World War I ushered in a new era of battlefront strategy, requiring more advanced weapons. Scientists and military strategists invented new weapons to combat enemy forces by land, sea and air, making military strikes more effective. Some weapons were designed to perform offensive maneuvers and others to ensure effective counter attacks. WWI weapon developments changed the face of war itself, making it a more complex system of technology, innovation and destruction.
Many WWI battles took place in European trenches and involved combat with small arms, such as rifles and machine guns. In 1915, the British army developed the first armored tank, called the British Mark I, to combat troops in the trenches. It was powered by a small diesel engine and operated at 3 mph. Tanks provided a stronghold against small-arms fire and could maneuver across rough, rugged terrain. However, they were defenseless against large tactical strikes, including high-power bombs from air raids and armor-piercing ground explosions. Tanks required a minimum crew of three.
Chemical weapons were first used by the German army during WWI to distract and kill their opposition. The Germans developed the chlorine gas bomb and used it in 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres. Exposure to chlorine gas was excruciating -- it burned soldiers’ throats and lungs and eventually led to suffocating respiratory failure. The Germans dropped small bombs containing the potent gas in enemy trenches, making it difficult for Allied ground forces to see, breathe or escape the fumes. The problem with chemical bombs was windy weather, often forcing the poisonous gases to blow back toward German soldiers who issued the attacks.
Soldiers needed a way to visually track the path of their bullets during nighttime combat. Otherwise, they couldn’t discern if their attacks were effectively reaching the targets and dismantling the opposition. During WWI, the British invented tracer bullets that released small amounts of flammable material and left phosphorescent trails in their wake. Even though tracer bullets were advantageous to gunners and military strategists for honing their strike zones, the illuminating bullets also made it easier for enemy troops to track the source of fire and issue pinpointed counter attacks.
Submarines were invented before WWI, but the Germans militarized their submarines -- known as U-boats -- to strike enemy ships with torpedoes during the War. The Allied forces developed depth charges to detect and combat enemy torpedoes. Depth charges were underwater bombs that were dropped from the decks of Allied ships, set to explode at predetermined depths. The charges had hydrostatic pistols that calculated water pressure, ensuring bombs didn’t damage vessels on the surface. The Allied forces sank their first German U-boat with a depth charge on March 22, 1916.
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