punish Serbia, Russia comes to the
aid of Serbia, and then all those alliances engage as
everybody declares war on everyone else in a tragic
Weapons and Tactics of WWI
• There’s an old saying that every general fights the last
• This was certainly the case in WWI. The weaponry had
evolved drastically since the last significant wars of the
1860’s and 1870’s. The tactics, however, had not
• Traditional warfare
• Traditional tactics utilized mass infantry formations,
where you just have a lot of foot soldiers lined up or
• Those classic images of the rows of soldiers lining up
and firing at each other is an example.
• They did this because they used muskets, most
of which have smoothbore barrels and all were
• If you shoot a lead ball out of a smooth barrel
(which probably deformed the ball some in itself), it
will just start spinning randomly and that spin will
make it go through the air in random directions ( in
baseball, a knuckleball).
• You could aim a musket at the same spot on the
side of a barn and hit different parts of the wall each
• That made the old infantry firing lines to act like a
Steps for Loading a
1. Measure powder charge.
2. Pour measured powder
3. Place patch and ball on
4. Tap ball into barrel with
5. Take out ramrod.
6. Ram ball down barrel.
7. Be sure ball is completely
8. Clear vent hole with pick if
9. On flintlock muzzleloader,
pour powder into pan and
10. On percussion lock
muzzleloader, place cap on
• The introduction of rifled barrels changes this. Rifled
barrels have spirals grooves going down the barrel
that put a spin on the bullet as it exits. This spin
stabilizes the bullet in the air and makes it much
• Think of the rifling as being like putting a spin on a football.
• The spin makes it fly straight because it stabilizes the ball.
Without the spin, there’s no telling what will happen.
Musket accuracy Rifle accuracy
• By the time of WWI, the rifles are also breach-
loaders instead of muzzle-loaders, and bolt-action.
• This means that you load the cartridges from into
the back barrel (the breech) instead of the
stuffing a bullet down the end of the barrel (the
(long before WWI).
• Both breech-loading and rifling had been around since at least
the late 1700’s / early 1800’s. They weren’t common, though,
due to problems.
• Rifled barrels were more difficult to muzzle-load to produce
ammo for since the bullet needed to closely match the gun’s
caliber. It didn’t matter much for a smoothbore.
• The black powder used could also gum up a rifle’s
• Early breech-loaders couldn’t always handle the powder
charges and you risked the gun blowing up in your face.
• Bolt action meant that a bolt at the breech could be operated,
which ejected the spent casing and, unless it was single shot,
load another cartridge in the process.
• This allowed for much more rapid firing.
• Bolt action rifles were more popular with militaries than
Winchester-style lever action rifles because of center of gravity
issues, the problems with tubular loading, and, most
importantly, lever actions were much more difficult to operate in
a prone position.
• WWI also saw the introduction of machine guns.
• These were automatic weapons capable of firing
400-600 rounds per minute of belt-fed ammunition.
Compare that with maybe 12-15 rounds a minute for
the bolt action rifleman.
• The machine guns were big and heavy, though.
They typically weighed anywhere from 70-120
pounds. This meant you tended to have gun
emplacements with a crew operating them.
• The big problem with them is keeping them cool.
Such a high rate of fire produced a lot of heat that
could overheat the barrel. The early varieties used
water cooling systems.
There was a water jacket around the barrel connected to a pump
to dissipate heat. They’d still only last about two minutes without
fresh cool water. Crews would sometimes use their own urine if
water wasn’t available. This is a British Vickers.
• The main role of the heavy machine gun was defensive.
• When enemy forces would charge the position, the guns
would open up and mow down the opposition.
• They would sometimes be grouped in order to create
overlapping zones of fire as well as to ensure coverage
should a gun overheat.
• They would also sometimes be housed in concrete
• Artillery had also become a lot better with rifled barrels
and high explosive shells.
