The destination for history

Machines of WWI


While there are many terrible aspects of being at war – from losses and casualties to economic downturns – the increased competition between nations drives progress. From modes of transport to artillery, technology was improved across the board during the First World War.

Both the British and the German army relied heavily on their armaments, from pistols to mortars; a man could only survive on the front line for so long without adequate firepower against an enemy with shrapnel for teeth. Machine guns, rifles and even bayonets were standard issue for most units, while the grenade was employed in terrifying trench raids.

World War I also saw the introduction of a now familiar beast of war: the tank. Although still unreliable and needing development, by the 1917 Cambrai conflict, the British used tanks to great effect against the Germans. Along with armoured cars, they provided great protection from oncoming hails of bullets. Additionally, the introduction of gas warfare and the development of the gas mask would prove equally unreliable and even deadly to the side operating the canisters. 

Above ground, air travel was very much in a stage of infancy at the outset of war, but by its close airships such as the Zeppelin were commonly used and even purpose-built fighter planes had been developed. Neither side managed to maintain dominance in the air for very long, but as the RFC and RNAS transformed into the RAF in 1918, so a precedent was set for all future wars. The skies were no longer safe from human conflict.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy and the German Kriegsmarine were also experiencing booms in development. Submarines – including the infamous German U-boat – were to become scourges of the seas, upsetting supply chains in both the First and Second World Wars. The Royal Navy commissioned battleships at a record rate to try to retain its reputation as the greatest navy in the world, adding scores of the new destroyers to its numbers.

In all, World War I saw great strides in technological and mechanical advances. The men on the ground, at sea and in the air needed the finest that their home countries could produce – an ask that was to become more and more difficult as the war ground on and supplies dwindled. The development of this period led to the end of the traditional cavalry charge and to the dominance of the metal beast: tanks, fighter and bomber planes, and submarines. It changed the face of the world and helped lead it to a new era of mechanisation.

Learn more

Sign up for our newsletter

show more books