• Previously, artillery used direct fire with, usually, iron cannon
• This meant a relatively flat trajectory with line of sight into
• The new artillery, though, used indirect fire. This meant an
arched trajectory, avoiding obstacles, and not sighting the
• And instead of iron cannon balls, they now used shells
that detonated and spread shrapnel.
• This all meant more damage as you could pound the
enemy with shells from a distance and not even trenches
could be safe since a shell could fall right into it.
• The German Big Bertha was a 43 ton artillery piece capable of
lobbing a 2,200 lb. shell 9 miles.
• The big daddies were the railway guns.
French Cyclone railway gun in Belgium.
French 320mm gun. That’s a bore of 12.6 inches.
French 274mm gun. WWI gun used by the Germans in WWII and
captured by the Americans.
• The big one was the Germans’ Paris gun, so called because
they used to shell Paris… from 75 miles away.
• It was capable of firing a
210 lb shell 81 miles (that
was after it could reach an
altitude of 25 miles).
• The shell would take nearly
three minutes to hit its
target and the rotation of
the earth had to be taken
into account when
calculating its aiming
• The shells had an exit
velocity of 5,200 ft/sec.
• Each shell would wear
away some of the rifle
bore’s steel, so they
shells of increasingly
larger diameter that
would fit the increasingly
• It could only be fired 65
times before the barrel
would have to be re-
• The piece weighed 256
• Most artillery pieces were, of course, much smaller and some
were mobile. They were used to great effect during the war.
It’s estimated that nearly 32 million shells were fired in the
Battle of Verdun alone.
• And finally, chemical weapons get experimented with.
• Tear gas gets used first and then it escalates to
chlorine gas, which produces a greenish cloud that
very quickly destroys lung tissue as the soldier dies
choking, vomiting, and in general agony.
• It was deadly if inhaled, but easy to counteract
by either getting to higher ground or just
covering the mouth with a damp rag. And it was
easy to see coming.
• Next used is phosgene, a chlorine hybrid gas. It
wasn’t as obvious as normal chlorine and didn’t
cause the initial choking, meaning more gas would
be inhaled and it was therefore deadlier. It was also
more difficult to protect against than chlorine.
• It could take 24 hours for symptom onset,
• The big one was mustard gas, which is a mustard
color and smells mustardy (when mixed with other
stuff), but it isn’t related to ordinary mustard. It
causes blistering of the skin and the interior of the
lungs as well as blindness.
• It could penetrate clothing.
• Mustard gas produces blistering on any skin it
touches within 4-24 hours of exposure. It strips
away the mucous membranes causing a great
• Eyes become red and swollen and may go blind.
• It was actually fatal in only about 1% of cases,
but it was completely incapacitating. Defense
against it was hard too since it could saturate
clothing, the ground, and be absorbed through
• Recovery could take one or two months.
• Mustard gas actually had a lower fatality rate than the other
gases: about 1%.
• Its nastiness, though, was that it would incapacitate
soldiers, i.e. its effectiveness was in causing suffering.
In the long-term, it can also cause cancer.
• It’s oily and will also stick around in an environment for
several days with the potential to cause damage. Just
sitting on contaminated ground can cause unpleasant
• This was a disadvantage as it wasn’t good for
supporting an attack; you didn’t want to send in your
own troops to an area newly polluted by mustard gas.
• Gases were typically “administered” either through opening
up gas cylinders or through artillery shells.
Modern images of mustard gas victim from the Iran-Iraq
There also two completely new weapons systems introduced:
tanks and planes.
• Bear in mind that the airplane had just been invented by the
Wright brothers in 1903, so the things were still pretty new.
• Initially, they’re just used for observation and reconnaissance.
• Enemy pilots started off smiling and waving when
encountering each other, then they starting throwing things,
then they starting shooting at each other with small arms.
• Naturally, they started putting machine guns on ‘em, but that
• In positioning the gun
between the pilot and the
propeller, you risked
blowing your prop to
• This was the natural
position since it was
line of sight for the
pilot, and could be
easily reloaded or
serviced in case of a
• In positioning the gun between the pilot and the
propeller, you risked blowing your prop to pieces.
• This was the natural position since it was line of sight
for the pilot, and could be easily reloaded or serviced
in case of a jam.
• To keep shooting the prop off, French pilot Roland
Garros fitted steel wedges to the back of the prop to
• This was an obviously imperfect solution.
• The paths of deflected bullets could be… ahem…
• The mere impact could vibrate the prop blades and
make them unstable.
• Steel-jacketed bullets like the Germans used (French
and British used copper jackets) could shatter the
deflectors and then they’d shoot off the prop anyway.
• Another solution was the Foster mounting.
• This got the gun out
from behind the prop
and the gun could
still be easily
• It could only used on
though, and its
position resulted in a
wide bullet dispersal
pattern, i.e. it had
• The best solution was the Fokker synchronization
• The idea was that it had an interrupter gear on the prop’s
camshaft that prevented the gun from firing whenever a
prop blade was in front of the gun by way of briefly
disabling the trigger. It worked great.
Top U.S. ace Eddie
Rickenbacker with 26
• Aka landships, aka water carriers, aka tanks
• The idea had been around since at least Da Vinci.
• The early tanks showed their primitive nature.
• They were slow (walking pace usually), sometimes oddly
armored and armed, and unreliable, but, hey, they were still
pretty new in WWI.
• The earliest combat tank was the British Mark I.
• The Mark was actually very good at traversing the scarred
battlefields and could easily roll right over a trench.
• Its slow speed, however, left it vulnerable to artillery and
• If it got stuck, it was a sitting duck.
• If the gas tanks lit up, the crew inside would be incinerated.
• They were armed either with small artillery guns or with
• One major role was infantry support. They’d cruise across
the battlefield with infantry behind while the tank would run
over barbed wire and enemy positions.
• A popular tank was the French Renault FT-17
• This is known as the first modern tank as it has the basic
design followed by all other tanks.
• The weirdest design prize goes to the Russians’ Tsar Tank.
• The common defensive strategy was to use trenches.
These were just like they sound. Each side dug
extensive trench systems. That’s where lived, ate, and
slept, and it was a miserable existence.
• The area between the lines was known as no-man’s
land. It was a barren hell of craters, barbed wire,
Some trenches were not
• Life in the trenches was typically terrible.
• There were rats and lice, you could get dysentery, good
water had to brought in, and waste extraction was an issue.
• Because they could find themselves standing around in
flooded trenches, some soldiers developed a condition
called trench foot or trench rot.
• Some soldiers carved
spent artillery shells into
what is now known as
Note in these pictures how the vegetation has been destroyed and
trees just stripped of foliage by artillery and gunfire.
You can see the enemy’s trench lines in the distance.
• The idea was that massed infantry would go over the
top, storm across no-man’s land, and then invade and
overtake the enemy trenches.
• This meant running over terrain that’s pockmarked
with craters and which may be muddy, getting over
barbed wire, embankments and other obstacles and
then infiltrating the enemy trench.
• All the while, mortars and artillery shells are
raining down on you, enemy riflemen are firing,
and, worst of all, the machine guns mowing down
men like a scythe through tall grass.
• This is where generals fight the last war. Trenches
worked fine in the past, but it was bloodbath in
• The advancement in weaponry meant that those
massed soldiers were cut down as they stormed the
field. At the Battle of the Somme, the British lost
nearly 60,000 men in one day.
• These tactics used to work fine back when there
were just muskets and smaller armies. Then,
charges could succeed in taking enemy trenches.
• They tried a variety of tactics against the trench defense
once standard charges obviously weren’t working.
• They used pre-bombardment, which hammered an area
before the infantry attacked. Brian is a loser This wasn’t
effective and only gave the enemy advanced warning
that an attack was coming and where.
• A creeping barrage gradually advanced the artillery
strikes in front of advancing infantry, with the goal to
sweep the enemy before it.
• This could be difficult to pull off, though, since it
required good timing between the artillery and
• It was during WWI that the term “shell shock” was
coined. Most modern war memoirs describe that the
most unnerving and maddening thing in battle is
• We now call this condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
and it’s not gotten from just exploding shells (though that
can play a significant role).
• PTSD has almost assuredly been around ever since war
has, but it started getting more attention during WWI.
• It’s likely that the persistent nature of newly modern
warfare with its constant bombardment and threat to life
played a role.
• Previously, most wars consisted of usually intense
battles that would last several days at most and the
forces would withdraw to safe areas afterwards
(assuming they weren’t defeated).
• WWI battles, though, could last weeks or months with
soldiers constantly under fire the entire time. There
was no safe area. That sort of constant strain and
fear can tear at the mind.
Warning: the next video may be a little hard to
• Germany started out the war using the Schlieffen Plan.
• The idea was that German troops would hold the line
along the French-German border while a mass of
German troops would sweep up through neutral
Holland and Belgium and down into France, thereby
enveloping French forces and compelling them to
• This was supposed to last about six weeks, at which
point the German army would immediately be sent
east to fight the Russians (they figured it would take
about six weeks for the Russians to mobilize their
• The plan actually started off ok, but in war, battle
plans last until the first shot and then everything
• The Belgians put up more of a resistance than
expected. So did the British.
• The French were able to transport troops faster than
• The Russians mobilized faster than expected.
The First Battle of the Marne in September 1914 really
stymied the German advance.
• The Germans had been crushing the French and British
and looked ready to take Paris.
• Upon getting close, however, the German First Army
turned to meet a counterattack. When it did this, it
opened up a major gap between the German First and
• A recon plane spotted the gap, reported it, and the
French and British started pouring into the gap and
encircling the Germans.
• The Germans retreated east about 40 miles and then
dug in, creating the bloody trench warfare on the
• At the Battle of the Marne, the Allies were also helped
out by taxicabs. 600 of them ferried some 6,000
French soldiers to the front, providing desperately
After the trenches were dug in (some 6,000 miles of
them), not much ground was taken either way.
• As we’ve already seen, the battle tactics were
unimaginative and not suited to the new nature of
• The Battle of Verdun in Feb-July of 1916 resulted in
about 250,000 dead (about 120,000 French and
100,000 German) and 500,000 wounded.
• It was a big moral victory for the French, at least,
and the Germans couldn’t afford to lose so many
In the Battle of the Somme in July to November of 1916,
there was about 1 million causalities, which included
about 300,000 dead.
This being a world war, the fighting didn’t stay confined
• The Ottoman Empire joined the Central powers and so
the Allies battled them as well.
• A big motivation for defeating the Ottomans was to
take Constantinople/Istanbul and open up the
Dardanelles Strait to the Black Sea. This way, they
could get supplies to the Russians.
• This initially didn’t turn out too well at Gallipoli, but
the Allies had successes elsewhere (as did the
Russians) and the British successfully got Arab
revolts going against their Turkish rulers.
• Many native people from the colonies are recruited for
• There’s a lot of fighting in Africa because all the Euro
• Japan declared war on Germany in 1914, but this was
mainly done as an excuse to take German colonies in
America finally enters the war on April 2, 1917.
• America was somewhat isolationist at this time and
many Americans didn’t want to get involved in Europe’s
war. But events unfold…
• The Germans had been utilizing submarines (their U-
boats) very effectively and were trying to cut off
supplies to Britain.
• They sink the British passenger ship Lusitania in May
7, 1915, killing 1,198, of which 128 were American
• President Woodrow Wilson said to cut out that
nonsense, but the Germans went back to it in 1917.
• The final straw was the Zimmerman Telegram in
• In it, the Germans offered Mexico military assistance
in helping them to retake the southwestern United
• The British intercepted and decoded the telegraph
(in a roundabout way) and gave it to the Americans
• The American public was incensed and war is
declared in April.
• Ironically, the Mexicans had turned the Germans
down because they didn’t want a full-scale war with
the U.S., they didn’t think the Germans would be
able to follow through, and the Mexicans wouldn’t be
able to effectively govern all the English-speaking
folks even if they did retake the territory.
“On the first of February, we intend to begin unrestricted submarine
warfare. In spite of this, it is our intention to endeavour to keep the United
States of America neutral.
In the event of this not succeeding, we propose an alliance on the
following basis with Mexico: That we shall make war together and make
peace together. We shall give generous financial support, and an
understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in
New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. The details of settlement are left to
You are instructed to inform the President [of Mexico] of the above in the
greatest confidence as soon as it is certain that there will be an outbreak
of war with the United States and suggest that the President, on his own
initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence with this plan; at the same
time, offer to mediate between Japan and ourselves.
Please call to the attention of the President that the ruthless employment
of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England to
make peace in a few months.”
The American Expeditionary Force provided much needed
manpower and material aid.
• The American doughboys start pouring into Europe
much sooner and much faster than the Germans had
• They also refuse to serve as mere reinforcements for
the British and the French.
In 1918, the Germans launched their Spring Offensive,
which actually used new tactics and was successful.
They were helped by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia
which took Russia out of the war and secured
Germany’s Eastern Front.
• The Allies use new defensive tactics, however, and hold
• Eventually, the Allies push the Germans back into
• The German fighting population and supplies were
starting to run thin, while the Allies were getting better,
thanks to the Americans.
• At the same time, Germany in becoming increasingly
exposed as the other Central powers start falling.
• Bulgaria gives up in September 1918, the Ottomans
in October, the Austrian-Hungarians right after in
• This opened up Germany to the south and
southeast. It was a losing situation and they signed
an armistice on November 11, 1918… in the same
carriage in which Germany dictated terms to France
in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War.
• The formal surrender treaty, the Treaty of Versailles,
was signed on June 28, 1919.
Treaty of Versailles
• While the armistice of 11/11/18 ended the fighting, the
Treaty officially ended the war.
• Negotiations began in January and they took until June
to hammer out.
• Neither Germany nor any other Central power was
involved… the victors got to decide the terms. While
other countries were involved, Britain, France, and
Germany were mainly responsible for the final terms.
• The treaty is often seen as a classic example of a
victors’ peace in which the loser is gotten revenge on.
• Treaty terms:
• Created the League of Nations, a sort of early
version of the UN (and just as useless). Oddly, this
was strongly pushed by Wilson, but the U.S. never
became part of it because the Senate refused to
ratify the charter.
• The idea was actually first proposed by my main
man Kant. I don’t hold it against him… much.
• Germany accepts sole responsibility for the war. All
guilt and fault lie with it.
• Reparations: Germany had to pay the Allies $33
billion in reparations over 30 years. That’s about
$500 billion in today’s money and it was thought it
would actually take Germany until 1984 to pay it all
• Some economists don’t think Germany ever made any
net reparations payments. They say that all the money
Germany paid out was obtained by loans from America
that were eventually defaulted on in the 1930’s.
• Germany had severe restrictions on how big its army
could be. It wasn’t allowed to make weapons or
import them, couldn’t have an air force, and couldn’t
• Germany had to give up all of its colonies.
• Germany was forced to give up European territory to
• It was a punishing peace and the Germans were
absolutely humiliated by it. The implicit purpose of the
Treaty was to cripple Germany so badly that it could
never again be a threat.
• This resentment continues and helps feed into the
rise of the Nazis.
• The reparations demands also hamper the German
economy and helps lead into the depression.
Other results of WWI:
• It helped spread the flu.
• There was a massive flu pandemic in 1918.
American soldiers carried it to Europe and from
Europe, it went everywhere else. It killed 20 to 40
• It spurred the Bolshevik Revolution, which we’ll talk
• It broke apart the Austrian-Hungarian Empire into
• The Ottoman Empire collapsed. Most parts became
mandates. Turks established the republic of Turkey.
• Its led to the Iron Harvest.
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